Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Bill [HL]

– in the House of Lords at on 15 December 2006.

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Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

I start by thanking Landmine Action and other organisations which have been very helpful in briefing me and other colleagues. I am also grateful to the many colleagues from both Houses who have indicated their support. Some from this House are not able to be here today, but support for the Bill is probably wider than the number of speeches that I hope will come in support of it. I also thank my noble friends Lord Drayson and Lady Crawley for the conversations that I have had with them and for the helpful way in which I have engaged in discussion with them—not that we left in agreement, but I am grateful for having had the chance to do it.

I want to talk about the Bill under four headings: first, the humanitarian aspects of cluster munitions; secondly, my belief that there is no real military justification for their use; thirdly, the international aspects; and, fourthly, the arguments as between smart and dumb weapons which have featured so strongly in some of the discussions both in this House and in the other place in recent weeks.

There was a very active campaign against anti-personnel landmines some years ago, which culminated in the successful abolition of those terrible weapons. Indeed, my right honourable friend Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for International Development, is reported recently to have told Cabinet colleagues that cluster munitions are,

"essentially equivalent to landmines which are the subject of an international ban".

Like anti-personnel landmines, cluster munitions remain dangerous long after the military conflict has moved on or is over. They then pose a threat to civilians: children playing or going to school, people gathering crops, collecting firewood or going for water—all normal, innocent and essential activities for people in some of these zones where there has been conflict. Those are innocent activities that may result in the loss of a limb or death.

Perhaps I may quote my right honourable friend Hilary Benn again. In his Answer to a Parliamentary Question on 11 December, he said:

"If they are used in large numbers, unexploded bomblets can be left scattered densely and indiscriminately over a wide area. When these are set off, the explosion can kill anyone within 50m. They represent a threat to aid workers, peace-keepers, medical services, internally displaced persons and anyone else entering an area immediately after the cessation of hostilities. The design of cluster munitions means that often children are attracted to them".

He goes on to explain:

"The threat to returning civilians is exacerbated when cluster munitions are used over soft terrain such as recently ploughed farmland. Unexploded bomblets can lie buried just beneath the surface making it dangerous for farmers to cultivate their land".

That is important in the discussion about dumb and smart bombs, to which I shall refer later. The Answer continues:

"Casualty figures are hard to verify but reports indicate that unexploded cluster munitions killed thousands of civilians in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The UN reports around 1 million unexploded cluster bomblets in Southern Lebanon. So far, 23 civilian deaths and 145 injuries have resulted from unexploded ordnance, mainly cluster munitions. It will take an estimated 12-15 months to clear this area of unexploded ordnance".—[Hansard, Commons, 11/12/06; cols. 743-44W.]

We know that sometimes that can take very much longer if the ordnance is buried, and indeed we know that there are many areas of the world where anti-personnel landmines are still there, causing enormous threat to ordinary people. We know that, for example, large areas of the Falklands are still fenced off because they are still too dangerous for people to walk on. I understand that even now in the Lebanon an estimated three persons are killed or injured by cluster munitions every day.

According to Handicap International, although 10,000 known civilian casualties from cluster bombs have been indicated, the real figure is probably nearer to 100,000. The United Nations' most senior official for humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland, has described cluster munitions in the Lebanon as,

"shocking and to me completely immoral".

The ICRC has described the impact of CMs as "horrific" and called for urgent international action. And of course not only did Israel use these weapons in the Lebanon but Hezbollah did as well, the first known case of these weapons being used by non-state armed groups—an ominous sign that the use of these weapons is proliferating. Hence the urgent need to take action is clearly highlighted.

I turn to the question of military effectiveness. I say at the outset that it is not my intention to do anything that would weaken our Armed Forces. They are responding bravely to what we are asking them to do and I am certain that the Bill would not hamper their effectiveness in any way. General Sir Rupert Smith said:

"It is the way military success is achieved that directly affects whether or not it can be translated into political advantage. If the military success is achieved by bombing civilian targets and causing the loss of many civilians lives, which result in strong national and international public reaction, chances are it will not be easily converted into political capital".

He is a person who knows what he is talking about from his own experience.

Cluster munitions have been used in about 24 different countries. I will not go through the list, but most of the areas where there have been conflicts in recent years have seen cluster munitions used. The justification for them, as I understand it, is that they are particularly effective against tanks and other vehicles, against large dispositions of troops and against runways on airports. Other speakers have far more military knowledge and experience than I could ever have, but my understanding is that cluster munitions are no longer regarded as particularly effective against tanks because they cannot penetrate the latest tank armour. As regards large dispositions of troops, I accept that in the war following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait there were concentrations of Iraqi troops, but I put it to your Lordships that it is most unlikely that we shall see large concentrations of troops in the conflicts that the world will witness in the future. I am assured by those who know far more than I do that cluster munitions are not necessarily the best weapons to use on aircraft runways and that there are other ways of effectively disabling runways.

This country is one of the largest users of cluster munitions. Indeed, 100,000 submunitions were used during the invasion of Iraq. My noble friend Lord Drayson wrote, in a letter dated 5 December 2006, that,

"our policy must find the right balance between humanitarian concerns and military necessity the latter being particularly important when our Armed Forces are deployed in conflict areas".

Of course, nobody would dispute that. However, I suggest to the House and, indeed, the Government that military necessity is not a good argument in favour of cluster munitions. I have not heard a single compelling argument that only these weapons will do the job. Many other weapons will, which do not have the other consequences of cluster munitions.

General Sir Hugh Beach said in February 2001 regarding Kosovo:

"In the British case, the delivery of some 530 cluster bombs"— containing 78,000 submunitions—

"in the course of the campaign may have resulted in the destruction of as few as 30 major items of military equipment. This achievement can in no sense have influenced the outcome of the campaign".

It has also been alleged that in Kosovo 20 to 25 per cent of NATO cluster munitions failed to go off.

I refer to the international aspects and the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, normally referred to as CCW. Recently there were discussions in Geneva on this matter. The Government opposed a negotiating mandate but supported a discussion mandate. This seemed pretty esoteric to everybody, certainly to me. However, I am strongly advised that a negotiating mandate, had we supported it, would have been a clear sign of our intentions to proceed towards a ban, but that a discussion mandate is probably just a lot of old waffle. That is what I am told. I am not an expert on the discussions in Geneva, but I am assured that the Government's decision was very disappointing.

Belgium has banned these munitions. Norway has declared a permanent moratorium. People say that, militarily, these countries are not as important as we are. I accept that, but nevertheless there are international moves towards banning these weapons. We are not in the forefront of those international moves; in fact, we are lagging a long way behind. Having said that, it is only fair to point out that, as I understand it, the history of arms control is usually that progress has been best achieved by a small number of countries reaching agreement and then extending that agreement more widely rather than having an agreement to which everybody signs up immediately. However, that is something for the experts to comment on. I would rather we had taken a more positive stance in Geneva than we did.

On the argument about smart versus dumb bombs, the Government have said on countless occasions that they abide by humanitarian law and that their stance on smart bombs will be incorporated in that process of abiding by humanitarian law. The clearly stated British policy is to phase out dumb bombs by 2015. If dumb bombs are not acceptable—the Government have admitted that they are not, as they want to phase them out—why have the date of 2015? Why not phase them out now, this minute? I do not understand why we have to wait so long. It is a sign that we are not that serious about the matter. Many other countries take note of that and say, "If the British are going to use them until 2015, why should we not do so? Why should we bother?". The signal that we send out is as important as what we do; they both matter.

In recent weeks, I have studied hard to learn the relevant terminology. Dumb cluster munitions are ones that either do not have a target discrimination capability or do not have a self-destruct, self-neutralisation or self-deactivation capability. That is MoD terminology. I think that we understand what it means. Much evidence gathered over many years indicates that, when weapons have a target discrimination capability, they sometimes do not work and that, when they have a deactivation or self-destruct capability, they also do not work. A great deal of faith is put in technology, which in testing conditions does not always live up to its promises and in battlefield conditions is even less likely to. I quoted Hilary Benn. If a bomb lands on soft ground, it is much less likely to go off than if it lands on hard ground. If a bomb's fall is broken by trees, it is less likely to hit the ground with as much force as it would if it landed on concrete. That is common sense even to someone as inexperienced in these matters as I am. All the evidence shows that smart bombs are simply not smart enough.

The Government have gone some way to meet this concern. I understand that air-delivered weapons are no longer used. The main weight has been put on the M85, a cluster munition with 49 submunitions that scatter. My right honourable friend Adam Ingram said on 16 June 2003 that the failure rate of these smart bombs was 2 per cent. An MoD paper of March 2005 put the failure rate at 1 per cent. However, on 8 November this year, Adam Ingram said that these weapons had a 95 per cent success rate. I notice that the figure has been tipped the other way to reflect not the failure but the success rate. It does not take much arithmetic to work out that if there is a 95 per cent success rate, there is a 5 per cent failure rate. But even 1 per cent is a high figure if one thinks of cluster munitions used on a large scale and scattered over a wide area. It seems to me that the smart bomb, as I said earlier, is simply not smart enough.

The M85 bombs were widely used in the recent Lebanon conflict and, according to David Shearer, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Lebanon, it has been estimated that there may be as many as 350,000 unexploded bomblets littering the country. I have seen other suggestions that the figure may be nearer to 1 million. I have seen photographs of several lying together in south Lebanon, which clearly did not go off when they were supposed to have gone off. The M85 munitions that we use are made in Israel, so they ought to be the same ones that were used in south Lebanon.

A UN report says:

"We can state categorically that we are finding large numbers of unexploded sub munitions that have failed to detonate as designed and failed to self destruct afterwards. In effect these sub munitions have failed twice. These M85 sub munitions are even more dangerous than other types because their self-destruct mechanism makes them more problematic to deal with and where ever possible they are destroyed in situ".

In other words, the task of clearing them is made harder when they do not go off than it was when the old-fashioned ones did not go off.

Another issue to do with the smart and dumb bomb argument is that, if the world is to ban dumb bombs and move to smart bombs, monitoring that will be very difficult. We had the same argument with anti-personnel landmines—that self-destruct anti-personnel landmines would be okay and the others would not be. That argument was scotched. The danger is that one cannot monitor international action if we allow some and not others. That is another case against them.

To conclude, on the way forward, obviously I really want the Government to take over this Bill, but I suppose that that is too optimistic a hope. The Bill makes it an offence to use, develop, store or transfer cluster munitions. It bans their import and export. Under the Bill, they are to be safely destroyed. That is what I would like the Government to take on board as legislation. I understand that the UK stockpile of cluster munitions contains four different types at the moment, so we have a lot of these.

Failing that—and I hate saying that if the Government do not accept plan A let us go to plan B, because it implies that I am conceding something, but let us be realistic—why should there not be an immediate moratorium on all cluster munitions? That would be sensible. It means that they would still be there if there was some military reason for them—which I have said there probably is not—but at least let us have a moratorium as the Norwegians have done. In any case, there is absolutely no argument for not having a moratorium on all dumb cluster munitions. Having said that they are going to be phased out, let us put a moratorium on their use now. I do not see why the Government should not do that.

It is a privilege to have been able to introduce this Bill. This is a desperately important issue, because it is a sign of our humanity if we do ban these weapons. I hope that the House will support that, and I hope that that is what the Government will do. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Dubs.)

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Spokesperson in the Lords, International Development, Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development) 11:23, 15 December 2006

My Lords, I welcome this Bill and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on introducing it so effectively and comprehensively.

The campaign to ban cluster bombs has all the hallmarks of that to ban landmines, for much the same reasons; they are not militarily effective and they produce disproportionately civilian casualties. Worldwide, civilians constitute 98 per cent of all recorded casualties from cluster munitions. But whereas landmines were in widespread use by all sorts of groups as well as states, this campaign has come in slightly earlier, before cluster bombs are in widespread use by non-states. If we act now, therefore, we can do a great deal to stop such proliferation.

Like others in this debate, I have read the material about the effectiveness, or otherwise, of these bombs. I have read what the Government say in their defence, and I am not persuaded by their case. It is very clear from the account of their use in the Balkans, where large quantities were used with extremely low success against armoured vehicles, that their military use seems extremely limited. We have heard that in Kosovo 78,000 cluster bombs were used, taking out only 30 major items of military equipment. Most of the UK cluster bombs are, I understand, unable to penetrate the armour of the main battle tanks that have been in operation since 1970. I will leave much of the assessment of their effectiveness to others, such as my noble friend Lord Garden, whose authority on these areas, I am sure the Minster will agree, is without question.

During the Iraq war, there was enormous concern about the use of cluster bombs, and the UK Government, I remember, were evasive about whether they were using them. They were very keen to stress afterwards that everything had been cleared up when they admitted that they had used them. It is rather difficult for any of us to go in and check that, given the state of Iraq at the moment. What has happened in Lebanon over the summer has given further, and I hope definitive, impetus to the campaign against these bombs.

What happened in Lebanon was controversial enough without the use of cluster bombs. There we have a fragile society, which as we speak is verging once more on collapse, and every day in the south several people, among them women and children, are killed or wounded by a previously unexploded cluster bomblet. What reminder does that serve to those who resented the incursion into their territory? When the Israeli Embassy here in Britain sends me a message about how important it is that the Government of Lebanon do not fall—with which I wholeheartedly agree—I wonder whether they regret leaving their fatal footprints in the south of the country, the daily reminders of a failed military intervention.

The Israeli Ambassador to the Russian Federation stated on 26 July:

"Reports of the Israeli army using cluster munitions are an obvious propaganda of Hezbollah and other organizations who do not know what is actually going on".

He knew full well how difficult, dangerous and damaging, both to civilians and to Israel's reputation, it would be if they were used in such a populated area. On the same day, the commander of Israel's ground forces said:

"We try to minimise their use".

He knows both that they are being used and how controversial that is.

"In the last 72 hours we fired all the munitions we had, all at the same spot ... ordinary shells, clusters, whatever [we] had", said a reservist, quoted in Ha'aretz on 8 September; the desperate but incredibly destructive reaction of an Army in retreat.

"What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs", says the head of an IDF rocket unit, quoted in Ha'aretz on 12 September. They all recognised the significance of what was happening; for it is civilians, above all, who are harmed by cluster bombs.

Cluster bombs kill civilians during attacks because they spread across a wide area. Anyone who has been to southern Lebanon will know how populated that area is. They also kill after the conflict, when civilians stumble across them. Of course, there is the wide, longer impact in that either farmers cannot use their land, or they endanger their lives and limbs by carrying on doing what they need to do to keep their farms going. For many, there is simply no choice. In Lebanon, Israeli-fired cluster munitions have damaged access to agriculture, housing, schools and water sources. Even now, bombs sit on people's roofs. In just one month after the ceasefire, bomb disposal teams had destroyed more than 25,000 submunitions.

Each time a cluster bomb goes off and hurts someone in southern Lebanon—even though Israel is now quite desperate to shore up the Lebanese Government, and even though it is making welcome moves to talk to the Palestinians and the states around about the way forward—it is Hezbollah that benefits. If ever there was a reason to ban these bombs, you can see it in the tinder box of the Middle East.

What is the scale of the problem? Some 73 countries hold cluster bombs. Hezbollah used them; that is said to be the first known use of such weapons by a non-state armed group, although I gather warlords in the Balkans also did so. Of course, the use of such bombs goes far wider than the Middle East. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, the UK has been a significant user of them. It dropped some 78,000 bomblets during the air campaign in Kosovo and used more than 100,000 submunitions during the invasion of Iraq. It is therefore very appropriate that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is bringing forward a Bill which, as it were, targets what the UK can legally do. After all, the Government say that it is legal to use these weapons, but we can help them to a situation where it is no longer legal for them to do so.

Hilary Benn seemed to show some sympathy with that point of view—seemingly out of line with the MoD position—in calling for a campaign to ban cluster bombs other than those he considered "smart". In a leaked letter on 5 November he said:

"The high failure rate of many cluster munitions, and the failure of many militaries around the world to use these munitions in a targeted way means that cluster munitions have a very serious humanitarian impact, pushing at the boundaries of international humanitarian law.

It is difficult then to see how we can hold so prominent a position against landmines, yet somehow continue to advocate that use of cluster munitions is acceptable".

Too right.

For the Convention on Conventional Weapons in early November, he argued to his colleagues:

"I believe we should go in ... advocating for a process that will lead to an effective ban of 'dumb' cluster munitions".

In fact, at that conference, Kofi Annan called for the freezing of the use of cluster bombs,

"against military assets located in or near populated areas".

In a Written Answer in the Commons later in November, Hilary Benn said that there was agreement from Ministers at DfID, the FCO and the Ministry of Defence that the UK should play a leading role in pushing for an international commitment to end the use of dumb cluster munitions—that is, as we have heard, those without a target-discrimination capability or self-destruct mechanism—and phasing out the use of the UK's own dumb bombs. Welcome though that position is, it does not go far enough.

As we have heard and will no doubt hear again during the debate, so-called smart bombs are hardly smart at all. The bomblets are not programmed to focus in on a particular area. What is supposedly smart about them is that they have detonators which are supposed to destroy them, should they not detonate on impact. As we have heard, not only do the bomblets clearly have a higher failure rate when used in warfare than has been indicated under test conditions but the detonators have a 25 per cent failure rate. Given the number already found unexploded in Lebanon, clearly the failsafe mechanism is not working adequately. The UN has reported:

"We ... are finding large numbers of unexploded ... [smart] submunitions that have failed to detonate as designed and failed to self-destruct afterwards".

We have heard that Jan Egeland has described the effect of these weapons in Lebanon as "shocking" and "to me, completely immoral".

I feel for the Minister, a lady with the strongest of credentials in international development and a track record of support for civilians, especially women and children. I am struck that neither the MoD nor the FCO—nor, for that matter, DfID—wished to come near this subject, no doubt in the expectation that it might explode in their faces. I do not in the slightest associate the noble Baroness with someone who would argue for such weapons, and I feel that she has drawn a very short straw. I also think that the Government will change their view, but perhaps not in time to save her answering this debate. However, I suppose that that is the downside of being in government and it is what she has to put up with.

I have some questions to put to the Minister. Has the UK undertaken practical assessments of the human impact of cluster munitions? I do not think that it has. Has the UK gathered field data on cluster bombs? I think not. Has the UK provided evidence on how its forces evaluate and control the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions? Again, I do not think that it has. I take it that she will clarify that the UK Government will abide by a moratorium on so-called dumb cluster bombs. Will she be able to go further than that? The UK claims that these weapons are legal; that is why the Bill is important: it would make them illegal. After all, people decide collectively what is legal, and whether these bombs should be legal is what we are considering here.

As I said, I believe that ultimately this campaign will, as it must, prevail. As the Minister knows, the UK Government's reputation around the world has been somewhat battered in recent times, so let us at least take the lead in this area, call for the banning of all cluster bombs and put our own stockpile out of use. Let us once more show our humanitarian rather than our militaristic credentials. I hope that the Government will shortly come to support this Bill.

Photo of The Bishop of Coventry The Bishop of Coventry Bishop 11:35, 15 December 2006

My Lords, it is not entirely unheard of for judges to complain, usually in private, that they are sometimes forced to do what the law requires of them rather than what they judge to be right. In other words, law and morality are not always synonymous.

In a recent supplementary question, I invited the Minister to comment on the morality, as distinct from the legality, of using cluster munitions. I was very disappointed in the answer that I received. I therefore find myself raising the very same issue in this fuller debate today. Like others, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for bringing this matter before us.

He and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, both referred to Jan Egeland, who commented that the use of cluster munitions was utterly immoral. The terms "immoral" and "moral" are not necessarily easy to define. We can find ourselves in all kinds of trouble if we give the impression that we are seeking the moral high ground. I assure noble Lords that that is not my intention today.

The criteria by which we make moral judgments are truly varied. They will include those that we term "religious", invoking an external authority; those that are properly termed "humanist", implying a consensus among right-thinking people; and, indeed, those that we acknowledge to be "intuitive" or "instinctual". When it comes to war, and the questions of whether it is to be waged at all and, if so, how, there is in the West a quite remarkable convergence of these criteria—religious, humanist and personal.

The coalition of ideas that gathers under the umbrella term "just war" has its roots firmly in Christian thought, notably St. Augustine. But these ideas have been refined and developed by many other influences, secular as well as religious, to the point where there is now broad agreement around the reasons why war might be justified—the so-called ius ad bellum—and the manner in which war is to be conducted, ius in bello. For Augustine, participating in war was a last resort but one that could be justified by the moral duty imposed by Christian love: the duty to protect an innocent neighbour from unjust attack. At the same time, Christian love sets definite limits on the violence that can be done to the attacker. It is largely those limits that are the subject of our debate today.

The Geneva Convention clearly enshrines the two main principles contained in ius in bello; namely, that, so far as is possible, all non-combatants should be excluded from a theatre of war which could lead to their death or maiming—the so-called "principle of discrimination".

Secondly, a just war is one that is undertaken without gratuitous destruction; that is, in accordance with the principle of proportionality. For many of us, these principles raise huge moral questions about, for example, the carpet-bombing of Dresden, to say nothing of the holocaust that was Hiroshima. By comparison with such enormous devastation, why are we so bothered by a few unexploded cluster bombs? One answer, which has already been given, is that we are not simply talking about a few. Statistics have already been produced—and other noble Lords will, no doubt, produce others—to show that cluster munitions are a massive problem in areas of recent conflict, and that they not only destroy or maim countless civilian lives, but, just like landmines, render whole swathes of countryside uninhabitable. However, whatever the numbers, the issue of morality is not to be determined solely, or even primarily, by the scale of the problem or the number of unexploded cluster munitions, but by the nature of the weapons themselves, which simply cannot be used in a manner that ensures discrimination.

One of the regular obscenities of any war is the death of innocent bystanders, who are written off as "collateral damage". Incidentally, it is, perhaps, significant that we always use the term, "collateral damage" of the other side, the enemy, and not of our own side. I would find it hard to write off the life of one of my children or my wife in such a cavalier fashion. However, with targeted weaponry such deaths perhaps have to be accepted. The same simply cannot be argued when it comes to weapons that spread like grapeshot and that have very recently been used in areas with a civilian population. The use of napalm in Vietnam was eventually condemned as utterly inhumane, if not illegal, for the very same reason. The effects were indiscriminate, and therefore the principles of discrimination and proportionality were subverted. In medicine, if an apparently effective drug has too many bad side-effects it is withdrawn from circulation. Cluster bombs produce too many bad side-effects. I believe that any society that claims to be civilised should outlaw practices that may at present be legal but that future generations will undoubtedly see as immoral. I am wholeheartedly in favour of the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour 11:43, 15 December 2006

My Lords, I appreciate the broader context set by the right reverend Prelate. In supporting the Bill, so eloquently moved by my noble friend Lord Dubs, I recognise that, as a civilian who has never borne arms, I am questioning a decision made on the advice of military professionals. On the whole, civilians should be careful about that. But it is precisely because civilians—people who have nothing to do with battles and only want to harvest their crops and go about their day-to-day business—are so overwhelmingly affected by cluster bombs that I do speak.

Cluster bombs have been used in most major conflicts since the Vietnam War. In Laos, where I saw children on crutches and legless adults propelling themselves on small wagons to beg, there were nearly 5,000 casualties from them. In Iraq, there have been more than 2,000. Handicap International estimates that there may be 100,000 casualties worldwide and that 98 per cent of them are probably civilian. In Kosovo and Cambodia, where I saw many victims, boys under 18 are the biggest single casualty group.

The UK is one of the larger users of cluster bombs. Unexploded ones are still being found in Kosovo from the 78,000 submunitions inside cluster bombs. There were dropped, in our name, more than 100,000 submunitions inside cluster bombs during the invasion of Iraq, but I am not aware of our Government having made any analysis of their own of the harm to civilians caused by the use of these weapons. Yet the concept of banning weapons that cause unnecessary suffering to civilians is firmly embedded in the law that we adhere to, the Convention on Conventional Weapons. According to a YouGov poll, 81 per cent of British adults agree that the UK should support an international ban on cluster bombs. It seems to me that the Government have a case to answer.

I regret that the department for which my noble friend speaks has not seen fit to accept this case. In a Written Statement published in Hansard on 4 December, my noble friend Lord Triesman repeated what my honourable friend Kim Howells said: that the UK would begin a process of withdrawing just one kind of cluster bomb, so-called dumb cluster bombs—a term which the noble Lord, Lord Garden, questioned in his supplementary question of 23 November. We all agree that this small advance is, of course, welcome, but the Statement says of cluster bombs that,

"compelling and legitimate conditions may occur when our Armed Forces need to use these weapons".—[Hansard, 4/12/06; WS 111.]

That is a bad precondition under which to start the reviews and the discussions which the Statement expands on. Apparently, on 14 November, UK representatives had already objected—we were the only member state to do so—to a proposal for EU government experts to prepare a common EU position on negotiating a new legal instrument on these weapons.

If the Government pay little attention to the thousands upon thousands of dead and disabled civilians, many of them children, can we at least not join our allies and friends among other sovereign states? We have heard that Belgium has banned cluster bombs. New Zealand has called for a legally binding instrument, and the Lebanon, whose suffering we heard about from my noble friend and from the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, has joined the call for a ban. Then there are all those who have called for negotiations to begin without further postponements.

Such decisions should indeed be joint ones. I think all sides of this House have supported multilateral action on a ban. My noble friend's Bill would lead the implementation of such an international ban. There is, in fact, no need to work up all those long-term discussions and reviews held out by the Government through the framework of the Convention on Conventional Weapons. In the 1990s, states departed from the framework of the CCW to negotiate the Ottawa treaty to ban landmines, in which the UK, in those days, took an active part. The Ottawa convention now has 152 states parties, as against the CCW's 100, and the only country left now using anti-personnel landmines is Burma. The Ottawa action would be a good model to follow. It is political will that we are short of here, not lengthy processes. I do not say this with any satisfaction, but should we not be ashamed to stand apart from a gathering momentum of public and international opinion on this of all subjects, when we could be helping to lead it?

Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench 11:49, 15 December 2006

My Lords, I join all those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on bringing this important Bill before the House. He must be delighted that so many noble Lords have put down their names to speak on the subject.

I shall approach the subject from a personal point of view. I was involved in the Cold War when cluster munitions, which are the subject of this Bill, were viewed rather differently, certainly by the military, because of what they were supposed to be able to do. There were two main tasks. The first was airfield denial, which of course had an enormous impact on how the Cold War might have been fought. The second task, which was more immediately appropriate to the Army, related to the fact that we faced a potential mass of men and equipment which we lacked the men and equipment to deal with. One of the ways of channelling that mass to where we could do more was to deny it ground and to hope that it would therefore come to where we were more able to take action.

One way to do that was to lay minefields. By and large you laid deliberate minefields, which were marked so that you knew where they were to aid your own movement. You also left a map to show where they were, so that when the combat was over it was easier to clear up the battlefields where these things had been laid. Then came the opportunity to lay minefields more quickly, particularly anti-personnel minefields, by use of a cluster munition, which could deploy quickly over a piece of ground a large number of these weapons that you otherwise could not have used. So they did have an operational purpose against mass.

Interestingly, towards the end of the Cold War, our tactics changed. Instead of trying to put a thin line, as it were, right across the front to stop absolutely everyone who was coming, we decided to defend vital ground and to deploy our own forces, some of whom had the task of counter-attacking penetrations. I was lucky enough to command the first division in the British Army that was given this role. We started to do this and realised that movement was crucial to our task. One of the problems on the battlefield was that these indiscriminate unmarked minefields, laid by weapons that were capable of deploying large clusters of munitions, were a menace to our movement, as we did not know where they were. One therefore had to take an operational risk when deploying through these areas, which could well involve the loss of one's life. That debate was still going on when the Cold War ended.

The next time cluster munitions were thought to be ineffectively deployed was in our attacks on airfields during the first Gulf War, when the cluster munitions deployed as airfield denial weapons simply did not work. Therefore, they were a wasted weapon in our locker. The Iraqi ground forces never massed in such strength to justify the use of cluster munitions deploying anti-personnel mines, so these munitions were again shown up to be something of a question mark in the arsenal of military weapons.

Soon after that, I left the Army and became involved with the United Nations and the World Bank, particularly on the subject of post-conflict reconstruction. One of the main tasks in post-conflict reconstruction is clearing up the battlefield—clearing up the mess. That is frequently referred to as de-mining. At that time, the World Bank was unwilling to fund de-mining activities because it said that all mines were military and that it did not fund military activities. It took a great deal of time and persuasion to prove to it that "de-mining" is an unfortunate word when talking about clearing up the detritus on a battlefield, as that includes large numbers of unexploded weapons of various kinds, not all of which have been militarily laid. The phrase that we tried to put across was, "There is no development without de-mining". That resulted in the Word Bank agreeing to fund de-mining operations.

The firm that I was with was involved in a lot of these operations—in Mozambique, Angola, Zaire, Somalia, Afghanistan, Laos and other places. What was disturbing with the task in hand was that, although some mines had been militarily laid and marked, a large number of mines had been laid indiscriminately. Whereas one felt confident to say that the battlefield detritus was not all military, one of the biggest problems was the unexploded cluster munitions that could only have been militarily deployed.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, cited the words of General Sir Rupert Smith. I commend to Members of this House a book that General Smith has written, The Utility of Force, in which he analyses the change from what was industrial war between industrial nations, which was the characteristic of the Cold War, even though it never happened. To have armed forces on clearly defined battlefields is a very different affair from what is going on now, which General Smith has defined in the phrase "war among the people". It seems to me that what we are talking about—if we are talking about the scale of military operations as currently conducted in Iraq and in Afghanistan and formerly in Yugoslavia—is very much war among the people. If you are conducting war among the people, the weapons you will use must be proportional; they must be used only against military forces and not against the people.

One of the main reasons why I so strongly support the Bill of noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is that I do not believe that there is any military justification for the deployment of these mass weapons in a war where the most likely victims are nothing to do with the military conduct. If these wars are political, which I believe they are—and the military must be the servants of the political in all these ventures—the political direction must be sufficiently surgical that military commanders are enabled to decide which weapons they wish to use for which purposes. For all that I have tried to analyse this as best I can, I can find no justification for the deployment of these weapons in any activity that the British Army has been involved with since the end of the Cold War. Therefore, I hope that the Government will listen to the accumulated comments that will no doubt be made during the rest of the debate.

Photo of Lord Rea Lord Rea Labour 11:58, 15 December 2006

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on introducing this extremely important Bill. I apologise to the House that I may have to leave before the end of the debate for family reasons—it is my wife's birthday today. In support of my noble friend's important Bill, I will concentrate on the destructive anti-humanitarian effects of these weapons. Most other speakers are much better qualified than me to look at the technical details of these weapons and their military usefulness or otherwise. I am therefore very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who has just spoken, for his informed discourse on the use of these weapons.

My noble friend discussed the status of these weapons under the conventions and protocols of international humanitarian law and said that they are very probably not permitted. He also explained how the Bill can edge forward the growing international movement, initiated by Belgium, to make the use of these weapons illegal, in the same way as the Ottawa convention has effectively ended the use of anti-personnel mines. The effect of cluster weapons is similar to those of anti-personnel mines, in the sense that they continue to cause injury and death long after a military conflict is technically over. The intention may be to use them as battlefield weapons and for all the submunitions to explode on impact, or soon after, but even if no dumb submunitions are intentionally used, 1 to 5 per cent or more—much higher figures have been quoted—do not explode on impact. As each container holds hundreds of submunitions and many containers may be used, there will be a significant number of unexploded submunitions, as my noble friend has explained, even if the percentage of dumb submunitions is low. These will continue to present a hazard to local populations, especially to children and particularly to boys, who are curious about such intriguing objects. They pick them up or, through bravado, poke them and accidentally detonate them.

The injuries from cluster bomblets or submunitions are considerably more severe than those from anti-personnel mines and more akin to those caused by anti-tank mines, which is unsurprising because cluster bomblets are intended to penetrate armour or destroy vehicles. I understand, however, that they often fail to destroy or damage heavily armoured modern vehicles, as my noble friend has said. Although anti-personnel mines cause injuries mainly to lower limbs, which may necessitate amputation, cluster bombs are more likely to cause severe internal injuries that may prove fatal even if expert surgical help and a blood transfusion are rapidly available. Usually, they are not.

In Kosovo, where some of the most detailed data have been collected under UN auspices by the UN Mine Action co-ordinating centre, the fatality rate of post-conflict anti-personnel mines was 8 per cent in the 210 episodes recorded, but 30 per cent in 142 cluster-bomb episodes reported. Cluster bombs are therefore three or four times as lethal. In that period, a third more children and adolescents were injured or killed by cluster bombs than they were by anti-personnel mines. The reverse was true among adults, among whom there were three times as many casualties due to anti-personnel mines as there were due to cluster submunitions. Cluster bomb explosions were more likely to kill young people, especially boys, as I have said, because they handled the devices or were close onlookers. Older men were more likely to tread on anti-personnel mines while working, especially in agricultural areas.

Data from other war zones are not so detailed or accurate because of the problems involved in obtaining accurate information when there is a breakdown in communications and infrastructure and the enforced movement of the population. Some 11,000 episodes have been analysed, and all studies of the problem agree that cluster bomb injuries result in much higher death rates than anti-personnel mines. In Laos, over 25 years, 55 per cent of the 4,800 incidents reported were fatal. I thank Landmine Action and Handicap International for providing the figures that I have quoted.

The case for banning these weapons is therefore even stronger than that for anti-personnel mines unless there is an overwhelming military case to be made in their favour. Although the Minister will probably have to argue that there is such a case, the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, may cause her to wonder whether the words that she will have to utter are correct.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting him. I find it difficult to do so because I agree with everything he has said and would probably agree with everything he was going to say; but we do have to do something to defend the Companion to the Standing Orders of this House, which are clearly quoted at the top of the speakers list. If the noble Lord cannot be with us at the end, I suggest it would be a courtesy to the House if he concluded his remarks fairly swiftly and then took all our congratulations to his wife on her birthday.

Photo of Lord Rea Lord Rea Labour

I am extremely sorry for the way in which the tenor of my thoughts moved. It was well beyond my script, and I apologise to the Minister.

I have spoken mainly about the effect of post-conflict residual weapons.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My noble friend misunderstands the situation. The Companion to the Standing Orders is clear that if he cannot stay until the end of the debate, he should not speak in it. He has begun his remarks, but the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has made a plea, which I think is shared by all Members of this House, that he really ought to bring those remarks to a close. The Government are not replying to the debate. The Bill is in the hands of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, but he is under no obligation whatever to take any notice of what my noble friend says when he will not be present at the conclusion of the debate.

Photo of Lord Rea Lord Rea Labour

I will, in that case, conclude my remarks. I strongly support my noble friend's Bill. I hope that the Government will give it very careful and sympathetic consideration as it passes through its stages in this House and, more crucially, in another place.

Photo of Lord Jay of Ewelme Lord Jay of Ewelme Crossbench 12:06, 15 December 2006

I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on bringing forward this Bill. It is impossible not to be impressed by the particular horror of cluster bombs and their appalling effect on civilians, particularly women and children, not only when they are dropped but long afterwards, as we are still seeing in Vietnam and as I fear we will see for some time in the Lebanon. The issue in question is the consequences of the munitions that are used, not the intent behind their use, so the parallel that others have drawn with landmines is indeed valid.

It is impossible not to be struck by the sheer scale of the stockpile of cluster munitions and by their use and proliferation. Their use by Hezbollah, as others have mentioned, is a chilling reminder of this. I do not doubt for a moment that our Armed Forces will use these weapons professionally, responsibly and legally, as they use others; nor do I doubt that the weapons themselves are legal. But others, alas, will not be so scrupulous, with devastating humanitarian consequences for many.

Public attitudes to weapons evolve over time, as does the international law that governs their use, as we have seen over the last 150 years or so with dum-dum bullets in the 19th century through to landmines in the 20th century. We live in a century in which there is more concern than ever, and rightly so, for the humanitarian consequences of disasters, whether natural or, as with conflicts, manmade. We are nearing the point at which the continued use of cluster munitions will simply be widely regarded as no longer tolerable. In that context, I welcome the decisions to phase out certain of Britain's cluster munitions in the years ahead.

I also welcome the focus of the recent CCW review conference, at British instigation, on the humanitarian consequences of cluster munitions. Those must be moves in the right direction, but we must ask whether they go far enough and whether there is not now, as other noble Lords have argued, a compelling humanitarian case for stronger action, particularly given the clear and continuing evolution of national and international opinion. There are now very strong arguments for getting ahead of the curve and working for a complete ban on cluster munitions, as proposed in the Bill.

I realise that this presents difficulties. We cannot ignore the Minister of State's recent statement in another place that,

"a total ban on the use of all types of sub-munition would have an adverse impact on the UK's operational effectiveness".—[Hansard, Commons, 23/11/06; col. 802.]

The question is whether that adverse impact, and in particular the potential impact on the security of our Armed Forces, which must always be our top concern, is so great and so certain as to outweigh the inevitable humanitarian consequences of the continued use of cluster munitions. I look forward to the remarks to be made by the noble Lord, Lord Garden, and I was deeply impressed on that point by the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. For my part, like the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I am not yet convinced that the operational need for these weapons outweighs their inevitable humanitarian cost.

If we adjust our approach further, as I hope, and work for a complete ban as advocated in this Bill, whether through the CCW or separately, we should not underestimate the influence that we would have in the ensuing negotiations. Despite what we sometimes read, Britain has real influence in the world, including in the UN and other international bodies. That influence is derived from our economic strength, our global foreign policy, the high reputation of our Armed Forces, our large and poverty-focused aid programme, our long tradition of tolerance and our humane concern for others.

These issues are never straightforward, but I believe that the balance of the arguments now is in favour of this country putting its considerable political, moral and diplomatic weight behind those working for a complete ban on cluster munitions and making a real difference on an issue of huge and growing humanitarian concern, which is why I support this Bill.

Photo of The Bishop of Salisbury The Bishop of Salisbury Bishop 12:11, 15 December 2006

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for bringing this debate to your Lordships' Chamber. I wish to associate myself strongly with the clear and persuasive speeches made by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry. I suspect that there is a good deal of unanimity in your Lordships' House on what these weapons do and the effects that they have. I wish to focus on the declaration made by the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, in his letter to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, of 5 December. He said:

"We consider that cluster munitions are lawful weapons when used in accordance with international humanitarian law".

He went on to define how they might be properly used and be of military force and might.

This poses at once the question of whether we are going to base our use of any weapons on what is lawful or on what is right. As in other areas of debate—for example, bioethics—does a "can" automatically imply an "ought"? I believe that military action is justified and that our Armed Forces do an amazing job. We have a common duty to keep the peace, to protect the innocent and to minimise oppression, which is a duty that we all seek to support. But in pursuing those goals, we must surely be governed not by just what is legal, but by what is right.

In considering what arms we should use, I believe that we need to differentiate fairly clearly between those that are focused or targeted weapons—guns, bombs and missiles—that can be used against a defined military target and those indiscriminate weapons, such as chemical weapons, gas, nuclear weapons and cluster bombs, that affect civilian populations and areas as a whole. It is an increasingly easy distinction to make. Although there will be arguments about the boundaries, there cannot surely in your Lordships' House be any doubt on which side of that divide cluster munitions fall. Why do we need to be so clear about the kind of weapons? Because the use of force in any "just war" theory means proportional response. Can cluster bombs ever be a proportional response?

When war spills out from the battlefield with conventional armed forces opposing each other, such as was envisaged by theorists like von Clausewitz, into the soft sweep of violence which affects whole civilian populations as well as military forces, we need much more sharply targeted weapons, not more indiscriminate ones. I have no hesitation in supporting the noble Lord in this debate. I hope very much that a definition of weapons and how they can be used proportionally will form part of the way we think through these questions, as this issue, which seems to me so self-evident and clear, is taken on to its next stage.

Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden Baroness Turner of Camden Labour 12:15, 15 December 2006

My Lords, I commend the action of my noble friend in introducing this Bill to outlaw the use of cluster munitions. He has already explained what those weapons do. They are clearly anti-personnel weapons, designed to kill and injure individuals. They constitute a threat even after the conflict in which they were used has terminated. They are particularly dangerous to children, who are often attracted to them because of their colour. Children can be badly injured or even killed when they pick them up.

Before the Iraq war, when it was clear that the invasion was about to begin, a number of us—notably the noble Lord, Lord Elton—urged the Government not to use cluster bombs. The danger to children was stressed. The Government refused to give such an assurance: indeed, whenever the subject has been raised, they have always said that cluster bombs are needed as a protection for our troops. I have always found this a rather surprising claim, which I hope will not be advanced again today.

I well recall the Kosovo conflict, which was claimed to be a conflict entered into for humanitarian reasons—to prevent ethnic cleansing. Some of us queried that at the time, since the casualties resulting from the intensive bombing were mainly civilians, and cluster bombs were used. Why were they used, if their use is required to protect troops? In that conflict, we did not have any troops on the ground. The war was conducted entirely by the bombing fleets. There were no troops to protect. Clinton refused to commit ground troops and we followed suit. There were no NATO troops on the ground until the hostilities were over, but we used cluster bombs notably on the city of Nis and other urban areas. The killed and injured were civilians and there were no military reasons for the use of those cluster weapons.

I cannot help believing that the function of these weapons is to terrorise civilian populations and to continue to make their lives difficult when the conflict is over. As we have heard today, fields cannot be farmed and villages often cannot be used because of the dangers that the weapons left behind represent. I hope we all agree that this is unacceptable and that the Bill receives the support it deserves. I also hope that we will be told by the Government about action being taken to assist civilians in the areas where there has been conflict and where they are still facing the problems left by these weapons. I support this Bill.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative 12:18, 15 December 2006

My Lords, I remind the House of my interest as a serving TA officer. Indeed, my commanding officer commanded an MLRS battery that was designed to fire these weapons. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for introducing this important subject by means of a Private Member's Bill. I have been coming under considerable pressure from a personal contact in the UNHCR, resulting from the indiscriminate use of these weapons in southern Lebanon, as described by many noble Lords.

While cluster weapons are nasty weapons, there is no such thing as a nice lethal weapon. They can all kill, they can all maim, and they can all destroy the hopes and dreams of their victims, but I am not convinced that our Prime Minister understands that. Even the humble AK47 creates misery and fear all over the world. I have only one question, but it is a little technical. Does our current inventory of cluster munitions comply with the requirements of "insensitive munitions"?

Until recently, I slightly misunderstood the problem. For instance, it is thought that submunitions in Lebanon failed to explode because they were out of date or defective. I would be dismayed if any our weapons were either out of date—I have had a suitable response to a Parliamentary Question on that point—or unreliable. I think the Minister will struggle to convince your Lordships that our cluster munitions are reliable in that regard.

The M26 MLRS rockets contain 644 M77 submunitions. After a short flight, the submunition is armed by a simple mechanism and when it hits a hard target it explodes. The hard target may be an armoured vehicle but if it hits any other hard surface—a rock or a vehicle—it will still explode. The problem, as identified by many noble Lords, is that if it gets stuck in a tree, lands in sand or lands in snow it will probably not explode. As there is no self-destruct facility—or, if there is one, it is unreliable—the submunition remains dangerous for a long time and, because the fuse mechanism is simple, it is very easy to set off. This causes all the problems so accurately described by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, of course, is infinitely more knowledgeable about military matters than I am and he has described his difficulties with and reservations about cluster munitions.

As noble Lords have pointed out, the UK did not deploy MLRS on Operation TELIC in Iraq in 2003. I was there. Of course, the reason we did not do so was because we had absolute air superiority. We could attrit the enemy by air and we did not want to litter the battlefield with any more unexploded ordnance than necessary for the reasons outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.

Many noble Lords have remarked on our use of other cluster munitions in Iraq in 2003. I was one of the 25,000 British servicemen on the ground. If we had lost more than 1,000 British servicemen on that operation, I suggest your Lordships would be taking a rather different view. We believed that we faced weapons of mass destruction. We fought to win, not to lose. Do not send our Armed Forces on operations like this with one hand tied behind their back. If noble Lords do not like the consequences of an illegal and unnecessary war, I suggest they have a chat with the Prime Minister.

Why the Israel Defense Forces acted in Lebanon in the way they did is a mystery to me. What desired end-state could it have been seeking to achieve? I think part of their problem must have been poor command and control arrangements.

Many noble Lords have questioned the utility of cluster munitions. It has been suggested that the bomblets are ineffective against the main battle tanks' armour, especially if the tank has explosive-reactive armour. But, first, there are thousands of main battle tanks without ERA; and secondly, an armoured force has many more armoured vehicles than main battle tanks. In addition, it will have vast numbers of soft-skinned vehicles. Armoured personnel carriers are designed to resist small-arms fire and shrapnel from bombardment but, unless they are something like our in-service Warrior armoured personnel carrier, they are not designed to resist shaped charges. For instance, our most numerous armoured fighting vehicles are in the FV 430 range, which are easily taken out by a top attack bomblet. Many former Warsaw Pact AFVs are just as vulnerable.

Noble Lords have observed that some countries have, to some extent, withdrawn cluster munitions or are debating doing so. But, to be quite blunt, many of these countries do not plan to prosecute and win a large-scale, high-intensity conflict. It is our Government's policy to be able to do so. I suggest that those countries rely upon the US, UK and, possibly, France to do that task for them. Most of these states do not have a comprehensive and layered defence capability; their forces are unbalanced. I believe that there are 10,000 main battle tanks in Europe but states with far more main battle tanks than ourselves spend only a fraction of the UK's defence expenditure. They have horrible gaps in their capability, particularly in logistics, their ability to deploy at distance, intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance. In short, they are not serious and their conventional deterrent is weak. I believe that we need this capability to engage an advancing enemy armoured formation.

Noble Lords have mentioned Kosovo, but in that campaign we saw the limitations of air power. Yes, a few platforms were taken out, but the Serb forces were much better than expected in camouflage, concealment and deception. Why we were deceived is another matter. We make a mistake by always assuming that we will have air superiority in a future conflict. Certainly that might be right in respect of a conflict of choice, but we might not have air superiority where an enemy has unexpectedly good air defences.

However, if we are to have a system of cluster munitions, we must exercise great care in its use in order to follow the doctrine of General Rupert Smith in his excellent book Utility of Force.

I am sorry to be unhelpful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, but I share all noble Lords' concerns about unexploded submunitions—the ones that do not go off for the reasons I have explained. I believe that it is imperative that submunitions self-destruct quickly and reliably. This is for two reasons: first, on the humanitarian grounds already expertly laid out by noble Lords; and, secondly, for military effectiveness. The system would be much more effective if all submunitions exploded on contact with a hard surface or self-destructed within a few seconds. I cannot see any advantage in not having all submunitions exploding quickly after deployment. I think the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, would agree on that point.

Incidentally, I do not think that self-neutralisation is good enough because it would leave in place many of the problems I have outlined. There would be less military utility and it would provide a source of explosives for irregular forces or terrorists.

Cluster munitions present a unique problem. Ordinary high-explosive shells and propellant natures can be used up on live-firing exercises—no doubt there is a cycle in the use of defence munitions to achieve that end—but, because of their nature, cluster munitions cannot be fired for training. It would be interesting to know whether cluster munitions have been fired recently on an MRS.

So what is to be done? I believe that the Bill as drafted is undesirable, but easily amendable to permit cluster munitions with reliable self-destruct mechanisms. In the short term, the Minister should consider controls on cluster munitions, particularly a requirement for a written authority from the Secretary of State to remove cluster munitions from the ammunition depots. In the longer term, the Minister should ensure that all submunitions should self-destruct reliably.

My fear—or, perhaps, forecast—as there are other uses for the MLRS launcher system, is that the Government will keep current stocks of cluster munitions for as long as possible until the political pressure becomes too much, and will then take the munitions out of service but will not replace them with munitions with a reliable self-destruct device because of the cost.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 12:29, 15 December 2006

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Dubs on introducing the Bill. This is an appropriate day on which to debate it—buried among a lot of other news is news that the Government have instructed the Serious Fraud Office to stop inquiring into sleaze in the arms industry. Cluster bombs are part of that. One reads of the huge sighs of relief from these people and that the decision has apparently been made in the national interest.

I frequently hear that we need arms to defend ourselves, and I do not disagree, but that if we can sell as many of them as possible to other people as well, the unit cost comes down and that is more efficient, so we should export them. We seem to do this, often with allegedly massive bribes, which might have come out in the SFO inquiry if it had continued, on the basis that everybody else does it and we have to keep up with them or lose jobs. The key is not to get found out, hence the panic in much of the world over the SFO inquiry. This has been going on for years. The Conservative Party did it when it was in government. We should give our Government credit for starting the SFO inquiry—I am rather sad that they have not been able to keep it going.

In today's world, few of these arms are for defending the UK, and I include cluster bombs in that remark. They seem to be more frequently used for attacking others such as expeditionary forces around the world and, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, suggested, for other things as well. So it is good that landmines are already banned, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said; that has been confirmed by Hilary Benn. Cluster bombs are not any different in their effect from landmines; they are just a different means of delivery, which I am sure some of our colleagues will say is more efficient. As many noble Lords have said, these things stay around for years and kill many innocent people.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry talked about collateral damage. Probably more than 100,000 people have died in Iraq but we do not seem to be able to count them. If al-Qaeda or anybody else managed to set off some of these bombs in our suburban gardens, covering large parts of the UK with mines that hung around for years, killing our children, of course we would want to stop it and I hope that we would. But, as the right reverend Prelate said, would we really call it collateral damage? Would we not think it much better if not only was there a worldwide ban on cluster munitions but we had taken a full and proactive lead in achieving it, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, said? The real difference is that cluster bombs survive for many years after the military have left; all the evidence I have read suggests that that is true.

I suggest that we return to the ethical foreign policy that the Government started nearly 10 years ago. My party had one—the Tories never did, to my knowledge. If the Government supported the Bill, it would be an excellent way of restarting that policy.

Photo of Lord Archer of Sandwell Lord Archer of Sandwell Labour 12:33, 15 December 2006

My Lords, I join my noble friend Lord Berkeley in congratulating my noble friend Lord Dubs on finding an opportunity to promote this Bill and an occasion for discussing a topic which troubles many of your Lordships and very many people outside this House.

My noble friend made it clear that under the Bill, the United Kingdom would renounce the use of cluster bombs, because to use or possess them would be a criminal offence, as it would be to trade in them. And it would be a unilateral act by this country, because there is not yet a convention or treaty prohibiting their use. In that respect, there is a distinction between this Bill and the Landmines Act 1998 which implemented the United Kingdom's undertakings under the existing Ottawa convention.

Of course, most noble Lords participating in the debate hope to see a convention concluded in the near future, but, sadly, that can be initiated only by Governments; for the moment, Parliament has no role to play other than to express approval or disapproval of the actions of Governments. Some of us would like to see Parliament play a more proactive role in negotiating conventions, but that is for the future.

Sometimes a unilateral renunciation of a detestable weapon, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, pointed out, is important not only in augmenting the respect which this country currently enjoys but in encouraging others to follow suit. We sometimes debate the merits of unilateral renunciation of nuclear weapons, but that is very different. It is argued by the Government that to renounce our nuclear deterrent would leave us vulnerable to attack. However that may be—and some of us take a different view—no one can seriously argue that only cluster bombs can deter someone who might wish to attack us.

Many of the issues which might otherwise have confused this debate are already foreclosed. It is established in international law and, I am sure, in an international moral consensus, that a state prosecuting a war is not entitled to an unrestrained choice of method. The end does not necessarily justify the means, pace the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who for the moment is not in his place. Military necessity does not confer a blanket licence.

At least since the St Petersburg declaration of 1868, it has been accepted that there are categories of weapon, the use of which is unacceptable. That consensus was reinforced by the Hague convention of 1899 and the conventions relating to specific weapons since the Second World War. Similarly—and perhaps more importantly for the present purpose—there are conventions to protect non-combatants. That protection is not confined to the specific conventions. There has grown up over the past 150 years a body of customary international law generally referred to as international humanitarian law. The argument that cluster bombs are unlawful is not necessarily refuted by pointing out that there is not yet a convention forbidding them. Even were that not so, to say "There is not a law against it" is not usually an acceptable excuse. We are here to examine the existing law and, where necessary, to change it.

It is now clear, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that the character of war itself has changed, at least since the end of the Cold War. Military operations no longer normally take place on open battlefields with set-piece manoeuvres; more frequently, they are carried out in towns and villages among civilian populations. Tanks proceed up residential streets and are resisted from buildings in the side streets.

It is difficult to target a military objective with any weapon without endangering civilians, so cluster bombs stand condemned on two grounds. First, they are liable to injure those who are not and should not be targeted. It is sometimes argued that it is necessary to balance the suffering inflicted against the advantages to be gained—in traditional international law, the doctrine of proportionality. I am not qualified to assess the advantages and I am not sure that the Government are in a position to assess the advantages and disadvantages, since we are told that they have not conducted any study of the subject. But I accept that it could not be right to inflict such harm for a negligible advantage. However, I have always been a little troubled by the doctrine of proportionality. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry warned us, that might appear to imply that any suffering is justified if the advantage to be gained is sufficient, pace the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. I do not go along with that. It is as though a burglar were to argue, "It's all right for me to burgle that house because the damage and distress which I cause will be outweighed by the value of the loot which I take away with me".

The second ground on which cluster bombs stand condemned is that their power to injure is not exhausted at the time of impact, as many noble Lords have pointed out. They can kill, maim and ruin lives long after the battle has subsided. We have heard more than once—and before this debate, too—the distinction between smart bombs and dumb bombs. We know, too, as some of your Lordships have said, that smart bombs, like smart human beings, are not infallible. There are times when smart bombs can act dumb and fail to self-destruct. There are, of course, disputes about what proportion of them fail to self-destruct. In the case of the M85, estimates have varied from between 1 per cent to at least 5 per cent and some, I believe, higher.

The problem with statistics is that they conceal as much as they enlighten. Quoting statistics can be a way of saying, "It's all right because not many people have been injured". If, as I am told, 78,000 bomblets were used in Kosovo, 1 per cent of 78,000 is the 780. That was 780 deaths and maimings waiting to happen. To the person whose legs are amputated the damage is 100 per cent.

But the damage is not confined to individual human tragedies. The death traps left behind, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, pointed out, inhibit the rebuilding of homes and the rehabilitation of civilian populations. And they continue to alienate populations when humanitarian organisations are seeking to bring about peace and reconciliation.

We saw in the case of landmines how public opinion can build up until it is irresistible. I believe, like my noble friend Lady Whittaker, that it is building up across the globe and that there will be a convention. That is why my heart goes out to my noble friend on the Front Bench—the most compassionate of individuals. When it comes, I am sure that she would like to say with pride, as I would, that my country gave a moral lead.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative 12:43, 15 December 2006

My Lords, I join other noble Lords not only in congratulating the noble Lord who introduced the Bill but in my sympathy for the Minister. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, suggested that she had drawn the short straw. I recall, just after I had been appointed to my first ministerial post, meeting the late Lord Eccles in the Prince's Chamber and telling him my news with great excitement. Instead of the warm congratulations I expected, he shook his head sadly and said, "You'll have to eat an awful lot of worms". I fear that the noble Baroness may not enjoy her dinner today.

The case against cluster munitions has been conclusively made. I wish to fortify it in only one respect: the question of the reliability of the so-called smart weapon to self-destruct. We have heard the figures of 1 per cent and 5 per cent as the likely failure rate. Those figures came from observing the campaign in Lebanon. I have seen photographs of the ground over which that campaign passed. A photograph of an area slightly smaller than this Chamber showed five unexploded bomblets in one place. Either a large number of missiles were targeted on the same garden or the failure rate was a great deal more than 1 or 5 per cent.

That being so, I am tempted to think of reports by United Nations observers, who suggested that a more credible assessment of the failure rate may be 25 per cent. My noble friend Lord Attlee gave a most interesting dissection of the situation, and I hope that your Lordships are not tempted to expect a safe smart bomb to be available before long, because the current failure rate is the result of the best efforts of munitions manufacturers around the world, and it does not work. We have to write it off as a usable weapon in the terms described by the manufacturers.

Will the Government confirm that they have now definitively and finally abandoned all use of airdrop cluster weapons, as alleged twice in this debate? Can we have that on the record from the Minister? If not, why not? We need to know the situation.

My second question is whether the Bill, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is necessary. Perhaps these weapons are already de facto illegal. Paragraph 4 of Article 51 of the supplementary protocol to the international Convention on Conventional Weapons, relating to the protection of the civilian population. states:

"Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are:"—

I shall move straight to the second paragraph—

"(b) those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective; or

(c) those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol; and consequently, in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction".

Paragraph 5 continues:

"Among others, the following types of attacks are to be considered as indiscriminate:"—

I shall pass again to paragraph (b)—

"(b) an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated".

In Article 57, the responsibilities are given to local commanders. It states:

"1. In the conduct of military operations, constant care shall be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects

2. With respect to attacks, the following precautions shall be taken:

(a) those who plan or decide upon an attack shall"—

I shall pass to the second and third requirements—

"(ii) take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of attack with a view to avoiding, and in any event to minimising, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects

(iii) refrain from deciding to launch any attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life".

There is no question that these weapons inevitably cause considerable loss of civilian life. If we are subscribers to the protocol, we seem to be in breach of it. If we are not, will the Minister tell us that we have not subscribed to that additional protocol?

There is not much more to say. As my noble friend sits next to me, I have to hear what he says about how it looks on the ground. I sympathise deeply with him and greatly respect what he has done in the cause of this country, at a stage when it seemed so honourable and hopeful. I understand the need for every soldier to have the greatest possible weaponry to hand; but, as we have been told that the principal object of these weapons is to deal with armour, how many armoured tanks on which we rained these lethal weapons were there in Afghanistan? I did not know that the Taliban had any. The Government's statements in defence of the policy seem a little moth-holed.

I thank my noble friend for bringing this matter forward. The reality, I recognise, is that the Bill will not get on to the statute book in its present form. I hope that it has a Committee stage, because there are ways in which it can be improved, and the discussion could improve our own approach to this problem internationally.

On the international question, I conclude by reflecting sadly on what we did in Switzerland the other day. I know it has been dressed up as us pressing forward on the need for discussion of this important matter for another 12 months before we meet again, but unfortunately we did not press forward on the need, expressed by so many other countries, for negotiation: actually getting down to discussing what we could agree. If that is going to be the Government's attitude, there is no way forward but that suggested by the Norwegians at the conference. They have now declared that they will call an unofficial conference for those who want to go ahead. More strength to their elbows—I wish I knew what the Norwegian was for "elbow", but more strength to them anyway. They are embarking on a course that proved successful when it came to getting rid of landmines, which in my view were less objectionable creatures than these are.

Your Lordships have heard that children are most likely to be maimed by one of these things, because it looks like something to play with. If your Lordships can do something today that will persuade the Government to take forward honestly in the international forum a campaign to ban these weapons, I will be satisfied if we do not do it on our own before everyone else does. I wish, however, to be satisfied that the Government are putting 100 per cent into their effort to get that result as quickly as is humanly possible.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 12:51, 15 December 2006

My Lords, I am glad to speak in support of my noble friend Lord Dubs. This Bill is certainly an immediate priority. He presented it today intellectually convincingly and with impressive moral conviction.

Listening to the penetrating observations of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, I could not help reflecting on my own experiences some years ago as a director of Oxfam. During that time I was greatly disturbed by the fact that more than 50 per cent of our work worldwide was caught up in the consequences of warfare. We wanted to get on with serious development work, but the reality was that we had to take the consequences of war seriously, over and over again. I also reflected during that period on the sad reality that war was affecting civilians more and more—in a sense, even more than military personnel. I could not help occasionally wondering whether, in the strategy and planning for warfare, this had not become a real and nasty consideration: we win wars by intimidating civilians.

Lebanon has been mentioned in this debate. I find it very sad, when we are so committed to our membership of the Security Council, that we were so dilatory in pressing for an immediate end to the war. In that context, it is significant to note that perhaps as many as 90 per cent of the cluster bombs used in Lebanon were used in the last 72 hours of the war. Warnings may have been given, but too often the frail, the elderly and very young simply could not flee. The lasting consequences, together with the consequences of previous Israeli incursions in 1973 and 1983, remain grave. As we have heard, livelihoods have been destroyed and large areas of agricultural land are contaminated by failed, but still potentially lethal, submunitions. In the recent autumn, three to four civilians have been killed per day, and 35 per cent of those victims have, it seems, been children. The UN Mine Action Co-ordination Centre in south Lebanon has calculated that the number of unexploded munitions, as we have heard, may be as high as 1 million.

The United Kingdom has championed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. What does the spirit and logic of that position demand of us on the issues raised by the Bill? I found the reflections of my noble friend Lord Berkeley particularly significant. We speak a great deal about, and are preoccupied by, terrorism, but what is terror? Where is the dividing line between terrorism and action that generates terror? We need to think carefully about that if we are to have credibility in our stand against terrorism. We must consider the contradictions between what we argue we are defending and the daily experiences and the reality of life in highly sensitive and volatile parts of the world. As the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, argued so well, the dangers of counterproductivity cannot be overemphasised.

It is claimed by some that cluster bombs are safe, and that the failure rate is less than 1 per cent. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred to this. It is clear, however, that the failure rate of the modern M85 submunitions used in south Lebanon may in fact have been between 25 per cent and 40 per cent.

This dreadful saga is not just about Lebanon, of course. Unexploded submunitions, when accidentally activated, still kill, maim and bereave hundreds of people, many of them children, in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam decades after their deployment. More recently, the people of Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Lebanon, have joined the people of south-east Asia in enduring this cruel legacy, with its agonising human costs, as lives are often painfully eliminated, children are hideously wounded, and access to land, to orchards with their olives, citrus fruit and banana crops, to homes and to forests for hunting and gathering firewood, is lost.

The stark truth about cluster bombs is that while their multiplied and scattered effect, with its inevitable inaccuracy, brings disproportionate suffering to civilians in times of conflict—and that is bad enough—in the aftermath of that conflict they continue for years to punish the most vulnerable and innocent people in the community.

So-called "collateral damage" is the distortingly anodyne language with which we endeavour to mask ghastly and nightmarish realities for ordinary, non-combatant people. That terminology is even more cynically inappropriate when applied to situations where a ceasefire has been established or peace restored. For the people where the explosions happen it is nothing less than indiscriminate terror.

Earlier this month Kim Howells, a Minister of State, told us of the Government's concern. He assured us that an international consensus had been achieved to hold expert-level discussions on the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions as what he described as an essential preliminary to legally binding instruments. He evidently expects those experts to report back in 12 months' time. Our Government, he has told us, will then, after these further 12 months, consider the outcome of those discussions in deciding whether—and, if so, how—to develop their future policy on these sinister weapons.

Another 12 months? Should, God forbid, circumstances arise in which these weapons are used before, it is to be hoped, some sane conclusions are reached, how many children must die or be maimed? How many more relatively innocent civilians must suffer? Is that not extraordinary complacency by a nation determined to retain its seat as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council? Do we not already know all too well the human impact of cluster bombs?

My noble friend Lord Dubs is absolutely right about smart bombs. The Government's leisurely timetable for phasing them out is totally unconvincing and ludicrous. In the name of the humanity that we constantly assert as the basis of our way of life, urgency is desperately required. Do or do we not regard children in the Middle East as being as important as any children here in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland? That is why Norway's determination to get on right now with banning cluster weapons is so welcome.

Will my noble friend please clarify the position of our Government on three specific issues? First, how do they intend to engage with the Norwegian initiative? Secondly, why have they not ratified Protocol V of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, with the obligation which that places on states that have used cluster weapons to clean up in the aftermath? When will they ratify that protocol? Thirdly, what effective steps are the Government taking to constrain international transfers of cluster weapons? The need for that is pressing. As many as 70 countries, including Israel, may have stockpiles, mostly of less sophisticated weapons. There is reason to believe that Israeli attacks on Lebanon may well have violated a secret agreement restricting Israel's use of certain US cluster munitions. It may not be the first time that this has happened. Yet, as recently as 2005, the United States is reported to have agreed a licence worth $615,496 for the sale of 1,300 M26 cluster weapons to Israel.

Surely, that brings home the indispensable imperative of the proposed arms trade treaty dealing with international arms transfers, on which the United Kingdom has been giving much commendable leadership in this past year, despite the obstructive intransigence of John Bolton and his colleagues. I am perplexed by the contrast between the exemplary position of our Government on the arms trade treaty and, sadly, their laid-back approach on cluster weapons, given the cruel characteristics of those weapons.

My noble friend Lord Dubs is to be congratulated on introducing the Bill. I wish it well and fervently hope that our Government will rapidly move to meet it.

Photo of Lord Garden Lord Garden Spokesperson in the Lords, Defence 1:04, 15 December 2006

My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on giving us the opportunity to debate this Bill. I trust that, given the almost unanimous support for the Bill in this debate, it will go into Committee and be taken seriously. We have heard speeches from noble Lords with a wide range of experience. I single out the military experience of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the diplomatic experience of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, as providing an important dimension to the debate.

I have taken a close interest for a number of years in the question of the appropriateness of weapons that depend on cluster munitions for their effect. As noble Lords have shown as they have thrown the various statistics around, we have, sadly, been gaining much more data about their effect, particularly in many of the conflicts over the past 15 years. As the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, said, Kosovo in 1999 was effectively an air campaign with the widespread use of cluster bombs. In Afghanistan in 2001, in Iraq in 1991 and 2003 and in Lebanon in 2006, a large number of unexploded submunitions have caused injury and death to civilians long after the battle has finished.

I take very seriously the words of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. He is, after all, among your Lordships today the person with the most recent experience of the battlefield. He said, rightly, that there is no such thing as a nice weapon. By their nature, weapons are not nice. However, I assume that, just like other members of the British military, of which I was once a member, he accepts that there are certain classes of weapons that are appropriately prohibited from warfare, whatever their military utility. The right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Salisbury and of Coventry reminded us of that moral dimension and the need to align what is legal with what is right. We have accepted that in the international community. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, said, we have done that for 140 years, since the St Petersburg international military convention of 1868 laid down that,

"the necessities of war ought to yield to the requirements of humanity".

Since then, we have banned many types of weapons, despite the fact that they are probably very useful to have. We do not use them because their effects are both inhumane and disproportionate. Thus, there are bans on biological and chemical weapons, which we all accept. Perhaps we forget the much older ban on exploding bullets in 1868, the ban on expanding dum-dum bullets just before the turn of the century, the prohibition on weapons that contain shrapnel that is undetectable by X-rays, the prohibition of laser blinding weapons and, in 1997, the prohibition of anti-personnel landmines. The question for me, therefore, is whether cluster munitions, or a subset of them, fall into a similar category of weapon that merits banning. If they do, then the military utility argument no longer holds, although I will address that issue.

We also need to keep in mind that we are making the argument to ban cluster bombs for two different reasons, which we need to put together. There is the question of the direct effect of the weapon: is it disproportionate in the way that it acts and does it cause too much collateral damage? There are also the longer-term consequences of the weapon, which is a separate problem. One can combine those issues in considering whether these are inappropriate weapons.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, reminded us that many of the weapons that we are talking about were conceived in the days of the Cold War, when he and I used to look at weapons in a different way from perhaps how they are looked at in the post-Cold War era. Then, we were thinking of an anti-armour weapon, such as the BL755 against mile after mile of Red Army tanks that may have progressed forward. That weapon was, effectively, a 1,000 pound bomb with 147 fragmentation armour-piercing bomblets. Once deployed, the bomblets would disperse and, because the bomb would be going forward, the bomblets would go forwards and land in an elliptical pattern. The size and the shape of that pattern were difficult to predict, because they depended on the speed and the angle of the aircraft dropping the canister, the height at which the canister opened and the effects of wind. There were lots of uncertainties. The higher you were when you launched the weapon, the bigger the pattern. It is normally at least several hundred metres long, however—a big area in which 147 fragmentation armour-piercing bomblets are randomly dispersed. Whatever else they may be, cluster bombs are area weapons.

We have heard from many noble Lords that not all the bomblets will detonate on landing. That is understandable: sometimes they are too low to arm before they hit the ground; some of the parachutes get caught in trees; some strike the soft ground, as we have heard; and some just fail because, on occasion, military equipment does just fail.

From a military perspective, there is also the problem that, because you have lots of little bombs in a big canister like an ordinary bomb, none of them can be that powerful. They are smaller than if you were dropping a 1,000 pound bomb. You have a random spread, which means that you must have your targets close together to have much hope of achieving a good military effect. Most of the bomblets tend to miss the target, which is another reason why they are scattered around. There is also the problem of the unexploded ones. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, cited the Kosovo assessment of the 530 UK cluster bombs dropped producing 78,000 little bomblets. These assessments are generally made with the most optimistic of assumptions. The weapons might have disabled up to 30 pieces of military equipment—not tanks or armour, but what are called "pieces of military equipment". That is a pretty low rate of return for a military weapon.

These weapons are much more use against soft-skinned vehicles or troop concentrations—that is one argument that is made. We have also heard from many noble Lords that they should not be used in urban areas, yet most of the operations in which we now find ourselves have an urban dimension. As the world becomes more urbanised, that problem gets worse. Because this is an area weapon, if it is used in urban areas, where there are lots of civilians, it is bound to cause disproportionate direct civilian casualties. If you were to make a case merely on the direct effect, you would have to be absolutely confident that you were able to control targeting policies so that the weapons were used only against military targets and not places with possible concentrations of civilians. As we have seen, this is impossible to police.

On direct effects, the military utility is not terribly high and there is the difficulty of controlling these weapons so as to not cause disproportionate damage to civilians. I have no problem with saying that one could make a case just on the basis of direct military effect that it is time for these weapons to go. As most noble Lords have said, however, the real problem is the consequential long-term effects of unexploded munitions, which potentially lie around for years. That case for a ban is much stronger.

In the past, the Government have made the case—I think that they have now stopped—that although they are sowing what amount to anti-personnel mines, that was not the intention when the bomb was dropped and is therefore different from setting deliberate anti-personnel mines. That case cannot be sustained. We know that there will be a percentage of unexploded munitions and we must accept responsibility for them. We know that the victims are likely to be civilians and we know that children are particularly vulnerable, as many noble Lords have said. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, reminded us, however, one of the big problems is not just for the civilians, but for our own troops. As they go through what are effectively unplotted minefields or are de-mining—it is difficult to clear these sorts of submunitions—they get damaged. We lose our own troops as well as civilians and children.

Unexploded ordnance is not a new problem. We must remember that there are failure rates, whatever weapon we are talking about. We still find live bombs left over from World War II, but we are now talking about a different scale of problem. The odd bomb that did not explode was one bomb for every bomb dropped; in this case, we are talking about hundreds of bomblets for every bomb dropped.

The question is whether we should treat weapons with submunitions differently. It is a question of scale and risk. Noble Lords have been throwing around a lot of statistics on the percentage rate of failure and unexploded ordnance. For what we now call "dumb" cluster munitions, Governments and manufacturers tend to claim a failure rate of 5 per cent. The sales brochure figure appears over-optimistic compared to the data in reality. That is understandable; the sales brochure figures are compiled under carefully controlled test circumstances. When you are dropping a bomb or firing artillery in real operational circumstances, you tend to get a higher failure rate.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, could the noble Lord help us on a technical point? I understood that the 5 per cent figure related to the Lebanon, where the munitions used were M85s. I understood that that was intended to be a smart weapon. Am I wrong about that?

Photo of Lord Garden Lord Garden Spokesperson in the Lords, Defence

My Lords, I shall come to the smart weapon in a moment. The general rate quoted by manufacturers for the dumb weapons is 5 per cent; for smart weapons, some manufacturers claim a rate of 1 per cent. Data from the first Gulf War, where the 5 per cent figure was claimed by manufacturers, have given us an actual figure of about 23 per cent. That is not an unusual difference between the two. As the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, reminded us, large numbers of bombs—in Laos, for example—have an extraordinary long-term effect, like minefields. Between 1964 and 1973, the United States dropped 6 million to 7 million cluster bombs. By the end of 1996, 10,000 people had become casualties to the bomblets left behind, of which nearly 2,500 were amputees. One-third of those casualties were children.

After the Iraq intervention of 2003, the UN reported that 1,000 children were injured by unexploded ordnance—predominantly bomblets—in the three months after the original intervention. The Government position, which your Lordships have spoken about a lot, on whether we should phase out the so-called dumb munitions—those without target discrimination capability and without self-destruct, self-neutralisation or self-deactivation capability—is now at least that these weapons do not need to be kept for ever. The dates—2010 for BL755 and 2015 for the M26 MLRS—are, probably coincidentally, the dates at which these weapons were expected to go out of service anyway. That is not a respectable or responsible position to take.

We have not talked at all today about the JP233, of which the Air Force was very proud back in the Cold War days. It was an anti-airfield weapon that not only put holes in runways, but sowed a minefield to prevent the holes from being repaired. It was taken out of service seven years before its due date, once the landmine treaty came in. We have an example of how the Government can withdraw a weapons system from service early because it realises that it is no longer appropriate. That is what we must do in this case.

Whether non-dumb weapons—those with some self-destruct system, which obviously appeal greatly to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee—get us over that problem is easy to answer. The manufacturers' aspirations—to bring the failure rate down to 1 per cent from 5 per cent—are to make it five times better. That sounds good. The 1,000 children injured in Iraq in three months in 2003 would only be 200 children maimed or killed by these new smart weapons. That does not seem to be an appealing prospect.

I am not convinced by the arguments in favour of some division. We all know that that would create a fuzzy definition, which would allow cluster munitions to continue and proliferate. That feeling is much reinforced by the recent experience in Lebanon, which my noble friend Lady Northover and other noble Lords talked about.

In July 2003, after the report on the children injured in Iraq, the then General Sir David Ramsbotham and I, who were not yet Members of your Lordships' House, wrote a joint letter to the Times. We wrote:

"The use of weapons, which by their nature kill and maim civilians long after a conflict is over, have no place in a civilised country's arsenal. We should now prohibit cluster munitions, whether dropped from the air or fired from the ground. The UK could set an example to the world by removing them from our inventory, just as we have done for landmines".

Subsequent events, particularly in Lebanon, have reinforced me in that view. I strongly endorse the attempts of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to get this Bill through. He will have the support of these Benches.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Defence, Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Shadow Minister, International Development 1:21, 15 December 2006

My Lords, we welcome the opportunity to debate cluster munitions. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for giving the House the opportunity to do so, and I congratulate him on setting out his case so effectively. But we cannot support the overall effect of this Bill. I am sorry to disappoint my noble friend Lord Elton and all those other speakers who have supported the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, so eloquently today.

We understand and fully appreciate that problems are caused by the use of cluster bombs. We are sympathetic towards charities such as the Red Cross and Handicap International that campaign against these munitions. It is alarming that, according to their research, 98 per cent of casualties resulting from the use of cluster bombs are civilian and the numbers of those who have been killed or injured by them are striking. We have heard some eloquent speeches today on that point. Sadly, in many of the areas that these figures relate to, notably Iraq, Israel and Lebanon, the figures for civilian casualties and the percentage of civilian deaths caused by all types of munitions are often unpalatably high. However, an outright ban on all cluster munitions is not the right approach to take to address these problems. I do not believe that it would have the desired effect of greatly reducing international use. The United States, Russia and China have all recently reasserted that they would continue to oppose a ban on cluster munitions. That was done even in the context of other nations such as Australia, Belgium and Norway, which were mentioned this afternoon, imposing their own moratoria.

Many of the humanitarian problems that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, identified, are consequences of the use of so-called dumb cluster munitions. In this debate, the important distinction has been made by many speakers between smart and dumb munitions, the latter not having the technology to self-destruct or deactivate themselves. Dumb munitions which fail to explode on impact become a humanitarian threat and we share the noble Lord's concerns about these and support the Government's commitments to withdraw them by, as the noble Lord, Lord Garden, said, 2010 or 2015. It will be important for us to monitor closely the progress in that respect. The policy must remain in place. The target schedule must not slip and the appropriate funds must be made available to achieve it.

Cluster munitions are weapons of war that are currently legitimised by international law. They fulfil an operational role that cannot be performed by other means or munitions. That is true against large military targets or over an extensive area. The use of cluster bombs is necessary in those many cases where such targets become a serious threat to our own troops. I have said many times before in this House that we must always ensure that our service personnel have access to all the equipment and strategic options they need to do their job effectively. Minimising the risk to our own Armed Forces should always be a fundamental priority. By prohibiting the use of all cluster munitions in all circumstances, we would be exposing our military to the inadequacy of other options.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, the noble Lord said that 98 per cent of the people killed by cluster bombs were civilians. Does that mean that killing about 50 civilians is worth it to save one member of the British armed services? That seems an interesting consequence of his statement.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Defence, Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Shadow Minister, International Development

My Lords, I am not saying that. Perhaps if the noble Lord listens I can develop the theme a little more as I go on.

We cannot anticipate what threats our troops will face in the future. They may be forced to use these weapons but, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, said, they would do so professionally and legally. It is important to restate the legality of these weapons. We would be doing our Armed Forces a huge disservice to deny them legal munitions that could perfectly legally be used against them.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry mentioned morality. Having spoken last Thursday at a seminar laid on by the Army on the ethical, moral and legal justification for using force, I can assure him that the Armed Forces take the issue of morality very seriously. The problem is that their enemies often do not. We have a thinking military. I have no doubt that the Armed Forces will be debating very carefully the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, so eloquently set out. Any change of use will doubtless be passed on to Ministers. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jay—that the military effectiveness of cluster bombs is beginning to be outweighed by the humanitarian cost—will be high on their agenda.

We must pay close attention to the circumstances in which these munitions are deployed. The scenarios where cluster bombs may be used should be kept as limited as possible. It is important to maintain that these weapons must be fired only within the remit of international law. When deciding to use cluster bombs, as with all operations, an appropriate compromise must be found between the military objective and the humanitarian imperative to prevent unnecessary civilian suffering and casualties.

It is absolutely right to assert that we should not use cluster bombs in civilian areas, but it would also be quite wrong to impose a universal ban on our Armed Forces using cluster munitions for the wrong reasons. We must not use the right argument to reach the wrong conclusions. The reported use of cluster bombs by Israel in civilian areas in Lebanon was alarming. Even the Israeli army has itself launched an inquiry. However, any alleged irresponsible act by Israel or any other nation should not be used as an argument against our Armed Forces. Equally, the undoubted wrongness of applying the bombs in civilian areas should not be used as an argument to deny our troops their most effective means of destroying a hostile airfield.

Our Armed Forces currently face major campaigns in different parts of the world. The noble Lord, Lord Drayson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, will have grown tired of my repeatedly urging them to give our Armed Forces the best possible equipment and all military options necessary for ensuring their safety. We must continue to provide our troops with the most suitable weaponry for achieving their objectives and for doing so with as little personal risk as possible. If we do not do this, we will be failing in our duty. In some operations, that will inevitably require the use of cluster bombs. My noble friend Lord Attlee rightly said that we cannot send our troops to war with one hand tied behind their backs. He made an important point about unexploded submunitions and I look forward to the Minister's response to his suggestions.

Although we would do well to heed some of the lessons that we heard in the House today, it would be quite wrong to deny our Armed Forces an essential part of their armoury. This Bill would prohibit ownership of any cluster bombs when what is surely required is regulation of use. We might have some sympathy with unilateral international arrangements regarding cluster munitions but this Bill would prevent our Armed Forces legitimately employing bombs in combat areas, notwithstanding the fact that other nations would continue to use them.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, could my noble friend take the opportunity to give a little gleam of hope to supporters of this Bill? If the Bill were to permit the use of what he would describe as smart cluster bombs—I think that they are all dumb, myself—which distinguish targets and destroy themselves if they do not go off, would he not be able to support that? He did twice say that the use of all cluster bombs of all sorts could not be denied. If I am right in detecting from that that he would approve a specific ban only on dumb munitions, that is already in the Bill—in "Definitions" under Clause 4(4)(b).

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Defence, Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Shadow Minister, International Development

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that we will look very carefully into the point that he has raised. My starting point is that until the Armed Forces tell me anything different we will continue to support them by giving them the equipment that they need to do their job properly.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 1:32, 15 December 2006

My Lords, this has been a sombre, moving and highly informed debate, and I shall of course relay to the ministry the level of concern expressed in your Lordships' House today. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Dubs on obtaining time for this important debate and for his tenacity and commitment to this issue—and, indeed, the tenacity and commitment of many noble Lords who have spoken today, who have not used today's debate to raise this matter for the first time but have pressured myself and my noble friends for many months and years on this.

While our Armed Forces operate as a force for good wherever they are in the world, they also have to be capable of succeeding in the mission we ask of them. They need the means, in terms of personnel—as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said—as well as equipment, training and support, to undertake the mission. This includes having the necessary weapons with which to deliver the intended effect against the enemy whom they face. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, recognised that in stating his party's problems with the Bill. We have to recognise, too, that war is brutal, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, and that the use of any weapon will have consequences.

Our over-riding objective when we deploy our Armed Forces is to ensure that the military means used to achieve the mission are consistent with international humanitarian law. This applies whatever the weapons we are using. Clearly, in using any weapon we must take all feasible precautions with a view to avoiding and in any event minimising civilian casualties and damage, and recognising the importance of protecting our servicepeople, whom we ask to act in our name. As a nation, we adhere to the highest standard of compliance with our international and humanitarian obligations. It is in that context I address four key issues regarding this Bill. I shall then make a valiant attempt to answer as many questions as possible in the time available.

First, I turn to the United Kingdom's policy on cluster munitions. I should state from the outset that we fully share the concern over the humanitarian impact of unexploded ordnance. We believe that this concern is best addressed in the conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, because it brings together the main producers and users of cluster munitions. The importance of conventions was raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell. The United Kingdom will phase out of service dumb cluster munitions by the middle of the next decade, a point that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme.

The Government placed details of our policy in a Written Ministerial Statement on 4 December 2006, which gives a full explanation of our understanding of a dumb cluster munition, and of our plan to withdraw from service those dumb variants by the middle of the next decade. Officials have been asked to examine the possibility of an earlier withdrawal date.

Photo of Lord Garden Lord Garden Spokesperson in the Lords, Defence

My Lords, the news of an earlier date is very welcome, but what is wrong with a date some time this year? Is it purely a financial problem?

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

No, my Lords, it is not a financial problem but an issue of a capability gap with regard to our Armed Forces.

First, we should recognise that cluster munitions are lawful weapons when used in compliance with international humanitarian law, and that there are certain circumstances when our Armed Forces may need to use them and where they can do so lawfully. I emphasise that when our Armed Forces use any weapon, including cluster munitions, they do so only in strict compliance with international humanitarian law.

On the second issue, it may be useful if I give a brief overview of those occasions when it is necessary to use cluster munitions. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and other noble Lords have questioned that necessity but the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, sees the necessity in some circumstances, from his experience. There are certain compelling circumstances when the British Armed Forces may need to use cluster munitions in conflict, including for force protection. In that sense, I know that what I am saying will disappoint my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden and other noble Lords.

In certain conflict situations, our Armed Forces need to be able to destroy, suppress or neutralise dispersed enemy armour, other combat forces or military facilities in a defined area of terrain. Cluster munitions can deliver the required effect at a distance and allow the field commander to conduct that battle in an area of his choosing. That gives him a tactical advantage to select target areas to minimise collateral damage and enables him to reduce the number of enemy that must be dealt with in a contact battle. Depriving field commanders of this option risks producing a more intense level of combat when our troops make contact with the enemy, with the inevitable consequence of higher military casualties on both sides, as well as potentially higher civilian casualties.

As noble Lords will know, the use of all weapons, including cluster munitions, is governed by the law of armed conflict. The law of armed conflict or international humanitarian law contains the key principles and rules that govern the United Kingdom's military targeting process. That process is undertaken in strict compliance with that law. Military planners evaluate each target on a case-by-case basis for its legality, proceeding with the attack only when consequences for civilians would not be random or excessive in relation to the military advantage. They determine the most appropriate weapon to deploy in order to achieve the military goal. Military lawyers provide the necessary legal advice during targeting deliberations. The use of any weapon must be: discriminate; proportionate—an issue raised by the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Salisbury and of Coventry—necessary; and only military objectives may be attacked. Only military objectives are targeted and all feasible precautions are taken, with a view to avoiding and in any event minimising civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects.

In the UK there is a clear thread running through international humanitarian law, through doctrine and training, into targeting procedures and rules of engagement. Commanders judge the degree of force to employ to achieve the mission, subject always to compliance with international humanitarian law. Of course we recognise that there remains the vital issue of munitions that fail to detonate on impact—an issue which I think nearly all noble Lords raised in their contributions—and leave unexploded ordnance in the battle area, an issue raised specifically by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, with all his military experience, my noble friend Lord Berkeley and others. The UK played an active role in the United Nations in bringing about the new Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War, which is legally binding on states that have ratified it. The United Kingdom hopes to ratify it as soon as possible. My noble friend Lord Judd asked why we have not ratified it. There is no policy reason; we will ratify it as soon as we can. But we have already put in practice its obligations.

The convention requires states in control of territory on which explosive remnants of war are found to clear, mark, remove or destroy them. States using munitions that may become explosive remnants of war must record information on their use and then transmit it to humanitarian clearance organisations to facilitate clearance. The UK already provides the information, as well as funding £10 million per annum for clearance projects in conflict areas. In Iraq, for example, where the UK has cleared more than 1 million items of abandoned or unexploded ordnance, we have made a significant effort to assist and educate the local population in the danger of unexploded ordnance including working with teachers in the Basra region to make children in particular aware of the dangers.

The third issue I wish to address is the United Kingdom's efforts to tackle cluster munitions in the international community. The recent review conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons addressed cluster munitions as a core element of its work. At the conference the United Kingdom played a leading role, seeking and achieving a mandate through consensus that will urgently address the legitimate concerns about cluster munitions. If we are to address such munitions effectively, by which I mean delivering real humanitarian benefit to people in conflict zones, we must not only include in discussions the main producers and users of cluster munitions but persuade them of the argument that humanitarian concerns about the use of cluster munitions outweigh their legitimate security concerns.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour

My Lords, I apologise for interrupting my noble friend, but does she accept that it is not quite the case that the CCW is the only group to have users and producers? The Ottawa convention was negotiated outside the framework. There are 10 producers, 17 stockpilers and three exporters in the Oslo group. Does she accept that there is no need to restrict ourselves to the CCW framework and its long timescale?

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, we take Kofi Annan's view on this, which is to use the CCW framework as a starting point to bring together the main actors in a UN process and to try to work with that with all urgency before looking outside the process.

A discussion mandate, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Judd, is an essential step to defining cluster munitions, including specific definitions, and framing the context of a negotiating mandate. We see the discussion mandate, so much criticised by noble Lords today, as a starting point—a vital first step towards that negotiating mandate, bringing as many people as possible into the tent of that negotiation. The mandate addresses the adequacy of existing humanitarian law, whether it is being implemented diligently and factors affecting the reliability of cluster munitions. Those three issues were raised again and again by noble Lords. The discussion mandate involves all three. With that in mind, the group of government experts, including experts from the UK, will, as noble Lords know, report back to the conference by November 2007.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, will the noble Baroness kindly remind us when the CCW was first convened and whether 2006 is an appropriate year for a first step?

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I refer to a first step on this aspect of looking at cluster munitions. The aspect has been raised this year. We will have a first report back, which we hope will lead to a negotiating mandate, within a year. While that is not satisfactory for many noble Lords, the Government believe that it is a satisfactory timescale. I am aware that some states want to move directly to a negotiating mandate, but I have to report that, following extensive consultations by our team at the conference, at this stage such a mandate has not gained consensus among the main users of cluster munitions.

I shall outline the consequences for our Armed Forces were the Bill to become law. While this Bill prohibits the use, production, acquisition, possession and transfer of cluster munitions, I want to cover here only the prohibition on the use of them, because it seems to me that that is the core element of the Bill. The Bill would prevent our Armed Forces using those munitions that fall within the scope of the draft definition of the Bill, a definition that is more restrictive than that we have used in international discussions and than our understanding of a dumb cluster munition.

The prohibition in the Bill would deny our Armed Forces an anti-armour capability and a capability to suppress and neutralise enemy forces. It would create serious capability gaps for the Royal Air Force until planned replacement weapon systems attain full operational readiness in 2010 and capability gaps for the Army out to 2015. But, as I said, we are looking at that timescale. I am sure that this House would not wish to impose serious capability gaps on our Armed Forces that would have detrimental impacts on their overall operational effectiveness, undermine their ability to conduct combat missions in conflict zones and deny them a degree of force protection in combat situations.

Noble Lords asked a number of questions, which I shall try to go through as quickly as possible. My noble friend Lord Dubs asked why we do not phase out these munitions before 2015 and why we do not ban them now. I say to him that all our munitions, including cluster munitions, are procured and held to meet a specific capability. We constantly keep that process under review, as technology evolves and as new systems enter service to replace obsolete weapons. In that context, when we replace munitions they are destroyed and put beyond use. However, to attain the necessary operational effectiveness of our Armed Forces and to ensure that they have the systems that they need to conduct the operations that we ask of them, we cannot withdraw extant systems until the replacement ones are declared operational and fit for purpose. However, as I have said three times now, MoD officials are examining the possibility of withdrawing them earlier.

My noble friend Lord Dubs and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked about a moratorium. We would consider that to have the same effect as a ban. We shall withdraw dumb cluster munitions from service by the middle of the next decade. My noble friend Lord Dubs, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Garden, asked about the military effectiveness of cluster munitions and used the example, as they saw it, that they cannot defeat main battle tank armour. All weapons systems, including cluster munitions, are designed to have certain effects against differing types of target. The cluster munitions that the UK uses remain effective against the target sets that they were designed to deal with. Certain types of target, notably main battle tanks, are particularly difficult to destroy. That may not be necessary, as mobility kills are an effective way to reduce enemy fighting power. Again, the other types of target that we require cluster munitions to attack, including light armoured vehicles, troops and military facilities, remain vulnerable to our current range of cluster munitions.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked about an assessment of the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions and about field data evaluating the humanitarian impact. Our Armed Forces recognise the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions, and that is a key element of the ultimate decisions about whether to use them. Post-conflict, our clearance operations collect data about numbers of unexploded ordnance, and in Iraq we have cleared over 1 million items of unexploded ordnance. The UK keeps records of firing data and targets, but we cannot gather data of unexploded ordnance during conflict.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry talked about the morality of using cluster munitions. Morality is implicit in the law of armed conflict, which is based on both humanitarian and moral foundations, and this country uses cluster munitions in compliance with that law. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and other noble Lords asked why we should have only a discussion mandate. We have been through that. We believe that it is an important first step towards a negotiating mandate.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, talked about clearing up the battlefield. That is now an international norm, as he will know, which is enshrined in Protocol V of the CCW. The UK intends, as I said to my noble friend Lord Judd, to ratify Protocol V at the earliest opportunity, and in practice follows its obligations already. The noble Lord, whose intervention was welcomed by everyone, talked about the use of weapons in types of current conflict. Retaining a weapon in the infantry does not imply that it would be used in every deployment; but a range of operations, including war fighting, remain possible, and we need current technology to deal with the battlefield threats that our forces may face in the future.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, said that, in her view, smart bombs were not smart. Of course, it is to our advantage militarily to reduce failure rates to the absolute minimum: it means that we use fewer munitions to achieve the desired effect and we do not have the military and humanitarian problems of unexploded ordnance. However, movements are towards more developed cluster munitions, with greater accuracy and reliability. We hope that that will leave fewer unexploded ordnances and reduce the humanitarian risks.

A number of other noble Lords have asked questions and I shall of course write to them. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, asked about failure rates and asked me to confirm that we have abandoned all use of airdrop cluster munitions. The Government seek to reduce failure rates, as failures have both military and humanitarian impacts. New weapon systems have more stringent design criteria to reduce those rates. With regard to explosive remnants of war, Protocol V of the CCW will set a legal obligation to reduce failure rates.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked me a specific question about cluster-munition stocks, and I will end with that. MoD policy is to replace munitions with ones containing self-destruct mechanisms. As the noble Earl knows, when munitions are phased out, they are put beyond use and are normally destroyed. We do not intend to keep them in store for longer than required, but in some cases we intend to replace them with guided unitary systems where that provides us with the same capability as a cluster munition—that is, with increased reliability and accuracy.

In conclusion, the Bill has a humanitarian element at its core, which we applaud, but it does not recognise the arguments of military necessity or the need to equip our Armed Forces to undertake the missions that we ask of them. For those reasons, we believe that the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is inconsistent with our current military requirements, and that is why the Government have reservations about it.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour 1:57, 15 December 2006

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate; it is one of the most interesting that I have had the privilege to hear in my time in this House. I am grateful for the thoughtful way in which everyone has addressed this very difficult issue.

I do not believe that a single Member of this House would want to do anything to weaken the capability and capacity of our Armed Forces. If that were the case, I do not think that those of us who have supported the Bill would have done so. I certainly would not. But I do not believe that this measure would weaken our Armed Forces any more than they were weakened by the ban on anti-personnel landmines. No one has argued that our forces are weaker in the field or anywhere else because they cannot now use anti-personnel landmines. No one has argued that from any Front Bench or from anywhere else, yet I believe that in military terms the two propositions are similar—cluster munitions and anti-personnel landmines have the same effect. Why are we against them? We are against them because, in the main, they damage innocent civilians, not just during conflict but long afterwards.

I listened very carefully to my noble friend. We have been personal friends for a long time and I am sure that we shall go on being so. I am sorry that I have put her in a virtually impossible position, but that is what she is paid for. However, we have to look at what the Government said, and I shall read the Minister's words with a great deal of interest. In a sense, she circumscribed the future use of these weapons in such a way that I doubt whether our military would find it easy to use them. If they had the Hansard reference in front of them, they would say, "We can't do this. It's just not possible". The weapons have now been so circumscribed that I do not think their use is militarily realistic, even if the military wanted to use them. We heard that the military might need cluster munitions, but the arguments persuaded me that there is no sensible military justification for their use. There might have been in the days when the Soviet Union could deploy hundreds of tanks and millions of troops, but that is not the situation.

Using weapons that turn people against us does enormous political damage to us and our allies, and that must be taken into account. We are not just doing this because the fighting is all; we are doing it because there are at stake issues of democracy and human rights throughout the world. If we turn people against us because they do not believe that we are sincere in what we are doing, we are not benefiting our cause. That is why I am concerned about the Government's arguments, which have not convinced me.

Noble Lords will appreciate that so many comments were made that if I went through them all, I would outstay my welcome, and I do not want to do that. However, one point was not raised; I would like to pay tribute to the very brave people around the world who go on operations to clear up cluster weapons. They risk their lives every day, whether in Lebanon or elsewhere in the world, as a consequence of these weapons. They are brave and have a sense of self-sacrifice, but, alas, from time to time they are injured or killed. We should thank them for what they do on our behalf.

I appreciate what the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, said about Lebanon and Israel. There were important contributions from the Bishops' Bench about morality and proportionality. My noble friend Lady Whitaker talked about having seen people, including children, injured by these weapons in various countries, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, made clear that, even if in the past there was a military use for these weapons, the world has changed and they are no longer necessary. I was persuaded by his arguments, as I was by those of—I cannot say the Foreign Office, because that would be quite wrong—the noble Lord, Lord Jay, who was speaking in a personal capacity but whose arguments bore the imprint of years of senior work in the Foreign Office. I shall put it that way to avoid embarrassing the noble Lord, whom I have known and respected for a long time.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said that we should use these weapons only if—I hope I have his words right—there were reliable self-destruction mechanisms within the bombs. Given the doubts about that, I almost suggest that he is virtually on our side. I do not wish to provoke the noble Earl too much, but almost the effect of what he said is that he is with us, even if, in theory, he is not quite so. However, I appreciate that he speaks from particularly recent experience, which is very important.

I was interested in the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about whether these weapons are not already illegal. It is an interesting argument, but we have to persuade others. My noble friend Lord Judd spoke about his time with Oxfam, and the years of military experience of the noble Lord, Lord Garden, showed in all that he said.

I was disappointed that the most negative contribution came from the Conservative Front Bench. It was as negative as that from the Government, if not more so. I do not wish to make this debate less serious, but when I was first elected to the Commons, I voted against the Government in my first Division, and a friend of mine told me that when both Front Benches agree, the rest of us had better be careful. However, the issue is more serious than that.

I welcome the Minister's small concession when she said that the Government would look at whether some of these weapons could be banned earlier than 2015, but I hope they will be able to go further. There is an important humanitarian cause in this. What we do and how we constrain our Armed Forces are not enough, because other countries watch what we do and take their cue from us, and they will not respect humanitarian law as our Armed Forces have to. The international dimension is important, and we must set an example.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.