Cluster Munitions

– in the House of Lords at 11:37 am on 17th May 2007.

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Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative 11:37 am, 17th May 2007

rose to call attention to the proceedings of the Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions on 22 and 23 February; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, the Oslo conference was on cluster munitions. During the few moments that it will take the Chamber to empty of those who do not share our aims and ambitions, I will read to your Lordships an eyewitness account of a raid using cluster munitions:

"As they descended, the outer casings were released allowing a number of small anti-personnel bombs to be scattered over a large area .... Some exploded on impact with the ground, some landed in the trees and were suspended by their 'wings' on the branches of trees, others caught on guttering, telephone wires, chimney stacks ... The public was asked to report any sighting but under no circumstance attempt to move them ... There was complete terror among the population of the town for many months".

That town was Grimsby in the United Kingdom. The raid took place in 1943—this is not a new phenomenon. Some of your Lordships will remember, as I do, the leaflets that were stuck up in the streets and handed round in the schools telling one what these things looked like and not to touch them. They will also remember, if they were my curious age at the time, how keen they were to discover one for themselves. Since then, both we and these weapons have grown up.

For the sake of those reading this debate, I should say a little about what modern cluster munitions are. They can be launched by aircraft, rocket or artillery. They contain large numbers of submunitions, or bomblets, which are released over a target area within which enemy soldiers or equipment are thought to be. The submunitions carry a shaped charge of high explosive, intended to explode on impact, driving a bolt of molten metal through whatever it hits, whether it is a tank, a bus, a person or simply a house or field. The field can be the size of a football pitch if an air-launched weapon is used, carrying anything from 147 to 650 submunitions. A single strike by a multi-launch rocket system would saturate all the ground between Vauxhall Bridge and the Oval with thousands of them.

These submunitions are lethal when they detonate. They are more lethal when they do not, because they are apt to go off if disturbed. Our troops do not like them because, if they have to move across the ground on which they have been used, they are in fact walking into an unmarked minefield. Civilians do not like them because many of those killed or maimed after a war are civilians. There are up to 100 civilian casualties every year in Vietnam from a war that finished more than 30 years ago. Handicap International keeps a fully authenticated register of injuries from cluster weapons, which, as of last week, amounted to 11,044. The organisation accepts that only a fraction of such injuries are recorded in this way and believes the total to be nearer 30,000 civilian casualties.

Your Lordships will therefore join me in warmly congratulating the Government on withdrawing two of the three types of weapons that we hold. However, there is a third still in service and ready to use— the M85 155 millimetre artillery shell containing 49 submunitions, which it spreads over an area of roughly 50 metres square. I fear that the Minister holds the view, imparted to him by his advisers, that this is an acceptable weapon because it has a self-destruct mechanism designed to destroy it 15 seconds after impact if it has not already gone off. The manufacturer, Israel Military Industries Ltd, has published claims about this weapon that the Minister may well have read. The company states:

"Our testing suggests that the M85 cluster device has hazardous dud rate of 0.06%".

It goes on to claim:

"Our M85 devices are the most environmentally friendly in the world because they leave no environmental hazards behind and only minute numbers of hazardous duds".

I have seen a video of a 50 metre-square field in the Lebanon with 20 unexploded submunitions of exactly that type in it. If only two rounds were fired at the same spot, very wastefully, that is a failure rate of over 20 per cent. The probability is nearer 40 per cent.

Noble Lords do not have to trust me about that; they may trust instead the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre in south Lebanon. Of the use of the same munitions there, the centre says:

"We can state categorically that we are finding large numbers of unexploded M85 submunitions that have failed to detonate as designed and failed to self-destruct afterwards. In effect these submunitions have failed twice. These M85 submunitions are even more dangerous than other types because the self-destruct mechanism makes them more problematic to deal with".

Those who want to continue using those weapons say that most of these duds are "non-hazardous". There is no such thing as a non-hazardous dud. The bomblet is designed to explode when a metal striker hits a fulminate of mercury cap inside the weapon. In transit, a metal bar separates the two so that nothing can happen. When the vicious little thing leaves its pod, it begins to spin because of the ribbon on its back. The spin withdraws the bar arming the main detonator by flicking that bar away. The same movement causes a small mechanism to ignite a fuse made of old-fashioned gunpowder and timed to reach the same detonator 15 seconds later.

If the striker has not fired the detonator, the fuse will—so long as the gunpowder has not got damp. If the bomb has armed correctly but the striker has malfunctioned and the powder trail has got damp, you have a bomb waiting for a sufficient jolt to bring the striker down on the cap and blow it up when it is kicked—for instance, by a schoolboy. It is striking that by far the largest number of casualties are boys of an inquisitive age. It may be, of course, that the bomb is blown out of a tree or is run over by a lorry. If, on the other hand, the bomb has not armed because, say, it did not spin when released, what you have is a pretty little toy with a ribbon on the end—a little yellow toy with a little beige ribbon—just the nice sort of thing to whirl round your head if you are a child, and by far the greatest number of casualties are children. That, of course, is spinning it; it is arming the machine. Then, in just 15 seconds, both the bomb and your head will go off.

Such weapons are an affront to humanity and are properly the subject of United Nations interest. The arm of the UN known as the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons was set up to establish international agreement on the use of such weapons. These weapons first came before it in 2001. It has met twice a year since and has made absolutely no progress towards any limitation of the use of these weapons. The Norwegians in particular became exasperated by this lack of progress and on this, their national day—I declare an interest as the son of a Norwegian mother—I am glad to congratulate them on inviting to Oslo any countries prepared to commit to signing an international treaty to limit the use of these weapons by an agreed date.

Forty-nine countries, including the United Kingdom, went to Oslo. It was fascinating and depressing to listen to the discussions and to talk to our delegation until almost the last moment when, gloriously, the United Kingdom joined 45 other countries in committing to a treaty by 2008. That was a wonderful surprise and I thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, for his part in securing it, which I believe has been considerable behind the scenes.

What the Government signed up to commits the participating states—I abbreviate the following—to conclude by 2008 a legally binding international instrument that will prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. It goes on about dealing with the aftermath. I worry about the phrase "cause unacceptable harm to civilians", because that is a huge area for debate. I suspect that the MoD would like us to think that its B45 falls outside that definition. Can we please assure it that we do not? I have read out the manufacturer's blurb and the United Nations' damning contradiction of it. Can we therefore please impress on the Minister, as a matter not just of common humanity but of practical politics, the need to get rid of this weapon? We should use what diplomatic wiles we can to get there.

Let me add a few words, as I think that I have inadvertently turned over two pages and have more time than I thought. I pause to commend the Government for the way in which they have committed themselves to clearing mines. On 16 April, the Secretary of State for International Development announced at col. 3WS of Commons Hansard that £6.5 million has been spent on demining in Afghanistan, halving—please note that—but not concluding the continuing rate of civilian casualties. I do not think that we can have used mines in Afghanistan. Did we not sign the Ottawa convention banning them before we invaded? Are we to take it then that this money has been spent on destroying failed British cluster munitions? If so, how many did we fire?

I apologise for not giving the noble Lord notice of this question. He may want to fill out whatever he has to say here on paper. For instance, did we fire on the scale that we did in the first Gulf War, where we fired 3,516—think how many submunitions there were in those—or in Kosovo, where we fired 2,168? How much more land remains to be decontaminated and why are we surprised if the farmers of those fields do not regard us as their saviours and friends?

What matters these days is not what wars you fight, but how you fight them. These weapons make enemies of the very people whom we most need as friends. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall—Field Marshall Lord Bramall—said:

"If you liberally employ munitions that were designed for entirely different circumstances but which under modern conditions of conflict are more notable for the appalling and abiding legacy of death and mutilation that they provide for our own follow-up troops and even more the countless innocent civilians in the area, you would be making substantial inroads into any moral high ground and greatly weaken the chances of achieving your all-important political aim".

That says it all. We are using weapons that create more enemies than they kill. I ask your Lordships to send to the conference next week at Lima, to which I shall go, a firm message embracing whatever the noble Lord says at the end of this debate, because this is a human catastrophe that we can avoid. I beg to move for Papers.

Photo of Lord Archer of Sandwell Lord Archer of Sandwell Labour 11:51 am, 17th May 2007

My Lords, the House will be indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for this opportunity to continue the debate that took place on the Second Reading of the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Dubs on 15 December, and in particular to indicate our support for what I hope my noble friend on the Front Bench will tell us will be the Government's message to the world at Lima. I congratulate my noble friend on the work that he has done in these negotiations already.

In the limited time available to us, I beg your Lordships' indulgence to deal with one issue that arose out of that debate. Of course we would all like to see Lima lead to a convention, but in the December debate the noble Lord, Lord Elton, raised the question of whether cluster bombs are unlawful already. In that debate, the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Coventry and the Bishop of Salisbury pointed out that, even if the use of cluster bombs is said to be lawful, it does not follow that to use them is morally right. When I was young—long, long ago—we often heard the expression, "They can't touch you for it". It became a one-liner that was used by comedians again and again. It exposed the excuse that, provided that an action was not unlawful, it did not matter that it was dishonest, selfish or cruel. The lawfulness or otherwise of using cluster bombs does not foreclose the debate.

I beg a few moments of your Lordships' time to examine the Government's assurance that the use of these weapons is lawful. In the December debate, my noble friend Lady Crawley, no doubt on departmental advice, said that,

"cluster munitions are lawful weapons when used in compliance with international humanitarian law".—[Hansard, 15/12/06; col. 1764.]

It would be wrong to let that assurance pass without a moment's examination. There are international agreements and conventions to protect civilians, going back to the St Petersburg declaration of 1868, the Geneva Convention and The Hague regulations of 1907. Admittedly, the protection that they offer is limited. However, international humanitarian law includes customary law, and customary international law is a living body of doctrine that can develop with changing situations. It has developed as the nature of warfare itself has changed.

When engagements were on an open battlefield, troops employing firearms had no difficulty in targeting combatants because they knew that the cavalry bearing down on them were combatants. It was very unlikely that a civilian would be found within range. To injure civilians, you had to set out deliberately on an expedition away from the battlefield. More recently, as we were reminded in the December debate, and as we have read in the book by Sir Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force, the nature of warfare has changed. It normally takes place now not in deserted countryside, but in towns, among houses and concert halls, and in thoroughfares and side streets.

It is very difficult to guarantee hitting an object of your choice without a serious risk of causing what is sometimes euphemistically called "collateral damage", particularly when the weapons are frequently delivered from aircraft, as happened in Kosovo. If to that you add scattering your bomblets over a wide and ill defined area and you extend their lethal effects over a substantial period, and even if we accept that the M85 weapons have a failure rate of some 1 per cent—which your Lordships may not accept—a massive number of civilians will be at serious risk of death or fearful injuries, with unexploded weapons waiting to inflict mayhem in the weeks and months ahead. In those circumstances, the use of a weapon that cannot be targeted and which scatters destruction over a wide area cannot avoid a serious risk of inflicting disproportionate casualties on civilians.

The principles of international law that are applicable to that situation were established by the International Court of Justice in its advisory opinion of 1996 on the legality of using nuclear weapons. The court declared, first, that a clear body of international humanitarian law is now independent of specific treaty or convention obligations. States do not have unlimited freedom of choice as to the weapons that they use. Secondly, the court stated that humanitarian law establishes a clear distinction between combatants and non-combatants and that states cannot lawfully employ weapons that are incapable of distinguishing between those categories. Thirdly, the court said that those principles apply to new weapons in the same way as they do to pre-existing ones.

The court considered the argument that nuclear weapons could never be used in accordance with those principles, but it held, by seven votes to seven, on the casting vote of the president, that it could not conclude definitively that nuclear weapons could never be used lawfully in any circumstances. However, the court declared that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of humanitarian law. I see no distinction in that reasoning between nuclear weapons, which can rarely, if ever, be used without the risk of inflicting major casualties on the civilian population, and cluster bombs.

I do not dissent from the formulation of my noble friend Lady Crawley that cluster bombs are lawful when they are used in compliance with international humanitarian law, but the caveat is that, like nuclear weapons, they can rarely, if ever, be used in compliance with international humanitarian law. It is like giving planning permission for a swimming pool but specifying that people can only use it if they do not get wet. Even leaving aside the need for a convention specifically related to cluster bombs, it is virtually impossible to argue convincingly that their use does not infringe international humanitarian law. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench can assure us that the Government will look at that again. But of course it would be better to conclude a specific convention, so that everyone can see plainly to what they are pledging themselves.

In the December debate, there were a number of references to Protocol V of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. My noble friend Lady Crawley announced that the Government intended to accede to it at the earliest opportunity, but I have not been able to trace an announcement that they have done so. Can my noble friend say whether the United Kingdom has now acceded and, if not, what is the difficulty? However, Protocol V relates to the obligations, after the conflict, of those who have used these weapons. What is needed is an obligation on states not to employ these weapons in the first instance. We hope that the UK delegations will play leading roles in Lima and in future gatherings. I wish them well.

Photo of The Bishop of Leicester The Bishop of Leicester Bishop 12:00 pm, 17th May 2007

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for bringing his account of the Oslo conference to our attention, and for bringing to our attention the uncomfortable, troubling and disturbing facts behind it. I speak today as a lay person on this subject. I speak as one who has been confronted by stories of human lives brought to an end; of children and adults indiscriminately maimed; of land contaminated and unavailable for agriculture or development; and of unimaginable and interminable risks to innocent non-combatants being visited upon sizeable populations of people in Kosovo, in Serbia and Montenegro, in Lebanon, in Iraq and elsewhere. I speak as one deeply troubled that the United Kingdom military is using these M85 weapons in my name. I speak as one who cannot accept the Secretary of State's claim that:

"The types of cluster munitions we intend to retain are legitimate weapons with significant military value which, as a result of mitigating features, is not outweighed by humanitarian factors".—[Hansard, Commons, 20/3/07; col. 37WS.]

I cannot accept that statement because I cannot understand what, in the mind of the Secretary of State, legitimates the use of these weapons. Are they legitimated by international law or convention, and does that offer comfort or consolation to the victims—many of them children—who have not been consulted about the legitimacy of dropping these weapons on their communities?

I cannot understand either the significant military value of these weapons in the kind of conflicts in which our Armed Forces are likely to be engaged in the foreseeable future. I cannot accept that the so-called mitigating features—presumably referring to the self destruct mechanism so eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Elton—help to legitimise the use of these weapons. The evidence appears to be robust—even overwhelming—that the self-destruct mechanisms are unreliable; that the tests used to evaluate the performance of the weapons are undertaken only in ideal conditions, which do not replicate actual combat conditions; and that the United Kingdom has made no effort to assess the performance of these munitions in combat.

Furthermore, I cannot accept that this argument outweighs what the Secretary of State refers to as the "humanitarian factors". Can he be referring to the old man in Kosovo who desperately tried to escape as the sky rained down bomblets and blew him and his neighbours to pieces? Can he be referring to the victims who had holes twice the size of a man's fist blown in their torsos? Can he be referring to children playing innocently in Kosovo who were punished with multiple amputations for their temerity? Can he be referring to the population of Basra, who had 98,000 of these weapons rained on them during the invasion of Iraq? Are these "humanitarian factors" another way of speaking of our brothers and sisters who pay the price for these weapons in their mutilated bodies? They receive no medals; they are not treated as war heroes; they do not have the benefit of military hospitals, but languish for a lifetime of regret that the "mitigating features" failed to work in their case.

The document Fatal Footprint seeks to clarify the impact of these munitions on the lives of people in 23 countries and areas not internationally recognised, which are confirmed to be affected by cluster munitions. This is the first comprehensive study systematically analysing the impact of these weapons on civilian populations through casualty data. As noble Lords may be aware, it concludes that 98 per cent of casualties are civilian; that these munitions are more fatal and involve more injuries than mines or other explosive remnants of war. Not only are civilians most at risk, but the vast majority of civilian casualties occur when people are carrying on their normal daily livelihood activities in their usual and accustomed places.

Further, it is clear from experiences in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Iraq and Vietnam that extensive cluster munitions use generally poses a volatile and generational threat to civilians where clearance efforts are delayed.

It is commonplace these days for all of us to complain that we live in a culture dominated by the requirements of health and safety. Indeed, we live in something of a schizoid culture, in which on the one hand we want to avoid every possible risk to life and limb for ourselves, however small, even often at great personal inconvenience. On the other hand, we are ready to pretend to each other that the risks visited on entirely innocent populations by our own military are somehow acceptable. I speak as a lay person, as I said. I defer to noble and gallant Lords in their greatly superior military, technical and diplomatic expertise in these matters. But I cannot find it possible to come to terms with the argument that these weapons are legitimated militarily, morally or on any other grounds.

In the Christian calendar, today is the feast day of the Ascension of Christ. For those of us in the Christian tradition, it is a day in which our Lord's kingship over all human affairs, relations and conflicts is celebrated. It is a day on which we are reminded that human beings are to behave towards each other as children of the same heavenly father. It is a day to repent of these weapons, and a day to press on the Government's representatives as they prepare to go to Lima that we wish them to be in no doubt whatever that, in the view of this House, these weapons are wholly unacceptable.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour 12:06 pm, 17th May 2007

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for initiating the debate and for his part in the campaign against these dreadful weapons; I was with him in Oslo. I also thank Landmine Action and Norwegian People's Aid, which have both been extremely active in providing information and campaigning against these weapons. Pressure clearly works as far as the Government are concerned. I welcome the statement of the Secretary of State, Des Browne—surely encouraged by my noble friend on the Front Bench—that the Government should move on this. If pressure works, then more pressure will clearly go on working, which is why we are here today.

We know the case against cluster bombs and munitions. It is similar to the case against anti-personnel landmines: they are a danger to innocent civilians months and years after the conflict. Children playing, farmers working, people collecting firewood, tending livestock or fetching water: all these most innocent of activities are liable to lead to a loss of limb or life in areas where these weapons are being used. The second argument is that they are relatively indiscriminate weapons when used during a conflict. These days, there are seldom targets with no civilians around. I have seen films, shown at Oslo, where civilians in Serbian streets and towns were maimed as a result of cluster bomblets descending upon them.

We must help to ensure that existing cluster bomblets are cleared. To do that, we must know more about where they have landed. At the Oslo conference, we learnt that in Serbia, where NATO had used cluster bombs, it had not provided the Serbian clearance teams with the co-ordinates of where they had been targeted. Similarly, the Lebanese clearance teams have not been able to obtain the co-ordinates of the Israeli cluster munitions used in the recent conflict in Lebanon. All we can do is ask the Government to press Israel to provide this information on humanitarian grounds. I urge my noble friend to ensure that this happens, a simple step which can be taken. A further tragedy of the recent Lebanon conflict is that both sides used these weapons. Their use by Hezbollah is the first time that a non-governmental organisation has deployed them. All of this strengthens the case for banning them.

On Serbia, I recently asked a question in the House and my noble friend Lady Amos wrote to me with further information on 15 May:

"I can confirm that NATO is coordinating Alliance data from Operation Allied Force 1999 and will, in due course, hand over this information to the Government of Serbia. You will appreciate that, because the operation was a NATO campaign, the coordination of this data is a complex process and has yet to be completed. But I can confirm that UK data has been collated by the Ministry of Defence and has been passed to NATO".

We are talking about 1999, and this is 2007.

NATO is supposed to be a modern, effective organisation, and our motives in the war in Serbia were surely humanitarian. In Oslo, I talked to a man who had lost both legs trying to clear bombs in Serbia, and he emphasised the difficulties. I cannot for the life of me see why NATO cannot get a move on rather than waiting eight years before it is almost ready to provide information that was surely available the moment the cluster bombs were launched.

I shall turn briefly to the argument about smart and dumb cluster munitions, which has already been mentioned, and whether smart bombs are smart enough. It is, of course, a welcome change on the part of the UK Government, but it still means that M85 sub-munitions will be used. The Government have given us various figures—I am not sure which are the authoritative figures—but my right honourable friend Adam Ingram in answer to Questions between 2003 and 2006 mentioned a maximum failure rate of 2 per cent, a failure rate of 1 per cent and a 95 per cent success rate with M85s. I am not sure what a 95 per cent success rate means, unless it means that 5 per cent of them failed. Given the number that have been used in, say, the Lebanon, that represents a large number of people. The tests that have been used to establish the failure rates are undertaken in ideal conditions. They do not take account of different ground surfaces, soft ground or the effect of buildings or trees. We do not yet have the accurate information to allow us to say that smart weapons are smart enough, and, as has already been said, if the self-destruct mechanism does not work, it poses an even greater danger to the brave individuals putting their lives at risk to clear these weapons. They sometimes suffer appalling injuries or die. I have been invited to visit the Lebanon within the next few weeks to see the clearance work on the ground and the effect of the use of such weapons, and I am sorry that I was not able to go before this debate.

My last point is about whether there is any real military justification for these weapons. I am not an expert; I am a lay person. However, I have talked to a lot of people who are experts, some of whom are Members of this House. I think the case for having these weapons is pretty weak. It may have been valid years ago when we were faced with the prospect of large Soviet armies with thousands of men concentrated in small areas, but that is not the nature of the conflict that we now face. I would like better military justification before the Government go ahead and say that smart bombs will continue to be used.

I shall conclude with four brief points. First, we need international agreement. Even if the British Government do what we ask them to do, other countries are still using these weapons, so an international agreement is crucial and I hope that significant progress will be made at the forthcoming conference in Peru. Secondly, we need to ensure that, in all areas where cluster munitions and cluster bombs are being used, proper information is provided about the co-ordinates. Thirdly, all possible help must be given to those countries to enable the weapons to be cleared. Finally, we still need to admit that smart weapons are dangerously dumb.

Photo of Lord Mayhew of Twysden Lord Mayhew of Twysden Conservative 12:13 pm, 17th May 2007

My Lords, I join in the expressions of gratitude to my noble friend Lord Elton for having chosen this subject for his balloted debate. I also express my diffidence at following the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who knows much more about this subject than I do, having campaigned with great distinction in this field for so long.

I begin with the general reflection that modern war is such a horrible manifestation of evil that, if we adopt rules to regulate its conduct, it can seem almost as though we are improperly treating it as some kind of game. The laws of cricket may forbid aiming the ball at a batsman as a missile but they still legitimise bowling that produces a bumper with equal lethal potential. That may count as cricket—one should remember that Sir John Major's recent book is called More Than a Game—but in regulating war, that kind of nice distinction seems rather out of place. We are so far short of having beaten into ploughshares all swords that we have to do what is practical, by piecemeal rules if necessary, to diminish, at least, the horrors of war. Quite good progress has been made. International law has established norms, recited in the debate on this subject in December, on which specific prohibitions have been built over quite a long time.

The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, in that debate reminded us that:

"The use of any weapon must be: discriminate, proportionate ... [and] necessary; and only military objectives may be attacked".

She added that an attack can take place,

"only when consequences for civilians would not be random or excessive"— a rather question-begging adjective—

"in relation to the military advantage".—[Hansard, 15/12/06; col. 1764.]

These criteria are conceptual; the rub comes when you try to determine whether a particular military proposal is compliant. In principle this is a matter of law but more immediately it is one of political will.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, has opened a very interesting discussion on the legality of the use of these weapons. More immediately, the question of use will be decided by political will. Luckily, consensual, political will has shown itself capable of evolving; it does not need to stand still and it tends not to do so for long.

In this context, the thrust of my noble friend Lord Elton's argument seems to have the great advantage of being intended to benefit primarily civilians, especially their children, who have the misfortune to live and to try to exist where combatants have chosen to indulge their belligerence.

At the very least everyone can agree that children cannot carry any responsibility for war. Yet it is clear from the evidence from recent conflicts all over the world that children have quite disproportionately suffered the consequences of the use of cluster munitions. The reason, so eloquently explained to us, is because they often do not explode; they lie about on the surface. They constitute enticing souvenirs or at least objects of childish curiosity. When picked up they often go off and are so small that they are easily missed in clear-up operations.

None of that is news. We have known about it for a long time. It has been recognised by the nations—I have to admit that I learnt about this only recently—participating in the Oslo conference that have signed up or are prepared to sign up to the treaty we have been told about. Those nations have grown impatient at the lack of progress in the United Nations. Our country is now seeking to exempt from the treaty weapons fitted with a self-destruct device, designed to operate if they do not go off on impact. That has been explained to us with remarkable technical expertise by my noble friend Lord Elton.

It is argued on our behalf that the self-destruct device satisfactorily deals with the problem, with the consequence that weapons can legitimately remain available to our Armed Forces—legitimate in our own consciences. The contrary seems to be the case. The weapon in question is the M85. Since 2002, questions have been asked of the Armed Forces Minister in the other place about the failure rate of this self-destruct device. The answers began in 2003 by citing 2 per cent but by the end of 2006 the figure had grown to 5 per cent. What is today's estimate? I hope that the Minister can give us the answer.

The M85s we use are purchased from the Israelis. The UN Mine Action Coordinating Centre in south Lebanon estimates that "about 4 million" sub-munitions were dropped there by the Israelis, and it would seem that perhaps as many as 200,000 of these unexploded missiles have been left lying about.

These weapons would have to be capable of producing some enormous military advantage to justify exposing children and other non-combatants to risks on this scale. It would have to be an advantage of a clear war-winning character. But we all know now, or we should do, that it is too soon to cast the balance sheet of wars once the last shot has been fired. That sometimes can prove to be just the end of the beginning. Hearts and minds have to be secured, and I find it hard to imagine an aftermath—short of permanently poisoning their land, for example—more inimical to winning people's hearts and minds than leaving the areas where they live sprinkled with unexploded bomblets.

We already know that the Israelis themselves reckon their campaign in south Lebanon to have been a failure. We have now heard of distinguished and very senior military voices disavowing any net advantage from the use of such weapons. I very much hope that we shall hear that, at the forthcoming conference in Lima, the Government will drop their policy of seeking to exempt the M85 and sign up to the Oslo treaty accordingly.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 12:20 pm, 17th May 2007

My Lords, the timeliness of this debate can hardly be questioned. Both the need for and the possibility of banning cluster munitions by international law have moved sharply up the agenda. We are on the eve of the next in a series of international meetings designed to muster support for the negotiation of a legally binding international instrument by next year. Those are the words of the communiqué issued after the most recent such meeting in Oslo in February. It would be good if this House, through today's debate, were to send the strongest possible message of backing to the conference in Lima.

We should pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who has initiated today's debate, and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, whose Private Member's Bill pointed the way forward, for the example that is being set and the work that is being done. As the chair of the United Nations Association of United Kingdom, I declare an interest, because my organisation is taking part in that campaign.

It is only fair at the outset to commend the Government's role in this matter during the past three months. Until then, like many other Governments, they still tended to fend off the pressure to ban such munitions but at Oslo they shifted the British position significantly. I pay tribute to the Minister's role in bringing about that shift. Since that meeting, by announcing their intention not to use what are called dumb cluster munitions—those which do not self-destruct—the Government have set an example for other countries which, it must be hoped, will be followed. Having gained the initiative in that way, they need to keep it, not get lost in a rearguard action to protect the use of what are, in a rather Orwellian phrase, known as smart munitions. It would be good to hear from the Minister how the Government intend to proceed.

Cluster munitions are only one of the more recent in a long line of developments in military technology that made the 20th century unprecedented in world history for the multiplication of the killing power of weapons. Like many other of those developments, they can impact disastrously on civilian populations and have done so. That was seen in Lebanon last summer and previously in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Vietnam. That list is not exhaustive.

As warfare changes from high-intensity clashes between the armed forces of sovereign states to what General Sir Rupert Smith has called "war among the peoples", the risk—indeed, the certainty—of increased civilian casualties for the use of such munitions can only continue to grow. That prospect is surely unacceptable to any country, such as ours, which is a signatory of the Geneva Conventions. Other noble Lords, much more knowledgeable than I on matters legal, have referred to those conventions. They prescribe proportionality: attacks must balance military advantage with civilian impact. They prescribe distinction: attacks must distinguish between military and civilian objects. They prohibit indiscriminate attacks. They require feasible precautions to avoid civilian injury. It is frankly not easy to see how a number of recent uses of such munitions can be said to have met any of those criteria. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.

Appalling though the record of the 20th century was in the development of lethal technologies, it was not without some achievements in banning them. That should encourage those campaigning for a ban on cluster munitions. Poison gas was banned after the horrors of the First World War, and all forms of chemical weapons were banned at the end of the century, as were biological weapons; so, more recently, were landmines. Moreover, moves to ban categories of weapons or munitions have proved to be particularly successful when the humanitarian and legal arguments against them were matched by the utilitarian doubts of military practitioners about their usefulness on the battlefield. That is precisely what is now happening with cluster munitions. Others with much more experience than I have of the military arguments will speak later in the debate and will provide solid evidence of the narrowing of that gap. That should give the campaign even greater encouragement and credibility.

It is clear, of course, that the campaign will be faced with the all too familiar "half a loaf or no bread" arguments. These will come in two forms. The first, as has already been noted, is the distinction between dumb and smart cluster munitions. No doubt attempts will be made to limit any ban to the former. I question whether that distinction holds water, particularly given the evidence of the dumbness even of smart munitions and the changing nature of warfare towards wars among the peoples. The second will be the quandary of whether to proceed even if some perhaps militarily very important countries refuse to sign up to any international legal instrument. I trust that we will not abandon or seek to undermine the objective of a ban on all cluster munitions without exception, even if it may prove necessary to proceed in stages, with dumb munitions being banned first. We really must not accept that smart cluster munitions are somehow okay. I am sure we will have to accept less than global membership in the early stages of any ban, as we have in the ban on landmines, but there must be plenty of naming and shaming and of compelling the recalcitrants to explain and defend their position; we must not simply allow them to get away with it as unavoidable.

In our debate on Trident renewal a few months ago, I asked the Government to give us an overall picture of British policies on arms control and disarmament. What we have at the moment is a thing of shreds and patches: a little arms trade treaty here, a little nuclear non-proliferation there and a step forward now on cluster munitions. We lack an overall view and a broad strategy for achieving our objectives. What are we doing to get the whole European Union to sign up to those objectives? What are we doing to get the European Union to throw its not inconsiderable weight in international negotiations behind them? How much use are we making of our relationship with the United States, which, under the present Administration, is often the back marker on these matters? Are we and the European Union beginning to establish a dialogue in these fields with China, which looks set fair to be an awkward customer in the future? Our debate today needs to be part of a mosaic, not just a one-off episode.

Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Crossbench 12:28 pm, 17th May 2007

My Lords, I cannot say how welcome the debate is, and my thanks go to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for introducing it. I, too, thank the Government for having withdrawn most of the cluster munitions held by the Ministry of Defence, and for their support for the beginnings of what seems to be an unstoppable international movement to ban cluster munitions altogether.

The immediate and longer-term destructive consequences of cluster munitions have been well aired in your Lordships' House. I shall focus briefly today on the inherent contradiction between military and humanitarian or development action, with some reference to Afghanistan. That country is still littered with unexploded ordnance from more than a quarter of a century of war. Before the efforts to liberate Afghanistan in 2001, it was estimated that about 724 million square metres were affected by unexploded landmines, with 344 million square metres classified as high priority land for clearance. At the same time, the military, including UK forces, have been involved in reconstruction through the provincial reconstruction teams and hearts-and-minds programmes.

Cluster bombs, more than any other kind of armament, are designed to harm individuals and to create no-go areas, which may be, and often are, agricultural lands in areas populated by civilians. In the past decade, the UK and other NATO countries have further blurred the distinction between military and humanitarian action. The two approaches may be incompatible and cluster munitions play a significant role in this ambiguity.

The efforts to protect people from violent threat, such as that posed by the Taliban, are an essential part of the Armed Forces' task in Afghanistan and thus incorporate a shared agenda from both humanitarian and military actors, which is a subject of much debate, especially within the UN. There are arguments on both sides. There are the integrationists, who favour less duplication of effort and better informed and more strategic approaches to operations, and those who believe that an integrated approach subordinates humanitarian principles to the political and/or military priorities of a mission. Insufficient research on the humanitarian outcomes of each approach means that the jury remains out on this issue. However, the need to agree on cores issues of responsibility and competence remains. Whatever methods are proven to be more effective, there is no possible advantage that the use of cluster bombs will bring to crises such as that in Afghanistan.

If one of the main military objectives in a given conflict is to win the confidence of villagers in order to dissuade them from supporting and/or joining insurgents, this cannot be achieved if at the same time armed forces are maiming and killing civilians with cluster bombs and reducing access to fields and vital planting seasons. Anything achieved in terms of medical attention, rebuilding of schools and other development work is immediately undermined. Similarly, provincial reconstruction teams now working in many areas of Afghanistan, no matter how successful in the reconstruction aspects of their work, will negate any advances if cluster munitions are further deployed or remain uncleared. In a recent survey cited in a report by the ODI's Humanitarian Policy Group, rural Afghans define security not just as the cessation of armed attacks but as being free of physical violence or threat of attack and having access to essential services such as healthcare, education and economic opportunities.

If it is agreed that one of the key roles of the military is the protection of civilians from deliberate harm, cluster munitions should be immediately outlawed—there is no question about that. If it is also acknowledged from experience the world over that the most effective weapon against terrorism or insurgency is intelligence, which is usually gained from local populations, one could say that the use of cluster bombs severely reduces the chances of any such co-operation. I am still struck by the words of President Bush at the start of the 2001 war to eradicate al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan in what our Prime Minister subsequently referred to as a "military-humanitarian coalition". President Bush said:

"As we strike military targets, we'll also drop food, medicine and supplies to the starving and suffering men and women and children of Afghanistan", so that the world would,

"know the generosity of America and our allies".

The subsequent blowing up of clearly identified food warehouses by insurgents demonstrates that the provision of aid was perceived as neither neutral nor humanitarian.

Finally, it must be said that the failure to clear those 28 countries in the world which have had or still have millions of unexploded ordnance is in the eyes of experts such as the HALO Trust director, Guy Willoughby, more due to a lack of political will than to financial or technical constraints. It is pointed out that following World War II a landmine programme cleared millions of landmines by 1950 despite scarce technical resources and far less understanding of the technical issues involved. Today, it has taken 10 years to clear a much smaller number of mines in countries, including Croatia, Bosnia, Angola, Mozambique, Cambodia and Vietnam. The movement towards an outright ban on cluster munitions must be achieved, as must clearance programmes which should be given the highest priority.

Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden Baroness Turner of Camden Labour 12:33 pm, 17th May 2007

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for introducing this debate. I have long been opposed to the use of cluster bombs. I can recall that before the start of the Iraq war when it was clear that the Government intended to go ahead with the proposed invasion, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, made a plea that there should be a commitment from the Government that they would not use cluster bombs. I supported him, but the Government refused to make any such commitment. Whenever the issue has been raised, the answer has been given that for a variety of reasons a ban was simply not possible. One reason given was that they were needed as protection for our troops; another was that, otherwise, it would be necessary to use much more destructive high-explosive bombs. It was also claimed that they were used in a lawful way.

It is now gratifying to learn that the Government are changing their stance. UN conferences have been discussing a ban on cluster weapons for more than five years, without making any progress. But now, as we have heard, at a conference sponsored by the Norwegians in Oslo last February, it appears that our Government have subscribed to a declaration of intent to establish a ban in 2008 of,

"cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians".

Of course, that is a very welcome development, although any damage to civilians should be regarded as unacceptable. It is not before time.

As is well known, these anti-personnel weapons are designed to kill and injure people. It cannot honestly be claimed for them, particularly nowadays, that they have a genuine, military purpose. As noble Lords have pointed out, the type of conflicts we are involved in now are quite different from those that took place many years ago. The bombs contain many small submunitions which are designed to explode on impact. They have a high failure rate and remain as a continuing danger to people, often long after hostilities have ceased. They were used in Vietnam and continued to cause deaths and injuries long after the war there had ended. The same is true in the Balkans, where they were used in the war over Kosovo. It could not be claimed there that it was necessary to use them to protect our troops since the war was fought entirely from the air with continuous bombing raids. No ground troops were used in the operation.

The town of Nis suffered particularly from cluster bombing and a number of civilians were killed and injured, and there were no military objectives there. These munitions have also been used in Iraq, as we have heard, and by Israel in Lebanon. Children are particularly at risk. Small submunitions are often brightly coloured and children playing are attracted to them. In that way, many children have had limbs blown off and other horrible injuries. Moreover, when hostilities are over and the civilian population wants to try to return to normal life, they are often unable to farm their land because of the dangers still posed by these munitions. Incidentally, what has been done to look after the victims of those attacks? What compensation have they had? We must remember that very often the victims in these conflicts are poor people in poor countries. What is done to help them when the conflicts are over?

There now appears to be a real opportunity to get these munitions banned. Our Government seem to have changed their position, although I believe they still want to be able to retain cluster weapons of a more recent type, with a self-destruct device intended to destroy them if they are not exploded on impact. These are smart CM weapons as opposed to dumb ones. I have always been very sceptical of claims about weapons being smart and, therefore, not causing injuries to civilians. I well remember my late husband, who had been an RAF pilot, and I watching a conflict on television. He said, "Smart bombs, smart bombs, don't you believe it. We are watching people being killed down there", and so we were. All these weapons should be banned.

There is a further meeting in Lima on 22 May when the intention is to try to draw more countries into supporting a complete ban. I thank the Government for what they have done so far, but they must go further and see that there is a complete ban on these weapons. I ask the Government to do everything that they can to encourage other countries to follow their example. I thank, again, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for introducing this debate.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 12:38 pm, 17th May 2007

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on having secured this timely debate. I also congratulate the Government on the action that they have taken so far. I want to take part in this debate, not because I have any technical or expert knowledge of the weaponry, but simply because of the lessons that I learnt some years ago when I had the privilege of preceding the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, as president of UNICEF UK. Those were the years in which the world had almost accepted the inevitability of death and injury for adults and, particularly, children who had the misfortune to live in or on the perimeter of battle zones around the world. Even long after those wars were over, abandoned minefields were allowed to remain as though nothing could or should be done about them. The campaigns against landmines culminated in the 1997 treaty, which sought to ban, or at least to control, them. The treaty now has the backing of no fewer than 153 countries. If that treaty was desirable, as indeed it was, it is clear that similar action against cluster bombs is even more necessary.

It is obviously so for at least two reasons. First, conventional landmines can at least plausibly be described as defensive weapons when laid out in carefully located "fields" to prevent an enemy attack from that direction. Secondly, because of their purpose, landmines are much more easily located, avoided and removed. On the other hand, cluster bombs are exactly the opposite. They are designed for use in attacks, and although intended for the equivalent of military convoys, they can be and are scattered at random over wide and unspecified areas. Each bomb then scatters its own shower of what are usually hundreds of bomblets in an even more random fashion. As we have heard, one bomb can scatter widely enough to cover an area equivalent to two, three or even four football pitches. The case for eliminating these horrific weapons really makes itself—to such an extent that our own Government have at last accepted it. They are the first Government to have done so. I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on the considerable part he has played in bringing this about with his Private Member's Bill and much more since then.

Last week I was in Scotland, helping to award this year's St Andrews University environmental prize. A fellow trustee, Anita McNaught, is a young freelance journalist who recently went to south Lebanon to make a programme about cluster munitions for CNN. The DVD of her interviews with disposal experts and people injured by these lethal weapons was all too explicit. The life of a young motor mechanic has been ruined after, among other injuries, half of his hand was blown off so that he can no longer continue in any form of work. There is an account of a young woman whose father brought a munition into their house. She picked it up, whereupon it detonated and injured three other members of the family in the same room. Somehow they survived and there is some hope, but one really wonders about the futures they face. Apparently something like a quarter of all the agricultural land is out of production, but still of course producing victims in the form of children for all the reasons outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and others.

Thankfully, a huge international co-operative operation is under way, which hopes to make the land safe by the end of this year. We must hope that the effort succeeds. Indeed, the only good thing I could find in the whole scene in southern Lebanon is that some young Lebanese women, unable to find employment elsewhere, have become trained disposal experts. Apparently it is quite a well paid job, and one hopes that it may prove useful for any future educative programme the country may hope to run, both for itself and perhaps for other countries.

How the bombing in Lebanon could have been anything other than a quite cynical operation on the part of Israel—the raids taking place as they did during the final week of the peace negotiations—really is hard to believe. But the fact is that it did take place, and of course it is not just Israel. Sadly, many countries have used cluster munitions when they felt that it would be to their advantage against the enemy.

All this illustrates the importance of facing up to the whole situation and banning these weapons once and for all. We have heard the good news that earlier this year the UK Government committed themselves at the Oslo conference,

"to complete by 2008 a legally binding international instrument to ban cluster bombs".

Her Majesty's Government have already banned two of their three cluster munitions, but apparently not the M85. I could not put the case against the position more clearly than it has been put by Handicap International, which has stated that the Government have retained the M85, a rocket-launched submunition, on the grounds that it is smart due to its self-destruct device. It is manufactured by IMI, an Israeli company, which claims that it has a 0.06 "hazardous dud rate". Handicap International works in Lebanon clearing mines and munitions in the region and can testify that this claim is dangerous nonsense. Israeli forces used the M85 in huge numbers just before withdrawing from Lebanon. Failure rates were huge and wide areas have been left with deadly unexploded submunitions.

This munition is the "exception" which the UK Government currently plan to retain in their armoury on the basis that it is smart. I want to quote what was said to me by Rae McGrath of Handicap International. He said:

"I will gladly take the Minister to Lebanon to show him just how smart it is".

If the Minister has any remaining doubts at all about the proper way forward, I hope very much that he will indeed take up that offer.

It is for these reasons that I join the noble Lord, Lord Elton and others, many of whom have spoken passionately about this issue, in pressing the Government to go as far as they possibly can—in other words, the whole way. They must take the positive position they adopted in Oslo to the Lima meeting next week and make a clear commitment to an across-the-board ban on the production, transfer or use of all cluster munitions, without any exception in favour of so-called smart versions.

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench 12:47 pm, 17th May 2007

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on securing this debate. I had intended to speak briefly, having spoken at perhaps too great length recently on another issue, but having heard the speeches made so far in the debate, I think that I can be even briefer. If I were to go through all my prepared remarks, I would simply be repeating what has already been said with more eloquence and greater expertise.

But I want to underline the importance and timeliness of the debate. It is important because it will maintain the focus of the House on the issue and ensure that it is not just put to bed with the passage of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. It is timely in view of the imminence of the next stage of the Oslo process in Lima next week. I also welcome the extent of the Government's move forward, and I shall use my remarks to focus attention on the residual issues remaining around the retention of smart bombs such as the M85.

However, my main purpose in speaking is simply to align myself with the widespread call in this House for a total ban. The case has been made fully, but I was not able to be present in the Chamber when the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was debated, so I felt it important to be here today to add my voice in support of a total ban. Of course, my voice is neither here nor there, but I speak from a particular vantage point which may give some significance to my adding that voice. As someone active in the worldwide movement of disabled and especially blind people, I am all too well aware of the devastating impact that these weapons can have, often on the lives of innocent civilians and far too often on children, so I hope that my support can be taken as read. As I said, I was not able to be here to voice it before but I wanted to make it clear that I was doing so today. My point is so uncontentious that I hope that I can say it on behalf of all disabled people throughout the world.

As a member of the Council of St Dunstan's, I would never wish to see our troops' ability to defend themselves or to fulfil their lawful mission impaired. However, we all recognise that the use of cluster munitions even in a just war ensures that that war will be followed by a second war, a war against unexploded ordnance, which maims as much as it kills and thus imposes a lifelong burden of care on victims and their families. Enabling disabled people to continue to lead fulfilling lives is a challenge in this country with its relatively advanced health care and disability rights; in some of the countries in which we have used cluster munitions, it must be very hard indeed. Most of the participants in this second war are non-combatants and, as I have said, most of its victims are civilians, far too many of them children. The fact that Hezbollah, a non-state actor, has possession of these weapons and has already begun to deploy them means that it is urgent that we act now, without further delay, to get rid of these weapons for good and all and preclude further proliferation while we still can.

I do not have the expertise to judge whether there is a real military justification for this country's continued possession of any kind of cluster munitions. However, it is significant that a number of military experts have questioned the continuing value of these weapons, smart or dumb. It is therefore imperative for the Government to reconsider whether the Oslo declaration should be restricted to dumb munitions. In particular, does the Minister agree that maintaining the distinction between so-called dumb and smart munitions will make monitoring compliance with any international agreement much harder than monitoring a straightforward ban on all cluster munitions?

During the Second Reading of the Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked the Minister a number of questions. She asked whether the UK Government have undertaken practical assessments of the human impact of cluster munitions when used in a combat situation and whether they have gathered field data on cluster bombs. I am not aware that we have had answers to these questions, but it behoves the Government to come up with answers rapidly if they want their optimistic claims as to failure rates to be believed or if they wish to go on defending the use of these horrific weapons in any circumstances at all.

Will the Minister therefore give serious consideration to establishing a rigorous, verifiable test of the reliability of submunitions' self-destruction mechanisms? If he does not feel able to go all the way to signing up to a total ban in Lima, will he undertake to institute reliable trials of the kind that I have mentioned? Will the Government then commit to rejecting any cluster munitions system that cannot achieve, say, a 1 per cent failure rate in realistic tests?

In concluding, I simply repeat my appreciation of the ongoing efforts of the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Elton, to secure the final elimination of these dreadful weapons, which we all wish to see, and my hopes for a successful second stage of the Oslo talks in Lima next week.

Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench 12:54 pm, 17th May 2007

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on obtaining this important and timely debate. I also associate myself with the tributes that have quite rightly been paid not only to him for his persistence in this matter, but also to the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the Minister in the Oslo meeting. I am delighted to be able to do that.

In view of the admirable and wide-ranging comments that have been made throughout the debate, I wondered what I could add. Perhaps I may add my views, first, as a former military commander who had experience in the Cold War of planning for the deployment of cluster munitions in military situations and, secondly, as a member of a private security company that was responsible for mine clearing in many parts of the world.

I refer first to my military experience and the employment of these weapons as military weapons for military purposes. They were there for two purposes, one of which was runway denial, as practised by the Royal Air Force. This involved larger weapons, which proved to be fairly unsuccessful when eventually deployed in the first Gulf War.

From a military point of view the weapons were there for two main reasons. First, we required something to help us to break up any massed armour attack, and the top attack weapon of cluster munitions, particularly depleted uranium ones, was, we thought, one very promising way to help us to destroy masses of armour. Secondly, these weapons provided an ability to deploy, as it were, instant minefields to prevent mass movements coming against us. But, as I described in the December debate on the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, when I was made responsible for planning counter-attacks against Russian armour through ground over which we had deployed these weapons, I began to think twice about them, because they were quite as likely to cause casualties and impede our movement as they were to affect that of the opponent.

It was at that stage that the Cold War ended. As far as I am concerned, when the Cold War ended, the use of these weapons against that kind of opposition also ended. I cannot for the life of me foresee any nation building up the kind of forces against which these weapons were designed to be deployed.

However, we have retained these weapons and we have used them. To my mind, where we have deployed them, we have used them completely unnecessarily, with no military justification at all. I was interested that the validity of the Statement of the Secretary of State was questioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. The Secretary of State said:

"The types of cluster munitions that we intend to retain are legitimate weapons with significant military value which, as a result of mitigating features, is not outweighed by humanitarian factors".—[Hansard, Commons, 20/3/07; col. 37WS.]

The first part of that can indeed be stated in military terms, but I do not believe that the second part can be justified. If he is saying that we intend to retain legitimate weapons with significant military value, surely it would have been more proper for him to then qualify and say what that military value was and for what military purposes they were justified. But he has not.

Many noble Lords have said, with great eloquence and great expertise, that what we are now using—the M85 weapon fired from a 155 gun—has an appalling record of failure. The evidence of what has been happening in the Lebanon and what happened when we deployed these weapons proves that the figures claimed are not correct. I do not know whether those figures were produced in ideal circumstances, in a laboratory or on ground on which figures could be measured, but the deployment shows that they are not right.

Attention has also been drawn, quite rightly, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, and others, to the fact that the nature of warfare has changed. Many noble Lords have mentioned the admirable description of General Sir Rupert Smith of war among the people. You do not deploy mass, indiscriminate weapons when civilians are likely to be casualties, not only because it is not a humanitarian thing to do but because it is an intensely stupid thing to do in relation to whatever use of military force there is.

As I tried to explain in December, the use of military force is much more politically directed now, and there must be a political end to every employment of military means. If that is the case, the military must be given clear direction about what it is to achieve, which will, in turn, help it to determine the means to use. That is bound to include state rebuilding and winning and retaining the hearts and minds of the people in the country concerned. Therefore it must be unwise, at best, to do anything likely to alienate the very people whom you are trying to win over with whatever action you are taking. Nothing could be more counterproductive than causing endless unnecessary casualties, particularly to tomorrow's generation, who seem to be the biggest victims of all. That became abundantly clear to me when I found myself involved in the demining of countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, Mozambique, Bosnia, Zaire, Somalia and Laos, where we discovered that it was the innocent who were the victims of what had been laid indiscriminately.

I am disappointed at the ambivalence of the Secretary of State's Statement. It would be helpful if he could revise the second part of it. The whole thing seems to rest on a definition of "affordability", a term that in this case I use about deployment. Can you deploy? Yes. But can you afford to give up what you must give up if you deploy it? One of the things that we as a country give up if we deploy these sorts of weapons is respect for us as a decent and civilised nation.

I conclude with the words with which I concluded my contribution to the debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs:

"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 ... 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".—[Hansard, 15/12/06; col. 1740.]

I hope, therefore, that very soon the Government will add the wretched M85 to the other weapons that they have so rightly discarded.

Photo of Lord Garden Lord Garden Spokesperson in the Lords, Defence 1:02 pm, 17th May 2007

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on securing this debate at such an appropriate moment. After the progress at the Oslo conference, we now have the opportunity to take a significant step forward in Lima next week. It is telling that all noble Lords across the House have spoken in support of a ban. In December, at the Second Reading of the Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, we discussed the tragedy of unexploded bomblets, which last so long in many parts of the world, and we heard much more on that from many noble Lords today.

We can send a strong message from across the House to our UK government negotiators to press the case for an international ban. That has the strongest support from these Benches. We hope that it will follow the experience of the landmine ban. While it may be unrealistic to expect instant universal acceptance of such a ban, I share with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, the thought that that should not make us temper our approach to how we go for an outright ban. It is important that the climate of international opinion makes the use of these weapons much more difficult even for nations that insist on retaining them.

I join others in welcoming how the UK Government have moved towards the side of the angels in recent months. It seems not long ago that we had an impasse where the MoD was determined to hang on to all its stocks of cluster munitions, both bombs and artillery, despite growing problems over their usage in the operations we are now undertaking. Then we had the Statement of 21 March this year, which announced the banning of dumb cluster munitions with immediate effect and the withdrawal from service of the BL755 aerially delivered bomb and the M26 multiple-launch rocket system artillery munition. These are welcome announcements that allow the UK to take more of a lead in calling for an international ban. However, as we have heard from many noble Lords today, we are still left with one cluster munition in the army: the L20A1 155-millimetre artillery projectile, which uses in each projectile 49 M85 submunitions. Our current stockpile, as I understand it, although the Minister may correct me, is 59,364 of these submunitions. This specifically is one of the weapons—as we have heard today, particularly well from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew—that caused such problems in Lebanon when they were used by Israel last year. Other noble Lords have also spoken on that.

I will focus my remarks on that aspect of our United Kingdom policy, as others have, and on the definitions of "dumb" and "smart" munitions, if there is a distinction to be made. In the Written Statement of 21 March the Government highlighted their concern that dumb munitions disperse submunitions over an area. Many noble Lords have described that in graphic terms, such as numbers of football pitches. The Statement continued:

"Some cluster munitions address these concerns including through inbuilt self-destructing or self-deactivating mechanisms, reducing the risk of harm to civilians".—[Hansard, Commons, 20/3/07; col. 37WS.]

As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that is a specious argument.

In answer to an Oral Question on 17 April, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House stated that the UK has its own definitions of "dumb" and "smart" bombs, but she did not think the House would want to hear her explanation. I trust that the Minister will take this opportunity to tell your Lordships the difference in some detail.

At Second Reading of the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in December, I went into considerable detail about the technical aspects and lack of effectiveness of cluster submunitions. I shall not repeat that today. I can say all I need to on the military aspects of the issue by saying I agree with every word the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has said today. I support his military analysis of the lack of military utility of cluster munitions in the post Cold War world

Bomblets are scattered over a wide area and, as such, lack discrimination. If the target set is a mix of enemy and civilian, they cannot discriminate. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester reminded us, that poses a real problem for most of the operations that our Armed Forces are currently undertaking. There is the instant humanitarian problem that you kill civilians as you kill your enemy. There is also perhaps the legal problem that has been highlighted by some noble Lords. Is the increased risk of collateral damage because of the dispersed pattern proportionate to what you are trying to achieve, or is it more likely to be counterproductive in any campaign that seeks to nurture the support of the indigenous population? All noble Lords have come to the conclusion that it is more likely to be counterproductive.

The second problem, which attracts more attention, is the question of unexploded ordnance and long-term consequences—what might be called the sowing of unintentional minefields. I also had a letter with similar wording from the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, about what NATO has done to inform Serbia, as it is required to do, about the cluster munitions that were dropped in 1999. I could not believe what I read. Eight years later we are still thinking about how to deal with this complex problem. We are not even meeting our responsibilities to tell nations where we have dropped these weapons.

We have had a fair amount of discussion about what failure rates are appropriate. Again, in December I went into some detail about the effect of real conditions against trial conditions. The general failure rate quoted for dumb cluster munitions is 5 per cent. The manufacturer says that some smart weapons can have a rate of less than 1 per cent. However, data from the Gulf War showed that instead of the 5 per cent failure rate you tended to get about 23 per cent when using the weapons for real—four or five times the brochure rate. Various official sources have been quoted for the M85, with failure rates ranging from very low to about the same as our other cluster bombs. The latest one I could find was a trial showing it to be between 1.3 per cent and 2.3 per cent, but the noble Lord, Lord Elton, told us of much higher figures in Lebanon. We do not know, and that is one of the problems. So I fully support the cry of the noble Lord, Lord Low, for more facts about the real failure rates in real conditions. Perhaps it will be impossible to find out, but experience tends to suggest that manufacturers are being much too optimistic. Indeed, when I look at military handbook tables of cluster munitions, I find it interesting that the M85 is normally put in the same column as the BL755—it is seen as a weapon of the same sort of intelligence, if I can put it that way.

In a 2002 briefing, Human Rights Watch compiled a list of these various submunitions, stating which appeared to be more advanced than others. It certainly did not classify the M85 as advanced. It talked about a future generation of submunitions which would be quite different; they would be primarily set up to sense and destroy armour and, if they did not find the target, they would neutralise themselves. But because they are so complicated, we would end up with a cluster munition that has only two submunitions—the most they are likely to get is about nine. That is quite a different weapon. Those are what most of the military community thinks of as smart new future-generation weapons. That may be of only passing interest to your Lordships, but it suggests that there is a debate to be had about where one draws the line between smart and dumb. The M85 would certainly not be allowed to fall on the smart side of the line.

I am afraid that we have moved only halfway. We have all congratulated the Government, and have personally congratulated the Minister on his work on this. It is pretty good, but we can imagine the fight between the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office, where the Ministry of Defence says, "We have 50,000 of these submunitions. They are pretty new. Leave us those and we will let you have the other two". It is not good enough. If we want to take the moral high ground in these negotiations, we have to take it now. I hope that, as a result of this debate, the Minister will bring pressure back on the MoD to take those munitions out of service. Then the negotiators can go to Lima and negotiate from a position of moral strength. The military case must be entirely satisfactory for the sort of campaigns we find ourselves involved in.

We have a real opportunity to advance the international ban on these terrible and counter-productive weapons. I trust that we will brief the negotiators with everything we can to make sure that they advance the cause.

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 1:13 pm, 17th May 2007

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Elton for raising the question of cluster munitions again. Along with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I congratulate my noble friend on the important role he plays in the cluster munitions campaign.

This is an important subject, particularly in the wake of the Oslo conference and the Government's subsequent announcement on disposing of two of the dumb munitions that we held. I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the Minister for the important work he did behind the scenes to facilitate this.

We understand the humanitarian concerns that have so exercised many noble Lords all around the House. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew said, we have a duty to do what we can to diminish the horrors of war.

As we have previously said, we fully share the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Elton and other noble Lords about what can be the very serious humanitarian impact of the use of dumb cluster munitions. In practice, in our case, as my noble friend said, this is the L20A1 155-millimetre artillery projectile with M85 submunitions with self-destruct devices. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to the concerns expressed by my noble friend and others about this weapon.

We warmly applaud the work of British mine clearance specialists, who have taken the lead in recent United Nations operations to clear cluster bombs from homes and villages in south Lebanon. I declare an interest as an honorary colonel of the Royal Engineers TA regiment. Some members of my regiment have been involved in the mine clearing and, very sadly, a sergeant-major recently lost a foot.

I am sure that the Minister shares my concern at the long-term impact that will be felt in south Lebanon at the loss of so many lives to cluster bombs. It is right that the United Kingdom should take such a lead as it sensibly can in the movement against dumb cluster munitions and the inappropriate and unjustified use of cluster bombs more widely.

The commander of Israel's multiple-launch rocket system was reported as saying:

"In Lebanon, we covered entire villages with cluster bombs. What we did there was crazy and monstrous".

Clearly, this is unacceptable. Can the Minister indicate what pressure the Government have put on their Israeli counterparts to reveal the precise locations where they dropped cluster bombs last summer?

There is much for which to commend the recent Oslo conference. One of the main pledges to come out of it was to complete by 2008 a legally binding international document to prohibit the use of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. It is also true that the battle to win hearts and minds is crucial, not least in campaigns of the nature that our forces now face in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We have a responsibility to reduce civilian casualties and for that reason have long been in favour of phasing out dumb munitions. But we also have a responsibility to give our Armed Forces adequate equipment and weaponry. We have a duty to provide them with as much security as we can, and I hope that the Government are taking fully into account the views of our services, of whom this Administration have asked so much when taking these decisions.

Towards the end of last year, Russia, China and the United States all indicated their ongoing opposition to a ban on cluster munitions, but none of those strategically vital nations attended the Oslo conference. Others, such as Japan and Poland, did not sign the agreement. Are the Minister and his colleagues confident that they will be able to persuade each of those nations to sign and observe such a ban? It is essential that we have an agreement whereby other countries follow our lead. An internationally binding ban on the use of a clearly defined category of munitions would therefore be altogether more significant. We therefore believe that the Government should continue to press for an internationally agreed definition of a cluster munition and similarly agreed distinctions between a "dumb" and a "smart" munition.

In the present circumstances, we continue to endorse the Government's previous assessments that cluster munitions perform a legitimate military role that cannot be fulfilled by other means. The use of cluster bombs remains necessary when such targets become a serious threat to the security of our Armed Forces. We can never anticipate what threats our troops may have to face in the future; therefore, we do not yet support a blanket prohibition on the use of cluster munitions. Having said that, I wonder whether the Minister agrees that it is essential that commanders have very clear instructions about when the use of cluster bombs would be justified on the battleground. The problem in Lebanon, for example, was exacerbated by use of the bombs in relatively densely populated areas.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 1:20 pm, 17th May 2007

My Lords, I join everyone else in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on securing what I agree is an extremely important debate. I also thank him for his tireless humanitarian work in connection with cluster munitions and wish him God speed on his visit to Lima.

All speakers have expressed essentially the same view. Everyone is genuinely concerned and I hope that no one will take offence when I say that there is no ethical monopoly on anyone's part when addressing an issue such as this. Achieving a balance between ethics and national defence is the type of problem that all governments have to face and we have to do so with as much realism as possible if we are not to be reckless about the fate of our own forces. I also thank all noble Lords and noble Baronesses for their kindness about my role. The Government have been profoundly concerned with these issues, and that has involved many colleagues throughout the Government. I will pass on the regard that the House expressed to them, if I may.

I will deal immediately with one of the many important questions that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, raised; about the clearance of mines in Afghanistan. We did not lay mines, which was one of the key ethical questions, but we have made a significant contribution to clearing the mines that were laid during the invasion by the Soviet Union in 1979, as well as the cluster munitions that were used. I have seen the work of our forces. I went on an exercise that they were conducting in training Colombian military forces. That is a country with more mines per capita of its population than anywhere else in the world. I saw at first hand how much risk people take and the huge expertise that they bring to bear. It is a huge testimony to them.

The use of cluster munitions was brought into sharp focus by the conflict that took place in Lebanon and Israel last summer. Since then, this Chamber has addressed the humanitarian consequences of these weapons and their military utility. In the spirit of that last remark, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, that I, too, feel very much for those who have suffered during de-mining work as happened in the case of his regiment. I am sure that all of us will feel for those who suffered in that way. Today, I will set out what the United Kingdom Government have done at national and international level since the start of the international campaign for a ban on cluster weapons.

The House is well aware that this area requires us to balance two different but important aims. First, we need to take account of our humanitarian concerns; we want to reduce the harm that some types of cluster munitions can cause to innocent civilians and do all that we can to control the use of all cluster munitions. Secondly, we need to look at what our Armed Forces require to carry out the difficult and dangerous jobs that they pursue. I am on the same page as the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, in that regard. Our obligation to them cannot simply be set aside. It would be quite unacceptable if they were put at avoidable risk.

I understand the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, but I believe that he sets a test that we could never pass. In using high explosives—bombs or explosives of all kinds—we run the considerable risk of hurting wholly innocent people. I hate that that happens, and I doubt that anyone in this House would ever be casual about that consequence. But it was not wrong to stop the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo by using high explosive weapons. I cannot believe that it was the wrong thing to do, even if there was a terrible cost, because of the vital humanitarian objective that Muslims should not die simply because they are Muslims, at the hands of people who hate Muslims. That is an ethical position as well.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Low, that I recognise the difficulty of striking these balances, as he put it. It is also invaluable to hear him say that we should take great care to listen to the knowledge that is imparted by those who are disabled by the explosion of previously unexploded ordnance.

The Government are fully seized of the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions. That is why we are firmly committed to a legally binding instrument that prohibits the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. In response to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Garden, I doubt that there is a clear definition generally, but I use this definition to guide me in trying to address these matters. I take "smart" to mean weapons that can be aimed accurately and not dispersed in any way inaccurately, or weapons that will self-destruct if they are dispersed. "Dumb" weapons, of course, meet neither of those basic criteria.

We are working hard with international partners to get to that definition and to solve that problem. We have removed from our service our dumb cluster munitions and we urge all other countries to take similar action. I do not believe that they can be in any doubt about our position. This year's human rights report from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will include a section on the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions. My noble friend Lord Dubs also raised the humanitarian issues involved in clearing up cluster munitions, as did the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever.

On Israel's use of cluster munitions, we have taken practical steps. DfID has committed £2.5 million to work in this area. But, ultimately, I have to acknowledge the point made in this House. There has to be very real pressure on the Government of Israel to disclose all the information that they have and to assist in every way that they can to resolve the problem that was created—a problem that I cannot, as I have said on other occasions, describe as proportionate.

On Serbia, I have also seen the letter mentioned by my noble friend Lord Dubs. I assure him that I will push for the most rapid completion of the NATO exercise that I can achieve, if that is helpful.

The impact of munitions on children was mentioned a number of times in this debate. There are no comprehensive figures, but for the information of the House, in Lebanon, the latest figures from March 2007 show that 15 adults have been killed and 110 injured, and seven children have been killed and 60 injured. I do not want to make any particular point about the accuracy of the figures or the assertions; one adult or child is too many, but the reality is that when these weapons go off they have a devastating impact.

Given the nature of this debate, my next comments will not be welcome to everyone, although I know that the Official Opposition and the Government are in the same position. It is important to set out how the United Kingdom will use its remaining cluster munitions. I note the estimate given by the noble Lord, Lord Garden, of the number provided to many of us by NGOs. Of course, the actual figures are classified and I shall not produce them in this House. At present, we expect the Army's extended range bomblet shell with its M85 submunition to remain in service until approximately the middle of the next decade, although that date is subject to change.

I can tell the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, that the estimated failure rate is 2.3 per cent. But I have always accepted that there are liable to be proven differences between systematic testing—and such testing yielded that figure—and the figures generated by real conditions. If I may say so, that is a problem with bombs in general—they do not all perform. The figures for air-dropped bombs of all kinds tend to be rather worse than that. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, also asked about the failure rate in real conditions. It is very hard for obvious reasons to make an accurate estimation, although it would be valuable to continue working towards doing so. My noble friend Lord Dubs raised a number of points which he also raised in his Bill.

Our force commanders are very clear about what we are doing. Opinion in this House is very important, I never deny that, but I do not believe that the House can ignore the advice of our military commanders. I understand that my noble friend Lady Turner is among those who hold a strongly opposing view, but I do not think that any government can seriously say that they are not going to listen to the detailed advice of their military commanders. For those reasons, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that although I completely accept that he brings great knowledge to this matter, I suspect that he would be among the first to tell us that we should also listen to the advice of those who command our forces. The United Kingdom has concluded that these weapons have a real and significant military value when, and only when, they are used in compliance with both international humanitarian law and the United Kingdom's own rigorous targeting guidelines.

My noble and learned friend Lord Archer asked several questions about these very important points. He asked why we had not yet ratified Protocol v. A number of administrative procedures still need to be completed before ratification; for example, resolving the contingent liability funding to fulfil the provisions of Protocol v. These relate to the unexploded remnants of war. We are taking steps to address these and we are ready to abide, and do already abide, by the spirit of the protocol, not least because the UK was among the first states originally calling for the humanitarian benefits of this instrument. Therefore, of course, we will want to get to the conclusion as fast as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked whether cluster munitions could ever be a proportionate response. The use of all weapons, including cluster munitions, must be discriminate, proportionate, necessary and military objectives only may be attacked. Other feasible precautions can be taken about the choice of weapon and the means and methods of attack with a view to avoiding and minimising civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects. That whole principle of proportionality must guide the entire process which we use.

We must be clear about the nature of the circumstances which may require our Armed Forces to use these weapons. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, asked about the basis on which military command advice is given. We are advised—I accept this advice—that there are certain, compelling circumstances when the British Armed Forces may need to use such munitions in conflict, including for force protection. 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 footprint of terrain.

Photo of Lord Archer of Sandwell Lord Archer of Sandwell Labour

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way, but if the Government accept that the number of civilian casualties must be proportionate, how can we know, with weapons of this kind, how many civilian casualties there will be in a particular case?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, as my noble and learned friend knows, we know as much about it as when we drop bombs from the air on areas in which civilians may be located. Always when you have civilian populations in a conflict area, the reality is that people will unfortunately be injured.

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

My Lords, can the Minister explore that point a little more? Surely the essence of what we are talking about is the difference between precision bombs which hit a point and aerial weapons which disperse bombs over a wider area. These are different sorts of weapons.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I understand that, but those who watched the bombing in Kosovo and Bosnia will have seen that large numbers of bombs were dropped from aircraft in patterns. If that does not have a fundamentally damaging and disruptive effect if there are civilians in the area, candidly, it is hard for me to understand what does.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, stated as a key issue that there would need to be major arguments in favour of using cluster munitions for them to be deployed, especially that of having an effect over a defined area without devastating the surrounding environment. Of course, it is easy to make play of the words "environment" and "devastation" in these circumstances, and I understand why he did so, but the alternative to cluster bombing—this relates to the point that I was just asked about—may require a greater number of high explosive munitions to be used. These would destroy the enemy but they also cause widespread harm to the surroundings and civilians. Munitions of that kind, even dating from World War Two, are still having to be disarmed.

In essence, sometimes, and used under careful guidelines, the military advice is that cluster munitions may in fact be less destructive than other weapons. These military requirements mean that we cannot at this stage commit to a total ban of cluster munitions. To do so would leave our Armed Forces with an unacceptable operational capability gap and in some circumstances would jeopardise protection.

The noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, raised some very important points in this regard. Of course, we want to win people's hearts and minds, even in these circumstances. It is true that people want to be free of violence and the risk of attack. That is the balance I have tried to describe. But one thing is clear to me—that we must in all these circumstances be able also to protect our forces. That is the balance.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked what we are trying to do next and how we shall proceed. We are trying on the international stage to secure an effective treaty on cluster bombs, just as we did with landmines. That task was also drawn to our attention by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote. As many in the Chamber are aware, these negotiations are evolving. Some countries, led by Norway, have become sufficiently frustrated by the lack of progress in the United Nations process in the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, that they have set up an alternative procedure, the Oslo process. I understand that frustration but, equally, I understand that a treaty must be universal if it is to be wholly successful. That means that the major users and producers of cluster bombs must feel that they also have a stake in the outcome.

A process and agreement that omits these vital countries will of course have a far more limited humanitarian impact. That is why we are active within the CCW and contribute to the work of the Group of Governmental Experts to build consensus among its 102 states parties for a negotiating mandate in 2007 to address humanitarian concerns related to these weapons

That said, I share the House's hope that the Oslo process, in which we are closely involved, will feed into and inspire the work of the UN's CCW process. We will work with both with this aim firmly in mind.

At last year's review conference of the CCW, when all efforts to secure a negotiating mandate were blocked, the United Kingdom took a lead and secured support for a discussion mandate to address this issue. Consequently, the Group of Governmental Experts was set up to report on the application and implementation of international humanitarian law and technical issues and to report back within 12 months. This is a prerequisite for any negotiations on a new instrument within the CCW. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Low, that we shall need to have access to the very best data and to make clear distinctions between types of weapons. That is part of the work of the group of experts.

Our immediate aim is to secure a recommendation from the chair of the Group of Governmental Experts for a negotiating mandate at a forthcoming meeting in June. We will then work to build support for this ahead of the November meeting of states parties.

There is a diverse range of CCW states, including some of the major users—

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. I understand where he is coming from and his very firm view, supported by the Opposition Bench, that the Government cannot at this stage accept that M85 should be discarded. But will he address the rather important point that in all these international negotiations there will be a point at which we will either say that we ask others to accept our view that they are okay, or alternatively we will accept that this is a first step only and that we are not prepared to go beyond that? I should like to hear from him that we will not try to persuade others of our view that these weapons are acceptable because that is a very strongly disputed point. I am not saying that we will not hold to that view ourselves but this could be quite important because what we surely want to do is to end up with an international legal instrument which is capable of being extended as circumstances require.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I am grateful for that question. We will of course adhere to the view that I have described to the House. It would be difficult for other countries not to understand our reasons and purposes, not as a matter of advocacy but just as knowledge of what we are doing. In a few moments, in context, I will return to the point about process, to which I undertake to reply.

The work with the CCW states, if it can be achieved, would be a very big prize. We are engaged in two processes. That is why we are participating energetically in the Oslo process, and we support the Oslo declaration, along with around 50 other countries, many of which are also CCW states. We will also be involved in the follow-up meeting to Oslo in Lima next week, in which we will discuss elements of the future instrument. I assure my noble friend Lady Turner that we will be taking a full part. Like the UN Secretary-General, we believe that the Oslo process should be "mutually reinforcing and complementary"—those were his words—to the CCW, and should provide an inspiration to the states of the CCW to fulfil the aim of the new instrument.

That brings me back to the point that the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Garden, asked me about. When we are working with our international partners to achieve our aim of a new instrument that prohibits those cluster munitions that pose unacceptable harm, we have to see it as a process that is bound to have to reflect the changes that take place over time. The decisions that have been taken recently by the Government reflect just that engagement with the process. It would be foolish for anyone to assert that we had arrived at a final point and that whatever weapons systems that we now believe to be critical to our well-being will always be so. I wholly accept that but, like all processes, we will need to include those people who are responsible for our defence advice in the understanding of the complexities as each stage moves forward. Otherwise, there would not only be a lack of international consensus, but there would be no consensus in the United Kingdom either.

I greatly appreciate the efforts of the Norwegian Government, as well as those of everyone who has supported the Oslo declaration, not least the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in introducing this debate, and my noble friend Lord Dubs in the introduction of his Bill. I am grateful to the Government of Peru for hosting the next Oslo process meeting. The Oslo process is an excellent one. It is leading discussion, it is going in the right ethical direction and it is very good in so many respects; but it is also limited because of those who are not taking part in it. The CCW process is critical and is likely to prove the decisive process, because that is where the players, without whom this effort will almost certainly fail, are located. That is why we will work in both processes. If we are successful in our work on the Oslo process and the links that it has to the CCW process, it will strengthen the United Nations' prestige in limiting weapons of this kind. Our efforts may not bear fruit in the CCW, and that may mean that the Oslo process becomes the only means through which we can secure our aims, but we are determined to press along this route. In today's debate, whatever the differences have been about some weapons, there has been a clear belief that the process must be continued and seen through to a proper conclusion.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative 1:44 pm, 17th May 2007

My Lords, I am deeply indebted to everyone who has spoken in the debate. I rather deplore our tradition that everyone must start by congratulating the person who has been lucky enough to win the ballot. It uses valuable time, and there is nothing very clever about winning the ballot. I was very lucky to get it on this day, and it could well have been the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I acknowledge, as I should have done at the start, that he would certainly have conducted this debate at least as well and probably better than I did. He has a better track record on fighting cluster munitions than I as yet have, but I regard myself as a rival in that regard, and I will try not to start addressing him as my noble friend.

I, too, acknowledge the pioneering, courageous and skilled work of Landmine Action, a non-government voluntary body. I should have declared an interest, and I will have to put it in the office, that it paid the expenses of my visit to Oslo and will do so for my visit to Peru. I leave it to your Lordships to judge whether that has coloured my judgment; I assure noble Lords that it has not.

My noble friend on the Front Bench pointed out that of the 49 who went to Oslo, Poland, Romania and Japan have not signed up. I therefore, against Poland and Romania, take from a long list France, Germany, Italy and Spain, all in Europe, who did so. My noble friend mentioned Japan; I mention Canada and Austria. We can play these cards out as if it is a party game. The list is long, distinguished and growing. It is perhaps worth saying that of the 34 nations which make these beastly things, sell them to others and approve of their use, 15 have now signed up to the Oslo accord. So it was a very significant development and is one to take note of and to be exploited in a way in which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, is more skilled than anyone in doing.

It has been suggested that we should approach a total ban by stages. Certainly, there should be effective regulation of how these things are used. The use in Lebanon was utterly disgraceful and inhumane. In discussions outside this Chamber, I am constantly told that commanders are not allowed to use them in built-up areas, and yet I have seen film of these things in use in Nis, a considerable city in the Balkans, as well as a commander who saturated a village in the Lebanon. So those rules do not actually work. In the haste, fear, anger and fog of war, rules get bent or ignored. The only thing that works is not providing weapons that are not fit for purpose. It must cause the Government to waver, whatever their current commanders are saying, that we have written testimony from one field marshal that this type of weapon is counterproductive and causes you to lose the war even if you have won the battle, and we have an air marshal and a general saying that they serve no useful military purpose either. Having talked to pretty senior military people and commanders in the British forces, I do not get a sense of the depth of tenacity to this weapon that the Minister's reply suggested exists. I suspect that the postcode of the advice is somewhere near Whitehall rather than somewhere near NATO headquarters.

We come to the basic issue of why these things are unacceptable; apart from the military matters, which we can go on arguing about for some time, it is because they kill unacceptable numbers of civilians, of whom an unacceptably high proportion are children. We have had a notional figure of 30,000 casualties so far, and rising. That arises from two things. First, I concentrated in my opening remarks on the failure of the failsafe system, and I have heard no answer yet to the evidence that the United Nations produced from Lebanon on the failure rate, or to the video that I saw. There is the other aspect. These are area weapons; they do not attack targets. They attack areas in which the target either is or is supposed to be.

The noble Baroness is looking anxious; we have until eight minutes past two, but I have nearly concluded. What is wrong with these weapons is that they do not pinpoint a target. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, asked what is coming next along the production line. It is called Bonus, and it has two or three accurate, individually targeted weapons that can recognise the difference between a tank and a tractor. I ask the noble Lord to do two things. First, I ask him to expedite and assist in every way that he can the Oslo process, as well as the United Nations process. Secondly, I ask him to get the boffins on with developing something that does the job that these things fail to do, knocks out the enemy and does not turn whole nations again us. With some reluctance, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.