UK campaigners on cluster munitions submitted the following briefing to the UK Parliament today in response to a question from Baroness Williams on ‘temporary exemptions’ from the UK law prohibiting cluster munitions. Article 36 believes that the UK government should make it clear that any possible future authorisations to be issued by the Secretary of State under this law should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

Briefing for UK parliamentarians on the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Act 2010

31 January 2011

 

Subject:

Authorisations from the Secretary of State in relation to defences set out in clauses 8 and 9 of the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Act 2010 on visiting forces and international military operations and activities respectively.

 

Summary:

The UK has banned cluster bombs entirely and is bound never to assist with use of cluster munitions by any country ever again. Along with 107 other countries the UK condemned the use of cluster bombs in the final declaration of the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Lao PDR in November 2010.

The UK law on cluster munitions contains provisions that allow for the Secretary of State to grant ‘authorisations’ for certain acts that would otherwise be prohibited under the law. This is reasonable and indeed was necessary to allow the US to withdraw its cluster munitions from the UK. However, such authorisations should never be granted in order to assist other states with the use of cluster munitions or to facilitate their movement or trade internationally

Given that the UK announced in November 2010 that all foreign stockpiles of cluster munitions have been withdrawn from UK territory, there should never be a need for the Secretary of State to issue such authorisations again. If any ‘authorisations’ are contemplated by the Secretary of State they should be subject, in advance, to strict parliamentary scrutiny.

Authorisations from the Secretary of State:

The Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Act 2010 is the UK implementing legislation for the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which has been signed by 108 countries and ratified by 50, including the UK. The law allows the Secretary of State to issue ‘authorisations’ in relation to certain defences set out in the law. Of particular interest are the permissions for authorisations under clauses 8 on visiting forces and clause 9 on international military operations and activities.

On one hand, having a capacity for the Secretary of State to grant limited exemptions from the prohibitions on possession and transfer is reasonable. For example, it has been necessary to legally allow the US to withdraw its cluster munitions from the UK.

Indeed it is very positive that at the 1MSP in Vientiane in November 2010 the UK announced that all foreign stocks of cluster munitions have been removed from the UK and UK overseas territories. At that meeting, all States Parties, including the UK, condemned the use of cluster munitions and called for all countries to join the treaty.

However, using this capacity for ‘authorisations’ to help another government to use, stockpile or transfer cluster munitions would be a very different matter and would be wholly against the spirit of the treaty. The UK and many other governments recently condemned the use of cluster munitions because of the unacceptable harm they cause to civilians – it would be deeply disingenuous to be condemning these weapons in public, whilst at the same time helping others to use them.

We hope this government will focus on pushing for full adherence to the ban by all countries. The global stigma against these weapons is very strong. Any future use by any country will be met with international condemnation. Any assistance with future use will be met with the same condemnation.

 

Additional background:

 

Recent Parliamentary Q & As on this issue (House of Commons) – followed by comments

 

Date of Answer: 13.12.2010
Member Tabling Question: Lucas, Caroline
Question: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether the Government has reached any understanding with the US administration that the Secretary of State may give authorisation for US cluster munitions to be brought into or carried through the UK or its overseas territories; whether any such arrangement was discussed with US officials prior to Royal Assent to the Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Act 2009; and if he will make a statement.

Member Answering Question: Fox, Liam
Answer: Article 8 of the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Act (2010) sets out that the Secretary of State is able to grant authorisation for visiting forces of states not party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions to possess cluster munitions on or transfer them through UK territory. The US were made aware of this provision within the Bill, not least as it was required to enable the removal of their cluster munitions stockpiles. This removal has now been completed and there are no foreign stockpiles of cluster munitions on UK territory.

Date of Answer: 09.12.2010
Member Tabling Question: Lucas, Caroline
Question: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether he has issued any authorisation specified under the visiting forces section of the Cluster Munitions Prohibition Act 2009 to bring cluster munitions into (a) the UK, (b) UK overseas territories and (c) UK and overseas territorial waters; if he will make it his policy to submit all future such requests for authorisation to the House for scrutiny; and if he will make a statement.
Member Answering Question: Fox, Liam
Answer: No. Neither I nor any other Secretary of State in this Government has issued any authorisation under Article 8 of the Act. Article 8 does not require such requests to be scrutinised by Parliament. However, in the event of a future request, we would consider on a case-by-case basis how best we can keep Parliament informed within the constraints of classification and operational planning.

Column References: 520 c427W
Member Tabling Question: Lucas, Caroline
Question: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps his Department took to inform both Houses of discussions with officials of (a) the US Administration and (b) other governments relevant to the Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Bill (i) before and (ii) during the passage of the Bill; and if he will make a statement.
Member Answering Question: Fox, Liam
Answer: This is a matter for the previous government.

Comments:

 

These answers note that permission might be given to bring cluster munitions into or through the UK, but no reassurance is given that this would not be done so as to assist with the use of cluster munitions, or that such a choice to assist another country to use cluster munitions should be brought before parliament first.

Given that this matter is of relevance to US stockpiles of cluster munitions that were held on Diego Garcia, the UK government should make it clear that Diego Garcia is fully covered by the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Act 2010.

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