Page last updated at 22:31 GMT, Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Cluster bombs banned for UK armed forces

A cluster bomb dropped by Israel in Lebanon during the 2006 conflict lies by the roadside
Cluster bombs contain hundreds of "bomblets" that can cover a large area

British armed forces are being banned from using cluster munitions under a law passed by the House of Commons.

The law comes after the UK in 2008 signed an international convention outlawing the weapons - which have maimed and killed thousands of people.

The bombs were withdrawn from use by the UK in May 2008 and stockpiles are due to be destroyed by the end of 2013.

First developed in World War II, they contain smaller "bomblets" designed to cover a large area and deter armies.

The Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill received the backing of all parties as it received an unopposed third reading in the Commons, having already completed its passage through the Lords.

It now goes for Royal Assent.

'Small step'

Cluster munitions eject dozens, sometimes hundreds, of tiny bomblets which can be dispersed to cause explosions over a wide area.

However, sometimes they do not detonate immediately, which means they pose a danger to vehicles or people, often children, who come into contact with them at a later date.

cluster bomb graphic
1: The cluster bomb, in this case a CBU-87, is dropped from a plane and can fly about nine miles before releasing its load of about 200 bomblets.

2: The canister starts to spin and opens at an altitude between 1,000m and 100m, spraying the bomblets across a wide area.

3: Each bomblet is the size of a soft drink can and contains hundreds of metal pieces. When it explodes, it can cause deadly injuries up to 25m away.

Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant said understanding of the horrific impact of the weapons had led to a change of political mood in favour of their prohibition.

He said a third of the people affected by them were children and at least 60% of those killed or maimed had been civilians.

The bill allows the UK to enforce prohibitions set out in the Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The convention prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster bombs.

Non-signatories include the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan and Israel.

Shadow foreign office minister David Lidington said at a time when there were concerns about nuclear proliferation "it is good this evening to be able to mark a small step towards ridding the world of at least one particularly unpleasant category of lethal weapons".

Liberal Democrat spokesman Edward Davey called on the government to work on clearing land where British forces had dropped cluster bombs and to press for non-signatories to support the convention.

But concerns were raised about how the law would affect UK troops working alongside non-signatories in Afghanistan.

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