HC Deb 31 January 1995 vol 253 cc841-3
7. Mr. Cohen

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the use of land mines.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Roger Freeman)

The United Kingdom is concerned at the suffering caused by the indiscriminate use of anti-personnel land mines and is working positively towards strengthening international means to control those problems. The United Kingdom signed the United Nations weaponry convention in 1981 and we want to see the convention improved and signed by more countries.

Mr. Cohen

Is not the Government's alleged support for the United Nations moratorium flawed by exemptions for self-destructing and self-neutralising mines and other established criteria, whatever that may mean? Do not self-neutralising mines still kill and maim innocent civilians and are not they costly and dangerous to remove? Should not the Government stop the export of all anti-personnel mines, irrespective of whether they are self-neutralising, and sign the 1981 inhumane weapons treaty? Would the Minister tread boldly on a field of self-neutralising mines? I think not.

Mr. Freeman

I think that the whole House shares the sentiment expressed in the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question: that where the indiscriminate use of mines, self-destruct or otherwise, causes danger to civilians it is to be deplored. That is why we shall work with our allies to control the export of all mines, including self-destruct mines. It is important that the British Army retains some capability. The hon. Gentleman is at least consistent. He is a unilateral nuclear disarmer, along with 39 other Opposition Members. He may wish to disarm the British Army of land mines, which are a perfectly justifiable weapon to use in defence of these shores, but he is wrong to sign the early-day motion calling for a ban on nuclear weapons, as did many of his colleagues.

Mr. Robathan

Yet again, we have the sad spectacle of Opposition Members sniping at the British armed forces and blaming the British Government for everything that goes wrong in the world. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he has no evidence of any British anti-personnel mines that are harming civilians? Can he confirm that the Hazardous Areas Life-support Organisation, which is employed to clear mines by the Overseas Development Administration and the United Nations, among others, has never come across one British mine in Afganistan, Cambodia, Angola or Mozambique?

Mr. Freeman

I am glad to confirm what my hon. Friend says. The House will be interested to know that in the past three years the British Government have spent £7 million helping mine clearance in some of the countries to which my hon. Friend refers.

Mr. Home Robertson

What information does the Minister have about the number of land mines which remain on the former confrontation lines between Bosnian Government forces and Bosnian Croatian forces in the area covered by the British battalion and UNPROFOR? Is the British Army giving assistance or advice on the clearance of minefields?

Mr. Freeman

Certainly, the British Army and the British Government will do all that they can to advise on clearance. The parties in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia have indiscriminately sown anti-personnel land mines. That may be in direct contravention of the United Nations weaponry convention, which we signed in 1981, and which we will ratify next month.

Mr. Cohen

In view of the Minister's unsatisfactory reply, I give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment.