HC Deb 24 October 1995 vol 264 cc816-7
7. Mr. Alton

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he is having with other countries' Defence Ministers to reduce the number of anti-personnel land mines currently deployed. [36566]

Mr. Arbuthnot

The Government are at the forefront of international efforts to restrict the export and use of anti-personnel mines. We are disappointed that the recent conference which was called to tighten such restrictions was unable to reach agreement, but we will continue our efforts.

Mr. Alton

While I share the Minister's disappointment about the breakdown of the talks in Vienna recently when the United Nations held a conference on inhuman weapons, who does he think was to blame for the breakdown of those talks? Will he clarify the Government's position on self-destruct weapons and whether that played any part in the breakdown of the talks? Does he agree that with more than one million fatalities so far from anti-personnel mines and inhuman weapons and with many countries littered with hundreds of thousands of such devices, it is a major humanitarian and development issue, and that, when the conference meets again in January, our Government should give a moral lead in ensuring that the world is rid of anti-personnel mines?

Mr. Arbuthnot

I have some sympathy with the way in which the hon. Gentleman has put his question. I do not think that it would be appropriate or constructive for me to attempt to point the finger at any particular country, because we want to achieve a successful result when the conference resumes, in December we hope. We and our allies believe that a bad agreement would have been worse than no agreement at all. In order to press for a better outcome, we strove for the resumption rather than the total abandonment of the conference.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of any agreement covering self-destruct and detectable anti-personnel mines, because those mines cause severe damage to civilians throughout the world. We want to restrict their use and their export.

Mr. Bellingham

What is being done about de-mining measures in countries such as Afghanistan, Laos, Cambodia and Rwanda? Can my hon. Friend confirm that, with expenditure totalling nearly £20 million, Britain is in the lead in spending money on such projects? Would he agree that that pragmatic policy, combined with his policy to impose a moratorium on the export of land mines, is the right one rather than the rubbish spoken by many Opposition Members?

Mr. Arbuthnot

I can confirm that we have committed nearly £17 million to mine clearance projects around the world. We have funded projects in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, northern Iraq, Laos, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia and the Yemen. We are one of the world's leading contributors to mine clearance programmes. We have also been working with the United States and others on proposals for a land mine control programme, which would regulate the production, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel mines.

We believe that the conference result demonstrated that a total ban on anti-personnel mines—called for from a number of quarters—is not possible at this stage because there is simply not enough international support for it. We will work, however, for a successful outcome at the future conference, which we hope will take place in December.