HC Deb 17 April 1996 vol 275 cc697-8
3. Mr. Llew Smith

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what proposals he has to ban the (a) manufacture and (b) export of land mines in (i) part and (ii) complete form. [23918]

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Anthony Nelson)

We already have in place a wide-ranging national moratorium on the export of anti-personnel land mines. I have no plans to ban the manufacture of such land mines, although they have not been manufactured in this country or exported for a number of years.

Mr. Smith

Will the Minister follow the lead of General Schwarzkopf, 14 other high-ranking United States generals and the Australian Government in banning the use of anti-personnel land mines? Will the Government press for such a ban at the convention on inhumane weapons in Geneva next week?

Mr. Nelson

We keep those matters under constant review and we take careful notice of what our allies—particularly those in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation—do in that regard. As the hon. Gentleman acknowledges, the proper place to discuss such matters is at the United Nations weaponry convention, which holds its concluding session towards the end of the month and I hope that it may lead to the implementation of a tighter regime. For the time being, however, the British Army and the British Government believe that land mines are necessary for our use and that casualties would be incurred if we did not have them. We do not export or manufacture them and we have imposed a moratorium and a ban on their export in a wide range of categories to a large number of countries.

Sir Donald Thompson

Will my hon. Friend take the matter very seriously, as hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned about the proliferation of land mines which are disturbing even the aid going to Bosnia, including the recent very successful trip to that country organised by Welsh Rotary and supported by the international company Hasbro? Will my hon. Friend combine with officers in the Ministry of Defence and in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to ensure that our voice is the loudest to speak out on the international scene against land mines?

Mr. Nelson

I of course take very seriously the points that my hon. Friend raises. We play an active role in international discussions about this issue and we abhor any loss of civilian life involved with the use of so-called dumb land mines. However, we must recognise that many land mines are used in internal conflicts in developing countries. When introducing any regimes or bans, it is important to ensure that the world acts in concert rather than unilaterally.

Many Opposition Members—67 of whom have signed an early-day motion on the subject—continually hark back to unilateralism. That would be absolutely pointless in this and in other areas. International agreement is important and Her Majesty's Government are intent upon achieving it.

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