HC Deb 01 December 1997 vol 302 cc3-4
2. Mrs. Roe

If he will make a statement on the (a) financial and (b) service personnel impact for the Royal Engineers of his Department's land mines strategy. [16795]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson)

Our land mines strategy will have no significant impact on the operating costs or manpower of the Royal Engineers. I am pleased to say that they will be playing a direct role in the Mine Information and Training Centre at Minley.

Mrs. Roe

I am grateful for that reply. Does the Minister envisage that Royal Engineers personnel will play a more active role on the ground in mine clearing overseas?

Mr. Robertson

In peacetime, it is not the role of our soldiers to get involved in humanitarian mine clearing, although they have considerable expertise in the clearance of areas following conflicts. I assure the hon. Lady, and I am proud to say, that the Royal Engineers will play a distinguished part in the work of the Mine Information and Training Centre. Its expertise and knowledge will be used in Government and non-governmental organisations to ensure that the task of humanitarian de-mining, which is of such great importance in the world today, is conducted in the most professional and expert way possible.

Mr. Savidge

With the Ottawa treaty being signed this Wednesday, does the Secretary of State agree that we should now be concentrating on the task of ridding ourselves of those land mines that have already been sown? Will he tell us more about what the Government will be doing to assist those involved in the humanitarian task of de-mining?

Mr. Robertson

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A significant moment in history will occur on Wednesday when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will be in Canada to sign the Ottawa treaty, which will ban the export, import, transfer, manufacture and, ultimately, use of anti-personnel land mines. That, in itself, is one step in the direction in which, I believe, the world wishes to go.

All across the globe there are the legacies of previous conflicts—areas that cannot be walked on owing to the potential terrible, wanton destruction of anti-personnel land mines that lie in the way of so many civilians. I am pleased to say that British Army expertise is to be used at a much greater level to assist in that project. Already, British troops have been involved in helping to rid parts of the world of the scourge of land mines. Those areas include Afghanistan, Angola, Belize, Cambodia and Cyprus. This country played an important part in establishing the United Nations mines action centre in Bosnia. We shall play our part and I hope that other countries will do the same.

Mr. Martin Bell

Is the Minister aware that the position of the head of his Department's humanitarian mine clearance is as yet unfilled and there is a sense of urgency and concern in the mine clearance community that it should have been filled earlier?

Mr. Robertson

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, in every area where there is concern on humanitarian de-mining, we are moving with expedition. My visit to Bosnia was designed to highlight a new five-point programme on humanitarian de-mining. Colonel Alastair McAslan has been nominated as the British Army's representative on humanitarian de-mining. We are fulfilling all the obligations which, as a major military nation, we should.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

I hope that the Secretary of State had an interesting visit to the Royal School of Military Engineering at Minley in my constituency. I was interested to hear him say that he reckons that the centre of mine expertise will not have a significant financial impact. When it was announced in October, it was reported that it would cost £125,000 to set up the centre. Will that money come out of the defence budget or that of the Overseas Development Administration?

Mr. Robertson

Of course it will come from the defence budget, as it should, as it involves military de-mining. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is as proud as I am of the work that has been and will be done at Minley. The £125,000 is a good investment in the sort of jobs that will be done at that establishment by the Royal Engineers.