HC Deb 14 July 1997 vol 298 cc14-5
11. Helen Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received in respect of his policy on anti—personnel land mines. [6517]

Mr. George Robertson

I have reviewed a wide range of representations welcoming the Government's policy on anti-personnel land mines.

Helen Jones

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Will he reassure my constituents who have written to me on this matter that the exceptional use of land mines will be confined largely to circumstances in which the lives of British troops are at risk? Will he also reassure the House that if such land mines were to be used, we would de-mine those areas after hostilities had ceased?

Mr. Robertson

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The exceptional circumstances in which the military might ask for those instruments to be used would be limited. The decision would be taken by Ministers, and any such decision would be reported to Parliament. In such exceptional circumstances, all land mines would be plotted and would be taken up.

May I take this opportunity to clarify something that I said at Defence questions a month ago? I am advised that, contrary to my earlier understanding, it is not possible at present for my Department to say categorically that all anti-personnel land mines laid by Britain in the past were subsequently taken up. I now understand that one mine laid in the Falklands is unaccounted for, and that a number were not removed after the Gulf conflict. We currently know of 12 mines that were left in Iraq, and my Department is trying urgently to establish the full facts.

Dr. Tonge

Will the Secretary of State again clarify the words "exceptional use"? Is he saying that, if a military commander wishes to use land mines, in the interests of the British armed forces, he will go to the right hon. Gentleman and his decision will have to be ratified by the House before he is allowed to use those mines? That seems a strange way of conducting a military campaign.

Mr. Robertson

I assure the hon. Lady that there is nothing unusual about it. We would agree to suspend our moratorium on the use of anti-personnel land mines only if we were satisfied that, in a specific operation, the security of our forces would be jeopardised without them. As in many other cases, the military commanders and chiefs of staff would come to Ministers to seek agreement. Parliament would not be ratifying the decision, but would be informed of it.