HC Deb 16 June 1997 vol 296 cc5-6
4. Ms Dari Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what action his Department is taking in relation to anti-personnel land mines. [2043]

Mr. George Robertson

On 21 May we announced that we would ban all trade in anti-personnel land mines involving the United Kingdom—that is, their import, export, transfer and manufacture. We also introduced a complete moratorium on their operational use. We will phase out our stocks of such land mines by 2005 at the latest.

Ms Taylor

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to his post, and I am delighted with his answer. The moratorium on land mines is long overdue. Will the moratorium extend to the JP-233 airfield denial weapon?

Mr. Robertson

I thank my hon. Friend for her welcome, and I welcome her to the House. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I were able to discharge our clear manifesto commitment so quickly after coming to power. Few people in this country could tolerate any longer the continued use in the world of these disgraceful and almost immoral weapons. Our move is designed as a signal and as part of a momentum that we hope will encompass all those involved with such weaponry.

When I visited Bosnia-Herzegovina, I flew over some of the most stunningly beautiful land in the world. It was impossible to believe that we could not land on it or walk on it. Future generations may not be able to do so either, because of the estimated 3 million land mines that have been spread throughout that country.

The JP-233 falls within the definition of an anti-personnel land mine under the terms of revised protocol 2 to the United Nations weaponry convention and so is covered by the moratorium that we have announced.

Mr. Robathan

In a spirit of friendly co-operation I, too, welcome the right hon. Gentleman and his team for the entertainment value that they will bring to the Government Front Bench. I certainly agree that we all deplore land mines and I also agree with the moratorium. Does the Secretary of State agree that none of the 3 million anti-personnel mines laid in Bosnia was British? Can he say specifically when an anti-personnel mine was last manufactured in the United Kingdom and when an anti-personnel mine was last exported?

Mr. Robertson

Anti-personnel mines were used by this country in the Gulf war and in the Falklands conflict. This country adopted a responsible way of doing that with marked minefields, and all the mines were subsequently taken up. The point is not whether we have exported or manufactured anti-personnel land mines in the past, but the fact that there is currently no legal regime to prevent their being manufactured or exported. We shall introduce legislation to achieve that and I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome.

The subject of anti-personnel land mines holds no entertainment value at all: it is a deeply serious subject which has galvanised the United State Congress and many people throughout the world. What we are doing is not a gesture, but part of a worldwide movement to outlaw a particular type of weapon which should have been outlawed a long time ago.