HC Deb 25 June 1997 vol 296 cc831-3
6. Mr. Martin Bell

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if she will assess the advantages of promoting the development of new technologies for clearing land mines as a form of aid for those countries which need them. [3860]

Mr. Foulkes

I pay tribute to all that the hon. Gentleman has done to raise awareness on this issue. We support projects providing low-cost mechanical clearance and we are considering a number of new initiatives, from sophisticated multi-sensors to simple clearance tools.

Mr. Bell

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the issue here is not party political or political but humanitarian, and that an honoured guest should be allowed to visit an all-party group of the House without being accused of having political motives?

Mr. Foulkes

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The issue is humanitarian, not party political. Indeed, some Conservative Members of both Houses have been involved in the all-party group on land mine eradication, and the royal family has previously been involved with humanitarian issues. Diana, Princess of Wales, has helped to raise the profile of the problem, and it is entirely regrettable that she has had to withdraw because of pressure from Conservative Members.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Does the Minister agree that the support of prominent public figures, either inside or outside the Palace of Westminster, is as nothing compared to the need to establish international political will to deal with the problem of land mines? I congratulate the Government on joining the Ottawa initiative, but will the Minister say whether the problem of land mines will be put on the agenda on the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to be held in Edinburgh? Would that not be a suitable forum in which to initiate further international action?

Mr. Foulkes

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman, for whom I have great respect, for his kind congratulations on our participation in the Ottawa process. We shall take an active part in the forthcoming meetings, and we hope that we can get an agreement that will introduce an effective international ban on land mines. As for CHOGM, I understand that the agenda is not yet finalised, but we shall take account of what has been suggested and feed it into the considerations.

7. Dr. Godman

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what action her Department is taking to encourage a more rapid clearance of land mines in the poorest countries of the world. [3861]

9. Dr. Starkey

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what action her Department is taking to encourage a more rapid clearance of land mines in the poorest countries of the world. [3863]

Clare Short

We are tackling the problem on several fronts—first, as has been said, by seeking an effective international ban on their use and secondly, by supporting the development of capacity in heavily mined countries to clear their own mines. Only that will give us the speed of clearance necessary because, at current rates of clearance, it would take the world 1,000 years to clear the mines already in place—and more are being laid as we speak. Our priorities are to save lives and to ensure resettlement and development for the poor in heavily mined countries.

Dr. Godman

I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on signing the Ottawa initiative.

Has the role of the United Nations in international mine clearance operations been diminished by the funding crisis that is bedevilling that organisation? When President Mary Robinson demits office and takes up the post of High Commissioner for Human Rights, will she have a role to play in that scheme of things?

Clare Short

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We all welcome the appointment of the President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, as Commissioner for Human Rights, although I am not sure whether she will have responsibility for land mine clearance in the UN system.

My hon. Friend is right to say that many forces have been trying to undermine the effectiveness of the UN. The view taken by the British Government was welcomed by everyone at the recent meeting of the UN from which I returned last night. Our position is strongly to support the UN process of reform, which will increase its effectiveness. Many countries in the UN greatly welcome the new responsible and creative British position.

Dr. Starkey

I add my congratulations to the Secretary of State on her initiatives, which are welcomed by most of my constituents in Milton Keynes. Given the enormous number of countries affected by the serious problem of indiscriminate land mines, what criteria will her Department use to identify the countries to be helped first?

Clare Short

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As she probably knows, some 60 countries have been very badly disabled by land mines, which are wicked weapons. People are damaged by them not only during war, including civil war, but even when peace comes, because there can be no resettlement and land cannot be used. Adults looking for wood or children playing can still be badly damaged. We want to support worldwide movements for eradication.

I stress that we need technical co-operation to create the capacity for the countries concerned to clear their own mines. I visited Cambodia about six months ago and saw widows and amputees clearing mines there. That provided them with a living and helped to heal the damage done to their country. We want to encourage that kind of work.