HC Deb 25 February 1998 vol 307 cc352-3
4. Mr. David Marshall

What assistance her Department is providing to reduce the number of active land mines throughout the world; and if she will make a statement. [29613]

10. Mr. Jim Murphy

If she will make a statement on progress on land mine clearance programmes. [29619]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes)

We were all delighted when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development signed the Ottawa convention on behalf of the United Kingdom Government. We are doubling our expenditure on de-mining and we are working for greater international co-operation and building up more local capability in order to speed up de-mining worldwide.

Mr. Marshall

My hon. Friend is well aware that the Inter-Parliamentary Union was the first international forum to debate anti-personnel land mines and that it continues to give this issue high priority. What specific plans do the Government have to speed up the clearance of land mines and to help the tragic victims of these horrific weapons?

Mr. Foulkes

I was glad to be present as a delegate when the IPU discussed these matters. I heard my hon. Friend's eloquent speech. I can assure him that we are giving substantial support through the Red Cross, the World Health Organisation and NGOs for victim support, as well as through our bilateral country programmes.

As for speeding up the clearance of land mines, as president of the European Council we are working for much greater co-ordination of our activities. We are having discussions with the Americans and the Japanese. We are also playing a leading role in developing new techniques for mine clearance.

Mr. Murphy

Is my hon. Friend able to confirm that the policy that the Government inherited would have left the world with land mines planted in it for more than 1,000 years? That is what would have happened if the clearance operation had not been speeded up.

Mozambique recently recovered from civil war but found itself much diminished in resources for education and health. What structures and plans do we have to ensure that the dangerous litter of land mines in Mozambique is cleared?

Mr. Foulkes

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are land mines in Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia, Cambodia—Egypt has mines from the second world war—the Falkland Islands, northern Iraq, Laos, Libya and, as my hon. Friend mentioned, Mozambique. There is a huge task to be undertaken. We need to do more, and we will do more in co-operation with other countries to try to remove this scourge, which affects women and children particularly, as quickly as possible.

Mr. Fabricant

I hope that the Minister will pay tribute to the previous Government, who helped to set up the Ottawa convention. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there are possibly more than 100,000 unexploded land mines in Cambodia and other parts of south-east Asia? Will he tell the House what measures the British Government are taking in that region?

Mr. Foulkes

I can assure the House that we are active in Cambodia. We are supporting the mines advisory group and other groups working in Cambodia.

The initiative for the Ottawa convention came from the Canadians—from their Foreign Minister, Lloyd Axworthy. My right hon. Friend and her Cabinet colleagues, with others, rightly took up the initiative. I was pleased that it was my right hon. Friend, on behalf of the Government, who signed the convention.

Mr. Home Robertson

As my hon. Friend knows, I have done a bit of NGO work in Bosnia. The presence of mines is a genuine worry, especially for people with young families. What progress is being made on de-mining in Bosnia? What co-operation are our authorities receiving from the former warring factions on information about the whereabouts of mines?

Mr. Foulkes

I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done. I think that he has driven twice to Bosnia with humanitarian assistance, showing graphically how individuals are contributing to the effort there. I can assure him that we are working with the Japanese Government and our own Ministry of Defence. We are doing everything possible by mapping the position of mines and then de-mining as quickly as possible. I am grateful for his comments.