HC Deb 09 March 1998 vol 308 cc10-2
8. Mr. Sarwar

What action his Department is taking in relation to anti-personnel land mines. [31410]

12. Ms Southworth

What steps his Department is taking to help those involved in humanitarian demining. [31414]

Mr. George Robertson

The Government have been at the forefront of international moves towards a global ban on anti-personnel land mines and in providing assistance to humanitarian demining. We shall soon destroy about 1 million anti-personnel land mines, keeping only a very small number needed for training in mine clearance. We have also established a mine information and training centre.

Mr. Sarwar

Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the late Diana, Princess of Wales for her contribution to raising awareness of land mines, which have killed thousands of innocent men, women and children throughout the world? Does he agree that the British Army is doing an excellent job and playing a major role in eradicating land mines? Will he tell the House what further steps he intends to take during our presidency of the European Union to eradicate land mines, which are killing almost 70 people a day?

Mr. Robertson

My hon. Friend is right to point to the pioneering work of Diana, Princess of Wales in drawing attention to the land mine menace, which still plagues our planet. Her legacy will continue through the Ottawa treaty, which was signed by many countries that are now dedicated to eradicating the weapon from the earth. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall continue to use the formidable expertise of the British Army and to ensure that it is able to help not only other military agencies but the civil and humanitarian charitable community in dealing with a weapons system that has damaged or killed many millions of people and has the potential to continue to do so in future.

Ms Southworth

My right hon. Friend will not be surprised to learn that I have received considerable representation from my constituents, who share my horror at the threat land mines pose to the life and health of children living in many countries. Will he investigate the possibility of his Ministry providing equipment to people working on humanitarian de-mining, so that we can make progress toward ending the tragedies that happen every day?

Mr. Robertson

I welcome my hon. Friend's concern, which is shared by many thousands of people in this country and millions around the globe. Her horror and outrage is well reflected within the Government. I can announce today that we are about to gift to the Halo trust—an organisation with which Princess Diana had much to do—10 surplus Volvo medium-wheel tractors, valued at £125,000. They will increase considerably the rate of mine clearance and the safety of operators once the Halo trust has suitably armoured them. We believe that this is a good and meaningful contribution to the work being done by that agency, and we shall look at what else we can do. I am extremely proud that this Government have led the way in the campaign against anti-personnel land mines. They are a blight on the face of the earth, and the sooner they are outlawed for ever, the safer our world will be.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I am glad that the Secretary of State mentioned the Halo trust. Is he aware that that trust and other non-governmental organisations are doing much brave and dedicated work clearing anti-personnel land mines throughout the world, including Afghanistan? Is he also aware that British troops in Bosnia are clearing a large number of anti-personnel mines? It is difficult and dangerous work, and there does not seem to be any co-ordinated effort between the stabilisation force and the large number of countries that are participating in the work in Bosnia. Will the Secretary of State undertake to raise that matter in the United Nations to see whether there can be a co-ordinated effort to have a strategic plan to clear the mines?

Mr. Robertson

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's interest and concern and agree that a bipartisan approach, which should be built on, is being taken on anti-personnel land mines. The expertise of our armed forces in the area can rightly and properly be put to much use, which is what I have tried to do since Labour came to office 10 months ago.

I am a bit baffled by what the hon. Gentleman said about Bosnia, as I know of the distinguished work done by the British services in Bosnia on the appalling legacy of land mines there. I know because I was there and saw British Army officers teaching local de-miners how best to go about their job. British forces in the stabilisation force in Sarajevo are part and parcel of a well-co-ordinated United Nations operation in the mining information centre in the SFOR headquarters. The British play a strong part in that co-ordination, and we shall continue to ensure that the maximum effort is devoted to making that country safe again.