HC Deb 22 February 1999 vol 326 cc7-8
4. Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South)

When he expects to complete Britain's land mine destruction programme. [70494]

5. Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

When he expects to complete Britain's land mine destruction programme. [70495]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson)

I am pleased to announce that we have now destroyed the last of the Army's operational stocks of anti-personnel mines. That is a significant milestone and yet another vivid demonstration of our commitment to the obligations that we accepted when ratifying the Ottawa convention.

Ms Taylor

I thank my right hon. Friend for that welcome reply. Will he join me in welcoming the action of the Churches, which will ring their bells on 1 March, the start of Land Mines Awareness Week, to celebrate the signing of the Ottawa convention and, in muffled form, to remind us of the horrors that still happen as a result of land mines? Will other stocks of land mines, such as those held by the Royal Air Force, also now be destroyed?

Mr. Robertson

I join my hon. Friend in commending all those bodies—the Churches, the non-governmental organisations and the rest—that have brought the matter of land mines to public attention. They caught the imagination of people across the world and they must share in the credit for the fact that the Ottawa convention will enter into force on 1 March.

At a small ceremony at lunchtime today, I was able to present the last of the British Army's operational land mines—suitably defused—to representatives of the British Red Cross, Care International, the Mines Advisory Group and the Halo Trust, as a testimony to the work done by those bodies. We all remembered with great regard the contribution made by the late Princess of Wales to that work. The last of the defused land mines was given to the imperial war museum, and I hope that, certainly for the British Army, land mines are a matter of history and not of the future.

As for the remaining anti-personnel land mines, which are a sub-munition of the JP233 airfield denial weapon, I expect that they will all be destroyed by the end of this year.

Mr. Pike

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the content of those answers. However, in many parts of the world, land mines are not yet history, but are still laid in the countryside. What assistance can the United Kingdom give in getting rid of land mines that remain a threat in those places?

Mr. Robertson

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is not the end, but the beginning of the end, of the land mine campaign. Internationally, we must still deal with those countries that have not yet subscribed to the Ottawa convention, and everyone in the House must use whatever influence he or she has in persuading those countries to sign up to the obligations that the House unanimously took up on ratification.

We must also do more about humanitarian demining and clearing away the legacy of previous wars. I am proud of the contributions made by the UK and by my Ministry in setting up the mine information and technology centre at Minley and in delegating an Army colonel to the Geneva-based humanitarian demining centre and through the other elements in the 10-point programme that I announced last year. We are contributing to solving a global problem on which our minds must be constantly focused if we are to make the world safe for children to walk in all its fields.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

The Secretary of State's statement that this is the beginning of the end seems over-optimistic. Will he remind the House just how many countries with which we are rarely in agreement, and which have large stocks of land mines, have not even started their land mine destruction programmes?

Mr. Robertson

I believe in leading by example. Today's announcement comes four years ahead of the date on which the Ottawa convention makes destruction of our stocks mandatory. We have no land mines left, and I can say with conviction, and with pride, that no British soldier will ever again lay an anti-personnel land mine. I hope that countries that are still manufacturing, exporting, transferring and—in some appalling cases—using land mines will pay heed to that example.

Mr. David Prior (North Norfolk)

Is the Secretary of State aware of any evidence that there is any decline yet in the production of land mines?

Mr. Robertson

International pressure is on the countries that manufacture land mines. The significant number of nations that have signed the Ottawa convention, and that have allowed it to come into operation from next week, will make that pressure unsustainable. Producing countries will have to recognise that the world community as a whole regards land mines as an unacceptable form of warfare. Those countries still involved in production will soon realise that they are isolated from a world community that has turned its back on a weapon that is both morally indefensible and militarily unacceptable.