HC Deb 17 April 2000 vol 348 cc687-9
12. Helen Jones. (Warrington, North)

What steps his Department is taking to assist those involved in humanitarian de-mining. [117890]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar)

The Government were among the first to sign and ratify the Ottawa convention and we are committed to humanitarian de-mining and the clearing of land mines. The Ministry of Defence works closely with other Whitehall Departments and non-governmental organisations. Ministry of Defence personnel provide technical expertise, management and specialist skills to support mine action programmes worldwide. In the UK, the mine information and training centre at Minley remains the focal point for information on de-mining and mines awareness advice. The Defence Evaluation and Research Agency is examining ways in which mine detecting technologies would be suitable for humanitarian de-mining. In addition, we have gifted surplus military equipment to NGOs for use in their humanitarian mine clearance operations.

Helen Jones

May I thank my hon. Friend for that reply? I especially welcome his comments on DERA. Does he agree that there is a huge potential for exploiting the technological expertise of that agency to produce low-cost de-mining equipment that can be used for humanitarian purposes? Will he tell the House when he expects to be able to make an announcement on whether the agency has been successful in obtaining further money for such research from the Government's capital modernisation fund?

Mr. Spellar

I shall certainly write to my hon. Friend on that matter. I join her in paying tribute to some of the innovative work being undertaken by DERA. However, we must consider how we put that work into practice; the donations that we have made to several NGOs enable them to work actively, with local labour, on de-mining in many areas that have been particularly affected to the enormous detriment of the population and local economies.

Mr. Peter Viggers. (Gosport)

The United States Government take the view, which I share, that land mines have a part to play in certain special circumstances, such as the denying of land to potential aggressors in the Korean peninsula. May I congratulate the Government on supporting the American position by allowing land mines to be stored in ships off the territorial waters of Diego Garcia?

Mr. Spellar

The hon. Gentleman rightly draws attention to the position of one of our allies. In fact, other allied countries take that view. It is not a view that we share, and we are campaigning and working with those Governments to try to spread the Ottawa convention. As has been graphically illustrated on television and in newspapers, in many areas land mines have an enormous effect on the populations that are left behind, often when conflict is finished, and—as I said in my previous response—a considerable effect on their economy and their ability to regenerate their society and become part of a modern society once again. We are working hard on that, and on persuading other countries of the correctness of this position.