HL Deb 16 January 1995 vol 560 cc405-7

2.56 p.m.

The Lord Bishopof Oxford asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the current moratorium on the export of land-mines includes components of land-mines; and under what conditions they would agree to a complete ban on the export of land-mines, including those which self-neutralise and self-destruct.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the moratorium on the export of non-self-neutralising or self-destructing anti-personnel land-mines announced on 27th July does not include component parts. However, any applications to export specially designed land-mine components for military use are subject to strict controls and would be considered on a case by case basis in the light of established criteria.

A complete ban on the export of land-mines at this stage would in our view be unlikely to secure the necessary broad international support or be properly implemented.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. However, does he agree that the very limited need for those weapons by our forces in any foreseeable conflict is outweighed by the terrible suffering being caused to civilians, especially children, by such mines lying around—there are some 100 million of them—long after the conflict is past? Does he also agree that the export of self-neutralising or self-destructing mines, with a failure rate estimated at something like 10 per cent., would only add to those terrible problems and also discourage other nations from agreeing to a total ban on their production, stockpiling sale or use?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, in his supplementary question the right reverend Prelate has indicated the core problem which is the 100 million or so land-mines in the world. I am sure that we all wish to see a reduction of those and eventually a world free of mines. The problem we face is that those weapons are easy to make and to use. We have to focus our policies on our prime purpose; to protect civilians from the consequences of indiscriminate use of land-mines which do not self-neutralise. In order to do that, we believe it is right, first, to bring about a regime where increasingly the mines which may be used in the world are those which self-neutralise—I refer to the so-called smart mines—rather than the "dumb" mines which have such dreadful consequences.

Lord Wright of Richmond

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in reply to my question during the debate on the Address about the Government's intentions to ratify two additional protocols to the Geneva Convention, I received a courteous reply from the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, stating that it was purely a matter of time? Can the Minister tell us anything about the timing of the Government's ratification of those protocols?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question. I am pleased to be able to advise your Lordships that we hope to be able to ratify them by the end of next month.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I have been trying to follow the logic of the Minister's reply, but I have to admit that I failed to do so. Why would it not lead towards a complete agreement if the Government now announced that they propose to make a complete agreement so that there would be no exportation at all either of the whole land-mine or of a component of it?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, we believe that under appropriate circumstances, in accordance with the principles of Article 51 of the UN charter, land-mines can be legitimate weapons of self-defence. As I said earlier, what the Government are concerned about is the consequence of the indiscriminate use of so-called "dumb" land-mines. We believe that in the wicked world in which we live, because land-mines are so easy to manufacture and deploy, and bearing in mind, for example, that this year we anticipate that it is likely that somewhere between 10 million and 20 million land-mines will be laid around the world, we must focus our efforts to ensure that the land-mines used are the so-called smart land-mines which are self-neutralising.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, in pursuance of the Government's laudable aim of greater transparency in weapons transfers, will the Minister ensure that the United Nations arms register includes a full list of the transactions for the sale and acquisition of those weapons? Could he publish in some suitable form a list of the states which, as he said in answer to the right reverend Prelate, are opposed to a complete ban on the manufacture, sale and use of those weapons?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, regarding the second part of the noble Lord's question, I shall write to him with the details that we know. It was one of the aspects of the code of conduct which the British Government promoted that mutual information should be exchanged in that field.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the Minister accept that there are genuine anxieties about the reliability and effectiveness of self-destructing and self-neutralising mechanisms in anti-personnel mines? Does he also agree that research in the Pentagon has called into question the military utility of such mines? In those circumstances, does he understand that the anxiety of the Red Cross and others is that a limited ban plays into the hands of those who want to evade the policing of such arrangements; and that a total ban on production stockpiling and export is what is necessary.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, we share the underlying aspirations of the Benches opposite and the Red Cross to which the noble Lord alluded. But as I explained earlier, we do not accept that the line of action which the noble Lord proposes will help those wretched people who are currently being maimed, injured and killed by the indiscriminate use of land-mines around the world.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords—

Several Noble Lords

Next Question!

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne)

My Lords, as always, I am in the hands of your Lordships' House but I am aware that there is one more Question and just over five minutes in which to cover it.