§ 11.8 a.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [Mines and components to which Act applies]:
§ Lord Burnham moved Amendment No. 1:
§ Page 1, line 10, at end insert—
§ ("and which is activated either by a tripwire or other non-command device or by a pressure of between 10kg and 100kg").
§ The noble Lord said: At Second Reading last week we gave the Government an assurance that we are entirely in support of the Bill. Wherever it becomes appropriate I personally will demonstrate my support for the Government's stand, although I cannot of course speak for my noble friends. However, I am a little concerned that nowhere in the Bill is there an explanation of what an anti-personnel mine is. Article 2 of the convention attempts to do this, although not particularly well.
§ There are a number of types of anti-personnel mine. The Americans have six varieties of scatterable mines. Under my amendment, it is possible to join them all in one fairly close-knit body and describe what such a mine is. We are clear that the convention does not cover anti-tank mines and it does not cover anti-tank mines with anti-handling devices. It does not cover command mines; that is, mines which can be detonated by command by a person or machine, however distant that person or machine may be. We are talking about mines which are detonated either by trip-wire or by pressure. The figure of between 10kg and 100kg which I give in my amendment has been quoted to me as the operative figure by the Mines Advisory Group and can be considered definitive.1151
§ The Bill as it stands is full of good intentions but in a number of places it is less than specific. I believe that it should be more specific, particularly in the definitions. I suggest that my wording will stand up. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bramall
As someone who does know a little about landmines and their use, perhaps I may say that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, seems entirely sensible because it makes a clear distinction between the indiscriminate anti-personnel mine and the command device and the anti-tank mine. In support of it, and with your Lordships' indulgence, perhaps I may say a few general words in support of the Bill at this stage because, sadly, I have to go away for an unavoidable appointment before the Committee finishes discussing the matter.
A number of noble Lords, and even more honourable Members in another place, have supported this Bill to ratify the international banning of landmines, largely from the point of view of honouring the memory of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and out of respect for her. That is all very touching. But, of course, there are many other reasons why the manufacture, sale and use of anti-personnel mines should be made illegal internationally other than our respect for the interest and compassion that the late Princess of Wales showed towards this subject.
In World War Two, as an armoured infantryman responsible for, among other things, maintaining our own armour's mobility and freedom of action, I had quite a lot to do with mines of all varieties, trying to detect them and to dispose of them. That experience continued to some extent throughout my service including in jungle operations in South-East Asia where mines again were very prevalent. Indeed, I might almost have to declare an interest because on one occasion in World War Two I actually stepped on an anti-personnel mine of the sort that normally blows your foot off which, luckily for me, failed to function, although two men either side of me lost their feet on similar mines.
I say all this not to bore Members of the Committee with tedious war stories but to say that from my actual experience I have come increasingly to believe that any military value of anti-personnel mines is far outweighed by the appalling legacy of pain, suffering and death which they so often leave behind, usually to the most innocent and vulnerable, when the battle has moved on.
Personally, I cannot remember a single occasion when I had call to, wanted to, was ordered to or ordered others to lay victim-activated—that is non-command devices—anti-personnel mines haphazardly in front of or to the flank of our own positions. If these mines were ever laid, it would have been around anti-tank mines in properly marked and recorded minefields, which could easily be detected and cleared afterwards; or they would not have been victim-activated mines—that is, they would have been command devices, only exploded by remote control in perhaps an ambush situation when a 1152 definite military target had been positively identified. At other times they would be completely inert and therefore no danger to an innocent civilian stumbling across them. Sadly, the same could not always be said of others, and increasingly these weapons have become terror weapons.
But the real point of all this is that no great tactical advantage is to be gained from laying anti-personnel mines. Of course, they can kill and maim the odd individual combatant, but motorised or mechanised troops can drive over them; assault lanes can easily be cleared through them and determined foot soldiers have come to take them in their stride and not be stopped by them, constituting as they do far less a threat than defensive artillery fire or accurate small arms fire. Battles are certainly not won or lost by their deployment or lack of it and, therefore, there is no overriding reason to keep them in our military arsenal. With 80 million to 110 million mines lying undetected in 61 countries, despite the helpful international programme of restricting their manufacture and sale which has done much to prevent the problem getting still worse, the sooner nations can find an effective way of banning anti-personnel mines and getting rid of them for good, the better.
However, anti-tank mines and properly controlled command devices are entirely different from anti-personnel mines. They are a different matter altogether. They are neither aggressive nor terror weapons They are purely defensive weapons around which the whole framework of a defensive battle can be built and invariably is built. They can be easily categorised and the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, has helped to clarify this. Therefore, such mines help to deter an aggressor from attacking or if he does, to canalise his movements so that our own defensive weapons can be more easily brought to bear on him.
To give up anti-tank mines would remove an important weapon in the business of deterring aggression and protecting the weak from the stronger and therefore would be a retrograde step. But as the Minister has made clear, these weapons are outside the scope of the Bill, which is why I so fully support it. I hope that Members of the Committee are quite clear about that distinction. I believe that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, has helped to clarify that.
§ 11.15 a.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
I also do not want to delay or upset the Bill. I made my main comments on it at Second Reading. I believe that this amendment gives the Committee an opportunity to consider important points in the Bill; in this case the particular distinction between anti-personnel mines and other forms of landmine.
I referred at Second Reading to the speech by the right honourable gentleman, Mr. Robin Cook, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he introduced the Bill into the other place. In that speech he never mentioned the words 1153 "anti-personnel". The press and others therefore gave the impression that all landmines were going to be banned. For example,We said that stocks of landmines held by the British military would be destroyed and that we would do everything that we could to work for a wider ban. We have kept those promises: we have destroyed half the stockpile of the 1 million landmines that we inherited from the previous Government. By the end of this year we shall have destroyed three-quarters of that stockpile".—[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/98; col. 1347.]Following what the noble and gallant Lord has just said, I hope that in replying to this amendment the Minister can assure us that that does not include anti-tank mines although Mr. Cook never mentioned the word "anti-personnel" in the whole of that speech in which he used the word "landmines" about 20 times. We must avoid any kind of muddle between anti-personnel and other forms of mine which, as far as I know, and particularly with regard to anti-tank mines, we shall continue to hold.
I realise that the Foreign Secretary is under considerable stress, has been over-worked and was no doubt concentrating at that time on more weighty matters. Comment has been made on that on the front page of The Times only today. I have sympathy with the right honourable gentleman, but I believe that he should have delegated the introduction of this Bill in the Commons to another Minister on that occasion. We would then have had a much clearer explanation. Of course, the Foreign Secretary cannot delegate the signing of warrants because that can be done only by the Secretary of State. Nevertheless, he could have asked another of his Ministers to introduce this Bill into another place.
It is important to know whether the Bill relates simply to anti-personnel mines, which we are already destroying, or whether our Army is being deprived of other mines, particularly anti-tank mines. The Ottawa Convention applies only to anti-personnel mines. I recognise that that may have been an extraordinary aberration, but one of the most important and difficult tasks at Ottawa and in drafting this Bill was to make a clear distinction between anti-personnel mines and the other mines which are not covered either by the convention or this Bill.
We should not deprive our own troops of any kind of mine which enemy countries might still be using. I believe that that goes for all mines. We hope that, following the Ottawa Convention, there will be signatories and ratifications and that most countries of the world (including those which might be enemies) will have got rid, or have undertaken to get rid, of their anti-personnel mines. However, other kinds of landmine are not affected. We must assume—I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm this—that the United Kingdom will keep anti-tank mines because they are needed, as the noble and gallant Lord has just told us, for important defensive purposes.
When British troops have laid mines of any kind, they have always been recorded and lifted at the first opportunity in warfare. We must remember that. As I said at Second Reading, as far as we know, none of the mines that has been lifted in Angola, Afghanistan or 1154 the other places where tribal wars have occurred, has been manufactured in Britain. We must keep that point at the forefront of our minds otherwise the press and the media will have the impression that we have been manufacturing and exporting the anti-personnel mines which have caused so much misery and so many distressing wounds to young people and civilians.
§ Lord Craig of Radley
I rise to speak briefly in support of the amendment. I am very conscious of the point which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has made about drawing a distinction between anti-personnel and anti-tank mines.
My only concern about the Bill is the way in which we are including details, such as references to "between 10 kg and 100 kg". I can understand the reasons for that. We are trying to write a Bill which is applicable not only to current weapons, but which will also be applicable in the future to weapons which may be introduced by some countries which are not party to the convention. I urge the Committee to think carefully about detailed wording which may be too specific. I am reminded of the Data Protection Bill in which one was trying to write in legal language provisions which would relate not only to the technology of the moment. Technology changes. Indeed, the technology of anti-personnel mines could change.
Having said that, I believe that it is right to include this provision in order to make that distinction between anti-personnel and anti-tank mines.
§ Lord Redesdale
I support the amendment. I believe that the Ottawa Convention is quite clear about what is an anti-personnel mine and what is an anti-tank mine. Perhaps I may raise a question, which has been brought about by my reading of the Second Reading debate in Hansard. The Minister said that the M181A Claymore fell outside the definition of an anti-personnel mine when it was not in victim-initiation mode but in command-detonation mode. In future, will such mines be designed so that they cannot be changed to victim-initiation mode? That would remove the temptation in certain situations for tampering with such mines. Is that feasible or would it be impossible?
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
I am afraid that the Government have some problems with this amendment. Perhaps I may first reiterate what I said to your Lordships at Second Reading. The Bill is designed to cover anti-personnel landmines. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, made the pertinent and robust points that he has just made to your Lordships at Second Reading, but perhaps I may remind the Committee that Clause 1 makes it clear that an anti-personnel landmine is a landmine which is designed to be detonated by the presence, proximity, or contact of an individual and which is capable of incapacitating, injuring or killing an individual.
It is important to recall the wise words of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, a moment or two ago, who was worried that the attempt of the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, to redefine what is covered by the Bill may be too narrow. The definitions in the Bill are 1155 closely aligned with those of the Ottawa Convention. The Government see no reason to alter them substantively.
Concerns were expressed last week about minor differences of language between the convention and this legislation. I explained then that they were designed to bring about greater clarity over, for example, the question of components. However, this amendment goes far beyond that. Including such technical specifications in the definition would, we believe, narrow the scope of anti-personnel mines covered by the legislation. I refer again to the definitions that I tried to give your Lordships last week at Second Reading (cols. 538 and 539). I am sure that noble Lords will be able to refresh their memories.
However, perhaps I may advise the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that I believe that the point that he raised will be covered by the Army's disciplinary code. If I am wrong on that point, I shall write to the noble Lord, but I believe that he was encroaching onto the question of rules of engagement—
§ Lord Redesdale
My question was would it be feasible to change the M181A Claymore from one mode to the other. If that was feasible, would it not encroach on the Ottawa Convention?
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
As I understand it, that weapon comes in two modes. I do not know whether it is technically possible to change from one mode to the other, but perhaps I may write to the noble Lord about that. The noble Lord's fundamental point was whether that could be done for mischievous reasons. My point is that that will be covered by the Army's rules of engagement. Such mischievous intention would be covered. I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, on the technical point that he has raised.
The Government believe that this amendment undermines the convention's coverage of anti-personnel landmines. We believe that to try to define the matter by technical terms rather than purpose as in the Bill now before the Committee is potentially dangerous. One cannot anticipate what technological developments in anti-personnel landmines will take place. Would the noble Lord's technical definition still be valid in five or ten years' time? The Government cannot say; nor, I suggest, can the noble Lord. The Government are legislating to stop the effects of landmines at the moment. Therefore, the definition of anti-personnel landmines in the Bill brings us absolutely alongside the Ottawa Convention. I hope that on reflection the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.
§ 11.30 a.m.
§ Lord Burnham
In response to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, I understand that the Claymore is an American mine which at present can be used in command mode or in free fall. Since the United States will not be signing the convention until 2006 one 1156 assumes that that mine is manufactured in either form. I am sure that the noble Minister will confirm that in due course.
I am honoured by the support of not one but two noble and gallant Lords. I am sorry that the Minister cannot accept the amendment. It is possible that I am guilty of the charge of being too specific, although this amendment is based on my best advice. Nevertheless, I am not happy with the definition given in Article 2 of the convention. I had hoped that this Bill could be more specific for the present day. The noble Baroness looks a long way into the future, possibly to a time when anti-personnel landmines will not be a valid weapon in any case and there will be alternatives. However, I am sorry that the Government cannot accept the amendment. In the circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2 [Prohibited conduct]:
§ Lord Redesdale moved Amendment No. 2:
§ Page 2, line 15, at end insert—
§ ("( ) Nothing in those sections shall be taken to permit active assistance to the armed forces of states not party to the Ottawa Convention engaged in any activity prohibited under that Convention.").
§ The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to determine what the Government seek to achieve by the insertion of Clause 5. The amendment seeks to clarify the position so that no British soldier will ever actively assist in the laying of any form of anti-personnel landmines. No doubt the Minister will respond that that is the whole intention of the Bill. I entirely understand the reasoning behind the insertion of Clause 5. It is not my intention to do anything that puts British soldiers at risk of legal action for carrying out their duty. I believe however that Clause 5 introduces a slight dichotomy into the spirit of the Ottawa Convention. It is based on the very real assumption that the clause will be checked by the rules of engagement. Having studied the response of the Minister, I agree that I was perhaps wrong to suggest that the rules of engagement should be published. On the one hand, the Government introduce Clause 5 so that British soldiers have a defence if they inadvertently become involved in any action that is against the spirit of the convention. On the other hand, to say that a check on the use of Clause 5 will be written into the rules of engagement, which for very good reasons are not published, creates a slight problem.
§ The amendment seeks to put on the face of the Bill a firm statement. I hope that today the Minister will strengthen the position in her reply to this amendment. The amendment seeks to enforce the provision that no active assistance should be given. Further, we must look at what the Ottawa Convention seeks to achieve. Unless the convention encompasses the spirit of universality, which is stated in the preamble, it will fail in its intention. Many of the large producers of landmines and those who use them will carry on doing so until all countries sign the convention and anti-personnel landmines are finally counted as abhorrent weapons and banned in any conflict.1157
§ I believe that without this amendment we cannot take the moral lead in trying to persuade other countries to sign the Ottawa Convention because we have put in a safeguard which many will see as a reservation. I believe that some argue that this reservation may come within the scope of Article 19. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
I rise to support this amendment as one who has worked with aid organisations dealing with the effects of APMs, several of whom belong to the UK Working Group (on landmines). I am sure that the Government accept that that organisation has done excellent campaigning work.
I was unable to be present at Second Reading. I hope that I shall be allowed to utter a few brief sentences in support of the Bill. I need little convincing about its necessity. I have vivid memories of the lingering effects of landmines in the aftermath of Vietnam and, more recently, Mozambique. Only this week a friend who is a senior UNHCR officer in Islamabad told me with some degree of distress that he had had to cope with Afghan refugees, men, women and children, who were not only casualties of landmines but whose refugee camp was itself in a minefield—a so-called safe haven outside Jalalabad.
We all know that this Bill must be passed quickly but that this is not the end of the business. The Secretary of State for Defence and other Ministers admit to its limitations and to the continuing need for a global campaign to persuade other countries to sign and ratify the convention, especially the larger powers who have littered the poorer societies in the world with lethal weapons. I do not believe that we are sending the right signal to those other countries if we retain Clauses 2 and 5 as they stand because they clearly water down the convention. Equally, we do not want to wreck the Bill.
The Secretary of State for Defence said in another place that for some states who are not signatories,the quoted reasons are primarily connected with national security and the need to develop alternative capabilities".—[Official Report, Commons; 10/7/98; col. 1407.]How about us? With these reservations how can we possibly place ourselves among the angels? Why can we not gracefully accept the Canadian declaration? Presumably, Canadian soldiers are just as liable or vulnerable on NATO exercises as our own. We have heard from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, that there is no real tactical advantage in anti-personnel landmines. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, said last week in response to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, (who is to speak later) that,the Canadian declaration, simply would not give British troops the unequivocal protection they need".—[Official Report, 17/7/98; col. 541.]She referred rather enigmatically tothe potential liability for a conspiracy or aiding and abetting".This has been mainly a one-sided humanitarian debate. Very few noble and gallant Lords have spoken until today. They have been of the humanitarian variety in the case of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. That may well be because the Government's learned lawyers, to whom the noble Baroness mysteriously 1158 referred last week, received a comforting MoD briefing. But their arguments have not been brought into the discussion. May we please be told why? We want the UK to stand at the forefront of the international campaign. We are still a leading military power and arms exporter. The Scott Report is not long behind us. We can afford, politically and militarily, to stand up to the non-signatories and show the sort of moral fibre, not just over landmines but with other weapons as well, which I believe the victims of those appalling, freelance, proxy wars in the third world deserve and expect of us.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
The points raised by my noble friend Lord Redesdale and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, deserve a little more attention from this place before the Bill continues its passage. There are some serious considerations and some issues upon which we should like reassurance from the Government on the steps that they now intend to take, while I of course recognise the problems about publishing rules of engagement.
I shall start by repeating that we wholly share the Government's view that those who serve in the Armed Forces must be protected from any action that might be taken against them with respect to our subscription to the Ottawa convention. So we recognise the need for a clause similar to Clause 5. There are serious considerations about the interpretation of that clause and I want to give the Minister the opportunity to respond to and clarify the conflicts between what has been said in another place and in this place.
I shall remind the Committee of what was said in another place. The Foreign Secretary said:Clause 5 provides British service men with a shield against unreasonable prosecution because they took part in a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation exercise in which American Forces deployed landmines".He went on to say:Clause 5 is wholly consistent with the Ottawa convention".Later he said, and these are crucial words:The Ottawa convention does not just ban production and use of landmines, but mandates signatories to help remove landmines, and to look after victims of landmines not removed in time".—[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/98; cols. 1348–49.]In other words, the Ottawa convention goes well beyond just the laying of mines. It associates the production and use of mines within those functions banned by the convention.
In response to that, and reflecting that commitment, in this place the Minister said that Clause 5:does not allow UK personnel to use anti-personnel mines; nor does it allow them to assist, encourage or induce anyone else to do so".—[Official Report, 17/7/98; col. 540.]I shall repeat the words:to assist, encourage or induce anyone else to do so".Our concern arises from the compatibility of the words of the Foreign Secretary and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, with the words used by the Minister for the Armed Forces in another place when he said:The clause enables United Kingdom service men and women to engage closely in the planning and conduct of an operation with those who may, lawfully for them, use anti-personnel mines".—[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/98; col. 1391.]1159 I find that statement, to say the least, in spirit hardly compatible with the words used by the Foreign Secretary and by the Minister in this place.
We on this side of the Chamber understand the Government's reluctance to remove Clause 5 from the Bill for the reasons that they have eloquently explained: the need to protect British service men. Nonetheless, we want to ask them to reconsider the wording of the clause to bring it more closely into line with what Ministers, with the exception of the Minister for the Armed Forces, have said in both places.
I should like to ask three questions. First, the Minister has told us—we understand it—that the rules of engagement cannot be published. We want an assurance that those rules of engagement—we do not ask to see or to read them—will be so phrased as to rule out active engagement by British forces in a joint operation in the planning for or laying of landmines. I carefully used the words "planning for" as well as the "laying of landmines" because to try to draw a distinction between those two is the use of hypocrisy as an alternative to policy. It is not a right or proper thing to do. So the first assurance I should like is that the rules of engagement will reflect the issue raised by the Foreign Secretary and by the Minister in this place that we will not use or facilitate the use of landmines by other armed forces in joint operations.
Secondly, will the Minister assure us that representations will be made to other members of NATO which still use landmines to ensure that, as far as possible, they do not engage in the laying of landmines in activities which involve British troops jointly?
I understand that there is a difference between exercises and joint operations at a time of battle, but with regard to exercises will the Minister give us some assurance that British forces will not be involved in the planning of the use of landmines?
Finally, is there any discussion within NATO on the training of troops in the use of landmines and in particular the removal of landmines? Can we be assured that in training our troops and the troops of other NATO countries which are signatories to the convention there will be no training in the laying of landmines for our troops, save as a preventive and protective activity? We would be greatly encouraged if we could have some more observations, especially with regard to the rules of engagement with respect to Clause 5, because I believe—I say this with some sorrow—there has been ambivalence in what Ministers in both places have said.
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, not for the first time, has quoted every one of the underlined passages of differences in interpretation that I had marked out between the debate in another place and here. I join with her in what she has said because there is a great deal still to be clarified—the point I made on Second Reading last week.
1160 I would further underline the point made by the noble Baroness on training. I have had a little to do with some TA training, as have many Members of this place, and I know how necessary it is that those young soldiers understand the use of all types of weaponry and are prepared to avoid the terrible problems that occur in minefields. Some of that has been used in the training of troops of foreign nations overseas. So the point that the noble Baroness made about training in knowledge for prevention and protection only regarding landmines cannot stop at our own troops.
I should like the Minister and her colleagues in the MoD to consider that, even if she can give the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, the assurance that she sought, and which I join her in seeking, there needs also to be an undertaking that where we have trained in the use of landmines we need also to give those armies the protective training—I cannot think of a better way to phrase it at the moment—so that the troops of other nations who have been following faithfully British Army training rules for many years are updated as to the changes that will come about. That is a specific point, I know, but we are in Committee.
As I said on Second Reading, we shall have a major job of education to do if we are to prevent people from continuing to be maimed and killed by all those landmines lying idle and sleeping but ready to awaken and blow off limbs at any time. That training point needs to be considered.
If the noble Baroness cannot give me the assurances I seek today, I hope that she will delve further and write to me. I can assure her that I shall return to the point later if we cannot get some satisfaction. I know a little about what has gone on for some years in training. It would be wrong of us to protect our own troops but not protect troops whom our troops have trained in overseas countries where landmines abound.
§ Lord Craig of Radley
For the avoidance of doubt on the issue of British troops who may or may not be involved in training, what would be the position for someone on an exchange posting with an American or other armed force? A number of personnel have been, are still and will be, I am certain, in the future on exchange postings. If a senior British officer is in command of troops who are not required by their government to follow this convention, what is the position of that commander?
I do not raise these issues to be difficult. We need to be very precise as we talk about what will be judged to be criminal activities. No doubt the noble Baroness the Minister will need to investigate further unless she already has the answer at her fingertips.
§ Viscount Slim
I apologise for not being present at the start of the debate; I was unavoidably detained. I wish to ask the Minister about one aspect of the Bill which may put our forces in danger. I think that we are all mostly in favour of the Bill.
Certain forces work deep in enemy territory. They are protected by, and protect themselves with, their own particular mine. It is, I suppose, anti-personnel. But it is 1161 a vital part of their equipment. When they are isolated, they are not likely to be attacked by armoured forces, tanks and so on. It is a very necessary weapon that they carry for their own safety.
I am a little perturbed by the Bill. On the whole we have weak forces. I know that the Minister will disagree, but they are weak in numbers. There are occasions in battle where there is no armoured threat and therefore no need to lay armoured tank destroying mines. At night time isolated forces, or those involving allies, need protection. I ask this of the noble Baroness. She does not have to answer, but she may care to talk to the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert. In isolated incidents, the lives of specialist forces, by day and night, in ambush, and in various phases of their war deep in enemy territory, depend very much on the anti-personnel mines they carry. I believe that we are putting some of our forces, possibly in war or partial war, in great danger. We must consider the safety of our forces. It is a vital point that I make to the Committee today.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
In considering this amendment to Clause 2, we have inevitably and quite properly spoken largely about Clause 5. My noble friend will be dealing with the more specific points when he answers on Clause 5.
We in this House and in another place have widely recognised that providing a defence in the legislation for British service personnel is the right thing to do. That is why we have Clause 5. In the light of the increasingly global role for UK forces, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, referred, and as was foreseen in the Strategic Defence Review, we consider the protection afforded to our troops in Clause 5 an essential part of our domestic legislation. It is widely cast because of the potential difficulty in determining exactly what is meant by assistance. The amendment can only exacerbate the problem. The phrase "active assistance" is not clear enough. It is important that we understand that one of the reasons for Clause 5 is that we envisage taking part in the planning of, and in, operations alongside countries whose forces will not be bound by the convention. That is the point. The alternative would be for Britain not to engage in those operations and exercises. I do not believe that anyone has suggested that that would be the right alternative.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
Will the Minister kindly give way? Perhaps I may press her on the issue. Of course we understand that British troops and their commanders must be engaged in the planning of joint operations. The issue is whether they should be engaged in the specific planning of the laying of new minefields. If the answer to that is yes, then many of us would be disturbed about compatibility with the signature of the convention.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
It is not the planning specifically of laying new minefields. But I make the point to the noble Baroness that we shall be alongside those who may be so doing. I recognise the noble Baroness's point. I shall come back in a moment to the rules of engagement and military discipline. I hope to be able to help the noble Baroness further.
1162 I must return to the example I gave at Second Reading last week. British forces may well be operating alongside American troops, Saudi Arabian troops in the Gulf, or the forces of any state not bound by the Ottawa convention. Those troops may be laying mines to defend themselves. Were they to come under enemy fire, I believe that no one suggests that our troops would do anything other than try to engage them. Would that be "active assistance" in laying mines under the definition that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, wants us to encompass? Action would have been taken, but it would be action to protect the lives of their colleagues, not to help in laying anti-personnel landmines.
I am sure that, like the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, we can agree that we wish all countries to sign up to the convention. Some have not done so and until they do we shall have to ensure that our soldiers are not vulnerable to 14 years in prison merely for carrying out their duty. We cannot ask our service personnel to risk their liberty while they are also risking their lives for their country.
I repeat: there can be no question of British troops being allowed to be in breach of the convention. I draw the Committee's attention to the fact that it is not just the legislation that brings this about. Standing orders and rules of engagement will ensure that British forces do not do anything that would contravene the Ottawa convention. That is entirely consistent with Article 9 of the convention. I remind the Committee that that article calls on signatories to take all appropriate measures, not only legal but administrative and in other respects, to prevent any activity prohibited under the convention. We are not just talking about the rules of engagement here; we are also talking about military discipline. The military discipline will have to take full account of the convention. As I understand it, the rules of military discipline will confer the operational rules of engagement, military directives, training—a point which your Lordships raised and which was raised most pertinently today by the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker—and operating procedures.
We need to ensure that the provisions of the convention will be enforced in practice; it is not just the rules of engagement but it is also the directives, the training and the standard operating procedures. When, as I hope, we have ensured the passage of the Bill today those aspects will be engaged upon. It is not just the legislation; it is the other matters too.
§ Lord Redesdale
On a point of clarification, can the Minister say whether the standard operating procedures will be published, because the rules of engagement are not? That would indicate that this is the Government's aim.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
I believe that what I said last week about the rules of engagement would apply also to the standard operating procedures. I believe that we should not publish material which would in any way give away the position of our Armed Forces. I can tell the noble Lord that I shall inquire of my noble friend and colleagues in the Ministry of 1163 Defence to see whether there is any material that we can publish without jeopardy to the safety of our Armed Forces. However, I am bound to say that I think it highly unlikely that anything will be published and certainly—I am sure that the noble Lord would agree—nothing which would in any way jeopardise the safety of our troops in the field.
§ Viscount Slim
I am sorry to interrupt, but I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, is being a little naïve. I am beginning to wonder whether, come an engagement, he really wants us to win. We want to win a battle, a war, and having material published and interfering with military procedure is not being very patriotic.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
I did not take the noble Lord's intervention in quite that spirit. I believed that he was seeking some assurances. I have told him that if I can in any way give him assurances without jeopardising the safety of our troops in the field I shall do so. I hope that in making my response I took the spirit of what he said correctly.
I turn to the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. He made some pertinent points which were also raised on Second Reading. Canada made a declaration stating that Canadian forces taking part in operations alongside forces of states not party to the convention would not be considered to be legally in jeopardy. That is entirely in accordance with our position. A declaration by itself does not offer legal protection. The Canadian legislation implementing the Ottawa Convention addresses the issue by referring to active assistance. But as I have just explained, the UK Government believe that this is not sufficiently clear. In our legislation, we are determined to give proper protection to Her Majesty's forces. There are of course different approaches to these issues and they reflect our different legal and parliamentary systems. In the light of the increasingly global role of UK forces, referred to in the Strategic Defence Review, we consider that the protection afforded to our troops under Clause 5 is essential in our domestic legislation.
I turn to the specific points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. British forces will not plan specifically for the laying of anti-personnel landmines and will not lay such mines. I give the noble Baroness that assurance, but I do so in the context of what I said earlier about the fact that we will possibly be engaged in operations and certainly in military exercises by those not so bound.
In relation to the second point she raised, the exercises have to mirror the reality of the military position. I give the same assurances as I gave on the first point.
In relation to the third point she raised, we will train only in counter-mining activities. We covered that point on Second Reading last week. We need to continue to train our forces in anti-personnel landmine techniques. However, the purpose of doing so will not be in order 1164 to lay the anti-personnel landmines but in order to ensure that British forces are able to "demine" those dreadful weapons when the need so arises.
I hope that I have been able to give your Lordships further information on these issues. I believe that the points I have made largely cover the questions that have been raised. I hope also that the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, considers that the points on training have been covered. She shakes her head. I will look again at what she said. She was kind enough to say that she would accept a letter from me, so I shall read the debate to see the points which have not been covered and write to her accordingly. I hope that I have been able to give sufficient assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and he will now feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Redesdale
I thank the Minister for going slightly further than I believed she would in putting forward the Government's position. Her response reflects what will appear in the rules of engagement; rules which we will not be able to see.
I took slight offence at the suggestion that we on these Benches would in any way put the lives of British personnel at risk. I have served in the British Territorial Army for eight years and that would be the last intention. We hope, as the Minister's reply indicated, that the rules of engagement will reflect the Ottawa Convention. As we will not be able to see the rules of engagement, we are taking on trust the fact that they will encapsulate what the Minister has put forward. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clauses 3 and 4 agreed to.
§ Clause 5 [International military operations]:
§ Lord Moynihan moved Amendment No. 3:
§ Page 4, line 26, at beginning insert ("Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 19 of the Ottawa Convention,").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 3, I wish to emphasise that it in no way attempts to impugn the Government's moral motivation in signing the convention, the spirit of which, as I have repeatedly said, we support whole-heartedly. However, in speaking to the amendment I am also speaking to the hole in the heart of this legislation. I hope that my amendment will give your Lordships' House the opportunity to debate this very important issue: namely, the relationship between Clause 5 and the Ottawa Convention about which disquiet has been expressed in many quarters, not least in this House.
§ The amendment tabled in my name and those of my noble friends refers Clause 5 to Article 19 of the Ottawa Convention. Article 19 serves to disallow reservations to the convention. It states explicitly that the articles of the convention shall not be subject to reservations. We have been told repeatedly that Clause 5 does not constitute a reservation. We have been told that there is no inconsistency between this Bill and the Ottawa Convention. The Foreign Secretary said so in another place. Last week in your Lordships' House the Minister repeated that assertion and once again maintained that 1165 the Bill faithfully and fully puts the Ottawa Convention into British legislation. Yet more than niggling doubts remain in my mind.
§ I have in front of me the two documents, one of which should be the mirror of the other. In the one hand I have the Ottawa Convention and in the other hand I have the Landmines Bill. The Ottawa Convention says categorically that no one from a signatory country, under any circumstances, anywhere at any stage, for any reason, can use, develop, produce, possess or transfer anti-personnel mines or assist, encourage or induce anyone else to do so. The convention is clear. It is explicit. It is unambiguous. That is what it says.
§ I also have with me the Landmines Bill which contains Clause 5. As we know, Clause 5 provides a defence to a Clause 2 offence relating to certain international military operations. In doing so, Clause 5 expressly allows conduct which is expressly denied through the convention. Can the Minister today identify and refer me to the article and paragraph within the convention which gives authority for the Clause 5 which we find in the Bill—for, in all the time that I have spent examining the convention, I have not been able to find one single mention of any exemptions, any exceptions or any exclusions permitted within its terms? Unless the Minister can do so, it means that this legislation drives a convoy of sappers straight through the convention.
§ Under the clause, in the context of international military operations, if such operations take place wholly or mainly outside the United Kingdom, if they involve the participation both of British Armed Forces and of members of the armed forces of a state other than the UK and if, in the course of those operations there is or may be the deployment of anti-personnel mines by members of the armed forces of one or more states which are not parties to the Ottawa Convention, British forces are then permitted to procure, transfer, modify, adapt or even prime those anti-personnel mines. In summary, they can do anything short of actually laying the mines—a relatively small prohibition, given the massive contravention of the spirit of the convention.
§ This is no abstract, hypothetical conjecturing. The other government with whose forces we are perhaps most likely to enter into joint operations is the Government of the United States, which is not a signatory to the Ottawa Convention. Leaving aside the purpose of Clause 5, I ask the Minister to confirm that the effect of Clause 5 is that British forces in these circumstances are given full licence by the legislation to breach the Ottawa Convention. Again I ask: where does this provision in the Bill match the provisions of the convention?
§ Let us compare the convention and Clause 5 a little more closely. The effect of Article 1.1 of the convention is absolutely explicit, unequivocal and indisputable. I put to the Minister Article 1.1 of the convention. I put also to the noble and learned Lord Article 19, which says that there should be no reservations. Taken together, Article 1.1 and Article 19 permit no assistance to be given to any party that is not a signatory to the convention when the forces of that country are taking part in activities that are prohibited by the convention.1166
§ According to Article 1.1, if British troops find themselves together in military operations abroad with troops of, say, the United States or Turkey (both fellow members of NATO, but neither of which have signed the convention) or, indeed, of any other country which is not a signatory to the convention, they are not permitted to assist those forces in the activities which are prohibited by the convention—that is to say, anything whatever to do with the laying of landmines. That is what the convention provides.
However, Clause 5 seeks to permit certain activities which would otherwise constitute an offence; in other words; it purports to permit activities which are contrary to the convention. The relevant provisions in Clause 5 bear that out. The germane part of the clause is subsection (2), which reads:
In proceedings for a section 2 offence in respect of any conduct"—
that is, any conduct that would otherwise be prohibited by this legislation—
it is a defence for the accused to prove that,
the conduct was in the course of, or for the purposes of, a military operation or the planning of a military operation".
So far, so good. But the subsection continues by providing that,
the conduct was not the laying of an anti-personnel mine".
That is the only specific conduct prohibited by the clause.
§ So what is the net effect of subsection (2)? It means that a range of activities categorically prohibited under the Ottawa Convention is permitted under the terms of the Bill. It means that if British forces were engaged in joint operations with a non-signatory state such as the United States, Clause 5 would enable British servicemen to procure an anti-personnel mine, to transport it to the front line, to mark out the precise position where it was to be laid and to transfer it there before handing it over to the Americans and asking them to place it in the ground. British forces could then modify or adapt the landmine and could even prime it. That is what Clause 5 would permit. In such circumstances, none of those activities—procuring, transporting, transferring, modifying, adapting and priming—is prohibited by Clause 5(2). The only activity that Clause 5 expressly prohibits in the course of such joint operations is the actual laying of the anti-personnel landmine itself.
§ Can the Minister explain at this Committee stage why the terms of Clause 5 have been drafted so very widely and are contrary to the language and, indeed, the spirit of the convention? It is all very well to argue, as the Foreign Secretary has done, that the purpose of Clause 5 is not to prohibit activity but to permit activity. But that is the very point at issue. Clause 5 permits a wide range of activity—in fact, everything except laying a landmine—in direct contravention of the convention. Ministers in another place indicated that such activities would not be permitted according to rules of engagement. But if Ministers would never issue rules of engagement that would take advantage of the loopholes in Clause 5, why place those loopholes in the Bill in the first place?1167
§ Perhaps I may now dispose of a potential red herring. In another place—and, indeed, in your Lordships' House last week—we heard passionate and fervent justifications for the inclusion of Clause 5 on compelling military grounds. Powerful examples were given in that respect. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces in another place gave several such examples and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, gave an equally compelling example last week, which she repeated today. It is important to place on record that I do not believe that anyone in your Lordships' House would disagree with the obligation to defend our allies in such circumstances. But the implication of the Minister's words was that such conduct would be prohibited by the Ottawa Convention and, hence, the provisions of Clause 5 are justified. However, this is the same convention that the Government signed in its entirety. I might add that they did so with much fanfare, except for the shocked and rather angry faces of certain MoD Ministers and officials. The necessity for such provisions is not reflected in it. I say to the Minister: surely they should have been; and why were they not at the time of the negotiation of the convention? The examples that we have been given demonstrate that British forces would indeed be at risk of committing a criminal offence only if their conduct was in breach of the convention.
§ During the passage of the Bill, criticism of Clause 5 has been portrayed as a willingness to allow British servicemen and women who risk their lives for us to risk also their liberty; and, indeed, as a readiness to threaten the cohesion and effectiveness of NATO. Perhaps I may make this very clear. From these Benches—and I hope this applies to every Bench in both Houses—we would in no way countenance the criminalisation of members of the British Armed Forces carrying out their duties on active service in those circumstances. If British servicemen and women were in some way indirectly implicated in the use of anti-personnel mines by the forces of a state which is not a party to the convention, no one is suggesting that they should potentially be at risk of prosecution and imprisonment for up to 14 years. No one is suggesting placing the men and women of our Armed Forces in that invidious position.
§ But this is not an issue of the military justification for Clause 5. We on these Benches are not arguing about the merits or the necessity of Clause 5. I see considerable merit in Clause 5 as it is set out in isolation of the convention. We do not say that there is no military argument to justify the exemption from the provisions of the convention that Clause 5 seeks to provide. That is not the issue. The issue here is one of consistency; consistency which a British Government signing up to an international treaty would be expected to demonstrate.
§ It has always been the practice of Her Majesty's Government to honour the provisions of treaties and conventions that they have signed. But in this case it is absolutely clear that conduct permitted under Clause 5 of the Bill, to which I have referred, would be in complete contravention of Article 1 of the Ottawa Convention; the very same convention to which the 1168 Government signed to last December. On that point I look forward to hearing the Minister's response. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
Nothing is as tedious as repetition in a House which wishes to consider this Bill urgently. Therefore I shall not repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has eloquently said. I merely want to put one question and advance one other argument briefly in support of what he said.
The Ottawa Convention is, as he pointed out, extremely tightly phrased. Article 1 makes it quite clear that to engage in any activity prohibited to a state party under this convention, to assist, encourage or induce the laying of landmines or the use of landmines is contrary to the convention. Article 19 states, in terms, that no reservation of any kind is accepted to the convention. That is a tight wording and was intended so to be.
Our concern about Clause 5 is quite simple. We are concerned whether it is legally compatible with the acceptance and signature of the convention. In the other place the Foreign Secretary said,Clause 5 is wholly consistent with the Ottawa convention. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants proof, I can tell him that our provision for British service men is similar to that made by the Government of Canada".—[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/98; col. 1348.]The real problem with this statement of similarity is that the Government of Canada are relying upon a statement and not upon primary legislation to express their concern about some aspects of the convention with respect to joint operations. The United Kingdom Government is being asked to pass primary legislation to ensure that that reservation is made.
Therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has done, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, has indicated, and as I indicated on an earlier amendment, it is legitimate to ask whether Her Majesty's Government are wholly satisfied that Clause 5 is legally compatible—and not subject to challenge in the international courts—with the signature of the convention. Although we all wish to see this convention on the statute book and to accept that this Bill is a vehicle for doing that, it is reasonable to ask that question because it would be embarrassing for Her Majesty's Government if that question cannot be answered in the affirmative.
§ Baroness Rawlings
I welcome the opportunity now that we have moved into Committee stage to speak to our first amendment on Clause 5; to be able to scrutinise this Bill more closely; and to have the opportunity to put once again my questions that were left unanswered at Second Reading.
I have read the Minister's wind-up speech carefully in Hansard but have failed to find the answers to my three simple questions. I do not wish to question the very able Minister's competence. However, I see the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General on the Front Bench and the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert. We all have great confidence in the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, and of course in the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert. I wish to ask them some questions.
1169 Will this Bill, attached to the treaty—as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said—stand up in the international courts? How will our forces co-operate in manoeuvres with those of our NATO allies whose governments are not party to the convention? How have the French and Germans who have signed the treaty dealt with this problem? Have they made a declaration? Have they ratified the treaty with a similar Clause 5? If neither is the case, will their failure to have done so necessarily exclude them from participating in NATO manoeuvres? We were promised a declaration by the Minister in the other place but have not yet received it. However, I understand from the noble Baroness in her speech at Second Reading—I quote a little more at length than the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich—that,The Government take the view that the mere incorporation of a declaration along the lines of the Canadian declaration, simply would not give British troops the unequivocal protection they need when participating in the conduct and planning of operations with countries not bound by the convention. The spirit of Clause 5 is very close to the declaration, but the clause takes a form appropriate to our domestic law".—[Official Report, 17/7/98; col. 541.]Why do we need a declaration then? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, could tell me.
I have a few more problems with which I hope he may be able to help me. I know that landmines have been touched on by the first amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Burnham. However, an ICRC pamphlet entitled The Ottawa Treaty Explained states,The definition of an anti-personnel mine laid down in the Ottawa Treaty—see Articles 2, paragraphs 1 and 2—covers all personnel-activated mines irrespective of whether they are placed in the ground, in marked minefields, or remotely delivered over large areas. It also includes the so-called Smart anti-personnel mine, mines which have the capacity to self-destruct or self-deactivate, i.e. mines that are programmed to automatically explode or become inert after a set period of time. However, owing to recent developments in landmine technology"—which I think was mentioned earlier by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig—the traditional distinction between anti-personnel mines and anti-vehicle mines is becoming blurred. Several types of mine have been developed which can be considered to have dual purpose".If this is so, how will our forces be able to guarantee their security and defensive positions when under pressure from opposing forces? The minefields that our forces deploy are, I gather, recorded in great detail and marked on the ground.
A friend of mine has just returned from one of his many trips in Afghanistan. He described to me the revolutionary type of fighting which mainly causes all these horrors which he personally witnessed. I will not go into the awful detail. The problem in Afghanistan lies with the guerrillas who lay the mines anywhere without recording their location. Some 90 per cent. of the mines used in these situations come from the old eastern bloc. It is these and similar situations that we need to address seriously too.
At Second Reading the Minister mentioned de-mining and it has been referred to by my noble friend Lady Chalker of Wallasey. De-mining is so vitally important that I felt it should be mentioned again today. I urge the Minister to look at the most effective way to help the situation by funding non-governmental organisations 1170 such as Halo so that they have the best equipment for locating and destroying the explosive items. Given such funds, they will be able to train and organise local volunteers in the skills required for the task.
Like my noble friends Lord Burnham and Lord Moynihan, I repeat that I am in favour of the spirit of the Bill. I merely wanted to clarify the apparent conflict between the convention and Clause 5. I greatly look forward to the answer.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Lord Redesdale
I wish to ask one or two questions in relation to Clause 5 regarding the ratification of the treaty and lodging the treaty with the UN. Have any countries indicated whether they will challenge the legality of Clause 5, with its implications in terms of Article 19? If a challenge were to be mounted, would that halt the process of lodging the treaty at the UN? I make this point because the Government have indicated that they want to show leadership—as they have done in many fields—in the implementation of work on the banning of anti-personnel landmines. In the light of the fact that 36 countries have ratified the treaty through their own legislative process—though not all have lodged the treaty with the UN—if a challenge is mounted, is it possible that the United Kingdom could fall outside the first 40 countries to ratify? It would be most unfortunate, given the Government's stated wish to be a leader in this issue, if we were to fall outside those first 40 countries. Will the Minister assure the Committee that everything possible will be done to make sure that we are among the first 40 signatories?
§ Lord Burnham
The three countries whose declaration is published in the convention are Mauritius, Canada and Greece. I cannot resist the thought that it will be an interesting conflict involving those three. As I understand it, the United Kingdom has signed but not ratified the declaration. For the purposes of this debate it would be extremely useful for the Committee to be given the terms of the British declaration. I should be most grateful if the Minister could do so.
§ Lord Craig of Radley
It helps in considering this point to take a practical example and one that was used in the other place; namely, the sapper who built a bridge over which the troops of a country, which had not signed the convention, were to haul mines. I wish to pose the idea, indeed likelihood, that Hercules or support helicopters could be used to lift personnel and/or mines of another country. The question must be: are the crews of those aircraft protected by Clause 5? From my understanding of the convention it would appear that they would be in breach of its terms.
As I understand it, we draw no distinction between peacekeeping, peace enforcing and warlike operations, whether or not a state of war has been declared. So the position needs to be clear—and I am sure that it would be the wish of all of us—that the crews of aircraft which 1171 operated in that way would not be charged with a criminal act. I hope that the Minister will help us with that example too.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert)
This has been a remarkable debate addressing a single amendment in that both Opposition Front Benches have found it necessary to bring such heavy fire-power to bear on it that both required two spokesmen on their feet. However, I shall do my best on my own to deal with the arguments advanced.
First, I shall deal head-on with the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and various other noble Lords as to whether or not Clause 5 is legal and whether it is legally compatible with the Ottawa Convention. All I can say to your Lordships is that the Government have taken the best legal advice available and have received assurances that there is nothing in Clause 5 that is either likely to be challenged at international law or is incompatible with the Ottawa Convention. I have the benefit of the sagacity of my noble and learned friend the Solicitor-General, who is sitting beside me. I am sure that if I get any of this wrong he will be happy to intervene so that we can have two people speaking from this Front Bench, just to preserve a little symmetry in the proceedings.
So far as I know, there have been no challenges offered, suggested or mooted to this legislation. I am advised that, were any challenges so to emerge, they would not result in any delay to our ratification.
I now turn to the question put by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. As I understand the Bill, Clause 5 is pretty unambiguous. It will cover all Her Majesty's forces, including airmen engaged in the sort of activity that he described.
The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, asked three or four questions. I thought that she had received the answers to them previously, but never mind. She asked whether the Bill would stand up in international law. I have answered that question already. Secondly, she asked whether it would be the case that our forces will be free to co-operate in manoeuvres with our NATO allies. I draw the noble Baroness's attention to Clause 5(7), which states:'operation' includes exercises and other activities".So the protection afforded to our forces by Clause 5 would apply to manoeuvres as well as acts of war. I believe that was the thrust of her question.
The noble Baroness also asked how the French and Germans, who have signed the treaty, have dealt with this problem. I understand the position to be that the French and German governments have put through primary legislation, as have the Canadians, in that respect. They are aware of our proposals; what they do, or do not do, is a matter for them, bearing in mind their own domestic legal arrangements and philosophies. But I know of no reason why they should not be able to continue to participate in NATO or any other combined operations or exercises. I hope that I have dealt with all the questions raised by the noble Baroness.
1172 I now turn to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. I have some difficulty—and I hope I have the sympathy of the Committee—in that I was not clear whether I was invited to address the amendment standing in the noble Lord's name, or the noble Lord's speech. Their direction seemed precisely opposite. On the face of it, the amendment is intended to be helpful. It reads:Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 19 of the Ottawa Convention".It would have the effect, if anything, of strengthening Clause 5. However, the noble Lord's speech was directed almost exclusively at attacking Clause 5, and suggesting that it was not necessary or was in breach of the Ottawa Convention. The noble Lord cannot have it both ways. Either he wants Clause 5 or he does not. I am glad to see from the way that the noble Lord is nodding his head that he does support Clause 5.
I should make it clear that Clause 5 does not seek to permit anything that is contrary to the convention. The noble Lord suggests that, because an activity is not criminal, it is permissible. It is not. These activities are prohibited by the convention and will be prohibited by our rules of military discipline. The Bill does all that it needs to do.
I do not seek to detain the Committee any longer on the amendment. When we come to discuss whether Clause 5 should stand part of the Bill, I may say a word or two about what we plan to do to make up the undoubted loss of military capability that we shall accept as a considered risk, on military advice, as a result of signing up to the Ottawa convention. I hope that, with the assurances that I have given, the noble Lord will be able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Moynihan
I rise somewhat bemused. If, as the Minister informs the Committee, he sees my amendment, as I do, as vitally strengthening Clause 5, why does he not accept it? We have not heard one argument put forward in Committee against accepting such a clear, well defined and sensible amendment. My colleagues behind me call it a simple amendment; I am not sure that I would use that word in the context of this amendment.
I believe that the Minister might find himself in isolation among Members of the Committee in not understanding the point I was making. I was fully supportive of Clause 5. I see the protection in Clause 5 of the Bill as eminently sensible. I went to some length to express my concern that it does not fit with the convention which we are seeking to put into primary legislation today. That is the fundamental point. I deeply regret the fact that the Minister has not addressed that point, save in reflecting momentarily on the legal advice, he has received—admirable, learned, and excellent legal advice, I am sure—to the effect that there is no distinction between the convention and the primary legislation.
Learned lawyers in another place and in this House—but I particularly note the speeches in the other House of two notable QCs not normally at one on party political issues—have taken a totally different view. From the 1173 humble position of not being a lawyer, I hoped that the logic of my points would reinforce that view and, if nothing else, lead the Minister to put forward a clear legal analysis as to why I was incorrect. We did not hear that.
I remain very concerned that other state parties may determine that Clause 5 amounts to an exemption or reservation from the Ottawa convention, which under Article 19 allows for no reservation, and therefore must clearly be, to both lawyers and politicians alike, inconsistent with the UK's obligations under the convention or, more generally, inconsistent with the spirit of the convention. I am concerned that these state parties will take up the procedures for verification of compliance and settlement of disputes which are contained in Articles 8, 10 and 11 of the convention.
I accept that, although the Ottawa convention does not contain a jurisdictional clause explicitly conferring jurisdiction on the International Court of Justice, Article 8.19 provides for,The initiation of appropriate procedures in conformity with international law".That worries me, as well. I hope it will not be the case that another signatory initiates proceedings against the United Kingdom in the ICJ if it feels that the UK is in breach of the convention. I am seriously worried that that will be the case.
I fear that what set out to be a defence initiative led and guided by the Foreign Office's ethical policy has become a muddled foreign policy, strongly rewritten at a later stage by the Ministry of Defence. Therefore, it is with some very serious reservations unallayed that I shall withdraw the amendment standing in my name. I shall do so in the hope that this primary legislation will come quickly to the statute book. It has been confirmed to me that, if we pressed an amendment to a vote and that vote led to further consideration in another place and again here, we should not be able to achieve the timetable that all Members of your Lordships' House and Members of another place hope will be achieved. If that is the case, I shall withdraw the amendment, but I do so with very serious reservations on this point.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Lord Burnham moved Amendment No. 4:
§ Page 4, line 35, after ("a") insert ("joint").
§ The noble Lord said: The addition of this single word is designed to strengthen and confirm the provisions of Clause 5. I had determined not to move my amendment, but I believe that, in the light of what has been said by the Minister and by my noble friend Lord Moynihan, I should move it in order to give the Minister an opportunity to reply to my noble friend. I beg to move.
§ Lord Redesdale
I wish to ask a question for clarification. I know that the Minister has agreed to write on the issue of the M181A. In the specific context of joint operations with the Americans, both parties having this form of Claymore mine, since that mine has 1174 a capability to become an anti-personnel mine, will it fall under the reference to stockpiling in Article 1 if we hold on to it?
§ Lord Gilbert
Despite the seductive invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, I think it would be a little odd for me to reply to one amendment while we are debating another one. However, we shall read with care what the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said and, if we consider that we can help him by writing to him, we shall be happy to do so. I rely on the advice I have been given that there are no serious legal implications, and all I can do is repeat that assurance.
So far as concerns Amendment No. 4, while I do not doubt that it was intended to be helpful, as was the previous amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, and the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, it is rather restrictive and I do not believe that it would have the effect that the noble Lord intends. If we were to insert the word "joint" in the two places which the noble Lord suggests in Clause 5(2)(a), it would greatly restrict the protection available to Her Majesty's forces because it would restrict the protection to certain types of military operation and remove the general nature of the clause. In the light of that clarification, I shall be obliged if the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw his amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 5 not moved.]
§ On Question, Whether Clause 5 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord Kennet
Hitherto we have been debating possible improvements to Clause 5. I intend to give the Committee an opportunity to debate a proposal to get rid of Clause 5 altogether.
I start by saying that I am a friend of the Bill; I am a friend of the Ottawa convention; and I am a friend of our Armed Forces, in one of which—although it was not the Army but the Navy—I served for the second half of the Second World War. I applaud the Government's action in this matter in every respect except only in respect of Clause 5.
I want to go back to the beginning of the clause. What is the language of the different relevant texts? It can be easily compared. Article 1 of the convention says,Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances"—I repeat, "never under any circumstances"—to assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention".Clause 2 of the Bill, giving effect to the convention, says that,no person shall assist, encourage or induce any other person",and so forth, taking up the very words of the convention. However, Clause 5 of the Bill says that that does not apply in the case of international military operations outside the UK in which anti-personnel landmines are or may be deployed by the armed forces of a state which 1175 has not signed the Ottawa convention. In practice, that means NATO, both in and out of area, and the only two NATO members who have not signed are Turkey and the United States.
The clause in the Bill thus directly negates Article 1 of the Convention in that it specifies the circumstances in which a member of the British Armed Forces may assist, encourage or induce a member of the American or Turkish armed forces, for instance, in an activity prohibited to state parties, even if not to the United States or Turkey. Thus, with Clause 5, we try to exclude our troops from prosecution if they assist the troops of a non-signatory intent on laying mines without themselves doing the laying, which would have to be done by the non-signatory troops.
I should like to raise the question of where they might be prosecuted—we have not considered that enough. Even if Clause 5 stands part, our people would still be open to prosecution in the new International Criminal Court for breach of the convention. At least I think they would; I would welcome the opinion of the Government Front Bench on that. If the new court's prosecutor has, as many believe he should have, power to apprehend without an order from the court, then he could call on the British Armed Forces and police to help him apprehend the accused on British territory. Is that right? Will the new international court be able to send a prosecutor here and arrest a British soldier—I am taking an extreme, but it is good to take logical extremes—for assisting the Americans in laying landmines, even if Clause 5 stands part of the Bill? I believe he will be so entitled. We would not be able to nip in first and claim that the man would be properly prosecuted here in any case under national law and the court should not bother its august head with the case, because Clause 5 is intended precisely to prevent that man being prosecuted here.
The Government's interpretation of the convention as allowing a Clause 5 defence is certainly disputable. On what bit of the convention do they rely in asserting it? I cannot find any text in the convention which will permit that.
§ The Solicitor-General (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)
In the light of the noble Lord's speech in relation to the inter-reaction between the convention and the Bill, in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, and the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, perhaps I should briefly set out what we believe the position to be.
The convention bans certain activities, including assisting in the laying of landmines. Subject, inter alia, to Clause 5 of the Bill, anyone, either in Britain or abroad, who does such a thing is guilty of a criminal offence. Clause 5 provides a defence in special circumstances. That defence is where somebody is engaged in activity of a joint military nature. What is being said in Clause 5 is that, simply because we are engaged in a joint military operation where some other country which has not signed the convention is laying 1176 landmines, will not of itself constitute a criminal offence. It is a defence; it is not a permission to do specific things.
Even that defence excludes from it the act of laying landmines itself. That is an unequivocal act which is banned by the convention. There will be grey areas where it will not be clear precisely whether it was banned or not by the convention. I am sure we all agree that in relation to the individual soldier he must know precisely where he stands. However, it is the Government's unequivocal intention to stand by the aims of the convention. We want to do that but at the same time leave the soldier knowing where he stands.
Therefore, in relation to those cases where there may be abuses, we say that that will be dealt with by rules of engagement and standing orders. That is how we intend to comply with the convention. There is an underlying misconception in many of the questions in relation to international law. Britain could be taken to the international court—I cannot say the procedural way in which it would reach there—but the question would not be: does Clause 5 constitute a breach of international law? The question would be whether, on the facts of a specific case, it would constitute a breach of international law.
I have set out clearly our means of complying with the convention. Clause 5 is a defence to Clause 2. It is a part of the process of ratification or the process of compliance. There are other things as well. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said that the Canadians are only relying on the declaration. That is not right. The Canadians introduced legislation and they too dealt with this question. I cannot give the precise detail, but they have legislation that comprises a defence. It may not be on the same lines as ours, but it deals with it in the same way.
I hope that that clarifies the legal basis on which we proceeded. I cannot give anyone an assurance that we will be bound to win in an international court because I do not know what the facts of a specific case may be. However, I can assure the Committee that the Law Officers advised us on this and are perfectly content that this is an appropriate way to proceed.
§ Lord Kennet
I am flattered to have provoked such a lengthy and informative explanation from the Solicitor-General, which was firmer than anything we have heard so far on the point he addressed. There remains the question—I do not expect him to answer it now, but it remains unanswered—as to whether it will be possible for the prosecutor of the international court to come to this country and, using his own agents or maybe directing British police and Armed Forces, apprehend the person accused of assisting in the laying of mines contrary to the Ottawa convention. Obviously the Solicitor-General will need to take time to think about that.
It has been argued—and the argument is still rumbling around the Chamber today—that Clause 5 is not so odd or undesirable because it is only one of various other documents. It is worth running through this matter once more and comparing the language.
1177 We have been told that the Canadian Government, in a declaration made at the time it signed the Ottawa convention in Ottawa, said something comparable. Rather the contrary. The Canadian declaration states that mere participation in operations and so forth conducted in combination with the armed forces of states not party to the convention, which engage in activities prohibited under the convention,would not, by itself, he considered to be assistance encouragement or inducement in accordance with [the Convention]".For Canada mere participation in the operation is all right, but assistance is not all right. For us, assistance is all right.
It is sometimes said—and my noble friend Lord Gilbert has referred to this today—that the governments of Germany or France have said or may say something like what HMG are saying in Clause 5. I have not found any trace of that and indeed, when I telephoned their military attachés in London, I was informed in both cases that the procedures for their adhesion to the convention have been concluded (including whatever parliamentary consideration was constitutionally necessary) and that no such declaration has been found necessary. So I do believe that we stand alone with the word "assist". That is the point where we part company with our allies. I think we should not, since it half aligns us with the non-signatories: Turkey, India, China, Russia and the United States prominent among them, though of course in practice we are talking overwhelmingly about the United States.
We have heard on earlier occasions (although not yet today) that the deletion of Clause 5 would cause the Bill to be lost, which we should all regret, I no less than anyone else. Well, it is true only up to a point. It will not, of course, be lost if the Government decide on second thoughts that it would be better without Clause 5, for all the reasons that others and I have given at different stages. If, for whatever reason, they decide they must still have Clause 5, it will still not be lost, only delayed by, say, four months until the spill-over. Here we encroach upon territory which is always regarded as somewhat sacrosanct for free debate in either House, and that is the work of the managers of government business. But I think it is permissible to look at that from the outside and see if we can accept the blanket assurances we get that the Bill will be lost for an indefinite time, and therefore in effect destroyed, by the disappearance of a single clause. If Clause 5 has been deleted here and the Government decide they must have it, the Bill will not be lost, but only delayed for four months until the spill-over or, if that is overbooked, by five or six months:- into the new Session.
The argument is heard that in the latter cases we may not be among the first 40 signatories, the number necessary to bring the convention into effect. Well, that is true, and it has a certain symbolic importance. It is also true that the Government put a lot of work into the negotiations and favoured the adoption of the convention in general and therefore have good reason to wish to be among the first, activating, group of 40 signatories. However, we must remember that the convention did not contain anything corresponding to Article 5 of the Bill. Article 5 of the Bill is an 1178 afterthought, suddenly tacked on after all the good work had been done by the Government. We still lack any explanation of why it was that the Government did not press for wording in the convention itself which would have made this national reservation unnecessary. Now I see that I am going to get the explanation. I suggest that one likely explanation is that after the convention was signed the non-signing United States suddenly realised that the present level of our collaboration with them in planning mine-handling was so high that a change would be inconvenient. If that is not the case, perhaps the Minister will let us know.
I do not myself propose to divide the House because I think it may be better after all if we adhere to the convention and then get taken to task within it under the machinery it includes for breaching it. The Government will not be able to plead ignorance of the objections to Clause 5, which have been thoroughly aired, and it will be interesting, if what I fear will happen does happen, to hear what arguments they do advance. I believe, even if no other noble Lord calls out in favour of deleting Clause 5, that the issue will have been well worth debating because the objections have now been fairly set forth not once but several times.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
I thank the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General for what was an extremely helpful statement. It has cast a great deal of light on the issue that we have been debating perhaps, some would say, to exhaustion. I shall ask him one question and then make one point. I want to ask him about the word "engage". The word "engage" to which he referred—"engage in joint operations"—I believe carries a lot of weight in terms of his statement. It deals with the issue that I raised earlier about the statement made by the Minister of the Armed Forces in another place; namely, whether being engaged in a joint operation includes actually assisting in the laying of landmines as distinct from the physical act of laying landmines. That is one of the issues that we are profoundly concerned about because it appears to be an issue where that statement and the convention were, to say the least of it, difficult to make compatible. The question I want to ask the Solicitor-General is whether he thinks we are in the clear when it comes to Article 8(18) and (19) of the Ottawa convention which allow other state parties to challenge in effect the validity of the actions of one other state party; in other words, is it his view—and I take his reservation about not being able to predict what an international court might decide—that we are not likely to be able to be challenged on that issue?
May I finally say that we take the view on this Bench that it is crucial to get this legislation through. We are not prepared to risk the possibility of it being held over to the spill-over or the following Session because we are well aware that legislation, once it goes into that mill race, may not surface again. For those reasons, while greatly respecting some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, we would not ourselves wish to support any Division of the House on this issue.
§ Lord Moynihan
It may be of assistance to the noble Baroness and the Solicitor-General if I add one other 1179 question to those already put by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. I am extremely grateful to the Solicitor-General for coming to the Dispatch Box and giving the statement that he did. Because of, as we saw it, the need for Clause 5, and indeed for the immunity from prosecution for certain cases that may occur in the future and the importance of protecting our Armed Forces in those circumstances, it was a great pity we did not have before this House—I accept there was no desire to have an amendment or reservation—the interpretative declaration to which the Solicitor-General referred. Can he give an undertaking to this House that when that interpretative declaration is drafted it will faithfully and accurately reflect the points that he made which would have the widespread support of all Members of your Lordships' House, and that in so drafting the noble and learned Lord will also give consideration to the other legal issues that were reflected during this debate? I say that because obviously it would have been preferable to have seen a copy of the interpretative declaration in advance of this debate. I have to add that I think it might have curtailed the debate considerably had we done so. I know it has been requested in another place and it has been requested again today.
To summarise, I wish to repeat the request from this side of the House to ensure that the interpretative declaration to which the Solicitor-General referred will accurately reflect the comments that he has made during this debate and take into account some of the important legal points that have been raised both in this place and another place.
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
Perhaps I may deal first with the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. The word "engaged" was my word. It was intended to summarise what is in Clause 5. In essence, Clause 5 provides the defence to the criminal offence, which is Clause 2, if the conduct which is the subject of criminal proceedings takes place in the course of, or for the purposes of, a military operation to which this section applies. This section applies to an operation outside the United Kingdom which,involves the participation both of members of Her Majesty's armed forces and of members of the armed forces of a State other than the United Kingdom".The word "engaged" is not used in the clause. Therefore, one should not waste too much time considering precisely what is meant by "engaged". The clause asks, "Are you participating, if you are the United Kingdom, in a joint operation with another state?"
The noble Baroness asked whether I am satisfied that we would win any challenge brought by another country under Article 8 that we had properly adhered to the convention.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
I thank the Solicitor-General for giving way. That was not the question I asked. That would be a foolish question. I asked whether he is satisfied that it is unlikely that we could be challenged under the terms of Article 8(18) and (19) of the Ottawa Convention. I am of course not 1180 asking him to predict what might be the outcome of any such challenge but whether he believes there is little basis—he cannot, of course, say no basis—for any such challenge.
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
I am quite satisfied that there is little basis for a challenge. We will be putting in a declaration at the time we ratify. It will be an interpretive declaration and not a reservation of any kind. I cannot say what its precise terms will be, but it will not be that dissimilar from the Canadian declaration. There has been no suggestion that that contravenes or gives rise to a risk of challenge of the kind indicated by the noble Baroness. So I am moderately satisfied that it is unlikely that there is a real basis for such a challenge.
With regard to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, it would be wrong for me to give any undertakings in relation to the precise terms of the declaration. It will be published when it is published. It is not right to say that it should reflect what I have said in the House today. It must obviously be consistent with it but it will be doing a completely different kind of job. It will be setting out in two or three sentences the basis of interpretation on which we are ratifying the treaty. Therefore, it would be totally inappropriate for it to go through what the effect of Clause 5 is and what the effect of Clause 2 is. It is doing a completely different job. So I do not think that the question is that well made.
§ Lord Moynihan
Perhaps I may pursue that point. Can the noble and learned Lord make it clear that the interpretative declaration will make it clear that the convention was not intended and was not perceived to be intended by the United Kingdom to make operations with non-signatories impossible?
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
It will certainly make it clear that mere participation by the United Kingdom's Armed Forces in a joint operation with a non-signatory country which uses landmines will not of itself, as we construe the convention, be a breach of the convention.
§ Lord Gilbert
Just before we come to the end of the debate on whether Clause 5 shall stand part of the Bill, it may be helpful if I touch on some of the points raised by noble Lords.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, whose long-standing interest in and passion for this cause is well-known, has, I hope, had an answer that satisfies him on the legal questions. There is nothing I can add to what my noble and learned friend the Solicitor-General said on those points. I am not sure whether my noble and learned friend mentioned that the jurisdiction of the new International Criminal Court will not extend to anti-personnel landmines.
I listened carefully to what my noble friend Lord Kennet said and I think he may have misheard my remarks. I was certainly not intending to suggest in any way that the German or French authorities had found it necessary to have the kind of declaration that we have. I was merely saying that I thought that, given their legal systems and their legal philosophies, they considered 1181 that their own procedures were adequate and that their troops would be protected and that they saw no reason why their troops could not continue to be engaged in exercises and operations with their allies.
§ Lord Kennet
I am grateful to my noble friend for allowing me to intervene. It is not that I misheard or misunderstood his remarks. I was referring in particular to remarks made in an earlier debate and to remarks made in general political discussions outside the Chamber.
§ Lord Gilbert
I am obliged. As I am sure my noble friend knows, we want to have the Bill enacted as quickly as possible not just for reasons of government business but because we want to see the convention carried into effect as soon as possible. The earlier we can go through our procedures, the earlier that will be.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked about claymores. I can tell him that all our claymore mines will be used only in the command-detonated mode. They therefore fall outside the provisions of the convention.
There is only one other thing that I can say with some relish before I sit down. While I listened to my noble and learned friend the Solicitor-General, who I would not dream of contradicting on any matters legal, I can correct him slightly on matters military. Wherever your Lordships read references in his remarks to "joint operations", I think you will find them more comprehensible if the word "combined" is substituted for "joint".
§ Clause 5 agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.
§ Then, Standing Order 44 having been suspended (pursuant to Resolution of 16th July), Bill read a third time.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. In moving this Motion, I should like to extend thanks to all noble Lords who have participated in our discussions. Noble Lords have expressed differences of opinion but the Bill has been considered in your Lordships' usual characteristic and constructive manner. I should like to thank the officials, particularly the officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and from the Ministry of Defence, who have so ably assisted my noble friends and myself in putting forward the Government's arguments.
Whatever the differences on the Bill, I believe that we have all pursued the same objective. We have now taken a firm step in the right direction of ensuring that, eventually, this appalling weapon—the anti-personnel landmine—which causes untold misery to countless people, men, women and children, will be removed from the face of the earth.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)1182
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, perhaps I may be permitted for one very brief moment, before the Bill completes its passage through your Lordships' House, as one who had the privilege for some time of being the Princess of Wales' legal adviser and of being called her friend, to say that I know how gratified she would have been at the lead taken by Her Majesty's Government in this cause, which was so dear to her heart, and how grateful she would have been to the Members of your Lordships' House on all sides and of another place for expediting the passage of this measure through Parliament. It will indeed now be remembered, on the imminent anniversary of her tragic death, as having been in substantial part inspired by her deep dedication to this cause in a life which was all too short.
§ Lord Redesdale
My Lords, I would like to follow the noble Lord in his tribute to Diana's work. It is one that I am sure we all share. The last time I went to a conference on landmines the speech was made by Diana. It is a very valid point that she brought the eyes of the world to this problem.
I would like briefly to sum up the position we hold. In our objections and amendments, I hope that we have not given the impression that we do not believe that the Government will stick very closely to the spirit of the Ottawa Convention. We applaud the work that has been done by all Ministers concerned in pushing this issue forward. It is an issue that has been close to our hearts on these Benches. It is a wonderful feeling to know that this Bill is going through after numerous debates over the years in this place. A very positive step is being taken.
I understand why the Government put forward Clause 5. I thank the Solicitor-General for putting forward extremely clear and concise reasoning for Clause 5, which we can accept on the Liberal Democrat Benches. We found it unfortunate that this clause came to light so recently. That has been the cause of some of our concern. That is not the fault of the Government, but due to the fact that this legislation was announced only a few weeks ago. I thank all noble Lords for pushing forward this matter in such a rapid way. I hope that, once it is passed, it can be lodged with the UN as quickly as possible so that we are one of the first 40 to ratify the convention.
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
My Lords, I could not echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, but I believe that this is one of the best things that this House and this Government will have ever done. I thank the noble Baroness. I know what she may have faced in the Foreign Office and in the Ministry of Defence in getting this legislation through both Houses so quickly. I also thank the Solicitor-General for his wise words this morning. Oh that they had come a little earlier. We would have saved a little more time.
I do not want to detract from this very real step. As a trustee of the British Red Cross, I know that I shall now be able to encourage Red Cross and Red Crescent societies across the rest of the world that they should get on with this matter. It is a necessary step, but it is not one that we can believe is the end 1183 of our work. To ban landmines and to advise about them is but the beginning. It is to educate so that we avoid more tragedy and to make sure that landmines are cleared away as fast as possible. I believe that the noble Baroness knows full well that she will have the support of noble Lords in all parts of the House on the necessary steps that must be taken to clear away all the remaining landmines and to influence other countries to do so. That is the huge task that lies ahead. I am delighted to see the Bill go forward.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, I wish to add my tribute to the tremendous work done by a number of non-governmental organisations in this field including the Red Cross and many others. They have devoted themselves to briefing all Members of this House and in another place as regards this Bill. They do their work without payment and often without recognition. It is very important that that is part of the glory of civic society in this country in making that kind of contribution.
Perhaps I may add my own words to what has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker. The convention makes it plain that the removal of mines is as much part of the object as the prevention of the laying of mines. In that context, I believe that many peacekeeping forces already deployed by the United Nations contain within it expertise on raising mines. I think, for example, of the Russian forces in Abkhazskaya and Georgia. I hope that the Foreign Office will give some consideration as to whether we can, together with the United Nations, ensure that people with such knowledge are used for the purpose rather than, as it were, stand to one side while minefields continue to exist. Raising landmines is as important as preventing the laying of new minefields.
I conclude with my thanks to the Ministers on the Front Bench, the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and the Solicitor-General for the way in which they have steered this Bill through the 1184 House. They have done so effectively and with such patience and consideration as regards the points that many of us have made.
§ Lord Moynihan
My Lords, I echo the expressions of gratitude and appreciation for the Government Ministers involved in the passage of this Bill and for the Liberal Democrat spokesmen and especially to my colleagues on the Front Bench. Seeing that the Government Chief Whip is in his seat, I am not sure that he will fully echo my next remarks. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. The reason I thank him is because, had it not been for his intervention today, we might not have had the excellent and much appreciated contribution from the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General. My colleagues and I are also very grateful.
The Landmines Bill is one of the important and humane breakthroughs of our time. It has been an honour for my colleagues and I to participate in the process of the elimination of one of the most malignant scourges of this century and to pass the relevant legislation.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
My Lords, I am the last person left on these Benches. On behalf of the Cross-Benches, both noble and gallant, humanitarian and otherwise, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for his tribute to Princess Diana who has worked closely with many of the voluntary organisations. I add the thanks of the Cross-Benches to noble Lords of all parties who have participated in the working on and passing of the Bill.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their expressions of thanks and appreciation. The Princess of Wales has rightly been mentioned in your Lordships' remarks. I would also like to mention the many quietly dedicated and committed people around the world who have worked selflessly for the eradication of landmines either through their legislative processes or through putting their own lives at risk. Those many countless people should not be forgotten.
§ On Question, Bill passed.
§ House adjourned at twenty seven minutes past one o'clock.