HL Deb 05 October 1998 vol 593 cc157-9

2.47 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will seek to make it publicly clear that the Landmines Act 1998 applies to anti-personnel mines only.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to assure the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that the Landmines Act 1998, like the Ottawa Convention, applies only to anti-personnel mines. This is made very clear in the Act and should be clear also from recent public and parliamentary debates and statements.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her reply because clarification was certainly needed after the Bill was rushed through Parliament just before the Recess, but why did the Foreign Secretary in his speech introducing the Bill—the noble Baroness mentioned parliamentary debates—mention landmines 32 times but not once utter the words "anti-personnel"? As he stated then that three-quarters of Britain's landmines would soon be destroyed, to what extent does that include anti-tank landmines, which are a vital defensive weapon for our troops and are not prohibited by any international convention?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, there is absolutely no question of anti-tank mines being included in anything to do with the Bill or anything to do with the Ottawa Convention, both of which are quite simply all about anti-personnel landmines. According to the media the person in the street may tend to think that a landmine is what blows up little children, but he thinks of anti-tank mines as something different. However, it is clear that only anti-personnel landmines are covered by the Act.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, will the noble Baroness add to her remarks, if not today, on a future occasion, and make sure that a report is presented to both Houses of Parliament on the progress offered on the destruction of anti-personnel landmines in overseas countries? This was referred to on a number of occasions during the brief debates mentioned by my noble friend. The first day back is a good chance to remind the Government that they agreed to a progress report to Parliament. Until such progress is made, further development in Africa and the developing world cannot take place. Food cannot be grown in fields still littered with anti-personnel landmines.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. In October 1997 the Secretary of State for Defence announced a five-point plan to increase the MoD's contribution to humanitarian de-mining. Since then, various actions have been taken and assistance given. Perhaps I may mention just one major development; namely, the establishment of a mine information and training centre at Minley. That is now the UK landmine focal point for mine awareness training and it provides guidance to other government departments, non-governmental organisations, academics and industry. The Government also have various links with organisations such as the HALO Trust.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, were any objections raised by other countries, especially concerning Section 5 of the Landmines Act, when the legislation was lodged with the UN?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, so far as I am aware, nothing was raised in relation to Section 5. We have now ratified the convention and I know of no points that were raised. If I am wrong, I will write to the noble Lord.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, during the passage of the Bill I moved an amendment which attempted to define exactly what is the difference between an anti-personnel mine and any other form of mine. The amendment was probably faultily phrased; however is there not at least an argument for a definition of "anti-personnel"?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, it is clearly defined in the Ottawa Convention as to what kind of mine is anti-personnel and what is not. As the noble Lord will know better than I, having been through the detailed debate on the Bill, there are many mines which are not covered by the Ottawa Convention. However, we are clear as to what is an anti-personnel landmine, as are the other signatories and those who have ratified the convention.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the laying of anti-personnel landmines is now an offence that can be tried before the International Criminal Court? At what point does that provision come into operation? If people are continuing to lay anti-personnel mines now, will they later be brought to trial at the International Criminal Court, or is it necessary to wait until a certain number of states have ratified the convention?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, no states which have ratified the convention will lay anti-personnel landmines. The noble Lord will be aware that the United Kingdom Government announced that immediately on ratifying the convention on 31st July this year it became the case that no British Armed Forces personnel would lay landmines, although that is in advance of the demands in the Ottawa Convention. Those that have not signed the Ottawa Convention will continue to use landmines when they feel that it is militarily necessary. All we can do is make every effort to persuade as many countries as possible to sign and ratify the Ottawa Convention.