Mine Clearance

Oral Answers to Questions — Overseas Development – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th April 1995.

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Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan , Blaby 12:00 am, 24th April 1995

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assistance his Department gives to mine clearance around the world. [18752]

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

We have provided £10.9 million of bilateral aid over the past four financial years for land mines clearance.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan , Blaby

The House will welcome the Government's positive action in clearing up these dreadful weapons which maim civilians, and children in particular, around the world, but will my hon. Friend join me in regretting the fact that some hon. Members attempt to make political mischief out of this issue? Instead of recognising the benefits of the Government's positive action, they try to blame the Government in some way for the mines laid in trouble spots around the world such as Cambodia, Afghanistan, Mozambique and Angola whereas, in fact, none of the mines there originated in the United Kingdom, nor were they laid with this Government's assistance.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My hon. Friend makes a sound point. We are not exporting or laying land mines, but we are funding mine clearance. The United Kingdom is one of the leading donor countries supporting humanitarian mine clearance programmes in some of the most seriously affected parts of the world, such as Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, northern Iraq and Mozambique, through the Mines Advisory Group and the Halo Trust, which comprise brave and resolute men doing dangerous and difficult work. I am sure that we are all proud of the work that they are doing.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Roche Mrs Barbara Roche , Hornsey and Wood Green

Although I appreciate the contribution that Britain makes to the clearing of mines—of course, I also pay tribute to the men and women who undertake such dangerous and hazardous work—could not Britain be doing much more in terms of international agreements to ensure that such appalling weapons of war, which attack not soldiers but innocent men, women and children, are not exported?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Let me make it clear that we have not exported any anti-personnel land mines for well over a decade. We want to put an end to any trade anywhere in the world of the types of anti-personnel land mines that are most dangerous to civilians. We want a complete ban throughout the world of non-detectable anti-personnel land mines. We want a strengthening of the United Nations weaponry convention and a significant extension of it to cover not only international conflicts but civil wars and other internal conflicts. I think that the hon. Lady will find that, wherever international action has been taken on mines, the United Kingdom has been in the lead.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland and Lonsdale

Does my hon. Friend agree that there would be fewer greater contributions that we could make than improving the archaic and dangerous method currently used for finding mines which involves sticking pieces of steel into the ground to feel them? Is he aware of the encouraging research being done here, in the United States and elsewhere into the use of, among other things, radar, infra-red techniques or the detection of gamma rays which would revolutionise the detection of mines? Will he pay close attention to this research and see whether we can make a contribution to hurrying it along so that these weapons, which cause so many casualties, can be eliminated?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The Halo Trust and the Mines Advisory Group are probably among the leaders in terms of expertise on mine clearance in the world. If they ask us to support the sort of research that my right hon. Friend suggests, we shall gladly look at that suggestion.