Land Mines

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 2:18 pm on 3rd May 1995.

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Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford 2:18 pm, 3rd May 1995

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had in the EC about strengthening the UN protocol on the use of land mines. [20414]

Photo of David Davis David Davis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

We have taken a number of initiatives both on our own and with others since July 1994. With our strong support, on 10 April the Foreign Affairs Council agreed a proposal for European Union joint action on land mines. That includes an agreement on common objectives to strengthen protocol 2 of the 1981 United Nations weaponry convention at its review conference in Vienna in September 1995.

In particular, the European Union will work to promote universal adherence, to extend the scope to cover non-international armed conflict, to strengthen restrictions and prohibitions on the use of anti-personnel land mines, to agree an effective verification mechanism, and to include provisions on mine clearance and technical assistance.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

My hon. Friend will be aware of the great concern about this issue throughout the country, and especially within the church organisations in our nation. What are Britain's objectives at the convention and what does my hon. Friend expect to achieve at that convention when it meets?

Photo of David Davis David Davis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My hon. Friend is right about the concern expressed about the issue, which the Government are to a large extent reflecting in our decisions. Obviously, we support everything that I have outlined in terms of the European Union's objectives. In addition, Britain wants to see strengthened technical criteria which ensure that anti-personnel land mines are detectable—the most dangerous land mines for civilians are those that are non-detectable—and that self-destruct mechanisms are reliable. We also want to see improved provision for the marking and recording of mined areas. All those policy objectives are aimed at creating a workable and effective policy that will protect civilians from hazard.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Mossley Hill

Has the Minister had a chance to reflect on the reply given to me last night by the Minister of State for Defence Procurement that the answers that have been given in the House during the past decade have been inaccurate because the definition used by NATO of what constitutes an anti-personnel land mine is not that which has been used by his Department or by the Department of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs? In the light of that, how many mines manufactured from 1986 onwards did not meet those criteria? What objections do the Government now have to publishing the criteria for what precisely constitutes an anti-personnel land mine?

Photo of David Davis David Davis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I am afraid that I have not seen the exchange between the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement last night. For a number of years, we have not exported any land mines under the NATO definition. I shall look at the matter if the hon. Gentleman wishes. As he knows, I take the matter extremely seriously and I will write to him to try to clarify the points that he raises.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Is the Minister saying that the Government would countenance the export of land mines if they were fitted with a self-destruct capacity? If so, does he accept claims that the failure level of self-destruct mechanisms as high as 10 per cent? If the hon. Gentleman is to allow similar types of exports, what research has his Department commissioned which would give any credibility to the suggestion that these types of anti-personnel devices—horrific in their consequences—should be exported by this or any other nation?

Photo of David Davis David Davis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

If the hon. Gentleman or his predecessor on the Opposition Front Bench had attended the debate in the Chamber some while ago—initiated, I believe, by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen)—they would have heard me comment on precisely that. The hon. Gentleman's predecessor got the figure wrong when she wrote to me after the event.

The technology for self-destructing or self-neutralising land mines is not very advanced or difficult. Our aim, which I outlined earlier, in the UN weaponry convention, is to ensure that we lay down the standard for a failure level of no more than one in 1,000. Others think that much more is achievable. The technology is not difficult to understand, so it does not require massive amounts of research. Once standards are laid down, the Ministry of Defence, in obtaining land mines to replace the dumb land mines that we have now, will undertake studies to ensure that they meet the standards required.