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Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras): The Labour party believes that wrongdoing in local or central Government or anywhere else should be rooted out without fear or favour. In local government, it should be rooted out whether it occurs in Labour, Tory or Liberal councils. We condemn wrongdoing wherever it occurs, but, unlike the Tory party, we also take action.
In Birmingham, charges of wrongdoing have arisen in connection with renovation grants. The immediate response to that from the Labour leader of the council was to call for a report from the district auditor. In an immediate response to the first article in The Observer , my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Godsiff) referred the matter to the police, as he has explained. He also referred it to the Home Secretary. In so far as there were charges relating to what might be wrongful actions within the Labour party, the party immediately announced a thorough investigation and closed four of the local branches to make sure that, if anything wrong had been done, it did not affect any selection or election that might be proceeding. That was right.
As a result of Labour action--not action by anyone else--there is an investigation by the district auditor, some sort of investigation by the police and an investigation by the Labour party. That is all at the instigation of the Labour party, and it was done without fear of favour. That is similar to the approach that we have adopted in Lambeth, Liverpool and other places. I contrast that with the record of the Tories when wrongdoing has occurred in Tory councils. When Wandsworth council was found guilty by the district auditor of breaking the law in relation to the homeless and carrying on headlong with its policy of selling council houses when people had nowhere to live, a vice-chairman of the Tory party, the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), said on television that he was proud of that council's record--its law-breaking record!
In Westminster, the district auditor has made it clear that he thinks that the homes-for-votes scandal has cost £21 million and that the failure to collect service and repair charges from leaseholders may have cost £31 million. No investigation was instigated by the Tories who were in charge at Westminster: the Tory party in that council has been obstructive at every turn.
No Tory Minister and, to the best of my knowledge, no Tory Member has ever uttered one word of condemnation about Westminster council in relation to these scandals. Far from it: they have continued to defend the council. As
Column 852I have said, that is in marked contrast to Labour's attitude to wrongdoing everywhere. Labour does something about it, but the Tories never utter a harsh word against their friends.
I do not know, nor do I think that any hon. Member knows, whether there has been wrongdoing in Birmingham. If there has been, it will be rooted out by Labour; but the issue is used as an excuse to attack the great city of Birmingham and its people. That great city and its ingenious and hard- working people, whose reputation for building and making is legendary throughout the world, have been hard hit by the recession, and the city council has done its desperate best not to take things lying down but to protect the people of that great city, maintain its economic status and give it an economic future. The council has not always got it right--none of us ever does--but it has tried, and its partnership approach with local businesses and communities has been a substantial success, promoting job retention and creation. It has been criticised by the Tories in Birmingham and nationally at every turn. When the council built the international convention centre, it was described as a waste of money by local Tories-- although not by all of them, because some supported it. It was certainly described as such by Tory Ministers, who accused Birmingham city council of squandering money on the centre.
Then what did we find? The most famous use that the centre has had to date on a serious matter was when the Prime Minister took the European summit to Birmingham because that great centre was worth showing off. The centre is smart and modern and has all the necessary facilities to host such an important conference. Not a penny of Government money went into it, and the Prime Minister preened himself and pranced around trying to take credit for it. I think that the centre was used last year for the CBI conference, and it will be used by the CBI again this year.
Lo and behold, among the Tory hypocrites the Tory party central council is to meet there at the end of this month. I wonder whether it will put up on one of those screens which it is so good at using a notice stating, "We condemned this place and the staff, and now we are proud to make use of it."
There have been complaints--they have been made time and again--about the city's efforts to renew the city centre and to make it a smart place of which the people of Birmingham and, indeed, Britain can be proud. It has succeeded. There has been a massive improvement in the city centre. Indeed, the Minister of State, Department of Employment visited the city centre this week and said:
"No one visiting the City of Birmingham can fail to be impressed by the change and developments in the city centre--surely one of the urban regeneration success stories of recent years."
The hon. Lady was merely following on from what the President of the Board of Trade had said last week, when he endorsed the city's regeneration efforts and held them up as a model of civic activity to promote regeneration.
However, all that the Government do is talk about renovation grants. It is absolutely typical of them--they will the end but do not will the means. They have given people a statutory right to renovation grants, but they have not provided the money to meet that right. The spending on renovation grants in the whole of Britain in 1984 was £1.5 billion; it was down to less than £500 million when
Column 853the last annual figures were produced. In 1984, some 214,000 grants were made, but in the last year for which the full figures are available the number had been reduced to just 34,000. Councils have been forced to institute queuing systems. That may not be lawful, but it is the only thing that they can do when they are faced by people with a statutory right but have not been provided with the Government funds to meet that.
In the very last Budget, the Government lopped a further £57 million off the private sector renovation grant scheme. Birmingham was caught in a dilemma not of its or Labour's making but of the Tory Government's making. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), the chairman of the local newspaper group, asked who jumped the queue. The people of Birmingham are not really concerned about who jumped the queue; they are bothered about the people who created the queue in the first place. That needs to be sorted out. If the city of Birmingham is to discharge its tasks, it faces massive problems in trying to serve almost 1 million people. It needs Government help to provide services. In the Government's list of deprived places in Britain, Birmingham comes 21st. Hon. Members might think that is fair and reasonable, but it should be compared with places that are higher up the list. For example, Westminster is fourth on the list; Kensington and Chelsea is llth; the City of London--Barings notwithstanding, God help us--is 19th, before the great city of Birmingham. As a result, Birmingham's grant has been cut this year and it has been forced to increase its council tax and cut services. Consequently, the council tax payers of Birmingham, like the council tax payers in most other parts of the country, will be paying more and getting less because of the unfair distribution of grants.
If Birmingham city council had received as much financial help from the Government this year as Westminster received, it would not have had to collect any council tax. Indeed, if it had received the same level of grant as Westminster, it would have paid out an average rebate of £230 to every householder in Birmingham. That shows the unfairness of the system that the Government operate. It is a racket, and the system is rigged in favour of the Government's friends. Of course, the Tories do not regard the people of Birmingham as their friends.
I do not know whether the Secretary of State will roll it out again in his speech, but we are bound to hear the Tories say during the local government elections that Birmingham has a bigger debt than Albania. So it has. Let us compare Birmingham with Albania. Birmingham has better houses than Albania. Birmingham has better schools than Albania. Birmingham has better roads than Albania. Birmingham has better libraries than Albania. The reason for that is that Birmingham has invested in houses, schools, roads and libraries. To do that, and like anyone else, it had to take out a mortgage and then pay it back. That is why Birmingham has debt. The point is that people were prepared to lend money to Birmingham, while no one in his right mind would lend money to Albania. That is what Birmingham has done, and it has done it with the support of the people of Birmingham. Year in, year out, the Labour council has won election after election.
The council previously has been accused of neglecting education. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) spelled out, there have been massive improvements in education in Birmingham, giving priority to educating the children and
Column 854young people of that great city to give them a chance in life and to give the city in 10, 15 or 20 years' time a chance in Britain and in the world.
I want again to emphasise the unfairness of the distribution system. If Birmingham's education grant had been as big as Westminster's in relation to the population, next year every primary school in Birmingham could have had two extra teachers and every 11-to-18 school could have had 20 extra teachers, without raising a penny on the council tax. That is a further illustration of the unfairness of the system.
I do not have time to spell out all the achievements of the city council. It has its faults--don't we all? However, it is trying hard in difficult circumstances. We have to ask, why are we having this debate? It is part of a concerted attack by the Tories on Birmingham. As I am sure the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield can confirm, there was a meeting last week, to which he was invited by the chairman of the Tory party, to discuss what the Tories could do in their campaign against Birmingham-- [Interruption.] The Chief Whip was there. We could quote from conversations in the Corridors; people sometimes talk too loudly, and other people listen.
The Tories are launching their local government campaign today and they are starting it, as they did last year, by suggesting that Birmingham and the people of Birmingham are sleazy and are stupid for voting Labour. The fact is that the people of Birmingham know who is good for their city. They have solidly voted Labour for many years, and I am confident that they will do so again. The Tories' attempt to do down the city of Birmingham and its people will backfire. I am convinced that it will rebound on them, just as it did at this time last year.
The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. John Gummer): The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) again revealed his ignorance of how the local government system works, so I shall remind him. The arrangements for grant are worked out by the Government and the Labour- controlled Association of District Councils, the Labour-controlled Association of County Councils, the Labour-controlled association covering the inner-London area and the outer-London area and the Labour-controlled Association of Metropolitan Councils--none of which says that the system is rigged and none of which agrees with the hon. Gentleman. All of them know the facts; the hon. Gentleman does not. That is the position from which we should start.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) set an example to the House in the way in which he responded to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) in his comments about his constituent. Throughout the current situation, the hon. Gentleman has been extremely careful to make it clear that when he is talking about grave allegations, he means allegations. He has not sought, in any circumstances, to suggest that anyone is guilty until he is so proven.
The House will recognise the distinction between the hon. Gentleman's approach, which throughout has been honourable, and the approach exemplified by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who, I am afraid, fell below even his usual standard in dealing with such a serious issue. The fact is that serious allegations have been made, against a
Column 855background in which large sums of money have been put into Birmingham by the Government. On the Stockfield estate, tenants now live in houses owned by their own community association--not run in the appalling way in which Birmingham council had run the estate. The Birmingham Heartlands development corporation is spending £40 million in the inner-city area--the money comes directly from the taxpayer, through Government money, and matched by private money.
In Birmingham, Castle Vale housing action trust--HATs were opposed tooth and nail by Labour councils up and down the country--received £100 million in Government money. Altogether, that makes about £400 million. That money is going towards the development of Birmingham, a proud city that is doing a great deal, most of it through partnership and direct Government and taxpayers' money.
I am pleased that, only last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) congratulated Birmingham on that partnership during a visit. The partnership has been made possible by the Government. It was set up in the teeth of opposition from the politically and historically neanderthal Birmingham council, which is supported by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), who is more neanderthal than many.
Increasingly, Birmingham is an improved city where developments are being funded by the taxpayer. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook says that it has done better on education. That happened because the in-coming Labour authority attacked the outgoing Labour authority for not spending any money on education. In the past year and a bit, it has managed to start to make up for Birmingham city council's appalling education policy. The right hon. Gentleman knows that well. Instead of making pompous little remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Gummer: The Opposition spokesman finds it difficult to take any subject seriously because, if he did so, he would have to do some work to find out the facts. He does not like doing that. He does not know that £400 million has gone into Birmingham, or the facts about Birmingham. His knowledge is merely the anecdotal knowledge that leads him to throw allegations at anyone who does not support the Labour party.
I notice that the Labour party's approach to the Birmingham problem is different from its approach to other problems. If I were to speak about Birmingham as the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) did when he was doing the job of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, what would I say? I would say that this was
"a case of political corruption and gerrymandering on a scale unknown in modern Britain . . . There is no parallel . . . for corruption on this scale."
I would also say that the Labour party in Birmingham
Column 856"is rotten and amoral to the core, and has abandoned the most basic principles of public morality."--[ Official Report , 13 January 1994; Vol. 235, c. 348.]
That is what I would have said if I were the sort of person who takes an allegation and then makes statements as if a court case had been held and a decision made.
The Labour party is entirely selective in the way in which it deals with these matters. I shall treat the allegations in precisely the same way as I have treated allegations against Lambeth, Westminster, Birmingham and the like. Until the district auditor's case has been proved, any Englishman is innocent until he is proved guilty. [Interruption.] That is not an unimportant matter. The fact that the Labour party can laugh at the basic principle of British justice shows clearly why the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras does not understand that the House is let down by the sort of speeches that he and the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook have made today. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook did not think that it mattered if funds had been misappropriated because not a lot of money was involved. In his view, it is only a small baby--that is all--and it does not matter because it is not very much. Conservative Members believe that it does matter, however small it is, and whichever party is guilty. If people are guilty, they should be punished; if they are not guilty, they should be presumed innocent. The House's privileges should not be abused by hon. Members, who could be sued if they made some of their comments outside the House.
The problem is that Birmingham city council has much to be modest about, whereas Birmingham has a great deal to be proud of. After all, the council must explain the £2.5 million spent on women's workshops; not many jobs were created with that money. It must explain the £700, 000 spent on the council's newspaper, the £3 million wasted on the social services department's computer system and the £1 million given to a trade union resource centre. It must explain that when it complains that there is not enough money for renovation grants, when it says that it does not have the money that it thinks is necessary for a range of goods, and when Opposition Front-Bench spokesman are giggling away. No doubt it does not matter that £1 million went to the trade union resource centre because, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman for Sparkbrook, it is not very much.
The issue is how we should deal with the allegations. I suggest to right hon. and hon. Opposition Members that they would have done their cause more good by taking a large leaf out of the book of the hon. Member for Perry Barr. That would have involved making a clear statement, and then allowing the district auditor to investigate it. When the district auditor issues his report, I hope that Opposition Members will not assume that what he says means that someone is guilty until the due process of law has been completed. Interestingly, the statement of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras about what the auditor had said about Wandsworth implied that the auditor had said that something illegal had occurred. But the auditor said that the matter may be illegal and may have to be considered in the courts. If the hon. Gentleman cannot distinguish between one and the other when flinging his allegations across the House, he should not
Column 857be here. He should recognise the damage that he does to the reputation not only of the House, but of the country for fair play and honesty.
The hon. Member for Small Heath is at the centre of the allegations. It would be wrong for anyone to make allegations about the hon. Gentleman, any of his hon. Friends or the people with whom he works without having extremely good evidence. It is much better to put that evidence in front of the suitable authorities rather than the public arena. He might just feel that his attempt to prove his position point by point would have been more successful if he had looked at the matter differently.
In these circumstances, we should do for ourselves precisely what we have done for other people. If the Labour party had approached this matter in the same way as it has approached other matters when it has attacked Conservative-controlled authorities, it would have gone to town today. We would never have seen the like of it before. What is wrong about the approach of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, apart from the consistent smirk, is that he has appalling double standards. In his view, people who have not been proved guilty are guilty if they are Conservatives and entirely innocent if they are socialists; people must not be smeared if they are socialists, but must be accepted as being absolutely guilty if they are Conservatives. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have let down the House by applying a double standard to an incompetent and useless council about which a number of allegations have been made.
The district auditor will investigate those allegations. I hope that, in the meantime, hon. Members of all parties will continue to adopt an even- handed approach and that we shall hear no more unsubstantiated allegations from Opposition Members about a Conservative council. We stand for the principle that one is innocent until proven guilty.
Mr. Cohen: There is a global land mine crisis--there are 100 million land mines in 62 countries. The United Nations estimates that 800 people die each month from land mine injuries, and 1 million people have been killed or maimed since 1973. Twenty million refugees want to return to their homes, but are impeded by the problem of uncleared mines.
The purpose of land mines is to bring terror to large populations. They have been sown around key economic installations, electricity and water plants, roads and ports, and civilians are the targets. The United States recently reported that the number of land mines deployed increases by between 500,000 and 1 million each year, and that they are increasingly becoming more sophisticated and hard to detect.
The present generation of land mines are plastic, with only a small metal component, which means that they are difficult to detect with metal-seeking devices. The next generation could well be all plastic, and perhaps undetectable. Mines have increasingly sophisticated electrical fuses that are far more hazardous to find and remove, and have associated booby traps, too. By contrast, mine clearance technology has advanced little since the 1940s.
The United Nations reports 84 de-mining experts killed in Kuwait, and at least 30 in Afghanistan. There are terrific complications in clearing mines in Cambodia, Mozambique and Rwanda. In those counties, mines are often planted in long grass or on the tea plantations, which may have to be taken up blade by blade, bush by bush. Mine clearance is expensive. The Government give about £8 million towards the process, but that is small potatoes when set against the extent of the problem. In Afghanistan, which has 10 million mines, it would cost about $17 million a year for six years just to clear the priority community areas. In Cambodia, there are between 5 million and 7 million mines, and our Government helped train the Khmer Rouge to lay them. In Rwanda, Somalia, Mozambique, Bosnia, the Yemen and the Gulf, millions of mines have been laid and are waiting to explode.
Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, pointed out that mines had gone from being
"a tactical battlefield weapon to a theatre-wide weapon of mass civilian destruction--a weapon of mass destruction in slow motion." Land mines need to be treated like chemical weapons, with a total worldwide ban. The United Nations has urged such a ban; the United States instituted a one-year ban or moratorium in October 1992, and extended it in 1993 for an additional three years; the European Parliament passed a resolution in December 1992 demanding a five-year moratorium; and many countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Israel, South Africa, Argentina and Canada, have announced their support for a moratorium. The Government say that they back the UN resolution
Column 859for a moratorium, although the Foreign Office resisted it fiercely in private before accepting it. The Government keep demanding and applying exemptions to it.
The inhumane weapons convention of 1981 has a land mines protocol. We signed up to the convention in 1981, but I am told that we ratified it only three weeks ago. In answer to a parliamentary question on 16 January, the Government said that the motivation for ratification was to be able to take part in the September review conference. The implication is that they do not really support the convention but merely want a place at the table.
We have ratified the convention but only by Executive order, not legislation. Legislation would have made it a specific crime to breach the convention, but the Executive order does not. Only military disciplinary procedures will apply. That is not a good example to set other countries.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) is in his place. He tabled the excellent early-day motion 727, which refers to the petition recently presented to Downing street by the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development. It had millions of signatures, and called for an immediate moratorium on the export of all anti-personnel mines, and for the Government to encourage other Governments to follow suit. What have the Government done to encourage other Governments to follow suit?
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill): I congratulate the hon. Member on raising this issue on the Floor of the House. He might like to know that 100 hon. Members of all parties have now signed the early-day motion, and that many people share his belief that far more should be done not only to stop the export of component parts from the United Kingdom but to influence those countries which are the quartermasters, which provide the armaments and anti-personnel mines that are doing so much damage and creating major development problems.
There are 30,000 amputees in Cambodia alone who are the direct casualties of land mines, and 1 million people around the world have either died or been injured as a result of coming into contact with anti-personnel mines. Many hon. Members of all parties welcome the hon. Gentleman's initiative.
Mr. Cohen: I am grateful for that intervention, and to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out that this is an all-party matter. Also on 16 January, the Government said that no manufacturers were currently supplying United Kingdom armed forces with anti-personnel mines, including self- destruct or self-neutralising ones. If, as the Government claim, none has been exported since 1982, the implication is that no United Kingdom manufacturer is currently making complete land mines. Therefore, the Government could ban manufacture and export from this country. Why have they not done so?
In another place on 16 January, Lord Ingelwood said in effect that the moratorium did not include components for land mines and that exports were considered on a case-by-case basis. What has the Minister to say about components? Are we still making and exporting them?
Column 860What about work on land mines done by British companies under licence abroad? What about their research work? Oxfam said that the Government referred only to conventional land mines as part of the moratorium. What about non-conventional mines? The Government should be far more open about their policy. What are they covering up? Why will they not support a complete ban on the manufacture and export of such items?
My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) asked a couple of interesting questions about exports. In answer to one, he was told that the Government had established a moratorium on the export of mines that did not have self-destruct or self-neutralising mechanisms, and that export licenses for components would be considered only in the light of "other established criteria". What are those criteria? The response makes particular reference to the exemption in respect of the self-destruct and self-neutralising mechanisms which the Government have awarded themselves.
In answer to another question about the export of land mines with self- destruct mechanisms, my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields was told by the Minister of State for Defence Procurement:
"The UK has declared an indefinite moratorium on the export from the UK of all anti-personnel land mines which do not have self-destruct or self- neutralising mechanisms."
That means that the moratorium does not apply to the mines that do have such mechanisms. The reply goes on to refer to the Government's efforts in trying to forestall the transfer of anti-personnel mines. The final sentence is especially interesting:
"Any applications for an export licence for a land mine which did possess a self-destruct mechanism would be assessed carefully in the light of these and other factors."--[ Official Report , 27 January 1995; Vol. 253, c. 445. ]
What other factors? The Minister should answer that. That whole sentence implies that permission may still be given for exports of those components. In fact, permission probably would be given if the mines were to have a self-destruct mechanism.
The Government are wrong in trying to set up an exemption for self-destruct and self-neutralising mines. They have said that such mines do not pose great dangers to civilian populations. They do. They still kill and maim innocent civilians, and are costly and dangerous to remove. Other countries do not talk about exemptions for such mines, so why do this Government?
Oxfam has expressed its concern about the Government trying thAT get-out; for example, it asks how long the Government say such mines should be in the ground. That is worth an answer, because the longer the mines are in the ground, the more dangerous they are. Oxfam also asks whether the Government have researched the failure rates of self-destruct and self- neutralising mechanisms. I can answer that, because the Government answered my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) on that subject on 18 January. The answer was none. They have not conducted any research into failure rates, so their assumptions that such mines are not so dangerous is false. The Government are wrong to have distinguished between types of mines and established an exemption for themselves.
The Government have argued that the British Army should have anti-personnel land mine capability, and that the mines are legitimate defence weapons if used in
Column 861accordance with the laws of war--clearly marked when laid, and removed afterwards. Incidentally, the Government have not ratified the 1977 additional protocol to the Geneva convention on the laws of war, and they should have, because it is linked to the inhumane weapons convention.
Most wars these days are not conducted according to those traditional laws of wars. Most conflicts are guerrilla wars or internal wars, such as in Bosnia, where anti-personnel mines are not used in any structured or controlled way. As I have said, they are used to destroy morale and instill terror among civilians. Indeed, it has been reported that some land mines have even been dropped from the air, which shows the indiscriminate nature of their use. British forces have a whole array of sophisticated weapons at hand if operating abroad--we certainly do not want to deploy land mines in this country under any circumstances. It is worth the British forces abandoning their use of this weapon to stop the terror worldwide.
The Government have been obstructive, as was the case at the recent Copenhagen world summit. I bring to the attention of the House a letter I received--presumably other hon. Members also received it--from the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Bishop of Brentwood, leaders of the Religious Society of Friends, the Salvation Army and other groups. It says:
"The draft document for the Social Summit in Copenhagen includes a paragraph (No. 71) from the Vatican seeking to address the problem of arms with indiscriminate effects, e.g. land mines and laser weapons. Britain has bracketed this paragraph which means we want it removed. Please use your influence to persuade the Government to support the Vatican paragraph, rather than to eliminate it." From what I hear about that Copenhagen summit, the Government had their way, and the Vatican's proposal was not taken on board. The Minister should explain why the Government took that position. The land mines protocol of the inhumane weapons convention is acknowledged to be weak. For example, it does not apply to internal conflicts. Instead of trying to strengthen it, the Government are trying to exploit it. They keep saying that mines can be used in accordance with the protocol, and that mines do not pose great dangers to civilian populations. That is poppycock. The Government are also blocking the call for a moratorium and a total export ban. By dragging their feet, the Government could deem worthless the review conference due to take place in September, in which land mines will be the major subject for debate. We should not wait until September in any case, we need action now, and strong action from Governments such as the British Government, to ensure a moratorium and a total export ban if we are to encourage other Governments and other countries to do the same.
There is a difference between the political parties on this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, has made it clear that the Labour party has called for the Government to fully support the UN motion on halting the export of anti- personnel mines, including the high-tech varieties with self-destruct mechanisms. Indeed, my hon. Friend assures me of the proposed ban of export of all anti-personnel land mines.
Column 862Oxfam has also made recommendations of which the House should be aware. Among them, it recommends at the very least that a ban on the export, transfer or sale of all anti-personnel mines, including those with self-destruct and self-neutralising mechanisms, should be agreed at the final review conference. The inhuman weapons convention should be made applicable to internal conflicts as well and it should be strengthened by an effective system of monitoring and enforcement. Oxfam says:
"The above recommendations are vital, but the only adequate solution is a total ban on the production, sale and use of anti-personnel mines."
The Government should adopt such a policy and, if they do not, they risk being almost--I hesitate to say it--the Myra Hindley of the international community, if they allow such indiscriminate slaughter of innocent civilians around the world to continue. We do not want that.
Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon) rose --
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Davis): I apologise for that misunderstanding, Mr. Deputy Speaker. was not aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) wished to speak. We are rather short of time.
Mr. Howarth: I simply want to say that I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) for introducing this subject, and for his cogent and moving speech. I cannot conceive of any sufficient justification for this country continuing to permit the export of anti- personnel mines. I hope very much that, in fact, we shall have an enhanced programme to support the clear-up of these appalling devices. Apart from the humanitarian consideration, how much more in Britain's interest that surely would be than to continue to allow Britain's contribution to the world, even in principle, to be one which allows such destructiveness and suffering to continue.
I too congratulate the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) on obtaining this debate, and raising this subject. I certainly welcome the opportunity to reply.
The effect of land mines on civilians has rightly become a humanitarian issue of considerable public concern. The Government fully understand the concerns of the hon. Member for Leyton, although I hope that he will forgive me if I do not quite agree with his hyperbole from point to point about the Government's policy.
Column 863As the hon. Gentleman said, the irresponsible use of land mines in recent conflicts, particularly in Africa and Asia, has had terrible consequences for civilians. Those consequences have endured long after the hostilities have ended. Scenes from those countries of awful damage to innocent civilians, often children, have understandably aroused strong emotions. The Government share the widespread abhorrence of those scenes. We share the views expressed by many charities and humanitarian agencies. Indeed, I believe that we share the views of the hon. Member for Leyton that the international community needs to act quickly.
The international community is acting. Contrary to what the hon. Member said, I am pleased to say that the United Kingdom is taking a lead in many areas. We have led the way in proposing and implementing practical and sensible measures which will command wide adherence, and which will therefore do the job for which they are
intended--reducing the danger to innocent civilians.
I should like to set out clearly what we have done so far, and what we propose to do in the coming months. In doing so, I hope to respond to the majority of the points raised by the hon. Member for Leyton. My first announcement as a Minister, on 27 July 1994, was an indefinite moratorium on the export of all anti-personnel land mines, other than those equipped with a self-destructing or
self-neutralising mechanism. That moratorium covers all countries. We are often asked--the hon. Member for Leyton raised this point--why it is necessary to confine the moratorium to non-self-destructing mines. The answer is that that, in our view, is the best way to achieve our principal objective, which is to protect civilians. It is not combatants in the heat of battle but civilians who have suffered most from the improper or immoral use of land mines.
The hon. Member for Leyton had a vivid phrase for such weapons. He said that they were weapons which act in slow motion. Civilians are killed or injured when they return home and when they leave their homes to go about their daily business--not just in the days and weeks following a war, but sometimes for years afterwards. It is the mines that were laid earlier but which are still active which lead to most of the terrible pictures that we have all seen, not the use of land mines in the conflict itself.
All land mines can cause injuries to civilians as well as soldiers. However, a smart land mine which self-destructs or is neutralised after a period is then no longer a danger to civilians.
The hon. Member for Leyton raised two issues, with which I want to deal very quickly, in respect of technical standards and research.