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House of Lords

Thursday, 18th May 1995.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Mine Clearance

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In which countries the Overseas Development Administration is helping to finance mine clearance and mine-awareness projects.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, we concentrate our funding on the worst affected countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, northern Iraq and Mozambique. We have also provided such assistance to north-west Somalia, Rwanda and Yemen.

Lord Judd: My Lords, is the Minister aware that what she has been doing so far to deal with this appalling situation is welcomed widely by the humanitarian agencies and those working with them, as I myself welcome it? Does she agree that the facts are grim: some 2,000 anti-personnel mine injuries worldwide, not least to children, each month; up to 1,500 consequent amputations each month; and long-term damage to agricultural production as large areas of land become impossible to farm? In the light of all that, will the Minister tell the House what new measures the Government will be proposing at the UN Inhumane Weapons Convention in September to bring an end to that sinister slaughter of the innocents and all the economic damage involved?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for his welcome for what we have been able to do so far. In the past four years we have spent some £15 million on mine clearance and making people aware of the existence of mines which can be anywhere where there has been armed conflict. There is always the danger of old hidden mines. Unfortunately other countries are unlike ourselves in that, where we use mines, as we did in the Gulf War and the Falklands, we clear them all up afterwards. In response to the noble Lord's other question, the figures are grim. They are very grim indeed. I am working to ensure that we take action. He asked me about new measures for the conference in September. We are now discussing what further action we can take, and I shall be in touch with him about that.

Viscount Slim: My Lords, first, perhaps I may thank the Minister for a visit she made on VE Day in Hyde Park to the Halo mine clearance organisation. It was received with interest, and her support is greatly appreciated. What steps do the Government take to ensure the future well-being of those very brave British volunteers who undertake the whole area of removing mines and making them safe in uncharted minefields? She met one of them who has no arm and no leg. What does her department do to insure for the future lives of those who are wounded or

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disabled? Can she give some assurance that their lives are insured or partially insured by Her Majesty's Government?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, perhaps I may thank the noble Viscount for what he said and for mentioning the Halo Trust. I pay tribute to it and all the other organisations which are so active with us in trying to clear mines. The noble Viscount asked me about the protection of those who go out to train others in mine clearance. Obviously serving officers in the British Forces who do some of that work are covered. It is up to the NGOs to provide the insurance for others. That is part of the whole matter at which we are looking. This work is incredibly badly needed when one thinks that there are some 80 million to 110 million land mines scattered through 62 countries. We must get on with this job, and I shall be doing all that I can to assist the process.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House that these land mines are no longer manufactured in or exported from this country?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the UK has neither produced nor exported anti-personnel land mines for several years. The agreement on 15th March extended the national export moratorium. There is now a total ban on the UK export of non-self-destructing and non-detectable anti-personnel land mines, and a ban on the export of all anti-personnel land mines to countries which have not ratified the 1981 UN Weaponry Convention. In some cases it is of course necessary to use land mines, but that will be rare. One example which I believe noble Lords will understand is a land border such as that between Finland and Russia, which for many years could not be policed except by the responsible use of land mines; Finland knowing where the land mines had been put. That is what we must aim for if there are any circumstances in which they have to be used.

Lord Morris: My Lords, is my noble friend in a position to report on the progress of the clearance of mines in the charted areas in the Falkland Islands?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, it is my understanding that any mines that might have been laid by Her Majesty's Forces have been cleared away. There was a problem with mines which we believed to have been laid by others in the Falkland Islands. We hope that those have all been cleared away. Action was taken by the MoD to try to ensure that.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, may I put to the Minister that there is one simple—

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am asking a question. Does the Minister accept that there is one simple policy which we should urge upon all countries, and that is that there should be a complete ban on the manufacture, sale and export of anti-personnel land mines, and that anything short of that will result in the continuing deaths and maiming of innocent people the world over?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, it is a noble aspiration that there could be one simple policy. I am afraid that the world is not as noble as the noble Lord,

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Lord Dubs. We have a huge task to undertake to get rid of land mines. We are trying not to make it worse for the future by controlling, as I explained in answer to an earlier question, their production and export. As I said, the UK has neither produced nor exported anti-personnel land mines for several years. We cannot make, but we can encourage and are encouraging, other countries to do likewise.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, can the Minister give the House any information on the progress towards ratification of the two additional protocols of the Geneva Convention?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I cannot at present, but it is hoped that a way will be found to ensure that those protocols can be ratified.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, is the Minister aware that members of the Royal British Legion are most concerned about the situation because many ex-sappers who have undertaken such work have lost their lives? It is a most dangerous job and if there are any issues in relation to this matter about which the Minister would like to talk to those in the British Legion they will be only too pleased.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am very glad to hear that.

Channel 5

3.10 p.m.

Lord Orr-Ewing asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What criteria they will apply in granting the licence for Channel 5.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Viscount Astor): My Lords, the award of a Channel 5 licence is a matter for the Independent Television Commission. In considering applications, the ITC will take into account, among other things, the cash bid; programme quality and diversity; the sustainability of the service over the 10-year period of the licence; plans for retuning video and other equipment; and the restrictions on who may hold the licence contained in the Broadcasting Act 1990.

Lord Orr-Ewing: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that all noble Lords must sympathise with the ITC because it has been landed with a most difficult problem? The bids that have been received are reported as being £36 million, £22 million, £22 million, and £2 million from BSkyB. Is my noble friend also aware that we hope that the amount of the bid will not be the most dominant and overall factor in the decision? We must take a long-term view and it is difficult for anyone accurately to forecast who will provide more entertainment for those people who watch television.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, my noble friend made an important point. The ITC will have much to consider before reaching a decision. Bids will first need to pass the

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ITC's quality threshold. Thereafter, the ITC will consider the details of the bidders' business plans, the cash bid and other programme commitments.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the wide range of the bids described by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, indicates that the present system is ludicrous and farcical? However, two of the bids were almost identical; they were within £2,000. Is that not clear evidence that when the Government introduce legislation relating to the future of the BBC they should introduce a proper broadcasting Bill which will reform and bring into proper order the financial arrangements for awarding television contracts?

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