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House of Lords

Friday, 24th July 1998.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.

Royal Assent

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

School Standards and Framework Act, Police (Northern Ireland) Act.

Business of the House

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard) rose to move, That Standing Order 38 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Wednesday 29th July to give, so far as is necessary, Her Majesty's Government power to arrange the order of business.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this Motion is to enable the Motion standing in the name of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, which is concerned with the civil procedure rules, to be taken as the last business on Wednesday of next week. This follows an agreement through the usual channels that that would be the appropriate order for the business that day. I am advised that the Motion which I am presently moving is the appropriate way to achieve this arrangement of the business. I beg to move.

Moved, That Standing Order 38 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Wednesday 29th July to give, so far as is necessary, Her Majesty's Government power to arrange the order of business. --(Lord Richard.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Pensions (Amendment) Bill [H.L.]

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.--(Lord Morris of Manchester.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Private Hire Vehicles (London) Bill

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.--(Baroness Gardner of Parkes.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Landmines Bill

11.8 a.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Mines and components to which Act applies]:

Lord Burnham moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 10, at end insert--
("and which is activated either by a tripwire or other non-command device or by a pressure of between 10kg and 100kg").

The noble Lord said: At Second Reading last week we gave the Government an assurance that we are entirely in support of the Bill. Wherever it becomes appropriate I personally will demonstrate my support for the Government's stand, although I cannot of course speak for my noble friends. However, I am a little concerned that nowhere in the Bill is there an explanation of what an anti-personnel mine is. Article 2 of the convention attempts to do this, although not particularly well.

There are a number of types of anti-personnel mine. The Americans have six varieties of scatterable mines. Under my amendment, it is possible to join them all in one fairly close-knit body and describe what such a mine is. We are clear that the convention does not cover anti-tank mines and it does not cover anti-tank mines with anti-handling devices. It does not cover command mines; that is, mines which can be detonated by command by a person or machine, however distant that person or machine may be. We are talking about mines which are detonated either by trip-wire or by pressure. The figure of between 10kg and 100kg which I give in my amendment has been quoted to me as the operative figure by the Mines Advisory Group and can be considered definitive.

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The Bill as it stands is full of good intentions but in a number of places it is less than specific. I believe that it should be more specific, particularly in the definitions. I suggest that my wording will stand up. I beg to move.

Lord Bramall: As someone who does know a little about landmines and their use, perhaps I may say that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, seems entirely sensible because it makes a clear distinction between the indiscriminate anti-personnel mine and the command device and the anti-tank mine. In support of it, and with your Lordships' indulgence, perhaps I may say a few general words in support of the Bill at this stage because, sadly, I have to go away for an unavoidable appointment before the Committee finishes discussing the matter.

A number of noble Lords, and even more honourable Members in another place, have supported this Bill to ratify the international banning of landmines, largely from the point of view of honouring the memory of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and out of respect for her. That is all very touching. But, of course, there are many other reasons why the manufacture, sale and use of anti-personnel mines should be made illegal internationally other than our respect for the interest and compassion that the late Princess of Wales showed towards this subject.

In World War Two, as an armoured infantryman responsible for, among other things, maintaining our own armour's mobility and freedom of action, I had quite a lot to do with mines of all varieties, trying to detect them and to dispose of them. That experience continued to some extent throughout my service including in jungle operations in South-East Asia where mines again were very prevalent. Indeed, I might almost have to declare an interest because on one occasion in World War Two I actually stepped on an anti-personnel mine of the sort that normally blows your foot off which, luckily for me, failed to function, although two men either side of me lost their feet on similar mines.

I say all this not to bore Members of the Committee with tedious war stories but to say that from my actual experience I have come increasingly to believe that any military value of anti-personnel mines is far outweighed by the appalling legacy of pain, suffering and death which they so often leave behind, usually to the most innocent and vulnerable, when the battle has moved on.

Personally, I cannot remember a single occasion when I had call to, wanted to, was ordered to or ordered others to lay victim-activated--that is non-command devices--anti-personnel mines haphazardly in front of or to the flank of our own positions. If these mines were ever laid, it would have been around anti-tank mines in properly marked and recorded minefields, which could easily be detected and cleared afterwards; or they would not have been victim-activated mines--that is, they would have been command devices, only exploded by remote control in perhaps an ambush situation when a

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definite military target had been positively identified. At other times they would be completely inert and therefore no danger to an innocent civilian stumbling across them. Sadly, the same could not always be said of others, and increasingly these weapons have become terror weapons.

But the real point of all this is that no great tactical advantage is to be gained from laying anti-personnel mines. Of course, they can kill and maim the odd individual combatant, but motorised or mechanised troops can drive over them; assault lanes can easily be cleared through them and determined foot soldiers have come to take them in their stride and not be stopped by them, constituting as they do far less a threat than defensive artillery fire or accurate small arms fire. Battles are certainly not won or lost by their deployment or lack of it and, therefore, there is no overriding reason to keep them in our military arsenal. With 80 million to 110 million mines lying undetected in 61 countries, despite the helpful international programme of restricting their manufacture and sale which has done much to prevent the problem getting still worse, the sooner nations can find an effective way of banning anti-personnel mines and getting rid of them for good, the better.

However, anti-tank mines and properly controlled command devices are entirely different from anti-personnel mines. They are a different matter altogether. They are neither aggressive nor terror weapons They are purely defensive weapons around which the whole framework of a defensive battle can be built and invariably is built. They can be easily categorised and the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, has helped to clarify this. Therefore, such mines help to deter an aggressor from attacking or if he does, to canalise his movements so that our own defensive weapons can be more easily brought to bear on him.

To give up anti-tank mines would remove an important weapon in the business of deterring aggression and protecting the weak from the stronger and therefore would be a retrograde step. But as the Minister has made clear, these weapons are outside the scope of the Bill, which is why I so fully support it. I hope that Members of the Committee are quite clear about that distinction. I believe that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, has helped to clarify that .

11.15 a.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy: I also do not want to delay or upset the Bill. I made my main comments on it at Second Reading. I believe that this amendment gives the Committee an opportunity to consider important points in the Bill; in this case the particular distinction between anti-personnel mines and other forms of landmine.

I referred at Second Reading to the speech by the right honourable gentleman, Mr. Robin Cook, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he introduced the Bill into the other place. In that speech he never mentioned the words

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"anti-personnel". The press and others therefore gave the impression that all landmines were going to be banned. For example,

    "We said that stocks of landmines held by the British military would be destroyed and that we would do everything that we could to work for a wider ban. We have kept those promises: we have destroyed half the stockpile of the 1 million landmines that we inherited from the previous Government. By the end of this year we shall have destroyed three-quarters of that stockpile".--[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/98; col. 1347.]

Following what the noble and gallant Lord has just said, I hope that in replying to this amendment the Minister can assure us that that does not include anti-tank mines although Mr. Cook never mentioned the word "anti-personnel" in the whole of that speech in which he used the word "landmines" about 20 times. We must avoid any kind of muddle between anti-personnel and other forms of mine which, as far as I know, and particularly with regard to anti-tank mines, we shall continue to hold.

I realise that the Foreign Secretary is under considerable stress, has been over-worked and was no doubt concentrating at that time on more weighty matters. Comment has been made on that on the front page of The Times only today. I have sympathy with the right honourable gentleman, but I believe that he should have delegated the introduction of this Bill in the Commons to another Minister on that occasion. We would then have had a much clearer explanation. Of course, the Foreign Secretary cannot delegate the signing of warrants because that can be done only by the Secretary of State. Nevertheless, he could have asked another of his Ministers to introduce this Bill into another place.

It is important to know whether the Bill relates simply to anti-personnel mines, which we are already destroying, or whether our Army is being deprived of other mines, particularly anti-tank mines. The Ottawa Convention applies only to anti-personnel mines. I recognise that that may have been an extraordinary aberration, but one of the most important and difficult tasks at Ottawa and in drafting this Bill was to make a clear distinction between anti-personnel mines and the other mines which are not covered either by the convention or this Bill.

We should not deprive our own troops of any kind of mine which enemy countries might still be using. I believe that that goes for all mines. We hope that, following the Ottawa Convention, there will be signatories and ratifications and that most countries of the world (including those which might be enemies) will have got rid, or have undertaken to get rid, of their anti-personnel mines. However, other kinds of landmine are not affected. We must assume--I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm this--that the United Kingdom will keep anti-tank mines because they are needed, as the noble and gallant Lord has just told us, for important defensive purposes.

When British troops have laid mines of any kind, they have always been recorded and lifted at the first opportunity in warfare. We must remember that. As I said at Second Reading, as far as we know, none of the mines that has been lifted in Angola, Afghanistan or

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the other places where tribal wars have occurred, has been manufactured in Britain. We must keep that point at the forefront of our minds otherwise the press and the media will have the impression that we have been manufacturing and exporting the anti-personnel mines which have caused so much misery and so many distressing wounds to young people and civilians.

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