Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Craig of Radley: I rise to speak briefly in support of the amendment. I am very conscious of the point which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has made about drawing a distinction between anti-personnel and anti-tank mines.

My only concern about the Bill is the way in which we are including details, such as references to "between 10 kg and 100 kg". I can understand the reasons for that. We are trying to write a Bill which is applicable not only to current weapons, but which will also be applicable in the future to weapons which may be introduced by some countries which are not party to the convention. I urge the Committee to think carefully about detailed wording which may be too specific. I am reminded of the Data Protection Bill in which one was trying to write in legal language provisions which would relate not only to the technology of the moment. Technology changes. Indeed, the technology of anti-personnel mines could change.

Having said that, I believe that it is right to include this provision in order to make that distinction between anti-personnel and anti-tank mines.

Lord Redesdale: I support the amendment. I believe that the Ottawa Convention is quite clear about what is an anti-personnel mine and what is an anti-tank mine. Perhaps I may raise a question, which has been brought about by my reading of the Second Reading debate in Hansard. The Minister said that the M181A Claymore fell outside the definition of an anti-personnel mine when it was not in victim-initiation mode but in command-detonation mode. In future, will such mines be designed so that they cannot be changed to victim-initiation mode? That would remove the temptation in certain situations for tampering with such mines. Is that feasible or would it be impossible?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I am afraid that the Government have some problems with this amendment. Perhaps I may first reiterate what I said to your Lordships at Second Reading. The Bill is designed to cover anti-personnel landmines. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, made the pertinent and robust points that he has just made to your Lordships at Second Reading, but perhaps I may remind the Committee that Clause 1 makes it clear that an anti-personnel landmine is a landmine which is designed to be detonated by the presence, proximity, or contact of an individual and which is capable of incapacitating, injuring or killing an individual.

It is important to recall the wise words of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, a moment or two ago, who was worried that the attempt of the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, to redefine what is covered by the Bill may be too narrow. The definitions in the Bill are

24 Jul 1998 : Column 1155

closely aligned with those of the Ottawa Convention. The Government see no reason to alter them substantively.

Concerns were expressed last week about minor differences of language between the convention and this legislation. I explained then that they were designed to bring about greater clarity over, for example, the question of components. However, this amendment goes far beyond that. Including such technical specifications in the definition would, we believe, narrow the scope of anti-personnel mines covered by the legislation. I refer again to the definitions that I tried to give your Lordships last week at Second Reading (cols. 538 and 539). I am sure that noble Lords will be able to refresh their memories.

However, perhaps I may advise the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that I believe that the point that he raised will be covered by the Army's disciplinary code. If I am wrong on that point, I shall write to the noble Lord, but I believe that he was encroaching onto the question of rules of engagement--

Lord Redesdale: My question was would it be feasible to change the M181A Claymore from one mode to the other. If that was feasible, would it not encroach on the Ottawa Convention?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: As I understand it, that weapon comes in two modes. I do not know whether it is technically possible to change from one mode to the other, but perhaps I may write to the noble Lord about that. The noble Lord's fundamental point was whether that could be done for mischievous reasons. My point is that that will be covered by the Army's rules of engagement. Such mischievous intention would be covered. I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, on the technical point that he has raised.

The Government believe that this amendment undermines the convention's coverage of anti-personnel landmines. We believe that to try to define the matter by technical terms rather than purpose as in the Bill now before the Committee is potentially dangerous. One cannot anticipate what technological developments in anti-personnel landmines will take place. Would the noble Lord's technical definition still be valid in five or ten years' time? The Government cannot say; nor, I suggest, can the noble Lord. The Government are legislating to stop the effects of landmines at the moment. Therefore, the definition of anti-personnel landmines in the Bill brings us absolutely alongside the Ottawa Convention. I hope that on reflection the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.

11.30 a.m.

Lord Burnham: In response to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, I understand that the Claymore is an American mine which at present can be used in command mode or in free fall. Since the United States will not be signing the convention until 2006 one

24 Jul 1998 : Column 1156

assumes that that mine is manufactured in either form. I am sure that the noble Minister will confirm that in due course.

I am honoured by the support of not one but two noble and gallant Lords. I am sorry that the Minister cannot accept the amendment. It is possible that I am guilty of the charge of being too specific, although this amendment is based on my best advice. Nevertheless, I am not happy with the definition given in Article 2 of the convention. I had hoped that this Bill could be more specific for the present day. The noble Baroness looks a long way into the future, possibly to a time when anti-personnel landmines will not be a valid weapon in any case and there will be alternatives. However, I am sorry that the Government cannot accept the amendment. In the circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Prohibited conduct]:

Lord Redesdale moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 2, line 15, at end insert--
("( ) Nothing in those sections shall be taken to permit active assistance to the armed forces of states not party to the Ottawa Convention engaged in any activity prohibited under that Convention.").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to determine what the Government seek to achieve by the insertion of Clause 5. The amendment seeks to clarify the position so that no British soldier will ever actively assist in the laying of any form of anti-personnel landmines. No doubt the Minister will respond that that is the whole intention of the Bill. I entirely understand the reasoning behind the insertion of Clause 5. It is not my intention to do anything that puts British soldiers at risk of legal action for carrying out their duty. I believe however that Clause 5 introduces a slight dichotomy into the spirit of the Ottawa Convention. It is based on the very real assumption that the clause will be checked by the rules of engagement. Having studied the response of the Minister, I agree that I was perhaps wrong to suggest that the rules of engagement should be published. On the one hand, the Government introduce Clause 5 so that British soldiers have a defence if they inadvertently become involved in any action that is against the spirit of the convention. On the other hand, to say that a check on the use of Clause 5 will be written into the rules of engagement, which for very good reasons are not published, creates a slight problem.

The amendment seeks to put on the face of the Bill a firm statement. I hope that today the Minister will strengthen the position in her reply to this amendment. The amendment seeks to enforce the provision that no active assistance should be given. Further, we must look at what the Ottawa Convention seeks to achieve. Unless the convention encompasses the spirit of universality, which is stated in the preamble, it will fail in its intention. Many of the large producers of landmines and those who use them will carry on doing so until all countries sign the convention and anti-personnel landmines are finally counted as abhorrent weapons and banned in any conflict.

24 Jul 1998 : Column 1157

I believe that without this amendment we cannot take the moral lead in trying to persuade other countries to sign the Ottawa Convention because we have put in a safeguard which many will see as a reservation. I believe that some argue that this reservation may come within the scope of Article 19. I beg to move.

The Earl of Sandwich: I rise to support this amendment as one who has worked with aid organisations dealing with the effects of APMs, several of whom belong to the UK Working Group (on landmines). I am sure that the Government accept that that organisation has done excellent campaigning work.

I was unable to be present at Second Reading. I hope that I shall be allowed to utter a few brief sentences in support of the Bill. I need little convincing about its necessity. I have vivid memories of the lingering effects of landmines in the aftermath of Vietnam and, more recently, Mozambique. Only this week a friend who is a senior UNHCR officer in Islamabad told me with some degree of distress that he had had to cope with Afghan refugees, men, women and children, who were not only casualties of landmines but whose refugee camp was itself in a minefield--a so-called safe haven outside Jalalabad.

We all know that this Bill must be passed quickly but that this is not the end of the business. The Secretary of State for Defence and other Ministers admit to its limitations and to the continuing need for a global campaign to persuade other countries to sign and ratify the convention, especially the larger powers who have littered the poorer societies in the world with lethal weapons. I do not believe that we are sending the right signal to those other countries if we retain Clauses 2 and 5 as they stand because they clearly water down the convention. Equally, we do not want to wreck the Bill.

The Secretary of State for Defence said in another place that for some states who are not signatories,

    "the quoted reasons are primarily connected with national security and the need to develop alternative capabilities".--[Official Report, Commons; 10/7/98; col. 1407.]

How about us? With these reservations how can we possibly place ourselves among the angels? Why can we not gracefully accept the Canadian declaration? Presumably, Canadian soldiers are just as liable or vulnerable on NATO exercises as our own. We have heard from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, that there is no real tactical advantage in anti-personnel landmines. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, said last week in response to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, (who is to speak later) that,

    "the Canadian declaration, simply would not give British troops the unequivocal protection they need".--[Official Report, 17/7/98; col. 541.]

She referred rather enigmatically to

    "the potential liability for a conspiracy or aiding and abetting".

This has been mainly a one-sided humanitarian debate. Very few noble and gallant Lords have spoken until today. They have been of the humanitarian variety in the case of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. That may well be because the Government's learned lawyers, to whom the noble Baroness mysteriously

24 Jul 1998 : Column 1158

referred last week, received a comforting MoD briefing. But their arguments have not been brought into the discussion. May we please be told why? We want the UK to stand at the forefront of the international campaign. We are still a leading military power and arms exporter. The Scott Report is not long behind us. We can afford, politically and militarily, to stand up to the non-signatories and show the sort of moral fibre, not just over landmines but with other weapons as well, which I believe the victims of those appalling, freelance, proxy wars in the third world deserve and expect of us.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page