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Baroness Williams of Crosby: The points raised by my noble friend Lord Redesdale and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, deserve a little more attention from this place before the Bill continues its passage. There are some serious considerations and some issues upon which we should like reassurance from the Government on the steps that they now intend to take, while I of course recognise the problems about publishing rules of engagement.
I shall start by repeating that we wholly share the Government's view that those who serve in the Armed Forces must be protected from any action that might be taken against them with respect to our subscription to the Ottawa convention. So we recognise the need for a clause similar to Clause 5. There are serious considerations about the interpretation of that clause and I want to give the Minister the opportunity to respond to and clarify the conflicts between what has been said in another place and in this place.
Our concern arises from the compatibility of the words of the Foreign Secretary and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, with the words used by the Minister for the Armed Forces in another place when he said:
We on this side of the Chamber understand the Government's reluctance to remove Clause 5 from the Bill for the reasons that they have eloquently explained: the need to protect British service men. Nonetheless, we want to ask them to reconsider the wording of the clause to bring it more closely into line with what Ministers, with the exception of the Minister for the Armed Forces, have said in both places.
I should like to ask three questions. First, the Minister has told us--we understand it--that the rules of engagement cannot be published. We want an assurance that those rules of engagement--we do not ask to see or to read them--will be so phrased as to rule out active engagement by British forces in a joint operation in the planning for or laying of landmines. I carefully used the words "planning for" as well as the "laying of landmines" because to try to draw a distinction between those two is the use of hypocrisy as an alternative to policy. It is not a right or proper thing to do. So the first assurance I should like is that the rules of engagement will reflect the issue raised by the Foreign Secretary and by the Minister in this place that we will not use or facilitate the use of landmines by other armed forces in joint operations.
Secondly, will the Minister assure us that representations will be made to other members of NATO which still use landmines to ensure that, as far as possible, they do not engage in the laying of landmines in activities which involve British troops jointly?
I understand that there is a difference between exercises and joint operations at a time of battle, but with regard to exercises will the Minister give us some assurance that British forces will not be involved in the planning of the use of landmines?
Finally, is there any discussion within NATO on the training of troops in the use of landmines and in particular the removal of landmines? Can we be assured that in training our troops and the troops of other NATO countries which are signatories to the convention there will be no training in the laying of landmines for our troops, save as a preventive and protective activity? We would be greatly encouraged if we could have some more observations, especially with regard to the rules of engagement with respect to Clause 5, because I believe--I say this with some sorrow--there has been ambivalence in what Ministers in both places have said.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, not for the first time, has quoted every one of the underlined passages of differences in interpretation that I had marked out between the debate in another place and here. I join with her in what she has said because there is a great deal still to be clarified--the point I made on Second Reading last week.
I would further underline the point made by the noble Baroness on training. I have had a little to do with some TA training, as have many Members of this place, and I know how necessary it is that those young soldiers understand the use of all types of weaponry and are prepared to avoid the terrible problems that occur in minefields. Some of that has been used in the training of troops of foreign nations overseas. So the point that the noble Baroness made about training in knowledge for prevention and protection only regarding landmines cannot stop at our own troops.
I should like the Minister and her colleagues in the MoD to consider that, even if she can give the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, the assurance that she sought, and which I join her in seeking, there needs also to be an undertaking that where we have trained in the use of landmines we need also to give those armies the protective training--I cannot think of a better way to phrase it at the moment--so that the troops of other nations who have been following faithfully British Army training rules for many years are updated as to the changes that will come about. That is a specific point, I know, but we are in Committee.
As I said on Second Reading, we shall have a major job of education to do if we are to prevent people from continuing to be maimed and killed by all those landmines lying idle and sleeping but ready to awaken and blow off limbs at any time. That training point needs to be considered.
If the noble Baroness cannot give me the assurances I seek today, I hope that she will delve further and write to me. I can assure her that I shall return to the point later if we cannot get some satisfaction. I know a little about what has gone on for some years in training. It would be wrong of us to protect our own troops but not protect troops whom our troops have trained in overseas countries where landmines abound.
Lord Craig of Radley: For the avoidance of doubt on the issue of British troops who may or may not be involved in training, what would be the position for someone on an exchange posting with an American or other armed force? A number of personnel have been, are still and will be, I am certain, in the future on exchange postings. If a senior British officer is in command of troops who are not required by their government to follow this convention, what is the position of that commander?
I do not raise these issues to be difficult. We need to be very precise as we talk about what will be judged to be criminal activities. No doubt the noble Baroness the Minister will need to investigate further unless she already has the answer at her fingertips.
Viscount Slim: I apologise for not being present at the start of the debate; I was unavoidably detained. I wish to ask the Minister about one aspect of the Bill which may put our forces in danger. I think that we are all mostly in favour of the Bill.
I am a little perturbed by the Bill. On the whole we have weak forces. I know that the Minister will disagree, but they are weak in numbers. There are occasions in battle where there is no armoured threat and therefore no need to lay armoured tank destroying mines. At night time isolated forces, or those involving allies, need protection. I ask this of the noble Baroness. She does not have to answer, but she may care to talk to the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert. In isolated incidents, the lives of specialist forces, by day and night, in ambush, and in various phases of their war deep in enemy territory, depend very much on the anti-personnel mines they carry. I believe that we are putting some of our forces, possibly in war or partial war, in great danger. We must consider the safety of our forces. It is a vital point that I make to the Committee today.
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