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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: In considering this amendment to Clause 2, we have inevitably and quite properly spoken largely about Clause 5. My noble friend will be dealing with the more specific points when he answers on Clause 5.
We in this House and in another place have widely recognised that providing a defence in the legislation for British service personnel is the right thing to do. That is why we have Clause 5. In the light of the increasingly global role for UK forces, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, referred, and as was foreseen in the Strategic Defence Review, we consider the protection afforded to our troops in Clause 5 an essential part of our domestic legislation. It is widely cast because of the potential difficulty in determining exactly what is meant by assistance. The amendment can only exacerbate the problem. The phrase "active assistance" is not clear enough. It is important that we understand that one of the reasons for Clause 5 is that we envisage taking part in the planning of, and in, operations alongside countries whose forces will not be bound by the convention. That is the point. The alternative would be for Britain not to engage in those operations and exercises. I do not believe that anyone has suggested that that would be the right alternative.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: Will the Minister kindly give way? Perhaps I may press her on the issue. Of course we understand that British troops and their commanders must be engaged in the planning of joint operations. The issue is whether they should be engaged in the specific planning of the laying of new minefields. If the answer to that is yes, then many of us would be disturbed about compatibility with the signature of the convention.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: It is not the planning specifically of laying new minefields. But I make the point to the noble Baroness that we shall be alongside those who may be so doing. I recognise the noble Baroness's point. I shall come back in a moment to the rules of engagement and military discipline. I hope to be able to help the noble Baroness further.
I must return to the example I gave at Second Reading last week. British forces may well be operating alongside American troops, Saudi Arabian troops in the Gulf, or the forces of any state not bound by the Ottawa convention. Those troops may be laying mines to defend themselves. Were they to come under enemy fire, I believe that no one suggests that our troops would do anything other than try to engage them. Would that be "active assistance" in laying mines under the definition that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, wants us to encompass? Action would have been taken, but it would be action to protect the lives of their colleagues, not to help in laying anti-personnel landmines.
I am sure that, like the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, we can agree that we wish all countries to sign up to the convention. Some have not done so and until they do we shall have to ensure that our soldiers are not vulnerable to 14 years in prison merely for carrying out their duty. We cannot ask our service personnel to risk their liberty while they are also risking their lives for their country.
I repeat: there can be no question of British troops being allowed to be in breach of the convention. I draw the Committee's attention to the fact that it is not just the legislation that brings this about. Standing orders and rules of engagement will ensure that British forces do not do anything that would contravene the Ottawa convention. That is entirely consistent with Article 9 of the convention. I remind the Committee that that article calls on signatories to take all appropriate measures, not only legal but administrative and in other respects, to prevent any activity prohibited under the convention. We are not just talking about the rules of engagement here; we are also talking about military discipline. The military discipline will have to take full account of the convention. As I understand it, the rules of military discipline will confer the operational rules of engagement, military directives, training--a point which your Lordships raised and which was raised most pertinently today by the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker--and operating procedures.
We need to ensure that the provisions of the convention will be enforced in practice; it is not just the rules of engagement but it is also the directives, the training and the standard operating procedures. When, as I hope, we have ensured the passage of the Bill today those aspects will be engaged upon. It is not just the legislation; it is the other matters too.
Lord Redesdale: On a point of clarification, can the Minister say whether the standard operating procedures will be published, because the rules of engagement are not? That would indicate that this is the Government's aim.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I believe that what I said last week about the rules of engagement would apply also to the standard operating procedures. I believe that we should not publish material which would in any way give away the position of our Armed Forces. I can tell the noble Lord that I shall inquire of my noble friend and colleagues in the Ministry of
Viscount Slim: I am sorry to interrupt, but I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, is being a little naive. I am beginning to wonder whether, come an engagement, he really wants us to win. We want to win a battle, a war, and having material published and interfering with military procedure is not being very patriotic.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I did not take the noble Lord's intervention in quite that spirit. I believed that he was seeking some assurances. I have told him that if I can in any way give him assurances without jeopardising the safety of our troops in the field I shall do so. I hope that in making my response I took the spirit of what he said correctly.
I turn to the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. He made some pertinent points which were also raised on Second Reading. Canada made a declaration stating that Canadian forces taking part in operations alongside forces of states not party to the convention would not be considered to be legally in jeopardy. That is entirely in accordance with our position. A declaration by itself does not offer legal protection. The Canadian legislation implementing the Ottawa Convention addresses the issue by referring to active assistance. But as I have just explained, the UK Government believe that this is not sufficiently clear. In our legislation, we are determined to give proper protection to Her Majesty's forces. There are of course different approaches to these issues and they reflect our different legal and parliamentary systems. In the light of the increasingly global role of UK forces, referred to in the Strategic Defence Review, we consider that the protection afforded to our troops under Clause 5 is essential in our domestic legislation.
I turn to the specific points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. British forces will not plan specifically for the laying of anti-personnel landmines and will not lay such mines. I give the noble Baroness that assurance, but I do so in the context of what I said earlier about the fact that we will possibly be engaged in operations and certainly in military exercises by those not so bound.
In relation to the third point she raised, we will train only in counter-mining activities. We covered that point on Second Reading last week. We need to continue to train our forces in anti-personnel landmine techniques. However, the purpose of doing so will not be in order
I hope that I have been able to give your Lordships further information on these issues. I believe that the points I have made largely cover the questions that have been raised. I hope also that the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, considers that the points on training have been covered. She shakes her head. I will look again at what she said. She was kind enough to say that she would accept a letter from me, so I shall read the debate to see the points which have not been covered and write to her accordingly. I hope that I have been able to give sufficient assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and he will now feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Redesdale: I thank the Minister for going slightly further than I believed she would in putting forward the Government's position. Her response reflects what will appear in the rules of engagement; rules which we will not be able to see.
I took slight offence at the suggestion that we on these Benches would in any way put the lives of British personnel at risk. I have served in the British Territorial Army for eight years and that would be the last intention. We hope, as the Minister's reply indicated, that the rules of engagement will reflect the Ottawa Convention. As we will not be able to see the rules of engagement, we are taking on trust the fact that they will encapsulate what the Minister has put forward. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.