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Friday, July 10, 1998 Published at 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK

UK Politics

Landmines Bill whips through Commons

Cook: the Bill is the best way to pay tribute to Diana

The Bill ratifying the Ottawa Convention which bans the use of landmines has sped through the House of Commons during a special session and received its Third Reading, without a vote, in just one day.

Robin Cook details the tragedy caused by landmines
The Bill received strong cross-party support and was described by the Foreign Secretary Robin Cook as the best way the House could "record their appreciation" of the work done by Diana, Princess of Wales, to raise public awareness of the terrific harm caused by landmines.

[ image: The Bill should become law before the first anniversary of Diana's death]
The Bill should become law before the first anniversary of Diana's death
But both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats expressed strong reservations about Clause Five of the Bill which they claimed would undermine the convention.

Introducing the Bill to the House, the Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said that in the time it took the House to pass the Bill five people, somewhere in the world, would become casualties of landmines, two of whom would die.

Jon Sopel reports on how far there is to go to rid the world of landmines
"One of them may well be a child who will never run again because of a moment of tragedy."


Mr Cook then referred to Conservative claims that the legislation contained a loophole that could allow British troops to lay landmines when working with other nations who have not signed the treaty.

[ image: Howard: the Bill contains a loophole]
Howard: the Bill contains a loophole
He told his Conservative shadow, Michael Howard, that the Bill: "prohibits British servicemen or any other British citizen from using, developing, producing, possessing or exporting a landmine.

"It also prevents them from assisting, encouraging or inducing anybody else from doing those things. Nor is this a token offence. A conviction brings with it a liability to a prison sentence for up to 14 years."

But Mr Howard said that when working with other nations, such as the USA, which have not signed the treaty British troops "are given full licence by this legislation to breach the Ottawa Convention".

Bill 'protects British troops'

Mr Cook disagreed saying that Clause Two of the Bill "faithfully and fully" puts into UK legislation the Ottawa Convention.

He continued saying that Clause Five, "is there purely prudentially to protect British troops from being criminalised by the actions of American troops who may be taking part in a specific operation."

The Bill will now continue its progress in the House of Lords.

The Treaty

The Ottawa Treaty was signed by 121 nations last December at the end of negotiations instigated by the Canadian government in October 1996.

[ image: Landmine clearance: the Bill would stop troops laying landmines says Cook]
Landmine clearance: the Bill would stop troops laying landmines says Cook
The treaty bans the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines and requires signatories to destroy their existing stocks within four years of its coming into force.

The treaty will come into force when it has been ratified by 40 states. At present, 126 countries have signed the convention; 20 have so far ratified it.

Main military powers still to sign

However, the main military powers - the US, Russia and China - and most Middle Eastern countries have so far not signed the treaty.

Russia has said that it will, but has not yet set a date for its signing. As a gesture of good will, President Yeltsin issued a decree extending a moratorium on the export of non self-destructing landmines.

The US did not sign as President Clinton said he was not willing to risk the safety of US peace-keeping troops in Korea by withdrawing the use of landmines in the region.

China, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Israel and North and South Korea have refused to sign.

As China is the world's largest manufacturer of landmines, some commentators question how effective the treaty will be without their signature and that of the US.

Britain has not manufactured or exported landmines since the 1980s.

British forces last used mines in the Falklands War in 1982 and in the Gulf War in 1991

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