HC Deb 05 February 1986 vol 91 cc276-7
10. Mr. David Atkinson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about his forthcoming visit to Nepal.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I shall be accompanying Her Majesty the Queen as Minister in Attendance during Her Majesty's state visit from the 17 to 21 of this month.

Mr. Atkinson

Has my right hon. and learned Friend had the opportunity to study a report that I sent to him of a fact-finding visit to Nepal last month, which included myself and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton)? Does he accept that we found clear evidence of persecutions of Christians in many districts of Nepal? When he meets his counterpart in Nepal, will he suggest that such violations are incompatible with his country's support for the United Nations declarations on human rights?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have seen the reports of my hon. Friend's visit and his report on the outcome of that visit. I was glad to see that the joint delegation of himself and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) received full and open co-operation from the Nepalese Government. The available evidence suggests that constitutional provisions in Nepal allowing a person to practise and profess his religion are generally respected. However, in appropriate circumstances, we have no hesitation in making known our views on human rights.

Mr. Deakins

Will the Foreign Secretary take advantage of his trip to raise with the Nepalese Government the issue of deforestation in that country, as in other Himalayan regions? That deforestation is increasing the flow in the major rivers of northern India, and thereby reducing food supplies and availability of land for human habitation in both West Bengal in India, and in Bangladesh. Can the Foreign Secretary get something going to reverse that process?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand the importance of the hon. Gentleman's point in general terms, although I am not familiar with the detailed implications for that part of the subcontinent. Some of our aid is already directed towards that objective, and I shall study that matter further in the light of the hon. Gentleman's observations.

Mr. Alton

Given what the Foreign Secretary said in reply to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson), is he unaware of the fact that last year over 80 people were arrested for preaching Christianity and that some of them were sent to prison for six years as a result? This is in direct violation of article 18 of the human rights convention, which specifically and expressly allows people to practise their religion in the way that they would wish. How many more violations of human rights and acts of brutality have to occur before Her Majesty's Government make representations to the Government of the kingdom of Nepal?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We must approach these matters with a little more temperance than the hon. Gentleman has done. We must remember that Nepal is an independent nation, with a sovereign right over its constitution. The constitutional provisions are aimed at preventing conversions from Hinduism by inducement or intimidation. We are in regular contact with Nepalese Christian leaders, who have not asked us to intercede. I understand that the Nepalese Foreign Minister is himself a Christian and has undertaken to investigate specific cases that are brought to his attention.