HC Deb 16 January 1991 vol 183 cc843-4
9. Mr. Simon Hughes

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment his Department has made of the prospects for democratic government in Bangladesh; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd)

The interim Government's main commitment is to hold free, fair and impartial parliamentary elections which have been set for 27 February. We hope that all concerned will co-operate towards realising that objective.

Mr. Hughes

May we hear from the Government a welcome to the end of the military dictatorship of ex-President Ershad? Particularly because Bangladesh receives so much money from this country and our links are so strong—I welcome the presence of the Minister for Overseas Development on the Front Bench—may we have a clear statement of our unequivocal view which is that there must be democracy in the other countries of the world, such as Bangladesh, and that we will not countenance giving support or assistance to those who seek to reinstate military rule, now or in the future, in what was once a democratic country?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am happy to say that the prospects for democracy in Bangladesh are now much brighter. The interim Government of Mr. Justice Shahabuddin, in lifting the state of emergency and press censorship, are seeking to allow all parties acccss to the news media. They will be welcoming outside observers and restructuring the election commission. We are happy to welcome those developments.

Sir George Gardiner

Further to my hon. Friend's reply, will he undertake that, when he and his colleagues give future consideration to applications for development aid from Bangladesh, proper account will be taken of the view enunciated by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to the Overseas Development Institute last June—that in deciding these matters, full account will be taken of whether the applicant country has proper, democratic institutions and, indeed, a pluralistic society?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am happy to say to my hon. Friend that opportunities have recently been taken by the high commissioner in Bangladesh to stress that very point. He made a speech in the presence of former President Ershad, stressing the importance that aid donors attach to the maintenance of good government. A Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation of British Members of Parliament recently made the same point to the former President.

Mr. Madden

Will the Minister confirm whether the acting President of Bangladesh has made a formal request to the British Government, to the Commonwealth Secretariat and to other countries to provide representatives to monitor the elections due to be held in Bangladesh at the end of next month? If such a request has been made, will the Minister give an assurance that it will be treated with urgency and receive a positive response from this country and, I hope, the rest of the international community?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have said that they will welcome independent observers and I understand that an approach has now been made to the Commonwealth Secretariat to provide monitors.

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