§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Wells.]2.30 pm
§ Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth)
I am privileged this afternoon to be able to move the Adjournment on United Kingdom policy in south Asia. My hon. Friend the Minister and I have worked together over many years in many different fields.
The world is becoming a smaller place day by day. We are told today that we are a global village. We are an interdependent world, where great commercial decisions are made in one part of the world and enacted in another, all in the twinkling of an eye through electronic signals, through satellites, and all the technological advances that we now see. Although the world is becoming smaller daily, and great shifts of capital and money flow across the globe, the world is also experiencing something entirely different.
Great nations and states that had a great number of people attached to them are disintegrating into smaller and smaller units. People in those great geopolitical and national bodies are beginning to find that they want separate identities, sometimes, and cultural roots with which they want to identify, and to create for themselves an identity of which they can be proud. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, new nation states have emerged. We have seen that in Yugoslavia and elsewhere in the world. We have a dichotomy: on the one hand, the world is becoming a smaller place, with great matters of the moment being decided in the twinkling of an eye, and at the same time we see the world becoming a more complicated place, where different groups are trying to seek their own identity.
South Asia faces the same challenges. We need to pause here and ask ourselves why that is happening. Part of the reason is that we pioneered economic liberalism across the world, and with that comes greater freedom. People want to make their own decisions. They do not want to be controlled from the centre. They want to make commercial, economic and social choices at a smaller level. Therefore, the great sweep of liberalism that has swept across the world—privatisation and so on—will inevitably lead to smaller and smaller units wanting to make their own commercial and other decisions.
I would not be surprised if by 2000 there are several hundred members of the United Nations, while curiously at the same time the great multinationals—the mega-multinationals—will be making decisions on behalf of the same people and something else happening thousands of miles away in the twinkling of an eye. The paradox of our age is that, as we liberalise, we are also fractionalising.
I say that as a preface to my comments because, unless we understand and recognise that, foreign policy-making will become more and more complicated. We have seen the problems that have emerged in Russia and Bosnia and we must understand that 19th century diplomacy and perhaps even 20th century diplomacy are not enough as those great pioneering, technological, social and information changes take place across the world.
472 We have pioneered technology, but are we pioneering our values about human rights violations and abuses, and about people being killed? I do not think so. It was in that context that I thought that I should take the opportunity to bring this subject to the Floor of the House.
In particular, I should like to talk about two countries. In one, I must declare an interest, as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have visited the place. I was born in Sri Lanka, which became independent in 1948. It has been a democracy since 1922. It has 20 million people, of whom about 5 million are Tamil. For a long period under British rule, they lived peacefully side by side. They made great strides and economic and other progress, but, for the past 12 years, Sri Lanka has been in a state of civil war.
Thirty thousand people have been killed. Presidents, Opposition leaders, Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament have been killed. I must commend and congratulate President Chandrika Kumaratunga for her recent initiative in trying to bring peace to that troubled island. We thought that finally the situation had come under control and that there would be peace in the island, which should be one of the greatest economic miracles in south Asia. Sadly, however, it is not to be.
On 19 April, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam unilaterally my broke the ceasefire and started a war again. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary have condemned the LTTE for what happened. Three hundred civilian and military people and 100 LTTE fighters have been killed. A whole village was massacred. Forty-two people died in Kavlawa.
What are we doing about it? Are we to sit here, supine and powerless, and watch what is going on and on? I wonder—I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you do not take this comment too cynically—whether we care when brown people kill other brown people, or whether we just say, "It is their internal problem; let them sort it out." For 12 years, the country in which I was born has undergone the most awful suffering. Last week in Pakistan, as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, 600 people were killed in Karachi. Do we care know about it? Do we know about it? Do we report it? Is it in our consciousness? Are our media concerned? I have people of Pakistani, Indian and Sri Lankan origin in my constituency. Are we concerned about what is happening? Should we be concerned? I am not happy that we have allowed that position to continue for 12 years in Sri Lanka and that we should allow anything similar to start to happen in Pakistan. It is timely that I should bring the matter to the Floor of the House to find out what we can do about it.
As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, Pakistan was created by different groups of people: the Punjabis, Sindis, Baluchis and Mohajirs. The Mohajirs in particular sacrificed their land, families and wealth in India after partition, moving over to create the new state of Pakistan. By and large, they control the state of Karachi and part of Sind province. They are the foundation of the economic engine of that country. Today, however, 20 years after the India-Pakistan war ceased, 200,000 Mohajirs are still in refugee camps in Bangladesh. An entire generation has been left to languish in those camps without anyone being concerned about those people. No one has bothered to do something to try to get them out of the camps. We cannot allow that to continue. If Britain does not care or does not want to do something about it, the rest of the world will act likewise.
473 We should care because, more than any other nation, we have historic ties with those countries. The ordinary people of those countries look to Britain for guidance and leadership. We should care because we still are and will continue to be a leading member of the Commonwealth. Those people, too, are members of the Commonwealth. We should care because we are a civilised nation and, as such, we should ensure that human rights violations and abuses do not occur. We should also care because we trade with those nations and it is important not only to them but to us and our employment prospects. We have recently invested in those countries and it is a great paradox that we should, on the one hand, encourage British companies to invest in those nations and undertake joint ventures with them when, on the other, we watch, almost supinely, as the edifice of those nations falls apart.
Sri Lanka is a good example of such waste, because it could have had a good future, but it is falling apart yet again. The President has done her best, but that is not enough. It is obvious that others should use their good offices and influence to do something.
We cannot continue to remain powerless. For many years, it has been the tradition of the Government—I make no criticism of my right hon. and hon. Friends—to excuse inaction on the ground that we have not been asked for advice or to use our good offices to bring about a settlement. Our other excuse is that it is an internal matter. That may be so, but if a nation is disintegrating into violence and people are committing acts of which we disapprove, at a certain point some sensible people must say that that is not only damaging Sri Lanka but damaging our commercial and other interests.
Do we send gunboats? No, because we do not have the gunboats to send. By what other means can we help? Our country possesses experienced statesmen and women and we should use them. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict went on for years and years, but, suddenly, two Norwegian doctors got involved and used their good offices to bring the sides together. Today there is a measure of peace in the middle east. We should do the same in Sri Lanka, because we are respected and influential. We may not have gunboats, but we still have clout and still punch above our weight.
We punch above our weight at the United Nations and the European Union, and we should do the same in south Asia. We should tell Sri Lanka and Pakistan that we have experienced people—not in government—who could be used to bring their internal problems to a settlement. We have a great many such people not only in this House but in the other place who should be encouraged to use their experience to bring the people of south Asia together to achieve peace.
Although we may not have been asked to do that, certain catalysts could encourage the process. The Governments in question may consider that, in the circumstances, their pride and dignity must be saved, so they appear entrenched and intransigent. With influence, friendship and respect we can encourage those Governments to ask for quiet, behind-the-doors advice, so that the experience found in both our Houses could be used for the betterment of our people in south Asia.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tony Baldry)
I very much welcome this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva) takes a keen interest in foreign affairs generally and is understandably an expert when it comes to matters relating to south Asia. The debate provides a welcome opportunity to look at our policy towards south Asia and to highlight the important changes that have occurred there in recent years. It is an important region to all of us.
We share many Commonwealth colleagues in south Asia: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Economically, the countries of south Asia are moving rapidly, transforming their economies with privatisation, deregulation and structural reform. They are all entering the global economy and with growing impact. Their growing impact is reflected here and our economic and commercial links with them are vital to us. In 1994, total exports to south Asia from the United Kingdom were worth about £2 billion.
The emerging commercial links have to be set alongside the traditional relationships epitomised by the substantial communities of people whose origins lie in south Asia and who have made their homes in the United Kingdom, and our historical links with the area. The south Asian community is by far the largest ethnic group in Britain. Understandably, these communities are concerned by the political and economic situation in certain countries in south Asia, as well as about human rights there. My hon. Friend mentioned concerns about Karachi and elsewhere, which frequently take a specific and personalised form that is well understood.
We continue to uphold and promote human rights in discussion with the various Governments, but we are equally vigilant to ensure that the United Kingdom does not become a safe haven for those people who promote terrorist activities in south Asia. We are determined that there should never be any suggestion that London or the United Kingdom is some sort of safe haven for those who promote terrorism elsewhere in the world and we shall be redoubling our efforts to ensure that that does not happen.
We provide substantial aid programmes in south Asia. The Indian programme is our largest bilateral programme in the world. Bangladesh has our second largest programme and Pakistan has our third largest aid programme in Asia. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visited south Asia in January and his visit confirmed his view that the British aid programme is effective and focused on the need to promote real economic development. Indeed, we provide substantial aid programmes for other parts of the area such as Nepal, and we have close links with the Maldives who are good friends of this country.
We share common membership of the Commonwealth with south Asian countries. It is of note that the population of south Asia is not just 20 per cent. of the population of the world. In fact, 80 per cent. of the population of the Commonwealth is within and from south Asia. So, south Asia is of very considerable importance to us as it is to the world. The countries of south Asia play more than their fair part in United Nations peacekeeping, an increasingly important element of foreign policy in the world today. Three of the top six peacekeeping contributors come from south Asia.
475 Of course we are to some extent concerned about south Asia. We are concerned about the continuing tension between India and Pakistan, which has an impact on the entire south Asian region. We very much regret that India and Pakistan have not signed the non-proliferation treaty. We regret that the arms race continues and that India and Pakistan continue to spend on arms money which could be better spent on economic development. We regret that we cannot point to more significant progress, but we shall continue to urge India and Pakistan to prevent the escalation of a potentially dangerous deadly and costly arms race. Solutions cannot be imposed. Problems can be solved only through negotiation between the two countries, which we have made every effort to encourage.
Since September, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have met separately our counterparts in both countries nine times. We have persistently and consistently urged India and Pakistan to resume the dialogue that they began in January 1994. We are disappointed that our efforts have not yet borne fruit but encouraged that the President of Pakistan and the Indian Prime Minister were able to meet in the margins of the recent meeting in Delhi of the South Asia Association for Regional Co-operation. We hope that they will restart talks soon because much depends on that, and we will continue to encourage them to do so.
As to Kashmir, we share the concerns of many in the House. We have worked hard to encourage progress and are heartened by steps taken by the Indian Government to improve human rights, but a solution cannot be reached without agreement between India and Pakistan. We have consistently called for a genuine political process in Kashmir. The Indian Government have announced their intention to hold elections in Kashmir this year and they could provide a possible opportunity for progress—but elections are a possible means to an end, not an end in themselves. It is crucial to have a genuine political process. Dialogue, not violence, is the way ahead.
Apart from those regional concerns, bilateral relations with the countries of south-east Asia are excellent, although we have individual concerns about the well-being of some of them. My hon. Friend mentioned in particular Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Our main objective in Sri Lanka in recent years has been to help promote a sustainable political solution to the brutal ethnic conflict in the north-east. We greatly welcomed President Kumaratunga's courageous commitment to seek peace by engaging the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in political discussion. Her objective was to address not only the symptoms of conflict but its causes. She took physical and political risks to offer the Tamil people a peaceful way to address their legitimate grievances.
The cessation of hostilities on 8 January was warmly welcomed on the island and by all friends of Sri Lanka. In particular, the people of Jaffna made clear their hope that a real chance of peace was now attainable. That makes the LT1E's unilateral resumption of hostilities on 19 April profoundly regrettable. Violence will not provide a solution to Sri Lanka's problems. We strongly condemn L FIE attacks on Sri Lankan Government forces and its senseless massacre of 42 innocent civilians on 26 May. Any return to ethnic cleansing in the north and east deserves the condemnation of the entire international community.
476 Despite that major setback, we welcome the Sri Lankan Government's continuing commitment to a negotiated solution to the conflict. The LTTE cannot afford to ignore that opportunity, and we urge it to end the fighting and return to negotiation. As to the vital question of rehabilitation in the north and east, the United Kingdom and other international donors stand ready to help—but can do so only in the context of a political settlement to the tragic conflict. The longer the fighting continues, the greater the delay in relief reaching communities that need it most.
Human rights remain a major concern, particularly in times of conflict. We welcome the priority accorded by the Sri Lankan Government to improving their human rights record, which is a positive and important signal. It will remain vital for the security forces, despite danger and provocation, to exercise restraint and to retain the confidence of civilian communities. We know from experience in Northern Ireland how difficult and vital that is.
We welcome the Sri Lankan Government's efforts to liberalise and modernise the economy and encourage foreign investment. Despite the continuing conflict, Sri Lanka remains an important market, accounting for £154 million of British exports in 1994. We have much to offer in the project sector and our privatisation expertise can help in the restructuring of public enterprises. I am sure that, in addition to all our other links with Sri Lanka, our commercial links will continue to go from strength to strength.
Just as we are extremely good friends with Sri Lanka, so too are we extremely good friends with Pakistan. We cannot deny that Pakistan and its Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, face many challenges, but media coverage in this country often distorts the real situation. Pakistan is uniquely placed as a modern, moderate Islamic state, which is a major member of the Commonwealth. The UK stands firm in its support of Pakistan and its commitment to developing along moderate Islamic lines.
Of course, it is no secret that there are particularly serious and complex problems in Karachi, to which my hon Friend rightly referred. The roots of those problems are economic, ethnic, religious and political and we urge all sides to exercise restraint, renounce violence and enter serious negotiations to seek a sustainable political solution for the problems that have been causing the peoples of Karachi so much difficulty.
Commercial links between ourselves and Pakistan are strengthening. Several major British companies, including ICI, Glaxo, Shell, Lever, Wellcome and Courtaulds, have traded in Pakistan for many years. More recently, the privatised utilities like British Gas, Midlands Electricity, the National Grid Company and National Power have shown a keen interest.
This year has been particularly notable for concrete expressions of confidence in Pakistan's future. National Power invested more than $100 million as the leading investor in the Hub power project, the largest private power development in Asia and of fundamental importance to the economy of Pakistan. In the textile sector, ICI is investing $100 million to expand its production of polyester fibre. Other major projects are in the pipeline for UK companies in the power and financial sectors.
477 Commercial ties are substantial and deep-rooted. Pakistan is a priority market for us. The UK is the second largest foreign investor in Pakistan and exports to Pakistan are up 38 per cent. in the past 5 years. The Government fully support this partnership. In November 1994, during Prime Minister Bhutto's visit, we signed an investment promotion and protection agreement with Pakistan. Our trade and aid policies support Pakistan's economic development on a bilateral basis and multilaterally, through institutions such as the World bank and the European Union. Interestingly, Pakistan is the Commonwealth Development Corporation's largest single country portfolio.
Of our other friends in south Asia, we value our mature, positive relationship with India—a country with which we share solid democratic traditions. Bilateral relations are probably better than at any time since independence. We have been working closely with India on a range of issues from tackling terrorism to protecting the environment. The close ties were highlighted by the Prime Minister's visit to India in 1993, during which he was guest of honour on Republic day.
India began an economic reform programme in 1991 and has taken solid steps towards realising its vast economic potential. We have ensured that UK business is in an excellent position to take advantage.
Our two Prime Ministers set up the Indo-British partnership initiative in January 1993. The aim was to increase awareness of the new commercial opportunities available in both countries. Since then, UK exports to India have increased by almost 40 per cent. UK investment approvals have increased tenfold since 1992. We always were a large historical investor. but we are now the second biggest new investor—significant new investments are planned by British companies in the power, telecommunications and infrastructure sectors.
478 The success of the Indo-British partnership initiative has been recognised by its being followed on by a permanent body, the Indo British Partnership in 1995, to see expansion of co-operation in field of science and technology.
As to Bangladesh, again, we are close friends in the Commonwealth and we welcome its Government's efforts to press ahead with economic and administrative reform. It is important that democratic political process is maintained. The current political deadlock is worrying and again we hope that a peaceful and lasting solution can be found.
Political stability in Bangladesh is obviously essential to attract foreign investment. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have stressed that to many people in Bangladesh, on all sides.
Again, we are also encouraged by the growth of bilateral trade. The political crisis has not seriously damaged the economy so far. In 1994, UK exports were up significantly to £55.7 million. The United Kingdom is the largest exporter to Bangladesh in the European Union and it is also Bangladesh's third largest export market, behind the United States and Germany.
Our relations with Bangladesh are excellent. There has been a steady flow of visitors in both directions. In addition to the Foreign Secretary and the Bangladeshi Prime Minister, the Princess Royal visited Bangladesh in March and the Bangladeshi President and Finance Minister visited London in April and May respectively.
Again, our relations with both Nepal and the Maldives are also excellent. South Asia is a region in which we have many good friends and where we continue to wish to play a full part in making a contribution to the peoples and trading with them. They are good friends in the Commonwealth and we have much work to do together.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Three o'clock