HC Deb 13 January 1998 vol 304 cc131-3
5. Mr. Mullin

What recent discussions he has had on human rights in the Caribbean; and if he will make a statement. [20416]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony Lloyd)

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office made clear in its mission statement its commitment to human rights. Ministers have not yet raised any specific issues, but, in accordance with instructions, our high commissioners and ambassadors regularly raise our concerns with the Governments to which they are accredited. Ministers will reinforce our message on human rights with Caribbean Ministers on suitable occasions.

Mr. Mullin

Is my hon. Friend aware that a suitable occasion will come up when the Foreign Secretary visits the Caribbean next month? That visit will provide him with a golden opportunity to put into practice our commitment to link respect for human rights with aid, favourable trade arrangements and debt relief. Is my hon. Friend aware that Jamaica, Trinidad and Belize are holding hundreds of people under sentence of death and are anxious to resume a big bout of hangings? Many of those people are held in appalling conditions after an often inadequate trial. Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear, when he goes to the Caribbean, that countries that seek assistance from liberal democracies will first have to clean up their act?

Mr. Lloyd

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has made it clear that human rights lie at the centre of her Department's policies as well as those of the Government. We are concerned about prison conditions in the Caribbean and the countries that my hon. Friend mentioned, but we already raise those issues on a bilateral basis. For example, I draw his attention to the recent European Union demarche in Jamaica, concerning Jamaica's decision to opt out of the optional first protocol of the international covenant on civil and political rights, where the British Government were represented. It is our view that we should press all Governments to abandon a death penalty—a change since the previous Government. We shall continue to pursue that ambition both in bilateral relationships and more generally in our dealings with states, not merely in the Caribbean but globally.

Mr. Ian Taylor

Although there are still concerns about human rights in Cuba, does the Minister accept that that island represents 11.5 million out of a total Caribbean population of 30 million and so it is vital that the island is brought into the world economy, despite the efforts of the United States Administration under the Helms-Burton Act? Will he confirm that he is continuing the previous Government's policy of opening up trading links with Cuba and trying to integrate it into the international community?

Mr. Lloyd

I welcome the constructive tone of the hon. Gentleman's question. That position, adopted by the previous Government, has been continued by the present Government. We have concerns about individual aspects of life in Cuba, and we raise those issues bilaterally with the Cubans, but we believe that constructive engagement is the right way in which to make progress. We have made it clear, consistently with the policies of the previous and the present Government, that the Helms-Burton Act has no useful place in relations with Cuba.

Mr. Kaufman

Is my hon. Friend aware that the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has specifically condemned the Jamaicans' treatment of prisoners on death row; that Jamaica is in breach of Privy Council rulings on how long they should be held there; and that Her Majesty's inspector of prisons has said that prison conditions in Jamaica are among the worst that he has ever seen? I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the action that the Government have already taken. Will he and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development continue to bear it in mind that favourable trade treatment and aid must be dependent on an acceptable human rights record?

Mr. Lloyd

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has made it clear that the logic behind our policies on debt forgiveness, for example, is very much concerned with helping the poorest people, and we would not want to confuse the different aspects of our policies. I can nevertheless reassure my right hon. Friend that we shall continue to raise with the Jamaican authorities our concerns about not only prison conditions but the existence of the death penalty in Jamaica; I know that he has been a consistent and vocal advocate of change in Jamaica and that his voice has been heard not only in the House but in Jamaica itself.

Madam Speaker

Mr. Leigh.

Mr. Garnier

Or even Mr. Garnier.

Madam Speaker

Mr. Garnier is better.

Mr. Garnier

Not for the first time, Madam Speaker, you are 100 per cent. correct.

Is the Minister aware that, in some Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean, there are insufficient law libraries to enable judges and lawyers acting for criminal defendants in those jurisdictions to address the court adequately on matters of law that could, in the final analysis, lead to questions of life and death? Will he, with the Department of International Development, do all that he can to ensure that we give such assistance as is necessary to improve the law libraries in those countries and to give judicial training to Caribbean judges, so that none of the problems outlined by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) need occur?

Mr. Lloyd

While I cannot clasim detailed knowledge of the specific problems of law libraries, I can confirm that we are examining ways in which we can make progress, especially in giving assistance not just to the three countries named by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), and not only in improving prison conditions but, more generally, in training. We recognise the problem of access not only to the law but to adequate judicial protection. Britain has, over many years, made available expertise from the legal profession here to ensure that there is adequate and improving access to the judicial process in the Caribbean.