HC Deb 11 May 2004 vol 421 cc141-3
3. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/ Co-op)

What assessment he has made of the impact of violence in southern Thailand on the security of British tourists; and if he will make a statement. [1718311

(Mr. Mike O'Brien) The Minister for Trade and Investment

On 28 April in the south of Thailand, 200 militants took part in well co-ordinated attacks in 10 locations, which resulted in the deaths of 112 people, including five members of the security forces. Our assessment of the impact of the violence on the security of British nationals is reflected in our travel advice—we currently advise against all non-essential travel to four provinces in the south of Thailand.

David Taylor

The advice to travellers given on the FCO website is generally first rate, but the advice on Thailand needs to be extended and updated. Does the Minister agree that it should now reflect the real risk of insurgency travelling north to the tourist areas, in light of the widening void between the mega-rich lifestyle of the elite surrounding Thaksin Shinawatra in Buddhist Bangkok and the grinding poverty endured by those in the Muslim southern provinces?

Mr. O'Brien

We updated travel advice on terrorism in southern Thailand on five occasions during the course of this year, including on 8 April and 28 April. We recommend against all non-essential travel to the four far southern provinces of Patani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla. However, I take on board my hon. Friend's suggestion that we should consider issuing broader advice, and I will listen to the views of officials who consider such matters. As he says, it is very important that we give people practical advice on which they can rely.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con)

Notwithstanding what the Minister says about giving travel advice, does he agree that the Foreign Office must recognise, first, that there is no such thing as an entirely safe country; and secondly, that Muslim extremists aim to put off any contact between western tourists and Muslim countries? Does he agree that if travel advice becomes over-prescriptive, the terrorists are winning?

Mr. O'Brien

We cannot provide travel advice that covers all eventualities, but we endeavour to ensure that it is as practical, objective, accurate and up to date as possible in terms of helping British nationals to make decisions about travelling abroad. In respect of southern Thailand, we have no evidence that the violence is directly linked to international terrorism. However, the hon. Gentleman is right that when we give advice we must be careful to ensure that people are aware of the general problems, not only in south-east Asia, but across much of the world. Terrorism is a threat to us all. The terrorists are not winning, but they certainly remain a major threat.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab)

Is it not the case that apart from the violence in the south, Thailand is generally a difficult country for Europeans to visit? Two of my constituents have recently had appalling difficulties in Thailand: one faces a sentence of life imprisonment; the other has seen a member of their family murdered. Can my hon. Friend assure the House that his advice to the British embassy in Bangkok is that it should provide the maximum possible assistance to relatives of British citizens facing difficulties in Thailand in order to support them when they have to visit to deal with such problems? The British embassy—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the Minister will be able to answer.

Mr. O'Brien

More than 700,000 British nationals travel to Thailand every year. Our consular staff in Thailand and in London will do everything that they properly can to provide them with appropriate consular assistance where it is required. My hon. Friend will appreciate that among those 700,000 people, some have very serious priority problems, while many others require elements of help. Therefore, staff need to try to allocate their assistance as best and as appropriately as they can.

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