HL Deb 22 July 1996 vol 574 cc1171-3

3.1 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will support the Danish proposal for sanctions against Burma, having regard to the widely condemned human rights record of the State Law and Order Restoration Council which governs that country.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, we do not believe that we should impose economic sanctions on Burma. Our trade with Burma is negligible and such a measure is unlikely to be effective. There is also little international support for sanctions.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, since this Question was put on the Order Paper has not a further request for sanctions come from Burma itself in the name of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the only really elected party in Burma, who should be in government at this time? In those circumstances is there not a moral duty on the Government at least to consider the question, irrespective of the size of present trade with Burma? In any event, does the Minister agree that no steps should be taken to increase that trade?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, first, we maintain close contact with all the pro-democracy groups, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Our ambassador in Burma meets her regularly. Not only is the UK/Burma trade negligible, we do not wish to see a country cut off totally, because then we do not have a critical dialogue. The DTI does not intend to provide financial support for any trade missions to Burma during the course of this year. Any future requests for such assistance will be assessed most carefully against the circumstances obtaining at that time, including the political and human rights position in Burma. I hope that it is now clear where we stand on the trade issue.

Lord Finsberg

My Lords, is it not a great pity that many of the ASEAN countries seem too scared to put upon Burma the pressure that they should be putting?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend is right. He may recall that when answering a recent question on Burma I said exactly that. We shall be raising the issue of Burma this week at the ASEAN meetings which are to be held in Jakarta, because it is for the ASEANs too to use their influence with the SLORC. That is the critical way that dialogue should be pursued.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, given the lack of success of critical dialogue so far with Burma, I am a little surprised by the Minister's confidence that that will have any impact in future. Will she tell the House why a DTI official was in Burma last month investigating possible business opportunities there on the very day that her right honourable friend Mr. Hanley in another place said that trade missions to Burma had been cancelled?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I cannot answer the noble Baroness's question, but I shall find out because I, too, wish to know. Perhaps I may underline that we are not providing any financial support for any further trade missions to Burma. That is clear. We may have received requests in the past. We cannot say for evermore that we shall not support them, but each and every one will be assessed carefully, especially against the political and human rights situation in Burma. No one wishes more than the Government to see that the rightly democratically elected government are in power in Burma. We have to do everything that we possibly can to ensure that a dialogue begins with the pro-democracy groups, in particular with Aung San Suu Kyi.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, has the Minister seen the reports of the death of Mr. Nichols, the Danish honorary consul in Rangoon? Has she noted the protests which have been made not just by Denmark but by Australia, the USA and a number of other countries which have asked for a full inquiry into the circumstances of his death in custody? Will the UK join in that initiative?

Will it ensure in particular that the violations of human rights which continue to be extremely serious in Burma are raised at the human rights sub-committee in Geneva next month?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, first, we were to the fore in getting the EU declaration sent on 5th July last which called on the SLORC to provide a full and satisfactory explanation of Mr. Nichols' death. We have not yet seen the full report. We were deeply sorry to hear of his death. He was not a fit man before he was put into prison, but the conditions there probably contributed towards an earlier death than would otherwise have occurred. I assure the noble Lord that we shall continue to make representations about detention. Although some 200 people have been released, 37 people are still detained. We shall continue to do all we can to see that they are released.

Lord Richard

My Lords, will the Minister tell us whether this matter has been raised at the Security Council? If so, who raised it? In informal discussions at the Security Council what view did other countries take of the matter?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the matter has been discussed informally, but it has not been raised in the Security Council. I cannot give the noble Lord a direct answer of who said what to whom, but I shall make further inquiries and let him know what I can tell him.