HL Deb 24 June 1996 vol 573 cc587-9

2.37 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are taking all the action they can to assist Aung San Suu Kyi and a democratically elected government in Burma, and whether they will take no action to support the present military dictatorship in power.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, we remain deeply concerned about the situation in Burma. We issued a statement on 22nd May and our ambassador in Rangoon followed it up with a démarche to the State Law and Order Restoration Council on 7th June. We have consistently pressed the State Law and Order Restoration Council to work with Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma's other democratic groups to achieve national reconciliation and democratic reform. We make it clear to the SLORC that resumption of normal relations is conditional on progress on this issue and other key issues.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that, in connection with relations with Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi has requested that tourism is not facilitated now? Is he further aware that while some travel agents have responded and deleted Burma from their advertising, others have not? Does the Minister think it proper to advise the Government to make it clear that they would like to discourage travel to Burma, in agreement with Aung San Suu Kyi's view, until such time as the country ceases to be under a military dictatorship?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I have already said that, while we deplore the situation in Burma, we have no policy to introduce a ban on UK tourists visiting Burma. That would be almost impossible to bring about, but we are making everyone aware of the situation and our dislike of it.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, will the Government consider discouraging commercial links with Burma, which sustains one of the vilest regimes in the world? A clear statement that the Government believe that British firms should not do business with Burma would surely be helpful. Will the Government consider it?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, while not encouraging firms to do business with Burma, we believe that if they wish to do so we cannot absolutely forbid them. We believe that, with the pressures being brought to bear, improvements will definitely be made if the economic situation improves in Burma. That cannot be achieved by banning all business and trade with it.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, at least for the time being, there will be no government-sponsored trade missions to Burma?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, there is no intention to have one. There was to be a BEAMA mission in July, which the Government are not financing in any way. We know of no further missions this year, but if there were to be further missions they would have to be considered on a case-by-case basis. We have no intention of funding further trade missions to Burma in the foreseeable future.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, the Minister said that the Government could not ban firms from doing business with Burma. However, he was asked whether the Government would discourage such business. Surely discouragement to show the widespread opposition and loathing of the present regime is the least that we can ask.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right and that is what we have been saying. It was in our statement on 22nd May.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, should we not encourage the ASEAN countries in general and Singapore and Japan in particular to place much greater conditionality on the large amounts of inward investment that they put into Burma? Are the Government considering that and, if so, what is being achieved?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, it is difficult for us to tell Singapore or any of the ASEAN countries how they should behave and what their investments should be. We have made clear our loathing of the situation and hope that everyone takes the same attitude.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, presumably Hong Kong is a member of the ASEAN group of nations. I believe that the Governor of Hong Kong is answerable to the British Government in that regard and therefore he could have some input.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I am not certain about the situation with regard to Hong Kong. A large amount of the investment going into Burma goes through British dependent territories, but it is investment from non-UK companies.