HL Deb 13 July 1998 vol 592 cc4-5

2.45 p.m.

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will take the initiative in trying to bring the various parties in Sri Lanka to the negotiating table.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government believe a lasting solution to this tragic conflict in Sri Lanka can be reached only through a political settlement. We stand ready to help in the resolution of the conflict and would be prepared to facilitate talks if both sides asked us to play such a role.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I am saddened by that disappointing Answer. Were the Government to take an initiative, does the Minister believe that it might do some good? I understand that his right honourable friend Mr. Cook might feel somewhat shell-shocked over sticking his finely-tuned nose into the affairs of the sub-continent. However, do the Government realise that we are strong friends with both major parties in Sri Lanka and that we support and nurture the Tamil Tigers in that country? We should therefore enjoy good relations with them. Under the last government, my honourable friend Dr. Fox made considerable progress, on his own initiative, in getting talks under way.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, perhaps I may take two or three points. Her Majesty's Government clearly stand by. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State would be prepared to help settle any dispute in friendly countries, whether the India-Pakistan conflict or within Sri Lanka. However, our information is that a proactive move by us at this stage would not meet with a positive response. The initiative from the former parliamentary secretary, Dr. Liam Fox, to which the noble Lord rightly refers, had some benefit: it led to a bipartisan approach from the two main political parties. But it was not negotiation between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan Government, which is the basis of this conflict.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is a complicated situation involving at least four parties: the Government, the Opposition, the Tigers and the moderate Tamil groups? Intervention at this stage might well be counter-productive. Is it not better to proceed behind the scenes until such time that it becomes clear that there is a genuine wish among the parties involved for an initiative to be taken leading to negotiation?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. It is precisely that complexity which led to the caution in my initial reply.