HL Deb 07 March 2002 vol 632 cc395-6

3.30 p.m.

Lord Ahmed

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What efforts are being made to protect British citizens in the Indian state of Gujarat.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, I am greatly saddened at the deaths in both communities. We are in close contact with the Indian authorities which are responsible for the safety of British nationals. They have offered escorts for those stranded. Our staff in Mumbai are doing all they can to assist those in difficulty and to seek information on those still missing. They maintain lists of those who register. Our travel advice provides current information for families in the UK.

Lord Ahmed

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her reply. I want to take this opportunity to thank the FCO staff, the resident clerks, our High Commission in New Delhi and the Consulate in Mumbai for the help and assistance that they have provided to the British families and their relatives in India. What efforts are being made to find the two British citizens, Shakil and Saeed Dawood, who have been missing for six days and whose driver and cousin were murdered in front of them?

Is my noble friend aware that yesterday's Independent contained a report that the BJP leaders, like Deepak Patel, led mobs of terrorists who attacked and killed 42 people? Will the Government consider proscribing VHP and other terrorist groups on the list of terrorist organisations as they have attacked and murdered innocent British citizens in Gujarat?.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his comments about the staff of the FCO. In such circumstances, the work of our consular staff comes to the attention of the public but they work constantly on such issues even when there is no crisis.

My noble friend asked specifically about what is being done to help the two British citizens who are missing. We are working very closely with the Indian authorities on that. We have pressed them and they have assured us that they are doing all that they can to find those citizens.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, does the Minister accept that communal violence, from whichever source, perpetrated on the religious beliefs of any individual is unacceptable? Will she support the action of the Chief Minister of Gujarat and the Prime Minister of India—I have been in contact with the Chief Minister who is trying to bring the situation under control—and agree that they are the best people to assist with the situation?

Furthermore, does she consider it appropriate that rather than focusing on communal issues as regards this matter, it is in the interests of all communities to work through the existing channels to try to bring a semblance of peace in that region?.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord and we appreciate all the efforts of the Indian Government to restore calm. On 1st March national leaders of the main political parties issued a joint appeal for calm, and deployment of the army has helped to bring the rioting under control.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, in contacting the Indian authorities about the horrific sectarian killings, particularly in Ahmedabad and Godhra and about the difficult and long-standing issues surrounding the Ayodhya Temple site, will the Minister ensure not only that we look after the interests of British nationals, as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, rightly urged, but that we make absolutely clear to the Indian authorities that they have our full support in dealing with these matters in an evenhanded way?

Furthermore, does the Minister agree that any suggestion that the authorities, or arms of the authorities, might have stood aside to allow mob violence in the name of revenge is completely wrong and that any such suggestion will be brought down by the Indian authorities? Will the Minister indicate that the authorities will have our support in an evenhanded approach?.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, that is precisely why we have appreciated the efforts which have been made by the Indian Government to restore calm. It is very important that as regards the violence in Gujarat the Indian authorities are seen to be doing all that they can. We were very pleased that the national leaders of the main political parties issued a joint appeal. In the context of the communal violence, that statement was most important.

Lord Paul

My Lords, what has happened in Gujarat is a great tragedy and we condemn everyone who is responsible for it. As some of the comments made in this country have unnecessarily divided the community, will the Minister ensure that that is not allowed to happen?.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Paul. I am aware that in one or two cases what has happened in Gujarat has spread to the streets of the United Kingdom. We are extremely concerned about that and we shall d o all that we can to ensure that that does not occur.