HL Deb 20 January 2005 vol 668 cc873-5

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked Her Majesty's Government:

What advice they are giving to British tourists planning to visit Burma.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, the Government's longstanding policy has been not to encourage tourism to Burma. Human rights violations have continuously been highlighted in international fora. For as long as those violations take place we would urge anyone who may be thinking of visiting Burma on holiday to consider carefully whether by their actions they are helping to support the regime and prolong such terrible abuses.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I thank my noble friend very much for that welcome and robust reply. She will be aware that Aung San Suu Kyi has specifically asked that British tourists stay away from Burma until human rights have been restored and an elected Parliament put in place. But does my noble friend not find it depressing that—notwithstanding the appeals from Ministers and the Burma Campaign—there are still a number of British tour operators which continue to offer holidays in Burma, a country that spends half of its budget on defence and only 19p on the health of each of its citizens?

Does my noble friend agree that the attitude of Sea Containers Ltd, in particular, is extraordinarily puzzling, given that one of its UK subsidiaries— GNER Limited—is seeking Ministers' support to renew the East Coast Main Line franchise, while another subsidiary—the Orient Express—continues to flout the wishes of Ministers and offers holidays on its so-called luxury train, the "Orient Express", in Burma? Can my noble friend tell me whether any new ministerial initiative is being planned to encourage people not to go?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, my noble friend is aware, because of his longstanding interest in Burma, that the Government continually speak to travel companies and travel agents and make very clear our strong policy on the human rights situation in Burma. On the FCO website, there are letters from Ministers to the travel agencies. Most recently, on 18 October, Mr Alexander wrote to the chief executive of Reed Travel Exhibitions Ltd to draw his attention to the views of the Burmese Democratic Movement and our policy on tourism in Burma.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, first, will the noble Baroness seek to harmonise the advice that we give to our visitors to Burma with that given by the Americans? We say that visitors may be imprisoned for criticising the regime in public, whereas the Americans point out that anyone distributing pro-democracy literature, taking photographs of sensitive sites, or visiting the offices and homes of pro-democracy leaders may be liable to imprisonment.

Can the Minister say whether international observers have been invited by the regime to the resumed meeting of the National Convention that starts on 17 February and will the Government ascertain whether it would be possible for visitors to go to the meetings that may be convened by the unofficial committee representing the People's Parliament?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, on the second matter raised by the noble Lord, we will write about the details of this pro-democracy group committee. If observers are invited to the convention we would look very carefully at those invitations. Our policy is still under review. I will, of course, write to the noble Lord when the policy on observation of the convention is completed.

As regards comparing our advice with advice from the United States, ours reflects the information that we as a government receive from our sources—both official and NGO—on the ground. Of course, co-ordination takes place between countries to some extent on travel advice—it has to. We look very much to co-ordination with our EU partners. Our travel advice very much follows that of the EU common position. The Prime Minister has sent a message of support for Burma's campaign initiative—"I'm not going to Burma"—which is to be launched this month.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that Burma is an outpost of tyranny, as Condoleezza Rice described it yesterday, and that maintaining sanctions and constant economic pressures on the regime, as the noble Lord. Lord Faulkner, suggests, is one of the right approaches?

However, does the Minister also agree that total isolation of this hideous regime may not be too clever? The Japanese have moved in where British firms have left: they have supplied all kinds of social and medical facilities, and schools, which are very welcome there. The Chinese have moved in commercially and are said to be cleaning up. Does she accept that there should be a balanced approach and that communication can have as much effect as isolation in bringing down tyrannies, as it did in eastern Europe 10 years ago?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords. I could not put it better.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that while severe poverty continues in Burma, our Government continue to encourage non-governmental organisations notwithstanding that they have to make regular visits?

Baroness Crawley

Yes, my Lords. The condition, of course, is always the safety and security of NGOs on the ground. But the Government encourage and support many NGOs working in Burma and, through DfID, are one of Europe's most important donor countries.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, while welcoming the Government's robust position on Burma, does my noble friend agree that one of the difficulties is that some of the countries in the region are not as robust and are not as willing to oppose what the Burmese Government have been doing as we would like? Can my noble friend say anything about that? I am thinking of the ASEAN countries in particular.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, my noble friend is right. We regularly raise our concerns about Burma with our ASEAN partners and encourage them to press more for improvement in Burma's human rights record. We believe that all Burma's regional neighbours have an important role to play in encouraging substantive change in Burma.

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