Agriculture is the backbone of the Malawi economy, contributing more than one third of entire GDP and employing 80% of the country’s work force. The programme targeted support at the most vulnerable households,

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allowing them to access the fertiliser and maize seed required to improve agricultural productivity and food security. A voucher system was used, which targeted millions of maize farmers and hundreds of thousands of tobacco farmers. Farmers used the coupons to purchase fertilisers and seed.

Combined with sometimes favourable rain seasons, the programme resulted in dramatically increased maize harvests. That has allowed the Malawi Government to transform the country from a land of perennial famine to a net exporter of maize. Malawi now exports 400,000 tonnes of grain to Zimbabwe and 80,000 tonnes to Swaziland and Lesotho. Not only has harvest yield increased, but the programme has improved the food loss situation. In talking about the importance of food production, other Members have touched on reducing food loss, and post-harvest food loss in Malawi has fallen to 7.6% in 2009-10, which is a dramatic improvement on the previous figure. As the United States Agency for International Development confirms in its most recent assessment of food security in Malawi, the outlook is good.

There are, however, considerable diplomatic and governance issues in respect of Malawi, as the Minister will know, and there are still pockets of the country where the situation is not so positive, mainly in the south. Concerns have also been raised in some quarters about various elements of the programme, particularly the multinational seed suppliers and some issues touched on earlier by the hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes). However, the Malawi successes are worth highlighting as examples of where, beyond addressing initial, pressing famine needs, long-term planning can make a positive difference, as there may be lessons for other parts of Africa.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson), I want to use this debate as an opportunity to pay tribute to the Scotland-based charity, Mary’s Meals. It started its work in Malawi back in 2002, providing school meals to impoverished children. Incredibly, it now provides meals to 450,000 Malawian schoolchildren a day. Food security is central to the raison d’être of Mary’s Meals. The organisation was set up after a conversation between its founder and the eldest son of a Malawian woman dying of AIDS. When he was asked what he wanted from life, his response was that he wanted to have enough to eat and to go to school one day. Those are not particularly lofty aspirations, but for very many people in Malawi they were but a dream. It is on that basis that Mary’s Meals adopts a very simple approach in Malawi, which is that education is the best route out of poverty and food insecurity. A hungry child is a restless child, and a restless child is less likely to learn. Education is key to climbing out of poverty and to ensuring food security for the people of Malawi and other countries.

As I stated, Malawi is far from perfect. There are many problems there and many issues still need to be addressed: too many of its citizens still live in inhumane poverty; too many children go without food; and too many people still die of HIV/AIDS. However, at a time of great famine in other parts of the continent, the progress made in Malawi is a timely reminder of what specific and targeted Government action can do to increase food security for some of the most impoverished in the world.

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2.55 pm

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): I am pleased to be able to participate in this afternoon’s debate. I know that quite a few Members still wish to speak, as we were a bit later starting this debate than we might have been, so in the hope that everyone who has waited so patiently will have an opportunity to make a few remarks, I will cut down my comments and therefore not get to the aspects of my speech relating to food security and our united belief that prevention is better than cure.

I wish to associate myself with the comments made by all those who have paid tribute to the voluntary organisations that are doing such fantastic work. I also wish to reflect on some of the things that the Government could learn from the current humanitarian crisis and on how we might improve our response in future. I wish to pay tribute to ShelterBox, a great Cornish charity set up by a group of Rotarians, that provides humanitarian aid. It does so mostly in the form of shelter, but it also enables people to cook food and ensures a good supply of clean water through its boxes. It was set up in 2000 and has responded to more than 140 disasters in more than 70 countries. This voluntary organisation relies totally on individual donations and does not receive any funding from the Disasters Emergency Committee appeals.

The ShelterBox team that is currently in east Africa went out there in July. ShelterBox response teams are made up of highly trained volunteers, and they have been working with people from the UK, Australia, Canada, the USA, France, New Zealand and Germany. So far, they have been able to assist more than 8,600 families, contributing more than £2.2 million-worth of aid. They have been doing that in the refugee camps in Ethiopia, as well as in Somalia. They often undertake such work in extremely difficult circumstances, at great risk to themselves, and it is important that we pay great and fulsome tribute to all those volunteers.

In Kenya alone, ShelterBox boxes have assisted 7,000 families and in the Dadaab refugee camp approximately 1,000 people a day are being helped, with 100 to 150 tents put up daily. The teams are working with a great number of organisations from all over the world and with local people, who are assisting with putting up the tents. The people in the teams wanted me to say to the Government that they have really noticed the improvements that have been made—the much better co-ordination among the non-governmental organisations and the various supranational organisations on the ground—which are making their life much easier. However, they are able to address only a fraction of the need.

Other hon. Members have set out how much more needs to be done. On 15 August, Adrian Edwards, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman, said:

“As well as needing food and water, these new arrivals urgently need proper shelter, medical help and other basic services”.

The UNHCR estimated that another 45,000 tents were needed, which brings me on to the recommendations that I would like the Government to consider.

I welcomed the humanitarian emergency response review carried out by Lord Ashdown and published in March. I remind my hon. Friends that the aim of the

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review was to deliver the maximum possible benefit to those affected by disasters while at the same time delivering value for money for the UK taxpayer. I also welcome the Government’s response for two particular reasons: first, they recognised the important role of independent charities and the value of their role in disasters emergency relief; and, secondly, they made a commitment to set up a rapid response facility to pre-approve high performing UK charities and to enable them to do more of what they do so well.

At the time, the Government announced that there would be a consultation on the rapid response facility. I hope that while the consultation is going on the Government will learn from the excellent work of ShelterBox. A key message the charity has given to me is that, despite the fact that we are all going to work and redouble our efforts to prevent problems, disasters in the world are increasing as a result of climate change and other issues. It is important that we should be able to build up reserves so that when disaster strikes we can quickly get aid to where it is needed. Of course, tents take time to be manufactured, and it is important that the Government should enable organisations such as ShelterBox to manufacture its very specialist tents, which can provide so much important shelter and comfort.

I hope that the consultation can be speeded up and the recommendations implemented so that more UK charities, such as ShelterBox, can provide desperately needed help and do what they do best. Although charity begins at home, it does not end there. I urge the Government to do all they can to enable this great little Cornish charity to carry on making its substantial contribution.

3.1 pm

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) on securing this debate. I went out to Kenya with my hon. Friend about a year ago and I shall touch on some of the things we saw during that visit, which had a profound impact on both of us, not just negatively as we saw the problems faced by people out there, but positively as we saw what incredible things could be done for a very small outlay.

Let me start by talking about Somalia. As I said in my intervention, there is a Somali community of significant size in Bristol—some say that it is about 20,000 strong. Many arrived as refugees but others arrived from the former British colony of Somaliland. It is obviously no coincidence that Somalia has coped a lot worse with the drought situation than neighbouring countries, such as Ethiopia. Ethiopia has in place a food safety net to deal with such situations and when I went out there with the all-party group for Somaliland, we stayed in Addis Ababa and had lots of conversations with individuals from the Department for International Development and from the embassy. We then went out to Hargeisa to see the situation in Somaliland.

I was struck by the efforts that have been made on the aid front in Ethiopia, including the food safety net and public service agreements, which, despite political instability, problems and issues caused by the climate, were there as, indeed, a safety net. There is a complete lack of that in Somalia. There is also an effective early warning system in Ethiopia, which is not possible in a country as unstable as Somalia.

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Constituents have time and again expressed their concern that Somalia has never had the political attention it deserves, and questions are always asked about why Sudan is seen as a political imperative as opposed to any other country that is riven by tribal conflicts or that has problems. I suspect that it is partly because Somalia is seen as such an intransigent and difficult-to-solve problem. One thing that could be done, however, is to give recognition to Somaliland. I was one of the founder members of the all-party group for Somaliland and it has been politically stable since the civil war of 1991, it has fair and free elections and there is huge potential to build the infrastructure and work with the diaspora to set up commercial organisations and use the ports at places such as Berbera for exports, making the country a lot more profitable and cementing its stability.

On food security, according to the World Bank, investment in agriculture in the developing world is between two and four times more effective in reducing poverty than investment in any other sector. As my hon. Friend said quite compellingly, agriculture has not been at the forefront of aid efforts; often the sector does not appear in country plans. It is important, and I hope that today’s debate helps to put down a marker that it should be given more priority.

When I was in Kenya last year with the all-party group I saw the work of the UK organisation Send a Cow, which has been working for over 20 years in Africa, and subsequently went to visit its offices near Bath. The organisation tells me that it takes an average of three to five years for an extremely poor community to become self-sufficient through one of its programmes. It would argue, and I agree, that that is a much better investment than having to provide food aid every time the rains fail. Self-sufficiency is key. The organisation achieves that by creating a network of peer farmers, so that the people who benefit from its initial work then train others in the community. Each family that the organisation works with passes on livestock, seed and skills to an average of 10 others in their community.

We saw in Kenya what a difference is made by small changes to farming methods—such as planting fertiliser pellets a certain distance from seeds so that they do not burn the seedlings as they come up—and investment in barns to improve grain storage. We saw the work of FIPS-Africa—Farm Input Promotions Africa—and FARM-Africa in developing disease-resistant strands of crops and we learned more than we ever needed to know about the insemination of goats. Those are small changes, and sometimes they are surprising because we think that they are things that people should have learned through farming the land over years.

When I went to India I spoke to a farmer who had just moved back to organic farming. He had come under huge pressure from companies selling pesticides to adopt what we in the western world would call modern farming methods, but when he switched back to organic methods his crops were far better and he was able to sell his food at market and make more money as a result. Some of these things have to be relearned, and we have to be careful that we do not try to impose our way of doing things.

Alison McGovern: Does my hon. Friend agree that that highlights the point made earlier about the question

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of DFID’s focus on agriculture and whether there needs to be a shifting of emphasis to some of the points that she is making?

Kerry McCarthy: That is true. In Bangladesh I went to a village where free-range chickens were running around. We went down the road and saw a structure made of twigs which was basically a battery cage for hens. The person I was with said, “This is progress. We are doing things the way that you do them.” In the western world we are trying to move away from battery cages and towards free-range farming. I worry—if I can end on a political note that has not yet been struck in this debate—that in this country the farming agenda has moved very much more towards speaking up for the farmers, for the vested interests and for the producers of food, and it is not about welfare methods or the consumers. There is an increasing emphasis on intensification, as we saw with the farming Minister’s support for the intensive dairy farm at Nocton. We need to set the standard in this country and abroad, and say that there is a sustainable way of feeding the world which does not involve locking animals up in battery cages and putting cows in the equivalent of multi-storey car parks.

Sarah Newton: I am very sad that the hon. Lady has chosen to introduce a degree of party politics to this debate. I cannot let her comments stand. This country, quite rightly, should be very proud that it has some of the highest, if not the highest, standards of animal welfare, some of the best farmers and some of the best farming practices in the whole world. Of course we can always do more, and we should aim to do so, but that is the position.

Kerry McCarthy: That is the position because over the past 20 years or so there has been significant progress on animal welfare. That is not a matter for today’s debate, but I have real concerns that the tide is turning in the wrong direction and that is a problem.

I want to end with a quote from Oxfam’s Grow campaign, which states:

“The vast imbalance in public investment in agriculture must be righted, redirecting the billions now being ploughed into unsustainable industrial farming in rich countries towards meeting the needs of small-scale food producers in developing countries. For that is where the major gains in productivity, sustainable intensification, poverty reduction, and resilience can be achieved.”

That is the way forward, and I hope that we can play a major role in helping the developing countries—particularly those stricken by the famine that we are debating today—to adapt and secure their future livelihoods in that way.

3.10 pm

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I also thank the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) for calling for the debate. I pay tribute to the outstanding work of the all-party group, which has provided so much information to so many of us. In addition, I thank all those in the country and, in particular, in my constituency, who have contributed to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal, and the UK Government for their most generous response. In particular, I pay tribute to the Government of Kenya, who have hosted the refugees in a tremendously welcoming way, which should not be forgotten.

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So many right hon. and hon. Members have spoken eloquently and with great learning about this matter that I want to touch on only a few points in the hope of allowing others to speak. The motion states that food aid

“must always be the last resort and that improving the productivity and resilience of domestic agricultural systems in Africa must by a priority for the UK and the international donor community”.

I absolutely agree. Agriculture, as many hon. Members have said, has been given insufficient attention over many years. It was seen either as something of the past or as a cash cow that could be taken for granted. Instead, much Government and aid money was ploughed into factories, which in many cases are now out of production, sitting there idly. But the farmers are still there, and what more they could have done with that investment themselves. It has not been ignored by NGOs, such as Oxfam, Tearfund, Christian Aid, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, Islamic Relief and many others, which have ploughed a perhaps lonely furrow over the last couple of decades, but I am glad to say that the tide is turning.

There has often been stirring rhetoric about the importance of agriculture, but in reality it has been heavily taxed, budgets for support have been low, and investment in infrastructure has been lacking—roads, storage capacity, power, irrigation, and many other things, including, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams) mentioned, research.

I recall calculating in the 1990s that the marginal tax rate for a smallholder coffee farmer in Tanzania was far higher than the highest income tax rate then prevailing in that country due to the crop levies that were being imposed locally and nationally at a time of low prices. I am glad to say that the Tanzanian Government listened and took action.

What can be done? First, agriculture must be at the heart of any developing country’s plan for economic growth. I draw particular attention to the many comments that have been made about the centrality of women who do most of the work in this area and their importance to development. Agriculture provides food security, exports, employment, and, most importantly, cash direct to ordinary people. This priority has to be reflected both in the national budgets and in the taxation systems of those countries.

It follows that agriculture must also be at the heart of international development. I join colleagues who have called on the Government to put more money into supporting agriculture in the coming years. The Government are moving in the right direction, but they are not going far enough at the moment. I am delighted that the CDC will be looking to invest more in agriculture, and I urge it to live up to those words. I also welcome DFID’s increased interest and support through programmes such as the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund, where it is investing directly in smallholder agricultural products.

Productivity has to be taken seriously. It is not just a matter of improving yields, although that is essential. It is also a question of proper logistics, warehousing, cold storage, transport, packaging and marketing. As many have said, too much has been wasted.

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Thirdly, the technology that is available to large-scale agriculture must be available to smaller farms. I have seen excellent examples of very small-scale farms with drip irrigation, which can improve yields dramatically, but much more could be done. Measures could be introduced to check and maintain soil fertility, ensuring the availability and affordability of fertilisers, training and extension.

I would like to make one further point, on the impact of neglected tropical diseases such as worms and schistosomiasis. The Minister knows all about this. In fact, he rightly introduced the topic to the all-party group on malaria, which published a report on neglected tropical diseases this week. It is absolutely vital that these diseases are tackled, which can be done at very low cost. They have a significant impact on productivity, as people suffering from them have a downgraded ability to work, particularly in the fields. If we can tackle these neglected tropical diseases, we will also be tackling problems of productivity and agriculture.

Finally, as has already been mentioned, borders must be opened up to trade. We have seen recently that countries in an area affected by drought are tempted to ban the export of cereals to needy neighbours because of fears for their own food security in the medium term. Although their caution is understandable, it should surely be possible to take a regional approach. I urge bodies such as the East African Community to deal with food security on a regional basis and co-operate as fully as possible. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak today and welcome the contributions from all Members who have spoken on this important subject.

3.16 pm

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), whose comments on the role of agriculture in development I agree with strongly. I too congratulate the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) and the whole Backbench Business Committee on calling this important debate.

I believe that few people across the country could fail to be moved by the scale of the disaster that has inflicted itself on the horn of Africa. More than 13 million people have been affected in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, and 800,000 people have become refugees. Christian Aid and Oxfam have said that the crisis has three main causes: the worst drought in the region for 60 years; high food and fuel prices; and conflict, particularly in Somalia. Somalia’s per capita gross domestic product is only $333—among the lowest in the world—and 43% of its population survive on less than $1 a day.

It is clear that long-term solutions to prevent a repeat of such a famine will require good governance, sound growth policies and active preparedness through the building of food reserves in the affected countries. However, a major factor contributing to the crisis has been underinvestment in the smallholder agriculture sector across the whole east Africa region. I welcome the contribution made by the G20 Agriculture Ministers in their June summit in Paris, where they called for an increase in food production, made food security a central issue in the G20’s reforms over the next year and pointed out the need for a 70% increase in agricultural production by 2050 to deal with a global population that is likely to rise to 9 billion people.

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In developing countries there is a need to double food production to prevent future crises. Three out of every four people in developing countries live in rural areas, and 2.1 billion people still live on less than $2 a day. We know that investment in the agricultural sector does more for growth and poverty reduction than investment in any other sector. I strongly welcome the launch of Oxfam’s Grow campaign, which is aimed at highlighting the importance of food security and calls for the regulation of commodity markets and policies that promote the production of food rather than biofuels. Currently, subsidies for first-generation biofuels amount to $20 billion a year.

There is a clear and pressing question for the international community on food price regulation. The 2010 agriculture and commodity prices report of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation found that in June 2008 the prices of basic foods on international markets had reached their highest levels for 30 years, threatening the food security of the poor worldwide. In 2007 and 2008, as a result of high food prices, an additional 115 million people were pushed into chronic hunger. As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation this May in Rome, rising global food prices since last June have pushed a further 44 million people into extreme hunger.

The World Economic Forum’s report on global risk describes the link between water, food and energy as one of the future drivers of social and economic instability across the world. The International Food Policy Research Institute predicts a 30% increase in demand for water, and the International Energy Agency forecasts that the world economy will require at least 40% more energy by 2030. Half a billion people throughout the world face chronic shortfalls in water now, and that number that is likely to rise to more than 4 billion by 2050 as a result of climate change, with food production being particularly exposed.

The UNFAO outlined in its June report on crop prospects that food insecurity has reached alarming levels in east Africa, and throughout the continent some 23 countries are in need of external assistance to feed their populations. The OECD secretary-general, Angel Gurría, spoke in early June at the International Economic Forum of the Americas of the imperative to increase public and private agricultural investment and of an end to export bans.

There is an ongoing debate among non-governmental organisations and economists about the contribution of commodity price speculation and trading in commodity derivatives to the volatility of global food prices. Last week, Members were lobbied by Michael Masters and David Frenk of Better Markets, who also spoke to Governments in Paris and in London, about the need for concerted G20 action on commodity derivatives. They established the clear link between speculation from index funds and the monthly spike in commodity derivative stocks.

Such speculation does not add liquidity to those markets or help farmers, and we need the Treasury to join Governments throughout the G20 to put in place a global version of the Dodd-Frank Act, making sure that all transactions are regulated by the stock market and that, in such transactions, position limits are placed on the trading of financial institutions.

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3.22 pm

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, for not being present for the whole debate. I wanted to be but could not. I was not going to speak—I was going to listen—but I have decided to say something.

Africa is one of the richest continents in the world, and if the conditions were right it could feed itself properly. I speak as someone whose wife started an International Committee of the Red Cross camp in south Sudan for 100,000 people. She was often shelled by the Government there, and because of that she slept most of her six months at the camp in a slit trench.

That brings me to the point that I want to make, and forgive me if it has been made already, but in so many countries it is the authorities that are the big obstacle. In so many countries in Africa, it is the leaders who tend to think that, because they are the president, the prime minister or whoever, they own that country and everything that goes on in it; and, of course, so much that goes in goes out somewhere else—to offshore bank accounts, on Mercedes cars or whatever—and does not get through. I do not know how we are going to correct that problem, but I do know that that is largely the problem. The Department for International Development is under this Government, and was under the previous Government, fully aware of it, and is doing its very best to make sure that the money that we give, either as a Government or through our wonderful charities, some of which we have mentioned today, gets all the way through.

Personally, I think that the forum of the world, the United Nations, should get a grip and somehow come up with a plan to make sure that people in Africa are fed properly, either by moving them to a place where they can be sustained or by getting some sort of arrangement with authorities whereby they do not interfere and we do not have to pay a levy—like I had to, not in Africa but in Bosnia, where we stopped the practice—to get food through to the people who need it. That is disgraceful. I very much hope that the United Nations, which is the highest authority in the world, can somehow get its act together to make sure that the people of Africa get fed properly and are not prevented from receiving proper aid by the authorities, either locally or nationally.

I hope the House will forgive me for speaking.

3.25 pm

Amber Rudd: With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will wind up the debate. It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). It is always interesting to hear from him about his passionate support for the people of Africa and about what his wife has been doing to support them.

I thank the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary for attending and thank their opposite numbers for kindly coming here as well. The common theme of the debate has been that we need to do all we can to help the people of the horn of Africa. All Members have taken the time to congratulate the UK public on their contribution and express wholehearted support for the Government’s efforts, only stopping to try to redirect those efforts and introduce their own examples or themes regarding things they think can really make a difference.

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I should like to repeat a couple of the points that have been made and ask the Under-Secretary to respond to them in due course. Sadly, he will not speak on this occasion, but I am sure that he will come back to us individually. First, I will comment on food price volatility and commodity trading. The hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) said she was not sure whether that is a matter of concern although it has been suggested that it is. It would be helpful to those of us who are concerned about food security to achieve a settled view, if that is possible, on whether it is something that we should be concentrating on. If it is, we absolutely need to address it, but if not, we do not want it to distract us from all our other efforts. Time and money are limited and we need to know where to focus them. It has also been interesting to hear so many Members speak strongly about the importance of focusing aid towards women, who support their homes and families, and I emphasise that point to the Under-Secretary.

The complexity of the causes of the famine has not put the House off; instead, each Member has dealt with them with in their own way, drawing on their own experience to do so. The House should be proud of the fact that Members have put in such effort, resulting in a very good debate. The most important message to emerge is the urgency of improving agricultural resilience in these countries. If we can help people to grow their own food and feed themselves, we will help them to mitigate the difficulties that cause the famine we are now witnessing.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us to have this debate and congratulate everybody on their speeches. I have very much enjoyed hearing so many Members speak so strongly and passionately about other people and countries that they care about. It is good for the House that we have done that. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to .

Resolved ,

That this House welcomes the contribution of the British public, via the Disasters Emergency Committee, and the British Government to the famine relief effort in the Horn of Africa; recognises that emergency food relief must always be the last resort and that improving the productivity and resilience of domestic agricultural systems in Africa must be a priority for the UK and the international donor community; and calls upon the Government to increase its focus on improving awareness around nutrition and agriculture in the developing world to support farmers and secure greater international food resilience and to champion the welfare of those in the developing world in the discussions on food price volatility at the upcoming G20 Summit in Cannes.

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Human Rights on the Indian Subcontinent

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Before I call Mr Steve Baker to move the motion, I remind Back Benchers that a large number of people wish to take part in this debate and that therefore Mr Speaker has put a five-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions.

3.30 pm

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the issue of Human Rights on the Indian Subcontinent.

I am extremely grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for making this debate possible. My predecessor, Paul Goodman, took this issue extremely seriously and I am sure that had this mechanism been available he would have called such a debate. I am also extremely grateful to the Members who turned out to support me at the Committee: my hon. Friends the Members for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney), for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) and for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming), my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Mr Scott) who spoke about Sri Lanka, the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) and the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin).

The origin of this debate was my request for a debate on human rights in Kashmir and the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North for a debate on Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, some commentators mistakenly thought that we sought to conflate the two issues. That is not the case. It suited the Backbench Business Committee to bring the issues together under the heading of “Human Rights on the Indian Subcontinent”.

I have a simple purpose: to give a voice to the thousands of British Kashmiri constituents who demand and are entitled to representation in this place, their Parliament. I am aware that many Members wish to speak about Sri Lanka, so for the sake of time I will rely on my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North to cover that issue. I will say only that I support my Tamil constituents’ demand for an independent international investigation.

Mr Lee Scott (Ilford North) (Con): As my hon. Friend rightly said, I will speak more about the issues relating to the Tamil community later. Does he agree that what is needed is justice for the Tamil people?

Steve Baker: I do agree with my hon. Friend. When I come on to my later remarks, I think he will share my view that this issue is part of the legacy of the British empire and its withdrawal from the world.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the importance of this debate is that it will give a voice not only to parliamentarians, but to the people of the countries that are affected, such as those in the disputed region of Kashmir?

Steve Baker: Not for the first time, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is absolutely our reason for being here: to give a voice to those people.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): I genuinely congratulate all the Members who have got this matter on to the agenda of our Parliament this afternoon. There are many people in Stoke-on-Trent from Kashmir who feel strongly that the issue of civil rights and justice

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needs to be on the diplomatic agenda of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and that it must negotiate on this issue. We need to deal with the human rights abuses and it is important that this debate is followed through.

Steve Baker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I am pleased that there seems to be a cross-party consensus on the nature of this conversation, and I hope that will continue throughout the afternoon.

Mr Brian Binley (Northampton South) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that seeking a judgment on behalf of one side is a bit pejorative and that what we really need is to create healing between two groups of people that have both been harmed by a very damaging terrorist war?

Steve Baker: My hon. Friend will find as I make progress with my remarks that I agree with the thrust of what he has said. I certainly do not wish to be divisive.

The status of Kashmir and the history of events leading to its division have long been contested and have led to at least three wars between India and Pakistan. India claims that the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir legally acceded to it in 1947. Pakistan claims that Kashmiris were denied their choice of which state to join and holds that the status of Kashmir can be decided only by a plebiscite in line with UN resolutions. Kashmir has been divided since 1948 by a ceasefire line, known as the line of control. It is not my intention to rehearse the whole history of events as time does not permit it.

The region remains one of the most militarised in the world, with thousands of troops on both sides of the line of control. Further to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South (Mr Binley), I do not think that is in the interests of either country. Various peace negotiations have taken place, leading to a number of practical, confidence-building measures, but I am afraid that the Mumbai attacks interrupted them.

For me, the history of Kashmir emphasises an absolutely vital point—the importance of peace and comprehensive non-aggression, because when violence begins, despair is not far behind. There are those who say that we should not be discussing these matters today, but for me the ghosts of empire have left us with an inescapable paradox. On the one hand, India is entitled to make its way in the world; it is the largest democracy in the world and there should be no echoes of paternalistic colonialism. On the other hand British Kashmiris, for whom the Kashmir issue is of deep, abiding and passionate concern—for the world is a small place—demand and are entitled to a voice in this place on this issue.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): On that point, the British Kashmiris in my constituency are asking for justice for Kashmir—for investigation and action to stop human rights abuses. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a key thing to do?

Steve Baker: Absolutely, and I shall come to that point.

I do not intend any lazy demagoguery, as that would be too easy—no cheap condemnation of India and, I am afraid, no false hopes for Kashmiris.

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Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way on that point?

Steve Baker: No, I am sorry; I must make progress.

I wish to discuss Kashmiris’ rights to life, liberty and democratic self-determination, and to connect those issues. My Kashmiri constituents have brought to me allegations that I scarcely believed of killing, mass murder, rape, brutality and arbitrary detention. Having visited Mumbai and found India a mature country with a sophisticated democracy and institutions modelled after our own, I found those allegations hard to believe, yet the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s human rights report of May 2011 confirmed that reports of human rights abuses on both sides of the line of control in Kashmir continued in 2010. Indian Prime Minister Singh has said that human rights violations by security forces in Kashmir will not be tolerated and he has instructed security forces to respect human rights. We must hope that his words are honoured by those in Kashmir.

Human Rights Watch this year called for a repeal of India’s Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. It says that soldiers found responsible for serious human rights violations remain unaccountable because of immunity provided under that law. There might be propaganda on both sides—indeed, I am sure there is—but no one should allow themselves to believe that allegations of human rights abuses in Kashmir are unfounded.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have just received a communication from an Indian paper called Daijiworld. The headline reads, “India reacts strongly to British parliamentary debate on Kashmir”. We have not even had the debate and already a parliamentary democracy is telling us that we should not be having it. That is not quite a point of order, but this really is an insult from the Indian journalists who say we should not even be debating this in our own House of Commons.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Thank you, Mr MacShane. Perhaps you have just introduced a new practice in which people stand up and say, “Nearly point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.” You are quite right: it was nearly a point of order but it certainly was not one for the Chair. However, it has been put on the record.

Steve Baker: I am most grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s contribution.

As I was saying, we must not deceive ourselves. Moving on to issues of freedom of movement, of association, of speech and so on, I want to mention a report by Amnesty International entitled, “India: A ‘lawless law’: Detentions under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act,” which contains a number of allegations regarding the use of preventive, administrative detentions. The contents include:

“Violations of the principle of legality…Delayed and secret reasons for detention…No access to judicial authority…Restrictions on access to legal counsel…Indefinite detention of foreign nationals…Immunity of officials…Incommunicado detention …Torture…Detention without any legal basis”.

That Amnesty International report deserves an answer.

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Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the suffering of the people in Kashmir and the problems that they face daily. Does he share my concern that the international community has not put this issue high enough up the agenda by seeking to reach a resolution that brings peace to such a beautiful part of the world?

Steve Baker: The hon. Lady is right, and I am most grateful to her. Of course, I share that view, which is why we are here today.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman be characteristically even-handed and mention the Amnesty report, “As if Hell fell on Me: the Human Rights Crisis in North-west Pakistan,” given that this debate is about human rights issues on the subcontinent as a whole?

Steve Baker: I am most grateful—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. Before the hon. Gentleman responds to that intervention, I remind him of the guidelines about the length of his contribution.

Steve Baker: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have taken my last intervention. The hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) makes a good point, although I have not read that report. I am seeking to be even-handed, but even so, I have to enter this into the record for the sake of discussion. The “lawless law” report states that by using the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act

“to incarcerate suspects without adequate evidence, India has not only gravely violated their human rights but also failed in its duty to charge and try such individuals and to punish them if found guilty in a fair trial.”

I wish to express considerable humility on this point, because the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act is very much in line with the principle at least of our own control orders and terrorism prevention and investigation measures. The House should therefore not be too quick to condemn the principle of what India is doing. It is very much in line with what we have done. In my Second Reading speech on TPIMs, I condemned administrative detention outright and then withheld my vote from it, so I hope that I will escape the accusation of hypocrisy.

We need to consider how these measures arise. Why do democracies turn to such measures? I suggest that when democracy is denied, people turn away from it and end up seeking violence. I am proposing, for the people of Kashmir, a comprehensive policy of non-aggression, peace and democratic self-determination under the terms of the UN resolutions. I accept that the situation in Kashmir can only, and must, be resolved by Kashmiris, India and Pakistan, but we must acknowledge in this place the absolute moral, legal and political equality of the Kashmiri people and take whatever steps are appropriate to secure demilitarisation, democratic self-determination and a prosperous and secure future for Kashmir. I hope that the Government are listening and will take whatever steps they can.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I remind Members that there is a five-minute limit on speeches.

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3.42 pm

Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): I am grateful to be called to contribute to this important debate and I congratulate the hon. Members for Wycombe (Steve Baker) and for Ilford North (Mr Scott) on securing it. I am pleased that it has proved so popular with parliamentary colleagues, although the unfortunate flip-side is that we have a strict time limit on our contributions.

Like the hon. Member for Wycombe, I wish to focus my comments on the situation in Kashmir. This topic is important to me because my constituency, and Birmingham as a whole, has a large British-Kashmiri population, some of whose members are here for the debate and many of whom have written to me asking me to voice their concerns in the House. The subject is also important to me personally, because I am of Kashmiri origin: my family originated from the Mirpur district of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, both my parents were born there and I still have family and friends there. Consequently, the plight of Kashmiris and the necessity of finding a peaceful resolution to the Kashmir dispute have loomed large in my life.

For too long the beautiful region of Kashmir, often described as paradise on earth, has been caught in one of the world’s most dangerous conflicts, but it is a conflict that is little reported and often does not get the media and global political attention that it needs and deserves. I am grateful, therefore, that this debate has given us an opportunity to focus on the issue. I know, too, that many British Kashmiris are grateful to the all-party group on Kashmir and Sultan Mehmood Chaudhry, a former Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir, for their efforts to raise the profile of this dispute and to secure political debate and action.

The failure to resolve the Kashmir dispute, and particularly the failure to give effect to UN resolutions from the 1940s urging a plebiscite in Kashmir so that the Kashmiri people can determine their own future, has resulted in an uprising in Indian-administered Kashmir, the suppression of which, according to Amnesty International’s “lawless law” report, has led to grave human rights violations. The report highlights disturbing and unacceptable cases of abuse, with the application of the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act 1978, in particular, undermining efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution. Amnesty International found that many cases in which the Public Safety Act had been applied involved lengthy periods of illegal detention of political activists seeking Kashmiri independence, in violation of Indian national law as well as international law. Many cases featured allegations of torture and other forms of ill treatment being used to coerce people into making confessions.

One of the most offensive features of the Public Safety Act is that it provides for immunity from prosecution for officials operating under it, thereby granting impunity for human rights violations under the law. The application of the Act, together with the discovery of mass graves in Kashmir, the Mumbai attacks in 2008 and Kashmir’s bloody summer of 2010, have undermined the prospects for a resolution of the dispute.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a passionate speech, and I am proud to be sitting here listening to her. Does she agree that India should accept the findings of the commission on the mass graves in Kashmir?

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Shabana Mahmood: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention, and I endorse her contribution. I know that she, too, is a passionate advocate of human rights on the Indian subcontinent.

A resolution is needed, desperately and urgently. The world, and especially the people of Kashmir, cannot afford for India and Pakistan to be engaged in perpetual dispute over the region. The human cost is too great. The partition of the two countries in 1947 resulted in hundreds of thousands dead. In the three wars that have been fought between the two states more than 15,000 people have died, and the estimates of the number of dead following the uprisings in Kashmir range from 40,000 to 100,000. Both countries spend too much of their budgets on defence; that money should be channelled into eradicating poverty and promoting health, education and human rights. India and Pakistan have both acquired nuclear weapons, and the fear that the hostility between the two countries, which springs from a mix of religion, history and territory, might change quickly into armed conflict is very real and never too far away. Meanwhile the people of Kashmir continue to suffer, so a resolution of the dispute deserves and demands our attention, and talks must be pursued with vigour on all sides.

John Hemming: Does the hon. Lady agree that this debate shows that we are not forgetting Kashmir? The treatment of the people of Kashmir is key, and we will not ignore that.

Shabana Mahmood: I endorse the hon. Gentleman’s comments. As I have said, I am grateful that we are having this debate today.

I said that all sides needed to pursue a solution with vigour, because too often the rest of the world sees only India and Pakistan as the main contestants in the dispute. It is my contention, however, that the Kashmiri people themselves are the central party and should be treated as such, as it is their future that is at the heart of the dispute.

I also think that the British Government have a vital role to play, not only because of our history but because our country is home to large diaspora communities from India, Pakistan and Kashmir. We therefore have a unique insight into the intricacies of the dispute, and an important role to play in achieving its resolution. We should be a critical friend to both India and Pakistan, and a strong advocate of the rights of Kashmiris. They are a strong, resilient, proud, generous and passionate people, and their land is a place of great natural beauty and potential. Their plight demands our attention, and they deserve our efforts to bring the injustice that they have suffered to an end.

3.48 pm

Mr Lee Scott (Ilford North) (Con): I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) and the others who have secured this joint debate. I also assure my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South (Mr Binley) that I intend to ask for justice for all in Sri Lanka.

Mr Binley: I am delighted.

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Mr Scott: I knew that he would be pleased to hear that.

As we have heard from the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane), it seems that we are not allowed to debate in our House of Commons issues that affect our constituents. Well I can assure the authorities in India and Sri Lanka that we are perfectly at liberty to discuss items that affect our constituents, their lives and their families.

I want to focus today on Sri Lanka. We have seen reports from the United Nations that 40,000 innocent women and children were massacred at the end of the conflict. When I raised the matter with the Sri Lankan authorities, I was told that I was wrong and that the Channel 4 programme “Sri Lanka’s Killing Field”, for which I pay tribute to Channel 4, was also wrong. I have said that there should be an independent international inquiry—if I am wrong, such an inquiry would surely show that the Sri Lankan authorities were innocent and I would apologise—but that has been turned down. There must be justice for all in Sri Lanka—I totally agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South about that—but that must include justice for the Tamil people, who must receive answers to some important questions.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for his powerful speech and for co-authoring today’s motion. Does he recognise that as well as the thousands and thousands of Tamils who were killed by the Sri Lankan regime, 17,000 Tamils are still caged behind barbed wire and another nearly 200,000 in transit camps have been refused permission to return to their homes?

Mr Scott: I agree with my hon. Friend that it surely cannot take two years—it is now some two years since the conflict ended—to decide whether somebody is a terrorist or whether they should stand trial; nor should it take two years for those trials to take place. That certainly should have happened by now. I would add that there are still children in some of the camps who are four or five years old, and I have yet to meet an 18-month-old terrorist.

Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and for the passion that he brings to this issue. Does he agree that our constituents have a right to know who was responsible for the deaths of their family members in Sri Lanka and that the record of the Sri Lankan Government to date suggests that they will not get that answer from the Sri Lankan authorities?

Mr Scott: My hon. Friend is perfectly correct: there should be answers to those questions.

Mr Binley: As ever, my hon. Friend is most generous in giving way. I have visited the Puttalam camp on the west coast of Sri Lanka, which holds 160,000 Tamils who were driven out from the north mainly through fear of the actions of the Tamil Tigers, and I know that because I talked to those people without any regard to the Sri Lankan authorities and that is what they told me. Does my hon. Friend accept that?

Mr Scott: I obviously accept what my hon. Friend says; equally, however, we saw on our TV screens only

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recently that people in Libya said one thing when they were interviewed at first and something quite separate a few weeks later.

Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): My hon. Friend is very generous in giving way. I have listened to the recent exchanges, but does he not agree that the most important thing that should come out of today’s debate is the need not to lose sight of justice for all?

Mr Scott: I totally agree and reiterate that there must be justice for all. I would never say that there should not be.

In the short time left to me—that is, in this debate, not beyond that—I would like to raise a number of issues. I have said in the past that, when the conflict ended, a number of babies and children below the age of 12 were not accounted for. I have asked the Sri Lankan high commission to share with me what happened to those babies and young children. To this day I have not received an answer. I will continue to follow that up, but I would also ask the Minister to look into the matter, just as I have asked our high commissioner in Colombo.

We are also getting sad reports of what are called “grease devils”. These are men who attack people after applying grease to their bodies so as not to be captured by the authorities. They then run into military camps or police stations, having attacked their victims—normally women—in their homes. I am not casting any aspersions against anyone as to who they might be, but I would like to see the practice stopped and the perpetrators caught. I would also like to ask what has happened to the elderly and disabled people who were left behind at the end of the conflict, on 18 May 2009, because they are still unaccounted for.

I have here a list of various things I could run through, but I shall not do that because of the time. What I want to say, to everyone in the House, is that we have a duty. We have a duty to represent not only our constituents, but those who have no voice, wherever they are in the world. We have a duty to stand up for innocent people, whether they be Tamil or Sinhalese, and to get justice.

Barry Gardiner: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Amnesty International’s country report on Sri Lanka this year will be of equal concern to both the Tamil and Sinhalese communities? The report says that in the immediate aftermath of the elections, the Rajapaksa family,

“which controlled five key ministries and more than 90 state institutions,”

introduced a constitutional amendment in September that

“removed the two-term limit on the presidency”.

Mr Scott: Yes, that is a great concern. Again, individual action is needed on all these items.

Today, however, we are here to speak about human rights on the Indian subcontinent. We have to speak about human rights in Sri Lanka; we have to get justice for the Tamil people. If we do not get it, we will all have let those people down. I, for one, will continue to do

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everything in my power—whoever I upset, whether they be colleagues or not—to continue to try to get that justice for the Tamil people. We have said that we will look at the situation in November to see whether the Sri Lanka Government have failed to take action. It is now mid-September, so it is not long till November. I hope that, for everyone’s benefit, the Sri Lanka Government will allow an independent international investigation into what happened. I believe that that is what we must go for. I know that the Minister stands up for the rights of all in this area, so I hope that will happen.

3.56 pm

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): It is a privilege to follow such a passionate and well-informed speech by the hon. Member for Ilford North (Mr Scott). In common with other Members, I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) on securing this debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) for making the arrangements to enable it to take place.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) said, there are significant numbers of people of Kashmiri origin across the UK. The vast majority of my constituents from the Indian subcontinent are of Kashmiri origin, so this debate has provoked great interest not just in Ladywood, but in Dudley, too. I want to pay tribute to this community’s contribution to life in Dudley—to its economic, social, cultural and political life—since the ’60s when people from Kashmir first came to the town. I want to place on the record my thanks and gratitude for their support and friendship and for their wise advice—not just on the issue we are discussing today, but on so many other issues, as well. They believe that the people of both Pakistan and India deserve peace and prosperity and that this ongoing dispute is hindering the progress that can be achieved towards both.

Prosperity and peace in the long term requires a resolution between these two nuclear forces, because the stability of the region as a whole depends on a just solution. Given the amount of bloodshed that has arisen from this issue—bin Laden used the Kashmir issue as one of the reasons for al-Qaeda’s attacks on the west—surely the only route to long-lasting peace is through the democratic route. I believe we have to be absolutely clear that the future of Kashmir must be decided by the people of Kashmir, because the only way in which we will see justice for the Kashmiri people is through the right to self-determination, agreed by India in the UN and supported by the UK Government. That is the basic democratic principle—a principle that the west has supported in other countries, and one that we should support in relation to Kashmir.

I would like to see our Government urge India and Pakistan to progress the talks that have recently started again, albeit in a low-level way. Our historic role in the region places on Britain a responsibility to do all it can to help bring about a speedy resolution to the dispute. We should stand ready to assist in the process—by encouraging economic development, by improving education and health care systems, and particularly by supporting peaceful elements in civil society.

I believe that the UK must also take a number of other steps. We condemn terrorist attacks wherever they occur—and quite right, too—but the Indian military

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has committed human rights atrocities against Kashmiris since the last India-Pakistan war in 1999, so we should be very clear about condemning those attacks and calling for an immediate stop to human rights violations. Human rights abuses have also been carried out by some terrorist groups against Indian targets. We need to see the enforcement and implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and UN monitoring of the situation. Crucially, people in Kashmir have as much of a right to a free press as we take for granted in the UK.

Finally, the Government could exploit much more effectively the expertise and experience in communities such as mine here in the UK, so I invite the Minister to come to Dudley to hear directly from my constituents their views on achieving a peaceful solution based on self-determination for the Kashmiri people.

3.59 pm

Jonathan Lord (Woking) (Con): My constituency has a large Kashmiri community, many of whom worship together at the Shah Jahan mosque, which is the UK’s oldest purpose-built mosque. Not all members of the Muslim community in Woking have roots and family in Kashmir, but a significant portion do, some of whom are in the Gallery today. The community is well established and contributes greatly to many areas of life in Woking, including local politics. I am pleased that last year we had our first Muslim mayor, and first Kashmiri mayor, Mohammed Iqbal, who was a wonderful civic ambassador for our town. I welcome the chance to speak in the House about the human rights situation in the subcontinent and especially in Kashmir, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) on his part in securing the debate.

The Foreign Office reports that human rights abuses continue each year on both sides of the line of control. Last year, violent clashes in Indian-controlled Kashmir saw about 100 civilians killed, and Amnesty’s recent report concluded that the state of Jammu and Kashmir is holding hundreds of people each year without charge or trial. Any such human rights abuses should be condemned, no matter what the political or historical background. But when the problem is political and historical, the violence and abuse is likely finally to come to an end in the region only when a diplomatic solution is found.

The region has suffered greatly in the past few years, not just from the ongoing instability, but from the devastating earthquake in 2005 and the floods in 2010. I hope that the next couple of years will see more positive developments and a return to diplomatic talks that will pave the way to security and the right to self-determination.

It should be recognised that the UK not only has strong historic links to the region but plays a major aid role. UK taxpayers’ money has repaired 450,000 properties and built 16 new schools and 40 new bridges in Azad Kashmir as part of the earthquake reconstruction and rehabilitation programme. Additional money was raised through the generosity of British citizens, as I witnessed at countless local fundraising events and street stalls hosted and led by our Muslim community in Woking. Further, more than £1 million has been spent by UK taxpayers in the past five years via the conflict pool that goes towards support for human rights, conflict prevention and peace-building efforts. Projects such as educational

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programmes in schools that are vulnerable to militant influence, and the promotion of civil society exchanges across the line of control, are highly worth while, and I hope that the funding of such programmes will continue.

Everyone knows that progress will be slow and that resolutions to disputes such as that affecting Kashmir will not be found overnight, but every long journey starts with just one step. There is now some sort of dialogue between India and Pakistan about Kashmir. There has been talk of the possibility of a new era of diplomacy; the new Pakistan Foreign Minister’s recent visit to India showed signs of progress, with additional agreements about trade over the border. Sustained and composite dialogue, however, is not yet forthcoming. [Interruption.] On such an important issue, we could do with less backchat from some Members on the Labour Benches, because everyone in the Chamber deserves to be listened to.

The Government’s long-standing position is that it is not the UK’s role to be initiating talks or identifying mediators for such talks, and I understand the reasons for that. With the Minister, I spoke back in 1997 to a group of Oldham Kashmiris about this very issue, but I fear that we are not much further on. However, I welcome the Government’s recognition of the people of Kashmir’s desire for self-determination. The Government must know that the prospect of achieving long-term stability in the region, and an end to the kind of violence and human rights abuse that occurred last year, will take a major step forward only when India and Pakistan return to composite and regular dialogue.

In the quiet, measured yet determined way that our Foreign Office is capable of, I hope that it will do everything appropriate that it can to encourage India and Pakistan themselves to initiate proper dialogue and talks. This country must always stand up for the proud Kashmiri people who have been the real victims for so long—for too long—in this terrible historic dispute.

4.4 pm

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): The civil war in Sri Lanka was one of the region’s most dreadful conflicts of recent times. In its last five months alone, 100,000 people were killed, 40,000 of them civilians. War crimes took place. The United Nations found serious violations of international humanitarian law, and the European Commission described

“Unlawful killings perpetrated by soldiers, police and…groups with ties to the Government”.

Earlier this year, Channel 4 screened a devastating documentary using video film from victims and perpetrators that proved, according to the UN rapporteur, “definitive war crimes”. It showed hospitals and so-called safe zones being targeted for bombing, people executed in cold blood and at point-blank range, and soldiers joking about women who had been sexually assaulted and shot dead as they piled their naked bodies on the backs of lorries. I commend Channel 4, and reporters such as Jonathan Miller, for continuing to investigate the harrowing story.

Even after the war, more than 300,000 Tamils were held in camps, and although most have been released, the International Crisis Group says that they were sent to places that were

“devoid of the most basic amenities.”

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Many still live under canvas, and 3,000 are still in “rehabilitation” camps, held without charge and without any access to legal help. Sri Lanka’s military continue to control civilian life in Tamil areas, including aid, and routinely steal Tamil property for use by military personnel and their families.

The President of Sri Lanka, a probable war crimes suspect, has taken on enormous powers over the judiciary and policing, limiting the courts’ ability to prevent abuses of civil rights. The Elders, an international group, has condemned Sri Lanka for

“persecution, intimidation, assassination and disappearance of government critics, political opponents, journalists and human rights defenders.”

Independent overseas reporters are not permitted. As the International Crisis Group says,

“Reconciliation after long periods of conflict never happens quickly. But in Sri Lanka there is a serious risk it may not happen at all.”

Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission consists of people who supported the Sri Lankan Government’s actions during the civil war. The Government say of the LLRC’s job that

“what happened in the past must be relegated to history”,

although, as the UN stresses,

“not to hold accountable those who committed serious a clear violation of Sri Lanka’s international obligations and is not a permissible transitional justice option.”

Gordon Weiss, the former UN spokesperson in Sri Lanka, has said:

“This is Sri Lanka’s Srebrenica moment. In fact, it’s a Srebrenica moment for the rest of the world.”

I agree. The world must say to other Governments that there is nothing to be gained from taking the Sri Lankan option of brutal repression and war crimes.

The last UK Government, thanks—to be fair—to the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), brought an end to GSP plus, the generalised system of preferences that led to a preferential trading agreement between Europe and Sri Lanka, voted against the International Monetary Fund’s $2.5 billion deal with Sri Lanka, and prevented it from hosting a Commonwealth summit. Britain must not lose that lead. Elsewhere, Switzerland and Germany have just forced Sri Lanka to recall a senior diplomat after accusations that he made troops fire on civilians and took part in torture and summary executions. However, another man implicated in similar crimes, Major-General Prasanna Silva, has just been appointed a military attaché to the UK. I call on the Minister to reassure the House that he will not permit Major-General Silva to serve here. I want Britain to prove its place at the head of the international community, and I hope that the Minister can enable it to do so by removing this man’s diplomatic privileges.

Britain must take a brave and principled lead—just as we did in Kosovo and, with France, in Libya—and do all that it can to ensure that a full independent international investigation of war crimes takes place. Those of us who believe in justice want the people responsible to be held to account, just as all of us would agree about Colonel Gaddafi, Radovan Karadzic and Charles Taylor. We cannot allow the international community to slip

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back to the cosy days of 2009, when the UN disgracefully ignored calls for a war crimes investigation, or when the Secretary-General spoke of Sri Lanka’s “tremendous efforts”. Sri Lanka still wants to host the Commonwealth summit in 2013. We should be clearly saying “No, not until there is a fully independent, UN-led international inquiry.” I hope that if one thing comes out of today’s debate, it will be that commitment.

4.10 pm

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): May I join other Members in paying tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Wycombe (Steve Baker) and for Ilford North (Mr Scott), who helped to secure the debate? I also pay tribute to the previous Member for Wycombe, who did a lot of work on Kashmir. He came to my constituency to speak to my Kashmiri community on a number of occasions, and he continues to help and offer assistance. I also pay tribute to the Backbench Business Committee. In holding this debate, it has sent a clear message to both the Kashmiri and the Tamil and Sri Lankan communities that this Parliament is listening, and that Members are prepared to debate the issues that are of greatest concern to our constituents.

Steve Baker: Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the great things about the Backbench Business Committee is that it chooses issues for debate thoroughly independently of Government policy, as has been shown today?

Andrew Griffiths: I could not agree more. I was initially sceptical about the Backbench Business Committee and what it could achieve, but I only have to look up at the full Public Gallery and consider the number of e-mails and letters I have received over the past few days, to be reminded that the subjects it chooses for discussion are highly relevant to our constituents.

I also want to thank the Minister. In our dealings on the Kashmir issue, he has always been helpful, and his door has always been open. He has also laid at our disposal the help of his officials, who have done a great job in providing us with information and assistance. I am grateful for that.

I speak on this subject as vice-chairman of the all-party groups on both Pakistan and Kashmir, and, most importantly, as an MP who represents more than 4,500 Kashmiri constituents. When I first became the parliamentary candidate for Burton, I went along to the local community centres and mosques to talk to the Kashmiris in my constituency. Although we addressed all the issues that matter to them, such as education and policing, time and again they would return to the burning issue of Kashmir and ask for our help. It was with that experience in mind that I pledged to be the first MP for Burton ever to visit Kashmir.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his powerful speech. Does he share the Kashmiris’ frustration about this dispute being one of the longest in our history? It involves two countries that have nuclear weapons and it has caused three wars to take place, yet the international community does not appear to be taking it seriously enough.

Andrew Griffiths: The hon. Gentleman articulates the views of so many of my constituents. They ask, “Why isn’t it on television or in the newspapers? Why is what

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is happening in Kashmir not being reported here in Britain, and why is the international community not doing something about it?”

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman sets out his points very well. Does he agree that today’s debate demonstrates that we are listening to the concerns of our constituents, and that we are keen to move the issue forward so that proper progress can be made on it internationally?

Andrew Griffiths: I agree, and I know that the hon. Gentleman does a great deal in this House on these issues. I congratulate him on that.

Barry Gardiner: The hon. Gentleman asked why the world was not doing something about Kashmir. Does he agree that that may have something to do with the Simla agreement, under which Pakistan and India agreed that they would settle the issue bilaterally without outside interference, and in a completely peaceful way?

Andrew Griffiths: I am afraid that I would agree more if we had seen more proactive responses from both Pakistan and India. Having been to the Pakistan-administered side of Kashmir and spoken to many people, I found it frustrating to see that many politicians there are inhibiting the efforts to find a solution.

Mr Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andrew Griffiths: I will make some progress, if I may, as time is short and I have given way on a number of occasions.

I am reminded very much of what happens in respect of the Falkland Islands: every time there is a general election in Argentina, the issue of the Malvinas is brought up as a way of sabre rattling and winning votes, and a similar thing happens in both Pakistan and India. That is why it is incumbent on the UK to use any influence it has to move the situation forward.

I have been to the Falkland Islands as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, and I visited Gibraltar last year on holiday. I have spoken to Gibraltarians and Falkland Islanders, so I know that the thing they have in common is their right to self-determination. They have the right to choose how they are governed and who governs them. That is at the heart of the Kashmir issue: it is about the fact that the people of Kashmir should have a right to self-determination and to choose their own path forward. I have seen the Pakistan-administered side of Kashmir for myself, and it is clear that that area has been devastated, not just because of the earthquake and the flood, but because of the way in which this trouble has held that region back. It is time that the United Kingdom—a Commonwealth country—used its best efforts to move this situation forward.

Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not our colonial past that is important in resolving this issue, but our recent experience in trouble spots such as Northern Ireland?

Andrew Griffiths: I do. I also think that this is about our relationship with the area. We have a strong Pakistani diaspora in the UK and we have strong trading ties with

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India. We have a unique relationship with both those countries, which may allow us to get them around the table and move things forward.

The situation in Kashmir matters for a number of reasons. First, because it is about self-determination and the right of the Kashmiris to choose. Secondly, because the two countries involved have nuclear weapons, so this potential flashpoint could have devastating consequences. Most importantly, it matters because the lives of too many Kashmiris are being devastated, on both sides of the line. I have spoken to too many families where grandparents have never seen their grandchildren or where children have not been able to return to see the grave of their mother or father. It is for those types of people that we have a responsibility to use our best efforts to help to move towards a solution. I know that the Minister has a heartfelt interest in this matter, and I know that, for the sake of all my Kashmiri constituents, he will do his best.

4.17 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): First, may I apologise to the House for the fact that I will not be able to be here for the wind-ups, as I was already committed to chairing a meeting at 6 o’clock? I am grateful to the hon. Members who sponsored the proposal of this debate to the Backbench Business Committee, because we are debating this issue on the fourth international day of democracy, as nominated by the UN and celebrated by Parliaments throughout the world.

This is the right day for us to be debating this subject of human rights in the Indian subcontinent, because human rights are a precursor to democracy; without basic human rights and the full protection of human rights, there is no prospect of genuine democracy. When representatives of regimes that are denying human rights complain, as they do sometimes, that, as a British parliamentarian, I should not be interfering in their internal matters, I am confident that I can reply that there are international standards of democracy and human rights. It is the duty of every democrat, particularly every democratically elected parliamentarian, to uphold those standards throughout the world, without fear or favour. That was put rather more poetically by constituents of mine, some of whom are in the Gallery, who signed a petition stating:

“Human beings are like parts of a body, created from the same essence. When one part is hurt and in pain, the others cannot remain in peace and be quiet”.

I will therefore focus on human rights in Kashmir, although my Sri Lankan constituents, who come from both Sinhala and Tamil communities, are well aware of my passionate commitment to human rights in that country. That was expressed when the former representative of the UK Government to Sri Lanka, Des Browne, came to address a meeting in Slough just 18 months ago.

At the outset, I ought to say that I am a friend of both India and Pakistan, even at times when there are tensions between those two countries. I am also a friend of Kashmir, however, and of its people, who have not enjoyed full democratic and human rights since Britain left behind this bit of unfinished colonial business when we ceded control of India and Pakistan nearly 65 years ago.

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I was at Labour’s conference in 1995 when it resolved that Britain was under an obligation to seek a solution of the Kashmir issue. I am proud that Labour Foreign Secretaries from Robin Cook to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (David Miliband) have been willing, as they have worked to develop our relationship with that great democracy and growing economic power, India, to raise the uncomfortable issue of Kashmir. I am disappointed that the current Government do not feel the same duty, at least when they are in the territory of India. Whatever one’s view of the future of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, there can be no doubt—

Andrew Griffiths rose—

Fiona Mactaggart: I will certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Andrew Griffiths: The hon. Lady makes a party political point about this Government and our commitment to Kashmir. Can she tell us just one thing her Government did to move the issue of Kashmir forward?

Fiona Mactaggart: As I have been saying, for some 65 years, this has been an issue—[ Interruption. ] If my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) wants to intervene to question my historical knowledge, he is welcome.

For a long time, this subject has limped forward. British Foreign Secretaries have been prepared to raise the issue in Pakistan and India, even when it has been very unpopular. That is one thing that needs to happen—what we need is not silence about the issue, but a preparedness to stand up for human rights in public even when it is unpopular.

At the moment, it is not possible in Kashmir for journalists to report basic protests such as those that followed the death of a boy who was hit by a police tear gas canister just this June. Only when the press is free to publish reports of protests and when voters feel safe as they walk to the ballot box will there be any chance of resolving this bitter dispute. To that end, I echo the call from the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) for the repeal of the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act and of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. If we succeed in making Kashmir a society where human rights are protected, what then? That goes to the heart of the hon. Gentleman’s question.

I think Mr Hameed, the gravedigger at the martyrs’ graveyard in Indian-administered Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar, made the point very powerfully: “The solution to the problem will only be arrived at when India, Pakistan and Kashmiri people meet at the same table. Our kids pelt stones. The security services fire a bullet. What kind of democracy do we live in?” We need to ensure that the people of Kashmir live in a democracy and can determine their future. Until we protect their human rights, the possibility of a democratic resolution to the troubles that have divided that beautiful country for so long is lacking. I think the whole House agrees that democracy is the best way to resolve these issues and the whole House knows that without human rights, democracy cannot exist.

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4.23 pm

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I start by paying tribute to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker), a fellow former Royal Air Force officer. I joined him and many other Members from both sides of the House in helping to secure the debate from the Backbench Business Committee, to which we are very grateful.

I shall focus on Kashmir. I have spoken in Westminster Hall debates on Kashmir and at meetings of the all-party group for Kashmir, but this is the first time I have had the opportunity to speak on human rights in Kashmir in this Chamber, and I am very grateful for it. My constituency in west Yorkshire has thousands of Kashmiris living in Thornton Lodge, Crosland Moor and Lockwood. They raise the situation in their homeland with me weekly, so I am proud to be speaking on their behalf.

I fully understand that international issues are never straightforward, so to try to understand the dynamic of the region I undertook a private visit to Azad Jammu and Kashmir last November. I flew into Islamabad in Pakistan, and after delivering blankets, clothing and tents donated by the good folk of Huddersfield and Colne Valley to some of the flood-hit villages in the area of Nowshera in Pakistan, we crossed the border into AJK. I was based in the vibrant city of Mirpur—a fantastic place, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) rightly said—on the beautiful Mangla Dam lake. I was honoured to be invited for tea at the homes of families with loved ones who live in my constituency, but their love of tea is not the only close cultural link that the Kashmiris have with the UK. When I was invited to meet the Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Sardar Attique Khan, in Dadyal, I was welcomed by their military band, complete with bagpipes and kilts.

I saw a beautiful and peaceful Pakistan-administered region of Kashmir, but time and again I have been told of human rights abuses in Indian-controlled Kashmir, some of which we have heard about in this Chamber in the past hour, so I fully appreciate that this is a region where terrorism and security concerns are rife. Of course our own previous Government have been accused of being implicated in activities such as rendition in the wider region. The position is not always black and white.

An hour ago in Central Lobby, I bumped into a Kashmir-based journalist I met over there. As a former journalist, while I was in Kashmir I addressed a group of 50 Kashmiri journalists at the Press Club in Mirpur, and I stressed to them the importance of factual reporting. Wild accusations and the emotionally charged inflating of casualty figures do not help the cause of those campaigning for peace in the region. For example, yesterday I received an e-mail telling me of hundreds of unidentified graves, with the accusation that they contain the bodies of victims of unlawful killings and torture. I have no idea whether that is true; we must be wary of propaganda and deal in facts.

Fiona Mactaggart: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many Kashmiri journalists simply cannot report facts, because they cannot get press accreditation that will enable them to go into areas where the police are in control?

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Jason McCartney: The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. I made that point myself, but journalists must not over-compensate for their inability to go to those areas by wildly inflating reports; they must stick to the facts. As a journalist I was sometimes frustrated by similar situations, which can be very difficult.

Lyn Brown: Mass graves should be investigated. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if India agreed to a commission, we could see the truth of the claims that are being made and end the torturous anxieties of many people in Kashmir, who are worried that their relatives may be languishing in such places and that they have no rest?

Jason McCartney: The hon. Lady must have had a sneaky peek at my speech because I will come to that in about 20 seconds.

I welcome Amnesty International’s report on Kashmir, “A Lawless Law”, and want to highlight some of its conclusions, which I fully support. I call for a repeal of the Public Safety Act, which results in the long-term detention of people in cases where there is insufficient evidence for trial. I call on Indian-administered Kashmir to allow peaceful protests and exercise proper crowd control, and to carry out an independent, impartial and comprehensive investigation into all allegations of abuses, including the unmarked graves and allegations of torture. I call on the UK Government to keep Kashmir on their agenda and raise these issues with the Governments of Pakistan and India whenever they meet.

Andrew Griffiths: My hon. Friend makes a powerful and well-informed speech. Does he agree that we must seek as a matter of urgency to improve the lives of Kashmiris by improving cross-border trade between Pakistan and India and into Kashmir and by allowing travel, particularly to enable family and loved ones to visit?

Jason McCartney: My hon. Friend makes a good point. There already have been some cross-border relations on opening up the border for trade. I was impressed by Prime Minister Khan’s attitude towards commerce, jobs and green technologies—he talked about wind turbines, which massively impressed me.

Mr Virendra Sharma: Does the hon. Gentleman support and appreciate initiatives taken by the Pakistan and Indian Governments, with meetings at ministerial level, to find a peaceful formula to resolve the issue of Kashmir and related issues?

Jason McCartney: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. His office is on my corridor, so we will probably bump into each other and talk about this many more times. Yes, we want a peaceful solution and the best way to end war-war is to jaw-jaw and talk about these things, and I hope that the UK Government can be part of that.

Some eagle-eyed Members might have noticed the little green badge that I am wearing—[ Interruption. ] I thank the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane). It was given to me by the Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and it says, “Kashmir Seeks Attention”. Today, Kashmir has our attention, and all hon. Members in the Chamber should be very proud of that.

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4.30 pm

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Kashmir is the forgotten tragedy of the contemporary world. No other people has suffered such pain, such loss, such despair, and, worst of all, such a sense that their demands for justice are being ignored by the rest of the world. Here in the House of Commons we need to face up to our failures.

The first failure was the disastrous handling of the end of British imperialism in India. The second was the refusal of both India and Pakistan to abide by UN resolution 47, which stated:

“the final disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir will be made in accordance with the will of the people expressed through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite conducted under the auspices of the United Nations.”

That resolution was adopted in 1948; 63 years later, it has still not been implemented. The third failure is the refusal of successive British Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries of all parties to accept that Britain has an historical duty to work to allow the Kashmiri people to be free of the oppression under which they live.

Kashmir is not a faraway country of which we know nothing. The British Kashmiri community is now nearly 1 million strong and is part of the warp and weft of today’s Britain, just as in the past Huguenots, Jews, Poles and Irish people came with their culture, faith, languages and ways of life and became part of our island nation. I think of many dear friends in Rotherham, such as Councillor Jahangir Akhtar, Councillor Shaukat Ali, Councillor Mahroof Hussain, Mrs Parveen Quereshi, and Lord Nazir Ahmed in the other place, as well as friends in Tinsley and Sheffield, who have educated me on the problem of Kashmir.

According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch—irreproachable international organisations—as many as 100,000 Kashmiri Muslims have died since the end of the 1980s. That is a far higher death toll of Muslims than all of those killed in middle east conflicts in recent decades. Whereas the middle east conflict gets limitless geopolitical Government and media attention, the much great death toll in Kashmir is ignored. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights reports that 1.5 million refugees have been forced over the years to seek asylum across the border in Pakistan or Azad Kashmir.

In December last year, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary after receiving a report from the International Committee of the Red Cross. Its officials interviewed under private conditions 1,296 people held by India. Among them 498 had suffered torture from electricity; 381 had been suspended from the ceiling; 294 had muscles crushed in their legs by prison personnel sitting on a bar placed across their thighs; 181 had their legs stretched by being “split 180 degrees”; and 302 “sexual” cases were reported involving rape or sexual assault. The ICRC stated:

“The abuse always takes place in the presence of officers”

from India.

Fiona Mactaggart: As a former journalist, would my right hon. Friend like to speculate on why those horrible tortures have failed to reach our media?

Mr MacShane: There is a serious problem in that this is the first debate dedicated to this subject in my 17 years in the House. I very much respect the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the

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hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), but Ministers have not raised this issue at a sufficiently high level. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that the Foreign Secretary will raise that recent Red Cross report with India at the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference next month.

A few years ago the world was shocked at the death of 8,000 European Muslims in Srebrenica and the sight of 250,000 Kosovan Muslims fleeing from Serb troops. Why has there been silence on 1.5 million Kashmiris being forced out of their homes or up to 100,000 Muslims killed by Indian forces?

Just before he was elected, President Obama made the correct connection, noting that there would be no solution in Afghanistan without change in Pakistan, but he added that Pakistan needed help from India to resolve the Kashmir question. Afghanistan, Pakistan, India—the API triangle that lies at the heart of any future for this vital world region. Sadly, once in office President Obama dropped India, out of his desire to see movement and, as a result, got no movement at all, despite the best efforts of the late Richard Holbrooke. India is part of the problem, as is Pakistan. India must be part of the solution, as must Pakistan. Until the global community faces down India’s refusal to accept responsibility for its actions in Kashmir, there will be no peace in the region. It is time to break the silence that grips British Ministers.

Lilian Greenwood: I am sure my right hon. Friend agrees that members of the British Kashmiri community, many of whom are watching from the Gallery and elsewhere, will be delighted that we are having this debate, but it will not be worthwhile if it does not result in action by our Government to try to secure peace in that part of the world.

Mr MacShane: My hon. Friend is right. We do not want a curtain of silence to fall at 6 o’clock, when the Minister sits down at the end of his winding-up speech. This debate must be the beginning, not the end, of Britain finally accepting our responsibilities on behalf of our fellow British citizens for the great wrongs that have been done in Kashmir.

Britain might feel that it has no locus standi on Kashmir—as a former Minister I remember those discussions in the Foreign Office, and on this issue I have only respect for the current Foreign Office team—in which case, let the Government ask the European Union to set up a fact-finding mission to report on human rights abuses in Kashmir. Perhaps we could ask respected world leaders, such as the former US President, Jimmy Carter, or the former Finnish President, Martti Ahtisaari, both Nobel peace prize winners, to mediate between Pakistan and India on Kashmir, while fully respecting the rights of the people of Kashmir, because this question must not be settled above their heads between New Delhi and Islamabad. Senator Mitchell’s intervention in Northern Ireland was extremely important in helping to bring peace there. Peace in Kashmir would be a Nobel peace prize worth striving for.

Direct British rule in the Indian subcontinent lasted a mere 89 years, from 1858 to 1947. The denial of the

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rights of the people of Kashmir has so far lasted 63 years. Britain should do more to help find a solution and tell truth to power in both India and Pakistan.

4.37 pm

James Wharton (Stockton South) (Con): We have already heard much discussion today of the value of human rights. Human rights are indivisible, self-evidently of great value and internationally applicable, as the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) explained rather more eloquently than I will attempt. Human rights must also be understood in context—the context of where a country has been and where it is trying to go. That does not devalue the human right itself or the right to the individuals there. When we comment on other nations, their actions or the actions of those within them, we must have a full understanding of the historical context and of what has happened there to lead to the situation today. It is against that background that I would like to talk about Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has only recently emerged from three decades of horrendous civil war, a civil war that claimed countless thousands of lives, both in the north among the Tamil community and in the south among the Sinhalese majority, with Government Ministers, ordinary people and Ministers and representatives of foreign Government being killed throughout that time of great conflict. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the breakaway group in the north and east of the country, waged a war using terrorist tactics including assassinations, suicide attacks, vehicle bombs, attacks on trains and buses, and even attacks from the air, in order to try to force the Sri Lankan Government to accede to demands for a breakaway state within what they perceived to be the boundaries of their own nation. Years of negotiations on ceasefires and attempts to bring an end to the hostilities failed or made no real progress, with neither side sufficiently trusting the other.

Robert Halfon: My hon. Friend talks about history and human rights, and that is important. Before British colonisation of Sri Lanka the Tamils had their own kingdom in the north. Does he not agree that one of the problems that we face today arises from the effects of colonisation?

James Wharton: I agree that we, as the inheritors of the legacy of the British empire, have a duty to acknowledge our role in many of the problems that were created throughout the world by the way in which the empire ceased to be and by the legacies that we left behind. That is one reason why it is perfectly valid and right for this House to debate these issues today and for us as a nation to do what we can to set others on the right path by applying pressure and giving assistance where we can, so that where there are troubles and problems in the world we can make a small but, I hope, significant contribution to resolving them. In Sri Lanka, that legacy is part of its history, but its more recent history is that terrible civil war, which after years of negotiations had not been brought to an end and was continuing to hold back and drag down a country that has so much potential and could do so much for its own people and on the international stage.

In 2006, the Sri Lankan Government launched a campaign to bring the civil war to an end. It was an effective but ruthless military campaign of the sort

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necessary to put down an organisation such as the LTTE using military means. We have heard much discussion of some of the atrocities that are alleged to have been committed during that campaign, but in the context in which it happened we must all understand that the LTTE was one of the worst oppressors of the Tamil people during and before the conflict. That context must be understood and appreciated: the LTTE fought using civilian clothes, used civilians as human shields and had thousands of child soldiers in the field.

Mr Scott: Does my hon. Friend agree that, whatever might have happened during what was a terrible conflict, which nobody can deny, it still does not change the fact that civilians were massacred after the event?

James Wharton: My hon. Friend is of course right, and that is why I started my speech by talking about the value of human rights and their importance objectively, but that does not mean that the context in which we comment on other countries is not important, and that is what I want to discuss in my closing remarks.

That campaign having ended, we must acknowledge where Sri Lanka is and where it is going; where it is today and where it is going tomorrow. It is all too easy to be consistently critical of others who fall short of the standards that we may choose to set for them ourselves, but we should not do so without acknowledging where progress is being made. The end of the campaign has brought great benefits to Sri Lanka. We have seen the eradication of terrorism on the island, and elections are taking place in the north and east, as those areas join what is becoming a mature democracy throughout the rest of Sri Lanka.

Siobhain McDonagh: Does the hon. Gentleman think that democratically elected Governments should be held to a higher standard than any other group or institution in society? Does he think that it is legitimate for a democratically elected Government to drop cluster bombs on hospitals?

James Wharton: No, I do not. The hon. Lady will be unsurprised to hear that I do not believe that it is legitimate for a Government, whether democratically elected or not, to drop cluster bombs on hospitals. As I conclude my comments, however, I shall turn to the issue of reconciliation—what is being done, what must be done, what should be done and what we all would like to be done—in Sri Lanka.

First, I shall comment on some of the positive results of the conclusion to a three-decade-long civil war that claimed so many lives. The right to dissent and to freedom of expression in the north and east is now stronger than it had been for the preceding 30 years. De-mining operations are starting to make real progress in clearing up the hundreds of thousands of landmines and unexploded ordnance that litter the Sri Lankan countryside. The British Government are making a contribution to that work through DFID, the Mines Advisory Group and the HALO Trust, clearing up about 100,000 landmines and unexploded ordnance throughout the country.

The rehabilitation and re-homing of former LTTE combatants and of displaced people is well under way. Some 300,000 were displaced by the conflict, but only about 6,000 are now left in the welfare camps, because

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they have been given the opportunity, facilitated by the work of the Sri Lankan Government, to go home. The reconciliation and accountability that is such an important part of Sri Lanka moving forward has begun. The LLRC, although it has come in for some criticism today, has not yet given its final recommendations, and we should reserve judgment until it reports. Only recently, the Sri Lankan Government have approved a national action plan for the development of human rights that will, I hope, be implemented over the coming years, so that we are able to judge them on its success.

A lot of progress still needs to be made. We must not be an uncritical friend of Sri Lanka’s, but we must be a friend of Sri Lanka and of the Sri Lankan people. I hope that the House will support that.

4.45 pm

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Today a delegation from Conservative Friends of India heads off to the subcontinent. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) has ensured that when they land in Delhi they will walk into a major media storm. The UK Parliament should be very wary of intervening in the dispute over Kashmir.

Members have talked about the UN resolution and the plebiscite, but the resolution had a condition—

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): When my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) rose on a point of order as a result of a tweet that he had received, I attempted to intervene on him, but so powerful was his flow that I could not. Will my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) confirm that when a newspaper makes a statement through social media, it does not speak for the Government of the Republic of India, and these are two very separate matters?

Barry Gardiner: My hon. Friend is right, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend knew precisely that when he made his “nearly a point of order”, as Mr Deputy Speaker called it.

The UN resolution attached a condition to the holding of the plebiscite—the withdrawal of the Pakistani forces that had invaded that part of Kashmir in 1949 when the maharajah of the state of Jammu and Kashmir had vacillated over whether to become part of India or part of Pakistan. The invasion precipitated the maharajah to jump towards India, with the consequences that we have seen since.

Of course, it is absolutely right that this House should always take a keen interest in the protection of human rights around the world, but hon. Members and members of the public watching this debate must think there is a certain irony in the fact that although the hon. Member for Wycombe sought to raise his concern about human rights issues in India, it is not India but five of India’s closest border neighbours, including Pakistan, that the 2011 “Failed States Index” lists among the 50 most failed states in the world.

Steve Baker: I tried to approach this with considerable caution. I am not sorry if the Indian media pick up on this issue, as I would like our constituents’ concerns to be given the widest publicity. I paid tribute to India as

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the world’s largest democracy and a country with institutions based on our own which seek to reinforce the rule of law, and noted that Indian Government institutions have recognised many of these human rights abuses. I put it to the hon. Gentleman that, on the whole, the House has sought to be balanced.

Barry Gardiner: I accept the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman says that he has contributed to the debate, and I would not wish to challenge that. However, if one looks at the immediate neighbours surrounding India, one will often find that there is far greater cause for concern in those jurisdictions than in India.

Fiona Mactaggart rose—

Shabana Mahmood: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Barry Gardiner: No, I will not.

Some of the worst human rights abuses of recent memory have occurred in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, in a part of the world where, frankly, India stands out as a beacon of democracy on the subcontinent. The relations between India and the UK, at both a trade and a strategic level, are excellent. They reached new levels of cordiality after Tony Blair’s visit in 2005, when the two Prime Ministers signed the New Delhi declaration, and they have been further strengthened by the current Prime Minister’s visit last year. Economically and culturally, as well as strategically, it would be a retrograde step should a debate such as this sour those excellent relations.

I first visited Kashmir in 2000, when I took a delegation of MPs on a fact-finding visit. We visited at a particularly important time: two years previously, both India and Pakistan had declared themselves nuclear weapon states. Pakistan had announced that it would adopt a doctrine of first use in certain circumstances. India had stated to the international community that it would never use nuclear weapons first. It was a time of great tension.

In 1999, Atal Bihari Vajpayee travelled to Pakistan to meet Nawaz Sharif. It had been hoped that that might reduce the tension between the two states and all seemed well. Three months later, however, Pakistan-based militants invaded across the border at Kargil on the line of control into India. A bloody border conflict started in what became known as the phoney war. That invasion directly violated the Simla agreement of 1972, in which both nations agreed to resolve the issue of Kashmir by exclusively peaceful means.

President Clinton summoned Nawaz Sharif to the White House and persuaded him to withdraw Pakistani forces from Kargil. The confrontation de-escalated until Nawaz Sharif was overthrown by General Musharraf, who had been the key architect of the Kargil incursion. In 2000, Musharraf proclaimed himself the new President of Pakistan, without the benefit of a general election. In the following months, India was subjected to some of the most vile and well-orchestrated state-sponsored terrorist attacks ever seen, including the hijacking of an Air India flight, the attack on the temple at Gandhinagar and, of course, the attack on the Indian Parliament.

Despite the constant threat to India’s citizens from hostile parties at home and abroad claiming thousands of lives every year, India has continued to stand for

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tolerance and human rights in that part of the world. Terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed have continued to bombard India with state-sponsored terrorism supported by Inter-Services Intelligence.

It is against that background that we must consider today’s Amnesty International report. The report documents detentions under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act and makes some specific allegations. It is right that this House should consider them, albeit in the context of public safety that I have outlined. The report relates to more than 600 individuals detained under the Public Safety Act between 2003 and May 2010 when the research was conducted. That is fewer than 90 people each year for seven years. Amnesty states:

“The research shows that instead of using the institutions, procedures and human rights safeguards of ordinary criminal justice, the authorities are using the PSA to secure the long-term detention of political activists, suspected members or supporters of armed groups and a range of other individuals against whom there is insufficient evidence for a trial or conviction”.

That sounds remarkably similar, as the hon. Member for Wycombe admitted, to this country’s Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. On 14 July last year, he voted to keep detention at 28 days and I think I voted to bring it down to 14 days.

At this year’s Reith lectures, Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5, talking about security, said that

“not all intelligence can be turned into evidence. It can fall well short. As I have said before, of evidential standards, hearsay at third hand, things said, things overheard, things seen and open to varying interpretation, rarely clear-cut even with the benefit of hindsight…and which any judge would unhesitatingly kick out even if the prosecution thought them useable. That requires us to accept that not everyone who presents a threat can be prosecuted.”

It is in that light that we need to consider these allegations.

4.53 pm

Mr Brian Binley (Northampton South) (Con): May I first declare that I have an interest? I am the secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on Sri Lanka and I visited that country with the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr Love) at the behest of the Sri Lankan Government to review the reparations resulting from the tsunami.

Sri Lanka is a country that is coming to terms with the consequences of considerable strife and conflict. It takes time to overcome the horrors of conflict. We should therefore tread carefully and be cautious of making judgments without very clear facts and evidence. We should be especially careful not to give fuel to the most blatant of propaganda, not least because we experienced that in a part of our nation and should understand a little more.

Mr Scott: Does my hon. Friend believe that the Channel 4 programme and the UN report were both propaganda?

Mr Binley: I think that the Channel 4 programme is open to question and that those questions have not been answered. However, the United Nations report is credible and we should be cognisant of that fact. The British Government have also recognised that, and it is right to call for an independent, thorough and credible investigation into the allegations of violations of human rights laws. I totally support such

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an investigation, but it should be into the violations on both sides of the conflict. I fear that point has been missed a little today.

The roots of the conflict run very deep. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam fought a separatist campaign for the best part of 30 years and we have heard some of the horrors of that campaign from my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Mr Scott). The Channel 4 documentary painted a truly horrendous picture, but we are not sure that it told the whole story. Images were brutal, horrific and degrading and if they were true that was totally unacceptable and intolerable, but nothing in the broadcast showed direct evidence of the Sri Lankan Government’s culpability and we must be sure of that before we start talking about it.

Mr Scott rose

Mr Binley: Before my hon. Friend leaps to his feet, let me say that I think he has seen too many television documentaries to believe everything that he sees on our television programmes.

Mr Scott: My hon. Friend is being most generous in giving way again. If he agrees that there should be an independent inquiry, as he has said, does he agree that the Sri Lankan Government should agree to such an inquiry? Obviously, it would show them to be innocent if they are.

Mr Binley: I agree with my hon. Friend and I press the Sri Lankan Government to do so.

Contrary to what the broadcast stated, every effort was made by the Sri Lankan Government to extract civilians from the combat zone during the conflict. Local journalists were given access to the front line and members of the Sri Lankan armed forces sacrificed their lives to save about 300,000 civilians trapped by Tamil Tigers. Those are not my words but those of Gordon Weiss, the former UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, who has written:

“It remains a credit to many of the front line SLA (Sri Lanka Army) soldiers that, despite odd cruel exceptions, they so often seem to have made the effort to draw civilians out from the morass of fighting ahead of them in an attempt to save lives”—

that from a hostile witness against Sri Lanka.

Robert Halfon: On many issues, my hon. Friend and I are at one, but on this one I think we take a very different view. He has quoted one United Nations individual, so may I quote the former President of Finland who is an international mediator? He has said:

“Countries operating outside international norms watch each other carefully. They will be taking courage from Sri Lanka’s apparent success at avoiding international reproach. This is a worry for all those who want to see more democracy, greater respect for human rights and less violence in the world.”

Mr Binley: Of course, I accept that statement from my hon. Friend with no problem whatever.

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is being customarily generous in giving way, but I join some of his hon. Friends and many Opposition Members who share concerns about the way in which Sri Lanka has conducted itself, particularly since the end of the conflict. It is a matter of record as, surely, he will be generous enough to recognise, that the International Committee

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of the Red Cross was for far too long denied access to prisons in Sri Lanka, which held many of those whom the Sri Lankan Government had chosen to detain.

Mr Binley: I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns and I have made those concerns known to the Sri Lankan Government.

Sri Lanka needs a chance to heal, but that will not happen in an atmosphere of hiatus and emotive external interventions. We must all be careful because, as has been said, we share responsibility for the situation. That is clear, and we have to do all we can to help the Sri Lankan Government, who are trying to make considerable advances. They are trying to address the alleged crimes and human rights abuses and they are trying to provide a credible process for overcoming the issues facing internally displaced people. They are trying to achieve a sustainable political settlement, including on devolution, and those casting aspersions need to be careful about the statements that they make of what they say are facts but often are not.

As stated, one consequence of the conflict has been the significant numbers of internally displaced persons. I said that I had visited Puttalam, where I saw 160,000 people in the most terrible conditions, and that I talked to many of them. They said that they were displaced by shelling and demolition. Equally, though, some had been displaced by, and were scared of, the Tamil Tigers. That needs to be understood as well, if we are to be balanced in our judgment.

Mr Scott rose—

Mr Binley: I cannot afford the time.

The process of reconstruction is taking longer than we would like, but Sri Lanka is a small country and we need to recognise that its resources are limited too. I believe that we should give Sri Lanka every opportunity and support to help them create a united country. I hope that that succeeds, as we must all do, but equally I hope that the independent inquiry will take place, because it will put to rest some of the propaganda that is actually hindering progress in that nation.

5.1 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I want to mention two issues that have been raised with me by constituents. The first concerns India and the second Sri Lanka. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), I classify myself as a friend of India. I can do nothing else—I am married to a Goan and have only just come back from visiting my in-laws in Goa. I celebrate India’s success in recent years. I celebrate its politics. I witnessed the Anna Hazare campaign of Gandhian peaceful direct action to address corrupt politicians. I only wish that we had had such a thing here a few years ago—it might have helped when the Members’ expenses scandal was exposed. I also celebrate the nature of the way in which India is developing its economy. I wish that there was greater redistribution of wealth, but at least there is a dynamism in the economy itself.

In celebrating India’s progress, I feel that I have the right—as a friend of India—to draw attention to a continuing blemish on the Indian constitution. I am talking about the continued acceptance of the death penalty. There are currently 324 prisoners on death row

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in India, and although there has not been an execution for seven years, the political climate has changed, and there is a real fear of an imminent implementation of the death penalty. I want to use the Floor of the House to make an appeal on behalf of my constituents for the life of one person in particular, Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar, whose case I have raised over the years with a number of colleagues. Unfortunately, he is at imminent risk of execution in New Delhi.

Fiona Mactaggart: Would my hon. Friend comment on the fact that when I was looking through my annual report, I discovered that the issue on which I had the biggest postbag from my constituents was Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar’s threatened execution by the Indian Government?

John McDonnell: There is real consternation among the community in this country and across the world. This case has been taken up by Amnesty International as one of its urgent appeals across the world. As I said, I want to use this platform to appeal to the Indian Government and the Indian President to address the case of Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar and to consider the abolition of the death penalty itself.

Devinder’s mercy petition was rejected in May and his case is now moving towards the execution process. He was sentenced to death in August 2001 after being found guilty of involvement in a bomb attack in 1993 that tragically killed nine people. He was found guilty solely on the basis of an unsubstantiated confession that he made to the police and which he later retracted. He thought that it had been made under duress from the police. He was subsequently arrested under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act at New Delhi airport in January 1995. That Act has now been repealed and was criticised internationally and inside India for being incompatible with international standards for fair trials and fair arrests.

In March 2002, the death sentence against Devinder was upheld by the Supreme Court, but the opinion was divided, with two judges in favour and the senior judge coming down in favour of acquittal. In December 2002, a review was made of the judges’ decision, again resulting in a split decision. Usually, in such circumstances, a recommendation is made that the President accept the mercy petition, but unfortunately the petition was rejected in May this year, as I have said. Now, Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar faces the death penalty.

Mr Virendra Sharma: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I must declare an interest, in that I was born in India. I am therefore familiar with its constitutional system and traditions. My hon. Friend talked about the changes in the country, but does he also acknowledge that India’s main party and the Government have undertaken to reconsider Mr Bhullar’s case as a result of pressure from the international community? Does he agree that the Indian authorities responded to that pressure?

John McDonnell: That is exactly right. As a result of the campaign in India and the support that we and Amnesty International are giving it, there could be a breakthrough in this case that could lead to the abolition of the death penalty. There are clear concerns about the

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fairness of the trial, as well as about the eight-year delay in implementing a decision, which I believe constitutes cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment. As a friend of India—as many of us here are—I therefore appeal to the Indian Government to think again, to allow the mercy petition to go ahead and to allow this person’s death sentence to be commuted, but also to consider the issue of the death penalty itself, which I see as a continuing blemish on the Indian constitution and political system.

Barry Gardiner: I was most concerned to hear my hon. Friend say that the only evidence against Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar was the confession that he had made in police custody. The Amnesty report, “A lawless law”, describing another case, records that

“the trial court dismissed two of the three outstanding charges against Sheikh noting that the only evidence against him was a confession made by him while in police custody which was inadmissible in court (in India, confessions made to the police are inadmissible as evidence because of fears that they may be coerced).”

Would my hon. Friend care to comment on that?

John McDonnell: Yes, that is common practice, and it is usually taken into account when considering the mercy petition. That did not happen in this instance, however. There have been four recent cases in which mercy petitions have been rejected by the President. That is a change in practice that we have witnessed over the past seven or eight years, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) suggested. There is a change of political climate on this issue in India at the moment, and I think that it is to the detriment of India. On that basis, pressure needs to be mounted in India and internationally, to address not only this individual case but the whole question of the abolition of the death penalty.

The issue of Sri Lanka and the treatment of the Tamils has also been raised with me. I want to associate myself with the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) in this regard. A key issue is that, although the commission took place and various recommendations were made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, a number of them have not been implemented. For example, the simple recommendation that a list of names of those in detention should be published still has not been implemented. As a result, a number of my constituents are still anxious to find out what has happened to their families and where they are in detention.

When people are released from detention, despite reassurances that they will be assisted with resettlement, that is not happening in every case. Some are living in very distressing circumstances, but they are getting no assistance. Furthermore, there is a continuing problem of land having been taken over, particularly by the military, and reallocated to the majority community. In that way, members of the Tamil community are being displaced yet again as a result of the Government’s actions. I would welcome our own Minister putting pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to address those issues and to get back into negotiations with the Tamil National Alliance, which has withdrawn from the current negotiations because of the Government’s intransigence. In that way, we might be able achieve an atmosphere of peace and reconciliation again.