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Burma: Aung San Suu Kyi

3.14 p.m.

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the UK was reassured that the UN Secretary-General special envoy to Burma, Razali Ismail, was able to see Aung San Suu Kyi on 10th June and confirm that she was well. However, Aung San Suu Kyi has not been seen by the outside world since. We remain deeply concerned for her welfare and the welfare of the NLD members detained on and since 30th May. We are actively discussing with our EU and international partners what further measures we will take to ensure that Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD members are released as soon as possible.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I strongly welcome the statement the Minister has just made. I ask her to reiterate the condemnation that many on all

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sides of your Lordships' House feel for the arbitrary actions of the Burmese military and, indeed, our admiration for Aung San Suu Kyi as she enters the second month of her imprisonment.

Can the Minister tell us more about the initiative that has been taken with our European Union partners and whether we are raising this matter inside the United Nations Security Council?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. While on my feet, I also acknowledge the role that he and other noble Lords in this House have played in lobbying so strongly for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and for an end to the violation of human rights against so many of the Burmese people.

We are in discussion with our EU partners. We are stepping up lobbying also with our ASEAN partners and with China and India. We will of course support any initiative that comes from the European Union. We have raised our concerns over Burma with our Security Council partners at the UN. Whether the matter is to be referred to the Security Council is under discussion. We strongly hope that it will be.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, has any response yet been received from British American Tobacco to the request made by Mike O'Brien that it follows the example of Premier Oil and withdraws from Burma?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the chairman of British American Tobacco agreed to consider the request by my honourable friend Mike O'Brien that it withdraws its investment from Burma. He will give a formal reply soon.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, while the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi and the other recently arrested NLD members is rightly uppermost in our minds, does the noble Baroness agree that there are many other opposition members and indeed ethnic nationals who are currently unjustly imprisoned in Burma in horrific conditions? Will the noble Baroness give an indication whether, when representations are made by Her Majesty's Government on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi, the case of all those unjustly imprisoned will also be raised? That is what Aung San Suu Kyi herself would wish with her valiant commitment to democracy.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, yes. Only a few days ago, the noble Baroness raised the whole problem of Burma and tabled a useful debate in the House. We were very clear with our European Union partners that we wanted to strengthen the European Union's common position on Burma. We ensured that references to violence and human rights violations in ethnic minority areas were included in that new strengthened EU common position.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness's statement that we are consulting members of the Security Council about what measures we could take at that level. She will remember that I made that

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suggestion on 24th June. In reference to Mr Razali Ismail's visit to Aung San Suu Kyi, is it not correct that he told the press conference that she displayed no visible signs of ill health, but that he did not have the opportunity to question her in any detail, either about her own well-being or about the appalling incident at the end of May when 70 to 100 of her entourage were killed?

Did the ICRC representatives, who visited Insein prison yesterday, have a chance to see Aung San Suu Kyi, or did they at least ascertain whether she was still present or that perhaps she had been moved, as rumour will have it?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we have reliable reports that Aung San Suu Kyi has been removed from Insein prison, but the regime has refused to state where exactly she is. The noble Lord is right about her welfare. We have extreme concerns about that. Therefore, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State as well as my honourable friend Mike O'Brien have made repeated requests to speak to her directly and have been refused by the Burmese authorities.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, did the noble Baroness notice last week a senior American official saying that the United States was losing patience with the Burma regime and that it was considering much tougher economic sanctions? Has she noticed that the Japanese Government are also taking a much firmer line, both individually and within ASEAN? Is that also the Government's policy?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we very much welcome the strong reaction from the United States. It proposes to impose an import ban. We have also acknowledged the Japanese reaction, which we very much welcome because we believe that one of the strongest motivations for the Burmese to change their policy will be pressure from the neighbours in their region. As for our position, we continue to work with our European Union partners within the limits of the EU's common position.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, the representations made by the United States and Japan are very good news indeed. Can the noble Baroness tell us a little more about what response has been received from India and China?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I will have to write to the noble Baroness about the detail, but we welcome responses from those countries.


Lord Grocott: My Lords, it may be helpful if I make a couple of comments about today's business. After the Bill being presented for Third Reading by my noble friend Lord Corbett, a Statement on the skills strategy will be repeated by my noble friend Lady Ashton. The House will then go into Committee on recommitment

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on the Water Bill in respect of fluoridation. Once the Committee stage has finished, we will adjourn consideration of the Water Bill for at least two hours. During that time, we shall discuss the Scotland Act order and the Taxation (Information) Bill.

The adjournment of the Water Bill is to allow amendments to be tabled for Report on fluoridation. If amendments reach the Public Bill Office within the first hour of the adjournment, they can be distributed in time for Report. Assuming that amendments are tabled for Report, a Marshalled List will be made available in the Printed Paper Office at that stage. At the end of Second Reading of the Taxation (Information) Bill, or two hours after the end of the Committee on recommitment, whichever is the later, the House will consider the fluoridation clauses on Report. It is then intended that we shall proceed without adjournment to the Third Reading of the Water Bill.

Clerk of the Parliaments

3.23 p.m.

On consideration of the letter from Sir John Michael Davies, KCB, announcing his retirement from the office of Clerk of the Parliaments:

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I wish to pay whole-hearted tribute to the Clerk of the Parliaments, who will retire on Monday. On 12th March this year, I informed your Lordships of Sir Michael's intention of retiring from the office of Clerk of the Parliaments. I said then that there would be an opportunity to pay tribute to Sir Michael. I now move to resolve,

    "That this House has received with sincere regret the announcement of the retirement of Sir John Michael Davies, KCB, from the office of Clerk of the Parliaments and thinks it right to record the just sense which it entertains of the zeal, ability, diligence, and integrity with which the said Sir John Michael Davies executed the important duties of his office".

Your Lordships will have marvelled at the orotund majesty of that Motion. I know that the Clerk of the Parliaments will especially welcome it, as he drafted it himself.

Sir Michael has been Clerk of the Parliaments since 1997. He has therefore been head of the Parliament Office throughout the whole period that we on this side have had the privilege of being in government. His fortunes have always flowered under Labour. His long, highly distinguished career in this House started in 1964, the same year that the Labour Party was restored to power under Mr Wilson. On behalf of the members of Government—I shall come to the whole House in a moment—during the past six years, I want to place on record our real gratitude for the advice with which he provided us as we began to settle in as a new government.

In fact, Sir Michael must know this House better than nearly any of us. His deep affection for and commitment to this place is obvious for anyone to see. He began his service 39 years ago, in 1964, after leaving Peterhouse, Cambridge. I have done a little arithmetic

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and discovered that only 17 current Members of the House have been here long enough to remember Sir Michael's first day. The other 97.5 per cent of us therefore have less experience of this place than he. So we are not losing simply a much valued and respected adviser but someone who has become a House institution.

He held a great variety of offices during his time here. One was Private Secretary to the Government Chief Whip and Leader of the House. I know from experience how helpful—how essential—it is to have a member of the Clerks' Department to help to negotiate the bizarre, esoteric and arcane mysteries of this place. I am certain that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, both benefited similarly from Sir Michael's wisdom, guidance and discretion during their term in my office.

In 1968, Sir Michael began a 15-year tenure as editor of the Journal of the Society of Commonwealth Clerks, called appropriately, your Lordships may think, The Table. When he took over in 1968, it was close to extinction; now it thrives and is edited by a Clerk of this House to this day. He made many contributions to Halsbury's Laws of England, Erskine May and many other parliamentary publications. In 1974 he became secretary of the Statute Law Committee.

He was a very popular chair of the Association of Secretaries General of Parliaments. He achieved that post and distinction despite coming from an unelected second Chamber—no small achievement. It was the perfect job for him, who has been a life-long and effective promoter of inter-parliamentary contact.

Even that brief sketch—as I recognise it to be—shows what an interesting and dedicated career Sir Michael has had. He would probably agree—if I may say so, it is typical of the modesty of the man that he has absented himself from this part of today's proceedings—that it is his time as the Clerk of the Parliaments since 1997 that has offered him the most concentrated challenges. We have seen a period of great change. He oversaw the first change in administration in 18 years. He piloted the House through the passage of the House of Lords Bill and its subsequent implementation. He played an important part in devising a way of electing the elected hereditary Peers, including his wise suggestion that the Electoral Reform Society should be engaged.

His term has seen the implementation of the working practices package; the reform of the domestic committee structure; introduction of the new Code of Conduct; business planning; and, of course, implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. He has seen many of his staff leave the main building to go to Old Palace Yard and Millbank House and has overseen a 20 per cent increase in the number of staff for whom he bears responsibility. Those are all important changes. Some are more prominent than others; but those that are not noticed behind the scenes are as important to the effective running of our House. There have been no visible procedural hitches.

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I am not sure about this next commendation, but he is the first Clerk of the Parliaments to have relied on e-mail and had a lap-top introduced at the Table. However, I am glad to see that we have kept our hereditary egg-timer. He has therefore, in his quiet, unassuming, efficient way, implemented more change than any other Clerk of the Parliaments in history. That is a tribute to his professionalism and his integrity.

I said that I would come to the whole House. I know that the whole House will want to join in wishing Sir Michael and Lady Davies and their family many happy years. He will not waste his years in retirement. He will have more time for cricket, travel and decent wine. We shall all miss him and his advice, and we shall look back on his term in office with not only gratitude but affection and respect. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That this House has received with sincere regret the announcement of the retirement of Sir John Michael Davies, KCB, from the office of Clerk of the Parliaments and thinks it right to record the just sense which it entertains of the zeal, ability, diligence, and integrity with which the said Sir John Michael Davies executed the important duties of his office.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

3.30 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I rise to support the Motion tabled by the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House and to follow him in paying tribute to Sir Michael Davies, Clerk of the Parliaments.

I must admit that while the noble and learned Lord was speaking, I waited in nervous dread in case he would remark on the ancient lineage of the office of Clerk of the Parliaments, going back to 1280 no less, and whether he felt that there was still a role in modern Britain for such a post, or whether it would suffer the same fate—death by press release—as the Lord Chancellor. What a provocation the Clerks must be to the Prime Minister. But, no, I am delighted to say that the spirit of modernity has been dimmed, for the time being anyway. The Clerks, with wigs and gowns as well, are here to stay.

We should need no reminding that the period over which Sir Michael has presided has been one of most extraordinary change in our House—the greatest that we have seen since the 1650s. Indeed, in one sense, Sir Michael is the last Clerk of the Parliaments, or at least the last Clerk of the old House that was replaced by the Act of 1999. It is not the least tribute to him, and to the team of loyal servants of this House, that he has led so successfully and has presided so scrupulously over that period of change. As the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House said, that change was brought about not only through composition but also by the change of government in 1997—not foreseen by all of us—but it was a seamless transfer that exemplified all that is best about those who serve the House. Through it all, Sir Michael's quiet authority has been accepted without question by the most

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experienced Peers and the most recent arrivals in the House. I know that I am not alone in saying that he has embodied something of profound importance—the thread of continuity between old and new, with which the courtesies and freedoms of the House are so closely bound.

He is also a patient man. After all, he has sat at the Table through the longest Session that the House has known in modern times, through the biggest Bill for years and the one with the largest number of amendments ever. All those we have seen in the past two Parliaments and in record numbers of sittings of Grand Committees as well. I am not sure to what extent Sir Michael is a fan of Grand Committees, but he has embraced modernisation, has exemplified the spirit of duty that is the tradition of the House, and has even endured the new House Committee and the language of management consultants. But, unlike the rest of us, he has remained astute enough to contrive to escape the novelty of a September sitting.

It would be invidious to pick out aspects of Sir Michael's service, but not the least was the consummate skill with which he achieved the success of the hereditary Peers elections in 1999—a novelty for the House where the very word "elections" has not always been welcome. There is no doubt that the success of the by-elections was due in part to the splendid organisation of the Clerk's office.

Sir Michael has always been fair and non-partisan. His advice has always been clear and consistent, even though I have not always agreed with it. The office of the Clerk of the House has been well looked after under Sir Michael Davies, as I know it will continue to be in the hands of his successor.

On behalf of the Opposition, I wish Sir Michael and Lady Davies well in what we hope will be a very long, happy and active retirement. We hope that we shall on occasions still see him in this place. His knowledge, experience and wisdom are too great to lie untapped for long. He has a worthy successor, but Sir Michael Davies will be much missed from your Lordships' House.

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