|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend is correct to say that we cannot walk away and ignore the situation. During the earlier part of this year, there was intense diplomatic activity to try to resolve the immediate crisis over Christmas and the new year. Then crises elsewhere in the world, particularly in the middle east, tended to take over the headlines and to consume the immediate concerns of Foreign Ministries around the world. It is extremely important that the international community stays engaged in this matter.
I understand what my hon. Friend's constituents feel because I have a great many constituents of Kashmiri origin, but we have to deal with the world as it is. To suggest or imply that the dispute can be resolved by an argument about the history is to suggest to the people who have been the victims of all this conflict that it is through the history that a solution lies. May I give a parallel example? If we put the adversaries in Northern Ireland in a room, they will argue until the cows come home about the history. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his predecessor sought to get people to look forward rather than looking back. If there is to be a resolution of the Kashmiri dispute, it can only be by looking forward and by a direct dialogue between those two sovereign nations, India and Pakistanwith international encouragement, of course, but that is what has to happen.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the capacity for direct diplomatic intervention by the United Kingdom is somewhat restricted by the fact that all sides in the conflict allocate to the UK, the ex-colonial power, a certain responsibility for the conflict in which they are engaged? Given that he thinks that the United Nations resolutions are unclear on the question of self-determination for the people of Kashmir, will he give his interpretation of what those UN resolutions mean? In that respect, he might find that the history of this matter is rather more important than he thinks.
Can the Foreign Secretary point the way forward in the current situation? He asks why it might be important not to sell conventional arms to either side in the conflict. May not our arguments for peace carry more moral force if we were not simultaneously selling people weapons of war? Might not that moral force be a factor in increasing the right hon. Gentleman's persuasiveness in these matters? If he does not think that, I fear the moral compass on the basis of which he has acted.
Mr. Straw: Neither in India nor in Pakistan were my hosts impolite enough to mention Britain's less than entirely glorious role in the initiation of this dispute. The hon. Gentleman is right to acknowledge it, but it has not so far affected our capacity to encourage both parties to resolve the matter peacefully.
On the UN Security Council resolutions, I think the best service I can provide the hon. Gentleman and the House is to make those available in the Library of the House, and I shall do so. They extend, particularly one of the key ones, to a great many pages and hundreds if not thousands of words.
On the issue of arms sales, I may be wrong but I do not recall approving a single arms control licence in the past two monthsneither does my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter, so the assumption that the hon. Gentleman makes is inaccurate. Since we have agreed robust national and EU criteria for arms control, it seems that that is the appropriate way in which to run our arms control system, rather than by some ad hoc process. The simple truth is that we have one of the most effective and thorough systems of arms control of any country in the world.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Having visited Jammu and Kashmir on a number of occasions been to both sides of the line of control and seen the festering misery in the refugee camps of Kashmiri Muslims in Azad Kashmir and of Hindu Pandits in Jammu, may I put it to my right hon. Friend that whatever force India is capable of deploying, there is no chance whatever of the dispute being settled until the Kashmiris' problem is settled? There is no more chance of its being solved by leaving it to India and Pakistan alone than there is of the middle east problem being solved by leaving that to Israel and Palestine alone.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm the policy of his predecessor, whereby the United Nations Security Council resolutions would remain valid? Will he also make it clear that until India is ready to negotiate, there is no possibility of its becoming a permanent member of the Security Council?
Mr. Straw: As I have already said, I accept that the conflict has caused the death and suffering of thousands of Muslims and Hindus, and of thousands of Sikhs as well. My right hon. Friend has a particular criticism of the Government of India, and that is his privilege, but I should point out that there is a great deal to be said on both sides about the history of this conflict. For example, the fact cannot be avoided that over a period of years, successive Governments of Pakistan have, through their Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, encouraged and funded terroristsotherwise known as freedom fightersto make incursions across the line of control as outsiders in that dispute, and to engage in mayhem and terrorism. I understand why many people of Kashmiri originincluding some of my own constituentsdo not like to acknowledge that reality, but this House must acknowledge it, as the international community does.
As to the Government of India's becoming a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations, that has long been the position of Her Majesty's Government; indeed, it was the position of my predecessor.
Mr. Straw: These decisions have been very difficult. We are caught between trying not to raise the anxiety of people in the region unnecessarily or "devalue"to use the right hon. Gentleman's descriptionthe currency of advice, and recognising our clear duty of care to British citizens and to our staff. Today's news could have been very different, as could tomorrow's. My judgment was that the changes to travel advice were appropriate and calibrated, and in a sense I am comforted by the fact that similar judgments were made by the American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, by the United Nations Secretary- General in respect of his staff, and by many other Governments around the world. Of course, the last thing that we wish to see is any restriction on travel to Pakistan or India, orfollowing on from thatany restriction on trade. Trade with India has taken off, and with our active support trade with Pakistan has expanded, following a change in the EU-Pakistan textile agreement that was reached at the beginning of this year.
Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South): I share my right hon. Friend's pleasure at the optimistic signs that are emerging, not least because my daughter is currently in Madras and is seeking to fly home. Needless to say, I make no special plea for my daughter, concerned about her though I am; I know that she will work to find a solution to her own problem. However, her experience of going to the airline with which she is travelling was to find, at the end of last week, that all flights this week were full and waiting lists were closed. If Governments are to issue advice that their citizens should leave a particular country, it follows that matching provision should be made for airline capacity to carry those individual citizens out of that country. What steps are being taken to ensure that seats will be available to those who seek to travel?
Mr. Straw: I know that my hon. Friend is not seeking to make a special plea for his daughter, but such an example is a useful way of illuminating what may be a problem. Our general information is that although there are heavy bookings for flights out of the main airports in India and Pakistan, flights are not fully booked. I hope to follow up the matter that my hon. Friend has raised, and I will let him and the House know the result.
On the wider issue, we have made contingency arrangements to charter a number of flights if we judge that the news is going the wrong way, and we ourselves have to organise an evacuation of British citizens from the sub-continentbut I hope that that does not happen.