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Viscount Cranborne: I am grateful to my friend for giving away. In spite of what he has just said, does he believe that the Bill which followed the insertion of any such clause would carry out the purposes that he has so clearly enunciated?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I shall come to that in a moment. I do not necessarily believe that the Bill as it stands, or even as it will be amended, presumably, by the Weatherill amendment--which should have been done in the other place and not here--obeys some of the phrases that I have used. Frankly, unless we in this place and Members of another place take certain steps to change the way in which we deal with this matter, no reform of this House will necessarily increase the scrutiny of legislation.
Lord Peston: Perhaps I may put one question just for enlightenment. For 10 years I sat on the Opposition Front Bench. When did the noble Lord and his noble friends decide that they were in favour of a democratic House of Lords? I did not see the slightest glimmer of it in my 10 years of slog on the Opposition Front Bench. When did they undergo this conversion and decide that democracy in this House really mattered to them? I do not want the exact day but I would not mind being told the month or year.
Lord Peston: We on this side have no difficulty. My noble friend on the Front Bench emphasised that we favoured a democratic House of Lords. He was concerned merely with the purpose clause. I sit here bewildered as to when the noble Lord who has moved the amendment decided that he believed in democracy for this House. Why was he content to sit on these Benches as a Minister and let me and my noble friends slog our guts out in the House of Lords as it was without ever saying that he was deeply embarrassed and wished that the place was more democratic?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am trying to work out how to phrase my response gently. I am aware that the noble Lord becomes impatient. I remember a previous occasion when he became impatient. I have not yet reached the "democratic" bit. In the project to reform your Lordships' House I would not have started from here. But, as the noble Lord is aware, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern has produced a report in which two options are given. Those are two options more than the party opposite has proposed--unless the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who is a free thinker, has his own solution to the reform of your Lordships' House.
Like my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, I have doubts about this House being wholly democratic, because that will bring it into major conflict with the House of Commons. I believe that last time I spoke on this issue I said--perhaps because I am an old lag from the House of Commons--that the other place should be the primary Chamber. I have absolutely no doubt that a fully elected second Chamber, however qualified or tied down, would challenge the primacy of the House of Commons. That is one matter to which we must give very serious thought as we consider what kind of Chamber and what democratic input it should have to ensure that there is enough to introduce some democracy but not enough to challenge the primacy of the other place.
I welcome this debate. We should not be having a debate on this Bill but on the whole package and where we are going. I am aware that in 1998 the Prime Minister said--the noble Lord, Lord Peston, did not echo the remark but was certainly on the same train--that the House of Lords was a democratic monstrosity. The Labour Party manifesto indicates that it wants the House to be more democratic and representative. Amazingly, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said:
"My noble friend the Leader of the House has made clear that the Government agree with the first part of it"-- not the part relating to the power--
"Who can be against an increase in the independence of Parliament and an enhancement of its ability to scrutinise legislation and hold the Executive to account?" The only person who appears to be against it is the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who does not want these words added to the Bill.
Your Lordships will be aware that on 11th April India tested its long range ballistic missile Agni II, followed by Pakistan with the Gauri II, and Iran, too, announced the successful testing of its surface-to-air missile Sayad I. This last round of missile testing has proved that these countries now possess weapons capable of carrying nuclear warheads and weapons of mass destruction.
Since the independence of India and Pakistan both countries have been at war at least three times. At times of peace there continue to be skirmishes on the border and line of control. Tensions have steadily risen since the election of the BJP Government, rising to peak in May 1998 when the Indian Government, as a result of their actions on 11th and 13th May, started a cycle of nuclear testing.
Many of us were jubilant to see Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif initiate the recent talks with India which led to the Lahore Declaration and the bus service between Lahore and Delhi. Although the summit did not resolve major issues of conflict between the two countries, it was a confidence building measure that set a framework for future relations and a process to resolve the longstanding dispute between the two countries.
It is well known that the single most contentious issue between India and Pakistan is that of Kashmir and the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people. Let me begin by addressing the concern that this is a bilateral issue and thus should not be debated in your Lordships' House. I say that this is an international issue. The reason I say that is, first, that the views of the international community, as expressed in the United Nations resolutions of 1948 and 1949, giving the people of Kashmir the right of self-determination through a free, fair and impartial plebiscite remain unimplemented and on statute.
Secondly, it is well documented in the reports of Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights and Asia Watch that there are widespread abuses of human rights in Indian-held Kashmir. Surely abuses of human rights are an international matter.
"If, after a proper plebiscite the people of Kashmiri said 'we do not want to be with India', we are committed to accept that. We will accept it though it might pain us. We will not send any army against them. We will accept that, however hurt we might feel about it, we will change the constitution if necessary".
Many journalists have been victims of torture, humiliation and death during their interrogation for reporting the actual events in Sirinagar. Zafar Meraj, a journalist, has been paralysed due to the torture by the security forces. Basharat Abbasi was beaten and tortured to death. To this date his executioners have not been tried for the crime they committed against humanity; and there are hundreds of others who have disappeared from the face of this earth.
Amnesty International published a 71-page report last month of disappearances of Kashmiri civilians and abuses of human rights by the security forces. The situation is very serious and is not reported in the mainstream media here. Even many British parliamentarians, including myself, have not been given a visa to visit Indian-occupied Kashmir.
Since 1989 over 65,000 people have been killed in Indian-occupied Kashmir. Thousands of women have been raped, including children. Schools, hospitals and shops have been destroyed. One can successfully argue that the International War Tribunal should investigate the atrocities committed against the innocent people of Kashmir.
I have recently visited Azad Kashmir and Pakistan and visited refugee camps and displaced persons' camps. I understand that last year the United Nations line of control monitoring group recorded 4,551 violations of the line of control by the Indian Army. Over 60,500 rounds of ammunition, including rockets, mortar and artillery, were fired. One hundred and one civilians were reported killed in Azad Kashmir and 265 wounded and over 50,000 people living near the line of control were displaced due to firing. I am sure they were firing from the Pakistani side too, but this is not confirmed by the UN observers as the Indian Government do not allow them to observe the line of control.
It is 50 years since the United Nations resolutions and 27 years since the Simla agreement. India and Pakistan cannot resolve the Kashmiri issue bilaterally. I believe that only third party involvement could ever find a long-term settlement on the issue of Kashmir and bring peace and prosperity to the region. Britain has a special
Historians like Professor Alistair Lamb claim that the accession of Kashmir with India is not legal and that is perhaps why no one has ever seen to date any documents of accession. Therefore it remains Britain's responsibility to play a major role in bringing the dispute to an end by working with the Indian, Pakistan and Kashmiri leadership for an amicable solution which is acceptable to the Moslem, Hindu and Buddhist communities of Jammu and Kashmir.
In her reply, will the Minister confirm that the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir are valid? Will she encourage the Indian and Pakistani Governments to reduce the number of troops on the line of control and return all Indian soldiers from the streets of Jammu and Kashmir? Will my noble friend consider the following: to ask the Government of India, first, to allow the international human rights organisations to investigate the abuse of human rights and allow access to the prisons and interrogation centres; secondly, to allow access to journalists and free reporting; thirdly, to repeal and withdraw all laws imposed during the past decade and to release all detainees held under those laws; fourthly, to open a ceasefire line and to allow free access to families separated for decades; fifthly, to allow the Kashmiri leadership to visit both sides of the line of control so that there could be a meaningful dialogue; sixthly, to allow trade between the two parts through recognised routes; and, finally, to recognise that the Kashmiris are the main party and that any bilateral decision or suggestion will be subject to the final approval of the people of Kashmir?
Viscount Brentford: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, on introducing the Question, particularly on his excellent timing immediately following the missile launches. I, too, look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about British and international action on Kashmir and the proposals which exist. Are the Government not only encouraging discussions between the Indian and Pakistani governments but also offering to facilitate such discussions in any way acceptable to those two independent and powerful nations?
I wish to mention several other issues which cause problems between the two countries. First, the electoral system in Pakistan keeps Hindus and Christians out of mainstream elections. Four Hindu MPs and four Christian MPs are elected by those respective minorities. Therefore, MPs in the mainstream need pay no attention to these minorities because they are not elected by them. Many locals in Pakistan call that a form of apartheid. Have the Government discussed the electoral system with the Pakistani government and, if so, what reaction are they receiving?
The tension which exists between the two countries causes grave difficulties for humanitarian cross-border travel, even for ex-patriates who are working in border areas between India and Pakistan. The tension makes it almost impossible for nationals of one country to cross into another. That tension needs resolving and it is most important that the Government take every step to do so. I hope that the noble Baroness will provide encouragement on that issue.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, one would like to see the United Kingdom taking initiatives such as those suggested by the noble Lord to reduce tension between India and Pakistan and to procure a solution of the outstanding problems between them, in particular the major issue of the constitutional future of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
However, to be realistic, one must look to those solutions through the bilateral negotiations which are specified in the Simla agreement and reconfirmed in the Lahore Declaration. There have been offers of help and occasionally Pakistan has suggested third-party involvement. Recent candidates included SAARC and President Mandela. However, New Delhi has always rejected foreign intervention, mediation or even facilitation.
Therefore, if we are to take any initiatives, they ought not to be focused on the substantive issues, but on the creation of more favourable conditions for a productive dialogue between the two states, and in the case of Jammu and Kashmir on the promotion of democracy and human rights so that the people themselves can freely express their views on their own political future.
That means, first and foremost, an end to the violence in Jammu and the valley. The noble Lord mentioned the report from Amnesty International, which states that the official death toll has been 20,000 since 1990, and perhaps another 350 to 400 die in custody each year. But the evidence also shows that many killings are now being perpetrated by foreigners. Political dialogue cannot thrive in the climate of fear and uncertainly which still exists.
If the Kashmiris are to express a view on the negotiations about their constitutional status, as the noble Lord rightly suggests, mechanisms must be created to allow them to communicate. An essential preliminary would be to open up the line of control, under close supervision, to ensure that all those crossing the line do so for peaceful purposes.
The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, also mentioned the exchanges of fire across the line of control by Indian and Pakistani forces which killed no fewer than 240 people in 1998. Each side claims that the other initiates the shelling, and the 45 military observers of UNMOGIP throw no light on the matter. As the noble Lord pointed out, its reports are not made public. They are placed in a secret filing cabinet at UN headquarters in New York.
In January, I proposed to the Indian and Pakistan Governments and the UN Secretary-General that these reports should be made public and that the Secretary-General instructs UNMOGIP to comment in each case on who initiates each round of firing. It would be able to do that irrespective of which side of the line of control they stand observing. That could act as a strong disincentive to the aggressor, whoever that may be, and it could even stop this pointless military activity altogether, saving 200 lives a year and making a huge difference to the lives of people in the Neelum Valley and Kargil.
Lord Paul: My Lords, I am grateful to my friend Lord Ahmed for introducing this Question. Since a news item appeared in one of this morning's ethnic newspapers, I have been flooded with advice, but I wish to see the matter in a completely different perspective.
I was born in India and received part of my education in what is now Pakistan. I have emotional and economic ties in the region, where I am a frequent visitor, and have also had the benefit of talking to the policy-makers for many years. I therefore have strong feelings about the aspirations of the people there.
Anyone who has been fortunate enough to know both countries will acknowledge that India and Pakistan are mature societies capable of sustaining democratic systems of government. Both nations are profoundly protective of their sovereignty and proud of their ability to conduct what they believe are independent foreign policies. It behoves us to recognise and appreciate these sensitivities.
We have seen the good will generated by the Indian Prime Minister's recent journey to Lahore, and the very warm and cordial response of the Pakistan Prime Minister. I have had the benefit of meeting the Indian Prime Minister since that visit and he was very hopeful that a solution acceptable to both countries would be found. I shall also quote the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, who in a recent statement said:
I want to raise one further issue. The Asian community in Britain is vibrant, dynamic and law-abiding, but unwanted involvement, which is seen as interference in the matters of the sub-continent, very often raises passions that divide the community, which we must avoid.
Lord Rea: My Lords, I was one of the lucky few to accompany my noble friend Lord Ahmed on his recent visit to his country of birth. It was a vivid experience and I would like to record my thanks to our hosts, the Pakistani and Azad Kashmiri Governments. Although we were given their views of the conflict, we heard enough from other sources to learn that neither side can claim to be wholly innocent or wholly to blame for the continuing low-grade conflict, with its ever-present risk of escalation now even to a nuclear level.
That threat loomed over our discussions and our journey, which took us through spectacular scenery visiting refugee camps near Muzaffarabad and the village of Chokoti on the line of control. The refugees, of whom there are 14,000, are not recognised as such by the UNHCR, which gives no assistance to Pakistan. Can my noble friend say whether the Government can find a way of overcoming that difficulty?
My overall impression was of a beautiful country but one whose development is still very backward. We were shown ambitious plans for its development in education, agriculture, infrastructure and tourism, for instance, but investment for such matters is not forthcoming because of the unstable military and political situation. The infant mortality rate is still far too high, at 99 per 1,000. Access to healthcare is difficult because some dwellings are remote, up steep mountain pathways. A vast programme of road-building and agricultural investment is needed.
However, both India and Pakistan are devoting high proportions of their resources to military expenditure, largely because of the Kashmir conflict. I suggest that the opening of the Delhi to Lahore bus route and the Lahore Declaration made by the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers, and referred to by my noble friend Lord Avebury, has let in a chink of light. Talks to be held as a result will not exclude Kashmir. Let us hope that those discussions start with small things to build confidence, as my noble friend Lord Avebury suggested. They could include better observance of the ceasefire along the line of control and an end to the move of militants across the line of control, together with--this is very important--a full return to the rule of law in Jammu and Kashmir, especially in the valley. That would be a proper response to the damning Amnesty International report recently published on disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir.
In turn, I suggest that those measures may lead to the opening up of another bus route, from Srinagar in the valley of Kashmir to Muzaffarabad in Azad Kashmir. That would symbolise the beginning of free movement and trade between Indian and Pakistani-occupied Kashmir. Those would be small beginnings, but small beginnings may lead to more substantial changes such as the mutual withdrawal of troops from Kashmir asked for by my noble friend. Perhaps I am an optimist, but it could be done.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, this is a critical time for India and Pakistan and we should celebrate the successful talks which were held recently between the two Prime Ministers. I was warned when I joined this House that the issue of Kashmir almost stifles the debate on India and I hope to avoid that. We do not want to return to 1947. As one who has friends among the vast Moslem minority in India, I would do anything to enable them to live in a state free from the communal violence which occurred recently when the BJP and Shiv Sena first came to power.
It is politically important to the acting Prime Minister that he shows statesmanship at a time when the missiles are being test-fired and there is at least an appearance of an agreement on Kashmir on the horizon. All these events may be eclipsed by the new political stalemate.
We cannot be nostalgic for India's non-aligned, anti-nuclear stance under Nehru, which has long given way to a potentially stronger, more technologically advanced country desperate for international respect, foreign investment and nuclear club membership. In spite of what has been said, today India needs some defence. She appears even more vulnerable than ever to aggression along her northern border.
The big five nuclear "great ghosts", or Panch Mahabhoot as they are known in India, see things quite differently. Japan and the United States are irritated. Our own Government find it hard to reconcile the India of long-range missiles with the nation of 1 billion mostly very poor people for whom we have budgeted a 50 per cent increase to £130 million in aid in the latest public expenditure plans up to 2002.
As one who has experienced India's poverty, I find the arms race in India and in Pakistan both expensive and alarming. I hope that the Indian Government, having swallowed their nuclear pride, will soon swiftly return to their stated basic aims of raising living standards, reforming the economy and restoring relations with Pakistan.
One thing that seems to be agreed is that the two Prime Ministers have developed a mutual respect which goes a lot further than a frontier bus service. The Lahore Declaration demonstrated a willingness to talk on both sides which had not been present for many years. They certainly do not need Tony Blair to help them, as was suggested before Easter in another place by Tom Cox, the Member of Parliament for Tooting. I am sure that the Minister will confirm that since our own bilateral relations with India have not always been easy, we
Baroness Uddin: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Ahmed for instigating this timely debate, in which I take part with great trepidation. As a British parliamentarian I am always mindful of the need for--and I only support--a considered role in international conflict resolution, especially given our relationship within the historical context.
Recent peaceful resolutions of conflict have come about only when both sides have sat down together. One does not need to look further than Northern Ireland, South Africa, Israel and Palestine. Mindful of the details given by my noble friend Lord Ahmed, I hope that the Minister will examine, through the appropriate channels, the allegations regarding the plight of the refugees and in particular the torture and alleged rape of women and children.
Whatever we do in regard to this conflict, I hope that we remember our imperial past. Any role must be restricted to that of a facilitator, but that must be on the basis that both parties ask the British Government for that intervention.
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I too shall make an extremely brief intervention in this important debate. I want to thank my noble friend for raising this debate. I know that the subject is extremely important to him and that he has done a great amount of work in his short time in this House in raising the issue on the Floor of the House and in the Corridors.
We have heard that India and Pakistan have been at war three times since they gained independence and we have heard that Kashmir is the single most contentious issue between those two countries. I thank my noble friend for sending me the Amnesty International report about disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir.
It appears that the real substance of the debate is how much we can help India and Pakistan resolve their differences bilaterally and whether we can help provide a forum in which they can reach that accommodation. On listening to the debate so far, I agree with my noble friend Lord Paul that it is an extremely sensitive issue. Nevertheless, that does not absolve us of the responsibility of doing whatever we can to help.
I thought it might be helpful for me to make a comment slightly off the beat of other noble Lords. As many noble Lords will be aware, I have a connection with the Council of Europe. It is not too fanciful to point out that both Azerbaijan and Russia, which are members of the Council of Europe, are far closer geographically speaking than they are to this country.
It is worth pointing out too that the whole ethos of the Council of Europe is precisely geared to reconciling the problems between minority groups and democratically elected governments. The very foundation and the most profound beliefs of that institution involve trying to
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I welcome this debate. There is a danger that debates of this nature could become one-sided, but I am delighted at the number of contributions that noble Lords have made on this subject. I also welcome Her Majesty's Government's repeated assurances that it is primarily for India and Pakistan to reach a solution over Kashmir and to resolve the tension between the two countries.
Following the meeting in September between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan in New York, there has been steady progress in improving relations between the two countries. I welcome that. We ought not to destabilise that process by outside intervention. The two Prime Ministers decided that their Foreign Secretaries could meet to have a composite dialogue on all outstanding matters, including Kashmir. This is an ongoing process, with the next round of meetings in May and June in Delhi and Islamabad. That is certainly a welcome sign.
There have been a lot of further developments since the meetings of the Prime Ministers. There have been trade agreements between India and Pakistan. The Indian Prime Minister undertook a historic visit to Pakistan on a bus journey. All of us would welcome that, especially those of us who travel on Indian or Pakistan buses and who realise how difficult those journeys can be. The Lahore Declaration, a landmark for peace and security between the two nations, was signed in February 1999. That included the taking of immediate steps to reduce the risk of accidental or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons.
The two Prime Ministers also decided to raise the level of periodic interaction at foreign minister level. A number of initiatives emerged from that. Interaction at parliamentary level picked up. An India-Pakistan Chamber of Commerce has now been set up. The visa regime between the two countries has also been relaxed and people are now able to travel. Prisoners from both countries have been released following the meeting of the two Prime Ministers. In spite of the bilateral agreement on pre-notification of flights not yet having been signed, both India and Pakistan informed each other in advance of the recent missile tests.
That is a clear and progressive path of improvement in relations between India and Pakistan. There is a shared desire by the leadership of both countries to resolve all outstanding issues through the process of bilateral dialogue which is already in place. It is also heartening to note that, following the recent developments in India in which the ruling party lost a vote of confidence in parliament, the Pakistan Government announced their intention to continue their
Under those circumstances, all well-meaning friends in the international community of nations should wish India and Pakistan the best in their current endeavour and should refrain from any act or suggestion which may only serve to derail the two countries from their chosen path of enhancing peace and security for both. We must influence the confidence-building measures aimed at improving the security environment and refrain from intervention and interference in other nations' internal affairs.
It is right that we should stress our commitment to human rights--wherever, whenever and by whomsoever they are abused. It is unfortunate that we only have one-sided quotations on that subject. Let me read what the Amnesty International report said:
Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Ahmed for providing the opportunity for this House to give consideration to the important Question he poses.
There is indeed an urgent need for a fresh initiative from the international community. In the past few weeks we have seen the competition between India and Pakistan grow as the testing of nuclear weapon carriers has taken place. The thought of what might happen if the state of tension between the two countries is not ended is terrifying, not just for the good people of both those nations, but for the whole region and possibly the world.
As my noble friend Lord Ahmed said, central to the difficulties that stand in the way of better relations between India and Pakistan is the unresolved issue of Kashmir. Later this year we shall mark the 51st anniversary of the Security Council resolution that provided for the holding of a plebiscite after demilitarisation and the establishment of a plebiscite administration. The fact that no plebiscite has taken place is well known to your Lordships' House. Many efforts have been made over a long period of time to draw attention to the need for the United Nations resolution to be implemented.
The tension between Pakistan and India that my noble friend Lord Ahmed described will remain until the principle of self-determination for the people of Kashmir is resolved. In these few moments this evening it is not possible to record the many false starts and hopes that the people of Kashmir have lived through over the past half century. The time is right for a fresh initiative. Any new initiative should come from the United Nations. Though we bear a historic responsibility for our part in the events of the 1947-48 period, we should be seeking an international initiative to bring this too-long conflict to an end.
Surely we have seen enough in recent times in other parts of the world to realise that unresolved disputes can lead to dreadful consequences. There have been wars, United Nations debates, pledges--some going back to those made by Lord Mountbatten and Nehru in 1947; pledges that clearly indicated an acceptance of the principle that the people of Kashmir must have the right to decide their own future by the recognised democratic method of plebiscite or referendum. That principle of self-determination must be pursued by the United Nations.
Like other noble Lords, I was privileged to go with my noble friend Lord Ahmed to Pakistan and Kashmir. Time does not allow me to go into the detail that I should like to record this evening and report to the House. We visited a camp that I should like to describe. It was late afternoon, exactly two weeks ago today. I sat in a place where I could hear the joyous sound of children laughing and playing as children do all over the world. Even though it was late in the afternoon, it was very hot. The smell of wood fires burning and birds singing brought back happy memories to me of childhood camping.
It was the sight of a small child looking out of a hut that quickly brought me back to reality; a little face expressing the sadness of where we were. We were sitting in one of the 20 refugee camps in Kashmir which currently house over 14,000 people--people who thought they were lucky with their lot. Unfortunately time does not allow me to go into the detail. Others have referred to the 65,000 people killed and 27,000 wounded. I could go on to talk of the 7,000 who have been sexually incapacitated through torture and the 7,000 children between the ages of seven and 10 who have been raped. Those and many other stories we heard are the result of the unresolved conflict that is Kashmir today.
Perhaps I may spend a few moments explaining that the reason I am speaking this evening is that the representative of the refugees concluded his presentation to us of the plight of his people with a request that those who visited should remember that in his and other camps were mothers, fathers and children who looked to the international community to give a voice to their plight. He said if there is a pain in one hand, there is a pain in the whole body. The Question posed by my noble friend Lord Ahmed this evening provides us with the opportunity to fulfil that request.
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