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Column 622experiment has suggested that cannabis destroys brain cells. In that experiment, monkeys were forced to smoke 63 very intensely strong cannabis cigarettes under such conditions that they drew into their lungs only cannabis smoke and insufficient oxygen. They suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning and that destroyed their brain cells.
Cannabis has been used widely throughout the world. It is claimed that 60 million Americans have used it and that there are 1 million regular users in Britain. I hope that we can have some new thinking about our current laws. Our laws are not only not stopping the increase in the use of drugs, but are actually fuelling that increase. We are repeating the mistakes that have been made in every country in the world.
I challenge the Minister to tell me of any country that has followed our line--that is, cracking down on cannabis and hard drugs--and where that has not led to the certain result of increased use and increased crime. America is the prime example. It had a very strong case against alcohol--one can always make a case on alcohol abuse much more than one can in respect of other drugs. Alcohol is an extremely damaging drug. Understandably, in 1919, it was decided to prohibit it. The result was a doubling of the use of alcohol. Even worse than that, four times as many people died from alcohol abuse, possibly because they were taking too much of it in unhealthy circumstances or because bad alcohol was on the market. Thirteen years later, when the use of alcohol was decriminalised, the situation reverted.
America inherited an empire of criminals who had grown rich in well- organised crime. We are now doing exactly the same in this country with illegal drugs. We know of the increase in crime. At least 40 per cent. of homes in our constituencies are broken into, and people commit petty crime in pursuit of goods to sell for money to fuel their habits or drug addictions. If we carry on like that, we will end up as they have in America. In America in 1962, just 4 per cent. of people between 18 and 25 were cannabis users. After the United States Government spending $8 billion a year, using their army, navy, air force, coastguard and diplomacy in the war on drugs--they call it a war on drugs--more than 70 per cent. of young Americans in that age group regularly use soft drugs. It is counter- productive. I do not want an increase in cannabis use. I want cannabis to be regarded as boring and uninteresting. At the moment, it is regarded by young people as a challenge--something with which they can kick against other generations. One argument is that decriminalising the use of cannabis will lead more people to use it and will encourage them to go on to hard drugs. I heard one cannabis user answer that argument by saying, "My father has drunk five pints of bitter every Saturday night for the past 40 years and he has never gone on to methylated spirits." We know that groups of people will go on to abuse any drug, but there is a great gulf between those with personality weaknesses who go on to total hard drug abuse. The great danger now is that with our young people experimenting with drugs--a third of them do, whatever we say and whatever we urge--they enter the world of illegality and mix with the pushers and the people who make money out of drugs. The likelihood is that they will be tempted, either by subterfuge or because they are under the influence of another drug, to go on to hard drugs. If we
Column 623take them out of that market, there will be a chance that they carry out their experiments and then put the drug aside as something of no interest.
Let us consider countries that have adopted that course. I am sure that the Minister read two reports this year, one by a left-wing think tank and the other by a right-wing think tank. They came from very different perspectives, but they reached the same
conclusion--that the only way to cut crime and drug use is by decriminalising soft drugs. The worst figure on drug abuse is from America. In America, 1.5 million children are on amphetamines because they suffer from attention deprivation. It is tragic that people abuse a drug in such a way for no purpose. All drugs are damaging. Some benefit us, but they are all damaging in the long run. Germany recently decriminalised cannabis for personal use. Italy and Holland have already done so. The head of Interpol strongly urges it. There are many such voices in America. The Health Minister in Portugal is urging decriminalisation. Police, judges and magistrates are urging that course. I am not suggesting that we follow Holland, which has gone from a black market to a white market. I am not suggesting that we should have drugs of any sort freely on sale. Drugs should certainly still be controlled.
If we look at that course, I believe we will see that it is the only one which we can take to undercut the market. The main reason why there has been an increase in drug use is not because drugs are enjoyable or that people are inherently wicked. The engine driving the increase in drug use here and in every corner of the world is profit. One would expect the Government to understand market forces. If someone has a drug habit, the best way to pay for it is to persuade his pals to take up that drug habit. If someone is an addict of a hard drug, it may cost £500 a week to fund his habit. The only ways in which that can be paid for is by going into crime, prostitution or drug trading. In Bristol, local police said that it required £500 to feed a habit, and a person may have to steal something like £2,000 to £3,000 worth of camcorders and videos. The crime rate goes on rising.
There are examples in places such as Widnes where courageous doctors have taken a different path. In Widnes, the black market in hard drugs was virtually wiped out by treating the addicts as patients, because that is what they are--they are sick. If a drug is prescribed in a clean and hygienic way, the addict can take it without the fear of arrest. The drug will not be taken in sordid surroundings, and the addict does not have to share needles, thus lessening the chance of getting AIDS.
If the drug is taken in reasonable surroundings, there is a better chance of the person's building up self-esteem and going on a course of rehabilitation that may get him off the habit. It is working in Widnes and in other parts of the world. One remarkable example of what happened in that town is that, with the market in hard and soft drugs having collapsed, one of the local chain stores was willing to part with £2,000 to fund a drug conference. The hard-headed reason why it did that was because shop- lifting in the shop served by the patients of a doctor involved in treating addicts dropped to one twelfth of what it had been before.
We are in a society that is riddled with drugs, and we are having terrible problems. I wish to say something in the
Column 624short period I have remaining about medicinal drugs, because that is another terrible story. One may imagine that there are a huge number of hard drug addicts, but there are 400,000 addicts of medicinal drugs. Those people have gone along in good faith to their doctors for treatment. I do not blame the doctors, but I very much blame the pushers in the drug companies who make money out of those drugs.
We had a terrible period in this country when benzodiazepines were prescribed like smarties to people who found that they developed a life- long addiction. We already prescribe such drugs on the national health service, and we should also look at a drug which causes twice as many deaths as heroin each year--paracetemol. The Minister should look the next time he goes to a chemist or in his medicine cupboard at the warning for that drug. One needs to take very few of them before it is a fatal dose, and that drug occurs in 50 different guises in some very popular drugs.
It is a killer on a massive scale. If 200 people died in an accident in this city, there would be a major inquiry and we would be very worried. But that is the number who die every year from paracetamol, and the total who die from either accidental or deliberate overdoses of prescribed drugs is 2,000 a year. We must decide whether the drugs that we take are necessary, and that strikes at the core of our relationship with drugs and at the problems in our society. I believe that we must hit at the drug trade by hitting at the drug market. The last thing which is required is the line that the Government have taken. In order to get some spurious transitory popularity, they posture as hard men who will crack down on the drug trade. What they did was to produce a proposal--I believe it is now a law--to multiply the fine for possession of cannabis fivefold. That was denounced not merely by the people who take drugs or people involved in drugs but by the magistrates, the police and everyone. They all said that it was a daft idea.
If anyone were foolish enough to impose such a fine, it would simply mean that the user of the drug had to commit more crime to pay the fine. The police throughout the country virtually do not fine or arrest anyone for possession of cannabis for personal use. That is the line taken by my police authority and many others. The police are turning against the law and not enforcing it. Only in certain areas are people arrested for use of cannabis. The Government increased the fine to make a vacuous political point.
I wish that the Government would look anew at the whole range of this massive problem. I wish that they would look at our relationship with drugs. We are a society which has become deeply dependent on drugs. We expect that there should be an answer for every sorrow that we feel, every bereavement, every pain and every moment of boredom. We reach for the box of pills and expect an answer there. We have forgotten that it is inevitable in the human condition that we suffer pain, boredom and bereavement. All we do by taking drugs is postpone that pain, often at terrible cost.
I urge the Government to take action now to set up a royal commission that can consider drug use in the great detail that is necessary and, in the end, liberate millions of our people from drug dependency.
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The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean) : Let me first pay the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) the compliment of saying that I know that he takes considerable interest in drug issues. It is a pity that he has not got himself better briefed on the facts of the case. Although we may differ in our approach to tackling the drugs problem, he and the rest of the House will agree when I say that drug misuse is one of the most serious problems which face our society. However, I must say, in all honesty, that some of the sentiments that the hon. Gentleman expressed were absolute tosh. I shall come to them in a moment.
The drugs problem has many different facets, each of which has to be tackled in its own way. First, drug misuse is a serious health problem. Addiction can have dangerous physical effects. Drug-taking can, and all too often does, lead to death. We have a responsibility to current and future generations of young people to try to change their attitude to behaviour which can have such devastating physical consequences.
Secondly, drugs are a serious social problem. Beyond the individual's physical pain and misery are the social costs, the destruction of an individual's ability to cope with ordinary life, the destruction of any relationships they might have, the destruction of families, who cannot understand it when one of their members becomes addicted, and the destruction of whole communities and neighbourhoods by drug dealers and their evil trade.
Thirdly, drugs are a crime problem. Any strategy to tackle drug misuse must give priority to reducing the misery that drug-related crime inflicts on us all. We know that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has estimated that drug addiction costs this country £2 billion a year in property crime. That is half the recorded value of all stolen property. Few, if any, experts are convinced by that extraordinary estimate and neither am I.
The calculation is based on premises that do not stand up to close examination. The potential cost of £87,600 per heroin addict per year was based on high black market costs of heroin and high daily doses. Not all heroin addicts consume heroin daily, for a variety of reasons including lack of availability, personal disinclination and being either in treatment or in custody. It was further assumed that the whole of their addiction was financed solely from committing crimes and acquiring goods that were then sold and that the stolen goods were sold at only a third of their value.
Funding for drug addiction comes from many other sources. That formula makes no provision for addicts' legitimate sources of income such as benefits and earnings, or from the proceeds of prostitution, begging or the sale of drugs. Such generalised calculations need to be approached with caution. Nor is there any point in wasting time speculating on the exact relationship of drug-related crime, when our policies are designed to bear down on all crime, including drug abuse, and to ensure that our strategies embrace prevention as well as enforcement activity.
I have said enough to underline the seriousness of the drug problem and the threat that it poses to our society. The very seriousness of the problem has tempted some, including the hon. Member for Newport, West, to suggest that the legalisation or decriminalisation of drugs may be the answer.
Column 626Some find the idea of legalisation more attractive when confined to removing the controls on cannabis and other so- called soft drugs. There is still scientific debate about the long-term effects of cannabis misuse. There is evidence that cannabis can give rise to acute and transient mental disturbance and drug-induced psychotic illness. Whatever the longer-term effects might be, in the short term cannabis makes users light-headed and unable to concentrate, and any measures that would increase the availability of cannabis would have serious consequences for the health and safety of the public, particularly if cannabis were used by those working in the transport industry or operating industrial machines.
There is also emerging evidence that a much stronger strain of cannabis known by the street term "skunk" is becoming increasingly available on the illicit market. Even less is known about the long-term effects of that drug, which some estimate is five times more potent.
It is also totally misleading to compare the incidence of cannabis-related health problems with those of alcohol and tobacco. The latter substances are not controlled by law and consequentially are used far more widely. To say that alcohol or tobacco kill many more people than drugs do, and therefore we should legalise drugs, is a cock-eyed way of looking at the problem.
If a scientist came along today and said that he had invented a new product called tobacco or alcohol, would it be legalised ? It is impossible to look at the historical development of alcohol and tobacco and reach the conclusion that they should be banned today. That is not a possible or sensible route to take, but it is nonsense to say that, as we now have drugs such as cannabis, which are apparently less evil than the destructive effect of tobacco, we should legalise them to put them on the same statutory basis. Why should we risk adding to the nation's health problems by legalising cannabis ?
Any relaxation in current laws could have much wider consequences than is often imagined. There is evidence that misusers of drugs such as heroin or cocaine also misuse a wide variety of drugs, including cannabis. Removing the controls on any drugs in Britain would therefore make it a prime attraction for a wide spectrum of drug takers, and traffickers would be quick to move in to meet the demands on other drugs. The most recent report of the International Narcotics Control Board suggested that international drug traffickers target countries with weak laws and controls.
I had a briefing from experienced officers in a police force who recently visited Jamaica to look at the controls on crack. They said that a reggae song on the local radio in downtown Kingston was urging dealers to go to Britain. The encouragement to come to London was the suggestion that
"The police don't bang, the courts don't hang and the sentence ain't lang".
The police certainly do not "bang" and our courts do not hang, but we have some very long sentences for drug dealing, and London ought not to be an attractive place for international drug dealers. International drug dealers will certainly move to the place where they think that they can get away with dealing. If this country signalled that it was going to drop controls on some drugs, for misguided reasons, we would be perceived as a soft touch. That would be disastrous for all drug use.
Mr. Flynn : The reason that we are a soft touch is that dealers can make more profit here because cannabis is illegal. The use of cannabis has dropped in countries where it is legal. For example, in Holland it has dropped from 6 to 2 per cent. When alcohol was decriminalised in America, its use dropped because criminals could not make a profit. Does not the Minister understand that simple point ?
Mr. Maclean : I am glad that some members of the Labour party are trying to learn the economics of the market, but the hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. If he thinks that simply legalising drugs would somehow lower the price, that we would then have a free market and that criminal activity would cease, that is pie in the sky. Our drug barons and dealers want to be in control, as we have seen. There would be intense competition among the drug barons and dealers to control the supply and maximise their profits. If the price dropped and more kids were encouraged into drug taking and drug use, it would be an appalling price for society to pay, simply because of some cock-eyed theory that it might be economically interesting to legalise drugs as it might pull the rug out from under the international drug market. No country in the world has come to that conclusion.
When some economists get together at seminars, they find it interesting to speculate on what the effect would be if countries legalised drugs. That would be a terribly dangerous experiment to conduct because millions of our people would become hooked on drugs. Not only that ; I am convinced that it would not work.
If we legalised drugs, the drugs dealers and barons would not go away, saying, "That's us out of business. We can get the drugs at any local chemist, so there's no more market." Of course not ; they will want to control the market in legalised drugs, and will resort to their usual violence to do so.
Mr. Maclean : I shall come to Germany and Holland--that was the point at which I thought that the hon. Gentleman was talking tosh. He suggested that everyone in the world--all academics, Governments, scientists, police and magistrates--thought that legalisation was a good idea. That is absolute nonsense. One has, of course, heard of some scientists somewhere--no doubt practising for a PhD--who have produced such theories, but I challenge the hon. Gentleman to name any Government in the
Column 628western world, or any police force in this country, who believe that legalising drugs would help in the fight against drugs--either on the enforcement side or by persuading kids to come off drugs. A recent meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs adopted a resolution that urged Governments not to derogate from full implementation of the international drug control treaties. As a party to the 1961 convention, the United Kingdom is required to adopt measures to prevent the misuse of, and illicit traffic in, controlled drugs. We would therefore be in breach of the convention if we took unilateral measures to legalise controlled drugs. Even delegates meeting at the United Nations-- whom I suspect of having trendy opinions at times--concluded that it would be suicidal to drop controls against drugs and that, among other reasons, is good enough for me.
The hon. Gentleman pointed with approval to the approach that the Dutch and Germans have adopted towards the possession of cannabis. Everything is not always as it seems with his sweeping
generalisations. The Dutch Minister of Justice announced at the United Nations in October that his country's so-called coffee-shop policy, whereby cannabis dealing and use are tolerated at certain outlets, is to be reviewed because of a sharp increase in the availability of the drug.
In Germany, the ruling by the constitutional court that possession of small quantities of cannabis for personal use should not, in certain circumstances, be prosecuted attracted some notice. I fear, however, that the hon. Gentleman would be misleading himself and others if he suggested that that amounted to a significant move in the direction of legalisation. The Federal Government have made it clear that the ruling contains nothing new, while the Health Minister described it as "hopelessly wrongly interpreted". The Federal Government have also stressed that the existing law enables prosecuting authorities in the courts not to impose a sentence in minor cases of possession for occasional personal use when there is no danger to third parties, but possession of cannabis remains illegal.
The members of the European Community are united in the fight against drug misuse. At the Corfu European Council last month, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister
Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe) : I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Minister who has to reply to this debate. I had no idea that he was in Hong Kong when I applied for it. I understand that he landed at 5 o'clock this morning, only to find that he had to answer this debate. Still, I know that he shares many of our concerns about Burma, and I am sure that he will rise to the occasion.
I thought it vital, before we finished for the summer, that the House paid its respects to the courage of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has now completed five years under house arrest in Rangoon and who, for many Burmese all over the world and in Burma, has kept alive the hope of a return to democratic government in Burma.
I also record the fact that 2,064 Members of Parliament from 32 countries, including 200 of our colleagues here, signed a letter to the Secretary- General of the United Nations, pointing out to him that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide victory in May 1990, winning 392 of 485 seats--despite the fact that she was by then under house arrest. Since then, about 1,550 opponents of the Government, many of them elected to Parliament in that election, have been arrested or put in prison. The human rights abuses by the Burmese regime have been well catalogued.
The fact that several colleagues are present in the Chamber for this Adjournment debate is a tribute to their concern. Our letter to Boutros Boutros-Ghali was designed to reiterate what we have always understood to be the position of the international community ; it called for the immediate and unconditional release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners, with guarantees of their complete freedom and swift implementation of a transition to civilian rule, as mandated by the election of May 1990.
On 20 July five years ago, 11 lorries full of troops came to San Suu Kyi's house. The troops cut off the telephones and excluded her from all contact with any but her immediate family. Some comparison can be made with the suffering of Nelson Mandela and his immense contribution to change in South Africa while being imprisoned for so long. Mandela at least went through some form of legal
process--however much we might disagree with it--before being sent to Robbin Island ; whereas San Suu Kyi has never stood trial or been given any justification by the illegal regime for the fact that she has been detained.
We know from her conversation with Congressman Richardson--the only person from the western world who has had a chance to see her in the past five years--that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi remains in touch with events in Burma and the world, and that she is still ready, in the same spirit of peace and tranquillity as she has shown ever since becoming involved in Burmese politics, to discuss the way forward. The regime has, step by step, extended its original powers and sought, with the passage of time, to claim legitimacy, despite the overwhelming rejection of the people of Burma. San Suu Kyi still reaches out towards it to find a way in which to allay its fears and to negotiate and discuss the way forward for the Burmese people, who fear, of all things, the abuse of all normal standards of human rights.
I received a letter from Mr. Sein Win, the Prime
Column 630Minister of the national coalition Government of the Union of Burma, who asked me to express to the House, on behalf of the Burmese people, their gratitude
"to you and to other members of the House of Commons. Without such well- meaning concern about the human rights situation in Burma by United Kingdom and the others in the international community, the people of Burma would long have lost their hopes to be free and democratic and the brute force of the SLORC would have prevailed over justice."
Many people in all parts of the world feel concern about the lack of progress towards a solution.
I wanted to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister whether the Government remain resolute in their original policy. In some circles, there is concern that the promotion of British week for the second year in Rangoon could give the impression that the time that has elapsed since the election has dulled the edge of our concerns. We know how difficult it is to apply direct pressure on the regime. We know how it is cushioned within the Association of South-East Asian Nations community from the direct concerns that many of us feel. Will my right hon. Friend give an impression of how we feel about dealing with our Asian and, in particular, our Commonwealth colleagues who are members of ASEAN in terms of constructive engagement with the regime ? From the comments of previous Ministers who attended ASEAN meetings, I know how strongly they presented our views. We know that Mr. Baker, the previous US Secretary of State put forward the United States view in a forthright manner at the ASEAN meeting that he attended. This coming week, however, the ASEAN meeting has invited the illegal Burmese regime to attend its opening dinner and closing ceremony.
Constructive engagement can work, but many of us are concerned that it seeks to give authenticity to the illegal State Law and Order Restoration Council regime before the convention succeeds. We are concerned that we may give the impression that, by allowing time to elapse, the regime will accepted by the ASEAN community and more widely. We deeply believe that that would be contrary to natural justice and to the way in which elected colleagues to Parliament should be treated.
I ask my right hon. Friend whether the resolve of the Government, unlike that of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is weakening. Many of us believe that we should not accept dual standards of human rights. There is no such thing as oriental human rights and human rights for the rest. There is one standard of human rights which should be accepted under the United Nations mandate.
We do not believe that one should accept dual standards of democratic rights. Many of us believe that the 1990 elections were organised in such a way that it was amazing that the military regime were overwhelmingly rejected. Having gone through that process and having had international observers at the last minute to examine it, it is an abomination in terms of democratic systems to reject the result and to hold Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in captivity for this considerable period.
I point out to my right hon. Friend the Minister that trade is not all. Under the system in Burma, the military are involved in many companies and organisations, making it almost impossible to trade without indirectly supporting the illegal military regime. Concern has been expressed about the status of refugees in Thailand. The various tribes--the Keren, the Mons, the Chins, the Shan--are under pressure to negotiate with SLORC an end to the civil war. We know that Thailand is
Column 631exerting pressure on them to enter negotiations. We are concerned that the status of the refugee, which is absolute in United Nations rules, is being threatened. People can be returned to Burma to face not necessarily trial but being convicted and imprisoned simply for being out of the country.
The processes of the convention should require comment from those outside. The processes have dragged on for a considerable time. Many of the original people called to see whether the convention was an acceptable way of enshrining the military in the future Government of Burma have not attended since because they recognise that it is designed to produce only one result. A convention cannot be designed to produce only one result when a population of 48 million people are seeking only a decent Government. Without Aung San Suu Kyi, whose captivity I began with, remaining there, at great personal cost to herself and her family, the flame of democracy will dim.
I believe that, ultimately, good always triumphs over evil and that Aung San Suu Kyi's time is still to come. I shall finish by quoting her own words :
"It is man's vision of civilised humanity which leads him to dare and suffer to build societies free from want and fear. Concepts such as truth, justice and compassion cannot be dismissed as trite when these are often the only bulwarks which stand against ruthless power."
Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) : I thank the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester), on behalf of myself and my constituents, some of whom are committed members of the Burma action group, for raising the plight of Madam Aung San Suu Kyi in the Chamber. I know that they will be deeply grateful.
As the hon. Member for Broxtowe said, Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday began her fifth illegal year of house arrest--the fifth illegal year because SLORC has changed the existing law and extended the legal period that someone can be kept without charge or trial under house arrest.
Perhaps more important, Aung San Suu Kyi has highlighted the continuing failure of SLORC to meet even the most basic requirements of the international community's definition of what constitutes human rights. Recent newspaper reports have stated that small children are being dragooned and forced to walk ahead of troops to detonate land mines on the road. That is just one example of what the regime is doing in Burma.
Once again, I heartily endorse everything that the hon. Member for Broxtowe said and thank him on behalf of myself and my constituents.
Just over a year ago, I initiated an Adjournment debate on the same subject. This debate has served as a timely reminder that I was then on my feet, asking my right hon. Friend the Minister why the international community should tolerate such an abuse of civil rights.
Aung San Suu Kyi's only crime is to have been elected. Before she could take up her position, she was incarcerated. When I first spoke about this issue, she had
Column 632been incarcerated for four years, but she has now been under house arrest for five years. That is utterly intolerable, not simply because I presume to believe that she would be an excellent leader of her country--none of us has any idea about that and the matter is academic--but because she has a right to demonstrate whether she would be just that.
It is all too easy for hon. Members to take for granted the fact that we can speak about many subjects without thinking what it would be like to have restrictions placed on us that would prevent us from airing the views that our constituents wish us to air on their behalf. On this ghastly anniversary, I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to do all that is possible, although there is not a great amount that he can do, to persuade the other ASEAN countries not to embark on some form of slow recognition of the ghastly regime in Burma.
The State Law and Order Restoration Council, the aptly-named SLORC, an emotive terminology, should be outlawed and ultimately forced, as my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) and the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) have said, to come to terms with the reality that an elected person waits to take up her position and that she should be allowed to do so as soon as possible.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Alastair Goodlad) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) for initiating the debate. I welcome the remarks by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith). They and my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), who is in his place, have shown their concern for a long time about Burma and the plight of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe said, it is certainly timely for the House to focus its attention on the plight of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace laureate and daughter of the architect of Burmese independence. As my hon. Friend said, yesterday was the fifth anniversary of her detention under house arrest on 20 July 1989 by the ruling military regime in Burma, the State Law and Order Restoration Council, SLORC.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's continued detention is but one deplorable example of the arbitrary and brutal nature of SLORC, which assumed power in September 1988 after bloodily crushing pro-democracy demonstrations. Although it claimed initially to be an interim authority, and organised fair and free democratic elections in May 1990, it has steadfastly refused to accept the result of these elections, which gave a substantial majority--nearly 60 per cent. of the vote, and over 80 per cent. of the seats--to the party of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Thanks largely to the tireless efforts of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi herself, as well as her many supporters in the United Kingdom, who were mentioned by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate, the world has not been allowed to forget the fate of the Burmese peoples. Their struggle for freedom, and SLORC's appalling human rights record, remain major issues of international concern, attracting public and parliamentary interest worldwide.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's own efforts were acknowledged in 1990, when she was awarded the Sakharov prize, followed one year later by the Nobel peace
Column 633prize, for her non-violent efforts in support of democracy and human rights. The award of the Nobel peace prize was a particularly fitting tribute to her commitment to the cause of democracy and civil liberties in Burma. It also served as a reminder to SLORC that the world community would neither forget nor ignore the continuing struggle by the Burmese people for their full human rights. The citation for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's prize from the Nobel Committee described her contribution as one of the most remarkable examples of civilian courage in Asia in recent decades. She has become an important symbol of the struggle against repression and the desire of the Burmese people for a peaceful transition from a military straitjacket to a democratic system. The majority of the Burmese people continue to regard her as the embodiment of their desire for peace, democracy and freedom.
We remain acutely concerned about Daw Aung San Sui Kyi's situation. We have called repeatedly on the SLORC, in concert with our European Union partners and with other like-minded Governments throughout the world, to commence dialogue with the Burmese opposition to agree to the unconditional release of Daw Aung San Sui Kyi and to allow her to remain freely in Burma in accordance with her wishes. That the SLORC continue to ignore all international calls for her release, including those by the United Nations Secretary-General, is quite unacceptable.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was originally detained under the provisions of the 1975 state protection law, as amended in 1991, which states that the maximum period of detention for a person held under that law is five years. But the most recent SLORC interpretation seeks to extend the term, in practice, to six years.
To mark the fifth anniversary of her detention, the European Union issued the following text at the recent session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission in New York :
"The European Union and the acceding countries Austria, Finland, Sweden and Norway view with great concern the continued detention of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, who has been detained under house arrest in Myanmar since 1989, in flagrant contradiction of all principles of justice. July 20, 1994 marks the fifth anniversary of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's detention. It is unacceptable that there is still no sign of her release.
On the occasion of the anniversary of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's detention, the European Union and the acceding countries Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden call upon the State Law and Order Restoration Council immediately to start serious and meaningful discussions with the representatives of the democratic forces of Myanmar. In the views of the European Union and the acceding countries, Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden, dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would open the way for national reconciliation which would, in turn, enable the SLORC to lift the restrictions imposed on her and allow Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to participate in the political process in Myanmar."
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is, of course, only one of the many victims of the ruling regime's denial of human rights in Burma. Students, monks and several other members of Burma's opposition movement have all fallen victim to the SLORC's policies. The United Nations special rapporteur on Burma, Professor Yokota of Japan, reported to the United Nations general assembly that SLORC had arrested and tortured many people who had voiced political dissent. He also expressed concern at the numerous reports of disappearances and extra judicial executions. Other human rights violations in Burma include the forced conscription of porters for use in front-line areas and abuses of civilian
Column 634non-combatants in the war zones. Freedom of expression remains almost non-existent, with all media being subject to heavy and frequently arbitrary censorship.
As the situation has deteriorated, the United Kingdom, with our European Union partners, has taken a leading role at the United Nations general assembly and at the Commission on Human Rights, to gain consensus support for tough resolutions calling for the unconditional release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political leaders and in denouncing the human rights violations reported by Professor Yokota.
Sir Michael Marshall (Arundel) : My hon. Friend will be aware that among the other political leaders to whom he refers are 37 Members of Parliament. He will be aware also of the visit that I made to Rangoon last month on behalf of the Inter-Parliamentary Union to press the case for their release as well as that of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. I wish to add my voice to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester). Will my hon. Friend the Minister take the opportunity to assure hon. Members that Her Majesty's Government will give every possible support to visits by parliamentarians to contact those who have been imprisoned in Burma ? I think that that would help the process of bringing those in prison some hope and comfort. It would also apply moral pressure for the future.
Mr. Goodlad : I pay tribute to what my hon. Friend did during his recent visit to Burma, in expressing his concern and that of the Inter- Parliamentary Union, along with that of other colleagues, for the detained parliamentarians in Burma. The answer to his question about support for other colleagues following in his footsteps is strongly in the affirmative.
Even in the face of the international concern that I have described, the regime continues its efforts to circumvent the clear expression of the will of the Burmese people. Since 9 January 1993, a national convention has been taking place in Rangoon to draw up a new constitution. We believe that Burma needs a new constitution that incorporates the changes in the political and economic system that the Burmese people have called for since the demonstrations in 1988. It must also provide safeguards for the rights of people belonging to the ethnic minorities, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe has referred.
However, one of the guidelines, to which the convention has been told that it must adhere, requires the constitution to enshrine a leading role for the military in Burma's politics. According to the rules of the convention, delegates are forbidden to question this, which makes a mockery of the entire process.
My hon. Friend asked about European Union policy on Burma. I think that he is well aware that our official relations with the SLORC have been virtually non-existent since it assumed power. We suspended all EU and national non-humanitarian official aid at that time and, in 1991, imposed an arms embargo in response to SLORC's refusal to honour the results of the 1990 elections. We severed all remaining defence links a year later. We have maintained pressure on SLORC to improve its human rights record, to respect the results of the 1990 elections and to promote political and economic reform.
A recent review of EU policy confirmed that existing pressure should be maintained, but we have also agreed with EU partners that we should be more active in ensuring