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Mr. Gill: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. In this country, inspection has to be carried out by fully

31 Mar 1999 : Column 1014

qualified veterinary surgeons, but we are led to believe that in other countries it is carried out by auxiliary vets who are trained to a much lower standard. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, in this country we do not know what the charging regime is in other countries. Presumably, if we did know, the Minister would have answered the question that I tabled on 11 March. I also received a very patchy answer to an earlier question on the level of supervision and the implementation of the regulations in other countries. The matter creates difficulties for Ministers because they cannot say that we are doing as much, more than, or the same as other countries; we do not have the information. That is a powerful argument for a stay of execution on the new charges, unless and until it can be established that other countries throughout the EU are operating the same scale of charges on the same level of supervision and inspections.

Four years ago, the hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) and I tabled an early-day motion criticising the fresh meat hygiene and inspection regulations, especially the short notice with which they were being introduced. It is somewhat ironic that in the same week, on 13 March 1995, the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, tabled early-day motion 778,

Bearing that in mind, I would have thought that the Prime Minister might influence Agriculture Ministers to stay their hand until the situation is clearer and some way had been found to reduce the charges from the amount proposed.

In an earnest attempt to help, I have suggested to the Minister that the new charges should not be implemented in the United Kingdom until there has been a technical review of the whole question of meat inspection and charging for meat inspection throughout the EU. I am conscious that other countries, such as the United States of America, Australia or New Zealand, have adopted an entirely different method in which inspection and charging are related to the degree of risk, rather than the cumbersome and expensive method being imposed by the EU.

Members of the pig industry have made a number of suggestions to the Government and, on their behalf, I want to reinforce their plea that the Government should implement the recommendations of the recent report into the pig industry by the Select Committee on Agriculture. Greater efforts should be made to ensure that all pigmeat coming into this country from other countries is labelled so that the consumer can exercise an informed choice. The industry would also appreciate any influence that the Government can exert on Departments and on local authorities to ensure that they source their pigmeat from UK-produced pigs.

10.8 am

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting): I want to raise the subject of Kashmir. I chair the all-party group on Pakistan in this House. As we all know, Kashmir is thousands of miles away from the United Kingdom, but it is not a country with which we have no involvement. When one looks back over the events of the past 50 years, one recalls the conflicts and tensions that existed--sadly, they still exist--between India and Pakistan. Wars have taken place between those two countries and one of the issues has always been the Indian occupation of Jammu Kashmir.

31 Mar 1999 : Column 1015

Sadly, last summer we saw the testing of nuclear weapons in the region; first, by India and then by Pakistan. According to the spokespeople of those two countries, one of principal reasons for that testing was the continuing conflict in Kashmir. One hears repeatedly from the Government of Pakistan--whichever party is in power--that the issue must be resolved to bring peace to that region and to improve relationships between India and Pakistan. I am sure that all Members of the House would wish to see that.

India and Pakistan are members of the Commonwealth and have close links with the United Kingdom. The last viceroy of India, Earl Mountbatten, said that the issue of Kashmir must be resolved. Sadly, it has not been and that is why the conflict continues. We know that there are thousands of Indian troops occupying part of Jammu Kashmir and that Pakistan has troops and equipment alongside Azad Kashmir. The conflict creates many problems for both India and Pakistan and tension between the two countries. The enormous military build-up in both countries, which was highlighted by last year's testing of nuclear weapons, and the huge financial cost of that military build-up prevents the development of other aspects of the two countries' economies and social structures.

In addition to all those problems, there is the on-going suffering and denial of human rights to the people of occupied Kashmir who live under the control of the Indian security forces. Without doubt, the country is occupied against the will of its people--and as we have seen many times, when a country is occupied, its people will fight for its freedom, and that is what has been happening for many years in occupied Kashmir. That has led to oppression of the people by the Indian security forces: there is vivid documentation of killings, torture, rape of women and other measures taken against the people of occupied Kashmir. It is now estimated that India has 600,000 troops in occupied Kashmir. Human rights groups have repeatedly reported the brutality of the Indian army toward the people of Jammu Kashmir.

There have been many United Nations resolutions calling for India and Pakistan to enter into discussions to resolve the conflict. The attitude of Pakistan has been made clear by successive Governments: they want such discussions to take place, with the firm commitment that the people of Kashmir must have a role in such discussions. Regrettably, India has said that that request is unacceptable, that the area of Kashmir now occupied is part of India, and that the occupation will continue. Pakistan--and, I am sure, the whole world--wants the people of Kashmir to be able to involve themselves in a constructive debate that will end the conflict and the tension between India and Pakistan.

As I said, India and Pakistan are Commonwealth countries, as is the United Kingdom, and our links to them are strong and undoubtedly respected. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has shown a clear commitment to attempting to bring about discussions between India and Pakistan, but it must be said that the Indian response to my right hon. Friend's involvement has been extremely unhelpful. I am pleased to say that, recently, a meeting took place between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan. Such dialogue gives our country an opportunity to offer to play a role in discussions which, although complex and difficult, might succeed if the will is there.

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Recently, President Mandela of South Africa said:

I am certain that that is the wish of many hon. Members, and it is what the Government of Pakistan and the people of Kashmir certainly want. A week ago, a major military parade took place in Islamabad, and President Rafiq Tarar of Pakistan said that the settlement of the Kashmir dispute was the only guarantee for peace in the region. We, as a fellow Commonwealth country, have a definite role to play. In September this year, the annual Commonwealth conference is to take place in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and I hope that we will work to ensure that Kashmir is on the agenda. We could seek the involvement of a fellow Commonwealth country to act as co-ordinator between India and Pakistan--I refer back to President Mandela's remarks.

The whole House acknowledges that, in my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, we have a person who is held in the highest regard and who, as he is currently demonstrating, has a great personal commitment to the human rights of men and women. I do not doubt that, as he has done in Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend could play a major role in bringing India and Pakistan together in discussions to resolve the continuing tragedy. That has to be done, first, for the sake of its people, so that they can lead the sort of life that they want for themselves; and, secondly, to reduce the tension and danger that the unresolved conflict has caused and continues to cause in that region of the world. I believe that the UK can play such a role, and I look to the Government to become involved in resolving the issue.

10.17 am

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): Before the House adjourns for the Easter recess, there are several matters that I believe we should debate. As there are many hon. Members waiting to speak, I shall run though the issues rapidly and not expect the Minister to comment on more than two.

I agree with everything the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) had to say, until he mentioned the leader of the Labour party--but never mind. My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) would expect me to mention the Palace theatre, Westcliff. I have to report that, unfortunately, it closed three weeks ago, but two weeks ago I presented a petition signed by 6,000 people and I am delighted to tell the House that the new chairman of the Eastern arts board has promised to be at the first performance of the Christmas pantomime, which is to open in November. However, I expect Her Majesty's Government to give the Eastern arts board decent funding, so that the Palace theatre can continue as a producing theatre.

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