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Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): I thank my right hon. Friend not only for the consistent attention that he has given this issue but for meeting many community leaders on his return from the sub-continent, including many of my constituents and those of colleagues throughout the House. We appreciated that.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Abdul Ghani Lone's fatal error was to commit himself exclusively to following the democratic process in the state legislative elections coming up later this year, for which reason he was then, as a leader of the Hurriyat conferenceand no friend of the Indian Governmenttargeted by the ISI and assassinated? Does my right hon. Friend also agree that when Donald Rumsfeld is in both capitals this week, he could do a lot worse than come away with a commitment from the leadership of Pakistan matching that already given by India that there will be no nuclear first use by that country? Such a level of equality in the nuclear relationship would greatly defuse the situation.
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. He is right to draw attention to the great bravery of Mr. Lone and the fact that heas no friend whatever of the Indian Governmentpaid for his moderation with his life. There are some extremely unpleasant people operating in Jammu and Kashmir in the name of freedom. This country, too, has had experience of people operating in the name of freedom committing the most outrageous terrorist acts, and we should bear that experience in mind. I should say for the record, however, that I have no evidence about the provenance of the murderers.
Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): I declare an interest as chairman of the parliamentary friends of India. The Foreign Secretary will understand the importance that I attach to strengthening and deepening the historic trade and economic ties between our two nations. I want to reinforce the concerns of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) about the impact that unnecessarily severe travel advice could have on economic and trade relations. Does the Foreign Secretary understand that there is concern in India that travel advice may have been issued in order to be even-handed between India and Pakistan rather than on the merits of the case, and will he ensure that the advice is kept under constant review and can be relaxed at the earliest possible moment?
Mr. Straw: It is worth repeating that I have every interest in and commitment to encouraging trade and commercial, business and tourist intercourse between the United Kingdom and Pakistan, India and all the other countries of that region. To reassure the hon. Gentleman,
I promise the hon. Gentleman and the House that we will change the travel advice as soon as it is prudent to do soback to normality, we hope, but that remains to be seen. Meanwhile, our albeit limited staffs in both India and Pakistan are making every effort to run as near normal a visa service as possible.
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): I, too, commend my right hon. Friend for his worthy efforts on the matter. He is walking a tightrope in respect not only of what is happening on the sub-continent but of the communities here. He has been assiduous in trying to secure a peaceful settlement. However, let me take him back to his statement about the entry clearance operation. I know that it is to be increased in New Delhi, but I have had complaints over the past few days from constituents who simply cannot make applications. That involves not only visitor visa cases but compassionate cases. I know that my right hon. Friend has an interest, because of the number of his constituents in Blackburn who will be affected. Unless we consider how to tackle the problem now, there will be a backlog of cases. Perhaps we can consider an alternative method by which people can make applications.
Mr. Straw: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I understand what he says about the entry clearance operation. I was reluctant to make any changes in the visa processes or to draw down staff until I thought that it was absolutely necessarybut it had to be done. We have arranged a drop-box system in Delhi. As of this morning, I understand that our processing of applications across India as a whole is running at 65 per cent. of the level at June 2001, and 80 per cent. in Delhi. We will do everything that we can to get back to as near normal a level as possible. If my hon. Friend has specific constituency complaints or concerns, I hope that he will draw them to my attention or to that of the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, North.
Tony Baldry (Banbury): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that part of the continuing tragedy is that millions of the poorest of the world's poor live in India and Pakistan, as is evidenced by the fact that India is the largest recipient of bilateral aid from the UK? Does he also agree that every penny spent on armaments and nuclear devices by India and Pakistan could better be spent on primary education and health care in those two
Mr. Straw: India is a huge country and contains about one third of the world's poor, according to figures from the Department for International Development. Per head of population, India and Pakistan are significant recipients of aid from this country and from around the world.
As for the hon. Gentleman's question about realistic prospects, I have given an explanation why the matter has to be resolved by the parties, albeit with encouragement from others[Interruption.] I am neither an optimist or a pessimist in such situations. We have to work hard for a peaceful solution to be agreed between the parties, and we shall continue to do that. However, it is also crucial that although the issue may fall away from the front pages, it should not fall away from the concerns of the House; it is not least a consequence of the international community's having moved on to something else that the issue blew up into a crisis and then festered without being resolved.
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): I support everything that my right hon. Friend has done to achieve an easing back from the crisis that we face. He will know that I went right up to the line of control just before Easter. May I urge him to ensure, in the short term, that the United Nations has equal access to both sides of the line of control and that its reports on incursions and shelling across the line are made public, so that we have a neutral view of the position? In the long term, although I realise that the issue can be resolved only when Pakistan and India are willing to resolve it, we must take account of what people on both sides in Kashmir want. We must ensure that the problem is kept on the agenda; 54 years is far too long, and the problem must be solved.
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right to say that 54 years is far too long. As regards the specific issue of the UN monitors, I shall take up the points that he raised and will write to him.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): In the Foreign Secretary's remarks this afternoon, he appeared to rule out the formal deployment of British military units to Kashmir, but he has posited a scenario in which individual military advisers could be sent. Will he tell the House whether any British military personnel have been given warning orders or otherwise put on notice of possible service in Kashmir?
Mr. Straw: Although, as the hon. Gentleman will understand, I am not directly responsible for military forcesthat is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for DefenceI am tolerably certain that no warning notices have been given.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Earlier today I had a meeting with the leadership of the Ilford mosque that my right hon. Friend visited a few years ago. Concern was expressed to me that nothing that happens in the conflict should be used in any way by extremists of any kind to damage community relations in this country. Given that the period from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs to the Cuban missile crisis was 16 years, how confident can we