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There is perhaps an argument that by failing to assist in coping with this disaster, the regime in Burma is manifestly failing to protect its population.

Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): Or worse.

Mike Gapes: Or worse. But the principle is that the Security Council has to issue a binding resolution. The Chinese and the Russians have at least to acquiesce in it. If not, any intervention would not be authorised by the UN system. That is important.

Then we get to the question of practicalities. There was an interesting article by Bronwen Maddox yesterday in The Times pointing out that even if there were a debate on these matters, the question of legality is irrelevant if the intervention would not improve the situation on the ground. We have heard the arguments about what the NGOs feel about whether air drops can be an effective way to send in the things that are needed. Even though there is a great desire, as there always is in such issues, for something to be done, we have to judge whether what is being proposed will make the situation more difficult to comply with, or whether it will assist.

This is a difficult issue because, as has been recognised, we are not dealing with just a few days’ or a few weeks’ humanitarian assistance. There would have to be a huge commitment, perhaps lasting several years, particularly in areas that have are now under water and have been made impossible for human habitation, from which the populations have to be moved somewhere else and given a new start. That will require, presumably, the co-operation of the Government of the country concerned, or at least their acquiescence, while people come in and in effect take over and create a kind of safe haven. It might be argued that that was done with the northern no-fly zone in Iraq to protect the Kurds, and with the southern no-fly zone to protect the Shi’a population.

Actions have consequences, so the term “responsibility to protect” needs to be clearly defined. Gareth Evans, the former Foreign Minister of Australia, who heads the international crisis group and who chaired the UN panel, is right to say that there are dangers in eroding the definition of what we mean. However, as Opposition
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Front Benchers pointed out, he also said that there might be circumstances in which such action was necessary. That is similar to the call of the French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, for the international community to act.

I will support the amendment. I believe that the Opposition tabled their motion with good intentions, but language such as “responsibility to protect” needs greater clarity. Otherwise, we may find that we undermine an important principle of dealing with humanitarian issues such as war crimes, stopping ethnic cleansing and other matters to which the UN resolution refers.

In the next few weeks, I believe that the Chinese Government will have a decisive influence. I met the Chinese ambassador yesterday, and China is clearly exercised about its perception by the world—whether in the context of Tibet, Darfur, the Olympics or other issues, including the terrible earthquake and its consequences. The Chinese Government have moved into the 21st century in dealing with matters internationally. The Chinese Prime Minister did not do what President Putin did over the submarine Kursk, but went quickly to the area of the disaster. The Chinese Government openly and quickly publicised what was going on, and are prepared to accept international assistance, although they have the capability—and are showing that they have it—to help their people and deal with that enormous disaster.

I hope that such a reaction will translate into Chinese foreign policy and influence some of China’s traditional allies. However, the experience of South Africa shows that Foreign Ministries are sometimes the last redoubts of the conservatives. When domestic reforms happen, people are shunted off to Foreign Ministries—I do not believe that there are any parallels in this country—

Dr. Julian Lewis: Stalinist.

Mike Gapes: The hon. Gentleman is shouting at me, but I will not take an intervention.

The position in Burma today is a tragedy for the people, added to the other tragedies and oppressions that they have suffered. I hope that it means that the world will continue to focus on that country, not only on the immediate disaster but on allowing the people of Burma to have a democratic representative Government so that, in the case of future disasters, they have a Government who care for their people and do their best for them.

3.31 pm

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He commented on China, which has become a world superpower, and its new position brings new responsibilities. It has some geographical responsibility for Burma, and it must show leadership, talk to the junta that operates there and ensure that the physical and other aid that is needed can get into that country.

When we consider what is happening in Burma after the cyclone and look at the photographs of babies and young children floating in the water or lined up on river banks, it makes us want to cry. When we consider that
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the junta in charge of that country will stand idly by and prevent humanitarian aid from getting into the country, one simply despairs.

The last time I spoke about Burma in the Chamber a few months ago, I condemned the hideous regime for its reaction to the outpouring of ordinary people, led by the monks, in response to their despair at the poverty that already existed in that country. Now, Burma has been hit by a natural disaster and its Government intervene to prevent the aid that the rest of the world wants to give from getting into the country. People have died and will continue to die because of their Government’s reaction. It is desperate to contemplate why the regime acts in that way.

Whole families are being torn apart. Fathers, mothers and children are dying, orphans are being created and, if the Burmese Government do not relent, disease will break out. Hundreds of thousands of further deaths will ensue if action is not taken now. The junta stands before the world court, and is condemned as guilty of genocide. The actions that it is now taking means that it is as good as murdering its own people. Those actions are a crime against humanity, and in the history to be written in years to come, future generations yet to be born will look at what happened and ask themselves poignantly why the rest of the world did not do more to help and save the Burmese people.

In this Chamber we have already heard the horror stories: not only has the junta acted to stop the aid coming in, but it decided that its rogue referendum would still go ahead. What did that mean? It meant that resources that should have gone to help the people who were dying went towards the holding of the referendum. Vehicles that should have been used to help the people get to safe ground were used to distribute ballot papers. I find it absolutely stunning that the junta carried on with that referendum.

We know that a trickle of aid is getting through, but it will not be enough to help the people who need the food and medicines. I heard that the junta was repackaging the aid coming from the United States simply so that its people might not think that it was coming from another country. It makes me despair to think about those starving Burmese people; the last thing that they were going to do was to read the packaging—they wanted to eat what was in the packaging.

I understand that India gave Burma 41 warnings about the cyclone, starting on Saturday 26 April. The junta did nothing. It took a three-day public holiday and then closed its overseas embassies, causing even more delays for foreign aid workers who needed to get visas. Recent reports indicate that the junta has put only $5 million into helping the victims of the cyclone. However, two years ago the Burmese leader, Than Shwe, spent $300,000 on his daughter’s wedding and she received wedding presents from regime members amounting to more than $50 million.

Rather than diverting its huge army to help alleviate the disaster, the regime has stepped up its attacks on the Karen people since the cyclone. Ben Rogers, of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, has said:

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The regime has only one care: self-preservation and control. As long as it perceives an international presence in Burma as a threat, it will continue to refuse access and to manipulate the aid. The Burmese junta’s intransigence in the face of the catastrophe makes a strong case for the responsibility of the United Nations to protect. I understood fully what the Secretary of State said about nothing being ruled out, and I am delighted that he said it. At some stage, if things carry on as they have been, we are clearly going to have to take further action of a different kind. Otherwise, the people who desperately need the food and aid will not get it.

It is clear that China and Russia, as members of the United Nations Security Council, and India and Burma’s other Asian neighbours can and must now exert some influence on the Burmese regime.

John Battle: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s passion and anger about what has been going on in Burma, but the situation is not new. I worry that he has used the word “despair” about seven times, because I am looking for some hope in this situation. I want to put my point to him in these terms. I am anxious for aid workers to get into Burma. I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s priority is not to have a UN discussion on whether genocide has taken place. I also hope that he would rule out military intervention. I say that as someone who has opposed military intervention on every occasion in this House—including in respect of Iraq—because it causes more damage than good every time. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not saying that at the back of his mind he imagines a military intervention in Burma. That would not be the answer at all. The answer is to get in professionals from the non-governmental organisations and the UN. However, without a UN agreement, I do not see how he can follow his argument through.

Mr. Evans: I will tell the right hon. Gentleman how. I make no apology for using the word “despair” seven times—I would use it 27 times if I had more time—or for using passion in my speech. I am sure that he feels anger and passion about what is going on in Burma, which has been going on for many years but is exacerbated by what has happened with the cyclone. His Secretary of State said that he ruled nothing out, and I take him at his word. All of us in this Chamber want the food and humanitarian aid to get through to that country however we are able to do it. We need to get that aid through. We do not want disease and pestilence to break out, leading to several hundred thousand more people dying. We are all agreed about what we want to do.

John Battle: How?

Mr. Evans: We have a pecking order of preferences. We want, surely, to use the influence that we have in the United Nations and with Russia and China to
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encourage them to use their influence on Burma to open the doors to the aid that the rest of the world wants to give it in order to save lives.

I do not think that I need say any more than that, because we are all agreed that we must try to save the people who are in this plight. The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) said that it is difficult for us to imagine what it is like in Burma today. Indeed, it is almost impossible for us to imagine how those people are living and the conditions in which they are operating, but we know that we must give them help in some way, shape or form.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that given the brutality of the current regime in Burma, limiting the level of intervention in the way that has been suggested may only encourage it in its intransigence, and that it is therefore important that there be no limit to the level of intervention if it is deemed necessary and deemed to be the only way of helping people who have been left to their own devices?

Mr. Evans: The Secretary of State said that he is going to rule nothing out. The last thing that we want to do is to come back to this Chamber in one month’s time, or even two months’ time, with nothing having happened, the aid still trickling through, and the regime taking part of that aid away and selling it to other countries. Given that it is even selling rice to other parts of the world when its own people are starving, it is obscene and perverse to say that we are going to carry on with our contractual commitments. I seek assurances from the Government that they are using every effort possible to ensure that we make advances and breakthroughs—the people of Burma deserve nothing less.

3.43 pm

Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): As the last Back-Bencher to contribute to the debate, let me put on record how regrettable it is that there is an alternative motion on the Order Paper. This afternoon we had a really good opportunity to strike a strong, united and compassionate position in this House on the desperate plight facing the people of Burma, and we have fallen short of that. We like to pretend that what we say in this place matters, but sometimes we behave as if it does not and as if nobody in the outside world is watching. But people in south-east Asia will pay attention to what we are saying, and it is important that we send a strong signal from this House to the regime in Burma.

The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) made an outstanding speech in which he rightly observed that even before Cyclone Nargis struck Burma last week the Burmese people were suffering under a humanitarian disaster. That is why 27 aid agencies are already there and Save the Children has 500 personnel on the ground, and why I and several colleagues who sit on the International Development Committee have been calling for many months and years for more DFID aid to go into Burma.

The actions of the regime over the decades towards the people—the military crackdowns, the burnt-out villages, the campaign of ethnic cleansing against the
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Karen, Chin and Shan peoples of Burma—has led to a humanitarian disaster, and in the past week Cyclone Nargis has added another layer of catastrophe to the suffering of people there.

John Battle rose—

Mr. Crabb: Forgive me, but I will not give way.

I welcome the new money that the Secretary of State pledged, and I welcome the fact that he clarified that it is additional money. I have a couple of brief points; I do not intend to go over ground that other speakers have gone over already. Earlier on, there was a discussion about air drops, and I sensed a false argument. No one is saying that all the aid should be dropped from the air, or that we should drop water from the air. However, it is not the case, as was suggested by the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke), that all the NGOs are against air drops. Oxfam and Save the Children have certainly expressed concern about air drops, but one of the directors of the United States Agency for International Development has said that unilateral air drops should be considered as a lever of policy.

On the misappropriation of aid, a couple of speakers have already referred to aid being commandeered by the regime, re-badged, and then either sold on the black market or used inappropriately. During the past 48 hours, I read that some of the high-energy biscuits that arrived on one of the first World Food Programme flights had been taken to a military warehouse. I was not clear about to what use they had been put, but my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) hinted at it when he said that aid is a powerful tool for the junta in Burma. The concern is that because the regime relies so heavily on the support of the military, the 400,000 Burmese soldiers and their families will be prioritised in the disbursement of aid. One senior person from an NGO has expressed to me concern that low quality alternatives are being substituted for high quality, high nutrition biscuits before the aid is distributed to the mass of the population. Indeed, CARE Australia has put on record its concerns about the quality of rice being disbursed, which is very mouldy and of poor quality. There is a need for high quality, nutritional aid.

On the United Nations, the Secretary of State referred to the discussions that the Prime Minister was having with Ban Ki-moon. I am afraid that I do not share the Secretary of State’s optimism for what can be achieved at the UN. Indeed, Ban Ki-moon said that he had spent all weekend trying to get through on the phone to Senior General Than Shwe, with no success.

Mr. Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Crabb: Forgive me, but I am not going to give way. I have just three or four minutes left.

The fact that the senior general, the ruler of Burma, will not even pick up the phone to speak to the Secretary-General of the UN highlights the way in which the Burmese regime runs rings round the UN time and time again. We saw that from the way it played Ibrahim Gambari in discussions about political reform in Burma. We should be cautious about the
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amount of optimism we invest in UN processes. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury rightly highlighted the need for serious reform of international processes and institutions with regard to how we respond to such disasters.

Mention has been made of the role that the Association of South East Asian Nations can play. It is easy to knock ASEAN; it did not behave as quickly as we would have liked and often dealing with it is a case of two steps forward, one step back—or one step forward and two steps back. That was certainly the case at the end of last year when many of us were initially optimistic that ASEAN would take a strong position on the political situation in Burma and the crackdown on democracy protestors, but in the end we were all slightly disappointed by the relatively weak stand that it took. However, ASEAN is important, and it is trying to assemble a mercy coalition to play some sort of effective role in the humanitarian effort in Burma. Rather than be critical of that, it is incumbent on Ministers and the Department to see what assistance they can provide to the ASEAN effort. The Secretary of State’s Department is recognised as “top of the class” of governmental international aid Departments, and he should look at the assistance and advice that his Department can give to ASEAN’s aid efforts. We want to see ASEAN play a much more productive and constructive role in Burma’s affairs and this disaster perhaps provides an opportunity for it to do so.

I will not go into the responsibility to protect, which numerous other speakers have covered.

Genocide has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). In the early days of the disaster last week, even Liberal Democrat Front Benchers were talking about genocide, in the context of the regime’s initial response. Genocide had been talked about in connection with the Burmese regime long before the disaster struck. Back in June 2006, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) tabled a question asking the Minister responsible at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office whether the Burmese regime’s acts against the ethnic peoples there amounted to genocide. On that occasion, the Government did not take a definite position. In October 2006, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) tabled a similar question, again asking whether the actions of the regime in Burma amounted to genocide or an intent to commit genocide. Again, the Minister concerned did not quite take a clear position.

Many of us hold the view that the behaviour of the regime in recent years amounts to genocide and a clear intention to commit genocide. The regime has strong genocidal tendencies, as has been demonstrated again in recent days.

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