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We have had many debates on tragedies around the world—Zimbabwe, Darfur—in which China has been on the side of despotic Governments. We have to find a way to make China listen and take its responsibilities, over and above its economic interests, rather more seriously. This is not about domestic politics in China. The Chinese Government get terribly worried when we mention Tibet, and one can debate whether it is right for them to be so sensitive about it, but at least we can understand why they might be. They have to understand that if China is to join the world community and be accepted properly, as it deserves to be on the basis of its
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huge significance in the world, it has to act responsibly. Even if it wants to veto a resolution, why is it not using its weight and clout to bring President Rajapaksa to heel?

The figures on arms sales and aid show that the President or Premier of China could pick up the phone and really exercise some influence over Sri Lanka. I should like to know whether the British Government are exercising their influence, and getting the Americans to exercise theirs, on the Chinese Government. That is one thing that we need to focus on, because it could really unlock some doors.

Simon Hughes: Does my hon. Friend accept that whereas the Chinese might, for historic reasons, be concerned that by either abstaining or supporting a resolution they might be supporting the case for an independent Tamil homeland, and worry about the implications of that in China, there has actually always been a strong Tamil voice, including from the LTTE, that accepts that that is not the only and necessary option? At the moment, that is not the main issue. The main issue is getting the peace, the ceasefire and other things, and the Chinese and potentially Russia should at least see the merit of abstaining, even if they are not able to support a resolution.

Mr. Davey: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend, and we also need to go further within the European Union. It was good to hear in the Minister’s opening remarks that the EU is going to discuss the matter in the next few days, and I hope that the Government will be pressing for trade sanctions on Sri Lanka. The idea that we should give the Sri Lankan Government preferential trade benefits at the moment beggars belief.

In the less than one minute that remains to me, I add that what will happen after this immediate situation is resolved is difficult to foretell. We clearly need massive humanitarian assistance and support, but we also need to ensure that the message continues to be sent to the Sri Lankan Government that we are watching them. Not only must they act magnanimously to try to win the peace, and recognise Tamil rights and aspirations, but they need to keep the Tamil people around the island secure, including those living in Colombo. I fear that there could be repercussions on Tamil civilians living all over the island, but particularly in Colombo. The Sri Lankan Government must recognise that they need to keep all Tamil people safe throughout the island, and that they have to act responsibly as a democratic Government.

1.6 pm

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): I suspect that there will be a lot of agreement in this debate—virtual unanimity—as there has been in earlier debates on this subject. I am one of quite a number of Members who have been accused of being supporters of the LTTE when we have spoken up in these debates. I hold no brief for the LTTE. I know that many Tamils regard them as freedom fighters, but I know something of their history and hold no brief for them. The Government of Sri Lanka need to understand that we are criticising them not because we are supporters of the LTTE but because what they are doing is totally and completely unacceptable from any Government.

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I am supporting the Tamil people, who for years and years have been denied political rights in Sri Lanka and have suffered from human rights abuses such as the disappearances and extrajudicial killings that have gone on, and the assassination of journalists who have said anything critical of the Government. I am supporting people in my constituency who have friends and relatives about whom they are desperately worried. They are fearful about what has happened to them and cannot get in touch with them. They fear that they are trapped in Vanni, among the civilians who are still being shelled by the Sri Lankan army.

Civilians are entitled to protection from Governments. It is no good trying to draw equivalence between the Government and the LTTE, because Governments have duties under international law and conventions. To give one example, the protection of hospitals and medical care is one of the cornerstones of the Geneva conventions to which Governments sign up, but it is being totally and completely ignored at the moment.

The key question is what we should do. It seems crystal clear that, as has been said this afternoon, the Government of Sri Lanka are simply not interested in a ceasefire at the moment. They believe that this is their opportunity to crush the LTTE once and for all. That is why they will not allow international observers and international organisations into the area. They believe that this is a war that they are about to win and that will be the end of the LTTE. The fact is, I do not believe that they can win this war.

Even if the Sri Lankan Government manage to take the last bit of land that is currently occupied by LTTE, I am not convinced that that will mean the end of the LTTE. I am absolutely convinced that it will not mean the end of the problems, because nothing will solve them in the longer term except a political solution. That solution has to mean the recognition of the political and human rights of Tamil people in the whole of Sri Lanka. We must try to ensure that the people responsible for some of the criminal acts that have gone on and are still going on are brought to justice. I cannot see any move towards that at the moment within Sri Lanka.

As long as the Government of Sri Lanka believe that they can act with impunity and continue to deny access to international organisations, the international media and international observers, they will continue to do exactly what they are doing now. The only way in which that will change is through international pressure. I know that the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers have been doing what they can, but we simply need to do more. We must try to get a resolution through the UN. We should be considering suspension of Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth. We should make sure that Sri Lanka does not get money from the International Monetary Fund.

The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) referred to isolation, which is an important sanction, but until the Government of Sri Lanka feel that they are being isolated, they will not significantly change their policies. They must realise that they will not be supported, through arms sales, international finance and trade, as long as the killing continues and people in Sri Lanka are denied basic human and political rights.

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1.11 pm

Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): We have had numerous debates in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall on Sri Lanka. The Prime Minister has been deeply involved in the matter, the Foreign Secretary has paid visits to Sri Lanka and a recent delegation has just got back from there. The House is unanimous in its disgust at what the Sri Lankan Government are doing daily to innocent people. Although our words are worthy, they will not save one life among the relatives of my constituents and those of other Members. More people are dying every day.

The Sri Lankan Government seem to hold everyone and everything in utter contempt. They could not care less what any of us say. I welcome what the President of America said yesterday, and what Hilary Clinton has said, but I am not convinced that the Sri Lankan Government could care less what they say.

What can we do to make a difference and to act as the voice for people who do not have one at present? As the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) said, and as I have said in previous debates, the only thing we can do is to suspend Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth now. Sanctions must be taken against Sri Lanka so that it hears loud and clear that the world will not accept what it is doing to innocent people.

I have heard no one on either side of the House speak up for any terrorist act, and nor would we. However, I have seen some of the photographs on the internet taken by the American satellite—they were mentioned by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey)—that show the terrible conditions in which people are being asked to live. In 2009, how can we stand by and let that happen? How can the world stand by and let it happen? But that is what we are doing.

In the previous debate on this matter, I said that we should hang our heads in shame if nothing is done. It is not that we are not trying, because everyone in the Chamber is trying to do everything that they can, but when a democratic Government—I use the term loosely—condemn each and every one of us, call us white Tigers, as they have done on a website today, cannot take criticism and have no morals at all, action must be taken. They should not be given any money from the International Monetary Fund. They should know that the whole world is united in condemning what they are doing. There must be an immediate ceasefire now. Humanitarian aid must be allowed in, as should non-governmental organisations. The media should be allowed in.

In the longer term, when people are no longer dying every day, we can consider how a political solution can be found to the problem. I believe—I emphasise that this is my own view, and I have not discussed it with those on my Front Bench—that autonomy might be the only way forward. I apologise to those on my Front Bench if that was a shock, but it is my view.

Many Members want to speak in the debate, and I do not intend to prolong my contribution. However, we must help, and we must help now, or I for one will not be able to look Tamil constituents in the face and say that we are doing everything that we can. I pledge to continue to do everything in my limited power to stop the genocide that is happening in Sri Lanka today.

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1.15 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott). No Conservative Member has done more for the Tamil cause than him. I pay tribute to him not only for his speech and his work, but for clearly putting the shopping list to the Government: we should not give any more money from the IMF; ensure that we get a resolution before the Security Council insisting on a ceasefire; and call for suspension from the Commonwealth. I would go one stage further. Why are we even considering allowing Sri Lanka to host the next Commonwealth conference in 2011? We should make it very clear to Sri Lanka that we will not be present if that happens.

I have three emotions today: pride, anger and despair. The pride is in what the Government have done. I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for all his meetings with Members on both sides of the House, to the Prime Minister, who has met the all-party delegation twice, to the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Bill Rammell), for his work on the matter, and to the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster). Ministers have been prepared to take calls from Members who are concerned about the matter at all times of the day or night. I rang the Under-Secretary at five o’clock in the morning. I thought he was in Worcester; he was actually in Indonesia, but he still took my call.

My concern is that we are still not doing enough. To paraphrase my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), who has become a mini-diplomat in her own right, visiting all the countries that are on the Security Council, and encouraging us all to attend, the Foreign Secretary is our friend as are all those on our Front Bench—and Labour Back Benchers do not check their speeches with those on their Front Bench—but from friends we expect more. I thought that the Minister of State gave us a Foreign Office speech today. I know, because I have been a Foreign Office Minister. The Foreign Office is full of wonderful people, it is the best in the world, and the greatest diplomatic service anywhere, but the speech was still couched in diplomatic terms. This House wants more.

The eloquent speeches of the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) and the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) indicate that my hon. Friend has the united will of the House behind him. He has political cover, but his speech was not enough. What is the point of this great, wonderful country of ours, which I love and which I came to as a first-generation immigrant—I chose to come here, I was not born here—and which has so many values that are followed by Parliaments and peoples all over the world, sitting on the Security Council? What is the point of hearing condemnations here and there, which of course we welcome, if we do not get something done?

We intervened in Kosovo. I accepted the dossier presented to the House by the previous Prime Minister, and I voted to intervene in Iraq. I say that we cannot stand aside. The hon. Member for Ilford, North said that he cannot face his Tamil constituents if we do nothing. I cannot face coming to this place if our wonderful Government, who have done so much, will
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not take the next step. What is the point of the UN if we do not take effective action to stop what is happening? There is a ship off the coast of Sri Lanka with tons of food that should be delivered to innocent people who are dying and being killed by their own Government, who are committing genocide against their own people, and the world stands by and issues statements. People have had enough. They want firm action to be taken. If the United States, Britain and India—they have all condemned the genocide—cannot act together to stop the genocide, nobody can.

Mr. Love: I am listening carefully to my right hon. Friend’s speech. He touched on the role of the Indian Government now that the elections have been concluded. Does he believe that it is critical for countries such as the United Kingdom and India to put the enormous pressure that they can bring to bear on the Sri Lankan Government?

Keith Vaz: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. India cannot do it on its own, but going through the statements made by all the Foreign Ministers and Prime Ministers, India, the United Kingdom and the United States speak with one voice. But speaking with one voice and condemning is not enough when genocide is being committed. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister had to read his speech. I know that he has put a lot of work into it. I know that it is probably very different from the speech that he was given originally and that he has added his own words, but it is not as we would like to hear it. We want more.

I am pleased that the special envoy went to Sri Lanka. I thank the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Sarwar) and other colleagues for going to Sri Lanka at short notice. I look forward to hearing what they have to say. The fact remains, however, that there is a Government who are not only committing genocide and arresting British journalists—the Channel 4 reporters —because they happen to be reporting truthfully from the war zone, but separating people from their families so that they may never see each other again and causing such despair.

The Minister walks into that Foreign Office every day. He cannot possible want to go in there another day and feel that we are not doing more. We cannot stand by and in five years’ time realise that the Sri Lankan Government have wiped out a whole people, We have to do something now.

I remember the fabulous speech that our Prime Minister made to the US Congress only a few months ago. He stood before it and talked about a young man who had died in Rwanda. His name was David. He said that on his tombstone were the words “David. Occupation”—what he wanted to be, because he was only a young man—“a lawyer”, and also his last words, “Don’t worry. The UN will come for us.” Let us not allow the Tamil people to say of us that in the moment of their darkest hour, we stood by, we passed a lot of resolutions, we had a lot of meetings, but we did not do anything effective. I say to the Government, to the Minister of State and to the Under-Secretary of State, we want more—more because we expect more and more because we do not want any more deaths—and we urge them to act immediately.

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1.22 pm

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): I come to the debate with some trepidation because I am fresh to the topic. On the other hand, I was a member of the delegation led by the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne) which was in Sri Lanka last week. I hope to share with the House something of what we saw and heard.

It is fair to say that the stance of the Sri Lankan Government can be described as aggressive defence. When we met the President, at one point in our engagement he indulged in what I can only describe as a hissy fit, saying, “We’re not a former colony.” It was the usual response. Indeed, in response to the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) who quoted United Nations evidence, the President denounced the UN as infringing the sovereignty of Sri Lanka by trying to monitor and observe what was going on. He protested vigorously, as Ministers of the Sri Lankan Government are doing to this day, that no heavy artillery of any kind was being used within the war zone. If that is the case and that is the Sri Lankan Government’s position, the best response is to allow international observers to see what is happening. If that does not happen, they can hardly be surprised if people draw the wrong conclusions.

We did not go to the war zone. Hardly anyone has tried to. It is a very dangerous place, and none of us knows what is going on or who is doing what. We do know, however, that tens of thousands of people are trapped there, clearly in a desperate situation, which everyone wants brought to an end as quickly as possible. Nevertheless, it is important to share some of the things that we did observe.

It is interesting that the media were denied the access that we were given. That in itself is a problem for the Sri Lankan Government. Apart from myself and the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, the delegation included the hon. Members for Buckingham, for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Sarwar) and for South Down (Mr. McGrady). We were flown into Vavuniya and taken to the two newest parts of the camps there, zone 2 and zone 3, I think. Zone 3 had not existed the week before we were there; it had been forest. The Sri Lankan army had cleared the forest, put in roads, shelters, water points and sanitation, and provided some clinics and food. That is an objective fact.

There were problems because the food was not arriving at an even speed. There was pressure on water and sanitation. There were not enough medical supplies. As hon. Members have said, people were concerned about being separated from their families, not having access to them and not having information about them; they were fearful of what was happening to them. Clearly, we impressed on the Sri Lankan authorities the need to address those issues, again in good faith, if they were honestly claiming to deliver a safe environment before allowing people to return to their own areas.

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