Why am I concerned about giving Europe the ability to enact and police legislation in this area? Most of the EU operates under a different system of law from ours, and I do not believe that the European Commission is

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the body that should be making the UK’s and England’s criminal law. The European Court of Justice should not have the ability to override the primacy of this Parliament or of the English judiciary in these areas. The ECJ has become so prominent because almost everything the European Union does tends to become legally binding and eventually subject to review by EU judges or national courts acting on their behalf. That reflects a European tendency to move difficult political conflicts, such as the eurozone crisis and the EU’s 2013 fiscal compact, away from ministerial gatherings and towards apolitical groups of national experts, the legal realm and the courts.

Member states are discussing plans for a European public prosecutor, which may be created among a core group of countries under the Lisbon treaty. The European Parliament is helping to design jail sentences for rogue traders and people who do wrong in financial institutions, and the European Commission will start taking EU Governments to court over criminal justice standards from December 2014 onwards.

Mr Bone: My hon. Friend is making a really powerful speech. Will not tonight’s decision also signal to the country the views of MPs in relation to the European Union?

Chris Heaton-Harris: Quite possibly.

The EU now has well over 150 mainly framework decisions in the area of justice and home affairs, many of which involve intergovernmental accords. The Commission cannot yet enforce those accords and EU nationals cannot yet claim rights based on them. However, the Lisbon treaty allows framework decisions to be enforced before the courts in the same manner as single market legislation, but only after December 2014—the same time as our proposed block opt-in. We are not even opting back in to the justice and home affairs system as it operates today; we are opting in to something quite new. None the less, the ECJ has already produced around 50 judgments to do with police and justice co-operation. That is because 19 member states have already voluntarily accepted the Court’s jurisdiction, to enable their own courts be clear as to the exact scope and meaning of each individual EU crime and policing agreement. December 2014, which is just a couple of weeks away, will still represent a watershed. The ECJ will start to create a jurisprudence in an area that really should be a matter for the British courts, the British Parliament and British justice. I am afraid that I shall have to vote against the motion this evening.

6.19 pm

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): I find myself utterly at one with my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) on this matter. I support the Government on these issues because it is the first duty of any Government to protect their citizens. It is in that spirit that I support the motion, notwithstanding any concerns that we might have about our relationship with Europe or the sovereignty of this House. In our increasingly interconnected world, criminal activity recognises no international boundaries. Consequently, the need for international co-operation in the fight against crime is essential if we are to keep our people safe.

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I appreciate, and am sympathetic to, the sincere concerns that have been expressed by colleagues, but for me this is about practicality and I am satisfied that the Government have exercised their right to opt in only to those measures that will enhance the operational capacity of our law enforcement agencies. The simple truth is this: it is very easy for a wanted criminal simply to leg it to the Costa del Sol or scuttle across the channel. I want our law enforcement agencies to get their hands on these people—people who are plotting terrorism and people who are engaged in serious crime.

As hon. Members know, I represent a constituency that has significant port interests, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes. That perhaps explains why we may be more naturally Eurosceptic on many issues, but on this one we are influenced by hard-headed pragmatism about what needs to be done to tackle international crime.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): My hon. Friend says that it is very easy for people to get from one country to another and that we need to do something about these crimes. Surely the solution would be to make it much harder to get from one country to another. What we should be doing is stopping this free movement of people which is allowing all these criminals to come through our border controls daily with impunity. Surely that is what we should be dealing with.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): Order. We are very short of time, and I am trying to protect the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who has been waiting patiently to speak. Taking interventions from people, however eminent, who have just entered the Chamber in the past few minutes would not really be fair on the final speakers.

Jackie Doyle-Price: Thank you for that, Madam Deputy Speaker. All I would say is that often such people are evading our border controls, so it is a lot more complicated than my hon. Friend says.

I have witnessed at first hand, in the ports in my constituency, just how difficult it is for Border Force and for the police to tackle the activities of serious and well-organised international criminal gangs, and that work relies on international co-operation. Members will recall that only last summer a metal container containing a number of fleeing Afghan Sikhs was intercepted at Tilbury. Anyone who spends an amount of time in a poorly ventilated metal container is dicing with death—they are playing Russian roulette with their life. They have to be desperate to do that and there are people willing to exploit that desperation and make considerable sums out of them. We are not going to be able to tackle that kind of people trafficking without having good, strong international co-operation. In witnessing that incident, it was impressive to see how quickly arrests were made, and that was very much due to the co-operation between law enforcement agencies in the various ports that that container had travelled through. In that event, the perpetrators came from within our own jurisdiction, but that is not always the case. Such people trafficking is happening every day,

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and we have to get a lot sharper and smarter at dealing with it. These measures will be an important tool in doing so.

I am grateful for the changes the Government have made to the European arrest warrant, which go a long way to tackling many of the concerns that have been expressed in this debate about people’s liberties and the need to make sure that people will not be extradited for offences that would not be offences in this country. I feel strongly that we will be vigilant about that, that we will make sure the process continues to operate in a way that underlines the need for justice, and that we will always be vigilant in protecting the liberties of our own subjects. The reality is that the EAW will be deployed only in dealing with the most serious crime—murder, manslaughter, rape, terrorism, war crimes and people trafficking. Much as I dislike the EU, I am not going to get in the way of justice for victims of such offences, and let perverts and murderers walk free.

There are some outside this House who would rather engage in an ideological war about Europe than do what is necessary to keep our people safe—I am not in that category. If I thought these measures were not necessary, I would not support them. There is a very real debate to be had about our relationship with Europe, and it is one that Conservative Members are determined to have before letting the people decide in a referendum. In the meantime, lets give our law enforcement agencies the tools they need to do the job to keep us safe.

6.24 pm

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): May I begin by thanking the shadow Home Secretary for bringing forward this debate? In a wonderful spirit of bipartisanship, she has spared the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary their honour. Thanks to the right hon. Lady, the Prime Minister’s promise to have a debate on the European arrest warrant has been met. That shows an admirable, broad-minded, good-spiritedness although we are still some time from Christmas. I will not dwell unduly on the procedures, as those were covered quite thoroughly last week, other than to remind the House of what was said in the other place on Monday. The dissatisfaction is not limited to this Chamber. My noble Friend Lord Boswell, who is not a hard-nosed, hatchet-faced Eurosceptic, said:

“The problem now is a handling issue. The Government—particularly the Home Office—seem to be crippled by fear. Instead of encouraging a frank debate and a clear vote on their decision, they have resorted to undignified and ultimately self-defeating procedural dodges.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 17 November 2014; Vol. 757, c. 333.]

That is an extraordinary statement to be made in their lordships’ House, which is a much less aggressive, more kindly place than this Chamber sometimes.

I want to move on to the substance of the issue. With seven seconds for each of the 35 articles into which we are opting, I will not try to cover every one of them; I feel obliged to stick to the arrest warrant and answer the point that the arrest warrant is not essential to extradition. It is perfectly possible to have extradition arrangements either with the European Union or with individual nation states, as we do with the United States of America. That is then outside the ambit of the European Court of Justice. It is the Court of Justice of the European Union that is at the heart of the matter. Constitutionally,

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it is the real problem, because all our safeguards are speculative—the Home Secretary admits that herself. It has not yet been judged by the Court of Justice as to whether those safeguards will be upheld, and there is no appetite within Europe for reforming the basis of the arrest warrant. I am glad to see the Home Secretary returning to her place.

In evidence given to the European Scrutiny Committee, it was made clear that efforts to rewrite the details of the arrest warrant to put in some of the protections did not meet with any support. When a representative of the Commission gave evidence to the Lords’ Extradition Law Committee, she said that there was no willingness to transform the arrest warrant to bring in those safeguards. The European Court of Justice, an ambitious court that has historically extended its powers to cover an increasing number of areas, will be in charge of how extradition from this country takes place from 1 December. That is very dangerous, because it risks some of those things that we in this country hold most dear; it risks people being extradited to countries that do not have habeas corpus.

Mr Bone: My hon. Friend is making a most powerful speech; he has persuaded me tonight to vote against this measure. As a good Tory, I always vote against Opposition motions anyway. Will he expand a little more on his point?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): Order. The hon. Gentleman will speak briefly so that we can get to the wind-ups. I am afraid that his hon. Friend has shaved a minute off his time; he has 47 seconds.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Habeas corpus is at risk. We also risk bringing in the European public prosecutor, because if that body is created—and it is under discussion—we will find that it can get the member states that join to issue arrest warrants, circumventing the protection that we have in our own law and the referendum lock. Of absolutely crucial importance is this issue of mutual recognition. Once we start with mutual recognition, we then set similar standards, and our justice will have crept away. The arrest warrant is very dangerous; it is against Tory party policy. The procedure has been dreadful and we should defeat it this evening.

6.28 pm

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): I appreciate the fact that we have had this debate. The Labour party, Her Majesty’s Opposition, called this debate because we believe that the House of Commons should be given a chance to speak, to debate, and ultimately to vote on and, I hope, endorse the principles behind the European arrest warrant. The Government Front-Bench team might disagree with this, but we did have a shambles of a debate not one week ago. By calling this debate in Opposition time, we have served a purpose. I am grateful to the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) for acknowledging that; we are here to help. The Government and the Liberal Democrats agree with the motion. Half the Conservative Back Benchers agree with the motion, as do the vast majority of Opposition Members, so it is important that we proceed with the policy.

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Sir William Cash rose—

Mr Hanson: I have only a few moments to speak so, if I may, I would like to make some progress.

Getting to this point has involved a long and tortuous procedure, as the Home Secretary recognised. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who is no longer in the Chamber, said that his Committee published a report on the matter on 29 October 2013, and we are now only 12 days away from 1 December 2014. The matter has been debated by the Justice Committee and the European Scrutiny Committee, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash).

The process by which we have got where we are today has been a shambles. I was pleased that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) reminded us of his contribution to last week’s debate of claiming to move “That the Question, That be Question be not now put, be now put,” which is second in parliamentary history only to when I wore a top hat on the Opposition Back Benches to make a point of order during a Division some 20 years ago.

Hon. Members have set out several reasons why we should not sign up to the European arrest warrant and the other measures. They have said that doing so represents a transfer of power and that that subjugates UK law. They have said that UK standards of justice will not be met, that the warrant has the word “European” in its name, and that extradition should be dealt with in individual treaties. We also heard the serious point that innocent people may face an unfair procedure in a foreign court, which was cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) and the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), who has a great deal of experience of these matters, as well as the hon. Members for Stone, for Aldridge-Brownhills (Sir Richard Shepherd) and for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris). The hon. Member for Clacton (Douglas Carswell), who is also no longer in the Chamber, pledged UKIP’s 100% support for opposing the motion—it was extremely satisfactory that he agreed with himself.

Such strong points demonstrate that there are genuine issues, which I do not decry. It is important that we consider them, but I disagree with the points made. I take the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), as hon. Members would expect, but I also respect the views of my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) and the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), who all pointed out that the measure is about bringing criminals to justice.

I confess that I do not often agree with the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), but he made the valuable point that changes have been made. I can let him into a secret: we supported those changes during their passage through Parliament and we did so because we know, like the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and others, that the measure means that foreign national criminals will be deported back to their home countries to face justice, that criminals will face trial here, and that there will be justice for victims against whom heinous crimes have been committed. I welcomed the contribution of the hon. Member for

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Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), who put his latent Euroscepticism to one side for a moment to recognise that the issue is about crime, not Europe, and about bringing criminals to justice to ensure that they spend time in prison, not on sun loungers in Spain.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Hanson: With respect, my hon. Friend has not been in the Chamber throughout the debate. I have only two more minutes in which to speak, and as I did not take an intervention from the hon. Member for Stone, who has been present for the entire debate, I hope that my hon. Friend understands that I must be fair and not give way.

The Labour party believes strongly in retaining the European arrest warrant and the other measures to keep our communities safe, to protect our borders and to stop criminals from fleeing justice. More than 1,000 foreign criminals were deported last year under the European arrest warrant for drug trafficking, murder, fraud, child sex offences and rape. As we have heard from Members on both sides of the House, this is about co-operating with European partners to ensure that people who have committed these serious crimes do not get away with them. Senior members of the Association of Chief Police Officers and police officers working for international agencies such as Interpol recognise the importance of dealing with such crimes. Fugitive teacher Jeremy Forrest, who fled to France with a schoolgirl, was extradited to England on a European arrest warrant in September 2012. Hussain Osman, who tried to blow up the centre of London in a terror attack, was brought back from Italy and is now serving 40 years in prison as a consequence of the European arrest warrant. Jason McKay, as my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West mentioned, was extradited from Poland within two weeks of murdering his partner—justice for a murdered woman.

Mr Raab: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Hanson: Ordinarily I would, but I have literally one minute left.

We support joint investigation teams, the exchange of criminal records, Europol, combating international child pornography and tackling international football hooliganism. Those are the measures that we have put before the House in the motion. Members, even those who have spoken against the European arrest warrant, must recognise that the Metropolitan police have dealt with 1,457 cases under the European arrest warrant over the past four years. For my local police force, North Wales police, the figure is 33; for the local force of the hon. Member for Cleethorpes, Humberside police, it is 83; and for the local force of the hon. Member for Stone, Staffordshire police, it is 52.

This is not a tool for having an argument about Europe. The points made by Members who oppose the European arrest warrant have a validity that needs to be examined and discussed, but they are points that need to be got over, because this is about crime, bringing people to justice and ensuring that this House sends a

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strong signal to criminals that we support the European arrest warrant and will sign up to those 35 measures before 1 December.

6.36 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Karen Bradley): I am grateful to all Members who have spoken. I know that many are frustrated that they did not get an opportunity, as they had expected, to do so last week. I am therefore glad that the Opposition have given back the hours they took away from the House when they decided to play politics with the matter then. I will try to address the points that have been made, but before doing so I will make a few of my own. Like my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I welcome the opportunity to stand here and reiterate this Government’s support for the package of 35 measures, including the arrest warrant, that help us tackle serious crimes and keep this country safe.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): Will the Minister give way?

Karen Bradley: I am afraid not, because I am really short of time.

I know that many hon. Members have concerns about the way the arrest warrant, in particular, has operated since the Labour party first signed us up to it more than a decade ago. That is why we will remain part not of the arrest warrant of old, but of a reformed arrest warrant, with greater protections for British citizens and others. The changes that this Government have made through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 mean that the arrest warrant is no longer the one operated under the Labour party.

First, this Government have changed the law to ensure that arrest warrants are refused for those suspected of minor offences. A British judge now considers whether the alleged offence and likely penalty is sufficient to make someone’s extradition proportionate, and it is a British judge who considers whether measures less coercive than extradition are available to foreign authorities.

Secondly, the Government have clarified the rules on dual criminality to ensure that an arrest warrant must be refused if all or part of the conduct for which a person is wanted took place in the UK and is not a criminal offence in this country. The National Crime Agency is now refusing arrest warrants where it is obvious that the dual criminality test has not been met, and it has done so 59 times since our reforms came into force in July.

Thirdly, the Government have changed the law to ensure that the issuing state must be trial-ready before individuals can be extradited. That will help to prevent lengthy periods of pre-trial detention, which I know have concerned some Members, as they have the Government. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois), who has campaigned so hard on that. It is the example of his constituent, Mr Andrew Symeou, that has resulted in the change we have made. All those changes have been made to UK law and came into effect earlier this year. Our reforms are based on existing laws and practices in other member states, and they are already making an important difference to the operation of the arrest warrant.

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The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, who I know will not be voting today, commented on the amount of debate there has been on the subject. It is worth pointing out that Ministers have spent more than 10 hours giving oral evidence to Committees and have answered almost 350 parliamentary questions on this matter. Since October 2012, Ministers have spent at least 18 hours debating or answering questions on the subject in this House, and at least 10 hours in the other place, and that does not include the three hours here this evening.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), who has significant experience in dealing with these matters as a former colleague of mine in the Home Office, explained that this is an international arrest warrant that speeds up the process of finding and extraditing criminals. He made an extremely important point, because this is a public safety issue. He talked about trafficking being one of the biggest crimes that we face today—trafficking of drugs, of firearms, and of people. I know from my experience as the Minister with responsibility for modern slavery that the trafficking charities are incredibly keen for Britain to stay part of the arrest warrant mechanism because they know that it is so important in making sure that we tackle this heinous crime. He made a point that is worth repeating—that of the 5,000 people extradited from the UK under an arrest warrant, fewer than 5% are UK nationals. Furthermore, many member states do not extradite their own citizens. We must bear that in mind when we are considering whether it is appropriate not to be part of this arrest warrant mechanism.

The hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) raised ECJ jurisdiction, as did my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris). It is important to remind the House that Labour signed us up to the Lisbon treaty without a referendum. Labour is responsible for the position that we find ourselves in today, and we have to work within it. The important thing is that we protect our constituents—our citizens—in working within the constraints of the mechanisms arranged by Labour.

I pay credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), because I know how hard he has worked on this matter and how much time he spends on dealing with it. I want to clarify the point he made about the Lord Chief Justice. The Lord Chief Justice wrote in a letter dated 10 November that he considered paragraph 20 of the European Union Committee report on this matter to be the correct interpretation of the situation. The report says that if the UK were to leave the EAW,

“it is highly unlikely that these alternative arrangements”—

the arrangements that this Government have put in place—

“would address all the criticisms directed at the EAW. Furthermore, it is inevitable that the extradition process would become more protracted and cumbersome, potentially undermining public safety.”

The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) talked about the position of the Scottish Executive. I remind him that as a result of significant discussions that Ministers have conducted with the Scottish Government, this Government decided to join the European judicial network rather than the European

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genocide network because the Scottish Government specifically wanted us to be part of that, and we listened and made sure that we were part of it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash)—my constituency next-door neighbour—is an expert on all matters EU. I have enjoyed many of his local speeches and comments about the EU. He asked what is special about the EU. My answer is that we need the best extradition arrangements we can have. We should not turn our back on the opportunity to have great extradition arrangements, where they are available, just because Europe is involved.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) has significant experience of extraditions under the old system. His examples from the Thames valley region really brought home how important this matter is.

The hon. Member for Clacton (Douglas Carswell), who has not returned to his seat, said that there was 100% agreement within his party. I hope he spoke to its economics spokesman before he made those comments, because he may find that that is not the case.

I want to make a point about prima facie evidence. It is not a requirement under the 1957 extradition convention that requesting states provide prima facie evidence when submitting a request. Therefore, leaving the arrest warrant and reverting to the 1957 convention would not have meant that all requests had to be accompanied by prima facie evidence.

Hon. Members have made many other good points. I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) say that this is about law and order and working within the rules of the EU as they stand at the moment.

Mr Alan Campbell (Tynemouth) (Lab) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

MainQuestion accordinglyput.

The House divided:

Ayes 421, Noes 29.

Division No. 87]


6.45 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Danny

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Amess, Mr David

Anderson, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Baldry, rh Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barker, rh Gregory

Barron, rh Kevin

Barwell, Gavin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berger, Luciana

Berry, Jake

Betts, Mr Clive

Bingham, Andrew

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Blunt, Crispin

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Brennan, Kevin

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, rh Annette

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Browne, Mr Jeremy

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Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buck, Ms Karen

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burden, Richard

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Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

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Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

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Clark, rh Greg

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coffey, Ann

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

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Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

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Crausby, Mr David

Creasy, Stella

Crockart, Mike

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

Davies, Glyn

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Dunne, Mr Philip

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellis, Michael

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Eustice, George

Evans, Chris

Evans, Jonathan

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Field, rh Mr Frank

Field, Mark

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

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Foster, rh Mr Don

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Gapes, Mike

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glen, John

Goodman, Helen

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Green, rh Damian

Green, Kate

Greening, rh Justine

Greenwood, Lilian

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

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Harris, Mr Tom

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Heath, Mr David

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Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hinds, Damian

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hollingbery, George

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, Tristram

Huppert, Dr Julian

Irranca-Davies, Huw

James, Margot

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Kane, Mike

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Kawczynski, Daniel

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Lavery, Ian

Lee, Jessica

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Brandon

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lloyd, Stephen

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Lopresti, Jack

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

Luff, Sir Peter

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Marsden, Mr Gordon

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McInnes, Liz

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Menzies, Mark

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Mordaunt, Penny

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, David

Morris, Grahame M.


Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

Neill, Robert

Newton, Sarah

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

O'Donnell, Fiona

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Onwurah, Chi

Opperman, Guy

Osborne, Sandra

Ottaway, rh Sir Richard

Owen, Albert

Paice, rh Sir James

Paisley, Ian

Parish, Neil

Pawsey, Mark

Pearce, Teresa

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Perkins, Toby

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Phillipson, Bridget

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Pugh, John

Qureshi, Yasmin

Randall, rh Sir John

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reid, Mr Alan

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, rh Sir Hugh

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rogerson, Dan

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Ruane, Chris

Rudd, Amber

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Alok

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shelbrooke, Alec

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Angela

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Spellar, rh Mr John

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tami, Mark

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, rh John

Timms, rh Stephen

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Trickett, Jon

Truss, rh Elizabeth

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Uppal, Paul

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vaz, Valerie

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

Wharton, James

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whittaker, Craig

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Hywel

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Chris

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Wright, rh Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Tellers for the Ayes:

Phil Wilson


Graham Jones


Afriyie, Adam

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baron, Mr John

Bridgen, Andrew

Carswell, Douglas

Cash, Sir William

Chope, Mr Christopher

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Gray, Mr James

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Henderson, Gordon

Hoey, Kate

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Lewis, Dr Julian

McCartney, Jason

Mills, Nigel

Morris, Anne Marie

Nuttall, Mr David

Percy, Andrew

Raab, Mr Dominic

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rosindell, Andrew

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Smith, Henry

Stringer, Graham

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr Peter Bone


Mr Philip Hollobone

Question accordingly agreed to.

19 Nov 2014 : Column 385

19 Nov 2014 : Column 386

19 Nov 2014 : Column 387

19 Nov 2014 : Column 388


That this House endorses the Government’s formal application to rejoin 35 European Union Justice and Home Affairs measures, including the European Arrest Warrant.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): With the leave of the House, I propose to take motions 4 to 7 together.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Terms and Conditions of Employment

That the draft Maternity and Parental Leave etc. (Amendment) Regulations 2014, which were laid before this House on 13 October, be approved.

Legal Services

That the draft Referral Fees (Regulators and Regulated Persons) Regulations 2014, which were laid before this House on 13 October, be approved.

That the draft Legal Services Act 2007 (The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) (Modification of Functions) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 13 October, be approved.

That the draft Legal Services Act 2007 (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives) (Modification of Functions) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 13 October, be approved.—(Gavin Barwell.)

Question agreed to.

19 Nov 2014 : Column 389

Human Rights (Burma)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Gavin Barwell.)

7 pm

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): It is a pleasure to have secured this debate, which follows my visit to Burma last month. Since then there have been much more notable visits, not least last week by President Obama and the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who were in the country for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations east Asia summit. President Obama delivered a clear and unequivocal message of concern that Burma’s reform process, which began three years ago with such hope and was welcomed by Members in all parts of the House, has sadly stalled and in some respects gone into reverse. That is why the debate is particularly timely—it means that we can hear from the Government about their concern. I suggest that they will join the chorus of disapproval about the lack of progress on the reforms. The previous week, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi delivered the same message. I know that the Government listen carefully to her, and we need to respond accordingly.

At the same time, Harvard law school has published a report accusing the Burmese army of war crimes and crimes against humanity, following not just a fly-by look but a four-year investigation. I ask the Minister for his response to the suggestion that reforms have stalled and, in some respects, slid backwards. Do the Government agree with Harvard law school’s conclusions that the military in Burma have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity? That backs up other human rights reports that we have brought to the House’s attention over a number of years—it is good to see a number of friends of Burma in the Chamber. What Government action should follow?

I visited Burma just over a month ago courtesy of the human rights organisation Christian Solidarity Worldwide. We visited Rangoon and Myitkyina, the capital of war-torn Kachin state in the north of the country. I left with mixed feelings. One has to recognise that significant and welcome changes have occurred in Burma in the past three years. I had the privilege of delivering three public lectures focused on the relationship between parliamentary democracy, human rights and civil society. They were given to three distinct audiences: to the British Council in Rangoon, where I understand the Minister also spoke; to civil society and religious leaders in Kachin state, organised by a remarkable organisation called the Humanity Institute; and to at least 150 people from a range of political, ethnic and religious backgrounds, who in many ways represented the future of Burma—diversity in unity. They showed us the thirst for democracy and human rights. That meeting was organised by young activists from Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, in the restaurant that was previously the office of the father of democracy in Burma, the independence leader General Aung San.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for letting me intervene; I asked his permission beforehand.

When the Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in 2010, many of us thought it was a move towards real democracy.

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Unfortunately, as the hon. Gentleman said, more recently there has been persecution of Christians to such an extent that Burma is now 23rd on the world watch list in that respect. That indicates how much has happened. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern about the persecution of Christians who are being brutally abused, attacked and killed and having their churches damaged as a result of their beliefs?

Mr Burrowes: I do, and one focus of my visit was to meet a number of Church leaders across Burma who are expressing the same concern. Although for some reason there is not quite the same visible outright discrimination, it is going on and people are not able to build churches. The army may leave, pagodas are put up, and Christian communities are displaced. I will go on to address concerns about religious liberty, not just for the Christian community but for the Muslim community, which is being severely persecuted.

I was accompanied on my visit by Ben Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide. He is a remarkable young man whom many of us know well. He is a champion of democracy for Burma, and perhaps one symbol of progress was when we learned that his book “Than Shwe: Unmasking Burma’s Tyrant” has, without his knowledge, been translated into Burmese and is being sold on street corners in its thousands. That is a good example of unstoppable momentum, and the thirst for freedom and democracy is shown by that distribution. The opportunities that I experienced when I visited would have been inconceivable three years ago.

It is right to welcome the fact that Burma has taken a significant step along the road to reform and democracy, but this House, with the particular responsibilities of this country, must highlight the serious concerns of and challenges facing the people of Burma. According to the Free Burma Rangers, which is a humanitarian organisation working in Burma’s ethnic areas—it is very much in these areas that we see the worst situations—so far this year there have been 168 clashes between the Burmese army and armed ethnic resistance forces. That is at a time when the Government, the army and ethnic nationalities are engaged in ceasefire talks, and the Government promise a peace process. During that process, however, rape, torture and the killing of civilians continue, and a significant military offensive has continued in Shan state since June.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate and on his trip with Ben Rogers to Burma. Does he agree that there are still concerns about the census? Britain gave £10 million towards the census, and the Rohingya have been excluded. Ahead of President Obama’s visit, although 3,000 prisoners were released, I do not think any were political prisoners. Are we taking a step back in terms of constitutional change?

Mr Burrowes: I shall address a number of those points in my remarks, but yes, Britain has responsibility and involvement, and it supported the census, which in principle is a good approach. However, it has also brought into sharp relief the state of the Rohingya people, who are stateless. They are the most persecuted of peoples, not just in Burma but around the world, and their lack of full citizenship is a real litmus test for Burma.

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I shall deal later with the constitutional issue, but the hon. Lady’s point about political prisoners was well made. One does not have to look just at the visit of President Obama—when President Thein Sein came to this country, it was made clear that all political prisoners would be released. The Prime Minister welcomed that, as did we, but it has not come to fruition. People are playing about with what we mean by political prisoner, but in reality that crucial commitment has not been honoured.

Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. Does he have anything to report on Rakhine state action plan and the proposed resettlement of a large number of Rohingya out of their own area?

Mr Burrowes: When I was in Burma, leaked documents were in the public domain, and the issue is causing real concern. In the words of Human Rights Watch, if the plan was followed through it would be

“a blueprint for permanent segregation and statelessness.”

The plan would involve the construction of temporary camps for those who refuse to abandon the name Rohingya, with a view to relocating them to third countries. That is abhorrent, and they would be forced or obliged to identify themselves as Bengali in order to be considered for citizenship. That plan certainly needs to be condemned and I hope the Minister will be able to do that.

Last week, the United States called for a new plan to be developed. I hope the Government can support that call. The UN Secretary-General called for the rights of the Rohingya people to be respected. This is a good opportunity for the Minister to make it abundantly clear, as he has done previously, that any plan that involves such segregation into camps and forces Rohingya to identify as Bengali is totally and utterly unacceptable.

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. I share his acknowledgement of the progress that Burma has made in the area of greater political freedoms, but when I visited Burma at the beginning of the year the apparatus of a police state was still in evidence. Citizens spoke to me in hushed tones, fearful of being overheard, about the oppression of the Rohingya Muslim minority, among other matters.

Mr Burrowes: That is right. It is easy for us, from afar, to see the obvious discrimination against the Rohingya people. Even those who are on the side of democracy and reform are challenged by the issue. We can see clearly that, in the long term, for there to be a truly democratic free state there have to be equal rights, including for the Rohingya people. The abuse of the Rohingya people continues. Fortify Rights has documented such abuses showing that Government authorities have been involved in trafficking Rohingya out of the country and profiting from it. I encourage the Minister to raise this subject directly with the Government of Burma.

I invite the Minister to give an assessment of the peace process and the steps our Government are taking to urge the Government of Burma and their military to observe ceasefires, stop further offences and stop the further militarisation that I saw and heard about, particularly in Kachin state. I was in Myitkyina and visited a camp for internally displaced Kachin people.

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They were surviving in very basic conditions. Access to medical care and education was frankly woeful. They had fled their villages following attacks by the Burmese army. Their plea was genuine:

“We want to go back to our villages but the army are still there and we do not feel secure. Our request is for genuine peace.”

We met the Kachin Independence Organisation, which is involved in negotiations. It saw a particular role for the United Kingdom:

“We Kachin are longing for the involvement of the United Kingdom as a strong advocate for peace.”

I invite the Minister to respond to that call.

While in Kachin state, I was particularly moved by meeting the wives of Kachin men who had been arbitrarily arrested, imprisoned and tortured. One told me how her husband’s torturers heated a knife in a fire and then sliced his skin, rubbed bamboo poles up and down his shins, subjected him to water torture and stamped on him. A man described being forced to kneel on very sharp stones with his arms outstretched as if on a cross, a physically painful position to be in for a long time but also a deliberate mockery of his Christian faith. A hand grenade was placed in his mouth. Others claimed that male prisoners were forced to engage in sex, and to beat each other with sticks.

I met another man, Brang Shawng, who, after reporting the rape—victimisation is going on; we are not just talking about historical abuse—and murder of his own daughter Ja Seng Ing by Burmese army soldiers, found that he was the one on trial, charged with defamation. That is unacceptable. There is a continuing catalogue of human rights abuses taking place. This is not just historical. Justice is not only being delayed but denied. No one is being called to account and we need to see that happening. Various institutions of government and the application of the rule of law are in their infancy, but the scale of human rights abuse and the lack of justice need proper attention.

The Humanity Institute told me that on the issue of sexual violence, on which our Government have rightly taken a lead with the preventing sexual violence initiative, Burma is, thankfully, on the list. It needs to be a priority case. The institute told me that there have been 12 cases of sexual violence in the past six months of 2014 in northern Shan state alone. In just that one part of Burma, there has been that much sexual violence, with the youngest victim reported to be three and the oldest 40.

Will the Minister reaffirm the Government’s commitment to urge the Burmese Government to stop the torture, the rape and the impunity and, crucially, to ensure that perpetrators are held to account? Will he also encourage my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, whom I have forewarned of this request, in his capacity as the Prime Minister’s special representative on preventing sexual violence in conflict, to prioritise and visit Burma to address issues of sexual violence there? I hope that the commitment made will continue beyond the election. Burma is one place we need to visit if we are to tackle the perpetual use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.

I met a representative of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims, whom I have referred to already and who, as others have pointed out, are among the most persecuted peoples in the world. Despite having lived in Burma for generations, they have been stripped of their citizenship and rendered stateless, and two years ago they suffered appalling violence that resulted in thousands living in dire conditions

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in camps. I visited a camp for internally displaced people that was in poor condition, and I understand from reports that the condition of these camps is absolutely shocking. The Rohingya continue to experience segregation and further dehumanisation. I ask the Minister, particularly in the light of the leaked action plan, to respond to these concerns.

Beyond the particular issue of the Rohingya people, wider religious intolerance against Muslims in Burma is causing serious concern. In the past two years, a wave of violence and hatred has swept the country. Aung San Suu Kyi, whom I had the privilege to meet, expressed concern about religious intolerance and said that some were using religion for political purposes. Will the Minister press the Burmese Government to hold to account all those inciting violence or hatred and to ensure inter-religious harmony? This is an opportunity for Burma, with its melting pot of religions, to show that freedom of religion is a foundation of true democracy.

The proposed legislation restricting inter-religious marriage and religious conversion, about which there is great concern, must be abandoned as soon as possible. Ultimately, however, the most significant test of Burma’s democratic reforms are the elections in 2015. During my visit, some were concerned that they would be postponed and that the Government were playing games, but I understand that the election commission in Burma has confirmed they will go ahead next October or November. However, Aung San Suu Kyi’s clear message to us was that they had to be fair, free and on time. Without amendments to the constitution enabling her to stand for the presidency; without international monitors in place some months before—Britain could play a role in that—to assess the climate in which the campaign is held; without further legislative reform to end the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of activists and protesters; and without the release of all remaining prisoners, it is difficult to see how the elections can be free and fair. What pressure is being brought to bear on the Burmese Government to amend the constitution?

Britain and the international community must be vigilant and heed the words not only of Aung San Suu Kyi but of those I met from the different ethnic nationalities, civil society and so on, all of whom, without exception, told me that reforms had stalled. We need to ensure that further religious strife does not get in the way of true freedom and democracy.

Despite the gloom and despair over the lack of reform, I was most impressed by those who expressed the greatest determination and commitment to the pathway of democratic reform. I am talking about those who have the most reason to feel bitter and negative and to give up, the former political prisoners, who instead spoke to me about the culture of dialogue, about which they were still positive. It is the duty of this House and this Government to be on their side and to help ensure that society in Burma is free and fair.

7.19 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) on securing this debate, and I welcome his insights following

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his recent visit to Burma. I also pay tribute to his continuing work and indeed that of many right hon. and hon. Members across the House in supporting human rights and democracy in that country.

As the House will know, I, too, take a close personal interest, and visited Rakhine state in 2012 and Kachin state earlier this year—the first western Minister to travel to the former and first British Minister to visit the latter since Burma’s independence. In common with my hon. Friend, I visited camps for internally displaced people in both places, and I agree with him on the dire conditions that they face.

The British Government unapologetically support Burma’s transition. Unlike some, we have always seen the need to encourage the green shoots of reform where they exist, but I can assure the House that human rights remain firmly at the heart of our engagement, even if those who do not share our approach are determined to find ways sometimes to suggest otherwise. Being a true friend to Burma has meant being an honest and sometimes a critical friend, and we have been honest that much more needs to be done.

The hon. Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward), my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate, raised the plight of the Rohingya, which is one of the greatest challenges Burma faces. The UK is giving £12 million in humanitarian support to Rakhine state and a further £4.5 million towards projects that support livelihoods. Some of the Burmese Government’s steps to address the complex and inter-related challenges in Rakhine state are to be welcomed, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate rightly points out, parts of the Rakhine action plan would, if implemented, undermine the prospects for peaceful co-existence and stability across Rakhine state.

I made our concerns very clear again when I met the Burmese Minister for Immigration and the Rakhine Chief Minister during their visit to London in October. I also repeated our concern that the Rohingya had been unable to self-designate their ethnicity during the census.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate mentioned Kachin in particular. We welcome the continuing peace talks between the Burmese Government and all the ethnic armed groups, and agreement was reached to work towards a national ceasefire and a political dialogue. I have serious concerns, however, about the continued fighting in Kachin state and northern Shan state, as well as about continued reports of human rights violations. I raised these concerns directly with the northern commander in Kachin during my visit in January. During that visit, I, too, was able to meet the Christian Baptist convention and the Shan ethnic minority group to hear about the human rights abuses they have suffered.

My hon. Friend raised the issue of the trafficking of the Rohingya across the region, and I share his concern. As is well known, this Government have a strong track record of opposing trafficking wherever it is to be found. We have regularly raised the issue with the Burmese Government, and I discussed it with the Bangladeshi Foreign Minister when I met him in the Asia-Europe meeting in Milan in October.

My hon. Friend raised, too, the proposed legislation on inter-faith marriage and religious conversion. We have made-clear to Burmese parliamentarians and Ministers

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that, if enacted, these laws would contravene international standards and treaties to which Burma is a signatory.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) raised the issue—he always does in these and other debates, and quite rightly, too—of violence against Christians. Foreign Office officials regularly meet representatives of all Burmese faiths, here and in Burma, to discuss these matters, which are of great concern to us.

Sexual violence was another significant and important issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate. I raised this directly with the Minister for Immigration in October, and with the President’s office, the commander in chief and the northern commander during my visit in January. Notwithstanding the horrific stories that my hon. Friend has related to us, I welcome, as he would and did, the Burmese Government’s endorsement of the declaration, following considerable lobbying from the UK, by attending the global summit in June, to which he alluded. However, I will continue to encourage the Burmese Government to follow up their commitments with concrete action. It is of course for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—who, I am sure, follows our proceedings closely, and will read the report of the debate in Hansard tomorrow morning—to decide whether to pursue the matter.

I share my hon. Friend’s deep concern about the extremely serious findings of the Harvard law school report. A judgment on whether war crimes have been committed—an issue that has often raised in the House, although I do not think that it has been raised by the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz)—is, of course, a matter for the courts. However—this is in response to my hon. Friend’s points about accountability—we have made it absolutely clear to the Burmese Government that any allegations of human rights abuses, including these, must be dealt with by a clear, independent and transparent judicial process that meets international standards.

Both my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Walsall South raised the issue of political prisoners. In March 2011, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reported that 2,073 political prisoners were being held in Burma. In October 2014, it reported that 75 were being held. During the intervening time, some 2,000 political prisoners had been released.

I am well aware that arrests and sentencing of political activists continue, and that some of those activists have been released and re-arrested several times. As I said in response to a question from the hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) in the most recent session of Foreign Office questions,

“one political prisoner…is one too many”.—[Official Report, 28 October 2014; Vol. 587, c. 168.]

We will continue to lobby until all political prisoners in Burma have been released unconditionally.

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My hon. Friend asked what pressure we are putting on the Burmese Government to amend the constitution and hold credible elections. The Prime Minister raised both issues with President Thein Sein earlier this month at the G20 summit in Brisbane, and I have raised them with Ministers several times. Inclusive and credible elections are obviously critical for Burma’s future, and the international community is watching very closely during the months that lead up to those elections.

Mr Burrowes: What about the suggestion that international monitors should be present for the lead-up to the elections?

Mr Swire: We would certainly want to consider that. Ultimately, it is for the Burmese Government to decide whether to accept international monitors, but the international community would be reassured that the elections were fair, transparent and credible—all the things that we are calling for—if they could be independently and internationally observed. I always think that, by default, elections should be observed by international figures other than those who are benefiting from or taking part in them. I think that that is manifestly a good thing and that we should encourage it—not just in elections in Burma, the United Kingdom or any other country, but in any elections—in order to ensure that things are done properly and in accordance with norms and, of course, the law.

We know that much more needs to be done in Burma, and, as we approach the elections, we also know that progress, as we see it, is not necessarily guaranteed. We remain in close contact with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has made it clear that the reform process is going through a difficult phase and that reforms have stalled in some areas. We are by no means complacent. We also recognise the significant steps that the Burmese Government have taken, and we are realistic. A transition from a dictatorship was never going to be easy. As President Obama said during his visit to Burma last week,

“change is hard and it doesn't always move in a straight line”.

It is now vital that we do not stand back and simply say that it is all too difficult. Throughout the United Kingdom there is a deep well of support for Burma’s efforts to fulfil its enormous potential. We therefore need to maintain Britain’s full-blooded engagement with all parts of Burma’s society—which will include the valuable contribution of our parliamentarians—and to do everything possible to maintain the momentum on this difficult road to democracy.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate for the opportunity to set out, yet again, the Government’s position on Burma.

Question put and agreed to.

7.30 pm

House adjourned.