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House of Lords

Tuesday, 13th December 1994.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by

the Lord Bishop of Worcester.

Lord Chetwode —Took the Oath.

Myanmar: Relations

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their current policy towards the SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) regime in Myanmar (Burma).

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, our policy, and that of our European Union partners, is one of "critical dialogue" with the SLORC. It is important that it understands that the resumption of normal relations depends on progress in key areas, including human rights and political and economic reform.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her reply. Is she aware that I recently visited the Karen people, who are trapped in the jungle, and received first hand evidence of the atrocities perpetrated against them and other ethnic minorities such as the Mon by the SLORC regime, including torture, murder, forced labour and forced relocation? Is she therefore aware that the Karen people, who fought alongside British forces, are especially disappointed by indications that Britain may have allowed commercial interests to weaken the pressure on the SLORC regime to desist from these gross violations of human rights?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am aware that my noble friend recently made a visit to Burma. We are extremely concerned about all Burma's ethnic groups, particularly the internally displaced and refugees. It is vitally important that humanitarian and human rights agencies are given access to the worst affected areas like the Irrawaddy delta and other Karen and Mon areas. Unless that happens there will be no hope of stopping some of the atrocities of which my noble friend spoke. We recognise the support given by the Karen to us during the Second World War. We continue to encourage the SLORC to meet the Karen and other ethnic groups to discuss the possibility of lasting peace. As to trade, we cannot prevent the private sector being involved. There is an embargo on arms sales, and quite rightly so. But there is no wider trade embargo. Most of the activity is that which is sought by British industry. There is no reason to restrict it when other nations are in no way restricting their trade. Perhaps through contact we can improve the way SLORC treats its own people.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, as the last Secretary of State for Burma, may I supplement what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said by asking the Minister

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whether some concern might not be expressed in relation to Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the party that won the last general election in Burma, who has been under house arrest for the past five years?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I well understand the anxiety of all Members of your Lordships' House about Aung San Suu Kyi. Her detention for so long without charge is totally indefensible. I would say to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that the detention is in flagrant contradiction of all principles of justice. We have repeatedly called for her early and unconditional release. We issue statements to that effect. There is one sign of slight movement. SLORC has recently held meetings with Aung San Suu Kyi. We are encouraging it to continue those meetings because we hope they will lead to a serious and lasting dialogue and to her release; and the sooner the better.

Lord Ennals: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her visit which has proved extremely useful. Does the Minister agree that there is a possibility at least of improving relations with SLORC because it shows a wish to do so? Will she answer two questions? First, what was the result of the meeting in New York between the German Foreign Minister, representing the European Union, and the Burmese ambassador? Secondly, is she in favour of giving international NGOs a role in Burma, particularly in helping supervise refugees returning to rather dangerous parts of the country?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, indeed there is a sign of improvement in relations. I cannot give the noble Lord a readout on the discussions between the German Foreign Minister and the SLORC in New York, but I shall look into what he said. We have recently had a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office official in Burma. Certainly, the dialogue shows some evidence of improvement, but we wait to see that really happen. As regards international non-governmental organisations, they are to be assisted in what they do because they give sound humanitarian aid. They may indeed be able to lighten the load for the returnees.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, as regards Aung San Suu Kyi, is the noble Baroness in a position to give an absolute guarantee that her unconditional release will precede any upgrading of recognition of the military regime?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, knows that I am not given to issuing absolute guarantees on anything because one cannot predict the future. But I say to him that I am pretty certain that he is right in this case.

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, is the Minister aware that forced labour is being used by the regime for the restoration of ancient sites in Burma for 1996? Can she assure the House that no British contribution will be

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made to this and that there will be no contribution through international agencies with which we are connected?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am indeed aware of the reported use of forced labour and military porters. We have expressed our concern in the international fora. We have also warned companies that contracts involving forced labour will attract not only criticism but condemnation.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, will the noble Baroness accept that she has the full support of these Benches in saying that the SLORC must win its way back among the normal community of nations by recognition of international human rights commitments? Is she aware that this very afternoon Anti-Slavery International is launching a book by Martin Smith documenting some of the infringements of human rights in Burma? Can she arrange that her officials read it before there is any resumption of trade relations?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: Yes, my Lords.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest: My Lords, will the noble Baroness ensure that in the critical dialogue with this regime there is raised a complaint at the failure or refusal of the regime to grant a visa to no less a person than the president of the Methodist Conference, the Reverend Dr. Leslie Griffiths, presumably on the basis of his known campaigning for human rights?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I note what the noble Lord says. It is not only a question of refusing visas but of refusing to have any discussion even with the people to whom visas are granted. That is something we must follow up.

Lord Young of Dartington: My Lords, in view of what the Karen people have done for us in the past will the Minister consider offering some visible support to those people who almost alone are standing out in that country against the SLORC?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, we are already providing help to the Karen, the Mon, the Kachin and other ethnic minorities who have suffered, and we shall continue to do so.

Gibraltar: Building Societies

2.48 p.m.

Lord Merrivale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When Gibraltar will be added to the list of countries and territories quoted in Part II of the Building Societies (Designation of Qualifying Bodies) (No. 2) Order (S.I. No. 989) empowered to form a body corporate or Mortgage Indemnity Insurance Captive.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Henley): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer

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will consider this issue further when all the provisions of Gibraltar's amended Financial Services Commission Ordinance are fully in operation.

Lord Merrivale: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply. Is it not a fact that the Gibraltar financial services legislation has been amended; that the Chancellor informed the Chief Minister in May that there would be four United Kingdom and three Gibraltarian members of the commission and that Her Majesty's Government appointed the commissioner on 25th July? Therefore, why is it that the assurances given to the Chief Minister in February in London have not yet been implemented?

Lord Henley: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Chancellor applied two conditions. The first was the passage of the amended Financial Services Commission Ordinance and the second was that the commission and the commissioner were operating effectively in accordance with the provisions. The first condition has now been met but we still need to see evidence that the second condition is being fulfilled. I say to my noble friend that they have not yet appointed banking or insurance supervisors. We want to see all of them in place in the commission and be sure that they were operating effectively before my right honourable friend gives the go ahead.

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