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House of Lords

Monday, 23rd June 1997.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

Several Lords--Took the Oath or Affirmed.

The Lord Chancellor: Leave of Absence

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, before the commencement of business, I take the opportunity to inform the House that I am to undertake an important departmental visit on Thursday 26th June 1997. Accordingly, I trust that the House will grant me leave of absence.

Burma: Human Rights

2.42 p.m.

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they consider taking to prevail upon the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) regime in Burma to respect fundamental human rights of all its citizens, with especial reference to the Karen and Karenni ethnic minorities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we take every opportunity to make clear to the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) our abhorrence of its disregard for human rights both through our Ambassador in Rangoon and elsewhere. Most recently my honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Derek Fatchett, raised our concerns, including the plight of the ethnic minorities, with the Burmese Ambassador on 23rd May. He also announced in another place on 19th June a change in the UK's approach to trade promotion activities in Burma.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her response. I welcome the Statement made in another place and the commitment to human rights that has been endorsed by the Government. Is the Minister aware that I have recently visited the Karen and the Karenni and found first-hand evidence of appalling suffering at the hands of the SLORC regime, with arbitrary arrests, slave labour, torture, rape and military offences against civilians? Will the Government press the SLORC regime even harder, in particular to allow human rights monitors and humanitarian aid organisations access to all parts of Burma to try to end these atrocities and bring aid to those who are suffering and dying?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am aware of the visit of the noble Baroness to the

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Thai-Burma border last December. I am very grateful for her detailed report, which FCO officials have found most valuable. We continue to monitor the border situation closely and value the helpful input from the NGOs. Staff at our embassy in Bangkok have also visited refugee camps on the border. So far as concerns monitoring, the noble Baroness will be aware that this is a difficult issue. SLORC has severely restricted NGO activity in Burma, particularly in militarily sensitive areas. We have already raised this issue with SLORC. An EU demarche on 7th April called on SLORC to allow international monitoring organisations to have access to the border area. We shall continue to press SLORC to grant access to these bodies and allow aid agencies to provide humanitarian assistance to those in Burma who are in greatest need.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the widespread approval among human rights campaigners for the Statement to which she has referred? Can she confirm that the Burmese Government will not be welcome at the ASEAN-EU summit meeting that will take place in London next year?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for his support. Membership of ASEAN does not automatically mean participation in the meeting to which he has referred. ASEAN accepts this. No ASEAN member has been approached to suggest that Burma should participate in the meeting.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, can the Minister inform the House whether the trade pressures to which she has referred will be maintained and, if necessary, intensified?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the announcement on 19th June explained that HMG would not provide financial support to companies for trade missions or trade promotion activities in Burma. Her Majesty's Government are considering the full range of measures at their disposal in order to put further pressure on SLORC.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that everybody in the House welcomes her indication that the regime in Burma is not regarded as a legitimate government? Does she agree with me, in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for raising this matter again, that the Government should keep up the pressure until this regime is replaced by a legitimate government that is already in waiting?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am very happy to join with my noble friend in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for raising this matter again. The reports of the special rapporteur contain a catalogue of truly appalling human rights violations, including summary executions, deaths in custody, absence of due process of law, forced labour and child labour. I assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will continue to put pressure on the Burmese Government to remedy these matters.

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Lord Moynihan: My Lords, do the Government believe that economic sanctions will have a greater effect than a policy of critical dialogue in persuading the SLORC to implement democratic reform and full respect for human rights? If so, do the Government intend to impose sanctions such as those imposed by the United States?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Government believe that existing EU measures, including an embargo on arms sales and non-humanitarian aid, suspension of defence links and bans on visas for members of SLORC and senior military and security officials are important. As to further economic sanctions, we have not ruled out the possibility of further measures, including economic sanctions.

Lord Avebury: My Lords--

Baroness Warnock: My Lords--

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, I think that there is just time for two questions. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has been up and down quite a lot, and he should perhaps come first.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the Minister said that the Government would consider a number of measures. Will they look into an embargo on further investment such as the Americans have introduced? Is she aware that the military operations that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, observed are largely in connection with the Yadana pipeline which is being constructed by Unical and Total, and that, whereas the Americans are taking action in the courts against Unical, no equivalent action has been taken against Total by the EU? Will that matter be looked at by us together with our partners in the EU?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I have assured the House that we are considering the full range of measures at our disposal. We are of course aware of considerable legal difficulties involved in imposing unilateral or EU economic sanctions without the cover of a UN Security Council resolution. It is also difficult to enact legislation banning new investment. Where possible, we shall make potential investors aware of the statements by Aung San Suu Kyi and other pro-democracy leaders discouraging investment in Burma.

Baroness Warnock: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, apart from the violation of human rights to which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, drew attention, the democratic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is still virtually under house arrest and may not be visited by her husband and sons? Is there any plan to put pressure on the SLORC to allow her husband, Michael Arris, who is a British citizen, to visit her in Burma?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am aware of the restrictions imposed upon Aung San Suu Kyi. I met Mr. Arris only this past weekend. The

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restrictions on her movements are clearly unacceptable. The Government have repeatedly called upon the SLORC to remove the roadblocks outside her home and to allow her full freedom of movement.

Closed Circuit Television Systems

2.46 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will introduce legislation to control the storage and publication of films recorded on security cameras.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, most public space closed circuit television (CCTV) systems are already regulated by codes of practice which cover the storage and publication of images, as are all systems which receive financial assistance from the Home Office. We wish to encourage best practice and will be prepared to consider the arguments on the principle and practicalities of statutory regulation of CCTV to underpin the existing codes of practice.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that general endorsement. Has he had an opportunity to read the accounts which I sent him of Mr. Peck, whose suicide attempt was, by chance, captured on security camera, who then discovered that the whole sequence had been released to the news media, that it appeared on local television, and it was then broadcast on the BBC's "Crimebeat"? Was not that heartless and irresponsible? Does it not justify the call by Liberty for protection for innocent people who appear on security cameras?

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