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Lord Filkin: My Lords, I am sure that we shall reflect on that point. The Electoral Commission recognised that its recommendation was highly contentious but felt very strongly that it was fair to smaller parties. However, a secondary recommendation was made to retain the deposit system, perhaps to standardise, and perhaps to look at the threshold as well. We shall consider all of these matters in our response.

Lord Rennard: My Lords, given that the deposit is returned on the attainment of just 5 per cent of the vote and that at the last general election no candidate was elected with a declared expenditure below around 3,000, does not the current 500 deposit represent a very small sum? Is the Minister not concerned that removing the deposit would lead to a plethora of frivolous candidates coming forward, to say nothing of extremist and dangerous candidates? Would it not make it much harder for the media to report on the candidates standing for election, leading to a further reduction in turn-out, already at woefully low levels?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I do not believe that I have given the Government's view on how we will respond to the recommendations; nor should I, because that would pre-empt the process of consideration. Nevertheless, the point made by the noble Lord is certainly one that was very well argued by many of those who responded to the Electoral Commission.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, is it not true that people like Screaming Lord Sutch generally added to the gaiety of the nation, taking us slightly away from the overwhelming pomposity of most of those who stand for election? Surely we should not discourage frivolous and joyous people from entering into the rumbustiousness of the people's choice. The people are

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quite intelligent enough to choose their governments. I cannot think of a case since the year 1900 when they have got it wrong.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I am not sure whether that was a self-serving question. Most of us recognise that Screaming Lord Sutch did add something to the quality of life in Britain. The concern is that one would not want several hundred candidates of that type.


2.58 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What efforts they are making to secure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political detainees in Burma.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we have repeatedly called on the Burmese authorities to release immediately Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other National League for Democracy members detained on or since 30th May 2003. We have called for a full, independent and thorough investigation into the incident and that those responsible be held to account.

Together with our EU partners, we decided to strengthen EU sanctions on Burma on 16th June. We have repeatedly called on the Burmese authorities to release all political prisoners.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply and for her confirmation that Her Majesty's Government were outraged by the events of 30th May. Does she agree that the rationale for the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi given by the Burmese Foreign Minister at the ASEAN conference held on Monday, that she has been detained for her own protection because she was the target of an assassination attempt, is simply grotesque? The only people who might possibly welcome her death are the gangsters running the government in Burma. Everyone else believes that she is the legitimately elected leader of that country. Can my noble friend say more about the part the British Government will play in adding to international pressure through ASEAN to secure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the other detainees? Furthermore, what are they doing to persuade British companies such as British American Tobacco to desist helping to prop up the regime by investing in the country?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, my noble friend and others can take some comfort from the fact that, whatever the Burmese Minister said at the ASEAN conference earlier this week, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers issued a joint statement that they

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looked forward to the early lifting of the restrictions placed upon Aung San Suu Kyi. Such action is unprecedented for a group that has considered non-interference in a member's affairs a founding principle. The ASEAN nations have an important role to play in encouraging substantive change in Burma and we have seen a welcome response in that respect.

We are considering what further steps can be taken, both unilaterally and with our EU and other international partners, if the regime does not provide immediate satisfactory responses to what is going on in Burma. At the recent EU meeting on 16th June we strengthened measures in the common position and were able to agree a visa ban, an asset freeze on members of the regime and their families and a tightening of the arms embargo.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, did the Minister notice that today the Home Minister of the SPDC refused a request by the ICRC representative in Myanmar to visit Aung San Suu Kyi? Does this not greatly increase the international concern for her welfare and safety? Can the Minister give the House any information about the number of people who were killed and injured in the attack on Aung San Suu Kyi's convoy on 30th May? If the regime will not conduct an impartial inquiry into the circumstances of that event, will not the international community do well to suggest that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights should be invited to conduct a study of what happened—preferably with a visit on site, but if necessary without one?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not have any specific figures on the number of people who were hurt or killed on 30th May when these terrible events took place. We believe that quite a number were hurt during the exchange. It is regrettable—but not surprising—that there has been the denial of access to which the noble Lord referred. UN special envoy Razali was able to meet Aung San Suu Kyi on 10th June and confirmed that she was well and not hurt. We fully support the efforts he is making. My honourable friend Mr O'Brien telephoned the Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister on 6th June and asked to speak to Aung San Suu Kyi. He also was met with a denial.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I welcome the robust response of both Her Majesty's Government and ASEAN to the deplorable treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi. Does the Minister share the Government's reluctance to press for genocide charges to be brought against members of the Burmese military for the pernicious policies that they have pursued against the ethnic minorities inside Burma—not least against the Karen—including the systematic rape of women, the levelling to the ground of many of the towns and villages in the Karen state, the use of porters there as forced labour and the indiscriminate laying of landmines? If this is not genocide, what is?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree that appalling human rights violations have taken place

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over many years. But the noble Lord draws attention to the fact that we do not use the term "genocide". As I understand it, that term has a specific definition in international law. It is therefore important that we take into account the views of the appropriate international bodies when we use specific, legally binding terminology. The United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, Sergio Pinheiro, has had regular access to Burma and he does not use the term in relation to the situation there. The term has not been used by international NGOs such as Amnesty International. None of that takes away from the seriousness with which we regard the position in Burma. I agree that the issues involving ethnic minorities—including the Karen—the use of child soldiers and the use of sexual violence are extraordinary indictments of the regime in Burma.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, now that the Japanese Government have indicated their intention to review their support for Burma—and, indeed, to reduce their considerable aid flows—will the noble Baroness undertake to encourage her department to speak to the Japanese Government about ways in which we can co-ordinate increased pressure on the Burmese regime? Will she also encourage other European Union Ministers to do the same, if she has not already done so?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is important that we make common cause with all of those who take a similar view of what is happening in Burma. We have not always found the number of willing partners we have wished for. For example, we have not been able to reach a consensus in the United Nations Security Council on this issue. I agree that when we see a willingness on the part of others to move in the same way as the Japanese Government, with our colleagues in the European Union we should take full advantage to press home our points. We channel our aid through international bodies; it does not go directly to the Burmese Government. I hope that that is clearly self-evident to your Lordships. As regards trade—an issue raised by my noble friend Lord Faulkner—we discourage all trade into Burma.

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