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Volume 462: debated on Tuesday 3 July 2007

I have not had any discussions on the situation in Burma with my EU counterparts. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett), the then Foreign Secretary, and her EU colleagues issued a statement at the General Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg on 23 April expressing concern about the situation in Burma. EU Ministers and their Asian counterparts issued a further statement at the Asia-Europe Foreign Ministers meeting in Hamburg on 29 May.

Congratulations, Mr. Speaker, on your birthday.

I thank the Minister for her response, and I welcome her to her new post. Does she think that there is any more that the EU can do to help end the suffering and the abuse of human rights endured by many thousands of people in Burma? Those abuses, particularly the practice of portering—using detainees as porters in armed conflicts—were even condemned last Friday by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which usually remains neutral. That is the strongest example of its speaking out since Rwanda.

I thank my hon. Friend for her warm comments, and I pay tribute to the work that she has done on Burma over many years. The EU common position is the best achievable policy. The EU acting as 27 carries more weight than individual members acting alone. However, we are deeply concerned that the ICRC has been forced to close two field offices in Burma, and we share the concerns that it has expressed. We will continue to keep the matter under review, and I entirely share the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend.

I welcome the Minister to her new position. As secretary of the all-party group for democracy in Burma, may I tell her that we enjoyed a very good relationship with her predecessor, the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), and I hope that we will enjoy a similar relationship with her? Her predecessor wrote to me last month explaining that the Government were pursuing the question of non-British companies investing in Burma through the British Virgin Islands. Requests were made for that claim to be investigated by the local authorities there, so can she tell me what progress has been made?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and congratulate him on his work on the all-party group on Burma; that group is widely appreciated throughout the House. Unfortunately, during my few days in post I have been unable to attain the level of detail to be able to answer his question. I hope that he will bear with me by allowing me to write to him on it. I will certainly pursue the matter on his behalf.