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Burma

Volume 518: debated on Tuesday 9 November 2010

6. What recent reports he has received on the political situation in Burma; and if he will make a statement. (22530)

11. What recent reports he has received on the political situation in Burma; and if he will make a statement. (22535)

Elections on 7 November were neither free nor fair. The military regime is clearly using them to entrench its grip on power. No political prisoners have been freed, including Aung San Suu Kyi. An opportunity for national reconciliation has been missed. The Government will maintain pressure on the regime until there is progress on both democracy and human rights.

I congratulate the Government on a very public and scathing criticism of this bogus democracy, but I suggest that they keep calling the generals’ bluff and press the new Government to act like genuine democrats and release political prisoners who are committed to non-violence.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I congratulate him on his consistent work with the all-party group on Burma. He is right to point out that there are more than 2,000 political prisoners in Burma. In those circumstances, it is impossible to see how the election can have been described as either free or fair by any observers. Although I very much hope that Aung San Suu Kyi is released, her release will not in itself wipe the slate clean.

Given the absence of free and fair elections in Burma, how will our Government demonstrate leadership through Europe to maintain the arms embargo and ensure that the EU sends the strongest possible signals that the regime must release all its political prisoners?

There is an agreed EU position on Burma set out in the European Council conclusions and decision of 26 April this year. The position of the British Government is entirely consistent with EU policy. EU sanctions on Burma are among the EU’s toughest autonomous measures against any country, and they make plain our determination to see change. Sanctions are designed to target regime members and their associates, not to harm the ordinary people of Burma. The regime’s complaints about sanctions suggest to us that they are biting.

The key country with influence in Burma is China. Can the Minister tell us what representations the Prime Minister is making to the Chinese authorities about the human rights abuses in Burma and the need for it to move to democracy?

We regularly raise our concerns with the Chinese Government, and indeed with other countries in the region, and they can be under no illusions about the strength of our views on Burma. In addition, the Deputy Prime Minister and I raised the issue of Burma with Asian counterparts at the October Asia-Europe meeting in Brussels, and I have raised the matter during recent visits to the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan and China.

Both sides of the House are united in condemnation of the Burmese regime for stealing this week’s election. I welcome what the Minister has said about China, but I wish to press him. Will the Prime Minister raise the question of Burma during his visit to China? Burma’s regional neighbours have a special responsibility to put pressure on the Burmese regime. Did the Prime Minister also raise the issue during his July visit to India, and if so, what was the Indian Government’s response?

This is my first opportunity to welcome the hon. Gentleman to his Front-Bench duties. We have something in common, of which not everybody in the House may be aware. We both contested Enfield, Southgate at the 1997 general election, although that contest is remembered primarily for somebody who is not present.

We raise Burma with the Chinese on a regular basis, as I have already said, and yes, the Prime Minister did raise the matter during his recent visit to India.