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Volume 541: debated on Tuesday 28 February 2012

We receive regular updates on humanitarian access to conflict areas in Burma from non-governmental organisations and from our embassy and Department for International Development officials in Rangoon. Access is still very restricted, and we continue to press the Burmese Government to increase humanitarian access to all areas.

In addition to medical supplies, Médecins sans Frontières has recently highlighted the chronic lack of antiretroviral and tuberculosis drugs in Burma. In the light of that, what conversations has the Foreign Secretary had with the Burmese Government about the international supply of these drugs?

The Foreign Secretary visited Burma last month—he was the first Foreign Secretary to do so since 1955—and had a wide range of productive conversations with the Burmese Government and others. It is worth pointing out that although no United Kingdom aid goes through the Burmese Government directly, the United Kingdom is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to Burma, and will be spending an average of £46 million a year until 2015 on precisely the sort of projects that the hon. Gentleman has identified.

I understand that our ambassador meets Burmese Ministers regularly. What is at the top of his agenda when it comes to highlighting the continued abuse of human rights?

My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to the appalling abuses of human rights that have been taking place in Burma for many years. I think it reasonable for us to acknowledge that progress appears to have been made in recent months, and, when appropriate, to reward it, but we should not anticipate further progress before it has happened. Our ambassador and others, including Ministers, are keen to continue to press the Burmese Government to liberalise society further in that country.

The progress in Burma is very welcome, and no doubt the Burmese Government will want to see changes to the current sanctions regime. I was pleased to note that the Minister said that it was probably too early for that to happen, but what discussions have been held with our European counterparts about the issue?

A decision is likely to be made in a few months’ time. I think it right for Britain to maintain a position on trade with Burma which is very tough, and which takes account of the concerns about human rights abuses in the country that are expressed frequently in the House, but we want to maintain a common European position, because we feel that that is an effective way in which to proceed. We will maintain that position with a hard-headed attitude which I hope will meet with the hon. Lady’s approval.