Kashmir

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 12th March 1997.

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Photo of Mr Chris Davies Mr Chris Davies , Littleborough and Saddleworth 1:45 pm, 12th March 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has received since 1 January from British citizens supporting the case for a free and independent state of Kashmir. [18305]

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

We continue to receive occasional letters supporting the case for a free and independent state of Kashmir. We have received seven such representations so far this year.

Photo of Mr Chris Davies Mr Chris Davies , Littleborough and Saddleworth

Does the Minister accept that many of us will welcome the sentiment expressed by the Prime Minister in Pakistan in January, that the solution to the problems in Kashmir lies with the Governments of India and of Pakistan and the Kashmiri people? Will he help to give some practical effect to those excellent sentiments by urging Britain's permanent representative at the United Nations to take the lead in incorporating those principles into a future resolution of the General Assembly?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

We have always made it clear that we advocate a genuine political process in Kashmir in which the aspirations of the population can be accommodated. The Prime Minister was reiterating that in the remarks in Lahore to which the hon. Gentleman referred. We have made our position very clear: it is a matter for India and Pakistan to sort out. What our position lacks in novelty it makes up for in commendable consistency. We have supported that policy in the past, we support it now, and we shall support it in our fifth term.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

Will my hon. Friend put all the pressure he can on all concerned with the Kashmir problem, because it is a great tragedy for the people of the area? Will he press the Governments of India and Pakistan to meet until the problem is finally resolved and, of course, involve the people of Kashmir in the process?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My hon. Friend is right; we should use our excellent links with India and Pakistan to encourage dialogue. I am not sure that I would use the word "pressure". We should encourage our friends in the region to talk. I welcome the high-level talks that are to take place later this month. Unlocking the difficulties in Kashmir would create an opportunity for the wider development of SAARC, the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation. The political and economic development of the region can only benefit all the people of the region, including Kashmir.

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett , Birmingham, Erdington

Was the Minister given assurances when he visited Pakistan that the regime would respect the integrity of an independent Kashmir? In welcoming, as we all do, the coming talks between the Indian and Pakistan Governments, will he make it clear that the good offices of the British Government are available before they are requested?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

This is becoming an advertisement session for the good offices of the United Kingdom. They are, as I have said three times, available for those who wish to use them, but both parties in a dispute have to ask us to become involved. India and Pakistan are opening up a dialogue; we welcome and encourage that. I was reassured by my talks with Ministers in the new Pakistan Government that they are committed to moving the dialogue forward. I think that the House can look forward with more optimism than for some time to dialogue and reconciliation being started properly.