Sri Lanka

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 3:52 pm on 2nd May 2007.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats 3:52 pm, 2nd May 2007

Absolutely—says a Scot. Thank goodness the competition comes around again once every four years.

I wish to start by making two points, one from a constituency perspective and one from the historical perspective. First, I became involved in Sri Lankan issues because people came to see me about them. I knew about the history of the issues from the books, but soon after I was elected some Tamils came to see me. They wanted, as proud people in national groups who do not have autonomy do, to have the pride of running their own place. The Minister of State has strong Welsh links, as I do, and the Welsh are proud of their heritage. The Labour Government have given Wales more independence and we will celebrate that in the elections for the Welsh Assembly tomorrow. Further power will be given to the Assembly and I hope that, one day, it will become a Welsh Parliament. Colleagues from Scotland have celebrated the fantastic devolution to Scotland of its own Parliament and powers of decision making. The Tamils told me that they wanted to make their own decisions, too, and that is a laudable and honourable objective.

I was sympathetic to the Tamils' case and, over the years, I have met them and talked to people who have been sympathetic to all aspects of the struggle, including the peaceful and the military, just as in the past hon. Members have been sympathetic to people who took peaceful and non-peaceful routes in South Africa to try to get justice for their people. As people who are far more eminent than any of us, such as Archbishop Tutu and President Mandela, have said, one may never agree with people using violence, but one can understand why they sometimes do. I understand why some people decided that they had no recourse other than violence, and I have met some people who had taken that view.

A few years ago, I visited Anton Balasingham, the No. 2 in the LTTE who had settled in this country. He died a few months ago and his funeral was in north London. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton and I went to meet him because, as the right hon. Member for Torfaen said, the way forward is through dialogue with people on all sides.

I have been to the high commission of Sri Lanka and I have met Ministers when they have visited, and I have always tried to keep open the dialogue. However, the view of the Sri Lankan Government and officialdom has sometimes been that I must be a supporter of the Tamil Tigers and take the terrorists' view. I have never taken the terrorist view that taking arms and killing people is the solution. However, unless one recognises that the people who are in that position have the same right to put their case and unless they are engaged in the process—as Northern Ireland showed they have to be—there will be no peace. It is no good going back over the terrible history of Sri Lanka in the past 60 years, with the assassinations of Prime Ministers, Presidents and Foreign Ministers and people living by the bullet and suicide bombers. That cannot be used now as a justification for not talking to people, because that will mean that no progress will be made.