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

I can be very specific. Our view as a party—it is my view also—is that the conflict will be brought to an end only by direct negotiations between the Government and LTTE and by the reaching of a political settlement that allows for a suitable degree of autonomy for Tamil people within a peaceful and secure Sri Lanka. We have not argued for an independent Tamil Eelam. We have argued for negotiations about autonomy between the Tamil representatives and the Government. That autonomy will have to be negotiated, because it has to be respected. It is absolutely not for me, from here, to prescribe whether there should be a federal state or a confederal state, but I am absolutely clear that a unitary state with no proper devolution beyond what has been offered so far will not work. Things have to go further.

Of course there is local government in Sri Lanka and there has been devolution. There have been proposals on the table in the past, but that is no good if the President says that there will have to be a unitary state, in the old-fashioned sense of one state with no subdivisions. Our view is that there should be a suitable degree of autonomy within a peaceful, secure and stable Sri Lanka. If later the Tamil people voted for independence in a free election—unharassed and without any pressure—that would be a separate issue and would raise other issues. The world would have to accommodate that through proper international recognition processes.

My party has supported both Conservative and Labour Governments in their efforts to achieve peace and it has supported the international peace processes. The Liberal Democrats share the sense of urgency that has been expressed. As was said, we now have an additional responsibility, together with the international community, to make further efforts to get the peace process back on track. We can express a view here, but unless there is a formal process in which people are engaged, there cannot be progress.