Sri Lanka

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 2nd May 2007.

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Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Chair, Trade & Industry Committee 4:30 pm, 2nd May 2007

It is a great privilege, Madam Deputy Speaker, to be called to speak in this debate, which is on a very important subject. It would be possible to take the Panglossian view that the affairs of Sri Lanka have no impact on us and are a matter of local concern for that country on which we can turn our backs, but that would be not only immoral, but blinkered. I therefore welcome this debate and I congratulate the Minister on the tone in which he opened it. I was particularly moved by the speech made by Mr. Murphy, whom I wish every success in his work. I was also impressed by the tone struck by my hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown, who spoke for the Opposition.

What always concerns me in such debates is where we should strike the balance between what it is right and proper for the British Parliament to say and where matters must be left to local populations to determine for themselves. I am thinking, for example, of the parallel debate about Kashmir—a matter that I am convinced must be left to the Pakistani and Indian Governments to resolve for themselves, and on which it is wrong for us to start prescribing solutions. I am nervous about some of what has been said in this debate so far today. I am not even sure that the Liberal Democrats are right to have gone as far as they have done in prescribing a solution. The people of Sri Lanka must have the opportunity to determine for themselves what they want to happen.

In that context, I fully support the calls that have been made for dialogue, which is clearly an important part of the process, as we saw in Northern Ireland. This period has, however, been an extraordinarily violent one in Sri Lanka's history. There have been some 4,000 dead since 2005 and 70,000 or so dead since the violence began in 1983. To put that in context, leaving Iraq on one side, about 7,000 deaths a year occur in the world because of terrorist-related activities. One can see how big an issue the violence is in international terms.

I intervened on Simon Hughes to inquire about the LTTE's commitment to democracy. Perhaps I did not explain myself clearly. I have severe reservations about whether the LTTE is seriously committed to a democratic process. Its leader is on the record as wanting to establish a one-party independent Tamil state without democratic elections. I see in the LTTE an organisation that is led by a very dangerous individual whose techniques and ruthlessness have caused great concern. Although I share the views expressed by all hon. and right hon. Members in saying that dialogue is important, I question whether the LTTE is an organisation that is capable of holding such dialogue. I hope that I am wrong; I would like to be so. In an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold, I pointed out that our deputy high commissioner in Sri Lanka will tomorrow be engaging in dialogue with the political wing of the LTTE. I hope that that dialogue is profitable and constructive, but I worry about what we are dealing with in the LTTE. It is a sophisticated and well-equipped organisation, uniquely so for a terrorist organisation—and I regard it as a terrorist organisation that can fight on land, on sea and in the air, although it is wrong to describe it as having an air force; I think that there is one light aircraft —[ Interruption. ] I am told that there are five aircraft, but they have significantly enhanced its fighting capabilities.

Unless the conflict in Sri Lanka is dealt with, not only will it place an intolerable burden on the people of that war-torn country, but there will be a danger that the LTTE's techniques will act as an inspiration for other so-called freedom fighters elsewhere in the world and other terrorist groups.

I am also nervous about the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold about the role of the Indian Government in the dispute. We have been very careful about involving India in this matter. I have in my hands a map from the Tamil Nadu Liberation Front. It is a map of greater Tamil Nadu, which of course takes into its compass most of the southern states of India, as well as north and east Sri Lanka. We remember what happened last time India involved itself, in a military sense, in the affairs of Sri Lanka—it led to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.