Sri Lanka

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 5:56 pm on 2nd May 2007.

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Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Minister without Portfolio, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (without Portfolio) 5:56 pm, 2nd May 2007

I totally agree with my hon. Friend.

Sri Lanka has the potential to be one of the powerhouses of Asia, and the world. Just three decades ago, it was held up as a model society. Professor Amartya Sen used to write in glowing terms that here was—dare I say it?—a socialist economy and society that had managed to reduce infant mortality, improve literacy and achieve many other key indicators of human progress. Sri Lanka had done a tremendous job. However, the strife that we have seen over the past 30 years has, unfortunately, seen the society go backwards and social progress reversed.

I am sure that those achievements can be regained—but what it will take to do that is peace. It will take Governments such as ours and the European Union putting even more pressure than they have hitherto on both parts of the island to come together. The biggest aid package that we could ever give to the island would be to help it to promote peace. It would no longer need our support or aid—it is more than capable of becoming prosperous by itself, without a pound of aid—if we helped it to restore peace. I am delighted to see that a Minister from the Department for International Development is to respond to the debate, and I hope that his Department, working with the Foreign Office, can give Sri Lanka that aid.

When the tsunami occurred, I hoped that it would help to stimulate peace and reconciliation, because the response to it was building on the ceasefire agreement that had been working, particularly under Prime Minister Wickramasinghe. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Some of the negative voices from the old Kumaratunga regime, and subsequently from the Rajapakse regime, had their way, and we have seen a deterioration in the situation ever since.

When we were considering how individual MPs and communities in this country could help, one project that I was delighted to support was the fish and ships scheme. Many fishermen had lost their boats, and their livelihoods, as a result of the tsunami, but some British people living in Sri Lanka got together with the fishermen and the communities and said, "If we supply you with ships and get you contracts with British supermarkets for your fish, that will help to revive your economy." And that has happened.

If we help people in such ways, Sri Lanka can be a wonderful place again. But there is a precondition: peace. Let us not wait another five or 10 years before the House again debates this issue and puts pressure on the Government to do more. Let us keep coming back to the subject again and again, because the cause of peace in Sri Lanka deserves our attention, and deserves to be one of the key issues to which we pay attention.