Sri Lanka

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 6:11 pm on 2nd May 2007.

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Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 6:11 pm, 2nd May 2007

First, I should like to apologise for not being here for the opening speeches. This debate started earlier than expected, and I was chairing a Select Committee evidence session on Iran.

I am speaking in two capacities: as the MP representing a constituency with a large Sri Lankan Tamil community and as the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I am in an unfortunate position, in that the Committee is publishing a report on south Asia on Friday, but it is embargoed so I cannot quote from it— [ Interruption. ] Yes, I am holding it in my hand. I can at least refer to the evidence. The report examines the whole regional context, but we have of course touched on the serious situation in Sri Lanka.

Before I refer to the report, however, I should like to place on the record the fact that I agree with most of the contributions that I have heard today, and certainly with what Mr. Davey said about the cultural contribution of the Tamil community. We have a chariot festival in Ilford every year, and the community contains temples and prosperous businesses. The area of my constituency around Ley street has become a centre of the Tamil community, enriching and enlivening the cultural life of the borough of Redbridge.

Given the contribution that most Tamil people in the UK make, it is tragic that many of them are suffering grievously because of what is happening to their relatives and friends in Sri Lanka. A letter was faxed to me two days ago in which one of my constituents says:

"I am deeply grieved at the deplorable state of affairs at the moment, especially the disappearance of innocent civilians. A pathetic state of affairs, indeed, for an agreement which once looked so promising, but five years since it came into effect, the Ceasefire Agreement is almost defunct."

I could go on. Other Members have reported many similar things. The sad thing is that the hope for the co-operation that might have resulted following the terrible tsunami, and the possibility of building on the ceasefire agreement have clearly gone backwards. In the past few months, we have all no doubt received from our constituents pictures of the consequences of the air raids and the bombing of civilian areas, and of people who have died in many parts of Sri Lanka. At the same time, terrorist actions and criminal activities are going on, and the population in many areas is suffering grievously as a result.