Sri Lanka

Part of Opposition Day — [10th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 5:49 pm on 29th April 2009.

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Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Labour, Kilmarnock and Loudoun 5:49 pm, 29th April 2009

If my hon. Friend will excuse me, I do not intend to use the whole of my 10 minutes and will therefore not take any interventions.

All hon. Members know from our experience of debates, particularly on Northern Ireland, exactly what we need to do to create an inclusive peace process that has no preconditions attached to it, respects the rights and aspirations of all parties in a diverse community, and leads to a lasting peace. I had no illusions about my ability to resolve decades of conflict, but I wanted to make a small contribution in that context on the island of Sri Lanka. I have felt frustrated by my inability to do that thus far, but I have never given up on the opportunity to do so at some stage, if I stick at it.

Now there is a greater challenge—a humanitarian crisis and a situation that can be resolved only by a ceasefire and agreement to the conditions that I understand the Sri Lankan Government have agreed with John Holmes, Walter Kaelin and all those who have intervened with them and have been accepted on the island to discuss the matters that Members have raised about international supervision, conduct, and care of the people who come out of the conflict zone.

If hon. Members present, and those who hear this speech otherwise, will forgive me, I do not intend to rehearse all the steps that need to be taken, because I agree with what everybody has said. I want to say that the Sri Lankan Government have invited me to go to Sri Lanka with an all-party group of Back-Bench Members of Parliament. Those who have agreed to come with me are distinguished, serious and well-qualified Members of this House; I will not identify them because I have not agreed with them that I can do so. In any event, the applications for visas are with the Sri Lankan Government as I speak, and I want to ensure that they are processed and that we get to go.

I close by saying that I intend to go with that group to Sri Lanka to deliver on behalf of the House the message that it agrees today. I agreed to be the Prime Minister's special envoy to work with and for the Government but not be of the Government, but I am a Member of this House. For that reason, I hope that the parties' Front-Bench teams can get together and discuss what we are debating today, and give us a message that we can take to Sri Lanka that does not have behind it the division implied by a vote in this House. It will be much better if we speak with one voice, which we do. In five or 10-minute speeches one Member might give slightly different emphasis from another, and connections with people in our constituencies or elsewhere might rightly cause us to deliver certain messages, but we all agree about this.

We should speak with one voice and empower the small group of people from all parties who have bravely and readily agreed to come with me next week to deliver a very strong message. In that way, perhaps we can be one institution that says to the Sri Lankan Government and the people in the conflict, "This killing must stop, and there are very simple steps that can be taken to allow all of you to emerge from this with dignity and live in peace."

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