[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair] — BacKBench Business — Kashmir

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:52 pm on 11th September 2014.

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Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley 2:52 pm, 11th September 2014

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on granting this three-hour debate. The great turnout from Members across the House demonstrates the importance of the matter that we are debating. It is also worth putting on the record that the Public Gallery is absolutely packed—standing room only.

I want to start by mentioning the appalling situation caused by the floods in Kashmir and Pakistan. According to the latest figures, more than 300 people have been killed and more than 96,000 men, women and children have had to be evacuated. The floods in autumn 2010 were the reason why, soon after being elected to the House in the general election, I took the opportunity to visit Pakistan and Kashmir with a constituent of mine, Mr Abdul Razak—a businessman, philanthropist and benefactor to the people of Kashmir. Unfortunately, Mr Razak passed away last year, but his memory lives on in that part of the world.

I wanted to visit Kashmir because I have a Kashmiri community in my constituency, primarily in Crosland Moor, Thornton Lodge and Lockwood. Kashmir was not an area that I knew much about, so I wanted to see at first hand what it was like and meet the people. I flew into Islamabad and visited Dadyal and Mirpur. I saw a beautiful part of the world and met friendly people, many of whom came up to me and said, “Hello, Jason” in a Yorkshire accent, which was absolutely wonderful. The trip gave me some understanding and appreciation of what a beautiful part of the world Kashmir is.

During my trip, I was proud to meet the then Prime Minister of AJK, Sardar Attique Khan. He gave me a green badge, which I still have, which read: “Kashmir deserves attention”. That is a big challenge, because there are so many other huge foreign policy issues at the moment. When the Prime Minister gave a statement on Monday, which I sat through, he talked about the situation between Ukraine and Russia, the situation in northern Iraq and the problems in Syria. We have also heard about Gaza and Israel. There are many big foreign policy issues for the UK Government to tackle, so it is a challenge to get Kashmir on the agenda. That is why today’s debate is so important.

I want to put on the record my thanks for the briefings and support that I have received from Raja Najabat and his team from the Jammu Kashmir Self Determination Movement. We had a good briefing on Monday in Portcullis House. I was struck because for probably the first time at any meeting that I have attended about Kashmir, there were more women than men in attendance. Many times, I attend meetings in my constituency and they are dominated by the men, so it was great to hear the young women’s perspective on what is happening in their part of the world. It was great that they were given the time to talk freely and explain the situation, particularly the humanitarian crisis that the region faces.

I repeat what my hon. Friend Philip Davies said at the beginning of the debate. Parts of the world are facing their own big decisions about self-determination, nowhere more so than in the Scottish referendum. Like my hon. Friend, I have always voted for a referendum on our future membership of the EU, and I hope that we will get one soon. I am here as a democrat. I may not agree with every issue that I speak about, but I fervently believe in self-determination and democracy, which are what the debate is all about. I certainly support self-determination in Kashmir and that troubled part of the world.

I look forward to hearing from the Minister later on, and I hope that the UK Government can continue to give as much support as they have in the past to help with flooding in Kashmir. I am proud of the response from the Department for International Development in troubled spots in the world. I am a staunch defender of that budget, and I support the great things that we are doing in places such as Gaza. We should all be proud of that response, for which DFID does not always get the credit that it deserves. While money is somewhat tight in other budgets, I am proud that we can find the money to help people in other parts of the world. I know that it is appreciated.

As I said, Kashmir needs and deserves attention; in this debate, it is getting that attention. I look forward to hearing from the Minister.