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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:09 pm on 11th September 2014.

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Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 4:09 pm, 11th September 2014

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I begin, as others have done, by congratulating Mr Ward on securing this important debate. I apologise that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend Mr Swire, who should be responding to this debate, cannot be here today.

The debate has been not only well-attended, informative and passionate, but constructive, and I am pleased that we have had it. It is our right to debate such matters in this place. India and Pakistan are long-standing and important friends of the United Kingdom, and our unique historical and cultural ties still bind us, as do the important Indian and Pakistani diasporas that have been mentioned. The situation in Kashmir attracts much public and parliamentary interest in the UK, and I welcome the contributions of all hon. Members from both sides of the House.

Before responding to the specific points made during the debate, I will briefly set out the Government’s position on India-Pakistan relations and Kashmir. Before I do that, however, I want to extend, as others have done, the Government’s deepest condolences to all those who have lost family and loved ones in the extensive flooding in Pakistan and in both Indian and Pakistani-administered Kashmir. We particularly note the offers of assistance to each other by the Governments of India and Pakistan to tackle the humanitarian crisis.

The Department for International Development is of course monitoring the situation, but the UK has not received any request for assistance. We will nevertheless continue to monitor the evolving situation in close co-operation with the European Union and the other bilateral and civil society agencies. The British Government stand ready to assist where appropriate. Our travel advice has been updated to take account of the current flooding, and we advise all British nationals in the area to take extreme care and to contact our consular staff in case of emergency.

The UK Government recognise the importance of a strong relationship between India and Pakistan not only for its own sake, but for regional stability. We encourage both sides to maintain dialogue, the pace and scope of which is for the two countries to determine. In that context, we welcome the renewed engagement between India and Pakistan in recent years, including the potential economic benefits that that would bring. We hope that both sides will continue to take further steps to help the growth of both countries’ economies.

As Mr Spellar, whom I thank for the extra time that he has provided me, highlighted from his position as shadow Minister, we welcomed Prime Minister Modi’s invitation to Prime Minister Sharif for his swearing-in ceremony on 26 May and his statement of 29 August calling for

“peaceful, friendly and co-operative ties with Pakistan.”

We agree with Mr Modi that

“any meaningful bilateral dialogue necessarily requires an environment that is free from terrorism and violence”.

The long-standing position of the UK is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting resolution to the situation in Kashmir, one which takes into account, as the shadow Minister said, the wishes of the Kashmiri people. It is not for the UK to prescribe a solution or to mediate in finding one.

I will now address some of the specific points made in the debate. The hon. Member for Bradford East began his speech describing the water issues. Management of water resources is a global challenge that requires international co-operation. Transparent mechanisms already exist to support Indian and Pakistani water management, but it is for both sides to find ways to optimise their water resources effectively. He also asked about UK aid and development, which is a Department for International Development matter, so I will write to him with more detail. However, the long-standing position is that it is for us to feed our funds for Kashmir through Pakistan and through India, and I will provide him with a breakdown of the numbers in writing.

Barry Gardiner gave a passionate speech and was the first to mention the right of this place to debate such matters. He mentioned Edmund Burke, who is a hero of mine and all Government Members, as the philosophical founder of conservatism. I think he was a Whig to begin with, but we will gloss over that.