New Forest East

DFID – BURMA – 14 May 2008

Dr Julian Lewis: Although this was not made entirely clear when the subject came up at Prime Minister's Question Time, my understanding is that before the tragedy in China, China and Russia were the two countries at the United Nations standing in the way of UN action to force the Burmese Government to give better access. In the light of the second tragedy – the one that has hit China – is there any prospect of a renewed effort to mobilise the United Nations being more successful?

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Dr Lewis: I apologise that a commitment to the Royal British Legion meant that I missed part of the Secretary of State's (Douglas Alexander's) speech, but, as I understand it, the point that I raised in an earlier intervention still has not been addressed. Whereas it was thought a few days ago that China was blocking action being taken on the Security Council, that surely ought no longer to be the case, now that China is reacting to its disaster in the way that the Burmese authorities should have reacted to their disaster. What efforts is Britain making at the UN to put China to the test about why it will not support similar measures being taken in respect of Burma that it welcomes for itself?

[The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Douglas Alexander): It is fair to place on the record that I first contacted the Chinese ambassador here in London before the tragic earthquake that now afflicts the country, and I made clear to her our strong desire that China use its considerable influence over the Burmese regime to secure the unfettered access that is the desire of Members on both sides of the House. She in turn, before the earthquake, made it clear that that was the Chinese Government's position, and that she would pass our representations back to Beijing, but assured me that efforts had already been made by Beijing to make representations to the Burmese Government. As I say, further contact is being sought both through our permanent representative in New York and direct ministerial contact, but it is right to recognise that even before the soliciting of international aid by the Chinese Government following the earthquake, the Chinese ambassador made it clear to me that Beijing had made representations to the Burmese regime, encouraging efforts to open up in the face of the terrible cyclone that affected the country.]

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Dr Lewis: On behalf of Members who have been present for all or most of the debate, may I ask why the Government feel it necessary to oppose the Opposition motion, given that there is such unanimity of view across the House?

[The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Meg Munn): ... Let me be clear why we tabled our amendment. It focuses on what we are seeking to achieve:

“to secure access and ensure aid is delivered to those in need.”

That is why the amendment should be supported, and I ask the Opposition to consider the matter carefully. The motion risks suggesting that the UK will pursue the responsibility to protect above all else, rather than our actual focus, which is on any means that will secure the outcome that we all seek. ...]