§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. David Davis.]2.32 pm
§ Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Has it come to your attention that earlier today the Court of Appeal found the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), the Home Secretary, to be in contempt of court, and has said so? That arose out of the removal from this country of a teacher from Zaire, in breach of an order of court. Have you had a request from the Home Secretary to come to the House before the end of business today to make a statement or, if that is not possible, on Monday? If such a request has not been made, do you have the authority to make a request on behalf of the House as this is the first time that a Minister of the Crown has been found guilty of contempt of court?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Mr. Speaker did not receive a request from any Minister to make a statement this morning. I am not aware of the information that the hon. Member seems to have at his disposal. As he will appreciate, that is not a point of order. However, Ministers are on the Treasury Bench and will no doubt have heard what he has said and may take any appropriate action. In the meantime, the hon. Member may care to consult the authorities of the House relating to that matter.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. There can be no further to that point of order. I have made the situation clear. If the hon. Member has a new point of order, I will take it.
§ Mr. McKay
On a new point of order. Last week we debated the Asylum Bill. It contains a clause which allows the Secretary of State to give the inspectorate powers to send people back to their country. It also gives the Secretary of State powers to decide in such cases. The Bill now lacks credibility because of that contempt of court. Should not a statement be made to the House? Or should not we ask for the Bill to be returned to the Floor of the House?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. That is a most ingenious way to try to put a point of order. We are taking time out of an Ajournment debate which has been moved.
§ Mr. Dicks
I want to mention yet again in the House the persecution of Sikhs in the Punjab. Members of the Sikh community living in my constituency, and Sikhs throughout the world, have been concerned for the safety of family and friends living in the Punjab. The rape of young women, the beating of old men and the murder of young boys, to say nothing of the imprisonment without trial of many thousands of innocent people, has been going on since 1984 and continues unabated. Indian security forces are killing hundreds of innocent Sikhs in fake encounters and there is evidence that those forces have swept through villages in the Punjab intent on nothing less than widespread slaughter.
1242 All those activities are taking place under the umbrella of President's rule, which in effect means direct rule from Delhi. That regime gives the security forces the unfettered power to take whatever action they wish against people living in the state of Punjab.
Investigations into allegations of police torture are rare. When such allegations have been established, prosecutions have not taken place. According to Amnesty International, no police officer has ever been convicted of committing human rights violations in the Punjab.
Legal safeguards for the protection of human rights do not apply to those arrested under special legislation relating to national security. Detainees in the Punjab are arrested under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act, which allows detention without trial for a year, the burden of proof being placed on the accused to prove his innocence.
The legislation imposes a minimum of five years' imprisonment on anyone convicted of terrorist or disruptive activities. Disruptive activities include the peaceful expression of views which question the sovereignty or territorial integrity of India or support any claim for independence.
The Indian Government are conducting a similar campaign of oppression against the Muslim community in the part of Kashmir occupied illegally by the Indian security forces. The legitimate call by Muslims living in Kashmir for self-determination is being denied with a brutality that should be condemned by the civilised world, but unfortunately is not.
Parliament has refused to condemn atrocities carried out by the Indian Government, no matter how well documented they are by Amnesty International—the Government, because of its friendship with India as a Commonwealth country, and the Labour party, because of its close relationship with the Indian Congress party and the Gandhi family in particular. Actions of this kind, condemned elsewhere, have been ignored in India.
Successive Indian Governments, either under the control or influence of the Congress party, have claimed for themselves the role of governing the world's largest democracy. Unfortunately, many Governments around the world seem prepared to accept the claim. It is far easier to accept the mask worn by the Indian Government as the true face of India today than to ask awkward questions about the plight of many thousands of Indian citizens who seek nothing more than to have their rights and religion recognised. To quote an old adage, there are none so blind as those who will not see.
How can Governments who went to war to defend the rights of the Kuwaitis in their own country, refuse to bring pressure on the Indian Government to recognise the rights of the Sikhs in the Punjab? Are the Kuwaitis more important than the Sikhs? Or can it be that much of the world's oil comes from the middle east but only food to feed millions of hungry mouths in India is produced in the Punjab? That may be a cynical question, but it demands an answer.
As I have often said, the British Government have a unique responsibility in this matter. In 1947, when India obtained its independence, it was the British who accepted a guarantee by the Hindus, who make up 84 per cent. of the population, that the self-determination of the Sikhs in the Punjab would be recognised. On that basis, the British Government granted India its independence. Unfortunately for the Sikhs, the British Government have 1243 done nothing to enforce the guarantee and successive Congress party-dominated Indian Governments have been able to ignore the pledge.
The refusal of the Indian Government, aided and abetted by Britain, to keep their word has led the Sikh people to call for their own independent state. Unfortunately, as happens in many groups, some extremists have used the situation for their own ends. Their approach has enabled the Indian Government to confuse the situation and give the impression that their fight in the Punjab against a handful of terrorists is, in reality, a fight for democracy against anarchy. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The majority of Sikhs, both inside and outside India, are opposed to violence in any form and want through the democratic process only that to which they feel they were entitled—self-determination. What they were guaranteed in 1947, they must be entitled to some 44 years later, and the Indian Government would do well to recognise that fact.
What the Sikhs want now, above all, is for the rest of the world to recognise the suffering that they are having to endure in their own country. They would like to see pressure brought to bear on the Indian Government to bring an end to this oppression. The abuse of human rights cannot be condoned, no matter whether it takes place in a middle eastern country or a country that belongs to the Commonwealth. Nor can the actions of a handful of extremists be used as an excuse for the oppression of a religious minority in the name of democracy.
The concept of good government has now been introduced in relation to the British aid programme. As I understand it, from now on only those Governments who recognise basic human rights and allow freedom of speech in a democratic setting will qualify for aid. I hope that this new approach will be brought firmly to the attention of the Indian Government who at present receive more than 100 million annually in overseas aid.
If the British Government were to take a tough stand on the abuse of human rights in India and persuade the Indian Government to recognise the rights of the Sikhs in the Punjab, I feel certain that the majority of Sikhs throughout the world would be prepared to renounce violence as a method of achieving their objective of self-determination and would welcome the opportunity to meet anyone in an international forum in an attempt to come to a peaceful settlement of the problem.
As I said when I opened my remarks, this is the third occasion on which I have had to raise this matter. This week when I knew that I had the Adjournment debate, I rang the Indian high commission hoping to speak to the high commissioner about the situation. That might have enabled me to come to the debate with some good news for the Sikhs. He agreed to meet me. Then I had a phone call to say that he could not do so, but that he would contact me. I am still waiting. It reminds me of the time when I went to India to discuss this matter with the then Home Affairs Minister, Mr. Butta Singh. He did exactly the same —he said that he would telephone me at 5 pm, but that was five or six years ago and I am still waiting.
Why are the Indian Government not prepared to talk about this matter? They could say, "Perhaps you have got it wrong, Mr. Dicks, here are some other facts." They might say, "Perhaps we have gone over the hill with the 1244 Sikhs in the Punjab. We shall listen to you and perhaps we can talk to their reasonable leaders but not to the extremists and the terrorists."
I am surprised that the Indian Government are so awkward about a matter in which so many of us are interested. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) hopes to speak in the debate. We seek recognition by the Indian Government of the situation in the Punjab. I am sure that that Government know what is going on and they should publicly recognise the abuse of human rights. I should like my Government to stand up and be counted on this. We have a good record on standing up for human rights, a subject on which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has uttered strong words. In a recent comment he rightly pointed to the fact that we must unite against acts of terrorism. I fully accept that.
A handful of terrorists in the Punjab are using the situation for their own ends, but the majority of those living there are decent people who want to live a normal life but are living in fear. I ask the Government again to listen to this plea and at least to take up the matter with the Indian Government. I have an Amnesty International report on human rights violations in the Punjab. It is dated May 1991. If my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and his colleagues have not read it I shall be delighted to make sure that they have a copy. They should know in detail what is going on. If they did, I am sure that they would take action along the lines that I suggest and would not be prepared to sit back and say and do nothing.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) for raising this extremely important matter and for allowing me to intervene to express my support. The matter is of great concern to my Sikh constituents in Gravesham and Northfleet. They express great misery and anxiety about the fate of their families in the Punjab, where, as we all know, there is a total denial of the democratic rights to state and Government and a legislature. We also know about the frequent infringements of human rights.
It is incumbent on the Republic of India to ensure that the rule of law and human rights prevail throughout that country, and I ask the Minister to pay close attention to this matter. At the recent Commonwealth conference in Harare, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rightly raised the issue of the importance of human rights, particularly in the context of overseas aid. This country gives a vast amount of such aid to the Republic of India, and we should make it clear to the Indian Government that the two matters march together. I hope that, before my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington has to raise this matter yet again in the House, we will have good news about the restoration of democracy and human rights to the Punjab.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones)
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) for the way in which he introduced the debate. The Sikhs who live in Hayes and Harlington are extremely fortunate to have in my hon. Friend such a doughty champion. He is a loyal 1245 friend in the House, and I am sure that he is also a loyal friend to them. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), who also has a substantial Sikh community in his constituency, has been able to take part in the debate. I was especially pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington repudiating people who indulge in violence. I would have expected nothing less of him and shall refer later to that matter.
I listened carefully to my hon. Friend's remarks. The issue that he has raised is important, and he has raised it in the House before. It is entirely understandable that the Sikhs in this country should take a close interest in the terrible and tragic events that are now taking place in the Punjab. I assure my hon. Friend that we share his concern —as do hon. Members in all parts of the House and many people in the country—about the situation in the Punjab, not least the concern about human rights.
I do not want to leave my hon. Friend or the House in any doubt. We take the issue of human rights extremely seriously. It is not a subject which can be ignored or hidden away in some dark corner. My hon. Friend was right to refer to what the Prime Minister said about that, and the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that we shall increasingly be looking at the criterion of good government in our relations with other countries.
There can therefore be no dispute about the Government's attachment to that principle and the fact that serious abuses of human rights, such as summary execution, arbitrary imprisonment and torture, wherever they may occur, all deserve and obtain the repudiation of the House. Hon. Members can rest assured that the British Government will continue to press for the strongest respect for human rights throughout the world. The House and the British people expect nothing less from us.
My hon. Friends will understand, however, that we must judge carefully just how much prominence to give to human rights issues in our relationships with other governments. Sometimes, with a friendly Government, that makes for hard choices. If we had dealings only with countries with impeccable human rights records, our influence in the world would be significantly reduced and there would almost certainly be a consequent loss of jobs in this country.
§ Mr. Garel-Jones
Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to make a little more progress, after which I will willingly give way to him.
An important element in Britain's excellent bilateral relations with India is the many contacts at all levels between our two countries. There are about 800,000 people of Indian origin in this country and they play a vital part in that relationship. The Sikhs, many of whom live in the constituencies of my hon. Friends, are the largest group among them, totalling about 300,000 people.
The Asian community in Britain makes an important and much valued contribution to many aspects of our national life, as I know from those in my constituency, and the vast majority of them are industrious and law-abiding and are increasingly making, as we can say from our experience in all our constituencies, a significant and increasingly important contribution to the life of the country.
§ Mr. Dicks
I accept what the Minister said about the impact of selecting only some countries with good human rights relations as against others, and how wonderful it would be if every country with which we dealt had such good relations. He also spoke about dealing with friends. If, as is the case—the Prime Minister said so—the Indian Government are a friend of the British Government, that must offer the best opportunity to bring pressure, not necessarily publicly but privately, on that Government and their representatives when the Minister and his colleagues meet them, as they often do.
§ Mr. Garel-Jones
I accept what my hon. Friend says, but I would add a rider. My constituents, who are principally Kashmiris, asked me the other day what the difference was between a terrorist and a freedom fighter. The difference, which my hon. Friends will immediately appreciate, is that, like Britain, India is a democracy. As Winston Churchill said, a democracy is an imperfect form of government. We in Britain, like all democracies, recognise that we have deficiencies, but if one lives in a democracy, one advances one's cause through the democratic process and not through violence, and we must all consistently make that point to our constituents.
We should also remember that Sikhs have played, and continue to play, an important role not just in the life of the United Kingdom but in the life of India. They are, as my hon. Friends will know, disproportionately represented among India's leading politicians, public servants, industrialists, business men and the military. The overwhelming majority of Indian Sikhs are law-abiding, responsible citizens who wish to live their lives in peace and harmony with their fellow citizens, whether in the United Kingdom or in the Indian republic.
Unfortunately, a minority that has never commanded a democratic majority in the Sikh home state of Punjab has been waging a violent campaign for a religiously defined homeland. In attempting to obtain by violence what they cannot obtain by democratic means, those Sikh extremists threaten the constitutional fabric of the Indian state and put shame on the overwhelming majority of law-abiding Sikh citizens.
Sikhs represent about 60 per cent. of the population of the Punjab and they are widely scattered throughout the rest of India. The Punjab is the richest state in India and, in general, Sikhs are industrious and prosperous. They are certainly not underprivileged or second-class citizens. Some members of the Sikh community are concerned about what they perceive as a threat to the traditional Sikh way of life. They also have long-standing concerns about water resources and a grievance about the promise made in the 1960s, as yet unfulfilled, to make the city of Chandigarh the capital of the Punjab state alone. Whatever those grievances may be, I am sure that my hon. Friends will support me in urging that they be pursued and resolved through the democratic process rather than by means of the bomb, kidnapping and the bullet.
The Indian Government face a serious challenge from terrorist violence in the Punjab, which has resulted in more than 5,000 deaths so far this year. Of those, some 3,200 were civilians and members of the security forces killed in terrorist incidents and about 1,800 were terrorists. We have been particularly appalled by terrorist attacks on innocent people. Trains and buses have been held up and innocent passengers gunned down.
1247 In a disturbing development, Sikh terrorists have killed up to 100 relatives of police officers this year, including women and children. We support the Indian Government's efforts to deal with the violence. At the same time, in our regular contacts with the Indian Government, we have encouraged them to exercise the greatest restraint in dealing with the problems facing them, and have emphasised the need to respect human rights.
For their part, the Indian Government have underlined to us their determination to see that human rights are not violated. They acknowledge that some abuses have occurred and have assured us that members of the security forces responsible for wrongdoing are brought to justice. The Indian Government have told us that, up to 31 March 1991, 89 police officers and 79 other ranks have been dismissed from the Punjab police force, and 68 officers have been prematurely retired. We welcome those facts, which have not previously been made public, and we have emphasised to the Indian Government the importance of making it clear that members of the security forces will not be allowed to get away with misconduct.
§ Mr. Dicks
An excerpt from Amnesty International's report states:The police have repeatedly frustrated attempts to bring those accused of human rights violations to justice. Investigations into allegations of police torture of detainees are rare and even when they have established responsibility, prosecutions are not known to have occurred. Although in 1988 the Supreme Court ordered the Punjab Government to lay charges against 21 police officers identified as having tortured detainees at Ladha Kothi Jail in 1984 and 1985, the Secretary to the Punjab Government charged with carrying out the order refused to do so. The Director-General of Police opposed legal action on the grounds that such prosecutions would"—this point is important—demoralize the police force. To Amnesty International's knowledge, no police officer has ever been convicted of committing human rights violations in Punjab.That cannot be justice or a recognition of human rights.
§ Mr. Garel-Jones
I had just referred to some figures, although not relating to prosecutions, released by the Indian Government today. I shall refer to Amnesty International's report in a moment.
The Indian Government have been actively seeking a solution to Punjab's problems through a dialogue with those in the community who wish to participate. The election commission's decision in June to postpone the planned elections in Punjab took place against a background of increased violence and the murder of more than 25 candidates. The postponement was doubtless exactly what the extremists were aiming to achieve. The recent deployment of additional security forces to the Punjab is intended to achieve a climate in which elections can be held by February 1992. We hope that the efforts by the Indian Government to find a democratic solution acceptable to the majority in the Punjab will succeed.
In its most recent report on Punjab—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington has just referred—Amnesty International made a number of serious allegations about human rights abuses. Those must be taken seriously and the Government will certainly do so. We are in no doubt about that, but we have to recognise the difficulties facing the Indian authorities and the need for exceptional measures to maintain law and 1248 order in the Punjab. India has a democratically elected Government and a rule of law. Legal remedies are available in India. They may be slower than one might wish, but, as I have already said, allegations are investigated by the Indian authorities and action is taken against wrongdoers.
Unfortunately, the activities of Sikh terrorists are not confined to India. There is a small minority of Sikhs in Britain who actively offer help and support to Sikh extremists in India. There should be no doubt that we will not tolerate people living in this country and enjoying our freedoms, who abuse those freedoms to promote violent, anti-democratic threats to India or any other country. This country and the House know only too well the threat from terrorism. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister assured the Indian Government recently that we will continue to work closely with them in every way that we possibly can to defeat the evil of terrorism.
That co-operation is something to which both we and the Indian Government attach a high priority and which is much appreciated by the Indian Government. Our police have been successful in bringing to justice a number of people responsible for Sikh terrorist activities in this country. We unreservedly condemn those who support terrorism and will do all we can to root out this evil within the framework of our laws. We shall continue to look for ways of strengthening our co-operation with India. We hope to be able to conclude a bilateral agreement with India soon covering the confiscation of terrorist funds.
We urge all decent, law-abiding Sikhs in this country to deny moral and financial support to those organisations that contribute to the misery and suffering brought to the Punjab and India by extremist violence. Sikh extremists in the Punjab claim to receive support in the form of training and weapons from Pakistan. We urge the Government of Pakistan to play their part in preventing material support being provided from its territory to Sikh extremists in the Punjab.
I am grateful to my two hon. Friends for participating in the debate. Their constituents and my Kashmiri constituents in Watford have an important role to play. Those constituents are British subjects and play an increasingly prominent role in the life of our country, much to my delight and to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington. We must tell our constituents that they know how we in Britain consider terrorists and how we have suffered from terrorism. There can be no justification for it within a democracy.
I know that it is the wish of my hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington and for Gravesham to encourage Sikhs to work as hard as they can for whatever cause they believe in. The Sikhs have that right and will receive a sympathetic hearing from my hon. Friends and me, but the Sikhs must also recognise that the cause they seek to serve will not be helped unless their condemnation of violence and extremism is whole hearted. Their encouragement to Her Majesty's Government to support the Indian Government in their fight to eradicate the scourge of terrorism must be total. That is the British way of behaving and I know that my hon. Friends' constituents would wish to act in the same way. That is how they can best contribute to the cause in which they believe.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Three o'clock.