My Lords, first, I compliment her Majesty’s Treasury on what it has achieved for our economy- secondly, I compliment those associated with welfare reform, in particular, my noble friend Lord Freud, on what his department has achieved.
I wish I could say that I complimented her Majesty’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but I regret that I am not in a position to do so. I did not support our actions in Libya or our maneuverings in Egypt. I was totally against our policy in Libya, and wrote to the Prime Minister accordingly. All those actions have just destabilized that part of the world—and, worse, caused thousands of deaths and millions of refugees. The Syria war was from the start nothing to do with democracy; it was the fourth Sunni-Shia internal war. If we really want peace there, Her Majesty’s Government have to find a means of talking to and working with Mr Putin and Russia.
It will not surprise your Lordships that I want to say a few words about Sri Lanka. I have been involved with that country for more than 50 years, and I think I know its ins and outs pretty well. I am the elected leader of the all-party group. I do not support any particular ethnic group, political party or Government. I have no business interests there — but I do fervently support the ordinary people in Sri Lanka and I wish to ask a few questions of Her Majesty’s Government.
First, Sri Lanka – a former colony, a founder member of the Commonwealth and one of the few countries that supported the United Kingdom over the Falklands situation-finds today that we, the United Kingdom, are exceedingly unhelpful to it. Why is it that we are so anti the democratically elected Government? Why can we not work with them? Why at every turn must we just listen to the vociferous Diaspora, which is usually led by former Tamil Tigers? Why do we not understand that the Tigers were -terrorists who murdered every moderate Tamil leader they could find, along with two presidents and thousands of other Sri Lankans-all in the cause of a separate state called Eelam. It was rather similar to Pol Pot.
Can we not understand that after 28 years of fruitless negotiations, it was necessary for a view, democratically elected Government to act to destroy the Tigers? Yes, that meant a bloody war, as the Tigers refused to surrender. However, I know that that Government tried hard to minimise casualties. Why do we refuse to publish the dispatches from our own defence attache, who was an objective assessor? Why do we think that the Sri Lankan army, which we helped to train, is so different from our own Army? After all, there were allegations against our Army in Iraq, as there were against the Sri Lankan army. I think that in both cases they were highly suspect. Certainly in the case of Iraq, they proved to be bogus.
Do I think that there should be an inquiry into the final days of the war? Yes, I do, but it should be a military inquiry, because all the argument is basically about gunfire et cetera. A retired general should conduct it, perhaps from Australia. There is a wonderful Sri Lankan, Sir Desmond de Silva, who has done splendid work in Northern Ireland. There would need to be a gunnery officer, probably from the UK and obviously somebody from the UN.
It is claimed that the whole issue is about human rights, but I will take just one aspect. I saw the head of the ICRC in Boossa camp and asked him, “Have you, the International Committee of the Red Cross, ever come across terror as defined internationally?”. The answer I got was, “No, I have not and nor have my staff”. How is it, then, that this new group called Freedom from Torture can come up and say that it is rife?
I make a plea than we should work diplomatically with Sri Lanka. That may mean a slightly less subservient approach to the Tamil Diaspora and the media around the world. It will mean that the reconciliation, which is already happening, will be speeded up. In what way? They have been very brave in bringing forward trilingualism, which is quite an achievement. Thousands of Tamils have gone back from all over the world to Sri Lanka and settled down quite peacefully. There is total freedom of movement in the country and while there is a lot of criticism of the press, there is actually more freedom of the press in Sri Lanka than in Singapore. Certainly, the LLRC inquiry is slow—but not half as slow as Chilcot has been.
I finish on this note. Over the weekend, I sat and listened to the words of President Obama. He said that we, “waged war so that we might know peace”.
Why is it any different in Sri Lanka, where so many thousands of young men and Women across all ethnic groups gave their lives to rid their country of terrorism?