LONDON: Agricultural reform is a domestic policy issue of India, the Leader of the House of Commons has said in Parliament, reflecting the UK government's stance over the farmer protests in New Delhi.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, in response to demands for a debate over the issue in the chamber from Opposition Labour MPs on Thursday, acknowledged that the issue is a "matter of concern" for the Commons and across constituencies in the UK and that Britain will continue to champion human rights globally, including through its current chairmanship of the United Nations.
"India is a very proud democracy and a country with which we have the strongest possible relations. I happen to think that over the next century, our relationship with India may well be our most important relationship with any country in the world," said Rees-Mogg, a senior Conservative Party member of Parliament who serves as the party's Leader in the House of Commons, the lower house of Parliament.
"As India is our friend, it is only right that we make representations when we think that things are happening that are not in the interests of the reputation of the country of which we are a friend," he said, adding that UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has raised the matter with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar during his India visit in December last year.
"The UK government will continue to follow the farmers' protest closely. Agricultural reform is a domestic policy issue for India. We will continue to champion human rights globally, and having the chairmanship of the UN Security Council this month is a part of that," Rees-Mogg noted.
The leader was responding during a regular Business of the House sitting as MPs debated matters to be addressed in upcoming Parliament sessions.
Labour's shadow Leader of the House, Valerie Vaz, had raised the issue of the farmers' protests being considered for a backbench debate by the Petitions Committee after an e-petition on the official parliamentary website crossed the required threshold of 100,000 earlier this month.
However, the debates, usually held in Westminster Hall within the Commons complex, remain suspended due to the coronavirus lockdown restrictions and she sought a "hybrid" solution of using live streaming as a possible option.
"Satyagraha is the Gandhian peaceful protest that is in the Indian DNA, but we have seen scenes of terrible violence against those who are protecting their livelihoods. I have had no response to my letter to the Foreign Secretary (Raab) yet," said Vaz, a Goan-origin MP.
Fellow Labour MP Tanmanjit Singh Dhesi also pushed for a debate over "the largest protest on the planet", in the main Commons chamber itself.
"Given our serious anxieties, more than 100 honourable members signed a letter to the Prime Minister (Boris Johnson) seeking his intervention. Well over 100,000 constituents -- incredibly, from every single one of the 650 UK constituencies -- have signed an online petition, including more than 3,000 from my Slough constituency," said Dhesi, the first turbaned Sikh MP in the Commons.
Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab and Haryana, have been camping at several Delhi border points since November last year, demanding the government to repeal three farm laws and provide them legal guarantee of minimum support price (MSP) for their crops.
Multiple rounds of talks between the Government and the farmer unions have remained deadlocked.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of the farmer unions protesting the farm laws, have criticised the Internet ban in areas near their agitation sites.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has said that any protests must be seen in the context of India's democratic ethos and polity, and the ongoing efforts of the government and the concerned farmer groups to resolve the impasse.
"The Parliament of India, after a full debate and discussion, passed reformist legislation relating to the agricultural sector. These reforms give expanded market access and provided greater flexibility to farmers. They also pave the way for economically and ecologically sustainable farming," the MEA said in a statement last week.
The House of Commons had said earlier this month that all petitions that receive 100,000 signatures will be considered for a debate by the Petitions Committee.
However, debates in Westminster Hall -- where petition debates take place -- are currently suspended and that the committee will make an announcement on "scheduling this (farmer protests) debate as soon as possible".
The e-petition, which has now over 114,000 signatures, has called for the UK government's public statement on the issue of farmer protests and press freedom in India.