HC Deb 03 April 1996 vol 275 cc379-81
10. Mr. Timms

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the Government's policy on the promotion of human rights in China. [22620]

Mr. Hanley

We raise our concerns on human rights with the Chinese authorities at every suitable opportunity, both bilaterally and through the European Union.

Mr. Timms

What pressure are the British Government bringing to bear on the Chinese Government to secure the release of Wei Jingsheng, the human rights activist who was imprisoned last autumn? What steps are being taken to secure the adoption of the European Union-sponsored resolution on human rights in China by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees?

Mr. Hanley

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. We and our EU partners have expressed to the Chinese authorities our deep concern about the detention, trial and imprisonment of Wei Jingsheng. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary referred to Mr. Wei's case during his meetings in Peking in January; the case was raised during the second series of meetings under the formalised EU-China human rights dialogue in Peking from 22 to 24 January; and we have repeatedly urged the Chinese authorities to show clemency in this case and allow Mr. Wei's early release.

As for the resolution, we are taking action in conjunction with our European Union partners and co-sponsored, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the resolution on human rights in China, including Tibet, at the 51st United Nations Commission on Human Rights in March 1995, which was defeated by only one vote. We and our partners have agreed to present a similar resolution on China at the 52nd commission, which is being held in Geneva until 26 April 1996.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that China will accept current standards and attitudes in relation to human rights in Hong Kong after it takes over the colony, rather than seeking to impose its own, currently very low and unacceptable, standards on that colony?

Mr. Hanley

My hon. Friend is right to point out that we devote a great amount of work, concentration and determination to that matter. We are continuing to press China to ratify a range of international human rights instruments, including the international covenants on civil and political rights and on economic, social and cultural rights. What we require for Hong Kong, what Hong Kong requires for itself and what I believe the Chinese also require of Hong Kong, is the greatest continuity in Hong Kong, as that is the way in which Hong Kong will manage to achieve the greatest confidence for the future, and that is in all our interests.

Sir David Steel

Is it accepted by the Foreign Office that we have a particular responsibility for human rights in the part of China that Hong Kong will become? If so, does the Minister recognise the disappointment that many of us felt when the Foreign Secretary reacted to the appointment of the preparatory committee, which excluded any member of the Democratic party in Hong Kong, by describing it as a "pity"? Surely we should be more robust than that. It was an outrage; it was stupid; it was short-sighted. Will the Foreign Secretary be more robust in future?

Mr. Hanley

My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary took the opportunity, when in Peking, to mention several issues that he believed would increase people's confidence in Hong Kong's future and to mention actions that he felt the Chinese Government might introduce to increase confidence—to take heed of what the right hon. Gentleman said is one such issue.

Recognising democratically elected individuals in Hong Kong is a very important part of maintaining the world's confidence in Hong Kong's ability to continue in the way that it has in the past. I therefore feel that our continued interest in the region, which is without question, will include our continued interest in Hong Kong, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said earlier. That is not only because of our trade interests and because of our regional security interests; it should be remembered that we continue to exercise a joint declaration until at least the year 2047. Therefore, we have responsibility for people in Hong Kong long after the transition.

Dr. Spink

My right hon. Friend may recall the controversy that surrounded the programme "The Dying Rooms" about the care of abandoned children in China. The film was shown in the House, and I know that several hon. Members who saw it were moved to tears. Will he take all possible steps to pursue the matter with the authorities in China and to ensure that all children in China receive proper care?

Mr. Hanley

I know that my hon. Friend speaks for everyone in the House on that issue. Because it emphasises the importance of bilateral dialogue, I am pleased that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary took the opportunity, when in Peking, to raise that issue with the People's Republic. All who read the Human Rights Watch Asia report on the ill treatment of children in Chinese orphanages or watched the Channel 4 documentary would have been shocked by those pictures and the reports.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said that deep concern was felt in Government, by the British public and in the House at that sensitive issue, and he emphasised to the Chinese Government that the best way for the Chinese authorities to respond to the allegations was to have a policy of complete openness. That policy includes free access to the orphanages by Chinese and foreigners alike. A group of European Union diplomats in Shanghai visited one of the institutions mentioned in the report and found no evidence of ill treatment. That is not conclusive proof, but greater openness on China's part will help to reveal the truth about the issue and will ensure that the abuses are reduced and eliminated.

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