HL Deb 03 July 1990 vol 520 cc2011-4

2.45 p.m.

Viscount Mersey asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the relationship between the USSR and the Baltic republics is comparable to that between China and Tibet.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the relationships are not comparable. The Government have never recognised the legality of the incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union in 1940. Successive governments have regarded Tibet as autonomous, while recognising the special position of the Chinese authorities there.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is he aware that the Baltic states themselves see their struggle for freedom as very similar to that of Tibet? Is he further aware of a letter that I have received from a Mr. Dainis Ivans, the first deputy chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia? He states: In my opinion the Tibetan situation is similar to that of Latvia … and the successful resolution of one could aid in the resolution of the other".

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, unfortunately I have not seen the letter to which my noble friend refers, but I suppose that is not surprising. As I said in my original Answer, we do not regard the two matters as comparable.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we support the Government's policy in general in relation to the two countries concerned. Can the noble Lord explain why the right honourable lady the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary refuse to see the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Prize winner, but are always prepared to see the Lithuanian Prime Minister?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, we have always recognised the Dalai Lama in his role as a distinguished spiritual leader. There is no question of preventing him from coming here; he is welcome at any time. However, he is regarded as a leader of a government in exile which is not recognised by any government and we have no dealings with it. Meetings with Ministers would therefore be open to misinterpretation. That policy is quite in line with the policy of our EC and G7 partners.

Lord Renton

My Lords, will my noble friend give an undertaking that there will be no attempt to appease China over Tibet in order to gain its co-operation with regard to Hong Kong?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, we are not appeasing China at all in our policy as regards Tibet. We have to take into account our interests in Hong Kong when dealing with China, but that is a quite separate issue.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I recognise that the noble Lord does not regard the situation of Tibet as analogous to that of Lithuania. However, does he accept that Tibet has been occupied by China since 1949? That is even more recent than the Soviet Union's occupation of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, my understanding is that Tibet was brought under Chinese control during the Qing dynasty between 1644 and 1911. That goes back rather further than 1949.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, does the noble Lord recognise that the situation changed radically in 1949? The policies pursued by the Chinese Government since then have been severe, verging on genocide.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, we believe that dialogue between the Tibetans and Chinese offers the best hope of a solution to the problem. We have encouraged the Chinese Government to engage in a dialogue and we have also raised with the Chinese the question of human rights abuses in Tibet and throughout China.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept, in relation to the answer given to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, that the Minister has described the Chinese version of history which bears no relation to anyone else's version? Is the Minister aware that delegates from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia—three of the 40 countries attending the consultation on self-determination for Tibet in London this weekend—have all come specifically to support the Tibetan claim to self-determination? They therefore see the relationship which apparently escapes the Minister.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, that is up to them.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the position of the Dalai Lama is not wholly different from that of Mandela?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, that is a different Question.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, is the Minister aware that his right honourable friend the Prime Minister is on record as having said that the only reason that she is not receiving the Dalai Lama is for fear of offending the Chinese? She is taking that course not because he is the head of a refugee government but because she wishes to practise appeasement. Is the Minister aware that appeasement in this sense has never worked and will have no effect upon the Chinese? What recent protests have the Government made against the behaviour of China? Even that country's own government admits that Tibet is totally autonomous.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am not aware of the comments which the noble Lord attributes to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. As I have said, we are not appeasing China by our policy. We have made representations to the Chinese about the human rights abuses in Tibet and throughout China. My honourable friend who is to visit China shortly will once again make those representations.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it was because of the appalling oppression by the Chinese in Tibet that the people of Hong Kong began to get extremely worried about our agreement to hand over Hong Kong to China? Therefore it is of the utmost importance to bear down upon Peking in the knowledge that the worse the Chinese behave in Tibet the worse their relations with Hong Kong will be.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, we urge the Chinese to behave better as regards their own citizens, particularly in the context of the events of last June. If that were to happen, it would be a good way of restoring confidence in Hong Kong.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that Britain's interest in Tibet arises from the former existence of our Indian empire and that we have no possibility of affecting events there? The only powerful adjacent country is India. Is it not undesirable that we should raise hopes of self-determination in a people for whom we can, alas, do nothing?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, it is certainly true that when India obtained its independence in 1947 Her Majesty's Government relinquished all rights and responsibilities in Tibet as set out in the treaties between China and Tibet. The new government of India assumed those rights and responsibilities.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Government need to be careful in their pronouncements vis-à-vis the relationship between the Baltic republics and the USSR because of the delicate relationship between Ireland, Scotland and Wales vis-à-vis the United Kingdom?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, having heard the speech of the noble Lord in the Hong Kong debate last Friday, I think it is unlikely that I would agree with much of what he has said.

Lord Shaughnessy

My Lords, what facilities and friendly associations are being encouraged by Her Majesty's Government in respect of the large number of Tibetans, particularly Tibetan Buddhists, who are settled in this country, to perhaps give them some encouragement about ever returning to their homeland?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am not aware of the problem which the noble Lord raised. However, I shall find out about it and write to him.