HL Deb 26 February 1991 vol 526 cc930-68

7.26 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in the light of the growing recognition of people's right to peaceful self-determination, they will be receiving His Holiness The Dalai Lama during his forthcoming visit to London.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, 14 months ago my noble friend Lord Mersey raised the matter of Tibet in this House asking whether, in view of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Her Majesty's Government would ask the People's Republic of China to modify its behaviour towards the people of Tibet. I note that a number of noble Lords who spoke on that occasion are here this evening. I believe that they will agree with me that the Government's answer was rather disappointing, falling back on the tired old formula that any meeting between a Minister of Her Majesty's Government and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, "would be open to misinterpretation".

The Dalai Lama is coming to this country in March Therefore, I make no apology for asking whether the Government have reconsidered their position in the light of events since the last debate. The world has changed remarkably since that time. For the first time for half a century, the countries of Central Europe are electing their own democratic governments. Germany has united in accordance with its people's wishes. Even in Albania—the last totalitarian regime in Europe—the communist regime is crumbling; while the people of the Baltic states are struggling to gain the right to determine their own destiny A small nation, Kuwait, has been invaded by its much larger neighbour. The Government's reaction to that invasion has been prompt and decisive.

Meanwhile, what of Tibet? Six months after our last debate martial law, which had been imposed in March 1989, was lifted. We hoped that that would lead to some real relaxation of the oppressive regime in Tibet. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The lifting of martial law was a cosmetic and politically opportune exercise. I wonder whether it was mere coincidence that martial law was lifted shortly before the United States Government were due to make their decision on whether to renew China's most favoured nation status.

The Gulf war, almost too neat a parallel with China's invasion of Tibet, has naturally taken what limelight there was off the activities of the Chinese governing forces in Tibet. The lifting of martial law has been a sham. The army marched out of one door to be replaced through another door by the paramilitary armed police units. Religious persecution continues unabated. Dissident monks are expelled from their monasteries and made to work on the land—shades of Pol Pot. Possession of the Tibetan flag can be a capital offence and new laws have been passed making it yet more difficult for Tibetans to demonstrate peacefully against Chinese oppression in their own land.

The example of one young Tibetan, an 18 year old schoolboy, Lhakpa Tsering, may alert your Lordships to what is now happening inside Tibet. This boy was arrested in November 1989 for the major crime of putting up posters in his school asserting Tibet's right to independence. In December his body was returned to his family; his death was caused by torture and beating. A letter dated 20th February and signed by 30 US Senators has been sent to the premier of China, Li Peng, asking for a full and impartial investigation into the circumstances of his death. I hope that our Government also will inquire into the matter. The Government must not be misled into swallowing the Chinese line that stability has returned to Tibet. Stability in this context simply means a very effective crackdown on the freedom of expression.

While the Tibetans' right to protest against the religious and political stranglehold of the Chinese is cruelly limited, the absorption of Tibet into the People's Republic of China continues unabated. As late as 1950 there were a mere handful of Chinese in Tibet, probably under 100 in the whole country. While China's alteration of Tibet's borders has made it difficult to deal exactly with numbers, by best estimates there are at least 7 million Han Chinese in Greater Tibet today. In Lhasa, the sacred city and home of the Dalai Lama, Tibetans are now in the minority of the population.

Educationally Tibetans are at a disadvantage. Most secondary education is in Chinese, as are all university examinations. Tibetans are held back by the requirement to learn Chinese at the secondary level. The Chinese solution is to cream off the most promising students and send them to China for the whole of their secondary education, which lasts for seven years and has the necessary consequence of these people losing their Tibetan identity.

If that situation continues there will soon not be any Tibet for us to help. The Dalai Lama who is to visit in March could well be the last Dalai Lama. The fear of becoming a disregarded and disenfranchised minority in their own country has been forcefully expressed by Tibetans inside Tibet and by the many Tibetans in exile. I believe that China has a long history of absorbing independent peoples. The Tibetans are determined not to become yet another historical statistic swamped by Han Chinese.

The principal point we should bear in mind is that, prior to the Chinese invasion of 1950, Tibet was an independent country. It was a fully functional state. It had its own religion, race, language, army and mint and issued its own passports. Successive British Governments recognised Tibet's de facto independence. We have had treaty relations with Tibet going back to the Simla Convention of 1914, and from 1910 the British Government treated Tibet as an independent state with which they have had treaty and diplomatic relations.

In a note to the Chinese Foreign Minister in 1943 Sir Anthony Eden put the British Government's position perfectly clearly—that Tibet had enjoyed de facto independence since 1910 and that Britain was in treaty relations with Tibet. Britain was nonetheless ready to accept that China had suzerainty over Tibet —and this is important—conditional on China's acceptance of Tibetan autonomy. This makes it crystal clear that Britain equated autonomy with de facto independence. This was repeated in November 1950 by the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, Mr. Ernest Davies, who in reply to a Question in another place on China and Tibet stated: For many years this Chinese suzerainty has been no more than nominal, and indeed, since 1911 Tibet has enjoyed de facto independence".—[Official Report, Commons, 6/11/50: col. 602.]

Further, when Tibet was invaded by China in 1950 and appealed to the United Nations, the Foreign Office told its representative at the United Nations that Tibet had the necessary qualifications as a state under the UN Charter to make such an appeal. However, tragically for Tibet, political expediency dictated that we should not help Tibet in its hour of need. On the spurious grounds that Tibet's legal position was in doubt, the Government declined to support the Tibetan appeal, which was then dropped, allowing China to proceed in its rape of Tibet unchecked by any international restraints.

We sold Tibet short then. I am convinced that the present Government, with their clear commitment to supporting victims of aggression, will not allow history to repeat itself. By way of encouragement, if any is needed, I remind your Lordships that both Conservative and Labour Governments have backed United Nations resolutions in 1961 and 1965 which clearly supported Tibet's right to self-determination.

The Government must stand firm on those commitments and above all not allow themselves to be coerced into conceding that what the Tibetans have now is in any sense autonomy as we understand it. The power of government in the so-called autonomous region of Tibet is entirely in the hands of the Chinese or of their nominees, with only token Tibetan representation to rubber-stamp decisions taken on their behalf.

I hope that the Government will make it clear that they recognise the right of Tibetans to determine their own future, particularly as we have so clearly nailed our colours to the mast of freedom elsewhere. The Government strongly condemned the use of force in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. They have repeatedly insisted that the people of the Baltic States should be able freely to decide their own destiny, while we are now fighting for the second time in eight years to liberate a small territory invaded by a larger, greedy and ambitious neighbour.

Of course we all recognise the wish of the British Government to remain on good terms with China, particularly in view of the hand-over of power in Hong Kong in 1997. Who can argue with that? However, those good relations should be based on mutual respect and not bought at the expense of concessions elsewhere. As the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, said in our last debate on Tibet in regard to appeasement, It never works. It has never worked in history and it will not work now". [Official Report, 13/12/89; col. 1377.]

Standing up for Tibetans and their legitimate aims will send the right signals to the people of Hong Kong who have consistently wished for us to back them up rather than back down. "Linkage" is not a word that has found favour recently with world statesmen; the Tibetan issue should be decided on its own merits.

I am encouraged therefore to note that the Dalai Lama on his visit here next month will be received by the Speaker, by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and by His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester. It would surely be the ideal opportunity for my noble friend Lord Caithness to meet the Dalai Lama in his capacity as a Nobel Peace Prize winner. I hope that my noble friend Lord Reay will be able to tell us whether consideration will be given to arranging such a meeting. Were he to agree to the meeting he would be in good company, as during the past two years the Dalai Lama has been received by the King of Norway and the Norwegian Prime Minister on the occasion of his Nobel Prize award; he was received by President Havel of Czechoslovakia; he had a private meeting with President Weizsäcker of the newly united Germany, as well as official meetings with Ministers in France, Belgium, Holland and Sweden.

Your Lordships may be interested to hear that in December the Australian Senate expressed unanimous support for the right of Tibetans to self-determination. I need hardly add that China protested about that, brutal interference in China's internal affairs".

The message is that the Tibet issue will not go away. It is firmly on the international agenda and will remain so. It is surely right that we regain the courage of our convictions over Tibet and give due regard to the legitimate claim of the Tibetans to determine their own future and that of their country.

Tibet alone among dispossessed nations has never resorted to violence. The Tibetans heeded the advice and example of their leader, the Dalai Lama, to pursue the path of peaceful persuasion rather than that of the bullet and the bomb. But I wonder how long this can go on. Anger and frustration are building up both inside Tibet and among Tibetans in exile at the deaf ear turned worldwide to their peaceful arguments. Radical Tibetans are aware that bloodshed makes news and that violence gets headlines. It must make sense to tackle this issue now before another explosion that will cost yet more lives and more misery. The British Government, with their historic link with Tibet and their record of commitment to freedom and self-determination, are ideally placed to be the catalyst for such a move.

Finally, I ask the Government to look afresh at Tibet, perhaps from a different perspective. Who would have forecast only two years ago that the Berlin Wall would crumble, that we would have a united Germany, that Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Romania would have their own democratically elected governments and that the Baltic states would become independent? The only certainty is that there are no certainties. The political ideologies and boundaries which we have come to know no longer seem so secure either in Europe or in Asia. The winds of change are blowing even in the Himalayas.

7.51 p.m.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, the whole House will want to thank the noble Lord for introducing this debate today and to say how encouraging it is to see so many noble Lords on both sides of the House taking part. I believe that what the noble Lord has said in his outstanding speech will be heard in many countries by Tibetans who are themselves yearning for freedom. I believe that this message will be read by many in Tibet itself. I congratulate the noble Lord.

Some might have said that this is perhaps not the best time to hold such a debate. All eyes are turned on the Gulf. All of us are hoping and praying that the conflict will soon be over and that after six or seven months the people of Kuwait will be able to rebuild their own country. Tibet has survived, not six or seven months of occupation and brutality, but 41 years of cruel occupation. It is a remarkable tribute to the spirit of the people themselves that the concept of Tibet, its language, culture, religion, history and self-esteem, is still alive. The tribute which we pay to those in the Gulf who stood up for their own country is equally a tribute to those brave Tibetans who stood up for their own cause and have suffered as a consequence. It is also a tribute to the leadership of his Holiness the Dalai Lama, whom this country will have the great privilege of receiving. It is the first time that he has been here since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He is the unchallenged leader of his people, recognised not only overseas but by China itself. He will arrive in Britain at a time of growing support not only for his cause, but for that of the United Nations, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, has said, has on three occasions condemned the Chinese occupation and denial of human rights. Two of those occasions established quite clearly by big majorities Tibet's right to self-determination. Now it is a right enshrined in international law.

One would have thought that the red carpet would have been put out for this great man, as it has been put out for him in other parts of the world. I have been to some of those countries where presidents have received his Holiness the Dalai Lama and thousands of people have flocked into the streets because they see him as a symbol not just of freedom, liberty and justice, but of compassion, gentleness and many of the qualities which the world most desperately needs.

But there will be no red carpet. Regrettably, the Prime Minister concluded that it would not be right for him to meet the Dalai Lama. To be fair to the Prime Minister, a very courteous letter was sent, which was also sent to me. The Prime Minister is new in his office and he has many other preoccupations at the present time. I believe too that the decision was not taken by the Prime Minister but by the Foreign Office. It is a decision which is deeply to be deplored and it is one taken by the Foreign Office largely as a result of a policy of appeasement of China. We never appeased the Soviet Union during those long years of Soviet oppression. We always said that our attitude towards the Soviet Union would be based on the extent to which it respected the human rights of its own people. Why do we not say the same to the people of China? I believe that it would cut far more ice and carry far more weight in Hong Kong and around the world were we to treat China in the same way.

Those who have studied the history of Tibet over the past 1300 years—and I do not include myself among them—will know that there have been times when Tibet has conquered and occupied large areas of China itself. There have been times when it has repulsed invasion not only from China but from Nepal and from Britain itself at the time of the Younghusband expedition. But at no time has Tibet ever conceded the right of any nation to control its territory or to usurp its right to self-determination and independence. As was said by the noble Lord, the tragedy is that since 1950 Britain has connived in accepting China's occupation of Tibet.

There is no question but that before the invasion Britain regarded Tibet as having all the rights of a fully independent state. By agreements made in 1914, 1921 and 1943, Britain accepted Tibet's right to absolute internal freedom to conduct its own external relations with other states, to conclude treaties and trade agreements and to receive diplomatic representation. The last British representative in Lhasa, Mr. Hugh Richardson, is still alive today. He was in the Foreign Service and he has stated: The Government of Lhasa with which I dealt"— That was for the nine years between 1936 and 1950— was beyond question in complete control of its own affairs, dealing directly with the Government of India in such matters as frontier disputes, trade questions, supply of arms and ammunition and so on. There was no Chinese participation whatever in such matters and no reference to them, nor were they informed. In all practical matters the Tibetans were independent". It is a sad thing that it is now being pretended, not just by China but by people in this country, that somehow or other Tibet has never had complete independence. There were statements by Ernest Davies, a dear friend of mine when he was alive, who was at the Foreign Office, and by Anthony Eden. The Dalai Lama was also received by the Prime Minister of the day, Mr. Clement Attlee, who received a trade delegation which arrived with its own passports as representatives of an independent state.

After all that has happened since the Chinese invasion in 1950 on the orders of Chairman Mao, a programme of brutal annihilation of life, property, monasteries, shrines and schools during the cultural revolution, a continued cruel denial of human rights, documented clearly by Amnesty International, and a calculated form of cultural genocide have been undertaken in an attempt to destroy the Tibetan language and traditions and to make them a minority in their own country. After all that one might have imagined that the powers that be in Britain would have wanted to give support and encouragement to the forces of good in Tibet. Unhappily, no, it is the forces of totalitarianism which seem to command the support of those who make policy.

It is not only a rewriting of history which seems to prevail—the Chinese themselves are very good at that—but an extraordinary distortion of the concept of self-determination and independence. I point out to the Minister who is to reply to the debate that during our earlier debate, speaking from the Government Front Bench, he said: We believe that all peoples have the right to self-determination". So far so good. But he then said: We do not believe that independence for Tibet is a realistic proposal".—[Official Report, 13/12/89; col. 1384.] There may be others here who think just the same. But what is self-determination if it means no more than, "You can have self-determination but only on the basis that I want"? If the one single thing you want is independence, self-determination is an absolutely meaningless phrase.

Is it suggested that there is some self-determination and autonomy for the Tibetan people in Tibet today? I can state from my own experience that they live the lives of slaves. Would those who deny this apply the same principle to South Africa: the right to self-determination but not the right to choose, with one man one vote? Would they concede to the Baltic States the right to self-determination, but not if they chose to break away from the Soviet Union? I suppose that it it might have been argued by the Iraqis that Kuwait could have the right to self-determination provided that it chose to be the 19th region of Iraq. Thank heavens that story is now almost ended.

It is really distasteful to hear British Ministers speaking up in this unprincipled way. Self-determination is a right under international law. It means the right of Tibet as a separate people, with its own history of centuries of freedom, to determine its own future. No one chooses slavery. No one chooses subjugation or the denial of human rights.

The Prime Minister, in his very courteous letter to me of 13th February, said: The Dalai Lama's aspirations for self-determination for Tibet have not been endorsed by any other government". It was a most extraordinary statement. As the noble Viscount has said, 56 countries, including Britain, the United States and all our colleagues in Western Europe, voted for a resolution which, in 1961 and again in 1965, stated quite specifically that Tibet had the right to self-determination. So we are one of the countries representing exactly that right.

In the Gulf men and women are laying down their lives in support of UN resolutions relating to Iraq's unacceptable occupation of Kuwait. What about China's unacceptable occupation of Tibet, already condemned by UN resolutions? We cannot pick and choose what self-determination means. I do not believe that we can say, "Right, we will go to war. We will risk our lives for those UN resolutions because they relate to the Gulf. But we will do nothing at all about those similar resolutions which say that Tibet has a right to its own self-determination". Do the Government accept Tibet's right to self-determination? I hope they will say that they do.

Perhaps I may make one other point before sitting down. In his letter to me the Prime Minister said: I do not want to lose sight in all this of our main concern—a better deal for the Tibetan people. We have been talking to the Chinese regularly about Tibet". It is a very powerful statement that, regularly, Britain has been talking to China about Tibet. What have we been saying? I do not know. I hope the Minister will say. What information do the Government have about the Tibetans' view about the future of Tibet? If they are not in consultation with Tibetans about how Tibet can have a better future, then the moment is coming next month. Of course the noble Lord is right that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, should take the opportunity. Who better and what better moment to have a discussion with the Dalai Lama in order that he can find out? We are dealing, as the noble Lord said, with an issue which is arousing increasing interest in your Lordships' House, elsewhere and around the world. It is an issue that will not go away. It is well timed. Between now and 17th March, when his Holiness arrives in London, there is time for the Prime Minister—perhaps the war will be over and he will have a little more time—to receive his Holiness and do him the honour he deserves, and for the Foreign Secretary and his Foreign Office colleague to do him the honour he deserves. If we decide what should be the future of Tibet without consulting the people of Tibet, what have we learnt in all our long history? This is the moment for consultation with a man of peace. With a man of such a reputation coming here, we should seize the moment with both hands, as we will in your Lordships' House. No doubt the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will preside at that meeting, but let the Government, politically, treat this as a serious visit.

8.5 p.m.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, we have heard two powerful speeches. I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, on bringing forward this subject. It is a subject which we should discuss. I do not pretend to have been to Tibet. I have been as far as Nepal, and when one is there one sees a lot of Tibetans. One can tell them very easily because people who live at 18,000 feet have their faces covered in a certain way which distinguishes them sharply from those who are born and brought up at a rather lower altitude.

As I said, this is an important subject with which we must deal. Tibet is an interesting country which, in its day, had its kings. Not only that, it defeated the Chinese and captured their capital. That is quite an interesting point. They were not small people at all. They took over their religion from the other side of their land, from India. They developed this religion in a very remarkable way. This is an extremely interesting body of people, difficult as they are to get to. They are not an easy people to get to.

One question is to my mind very important. I shall put it rather bluntly. How does one re-educate the Chinese? The Chinese have had a most unhappy history. Nowhere have violence and vigour been more widely exercised than in China. This was probably going on during the life time of the noble Lord. Until the beginning of this century medieval practices went on. They have had about three revolutions since that time which have brought about change, but they still have a long way to go. It is the quality of their style which makes the difference.

How do we deal with this matter? I am not sure. I think it is perfectly fair for the Prime Minister to meet the Dalai Lama. He is a unique man. There is no-one like him in the world. He is both a political and religious leader of his people and stands quite alone in his dedication to either subject. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, I do not suppose that he has studied politics as closely as the Dalai Lama has studied religion. This is unique: a man who is not striving for power or anything of that kind; he is merely a standard of conduct.

What I am coming to is this. We are going through a changing world. We in this country and people elsewhere have to adapt to a changing world. It is our duty—and other noble Lords may say this too—to help the Chinese to come into a new world. It is all very well to live at the top of the Himalayas. The Tibetans were all alone, but now we can talk to them on the telephone. They can fly out of their country. Aeroplanes can go all round it. This is a new world to which all of us will have to adapt ourselves bit by bit. I think that we can help the Chinese. It will take a long time for them to bring themselves into the modern world. It is important that we should help them to do so and I believe we are doing that.

The Chinese are very powerful people. I am very fond of them. I lived with Chinese people for three or four years and I think they are wonderful. But they are very dogmatic. They have very strong views of themselves and of the world. The legacy remains that they are the centre of the world and that all of us here and elsewhere are no more than visitors coming to see the major country. That idea dies hard in the Chinese. All I can say is that, on the whole, we have made fairly good friends with them and we can help them. Although they might complain if the Prime Minister shook hands with the Dalai Lama, I do not think they would go very far with it.

I believe that the noble Lord made a worthwhile point: we must teach the Chinese that this is a new world in which we have to work hard and which we must try to understand. I think that they will understand because they are a very intelligent people. Of course, as I said, they are pretty dogmatic in their views but in time they will learn.

The people of Tibet should not be allowed to suffer. Indeed, it would be quite wrong if that were to continue to happen. Of course, this is a matter which should be referred to the United Nations. The essential job of that organisation is to look after us—that is, everyone—during the 21st century so that we have no more dictators. We do not want any more dictators; indeed, we have had quite enough of them already this century. That should be our cry to the united Nations. I can count at least a dozen of them and it is possible that there may have been more. I hope that this has been a valuable debate.

8.10 p.m.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, like other noble Lords I am moat grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, for having raised the matter again and for doing it so eloquently. After hearing his speech and that of the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, it may seem extraordinary that anything more should need to be said, bearing in mind that we went over this ground not so long ago. Moreover, as the noble Lord so rightly reminded us, the only answer that the Government gave previously was that they thought that if they did the right thing it might be misunderstood.

We have learnt from previous speakers that the Chinese are engaged in exterminating the ancient civilisation of which the Dalai Lama is the head. Indeed, the atrocities and oppression continue to take place in the area. It seems quite amazing that the British Government should appear to connive in such actions. Of course we know why that is so. It is appeasement.

The noble Earl said that we are living in a changing world. That is indeed the case. A new spirit of self-determination is rising in the world. That is one way in which the world is changing. However, in some ways the world does not seem to have changed enough. Everything that has been said by the Government about their refusal to meet the Dalai Lama has been said before. Indeed, it was said before the last war. I well remember people saying, "We must be nice to Ribbentrop because the Germans are changing their nature. It is not our business that he is persecuting the Jews and is about to invade Europe. We must be nice to him. British interests and trade demand it". Many people were taken in by that view. Now we have appeasement again. It is of course nothing but appeasement, as I said previously and as the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby, pointed out.

If it were not for Hong Kong, there is no question but that the British Government would have received the Dalai Lama and ceased to make placatory noises about the extraordinary invasion of Tibet and the treatment of its people. As I said, it is appeasement.

In my view appeasement will not work. It has not worked in the past and it will not work now. Further, it does this country a great deal of harm not only so far as concerns our moral standing but also in practical ways. Let us take, for example, the position of the IRA. We hope to combat the IRA by weaning people away from the idea of violence being the only way of righting grievances. The Tibetan people have far greater grievances than the IRA, but as yet they have shown no violence. They are indeed a non-violent people. However, what thanks do they get for that? All that happens is that nations such as ourselves keep them at arm's length, despite the fact that other nations have received the Dalai Lama.

Let us take also the example of the Middle East. If at the end of the war over Kuwait we come to agree on any sort of peace, it is essential that we do so with clean hands and do not appear to act differently when our own interests are involved than when international matters of freedom and self-determination are involved. It will do us no good whatever to attempt to appease now, any more than it did before the war.

Of course the Dalai Lama has no votes in this country. He has no concessions to offer and he represents a civilisation which is far removed in certain respects from that of our own country. But the principles he stands for mean something to the world. Britain should stand for what is best in the values of the world and not simply for material short-term advantage. I do not believe that we should receive any short-term advantage. It is probably quite wrong to think that the Chinese will be in the least influenced by the fact that we have not received the Dalai Lama. Therefore, at the end of the day, if we still refuse to receive him and discuss with him the troubles experienced by his civilisation and his country, Britain will be the loser. The Dalai Lama's reputation will not suffer as a result but Britain's reputation will. Moreover, I believe that our material interests will also suffer.

8.15 p.m.

Lord MacLehose of Beoch

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord for introducing this subject and congratulate him on the eloquence and care with which he delivered his speech. I wish to intervene in the debate by expressing the rather unpopular view that I believe the Prime Minister was right in the line he took in his reply to the noble Lord, Lord Ennals.

We have an old historical association with Tibet. The personal interests of many people, of scholars and more latterly of many tourists, have continued our interest in Tibet since we left India. It has a fascination for us. I know the allure of Central Asia. I visited the Panchen Lama when he was a boy of only eight in a lamasery which had 5,000 lamas. It was like going back to the Middle Ages. Indeed, the smell of rancid butter still makes me nostalgic. I realise the unattractiveness of being prudently political or "protocolaire" about anything Tibetan. Somehow or other, Tibet seems slightly out of this world; but of course it is not so, as certain noble Lords have already said.

His Holiness is universally respected for what he has done and for what he is. In any event, he will be meeting the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, the Speaker of another place and His Highness the Duke of Gloucester in his personal and religious capacity. Why, therefore, should he not also meet the Prime Minister?

Before dismissing that point as being petty protocol, I suggest that we reconsider what happens in other countries to which reference has been made. Such references were, if I may say so, somewhat selective. It seems to me that other governments receive the Dalai Lama in a reverse level to their practical interests in Asia. I believe I am right in saying that he is not received by Ministers in the United States, in Japan, in India or in Nepal. However, he has been received at Foreign Minister level by some of our European partners, as has already been said this evening. The question is whether we should realign with, say, France and Germany in that practice. I hope that we do not do so. I believe that any change in policy would be regarded by China and by the Tibetans—I am especially concerned about the Tibetan people—as an act of state.

I do not wish to pursue the historical analyses which have been made this evening about Britain's recognition or non-recognition of Tibet as an independent country. We all know that there were odd factors which no longer exist about the relationship which arose because of our responsibility for India. However, the fact remains that Tibet has never been internationally recognised as independent. But if the Dalai Lama were to be received by the Prime Minister, it would be regarded by China as a small but gratuitous move in the encouragement of independence. Moreover, in Tibet its practical implications could well be exaggerated and misunderstood.

Of course there is enormous sympathy for the dalais and people of Tibet over the terrible things that have happened to them. However, I do not believe that the reception of the Dalai by the Prime Minister would assist the greater observance of human rights by China in Tibet or anywhere else. Those rights are best pursued by us bilaterally with China, as they have been, and as the Prime Minister said in his reply to the noble Lord. I was fascinated by what the noble Lord said about China in a changing world, and I should like to reply were it not for the fact that this would then be a completely different speech.

I shall confine myself to the argument that, unless the United Kingdom stands up to Chinese activities in Tibet and disregards Chinese sensitivities over reception of the Dalai in the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom would not stand up to China over any of its activities in Hong Kong. The noble Lord implied that, and the same point has been made by other noble Lords this evening. They are completely different cases.

Our position over Hong Kong, what happens in Hong Kong now and what will happen after 1997, are defined in considerable detail in a bilateral agreement. The United Kingdom has a special obligation to ensure that the provisions of that agreement are kept. The implementation of that joint declaration is the most important element in present Sino-British relations. In the case of Tibet we have no such standing. If we were to take any form of political action in respect of it or do something that could be understood to be political action, we should be open to misunderstanding and resentment, to no one's benefit.

The future of Tibet, difficult as it now seems, is best pursued in talks among the Tibetans, the Dalai and the Chinese Government. They have been proposed in the past but have never been realised latterly. I hope that the Dalai's visit here will be a success and that he will receive the attention that he so clearly merits. I suggest that it is neither necessary nor prudent to inject a political element into it.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether his attention has been drawn to last week's leader in the Asian Wall Street Journal published in Hong Kong in which it is said: It would be a reassuring sign for oppressed people anywhere and for Hong Kong's people as they look to their future, were Mr. Major to meet with the Dalai Lama—with the full acknowledgment that Tibet's spiritual leader also happens to represent the kind of freedom that has always been denied to anyone unfortunate enough to fall under the rule of China's Communists". I have no doubt that the noble Lord will agree that there are two views in relation to the effect on and attitude of Hong Kong.

Lord MacLehose of Beoch

My Lord, I did not see that article. I agree that there could be two views, but the prudent one, and the one held by the people there I respect most, is the one that I have put forward this evening.

8.24 p m.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, spoke with his great authority derived from wide experience. I listened with great respect, as I am sure did other noble Lords, to what he had to say. I agreed with much of it, although I too will take an independent line in the debate. My view is that we should distinguish between calls for Tibetan independence and for the showing of the respect which is due to the Dalai Lama. I do not necessarily say that the two have a single objective. I am grateful, as are other noble Lords, to my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke for giving us the opportunity to consider these important matters, for such I believe them to be.

Anyone who has even cursorily studied the history of Tibet will recognise its incredible complexity. Through most of its history it has been under some form of hierarchical monastic or aristocratic rule. The people of Tibet have been kept down. There is little which represents democracy to be found in Tibetan history. I do not see Tibet's past through rose-tinted spectacles as representing a period of beauty, tranquillity, calm or liberality, because it certainly was not.

One feature stands out from that history: almost throughout its entire period, there has been some form of link with China—be it with Mongol or Han; Kuomintan or the Communists in Beijing. That link has been described as similar to the relationship of nephew to uncle. Whatever terms are used, today the relationship is much more that of the walnut being brutally crushed under the heel of the aggressor.

In the past, China has invariably taken the view that it should leave alone and undisturbed the political, social and religious practices of Tibet. However, more recently it has taken the opposite view. It has been pursuing a policy, which, far from leaving the people of Tibet to carry on according to their own customs unmolested, is clearly intended to exterminate the very identity of Tibet itself. It has been, and still is, a horrendously brutal exercise of naked power.

I hope that if no other message goes out from the debate today, it will at least be clear that all of us deeply regret, and take the strongest exception to, the policy and brutality of Communist China. China has recently been promoting the introduction of Chinese people into Tibet to make it clear to all concerned that Tibet is part of the greater China. I do not want to press the case for independence; I want to press the case for proper regional autonomy within China. I do that, not because I wish to interfere in matters which are properly the concern of the Chinese authorities, but because I have a great interest, as do other noble Lords, in the future of Hong Kong after 1997. What China does in Tibet matters because it could indicate the sort of attitude that it will bring to bear in Hong Kong. I hope that what China has been doing in Tibet in no way implies that that is likely to be its attitude towards Hong Kong after 1997. I have confidence enough to believe that that will not be the case for in any event that would be strongly against Chinese interests. More than that, China has signed an agreement with the United Kingdom Government, and I would expect it to abide by the terms of that agreement. It is important for confidence in Hong Kong between now and 1997 that China shows a more human face to Tibet, for that will be noticed in Hong Kong, and it will be reassuring. China has nothing to fear from Tibet. It has everything to gain from being reasonable and responsible in its conduct in the affairs of the autonomous region of Tibet.

The Dalai Lama is a man of quite exceptional merit. I have not had the honour of meeting him but, like others, I have seen him on television. I have read what he has been saying, and I have come to hold him in the greatest possible esteem. He personifies all that is good. He is in every sense the ambassador for peace, and more than anyone I know, he points the way to proper civilised conduct in the relationship between nations. It is in that capacity that he should be received by Her Majesty's Government.

8.33 p.m.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, whatever the answer from Her Majesty's Government this evening, we all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke not only for putting down the Question but also for painting a graphic and descriptive picture of the situation in Tibet today and as it has been in the past. As to the facts about Tibet, there is little that any of us can add. The picture has been graphically described and forms the basis of our discussion.

Many historical parallels have been raised. We think of the aspirations of the Tibetan people for self-determination. We see in other parts of the world the enormous problems that have arisen precisely because self-determination has not been allowed to certain sectors of the population. The Tibetans have the right to decide how they shall be governed and the internal laws that will govern them.

I should like to refer to a speech that his Holiness the Dalai Lama made when I had the honour, with a fellow MEP, to invite him to the European Parliament. He made the speech before a press conference of 300 people. I was told that there had never been a press conference like it. Never had there been so many journalists, and never had so much attention been given to one man. Yet here was a simple monk in his robes addressing the people of Europe. The atmosphere in the Parliament that day—and this was the view of everyone; the secretaries, interpreters and indeed people at all levels—was totally changed by the presence of that one man. It was remarkable how his goodness, his beliefs, his simplicity and his humility shone through.

Incidentally, the speech was printed in the reports of the United States Congress. It was textually repeated. The Dalai Lama made a great offer saying "I do not claim that we should demand to have the right to decide our own defence and foreign policy". He said he would be prepared to leave that to the People's Republic of China and its government. But what he would demand was the autonomy of the Tibetans to look after their own internal affairs, very much along the lines of what my noble friend Lord Eden has been adumbrating —the idea that there should be autonomous regions but that the peoples of those regions would decide for themselves the kind of government that they would have.

Another point that must be made is that when the Dalai Lama was asked, "Are you intending to go back to Tibet?", he said, "No, I do not want to go back as a great leader of people". I am quoting him verbatim. He said, "I am a simple monk. I have no wife and I have no children. What happens to me is nobody's concern. It does not matter. My concern is the suffering of my people and the treatment of my people in Tibet, and for this I will give my life".

That is his attitude. He is not a great political leader expecting red carpets wherever he goes; quite the reverse. That is why I think the Prime Minister should receive him, not because he sets himself up as a great world leader but because of the fact that he does not. That is a very strong argument for his being received at any level in this country.

Following his visit to the European Parliament, as the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, mentioned, although not in that particular context, China offered to have talks with the Dalai Lama because it thought there was something in his speech that could have been a basis for future negotiation. But it made the conditions so totally unacceptable and impossible that the talks have not taken place so far.

The letter that the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, referred to, which he received from the Prime Minister—a perfectly proper letter, if I may put it like that—said that no government has recognised this government in exile. But who recognised the Baltic states five years ago? Let us remember that history changes matters. As my noble friend Lord Selkirk pointed out so graphically, many areas of the world are changing dramatically. There may well be a change in China. We should not disregard events today; there is a possibility for the future.

I should like to raise the question of relations between the United Kingdom and China. I do not wish to go into the question of Hong Kong because that is a very special point —the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, is a real expert in that field—but I suggest that it is in the universal interest that the economic and social development of China should be encouraged and helped by the nations of the world. It does not help to deny economic or technological aid. When China shows that it has modified its treatment of people, whether they be Tibetans or its own people —let us remember that the brutal treatment of its own people is as bad as the treatment that we have seen in Tibet—and when its government is not so centralised and so dominated by the military, I believe we should give more aid. Throughout the history of the world we have seen that there is a guarantee of the observance of human rights only in societies where there is no poverty and where there is economic and social development and a democratic system of government. That is an area where the United Kingdom could make a contribution —I do not say alone. But certainly, these are the lines along which the Western industrial world should go in relation to China. I do not believe that denying aid to China is of any help whatever.

There are other issues of mutual concern which are of universal interest to which I do not believe noble Lords have referred. There is the question of the environment. As many of us know, terrible things are happening in Tibet such as the denudation of forests and the dumping of nuclear waste, causing massive water pollution in the great rivers that flow from Tibet through the Yangtze and the Ganges, and there is air pollution from nuclear waste. In his remarkably modest and humble autobiography called Freedom in Exile, the Dalai Lama says: If we unbalance Nature, humankind will suffer. Furthermore, as people alive today, we must consider future generations: a clean environment is a human right like any other". This kind of thinking of the Dalai Lama is fundamental to the continuity of a safe and free world. As his Holiness prepares his visit to this country, I wish to express my thanks to the Speaker in another place and to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor for meeting him and receiving him in the great spirit of welcome of which I know they are capable. Remarkably enough, they are both deeply religious and when they meet the Dalai Lama they cannot fail to feel his deep religious presence. The only people who will lose are those who do not meet him.

8.41 p.m.

The Earl of Buchan

My Lords, I wish to express my strongest gratitude and support to the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, for raising this subject. Before turning to the main part of my speech perhaps I may take up two points made by the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose. He referred to rancid butter and nostalgia. I too remember rancid butter, but nostalgia is not the only thing that comes to mind when I think of it.

The noble Lord's point about Chinese resentment must be overridden and dealt with. The cause of the Dalai Lama in Tibet is greater than the mere matter of Chinese resentment. The noble Lord, Lord Eden, referred to democracy in Tibet: no doubt there has not been much democracy in Tibet, but there has not been much democracy in Asia until recently, and in the Middle Ages we were not particularly democratic. I am not sure who is talking about democracy in Tibet's history. A further point made by the noble Lord concerned linkage with China. The first linkage was in 1761 when China invaded Tibet—some linkage. That linkage is not popular nowadays, quite rightly.

Therefore I still believe that there are no better causes than that of this holy, spiritual and temporal leader of an ill-treated people—the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans. Furthermore, unlike the previous subject on which I spoke in this House, the environment, where the broader the sentiments expressed and the more disastrous the apparent consequences of not doing this, that or the other, the more powerless one felt, here the Government can, simply by acknowledging the Dalai Lama, by officially receiving him, do both good and a right deed. There seem to be so few opportunities these days for the Government to do both good and right deeds which cost nothing that it is surprising that on those grounds alone they do not seize the God-given opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama

I was somewhat puzzled by the mysterious ways of government. I am perfectly aware, and emphasise, that this Administration had nothing to do with the matter, but I recollect that some years ago our Sovereign had imposed on her as a guest at Buckingham Palace the Romanian dictator, Ceaucescu, and his horrible wife. Therefore, who is and who is not welcome is an extremely interesting subject.

The point was dealt with by some other noble Lords but I wondered about our attitude to the EC and its governments receiving the Dalai Lama. I wondered whether our Government were anxious about stepping out of line—but not a bit of it. I believe that many resolutions of the United Nations have supported the Dalai Lama and his cause and now that the United Nations has come back into fashion in this country following the Iraq-Kuwait conflict, its views must surely at last carry weight.

Perhaps the Government feel that the Dalai Lama is in spine way unworthy of us—not a fine enough person, with no temporal power—or perhaps he is too controversial in his views on, for example, monetarism; too wet or too dry, according to the movable fashions in Downing Street. He has no financial resources, merely spiritual ones. He is a good and holy man, an example of non-violent forbearance. He is the saintly leader of 4 million Buddhists. The most he has said of his struggle against the brutal Chinese aggression is: Our struggle is not anti-communist, not anti-Chinese. It is not anti-revolution. It has nothing to do with race or ideology. It is for the happiness of 6 million Tibetans. Is it that the acceptance of the Dalai Lama might not be thought to be popular or that there are no votes in it? Surely there are always votes in good deeds in the long run, probably more even than in the re-jigging of the poll tax. Could it be thought that no one bothers about Tibet now? From noble Lords' speeches it is obvious that we are all greatly concerned. I believe that we feel for the country, its history and its tragic destruction. Many of our families have been there recently and seen its casually crushed culture and mangled monasteries.

As to the popular perception of the Dalai Lama, your Lordships may know the story of the British sergeant who was on duty at the Tibetan border. He had instructions to look out for the fleeing 13th Dalai Lama who was escaping from the pursuing Chinese and was approaching the frontier with a wild group of people. The sergeant addressed the group in a parade ground voice, saying, "Which of you blighters is the Dalai Lama?" He then gave up his bed to the exhausted holy man who offered 1,000 troops to the British Government in the First World War.

The many brilliant men who have served Tibet's cause have been referred to by other noble Lords: Younghusband, Bell, Richardson and Sherriff. When the last was British Resident, with his wife, in Lhasa, he taught the lamas to play croquet in their garden. In their long robes they were soon good at concealing the croquet balls and craftily transferring them in front of the hoops.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, mentioned the former Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, and his support for the Tibetan cause. He went on record as saying, on hearing of the Chinese invasion of Tibet, Chinese pressure on India will continue. The Chinese Communists did not capture Tibet for the scenery". He went on to add, Their purpose was the same as Mussolini's when he seized Albania". We all know his feelings on Mussolini.

As concerns the false claims of the Chinese Government to suzerainty in Tibet, I believe that the Tibetans know it all to have been said at the time of the signing of the treaty in 821 AD between the Tibetan king and the Chinese representative of the T'ang dynasty. The treaty delineated the border stating, "Chinese are happy in China and Tibetans are happy in Tibet".

I therefore urge the Minister, who is such a distinguished member of the Government, to agree to meet the Dalai Lama when he comes to Britain in March. He will well know that the present courageous Administration have fought two wars in the cause of self-determination in the Falklands and over Kuwait. The Dalai Lama's case should not be treated in any less sympathetic manner by the Government.

8.49 p.m.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for asking this Question. I feel that Her Majesty's Government will answer it as did the deputy editor of the Daily Beast in Evelyn Waugh's novel Scoop. They will reply, "Well, up to a point, Lord Willoughby". It is with modified rapture that I learn that other countries have been meeting his Holiness the Dalai Lama "up to a point" since he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. In Italy the Dalai Lama met only the all-party Tibet Group. In Spain he met only the parliament of Navarra. In Belgium he met only the heads of both Houses of Parliament, and that is what he will do here: he will meet the Speaker and he will meet my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, for which I am very grateful. It is good that 10 more countries have received his Holiness since our last Unstarred Question in this House in 1989. Slowly, we progress.

Having said that, I am sad that our Prime Minister is not planning to meet the Dalai Lama. That is evidently because we still do not recognise the Dalai Lama as the secular head of Tibet. There is no difficulty about him being the spiritual head. Difficulties arise over the secular aspect because as we enter this territory we enter a minefield of semantics. Do we wish Tibet to exercise its right of independence or its right of self-determination? We deny the Chinese sovereignty but do we allow them suzerainty—and what is suzerainty? The meaning is clear to my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke and to the noble Lord, Lord Ennals; on the other hand I think that it means something different to the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose. Its meaning is unclear to me. It is a vague word and, worse, I believe that it has 17 meanings in Mandarin.

There is the word "autonomy". In 1943 Sir Anthony Eden described Tibet as autonomous, as de facto but not de jure independent and under Chinese suzerainty. He was repeating what Lord Curzon had said 20 years earlier; that Britain has recognised Tibet as de facto independent since 1910. Britain is ready to recognise China's suzerainty provided that China recognises Tibet's autonomy. China replies by agreeing that Tibet has autonomy. Therefore, they call half of it the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The other half they claim as part of China.

The key to understanding that attitude to Tibet lies more in race than in territory. The Han Chinese regard themselves as superior to all other races. They live in the Middle Kingdom, or the centre of civilisation, as my noble friend Lord Selkirk has stated. They call everyone who is not Han a barbarian, which includes the British. It applies with much more force to the ethnic minorities within the People's Republic of China: the Manchus, the Kazakhs and the Uighurs. The Chinese regard them as backward people with quaint customs and picturesque costumes who probably welcome the civilising influence of the Hans. The interesting exception is the Mongols, who are now independent, at least in the north. I find the Mongols even more interesting because it was under the rule of Kublai Khan that both China and Tibet were part of the Mongol empire. It is on that fact that the Chinese base their claim that Tibet is part of China. It is a thin claim as, by extension, it would make Afghanistan a part of India, because both countries were once part of the Moghul Empire. It would also give Great Britain suzerainty over France, whatever that might mean.

Therefore, the Chinese claim Tibet for a weak reason. Much of what they are doing there can be explained by their instinctive feeling of superiority, but to explain is not to condone. The destruction of the monasteries, the torture of the monks and the executions are scandals so often recited that I shall not go into them tonight.

However, I should like to mention education, as raised by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby, where the Tibetans are put at a natural disadvantage. Should a Tibetan wish to learn English, he has to do so in Chinese. Therefore, he will not get a good job. Even in Lhasa it is unlikely that he will get a job as, for example, a bank clerk. He is more likely to be at the bottom of the heap, very dispirited and, I daresay, drunk. That is hardly the picture of a superior civilisation helping an ethnic minority to overcome its backwardness: rather it is keeping it down.

In 1989 the Chinese broadcast an educational message on radio Lhasa: We must settle the issue of what kind of people must be trained. We must train qualified personnel who love the motherland and maintain national unity. By no means should we train people who seek to practise splittism. We must see whether the students we train are politically qualified". A general Chinese criticism of Tibet is that before 1950 it was not so much a Buddhist haven of calm and balance as a cruel feudal slave society. However, even if that is true, it does not justify intervention. Indeed it contravenes the United Nations declaration on the right to self-determination, Article 3, which states: Inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence. The Chinese exploitation of Tibet's forests and minerals contravenes the UN General Assembly resolution of 14th December 1962, Article 1: The right of peoples and nations to permanent sovereignty over their natural wealth and resources must be exercised in the interests of national development and of the wellbeing of the state concerned". In general, I believe that there is an important difference between Western and Chinese attitudes to Tibet: the West is a little bit woolly; China is hard and precise. The West sees a degree of independence but also a degree of Chinese suzerainty. There are differing views even within countries. In the United States, Congress backed an independent Tibet but the Reagan Administration did not. The waters are a little muddied. Contrast that situation with the crystal clear waters of China. I read from the magazine Outlook: Tibet is an inalienable part of Chinese territory. Any splittist action is not allowed by state law. Independence, semi-independence or independence in a disguised form will never be tolerated. The riots in Lhasa were engineered and instigated by a handful of splittist elements inside and outside Tibet. They tried to split Tibet from the big family of the motherland. They will never be allowed by law or tolerated by the Tibetan people". That statement is clear. However, I believe that the issue can be resolved. It is not a question of whether Tibet be independent or a colony; the situation is not so basic. The Dalai Lama wants a middle road. In his address to the European Parliament on 15th June 1988 he suggested that Tibet be demilitarised but he does not advocate total independence. Tibet should be responsible for its internal policy, but China could manage its foreign policy. The Dalai Lama thus sacrifices a considerable measure of independence in return for the creation of a zone of peace, a sanctuary. His Holiness has proposed a sensible compromise. It is for that reason that I am a little sad that our Prime Minister will not meet him.

8.58 p.m.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke for initiating the debate on Tibet, or what the Chinese call the fifth nation of China, and the Dalai Lama, although our hearts and minds are full of anxiety and hope for what is happening to our forces and those of our allies in Kuwait, or what Saddam Hussein once described as the 19th state of Iraq.

In its wisdom the Government Whips' Office has managed to arrange the debate on an unwhipped Tuesday, late at night, after the television cameras have long departed and all next-day newspapers have gone to bed, as indeed have all but the most intrepid of your Lordships. However, the right of free speech in this country is an inalienable and precious one even when it is largely inaudible.

For years Tibet has been a hidden land, a country the size of Europe, beyond the veil of ice among the Himalayas. It is a country bordered by China and India, by Bhutan, Sikkim and Burma, but due to its difficulty of access it has long been isolated and able peaceably to pursue its destiny. The people are Tartars, akin to Mongolians, but racially and in every other way different to the Chinese, Indians and Burmese. As long ago as the seventh century they were a warlike people, extending their boundaries into Kashmir, Nepal, North Burma and even into China. The conquering Tibetan King, Tsuk-Tsen, married two princesses; the Princess of China and the Princess of Nepal, who were both Buddhists. After his conversion the whole of Tibet became Buddhist and, as it has remained ever since, a monastic, theistic society. Subsequently there was some contact between the courts of China and Tibet. Lamas travelled to Peking and in theory Tibet enjoyed the protection of China. The relationship was loose and, in the nature of things, never defined because it took three months to travel from one country to the other.

By the early 18th century the Chinese were interfering more frequently in the internal affairs of Tibet as they did not like the religious influence of the Dalai Lama over the peoples of Mongolia and Manchuria. They appointed an Amban in Lhasa. At the end of the 19th century the British were increasingly worried about Russian interventions in the sub-continent: what Kipling had called the "great game" had started. It occurred to the Viceroy, Lord Curzon, that if Tibet could be isolated from Russia there would be a protected frontier over nearly all the north of India. In 1904 an expedition under Colonel Younghusband penetrated Tibet and reached Lhasa where, after protracted negotiations with various lamas, but not the Dalai Lama who had conveniently disappeared, a treaty was signed between Britain and Tibet providing that the Tibetans should have no dealings with any foreign governments, which effectively ruled out the Russians.

In 1906 and 1907 conventions were signed with the Chinese and the Russians placing Tibet as a buffer state under the protection of the Chinese. The Chinese then organised a military expedition of their own which reached Lhasa in 1910, whereupon the Dalai Lama and his government fled to take refuge under the protection of the British at Darjeeling. Luckily for the Tibetans the Chinese revolution broke out in 1911, their troops were recalled and the Dalai Lama and his government returned to take possession of Tibet in 1912. For the next 40 years Tibet remained an entirely independent country. In 1917 the Chinese again attacked Tibet. This time they were repulsed.

After the First World War a British mission was sent to Tibet under Sir Charles Bell, who had befriended the Dalai Lama on his flight to India. Other British missions followed under Frederick Bailey, Sheriff, Leslie Weir, Frederick Williamson and, in 1936, Sir Basil Gould, who had in his entourage the young Hugh Richardson, trade secretary at Gyangtse.

On Friday of last week my husband and I spent the afternoon with Hugh Richardson in his house at St. Andrews on the Kinnesswood Burn. It was sheeting down with heavy sleet, and as he came down the steps of his house to shelter us, with old world courtesy, under his huge black umbrella I felt as if I were being transported back in time half a century to the Dekyi-Lingka in Lhasa, the Garden of Happiness, where he had represented the British from 1936 until 1947 and then for three years had represented Pandit Nehru until he left in 1950 just before the Chinese invasion.

"The Tibetans are a marvellous people", he told us, "gentle and peaceable. Life there was very primitive, but it was a very happy life. Of course, latterly, we had some electricity to work the radio". As we sipped coffee we talked of the Tibet which had gone. We talked of their monasteries, libraries and temples—3,500 of them, now all blown up or destroyed except for 13 which partially remain. Hugh Richardson also talked of China's destruction of the forests, which are not being replanted. Above all, we talked of the old days; of Tibet before 1950 when the temples still existed, the gardens were full of flowers and the little Dalai Lama—only 3½ years old—already radiated some special quality of goodness.

Since Hugh Richardson left Tibet the Chinese have blown up and destroyed the monasteries, they have taken the gold and silver objects to China and melted them down. Many Chinese have moved in to colonise Tibet. There have been forced marriages and sterilisation of Tibetan women. Pot plants and flowers have been pulled up and smashed. Dogs and pets have been killed. Women's hair has been cut off. Girls have been marched naked in the streets. There were beatings, tortures and killings. Books and sacred papers were used as lavatory paper. It was a brutal, systematic destruction of a whole people and a way of life. By the mid-1970s there was a new mood in China and things became marginally better. Besides, there were fewer Tibetans to kill, or monasteries to destroy or despoil.

However, since 1987 Chinese oppression has started again. More troops have arrived; people are still being killed and tortured. Only last year a 20 year-old student, Lhakpa Tsering, was tortured and killed. His case has been taken up by Amnesty International and by Senator Edward Kennedy. Some of the details were given by the Dalai Lama to the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, who passed them on to me. Though it hurts me to relate them to your Lordships as much as I am sure it will upset noble Lords to hear them, I think that they should be known.

Lhakpa Tsering, a Tibetan nationalist was imprisoned in November 1989 in Drapchi prison in Lhasa for distributing leaflets. He was born in Lhasa and lived in Kyere, with his father, his grandmother and his younger sister and brother. They were a very poor family. He was known for his gentle behaviour. Some foreign journalists were coming to inspect the conditions in Drapchi prison and the prisoners were briefed to say that Tibet was not independent but part of China. The prisoners, including Lhakpa Tsering, replied bravely that they were imprisoned because of their belief in the independence of Tibet which they would carry through to the end.

As soon as the prisoners said that the Chinese authorities started beating them. Because Lhakpa Tsering was the most quick witted he was singled out to be beaten mercilessly. Even those outside the prison walls heard the cries of pain of Lhakpa Tsering when he was beaten to death. When they saw that Lhakpa Tsering was badly beaten the other prisoners pleaded with the Chinese prison authorities to take him to the hospital for medical treatment. The prison warden ignored the request and so, unattended, Lhakpa Tsering died of his injuries on 15th December 1990.

Next day the Chinese authorities handed his body over to his family, who could not bear to look at it because he was so badly beaten. His body was blue, and blood had come out of his ears. Because his body was blue his family accused the prison authorities of giving him poison. They countered by saying that they had not done so and that his body could be thoroughly examined in the crematorium. The body examiners came from the Tibetan Medical Institute, members of the judiciary, members of the Health Institute and the topden (the regular body carrier). They discovered large clots of blood under the skin, which the topden said was because of the frequent use of electrical cattle prods on Lhakpa Tsering.

That horrifying story is only one among many. It makes us grieve for the poor boy so tragically and brutally murdered, for his family, for the Tibetan people, and for the Chinese who have to live with the consequences of their actions.

We in Britain have a long history of friendship with China. We admire its art and love of beauty. We love Chinese flower arrangements and Chinese cooking. Above all, we love China's people. They are our friends. It is because they are our friends that we have to speak out. We cannot bear to see our friends behaving badly in the eyes of other people and of the world. We should like to see Tibet restored to the complete independence that it enjoyed between 1912 and 1950 with its own people and its own religion and way of life so that, as an independent nation, it may once more regain the friendly relationship which it had with China in the distant past.

9.8 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, I rise briefly to support my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke. I could not possibly emulate the very powerful speeches made by many noble Lords who have spoken this evening. Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, my knowledge of Tibet is by no means immense. However, I can explain to my noble friend Lord Mersey that suzerainty is something that England used to claim over Scotland and possibly still does.

Along with other noble Lords I urge Her Majesty's Government to take a broader view than governments are usually accustomed to take in matters of this kind. In doing so I add, as other noble Lords have said, that the past two years should have taught us that things are not always quite what they seem in countries where there is autocratic or tyrannical rule. Not so very long ago in Europe we were faced with a seemingly immovable and monolithic communist bloc. It was easy to believe that that situation would not change in the foreseeable future. Indeed, up to about two years ago many people, including myself, thought that.

The result was that the Foreign Office and the authorities in this country tended to ignore foreign oppositions because to do otherwise was to offend the government in office. One can understand the reasoning behind that attitude but if the past few years have taught us anything they have taught us that we live in a turbulent world where almost anything can happen and usually does. My personal experience tells me that, as a result of that attitude, we have not earned the overwhelming gratitude of the present rulers of the former communist states in Eastern Europe or of their peoples. I shall not say any more about that matter.

I believe that Her Majesty's Government, in the person of the Prime Minister, ought to receive the Dalai Lama. He stands for something unique and precious in this world. At his trial King Charles I said, "Sir, I am no ordinary prisoner" and, to paraphrase him, the Dalai Lama could say, "Sir, I am no ordinary dissident". Indeed, he is not a dissident at all but the rightful ruler of Tibet and its people.

So far, I side with those noble Lords who have said tonight that China has no more right to rule Tibet than Iraq has to rule Kuwait. Indeed, from what I have seen, it has possibly rather less right. The culture and religion of Tibet make it one of the most interesting civilisations in the world. That civilisation has been all but destroyed in the past 40 years. The Dalai Lama alone remains a beacon of hope, spiritual and temporal, to his people. His country and religion were and are an inspiration to many and a threat to none. Who can say that of the murderous followers of Mao Tse Tung and his successors? Thanks to television, we were all observers of the events in Tiananmen Square. Hope flared briefly there, not only for China but also for Tibet and indeed for Hong Kong, only to be brutally stamped out by the vicious gerontocracy that now rules China. But the old men will die, things will change and what seems impossible today will, I believe, not always be impossible. I believe that Tibet will be free again and when that happens we may ask ourselves where Britain has stood during Tibet's agony.

Up to now our government have refused even to receive the Dalai Lama because of fears of upsetting China over Hong Kong. I do not want to say much about Hong Kong except that, in my humble opinion, when China takes Hong Kong in 1997 she will do exactly as she pleases. That is my opinion.

Talking or not talking to the Dalai Lama will not make a hair's breadth of difference except to the honour and standing of this country. We shall have refused to receive a just, holy and good man in order to placate the aged tyrants who for the moment happen to be ruling China. I do not believe that this country ought to lick the boots of tyrants. We are still, against all the evidence, the hope of much of the world that longs to be free.

Finally, I understood that the last time the Dalai Lama was in Britain he was restricted in what he was allowed to say in this country and undertook not to talk politics. Indeed I asked a Question in your Lordships' House on the subject. I was told that his Holiness had volunteered that undertaking to the Foreign Office. That is what I would call a likely story, but I suppose that we have to accept it. Will the Minister assure me that, should his Holiness offer such an undertaking this time, Her Majesty's Government will assure him that speech is free in this country?

9.15 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, we owe a deep debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, for initiating the debate, for the powerful advocacy with which he put the case for receiving his Holiness the Dalai Lama, and for his advocacy on behalf of the Tibetan people that more attention be paid to their rights by Her Majesty's Government. There is little that one can add to the description which he has given of the horrendous situation faced by the Tibetan people. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, called it cultural genocide. A word coined by Leo Kuper to describe what is happening in Tibet is ethnocide. What we witness today is the extinction of the culture, the religion and whole ethos of a people by an oppressor. That underlies the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke.

We are not merely speaking of the reception by Her Majesty's Government of the Dalai Lama but of what that means in terms of the British Government's attitude to the sufferings which have been endured by the Tibetan people over the past 40 years. I wish to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, for the work that he has done, in particular in the leadership of the parliamentary group on Tibet, and the immense energy that he put into the organisation of the conference last year at which we discussed the aspirations of the Tibetan people. Much of the attention now paid to the cause of Tibet is due to the work that he did and to the impact that it made on public opinion within this country.

It is not long since we last debated this issue. We asked the Government then why they declined to welcome his Holiness the Dalai Lama. Several noble Lords have pointed out that while many things have been changing in the world in the intervening months, the Foreign Office policy on Tibet appears to be set in concrete. Nothing has changed in the way in which we approach the question of Tibet or the reception of the Dalai Lama in spite of everything that has occurred in the outside world. Those matters have been mentioned. The independence of Namibia is another example. It has been held in subjection by its powerful neighbour, South Africa. It has now obtained freedom with the aid of the international community. It is an interesting example where the force of international public opinion has in the end carried the day and forced the oppressor to give up the domination of the smaller and less powerful neighbour.

Mention has been made of the Baltic States. Not only the Baltic States but all the other republics in the Soviet Union are now claiming their independence, including the Ukraine and Georgia. Even the Russian Republic has declared in favour of transforming the USSR into a loose confederation of sovereign states.

In the Horn of Africa, Eritrea has almost won its 30 year struggle for independence from Amhara colonialism. In Kashmir the people are engaged in a life and death struggle against Indian imperialism. In Acheh, East Timor and West Papua, there is a new spirit of hope in the freedom struggles. In the Gulf, the Kurds are determined that when Saddam Hussein finally topples their claims will receive, as they should, at least as high a priority as those of the Palestinians. In short, everywhere in the world peoples are demanding the fulfilment of the promise of Article 1 of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which provides: All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development". It goes without saying that the Tibetans are a people. They have a long history of statehood. However, as has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, that does not in any way deny the fact that there existed close links of a unique kind between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese Emperor which we now describe as suzerainty but which in fact is nothing of the kind. As students of Tibetan history will be aware, what was known as the Cho Yon relationship provided for an exchange between equal sovereigns where the Dalai Lama gave spiritual benefit to the Chinese Emperor and in return the Chinese Emperor conferred military benefits on the people of Tibet. That was not suzerainty. It is a form of ethnocentricity that we apply a term that is appropriate in relation to Western history to a situation which had nothing in common with what happened in Europe when suzerainty meant something here.

The people of Tibet have their own institutions, religion, language and culture. The brutal annexation of Tibet by China was comparable to the annexation of the Baltic states by the USSR in 1940. That is an instructive parallel because the United Kingdom never recognised the Soviet occupation. While the Government received visiting dignitaries such as Mrs. Casimiera Prunskiene, who was then Prime Minister of Lithuania, or Mr. Lennart Meri, who was the Foreign Minister of Estonia, we meekly accepted the Tibetan anschluss and snubbed the only legitimate representative of the Tibetan people.

The noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, was a little dismissive of the other leaders who have received the Dalai Lama. He said that their propensity to receive him was in inverse proportion to their interest in the problems of that region. I suggest to him that their preparedness to meet him and to receive him in their countries bears a relationship to their view of the question of self-determination. The reason why President Havel received the Dalai Lama was because the self-determination of the people of Czechoslovakia was of some importance in that country. Might not the situation alter a little as the various nations of Eastern Europe stand on their own feet and realise the strength of their own independence? As the republics of the USSR do the same, what attitude might be taken by a future independent Latvia, Estonia or Lithuania, or by an independent Ukraine or Georgia, to the aspirations of other subject peoples who have not yet been liberated by the empires that still exist? The era of European colonialism came to an end and we now face the dismantling of other empires which, unfortunately, still exist but have been ignored by the United Nations.

However, at present we are fighting to uphold an important principle of international law—that sovereignty cannot be acquired by forcible occupation. I fully support the war against Saddam Hussein but at the same time I must point out that we apply multiple standards in such matters. We stood aside when Suharto brutally invaded East Timor in 1975. We did nothing to prevent him massacring 150,000 of the territory's inhabitants. In fact we continued to try to sell him weapons, as we did to Saddam Hussein provided that the only people he killed were Iraqis and Kurds rather than Kuwaitis. We have nothing to say about the atrocities now being committed by the Indians in their occupation of Kashmir.

Mrs. Lynda Chalker goes to the Horn of Africa and hobnobs with the butcher Mangistu who has murdered his political opponents and caused the deaths of thousands of his countrymen. The Government were quick to reingratiate themselves with the perpetrators of the 4th June massacre in Beijing. As soon as they thought that decency would allow they sent representatives from the Foreign Office to Beijing and to Lhasa. The representative who went to Lhasa found out little. He arrived two days after a large demonstration by the Tibetan people against their occupation. A Chinese general was subsequently decorated for the repression of the demonstration but the Foreign Office representative was unaware of those events. He only made inquiries of some European residents in Lhasa and did not bother even to speak to any representatives of the Tibetan people.

However, it does not matter to the Government that dissidents were tried and sentenced under procedures which do not conform to any principles of natural justice. It did not matter, as has been mentioned, that Tibetans continued to be arrested and tortured; that huge forces of the police and army of the Chinese occupiers intimidated the population; that monks and nuns have been singled out for particularly vicious ill-treatment, and that a systematic campaign of ethnocide is being waged against Tibet. As has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bellhaven, our policy has been to lick the boots of the dictators in Beijing.

The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, was good enough to send me a copy of his letter from the Prime Minister which stated: The Dalai Lama's aspirations for self-determination have not been endorsed by any other government". I make no apologies for returning to that statement because self-determination is not a right to be claimed by an individual, however distinguished he may be. It is unique among the rights which are laid down in the United Nations covenant on political rights in that it belongs to a people: All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development". The Tibetans are incontrovertibly a people, as I have already said. However, when he winds up perhaps the Minister will confirm that that is also his view; namely, that the Tibetans are a people and that therefore they possess the right enshrined in Article 1.

One noble Lord mentioned that there was not much democracy in Tibet before the Chinese occupation in 1950, but, as has also been said, neither was there anywhere else in Asia. Nowadays the position is different. I point out to your Lordships that recently an election has been held of all the Tibetan peoples in exile for a new assembly. The results are due to be announced within the next week.

Therefore, whatever may have been the history of Tibet prior to Chinese occupation, if the Tibetans regained control of their own affairs they would assuredly have a democratic system. Indeed, his Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that he has no particular political aspirations. As the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, reminded us, he likes to call himself a humble monk. Once the Tibetans obtain the right to self-determination, it is entirely a matter for them as to how they should be governed.

Returning to the Prime Minister's letter, he implies that we cannot begin to consider the claim to self-determination unless it has first been endorsed by other governments. I should like to press the Minister as to whether that is really the view of the Government. If it is, and if other signatories to the covenant take a similar view, Article 1 is a dead letter. The only way in which a territory would ever be able to make good a claim would be through the use of superior military force, as in the most obvious case since the war, that of Bangladesh, and, quite shortly I hope, in Western Sahara and Eritrea.

Once a people has expelled its oppressors and established its own administration, governments recognise the right to self-determination. However, the obvious consequence of that is that it encourages peoples to use military rather than political means of asserting their rights as one can see from the conflicts in Western Sahara, Eritrea, Kashmir, the Punjab, Acheh, West Papua, East Timor, East Turkestan and even Tibet. In spite of the Buddhist tradition of non-violence, which has already been mentioned, and the firm insistence by the Dalai Lama that only peaceful means should be used to secure Tibetan rights, the Chinese authorities have not hesitated to use extreme violence against the civilian population and some young Tibetans are now advocating armed struggle.

Comparison has been made between the peaceful way in which the Tibetans pursue their aspirations and the horrible atrocities committed by the IRA in Ireland. It was an Irishman who said in 1880 that violence is sometimes the only way of securing a hearing for moderation. I hope that that will not be the lesson given out by either the British Government or any other state which has to deal with the People's Republic of China. Shall we say to the Dalai Lama and his people that because they continue to pursue their case by peaceful means they will not receive a hearing in the outside world whereas others, such as the Palestinians, who are quite prepared to use violent means, are entertained in the councils of the United Nations and given a proper hearing by the leaders of import ant states?

I am sure that it would be infinitely preferable for the United Nations to establish procedures for evaluating and processing claims for self-determination so that the outcome would not be arbitrarily decided on political grounds. I hope that in the Gulf, when Kuwait has been finally liberated from Iraqi occupation, consideration will be given to finding better procedures for evaluating those claims other than the arbitrary one of deciding whether or not a specific people has been successful by force of arms in carrying through the claims that it was denied through political means. After all, the Tibetans have a far longer history of statehood in national institutions and a better claim than the Kuwaitis to the support of the international community. The reason why they continue to get the brush-off is because we are all terrifies of offending the Chinese. That has always been the case. We do not want to upset them not only because of Hong Kong, but also because China is an important power in the world. We think of it as an essential trading and political partner in matters such as the Gulf, where the Chinese have been specifically singled out for praise for the help that they have been giving to the Allies in terms of moral support.

I hope that the new order which has been mentioned as occurring after the Gulf War in the Middle East will not be limited to that region. Although no clue has been given to its components, I hope that it will provide for some international impartial authority which I may call—as I did at the conference on the rights of Tibet which the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and I attended in Tokyo—a United Nations High Commission for Self-determination. Its function would be to receive claims, to have the power to disallow those which were manifestly ill-founded and to refer those which were judged admissible to an appropriate committee of the United Nations.

By what criteria would the High Commissioner decide on admissibility? The governing instrument might require him to have regard to the factors I mentioned earlier—previous history of statehood, ethnicity, language, religion, culture, existence of national institutions and any evidence of the wishes of the people. All point clearly in the direction of giving Tibetans the right of admission.

The committee to which the High Commissioner would report might be a reconstituted Decolonisation Committee, with the members appointed as experts in their own right, like the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, rather than as representatives of their government, as the Committee of 24 now is.

It may be objected—and was by Ministers when I made the point in correspondence with them—that states would never agree to procedures which would be likely to breach the principle of so-called territorial integrity. But the purpose of this procedure would be only to implement the United Nations' own principles which are set out in the Universal Declaration and in both Covenants. Those should surely take precedence over lines arbitrarily drawn on maps. When Britain was an imperial power we voluntarily granted independence to all the territories that we governed when after the war the economic and political disadvantages of maintaining control of the empire became clear. Why should not the same arguments now apply to the Chinese and to the other empires which still exist? Is it not up to us to point out to China that it could enjoy amicable and profitable relationships with a free Tibet and at the same time eliminate the enormous burden of military occupation of an increasingly hostile people? Might not China also accept, if the subject could be discussed with it at all, that legally there is no difference between local and salt sea imperialism? As a UN rapporteur expressed it: If, beneath the guise of ostensible national unity, colonial and alien domination does in fact exist, whatever legal formula may be used in an attempt to conceal it, the right of the subject people concerned cannot be denied without international law being violated". The Government have not said that making claims to self-determination justiciable would be undesirable, merely that the Charter gave member states protection against external interference directed at their national unity and territorial integrity, and that they would oppose any new mechanism which undermined this protection. What I have proposed is that the initiative has to come from a people inside the existing territory, that frivolous claims can be discarded, and that those found to have some merit be considered by a UN committee, not by individual member states. With those provisos, why not at least test the water and see whether there is any support for such a proposal internationally?

Whatever the Government may say, let them be in no doubt that the cause of Tibet is backed in this country and in the West generally by the great majority of those who know anything about the issue. I think that that has been exemplified by this evening's debate. The vast majority of people also admire enormously the dignified and peaceful way in which the case has been presented by his Holiness the Dalai Lama. I hope that his visit will convince the Government of the need to take a stand, as has been said, on moral considerations and not on those of expediency which have determined their policy hitherto.

As the Government consider what has been said this evening in this debate I commend to their attention words spoken by President Woodrow Wilson in an address to Congress towards the end of another great conflict. He said: National aspirations must be respected; peoples may now be dominated and governed only by their consent. Self-determination is not a mere phrase. It is an imperative principle of action, which statesmen will henceforth ignore at their peril".

9.38 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, gave a very forceful and effective introduction to the debate on what is a very emotive subject, that of Tibet. From what was said by a long list of speakers it is apparent that it is a matter which concerns many in this House and elsewhere. As the noble Lord said, it is a concern that will not go away. The central point to the noble Lord's Question is whether the Government will meet his Holiness the Dalai Lama on his forthcoming visit to London. The Government may have received a great deal of encouragement from what noble Lords have said this evening. It was only the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, who urged caution and spoke of the harm that such recognition might give to relations with China over Hong Kong. As other noble Lords have said, our responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong should not disqualify us from making our views about Tibet known to China.

Many noble Lords have stressed the Tibetan people's right to self-determination as called for by the UN resolution of 1961. Many have also praised the admirable non-violent methods used by Tibetans, led by the Dalai Lama, to achieve that. Her Majesty's Government should support Tibet by urging the Chinese Government to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the Tibetans.

I join my noble friend Lord Ennals in asking whether Her Majesty's Government have any plans at present to meet representatives from the Chinese Government to discuss the situation in Tibet.

In the few minutes I have to speak I wish to draw attention to the present suffering of the people of Tibet. I have in mind human rights violations and also the deprivation suffered by the majority of Tibetan people. When one is debating whether the Tibetan people have a right to self-determination one should look rather carefully at the results of Chinese occupation. There have already been many references to the violation of human rights: Amnesty International has reported the violations perpetrated by the Chinese army and the security forces. For many years we have read troubling press accounts about the imprisonment and arbitrary execution of prisoners of conscience. Have the Government made representations to the Chinese Government with respect to human rights violations in Tibet? Does the Minister know how many political prisoners are currently held in Drapchi prison, and are any held in other prisons and labour camps in Tibet? On these Benches we believe that it is of the utmost importance that China should be confronted over its treatment of the Tibetan people.

We remember that there seemed to be an improvement when before Christmas a delegation of Scandinavian diplomats was allowed to visit Tibet and to report on conditions there. This followed the call of the US Congress for the cancellation of economic concessions to China in view of its human rights abuses in Tibet. The Scandinavian delegation complained to the Chinese authorities about the treatment of the estimated 50 or more prisoners held at the prison and called for more humane treatment of and possible release for those held. This effort, however, sadly suffered a setback soon after the delegation's departure, with the torture and the murder of Lhakpa Tsering, which was described in a very heartbreaking and graphic way by the noble Baroness, Lady Strange.

I too remind the House that this murder drew a stern response from 30 US Senators, led by Senator Edward Kennedy himself, who wrote to the Premier of China expressing their concern over the death of this political prisoner and the violent repression of Tibetans peacefully seeking to express their political views. Senator Kennedy called Tsering's death: Yet another human rights tragedy in Tibet, all too typical of the cruel Chinese repression of the Tibetan people". Perhaps the Minister can give the Government's assessment of the human rights situation in Tibet and say whether it has improved since the visit of the Scandinavian delegation before Christmas.

The undeniable fact of these human rights violations is there for all to see. Unfortunately, evidence coming from one source—the UNICEF reports—stresses the inequalities within China, with enormous gains in child health, nutrition and economic security for the urban, coastal and river-basin regions, in contrast to the high poverty and poor health in the remote, rural, mountainous and minority inhabited areas which include Tibet. Yet the Chinese Government claim to have a policy of giving priority to its deprived areas. It is crucial for all donor countries to stress to the Chinese Government that they must keep their word in this regard and prioritise the poorest regions. The special studies indicate some very wide disparities. For instance, while average child mortality in China is 36 per thousand, which is not a bad level, it is thought to be as high as 122 per thousand in Lhasa; and with adult illiteracy at only 31 per cent. in China, it stands as high as 73 per cent. in Tibet, which is over double the figure. The noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, spoke about the educational disadvantage of the Tibetans. I believe that that is a very important point.

However, I should point out that those inequalities in health care are also of concern to the UK Committee of UNICEF, which has just renewed its long-standing commitment to China's expanded programme of immunisation, for which the sum of £250,000 spread over a period of three years has been pledged. UNICEF's supporters and volunteers all over the country striving to raise money would like to see that money evenly distributed among the Tibetans where there is the greatest need. That is why the inequalities to which I have referred are so worrying. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether the Government are supporting any NGO activity in Tibet.

In conclusion, perhaps I may stress the fact that everything points to the urgency for the Tibetan people's rights to be recognised and for them to be allowed to return to the standard of living, to the culture and to the way of life which they enjoyed prior to the Chinese occupation in 1950. Those rights have in effect been conceded by many countries where his Holiness the Dalai Lama has been received. Further, I believe that it is important for Her Majesty's Government to remember, as the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, said, that the United Kingdom was one of the 59 countries which voted for the UN resolution calling for the restoration of Tibet's right to self-determination in 1961. Moreover, since that time his Holiness and his non-violent warriors, if I may so call them, pave earned the respect and admiration of many people throughout the world. These people are dedicated to the peaceful resolution of conflict. As the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby, and many other noble Lords said, this subject will not go away.

9.47 p m.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke for raising the question of the Dalai Lama and the situation in Tibet and for providing the opportunity for us to debate the matter and for me to set out the policies of Her Majesty's Government.

The Government have made clear their attitude to the Dalai Lama on many occasions. We have always recognised his role as a distinguished spiritual leader who has won widespread international respect for his admirable dedication to the cause of peace. That was confirmed by the award to him in 1989 of the Nobel Peace Prize. He is welcome to visit the United Kingdom at any time and there has never been any question of our seeking to dissuade him from coming to Britain or of restricting his activities while he is here. He has indeed visited this country on several occasions and was here briefly last September to promote the launch of his autobiography.

Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama remains a political figure as well as a spiritual leader, regarded by many of his followers as the leader of a government-in-exile. It is important for everyone to be clear that no government recognises this political body and we like others have no dealings with them. Often meetings with the Dalai Lama organised in his spiritual capacity have later been portrayed by his supporters in a political manner. In these circumstances we have concluded that it would not be right for the Prime Minister or Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers to meet the Dalai Lama during his visit.

As the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, said, any change in our policies would be interpreted as an act of state. I agree with him. It would be an act open to misinterpretation and would be to no one's benefit. Nevertheless, his Holiness will be received at a high level and a full and varied programme has been arranged for him. As well as meeting such prominent figures as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal Hume, he will spend time in another place where he will meet the Speaker. Furthermore, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will meet the Dalai Lama at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Tibet which he will chair in his capacity as Speaker of this House and which his Holiness will address. There can therefore be no question of discourtesy to a widely respected spiritual figure.

So far as the status of Tibet is concerned, successive British Governments have consistently regarded Tibet as autonomous while recognising the special position of the Chinese there. That continues to be the Government's view. Tibet was declared an autonomous region of China in 1965. The Dalai Lama has made various proposals for the future of Tibet. Those are matters for him to discuss with the Chinese Government, and we have encouraged the Chinese authorities in that direction.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, is there any respect in which the Minister feels that the Tibetan people in Tibet have any degree of autonomy today? If so, will he tell us?

Lord Reay

My Lords, it is our view that Tibet has autonomy. I shall say more about that in due course.

We believe that all peoples have a right to self-determination, but that right can be exercised in several different ways. We do not believe that independence for Tibet is a realistic proposal and consider that it would be no service to the Tibetans to encourage them to seek independence. We continue to believe that the most promising solution to the problem of Tibet is through dialogue between the Chinese Government and the Tibetan people, including the Dalai Lama. The Chinese authorities have recently reiterated their willingness to open such a dialogue and we welcome this commitment.

Our prime concern in all of this must be to achieve a better deal for the Tibetan people and Her Majesty's Government share the concerns of many Members of your Lordships' House over reports of human rights abuses in Tibet. It is a sad fact, however, that there have been reports of severe human rights abuses throughout China, not only in Tibet. We deplore such abuses wherever they occur and have made our concern clear to the Chinese authorities both in public and private on many occasions. My honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, then Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, specifically referred to Tibet when speaking of that concern to the Chinese leaders on his visit to Peking in July last year, and my noble friend Lord Caithness had a long exchange on that topic with the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister, Tian Zengpei, who visited the UK in November.

The EC Presidency made two statements to last year's session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, on behalf of the Twelve, calling upon the Chinese authorities to guarantee full respect for human rights throughout China, including Tibet, in keeping with their international obligations. The second statement called for the release of all political prisoners and respect for the rights of all Chinese citizens to free expression and peaceful assembly. The UK was also a co-sponsor of a UN resolution on human rights in China, which unfortunately was narrowly defeated in the UN Commission.

We should not see every action of the Chinese in Tibet in a purely negative light. Since 1980 China has shown a more positive attitude in the region. The Chinese themselves have acknowledged that serious mistakes were made in Tibet, particularly during the Cultural Revolution, and have admitted that the Tibetan people's interests have been harmed by those mistakes. They appear to have been making an effort to show some respect for Tibetan beliefs and way of life. The Government have commissioned the restoration of more than 500 monasteries and temples destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. The authorities also give substantial aid to Tibet, some of it jointly with international organisations. They have, for example, set up three health centres for women and children in conjunction with UNICEF and have allowed the Red Cross and Save the Children Fund to work in Tibet. They set up a Tibet Development Fund which collects money from overseas donors for development projects in the education, health and welfare spheres. They are committed to making Tibet self-sufficient. After the demonstrations in March 1989, the Chinese authorities reaffirmed that they would not change their policies of promoting economic and cultural development in Tibet, while preserving freedom of religion and respect for local customs.

The member of the British Embassy in Peking who accompanied three members of another place on their visit to Tibet in October 1989—at a time when Tibet was still under martial law—reported that, despite the heavy military presence, the economy of Lhasa and the surrounding area appeared to be thriving and the general atmosphere seemed relaxed. I am aware that some noble Lords have queried that description, but in our view it reflects the situation at the time.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, has the Minister any comment to make on the official's ignorance of the event that occurred two days before his visit—that is, the large demonstration which I mentioned, for having repressed which a Chinese general was afterwards decorated?

Lord Reay

My Lords, we stand by the report our our delegate. I have no reason to suppose that he was in ignorance of the situation which he was describing.

It is also a fact that those disturbances which have taken place in Lhasa from time to time between 1987 and 1989 were relatively limited in time and extent, even if, regrettably, deaths and injuries undoubtedly occurred. As has been mentioned, after the lifting of martial law on 1st May 1990, four Scandinavian ambassadors were able to visit Tibet in November 1990. They reported that security was relatively muted although there were large numbers of plain clothes police in evidence. They said that conditions in the prison they visited appeared reasonable by Asian standards. More generally, they observed of their visit to Tibet that significant technological and economic development had been taking place. I am aware that there are many different views of China's efforts to modernise and develop Tibet. But I believe there has been a genuine attempt to improve conditions in that region which should be recognised.

I shall attempt to deal with some of the points that were raised by noble Lords taking part in the debate and which I have not entirely covered. My noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke and the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and perhaps others, observed that Tibet had enjoyed de facto independence after 1911, but Tibet never enjoyed de jure independence. Tibet was never internationally recognised as independent. That is why there is no parallel with Kuwait. Kuwait is a sovereign independent state recognised internationally as such, and is a member of the United Nations.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Would he agree that the British Government signed a treaty with Tibet at one stage between 1911 and 1950? If Tibet was not a sovereign independency how could it sign a treaty?

Lord Reay

My Lords, it remains the case that successive British governments have regarded Tibet as autonomous, while always recognising the special position of China. That continues to be our view. Similarly, we do not regard the situation of the Baltic States as a comparable parallel. Her Majesty's Government never recognised the legality of the incorporation of the Baltic States into the Soviet Union, whereas we have always recognised the special position of the Chinese in Tibet.

The noble Lords, Lord Ennals and Lord Grimond, spoke of appeasement. There is no question of our appeasing China. Human rights abuses in Tibet concern us as they do when they occur anywhere in the world. We have never hesitated to make clear to the Chinese our views on this issue. We wish to improve our relations with China, but this does not prevent us from stating clearly to them our position on abuses of human rights.

Several noble Lords referred to the fact that Ministers from other countries had met the Dalai Lama, although the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, pointed out that the countries with the greatest interests in China had not done so, and he cited the United States, Japan and Germany. Of those countries whose Ministers have visited the Dalai Lama—

Lord Ennals

My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? On the first day of German reunification the President of Germany received the Dalai Lama. He was the first foreign visitor to be received.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I stand corrected. I accept the noble Lord's correction, but those Ministers who have met the Dalai Lama stressed that they had done so in his private and religious capacity, and at the same time most have reiterated to the Chinese authorities their recognition of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet.

My noble friends Lord Willoughby and Lady Strange raised the case of Mr. Lhakpa Tsering and we are concerned about the report of Amnesty International about his death under torture. We are trying to establish further details.

The noble Lords, Lord Ennals and Lord Avebury, referred to the letter which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister wrote to the former. The letter was intended to convey the point that a Tibetan claim to independence had not achieved support from member states of the United Nations. My noble friend Lord Selkirk said that we should take the matter to the United Nations. We see it as essentially a problem which must be solved by the Chinese Government and the Tibetan people. We do not think that United Nations involvement would lead to a solution, but we are of course prepared to raise human rights issues at the United Nations; indeed, we have done so on several occasions.

I agree with the concern of my noble friend Lord Eden of Winton about human rights in Tibet. We have told the Chinese repeatedly of our concern. He raised the matter of Hong Kong, as did the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose. We see no parallel and consider it misleading to make too close a comparison. There are fundamental, historical, ethnic, economic and constitutional differences between Hong Kong and Tibet and between Chinese policies towards those two places.

We consider it to be wrong to draw a direct parallel also between the 17-point agreement that China signed with the Tibetans in 1951 and the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong. The latter is a binding international agreement registered at the United Nations. It provides as secure a guarantee for Hong Kong as possible. We believe that it is very much in Chinese interests to honour that Sino-British Joint Declaration.

My noble friend Lady Elles was concerned about damage to the environment. We are aware of the allegations that the Chinese are damaging the environment in Tibet. However, an eminent American anthropologist who has spent over a year travelling around Tibet's northern plateau recently reported that the flora and fauna were flourishing. He had found no ecological degradation.

The noble Earl, Lord Buchan, mentioned linkage. Chinese links with Tibet go back seven hundred years. The Chinese do not regard themselves as having suzerainty; they claim sovereignty based on this relationship. My noble friend Lady Elles referred to negotiations between the Chinese and the Dalai Lama. As we understand it, the position is that the Chinese have offered to talk to him about Tibet but they set certain conditions. The Dalai Lama responded positively to the principle of talks but was not happy with some of the conditions. The impasse has still to be resolved. We believe that dialogue between the Chinese Government and the Tibetan people offers the best hope for a solution to the problem of Tibet. We shall continue to encourage the Chinese authorities in this.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked whether we saw the Tibetans as a people with a right to self-determination. The United Nations has not determined the criteria for establishing who are a people. We are not in a position to make a definite decision on that.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I asked whether the Government saw the Tibetans as a people, not whether the United Nations did.

Lord Reay

My Lords, this is in the context of the United Nations resolution. There are problems over the question and the criteria have not been determined by the United Nations. In the absence of such a determination, we cannot make a definite decision.

My noble friend Lord Belhaven and Stenton spoke about the freedom of the Dalai Lama to say what he wishes. When he visited here in April 1988 or when his visit to this country was proposed, assurances were offered on his behalf that his visit would principally be pastoral and he would not make political statements while he was here. We accepted those assurances. They were not a pre-condition of his being allowed to enter the United Kingdom. No such assurances were offered or sought during his last brief visit in September 1990, nor have any been offered or sought in respect of his forthcoming visit next month. He was not gagged last time; he will not be gagged this time. He is entirely free to say what he wants.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, asked me some questions. I am not in a position to give her an answer to all of them. We make our views about Tibet known to the Chinese authorities. We urge them to talk to the Tibetans and the Dalai Lama.

With regard to the question of political prisoners, the Chinese told the Scandinavian ambassadors that there were 56 political prisoners in Tibet and 63 in re-education camps for labour offences.

I was also asked about NGOs. There is no HMG support for NGO activity in Tibet and none has been requested; but if it was it would be given sympathetic consideration.

In conclusion, I should like to reiterate that, while we advocate dialogue and improved relations between the Chinese and the Tibetans and we would like to see the Tibetans play a greater role in Tibet, we do not believe that independence is a realistic option. We do not think that people who promote the idea are doing the Tibetans a service. Let us see greater support here for dialogue between the Tibetans and the Chinese, which is something that the Dalai Lama has been trying to promote.

House adjourned at six minutes past ten o'clock.