HL Deb 12 May 1993 vol 545 cc1333-60

6.25 p.m.

Lord Ennals rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their policy concerning the future of Tibet, particularly in respect of the right of self-determination of its people, human rights and the protection of the environment.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope I may say how grateful I am to the other noble Lords and noble Baronesses who are taking part in this short debate. It is for me a great privilege to open this debate on Tibet and to ask for a statement of government policy when his Holiness the Dalai Lama is in Britain and in particular on the day when he was received by the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Douglas Hurd. He was received by the Foreign Secretary this morning and I was present. I can confirm that the discussions that took place were of a constructive nature. I hope they will be the beginning of an important dialogue between the Dalai Lama and his representatives and Her Majesty's Government. The Government have made it clear that they want to see a constructive dialogue between the Chinese and the Tibetans. I thought the Government set a good example in that this morning.

I should say a few words about the Dalai Lama himself. He was forced into exile in 1959 as a young man from his occupied and oppressed country. He represents the cause of democracy and freedom not only in Tibet but wherever liberty is denied. The Dalai Lama has many endearing qualities. Those in the House who have met him will know of his courage, constancy, modesty and compassion. But most of all in a world of cruelty, intolerance, torture, nationalism and ethnic cleansing, his commitment to non-violence is to be warmly applauded.

If one believes that in the end virtue will triumph, then Tibet will this century regain its freedom and its independence. But time is the enemy. At least a million people have been lost since China's unprovoked and illegal invasion in 1950. Policies of enforced sterilisation and enforced abortion have kept down the Tibetan indigenous population. Year by year tens of thousands—and in some years hundreds of thousands—of Han Chinese have been encouraged with financial incentives to move from China into Tibet to take on jobs that would otherwise have been carried out by Tibetans, undermining Tibet's rich religious and cultural heritage with the aim of exploiting Tibet's natural and mineral resources and eventually making Tibetans a minority in their own country.

I know from my own experience in Tibet that this is the case. I believe it is a deliberate policy on the part of the Chinese Government. That policy should be stopped and world opinion should speak out. Already Chinese outnumber Tibetans in Lhasa, the capital, by three to one. The city's plans for the year 2,000 make no provision for Tibetans. It is as if they did not exist. Only 2 per cent. of the land in the capital is now owned by Tibetans. It is a deliberate attempt to stamp out a race with its separate language, history, religion and culture. Britain should take up this aspect of the Tibetan problem as a matter of urgency. As it is a matter of principle, we should respond to it in a positive way.

Other noble Lords and noble Baronesses will speak about the appalling denial of human rights in Tibet; the cruel colonial policies pursued by the Chinese; the development of Tibet as a testing ground for nuclear weapons; and the massive deforestation of the beautiful Tibetan plateau. To see those trees going out of Tibet in dozens of lorries every day, for the benefit of the Chinese and to the destruction of Tibet, is an awful sight. I want to spend the rest of my time on the status of Tibet and to make a plea to the British Government to see the appalling facts as they are.

In my view, the Government have too often seemed to accept the Chinese version of events, to the sadness of the Tibetans who look to Britain as their most natural and probably most beloved friend. That acceptance of Chinese statistics is deplorable. I have a recent letter from a Foreign Office Minister which sought to prove, on the basis of Chinese census figures, that what I have said about population transfer is not true. The Minister quoted the Chinese census figure that showed that over 2 per cent. of the population of Tibet were Chinese. One has only to set foot in the country to know that that is nonsense.

Before the invasion in 1950, Britain recognised the de facto independence of Tibet and recognised that it had been so since 1911. That was confirmed by Sir Anthony Eden in July 1943, when he was Foreign Minister, and by Mr. Ernest Davies—an old and dear friend of mine who died many years ago, who was Ernest Bevin's junior Foreign Minister—who made the same confirmation on 7th November 1950. It was a bipartisan policy at that time. Clement Attlee, when Prime Minister, received a Tibetan trade delegation. That shows that in those days Britain recognised that Tibet was independent, although not diplomatically because it was not a country to apply for membership of the UN, for example.

For the record, I want to quote a paragraph from a letter sent by our last British diplomat in Lhasa, Hugh Richardson, to the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, who we had thought would be replying to the debate. The letter was written following an exchange which took place in this House on 1st February. Hugh Richardson is in his late 80s, but his age does not undermine his acceptance of the truth as he knew it. He said: I represented the British Government in India at Lhasa from 1936 to 1940, 1944, and from March 1946 to August 15th 1947; and from then until October 1950. During that time, I saw the unmistakable reality of Tibetan independence. There was only a handful of Chinese civilians at Lhasa and, certainly, no Chinese military presence anywhere in the country".

It is estimated that there are now about a quarter of a million Chinese soldiers in Tibet. He continued: It is difficult to see how Her Majesty's Government could regard Chinese actions from October 7th 1950 onwards as anything but invasion and occupation of Tibet".

He added that Sir Anthony Eden had said that Britain was prepared to recognise Chinese suzerainty over Tibet providing Tibet was treated as being autonomous. The argument about autonomy is repeated time and time again in statements from the Foreign Office. We shall see what the Minister has to say when she replies to the debate.

I ask why Britain has changed its policies in the past 50 years. The Government know that there is no vestige of real autonomy in Tibet now, nor has there been at any time since Tibet was occupied in 1950.

I received a communication from the Chinese embassy this morning. I was grateful for any communication from a country which I greatly respect in so many ways and which is playing a very important role in the world. I am not anxious to do other than to comment on Chinese actions in relation to human rights and in relation to Tibet and Hong Kong. That communication said: Tibet returned to the big family of the motherland through peaceful liberation in 1951", and: The Tibetans won basic human rights during the democratic reform".

We can examine those sentences and see what they actually mean.

Why do not Her Majesty's Government openly acknowledge what they know to be true? In the language of the conference of international lawyers—which was held in London from 6th to 10th January under the auspices of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet, of which with the noble Lord, Lord Braine, I have the honour to be joint president: by reason of the act of aggression and military occupation the Tibetan people's right to the exercise of self-determination has been denied. Since the military action of 1949–50, Tibet has been under the alien occupation and domination of the PRC [People's Republic of China] and has been administered with the characteristics of an oppressive colonial administration".

I want to know why the Government do not recognise that fact. I could make worse criticisms than "colonial". I believe that in Tibet there is an apartheid system. I recall many times seeing Tibetan people on the streets in their capital being ushered into the road by Chinese soldiers. It is expected that they will behave as if they are an underclass.

I hope that the Government will respond to the lawyers' conference recommendations. There are other recommendations which I wish to mention. The conference reached some important conclusions. It was a conference of well qualified international lawyers from many parts of the world under the distinguished chairmanship of Judge Michael Kirby of Australia, the current chairman of the International Commission of Jurists.

In addition to the decision which I have quoted, the conference said that under international law the Tibetan people are entitled to exercise the right to self-determination. It said that the Tibetan people had been denied the right of self-determination formerly enjoyed by Tibet prior to the act of aggression, which had been condemned by the United Nations General Assembly in three separate resolutions, to two of which the British Government gave their support, including one which called for China to recognise the right of self-determination for Tibet.

What is the Government's attitude to those important conclusions? The Foreign Office has had three months to react and I hope that the Government's reply will form part of the Minister's Foreign Office response at the end of the debate.

The situation is far too serious for any more weasel words. Tibet has no autonomy. Part of old Tibet is called by the Chinese the autonomous region of Tibet, leaving out vast areas of Tibet where no Chinese existed until the time of the invasion in 1950. It is ruled by the Chinese with an iron hand. It is an old style, communist police state. There is no real democracy, no freedom and no right to protest. Any Tibetan bureaucrats who do not toe the party line are sacked. Is that description what the Government mean by suzerainty? That is a term created by the Foreign Office, which I do not understand. I hope that the Minister will say what suzerainty means. It was first mentioned by Sir Anthony Eden; but he mentioned it in the sense in which I have already quoted it.

I want to see some clear, effective action by the Government in support of the Tibetans under the Dalai Lama, who put his case so clearly to the Foreign Secretary today. I pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary for receiving him in such a courteous and constructive way.

President Clinton is under strong bipartisan pressure in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, where Bills have been presented urging him to grant most favoured nation status for the Chinese only under certain conditions. That is understandable because it is only in the field of trade that we have the most important influence on China.

Last week our parliamentary group organised a conference of European parliamentarians in the Palace of Westminster. It was a good, constructive conference. I wish to quote one paragraph relating to trade. While accepting that China should in no way be isolated in its international trade, National and European Parliamentary representations should urge that China's Most Favoured Nation economic status with the USA and its economically advantageous status with the European Community … be made conditional on the terms contained in Bill S.806 currently before the US Senate introduced on 22nd April 1993, which includes conditions both on Tibet and Hong Kong".

All of us are as anxious about Hong Kong as we are about Tibet, if not more so, because we have a special responsibility, but the debate relates to Tibet. We appreciate the principled stand for democracy which has been taken by the new governor of Hong Kong.

In conclusion, I wish to say this to the Government. There is now, as there never has been before, strong support in Britain by the Press and the public up and down the country. Meetings addressed by the Dalai Lama have been totally full, with people turned away. He is possibly more popular than the Government at present. If we were to have an election, I believe that the Dalai Lama would win. The very fact that the Foreign Secretary met the Dalai Lama today, and that so many MPs came to hear his message last week in the Grand Committee Room and have signed the Early Day Motion, prove that. Tibet is not a far away country about which little is known or cared. An opinion poll which will shortly be published will show the, to me, extraordinary extent to which the public understand the problem. They know who the Dalai Lama is; they know where Tibet is; and they have a view on the issues.

What we want from the Government is strong support for the cause that is represented by the Dalai Lama. I believe that the Government will gain more credit for a principled reply than a cynical repetition of the negative lines to which we have become accustomed. As a result of the visit and the meeting with the Foreign Secretary, I hope—I should like to think that we shall not hear them today; I am not certain—that we shall have an end to what I have called weasel words.

6.42 p.m.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, I shall be brief because the time is getting on and some of us have listened to three-and-a-half hours of extremely interesting speeches. I wish to congratulate the noble Lord who opened the debate. I have no doubt that his father would have been extremely proud of the speech that he delivered today.

On behalf of the House, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, on what he has done. He has devised something which has played a large and vigorous part in the whole history of this country. We developed Tibet and made a useful contact of it. Much of it remains connected loosely, and sometimes not so loosely, with this country. The noble Lord has done a great job. I believe that we should offer him our warmest congratulations on what he has achieved.

Tibet is a real country. It is not just a piece of land. It was declared independent by Kublai Khan, who, incidentally, I do not believe was Chinese. He held it for a number of years until the Chinese became communists. From what I read I believe that changes are taking place today. Some are very important. The Chinese may well experience a totally different outlook.

With reference to the debate that we have just had, such changes may encourage an opening for trade to be conducted. As the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, said, that country has mineral resources and a fine weaving trade. In a very cold country such as Tibet, weaving is a useful occupation and creates a useful product. I shall say no more than that I believe the proposal is well worth while. I hope that the House will endeavour to convey to the Government that it is worth while. Along the south east and east coast of Asia there still remains a strong communist link which has done an immense amount of harm. I shall not enlarge on it. If we can get rid of that influence, it would be much in the interest of the people who live in Tibet and indeed in other parts of the world.

6.44 p.m.

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, I first met His Holiness the Dalai Lama shortly after I was chosen as Speaker. At that time Her Majesty's Government were concerned, no doubt, about their relationship with China and were not prepared to meet him formally. But a discreet message was passed to my office to the effect that a visit to Speaker's House would be very much appreciated. From that moment has arisen my interest in Tibet and the reason why I seek to make a small contribution today.

I, too, warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, for his initiative in arranging the debate and for the terms of his Motion.

I have had the pleasure—I would say the privilege—of meeting the Dalai Lama on all of his subsequent visits to our country. My admiration and respect for him as a man of wisdom and great spirituality is unbounded. On each of his visits he has made a great impression, in particular on his last visit when he addressed a large gathering in the Grand Committee Room, arranged by the all-Party group on Tibet to whom considerable credit should be given for bringing the attention not only of Parliament but also the public to the oppression of the Tibetan people. I am pleased to hear from the noble Lord that the meeting which His Holiness had today with the Foreign Secretary was so frank and successful.

I can well understand the concern of Her Majesty's Government not to disrupt relationships with China when negotiations about the future of Hong Kong are at a delicate phase. Nevertheless, when I first entered the House of Commons I remember being taken aside by a member whom I greatly respect who said, "Never forget: nothing is ever politically right that is morally wrong". What is going on in Tibet today is morally wrong. I believe that it is high time that public opinion was alerted to it and that Her Majesty's Government took a much more active and positive line in condemning the Chinese for the abuse and denial of human rights, for the action of the Chinese Government in destroying Tibetan culture and the Tibetan way of life. In a real sense it is, and has been, cultural and physical genocide. Over 6,000 monasteries and temples have been destroyed. As the noble Lord said, there has been a massive transfer of population from China into Tibet. In that process over 1 million Tibetans have been killed—one-fifth of the entire population. So much for that peaceful return to the motherland, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, referred when citing the communication that he received from the Chinese Embassy.

In Yugoslavia such a transfer would be called ethnic cleansing, would it not? Yet it has been going on in Tibet for well nigh 40 years and nothing has been done about it—perhaps not quite nothing because there have been three United Nations resolutions condemning China for violation of fundamental human rights and the United Nations has called upon the Chinese to respect the Tibetan people's rights to self-determination.

No one who has met the Dalai Lama could ever doubt his absolute integrity, sincerity and resolute commitment to non-violence. Whenever I have met him he has explained to me how difficult it has been for him to persuade the young Tibetans in exile to pursue a policy of non-violence when they have seen the attention and the access to governments that violence can frequently bring in other countries. No leader has adhered so steadfastly to a non-violent approach in pursuing his cause. No leader and no people have been so cruelly tested over the decades.

We take our parliamentary system far too much for granted. Yet does not the word "parliament" mean "the settlement of dispute by the word rather than by the sword": in other words, the non-violent approach? If we cherish that for ourselves, should we not be giving wholehearted support to a small country which for centuries has practised the same approach?

In exile the Dalai Lama has promulgated a democratic constitution for Tibet combining Buddhist principles of non-violence with a constitutional monarchy and an elected parliament. Such a parliament does now exist in Dharamsala, elected on a basis of one-man-one-vote by Tibetans living in exile in India and in 33 other countries. The Tibetan cabinet is accountable to the Tibetan electorate through the Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies. The Dalai Lama told me that there is even a speaker elected (or chosen) by the members of the parliament. I hope that he gave to that speaker in his parliament the same advice that he gave to me when I first met him. He said: "You have a very frustrating life". "Correct", I said. "What am I going to do about that?". "Ah," he said, "you must take it all upon yourself and dissolve it with compassion". Well, my Lords, I try.

The Dalai Lama has consistently said that when Tibet is released from the Chinese yolk his first action will be to stand down as a political leader and ensure a constitutional assembly based upon the pattern which we enjoy here in what we frequently term the Mother of Parliaments.

For all these reasons, I believe that we should be much more positive in our support for this small peace-loving country which has suffered so much, almost in silence.

I do not know whether it is in order to give quotations in this House—and I wish I could remember where I picked this one up—but I end my brief contribution with these words: Let no-one be discouraged by the belief that there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills: against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man [or a woman] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and, crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, these ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistence". Let us pray that we are doing that tonight.

6.54 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I rise with diffidence following such great dedicated experts as the noble Lord who just spoke so movingly, the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and my noble friend Lord Ennals, who has given a lead for so long on this point at issue. I had better plead for a measure of their compassion, a quality which, as we have just been told, is associated with the good Dalai Lama and all the best people.

I cannot help recalling a story told in Kenneth Harris's fine life of Lord Attlee. Lord Attlee, when a young social worker, was taken to his first Labour Party branch meeting. He noticed that all the men wore beards. I do not know how the women were dressed. I do not believe that in those days that was commented upon. Attlee whispered to his brother: "Has one got to be bearded to join this show?", meaning the Labour Party. The question arises: does one have to be an expert on Tibet to take part in this debate? I venture to offer the opinion that one does not have to be. I believe that this debate will be read in our own Foreign Office and elsewhere. My noble friend Lord Ennals escorted the Dalai Lama to meet the Foreign Secretary. I am not quite sure what the result was but it seemed that my noble friend did not come away discouraged. So I suppose it went well. At any rate, I hope that this debate will be read in our own Foreign Office, in the office of the Secretary of State in the United States and in China. From that point of view, the more contributions we have and the bigger the volume of speeches, the more notice will be taken of the efforts we make.

I would not claim to have learned much, or anything, worthwhile about Tibet; though I was a Foreign Office Minister for a while, and when I was Leader of this House I used to reply to the many debates on foreign affairs. I should say that my general knowledge of things Tibetan was about that of the average person in public life. That was until I read just recently a wonderful book by Mary Craig which I venture to recommend to everybody, even the experts if they have not read it. My noble friend Lord Ennals has praised it very highly. Mary Craig is a respected author but she is perhaps best known for her book called Blessings about her two handicapped children. From that tragic situation she extracted an inspiring beauty.

The situation in Tibet, although of course on a very much larger scale, is tragic enough. It is difficult at first sight to see what beauty can be extracted from events in Tibet during the past 40 years. On the other hand, there is the undying courage of the Dalai Lama in exile for the people of Tibet, determined to survive and in the end to conquer through non-violence. So there is something beautiful there.

We ask what can be done. Mary Craig brings out all the facts which are so well known to the speakers tonight. One of the most horrible was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Ennals, when he said that in Lhasa the Tibetans are now shoved into the street and treated as second-class citizens. I had not grasped quite how degraded a position was now being allocated to them. But the facts are known to all noble Lords who are taking part in the debate tonight and much more widely.

We are bound to ask: will things get better? I am one of those who believe that in the end things do get better. Who could have forecast that the communist empire would have dissolved? One may say that many troubles have followed that. That was not forecast a few years ago and, taking a broader view, I believe that the situation there is very much better.

Things could get worse in Tibet. I hope that I am not striking too jarring a note when I say that. If the influx of Chinese into Tibet continues, things could get very much worse so that their ideal of self-determination would begin to look very feeble. So there must he the strongest possible efforts made to stop that influx. That is not sufficient of course. Self-determination is mentioned in the Motion. I suppose that self-determination has been accepted by the civilised world since President Wilson enunciated it in 1918, but we have not always lived up to that principle. But that has been the aspiration: that the nations of the world should be allowed to determine their own futures. Many complications can result, as anybody can see today in former Yugoslavia. Still, that ideal must be maintained.

I suppose that in practice—as my noble friend Lord Ennals and other experts will tell us—we must insist on negotiations with the Chinese without preconditions. I presume that means that the Dalai Lama should go back forthwith and be allowed to be the spiritual leader. How on earth can one bring about that kind of result? How can it be achieved?

I was encouraged to read in The Times this morning a statement which has reference to a point mentioned earlier by my noble friend Lord Ennals. The article is headed: US negotiator will use trade weapon to coerce Peking". We are told in the article that the American negotiator is warning the Chinese that unless they make commitments on human rights, including Tibet, America will attach conditions to China's trading status. That situation seems to be full of promise. It is possible that this is a moment of opportunity. But it is not enough—as all noble Lords will agree and as so many people of this country are beginning to appreciate—for us to say, "Leave it to the Americans". That would be a very unworthy course to follow. Everyone—experts, non-experts and the general public—feel in their bones, and history bears it out, that this country has a special responsibility with regard to Tibet. It would be shameful to leave it to the Americans. We must make a contribution and more strongly than ever before.

Personally, I agree with every word that has been said hitherto.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene before my noble friend sits down. I simply want to say that it is not just a matter of whether we would interfere or leave it to the Americans. The British Government at the moment are positively urging President Clinton to do the opposite of putting on conditions. I think that is very important.

The Earl of Longford

The trouble with being a novice is that one says so much that is correct and then one gets something wrong. I was beginning my peroration when it was stultified by my noble and dear friend behind me. I shall say no more. I welcome this debate and am proud to have been able to play a small part in it.

7.4 p.m.

Lord Braine of Wheatley

My Lords, we are indeed indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, for initiating this debate. He was absolutely right when he said that the reception that His Holiness received last week and indeed on his previous visit to our country aroused enormous public interest among ordinary people.

This debate is about Tibet and the agonies that its people have suffered under Chinese occupation. Some 30 years ago the International Commission of Jurists declared that the Chinese were committing genocide—that is the word that was used. Yet the civilised world so far has done nothing about it.

In an important sense this debate is also or should be about China, where tyranny has reigned even longer over the world's largest nation and where millions have been sent to 5,000 or more forced labour camps for so-called crimes which are not defined by law. In such places beatings, torture and solitary confinement are used to crush the spirit, perpetuate the Maoist view of communism and cut off the talented and hardworking Chinese people from the rest of the human family.

In regard to Tibet we are told that our hands are tied because of Hong Kong. Unless there are changes in China, the outlook for Hong Kong after 1997 is black indeed, and 1997 is not far off. In the meantime, the Tibetan people are the victims of one of the cruellest regimes on earth.

The civilised world cannot stand by and do nothing. I believe one speaker said that the situation could get worse. It is getting worse. Those who study this matter closely know that it is getting worse all the time. Tibet's natural resources are being plundered. In the past 40 years its forest cover has been almost halved and soil erosion and consequential flooding have become a serious problem. Chinese settlers are being moved in fast in order ultimately to displace the native Tibetans. Tibet was rich in minerals. Those minerals are being ruthlessly exploited in China's interest. Forced labour is the order of the day.

It is not that people in the West are indifferent to all that is happening. The recent Conference of European Parliamentarians urged that measures should be taken by the international community to safeguard the very existence—those are the words that were used—of Tibet and to end its illegal occupation by the Chinese. The conference further urged that the international community should not allow China to pursue its unrestrained policy of oppression. It declared that European parliamentarians and our own national parliaments—that includes us—should call for implementation of UN General Assembly Resolutions 1723 and 2079 calling for the restoration of Tibet's human rights, including the right of self-determination, the release of political prisoners and for the International Committee of the Red Cross and other human rights organisations to be permitted to inspect prisons and other places of detention. That is a clear call to our Parliament and I hope that it will be heeded. Let us give a clear response.

I have some sympathy with the Government. One can understand HMG's hesitancy about taking tougher measures unilaterally or even urging the European Community and the United States to take positive joint action under the banner of human rights. One can understand Her Majesty's Government's anxiety to ensure that their actions do not make greater difficulties for Hong Kong in the run-up to the colony's return to China.

But Tibet is a mirror in which not only Hong Kong but Taiwan—Taiwan in particular—can see reflected what on present form can be expected when the great motherland of China opens her arms to bring home her grown-up and highly successful children who are now outside China. At present what those people see can bring little comfort. It brings no comfort at all to Hong Kong where the die is cast. But to Taiwan there is a stark warning of what to expect.

It is not the Tibetan leadership that presents obstacles, as has been rightly said by every speaker in the debate so far. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has now been in exile in India for 33 years, keeps alive the hope that his people will be free. I had the honour of being present in Oslo in 1989 when he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his advocacy of peaceful struggle for the liberation of his country. He is truly a man of peace. I venture to say that he is the most saintly man I have ever known in my life. It was an impressive ceremony, attended by the Norwegian royal family. Afterwards, the Dalai Lama went on the balcony of his hotel. But what moved the heart was the tremendous greeting which the Norwegian people gave him. Thousands of Norwegians paraded in the streets and cheered in his honour as they passed the hotel.

His Holiness has repeatedly said—he said it in London last week—that he is in favour of discussion with the Chinese; he is ready to talk with them at any time and in any place about the future of his country. All that begs the question: can we in the free world simply stand by and do nothing? That is all that we are doing at the moment—nothing. That begs the question also: is there anything that we can do?

The West as a whole is not obliged to aid China's trade. The United States could waive MFN status if it chose. Indeed, if the American public and people in Europe knew that they were currently importing goods manufactured in China's vast prison camps, which is where so many exports being bought in the West come from—where people labour under the most inhuman conditions—they would draw back and ask what our governments are doing about it.

Up to 20 million Chinese men and women are employed in those camps. People in the West should know that there is still resistance in Tibet. The Tibetans are not lying down. They may not have arms but they are brave spirits. Wall posters appear regularly in Lhasa about what is happening to their enslaved and plundered country. I was struck by the wording of an appeal from a prison addressed to the United Nations and smuggled out of Tibet last October. It said, Most of the Tibetan people, even those who are not in prison are like prisoners, having mouths but no freedom of speech, having eyes but no freedom of sight, having legs but no freedom of movement". Those appeals are specific about the cruel exploitation of both the people and the national resources of Tibet. We are told of resistance and cruel punishment meted out to those who are caught. Those who lead the civilised world must listen to the cries of a people who are being systematically destroyed. Let me put it another way. Parliamentarians in democratic countries are indeed asking for some co-ordinated action. It is our Government that must listen and devise an appropriate strategy. And they must devise it soon.

7.14 p.m.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, I should like to concentrate on the Chinese exploitation of Tibet's materials, and in particular its minerals. I would first comment on the general Tibetan attitude to all things material. It is that matter is merely energy temporarily locked up. After a short time it is released again and the matter becomes once more a force —a force for good.

The reason I mention that is that two relevant thoughts flow from it. First, that which the Tibetans discovered 2,000 years ago Einstein rediscovered for us this century. He expressed it in a different way, in the famous equation that relates energy to matter—E=MC2 Thus it is a mistake to think of Tibetan thinking as in any way primitive. It is in fact extremely modern.

The second thought is that the civilised world's development of E=MC2 is not a life force; it is a death force. From it came the nuclear missile. How ironic it is that the Chinese have sited their missiles all over Tibet. What a travesty of the Tibetan belief that energy is a force for good; Tibet is now in fact the main launch pad for Chinese H-bombs.

Along with the bombs there are now millions of Han Chinese civilians in Tibet, together with a considerable army of occupation. That military occupation is expensive. But it is paid for twice over by the sale of Tibetan materials and artefacts; for instance, religious pictures and sacred texts stolen from the temples. Today any tourist can buy a sacred text in Macao. He can buy a religious painting. He can buy a large range of tourist goods for a very fair price. That is not surprising, for the goods are made by slave labour as my noble friend Lord Braine said.

Besides the plunder of the books and pictures, the Chinese are plundering Tibet's minerals—its natural resources. China is spending 40 million US dollars on exploiting Tibet's oil and gas alone, and it is spending yet more on mining marble, chromite, gold and no less than 140 other minerals. The money is well spent because the profits on the minerals are considerable. Perhaps I may take just one —borax—from which is made boracic powder. The actual profit to China from boracic powder is sufficient to have paid the entire cost of invasion and occupation of the so-called People's Liberation Army over the past 43 years. That is another nightmare version of the Tibetan belief that all matter is energy. In this case the matter—the powder —lines the pockets of the Chinese, and the energy is the sweat of the Tibetan slaves who mine the borax.

What is to be done? We have this debate around every two years. It normally coincides with a visit by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. But there is modified hope because each time he visits us he seems to attract more press coverage, more public support and more government recognition. Originally noble Lords may remember that he was denied access to 10 Downing Street. On his last visit he met the Prime Minister and on this visit he today had successful talks with the Foreign Secretary. For the first time we British favour unconditional talks between the Chinese and the Dalai Lama. That is a giant stride forward from the old position whereby the Chinese would only talk with His Holiness on condition that he first admitted that he was a willing Chinese vassal, and that the People's Liberation Army had indeed freed his people and suchlike nonsense.

I believe that it is premature for us to recognise Tibet as an independent nation when no other country does and when the United Nations do not either. I have discovered a body affiliated to the United Nations called UN RPO—the United Nations Non-represented Peoples' Organisation. That is lobbying for Tibetan independence. It is a start.

A more important start is the talks mentioned already by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that I too read about in today's The Times. They are being conducted between the Peking authorities and the United States Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Winston Lord. He seeks to impose conditions on China's current trading status with America, which is that of most favoured nation. Mr. Lord, backed by Congress, seeks to continue that preferred treatment if and only if—among other things—China stops making nuclear weapons and if and only if her record on human rights improves. Specifically regarding Tibet, Peking must put an end to the great influx of Han Chinese. It is a serious and urgent matter because quite soon, if the present trend continues, the Chinese will outnumber the Tibetans in their own country.

It seems that here in the United Kingdom we are keen to placate the Chinese, doubtless bearing in mind how vulnerable we are in Hong Kong. We argue that greater trade could lead to greater wealth, which could lead to greater democracy. But the Dalai Lama, a very compassionate man, takes the opposite view: that greater trade will encourage the hardliners and that greater wealth will be spent on a mightier military force. Anyhow, our governor-general in Hong Kong seems to favour soft soaping the Chinese, which, sadly, does not do him much good in their eyes. I have discovered a headline in the Chinese newspaper Wen Wai Po which describes his excellency as "wildly arrogant, conceited, opinionated and unbridled".

As the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, mentioned, earlier this year the Convention of International Lawyers held a conference here about self-determination for Tibet. It invited the Chinese to partake. Their reply was typical. It will surprise no one. This is how it goes: As is known to all, Tibet has been an inalienable part of China since the 13th century. The Tibetan people are a member of the big family of the Chinese Nation … We strongly insist that arrangements for this conference be cancelled". The debate we hold tonight has its own mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly. I know how the Dalai Lama would respond to these Chinese threats and insults. He would surely say, "These are not typical of the Chinese people. They come merely from the caucus of hardliners at the top. But we must nevertheless bear them squarely on our shoulders and drown them in a sea of compassion". We must do our utmost to ensure that Chinese bluster will be smothered by Tibetan kindness.

7.22 p.m.

Lord Thurlow

My Lords, I have vivid personal memories of the invasion of Tibet in 1950 because I happened to be serving in our High Commission in New Delhi. It was my job, as the relevant counsellor, to be sent along to the government of India's Foreign Office to discuss their position in the light of this aggression. It was not very long after the transfer of power in India. The British Government, for their part, had no significant national interest and after 1947 had handed over to India the responsibilities which formerly we carried on behalf of India in relation to Tibet. We all remember that at that time Pandit Nehru, with all his great qualities and his great contribution to India, had a very unrealistic attitude towards China and the Chinese communists. He actually believed the professions of the Chinese when they signed the five very idealistic principles of international comity at Bandung. So the position of the Indian government was, "Trust the Chinese". We have seen what the results of that have been.

Noble Lords have raised the question of what can be done. We all know that there are very strict limits. We are not prepared to contemplate the use of force. The Dalai Lama would be the last to accept such a contingency. But there are means—noble Lords have referred to them—by which we can build up and maintain the pressure of international opinion to which, whatever we may think about the hardliners, there are grounds for believing that they are not entirely insensitive. There are the two resolutions in the United Nations Assembly which have been referred to. It is perhaps time for another resolution calling on the Chinese to implement the two resolutions of the past for self-determination. There is the Human Rights Commission. Might not the Human Rights Commission appoint a special rapporteur to keep what is going on in Tibet under review? Might not even the United Nations Assembly reactivate the special committee on decolonisation, which used to cause us so much trouble? Tibet is no more than a colony of China.

What about us Europeans? We are, I hope, within sight of the ratification of Maastricht. When the European Union comes into existence, we shall proceed to seek to draw up, under the foreign policy and security pillar, common positions. Let us encourage our European partners to draw up a common position over Tibet. No European country carries very much clout by itself. But Europe as a whole carries very considerable clout and will carry more clout as trade increases; and potential trade can become something very important to China. The commercial advantages that China already enjoys with the European Community could be made conditional in the way that Congress is seeking to get the US Government to insist on with their own MFN renewal.

We all recognise the delicacy of Her Majesty's Government's position over Hong Kong. But I regard it as an illusion to think that Beijing respects appeasement. Bullies do not respect appeasers. It is an illusion to suppose that silence on Tibet to avoid provoking China will improve the prospects of Chinese implementation of the agreement on Hong Kong. Probably, indeed, nothing could do more to reduce the distrust at present felt in Hong Kong about Chinese intentions after 1997 than an end to the injustice and oppression in Tibet. This could be a sign of possible change. Change is going on the whole time in China. We know of the enormous economic progress in parts of China. Change will continue to go on. This makes it a moment, as noble Lords have said, at which Her Majesty's Government can suitably review the position they have taken for so many years.

Our own public statements since 1950 have lacked both honesty and clarity. I suggest that it is time to come out plainly in support of Tibetan self-determination with our European partners. There is no reason any longer for refusing officially to expose the facts and demand change.

In 1991 one of the foremost authorities on the historic and legal position of Tibet, my former colleague, Sir Algernon Rumbold, commented: The depth of the Foreign Office's kow-tow is disturbing: the Foreign Office often describe Britain's view of Tibet's status before 1950 incorrectly to avoid displeasing China". He went on to say: The Foreign Office would be wiser and their position more respectable if they spoke out in strong condemnation of China's seizure and misgovernment of Tibet". I hope that the weasel words of the past 40 years may no longer be heard. I hope that the confusion which has been sown by the use of the phraseology of suzerainty and autonomy, will now pass into oblivion. Those terms were introduced for what at the time were no doubt valid imperial reasons. But suzerainty means nothing whatever to China. It is a meaningless term for them and it has relevance only to European feudalism.

So I hope that we will give the lead to our European partners and that, when the time comes, seek to initiate the drawing up of a common position for the European union which may pursue the recommendations of the international conference of lawyers and others for aiming at self-determination and the ultimate independence of Tibet.

7.32 p.m.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, for initiating this debate on Tibet, particularly so at this time when His Holiness the Dalai Lama is in Great Britain, and was indeed in the Palace of Westminster last week when many of us, as well as our colleagues from another place, were privileged enough to meet him and to hear him speak about the problems facing Tibet. On Friday he will be receiving an honorary degree at my old university, St. Andrews, at which the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, will also be present.

Since our last debate on Tibet, initiated by my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke, there has been a considerable shift in opinion towards receiving His Holiness, as is evidenced by his discussions this morning with my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, and towards recognising the independence, de jure, if not now de facto, of Tibet.

From 6th to 10th January of this year a conference of international lawyers from Great Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and many other parts of the world including India, was held in London to which the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and my noble friend Lord Mersey have already referred. The Chinese refused to attend; tried to make Justice Michael Kirby of Australia cancel the conference, and sent to the conference a number of Chinese pamphlets stating their viewpoint, all of which were read and many referred to, and all of which were found unconvincing.

The conference concluded that Tibet was an independent country, compulsorily invaded and annexed by the Chinese, and it urgently invited the United Nations to review its call for the respect of human rights in Tibet and the implementation of the self-determination of the Tibetan people.

Several noble Lords have spoken of the packing of millions of Chinese into Tibet where there are only 6 million Tibetans. The Chinese, having invaded Tibet, killed and tortured Tibetans, smashed, defiled and destroyed all their holy places and monasteries, are now seeking to squeeze out their population by outnumbering them.

Chen Kuiyan, the First Secretary and ruler of the autonomous region of Tibet since last December, is giving more and more incentives to Chinese people to settle in Tibet, including his profiteering son. He is trying to repeat his success in Mongolia where 81 per cent. of the population is now Chinese.

Chinese is being taught in all the schools in Tibet and those speaking Tibetan are made to feel second-class citizens and backward.

It may interest your Lordships to know that last week, in the Grand Committee Room, I was working out in my mind how to frame a question about what language was being taught in schools in Tibet, when His Holiness, who was answering another question, turned in my direction and said that Chinese was being taught in all Tibetan schools, and thoroughly answered the question which I had not yet asked and was still in my mind.

One of the many upsetting things about the Chinese occupation of Tibet is the degradation of the environment. My noble friend Lord Mersey and I both wished to speak of this. We agreed that he would talk about minerals and let me take vegetable.

Until the 1950s, the Tibetans' agricultural methods were suited to the fragile mountainous terrain. A small population lived chiefly off yak herding and barley growing, leaving fields fallow for long periods to prevent leaching and erosion. Hunting and logging were controlled by taboos, particularly round the monasteries.

The fauna and flora of Tibet include many hundreds of rare species adapted to difficult and highly localised conditions. Forests range within a short space from sub-tropical to alpine; larch and maple flourish in temperate lower valleys; spruce, fir, oak and rhododendrons in the south east.

In 1950 the forested areas of eastern Tibet were annexed to China, renamed as parts of Sichuan and Yunnan, and became the second largest timber source for China when an intense programme of clearance began. In 1950 9 per cent. of Tibet was forest. By 1985 only 5 per cent. was. Roads were built, and are continuing to be built, to make the forests accessible to logging. By 1985 15 per cent. of U'Tsang forests and over half of Kaam forests were opened up by roads.

It is alleged that in the Kongbo and Pawo Tamo areas of U'Tsang alone over 20,000 Chinese army personnel and Tibetan prisoners are involved in felling dense old forests. Tourists have reported seeing up to 50 trucks per hour, loaded with mature timber, leaving Tibet on the roads to Chengdu and Golmud.

In Watershed Management in Mountain Region of South West China the editors, Li Wehua and Zhang Mintao, state that south east of the Himalayan/ Hungduan mountain ranges, where there has been extensive clearance: Restocking has not been undertaken; neither have new trees been planted at the correct times". China Daily in March 1989, quoted only a one in seven survival rate of replanted trees. Once forest or grass cover is destroyed, erosion is rapid. Silt washes down, clogs up dams, and causes floods.

It is worth recalling that six of the world's greatest rivers rise in Tibet—the Ganges, the Indus, the Brahmaputra, the Irrawaddy, the Yangtse and the Yellow River. The last two flow into China, and according to the Beijing Review of 21st November 1983, 14 million tons of topsoil are washed away daily. Hydro-electric dams and reservoirs on the Yangtze have clogged up, and flooding now occurs more widely in all the lower channels of the six great rivers.

As a result also the climate is changing and becoming dryer; lack of oxygen which used to be released by the trees is leading to a thinness in the ozone layer.

While I am on the subject of vegetables I should like to quote from a letter of 3rd February this year which reached the Dalai Lama on March 7th, from a lady from Kham, who is growing vegetables in Lhasa. She says: 1 would like to report to you, on behalf of myself and others, that the present situation in Tibet is very poor. For example, I have grown just twenty eight kilograms of vegetables, and for this I have to pay one thousand Yuan which I think is about £100— rent on the land. Although we are living in our own Tibet, if we don't have a registration card, we don't have any way of living. We are like the corpse on the stone platform of a sky burial site. My noble friend Lord Mersey and I did not mention animals, in our division of vegetable and mineral, so I should just like to say that of the large herds of wild yak, antelope and musk deer which used to roam Tibet 50 years ago, the Himalayan brown bears, wolves, lynx and snow leopard, as well as white pheasants, eagles, Brahmani duck and quail, few are left, due both to the dramatic increase in hunting, the increase in human population, and the reduction of forest habitat. Musk deer, Thorold's deer, and McNeill's deer, now all endangered species, are hunted to supply the pharmaceutical markets of China. The pelt of the golden monkey, a Tibetan species, is also much in demand.

The Chinese people are long-term thinkers. They have a great and an ancient civilization, as have the Tibetans. The Chinese do not think of what will happen today, or tomorrow, or even next week. They see far into the centuries.

I would say this to the Chinese. The pen has always been deemed to be mightier than the sword, and the word, which was there in the beginning, is mightier than either. They should listen to the words of the Dalai Lama, and to what he says about his people, and about his country of Tibet, for those words will blow through the winds on the roof of the world like the breath of God, and will endure for ever and ever.

7.42 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, for tabling this Unstarred Question because, with all the other troubles in the world, it would be only too easy to forget Tibet if the noble Lord did not remind us of it from time to time. I was also very impressed by the speech of my noble friend Lady Strange. Having a slight acquaintance with another country which, fortunately, has just been abandoned by the Communists, I would say to her that the Communists have ruined everything that they have touched, including Tibet and China, and the sooner they go, the better.

Like the noble Earl, Lord Longford, I am not an expert on Tibet. In fact, I am possibly even less of an expert than he is. I do not know, but perhaps we might compare notes later—

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, but I cannot believe that any noble Lord speaking in this debate is less of an expert than me, so the noble Lord must excel.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, I accept that.

I shall limit my remarks to two parts of the situation. First, as was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, in particular, the Chinese Government say that they have suzerainty over Tibet. Unhappily, the word "suzerainty" has been accepted by the Foreign Office—possibly it was even invented by the Foreign Office. As I understand it, it is also accepted by all the major powers in the world and the United Nations.

Your Lordships, especially those of your Lordships who are Scottish, ought to have some understanding of the meaning of the word "suzerainty" —that is, if you have read the history of your country. For many centuries the English Crown claimed suzerainty over Scotland and that claim gave rise to innumerable laws and much bloodshed, now happily in the past. The French kings also claimed suzerainty over the English kings in respect of their French possessions. This, no doubt, was one of the reasons why Edward III claimed that he was King of France. It was very convenient for him, but at this point perhaps I could remind your Lordships, Her Majesty's Government and any members of the Chinese Government who may happen to be listening that suzerainty is a medieval term. It implies feudal superiority. So, are the Chinese, the Foreign Office, the United Nations and all the rest of them saying that China has a feudal superiority over Tibet? Surely that is absurd, anachronistic nonsense and I invite my noble friend Lady Trumpington to agree with me when she replies that it is anachronistic nonsense.

So, if we exclude suzerainty, what is it that legally justifies China's brutal occupation and colonisation of her neighbour? Do we accept that force alone gives a state the right and title to occupy its neighbour? If we do, then in 1943 most of Europe was legally part of Germany.

So what is it that makes Tibet a part of the Chinese motherland? It cannot be race because racially the Tibetans are Mongol and they are less like the Chinese than we are like the Turks and we are not part of the Turkish motherland. Is it culture? I put it to your Lordships that the Tibetan culture is quite different from Chinese culture.

The cultures are different; the languages are different; the races are different and the will for unity only exists on the Chinese side. So I hope that the Foreign Office will stop saying that the Tibetans should not be encouraged to seek their independence. I believe that the time may not be far away when Tibet will be free. After all, we have seen it in Europe and nobody expected it. Her Majesty's Government ought to prepare for that because Tibetans may then ask who helped them during their years of depression and darkness.

Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I accept that Her Majesty's Government obviously cannot physically and alone end the Chinese occupation of Tibet. I doubt if the whole world could do that. We can only ask that Her Majesty's Government show a more sympathetic attitude than they have shown in the past. It is an advance that the Dalai Lama has been received by both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. A further advance would be if Her Majesty's Government acknowledged Tibet's absolute right to independence. I also hope that we may hear the last of this absurd and anachronistic rubbish about suzerainty.

7.47 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I, too, would like to thank my noble friend Lord Ennals for initiating this debate. Unlike him and some other speakers, I have not had the privilege of meeting the Dalai Lama but I have long been an admirer of him; first, for his incredible fight on behalf of his people over so many years and, secondly, for the way in which he has undertaken that.

Every noble Lord who has spoken has supported what my noble friend Lord Ennals said in his passionate plea for a better deal for the Tibetan people and has condemned the Chinese Government's treatment of Tibet since 1950. It is now nearly 30 years since the United Nations resolution on the right of self-determination for Tibet was passed. How much longer must the people of Tibet wait for this right to be realised? Surely there can be no better time than now to start exerting sustained pressure on the Chinese Government to change their policies towards Tibet.

As others have already said, China wishes to extend MFN status with respect to trading with the United States. China wishes to host the Olympic Games in the year 2000. China wishes to become a full member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Those are all understandable and legitimate aspirations, but questions must be asked about whether China's aspirations to become a full member of the international community in all respects and to benefit from the various privileges associated with that can be met while its human rights record in Tibet is so deplorable.

As the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, has said, we must of course recognise the many positive changes taking place in China today: the rapid economic growth, the acceptance of the benefits of the market economy which accompanies that, the greater freedom for many of its citizens and the opening up of the country to foreigners. That change is taking place at great speed. We should welcome it and congratulate the Chinese on their achievement; nevertheless, at the same time we should not hesitate to express our disappointment and our dismay that Tibet is benefiting so little from those changes.

Like other speakers, I should like to draw attention to certain recent developments which have worsened rather than improved the situation. First, let me deal with population transfer. The encouragement of thousands of Chinese settlers in Tibet so that Tibetans become a minority in their homeland must be deplored. I know that there is some dispute about the figures. According to the Chinese 1990 census, 7.5 million people living in Tibet are Tibetans and some 5 million are Chinese. I am aware that there are disputes about those figures, and I accept what my noble friend Lord Ennals said about that matter.

I understand that the reason the Chinese have been justifying that position is that they see it as part of the economic development of Tibet, but I suspect that there is also a wish on the part of some members of the Chinese Government to break down resistance to Chinese rule, and in doing that they are risking destroying its unique culture. That is unacceptable under the 10th Geneva Convention of 1949 which outlaws such behaviour. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether the Government have raised that question recently with the Chinese Government.

The second issue concerns the destruction of the environment. China has turned Tibet into a vast military base. A quarter of the Chinese 350-strong nuclear missile force is located there. At least 300,000 troops are also stationed there. The ominous-sounding 9th Academy has become a testing ground for extensive nuclear activities. There are reports of radioactive contamination of the drinking water. There are now reports of cancer among children living near the 9th Academy. There is also an increasing risk of pollution of the water supply as a result of soil erosion caused by deforestation, a point to which the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, referred. We cannot accept that Tibet should pay such a heavy price for China's irresponsible environmental policies.

Let me turn now to the subject of human rights. We know from Amnesty International that there are still large numbers of political and religious prisoners in Tibet, many of them kept in appalling conditions. We know from Amnesty International that torture is common. We know that only recently five farmers were imprisoned for between 13 and 15 years merely for raising the Tibetan flag and shouting pro-Tibet slogans at a political education meeting in their village. Many others have been imprisoned without fair trial for opposing the regime. I refer again to last year's report from Amnesty International which catalogues many of those grotesque violations.

Perhaps I may turn now to the nature of the Tibetan regime. As other speakers have already said, it is tightly controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. All senior government officials and party officials are appointed in Beijing. Many of them speak no Tibetan. There has recently been a further purge of Tibetan officials suspected of sympathising with the Dalai Lama. According to an article in the Independent in February of this year, the Chinese policy in the 1980s of rehabilitating prominent Tibetans once denounced as reactionaries is now coming unstuck. The new party chief in Lhasa (Mr. Chen whom the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, has already mentioned) served previously in Inner Mongolia. He is reported to have brought several hundred Chinese cadres to replace Tibetan officials even at county and prefectural levels.

In distasteful language, rather reminiscent of the cultural revolution, Mr. Chen has started attacking the children of the former ruling class in Tibet for trying, in his words, to restore the old system and—crime of all crimes—for displaying pictures of the Dalai Lama in their homes. Mr. Chen spent some time reminding the Tibetans that they are meant to be atheists. In the light of such repression is it surprising that many Tibetans believe that the only solution is complete independence from China. The refusal of the Chinese Government to allow Tibetans to hold senior positions in the country is hardly consistent with the claim that Tibet has the status of a special autonomous region. We also know that while there has been some improvement in respect of religious freedom, there are still far too many reports of monks and nuns being expelled from their monasteries. We also know that the teaching and study of Buddhism is forbidden.

The map of Tibet has been redrawn by the Chinese, so that some parts of what was Tibet before 1950 have been absorbed into neighbouring Chinese provinces. Once again, that does not conform to international law. So far as concerns education, the poor quality of Tibetan schooling compared with that provided for Chinese children is a scandal. According to a recent article in the Economist, bright Tibetan children are now being offered scholarships to attend secondary schools in China, which may greatly improve their chance of a university place later. That is causing concern in Tibet. What is really needed is serious investment in schools in Tibet so that children's educational opportunities in their own country are improved. That means higher salaries for teachers and an improvement in the provision of education in remote areas. That would be far better than quasi-exile for their children to secondary schools in China.

I believe that I have said enough about the iniquities of Chinese rule in Tibet to demonstrate that since its invasion in 1950—here I repeat the quotation already provided by my noble friend Lord Ennals—China has continued to occupy Tibet, behaving like "an oppressive colonial administration". To conclude in that way is a matter of sadness to me, as I greatly admire the Chinese people, Chinese culture and, as I have already said, the many reforms that are now taking place in China.

Let me now turn to the subject of action. In doing so, I should like to ask the noble Baroness speaking on behalf of the Government some questions about UK government policy in respect of Tibet in the light of our special responsibility to that country to which many speakers have referred. Will she begin by making clear whether the Government share the Labour Party's view that Tibet must have the right to self-determination? If the Government share that view, the next question must be: what are they going to do to help to bring that about? Because of the movement of population to which a number of speakers have referred, the matter is now of some urgency. Tibet is in danger of being submerged. Its traditions, its culture, and its very existence are under threat.

In the light of that, will the Government invite the United Nations General Assembly to pass a resolution renewing its call for the implementation of the right to self-determination of the Tibetan people? As the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, has already asked, will the Government request the UN General Assembly to expand the mandate of the special committee on de-colonisation to include Tibet? I hope that we shall receive an answer to these questions from the noble Baroness.

Will the Government also accept the various excellent recommendations of the conference of international lawyers on Tibet, which took place earlier this year and to which the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, referred? In particular, will the Government agree that the United Nations Sustainable Development Commission should consider the problem of deforestation with special reference to Tibet? Will the Minister also agree that the UN Commission on Human Rights should appoint a special rapporteur on Tibet as an urgent priority?

Government support for these recommendations would be most welcome. But I hope also that the Government will exercise their influence to secure talks between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese Government as soon as possible. Meanwhile, will the noble Baroness confirm a statement made by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary in another place that European Community ambassadors in Beijing will be visiting Tibet this month? Have they been yet? If not, when are they going and what instructions have they received?

In conclusion, we on these Benches recognise the importance of good bilateral relations with China. It is a country of great and increasing international importance. As the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, said, there are special considerations in relation to our bilateral relationship because of Hong Kong and its future. But we also recognise the importance of trade with China and welcome China's opening to the world. However, it cannot be in our long-term interest to turn a blind eye to China's continuing oppression of Tibet. Nor is its continuing failure to respect human rights acceptable. It cannot be right morally and politically. In any case, we owe it to the Tibetan people to do all that we can to help them preserve their unique cultural heritage, to protect their environment and, above all, to have the right to self-determination that they so richly deserve.

8.2 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the question of Tibet is a matter of importance to a considerable body of opinion in the UK. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, has emphasised that fact by raising the question of Tibet in your Lordships' House tonight. I listened with close attention to the views of many noble Lords who added their wisdom to the debate. It is right that we should acknowledge the continuing problems in Tibet and that this House should consider how we in Britain should respond to the situation there. We need to approach the issue with a clear vision of the principles involved and with a sense of realism.

I believe that all Members of your Lordships' House are agreed on one point: that we are all defenders of the universally-accepted standards of human rights contained in the Universal Declaration and subsequently codified in the two international covenants. We believe that these rights and freedoms transcend national, religious, cultural and ideological frontiers and are equally applicable to all persons at all times. It is not a question of interference in the affairs of other countries; it is a fundamental stance of principle in our foreign policy. That leads Her Majesty's Government, like all Members of this House, to feel the deepest anxiety about the continuing reports of human rights abuses in Tibet.

We have heard tonight from the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and others, of detentions; of the erosion of Tibetan cultural and even ethnic identity; and of the lack of real autonomy in Tibet. It is difficult to obtain full confirmation of all the reports, but perhaps I may state clearly that we deplore abuses of human rights in Tibet. Of particular anxiety are the continued persecution of religious believers and the detention of students and others from the free expressions of political beliefs. Other issues of concern include forced abortion, torture and the death penalty. We fully understand and share the feelings of noble Lords in this respect.

Where the Government begin to part company with the noble Lords, Lord Ennals and Lord Thurlow, and my noble friend Lord Belhaven and Stenton—and I speak in reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone—is on the issue of Tibet's political status. Successive British Governments, including this Government, have regarded Tibet as autonomous while recognising the special position of the Chinese authorities there. That remains our view. We have repeatedly stressed to the Chinese authorities the need for fuller autonomy in Tibet.

The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and other noble Lords, referred to self-determination. The Government's view is that all peoples have the right to self-determination but that that right can be expressed in several different ways. Perhaps I may answer in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. Difficult issues are involved in deciding who are a people with a right to self-determination because there is no authoritative United Nations text in this respect. I agree with my noble friend Lord Mersey. We do not believe that independence for Tibet is a realistic proposal. It would be no service to the Tibetans to encourage them to seek independence. Particularly difficult issues are involved in international law in deciding who are the people with this right in this context.

The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, asked about the international lawyers conference in London. Foreign and Commonwealth Office legal advisers are carefully studying documents and their conclusions. As soon as the work is complete, they will respond formally to the noble Lord, Lord Ennals.

The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and others asked about the position of Her Majesty's Government on Chinese claims to sovereignty/suzerainty over Tibet. Successive British Governments have regarded Tibet as autonomous while recognising the special position of the Chinese authorities there, as I have said. That continues to be the Government's view. The position remains as stated in another place by my honourable friend Sir Richard Luce on 22nd November 1983. For a long time we have recognised Chinese suzerainty over Tibet. That has been on the understanding that Tibet is regarded as autonomous. It was proclaimed an autonomous region in 1965.

My noble friend Lord Belhaven and Stenton gave the House an historic account of the word "suzerainty". It is, indeed, an old expression which goes back to our long-standing attitude extending before 1950. Our position is thus not a change. The word means that we regard Tibet not as independent but as autonomous and we recognise China's special position there. I should add that no other Government recognise Tibetan independence.

My noble friend Lord Braine called for the United Kingdom to lead the civilised world. We are active on this issue in many different fora. We raise the question of Tibet bilaterally on every occasion with the Chinese. We have taken an active part in EC action on this matter. We have pursued it at the UN; for example, in the human rights commission. In the widest sense we are encouraged that in recent years China has been pressing ahead rapidly with a process of economic reform which has resulted in sustained economic growth and an impressive improvement in living standards. We are encouraged also by Chinese willingness to receive delegations from other countries such as, that led by my noble friend Lord Howe in December 1992 which looked at human rights questions and related issues.

In reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, I should say that at our suggestion EC ambassadors in Peking are proposing to visit Tibet next week. The programme has been arranged by the presidency and in consultation with the Chinese authorities. The ambassadors have been asked to pursue a number of issues of anxiety including the general situation in Tibet and population transfer on which they will press for accurate statistics on the numbers involved. Other issues include forced abortion, detention of people for free expression of their political beliefs, persecution of religious believers and ill-treatment of prisoners.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. Will she ensure that when the ambassadors go to Tibet, they are properly and effectively briefed before they go there? They will be unable to talk to any Tibetans there, and they will be at the mercy of their Chinese guides.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I do not believe that the ambassadors are a group of naive men. They are experienced in the pursuit of the best interests of their own countries in conjunction with their wide experience abroad. However, I shall certainly pass on to my right honourable friend the noble Lord's remark.

The delegation proposes also to hand over lists of issues of concern prepared on the basis of information provided by Amnesty International and other NGOs. I should like to pay tribute to all those NGOs who have tried extremely hard to work in support of Tibet over the years.

The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, spoke about most favoured status for China and population transfer. He suggested that the United States Government should be urged to demand as a condition of the renewal of China's MFN status that China halt the transfer of Han Chinese into Tibet.

The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and my noble friend Lord Braine referred rightly in that context to strong interests of the Hong Kong people in this regard and the importance of HMG's responsibilities for Hong Kong. I should like to underline that point. Hong Kong's continued economic prosperity and social stability is closely linked to that of China. Any measure which would reduce China's trade with the world would also damage Hong Kong. It is estimated that ending MFN status for China would cause a 50 per cent. reduction in GDP growth leading to the loss of up to 60,000 jobs. We have made the US Government aware of those important considerations and as I have said already, we deplore the human rights abuse in Tibet and elsewhere in China but we do not believe that it is sensible to pursue those issues by restricting free trade which would therefore damage Hong Kong. Rescinding MFN status would be unlikely to bring about any improvement in the situation in Tibet.

I was surprised that my noble friend Lord Mersey quoted the rude remarks published in Wen Wai Po which is a pro-Chinese newspaper. I assume that he does not share the sentiments expressed in those remarks.

The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, asked what steps the Government can take to ensure improvements in Chinese performance as regards human rights. As I have said, human rights are a central issue in all our bilateral relations with the Chinese and are on the agenda at every ministerial meeting. We and our EC partners shall continue to urge the Chinese authorities to adhere to internationally recognised standards of behaviour and to improve their human rights record.

It is not a question of internal affairs. We have repeatedly emphasised the principle of universality of human rights to the Chinese authorities. A number of particular issues are connected including the situation in Tibet, persecution of religious believers, and so on. The EC presidency, on behalf of the Twelve, has repeatedly raised that subject in previous sessions of the UNCHR calling on the Chinese authorities to guarantee full respect for human rights throughout China and Tibet in keeping with its international obligations under the UN Charter. At this year's session and in close consultation with a number of NGOs, we and other EC member states introduced a resolution on China which was co-sponsored by a number of other countries. Unfortunately, that was blocked by a narrow majority by a Chinese no-action motion, a procedural device intended to prevent the original resolution being voted upon. Nevertheless, we believe that showing our anxiety in that way continues to be the best way to bring about real improvements in the conditions of the Chinese people, including the Tibetans.

I should say to my noble friend Lady Strange that we are aware of and concerned about the persistent reports of the Chinese degrading the environment in parts of Tibet, including the over-exploitation of natural resources. We have a number of channels open to the Chinese authorities on environmental issues and will continue to urge them to improve their environmental policies. We are aware also of the worries about potential fossil-fuel burning, particularly with regard to the vast population of China. One of the British Government's objectives at the UN conference on environmental development in Rio was to ensure that all countries, including ourselves and China, were made aware of their environmental responsibilities and obligations and to persuade all concerned to improve their performances. I take careful note of the anxiety expressed by my noble friend Lord Mersey about the exploitation of Tibet's natural resources as I do with regard to the very serious worries about its atomic weapons building and weapons in general.

The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and my noble friend Lord Mersey are aware of the anxieties about the transfer of the Chinese population to Tibet. His Holiness the Dalai Lama also raised this issue, I gather, at the meeting this morning. We are not in a position to confirm the accuracy of the reports. Different sources provide different figures and often refer to different geographical areas. However, I am told that this morning His Holiness said that it is not clear whether the migration of ethnic Han Chinese to Tibet is a deliberate policy undertaken by the Chinese authorities or whether those involved are simply acting upon the economic and commercial opportunities now available in Tibet. We certainly share His Holiness's anxiety about the threat to the Tibetans traditional culture and identity.

We are not kow-towing to the Chinese. We do not believe that what the Chinese are doing in Tibet they will do in Hong Kong after 1997. It is our intention that the Chinese should realise that if they wish to enjoy—

Lord Harlech

My Lords, I wonder whether I may intervene for a moment.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am not sure whether it is in order for my noble friend to do so.

Lord Harlech

My Lords, if I am allowed, I should like to intervene.

I worked with the Red Chinese for three-and-a-half years, purely in agriculture and in its development there. The gentleman who was my contact was, obviously, a member of the Red Chinese. He was about 60 years of age. He never smiled, except for one morning when we drove past a wall which had gun shots in it. He said that what he had done the night before was to shoot three men. He shot them because one had stolen a duck—

Viscount Long

My Lords, I am afraid that I have to intervene, although I hesitate to interfere. But this is an Unstarred Question. At this stage, a question must be delivered to the Minister.

Lord Harlech

My Lords, I am sorry; I understand, "delivered to the Minister".

My question is as follows. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that the human rights and environmental issues regarding the Chinese and their relationship with Tibet are very questionable? Our noble and extremely honourable governor is trying very hard to work on them in Hong Kong at present.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his remarks. I am afraid that I have no idea what time he came into the Chamber during the course of the debate. Therefore, I do not know whether I have already spoken on the matter. I rather think that I have. Perhaps my noble friend will read the Hansard report tomorrow. However, if he wishes, I shall write to him in answer.

It is our intention that the Chinese should realise that if they wish to enjoy the continued support of the international community for the modernisation of China, they need to take account of international anxieties. In particular, they must show a greater understanding for the need to respect human rights in China as a whole, including Tibet. At the same time, it is not our intention to interfere in China's internal affairs or indeed to isolate China.

We continue to believe that the best way forward in Tibet is for constructive dialogue without preconditions between the Chinese authorities and the Tibetans, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Both the Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama have accepted, in principle, the value of such a dialogue; although so far they have not been able to agree on terms. We find it most disappointing that agreement to start talks has not yet been reached. We regret continuing reports of human rights abuse in Tibet. We shall continue to do what we can to encourage the Chinese Government.

I think that your Lordships' patience has been remarkable. However, this is a very important and deeply felt subject. I could continue, but I shall not do so.