HL Deb 18 December 1996 vol 576 cc1556-92

6.12 p.m.

Lord Avebury rose to call attention to the human rights situation in China and Tibet; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Chinese had a flourishing civilisation more than 4,000 years ago. They have produced some of the world's most brilliant scientists, artists, craftsmen, poets and philosophers. Everyone recognises and admires their genius, and, in addition to all their other achievements, China may become the biggest economy in the world some time during the 21st century. Yet, at the same time, China holds the record for the degree of control that she exercises over her people's lives, the harshness of their repression and the hostility to the slightest breath of criticism at home, or even abroad, as we see from the attempted blackmail of Disney, Murdoch and the BBC.

Beijing is ostensibly committed to the universality of human rights, but argues that a people's culture, history and political system determine the application of those individual rights in each country. That inconsistency was exposed when China hosted the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing last year. Sixteen people were executed in August to ensure order at the conference; visas were refused to a number of participants; the UN accreditation of some organisations was challenged; NGO workshops were monitored and disrupted; journalists were restricted; and some well-known Chinese dissidents were removed from Beijing to stop them contacting the delegates.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, in his thoughtful address to an Amnesty seminar in September, said that it was not helpful to dismiss the quarter-full glass. That China hosted the conference in Beijing at all was a good sign, and perhaps an indication of differences in the regime; but the hope that relatively liberal forces will prevail in the end is no reason for muting criticism of the deliberate and systematic violations of human rights today. One does not persuade a Communist dictatorship to adopt the principles of liberal democracy by minimising the case for reform.

The use of slave labour in the prisons; the unfair criminal justice system; the extensive use of capital punishment for relatively minor offences; violations of ILO conventions; arbitrary detention and imprisonment; the absence of freedom of speech and assembly; disregard of the elementary rights of women and children; and the non-existence of pluralism or of any form of democracy above the village level are all very serious grounds for complaint. I hope that the Minister will give us an assurance that Britain will continue to raise all those matters both bilaterally and at international meetings.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, will be dealing with freedom of religion. I shall say just a word or two of welcome for the visit made by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury to China in September, even though he was invited by the China Christian Council, an organ of the so-called Patriotic Church controlled by the state. He did speak about Chinese Christians who had been persecuted and gaoled, but he did not ask that free religious institutions, whether Christian or Moslem, be allowed to operate in China. I shall also leave the question of labour conditions to the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, except to say that 60 per cent. of the world's toys are made in south Chinese factories, so that violations of the rights of workers there cannot be a matter of indifference to the millions of shoppers now buying their output to fill children's stockings.

We discussed the question of slave labour in prisons in April. It is clear that we cannot act alone, when there is now free movement of goods throughout the European Union; any new measures to prohibit the entry of goods made in the inhuman conditions of the Laogai would have to be taken by the EU. The Government declined to discuss the matter with our partners, on the grounds that European legislation would also fail because of the difficulty of proof, as in Britain. They rejected the proposal that the EU should explore a common approach with the Americans, based on the US Memorandum of Understanding with the Chinese, forbidding trade in goods made in the laogai, and the Statement of Co-operation which granted access by monitors to the prisons and labour camps where goods were being made. Inspections were halted in April 1995, but would not a joint approach by the Americans and the EU stand some chance of at least reviving them?

The policies of Europe and the US on slave labour ought, at any rate, to be harmonised. The Government turned down even that proposal on the grounds that China's application to join the World Trade Organisation would, in time, erode the basis for such action. Does that mean that China is to be admitted without qualification? Alternatively, could we not ask for inspection rights as a condition of her membership?

Amnesty International has identified 3,000 political prisoners since 1989—and that is the tip of the iceberg. Of course, China claims that there are none and challenges the work of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Beijing says that the group goes beyond its mandate in objecting to internal legislation and giving opinions on cases where sentences have been passed. The working group's mandate is coming up for renewal. Will it continue to evaluate the consistency of internal legislation with international standards? I know that we have taken up the cases of Wang Dan and Liu Ziaobo, two of the most prominent cases which arose during 1996. But will Ministers support and help to fund a comprehensive study by the working group of those cases and of the more general problem of how to bring the law into conformity with international standards?

China claims to accept the presumption of innocence, the limitation of detention without charge, and the right of defendants to be represented by a lawyer of their choice. The amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code on these matters come into effect at the beginning of 1997. The new code will refer to "the criminal suspect" instead of "the offender" and no person will be considered a criminal until he has been convicted by a People's Court. It remains to be seen whether those changes will make any difference to the 99 per cent. conviction rate. The defence lawyer still has the duty to bring forward evidence to prove the innocence of the accused, so the mind set of the prosecution culture has not changed. In cases where the defendant is acquitted, the court has a new power of adding a rider to the verdict that insufficient evidence was presented to establish guilt. One can imagine how damaging an entry of that kind would be in the dossier of a citizen in such a rigidly controlled state.

The period of detention without charge is increased from 10 to 14 days, or to a month plus a week in cases where the identity of the suspect cannot be determined. The justification for this provision is that administrative detention, which had been operated by the police outside the ordinary court system, is now brought within the criminal procedures. The new rules still permit the police to interrogate a suspect without the presence of a lawyer and when, after the first interrogation, the defendant is allowed to see a lawyer, the police sit in on the consultation.

Mark Baber, a British citizen who spent three years in Shanghai Municipal Prison, says that Chinese rhetoric about adherence to the rule of law is designed for outside consumption, and they have no intention of giving up the absolute power to deal with political and criminal offenders as they see fit. Mr. Baber was arrested in March 1991 and was not allowed to see the British consul for 10 days. In that time he was interrogated continuously for 40 hours, and at the end of that ordeal, after cutting his wrist to avert the threats of the police, he was blindfolded and interrogated still further, while having the wound stitched without anaesthetic. He was tied hand and foot to his hospital bed, and went on a hunger strike for 13 days. He was also threatened with death and underwent a mock execution to get him to co-operate. Mr. Baber said that his treatment was infinitely better than that accorded to the Chinese prisoners in Shanghai.

As Harry Wu says in his foreword to Kate Saunders' remarkable account of the Laogai Eighteen Layers of Hell, No totalitarian system can exist without a machinery of suppression to maintain its order".

Ms. Saunders estimates that 6 million to 8 million people are forced to undertake hard labour in camps throughout China, and millions more are held in detention centres, prisons and "re-education through labour" institutions. The intended deterrent effect of the system is reinforced by the large number of public executions, which the Communists use to intimidate people and to consolidate the perception of strong government. In 1995, Amnesty International documented 2,190 executions in China, compared with 3,000 for the whole world; and this is probably only a fraction of the actual total. This year there were over 1,000 executions in May and June alone, as part of the "Strike Hard" campaign.

The UN Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions has expressed concern about unfair trials and particularly the lack of safeguards for the protection of those facing capital punishment. He is dismayed at the increasing number of executions, including those carried out in public, and in view of what he calls the "alarming allegations" received, he reiterates his request to visit China, made in 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995, to none of which the Chinese authorities have replied. In fact none of the UN rapporteurs or working groups have received invitations to visit China, and nor has any human rights NGO, including Amnesty International. There are no independent human rights bodies in China itself, and when Yang Zhou and others tried to start a China human rights association, he was promptly imprisoned. Will the Government press China to accept monitoring, and will they suggest to Presidents Clinton and Chirac that when they visit China early next year they should ask China to co-operate with the UN rapporteurs and working groups? Will the European Union press for a resolution on China at the Human Rights Commission in April?

The Foreign Office says it continues to receive reports about Tibet, including the suppression of religious freedom, migration to the territory of Han people, arbitrary security measures and environmental damage. Mr. Hanley raised Tibet during his talks with Vice Premier Li Lanqing in November, although here again one has no idea what was said. One would hope that Ministers would tell the Chinese—as they do in correspondence with us—that Tibetans should have a greater say in running their own affairs, and that the best way of achieving that is through dialogue between the government and the Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, without preconditions.

When the Dalai Lama was here in July, that was exactly what he asked for, and he repeated to the European Parliament in October, his willingness to enter into negotiations with the government of the PRC on an agenda that does not call for the separation and independence of Tibet".

When officials from the Chinese Embassy met the parliamentary Tibet group on 3rd December, they said that unless the Dalai Lama dropped his claim to independence, the authorities would not meet him. However, the Chinese must be perfectly well aware that he had indeed dropped the claim, to the annoyance of some people in Tibet. Will the Government ask the Chinese to clarify their policy, and to explain why they still refuse to meet the Dalai Lama now that he has satisfied these conditions? Will they ask the new Secretary General of the UN to see whether he can get the two parties together?

The human rights situation in Tibet is diabolical. Monks are being gaoled for refusing to toe the line in a "re-education drive" being conducted by Chinese propaganda teams. The seven year-old Panchen Lama—the world's youngest political prisoner—is still missing, and about 50 other people are still detained for their involvement in his selection. The authorities have admitted detaining the Fulbright scholar and musician, Ngawang Choepel, who disappeared in July 1995 when he visited Tibet to record the folk music of his people. The culture, religion and language of the Tibetan people are being marginalised, and the authorities are setting the seal on this process by encouraging Han immigration, as they have also done in Mongolia and East Turkistan. They want to homogenise China, leaving no cultural or political space for minority peoples, in a process for which Leo Kuper coined the term "ethnocide".

China wants to insulate herself from human rights values that have won universal acceptance, and at the same time to become a great economic power. These two aims may be compatible, and, conversely, taking the lid off a repressive system is not necessarily a recipe for improved performance. Yet every dictatorship ultimately collapses, and only societies that are based on the will of the people endure for ever. The rulers of China have always taken a long-term view, and the present incumbents may ponder on the direction their country must take, if it is to be stable, prosperous and united in the middle of the 21st century. In making that assessment, they will no doubt consider also whether it is wise to establish a new brand of authoritarianism with only a fossilised ideological basis. I believe that would be a disaster for the people of China and Tibet, and for the wider stability and harmony of the world order, and I believe it is our duty to say so. I beg to move for Papers.

6.27 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on choosing such an important subject. The need to keep people fearful of government power has been constant in China since 1949. One way the practice of "education through killing" is done is by conducting public executions, often following grossly unfair and summary trials and as a result of political interference. Prisoners sentenced to death are frequently paraded in front of large crowds at "mass sentencing rallies". Chinese people put it another way, "Killing the chicken to scare the monkey".

Thanks to Amnesty International, we know there are three times as many executions in China as in the rest of the world. We know that the death penalty is used for 69 different offences, even, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, for relatively minor, non-violent ones, despite international human rights standards which state that the death penalty should be used only for the most serious offences. Judicial errors can occur in any legal system. However, the chance of error is much greater when there is no protection for the rights of the accused; when there is a heavy reliance on confessions; when the outcome of a trial is decided in advance; and when the appeal procedure is a mere formality.

We also know that executed prisoners' organs, usually kidneys, but also corneas and hearts, have been removed for transplants since 1979. A government document, first made public in 1990, permitted the removal of prisoners' organs and stipulated in detail that ambulances must not display hospital logos, that surgeons must not wear white uniforms when removing organs at the execution site, that guards must not be present until removal was completed, and that corpses should be promptly cremated following the removal of organs. It is believed that the organs of 9,000 of the estimated 10,000 prisoners executed in China every year are used in transplants.

It was against this background that Harry Wu, the American human rights campaigner, himself imprisoned in China for 19 years, returned secretly to visit some of the hospitals engaged in transplants. He was accompanied by Sue Lloyd-Roberts, a BBC reporter, under the guise of seeking help for a relative in need of a kidney transplant. Wu first met Professor Yang, director of urology at West China University of Medical Sciences. All conversations during the investigation were either video-taped or audio-taped. Asked how long it takes to get a kidney, Yang replied, One to two months, because of the need for a match", adding, the sooner kidneys are removed, the greater the chance of a successful operation … here we are close to donors … they come from brain dead people". Prisoners selected to provide organs are given medical examinations. Blood samples are taken, without the prisoner being told why. Mrs. Jingping, head of the hospital's department of foreign affairs, said: We guarantee our donors are young and healthy, and that the organs are of excellent quality". She made the offer that, in two to three weeks we can get a living kidney, a team of surgeons will be sent for removal and delivery at a fee of about £7,000 … We receive customers from all over the world". A Mr. Li, who works at the People's Hospital, Zhengzhou City, had been involved in handling executed prisoners' organs for years. Li stated that in May 1994 he had been dispatched to nearby Anyang City to pick up a kidney from an executed prisoner. He cautioned that information about organ transplants, should be kept secret from foreigners … they all come from death row prisoners … we buy the corpses, everything is approved by the Government". He explained how prisoners were executed as soon as their organs were needed. We arrange with executioners to shoot in the head so the prisoner dies instantly. Survival rate of organs is much higher … we drive the ambulance to the execution site. Once the prisoner is dead, legally, he no longer exists as a human being. Upon completion of necessary procedures by the police and the court, the body is ours. People at the court and the police are given gifts, such as taking them to dinner, giving them cigarettes, and special holidays. We need their help in lifting the corpse into the ambulance, and to guard the execution site longer than usual, so the ambulance is not in public view". Mr. Gao, from south China, tells a similar story: Usually, in a large prison, there are 20 to 30 death row criminals. As soon as organs are needed, some prisoners will be escorted to the execution site. While carrying out an execution, the local police will keep the prisoner's family in their home. They are not allowed to pick up the bodies, which are immediately cremated. The family can only receive the ashes". One can argue that executed prisoners and their families have no human rights. I disagree, particularly when they are shot specifically to provide organs "on demand" for a hard currency trade—and more particularly as China has signed seven United Nations human rights treaties.

6.33 p.m.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde

My Lords, I shall address two topics in this debate, so well introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Astor, was very moving, as I am sure we all agree. I want to cover employment, and the reporting of what goes on in China and Tibet.

The World Development Movement, the Trades Union Congress, the Catholic Institute for International Relations and the Hong Kong Toy Coalition came together to urge companies to accept a safety code to be applied in toy factories. That initiative took place after 189 workers lost their lives in a factory fire and 469 were severely injured. There are very many examples of working conditions and safety standards that we should find horrific and totally unacceptable. Yet those factories provide the toys that will be given to many of our children this Christmas.

For example, a young girl of 17, a child herself, whom I shall call Sunata, went sick. The reason was that she had worked overnight for three days and nights and had only two hours' break each day. Normally this 17 year-old girl worked 11 hours a day, seven days a week. She slept in a small room with 11 others without any private toilet facilities. I said, "she did". I do not know what has happened to Sunata. But certainly there are many other young children like her who are in that situation. It needs to be brought to the attention of the British public, especially at this time of year.

The International Toy Association has agreed a safety code with the organisations I named on conditions in China. Some companies follow it assiduously. For example, the Early Learning Centre and Woolworths say that they regularly check working conditions in the factories in China that produce the toys that they are selling across their counters now to people who are buying them for Christmas presents. Unfortunately, they have not published the outcome of the monitoring that they have carried out. I urge them to do so.

Sainsbury's runs a number of pilot schemes to demonstrate the feasibility of the verification and monitoring of standards. We look forward to the outcome of that work, too. It is against that background that I regret to report to the House that the British Toy & Hobby Association states: It is simply not feasible to conduct independent monitoring". I reject that view. I hope that it will change its ways and accept that it has a responsibility to ensure that the international code that has been agreed must be carried through—especially when we hear that every hour Mattel Toys, the company that produces the Barbie doll, which young girls go mad over, earned as much from UK sales of Barbie, that one type of doll, as it pays 27,000 toy workers in China.

Hasbro is a name that means nothing to me. However the Sindy doll and Action Man certainly do mean a lot to me; I see them lying around the house when I visit grandchildren. Hasbro spends more on advertising than all the wages of 7,000 Thai toy workers put together.

This issue is worth attention, not just because of human rights and the way that we treat children. It is big business: £1,640 million a year is spent on toys in Britain, half of that at Christmas. So this debate is timely.

In a factory in China where the code is accepted, the manager was interviewed by one of the employees from the World Development Movement. He said quite openly of his workers: "You've got to whip them like donkeys to make them understand what we are telling them". I reject that. Companies bypass standards. After 120 days with a company, a worker qualifies to receive benefits. Thousands of young people, and mature people, are dismissed after working for 119 days and start back at work the day after. That does not represent compliance with an international standard.

The other issue I wish to touch upon is reporting. For the public to understand the situation, we must have impartial, free reporting. I am concerned that it appears that the BBC has downgraded the reporting that it brings to us from Tibet and China. Tibet is not open to the press. However, that did not stop the BBC reporting from its Hong Kong base, and hopefully from its Beijing base.

I would like to have something refuted by the BBC. It crosses my mind to ask whether it has downgraded its reporting because of the change in control in Hong Kong that faces us shortly. Is it because the BBC wants to sell its products in China and is afraid that the Chinese Government will intervene if it highlights the human rights atrocities which are taking place? We have just heard of them in the two previous contributions. Is it because the BBC wants to sell its own products in those countries? I have that concern. The Minister may not be able to answer the point in the debate this evening, but I hope that he will follow it up with the BBC. I look forward to the answer and to the comments from the British Toy & Hobby Association. If it reads the debate, as I hope it will, perhaps it will answer, as I believe it should.

6.40 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Bristol

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for giving us the opportunity for this debate on what is an important, difficult and sensitive issue. We have already heard two important contributions which show how complex and sensitive the issues are. I should like to share with your Lordships' House a concentration on religious freedom, especially in China.

The Church of England, along with other Churches in Britain and Ireland, maintains a continuous watching brief on the situation in China through the China Study Department of the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, indicated, the visit of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury to China in September 1994 was of considerable importance. The purpose of the visit was to encourage the China Christian Council and especially Bishop Ting, its president. The visit afforded the opportunity for private meetings with state officials to discuss policy issues and also, importantly for this debate, to raise human rights issues. Amnesty International provided briefing material and specific advice for the archbishop before his visit. I wish to take this opportunity of commending the work of Amnesty International, not least the publication No one is safe, which is an important and interesting contribution to our understanding of a complex issue.

The most reverend Primate used the opportunity of the visit to raise cases with the authorities on a face-to-face basis. One of them had something to do with an organisation called "The Jesus Family" which was not provided with recognition as a religious group. It was a policy of dialogue and raising issues face to face.

More recently, the World Council of Churches—I am a member of the central committee—made a high level visit to China, the report of which has just appeared. In spite of the difficulties, the Churches continue to make remarkable progress. The term was "an exponential rise" in membership. The delegation returned with a strong impression of dynamic development in which the possibilities for Christian worship—in spite of the mistrust and fears of foreign influence—are expanding.

An issue which has aroused comment and concern is the registration of places of worship. According to Bishop Ting, one of the reasons for the promulgation of Decree 144 entitled "Administration of Religious Activities of Aliens"—that gives the flavour—and Decree 145 on "Administration of Sites for Religious Activities" was the Chinese Government's, fear of domestic and foreign enemies". That is a quotation from the report of the World Council of Churches. There was a fear of domestic and foreign enemies' clandestine use of religion to subvert the national interest. In Bishop Ting's opinion, the problem is not with the legislation but rather in the way it will be implemented at a local level.

The legislation centres around six criteria for eligibility to register as a place of worship. People need to show that it is a place of worship, that there is a trained leader and that it has a certain number of believers, a governing committee, a legal source of income and a name for the meeting place. Two years after its entry into force, there are indeed grounds for concern—more in some areas than others. For example, in the province of Zhejiang there appears to have been a positive way in which the implementation of the two decrees has taken place. There are good relationships with the Religious Affairs Bureau. In Henan, the situation is quite different. There the Churches feel vulnerable. They believe that the World Council of Churches' visit was state-managed by the Religious Affairs Bureau. There is a high level of mistrust.

In Beijing, the process has not yet even begun. There are still distressing reports of the arrest, mistreatment and imprisonment of both Roman Catholics and Protestants, not only among those who reject the registration and recognition of the official Church bodies allowed by the government.

The general human rights situation must be seen against the traditional fears that the Chinese people have of chaos and the collapse of dynasties. This is a great civilisation with deeply held traditions and a long memory. What we see happening in China is a massive economic transformation and a gradual expansion of the space for a civil society. The treatment of prisoners, the severity of sentences—which we have heard about—and the shortcomings in the justice system have been comprehensively documented by Amnesty International's report on China published this year. Our concern for human rights must be motivated by the desire to see the most positive development for the society as a whole as well as seeking the most effective methods for alleviation of the suffering of the prisoners of conscience. The issue of the right methods to achieve that is of great sensitivity.

What more can be said? At the time of the visit of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, one of the concerns was the issue of registration, to which I referred. At the end of his visit, as he was preparing to leave China, he said: This is an exciting country and we can expect further changes in the days ahead, not least in the growing contribution of the Church to the life of the nation. Although the Christian Church is still relatively small, it is for many people a sign of hope. The shadows exist, but the general picture is most encouraging. Without wishing to interfere with the internal affairs of China That may be the Archbishop's problem, as people have been concerned about it but reminding her of her international obligations And that surely is important Christians from abroad will wish to encourage a policy of tolerance which will allow the Christian faith and other faiths to be practised without restraint in every part of this great country". It is clearly necessary to keep raising the issues of religious tolerance and to take up cases with government officials, as the Archbishop did. It is a policy of dialogue with the raising of issues. There will be continuing opportunities after the handover of Hong Kong which the Churches in Britain and Ireland affirm they will undertake. They will, in fact, ensure that they are undertaken.

6.47 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, perhaps I may begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on securing this important debate. China is very much on our minds at the moment because of the imminent handing back of Hong Kong. In the light of this, our concerns about human rights in China have a significance beyond its own borders.

I have chosen to focus on religious persecution in China, in particular that of Christians. Official reports state that there are about 10 million Christians in China, although an internal Communist Party document published in February this year put the figure at over 25 million. According to other sources, the true figure could be up to as many as 95 million. If the present revival continues, it is estimated that by the year 2030 35 per cent. of China will be Christian. This is an enormous number of people who remain on the fringes of society because the state seems to conceive of religion as a competing force with Communism and reiterates the need for patriotism in all religious activities.

The tentacles of the state have wrapped themselves firmly around the Church through a number of recent regulations. These have built upon the 1951 decision to establish the Three Self Patriotic Church, which aimed to get rid of the denominations and missionaries and establish state control over the Christian Church. In 1994 two new regulations were introduced which required every Church to register and effectively forbade foreign control of Churches and financial support from outside the country. In effect, religious activities that take place in unregistered buildings are considered illegal and those involved may be detained and punished. The fines for such activity are often over 900 yuan, which represent about three months' wages. In northern China, in March this year, five women belonging to house churches were arrested and severely beaten. Police officers used boiling water to force a confession.

On Christmas day, as I walk to church free and unmonitored, and as I sing not fearful that our voices may carry, I shall be thinking of the Christians in China as they attend their Christmas services, closely monitored by plainclothes security officers. That will occur not in the unofficial churches but the official Three Self Patriotic Church, where Christians will have had to buy tickets in advance, giving their names, addresses and other personal details knowing that recriminations may follow.

In the growing unregistered church, no services can officially be held and believers meet in fields, apartments and even caves to escape state control. When they are caught, they are often detained and heavily fined. The more unlucky ones have been beaten and even imprisoned. Some groups have watched as their places of worship were bulldozed before their very eyes.

I am particularly concerned to hear recent reports of a renewed crackdown on Christians under the auspices of three campaigns. As part of the "Anti-Criminal" campaign, Christians have been chosen as soft targets to fill the crime quotas required of local party cadres. Already susceptible to arrest on the thin grounds of counter-revolutionary activities, it is estimated that over 300 were arrested during the three-month period this year. Many have been beaten, three fatally. As part of the "Anti-Western" campaign, the Churches have been targeted, as Christianity is believed to be a Western religion that would not survive without the support of the West. Why else should the restrictions of 1994 aim to end foreign financial support, unless their ultimate aim was to break the Church? Finally, the Church has suffered under the "Spiritual Civilisation" campaign, in which Christianity is deemed to be at least an unhelpful superstitious influence.

I could give numerous accounts of detentions, beatings and human rights abuses of Christians, let alone those of other faiths of whom I have not had time to speak. When we remember the stories we have heard, we are reminded of the thousands more that we do not hear because China is so closed to the world. Registration is simply another gag on the Church and the freedom of all those in China whose right to religious freedom has been consistently and blatantly abused by the regime. I urge the international community to continue to speak out for those who have no voice in China and to keep up the pressure for access for human rights monitors to the whole of China.

6.52 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, I warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for this opportunity for debate. Anyone in this House who has heard the Dalai Lama speak of his country, as I did earlier this year, will have been impressed by his courage and integrity. Very few national leaders in this century have had his experience of continuous exile yet have been able to display such tolerance, and especially this year, when China has stepped up its vicious campaign against the monasteries. On the front page of Le Monde last week was a story from the reliable Tibet Information Network of a young nun, Ngawang Sangdrol, from Garu nunnery near Lhasa, whose sentence was doubled to 18 years for shouting "Free Tibet", having been in solitary confinement following other so-called offences, one of which was singing nationalist songs in prison. What we learn haphazardly in our media is multiplied a hundredfold by the stories of oppression which come daily over the Himalayas with the refugees.

Whatever the Chinese people themselves think—we must give them the benefit of the doubt, because they are gradually becoming more aware of the immorality of many of their Government's actions—we are witnessing in Tibet a form of gradual ethnic cleansing—the persecution of a race, a religion and a culture—which at times recalls some of the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution. In the face of that, the Dalai Lama's plea for dialogue and self-rule—not for independence, as the noble Lord pointed out—seems almost too modest to those of us who are lucky enough to live in a free society.

But, of course, it is the people not the governments who will make a difference in the long run. We cannot expect our Government, for example, to rock the boat in the run-up to the handover of Hong Kong, or even after that, while China's trade is becoming so important to our economy. We all know that it is primarily individuals and not governments who create moral codes and persuade governments to keep to them. Governments behave like governments. They do not possess the feelings or the powers of individuals. It is up to the British people to support the range of organisations which follow affairs in Tibet and to continue to keep up the pressure.

The same is true of the entry of the WTO (World Trade Organisation) into the child labour debate, which was greeted with squawks from our trade Minister and from governments in Asia. But the WTO was right to raise the issue and to publicise it. However, no one can expect member governments to do very much about it. They have already retreated behind the ILO.

The ILO has enough difficulty coaxing child labour legislation through those governments who have already ratified human rights and child rights conventions. In the end, it is a matter for individual companies and their clients, as the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, pointed out—the producers and consumers of toys, clothing and other products—to decide what people will buy and sell. Thanks to a responsible media coverage—which does exist, despite many comments in the previous debate—consumers are now becoming much more aware of the origins of goods and the conditions under which children, women and prisoners in China and other countries have to work. It is they who will change companies' attitudes, not governments.

Of course, I also well understand the fears that western countries such as the United States will use labour laws as an excuse for protection and that any legislation is bound to hit the trade of developing countries and poor families who depend on extra income. It is a dilemma. But, equally, when people are exploited, we cannot allow those arguments to become excuses for inaction. A lot can be done by NGOs to influence the public here and in the producing countries. Even in a closed society like China, there is a growing movement of independent non-governmental organisations linked to political opposition which will pick up ideas and challenge their own government's policies. I also believe that in the long run trade can be a great ambassador of human rights, better than most diplomacy. Although it seems hard, we have to persist in telling the truth about the conditions in China and Tibet and persuading the people that we are on their side.

There is, of course, an equally important human rights campaign in one of the world's poorest regions—the right to basic necessities, such as food, water, health and education. One British organisation in particular has managed to hold the line between human rights on the one hand and practical development on the other. For many years, Save the Children Fund has supported a programme in the Lhasa Valley which works alongside the local health, education and water authorities to bring improved drinking water supplies, health education and teacher training which benefit hundreds of primary school children in up to 80 schools. More than that, SCF, alongside Medecins sans Frontiêres and the Swiss Red Cross, have demonstrated how a voluntary organisation can become a vital channel of international aid. The British, Canadian and Australian Governments have all contributed to it.

Many of the large-scale government projects in Tibet have been held up because they clearly benefit the Chinese Government and the new Han Chinese settlers and entrepreneurs at the expense of Tibetans. That is why the work of non-governmental organisations is so essential. I hope that the Minister will comment on that, particularly in the light of the European Union's recent difficulties in getting a project off the ground in Tibet.

Such practical assistance is more than material aid. it is a token of the affection which Britain holds for Tibetan children and the Tibetan people. It is an invaluable link between two nations which, despite the problems going back to 1904 when we in Britain, with the help of the Ghurkas and Sikhs, entered and pillaged Tibet, have long enjoyed a strong friendship.

7 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on initiating this debate. One does not always have to agree with the noble Lord to recognise that he is a tireless campaigner for oppressed people of all nationalities, and in the case for which he has spoken today, I agree with him entirely.

I shall speak mainly on Tibet. The Chinese Government make a claim on Tibet based on history and the supposed fact that the present communist revolutionary government of China is the successor of the empire. The claim is dubious. The Foreign Office uses the term "suzerainty"—a medieval concept which in my view has no validity in the 20th century—as does the Chinese Embassy. One thing which the term does not imply is government by consent. It never did imply that. If we applied the Chinese claim to the government of Tibet—that is, that it has essentially been the sovereign power of Tibet since the 12th century—to our own country, that would entitle England to rule southern Ireland. I wonder what the Irish would think of that!

In 1950 the wholly peaceful country of Tibet was subjected to an unprovoked invasion by the People's Republic of China. It should be remembered that Tibet at that time threatened nobody; it had no aggressive designs on any of its neighbours. The only wish of the people of that country was to be left alone to enjoy their ancient religion and culture. Their religion is deep, complex and held by most Tibetans with total conviction.

Notwithstanding the fact that that ancient country had been in every real sense independent for the whole of the 20th century, the Chinese Government proceeded to enforce on the Tibetan people the wholly alien communist creed. With a violence and cruelty that has characterised communism in all its dealings with ordinary people, the culture and religion of Tibet has been subject to vicious persecution. My noble friend Lord Astor of Hever showed us something of how the Chinese people have to live. In Tibet monasteries have been destroyed and monks, nuns and people who are neither Tibetan in religion nor outlook have been imprisoned, tortured and murdered. The situation continues and the tyranny is unabated.

Added to all that and what has been mentioned by other noble Lords today is the attack on the person and integrity of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Those of your Lordships who have had the privilege of meeting the Dalai Lama on his periodic visits to this country must wonder whether the Chinese authorities are speaking of the man they met. In the past few years I have had the privilege of meeting the Dalai Lama and the Pope and I would say without any doubt that those two men—so different in appearance, temperament and in their beliefs—are the greatest men alive today. One should be extremely careful before one attacks either of them and I have not the least desire to do so.

But the Chinese authorities have no such inhibitions. Backed as they are by the power of a heavily armed and totalitarian state there is little need for them to argue with anybody. The source of power in Chairman Mao's belief was the "barrel of a gun". That is a simple creed which does not invite reasoned argument. Added to that, they are using the newly acquired commercial power of China to block any favourable mention of the Dalai Lama, even in this country and in the free world as a whole, as we have already heard.

I understand that Disney may be having second thoughts about a film that it was making about the Dalai Lama. It was threatened by the Chinese authorities that, if it distributed the film, its business interests would be boycotted in China. I hope that it will not give in. But commercial companies are, of their nature, cowardly and I fear the worst. So the decree of the Government of China is effective even here, in that we may not be allowed to see anything of which they disapprove.

Finally, I should like to ask my noble friend the Minister one question which has already been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury; that is, what has become of the Panchen Lama? That little boy was nominated in proper form by the Dalai Lama, since when he has been kidnapped by the Chinese authorities. They refuse to say where they are holding him. I believe the world has a right to know what has become of that unfortunate child. For all we know he has been murdered, and until the Chinese Government come up with a clear and provable statement of where he is and what they are doing with him we shall suspect the worst—we know they are capable of the worst.

We know that the Chinese authorities have found another Panchen Lama. How a self-proclaimed atheist state can pretend to have found the reincarnation of the previous Panchen Lama boggles the imagination. Incidentally, one hopes that they will not treat this boy as badly as they treated the previous Panchen Lama. I saw the enthronement on television, a ceremony at which there seemed to be more Chinese generals than lamas present. All the generals clapped at the end, which was very peculiar. That communist-approved reincarnation is a grim farce which no one should take seriously. I just hope and pray that both boys will eventually be happy, one as the truly appointed Panchen Lama and the other as the ordinary boy he obviously is.

I would say that if China ever had a right to rule Tibet it forfeited that right by the cold-blooded cruelty and violence with which they have treated the Tibetan people over the past 46 years. Nothing can excuse what they have done. In my view Tibet has a right to independence and I hope that one day Her Majesty's Government will live up to the great traditions of this country and at least concede that. To do less is cowardice.

7.6 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, I feel a little diffident talking about China and Tibet since I have visited neither country. But I declare an interest in that I have a daughter deeply interested in Tibetan Buddhism who spent most of the past year in Dharamsala living among the exiled Tibetan community.

For many years I had a positive attitude towards the People's Republic of China and respected its achievements. But that attitude, like that of many others, became much more critical after the events of Tiananmen Square in June 1989. My understanding of the traumatic shifts in policy—the Great Leap Forward; the Cultural Revolution—was greatly helped by reading Jung Chang's triple biography/autobiography Wild Swans, and the harrowing accounts of life in the laogai by Zhang Xianling and Harry Wu filled out pictures for me. I should say at this point that Harry Wu has been the guest of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, as have other human rights workers from China, including Dr. Zhang Xianling, about whom I shall say more later.

A good summary account of the whole range of human rights abuses in China is given by Amnesty International's recent well-written book, No One Is Safe, mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. The extent and nature of torture in China and other countries is also described by Amnesty International in its other publication this year, suitably entitled A Glimpse of Hell. There is plenty of evidence in both publications testifying to the widespread systematic abuse of human rights to which all noble Lords who have so far spoken have alluded. That should certainly not be tolerated in a permanent member of the Security Council; a signatory, by the fact that it is a member of the United Nations, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said, several other United Nations human rights treaties and the Vienna Declaration on Human Rights in 1993.

A fundamental fault—this wholly backs up what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said—is that the judiciary is not independent and so the law can be used as a tool of repression. There is no presumption of innocence, as he said, and at present no guaranteed access to lawyers or defending counsel. We wait to see whether the change next year makes any difference. Arrest is arbitrary and trials are often unfair, with extensive use of the death penalty, which is carried out very quickly after a verdict has been reached. "Re-education through labour" in the laogai can be ordered even without a trial.

Two particular abuses, one of which has and one of which has not been mentioned by noble Lords, are, first, violations resulting from the one-child family policy and, secondly, the use, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, described, of organs from executed prisoners for transplants. Unmarried women can be put under enormous pressure, sometimes amounting to physical threats and intimidation, to have an abortion if they become pregnant, as are married women if they have already achieved their "quota". Many pregnancies are concealed. Infanticide of girl babies still occurs. A large but unknown number of babies are abandoned and then taken to orphanages.

It is possible that conditions in those institutions have improved since Dr. Zhang Xianling's exposure last year of the very high mortality rates in those orphanages. I very much hope that things have improved but we do not know for certain because the statistics which were available are no longer published. Couples are not allowed to adopt abandoned children unless it can be proved that both parents are dead. If it was allowed the need for those institutions would greatly diminish. I do not want to imply that a population policy in China was not necessary—of course it was—and, in keeping numbers down, it has worked, except in certain ethnic minority areas. But I feel that an equal success—perhaps an even greater success—could have been achieved with a more humane approach. However, there are some welcome signs that the rigid application of the one-child family policy is now being relaxed.

To add a little to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Astor, it could be held that, in a country with a high rate of executions of relatively young and fit people it would be a waste not to use their organs for transplantation if the prisoner or a relative agrees. However, Amnesty International says that organs rarely come from executed prisoners after consultation with their families, although that is the law in China. In some cases it is felt that the imposition and timing of the death penalty may be influenced by the need for organs for transplantation, a point which was much more fully demonstrated by the noble Lord, Lord Astor. Those noble Lords who watched the recent television drama "A Fragile Heart" will know what a bitterly resented practice that is in China and that at least a large part of the medical profession in China are aware of it. That is one of many reasons why Amnesty International advocates the early ending of the death penalty in China.

I have left very little time to talk about Tibet. It has been well covered by other speakers but I should like to point out that the Dalai Lama has said that he no longer insists on complete independence for Tibet. He is prepared to enter negotiations with a free agenda on the basis of a suitable degree of autonomy and the restoration of religious, political and cultural freedom. Incidentally, that is refused by the Chinese Government.

Many might feel that because China is so vast and economically so important, especially now that most favoured nation status has been granted, it can ignore criticism of its human rights record. However, China is sensitive to criticism despite its denials and bluster. Chinese human rights workers plead for maximum publicity in the Western media of the true situation in China. That, I suggest, and a possible change of attitude by the Chinese Government after Deng Xiaoping's departure, is the best guarantee of progress in the future. I hope that in diplomatic contacts and at the United Nations the Government will challenge China whenever there is evidence that it is violating the principles to which it is a signatory.

7.15 p.m.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for introducing this debate. Since we last debated the subject two things have happened. The Dalai Lama has indeed visited us—he visited us last July—and a delegation from the Chinese Embassy also visited us on 3rd December. The purpose of that visit was to correct the information supplied to us by the Dalai Lama. The Chinese wished to tell us of the true state of affairs of Tibet in their eyes. That visit persuaded me that the Tibetan relationship is more complicated than I had earlier supposed. I can only address it now with clarity if I look at history as well as human rights.

People who say that Tibet has always been independent of China are misinformed. If I may put a gloss on what my noble friend Lord Belhaven has just said, Tibet was independent until about 850 AD. It was then overrun, as was everywhere else, by Genghis Khan and the Mongol hoards. Then, as the Mongol power declined, Chinese power grew. By the 13th century Tibet was a part of China. And that dependence lasted for 600 years, until the 19th century. Then the Chinese Empire collapsed, and other nations circled vulture-like over the rotting corpse of it and we each picked up a part of its territory. The Russians got some, as did the Japanese, the French, the Germans and the British.

We gained a sphere of influence stretching westward from Shanghai 1,000 miles up the Yangtze Valley and we gained also Tibet which we declared autonomous. In 1904 we invaded Tibet, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, under Younghusband, and the Dalai Lama fled. Interestingly enough, he fled to China. Then there followed the famous treaty between ourselves and the Tibetans, recognising its independence. That is the treaty the Tibetans quote when they talk of our special relationship and our responsibility to them. However, in 1906 we made another clandestine treaty with China recognising its suzerainty over Tibet. That we made without Tibetan agreement, which is a shameful piece of British history.

In 1911 we attempted tripartite talks with both China and Tibet, recognising Tibet as autonomous but under Chinese suzerainty. The Chinese would not ratify this, so we just brushed that aside and said that Tibet was independent. So it was to remain for the next 40 years. Tibet did have her own culture, her own language, her own religion and her own troops. There were border skirmishes between those troops and the Chinese troops and she banished all Chinese from her territory. But now we come to the awful events of the 1950s, and it is no longer possible to separate history out from human rights because that is the start, in my mind, of the true rape of Tibet.

The Chinese, when they saw us, claimed to have liberated Tibet from a brutal regime of slavery and torture. But of course the slavery and torture that they themselves inflicted was far worse, particularly from 1959 onwards when they imposed their own military dictatorship and set about destroying monasteries, religion and the entire civilisation.

Just two weeks back, when the First Secretary of the Chinese Embassy addressed the all-party parliamentary Tibet group, he told us how the Chinese had modernised Tibet: they had built schools and hospitals; there was no imprisonment except for criminals; and there was positively no torture. He gave us books which illustrated the brutality of the old regime. There is a page illustrating the old instruments of torture. Strangely, they are pretty well exactly the same as the modern Chinese instruments of torture which have been demonstrated to us by Tibetan monks.

Just suppose that we give the Chinese the benefit of the doubt and concede that the old regime was worse than the present one, how do we explain, for instance, the mass exodus of Tibetans to India in the 1950s? Why, for instance, did they find it necessary to form an entire government in exile? Why, indeed, did the Dalai Lama flee to Dharamsala in 1959? Surely that happened because the whole Tibetan religion and culture had been to such an extent that no one in Tibet was even allowed to own a picture of the Dalai Lama.

Chinese atrocities against Tibetans have been mentioned many times in this House and again this evening, notably by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. Regarding the Dalai Lama's position as spiritual head, the First Secretary, to my surprise, told us that he is the spiritual head and that he can visit Tibet at any time. Indeed, he was rather surprised that he had not been there. However, the First Secretary told us also that Dalai Lamas in general were no more than Chinese placemen, chosen by drawing lots from a golden urn in Beijing. Actually, it is conceded that the present Dalai Lama was not so chosen. Instead, China sent a delegate, Mr. Wu Zhonxin, to Tibet in 1940 when the Dalai Lama was only six years old. The delegate exempted him from the lottery process, but all other Lamas—both Dalai and Panchen—are chosen by the Chinese. They have been for hundreds of years, so the Chinese assure us, and so they also assured my noble friend Lord Belhaven.

That flies in the face of all that we have learnt regarding holy men having visions and studying reflections in a sacred lake; of the old Dalai Lama dreaming of the physical appearance of the new one; and of searches throughout the land for the child that is the reincarnation of the true Tibetan God. It is an awesome and mystical process. It is far removed from the Chinese golden urn which more resembles, I submit, a glorified tombola.

So how do we progress? I suggest that we must clear the muddy waters by disregarding everything that happened before 1951. It is complicated; it is open to several interpretations; and the British are not blameless. If we can limit our arguments to human rights issues of the past 40 years, we will at least see the wood for the trees. We may achieve that measure of cultural independence for Tibet that we all seek. We may end the persecution and torture of monks. We may even tear away the mask of Chinese liberation to reveal the true face of Chinese subjugation.

The Chinese First Secretary gave me a book called The Social History of Tibet. In it, I found the following: In 1954 the 14th Dalai Lama presented Chairman Mao with the Wheel of Dharma inscribed with this message: 'When attending the First National Peoples' Congress as Tibetan delegate I, the Dalai Lama, offered respectfully, according to the Tibetan Politico Religious Convention, this golden wheel of Dharma to Chairman Mao, great leader of all nationalities of China, to express our best wishes"'. What a load of nonsense. May it please the Chinese never to inflict such an indignity on his Holiness again.

We must continue to press the Chinese on every occasion to recognise simply that the Tibetans are as different from the Chinese as chalk is from cheese. We must press them to respect their culture and we must press them to give Tibet autonomy and to grant Tibetans their freedom.

7.23 p.m.

Lord Thurlow

My Lords, we all agree that the only leverage that well intentioned governments have in relation to China at present is in the realm of public relations. It is vital to continue to keep the facts in front of the eyes of the world. We owe a great debt to those organisations which are committed to that and which are doing the job extremely well.

I should like, with your Lordships' indulgence, to limit my remarks to the rather specialised question of the confusion in the minds of not only peoples, but also of governments, about the status of Tibet in relation to China. It may sound a very dry-as-dust aspect—perhaps it is—but it is important because in international fora the policies of governments and what governments say is to a great extent determined by their view on status. Perhaps I should apologise now because I shall probably be unable to remain until the end of the debate due to a long-standing engagement.

As the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven, told us, we put the word "suzerainty" into international circulation. It places on us a certain responsibility to make it quite clear in all fora that we can, such as the United Nations Assembly or Human Rights Commission, that the use of that word in the past has in no way qualified the British Government's continuously held view that the Tibetan people have the right, and have always had the right, of self-government and self-determination, as demanded by successive United Nations resolutions. With respect to the useful survey which the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, gave us—he did not come to this point in the chapter—the British position on the status of Tibet was defined by Anthony Eden as Foreign Secretary in 1943 when he said that Britain was prepared—I emphasise the word "prepared"—to recognise Chinese suzerainty over Tibet provided—again, I emphasise the word "provided"—that Tibet was treated as autonomous. The accepted meaning of "autonomy" is total internal self-government. The Chinese Government never accepted that proviso.

It has remained, of course, the view of successive British Governments that the Tibetan people have the right to govern themselves, as they always did until the Chinese invasion of 1950. That invasion is etched in my mind with particular force because I happened to have the responsibility in New Delhi on the day or so after the invasion of trying to find out from the Government of India what position they were going to take over that invasion.

Other western governments have tended to regard the United Kingdom as having the deepest and most authoritative knowledge of the issue of Tibet's status because of our close ties and responsibilities in the past. They did not question our use of the word "suzerainty"—to which, however, we have never been committed—as applying to Tibet because of the Chinese failure to accept our proviso. I need hardly say to your Lordships that the Chinese interpretation under the communist government of the meaning of the word "autonomy" is very different from that of any free government.

In conclusion, perhaps I may remind your Lordships of the view that Sir Algernon Rumbold put on record in The Times in 1993. He was acknowledged as the best informed senior official on Tibetan affairs in Whitehall for many years. He wrote: Confusion remains about the history of Tibet's status. The Foreign Office appear to base their policy on China's claim that 'Tibet has always been part of China'. This is geographically, racially, culturally and politically false. Historically Chinese Governments exercised some influence in Tibet only occasionally and for brief periods. There is also continuing muddle about suzerainty. We regarded Tibet as de facto independent. But we were ready to recognise China's suzerainty on the understanding that the Chinese accepted Tibet's autonomy … As no Chinese Government accepted Tibet's autonomy … the British Government never accepted China's 'special position—.

7.30 p.m.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for introducing this interesting debate from which I have already learned a great deal. For clarification, I assume that we are not talking about the 15,000 bears held in small cages quite inhumanely and without any rights, as I read in this morning's papers, but about man's inhumanity to man.

I make three points. The first relates to a topic that I do not believe has been mentioned: birth control policy. It is right and proper that a country like China should have such a policy, and I heartily approve of it. But one must remember that there is no method of birth control that is completely successful. Breaches of that policy when extra children are born should not make the parents subject to sanctions and heavy fines. In China, if a couple are unable to pay the fine, their home may be demolished. If they are state employees they may be dismissed from their jobs. Family planning groups are likely to visit such couples in the middle of the night to increase the intimidation.

I give an example from Amnesty International. A single woman who adopted her brother's child because he had too many children was detained several times. On one occasion she was held for seven days in an attempt to force her brother and his wife to pay more fines. She was taken to the county government office and locked in a basement room with 12 or 13 other people, both women and men. She was reportedly blindfolded, stripped naked and, with her hands tied behind her back, beaten with an electric baton. Several of those detained with her were suspended above the ground and beaten; some were detained for several weeks. That is a breach of human rights, and the method by which birth control policy is administered is a matter of international concern.

One old Chinese practice I have not read about recently is that whereby, if the one child that is permitted is a female, it can be left outside the home either to die or to be picked up by someone else. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister can say whether that practice continues.

My noble friend Lord Ashbourne spoke about the persecution of Christians. In the second half of November of this year approximately 80 underground Roman Catholics around the city of Linchuan were arrested without warrant, beaten and gaoled. Their crime was their loyalty and obedience to the Pope and their refusal to join the official church created by the communist government to replace the previous official Roman Catholic Church. An enormous number of other Christians suffer the same persecution because of their loyalty and obedience to the person of Jesus Christ himself.

There are many other examples of suffering caused to the underground Roman Catholic Church. Near Hebei, eight Roman Catholic nuns were recently arrested and gaoled while on a religious retreat. Hundreds of other Catholics have been arrested and fined. Frequently, they are told in no uncertain terms that unless their children renounce Catholicism they will be dismissed from schools. That is an intolerable situation.

I refer to the unease of the Chinese Government. This goes right to the top. A high party official in Beijing recently muttered, If God had the face of a 70 year-old man, we wouldn't care if he was back: hut he has the face of millions of 20 year-olds, so we are very worried". The Chinese Government worry about the enormous spread of Christianity throughout China. The point was highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne. This is a cause of great worry. Local party cadres are often given arrest quotas for their areas. Christians are soft targets if the quota needs to be filled. Police have dished out rough justice, believing that they have carte blanche in their methods so long as they get results. Consequently, many arrested Christians have been severely beaten. One Bible distributor in Hunan province was hung upside down and beaten with iron pipes. A local Christian leader said, Right now the police think they can do whatever they like, and many of them are giving in to bloodlust and abusing prisoners". These are breaches of human rights of which the world needs to take note. I hope that the Government will continue to press for a cessation of breaches of human rights and for monitors to be admitted. It is very important that that is done while at the same time we aim to improve our relations with China. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will provide us with comfort on those points.

7.36 p.m.

Viscount Craigavon

My Lords, I should like to speak about one particular facet of the very wide area covered by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I refer to the aspects of population and reproductive health. I do not aim to give a rounded view on human rights generally in China. I compliment the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on the way in which he introduced the debate. I believe that he has given the Minister who is to reply an extremely difficult task in covering a very wide range of subjects, in spite of the latter's prodigious skills at the Dispatch Box.

For over 10 years I have been vice-chairman of the all-party group on population, development and reproductive health. Over the years I have been aware of the enormous issues, problems and dilemmas raised by the very size of China's population. The figure of 1.2 billion is almost incomprehensible. We should be aware not only of the size of the population but the potential for future increase.

We have all heard about cases of coercion and abuse. The noble Lord, Lord Rea, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, have touched on this matter this evening. Part of the matter to be assessed is the prevalence and extent of the practices that we criticise. The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, quite properly gave an example quoted by Amnesty International, but it must be put into the context of an extraordinary population of 1.2 billion. We must try to understand what is and what is not officially allowed and assess what is happening.

No one I have met in the population field in this country supports coercion. In her absence today, perhaps I may say that I am aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, and the ODA have been scrupulous in reiterating their opposition to coercion. Both I and the all-party group on population have condemned instances of coercion, forced abortion and abuses within China and I am no apologist for that country. Those actions can never be justified. However, I am aware of the huge and almost unimaginable size of the population, the massive inertia in social conditioning and traditions of the past, for example relating to the status of women.

I was glad to hear the right reverend Prelate taking a more historical perspective in his speech. At one point he talked about long traditions. We can and, in my opinion, should attempt to have a continuing dialogue, but should also acknowledge the scale and difficulty of what we are trying to contribute to.

One of the main points that I am addressing today is the support that we give to two organisations that work in China: the United Nations Fund for Population Activities and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. The UNFPA organised the highly successful international Cairo conference in 1994 on population and development. China was a party to and influenced the final communiqué from that conference, containing principles and a programme of action for the future.

I understand that the UNFPA is currently negotiating a new programme of support for China, based on the principles of human rights upheld in the Cairo declaration; in other words, the UNFPA is not just throwing money into China but is considering fully the basis upon which its, in my opinion valuable, support is to be given.

The IPPF has also been working in China for many years. Again, we are right to examine what is being done on our behalf and with our financial support. Recently we have been fortunate to have an up-to-date, independent report, which was commissioned by the ODA, on the China Family Planning Association. Because I agree largely with its analysis, perhaps I may quote at some length the Written Answer of Dr. LI am Fox, in another place, to the chairman of our all-party population group, Mr. Geoffrey Clifton Brown on 21st November. The Written Answer states: The China Family Planning Association is one of the many affiliates with whom IPPF works and we have been keen to know more about the difference IPPF, and CFPA, have been able to make to reproductive choice in China. The Overseas Development Administration therefore recently commissioned a review of the role of IPPF in China and its work with the CFPA. A copy of the consultants' report has been placed in the Library". That is, the Library of another place. The Written Answer continues: We regard this examination, led on ODA's behalf by a highly respected and authoritative expert in the population field, as an informed, balanced and realistic assessment. It concludes that IPPF has been able to play an effective and invaluable role in influencing CFPA in the development of the kind of activities and role that we would expect of a non-governmental organisation. However, we should recognise that there is still clearly a long way to go". That last sentence shows how balanced the report is. It acknowledges that progress is slow and painstaking. It does not lead us to expect some sudden transformation.

My final sentence is: We accept the review's conclusion that the influence of IPPF has been a force for positive change, and that the continued involvement of IPPF in China will be beneficial in helping CFPA further. These conclusions support our long-held view that it is better that organisations such as IPPF should be engaged and working to influence from within, and is the course that we believe most likely to produce the outcomes that we all seek".— [Official Report, Commons, 21/11/96; col.671.] That final sentence sums up the position of many of us in the field. That recommendation of continuing to work and influence the Chinese from within and by dialogue, applies equally to the UNFPA. I hope that the Government will continue to support that process by those two organisations.

7.44 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, we cannot conclude this debate without considering the defence that is put forward by the People's Republic of China of its human rights record. It says that it has climbed three big mountains of its history: aggressive imperialism of the nature touched upon by the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey; oppressive feudalism from its past; and bureaucrat-capitalism. It argues that the rights to life and liberty and security of person, which are outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are meaningless without the prime right—the right to subsistence.

In a paper published in November 1991, Human Rights in China, the Chinese Government contended that, although standards of living were rising, China was still a developing country with limited resources and a huge population, where social turmoil could threaten that right to subsistence. To assert the primacy of the right to subsistence to which all other rights are subordinate, is for it an expression of the sovereignty of the Chinese people.

There is a temptation for many people to ask whether it may be right: whether we have anything to do with China; why should we interfere? Do we not have enough on our plate? To people who have that self-doubt are added the mercantile voices, "Don't do anything to upset China; don't do anything to affect our competitive position in that country; don't make the position of Hong Kong even more vulnerable than it is". I hope that we hear nothing of that sort from the Minister tonight.

I am wholly persuaded to the contrary. China must understand that we shall publicise and continue to criticise violations of human rights wherever they may take place. Torture, as an instrument of oppression, is no less objectionable when it is practised in an undeveloped country than it is in an advanced democracy. Political views, political systems, are meaningless and immaterial. What matters is that torture takes place.

China must be called to account for a number of reasons. First, as some noble Lords have already said, it seeks to play a leading role in the affairs of the UN as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council; secondly, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, pointed out, China is a state party to seven UN treaties, it has crucially failed to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. That is the very instrument upon which the Hong Kong Bill of Rights is based.

Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of some of the provisions: Article 14 guarantees the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal, established by law; Article 17 protects privacy, family and home; Article 18 declares the right of every person to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, to which so many noble Lords have referred tonight; Article 6 protects the right to life; and Article 7 forbids torture. Why does not China ratify that convention?

Beyond that, China blocks criticism in the UN by procedural methods. Where a state seeks to strut the stage of world affairs, it cannot pick and choose those standards of international behaviour which it will obey and those which it will not. It cannot cloak itself in the robe of sovereignty to avoid international responsibilities. It cannot moan about past imperialism when it practises a tyrannical imperium over Tibet.

Human rights are universal. They do not depend upon race, creed, the state of economic development, or the number of citizens who are involved. But our right to intervene derives, above all, from the fact that it is a state that denies to its own citizens the right to criticise its institutions and its legal system. It cannot complain if others step in and speak for them. My noble friend Lord Avebury referred to Wang Dan, the history student who was arrested in June 1989 and spent three and a half years in prison for counter revolutionary propaganda and incitement after the Tiananmen Square incident. He was released early in 1993, just as President Clinton was considering the renewal of the most favoured nation status. He was rearrested in May 1995. What was his offence? It was obtaining a scholarship for a correspondence course at Berkeley, publishing anti-government criticism abroad and raising money for dissidents. He was held incommunicado for 17 months and sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment. On 11 th November, only last month, his appeal was dismissed at a hearing from which foreign observers and journalists were excluded. Neither he nor his counsel were permitted to address the court during a 10-minute hearing. We have a responsibility to speak for him now because he can no longer speak for himself. These are our days; these are our times; these are people of our generation who are in China. Today we are the bearers of that torch.

Perhaps I may focus in particular upon the horror of public executions in China. I have already referred to Article 6 of the ICCPR, which provides that sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes. When the Cultural Revolution abolished law there were only some 750 lawyers left for a population of 1.2 billion. The first five statutes of criminal law that were reintroduced in 1979 and 1980 were reintroduced in order to deal with the Gang of Four. They have increased to 200-odd. The death penalty was originally enacted for 21 offences but that has now increased to an estimated 68 offences.

During the first half of 1995 Amnesty International monitored executions for crimes from murder and manslaughter to prostitution, pornography, hooliganism, corruption, fraud, profiteering, tax evasion and dealing in antique relics. In 1995 it recorded more than 2,000 executions. Whether the death penalty is imposed for less serious crimes is quite arbitrary. If the petty criminal is there at the wrong time the bullet bears his name.

On 28th April this year a nationwide anti-crime campaign was launched. It was termed the "Yan-da", or "strike hard", campaign. Between then and 27th June, Amnesty recorded 1,014 confirmed death sentences, over 800 of which were immediately executed. In all probability there were many more than that.

The 1983 legislation, which has been introduced as part of this particular campaign, provides for summary trials and executions. Prisoners can be tried without warning, without being given a copy of the charges and without notification to their lawyers. Instead of the Supreme Court deciding to ratify a death penalty, it can now be confirmed by that summary procedure in a provincial court. Jilian Radio, monitored by the BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, described a case in May of this year when a man was executed by a firing squad only seven days after the commission of the offence. That is trial, appeal and so on within that period of time.

On 17th June, the President of Beijing High People's Court was reported in the Beijing Legal Daily as stating that those to be sentenced to death in the campaign were not only those guilty of the most serious crimes but also those whose crimes "seriously endanger public order", such as repeat offenders. No doubt in this House we shall be considering that matter at some later time. The Chief Justice in Beijing referred with pride specifically to a petty thief executed for stealing the equivalent of £120 because his gang had committed 14 such crimes in public places over a period of three months. What is the quality of the evidence upon which those convictions are based? The culture in China is of torture to obtain a confession. Practitioners in Hong Kong are only too wearily familiar with the allegations which are made of misbehaviour and which are investigated at length.

It is hard to believe that just across the border from Hong Kong, in Shenzen and in two other cities in Guangdong province, 62 people were executed six weeks ago on 30th October at mass public rallies. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, referred to them. They were exhibited on stages with boards around their necks stating the nature of their crimes, harangued and then shot.

We cannot simply wring our hands in despair. China is anxious for trade, for investment and for assistance in development. The British Government have a duty, together with other UN member states, to pressurise China to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and abide by it; to grant UN human rights officials unrestricted access to monitor trials and prisons; to end confessions extracted by torture; and to cease the obscenity of public executions for less than serious crime.

As for ourselves, we should ensure that asylum seekers are not returned to China and that their claims are fairly and justly assessed. We have an expectation that our Government should demonstrate to the international community that they will retain for Britain in a way consistent with its traditions their approach to the granting of asylum. We cannot hide behind sovereignty a mean-spirited avoidance of our own obligations. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Avebury for bringing this fascinating and important topic to your Lordships' attention.

7.56 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, it is some time since we debated the topic and I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for introducing it. Unfortunately, I do not believe that we can record a great deal of progress since our last discussion despite the fact that there have been some positive changes to the law in China. The problem is that legal change is no guarantee of respect for human rights. Political intervention by the Chinese Government when it suits happens from time to time. There have been what used to be called "show trials" designed to deter dissent, as in the recent case of Wang Dan, to whom other speakers have referred, the former student leader who was both arbitrarily and illegally detained for 17 months without charge and recently sentenced to 11 years for doing what would be allowed in any civilised country; that is, standing up and criticising his government.

We should be concerned about human rights in China more than in any other country simply because one-fifth of the world's population lives there. But we should also be concerned about it because of the growing importance of China as a world power. Other speakers have mentioned its permanent membership of the Security Council. Of course, China wants recognition as a key member of the international community and because of that it is acutely sensitive about human rights. It attempts to block both criticism and scrutiny of its record. It has from time to time tried to silence Amnesty International and other critics. It is important that all countries, including the UK, wishing to increase trade with China, should not see that as a reason for backing down from continuing to exert pressure on its human rights record. We must remember that it is also in China's interests that it should increase its trade with us and other members of the European Union.

We should also remind ourselves that the abuse of laws by officials, the manipulation of courts by politicians and widespread corruption are not conducive to a business environment in which trade will flourish. Nor in the long run will political repression do very much for the maintenance of a successful market economy.

Before saying something about the rather awful catalogue of human rights violations in China, perhaps I may ask the Minister when the Government last criticised China's human rights record. Moreover, does the Minister believe that quiet diplomacy has achieved any significant improvements?

A number of aspects of human rights have been raised in the debate which are a cause for concern: the denial of basic political freedom to criticise the government; religious repression and the repression of ethnic minorities; the use of barbaric treatment of offenders, including torture and detention without trial; excessive use of capital punishment; the maltreatment of children in orphanages; the use of organ transplants; and the use of child labour. I do not have time to cover all those matters but I wish to pick out one or two of them.

Sadly, it is not possible in China today to call for democratic reform without risking arrest or being held without charge and eventually being sentenced to terms in prison or labour camps. And yet formally the Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of association. Regrettably, in practice, the position is rather different.

From time to time the Chinese Government seem to suffer from what I can only describe as paranoia which leads them to ignore their own laws and to lock up people simply for signing letters which call for political and social reform. Amnesty International has documented many such cases although I do not have time to deal with them. Regrettably, as other noble Lords have said, there are still many political prisoners in China today.

The right reverend Prelate, the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, have said something about religious persecution. There is meant to be tolerance towards religious minorities in China. There are, I believe, five officially recognised religions and there has been a quite significant religious revival over the past 15 or so years. However, members of groups which are not officially recognised by the authorities are often harassed and sometimes even detained. From time to time crackdowns take place against people who are simply trying peacefully to exercise their right of freedom of religion.

Ethnic minorities have been badly treated in China. In a recent case, ethnic Mongol intellectuals tried to set up groups to promote human rights in their region. They were charged with forming counter-revolutionary organisations and of leaking state secrets. It all has a rather nasty Stalinist ring about it.

Similar treatment has been handed out to young ethnic Uigurmen. Young people of only 18 or 19 in that minority group have been sent to prison for as long as 10 or 15 years accused of setting up what the authorities call counter-revolutionary organisations.

All three groups—political dissenters and ethnic and religious minorities—have also been subjected to very harsh treatment which would be intolerable in any system that paid more than lip service to freedom of expression. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said, torture is apparently not uncommon. There was the recent example of Chen Longde, a prisoner of conscience, who, having been tortured, kicked, and hit with an electric baton, attempted to commit suicide.

I understand that as long ago as 1988 China ratified the convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that. Too many trials take place without proper charges being put and without an opportunity for a proper defence to be conducted.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, referred to the excessive use of capital punishment in China—capital punishment for crimes which in most other countries would be dealt with by terms of imprisonment. An Amnesty International report not only indicated that more than 2,000 people were executed in 1995 but also referred to the fact that on what the Chinese Government called anti-drugs day last June as many as 679 people were sentenced to death on one day alone.

No other country comes anywhere near that statistic. I believe that Saudi Arabia and Nigeria which, with China, account for 85 per cent. of executions in the world today, carried out only approximately 100 and 200 executions respectively in 1995.

As my noble friend Lord Rea said, it is not only convicted criminals who die at the hands of the state in China. Handicapped children and orphaned and abandoned girls are also dying in unacceptable numbers as a result of maltreatment in orphanages. The rather grim catalogue of human rights violations does not seem to have led to sufficient condemnation of China by the international community. Does the Minister accept that that is the case?

I began with China because it perhaps makes it easier to understand the situation in Tibet. But having described the Chinese situation, I do not in any way wish to give the impression that that excuses the treatment meted out to Tibet by the Chinese Government. We have seen countless examples of religious and cultural repression there. There are frequent petty denials of Tibetan autonomy; for example, the fairly recent refusal by the Chinese authorities to allow the Tibetans to display pictures of the Dalai Lama. Other noble Lords have referred to the extraordinary way in which the Chinese have behaved in relation to the Panchen Lama.

It is rather perplexing that the Chinese resort to such crude tactics. I cannot believe that they are so unsophisticated that they believe that such tactics will work in Tibet. Indeed, hostility towards China remains undiminished there after the destruction of more than 1,000 monasteries over the past 40 years and the killing of, it is estimated, more than one million Tibetans during that period.

I do not go quite as far as the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven, who called for the independence of Tibet. Nor do I wish to become involved in arguments about the definition of suzerainty. However, there is surely a need to remind the Chinese that repression of that proud people is not consistent with their autonomy. Again, perhaps I may ask the Minister to tell the House when the UK Government last took up the matter with the Chinese. Perhaps the Minister will comment on why the President of the Board of Trade failed to raise the matter with the Chinese authorities when he was in Beijing earlier this year.

When the Minister replies, I hope that he will indicate that the Government and the international community intend to press the Chinese Government not just for improvements in their human rights record but also for a greater willingness to allow them to be monitored. Of course we want to trade with China and, of course, we accept that China is an important and powerful member of the international community. However, what the Chinese Government must understand is that, if they wish to take their full place as a respected and accepted member of that community, they must stop violating the human rights of their citizens.

8.10 p.m.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to those already expressed by other speakers to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for raising the question of the human rights situation in China, particularly in Tibet, and providing us with the opportunity to debate the matter. It has enabled me to set out our policies and allows the wider world to know the view of your Lordships' House on the matter.

I should like to start with some general comments. Obviously we are deeply concerened about reports of human rights violations wherever they may occur. We believe that human rights are universal and apply to everyone equally. They are not just western standards; they apply to all countries and regions. All governments have a moral and legal obligation to their citizens to protect these rights. That concept is enshrined in the United Nations Charter under Articles 55 and 56. At the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, China accepted the universality of human rights and the legitimacy of international debate.

The subject of human rights is no longer viewed as it was by some in the past as a form of interference in a country's domestic affairs. The United Kingdom has rightly taken a leading role in the promotion of international standards in this area. We believe that the best way to do so is through a process of constructive engagement at every level. We pursue that approach bilaterally with countries whose human rights performance concern us, and also in international fora, such as the United Nations, where we work closely with European Union partners and other like-minded governments.

I should now like to concentrate on the specific area under focus in this debate. I shall divide my comments into two parts: first, I shall deal with China; and, secondly, I shall deal with Tibet. Recent events in China have once again focused international attention on the human rights situation in the country. We have followed these events with concern, in particular the continuing arrest and imprisonment of dissidents and increased regulation over religious practice.

We believe that the best way to approach the question of human rights in China is through a process of constructive engagement with the Chinese authorities, along the lines that I mentioned earlier. On the basis of our experience, we believe that that is in fact the most effective way of getting results. We regularly raise the issue of human rights in China, both at bilateral and at multilateral levels.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary discussed this question in depth in meetings with senior Chinese leaders during his visit to China in January. The Foreign Secretary also raised the issue with Foreign Minister Qian Qichen during their meeting in The Hague in April. Most recently my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Hanley, discussed the human rights situation in China with Vice-Foreign Minister Wang Yingfan during his visit to China in September and with Vice-Premier Li Lanqing in London last month, on 5th November.

Mr. Hanley raised the specific issues of freedom of speech and the detention of individuals on the basis of their political and religious views. In that context, he referred specifically to the case of Wang Dan and the situation in Tibet. He urged the Chinese authorities to make progress on such issues and encouraged China to accede to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We were particularly deeply concerned to hear about Wang Dan's imprisonment and the failure of his appeal on 18th November. We have made statements both bilaterally and with the European Union calling on the Chinese to show clemency and to allow Wang Dan's early release.

My noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon led a human rights mission to China in late 1992. As well as presenting a list of cases of concern to the Chinese authorities, the delegation held meetings with officials from legal, security, Communist Party, religious and academic organisations and met representatives of national minority groups. The delegation's report made a number of practical recommendations concerning such issues as safeguards on the use of compulsory labour in prisons, more sparing use of the death penalty, the early abolition of all forms of administrative detention and clarification of regulations on registration of religious sites. It is with regret that the Chinese authorities have failed to take forward exchanges within the framework of my noble and learned friend's mission, but we are continuing to urge them to make progress on the issues raised by it.

We also work with European Union partners and other countries to raise the issue of human rights in China. The EU and the United States have in recent years jointly sponsored a resolution on the situation of human rights in China at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. We also support EU human rights exchanges with China and participate in EU representations to the Chinese authorities on such issues as the imprisonment of dissidents, as we did most recently in the case of Wang Dan.

In our exchanges with the Chinese authorities, both bilaterally and with our EU partners, we have urged the Chinese Government to take real steps to improve the human rights situation in China, including Tibet. As I mentioned, we have encouraged China to accede to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. China is already a party to a number of international human rights instruments such as the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ratified by them in 1988) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We have encouraged China to open further its system to the outside world. In November/December 1994 the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance visited China at the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs International Organisations Department. The UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture and on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Execution have also reported on China, although it is a matter of real regret that they have not been invited to visit the country. We continue to encourage China to take measures to improve human rights related legislation in accordance with international standards and to adopt measures to ensure the right to freedom of expression and association.

While the human rights situation in China remains an issue of deep concern, China has made progress in a number of fields. As has been mentioned, in the legal sphere there has been progress in the introduction of new criminal legislation. On 1st January 1997, a revision of the "Criminal Procedure Law" will come into force which should offer defendants improved protection. Measures include earlier access to legal representation; an expanded role for lawyers during a trial; and an assumption of innocence until proven guilty. Other new legislation includes a lawyer's law, a law on prisons and a judge's law. While we recognise that there are shortcomings with these new laws—some significant—and there is still more to be done in this area, we welcome these developments as a step in the right direction.

The new legislation comes at a time when the Chinese leadership is placing a greater emphasis on the importance of the "rule of law" and it should have the effect of more clearly codifying legal practice in China. We have encouraged exchanges which promote co-operation in this field: one important example is the Young Lawyers Training Scheme, supported by the Bar Council and the Law Society, which gives Chinese lawyers the opportunity to come to Britain to study and to gain practical experience of our legal system.

Participants in the scheme have expressed their enthusiasm at being given this chance. The Great Britain-China Centre is promoting similar programmes, including one in relation to prison management. Among our EU partners we understand that the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden has signed an agreement with the Judicial Research Institute of China to promote co-operation in the field of human rights and humanitarian law. However, we recognise that Chinese practice still needs considerable improvement and we shall be watching carefully to see how the new rules are applied in practice.

We also welcome and encourage co-operation to improve the care of orphans and disabled children in China. We have welcomed an announcement by UNICEF that it had reached an agreement with the Chinese Government to start a programme to assist the orphanages most at risk and to help improve rehabilitation programmes for physically disabled children. As well as contributing to UNICEF, the Overseas Development Administration has also given assistance to British non-governmental organisations working in China. One is run by the Save the Children Fund for refurbishing a kindergarten in Anhui Province which supports both able and mentally and physically disabled children. We have also provided support to Health Unlimited for a training programme for mother and child health workers.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, raised the question of torture. Reports of the use of torture are a cause of particular concern. We condemn the practice wherever it takes place and raise our concerns with the Chinese bilaterally through the European Union and at multilateral fora. At the 52nd United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the EU called on China to co-operate with the Special Rapporteur on Torture. We shall continue to look to China to fulfil its obligations as a party to the UN Convention Against Torture.

The question of religion and freedom of worship was raised. Again, this is a basic human right. Reports of the harassment and detention of individuals on the basis of their religious beliefs in China, including Tibet, are a cause of concern. We continue to urge the Chinese authorities to look upon religious freedom as fulfilling a basic human need and not as a threat. Equally, cases of the ill-treatment of minority groups, including religious believers in ethnic communities, are also of concern to us. We have stressed to the authorities the need to respect the distinct cultural, religious and ethnic identity of minority groups, obviously including the Tibetans.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked whether we shall urge Presidents Clinton and Chirac to pay greater attention to human rights in China. As the noble Lord will know, we maintain regular contact with the United States and France on a range of international issues. They and other countries within the European Union and elsewhere share our concern about the human rights situation. A number of noble Lords—I think particularly of my noble friend Lord Brentford, the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, and the noble Lord, Lord Rea—spoke about population policies. We recognise the Chinese Government's concern about the spiralling Chinese population. However, we consider that family planning should be based on voluntary and informed choice. We are deeply concerned about reports of the use of coercive Chinese family planning practices.

The two international bodies involved in family planning in China are the International Planned Parent Federation and the United Nations Population Fund, as has been described. Both those organisations strongly hack the principle, reaffirmed by the International Conference on Population in Cairo in 1994, that coercion has no place in family planning programmes and that all couples should be able to plan their families on the basis of free and informed choice. In recent years they have been among the most outspoken international critics of coercion.

We provide no direct assistance on family planning in China, but as part of this country's multilateral assistance we give core contributions to the IPPF and UNFPA. We know that these organisations have a positive impact on reproductive health policy and practices in China. To withdraw support would serve no useful purpose. Indeed, it might reduce the pressure on China to adopt more enlightened policies. Both the IPPF and the UNFPA strongly oppose all forms of coercion in this area. The UNFPA's assistance to China has included the introduction of safer contraceptives and projects to improve mother and child healthcare. The IPPF provides technical and financial assistance to the family planning association of China, especially for information and educational work. Both organisations use their involvement in China and their international status to encourage China to adopt more enlightened family planning policies.

My noble friend Lord Brentford talked about the possible exposure of baby girls. There is clear evidence of imbalance in numbers between male and female babies. However, I understand that sentiment in China's big cities is beginning to change. Baby girls are sometimes preferred to boys because they are thought to cause less trouble. Traditional attitudes are more prevalent in the countryside where people place more emphasis on the need for strong arms to guide the plough. International non-governmental organisations in China are running programmes to promote respect for girl children. We welcome this and will continue to encourage them.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to conditions in prisons in China. We are still deeply concerned about conditions in prisons, particularly for those detained for political or religious beliefs. Estimates of the number of prisoners concerned vary by a factor of 10 and reliable data are hard to obtain. However, legal procedures and prison conditions were studied in depth by the delegation led by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe which visited China in 1992. We continue to urge Chinese authorities to take action of the sort recommended by the delegation.

A number of noble Lords—I think particularly of the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury—referred to imports of prison-made goods and the exploitation of labour in the manufacture of toys. The United Kingdom is firmly committed to international action to combat exploitative and abusive labour practices. The United Kingdom supports the work of the International Labour Organisation which tackles these issues.

Reference was made to Operation Strikehard. I believe that was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and possibly the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. We and our European Union partners have made very clear to the Chinese authorities our concern about the widespread use of the death penalty in China and the disregard of international legal safeguards. Under China's current anti-crime campaign, Operation Strikehard, the number of executions is growing, as is the list of crimes punishable by death. The Irish Presidency made a statement to the United Nations General Assembly on 18th November which again raised our concerns about this and other human rights issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, made some chilling remarks about prison organ transplants. Reports of the use of prisoners for organ transplants are a matter of deep concern. The report of my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, following his mission in 1992, recommended the formulation of a code of conduct prohibiting the use of organs from executed prisoners for transplant surgery. We have repeatedly urged the Chinese authorities to take up the recommendations of my noble and learned friend, and we shall continue to do so.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and my noble friend Lord Ashbourne also raised the question of religious freedom. Freedom of worship is a basic human right and reports of the harassment and detention of individuals on the basis of their religious belief in China, including Tibet, is a cause of great worry. We continue to urge the Chinese authorities to look on religious freedom as fulfilling a basic human need, and not as a threat. As I have already mentioned, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance visited China in 1994, and in his report he raised a number of concerns, including restrictions on Christians and Buddhists to practise their religion openly. We look to the Chinese authorities to address the concerns expressed in the special rapporteur's report.

I now wish to turn to the matters raised in connection with Tibet. The question of Tibet is one of great importance. We certainly share the concerns of the House, expressed this evening and on other occasions, over reports of human rights abuses in that region. The importance of status was emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow. He elaborated points made by my noble friends Lord Mersey and Lord Belhaven about that matter. Successive British Governments have regarded Tibet as autonomous while recognising the special position of China there. That continues to be the Government's view. Tibet has never been internationally recognised as independent. But we believe that the Tibetans should have a greater say in running their own affairs in Tibet, and have urged the Chinese authorities to respect the distinct cultural, religious and ethnic identity of the Tibetans. In our view the best way forward for Tibet is through dialogue between the Chinese Government and the Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, without any preconditions imposed. When the Secretary of State met the Dalai Lama in July, he expressed the hope that this dialogue could be established.

We shall continue to use every appropriate opportunity to raise Tibetan concerns with the Chinese authorities. This includes our concern for the safety of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the boy selected by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama, and for the former abbot of Tashilunpho Monastery, Chadrel Rinpoche, who led the search committee for the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama.

A recent statement by the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, during a meeting of the United Nations committee on the rights of the child, gave limited information about Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, but we are anxious to know more than we do now and we have since raised our concerns with the Chinese authorities in Peking and London, and are considering with our European Union partners what further action to take.

The question of religious freedom in Tibet was raised by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. We are deeply concerned about reports of destruction of religious buildings and limits set on numbers of Tibetan Buddhist monks. Religion is central to Tibetan culture and ethnic identity and we shall continue to urge the Chinese authorities to respect that identity.

In conclusion, the human rights situation in China, including Tibet, will remain an important issue for us and in our relations with the Chinese authorities. China, as a geographically vast, developing nation of over 1.2 billion people, is undergoing major social and economic change. These changes will lead to increased domestic pressures for human rights reforms, such as we are seeing in the legal sphere. We do not believe that a policy of isolating China, particularly at this time of change, would help to achieve the sort of progress that I am sure all noble Lords here this evening would wish to see. On the contrary, we believe that isolation could lead to further human rights violations.

Having said that, it is important that China recognises continuing international anxieties, particularly in respect of fundamental political, ethnic and religious freedoms. We shall continue to urge the Chinese authorities and the Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, to enter into a dialogue without preconditions at the earliest opportunity. The best way to achieve progress is through constructive dialogue and through support programmes, both governmental and non-governmental, of the kinds I described earlier. We will continue to use such contacts to urge the Chinese authorities to take steps to improve the human rights situation in the country, including China's early accession to the international covenants. But we shall not shirk the need to criticise Chinese policies and actions if and when events warrant it.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I extend warmest thanks to all noble Lords who have taken part but particularly to the noble Lord the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, who sat through the previous proceedings and who have had rather a long stint on the Bench. I also extend thanks to the right reverend Prelate.

The debate has been useful. It has exposed the wide variety of concerns about human rights that noble Lords feel in relation to the situation in China and Tibet. I hope that the Chinese authorities will take note of the views expressed by so many noble Lords on public executions, excessive use of capital punishment, religious intolerance, compulsory population control, repression in Tibet, and a vast number of other issues such as that of the orphanages. What struck me most forcibly was that the Minister referred a number of times to the recommendations made by his noble and learned friend Lord Howe following his mission to China in 1992, which I re-read shortly before the debate. It hit me that many of the recommendations made by the noble and learned Lord had not been acted upon, and the Minister reinforced that impression.

I wonder whether we can give further consideration to the question of access which is, after all, vitally important. As the Minister said, the one rapporteur who has been there is the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance. I do not believe that any of the recommendations he made in 1994 have been acted upon either. When so many pressures have been brought to bear on China to do what it is committed to do by its international obligations and there has been no result from all those contacts and the repeated raising of such matters by Ministers at every level, then we have to do something else.

A number of useful and constructive suggestions were made this evening. There should of course be better reporting. Consumer power, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, could be important, especially in the case of the goods that are made using labour subjected to intolerable conditions. The countering of threats against Disney, the BBC and other agents who report on what is said in China is vitally important. The Minister did not deal with the question that arose in relation to the BBC during the debate. I hope that he may see fit to write to those who mentioned it and place a copy of the letter in the Library.

If the Chinese read this debate, they can be under no illusion that your Lordships and the British people as a whole take the question of human rights in China and Tibet immensely seriously. They want to see China take her rightful place in the world community and assume the role of leadership to which it is fully entitled by its distinguished history and its size in terms of geography and population. China can do that only if it conforms to international rules which guide the rest of the world. I hope that the House will have made a small contribution towards ensuring that that takes place. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.