HL Deb 18 July 1996 vol 574 cc996-7

3.23 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke asked Her Majesty's Government:

What response they have had from the Government of China regarding the whereabouts and safety of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's nominee as Panchen Lama.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, the Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva has said that the boy is in good health and living with his parents under government protection. We and our EU partners are considering what further action to take on this difficult and sensitive issue.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer which takes us a little further than was the position this past January. Is my noble friend aware that the Panchen Lama is only six years old and is thus probably in the unenviable position of being the youngest political prisoner in the world? Will my noble friend therefore go a little further and urge the Government of China to re-establish dialogue with the EU China Human Rights Dialogue which I gather has been suspended?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, we, too, continue to be deeply concerned about the fate of the boy recognised by the Dalai Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. We have raised our concerns with the Chinese authorities both bilaterally and in conjunction with our EU partners. We shall continue to do so.

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, I must declare an interest as patron of the all-party Tibet group. Although I fully understand the Government's concern about the future of Hong Kong, is the Minister aware—I am sure that he is—that some of the worst human rights abuses are taking place in Tibet and have been for some years? Do the Government agree with His Holiness the Dalai Lama who said in his speech on Tuesday this week in the Grand Committee Room that that amounts to cultural genocide? Will they take a most positive attitude to supporting His Holiness in seeking a negotiated settlement with the Chinese? After all, that is a practice which we have been seeking to encourage others to do as we have been doing in this place over many centuries.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, as to the last aspect of the noble Lord's question about encouraging dialogue, which is the only way that a settlement will occur, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary had a meeting with the Dalai Lama yesterday. Once the Dalai Lama had described the situation in Tibet and expressed his concern about the threat to the Tibetan cultural identity, my right honourable friend said that he had discussed that issue and human rights in China, including Tibet, with his Chinese counterpart in January. He also said that we would continue to raise our concerns with the Chinese authorities both bilaterally and with our EU partners. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary also stressed our hope that talks, without preconditions, between the Chinese authorities and the Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, could begin without delay.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, the Minister referred to representations being made by us and through the EU. Has the matter been before the UN?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, yes, it has indeed been before the UN. At the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva towards the end of April, we co-sponsored with our EU partners a draft resolution on China which referred specifically to Tibet. We were most disappointed that Chinese attempts to block the resolution through a procedural device were successful. However, there was strenuous lobbying by the EU and other co-sponsors. I believe that the strength of the concern shown by Europe on this issue will have filtered through to China.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, what response have the Government given to Chinese warnings that this week's visit of the Dalai Lama would damage bilateral relations with China? Is not that a crude blackmailing tone that should be resisted? In the Minister's earlier reply I did not detect that a sufficiently robust response on this matter is being given to China.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I believe that a robust reply was given, as is frequently done in such situations. The Dalai Lama is in the UK this week on a private visit as a guest of British Buddhist organisations. He is a distinguished spiritual leader who is widely respected throughout the world. We are not prepared to listen to China telling us that he cannot come here on a private visit.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that it is very sad that, like the Dauphin Louis XVII and the little princes in the Tower, the Panchen Lama is being kept in prison through no fault of his own, but only for being who he is?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I would agree—if we knew that he was being kept in prison. We just do not know. We are advised that he is under protection for his own benefit at the request of his parents. I cannot judge whether one should believe that or not.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House how the present sorry state of affairs has arisen by considering the late Panchen Lama? For instance, is it true that the gentleman was kept a virtual prisoner in Peking and was poisoned to death by the Chinese?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I cannot confirm a cause of death in Peking.