HL Deb 11 May 2000 vol 612 cc1719-22

3.16 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will support the United States in its appeal for a codified approach to the human rights situation in Tibet, based on pressing China to respect international human rights standards.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the human rights situation in Tibet remains a matter of serious international concern. We, in common with the United States and our EU partners, use every available opportunity to press the Chinese Government to respect international human rights standards in Tibet. We also continue to press the Chinese Government to enter into a genuine dialogue with the Dalai Lama with the aim of finding a long-term political solution.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I welcome the fact that China has now signed the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights and on civil and political rights, although it has not ratified that. Does the Minister agree that in the past few months there has been a considerable worsening of restrictions on religious expression in Tibet and a crackdown on the free media? Given that, in Geneva, the EU could not form a common position, but decided to recommend that it would follow a basis of seeing whether results justified the continuation of the acceptance of what China had to say, can she tell the House how we should define such results-based outcomes? Will the dialogue continue regardless of whether there are results that indicate China's greater concern for human rights in Tibet?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we share the concern expressed by the noble Baroness about the difficulties that Tibetans are experiencing now. Tibet remains an area where we have serious concerns for human rights. We are deeply worried at the reports of continued arbitrary detention, torture and reeducation of monks and nuns. We have not ignored Tibet; we have kept it at the forefront of our minds. We take the issue seriously and the issue of human rights in Tibet, including the cases of individual Tibetans, is raised at every opportunity and at the highest level.

It is difficult to give the noble Baroness a prescription of the outcomes. She is aware that we have entered into a number of programmes with the Chinese in relation to the human rights dialogue in terms of their judiciary, their lawyers and their infrastructure. We are pursuing that with vigour. On a continuing basis, we are trying to assess and re-assess the situation. I can assure the noble Baroness that we share the anxieties that she has expressed and that we shall continue to keep a keen eye on whether the process of dialogue is working in the way that we would like.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, following on from the first Answer given by the Minister to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and in the spirit of open government and transparency, can she tell the House whether the Foreign Secretary discussed Tibet with the President of China during his recent visit? If he did press the president on the human rights situation in Tibet, what was the response?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the noble Baroness will know, because this matter has come before the House on previous occasions, that my right honourable friend did raise issues in relation to human rights with his opposite number and that extensive discussions took place on those issues. I cannot give the noble Baroness the precise details. She will recall that, at the same time, further discussions were taken forward with officials so that a comprehensive set of discussions on human rights went ahead during that period.

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, I should declare an interest as patron of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Tibet. Is the Minister satisfied that the World Bank's project, which will involve the movement of some 60,000 Han Chinese into areas traditionally occupied by Tibetans, has the approval of the British Government? Will that project affect the human rights situation of the Tibetans in that area? If not, will the project go ahead?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we are extremely aware of the concerns that have been expressed about the dam project. We still await the publication of the report of the independent inspection panel into the decision of the World Bank to approve the project and the World Bank's formal response to it. We shall then take a position on the project's future. However, I can assure the noble Lord that when that report is to hand, Her Majesty's Government will give their full attention to its recommendations and the comments contained in it. We shall respond in an appropriate and informed way once we have had an opportunity to consider its contents.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, has the Minister noted that yesterday the UN Committee Against Torture expressed concern about the continuing allegations of torture, in particular against Tibetans and other minorities? Although the Chinese authorities stated that none of those allegations was fully substantiated, they did agree that the UN Committee Against Torture should pay a visit to China. Will the Government press for that visit to take place at the earliest possible moment and for it to include Tibet in the itinerary?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, certainly we shall press for the Chinese authorities to live up to their commitment, as the noble Lord suggests. However, the committee must first accept the invitation. This is an important and welcome step by the Chinese authorities. We welcome China's engagement with UN mechanisms, including the UN Committee Against Torture. Furthermore, we have carefully noted the committee's oral conclusions which were issued, I believe, on 9th May. We shall address these, including the recommendation that China should incorporate a definition of torture into its domestic legislation in the context of our bilateral human rights dialogue. The incorporation of such a definition is also relevant to China's ratification of the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights. That is a high priority of the dialogue process.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, notwithstanding the answers that the Minister has given to the House, is it the view of Her Majesty's Government that the government of the People's Republic of China really have any understanding at all of what we mean by human rights? If they do, what is the evidence for that?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we have been making very clear to the government of China what we mean by human rights. The dialogue in which we are engaging is extremely practical. Noble Lords will know that in the training programme I mentioned earlier well over 100 Chinese lawyers trained in this country under a government-funded practical training scheme for young lawyers. We have put in place a five-year programme to train six judges a year in the UK. That programme began in 1998–99. Furthermore, among other initiatives, we have set up a two-year training programme on the criminal process. We are trying to deepen the understanding of Chinese legal representatives so that they truly inwardly digest what we mean by human rights and so that our dialogue is both relevant and fully understood.