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Intergovernmental Conference

15. Ms Eagle: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he intends to publish a White Paper outlining Her Majesty's Government's priorities for the intergovernmental conference of the European Union. [6852]

Mr. David Davis: The Government have given a clear idea of their approach to the IGC in debates in the House, in Committee appearances and in responses to Committee reports. None the less, we are carefully considering the possibility of a White Paper.

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Ms Eagle: Why is the Minister being so coy about a White Paper? The IGC is rapidly approaching, and we should like to know the Government's latest thinking on the issue. Is the Minister worried that, if he dares to publish a White Paper, it will tear his party apart?

Mr. Davis: The hon. Lady should pay attention to the facts. We have had two debates in the House and two debates in the other place, and we have made seven appearances before Select Committees, four responses to Select Committee reports and a large number of other responses to make clear our policy. It is clear, however, that our policy will not include giving up our vetoes on industrial policy, social policy, regional policy and environmental policy. It will not involve our joining the social chapter, nor will it involve this country giving up any other opt-outs. In other words, the policy will not involve the sell-out that the Labour party offers.

Mr. Robin Cook: The Minister has reminded the House that the Labour party has published its detailed policy for the IGC. The Tory Euro-sceptics have published their policy on the IGC, and we understand that the Tory left is to do the same. Is not the only reason why the Government will not tell us whether they will publish a White Paper that they cannot yet work out how to get the separate wings of the Tory party to agree to the same policy? Is it not time that they admitted that a party so divided at home cannot speak with unity for Britain abroad? Should they not stop clinging to office?

Mr. Davis: I commend the hon. Gentleman for his brass neck. He should have looked behind him during the debate that we had before Christmas, when he did not have a single supporter on his own Back Benches. I should ask him about his policy on monetary union. Whom does he support--the leader of the Labour party or the deputy leader, as they have different policies? In every single area of policy, Labour Back-Bench and Front-Bench Members have different views.

Sir Jim Lester: May I commend my hon. Friend for the way in which the Foreign Office has responded to the painstaking work done on the IGC by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee? I suspect that not every hon. Member knows the details of the work that the Committee has undertaken, the capitals that we have visited, and continue to visit, and the reports that we have published. I commend all who are asking questions to go to the Vote Office on their way out and pick up those reports, as they might do rather better than questioning my hon. Friend the Minister.

Mr. Davis: I congratulate my hon. Friend on two counts--first on his personal honour, which was well deserved, and secondly on the commendable work that the Select Committee has undertaken. The Select Committees of this House have done a tremendous job in terms of reviewing the IGC and providing input on the subject.

Mr. Janner: Hear, hear.

Mr. Davis: I was not looking at the hon. and learned Gentleman when I said that. All of the Select Committees deserve congratulations, the Foreign Affairs Committee-- of which my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Sir J. Lester) is a member--in particular.

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EU Decision Making

18. Ms Janet Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with his European counterparts about the need to reform the European Union's decision-making procedures. [6855]

Mr. David Davis: The decision-making procedures of the European Union have been the subject of discussions in the study group preparing the intergovernmental conference. The Madrid European Council agreed that this should start on 29 March in Turin.

Ms Anderson: What advice has the Minister received about the decision-making procedures within the EU from the Secretary of State for Defence? Does the Minister agree with his right hon. Friend that those who advocate a federal Europe should follow the example of my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) and of the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Miss Nicholson) and leave the Conservative party?

Mr. Davis: I intend to give a serious answer to a not very serious question. The decision-making procedures in the EU are not beyond repair or criticism. One of the items raised in the IGC reflection group, which has looked into this matter in some detail, is the concern that a great deal of blame for the lack of popularity of the EU could be attributed to the complexity of its decision-making procedures.

Mr. Charles Kennedy: Given that reform of decision making at European level raises legitimate concerns not only in the Tory party but in all parties in the House and throughout the country, and given that the Government are so immobilised on the matter that they cannot even publish a White Paper to tell us what they think, would it not make more sense for the Tory party and the Government as well as for the House and the country for the Government to commit themselves, as we have, to a referendum if the outcome of the IGC carries constitutional implications that go beyond the ambit of any one party or Parliament?

Mr. Davis: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that the IGC will not be allowed to carry major constitutional implications, but if it did, he would reconsider the matter.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will my hon. Friend use the IGC to reinforce our ideas on the introduction of regulations and directives--that they should be deregulatory, that subsidiarity should be defined and, above all, that the European Union should use a light touch and publish directives and regulations only when they are really necessary?

Mr. Davis: My hon. Friend summarises well some of the arguments that we have been successful in promoting in the EU in the past few years--in particular, the arguments about subsidiarity and deregulation. As I said, some 61 regulations were removed last year. That effort is continuing. At the Madrid Council, the Commission was required to produce a report with an action plan to carry on removing legislation that is unnecessary and burdensome on industry and to improve the competitiveness of the EU.

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19. Mr. Sutcliffe: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has recently made to the Chinese Government concerning repression in Tibet. [6856]

Mr. Hanley: My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary raised the issue of human rights abuses in Tibet during his discussions with the Chinese Vice-Premier and Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, in Peking yesterday.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I thank the Minister for that answer. Human rights abuses in Tibet continue, and we have seen human rights abuses by the Chinese come to the forefront again this week. Will the Minister ensure that, in representations to the Chinese Government, Tibet is high on the agenda? As each day goes by, repression in Tibet continues without the world taking any notice.

Mr. Hanley: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We are deeply concerned about reports of abuses of human rights in Tibet and further afield, including the destruction of religious buildings, the immigration of the Han Chinese, arbitrary security measures and environmental damage. We raise our concerns with the Chinese authorities regularly both nationally and as part of the European Union.

We have a great responsibility for the people of Hong Kong. We must make sure that our relationship with China is as good as possible for the sake of the people of Hong Kong to ensure that there is continuity and the highest degree of autonomy come 1997. However, that has never stopped us raising issues of human rights abuses in China. I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) speaking this morning on the radio in exactly the right measured tones about the matter.

Mr. Harry Greenway: Has my right hon. Friend observed newspaper reports on China's apparent neglect, or worse, of the Dalai Lama's chosen successor? Has he been able to make representations to the Government of China in defence of that most important deity?

Mr. Hanley: I certainly have seen reports of that. We regret that the Chinese Government and the Tibetan Buddhist religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama, have been unable to reach agreement on the selection of the new Panchen Lama. It is a matter of great concern.

Mr. Fatchett: On the issue of human rights in Tibet and China, the Minister will be aware of the profound distress caused by the harrowing scenes in last night's Channel 4 documentary on Chinese orphanages. Can the Minister tell the House whether, during his meetings in Beijing, the Foreign Secretary obtained any assurance from the Chinese Government that the reports would be fully investigated and acted upon? Will the Minister make it clear that such treatment of children is unacceptable? Does he agree that, if China is to take its proper place in world affairs, it must improve its human rights record and give much higher priority to human rights?

Mr. Hanley: There were certainly very serious allegations of ill treatment of abandoned children in China in the "Human Rights Watch" report and the programme must have been profoundly disturbing to anyone who watched it, as I did, last night. My right hon. and learned

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Friend the Foreign Secretary raised the issue forcibly with the Chinese yesterday and urged them to realise that, if they have changed the system as they claim, the best way to set people's minds at ease would be to ensure that the relevant authorities can investigate the charges. They should, therefore, open up the orphanages for public inspection, as they apparently did in Shanghai. There is still more to investigate before the rest of the world can feel that human rights abuses are coming to an end in China. It is an extremely important matter and the visit of my right hon. and learned Friend comes at the right time to express the feelings of many in this House.

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