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The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Douglas Alexander):
We and our European Union partners have raised with the Chinese our serious concerns about the way in which the trial of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche was conducted, the lack of transparency and the death
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sentence. We did so most recently on 25 November. The Chinese ministry of foreign affairs clarified that the two-year suspension period on the death penalty will end on 23 January 2005 and not on 2 December 2004. The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell), raised the case with the assistant Foreign Minister in December 2003. It was also on our list of individual cases of concern handed over at the UK-China human rights dialogue on 22 November in Beijing.
Mr. Sarwar: I am pleased that the Government have made strong representations on the issue. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the Government will continue to raise concerns about religious freedom and basic human rights with the Chinese Government?
Mr. Alexander: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We continue to have serious concerns about religious freedom in China, in particular for Christians and other religious practitioners, and I can assure him that those contacts will be maintained. The matter is of some personal interest, as both my grandparents were medical missionaries in China, so I take my hon. Friend's point on board.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Can Her Majesty's Government use the extra time that the Chinese authorities have provided to reiterate the pleas for clemency that have been made on Mr. Rinpoche's behalf, not only by the EU and the British Government but also by Members on both sides of the House, through an early-day motion that is currently on the Order Paper, and by people from the United States? Will the Minister also bear it in mind that the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recently paid a visit to the People's Republic of China and spoke to the Chinese authorities? That institution, too, is a guardian of human rights on our continent and we should be affronted if the death sentence were carried out.
Mr. Alexander: I agree with the points made by the hon. Gentleman and know of his concern and interest in these matters. I can assure him that we will continue to make representations to the Chinese Government in relation to that individual, who is, of course, a Tibetan religious figure of some note. I can also assure him that those representations will continue in the light of the time scale that I have set out today.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central)
(Lab): China still has a long way to go with its record on human rights, not simply in this case, but across the board. Even in an area where we have great national concernHong Kongthere are serious concerns about the lack of progress on the developments to which the Chinese committed themselves. In that context, although I sympathise enormously with the Foreign Secretary's earlier comments about the manner in which we will move forward away from the present arms embargo, does the Minister accept that it is important that no European country, in the pursuit of trade or self-interest, races so far ahead that it gives signals to the Chinese that human rights do not matter to us in Europe? They matter profoundly.
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Mr. Alexander: There is little that I can usefully add to the Foreign Secretary's comments. We are not pre-empting the conclusion of the discussions that are under way in the European Union. I can assure my hon. Friend that the UK-China human rights dialogue will continue. The last meeting took place in November and the next is expected in the spring of 2005, when we will continue to make such representations.
The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I am very concerned that the Burmese military have formally extended Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest. Her continued detention, together with that of all political prisoners in Burma, is completely unjustified and unacceptable. We have repeatedly called for the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi, so that she play an active role in national reconciliation, and we will continue to do so.
Mr. Luke: My hon. Friend will be aware of early-day motion 273, signed by 116 Members, drawing the House's attention to the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently in complete isolation, without telephone calls, and visited only by her doctor. Will the Government ensure that the ambassador in Rangoon continues to put the case of the House and the Government for an immediate release and do all that he can to ensure that Burma's neighbours in the Association of South East Asian Nations play a fuller part in securing the release of Aung San Suu Kyi?
Mr. Alexander: I am indeed familiar both with the terms of the early-day motion and the strength of feeling among hon. Members on both sides of the House in relation to Burma. At a recent meeting of the all-party Burma group, at which my hon. Friend was represented, I was able to discuss the conversation that I had held with the ASEAN ambassadors in which I made categorically clear the British Government's position in relation to Burma. It is also worth pointing out that it was in large measure owing to the British Government's continued efforts that the European Union's common position on Burma has been strengthened recently, but I am happy to give the assurance that work will continue on this important issue.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)
(Con): Given the continued house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, the savage violation of human rights in Burma every day and the evidence to be published this week by Christian Solidarity Worldwide of the displacement of a further 7,000 people from Karen and Karenni in the past month alone, is it not a disgrace that Burma is never an agenda item for the United Nations Security Council? Will the hon. Gentleman fight to raise the issue, naming and shaming China in the process for its calculated obstructionism?
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Mr. Alexander: I have had the opportunity to discuss this with the hon. Gentleman. It is fair to say that there is no consensus on the Security Council, as his question implied, but it is equally fair to say that the British Government continue to make representations on this issue in the UN. Indeed, we continue to raise it in relation to a resolution that I understand will come to the UN General Assembly later this year. However, the fact that, when we previously spoke on this matter, we had failed to secure the support of an Asian partner as a co-signatory to that UN General Assembly resolution is indicative of the fact that it is not simply a challenge facing one country but a matter that we continue to work on with a range of our international partners.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I discussed this matter with our opposite numbers the day after the match and expressed the outrage felt throughout the UK. They, as well as the Spanish Prime Minister's office, have issued statements apologising and condemning the behaviour.The House may also be interested to know that the Spanish anti-violence commission has just asked the Spanish football association to open a disciplinary case against the Spanish national coach, Luis Aragones, for his remarks about British players, which the whole House will condemn as racist.
Claire Ward: I have received complaints from constituents who were at the match. It was not simply the fans but the Spanish police who were engaged in racism and appalling abuse. The Football Association here has received 75 complaints about that match in relation to the Spanish police. What future is there for relations between this country and Spain when we cannot have a friendly match with good support from fans or expect respect from the Spanish police for our tourists travelling abroad?
Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend makes valid points. I am glad to convey her concerns to the Spanish authorities. She is, of course, a season ticket holder at Watford football club and a midfield star of the women's parliamentary football teamI understand that she bends it better than Beckham. I will take up her serious points with the embassy in Madrid and convey the concerns that she raises on behalf of Watford and all English football fans in respect of what happened on that sad night in Spain.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Does the Minister think that those disgraceful scenes add to Madrid's claim to host the 2012 Olympics or does he share my view that they should come here to London?
I profoundly believe that every sane and intelligent man[Hon. Members: "And woman."]and woman, and Conservative, would wish the Olympics to come to London in 2012, but as a
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Government, we are not directly involved. The decision will be made on the basis of the wonderful facilities that London offers, the great welcome that we offer to foreigners and our wonderful sporting achievements. I hope that by then the Conservative party will be pro-European.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): My hon. Friend seems to suggest that all is hunky-dory between Britain and Spain on this issue, but the truth of the matter is that the Spanish authorities were remarkably nonchalant for several days. None of the national newspapers, and neither the radio nor the television, presented the story as important. I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Minister could not raise it more assertively, perhaps through one of his hard-hitting articles in El Pais or another Spanish newspaper?
Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend comments on how the Spanish media handled the story. All that I can say is that Spanish Ministers, and the Prime Minister's office, were swift to condemn and clear in their apology. I hope that, if similar complaints were ever made about an incident anywhere in Britain, all Members of Parliament would be swift to condemn any such behaviourxenophobic, racist, or what you will.
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