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China (Arms Embargo)

13. Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the EU arms export embargo on China. [210393]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): The European Council in December 2004 discussed the EU arms embargo on China. The UK and partners invited the Luxembourg presidency of the EU to take forward work on the review of the embargo. That work is ongoing. Until the review process is complete, the Government continue fully to implement the arms embargo.

Mr. Harris: The embargo was imposed after the merciless slaughter of innocents in Tiananmen square in 1989. Since then, China's human rights record has barely improved in any discernible way. At the same time, it has continued to make belligerent overtures towards Taiwan. Exactly how much of a threat must the Chinese Government pose to their own people and to their neighbours before the EU finally concludes that the embargo must remain?

Mr. Rammell: There needs to be some clarity on this issue, although it has not been apparent in some of the media reporting. If and when the embargo is lifted, there will not be arms sales being undertaken that are not
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being undertaken at the moment, because the embargo has been overtaken by the code of conduct. However, because we are aware of the concerns, we are reviewing the code of conduct to ensure that it is as effective as we believe it to be. We are also looking to develop a toolbox for countries coming out of EU embargoes. Hon. Members can be absolutely clear that arms sales that are refused under the embargo at the moment would not take place in a post-embargo situation.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): In the light of the Foreign Secretary's ongoing discussions in Washington about the proposed lifting of the embargo, does the Minister agree with the EU High Representative Javier Solana, who says that he expects that Washington

the lifting of the ban? That is certainly not what the Americans are saying at the moment. Is it not crazy, by lifting the ban, to put at risk transatlantic co-operation on the sharing of military technology within NATO on which our national security could depend?

Mr. Rammell: I do not believe that that co-operation is at risk. We understand the concerns expressed by the United States Government. That is why we are actively engaged in discussions with them. Part of the issue is that there is not a sufficient understanding of the effectiveness of the code of conduct. That is the message that we are communicating to our US colleagues at the moment. It is also why we are reviewing the code to ensure that it is effective, and looking to implement a toolbox for countries in a post-embargo situation.

Mr. Ancram: It is a most extraordinary argument to say that we are lifting the embargo because that will not make any difference. Is it not a little disingenuous to suggest that a non-enforceable code of conduct will have little effect in changing what is happening at the moment? If that is the case, why are the French so keen to have the embargo lifted so that they can sell military technology to the Chinese, and why is China so keen to see the ban lifted so that it can buy that technology from the French? Is it not a classic example of this Government's policy of surrender in Europe that they are prepared to put at risk our national security simply to curry favour with the French?

Mr. Rammell: First, let me deal with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point about legal force. I have read his comments on this issue, and I simply do not understand his arguments. I say emphatically that the embargo has no greater legal force than the code of conduct. Arguably, it has less. Secondly, I know that there is an obsession with anti-European hysteria on the Conservative Benches, but the European Union is united on this issue and has made a strong statement that the lifting of the embargo will not lead to an increase in arms sales, either qualitatively or quantitavely. Given the right hon. and learned Gentleman's statements on this matter, I must point out that the former Prime Minister John Major was the first European Union Prime Minister to visit Beijing in the aftermath of the events in Tiananmen square, in 1991—so the statement that we are now going soft on China rings a bit hollow.
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Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): I listen to what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say, but may I express the great concern among Labour Members about the lifting of the EU arms embargo? First, there is the threat to Taiwan. Secondly, the threat to Tibet continues, and China does not recognise the rights of the people of Tibet. Thirdly, there is China's religious intolerance in relation to whatever faith wishes to practise there. China needs to improve on human rights before such action is considered.

Mr. Rammell: I take my hon. Friend's points about human rights, which we raise regularly with the Chinese Government. His concerns about the situation in Tibet are valid. We are encouraging the process of dialogue between the Chinese authorities and representatives of the Dalai Lama, and it is important that that process be taken forward. I need to reiterate to my hon. Friend the fact that the lifting of the embargo, which is the fundamental point, will not allow arms sales that are currently prohibited to take place. We have made it abundantly clear at the December European Council that we are not looking for an increase in arms sales to China from the European Union, in either qualitative or quantitative terms.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park) (LD): I certainly do not suffer from anti-European hysteria—rather the reverse, in fact. Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will stick to their policy of never selling arms to countries that will use them for internal repression or external aggression? If he does give us that assurance, how can he possibly consider selling arms to China?

Mr. Rammell: I was pondering what the opposite of hysteria is—but that is by the by. Let me be clear: under the European Union code of conduct, which we pushed for and initiated once we brought in our code of conduct, criterion four is about the preservation of regional peace, security and stability, and criterion two is about not undertaking an arms sale if there is a clear risk of internal repression. Both those categories will apply in any post-embargo situation. It is therefore simply not the case that by lifting the embargo we will suddenly see a flood of arms exports to China. We have made that abundantly clear, and we will continue to do so.

Banja Luka

14. Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): If the Minister for Europe will meet the Rev. Donald Reeves to discuss the situation in Banja Luka. [210395]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): Yes, I shall be delighted to meet the Rev. Donald Reeves, the former vicar of St. James's in Piccadilly, whose wonderful organisation, the Soul of Europe, is doing valuable work in Bosnia Herzegovina, particularly in Banja Luka.

Mr. Bacon: I thank the Minister for agreeing to meet the Rev. Donald Reeves. Bosnia is somewhat out of the news at the moment, but important work is still going on there. Notwithstanding the difficulties that may attend
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the use of taxpayers' money for religious buildings overseas, will he agree that the reconstruction of the Ferhad Pasha mosque in Banja Luka is a tremendous symbol of reconciliation, and that the endorsement of the British Government, the Turkish Government and others would be of great assistance in drawing international attention to the project and ensuring its successful completion?

Mr. MacShane: As with the reopening of the Mostar bridge, the British Government strongly welcome and support the rebuilding of the Ferhad Pasha mosque. In this 10th anniversary year of the Srebrenica massacres, when 8,000 Europeans were slaughtered in cold blood because they happened to be of the wrong religion, it is vital that we do all we can to put right—in a sense, through supporting the rebuilding of the mosque—that great evil. As far as I am concerned, the Rev. Donald Reeves has my full support. We have given money to his organisation in the past, and I am happy to examine as positively as I can any concrete proposals to continue the good work that he does.

China (Arms Embargo)

15. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): If he will make a statement on the EU embargo on arms sales to China. [210396]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): I refer the hon. Gentleman to my earlier answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris).

The European Council in December 2004 discussed the EU arms embargo on China. The UK and partners invited the Luxembourg presidency of the EU to take forward work on the review of the embargo. That is ongoing. Until the review process is complete, the Government continue fully to implement the arms embargo.

Dr. Lewis: I listened to the Minister's earlier answers, and particularly to the penetrating questions put from both sides of the House. If the code will not allow any more arms to be sold to China than under the existing
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embargo, as he asserts, what it the point of lifting that embargo, and why are the Americans so strongly opposed to doing so?

Mr. Rammell: There is an issue over whether progress has been made since the immediate aftermath of the events in Tiananmen square. While we continue to have significant concerns about the situation in China, there has undoubtedly been some progress on human rights since those events, as has been acknowledged by past Governments. Given that, we must ask ourselves whether it is right, through the arms embargo, to lump China into the same block as Burma, Sudan and Zimbabwe. That is why we are reviewing the embargo. I repeat, however, that no arms sale that has been refused until now under the embargo would, to all intents and purposes, be possible under the code of conduct. It should also be made clear that most applications for arms exports to China that have been refused in recent years have already been refused under the EU code of conduct, not under the arms embargo.


European Union

Mr. Secretary Straw, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Margaret Beckett, Mr. Secretary Hoon, Ms Secretary Hewitt, Mr. Secretary Clarke, Mr. Peter Hain, the Solicitor General, Mr. Denis MacShane and Mr. Christopher Leslie, presented a Bill to make provision in connection with the Treaty signed at Rome on 29th October 2004 establishing a Constitution for Europe; and to require a referendum to be held about it: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 45].

Cystic Fibrosis (Exemption From Prescription Charges)

Mr. Archie Norman, supported by Bob Russell, presented a Bill to exempt persons with cystic fibrosis from charges for drugs, medicines, appliances and pharmaceutical services: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 8 April, and to be printed. [Bill 46].

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