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28 Oct 2008 : Column 222WH—continued

1.12 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wayne David): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) on securing this debate and on his tireless campaigning for the restoration of the Newbridge memorial hall.

On Friday evening, I chaired a public meeting in my constituency of Caerphilly—as my right hon. Friend said, I am a neighbour of his—the purpose of which was to encourage members of the public to join together to save the Caerphilly workingmen’s hall. In giving guidance to the meeting, a speaker from the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation went out of his way to pay tribute to what had happened in Newbridge. He said that it was a good example to follow and a model of good practice. That is certainly true: the community as a whole pulled together in support of the Memo. We should all take note of the fact. It is something of which to be proud.

The Newbridge memorial hall and institute—the Memo as its affectionately known locally—is an historic expression of the collectivism that made the south Wales valleys truly special. It was paid for by the local miners; and it was, and remains, one of the finest statements of south Wales when coal was truly king. Not only did it have a fine library and reading rooms, there was also a superb cinema decorated in the art deco style, a large dance hall and four billiard rooms.

On the demise of the coal industry, the memorial hall and institute went into decline. However, because of the vision and hard work of local people, working alongside my right hon. Friend, their local MP, enormous progress has been made in making the Memo the focal point of community life in Newbridge. It is heartening and inspiring to see people in the community working so hard for such a good cause.

I am pleased to say that the hall is once again returning to its former glory—its former central community position. My right hon. Friend referred to the large number of
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organisations that now make use of the hall’s facilities. A good example is that family events are now taking place there. A Halloween party is due to take place this weekend, and a ghost-hunting event is taking place in November for those of a more open and inquiring mind.

We should not forget the passion and hard work that went into the campaign that saw the Memo winning a place in the final of BBC’s “Restoration” programme in 2004. With real dedication and sheer hard work, the Memo saw off some strong Welsh competition from Llanfyllin union workhouse and Cardigan castle, and it came close to winning the final prize. Although it lost in the final to the Old Grammar School and Saracen’s Head, a 15th century school building and tavern, in Kings Norton, Birmingham, the Memo nevertheless captured the interest of the nation—including the Prince of Wales. I am pleased to be able to say that members of my family, many of my constituents and I all cast votes with enthusiasm. As my right hon. Friend would say, they voted early and often.

Programmes like “Restoration” have renewed interest and pride in our communities and their history. We only have to think of the time, effort and determination of the campaigns, whether successful or not, to see the pride and dedication that people put into them. Who could not agree that it re-instilled co-operation and hard work across the community? History is made real once again by that collective effort. That is not happening only in Newbridge; it is happening elsewhere in Wales and throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. Indeed, I venture to suggest that the Memo has reinstated the values that had originally paid for and built the hall and institute. In an age when there is always some trouble or story of woe on the news, it is extremely heartening to hear the value of community shining through.

The Memo’s importance as a historic structure has been recognised through all that hard work. Cadw, the Welsh Assembly’s historic monuments body, has funded the first phase of repair, focusing on the roof and associated works—lead work and waterproofing against the elements. I am told that major restoration works to secure the building and make it the focus of the community will cost in the region of £3 million. The Heritage Lottery Fund has also provided funds through the project planning grant scheme to support the cost of developing specialist reports to help the conservation repair works. Owing to the nature of demand-led funding such as that of the Heritage Lottery Fund and because other projects also required similar sums, it was not possible to fund the Memo project during that funding round.

The Olympic Games have been mentioned. I emphasise that they are not the London Olympics or the English Olympics: they are the United Kingdom Olympics. It is only reasonable to expect all members of the UK, in one way or another, to make a contribution to ensuring that the 2012 Olympics are successful for the whole country.

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Whenever we mention the Heritage Lottery Fund, we are talking about intense competition. For example, during the last funding period bids were made that amounted to more than five times the available resources; it is not simply that support is not being given by the lottery. The fact is that such competition is a good thing. People who are enormously enthusiastic are trying to tap into the Heritage Lottery Fund to ensure that their bids are successful. However, in January, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, when he was at the relevant Ministry, gave a cast-iron commitment that no further lottery resources would be going to support the Olympics. We should take note of that.

Although the Memo’s bid was not successful in June, it is important that we recognise that all hope is not lost—far from it. I understand that the Heritage Lottery Fund has discussed the application with the Memo’s trustees and the reasons why the bid was not initially successful. The trustees will be submitting a second bid next month for consideration in early 2009. I also understand that an important meeting of the Heritage Lottery Fund board of trustees will be taking place in November and that due consideration will be given to the bid then and afterwards.

Mr. Touhig: On the remarks that the Minister made on further lottery funding for the Olympics, I emphasise that I believe that the Olympics are for the whole country, and we want them to be a huge success. However, if the Prince of Wales can come and spend two hours at the Memo, why is it not possible for officials of the Heritage Lottery Fund, who sit in London to take decisions, to come to look for themselves? I have invited them, but I have not had a positive reply. Will the Minister and the relevant Secretary of State intervene and get those people, who take their decisions far away in London, to see for themselves what a jewel that wonderful building is? It is used seven days a week, so they can come any day.

Mr. David: My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. When I have visited the Memo in the past, I was enormously impressed with the building, but more by the work that is being done there by the local community. I shall give him an assurance that I will immediately make representations to officials of the Heritage Lottery Fund, so that they do not consider the application in abstraction but go down to Newbridge and the Gwent valleys to see for themselves what a good project it is and its well worked-out plans.

Moreover, I am sure that, like me, the House collectively will wish the Memo every success this time around in securing the funding that it needs to return the building to the heart of the community, not as some kind of mausoleum, but as a practical manifestation of the strength of community spirit in Newbridge. I am sure that we all hope that the bid will be successful in the not-too-distant future.

1.22 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Chinese People’s Liberation Army

1.28 pm

Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Lady Winterton, and to have the opportunity to raise this important issue in Westminster Hall.

On 4 June 1989, the tanks of the People’s Liberation Army rolled into Tiananmen square. The massacre that followed, according to official Chinese figures, resulted in 241 dead and some 7,000 injured. However, the BBC and students say that there were in the region of some 3,000 dead. At the time, the west was shocked; indeed, Lord Kinnock said that it was a crime against humanity. Ever since, there have been serious question marks against China and its human rights record. Today, China supports arms sales to the Zimbabwe regime of Robert Mugabe, and there was recently an attempt to move arms on to the African continent. It is involved in supplying Iran—up to $7 billion-worth of arms in 2004. More recently, close to the time of the Olympics, we saw a brutal suppression of the peoples of Tibet, and continued persecution of Christians and Muslims in the country.

What did the European Union and the United Kingdom do at the time of Tiananmen Square, and what have they done subsequently? At the time, EU member states got together and passed the Madrid declaration of 1989. The declaration has some important points, which I would like to place on the record. It involved a breaking of diplomatic relations and, effectively, a stronger form of trade sanctions. Included in the declaration was a clear and separate measure, which referred to

the European Community—

It could not be said clearer than that. In addition to that, continued resolutions of the European Council—as recently as 2006—have kept in place those measures.

At the conclusion of the EU Council meeting in December 2006, the council reaffirmed its willingness to continue working towards lifting the arms embargo on the basis of the European Council conclusions of December 2004. However, the council continues to have serious concerns about the human rights situation in China and deeply regrets that there has been little progress in a number of areas.

I spoke to an official from the European Commission a couple of hours ago. He agrees that the measure is still in place. He said:

For some reason, the United Kingdom has chosen unilaterally to break the embargo. In August, a member of the People’s Liberation Army passed out of Sandhurst. That is the same People’s Liberation Army that was involved in the massacre at Tiananmen square, and has been involved in suppressing the Tibetan movement. This is apparently all being done, as we saw in responses to parliamentary questions, without the knowledge of Ministers in the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign Office. According to written answers, the MOD officials did not even consult UKRep in Brussels or the Foreign
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Office. Apparently, the embargo was broken as part of the wider Whitehall initiative to encourage better relations with China.

In order to break the embargo and to allow members of the People’s Liberation Army to attend Sandhurst, a safeguard was put in place which said that the training will be kept under review

How they will find the individual officer cadets from Sandhurst in the huge People’s Liberation Army, in a huge country that is not renowned for its freedom of information and freedom of movement is beyond me.

After a series of parliamentary questions about what the bilateral programme was, I finally received an answer. The programme will include

The total amount of funding allocated in support of the programme for financial year 2008-09 is £465,000.

I cannot understand what the Chinese People’s Liberation Army is going to teach us—or what we are going to teach it—on command and staff training. Perhaps we will teach it how to invade an island off its coast that it wants back. When we talk about “junior leadership training” or “peace and support operations”, perhaps we will be assisting it in dealing with its troublesome groups in Tibet that it finds so easy to put down. I found that objectionable. At the bottom of that answer, the Minister says:

First, we have a right to know what has been signed, especially when it is in contravention of the EU arms embargo. Secondly, we have to ask, “Whose relations could be under threat?” We do not have to look far to realise that our relations with the United States, our closest military ally and trading partner when it comes to military and aerospace equipment, will come under stress.

In a number of speeches dating back to 2005, the Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs, John Hillen, cautioned that any action by the EU to lift its embargo on arms to China would

I know from representing many thousands of workers in British Aerospace, from travelling to Washington and from my previous life in the aerospace industry that the United States is serious about the steps that it would take should Britain, or the European Union, decide to engage in arms sales and military co-operation that would threaten the important relationship of trust between the United Kingdom and the United States. I have to ask why the Government are following such a line. What are they playing at? We have established through written answers that officials in the MOD did not check with the Ministers. Having spoken to a number of previous Secretaries of State for Defence, they find such an answer to be rather odd because in their experience any agreement to send personnel to military training
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establishments in the UK with the remotest hint of controversy would usually go via a Minister for approval. I find it incredible that the MOD did not check, or engage in discussions, with the Foreign Office—the very body of this Government that is charged with representing us in Europe and at European Council discussions. What we have done is dangerous because a number of countries in Europe have less moral regard and would be very keen to sell arms to China. Therefore, it weakens our case in the European Council that we should not engage in arms sales to China.

I suspect that the Government have been caught with their pants down. Effectively, they were not aware of the details of the Madrid declaration and were happy to play around at the edges. However, that is a dangerous game to play. It is a very silly game to play if we think that we can tinker at the edges with a country such as China. As we speak, it has intelligence operatives in this country trying to spy on our defence industry. On a number of occasions, it has successfully penetrated the US military programme.

Why will the Minister not publish the bilateral agreement and place it in the Library? Why is it that no one in his Ministry knew what was going on at the time and left it to officials? Perhaps he can tell us why he thinks that it is better to upset some of our US allies on this issue? We have a long history of trust in the intelligence and defence communities in the US. At this very moment, US officials are trying to agree a trade treaty to allow British defence firms better and preferential access to the US market at the cost of our European allies. Why pursue this silly measure that will only antagonise our relationship and do no good at all?

1.39 pm

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I congratulate the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) on securing this debate on the United Kingdom’s bilateral military engagement programme with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Judging from his 11 questions of the past six weeks, it is clearly a subject of great concern to him and his constituents, and I welcome the opportunity to put on the record the rationale for our ongoing bilateral military activities.

Following the Tiananmen square massacre in 1989, the European Union rightly registered its disapproval by issuing the Madrid declaration, which included measures such as the halting of military co-operation, an embargo on defence sales, the suspension of bilateral ministerial and high-level contacts, the postponement of new co-operation projects and reduction in cultural, scientific and technical co-operation. However, the China of 2008 is not the China of 1989. We have to take into account the significant social and economic progress that has been made over that period. Infant mortality rates are down; life expectancy is up. There are more than 5 million university graduates a year in China. People are free to choose their own employment. People can now marry whom they wish and travel abroad, and limited elections have been introduced at village and community level. Only the week before last, the temporary regulations
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that permitted greater media freedom during the Beijing Olympics were made permanent, although only for foreign media.

We still have great concerns about China’s human rights record, however, and we regularly raise those concerns—including some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, such as Tibet—with the Chinese authorities. We want significant progress in areas, such as political freedom and judicial independence, and we are keen that China should ratify the international covenant on civil and political rights. I believe that we will have more success in influencing China’s emergence as a responsible global player through a policy of proactive engagement than by seeking to coerce it through isolation.

Although there has been no formal lifting of the Madrid declaration of 1989, many of the measures have outlived their usefulness, both for the United Kingdom and for other member states. However, the most significant measure, the arms embargo—the hon. Gentleman at one point tried to give the impression that we were selling, or were prepared to sell, arms to China, whereas we are not—remains in force and the United Kingdom is one of its strictest adherents.

Against that backdrop, the bilateral programme that the Ministry of Defence operates with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army is coherent with Government strategy and the military programmes of other EU member states and the United States. It recognises that China is a growing regional military power, with a key role to play in the continued political stability of the region through activities such as the six-party talks with North Korea. The programme also recognises that China already makes a significant contribution to United Nations peacekeeping operations and has the potential to offer much more. To put that in context, the most recent United Nations statistics show that China has more than 2,000 military personnel deployed in 10 locations, placing it 12th in global troop contributions and making it the greatest contributor among the five permanent members of the Security Council.

We conduct a programme that comprises a two-way flow of high-level visits, lower-level training events and exchanges. Such activities generate greater knowledge of each other’s capabilities, intentions, culture and ethos, which we hope will lead to increased mutual trust and a reduced risk of misunderstanding and strategic miscalculation.

We also try to encourage China to sustain and increase her contribution to peacekeeping operations. However, we recognise that there is a balance to be struck to encourage the development of a military force that is willing to make a positive contribution to global stability, rather than one that might abuse its military strength. Put simply, our engagement programme is designed so that it will not provide skills with any applicability to internal repression or that will upset the strategic balance in the region. That is achieved through our continued adherence to the EU arms embargo, by limiting the scope of the programme and by reviewing the use that the People’s Liberation Army makes of the training that we provide.

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