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House of Lords

Tuesday, 11th April 2000.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.


Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What representations they are making to the Chinese Government regarding the continuing independence of Taiwan.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, none. Like most countries, we do not recognise Taiwan as an independent state. We acknowledge the position of the Chinese Government that Taiwan is a province of the People's Republic of China and recognise the Chinese Government as the sole legal government of China. Taiwan and the UK nevertheless enjoy an excellent relationship, particularly in the commercial and cultural spheres. We wish to build on that to our mutual benefit. We believe that the issue of Taiwan should be solved peacefully through dialogue by the Chinese people on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. We are firmly opposed to the use of military means, and we make that view clear to the Chinese on every appropriate occasion.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, while I thank the noble Baroness for that interesting reply, is there not something of a paradox in what she says? Is it not a fact that, since the election of Mr Chen as leader of Taiwan, the economic integration between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland increases all the time but the political current flows very much in the opposite direction? Therefore, is it possible for western governments to maintain quite the disinterested attitude that in some respects the Minister's Answer reveals? Is this an area where possibly the unfulfilled wish of China to join the World Trade Organisation may be used as a bargaining counter to ensure that peace continues on both sides of the Taiwan Strait?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, nothing that I have said on behalf of Her Majesty's Government should properly be interpreted as a disinterested attitude. Our attitude is anything but disinterested. However, we must acknowledge the reality of the position in which China and Taiwan find themselves. We believe that the issue of Taiwan must be addressed through a process of peaceful dialogue. We have made very clear to both sides that there should be no recourse to military action, which would be extremely destabilising in that region of the world. At the moment

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both sides appear to behave in a proportionate and responsible way, and we urge them strongly to continue in that vein.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the choice by the newly-elected President of Taiwan of Mr Tang Fei (a former member of the KMT) as his Prime Minister indicates an attempt to reach a middle way with the People's Republic of China? Does the Minister also accept that the passage through Congress of the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, which must still go before the President, may lead to an unfortunate deterioration in what is a tense situation? Will Her Majesty's Government make that plain to the Government of the United States?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government work with their partners to try to sensitise them to the very delicate situation presented by China and Taiwan. We shall do all in our power to ensure that the current sensible response by both the Chinese and the Taiwanese authorities continues so that there is a productive resolution of the difficulty.

Lord Brookman: My Lords, I welcome the response of my noble friend about the importance of dialogue between China and Taiwan. Pursuant to that theme, will my noble friend make a statement about the summit between North and South Korea?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am happy to do so. I am to answer a number of questions on this theme today, and this is just one more. We very much welcome the news that the President of South Korea and the Leader of North Korea are to meet in Pyongyang on 12th to 14th June. That is a very encouraging sign of the progress in relations between the two countries and provides a potentially historic opportunity to reduce the tensions and address the issues. That is an exemplar and provides hope that, similarly, the Chinese and Taiwanese situation will also remain stable.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, is it not the case that the People's Republic of China fired missiles in the direction of Taiwan at the first indication that it would hold free elections? In this difficult situation will Her Majesty's Government bear in mind that Taiwan is a democracy and the Taiwanese are free, whereas China is not a democracy and, far from its people being free, has an appalling human rights record?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we are very sensitive to the history the noble Baroness has outlined. Therefore our energy is directed increasingly to ensuring that the proportionate response to which I

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spoke earlier is maintained. We very much take on board the regional concerns which are evident as a result of the past history.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, have the Government any specific plans for improving their relationship with Taiwan, given the encouraging nature of the Minister's first reply?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we certainly have. Although, as I made clear, our formal position is that we are unable to recognise Taiwan, we have done all we can to ensure that we have a long and fruitful relationship with Taiwan. We are actively seeking ways to take that aim forward and to develop it. Taiwan is an important trading partner to whom we exported over £867.7 million worth of goods last year. Therefore through trade and other issues we seek to ensure that the informal contacts we have with Taiwan are supportive and mutually productive.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, is not Taiwan, in the words of Chairman Mao, a problem left over by history? Is it not an insoluble problem? Therefore would it be better not to attempt to solve it? Is it not fortunate that, unlike Hong Kong, there is no date by which the problem of Taiwan needs to be solved?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I understand why the noble Lord would say that. However, it is a problem which needs solving. The Chinese and the Taiwanese are the two sets of Chinese people who need to solve the problem. Their global friends should do all they can to enable them to find a mutually satisfactory solution.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, what exchanges has the Foreign Secretary had with the United States with a view to securing the territorial integrity of Taiwan?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I shall write to the noble Baroness about the specific conversations. We have had a number of contacts with our American partners. We share a similar approach.

Passive Smoking: Protection of Children

2.44 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What further steps they will take to protect children from the harmful effects of environmental tobacco smoke.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, for most children exposure to environmental tobacco smoke occurs in the home through the smoking of parents and elder siblings. The

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Government have published a comprehensive strategy designed to reduce the prevalence of smoking among adults.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is the noble Lord aware that there is at present some angry correspondence between parents of young children and the Rank Group over the smoking policy the company operates in its Butlin's holiday centres, in particular in indoor play areas and at events where children are present? One child suffered an exacerbation of the asthma from which he was suffering caused, so the local GP said, by the smoky atmosphere at the holiday centre. Does the noble Lord find it extraordinary that there was even smoking in the doctor's waiting room and that so far the company has declined to do anything about that?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I was unaware of the case. I am grateful to my noble friend for bringing it to my attention. I understand that for children with asthma to have to inhale smoke can be uncomfortable and distressing. I encourage all companies to observe the public places charter which the Government agreed last September with representatives of Britain's pubs, hotels and restaurants to boost more and better smoke-free facilities. I believe that it also makes good business sense for them.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I speak as a non-smoker and one who is well aware of the ill effects of smoke. Can the Minister define "environmental tobacco smoke"? The noble Lord referred to it as occurring within the home. I presume he means that it occurs anywhere. Does he not believe that there are other equally dangerous carcinogens in the air and that smoking is not the be-all and end-all of this air problem?

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