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We are dealing with problems of community cohesion: the need to find ways to promote the sort of social engagement that enables the building of trust in communities which are very diverse. Our Connecting Communities fund is making that a reality by supporting the work of minority ethnic groups through community networks; for example, helping them to run citizens’ days so that they get to know each other.

On housing and planning, two Bills are coming forward from another place very shortly. The Housing Bill will give tenants and residents more power to shape their lives and their housing conditions. The Planning Bill, contrary to popular mythology, is creating more opportunity at three different stages of the planning process to involve people in what is happening in their communities. That is about creating different cultures and opening doors.

We are also looking at widening and deepening opportunities locally. I have two examples. I know that asset transfer is close to the heart of the noble

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Lord, Lord Greaves, thereby creating opportunities for communities to manage and own local public buildings, village halls and community centres so that we have much more accessible community resources. Those are resources from which skills, opportunities and even jobs can be grown. Those are social enterprises. It is not only in instances such as Coin Street in London. In rural areas, we have Gamblesby in Cumbria, where the village hall has given the whole community a new focal point and a sense of purpose.

If we move from that to participatory budgeting, we are looking at instances such as Bradford, where £1 million has been spent in five years: local people deciding how to spend money on local issues. That is why we announced 10 pilot areas in July and a further 12 last month, because we are ambitious for every local authority in the country to offer that within five years. I can say to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, that those are not just words; this is real difference. It will work and it will happen, because people want it.

We talked also about the need to improve services. You can do that in two ways—we have chosen two. Through local charters, which are more strategic, we want councils to work more visibly with the community as a whole. On the question raised by the noble Lord about what constitutes a community in that sense, it can be a community organisation or an alliance of community organisations. That will be determined locally. We are issuing guidance across the country in March for local authorities wanting to develop charters. Then there are petitions. I heard what the noble Baroness said, but she will know that we are building on the Councillors’ Commission. I am sure that the consultative process will throw up many ideas and comments on that. We will publish responses on both those issues later this year, and we will draft legislation if necessary.

All that will change, strengthen and galvanise local democracy, which is what it is intended to do. We also need to tackle the malaise in local government: the failures represented by ageing structures and the unattractiveness of a proposition that used to be so much connected with civic pride. That is where the Roberts commission has fitted in. We are now looking in detail at its recommendations, which are many and various, and will respond to it. What it says about local government is also being reflected in the work being done by the Darzi commission and the Flanagan review of the police force. How do we bring in more people, how do we get them to take responsibility for the things that really affect and harm their lives?

We cannot do any of that unless we provide support mechanisms. I have a bit of jargon here. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, mentioned the network of empowering authorities, which is what it is. It is a core of 80 local authorities which will be the trailblazers for good practice. They will work together to spread the message: this is how things can change and work. We need those people to help us do that. They will not listen to us, but they will listen to local authorities who have done it for themselves. Alongside that we will have a national partnership of all those bodies which bring together ideas—the IDeA, the LGA, the Urban Forum—giving serious purpose to what will

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actually enthuse, galvanise and mobilise people. We have community anchor organisations as well.

My noble friend asked how you measure success. That is a very important question. Public Service Agreement No. 21 seeks to build more cohesive, active and empowered communities. We will not only be seeking to meet that target; we are also finding new ways of measuring participation, both active and passive. We are doing a citizenship survey, for example, to look at everything from school governorship to who and how many sign local petitions. Through the national census of local authority councillors, we will be measuring the profile of councillors. Noble Lords are also right to ask about resources. These are not simply words; they are not even simply good ideas. There will be investment in this—£35 million has been committed to underpin the action plan.

Having gone through rather rapidly and superficially what is in this plan and what it signifies, I hope noble Lords agree that what is different is that there are new opportunities. There is a new seriousness, a new centrality of purpose. There are ways of enthusing people, young and old, in these programmes and of holding out a better future. There is connectivity between the range of things that local government can do and what the community wants to do for itself. We can open doors. It is uncomfortable but we have to face those realities. If we have the principles and some of the processes right, and the ambition, we can actually do it. As for making community a reality, to return to where the right reverend Prelate started, if we can recognise in five years’ time a community by what it has rather than by what it has lost, we will be on the way to making genuine change.

4.47 pm

Lord Greaves: My Lords, it occurred to me while I was listening to this excellent debate that I had forgotten to make a formal declaration of interest as a member of Pendle Borough Council. I think I have made it fairly clear what I do when I am not here but I need to put it on record formally.

I was not wrong when I forecast that there would be quality in this debate to make up for the lack of quantity. I thank all those who have taken part, in particular the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely. We all look forward to hearing what more he has to say over his years in this House.

I will make two or three very quick points. The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, made some extremely interesting points. One of them was about the rise of the BNP in some areas. It reminded me that, if my party will have me again and if I can find 10 people to nominate me, I may defend my council seat in May in a ward in which the BNP are in second place. In circumstances like that community activity is very political indeed. You simply cannot take the politics out of it.

My noble friend Lady Hamwee talked about her experience in setting up a system in the planning committee when she was chairing it and members of the public and objectors and applicants were able to come and speak. I had the same experience. When we

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set up ours, we relied very much on the experience in Richmond. There is a huge amount of experience out there which has to be tapped into and used. We are not inventing the wheel and the Government are not inventing the wheel.

Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Graham, talked about campaigning against hospital closures and said that he is still involved in them. That reminded me that last Friday I chaired an amazing meeting of activists and councillors from our party across six boroughs in East Lancashire to work on a campaign on hospitals there. We have set up a website, which will please the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and all his young friends, called, which you can all go and have a look at. You will find I am there so perhaps you will not want to look at it.

There is a whole spectrum of oppositional street activism, which goes right through to the huge privilege of being able to move Motions such as this in your Lordships’ House. Not everyone will want to be involved in that spectrum, but there is somewhere for everyone. I was very impressed by the Minister’s enthusiasm and sense of determination, and I shall read carefully what she has said. The consultation on this report, An Action Plan for Community Empowerment, runs to 19 January. One reason to have this debate was to contribute to that consultation. I should be very grateful if everything said today, reported in Hansard, is put into that consultation process.

Finally, I came across a wonderful quote just 10 minutes before I came into the Chamber, but I was unable to find out who said it—no doubt someone will tell me in due course.

I thought we should have a big banner saying that erected over the Peers Entrance, but then I thought Black Rod probably would not be too happy about that. Instead, all I can do is beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

China: Human Rights

4.51 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of China’s role in promoting and respecting human rights.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this short debate is taking place in advance of the United Kingdom and China human rights dialogue which will be held in Beijing at the end of this month; and, of course, in the year that China will host the Olympic Games, to be formally opened on 8 August. While welcoming the official dialogue, which commenced in 1997—eight years after the Tiananmen Square massacre—and which seeks to deepen an understanding of human rights issues on both sides, I want to ask the Government what benchmarks they use to assess the success of that approach, and whether they see this year as a unique opportunity to deepen an awareness of the centrality of human rights to China’s relationship with the rest

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of the world, both in a domestic setting and in the conduct of its foreign policy.

I also want to flag up a number of specific concerns, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who are to speak later and who will enlarge on these points and raise others. Let me begin with the use of the death penalty. It is estimated that each year some 8,000 executions take place in China. Last June, the state media suggested that there had been,

Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether we have been able to assess the veracity of that claim. For instance, are appeals against the death penalty being held in open court and have we made progress in calling for national data on the use of the death penalty to be collated and published?

Disturbingly, the death penalty is used for 68 different offences in China, including non-violent crimes such as embezzlement and drugs-related offences. In July last, Zhang Ning, former chief accountant of the railway bureau in Lanzhou city, Gansu province, was sentenced to death after soliciting bribes and using public funds in failed investments. Later that month, Zheng Xiaoyu, former director of the State Food and Drug Administration, was executed after conviction for accepting bribes.

Other aspects of the judicial system also give cause for concern. Detention without trial and the use of “re-education through labour" is widely used. In the run-up to the Olympics, it is reported that the Beijing city authorities have used a “strike hard” campaign of detention to crack down on groups such as beggars, vagrants and unlawful taxi drivers. “Re-education through labour” and the use of detention as a punishment without trial is a flagrant violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has signed and has declared its intention to ratify.

I hope that the Government will tell us what progress is being made on ratification and on other outstanding undertakings, such as implementation of the United Nations convention against torture and on issues such as freedom of expression.

In 2001, the authorities declared that there would be complete media freedom for the Olympic Games; namely, that 30,000 foreign journalists will be able to report without restriction, which is welcome. But how does that compare with the treatment of China’s own journalists? Amnesty says that one reporter, Lan Chengzhang, was beaten to death last year and journalists who then reported his case in the journal Democracy and Legal Times were dismissed. In July, the China Development Brief was banned.

Meanwhile, internet censorship has intensified, with websites regularly closed down. It is estimated that there could be 187 million internet search users by the close of this year. What a tragedy that Microsoft, Google and Yahoo have all collaborated in the censoring of the web. Microsoft blocks words such as “freedom”, “democracy” and “demonstration”, while Yahoo deplorably decided to provide to the state information about Shi Tao, a journalist with Contemporary Business News in Hunan province. As a result he was jailed for 10 years after he released to foreign-based websites an internal Communist Party document, while a Google

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search for the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement would direct users to a string of condemnatory articles. The BBC news site is inaccessible and broadcasts are jammed. At least 33 journalists and 50 internet users are currently detained in China.

In June last, three editors from the Chengdu Evening News, in Sichuan province, were dismissed after unwittingly carrying a small advertisement by families asking for justice for those killed in Tiananmen Square. In the long term, trying to erect a great firewall and a great wall of the airwaves will not serve China’s interests. Unsurprisingly, human rights activities fare no better than those of journalists. In July last, the death was reported of Chen Xiaoming, a Shanghai activist, who was reportedly stripped naked, physically abused, held at a secret location, denied family access, and when released was barely alive, dying one month later of a massive haemorrhage.

I have regularly raised the case of Chen Guangchen, a blind self-taught lawyer, imprisoned in Shandong province in 2005 after he exposed the mass forced abortion and sterilisation of thousands of women in Shandong. China is the only country in the world where it is illegal to have a brother or a sister. Female foeticide has led to a population imbalance of 117 men to every 100 women, and that is leading to catastrophic social consequences.

Human Rights Watch said of Chen’s case:

When Chen’s wife, Yuan Weijing, recently tried to travel to the Philippines to receive on her husband’s behalf the Magsaysay Award—Asia’s Nobel Prize—she was accosted by 17 men and forcibly returned to Shandong. I wonder what the Minister can tell us about Chen’s current position. I hope that he will also tell the House what proportion of our continued financial support for the United Nations population fund and the International Planned Parenthood Federation is channelled to the Chinese Population Association, the arm of the state responsible for those policies. In 2006-07 DfID gave £25 million to the UNFPA and £7.6 million to the IPPF.

If political rights and human rights are infringed in China, so are religious liberties. In November I raised by way of Written Question the case of the Tibetan nomad, Rongye Adak, who was imprisoned after he called for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. In commenting on his well-being, will the Minister say something about the status and whereabouts of the Panchen Lama and the new 14-part regulations issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs detailing the Government’s prohibition on any reincarnated lama being identified without Beijing’s approval? Tibetan religion is, of course, the root of Tibetan identity and that is why China wants to destroy it.

Do the Government know whether any progress is being made in the talks between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the Chinese authorities? There are over 100 million self-described Buddhists in China. They have been shown little tolerance. Nor have the Uighur Muslims, the Falun Gong or Christians.

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The Institute on Religion and Public Policy—I serve in an unpaid capacity on its board of advisers—details the harvesting of organs of Falun Gong members, their incarceration in re-education camps, and the use of electro-shock therapy and torture to force adherents to recant their beliefs. Millions of underground Christians, Catholic and Protestant, have also faced persecution for their beliefs. An article in this week’s Tablet says that up to a dozen Catholic bishops remain incarcerated—under house arrest, in police custody or in hiding. Forty of China’s 100 Catholic dioceses have no bishop and the Holy See remains unrecognised. Thousands of members of the underground Catholic Church and members of various illegal Protestant house churches have been arrested and tortured while in detention.

In particular I want to mention Bishop Lin Xili, imprisoned since 1999 and who is elderly and in bad health; Bishop Shi Enxiang, imprisoned since 2001; Bishop Xu Zemin, rearrested in 1997 and who has disappeared; and Bishop Yao Liang, arrested in 2005 and who is in his 80s. In addition, Tian Mingwei and Su Dean, two prominent Protestant leaders of one of China’s largest house church networks, are currently being detained by local police in Jiuquan City, Gansu province, arrested on 20 December 2007. Christian Solidarity Worldwide said in a statement issued yesterday:

We cannot and should not ignore such realities. As China flexes its economic muscle and enjoys unprecedented economic growth, there needs to be a commensurate change in the way it dispenses justice and deals with human rights. Change at home will influence its actions overseas and within the region—in its relations with Tibet and Taiwan, and in the way it deals with issues such as the repatriation of North Korean refugees. I particularly welcome its helpful role, and that of our own Government, in the recent case of Yoo Sang-joon, who was due to be repatriated to North Korea where he would have faced execution. Similarly, China could win widespread acclaim if it used its influence to put pressure on Burma to recognise and free Aung San Suu Kyi.

Elsewhere in the world, China has begun to take more account of international opinion, as its foreign policy in North Korea and Sudan has revealed, and it could also exercise great influence in other parts of Africa, especially Zimbabwe.

In 2001, the then vice-president of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games bid committee, Liu Jingmin, argued that:

As the House now debates China’s record on human rights, that is surely the test against which we should judge China’s performance.

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5.02 pm

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on initiating this debate. In a brilliant speech, he has highlighted many of the appalling human rights abuses perpetrated by the People’s Republic of China, and your Lordships will find that there are many more examples described on the Amnesty International website. I intend to concentrate on another aspect of China’s human rights record in my speech—the treatment of the 23 million citizens of its neighbouring country, Taiwan. In doing so, I declare an interest as co-chairman of the British-Taiwanese All-Party Parliamentary Group and as a visitor to that country on a number of occasions.

Taiwanese human rights are being threatened in a number of ways. For example, there are around 1,000 missiles on the coast of China aimed directly at the heart of Taiwan. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in another place published an excellent report on east Asia in August 2006 that dealt with this subject. At paragraph 173, the committee said:

The PRC has backed up its threat of force with the passing of a so-called anti-secession law, which purports to give China the right to intervene militarily to force the reunification of Taiwan with the mainland. There are other equally unsubtle attacks on the human rights of the people of Taiwan. China has campaigned, so far successfully, to ensure Taiwan’s exclusion from world bodies such as the United Nations and the World Health Organisation. It demands that other countries deny Taiwan recognition and seeks to humiliate Taiwanese public figures by pressuring Governments around the world not to permit the fundamental rights of travel and free association.

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