Christians are motivated by love, believing that each person is made in the image of God and, because of that, worthy of the utmost respect and elevation of their human dignity. Religious freedom would bring untold blessings to North Korea, not least through the provision of sustained and significant programmes providing for food, education, welfare and health.

Kang Pan Sok, the great-grandmother of Kim Jong-un, was the elder of a Christian church in Pyongyang, so the leadership of that country know from their own story that they have nothing to fear from the Christian faith. It would be a sign of great hope if perhaps, in her memory, her great-grandson could now see the way to opening the path for the church to play its part in building and helping to contribute to a prosperous and peaceful North Korea. Now there is something to hope and pray for.

5.30 pm

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in expressing much gratitude to my noble friend Lord Alton for initiating this debate. I serve as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, which he chairs, and, as has been mentioned, I have travelled with him to North Korea on three occasions. I take this opportunity to pay sincere tribute to his

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tireless dedication to highlighting the situation in North Korea and his endeavours to promote the interests of citizens living there. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for her very kind words.

I shall focus on human rights violations, referring to the Foreign Office update of its 2011 human rights and democracy report, in which the Government say that there has been,

“little change in the … human rights situation in the DPRK”.

I refer also to a recent statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who, after describing the human rights situation in North Korea, said that the DPRK Government have not accepted assistance to help to review North Korea’s criminal code and criminal procedures code to help to bring North Korea into line with international obligations. Does that remain the case, and do the Government have any further information about the numbers and conditions in the network of prison camps in which, as has been mentioned, the United Nations has estimated that some 200,000 inmates languish?

Have the Government responded to the call by Dr Marzuki Darusman, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in DPRK, that individual,

“states and the international community … undertake a comprehensive review of the relevant documents, to assess the underlying patterns and trends, and … consider setting up a more detailed mechanism of inquiry”,

into human rights violations? If so, how?

In the absence of access to the prison camps—a request that my noble friend and I have made repeatedly to the North Korean authorities—and given the denial of access to the UN special rapporteur, we have to rely on the testimonies of those who have managed to escape. It was such first-hand testimonies that, eight years ago, prompted my noble friend and myself to become engaged in dialogue with the authorities in Pyongyang. We believe in building bridges and using our freedoms to promote the freedoms of those who do not have freedom.

I offer some examples of those first-hand testimonies. Most recently, two North Koreans, Dr Heung-kwang Kim and Yong-il Kim, told the all-party parliamentary group how they had risked their lives to leave the country. Dr Kim is the author of North Korea's Future in 10 Years. He left North Korea, disillusioned with the economic system and a salary that was insufficient to feed himself and his family, claiming that,

“the State was indifferent to our lack of food”.

Yong-il Kim escaped from North Korea in 2000. He rode on the top of a train for 16 hours to avoid detection by the authorities. He helped to secure false papers for his parents and two brothers and they crossed the River Tumen into China, where, as my noble friend has said, many escapees are shot dead. After four years working in China, and alarmed by the number of forced repatriations to North Korea, he travelled to South Korea and is now the executive director of People for Successful Korean Reunification. He urges democratic nations to,

“emphasise human rights as much as they have emphasised security questions”.

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My third example, Ahn Myeong-Cheol, aged 37, described how his father killed himself when he learnt that he had been heard criticising the regime, while his mother and brothers were sent to prison camps as a punishment for his criticism. Ahn was “re-educated” and became a prison guard, witnessing guard dogs, imported from Russia, tear three children to pieces and the camp warden congratulating the guard who had trained the dogs. After he escaped, Ahn published They Are Crying for Help, urging the international community not to look away from the human rights violations and crimes against humanity experienced on a daily basis by the North Korean people.

My fourth example, Lee Young-kuk graphically described the degrading situation in prison:

“From the very first day, the guards with their rifles beat me. I was trampled on mercilessly until my legs became swollen, my eardrums were shattered, and my teeth were all broken. They wouldn’t allow us to sleep from 4 am till 10 pm and once while I was sleeping, they poured water over my head. Since the conditions within the prison were poor, my head became frostbitten from the bitter cold. Not a single day passed without receiving some form of torture and agonizing experience”.

My fifth example, Lee Sung-ae, described how prison guards pulled out her finger-nails, destroyed all her lower teeth and poured water mixed with chillies into her nose. Finally, Kim Hye-sook was sent to gaol aged 13 because her grandfather had gone to South Korea. She spent 28 years in the prison camp; as a child she was forced to work in coal mines and witness public executions. In 2011 she showed the all-party group her paintings depicting the suffering she both witnessed and experienced, ranging from deprivation of food to public executions and even cannibalism. She wept as she spoke about the death of her son in the camp.

According to Mr Narayan from Amnesty International, around 50,000 people are imprisoned in Camp 18, and two of every five prisoners die there. He showed the all-party group a DVD entitled “‘Hell holes’: North Korea’s Secret Prison Camps”, which may be viewed on YouTube.

Capital punishment has also been used routinely. In one recent year there were 52 executions, including the Minister of Railways, Kim Yong-sam, and Vice Minister So Nam-sin. May I ask the Minister when the British Government last made representations to the DPRK about the use of capital punishment in that country?

In conclusion, my noble friend and I have emphasised the importance of opening up dialogue; promoting Helsinki-style engagement; constantly reminding the authorities of their obligations and duties to their citizens; and breaking the information blockade. Like my noble friend Lord Alton, I have always been deeply impressed by the role which the BBC World Service has played in countries such as Burma and in the former Soviet Union. Despite the risks in listening to such broadcasts, people are desperate for news and contact with the wider world. As one escapee remarked:

“The flow of information is the most important way of changing attitudes and breaking the vice-like grip on the population”.

I therefore strongly support the possibility of the extension of the BBC World Service to the Korean peninsula. I was delighted when the Foreign Office Minister, Hugo Swire, told the last meeting of the all-party parliamentary group that:

“The issue is back on the table”.

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Before I finish, I briefly refer to the humanitarian situation in DPRK, with especially dire needs in the field of healthcare. I am very hopeful that Merlin—I must declare an interest as a founder trustee—might be able to undertake a programme there. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government would be willing to consider sympathetically supporting such an initiative.

The Korean people, both north and south, are gracious, courteous and hospitable. We must do all we can to help the people in North Korea to promote their human rights; to alleviate their humanitarian needs; and to support their peaceful progress, security and prosperity so that soon they may earn a respected place in the community of nations.

5.38 pm

Lord Black of Brentwood: My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising this important subject. I would certainly echo the very appropriate comments from my noble friend Lady Williams. As I want to talk about freedom of expression, I draw attention to my media interests in the register.

The words of President Franklin D Roosevelt in his address to Congress in 1941 are probably some of his best known. It seems appropriate to talk about an American President in a stirring speech to Congress on a day like this. He looked forward to a world in which there were four fundamental freedoms. The first of these was freedom of expression, in his words “everywhere in the world”. For the benighted people of North Korea this most fundamental of human rights does not exist in any way and is not in prospect in any way. While South Korea has a relatively free press with near universal internet use—indeed it is one of the most connected in the entire world—North Korea remains the most repressive and isolated media environment in the world.

The regime owns all media, attempts to regulate all communication and ruthlessly limits access to information. Both Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists based in Washington place it right at the bottom of the international press freedom leagues, languishing alongside Eritrea.

All information is distributed by the Government across radio and TV, which deliver a centrally composed message bombarding the population with flattering reports about their leaders, and never mentioning the economic hardship, the famine or the malnutrition—which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford mentioned— all of which blight the country.

Radio and TV sets are supplied pre-tuned to government stations, and radios must be registered with the police. Neighbourhood officials—I use the word advisedly—verify the government seals. Tampering with a set can result in the perpetrator being sent to a concentration camp. Under the penal code, listening to foreign broadcasts or reading so-called dissident publications are “crimes against the state” that carry terrible punishments including hard labour or, in some circumstances, the death penalty. According to Freedom House, the international free speech watchdog, in 2010 alone more than 1,000 people were arrested for possessing or watching foreign films acquired on the black market.

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There is no such thing, of course, as independent journalism. Journalism students are taught to adhere to a strict hierarchy, with news simply defined as championing socialism and denouncing imperialism. Ideological training takes place once a week for journalists for the duration of their career. Even then, despite these remarkable controls, there is a danger. According to one author, Ashlee Male:

“A mere typing error can result in a journalist being taken to … a ‘revolutionisation' camp’”,

for re-education. One such journalist, Song Keum-chul, was sent to a concentration camp a number of years ago and has never been heard of again.

As we have heard, any form of contact with the outside world is rigorously controlled. Mobile phone use was permitted only in 2008, having been banned in 2004, but most of the 1.5 million mobile phones—and that is a tiny number in a country of 24 million—are in the hands of the country’s political, commercial and military elite. North Korea’s full connection to the internet occurred only in 2010, but for ordinary citizens web access is available only through a nationwide intranet that does not link to foreign sites.

All this means that North Korea is totally isolated. As Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, said after a recent visit to the country—mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton:

“As the world becomes increasingly connected, the North Korean decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world … It will make it harder for them to catch up economically”.

That seems to be the crucial point, because freedom of expression is the foundation stone for economic growth.

The only glimmer of light is that very tiny cracks in this repressive regime are reportedly beginning to appear. A study released by InterMedia in Washington last year, entitled A Quiet Opening, finds that access to external media through bootlegged TV and smuggled foreign DVDs is becoming more commonplace in the countryside outside Pyongyang, despite the risks that we have heard about from the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. There is a little more mobile access through the use of smuggled mobile phones. The report concludes:

“Despite the incredibly low starting point, important changes in the information environment in North Korean society are underway”.

In Japan, an organisation called Asia Press is training journalists and providing them with video cameras to record daily life in North Korea. The images are loaded on to memory sticks and then smuggled out through the porous border with China into Japan for wider broadcast. These are admittedly tiny cracks, but I hope that the national media—and we have heard about the role of the BBC World Service today—with encouragement from our Government and international organisations can nurse and expand on them in years to come. For every dam burst, a tiny crack is always the starting point.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said, the flow of information in a country like this is absolutely crucial and we should do anything we can to encourage it. I ask my noble friend to ensure that the issue of free expression continues to be at the top of our human rights agenda for the tragic people of North Korea, for they deserve no less than that.

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5.45 pm

Baroness Berridge: My Lords, I serve as an officer on the North Korea All-Party Parliamentary Group which the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, chairs so ably. It will, alas, become clear that this membership has not given me any fluency in the Korean language. I intend to focus my remarks on the rule of law—or the lack of it—in North Korea, but I also want to mention the question of religious freedom.

My noble friend will know that 179 former North Korean political prisoners and defectors recently wrote to the foreign ministers of a number of UN countries appealing for their Governments to support an international inquiry into crimes against humanity in the DPRK. A remarkable coalition of almost 50 human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Human Rights Watch and the Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights, endorsed this request. I join the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in asking my noble friend to outline consideration given to that proposal for an international inquiry.

Will she also outline how Her Majesty’s Government have responded to calls from the United Nations for individual states such as the United Kingdom to shine a light on what we all agree are systematic and heinous violations of human rights, which may possibly be the worst in the world? This request chimes with the welcome remarks of my right honourable friend William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, in calling for human rights to be a central strand of this country’s foreign policy.

In October, Dr Marzuki Darusman, the current UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea—an ironic title—presented his latest report to the General Assembly of the UN. He stated that,

“for several decades egregious human rights abuses in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have been extensively documented by various actors, including organizations of the United Nations system”.

He called for a much more rigorous approach by the international community in collating, assessing and acting upon the evidence of widespread abuses of human rights.

As the coalition of human rights organisations has said, the time is long past for an urgent, thorough, independent and impartial international investigation of the system of political prisoner camps known as kwan-li-so, in which gross violations of human rights, including torture, forced labour, sexual violence and executions, are widespread and systematic. All of these have been extensively documented and highlighted during evidence-taking sessions by the All-Party Group on North Korea. Although it is 60 years since the armistice was agreed, the human consequences of the Korean War still, unfortunately, reverberate. Just before Christmas, two of the families of Korean War abductees visited Westminster. Even after the passage of so much time, these families have still not come to terms with the abduction of their loved ones.

A separate group also gave evidence to members of the all-party group about an abduction which occurred in 1969. Lee Mi-il’s father, Lee Seong-hwan, was one

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of an estimated 100,000 people who were abducted by the North Koreans during the course of hostilities and never allowed to return to their families. Mr Lee and his family had been trapped in their apartment after the North Koreans captured Seoul and blew up the Han River bridge. On 4 September 1950 a North Korean major came for Mr Lee, accused him of giving money to those fighting the communists, and took him away. His wife, who was heavily pregnant with their second child and is now in her 90s, has never seen him again or heard any news about his fate. She has spent a lifetime waiting for him to return. Her daughter says:

“My mother says she has given up hope of seeing him before she dies, but I know she still has hope in her heart”.

Mrs Lee’s story is one of several testimonies contained in a short book with the well chosen title, Ongoing Tragedy.

In the report that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, published two years ago, Building Bridges Not Walls, they set out the case for a systematic approach based on upholding human rights and the rule of law. They have helped to encourage a growing international consensus around this objective, and it was encouraging to see, for the first time, the adoption of the annual resolution on North Korea at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2012. More recently, in November 2012, the UN General Assembly’s Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee also adopted the annual North Korea resolution by consensus for the first time ever. This shows increasing international resolve and momentum, but still more needs to be done, not least because, despite those resolutions, North Korea has failed to change its repressive policies.

Let me also say that part of the remit should be an examination of religious persecution in North Korea. Here I remind the House of my interest as chairman of the All-Party Group on International Religious Freedom. As the right reverend Prelate outlined, North Korea is bottom of the table for religious repression and has been for 11 consecutive years. A senior defector remarked:

“The North Korean authorities put defectors in different categories according to the reason they left. Those who bring a Bible back or have been involved with Christians in China tend to be executed”.

Religious Intelligence UK estimates that there are 406,000 Christians in North Korea, and a possible further 280,000 secret Christians. None of these statistics is verifiable, but what is verifiable is the fate of those who practise their faith.

In 2011, reports detailed a further campaign of execution against Christians in North Korea. At least 20 Christians were arrested and sent to the Yodok political prison camp for their faith. When the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and noble Baroness, Lady Cox, raised these reports, North Korean officials said that they were “lies” and that the execution of Christians was “impossible”. Compare that response with the evidence given here in Parliament by a Christian woman who escaped from one of the camps. Jeon Young-Ok had to undertake risky expeditions across the North Korean border to find money and food for her children, who were suffering in the deadly famine of the 1990s.

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She was caught and jailed twice in her efforts to feed her family. Mrs Jeon was caught and put in the northern Pyeong-an detention camp. She recalled:

“We were made to pull the beards from the faces of elderly people. Prison guards treated them like animals. The women were forced to strip. A group of us were thrown just one blanket and we were forced to pull it from one another as we tried to hide our shame. I felt like an animal, no better than a pig. I didn't want to live”.

Jeon Young-Ok added:

“They tortured the Christians the most. They were denied food and sleep. They were forced to stick out their tongues and iron was pushed into it”.

Despite all this, she harbours no hatred for her country and shows extraordinary composure when she states:

“The past is not important but these terrible things are still happening in North Korea”.

That is why we must act.

The international community, which for so long has appeared indifferent to the fate of women such as Jeon Young-Ok should remind itself of Dietrich Bonheoffer’s warning:

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil”.

Bonhoeffer perished at the hands of the Nazi regime that was responsible for racial cleansing, slave labour, brutal torture, the disregard of lawful process and manifold abuses of human rights. Too many people turned a blind eye to all that. Our generation should not be guilty of making the same mistake.

5.53 pm

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard:The reason that I so much admire the persistence of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on North Korea is because I share his view that ostracism is not the answer. I was the negotiator on the opening of diplomatic relations with the DPRK and I visited Pyongyang to open an embassy there. I do not think that was wrong. It seems to me that however awful the regime and its human rights record— it is awful, and its human rights record is awful—it cannot be the right answer to break off contact. The object of the exercise must be to find ways of incentivising reform. This means doing business with a very unpleasant regime, and there are no easy answers.

As the right reverend Prelate said, food aid is a difficult issue. One knows that most food aid goes not to the intended recipients but to the armed forces. The industrial zone, Kaesong, is a difficult issue. It generates employment but the foreign exchange it brings in serves to prop up the regime.

We should take our lead from Seoul, which clearly wants—it must, as they are relatives, friends and the same people—reform in the north as much or more than anybody else, and has more right to demand it. However, it does not want the implosion of the state. It does not want revolutionary change. It would like to see a staged reform process. This may sound idealistic but there have been one or two little signs in the changes to the current regime in Pyongyang that we ought to be trying very hard to encourage.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for instituting this debate—and I am very grateful to him and to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for all that they do. Contact really matters, even if often one meets people with whom one thinks one is making no progress whatever. Ostracism is not enough.

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5.56 pm

Lord Triesman: My Lords, it is really important to debate this issue and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the chairman of the all-party group, for providing the opportunity. He, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others, as many noble Lords have said, have often made it possible for us to give witness to crimes against humanity, inhuman conduct, humanitarian abuses and religious persecution. All of these have been graphically described by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, and by the noble Baronesses, Lady Cox and Lady Berridge. I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that to make these visits and to say what is said requires very great courage. I admire that and have recently also been reading about Father Jerry Hammond and understand that kind of courage as well.

Sometimes it is painful to admit that terrible events occur in places where the United Kingdom has very little influence. It is not because we are indifferent to these matters but because of the historical position. We rightly demand to know what the Government are doing and what they have done. Ministers routinely, as I know, end up saying that they have raised all these concerns on all possible occasions, sometimes in the company of others. We all welcome this activity because we want to see it but in the same breath we sometimes have to acknowledge that we have a limited impact.

Nonetheless, I am wholly aligned with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and I think that what they have demanded of us, quite rightly, is that we never look away and that we always take the positions that are needed strongly. I also greatly admire the positions taken on a number of occasions by my right honourable friend Douglas Alexander. One of the positions he has taken, if I may just make this point to the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, is about the absence of the rule of law and the importance of trying to argue on that front as well as about religious intolerance and repression.

The Question rightly draws together humanitarian crises and security. The dynamics of the internal oppression in North Korea are generated in large part by the belligerence of the state on regional and perhaps international scenes. It is surely a function of the grandiose posturing of the leaders of a small, militarised and impoverished state feeling the need to shore up their power internally that they will brook no opposition or alternative systems of thought, culture or media—as the noble Lord, Lord Black, quite rightly pointed out—or religion, art or indeed anything. It is a manifestation of a kind of paranoia, a fear of internal close-at-hand phenomena undermining them and a wildly exaggerated sense of importance, which I am afraid, some dynastic cults manage to produce among themselves. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, it is in part a product of a terrible history. It has given rise to what I can only describe as a pathology. The nation should reflect, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford said, on the issues of morality but I say with a heavy heart that I do not expect that to happen any time soon.

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Yet, however grotesque or even absurd North Korean positions are, it is a problem which is far too large for the world to ignore. The critical question is who can potentially influence events. Who might impact on the risk of a growing nuclear arsenal? Who might successfully urge the end of the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles? It seems unlikely that the North Koreans will influence these matters themselves. Their dynastic leader is perceived to be unprepared for leadership and unable, even were he willing, to corral his father’s allies. This may well produce greater internal instability, which is capable of being translated into external aggression. Indeed, it is only the routine acts of local antagonism to neighbours that we can count on as the certainties: the intercontinental rocket launch that effectively ended the huge aid mission of the United States, the leap-day deal; and the links with Iran over that rocketry. I have no doubt, as has been said, that they will make progress on it. They will have the equivalent of a Kahn in rocketry and nuclear weapons, the influence of a Werner von Braun in missiles. They will find that kind of leverage.

There are threats of further nuclear tests: a third nuclear test possibly in the very near future. There has been the sinking of a South Korean warship and the bombardment of a South Korean island. There is the threat of spreading nuclear weapons, as noble Lords have mentioned, to rogue states, terrorists and non-state actors. There are the alleged cyber-attacks, denied by Pyongyang, on civil aircraft GPS guidance, although I think there is probably reasonable evidence that it happened. The sequence of provocations cannot be in any sense accidental.

Can South Korea influence events? I hope so. In an extensive and revealing interview with Al-Jazeera, President Park’s closest associate at the Institute for Policy Studies said that she had been principled, resolute and determined to keep her promises to achieve greater reconciliation and influence. Yet the rocket launch has become a major security concern. President Park stressed that it underlined the urgency for more diplomacy. I applaud that. However, she also notes that North Korea’s determination to sustain its nuclear programme and defy UN resolutions make it difficult. Indeed, the regime in North Korea has not only denounced her in the most unflattering terms, but described her predecessor in the past five years as bringing “nightmare, despair and catastrophe” to the region.

The United Sates has probably played, at least for the time being, the key diplomatic cards available to it to achieve the short-lived leap-day deal, which has now melted away. If I am right, and in the light of the lack of any progress, the various collapses of the six-plus-one talks inevitably raises the question of the role of China. United States and Chinese assessments may be linked in a somewhat paradoxical way. The United States appears to believe that influence could be created by aid and the support of humanitarian projects. In short, North Korea would become dependent on the relationship. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked whether building bridges might be the right way or creating dependence as part of the same strategy. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, rightly argued the same point just a moment ago.

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It is not easy to read the Chinese thinking, but they may have concluded that, over long years, a relatively chaotic client will come to depend on the one steadfast friend it can probably count on: one source of trade, one source of military cover, one source of diplomatic umbrella, and a very powerful regional power to boot. It may be thought that this creates a kind of marginal stability which is better than anything else on offer. If that is right, the strategic choices of the United States and China are diametrically different. If the views remain this dissonant, then the prospects for much progress are probably poor.

China is investing in North Korea. Surplus military equipment flows to the country. There may well be technical experts working on the North Korean rocketry. All these approaches must cause us anxiety and perplexity. I believe that we need a clear sign from China: perhaps a vote in the United Nations will be that sign. Most of all, the approaches seem at odds with China’s own economic trajectory and its growing rise into a role as a world power in international institutions.

I ask whether the Government share any part of this assessment; whether they believe that there is an alternative dialogue into which life can be breathed; and whether the approach of the six-plus-one nations may be revivified in a more viable form. I also ask what is open to us beyond being the honest witnesses that I described at the beginning of my speech and the advocates for the victims of the appalling humanitarian crimes.

6.05 pm

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for calling this debate and for the active role that he has played in raising the profile of North Korean issues in Parliament. He absolutely deserves the plaudits that he has received from across the House today. Noble Lords clearly share our concerns about the North Korean security threat, and the appalling human rights and humanitarian situation there.

Let me start by setting out the Government’s assessment of the current situation in North Korea. Kim Jong-un has now been in power for more than a year. Over the past 12 months there has been intense speculation as to whether this new, young, western-educated man will lead positive change in North Korea. We have certainly seen some changes in style: greater openness about his family life, more public appearances and a surprise new year’s speech claiming that North Korea wants to improve relations with South Korea, and will focus on improving its economy. It could be the distant hope to which my noble friend Lady Williams referred. However, whether any of these statements will lead to real changes for the people of North Korea remains to be seen.

North Korea remains a significant security concern. It tried twice to launch satellites in 2012, in both cases allowing it to test its ballistic missile technology in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874. The success of the second satellite launch, in particular, serves as a reminder that North Korea

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poses a real and severe threat to international peace and security. I add my support to much of what we heard from my noble friend Lady Williams. The UK simply cannot accept repeated violations of Security Council resolutions by the Government of Pyongyang. It was right that the UN responded to April’s satellite launch with a strongly worded UN Security Council Presidential Statement. We are working closely with Security Council colleagues to respond to the launch which took place in December.

North Korea also continues to sell its dangerous technology to any willing buyer worldwide, presenting a broader risk to peace and security. The UK continues to work with international partners to ensure that current sanctions are rigorously implemented but, as the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea noted in its most recent report, more needs to be done to help others with implementation.

Noble Lords will be aware of the speculation that the South Korean President-elect, Park Guen-hye, wants to pursue dialogue with North Korea during her five-year presidency. The UK would welcome improvements in inter-Korean relations and would welcome in particular the resumption of negotiations on the denuclearisation of North Korea. However, repeated provocative acts by North Korea have made it difficult for others to engage in negotiations. We are therefore concentrating our diplomatic efforts on urging North Korea to refrain from further provocations and to take concrete steps to engage in constructive dialogue. However, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, is right when he says that we must always be looking for opportunities in terms of who and what can influence the North Koreans.

The nuclear issue is of enormous concern to the international community but, as noble Lords have set out so clearly, we must not lose sight of the situation of the people who live in North Korea. Food deprivation and malnutrition were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford.

As your Lordships are well aware, North Korea has some of the most repressive controls on civil and political rights in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to the well publicised memoirs of Shin Dong-hyuk, which have shown that the conditions for political prisoners are truly shocking. Individual stories repeated in the House today again have shocked many of us.

I remain deeply concerned about the policies of some countries that, in breach of UN conventions, continue to repatriate North Korean asylum seekers. The UK has taken a leading role in ensuring that North Korean human rights abuses have been highlighted in international fora. We co-sponsor the annual UN General Assembly resolution on human rights in North Korea. This year it was passed without a vote—a significant first. As an EU member state we co-sponsor the annual Human Rights Council resolution and have been actively lobbying North Korea to allow the UN special rapporteur access to the country.

We are actively considering with UN partners whether there is anything more that we can do to encourage North Korea to change its policy on human rights. The UK has also undertaken small-scale work in-country

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to improve the treatment of vulnerable groups. One area where we have seen some positive developments in North Korea is in the situation of people with disabilities. Due to severe social stigma, 10 years ago it was unusual to see a disabled person on the streets of Pyongyang; now this is a commonplace. Last year, the British embassy in Pyongyang provided funding for training at a deaf school in Wonsan. We also assisted the North Korean authorities in sending swimmer Rim Ju Song, the country’s first Paralympian, to London in 2012. Of course, North Korea is very far from meeting international human rights standards. However, the achievements to date in the way in which people with disabilities are perceived and treated is one small progress.

We also have concerns about the humanitarian situation in North Korea. Assessments by the World Food Programme confirm that there remain chronic levels of malnutrition. There also appears to be a widening gulf between the visible relative affluence of Pyongyang and appalling conditions elsewhere in the country. The UK contributes funding to organisations operating in North Korea. Between 2011 and 2014 we will contribute £100 million to the World Food Programme’s global budget and we also contributed a fifth of the Central Emergency Response Fund’s £15.4 million funding for North Korea. The British embassy in Pyongyang has also worked with the North Korean authorities on a number of small-scale humanitarian projects, including a project to provide a safe source of soybean milk to young children. The embassy also sponsored a visit to the UK to provide training for North Korean doctors treating spinal injuries and providing rehabilitation.

However, despite this work, we are clear that the North Korean Government bear significant responsibility for their failure to feed their people adequately. Of particular concern is the prioritisation of resources to the military. This year North Korea has spent hundreds of millions of dollars funding its satellite programme while simultaneously seeking aid. This money could have been spent on improving the critical infrastructure, which could have made it easier to transport food around the country, or, simply—as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said—on food. We must continue to be clear to North Korea that it cannot just rely on aid from the international community. It needs to take measures to ensure that the right conditions are in place so all of the resources that it has available, including any aid, can be used most effectively, and it must give real and tangible priority to improving the humanitarian situation of its people.

If Kim Jong-un delivers on his new year’s promise to improve the economic situation, the UK would warmly welcome this. We will focus our diplomatic efforts in the next 12 months on promoting the benefits of economic development in North Korea. However, we will not provide North Korea with development assistance over and above what we are currently providing until its Government demonstrate that they are ready to take concrete steps towards reform.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the issue of the BBC World Service in North Korea. This is primarily a matter for the BBC World Service, under the terms

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of the broadcasting agreement. However, I am aware that the BBC World Service director Peter Horrocks will be speaking to the APPG on North Korea later this week and I am sure that matter will be raised with him.

My noble friend Lord Black of Brentwood made a fascinating and well informed contribution. I agree with his assessment of restrictions on freedom of expression. Our concerns were reflected in the General Assembly resolution, which we co-sponsored. The British embassy in Pyongyang continuously tries to find ways in which to expose the North Korean people to the outside world—simple steps. For example, in 2010 we secured the broadcast of “Bend it Like Beckham”; we have a British Council English-language teacher training programme, and in 2012 we sent the first two achievement scholars to the UK.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, talked about diplomatic relations with North Korea. The UK advocates a policy of critical engagement with North Korea. Engagement is the best way of communicating our views and ensuring that our messages on human rights and proliferation are understood.

My noble friend Lady Berridge, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the issue of the commission of inquiry. At the Australia-UK ministerial consultations on 18 January, the Foreign Secretary and the Australian Foreign Minister committed to looking at what more can be done to improve the effectiveness of UN mechanisms, including around the issue of the commission of inquiry.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the issue of prison camps. We regularly raise this issue when we have the opportunity. We are also consulting with international partners in advance of the Human Rights Council meeting in March. As he is aware, given the significance of the abuse, unfortunately the DPRK still refuses to engage in serious dialogue or provide any access on this issue. The noble Lord also raised the issue of repatriation of North Korean refugees from China. We believe that people who have escaped

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from the DPRK are entitled to protection under the international Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. We regularly raise this matter with the Chinese Government and encourage them to work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, raised the issue of UN mechanisms and whether North Korea has accepted assistance from the UN to engage with UN mechanisms. We are not aware of this, but the UK Government have also offered assistance in relation to North Korea’s engagement with UN mechanisms. Again, we have not received a positive response.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford and my noble friend Lady Berridge raised the issue of persecutions of Christians in North Korea. We continue to have concerns about the persecution of people in North Korea because of their religious beliefs, and these concerns were highlighted in the 2012 United Nations General Assembly resolution. We regularly raise these concerns; we both raised and detailed how many individuals have tragically paid with their lives for simply having a faith. It is also important to note, in today’s debate, how many noble Lords who have taken part in the past have spoken of the importance of faith and of their faith.

In conclusion, I am grateful to noble Lords for their contribution to this evening’s debate. We do not expect change in North Korea to come overnight. It is therefore vital that we maintain the conversation on what can be done to encourage North Korea to embark on a positive path towards change. It is also important that the North Korean authorities see firsthand the concerns that have been raised by noble Lords here today, and I therefore ask Her Majesty’s Ambassador in Pyongyang, Michael Gifford, to draw the Hansard report of this debate to the attention of the North Korean Government. If there are any specific questions which I have failed to answer in summing up, I shall make sure that officials write. If they do not, please catch me in the Lobbies, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, and I shall make sure that it happens.

House adjourned at 6.18 pm.