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Lord Alexander of Weedon: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that there is a strong case for increasing the number of Bills that are subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, because that is one way of seeking to improve legislation?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: Yes, my Lords. I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his suggestion. Reverting to the subject of the previous discussion about Bills being taken off the Floor of the House, the noble Lord was heavily involved in the financial services legislation that was considered this Session. I believe that that Bill was proposed as being suitable for detailed scrutiny off the Floor of the House, but, unfortunately, that could not be agreed.
Lord Mishcon: My Lords, does my noble friend the Leader of the House agree that one of the main contributing factors to the time taken both in Committee and on Report is that there are long debates in Committee, after which the amendment is withdrawn, but then the debate is repeated almost word for word on Report?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, that problem has certainly seemed to arise fairly regularly in Bills with which I have been involved. I suspect that it is a matter that could be looked at if we had the capacity to consider the procedures and workings of this House in a general way.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, this has been a most unusual Session; indeed, the House has worked extremely hard, especially towards the latter part of it. Does the noble Baroness agree that the House has, on the whole, done its job extremely well? Will the noble Baroness take just a little bit of responsibility for the way that the Government have treated this House? Further, will she reconsider her answer to my noble friend Lord Cranborne? Is it not a fact that there have been a record number of amendments made to Bills brought forward by the Government? Bills have had their Second Readings months before being brought to the House for their Committee stages. There have also been massive gaps between the first and second days in Committee. All this has arisen because government Ministers have failed to make up their minds and decide what it is that they have to do. It culminated in, for example, over 100 pages of government amendments being tabled to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill. Can the noble Baroness assure the House that that will not happen again?
As my noble friend the Chief Whip says so often when these matters are raised, this is a listening Government. I challenge the noble Lord's assertion that this is an unusual Session. At the risk of being repetitive, I refer to the statistics for third Sessions, going back to 1981-82. I have been challenged to recite those statistics. In the 1981-82 third Session, 46 Bills were passed; in 1985-86, 49 Bills; in 1989-90, 34 Bills; in 1994-95, 37 Bills, and we expect this year to pass 39 Bills.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the fifth round of the bilateral human rights dialogue took place in London between 16th and 18th October. We discussed our concerns on a wide range of human rights issues. Although there was little progress on some issues such as the Falun Gong and freedom of religion, there was greater Chinese willingness to provide more detailed responses to our concerns and there were positive outcomes, including Chinese willingness to sign a memorandum of understanding with Mary Robinson on the provision of human rights technical assistance on 20th November; to accept in principle visits by UN special rapporteurs; and to provide further information on the list of individual cases submitted by the Government.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, does not the noble Baroness agree that China is going backwards, with the repression of the democracy movement, the severe persecution of the Falun Gong and the persecution of anyone who tries to uphold the Tibetan identity? Among the individual cases that the Government raised with the Chinese during the dialogue, did the noble Baroness include the five nuns who committed suicide in Drapchi prison because they could no longer endure the torture to which they were subjected?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we accept that there are many challenges in relation to China's human rights record. The fact that we are having this dialogue is important because it enables us, perhaps for the first time, to have an in-depth conversation about these difficult and painful issues. I do not know the precise names of the five nuns that the noble Lord
Lord Hylton: My Lords, the Minister mentioned the Falun Gong. Is it not the case that numerous other religious bodies, whether Christian, Islamic or Buddhist, suffer constant harassment and persecution and that sometimes long prison sentences are imposed on their members for expressing their conscientious beliefs? Will the Government continue to raise these matters, regardless of the answer they receive from the Government of China, because until China ceases this kind of activity it cannot be accepted into the civilised body of nations?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I reassure the noble Lord that Her Majesty's Government will continue to raise these issues in relation to human rights. They are matters of deep concern and the noble Lord is right to raise them. However, as I said earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, the dialogue gives us an opportunity to do this in a specific and direct way.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, given the still deteriorating Chinese human rights record--I believe that we all recognise that--can the noble Baroness assure us that the European Union arms embargo is still in place? Are we following the same rules as our European partners? Now that the US Congress has more or less given an unconditional green light to permanent normal trade relations with China, how does that affect our attitude to trade with China in the context of human rights?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I reassure the noble Lord in relation to the arms embargo. As he knows, the EU imposed an embargo on the export of arms to China following the events of Tiananmen Square in June 1989. The embargo is not a full scope one. The UK's interpretation of it was set out by my late honourable friend Mr Fatchett in his reply to Parliament on 3rd June 1998. We do not sell any of the items he set out that would contravene that interpretation. Our interpretation of the embargo covers lethal weapons such as machine guns, large calibre weapons, bombs, torpedoes, rockets etcetera--the whole list.
In relation to our own policy we have taken a robust stance. As I said earlier, we continue to raise the issue of human rights. I hear what the noble Lord says in relation to the way in which our friends the Americans are going, but I reassure him that Her Majesty's Government's policy remains the same in relation to trade, arms and raising human rights issues.
Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, in her initial Answer my noble friend referred to one of the positive elements of the dialogue. Will she go further and give us some examples of other benefits that have come from the dialogue?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as I said earlier, the dialogue has enabled us to raise in depth a wide range of problems. It has created a conducive environment for a range of co-operative projects. For example, this year alone we are running a range of rule of law projects, including the role of defence lawyers, the strengthening of a proposed new evidence law and human rights training for young lawyers. We also have projects tackling issues such as child trafficking and promoting human rights awareness. We have encouraged China to move forward in co-operating with international human rights mechanisms. For instance, China signed the two UN human rights covenants in 1997 and 1998; and we expect them to sign a MOU with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, on 20th November. Those are just some of the matters we have been able to achieve during the process I mentioned.
Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lady Hayman will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement which is being made in another place on flooding and flood defence.
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