Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Greaves: This is an extremely helpful amendment because it introduces a very important matter. It is a peculiar situation: the soundings—they have been described as soundings rather than consultations—have taken place before the legislation has gone through Parliament. We understand that the Deputy Prime Minister intends to make a Statement soon after it goes through Parliament—that is, if he has not withdrawn it in pique at amendments approved by the Committee. We shall see.

It is important that the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, are taken on board. We do not need to know what the responses were in each region simply in the interests of openness and democracy but as the basis on which the Deputy Prime Minister will make his decision. It is important that he also publishes the criteria on which he has assessed that evidence so that he is seen to be taking an objective decision on the basis of the same criteria within each region and that the decisions stand up in relation to the soundings and the evidence. Otherwise, he will get into terrible difficulty defending decisions in the courts. There are high stakes here and this is the sort of matter aggrieved local authorities might take to judicial review. I would be grateful for those assurances.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I should be interested to know about the soundings that have been taken. I have had a number of complaints from people in various parts of the country that official or quasi-official meetings have been held to discuss the desirability or otherwise of regionalisation that have been limited to people who are in favour of them anyway. In many cases, people known to be opposed to regional government have been excluded from the meetings and refused admission.

I am sure that that is not hearsay, because I have some evidence of it. If soundings have taken place it would be useful to know how, why and when; whether they have been restricted to people known to be in favour of regional government; and whether local electors have been excluded from such gatherings.

Lord Rooker: In response to my noble friend Lord Stoddart, although this applies to any noble Lord, if anyone has any complaints about people being snuffed out of soundings, discouraged, or barred because of their views, we would like to hear about it. That is important. I am not challenging my noble friend to give chapter and verse now or at any other time, but if people have evidence of what amounts to maladministration I hope that complaints will be made.

In the spirit of the amendment, when the Deputy Prime Minister makes his statement to Parliament explaining his decision on which regions would

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1543

undergo a review with a view to holding a referendum, we will publish a summary of the views that have led him to make that decision. It has to be published on a regional basis; it could not be mixed up globally as that would be unfair.

We said in the soundings document that unless people said otherwise we would assume that their views could be made public. If they wrote in confidence for some reason, we would respect the confidence but treat them in the numerical calculations by adding them to the figures according to whether they said yes or no. It is important, when the Deputy Prime Minister makes his announcement on the basis of the soundings for the regions, that it stands the test of parliamentary scrutiny or scrutiny by others. That is why we cannot rush the matter.

The date of 3rd March has been and gone. I have made it clear that we are listening to the Committee's views while the Bill goes through Parliament, but it will take time to carry out the analysis. It has begun and we have resources for it, but nothing has been supplied to Ministers and nor should it be until we are ready to make judgments, as my right honourable friend will be. But that will not be until after Royal Assent, if the Bill ever receives Royal Assent. I will move heaven and earth to obtain Royal Assent, but I stress to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, that I am not prejudging parliamentary scrutiny. It is up to Parliament, not me, whether the Bill receives Royal Assent.

We will be as open as possible about the basis on which the Deputy Prime Minister makes his announcement and decisions. That is the only fair basis.

The Earl of Onslow: The Minister is right to tell us that the Secretary of State will say who he has consulted. Some of us are worried that, for example, it is not like consulting only the League Against Cruel Sports when wanting to ban hunting. The consultation has to be sufficiently wide so he can give the undertaking that he will make sure that he obtains a broad view of those against and those pro.

Lord Rooker: It is crucial, notwithstanding the problem of issuing the soundings document. Just over one thousand copies were issued to various organisations and the establishment. I do not mean that pejoratively, but the distribution covered many organisations. It is important that when the Secretary of State announces his decision he can set out either in the statement or along with other documents the balance of argument on which he made his decision. That means making it clear where there is opposition to the form and structure proposed by various organisations and interest groups—of whatever size—in the regions. That is the only basis on which his decision can be judged.

In announcing his decision he will need to take comfort from the fact that he has clearly indicated that he has looked at the range of opinion and disclosed it to the people who will be scrutinising the decision. We will publish a summary of the consultation, but more

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1544

than that is required in order to come to Parliament and say, on balance, in a particular region because of all the factors and views he has taken a decision proposing that we go one way or the other.

Perhaps there will be some disappointed faces; I do not know. I am not prejudging the matter. It is important that we do more than make a mechanical list of those for and against. We have to explain why we made our decision. Soundings are soundings, so it is important that we do a proper professional job in analysing the results and explaining them in such a way that we are comfortable with the decision we bring to Parliament and, I hope, Parliament is comfortable about the way we have gone about making the decision.

There will be a festering sore if there is a degree of dispute about how the decision was arrived at. It is much easier to disagree with a decision if one is comfortable about the way in which it was reached, otherwise the issue can fester. We will return to the matter during the Bill's passage and certainly after Royal Assent.

Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the Minister. The Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Prescott, would do well to heed his advice. In his reply he seemed to understand what we are asking for through the amendment and say that he believes there should be as much openness as possible when the Deputy Prime Minister decides which area of the country shall first be given the opportunity to choose whether it wants regional assemblies. I would like to have confirmation that he will come to Parliament to announce that decision and not do so in some glitzy-ritzy presentation outside Parliament. I also hope that he will do exactly what the Minister said; that is, produce the evidence on which he bases that decision.

We do not currently know what percentage of people will not have been seen. I live in East Anglia but I received nothing through my door. I was not aware of a sounding exercise until the Bill had its First Reading in this House even though I am very involved with local government colleagues and others in East Anglia. It would be helpful to know who has been communicated with. We do not know the criteria, which have never been set out—certainly not the criteria on which that decision will be made. It would be helpful to know that when the decision is made.

I will withdraw the amendment. In doing so, I thank the Minister for his good humour and patience throughout our debate. He will accept, but may not agree, that we see this as a very important constitutional matter. The Bill's Committee stage is the only stage procedurally that allows us the flexibility to tease out details from the Minister and to have an iterative process between each other. Such details will be crucial in terms of understanding the way in which the Bill and what flows from it will work in practice. With my fulsome thanks to the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 not moved.]

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1545

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

North Korea

7.32 p.m.

Lord Alton of Liverpool rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their policy on the threat posed by North Korea to international security and to the human rights of its citizens.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am glad to have an opportunity to ask a Question that I tabled last November. It allows us to consider the international crisis sparked by North Korea's decision to reopen its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and its continued serial abuse of human rights. I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who will participate in this debate, particularly the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, who must be under great pressure at the moment. Many of us greatly admire the way in which she is handling her onerous responsibilities during the present international crisis.

Unfolding events in Iraq have inevitably distracted us from the arguably even more dangerous crisis posed by North Korea. If North Korea reactivates its plutonium reprocessing plant, also located at Yongbyon, it could reprocess 8,000 spent fuel rods and would be able to produce weapons-grade plutonium within weeks, accumulating enough material for about six bombs before the end of the year. The United States Government believe that North Korea may already have such nuclear weapons.

Some noble Lords may have heard the report on the BBC this morning from its state department correspondent, Jon Leyne. He reported that experts believe that the north could soon have a production line that could produce up to a bomb a month. The BBC also reported that sources in Tokyo believe that Pyongyang may be preparing to test a Rodong medium-range ballistic missile that is capable of reaching most of Japan.

As the former US Defense Secretary William Perry recently remarked:


    "I believe that Korea is the most dangerous spot in the world today".

In 1994, the Clinton administration concluded the Agreed Framework with Pyongyang. From its inception, the accord, which had a price tag of some 5 billion dollars, fell significantly behind its schedule, most notably in failing to deliver two light-water reactors in return for the abandonment of the highly enriched uranium—HEU—nuclear programme.

By 2000, while the North Korean missile talks were collapsing, North Korea had clandestinely recommenced the HEU programme. That was exposed by US intelligence in July 2002. Kim Jong-il conceded that he had broken the agreement. He

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1546

expelled the International Atomic Energy Authority monitors and pulled out of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Since then, Pyongyang has been demanding bilateral negotiations with the Bush Administration, characterised in Washington as "reward for bad behaviour". The belief is that giving in to blackmail leads only to more blackmail. So far, the US response has been very measured not only to the provocation of the recommencement of the HEU programme and the recent intimidation of a US plane in international airspace but also to this week's ballistic tests in the Sea of Japan.

This evening, given the Prime Minister's declaration that he sees North Korea as the next challenge for the international community, I hope that the Government will share with us their view of this crisis. Do they, for instance, believe that there is any realistic prospect of a new comprehensive mechanism to replace the 1994 Agreed Framework and a commensurate abandonment of the HEU programme and any possible plutonium-based programmes in return for a non-aggression pact? Can the Minister tell us what progress is being made in engaging regional players, most obviously China, Japan and Russia? Following the recent visit of Mr Bill Rammell to the region, what role are Her Majesty's Government and the EU playing in creating conditions for negotiations? What is our view of the demands by North Korea for bilateral talks in contrast with the insistence by the US and others on a multilateral approach?

The Minister will have seen the view expressed earlier this week by Yoriko Kawaguchi, the Japanese Foreign Minister, that the UK could play the role of an honest broker. What is the Government's view of that and of the use of sanctions and isolation, containment and negotiation? I hope that she will share with us an analysis of the events that would pave the way for the use of force. For instance, does the Minister believe that the United States would be forced to intervene if North Korea attempted to export nuclear weapons or directly threatened the US mainland? Can she give us an assessment of the dangers that she believes are posed to South Korea and Japan? Could she also explain what Mr Rammell meant when he said last week:


    "I think this is going to get worse before it gets better"?

The threat to international security posed by North Korea may best be considered by way of pernicious actions against its own citizens. North Korea's Stalinist dictatorship has treated its own people with unbelievable brutality and viciousness. The people are starving, the hospitals are without medicine and a whole generation has grown up stunted and mentally retarded because of malnutrition. Sixty per cent of the people starve. During the past decade, up to 3 million people are estimated to have died of famine, and aid agencies estimate that 70,000 children will die in the next few months. Those who dare to dissent are sent to re-education camps or to prisons.

I tabled this Unstarred Question because last October a North Korean Christian who had escaped from the country came to see me here at Westminster. His story was harrowing and disturbing. He told me

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1547

how he had seen his wife, and all bar one of his children shot dead by Kim Jong-il's militia. He subsequently escaped across the border to China with his one remaining son. The boy died en route.

He encouraged me to read the prison memoirs of Soon Ok Lee. In them she describes in detail the brutality and barbarism of the system in North Korea. Anyone who believes it is right to appease this dictator should read Eyes of the Tailless Animals. It is Soon Ok Lee's account of the sham judicial system, the show trials, the starvation, the forced labour, the degradation, humiliation and rape of prisoners. Through her eyes we get a glimpse of this corrupt, paranoid and tyrannical regime. I will place a copy in the Library.

Other noble Lords will return to the plight of refugees repatriated by the Chinese into North Korea. Some have been executed. Up to 300,000 North Koreans are now living in China. When returned, they face torture, interrogation and humiliation. Any woman who is returned and became pregnant while in China is forcibly aborted, supposedly to avoid the birth of babies "contaminated" by foreign influences. There are reports of repatriated North Koreans being corralled and bound together, with wire being passed around their wrists and through their noses.

In January, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Jack Straw, about the failure of the UNHCR to enforce the 1995 agreement on refugees made with China. Mr. Rammell replied on February 12th saying that it was for,


    "the parties involved to interpret their obligations under this agreement".

I am sure that I am not alone in not being entirely clear what this means.

I am sorry that we have not taken a more robust position on refugees. I hope the Government will also review their rejection of the suggestion I made to them that the United Kingdom should designate part of the funds that it provides to the UNHCR specifically for North Korean refugees in China. Organisations such as Jubilee Campaign and Christian Solidarity Worldwide have done us all a service by carefully documenting what is known about their plight. CSW's president, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, had hoped to speak tonight but her commitments elsewhere have prevented her from being here. She wishes very much to be associated with what will be said about the plight of Christians in that country by my noble friends Lord Chan and Lord Hylton, the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby.

Becoming a Christian in North Korea is a serious crime. Many are thrown into camps or prison, where they are kept in horrific conditions. There is evidence of water torture, severe beatings, sexual assault and violation, as well as psychological and verbal abuse. Up to 1 million people are incarcerated in the gulags of North Korea. On 2nd March at the 4th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1548

Refugees held in Prague, the catalogue of human rights abuses was systematically documented. Professor Man-ho Heo, Professor of Law at Kyungpook National University, listed the human rights abuses in the detention camps. Again, I will place a copy of this report in the Library. According to the Sunday Times of 9th March, children of the elite, and, bizarrely, children born as triplets, are taken from their parents by the age of two. They are placed in special schools to break family bonds and to indoctrinate them with the ideology of the regime.

The regime teaches its children to hate the outside world, especially the United States. Simultaneously, the late Kim Il-sung has been elevated and is revered as a god to be followed with unswerving devotion. In 1998, Medecins Sans Frontieres pulled out of North Korea because aid agencies were denied access to the so-called 9-27 camps in which sick and disabled children were dumped under a decree issued by Kim to "normalise" the country.

This repressive and powerfully armed communist regime has subjugated its own people and now threatens and blackmails the world's democracies. It does so by threatening nuclear war unless the free world accedes to its demands. In particular, it insists that the international community recognises the permanence of its borders and continues to pay Danegeld. In any agreements made with this regime, human rights practices must be established and subsequently monitored. This was the process which was used by the US Government in negotiations with the Soviet Union in 1972, and it should form an integral part of any political security negotiations with Kim Jong-il.

By championing the cause of those who are suffering in North Korea, the international community will create the conditions for the establishment of democracy. The creation of secure borders to the Soviet Union in 1975, as the Helsinki process ensured, led to free exchange of people, open borders and family reunification. The people very quickly learned the true nature of their repressive government. Helsinki's animating genius was to elevate human rights into the most lethal weapon targeted at totalitarianism. The victims of the gulags became the icons for hope and liberation. This was also a standard around which the free world was able to unite.

Learning the lessons of Helsinki, we must do nothing to licence the regime in Pyongyang to commit further atrocities against its own people. We should enter negotiations which guarantee human rights, such as free exchange of people and religious liberties. We must also do more to promote democracy. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us something about what we can do to help, for example, through BBC World Service broadcasts to promote democracy.

By linking the present crisis with the human rights violations, a crisis can be turned into an opportunity. To do nothing about North Korea would be the most dangerous option of all.

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1549

7.44 p.m.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for providing the House with the opportunity of this short debate on the threat to international security posed by North Korea. It is a privilege to follow the noble Lord's excellent speech this evening. Like many others, I am deeply concerned by the Chinese Government's forced repatriation of North Korean refugees and the detention of North Korean asylum seekers in China who try to flee to third countries by boat.

Since early December last year, the Chinese Government have sent home about 3,200 North Korean refugees, following a 100-day campaign against those fleeing North Korea. All the refugees forcibly repatriated to their homeland face the real risk of detention, torture and execution. Much stronger action is required from our Government and all the agencies involved to pressure the Chinese authorities to stop the forced repatriation of refugees and to put more pressure on the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to perform its responsibility of protecting those refugees, including the urgent implementation of the enforcement mechanism of its bilateral treaty with China.

As a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the Chinese Government are responsible for the protection and humanitarian needs of the asylum seekers. With thousands of refugees being repatriated in North Korea and thousands more refugee lives in serious danger, the UNHCR must be strongly pressed to enforce its bilateral treaty with China via binding arbitration. The treaty signed between the UNHCR and China states that the UNHCR has the right to unimpeded access to refugees in China at all times. It also contains a dispute resolution mechanism whereby UNHCR could enforce the treaty via binding arbitration. Surprisingly, the UNHCR has yet to attempt to enforce the bilateral treaty with China through binding arbitration. I hope that the British Government will urge it to do that.

Donor nations to the UNHCR have the right to designate part of the funds for particular projects, as has been mentioned. The British Government should force the UNHCR to act by specifically designating part of its funds to the UNHCR for North Korean refugees in China. The British Government's previous approach to the issue of North Korean refugees has not been effective in providing them with the protection that they urgently need. Thousands of those refugees have already been forcibly repatriated back to North Korea, where many face imprisonment or the likelihood of execution.

Official Chinese figures state that around 10,000 of these refugees were returned to North Korea in 1999. The Chinese authorities have even offered rewards for information leading to the capture of North Korean refugees and those who help them. Furthermore, the Chinese policy of forced repatriation creates a climate of impunity in which North Korean refugees in China

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1550

are exploited or blackmailed and many of the women are trafficked for sexual purposes. The North Korean refugees are unable or unwilling to report these abuses for fear of being forcibly repatriated. With an estimated 300,000 North Korean refugees in China, much stronger action is now desperately needed. Britain and our European Union partners should be addressing this massive humanitarian crisis.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned, the British-based human rights organisation Jubilee Campaign recently reported that North Korea has one of the worst human rights records in the world. Among the many human rights violations perpetrated by the North Korean regime is extensive religious persecution. Thousands of Christians have been put in North Korean prison camps simply because of their religious beliefs. Christians are treated as political criminals and come under intense pressure to give up their faith and worship Kim Il-sung, the deceased founder of the Communist regime, instead. Christians are also regularly singled out for the most extreme treatment and toughest punishments in the prison camps. At least 100,000 Christians are believed to be among the 1 million prisoners of conscience suffering horrendous conditions throughout the country's 200 labour camps, where torture, starvation and death are commonplace. Some 300,000 Christians have disappeared in North Korea since 1953.

My friends at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, have produced several reports showing something of the horror of what is going on in North Korea. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned one case. It would bring tears to anybody's eyes to read of a father cradling a son who dies of cold in the night while trying to flee this persecution.

The inhumanity of the treatment meted out to the prisoners in the camps is indescribable. Many people suffer in the camps, but Christians tend to suffer most of all. They are seen as a particular threat by the regime. They alone are not sentenced to a specific number of years. They are imprisoned as long as they keep their faith. If they renounce their faith and acknowledge Kim Il-sung, the former North Korean leader, and Kim Jong-il, the present leader, as the supreme power, they may walk free. They can go if they give up their faith. In addition, prison guards are promoted if they succeed in rehabilitating a Christian prisoner. This gives them a particular incentive to target Christians with beatings, torture, harsh labour, rape and other unspeakable treatment. In the report to which I referred from Christian Solidarity Worldwide there is a description of a former prisoner who saw a guard pour molten iron over living Christians because they would not renounce their faith.

The Jubilee Campaign is one of several human rights organisations calling for stronger international action to protect North Korean refugees in China. The US human rights organisation, Human Rights Watch, released a report in November last year entitled, The Invisible Exodus: North Koreans in the People's Republic of China. In that report, a former North

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1551

Korean prison guard gave detailed testimony about how the North Korean authorities deal with repatriated refugees. He said:


    "They investigated whether the repatriated people had any relationship with South Korea. If a person met South Koreans or reporters or wrote articles, or attended church or escaped after committing a crime in North Korea, they would be secretly killed".

In 2000 a Korean pastor accused the North Korean regime of committing genocide against its own people. The clergyman, who preferred to remain anonymous for security reasons, made those comments in Germany at an annual Christian meeting. He pointed out that a million political prisoners and more than 100,000 Christians had to vegetate in concentration camps. According to the Korean pastor, the North Korean regime regards Christians as major enemies. Anyone caught with a Bible is dealt with as a South Korean spy and shot immediately. He said that 400 Christians had been executed in 1999. Many persecuted Christians are among those fleeing North Korea to China as refugees.

There can be no doubt that the forced repatriation of North Korean refugees from China puts them at serious risk of severe persecution and death. The international community should not simply stand idly by while hundreds of thousands of refugees' lives are put in grave danger by the actions of the Chinese and North Korean authorities. I hope that the British Government will take the action that I have suggested previously.

7.52 p.m.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, the problems posed to the international community by North Korea are pressing and urgent. They may have been temporarily masked by the consuming preoccupation with Iraq but they are none the less real; and the need to address them effectively has not receded—rather the contrary. So it is timely that we should debate them in this House and that we should have an opportunity to hear the views of the Government on how they will be addressed. If I focus on the international security aspects, it is not out of lack of concern for human rights in North Korea, which can best be described, as the two speakers who preceded me have shown, as virtually non-existent, but because time does not permit me to do justice to two such complex issues.

In North Korea we have a country that voluntarily, if somewhat belatedly, signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Since then it has systematically and aggressively flouted the provisions of that treaty as well as those of the bilateral agreements that it entered into with the United States in 1994 after its breach of international obligations had been brought to the notice of the United Nations Security Council by the then director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr Hans Blix.

We may not know precisely how far North Korea has progressed towards acquiring nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery, but its intention to do that hardly seems in doubt. Moreover, it is a country

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1552

which committed an unprovoked aggression against its neighbour; which in the past has been involved in committing acts of international terrorism; and which exports huge quantities of sophisticated military equipment, apparently to anyone who is prepared to pay. There are no grounds for complacency there.

Nor does the threat to international security stop there. A North Korea that has simply got away with flouting its international obligations and acquired a nuclear arsenal would have a profoundly destabilising effect on the whole north-east Asia and Pacific region. One only has to recall the number of countries in that region that possess the technical capacity to develop nuclear weapons, but have forsworn the right to do so—Japan, South Korea, Taiwan—to realise just how dangerous the situation could become if it is not now checked. The global implications for the whole nuclear non-proliferation regime of a country which, unlike countries like India, Pakistan and Israel, had forsworn nuclear weapons, but has now clandestinely acquired them and had got away with it, would be extremely far-reaching and totally negative.

So what is to be done now that the International Atomic Energy Agency has, quite rightly, come again to the Security Council to put the facts before it? On one thing there seems to be consensus: a diplomatic solution should be sought before anything else is tried. That must be right. But let us not delude ourselves that the practice of diplomacy with a country such as North Korea is simple or straightforward.

I recall from my own experience during the last nuclear crisis with North Korea in the early 1990s just how difficult and frustrating it can be. I remember listening to a lengthy expose from the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations about the unprovoked attack his country suffered from the South at the outset of the Korean war. He was slightly at a loss to explain how his country's army ended up in the middle of the next-door neighbour's country; but he was quite sure that North Korea had been the victim of aggression. I remember the expose being repeated several times when I had the temerity to suggest that the facts were not quite as the ambassador had suggested.

I also recall the frequent accusations of "aggression" and "act of war" if one suggested even that some airing of the issue in the Security Council might be worth while. That is Alice in Wonderland diplomacy, not the normal variety; by that I mean that one is dealing with people who say, "It is so because I say it is so".

One thing is clear: for diplomacy to be effective, it will require the wholehearted co-operation of China and Russia. Both countries have the capacity either to strengthen or to frustrate any diplomatic initiative. Both have a major interest in avoiding the nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, in avoiding wider nuclear proliferation in the region, and, above all, in avoiding any escalation of the present critical situation beyond diplomacy. But their co-operation cannot be taken for granted. So, if the United States wishes to avoid being dragged into a bilateral negotiation with North Korea, in which it is pressed to

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1553

make concessions as a pre-condition for North Korea to stop breaching its international legal obligations—and I have much sympathy with the view of the United States that it must avoid that—it will need to work closely at every stage with China, Russia and its own regional allies and not startle them with unilateral decisions and departures.

The other point to make about the search for a diplomatic solution is that, now that the IAEA has passed the matter to the Security Council, there is no choice between a multilateral and a bilateral approach. Both tracks must be pursued. An exclusively multilateral approach is not likely to produce results on its own, if only because of North Korea's suspicion and dislike of anything emanating from the United Nations. But nor is an exclusively bilateral approach likely to be fully effective. In hindsight, the US decision in 1994 to drop a multilateral approach and to pursue a purely bilateral one was not a good choice and did not produce lasting results. So bilateral and regional diplomacy need to be fitted together with an approach at the United Nations that addresses the wider, global implications of the problem. They should be mutually reinforcing, not contradictory.

It is now fashionable in some quarters in the United States to deride multilateral arms control regimes and the inspection systems that go with them. They are not in themselves a panacea, nor do they guarantee effective security. But let us not forget that it was Dr Blix's inspectors who first blew the whistle on North Korea's nuclear programme back in 1993 when they discovered that quantities of nuclear material containing potentially recoverable plutonium were unaccounted for.

It is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and North Korea's membership of it that provide the legal base for any action, diplomatic or otherwise, that the international community might want to take. Should diplomatic action succeed in bringing North Korea back into the observance of rules guaranteeing that only civil applications of nuclear activity will be pursued, those same IAEA inspectors will have to police any undertakings entered into. After all, the North Koreans are unlikely to admit American inspectors.

So we must neither throw out the baby with the bath water nor misconstrue the real nature of the problems that we face over weapons of mass destruction. It is not the international multilateral obligations that are at fault or cause the problems, although they are not, as I said, sufficient on their own to prevent them. The problems arise because certain governments are determined to break their obligations and, above all, because we have yet to find fully effective ways of enforcing the obligations within a framework of international law. It is to that last dilemma that we must now address ourselves more actively and imaginatively than in the past.

Britain and the European Union have only a modest role to play in handling the problems posed by North Korea. Others have more influence and more clout in that part of the world and are more directly concerned.

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1554

However, we should not delude ourselves that the outcome will not affect us. That was the mistake made when the League of Nations looked the other way from Japan's activities in Manchuria in the 1930s.

It will be good to hear from the Minister how the Government see Britain, as a permanent member of the Security Council, and the European Union helping with the active diplomacy that must now, without delay, be put in hand.

8 p.m.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool for introducing the debate.

As my noble friend said, North Korea has suffered under regimes of a Stalinist character ever since the war ended in 1953. Not surprisingly, there are an estimated 1 million prisoners in about 200 camps, out of a population of only 22 million. Many prisoners are subjected to forced labour until they die. Despite or perhaps because of the state philosophy of self-reliance, the country cannot feed itself adequately. For several years, there have been severe food shortages. Famine relief supplies from other countries have been refused or stockpiled for government use.

Believers of all kinds have suffered greatly. Buddhism is semi-tolerated, and there are 60 temples, although many of those are little more than cultural showplaces. The 3,000 thriving Christian churches that existed in 1945 have been reduced to three. All of them—two Protestant and one Roman Catholic—are in Pyongyang. Even those remaining churches are reported often to be locked and are re-opened only for the benefit of foreign visitors. Some Christians have been executed for the offence of merely owning a bible. It is estimated that Christians comprise about 100,000 of the million people in the prison camps. Former guards who have escaped say that the Christians are often more harshly treated than others.

The tyranny and persecution that I have described have forced many to flee. Some have tried to leave by boat, but more have been successful in escaping by land into China. There, a large Christian or semi-Christian population of Korean stock is potentially sympathetic to the refugees. Estimates of the number of those who have succeeded in hiding themselves in China vary from 200,000 to 300,000.

The Chinese authorities recently decided to send back those whom they can discover. Those forcibly repatriated risk torture, execution or the labour camps. Sending them back constitutes a refoulement of genuine refugees who have crossed an international frontier. This winter, China is reported to have sent back 3,200 refugees in two months. Others are still in prison, awaiting forced return.

Fortunately, China has signed the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees. The Chinese Government are, therefore, responsible for the protection of those who have reached their territory and for meeting their humanitarian needs. In addition, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and China have agreed a bilateral treaty providing for unimpeded access in China and for dispute resolution via binding

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1555

arbitration. Will Her Majesty's Government urge the UNHCR to seek access to all refugees in China and invoke arbitration, if that request is not granted?

The British Government are a major donor to the UNHCR and should, if necessary, reinforce their requests by specifically designating part of their donation for the benefit of North Korean refugees in China. Japan is the second largest donor in the world to the UNHCR. If necessary, will the Government ask Japan to make a similar designation of funds? That would certainly have the support of some Japanese non-governmental organisations concerned with refugees in the event of a request to their Government.

I conclude on the wider issues of basic human rights by asking the Government to study—if they have not already done so—the Statement of Principles on US/North Korean relations. That came from a distinguished group of American citizens and was reported on 18th January. In brief, it asked for a multilateral dialogue with North Korea, discussing simultaneously arms control, humanitarian relief and development, plus human rights. That closely follows the model of the Helsinki negotiations of the 1970s, which so greatly helped to end the Cold War and eventually to bring democracy to the former Soviet Union and its satellites. Will the Government discuss such an approach with the American Government? I very much hope that they will and urge them in that direction.

8.6 p.m.

Lord Chan: My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool on drawing the attention of your Lordships' House to the threat posed by North Korea to international security and to the human rights of its citizens. His record of concern for human rights in communist countries is well known. I consider it a privilege to join him and other noble Lords in this crucial debate that has particular significance for peace in East Asia.

I shall focus on the desperate plight of North Korean refugees in China and the intense anti-Christian persecution taking place in North Korea. In so doing, I declare my interest as chairman of the Chinese Overseas Christian Mission—a 50 year-old United Kingdom charity now based in Milton Keynes. I also acknowledge the valuable help of Wilfred Wong from the Jubilee Campaign.

North Korea has one of the worst human rights records in the world because of its autocratic leader who uses torture and forced labour camps to achieve the compliance of his citizens to his rule. Widespread famine since the turn of the 21st century has led to approximately 300,000 refugees fleeing North Korea into China.

Relationships between China and North Korea are tense. Therefore, the Chinese Government have responded to this large influx of refugees by forced repatriation to North Korea. During December 2002 and January this year, 3,200 North Korean refugees were repatriated. On crossing the border into their

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1556

homeland these refugees were randomly arrested, tortured for fleeing North Korea, imprisoned and some executed for disgracing the reputation of their country and their leader.

A Chinese resident living on the North Korean border with China wrote to an overseas organisation describing the plight of North Korean refugees in Northern China:


    "The refugees dare not give themselves up to the Chinese authorities for fear of repatriation. As a result some have died of starvation and exposure. Young female refugees sell themselves as prostitutes and others become slave labourers. When detected by Chinese police, many refugees commit suicide".

Humanitarian relief groups delivering food and clothing to North Korean refugees in north-eastern China have been hampered by a police crackdown after scores of refugees sought asylum in foreign diplomatic missions in China.

British human rights groups, including the Jubilee Campaign, have been calling on the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to fulfil its duty to protect North Korean refugees. Stronger international action is needed to convince the Chinese authorities to stop repatriating North Korean refugees. The UNHCR must do more to enforce its bilateral treaty with China through binding arbitration.

The UNHCR is currently not being allowed free access to North Korean refugees in China. These refugees are being denied their basic rights under international law to apply for asylum through the UNHCR. Like the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Clarke of Hampstead, I appeal to the Minister to use Her Majesty's Government's influence on the UNHCR to insist on free access to North Korean refugees in China.

Finally, I want to focus on one of the many aspects of human rights violations in North Korea; namely, intense and systematic anti-Christian persecution by the state. Other speakers have given statistics. I shall focus on 23 Christians in North Korea who were reported to have been executed for their faith in the six months between October 1999 and April 2000. According to a US State Department report from witnesses before the US Congress in April 1999, those imprisoned for their religious beliefs were treated far worse than other prisoners.

A former prison guard in North Korea testified that prisoners believing in God were regarded as insane. He remembered an incident when a women prisoner was viciously beaten and kicked for praying for a child who was being abused in the prison. I therefore urge the Minister to raise the concerns of Her Majesty's Government with the North Korean authorities about the severe persecution of North Korean Christians and to take other appropriate measures to ensure that this persecution is stopped.

8.11 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, at this time of heightened tension in the Korean peninsula and crisis over the future of Iraq, our thoughts and prayers are with those who are suffering at the hands of unjust,

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1557

oppressive regimes and with those who are charged with the momentous decisions affecting their future. The opening up, last June, of North and South Korean reunification talks makes the timing of this debate propitious.

Much of the focus in this short debate has been on human rights violations in the benighted land of North Korea. I am grateful to noble Lords who have shared accounts and evidence about Christians. I want to add my voice to those who have spoken on behalf of those who have endured, and still endure, so much suffering at the hands of the regime of Kim Jong-il.

The Korean Church grew in the late 18th century through the influence of Chinese Christian writings on young Korean intellectuals; it was initially a Church without clergy or Western mission agencies. In 1785, a French connection led to the first baptisms. There followed two centuries in which the Church was often underground, with many thousands of martyrs.

During the 20th century, more happily, the Church grew throughout the Korean peninsula. In the south, it continues to be vibrant and numerous: some 12 million out of the total population of 48 million.

The picture in the north is altogether different. Before the Korean War the north had already suffered Stalinist religious oppression following the Second World War. The US-based Cornerstone Ministries observe that since 1953, the end of the Korean War, some 2,300 congregations have disappeared.

Accounts shared this evening resonate with the US State Department's 1999 annual report on international religious freedom, which states that in North Korea,


    "genuine religious freedom does not exist".

Some who have escaped tell of how they had never seen a church or a bible before leaving the country. They tell of how those in camps and prisons are kept in horrific, overcrowded conditions. Lee Soon Ok, aged 55 and not a Christian, spent seven years in a political prison camp. Safe now, I quote her words:


    "The torture and the worst ways of execution were most harsh on the Christians. They didn't give them clothes. They were considered animals".

Others described witnessing Christians refusing to recant their faith and being publicly, arbitrarily executed.

I speak as a bishop moved by the suffering of sister and brother Christians, but my concern is far from special pleading—religious liberty must be defended as a universal human right. In contrast, in North Korea to be a Christian is said to be a serious crime.

Capricious treatment has created a culture of terror. The practice of torture and violations of the right to life appear to be frequent and systemic. Propaganda is pervasive; even freedom of thought is invaded. Any action or statement deemed to fall short of total support for the regime is harshly suppressed.

We have a duty to speak out on the basis of what reaches us about this intolerable situation. The new talk of possible north/south reunification opens windows of hope and opportunities for the

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1558

international community to examine first hand these allegations of massive and serial abuses of human rights.

Prompted by this debate, I spoke today to the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Canon John Peterson, who has very recently visited South Korea, where he met with the Reunification Committee of the Council of Churches of South Korea. New work is getting under way. The churches in the south perceive signs of change for churches in the north. There is a long way to go, but let us seize opportunities to obtain first hand possibly more reliable information from the north. The churches are well placed to become channels for aid and for dialogue.

Let us here, in partnerships, make the new prominence of North Korea on the world agenda an occasion to work together, addressing endemic suffering and persecution wherever they are found.

8.17 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I add my thanks to those extended to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his initiative in prompting this debate, which is of great importance. I add my congratulations also for his persistent commitment to human rights in all parts of the world and the sheer energy and determination with which he pursues the rights of our fellow human beings.

We have heard extremely moving accounts of the human rights position in North Korea. It is perhaps worth adding to that terrible litany—one which makes even Dante's Inferno seem like an attractive place in comparison—the fact that we should recognise the sheer courage of North Korean Christians and, for all I know, other religious believers too, in being such an example to the rest of us in such terrible conditions and situations.

Before I turn to the main thrust of my speech I wish to say that I hope that our own Churches will give greater recognition than has been given so far to what the right reverend Prelate so rightly called the martyrs of Korea. It is, indeed, in the tradition of what happened in the 19th century that today in the 21st century in North Korea religious believers maintain their dedication in the face of the most tremendous oppression and bitter treatment.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, however, I want to pursue a little further the very serious challenge that North Korea presents to the peace of the world. I refer to one dimension that we have perhaps not talked about quite as much as others. A number of speakers referred rightly to North Korea as a Stalinist state. It is the correct description because it implies an element of paranoia which goes beyond even the cruelties of extreme ideological politics. There is clearly an element of paranoia in North Korea, exemplified not least by the way in which the former leader is treated as some kind of secular god. People are forced literally to worship his corpse because that has become a test of loyalty of a kind that makes the worship of Lenin's corpse look almost modest in comparison.

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1559

It is also important to say that North Korea, even more than the Soviet Union in its worst years, is an almost totally isolated state. There is virtually no exchange of peoples, academics or scientists, between North Korea and the outside world, and no tourism. Their government have chosen deliberately to imprison it within the borders of that country. Frankly—it is easier for me to say this than for the noble Baroness, Lady Symons—it is one of the most difficult countries in the world to influence in any way. It does not wish to be influenced. It divorces itself from the international community. Up to now it is not clear that it wishes to be part in any sense of the international community.

As did the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, I sum up the security challenges. I believe them to be even worse than he implied. This is a country which has expelled United Nations inspectors; started up a frozen nuclear reactor at Yongbyon; sought to enrich uranium; test fired cruise missiles in the past few weeks alone; proposes to test a medium-range missile, and the so-called Taepo Dong-2 missile which has intermediate capacity and, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, can reach all the major cities of Japan; is currently threatening its neighbours; has left the nuclear proliferation treaty; and has been shown to be out of compliance with UN regulations related to it. It is, I believe, a more dangerous and worse case even than that of Iraq.

What is particularly troubling is that in the past few weeks North Korea has specifically issued to the world outside clear threats and indicated its willingness to violate its neighbour's air space. Let me quote the chilling words of the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of North Korea.


    "The United States says that after Iraq, we are next",

said Mr Ri Pyong-gap, the deputy director of the Foreign Ministry,


    "but we have our own countermeasures. Pre-emptive attacks are not the exclusive right of the US".

I declare an interest as a member of the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. Ashton Carter, the former Assistant Secretary for Defence charged by the United States with special responsibility for discovering the security position and how far it is challenged in North Korea, mentioned a few days ago to the United States Senate that five or six nuclear bombs were within weeks of being built on the basis of the fuel rods removed from the Pyongyang nuclear reactor and now moved out of the scope of such inspection as there might have been had the inspectors not been expelled which makes verification almost impossible. Mr Carter reckons that not only can North Korea make up to five or six nuclear bombs in a relatively short period of time but—I quote his extremely troubling words—


    "North Korea might sell plutonium it judges excess to its own needs to other states or terrorist groups".

As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, one of the only exports of North Korea happens to be weapons of mass destruction and other sophisticated weapons. It

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1560

is almost certainly the most dangerous state in the world in terms of its willingness to consider such sales to other countries in succession to the many sales of highly dangerous weapons it has already made.

What is the impact on the region? The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred to this very serious matter. As he said, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and other neighbours foreswore developing their own nuclear capacity many years ago, and all of them have abided by that commitment. None of them has attempted to build or start at all on the process of developing nuclear weapons. That has been extremely important for peace in the Pacific, not least because there have been some obvious areas of tension, of which China and Taiwan is only one. However, the Japanese were recently so frightened by the evident development of weapons of mass destruction in North Korea and by the means of delivery associated with that, which might bring such weapons within its neighbours' area, that Mr Shigeru Ishiba, Japan's Defence Minister, said:


    "Our nation will use military force as a self-defence measure if North Korea starts to resort to arms against Japan".

Already, the non-proliferation regime in the Pacific is seriously threatened because of North Korea's threats.

The evidence produced in studies by Mr Carter and others suggests that North Korea has embarked on serious attempts to produce biological weapons such as anthrax and the plague. I am concerned more about North Korea than about Iraq, because North Korea has no inspectors but it does have the means of delivery.

What can be done? It is clear that North Korea was troubled by the association of its name with others in the "axis of evil" speech, and regards itself as under attack. I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Alton, that we should pursue the diplomatic track, as we are doing. However, we should recognise that North Korea must be persuaded that it cannot be attacked, as the counterpart to moving towards an era of denuclearisation in that country. I do not hold out great hopes of that happening, but we should pursue the possibility of containment much more vigorously than we have done.

8.27 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, as so often, the House owes a large debt to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising again an issue of immense timeliness. He did so with a mass and wealth of detail and reinforcing evidence that must have chilled us all—and is right to do so.

I have no doubt that North Korea is a growing threat to international security. Those who think that the Korean peninsula will be reunited like West and East Germany are living under an illusion; I see no prospect of early or happy unification. The situation is quite different.

I shall concentrate on the security situation, not because other aspects are not equally crucial but because the noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord Chan and Lord Clarke, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1561

of Derby, have given us as eloquently as anyone could the details of the appalling torture, human rights abuses, refugee problems, religious persecution and all the other medieval and dark habits and customs of this pathetic, isolated but dangerous state.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, reminded us about recent security transgressions, such as the resumed uranium enrichment, the reactivated plutonium-based nuclear plant, the jet fighters cruising into South Korean air space, and missiles of various shapes and sizes being fired into the Sea of Japan and near Japan. As several noble Lords said, North Korea is a huge supplier of missiles and weapons of various evil kinds to world markets. Even more notably, it has withdrawn from the non-proliferation treaty at a delicate time, and a nuclear bomb is probably not very far away, as we have heard in reports. We have all been given various estimates; I was told that by July North Korea will have enough plutonium to build five or seven weapons. That is close to what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said.

What do we do—a question which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, rightly raised? When I was in Tokyo the other day, a senior US official sighed and said, "What do we do? There are four options, all of them bad", and went on to wring his hands. The sad thing about all this is that, until a year or two back, or maybe a month back, the North Koreans seemed to be getting a little more co-operative. There were the links with Seoul. There was the Koizumi visit and the bizarre release of the abducted Japanese who were allowed to return to Tokyo for a while. It is in the past few months—maybe it is related to the distraction of Iraq; I do not know—that Pyongyang and the North Koreans have begun to behave like a difficult child wanting attention on the world stage or perhaps seeing what they can get away with while others focus on the Middle East.

I think that the Americans and all others recognise—I hope that we recognise it—that doing nothing is not an option. It would be easy to hope that it will all go away. However, the "do nothing" option means that others who do not want to start acting will overreact. The pressure will be particularly on the Japanese leadership, although they hate the idea, to go nuclear or at least to develop a full antiballistic missile system to protect themselves. I think that that would be the inevitable and rather rapid consequence of the evidence that the world was going to do nothing very much for the moment.

On the other hand, I think that the Americans are totally right not to be dragged into a sort of bilateral blackmail session by the North Koreans, although they have been urged to go that way. The truth is that as long as you pay the Danegeld, you never get rid of the Danes. That would certainly be so if the Americans got into that sort of bilateral deal with Pyongyang.

It seems to me that the sine qua non of any progress on the diplomatic side is that North Korea must close down the HEU and plutonium reactor programme before any question of a deal, compensation, new angles or reassurance is provided in any form of talks,

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1562

whether bilateral or on the five-and-five basis that others are urging. In other words, diplomacy yes—but the diplomacy must be tough and there must be no nonsense about the Americans being cajoled into signing some non-aggression pact on North Korean terms.

Nor should the message somehow get out that North Korea is "safe" because it nearly has nuclear weapons and already has missiles. That would of course be sending the most terrible message to the rest of the world that countries that were in the near-nuclear state or had nuclear weapons or were heading that way—and we all know that several others are trying to—somehow become safe and have to be handled with kid gloves. Great care has to be taken, not for the nuclear reason, but because of sheer geography. North Korea is extremely near Seoul. It does not need nuclear weapons. It hardly needs missiles. It just needs to chuck the weaponry that it does have over the border to threaten Seoul, one of the world's greatest cities. So there is an immense danger. Any approach has to bear that in mind.

What would one suggest? It seems to me that this is, as the Chinese say, both a crisis and an opportunity. It is an opportunity to bring minds in Beijing and in Moscow to focus on the problem of this rogue state. I should like to think that the beginning of a tough diplomacy would be for Beijing, Moscow and Washington to agree to guarantee the stability of the whole peninsula. I think that that probably has to be how the diplomacy starts. Then would have to follow the moves by the North Koreans—that will be the difficult bit for these people in their prickly state—which is to give up their HEU and plutonium programmes and possibly draw down their enormous conglomeration of troops on the DMZ border. That is a place where UK diplomacy—if our diplomats have the energy and the time off from dealing with all their other problems—could play a role. We have an embassy and a conduit passage—a link system for passing messages to the North Koreans. I believe that we could play a useful linking role in this kind of unfolding stage diplomacy.

After that I believe that it would be time not for giving into blackmail, because it would not be that, but for Japan to restore normal relations and think about compensation. There is still a substantial case in the eyes of both South and North Koreans for some kind of payback for the atrocities which Japan committed during the world war. I believe that that is a reasonable item to resurrect in the context of any sign that North Korea is beginning to see sense and is being co-operative.

I believe that that is the kind of diplomacy which might be worth trying. I had a chance to talk to Mr Koizumi a few weeks ago. I was immensely impressed by how calmly he was looking at this situation and how he emphasised that one of the keys was partnership with China and that things had to be taken very gradually and carefully which, considering that Tokyo is only 1,000 kilometres from Pyongyang and well within missile range, was creditable.

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1563

We greatly look forward to hearing the noble Baroness's view of how the Government see the possibilities. If that procedure fails, sterner measures will have to be applied. That may mean sanctions, which North Korea said that it would regard as a hostile act. After all, China provides 80 per cent of North Korea's fuel and the US is a major food donor. The ambivalence of the South Koreans over US troops does not help. At first they wanted them to go and now they want them to stay.

All in all, North Korea must be dealt with. As I said earlier, inaction is not an option. One hopes for compliance—if it is the right sequence of carrots and sticks—and a better life for all Koreans before the world is forced to fall back and consider much tougher measures and the far greater dangers that go with them.

8.37 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for raising the Question of North Korea in your Lordships' House this evening.

While so much international attention currently focuses on Iraq, he is right to remind us that it is important that we remember that we face in North Korea another serious challenge to international security and to the international efforts to restrain and counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. I thank the noble Lord very much for his well-researched and excellent contribution this evening.

North Korea is a uniquely isolated country, so graphically described by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. She is absolutely right. It is a country which has often appeared even to make isolation a matter of almost national pride and national philosophy. That self-imposed isolation has continued against the background of the shifting landscape of the rest of the world in the post-cold war era.

On the principal issues of this debate, proliferation and human rights, North Korea's record is undoubtedly utterly abysmal. All noble Lords this evening have provided substantial evidence of that. Perhaps I may add to some of the points made on the nuclear programme. North Korea admitted in discussions with US officials in early October that it had been pursuing a clandestine uranium enrichment programme. However, we have no hard evidence that North Korea has actually produced nuclear weapons. But I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that we assess that they have sufficient fissile material already to make one or two nuclear weapons and the technical capability to produce them. So it is a very grim picture indeed.

Perhaps I may pick up on some of the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, made about missiles. North Korea has some hundreds of Scud missiles in service with ranges of up to 500 kilometres. It can produce these itself and, appallingly, they are available for export. Also in service are No Dong missiles, with a

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1564

range of up to 1,300 kilometres. In August 1998, North Korea launched a three-stage Taepo-Dong 1 as a satellite launch vehicle, which demonstrated that North Korea could produce a missile with a range of 2,000 kilometres and expertise in multi-stage missile technology. The Taepo Dong-2 is also under development and it is assessed that variants could have ranges in excess of 5,000 and 10,000 kilometres. This is indeed an extraordinary weapons programme.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked about the UK position on negotiations. Engagement with North Korea is enormously difficult, but it is necessary in order to encourage North Korea to become a responsible member of the international community, from which it is so isolated. We decided to establish diplomatic relations with North Korea in December 2000 and to open an embassy in Pyongyang in July 2001. We are convinced that it is better to talk to each other rather than past each other. We are still trying to do so—even given the difficult position described by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams.

The noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord Hannay and Lord Howell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, outlined the events that led to the current situation on the Korean peninsula and the threat posed by North Korea to regional stability and international security. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, implied, the agreed framework was a solution, but only temporary. It contained the problem but certainly did not solve it. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that the regime has become much more aggressive recently. We believe that that stems from the admission about its uranium enrichment programme last October. Since then, North Korea has taken a number of increasingly provocative steps—as clearly indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. North Korea insists that the issue can be resolved only with the United States, through bilateral dialogue and agreement on a non-aggression treaty.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked whether the Government believe that that matter can be dealt with bilaterally. We do not think that it is a bilateral issue between North Korea and the United States, as North Korea claims. I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Howell. The issue is of deep concern to the entire international community and one that we hope can be resolved in a peaceful way through multi-lateral dialogue—as a number of your Lordships indicated. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a depository state of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the UK has a role to play in resolving the issue alongside and in support of countries with a particular and immediate stake in the stability of the region—the Republic of Korea of course, Japan and the United States.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that we believe in the importance of proceeding with others in the region. We are closely engaged with them as well as with Russia and China. We will play a full role in the United Nations Security Council discussions that are likely to take place in the near future. All speakers in this evening's rather solemn debate would agree with the Government that the Security Council should send

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1565

a firm message to the North Koreans. We should make it clear that North Korea can choose to co-operate and to engage—but also that if it chooses not to engage, the Security Council is prepared to look at tougher measures.

Tougher measures are by far the less attractive approach and imply a policy of containment, which would postpone rather than solve the issue. We all want a durable solution. We believe that there remains the possibility of persuading the North Koreans to sit down with their neighbours and the other countries concerned and talk constructively about the future security of the region—in much the way that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, indicated. While we believe that, we can and must look for a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the problem. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that bilateral pressure has to be applied as well as the multilateral pressure to which many of your Lordships referred.

I turn to human rights. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, my noble friend Lord Clarke, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and the noble Lord, Lord Chan, spoke passionately and knowledgeably about the widespread serious violations of human rights in North Korea, including the appalling use of the death penalty, hideous tortures, the dreadful labour camps, the sanatoria for non-conformists and the extreme religious persecution on which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby focused. The regime has a shocking and brutal human rights record.

The need to acquire reliable information on human rights is one of the driving factors behind our policy of engagement with North Korea. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Clarke for his detailed descriptions of human rights abuses. Such evidence is extremely valuable. We raise this issue regularly, although noble Lords will know that the nuclear issue has inevitably taken away the focus from human rights in North Korea. That is regrettable, but it is a fact of life. It has been difficult to engage with the North Koreans on any issue other than nuclear proliferation over the past six months, important though human rights issues are. I assure your Lordships that the concerns expressed in the debate have not been forgotten by Her Majesty's Government. They are integral to any dialogue with North Korea.

We are also in regular contact with British and international NGOs, including those mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Chan, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby. We deeply value the contribution and commitment of the NGOs in contact with us and we will continue to discuss with them ways in which we can work together on these issues.

A number of noble Lords, in particular my noble friend Lord Clarke, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, the noble Lord, Lord Chan, and the right reverend Prelate, focused on Christians in North Korea. Most recently, the new ambassador to North Korea, David Slinn, expressed concern about the situation during a high-level introductory call in December last year. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has financed a human rights training course for North Korean

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1566

Government officials in the United Kingdom and hopes to build on it with the DPRK authorities this year.

As your Lordships would expect—I hope it goes without saying, but I want it on the record—I make it clear that we condemn all instances where individuals are persecuted because of their faith or belief wherever they are and whatever religion they practise. I agree with the right reverend Prelate that the issue goes wider than Christians, but as we have heard Christians in particular are suffering deplorable treatment in the camps.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, raised the role of the EU. At last year's meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights the EU presidency statement clearly reflected the European Union's deep concern about continued and serious violations of human rights in North Korea. If the EU decides that there is no evidence of any improvement since last year we will consider further action during this year.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, my noble friend Lord Clarke, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and the noble Lord, Lord Chan, urged the Government to take action in respect of the 1995 agreement between UNHCR and China. I understand the concerns expressed on this issue. As a bilateral agreement rather than a treaty it is for the parties involved to interpret their obligations. But noble Lords are right that we should exert pressure. I assure my noble friend Lord Clarke that we will continue to encourage greater co-operation on this issue between China and UNHCR at every opportunity.

Noble Lords also suggested that the Government should designate part of their contribution to UNHCR specifically for North Korean refugees in China. We believe that UNHCR is best placed to decide how and where to deploy these funds within its annual programme, but I draw to your Lordships' attention that DfID responds to direct appeals from UNHCR for assistance with specific short- term refugee emergency situations and long-term reintegration programmes. In 2002, our assistance amounted to almost £4 million. I listened carefully to the points raised by noble Lords on this issue and I undertake to go to my colleagues again in relation to it because I realise the widespread support it has around your Lordships' House.

This is indeed a terrible regime. Some will ask why we do not act now in the same way as we are acting over Iraq. Our underlying approach to Iraq and North Korea—indeed, to all other proliferation threats—is the same. We will pursue peaceful diplomatic means for as long as it is possible to do so, as was discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. The fact is that our experience over 12 years of evasion and obfuscation from Iraq tells us that full co-operation is an unlikely outcome.

We are not approaching North Korea on the basis of 12 years of frustrated effort. The North Koreans tell us that they do not want to develop nuclear weapons. However, they said that at the same time as announcing their withdrawal from the NPT, which

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1567

may seem perverse and unconvincing to many noble Lords; frankly, it is pretty unconvincing to me as well. We will continue to engage with them and tell them that they are missing an opportunity to put things right with regard to their weapons of mass destruction and in respect of disarmament and the considerable concerns that noble Lords raised in relation to human rights. We may not persuade them. If we do not, we need to be ready to show that we can increase the diplomatic pressure.

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1568

However, we will continue the efforts to convince North Koreans that their security lies not in nuclear weapons programmes, which further isolate them from the international community, but with deeper co-operation and integration with that community. We need to see a dramatic improvement in their record in terms of weapons of mass destruction and their appalling human rights record.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page