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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Tibet Society’s report on UK Parliament debate on Tibet

December 14, 2011

Read the report online: http://bit.ly/TS-Pdeb
Read the transcript: http://bit.ly/0712TD
Watch the debate: http://bit.ly/HoC0712 (Tibet debate begins at 15:59:40)
 
UK government commits to raise issues with China
On Wednesday 7 December 2011 a debate on Tibet was held in the House of Commons. It was the first debate on Tibet at Westminster since April 2008.
 
The debate was led by Simon Hughes MP, a long-term Tibet supporter and Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet, and Henry Bellingham, Minister of State from the Foreign Office, answered on behalf of the government. The debate was held in Westminster Hall, the secondary debating chamber for the House of Commons.
 
Though the debate lacked a clear, strong statement from the government condemning China's policies in Tibet, it was encouraging to hear the government re-state its concerns over Tibet and undertake a commitment to write again to the Chinese authorities about the issues raised during the debate and urge them to return to negotiations with the Dalai Lama's envoys. This commitment, and other points raised during the debate, will be followed-up and monitored by Tibet Society.
 
Thank you to all members and supporters who turned up to Westminster and everyone who has written to or lobbied their MP in recent months. Simon Hughes MP spoke after the debate to those who came to watch the debate and thanked all those who lobby their MPs, as this ensures Tibet remains on the government's agenda.
  
Report on Parliamentary Debate on Tibet
“The whole ethic of Tibetan Buddhism is peacefulness, non-aggression and non-violence. That is why it is such a terrible indictment of the Chinese regime that it will not allow those peaceful people to express themselves in their peaceful way.”  Simon Hughes MP, Parliamentary debate on Tibet at Westminster, 7 December 2011
 
Tibet was debated at Westminster on Wednesday 7 December for the first time since Norman Baker led a debate on 1 April 2008 to discuss the widespread uprisings and protests that were taking place throughout the Tibetan plateau in the Beijing Olympic year.
 
The debate was held in Westminster Hall, where all 25 seats available for members of the public were swiftly filled by Tibetans, many in traditional dress, whilst a further 35 Tibetans and UK supporters had to wait outside in the Great Hall.
 
Simon Hughes opened the long-awaited debate with a reference to Human Rights Day on 10 December, saying, “At this time of year, we can probably have no debate more appropriate than one about Tibet”. He went on to skilfully bring in a raft of key issues and long-standing concerns whilst emphasising the urgency of the current situation which, since March this year, has seen 12 self-immolations among nuns and monks in Tibet.
 
At the end of his address, Simon Hughes put forward a “shopping list” of constructive suggestions and ways that the Foreign Office could follow up and take forward to help secure a peaceful solution for the Tibetan people. He prefaced these with the comment that, “we must try to persuade the Chinese that it is in their interests to deal with the issue because it clouds and affects all the perceptions of China in the democratic world.”
 
A key ask was, “that the government will strongly take up the issue of self-immolation with the Chinese authorities, and make a robust statement of concern about that. I hope that they will argue that troops should be withdrawn from Kirti and the monasteries where such things are happening and that the Chinese Government should review their policies.”
 
This was followed by an acknowledgement of the diplomatic difficulties of recognising governments in exile, but, despite this traditional view, Mr Hughes urged the government to, “ensure that the lines of communication are open to the Tibetan Government in exile” to “ensure that we understand the democratically represented voices of the Tibetan people.”
 
Henry Bellingham, Minister of State from the Foreign Office, opened his wide-ranging reply on behalf of the government by emphasising, “The government are seriously concerned about recent reports of self-immolations... in the Tibetan areas of Sichuan province.” He went on to detail the current situation at Kirti and to assure MPs that the government has been following developments closely. With reference to the call for a strong statement, he referred to William Hague’s response to a question raised about Tibet in the House on 29 November where he said, “We should urge the Chinese Government to work with local monasteries and communities to resolve the grievances that have led to these self-immolations.”
 
Mr Bellingham again re-affirmed the government’s interest in long-term stability for Tibet and its belief that this “is best achieved through respect for the universal principles of human rights, and genuine autonomy for Tibet within the framework of the Chinese constitution. We believe strongly that meaningful dialogue between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the Chinese authorities is the best way to resolve those issues.”
 
On the issue of political prisoners, Mr Bellingham was emphatic that, “It goes without saying that the imprisonment of people for exercising their political, cultural and religious rights is completely unacceptable,” and continued by citing the government’s serious concerns about Dhondup Wangchen, Karma Samdup and Rinchen Samdup, both for their current health and the manner in which they were arrested and have been treated.
 
He went on to say that, “Freedom of religion in Tibet is a particular concern. We believe very strongly that ordinary Tibetans must enjoy the right to live according to their traditions and customs. Political controls and restrictions should not be placed on normal religious practice. Monks, nuns and lay people should be completely free to manifest their beliefs without interference from the state.”
 
The Minister closed the government’s response by reiterating its active engagement both on the issue of immolations and on the broader issue of human rights in Tibet, quoting the Foreign Secretary’s recent comment that “human rights … are part of our national DNA”.  He made a commitment that, “following this debate, the Government will write again to the Chinese authorities to express our concerns about the issues raised here and to urge a return to negotiations with the Dalai Lama’s envoys.” He ended by saying, “We are actively engaged and will continue to push for the respect of Tibetan human rights and the protection of the culture, natural environment and dignity of the people of Tibet. They deserve nothing less.”
 
Following the debate, Simon Hughes and Nic Dakin, who also contributed to the debate, met Tibetans and supporters waiting in the Great Hall (pictured below). They gave a short briefing about what was said in the debate, and set out the other actions that the five MPs who recently visited Dharamsala as part of Tibet Society’s parliamentary exchange programme  will be taking forward. Simon Hughes also thanked everyone for coming, commenting that it means a lot to MPs to see such support for their work on behalf of Tibet.
 
On a personal note, we were very touched that during Simon Hughes’ address, when speaking of his long-standing awareness of Tibet, he referred to Tibet Society saying, “all my life, since I was a little boy, I just about remember the uprising in Lhasa, the Chinese invasion and the flight of the Tibetan people from Tibet, the country has mattered to me and to many in the UK. Not surprisingly, in 1959, the same year as the uprising, the Tibet Society was formed in this country to argue the case for the proud and historic nation of Tibet and its people and for their rights to be upheld. I pay tribute to the Tibet Society, which has done consistent and effective campaigning work, and to its president, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker). I also pay tribute to its chair, Riki Hyde-Chambers, who is a constituent of mine, and to its chief executive, Philippa Carrick. With their staff, they are a really effective team. They supported us in our visit to Dharamsala this year and have done so at other times in the past.”
 
Note: Tibet Society will continue to monitor the government's actions and statements on Tibet. The next major opportunity to lobby MPs will be the Tibet Mass Lobby in March 2012 (details to be announced soon).


The All Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet
Chair: Fabian Hamilton
Vice Chairs: Lord Alton, Lord Avebury, Lord Steel, James Gray, Kate Hoey, Simon Hughes
Hon Treasurer: Martin Horwood | Hon Secretary: Mark Pritchard
Hon Group Administrator: Philippa Carrick

Secretariat: Tibet Society
Unit 9, 139 Fonthill Road, London N4 3HF
020 7272 1414  | apgt@btinternet.com

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