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Volume 506: debated on Tuesday 2 March 2010

10. What representations he has received on the effects on the indigenous Tibetan population of his Department’s change of policy in relation to the status of Tibet. (319392)

The decision to update our position on Tibet brought the UK into line with international partners, including the United States, and the position of the Dalai Lama himself. It gives us a stronger platform to raise the issues that matter to the people of Tibet, and we have been raising those issues. I have been very clear in my contacts with the Chinese leadership that we have serious concerns with the human rights situation and the lack of meaningful autonomy in Tibet. I have urged them to engage in dialogue, and I will do so again when I visit China later this month.

I am grateful for the response that I have been given, and I recognise that the Government have been doing lobbying of that nature, but I am concerned that there has not been one single concrete achievement for the Tibetan people as a consequence of that change of policy. I do not refer to the visit to Tibet by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), as that was not for the Tibetan people. Can the Foreign Secretary, in all honesty, point to a single thing that has been achieved for the people of Tibet arising from that change?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. In the end, the test is whether there is an improvement in conditions on the ground. If we are to have any kind of engagement on that internal issue, we have to do so through forums such as the human rights dialogue that we have now established with China, in relation to which there has recently been a visit to Tibet. Such engagement is important, and I look forward to reporting back on the discussions that I shall have in China later this month.

Has my right hon. Friend any information about the whereabouts of the Panchen Lama, who was for all practical purposes kidnapped at the age of five or six by the Chinese Government and has not been heard of since, even now, about 15 years later? Has my right hon. Friend ever asked the Chinese about the whereabouts of the Panchen Lama?

Yes; the issue is raised regularly. It was raised most recently by my hon. Friend the Minister of State during his visit to Tibet, but no we have never had an answer.