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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.

Full report  I Transcript of debate  I  Watch debate (starts on player at 15:59:40)

UK government commits to raise issues with China

Group shot post-debateThough 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.

During the debate Simon Hughes also acknowledged the work of Tibet Society, which was greatly appreciated. This work would not be possible without the support of our members. Please accept our sincere thanks for all your efforts. If you are not a member of Tibet Society, please join today. Your membership will help enable us to continue our vital work towards justice and freedom for the Tibetan people.

Watch the debate online at the UK parliament's website (approx. 30 minutes), or search for 'Tibet' in the archive section. Note: the debate begins at 15:59:40, with a 15 minute break in middle whilst MPs attend a vote.
Watch post-debate talk to supporters by Simon Hughes MP (on facebook, 4 mins)

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

Parliament logoTibet 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 Hagues 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 governments 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 Lamas 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 governments 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 governments 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 Secretarys 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 Lamas 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 Societys 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.

Simon Hughes MP and supportersSimon Hughes MPGroup shot post-debate

Tibet Society, the worlds first Tibet support group, was founded in 1959. Funded by its members, it has been working for over 50 years to seek justice for Tibet through parliamentary lobbying, campaigns and actions. Help keep Tibet alive by joining Tibet Society today. Annual membership 24; Family 36; Life 500.
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