17 May 2012: Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I will speak about Britain's relations with two very different countries, neither of which has been mentioned in the debate today - although the noble Lord, Lord Alton, came very close a moment ago in his reference to human rights in China. I will first ask a simple question about Ukraine, in the context of the European football championships next month. The Minister will be aware that a number of heads of government, in particular Angela Merkel, said that neither they nor any of their ministerial colleagues would attend matches played in Ukraine unless Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison. Do Her Majesty's Government plan to adopt the same approach? If so, will they offer similar advice to the President of the Football Association, His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge?
I wish to speak mainly about the United Kingdom's relationship with Taiwan. I declare an interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary British-Taiwanese Group. My co-chair is the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, who leaves this evening at the head of the delegation of nine members drawn from all political parties in both Houses. They will attend the inauguration ceremony on Sunday for President Ma Ying-jeou, who was re-elected for a second four-year term on 14 January in what most observers regarded as a fair and open contest.
In terms of the relationship, I start with the positives. In a number of areas, it is excellent. Last year, Taiwan purchased £1.5 billion-worth of British-made goods and another £1.5 billion-worth in services. There are 16,000 Taiwanese students at British universities and they and their parents contribute £0.5 billion in tuition fees and living expenses. Some 80,000 to 90,000 Taiwanese come here as tourists. Numerous Taiwanese manufacturing companies have located here. HTC, for example, which manufactures smart phones, has expanded from employing five people to 500. On 23 April, I attended the annual meeting of the Taiwan Britain Business Council and I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, make an enthusiastic and positive speech from his standpoint as Trade Minister about British opportunities for doing business with Taiwan. He visited the country in his official capacity last year and it would be a great pleasure if we heard him speak more often in this House on issues such as this.
That is the positive side of the relationship. There is another, deeply unsatisfactory side as well. I do not have time today to discuss the wider "one China" issue, which in my view is in urgent need of review. We will need to return to it on another occasion.
I need, however, to talk about the United Kingdom Border Agency. Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, had a most uncomfortable time answering questions from his noble friends about its shortcomings. Your Lordships may recall that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, described how a CPA meeting yesterday with a Tanzanian parliamentary delegation had to be cancelled because the UKBA had denied the delegates visas. Similar problems are experienced on a regular basis by staff employed by the Taipei representative office in the UK. The visa waiver for citizens of Taiwan who come to the UK on holiday does not apply to them. The staff have to apply annually for a visa extension and are required to surrender their passports when doing so. Because UKBA often holds on to these passports for up to four months, when an emergency arises such as the need to visit a sick relative back home or attend a heads of mission meeting called at short notice, the individual has to decide whether to abandon the trip or submit themselves to a so-called fast-track option, for which the application fee is £648 but it still takes weeks to complete. By contrast, British staff at our office in Taipei receive a three-year multiple-entry free gratis service, which is processed within 48 hours.
There is a straightforward way through this, and that is to establish a privileges and immunities protocol that sets out very clearly the status of Taiwanese Government staff working in the UK and their British counterparts in Taiwan. A good starting point is the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, who I am delighted to see on the Bench, when speaking from the opposition Front Bench in January 2003. He said:
"I am sure that we all appreciate that because of respect for the 'one China' policy and our relations with the People's Republic of China, we do not accord Taiwan full diplomatic status. Can we at least be assured that we give Taiwan representatives in our country and the sort of causes that we are discussing in this Question the same support and encouragement as are given by our neighbours, particularly France and Germany, in their dealings with Taiwan? Are we as effective as they are in maintaining good relations with this remarkable democracy?".-[Official Report, 20/1/03; col. 432.]
That is a very good question to which we still do not have a satisfactory answer.
The best examples of what is possible are found in the Commonwealth countries of Australia and New Zealand, both of which have the same common-law legal system as we do. The Australian Government, which has a much closer relationship with China than we have, has in place a remarkable set of rules called the Taipei Economic and Cultural Offices (Privileges and Immunities) Regulations 1998, which grant the Taiwanese staff in Canberra and Sydney virtually all the same benefits as other diplomatic missions to which Australia grants diplomatic recognition.
It is worth noting that, as Taiwan is a member of the World Trade Organisation, if there were ever a WTO ministerial meeting in the UK, Taiwanese participants would have to be given exactly the same privileges and immunities as all other participants, but we cannot, apparently, bring ourselves to grant them at any other times. That alone surely undermines any argument about possible legal implications.
I would appreciate it if the Minister can give an undertaking that the FCO will look at a privileges and immunities protocol for Taiwan, and also promise to look at the problems of the United Kingdom Border Agency and its treatment of Taiwanese Government employees. We will have to come back to the question of the "one China" policy at another time because that is in urgent need of review.