HC Deb 06 March 1972 vol 832 cc1015-7
15. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement about his recent official visit to Hong Kong.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I had wide ranging discussions with the Governor and the members of the Executive and Legislative Councils. I was also able to meet businessmen, industrialists and other leading members of the community. I was filled with admiration at Hong Kong's achievements which are remarkable by any standards.

Mr. Blaker

While I welcome my right hon. Friend's remarks, may I ask him whether he is aware that one of the wishes of the people of Hong Kong at present is that their export market should not be progressively closed to them and that in the forthcoming negotiations in the context of the enlarged Community about the generalised preference scheme and about textiles, Her Majesty's Government will see to it that Hong Kong has fair access? Was my right hon. Friend able to give the people of Hong Kong any assurance on the score?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The general assurance that one can give to the people of Hong Kong on this count is that they will have an advocate inside the councils of the Community. Agreement was reached that Hong Kong should be included in the Community's generalised preference scheme. We are pressing now for Hong Kong's inclusion in the generalised preference schemes of other donor countries, notably those of America, Japan and Denmark.

Mr. Orme

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in Lancashire, not just in textiles but in other industry, there is concern about the low wages paid in Hong Kong and about the effect that these have on our own industry? While industrialists and trade unionists in Lancashire are not opposed to Hong Kong and while they realise that Hong Kong has to export, did the right hon Gentleman have any discussions about conditions of of work and about trade union organisation, bearing in mind that Hong Kong is still a British colony?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, Sir. We had talks about the whole range of industry, including textiles and conditions of work. These are sensitives matters. If the hon. Gentleman wished to put down a specific Question, I should of course be prepared to answer it.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that in recent years working conditions in Hong Kong have been improving at a rapid rate which bears comparison with any other nation in the world, and that some of the examples would bear comparison with anything that we have in this country?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

That is true. I was able to tour some of the more recently built housing estates. The number of people involved and the standards in which they have been housed represent a most remarkable achievement of the ingenuity of man.

Mr. Lamond

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise, despite the improvements which have taken place in wages in the textile industry in Hong Kong, that a recent answer given in this House showed that average wages are still less than £8 a week? While workers in Lancashire have great sympathy for workers in Hong Kong, they cannot compete against wages of that kind. Will the right hon. Gentleman please see that the industrialists with whom he speaks make sure that some of the benefits are passed to the workers and that there are not more Chinese millionaires created in Hong Kong?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that since 1964 the average industrial wage rate has risen by 94 per cent. It is now the third highest in the Far East, behind only the rates in Japan and Singapore. There has been a great deal of improvement.