HC Deb 28 November 1973 vol 865 cc379-81
7. Mr. Sillars

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will appoint a commission to examine the social and economic reasons which prevent the Government applying certain ILO conventions to Hong Kong.

23. Mr. Charles R. Morris

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will establish a working party to inquire into the rates of pay earned by workers in Hong Kong.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Anthony Royle)

No, Sir.

Mr. Sillars

Is it not something of a scandal that in one of the major economies of the Far East a large number of ILO conventions are not applied, or are not applied fully, although they would be of enormous benefit to working people in Hong Kong? Does not this matter fall for urgent consideration and investigation by the Government, or is it simply a case that the Government know their responsibility and just will not exercise it?

Mr. Royle

No ; I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is being very fair. Twenty-eight declarations of application have been made, 19 of which are of full application, and improved declarations are under consideration in respect of five more conventions. There is full employment in Hong Kong. Many workers receive additional benefits, such as free medical attention, subsidised meals, good attendance bonuses and subsidised transport to and from work. Some employers supply their workers with free or subsidised accommodation.

Mr. Michael Shaw

Is my hon. Friend aware that those of us who have been out to Hong Kong in recent times realise the tremendous amount of progress that has been made in the face of very great difficulties, in all these respects?

Mr. Royle

Yes, I think that my hon. Friend is correct. There have been great difficulties. The speech made by the Governor last month underlined the imaginative programme which he has in mind for the people of Hong Kong.

Mr. Morris

Is the Under-Secretary aware that, with 15 per cent. of the work force receiving less than 75p a day, Hong Kong is increasingly regarded as Britain's sweat shop colony? Does the Under-Secretary understand the real anxiety that this creates amongst Lancashire's textile workers, who are obliged to compete with textiles produced in such conditions?

Mr. Royle

I have the highest regard for the hon. Gentleman, but I recommend that before he comes to the House again he does his homework. Between March 1964 and March 1973 the nominal wage index in Hong Kong rose to 239 and the real wage index by 159 per cent. Meaningful comparisons must be based on the local cost of living. Wages today in Hong Kong are the highest of any country in the Far East outside Japan.

Mr. James Johnson

I support all that has been said about social and economic conditions by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars). May I ask the Minister why he finds it impossible to have a commission of inquiry into political affairs and also affairs of what might be termed law and order—the matter of the police and corruption over the past 20 years? Why does the Under-Secretary stubbornly turn his mind against this? He must be as aware as I am of the feeling inside the colony itself.

Mr. Royle

This question is going rather wider than the original Questions on the Order Paper, but I should like to help the hon. Gentleman. On the problem of corruption in Hong Kong, which is what I think the hon. Gentleman is implying, he will know that the setting up of an independent anti-corruption commission in Hong Kong has now taken place. The Government fully support this and the strong measures which the governor is taking to deal with the admitted problem of corruption.