HC Deb 06 November 1974 vol 880 cc1066-8
22. Mr. Sillars

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will instruct the Hong Kong Government to introduce a wealth tax in the colony.

Mr. James Callaghan

No, Sir. Introduction of any new tax in Hong Kong would be a matter for the Hong Kong Government.

Mr. Sillars

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, given the make-up of the Hong Kong Government, there is no possibility of their ever adopting a Socialist measure such as the introduction of a wealth tax? Is it not a very serious anomaly for a Socialist Government in Britain to introduce a wealth tax here but to ignore the situation in Hong Kong, whose taxation system is much less progressive than ours and whose taxation system, like the make-up of their Government, is biased heavily in favour of the rich?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes, but taxation in Hong Kong is a matter for the Hong Kong Government and not for me.

Sir F. Bennett

While expressing gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman for that reply, may I ask him whether he will condemn this attempt by some of his colleagues to introduce an element of neo-colonialism into this House by which they are seeking to remove powers of self-government already granted to a dependency of this country?

Mr. Callaghan

My hon. Friend was quite right to introduce what he regards as the shortcomings of a Government for which we have final responsibility. I hope that the welfare provisions and other provisions of the Hong Kong Government will be improved.

Mr. Lee

While it is difficult for this country to give directives on the details of taxation to colonial Governments, is it not a fact that in the past Secretaries of State for the Colonies and previous title holders of my right hon. Friend's office have leaned heavily on colonial Governments in order to persuade them to adopt certain measures? Should not we do so in relation to this sort of thing?

Mr. Callaghan

I have been asked about a specific measure in this case, but that does not mean that I am wholly without communication with the Hong Kong Government on other issues.

Sir A. Royle

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement will be welcome in Hong Kong? He has dismissed the ideological fulminations of his hon. Friend. It is quite clear that if a wealth tax is introduced in Hong Kong the initiative of the Chinese will be undermined and there will be a resultant grave lack of confidence and damage to all the population of Hong Kong.

Mr. Callaghan

That may or may not be right. I should think that there is a good case for increasing taxation in considerable measure in Hong Kong, but that is a matter for them. The fact that I am not able to issue a directive should not lead the hon. Gentleman to assume that there are not many aspects of the taxation system which could be improved.