HC Deb 07 December 1983 vol 50 cc305-7
4. Mr. Hal Miller

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will report on progress in the negotiations with Peking over the future of Hong Kong.

Mr. Geoffrey Howe

A more detailed phase of the talks between the British and Chinese Governments on Hong Kong's future began in July. The sixth round in this phase was held on 14 and 15 November in Peking. Both sides agreed that it was useful and constructive. The next round is taking place today and tomorrow in Peking.

Mr. Miller

In view of the uncertainty in some quarters in Hong Kong because of the length of the negotiations and the need to keep them confidential, can my right hon. and learned Friend say what measures have been taken to maintain morale in Hong Kong? Has consideration been given to the form of test whereby any agreement reached should be acceptable to the people of Hong Kong?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

On my hon. Friend's latter point, as has been made plain throughout the discussions, the objective is to keep in close touch with the views of the people of Hong Kong. One of our aims is to find a settlement which is acceptable to Hong Kong as well as to Britain and China. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the importance of confidence. It was with that in mind that the Governor of Hong Kong made it clear in a speech to the Legislative Council earlier this autumn that the Government intend to continue to invest vigorously in the future of its territory and its development. In late September, and again on 15 October, the Hong Kong Government took certain steps to stabilise the Hong Kong dollar and abolished the local tax paid on Hong Kong dollar deposits.

Mr. Ashdown

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the Government bear a substantial responsibility for the future of the territory of Hong Kong and for its people, many of whom fled there to find sanctuary? Does he agree also that the answer to the problem might have international as well as bilateral ramifications and that the time to start talking about them is now?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The Government certainly have a substantial responsibility for the people in the territory of Hong Kong. That consideration is firmly in our minds and in the minds of those who are involved in the talks with the Chinese Government.

Sir Paul Bryan

To what extent are the district boards being used as a method of keeping in touch with the opinions of the people of Hong Kong?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

They are one set of institutions through which we are trying to maintain contact with the opinion of the people of Hong Kong. There are many other means.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Can it not be said that the belligerence that the Prime Minister has shown in some statements has prejudiced the possibility of a real settlement of the problem? By making such statements, has she not unsettled the Chinese when making their public statements, with the result that the Hong Kong exchange has been adversely affected?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman's observation is neither accurate nor helpful. The agreed aim of the talks is to maintain the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong. We hope to achieve that through the talks, which we hope will lead to suitable arrangements to that end.

Sir Peter Blaker

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that any agreement that is reached by the Governments of Britain and China about the future of Hong Kong after 1997 will have to be submitted to the House for approval? Is he aware that he will have the support of the House for an agreement that ensures that the people of Hong Kong are able to continue to enjoy their traditional way of life?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his observations. As we have made clear from the outset, the arrangements for the future of Hong Kong should be acceptable to the people of Hong Kong, the Chinese Government and Parliament.

Mr. Jim Callaghan

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the veil of secrecy that surrounds the negotiations should be torn down and that agreed communiqués from the Peking Government and our Government following each round of talks would go a long way to alleviate the anxiety of ordinary people in Hong Kong about their future?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am afraid that I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's advice as to the right way in which to conduct the negotiations. The issues are complex and are bound to be considered over a significant period of time. I am sure that it is right, as has been agreed by both Governments, that the discussions should be conducted in confidence.