HC Deb 16 May 1984 vol 60 cc416-77

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. David Hunt.]

Mr. Speaker

Before I call the Foreign Secretary, I should tell the House that I have a very long list of right hon. and hon. Members, including six Privy Councillors, who wish to take part in the important debate on Hong Kong. I have no power to control the length of speeches, but if right hon. and hon. Members will limit their speeches to about 10 minutes each, fewer hon. Members will be disappointed than would otherwise be the case.

7.22 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

I am very glad that we have the opportunity to debate the important question of the future of Hong Kong. It is a matter of prime concern to the Government and to right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, many of whom have visited the territory and know it well. For that reason, I have no need to recall in detail the unique conjunction of history and geography that has fashioned Hong Kong. Over almost a century and a half, a diverse community has grown and flourished there. British administration, in partnership with Chinese energy and creativity, has secured for Hong Kong an economic influence in the world out of all proportion to its size.

Anyone who has visited one of the thriving new towns in which literally millions of Hong Kong people have made their homes and are making their lives will have been moved, as I was, by feeling the powerful sense of community and vitality that prevails there. They will have been reminded vividly of our responsibility for the future of that unique society.

Inescapably, that future has to be seen against the background of the one all-important fact that 92 per cent. of the land area is held under a lease which expires in 1997. That reality, which no one can ignore, means that the future of Hong Kong is inseparably bound up with the great and historic nation that is China.

In that situation, the future of a unique society calls for a unique solution. That is why we have for the last 8 months been engaged with the Chinese Government in the task of exploring what arrangements can best secure the future of the territory. Perhaps the most encouraging feature of this joint endeavour is that the two Governments share a common objective — reaching an agreement which will ensure the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong. The Chinese Government have many times made it clear that that is their purpose. And it is, of course, our own.

The outcome of those negotiations will affect most of all the people of Hong Kong. It is natural that they should be anxious, and I fully understand their very real concern.

Many hon. Members will have heard something of that for themselves from the two groups from Hong Kong who are now in London. Many will have met the delegation of Unofficial Members of Hong Kong's Executive and Legislative Councils. I had a long discussion with them yesterday evening. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the very important contribution that the Unofficial Members of the two Councils make, in their different ways, to the administration and the life of Hong Kong.

The Unofficial Members of the Executive Council in particular play an important dual role. On the one hand, they are close advisers of the Governor; and, on the other, they, together with their colleagues in the Legislative Council, understandably seek to express their understanding of the wishes and concerns of the people of Hong Kong to a wider public, including, of course, hon. Members. It was in that latter, independent, capacity that they associated themselves with the statement that I understand has been sent to all hon. Members. The House will readily understand—but I wish to place the matter absolutely beyond doubt—that that statement was issued entirely on their own initiative. Its terms were not the subject of any prior consultation with the Government, either in London or in Hong Kong. To put it plainly, they were exercising the right of free speech.

Discussions on Hong Kong's future dominated the visits to Peking and Hong Kong which I undertook last month. My visit to Peking lasted from 15 to 18 April. My aim there was to review the course of the negotiations so far and to give them a new impetus at ministerial level. I held talks with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wu Xueqian, with State Counsellor Ji Pengfei, head of the Hong Kong and Macao office of the State Council, with Premier Zhao Ziyang and with Chairman Deng Xiaoping. By far the greatest part of the talks was spent in serious and detailed discussion of all aspects of the future of Hong Kong. The meetings were businesslike and the atmosphere good.

I went on to Hong Kong and held discussions with the Governor and the Unofficial Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils. That was my fifth meeting, but my first in Hong Kong, with members of the Executive Council. I also met representatives of a wide range of local opinion, including members of the urban council and the district boards, and of the business community.

In Hong Kong, my purpose was not only to consult, but to explain the way in which the Government are approaching the present negotiations on Hong Kong's future. That I did in a public statement on 20 April. Copies have, of course, been deposited in the Library.

The House will understand why it was not possible then, and would not be right now, for me to go into detail about the content of our negotiations with the Chinese Government. The negotiations are still in progress. Both sides are agreed that they must remain confidential. I do, of course, appreciate the difficulties that that need for confidentiality poses for hon. Members and even more for the people of Hong Kong. I have no doubt that confidentiality is important for their success, and I believe that what I was able to say in Hong Kong and can tell the House tonight will allow discussion on the future to be conducted on a reasonably informed basis.

Let me describe to the House the basis of our approach. I have no doubt that it was right to express in Hong Kong my clear conclusion that it would not be realistic to think of an agreement that provided for continued British administration in Hong Kong after 1997. It was right for us to explore every possibility before coming to that conclusion, but it is a conclusion which emerges inescapably from the negotiations and, most of all, from the reality that I have explained—the expiry, only 13 years hence, of the lease over 92 per cent. of the territory. In those circumstances, we concluded that it would be right to concentrate on other ways of securing the assurances necessary for continuity of Hong Kong's stability, prosperity and way of life.

That brings me to the key question of continuity. The Chinese Government have made it clear publicly that they recognise the special circumstances of Hong Kong, and that they want its social and economic systems and lifestyle — in many ways so different from those of mainland China—to remain unchanged. They have also underlined their recognition that Hong Kong should continue as a separate entity within the international economic and trading community. Those points were reaffirmed only yesterday by Premier Zhao Ziyang when he addressed the National People's Congress in Peking. We share with the Chinese Government the strongest possible common interest in these objectives. Our approach to the talks has, therefore, been to examine with the Government of China how it might be possible to arrive at arrangements that would secure for Hong Kong after 1997 a high degree of autonomy under Chinese sovereignty and that would preserve the way of life of Hong Kong, together with the essentials of the present systems.

It is important to understand the high degree of autonomy now exercised by the Hong Kong Government. Decisions affecting the day-to-day life of Hong Kong are taken in Hong Kong, not by Her Majesty's Government in London. I cannot emphasise too strongly the fact that Her Majesty's Government do not, and will not, look on Hong Kong as a source of revenue. Decisions affecting Hong Kong, its economy, its taxes, its land and the management of its currency, are taken in and by Hong Kong.

The widespread confidence in Hong Kong which today prevails springs very largely from that autonomy. If confidence is to be maintained, the people of Hong Kong, as well as Governments and investors around the world, need an assurance that this autonomy will be preserved after 1997. That assurance can best be provided by a detailed and binding agreement, between British and Chinese Governments, which plainly and fully sets out the arrangements for the future.

I can understand the real concern in Hong Kong about the idea that two distinct political and economic systems, the socialism of the People's Republic of China and the free market system of Hong Kong, might coexist under a single sovereignty. It is my belief that the Chinese Government share the desire of Her Majesty's Government to see the continuation in Hong Kong of a society which enjoys its own economic and social systems and distinct way of life. It is, of course, the case that Hong Kong has not existed in the past—could not indeed have survived for any substantial length of time—in a state of hostility with China. It is in this context that the Chinese Government have evolved the unique and imaginative concept, which Chairman Deng Xiaoping himself described to me, of "two systems within one nation."

It is against that background that it is possible to foresee a situation in which Hong Kong would, as part of China, enjoy a high degree of autonomy which would last for at least 50 years from 1997.

In such a situation, that autonomy would extend to administration, the maintenance and making of laws—including the common law system—the continuation of Hong Kong's own long-established and familiar system of justice and responsibility for public order in the territory. Under such arrangements, the laws of Hong Kong would be based upon the present system and existing freedoms would be maintained. Hong Kong would manage its own public finances. There would be a place for outside people, from Britain and elsewhere, to go on making a contribution to life in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's role as an international financial and commercial centre is of particular importance for its prosperity. This depends upon maintaining its present openness to the world and its extensive and direct economic relationship with its trading partners. Arrangements would need to be made, in co-operation with the other countries concerned, to ensure that Hong Kong remained an important participant in regional and world economic organisations, such as the Asian Development Bank and, in particular, the general agreement on tariffs and trade—GATT. We are fully aware of the crucial importance for Hong Kong's trading activity of its status in the latter organisation and indeed of its ability to manage its international economic relations as a whole.

In the same context, it is essential to maintain an independent Hong Kong dollar, which would, as now, circulate freely as an internationally covertible currency. That convertibility is indeed a key element in Hong Kong's prosperity. It must be underpinned by really effective confidence.

The people of Hong Kong are, naturally enough, asking for assurances that continuity and confidence will be maintained. Neither in Hong Kong nor anywhere else in today's troubled world can any Government give a cast-iron assurance about the future, but certainly we need to do all that we can to meet Hong Kong's concerns.

That underlines the importance of our objective: a binding international agreement in which arrangements for Hong Kong's continuing prosperity and stability, based on substantial autonomy, would be formally recorded. We are looking for the clarity and the detail which is essential to give confidence to all those affected by the agreement, in Hong Kong and elsewhere.

The success of such an agreement can never, as I have said, be absolutely guaranteed. Nor do I believe that it would be realistic to try to impose an external regulator on the freedom of the two sovereign states concerned. But history shows that international obligations are most likely to be observed when they coincide with the common interests of both parties. That is certainly the case over Hong Kong. Equally, these obligations are most likely to be observed when those two parties already enjoy good relations with each other. The fact that these good relations exist was brought home to me in Peking. In discussion of general international issues, I was struck by the number of subjects on which the British and Chinese Governments share similar views.

At the conclusion of the negotiations over Hong Kong, if we are able to bring them to a successful conclusion, the international prestige of both countries would be at stake. The Chinese Government, like our own, attach the highest importance to their country's international reputation. Moreover, we would share a clear common interest that Hong Kong should continue to flourish. That would be an important additional incentive to maintain the agreement.

That brings me to the question of the acceptability of an agreement to the people of Hong Kong. Throughout our negotiations with the Chinese Government, our consultation with the people of Hong Kong has been — and remains — a continuous process. It has taken many forms: our close contact with the Executive Council, ministerial visits to the territory, the reception of delegations in London and attention to the views and opinions which reach the Hong Kong Government through many channels. The views expressed by the Hong Kong people will continue to be taken fully into account in our approach to the negotiations. This process of consultation has been intensified since my visit to the territory. We shall continue to use and develop methods of carrying it forward which are appropriate to each stage of the negotiations.

There has been some suggestion that a referendum might have a part to play. On that, I have to say that there are very real drawbacks. Whatever method is adopted, when the time comes for the House to debate the draft agreement, the people of Hong Kong will have had a full opportunity to make their views known. It is their future and livelihood that are at stake. They have a right to know as soon as possible what arrangements will apply in Hong Kong after 1997.

In particular, I understand the concerns of the British nationals in Hong Kong—the great majority of whom are British dependent territory citizens—and their wish to retain that nationality. I have to say that I do not believe that either this Parliament, or a successor, would favour changes which stimulated emigration from Hong Kong to the United Kingdom or elsewhere. That is a further reason why we are looking for arrangements that would allow Hong Kong people to enter and leave the territory freely and, at the same time, provide a secure future for them there. That must remain a prime objective.

To ensure this, it is important that Hong Kong people should be in no doubt where administrative responsibility lies. In working for an agreement on Hong Kong's longterm future, we shall not lose sight of our responsibilities in the period before 1997. Until that time, we shall continue to provide the framework within which the Hong Kong Government can administer the territory and plan for its future. Our intention is to protect Hong Kong's prosperity by making the transition as smooth as possible. Hong Kong is successful, and we firmly intend it to remain so.

The Chinese Government have made it clear publicly that they see the administration of Hong Kong, after 1997, as being in the hands of Hong Kong people themselves. This would follow a process of democratic development, which I am glad to say is already under way and which I expect to evolve further. During the years immediately ahead, the Government of Hong Kong will be developed on increasingly representative lines.

We are aware of the Chinese desire that an announcement about future arrangements for Hong Kong should be made in September. We are working to a programme in the talks which takes account of Chinese wishes, but also of all our own requirements. The people of Hong Kong will need to know the terms of any agreement that may be reached and have time to express their views; and Parliament will wish to take account of those views when we come to debate the agreement. It is, of course, Parliament which must make the final decision. For the Government's part, I can assure the House that we would not be ready to recommend a package which we believe would be regarded as inadequate. We are not seeking an agreement for its own sake, or an agreement at any price. It is important to get the right agreement.

To sum up, I came away from Peking with the belief that a good deal of progress had been made, but the House should be aware that some major points still have to be resolved. I believe that there is a determination on the part of both Governments to bring our work to a successful conclusion—certainly we are working in good faith to that end—but a complex and challenging stage in the negotiations still lies ahead. We have some way to go. If we can succeed, we shall have achieved much. We shall have built a bridge of mutual confidence spanning two nations and three societies. Our aim is clear—a binding agreement which will secure a high degree of continuity for Hong Kong under Chinese sovereignty, preserve the essentials of the present systems and way of life in Hong Kong, and be acceptable to the people of Hong Kong. It must be one which we can honourably commend to this House.

7.40 pm
Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)

I should like to say, first, how grateful we are to the Government for agreeing to our request for a debate. The talks are now well under way and the House has the right and duty to give its views before they are concluded. I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving us a much clearer idea of his objectives than he has been able to give hitherto. Some of what he said will have allayed some of the worries that were present in Hong Kong and Britain after his press conference in Hong Kong.

I do not propose to discuss the detailed issues but rather to describe what I believe are the realities that the talks must recognise if they are to be successful. I know that many right hon. and hon. Members have substantive personal experience of Hong Kong. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) was born there and I believe that the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Miller) served as a civil servant there for 13 years.

I have much less personal knowledge, but I paid regular visits to Hong Kong during my six years as Defence Secretary in the 1960s. At that time we had several battalions of troops there, a Royal Air Force base with a fighter squadron that was always in position, substantial naval forces and much larger forces on call from Singapore. It is easy to forget that, at that time, the harbour in Hong Kong was full of American warships and aircraft carriers because it was used for rest and recreation by American forces that were fighting in Vietnam. In spite of that, nobody in Hong Kong had the slightest illusion that the forces available could resist for more than a few days if China decided to invade Hong Kong territory. More important than that, when I stood—as I am sure that Foreign Secretary did — on the Peak on Hong Kong island, I could see, well below the horizon, the Pearl river from which Hong Kong draws most of its water in China.

China has never needed to use troops to take over Hong Kong or to break international law. If it had wished, it could have done so simply by turning off the tap. In addition, a large part of the Hong Kong population then supported Peking and still does. It wanted the return of Hong Kong to China and still does. It was interesting to learn that the Unofficial Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils who were kind enough to talk to me this week estimate that about one third of Hong Kong's population favours Peking. That one third could have made Hong Kong ungovernable at any time, but it did not do so except for a few days during the cultural revolution, when it was neither encouraged by nor had any support from Peking.

The fact is that, although China has always regarded Hong Kong as Chinese territory and could have taken it at almost any time since the second world war without using its armed forces, it has not done so. It did not do so on many occasions when one might have feared such an event—in 1949, after the Communists asserted complete control over China, later, when China risked direct conflict with the United States over Quemoy and Matsu, and during the cultural revolution when it expressed violent hostility to the West and western embassies in China were attacked and Chinese diplomats defended their embassy in London with axes.

However, during that period of nearly 40 years, the population has grown from 600,000 to 5.5 million, largely through immigrants from China, and their children, who together now form two thirds of the population. It must be recognised that the bulk of the immigrants left China not as political refugees but for economic reasons. That was especially true of the mass immigration of the mid-1960s.

One must draw the conclusion from that historical background that the security of Hong Kong since the war has not depended on the treaties that the Kuomintang and the Government in Peking attacked with equal ferocity and which, in any case, expire in 1997. It has not depended on the presence of British forces, although they sometimes protected internal stability and exercised some control over the flow of immigrants from China. The security of Hong Kong during this long period had depended on the conviction in Peking that China derived great economic benefits from the growing prosperity of Hong Kong which it would be madness to throw away, provided that the United Kingdom did not use Hong Kong for provocation —which it never has.

That conviction as to the the value to China of Hong Kong in its present form survived enormous fluctuations in internal policy in China. It survived the thousand flowers period and the cultural revolution and continues to survive during the new pragmatism of China's current rulers. Those economic benefits, which have been the key to China's attitude towards Hong Kong, have never been as great as they are now. Nor have they ever been so openly recognised in Peking.

I am glad that the Foreign Secretary also stressed the importance of the warmth of bilateral relations between Britain and China, because they have not always been so warm since the second world war. It is worth reflecting that this tiny territory, which has under 1 per cent. of the population of India, has twice India's trade. It exports more garments than any other country; it is the first financial centre in Asia and the third financial centre in the world. China has benefited directly from Hong Kong's economic success. Hong Kong has been a source of hard currency, because it buys water, food and electricity from China. It has also been a major means of re-exporting manufactured goods from China and has increasingly been a centre for investment by Peking. I saw that it was estimated in 1981 that between 3 billion and 5 billion American dollars' worth of investment had been made by Communist China in Hong Kong. In other words, Communist China is the main source of foreign capital in Hong Kong at the moment. These are all advantages and commitments that no Chinese Government will lightly throw away.

There is no reason to believe that that would not have continued indefinitely, until the Prime Minister went to Peking in September 1982. I fear that when she made that strident public assertion of continued British sovereignty, when the Chinese leaders were especially sensitive about such matters for internal reasons, she inevitably received an equally public rebuff. The Hong Kong dollar plummeted to its lowest level for 25 years and 25 per cent. was wiped off the value of shares on the Hong Kong stock exchange. Shortly afterwards, the talks between Britain and China on the future of Hong Kong were interrupted for six months. She gave a new meaning to the phrase, "Bull in a china shop."

Perhaps things would have taken much their present course even if the Prime Minister had not made that irresponsible intervention, but without her comments the atmosphere of the talks would have been much less highly charged and confidence would have been much less fragile. I know that I have sometimes criticised the Foreign Secretary for a somewhat laid-back style, but in this case his temperament has been appropriate to the situation. The problems of Hong Kong responded much more easily to someone who seeks solace in Mogadon than someone who seeks stimulus from other sources.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hereford and Stortford)

Like you.

Mr. Healey

Me too, yes.

Nevertheless, it is notable that Peking tried to smooth the way of the talks, even after this episode, by a series of public statements that she wished Hong Kong to continue its present economic situation and political and social freedoms even after the treaty has ended, and she sought to give meaning to these statements by increasing investment in Hong Kong.

This attempt to smooth the way of the talks culminated in the plan released by Chinese officials in Hong Kong last August, which I think the Foreign Secretary and the House will agree offered the substance that all Hong Kong had been asking for in principle. We must take it that the talks, so far as the Foreign Secretary has described them, suggest that Britain will not be able to change the position of China in substance beyond this. Indeed, the Chinese Government have announced that unless agreement is reached they will announce this plan as their own decision.

One has to accept, as the Foreign Secretary conceded, that our negotiating position is not strong, mainly for the reasons that I have described and particularly, although I do not blame the Foreign Secretary for this, after we publicly conceded both British sovereignty and British administration. If we were to try to exaggerate our bargaining power, Peking's conduct might be guided by the old saying, "Who will bribe when he can bully?" However, it is important at the same time to recognise that China has again and again stated that she has the same objectives as Britain in these talks—to keep Hong Kong a going concern on capitalist lines with political and legal freedoms for the next 63 years at least.

Increasingly in recent months, statements from Peking have shown that the Chinese Government recognise that Hong Kong will remain a going concern only if the people of Hong Kong have confidence that it will remain a going concern. Confidence is the key to the whole problem. As I see it, the job of Her Majesty's Government in the talks is to ensure that both the content of the ultimate agreement and the course of the talks strengthen rather than weaken the necessary confidence. Political factors may be the key here.

The Foreign Secretary conceded that China cannot afford any concession to Britain on sovereignty or administration which would set a dangerous precedent for similar disputes with the Soviet Union or other neighbours. Equally, China cannot afford to damage confidence inside Hong Kong, not just for economic reasons but because it sees a peaceful agreement over Hong Kong by consent as an important precedent for a similar settlement of its dispute with Taiwan.

Britain cannot afford to shake confidence by brinkmanship—I do not think that there is much danger of that from the Government, but it has been suggested by some commentators on the problem. To play brinkmanship with confidence in Hong Kong would lead not only to the collapse of the talks but to the one situation in which the millions of British citizens in Hong Kong could present the British House of Commons and people with a moral dilemma that we must do our utmost to avoid being faced with.

Against this background, we must consider the representations that we have been getting over recent weeks from the Unofficial Members of the Hong Kong Administration and other citizens who have been here. All who have received these representations will have been impressed by their sincerity and concern for the present and future of the territory. We must accept that confidence in Hong Kong may be increased by explicit undertakings on matters of detail, but as China sees Hong Kong as sovereign territory after 1997, if not now, it is difficult to ask China to define the internal regime of a part of its sovereign territory in an agreement with a foreign power rather than through its own basic law.

In any case, nobody should be under any illusion that words in a written agreement can ever provide an absolute guarantee against fundamental political change in any of the countries concerned. There were no guarantees against the Communist revolution in 1949 and there could have been none. There were no guarantees against the cultural revolution, with all that it portended for China's relations with foreign countries. There are no guarantees that Hong Kong and Peking will not have been destroyed by nuclear bombs before 1997. We must accept that the type of guarantee that many naturally seek is not to be had in this world.

Moreover, if undertakings are broken, there is little effective national sanction that a United Kingdom Government could invoke against such a breach. The re al sanction both during and after the search for agreement on Hong Kong is the fear of a threat to that confidence on which China's interest, Britain's interest and Hong Kong's interest equally depend. No one can doubt that Peking is fully aware of this, and there is growing evidence that Peking's current commitment to the system in Hong Kong goes beyond the traditional economic interests that I have already mentioned.

In his speech yesterday to the National People's Congress in Peking, the Prime Minister of China announced new measures of corporate taxation which would give industrial enterprises greater freedom in managing their own affairs, would stimulate productivity and efficiency and would do away with egalitarianism in distribution"— a decision that I dare say will be more welcome on the Conservative side of the House than on ours. The Prime Minister of China said that there are two major issues that must receive special attention — restructuring the economic set-up and opening the Chinese economy to the outside world.

There is growing evidence that the economic success of Chinese communities, not only in Hong Kong but in Singapore, have stimulated interest and admiration in Peking. Special economic zones, which are multiplying on China's frontiers, not least the one just across the border in Guangdong, are seen by the Chinese Government as laboratories for testing the possibility of developing similar policies for China itself. The absorption of Hong Kong into China may be seen as giving this new trend a major boost.

However, the one area where precise commitments from Peking seem to be very important and most feasible concerns Hong Kong's openness to the outside world, on which its future as a financial trading centre must depend. This implies something that I do not think the Foreign Secretary mentioned, the possibility of continuing to enjoy the advantages of being members of GATT and the multifibre agreement — I am sorry if I misunderstood the Foreign Secretary, he seems now to be indicating assent — and, what I know he mentioned, continuing convertibility of the Hong Kong dollar. Beyond that, the closer the Foreign Secretary can get to autonomy as he defined it to us this afternoon, the more we shall all welcome it.

The most difficult problem facing Britain and the Government is outside the talks themselves. It is how to satisfy themselves and Parliament that an ultimate agreement is consistent with the interests and aspirations of the people of Hong Kong when that people does not yet fully enjoy representative institutions and when many of those who have been elected to some of the bodies that have elected members have been elected on very low votes.

We must avoid a referendum. Our experience of the referenda on Scotland and on the European Community suggests that a referendum is a most unsuitable means of consulting a people on major constitutional change.—[Interruption.] People could change their minds on this issue as quickly as they did on the European Community. That happens even in an advanced parliamentary democracy. A referendum would be wholly inappropriate in Hong Kong. The sort of political campaign that a referendum would require, if it were to be meaningful, would risk setting the Communists and the supporters of the Kuomintang against one another in a way that could destroy the very confidence without which Hong Kong cannot survive either under British jurisdiction or under the Chinese.

The trouble is that it is impossible to produce effective representative institutions for testing Hong Kong opinion in the few months still available when we have refused to do so during the past 150 years. In any case, the real problem of democratising Hong Kong lies in making the bureaucracies more accountable to the people rather than producing a parliamentary democracy on the Westminster model, which has worked in few places that do not have Anglo-Saxon political traditions and has not worked anywhere in countries having a majority of Chinese in their population.

If Britain can secure the necessary understanding from Peking in the coming months, the maintenance of confidence during the 13 years that follow until 1997, such as the development of more representative institutions, must depend primarily on the people of Hong Kong. I confess that I am uneasy about the length of the transition period because British authority in Hong Kong will dwindle very rapidly once the agreement is ratified and the process of democratisation gets under way. In the main, it will be for the people of Hong Kong to conduct the dialogue with Peking from that time on. If the final date for relinquishing sovereignty and responsibility is brought forward by agreement between the people of Hong Kong and the Government of Peking, so much the better, because it is difficult to exercise responsibility without possessing authority.

During this period, we know that some of the fat cats in Hong Kong may scuttle away. Jardine Matheson has already done so, but no one who remembers Mr. Keswick's evidence some years ago at the tribunal when he said, "It may be derogatory to sterling, but it makes good sense to me," has ever had much faith in the devotion of Jardine Matheson to any cause, except its view of its profitability.

The prosperity of Hong Kong does not and will not depend upon a few individuals. Vitality, enterprise and financial skills are so widely spread among the Chinese people that there will be five people to take the place of every one person who goes. In the difficult months ahead we must cling to the sensible summation of the situation in an article in the South China Morning Post nine days after the Foreign Secretary's press conference, when the immediate impact had begun to die away. The article stated: However, if China was prepared to accept Hongkong for 143 tumultuous years despite massive changes, why should it not also honour an international agreement covering the next 50 years?

Let us acknowledge it had to come to an end one day. And what we have to be certain about in making this transition is not to bemoan our fate and stand aloof from change, but to make sure that the Hongkong spirit continues regardless of what flag flies. It is in the Government's power in their talks with the Chinese Government to ensure that the Hong Kong spirit survives as predicted in that editorial.

8.4 pm

Mr. Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)

I shall in some ways echo the last words of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). I reaffirm my complete confidence that the people of Hong Kong are fully capable of handling the situation that lies in front of them during the rest of this century and for a long time thereafter. Their achievements are remarkable, even though many of them believe that they should have had greater opportunities from the British administration. Any island with such a record cannot fail to succeed in the rest of this century.

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary on the frankness with which he stated the real position. He did so in Hong Kong after his talks in Peking, and he has today again stated the position. The position is one that some of us have recognised for a long time. We have recognised that the treaty on the new territories expires in 1997 and that the treaty of Nanking of 1842 could not survive that. Certainly, Hong Kong as an island could not survive that, and the reasons were given by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

On 13 March 1972 we established full diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. It is notable that we acknowledged, in the diplomatic statement at that time, that Taiwan was a province of China and withdrew our diplomatic representation from Taiwan. Why did the Government. over whom I had the honour to preside, do that? We did so for the reason that has been echoed by my right hon. and learned Friend and by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East. We believed that the best guarantees for the future lay in good relations with the People's Republic of China and that, therefore, we should do everything possible to establish those good relations.

Our first objective was to take account of China's strategic position in the balance of world power, which we envisaged developing more and more towards the end of this century. The second objective was Britain's own interests—economic and trading—in carrying on further development with China. The third objective was to ensure the best possible future for the colony of Hong Kong. We wished, first, to avoid any repetition of the troubles that had occurred in the 1960s and, secondly, to make the best possible arrangements when the treaty expired in 1997.

Good relationships, which both sides of the House have emphasised, have been established, and have prevented further difficulties between the mainland and Hong Kong. That is very satisfactory. I echo my right hon. and learned Friends statement that the best possible guarantee for the future lies in the continued good relationship between London and Peking. That has involved, as the statement said, sovereignty, including the island, passing to Peking on 1 July 1997.

It is right to say that administration cannot be separated from sovereignty. This is not a position that we would ever acknowledge anywhere else. We never acknowledged it with regard to the movement to independence of colonial territories, and, in this case, we cannot try to enforce that issue.

On 6 April 1982, I had a discussion lasting two hours with Deng Xiaoping in which Hong Kong occupied a major part of our talks. Her Majesty's ambassador was present throughout and kept a complete record that was immediately passed to the Government. I was asked to ensure that the Foreign Secretary saw the complete record and recognised the importance of the conversation, although he was preoccupied with the Falklands attack. He kindly saw me and I emphasised to him the importance of that discussion.

Deng Xiaoping outlined the Chinese position both on sovereignty and on administration. He also comprehensively outlined how he foresaw the future of Hong Kong. He said that Peking was prepared to do everything it considered reasonable to ensure the continued confidence of the people of Hong Kong and to aid its prosperity.

He referred to the nine points that he had put to Taiwan. Again, I wish to emphasise the immense importance to Peking of a satisfactory solution to the Hong Kong question, to bring about a change in American opinion about the future relationship of Taiwan as a full province of the People's Republic of China. That is of the utmost importance to China and is, therefore, of great significance to us and the people of Hong Kong in the negotiations.

Deng Xiaoping emphasised that Hong Kong would retain the greater part of its current arrangements. It will retain its freeport status, its right to carry on negotiations and its right to deal in foreign affairs on commercial matters and with GATT. It will maintain its system of justice, with the one exception that there will no longer be the right of appeal to the Privy Council. However, there will be a right of appeal to a new high court. After all, many Commonwealth countries no longer maintain the right to appeal to the Privy Council; indeed, only a small minority do so.

Therefore, to have its freeport, its own administration, with the people of Hong Kong — no matter whether Hong Kong Chinese, British or Chinese—being able to settle administration arrangements and to be part of a special enterprise zone, constitutes a comprehensive arrangement, subject to detailed negotiations by the Foreign Secretary. I wish that in September 1982 the Foreign Secretary had made the statement that he has made today about the sovereignty and administration of Hong Kong. The remainder of the time could then have been devoted to the arrangements for both the interim period and after 1997.

The Foreign Secretary was right to emphasise that the statement from the Unofficial Members of both the executive and legislative councils represent only their personal views. In no way have they been inspired by the British Government or by anyone in this House. They are entirely the views of the people who put them forward, and do not represent the views of the people of Hong Kong. Those of us who have met other delegations, have visited Hong Kong over a long period and know many sections of the population, know that the Unofficial Members appointed by the Governor do not represent the people of Hong Kong. They never have, and they never will. I am sure that Peking realises that. However, if there is any doubt, many hon. Members can say quite bluntly that the views of the Government are those expressed by the Prime Minister and her colleagues and not those expressed indirectly by Members of either the Legislative or Executive Councils in Hong Kong.

We must take account of Deng Xiaoping's statement, repeated to me last September, that negotiations must end by September 1984. That is a statement of the Chinese position that will not be changed. Failing any agreement, Peking will make a statement about what will happen. Neither side can possibly want that to happen. It is in Peking's general interests, and in the interests of its arrangements about the future of Taiwan, that there should be an agreed statement.

I believe that Peking is convinced that any agreement should be registered internationally, and that it should be kept. We know that we will keep any agreement. We have a certain reputation to maintain, as does the People's Republic of China. Looking to Taiwan, it is important to China to keep any agreement.

We must deal with the transitional period and the question of acceptability. I was slightly anxious at the conclusion of my right hon. and learned Friend's speech because it began to assume the rather familiar shape that the proposal must be acceptable to everybody or it would not be implemented. He should be as frank about this matter as he has been about sovereignty and administration. We must recognise that he and the Government are circumscribed by what they say about sovereignty and administration. What comes thereafter is a matter of detailed questions of administration, jurisdiction, commercial arrangements and so on. It is difficult to say that all those matters must be acceptable to most of the people in Hong Kong.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) that most people in Hong Kong will not comprehend the detailed arrangements of jurisdiction, commerce, finance, representation and system of government. Indeed, most people in this country would not comprehend those matters. I hope, therefore, that we shall make it clear that the Government are circumscribed and will achieve the best possible arrangement, knowing that Peking wants to maintain confidence for financial and economic purposes. That is the best guarantee we have in the financial and commercial areas.

It would be possible to send a commission to Hong Kong, as we did to Rhodesia and central Africa, to ascertain views. Again, it would have to be within circumscribed limits. Therefore, we might question how necessary or valuable that might be.

During the interim period there will be growing pressure in Hong Kong for the development of a democratic system. That pressure will become stronger and stronger. If there is any attempt to resist it by the Government or by the Unofficial Members—let alone the Official Members—of the Legislative and Executive Councils, tensions will grow in Hong Kong. We all want to avoid that. It is desirable that when the agreement has been reached between the two Governments, they should begin to work out a timetable for democratic arrangements in Hong Kong.

We should not try to impose any particular system on Hong Kong, and certainly not a party system. To the people of Hong Kong, party implies the party of Peking. They will develop their own system of elections and procedures as democracy increases. I do not entirely share the view of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East about the fate of the Westminster system for countries with large Chinese populations. Singapore is an example of a country that has adopted the Westminster system.

Mr. Healey

It does not work.

Mr. Heath

Singapore is one of the most successful countries in the Pacific basin. I do not think that Prime Minister Lee would agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It may be true that there is only one member of the Opposition in its Assembly, but that is something that the right hon. Gentleman might have to face himself. He may, eventually, be the last surviving member of the Opposition.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was making a good speech until he reached this point. When I was in Singapore I was taken to the Assembly and shown the seat occupied by the one member of the Opposition. When I asked to see him, I was told that he was in prison.

Mr. Heath

That shows that their criminal arrangements are flexible. [Laughter.]

The Hong Kong Chinese must be allowed to develop their own system of administration and government. How can anyone believe that a Hong Kong, with its achievements, people and qualifications, cannot take over the administration and the running of Hong Kong? How can we say that there is no one there capable of being the Finance Secretary of Hong Kong when one sees the immense fortunes that have been achieved there and the way that they so successfully run their business affairs? I shall try to imagine what would happen if we had some of the Chinese of Hong Kong in our Treasury, and we will not go into that. They are capable of running the affairs of Hong Kong. We should have a timetable within which a democratic system could be introduced, worked out with Peking so that we could say that we were now moving towards 1977 and thereafter. The people of Hong Kong could see how their future would be run by themselves, they could have confidence in the future, and the rest of the world could have confidence in them.

8.20 pm
Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

There is a certain honourable continuity in the dealings of this House with Hong Kong. Some 21 years ago, as a new Member, I was summoned to the room of my then party leader, who is now in another place, and was somewhat surprised to find with him the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). The right hon. Gentleman had been dispatched by the Foreign Office to tell my party leader that the Governor of Hong Kong wanted me to withdraw the subject of my Adjournment debate. I said that I was happy to tell the right hon. Gentleman what I proposed to say — namely that I believed that the economic and political future of Hong Kong lay in its economic integration with China—and the right hon. Gentleman said that he could see no earthly harm in that. The Adjournment debate went ahead with constructive contributions from both sides of the House. It was the first debate on Hong Kong in the House since the war.

This is a historic debate for 5 million or more people in Hong Kong. I may be the only native-born citizen of Hong Kong in the House, but I am sure that I speak for a large majority on both sides of the House when I say that our overriding consideration in the debate is the well-being of the people of Hong Kong.

Part of our obligation to the people of Hong Kong is to speak frankly and realistically about the position in which they and we find ourselves. Events will move a great deal faster than the people in Hong Kong are yet adjusted to. It will be entirely understandable if there were now to be a rapid reaction against the United Kingdom.

We are, after all, saying to the people of Hong Kong that we can give no guarantees about the continuity of their life style and freedom. Many of them say that we are selling out to the Communism of the People's Republic of China, from which many of them have fled. We are not offering rights to resettlement to any significant number of the people of Hong Kong. Furthermore, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup said, the settlement will undermine the authority of the Hong Kong Administration as it is at present constituted.

The change in expectations that will be induced in the people of Hong Kong and those who invest from abroad in Hong Kong will have rapid and drastic effects on the flight of capital and the economic decline of a vigorous economy. Circumstances are forcing the people of Hong Kong to take charge of their own future. There will be rapid political change in the island and the New Territories. There is no question of a time scale of 13 years. That is utterly unrealistic. It will be a matter of only two or three years before the pattern of new government and administration for Hong Kong, which can continue into and beyond 1997, will be established.

The first requirement is that the policies for that transitional period must be put forward by the people of Hong Kong. There can be no polite deputations to Westminster and Peking asking for our views and saying politely that they are only asking questions. They must put forward a positive programme of how they want to see Hong Kong run. That programme must contain a proper recognition of the interests of the People's Republic of China. That interest is not just economic. There is a great historical tradition in relations between Peking and the provinces in China, of which this is a further phase.

There is the extremely practical point that no one in Peking would wish to see corruption spreading into the government of China from Hong Kong if it became rampant in an appointed system of government in Hong Kong.

The People's Republic of China has an economic interest in the future of Hong Kong. It is perhaps best represented, by the hidden rent—the rent paid by imports from China, Chinese investment in Hong Kong and the special economic zones, foreign investment in China and, of growing importance, access to Western technology and its rapid absorption in China, and the formidable impact that that will have on patterns of world trade.

The second element in the policies that must be put forward from within Hong Kong must deal with the social policies which are acceptable to the great majority of the people of Hong Kong, covering housing, health, education and welfare, in which Hong Kong has a proud record of achievement, but where the pattern must respond to the needs, as the people themselves put them forward. It must extend to the treatment of jobs, pay and conditions of employment, where we have been overly influenced in the past by the mistaken idea that it is merely by free enterprise and unfettered capitalism that Hong Kong has operated.

Such social policies must command the support of the masses within Hong Kong, but they must, at the same time, be compatible with the economic, financial, trade and industry policies necessary in a great international trading and industrial centre wih its own currency. That is a political problem that would tax the most ingenious Members of the House. It will tax the people of Hong Kong, but I am confident that they will rise to the challenge. Within Hong Kong there will grow spontaneously mass organisations, with grass roots support—electoral organisations which fight and win direct elections, because there is no alternative to direct elections. Those associations must have comprehensive policies to deal with difficult international and domestic issues and demonstrate a capability to take responsibility for government. We call such organisations political parties. The words are not welome within Hong Kong, but Chinese is a rich language and there is no lack of names for such associations.

There will soon be mass demonstations of feeling within Hong Kong. At present the Hong Kong Government do not allow political meetings within schools. Very well, hold the meetings in churches and in the open air. Let the Hong Kong Administration rapidly change their legislation so that it allows and positively facilitates political organisations and meetings.

Constitutional change must and will quickly follow the manifestation of views from within Hong Kong. I believe that it can and will do so in an orderly way. The people of Hong Kong must not wait for the approval of this House or the Governor, or for a pat on the head from leaders 111 the press within Hong Kong or this country; they must act in their own interests.

We have a great deal of experience of decolonisation. It is our obligation to ensure that movements of opinion within Hong Kong are free to express themselves arid determine events. I believe that we shall exercise that special duty responsibly on both sides of the House.

A copy of that Adjournment debate held in 1963, in which I said that the future of Hong Kong lay in its economic integration with China, was produced by Lord Kadoorie when I visited Hong Kong in 1975. An hon. Member cannot be more flattered than when a 12-year-oild speech is produced. The noble Lord said to me, "We are embarking upon economic integration with China."

If what I said then was economically and politicaly realistic, so is all that I have said tonight. I urge the people of Hong Kong to take responsibility for their own future. I believe that they have a great contribution to make to the future of the Chinese people, and, with China, to the whole of mankind. I wish them godspeed.

8.30 pm
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

I am glad to be able to follow the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) because I believe that he and I share the distinction, if that be the word, or even if it is not the word, of initiating the only two Adjournment debates specifically about Hong Kong to be held in the many years to which he referred. Those of us who listened to his speech will feel—I say this, I hope, with no discourtesy to the hon. Gentleman's family—that he is a well-advised member of his family on these matters.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) have rightly said that the history and the background are well known. There is no point in going over all that ground tonight. I think one has to express sympathy with Her Majesty's Government, who are dealing with an extremely difficult problem. I should like to say, therefore, that the support of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East for the Government was very welcome to those who have known him in the House for many years. It would be disastrous for the people of Hong Kong if the issue were to become a party political issue in the House.

Above all, as has already been said, our concern tonight and in the future is for the people of Hong Kong. I share with the right hon. Member for Leeds, East the view that some of the press comment in the past few weeks and months has been very unhelpful. Even the Far East Economic Review, a most respected journal, said this week: The British Parliament is due to debate Hong Kong for one day on 16 May but it seems unlikely that MPs are either sufficiently concerned or informed to challenge seriously the Government's handling of the Hong Kong issue. That is a monstrous allegation to make, and it presupposes that there is a conspiracy of agreement between all political parties in the House, for aims that are not disclosed, which anyone who knows this Parliament would find quite impossible to accept.

I hope, if I may say this to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, that she will not recoil from having received support from my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). I believe that the more of us in this House who can support the Government in what they are trying to achieve, the better it will be.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Leeds, East that demands for guarantees are understandable, but unwise. I cannot give my constituents a guarantee that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) will not be Prime Minister in this country in five or 10 years. I can do my best to ensure that that does not happen but I cannot guarantee it. Equally, I submit, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is unwise to cast aspersions on the good faith of the Chinese Government.

I want to pursue this evening the theme of Hong Kong rule for Hong Kong people, which has been put forward by the Chinese Government. We are familiar here with the lady called TINA—there may be no alternative to the Government's economic policy in Britain. That does not apply in Hong Kong's current situation. What has always worried me about the way Hong Kong opinion has moved is that the alternative that is available to the Chinese Government, if there is sufficient aggravation created in Hong Kong, is a much less attractive alternative than that currently on offer.

I should like, therefore, to pursue two points briefly tonight with my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. First, we should listen to the people of Hong Kong. We should make sure that we are listening to the right people and not just to the Unofficial Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils. Secondly, we have heard this evening from the Government that they will support moves towards democracy that are initiated by the Hong Kong Government. I say to the Front Bench that that is not enough. We have a responsibility, as the hon. Member for Motherwell, South has said, to make sure that the changes that will soon—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right—be sweeping over Hong Kong, and the demands for constitutional change, cannot be blocked. My right hon. and learned Friend said so too. They must not be blocked or stopped by the Hong Kong Government.

Her Majesty's Government have a specific task to take the initiative in these moves. I do not want to weary the House with quotations tonight, but I must say that the members of the UMELCO delegation that is visiting this country at the moment have done themselves no good and have done the people of Hong Kong, so I believe, a great deal of harm.

According to the South China Morning Post, they have even managed to upset Lord MacLehose. There can be no greater friend of Hong Kong in this country than he. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker), who was born in Hong Kong, was also quoted in the South China Morning Post this week as saying that the UMELCO manifesto was "unrealistic and unnecessarily pessimistic". I agree—

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Is the hon. Gentleman also aware that the leader in last week's Hong Kong Standard called UMELCO's visit here a grovelling one and said that they were speaking not for the people of Hong Kong but only for themselves?

Mr. Adley

People will think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry) has been reading my notes. The leader actually says—I just happen to have it with me— While Dr. Ding and his delegation are in Britain to lobby for democracy, Umelco is canvassing to keep whatever colonial vestiges it can from vanishing come that dreaded date, July 1997.

For a self-proclaimed mirror on Hong Kong opinions, Umelco seems to reflect not so much the daily concerns of the Hong Kong public but the obsessions of the few. It is essential to put on record in the House that that is not a view that some us in the House are putting forward, but it was put forward in a leading article in one of the main English language newspapers in Hong Kong.

I should like to concentrate for a few moments more on the question of democracy. A delegation led by Dr. Ding has been here this week to pursue its cause. Furthermore the young people of Hong Kong demand it, Her Majesty's Government obviously support it and the People's Republic of China have stated clearly that they are in favour of it. In those circumstances we would be mad—I stress that we would be mad—to do anything other than pursue that course. Democracy, or the democratisation of Hong Kong, is surely the best guarantee for the people of Hong Kong against the imposition upon them of unwanted change in the future. Unless we take an active rather than a passive role, there is the danger, as the hon. Member for Motherwell, South said, of creating a serious vacuum.

None of us knows how far China is really prepared to go in seeing a democracy in Hong Kong. The answer, therefore, is surely to put their words to the test and try it. Let us take them at their word. I think that the people of Hong Kong will find that they will finish up with democratic institutions that could not have been created before the inclusion of the People's Republic of China in the negotiations.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

Continuing that theme, would my hon. Friend care to comment on the interesting proposal in the document published by the Committee for Democracy in Hong Kong that, during the transitional period, the gubernation should be eventually demolished and replaced by a mayoralty, either indirectly elected by the municipal council or directly by universal suffrage?

Mr. Adley

It would not be appropriate tonight to go into great detail about such documents. I should think that we would best have an elected governor of the special administrative region of Hong Kong, elected by the Chinese people there so that Hong Kong would have a governor, together with the other provinces of China, although he would be elected in a very different manner from the others.

It is essential that we encourage change long before 1997. A spokesman for the Government of the People's Republic said to me in Hong Kong some months ago that the last thing that the Chinese Government wanted was to have to send in the Shanghai cadres in 1997 to do then what the British Government do now—namely to appoint the leaders of Hong Kong. Anyone who has followed these matters must know that if the Chinese Government are serious about maintaining stability in Hong Kong the constitutional changes must take place soon, long before 1997, so that when that time comes there will be virtually no changes in constitutional arrangements for the Chinese Government to make.

Some people, of course, want talks between the British and Chinese Governments to fail. The regime in Taiwan, for instance, would like nothing better than a bust-up between Britain and China over Hong Kong, but the wisdom of the British Government and the patience of the Chinese Government are seeing to it that that does not happen. I only regret that voices are occasionally raised in Hong Kong which give the impression that they reflect those views, which I regard as extremely dangerous.

China has made such specific pledges that if it reneged on them it would earn and deserve the opprobrium of the entire world, certainly the entire free world. I am confident that that will not happen. Understandably, the people of Hong Kong are in a delicate position, constantly expecting something to emerge to get them off the horns of their dilemma, but there will be no magic moment in the discussions when that could happen. The interest of the people of Hong Kong in our debate today is not misplaced, but it would be misplaced if anyone there thought that this debate, this House or indeed anyone at any their, was likely suddenly to produce a miracle solution to the problems.

I close with this message to the people of Hong Kong. We understand their dilemma and we care about their problems, but we have hope for their future.

8.41 pm
Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

There was a brief but extremely important passage in the speech of the Foreign Secretary in which he referred to the future citizenship or nationality status of the people of Hong Kong. I wish to dilate for a few minutes on that point. I believe, as the Foreign Secretary said, that in this matter the words and actions of the Government in the coming months and years will be highly relevant to the purpose of securing stability for Hong Kong in the future.

It was the traditional form of status in this country that it derived from dominion. Those were British subjects who belonged or were born within the allegiance. Consequently, as our empire extended, its inhabitants all owned the common status of British subjects. That applied to Hong Kong itself, to Kowloon and even to the New Territories: their people, like the rest, were British subjects of necessity.

After the second world war, however, we recognised that the self-governing parts of the Commonwealth were bound to establish their own citizenships. We acknowledged that fact by making a fundamental change in our own nationality law whereby we recognised those citizenships as constituting the totality of British subjecthood together with the residue of the Commonwealth which did not yet enjoy self-government, but was lumped together with the United Kingdom as the United Kingdom and Colonies. As self-government in the Commonwealth extended, so the category of the United Kingdom and Colonies progressively shrank, until, as schedule 6 to the British Nationality Act 1981 shows, the total had dwindled by then to 15 territories, of which two were uninhabited.

Meanwhile, something else had happened. Another change had forced itself upon our recognition. We had been obliged to accept that the appurtenances of citizenship, the essence of being a citizen, could not be shared by the entire vast population thitherto comprehended in the concept of British subjecthood. We therefore distinguished between those who belonged, in a defined sense, to the United Kingdom and the remainder of the citizens of the Commonwealth.

That cast a particularly difficult light on the fate of those residual territories which neither desired nor envisaged their own respective self-government. When the British Nationality Bill was debated in 1981, many hon. Members urged the Government to make a clean sweep and to recognise the inhabitants of all but one of those territories plainly and simply as British citizens. Indeed, it has been of some satisfaction to us in the two years that have since elapsed that this has in fact happened—in relation to the people of the Falkland Islands without one word of debate in the House, and in effect, if not in form, in relation to the people of Gibraltar.

One territory in that category, however, was wholly distinct from all the rest—Hong Kong—although our legislation imposed on it the same designation of British overseas territory and upon its people the same status of citizens of the British overseas territories, a designation devoid of content, as it conferred on its holders no rights outside their own particular dependent territory. Such is today the status of the people of Hong Kong in the law of the United Kingdom.

We are now bound to ask what will be the status of the people of Hong Kong when the transfer of sovereignty takes place, as it will and must. In the past, when the Crown has ceded territory, when territories have ceased to be parts of its dominions—as when we recognised the independence of the American colonies or when we acknowledged the departure from the Commonwealth of the Republic of South Africa—we always provided that individuals who desired to retain their existing status would have the opportunity so to do.

One is bound to ask whether that concept will be applicable to Hong Kong. It seems to me that it cannot apply, for the simple reason that the status currently possessed by the people of Hong Kong gives to those who possess it no right of entry into any other territory and is thus of no possible value or use to them. So it seems to me that this avenue is closed by the very nature of the case and we must recognise that the consequence of the cession of this territory will be that the people of Hong Kong will cease to have any citizenship status in British nationality law and will become aliens under the laws of this country.

The Government have a heavy responsibility in the coming months and years to ensure that there is no misapprehension or confusion about this, that no notion is left that there might be some third course—some route of escape or some method of fluffing the issue—for the people of Hong Kong, because we may be sure that if that possibility is left open it will not inure to their benefit but will be the means of pressures being brought to bear on them and of endless disappointment and bewilderment.

The Government must speak and act in two directions. Inevitably, there will be pressure to establish rights of settlement in this country for an increasing number of the people of Hong Kong. Whether or not that shall happen is within the executive, the administrative, control of Her Majesty's Government. The Government have a duty in the coming months to exercise their functions under the immigration laws in such a way as to ensure that there is no funnel, as it were, deliberately created by pressure for population to be transferred from Hong Kong to the United Kingdom.

Secondly, whatever the temptations, the Government should refrain from anything which would suggest that there can be contrived for the people of Hong Kong a middle position—some way of having the best of both worlds. Indeed, I think that the Secretary of State implied by the words that he used in his speech that it was essential for the future stability of Hong Kong that it should grasp what will be the full reality of its future status, and that there should be no self-deception, either here or there, about what that status will be.

8.50 pm
Sir Humphrey Atkins (Spelthorne)

I shall not follow the details of the not unexpected theme of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). He takes every opportunity to talk about this subject, which will come up again as the months and years go by. The right hon. Gentleman stressed the difficulty of the position. All hon. Members understand it. If I understood my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary correctly—I shall be corrected by him if I am wrong—he gave a clear indication that the Government, and the House, did not intend to amend the British Nationality Act 1981.

I shall bear in mind your stricture, Mr. Speaker, and speak briefly about two points. They arise from my visit to Hong Kong for a week during the Easter recess. I took the opportunity to find out as best I could the feelings of the people about the present position.

Obviously, they are anxious about their future. We are all anxious about our future, and they are as anxious as anybody else. One of their anxieties—not a desperate one—was, as many hon. Members said, what guarantee there could be that in 1997, 1998, or 2000, China would stick to an agreement made in 1984 or 1985? As the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said—as did my right hon. and learned Friend—we cannot possibly give a guarantee — certainly not about political developments or indeed, anything else.

However, at the same time there are signs—this was admitted by many people to whom I spoke—that if the People's Republic of China publicly undertakes to do something connected with another country, it sticks to it. It has, for example, left Hong Kong alone since the first treaty was signed.

The Chinese could have taken Hong Kong over at any time. They could do so tomorrow, and neither we nor the people of Hong Kong could stop them. There were two occasions in recent memory when China could have been expected to do precisely that—declaring, as it always has, that the treaties were unequal and, therefore, null and void. The first was during the Communist revolution after the war, when the new regime in China could have taken Hong Kong, and the other was during the cultural revolution, when there was trouble in Hong Kong for some days—largely because there was little central direction. When that central direction was re-established at the beginning of the cultural revolution, however unpleasant that was for many people in the Republic of China, the troubles in Hong Kong were stopped. China could have taken over Hong Kong on either of those two occasions, but it did not.

We can take comfort from that. I realise that those who experienced difficulties in Shanghai after the Communist takeover in China cannot find comfort in that, because they were given assurances, which were not kept. One of the difficulties is that many people in Hong Kong today came from Shanghai because they were driven out when the Communist regime in 1950 did not stick to its word.

It is fair to say that if the Chinese Government make an agreement with our Government, they will stick to it. There are further reasons for saying that. My next point was mentioned during the debate, but was not sufficiently emphasised. We believe that it is our responsibility to reach as good an agreement about the future of Hong Kong as possible, and we are right. We also believe that it is in the interests of the people of Hong Kong that life should continue much as it is, and that we should reach a good agreement. Again we are right. But equally we should stress that it is in the interests of the People's Republic of China to reach a good agreement. It wants Hong Kong to continue as it is, not just because it says so, but because, as both we and it know, it is the most useful outlet to the outside world that it has. It trades and earns vast quantities of foreign exchange through Hong Kong—40 per cent. of its total. Furthermore, 97 or 98 per cent. of the people in Hong Kong are of Chinese descent. Therefore, it is in the Chinese Government's greatest interests to preserve it. All those view are worried about a guarantee should seek it from the Government of China, not the United Kingdom.

Our Government should say to the Chinese Government —as my right hon. and learned Friend is doing—"It is your problem to give a guarantee that in 1997 Hong Kong will flourish as much as it is flourishing now." The easiest thing in the world would be for anxieties to get out of hand and for everybody to say, "We do not know what the future is. We think it is black. We cannot stay in Hong Kong. We must withdraw our money, and, if possible, ourselves."

The last thing that the People's Republic of China wants is to take over in 1997 what is, in its terms, a tiny piece of land, covered almost exclusively with tall buildings with nobody in them. That is not in its interests. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend is telling representatives of the Chinese Government— as I did when I went to Hong Kong—that they must address themselves to the problem because they must satisfy the people of Hong Kong that they mean what they say.

Allied to that, and a way of reinforcing any guarantee that they give, is to progress towards democracy in Hong Kong. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) that it is for us to say precisely how that should work. If he did not say it, I apologise, but I understood him to say that we should persuade Hong Kong to accept our form of democracy. We should not do that, because 98 per cent. of the population is of Chinese descent, and we are not. What suits us may not necessarily suit them. However, we should go ahead as fast as we reasonably can, or as fast as they believe they can, with the establishment of democratic institutions. Indeed, there are some democratic institutions already—not very many, rather small, and not very powerful, but they are a basis upon which we can build.

In the past one reason that was given, rightly or wrongly, why democracy was not developed was that the Chinese would not like it. I do not know whether that was true, but it does not apply today. The Chinese in their pronouncements, from Deng Xiaoping downwards, have said that in 1997 they want Hong Kong to be run by Hong Kong people. That implies Hong Kong being run by people who are approved of and chosen in some way by the people of Hong Kong. There will be no difficulty in proceeding with the development of democratic institutions in Hong Kong, as it is already happening. The district boards now contain one third elected members; next March that figure will increase to two thirds; and in three years it will increase to 100 per cent. That development should be encouraged and pushed ahead rather more quickly than is the case at present.

The establishment of democracy adds to any guarantee that things will not change, as China says they will not. Suppose that 1997 comes and there is a well-established democratic process and the then Government of China —who knows who they will be? — go back on their word and wish to abolish democracy? It would be extremely difficult for China to do that and retain any respect in the world with which it wishes to be friendly.

I wish to mention briefly the acceptance of any arrangements that the Government and the People's Republic of China might make. We must all be satisfied that anything that we do in the name of the people of Hong Kong meets with their approval. If by some terrible mischance an agreement that we make with the People's Republic of China meets with their disapproval, we shall know at once. People will withdraw their money, credit, confidence and their persons, if they can, so we shall know within 24 hours. If that does not happen, as I am sure it will not, we must be satisfied here that it meets with their approval.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that no agreement should be reached by the Government until Hong Kong has been democratised and the people of Hong Kong have their elected representatives to approve any final agreement?

Sir Humphrey Atkins

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me for a moment, I shall suggest some ways in which the acceptability can be tested. It might need to be tested in a few months' time. It is no use to suppose that we or Hong Kong could produce democratic institutions that would enable anyone to say that the elected representatives of Hong Kong approved the agreement. We cannot do it in four months. We must use the existing institutions.

I should say something about the Executive and Legislative Councils, to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary paid tribute. Since then other hon. Members have run them down, I think too far. The Unofficial Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils, who do not claim to represent anyone but themselves—because they do not—work as hard and as honestly as they can to represent the views of Hong Kong.

I have two reasons for saying that. First, the legislative process in Hong Kong, initiated by the Governor and the Executive Council, requires the consent of the Legislative Council. The laws passed in Hong Kong do not cause uproar and rioting, because the Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils have ensured that what they propose is acceptable by finding out what people think.

Secondly, when I was there three weeks ago, I asked everyone I could see — high and low, British and Chinese, old and young, rich and poor — what they believed, and I formed an opinion of the feeling in Hong Kong, based, I admit, on a tiny handful of people. On my last evening there I asked the Unofficial Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils what they believed the people wanted, and their replies coincided exactly with my opinion. It cannot be said that they are not representative. They are not elected, but they represent the feeling of Hong Kong.

However, on the question of acceptability, that is not enough. The House would not accept their word alone, because they are not elected. I hope that in the next few weeks and months my right hon. and learned Friend will discuss with the Hong Kong Government how best the test of acceptability can be carried out. There are various ways of doing it and various organisations that can be used, down to the district boards and the mutual aid committees. We should urge the Government of Hong Kong to address their mind to this so that, when the time comes, wherever it may be, when we and they are asked to consider a detailed agreement, we may know whether the people of Hong Kong approve or disapprove. We should know where we stand when we have to take a decision.

In the meantime, I wish my right hon. and learned Friend well in his further dealings with the People's Republic of China. I hope that he will emphasise all the time that the guarantee that the people in Hong Kong seek can be given by the Chinese Government rather than by Us.

9.5 pm

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

It is a great honour to follow the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins); I am in agreement with many of his comments, especially about acceptance. There is a legend about the foundation of Hong Kong or, more precisely, Kowloon, which held that the last Sung emperor sailed through the harbour with his court in the 12th century when he was fleeing from the Mongols. He asked a philosopher sage in his court what the name of the place was. He was told that it was Jiulung, which meant the nine dragons. The emperor, knowing—as hon. Members may not know—that every Chinese mountain maintains a dragon, counted only eight mountains. He questioned his adviser about how the name could mean nine dragons. The adviser said, "You, sir, are so powerful that you are the ninth dragon."

Perhaps it is of interest to the House to reflect that as in 12th century China so in 20th century Britain, sycophancy is a necessary attribute for the powerful person looking for preferment. The exchange which followed was the most significant. The emperor asked his adviser, "What shall this place be?" The adviser replied "One day a million lights will burn here, but not for long." That story was told to me by a member and representative of the People's Republic of China. It is the concern of all who are in any way connected with this problem, be they in the House, in the Government or among the people of Hong Kong, as the right hon. Member for Spelthorne and the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) said, that that prophecy never comes to pass; I am sure that is in the mind of the People's Republic of China as well.

In a sense, that is what the Foreign Secretary referred to as the common interest that binds all parties together. We are in a very delicate and difficult situation. Any loss of confidence, such as referred to by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), would be disastrous; it would be a human and an international tragedy on a massive scale. It is against that background that the Government have conducted negotiations and that we have to make our comments.

I join with the right hon. Member for Leeds, East in paying tribute to the Foreign Secretary for the way he has handled affairs up to now, notwithstanding the fact that his job was made immeasurably more difficult by the unsagacious and perhaps intemperate comments of the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, we seem to be back on course. I should also like to join other hon. Members in paying tribute to the flexibility and common sense of the People's Republic of China on these matters.

The problem seems to split into two parts. The first is the problem of the territory and the second the problem of the people of Hong Kong. About the territory there can be very little argument, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, East made clear. We have no option; 1997 is the cut-off date. There has never been any option about what we should do with the territory of Hong Kong, should it be demanded back by the People's Republic of China. Therefore, it is right that the discussions about the territory of Hong Kong should be conducted entirely bilaterally and of necessity in confidence.

The problem of the people of Hong Kong however may well have some elements which extend beyond the purely bilateral relationship. There are wider implications to which I should like to turn my attention. The first is acceptance, which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Spelthorne and others. We know that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have both said that Parliament must take account of the views of the Hong Kong people and must ensure that the proposals are acceptable to them. I do not think that that is far off their exact words. The key question in everybody's mind is how that will be put to the test. That was also in the paper put forward by UMELCO.

However it should be done, we have to recognise that that is a problem and the responsibility and duty for assessing that acceptability rests in the House alone. It cannot be expressed through any organ of the existing Hong Kong Government. The ultimate duty and burden of ensuring the rights of the people of Hong Kong lies in this House alone. It is we who must accept that responsibility. It may be that we have used the Hong Kong Government as an agent to administer the colony. It may be, as the Foreign Secretary said, that the Hong Kong Government have a greater degree of autonomy. But that is not a comment upon the responsibility for making that assessment. It remains the case that the Hong Kong Government are a largely undemocratic institution.

I share the view put forward by the Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East and others. I might, as a good democrat, prefer to see a referendum. I do not share the view of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East about the uselessness of a referendum. Nevertheless, it is obviously the case that a referendum is not an available instrument in this case. We do not have the time and there is not the appropriate structure. Therefore, I propose that the Foreign Secretary might consider judging that acceptability by means of an organ of the House which is accountable to the House, which should carry out whatever investigation there is into the question of acceptability to the people of Hong Kong. It may be that the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs should go there and take evidence from the broadest selection of the people possible. At all events, it is the House that must make that decision and whoever makes the report should be accountable to the House.

Citizenship was touched upon by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) in much more eloquent terms than I can discuss that problem. Nevertheless, the House should be conscious that Britain may for the first time, by Act of Parliament, remove even the limited form of nationality which the people of Hong Kong now enjoy and hand them over lock, stock and barrel to the Chinese Government. The problem was graphically expressed by a Hong Kong resident when he told me the other day that although it is perfectly acceptable that when the tenancy on a block of flats runs out it should be handed back to the owners, it is unusual to hand over the office staff at the same time. That is something that we have not done before.

We must recognise that the citizenship of Hong Kong is central to the freedom of movement both before and after 1997. Unless we can solve that, it will be a pretty empty guarantee merely to say that there will be freedom of movement—free borders—as the present opportunity to move freely between trading nations is considerably reduced for the holder of a passport from the People's Republic of China.

We must ask the Foreign Secretary what assurances he can give that existing nationals will be allowed to choose whether to retain their British passport for themselves and their children. Clearly, if the Foreign Secretary is unable to give that assurance, as I think we all understand he may well be, that situation must be made clear as soon as possible, as the right hon. Member for Down, South said. In other words, what will be the status of the people of Hong Kong? The lack of knowledge about that status is one of the biggest areas which is causing concern and uncertainty about the future.

Thirdly, there is freedom of movement. We have said that there will be freedom of movement and the People's Republic of China have also said that, following 1997, in the 50-year period, the borders will be open. Nevertheless, we should recognise, in a manner which has not been expressed in the House so far, that nearly half the population of Hong Kong have fled from China to place themselves under the protection of Britain. It is a grave matter indeed if, by Act of Parliament, we hand those people back to the very institutions from which they fled. I am not sure whether we can do much about that, but perhaps we can.

However, we must recognise the considerable concern, which has not been reflected in some of the speeches so far. We may be talking about open borders, but there is a hollow promise indeed in the concept of open borders and freedom of movement unless there is somewhere to which to go. We must be careful, of course, not to encourage an exodus, which would be the very worst thing, as all right hon. and hon. Members have said, in prospect for the people of Hong Kong. It is vital not to do anything that will positively encourage that. Nevertheless, the Government should recognise that this is a matter that causes great concern, and that may have dimensions that extend beyond the purely bilateral relations and the bilateral discusions with China.

On the question of democratisation, on which other hon. Members have spoken, I take the view that, as the governing power of Hong Kong, we have been disgracefully tardy in introducing democratisation into Hong Kong. We have always taken refuge behind the idea that any further democratisation of Hong Kong would be unacceptable to the People's Republic of China. I think that view has now largely been exposed as nonsense. As other hon. Members have said, I believe that this provides some kind of guarantee about the future that the people of Hong Kong need, and that will assure them about the future.

Mr. Adley

In defence of previous British Governments, it must be made clear that the Chinese Government have always regarded Hong Kong as a Chinese city, and that they would not countenance a foreign Government — for example, Britain — making constitutional changes. That position has changed 100 per cent., because they themselves are now involved in the negotiations, and that is the great strength and guarantee for the future of the people of Hong Kong.

Mr. Ashdown

If the hon. Gentleman is making the point that we can go further towards democratisation now than we otherwise could have done hitherto, I will accept that. However, I will not accept that we could not have gone further than we have done in the period up to now. I think that we have used that as the mechanism by which to shelter.

The Foreign Secretary has said that we will now make moves towards a more representative Government. We must ask exactly what the Government intend to do. Do the Government intend to leave a democratic council that could be a focus for the aspirations of the Hong Kong people and a guarantor to some degree of the freedoms that the Communist authorities are going to say are peculiarly theirs, or is it their intention simply to preserve the status quo and the system of nominated executive and legislative councils, with a view to handing the entire autocratic system over to the Chinese Government in 1997? From what the Foreign Secretary has currently said, I do not believe that that is our view—and it is not the Chinese view — about what ought to happen. It is important, however, that the Foreign Secretary and the Government put some flesh on the rhetoric of increasing democratisation very quickly. As the hon. Member for Christchurch said—I absolutely agree with him—if I may paraphrase him, in this issue, we cannot go too far or too fast. No doubt we will come to a point which becomes unacceptable to the Chinese Government in due course, but let us test their word and their agreement that we can go ahead.

I deal lastly with the run-up to 1997. There are two questions of prominence in this respect. The first is what position, if any, the Chinese Government and the Government of Hong Kong will have up to 1997. My discussions with representatives of the People's Republic of China show that they require to have no formal representation, and that they will be happy with the informal representation and consultation that takes place at present. That is an important point that I hope the Foreign Secretary will make clear in any reply that he may give.

Great and difficult issues are involved here, as other hon. and right hon. Members have said. The greatest issue is that we are determining the future not only of a territory but of 5 million people who, with their predecessors, for the last 140 years have placed themselves under our protection, and our Government. I suggest that the issue of the territory of Hong Kong is a minor one compared with the issue of the future freedoms and liberty of the Hong Kong people. The House historically has always been at its best in dealing wth the issue of liberty, but I suspect that it has never had to face a problem as difficult and as delicate as this one.

I ask the Foreign Secretary to recognise that it will not be acceptable, at least to Liberals, and I believe to many hon. Members, that the key decisions affecting the future of the people of Hong Kong should be taken anywhere but in the House. In particular, let the Foreign Secretary be aware that, although the Hong Kong Administration will have an important role to play in managing the decisions that we take, it is ultimately our responsibility and ours alone to ensure that the agreement reached with the Chinese Government guarantees the future of the people of Hong Kong, and is acceptable to them.

9.19 pm
Sir Paul Bryan (Boothferry)

This is developing into an extremely constructive debate and I hope that it will be widely followed in Hong Kong. I do not want to dwell on the past, but I should like to reply to one or two statements that have been made so far.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) implied that it would have been far better if the statement made by the Foreign Secretary in the past few days had been made in 1982. I was in Peking and Hong Kong in 1982 at the time of the Prime Minister's visit, and when one tried to discover the opinions of the people here, they constantly repeated, "We want something as near the status quo as possible." That implied a continuing British presence in some form. If the Foreign Secretary's statement, which is so appropriate now, had been made at that time, the cry in Hong Kong would have been, "Sell-out."

The negotiations have been hard going and we should pay tribute to our negotiators. We have been extremely well served by Sir Edward Youde, the Governor and former ambassador to Peking — a man with vast knowledge and experience of China and the Chinese. He is a perfect successor to Lord MacLehose, who will go down in history as one of the great Governors of Hong Kong. Sir Percy Craddock, the previous ambassador in Peking, is respected by the Chinese, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was wise, on his retirement, to take him into her office as an advisor while the negotiations continue.

Before the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins), not many kind words had been said about the Unofficial Members. It would be unfortunate if the debate passed without an expression of considerable gratitude being made to the 42 Unofficial Members, some of whom are here today. They work hard in the cause of Hong Kong without reward. They toil on countless committees and are bound to have knowledge of what is happening in Hong Kong.

The UMELCO office is a cross between a citizen's advice bureau and an ombudsman's office. There is plenty of knowledge of Hong Kong people at all levels there. I do not know whether the Unofficial Members are fully qualified to speak for Hong Kong. But who is? I know that the people of Hong Kong expect those Members to speak for them, and, if they had not done so, the people would have wanted to know why.

Mr. Parry

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that an ombudsman should be appointed in Hong Kong as a matter of urgency? I have made that suggestion previously, but it has always beeen rejected.

Sir Paul Bryan

No doubt that, like democracy and so on, is one of the many problems ahead of us, but we cannot cover it in this debate.

The statement of the Unofficial Members listed their six major worries, two questions, four conditions, and so on. The Members request guarantees that are probably impracticable and ask questions that are probably unanswerable. Nevertheless, it is as well that we read the document to remind ourselves of the unexpressed doubt behind that statement. There is an unexpressed, but justified, doubt about whether British negotiators can really understand the feelings of people in Hong Kong in their unique situation.

It is impossible for us, who expect to end our lives in the country where we were born, to put ourselves in the position of, say, a man who, at great personal peril, has fled from a regime that he abhors; spent a decade or so building up a new life for his family; achieved for them a standard of living of which they would never have dreamt; learned to appreciate a freedom of movement, choice and opinion that he would never have thought possible; only to find that the regime from which he fled is about to take him over again. To add to his worries, memories are kept fresh by the proximity of China and a continuing stream of immigrants with accounts of life there. It is hard for such a man to believe in the promise that after 1997 Hong Kong's existing systems and life style will remain unchanged. It is entirely natural that he should search for assurances and guarantees.

However, we must face the fact that, even if the negotiators succeed in obtaining every assurance and guarantee mentioned in the UMELCO statement, many people will remain unconvinced and will still ask—as the statement does—for assurances that the assurances will be observed.

In this crisis of credibility, we must do our best to get as detailed an agreement as possible. However, our hopes cannot be high. The Chinese prefer to deal in broad terms, and tend to be insulted by suggestions that these must be reinforced by detail to make sure that they are honoured. Our first priority is to negotiate strongly for the right agreement, as my right hon. and learned Friend said. I am sure that he will agree that the Chinese respect firmness in negotiation.

Having said that, we must put the present into perspective. Important though an agreement appears now, when we look back in 20 years' time I doubt whether the agreement of 1984 will stand out as an historic milestone. Our confidence, or disillusion, will be caused by the course of events in Hong Kong in the 13 years after 1984. The prospects for that period are not unfavourable. That should be declared loud and clear. We should be spreading optimism as much as we can.

First and foremost, I believe that China is honest in its expressed undertaking to allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, enjoying the existing systems and freedoms and the free market economy. It is—as has been said this evening—in the interests of the Chinese to do so. China is a proud nation, emerging as one of the great powers of the 21st century; it cannot want to be seen in the eyes of the world as allowing Hong Kong—one of the most remarkable success stories in history — to collapse in its hands. That would involve a tremendous loss of face, apart from the harm that it would do to Chinese hopes of a settlement with Taiwan.

The 21st century will be the century of the Pacific basin. To be in possession of the financial centre of the Pacific basin and the third biggest container port in the world will be of inestimable advantage to China. Any abrupt dismantling of the British-type legal system would quickly disrupt the investment climate in Hong Kong and put an end to its financial supremacy. Any restrictions on currency movements or travel would have the same effect. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne has said, the 40 per cent. of its currency which China earns with comparative ease through Hong Kong depends upon the maintenance of a financial system very similar to the present one.

A vast reservoir of expertise and limitless foreign capital have made Hong Kong a sensational industrial success; China is eager to take advantage of its technology. China's huge investment in the industrial area of Shenzhen just over the border is dependent on technology from Hong Kong. Last May I was in Peking attending the signing of a joint venture agreement on semi-submersible rigs for the south China sea oilfield. I got some idea of the value the Chinese attach to technology from abroad. Hong Kong is where it is most readily available.

Mr. Dykes

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is even more remarkable that, during the negotiations, large amounts of investment capital are coming in from Japan, America and elsewhere, and that China is buying considerable assets in Hong Kong? Even Jardines has emphasised that, although it will change its domicile technically, it will not reduce any of its assets in Hong Kong.

Sir Paul Bryan

Indeed, some firms are moving their headquarters to Hong Kong. We all know that, with the Chinese, patriotism — and hence sovereignty — comes first, but, for the reasons that I have given, they must want Hong Kong to continue on its present course with as little upset as possible. I am sure that China will pursue that end.

No country has acquired more experience of dealing with international problems than Great Britain. The challenge of Hong Kong in the next 13 years is unique, even in our history, but certainly not impossible. Hong Kong people are highly educated and sophisticated, and there will be no difficulty in gradually building up an Administration that is manned almost entirely by local people. In contrast to the right hon. Member for Leeds, East, I believe that time is on our side. To maintain confidence in Hong Kong and abroad, we should not be in a hurry to hand over the reins. Nor will the economy stand still. Just think of what has happened in Hong Kong in the past 13 years. Industry is fully equipped to take advantage of the technological revolution; expansion by 1997 could be even greater than that which has occurred since 1971. Living standards will continue to rise.

Steady nerves and patience will be the order of the day. The people of Hong Kong have shown an astonishing ability to adjust, and I have no doubt that they will respond to changing circumstances once again. The onus will increasingly be on them to provide leadership and initiative. The combination of China's sincerity and avowed intention to give Hong Kong autonomy, and faith in the capacity of the people of Hong Kong to justify that autonomy gives us grounds for a hopeful future. There is a fund of good will in Britain towards the people of Hong Kong on which they can draw for many years to come.

9.32 pm
Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate, as I have a long interest in China and Hong Kong and represent the oldest Chinese community in western Europe.

As many hon. Members wish to speak, I shall be as brief as possible. In accordance with my interests and anxiety about human rights and civil liberties, the House will not be surprised if I spend most of my time dealing with them and with democracy and democratic reform. I shall criticise the lack of democracy and the suppression of the weak and poor in this last bastion of British capitalism and imperialism.

I am the president of the Association for Democracy in Hong Kong and a patron of the United Nations Association in Hong Kong and have kept close contact with most grassroots organisations there such as elected urban councillors, the Society of Community Organisations, tenant associations, trade unions, church workers, the Heung Yee Kuk—representatives of villages in the New Territories — and social and welfare workers. I shall refer later to religious workers, because this is another important point.

I have always supported the campaign for democracy in Hong Kong and for a directly elected urban council, thus doing away with the appointed members of the council, and for a form of a direct election to the Legislative Council. I am delighted, after all these years, to see that it is China that is now pressing for reform. What would have appeared an impossibility three years ago now looks likely to take place.

I have always been strongly supported in my campaign by an elected member of the urban council, Mrs. Elsie Elliott, and a former elected councillor, Mr. Tsin Sai Nin. Both of these courageous people have unfortunately suffered in health recently, and part of their problems have been the strenuous efforts that they have put in on behalf of the ordinary people of Hong Kong. Mr. Tsin Sai Nin is the present general secretary of the Association for Democracy.

Dr. L. K. Ding is associated with the delegation from the grass roots, that has been mentioned, and he has always been an ardent campaigner. He is a devout Methodist and chairman of the Hong Kong Christian Association. I met him and his delegation last week, as did a number of other hon. Members. After listening to them, we agreed to support their campaign for local democracy. The urban council should be directly elected and it can then elect a mayor or chairman.

I should support the same system in the fast-expanding towns in the New Territories such as Sha Tin, Yeun Long, Tsuen Wan, Tai Po and Tuen Mun. It is absurd for towns such as Tsuen Wan, with a population larger than Liverpool and Manchester, to be run only by district boards with advisory powers. That is why direct elections to these fairly big towns should take place in any democratic reform. I hope that the Government will press for a directly elected assembly based on universal sufferage open to all citizens over 18. The present ExCo and LegCo are made up of Government officials and of wealthy business people who are usually yes-men, who support the Government and who will not support the people in their campaigns for democracy and civil liberties.

Mrs. Elliott was awarded the Magsaysay prize, which is the equivalent of the Nobel prize in Asia and is awarded by the Magsaysay foundation. She received it for her efforts on behalf of the poor and the downtrodden in Hong Kong over many years. I have wondered why Mrs. Elliott, despite her tremendous record, has not been appointed to LegCo. Is it because she is not a yes-woman and would embarrass the Government and the establishment?

I recall on visits to the colony witnessing the supression of the civil liberties and rights of the vulnerable and the weak. I particularly remember 1979, when I was on a delegation with my hon. Friends the Members for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans). We saw ordinary people, small business people and tenants practically burnt out of their homes and flats to make way for the mass transit railway. We saw a society verging on a police state, with the police using gas and smoke bombs against women, children and old people. We saw corrupt members of the police force operating protection rackets against humble hawkers and street traders. There were many of these incidents and they made me and my colleagues feel ashamed that this should happen in a colony flying the British flag.

Conservative Members may not agree with what I say, but this is the truth. There is ample evidence in films, on television, newsreels and on photographs and reports in the quality English language newspapers such as the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Standard. That is why that form of repression was unnecessary. I fully support the campaign led by Dr. Ding and his people who, I believe, are still in the United Kingdom.

Religious freedom is another important issue. All people have the right to practise their faith. I have received a letter from Monsigneur Vincent Nichols, who is the general secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, with a copy of an expression of concern from the Roman Catholic bishops of Hong Kong. I have sent copies of both documents to the Secretary of State, and I hope that he will send me a full reply after studying them.

The Catholic church, of which I am a member, has been established in the colony since 1841. It has played a significant part in Hong Kong's development, especially in education. There are about 266,000 Catholics and 313 Catholic schools with over 300,000 pupils, of whom more than 90 per cent. are non-Catholics. The church is working also in the areas of health care, social welfare and hospitals. In the past, I have met many priests and nuns who have worked with the homeless and rootless, especially the Mary Knoll nuns and Filipino, Irish, British and American nuns who do a tremendous job among the really poor people of Hong Kong.

Many well-known and respected members of Hong Kong society were educated by the La Salle Brothers, including Mr. Sonny Salles, who was for many years chairman of the urban council, Councillor Hilton Cheong-Leen, the present chairman, and an old friend of mine, Dr. Peter H. Y. Tang from the New Territories. The present Patriotic Catholic church in China is not in communion with Rome. Some years ago, I met the Bishop of Peking, Bishop Fu, who represents the Patriotic Catholic church. I discussed the problems with him. Many Catholic bishops and priests are still in prison in China, some of whom have been held for many years.

On 23 April, Mr. Ji Peng-Fei, the director of the Hong Kong-Macao office, in a statement made in Peking to visiting urban councillors, said that the Chinese would guarantee religious freedom when China regained sovereignty in 1997. He said also that churches would be able to maintain links with their counterparts in the rest of the world and that the Catholic church in Hong Kong would be allowed to remain subordinate to the Vatican. I hope that that assurance will be carried out and that all Christians — Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists and Lutherans—among whom I have many friends in Hong Kong, will be treated in the same way and that ethnic minorities, such as the Moslems and the Sikhs, can practise their faith freely.

Many years ago, Premier Chou En-Lai, when questioned on when China would regain Hong Kong, said, "When the time is ripe." That time is rapidly approaching. I hope and trust that we shall live to see Hong Kong a place of prosperity, stability and confidence, where there is freedom of religion, a free assembly and the existing judical system, and that there will be a democratic system of government before it returns to the mainland in 1997. I hope sincerely that those aspirations will be realised.

9.43 pm
Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has given us an encouraging report of the progress of negotiations and, on the whole, he was justified in doing so. But hon. Members would delude themselves if they did not recognise that we are facing a deep conflict of obligations in the decisions that are bound to be taken. We have a moral obligation to the people of Hong Kong, half of whom were born under the control of the Crown and have never shown much wish to leave. The other half have escaped to the protection of the Crown—some for economic, and a few for political, reasons. The majority do not want to lose their British allegiance. We must acknowledge that a large number of them are living in what we still regard as sovereign British territory. The principle of self-determination, about which we have often spoken, is at issue.

On the other hand, we know that in 13 years we shall lose the legal tenure over nine tenths of the territory. No one believes that we could hold the sovereign territory without the New Territories. Anyway, there is the undeniable fact that China could enforce its legal rights at any moment if it so chose. Given the legal position and the balance of power, we are not in a position to drive a bargain.

Curiously, the strength of our negotiating position lies in the weakness of our hand. Under British rule, Hong Kong rose from being a fishing village set among rocks to what we might call the Venice of the far east. The essence of Hong Kong's strength lies not in the skyscrapers, the wharves, the airports and the factories—it lies in the invisibles such as wealth, brains and skills. If our negotiating team and the Chinese negotiating team can arrive at an agreement, all that may continue. If China wanted only the assets, it could put its hand on them, as it did in Shanghai. The rocks would then return to rocks littered with buildings testifying to Hong Kong's former glory.

The pragmatic temper of the present leaders in Peking, their material interests, their interest in maintaining good relations with the West, and their interest in finding a peaceful solution to the Taiwan problem, encourage them to reach the sort of settlement that we believe to be necessary to the future of Hong Kong. Therefore, our task is not to drive a bargain, but to try to persuade China of the assurances needed to satisfy opinion in Hong Kong and of the form in which those assurances are given.

My right hon. and learned Friend has already discussed the economic, legal and security systems and, as many hon. Members have mentioned, the future self-government of the country. The status of British and other foreign interests and their consular protection will also be very important. Nothing will give more confidence to the people of Hong Kong than the knowledge that outside business interests are operating alongside their business interests.

However exemplary and strong are the assurances given, Hong Kong opinion will not be easily satisfied. The people have seen the past convulsions through which the People's Republic of China has passed since the revolution in 1949.

Where Jardine Matheson leads, others will be tempted to follow. How far the process will go depends not just on the assurances, but on the day-to-day conduct of relations between Hong Kong and Peking.

That brings me to the issue of the political institutions of Hong Kong. Authority forgets a dying king. From now on, elements will emerge of the kind of political structure that the people of Hong Kong wish to see when they become an autonomous district of the People's Republic of China. We can have some influence on how those elements evolve, but the most important element will be how far Peking will encourage and tolerate the emergence of political structures which represent the mercantile and cosmopolitan character of Hong Kong. It is in those 13 years, in the conduct of Peking's relations with Hong Kong and in the overall evolution of China, that the validity of the assurances given this autumn will be tested and evaluated. If they are found to be unsatisfactory, many will leave the colony, and over 13 years they will find many ways to do so.

We shall be faced with a number of applications. We have obligations to those servants of the Crown who will be at some risk because of their past service to the Crown. They must be honoured in full. Beyond that, I should hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will be generous, though necessarily selective, in his attitude to applications to come here. Those with capital should be welcomed, and so should those with skills. Over the years, Britain has gained from its immigrant elite. We have had Huguenots from France and Jews from central and eastern Europe and east African Asians, almost all of whom have made good since they came. The Chinese community in Great Britain has a good record. They could only improve that record if they were strengthened by those who have proved themselves in Hong Kong.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people from other countries are going to Hong Kong at the moment offering national citizenship to those who are prepared to bring their prosperous enterprises from Hong Kong?

Mr. Amery

Yes, I am aware of that. I hope that we shall have our share of the best of Hong Kong.

It is only natural that the majority of people will stay, but if we can contrive, in agreement with the People's Republic of China, a status for foreign interests, British, Japanese and American — and the Japanese and American are larger than ours—and the kind of legal and political framework which my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary was discussing, then, but only then, Hong Kong will continue to be what it has always been—not a bone of contention, but a valuable and viable link between the awakening giant of China and the industrialised West.

9.52 pm
Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

I am not certain that I followed clearly what the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavillion (Mr. Amery) said, but if his attitude to Jardine Matheson and to capital being lost to Hong Kong is as I understand it, it is not a message that I should like to go from the debate. Jardine Matheson owed much more to Hong Kong than its action demonstrated. The best service that we, as a House, can do for the people of Hong Kong is to join my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) in saying that the most essential ingredient of our discussions is the necessity that there should be confidence in the future of Hong Kong and in the outcome of these most delicate negotiations.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool. Riverside (Mr. Parry) on his excellent speech and agree with the remarks that he made about democracy.

This morning, The Guardian leader summed it up for me. It said: It may be tempting for Hong Kong's vested interests to organise a rearguard action against the agreement. Those who have already made arrangements to leave have little to lose by exploiting the genuine anxieties of those who will have to stay. We owe an obligation to the mass of the people of Hong Kong. For that reason, hon. Members on both sides of the House should be wishing success to the negotiations.

Reference has been made to the position, history and attitudes of the Chinese. I visited Hong Kong recently with my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson). We spent a day in China, but had the opportunity to speak to many people from Hong Kong, and Shenzhen, the economic zone in China. My impression was that the Chinese are convinced that the negotiations ought to succeed. Although no one can be given or asked for guarantees, I feel that the Chinese are anxious that, given the importance to them of Hong Kong and the economic flow that is in many ways their shop window, it does not make sense for them to take any action that would suggest, especially to the Soviet Union, about which the Chinese were desperately worried, that co-existence between China, Hong Kong and the New Territories was not possible. I do not believe that the Chinese want to suggest that.

Even if there were difficulties—I am sure that the Foreign Secretary and the Minister have greater insight into the negotiations than Back Benchers—I believe that Hong Kong is bound to change, even without the problems caused by the expiry of the lease in 1997. There is much to be said in favour of Hong Kong. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton and I visited some of its educational establishments and saw some of its social work and social services provisions. We were much impressed. We met young people who enjoy an educational system that is manifestly improving. Even if we did not debate the matter tonight, those young people in Hong Kong would want to have a say in their future. They are articulate, well-educated young people and they are not prepared to accept the undemocratic nature of Hong Kong society, which was outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Riverside, or the imposition of another style of government that might appeal to other hon. Members.

The time is bound to come when we shall want to express views as Members of the British Parliament on what should be happening in Hong Kong or between Hong Kong and China. We shall accept that there is a Hong Kong that is worthy of expressing its own views. Those young people are articulate and capable of expressing their views and concern about their future, not just in the shape of co-existence between themselves and China, important though that is, but in peaceful co-existence between Hong Kong and other nations, which my hon. Friends believe to be important in every part of the world.

China is certainly watching Singapore and Hong Kong. As the capitalist system develops, it does not help the Chinese if they attempt to bully Hong Kong, now, in the transitional period or after 1997, into accepting a life style that is repugnant to the majority of its people. Therefore, I want to offer some words of encouragement to the Foreign Secretary in this difficult situation.

Hong Kong has problems which deserve urgent consideration. I mentioned one of them last time we debated these matters. The problem of refugees still exists. In the earlier debate I mentioned the nine-year-old boy whom we saw in a closed refugee camp. I know that the Foreign Secretary has addressed himself to the problem, but it cannot simply be set aside as something to be dealt with in 10 or 20 years' time, or even later than that. The problem is with us now. If I have been a little disappointed—only a little—with some of the views expressed by delegations from Hong Kong this week, it is because not one of them referred to that problem. A sign of the growing maturity of the people of Hong Kong is the acceptance that there is a problem—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That, at this day's sitting, the Motion in the name of the Prime Minister for the Adjournment of the House may be proceeded with, though opposed, until Twelve o'clock. — [Mr. Garel-Jones.]

Mr. Clarke

We shall clearly return to the problem before us today. I do not know the Government's timetable, but I do not believe that they should rush it. Unlike some hon. Members, I believe that it may be important to deal with the small print. The Chinese say that they honour agreements, so let us be absolutely clear about the details of the agreement in the interests of all the people of Hong Kong. When the Minister considers the timetable, I hope that he will accept that Members of Parliament will have a final say in these matters. I believe, however, that speed is less important than getting this right.

In conclusion, in many ways the people of Hong Kong have had a great past. I believe that they could influence China and some of the excesses there, such as the undeniable removals of human rights about which we have heard so much. I believe that Hong Kong is capable of that. Here I echo the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East. Confidence can lead to confidence, but, equally, lack of confidence can be infectious. If the people of Hong Kong accept the spirit of the views of the people of Great Britain—we want democracy to flourish there and prosperity to continue, and the people of Hong Kong to contribute to peaceful co-existence —I believe that the future of the people of Hong Kong can be as great and glorious as their past.

10.2 pm

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

Although I have no personal interest to declare, I should tell the House that my wife's family has an interest in a company that was earlier the subject of some unattractive and intemperate remarks by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey).

This is a debate of the highest importance because it takes place against a difficult and emotive background. Furthermore — for a change — every sentiment and nuance will be carefully weighed not only in Hong Kong but in Peking. I shall therefore try to measure carefully what I have to say in my brief contribution.

I believe that the People's Republic of China and Great Britain are fundamentally good friends. We value our relationship with that country and we wish it well. Many of us recognise the great difficulties that China has to overcome and the significant strides that it is now making.

Quite apart from the ties of colony and formal relationships, Hong Kong is in its own right a highly valued friend of Great Britain. On many occasions it has provided both physical and material help to this country. I ask the Chinese Government to accept and understand that strong, emotional bonds exist between us.

China and Hong Kong have for generations had an important and increasingly vital relationship. It is greatly valued by both sides for many obvious reasons. Thus, there exists a tangled skein of deep and complex ties and interests and, not unnaturally, great anxieties and fears about the future. Accordingly, it is entirely correct and proper that the interests of the people of Hong Kong should be reflected in this debate. They are, not unnaturally, considerable and the Chinese must accept that they cannot be lightly brushed aside.

I further ask our good friends in Peking to accept, even if they do not understand it, that the role of the British Parliament is of the highest importance. For obvious reasons my right hon. and learned Friend is unable to tell the House the real details of the talks that are taking place. However, I say to him that it is in the interests of the people of Hong Kong and, in many respects, of the Chinese Government to seek to obtain as detailed an agreement as possible, especially in respect of fundamental liberties, peace, order and good Government. It would be naive and foolish to talk of guarantees. We should seek earnest and realistic assurances from the Chinese Government. They must also understand that face is also important to the British Parliament and British people. My right hon. and learned Friend must tell the People's Republic of China that this House cannot and will not be railroaded or steamrollered into an agreement.

If I were Chinese, it would be of the highest importance for the present and future interests and honour of my country to arrive at a definitive, clear and equable agreement. Furthermore, I would feel a surge of historic destiny and a desire for the future reunification of China. I hope that I would think most carefully about the impact of my Government's actions in Hong Kong on the minds of the people of Taiwan, and on the deep-seated and fundamental aspirations of the people on mainland China.

If we can safeguard the liberties and the prosperity of the people of Hong Kong, which I am sure we can—it must also be in China's undoubted greater interest—Kong Kong will have a great and peaceful future. The ingenuity, resourcefulness and determination of its people will be alive to advance still further, to the benefit of all.

Essentially I am optimistic. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on the Government's progress. At this time calm and steady counsels should prevail if we are to continue along the path to a harmonious, realistic and above all, honourable solution.

10.9 pm

Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

I have an interest to declare, which is no longer financial and which I share with the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray)—I was born in Hong Kong. My family's connection with Hong Kong goes back to 12 years after the signing of the 1898 treaty. Therefore, I have a deep interest in securing a satisfactory future for the people of Hong Kong, which will secure their way of life and freedom.

Hong Kong's achievements are extraordinary. In 1945, the population was half a million and it was recovering from four years of Japanese occupation. The population is now 11 times that figure, yet their standard of living is one of the highest in Asia. Those 5.5 million people have a foreign trade which, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said, is twice that of India, which has a population of 700 million. Hong Kong vies with Japan for the role of main British export market in Asia. It has, by its own efforts, turned itself into a world financial centre, not simply a regional one. If India was the jewel in the crown up to 1947, in recent years Hong Kong can claim to have taken over that role.

That has happened because under successive British Governments the people of Hong Kong have had freedom backed by British administration and English law. That has given full scope to the natural ingenuity, intelligence and energy of Hong Kong's people. I know of no more striking economic success in any part of the world than Hong Kong has achieved.

In 1898 our predecessors signed what seems to us now to be an extraordinary treaty. The Government have had no alternative but to pursue the broad course that they have, disagreeable though it may be to me and unattractive though it may be to the people of Hong Kong. I understand their anxieties. Although I was quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) as saying that the report by the members of the Executive and Legislative Councils was too pessimistic, we owe them a debt. It was right for them to come here and to seek such wide discussions with the Government, with all parties in the House and with anyone who wished to meet them. Their anxieties are shared by many in Hong Kong.

The visit has had the great merit of demonstrating to the Government of China that there are real anxieties in Hong Kong, anxieties which it is important for not only the British Government but the Government of China to allay. Without continued confidence in Hong Kong, whether on the part of its people or of outside investors, after 1997, Hong Kong might not be an asset to China but a burden. I was glad also to have talks with the other delegation from Hong Kong that is currently visiting Britain.

I am cautiously optimistic that we shall reach an acceptable agreement this year. The House knows that spokesmen for the Republic of China have in past months repeatedly made statements which, if taken together, amount to promising the people of Hong Kong a way of life almost identical to that which they enjoy now; the right to manage their own affairs, their traditional freedom, their own convertible currency and their own legal system. What is more, they seem to promise direct trading links with the outside world.

However, it is not enough to have an agreement that is acceptable now. Between now and 1997 we must build, in co-operation with the Republic of China, layers of confidence among Hong Kong people about its future. We must also achieve confidence that the agreement will last. When I visited Hong Kong in January, I discovered that that latter point was one of the people's main anxieties. They believed that an agreement reached this year would probably be acceptable, but they were worried about its durability. They said, "What happens if there is a change of regime in Peking? What happens if there is another phenomenon like the cultural revolution?" They want reassurance on the durability of any agreement reached, even in those circumstances.

As many hon. Members have pointed out, in the nature of politics there can be no such thing as an absolute guarantee about the future, but it is significant—this is worth repeating time and time again—that in spite of all the upheavals in China since 1945, China has made no attempt at any time to intervene in the internal affairs of Hong Kong, in spite of the fact that the treaties governing Hong Kong are in the eyes of the Government in Peking unequal and invalid.

I should like to list a number of grounds for confidence that an agreement will last. This agreement will not be unequal. It is to be negotiated freely between the Government of China and the Government of the United Kingdom. I support those who have said that it should be solemn and should contain as much substance as possible. That too will help confidence.

I agree with those who have said that we should be developing Hong Kong's representative institutions. There are very good reasons why we have not developed them before; Peking would have viewed such a development with alarm. We have only to consider its behaviour when it went first to the United Nations; in the decolonisation committee it asked at once for the item on Hong Kong to be erased from the agenda. I do not go along with those hon. Members who have talked about the rapid democratisation of Hong Kong. We want measured development over the next 13 years which will mean that by 1997 there will be in position institutions which will hopefully require no change.

Another matter that gives ground for confidence is the development of the special economic zone of Shenzhen, inland from Hong Kong. The purpose of this zone is to allow China to learn about capitalism, but it also has a function as a buffer or insulator between Hong Kong and the rest of China. That buffer works to the advantage of both sides. Hon. Members who have seen it will have no doubt about the intention of the Government of China that the zone should be permanent. The border between it and the rest of China is much more solid and permanent than the border between the zone and Hong Kong; the buildings are built to last.

Then there is the development of other special economic zones. I believe that more than 20 are planned in China and they will be to the advantage of Hong Kong. Among others things, they will make Hong Kong less conspicuous in is capitalist way of life, although I am confident that Hong Kong will remain permanently well ahead of the economic zones in its economic success.

As other hon. Members have said, the most important assurance about the future is self-interest. China has an immense stake in Hong Kong's economic success. It has a direct stake in getting one third of its foreign currency through Hong Kong and in its ownership of property and enterprises in Hong Kong. It has an indirect stake because of its need and desire for an opening to the world. It has recently been reaffirmed by Premier Zhao both in the United States, when he was there in January, and again yesterday that the policy of China's openness towards the world is long-term. If one asks oneself through what other territory China can pursue a policy of openness to the world, the answer is, none. Singapore is too far away, is only half Hong Kong's size and does not have Hong Kong's skills. There is no other place on the Chinese coast which can match Hong Kong's skills, capacity and location.

As has been pointed out, there is an assurance too in China's desire for the reunification of Taiwan with the mainland. Reunification is a top priority of the Government and the National Congress of Peking. It has been promoted in the batting order as recently as last year. We can be entirely confident that the Government of China understand how relevant is success or failure in Hong Kong to the ambition of China to secure the reunification of Taiwan with the mainland.

There is one point on which I differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames). I believe the Government in Peking do understand that this Parliament in London has a role to play in relation to the agreement which we hope to see. They understand that the Government have said that any agreement must be acceptable to the people of Hong Kong.

I welcome the fact that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said in his opening speech that the House will have an opportunity of knowing the views of the people of Hong Kong before we debate the draft agreement. It is in the interest of China that the agreement should be acceptable to the people of Hong Kong. They probably understand that. Only with consent will there be confidence and only with confidence will there be success. Britain and China have a common interest in getting a good agreement, by which I mean one which is not only acceptable to the people of Hong Kong now but one which will last.

10.20 pm
Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Stockton, South)

As has been demonstrated by the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker), two strands have emerged during the debate. One is the confidence of the House in the desire of the Republic of China to provide Hong Kong with a continuing way of life and to keep its word on that matter. The other is the concern and anxiety that hon. Members share for the people of Hong Kong and the deep desire that the way of life and success of that territory is maintained in future. The one thing that binds those two together which will ensure that everybody's aim is achieved is for confidence to be maintained during the course of the discussions and then, crucially, during the 13 years until 1997, as the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said—although I did not agree with everything that he said.

I hope that the debate will have helped to sustain and prop up confidence in Hong Kong. I do not agree with some of the comments that have been made about the representations of UMELCO representatives in London this week. The House must recognise, as hon. Members sit there secure and comfortable in the knowledge that we have a certain and prosperous future, the depth of anxiety that exists in Hong Kong about the future of the people there. There is a lack of trust in the big bear neighbour over the border that may jeopardise their way of life and security in future. That depth of anxiety is real and it would be wrong of the House not to recognise it and see the ways in which it has been demonstrated by representations that have been made to us in the past couple of weeks. Those that know Hong Kong will well know the feelings and fears that exist there.

We have to accept the good faith of the Chinese Government in all that they have said. It would be wrong not to do so. The many comments that have expressed that view from both sides of the House today will have helped in relations with Peking because it is clear that their word is being taken as honourable and that it will be upheld. That will have been a helpful aspect of the debate, and I hope of assistance to the Government.

I want to comment a little further on one or two of the things that I think give rise to anxiety, and why I hope that the agreement, when it can be published, is as detailed as possible. One recognises that it is not necessarily possible at this juncture, 13 years before the end of the lease, for every detail to be contained in the agreement. Let us consider the position of the Army and of the police. The Hong Kong people have the prospect of the Ghurkas and the British Army moving out of their territory. We all remember the feelings of the people of Hong Kong when the Navy presence in Hong Kong was removed, and the fears to which that gave rise—this symbolic presence in the bay in Hong Kong. Every time that there has been a round of negotiations over cut-backs in presence of troops in Hong Kong, the anxiety to which I referred earlier, and which has now reached even greater proportions, has always been expressed. When the lease ends, there is the prospect that the Chinese Republican Army may be stationed in Hong Kong. Will it move into the barracks? Who will control it? Will it be the administration of Hong Kong, or will it be Peking? These are the questions and the realities that face people in Hong Kong. There may be good answers to these questions, but they are the sort of anxieties that people express.

Who will be responsible for administering the police? There have been great troubles in the past over the administration of the police force in Hong Kong. Who will be responsible for that, and for ensuring that there is not corruption and injustice? What will be the system? In view of the experience of past years, the people in Hong Kong naturally see these daily facts of life facing them, and are anxious about them. I therefore hope that as many details as possible will be given in the agreement.

I think that the people of Hong Kong have to accept that there cannot be any third party international guarantee in the agreement. Some people have suggested that this might be the case. I assume that the Peking Government and our Government will want to inform the United Nations, the GATT, various other such international bodies, and other Governments, of the arrangements that have been agreed. I hope that that in itself will be enough to sustain confidence in Hong Kong as to the terms of the agreement reached. But to think that there can be some sort of UN guarantee or oversight of any agreement is an insult to Peking, and I think that it would be impossible to agree that with the administration in Peking.

On the question of the acceptability of the agreement to the people of Hong Kong, it has been made clear in the debate that it is not possible to have a referendum within the territory, as some hon. Members have suggested. I think there has been a considerable under-estimate of how much of an impression of the views of the people of Hong Kong can be obtained from the myriad bodies that represent different spectrums and levels of opinion there. Indeed, all the opinion polls that have been taken and published confirm the views that have been expressed across a broad spectrum, demonstrating what the opinion is. I think that it is perfectly acceptable, with the increased democracy that is envisaged, that we can get an accurate representation of the views of the people of Hong Kong.

Let me dwell briefly on the question of democracy. I am slightly amused at the turn-about that has taken place. The objective for some years now has been to extend democracy in Hong Kong, and I recall the Green Paper published in 1980, and the White Paper published in January 1981 that led to the extension of democracy into the district boards, and to the changes in the urban council. I remember, too, the debates at that time, and the stiff opposition in some sections of this country, and certainly in Hong Kong, to the extension of that democracy. I was told that Chinese people did not like that way of administering their local and national government, that they were not used to democracy and that they would not vote. When the elections were held, those people did vote, just as our constituents vote in local government elections. It is a pity that more progress has not been made at what we would regard as local government level in the territories so that the habit of democracy could have been firmly implanted before the negotiations began.

Some hon. Members have said that 13 years is a long time, but it is not a long time in which to get used to administration at local and territory level. Hong Kong has to change from a system of advisory district boards to a system in which the majority of board members will be elected. It will take a long time to work out and get used to the new relationships between elected members and officials and between members and the electorate.

We have had such a system for a long time, but 13 years is not a long time in which to put that system in place and get used to it. I regret that nothing was done earlier, but now that the system is being introduced, I hope that it will be done as rapidly as possible, so that it can operate effectively before the transition period ends.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) mentioned citizenship, which keeps cropping up. Reference has been made to the fact that some countries have offered to sell citizenship to Hong Kong citizens. I hope that that will not attract many people from Hong Kong and that confidence will be such that they will not feel the need to leave. Of course, many have split families, with relations living in other countries, and some have two homes, which gives them the opportunity of living elsewhere.

Those people are taking out that insurance policy, but they are retaining their homes in Hong Kong and are not deserting the ship. The overwhelming majority wish to remain in Hong Kong and to play a full part in its life. The fact that 750,000 people went over the border into China during the new year festivities illustrates the close links between substantial sections of the population in Hong Kong and many families in China, and people's commitment to remain in Hong Kong after the leases expire. No one should underestimate that commitment, but we should understand the desire of some people to have an insurance policy.

I hope that, in case disaster should strike, the Government will keep America, Japan and the Commonwealth informed about the agreement and how the Government intend it to develop during the transition period. We want to carry the Commonwealth, America and other countries in the western world with us in reaching an agreement with China. We have heard today different approaches to this subject, but I hope that no one in Hong Kong will believe that hon. Members have first and foremost in their minds anything other than the security, prosperity and freedom of the people of that territory. For that reason I wish the Foreign Secretary every success in the negotiations and I hope that he will be able to sustain confidence and to reach an agreement with Peking that satisfies the people of Hong Kong and eventually this House, so that the transitional period will lead to the handover without any interruption of the way of life in the territory.

10.35 pm
Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

If I were a Hong Kong Chinese listening to the debate, I would be gratified by the tributes paid to the territory, but I might be perturbed by the valedictory flavour of some of the remarks, especially perhaps those of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). Nevertheless, I pay tribute to the people of Hong Kong, as any one who has lived and worked there must do. I pay tribute to their intelligence and resourcefulness. I do so not in a valedictory spirit, because I believe that they have a sound future and that Britain has a role to play in that future. However, in one sense, I share the approach of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), because I, too, think that this is a time for clarity.

First and foremost, we must be clear about the guarantees. The main reason why there cannot be any guarantees in future is, as has been said, that there were none in the past. The reason why there never have been, and will not be, any guarantees has much to do with a certain unpredictability on the part of the regime in China. I do not say that the regime today is not predictable. Fortunately, there is what appears to be a very pragmatic regime. However, we all remember the different regime of not so long ago, and I should not wish to forecast exactly what sort of regime there will be in 13 years' time. We must be frank and honest about that.

Not so long ago, I had the job of trying to predict the internal politics of China, and I distinguished myself by my inaccuracy. I failed to see that Lin Piao, the closest comrade-in-arms of Mao Tse Tung, was a Soviet spy. I was not alone in that. I am not sure that even the Russians knew. That is an example of the unpredictable nature of Chinese internal politics.

I do not conclude from that—here I share the view of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East—that the future of Hong Kong is insecure. On the contrary. If we remember in detail what happened during the cultural revolution, the turmoil that there was in China at that time and the political passions that were unleashed in Hong Kong, where I believe 55 people were killed—I saw some of the events at first hand—we must be impressed by the powers of resistance in China to the idea of rash action against Hong Kong. So far, the unpredictability of the regime in China has not worked against the interests of Hong Kong.

We must not think in terms of formal continuity. That is unattainable. Hong Kong's interests were defended in 1969 not by British sovereignty—which I regard as notional—nor by the British Administration, but by what one might call Chinese self-interest. We must aim for continuity of substance rather than of form.

I want to make three remarks about the substance. First, I join those hon. Members who have said that we need the most detailed agreement possible, particularly in the financial sphere. Generalised assurances are not enough for investors. I hope that, on the day, however difficult it may be, our negotiators will be able to secure something rather more precise.

Secondly, I hope that there will be a continued British presence in Hong Kong after 1997. I sometimes get the feeling that we shall clear out lock, stock and barrel, but I do not see why that should be so. We have had some rather generalised Chinese assurances to the effect that British subjects will be able to stay on. I hope that there will be quite a substantial British presence in the Administration there. If the Chinese can make that clear in a little more detail, that would be an element of continuity and reassurance for the population.

Thirdly, I should like to say something that will not please many on either side of the House and not everyone outside. I favour democracy—I regard it as a handy system—but when I see a band-wagon rushing past, my first inclination is to let it pass, especially if I feel that the people on it are not entirely sure where it is going. There is a band-wagon on democratisation in Hong Kong that worries me a little. When I lived in Hong Kong, there was frustration, which I found entirely understandable, at the lack of democracy. It is a sophisticated place full of enormously intelligent people. If I were one of them, I should also be frustrated. However, the very absence of democracy has been one of the features for continuity in Hong Kong. It is one of the reasons why the Chinese have not moved against it or been tempted to intervene. We should remember that, although it is right to develop the urban council and district boards, it would be wrong to get carried away or to encourage people to believe that what we regard as normal democratic institutions and party politics can have much of a future in Hong Kong.

There are three reasons for that. First, if we went a little too far in that direction, we could arouse suspicions in China that could affect the negotiations or the interim period before 1997. That would be dangerous.

Secondly, if we went too far and too quickly in democratisation, we could stir up commotion, conflict and latent political passions which I believe exist in the colony, and, in the worst circumstances, precipitate Chinese intervention that we all think would be damaging to the future of the colony.

Thirdly, even if we succeeded—it is unlikely—in creating Western-type democracy with parties or groups that looked like parties, that could cause instability after 1997, because we are dealing with a Communist country. It is a special form of Communist country, but most Communist countries, including China, do not generally tolerate opposition. If there were two or three parties in Hong Kong in 1997, there could be an enormous temptation in Peking, bearing in mind that we do not know what type of regime there will be there in 1997, to control those parties as in eastern Europe where the various parties are remarkably similar.

I am not against democracy in Hong Kong. It should be developed, especially at local level. But we should bear all the factors in mind when thinking about the territory's future. It would be ironic indeed if, in our zeal to implant democracy in Hong Kong, we promoted circumstances in which the people there found themselves obliged to vote for the same party.

In case what I have said has sounded a little downbeat, I should like to repeat that I am not in a valedictory mood. We should continue to work on precisely the lines on which the Government are working. I am confident that we shall have a lot to do with the Chinese and the people of Hong Kong in the future, provided that we do not get carried away and are not too fatalistic.

If I have one criticism of the Government's handling of this matter so far, it would be not about matters of substance, but about a fatalistic tone I have detected—perhaps I am being sensitive—in some recent remarks. I see no cause for being too unrealistically optimistic, but I hope that we shall not be too fatalistic. I am confident about the colony's future. If I had more money, I would put it in Hong Kong.

10.44 pm
Sir Ian Percival (Southport)

After such a knowledgeable speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), I am loth to intervene as a new boy to the subject, but I have had the advantage of recently being in Hong Kong and want, therefore, to convey some of the impressions it made on me.

I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) and other hon. Friends have echoed what was said from the Front Benches about UMELCO. Of course it is not a perfect system, and its representatives are here speaking only for themselves. They do not purport to speak for the Government. But it is right that the other side of the picture should be mentioned in the House. They are part of a remarkable system.

Mr. Hal Miller (Bromsgrove)

It is, indeed, remarkable.

Sir Ian Percival

One must see it to believe that it exists. That system comes a great deal closer to government and legislation by consensus than many other systems about which we know more. There are 42 men and women working jolly hard, and we should not underestimate or overlook the great support that they are now receiving from Hong Kong, from all kinds of associations. We should not underestimate either the channels of communication they have for ascertaining public opinion. I believe that they are members of 300 committees. There are also some 3,000 sub-committees. I wish that I had similar channels of communication for finding out the thoughts of my constituents.

I echo the caution of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham on the subject of "democracy", but for differing reasons. We are apt to say the most hypocritical things in the name of democracy. Before we start screaming for more democracy, we should ask ourselves what we mean by it and whether we are talking about a system that would be of value to the people in question. Because we believe in democracy, we tend to think that what we see as democracy is good for everyone else. We can so easily be wrong, and I am glad that the warnings have been uttered.

Confidence is central to this issue. Not long ago, I too was in Hong Kong. It was a private, not an official visit. I met many people from many walks of life and came away with the unqualified impression that they have immense confidence in their ability to meet and overcome all the difficulties—provided that they are given the chance to do so. That is the big proviso. They have every reason to feel that confidence. Where else could we find a situation where, the population having multiplied elevenfold in 30-odd years, through the efforts of the Government and people working together—it is a joy to see that, because they could not have achieved so much except by working together — jobs, education and houses have been provided on an almost unbelievable scale. Those 5 million people have been given an equality of opportunity, and have had guaranteed for them freedoms the equal of ours and the envy of the rest of the world. Yes, judging from the past, the Hong Kong people have every reason to be confident.

It is not an exaggeration to say that one can feel the confidence. One can almost feel the vibes—I believe that is the modern term—and hear the pulse beating. If one wants to talk to anyone in management in Hong Kong between 7 am and 7 pm, one must ring him at his office; it is no good trying to contact him at home. It is not surprising, having regard to the quality of the people with whom we are dealing and their hard work that those achievements have been brought about and that they have confidence in themselves.

However, there is rather less than total confidence in the likelihood of Hong Kong being left to get on with the opportunity to develop the territory, as the people know they can and will, given the chance. Should we be surprised about that? Would not any of us, having been British all our lives, facing the possibility that quite soon we will be Chinese, and without any guarantees about what will happen, be very frightened about what might happen? It is not open to us to call that lack of confidence or pessimism. It is a very human reaction, and the more we recognise that, the better.

I hope that this debate has done a great deal of good in helping to overcome those wholly natural fears and in helping to restore a little more confidence in the intentions of both the People's Republic of China and ourselves. I say that for three special reasons. What my right hon. and learned Friend said must have done a great deal of good, and I thank him for it. I did not expect to hear so much in such specific terms. During negotiations, there are definite limitations on what can be said. The fact that my right hon. and learned Friend said so much should help to restore confidence.

I was glad to hear him say certain things that I know the people in Hong Kong want to hear. He said that there must be a detailed and binding agreement and that the essentials must be formally recorded with clarity and in detail. That is exactly what the people want. He also said that the people of Hong Kong need to know the terms and to have time to express their views about them. That, again, was said by everyone I met in Hong Kong. They will be as pleased as I am to know that my right hon. and learned Friend has the confidence in the outcome of the negotiations to be able to say those things from the Dispatch Box.

I hope too that the people of Hong Kong will feel that what has been said about China and the trust that can be placed in its implementation of written agreements, is helpful to them. We talk about believing in the People's Republic of China. The people of Hong Kong have of course even more reason than us to want to believe in its promises. They have the need, which we do not have, not only to believe in it but to have additional assurances that that belief is justified. We should not complain about that; it is only human. We should do exactly the same if we were in their place. To give absolute guarantees would be equally wrong, but we must go as far along that road as we can.

I hope that the debate will have given some comfort to the Hong Kong belongers. I hope it has demonstrated to them the real fund of good will that exists on both sides of the House and our very real concern for their future. I hope that it will bring home to them our awareness of our responsibilities and our desire to discharge them to the very limit of what is practicable. I hope that it will also have demonstrated that we do have a substantial understanding of their problems and their feelings.

It is important that they do appreciate that we understand both their problems and their feelings. I hope too that the reasons that have been spelled out to show that there are grounds for confidence will be of some comfort to them.

I hope that that will all happen, but I guess that the people of Hong Kong will still say, "Yes, that is all very well, but please try to give us some more 'chopsticks' (assurances). The more you give us 'chopstick', the more you give us confidence, and the better for us, and thus for China and for you, that will be." They will say, "We do not expect absolute guarantees, but we should like to hear at least a few more assurances of 'best efforts'."

We all agree with the people of Hong Kong that we should like to see freedom of entry and exit included in the agreement. However, as has been said tonight, it is not much good having freedom of exit if there is nowhere to go. As soon as one mentions that, one tends to stir up all the immigration problems and everyone thinks, "Oh dear, 5 million Hong Kongers arriving on our doorstep. We cannot cope with that." I believe that that overlooks the reality of the matter. Not many of those 5 million want to leave. Hong Kong is their life and their country. They built it and they would much rather stay there. They know that we cannot provide asylum for them or guarantee them places elsewhere. They would like to hear that if it all went wrong—we so hope that it will not—we would use our best efforts to see that we and the rest of the world took a share of the burden of finding places for them to go. I am sure that we would do that if it happened—that is, use our "best efforts". I should be surprised if we did not. I wonder whether we cannot go a little further, in terms of "best efforts" only, with the assurances that we give to the people of Hong Kong.

Above all, I hope that the debate will have restored the confidence of the people of Hong Kong, not in themselves because that is there, but in their belief that they will be given the opportunity to exercise their skills, industry and confidence, to make Hong Kong an even better place in which to live.

10.57 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) introduced a number of delicate and important issues, not least the continuing and what he called the valedictory position in 1997. That is what bothers a number of us. In 1996 we are, apparently, to be there; and in 1998 everything is to be different.

The question that I wish to ask Foreign Office Ministers is the same as that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey)—are we sure that 13 years is right, because it is a long, long time?

In November 1970 I had the good fortune to go with the Scottish Council for Development and Industry trade delegation to Maoist China. At that time the fashion was that Western visitors would be called for nocturnal visits to Chinese leaders. I remember vividly being asked to go after midnight to see Chen Wen Jen who was then the head of the American and European department of the Chinese Foreign Office. After about an hour and a half he suddenly began asking me in English about Labour party policy. He said, "Of course, as Lord Attlee, Mrs. Castle and Mr. Bevan were telling me—" That was something that had happened not the previous week or month but 17 years before, when Clem Attlee led that Labour party delegation to China. It is a rather different time scale to the one that we are normally used to in Western Europe. I say that not simply for the sake of reminiscence. I understand that the time scale in the far East may be a bit different to the sort of hectic and frenetic time scale that we are used to. I hope that the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) will be able to answer my specific question when he returns to the debate. In these discussions—one cannot probe them too deeply—has there been any representation from the Chinese side that the transitional period is too long? Perhaps that has not happened but, knowing the Chinese, they may well be rather inhibited from asking about that. But that does not mean that we should not offer to open the discussions. In the best judgment is there not something to be said for at least talking of a shorter transitional period, with less uncertainty; I am not saying that the time should be telescoped in a ridiculous way, but it is a long time until 1997 and much water will flow under the bridges.

My quick question is, has there been any discussion of time scale and, if not, should we not offer it for the sake of goodwill and perhaps bring all sorts of benefits to the kind of valedictory problems to which the hon. Member for Buckingham referred.

You correctly asked us to speak briefly, Mr. Speaker. I know that many hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall utter one further question. If we have some of the good sense that is shown in relation to the problems of the Eastern Pacific in relation to the paramountcy of other people's views, could not some of that good sense spill over into the South Atlantic?

11.1 pm

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

In my lifetime, with but two exceptions, we have led our dependencies in every quarter of the globe towards self determination and independence. We have deliberately encouraged the idea, through democratic institutions, that people can take their destinies into their own hands. The process has, by and large, been accompanied by a minimum of upheaval and a maximum of good will.

The two exceptions are Gibraltar where the transfer of sovereignty was specifically excluded by the terms of the treaty of Utrecht, and Hong Kong, where sovereign independence has never been the goal of the rulers or the ruled and where, as a consequence, constitutional progress has been minimal. Indeed the first small steps towards elections by universal franchise were taken only two years ago, when residents were permitted to elect some representatives to district boards with only advisory powers, and to elect representatives to the urban council. As for the Executive and legislative councils these are purely consultative bodies and, as hon. Members have said—I do not say this in a derogatory sense, as that would be quite unfair—they represent only themselves.

Yet, this is a system which has provided stable executive Government throughout a period of tumultuous population growth, brought about by upheavals in mainland China and the Communist revolution, and economic development which has been little short of a miracle.

Inherent in that situation has long been the knowledge that when the lease of the New Territories, which constitute about 92 per cent. of the total land area of Hong Kong, expires in 1997, Hong Kong island Kowloon would become untenable if China insisted on their return.

It is absolutely right, against that background, that the Government should have entered into negotiations. I congratulate them on the progress that has been made so far and would say only that in some ways it is a pity that such negotiations were not entered into earlier, to give a longer period of transition.

In my view, the problem facing the Government is not merely to ensure after 1997, when they may have some influence on events or none at all, continuity of the prosperity, relative freedom and way of life of 5.3 million people, many of whom are refugees from mainland China, but how to maintain their confidence in the run-up period. Confidence is the key word and it has cropped up in speech after speech in this debate. God knows, there is little enough time — I certainly do not go along with the crackpot suggestion of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) in this respect—to prepare the people of Hong Kong to manage a successful and trusted autonomous region within the People's Republic.

Many of us have been to Hong Kong or to mainland China and we have had contacts with people both there and here. My Hong Kong contacts tell me that there are anxieties, which is only to be expected, but that equally —here I emphasise what young Hong Kong citizens tell me—given good will and patience by the British and Chinese Governments, the problem is not insoluble. Peking has said that Hong Kong will enjoy special administrative status for 50 years after the transfer of sovereignty, during which time the present legal and economic system will be preserved. It has also said that Hong Kong's position as a freeport and one of the great financial centres of the world will continue.

Can we be sure that all that will happen? There are, of course, doubters, and doubts have been expressed again today. In fact, none of us can envisage what China will be like in 1997. It is difficult enough to envisage what this country will be like in 1987. Having listened carefully to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), so full of knowledge and experience, I agree with him that all that we can say is that of all people on earth the Chinese, a gifted and industrious race, are pragmatic.

Let us consider the facts. Hong Kong is invaluable to China now, bringing to it about US $7 billion per year in foreign exchange. It is an entrepot point for trade with the outside world. It buys from China billions of dollars' worth of food, medicine, consumer goods and fresh water every year. In 1979, Hong Kong paid China US $100 million for water alone. Again, who can measure the enormous fund of expertise in business, finance, banking, management skills, design, engineering, technical education and tourism that Hong Kong now possesses and which will be available to China from people speaking the same language and sharing the same culture? Clearly, China has every incentive to see that the economic miracle does not disappear. Moreover, if China wishes to bring Taiwan back into the fold, success there may well turn on the way in which Hong Kong is treated.

Both we and the people of Hong Kong have to take a great deal on trust, but it should by now be clear to Peking that Britain wants a true and lasting friendship with China. The essence of friendship is that it can be founded only on mutual trust. In his statement on 20 April my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said: The Chinese Government have made it clear publicly that they see the administration of Hong Kong, after 1997, as being in the hands of Hong Kong people themselves. Now I fully understand that the continuing process of negotiation between the two Governments means that my right hon. and learned Friend cannot say very much more on that score. One must be realistic about that.

It is important, however, that both Governments realise that Parliament must be satisfied that what is agreed is in the very best interests of the people of Hong Kong, and that no time is lost in preparing them to administer their own affairs as the Chinese Government themselves envisage after the transfer of sovereignty. I was most impressed by the modest and sensible proposals of one Hong Kong delegation who visited the United Kingdom recently. It was led by Dr. Ding Lik Kiu, a practising medical doctor with a wide experience of community service, and included young men. He and his colleagues, who included urban councillors, made it plain that they intended to remain as residents in Hong Kong. They did not talk about scurrying elsewhere or seeking a bolt hole. They are Hong Kong people and that is where they intend to stay.

They believe that Hong Kong can be successfully integrated with China as a special administrative region. They made modest and sensible proposals, and did not want to rush into democratic elections, party systems and so on. They proposed that at least one third of Unofficial Council Members should be elected by 1987, and that the proportion should increase thereafter; that elections to the Executive Council should be staggered in relation to those to the legislative council, should begin not later than 1987, and should proceed in parallel; and that two thirds of the members of district boards should be elected by 1985, and all should be elected by 1994. That sounds sensible to me. That is not a mad rush but a gradual preparation for the sort of responsibility that the Chinese authorities in Peking envisage after the transfer of sovereignty.

I would judge that such a programme would be acceptable to Parliament. I would hope that it is acceptable to my right hon. and learned Friend. If it is, the sooner that it is implemented the better. It would be the height of folly to delay on the grounds that 1997 is still 13 years away. Confidence is a tender plant. It will be best strengthened by taking the people of Hong Kong into partnership, stage by stage. Truly, the future for Hong Kong begins now.

11.13 pm
Mr. Hal Miller (Bromsgrove)

The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) was kind enough in his introduction to refer to my interest in Hong Kong. His imagery of bullying and bribing was hardly apt for the negotiations in progress between the British and Chinese Governments, but more suited to the Labour party's internal wrangles about devolution, and I was interested to note that he now considers that they were mistaken.

I have an interest to declare, for many reasons. I spent 13 years in the service of the Government and people of Hong Kong, I married there, I had three children born there, my eldest son now works there, and I worked for a Hong Kong Chinese firm when I left the service. The wheel has come full circle. I left the service to go into politics because I was worried about British foreign policy, and now I come to the key issue of British foreign policy towards Hong Kong, which is the future of Hong Kong.

Tonight's debate has been bipartisan and has run on the two themes of confidence and representation. It is hardly surprising that hon. Members have concentrated more on representation, and almost overlooked that that might not have a direct connection with prosperity, let alone stability. Whatever our views on that, it does not help the agreement, because there would not be time to implement the reforms we have discussed to test whether the agreement, when reached, is acceptable to the people of Hong Kong.

I was worried that some of the speeches might appear to my friends in Hong Kong to be insensitive to their fears, if not ill-formed and perhaps arrogant. If one has escaped from the People's Republic of China, or lived, as I did, through the riots in 1956, the great leap forward, the influx of refugees which nearly drowned the colony, the water shortages and the cultural revolution—all those changes in a short period are hardly likely to give one confidence in the long-term stability of Hong Kong. We must address our minds to that, and work on measures that will give confidence.

I agree that, despite all those changes and vicissitudes, China still did not actively intervene in Hong Kong. The people can congratulate themselves and draw confidence from their achievements, despite the perils and dangers to which they were exposed. However, I wish to draw a moral from that. Those achievements, and that resilience, were based on a united response from the people of Hong Kong under firm leadership from the Hong Kong Government. Their combined effort and response brought about success, despite all the disadvantages.

Some of the talk about confidence has appeared a little glib. People are urged to have confidence, but only some of my right hon. and hon. Friends addressed the measures that are needed to give people confidence. I agree with those who say that the ultimate guarantee of the good intentions of China is not only past performance but the position of Taiwan. That sets both the maximum and the minimum of what can be obtained in the negotiations for Hong Kong. That is why the scope of my right hon. and learned Friend and his team is so limited. One wonders why the negotiations have had to be protracted for so long when, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said, the nine points for Taiwan have been clearly established for a long time. One can understand some impatience in Peking at our failure to appreciate that that was both the maximum and minimum position. I was relieved to hear my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary say that he was determined to get a written agreement. That is what is needed to boost confidence, because China has a good record of adherence to written agreements.

The pace of the negotiations, coupled with—I cannot call them indiscretions — releases from Peking have naturally made confidence more difficult to maintain. There was a big fall in the exchange rate last year, and it remains at that level, despite the truly astonishing performance of Hong Kong exports. They increased by about 47 per cent. in the first three months of this year, and there was an overall increase of more than 20 per cent. last year. That shows astonishing resilience in the face of such difficulties, but the exchange rate has still not responded. The obvious inference is that people have kept their earnings abroad and remitted only enough to pay the gas bills and the rates. Yes, they even pay rates in Hong Kong.

Further efforts are required to reassure people while the negotiations are continuing. Perhaps I could summarise those under the headings of Peking, London and Hong Kong. An effort of imagination is still required, coupled with some action. I earnestly ask Peking to accept the need for a written agreement. I am not suggesting that that agreement has to be ratified, guaranteed or assured by any third party or international body, but I hope that Peking will understand the need for a written agreement. I hope further that it will take some action as an earnest of its intention, perhaps by stopping the current flow of refugees into Hong Kong.

Perhaps Peking would also abandon its ambitions temporarily for the removal of the restrictions on COCOM list of strategic goods were Hong Kong to be an autonomous zone of China. It was very important that the Foreign Secretary was able to tell us that it can continue as an autonomous entity. Peking should recognise that some of the advantages Hong Kong has had as such an entity would not immediately accrue to it. There should be a self-denying ordinance in that respect and perhaps a speeding up of the joint project of the power plant and the contemplation of further joint measures of that sort.

From the London Government I ask for an expression of recognition of the fears and anxieties of the residents of Hong Kong which the UMELCO members voiced expertly and for which they were most unjustly traduced in some quarters. I thought they gave a fair reflection on many points of the fears which I understand that many Hong Kong people hold. It was a reflection of the shock, bitterness and even anger that some of them must feel in the circumstances I have described.

Our Government must secure a written agreement. I do not think it can be as detailed as some people have suggested, for the simple reason that the Chinese have set a deadline on the negotiations and are bound, as I have pointed out, by the nine points in the case of Taiwan. To allay loss of confidence, our Government must explain the lines on which they are working to provide for internal security during the transitional period and for the continuance of British administration and, indeed, of British administrators after 1997.

Peking has said that British administrators up to a certain rank would be acceptable. To give those administrators confidence, there should be an indication of how their pension rights will be treated. Perhaps some of the balances of the Hong Kong Government which are held abroad should be lodged here to cover that commitment so as to give confidence. I am afraid that I have heard reports from Hong Kong that there is subversive discussion in the civil service, that there is jealousy between local and expatriate officers, and that there is concern between junior and senior officers. We need to allay those fears to secure continuance of the good administration which alone has made the success of Chinese enterprise and initiative possible in Hong Kong.

People there are most concerned about internal security. If we are not to have the people's liberation army coming into Hong Kong to provide protection for its compatriots, there should be adequate measures for internal security. I believe Peking would contemplate not allowing them in. Proper internal security means the development of a local force to take over from the British forces when they leave. In the meantime, consideration should be given to reinforcement of the British forces for the maintenance of security and for training the local force to which I have referred.

The final act of the London Government should be to devote attention to the documents necessary to provide for freedom of travel. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) exhibited his usual fears about immigration, but he failed to understand the difficulties of trying to travel round the world on a Hong Kong certificate of identity. If he tried that, he would well understand their attachment to what he described as a status that gave them no advantage. It jolly well does at airports in many European and other countries. While I understand that it would be impossible for a British Government to issue British dependent passports to citizens of Hong Kong after it is returned to China as an autonomous zone, consideration needs to be given to whether present documents could not be renewed in some form for present holders.

It is fair to say that those who escaped from China and those who were born in Hong Kong have become accustomed to enjoying the many freedoms that we have discussed — the freedom to travel, the freedom of contract, the freedom to worship, and so on. But they have not so far had to take any part in maintaining those freedoms. The freedoms have been secured by the British administration, while they have been able to concentrate on other activities. Now, I fear, they will have to take responsibility for the maintenance of those freedoms, and that will present many of them with difficulties and novel concepts.

I regret to say that I hear reports from Hong Kong that some of our councillors may be contemplating resignation, because they do not wish to be put into the position of recommending any particular course of action or any particular agreement to the people of Hong Kong as part of the test of acceptance. That would be most unfortunate. Whereas I understand perfectly the document that they have produced, in which they well reflect the concerns expressed in Hong Kong, I am looking to them for some leadership on the issue as to how things will develop in future.

I am astonished that, since my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary held his press conference in Hong Kong, there has been no statement that I can trace and no initiative taken by the Hong Kong Government to instil confidence in the people there. There has been no mention of people going to the IMF to discuss the conditions for retaining the convertible dollar. Nobody has gone to the GATT to discuss the future of the Hong Kong textile quotas once it becomes a separate autonomous part of China. There are actions which the Hong Kong Government should be seen to be taking to show their commitment and the leadership that is needed. Unless Hong Kong acts to maintain confidence, it is no good expecting anybody else to have confidence in its future.

11.27 pm
Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Miller), who knows Hong Kong so well, has called for precise agreements. It is perfectly possible to have precise agreements on such matters as the GATT, the multi-fibre arrangement and the courts of law, but there are wide areas in which it is impossible to have precise agreements. Indeed, it can be difficult to have precise discussions at all. I refer to the whole area of social and political freedom. The Chinese rightly say that they represent the people of Chinese descent in Hong Kong. For us to talk about political and social freedoms for those Chinese inhabitants of Hong Kong is as impertinent as a delegation from Argentina coming to 10 Downing street to discuss the political and civil rights of the Falkland islanders with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. One would not get very far on that.

Of course there is anxiety about the social conditions and freedoms of the Hong Kong people after 1997. The Chinese Government, as we know, attach a great deal of importance to their population policy. Families are allowed to have only one child. If one is allowed to have only one child in Peking or in Canton, why should one be allowed to have more than one child in Hong Kong? Indeed, if one advocated this in Peking, one would be vulnerable to the attacks of those in China—and there are plenty of such people in the Communist party—who believe that Hong Kong is the modern equivalent of Sodom and Gomorrah, and who wish to see its life style destroyed. The fact that Hong Kong is a rich Sodom and a prosperous Gomorrah, if anything makes the situation worse rather than better.

Many of my hon. Friends—indeed, hon. Members on both sides of the House — have referred to the uncertainly that must continue until 1997. Almost without exception, they have gone on to say that, although they have anxieties, it will be all right on the night—all right on the day. I am not sure that it will be all right on the day, and that we are right to say that everyone should have confidence in the future.

I was, therefore, somewhat disturbed to hear the Foreign Secretary, in what I thought was an admirable survey of the current situation, say that he has no intention of recommending a solution which stimulated emigration from Hong Kong to the United Kingdom, or elsewhere. Of course we do not want to see mass emigration from Hong Kong; I absolutely agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) that one must be realistic on these matters, and not raise people's expectations. It would be raising expectations falsely if one were to give the impression that we could take into this country any large number of people from Hong Kong, come what may.

I believe that the Government should now quietly and discreetly, but actively, be seeking arrangements with those countries that have space and that can take people, to produce resettlement schemes that can be activated if necessary. We have the time to work them out, and there is the money in Hong Kong to finance them. I do not believe that Chinese Communists wish to retain in Hong Kong irreconcilable elements, as they call them—those who are terrified of once again being under Communist rule.

At the end of the last war, we handed back to Communist Governments large numbers of men, women and children, and ill fortune on the whole befell them. We look back on that episode with some shame. Let us remember that we are now proposing to hand back 5.5 million people to a Communist regime, and I think that we ought to make some arrangements for those who wish to leave. Hong Kong is our last great imperial problem. Let us not leave there with shame.

11.35 pm
Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

I had a curious feeling at the beginning of the debate that the great international statesmen in the Chamber were giving broad-brush treatment to a detailed and complex issue. They were not radiating the views that I picked up when I was in Hong Kong during the return of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State to Peking only three weeks ago. Many hon. Members have talked about anxiety, but the feeling went far deeper than that. There was a deep-rooted fear on the part of many who had fled Communist China that they would not be able to cope. They feared that there was some sort of list and that the Chinese Communist Government would take advantage of the system in future.

There have been quite a few remarks about the way in which the Taiwanese will respond. From my observation of the Republic of China, the Taiwanese Government and the Taiwanese people I have met, I believe that there will be fierce resistance to any moves that will lead to them joining mainland China. The 18 million Taiwanese will resist far more than my Government are resisting now.

Hon. Members who were in Hong Kong three weeks ago advised UMELCO members whom they met at their headquarters to come to this place to lobby. There is no shame in doing that. They may be individuals and they may not be democratically elected, but they are aware of the fine tuning of the population in their areas. Their views should be listened to, for they are the people who will democratise Hong Kong in future. They have views to put to the Members of this place and they have conveyed them tremendously well. They should be given every praise possible for coming to the House of Commons to try to convince us at this stage—it must seem to them to be an impossible task—that there could be another way.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) that the Government have a weak hand. My right hon. Friend said that that is our strength, and again I agree with him. We want more cynics and doubters in the Chamber. We want more anti-Communist talk for the Chinese will respond to that. If they think that we are a bit of a pushover, the negotiation will continue placidly for a year or even more. I know from my experience of Chinese negotiations in Peking that the Chinese must be told of the fears of the Hong Kong people in no uncertain manner.

The Hong Kong Legislative Council tabled a resolution on 14 March saying: This Council deems it essential that any proposals for the future of Hong Kong should be completed in this Council before any final agreement is made. I think that that is correct. Every member of the council who spoke was very much in favour of the resolution and it was passed overwhelmingly at the end of the debate, which lasted several hours.

I am gratified that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will give the people of Hong Kong adequate time to discuss the details, but I am a little pessimistic. I remember the debates that took place on Rhodesia, or Zimbabwe as it is now called. There were agreements, conditions and guarantees. Democratic government in all its strength was to be performed in Zimbabwe. As we all know, the result fell a long way short of what we expected.

I hope that this will be the first of a series of debates on this important issue. We should send a delegation to Hong Kong from the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. We need more details. How many of us have spoken to the Hong Kong citizens who can speak only Cantonese or Mandarin? How many opinions are we getting from the 2.5 million people who are not wealthy enough to buy themselves out?

There must be more consultation with the people. The UMELCO members can start that process and we can send a Select Committee to Hong Kong and aid the Foreign Secretary in the difficult task that he has performed so ably up to now. I am sure that his hand will be strengthened if the Chinese Government realise that several hon. Members have doubts about the future.

11.41 pm
Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)

I regret that other parliamentary commitments have kept me out of the Chamber for part of the debate, but I heard the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and I wish to concentrate on one matter to which I hope that he will refer in his reply.

I should say that, like other hon. Members, I have heard the views of the UMELCO members and I fully understand their anxieties. However, I hope that, just as we have been able to learn from them, they have able to gauge from their discussions and the debate our interest and keenness to meet their fears.

The issue on which I wish to concentrate is confidence. I declare an interest as the parliamentary adviser to Cable and Wireless, in whose Hong Kong company the Government of Hong Kong hold a 20 per cent. stake. In that context, I believe that the long-term interests of Hong Kong should be related to the long-term interests of the United Kingdom and the People's Republic of China.

There are more clear guidelines in the industrial sphere than in any other area of that tripartite relationship. There are written agreements on contracts for the future of the atomic power station in Hong Kong, involving the China Light and Power Company, which brings in GEC and French collaboration, agreements in relation to the south China sea, in which BP and oil companies from other countries are involved, and agreements on the development of telecommunications for southern China, drawing on Hong Kong as a communications centre, in which all three countries have a direct involvement.

Those three contracts are only part of the pattern for the longer term. Some written agreements run to the year 2010. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Miller), in the sort of informed speech which we expect from him in these matters, mentioned written agreements with the People's Republic of China. All my researches show that written agreements entered into since 1949 have been honoured. Not only is that important in the industrial sphere, but it reinforces the case those of my hon. Friends who have urged on the Foreign Secretary the need for a written agreement in the political and wider sense. That would provide political confidence and draw on the clear-cut industrial interests of the three parties principally concerned.

I have one further point to make. Those who visit Hong Kong—I do so every year—cannot help being impressed by the skill and ingenuity of the people and the way in which they have achieved such remarkable things by their own endeavours. Surely that example and illustration of the way in which enterprise can provide a degree of prosperity and well-being for many people is worth preserving in the wider sense. To take a longer view of the aspirations of the People's Republic of China, the existence of that mixed economy in the Chinese situation could have an impact on the wider relationship between the free world and the Communist bloc.

Those who recently had an opportunity to see something of the People's Republic of China's representatives, through the Inter Parliamentary Union, will know that China is at the moment showing considerable interest in playing a part in a wider parliamentary dialogue. It will not have escaped the attention of many hon. Members that China is now in the Inter Parliamentary Union after seeking admission for some 30 years. These are helpful and encouraging signs for those who believe that there is something in current Chinese policies on which we should build.

I wish, therefore, to express some optimism on the industrial and political fronts, and I suggest that there is evidence to support that optimism. Such optimism must inevitably be qualified because, in the case of Hong Kong, much remains to be done by my right hon. and learned Friend.

In conclusion, I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will not overlook what I have tried to suggest are the industrial commitments of the three main parties concerned when he considers the wider political questions.

11.46 pm
Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Mid-Bedfordshire)

I am an optimist about Hong Kong, but we should be deeply insensitive if we failed to recognise the profound anxieties of the Chinese people of Hong Kong. No fewer than 3 million of them have fled from China in the past 25 years. They enjoy a freedom under the law unknown in China — freedoms which we so take for granted that we scarcely know how to articulate them—the freedom to come and go, freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of the press, a liberal education system, freedom to work, freedom to own property, freedom to create and own wealth, and freedom to trade. It is the combination of those British freedoms with Chinese hard work and enterprise and business acumen which has created a society in Hong Kong which is one of the wonders of the world.

We have debated tonight, in what I consider has been a brilliant debate, whether that system can survive. I believe that it can survive, because China wishes it to. She has promised the continuation of the economic system. She rightly looks to the Hong Kong Chinese themselves to govern in our place after 1997. We must now persuade China, in the negotiations—she has given us grounds for encouragement—formally to accept in writing, to adopt and to guarantee before the world Hong Kong's system of law and freedom under the law.

China is the inheritor of great philosophical traditions but has no sophisticated system of law. The common law system and the British system of commercial law, which is now the common language of commerce throughout the world, are perhaps this country's greatest contribution to civilisation. As I know from my personal experience of practising in the courts of Hong Kong, China will inherit that priceless system, which is profoundly understood, deeply cherished and skilfully operated by lawyers who are themselves Chinese, by solicitors and barristers who every day work the system as skilfully as we do ourselves. They work it in criminal, commercial and administrative law and in the preservation of cherished civil liberties.

The system is essential to the continuance of Hong Kong's tradition of economic activity which China has promised to continue. On a more profound note, it is the foundation of the freedoms that they cherish and which 3 million voted with their feet to obtain and, above all, wish to continue.

It is no shame for a great nation to accept such a gift. The Teutonic inheritors of the Roman empire accepted their system of law. The United States, after throwing off British government, developed British common law; and in Europe, those who threw off the yoke of Napoleon accepted his code. The Chinese can gratefully accept our system of law and develop it in Hong Kong.

I agree with others that the democratic institutions must develop, but not too rapidly. If our system of law is accepted and the institutions are developed, we can trust the Chinese, and Hong Kong's future is bright.

11.50 pm
Sir Geoffrey Howe

With the leave of the House and in the absence, because he is not well, of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce), perhaps I might reply to the debate. I apologise to the House for not having heard all of the debate though I have heard quite a substantial part of it.

Although there have been differences of opinion on several points, it is noticeable that in the broad issues that have been raised, there has been remarkable unanimity on both sides of the House. The debate was characterised, first, by a recognition of the realities that we face, to which the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) drew attention. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) introduced a welcome note of optimism, but there has been widespread understanding of the natural anxieties of the people of Hong Kong.

There were two points on which differences of view became a little sharper, in regard to which some modest correction might be appropriate. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East said that the Government's approach to sovereignty and administration after 1997 was wrong, in that we were wrong at the outset of the negotiations to press for the continuance of a British presence. I do not find it easy to accept that point. It was well answered by my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) who said that, although I made an announcement in Hong Kong on Good Friday, which I have repeated in the House today, it would not be right to have taken that as the starting position in the negotiations.

The second point on which there was some difference of opinion was the role of and the views expressed by the Unofficial Members of the Executive and Legislative Council. The House was ready, for the most part, to accept the point that was made strongly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) and the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) that the Unofficial Members have a difficult role to discharge but have discharged it, and will continue to do so, with a high sense of duty. The great majority of those who have spoken, especially my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins), acknowledged that it was right and important to pay close attention to their views. Nobody, least of all the Unofficial Members, would claim that they play an exclusive role in representing the views of the people of Hong Kong. They, like us, want opinion canvassed more widely, while taking account of their views.

Right hon. and hon. Members posed questions and made suggestions on many other matters. I cannot, at this late stage, undertake to answer all, or indeed many, of them, especially as I have come unexpectedly into the debate for a second time. However, I certainly undertake to consider the suggestions that have been made.

Much discussion has focussed on the matter of acceptability and how it was to be determined. I was interested to note that the idea of a referendum found few, if any, friends. I am told that not even my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) took this as an occasion for mentioning that topic, so that means that the idea is indeed friendless.

A number of suggestions were made about the way in which we should take account of opinion in Hong Kong. I start from the fact that we are engaged in a process of continuing consultation, but I shall study the suggestions, taking account of the wide range of channels that already exist.

Perhaps the most interesting spread of opinion developed on democratisation. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) and the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) were the only hon. Members critical of the Government's delay in not moving towards democratisation earlier. I do not believe that that criticism can be fairly accepted. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South explained the Chinese Government's attitude as manifested in earlier years. He rightly pointed out that it would have been impracticable to make an earlier start on the process of democratisation.

The differing expressions on the future were interesting and deserving of study. One school of thought, including the hon. Members for Yeovil and for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray), my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, wanted us to press ahead very quickly with the process of democratisation. A cautious view came from my hon. Friends the Members for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) and for Boothferry, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South and the hon. Member for Monklands, West. It is important to recognise that the Government support the further development of representative institutions in Hong Kong in the years ahead. The Hong Kong Government have already announced their intention of publishing in the summer a Green Paper formulating proposals whereby the representative status of the two main central Government institutions — the Executive Council and the legislative Council — might be developed in the coming years. We do not see it as our role to dictate to the Government or the people of Hong Kong just how and how fast changes should be introduced. We believe that it is right for the Government and the people of Hong Kong to have the primary role of deciding how and how fast these systems should develop.

Hon Members sought assurance from the Government on two points. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire echoed a point made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry) about the importance of freedoms in Hong Kong. I omitted that point from the relevant section of my opening speech, but not because I attached little importance to it. I made it clear in my statement in Hong Kong that we look forward to a system under which existing freedoms would be maintained — freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom of religion, assembly and speech, freedom of travel, and freedom of the Press. Hon. Members have rightly drawn attention to those matters.

The extent to which we can assure the effectiveness of British administration through the long consultation period between now and 1997 caused concern to hon. Members. Some hon. Members argued that the period might be shortened. I believe that point was raised by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East and by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). The Government do not believe that it would be right to accept that view. We have a duly and responsibility in respect of Hong Kong to provide a framework within which the Hong Kong Government can continue to discharge their duties.

One of the reasons why it is important to maintain that framework under the British authority was urged by hon. Members during the debate — to allow time for the development of representative government along the lines hon. Members have requested. I should like to leave the House and others in no doubt that, in that respect, the British Government will continue to provide the framework within which the Hong Kong Government can administer Hong Kong and plan for its future until the due date of 1997. It is important for that point to be understood. As I said in my opening speech, it is important to know where authority and responsibility lie.

Mr. Adley

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot give way, as only two minutes remain in the debate.

The negotiations will continue, with the objectives that I have described. My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) drew attention to the importance of securing the right outcome to the negotiation, taking account not only of the interests of the people of Hong Kong but of the wider interests and commercial activity of outside investors, which is an essential part of the foundation of the future of Hong Kong.

The objective that we should have in mind is the achievement of a clear, full and detailed international agreement that will provide the assurances for the future that are desired as much in this House as in Hong Kong. An agreement along the lines that we are working on embodied in the form of an international agreement between two sovereign states, ourselves and the People's Republic of China — a Government who attach importance to their international reputation—must be the right objective towards which to work.

I thank right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House for the benefit of the advice that they have offered to the Government and for the spirit in which it has been offered.

It being Twelve o' clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put, pursuant to the Order this day.