§ Order for Second Reading read.3.35 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I have it in command from Her Majesty The Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purpose of the Hong Kong Bill, has consented to place Her Prerogative and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
The Bill that is before us today is short but of historic importance. The House had a full opportunity to discuss the Sino-British agreement on the future of Hong Kong on 5 December. I was heartened then by the warmth and unanimity of the support with which Members approved the Government's intention to sign it. I am confident that it provides satisfactorily for the continued stability and prosperity of Hong Kong into the 21st century. As the House knows, the agreement was signed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and her Chinese counterpart, Premier Zhao Ziyang, in Peking on 19 December.
It was clear from the debate in December that the House saw the agreement as a good one, and one that met the needs of the people of Hong Kong. A number of right hon. and hon. Members raised the concerns expressed in Hong Kong about certain aspects of the agreement. Those concerns have also been fully documented in the report of the Assessment Office.
We have had a full discussion of these matters. For the most part, they do not directly concern the Bill. It is not, therefore, necessary to go over this ground again in today's debate, but I assure the House that the Government have the concerns raised in this House and in Hong Kong firmly in view. We shall continue to bear them in mind in our future discussions with the Chinese, particularly in the Joint Liaison Group.
A number of hon. Members suggested during the debate that the Government should make an annual report on Hong Kong to the House and that there should be a debate on it. I entirely accept that the House will wish to be informed about developments in Hong Kong fully and speedily when they occur. I assure hon. Members that the Government will take care to report to the House whenever there is anything significant to report. There is certainly no reluctance on our part in that respect, but I frankly doubt the value of institutionalising an annual report and debate. My fear is that that could well have the unintended effect that important developments were not properly debated as and when they occurred. This is not what any hon. Member wants.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)
Does that mean that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not want an debate annually and wishes the matter to be left to the discretion of the Government?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I am saying that the Government are well aware of the need to keep the House informed of changes and developments in Hong Kong and do not wish 734 to avoid debates on those matters as and when appropriate. However, if we provide expressly for an annual report and annual debate, that will tend to act as a concentrator and a means of diminishing the prospect of a sensible report and debate when that is important. I am wary of the institutionalisation of anything of that sort. Such reports tend to be a repetition of previous reports in form, for example. Although designed with the best intentions, they often have the opposite effect of that intended.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
I am somewhat perplexed by what the Foreign Secretary has just said. We have annual reports on the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, which are debated in the House and which produce useful debates. Those debates do not prevent the House from raising any matter concerning the Army, the Navy or the Air Force in between times if that seems appropriate. Regular reports are made to the House by the European Community on various matters, which again does not prevent us from debating other matters when that seems appropriate. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has given an opaque reason for opposing a recommendation which has been supported widely in the House and in another place.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
That may be the right hon. Gentleman's opinion, and there is room for differences of judgment. The right hon. Gentleman's judgment is not mine. My instinctive reaction to the annualisation of reports is to regard that practice as often diminishing the importance and value of the reports. However, the matter can be considered hereafter, and I have no doubt that it will be considered on many occasions. We shall report to the House on these matters, as we recognise the need for the House to have opportunities to debate them. However, despite the overwhelming quality of the right hon. Gentleman's rhetoric, and the breadth of support for the proposition in earlier debates, I am not persuaded that it would be right to institutionalise an annual report in the way that is proposed.
Since the debate in which those matters were raised, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have visited Peking for the signature of the agreement and we were able to raise with Chinese leaders a number of the questions that were touched on in that debate. The House will not expect me to go into details of our discussions, but Chinese leaders at the highest level gave us solemn assurances of China's commitment to full implementation of the agreement and of their intention to consult Hong Kong opinion on the drafting of the basic law on a wide basis.
Following that signature, we and the Chinese Government both have to satisfy our respective constituional requirements in order to ratify the agreement. The main purpose of the Bill before us today is to enable Her Majesty's Government to ratify the agreement.
The Bill itself provides for the termination of British sovereignty and jurisdiction over Hong Kong as from 1 July 1997. I shall briefly describe its main features. The central provision of the Bill is clause 1. It provides for the termination of British sovereignty over ceded parts of Hong Kong and the termination of British jurisdiction over the whole territory with effect from 1 July 1997. That clause will enter into force on the exchange of instruments of ratification. The clause will enable the Government to meet their obligation under paragraph two of the joint 735 declaration, in which the Government of the United Kingdom declare that they will restore Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China with effect from 1 July 1997.
In recent years it has become the invariable practise when the United Kingdom divests itself of sovereignty over territory to do so upon the authority of an Act of Parliament. The situation of Hong Kong is of course sui generis. In this case we are entering into an agreement with another power to terminate sovereignty as from a certain specified date. Nevertheless, the need for parliamentary authority for the termination of sovereignty remains the same: it is essential that this authority should exist before the Government ratify the agreement and thus create an international obligation.
The schedule to the Bill deals with three aspects related to the agreement and the termination of sovereignty. They are, first, the changes in British nationality laws necessary as a consequence of the agreement and the associated exchange of memoranda with the Chinese Government; secondly, amendments to British laws in preparation for or consequent upon the termination of United Kingdom sovereignty and jurisdiction; and, finally, the provision of diplomatiic privileges and immunities to the five Chinese members of the Joint Liaison Group.
I deal now with nationality, and in this context I shall mention the reasoned amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), and my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) and I made it plain in the House on 5 December that the legislation that we proposed to introduce would provide powers to make the amendments to nationality legislation that are necessary as a result of the agreement and the United Kingdom memorandum.
Those provisions are contained in paragraph 2 of the schedule, which enables a subsequent Order or Orders in Council to be made to ensure that British dependent territories citizenship cannot be ratained or acquired on or after 1 July 1997 by virtue of a connection with Hong Kong and to create a new form of British nationality that may be acquired by persons who are BDTCs by virtue of such a connection with Hong Kong.
Following consultations with the Hong Kong Executive Council, it is intended that the title of the new form of nationality should be "British National (Overseas)". It has not been easy to devise a title which meets all the necessary requirements. On the one hand, it needs to make clear that we are dealing with a form of British nationality. Nothing less than that would be acceptable in Hong Kong. On the other hand, it is essential that the title we choose can continue to be used after 1997. For this to be possible, the title must clearly carry no implication of a continuing constitutional relationship between Britain and Hong Kong after 1997.
I believe that the title we have chosen meets those needs. It has necessarily been the subject of careful consultations with the Executive Council. The completion of these consultations has enabled me to announce the title to the House today. There should now be adequate time to explain the choice of the new title—
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
Certainly. It is "British National (Overseas)". The fact that my hon. Friend has intervened 736 to ask for that repetition underlines the point that I was making, that there needs to be adequate time to explain the choice of the new title to the people of Hong Kong.
§ Mr. Johnston
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way to me once more. He said that the title had been agreed after consultation with the Executive Council. Having talked to some of the members of the council, I understand that that title was about the seventh on the list of possible titles. I am not sure that it is true that the absence of any reference to Hong Kong in the title is acceptable.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the suggestion that the title should include a reference to Hong Kong is one of the factors that has been canvassed, for understandable reasons, but, for the reason that I have given, in our judgment, which was acceptable to the Executive Council after discussions, it would not be acceptable for the title to carry the implication of a continuing constitutional relationship between this country and Hong Kong. I readily accept that it has not been a matter of swift and easy deliberation to come to a conclusion about that, but that was one of the factors that we had in mind.
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn Hatfield)
Will my right hon. and learned Friend clarify, under paragraph 2(1)(b) of the schedule, the use of the word "may", because I understand that there is considerable concern in Hong Kong over the use of the "may" rather than "shall". My right hon. and learned Friend has just said what the new form of citizenship will be called. Can he tell us something about the citizenship and the documentation that will result from such a title?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I hesitate to answer any point, unprompted. about the precise drafting of a subparagraph of a paragraph of a schedule. I shall decline my hon. Friend's invitation, but will note his point and see that an explanation is advanced in due course.
§ Mr. Bruinvels
I am certain not certain that my point is that subtle. My right hon. and learned Friend has just mentioned the constitutional purpose of the title of British National (Overseas). I am particularly interested to know—I am sure that the House is, too—what rights such people in Hong Kong will have after 1997. Will they be able to come to this country to settle permanently?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
We have now reached that point in interventions when I may conclude, at least for a time, that the intervention is likely to be dealt with in the rest of my speech. I shall therefore proceed to the next section to meet my hon. Friend's point.
If an amendment to the title introduced — I can understand why it might be argued that it is desirable—there should be an opportunity to do that, after the further explanation that I described, in another place. I said on 5 December that the schedule included a specific provision that the orders may include any measures that are necessary—this is a separate point—to ensure that no British national or any child born after 1 July 1997 to a British national is made stateless as a result of the arrangements.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)
Did the right hon. and learned Gentleman say that if an amendment was desired to be debated that could happen in another place? Is he implying that there would be no opportunity for that during the Committee stage of the Bill?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
Clearly, there would be an opportunity in Committee in this House, as in the other place, for that point to be debated. However, I was saying that, in my judgment, if the title is to be further explained and appreciated in Hong Kong before it is incorporated in the Bill—if it is incorporated—it might be more suitable for more time to elapse, which is why I identified the other place. I am sure that nothing that I can say will have the effect of inhibiting the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) from debating the matter in the House. I have indicated, however, the likely response.
It is the Government's intention that all the necessary amendments to nationality legislation should, if possible, be made by one Order in Council, although the Bill would allow for adjustment or addition by further Orders in Council, if that became necessary. I should emphasise that these powers to alter the nationality laws by way of Order in Council could be used only in connection with the purpose which I have described. They would not permit alterations to be made for any other purpose or in respect of any other group of people not connected with Hong Kong. We intend to make the order at an early date and, at the latest, within a year of the passage of the Bill. The Bill provides that such orders will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. I emphasise that Members of both Houses would have a full opportunity to consider and debate the proposals in this Order in Council.
I do not agree —I anticipate the point likely to be made by the Opposition—with the right hon. Member for South Down that this procedure would provide inadequate opportunity for consideration of the measures proposed. It was precisely because we knew that the House would want to give detailed consideration to the orders that we proposed to make them subject to the affirmative procedure. Obviously, the Government will take careful account of the points which enjoy widespread support among hon. Members, and which may arise during today's debate.
§ Mr. Healey
I apologise for interrupting the right hon. and learned Gentleman again, but this point may prove to be the nub of any disagreement on the major procedure that the Government recommend. Having laid an order for discussion in both Houses, will it be possible for the Government to take account of strong objections to some element in the order and, without seeking affirmation by both Houses, to revise the order and bring it back for later voting? We are concerned most about the fact that it would be possible, under the procedure envisaged by the Government, to put forward an order to which there turned out to be strong and valid objections in Hong Kong, this House and another place, and yet the Government would not be free, even if they wished, to vary the terms of the order before a vote was taken.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I understand the point that prompted the right hon. Gentleman to intervene. He will appreciate that it is not customary for an order that is being debated under the affirmative procedure to be subject to amendment. Indeed, that cannot be done in the debate taking place at that time. The design of a procedure that 738 would meet the right hon. Gentleman's point takes one into relatively unknown territory. I should need to discuss that point further before giving a firm answer. I am anxious for hon. Members to take the opportunity afforded by today's debate and the debate in Committee in both Houses to register the points about which they are concerned.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food met that point by bringing forward a drat order to deal with the agricultural provisions and at a later date brought forward a substantive order so that hon. Members could go into the order in detail. Voting took place later on the substantive order.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I do not have in mind every aspect of the activities of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) for drawing my attention to that example. If pressed, I could think of other examples. At the moment, there is no undertaking in that respect.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me to get on with my speech.
§ Mr. Morris
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that there would be no need to consider or design a new procedure if the Government said that they would introduce their draft order on a tentative basis and did not seek to roll measures through the House, regardless of opinion? The Government should make sure that there is ample opportunity for views from Hong Kong to be expressed. The Government would suffer no loss of face, if strong representations were made to the House, by withdrawing the measures temporarily and reconsidering the matter during debate.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
The right hon. and learned Member makes the point with his customary eloquence. I shall not now give any undertaking on the matter, but I hear what is being said about it.
Perhaps I may be allowed to proceed with the substance of my speech, leaving some questions to be answered by my hon. Friend at the end of the debate, rather than try to answer them now.
The Bill does not in itself include the full and final provisions on this subject and I can give some reasons why that is so. The agreement set a time limit for ratification, which must take place before 30 June this year. By that time the Bill must have passed through both Houses and received the Royal Assent. That is why the Bill was introduced so soon after the signature of the agreement.
Although the United Kingdom memorandum lays clown the main lines of what is necessary, there is still —as our discussion so far has demonstrated—detailed work to be done in framing legislation to give effect to it. Those are matters that require careful thought and consultation, not least in Hong Kong. There must be adequate time for that consultation to take place.
This is a subject in which there is, understandably, interest in Hong Kong. It is most important that the legislation is acceptable there. Work on this is in hand. and discussions are taking place with the Executive Council in 739 Hong Kong. However, it would not necessarily be wise, and in fact it is not necessary, to attempt to carry through detailed provisions in the time scale which the date of ratification imposes on legislation. Even so, the measures concerned arise directly out of the agreement and the memorandum. It is, therefore, appropriate that all such matters should be dealt with in the Bill.
I can give some examples — no doubt other hon. Members will give others—of the details that are likely to be included in the order. It will, of course, make provision for the removal of Hong Kong from the list of dependent territories in schedule 6 to the British Nationality Act 1981 with effect from 1 July 1997, and for the acquisition of the new form of nationality. For technical reasons it is not possible to rely on the wordsby virtue of a connection with Hong Kong".The order will therefore detail who is eligible to acquire the new form of nationality.
It is the Government's intention that the new form of British nationality should carry broadly the same benefits as British dependent territories citizenship, except that it will not be transmissible by descent. Holders of the new status will be able to use British passports. They will be eligible for British consular protection in third countries. They will have a right to registration as British citizens on the same terms as BDTCs. In short, the order will in effect redefine the scope of the British Nationality Act 1981 to cover the new status where appropriate.
In addition, the order will also set out the circumstances in which persons who might become stateless as a result of these provisions, and the children born after 1 July 1997 to holders of the new status, if they would otherwise be stateless, may acquire a form of British nationality, which will be British overseas citizenship.
Even though the proposals cannot yet be final, we thought it right that the Bill should contain a clear indication of the Government's intentions with regard to nationality and set out a framework for the subsequent subordinate legislation that will be necessary. Parliament quite rightly expects to have the opportunity of considering what the general nature of such legislation would be. Moreover, to adopt any other course would perpetuate uncertainty in Hong Kong—
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I shall give way in a minute. It could also lead to doubts about the Government's willingness to implement the provisions of the United Kingdom memorandum. I am sure hon. Members would agree that that would be most unsatisfactory.
§ Mr. Faulds
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that the assurances that he has just given would cover non-Chinese Hong Kongers who live abroad—in south-east Asia somewhere—who would be in a ghastly limbo of lostness if they were not covered by what I understand are the assurances that he has just given?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
The hon. Gentleman must forgive me if I do not respond instantly, as almost every word in his sentence might have some special meaning which must be considered. I shall see that his question is considered. If possible, my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with it in his winding-up speech.
§ Mr. Peter Bruinvels
I understand the circumstances with regard to stateless people — they show a caring Government — but I am still worried about whether British Nationals (Overseas) are to have priority over any other people from abroad if they want to settle in the United Kingdom permanently.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
No. There is no intention to effect or imply any such change. We intend to give substantially the same rights and limitations as are attached to British dependent territory citizens under existing law, with the principal change of withdrawing the right of transmissibility for one generation. There is no change along the lines that my hon. Friend suggests.
For the reasons that I have outlined, I invite the House to reject the reasoned amendment in the names of the right hon. Member for South Down and my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington.
Paragraph 3 of the schedule gives the necessary powers to make changes in British law in consequence of or in connection with the ending of sovereignty. It enables Orders in Council to be made to repeal or amend United Kingdom legislation in so far as it is part of the law of Hong Kong, to enable the legislature of Hong Kong to repeal or amend United Kingdom legislation in so far as it is part of the law of Hong Kong and to legislate with extra-territorial effect, and to repeal or amend British legislation which relates to Hong Kong. These are normal provisions when this country ceases to have sovereignty over a territory. They are written into independence Acts, and, although this Bill is of course different from an independence Bill, a similar provision is necessary in the case of Hong Kong. It would be inappropriate to continue after 1997 to have references in the laws implying the continuation of a constitutional relationship with this country.
Paragraph 3 will also allow Hong Kong, in the years up to 1997, to adopt local laws to replace those United Kingdom enactments which currently form part of the law of Hong Kong in, for example, on civil aviation and shipping. It is primarily in those areas that legislation will be necessary with extraterritorial effect, for instance in connection with air piracy and regulations for shipping. This is a very important provision, since it is clearly essential that by 1997 Hong Kong's law can be self-contained, as that law will form the general corpus of law of the special administrative region under the agreement.
Finally, paragraph 4 of the schedule accords diplomatic privileges and immunities to the five Chinese members of the Joint Liaison Group who will attend those meetings of the group which take place in London. We need to do this to fulfil our obligation under annex II to the joint declaration, which provides for the creation of a Joint Liaison Group of five British and five Chinese members to meet in London, Peking and Hong Kong. The annex provides that members of the Joint Liaison Group will enjoy diplomatic privileges and immunities as appropriate when the group meets in the three locations. Existing legislation would not cover this rather unusual category of representative, and it is therefore necessary to legislate specifically. Hong Kong will need to legislate separately to provide privileges and immunities in Hong Kong for the Chinese members of the group until 1997. Appropriate measures will have to be taken for the British members of 741 the group thereafter. It will be for the Chinese to provide similar privileges and immunities to the British members when the group meets in Peking.
Before concluding, I should like to say something about the future. The signature of the agreement and, I hope, the passage of the Bill, leading to ratification of the agreement, represent the beginning of a process, not the end. There is much to be done between now and 1997. It will require the closest co-operation between ourselves and the Chinese Government. It will also require the closest consultation throughout with the people of Hong Kong.
The process of consultation, which has worked so well throughout the negotiation of the agreement, will be further assisted by the progressive strengthening of representative government in Hong Kong over the next 10 years. As the House knows, the first elections to the Legislative Council will take place in September this year, and there will be a further public review of the electoral process and constitutional structure in two years' time.
The most immediate task will be the establishment of the Joint Liaison Group, provided for in the agreement. We are now actively working on this. The Governor of Hong Kong is in London this week, and my discussions with him will include this important subject. Thereafter, we shall also need to discuss practicalities further with the Chinese Government. I shall inform the House in due course of progress on this issue.
We have negotiated a satisfactory agreement for the future of Hong Kong. We have had ample demonstration that it is acceptable to this House and to the people who live there. We now need to move rapidly to ratify and implement the agreement so that the renewed confidence that has been established in the territory with the publication of the agreement and its signature can be secured and strengthened.
As I have explained to the House, paragraph 8 of the joint declaration provides that instruments of ratification shall be exchanged before 30 June 1985. It is very much in the interests of the United Kingdom and of Hong Kong that we should make as rapid progress as possible with this Bill to enable us to meet that date.
The Bill is short and straightforward. I strongly commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I should announce that I have not selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell).
§ 4.6 pm
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
First, I thank the Foreign Secretary for lifting the veil on some of the matters which were left obscure in the Bill, but I regret that he did not lift the veil on rather more.
This is the last chance that the House will have to discuss the general framework of the agreement and to question the Government on some of the issues on which they were either unable or unwilling to give their views before Christmas. The Bill gives us no opportunity to discuss those issues in Committee, although it establishes a procedure for deciding other vital issues, especially nationality, on which I shall have some questions to put soon.
I should like first to raise some issues that arise with new urgency after the Prime Minister's most recent visit 742 to Peking and Hong Kong, just before Christmas. The House has become so accustomed to U-turns and somersaults from the Prime Minister recently that it is easy to believe that she was infected by Mao Tse Tung's doctrine of permanent revolution. Indeed, she might well go down in history as the incredible revolving Maggie. There is stark contrast between her first and second visits to the far east, which were just over two years apart. The first was a disaster from every conceivable point of view. The right hon. Lady offended the Chinese Government so deeply that the possibility of any agreement over Hong Kong seemed capable of disappearing. Just the other day, the Daily Telegraph quoted Mr. Deng Xiaoping, the main Chinese leader, as muttering to an aide:I can't talk to that woman, she is utterly unreasonable.
The Prime Minister has at least one great achievement to her credit — she elicited a similar response from Senator Reagan on her visit to Washington before Christmas. He said:She talked and she talked—and in the end I gave up interrupting.That is the Maggie we all know and love, especially Conservative Members on the Front Bench.
The real damage on the Prime Minister's first visit was done by her subsequent press conference in Hong Kong. Mr. David Bonavia, the staid but much respected correspondent of The Times in the far east, said:Mrs. Thatcher left the next day, somewhat like one of those typhoons which run in from the Western Pacific, leaving a trail of destruction behind them. Seldom in British Colonial history was so much damage done to the interests of so many people in such a short space of time by a single person.
The Hong Kong stock exchange collapsed and did not recover to the level at which it stood before the right hon. Lady's visit until just two weeks ago. That recovery was due to the fact that the Foreign Office has shown so much patience and skill in undoing the damage done at that time. I must say, from the Opposition Front Bench, what nobility I perceive in the patient merit of those public servants. We — and none more than the Foreign Secretary and her whom he serves—owe a great deal to all of them.
The arrangement reached general agreement both in the British Parliament and in Hong Kong as the best that could be achieved in the circumstances, and far better than anyone believed possible in the immediate aftermath of the typhoon. It is sometimes sad to reflect how much of the time of the Foreign Office during the past six years has been spent in clearing messes made by the Prime Minister. Its diplomatic triumphs, from Rhodesia to Hong Kong, have not so much increased Britain's influence in the world—that, like sterling, has never stood so low—as effected the smoothest possible disengagement from the past responsibilities of the empire. There are still some quite important tasks awaiting the Foreign Office, not least in the Falklands, where experience with Hong Kong could prove of vital importance and set interesting precedents.
The skill of our diplomatists, combined with the underlying good will of the Beijing Government. has transformed the atmosphere and offered the people of Hong Kong a far more promising future than most people expected when this act of the drama opened in the summer of 1982. But, once again, some clouds over that achievement have been cast by the Prime Minister. Just before Christmas she paid a second visit to Beijing and Hong Kong, when it was a different story. The right hon. Lady was the toast of Peking. We were told by the Daily 743 Telegraph that she told the Chinese leaders that she fully understood China's unique concept of maintaining the territory as a capitalist enclave in a Marxist state. I wonder whether China still wishes to be regarded as a Marxist state, especially in the light of some recent articles in the Peking press about Marxism and its relevance to the modern world.
When the right hon. Lady flew to Hong Kong, it was a different story. She was as arrogantly insensitive to the views of the Hong Kong people in her second press conference there as she had been to the views of the People's Republic of China during her first visit there. In fact, she outdid even the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in the chilly disdain she showed for the 5.5 million people who live in that territory. Perhaps, again, Peking has done something in bringing the Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup— who in many ways she so closely resembles—together on at least one subject in current British political concerns.
When the right hon. Lady was asked during her last press conference in Peking whether it was unreasonable for the people of Hong Kong to want actual representation on the committee drafting the basic law for Hong Kong—which will embody the agreement that she had made with the Peking Government, and which means that Hong Kong becomes a special administrative region —according to the Far Eastern Economic Review, she snapped:That is not the point. The basic law is the law of China. You would expect China to draw up the basic law…Some in Hong Kong found such insensitivity to their feelings frustrating, but they have long realised that if they want to extract further concessions from the Chinese leadership about their future, they have to rely on themselves and not Britin.I shall refer later to some of the problems that that issue raises.
The second extraordinary event during the press conference in Hong Kong was not referred to or clarified by the Foreign Secretary this afternoon. According to the Far Eastern Economic Review, the right hon. Ladycaused consternation among Government officials when she said that Sir Edward Youde, the Governor of Hong Kong, would be member of the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group.
The officials know, as the House knows, that for the first three years of its existence the Joint Liaison Group is to meet alternatively in Hong Kong, Peking and London before it sets up its principal office in Hong Kong in July 1988. With such a schedule, it is unlikely that the Governor would be a member of the group because that would mean his spending two thirds of his time outside Hong Kong.
The question posed by the Far Eastern Economic Review —and I repeat it to the Foreign Secretary —is whether the Prime Minister had a temporary loss of memory during the press conference or deliberately ignored the advice of the Foreign Office. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to answer that question when he replies to the debate.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)
The right hon. Gentleman has probably done a service to the House by reminding us of the difficulties of coping with the machine-gun fire of questions during press conferences in Hong Kong. That being so, was not the Foreign Secretary wise not to try today to answer highly detailed points that 744 might be more suitable for the Committee stage as such answers could easily be misunderstood and cause a great deal more harm than good if they were to be so misinterpreted?
§ Mr. Healey
I understand the hon. Gentleman's lack of confidence in the Prime Minister's ability to handle the press, and I fully share his view. The fact is that the right hon. Lady chose to address the press conference. The Foreign Secretary has held press conferences in Hong Kong during which no such unfortunate lapses occurred. The questions that I am asking the Minister to answer cannot be raised in Committee, because that will be tightly confined to the matters in the schedule. I am raising questions of wider importance, and they can be raised only on Second Reading. None of them will be unfamiliar to the Foreign Office, the Foreign Secretary or the Minister. If they have answers to the questions, there is not the slightest reason why they should not give them to us this afternoon.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the question whether Sir Edward Youde is to be a member of the Joint Liaison Group is relevant and that there is not the slightest reason why it should not be answered by the Foreign Secretary today. Indeed, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was unwise not to answer it, in view of the consternation aroused in Hong Kong by the Prime Minister's press conference.
I hate to twist the bayonet in the wound, but I come now to the Joint Liaison Group. The Far Eastern Economic Review states:To complicate matters, Thatcher"—I apologise for not giving the right hon. Lady her full title, but I am quoting—told reporters in Peking that the joint liaison group would be consulted on the pace of political reforms. There is concern in some quarters that this may mean interference by China.
I hope that the Minister will tell us precisely what is implied by that. I well understand that it will be the responsibility of the Joint Liaison Group to ensure that developments between now and 1997 do not disturb the arrangements laid down in the agreement that will be confirmed in the Bill. The Joint Liaison Group's role in overseeing the movement towards democracy or more representative government in Hong Kong is of deep concern to this House, the other place and the people of Hong Kong. We deserve some explanation about what the Prime Minister meant by that remark.
The most damaging comment on the Prime Minister's visit was the following:The prime minister's offhand dismissal of the issue of Britain's moral responsibility — one which Thatcher herself stressed repeatedly when she was in Hong Kong in 1982—flew in the face of generally acknowledged concern".
That compels me to make a comment on the implications of this rather unhappy story of prime ministerial intervention in the affairs of the territory. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will assure us that in future he will not allow the Prime Minister to go on barging about like Rhoda the rhino with her usual arrogant incompetence in issues which clearly she does not understand. I am sure that if the right hon. and learned Gentleman seeks such an undertaking, he will receive a lot of support in the Cabinet, not least from his successor as Chancellor of the Exchequer after the hair-raising irresponsibility of No. 10 on the exchange rate just over a week ago.
I have often expressed my qualified admiration for the Prime Minister. She has some qualities which are unique 745 in her Government. There is no member of her Cabinet with whom I would rather go tiger shooting, but I should absolutely insist that, before we set out together, she was taught the difference between a tiger and an elephant—particularly the elephant that I was riding. In future, when the Foreign Secretary takes the Prime Minister abroad with him, he would be wise to take similar precautions, or he could find, as he did during his last visit, that the patient work of months — indeed, years — is undone by a careless remark by the Prime Minister.
The problem is that the Prime Minister still insists on indulging favourite aspects of her personality on issues that she does not understand and too often seems to see her responsibilities for the government of this country as a monstrous ego trip.
I want to put some specific questions to the Foreign Secretary which arise out of the various outbursts by the Prime Minister during her world tour. I pressed the right hon. and learned Gentleman in December for an annual report on developments in Hong Kong which the House would be able to debate if it wished. We do not want an automatic annual debate on Hong Kong. I was not particularly encouraged by what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said this afternoon, nor was I convinced that he was totally persuaded by his own argument. His argument was that if we had an annual report on a question, it could never be discussed at another time. That argument is not worthy of consideration. The House will be able to insist on debates on Hong Kong whenever it wishes, but it is important that they are well-informed debates.
In the difficult and critical period before 1997, when sovereignty is finally transferred, it would be useful to have an annual report to Parliament. The Foreign Secretary admitted that that view is held strongly by members of all parties in another place and here. I hope that he will reflect on what he said this afternoon and come to a different conclusion later.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I was persuaded by my own argument, and it was that that led me to make my offer to the House. My anxiety is practical. I do not wish to diminish or discourage discussions on Hong Kong. Perhaps my experience is unique, but one can become depressed by the wearisome familiarity of the structure of annual reports. They can fall into an annual rhythm, even when the scene is changing as rapidly as it is in Hong Kong. I am anxious not to condemn the reality of the subject to being encapsulated in a wearisome annual framework.
§ Mr. Healey
I, too, am an ex-Chancellor, but I never found the annual public expenditure reviews and Budgets to be as boring as the right hon. and learned Gentleman clearly found them at the time. Perhaps that was because of the content of the documents, not because they were annual. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will reconsider, particularly in the light of the many cases that contradict his conclusion.
§ Mr. Johnston
I am puzzled as to what the right hon. Gentleman thinks. He said categorically that he was not very keen on annual reports, but he also said that he was.
§ Mr. Healey
We often have the same uncertainty about the Foreign Secretary. He is drawing down the curtain on an episode in history which began with the opium wars. 746 There could have been no better Foreign Secretary to perform that function than the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Mr. Johnston
I simply wanted to know whether the right hon. Gentleman was in favour of annual reports.
§ Mr. Healey
It is such an unfamiliar experience for me to be accused of such ambiguity that I misunderstood. Of course I am in favour of annual reports, but I believe that the House should have the right not to debate them if it does not want to do so in a particular year. That is normal. Many annual reports from the European Commission, the United Nations, the World Bank and the International monetary fund are not debated each year. I see that the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Johnston) is now convinced, if I understand correctly that the majestic inclination of his chin signals areement rather than fatigue.
Perhaps I may continue, after being so courteously interrupted, on a question about the basic law. That issue is solely for Beijing. As I said in December, if the people of Hong Kong wish to influence it, they must approach the authorities in Peking.
One of the Peking-sponsored monthlies in Hong Kong, called Wide Angle, suggested that ultimately a drafting committee of 40 or 50 would be established, of whom at least 10 would come from Hong Kong. I was surprised that the Prime Minister rejected the idea of Hong Kong participating in any way in the drafting of the basic law since that article appeared before the Prime Minister's visit to Peking.
This is a matter for Peking, but have the Government any information about how the authorities in Peking propose to consult the 5½ million people who will 'become citizens in 1997? It would be helpful if that were known as soon as possible.
We all agreed that the Joint Liaison Group was vital to ensure orderly progress, and the initial fears about it in Hong Kong have long since disappeared. I hope that the Minister will answer the specific question that I asked about the group's role in determining the pace of political change in Hong Kong—the Prime Minister referred to that in her press conference — and tell us who will represent the British Administration in Hong Kong on it. Will Sir Edward Youde be a member, as the Prime Minister asserted in Hong Kong? Will there be scope at any stage or in any area of its work—for example, in working groups—for representatives of the people of Hong Kong to be members? We asked those questions last time, and we are still waiting for answers.
Can the Foreign Secretary or the Minister tell us what steps the Government are taking to ensure that the rest of the world allows Hong Kong to continue its membership of international organisations, such as GATT and the multi-fibre arrangement, when Hong Kong leaves British 747 sovereignty and becomes a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China? I understand that Peking agrees with Whitehall that Hong Kong should remain a member of those organisations, but we have yet to hear whether the other members of those organisations take the same view. We deserve to know what soundings the Government have taken and what assurances, if any, they have so far received. The Bill does nothing to enlighten us about those issues and, as drafted, does not allow us to raise them again in Committee. For that reason, I took this opportunity to raise them on Second Reading.
The Bill establishes a procedure to deal with problems of nationality, and I am glad to say that the Foreign Secretary gave us further information about that today. These matters are of direct human and personal concern to 3 million people in Hong Kong. Above all, there is the proposed conversion of BDTC status into a new form of British nationality. We support that objective as strongly as we reject the view of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) that no such provision should be made. In seeking to have the Bill rejected on the ground of the procedure involved, the right hon. Gentleman is being less than candid about his real objectives, although I appreciate that this may be his only opportunity to raise the matter.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
Apart from the merits of the Bill, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is undesirable to alter an Act of Parliament by an Order in Council made under a different Act of Parliament? That is the point of the amendment. It prevents the House from amending the alteration to the original Act of Parliament.
§ Mr. Healey
That is precisely the point with which I am about to deal, and which I raised with the Foreign Secretary in an intervention during his speech.
Can the Government tell us whether there is any other case of a new category of citizenship being established for members of a colonial territory through an Order in Council? I know that it has happened in the case of one or two associated states, but I do not think that it has ever happened in the case of a colonial territory. In principle, it is undesirable that it should be done in this case. However, I understand why the Government chose this route. If the House is to accept the decision, certain important conditions must be met.
I greatly welcome the fact that the title given to the new form of citizenship will be British National (Overseas). I know that the people of Hong Kong will be glad that the "British" occurs first. This was a matter of interest when BDTC status was discussed in the British Nationality Act 1981. In the end the Government had to change their view. I am glad that the Government have accepted the change, because the word "British" at the beginning of the title will increase the influence of the new status on the readiness of other Governments to accept it.
It could take years to register up to 3 million people for this new form of citizenship. Their existing status must be confirmed, and formalities will have to be gone through. What is still puzzling is that presumably the registration of people with the new status will begin well before the transfer of sovereignty in 1997. Will individuals who register early for the new status keep their existing status until the transfer of sovereignty? Do I understand that that will not be affected by their decision to opt early for the 748 new sovereignty? That is a question of great concern to the people of Hong Kong, and it is one to which the Government should not have the slightest difficulty in replying clearly today.
My next question relates to the point raised by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). Many Opposition and Conservative Members are worried that, by adopting the affirmative procedure of Order in Council, it will be impossible for the Government to take note of widespread and legitimate objections in Hong Kong and in the House to elements in the new status such as were successfully taken note of when we discussed the British Nationality Act 1981 and when an important change affecting British dependent territory citizens was agreed.
Can the Foreign Secretary guarantee to leave enough time between the publication of an Order in Council and debate in Parliament to allow views to be formed on the Order in Council in Hong Kong and for them to be made known to hon. Members? The discussion would be a farce unless the House and the other place were able to take into account the considered views of the people of Hong Kong. If there is strong opposition to elements in the Order in Council expressed in the debate, will the Government make provision to take the Order in Council away without a vote, revise it and bring it back? In other words, will the Government be prepared either to publish an Order in Council initially as a draft order, as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food already does in many cases, or at least to treat it as a draft order and be prepared to withdraw it and resubmit it if there proved to be overwhelming opposition to elements in it expressed in the House or the other place, or both? Unless the Government give these assurances tonight, I suspect that the proceedings next Monday will be more difficult and prolonged than most hon. Members would wish them to be. Similar considerations apply to any Order in Council which is made to avoid statelessness for any current residents in Hong Kong.
I hope that the Minister can give satisfactory assurances on those points and on my earlier questions. Otherwise consideration by the House of the Bill, and certainly of any future Orders in Council, will be a great deal more difficult than is necessary.
§ Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)
The House will have been amused by the long ramble taken by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) through the gossip columns — on my reckoning, it lasted for 27 minutes — and it was grateful that, at the end of his speech, he turned his attention to the Bill.
The question whether sovereignty over Hong Kong should be transferred to China in 1997 has already been decided by the House, and almost no one in the House believes that it took the wrong decision. Opinion is almost unanimous that the agreement made with the Government of China is an excellent one that will enable the people of Hong Kong to preserve their traditional way of life. Indeed, it is a remarkable agreement, embodying as it does no fewer than 16 specific freedoms that go to make up the way of life of the people of Hong Kong.
It is becoming clear that one anxiety of the people of Hong Kong—about the durability of the agreement—has less basis than it seemed to have at one time. It is clear that the agreement is likely to last. It will last for reasons of 749 self-interest on the part of China: the economic self-interest; and a self-interest in the sense that it will set an example which will be relevant to the possible unification of the mainland of China and Taiwan.
Nevertheless, it was obvious from the Prime Minister's press conference in Hong Kong last month that some people still oppose the agreement. There were references in the questions asked of the Prime Minister to handing Hong Kong to a Communist dictatorship. Such questions displayed a basic misunderstanding of Deng Xiaoping's concept of, "one country, two systems." When people ask, "Can the Chinese in Peking keep their hands off religion in Hong Kong after 1997," or "Can they keep their hands off the education system," or "Will they allow private property to flourish in Hong Kong," they fail to understand what the concept of "one country, two systems" involves. It will require a self-denying ordinance on the part of the Chinese Government. China is as well aware as anyone that Hong Kong is the goose that lays golden eggs, now for its own people and also for China, but in the future increasingly for the benefit of China. The arrangement of "one country, two systems" contains an automatic goose-preserving mechanism. If the Chinese begin to meddle in the internal affairs of Hong Kong, contrary to what they have declared in the agreement, confidence in Hong Kong will disappear, the goose will grow thin and pine, and the eggs will no longer appear.
A good example of the common interest that China and Hong Kong have in the prosperity of Hong Kong occurred recently. This morning I was fortunate to talk to Sir S. Y. Chung, the senior unofficial member of UMELCO, who has come to Britain directly from Peking to be present for the debate. We are grateful to him and to other members of UMELCO for being kind enough to brief some of us during the past few days. He was in Peking to attend the signing of the agreement for the Daya bay nuclear power station. That is an enormously important project worth $4 billion.
At the signing ceremony, the Prime Minister of China made four points about the project. First, it is the largest joint venture into which China has entered since the open-door policy was adopted. Secondly, the project is bigger than all the other joint venture projects that have been signed by China during that period put together. Thirdly, it will be a catalyst that will help forward similar joint ventures. Fourthly, because most of it is financed by a loan, and that loan will be repayable from the proceeds of sales of electricity to Hong Kong, China has a built-in interest in ensuring that Hong Kong remains prosperous. Only if Hong Kong remains prosperous will China be able to service the loan. That is an interesting example—examples are happening almost every day—of the way in which the common interests of Hong Kong and China will be built up.
Recently a two-week seminar in Hong Kong was attended by representatives of the 14 cities that are now special economic zones along the coast of China. Those representatives came to Hong Kong to learn how to operate a free enterprise system, to arrange instruction in technology and to consider the possibilities of raising money. It is interesting that they came to Hong Kong, not to Shanghai or other ports on the Chinese coast, to look for those advantages. I believe that they will continue to look to Hong Kong for them.
It is worth asking ourselves whether it is right to legislate so soon after the signing of the agreement. I 750 believe that it is the right course, because it helps to preserve certainty about the future. Therefore, helps to sustain prosperity, because certainty is necessary if prosperity is to continue.
The economic successes of Hong Kong are remarkable. The agreement initialled in the autumn and signed in December has already had a beneficial effect on the economy. Land prices have recovered from the severe drop that they suffered some time ago. Hong Kong's exports have increased by 25 per cent. over the same period last year. Investment is coming in from the United States, and inquiries about investment are coming in from Japan.
Paragraph 2 of the schedule will be the most-discussed matter during today's debate. I am glad that the Foreign Secretary announced today the nomenclature of the new form of citizenship which will replace that of British dependent territory citizen for Hong Kong people. What time scale does he envisage for the passage of the relevant Order in Council? It has been represented to members of the Hong Kong parliamentary group that it should be passed within a year, for much the same reason as I mentioned when I congratulated the Government on introducing the legislation rapidly.
With regard to the amendment of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), I remember that many years ago when I was studying law lawyers used to enjoy arguing whether it was proper jurisprudentially to enable an Act of Parliament to be amended by Order in Council. But they never came to a clear conclusion. and I am not sure whether, if they set about the subject now, lawyers would come to a conclusion. However, we should bear in mind the fact that the Government have only a narrow scope when tabling the order.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has already committed himself fairly clearly to what he means bya new form of nationality,which is referred to in paragraph 2(1)(b) of the schedule. There is not much scope for the introduction of an order in due course which will be ultra vires, it seems to me. If the Government introduced an order which went too wide, which I take to be one of the concerns of the right hon. Member for South Down, would not the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments draw that to the attention of the House, and would not the House therefore have an opportunity to consider whether the order went too wide?
If I have correctly understood the anxieties of the right hon. Member for South Down—
§ Sir P. Blaker
—they should be modified by the fact that the order has to be within the terms of the Bill, and they are seen to be pretty narrow when one considers paragraph 2 of the schedule. We also have the knowledge that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments will examine the order when it is laid. I do not believe that the Government have a blank cheque. To put it at its mildest, it is a cheque of the kind which bears at the top, "Not above £30."
My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed whether there might be an amendment to the Bill incorporating the new name of the citizenship to be granted to the BDTC. It will be rather difficult to do that in the Bill. As I understand it, the intention of the usual channels is that the House should consider the remaining 751 stages of the Bill in a week's time, and I am not sure that that allows enough time to ascertain the opinion of the people of Hong Kong on the proposed name. That leaves the possibility that another place might consider an amendment. My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the possibility of the Government putting forward such an amendment in another place. But I am not sure that I would be entirely happy to leave that debate to another place and not debate it first in this House. I am inclined to say that in my view that idea is not really a starter.
Then we had a discussion about whether there would be a draft Order in Council. The Bill already provides that the order will be laid in draft, so I do not think that hon. Members are really talking about the laying of a draft Order in Council, which was the language used by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East. We shall have a draft Order in Council, anyway. The real point is the one raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris). Will the Government introduce an order in tentative form without the intention of having a vote on that occasion but in order to ascertain the view of the House? If we had a vote, it is likely that the Whips would be on, and it would be difficult to ascertain the view of the House. Therefore, I am attracted by the idea of the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon.
I was grateful when my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary outlined some of the relevant factors which would have to be covered by Orders in Council introduced under paragraph 3 of the schedule. The list on page 8 of the White Paper containing the agreement is a long one. We might need Orders in Council on many of the subjects there set out, including such matters as copyright, land, shipping, adherence to the GATT and the IMF, pensions of civil servants, and so on. These orders would be laid under the negative resolution procedure. I hope that the Government will be responsive if it is the wish of the House to have debates on that category of orders as well. It is important that they should take great care to see that these matters, which will come up over the next few years, are adequately discussed if that is the wish of the House. It may be necessary from time to time to have more than one and a half hours for a debate on an order. In the case of the order on the nationality question, for example, it is inconceivable that the House would be happy with a debate lasting only one and a half hours. It might be necessary to have a full day's debate.
I support the Bill. There are many tasks before China, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong over the coming years until 1997. There is the elaboration of the basic law. There is the progress towards democracy in Hong Kong. There is adherence to the international organisations. There is the work of the Joint Liaison Group. There are many other tasks. I am optimistic that these tasks will be discharged successfully and in a way which reinforces the relations between China and the United Kingdom and between both of them and the people of Hong Kong. All three of these parties are pragmatic people. I believe that they are all determined to make the agreement work. What is more, it is in the interests of all three parties that the agreement should work.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
In the last few days I have had the pleasure of meeting a number of people in 752 Hong Kong, especially experienced and eminent lawyers, and I am grateful to the Foreign Office and to the Hong Kong Government for making the arrangements. I was concerned to establish as far as I could — I readily concede that I could do it only on a very limited basis —any views that were held on the legal implications arising in the post-agreement period.
Other than two short visits to Hong Kong in the past, I confess that my knowledge of the sitution was limited. As a former defence Minister under my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), I had then and subsequently familiarised myself with and visited our defence establishments there, so I was not entirely innocent.
The first matter that was drawn to my attention was a concern about the basic law. It was conceded on all sides that this was a matter for the Chinese Government. It was felt that the British Government had no role in this. I was not aware of any expectations that they might have.
Nevertheless, on a matter so vitally important for the people of Hong Kong, how are their views to be made known to China? There was a wish that China should establish a proper forum so that the views of the people of Hong Kong might be received. There was also the view that nothing should be seen to be done which might poach into our responsibility over the next 12 years. Whatever fears there might be in that respect, in my view the paramountcy of the need for a proper and adequate means of ensuring that the views of the people of Hong Kong are better known outweigh some people's perception of danger.
Other than the welcome continued impetus towards democracy, about which I detected a degree of ambivalence—certainly as regards the development of collective, let alone party, views — what other machinery might be set up? I was glad to hear the affirmation today by the Foreign Secretary that the Chinese would consult in Hong Kong on a widespread basis. However, at present we are not clear how that is to be done to ensure that the views of the people of Hong Kong are fed in in the proper way before the basic law is formalised.
Another matter that causes concern is the timing of the introduction of the basic law. The legal traditions of a non-capitalist state are different from the traditions of a capitalist state or of a state with a mixed economy. To this must be added the complications of a system of law that is based upon precedent and the common law, upon which is grafted a number of statutes. The system in China is totally different from that in Hong Kong. However, a basic law has to be evolved which caters for the development and continuance of the existing laws in Hong Kong, although they will have to be changed to meet circumstances as they develop.
I was asked how the concept of judicial review would operate after 1997, in particular regarding clashes between legislation within Hong Kong and the basic law. To resolve these differences, so far as they can be resolved, will take time. However, the view expressed to me time after time was that it should not take too long. The great value of the agreement has been the diminution of uncertainty. That has been reflected in a number of ways. Reference has been made, for example, to property values and the stock exchange index. Whatever the indicators, there has been a return of confidence to Hong Kong. 753 Therefore, agreement on the basic law by China well before the end of this decade will give added impetus to the continued diminution of uncertainty.
Circumstances will change and develop between now and 1997. However, I suspect that the drafters of the legislation are sufficiently wise to recognise the need for flexibility in order to meet conditions between now and 1997 and to form the foundation for the period thereafter. Within these constraints, I believe that the sooner China determines its basic law the better it will be for Hong Kong.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman moves on from the very important point that he has made, will he be a little less timid and consider the possibility of advocating, as there is in America, a supreme court to rule upon any conflicts that might exist between local law and basic law and thereby resolve any differences that might arise? Unless there is machinery of that kind, surely all that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying is very vague and unconstructive. Surely it is bounden upon us to try to make a more constructive suggestion.
§ Mr. Morris
My appearance of timidity is essentially because there is ambiguity on this point. It is a grey area. I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) will have read the terms of the agreement. He will have learnt that appeal to the Judical Committee of the Privy Council will no longer continue. He will also have read that there is a proposal to set up within Hong Kong a supreme court which will deal, as a final court of appeal, with matters arising within Hong Kong and that the suggestion has been made that judges from outside Hong Kong should sit on such a court.
However, to turn to the point which the hon. and learned Member for Burton has made—that it is a grey area and what is to happen in future—machinery is envisaged for appeals within Hong Kong, but, as I understand it, and I should be glad if I could be corrected—I see that the hon. and learned Gentleman is nodding agreement with me—there is a grey area relating to what happens if there is any clash between the law of Hong Kong and the basic law. The basic law is paramount.
Let me take a perhaps ridiculous example, and I do so only by way of example. The agreement envisages freedom for religion. What will be the position if, because of a brainstorm, whoever is legislating in Hong Kong decides to diminish that freedom, which I hope will be enshrined in the basic law? I envisage that that would be a matter requiring some kind of machinery similar to the judicial review which we have in this country. I am glad that the hon. and learned Member for Burton has given me the opportunity to elaborate at perhaps greater length than I intended upon this matter. I hope that when the Minister winds up the debate he will give an assurance about adjudication and future possible clashes at that level—the point upon which the hon. and learned Gentleman has put his finger.
The other matter that is causing concern is the status of the new passport. I welcome the observations of the Foreign Secretary. As I understood it, he said that within a year the matter of laying an Order in Council would be determined. However, the problem is: when will it become operational? My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East made this very point. Until 1997 there will be 754 an Order in Council setting up the status of the new passport. When will people expect to have these passports, or is it envisaged that people will continue to hold their present passports for the best part of the next decade? The way in which a passport is treated by the receiving country is very important. That is the consumers' test of any passport and of any status that it seeks to cater for. Therefore, well before 1997 this problem ought to be clarified.
It will be the Government's responsibility to ensure that receiving states are made abundantly aware of the status and value of the passport so that for a number of years people can use the new passports, if they so wish, to ensure that they are properly tested by the receiving countries. When one is dealing with millions of passports, in order to avoid a hiatus it may be necessary to have a period of dual validity for both existing and new documents.
When I met distinguished members of the councils, together with the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Murphy), it was not clear whether all the stages of the Bill would be taken tonight. I said that I doubted very much whether all stages would be taken tonight. I was relieved, upon my return, to find that this would not happen. However, as the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) said, it is a very short time indeed between Second Reading and the Committee stage next week for the views of the people of Hong Kong to be made known.
I hope that the managers of the business of the House will reconsider the matter so as to ensure that there is a longer time between the two stages. Although Hong Kong is only a matter of many hours flying time away, lime is needed for people to form their views. The earliest opportunity that they had to see a photostat or telex copy of the Bill was just before last weekend. They are very anxious indeed to have time in which to make representations. People cannot come from Hong Kong at five minutes notice.
I trust that if representations come within the next few days the Government will be able to respond to them before Third Reading. I should be far happier if we did not rush this legislation, and did not put all our eggs into one basket and relied on matters to be further considered in the other place. This morning I had representations from the Indian community, and I am sure that other hon. Members received some as well. Representations are bound to come, and they must be given proper consideration, so that people's anxieties can be allayed.
There is a similar problem with statutory instruments. We have quite rightly been told that nationality provisions need an affirmative resolution of each House. That means a debate and, if necessary, a vote. I agree with the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South that one and a half hours may be completely inadequate to deal with all the representations. The anxiety that has been expressed about the speed of the Bill will be expressed about the publishing of statutory instruments in good time so that, before the matter is debated in the House, there is adequate time for the people of Hong Kong to make their views known.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East spoke of draft regulations. I suggest that draft orders should have a green edge, in the same way as we have Green Papers, and should be on a tentative basis. There should be no loss of face by the Government if, when they have published and we have debated the draft instruments, so much anxiety is expressed in the House that the only proper course is to withdraw them at the end of the debate. I have 755 been here for more than a few years and have had some experience of what the Whips get up to. I fear that we shall be driven through the Lobbies far too quickly, without adequate time for the Government to reflect on the representations that are made.
I hope that we shall have an assurance from the Minister that, such is the importance of these draft instruments, and particularly as we are in partially uncharted seas, we should not make mistakes. We should be given every chance to ensure that people are not only heard but have a response from the Government on the feelings expressed in our debates. As draft orders need a negative resolution, the House will have to be on constant watch. It will be up to us to ensure that, when there is disquiet, prayers are tabled and we have the opportunity to discuss these matters and, if necessary, to reject them by a vote.
Having said that, I wish the Bill a fair wind. The Joint Liaison Group has an important role to play in the future of Hong Kong, even though the Prime Minister did not understand its role. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East referred to the Prime Minister's statement about the Governor. She said that she would be astonished if the Governor was not part of the Joint Liaison Group. Rightly or wrongly, the Prime Minister is always confident. This is a danger, as she knows very little about these matters.
The House has a continuing responsibility until 1997, both legally and morally. During that period there should be regular debates on Hong Kong and its policies and problems to show the people there that we care. I was disappointed with the argument put by the Foreign Secretary. I know the difficulty of discussing annual reports that are long out of date. He has told the House that when there is anything worth reporting it will be reported to the House. It is important that this is done, not by a statement at 3.30 pm, but through a debate, with adequate time provided by the Government, so that these matters are debated and ventilated in the House. We need better assurances from the Government tonight.
Hong Kong is a thriving part of the expanding and virile south-east Asia and western Pacific. America and Japan have not been worried about sovereignty. They have taken a greater share of the trade, development and expansion of Hong Kong. I hope that we recognise this and play our part as a trader and developer in ensuring that Hong Kong has an even greater role in raising the standard of life of ordinary people in the part of Asia well beyond its borders. The important issue is the standard of life for the people in Hong Kong and beyond, not an argument about sovereignty, which has bedevilled us for such a long time, but which has caused no anxiety to America or Japan. They have been able to snatch a growing proportion of trade in Hong Kong, a proportion even greater than ours.
§ Sir Paul Bryan (Boothferry)
It is no more than three parliamentary weeks since we discussed the subject matter of the Bill—the agreement on which it is founded—both in this House and the other place. It was debated well and fully. Taken together, those debates were the best debates that we have had on Hong Kong for many years. Over the past 10 years or so hon. Members' interest in Hong Kong has increased greatly. It has grown with the importance of Hong Kong in the world. Now we have a well-informed 756 parliament, ready to keep its eyes on the progress in Hong Kong. We are determined to do that in the years up to 1997.
We have hon. Members who have made it their business to learn about Hong Kong; the debate in the other place showed how much people such as Lord MacLehose with his deep knowledge of the territory, Lord Home, a past Foreign Secretary, Lord Lindsay of Birker who lived in China for many years and has so much experience, and Lord Rhodes, who has taken such an interest in both Hong Kong and China, know about the area. Parliament today has a wealth of experience and knowledge on this subject, hence the quality of our debates.
The verdict of those debates was an acceptance of the agreement, an acknowledgement of the fact that it was acceptable to Hong Kong, coupled with a deep appreciation of the skill of the negotiators who achieved that agreement. Since that debate, confidence in Hong Kong, which took a turn for the better on 26 September when the agreement was signed, has continued to rise. The UMELCO speaking notes that most of us have received say:Since the signing of the Joint Declaration, confidence in Hong Kong has considerably recovered".It goes on to refer to the rising stock exhange, the firm dollar, and so on.
David Bonavia has already been quoted in the House. He has said:The New Year marks Hong Kong's entry into politically uncharted waters, but its economy shows every sign of making a fast recovery from the uncertainty of the recent past.The Hong Kong Bank, in its January report, states:Hong Kong was entering 1985 with a renewed sense of confidence and optimism following the signing of a treaty with China on the territory's future after 1997.So the progress continues. The efficacy of the Bill depends on China honouring the draft agreement, a factor which has naturally featured already in the debate. In this connection a passage from the debate in another place deserves our consideration. I quote from the speech of Lord MacLehose of Beoch. He said:For a Communist Government to commit itself to maintaining this capitalist enclave may seem to some so bizarre as to be incredible, but the fact is—and I do not know how much this is generally realised — this concept is entirely consistent with Chinese policy towards Hong Kong, at least over the past 20 years.Lord MacLehose went on to say that the characteristics of Hong Kong, as described in the joint agreement, have been permitted to exist over all these years irrespective of the regime in Peking. He continued:In my years as governor I found the Chinese People's Government and its officials in Hong Kong both friendly and supportive; so there is nothing inconsistent, far less suspicious, in the Chinese Government having now volunteered that Hong Kong should continue under their flag more or less as it is since it has been their policy to accept it for so long under ours."— [Official Report, House of Lords, 10 December 1984; Vol. 458, c. 39.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. Is the hon. Gentleman quoting a Minister or a Member of another place?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is in order in the current Session to quote a Minister in another place, but not a Member.
§ Sir Paul Bryan
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall not do so again.
757 So the changes that we are anticipating are not so sudden or out of character as some suppose. The co-partnership in industry between the two countries, about which we talk a great deal, has existed for a long time. No one has ever quite known the scale of it because it has not been over-advertised, especially when the political climate in Peking has been uncertain. There is evidence of increasing interdependence between China and Hong Kong. The meteoric growth of trade between the two countries shows how that is happening. Trade has increased fivefold in five years. In 1984, entrepot trade increased by 130 per cent. That is an illustration of what has happened with the opening of the door from China to Hong Kong.
In the course of 1984 China overtook West Germany and the United States to become Hong Kong's second and most important export market. That might be thought to be not unnatural for neighbouring countries, but in 1978, before the "four modernisations" were announced, China ranked only 37th in Hong Kong's markets. There has been an enormous increase in the connection between the two countries and Hong Kong's role as an entrepot has been transformed. Re-exports to and from China have more than doubled every year since 1978, and it was thought that they would amount to HKS25 billion in 1984.
An article on Hong Kong appeared in the Financial Times on 3 January. It read:Hong Kong will remain the main doorway to the only remaining huge undeveloped market in the world … People here have a shared language and culture, and they have commercial links throughout the mainland that it would take a Western businessman years to develop.In addition, the container port is the third most active in the world and is about to become the second most active. As we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker), China goes to Hong Kong for its technology. The signing of the agreement on the Daya bay nuclear plant has been the most significant development for many years. When this Bill is debated in another place I hope that Lord Kadoorie, the Chairman of China Light and Power, a main partner in the project, will be there to tell us all about it.
I stress the growing interdependence between the two countries because it shows that the economic scene is changing so quickly that it is impossible to visualise Hong Kong in 1997. It is certain that Hong Kong will be a very different place when we hand over our sovereignty. We in the United Kingdom will find it hard to keep up with developments.
There are signs also that political changes may come faster than we anticipated. It was apparent during the debates in December that most of us agreed with the Green Paper produced by the Hong Kong Government on electoral reform and the subsequent plan. I understand that an unexpectedly large number of candidates are likely to come forward for district board elections, which will be taking place shortly. There is a great variety of candidates. The somewhat lukewarm interest that we assumed would be taken in the voting procedure may prove wrong, and we may have to move faster than we expected.
I was extremely glad to read in the newspapers two or three days ago that the successor to Sir Philip Hadden Lave as Chief Secretary is to be David Aikers-Jones. I am sure that those who know David Aikers-Jones will agree with me that he is an admirable choice. He has served the Hong Kong Government in the New Territories for the past 20 758 years and he has great knowledge of China, the Chinese language and Hong Kong. There will be general delight that he has moved into such an important pos: at such a critical time in the history of the territory.
Over the past year UMELCO has supplied us with three papers prior to our three debates. The changing nature and content of the papers tell the story. The first paper, which was published in May, consisted of a long list of matters of concern to those in Hong Kong, and genuine matters of concern they were. It consisted also of a long list of assurances and undertakings that they needed in the agreement. I and many other hon. Members wrongly thought that UMELCO was asking for too much I doubted whether the Chinese Government would go that far. In the event, I was wrong. and the agreement obtained was much more favourable and much more detailed than I had ever expected.
The second UMELCO paper was published on 29 November 1984. It reflected the success as set out in the agreement. It was a reasoned paper accepting the agreement and giving the reasons for doing so The four critical areas on which assurances had been sought had met with satisfactory assurances.
We have now been supplied with the third speaking note. It is a much shorter document than the papers which preceded it. That is because so much of what had been asked for had been granted. However, that does not mean that we are left with no worries. Most of the worries that can be dealt with by the Bill relate to nationality. The paper concentrates on the status of the new passport, nomenclature, statelessness and so on. That does not mean that they are the only remaining worries, but they are important worries with which the House must deal in the next few weeks and months. I very much hope that the Government have listened to those who have asked for sympathetic consideration of those nationality worries. For example, are we giving enough time? Would it be a good idea to put off the Report stage and Third Reading for a while so that we can hear more views from Hong Kong, as has been suggested?
But whatever happens we must remember a point that has already been made several times, and that is that during the next few years the people of Hong Kong will be watching Britain to see whether our commitment to that territory continues undiminished until 1997. Today they will be looking to see how we deal with their worries about nationality. That is the first test of commitment that we must pass. I hope that the Government will do all they can to pass that test.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)
It would be wrong if the Bill were to receive a Second Reading without there being placed on record a remonstrance against what is proposed in the matter of nationality, and against the manner in which what is proposed is to be executed.
I shall deal first with the manner in which the proposal is to be carried out. I admit that when I read the White Paper that was debated a few weeks ago and saw the reference to an intended alteration of our nationality law, it did not occur to me that it would not be carried out by legislation. I am afraid I had forgotten that the Foreign Secretary is the same person as the right hon. and learned Gentleman who once devised a way whereby, through a Bill of only five clauses, the House could divest itself of all the rights that it had laboriously acquired and defended 759 for seven centuries. That was a much greater feat than he will achieve by relegating to an Order in Council the important alteration in our nationality law foreshadowed in the appendix to the agreement with China on Hong Kong.
It would not be true to say that there is an obligation on the Government to proceed by way of an Order in Council because an agreement is being implemented. Of course I accept that where legislation implements an international agreement into which the Government have entered it is possible to argue that the scope for the House — except by withdrawing confidence from the Government — to amend its terms must necessarily be limited or non-existent. In this instance that is not the case. The proposals on British nationality form no part of the agreement that is to be ratified. They will simply be part of one of two memoranda that will be exchanged. The agreement has left Parliament free to consider and, if necessary, to amend— if it so wishes, to reject—the alterations to citizenship alluded to in the memorandum.
My researches so far lead me to agree with the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) who said that he did not remember any case in which a new form of British nationality, a new category of British national, had been created by Order in Council, and not by legislation.
Of course, it is possible and acceptable to alter by Order in Council the contents of a schedule to a British Nationality Act so as to accord with a change in the status of a territory to which that Order in Council refers. That, too, is not what is happening in this case. Indeed, even when alterations were made to the first schedule to the British Nationality Act 1948 the Government were always punctilious to make it, and to meet its consequences, through primary legislation.
I should therefore like to put on record that the House is essentially being denied its right to proceed by Act of Parliament in creating a new category of British citizenship, and I am afraid that what seems to be a germinating agreement between the two Front Benches on an alternative is not satisfactory. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East says that if we could have a draft—presumably he means what we, under direct rule in Northern Ireland, would call "proposals for a draft"—published in advance, we could hold a debate on it, and then an Order in Council could be passed unamended. We cannot allow that to stand. We cannot allow it to be said that it is the equivalent of legislation if a Government lay a draft of an order and allow that draft to be debated before the order is brought before the House. The essence of our legislative procedure, which we have elaborated over many centuries, is that it enables us to concentrate successively on each different point that arises. Several different points relating to legislation have already been raised in the debate which it would be quite impossible, in any such procedure as appears to be gaining favour, to violate so that they could be debated separately and the Government forced to consider each on its merits. I wish to place on record that we should protest against being deprived of our right to have the law of British nationality altered only by Act of Parliament duly passed through all stages in both Houses.
I turn to the content of the proposals. We are going to create what the Bill callsa new form of British nationality.760 Those who hold it are to be called British Nationals (Overseas). I do not think that I was mistaken—yet I had difficulty in crediting my ears—when I heard the Foreign Secretary say that that description "carries no implication of a continuing constitutional relationship". It is absolute nonsense to say that. Why, the very word "nationality", let alone "British", carries constitutional implications. In proclaiming that we are doing something that has no constitutional implications — in promising that we will create a "form of British nationality that has virtually no content"—we are using a definition that is calculated—I was going to say, to be ambiguous, but I shall go further — to deceive, that will deceive and perhaps is intended to deceive.
As we learn in the White Paper, the document that those accredited with this status are to be given is to be called a "British passport". Most people think that they know what is meant by that. Back in the 1960s most people thought that they knew. People generally—particularly those not learned in our law of nationality — would hardly credit that the "form of British nationality" that is to be created will not also convey the essential and central right of nationality, that this holder of a "British passport" can enter at will the country whose name, in the adjectival form "British" it carries.
The whole meaning and implication of a "form of British nationality" conferring the right to hold a "British passport" and conferring upon the holder the description of a "British national", is that the recipients will be British nationals in the natural acceptance of that term. Nothing said in debates in the House and no reference to other parts of our nationality will disabuse the public or the world of those notions.
§ Sir John Page (Harrow, West)
I am listening to the right hon. Gentleman with the greatest care, but I wonder whether the word -British" has, over so many years—he has more experience of this than anybody else—retained the connotation of the British empire and Commonwealth of about 3,000 million people in 1945?
§ Mr. Powell
I can readily resolve the hon. Gentleman's difficulty. In 1981 we passed new nationality legislation which declared "British citizenship" and defined "British citizens" as the people who belonged specifically, and virtually exclusively, to this United Kingdom. So those who look to the word "British" will be all the more misled when they realise that we have called ourselves "British citizens" and thus—though I take no objection to it—arrogated to the United Kingdom the adjectival description of "British". I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, since it enabled me to strengthen and reinforce the point that I was making.
All those who have taken part in these debates—naturally I am in agreement with them—hope for the best. We hope not only that we shall get to 1997 with this agreement intact but that the agreement will remain intact in the decades after 1997. But nobody in this House ought to be so rash as to act or legislate upon the assumption that that will be so. It is not difficult to imagine circumstances that could arise—political changes that could take place—in China, which would create an overpowering desire on the part of those holding this new status and these documents to secure admission to the United Kingdom — a country in which, despite all that is often said against it, there is a widespread desire to obtain admission 761 and residence. That is not intended, we are told; yet in much of the discussion that has gone on in the run-up to this legislation expressions have been used which strongly indicated that that might be envisaged. I remember the article in The Times on 27 September 1984 which said that we should giveas broad definition as possible to those BDT passport holders eligible to settle in Britain under the discretionary terms of the 1981 Nationality Act.That is a misunderstanding of the British Nationality Act, but certainly it is a misunderstanding not confined to the leader writer of The Times, even though the Secretary of State specifically repudiated it in his speech.
If those circumstances arise, we shall be put in the dock. We shall be told, "You chose—not as a result of an agreement with the Government of China, you chose of your own free will, on your own initiative—to create a new form of what you, not we, call 'British nationality'. So these are 'British nationals'. You chose to give them what you, not we, described officially as a 'British passport'. How then can you refuse admission to your country, the country of 'British citizens', to these people who claim a right to enter, implicit" — so it will be argued, as it has been argued in past years in other contexts —"in the very documents which you have given them."
I have no wish to see any of those who will lose their British nationality, exiguous though it is under the 1981 Act, as a result of the transfer of sovereignty made stateless. I would support any legislation designed to have that effect. I have no wish to see them in a position in which they are worse off than the citizens of any other country on the face of the earth in having no form of identification as they seek, as many of them will, to travel. What I protest against is that we should place them and ourselves in a false position which will enure, if events should be less happy than we expect, to our discredit and to their disappointment in years to come.
§ Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Stockton, South)
What does the right hon. Gentleman propose should be the status of citizens of Hong Kong?
§ Mr. Powell
After 1997 we shall be in no position to confer upon the citizens of Hong Kong any status arising out of our national authority, out of our sovereignty, or to confer any nationality upon them through anything that this House can do. Yet I would not exclude our dealing with the problem when it is defined as potential individual statelessness—I would not reject consideration of that; statelessness would be a minority phenomenon—nor our securing international agreement to some kind of document which would give facilities to those persons on travelling. The hon. Gentleman is reinforcing my argument about procedure; for those are matters which it will not be possible properly to debate in the manner in which we debated—no one today is prepared to say that we were wasting our time in doing so—month after month and word by word the contents of the British Nationality Act 1981. We shall be denied that opportunity to consider in detail the situation of different categories of persons at present associated with the territory of Hong Kong or to find methods of defining their status, in so far as that lies with us, which do not create the openings for ambiguity, misunderstanding and deception which lie in what is proposed at present. Although we shall have a 762 Committee stage on the Bill, it will not provide us with the opportunity to do what it is the duty of this House to do in enacting new British nationality law.
§ Mr. Mark Robinson (Newport, West)
It is always slightly daunting to follow the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), especially when he brings a perspective to our debates which often has a slightly different sense and direction from what we have heard previously. I cannot say that I agree with the points that he raised about nationality, but my reasons will become clear during my speech.
I welcome this opportunity to speak for the first time in a debate on Hong Kong. Contrary to the Private Eye style of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who took us on a tour d'horizon of his thoughts on the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the negotiations, I should like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, as well as to the Governor of Hong Kong, our ambassador in Beijing and their staff, who have done so much to bring this difficult negotiation to such a successful conclusion. The outcome—what we see in 1997 and beyond—will be a testimony to that agreement. It has not been easy, and the task that has been performed will be seen not just as historic but as having a special place in our experience of decolonisation.
All the previous negotiations that we have had to bring independence to other of our former colonies have not had the perspective and have not required the very special considerations of this one, not least because, rather than being a process of handing independence to a former colony, it has been a process of transferring sovereignty back to another power, and at the same time providing the conditions under which the community in Hong Kong can go on governing and existing within that system and in the style to which it has become accustomed under our own Government.
I had the opportunity to visit Hong Kong in the summer, and I pay tribute not only to the authorities there but to the Executive Council and UMELCO for the trouble that they took to ensure that I was made fully aware of their views on the developments. It has been brought home to me how important it is to keep the people of Hong Kong informed through the Executive Council about what is happening in the negotiations at every stage. The degree to which that information has been provided and the essential importance of confidentiality throughout this difficult process to ensure the success of the negotiations are not always appreciated in this country.
One of the main concerns expressed to me while I was in Hong Kong can perhaps never be legislated for in this Bill or any other legislation. The principal worry is about what will happen if the situation in China after 1997 differs from the present position. A parallel purpose to negotiations such as this one is to build trust and understanding. While bearing in mind China's record in honouring international agreements, we must not forget that Hong Kong's present position in terms of Government and the economy could have been upset by the Chinese Government at any time that that Government had the will to do so. It will be helpful, to remember that aspect during the process of confidence building which will be so important both before and after 1997.
763 It is essential for the British Government to help and to be involved in that process of confidence building. I associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) in welcoming the appointment of Mr. Aikers-Jones as the next Chief Secretary to the Government of Hong Kong. He is well known in the former colony and the territory, and his role will be important as we move through the 1980s and early 1990s building that necessary confidence.
It is a matter not just of the British Government building confidence with the people of Hong Kong, but of building confidence between the Chinese Government and the people of Hong Kong, and that is where the drafting of the basic law is so important. I fully understand the fact that the British Government's view is that the drafting of the basic law will be a matter for the Government of China, but the way in which the Chinese Government draft that basic law, and the process of consultation with the people of Hong Kong—the words "the people of Hong Kong" are used — will be extremely important factors in determining how the people of Hong Kong view their future as they move towards 1997.
We have heard about the need to keep the House informed of developments in Hong Kong. Clearly, it is necessary for hon. Members to be kept informed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary of how important developments evolve in the months and years ahead. The fact that my right hon. and learned Friend was unable to give us the title of the category determining the status of people in Hong Kong who qualify is evidence of that consultation. I do not necessarily feel that it would be right to make this report annually because we must consider what information should be included in, and what should be left out of, the report. If the House is informed of important developments as they evolve, it may help to allay the fear of some hon. Members, including myself, that Hong Kong may will not be seriously discussed in the Chamber after the passage of the Bill. Indeed, it is important for the matter to be discussed again so that the people of Hong Kong may have confidence that we are continuing to take an interest during the transition period.
I shall now consider that part of the schedule which refers to nationality. I was pleased to hear my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary say to the House, after mentioning the title "British National (Overseas)", that this title was agreed in consultation with the Executive Council. Of course, that will create some controversy in Hong Kong, especially because "Hong Kong" is not included in the title. I hope that people in Hong Kong realise how difficult that inclusion would have been, in view of the sensitivities that would have been expressed by Beijing—hon. Members will obviously understand this—if "Hong Kong" had been used in the title after 1997.
In that respect I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) that it is important for the passport to come into operation not on the date on which the agreement comes into force, but well in advance. That is important not only for those who will be the beneficiaries of these documents in enabling them to become used to them and to use them, but for Governments of other countries in helping them to become familiar with the documents and accept them at their ports of entry. Documents of this nature will be of assistance and 764 of use only if other Governments are prepared to accept them. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will do what he can through his good offices to ensure that the documents are accepted by other countries at ports of entry.
The procedure of an Order in Council to bring in the regulations may be unusual, but, from the outset, this process has required special and different measures from those required for other matters. So I, for one, am prepared to accept the procedure in the hope that, when the orders are laid in draft before the House, we shall have ample and adequate opportunity to debate them.
Before leaving the subject of nationality I should like to refer to a residual problem faced by the Hong Kong Government—that of the Vietnamese refugees. When I was in Hong Kong it was made very clear to me that the process of the settlement of refugees was becoming very difficult. I was asked whether it might be possible for Britain to take a few more refugees, if only to give confidence to countries such as the United States and Canada, which are still thinking of taking more refugees, but which are asking, not what the British Government have done, but what they are doing at the moment to help to solve the problem. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some assurance on that point when he sums up.
I see the Bill as an important step in the process towards the implementation of the agreement reached with China. The step is not just important, but necessary, because, as we heard earlier, it is essential, as part of the agreement, that the Bill is adopted both by this House and by the other place by June.
I feel that the agreement will give the people of Hong Kong an excellent opportunity to continue after 1997 with the considerable achievements and way of life that they have developed. I wish them every success in that objective. With common sense on both sides, I believe that the People's Republic of China also has a tremendous amount to gain from the agreement and from its successful implementation at least during the 50-year period and, I hope, during a period longer than that envisaged in the agreement.
§ 6.2 pm
§ Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)
I welcome the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Robinson) to that small, select club of those hon. Members who have been concerned over the years and will continue to be concerned with Hong Kong. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take part in future debates on these issues, if we ever have the chance to debate them fully. I endorse nearly every word that the hon. Gentleman said. It is a happy change that there should be such agreement between both sides of the House.
We have done well with Hong Kong so far, both as regards Government policy and the endorsement of that policy by the House. However, we have to maintain that happy record. Confidence has flooded back into Hong Kong since the signing of the joint agreement. We, as the responsible power, have to help to maintain that confidence. We, as parliamentarians, have to show that we intend to take full parliamentary responsibility for the affairs of that territory and for the interests of its people from here on in.
I am sorry to have to say that I am not convinced that, by introducing the Order in Council procedure, we guarantee the proper parliamentary oversight of matters as 765 they develop with respect to Hong Kong, particularly the sensitive issues of citizenship and nationality. The Order in Council procedure suggests that the House is expected simply to endorse whatever decision the Government comes to. As I understand it, an order has to be accepted in toto or negated. There will be no real possibility of disagreement in debate requiring a review or a rethink of the Government's will. Questions of citizenship are much too sensitive and complex to be left to that somewhat "take it or leave it" method of introducing the changes in nationality law that we shall have to introduce over the next few months.
The House should and must have full powers of scrutiny, untrammelled by the restraints of the yea or nay approach that the Government want. I strongly endorse the argument put so ably by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), that if the Government intend to proceed with the draft procedure plan, we should have draft orders with green edges so that the House can make its view known on these matters before the Government come here with a cut-and-dried suggestion to which we must say yes or no.
There is understandable concern in Hong Kong—it was expressed to us the other day by members of the Executive Council visiting this country—about the title of the new status. A number of names have been suggested, but—not surprisingly—not to the acceptance of all the parties. The dreadful, anonymous title of British National (Overseas) announced by the Foreign Secretary today surely cannot be acceptable. I find it difficult to accept that the members of the Executive Council who have been consulted are happy about that inexact title.
What is wrong with the inclusion of the territorial title "Hong Kong" in the nomenclature? I understand the matter of Chinese sensitivities, but perhaps on one or two issues we should argue that the people of Hong Kong have sensitivities, too. I personally do not see why the name "Hong Kong" should not be included in the title that those people are to bear as they live their lives in Hong Kong and—perhaps more importantly—travel abroad.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)
What my hon. Friend says is very convincing. However, does he have any reason to think that the Chinese themselves would object to the nomenclature that he suggests?
§ Mr. Faulds
I cannot confirm or deny the Chinese view. However, it has been suggested that there might be some sensitivity on the part of the Chinese if that particular title were to be included. If there is no Chinese sensitivity perhaps we should examine the matter very carefully again.
I am worried about this matter. Surely foreign immigration officials will be less likely to question entitlements to travel or to enter if they can immediately envisage the country in question, instead of being confronted with the dreadful, anonymous title of British National (Overseas) that our Hong Kong friends must endure.
I am sorry that the Minister who is to reply to the debate is not present at the moment. There is another question that I hope he will deal with. What are the Government's intentions towards the 4,000, 5,000 or 6,000 people—mainly of Indian extraction but including a number of Portuguese and other original nationalities—who may be 766 left in limbo as stateless persons because they are non-Chinese and live outwith Hong Kong? They must have the assurance of some protected future as recognised citizens with a specific status. I raised this point earlier today, and the Foreign Secretary's unknowing response—I am not being uncharitable—was not reassuring. I hope that the Minister will put us in the picture about the Government's intentions towards the limited number of people who may be left stateless.
Finally, it is entirely the responsibility of the Government and of the House to gain universal acceptance for the new passport. There must be no embarrassment for Hong Kongers at any immigration desk anywhere in the world. The Government has to insist on the recognition and acceptability of that new passport. It should not be issued in dribs and drabs over the years with the result that, for a considerable time, two different passports might be in use. That would lead to all sorts of questions and muddles. The new passport should be introduced over a designated and limited period. I accept that the registration of 3.5 million people in the new form of citizenship must be a longer process and start earlier.
I regret to have to say that I do not think that the Government have been sensitive enough about citizenship and nationality. Such matters will affect confidence in Hong Kong, externally and internally. That is the strongest argument for allowing the House more oversight than Orders in Council allow. The Government must think again about their intended procedure in legislating for the future state of the people of Hong Kong. That must be in allowing the House much more opportunity to debate these matters in detail before the Government come to their own decision about how they should be pursued.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)
I am always pleased to speak after the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) in debates on Hong Kong. I agree that one of the most difficult issues concerns the non-Chinese minority in Hong Kong, especially Indians, many of whom left India before that country became independent. Unlike almost everyone else in Hong Kong, they have no citizenship or status other than as citizens of Hong Kong.
The Bill might not arouse the greatest passion in the House or in Britain, but it arouses the greatest passion in the bosoms of the Chinese people and their leaders. The treaty of Nanjing has always been regarded as a great insult. We are today taking positive legislative steps to remove an insulting blot on the history of China. I do not think that it is indiscreet of me to recall that when, about a year ago, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House asked me whether I thought there would be trouble in the House when today arrived, I said that I did not think so because hon. Members were sensitive to the realities of the political situation and to our responsibilities towards the people of Hong Kong in so far as we could carry them out.
In view of what has been said so far, I believe that we might be criticised for losing sight of the political reality of what we are doing in terms of the Beijing Government and the British Government influencing Hong Kong. Dr. L. K. Ding, who many of us have met here or in Hong Kong, recently criticised some of the UMELCO members in Hong Kong for going to London rather than to Beijing to find answers to the questions that were worrying them. The political reality is that the ultimate answers lie outwith the ambit of the House.
767 The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) made a speech which was fair in so far as he implied that the House is in danger of misleading people in Hong Kong about what we are prepared, willing or able to give them in regard to passport status. We all know what is politically possible. We should remember that this is essentially a political Bill. The political reality is that to imply to the Chinese Government that the takeover of Hong Kong by China is so unacceptable as to be likely to cause 3 million Chinese citizens in Hong Kong to want to rush to these or other shores is deliberately and provocatively insulting to the Government in Beijing—the very Government on whom the welfare of the people of Hong Kong will depend.
§ Mr. Lawrence
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important for the Peking Government to be aware of the strength of feeling in Britain, which is reflected in Parliament, and our fears? If they are aware of the strength of our feelings they are more likely, are they not, to accommodate them?
§ Mr. Adley
My hon. and learned Friend presupposes, as he has done many times, that the objectives of Parliament, of Beijing and of the people of Hong Kong are somehow different. We are all trying to retain the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong. One of the worst ways in which to do that is to go around insulting one of the three parties to the arrangement.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) was, in his customary way, robustly critical of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—or so he thinks. His comments made him sound like a sycophantic poodle compared to recent articles by people such as Brian Tisdall which have appeared in Hong Kong. Of all the criticisms that might be levelled at my right hon. Friend—there are many, but there is no need to repeat them—the one that cannot be levelled at her is that she does not care about the people of Hong Kong. Indeed, it could be said that her mistakes at the beginning were caused by her having too much concern for them. Her burning concern for them and their future nearly undid the conclusion of the agreement.
I mentioned the Tisdall article only because its title was, "Less Than Frank Affair". That was the point that the right hon. Member for South Down was trying to make. Everyone knows that the reality of our immigration law is at Heathrow airport rather than on pieces of paper. Nobody in his right mind, whether in Hong Kong, Britain or China, suggests that we are creating an open door policy to enable the Chinese population of Hong Kong to come to Britain. It is our duty to disabuse people of that view, if there be any.
Success for the people of Hong Kong lies not in enabling them to have a bolthole in the United Kingdom, but in retaining a prosperous, stable and free society in Hong Kong. The right hon. Member for South Down said that we should not legislate on the assumption that a future Chinese Government would wish to abide by the agreement. I disagree fundamentally. All the evidence shows that since 1949 the Government in Beijing have not wanted to disturb the status of Hong Kong. If, in the heat of their revolution and in the passion of the cultural revolution, they never lifted the telephone to turn off the water supply—the simple way in which to bring Hong 768 Kong to its knees—there is every reason to believe that the last thing that they want to do is to disturb Hong Kong's stability.
We are right to legislate on the assumption that the Chinese mean what they say and have every intention of sticking to their policy. However, politics and certainty make poor bedfellows. That applies to any country, not merely China. I am delighted to have heard today so much enthusiasm for the agreement and the future status of Hong Kong. 'Twas not ever thus! Indeed, when two or three years ago in Hong Kong I had the temerity to say some of the things that have been said tonight, the Hong Kong Government reacted by putting the security services on to me. Nevertheless, on occasions it takes a long time for some people to learn the political facts of life.
It is proposed to create the status of British National (Overseas). In this respect I disagree with the hon. Member for Warley, East. If any title on any passport were to imply any retention of sovereignty by Her Majesty's Government after 1997, that surely would fall foul of the need to clarify beyond peradventure that Hong Kong becomes Chinese in 1997.
§ Mr. Faulds
I had no such intention in asking that the title of the territory should be left in the new nomenclature. There must surely be Chinese terminology for those islands which could be contained in the title. It might not be Hong Kong but something else, and would simply designate for immigration officials — who are not renowned for their high intelligence when dealing with cases under pressure — that this is the country from which these people come.
§ Mr. Adley
With his great knowledge of the Chinese language, the hon. Gentleman will know that the territory is known as Xianggang, rather than Hong Kong. If he seriously suggests that a passport containing the word Xianggang is likely to be decipherable to an immigration official at Heathrow, he shares a higher opinion of that official's charitableness than I do.
§ Mr. Faulds
I do not think that that Chinese title would be immediately recognisable by immigration officials. I am simply arguing that the retention of the name Hong Kong would be immediately recognisable, and that does not to me suggest any retention of sovereignty whatever. That would not be my wish in this matter.
§ Mr. Adley
I have not asked my right hon. and learned Friend, and I do not propose to do so now, whether this point has been discussed with the Government of the People's Republic of China. My own view is that it would be offensive to a Government if a part of their territory continued to appear on the passport of other nationals after that territory had reverted to their sovereignty. However, I may be entirely wrong.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
If there is any question of derogation of sovereignty in the eyes of the Chinese Republic, surely it is contained in the fact that 3 million people will be entitled to carry passports who will be called British Nationals (Overseas). That passport will be issued by the British Government and will entitle the holder to the diplomatic and consular protection of Her Majesty's Government around the world for at least 50 years, and the lifetime of everyone who holds such a passport. Surely that is utterly inconsistent with my hon. Friend's theory about sovereignty not being an issue.
§ Mr. Adley
My hon. Friend is a lawyer and I am not. We are sailing in uncharted waters and are trying to find a way of doing things which provides satisfaction to the sensibilities of different groups of people. I am prepared to accept, first, the good will of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of. State; secondly, the energy which I am sure they have attached to trying to find a solution; and, thirdly, their assurances that this is the best solution that they have come up with. This is not an easy problem. I do not believe that it is a lawyers' problem. It is a political problem of great sensitivity which we have never faced before and which, we can safely say, we shall never face again.
I do not believe that 3 million, 300,000, 30,000, 3,000, 300 or even 30 Hong Kong Chinese will want to come here. However, if 3 million Hong Kong Chinese were to come here, I doubt whether there would be any increase in our unemployment statistics! Indeed, it could well be that in a short time their arrival would reduce those statistics.
There must be flexibility throughout all these discussions. The Government and the overwhelming majority of people in Hong Kong understand that. At this stage it would not be wise in any way to write into legislation words which imply that Chinese nationality and sovereignty are infringed.
The schedule to the Bill refers to the problem of statelessness, and the Government recognise that they have a role to play. I hope that it is not impertinent to suggest that the Government in Beijing may consider that they have a role to play as well. To suggest that the Chinese Government should offer citizenship to non-Chinese British dependent territory passport holders would be regarded as unusual at the very least, and probably by such people in Hong Kong as undesirable. However, I place on record my personal opinion that, if the Government of the People's Republic were to make such an offer to the Indian citizens of Hong Kong, that would go a long way towards showing their good will, good faith and willingness to bend one of the most fundamental rules of Chinese life—that Chinese race and citizenship are intermingled and exclusive.
A country such as China whose Government have shown themselves willing to produce the principle of one country, two systems might at least consider the proposition that its Government have some role to play in the future status of non-Chinese British dependent territory citizens such as the Indian population in Hong Kong.
My right hon. and learned Friend referred to future constitutional changes in Hong Kong. I do not propose to make a long speech detailing what these should be, as that would be impertinent, unnecessary and inappropriate. I believe that China wants to maintain stability and prosperity, and I also believe that she does not have a fixed and detailed idea of the precise proposals that she wishes to see introduced into Hong Kong. I do not believe that the Chinese Government have worked out a precise form of democratic change in Hong Kong which they believe to be the best answer to the problem. However, I am sure they believe that the people of Hong Kong are the best judges of what this should be.
Too much democracy could be indigestible. We are all aware that the proposition of one man, one vote immediately could leave the way open to troublemakers in Hong Kong. We all know who they are. They come from the island of Taiwan. They are extremely anxious to 770 sow discord wherever possible between the Government of the People's Republic, the Government in London, and the people of Hong Kong. I urge caution on those who advocate immediate one man, one vote in Hong Kong.
I also urge caution, care and concern on the Government in London and the Government in Beijing. I am worried about a conflict of aspirations between the young Chinese population of Hong Kong, who so far have been denied any democracy, and the cosy stability implicit in the relationship between the British Government, the Chinese Government and the Hong Kong Administration who have carried these negotiations through. There is a demand for change among the young people of Hong Kong which is not reflected in the views that are often put to many hon. Members. This will have to be watched carefully, because the frustration of the ambitions of the young Chinese population of Hong Kong could disrupt stability.
I risk offending yet again the establishment in Hong Kong by saying that many young Chinese there look forward to the day when the Chief Secretary is not an Englishman with a double-barrelled name.
Basically, we have this agreement or no agreement. That has always been the proposition. The alternative of drifting along to 1997 and then seeing what happens is not one which any responsible politician in Britain, China or Hong Kong could possibly advocate. On that basis, I am delighted to support the Bill and I look forward to continuing our interest in Hong Kong for many years to come.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)
The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) has been bold and independent in his comments for a long time, cutting a swathe through the political countryside like one of the steam trains to which he is so attached. I sometimes think that he goes a wee bit too far.
During our first debate on Hong Kong, there was a general and warm welcome for the historic negotiations. However, some people — and I am not excluded; not many democrats in other political parties would be excluded either—felt that, despite the promises, there was a residual uncertainty and doubt because we were disposing of our responsibilities for 5 million people without consulting them. I still retain that doubt, but it is part of the requisite political equipment of a Liberal to be imbued at all times with the hope that things will eventually get better.
However, even if it is a difficult issue, it should not be avoided. I accept that the Chinese Government have been responsive and flexible during the negotiations, but as the issue is of great concern to many of the people of Hong Kong it would be wrong to dismiss it.
The hon. Member for Christchurch referred briefly to a pungent article in the South China Morning Post on 28 December. It referred to a press conference given by the Prime Minister, to which the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) referred. The article states:No fewer than one quarter of the 30 questions put to Mrs. Thatcher at her press conference raised, in differing ways, the moral issues that arise, or ought to arise, out of the joint declaration.It was in her reply to Emily Lau of the Far Eastern Economic Review that Mrs. Thatcher showed herself at her insensitive worst.771Miss Lau asked whether it was morally defensible to deliver over 5 million people … or whether it is 'really true that in international politics the highest form of morality is one's own national interests'?By her refusal to face up to the question and its implications Mrs. Thatcher gave the unfortunate impression that she would not recognise a moral issue if it was a double-decker bus in the middle of the Sahara desert.
§ Mr. Johnston
That is perfectly possible. All I am saying is that it is wrong to ignore certain facts. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, who referred to the pressure for one man, one vote tomorrow, I never found anyone in Hong Kong who put forward that point of view. It is, therefore, rather odd that he should put up that argument in order to bash it down when no one is proposing it. A great many people are concerned and worried about the future, and it would be foolish to ignore that. After all, this is the last opportunity for the House to discuss these matters in the round.
I would give general support to the pressure for an annual debate on Hong Kong. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East logically and clearly pointed out that we have annual debates on the Army, Navy, Air Force and the European Community. The Foreign Secretary appears to think that the repetitive debates on the European Community have become somewhat boring, and I have some sympathy with him. However, those debates take place every two or three months. There is a strong case for the Government being compelled on a regular basis—whether or not annual — to debate the position as it evolves in Hong Kong.
§ Mr. Richard Needham (Wiltshire, North)
When I was in Hong Kong I met a considerable number of extremely intelligent, capable young people who wanted a one man, one vote system. That does not mean that it would be wise to introduce that system within the next three months. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) was right to say that there are people, who are not extreme in any way, who want to work towards a one man, one vote society.
§ Mr. Johnston
That is not what the hon. Member for Christchurch said. I agree that there are people who want to work towards the phasing in of a one man, one vote society. I do not think that any of us would oppose such a move, least of all the hon. Member for Christchurch.
I wish briefly to itemise the issues of outstanding importance, and shall begin with the drafting of the basic law. That will be very difficult given the dramatic difference between Chinese and Hong Kong law, both civil and criminal. As the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) said, in civil law the Chinese tend to fuse the state and the Government, while that does not happen either in Britain or Hong Kong. There is no doubt also that the Chinese are far more punitive in their criminal law than has been the custom in Hong Kong. Is it possible to ensure that a Hong Kong judge or prominent lawyer is included in the drafting committee? It is important to have someone of that standing and calibre talking directly to his Chinese colleagues.
772 We have never really debated the position of the Governor, but it is obviously central to the form of government in Hong Kong in future. It is difficult to be clear about the independence that the Governor will have.
Knowing the Government's great belief in these matters, it is worth commenting that nowhere in the draft agreement is it said that voting in Hong Kong should be by secret ballot. That may be an oversight, but one does not usually believe that Governments are guilty only of oversight. They are usually more subterranean than that.
We are still not clear about the extent of the involvement of the Hong Kong people in the Joint Liaison Group. During the last debate there was a consensus across the House that Hong Kong people from both sides of the fence should serve on that group if possible. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East dwelt on that point at some length.
It is worth quoting again from the article in the South China Morning Post because of the confusion in the heart of the Government in presenting this matter, which is a bad thing. It states:It was on the composition of the joint liaison group that Mrs. Thatcher managed to get it so very wrong.When she said that 'the Governor, of course, will be on it. No question. The Governor will be on it.' Sir Edward Youde tried to attract her attention but found it difficult to do so with the burly frame of her press officer, Mr. Bernard Ingham, in between.But eventually Mrs. Thatcher got the message that the composition had not yet been decided. However, she was not to be deterred and went on: 'I should be absolutely astonished if the Governor is not on it.'This major diplomatic gaffe has put the Foreign Office in a difficult position because there is absolutely no intention that Sir Edward will be a member.
With respect to the Prime Minister and the difficulties of flying across the world, I should have thought that it should be possible for the head of our state to get these things right. The gentleman who wrote the article summed it up rather well when he said:Sir Geoffrey Howe, the Foreign Secretary, sat alongside Mrs. Thatcher with his head in his hands. This may have been in part due to the fact he had been celebrating his birthday the evening before. But more likely it was because he was appalled at what he was hearing. How much better it would have been had he taken the press conference himself because he is, above all else, a decent and honest man"—and so say all of us.
We must consider the nationality question to which many hon. Members have referred. We now have what UMELCO calls "the nomenclature". I did not know that that was the meaning of the word. The former British dependent territories citizenship will become British National (Overseas) citizenship. We must be assured that the international protection offered by that is no less than is offered by the BDTC. Indeed, I hope that the protection will be a little more.
A Hong Kong Chinese told me about his uncle who lives in the United States who wanted, as was his custom each year, to visit Mexico for a holiday. Suddenly the Mexicans decided that the BDTC was not appropriate and that he required a visa. They were willing to provide that visa, but said that he would have to wait six months. Such a practical problem is much more serious if one has to move about for business reasons. It is a problem, and I agree with what the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) said about it.
§ Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)
How does the hon. Gentleman visualise the conflict between the Chinese 773 and British Governments when discussing the merits of an exit or entry visa for Hong Kong? How will protection in any form be offered by the British Government with the new passport?
§ Mr. Johnston
The problem is not with the Chinese Government but with other Governments in other parts of the world. The problem exists now with BDTC passport holders, because many countries are now not so willing to let them into their countries as full British passport holders.
§ Mr. Johnston
The only remedy is for the British Government, through bilateral negotiations, to persuade other Governments to treat the passport in an appropriate fashion and to allow free passage. After all, that is the whole point of having a passport. We have some responsibility towards the Hong Kong Chinese in that regard.
As the hon. Member for Warley, East said, the non-ethnic Chinese should have the assurance of citizenship. That is important. I am sure that many hon. Members have received correspondence, such as I have received, from the Council of Hong Kong Indians Association, which says:A typical example of an ethnic Indian, and by direct consequence of his wife and descendants, is a man born and raised in India at a time when India was still governed by the British. In 1947, at the time of Partition, he faced a choice of staying in India and claiming Indian citizenship and nationality (his birthright) or removing to another part of the Commonwealth and retaining his British citizenship and nationality (also his birthright). The ethnic Indian chose the latter and gave up his right to Indian citizenship and nationality. He did so because he thought he would be secure in being a member of that community whose way of life he had adopted, whose laws and systems he respected, whose institutions he revered and to whom he deliberately gave his allegiance.We have some responsibility to such people.
It is clear that someone must have a care for the Vietnamese refugees who number between 12,000 and 14,000. A group of us is to see the Home Office about this matter tomorrow, and I hope that the Minister will refer to it.
For those who fear the change because of their previous loyalty to the British Crown there should be an open door. I am always unhappy to stress that, for the reasons set out so well by the hon. Member for Christchurch, because it suggests that the agreement will not work when I believe that it will. But we must insist on responsibility for those who gave us their trust. That is important.
The amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) has been referred to by many hon. Members. I agree that it is unsatisfactory for a new form of citizenship to be established by Order in Council. The right hon. Gentleman's argument is fair and right. We need an assurance that arrangements will not be rushed. I support the request for assurances that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East made in support of the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for South Down —[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for South Down chuckles gently, but strange things happen in the House of Commons.
As a Liberal I cannot avoid saying that I find it sad that, despite all the principles that nations accept when they sign the United Nations charter, their leaders remain 774 acquisitive of land and people. I suspect that an open and unpressured referendum of the Hong Kong people on their future would produce a Singapore-type solution. We shall never know whether that suspicion is right.
I wish the venture well and, from the Liberal Bench, pledge our continuing concern for the well-being of Hong Kong's citizens. We in Britain created this remarkable place and administered it quite well. However, its economic success is evidently its own achievement. The People's Republic of China has shown a great openness. I am sure that that will continue and that Hong Kong's prosperity and success will also continue.
§ Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)
I spoke in the debate on 16 May, but, unfortunately, I have not been involved since. My fear then was that we were rushing headlong into a debate with the Chinese Government when we held no trump cards. The House must give my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary full praise for making the best out of a weak hand. He has achieved a diplomatic victory. For it to be accepted so far by the three parties is amazing.
The problems are just about to begin. I say that because the shadow Front Bench is not taking the subject seriously if we judge the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) on his dedication to the issue by his knockabout turn, in which there were several harmless, even well-meaning, jokes—about the elephant, for instance, He, perhaps, made a Freudian slip, but he did not present a case on behalf of the Opposition. Surely he should not have treated the issue in such a casual way when 5 million people are waiting to hear what the future holds for them. Luckily, I have never been debarred from going anywhere in Hong Kong. Certainly no security was ever put at my door. That may be because I never had the good fortune to accept Government hospitality. My many visits there were on business, and I see the matter simply from the business man's point of view.
The name of the passport is a trivial matter, but the recognition by immigration authorities throughout the world of the value placed on, and strength of resolve of the British Government for, the passport is of great importance. In Committee I hope that we shall not be over-detailed in our discussion of the trivia of what is an extremely important part of the Bill.
My impression is that sometimes we are too bland. My hon. friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) told us how wonderful the Chinese are. It sounded as though adorable governors would take over without upsetting the apple cart and that everyone would be allowed to make money galore in Hong Kong, while on the other side of the fence Chinese citizens would see this vast wealth being created. It is obvious to any politician that radical politicians on the other side of the fence will say to the populous, "This is quite unfair. You must not let this continue. Over there, 5 million Chinese are living it up, while you are working and working." There will be political tensions, which will be exacerbated by young and up-coming Chinese politicians. That will have to be carefully monitored by the Chinese Government, and it must be seriously watched by whatever form of government there is in Hong Kong in the year 2000.
The Bill marks the end of the road. We have had discussions, and almost all hon. Members have met UMELCO members and heard their fears. Many of them 775 do not have so many fears now. I applaud the tenacity of the Foreign Office for that, because it has done a wonderful job in reassuring them. When discussing a business entirety, such as a vast free port, which is the focus of most of the shipping in one part of the world, the difficulty is, as I know to my cost, that it can be destroyed almost overnight by the work force, poor management or political intervention.
Too little has been said in all our debates about the generator of the prosperity. Everyone is agreed that the only way to get this agreement off the ground is through increased prosperity for the citizens of Hong Kong, and for the mirror image over the border with its enterprise zones to come up strong. To do that there must be a first-class port.
Some people may think that we should not consider such trivia today as they do not relate to the broad brush of passports, the finalisation of Committee members, whether the Governor or somone else is appointed by Her Majesty, and the finalisation of the six members on each side, but wealth can be created only if the sea port operates well. First, it must remain a free port. It would be disastrous if it became anything else. Secondly, it must have an extremely good shipping register. No port is any good without ships which recognise it as their home base. Thirdly, it must have extremely good training for seamen. The dividing line there will be whether the Chinese Government step in to designate that a percentage of that training should be from citizens across the border. I correct myself. It will be not a border, but a line on the map. There will be great problems if certain shipping lines are debarred from using the port. Will the shipping tonnage of the Taiwanese be admitted, or that of South Africa or Israel? Will there be political demarcation in shipping terms?
There will be many problems. The shippers in Hong Kong are well aware of them, and so far are pleased with the provisions. The World-wide Shipping Agency has already said to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary that shipping is a focal point of Hong Kong's prosperity, as is the monetary system. Will the monetary system continue to be linked to the dollar? It was a wise decision a few months ago to link it to the dollar. Will that linkage to the dollar be allowed to remain, or will the monetary system change completely? If it does, there will be a breakdown in stock market participation and in prosperity for a time.
The worst problem will be the psychological problem of the families who escaped from Communist China. China is being reasonable at the moment, but it is a Communist state and people fled from it in fear. There may be nothing that those families need fear, but they still have the abiding fear that when the Communists walk in, even with smiling faces, at some date, perhaps not the same week, year or decade, they will be on a list. The Chinese Government must make it perfectly clear that there will be no victimisation, because if there were it would be fatal for the harmony and prosperity of Hong Kong.
We all know of Chinese people who are being coerced by other countries to accept their passports. It is easy for the rich to move out and to make a base elsewhere. However, for the majority of families who fled and who work in small businesses and factories, making a good 776 income, the matter will be tinged with the fear of how the Chinese bureaucrats—not the leaders—will treat them when they want advice, travel permits or opportunities for their children.
Perhaps I am a pessimist, but I am not as pessimistic as I was on 16 May. There will be a lot of good will around, and the Chinese Government will be able to feed on it. I am sure that UMELCO and everyone else wish to make a great success of it. It must be a success, or the House of Commons will always have to bear the stigma of the Bill. I remember the euphoria with which we turned Rhodesia into Zimbabwe, but none of us would now praise what we did. We had high hopes, but we did not see what became fairly obvious after a short time. In this case, we have 12 years—
§ Mr. Johnston
There was no alternative with Rhodesia. We could have done nothing else. The hon. Gentleman is a practical man; he must face reality.
§ Mr. Hill
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was speaking about the practicalities of the Hong Kong decision, not the Rhodesian decision. I fully accept the practicalities of the Hong Kong decision. That colony cannot remain independent when mainland China controls its water and most of its raw materials, and holds the key to the prosperity of the entire region.
I am much more hopeful now than I have been for a long time. I hope that the Chinese Government will make more positive statements to reassure those who fled China because they were anti-Communist. We must also solve the problem of the recognition of the passport and the changeover date. The latter will be one of the most difficult matters that the House must debate. We must get the wording of the Bill in order so that we shall never have to bear the stigma of having failed the Hong Kong Chinese.
§ 7.2 pm
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
I echo the sentiments of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill). We must succeed. If we do not, not only must the House bear a stigma, but it will have disappointed more than 5 million people in Hong Kong. However, I must take issue with the hon. Gentleman's comment that the Opposition do not take the debate seriously. The debate is crucial, because it affects the future of more than 5 million people in Hong Kong. There has been agreement on both sides of the House on the measures that have been taken and on the deal made between the People's Republic of China and the Government. I hope that the worries that are coming to the surface will not become minor disagreements, and that the House will approach the problem with a bipartisan spirit.
Conservative Members—notably the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley)—said that we are putting right an unequal treaty. I heartily endorse that. We should be proud of the fact that in 1997 we will put right that unequal treaty.
The People's Republic of China could have put pressure on this and previous Administrations and forced them to relinquish the administration of Hong Kong, because we would not have had the will and it would not have been prudent for us to do otherwise. But the Chinese have not done so. They have encouraged our administration of Hong Kong and been pleased to see it prosper. For that 777 reason, I have every confidence that, after 1997, Hong Kong will continue to prosper under the conditions that China has agreed will obtain there for at least 50 years.
However, that does not mean that after 1997 we can wash our hands of Hong Kong and tell its people that they must look to their new Government for protection, advice, economic advancement and the improvement of social conditions. We shall still have responsibility, because we shall have been the colonial power there for 100 years.
At present, few people in Hong Kong know what their new status will be. Of course, we have 13 years in which to remedy that, but I believe that it should be done within the next year or two. We must inform the people exactly what we propose to do, and the Orders in Council must be passed fairly quickly. Uncertainty is bad. It will be better for the people of Hong Kong to know their status and the privileges and protection their new passport will give them. I was pleased to hear what the Foreign Secretary said about the passport this afternoon.
Of course, there is a long way to go. The new passport will be called a British National (Overseas) passport. I agree with those who said that it would be impractical to insist on the words "Hong Kong" being included on the passport. Only 400 or 500 years ago Britain controlled parts of France round the Calais area. What would the French think if we insisted on issuing British passports entitled "British Overseas (Calais)" to the people who live in that area and want to have some connection with Britain? A period of 50 years might be different from 500 years. Nevertheless, 50 years is a long time, and hon. Members must try to imagine what opinions will be in the year 2047. At any rate, there is a provision for dual nationality, with citizens of one country having nationality in another country and holding a passport of that country. The passport of the country in which he does not reside does not have the name of another country on it and, for that reason, it would be wrong to insist on including the words "Hong Kong". I believe that "British National (Overseas)" will suffice, but that is only an off-the-cuff remark, having heard the name only a few hours ago.
However, I wish to know what the people of Hong Kong think about the name. I want, not an immediate, but a considered statement from them. I am not convinced that they have been consulted enough about what will happen to them, nor that they have been able to consider carefully enough what will happen to them and to give a considered opinion. That is one criticism of the road down which we have travelled so far. I am sure that the House will wish to receive a considered Hong Kong opinion in due course.
It is important that the Orders in Council should be laid quickly so that the people of Hong Kong can consider and comment upon them. Then when we debate the orders we shall have the benefit of their opinions. That is vital. It would be quite wrong for the House to debate such a matter after only a week or two. Any such debate would not be worth listening to and would hardly be worth reading afterwards.
I also endorse fully what my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said towards the end of his speech. If the order was not acceptable after a debate in the House, the Government should take it away without having a vote on it and bring back a suitably amended order in the light of that debate. I hope that that would not be regarded as a demonstration of any error by the Government then in office—whoever that Government might be, bearing in mind that there is a long time to go 778 and that there will be different Governments between now and 1997. I hope that it would not be regarded as some implicit defeat for the Government and, therefore, that they would not adopt such a proposal in any circumstances. If that is how the present Government want to do it, I suggest that the order should have green edges so that, if there is a clearly held opinion in the House or in Hong Kong that it needs amending the House will be prepared to come back on another day and spend additional time debating any amended order. This is important for Hong Kong as well, because the Hong Kong people want to know whether what is to happen to them will be insisted upon by this Government and whether it will be acceptable. They will want to comment and to know that we take our decisions in the light of their comment.
I do not want to labour the point because it has been mentioned by other hon. Members, but it is important that the passport is accepted by other countries. There is an onus on the Government of the United Kingdom in office at the time to say to third-party countries that this is the British National (Overseas) passport that they intend to issue to citizens of Hong Kong and that they would like to see that passport honoured in broadly the same way as a passport for a BDTC. The Government have a responsibility to back that up with guarantees if necessary. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister thinks of that suggestion.
No one should be stateless. Guarantees should be given by the Government well in advance of 1997 that no one will be left stateless in any circumstances. Such guarantees would remove the present cloud of anxiety. It may be only a small cloud at the moment, because not enough people know what is to happen to them and what their future is likely to be, but once the people of Hong Kong realise what is to happen to them they will begin to worry. They will become apprehensive. We have to lean over backwards to reassure them. One way of doing that will be to give an absolute guarantee that no one will be left stateless and that the United Kingdom Government will do all in their power to make sure that the new passport has the same rights and privileges as the passport to which Hong Kong people have been used in the past.
I do not believe that one person, one vote should he introduced tomorrow. However, I do not say that democracy is foreign to the far east and therefore that we should not worry too much because we have administered the colony well and one person, one vote should not play a significant part in the administrative life of the colony.
We are a democratic nation. We believe in our democracy and that in time, though not necessarily tomorrow, a nation state should be governed by the democratic method of one person, one vote. In a representative democracy there are different ways for people to govern themselves in a representative manner, but the essential criterion—the bottom line—is that for one person there is one vote.
I was glad to see in the speaking notes supplied to hon. Members by the UMELCO delegation, with whom hon. Members had a brief meeting towards the end of last week, that there are already 300 candidates for the district hoard elections and that it is looking to about 700 candidates in due course. That demonstrates a great interest in democracy and in the principle of one person, one vote. 779 I am in favour of that. But let us make haste slowly. It must be on the basis of an eventual representative form of government.
That has to be tied in with better consultation. I do not think that the consultation has been adequate. Cmnd. 9407 consulted. There was good faith. An attempt was made to consult in Hong Kong. But how many people did the independent monitoring team consult? Was it 3,000, 10,000 50,000 or 100,000? We must remember that there are 5 million people in the colony. I do not criticise the independent monitoring team, because within its terms of reference it did its best. When we embarked upon the first stage of introducing democracy into the colony, this form of consultation may have been the best. But the next form of consultation must be better. Eventually, the aim should be either a referendum on an issue or a direct election to some body, with the decision being made by that elected body. I do not think that there is any short cut to this. It will take time, but that is the aim that must be kept in sight.
I stress again the importance of general agreement between the two sides of the House about how this journey towards the transfer of sovereignty in Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to the People's Republic of China should go. I should like to see the two sides of the House acting in a bipartisan way on this journey. For that reason, I hope that the Government will listen carefully to what Opposition Members say. If they do not, and if we do not get a bipartisan approach in future years, it will not do the people of Hong Kong any good when a future Government say, "We are sorry. We had debates on this subject in 1985 or 1986. We do not agree with them, and we intend to change the legislation." I quite appreciate that it can be changed only to a minor extent, because it is subject to agreement between the People's Republic of China and the United Kingdom, but there can be minor changes, and the way that certain matters are dealt with up to 1997 can be changed. But it would be a tragedy if we did not act in a bipartisan way so that future Governments were forced to change their approach to this problem. If we can maintain a bipartisan approach, I am optimistic. I hope that we succeed. We have to succeed on this journey.
§ Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)
The hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) hoped that there would be a bipartisan approach to this matter. That has already been demonstrated in today's debate. The hon. Gentleman's speech was one of a number showing that, although there may be reservations on certain aspects of the Bill, such differences as there are are not along party lines and Hong Kong can know that it has friends on both sides of the House.
Shortly before visiting China with three or four parliamentary colleagues about 18 months ago I had, with them, the usual Foreign Office briefing, and it was most helpful. However, the clear advice we were given was that if the future of Hong Kong was raised in both China and Hong Kong we were to say absolutely nothing. Needless to say, in both China and Hong Kong the future of the territory was one of the main topics of conversation. In Beijing we had the opportunity to meet informally the members of both negotiating teams. They were the soul of discretion. Nevertheless, the kind of difficulties confronting them were clear. It is remarkable that in such a 780 relatively short time an agreement emerged from those negotiations. I join other hon. Members in congratulating my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. He, I know, would endorse the congratulations to the members of his negotiating team who achieved the agreement. Let us also pay tribute to the Chinese team. They had to make commitments which it cannot have been very easy to make.
The process began with the visit to China by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in September 1982. I do not intend to continue the discussion about exactly what she said and how she said it. However, I recall that my right hon. Friend was criticised for even having raised the future of Hong Kong. She was absolutely right to do so. The inhabitants of Hong Kong were beginning to think about their future after 1997. In particular, commerce and industry in Hong Kong, which have to plan some time ahead and think of when and where they should place their investment, and upon which the prosperity of the people of Hong Kong depends, were concerned about what the future held. Events have proved that my right hon. Friend was absolutely right to take the initiative which she did. We have the agreement. It has been approved by both Houses of Parliament. The Bill is therefore the next logical step.
Paragraph 4 of the schedule refers to the Joint Liaison Group and makes it perfectly clear, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said this afternoon, that it will be composed of diplomats. A wide range of interests in Hong Kong are concerned about the future arrangments. Commercial, legal and religious interests and a whole range of organisations and individuals are involved. I assume that they will share in the work of the Joint Liaison Group by means of the sub-groups. I should be grateful if, in his reply, my hon. Friend the Minister of State could lift the veil a little more on what he anticipates will be the work of the sub-groups. I assume that membership of not only the sub-groups but the Joint Liaison Group will include Hong Kong Chinese as well as expatriate diplomats.
It is not difficult to understand the concern of the people of Hong Kong. I believe that we should be rather worried if we faced the prospect that in 12 years' time our country would be administered by a Government based elsewhere: not only a Government whose philosophy was unacceptable to us, but a Government from whose authority many of us might have fled. However, the people of Hong Kong are sensible and realistic. They have accepted the inevitability of 1997. There has been a remarkable exercise in terms of acquainting them with what has been happening and with the terms of the agreement. Simply to distribute 3 million copies of the agreement literally on the street corners of Hong Kong was quite an achievement. Efficient and effective work has been done by the assessment office. It has been able to demonstrate that the people of Hong Kong endorse the agreement. It is now incumbent upon Parliament to get the details right.
There has been understandable confusion in Hong Kong about the parliamentary procedures that surround the Bill. They are concerned in particular about the amendment that has been tabled by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). One can understand that the 781 people of Hong Kong may be confused about parliamentary procedures. We are often confused about exactly how they operate.
Unlike other aspects of the Bill, the orders dealing with nationality are to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. I endorse the concern which has been voiced in certain parts of the House over the fact that, at least on the face of it, it could mean that we have only an hour and a half in which to debate an order and that it cannot be amended. To be fair, in his comments this afternoon my right hon. and learned Friend said that we should have a full opportunity to debate the orders.
I hope that in the winding-up speech of my hon. Friend we shall hear just what form that full opportunity will take. It must clearly involve a debate lasting more than an hour and a half. I should have thought that it was not impossible so to organise our proceedings that we can debate a draft draft, or a proposed draft, or a consultative document so that at least the Government have the opportunity to hear the views of hon. Members on the proposals before they are finalised and we overcome the difficulty of the draft order having to be accepted in toto or rejected. I hope very much that this point will be taken very seriously and that a proposal will be made to meet these comments.
Nationality is a very sensitive issue. I hope that the Government will be able to meet UMELCO's request that it should be given priority and the matter settled fairly quickly, and that after due consideration the nomenclature can be finalised. It is also important to clarify the status of the non-ethnic Chinese in order to avoid statelessness.
If I mention the Vietnamese refugees, as has been done by several hon. Members, my hon. Friend may say that they are not relevant in this context. However, the fact is that at present there are 12,000 Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong. Many of them will still be in Hong Kong in 1997 if the international community does nothing about them. Hong Kong has had a quite remarkable record. Well over 100,000 have been accepted into Hong Kong since 1975. Not one has been turned away. Many of them have been resettled elsewhere, some very successfully, but the movement from Hong Kong has now been reduced to a trickle. Of those 12,000 Vietnamese refugees, it is estimated that perhaps 260 will leave the territory this month. Refugees are still arriving, and those who are already there are producing children.
I have to confess to a personal interest. I have a son who is doing voluntary work in Hong Kong in what is described as a transit camp. For many of those staying there it is a transit to nowhere. My son will be coming home in the summer, having finished his period of service. He will be leaving in Hong Kong young men whom he has befriended, some of whom do not know the whereabouts of their families or, indeed, whether they have families. They face an uncertain future.
When we debated the Ethiopian famine a few weeks ago, a number of hon. Members suggested that it was the kind of issue about which we should all get worked up and then forget. I fear that there is the danger of this happening to the Vietnamese refugees, who hit the headlines a few years ago, but who have now been forgotten. At least we are in danger of forgetting them. Quite apart from the personal tragedies that this would involve, Hong Kong has willingly shouldered, but could well do without, this problem. Extra effort is needed by the Asian as well as by the European and North American powers to find a solution.
782 Clause 3 refers to adaptation of the law. My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned one or two of the issues that this might cover. What others are there? To what extent will orders be needed to deal with the judicial system, public service, finance and ownership of property, in addition to trade policy, shipping and aviation, which my right hon. and learned Friend implied would be covered? Will education involve orders? Will orders be made to cover the many freedoms that are detailed in the agreement? If such orders are to be made, surely they would merit the affirmative procedure. They would provide an opportunity for the House to consider them and we should not have to wait, presumably for an Opposition prayer because Government Back-Bench prayers are rarely considered, to provide the possibility of these matters being debated.
There has been pressure on the Government in the course of this debate to ensure that there are regular debates on Hong Kong. My right hon. and learned Friend showed a certain lack of enthusiasm for an annual debate, but it would be advantageous to have a debate from time to time on orders to discuss various matters.
The most important change between now and 1997 will be the move towards representative Government. Up to now Hong Kong has been a benevolent autocracy, which has worked extremely well. Until recently there has been little incentive for change in the system. One reason has been the fear that any change might be misinterpreted by Beijing. Another was that there appeared to be little pressure for a change in the system from the inhabitants of Hong Kong. Now the position has changed considerably. China wants Hong Kong to administer the special administrative region, and the Hong Kong people want to be involved.
We should not underestimate what a big step this will be for them. They will be going into uncharted territory. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of talking to a group of Hong Kong graduates and telling them about the work of a Member of Parliament. All hon. Members frequently talk to children from schools in their constituency. However, it was only after I had been with the group for a few minutes that I realised that it had none of the background of the students to whom we normally talk. I had to start from the beginning as to what a Member of Parliament is, how he becomes one, and what work is involved. It was a completely new concept for the group. One of them even asked me why it was that we had the particular system that we have, and whether it would not be easier to have a system of organisations nominating Members of Parliament. That is extraordinary for us, but it is the sort of scheme that we are suggesting for them, and it seemed quite natural to them. I say this to show the size of the problem that confronts the people of Hong Kong in moving towards a system of representative government.
It is encouraging to learn about the way in which candidates are coming forward for the district board elections, but the path towards democracy—in the sense of representative government—will not be easy. This does not necessarily mean one man, one vote, or direct elections, straight away, and not necessarily—one hopes perhaps not—a party system. In the statement that many of us saw in November, the UMELCO members said:Hong Kong must, therefore, devise its own unique style of representative government.".That will not be easy for Hong Kong.
783 Later on, talking about this Government, UMELCO says:The main task for Her Majesty's Government in the next twelve years is to ensure a smooth transition, so that 1997 does not represent an abrupt break with the past, but the continuation of a gradual process of evolution.In that gradual process, the people of Hong Kong will need a great deal of help and guidance. We can assure them that they will get it. It is clear that they have confidence in the future, despite the uncertainty. Their reaction to the agreement, the continued growth in the economy, the reaction of the stock market and the way in which they are taking up the challenge of working towards representative government have made that plain.
The people of Hong Kong have many friends in Parliament, and the Hong Kong group is one of the largest. We have confidence in them, and we shall support them and help them through to 1997 and beyond.
§ Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Stockton, South)
The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) has made a number of interesting points which I would like to comment on.
However, as I was unable to be here for the debate before Christmas because I was away on other duties, I begin by saying how much I welcome the agreement that has been reached with the People's Republic of China, and how much I congratulate the Government in Beijing, the Government here and the people in Hong Kong on the way in which this agreement has been brought about. The Government in Beijing deserve to be congratulated. They have moved a tremendous distance in accepting the contents of this agreement. I find it reassuring for the future of Hong Kong that they have been prepared to accept such a far-reaching agreement.
After a faltering start, our Government retrieved the situation, as has already been said. They have handled the matter well through to the signing of the agreement, which people in this country have been pleased to see and on which they wish to congratulate the Government. The people of Hong Kong, who are affected most by this agreement, deserve to be congratulated too on their fortitude and good sense in enduring the debate about their future without being able to have a direct impact upon it. They could have made life much more difficult, and one would not have been surprised if they had. They made their views known fairly vociferously and clearly to the House and to others, and that was a pleasing feature of the period during which the agreement was being discussed. The way in which the people and the representatives of Hong Kong conducted themselves helped to conclude the agreement satisfactorily, and on that the people of Hong Kong deserve to be congratulated.
Despite some of the reservations that have been made, I am pleased that the Government have introduced the Bill as quickly as they have. It probably would be preferable to have another week in addition to the one proposed before the Committee stage. This would give a break of two weeks before we went in to Committee and Report, and would provide an opportunity for people from Hong Kong to get through to us their views and feelings, particularly on some of the announcements made by the Foreign Secretary today. Not the least of those is the 784 nomenclature of the new nationality. To provide us with, effectively, only five or six days to receive comments from the people of Hong Kong is too short a time.
Nevertheless, it will be for the good of Hong Kong if this Bill has a fairly speedy passage through the House, and that any uncertainty is kept to a minimum. Uncertainty is the enemy of confidence and the sooner that any uncertainty can be cleared up, within the constraints of ensuring that there is full debate with the opportunity for hon. Members to put forward their views, the better for Hong Kong.
When the Bill has passed through the House we shall have a long period of uncertainty and great sensitivity during which confidence could be shattered easily. The House, the Government and the Government of Beijing must realise that it will be a sensitive time. In some ways the position will become even more difficult as 30 June 1997 approaches and people's doubts and fears, which undoubtedly exist beneath the surface, become more and more apparent. I hope that the confidence that has returned to Hong Kong will not be disturbed during that period. I hope that our Government will do all that they can to ensure that that does not happen.
It is obvious that the Joint Liaison Group will play a major part in ensuring that confidence is retained. If differences appear and problems arise, it is to be hoped that the group will ensure that co-operation and coordination overcome the difficulties. It would be helpful if the Minister were to give us in his reply more details of who will be members of the group and how the group will operate. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to explain matters more clearly so that we are given a greater understanding. The more that is known about the operations of the group, the more confidence there will be in its ability to overcome problems between the passage of the Bill and 1997.
We have already seen the introduction of more democracy in the territory, and I welcome that. Indeed, I was pressing for it before it began to be introduced some years ago. I welcomed it when it first appeared tentatively under a previous Green Paper and White Paper. I should have liked to see a wider extension and I hope that that will take place in due course.
I am all in favour of there being a cautious approach so that continuity can be obtained, but I should like to see a phasing out of the appointed members in the fullness of time. I do not see why they cannot be replaced by elected members in due course. A universal franchise is the proper way in which to proceed and I rather regret the introduction of the slightly curious idea of functional constituencies, which will possibly introduce factionalism, the representation of vested interests, the representation of elites and a dual franchise, with some having two votes for representatives in the Legislative Council. A universal franchise would have been much better. We shall have an opportunity to see how the proposed system will work over the next few years and I hope that it will lead to the end of appointed members and of the system of functional constituencies.
Great interest has been shown in the elections which have already taken place and in the nominations for the 237 seats which I understand are coming up for election. I believe that there are 200 candidates and not 300, as some hon. Members have suggested. I understand also that 200 nominations were received within one week of their being invited. That is one of the signs that there is 785 tremendous interest in the elections. About 1.4 million have registered for voting, which is about 50 per cent. of those eligible to do so. When I was seeking the introduction of limited elections for district boards some years ago, I was told that there was no interest in democracy and that the public would not participate if they had it. The events of the past few years and the figures that I have mentioned show that there is genuine interest in the democratic process.
The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) rightly mentioned the aspirations of young people in Hong Kong. A high percentage of the population of Hong Kong are young people. They have been brought up to a great extent within a western culture and their aspirations are similar to those of young western people. The system of education, the television programmes and many other aspects of life in Hong Kong are similar to those that are to be found in a western society. I think that the hon. Gentleman was right to say that the aspirations of the young people of Hong Kong will need to be satisfied and that that could give rise to some problems. That is why I think that a further extension of democracy beyond that which has already taken place would be a good thing. It would help to ensure that the aspirations of the young were achieved.
The more effective the representative Government of Hong Kong are over the forthcoming period, the more likely they are to have an influence on the important basic law that will be introduced. If we have an effective and authoritative system of government in Hong Kong which clearly is representative of the people and has the confidence of the people, we can expect Beijing to take greater note of what it says than if it did not measure up to that standard.
I am sure that UMELCO representatives and others in Hong Kong will be pleased by the announcement this afternoon of the nomenclature for the new status and the assurance that the Orders in Council are expected to go through in the next 12 months. I know that UMELCO members were anxious to have those announcements. However, I take the view of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) and others that this is not a satisfactory procedure. Indeed, it is profoundly unsatisfactory. The system introducing the category of citizenship is unprecedented. It is unsatisfactory that we shall not have a full opportunity to debate the details and implications of the new nationality in the primary legislation. Instead, that is being left to the unsatisfactory procedure of Orders in Council, which will be virtually unamendable. This procedure will introduce uncertainty. It is open to amendment by further Orders in Council, and in that event there will not be a good opportunity for debate and amendment in this place.
I do not know whether it is too late for the Government to reconsider this approach. I hope that the opinions that have been aired from both sides of the House about the proposed procedure will lead the Government to introduce Orders in Council that have very green edges and provide an opportunity for full debate and the introduction of amendments to take account of the arguments that are advanced.
The position of the non-Chinese—the BDTCs—after 30 June 1997 is one that a number of hon. Members have mentioned. I hope that the Minister will spell out the Government's intentions when he replies. I believe that no one in this place wants to see BDTCs become stateless 786 after 1977. I hope that the Government will spell out in more detail exactly what are their intentions under the Bill for those who may become stateless after 1997.
It has been suggested—rightly, in my opinion—that it would be helpful if the new passport and the new status could be given as an option to those who want it before 1997 so that it could run in parallel with the existing passport. That would provide an opportunity for immigration services in various countries to become familiar with it. It would ensure that there were no problems, because if there were any difficulties the other passport would still be available to make sure that entry was obtained. It would also highlight any problems prior to 1997. It would provide an opportunity for the Government to make representations to other Governments where difficulties were experienced. Thus, I hope that the Minister will give the assurance that there is a possibility of those new documents being issued to people before 1997, and that the two can run together.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Chislehurst about the Vietnamese refugees. If matters carry on as they have done for the past couple of years, many of those 12,000 people will still be there in 1997. I have visited the camps and know that they are pretty spartan, unpleasant places in which to spend any time. They are probably as good as they can be, but I should like to see them wound up as quickly as possible. A major effort is needed by the Government to make approaches to international organisations and new approaches to other Governments in order to try to disperse those refugees who are still living in intolerable conditions in Hong Kong, and who are putting an enormous burden on the Hong Kong people and Government. That is quite unfair and I hope that our Government will take up the issue much more vigorously and vociferously than they have done so far, and that they will put pressure on other Governments to do something about it.
I wish the Bill well, and hope that it will have a speedy passage through the House. However, I hope that we shall also have time to raise issues that people from Hong Kong as well as others raise with us. Finally, I hope that the Bill will lead—as I am sure that it will—to an orderly change-over in 1997, and to the maintenance of Hong Kong's prosperity and freedoms which it has enjoyed for so long under British rule.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
I hope that the delightful people of Hong Kong, whom many of us have met both here and in the colony, will be heartened by this debate, in which we have again shown just how much we care about the future of Hong Kong and how anxious we are to have a solution that is welcomed by them. In addition, the House has shown a bipartisan, or multipartisan, approach which is unusual for it, and which is reserved for important constitutional and moral matters. Thus I hope that the message that goes out today is one of continuing concern.
From our visits to Hong Kong in recent months we can say that the people of Hong Kong are obviously realists. They have reacted very well to the joint declaration, and the results have been most welcome. In addition, it is quite clear that the Government in Peking are realistic. I cannot pretend but to be heartened by the response of the Chinese Government to the requirements of a settlement in Hong Kong. I was one of those who believed that the proper way 787 of playing this was to play it long, because I did not believe that we could rely on undertakings given by a Government who would not necessarily still be in power in 1997. I think that I was wrong, and I recant—
§ Sir John Page
Does my hon. and learned Friend consider that there may not be a Conservative Government in power in 1997?
§ Mr. Lawrence
Of course a Conservative Government will be in power in this country in 1997. I have no doubt about that, and I have seen nothing in the past few weeks of parliamentary business to lead me to suppose otherwise. However, I was referring to the Government in Peking. I was about to say something that I do not normally say—that I was wrong, that I am pleased to recant and that it would be churlish of me to see the apparent good will of the Chinese Government in their dealings with Britain over the future of Hong Kong as anything other than a desire to bring about a satisfactory conclusion for all of us.
I shall comment on three matters that were raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. They have already been much commented on, so I shall be brief. I deal first with the new nationality description. It does not seem to matter much what the description is, as long as we remember that it is important that the status should confer comparable rights and entitlements to those enjoyed at present. It is that end that we must keep in view. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend's suggestion as to the nomenclature will be acceptable to all parties.
For a Foreign Office Minister, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary was characteristically wholly defensive about the second matter, the treatment of Orders in Council when they come to be debated. I hope he will note that there is all-party concern that there should be a proper opportunity to reflect any strong feelings about these orders. It is less important how those feelings are considered than that the Minister should take into account the strength of concern on the point that such matters should be properly and fully debated. We should ensure that technicalities are not used as an excuse to cut short any consideration of those sensitive and important matters.
Therefore, I welcome the fact that statelessness is referred to in the Bill. However, the reference is unsatisfactory, in that it whets the appetite and implies that something is about to be said about the stateless when in reality nothing much is said. However, it shows our continuing concern and commitment to do something to abolish that statelessness, and that is to be welcomed.
In the context of mere references only I should have welcomed some mention of the future of Crown servants. Given the sensitivities involved, I realise that that might have been a little difficult. However, perhaps I can use this opportunity to say that Hong Kong's Crown servants have not been forgotten even though there has, to my knowledge, been no mention of them tonight. We consider it extremely important that any servants of the Crown should be treated properly, to their satisfaction, and given every opportunity of returning to this country if they find it impossible to stay in Hong Kong. Let us hope that it will not prove impossible for them to stay, but they should at least have that reassurance. Indeed, I should have liked some mention of that reassurance in the Bill, although I understand why it is not there.
788 One matter has caused me great concern since my visit in August to Hong Kong. I have listened to most of today's speeches, but I have heard little reference to the issue that I have in mind, and that only causes me greater concern. I refer to the question of the fundamental freedoms. Have we done, and are we doing, enough to reassure the people of Hong Kong that they will continue? I have no doubt that prosperity is likely to remain with the colony. I shall not repeat the various views and experiences mentioned by hon. Members on that point. However, that prosperity is unlikely to survive any loss of the people's fundamental freedoms—and therein lies my worry.
If the rich entrepreneurs and professionals become frightened, they will leave. If the millions who have already fled once from China take fright again and try to leave Hong Kong or to disrupt it, there will be trouble. In the violence and chaos, the economy will collapse. How can the Hong Kong Chinese be sure that China will not interfere with such fundamental freedoms as the right to free speech, the right to a free press, to freedom of travel, the freedom of investment, the right to have free trade unions, the right to have free access to independent courts and the right to have some degree of true democracy?
This is why we are so concerned. One has only to ask where in the Communist world in general or in China in particular those freedoms exist at present to understand that that is a realistic fear.
One serious problem that has not been raised or discussed today is that the Chinese probably do not, with the best will in the world, mean the same as we do by several terms that are used to describe fundamental freedoms. I doubt very much whether the Chinese understand by "democracy" what we mean by "democracy". I doubt very much whether they understand by the "rule of law" what we mean by the "rule of law". I doubt very much whether they understand by "free trade unions" what we mean by "free trade unions". One can go down the list of descriptions of fundamental freedoms. The difficulty is that when it comes to deciding what meaning is to be applied to words that may form a part in the basic law, it may be found that the fundamental freedom that we thought we were enshrining is not the fundamental freedom that the Chinese believed they were enshrining, and there will be nothing that we can do about it. That is the point.
Direct elections do not seem to command the burning support of the Hong Kong people, and without that burning zeal no Government on earth are likely to surrender substantial control over the will of the masses. Fear of ambitious rabble rousers and polarisation between the well organised Communist trade unions on the one hand and the equally well organised Kuomintang on the other is considerable among the ordinary people whom I met and talked with while I was in Hong Kong. I was told repeatedly that partial democracy with partly elected district boards, urban council and regional council electing part of the Legislative Council was "the Chinese way". Accordingly, the Peking Government will be able to appoint their own representatives to the Legislative and Executive Councils, and Communist control will be greatly facilitated. As there are unlikely to be any direct elections, that restraint upon tyranny will simply not exist.
Therefore, will China be able to resist interfering with the people of Hong Kong after 1997? Will the Chinese consider it sufficient of a triumph to be able to proclaim that Communism can live side by side by with capitalism 789 to maintain economic prosperity—the "one country, two systems" that we have heard so much about? I believe that it is almost inevitable that they will seek the greater triumph of trying to prove to a disbelieving world that Hong Kong can remain prosperous under a social and legal, though not necessarily economic, Communist system. Why should they not want to do so? They will want to persuade the rest of the world that Communism works; that, with its necessary economic variation, it works.
§ Mr. Lawrence
Taiwan is an excellent reason why the Chinese should be willing—in fact enthusiastic—to try to show that Communism will be effective in Taiwan as it is in Hong Kong.
I also fear that if sufficient people in Hong Kong feel threatened with the loss of their freedom, as everywhere else in the Communist world, they may seek to leave Hong Kong in sufficient numbers and with sufficient of their investments and technological know-how to destroy its prosperity and leave China a hollow shell.
It is certain that the Chinese will therefore have to try a little harder, perhaps a lot harder, to reassure the people of Hong Kong and international investors. There is little alternative to a commitment to a written bill of rights, and the fundamental freedoms will have to be enshrined in a constitutional document that defines the basic law. That basic law will have to be clear, detailed and as near as possible free from doubt. That may be what is intended by the negotiators. However, more than that there will need to be a proper system of guaranteeing those fundamental rights, because the Soviet Union has given us ample proof of how worthless constitutions can be without the machinery of guarantee.
Therefore, there will need to be some sort of constitutional supreme court, not just a supreme court that is the ultimate court of appeal, but a constitutional court similar to the Supreme Court in the United States. That is very different from anything in the British system, because we do not have a written constitution. Such a court, made up of judges from Hong Kong and consistent with Chinese sovereignty, would have two important tasks. One would be to resolve disputes about the meaning of the elements of the basic law, so that the differences that may exist between what we mean by phrases and what the Chinese mean by phrases were properly adjudicated upon. Secondly, it would be a function of the court to ensure that any Chinese laws, ordinances or regulations emanating from Peking would not conflict with the fundamental freedoms laid down in the basic law and written constitution.
The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) came close to mentioning the issue of guaranteeing fundamental freedoms, but no one else has. I consider it to be terribly important. Perhaps the negotiators are negotiating about it. Perhaps we have no reason to have such fears or doubts. Perhaps the Government in China already have a plan for making sure that those fundamental freedoms are properly enshrined and defined and will be guaranteed, but, just in case they do not, the attention of the House should be directed to the importance of the issue.
I should have liked such provisions to be incorporated into a schedule to the Bill to inspire the necessary 790 confidence, so that all the world might see that we are not just casting away the fundamental liberties and human rights of 5 million or 6 million people who were formerly our responsibility. It might have been possible for the Government of China to agree to such an enshrinement so that they could be seen to be committing themselves with their good faith and intentions, on fundamental rights.
Of course, there can be no ultimate guarantee that the spirit, still less the actual Government of Deng Xiaoping, will survive the likely cycles of political power in China over the next 13 years, so trust and good will are of the essence. I am sure that the 40 or so British Members of Parliament who recently visited Hong Kong will confirm that the people of the colony are more worried about their freedom than about their economic future, but the two are directly linked. I am sorry that so far little has been said about the preservation of those fundamental freedoms. I hope that the Government will give an undertaking that in the negotiations that are still going on they will endeavour to get the Chinese Government to commit themselves to providing the necessary procedural guarantees.
Hong Kong's prosperity rests, in the last resort; on confidence alone. If there are no sufficient guarantees that freedom, in its various forms, will remain, that confidence will not endure past any Hong Kong spring. China will be left with that hollow shell, and its hope of technological and economic achievement in the 21st century will be dashed.
§ 8.9 pm
§ Mr. Richard Needham (Wiltshire, North)
I should like to confine my remarks to that part of the Bill, especially paragraph 2 of the schedule, which deals with the issue of nationality and to concentrate on the views expressed by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) and other hon. Members with similar views. In the Hong Kong debate on 5 December 1984, the right hon. Member for South Down said:But it is one thing for the Government to say that the new status will not give these people the right of abode in the United Kingdom. It is another to ignore the increasing pressure that will be brought to bear on the United Kingdom if we confer the kind of status adumbrated in this document, to admit its holders liberally and freely to the United Kingdom from Hong Kong in coming years, both before and after 1997.He went on:By what is proposed here we are incurring a virtually unlimited, though unacknowledged, liability to cede to pressure, a liability which could be of great consequence for our own future." — [Official Report, 5 December 1984; Vol. 69, c. 407.]The right hon. Gentleman has elaborated on that position today. As I understand it, it means that he and other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), are afraid that between 1997 and probably, or possibly, thereafter a large number of Hong Kong people will wish to establish a right of abode in the United Kingdom. Even if they do not wish to live here, a large number of them might want to come here. The British Government's proposals not only do not make it any less clear to the people of Hong Kong that they will not be entitled to come here, but are a move towards a liability to be pressured to allow those people to come here. I suggest that there are serious flaws in the views of those hon. Members in considering not only the people of Hong Kong but the United Kingdom.
It is argued that people will wish to come to live in Britain either because of changed economic circumstances 791 in Hong Kong or because of political pressures. I say to the right hon. Member for South Down that I am completely convinced that 99 per cent. of Hong Kong people have no more wish to live in this country than his constituents have to live in my constituency or my constituents have to live in his constituency. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, even if the Hong Kong people had to leave Hong Kong, they would prefer to go to many other countries in the Pacific basin. Current emigration patterns show that the people would rather go to Canada, the United States, Australia or Singapore. If the right hon. Member for South Down or other Opposition Members do not think that that is the case, they should give us the evidence to support their argument. To suggest that somehow Britain has an open-ended liability is to display an arrogance about the intentions of the Hong Kong people that they rightly resent.
If the argument is that people will wish to live in Britain because of economic pressures — in the past, people have emigrated from Hong Kong because of economic problems—I point out that I do not think it is likely that the British economy will do any better than the Hong Kong economy. I do not, therefore, believe that there is much likelihood of Hong Kong people wanting to come to Britain for that reason.
The not totally expressed point behind the argument of the right hon. Member for South Down concerns what happens if the political settlement that is made during the next 15 or 20 years with the People's Republic of China comes unstuck. There is a possibility that that will happen, although, for the reasons advanced by many hon. Members, it is extremely unlikely. If the worse comes to the worst and a large number of Hong Kong people decide or are forced to flee Hong Kong, what will the right hon. Member for South Down do? Will he jump to his feet and say, "We shall not have any of these people over here. We passed legislation in 1973, in 1981 and in 1985 when I was responsible for the title, 'British National (Overseas)' and, because of that success, none of you Hong Kong people can come here"? Can one imagine circumstances in which hundreds of thousands of people are floating around in small boats in the middle of the south China sea waving passports with the words, "British National (Overseas) Passport" and, "British Passport" stamped on them? Can one imagine the right hon. Member for South Down and other people saying, "We have no responsibility for these people. Our responsibility is finished, regardless of the fact that we were responsible for looking after them for many years." I do not for one moment believe that we can abjure that responsibility because of our negotiations with China.
Does anyone believe that the British people would stand for those circumstances? Will the right hon. Member for South Down stand up in front of his constituents and say that not one Hong Kong person will be allowed into the United Kingdom? That position would probably be much worse than the one we saw recently on our television sets regarding Ethiopia. I do not for one moment think that the British Government or any other Western Government would decide not to undertake an international rescue operation — such as the one undertaken with the Vietnamese boat people — to help out. It would be totally unrealistic to suppose that the British Government would not play a leading part in that operation. I do not 792 believe one jot that that is ever likely to happen, but, even if it did, the fact is that the 1973, 1981 or 1985 legislation would not make the slightest difference to the action we would take in those circumstances.
The right hon. Member for South Down asked the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Johnston) what his remedy was. I invite the right hon. Member for South Down to reply to the question the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth) asked him: what is the right hon. Gentleman's remedy? I believe that I heard the right hon. Member for South Down say from a sedentary position that, if the people of Hong Kong were forced to flee, he would not want any of them to have a place here.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
We should not have provided those people with the status or documents that implied that we had a special responsibility greater than that of any other nation on the face of the earth.
§ Mr. Needham
Of course we have a special responsibility, because of our history, and I am proud that we should live up to it.
The right hon. Gentleman's position and arguments present this country with some problems. The people of Hong Kong take the view that a country some of whose most important political leaders would clearly stop at nothing to keep them out in any circumstances is no great friend of theirs. It is understandable that they should take that view.
However, trade between the United Kingdom and Hong Kong is extremely important. In the most recent year for which we have figures, exports from the United Kingdom to Hong Kong were worth £667 million, and imports were worth £944 million. That is an export-import ratio of 71 per cent., which is only bettered by our ratio with the United States—with the strength of the dollar that is not surprising—and with France. Our trading position with Hong Kong is better than that with Italy—although, of course, the volume of trade is not so large—or with the Federal Republic of Germany, and bears no comparison whatever with trade with Japan.
§ Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
All my hon. Friend's arguments would apply to an even greater extent to our former relations with the Indian subcontinent. Would my hon. Friend claim that, in so far as we made any mistake on the question of immigration from the sub-continent, it was that we should have been more liberal in our attitude towards immigration?
§ Mr. Needham
There is a considerable difference between granting independence to a nation that demands it and handing over 5 million people who have not been consulted—as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and others have said—when there is no evidence to show that, given a choice, they would necessarily take this road.
It is not only the trade figures that are important. There is a direct impact on hon. Members' constituencies. Some of the commercial and industrial deals done with Hong Kong recently have been on a very large scale. For instance, there is the £2 billion project for the construction of Castle Peak power station. In my own constituency, the order for the mass transit railway for Hong Kong has created many jobs.
Furthermore, we all hope and believe that China will be opened up further. Hong Kong will be the front door 793 in that process, and the influence of the people of Hong Kong in placing contracts, tendering and in general easing commercial relations with China for British business men will be enormous. That process will not be assisted by the attitude of the right hon. Member for South Down.
Two specific examples may illustrate the reason why the British are not privately as well thought of in Hong Kong as they might be. I am glad to see that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office is here. I have a Hong Kong business friend who happens to be a British citizen, as does his wife. He has a son who was born in Hong Kong and is, therefore a BDTC. No doubt he will soon become a BMO—which I hope will not be changed to "Beano". What will happen to that family? There is a second son who was born in the United Kingdom. He is also a British citizen. If anything happened, three members of the family would be entitled to come to the United Kingdom, and the fourth would not.
My hon. and learned Friend will say that the Home Secretary has discretion in such cases. However, in 12 years' time the boy will have grown up. Can we be certain that the Home Secretary would use his discretion if the boy were no longer living at home? Such are the arguments that understandably consume conversation among those in Hong Kong who are not completely certain about their future.
My second example is close to home for the right hon. Member for South Down. One of the largest manufacturers of watches in Hong Kong wanted to set up a factory in Europe. He considered setting it up in the United Kingdom. No doubt he could have been persuaded to set it up in Northern Ireland. However, he found that the rules and regulations surrounding coming to the United Kingdom, the bureaucratic way in which they were enforced and the amount of money that he had to show were such that it was incomparably easier for him to set up in the Republic of Ireland. A factory making watches and providing 60 jobs is now sitting outside Dublin, selling watches throughout Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, when it could equally well have been set up in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency or in mine.
§ Mr. Needham
No. My hon. Friend has not listened to the debate. He has already intervened once. I am delighted that he is here and is making such a useful contribution.
I had intended to call in aid the arguments of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). However, now that I have heard the right hon. Gentleman say that he is in favour of shooting both tigers and elephants, I am not sure that I should do so. Having also heard him refer to President Reagan as Senator Reagan on the very day of his second inauguration, I could only say to the right hon. Gentleman — were he here — that if he had been in charge of the negotiations he would have given a completely new meaning to the phrase, "a bull in a china shop".
In the debate on 5 December the right hon. Gentleman said:However, many of those people have skills and energies that could contribute greatly to Britain's economy and social progress … We should not be indifferent to the contribution that Chinese people from Hong Kong can make, although we cannot issue any blank cheque to accept as many of them as might wish to come here at any one time.Later on the right hon. Gentleman said that 794we should be prepared to accept them, on a case by case basis, as the Americans have accepted hundreds of thousands of Asians from other western Pacific countries since the war."—[Official Report, 5 December 1984; Vol. 69, c. 401–4.]We cannot compare ourselves with the United States, but we should do what we can to accept people who will come to this country, invest here and bring jobs. Why does a Hong Kong resident have to find £150,000 to come here, whereas in the case of the United States the amount is only £40,000? I am not sure. Furthermore, the cavilling by the right hon. Gentleman and others — the implied assumption that large numbers of people will want to come here — is degrading to the people of Hong Kong and also gives other countries the impression that they, too, may suffer a massive influx unless they take similar action.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber mentioned a friend of his who tried to go to Mexico but suddenly found that a visa was required. There are many other stories of people living in Hong Kong who are obliged to get visas to visit countries which have never required them before. One can understand the frustration of members of a nation based upon trade and commerce, who want to move around the world, when the behaviour of certain sections of British society denies them the ability to do so.
For practical, commercial, political and moral reasons we should support what the Government are trying to do. I accept that the legislation is not legally or jurisprudentially—if there is such a word—as neat and tidy as it might be. However, it is overwhelmingly right that we should do what we can for the people of Hong Kong. I welcome the fact that they will be called British nationals.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
I apologise for my absence during the earlier part of the speech by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.
I support the main principle behind the Bill, but I strongly object to the way in which the Government propose to introduce alterations to our nationality law. My hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) devoted most of his speech to an argument in favour of a more liberal immigration policy. The Bill contains many more problems than are to be found in immigration policy alone. One of those problems is the way in which the Government are proposing to amend an important body of law which we eventually managed to codify after much delay, thought and consideration quite recently. Britain had no proper system of nationality law until 1948. It was previously supposed that everyone who was born in the United Kingdom or its territories was a British subject. Only when certain of our colonies achieved independence, whereupon they had dominion status, did it seem necessary to distinguish their nationality from ours. We evolved the notion that each Commonwealth country, on attaining independence, had its own citizenship. We all had British subject status, but for the United Kingdom and colonies there was citizenship of the United Kingdom and colonies. That appeared to cover the problem satisfactorily, apart from the fact that nearly 1 billion people around the world were entitled to the status of British subject until 1981, when we finally resolved the problem and said that only people with a connection with the United Kingdom were entitled to British citizenship.
795 The word "British" is significant and will remain of great practical significance in all developments resulting from this Bill. In the British Nationality Act 1981, we worked out three categories of British citizenship. First was British citizenship, which applied to people with connections with the United Kingdom, second was British dependent territory citizenship, which applied to inhabitants of British colonies, and third was British overseas citizenship, which was reserved for people who still had a right to call themselves British, derived from the fact that they were previously inhabitants of a British colony that had attained independence.
When we passed the 1981 Act, we thought that we had resolved the problem and that the relics of empire, as the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) called them in Standing Committee, would gradually be phased out. That included the status of British overseas citizenship. In their approach to finding a solution to the problem of what to do with the millions of people in Hong Kong now that Hong Kong is to lose its status as a colony, the Government seem completely to have ignored the scheme of the British Nationality Act 1981. Instead of introducing a Bill to amend that Act, they have adopted this device of subordinate legislation in a Bill which is not concerned primarily with nationality to amend nationality law.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Robinson) said that Hong Kong is a special case, but special cases do not necessarily justify breaking our known constitutional rules and conventions. Why is it necessary for nationality law to be amended by an Order in Council which is provided by a Bill concerning Hong Kong? I have heard no explanation for the device. It will result in a shortened debate and means that the Government can say, "Take it or leave it—you cannot amend it." I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House might regret their mute attitude on this issue. Why on earth have the Government resorted to this constitutional device to avoid a Bill having to be presented to the House and amended according to normal constitutional procedures?
A clause which allows for subordinate legislation to amend an Act is known to academic writers as a Henry VIII clause because he used the device often to legislate without having to ask the House of Commons. If the Government regard this as a proper precedent for changing our law, we might be in great trouble sooner than we think. What applies to nationality law could apply to those parts of our law which concern the liberty of the individual and the freedom of citizens.
Opposition Members seem to think that it is enough to say, "Oh, but we can have more than our normal one and a half hours to debate the Order in Council, or perhaps we can have a draft Order in Council so that it can be considered." That is no excuse for allowing an Order in Council to amend substantive legislation. The Government should be required to take out the schedule and other parts of the Bill which refer to nationality and to amend the British Nationality Act 1981 properly through an amending Bill.
One of the correct things that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said is that there is no precedent for creating a new category of citizenship, least of all by Order in Council. In the British Nationality Act 1948, we gave separate citizenship to British subjects around the 796 world according to where they lived. The device has been used not to introduce a new status of citizenship, which would be logical and in accordance with the plan of the 1981 Act, but to introduce something completely different—British National (Overseas). What on earth is that? The very word "British" tells 3 million people in Hong Kong that after they cease to live in a British colony they will nevertheless be British. Could anything be more absurd than their being British after they become Chinese nationals, even in our eyes? Moreover, they will have the benefit of British passports. They will be able to travel around the world as British Nationals (Overseas). They will not travel as British citizens or as Commonwealth citizens or as any of the categories that we provided in the 1981 Act. That is logically indefensible. This has nothing to do with immigration, although my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North has lambasted me and the right hon. Member for South Down on the subject of immigration.
Whatever the subject we must not make bad law. The legislation that the House makes must be as good as we can make it. It must be obvious that this little bit is bad, especially by making it in this way. How on earth will we avoid the problems that will arise from there being more than 3 million people calling themselves British who, according to us, are entitled to call themselves British, who carry passports saying that they are British yet who are not entitled to live in this country? That is a serious matter. If, as many of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members believe, the European Convention on Human Rights should be incorporated into our law, that means the fourth protocol, which states that a man has a right to live in the country of his nationality. That means British nationality for those 3 million or more people.
§ Mr. Johnston
The hon. Gentleman is shifting his ground. He stands on solid ground when he says that one should not make changes in nationality by Order in Council, but he is now saying that the whole concept of British National (Overseas) is absurd and that it will cause all kinds of difficulties. What kinds of difficulties?
§ Mr. Stanbrook
As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Sir J. Page) is a great friend of mine, I shall respect what he says.
Under the British Nationality Act 1981 there were three categories of citizenship. The third envisaged the sort of situation which now arises for the people of Hong Kong— the category of British overseas citizens. Generally speaking, those people live in the far east. There are more than 1 million in Malaysia and Singapore. They are not entitled to the right of abode in the United Kingdom, but they have the right to British passports. They may not have the right of abode in the countries in which they live, but their children, having been born in those countries, will be entitled to local citizenship. In many cases, these people have not been given their own local citizenship. However, that is the residuary category provided by our existing nationality law.
Why have the Government not adopted that category for the people of Hong Kong? Why have they gone in for 797 a completely different category with a different title, which is more likely to mislead rather than clarify? Such people in Hong Kong will have two passports, one from the People's Republic of China declaring them to be Chinese nationals and no doubt requesting such assistance as might be afforded to them, and the other a British passport. They will be declared to be British Nationals (Overseas) and no doubt the Foreign Secretary will command and request that all such help should be given to the holders of such passports. That must give rise to problems around the world. No wonder so many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Johnston), wanted somehow to bring in this new citizenship so that the passports would be recognised.
However, all those people have the right to passports now as British dependent territories citizens. It is of no assistance to the people concerned to ask them to carry the new document declaring them to be British Nationals (Overseas). If they do so, they will not have the protection of the Chinese before 1997, although they will thereafter. Far better, therefore, that the change should come then.
Why should we, in relation to Chinese nationals, be so concerned that countries outside China should recognise our passport as if those people were genuinely regarded as British citizens? That is a snare and a delusion. It is unfair and dishonest. It is extremely unkind on the people concerned. That is my basic argument, and it has nothing to do with immigration.
The ethnic Chinese can, I believe, all be accommodated within the citizenship provisions to be made by China. But we understand that 6,000 people will not be Chinese nationals and will not be regarded as Chinese compatriots. Most of them are Indian citizens or Indians who will be eligible for Indian citizenship. There are hundreds of others who in some cases have derived their British nationality from naturalisation followed by the birth of their descendants in Hong Kong. Many of those people, if not most, have no other connection with the far east, save their physical presence in Hong Kong. Many are responsible for the great prosperity that Hong Kong now enjoys. They will be an asset to this country, and to that extent I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire North. I for one would not deny them the status of British citizens if they apply for it. However, we must not muddy the waters when a problem such as this demands clarity. It is not right, fair or kind on the people concerned to treat them in this way.
In deference to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West, my last point relates to the public service of Hong Kong. I have mentioned this before, but I must keep on mentioning it, if only to ensure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary does not forget it. The Overseas Civil Service of Hong Kong deserves to be treated no less favourably—I declare an interest as a pensioner of the Overseas Civil Service of Nigeria — than civil servants in other colonies that have now received independence. The situation for those in Hong Kong is different in that the change of Government will not occur for 12 years. In Nigeria and elsewhere the change of Government came fairly soon after the constitutional conferences which anticipated independence. Nevertheless, members of the Overseas Civil Service in Hong Kong have a right to know that their interests will be safeguarded in respect of promotion, transfer and pensions. If they continue to serve in Hong Kong after 798 1997, they should be entitled to all the rights that they would have enjoyed had Hong Kong remained a British dependent territory.
I make that point because morale in the service in Hong Kong will suffer gradually as we reach 1997 unless my right hon. and learned Friend makes it clear that those terms will be available soon. If they are not given, there will be a wastage of the service in Hong Kong which will be in no one's interest.
§ Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)
I am pleased to catch your eye this evening, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I am convinced that the brief Bill before us will turn out to be one of the most historic actions that this Government have taken.
Those hon. Members who were here during the 1950s, 1960s and even the 1970s will have taken part on a number of occasions in the process of decolonisation. For the class of 1983, that process will be severely curtailed because we have so few dependent territories left. It is that sense of history that prompts me to offer a few brief comments. I am persuaded, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Robinson), that this is indeed a most important debate.
I shall not go over the ground of nationality. My hon. Friends the Members for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) and for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), together with other hon. Members, discussed the fine print of the nationality aspect of the Bill. I am especially interested in clause I, which gives currency to the termination of our sovereignty over Hong Kong and the resumption of sovereignty by China.
Unlike many right hon. and hon. Members who have been able to visit Hong Kong during recent months, I have not had the pleasure of seeing the position on the ground. My interest in Hong Kong has been stimulated since I entered the House by the generous quantity of reading material that has been sent to hon. Members, and also by family associations that go back 90 years. Without being too anecdotal, my great grandfather helped to build and then became the manager of Tai Koo docks, which position he held until he died of typhoid and meningitis in 1909. Like so many itinerant Scots engineers, he helped to create the facilities that have made Hong Kong into the considerable trading post it is today. It is extraordinary how Scotland has provided so many doctors and engineers around the world, and also a fair number of trade union activists.
Conditions in Hong Kong have not always been as healthy as they are today. I am glad to say that my grandfather, who was employed on the same project as my great grandfather, survived the outbreak of typhoid. Hong Kong was not always as prosperous as it is today. It is well to remember that the Japanese occupation from 1941 to 1945 reduced Hong Kong to ruins. In 1945 there was no food, no shipping, no industry and no commerce. The population had fallen from 1.6 million to a little over 750,000. The natural industry and energy of the people of Hong Kong soon restored economic health and vitality, only to suffer a second hammer blow with the Korean war of 1950 to 1953. Hong Kong almost died a second time.
By the mid-1950s, the people had clawed back to prosperity for the second time in a decade. It is the precedents of the second world war and the Korean war that have led to the entirely reasonable apprehension about 799 1997 and the end of the lease on the new territories. The lessons of the past have spawned the fears for the future. Therefore, it is to the immense credit of all those involved in the Sino-British negotiations during the past two years that a draft agreement of such breadth and imagination, of such reassurance and pragmatic good sense, should have been constructed. I hope and pray that the faith of those involved in drawing up the agreement is rewarded by the growing confidence of the people of Hong Kong as the details of the agreement take a more concrete form and as the Joint Liaison Group goes about its task.
Of course, it is possible to be sceptical about a number of the aspects of the joint declaration and its annexes. There is the commitment that there will be a high degree of autonomy under Chinese sovereignty, the commitment that the Socialist system and policies shall not be practised in Hong Kong for 50 years, the commitment to a system of law that is quite unlike the prevailing system in China, and the commitment that the Government of the People's Republic of China will not levy taxes on the Hong Kong special administrative region—something that we should look at carefully because the PRC Government will undoubtedly be supplying services and public utilities to Hong Kong, and prices for them could be manipulated.
There is the commitment to retain all those freedoms and rights that we take for granted — freedom of association, of the press, of speech, of the person, of belief, of academic research, of choice of occupation, to marry and the right to bring up a family. All those commitments, together with many others, bear close examination because they offer a regime that is in such stark contrast to the People's Republic of China.
There are those who scoff and say that the commitments are worthless and that the moment China has resumed sovereignty it can tear up the agreements and impose a totalitarian regime in line with the remainder of the People's Republic of China. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) spoke along those lines. Indeed, there are those, such as the chairman of the so-called British anti-Communist council, who go a good deal further in their cynicism and scepticism. Those who have left China and have escaped the regime since 1949 have every reason to have reservations.
I prefer to believe that the framework for the Hong Kong special administrative region post-1997 represents an agreement that is pragmatic to Britain, to China and to the people of Hong Kong. I accept the Government's confidence that the agreement provides the necessary assurances about Hong Kong's future that will allow the territory to continue to flourish and to maintain its unique role in the world.
Hong Kong, operating within the framework of the joint declaration and its annexes, will continue and prosper as a vital and commercial trading bridge between Western capitalism and Chinese Communism. That bridge could —and here we move into the realms of speculation— help to draw the People's Republic of China away from the stultifying economics of Communism and back towards a more mixed economy. I am wholly persuaded that Communism is alien to the essentially entrepreneurial nature of the Chinese.
The recent dipping of toes into the capitalist waters of stocks and shares shows that the Chinese leaders have recognised the benefits of incentive and investment. Who 800 knows what developments might take place by 1997— Hong Kong could indeed be the key to a truly historic change of economic philosophy by the Chinese people. However, as I have said, we are now speculating and tonight's debate is intended to progress a Bill that will give substance to the draft agreement between Britain and China for the resumption of Chinese sovereignty over Hong Kong.
As we are well aware, the alternative to that agreement is a takeover in 1997 by the Chinese on terms determined by the Chinese alone. That alternative is most unlikely to be acceptable to the people of Hong Kong, and that was one of the most acid tests for the agreement. In those circumstances, what price the commitment that military forces sent by the People's Republic of China Government to be stationed in the Hong Kong special administrative region for the purpose of defence will not interfere in the internal affairs of the Hong Kong SAR?
That is enough from someone whose connections with Hong Kong are trapped in the past of the colony. The Bill offers the hope of a much brighter future for Hong Kong after 1997 than once seemed possible. The Bill demands confidence from us all, not cynicism.
§ Sir John Page (Harrow, West)
It is less difficult for me to compress a brilliant 20-minute speech into four minutes because everything that I intended to say has already been said at least four times, except about one aspect. I listened to the wise, dignified and clear speech by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary which was in striking contradistinction to the speech by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) who rose like some political coelacanth, spewed out some sour foam and immediately disappeared to his lair beneath the troubled waves of the Labour party. I am grateful to him for his perspicacity in coming back just to listen to my speech. I appreciate it.
The Government were wise to have one Bill to include the joint agreement and the adaptation of British law- maritime law and so on. Will Hong Kong's future in EFT A after 1997 be affected by the Bill?
The creative news in the debate concerns the nomenclature British National (Overseas) for future Hong Kong passports. I was less worried by the criticisms by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) than I was by the enthusiastic support from my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) which gave some worries and doubts.
In these days of sophisticated knowledge of passports and nationality no one possessing the British National (Overseas) passport will be misled into thinking that it gives the right of abode in the United Kingdom. It is clear to the people of Hong Kong that the passport cannot be transmissible by descent.
The amazingly calm atmosphere of this evening's debate is proof of the general acceptability of the terms negotiated to the hard working, brilliant and realistic people of Hong Kong. I say that because many of us are deeply committed to the welfare of the Hong Kong people. We would have fought tooth and nail if we had believed that the agreement was not as good as possible for their protection.
801 It is a great compliment to the negotiators in the People's Republic of China and to our own dedicated team.
I take the view, which is shared by many well-informed people with knowledge of the far east, that the Prime Minister's forthright attitude in the early stages, in 1982, did much to prepare the ground for the final successful agreement. On the day that the agreement was signed I and other members of the British delegation to the Inter-Parliamentary Union were meeting their distinguished Chinese delegation in Geneva. I am certain that they were as genuinely excited and optimistic as we were about the future.
I believe that the agreement will stick. One of the great advantages was the early negotiation and signing of the agreement so that the people of Hong Kong and the people of China have 13 years to get used to their new relationship.
§ 9.4 pm
§ Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)
This is an historic debate and I am privileged to take part in it. The Bill reflects and summarises the termination of British sovereignty and jurisdiction over Hong Kong and I am filled with trepidation. We have had the long-term consultations in Hong Kong between the Chinese people and the British people, and tonight we are deciding on the future of 5¼ million people.
Of course I want the territory to continue to flourish. It has been successful. Its economy has been distinct and independent. I want its future to be secure and I believe that the Bill will help it to remain secure. It has a unique trading and financial status. I wish that we could produce goods here as cheaply and as well.
It is reassuring that the stock market is now recovering — slowly, but surely. All the people of Hong Kong deserve praise for that. However, like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), I want to see freedom for all the people of Hong Kong. This is an historic day. We must look to the future, to the risk of Communism and to how China could affect the initiative and peace which exist in Hong Kong now.
What of the future, and what of China? China appears to be growing more capitalist in spirit, which is helpful. However, I hope there will not be any bullying, rough assaults or attacks on the people of Hong Kong. Communism is a sick cancer, corrupting enterprise and crippling initiative. We must be careful how our relations stay with China.
We know that Hong Kong's future is secure for a further 50 years after 30 June 1997. I know that hon. Members will watch Hong Kong for years to come. I have yet to visit Hong Kong, but my colleagues who have done so tell me what is going on, and I read about it in the papers. We wish the people of Hong Kong success.
I am worried that many people in Hong Kong will wish to leave. As my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) said, we must watch the position carefully, because there might be a risk of a massive exodus from Hong Kong to Britain. Can we cope? I want to see freedom of movement between the two countries, as there is now. We have policemen there who are serving in the Hong Kong police force, and civil servants serving in the Hong Kong Civil Service. I want 802 that to continue. Obviously there will be emigration. British people will wish to work there because the terms and conditions are encouraging.
The new designation of British National (Overseas) for British dependent territories citizens is strange. I am sure that the people of Hong Kong still feel British to the core. The two countries enjoy an excellent relationship, which we must continue to establish and retain. I believe that the Bill will assist in that direction. I wish to put on record our appreciation of what my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has achieved in bringing about the agreement.
I am worried about paragraph 2(1)(b) of the schedule which defines the status of nationality. I am glad that the Foreign Secretary has been able to clear up the title of the people who will be so named. It is a new form of nationality, and I wonder whether we have all thought through the long-term consequences of it. When the passport is issued — we have not yet been informed when that will be — I should prefer to say "and a resident of Hong Kong". We may hear more about that later.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington said, we need to look at the future of our nationality law. Orders in Council are the normal way to change nationality status, and the people of Hong Kong would not wish it to be treated differently from anyone else. There is to be a new status, but it does not involve massive immigration into the United Kingdom. That must be right.
In the years to come we shall need, above all, to continue to liaise closely with the people of Hong Kong. We have a far better relationship with China now, and we know that Hong Kong and China are co-operating to a large extent.
I know that we shall have regular debates on Hong Kong. I want the people of Hong Kong to know that we do not forget them, that we continue to admire them and that we want such debates and reports so that hon. Members can remember and be up-dated. I wish the people of Hong Kong every success.
§ 9.9 pm
§ Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)
Today's debate, which follows only three parliamentary weeks after the previous substantial debate on Hong Kong, has covered several areas, some of which were raised previously and still remain open, and others which were related to the Bill. Next Monday we shall have the opportunity to discuss in some detail several aspects of the Bill. That is probably why, Mr. Speaker, you allowed some licence in the subjects that have been discussed today.
What underlies the sentiment of many speeches has been a growing concern about the remaining questions on Hong Kong, and the fact that trust will be a crucial factor in the development of Hong Kong's institutions and in the future of Hong Kong itself. The press coverage in Hong Kong of our previous debate suggests several misapprehensions about the way in which the House treats such affairs. I fear that the low attendance for today's debate might give rise to similar misapprehensions.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, some domestic issues of enormous moment can pack this place and bring it alive. There are also areas where the majority of hon. Members believe that a good or reasonable job has been done and that the issues can be spelt out in detail by experts. Those who consider our debates on Hong Kong will see that 803 Members of the British Parliament show remarkable knowledge of the detailed workings of Hong Kong and the methods by which its people have made their contributions during the years.
If we add up the number of hon. Members who contributed to this debate, to the previous one, and to our recent debates on Hong Kong, we discover that a substantial proportion of hon. Members has participated actively in them. The accusations of mutual self-congratulation that were levelled against us during the debate on 5 December are neither right nor appropriate. Where anxieties have been expressed by people in Hong Kong to hon. Members, they have been fairly and accurately represented in our debates. We have considered them in detail, and we shall continue dutifully to examine those areas where anxiety remains.
The misapprehensions have been fuelled by some offhand remarks by Conservative Members. The off-the-cuff remark a few weeks ago by the Leader of the House to the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn), suggesting that this Second Reading debate might be an appropriate time to examine the Prime Minister's world tour at the end of December, may have given rise to expectations among hon. Members which you, Mr. Speaker, would have dismissed quickly.
We must draw to the attention of Ministers the short period that is suggested between this Second Reading and the Committee stage of the Bill. Hon. Members have suggested that seven days between now and the Committee stage is not long enough for opinions to be canvassed on the wide range of views and detailed answers from Ministers that have been adduced during the debate. I strongly urge Ministers to postpone the Committee stage from next Monday and to consider, with the Leader of the House, a longer gap so that the people of Hong Kong have an opportunity to read the record of this debate, digest it and perhaps give their views on it. A week is a completely inappropriate period for such feedback to be meaningful.
Clearly, the major issue in the debate is that of nationality. The new nationality, whose name, but little else, has been unveiled today, of British National (Overseas), which sounds more like the name of a petrol company than a status for human beings, is one which obviously we shall debate in more detail later. But issues of major principle have been raised. The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) went as far as tabling an amendment suggesting that we should not pass the Bill unless a radical change was made to it.
Concern on the same issue of principle was expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), and by the hon. Members for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth) and for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) in another context. It is whether we should designate the nationality of 3 million people who will retain that nationality for the rest of their lives and the nationality that will be transferred to those of their children who are born between now and 1997 by Order in Council, by a statutory instrument in the House, or by the traditional and time-honoured method of a parliamentary Bill.
I fear, however, that the right hon. Member for South Down, having raised this interesting constitutional issue, which is of some importance, has by raising it himself damaged the case for it. Unfortunately, the right hon. 804 Gentleman has a reputation in immigration and nationality matters. The appearance of his name on the amendment has perhaps fatally flawed it in the eyes of the vast majority of people in Hong Kong. Therefore, the representations that we have received from people in Hong Kong are to the effect that they wish the Government's original plan to go ahead. It is clear that they believe that the motives behind the right hon. Gentleman's amendment are designed to make sure that there is no escape hatch and that it is part of a campaign against those whose skin is not white rather than an interested commentary on the mechanisms by which the House pursues its legislation. That is unfortunate. But if we changed the method by which this nationality was designated, I fear that confusion and uncertainty would more than probably be the result. That having been said, I believe that the Government should take on board some of the apprehensions that have been voiced, and there are methods by which that can be done.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East said that we could be considering some tentative draft, a statutory instrument with green edges, or a consultative document on the nationality status and that this might be debated before the statutory instrument itself was debated and voted upon. However, there are other options. One is to remove from the schedule the paragraph on nationality and oblige the Government to legislate by means of another Bill. However, there is mention in "Erskine May" of the possibility of exceptional statutory instruments which can be amended in the House and which are flexible enough to be amended. It is clear that some research will have to be done into the possibilities.
In any event, the Government should listen carefully to the representations from both sides of the House reflecting all shades of opinion about the dangerous precedents that they may be establishing in dealing with the problem in this fashion. Certainly they should listen to the wise advice from the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker), who said that it would be indefensible if we considered this important issue under the normal, traditional mechanism for statutory instruments, with a debate of one and a half hours on the subject. The timing of this issue and the way that it is to be debated have been questioned quite genuinely by hon. Members. We must hope that the Government will listen and give the House an answer as soon as possible.
In the debate on 5 December the Foreign Secretary made it clear that there are genuine concerns about nationality. He said:Because it is also a matter which affects people in their personal lives, it gives rise to very strong emotions. It was not easy to reconcile the conflicting interests involved".We have yet to find out how the Government have reconciled those conflicting interests. We shall listen with interest to how they reconcile them.
Hon. Members have today raised the international acceptability of the new status. The new status will be tested by its international acceptability. At this stage the Government are in no position to give guarantees about it, yet the Government will eventually have to answer for the international acceptability of the new status. In the last debate the Minister of State said:Her Majesty's Government will do all they can to secure for the holders of those passports the same access to other countries as that enjoyed at present by holders of British Dependent Territories citizens passports. There is no reason to believe that third countries will not recognise those passports.805 As hon. Members have said repeatedly, the test will not be the colour or the name of the passport. The test will be the attitude of immigration officers when these passports are presented. It would perhaps assist the people of Hong Kong if we could be told whether the Government have taken any steps to pursue this matter.
The number of people in Hong Kong who are entitled to British dependent territories citizens passports is greater than the number of people who go to the bother of applying for passports. For a large number of people in Hong Kong it is a purely academic matter whether they have a passport, because they do little or no travelling. What provision is being made to assess the number of people who are entitled to passports in order to ensure that the huge administrative task of issuing the new passports, which will take a large amount of time, is carried out efficiently and expeditiously?
On the question of statelessness, an anonymous representative was quoted in the assessment office report as saying:We do not care what happens to Hong Kong for our own sake. However, we worry for our children.In Hong Kong there are 6,000 parents who are non-ethnic Chinese and who will be rendered stateless after 1997. In previous debates, and again today, the Government have daid that guarantees have been given that these parents will have a form of British nationality. Yet today, although we have been told about the new status for BDTC passport holders, we have been told nothing about those parents who must be the most anxious peiple in Hong Kong. Hon. Members have received today an express letter from Mr. Harileda, the president of the Council of Hong Kong Indian Associations. His letter encloses a substantial petition which expresses precisely the worries and anxieties of those who will find themselves stateless after 1997. There is a moral obligation, if we return to that moral obligation which the Prime Minister sloughed off in Hong Kong, to end the uncertainty for these people.
A number of hon. Members have referred torefugees. They were referred to by the hon. Members for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) and for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Johnston) and in the last debate by my ho. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Carke), whom I accompanied last year to one of the closed Vietnamese camps. A searing personal experience it was, tool They referred to both the Vietnamese and the other refugees who are in effect stateless in Hong Kong and whose children, who have been bom in Hong Kong since the arrived, are in fact stateless. Although this is a genuine dilemma for this and every other Government, there is again an obligation to give some sign of whether they will be looked after in the years after 1997.
Drafting the basic law for the special administrative region of Hong Kong is central to the future of Hong Kong. The Government have turned their mind to this matter, but they have properly said that this is a matter for the Government of the People's Republic of China. It is not sufficient for the House or the Government to continue to say that it is solely a matter for the People's Republic of China. On 5 December the Foreign Secretary said:I am confident, too, that they"—that is, the Government of the People's Republic of China—will have noted the hope, which has been widely expressed in recent weeks, that the people of Hong Kong will be fully consulted about the drafting of the law.806 When the Minister wound up the debate he was even more straightforward and specific, He said:The Chinese Government have made it clear that the people of Hong Kong will be consulted on its drafting, although the exact form of this consultation has not yer been specified."— [Official Report, 5 December 1984; Vol. 69, c. 391–470]My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East outlined to the House the apparently contradictory statements made by the Prime Minister at her press conference. I have every sympathy for the Prime Minister, who travelled round the world, stopping off for photo calls, going through at least 15 different climates, with all the exhaustion that that involves, not to mention the jet lag. Perhaps she had not been sufficiently briefed or had not understood the briefing, or whatever. However, there is a contradiction between what the Foreign Secretary was saying at the Dispatch Box on 5 December and what the Prime Minister appeared to be saying when she got to the conference in Hong Kong. She siad:You would not expect representatives of Hong Kong to sit on the drafting committee.However, as my right hon. Frind said, the Far Eastern Economic Review quoted the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Monthly Wide Angle as saying that there would be a drafting committe of 40 to 50 people formed in the People's National Congress withat lest 10 from Hong Kong.It went on to say that a basic law consultative committee, consisting of local people from different classes, would be formed in Hong Kong, Either the Prime Minister is right, or the pro-Beijing newspapers and magazines in Hong Kong are right, but on something so central to the future of the people in Hong Kong it is important that we get the authoritative version, and get it clear.
Sir Patrick Nairne and his colleague, who monitored the assessment exercise, said:The widespread concern to be involved, as the assessment office report has highlighted, in the drafting of the Basic law is a timely and important token of their wish to stand increasingly on their own political feet.This is the test which the monitoring team made of the importance of the basic law issue, and therefore this is something on which we require considerable reassurance this evening.
§ Mr. Adley
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the fact that the pro-Beijing magazines in Hong Kong are writing these articles, which appear to show a shift, shows the flexibility in the position at the moment and must be encouraging, because the fewer pre-conceived notions the better? Is it not unwise to try to expect too much detail too quickly on all these important detailed points?
§ Mr. Robertson
The hon. Gentleman knows Chinamuch better tham I do, and knows that these contradictions are difficult for people in Hong Kongto understand. Either the Prime Minister is right and there is no prospect of any local involvement in the process— after all, she was speaking in Hong Kong with the Far Eastern Economic Review on the news stand with that article init—or else something else is known.
It is for Ministers to tell us the correct version. After all, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Foreign Secretary was sitting next to the Prime Minister when she spoke in hong Kong. With great respect, the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) is not in a position to speak authoritatively for Her Majesty's Government or for the Government of the People's Republic of China. This is a 807 matter of central importance, and the apparent contradictions of the members of the British Government's team should be expanded upon this evening.
Much has been said about the regular monitoring of events in hong Kong until 1997. The foreign Secretary said, to no great friendly response, that we are not to have the form of regular monitoring that we were led to expect in the previous debate. When the Minister of state replied to our previous debate in the House he said thatsome system of regular accountability to the House is of great importance to the people of Hong Kong."—[Official Report, 5 December 1984; Vol. 69, c. 467.]We must set against that what the Prime Minister said, or what she was quoted in the Financial Times as saying, thatthere would be no need for a formal annual debate o Hong Kong at Westmister…Parliamentary debates would occur from time to time.We have taken on immense obligations for the detail of the future of people in Hong Kong and we should be able to expect at least a report from the Joint Liaison Group on the work that it is doing, as well as a report from Her Majesty's Government on a wide range of other issues that will be directly within their own and unique province over the next 12 years, so that Parliament can judge and assess the necessity, perhaps, for an annual debate. Hon. Members may feel that without that regular accountability they will not be in a position to come to a proper judgment on the developments that are taking place on the other side of the world.
There is some confusion about the Joint Liaison Group and its membership. There was that astonishing gaff by the Prime Minister when she said, while in Hong Kong, that the Governor would be a member of the group, when it had never been contemplated as a practical possibility that he would be. Perhaps we shall be taken a little along the membership road by the Minister when he replies.
There is apprehension in Hong Kong that the Joint Liaison Group may be concerned with overseeing, monitoring or, at worst, analysing and interfering in the progress towards democracy within the colony. The Bill does not touch directly on progress towards democracy but the issue has been raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Wrexham (Dr. Marek), and for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) and by the hon. Members for Stockton, South, for Chislehurst and for Christchurch.
In this Parliament we have received wise counsel from unelected channels of communication within Hong Kong. The delegations from Hong Kong and the briefings that they have sent us have been of enormous importance to our detailed consideration of these matters. I include the contribution of Sir S. Y. Chung, the senior member of UMELCO, who was appointed under the Government of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). The right hon. Gentleman made some slighting references to the appointed members of UMELCO when we last debated Hong Kong. We have received wise advice from those in Hong Kong who have spoken up strongly on behalf of the people in Hong Kong.
But we should recognise that there is a generation rising in Hong Kong—it is fundamentally a young population —which will not continue to be satisfied with the type of relaxed and confortable set-up that has run Hong Kong for the past years. Whatever the reasons have been for us not interfering in that arrangement, the fact is that pressure 808 from the young will continue and must be taken on board. Mrs. Selina Chow, who has often come over and spoken to us, could not accept the White Paper on progress towards democracy because it did not provide an end product to take us a stage beyond 1987, when the first review is to take place. We would be wise to look carefully at the future of the developments.
The debate has provided us with another valuable opportunity to clear the air on some important matters of continuing interest and concern about the future of Hong Kong. I hope that the Minister can now flesh out the framework of Hong Kong's future. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will listen with great interest. They will, of course, maintain that interest.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Richard Luce)
I am sure that hon. Members will agree that today, as on 5 December, there has been a large measure of support for the agreement and, I hope, in broad terms, for the legislation that will help to effect part of it. Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) and the hon. Members for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) and for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), said that it was important that there should be a broad measure of bipartisan support in the House over the agreement on Hong Kong, for the sake of the people of Hong Kong. I believe, and hope that I am right in saying, that that support exists today just as it did on 5 December.
Nevertheless, there was a not uncharacteristic music hall knock-about performance from the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) who seemed to be enjoying himself for the first 10 or 15 minutes—
§ Mr. Luce
—when he talked about the Prime Minister. I always enjoy myself. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East can talk about tigers and elephants to his heart's content, but the plain fact is that a very remarkable agreement has been reached over Hong Kong. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary played leading parts in achieving that agreement, and they deserve great credit for it.
My hon. Friends the Members for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan), for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill), for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) and for Harrow, West (Sir J. Page) referred to the importance of having confidence in Hong Kong. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Test talked about Hong Kong's present economic success. Its success is striking in that exports and growth have increased dramatically and Hong Kong is now displaying a fresh sense of confidence.
I am glad that many hon. Members have paid tribute to the people of Hong Kong and to the way in which they have reacted to the agreement. I join the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) in paying tribute to the members of UMELCO, some of whom have been here during the past few says and during the course of this debate. There can be no doubt of the Government's strong commitment to Hong Kong or about the full responsibilities that we hold, and will continue to hold, until 1 July 1997.
Judging by the debate on 5 December, it will be remarkably difficult to answer all the points raised. 809 However, I shall do my best to answer as many as I can. I hope that hon. Members will bear with me, but if I feel that I have failed to answer all the points raised I shall attempt to write to those hon. Members involved. I shall start with the important point about the views of hon. Members and the Government's accountability to the House.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East referred to an annual debate, which he and others mentioned in the previous debate. This issue goes wider than that.
§ Mr. Healey
With respect, I ask the Minister to look at what I said then and this time. We ask for an annual report, with the right to debate it if it seems suitable. The important thing is the annual report, which was explained in detail.
§ Mr. Luce
Many hon. Members have recommended not only an annual report but a definite commitment to an annual debate. If I misinterpreted what the right hon. Gentleman said, I apologise.
The issue goes wider than that. There is a desire on the part of the House to ensure that it has an adequate say with the Executive over important matters connected with Hong Kong. It features in connection with the Bill and its Committee stage. All I can say to the House is that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and I have noted carefully the strong views that were expressed during the debate. However, I ask the House to understand that my right hon. and learned Friend and I do not underestimate the importance of the views of the House, but we both doubt the value of institutionalising debates on Hong Kong in such a way that we would literally ritualise them in the form of an annual debate.
My right hon. and learned Friend and I believe that the most effective way to deal with that is to have debates in the House as and when required. That point was made effectively by my hon. Friends the Members for Newport, West (Mr. Robinson) and for Chislehurst. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) also referred to it. The ad hoc approach, when we have debates as and when required, would be a more effective way to deal with the problem. In addition, as my right hon. and learned Friend has already said, the Government will report to the House on important developments on Hong Kong at any time that we think that that is necessary.
A major part of the debate in which accountability featured related to the provisions in the Bill for nationality.
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)
Will the Minister undertake that as well as reporting on important events Ministers will also report annually?
§ Mr. Luce
I have just said that we do not wish to give that undertaking, nor do we think that it is a sensible way to treat the matter. I have tried to give the reasons for that.
I should like to refer to the important matter of nationality, on which the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) spoke freely. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), the hon. Member for Warley, East, the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), who has expalined that he cannot be present for the wind-up, and many others referred to that matter. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said, paragraph 810 2 of the schedule contains an enabling power for a subsequent Order or Orders in Council to be made to give effect to the provisions of the United Kingdom memorandum that was handed to the Chinese when the agreement was signed on 19 December. The framework for subordinate legislation is clearly stated in the schedule. It will provide thatBritish Dependent Territories citizenship cannot be retained or acquired on or after the relevant date"—that is 1 July 1997—by virtue of a connection with Hong Kong".The schedule creates a new form of British nationality that may be acquired bypersons who are British Dependent Territories citizens by virtue of any such connection".In addition, provision will be made for the avoidance of statelessness as a result of the changes and for such amendments to nationality legislation as are supplementary, transitional or consequential to those main purposes. In other words, the content of the order or orders is determined by the framework laid down in the Bill.
The right hon. Member for South Down and my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington tabled an amendment which, in effect, deplores the use of an Order in Council to amend nationality legislation on the ground that it does not permit the detailed consideration and amendment of the Government's proposals that enactment by Bill would afford.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said, it is simply not possible in the time available for the enactment of the Bill to include full details of all the legislative amendments that will be necessary for the implementation of the commitments which, on 5 December, the House unanimously agreed that we should accept. Nevertheless, the Government consider it right that the Bill should contain a clear indication of all the legislation that will be required. As I have said, the Bill sets out clearly the parameters of the amendments that will be necessary to our nationality legislation. Those amendments will flow directly from the provisions of the United Kingdom memorandum. Orders made under this provision will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, which will allow full opportunity for debate in both Houses.
I understand the wish of the House to be able to debate thoroughly the Order in Council on nationality, and I can readily give an assurance that it will be introduced in draft form. That is assured by paragraph 2(4) of the schedule. I give an assurance also that a sufficient interval will be left between the publication of a draft order and its debate in the House to allow the people of Hong Kong and hon. Members to form views about it and to make those views known. If there were pressures to change the terms of the order, the Government would certainly consider withdrawing the order and changing it before asking the House to approve it. I again reassure the House that my right hon. and learned Friend and I have taken firmly on board the views expressed today about this matter.
A number of points have been made about the nationality title, including points by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South and the hon. Member for Warley, East. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said, it is appropriate that the title of the new form of nationality should be "British National (Overseas)". Although the name does not carry any direct link with Hong Kong, I confirm that it is the Government's 811 intention that it should be held only by persons who come under the scope of the Order in Council on nationality to be made under the Bill. Careful consideration has been given to the title of the new form of nationality. The Government believe that "British National (Overseas)" best meets the needs of all parties concerned. On the one hand, the title makes it clear that that is a form of British nationality and, on the other, it does not imply a continuing constitutional link between Britain and Hong Kong after 1997.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South asked about debate on the title. The title of the new form of nationality was announced today for the first time. The Government consider that that it is important to allow time to explain the choice of this title to the people of Hong Kong. There will be opportunities for including the title in the Bill at a later stage if it is considered appropriate. If the new title for nationality status is introduced in another place, there will be an opportunity for the House to discuss it when the amendment is reported back.
In a number of important speeches hon. Members drew attention to continuing anxiety about the possibility of statelessness. I believe that it is important that, once again, I should set out the position. This matter was raised by the hon. Members for Hamilton, for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Johnston) and for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth), who told me that he could not be here for the conclusion of the debate, and by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary clearly stated our intentions.
It is our intention that no British national or any child born on or after 1 July 1997 to a British national should be made stateless as a result of the nationality arrangements envisaged in the Bill. It is intended that such a person covered by the provisions should acquire British overseas citizenship. We have given strong commitments on this matter, and I assure the House that they will be carried out.
I should answer the point made by the hon. Member for Warley, East, who unfortunately is not in the Chamber, about the position of non-Chinese Hong Kong people living outside Hong Kong, because I know that this is one aspect of statelessness about which the hon. Gentleman and others have been concerned. Broadly speaking, they will be covered by the provisions. If the persons concerned would fall within the provisions of the order when resident in Hong Kong, they would also fall within them even if they are not currently resident there. It will not be residence that is the deciding factor but the fact that BDTC status is derived from Hong Kong. We have taken that important point on board.
On the question of the title that we have introduced, the right hon. Member for South Down talked of the Government deceiving the House.
§ Mr. Luce
I am sorry if I misinterpreted the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Gentleman, who served on the Committee on the British Nationality Act 1981, knows that there are three main categories of people with the word "British" in their title. However, the title "British citizen" is the only one that confers the right of abode. BDTCs do not have the right of abode in Britain, although they have certain entitlements. Equally, the title announced today does not give a right of abode here. It preserves all but one of the entitlements possessed by those who are at present BDTCs. The one exception is right of transmissibility.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) asked about consular protection.
§ Mr. Healey
There is a question, to which both sides of the House attach great importance, the answer to which will influence our attitude towards the Committee. Will the Government undertake to introduce a form of Order in Council which is either in draft with green edges, or amendable?
§ Mr. Luce
I have already answered that question very clearly. First, it is to be a draft order. Secondly, it is our intention to introduce a draft order well in advance, to give time not only for the House but for the people of Hong Kong to assess it and to give us their views. We will take those views fully into account before introducing a draft order for debate in the House. I hope to reply to some of the other points made by the right hon. Gentleman.
First, however, I take up the concern of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber about the acceptability of new passports. I assure him that the Government will do all that they can to secure, for holders of new-style British passports, the same access to other countries as that enjoyed at present by holders of BDTC passports. The level of consular protection will also remain the same. There is every reason to be confident of international acceptance of the passports. When the time comes, we will do our utmost to ensure that that is forthcoming.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East talked about the retention of BDTC status and asked whether people who took up the new nationality status before 1997 could keep their old status until 1997. I am happy to assure him that that is indeed the Government's intention. We do not envisage people who take up the status of British National (Overseas) losing their BDTC status until 1997, except in the unlikely event of their renouncing it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East asked about the Joint 813 Liaison Group. It comes into force as a result of the agreement. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, we are working on the practicalities. Its establishment is still some months off, and work remains to be done. The Government will announce the membership of the group and other details in due course. I would not wish to anticipate the discussions that we shall have with the Governor this week. The Government will approach the Joint Liaison Group in a positive spirit. Co-operation with the Chinese Government will be of the utmost importance to ensure a smooth transition.
Several right hon. and hon. Members have suggested that Hong Kong unofficial should be represented on the group. As my right hon. and learned Friend made clear in our debate on 5 December, that would not be appropriate. The Joint Liaison Group is a diplomatic body. Hong Kong Government officials will participate on the British side and there will be full consultation on the group's work with the Executive Council of Hong Kong. I note what has been said about sub-groups, especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst. The establishment of such groups will be decided by the Joint Liaison Group, and attendance at its meetings will depend on the subjects under discussion.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East asked whether the Joint Liaison Group would oversee constitutional development of Hong Kong before 1997. The answer is no. It is firmly agreed that the British Government will be responsible for the administration of Hong Kong until 1 July 1997. That includes responsibility for constitutional development. However, we have all recognised the need in this context to keep in mind the provisions of the agreement on the future of Hong Kong, and the plans which were published in the Hong Kong Government's White Paper were framed accordingly. Those considerations will continue to be important, but the responsibility remains ours. The Joint Liaison Group will have no overseeing role.
814 My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton referred to important freedoms in Hong Kong—a matter which was provided for in the agreement and which is of profound importance to the future of Hong Kong. The agreement provides explicitly for the maintenance of rights and freedoms which were previously in force in Hong Kong and protected by law. It also stipulates that provisions of relevant international covenants will remain in force. All of this will be enshrined in the basic law and remain unchanged for 50 years. Individuals will be able to challenge actions of the Executive in the Hong Kong courts as they do now.
Several right hon. and hon. Members have referred to constitutional developments in Hong Kong. That matter was discussed quite widely during the debate of 5 December, when my right hon. and learned Friend made it clear that the Government support a progressive strengthening of representative government in the territory during the next 10 years. There will be a prospect of further review in 1997.
I have attempted to answer as many questions as possible. We must do our utmost to maintain a climate of confidence in Hong Kong. That is in everyone's interests. There is much agreement in Hong Kong on the accord that has been reached with the Chinese concerning the future. It does not come as a surprise that there is some disagreement about the Bill, which will be the subject of much greater scrutiny in Committee.
By giving the Bill a Second Reading, I believe that we shall take Hong Kong down a further road towards a strong and confident future. That is my strong recommendation.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Major.]
§ Committee tomorrow.