HC Deb 16 January 1986 vol 89 cc1268-306

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

The House will wish to know that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. As it must end at 10 o'clock. I appeal for short speeches.

7.20 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Waddington)

The White Paper which is before the House today sets out the Government's proposals for implementing the nationality provisions of the Hong Kong Act 1985. With the White Paper is the draft of an Order in Council which would enact the provisions and which, subject to what is said in the debate, we would hope to lay formally before the House before Easter.

The Government believe that the nationality provisions in the White Paper are fair and comprehensive. They are intended to establish clearly the future citizenship of British dependent territories citizens in Hong Kong once Hong Kong ceases to be a dependent territory on 1 July 1997. We are introducing them in good time to prevent uncertainty, and to ensure that people in Hong Kong and third countries have an opportunity to get used to the new passport. Once the order is made there will be much detailed work still to do, but the foundation will have been laid, and we believe that it will provide a stable basis on which the people of Hong Kong can plan their future with confidence.

The nationality provisions arise directly from the Sino-British joint declaration on Hong Kong and its associated exchange of memoranda on nationality. Hon. Members will recall that the House debated and approved the Government's intention to sign the agreement just over a year ago, after the people of Hong Kong had been given an opportunity to express their views, and the overwhelming majority had found it acceptable. Following that debate, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister went to Peking to sign the agreement.

As a consequence, the Hong Kong Bill was passed and received Royal Assent in April last year. Paragraph 2 of the schedule to the Act allows for provision to be made by Order in Council for the ending on 1 July 1997 of British dependent territories citizenship for those having such citizenship through a connection with Hong Kong, arid for their acquisition of a new form of nationality, the holders of which will be known as British nationals (overseas). The paragraph also allows provision to be made for the avoidance of statelessness.

It is important for the House to remember the whole time that what we can do for nationality is confined by the Hong Kong Act. The framework has already been set by the Act, and the Order in Council must keep within that framework. Its role is not to reopen questions already considered and approved by the House, but to establish the detailed arrangements which will be necessary to give effect to the provisions set out in the agreement and the Act. Furthermore, neither that agreement nor the Act in any way alters the decision initially taken in 1961, and confirmed in subsequent legislation, that British nationals in Hong Kong are subject to United Kingdom immigration control. It is the Government's general policy to maintain the effectiveness of that control, and the case for making concessions to any particular group of people, whether in Hong Kong or elsewhere, must be judged, not in isolation, but in the context of the Government's general policy and the pleas that many people throughout the world make to be allowed to come to settle in this country. That is the background to the Government's approach to the issues to be addressed by the House this evening.

During the debate on the Hong Kong Bill the Government undertook to put forward their detailed proposals for the nationality order in good time, and in a form which would allow them to be debated and, if necessary, amended, before the House was invited to give its approval. We have done that. The White Paper containing the order was published in the United Kingdom and in Hong Kong on 17 October. The 3.25 million British dependent territories citizens in Hong Kong to whom these matters are of vital interest have had a full opportunity to comment on the order. Hon. Members now have a chance to express their views. The Government will listen carefully to all that is said tonight. We shall consider particularly whether we should amend any of the provisions in the order.

We have followed carefully the reaction in Hong Kong to the White Paper, the text of which had been agreed with the Hong Kong Government and Executive Council. It was debated in the Hong Kong Legislative Council on 4 December 1985, and some important points were raised. During that debate Members asked the British Government to do more to explain the arrangements for the new passport to third countries. They wanted to be assured that it would be internationally acceptable as a travel document, and that its holder would enjoy the same rights of access to other countries as those holding British dependent territory passports. They asked that the new passport should say that the holder did not need entry clearance to enter the United Kingdom. Members also supported the request by the non-Chinese ethnic minority in Hong Kong and by some former service men to be granted British citizenship rather than British national (overseas) status or British overseas citizenship. A motion to that effect was passed, supported by the Hong Kong Government, and I shall respond to those points which are of the greatest importance in a few minutes. It might be for the convenience of the House if I first say a few words in explanation of the draft order.

I should like to make it clear at the outset that the order can, by definition, affect only those who are British dependent territories citizens by virtue of a connection with Hong Kong. Therefore, it cannot affect anyone who is not a British dependent territories citizen, or whose citizenship can be derived wholly from a connection with another dependent territory. But it is not sufficient simply to refer in the order to a connection with Hong Kong without defining what such a connection may be.

Article 2 of the draft order provides that definition. It sets out in a convenient, logical and clear format all the ways in which a person may have become connected with Hong Kong. It encompasses all the Hong Kong British dependent territories citizens listed in annex 2 to the White Paper—although, as the White Paper explains, virtually all such people in Hong Kong are citizens by birth, registration or naturalisation there. It is possible, however, that a citizen may be able to trace this connection through a number of the circumstances set out in article 2 and in the more detailed annex 2. While the categories in article 2 are satisfactory for legislative purposes, the greater detail given in annex 2 is intended to help people find out whether they come within the order by matching their particular circumstances with those in the list. Therefore, article 2 defines connection with Hong Kong for the purpose of the order, and article 3 provides that anyone who is a British dependent territories citizen by virtue of such a connection shall cease to be such a citizen on 1 July 1997.

Article 4 sets out the way in which the new status of British national (overseas) may be acquired by those who will cease to be British dependent territories citizens in 1997. The terms of the United Kingdom memorandum associated with the joint declaration provide that this status will be acquired by such persons only if they hold or are included in a passport showing the new status issued before 1 July 1997 or before the end of 1997 in the case of persons born in the first six months of that year. Under the terms of the agreement, therefore, it will not be transmitted to descendants born after 30 June 1997.

All Hong Kong British dependent territories citizens will be entitled to acquire BN(O) status. Acquisition will be by registration. This is consistent with the long-standing provision in British nationality law for those exercising an entitlement to citizenship, but the terms of the memorandum, reflecting the particular needs of Hong Kong, link its acquisition to the holding of a BN(O) passport. The passport, together with the central register which will be maintained, will be evidence of the new status so article 4 provides a clear entitlement to hold a BN(O) passport.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

I am sorry to intervene while the Minister is going into such detail, but I rise perhaps more on a point of comfort than of order. Can something be done about the coldness of the Chamber? There are great gusts of cold air blowing in and it is excessively chilly.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman feels uncomfortable, I shall make some inquiries about the problem.

Mr. Waddington

I am sure that that should be done in deference to our guests from Hong Kong, who may be finding it very uncomfortable. I hope that what I am saying does not create any cold winds.

The formalities going with registration will be kept to a minimum. This is very important. We envisage only that each person's particulars will be entered on a central register. It is important to repeat the point that no separate fee will be charged for registration.

I come next to the article dealing with statelessness. The joint declaration guarantees to all those BDTCs, except those who have left Hong Kong permanently and have the right of abode elsewhere, the right of abode in Hong Kong from 1 July 1997, and the Order in Council gives all Hong Kong BDTCs the right to register as BN(O)s. During the passage of the Hong Kong Bill a number of Members were concerned that those British dependent territories citizens in Hong Kong who were not ethnically Chinese, and their children, might be left stateless in 1997 because they would not be regarded as Chinese nationals. The Government recognised that concern and gave a firm undertaking that no former Hong Kong British dependent territories citizen, nor any child born after June 1997 to such a person, would remain stateless as a result of the agreement. In Committee on the Bill in another place, this undertaking was extended to cover the grandchildren of former Hong Kong British dependent territories citizens if they were born stateless.

Our proposals to deal with that undertaking are set out in article 6. It provides that any former Hong Kong British dependent territories citizen who for any reason has not acquired the BN(O) status to which he is entitled and would otherwise be stateless in 1997 will automatically become a British overseas citizen on 1 July of that year. Any of their children born after June 1997, if they would otherwise be stateless, will also acquire British overseas citizenship at birth, and any of their grandchildren, if born stateless, will be entitled to be registered as British overseas citizens.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

The Minister may well be aware that the Library of the House of Commons has produced an addendum to the research note previously issued, No. 205, dated 3 December. The addendum is dated 15 January, the last paragraph of which says: The possibility of statelessness could arise for people who do not have and cannot obtain any citizenship other than that of Hong Kong but are not Chinese and therefore not automatically claimed by the Chinese Government as nationals of China. This could apply to a minority of the roughly two per cent. of Hong Kong's population who are not Chinese. Can the Minister confirm that that statement is correct, and if so, whether it is compatible with what he is now saying to the House?

Mr. Waddington

I think that the hon. Gentleman may not have been following what I was saying. I shall come back to this later. The whole point of article 6 is to make provision, otherwise there would be statelessness. Because of article 6, there will not be statelessness. If a non-Chinese ethnic person chooses for some reason not to apply for BN(O) status before 1 July 1997—he is, of course, entitled to apply for it—then, as distinct from ethnic Chinese inhabitants of Hong Kong, he will not automatically become a Chinese citizen. Therefore he could, if he had no other nationality, be stateless—hence article 6 in furtherance of the undertakings given to the House automatically gives such a person the status of British overseas citizen. I shall come back to this in more detail, because it is one of the most important matters under discussion.

Non-Chinese ethnic BDTCs will be entitled to BN(O) status, but if for any reason they do not become BN(O)s, they will have a recognised nationality status, and so will their descendants until well into the middle of the next century.

The Government recognise, of course, that nationality status alone is not sufficient. It is equally important that those now established in Hong Kong should continue to have right of abode there. Clearly, right of abode in Hong Kong after June 1997 cannot be secured by holding any form of British nationality, since Hong Kong will no longer be part of British territory. For this reason the agreement made separate provisions to safeguard rights of abode in Hong Kong. These are set out in section XIV of annex Ito the joint declaration. For the non-Chinese ethnic community, right of abode is guaranteed to all those who have been ordinarily resident for seven years in Hong Kong either before or after the establishment of the Hong Kong special administrative region, and who have taken it as their place of permanent residence. The same guarantee extends to their children born in Hong Kong; and to anyone who had right of abode only in Hong Kong before 1 July 1997 even if he has not been there for seven years. In other words, the guarantee cover all the non-Chinese ethnic Hong Kong British dependent territories citizens except those who have left Hong Kong permanently and have the right of abode elsewhere.

The Indian community in particular, with support from the Executive and Legislative Councils of Hong Kong, argue that these provisions do not go far enough. They are concerned, firstly, that BN(O) status will not itself give them right of abode in Hong Kong; and secondly, about the nationality status of their descendants after the second generation born after 1997, and they have therefore asked to be granted British citizenship rather than BN(O) or BOC status.

I shall listen very carefully to all that is said in the debate, but I have to say that the Government are not persuaded that it would be right to grant British citizenship to those BDTCs who are not ethnically Chinese. They want to continue to live in Hong Kong. The joint declaration guarantees their right to do so. British citizenship cannot help them in this regard. British citizenship cannot, after 30 June 1997, give them the right of abode in a territory which will no longer be British. Furthermore, the grant of British citizenship would not benefit future generations any more than the present proposals. British citizenship can be transmitted to only one generation born abroad. The second generation has an entitlement to registration as British citizens similar to the proposed entitlement to BOC status. After that there is no automatic claim to entitlement or registration as a British citizen. There is, therefore, no advantage for future generations in avoiding statelessness or securing their future in Hong Kong by conferring British citizenship on the non-Chinese ethnic community in Hong Kong.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)


Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Will my hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Waddington

To be fair, I must give way to an Opposition Member first.

Mr. Sheerman

Surely the Minister has met members of the Indian community, to whom many of us have listened sympathetically. The Minister's remarks will not put their minds at rest. Can the Minister speak again in the debate and go further to try to put their minds at rest? That part of the community has special worries and a special place in Hong Kong, and in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Waddington

The House was anxious that we should follow tonight's procedure. The House was anxious that the Government should not just bring before the House a draft order and ask for its approval after a one-and-a-half hour debate after 10 o'clock. It would be silly to say that I was not here to listen. The whole purpose of the exercise is that I should listen to everything that hon. Members say. It would be equally silly if I did not spell out the difficulties. It would be unfair to give the impression that there are no difficulties. I shall listen carefully.

Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

Is the comparison with other nationalities fair? The claim by non-Chinese ethnics is that they have no choice. They are there and have nowhere else to go. After two generations they will be stateless. Is that not their real fear?

Mr. Waddington

The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) and others must face the fact that by granting any form of British nationality we cannot guarantee the right of abode in Hong Kong. The right of abode in Hong Kong is guaranteed to such people as a result of a joint agreement and cannot be guaranteed as a result of the conferment of British nationality. We have made provision in article 6 for the conferment of nationality on those who do not take out BN(O) citizenship before 1 July 1997. Article 6 also provides that that citizenship can be taken up by two further generations. That takes us well into the middle of the next century. One would expect that by then people still resident in Hong Kong will have taken out Chinese citizenship.

Mr. Adley

The assumption behind what my hon. Friend says is that the only alternative open to the non-Chinese ethnic minority in Hong Kong is some form of British citizenship. Will my hon. Friend elaborate briefly on the discussions between the British Government and the Chinese Government in the liaison group about the possibility of people in that category obtaining Chinese citizenship under Chinese nationality laws? It would be unwise to assume that this is just a normal immigration debate.

Mr. Waddington

Article 7 of the Chinese nationality law provides that aliens or stateless persons who are willing to abide by China's constitution and laws may acquire Chinese nationality on approval of their application, provided that they are settled in China. One should not assume that those who are settled in China long after the takeover will not by then be Chinese citizens because of Chinese law.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

It is understood that the British Government cannot do anything about the long-term status of such people in Hong Kong. Surely they are seeking full British citizenship as a fallback if all else fails.

Mr. Waddington

The problem must be looked at in that context, not in the context of giving security to these people in Hong Kong. One must ask what might be the effect on others if the claim were conceded. We know from experience that many claims are made by people who have connections with Britain to allow them to come to Britain if certain circumstances develop. One cannot ignore the knock-on effect or that other claims could arise. Let us see how the argument develops during the debate. I do not want to speak for too long, but I want to cover the other points raised in our debate in December.

Mr. James Prior (Waveney)

I come new to the subject, but I am worried, because the debate in the Legislative Council on 4 December showed that the Chinese Members of the Council were taking a different attitude from that which they took earlier. That is what worries some of us. It should be given careful consideration.

Mr. Waddington

We shall give that matter careful consideration. The fact that the Chinese Members of the council are taking a different attitude should send warning notes through our minds. My right hon. Friend is saying that before that debate in December some people gave the impression that they felt that more should be done for the BDTCs, not just for the Indian BDTCs in Hong Kong. I should be surprised if after a time other groups were not easily identified and wanted similar privileges. We shall be debating that in the near future.

I shall be dealing with service men. They are a good example of how one can keep on identifying groups with special claims. I am not now talking about groups in Hong Kong, but about others throughout the world whose status is less than that of full British citizens.

Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Stockton, South)

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Waddington

I must move on in fairness to other hon. Members. I am sure that the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth) has a good chance of being called to speak.

The Unofficial Members have also asked that some 400 or so former service men in Hong Kong should be granted British citizenship, or alternatively that the Government should consider sympathetically any application that they might make for registration as British citizens under section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981. The Government fully recognise the contribution that these service men made during the war, and indeed the contribution made by many other people in Hong Kong during those years, but it does not necessarily follow that we should mark this contribution by granting them British citizenship. Their sufferings were matched by many other people in Hong Kong, and indeed in other parts of the world. Like their neighbours, many of them were born in Hong Kong, as were their parents and grandparents, and all their personal and family connections are there.

Furthermore, the order must, as I have said, keep within the framework of the agreement and the Hong Kong Act. That framework would not allow us to grant British citizenship to all former service men in Hong Kong even if we thought it right to do so. Paragraph 2(3) of the schedule to the Act does not allow us to use the order to grant British citizenship to those BDTCs who have another nationality, and are not at risk of becoming stateless; nor, obviously, does the Act provide a power to grant citizenship to former service men who are not even BDTCs. We could therefore risk creating invidious distinctions between one former service than and another. I hope I have made it absolutely clear to the House that we could not deal with those former service men as one class under this order.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for giving way to this further interruption. Many of the service men are ethnic Chinese and would, under the joint declaration, automatically acquire Chinese nationality. I am puzzled, because the comparison between this group and the group discussed earlier does not really stand up. The group discussed a moment ago are not automatically entitled to Chinese nationality. My hon. and learned Friend has read out some of the conditions on which their nationality application will be judged. There are other conditions which my hon. and learned Friend read out, all of which amount to it being left to the discretion of the People's Republic of China whether these people should have Chinese nationality. Surely the two groups are not comparable.

Mr. Waddington

With respect to my right hon. Friend, I was not trying to compare the two groups. I was going through the list of matters which were raised in the debate on 9 December and which are mentioned in the letter received by my right hon. and hon. Friends from the Legislative Council.

I am not making a comparison—different arguments apply. The argument for the first case is that they will not be left stateless. The order specifically provides that they will get nationality status. They will get the nationality of British overseas citizen. There is no argument that this would not give them the right of abode in Hong Kong, because, as I pointed out, no nationality is conferred as giving the right of abode in Hong Kong.

A different argument applies with ex-service men. One cannot deal with ex-service men as a class under the order, because the order only allows us to give people British citizenship if they come within the statelessness provisions of the Act.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

Is it possible for the Minister to consider their cases under section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981, using the discretion given by that section at least to consider who might be eligible?

Mr. Waddington

The hon. Gentleman must be clairvoyant. The Government will consider carefully any application for British citizenship under section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981 on grounds of service under the Government of Hong Kong, but I need to make it clear that this section cannot apply to those who were in service under the Government of the United Kingdom, which may have been the position for some of the Hong Kong ex-service men. There is no other provision in the British Nationality Act 1981 under which former Crown servants under the Government of the United Kingdom can be granted British citizenship if they do not meet the normal requirements for citizenship.

It is not possible to say in advance what the outcome of any application under section 4(5) would be. Those who would come within the terms of section 4(5) would be those who had served under an organ of a dependent territory. The Government are committed to using the power very sparingly and granting British citizenship only to those who have given outstanding service. It would be necessary to take these factors fully into account in fairness to other ex-service men throughout the world.

I believe that the provisions in the draft order, taken together with the guarantees given in the agreement, go as far as we possibly can in ensuring that all British dependent territories citizens resident in Hong Kong regardless of their background, ethnic origin or future citizenship status are ensured of a satisfactory and secure future there and that the provisions are fair for them all. I shall listen with interest and sympathy to the views of the House and will certainly wish to consider carefully any suggestions for overcoming the difficulties that I have outlined in meeting the requests made in the recent letter endorsed by the Legislative Council.

I should like to consider a matter which, while it does not come directly within the terms of the draft order, is nevertheless closely linked with it—the detailed arrangements which we propose to follow in issuing passports to British nationals (overseas) once the order comes into effect.

We intend to issue these passports from 1 July 1987. Those who then hold valid BDTC passports will be able, if they wish, to retain them. From 1 July 1987 Hong Kong BDTCs will have a choice of applying for a BDTC passport with a restricted validity until 30 June 1997 or for a BN(O) passport valid for a full 10 years. It will not be possible to carry both a BN(O) and a BDTC passport. The fee will be set under the Consular Fees Act 1980 and, save for exchange variations, it will be the same throughout the world. The fee is for the passport, just as all of us have to pay for passports. As I made clear earlier, it is not a fee for citizenship.

Passports issued to BDTCs in Hong Kong are currently issued by the Governor in the name of Her Majesty. It would be inappropriate for passports issued to BN(O)s which will remain valid beyond 30 June 1997 to be issued by the Governor. BN(O) passports will therefore be issued from the start by "Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State" as they are at present in the United Kingdom and at consular posts overseas.

One issue which has been of particular concern is the right of abode endorsement to be placed in BN(O) passports. This must be agreed with the Chinese Government, because the United Kingdom Government cannot give such a right in the special administrative region after June 1997. We have therefore discussed this matter with the Chinese Government in the Joint Liaison Group, and they have agreed in principle that the wording of the endorsement should be as follows: The holder of this passport has Hong Kong Permanent identity card No.—which states that the holder has the right of abode in Hong Kong". We expect to reach final agreement on this and other related matters at the next meeting of the Sino-British joint liaison group in March.

This endorsement will effectively guarantee that BN(O)s will be able to return to Hong Kong and there is therefore every reason to think that the BN(O) passport will be acceptable to third countries as the present BDTC passport. This at the present time enables holders to travel to about 70 countries in the world visa free.

I appreciate the concern felt in Hong Kong which has led Members of the Legislative Council to propose an endorsement in the passport to show that the holder does not require entry clearance in the United Kingdom. It is of course a fact that no visas are required for holders of BDTC passports to visit the United Kingdom, but entry clearance is a facility available to those coming to this country who wish to assure their entry before they set off and it would be wrong to say anything that might discourage the use of this facility.

There is another important point to be made. It is a fundamental part of our system of "on entry" control that people arriving here have to satisfy the immigration officer that they qualify for admission under the immigration rules. Obviously we must beware of putting any endorsement in the passport which might mislead and give an impression that in some way examination by an immigration officer and compliance with the ordinary immigration rules is not required. Bona fide visitors from Hong Kong are always welcome here and always will be, but there are difficulties about an endorsement in the passport and we have to ensure that people are not misled by it. I am, however, considering with sympathy how to meet the concern which Members of the Legislative Council have voiced on this matter.

Mr. John Morris

The Minister will be aware of the concern about the acceptability of the BN(O) passport in other countries. He has just told us that for 70 countries BDTC passport holders require no visa. What steps have been taken, especially with our European colleagues, to ensure acceptance of this new passport?

Mr. Waddington

The new BN(O) passport will contain an endorsement making it clear that the person concerned is returnable to Hong Kong. There is no reason why the passport should not be treated by other countries in exactly the same way as the BDTC passport, because third countries are concerned with returnability. That is why it was so important to get that endorsement in the passport.

One of the reasons why we have introduced the draft order so early is that there should be adequate time for discussion and for preparation. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right to say that the Foreign Office will now go to considerable lengths to explain to other countries the significance of the new BN(O) passport, so that when it arrives on the scene in 1987 they will know its significance and not have to have explained to them what I have explained to the House today. That is a reasonable way in which to proceed.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Have no other countries given any assurances that they will accept this form of passport? The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) asked about European countries.

Mr. Waddington

Yes, they have. The United States and Australia have said that it will be acceptable, and the European parliament has passed a resolution saying that it should be acceptable. These are early days. My hon. and learned Friend would not expect the Foreign Office to have started this process before the House had debated the matter. There is plenty of evidence that the passport will be acceptable overseas.

We believe that the draft order provides for nationality arrangements that are fair and consistent as between BDTCs in Hong Kong, and that they are on the right lines. We shall listen with interest, however, to what the House says and consider whether any amendments are desirable or necessary before we bring the order back. It is right that we should act with care and deliberation, as the order will be a key step in the implementation of the agreement. The agreement itself was widely accepted by the people of Hong Kong and welcomed around the world as a significant achievement. With the help of the House and of the people of Hong Kong we look forward to the nationality order being seen in the same light.

8.2 pm

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

I welcome this opportunity to discuss the Order in Council in draft. I regret that originally we were due to have only a three-hour debate, but even that was shortened by 20 minutes. The matter might not seem to be the source of that much concern in Britain, but it is vital to the people of Hong Kong who will be aware of what we say tonight and will analyse the Minister's pronouncements in detail. He knows that a great deal of attention will be paid to what he said.

I had the opportunity to visit Hong Kong for a few days last month. I returned with much more confidence in Hong Kong's future after 1997 than perhaps I had before I set out. It is important that, whatever criticisms we make of the Order in Council and whatever emphasis we give to the anxieties of the people of Hong Kong that their needs are not being met fully by the Order in Council, we say nothing that damages the overall confidence of the people of Hong Kong in their future after 1997.

In a sense, we are considering means of amending the British Nationality Act 1981. The Minister knows that part of the Act dealt with the circumstances of British dependent territory citizens. During debates on the Bill in Committee and on the Floor of the House, the Minister's predecessor put much emphasis on Hong Kong, the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar. That was the nub of the case for BDTC status. Before the Bill was enacted, Gibraltar's position was changed and, after the Falklands war, the Government realised that the people of the Falkland Islands did not have the right of entry to Britain, so their circumstances were changed. That leaves Hong Kong. Now, the Nationality Act as it was intended to apply to Hong Kong is having to be changed because it is no longer appropriate. That is cause for concern.

Furthermore, the Government have had to change the concept of British overseas citizenship because, in the British Nationality Act 1981, that concept implied no hereditary status. The Government have now had to present a new concept of British overseas citizenship which has hereditary status for two generations. I mention that because it casts doubt on how the Government have approached nationality in the past few years.

The Government have a responsibility regarding the British national (overseas) passports, I am not sure that the Minister has addressed himself fully to the worries of the people in Hong Kong. He said that there would be an addition to the BN(O) passport mentioning the Chinese identity card. Even at the moment, however, Hong Kong holders of BDTC passports are having difficulties when they come to Britain as visitors or for other bona fide purposes. There are many bitter complaints in Hong Kong about how they are being treated. Indeed, that is why the Government in Hong Kong advise people before coming to Britain to get an entry certificate, although none is obligatory under the regulations.

Furthermore, some of the staff of the Hong Kong Government office in London have had difficulties and hassles at Heathrow and Gatwick airports. The Minister's assurance that BN(O) passports will be regarded as BDTC passports is something of a mixed blessing. The Minister owes it to the people of Hong Kong to ensure that BN(O) passports get a little more recognition than they are likely to get to judge from his comparison with BDTC passports.

The people of Hong Kong value highly the right to travel. The Minister said that he is hopeful that the no-visa arrangement which applies to holders of BDTC passports from Hong Kong will be extended to BN(O) passports. The Government could be a bit more positive and forthright. I urge the Minister to ask his Foreign Office colleagues to bring more pressure to bear on other Governments. It is not enough merely to say that it seems all right and that they hope that other Governments will take the passport.

The Minister will have seen the letter from Lydia Dunn, the senior Unofficial Member who, on this subject, says: Measures should be introduced to allow unobstructed and untroubled entry into the United Kingdom by bona fide travellers from Hong Kong". I understand the Minister's technical point. The method suggested in the letter might not be the most appropriate, but I wish that the Minister could be more forthright about Hong Kong people travelling to Britain and to third countries with BN(O) passports. After all, the BN(O) passport is being introduced later this year so that foreign Governments can get used to it. Unless the British Government give a bit more weight to their value, however, there is a danger that people in Hong Kong will exercise their choice of sticking with BDTC passports until the last minute in 1997. If we are to have more sense, the Government must be more forthright and committed.

The Minister will also be aware that there is in Hong Kong a considerable element of distrust in Britain, especially since the passage of the British Nationality Act 1981. I have referred to the hassles experienced by people from Hong Kong when seeking entry to Britain.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

I also apologise for not being here at the beginning of the debate. The hon. Gentleman said that members of staff at the Hong Kong Government office in London had encountered difficulties at Heathrow and Gatwick. That is a serious and disturbing charge. I am not criticising him for making it, but perhaps he could substantiate it. No doubt the Government would wish to be helpful, as it would be inconceivable and awful if bona fide members of the staff of the Hong Kong Government had difficulties coming and going.

Mr. Dubs

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. Many of the things that happen at Heathrow and Gatwick airports are inconceivable and awful. As for the Hong Kong Government office, I base what I say on a conversation with the London office of the Hong Kong Government when I was told that even its staff had had difficulties at airports. I am not saying that these people were turned away; rather that they were subjected to hassle. I believe that "hassle" is the most appropriate word. The Hong Kong Government office in London may wish to make representations about that, following the intervention by the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes). The main point is that the Minister has been made aware of what has happened and of the anxiety about that matter.

I should like to refer to the position of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong and to the Legislative Council debate which took place early in December 1985, and at which I was privileged to be present. I was able to hear the whole of that debate.

Approximately 10,000 people are members of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong and have BDTC status. That group of people comprises approximately 6,000 people of Indian origin, nearly 2,000 of Portuguese origin and about 2,000 of Eurasian origin. The Minister did not fully recognise their problem, although other hon. Members have recognised that the ethnic minorities will not automatically become Chinese citizens. The ethnic minorities believe that they will have a lesser status in Hong Kong after 1997 than the bulk of the population of Hong Kong. They are concerned about their future because they will not have equal status. That is the nub of their argument.

The Minister is getting close to playing with words when he argues that BOC status is a way of avoiding statelessness. When the House debated the Third Reading of the British Nationality Bill in June 1981, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) succinctly said: British overseas citizenship is not a citizenship but a subterfuge".—[Official Report, 4 June 1981; Vol. 5. c. 1158.] There is a danger that the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong will, after 1997, be given a very doubtful status that is tantamount to statelessness. That is the reason for their anxiety. As one of my hon. Friends said, they have no choice in the matter. The ethnic minorities were looking for comfort in the Order in Council and in the Minister's remarks, but I fear that they found none.

I should like to pay tribute to the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants which ably conveyed to us the case on behalf of the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong.

As far as I know, there are approximately 400 prisoners of war in Hong Kong. They are mainly of Portuguese origin and they are seeking to gain British citizenship under section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981.

I should also like to mention the civil servants and others in administration who have occupied sensitive posts under the present Hong Kong administration. That group includes the police special branch. They expressed their anxiety to me that their career prospects may not be bright after 1997. I believe that there has been an understanding that some of these people will be considered under section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981. Can the Minister say a little more about that?

The Minister did not refer to the 8,000 or 9,000 Vietnamese who are in open or closed camps in Hong Kong. Hopefully that problem will not exist in 1997. Although their position is not directly affected by the Order in Council and today's debate, the fact is that, unless they are removed from Hong Kong by 1997, they will be in a very invidious position. I do not believe that this country has a responsibility to take every Vietnamese boat person, but we have a responsibility to take our share. If we do that, other countries will follow suit. We are not doing as much as we should and therefore the problem may continue almost until 1997.

I wonder whether the Minister has fully appreciated the many anxieties that have been expressed in the House and in what I have said. There are no precedents for the situation that will face Hong Kong in 1997. It is a matter not of giving Hong Kong independence but rather of handing Hong Kong over, on the basis of a Sino-British agreement, to another country. Therefore, the people of Hong Kong are entitled to sympathy and consideration from the House and the people of Britain.

I contend that the Minister has not shown that sympathy or understanding. The people of Hong Kong feel badly let down. As Lydia Dunn states in her letter: There is a good deal of lingering cynicism in Hong Kong about the gradual erosion of the rights and privileges of British subjects outside the United Kingdom as a result of successive amendments in recent years to the laws governing nationality and immigration". The people of Hong Kong feel let down and the Minister must do something about that. He has not said enough this evening to give the people of Hong Kong, who feel that they are being missed out by the Order in Council, confidence that he understands their anxieties In the absence of assurances from the Minister, the Opposition will have no alternative but to express their concern in the Division Lobby.

8.17 pm
Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

There are four main questions in the debate, and I want to refer briefly to each of them. The first is whether the British national (overseas) passport will be acceptable to other countries, bearing in mind the particular form of endorsement about the right of abode in Hong Kong. I do not believe that that will be a difficult question to solve. We have 18 months in which to solve it and we already know that the United States, Australia and various other countries find that form of passport acceptable. I am confident that in the 18 months available we will find that all the relevant countries will find that passport acceptable, as they did the British dependent territories citizen passport.

I recognise the importance of this subject to the people of Hong Kong, as it affects their ability to travel to different parts of the world and return to Hong Kong freely. I do not think that they should be too worried about the problem.

The second question is whether the new passport should be endorsed in a way that will enable visitors to this country, either for business or tourism, to be sure that there will not be the problem of delays at Heathrow or other ports of entry that sometimes occurs. I have felt for some time that the present situation is unsatisfactory. Visitors from Hong Kong find that they can go more freely to other countries—for example, the United States or Europe—than they can here. When they pass through immigration control at British airports, they are unduly delayed.

I hope that the Minister will pursue that matter. He has many clever officials in his Department and, as I believe he said, it is a matter of finding the right form of words that will avoid the sort of problems to which he referred. I believe that if he were to ask his clever civil servants to find the right form of words, they could do so.

The third question concerns the ex-service men. I have sent to the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), a petition from three organisations in Hong Kong. He has not yet had time to reply to it, as I only sent it to him the other day. The three organisations are the Hong Kong and China branch of the Royal British Legion, the Second World War Veterans Association of Hong Kong and finally the Hong Kong Prisoners of War Association. Those organisations ask that the Home Secretary should exercise his discretion under section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981 in their favour and grant British citizenship to their members.

I believe that those three organisations have cast their net very wide. They seem to be including not only former Hong Kong prisoners of war but—I do not have all the details, but I shall get them—people who have served in the British forces, no matter where. That could include people who served in British regiments that were in Hong Kong in 1941. Such people are in a totally different situation from the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force. The latter were volunteers—they were not conscripted and they served in Hong Kong. Those who were not killed became prisoners of war. My father was one, and that is why I speak with some feeling on that matter.

Members of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force are in a special situation. I must correct the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs). I do not believe that they number 400. The number 400 applies to members of all three organisations to which I have referred. There are fewer than 100 former Hong Kong prisoners of war. That is a more manageable problem. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will consider the case of those former volunteers who served in Hong Kong and were prisoners during the whole war.

I am talking not about those who are British citizens—they have the right to come to Britain anyway—but about the Portuguese, Indians and Eurasians, many of whom are from families that have lived in Hong Kong for a long time, sometimes well back into the last century. There are fewer than 100 of those people, and their numbers will continue to dwindle during the next 11 years.

I do not think that there is any danger of a precedent being set if the Government consider the petition favourably. I do not think that will open the floodgates to many applications from, for example, Chinese who were in civilian prison camps. The Chinese were not in civilian prison camps. Those camps held only non-Chinese, because it was Japanese policy not to put the Chinese into the camps.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

The right hon. Gentleman is attempting to distinguish between those who should and those who should not be entitled to certain concessions. He referred to fewer than 100 being manageable, although 400 seemed to be a large number. Is he aware that, in the past 19 years, over 1 million more people have emigrated from than have emigrated to Britain? The idea of playing a numbers game and delineating certain nationalities is objectionable to members of the Labour party.

Sir Peter Blaker

The hon. Gentleman is at liberty to say that we should admit for permanent residence in Britain all the BDTCs residing in Hong Kong—about 3 million—if they wish to come. That position is not supported by me or, I think, the majority of our fellow citizens. That would impose an impossible burden. One must indeed look at the numbers issue.

The fourth main question in the debate concerns the Indians and the Portuguese. They ask to have the right of abode in Britain. I congratulate them on the way in which they have presented their case. Their petition to the Legislative Council was a model of clarity which enabled one to follow this complicated matter with—I will not say, with ease—a great deal less pain than normally is the case. They have formidable support. They now have the support of the Legislative Council. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) pointed out, members of the Legislative Council formerly said that, if this concession were granted to the Indians and the Portuguese, many other people, including the Chinese, would want the same concession. They no longer say that.

I understand from a telephone call I received this morning that the Indians and the Portuguese have the support of the General Chamber of Commerce, the Chinese Manufacturers Association and the Federation of Hong Kong Industries.

I am referring, of course, not to the Indians and the Portuguese who have Indian and Portuguese passports, but to the BDTCs. In general, those communities have been remarkably successful in business. They account for a disproportionate amount of Hong Kong's trade and have made a success of their lives in Hong Kong. Some of them have been involved in less prosperous activities, such as clerical work or guard duties, but they are nevertheless solid citizens.

I understand the point which these BDTCs are making. After 1997, the United Kingdom, which will be responsible ultimately for them as BN(O)s, will not be responsible for the place where they have the right of abode. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister rightly stressed that, under the agreement, they will have the right of abode in Hong Kong. I understand that they will be able to apply for Chinese nationality. I should like the Government to explore that point a little further with China, because it would be useful to obtain clarification on how China will apply the discretion, which it appears it has, according to its nationality law.

I should like to put this point in a friendly way to the Indians and Portuguese in Hong Kong who are making this plea, many of whom I know. Are they not tending to forget how good the agreement with China is? It is a remarkable agreement—better than any hon. Member would have believed possible. Looking again at it this week I am amazed at how fully it gives the Hong Kong people all the guarantees after 1997 for which they could ask. Perhaps some hon. Members have not recently looked at the agreement.

Paragraph 13 on page 22 gives the Chinese statement of policy, not the British Government's statement of policy. Every possible freedom is guaranteed in that paragraph. Page 20 states: The Special Administrative Region shall maintain the educational system previously practised in Hong Kong. Page 14 states: The … capitalist system and life-style shall remain unchanged for 50 years. It is a remarkable agreement. It is a solemn treaty, which will be deposited with the United Nations. It will be incorporated in Hong Kong's basic law.

As I understand it, the Indians and the Portuguese say that, whatever the agreement contains, it might not turn out as it says. They would like an extra option. It would be unusual, but advantageous, for the Indians and the Portuguese if that option were available. I must say that my view is more optimistic than theirs. I believe that China signed the agreement because it meant what it said. It took several years of negotiation to hammer out the agreement. It was not done lightly. Moreover, it is very much in China's interests to carry out the agreement, because Hong Kong is the source of a large part of China's foreign exchange earnings. Hong Kong is increasingly becoming the "open door" in China's open door policy with the Western world. It is becoming the channel through which technology reaches China. All this will continue. Hong Kong will not lose its value to China in 1997. It will become more valuable.

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

Does the right hon. Gentleman foresee some anxiety by the Hong Kong people who are dependent upon the succession in government in the People's Republic of China? Deng Xiaoping will not be there for ever.

Sir Peter Blaker

That is obvious. I shall not dispute that. Of course he will not be there for ever. But regardless of who is in charge in China, underlying factors suggest that there is a good future for Hong Kong. I hope that the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) will reflect on the points I have made.

The agreement is already being put into force. An excellent agreement has been reached on the release of land in the coming year. The Land Commission is already functioning. There is already a good agreement on Hong Kong's position with respect to the Asian Development bank. Both sides are putting the agreement into effect. I believe that confidence during the next 11 years will grow steadily. As Deng Xiaoping has said, the success of Hong Kong is an example to Taiwan. Joining Taiwan with China is the main point in China's foreign policy.

We have only recently obtained this excellent agreement. It could not be easy for the British Parliament to take a decision now, more than 11 years before the transfer of sovereignty to China—the prospect which is worrying the ethnic communities in Hong Kong—based on the possibility that the agreement which we have only just signed will not work. From an outside observer's point of view that would seem a difficult act to perform. Let us remember another point. If the Indians and the Portuguese in 1997 or thereafter were to find the position in Hong Kong intolerable, many people of other races would say the same thing.

I welcome the Government's willingness to consider the points that hon. Members make in the debate. I am glad that we have had the debate in this form so that the Government may consider whether the draft order should be changed. I hope that they will take into the account the change in the attitude of the Legislative Council in the last few months when they are making up their mind. As far as I am concerned, I want to put it firmly on record that I believe that the events which are causing concern to the ethnic minorities will not take place.

8.30 pm
Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

I am one of those who, in the excellent company of the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker), warmly welcomed the Sino-British agreement. It was an historic achievement. I believe that it is working out well, although there are a few colonial types—most of them chaps who want to scribble their nonsense in whatever media will present their concerns—who are trying to stir worries about developments up to 1997 and thereafter.

I entirely endorse the comments just now of the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South. I am certain, as he is, that China has a total commitment to making the agreement work. I am sure she is totally committed to the stability and prosperity and the well-being of the people of Hong Kong. But there are reasons for concern in limited areas. If I may, I want to touch on two that are relevant to the draft order.

The first, which has been discussed and will be pursued in the debate, is the acceptability of the British national overseas passport when it is introduced in 1987. The British Government must be responsible for proving its practicality and its acceptability. Her Majesty's Government must pursue negotiations with countries throughout the world to ensure that the 70 or so visa abolition agreements that now apply to the present British dependent territories citizenship passport will apply to the British national (overseas) passport when it is introduced. The Minister should give strong reassurance on that point. If negotiations are not being pursued with the 70 or so countries, they should shortly be undertaken.

Consideration must be given, too, to providing, after the introduction of the BN(O) passport, an unhindered—I mean unhindered—passage to visit Britain for those who wish to do so without being harassed by immigration officials. I will not make any quips about Heathrow. It is disturbing that there are unhappy instances at that airport and other ports of entry time after time. Those of us who have large immigrant communities in our constituencies could cite case after case. Hong Kongers who are British nationals should not have to suffer the suspicious caution that is natural to immigration bureaucrats. There must be an open sesame endorsement to prevent the distressing hindrances and delays that are far too common.

My second main concern is the unhappy impending limbo of those 10,000 or so BDTCs who, because they are not of Chinese stock, will not become Chinese nationals in 1997. In raising the issue I am not casting any doubt at all on the intentions of the Chinese. I am raising it because it is a matter of concern, whether we want to face it or not, to a great number of people in Hong Kong. I was the first hon. Member, I think, to raise this issue in the debate on 5 December, 1984.

Those 10,000 include about 6,000 Indians, some 3,000 Eurasians and some others such as the Portuguese. The draft order proposes that in 1997 they will become British overseas citizens—BOCs. This proliferation of initials for the six different types of British citizenship is very vexing. It is a pity we have had to indulge in such surreptitious terminologies to pretend that we are still an open-hearted country. The BOC status will give those people no right of abode in Britain or anywhere else and will effectively leave them stateless, however the Minister may try to argue to the contrary.

The people of Macao, a few miles away from Hong Kong, have full entitlement to Portuguese citizenship. After Portugal's entry into the EEC they will be entitled to free entry into the Community and into Britain to pursue work if they wish to do so. How ironic for the Hong Kongers. Millions of people abroad have the right to enter Britain—from Australia, Canada and New Zealand and, indeed, from South Africa when the funk flight starts, as it will in the next year or sooner. Millions can come too from the EEC.

But all those are white. It is only the colour of those 10,000, or most of them, and the immigration fears of every Government, sedulously worked on by the less worthy of our colleagues, some of whom are absent this evening, that prevent Her Majesty's Government from behaving honourably towards those 10,000. What discreditable conduct all this is in the wrapping up of our residual imperial responsibilities.

I have had considerable correspondence over the months with the Council of Hongkong Indian Association in its pursuit of the right to full British nationality and the right of abode in Britain. In one of its earlier letters, of 27 April 1985, it disputed the contention by Baroness Young in the other place that if the non-Chinese BDTCs were granted the right of abode there would be resentment by the majority Chinese. That false argument was disposed of roundly by the unanimous endorsement of Miss Lydia Dunn's speech in the Legislative Council debate of 4 December in Hong Kong when she argued, to the surprise of many people but absolutely sincerely, for just such special treatment for this non-Chinese minority.

In a letter of 31 December last year the president of the Association, Mr. Harilela, summarised their dilemma. I cannot do better than quote his words on the nationality issue: Any form of nationality which has such serious shortcomings must be regarded as a uniquely attenuated one, and would leave its holder in a position of great disadvantage. The BN(O) status carries no notion of citizenship, and is little better than a travel document facility. Yet this is all the British government has been prepared to offer to the 10,000 or so non-ethnic Chinese BDTCs. We therefore request that this small group of people be given full British citizenship with the right of abode in the UK. Of this group some 4,500 to 6,000 are of ethnic Indian origin without being Indian citizens, and while our Council is primarily concerned with the fate of this particular group, any plea which we make must also apply to the other 3,000 to 4,000 ethnic minority BDTCs who are largely of Portuguese or Eurasian origin. The ethnic Indian BDTCs came to Hong Kong because it was a part of the British Empire. They were first brought out here by the British to help colonise Hong Kong in the nineteenth century and many have since served the Crown loyally as policemen, soldiers and civil servants. Many came here shortly after India became independent in 1947 and, having decided to settle here, renounced their Indian citizenship and became British in the expectation that they would spend the rest of their lives under British rule. They therefore severed their ties with India when they swore allegiance to the Crown.… In contrast with many Indian communities throughout the world the ethnic Indian community of Hong Kong is totally British in outlook and attitude.… They are a legacy of the British empire and Britain must continue to be responsible for them.… The non-Chinese BDTC minorities face an uncertain future, and while the numbers involved are small the principle involved is a great one. Really, no hon. Member can dispute or disregard our responsibility in this matter. Matters of principle, and this is one, should not be lightly put aside by parliamentarians.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the non-ethnic Chinese are seeking an assurance, not seeking to come to this country? They want an assurance that they will have a citizenship that means something and that gives them the right of abode in the place where they want to live—Hong Kong.

Mr. Faulds

Yes. I did not spell out that point because I thought that it was self-evident. It is obviously the reason for their arguments, and we should accept that it is a perfectly proper basis for their position.

Many of my hon. Friends will have read the excellent article in The Times a few days ago entitled What will befall Hong Kong's dispossessed? It was written by Anne Owers of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. She powerfully details the concern which should properly be shown for those people and argues the need to meet that concern by granting right of abode. She concludes her article with a paragraph that I want to read to the House; it is a warning that we should all heed and which I certainly endorse. It states: Britain's failure to take responsibility for ensuring that all British people in Hong Kong have an effective and secure nationality status is now creating insecurity for them and for Hong Kong; in the long term"— this is the point— the legacy of bitterness and mistrust which it has created could do even greater harm to Britain's own long-term interests. It is those long-term interests of this country about which we in this House should be concerned.

8.42 pm
Sir Paul Bryan (Boothferry)

I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Minister on a very clear exposition of a very complicated subject.

I, together with the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker), was in Hong Kong for the historic opening of the Legislative Council building in October. A year had passed since I was there for the announcement of the joint agreement, so I had the opportunity to see at first hand the really dramatic improvement in confidence since the agreement was signed.

Private home purchase had increased by 50 per cent., as had office space—both undeniable signs of increasing confidence. The stock exchange had recovered, the first elections for the Legislative Council had gone well, and all seemed to agree that the elected councillors were of very high calibre. That was a good start to the long and difficult period of adjustment that leads to 1997.

Confidence remains good, but brittle. People are naturally touchy. For example, the remarks of Xu Jia Tun of the New China News Agency were taken as an ominous sign that the PRC meant to interfere in the development of democracy in Hong Kong. Ji Pengfei, the director of the states council's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, tried to allay fears during his visit, but not with great success. I am sure that such incidents will repeat themselves and try the nerves of the public many times before the takeover. I agree with the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) that we must not say anything tonight that will disturb confidence.

In debating the order—and a very impressive debate it was—the new Legislative Council brought to the surface all the worries that go with the practical formulation of even a small part of the agreement. This will happen time and again between now and 1997. The new Legislative Council will have a great responsibility in leading the people of Hong Kong through some troubled and emotive waters.

The council is extremely lucky, at this vital stage in its development, to have Miss Lydia Dunn in the all-important role of senior Unofficial Member. Her letter to all hon. Members highlights the three points that we have been discussing—the acceptability of the BN(O) passport, the future of former service men, and the treatment of the ethnic minorities.

On the question of the acceptability of the BN(O) passport, there is plenty that the Government could and should do to make the passport more acceptable. However, we shall have to exercise patience, for it cannot all be done at once. Clearly the Government must take every possible step to persuade foreign Governments to acknowledge its validity, but they cannot be expected to do so officially until the passport is in being so that they can see the exact form that it takes.

I see no reason why the 70 countries that already grant visa exemption should reject the passport. The unofficial assurance that the Government have obtained from Australia, America, Germany and so on, are as much as we can expect at this stage.

The British Government can act straight away by taking the lead in showing their willingness to make the entry of Hong Kong citizens into this country as simple as possible. I do not apologise for repeating what has already been said about the difficulties of the Hong Kong people when trying easily to come into this country. They are great travellers. There are more than 1 million international departures from Hong Kong every year.

I must tell my hon. and learned Friend that one of the main sources of friction between Hong Kong and Britain is, and has been for many years, the treatment of Hong Kong citizens at British airports. It does not seem to improve, whatever protests we make. I press the Home Office to examine present practice carefully, and to get it improved well before we come to the problem of dealing with the new passports.

As the PRC, understandably, will not countenance a passport issued by a colonial power granting the right of abode in Hong Kong, it appears that achieving the same effect by reference to the identity card is as good a solution as any. Negotiations leading to that solution were a very reassuring example to the people of Hong Kong that the joint liaison committee really does work. It was effective in tackling a practical problem that affects the daily lives of the people.

The plan to issue the first BN(O) passports in 1987 is entirely sensible as that provides plenty of time to establish the passport's validity before the transfer of power. The Minister appears to assume that a certificate of entry, in addition to a passport, is something that everybody will naturally understand to be necessary. He will have to explain that more convincingly than he has done so far to persuade the people of Hong Kong or me that that is so. At present, it is a very tiresome chore.

I refer my hon. and learned Friend to the speech of Mr. Swayne and others in the Legislative Council debate. I should like to hear his answer to the question put by Mr. Howard Young, who is not only a Legislative Councillor but the managing director of Swire Travel, about how it is possible for the American Government to issue free of charge visas of indefinite validity, while the Hong Kong Government charge £12.

On the question of the volunteer prisoners of war, I entirely support my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South, who is knowledgeable on this subject. It could no doubt be argued with legal precision that that would be illogical, that it would set a precedent, and so on. But when Governments make illogical exceptions of that sort, they often show themselves to be not only kindly but wise. The problem gets smaller as the numbers get less. The procedural difficulties cannot be very great. Where there is a will there is a way. It seems to me that this is the kind of action that will show the people of Hong Kong that if Her Majesty's Government can help they will do so.

The unanimous recommendation of the Legislative Council regarding ethnic minorities is a more difficult problem for the Government. I have listened to the arguments of their representatives many time and I sympathise with them. Moreover, I realise that if the outcome of the joint agreement is as we hope, very few members of the minority are likely to take advantage of their right of abode in Britain. Taking all that into account. I still appreciate the difficulty facing the Minister. He has to deal with thousands of claims from all over the world and they all think that they have justified reasons for a right of abode in Britain. He has a difficult task. All I ask is that he gives the matter serious consideration because people feel strongly about it and it is a problem which cannot be shrugged off.

Members of the Legislative Council will be disappointed with the outcome of this debate. Despite the unanimity of their views on the three issues, they will not receive the firm undertaking on all three subjects they had hoped for. However, I ask them not to assume or to say that their views have been ignored or scorned on this or any future occasion. That would be counter-productive.

They have many friends in the House and in the other place who will continue to fight their case. We are their allies, not their opponents.

The Government are not unsympathetic to Hong Kong. I am proud of the persistent and untiring efforts of the Government at the highest level, especially over the past four years, which have produced a far more promising long-term outlook for the territory than many of us had hoped. I assure the Legislative Council that their friends here will not let up on their efforts on behalf of the people of Hong Kong.

8.52 pm
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

I have listened to the comments of the hon. Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) with great attention and I am able to agree with many, if not all, of them. In previous discussions about Hong Kong I have expressed my grave reservations about the way in which the British Government have handled the matter of nationality for the people of Hong Kong, in particular the status and the future of BDTC passport holders. I believe that we have a moral responsibility towards BDTC passport holders which was not adequately fulfilled by Britain.

I regret to say that the House of Commons, which has built its reputation on its fearless championing of the causes of those who are oppressed or dispossessed—particularly on an international basis— has on this occasion all too easily been viewed as part of the conspiracy to sweep some of the issues under the carpet. There has been an all too cosy cross-party agreement on some of the issues where it would have served the people of Hong Kong better if there had been a more strenuous debate.

I appreciate that those are uncomfortable words with which, no doubt, many hon. Members will disagree. However, the sentiments that I have expressed are not only my own; they are also widely, and in my view justifiably, held in Hong Kong itself. We must recognise the dissatisfaction and concern about this issue in Hong Kong. That point was made in the report of the assessment office on the Anglo-Chinese agreement. The assessment team found that on nationality most of those who commented…did so in adverse or critical terms … There was a widely shared hope that the British Government and Parliament may find a way of assurance for BDTCs in coming years". It is within that context that we now hold the debate.

I have no doubt that the Minister will be able to provide, as he has already suggested, thousands of careful reasons for not taking the action that his heart and our sense of justice require. Those reasons will, no doubt, be based on premises and previous practices. However, there have been no premises for the situation in which we find ourselves. Britain has handed countries over to self-government but has never handed over an entire people lock, stock and barrel to another Government. Moreover, many of those inhabitants fled from that Government in fear and in the hope of freedom. I make no comment about the present state of the PRC Government. We know that there are many moves in that Government which must be welcome and reassuring. I merely state the fact that many people have fled from a previous tyranny. We are facing a new problem where old practices do not apply and should not be applied. If the Minister recognises nothing else I hope that he will recognise that.

It must be recognised that decisions being made today will be made against a background of cynicism towards Britain and a fear for the future of Hong Kong. We do not want to encourage that, but we should recognise that half the population of Hong Kong are very young and have their whole future to look forward to. Indeed, half of them are under 35 years of age. More importantly, many are immigrants who have known statelessness and the fear of being a refugee.

Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ashdown

I would prefer not to. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be called. I ask him to forgive me.

What the Minister decides today will be of special importance and will be taken as a mark of Britain's seriousness towards achieving an equitable solution in Hong Kong. There is already a prevailing feeling in the colony, which may be justified or not, that Britain simply wants to walk away from the problem with the minimum of inconvenience. If that feeling is untrue we can show it by the decisions that we take today and that the Minister will take in due course.

The British Government are offering two forms of "citizenship". I put the word citizenship in inverted commas. There is British national (overseas) status and British overseas citizenship status. Bluntly, and discarding euphemism, they are merely two different names for the same thing. They both describe a British nationality that carries no right of abode anywhere, cannot be passed on to the children except in limited circumstances, and is little more than a travel facility. The hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) mentioned in his excellent speech the contrary situation in Macao in the way in which the Portuguese are treating their people in similar circumstances. He said, and it is right to point out, that at exactly the same time as the people in Hong Kong may be apprehensive about the approach of 1997, they will be able to look 40 or 50 miles across the bay to 80,000 people who have the right to enter Britain which is denied to Britain's own nationals in Hong Kong. It is scarcely surprising that the issue is giving rise to strong feelings.

I do not claim that Britain can or could provide a home or even a right to work for all BDTC passport holders in Hong Kong. However, there are a limited number of assurances that we can provide in the present circumstances. We should be prepared to use section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981 in a liberal manner. That section allowed those who have worked in a paid or unpaid capacity for the British Government to register as British citizens at the discretion of the Home Secretary.

At present, it appears—I ask the Minister to comment on this, as we had a small exchange about it earlier—that no one is being granted British citizenship under this section in case it increases the insecurity. This is simply inadequate and, as it creates insecurity in those who now assist us in the running of Hong Kong, it is counter-productive as well. The Home Secretary should be prepared now to set out his criteria for granting citizenship under this section and to put the provisions into operation as soon as possible.

In view of the importance of the decisions that the Home Secretary will be taking, there should be a right of appeal against those decisions. If he cannot do this, I ask him to look especially at the position of former service men. There are a mere 400 of them and the Government should make it clear that they will give sympathetic consideration to applicants from this group. To disown a brave and loyal people who deserve our gratitude, or to show indifference towards them, is morally wrong and, as importantly, a symbol of our lack of concern in Hong Kong.

I move on to the status of the BN(O) passport. On the day of our last debate on this subject, I understand that the Hong Kong Government gave assurances that BDTC passports in the future. and those of the special administrative region, should state, albeit indirectly, the holder's right of abode in Hong Kong. Doubts remain over this and it is essential that the Government take action to ensure that the new passport is as fully acceptable as present BDTC passports are for foreign travel. We were all reassured by what the Minister had to say about the progress of those negotiations. I hope that he will carry them through with full energy, and take such opportunities as he can to report progress to the House. If he does not, I hope that he will be questioned by hon. Members about the progress.

As to entry into the United Kingdom by people from Hong Kong, they must be given assurances that the new BN(O) passports will give freedom of entry for visits. At best, this should be operative for the period of validity of the passport and at the very least for a specified period. We should understand the position of Hong Kong well, because Hong Kong survives, as Britain always has, on its trading capacity. The future of the colony will be terribly threatened if international contacts are in any way inhibited by the status of the new passport. This matter goes into the heart of the survival of Hong Kong itself, and it is up to the British Government to take action to make sure that their rhetoric about wanting a secure future for the colony is honoured by their action. I was reassured to discover that the Minister is thinking seriously about this.

The greatest issue in this debate is the position of the minorities. There are about 10,000 BDTC passport holders in Hong Kong who are not ethnically Chinese and who, therefore, unlike the vast majority, are not entitled to Chinese nationality. Many of these have been in Hong Kong under British rule for many generations. One family arrived with the British in 1842 and set up the first ferry service between the mainland and the island. Nearly all have served Britain over the years in one capacity or another. The Minister's proposals will, quite simply, leave these people stateless.

The Minister is frowning, so I shall describe their situation. They will have a citizenship for one country—Britain—in which they are not entitled to a right of abode, and they will have a right of abode in another country—China—in which they will not have citizenship. I ask any hon. Member how he would feel if, for example, he had the citizenship of Britain but was not entitled to live here but was entitled to live in France while not having citizenship, even in the stability of the European position. We are thrusting 10,000 people into a hybrid insecure position while their future is worrying and somewhat opaque.

I am not in any way undermining the ability, strength and determination of the Chinese Government to honour their agreement. However, some of the rights enshrined in the Chinese national status are not honoured, and that must worry people living in Hong Kong. The future is unclear and it would be an abandonment of Britain's right to be called a civilised nation if we did not do something to correct this. We cannot provide assurances into the distant future, but we must provide some for the interim period between now and the time when we see how the new arrangements for Hong Kong are developing.

The non-ethnic Chinese do not wish to flood into Britain—why should they? In most cases they run highly successful businesses in Hong Kong and are happy. However, they want the right of abode somewhere and feel justifiably aggrieved that they are being denied it. They should be granted full British citizenship. There are few enough of them, and it would be disgraceful to leave them out in the cold or in a precarious position for our convenience.

There is no point in the Minister saying that this would encourage others, for the Hong Kong Chinese population agreed that the minorities should be regarded as a special case.

The matter of Vietnamese refugees was mentioned by other right hon. and hon. Members. In the past, I have spoken in strong terms about the conditions of the Vietnamese refugees. I visited the refugee camps in Hong Kong just before Christmas and I found a vast improvement in the conditions under which they are held. However, the existence of the camps is an affront. The refugees' only crime has been to flee from tyranny to what they believed to be freedom. We can imagine their anger at finding themselves, as a consequence, incarcerated in barbed wire camps. However humane the inner regimes of those camps, they are still barbed wire camps.

We cannot solve the problem immediately, but it is up to Britain, as several hon. Members have already said, to take a lead in resettling those unfortunate people. I hope that the Minister will give the assurance that it is the Government's policy to solve the problem before 1997.

9.5 pm

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

I congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, on your excellent timing in returning just in time to call me. However, this is a serious debate. I was reminded of its seriousness for the people of Hong Kong by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who spoke yesterday about the problems of his constituents. Even the hon. Gentleman would agree that those problems pale into insignificance beside the fears of the people of Hong Kong. In some ways their fears are unreal, but in certain instances, as has been mentioned already this evening, they are whipped up and generated by a variety of people for their own ends.

The hon. Member for Yeovil said that the people of Hong Kong are being handed over to China. We must recognise that that is inaccurate. Hong Kong is being returned to China. Unless we understand the historic context within which the British-Chinese agreement has been reached, we are in danger of making a range of allegations, assertions and assumptions that do nothing but harm to the prospects of the Hong Kong people.

I am glad to be following my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan), as I always seem to be doing in discussions about Hong Kong. I echo the crucial point that they made. The agreement is an historic one. The future of the people of Hong Kong does not depend on the immigration legislation of this House. It depends on the willingness and ability of the British and Chinese Governments to do what they can to maintain stability and prosperity in Hong Kong. I reject the use of such phrases as "if all else fails" and "fallback position". They are not only pessimistic but deeply offensive to the Government of the People's Republic of China.' Each time that people comment about the need for the people of Hong Kong to have a "fallback position" that demonstrates implicitly not only our mistrust of the willingness and ability of the parties to the agreement to make it stick, but our mistrust of the motives of the Government of the People's Republic of China.

I echo strongly the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South. There is no evidence to suggest that the Chinese Government have anything but the strongest desire to ensure that the agreement works. It is vital that the people of Hong Kong receive the message of the House that our first priority is to do everything that we can to ensure that the agreement sticks and works. That is our primary responsibility and it is the best guarantee that we can give to the people of Hong Kong of a secure future in the land of their birth and abode.

The hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) referred to the excellent letter from my old friend Hari Harilela. Page 3 of his letter states: Very few ethnic Indian BDTCs would want to leave Hong Kong under the present circumstances. I am sure that that is true. We are not dealing here with what I might paraphrase as a Bangladeshi immigration-type debate, because we are not dealing with large numbers of people who deliberately want to come to this country to better themselves. I am thus delighted to see my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, on the Front Bench. This is not a normal immigration debate.

If we were merely talking about numbers I would have no objection to welcoming with open arms large numbers of the citizens of Hong Kong who might wish to come and take up permanent abode in this country. I say that in the light of a rather aggravating and unpleasant conversation on this subject that I had with one of my constituents as recently as last Friday evening. But that is not the proposition that we are discussing. Even to discuss the matter in such terms is to set the debate's context incorrectly.

I hope that we recognise that we have priorities this evening other than to discuss the position as though it were an ordinary immigration debate.

There is a direct conflict between the ambition to maintain stability in Hong Kong and the demand of people in Hong Kong to have the right to live in the United Kingdom. Fundamental change in Hong Kong was always inevitable. Now it is on the horizon. We must now deal with the obstacles to the maintenance of stability.

I believe that the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) used the phrase a "few colonial types". There are a "few colonial types" in Hong Kong, deliberately seeking to stir up discontent in Hong Kong, whose ambition is to sow dissent between Britain and China to achieve their rather weird objectives. Such people are not restricted solely to ex-colonial types, as he rather quaintly put it.

In the previous Hong Kong debate I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) and mentioned the lovely lady, Miss Emily Lau, who shelters behind the comfort of a British passport through her husband to make a series of innuendos from her position as a journalist on the Far East Economic Review. They provide a classic example of the misuse of a journalist's position not to report news but to put forward one's own political views.

We in this House have an obligation to point out to the people of Hong Kong that there are some people—few—who for their own political motivations want the agreement to fail. It is essential that we point out who they are and what they are doing.

I do not care whether the editor of the Far East Economic Review, who refused to publish my letter when I wrote to him, proceeds to attack me in his column about a letter that he has not published. People in the far east last week said to me, "What on earth was Derek Davies going on about attacking you in his article?" Not surprisingly, Mr. Davies had forgotten that if he refused to publish my letter and then attacked me for what I said in it, the people who read his magazine might be a little confused. I can take his criticism lightly. I am amused at being accused of McCarthyite tactics and such allegations, but Mr. Davies is not worth wasting time on and I do not propose to do so.

I intervened in the speech of my hon. and learned Friend to ask about the position of the non-Chinese ethnic minorities in so far as they face the possibility of citizenship of the People's Republic of China. It would be unfair in the short time available to read the question that I posed to and the answer that I received yesterday from my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I refer all hon. Members to it.

First, it is wrong to assume that the ethnic minorities would be stateless. I reject that proposition, which was put forward by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and others. Secondly, it is wrong to assume that their only alternative to staying in Hong Kong is citizenship of, and the right of abode in, this country. The People's Republic of China is reacquiring Hong Kong. It is to it that the British people and Parliament properly have turned and should continue to turn to see what alternative citizenship might be available to those people.

When my hon. and learned Friend is winding up this debate, I should like to hear him say that, as events unfold in the months and years ahead, this option will be pursued with the Chinese Government, and that information on it will be made available regularly and openly to the people in Hong Kong who might be involved. I asked my hon. and learned Friend about that before. It would do great credit to the Government of the People's Republic of China if they opened their minds very broadly to the fact that non-Chinese might want to be entitled to citizenship of the People's Republic after this agreement comes into force. Our responsibility is clear, and it is not just a responsibility to the rich and powerful people in Hong Kong, many of whom already have the right of access to the United Kingdom. We have a responsibility to the millions of Hong Kong citizens who have neither the desire nor the intention ever to come within thousands of miles of the United Kingdom. If they are to have a secure future, they have one overriding priority, and that is to see that the agreement between our two Governments works and that nothing is said or done that so aggravates and annoys either of the parties to the agreement that there might be a wish to wonder whether it is all worthwhile.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South that the British-Chinese agreement is a remarkable one. Let us spend a little less time worrying about what will happen if it goes wrong and a little more time making sure that it goes right.

9.16 pm
Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

This is too important a debate to be dealt with in just over two and a half hours. That fact was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs). Therefore, I will endeavour to be brief.

I must declare an interest, because I lived for some 18 months in Hong Kong. That is not as long as some of my hon. Friends lived there, but as a former middleweight boxing champion of Hong Kong perhaps I should again do battle for it on this occasion. Perhaps the only thing on which I agree—not generally but in this debate—with the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) is that it would be churlish and stupid in the extreme for any hon. Member to say that the Foreign Secretary and his team did not conclude by the joint agreement a mighty achievement, because it was a mighty achievement by any standard. I start from that premise, and I do not want to do anything to undermine that agreement.

On 5 December 1984 the Foreign Secretary said: it would be too much to expect that this document"—— that is, the draft agreement— which has emerged from extremely complex and sometimes difficult negotiations, could provide the whole answer to every problem".—[Official Report, 5 December 1984; Vol. 69, c. 397.] I certainly concur with that. We are debating the order in that context. Certainly it is far from perfect. To their credit, the Government have said that they will withdraw and revise the order if necessary to take account of the views of hon. Members and of their Lordships in another place and, of course, the views of the people of Hong Kong. In the Official Report of the other place on 19 February last year, Baroness Young said just that. She said that this was an "order with green edges" and that, if necessary, the Government would withdraw and revise it.

We know that on one important aspect at least there is no doubt that the people of Hong Kong speak with one loud voice, and that is on the problem of the inequities contained in the nationality provisions and their effects on a relatively small number of people in the colony, the non-Chinese ethnics. I refer to a small number deliberately, because Home Office Ministers in particular become paranoid when one talks about large numbers of potential immigrants. We are talking about 10,000 or so. The Minister of State is well aware that it is rare for both the Official and Unofficial Members of the Legislative Council ever to reach a unanimous agreement, but they did so by means of the resolution that was referred to by a number of hon. Members.

The three points that are contained in the resolution have been agreed by both the Official and the Unofficial Members of the Legislative Council. Those who follow Hong Kong affairs know that this is very rare. I was in Hong Kong in October, not as a guest of the Government but because I was on my way to Australia as a member of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation. I spent about 10 days in the colony. I was told that these modest demands were the least that the British Government could accept.

I have already praised the members of the joint declaration and its authors. However, what is being advanced by both the non-elected and the elected representatives of the Legislative Council will in no way—I am sure that the hon. Member for Christchurch agrees with me—undermine that declaration. No negotiations are required. It is a British problem. That is acknowledged by the Chinese. I refer those hon. Members who can read Chinese to the pro-Communist Chinese newspaper Wan Wei Po. In a recent editorial, it makes it very clear that this is a British problem. It says: To deal with this question, one cannot cut adrift history. One should not depart from reality. These people have always held British passports. If the result of these several changes causes them to lose their nationality, then, to them, this would be hard to accept. I return to the numbers game. Of the 10,000 or so non-Chinese ethnics, most of whom are members of the Indian community, very few intend to leave Hong Kong. However, if they did leave Hong Kong, what an enterprising lot they would be. They would fit very neatly indeed into the mould that the Prime Minister is for ever saying we should have in British industry. However, they do not wish to depart from the spirit of the joint declaration. They helped to build Hong Kong into the very strong economic unit that it is today. When the Minister replies to the debate, I hope that he will make it clear how the ethnic Chinese can become Chinese nationals. That point is not clear to me.

Article 6 of the Chinese nationality law state: any person who is born in China whose parents are stateless or of uncertain nationality should have settled in China as Chinese nationals". These people are not stateless. They have British National (Overseas) passports. They are not of uncertain nationality, so how do they qualify? Article 7 says: Aliens or stateless persons who are willing to abide by China's constitutions and laws may acquire Chinese nationality upon approval of their applications, provided that

  1. (i) they are close relatives to Chinese nationals, or
  2. (ii) they have settled in China, or
  3. (iii) they have other legitimate reasons."
Article 14 says: The acquisition, renunciation or restoration of Chinese nationality shall go through the formality of application". It is true that it is grace and favour. Nobody can be certain about it, so clearly it is a uniquely British problem.

It is as much a British problem as the fate of those who lived in Gibraltar or in the Falkland Islands when the British Government took a decision that was not very different from the one that they are taking now. These people, or their ancestors, went to Hong Kong, as was made clear by my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) because it was part of the British empire. As my hon. Friend said, they served the Crown loyally as soldiers, policemen and civil servants. They expected to be treated then, as now, by the British in the way in which the British were accustomed, so we are told, to deal with those who went to the colonies. I do not have time to dwell upon that point, because I might disagree with certain right hon. and hon. Members, especially Conservative Members, about it. I do not wish to dwell, because of the time, either, upon the fate of the Vietnamese refugees in this country, or former service men. I am sure that other hon. Members will do so.

I wish to conclude with someting that is a little flowery, in line with the words that I have used about the colonies. It is from a recent editorial in the Hong Kong Standard: The sun has long set upon the British Empire. What remains to be seen is whether an obligation going back 150 years and honour have sunk below the distant mountains. I hope that at the end of this debate it will be clear that honour and obligation will remain intact as far as this country is concerned. It is not just the non-Chinese ethnics that we are talking about; it is the entire people of the colony of Hong Kong who believe that this group of people is being wronged by this Government.

It is good that this is a draft order and that we can alter it. We plead that the Government will heed this message from hon. Members who feel strongly about Hong Kong and especially about its minority groups, and will amend the order before too long.

9.26 pm
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

I rise with some humility after the eloquent and deeply knowledgeable speeches by right hon. and hon. Members who know Hong Kong far better than I. It is nine months since the Hong Kong Act received the Royal Assent and about a year since it went through the House in record time. As the Bill went through its various stages, great concern was expressed about nationality, particularly the vexed question of the transfer of British nationality by way of BDTC to the new BN(O) nationality. Since the passage of the Bill, there seem to have been a number of hiccoughs in the morale of the people of Hong Kong. The way in which we deal with the question of nationality is most crucial for morale in the colony at present. The arrangements which we make when the order is confirmed and comes to us as a firm order will be absolutely vital in determining the way in which the passage towards 1997 continues.

It is clear from the speeches made during the LegCo debate on 4 December that there was a great deal of concern about the three questions mentioned so frequently tonight: the integrity of the BN(O) passport, which seems to be on the way to being resolved in the joint discussions with the Chinese; the ex-service men so eloquently referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker); and the non-Chinese ethnic minorities.

There is a clear cynicism about the status and currency of British overseas citizenship, and with some reason. Whether this somewhat nebulous concept has any validity has to be proved to us by the Government. The greatest concern in this regard is the position of the succeeding generations of the non-Chinese ethnic minorities, about which so much has been said this evening. I would like to add to the plea that a particular concession be granted to the ex-service men. Those who have served king and country in this way have every right to our most sympathetic consideration, and I am sure that those words are unlikely to fall on deaf ears.

I do not want to go over ground which has been covered very well throughout the debate. [Interruption.] Nor have I time in any case, as I am being reminded by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) sitting below me. I believe that there should be no question about granting the right of abode in the United Kingdom to the ex-service men.

That brings me to the question of the non-Chinese ethnic minorities, some 10,000 people, mostly Indian. They or their forebears came to Hong Kong, for the most part, before India received its independence and they have served Britain in the colony for many years. As we have already been told by several right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, very few of these people would actually wish to come to live in the United Kingdom at present, but it is incumbent on Britain to look at their claims with due consideration and sympathy, for at several times during their lives it is quite likely that they have had a right of abode here. It would be churlish if we forgot that.

It also seems that the statelessness which the draft order seeks to avoid could result from our treatment of the matter. These people have no chance of emigrating to India or Pakistan because they have not lived there for many years. Indeed, few speak the language, and in any case some would return to Pakistan as Hindus, which would be a particularly unattractive prospect. We have a responsibility to the minorities which is special and apart from our responsibilities for the vast majority of Hong Kong people who are ethnically Chinese. The small minority would have almost no impact on our general immigration policy, and I feel certain that the necessary steps can be taken—there is plenty of time—to encompass their desire for British citizenship as opposed to BN(O) or BOC status within the regulation when it is drawn.

Several hon. Members have said that Hong Kong is in a unique position. It is unique in the history of decolonisation. We are handing it back to the Chinese, as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) said. It behoves the House and the Government to pay. special attention to the wants of two small minorities—the ex-service men and the non-Chinese ethnic minority.

9.31 pm
Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

I agree completely with the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman), and wish to express my anxiety about the draft Order in Council. It is not right and the Government need to change it before it is generally acceptable, most importantly in Hong Kong, and in the House. It is a pity that the Front Bench spokesmen were not spokesmen on foreign affairs—I say that with no disrespect to the Minister or my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs)—because we are talking not about the immigration policy of Britain, but about the future of Hong Kong. Although at present Hong Kong has the status of a colony of the United Kingdom, it is governed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and we must always have that at the front of our minds. Indeed, that is obvious to the people of Hong Kong.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) and I paid a visit to Hong Kong earlier this year, and we were struck by the knowledge that all sections of society had of the matter, and by their feeling that the United Kingdom had completed a deal with the People's Republic of China which was the best deal in the circumstances, and that it now wished to wash its hands and let the matter go quietly away. I do not think that that is true, and no hon. Member will wish that to happen. If that is the case, we must consider what is best for a smooth transition so that the people of Hong Kong can continue to prosper, and life can go on as they wish it to do. We must not worry about judging matters in line with our general policy on immigration, as the Minister does.

Although the agreement was the best one available, it was not widely welcomed by the people of Hong Kong, who are resigned to the fact that it has been made and that they must make it work. They may come positively to enthuse about it in years to come, but they are not doing so now.

This is an important subject, and it is a pity that we have only two and a half hours of debate on it. The legislative council decision was a unanimous one which was supported by the unofficial members and by the Government members. It must be taken seriously by this House and the Government.

If I may deal with the service men, there are 100 or 400—it does not matter what the number is. I am sure that the Government, if they wanted to, could come to some agreement on what the status of service men should be and, if they want the right of abode in this country, they should be able to have it. It is not a question of whether 100 or 400 might be acceptable. Both numbers are very small.

With regard to the problem of the ethnic minorities, I will not repeat the points which have been made by other hon. Members. There is great concern in Hong Kong—and it will grow unless the House does something about it—about the effective statelessness of the ethnic minorities if nothing is done about their status. I realise that the Government have tried to put together a package which will accommodate the wishes of the ethnic minorities, but they have not succeeded. It is the continuing stability and prosperity of Hong Kong which is important. The Government must try again. The only answer in my view is to give the minorities, if they want it and wish to take it up, the right of abode in this country. If we get things right in Hong Kong, no one will want to come to this country in any case—perhaps a few hundred at the most. If we get things wrong, the ethnic minorities will have as a fallback position the assurance that they have somewhere to go and somewhere they can call their home. I confidently say that it is a right of abode which would be used by no more than perhaps a few hundred people.

Then there is the question of entry into the United Kingdom for Hong Kong people of Chinese origin. I came back from Hong Kong a few days ago through Gatwick airport. Only two windows were open for the passengers on the flight, who were mainly Chinese. The two queues were of seventy or eighty people each. I watched for about half an hour. Everyone had to wait a minute and a half or two minutes. The details were handled expeditiously. However, if 70 or 80 people had been in each line, I imagine that it would have been about two hours before the last person passed through immigration—hardly something to get excited about when entering the United Kingdom.

One young boy appeared not to have his papers in order, he was led away fairly early and I did not see him again. This has been called hassle, and so it is. We have to do something about it. People from Hong Kong who come to this country not to stay but on business, to visit friends or on holiday should be able to do so without having to go through many formalities and feeling that they are being hassled. I know that it is dangerous to generalise on the basis of just one visit, but this has been not only my evidence but that of other people. Something needs to be done about it. I support fully the legislative council decision to put into the passport the right of entry to the United Kingdom. That would be straightforward.

In this issue it is not right for the Government or Parliament to take all the decisions without paying attention to what might happen after the next general election or the one after that. We have until 1997. I suggest that the Government would be wise to discuss the matter with my hon. Friends on the Front Bench and see whether some common agreement might be attained. I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends would be more than happy to do this. Perhaps we can have a bipartisan policy. We are all on the same side. We want Hong Kong to prosper, and we want there to be stability in Hong Kong. We want the changeover in 1997 to go as smoothly and as quietly as possible. If the Government pay attention to what has been said in the debate, I am sure that that will happen.

9.40 pm
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

I am confident that the people of Hong Kong and hon. Members would prefer to listen to the Minister than to me, so I shall be brief. I feel strongly that we have a duty to take care of the non-Chinese ethnic minority in Hong Kong. They have made their money, created their lives and brought up their families in Hong Kong. They owe their prosperity to Hong Kong. It would be wrong, when the future of Hong Kong seems to be moving more brightly than expected, and when things are getting better, to say to them that the need for a fallback position is so urgent and imperative that we should create it now. We should see whether the Chinese will move towards a clearer statement of the right of those people to Chinese citizenship in 1997 before we feel bound to take any action.

I have no way of knowing what electoral fortune will bring, but I hope that I shall still represent Mid-Kent in 1997. If I do, I shall certainly bring the issue to the attention of the Government of that day. If the non-Chinese ethnic minority are in danger of being harassed or persecuted, I shall say that we should pick up the obligation that we have incurred over the centuries. That will be the time to act, and I hope that we shall do so.

9.42 pm
Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

Like all hon. Members, I support the three proposals by the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. I spent some childhood years as part of a tiny ethnic minority in inland China as well as in Hong Kong. We were happy there, but I am sure that the safety valve that we had increased the harmony among the foreigners who worked to contribute to China.

The order is important for current political reasons within Hong Kong and for its relations with Britain and China. It is necessary to build substance into the joint declaration and the British and Chinese memoranda which it contains. That needs the support and confidence of China and, most important, of the people of Hong Kong.

The changes will cause little difficulty in Britain, but if we are half-hearted in our commitment to the agreement, that will encourage China to be half-hearted in fulfilling its more important commitments. It will lead the people of Hong Kong now—not in 1997—to doubt the substance of the agreement, particularly about the positive contribution that they have to make to the future running of the special administrative region. The vital building up and the capacity of Hong Kong's peoples to look after the special administrative region will be set back at a critical stage. We must do everything that we can to build the people of Hong Kong's confidence and that of their elected representatives, so that they can speak and expect to be listened to by the sovereign power.

Britain exercises that power today. Tomorrow it will be exercised by China. To concede the point will cost Britain little, but it will count for much in Hong Kong and, through Hong Kong, in our relations with China.

The Minister has been far from hostile. I think that he will consider further the views expressed in the House. I hope that he can be more positive in his acceptance of our arguments.

9.45 pm
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

The debate on the treatment of non-ethnic Chinese has swung between two points of view. One is that that group including prisoners of war and service men should be allowed to become full British nationals but the Government have proposed that those groups should not be allowed in because we will upset the Chinese Government by not trusting their promises and it may open a gate to 3 million people who want to come in.

In my last half minute may I suggest a middle way—to treat applications for full citizenship on a case-by-case basis and on their merits. This is precisely the approach that the Government have adopted to stateless British citizens who no longer opt for citizenship of China. It is also the approach that is covered by section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981 and exercised at the discretion of the Home Secretary.

If our hopes about the future of Hong Kong are fulfilled and China, as we hope and expect, honours its obligations, few people will be making applications. The procedural problems in judging each case on its merits would then not arise. I ask my hon. and learned Friend who has listened to this debate on behalf of the Government to take this suggestion of the middle way.

9.47 pm
Mr. Dubs

I have confined myself to two or three minutes because I wanted to give as many hon. Members as possible the chance to have their say, although I realise that there is still much to be said.

There has been much criticism of the Order in Council regarding passports and their acceptability in Britain and other countries. The position of prisoners of war and the position of the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. I believe that the overwhelming opinion of the House is to ask the Minister to look at all this again.

Whatever the Minister decides when the Order in Council comes back to use the Labour party, when next in government, will certainly look at it again. May I remind the Minister that the Labour party is committed to the repeal of the Immigration Act 1971 and the repeal of the British Nationality Act 1981. We would replace both of those measures with non-discriminatory legislation. In that context we would sympathetically review the claims of the ethnic minorities as well as claims from other groups in Hong Kong and elsewhere. We would thus arrive at a policy of nationality and immigration which is just and honourable.

The least the House can do is to ask the Minister to look at the claims of these people as a Labour Government would do as soon as we had the chance. We shall press this to a vote tonight to keep pressure on the Minister. It may be that Government Back Benchers will support us in the Division Lobby. Whether they do or not, we wish to make it clear to the people of Hong Kong and the people of Britain that we are not satisfied with the Order in Council and we ask the Minister to think again before he brings it back to us.

9.53 pm
Mr. Waddington

This has been a good debate, although the beginning of the finale was rather odd. I do not propose to dwell on the undertaking just given by the hon. Gentleman. It is a most irresponsible undertaking, and it did not help the House to understand how the Labour party's proposals have anything to do with whether we should admit 400 or 500 ex-service men, or whether we should admit those in Hong Kong who are not of Chinese ethnic origin.

The House is indebted to the right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken, some with a close knowledge of Hong Kong, but all with concern for its future. We are here tonight because, during the passage of the Hong Kong Bill, the House asked that there should be a general debate on the draft Order in Council so that the Government could listen to and study various points of view before laying a final draft and asking the House's approval. I have listened, and we shall study.

I remind the House and listeners elsewhere that this is a debate on the Adjournment. It is not a motion asking for approval of the White Paper or of a draft Order in Council. I was therefore surprised, as no doubt were some other hon. Members, to hear talk before we came here to the effect that the Opposition were thinking of dividing the House. If that is their decision, it is odd, as the whole object of the exercise is to have an open and frank discussion so that everybody can say what he thinks about the White Paper and the draft order and we can go away and think about it.

The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) asked about those who might be at risk after the Chinese takeover. I can only repeat that undertakings have been given to some people in Government service. As for the Vietnamese refugees, I remind the House that the number of people in the closed and open camps in Hong Kong has decreased by 2,500 in the past 12 months, which is moderately encouraging. The United Kingdom has recently agreed to take some 500 family reunion cases, in addition to those who are coming here anyhow under the orderly departure programme, and the ordinary family reunion criteria. We are working hard, and with some success, to persuade other countries to help more. We strongly hope that the problem of refugees in camps will be solved long before 1997.

I should like now to consider the endorsement in the passport to make it easier for people to come here and to get through immigration control. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) and others mentioned this. It is not an easy problem. It would be odd to say that a person who does not have the right of abode here must not subject himself to immigration control like anyone else. I am aware of the worry expressed in Hong Kong, and I understand that they want to feel that they are receiving proper consideration. We shall think about the matter carefully, in case we can arrive at an acceptable formula.

As for the ex-service men, there have been pleas for us to use the power in section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981. Many have already made claims under that section, and many more will do so. We have always said that we will use the power most sparingly. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development was at great pains during the debate on the British Nationality Bill to make that clear. I must also make it absolutely plain that there are service men all over the world who gave great service to humanity during the war. All over the world there are service men who suffered confinement and deprivation. There are Sikhs, Gurkhas and countless others who might feel that they, too, have a claim to British citizenship if claims under section 4(5) are granted.

Mr. Ashdown

I shall ignore the fact that such people are not in the same circumstances as people in Hong Kong. Have any claims—not just those made by service men under section 4(5)—been granted?

Mr. Waddington

No, but a number of claims are under consideration, and of course they need careful consideration.

I should like to deal now with the question of non-Chinese British dependent territory citizens. I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) and for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) that to grant British citizenship now would certainly be looked at by some, particularly the Chinese, as a demonstration of a lack of confidence in the Sino-British agreement. Those who have been urging that course have frankly admitted that the real argument is that there should be an escape route for these people in case things go wrong.

Non-Chinese BDTCs can, like others, apply for BN(O) citizenship. If they do not apply, there are fallback provisions and the availability of BOC status until the middle of the next century. Such people would be able to apply to become Chinese nationals. I shall try to clarify matters for the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and for my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent, who are concerned about that.

That matter has been discussed with the Chinese Government in the Sino-British joint liaison group. The Chinese Government have confirmed that non-Chinese who meet the legal requirements under the Chinese nationality law may apply for Chinese nationality and that such cases would be dealt with by the appropriate authorities. People will not, of course, be compelled to apply for Chinese nationality.

The right of abode provisions agreed with the Chinese Government provide the best possible guarantee that those people established in Hong Kong and their children can continue to live there. There is no other satisfactory or reliable way to provide people in Hong Kong with what they want—the right of abode there. In the unlikely event of any British nationals being forced to leave Hong Kong and having nowhere to go, we have made it clear that we would expect the Government of the day to consider sympathetically whether to admit such people on a case-by-case basis in the light of particular circumstances.

In trying to identify particular groups, one immediately runs into trouble. Of course, one never finds two groups in the same position. An examination of a group's composition shows that people within a particular group are not all in the same place.

That is a valuable reminder to the House that it is always possible for the Home Secretary to exercise his discretion to allow someone to enter the country and later qualify for British nationality if there is exceptional hardship. In the case of a minor, somebody under the age of majority, section 3(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981 allows the Home Secretary to grant British nationality as a matter of discretion.

Hon. Members are concerned that we should act as quickly as possible to ensure that the BN(O) passport, when it is issued, will be recognised by other countries and be as acceptable as the present BDTC passport. The Government will not forget the advice that has been given. That advice is in accordance with the plans already made by the Foreign Office in that regard. I was able to tell the House earlier that great strides have already been made, and it is very encouraging indeed that certain countries have made it plain that they are happy to acknowledge and recognise that passport.

The debate was an opportunity for the House to express its views. We have had a most interesting debate, and some of the matters mentioned go wider than the draft Order in Council. Of course, on the question of the endorsement of the passport, the Government cannot be indicted for not dealing with that in the order because that——

Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That this House do now adjourn:—

The House divided: Ayes 99, Noes 144.

Division No. 39] [10 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Evans, John (St. Helens N)
Anderson, Donald Ewing, Harry
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Fatchett, Derek
Ashdown, Paddy Faulds, Andrew
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Fields, T. (L 'pool Broad Gn)
Barnett, Guy Fisher, Mark
Barron, Kevin Flannery, Martin
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Foster, Derek
Bell, Stuart Foulkes, George
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Freud, Clement
Bermingham, Gerald George, Bruce
Blair, Anthony Godman, Dr Norman
Boyes, Roland Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hancock, Michael
Buchan, Norman Haynes, Frank
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Canavan, Dennis Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Home Robertson, John
Clarke, Thomas Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Clay, Robert Lamond, James
Clelland, David Gordon Leighton, Ronald
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) McCartney, Hugh
Corbett, Robin McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Craigen, J. M. Maclennan, Robert
Crowther, Stan McNamara, Kevin
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) McWilliam, John
Deakins, Eric Madden, Max
Dewar, Donald Marek, Dr John
Dixon, Donald Maxton, John
Dormand, Jack Maynard, Miss Joan
Dubs, Alfred Michie, William
Eadie, Alex Mikardo, Ian
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Skinner, Dennis
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Smith, C. (lsl'ton S & F'bury)
Nellist, David Soley, Clive
O'Brien, William Spearing, Nigel
Park, George Stott, Roger
Parry, Robert Strang, Gavin
Pendry, Tom Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Pike, Peter Welsh, Michael
Randall, Stuart Winnick, David
Redmond, Martin. Woodall, Alec
Richardson, Ms Jo Wrigglesworth, Ian
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Robertson, George Tellers for the Ayes:
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Mr. Ron Davies and
Sheerman, Barry Mr. Ray Powell.
Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Adley, Robert Butcher, John
Alexander, Richard Butterfill, John
Amess, David Carttiss, Michael
Ancram, Michael Cash, William
Arnold, Tom Chope, Christopher
Ashby, David Coombs, Simon
Aspinwall, Jack Cope, John
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Couchman, James
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Cranborne, Viscount
Batiste, Spencer Crouch, David
Bellingham, Henry Currie, Mrs Edwina
Best, Keith Dickens, Geoffrey
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Dover, Den
Blackburn, John Dunn, Robert
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Durant, Tony
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Dykes, Hugh
Boscawen, Hon Robert Emery, Sir Peter
Bottomley, Peter Evennett, David
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Eyre, Sir Reginald
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Forth, Eric
Bright, Graham Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Brinton, Tim Freeman, Roger
Brooke, Hon Peter Gale, Roger
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Galley, Roy
Bruinvels, Peter Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Bryan, Sir Paul Garel-Jones, Tristan
Buck, Sir Antony Gow, Ian
Burt, Alistair Greenway, Harry
Gregory, Conal Marlow, Antony
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Mather, Carol
Ground, Patrick Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gummer, Rt Hon John S Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Hanley, Jeremy Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Harris, David Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Haselhurst, Alan Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Hawksley, Warren Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Hayes, J. Moynihan, Hon C.
Hayward, Robert Murphy, Christopher
Heathcoat-Amory, David Nelson, Anthony
Henderson, Barry Newton, Tony
Hirst, Michael Nicholls, Patrick
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Norris, Steven
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Oppenheim, Phillip
Howard, Michael Osborn, Sir John
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Ottaway, Richard
Hunt, David (Wirral, W) Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Hunter, Andrew Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Jackson, Robert Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Jessel, Toby Pollock, Alexander
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Portillo, Michael
Jones, Robert (Herts W) Powell, William (Corby)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Powley, John
Key, Robert Proctor, K. Harvey
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Raffan, Keith
King, Rt Hon Tom Renton, Tim
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Rhodes James, Robert
Knowles, Michael Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Lang, Ian Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Lawler, Geoffrey Rowe, Andrew
Lawrence, Ivan Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Lester, Jim Sims, Roger
Lilley, Peter Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Lord, Michael Thorne, Neil (llford S)
Lyell, Nicholas Thurnham, Peter
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Waddington, David
Maclean, David John Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
McQuarrie, Albert Young, Sir George (Acton)
Major, John
Malins, Humfrey Tellers for the Noes:
Maples, John Mr. Archie Hamilton and
Marland, Paul Mr. Michael Neubert.

Question accordingly negatived.