HC Deb 22 April 1987 vol 114 cc665-6
17. Sir Peter Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has received on the Hong Kong Public Order (Amendment) Ordinance.

Mr. Renton

We have received a number of representations about this. While it is mainly a matter for the Hong Kong Government, we support the action they have taken. They have repealed a number of long-standing provisions giving them wide powers over the press, retaining only a power to act against anyone publishing false news likely to cause alarm to the public or disturb public order.

Sir Peter Blaker

Is my hon. Friend aware that Her Majesty's Government are right to allow Hong Kong to manage its own affairs to the maximum possible extent? Does he agree that it would be wrong even to contemplate reversing the recent decision of the Hong Kong Government and the Legislative Council? Nevertheless, is my hon. Friend aware that there is some concern on the part of certain hon. Members and some organisations outside the House involved with the freedom of the media as to whether this ordinance is necessary or desirable, although they recognise that it is much less restrictive than previous ordinances? Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be an opportunity for the Legislative Council to have another look at this matter?

Mr. Renton

I note carefully what my right hon. Friend, with his deep knowledge of Hong Kong affairs, has said. Two or three weeks ago I saw three Hong Kong journalists, all of whom were anxious to make representations to me about the point. On the question of review, I agree with my right hon. Friend. This is not immediately a matter for the British Government, but for Hong Kong. I should tell the House and all those who may be concerned about the matter that ordinances can be reviewed at any time if there is a genuine need to do so and such a need is identified. In this case it is surely better to let things settle down and to see how the new measure works. If, subsequently, the Legislative Council wishes to review it, it can do so.

Mr. Beith

The Minister may wish to resist the temptation to speculate about what would be the effect of a ban on publishing false news in this country. Nevertheless, is he aware that this is a crucial moment for people in Hong Kong and that, as they enter into a relationship with China that will depend on the continuation of guarantees, they are most anxious that the highest standards of press freedom should be asserted at this moment?

Mr. Renton

Of course, that is right. For many years Hong Kong has had a high standard of press freedom, as all of us who have visited Hong Kong know well. I point out to the hon. Member that this ordinance has been on the statute book since 1951. It has been used on only three occasions since then, and all in 1967. I see nothing in it that is likely to threaten the freedom of the Hong Kong press. Furthermore, absolutely no influence is brought to bear on the Hong Kong Government or on ourselves by the Chinese in connection with the ordinance.

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