§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I bring to your attention the fact that the forcible return of the Vietnamese boat people has just started and involves the riot police in Hong Kong? I know that you do not decide whether a statement is made, but in view of the deep anxiety in many quarters about the way in which these people are being treated, can the Leader of the House make arrangements for a statement to be made as quickly as possible? Surely the House should have been involved—whether by means of a statement or private notice question—in such a serious matter which arouses so much anxiety. I hope that if not tonight then tomorrow we shall have a full statement on what is going on in the prison camps. It appears that even tonight the forcible return of these people will continue.
§ Mr. Beaumont-Dark
It is on the same point of order, Mr. Speaker. If we are to have statements in the House that are meant to be fair and balanced, could we have a statement from the Leader of the Opposition, who seems to be so keen to criticise everyone else without putting forward answers of his own about what the Opposition would do to help the people of Hong Kong to deal with the problem? It is sheer hypocrisy to say what—
§ Mr. Nellist
Yes. Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have noticed that the Leader of the House is in his place. Would I be correct to assume that it would be entirely in order for him now to ask for your permission and that of the House to make an announcement, if he so desires, regarding the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick)? I have just returned from East Berlin. Could the Leader of the House explain why one set of refugees from Stalinism can be said to be seeking freedom while another set of refugees from a Stalinist regime, who have been made even poorer because of the wars launched against their country by the West, are economic refugees? Should not the Leader of the House take this opportunity, through you, to state that the forced repatriation of those people from Hong Kong will cease forthwith?
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I support the calls that have already been made that a statement should be made to the House tonight about this most important question. Would it be possible to include in the statement details of what will happen to the unaccompanied children and orphans who are in those camps, many of whom have been there for many years and who are also facing forcible repatriation?
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe)
The House will recall that what is now happening was first foreshadowed in a statement that I made in Hong Kong some 15 months ago. The policy has been repeatedly explained to the House, most recently by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in his speech during the debate on the Loyal Address and during Question Time a few days ago. It has also been the subject of study by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which commended the premises upon which the policy is founded.
There should be no doubt about the background to these very difficult decisions. It is right, even so, that the House should look forward to a statement on the subject. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary intends to make a statement at the usual time tomorrow afternoon.
§ Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)
I welcome the announcement by the Leader of the House that a statement will be made tomorrow, but, as on several other occasions in the past, the Government have got this the wrong way round. There ought to have been a statement before these events were set in train. That would have been the proper and appropriate course of action for any reasonable Government to take in the circumstances. They ought first to have announced in Parliament what was going to happen and then listened to what hon. Members had to say before taking their decision. I welcome the delayed acknowledgement that it is important that these matters should be announced first in Parliament. I hope that the Leader of the House has learnt his lesson and that in future statements will be made here before decisions are implemented.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I repeat that it is not a matter for me. The Leader of the House has said that the Foreign Secretary will come here tomorrow to make a statement. I can do nothing further.
§ Mr. Corbyn
The problem is that I understand that a number of people have been taken from Hong Kong to Vietnam. There is no guarantee that Vietnam will accept them.