HC Deb 12 July 1989 vol 156 cc967-9
14. Mr. McFall

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what proposals he has to encourage the transition to democracy in Hong Kong.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As I told the House on 5 July, we shall be re-examining current plans for the development of representative government in Hong Kong. As the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs pointed out in its report published on 30 June, the wishes of the Hong Kong people themselves must be crucial to our approach to this question.

Mr. McFall

In the light of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on Hong Kong and of the official opposition view that, by 1991, 50 per cent. of the Legislative Council should be elected and that by 1995, 100 per cent. should be elected, what is the view of the Government on these proposals and, more particularly, will they implement them so that, before the handover date of 1997, full democracy is operating in Hong Kong?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We shall, as I have made clear already, review the rate of progress toward representative government in Hong Kong in the light, above all, of evolving opinion in the territory. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs pointed out—I have already made this point—that the wishes of the Hong Kong people must be crucial to our approach to this question. The last considered opinion expressed in Hong Kong was that expressed unanimously by the Office of the Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils of Hong Kong on 24 May. It is now reconsidering the matter. It is already clear, as I have made plain, that plans for 1991 will certainly need to be looked at again. We shall consider what needs to be done before 1997 once those views have been expressed clearly within Hong Kong.

Mr. David Howell

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that he is absolutely correct that it is the wishes of Hong Kong about the pace of democracy which must prevail, although, as he rightly says, there are signs of increasing strength of feeling about the need to have democracy well entrenched by 1997? Will he try to explain to Opposition Members and to those outside this House, when they talk of economic sanctions and other attempts to break links with China, that 40 per cent. of Hong Kong's manufacturing industry is physically placed up the Pearl river in China? The ideas of Opposition Members would put a dagger at the heart of Hong Kong.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for both his comments. It cannot be stated too often that China is the largest commercial and financial partner of Hong Kong and that Hong Kong is the largest commercial and financial partner of China. It would be absolutely catastrophic to begin to approach this matter by deliberately savaging those crucial and important economic links.

Dr. Bray

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that there is a job to be done by a directly-elected democratic executive and legislature in Hong Kong in securing rights of refuge and settlement of abode—or however he cares to describe it—for larger numbers of people in the world than the Foreign Secretary or any British Government would have the moral authority to secure? Has he therefore made arrangements to receive advice individually from members of LegCo and ExCo, and not solely through the Government?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The members of LegCo and of OmelCo—the Office of the Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils of Hong Kong—are well placed to extend their advice individually as well as collectively. I had the opportunity of meeting them together when I was there and each expressed strong views. I have no doubt that we shall subsequently hear from them individually as well as collectively.

Mr. Kilfedder

Will the Foreign Secretary give an assurance that the people of Hong Kong will be allowed to draft and approve a Bill of Rights and when that has been achieved, will he persuade his Cabinet colleagues to provide a similar Bill of Rights for the people of Northern Ireland?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I would not seek to match my hon. Friend in his willingness to seek to address the questions and aspirations of the people of Northern Ireland. However, he can be sure that we intend to introduce a Bill of Rights at an early stage in Hong Kong. Indeed, the Governor will be making an announcement about that in October.

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