HC Deb 13 July 1989 vol 156 cc1124-5
12. Mr. Dalyell

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to meet the Governor of Hong Kong to discuss immigration issues.

Mr. Hurd

I have no present plans for a further meeting with the Governor whom I last saw in London on 8 June. But I am in constant touch with my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, who was in Hong Kong between 2 and 4 July and who is himself in close touch with the Government of Hong Kong.

Mr. Dalyell

From his own experience of Peking, does the Home Secretary accept that, throughout Chinese history, whatever their domestic agonies have been, they have at least respected their international agreements?

Is the Home Secretary aware that some of us think that at this time, of all times, trade missions and other contacts should go ahead not only for our good and the opening up of China, but for the good of the people of Hong Kong and for the students who died in Tiananmen square?

Mr. Hurd

The House will debate this matter this afternoon. It goes well beyond my responsibilities, but I am quite sure that we need to assume, and work for, the reality of the Chinese honouring their promises in regard to Hong Kong.

Mr. Dykes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that over-excited comparisons with Portugal and their provisions for Macao are not justified, because the people there who have automatic right of entry to Portugal, and therefore to the EEC, number only just in excess of 100,000? After the Foreign Secretary's declaration during his recent visit, there is plenty of time to work out, in a calm atmosphere, a rational solution for the people who wish genuinely to apply to come to this country. Is it not self-evident that priority categories should include people who have connections with Britain, who work here and who travel between here and Hong Kong frequently?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is right about numbers. Our citizenship law since 1981 has been based firmly on residency, as Portugal's has not. The thrust of the second part of my hon. Friend's question is, I think, right. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and I are trying to work out ways in which the existing arrangements can be made more flexible so that key people in the public and private sectors can be given assurances of one kind or another which will encourage them to stay in Hong Kong.

Mr. Hattersley

Has the Home Secretary noticed that there is a feeling of revulsion throughout the country at the idea that some citizens of Hong Kong may be able to buy their way into Britain because they possess £150,000? Will he repudiate that principle for Hong Kong immigrants and for immigrants from other parts of the Commonwealth?

Mr. Hurd

The principle of people coming here with adequate means has been established for a long time, including under a Labour Government. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman to this extent any scheme that we work out—we are working on a scheme as I have just said —cannot simply be based on the principle that those with the longest purses have the greatest rights.

Mr. Maclennan

Did the Home Secretary hear the words of the Governor of Hong Kong who made it plain that, if the right of abode were granted as a last resort to British dependent territory passport holders, there would not be the sudden influx which appears to be what is worrying the Government about meeting their moral obligations in this matter?

Mr. Hurd

I do not think that the House of Commons would welcome it if the Government came to the House with a proposition based on that assumption, which we simply could not prove. If we suggest that the right of abode should, at least in theory, be given to a large number of people—3 million, 3.25 million or 5 million—I think that a responsible House of Commons and a responsible Government would need to consider the possibility of that right being taken up. I do not think that we can seriously discuss such a proposal without making that assumption.