§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about events in China in recent weeks.
During the last few days, units of the Chinese army have been engaged in the violent suppression of peaceful and popular demonstrations in the streets of Peking. The indiscriminate and unprovoked use of military force has caused the death or injury of thousands of students and other innocent civilians.
I am sure that all Members of the House will share the worldwide sense of horror and join in the international condemnation of the slaughter of innocent people.
I summoned the Chinese charge d'affaires yesterday. I told him that the British Government and people were united in condemning the merciless treatment of peaceful demonstrators, and deeply deplored the use of force to suppress the democratic aspirations of the Chinese people. 1 told him that the British Government looked to the Chinese authorities to fulfil their obligations to Hong Kong in the joint declaration of 1984. 1 reminded him of the responsibilities of the Chinese Government to ensure the safety of British citizens and Hong Kong residents.
I expressed concern at the maltreatment of British journalists, particularly Michael Fathers of The Independent and Johnathan Mirsky of The Observer. We have since seen disturbing reports of the ill-treatment of Kate Adie of the BBC.
Our ambassador in Peking and his staff have been working round the clock to ensure the safety of British citizens and Hong Kong residents in Peking and, as far as possible, in other parts of China. The embassy hay, advised against travel to any part of China. It has also advised those who are concerned about their safety and have no pressing need to remain in China to leave immediately.
Since the cultural revolution there has been a substantial improvement in relations between the United Kingdom and the People's Republic of China as the Chinese Government have sought to broaden their contacts with the international community and to introduce economic and other reforms. Friends of China in this House and around the world must share the hope that sane and balanced government will be swiftly and securely restored in Peking. In present circumstances, however, there can be no question of continuing normal business with the Chinese authorities.
Her Majesty's Government have therefore decided on the following action.
All scheduled ministerial exchanges between Britain and China have been suspended. The visit of the Chinese Minister of Justice, who was due to arrive here tomorrow, has been cancelled. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has also cancelled his forthcoming visit to China.
The proposed visit of their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales to China in November clearly cannot take place so long as those responsible for the atrocities over the past weekend remain in control of the Chinese Government.
All high-level military contacts with China have been suspended.
All arms sales to China have been banned.
31 At the same time, the Government are examining how we can respond to any requests for humanitarian assistance from non-governmental organisations.
The whole House will share the Government's special concern about the implications for Hong Kong of what has been happening in Peking. The Government understand and share the grave concern felt by the people of Hong Kong. We have all been deeply impressed by the strength and restraint of their response to what has happened.
Everything that has been accomplished in Hong Kong has been achieved in the unique context of the geography and history of the territory and by the talent and enterprise of its people. All of that underlines the extent to which the future prosperity of Hong Kong must depend on a successful and secure partnership with the Government and people of China. That objective is enshrined in the commitments made by the British Government and the Government of China under the joint declaration. Those commitments were reaffirmed by the charge d'affaires when he called on me yesterday.
But it is self-evident that if we are to have confidence in the commitment of the Chinese Government to their obligations, there must be a stable and responsible Government in Peking. The British Government will stand by their obligations under the joint declaration. The Government and the House look to the Government of the People's Republic of China to live up to that international commitment as well.
The events in Peking must affect the prospects and procedure for implementation of the joint declaration. Consultations about the second draft of the Basic Law for Hong Kong have been suspended. It is also difficult to see how our own contacts with the Chinese Government about the future of Hong Kong can continue in present circumstances.
Meanwhile, I assure the House that we shall be conducting a thorough examination of the programme for advancing and consolidating effective democracy in Hong Kong. We are considering urgently what further steps can be taken to enshrine and protect Hong Kong's freedoms and way of life after 1997.
All of us in this House are acutely conscious of the wish of the people of Hong Kong to secure some form of assurance for themselves and their families. I know that this has been one of the issues studied by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Some commentators have recommended that a right of abode in this country should be given to the 31/4 million people in Hong Kong who hold British nationality. We share the desire of the House to do everything we can to enhance the security of the people of Hong Kong. On that basis, the Government are looking urgently and sympathetically at the scope for flexibility. But the House will appreciate the reason why we could not easily contemplate a massive new immigration commitment which could—and the possibility cannot be disregarded —more than double the ethnic minority population of the United Kingdom.
Our overriding aim must be to do everything possible to secure the continuation of those conditions in Hong Kong that have led to its outstanding success over the last 32 century. I hope the House will send a message to the people of Hong Kong reaffirming our commitment to their secure, stable and prosperous future.
The Chinese people are seeking from their Communist leadership rights and liberties which are taken for granted in the free world. The slaughter in Peking is a tragic setback to the campaign for democracy, but I hope this House will send a united message. China cannot ignore the lessons which are being learned elsewhere in the world. Economic prosperity and personal liberty go hand in hand. People will not for ever tolerate government by repression.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
My hon. Friends and I condemn outright and in the strongest terms the abominable massacres which have been perpetrated in Beijing. Those of us who have great feelings of friendship for China and have watched its political and economic progress with hope and satisfaction are particularly appalled at this regression to barbarity. It is impossible for us to return to those attitudes so long as this bloodstained repression continues and until it is clear that those in control of China repudiate it.
The scenes of carnage on our television screens have horrified us all. I pay tribute to the courageous journalists who have reported the events, and in particular to the remarkable Kate Adie of the BBC who has risked her life to get the news to Britain.
We admire the swift and positive action taken by President Bush to demonstrate the anger of the United States.
We support the action which Her Majesty's Government have taken and which the Foreign Secretary has just announced. I wish, though, that as well as suspending arms sales—and of course we support that suspension—he would examine the possibility of cancelling all other exports to China, including exports of vehicles which could be used for repression of the civilian population.
I also ask whether the Foreign Secretary will consult the other Governments of the European Community to ensure that firm and concerted action is taken by the whole Community. I should be grateful if he could tell the House what action the United Kingdom Government are considering taking in the United Nations on this matter.
We have been told—and of course we welcome it—about the action which the Government are taking, so far as they can, to protect and assist British citizens at present in Beijing and any other areas that may be affected. Will our embassy also be accepting its responsibility for the safety of Hong Kong citizens—journalists, business people and others—who may be caught up in these disturbances?
It is essential for the Government to take whatever action is open to them to provide reassurance for the people of Hong Kong. In eight years their colony is due to be incorporated into China, but only if the safety, welfare and governance of Hong Kong remain the sole responsibility of this United Kingdom House of Commons.
As the Foreign Secretary knows, the Opposition recommended that elections to the Hong Kong Legislative Council should take place last year. That was not done. We now ask the Foreign Secretary urgently to consider the possibility of bringing forward the elections scheduled for 1991 if possible to this year, but certainly to no later than 33 next year, and that a higher proportion of the Legislative Council be directly elected. This would be a signal to the people of Hong Kong of our concern for their assured democratic future and to the Government of China that Britain is determined that the terms of the joint declaration be adhered to by them as well as by the United Kingdom.
I suggest to the Foreign Secretary that as soon as possible he should himself go to Hong Kong to discuss the possibility of advancing the election date, as well as to explain to the people and representatives of Hong Kong what he means in his statement today by talking about flexibility regarding the right of abode in this country. I also suggest that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should consider travelling as soon as practicable to Beijing to obtain from the Chinese Government the firmest possible assurances that the joint declaration will be adhered to—[Interruption.] I would have thought that that would gain assent from the overwhelming majority in the House.
These are times of turmoil and I do not for a moment suggest that the Government should pretend to be able to do more than they can do. At the same time, whatever can be done must be done, for the sake of the people of Hong Kong and to make it clear to the Government of China that, while China should be welcomed into the wider world community as a great and growing power, that welcome must be conditional upon the Government of China conducting themselves in accordance with the standards of civilisation that they have been trampling on in recent days.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the generally supportive tone of everything that he has had to say because it is clear that on all these matters there is very widespread agreement in the House.
I begin by echoing his tribute to the journalists of the BBC, Independent Television and the newspapers, and indeed to those of other countries. One of the most remarkable features of what has been happening in the last few weeks has been the continued opportunity for the rest of the world to see what has been going on in Peking, and also for Peking to know what has been going on in the rest of China, as a result of the free transmissions of radio from the rest of the world. The openness which has been at least a part of what has taken place in China has played a crucial part in events thus far.
The second question which the right hon. Gentleman raised was about the possibility of extending a prohibition to other exports to China, with particular reference to vehicles. Obviously all such questions must remain under consideration. Our basic principle is to subscribe to the position as outlined by President Bush, that it is important to maintain diplomatic, commercial and other human contacts, so far as is safe and possible, with the people and Government of China in order to try and retain the opportunity for recreating their previous open disposition.
European Community co-operation is under urgent consideration among the 12 countries and the Political Committee is meeting today. Already, the meeting due to take place between the Commission and a Chinese ministerial mission yesterday has been cancelled.
The right hon. Gentleman will have seen that the Secretary-General of the United Nations has expressed his own personal and deep concern about what has happened and has called for the restoration of restraint and moderation in Beijing. However, it is also plain that there 34 is particular difficulty in pursuing in that organisation questions about human rights affecting one of the permanent members of the Security Council.
I made it plain in my statement that the British embassy has been putting great efforts into protecting and establishing contact with all British nationals and Hong Kong people in Beijing and elsewhere in China, without differentiation.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the matter of representative government in Hong Kong. It is important to recognise that the changes that we have sought to introduce so far in that respect have been those that command the widest possible support in the territory.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I will come on to that. It is also equally clear that in the light of recent events, opinion in Hong Kong has been evolving—[Interruption.] Wait for it. Even before the events of last weekend, the Executive and Legislative Councils called unanimously for full democracy by 2003—[Interruption.] That is what they called for. It is right that we should consider, in light of the recommendations of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and debates in this House, how we should respond to those views.
I welcome the importance attached by the right hon. Gentleman to the joint declaration. That declaration embodies the substantial principles on which the future of Hong Kong should be built. The crucial point is to secure compliance with that declaration, translated into the Basic Law, as fully and effectively as possible by a responsible Government in Beijing.
I recognise that there is wisdom in trying to find an opportunity to establish contact with ministerial opposite numbers in Beijing as soon as it makes sense to do that. It is equally clear that it would not make sense to try to do so in the present circumstances. The suggestion of a visit to Hong Kong is sensible and I will discuss it with the Governor of Hong Kong in London later this week.
§ Mr. David Howell (Guildford)
After the atrocities and butchery in Peking at the weekend—which my right hon. and learned Friend has rightly condemned, as the world condemns them, in the strongest terms that our language allows—will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure, if and when discussions resume in the joint liaison group about implementing the 1984 treaty, that we seek to make it absolutely clear to the Beijing regime and its officials that if they want to see a stable and prosperous Hong Kong, as they say they do, they must accept and support every measure that we deem necessary to bring that about and to maintain confidence in Hong Kong? Will he also remind the Beijing regime, when discussions begin again, that its obligations to maintain the stability, growth and prosperity of Hong Kong and its people exist not only now and up to 1997, but for 50 years thereafter and in perpetuity?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the measured wisdom and authority of his remarks. I know that he and his colleagues on the Select Committee have been paying the closest attention to these matters in the important work that they have been doing. It is an important feature of the joint declaration that the Government of the People's Republic of China recognise, 35 without qualification, the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government for the administration of Hong Kong until 1997, which is a responsibility that we shall continue to discharge to the fullest of our ability. It is also important for my right hon. Friend to remind the House and, through the House, the Government of the People's Republic of China of their responsibilities in the years that extend beyond 1997, under the joint declaration for a full span of 50 years, but in practice and aspiration way beyond that into the future.
§ Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)
It is probably right, after our initial responses, to wait a few days to see how things develop in China. If democracy were to triumph in what is clearly a developing power struggle, everything would be well, but I am sure that the Foreign Secretary is right to begin to think ahead, in case the worst should happen. Is it not the case that, under the joint declaration, the army that we have seen butchering its fellow citizens on the streets of Peking will be on the streets of Hong Kong in eight years' time? Is it surprising, therefore, that the last vestige of faith that many in Hong Kong had in the joint declaration, has been severely damaged and will have to be patiently rebuilt?
Let me welcome two aspects of the Foreign Secretary's statement. He said that negotiations taking place under the joint declaration will be suspended. Will he use the interim to try to build up international support for the joint declaration, perhaps through the medium of the United Nations? I welcome, too, the Foreign Secretary's flexible attitude to the application of the British Nationality Act. Does he realise that many will be watching closely to see how that develops?
I ask the Foreign Secretary to consider three further steps. First, will he set as the target that he has identified for the development of democracy in Hong Kong the establishment by 1991 of a Legislative Council at least half of whose members have been directly elected? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why half?"] At least half, as a first step, by 1991.
Secondly, when the excellent David Wilson's term as Governor of Hong Kong is up, will the Foreign Secretary consider providing a Hong Kong belonger to take his place—perhaps one elected from the Legislative Council?
Thirdly, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that all free western democracies have a real national interest in ensuring that democracy survives in Hong Kong? Does he agree that there may be a case for the Government considering a conference of the free western democracies to see whether an agreement could be reached whereby they could provide a last-resort sanctuary for the people of Hong Kong, as the ultimate bulwark for the survival of democracy?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I am impressed by the extent to which the right hon. Gentleman has learnt the case for patience. It is certainly right that we should await developments in Peking, because no one can yet foresee what will happen there, and much depends upon it.
The right hon. Gentleman is also right—I welcome his remarks—to underline the importance of the joint declaration and of securing the effective commitment of the Chinese Government to that declaration.
36 The right hon. Gentleman drew attention in particular to the need to mobilise international support for the joint declaration. It was for that reason that the declaration was drawn up in the form of an international agreement and registered by both nations simultaneously at the United Nations. For that reason, incidentally, when I presided over the 40th anniversary meeting of the Security Council —with the Chinese Foreign Minister—I drew attention to the importance of the agreement that had been arrived at between us. The then Chinese Foreign Minister endorsed the agreement in the presence of that body. The highest solemnity needs to be attached to that if the Chinese Government are to be reminded of the importance that we attach to the declaration.
The right hon. Gentleman made some suggestions. On the composition of the Legislative Council, I have already made it plain that options and opinions are evolving in Hong Kong as a result of recent events. As soon as a clear view emerges, we shall be considering the best and most effective way to give effect to that. That is one of the matters that I shall wish to discuss when I am able to visit Hong Kong.
It is much too early to consider the replacement of the present Governor of Hong Kong, but the whole House will welcome the tribute that the right hon. Gentleman paid to the quality of Sir David Wilson, who has been bearing a heavy burden in recent weeks.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the prospect of an international conference on the refuge of last resort. I do not think that that is the right way of handling the matter. It is most important to concentrate not only on aspects of British nationality law but on the best way of restoring confidence in the prospects for Hong Kong.
§ Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that he deserves the support of the whole House for his excellent statement and for the line that the Government have been taking throughout on China and Hong Kong? Will he transmit to the people of Hong Kong the assurance that the House continues to remain deeply interested in their welfare and that they have our continued support?
My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the increased political awareness of the people of Hong Kong in the past few weeks and to the unanimous recommendation of the Executive and Legislative Councils calling for more rapid progress towards direct elections. Is not that a significant resolution? Does it not represent the first statement that gives the point of view of Hong Kong as a whole about the speed of progress towards direct elections—something for which the Basic Law drafting committee has been calling?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's support for my statement. I am sure that the people of Hong Kong will take note of the very widespread support throughout the House for the opinions that I have tried to express. There is a close and continuing interest in this Parliament's discussion of the affairs of Hong Kong, which is a natural reflection of the link between that country and the prospects of democratic government.
I acknowledge the importance of my right hon. Friend's last point. The resolution unanimously arrived at by the Executive and Legislative Councils before the events of last weekend is important and we should take account of it. We should do so on the same basis that we have 37 followed to date, which is to try to identify the basis that commands the widest possible support in the territory and then to commend that to the draftsmen of the Basic Law.
§ Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know, for more than 20 years I have been a proponent of good relations with China and the need to understand political developments in that enormously important country. Will he believe me this afternoon if I say that I share the universal revulsion that has been expressed at the conduct of the geriatric Chinese Government during the last few days? Does he accept that I strongly support the actions that he has adumbrated this afternoon? However, will he reconsider the statement that both he and the Prime Minister have made, that were there to be any lessening of the restraints on British nationals coming to this country from Hong Kong, a flood of 3.5 million people would be battering at the gates of Dover? Would it not be more honest to admit that if the right hon. and learned Gentleman could get his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to reconsider the issue, it would be a matter of only 10,000 or 15,000 people a year, for six years, from the very limited categories for which, as he knows well, the Hong Kong Commission has been arguing the case for reconsideration? Will he discuss that specific matter with the Home Secretary?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I acknowledge the force of the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks. All who have watched with growing interest and enthusiasm the emergence of a new-style China during the past 10 years will share the hon. Gentleman's sense of deep grief at what has happened during recent weeks. It is important to note that there are still many people inside China and representing her throughout the rest of the world who also share that sense of grief. It is for that reason that we hope that common sense will be restored to authority in Peking before too long.
The hon. Gentleman rightly drew a distinction between the implied threat of a mass movement of people, which would happen if we tried to deal at once with 3.25 million people, and the alternative, to which I drew attention, of flexibility in the management of individual cases. That matter is certainly a topic for discussion between myself and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I do not ignore its importance.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)
I share the disgust of the House and the whole of the free world for the unspeakable events in China. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, in reality, our ability to influence what we would all like to happen—that is, the emergence of what he described as a sane and balanced Government in Beijing—is infinitesimal? Would it not, therefore, be wise to avoid giving the present blood-stained leaders any opportunity to continue holding power by playing the xenophobia card?
As regards Hong Kong, will my right hon. and learned Friend repeat what our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister so clearly said, that 1997 is not a date produced out of thin air but the date when our lease ends? The only alternative to an agreement with China is no agreement, an eventuality that would make political boat people out of the whole population of Hong Kong.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
My hon. Friend is right to remind the House—although it needs no reminding—of the 38 inescapable facts of geography and history to which I referred in my statement. One such fact is the expiry of the lease in 1997. It is on that basis that we have secured the support of the House for the achievements of the joint declaration, to which the House attaches importance. My hon. Friend is also right to warn against xenophobia in any aspect of managing a problem of such complexity. I think that he would go too far if he were to believe that the capacity of people outside China to influence the future there should be described as infinitesimal. Of course, the prospect of having influence upon a mass population of 1.25 billion and on the people who seek to govern that country is in one sense very small. Yet, if one thinks of the huge impact of the opinion of the rest of the world as a result of the openness that has come about in recent years, if one thinks of the incredible reality that the leader of the Soviet Union was there only a few weeks ago, being hailed as a champion of democracy, and if one thinks of the changes that have been able to have an impact on that society, my hon. Friend should not despair too much of the ability of the rest of us to make some impact on prospects for the people of China.
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the great majority of people in China, as they learn the facts, must share the horror of the rest of the world about the events in Beijing and the massacre of citizens and students last Sunday? In those changed circumstances, does the Foreign Secretary agree that the speedy introduction of direct elections for the majority of the members of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong would not only give the people of Hong Kong the best chance of securing their own security but would also be a demonstration to the people of China that it is possible speedily, responsibly and with restraint to introduce democracy?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I think that the hon. Gentleman has rightly put his finger on one of the most important new factors in the scene, a factor that has already affected the evolution of opinion in Hong Kong, the extent to which the shape of representative institutions in Hong Kong can serve not only as a bulwark for their own freedom but as an example to the Chinese people. It is with that in mind that we shall take account as urgently as would make sense of the evolution of new thinking on the topic within Hong Kong itself.
§ Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)
Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept that I regard what he has just said as of particular significance? The question of confidence for the future of the people of Hong Kong is a delicate matter upon which the future, not only of Hong Kong but of many of our own interests and those of China itself, hangs. Will my right hon. and learned Friend therefore take on board the strong feeling that many of us heard over the weekend from all sections of Hong Kong society urging him onwards with the firm commitment, that I believe he is making, to review again the process of democracy so that when the time comes we can really test in the 50-year period the one-country, two-system claim?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
My hon. Friend is more than entitled to remind me of the importance of the opinion and aspirations of the people of Hong Kong. Throughout all the months and years that I have been concerned with the question I have tried as far as possible to display sensitivity 39 to their feelings. During the early and difficult months of negotiation I went to the territory to try to explain to the people and to their representatives how the matter was proceeding. Perhaps no one recognises more than I do the importance of continuing to strengthen that bond of trust between the people and those who represent them, however indirectly, in this Parliament.
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
Does the Foreign Secretary accept that it was a welcome change to hear him say that he would consult the people of Hong Kong to bring forward democracy as quickly as possible? Will he also accept that the answer to the question whether democracy is wanted in Hong Kong was given not by Legco or by any sampling of opinion but by the people of Hong Kong in the last week, and that there is abundant evidence that the people want democracy to the same extent as the Foreign Secretary of any other hon. Member wants it for the United Kingdom? Will he therefore do his best to make sure that the consultations are as quick and as sharp as possible and that an announcement is made within the next few weeks to reassure the people of Hong Kong on this important matter?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I do not accept the opening remarks of the hon. Gentleman when he said that it is a welcome change that we have been engaging in consultation with the people of Hong Kong. Throughout we have sought to consult their opinions directly and through their representatives as carefully as possible.
On the second point, the hon. Gentleman is entitled to draw attention to the opinions expressed not only by the members of Legco and the Executive Council but by the people of Hong Kong more directly. He would not be prudent to urge us to jump to a single conclusion on the basis of that, however understandable it may be. We must consider carefully with those who have been governing Hong Kong in recent weeks and months as well as with the people of Hong Kong the right way of responding to the undoubted new needs that exist.
§ Sir Hal Miller (Bromsgrove)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend share my recollection that in the lifetime of the People's Republic of China there have been massive and often violent upheavals every five years, such as the great leap forward, the back to the land campaign and the cultural revolution, leading to loss of confidence in Hong Kong, flight and a search for foreign passports? During that period the Chinese Government, of whatever complexion, still maintained their international agreements. Will my right hon. and learned Friend remind those who are seeking to use the present troubles to propagate their own ideas, whether on passports to this country or on elections in Hong Kong, of that fact and also point out to them that any such proposals must be considered against the overriding need to preserve the peace and prosperity of Hong Kong?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
My hon. Friend, with his close experience of the territory, reminds the House of some important points. Of course, we have to consider all those matters in the light of our experience of the long history of relations between China and the outside world. It is certainly right to remind the House of the frequency with which the Government of China, even in recent 40 circumstances, have emphasised their intention to continue to respect their international agreements. That was one point specifically made to me by the chargé in the exchange of opinion last night. It is important not only to remind the House but for us to remind the Government of the People's Republic of China of their repeated commitment to international obligations.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
Despite the problems and the inescapable facts of geography, is it conceivable that there could be effective implementation of agreements with the present leadership, with its bloodstained hands that have been responsible for the death of so many thousands of its own citizens?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
Plainly, so long as the leadership responsible for the events of the last few days, which the whole House has been mourning and condemning, remains in authority the matter will be fraught with a great deal of difficulty. That is why I responded to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) by emphasising the need for us to see how events unfold. In the long history of China one hopes that the events of the last few weeks may be regarded as only part of a chapter and that a new chapter will begin sooner rather than later.
§ Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)
While I in no way advocate the admission of 3.25 million people to this country, may I ask whether my right hon. and learned Friend noticed the evidence to the Select Committee of Lord MacLehose? Dealing with the difficult matter of categories, he said that for many years Governments in this country had used considerable ingenuity to keep people out of the United Kingdom and pointed out that it was perhaps time for them to use a little of that ingenuity to let a few in. How does my right hon. and learned Friend react to that, and how flexible is flexible?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I am certainly aware of that observation by the noble Lord MacLehose in his evidence to the Select Committee. Of course, it was only part of a more substantial body of evidence. I have drawn attention to the need to recognise the case for flexibility. I think that I would be unwise to be cross-examined by my hon. and learned Friend any further on that at this time.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Does the Foreign Secretary accept the analysis that some old men in Peking have, unforgivably, brought in the Manchurian army, some of whose grandfathers were probably the worst and most hated persecutors of the Chinese at the time of the Japanese war? In such circumstances are we wise to say that we should break off all contacts, because there are five or six different Chinas? In particular, what advice would the Foreign Secretary give to the city of Edinburgh with its contacts with Xian where the people probably disapprove, just as much as the House does, of what has happened in Peking?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
The hon. Gentleman has committed himself to some unusually wise observations. He was certainly right to draw attention—as I have tried to do—to the huge diversity of opinion within China, which is why so many of us have expressed the hope with great fervour, although not yet with a great deal of confidence, that the sane, responsible China will prevail. That is why he was right to point out the need to maintain contact and relations of a personal, political and cultural 41 kind with the rest of China. It is in that way that we shall keep the spirit of democracy and the hope for the future alive in that great people.
§ Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
If the violence and the repression of democratic dissidents continue, is it not plain that another flood of refugees will be heading towards Hong Kong? Are we making any contingency plans to help the colony to deal with that potential flood of asylum seekers?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
My hon. Friend has drawn attention to a hazard that may develop. He will appreciate, of course, the extent to which Hong Kong is already facing very real problems from the number of boat people who for various reasons still arrive there. All I can say at this stage is that any question of refugee status for any individual would have to be considered separately and when it arose.
§ Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)
I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware that I, along with four other hon. Members, have recently returned from China and Hong Kong. We were in Beijing during the beginnings of the student demonstrations about three weeks ago. I find it, therefore, heartrending to see on television the very same streets that I walked upon now covered with dead bodies, blood and wrecked vehicles.
The discussions that we had with the students in the square at that time clearly indicated that all that the students wanted to do was to talk to the Government. The end result of the Chinese Government not talking to the students or their representatives has been confrontation, chaos, conflict and death. Is not the lesson to be learnt that, when a Government refuse to talk to their people, the end result will be what we have seen on television during the past few days?
In the very brief time we spent in Hong Kong, we discovered that what the people of Hong Kong—I emphasise the people of Hong Kong—clearly desire from the British Government is a very early change over to representative government in Hong Kong. If it were possible for the Government to take that wish into account and to bring the elections forward, that would restore some of the confidence in the people of Hong Kong, which has been greatly shattered in the past few days.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I understand the extent to which the hon. Member is moved by his recent experience of Peking. We all have recollections of our first contacts with the emergence of proper democratic institutions in that country. He is right to draw attention to the far greater scope for wise government that is available to Governments who engage in dialogue and communication with their people. We fortunately have that kind of relationship through the hon. Gentleman, and through many other hon. Members, with the people of Hong Kong, and we are able to hear and take account of their views. The tragedy of what has happened in Peking is that such an attitude of discussion and non-confrontation appeared to prevail through the early weeks of the extraordinary events there. The horror of the tragedy is that it has only been in the past few days that such profound unwisdom has seized of the minds of those who govern China.
§ Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that, grave though the present 42 situation is, it would be the greatest mistake to take any hasty steps towards changing the nationality law? Does my right hon. and learned Friend acknowledge that we have a number of years before the transfer of power in which it is quite possible that the situation will improve, as we all hope it will? Will he accept that the worst possible action would be to make concessions that would ultimately prove to be unsustainable?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
My right hon. Friend draws attention to the most important point about that most important argument. We cannot and should not engage in prospective changes in the law upon the footing that they might never need to be implemented. We have to look at the matter in a long perspective with the wisdom that my right hon. Friend has suggested.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Following the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) should we not first pay particular tribute to all those who have demonstrated continuously, day and night, in the capital of China and in other cities for basic human rights? As we all know, to demonstrate under a dictatorship takes tremendous courage. Is it not a fact that foreign correspondents were constantly asked if the countries from which they came supported what the demonstrators were trying to do? On reflection, perhaps the Foreign Secretary will agree that the democracies—not only that of our country but other democracies—could have spoken out before the bloodshed started over the weekend.
Are there not some people in the Chinese leadership —perhaps, the person who was general secretary of the Communist party until a few days ago, and his predecessor, whose death started the demonstrations, and in the Chinese Communist party at senior levels—who recognise that, just as in eastern Europe and Soviet Union change had to come, so it has to come in China? Stalinism is dead, and all the bullets and all the terror in the world cannot keep Stalinism going.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fact, as I have already emphasised, that certainly there are voices, and voices at a high level, in the Chinese Government of sanity, democracy and of belief in the kind of standards in which we believe. We must regret the passing of some of those voices, and continue to express the hope that those who remain will prevail in the immense struggles that are no doubt now taking place.
§ Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that the British people, having watched step by step the enactment of a crime without a name against humanity and liberty in China, are confused, if not infuriated, by the somewhat nonchalant response of the Government and even more of the Opposition, who, had it been a European Government doing something on an infinitesimally smaller scale, would have been up in arms and on the streets? Does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that in the meantime it is extraordinary that the Chinese Government should remain a permanent member of the Security Council, which is the alleged protector of human rights?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
My hon. and learned Friend rightly expresses his grave dismay of what has been taking place. However, I must say in the light of his judgment, that I do 43 not regard him as a very well qualified judge of nonchalance. Neither the Government nor, if I may say so, the Opposition, have been disposed to treat the events of recent days with anything other than the utmost seriousness.
§ Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)
What steps is the British embassy in Beijing taking to contact those British citizens who are resident outside the capital? I have a constituent, a Miss Elaine Sweeney, who is a teacher in the Situhan province in Chengdu. Her parents have been trying to contact her for the past week. I telephoned the Private Office of the Foreign Secretary at the weekend, and, although his official was very helpful and took down the details, the official did not know where the Situhan province was. Will the Foreign Secretary consider allocating additional staff to his Private Office and publishing an inquiry telephone number so that relatives can contact people readily?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his tribute to the courtesy of the person to whom he spoke. I apologise for the lack of extensive geographical knowledge, which is understandable in the circumstances. If the hon. Gentleman would like to give me any further details, of course I shall take account of them. The embassy and our consulate in Shanghai are making every possible effort to contact all the known British subjects within China. Almost 500 of the 860 British subjects in China are in Peking and in Shanghai. I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's particular suggestions for more expeditious handling of any other inquiries.
§ Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, in spite of our sympathy and concern, our principal obligation is to the people of this country? Does he recognise that the last two major immigrations into this country were not widely welcomed by the indigenous population? Does he agree that if his flexibility led to another major immigration into this country, it would be widely resented and would damage race relations here?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that factor. That is why in my statement I drew attention to the immense difficulty of contemplating a massive new immigration commitment of the kind involved in any fundamental change. My hon. Friend has underlined the importance of his warning in other contexts as well.
§ Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)
Does not hindsight teach that the House was wrong to seek an agreement with China on the future of Hong Kong? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House about the Government's fallback position should the changes in the Chinese Government which he has outlined not occur? Will he open international negotiations so that Hong Kong can gain the protection of United Nations trusteeship when it ceases to be a British territory, should the people of Hong Kong wish that?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I am afraid that, unusually, the hon. Gentleman is drawing the wrong conclusions from hindsight. As I have said already, it would not make sense to ignore the historical and geographical realities that are 44 implicit in the fact that 92 per cent. of the territory reverts to China in 1997. Any viable future for Hong Kong must be based on co-operation and co-existence with China, not on confrontation. Any attempt to design some alternative to that, dependent upon the goodwill of almost any organisation that the hon. Gentleman cares to name, would be of little, if any, value in the absence of the right relationship with China. That is why I have no doubt about the wisdom of arriving at the joint declaration. I have no doubt about the importance of underlining its significance for the future. Our first task is to restore the substance and confidence that can be placed in it.
§ Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)
Given China's tendency to isolate itself when it goes through one of these great upheavals, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) mentioned, will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that he will maintain relations with the People's Republic at as high a level as possible during these difficult times so that the actions of the British Government in no sense catalyse such a turning inward? Will my right hon. and learned Friend suggest to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that at the earliest possible date—certainly before the House rises for the summer recess—a suitable day should be set aside for a debate on Hong Kong?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I shall draw my hon. Friend's last point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. In any event, such a debate was in prospect, given the timetable of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which was presided over by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell).
My hon. Friend's first point is important also. Nothing that we do would be directed towards precipitating any increase in the isolation of the People's Republic of China. That is why we are maintaining our embassy there and other links of the kind suggested by the Opposition. That is why I shall seek any sensible opportunity that presents itself to communicate to those in authority in Peking our anxieties and wishes for the future.
§ Mr. Pat Wall (Bradford, North)
The Foreign Secretary may recall that a year ago I raised with him my opposition to the Basic Law, as it was then put forward, and its lack of provision for democratic elections in Hong Kong. Would not the best tribute to those students and workers who died in the killing streets and squares of Beijing be to announce universal suffrage in Hong Kong immediately, and the holding of elections this year? Is it not tragic that these events have had to occur before the idea of universal suffrage in Hong Kong has been raised? I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that what is taking place is a crime against humanity and—speaking as a lifelong anti-Stalinist—a crime against the ideas of Socialism, which comes ill from those in China who claim to defend the Socialist system.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I shall refrain from making any of the political points that might be made in the face of the hon. Gentleman's closing remarks. I confess that I do not have instant recall of his attitude to these matters 12 months ago. I repeat: we have sought throughout, and will continue, to introduce arrangements for government in Hong Kong along the lines that command the widest possible support in the territory.
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, now that the decrepit leadership of the People's Republic of China has murdered its way to the history books, whatever leadership emerges may welcome faster moves by my right hon. and learned Friend and the Government towards some elements of democracy in Hong Kong? Does he agree that the leaders may welcome it, first, so that they can make a success of the takeover of Hong Kong and, secondly, so that they can be seen by the world to be leading a country in a more decent way than the people from whom they took it over?
§ Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)
Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that those students and workers who died in their thousands when demonstrating against corruption, bribery, nepotism, the black market and the bureaucratic, Stalinist, one-party dictatorship that rules almost a third of mankind could have expected a little more praise for their heroism, bravery and self-sacrifice? Why does he not declare clear support for the political revolution which is still unfolding in China and honour the martyrs of Tiananmen square by declaring this country's full support for a Socialist workers' democracy in China and for self-determination, free elections and full democracy in Hong Kong?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
As always, the hon. Gentleman brings a unique vision to bear on these matters. In the eyes of the great majority of hon. Members and of the world, the heroism of the people to whom he has rightly paid tribute was exercised in revolt against the logical consequences of the most Socialist country in the world.
§ Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, in these twilight years of British power in Hong Kong, there will be a need for enlightened and good public servants who are Hong Kong citizens? Does he therefore agree that, at the very least, those who are willing to serve for the next nine years should be given an understanding that, should the same kind of Government prevail, they will be treated properly, mercifully and humanely by the British people and the British Government?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
Those factors are among those that need to be taken into account in appropriate circurnstances under section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)
Is not one of the key factors that will ensure that the students and workers have not died in vain the tremendous professional skill of the broadcasters, especially the television journalists, who brought us moving pictures of what happened? Given the unfortunate comments that some of the Foreign Secretary's right hon. Friends have made in the past, will he take this opportunity in particular to congratulate by name Kate Adie, who brought to reporting the facts from China the same standards of integrity and courage that she showed in Tripoli?
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman talk to the Home Secretary about his plans for broadcasting? Some people fear that, if the present plans go ahead, the quality of the news coverage by British television and broadcasting crews will decline and be threatened. That will be a very bad day for this country.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
Even with the most liberal application of the rules of the House, discussion by me at this stage about the future of British broadcasting policy would be testing the patience of the House a little far.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
A moment or two ago a Conservative Member warned the Foreign Secretary of the likelihood, if these dreadful circumstances continue, of a huge number of refugees flooding into Hong Kong. What if refugees seek to leave China by way of the sea? What advice has been given to captains of British ships sailing in those waters, about dealing with such refugees? No doubt, their humanitarianism would prompt them to pick up such refugees but where would they be put ashore?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
One must hope that the matter does not escalate on anything like that scale. At the moment, the disturbances, which are grave, have been largely, though not completely, confined to the capital of Peking. Were circumstances to develop as the hon. Gentleman has in mind, sea captains have their own criteria and standards that they apply in similar circumstances.