§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on my visit to Hong Kong from 13 to 16 January.
I went to show this country's continuing commitment to Hong Kong, to meet a representative cross-section of the community, and to discuss the issues of prime importance to Hong Kong in the period before 1997—the operation of the nationality package, which I proposed to the House on 20 December, and the pace and extent of democratisation in Hong Kong.
I also discussed the problem of the Vietnamese boat people, and visited a refugee camp and a camp at which boat people are screened for refugee status.
Hong Kong has become the world's 11th largest trading entity because of the unique combination of British administration and justice, and the talent and energy of its people. The immediate sense of fear caused by the events in China last June has lifted, but those events dealt a substantial blow to Hong Kong's self-confidence, and the exodus of the talent which is needed to keep Hong Kong prosperous has continued. We believe that it is vital that those people should stay.
Everyone to whom I spoke—in the Executive and Legislative Councils, one of the district boards, the business community, public servants and other groups—had hoped that the package that I proposed on 20 December would have made provision for more people. But they also welcomed what we had proposed as a measure that would give key people the confidence to remain in Hong Kong. They recognise that it was not an easy step to take, and they are following carefully the discussion in this country. They all hoped that it would be possible for Parliament to give its approval and for the scheme to begin to operate. I assured them that the Government were fully committed to the proposal.
The second issue that we discussed was the repatriation of Vietnamese boat people. No one in Hong Kong involved in the repatriation takes satisfaction in what had to be done, but the result achieved was necessary. Having seen the camps for myself, I am more than ever convinced that return to Vietnam, in carefully controlled conditions, is preferable to camp life, with no hope of resettlement elsewhere.
Hong Kong has paid a heavy price for its principled policy of first asylum. We cannot expect it to receive this year the same number of boat people—over 30,000—that they received last year. There is nowhere for those boat people who are not refugees to go. The policy of repatriation is therefore the right one, and I hope that this may soon be endorsed by the international community.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) and to Lord Ennals for their thorough and expert report on the first 51 who were repatriated before Christmas. I would welcome monitoring by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and other agencies, of all who are repatriated in the future.
No one in Hong Kong seriously disputes the validity of the joint declaration as a basis for Hong Kong's future after 1997, but confidence in the concept of "one country, two systems" was undermined by the events of last June. 292 Since then the Chinese Government have reaffirmed their commitment to the joint declaration, and I believe that we must make it work.
An important element in that is the extent and pace of movement towards democracy in Hong Kong before and after 1997, which as I have discovered, is the subject of intense concern and debate in Hong Kong, and we are discussing it with the Chinese Government; those discussions are continuing, and I would prefer not to go into detail today. I can say, however, that our goal is to set a system in place—beginning with elections to the Legislative Council in 1991—which will satisfy Hong Kong's aspiration for democracy and which will endure after 1997. [Interruption.] There seems to be some disarray on the Opposition Benches.
I hope to be able, after further discussion, to announce a decision within the next few weeks.
As all who know it agree, Mr. Speaker, Hong Kong is the economic success story of a region that boasts several economic miracles. As you look across the border into China you see that that economic success has spread to the neighbouring province of the mainland. China is Hong Kong's largest trading partner, and Hong Kong is also one of Britain's biggest markets in the region. All that could continue after 1997—and the plans are dramatic—or it could be lost.
The future of 5.7 million people after 1997 depends on three things. First, it depends on the talent and energy of Hong Kong's own people, and they are not in doubt. Secondly, it depends on the attitude of the Chinese Government, who need to do much more to reassure Hong Kong. But dialogue has been re-established, and we must do our best to maintain it. Thirdly, Hong Kong's future depends on Britain, as the responsible sovereign power until 1997.
After last June, the House rightly voiced its support for Hong Kong—and that, of course, must mean more than words. The people of Hong Kong are realists: for example, they accept, although reluctantly, that we cannot give passports to all. They look to us, as the sovereign power, to make the necessary decisions over the coming years, and to follow an active and understanding policy towards Hong Kong. I hope that I convinced them that we shall do so.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
We thank the Foreign Secretary for making a statement to the House so soon after his return from Hong Kong. Four questions arise from his visit, from today's statement and from the statement made in Guangzhou today by the deputy director general of the Basic Law drafting committee.
First, what are the Government's intentions with regard to the progress of democratisation in Hong Kong? Everyone now accepts the timid inadequacy of the Government's decision in February 1988 that only 10 members of the Legislative Council should be directly elected in 1991. Opposition Members took the view that the first elections should have taken place in 1988. After the Tiananmen square massacre, we urged an increase in the number of next year's directly elected members to 30, with a full 100 per cent. by 1995.
The Government recognised the need for an increase, but they have done absolutely nothing. They have therefore left the field free for decisions by the Peking Government, who, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, have proposed only 18 directly elected members by 1997 293 —the year of the handover. OMELCO—the Hong Kong representatives—asked for 20 next year as a prelude to 30 by 1997 and the full 60 by 2003. The Foreign Secretary in Hong Kong gave an elliptical off-the-record interview in which he said that there would be 20 by next year, but he did not look further than that. Today he has given the House no information whatsoever, and that is simply not good enough.
The right hon. Gentleman said today that we are the responsible power. He said in Hong Kong that it is a decision for us and for the Government of Hong Kong to make. What does that mean? Will the Government have a phased programme of democracy in Hong Kong—not just elections next year but an increased number before the handover? He must at least tell the House clearly today.
Secondly, what has happened to the Bill of Rights? The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, the present Leader of the House, who is sitting beside him, said on July 13:The proposed Bill of Rights will ensure that there is one fundamental legal text which sets out all the rights and freedoms that the people of Hong Kong currently enjoy."—[Official Report, 13 July 1989; Vol. 156, c. 1169.]He promised that it would form part of the existing law and continue after the transfer of sovereignty in 1997.
As we know, the draft Bill of Rights has been thrown out by the Executive Council in Hong Kong as inaccurate, and reports from Hong Kong during the right hon. Gentleman's visit stated that the Government were now playing down the Bill of Rights. Today he has said not a single word about the Bill of Rights. Will he make it clear to the House? Is the Bill of Rights now expendable, or are the Government proceeding with it? We must know.
Thirdly, what international discussions are taking place on the boat people and when will they be resumed? Have the Government of Vietnam indicated whether they are ready to receive more boat people if they are sent forcibly? What action are the Government taking to provide incentives for voluntary repatriation? What action are the Government taking to provide direct economic aid for Vietnam, which is the most sensible way of giving the Vietnamese confidence to remain in their own country as it is assisted to escape from its abject poverty?
The right hon. Gentleman said in Hong Kong that he had not yet had time to read the Amnesty International report about the treatment of the boat people. He will know that that report alleges partial strangulation, kicks and beatings of boat people by Hong Kong police and that a boat person died as a result of indiscriminate kicking and the use of batons. Those are grave charges by an organisation of international repute.
Will the right hon. Gentleman set up an independent inquiry into those allegations, and will he re-examine the screening procedures, which Amesty International says contain critical shortcomings?
Finally, has the right hon. Gentleman seen the statement today by Mr. Lu Ping, the deputy secretary general of the Basic Law drafting committee, which he made in Guangzhou in which he is reported as saying that under the Basic Law top officials in Hong Kong's post-1997 Government will not have the right to live abroad and in which he further says that Hong Kong residents with British passports will not be allowed to seek British consular protection while in the territory after it returns to Chinese rule. Is that not a torpedo right through the Government's ill-conceived plans to award United Kingdom passports to 50,000 so-called key people? Does 294 not the statement made on behalf of the Chinese Government mean that, if the British Government's plan is enacted, everyone awarded a passport will inevitably seek to come to Britain before 1997, thus making nonsense of their claim that the purpose of their plan is to anchor those people to Hong Kong?
Everyone in Britain has welcomed the magnificent moves to democracy in eastern Europe. Are the people of Hong Kong to be denied that clear progress to democracy that has been won by the Poles, Czech and Romanians? That would be a sorry epitaph to British rule in Hong Kong, and we look to the right hon. Gentleman to reassure the House and the people of Hong Kong.
§ Mr. Hurd
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) asked four substantial questions. First, he asked about the progress to democracy. It is certain that that will start with elections to the Legislative Council next year, and from a substantially higher base than that proposed in the White Paper in February 1988. Hong Kong will start next year on that substantial road. I gave no figures in Hong Kong, and I have given no figures to the House, because we are still seeking what is clearly the best solution, which is that that start next year, and then in the elections in 1995, should continue after 1997, and for it to be incorported in the Chinese provisions. If someone is contemplating standing for election to the Legislative Council, it is clearly desirable and makes sense to have that upward curve, if possible, to ensure that the process which will certainly start next year will assuredly be continued after 1997.
We have been discussing that in Hong Kong and with the Chinese Government, but those discussions have not yet finished. I said in Hong Kong, and in the House today, that as soon as they have finished—they must end before long—I will let the House know. It would be a great mistake to take a decision that made impossible the longer-term progress to democracy, if such progress is attainable. If it is not, as I said in Hong Kong, we and the Hong Kong Government will have to take decisions and announce them for 1991 and for 1995.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman asked about the Bill of Rights. That idea was first put forward by my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President of the Council. It has been taken up in Hong Kong, and its institutions are considering its text. The drafting of the Bill of Rights is a matter for the Hong Kong Government. The Chinese have not made any representations to us, but if they want to comment on the draft Bill once it is published, they will be entitled to do so. That matter is progressing through the institutions of Hong Kong.
With regard to what will happen after 1997, the two United Nations covenants on human rights will, as the joint declaration makes clear, continue to apply to Hong Kong after 1997. There is no dispute about that, and that provision is fully reflected in the current draft of the Basic Law.
Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman asked about the boat people. He asked for specific information about the next meeting of the steering committee in Geneva. I have been told today that it will be held on 23 and 24 January, about a week later than was originally supposed. I hope that the international community will agree at that meeting to accept in practice what is already accepted in principle—that the right place for Vietnamese who are not refugees is Vietnam. As the right hon. Gentleman said, while it is 295 absolutely right to encourage voluntary return—as the right hon. Gentleman knows, we and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees are doing that—that has not proved sufficient, and therefore repatriation is necessary.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Amnesty report. Obviously the detailed criticisms in it must be considered by us and by the Government of Hong Kong, as I said in Hong Kong yesterday. Several of the incidents in the Amnesty report have already been investigated by the Hong Kong Government, and the criticisms have not been accepted. I visited the Hai Ling Chau camp yesterday and saw something of the screening. Obviously it was not a thorough inspection, but I was impressed by the initial interview, which was relatively short, and the three hours or so that were spent actually examining the detail. I was impressed also by the way in which, in the camp, it was stated in English and in Vietnamese that there was a clear right of appeal.
The right hon. Gentleman's final point dealt with Mr. Lu Ping's statement. I imagine that I have read the same account as the right hon. Gentleman read. We have looked at that point—it came up while I was in Hong Kong. Under Chinese law, full citizens of another country are not dual citizens. It follows that, in the case of United Kingdom citizens, they are entitled to our consular protection throughout the world. Hong Kong Chinese who are not full United Kingdom citizens are in a different position.
Article 74 of the joint declaration makes it clear that the Government of the special administrative region—the SAR—of Hong Kong may employ British and other foreign nationals in the public service after 1997.
§ Mr. David Howell (Guildford)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that he conducted his recent visit to Hong Kong with great skill in appallingly difficult circumstances? Frankly, those circumstances are not being helped by the attitude of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman).
My right hon. Friend spoke the other day about a through train to the future for the people of Hong Kong. Does he accept that the best through train is one marked "freedom and democracy" and that, therefore, his statement today that he will set in place a system of democracy that will satisfy Hong Kong's aspirations is extremely welcome?
Will my right hon. Friend enlighten the House on an important matter about the Opposition's policy? I realise that Opposition policy is not his responsibility, except in the sense that all policy statements in the House are part of the central problem of Hong Kong. Is it correct that the Opposition are now in favour of giving British passports to everyone in Hong Kong?
§ Mr. Hurd
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comments. As he knows, there has been a concentration and focus on the figures for the number of democratically elected legislators in the Legislative Council in 1991, which is an important point. The point may have been somewhat obscure, but, in any case, the start to be made next year in democracy in the Legislative Council in Hong Kong will be an important event. It will start from a more substantial base than was suggested and 296 discussed even as short a time as two years ago. The best way is to proceed from that base after 1997. That is why it is sensible to discuss these matters with the People's Republic, as we are doing. If that is not possible, at the end of the day, we will need to make our own decisions.
For fear of wearying the House, I did not press the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) about Labour policies, because it takes an awfully long time to do so. I am in total confusion. No doubt there will be opportunities to explore that matter. Sometimes the right hon. Gentleman oozes sympathy, and sometimes he says that there is nothing to be done. From all his foggy phrases, I get the strong impression that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have no interest whatever in a sensible future for Hong Kong.
§ Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)
I join the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) in congratulating the Foreign Secretary on the personal skill and diplomacy with which he did a difficult job in Hong Kong. However, is not the outlying situation in Hong Kong unchanged? There is no change in the hard facts of Hong Kong's position, for confidence in Hong Kong still rests on a slender thread. Does the Foreign Secretary realise that maintenance of that confidence now depends on his being very tough on two matters: first, democracy, the Bill of Rights, and the Communists in Peking; and, secondly, passports and those who pander to racism in his own party? Does the Foreign Secretary accept that what Hong Kong needs is both of those—not one without the other?
On the issue of the boat people, the Foreign Secretary said that the voluntary repatriation programme was not going fast enough, but is it not the case that UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme has already repatriated 1,100 people peaceably to Vietnam without any of the brutality of the forced repatriations? That figure is 20 times more than the Government's programme has achieved. Indeed, another 1,300 people have applied for voluntary repatriation. Surely the Foreign Secretary now realises that this is not the time to press ahead with another brutal exercise in forced repatriation, which would not only damage Britain's name and prevent a multilateral solution to the problem, but would probably impede the process of voluntary repatriation which is proving so successful.
§ Mr. Hurd
I came back with two main thoughts impressed on me by the people of Hong Kong. The first was, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, the enthusiasm among articulate Hong Kong Chinese for greater democracy and for a start towards democracy. The second was their wish to get away from the constant hostile statements from Peking. It will not be easy, but we have to try to reconcile the two messages that I received so clearly.
I have detected no racism on the Government Benches about this matter—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No. What I have detected—I have tried to read the speeches and to listen to the broadcasts carefully—is a natural anxiety about the consequences of what we propose for immigration in this country. I do not find that anxiety objectionable, and it is because of that anxiety that we have made our package what it is. If we had brushed aside that anxiety as of no importance, of course, we might have gone much further in the direction that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has suggested, but we have not. We have tried to strike a balance, which, as I have said, is disappointing to almost 297 everybody in Hong Kong but which we believe is a reasonable balance, taking into account the reasonable preoccupations here and the reasonable expectations there.
As I have said about the boat people, voluntary return is the best thing and I am glad that voluntary returns are taking place. However, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdon) knows perfectly well that the disadvantage and drawback of that is that very few of those who are screened out and who it is decided are not refugees are volunteering. That is why—[Interruption.] It is true. That is why we decided before Christmas to send back 51, and that is why, as I have said several times, unless there is a more dramatic change on the horizon on the part of the international community than is clear at the moment, we shall have to continue that policy.
§ Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)
May I join in commending my right hon. Friend for the manner in which he handled a visit in the course of which he was bound to be open to criticism from one quarter or another, whatever he said or did? Does he agree that the predominant concern in this matter is the interests of the people of Hong Kong? In those interests, will he proceed with the package of measures that he has already outlined, confident that he will have the support of the vast majority of his hon. Friends? Accepting that the reality is that the Chinese Government will be taking over Hong Kong in 1997, is it not clear that antagonising them would be counterproductive? At the same time, in his discussions with the Chinese Government, will my right hon. Friend be robust in representing the interests and aspirations of the people of Hong Kong?
§ Mr. Hurd
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. On his first point, every right hon. and hon. Member must accept that we have a continuing responsibility to Hong Kong and to our own constituents. Indeed, many of our own constituents have or will have substantial interests in and connections with the continued success of Hong Kong, so I do not think that there is a contradiction when it comes to the point.
I entirely agree with the way in which my hon. Friend put his second point. Every time one goes to Hong Kong and looks at the geography, the food, the water, the history and the law there, one sees clearly that its future is connected with China. That means a dialogue, but it does not mean simply finding out what the Chinese want and then doing it. Until 1997, we and the Hong Kong Government have our own responsibilities, and we intend to discharge them.
§ Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)
Does the Foreign Secretary accept that in the long term—I do not pretend that it is a short-term solution—the only way to stop the flow of refugees from Vietnam is to end the trade, aid and credit embargo organised by the United States in which most countries, including Britain, participate to a greater or lesser extent? Has he noted the recommendation in the report by the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) and Lord Ennals that Britain should resume aid to Vietnam? No one would pretend that that alone would solve the problem. What steps will the Foreign Secretary take to persuade the United States to end its war against Vietnam?
§ Mr. Hurd
The hon. Gentleman makes a point which, as he said, figured in the report published yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) and Lord Ennals. Vietnam may be opened up to aid. The process of voluntary return and of repatriation is already accompanied by some help to Vietnam, although on a small scale. That may continue and develop, but the hon. Gentleman knows the difficulties.
The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that it is not an immediate solution. The immediate solution lies in continuing voluntary returns, as the report said, and in making it clearer than it now is to people in Vietnam that to get on a bus or a boat to Hong Kong is not a road to resettlement in the West for those who are not refugees. The solution also lies in the international community accepting that repatriation of people who are not refugees is regrettable but necessary, that returns should be monitored, that monitoring should not be confined to those who return voluntarily and that it has implications for financial and reception arrangements in Vietnam.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that a high proportion of so-called boat people have made their way from north Vietnam to Hong Kong either through Chinese coastal waters or overland through China? Does not that call into question the competence and integrity of the Chinese Administration, which must be the key to the future of Hong Kong?
§ Mr. Hurd
My right hon. Friend is perfectly right. The numbers arriving in recent months have been low because of the season. Most of those arriving recently have come, at least in part, overland. Clearly a traffic is developing and money is being made from it. People do not enter Hong Kong by land because if they did so they would be sent back immediately as illegal Chinese immigrants. I saw that happening one afternoon in Hong Kong. They make the last part of the journey by boat.
My right hon. Friend is entirely right to draw attention to the responsibility of the Chinese Government, which we have impressed upon them continually. They have given assurances, and it is up to them to carry them out.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
The right hon. Gentleman said that Parliament would be invited to give approval to the scheme. When will that be? Can he assure the House that any such legislation would be regarded as constitutional and, therefore, would be taken in its entirety on the Floor of the House?
§ Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)
I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend has visited the camps for Vietnamese boat people in Hong Kong. Does he now realise just how difficult the conditions are for those people and how unwilling they are, even in those conditions, to return to Vietnam? He also paid tribute, rightly, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) for his report calling for wider economic aid to Vietnam. Does he accept that it would be easier for many of us to accept the policy of compulsory repatriation if he took the imaginative step, perhaps in the first instance, of offering jointly to fund the non-governmental organisations which 299 already have programmes in the poverty-stricken areas of north Vietnam? Might that be one way of making compulsory repatriation more acceptable?
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
When the Foreign Secretary referred to progress towards democracy, he spoke of a formula that would satisfy Hong Kong opinion and that would endure. It would be remarkable if both those criteria could be met. The heart of the matter, as I am sure the Foreign Secretary knows, is that a formula that will satisfy demands for democracy in Hong Kong is not likely to endure because it will not satisfy the Chinese. When faced with that dilemma, how will the Foreign Secretary's mind move? Above all, we want to hear from him that he will give greater priority to satisfying the demands for democracy in Hong Kong than he will to appeasing the people in Peking.
§ Mr. Hurd
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman used the word "appeasing" in his analysis. We have no interest in appeasing the authorities in Peking as there is no particular Sino-British interest that is greater than, or outweighs, the future interests of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is the largest and heaviest component in our relations with China, and so it will stay.
We are simply concerned with what arrangements will start democracy in Hong Kong in a substantial way and which will endure. The right hon. Gentleman knows the history of this matter and he knows that democracy will start from a substantial point. The right hon. Gentleman knows that 10 directly elected seats in the Legislative Council were proposed in the joint declaration and that 10 were embodied as the starting point in last year's White Paper. I believe that everybody—I stress everybody—accepts that now the starting point will be substantially higher than that. That much has been achieved, and the right hon. Gentleman is one of those who helped to persuade us to achieve it. That much is under our belt, and it represents a big success.
I hope that we can go further and that we can reconcile the two considerations that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. I do not know whether that will be possible, but, when we know, we will tell the House.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that a most welcome part of his statement was the fact that a large number of people in Hong Kong reluctantly accept that it is not realistic to offer a right of abode in this country to all those people who hold British dependent territory passports? Does he agree with the estimate given by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that those passport holders could amount to 5.25 million people by 1997? Is not this in stark contrast with what appears to be the official policy of the Opposition—certainly it is the policy of the leader of the Liberal party—that all those people should be given a right of abode here? That means that about 8,000 people with a right of abode would be imposed on every constituency.
§ Mr. Hurd
As I understand it, that is certainly the view of the leader of the SLD and, although I believe it to be a foolish policy, he has maintained it openly. Whenever anyone suggests what is the policy of the Labour party, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) bounces up and down and denies it. We have no idea about the policy of the Labour party; sometimes the right hon. Gentleman gives one impression, sometimes another. As the discussion continues, perhaps he will be able to come off the fence.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)
An enduring future for Hong Kong depends upon agreement with China and with the Peking Government. All experience shows that that requires infinite patience, great determination and a readiness to continue to push a point long after most people would have thought that it had sunk home. In view of that, will the Foreign Secretary continue to argue that holding key workers in Hong Kong until the date of transfer offers the real prospect that they will continue to remain under the Chinese Government? Similarly, will the Foreign Secretary resist the blandishments to go further than the first tranche of democratisation in 1991, on which it looks as though there is a good chance of an agreement with China? Will he wait and hope for further agreement with China on an increased element on democratisation in the second tranche?
§ Mr. Hurd
We have discussed the nationality package with the Chinese Government for the reasons the right hon. Gentleman has given. They have made public their concern about the package, but we have begun to persuade them that, if they want, as the joint declaration sets out, a stable and prosperous Hong Kong in 1997, a package on those lines is essential.
On the second point, I note the advice which the right hon. Gentleman gives. We shall return to this matter as soon as the possibilities for the best way forward to democracy become clearer.
§ Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the undertaking given by the Opposition to repeal any legislation allowing 50,000 families the right of abode in this country would precipitate a major crisis in Hong Kong if ever the Labour party came to power? Does not that show that the policy statement of the Labour party spokesmen on this matter is the most cynical, demagogic and opportunistic that we have ever heard from the Opposition—and that is saying something?
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North West)
Will the Foreign Secretary end the uncertainty by making a statement about the fate of the 670 tonnes of elephant ivory currently held in Hong Kong? I understand that the Foreign Office has taken over responsibility from the Department of the Environment with regard to the possibility of entering reservations to the CITES agreement. Will he say whether that reservation will be entered by 18 January? I hope that the answer will be no, but, if it is yes, does the Foreign Secretary realise that he will be condemning to death many more hundreds of elephants?
§ Mr. Hurd
The hon. Gentleman's last observation was nonsense because Hong Kong has already banned imports of ivory. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's other, reasonable question is yes. The Government, on behalf of Hong Kong, have today entered a six-month reservation to the CITES agreement which provides for listing African elephants in appendix 1 of the convention. The reservation will apply only to Hong Kong and will allow Hong Kong traders time to dispose of their legally acquired ivory in an orderly fashion and enable workers and carvers to find alternative employment. After that, Hong Kong will be part of the agreed system. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that that will be a considerable advance.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the people of Hong Kong and the Government of the People's Republic of China that they could have given no greater total commitment to the future of Hong Kong—economic, political and free—than that they were prepared to court electoral unpopularity by undertaking to let into this country as many people as they have?
§ Mr. Hurd
I have done so and it is clearly understood in Hong Kong. The people there follow our proceedings and discussions with great interest and—when they hear remarks which show a total lack of realism at what is happening there—anxiety.
Last summer, three major matters were pressed on my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President when he was in Hong Kong: first, nationality; secondly, repatriation of the boat people; and, thirdly, the movement to democracy. We have taken the first crucial and difficult decisions on the first two issues. I have answered questions about the third, a decision on which will come pretty soon.
§ Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)
I find the Foreign Secretary's statement totally inadequate. After hearing about his expensive and well-publicised visit, I expected a bit more. Was he or his governor—who recently visited the Chinese Government—able to extract a guarantee from the Chinese Government about the security of the British citizens in Hong Kong after 1997? I say that particularly in view of statements from the Chinese Government about the peaceful demonstrations in Hong Kong which have occurred. I should like to know precisely what the Foreign Secretary's position is on that issue. Is it not a fact that the British Government are totally bankrupt of ideas on the Hong Kong issue and are merely following behind the coat tails of the Chinese Government?
§ Mr. Hurd
The Chinese Government are certainly concerned about some expressions of free opinion in Hong Kong. The Government and the governor of Hong Kong have made it clear to the Chinese Government in many ways that an important aspect of Hong Kong is precisely that there is free expression there. If the Chinese intend after 1997 to incorporate into China a lively, vigorous and developing Hong Kong, they must accept that there will be freedom of expression and clear and rapid movement towards democracy. These are conditions of the prize; they are set out clearly in the joint declaration.
§ Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
Can my right hon. Friend give the House any information about representations that the Government may have made to 302 Commonwealth countries in which there is space and opportunity to prevail upon them to offer passports to Hong Kong residents who may wish to leave after 1997?
§ Mr. Hurd
Yes, indeed. Since my statement on 20 December we have made representations to Commonwealth Governments and to many other friendly Governments encouraging them to follow our lead and introduce schemes of the kind that we propose, which are designed to keep key personnel in Hong Kong—for example, people working for companies belonging to these countries. The French already have such a limited scheme, as does New Zealand in one respect, and we are doing what we can to persuade other countries which could introduce such schemes to do so. My hon. Friend may have seen that Congressman Solarz has proposed such a scheme in the United States Congress.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have to have regard to the subsequent business. The House knows that there is an important debate and a 10-minute Bill, and that the debate must end at 7 pm before we go on to private business. I shall call three more speakers from each side and then I am afraid we must move on.
§ Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan)
The Secretary of State said that the fear engendered by the events of 4 June has lifted somewhat in Hong Kong, but will he confirm that there remains among its population an underlying fear and apprehension of the Peking regime, which is unrepentant about the events on 4 June, and confirm that they have cause for that fear?
Recently the head of the supreme court in China stated as a matter of policy that the Communist party is above the law. Given that background to the fear and apprehension, how does the right hon. Gentleman think the House should reply to questions such as I heard in Hong Kong? I was asked how it is that in my part of western Europe tears of joy are shed at people in eastern Europe escaping from Communist tyranny, and the people of eastern Europe are invited to join the European Community, which would give them the automatic right of abode in any part of the community, including the United Kingdom, yet we are prepared to consign Hong Kong to the Peking regime with inadequate protection in terms of a democratic structure.
§ Mr. Hurd
It is true that there continues to be an underlying anxiety. It has lifted a little because contacts have resumed in various ways. At lunch yesterday, I sat next to a young business man who had just returned from Peking, where he had been well received by the Prime Minister.
This underlying anxiety does not lead any of the Hong Kong Chinese to whom I spoke to question the fact that the joint declaration and the system being erected under it is the only realistic way forward for Hong Kong. Hong Kong wants us to make sense of the concept of two systems in one country, and the observations that the hon. Gentleman quoted will not apply in the special administrative region of Hong Kong.
§ Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Does my right hon. Friend concede that, if nearly 250,000 people come here from Hong Kong with the right of abode, that will permanently and irreversibly change the 303 nature of the British people? If this step is to be taken and my right hon. Friend's Bill receives a Second Reading, does he agree that the measure should be considered by a Committee of the whole House?
§ Mr. Hurd
The first matter is one on which every right hon. and hon. Member must make his own judgment—first, as to the likelihood of it happening; secondly, as to the consequences for the country if it did happen, given the people involved, their backgrounds, professional experience and so on. That is not a matter on which I would seek to educate my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend's second point is not a matter for me. It is the second time it has been made, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House is present listening.
§ Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)
It is clear that nothing that the Foreign Secretary is free to do will reassure the people of Hong Kong who are terrified about what might happen to them in 1997. His belated concentration on extending democracy to the people of Hong Kong must be looked upon by realistic people in Hong Kong as some sort of attempt by the Government to slide out of their responsibilities and to say. "Now that you have some measure of democracy, our responsibility is a little less than it used to be." Is not that the realistic situation?
§ Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
is my right hon. Friend aware that in this difficult situation, which I know something about having recently visited China and Hong Kong, he has a duty to the people of England as well as to the people of Hong Kong? Is he further aware that mass immigration has been continuing for a long time to many parts of this country, including my own area? His proposal is for further mass immigration. Will that be acceptable to the mass of our people, and is it right that the Government should allow it? Is not his prime duty to maintain the social cohesion of this ancient and small island?
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
Will the Foreign Secretary clarify a matter that was raised earlier? If public servants and people in public office accept citizenship before 1997, will the Basic Law deprive them of or debar them from public office after that time?
§ Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)
My right hon. Friend said that all the people that he spoke to in Hong Kong about his package of 20 December were disappointed that the number of people to be allowed to come here was not greater. He will note that I have a motion on the Order Paper for debate on Friday. It completely supports the Government's proposed package but expresses a similar concern about the number. Has my right hon. Friend's package of 20 December had time to begin to restore confidence, or does he think that he may need to increase the number?
§ Mr. Hurd
I made it clear in Hong Kong that I did not see any possibility of increasing the number. Members of the business community, civil servants and many others who raised the matter with me on Monday would have liked the number to be greater, but they accepted that it was as much as we would be able to implement. They made clear that my proposal of 20 December would be of substantial value in keeping key people in Hong Kong.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am sorry that it has not been possible to call all the hon. Members who wished to participate. I shall carefully note the names of those hon. Members who have been rising and will give them some precedence when we debate this matter again.