HC Deb 13 June 1990 vol 174 cc402-18

'The Secretary of State shall not register any British citizens under this Act until such time as the membership of the Hong Kong Legislative Council is elected by universal franchise of all Hong Kong citizens over the age of 18 years.'. —[Mr. Foulkes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to consider amendment No. 50, in clause 5, page 3, line 19, at end insert— '(4A) The Secretary of State shall not make such an order until after an election has taken place in Hong Kong for the Legislative Council in which over 50 per cent. of the members are directly elected, by adult universal suffrage.".

Mr. Foulkes

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This new clause is completly different from the other measures, which were intended to try to bring some much-needed improvements to a bad scheme in a bad Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) amply demonstrated earlier. The new clause is a device to initiate a debate on democracy in Hong Kong. It serves to reaffirm our view that the Government are approaching the matter of confidence, stability and prosperity in Hong Kong in entirely the wrong way.

We do not accept that giving a bolt hole to an elite group in any way resolves the fundamental problem of confidence, which affects all the people of Hong Kong, whether they are British dependent territory passport holders or whether they are covered by the scheme. The Government should approach the matter in an entirely different way.

The correct approach is to deal with the matter as a foreign policy issue, as a diplomatic issue, and not one of nationality or of immigration. A full, vibrant and active democratic system in Hong Kong is one of the three essential elements to our approach. I shall return to that point in a moment, because it is the substance of our new clause.

We should also work for a reaffirmation by China of its belief in one country, two systems. We and the Chinese should remember that that means communism and democracy—not just communism and capitalism. Democracy is an essential part of the other system that will continue in Hong Kong as part of the one country, two systems process. The Government of China must be encouraged to indicate by their words and, more important, by their deeds over the next few years that it remains in their interests for Hong Kong to be in much the same form as it is now—a gateway to the western world. That must be the case, whatever the complexion of the Government of China.

Recent signs of internal conflicts among the octogenarian leadership in Peking increase the prospects of changes between now and 1997, almost any outcome of which is likely to be helpful to Hong Kong. However, we recognise that, should that not be the case, we must have a fallback position. Should a crisis develop in Hong Kong, there will be an international responsibility to find a haven for Hong Kong citizens in countries that have traditionally received immigrants from the territory. Britain, however, must take the lead in ensuring the effectiveness of such a safety net provision.

At a time when democracy has replaced the tyranny of dictatorship in most Latin American countries, and when universally in this House we greatly welcome democracy replacing the oppression of communism in eastern Europe, is it not absolutely outrageous and ridiculous that the British Government are resisting the introduction of full democracy in a territory for which we have direct responsibility? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) conceded in our debate on 19 April, successive Governments of both parties are culpable in this matter. Some cynicism from China about our motives, or those of some of us, for being enthusiastic about democracy is understandable.

It is true that for some time the majority did not demand democracy in Hong Kong, but that does not diminish or detract from the case for full democracy or from the strong and overwhelming desire now within the colony for full democratic development. That was already growing when I visited in 1988. The Government's failure then to respond to pressure from Hong Kong and from the Labour and other opposition parties gave the wrong signals to Peking. Instead of asserting our right to govern until the end of June 1997, we were perceived to be willing to kow-tow to the Government of the People's Republic of China. The Minister denied that in Committee, but, whatever he says, we were seen to be giving the Government in China an effective veto over our decisions in a territory for which we have responsibility until the end of June 1997.

At times, the Government have suggested that the people of Hong Kong are not sophisticated, intelligent, able or articulate enough for full democracy. That has been suggested from the Dispatch Box and from the Conservative Benches. It is manifest nonsense to anyone who has visited Hong Kong or who knows of the vibrant democracy of the local elections for councils which have relatively little power—indeed, even less power than councils in Britain have under this Government.

The Government have argued that the joint declaration does not give a specific guarantee of full direct elections. However, it says, even in respect of the special administrative region after 1997, that the legislative council shall be constituted by elections. What do we understand by elections, other then direct elections and the universal franchise of all adults over 18? The device of functional constituencies is a mere fraud on real democracy and involves only a small percentage of the people of Hong Kong.

There was also a widespread perception within the territory after the signing of the joint declaration that there would be a start made to direct elections in 1988. That did not take place. Yet in Committee the Minister quibbled about whether the figure should be 18 or 20 out of the 60 seats, arguing that 18 was nearly 20 and that the difference was neither here nor there.

In February, the Foreign Secretary spoke of a substantial element of democracy which can endure and further develop after 1997. The Opposition believe that all members of the Legislative Council should be directly elected as quickly as practicable. Indeed, that was the recommendation of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs chaired by the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell).

We also believe that the Chief Executive. who is effectively the Chief Minister of the Hong Kong Government, should also be elected by universal adult franchise. He or she and the Government should have their responsibility directly to the legislature clearly spelled out.

11.30 pm

We also believe that political parties should be not merely allowed but encouraged to operate freely in Hong Kong as quickly as possible. Incidentally, we deplore the recent arrests of political activists involved in demonstrations for democracy in Hong Kong. I hope that the Minister will say that the Government also deplore those arrests and are taking action with the Governor and the Government of Hong Kong to secure proper justice for those people.

We also see no reason why the franchise should be limited to people over the age of 21 when the voting age in Britain, throughout the European Community and in most democratic countries is 18. As we heard in an earlier debate, it is the age accepted for categorising dependent relatives. We would like to see the voting age for Hong Kong elections reduced to 18.

We would also like to see constituencies of roughly equal size. At present, one constituency is twice the size of another because of some arithmetical division.

Mr. Maude

What about Scotland?

Mr. Foulkes

In Scotland, the constituencies are all roughly the same size.

Although I personally warmly welcome the decision that the voting system for the colony is to be similar to our own, that might not find favour with all my colleagues.

Democracy in Hong Kong is vital to give new, deep, long-term confidence to all the people of the territory. It is necessary to provide the balance to and control of the capitalist system. It is an essential element of the second system within the one country, two systems set-up of China after 1997. Democracy in Hong Kong is essential to provide maximum protection of the freedom and liberties of the people.

We believe that the Government are heading down the wrong road with the Bill. I have outlined again today, as my colleagues did on Second Reading, a positive alternative to deal with confidence in Hong Kong. The new clause seeks to postpone the introduction of the Bill's provisions until an essential element of democracy in the territory is tackled. I have pleasure in commending it to the House. Even more, it provides us with an opportunity to discuss an important element for the future of Hong Kong —the establishment of a full, vibrant, active democracy essential for its future.

Mr. Wells

Both China and the British Government are treaty bound to introduce elections to the legislature and elect the chief executive by 1997, so the introduction of democracy to Hong Kong has been settled despite much objection from some of my hon. Friends who claim that it is not necessary. They say that Hong Kong has existed without democracy, has been successful without it and needs to continue without it. I believe that a moment's thought given to that idea will dispell it.

The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) set out the reasons why democracy should be by universal sufferage. I entirely agree with him. However, without delaying the House too long at this time of night, I want to take the argument a stage further. The fact is that in Hong Kong we must replace the British Government and its officials in the form of the civil servants who play the role of Ministers in the legislature and we must make certain that all the instruments of democracy are in place so that the capitalist system can be controlled.

However, I further believe that, without the democratic process being in place, capitalism will not work; it will descend into monopoly, corruption and chaos. Only with the accountability that is necessary to and imposed by a democratic system will Hong Kong continue to work after 1997. I believe that, with democracy firmly established, there is every reason to be confident that after 1997 Hong Kong will be successful.

However, we in this House should know that democracy is one of the hardest systems to make work. It demands some commitment from every single elector—even if only putting a ballot paper in a box every five years. If that was all that democracy was, of course, it would not be sufficient for Hong Kong, which must develop ways to gain support for measures taken by the legislature. The idea must be established that when a majority in the legislature is in favour of a particular item, the minority who fail to win—as it looks as though those of us who hold these views will fail to win tonight—will accept and abide by the majority decisions and the rule of law.

Such concepts take a great deal of time to root. I have had experience overseas and have found that many educated and privileged people—those principally to whom we are seeking to give 50,000 passports, and many more—are the most reluctant to take part in democracy or to breath life into the democratic institutions that must be established. That is because previously they have been privileged and have had access to powerful positions and they do not know how to proceed. They are afraid of going out to do what we do quite naturally—knocking on people's doors and asking them to vote for us; taking account of their views and reflecting them in the legislature; and trying to gain the consent of the community for the actions that we wish to be taken.

That process must take place as soon as possible if those institutions are to have enough credit and respect, and be cherished by the people of Hong Kong and made to work. Unless we get that system of democracy firmly established —and the earlier, the better—there will be every reason to lack confidence in the future of Hong Kong after 1997. That future will depend on whether the institutions that I have described have been put in place, have support and are working. If that happens, it will give us confidence to believe that the two systems and the second—the capitalist —system can work in Hong Kong.

That is why it is essential that we urge, push, barge and do everything that we possibly can to get my hon. Friend the Minister to go back to the Chinese and say, "This is essential. We agreed it in principle way back in 1984 and we are telling you that unless this is established and unless we agree with the pace at which it will be established"—now agreed by OMELCO in Hong Kong—"you are putting in serious jeopardy confidence in Hong Kong up to and beyond 1997."

There is much more to the democratic system than I have spelt out in my short speech, and I shall list only some of its facets. We need a Bill of Rights in place. We need to make certain that the legal system in Hong Kong is truly independent of the Executive and is independent of the People's Republic of China. There must be the right of final determination of the rule of law and of the matters that arise in Hong Kong at a democratic level. We need to ensure that in Hong Kong the Chief Executive is not a creature of the People's Republic of China. He must be genuinely elected and independent. He should be accountable to the legislature and able to be dismissed by it. There is a necessity for the Chief Executive, under the treaty, to be approved in Peking, but unless he is Hong Kong's man through the democratic process and not the man of the People's Republic of China, there cannot be confidence that Hong Kong can be truly independent of the People's Republic of China and able to run a capitalist system without interference.

There is much more to be said on this subject but the hour is late and I intend to be brief. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends, the People's Republic of China and all those in Hong Kong to cherish democracy and the capitalist system. There will be 5.5 million who will stay in Hong Kong whether or not the Bill is enacted. For their future, for confidence in Hong Kong and for business men there, we must establish democracy. The purpose of my amendment is to bring that democracy into line with the OMELCO wish that at least 50 per cent. of the legislature should be directly elected. The functional constituencies that are proposed will represent only 1 per cent. of the electorate yet they will have a majority in the proposed legislature up to and beyond 1997.

For those reasons I welcome the assurances that were given in Committee and those given by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that he would try to get further progress on these matters from the Chinese before the election in 1995.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

It is a pleasure for me to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells). Like the hon. Gentleman, I am a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, and I agree strongly with the views that he expressed. We may have disagreed about some aspects of the Committee's report, but on the matters that are now before us there was virtual unanimity among members of the Committee.

It was a privilege to be a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howells) and to visit Hong Kong and China at a crucial moment. Our visit took place a year and a month or two ago, when many of the issues that we have been discussing were on the boil. We were able to hear the line of the Hong Kong establishment on democracy. We were told that the people of Hong Kong were not really interested in democracy. That was the fundamental message. It was said that they were interested in making a living, economic activity and entrepreneurial activity, and were not really interested in the concept of democracy per se and the idea that they might take part in a direct and westernised way in the democratic affairs of society.

That seemed not to accord with the views of many of the people that we, the members of the Select Committee, met. I am talking not of OMELCO or of the establishment but of a considerable number of people, including young people, who had served or were serving at local level. They sensed and felt that there was a democratic spirit and a growing desire for genuine participation in political activity within Hong Kong in whatever peculiar form that might be discovered by Hong Kong. There was something much better and more important than the establishment line that we were being sold from the highest level.

We might—even then—have felt some doubts about how far the argument would prevail, and about the extent of the spirit of democratic involvement in Hong Kong. All the myths were finally exploded, however, when the people of Hong Kong associated themselves with the students in Tiananmen square. Already we had seen the awakening of democratic participation, but, after Tiananmen square, no one could continue to argue that Hong Kong's political society was wholly inert.

11.45 pm

The Government's response to some aspects of the Select Committee's report—not those concerning issues in the Bill, such as immigration, but those raised in the new clause— was pretty banal; disgraceful, indeed. The Select Committee made two unanimous recommendations which proved to be the main areas of contention. First, it recommended the establishment of a series of safeguards to protect many of the agreements that would make the special administrative constitution so special. The Government have not dealt with that recommendation: they did not establish constitutional courts, for instance.

At least the Government could defend themselves in that regard by arguing that the matter was part of the Chinese Basic Law, and that all that they could do was to make representations. In my opinion, they did not make enough representations, but they have, as it were, an alibi. They have no such alibi to justify their failure to develop a democratic system in Hong Kong between now and 1997.

We do not need to obtain agreement from the Chinese Government to decide the percentage of people who are directly elected to the Legislative Council in the next seven years. That is the joint responsibility of the Hong Kong and British Governments. Other aspects of our recommendations required skills of persuasion and negotiation to achieve changes in the Basic Law. There again, the Government failed. The Minister shakes his head, but there were several unfortunate failures. The achievement of democracy in Hong Kong, however, is not a function of the Chinese Basic Law; it is for Parliament, following the agreement between Hong Kong and Britain, to decide how democratic Hong Kong's institutions should be between now and 1997.

The Government's loss of negotiating nerve will, I fear, have tragic consequences. We saw the courage of all those young people who, in Peking just over a year ago, took on the might of the Chinese authorities and suffered for it. We have seen that courage repeated a year later in Chinese universities. What guts it must have taken for hundreds of students to stand up and be counted a second time. I am sorry to say that the Government have been gutless. They completely lost their negotiating nerve when it came to developing democracy in Hong Kong between now and 1997.

Mr. Walden

Let me put to the hon. Gentleman a question that I asked earlier. How can he reconcile the accusation of gutlessness over democracy with the accusation of recklessness vis-a-vis Peking over 50,000 Chinese citizens?

Mr. Rowlands

I make the simple point that one area in which we do have power over the affairs of Hong Kong between now and 1997 is in deciding how democratic its institutions will be. For us to sell the pass so badly is an act of gutlessness.

The fundamental reason given by the Government was the so-called mirror imaging and through-track that they wanted. They wanted events and institutions after 1997 to be akin to the events and institutions before 1997. I must tell the Minister that, from the Chairman downwards, the Select Committee rejected that philosophy completely. We argued strenuously that there were genuine areas where we should not attempt mirror imaging or a through-track, and that there were areas where we should establish bridgeheads of responsibility so that after 1997 the Chinese Government would have to decide whether they wanted to dismantle or change the system and its institutions. One area where we could have established a real bridgehead between now and 1997 was in the democratic institutions in Hong Kong. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's point is fairly irrelevant.

Mr. Walden

The hon. Gentleman says that my point is irrelevant, but my point is fundamental and it has been consistently evaded by the hon. Gentleman. It concerns the power relationship between Britain, as represented by our responsibilities in Hong Kong, and the People's Republic of China. The hon. Gentleman's entire speech has been delivered in a political vacuum. It is not simply a matter of what Britain wants. All hon. Members know that we want democracy in Hong Kong. But we cannot have the sort of democracy that we want as soon as we want it because of the power relationship between China and Britain. There has been no hint in the hon. Gentleman's speech of that reality. Therefore, it is completely without interest or relevance.

Mr. Rowlands

The hon. Gentleman reflects the Foreign Office establishment. He prompted me to make that remark. I would not have done it otherwise. But as he wishes to exchange an insult or two, I shall give him one back. If the hon. Gentleman had given me a couple more minutes, I was about to say that we are in a strong position when it comes to democratic institutions. There was a loss of negotiating nerve. If a system of democracy far greater than the one proposed by the Government and accepted in the negotiations with the Chinese had been accepted, it would have put the Chinese Government on the spot in 1997.

However great their power, would the Chinese Government in 1997 signal to Hong Kong, to its capitalist system, to the international community and to everybody outside China, that it wanted to dismantle the democratic structures in Hong Kong? What sort of signals would have gone out? How much would confidence be shaken if the Chinese Government were to say in 1997 that they would dismantle the democratic structures that had been created in Hong Kong? The British Government are in a much stronger negotiating position, as they will be between now and 1997, if they decide to establish a wider democratic system within Hong Kong, with the support of the Hong Kong people.

The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) is wrong, because although the Basic Law is within the powers of the Chinese Government and we would have to make representations to try to change such laws, this arrangement is within our power. It can be decided by the Hong Kong and British Governments. Therefore, the Government are in a stronger position.

The answer to the intervention by the hon. Member for Buckingham is this: if we establish a more powerful and a better democratic system in Hong Kong, will it be in the interests of a Chinese Government to signal to Hong Kong, Britain and the international community in 1997 that it does not believe that those democratic institutions should exist? Would they reverse decisions taken by the British Government and the people of Hong Kong? That is why we have every right to say to the Government and to Ministers that between now and 1997 they should for goodness' sake change their minds, and have some courage and some guts, at least as regards establishing democratic institutions in Hong Kong.

Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

Of course I am in favour of democracy, but it is worth recalling that the British Government, soon after the second world war, had plans for introducing democracy into Hong Kong. The moment the communist armies reached the frontiers of Hong Kong, those plans were put on ice, and they have never been revived by any British Government.

The plans were put on ice for one good reason: if there were democratic elections in Hong Kong, it would put the Government in Peking into a difficult position. They would either have to accept a democratically elected anti-communist Government in Hong Kong, or they would have to use their best efforts to ensure that communists were elected. Therefore, democracy was put on ice for years. That holds true for the position now, post-Tiananmen square.

If we accept new clause 9 and move rapidly to full universal democracy in Hong Kong, the Communist Government in Peking would have to use their best endeavours to ensure that communist and pro-communist candidates were elected. Otherwise, it would be an intolerable loss of face. At the same time, the Government of Taiwan—I am chairman of the Anglo-Taiwan parliamentary group—would, I suspect, be using their best efforts to ensure that anti-communist candidates were elected.

Far from producing stability, which is what hon. Members who support the amendments want, the introduction of universal democracy in Hong Kong at the moment would bring universal disorder and would set back the cause of stability.

Mr. Budgen

On a point of order Madam Deputy Speaker. I ask for your permission to move, That the debate be now adjourned.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. It is not a point of order. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to be called. I shall certainly look his way.

Mr. Budgen

I beg to move, That the debate be now adjourned.

Madam Deputy Speaker

That is not a motion that I am prepared to contemplate at this stage.

12 midnight

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

These are important matters that deserve the fullest consideration. Earlier in the debate, an hon. Member declared an interest as an officer of one of the parliamentary groups. I should therefore declare that I am the vice-chairman of the British Hong Kong parliamentary group.

I support amendment No. 50 and new clause 9, which I prefer. I agree with what has been said about the new clause and the amendment. Most of the points have been made, but one significant point has not yet been made: that the Government are planning to sell Hong Kong down the river in 1997. The purpose of the Bill is to enable the Government to retain some semblance of order and government in Hong Kong until 1997 when they will cheerfully be able to say, "We are lowering the union jack, we have all our boats ready to sail away, our aeroplanes are ready to fly away from Kai Tak airport and we will have nothing further to do with Hong Kong." In decades to come, it will be seen as one of the most shameful episodes in British colonial history. We are preparing to hand over 5 million or 6 million people to a totalitarian, non-democratic Government, to shed a lot of crocodile tears and to excuse ourselves by saying that we can do nothing about it. We cannot allow ourselves to be duped in that way.

All that we can do is to support amendment No. 50 and new clause 9 and to give self-government to Hong Kong straight away. We should allow them to negotiate with Peking. There is no substitute for democracy and free expression—whether for the people of Hong Kong or China, or for the people of Lithuania and Latvia. I find it difficult to understand how some Conservative Members can justify their stance on independence for the Baltic states, in view of their craven stance on Hong Kong.

Other hon. Members share my views. Therefore, I ask the Minister to take note of what hon. Members who have spoken in favour of the new clause and amendment No. 50 have said. Under the Basic Law, as drafted, the chief executive will be a puppet of Peking. The legislature will be under Peking's control. If hon. Members care to read the small print of the Basic Law, they will find that that is so. The only way to get round the problem is to have self-government for Hong Kong as quickly as possible so that the people of Hong Kong can decide either whether they wish to be just one part of China under its present non-democratic system or whether they wish to negotiate a slightly different form of agreement with China. That should be done by the people of Hong Kong; it should not be done by us.

Above all, we should not be prepared—which is what the Bill is all about—to sell Hong Kong down the river in 1997, with as little fuss as possible for the United Kingdom. It is absolutely shameful that the Bill is before the House tonight.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I support the new clause and the amendment to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) spoke so ably.

I pose this question to the House: what value democracy? I entirely endorse the views of the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). We on this side of the House eulogise democracy, promote democracy in central and eastern Europe, and encourage President Mikhail Gorbachev to implement a meaningful democracy in his country. We sought to aid the Filipino people in getting rid of their ex-president, President Marcos—now deceased— and we encourage that part of the world to adopt a proper, meaningful, democratic parliamentary system—full adult suffrage.

What is the difference between some of those countries and Hong Kong? For years, I have urged the South African Administration to urge all the population groups in that country to adopt a one-man, one-vote system. Whether that is done in a unitary state or in another system does not matter.

I believe in full adult suffrage, and I am amazed, saddened and personally disgusted that we, the British nation, are prepared through our Parliament to hand over a country for which we have been responsible for many decades to—as the hon. Member for Wrexham rightly reminded the House—a totalitarian system, with the memory of Tiananmen square still very fresh in our memories.

I personally believe that the best way of guaranteeing the future for all the people now in Hong Kong is to give them a full, 100 per cent. democratic system well before 1997. I support the views expressed by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. I share his belief that the Chinese Administration is unlikely to seek to reverse what we have done. As he reminded the House, we have the authority and the right to implement a democratic system in Hong Kong. One hundred per cent. of the Legislative Council should be fully elected by 1997 —in my view, by 1995. Why do I say that? How do I justify that belief?

I do not believe that the People's Republic of China can do without the technology of the western world. It cannot do without the investment that the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Japan and other countries are prepared to pour into it, if it is to survive and make progress. I say exactly the same thing about President Gorbachev.

When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made her statement yesterday, I was fortunate to catch Mr. Speaker's eye to ask a supplementary question. If perestroika and glasnost are to survive, and if President Gorbachev is to survive to carry through those policies, his country's economy must be put in order. President Gorbachev cannot do that without the assistance of the western developed nations. The Chinese leadership also need the help of the western developed nations to take their country forward.

We have the authority, the opportunity and the moral duty to ensure that the people of Hong Kong have a system of full adult suffrage, so that they can elect 100 per cent. of the membership of the Legislative Council by 1995 —well before the date in 1997 when we hand over their sovereignty to the People's Republic of China.

Can my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench say where else we have given, as it were, independence or relinquished responsibility for a country, and not sought first to put in place a proper democratic system and grant the vote to its adult population? I find it difficult to do so. I remind the House that we have handed over power in many countries where the people were far less able to exercise the vote in a responsible and knowledgeable way than the people of Hong Kong.

We are using double standards. I share the views expressed by the hon. Member for Wrexham: we are indeed selling out the people of Hong Kong. I am ashamed to be involved with a Government who are taking this action. Why do we want to get rid of what we see as an unpleasant responsibility? The only reason for introducing the Bill, which, sad to say, I fear will become an Act, is to get out of a difficult situation with a minimum of honour. This is a disgraceful way of handing over the sovereignty of a country—of a colony that has been very loyal to this country and whose people look to us for the lead and the example that we have given the rest of the world for so many years.

The people of Hong Kong are disgusted by the treatment being meted out to them. The Government can boast of the discussions that they have had. When I was last in Hong Kong, the people told me that they had had no meaningful consultation at the grass roots with any Government of the United Kingdom. They said that the Government did not want to talk to the millions of ordinary citizens. They are prepared to talk to one or two selected establishment figures, but to imagine that they speak with the true voice of Hong Kong is to live in a different world.

My colleagues on the Government Front Bench may sit there smirking, thinking of the majorities that they have notched up so far during the passage of the Bill, but I still believe that there is some honour left in this House I shall not mention colleagues by name, but I prefer to match my votes to the words that I utter during a debate. This place derives its credibility and the respect that it has enjoyed in the past precisely from that. We undermine respect for this place by not speaking our minds and then by not voting along the lines of what we have said.

It is odd to find myself sharing almost entirely the views of Opposition Members, although my views are also shared by one or two of my hon. Friends. This is a shameful incident in parliamentary history in this country. We are passing a Bill that will affect the lives of 5.5 million people virtually without their having had any meaningful say in what will happen to them. As a result of the Bill, most of the 50,000 heads of families—225,000 people in all —will leave Hong Kong and come to the United Kingdom. Some will also go to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and a number of other countries.

I should have been much happier if we had implemented full adult suffrage in Hong Kong before we handed over sovereignty. That would have given the people in the colony, who are concerned about their future, a say in it. It would have been the best safeguard to ensure that the vast majority of them—including those in commerce and education, and the high fliers and entrepreneurs—stayed in Hong Kong, thus guaranteeing the future of all the people, their prosperity, and their contribution to the People's Republic of China, and preserving the major role that the territory has played in the far east for so many years.

12.15 am
Mr. Maclennan

When the hon. Member for Macclesfied (Mr. Winterton) speaks about honour, I am reminded of the words of Tennyson: His honour rooted in dishonour stood, And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true. The hon. Gentleman's wrapping of the union jack around himself and the proclamation of his commitment to democracy carries little weight when he is not prepared to respond to what the people of Hong Kong have asked for.

The people of Hong Kong have a more realistic assessment of what democracy means as defence against tyranny. They have seen other countries trampled under foot. They remember, if the hon. Gentleman does not, how the democracy that was coming back to life in Czechoslovakia was rolled out by the tanks from the east. There was an elected democracy in Czechoslovakia when Jan Masaryk was thrown from the windows of his Foreign Office. To talk of democracy as a defence against the People's Republic is total self-deception.

The reality is that new clause 9 is the fig leaf put forward by the Labour party to cover the nakedness of its response to the demand from the people of Hong Kong for the security that they thought they would enjoy by being British citizens, albeit cut-down British citizens, as holders of British dependent territory passports. They thought that it would be reasonable to turn to this honourable country to see those passports made good and for a right of full British citizenship. If the hon. Member for Macclesfield had been prepared to support the people of Hong Kong in that plea, we might have listened to his jingoism and plea for democracy with greater enthusiasm, and perhaps even sympathy.

The reality is that the Government have chosen to look not at the symbols but at the power structures in the orient. They have tried to decide what they can do to move Hong Kong towards a more democratic system of government than there has been in the colony under successive parties in this country. They have made a cautious judgment that they can move at a certain rate, with the acceptance of the Peking Government. They are also trying to hold out the prospect that Hong Kong will be a prosperous nation in 1997.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

With all its people here.

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman should have listened to the hon. Member for Epping when he spoke of evidence that he had seen in Hong Kong, which revealed that 1.8 per cent. of the people of Hong Kong wanted to come to this country. They are not interested in coming here, save as a last resort.

Mr. Winterton

My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) did not vote.

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman can carry his quarrels with Conservative Members into another forum. I do not propose to intrude on them.

The evidence given by innumerable hon. Members, in debates which the hon. Member for Macclesfield did not attend, was that the people of Hong Kong are not seeking to flock here. The argument of the Liberal Democrats is that we should respond to the demands of the people of Hong Kong, not because they would take up these passports but because they want security in the event of the catastrophe of 1997. If the hon. Member for Macclesfield wants an honourable solution to the problem, he should listen to that argument.

I will not detain the House at this late hour, because these arguments have been trawled before, but I cannot support new clause 9 or amendment No. 50, which are merely a diversion designed to deflect attention from the unwillingness to offer the people of Hong Kong that which they want—the right of British citizenship. The fact that these proposals are made with such vehemence will not divert people from the reality. If the new clauses were accepted, they would postpone, beyond any realistic date, the possibility of any scheme being introduced to establish the security of the people whose presence in Hong Kong is so necessary to its commercial and industrial strength. In that strength lies its only hope of salvation from takeover and subjection.

Mr. Maude

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) spoke in those terms and tones. He rightly reminded us that these matters are of profound importance for the future of the nearly 6 million people who look to us for help and support and for whom we in the House are responsible. It is therefore too great a matter for large phrases to be thrown round quite as lightly as my hon. Friend did.

The Government have at no stage pretended or argued that our proposals in the Bill are the sole answer to questions about the future of Hong Kong. We have always agreed with the view, which has found consensus in the House, that democracy matters to Hong Kong, that we want the process of democracy to be advanced and to take place more quickly than was generally believed to be the case a year or even two years ago. To argue, as my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) did, with a casual disregard for the realities, and to say that there is an easy, quick answer, that we could move rapidly to total democracy, that all the problems would be solved and that the Hong Kong people would rise up in gratitude to a large-minded House of Commons, is the cruellest deception that could be practised on the people of Hong Kong, and we will have no part of it.

Of course we agree that there should be further democracy. We argued strongly that the Basic Law, which will come into effect on 30 June 1997, should include more democracy than the previous draft, and it does, although not dramatically so. The argument in the new clause is that we should move immediately to introduce 100 per cent. democracy. In a way, I agree with the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) that the matter is entirely within our sovereignty. We have no alibi. The People's Republic of China has no power to veto it. Of course we could have done this and of course we still can.

We could introduce those elections in 1991 or 1995, and it would make us feel terrific about ourselves. Playing it over in my mind, I can imagine how the hon. Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney and for Wrexham and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield would laud us and say how courageous we had been for standing up to China. But it would not make the slightest difference to the reality, because the law that will operate in Hong Kong in July 1997 is not a law introduced by the House of Commons but one introduced by the People's Republic of China. There could have been this brief orgy of full democracy for seven years, brought in in the certain knowledge that it would be immediately dismantled by the People's Republic of China. If we had done that, I do not believe that we would have done any service to the people in Hong Kong who look to us for a reasonable approach, and we shall not do it.

Mr. Wells

With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like to make two points before we finish the debate.

First, it is clear from the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) that there are difficulties in the introduction of direct democracy, as my hon. Friend the Minister suggested. But Hong Kong is committed to elections; it is committed to democracy by the treaty that we signed in 1984. Perhaps events will turn out as they certainly would have done in 1955, when I first lived in Hong Kong and when the nationalists and the Chinese communists were fighting in Nathan road, Kowloon and I had the misfortune of trying to part the two warring camps. But I think that the present situation is different: the People's Republic of China has made a commitment to democracy in Hong Kong and will permit it to work. The Chinese said as much to the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee when we visited Peking.

That means that there is no question of there not being a democracy, and a democracy of a kind has been agreed anyway. The first direct elections will take place next year; further elections will take place in 1995, and they will carry Hong Kong, through 1997, to a further election. We are in the process of establishing democracy anyway. What is important is that we should establish it early, to allow it to take deep enough roots to minimise or preclude the type of influence to which we have referred.

Secondly, the Bill seeks to give 50,000 passports—it will possibly be 250,000 passports in total—to leading members of the Hong Kong community so that we can retain their services in Hong Kong at least until 1997. I believe that British citizenship is a privilege. Those who enjoy that privilege may stay in Hong Kong until 1997; it is more doubtful that they will stay after 1997. During the period in which we are trying to establish democracy so that Hong Kong can continue for the next 50 years as a capitalist democratic enclave in the People's Republic of China, it is precisely those people who must give the lead and create and breathe life into the democratic institutions and make them work. They must make those institutions accountable and make them the bodies that stand against the executive and the other economic powers in Hong Kong. They will create the powerful and prosperous future that I dearly wish Hong Kong to have. The Bill will undermine that process.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

My hon. Friend referred to an "orgy of democracy". We have watched eastern Europe crumble as people have asserted basic freedoms and rights—representative government and the defence of their interests and lives. We have promoted that argument. Foreign Office representatives have gone round cheering for it and the House has cheered for it; our people have recognised the spirit of the claims of the people of eastern Europe and have also cheered for them.

We have no constitutional responsibility for eastern Europe but we have observed and cheered for developments there. I personally cheer for them, and the House—which owes its very existence to those basic rights and freedoms—cheers for them. Yet now the Minister refers to an "orgy of democracy" in a country where we do, indeed, have constitutional responsibility. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) said, we are committed to the process, although it will fall outside our competence once we resign our responsibilities, on the accession of that criminal conspiracy in Peking which is called the Communist party.

The one gift from their inheritance that the British Government, British institutions and the British people can pass on to Hong Kong is a respect for the rights of individual citizens to determine their futures—for however long our competence over that may last. I suspect that the conspiracy that we saw march into Tiananmen square last year will also march into Hong Kong if the regime has not changed by 1997. The banner of a free people expressing themselves in their own representative institutions may well do something to help to change the balance of that great and mighty nation, China.

We therefore should not be scornful. The very phrase "orgy of democracy" should haunt us. We should be proud of our inheritance; that is all I argue. I support the Government on the Bill. I do not like the circumstances that brought us to it, and I do not like its consequences, but I argue that the Government are doing the honourable thing by trying to acknowledge that decent and reasonable citizens in peril should be given some guarantee of safety to enable them to continue and to allow the survival of the colony in its present form.

That is why I support the Government. I deeply regret that the Government have not moved to give representative Government to the people of Hong Kong. I regret that, because that is the very spirit of our inheritance and it is the last thing that we can offer to the world.

I will vote against the new clause, because to tie the proposal to another condition is ridiculous and absurd. However, the concept that we should be returning representative government to the people of Hong Kong is wholly honourable and reasonable. That is something that I would have liked this Government, whom I support, to hold as a constant banner in our arrangements in this matter.

12.30 am
Mr. Foulkes

There could be no finer end to this debate than the speech that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd).

Mr. Maude

My hon. Friend's speech contained no comfort for the Opposition.

Mr. Foulkes

There is comfort for the Opposition in the hon. Gentleman's speech, as the Minister will discover in a moment.

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills has great sincerity and shows great courage in the kind of Bills that he brings before the House and in the way in which, on occasions, he votes in the House. We respect him and he was right to take the Minister to task.

We have had an interesting debate and, as the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) discovered, at times quite a passionate one. I intend to deal with two points raised by the Minister. He gave a false account of what the Opposition have said on this issue. He said that we were talking only about democracy and then he knocked that down. Of course, it is easy to knock down something that is one's own account of what was said and not what actually was said.

We did not say that democracy would ensure that all the problems would be solved and that it was an easy, quick answer. If we had said that, it would have been a cruel deception. We said that democracy was one element that is essential in helping to restore confidence. That is not an easy, quick answer. The Minister did himself no credit by criticising us on that front.

The Minister made an astonishing remark. He went further than he did in Committee and claimed that we were pursuing our proposal in the certain knowledge that it would be dismantled by China. How can he say that? He was more cautious and less outrageous in Committee. According to the joint declaration, in the special administrative region, the Legislative Council would be constituted by election. The Chinese have said that. That is a principle about which so many people feel strongly that we should stand by and challenge the Government of China on it. If we had the courage to do that, we would win.

The rather emotional intervention of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland gave us an insight into the conflict over his party's joint agreement, during which he came to blows over the dead parrot of a joint agreement. That is a serious issue and the hon. Member for Macclesfield treated it as such. He made a sensible speech, but was attacked in an emotional and, I believe, unsustainable way. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland described the new clause as a fig leaf for the Labour party's position. He implied, as the Minister did, that the Labour party was concerned only with the issue of democracy.

If the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland has listened to my speech, he would know that I also spoke about the importance of China reaffirming its commitment to the one country-two systems process. I also described the importance of China retaining its window on the western world. I spoke also about the international safety net if there is a crisis in the colony. In no way is that a fig leaf. It is an element in our alternative plan in relation to confidence in the future of the colony. As it happens, it is also unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman choose the fig leaf metaphor, because I am about to take the fig leaf away.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

What is underneath it?

Mr. Foulkes

I dread to think of the visions that that metaphor conjures up for Conservative Members. [Interruption.] The Minister reads my mind. I can only thank higher beings for their existence at the Dispatch Box.

The new clause has well served the purpose for which it was tabled. We have had a good debate on democracy. The purpose of tabling the new clause was to allow that debate to take place. Whatever the Minister may say, the contribution by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills was not an embarrassment to the Opposition. He rightly said that the new clause is effectively a wrecking measure. It links the principle of democracy to other aspects of the Bill that we have tried to improve. We have deliberately taken a constructive approach in Committee and on Report.

The message about the importance of having democracy in Hong Kong as quickly as possible has got across, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Budgen

moved, That further consideration of the Bill be now adjourned, but MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant to Standing Order No. 34 (Dilatory motion in abuse of rules of House), declined to propose the Question thereon.

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