HC Deb 15 March 1993 vol 221 cc21-33 3.30 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about political development in Hong Kong.

There is widespread support in the House and elsewhere for the proposals put forward by the Governor last October. We sought to respond to the wish of the Hong Kong people for a greater say in their own affairs while staying within the terms of the Sino-British joint declaration, the Basic Law and other relevant exchanges with the Chinese side.

The Governor's proposals represent our judgment of the right way forward for Hong Kong, but we have said from the start that we are open to alternative idea, from the people of Hong Kong or from the Chinese side. We have had a wide range of suggestions from people in Hong Kong. The Chinese side have opposed the proposals without offering anything in their place. Since last October, we and the Governor have been urging the Chinese side to discuss these electoral issues with us in order to reach an understanding. We are ready to enter such discussions without preconditions. We want to see as much continuity as possible in Hong Kong's electoral arrangements before and after 1997.

Some two months ago, we renewed our efforts to get talks under way with China, and since then there have been intensive diplomatic contacts in Peking. It may be useful for the House if I set out briefly the basis on which we were prepared to hold discussions.

First, we accepted that the talks should be on the basis of the joint declaration—which I have mentioned—the principle of convergence with the Basic Law and the relevant understandings and agreements reached between Britain and China. The Governor's proposals are wholly compatible with those.

Second, as I made plain to the House on 10 March, we told the Chinese side that the British team in these discussions would include representatives of the Hong Kong Government on the same basis as other officials taking part in the talks. Hong Kong officials have joined over the past 10 years in discussions with the Chinese side as members of the British team, including during the negotiations on the joint declaration and later as members of the Joint Liaison Group. We cannot and do not accept what some Chinese officials have said in the past few days—that the role of people from Hong Kong in discussions about Hong Kong's future should be downgraded.

We received a positive response on the principle of talks from the Chinese side in early February. To help get the talks started, we and the Governor therefore decided, with the advice of the Executive Council in Hong Kong, to postpone the original plan to publish the draft electoral legislation in Hong Kong's Official Gazette on 12 February. As the diplomatic contacts proceeded, we held up publication for four further weeks; but we told the Chinese that it was not possible to delay indefinitely, given the need to pass legislation before the Legislative Council rose for its summer recess in July.

It is disappointing that, despite [...]all those efforts, the Chinese side were still not able to agree by 12 March to a date for talks—or even to a date on which an announcement of talks could be made. As we had forewarned them, the Governor therefore published his proposals on that day, 12 March. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House.

Publication in the Official Gazette is only the first step in the legislative process. Introduction of the Bill into the Legislative Council would be a separate step. As the Governor has said, we will have to judge, in the light of developments, when to take that step. Thereafter, I am sure that Members of the Legislative Council would want to discuss the draft legislation in great detail, in the light of the various alternatives put forward, before they reached a decision.

Publication of the legislation therefore should not make it more difficult to begin talks with China. The Bill sets out the Governor's proposals, which have been public since October, in legislative form. This does not affect the basis for talks with China, the need for such talks, or our wish to hold them. We have said that if we reached an understanding with the Chinese side we would recommend this to the Legislative Council.

So we remain ready for talks at any time and I hope that the Chinese side will be prepared to settle quickly on arrangements for such talks. We in Britain have responsibility for the administration of Hong Kong until 1997, and part of that responsibility is to maintain steady progress towards democracy in Hong Kong. We are open to discussion about how to achieve that, but the key point is that the electoral arrangements in Hong Kong should be fair, open and acceptable to the people of Hong Kong.

The Chinese side also have responsibilities and interests as the future sovereign power. Britain and China have every incentive to work together to ensure the future success of Hong Kong. We will continue to the greatest extent possible to pursue steadily the path of co-operation with China, and we look to the Chinese side to do the same.

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's decision to make a statement about the circumstances in Hong Kong and on relations between the People's Republic of China and Her Majesty's Government. We had asked for such a statement, and I think that the whole House will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making one. There is much in the statement with which to agree. It is conciliatory in tone and continues to offer open discussions without preconditions to the Government of the People's Republic of China. That, too, is welcome. It safeguards the legitimate interests and the right to make final decisions of the people of Hong Kong themselves whose future is the most important aspect of all in these matters. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on all those issues.

However, the central question remains unanswered. Why is it that, in the face of long discussions over many months with the apparent openness and willingness of Her Majesty's Government to meet without preconditions, the talks have broken down? Why is progress not being made? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in my meetings with Vice Premier Zhu Rongji and in several discussions with the ambassador of the People's Republic of China in London I have made it clear that we would always support proposals to extend democracy to the people of Hong Kong?

Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that we urged the representatives of the People's Republic of China to return to the negotiating table with counter proposals, if they have any? It is regrettable that they have failed either in private discussions or apparently in public to present any counter proposals as a basis for discussions to resolve this deadlock.

The deadlock is serious for a number of reasons. For example, why are the Chinese now apparently objecting—I say "apparently objecting"—to the involvement of representatives of the people of Hong Kong when those representatives have taken part over many years in discussions about the future of Hong Kong? What has caused that apparent change of mind in Beijing? Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us and the people of Hong Kong that their legitimate right to be represented in any talks about their future will not be given away but will be safeguarded by Her Majesty's Government and the Governor? For example, what is to happen to the very important economic development of the new airport for Hong Kong? How will those proposals be affected by this continuing breakdown in the talks?

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that he will continue, in line with the Governor, to make it clear to the Government of the People's Republic of China that delay cannot be endured indefinitely: that if legislation is to pass through Legco—I say "if legislation is to pass through Legco", because it remains for the members of Legco themselves to decide whether the proposals are acceptable to them, which will be a debate that we shall all watch with interest—that legislation cannot be delayed indefinitely, even though, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on this point, he insists that it is not too late for talks on alternative proposals to develop.

May I say to the right hon. Gentleman and, through him, to the people of Hong Kong and, for that matter, to the Governor that proposals to widen and deepen democracy in Hong Kong have had and retain our complete support, without any equivocation at all, but we want to see a resumption of talks between Her Majesty's Government and the Governor and the People's Republic of China in the interests, above all, of the future well-being of the people of Hong Kong.

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support. That is a great help. He questioned me in particular on two points. His first question—why the talks about talks did not succeed—is one which he must address to the Chinese Government. I was reasonably hopeful a week ago, even a shorter time ago, that the different procedural obstacles that had come up were being resolved and that we would be able to start substantial talks. At the end, the difficulty focused on something that I mentioned in my statement. Representatives of the Hong Kong Government have taken part in this kind of discussion often before, without any difficulty. There was a suggestion from the Chinese side that their role and their designation should be, in some way, lessened or degraded. The implications of that are not ones which we could accept. It was really on that point that the talks about talks stalled.

On the right hon. Gentleman's second point, it is agreed between us and the Chinese and virtually everybody in Hong Kong that Hong Kong needs a new airport if it is to remain a first class international trade and financial centre. We went out of our way last year, as the House will recall, to take account of Chinese problems over the financing of these arrangements. The result is the memorandum of understanding which the Prime Minister entered into. I believe that agreement could be reached quickly on these airport matters if the financial issues, in which the Chinese have a legitimate interest, were tackled on their merits. We shall seek to do that.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Is not the answer to the question of the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) about why the Chinese are not responding as, I am sure, we would all hope, that the Governor produced his October proposals, which were supposed to be the basis of negotiation, unilaterally? That is what has caused offence in Beijing. Can my right hon. Friend confirm, lest there be any doubt, that the 1984 agreement remains the basis of our policy towards Hong Kong? In order to find a way in which both sides, or all three sides, can get themselves off the hook, would it not at least be worth while contemplating the proposition that an independent panel of lawyers should look at the simple, central question whether the Governor's proposals, made unilaterally last October, did or did not break both the 1984 agreement and, more importantly, the 1990 and 1991 discussions?

Mr. Hurd

I am not sure what my hon. Friend meant when he said that the Governor put forward unilateral proposals. As Governor, it is his duty—a duty that he does not share with anyone else at present—to put forward proposals for the conduct of the legislative elections in Hong Kong in 1995.

On 25 September, some time before the Governor published his proposals, I gave the Chinese Foreign Minister the text of what the Governor proposed to say. At all times, before and after the Governor announced his proposals, he, I and everyone made it clear that they were proposals and that we were perfectly ready to discuss them with the Chinese, just as they are open for discussion in Hong Kong.

As for my hon. Friend's suggestion, it is of course the Chinese who have most strongly opposed any internationalisation of the discussion on these issues. On the legal points, the documents are in the Library and hon. Members can make their own decisions and conclusions, but we are perfectly clear that we are justified in saying, as I did, that the Governor's proposals are entirely compatible with the joint declaration—I confirm that that remains the basis of our policy—and that they are compatible with the Basic Law and with understandings reached in the context of the last Legislative Council elections. We are confident about that, but the talks that we seek should concentrate on the arrangements for the future, and I hope that they can be arranged on that basis.

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the Chinese Premier's statement this morning that the Government's proposals appear to be designed to create disorder—if that is the correct translation—in the colony are viewed with total astonishment by members of all parties as it is perfectly obvious that the interest of Britain, as well as that of China and the people of Hong Kong, is to secure a smooth transition in 1997? Will he reaffirm that the Government of China still have some way to go to regain the confidence of the people of Hong Kong, which it lost in the events of two or three years ago?

If China is so convinced that the Governor's proposals in some way as yet unexplained transgress the joint declaration or the Basic Law, will he not rule out the possibility of asking whether it would agree to refer the matter for an advisory opinion to the International Court of Justice?

Mr. Hurd

I think that I have already answered the latter point. It is important to have sensible arrangements for the future which meet the criteria set out in my statement but which could be continued after 1997 in what is called the through-train. That should be the objective, but it has not yet been possible to reach it.

As for what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Chinese Prime Minister's statement this morning, it follows the line that has been taken before. There is nothing especially dramatic or unexpected in it, but it represents the continuation of a stalemate on a matter which it is in the practical interests of Britain, China and Hong Kong for the stalemate to be broken. That is the essence of the matter, and I hope that after gazetting, as before gazetting, it will be possible to start, continue and succeed in a dialogue that reflects those real interests.

Sir Cranley Onslow (Woking)

As my right hon. Friend has confirmed, contrary to what my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) suggested, that he gave the Chinese Government advance notice of the Governor's proposals in good time, and as he emphasised the fact that they were consistent with the Basic Law and the joint declaration, will he say whether the Chinese have given any indication of why they appear to want to seek confrontation?

Mr. Hurd

No; the Chinese have not given us any alternatives to the Governor's proposals. They said for a long time that they were not prepared to discuss the matter until the proposals were withdrawn. Recently that has not been their position. That is one reason why, as I told the House a few minutes ago, I was reasonably hopeful until quite recently about managing to get into talks. In the end, for the reasons I have given, that was not possible. My right hon. Friend is right. During the almost six months in which the Chinese Government have had the Governor's proposals, we have had no alternatives to the proposals from the Chinese side.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Is not this deplorable situation the direct consequence of the Government's spinelessness on the whole issue of democracy in Hong Kong? Is not it a fact that the consensus from the Office of the Members of the Legislative and Executive Councils should have been confirmed by the Government long ago? Is not it a fact that the Patten proposals, inadequate and belated though they certainly are, are the minimum that should now be introduced? The Foreign Secretary is now saying that these inadequate and belated proposals, only four years before China takes over in Hong Kong, can be subject to further whittling away and further reduction. What kind of democracy will be handed over to the Chinese in 1997 if the Government do a Munich on Hong Kong?

Mr. Hurd

The right hon. Gentleman is back in his old form. I do not think that he recognises the realities of the situation any more than he did when he was a Front-Bench spokesman. Most right hon. and hon. Members, including the right hon. Gentleman in calmer moments, know that the political demand for democracy in Hong Kong is of reasonably recent date. It is now strong—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh come on!"] That is true. When I first knew Hong Kong many years ago, it would have been hard for anybody to say that there was a demand in Hong Kong for political democracy. It simply was not so. Recent events, which I need not specify, have created that demand out of anxiety. It is now a real demand. It is no longer possible to treat or to handle Hong Kong as if it were simply a commercial city. The political demand is there and the political community is now there. The Governor, the British Government and the Chinese Government must take account of that reality.

We can argue, as the right hon. Gentleman and I did at the time, about the OMELCO consensus, although I do not agree with his conclusion. The conclusion we reached last time was about right and worked. I always said that we would go back to the Chinese to see whether we could improve on it. I was thinking of an increase in the number of directly elected seats. What the Governor has done is not that. He has sought to improve democracy by other means compatible with the Basic Law. The Governor has made a shrewd set of proposals.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the principle of more democracy in Hong Kong is not really at issue? That principle was accepted long ago by the Chinese in the 1984 accord and is enshrined in the basic agreement, in which the Chinese also talked about the need for a high degree of local autonomy. All that the Governor and my right hon. Friend are trying to do now is to bring forward proposals to make a reality of those earlier demands, agreed to by the Chinese, that there should be a high degree of autonomy.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that it is entirely right that we should persist with these modest proposals to make a reality of points to which the Chinese have already agreed? Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind that the whole of Asia, including Hong Kong, is now in transition and that there is quite a degree of transition in Beijing as well? It may well be right to persist with our line and not to abandon ourselves to passing pressures.

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend; he is right. The phrase "two systems in one country" is not a British phrase. It is a Chinese phrase to embody the principles of the 1984 joint declaration. That is right. The principle of two systems in one country after 1997 is the only practical principle under which Hong Kong can be successful after the change of sovereignty. It is, therefore, in the practical interests of Britain, of China and of Hong Kong that that principle should be turned into reality. The Governor's proposals are one way in which to do that.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that, apart from the usual gyrations in the stock exchange casinos, trade and business in Hong Kong with China are proceeding perfectly normally? Will he also confirm that nothing in the constitutional proposals and in the democratic principles underlying them undermines the continued prosperity and expansion of the Hong Kong economy? Will he consider taking the Chancellor of the Exchequer out there for a much-needed holiday to see what an expanding economy really looks like?

Mr. Hurd

I do not think that one has to be Chancellor of the Exchequer to derive a certain amount of inspiration from a visit to Hong Kong. It is a remarkably successful economy, precisely because of that combination of British administration and Chinese entrepreneurship. British administration will be replaced in 1997, but it is most important that the other quality—Chinese entrepreneurship—should continue under free institutions.

I can confirm the hon. Gentleman's first point. Opportunities for trade with China are substantial and have been continuing. I hope that that will continue to be the case.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Does my right hon. Friend believe that the current Chinese attitude suggests a certain amount of bad faith on the part of the Chinese? As my right hon. Friend said, they agreed to the principle of two systems, one country, and the second system—democracy—will not be properly developed even under the Governor's proposals.

Mr. Hurd

I do not want to trade accusations of bad faith because co-operation with China between now and 1997 is very much in the interests of the people of Hong Kong, who are our main responsibility and our main interest in this matter. I do not want to engage in that kind of recrimination. It is crucial that the principle, which is a Chinese principle, should be respected. The Governor's proposals are very much in line with that principle and with the joint declaration and are compatible with the Basic Law and with the understandings reached before the last legislative elections.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that lack of democracy in Hong Kong has always been a problem, and that that has not been put right by the Basic Law or by any other accords with the People's Republic of China? Will he now tell us what guarantees he can offer of freedom of speech in Hong Kong and of political asylum for those who have been critical of the People's Republic of China and who may be subject to prison sentences as and when China takes over?

Mr. Hurđ

Many of these matters are discussed in the Joint Liaison Group with the Chinese—for example, the question of the convention on human rights. The hon. Gentleman was present when we discussed the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1990, which the House agreed and whose provisions have worked well.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) said, these are days of change in Beijing. The Vice-President of China died over the weekend, and there are likely to be changes of personnel during the present congress in the People's Republic of China. Will my right hon. Friend undertake, in conjunction with the Governor, not to allow the legislative process for putting the Governor's proposals into law to progress too far before those changes become apparent so that any discussions with the People's Republic take place after such changes have occurred?

Mr. Hurd

It would be a little rash to base policy on possible changes in Peking in the next few weeks and months. It is hard to put that on any sure foundation. The Legislative Council in Hong Kong needs to take decisions on the legislation fairly soon—before the end of July, when the Council rises for its recess. That allows plenty of time both for discussion in the Legislative Council and for discussion with the Chinese—if, as I hope, they are ready to undertake such discussion.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

Will the Foreign Secretary point out to the Chinese Government in a delicate way that the increased expectations for democracy in Hong Kong have been in part caused by the Chinese Government's own statements? Does my right hon. Friend recall that, after the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs visited Peking in 1989, it reported that the Chinese Government had said that they had no objection to faster progress towards democracy and that the introduction of representative government was a matter for Hong Kong. In its report, written after the Tiananmen square incident, the Committee reported unanimously to the House that we believed that full democracy must be introduced before 1997. That was on the basis of advice that we were given by the Chinese Government in Peking. It would be helpful if my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would remind them of that.

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend; and I recall that report. It is in the interests of China, and is possible for China without sacrificing anything that it regards as essential, to have somewhat more confidence in the process of democracy in Hong Kong. The Chinese are committed to that in the Basic Law, as my right hon. Friend pointed out. What is needed is a little more confidence in that commitment.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

Is there not already a very large, enthusiastic and well-educated younger generation in Hong Kong who have every right to take part in the full democratic processes and democratic institutions of their society? Is the Foreign Secretary aware that Mr. Patten's proposals are sensible, cautious and, in my view, the minimum required for democracy? Therefore, they deserve support and not sniping, especially sniping from the powerful business interests in Hong Kong itself. Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear to those interests that he and the House support the process of democracy that has been proposed?

Mr. Hurd

We certainly do that, and almost the whole House has given its support since the proposals were published. Certainly the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) has given that support. There is now a political city alongside a commercial city in Hong Kong. Both are now part of the reality. That is one reason why, in Hong Kong itself, the Governor's proposals have continued, despite sniping from inside and outside the colony, to receive very strong support.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Would it not have been far more difficult for the Chinese to adopt their present attitude if the reforms in Hong Kong had been implemented much earlier, as advocated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)? Is it not ironic that the obstruction is coming from a Government who have never been genuinely elected by anyone and who, in 1989, were responsible for massacres of students whose only demand was for elementary democratic reform in China itself?

Mr. Hurd

The Government and the House have expressed themselves in respect of what happened in Tiananmen square. One can argue about the right pace of progress towards democracy in Hong Kong. The pace which we, the former Governor and the present Governor have set in hand is about right. The principle is endorsed by the Chinese Government themselves. We are asking them to discuss with us the way in which that principle, which they accept, is put into practice between now and 1997 so that in 1997 the arrangements in place should continue.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

As one who has known Hong Kong for 30 years, may I endorse the view of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that the pressure for democratic reform in Hong Kong is relatively recent but is now quite strong? Is he aware that the position that he and the Governor have taken on this matter has the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House who believe that the people of Hong Kong are entitled to be represented in any talks that take place and who find it wholly unreasonable that the People's Republic of China should object to talks simply because it cannot dictate who should represent the British side?

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Those are exactly the points. I hope that those of us who share those points can, during the next few weeks which may in some respects be difficult, hold to those points and make them clear to Chinese friends with whom we speak and to people in Hong Kong. It is very important that there should be the minimum of misunderstanding and confusion in Hong Kong or Peking about the part of this country and this House. I hope that today's exchanges will make that clear.

Mr. Geoffrey Hoon (Ashfield)

What does the Foreign Secretary make of the Chinese Government's insistence that Governor Patten's proposals are in direct conflict with the Basic Law?

Mr. Hurd

The Governor's proposals are designed to take account of two points of view which the Chinese Government have put to me and to many others with great emphasis. First, they were not prepared to see an increase in the number of directly elected seats beyond 20 as provided for in the Basic Law. The Governor's proposals respect that. Secondly, the Legislative Council should not be changed in nature, and the Governor's proposals respect that. We therefore took into account both the main points that the Chinese had quite legitimately impressed on us as their view. The Governor found a way, while respecting those points, modestly but clearly of advancing democracy. The Chinese should accept the effort that has been made as a basis for discussion—as something that should be discussed. That is what we have proposed, but so far they have not accepted it.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the proposals for democracy in Hong Kong up to the year 1997 are in the interests of China because they would underpin inward investment? Will he pass on to the Governor the good wishes of all hon. Members, irrespective of which party they belong to, who are very concerned about the future of the people in Hong Kong?

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Governor has a difficult position. In some ways, it is bound to be a difficult position and, in the present circumstances, more difficult than usual. He will be very grateful for what has been said in the House, and in particular for my hon. Friend's personal good wishes.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Were not Baroness Thatcher's Government taken for a ride when they signed the joint declaration? Are not the Government being naive in thinking that the perpetrators of what happened in Tiananmen square will support democracy in Hong Kong any more than they did in Beijing? As the joint declaration was underwritten by the United Nations, at what point might the Foreign Secretary consider taking the matter back to the United Nations?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman may be mistaken. The best agreements are those that rest on self-interest, and it is in the self-interest of China that it should take over in 1997 and be able to sustain a promising, prosperous city. That depends, in turn, on keeping alive in Hong Kong the entrepreneurial spirit, which rests on a degree of freedom of speech and on the growing institutions of democracy. This is not something theoretical for China: properly considered, it is in its self-interest. We will do what we can—I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's tactic would be the right one—to bring that point home as often as we can.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that many hon. Members in all parts of the House have noticed the contrast between the reasonable tones that are being adopted by himself and his fellow Ministers and those of the Chinese Government, and in particular of its ambassador in London? Such hectoring comments hardly help to achieve the settlement that we all desire.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is essential, at this sensitive time in the history of Hong Kong, that the people of Hong Kong are properly represented in the talks and that deals are not done behind their backs because it is their future that we are talking about?

Mr. Hurd

I agree with my hon. Friend's second point. On his first point, I would not like to point a finger at any individual, but the tactic of attempting to hector or dissuade by argument British individuals or firms from taking a particular line misfires, and I hope that, if it has been practised, it will be discontinued.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

Does the Foreign Secretary share my concern that there is a growing coincidence of view between some very rich and powerful business men in Hong Kong and the Chinese communist party on having capitalism but not democracy against which the opposition in Hong Kong seems to be most effectively orchestrated? Is not it time that we said, loudly and clearly, that that coincidence of views is not shared by the British people?

Mr. Hurd

I am impressed by the degree of support which the Governor's proposals have continued to hold in most parts of Hong Kong. That is because sensible, shrewd people in Hong Kong, in the business community and elsewhere, realise that Hong Kong is now a political community as well as a business community—both have to be taken into account.

Mr. Iain Duncan-Smith (Chingford)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and I agree that these moderate proposals are such that we hope that the Chinese authorities will come to the table further to discuss them. Does my right hon. Friend agree that two other elements are part and parcel of bringing those authorities to the table? One is the attitude of Taiwan to their behaviour over the proposals; the second is the attitude of the United States Government to the special trading relationship with China. Will my right hon. Friend explain in a little more detail what he thinks of those two attitudes?

Mr. Hurd

I do not think I want to comment on the Taiwan dimension. Hong Kong is increasingly, as my hon. Friend knows, the funnel through which China's trade passes to the west, to the great benefit of both Hong Kong and China, so it is certainly in the interests of Hong Kong that the most-favoured-nation arrangements should be renewed.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Foreign Secretary admit that it is a bit late in the day to come here with all this diplomatic waffle, given that the decision was made in 1984 by the Tory Government of which he was a member? Why did they not deal with the fine print then instead of allowing matters to reach this stage, when China is holding every ace?

There would perhaps be a little more credibility in the opt-out clause that the right hon. Gentleman is talking about were it not for the fact that those in China may ask who this Tory Government are to be talking about democracy when they do not allow a referendum in Britain.

Mr. Hurd

I think that I have already answered the points in the hon. Gentleman's question——

Mr. Skinner

Not that one.

Mr. Hurd

—those parts of the question that are relevant.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

Will my right hon. Friend reassure the Chinese that this House has never urged an increase in democracy in Hong Kong in an irresponsible way? Indeed, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report specifically rejected the views of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). What the House wants is a sensible, structured approach both to democracy and to judicial matters which will enable this country to maintain its other commitment in the joint declaration—to economic and social stability in Hong Kong. It is therefore in China's interest and in the interests of the people of Hong Kong that we proceed as the Governor has suggested.

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is right. The more people can impress that point in the sort of terms that he has used, the better.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

What plans does the Foreign Secretary have to deal with what seems to be the continuing Chinese intransigence over and opposition to [...]democracy? What steps will he take to get the support of the European Community, the United Nations and other international bodies for democratic change and stability in Hong Kong? Contrary to the weasel words of some Conservative Members, will he make it absolutely clear that there is no question of going back on democracy or on the moves towards it, both for Hong Kong and, in the long term, for China itself?

Mr. Hurd

The views of the House on this matter are fairly clear. It is the responsibility of the British Government, between now and 30 June 1997, to take whatever decisions for the administration of Hong Kong we think are in the interests of Hong Kong. That is laid down in the joint declaration and agreement of 1984, and that agreement we will discharge. We want to do that, to the greatest feasible extent, in co-operation with China—for the reasons that I have stated—but the responsibility until that time is ours.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is in China's interests that the traditional economy and character of Hong Kong be maintained? Does he also agree that if China breaks her word to Hong Kong the whole world will not trust China, and the inward investment for which she yearns will not take place?

Mr. Hurd

There are many considerations in the mind of the Chinese Government. I do not think that we need to make those points to them. They can see the world; they know what is being said and done; they know the realities. I hope that the principal reality will gradually be borne in on them—that it is in their interests, as well as forming part of their commitments, that Hong Kong should make steady progress towards fuller democracy.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

The House will accept the laudable objectives that the Government have set with regard to the future organisation of Hong Kong and its relationship with China. Is not the Foreign Secretary sensitive to the Chinese leadership's criticism that Mr. Patten might have gone about those matters in a different way in the autumn of last year? Could he not have been more sensitive in the discussions, and perhaps not have held them in such an open forum—that is to say, in the international press? If he had adopted such a process, might we not have been in a far healthier position in terms of the potential for discussions to resolve the present difficulties?

Mr. Hurd

I do not know how the hon. Member can sustain that. No journalists were present when I gave the plans to the Chinese Foreign Minister on 25 November last year, and I made no statement. I made no effort to score points. I gave the plans to the Chinese in confidence so that they had an opportunity to comment in the weeks that followed, before the Governor announced the proposals. They refused to take that opportunity. I do not think that it would be reasonable to expect that the Governor should hold up publication of the proposals in October or their gazetting on 12 March this year indefinitely or until the Chinese agreed. Those are not reasonable proposals for the House or for Hong Kong.

Before publication of the proposals, we gave the Chinese an opportunity, and we offered them another between publication last October and gazetting in March. Neither of those opportunities was taken. A third opportunity exists now, when the proposals are gazetted. But the Legislative Council has not started discussions, let alone taken any decisions. We are not pillorying anyone.

I have deliberately chosen my words very carefully. We want to enter into discussions, and I hope that the opportunity can now be taken.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. We must now move on.