HC Deb 03 April 1996 vol 275 cc369-70
1. Mr. Waterson

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with the People's Republic of China over the handover of Hong Kong. [22610]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

I visited Peking in January, and had useful discussions with the Chinese President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister about Hong Kong.

Mr. Waterson

Will my right hon. and learned Friend lose no opportunity in stressing to the People's Republic the benefits to both the people of Hong Kong and the People's Republic itself of a smooth transition in the handover *if power, and the benefits of inheriting an honest, reliable and efficient Administration? In particular, will he try to discourage the People's Republic from making statements that might create divided loyalties among public servants?

Mr. Rifkind

I agree very much with what my hon. Friend has said. The Hong Kong civil service has an unparalleled reputation not just for its competence and professionalism, but for its political impartiality and integrity. I believe that any attempts from any quarter to seek loyalty commitments would be not only inappropriate, but highly damaging to confidence in Hong Kong among some of the colony's most loyal servants.

Mr. Robin Cook

Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that the preparatory committee has now said that only 15 of the present members of the Legislative Council are likely to remain members after the handover? Is he aware that that falls dramatically short of the hope that China might make only minor changes to LegCo, and that it has dismayed supporters of democracy in Hong Kong? What assurances did the Foreign Secretary seek in Beijing about the future of LegCo? Given that the current council was elected under arrangements chosen by Governor Patten, with the support of our Government, what steps do the Government propose to ensure the continuity of LegCo beyond the handover date?

Mr. Rifkind

The Chinese Government's position is not even as the hon. Gentleman has described it. The Chinese Government do not intend LegCo to have a future after June next year, and they have consequently announced their intention of creating a provisional legislature. We consider that reprehensible and unjustifiable. Moreover, any problems will be compounded if none of the representatives of the majority of the electorate in Hong Kong are invited to serve in the provisional legislature.

It would appear from what has been said so far about the composition of the preparatory committee that none of the representatives of, for example, the Democratic party are being invited to participate. That is to be condemned, and I hope that the Chinese Government will give further thought to what will be necessary to ensure the continuation of confidence.

Mr. Sims

Will my right hon. and learned Friend remind the Chinese Government and the people of Hong Kong that, although we shall no longer have administrative responsibility for the territory after the handover, the British Government and the House will continue to take a close interest in Hong Kong's affairs?

Mr. Rifkind

Of course we shall do so, both because of our ethical obligation to the people of Hong Kong and because of our continuing massive commercial and financial interests in Hong Kong's prosperity. We believe that not just the United Kingdom but the international community will look closely at the way in which China discharges its responsibilities once Hong Kong has been transferred. I very much hope that the Chinese Government will reflect on the fact that what happens in Hong Kong will be of intense interest not only to the people who live there, but to the whole world.