HC Deb 08 July 1997 vol 297 cc753-5
1. Mr. Ben Chapman

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the handover of Hong Kong, and on the current state of British relations with China. [5724]

3. Mr. Waterson

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Sino—British relations. [5728]

4. Mr. Bennett

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make an assessment of the United Kingdom's future relations with China following the handover of Hong Kong. [5729]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Derek Fatchett)

I apologise for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who is attending the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Madrid.

As my right hon. Friend told the Chinese Foreign Minister in Hong Kong, Britain and China have substantial common interests. We aim to build a new, broad and forward-looking relationship. We want Hong Kong to be a bridge not a barrier between us. That will depend on China honouring its commitments in the joint declaration.

Mr. Chapman

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that, on present trends, China has the potential to be the world's biggest economic power early in the next millennium? Does he also agree that it is already a growing and major market for our goods and services? Does he further agree that it is enormously important politically, ecologically and demographically and has the potential to be a major outward investor? The handover of Hong Kong provides a new opportunity to develop a relationship with China, freeing us from the tensions inherent in the earlier relationship. Does my hon. Friend agree that, while human rights and our continuing responsibilities for the joint declaration may be features, we should pursue that new relationship with vigour?

Mr. Fatchett

My hon. Friend had a distinguished career as a diplomat before he came to the House and has a real understanding of the situation in China. We are looking forward to a new, constructive relationship with China and are keen to engage with it on a range of political, trade and human rights issues. That is the best way to secure the future of Hong Kong. We are deeply committed to ensuring that we carry out our responsibilities under the joint declaration.

Mr. Waterson

Can the hon. Gentleman explain the rationale behind the last minute volte-face, which resulted in British representatives being permitted after all to attend the swearing in of the new provisional Legislative Council? How can that be rationalised with the view—if it is still the Government's view—that that body is illegal?

Mr. Fatchett

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman raised that issue. The Government's policy was that no Ministers would attend the swearing in ceremony for the provisional legislature. It has always been our understanding that there will be a consensus on Hong Kong policy. We were deeply disappointed that three senior representatives of the Conservative party attended the swearing in ceremony. When the new shadow Foreign Secretary has the opportunity to come to the Dispatch Box, I hope that he will condemn those Conservatives who went against the Government's policy.

Mr. Bennett

I do not suppose that my hon. Friend can tell me the CO2 emissions for China and Hong Kong and the likely emissions over the next 10 or 15 years. Does he agree, however, that they will make a significant contribution to global warming and that it is important that we draw China into the worldwide agreements that are beginning to emerge in respect of protecting the environment for us all?

Mr. Fatchett

As my hon. Friend knows, it is difficult to predict precisely the CO2 emissions from China or any other country, but my hon. Friend is right to say that they are likely to be significant in the coming years simply because of the size and the growth of the Chinese economy. A further reason to engage China on a range of issues is that the environment is as important to the Chinese as it is to us. We have been working with the Chinese on a number of environment projects, and we wish to extend that work in future.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there should be a continuing role for the House, and perhaps for the other place, in monitoring developments in Hong Kong during the rest of the 50-year period?

Mr. Fatchett

I accept the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's question. There will indeed be great pressure on the House to ensure that there is effective monitoring. We shall certainly provide the opportunities. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are still discussing the detailed mechanisms for such provision.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Has my hon. Friend seen the reports in the Sunday newspapers of actions by the noble Lord Howe, which I support, to undermine the negotiating position of Christopher Patten as Governor of Hong Kong? Can we be sure that there will be a full inquiry into those allegations as many of us would like to know what really happened during that period?

Mr. Fatchett

My advice to my hon. Friend is to allow the Conservatives yet again to have their internal divisions in public. I enjoy watching those internal divisions. It is important to look to the future, and in that context we must ensure that the joint declaration is honoured and that we and the Chinese carry out our commitments under the joint declaration. That is the best way to ensure the long-term future and prosperity of the people of Hong Kong.

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