HC Deb 10 June 1997 vol 295 cc936-7
7. Mrs. Mahon

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the handover of Hong Kong to China. [1164]

Mr. Robin Cook

A successful transition for Hong Kong is one of our highest priorities. We are committed to doing all that we can, working with the Government of China and the incoming Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, to secure Hong Kong's continuing stability, prosperity and freedoms through and beyond the handover, on the basis of the Joint Declaration.

Mrs. Mahon

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his position. Does he agree that Hong Kong's continued success will depend on the rule of law and on civil and political freedoms?

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the success of the Hong Kong economy depends very much on the rule of law and the liberties of Hong Kong, which are protected by the Joint Declaration until 2047. I can assure the House that the Government will continue to monitor the observance of those liberties and report on that to the House every six months. The Joint Liaison Group has a continuing role until 2000 monitoring the conduct of the Joint Declaration. We shall play a full part in that. We shall also work with our international allies to make sure that international interest continues to be shown in Hong Kong so that we fulfil our obligation to the people of Hong Kong that the handover terms are honoured in the years ahead.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I also congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his appointment.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the House, and indeed the other place, should have a continuing role in monitoring what goes on in Hong Kong until 2047? Does he consider that it would be appropriate to set up a special Committee for that very purpose?

Mr. Cook

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that Britain's interest in Hong Kong must not end at midnight on 30 June. We shall have a strong continuing interest, both commercially and as one of the architects of the Joint Declaration, in making sure that its freedoms are observed. A Committee of the House may well serve a purpose, but that is essentially a matter for the House to resolve. I certainly intend to keep the House informed, and I hope that hon. Members will wish to participate in debates on the matter.

Mr. Rowlands

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Chinese authorities have announced their intention to dismiss some of those who were democratically elected in Hong Kong and carry popular support? Will he therefore convey to the Chinese authorities our strength of feeling on that issue and encourage our European Union partners and the United States to do so as well?

Mr. Cook

I can assure my hon. Friend that, in opposition, in government and in the House, I have roundly condemned the action of the Chinese Government in dismissing the elected Legislative Council of Hong Kong and their intention to replace it on 1 July with a Legislative Council appointed by a committee set up by Beijing. There is no way in which we can accept that as a proper implementation of the Joint Declaration or as demonstrating respect for the democratic choices of the people of Hong Kong. We shall continue to press that view. In the meantime, we attach particular importance to the commitment of the Chinese Government to hold free and fair elections for a new Legislative Council within 12 months, and we expect that commitment to be fulfilled.