HC Deb 11 May 2004 vol 421 cc137-8
1. Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan) (Lab)

If he will make a statement on the development of democratic institutions in Hong Kong. [171829]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell)

We have repeatedly said that we hope to see early progress on universal suffrage at a pace in line with the wishes of the people of Hong Kong. We are concerned about the recent decision by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress to set limits on constitutional development in Hong Kong. We have made our concerns known to the Chinese Government.

Mr. Sarwar

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. As the Prime Minister of China is in the United Kingdom and has held discussions with our Prime Minister, can my hon. Friend confirm that our Government have impressed on the Chinese Government the fact that delaying elections in Hong Kong would lead to greater instability and is unacceptable to the British Government?

Mr. Rammell

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. This is an issue that we are actively discussing and which was raised by the Prime Minister with the Chinese Premier yesterday. It is particularly disappointing that the NPC acted before the Government of the Special Administrative Region completed its consultation. We have a shared interest with the Chinese Government in the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong, and we believe that the best way to secure and sustain that is an early move towards universal suffrage.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con)

Given the seriousness of the decision by the National People's Congress what will the Government do if the Chinese Government continue to take no notice of those protests?

Mr. Rammell

It is a statement of the obvious that we do not run Hong Kong any more, and are therefore dealing with a sovereign Government. Nevertheless, we retain an historical commitment, and strongly believe that the best way to secure stability for the people of Hong Kong is an early move towards universal suffrage at a pace in line with their wishes. We will continue to express that view.

Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that if the one nation, two systems solution for Hong Kong is seen by the Chinese as the ultimate solution to bring Taiwan back to the motherland, its actions regarding universal suffrage will not be welcome in that territory? Does he also appreciate that this appears to an outsider in the United Kingdom and to the people of Hong Kong to be a significant departure from the substantial degree of autonomy that they were promised?

Mr. Rammell

I wholly agree with my hon. Friend in his last remarks. We have expressed concern because the decision by the NPC appears to be inconsistent with the high degree of autonomy that was put forward in the joint declaration. We have expressed that view both publicly and privately, and we will continue to do so.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con)

How has China breached the Basic Law in Hong Kong? Would it not be better, having allowed China to take over the sovereignty of Hong Kong, to trust the people of China to get this right? They have shown good faith in relation to Hong Kong to date, and British berating will probably not be particularly productive.

Mr. Rammell

Since the handover in 1997—we report on this twice a year to Parliament—the one country, two systems arrangement has generally worked well. Nevertheless, it is right that we should voice our concerns. We have publicly voiced our concern that the decision appears to be inconsistent with the high degree of autonomy in the joint declaration. With respect, that view commands majority support across the Chamber.

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