HL Deb 01 April 1976 vol 369 cc1360-95

6.48 p.m.

Lord BROCKWAY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what decisions have been reached regarding the social, economic and political future of Hong Kong. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Unstarred Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I want to begin by acknowledging that I have not been to Hong Kong. I have not been further East than Singapore. But I have developed over the years a curious identity with the people of Hong Kong. I have had innumerable letters from those resident there. I have tried to study all the reports. I think it likely that the picture which I have gained may be a little unbalanced, because those who have communicated with me have been mostly the underprivileged, but the fact that my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts will be replying, and was there last year, may correct any imbalance which my remarks reflect.

My Lords, I want to express particular thanks to two of those who have been informing me on this question. The first is Mr. Walter Easy. He is now Secretary of the Hong Kong Research Project, and he himself was a policeman in Hong Kong between the years 1962 and 1968. He has acknowledged from his own experience the widespread corruption in the police, the enforcement of bribes under threat of trumped-up charges, and the harassment of the poor. He has admitted that he has connived at this while he was in the police service. He is now seeking to correct that record by his service to the people of Hong Kong.

The second person to whom I am greatly indebted is Councillor Elsie Elliott. She went to Hong Kong as a missionary. She established in a tent a school for 20 children. Her school now has 3,000 children. She has been fearless in her championship of the rights of the underprivileged people of Hong Kong, and, despite the abuse which the establishment have thrust upon her, her integrity is so much recognised that even the very limited franchise which elects the urban council has returned her with the highest majorities in Hong Kong. I want to pay tribute to that brave woman, whom I have met in this country and with whom I have been in frequent communication. I regard her as the Florence Nightingale and the Sister Teresa of Hong Kong. The population of Hong Kong is 4 million, only 1 per cent. of whom is European. The population is larger than many of the countries which now have their independence.

I want to speak first about the corruption there. One often hears new nations in Africa and Asia denounced for their corruption; I denounce them. But I doubt whether there is a single one of the new nations where corruption is so integrated into the whole of the Administration as it is in Hong Kong. May I give two examples? First, in the streets of Hong Kong there are 100,000 hawkers who have to have licences for their stalls, and for the place from which they operate. There is an absolute protection racket throughout the whole of that relationship. There are secret societies, triads, which work closely with the police and which demand bribes from the hawkers; otherwise they will be charged with trumped-up charges. There is a similar system of corruption among the many mini-cab drivers, who again have to have licences. The corruption by the police was so well known that it took place in the streets, and Councillor Elsie Elliott has photographs of it taking place. Because of her public exposure of it and the photographs, it now takes place in secret rooms. It has become a part of the life of Hong Kong.

This corruption does not apply only to the ranks of the police force; it extends to the most senior officers. There is the notorious case of Ernest Hunt, who admitted in court that he had amassed £500,000 over 18 years as a policeman. Because this became known as a result of the agitation in Hong Kong by Elsie Elliott and others, a Commission Against Corruption has been established. I have asked Questions in this House about it. In February 1975 there were 1,798 complaints to the Commission against the police, and 1,550 against other departments. I want to ask the Minister questions of which I have given him notice. How many complaints have now been made to the Commission Against Corruption; how many have now been investigated; how many of these investigations have been completed; and how many convictions have there been?

The unhappy state of Hong Kong is not limited to corruption. Councillor Elsie Elliott gives evidence in her reports that the administration of the courts is weighted heavily against the poor and the uninformed Chinese. This may often be due to their ignorance rather than bias of the magistrates. I want to pay particular tribute to the late John Miller, who was known throughout Hong Kong as, "The just magistrate". Sometimes legal representation of these poor and ignorant people is not available. I want to appeal to the Government tonight and ask that legal aid should be expanded, that there should be no means test for it and that it should be available to all who need it. I should like to see attached to every court a prisoner's friend, similar to our probation officers, who would sympathetically explain, advise and help.

The unhappiness of Hong Kong goes further than this. It is absolutely unique in the British Colonial system for its absence of democratic rights. There is no Legislature, and therefore no vote for it. There is only an urban council. Those who vote for it are limited to one in ten of the adult population. The scope of the urban council, in the words of The Times of February 1975, is: …whose duties and responsibilities are concentrated largely on garbage collection, tree planting, hawkers' licences, and restriction on spitting. That is the extent of democracy in our largest colony.

In Hong Kong there is no free compulsory education; there is no free medical service open to all; there are no unemployment benefits; there are no old age or widows' pensions; there is no paid maternity leave; there is no maternity allowance; there is no minimum wage; there is no limitation of the hours of work for males over 18. Legal and illegal child labour are rife, as indicated only last January in the report of the Christian Industrial Committee. There is in Hong Kong the worst heroin traffic in the whole world. It also has the third worst suicide rate.

In contrast to this, it is often pointed out how much the Administration has clone in the housing sphere and the encouragement that has been given to trade unions. I will only say on housing that when areas with small huts are demolished and blocks of buildings are created, those blocks are constructed on one-third of the land previously occupied by the huts and two-thirds of the area is leased to private companies. One welcomes the encouragement that has been given to trade unions, but they are still terribly restricted. For example, no casual labourer in Hong Kong—the number of such workers is very large—is allowed to join a trade union.

One asks why there is this terribly unhappy state of affairs in our largest remaining colony. If there had not been special circumstances, Hong Kong would have advanced to political independence in the wave of liberation which occurred after the war. The British occupation of Hong Kong began in a way of which we must all be ashamed; it was annexed after the infamous opium war of 1829 when the Chinese Government sought to stamp out opium smuggling, which was a major source of British profit. We declared war and Hong Kong was made an opium base. I sometimes think that wrong beginnings determine future injustice.

In addition to the Island of Hong Kong, Kowloon was seized in 1860 and a large mainland new territory leased from China for 99 years in 1898. China has refused to accept these unequal treaties but we now have a strange situation. China found British occupation an advantage—for trade in the world, for foreign earnings and as a centre of financial institutions—but the situation is changing. China has become a major exporter of oil and, because of the financial advantages of that, China is no longer dependent on Hong Kong. Our occupation has been valuable for Britain in terms of the profits of its companies, in the contribution it has made to our balance of payments and in terms of the military outpost there. However, the lease for the mainland ends in 21 years and without the mainland territory Hong Kong itself would not be valid. Its ultimate return to China has become inevitable.

I urge that, meanwhile, we must accept responsibility for the 4 million Chinese in Hong Kong. The Commission Against Corruption is not enough. The whole Administration must be overhauled, the courts brought into relation with the people; we must establish social services, minimum living wages, maximum hours and make Hong Kong a place where its millions have the opportunity to live a human life. This will be a very big task but it need not be expensive for Britain. Business in Hong Kong is extraordinarily profitable. The incomes of the élite there are the highest in Asia except for the sheikhs in the Middle East. Hong Kong's wealth has just been indicated by the new defence agreement; this year it will pay this country 50 per cent. of the cost of the British garrison, next year 62½per cent. and, thereafter, 75 per cent. There is plenty of money in Hong Kong.

The necessary planning will require technical experience beyond the present Administration. I urge the Government to gather a team of skilled civil servants and others under a chairman who is both realistic and imaginative: a Commission of Reconstruction. It should include in its objectives the extension of democracy. The argument is sometimes used that Peking will not allow democracy to be established in Hong Kong, but experience in the Portuguese similar area of Macau indicates that that is not true; the Chinese have agreed there to adult suffrage and a direct vote to the legislature. When Hong Kong eventually becomes absorbed into China let us be proud of the society which we have helped to create there. China is building a new society. When Hong Kong's millions join it, let them have an experience of democracy which they can contribute to it.

7.8 p.m.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, for once I have great pleasure in sharing a negative experience with the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in that I, too, have not had the pleasure or opportunity of going to Hong Kong. However, I do not share with him the opportunity of having read the very interesting correspondence on which he based such a large part of his Question and, accordingly, I can only use for my contribution to this short debate information which is official or which has been published in the rather better daily or weekly newspapers. The noble Lord will forgive me, therefore, if, owing to the lack of availability of the same sources of information, I do not deal with all the points he mentioned.

The noble Lord, in his own inimitable way, at least managed to avert our gaze from the more troubled domestic economic scene of the United Kingdom to a part of the world where certainly the economy at least is very much more salubrious. I understand that quite a number of his proposals and facts, or at any rate his observations, came from a Fabian report which was commented upon in one of the daily newspapers. It rightly emphasised the enormous amount of social injustice, and those who have been to Hong Kong and to whom I have spoken have confirmed that there are terrible housing conditions in parts of Hong Kong, and this nobody would deny. But for a report to be valuable it must be objective and fair and must realise the conditions under which the people of Hong Kong have been living and have to live, the contribution and work of the governing body of Hong Kong and the elected bodies which work under the Government.

First, if the noble Lord was referring to the trade in narcotics, it is true to say that there is a considerable amount of opium taking and that Hong Kong has become one of the traditional outposts for trading in this drug. But it is also true to say that this has been a tradition for centuries in that part of the world. That has to be taken into account and I would advise the noble Lord of the comments of Chinese and other Asians who come here to this country and see the enormous amount of alcoholism. When they go back, precisely the same comments are made about alcoholism in Western Europe as the noble Lord has been making about opium in Hong Kong. So I feel that this must also be viewed with a certain amount of tolerance, however much we ourselves may deplore the use of opium and drug trafficking, which is an evil which we should wish and hope to see suppressed. I believe that it is fair to put it in its proper perspective.

Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, referred to the very large population of Hong Kong. However, he did not mention the fact that the population has increased from about 600,000 to 4½ million in the last 30 years. That is an enormous increase by any standards and a proportional increase in this country would not only not be tolerated but would be quite impossible to administer. This must be taken in relation to the size of the territory on which these people are living. Nor did the noble Lord refer to the almost impossible difficulty of resolving the franchise problem because the population has not only increased but is an ever-changing population. That makes it all the more difficult to administer. I was very interested to see in a recent communiqué from the Community Relations Commission that by far the largest ethnic group in the schools in this country are children of Chinese origin. It is of course true that they are coming into this country from Hong Kong. This merely emphasises the point that considerable numbers are crossing the border the whole time. Again, that must make administration a nightmare for those responsible.

The noble Lord mentioned schooling. I believe that he was probably slightly unfair. From the information that I have, there are about 1,200,000 schoolchildren registered in the Hong Kong schools. That is about a quarter of the population of the country. By any standards, that is a vast problem and it cannot just be brushed aside by saying that nothing is done about it. To have a proportion of 25 per cent. of the population of school age must set any Government an enormous problem.

In the past five or six years, 1¼ million of the people coming into Hong Kong have been refugees, so if the noble Lord is making these comments about Hong Kong and criticising the Government, I believe that it is fair to nut the other side. What the noble Lord did not mention—which is perhaps hardly surprising—was the enormous benefit which is flowing to the whole population of Hong Kong from its increased economic growth. I gather—and these are the only statistics I have seen, though the noble Lord may perhaps have others—that the gross domestic product is increasing at an annual rate of something like 7¼ per cent. One need only think of the Hong Kong dollar which in 1971 was 14½ to the pound sterling and is now 10 to the pound sterling. That in itself gives a very fair comparison of the benefits of a free market economy and free enterprise. I do not think that I need say much more on that point.

With regard to the growth of industry which, after all, affects the whole labour force of Hong Kong, Hong Kong is a very small territory in relation to world land space but it has now become the sixteenth largest trading nation in the world. Not only does one realise the effect of a free market economy but one must pay strong tribute to the people themselves. They are willing to work hard. They want to improve their living conditions and to remain independent. That may account for the comparatively small number who belong to trade unions.

With regard to the defence of Hong Kong, which, as the noble Lord rightly said, is a vital element, I should like to draw attention to the Third Report of the Expenditure Committee for 1975–76 on Hong Kong and Cyprus. I refer to the summary of conclusions, page xxiii. Conclusion 2 reads, We consider that the continued presence of British forces in Hong Kong is vital to the continued existence and the economic wellbeing of the Colony. I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, when he comes to reply to the Question, will be able to make some comment on this point.

Of course it is not for me to attempt to answer the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, because it is rightly addressed to the Government. Nevertheless, I think it right to put some of the points in favour of the people of Hong Kong, and by that I do not mean only the upper class and richer people of Hong Kong, but all those who live there and who contribute by their work to the improvement of their standards of living.

When the noble Lord speaks of there being no maternity allowance and no minimum wage, I should like to draw his attention to some of the social provisions is this country. Maternity allowance was only very recently introduced in this country, after very many years of National Insurance. Maternity allowance was not considered necessary. Nor do we in this country have a minimum wage. It is not correct to attack a country like Hong Kong for not having benefits which we ourselves do not have.

In conclusion, I should like to see Hong Kong remaining a prime financial centre for South-East Asia and working in harmony with its great neighbour China. I should like an assurance from the Minister on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that they have no plans to change the constitutional establishment or status of Hong Kong and that we, as a country, and Her Majesty's Government in particuar, will continue to fulfil our obligations to our greatest Crown Colony, Hong Kong.

7.18 p.m.


My Lords, I always listen wtih respectful attention to the noble Baroness, but I was not quite sure which side she was on during her speech. One felt that she was speaking more for the Hong Kong chamber of commerce than for the British Government and that she was rather rejoicing in a very odd economy which has done infinite harm to the economy of this country in the last few years.

The reason why I am taking part in this debate is that 30 years ago Lancashire Members of Parliament were calling attention to the devastating effect of miserably paid competition from Hong Kong, in particular, and South-East Asia, in general, which was putting people here out of work and destroying our cotton textile industry. I recall my noble friend Lord Brockway and I, who were both members of War on Want, being almost attacked by fellow Members of Parliament for trying to undermine the stability of the workers in Hong Kong and their conditions by suggesting that that competition was unfair. Of course, we replied, given fair conditions, that was exactly what we were asking for.

Thirty years have passed since then, and I dare say that many other speeches have been made by myself and others. Now we take another look. The noble Baroness said correctly that the population has gone up since then from 600,000 to 4¼ million. I hope that she will forgive me for saying so, but she seemed to give the impression of speaking of that as some form of population planning which had produced benefits. It is not a good thing to be grossly overcrowded, particularly when out of the 400 acres that constitutes the established and the leasehold parts of Hong Kong, the overwhelming majority of the population are on the Island of Hong Kong and Kowloon, which represents only about a tenth of the total area. That is dreadful overcrowding.

When we look at it today, we find that Hong Kong contains 4¼ million people, 500 churches, 150 religions and 137 banks. One commentator says that there are the same numbers in the City of London, but I find that difficult to believe in view of the growth in the City; banks are growing everywhere. There is a record of corruption almost unequalled in modern history, and there is practically no national debt. As the noble Baroness said, there is an admirable looking balance sheet. Hitler could have shown something similar, and so could Tiberius, if the figures were available.

A dictatorship running on excessively low wages can, of course, show such figures: no national debt, and running an adverse trade balance with the United Kingdom which amounted, I think, in 1973 to £100 million a year. To be quite fair, I should say that they reduced it in the following year to something nearer to £60 million. My noble friend Lord Brockway has detailed the failures of the Government of Hong Kong to implement the minimum standards of decency which are required.

Meanwhile, as the noble Lord said, and as everybody says—there is no doubt about this—we exist by the courtesy of the Government of China. When I refer to China I no longer mean Taiwan, but President Nixon's China. They have behaved admirably. There is always a touch of pragmatism in their approach, and political pragmatism has an element of political cynicism. They find it quite convenient to have the entrepreneurial trade there; they find it equally convenient to be able to point to Hong Kong as a horrid example of the evils of capitalism. They have not got any corruption in China, so far as anyone has yet been able to find out. They have helped in times of emergency, and on occasion they have shown temporary annoyance and a demonstration of their power when, as a couple of years ago, they suddenly granted exit permits to a large number of the citizens that they regarded as most undesirable, and 50,000 came in to swell Hong Kong, to make a demand on housing, water supplies, and so on.

That is the position. But I should differ slightly from my noble friend on this. I think that the present Government of Hong Kong is probably the most honest they have ever had, and perhaps the most able. I think that this limitation of 21 years completely and absolutely controls possibilities of long-term planning now. One really cannot involve oneself in enormous capital expenditure, which cannot repay its debt or anything like it, if the country is passing to China. I am not certain that it will pass to China, but it has to pass if they ask for it. Indeed, it could pass to China tomorrow if they have made a motion. Nobody questions that; it would be silly to say anything else. The Chinese could release a million of the civilian population which would not be noticed in China for a week or two. The problem could be solved without even any arms or any demonstrations. The Chinese have behaved, in the circumstances, with understanding and generosity.

The other thing that has happened, as the noble Baroness said, is that the pound and the Chinese Hong Kong dollar have been floated. The Hong Kong dollar floated upstream, while the pound was sinking. It may very well be that at this moment they find it extremely difficult to compete with Lancashire because of the rise in the value of the Hong Kong dollar. This is not very meritorious, because we are speaking in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and this represents an accumulation of mistakes that surely really means disaster. I have heard, too, that the independent committee against corruption, which has now been functioning for two years, is doing its best. It has achieved some major successes, but of course is facing a problem whose roots are so deep and so widespread that the committee cannot hope to succeed wholly in extirpating a corruption which is almost part of the people.

Finally, one should say that there are 10,000 independent small registered businesses in Hong Kong. It is true that there have always been trading nations; the Lombards in the 11th century in France, the Jews, the Indians in Africa, who are now to be replaced by the Kikuyu, I think. They have always been trading races, and very often their economies are based on the family economy. One can work 15 or 16 hours a day if one is working for one's mother, sister, brother and uncle, but it is not so attractive when one is working for a highly paid part-time director. I should have thought that even a Labour Government would have had sense enough to know that this is not a very good way to start to try to develop an immense—and perhaps too immense—combine.

My Lords, in view of what happened last night I propose to have a little mercy upon the staff and the Members of the House, and to go home to bed rather earlier than I otherwise would—

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wish to point out that he misquoted me on at least two or three occasions. I ask him to do me the courtesy of reading in the Official Report tomorrow exactly what I said. I will not take up the time of the House now in correcting every statement, but I ask the noble Lord to look in the Official Report to see what I said.


Most certainly, my Lords.

7.29 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, is not here because I have often taken part with him on occasions such as this, and very often we had some sympathy with each other in what we had to say. But this evening I regret that I have not any sympathy with what he said, because I believe that he has given a picture which is not the realistic picture of Hong Kong. I had the opportunity of going there in 1946, and I have been several times since. I must say that it is quite amazing what has happened to the island, and how it has revitalised itself. I think we can say that a really excellent job has been done—all the people working together. I have also lived in Indonesia and in Malaysia for considerable periods, and I therefore have the greatest respect for the Chinese people. We have to remember that their civilisation is a great deal older than ours. They have kept their traditions in the many countries in which they have worked, and have successfully contended with all kinds of conditions.

Hong Kong's reaction to the world depression has been no strikes and no serious industrial disputes; and when the shadows of the world recession darkened their nation, groups of workers organised their own internal systems of shared labour and part-time rotation. I should like to quote what they said: Share the bowl of rice which has temporarily"— and I should like to emphasise the word "temporarily"— replaced the normal two bowls; don't break the empty one". I think this is the way in which they have tackled the crisis at the present time.

Mention has been made of the Chinese extended family system. I think this is admirable. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hale, that when you are working for your family you obviously work harder, and probably better; and, though most of the people work for firms, and so on, they think that they are working for their families, because they are so proud of their children and they want them to have a better future than they themselves had. Whether they remained in Hong Kong during the war or whether, as so many of them did, they went to the mainland, or whether they are the one who have been mentioned who have come from the mainland to get a better life, they are thinking of the future of their families. One has to remember that a great many of these Chinese think that some of the mistakes of the past—and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, would agree with me in this—have been that we have imposed too many European standards on the people in the countries which are erstwhile colonial territories, though I must say that, as a whole, we have not done anything with regard to their religion or to the culture of the people.

Trade expansion in Hong Kong depends, as has been mentioned, upon trade and good relations with China, because we are not only dependent upon them for food coming down the Yangtse River and the Pearl River; we also need their water. But the Chinese do not just leave Hong Kong to this trade. They have got very large, shall I say, "safaris", who have been visiting countries like the United States, the Eastern European countries and the Arab States—in fact, I believe about 153 countries in all—to get other trade. I have recently read the Fabian pamphlet called Britain's Responsibility, and I would suggest that at present the British Government are guardians of the territory. If the Chinese are only left alone, I think they will be able to thrive under a liberal type of colonial rule. I think that is exactly what is happening at the present time. That is why I was not very happy about the statements in the Fabian pamphlet, because they went on to say: For socialists, indeed for any liberal British observer, the patent injustices and exploitation in Hong Kong are unacceptable and inexplicable". The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, mentioned hawkers. There is now, of course, as he probably knows, legislation, and the hawkers have been taken off the streets, not only because they block the roadways but in order to give them the protection that he mentioned. The Chinese who left Hong Kong during the war returned in 1945 to 1947, when the population was, as mentioned by my noble friend, 600,000. Then it rose, in 1971, to 1,800,000; and it is now just over 4 million. What I think is even more admirable is that they received 4,000 Vietnamese refugees. With all their other problems, that is really an example to us. Furthermore, they were able to open the universities as early as 1946, when they had 109 students. By 1975 they had expanded this number to over 3,500, besides sending as many as they could overseas, to this country and to other countries in Europe.

In regard to welfare, a social welfare office was formed as early as 1946 and it became an independent department in 1958. It may be of interest to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, to know that eight times as much is now being spent as was spent eight years ago. There is also a Community Chest comprising 70 different organisations and over 100 voluntary organisations, with the Council of Social Service at their head. This was also formed in 1946. What I am also very pleased to say—because I am interested in both—is that there is a school for the deaf and a school for the blind, and also workshops for the blind. Why I particularly wish to mention the school for the deaf is because previously the only method of teaching them was through English. Now, with the modern instruments, they can teach these children Cantonese. Cantonese is a tone language, so it is more difficult; but it does mean that when the pupils go home they can converse with their parents, and so on; and it is really rather thrilling to see these small children and the interest they are taking.

Also, of course, the Chinese have outside representation. They have representatives to deal with GATT, with UNTAD and with the EEC. Mention has also been made of wages. The wages as a whole—not just the millionaires—are still the highest in the Far East, with the exception of Japan. In regard to the problems—and of course there are problems—I would mention housing first because, obviously, it is the most important. One thing that everybody needs in order to have a happy family is to have a good roof over their head and somewhere where they can live in comfort. My Lords, 1.7 million Hong Kong dollars have been spent between 1954 and 1973, and 1.8 million dollars are allocated now. In the early days—and I have done so since—I visited some of the housing which. I agree, was very standard. In fact, when I saw the Governor last time he said, "When you came previously, when I was First Secretary, you ticked me off". I could not remember what I had said, but he told me that I had complained about the standard of housing, and he agreed with me. There is already certain money specially allocated for rebuilding these old blocks; in other words, instead of having the one room, as they had before, with communal washing and so on, they are going to be made into fiats. Unlike a great many other nationalities, the Chinese have a tremendous facility for home-making. If you go to certain towns, like Calcutta in India, and if you compare their standards with those of the people who come out of the houses on the hillsides in China—and there are still some—it is quite remarkable when you see them coming out in their beautifully starched garments.

The question of drug addiction has been mentioned, and action has been taken by the Committee against Narcotics, which advises the Government. At the moment there are about 100,000 addicts, mostly males; that is only 2 per cent. of the population. A great many of them—and I have been to see the places where they are rehabilitated—have not reverted; they have really been cured of drug-taking. I would agree that schooling is still a difficult proposition. I do not know whether any action can be taken by the Hong Kong Government, but what worires me is the fact that children have to leave school at 12 and are not legally allowed to go to work until they are 14. So there is a two-year gap, which I think means that many of them go to work illegally. On the other hand, through the activities of the inspectors, child labour is going down. But, of course, the situation is very difficult when you have 25,000 factories—the industry is very fragmented—only 118 of which have over 500 workers and about 15,000 of which have less than ten workers. But the inspectors do prosecute. We have now seen, too, that everybody has holidays with pay; but still there is no payment for rest days. I think this is unfortunate, because it means that people do not take their rest when they should. Therefore, I should like to see payment on rest days, if possible.

Then we come to the question of family planning. There is a greater need for help in this work. When one goes to China and is able to see for oneself how the Chinese there keep to the standard of two children per family, one hopes that perhaps the Chinese in Hong Kong may feel that they are able to take that example. If not, in 10 years' time there will be 5.3 million Chinese on this small area.

The other problem is pensions. There are pensions for those over 75; but I cannot discover the average age of the Chinese. Whether they have much expectation of drawing their pensions for a long time, I do not know. I should like to see the elderly single people, who are in great numbers but who are obviously rather neglected, given some more help. I should like to make a suggestion: that we might suggest to the Government of Hong Kong that there be a tax on tourists going to hotels. There is a very good tourist industry. If you go to France you pay tax on the hotel bill according to the number of days that you stay. At one time we thought of introducing such a tax in this country; but I suggest that it might be useful in Hong Kong.

I would mention also the fact that women's progress is quite considerable in Hong Kong. They had the first woman stockbroker and the first woman to be ordained in the Church of England. Their youth organisations are doing well. If in proportion to the population we could say that we had 60,000 youth in uniformed organisations, we should be delighted: but we have, of course, a great many other organisations run by the Church and voluntary organisations which do a great job in helping young people. The British Council should be mentioned too because they are a very great asset and are much appreciated by the people of Hong Kong.

My Lords, I finish by saying that there is still a great deal of superstition in Hong Kong, and among the Chinese in general. When the Queen and her family visited Hong Kong, the first reigning Monarch to do so, they found that it was on the birthday of Ten Han, the goddess of Heaven and the protectress of seafarers. I hope that this augers well for the future of Hong Kong.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I apologise for the fact that I was out of the Chamber for a moment when she began her speech?

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I was merely saying that on many occasions we have taken part in debates like this and often I have agreed with the noble Lord. Today, I am afraid I cannot do so.

7.42 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that we all owe a debt of gratitude to my noble friend Lord Brockway for raising once again for discussion in this House the situation in Hong Kong. Having said that, I should like to part company with him in many of the comments he made. In my view, he described in perhaps too minute detail only one side of the coin. May he perhaps take it from me as an old friend of many years' standing that there is another side to Hong Kong. He has only to read the speech in Hansard of my noble friend Lord Hale to see that he took a rather more moderate, perhaps less rigid doctrinaire view of the situation when he said that the present British Administration in Hong Kong is the best Administration that Hong Kong has yet had. Those were the words of Lord Hale. I go with the noble Lord in that. If my noble friend Lord Brockway says that that is not saying very much, then again I would part company with him and say that it is saying a very great deal.

Of course, he is right about corruption. We know that corruption exists in Hong Kong to an appalling extent; but I would say most emphatically that while corruption is endemic in every country in South-East Asia, it is less marked in Hong Kong than in any other. I feel a little hesitant in accepting the views of people who pass judgment from a distance of 14,000 miles, people who are ready to absorb all the complaints of visitors to this country from Hong Kong, without going out and investigating for themselves not only the conditions in Hong Kong, but the conditions in the Philippines, the conditions in Malaysia, in Indonesia, in South Korea and in South Vietnam as we used to know it. They would be thankful to come back to Hong Kong and see what success the British Administration has been able to achieve on behalf of the native population there. He spoke to us of the marvellous work that Councillor Elsie Elliott has been doing in Hong Kong. I go with him in every word he said. She is a noble character. She has been doing magnificent work and almost single-handed. It is almost parallel to the work that my noble friend Lord Brockway has been doing consistently in this country through the whole of his life. If he would forgive me, I would describe my noble friend as the Councillor Elsie Elliott of our own public life in this country—and I say that as a genuine tribute to the work that he has done because he is a friend of old standing. We know each other reasonably well although there are many points on which we may agree to differ.

There are many other points in his remarks that I should like to take up. Perhaps some of the answers were given by my noble friend Lord Hale. Lord Hale was quite right when he described the intense competition that our textile industries in Lancashire have had to endure from cheap labour in Hong Kong. I sat with him for some years as a fellow Lancashire MP in the House of Commons. I would ask how it is that, repeatedly, under successive Labour Governments, the situation has been tolerated. That is the other side of the coin and there is a reason for it. Even today the imports keep coming in from South-East Asia, from Hong Kong, from Taiwan and other countries, imports which our Labour Government persists in allowing into this country. All I want to say, without trying to justify it, is that there is another side to this case.

My noble friend spoke about child labour in Hong Kong. I believe that the labour regulations of our British Administration have been more liberal and more effective than any labour regulations in any of the countries of South-East Asia; and although they are faced with an uphill task, I think that they are doing magnificent work in this direction.

There are many other points that I should like to follow up in the remarks of both my colleagues on this side of the House: from the speech of my noble friend Lord Brockway to the rather milder, more objective and more balanced approach of my noble friend Lord Hale. Perhaps I may be forgiven on these Benches for going slightly more to the other extreme. Reference has been made to the family life in this unhappy country, as my noble friend Lord Brockway described it. "This unhappy country" to my mind is one of the happiest areas that I have been in in the whole of South-East Asia. Having travelled again and again, three or four times, over most territories in that area, one is able not only to meet people and hear their complaints but to get the feeling of life in the area.

Reference has been made to the enormous growth of the population in Hong Kong. The British Administration has had to cope with a flood of immigrants into that tiny territory. And from where do they come? They come in from one direction, from the mainland of Communist China. The noble Lord may take my word for it, the facts are irrefutable: the movement is in one direction only. It is not a two-way flow. The Government of Hong Kong would raise no objection if people wanted to go out of that "unhappy" country into the "happy" country of Communist China. But no such migration has taken place.


My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will forgive me reminding him that the population of Communist China has increased in the same period by 400 million.


Yes, my Lords, but the territory of Communist China is vastly greater than the territory of Hong Kong. I yield on this point, except I insist that this is a one-way traffic in human souls—and I will come to this later in my remarks. Unfortunately, latterly there has been a forcible traffic.

A point of criticism that I would level against the British Administration in Hong Kong is the forcible migration of unhappy people, refugees from Communist China, forcibly repatriated into Communist China. Whatever criticism may be levelled against our Administration of that Crown Colony as the last remaining outpost of colonialism—the citadel of paternalism, and so on—it is only fair to point out that our own Westminster concepts of democracy, representation of the people by free elections, are not always universally applicable. We may regret this, but it is nevertheless a fact, and particularly so in Hong Kong. They have to be considered in perspective, and especially in perspective of the surrounding territorities. Corruption, as we know, is endemic in the whole of that part of the world. It is not unknown even in other parts of Asia, India, Ceylon, look where you may. I believe that more genuine, effective methods have been taken to suppress corruption in Hong Kong than in almost any other territory that my noble friend would care to name.

Here we are dealing not in any sense with a developing territory. Hong Kong today is a highly developed, sophisticated area. The Chinese people have a civilisation and culture of their own that is 5,000 years old—3,000 years older than ours. We have a great deal to learn from them in culture, art, and the philosophy of Goverment—far more than we, with our 700 years of Parliamentary history, are able to give to them. Nor have we the right to remain in Hong Kong today as a ruling Power unless we are fully able to justify our right to remain there. We are there today only on sufference in the interests of the native population and of the vast adjoining territory of Communist China. Let us never forget that beyond the tiny 16 miles of frontier lies a vast population of over 800 million—nearly a quarter of the world's total population. It is 16 times the size of our own population and 200 times greater than the population of Hong Kong.

It is probably true that the standards of education, the general level of prosperity and the average working wage, are higher in Hong Kong today than in any of the adjacent territories. The economic growth of Hong Kong has been phenomenal and its impact has also been felt in Communist China. But with it there has also been a rapid growth in higher education, housing development, medical, cultural and recreational facilities without parallel in South-East Asia, except possibly in Singapore, which has only a half of Hong Kong's population. Above all, we must remember that our British administration is in Hong Kong today not as a colonial Power, any more than the Portuguese today are masters of the nearby territory of Macau, already referred to by my noble friend Lord Brockway. There is no parallel whatsoever between the growth of democracy with the active encouragement, if you will, of Communist China among a population of from between 30 to 40 thousand and a rapid growth of democracy among a population of well over 4 million.


My Lords, what I was saying was that in Macau there is now adult sufferage, there is direct elections, and that has been accepted by Communist China. That is in great contrast to the administration in Hong Kong.


My Lords, the size of Macau is a little attic compared to the territory in Hong Hong. The population of Macau is only a tiny fraction of the population of Hong Hong. You can encourage the growth of democracy more easily when you are dealing with a population of from between 30 to 40 thousand largely indigenous than when dealing with a vast population of over 4¼ million composed almost entirely of refugees. The problems are in no sense analogous.

We must realise that we remain in Hong Kong only by consent of the administration in Peking. It might be an exaggeration to say that if Peking sneezes, Hong Kong is liable to catch pneumonia. But there is a slight element of truth in this assertion. Even so, the medical services in Hong Kong have made such rapid progress that they are easily able to cope with even an epidemic of pneumonia, if it should arise in that colony. All those admirable reforms suggested by my noble friend Lord Brockway can be introduced only with the approval of Peking, which may not always be taken for granted.

Here I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, whether we can take it for granted that the administration of Peking would necessarily approve of an immediate wider application of democratic principles among the population of Hong Kong? For example, would a growth of Party factions, democratic institutions, more active and more militant trade unions—which are badly needed in Hong Kong—or free elections be possible today, unless Peking had given its prior consent? How far would Peking approve of further progress in Hong Kong along the path of democracy without taking great care it has the last word, not only in the extent of that progress but also in the rate of that progress? Yet, having said this, I must confess there is one aspect of our administration in Hong Kong which fills me with the direst misgivings. In the past two years there has been almost a total reversal of our humanitarian policy of giving asylum—even of temporary asylum until they can find refuge elsewhere among their own people—to refugees who arrive in Hong Kong from the Chinese mainland. Hong Kong was generous in providing temporary asylum to thousands of refugees from South Vietnam who fled to her territory after the fall of Saigon. They were granted refuge at the expense of the Hong Kong Government until they could be absorbed into other territories.

In the 12 months December 1974 to the end of November 1975 no less than 1,282 hapless refugees who reached Hong Kong from Communist China—some in peril of their lives and nearly all after undergoing appalling hardships were turned back and sent to whence they came. It is indeed a tragic story. An average of more than 100 refugees a month have had to suffer this humiliation, to put it at its mildest. It is true that in the past few months these figures have dropped to a mere trickle.

There is something about this traffic strangely reminiscent of the Ernest Bevin régime during the last days of our Palestine mandate—also, let it be said, under a Labour Government—when thousands of Jewish refugees were sent back to Germany in rotting hulks like the "Exodus", refugees who were seeking asylum in a land of spiritual freedom. I am fully cognisant of the difficulties in Hong Kong, and of the dangers impending. The trickle could very easily resolve itself into a cascade, and the cascade into a tidal wave, in which thousands of refugees might be involved. But has this reversal of policy taken place at the request of Peking? If so, I can fully understand it, however much I might regret it. I could possibly even condone it, rather than put at risk the freedom of the 4 million Chinese who are still our responsibility in Hong Kong. If this diagnosis of the present situation in Hong Kong is correct, I believe that is the complete answer to my noble friend Lord Brockway. It is a diagnosis I must perforce accept with great reluctance, while having to express my approval of the calm, the wisdom, the steadfastness and the high sense of public duty which characterise our present administration in Hong Kong.

Finally, a word must be said in praise of the restraint shown, in the face of great difficulties, by the Communist Government of Peking. They have endeavoured to pursue a policy of detente and to honour that policy as befits a great world Power. They have established trading relationships with many nations of the West and with America, and have turned off the heat where many controversial issues, such as the offshore islands, are concerned. May I express the hope that this constructive attitude of déetente—in a region of the world which needs peace perhaps as desperately as any other region on the face of the globe, especially after the 30 years of war that went on in Vietnam—will be strengthened in the future, and not least where Hong Kong and its refugees are concerned.

8.2 p.m.


My Lords, will my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts forgive me if I intervene briefly before he speaks? I have just a few remarks to make. First, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Segal, that there are two sides to this case. It is very easy to criticise any capitalist system. Of course there are defects; of course there are things like heroin, opium, and other things and of course there are child labour and similar problems. But they are a good deal worse in Peking and Canton—at least, I think so.

I should like to divide my remarks under two heads: administration and defence. First, on the administrative side, what the noble Lord, Lord Segal, said just now was that the Hong Kong Government, under their Governor, are very much alive to these things. They run a frightfully good show, in my opinion. The Chinese are fully represented on the Legislative Council and have been for many, many years. I was stationed there before the war, when the population was only 600,000—a situation to which the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, referred—and I have seen it grow to 4⅓ million, having been back there since. Despite that, I would defy any colony to be better run, although of course there are defects.

Turning to defence, this Government have reduced the garrison of Hong Kong to four battalions, a Gurkha engineer squadron, five naval patrol craft and an RAF helicopter squadron. In my opinion, that is not enough. There is a contradiction here, and I should like to quote from the same Report of the Expenditure Committee to which the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, referred. The only role now which they are capable of carrying out is internal security. Yet, turning over the page, we find that the main function, exercised on behalf of the local administration on a continuing basis, is the securing of the Border between the Colony and the Peoples' Republic of China. That border is 20 miles long, and in my opinion the force available to the Colony is not enough. The Expenditure Committee implore that at least an artillery battery should be restored to the Colony, together with an armoured car squadron. That is certainly not very much, and I think it would make much more sense in that setting, because, so far as I know, there is no prospect of any reinforcement. My Lords, that is all I have to say.

8.6 p.m.


A good contribution! My Lords, the House will be grateful to my noble friend Lord Brockway for introducing this debate and also to those who have taken part in it. The debate, of course, will have to be read and studied as a whole so as to offer the maximum advantage resulting from our discussions. I hope that all the speeches that have been made will be studied both here and in Hong Kong.

As I listened to my noble friend and then to the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, I felt I should have my work cut out to steer a course between the Charybdis of outright denunciation of Hong Kong, on the one hand, and the Scylla of almost unalloyed complacency about the situation in the Colony on the other hand. Fortunately, there have been a number of interventions by noble friends which have helped to give a fuller picture, and now I hope to do my little best to complete the picture and to put it into perspective.

It is very important to see the achievements and the present plans of the Hong Kong Government in historical context. Since the end of the war, as we have heard, Hong Kong has been faced with a population explosion of atomic proportions. In 1945 the population was 600,000: today, it is 4½ million, and this in an area of rather less than 400 square miles. If you have an inpouring of hundreds of thousands a year into a tiny area like that (smaller than the smallest county in England), what do you expect, my Lords?—especially where the area is almost completely without natural resources from which one can create indigenous industry to sustain not only employment but social services. It is an area which, indeed, is deficient in the obvious essentials such as an adequate water supply. What is remarkable to me is not the fact that conditions in Hong Kong are as bad as they are—and they are bad in patches—but that the quite superb achievements of the Government in Hong Kong pass without more praise and appreciation than they actually receive.

We all know there are massive problems in Hong Kong and there have been these problems in the past. We must also examine the record to see how the Hong Kong Government, backed by the British Government, have tackled those problems. My noble friend divided his Question into three. He asked what we were going to do about social, economic and political questions in Hong Kong, and as briefly as I can I should like to feed into the Record some of the facts and figures. First, in the field of housing—addressing myself to the social scene—the Hong Kong Government continue to face great problems. But they have overtaken great problems, also, and 1.7 million of the population, or 43 per cent. of the whole, have already been accommodated in Government subsidised housing. There are still, of course, many without adequate homes, but the Hong Kong Government are planning to house a total of 3.3 million, or 54 per cent. of the estimated population, by 1983–84. In this coming year, 1976–77, alone, it is planned to complete homes for a further 94,000 people. An important and imaginative part of this large programme is the construction of three new towns in the New Territories.

I think it is fair to say that the record of the Hong Kong Government in the field of health and medical services is already very good. It is at least comparable with cognate countries in that part of the world, and in many respects much better. The development of preventive health services has now resulted in the eradication of quarantinable diseases, which is a remarkable achievement in view of the over-crowded conditions which have had to be overcome. Today, the average life expectancy in Hong Kong is 71.7 years. This is the second highest rate in Asia, and is virtually the same as in the United States. By the same token, the infant mortality rate is among the lowest in Asia. But there is no sense of complacency. There are extensive plans, which I saw for myself, to reduce hospital overcrowding, the target being to provide 4.5 beds per 1,000 population by 1980, as compared with 4.1 at present.

On the subject of education, here, too, plans are extensive. There is already free primary education for all up to 12 years of age, and it is intended that this should be extended to the age of 14 in a comparatively short time. In 1974, the Hong Kong White Paper on Education laid down as an objective the provision of, admittedly subsidised, secondary education for all up to the age of 14 by 1984, and for 40 per cent. up to the age of 16 by that date, and the programme is already well on target. Over 160 new schools are to be built, and 42 will be under construction during the course of this year. There are also plans to improve opportunities for further education. Three technical institutes have been completed, a fourth is under construction and a fifth will be started this year. The Government are also steadily increasing the number of places at the two excellent universities, both of which I visited, and all university places are subsidised.

At this point, I turn to my noble friend's query about social welfare programmes and benefits. The social welfare programme has been expanded greatly over the last few years. In 1971–72 the expenditure on social welfare was 50 million Hong Kong dollars—divide that by 10 and one gets £5 million sterling. In the coming financial year, it is expected to be not 50 million Hong King dollars but 400 million. The money is coming from somewhere. If the mass of the population is as poor as my noble friend has made them out to be, it must be coming from the rich minority he has been denouncing so much. In the coming financial year, it will be eight times what it was two years ago. It can be expected to rise in the future, and I understand that a Working Party is at present actively considering the question of an extended system of social welfare allowances.

There are no unemployment benefits as such, but public assistance for needy families and individuals is extended on a means test. So it is not true to say that there is no provision for people who are unemployed. Admittedly, able-bodied persons aged 15 to 55 are not eligible if they have no family commitments. On sickness benefit, again there are provisions for this, not as lavish as those in this country, but more lavish than in many countries comparable to Hong Kong, and there are programmes for improving such benefits. Already, all manual and non-manual workers earning less than 2,000 dollars a month are entitled to sickness benefit on a formula which, as I said, is not as lavish as ours but is certainly there and improving all the time.

I have dealt at some length with these programmes, because they represent the great effort that is being made in Hong Kong to plan ahead for the future wellbeing of the population, and I think that the Administration can be proud of their achievements bearing in mind the heavy odds against them. This is an area which has no resources, except what it can attract into itself from outside, and to attract foreign investment places certain constructions on one's fiscal policy. This is inevitable. If you have no resources you must attract them from outside, and in order to do that you must extend inducements. It is the balance between the production of fiscal inducements and direct taxation in order to finance a progressive social programme. That is the question which the Hong Kong Government must face every year—indeed, every day. The Governor himself—a progressive and humane man—Sir Murray MacLehose deserves particular credit for what has been done in recent years.

There are three other fields which have been referred to in this debate about which I shall comment. First, there is the question of the increase in crime, in the last few years in particular, and the problem of corruption. Violent crime increased sixfold between 1965 and 1974—a macabre experience not confined to Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Government are radically reforming the organisation and methods of the police force to cope with this situation, and are achieving very considerable success. At the same time, the Independent Commission against Corruption, which began operations in February 1974, has made impressive progress in the fight against corruption. The work of this Commission, combined with a large-scale public education programme, has played a vital part in combatting the problem.

I have some figures here which my noble friend gave me notice he would like me to provide. From February 1974 to date, the Independent Commission against Corruption has received 7,026 complaints of corruption, as a result of which 2,820 investigations were launched. Of course, complaints vary. When there is a determined attempt to persuade people to feed in reports and complaints in the fight against corruption, you are bound to receive many reports and complaints which, after fairly cursory examination, are found to be without content.


My Lords, I may have misunderstood my noble friend and I may be unjust in what I am about to say. If so, I apologise. I thought, however, that my noble friend suggested that the determined effort to obtain complaints came from outside. In fact, it came from the Commission themselves who very properly published illustrated advertisements all over Hong Kong appealing to people to make complaints of any kind of corruption which they thought it proper to make.


My Lords, in my own inexpert way I was trying to convey to the House that in fact there had been a determined campaign by the Commission to get the general public to send in any complaints which they thought the Commission should look at. As a result, there was this very large number of complaints—7,026 in two years—which were all looked into. As a result, 2,820 investigations were launched. Of those 2,800 investigations, 2,400 odd have been concluded; 408 people have been prosecuted, resulting in 275 convictions; and a further 57 are still before the courts.

The budget for the ICAC in 1976–77 has been increased to 38 million Hong Kong dollars, an increase of 52 per cent., with the aim of bringing the establishment up to its full strength of 1,000 investigators by the end of this year. There can be absolutely no doubt about the determination of the Hong Kong Administration to tackle the question of corruption in the colony when the facts and the figures are as I have given them.

Secondly, in the field of labour affairs there has been a steady stream of legislation to safeguard the health and safety of workers in recent years, including the 1975 labour relations ordinance. This sets up formal procedures for solving labour disputes and amendments to the employment ordinance which entitles workers to severance pay and protects employees from anti-union discrimination. The problem in Hong Kong is not that they have no trade unions but that they have too many of them. Of the many trade unionists in Hong Kong, three-quarters are Chinese and Communist. Once more, Hong Kong is sui generis. There is no lack of freedom of speech, of the Press, of discussion, of unionisation. What Honk Kong lacks is natural resources. Therefore, the policy of keeping this vast population employed, healthy, and progressively better educated has to be coped with against that background. Considering the difficulties, the Hong Kong Government have succeeded very well indeed.

Thirdly, I ought to mention the great efforts which have been made by the Hong Kong Government to improve public amenities in Hong Kong by providing recreational facilities and applying environmental standards, particularly in the construction of the new towns. As we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, this is of major importance in so densely populated a territory where the population is comparatively young.

I pass now to the third point that the Question raises: the economic aspect. These improvements in social services have been made possible by the rapid rate of economic growth until the recent recession. An economy like Hong Kong, which is so dependent on exports, is particularly sensitive to world trading conditions. The world trade recession over the past two years therefore hit Hong Kong particularly badly. For example, by the end of 1974 exports had fallen 23 per cent. below the December 1973 level. By mid-1975, the economy was operating well below capacity; there was a considerable increase in unemployment and a decline in real wages; and economic growth had come to a standstill. Even so, the Hong Kong Government continued to pursue their social objectives during that recession. The percentage of the budget spent on the social account for the purposes my noble friend and I have so much at heart increased from 37 per cent. in 1972–73 to almost 40 per cent. in 1975–76—that is, during the recession at its worst—once more proof that the Hong Kong Government are and were in earnest in devoting resources to the amelioration of the conditions of the people.

The resilience of the Hong Kong economy has once again been demonstrated. By the spring of 1975 there was a renewed demand in world markets so that by the latter part of the year Hong Kong exports showed an increase of 4 per cent. at constant prices over the year as a whole, compared with 1974. The textiles industry, which is Hong Kong's largest employer and foreign exchange earner in the manufacturing sector, is expected to record a growth in exports this year of between 15 and 20 per cent. Other industries are also reasonably optimistic about their prospects.

That brings me to a point made by my noble friend Lord Segal about the imports of textiles from Hong Kong into this country. Textile imports from Hong Kong into this country are already subject to control under the EEC Hong Kong textiles agreement. An important element in that agreement is that other Member States of the Community will take a greater proportion of the growth of Hong Kong textile exports than in the past, and the United Kingdom correspondingly less. The average rate of growth of intake of textiles from Hong Kong for the Community as a whole is 7 per cent. For the United Kingdom it is 2 per cent., with some growth rates in imports as low as one-half of 1 per cent. for the most sensitive items. I suggest that by agreements in this way between the Community and Hong Kong it is more effective to protect British interests than to go for the cruder kinds of import control measures which nowadays are so frequently advocated.

As I am referring to my noble friend Lord Segal, whose speech I greatly admired because it so greatly helped to give us a balanced picture of the situaton in Hong Kong, may I mention a point which I know he has very much at heart; namely, the problem, as he sees it, of the people who continue to enter Hong Kong from the mainland and who very often are turned away or turned back. He described them as "political refugees", but with all due respect to my noble friend this is not quite the position. The vast majority of the many thousands who come into Hong Kong from the mainland are not political refugees. Rather I would describe them as merchant adventurers: the grass is greener, or thought to be greener, across the border.


My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt my noble friend, but, if he will allow me, may I ask him whether it is fair to assume that these refugees are adherents to the Communist system, or whether or not it is fairer to assume that they are non-Communists who wish to live, if allowed to do so, under non-Communist rule?


My Lords, clearly they want to live in Hong Kong; but what is reasonably certain from the fairly dependable information one gets is that they are not, in the great majority, political refugees. They are people who, rightly or wrongly, think they would benefit economically from crossing the border. That is all very well, and up till 1967 Hong Kong kept open door to them and in they flowed in their thousands. Indeed, in 1967 they came in in numbers in which, even with the burgeoning population of Hong Kong itself, they could be digested socially and economically in terms of the resources and the accommodation available. But under the "open door" policy, their numbers had become 12,500 in 1971. By 1972 the total was 37,000; in 1973, it was 73,000, and of course in 1974 it was found necessary to control this inflow to allow legal immigration to proceed—and it is still proceeding—while checking illegal immigration.

Where an illegal immigrant is able to show that his return would indeed lead to suffering on his part, he is not sent back. But those who are sent back— and the great majority are sent back because there is no real reason why they should come in—are not treated unduly harshly by the mainland Government. This is the information we have. But if any Member of this House or of the other place has an example of what he thinks is the return of an illegal immigrant who, because of his political opinions, is likely to be, or has been, dealt with harshly on the mainland after being returned, I should like to know about it. I can assure the House that every illegal immigrant's case is examined individually and, where there is any question of undue hardship attending his or her return, then the Hong Kong Government exercise compassion. But I repeat that the vast majority of these illegal immigrants are not there because of ideology but because of economic opportunity, which is rather a different thing.

I now turn to the political aspects of this matter, and I want to concentrate particularly, but as briefly as I can, on the existing political institutions in the territory. There is little one can say about the future of Hong Kong itself and the end of the New Territories lease in 1997. One can only point out that this date is still quite a long way ahead and a great deal will have happened by then, not only in the territory but in other parts of the world, especially those adjacent to Hong Kong. It is not possible to predict what the circumstances will be so far into the future, and Her Majesty's Government will continue to administer the territory in the interests of those who live there, and will do so having regard for the unique internal situation in Hong Kong and the equally unique external relationships which this territory has to live with.

It is well understood in Hong Kong that the pattern of constitutional development followed in most other dependent territories, previously colonies of ours, that is to say progress towards internal self-government and thereafter, where appropriate, to independence, such as in the case of the Seychelles, as we observed when the Bill was read a second time in this House today—that pattern which Britain has followed honourably, effectively and successfully with so many former colonies is ruled out by the particular circumstances of Hong Kong. I repeat, this is sui generis not only economically but politically. The genius of this country is to recognise the facts when it sees them. It might be rather easy to proceed dead-pan according to the pattern regardless of the circumstances and the implications, but what will happen to Hong Kong itself—to this tiny territory of 4½ million people?

In the absence of popularly elected institutions there has evolved in Hong Kong a unique system of government which seeks to achieve the same objective of responsiveness and responsibility by means somewhat different from ours. The aim there is to produce a system allowing wide and active participation at all levels in the process of government. Here the blessed word "participation" comes in. We hear a good deal of this in our own country, as a means (dare I say?) of supplementing our own ancient Parliamentary tradition. Perhaps Hong Kong is also having a good look at participation by other than Parliamentary means. To achieve this, contacts between local institutions and community organisations and the central Government are being improved. I saw this for myself. I sat in at meetings of what are called "mutual aid committees". They are grass-roots committees of Hong Kong people, Chinese people, who discuss their local affairs—and solve them, too—participatively, co-operatively and also feed up through the proper channels into the Government itself their own views, wishes and offers of help.

There is more than one way, especially in Asia—in the new Asia—of achieving participative democracy. The Governor has also indicated that there is room for change in the Legislative Council while retaining its essential character. Of course we accept that in the absence of an elected legislature, opinion in the Legislative Council is, and should be seen to be, representative of all sections of the community in Hong Kong.

In conclusion, we and the Hong Kong Government fully accept that a great deal remains to be done; that there is absolutely no room for complacency. For all the progress that has undoubtedly been made there are basic deficiencies still in housing, education, social welfare, communications and recreational amenities. There has been a rapid increase in violent crime over the last eight years and an unacceptable level of corruption. I have outlined the plans that have been made to tackle these problems, to create a prosperous, stable and happy community, and I have indicated how far those plans, put into operation, have so far succeeded.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, if I may intervene, the noble Lord has not mentioned the question of compensation and the legal aid department, which was raised by Lord Brockway. I think it is very important. I understand that, since 1967, £22 million has been paid out in compensation and damages to people who have been legally aided. Perhaps the noble Lord can confirm this.


Yes, indeed, my Lords; in fact I have a rather useful note on that matter, although I think the noble Baroness has answered the question better than I could. Legal aid is available for about 75 per cent. of all criminal cases tried in the district courts. There is a means test, but the availability is there, and, as the noble Baroness has said, it has an impact. There is a real attempt here to enable people with small means to avail themselves of the processes of justice.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he would pay some attention to the proposal I made that at the courts there should be a prisoner's friend who would be able, like our probation officer, to give advice and help to those who are often completely ignorant of the procedure and are destroyed in presenting their case because of that ignorance, which might be removed if they had that kind of help.


Gladly, my Lords, it is a splendid suggestion. I do not know to what extent it is not already available, but I am sure that my noble friend has gone into this, and I most gladly welcome the suggestion. When I visited Hong Kong last year I took with me the chairman of one of our benches of magistrates, a member of my family, and she was able to attend courts and indeed treatment centres for drug addicts. I believe she saw, at least in many cases, the kind of provision my noble friend has rightly advocated. Whether it is the general practice I do not know. I will check with my friend the magistrate when I go home and see what her report is. But it is an excellent suggestion and one that I should like to look into much more deeply.

I was coming to the end of my remarks. I think what we need to do is to bear in mind what my noble friend Lord Segal and others have reminded us of during their remarks, in looking to the future constitutional progress of Hong Kong. The position is that our relationship with mainland China is excellent; our relationship with them in regard to Hong Kong is excellent. They do not regard Hong Kong as having been properly separated from the mainland, as my noble friend reminded us; they denounce the acquisition as having been made under duress. Nevertheless, they, too, see that Hong Kong is unique. While I cannot put words into the mouths of our Chinese friends, I think it is perfectly fair and safe to say that they regard the present position and its continuation as being at least as satisfactory as any other solution that has been offered. So that we can look forward, I am sure, to a period of peace during which the British Government and the Hong Kong Government together do their best to raise standards in Hong Kong, to protect the economy, to expand social welfare, without engaging in any policy which might force the great Republic of China into an attitude rather less co-operative than the one she has been adopting for so many years in so statesmanlike a fashion.