HL Deb 21 July 1976 vol 373 cc843-5

2.46 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what proposals are under consideration for changes in the composition of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong.


My Lords, the question of the size and composition of the Legislative Council is being discussed with the Governor of Hong Kong who is in London this week and I cannot anticipate the outcome.


My Lords, will the Minister be surprised if I come back with a Question on this matter later? In the meantime, is it not the case that the Legislative Council in Hong Kong has no elected members, and is that consistent with our policy in other colonial territories? I should like to ask the noble Lord in particular whether direct elections are ruled out, and, if there are to be more unofficial members of the council, balanced by more official members, can they not come from the Urban Council in Hong Kong which at least is an elected body, even if its franchise is very restricted?


My Lords, there are a number of points in what my noble friend has said with which I am in no way in disagreement. He knows of course—indeed I would refer him to the debate which he initiated on the 1st April this year—what the special circumstances are in this one colony, Hong Kong, where the traditional and effective British policy of advancing to elective self-government is not possible. There are external reasons why it is in the interests of the colony that this should not be done, at least at the present time.

The point which my noble friend makes about making the Legislative Council more reflective of various aspects of the population of the colony is well taken, and I am hopeful that the present discussions will lead to an improvement in the situation in the way he seeks. As to the Urban Council, the Question relates to the Legislative Council and I think we had better concentrate on improving the composition of the Legislative Council before looking at the Urban Council.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that if he wishes to retain the friendship of mainland China he will have to proceed very warily in any alteration to the Legislative Council?


Yes, my Lords, I wish I had put the position in those succinct and precise terms.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree, in so far as there is not an elected body, that we could not have a better Governor of Hong Kong in order to listen to all the democratic views that are put forward?


My Lords, I very warmly respond once more; this must be Sir Murray's week. The other day my noble friend Lord George-Brown quite rightly paid tribute to the great services which Sir Murray MacLehose has rendered in this very difficult situation. I was glad to respond on that occasion and I do so equally on this.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this House, also, is a non-elected body, but is held in the very highest esteem by all?


My Lords, no doubt owing to my own failure, the Minister did not understand my reference to the Urban Council in Hong Kong. I was not asking that it should be changed at this moment, but that representatives to the Legislative Council should come from the Urban Council, which, after all, is an elected body.


My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. I would not rule out any source of expanded representation on the Legislative Council. There is, of course, this question to be considered in Hong Kong; that is, that membership of the Legislative Council, whether official or unofficial, is a demanding position, and it does not always follow that those elected to the Urban Council are those best fitted for the Legislative Council function. However, as I said, one would not rule out this possibility for the future. At the moment, I do not think we can go much further along that road.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that many people who are conversant with the problem will be pleased to note that the Government recognise the need for caution in this matter?


My Lords my noble friend referred to the unique position of Hong Kong. Could he say whether any discussions have taken place recently with mainland China about what is to happen at the end of the century?


My Lords, as my noble friend will be well aware from his previous incarnation in Government, such discussions would be wholly confidential.