§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
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 steps are being taken to fulfil their commitment to take and resettle the remaining Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong within the next nine months.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, the announcement by my noble friend the Foreign Secretary on 18th July of the Government's decision to take a further 10,000 Indo-Chinese refugees from Hong Kong indicated that the timetable of admission would be agreed with the governor, and fixed no particular period. In view of the situation in Hong Kong, the Government are anxious to admit these refugees as quickly as possible. The total received in October was well over 1,000. The future rate of intake will, however, be largely determined by the speed with which the refugees can be resettled in permanent accommodation. The machinery for handling the reception and resettlement of these refugees has recently been strengthened by the formation of the Joint Committee for Refugees from Vietnam, to which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has appointed Sir Arthur Peterson as chair- man.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, I am very appreciative of the full reply which the noble Lord has just given. May I ask the noble Lord whether his department, in particular, will consider with sympathy the suggestions which I believe are being made by the Hong Kong Government; that the officials who are looking into the credit of the refugees who wish to come to the United Kingdom should be strengthened, and should be able to remain in Hong Kong for longer periods than they have during 1979? Secondly, recognising that many of the refugees have very little knowledge of the United Kingdom—in the main, it is knowledge of the United States that they have—is there not a case, in order to 1253 fulfil our commitment to the colony of Hong Kong, for some form of counselling and advisory service to be set up to inform the Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong of the possibilities and the openings in this country?
§ Lord BELSTEAD
Yes, my Lords. I am most grateful to the noble Lord. I think that his second question in particular is something which officials in the Government, especially in my right honourable friend's department, would want to look at very carefully. May I just say in reply to the noble Lord's first question that, as I think he will be aware, the selection is carried out by officials of the Home Office and the British Council for Aid to Refugees, and they have indeed recently returned from their third visit to Hong Kong. I think it is fair for me just to say that arrivals here have at no time been limited by a lack of refugees already selected, and we do not think there is at present a need to maintain a permanent selection team in Hong Kong. But, in the light of the noble Lord's question, we will certainly keep this matter under very close review. As I said, so far as the second question is concerned, I think the noble Lord will forgive me if I say that I should like to take it away and draw my right honourable friend's attention to it and, if need be, write to the noble Lord.