HL Deb 11 April 1984 vol 450 cc1143-5

2.43 p.m.

Lord Fanshawe of Richmond

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

The Question was as follows: To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement on the forthcoming visit of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to Peking and Hong Kong.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, my right honourable friend will visit Peking at the invitation of the Chinese Foreign Minister from 15th to 18th April. He will have discussions with the Foreign Minister and other Chinese leaders on all aspects of Hong Kong's future, as well as on other bilateral and international issues.

The Foreign Secretary's visit to Hong Kong will provide him with an opportunity to get a first-hand view of the territory and to listen to a wide range of opinion there. He will have discussions with the Governor and unofficial members of the Executive Council and Legislative Council. He will also meet elected and appointed representatives of the Urban Council and district boards as well as members of numerous professional and interest groups.

Lord Fanshawe of Richmond

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that at the present time there is grave concern and anxiety in Hong Kong about the future, which was underlined by the recent statement made by Jardine, Matheson? Can my noble friend give an assurance that, when her right honourable friend the Secretary of State returns from Peking and Hong Kong, he will make a firm and detailed statement on the state of negotiations in Peking at the present time, including the method and arrangements which he intends should take place in order to ascertain the views of the people of Hong Kong when a final agreement is reached?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that there is an agreed common aim of obtaining Hong Kong's stability and prosperity. The Government's aim, through discussion with the Chinese Government, is to agree arrangements for the future which will maintain Hong Kong's stability and prosperity and be acceptable to the British Parliament, the Government of China and the people of Hong Kong.

I take note of my noble friend's interest in my right honourable friend's visit to China and Hong Kong. I can assure him that we shall consider carefully how best to ensure that your Lordships are informed of the results of that visit.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether the people of Hong Kong are to be given any opportunity to express their view regarding the agreement before it is put into operation?

Baroness Young

My Lords, there is a continuous process of consultation with the people of Hong Kong on all matters relating to the territory's future. The question of how this process can best be pursued is kept under review. A wide range of channels has evolved in Hong Kong through which people make their views known. We particularly value our regular discussions with the Governor and the unofficial members of the Executive Council, who are well placed to reflect the opinions of the Hong Kong people.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that we shall continue to support the Government while they seek a fair and equitable solution to this matter? Is she further aware of the acute anxiety which exists in Hong Kong, and can she say whether some early indication will be given as to the progress of the negotiations? Furthermore, can she say whether the premature withdrawal of Jardine, Matheson has had a serious effect on commercial confidence or on the negotiations which are now taking place?

Baroness Young

My Lords, we greatly value what the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, has said in giving his support to the Government in these negotiations. We are of course aware of the feelings of the people of Hong Kong at this time. It is our view—and indeed by common agreement with the Chinese Government—that the contents of the talks at the present time remain confidential. But your Lordships will be aware that successive rounds of talks have been described by both sides as "useful and constructive", and we are entering the twelfth round of talks.

On the question of confidence in Hong Kong, the Governor of Hong Kong made clear in his speech to the Legislative Council on 5th October 1983 that the Hong Kong Government intend to continue to invest vigorously in the future of Hong Kong and its people and in the development of the territory, and indeed they are doing so.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, can the noble Baroness go a little further on the questions which have already been asked? Will she agree that it is hardly enough simply to take the opinion of a Governor as represent-ing the people of Hong Kong, however excellent he may be? In a democratic country surely there must be some obligation to devise some democratic means of taking the opinion of the ordinary people of Hong Kong? Can she give the House the assurance that that will be done, and done in the fairly near future?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I did not say in answer to a previous question that we only took the view of the Governor of Hong Kong, but I take the point of the noble Lord and we shall of course continue to keep in close touch with the views of the people of Hong Kong. However, it is too early to say exactly how Hong Kong opinion will be consulted on any specific arrangements for the future.

Lord Renton

My Lords, will my noble friend suggest to our right honourable friend the Secretary of State that he might well combine his diplomatic skill and great experience in our law tactfully to point out to the Chinese that our systems of justice are quite different, and that we in particular attach great importance to the independence of the judiciary?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I shall certainly draw to my right honourable friend's attention the point that my noble friend has just made.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, did Jardine, Matheson give the Government notice of what they were going to do? If they did, what steps did the Government take to dissuade them?

Baroness Young

My Lords, on that particular point the Government had no opportunity to influence the decision of Jardine, Matheson in any way. It was in fact a commercial decision on their part.

Lord Fanshawe of Richmond

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that her remarks and answers this afternoon will be widely welcomed in Hong Kong? Will she ensure that as soon as possible a detailed statement is made by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in order to relieve the uncertainty which is causing concern and has done for some months now?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his remark. I certainly take note very carefully of all that he has said and I will confirm that we shall ensure how best your Lordships may be informed of the results of the visit of my right honourable friend.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, will the noble Baroness expand on the reply to my noble friend Lord Grimond? At what point would the Government propose to consult the people of Hong Kong: after they have made the agreement or before?

Baroness Young

My Lords, at present I cannot add anything further to what I have said on this matter. Negotiations are still continuing and we shall take an opportunity, as I have said, to consult opinion in Hong Kong. What is important and what I think is implied in the noble Lord's Question, and which is Government policy, is that any agreement at the end will be acceptable to the British Parliament, to the Government of China and to the people of Hong Kong.