§ 11.26 a.m.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos rose to move, That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the Draft Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986, laid before the House on 7th May, and to lay before this House another draft order in its place which would include, additionally, the grant of the right of abode in the United Kingdom to those members of Hong Kong's ethnic minorities who under the draft order would be granted the status of British National (Overseas) but might in fact be rendered effectively stateless.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. Let me start by saying that I regret the necessity of tabling this Motion today, because all of us here would have liked to support the order in its entirety, our sole desire being to see a smooth and amicable transition in 1997. I think that this House expressed its view clearly and unequivocally in the debate which took place on 20th January last. My noble friend Lord Mishcon, who will be winding up this debate, underlined this when he emphasised the unanimity on all sides of the House on the problem of the ethnic minorities. The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, who was representing the Government in that debate, did not dissent from my noble friend's point.
§ However, I must make it plain at the outset that we all welcome most warmly the two concessions which the Government have made in response to the pleas made by UMELCO which were supported by other bodies and by Members of this House and the other place. The proposed endorsement in the new BN(O) 1393 passport will be just and equitable and will also contribute to Hong Kong's future stability and prosperity. The second decision, to grant former servicemen and their dependants full British citizenship or the right to settle in the United Kingdom, is of course right and proper. I think that they number about 270 and the figure, we realise, will be much lower by 1997.
In what I hope will be a reasonably short speech, I do not propose to examine the order in detail, though some of it needs clarification; for example Article 4, and Article 4(3) in particular, is unclear. But our debate today is in the main concerned with the third request made by UMELCO and others: namely, to make specific practical provisions for the so-called ethnic minorities. The Government's failure to concede on this matter has caused widespread disappointment. This disappointment was referred to by the Chief Secretary of Hong Kong in his statement to the Legislative Council on 30th April, when he said:
These feelings have been conveyed to Her Majesty's Government".
§ I regard the views of UMELCO as being of paramount importance and significance and I shall return to them later, but three points need to be made at this stage. First, the numbers involved are relatively small, and perhaps the noble Lord will give the precise figures when he replies. I understand that the figure is about 11,000 and that it includes Indians, Portuguese, Pakistanis and others. Against the background of the 5½ million people of Hong Kong, that is not significant. I do not wish to distinguish between one ethnic group and another, but I met representatives of every group when I visited Hong Kong in February and I concluded that there is no doubting or questioning their contribution to the life and economy of Hong Kong. Their contribution is out of all proportion to their numbers.
Secondly, they deliberately chose to be and to remain British subjects. Their right to do so was never questioned by British governments at crucial moments in the history of Hong Kong. I should like to quote from a note about the Portuguese population of Hong Kong which shows the great anomaly that exists at the moment. The note reads as follows:
It is ironical that if their forefathers"—
that is the forefathers of the Portuguese—
had not come from Macau to Hong Kong to help the British Administration, they would today still be Portuguese citizens and, as such, would be entitled to free entry into Britain by virtue of Portugal's accession to the EEC. If the right of abode is now denied to them, the effect, whether intended or not, would be to punish them because their ancestors came here to help".
That is an anomaly that the Government will wish to consider.
§ It is clear, I think, to everyone who knows anything about Hong Kong, and it certainly was emphasised strongly to me, that the desire of the ethnic minorities is to remain in Hong Kong. Their homes, their livelihood and their roots are all in Hong Kong; most go back several generations and some right back to the start of the colony, 140 years ago. At one stage it was argued that the Chinese Government might object if concessions were made to the minorities. That is no longer valid and the Chinese Republic has made it 1394 plain that it has no objection whatsoever. Mr. Xu Jia-Tun spoke to me clearly in those terms when I met him and spoke to him at length on 17th February.
§ What therefore are the Government's arguments against giving that relatively small number the right of abode in the United Kingdom? Are they reasonable and valid? I shall note them briefly and I know that other noble Lords will say more about them when they speak. First, the Home Secretary states that the Government expect to have further exchanges about the possibility that the minorities may be able to apply for Chinese nationality. I am bound to say that when I was there I saw no likelihood of that. Indeed, the Chinese Government have made it clear that they regard the nationality of the minorities as a matter for Britain and for Britain alone. I do not believe that the Government can possibly rely on that as a good reason for not acting in the matter.
Secondly, Mr. Douglas Hurd rehearsed the argument—an argument that we have heard before—that those claims:
could unfairly lead to doubts about the position of the mans other British Overseas Citizens in many parts of the world".
We are all conscious of the point that he makes, but I cannot see that as a worthy argument. The Government should treat this case on its own merits in the context of the history and the future of Hong Kong, as indeed was done in the case of Gibraltar and the Falklands.
§ Thirdly, the Home Secretary has said that the minorities will have a right to live in Hong Kong as a matter of law. The point is that they are and will remain British nationals but without the right of a bode in British territory after 1997. What the Government are saying to them is this: "Your are British subjects and you will have passports to prove it. But after 1997 you will be British subjects in Chinese territory but without the right to live in British territory even if you want to". That is the gravamen of the argument we seek to put today. That does not seem to me to be an honourable solution to the problem.
The fourth argument has to do with nervousness, because the Home Secretary argues that the claim would:
raise uncertainty about the size of this country's future commitments".
I can understand that well enough, but I repeat that the number involved is small and the Government can limit its commitment to future generations. As the House knows, there is a limitation in the 1981 Act which lays down that it is impossible to pass on British citizenship to more than one generation of children born abroad.
The Minister may well have referred to the Home Secretary's recognition of future possible difficulties when he said that if the minorities were put under pressure to leave Hong Kong at any time, Her Majesty's Government:
would expect the Government of the day to consider sympathetically whether to admit them to the United Kingdom on a case by case basis".
I also recall that the noble Baroness, who I am glad to see is in her place, made the same point when she spoke on the subject on, I think, 14th March last year.
This is not regarded as adequate by any of those who have been involved in studying the implications of the problem.
§ What it shows, however—and I think that the House should appreciate this—is that the Home Secretary, his noble friend and the Government generally recognise clearly that there could be a future problem. That is implicit in what he said. That being the case, their duty is to deal with it clearly and, I think, more precisely than they were able to when the Home Secretary made his initial statement. They should do that so that there may be no misunderstanding about what he said.
§ It is very much in the Government's interests that there should be an acceptable settlement. If I may say so, the Government—and I should like to repeat a compliment that I have paid on more than one occasion to the Foreign Secretary—did extremely well to achieve the agreement with China. They have been rightly praised and they have had our active support.
§ I now return to UMELCO, that section of the executive and legislative council that has taken initiatives on the matter. I regard it as a group of the highest importance in the transition in 1997. Its members, above all, in my view must be listened to with respect. They are young and extremely able people dedicated to the service of their community. I believe that the future of Hong Kong after 1997 depends to a very large extent on them and on others like them. Their comment on the order is therefore of unusual significance.
UMELCO met on 25th April to discuss the Home Secretary's statement. It welcomed the two concessions that he made and went on to say this:
We are disappointed that the British Government did not accept our request for the [ethnic minorities] to be granted full British citizenship despite the fact that this has been an issue on which the community at large has spoken with one voice. Britain has a moral responsibility to this small group and we urge our friends in the British Parliament to continue to press their legitimate claim".
§ It is because we support this view that I move this Motion today. I most urgently plead with the Government to think very carefully, to heed the pleas that have been made to them and to produce a far more constructive response to them. I rely on the noble Lord the Minister and his right honourable friend the Home Secretary. I know that they are both men of true compassion. I ask them on this occasion to do the right thing towards this small group. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the Draft Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986, laid before the House on 7th May, and to lay before this House another draft order in its place which would include, additionally, the grant of the right of abode in the United Kingdom to those members of Hong Kong's ethnic minorities who under the draft order would be granted the status of British National (Overseas) but might in fact be rendered effectively stateless—(Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos).
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, I have listened with great care to the thoughtful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, who has explained with great clarity 1396 and feeling why he has moved the Motion inviting the Government to withdraw the draft Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order which is before your Lordships today. I understand and recognise the concerns underlying the expression to which he has given voice, but I shall ask your Lordships not to support that Motion since, after so many months of debate, we believe it would be right now to make the order, and I shall explain why. I shall also listen with equal care to the other speeches which are to be made today, and, with the leave of the House, respond at the end of the debate to the points that have been raised.
The arrangements which we propose have benefited from detailed consultations with Hong Kong as well as careful consideration by your Lordships. It is difficult to imagine that any order could have been more carefully scrutinised. As a result, the Government have moved a very long way indeed in response to the points which have been made—a fact which I am grateful to the noble Lord for having pointed out. During the debate in December 1984 on the future of Hong Kong my noble friend Lady Young explained the nationality proposals in the United Kingdom memorandum associated with the Sino-British Agreement. These proposals, set out in the schedule to the Hong Kong Act 1985, were debated in some detail in this House before the Act was passed early last year. Your Lordships, many of whom have considerable knowledge of Hong Kong, made a number of representations about statelessness. We took these on board and agreed to extend the statelessness provisions to the grandchildren of former British Dependent Territories citizens if they were born stateless; and in fulfilment of commitments given by the Government we debated the provisions of the draft order at some length in January.
It is entirely right that Parliament should have considered the proposals so carefully. The nationality arrangements will have a far-reaching effect on the 3.25 million BDTCs in Hong Kong, and it is essential to the success of the agreement with the Chinese that we get them right. We have therefore given very careful consideration to all the points raised by your Lordships. We have gone a very long way towards meeting Hong Kong's wishes, and we believe that the proposal before the House are fair, consistent and comprehensive.
We propose that the order should come into effect on 1st July 1987. That will give third countries time to get used to the new passport, and will enable passports to continue to be issued with the normal 10-year validity period. But if we are to make the necessary arrangements in an orderly way, we need to have the order in place now so that we can get on with the detailed preparatory work which needs to be done before next July.
Apart from one or two technical and drafting amendments, the order is the same as the draft which your Lordships considered in January. I need therefore only remind your Lordships of its essential provisions. The order provides that those who are British Dependent Territories citizens by virtue of a connection with Hong Kong will lose that status in 1997, but will be entitled to acquire British National (Overseas) status and the passport that goes with it.
1397 The order also makes provision to guard against statelessness. I should like to make it plain straightaway that there is no question of any Hong Kong British Dependent Territories citizen becoming stateless in 1997. The Government have given that undertaking and are honouring it in full. All Hong Kong British Dependent Territories citizens will be entitled to British National (Overseas) status, in accordance with Parliament's wishes expressed during the passage of the Hong Kong Act 1985. The draft order provides that any British Dependent Territories citizen who has not become a British National (Overseas) citizen and who has no other form of nationality will automatically become a British Oveseas citizen on 1st July 1997; and provision is made for the children and, as this House asked, the grandchildren of British Dependent Territories citizens to acquire British Overseas citizenship.
The debates on these provisions concentrated, as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, explained, on three particular requests made by the Hong Kong Legislative Council. They were, first, that there should be an endorsement in British National (Overseas) passports to the effect that the holder did not require a visa or entry certificate to visit the United Kingdom; secondly, that former servicemen in Hong Kong who fought in its defence during the second world war should be granted British citizenship; and, thirdly, that British Dependent Territories citizens in Hong Kong who were not ethnically Chinese and who had no other form of nationality should be granted British citizenship in 1997 rather than British Overseas citizenship. This last request was also made on behalf of all the ethnic minorities by the Council of Hong Kong Indian Associations.
The Government considered these requests with very great care, and as the House will know from my right honourable friend the Home Secretary's announcement on 23rd April, we have agreed to meet two of them. First, an endorsement will be placed in the British National (Overseas) passport. It will read as follows:In accordance with the United Kingdom Immigration Rules the holder of this passport does not require an entry certificate or visa to visit the United Kingdom".British Dependent Territories citizens do not have to obtain a visa in advance to visit the United Kingdom. This is the position under the current immigration rules, and I can assure your Lordships that this Government have no intention of introducing any visa requirement for such visitors. An explanatory leaflet will be given to each passport holder making it plain that visitors from Hong Kong are welcome here, and will set out the holder's position under the immigration rules. I am glad that our response to this request has been welcomed by the Unofficial Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils. They have said they are confident that it will greatly help to enhance the acceptability of BN(O) passports to third countries.
Secondly, we have agreed to meet the concern for ex-servicemen. Of the 270 or so former servicemen who fought in Hong Kong's defence in the second world war, some 60 or so are eligible for registration as British citizens under Section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981. We will give sympathetic 1398 consideration to applications under this provision from any of these former servicemen who are eligible. The remaining 210 or so are not eligible under this provision. But my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has agreed that any of the 270 (including the 60 who may apply for British citizenship) may be accepted here for settlement if they wish, together with their dependants. Once settled here, they will, of course, be able to apply for British citizenship in the normal way. We are glad that the Unofficial Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils have accepted these arrangements as a fitting recognition of the loyal service these people have given to Hong Kong, and we are pleased to have been able to mark their special contribution in this way.
As to their third request, we considered the position of those British Dependent Territories citizens in Hong Kong who are not ethnically Chinese and who have no other form of citizenship with particular care and sympathy. We accept our responsibility to them, and we want to make absolutely sure that we meet it in the best and fairest way possible—fair, not only to those citizens in Hong Kong but to others in Hong Kong and throughout the world. The British Dependent Territories citizens who are not ethnically Chinese have made plain that they want to continue to live and work in Hong Kong and to have a citizenship status that will allow them to continue to travel to other countries, and they are concerned about their children and grandchildren. Our arrangements meet fully and precisely each of these concerns in a way that British citizenship alone could not, and we do not believe it would be right to grant them that citizenship.
British citizenship cannot secure anyone's right of abode in Hong Kong after 1997. This has been secured in the only way possible—through the agreement with the Chinese. The agreement which guarantees that right of abode is internationally binding, and its provisions will be written into a basic law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative region. The future of the non-ethnic Chinese in Hong Kong will therefore be secured as a matter of local and international law. There is no reason to think their future in Hong Kong will not be secure and successful. The agreement not only guarantees their right of abode but also their ability to continue working in the public service. It also provides that other areas of Hong Kong life where they have made such a valuable contribution will be unchanged after 1997.
Furthermore, British citizenship would not benefit third and subsequent generations born after 1997, any more than would British Overseas citizenship. British citizenship can generally be acquired by only two generations born abroad. So British citizenship cannot strengthen these people's position in Hong Kong: nor can it extend to more than two generations born in Hong Kong after 1997. It is not therefore necessary to meet their real needs.
But there are also points of principle and fairness which I ask your Lordships to consider. It has been argued that whatever we do for the people of Hong Kong has no implications for British nationals elsewhere in the world. With respect, we doubt that. One of the aims of the British Nationality Act 1981, which was fully discussed and accepted by your 1399 Lordships, was to confer on British nationals a form of nationality which accurately reflected their links with the United Kingdom or elsewhere. British citizenship surely must be a reflection of a person's links with the United Kingdom itself. Generally speaking, British nationals connected with former dependencies became British Overseas citizens on 1st January 1983. The special position of Hong Kong has been recognised through the arrangement we have proposed for all Hong Kong BDTCs to have the right to acquire British National (Overseas) status. If they do not do so, then it would be a proper reflection of their position for them to be British Overseas citizens. To grant them British citizenship would be wholly anomalous.
We must also consider the effect on other British Overseas citizens. There are about two million British Overseas citizens throughout the world, of whom something over 200,000 have no other nationality. In the debate on 13th May in another place, I have to say that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary inadvertently gave a considerably higher figure for this latter number. He has apologised and is setting the record straight, as I do again today. We must, however, have regard to the position of the substantial number of British Overseas citizens in many parts of the world if we were to conclude that their citizenship was not appropriate for some people in Hong Kong. British Overseas citizenship has already been extensively considered by Parliament and it is now a widely recognised and understood nationality status. Like BN(0) status, it fully meets our international obligations to reduce statelessness. I do not believe it is helpful or indeed accurate to suggest, as does this Motion, that BN(0) or indeed BOC is not an effective form of nationality.
We must also take account of the implications of the proposal for our immigration policy. At present, there are about 11,500 people who might benefit in 1997 from the grant of British citizenship, but, of course, no one can say with any certainty what might be the size of the commitment by then. To grant British citizenship would therefore have wider implications whose impact we could not at present predict with any confidence or assurance. It would set up pressures and stresses in Hong Kong and elsewhere which would not be in keeping with the careful and planned approach we have, with your Lordships' support, so far taken to Hong Kong. In the circumstances we do not believe that would be a responsible way in which to go into the years up to 1997.
Our proposals therefore guarantee people's continuing right of abode in Hong Kong. They provide a recognised nationality status so that there is no risk of statelessness, and they extend that assurance to two generations born after 1997. These arrangements therefore secure the position up to about the middle of the next century.
Of course, the Government recognise that we are having to make judgments now in the light of the present circumstances and of our expectations for the future. If these were to change, there would no doubt be many things to reconsider. But in response to the concern of the ethnic minority community in Hong Kong with no other form of nationality, the 1400 Government have, however, already made it plain, and I am happy to repeat again now, that if any British national came under pressure to leave Hong Kong we would expect the government of the day to consider sympathetically their case for admission to the United Kingdom. Mr John Swaine, the convenor in Hong Kong of the ad hoc group on the nationality order, has been quoted in the press as describing this as a strong moral commitment. Indeed it is. I am sure that the whole House will recognise that and will want to endorse this commitment.The assurance it offers, together with the guarantee of nationality and the right of abode, provide the ethnic minority communities in Hong Kong with the highest possible degree of security and confidence in the future.
There are other very positive signs which give us every cause for confidence. The Sino-British joint liaison group meets in an excellent atmosphere and has solid achievements to its credit. It has made arrangements to ensure that Hong Kong maintains its place in the world trading community after 1997, and to facilitate travel by Hong Kong people through, among other things, formal agreement to the right of abode endorsement to be placed in the BN(0) passport. These provide clear evidence of the determination of both parties to ensure the continued stability and prosperity of Hong Kong through the full and faithful implementation of the agreement; and they have been welcomed in Hong Kong, where confidence in the future is high. There is no reason to think that this high degree of commitment will not continue.
The Government believe it would now be right to make this order. It represents for nationality an important and essential step in the implementation of the joint declaration which was signed nearly 1½ years ago. That was widely recognised and welcomed as a good agreement. As the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn said during the debate on the agreement in December 1984, it brought to an end a period of instability in Hong Kong's economy. But agreements not only need to be signed; they need to be implemented. I hope that your Lordships will agree that we should put an end to the present uncertainties for Hong Kong over what the precise arrangements will be, since further delay can only put at risk the present good progress being made in Hong Kong. I think that is the wish in Hong Kong, too. Despite some natural disappointment among Hong Kong people that not all their requests have been met, I think there is a widespread recognition of what the Government have done to meet their concerns.
I ask the House to accept that the Government recognise the importance of these issues to the people of Hong Kong and to your Lordships. We recognise and accept our responsibilities to all British Dependent Territories citizens in Hong Kong, and we believe they have been fully and fairly met. We have gone a long way to meet the concerns of the people of Hong Kong. The provisions we are proposing are designed to provide a sound basis for the future security and prosperity of all British Dependent Territories citizens in Hong Kong. But it is important that we make the order now so that the work can continue.
§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, no, we do not think that it is. On these Benches, we agree with every word said by 1401 the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, in presenting his Motion. I shall save time by not repeating them. We join in his welcome for all that has been improved in this version of the order compared with the earlier version. A couple of less important points have been seen to, and this is good. In general, we take our stand with the Labour Opposition in supporting the attitude of UMELCO and also the council of the Hong Kong Indian Associations. One would expect them to have a strong view.
It is, however, instructive to hear the attitude of UMELCO, the sole democratic—well, not really democratic—but, as the sole unofficial legislators and governors of Hong Kong, the only people not under the direct orders of the Government in London and therefore free to express the general opinion of the community of all races in Hong Kong. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, a question that I hope he will be able to answer before the debate concludes. The noble Lord introduced what, to my knowledge, is a new point in these long running debates. He said that if the order were not agreed to, or changed again, it would set up pressures within Hong Kong. This is something about which we have not heard. If it would indeed do so, the House should know what they are.
The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, was entirely devoted to saying that the people about whom we are talking—mostly Indians—are all right in Hong Kong; that they stood every chance of continuing to be all right in Hong Kong; that they have the right of abode in Hong Kong; that they will have the right to leave Hong Kong and travel to other countries and return to Hong Kong and continue working there. All this is agreed. We are not talking about that. Nor are we talking about what kind of British citizenship, dependent territory citizenship, overseas citizenship, or citizenship overseas they may obtain in the future. It is about this one point: their right of abode in this country. Under the revised order they do not have this right as a group—although they may be given it on single application by future governments—and in our submission they should.
The Chinese have said that they will consider giving Chinese citizenship to these people, or individuals among them, on application. They have not undertaken that they will. If they obtain Chinese citizenship then they will have the right of abode and the right of work in Hong Kong once it is part of China. We should not be surprised at this. China has an ethnic or racial nationality policy. If one is not Chinese one does not get these rights.
The Hong Kong Indians would not be being treated any worse than anybody else if the Chinese were to refuse this right. It is a long-standing, historical thread of Chinese nationality policy that they do not generally grant this. We have no right to expect that they will change their long-standing policy to help these people alone, among quite a lot of other people who would also like to be helped. The Chinese have explicitly stated that the citizenship of these people is our responsibility. It is a question for Britain. In other words, we can do what we think fit about the matter of citizenship, but they are giving no guarantee.
1402 Although China would no doubt, at the moment, be a quite comfortable and rewarding place in which to live for somebody with or without Chinese citizenship—because China is in a very open frame of mind and welcomes help from people of other nationalities and races—China is hardly one of the nations in the world which one would say does not change. Look at what has happened to it in our own lifetime. The average Peer has seen it pass from chaos to dogmatic communist rule, through the Hundred Flowers Period to the Cultural Revolution, to the restoration of communist orthodoxy, and to the present vast economic and political opening to the outside world. Those are five major changes, at least two of which have been by all normal standards of judgment revolutionary in one lifetime. China is not a country on the stability of which anyone would care to stake their future. They would not care to stake their future on its remaining as they now find it.
Who are we talking about? These, mostly Indians—as has been correctly stated—are a very varied group of people. They include wealthy traders. It is quite easy for a trader to become wealthy in Hong Kong if he knows how to do it—and Indians are no slouches at knowing how to do it. Some have succeeded, and we need not worry about those people, because we all know that around the world citizenship is for sale. If one has enough money one can buy it—in Canada, Australia, the United States but not yet so far as I know in Britain, and I hope not to live to see the day when one can. We prefer to do these things by judgment rather than money, but it may come. On the other hand, it has come in a good many other ways in quite respectable countries.
Probably more than half the Indians are low-paid to medium-paid people, typically in the prison service and the police force. I have met many of them and heard their case in full and I am much impressed by the logical and human force of it. They are also security guards—people working in firms in Hong Kong which correspond to Securicor in this country. That seems to be what they specialise in. They are not typically poor traders. If one spends one's life being an employee in a rather disciplined force of one kind or another one is not likely to find it easy to take to trade in middle age. It is therefore important to know what we are talking about.
We are talking about people who may need help if they do not find that they are able to carry on with their present employment in China. The fact that Chinese governments prefer to have Chinese people in positions of authority—even in lowly positions of authority—is something that we should not forget.
I turn to one of the main arguments which have been presented by the Government throughout in order to persuade Parliament and Hong Kong people that everything is all right. The form of words has not changed: that the Government would expect the government of the day to consider whether to admit any of these people to the United Kingdom on a case by case basis; that is, if they no longer have the right of abode in Hong Kong and have nowhere else to go. They would expect the government of the day to consider this matter sympathetically. The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, said just now that those words conferred the highest possible degree of security on 1403 those people for the future. I hope I did not misquote him. We shall look in Hansard.
Honestly, my Lords, how many people who have been 10 years or so in Parliament believe that those words convey any degree of security whatever? How many Members of another place, if approached by constituents in trouble and asked to help to get legislation about it, would say with their hands on their heart, and believe themselves: "It is going to be OK because no doubt the future government will look after you in a tender manner if you approach them individually". How often has this House rejected proposals in domestic legislation simply because it was not satisfied with government assurances that some future government would probably put the matter straight? How often have we insisted, on having put forward amendments to Bills, that they should be made now? If a legislature sees something wrong, it is well advised to correct it, not to rest content with vague assurances about what its successors may do.
The fact remains that we have two Motions before us. What ought we to do about them? We in the Alliance will support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. If it passes we have no doubt that the Government will then do the right thing and agree to take away their order for a second time and to consider once again this one remaining difficulty. It is unusual for a government to take away an order even once and reconsider it.
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord. We have not taken it away, even once. We produced it for debate, as we promised we would. That was discussed in January. I want to correct the record.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. I stand corrected and I apologise. We discussed it in January. As the Government always said they would—I have to hand it to them—they did the right thing and removed from it all the objections which have been raised in the House except the principal one, and that they have not removed.
In those circumstances I think that the House would be perfectly within its rights to ask the Government to take away the order, not to put it to the vote today, and to revise it on this one final point in the light of the opinions which have been expressed here on an earlier occasion and are being expressed today. I know that another place has approved it and that this would be unusual. But I believe that it is still open to the Government to take away the order until it has been passed by both Houses. To do so would not set any undesirable constitutional precedent. It is simply a matter of what a government think fit to do within their discretion. It is not a course which should cause too much worry, though I agree it would be unusual.
If, on the other hand, the Government do not agree to take away the order, I suppose that there will be a Division. The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, has one more chance to persuade the House that it would be right to pass the order, but at the moment it looks very wrong.
I should also like to take the opportunity of saying that I have sought to identify—and on this point we 1404 agree with the Labour Party—an injustice in the order; namely, that in allowing the British Empire to come to an end, it allows one class of person simply to fall through the net and risk becoming stateless. That cannot honourably be done by a former colonial government, and for that reason, if we on these Benches ever have the opportunity to put it right before 1997, we shall do so.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Lord Todd
My Lords, I decided to intervene in this debate on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, because it seemed to me that the noble Lord was raising a problem that had nothing to do with party politics. The matter under discussion is the future national status of a section of the population of Hong Kong. That is something which concerns such matters as natural justice, fair play and human rights. It has nothing to do with politics. However, it is a matter which concerns us in respect of the aspects which I have mentioned, and they are matters which I have always regarded as being thought to be of importance in this country. Basically, the question is: what status should be accorded to the so-called non-ethnic Chinese minorities in Hong Kong following the transfer of sovereignty to the People's Republic of China in 1997?
I propose to be brief. I do not intend to rehearse all the points which have been made and which no doubt will be made by other speakers today—points which have been made in earlier discussions in your Lordships' House and in another place. Nor do I wish to go over material which has descended upon me—and I have no doubt upon other noble Lords—from many bodies in this country and in Hong Kong, and notably from the Council of Hong Kong Indian Associations. Nor do I propose to elaborate on numerous discussions which I have h`d with many individuals in Hong Kong.
In essence, it is argued by the minority groups in question—mainly of Indian or Eurasian descent—that they will not qualify for Chinese nationality and that the British National (Overseas) status to be allotted to them under the order that we are discussing today gives them no right of abode in Britain and so would make them, in their opinion, in effect stateless should they ever have to leave Hong Kong.
In my view those people have a very strong case. I can well understand, bearing in mind the still growing problem of ethnic minorities in this country, that the Government should be concerned at possible aggravation of that problem. However, surely in this instance such fear is quite unreal. The total number of persons involved in Hong Kong in my opinion could not be more than 10,000, although the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, has given us a figure of 11,500 this morning, which I am quite prepared to accept. That is the maximum number, and it is very unlikely that many of those people would wish to leave Hong Kong.
However, one can understand the feelings of the people concerned when one looks at the way in which we have accorded British citizenship to, for example, the inhabitants of Gibraltar, who are vastly greater in number than the minorities in Hong Kong and, I should have thought, are probably much more likely 1405 to take advantage of the right of abode. For those reasons I have always supported the view which has already been forcefully put to the Government by members of the legislative and executive councils in Hong Kong.
I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, had to say. I was not wholly convinced by some of his arguments. However, it seems to me that the Government may at least have considered certain other possibilities that would have alleviated the situation. The majority of the people concerned are of Indian origin, and it seems to me that there could be some measure of restriction in the giving of British citizenship in the case of these Indian minorities, which could hardly offend people in other territories—that is, always assuming that the Government consider it essential. I should have thought that the Government could have considered the possibility of admitting to full British citizenship with right of abode in the United Kingdom those who had settled in Hong Kong prior to Indian independence—when they came, as in effect, British citizens—and giving similar rights to their children born and brought up in Hong Kong.
I am no authority. In fact, I know practically nothing about international law regarding nationality. However, it seems to me that those who came after Indian independence must have had Indian citizenship and, I should have thought that either they may still have it, or, in the event of need, they could resume it. I would take exactly the same view in the case of those immigrants to Hong Kong from other countries of the former British Empire which have achieved independence. They have, and I think that they have always had, an option.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me for intervening and I do so only because his arguments, as usual, have been so clear. The noble Lord may wish to know that the Indians had a right of election; they elected to swear an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. India does not know or recognise dual nationality, and those people therefore lost any chance of their Indian nationality.
§ Lord Todd
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. As I said, I did not know the details; I merely produced an idea which seemed to me to be at any rate worth considering.
The position of a number of the other non-ethnic minorities is at least as difficult—in fact, probably more so—than that of many of the Indians. I am thinking of the Eurasians and other people of mixed blood. The Portuguese represent a special problem. However, in the case of the Eurasians and people of mixed blood it is very difficult to see what the outlook is for them and certainly they are deserving of maximum and generous consideration.
Those are all the points that I wanted to make. Finally, before I sit down, I should like to make one quite separate point. We may well find ourselves having to consider cases where we are not dealing with members of non-Chinese minorities. Some of the residents of Hong Kong are of ethnic Chinese descent, and I speak there as a frequent visitor who has spoken to a great many of them and who knows them. There 1406 are quite a number of such people who are not entirely happy about the outlook for the future. I would hope that, if difficulties arise for them, the Government would undertake to give careful and sympathetic consideration to any request from these people as well as to those from other minorities.
§ 12.20 p.m.
My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity to take part in another debate on this subject. I should like to start by saying to my noble friend the Minister how pleased I am with the two concessions he has made. They will be helpful. I shall mention the third concession in a minute. It is encouraging that he has heard from other Governments that they have already indicated that they are likely to accept the new passports. I do not know what the "likely" means, but would it be possible to put down a Question for written answer to get an idea which countries are going to accept these passports in the future? Then we shall be able to judge whether or not it is working well.
I visited Hong Kong in 1945–46. The conditions there were deplorable after the Japanese occupation. The fantastic way in which they have built up the prosperity of the islands of Hong Kong and Kowloon, and the New Territories, is amazing. I recently went on a tour with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet—and I was interested to hear what he had to say—both of China and of Hong Kong. We made quite good friends with both sides, shall I say. We had a good reception. I have been going to China on and off since 1961, and I hope that there will be agreement between the mainland and Hong Kong in the future.
I should also like to ask the noble Lord, in regard to the servicemen, whether there are any servicewomen there. I know that there were quite a lot of nurses with the Army, and there may also have been others who were interned at the time when the Japanese took over the islands.
Turning to the question of the Indian community, I should like to refer to something that the noble Lord, Lord Todd, mentioned, because I want to get this clear. A brief I was given by the Conservative Office states:As to Gibraltar, British citizenship has not been conferred on Gibraltarians. They have an unconditional entitlement to registration as British Citizens because they fall to be treated as United Kingdom nationals for European Community purposes".I understood from the debate we had some time ago, when we had a vote of 150 to 112, that it was agreed that the 30,000 Gibraltarians should have full rights to British citizenship. If anybody needs British citizenship it is the people of Hong Kong, and particularly the people we are discussing, the Indians. If the worst came to the worst for the Gibraltarians, they could always be accepted by Spain, and I am sure that Spain would be only too pleased to accept them.
When the Indians originally came over—and I think that a great many of them were Pakistanis who came from the north of the then India—they were the first people before the Chinese, to set up businesses in Hong Kong. They started the banks, and I think we owe them a debt of gratitude for all they have done to help to raise the country to the standard it has at the present time.
1407 The noble Lord, Lord Todd, mentioned the question of India. When India took over territories like Goa and Pondicherry they took over the inhabitants themselves. Therefore, they did not have the trouble that some of these Indians may have in the future. I hope that we shall be able to safeguard their position.
The manner in which the Hong Kong Legislative Council has supported the minorities is splendid. Miss Lydia Dunn's motion was very well put and very well received. If we get the order through today, I hope that we shall not lose contact with the many people who may need our help in the future.
I shall not say anything more except to hope that the Minister may be able to improve the situation at the present time. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, has said everything that needed saying, and said it extremely well; and as I voted on the Gibraltarian question on the same side as he did I think we should, if possible, get further consultations. Perhaps the Minister, when he winds up, will be able to let us know what is the future prospect after this debate, so that we can clear our minds as to what action we might need to take.
As president of the Europe-China Assocation, I can say that we have a lot of contacts with China itself. The association is completely non-political, so you get all sides discussing. We have over 12 nations in Europe who join in, and we have an annual seminar. We are keeping in touch and are discussing informally (of course, not in public) what is happening with the different people in Hong Kong who come to a lot of the conferences, and with the people in Europe. That side is going very well indeed, which may make it easier for them when they want to travel around.
I hope that today, from people who have better knowledge than I have, we shall get some definite decision. It would be interesting to know if we shall be able to have a Peer in the House of Lords after 1997 as we have at the present time. That will be something to think about.
§ 12.27 p.m.
§ Lord Shepherd
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Todd, was right when he said that this was not a party matter. Nor when we express our concern about the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong is it in any way criticising or creating any doubts as to the integrity and honesty of the People's Republic of China in fulfilling their part of the agreement.
For some 36 years I have been in and out of Hong Kong; I suppose on most occasions I have been two or three times a year. I speak not because of that connection but because I was in Hong Kong for a lengthy period during the dark and anxious days when secret negotiations were going on between Her Majesty's Government and the People's Republic of China. They were deep and anxious times.
Throughout that time I said to my friends both in UMELCO and in industry, and within the professions, "Put your trust in the British Government. Put your trust in the British Parliament". I think that trust was fulfilled when we saw the agreement. From this side of the House we endorsed and applauded the actions of 1408 Her Majesty's Government. I have to say that I am now appalled that this House should be in this position today, because it can be perceived that there is going to be a continuing friction within Parliament during the difficult negotiations that will have to be carried on between now and 1997.
I read the other day some comments of Lydia Dunn, comments that she made in the Legislative Council when she moved a motion in support of the three points that UMELCO put to the Government. Two of these have now been accepted by the Government. But the main one is the one which we are now discussing. She said:If our requests are rejected, it will add to the profound resentment felt by many of Britain's most loyal subjects [and] will be seen by people around the world as a mean and unworthy denial of the just claims of Britain's most vulnerable and deserving nationals".I found these very wounding words. But I have to say to the House that it is a true reflection of the feelings within Hong Kong, not just within the ethnic minorities, but it is a profound feeling throughout the whole community in Hong Kong.
The noble Lord said, and he repeated as a very firm assurance, that if things were to be difficult Her Majesty's Government of the day would be expected to deal with the situation. I well remember giving those very same assurances to the people of Gibraltar many years ago. In the end it was not sufficient to give confidence to the people of Gibraltar. Parliament, in its wisdom, incorporated within the Constitution of Gibraltar the words that the people of Gibraltar will never be handed over to a foreign power against their wishes. The undertaking that the noble Lord has given is of some merit but it gives very little satisfaction or confidence to the people who are today immediately confronted with a situation that to all intents and purposes they and their children will in future be stateless. I shall not go into the definition and the complexities of nationality, but I am quite convinced that unless you have a nationality that is based upon a right of abode in some territory, then to all intents and purposes you are stateless.
The noble Lord then went on to say, did he not? that the PRC themselves would undertake to deal with the ethnic minorities after 1997. I think, like the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, it is asking too much of the People's Republic of China to take on what is clearly today a British responsibility. But I am more concerned with the future. I have before me a letter which I believe has been circulated to all members of the House and I have no doubt that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will be well aware of these words. They were very close to what my noble friend, Lord Cledwyn, referred to in his opening speech. Mr. Xu, the Director of the New Chinese News Agency in Hong Kong, was asked whether, if British citizenship were given to non-ethnic minorities, this would cause problems with the PRC. He gave this reply:He stated very clearly that this was not the case, and that the PRC instead felt that Britain should grant non-ethnic Chinese BDTC's their request so as to put their minds at ease. Mr Xu then went on to say that the PRC welcomed the minorities to stay on in Hong Kong after 1997, and he believed that their resolve to remain there would be considerably strengthened if they were given the right [of abode] in Britain. He felt that even if this right were to be granted, very few people would actually leave Hong Kong.1409 I believe that to be the position of the Government of the PRC and their feeling that this is a British responsibility. I hope that the Government, and this Parliament above all else, will see that justice is done to these people. They have no other elected representative available to them. We may not be elected but we are part of the British Parliament. The British Parliament has a duty. I hope the House will feel that, whatever merits there may be in speeches, in support, in sympathy and understanding, the time has come for us to stand up and be counted in support of these people, these hapless people, who are finding themselves in an intolerable position now in Hong Kong. I support the Motion.
§ 12.36 p.m.
§ Lord Kadoorie
My Lords, having recently arrived from Hong Kong I welcome this opportunity to say how pleased I am at the careful thought given to the request of the Legislative Council as well as the representations from organisations and individuals in what is still a British colony. The consideration given to their views is all the more important as, hopefully, it will allay the prevalent impression that in British eyes Hong Kong and the concerns of its people lie in the past rather than in the future.
The endorsement in the new British National (Overseas) passport will at least refute the impression that visitors from Hong Kong are no longer welcome. The decision that former servicemen who served in the defence of Hong Kong in the second world war should be granted British citizenship will correct an injustice that would have long remained in the memory of those who experienced the fall of Hong Kong and who saw at first hand the bravery of those who endeavoured to hold this outpost of the Empire. That it has not been possible to accede to the council's third request is all the more regrettable as it marks a lost opportunity to strengthen the goodwill of a section of the community who have contributed, and still are contributing to the prosperity of Hong Kong, which, as a British colony, is their home.
As an old colonial myself, I am conscious that the British Empire has evolved into a Commonwealth of Nations which still look to England for guidance. The responsibilities inherent in the traditions built up over the past centuries cannot be disregarded, and we are fortunate in that our Government are firm and have not failed to act in support of causes which they believe to be right. Looked at in this light, the unprecedented step of changing the nationality of the 10,000 ethnic minority in Hong Kong who are not eligible for Chinese citizenship has virtually created a new nation of British National (Overseas) citizens who, though allowed to live in Hong Kong, will be stateless in that they will have no country that they can call their own.
In saying this, I should like to make it clear that I am referring to the 10,000 ethnic minority Hong Kong people, whose case is not analogous to the much larger number of British Overseas citizens living in independent Corn monweath countries, who kept their British nationality after independence. Hong Kong will not be independent but is returning to the sovereignty of China. In all fairness, these worthy Hong Kong people should be offered the full British citizenship to which 1410 they are morally entitled. Delay and uncertainty are not in Hong Kong's interest; consequently it is important that the Order in Council should not be withdrawn, so that its benefits can be extended to almost all citizens in Hong Kong. As in the case of the people of Gibraltar and the Falklands, the ethnic minorities of Hong Kong should receive special treatment. Surely this justifies further consideration and cannot be beyond the wit of government.
My Lords, against this background I believe it relevant to present the position in Hong Kong as I see it. Hong Kong continues to be as active as ever. The resilience of this place is remarkable. On the one hand, we have a small and influential section of the Chinese community who realise the potential of the territory but who have suffered severe losses in Shanghai and elsewhere. These people have taken steps to protect their flank, and, while they do not wish to leave, remain far from confident that the freedoms they enjoy at present will be continued into the future. On the other hand, we have an influx of new, international firms covering the field from finance to industry, who have never been in Hong Kong before and who consist of people who realise the value of this city as a neutral point of contact and as the door to an emerging China.
Today, I see China as a socialist country, determined to remain socialist but, at the same time, recognising that it can learn much from capitalism. However, they are as yet uncertain how far they should go along this route. Old-timers in the small capitalist enclave which is Hong Kong realise that to maintain prosperity and the value of their assets they must work with China, but they do not quite know how far they can trust their former political adversaries The difficulties of doing business with China must not be underrated. The differences between a socialist and capitalist point of view are hard to reconcile. Limited liability is a principle which is only now beginning to be understood by the Chinese. Many laws which can be taken for granted in Western countries just do not exist and consequently their content has to be written into any agreements involving the parties concerned. Though the present Chinese Government is well established, they, too, must be subjected to many political pressures which are not apparent from information available to Westerners.
As regards Hong Kong, let us be realistic. From 1841 to 1997 Hong Kong has been and will be a British colony. It has never been, and never will be, an independent country exercising sovereignty over its own domain. As a British colony, Hong Kong has enjoyed a paternal leadership and managed economy under the basic laws and control systems of the United Kingdom. As from 1997, this leadership and the basic laws controlling Hong Kong will pass to China, subject of course to what was agreed in the Joint Declaration. So far a provident and benevolent Hong Kong Government has not failed to consult and ascertain the views of those who have demonstrated their confidence in the future of the colony—a positive form of democracy that has guaranteed basic freedoms and proved it can work satisfactorily. Hopefully, these basic principles will prevail after 1997.
Changes there will be both before and after 1997. There must be changes to meet the emerging needs of Hong Kong's people, and this is laid down in the Joint 1411 Declaration; but change must be gradual if Hong Kong's prosperity is-still to rest on secure foundations. Up to now the executive and legislative councils have been able to rely on the experience of selected individuals who have had Hong Kong's welfare at heart; and it is upon this- experience that this international city has been built up to its present stage of development and has become one of the most important financial centres in the world. Obviously, it is unwise at this delicate stage in Hong Kong's history to introduce and encourage local political parties, thus detracting from confidence and making it more difficult for government, both in this interim period and after 1997, to govern when our greatest need is, and will be, strong leadership and guidance.
Surely, no one can imagine a completely autonomous Hong Kong since this would create an atmosphere of uncertainty in which political strife would thrive at the cost of the business climate which is and has been the foundation of Hong Kong's prosperity. That is why the agreement between Britain and China provides for a high degree of autonomy. A government is very like a business—success requires a strong and flexible chairman and a good and well-chosen board of directors able to apply the disciplined management essential to the prosperity of its shareholders. The people of Hong Kong have been well served in this respect and allowed to go about their work with a minimum of intervention. I see Kong Kong as an important business centre dependent upon good management and sound advice. Experience over the past 150 years has created confidence and provided a fertile soil for growth and employment.
The fact that the agreement between the United Kingdom and the People's Republic of China extends for a period of 50 years beyond 1997 demonstrates that the Chinese recognise that changes must be gradual if a convergence of views is to be reached without friction. All indications are that they are in favour of maintaining in so far as possible the status quo, recognising of course that progress must also involve changes. Today Hong Kong is about to embark on a new relationship with its great and powerful neighbour. Few like change, but as it is inevitable if the policy of "one country two systems" is to succeed, let us look where these systems agree rather than where they differ. The People's Republic of China naturally wish to take over a prosperous concern. They have seen and are well aware of the reasons that have created this prosperity, and quite naturally must resist any drastic change that would make it more difficult for them to maintain that prosperity. It is unreasonable to expect them to allow existing management systems to be altered to such an extent that those disciplines formerly applied can no longer be applied.
Hong Kong has been fortunate in avoiding the disruptive elements of nationalism and politics, so why introduce them now? In the West democracy may be fashionable, but democratic principles are foreign to China and, to quote the press, "Democracy is not exactly a Hong Kong tradition." It is far from being practical when applied to the present circumstances.
Since all parties agree as to the need to preserve the prosperity of Hong Kong, surely the best way to do this 1412 is to admit of a minimum of interference with those conditions upon which that prosperity has been built. Discipline there must be, just as there has been in the past. The future prosperity of Hong Kong lies in cooperation, not confrontation. With this caveat, and given the pragmatism of the Chinese and their willingness to work hard, I feel that pessimism is unwarranted and that we can look forward to the future with optimism.
§ 12.52 p.m.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, I count myself lucky this morning to be asked to speak a few words after the noble Lord, Lord Kadoorie, who I am sure we all welcome to this House this morning, especially in view of what he has said from his intimate knowledge of Hong Kong.
I have not spoken before on this particular subject because I always felt, as indeed I do this morning, that there are many other Members of your Lordships' House who know much more about Hong Kong than I do. Indeed, I suppose I am the only person speaking today who has never had the privilege of going to Hong Kong. Just before my late husband died we were planning to go to Hong Kong and Singapore on our way to Australia, and we were both looking forward to that venture. It is perhaps because of having been married to my late husband when he was Colonial Secretary and had to deal with the problems of Africa and trying to decide who should be able to come to this country and on what terms (which took us two years, as some of your Lordships may remember) that I have always been interested in what happens when a country changes status.
However, this morning I want only to emphasise how vital this particular part of the Hong Kong Act of 1985 is. As we all know, it comes into force in 1997 and therefore they have 11 years in which to iron out any difficulties before the Act comes into force. Obviously the problems of the ethnic minorities are very difficult to solve but, reading all the papers and the reports of debates, one realises that many people at all levels and in both countries have worked especially hard to reach many smaller agreements on the big agreement that has now been achieved. I should like to endorse what I think the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, said: the agreement was hard worked for but, as we can see it from here anyway, it is an excellent one. Both Houses, as I am sure the people of Hong Kong will realise, have given a very great deal of their time and interest to this problem.
Her Majesty's Government have met many of the requests that have been made and only the one problem, as we understand it, is now outstanding. The agreements with the Chinese have guaranteed the rights of abode to all non-ethnic Chinese who have made China their home. I hope this will be part of the law, and I should like my noble friend Lord Glenarthur to assure us on this point because it does seem to be very important.
I have been told, and we have heard this morning, that although many figures are given it is probably impossible to come up with an accurate figure for 1997. But, as of now, we are told there are 11,000 non-ethnic Chinese who are citizens of Hong Kong, of whom 7,600 are South Asians and the rest are partly 1413 Portuguese and, as has been said, partly Eurasians. When we are dealing with this difficult problem it is quite impossible to dot the i's and cross the t's in respect of every single citizen, but my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said:If however, any British national were in the future to come under pressure to leave Hong Kong, we would expect the Government of the day to consider sympathetically the case for admission to the United Kingdom". [Official Report, 23/4/86; col. 148.]I think that must set many problems and people's worries at rest.
My noble friend Lord Glenarther mentioned that we must consider the fact that there are about 2 million British oveseas citizens in various parts of the world. My noble friend has also said that the reason for agreeing to the order today is that it will make it possible to complete all the requirements in time for next year, when part of it will come into effect. I feel that today we should agree to this order so that those involved can go ahead with their very far-reaching plans in the confidence, as usual, that the British Government will honour those agreements.
§ 12.58 p.m.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, I must say immediately, listening to what the noble Baroness has said, that the statement she quoted from the Home Secretary gave much rest and peace of mind to many Hong Kong people. Those who have written to many of us know full well that that particular statement of the Home Secretary has been quoted in almost every letter, and is almost the reason for the great distress that the minority groups now feel.
It is also fair to say that it is probably true that the quintessential fundamentals of the argument have been submitted, and there is not really a great deal left to say except that perhaps we ought to consider why at least those of us on this side of the House, as opposed to the people supporting the Government—I do not think there are many in this House—really should understand what Hong Kong means to the ordinary people and even to the millions of Britons who have never been there. As schoolboys, it was a magic name. It was a tremendous achievement of the British overseas: they were beloved in Hong Kong. We all experienced the sadness when Hong Kong, like Singapore, was under the fierce and appalling rule of the cruel Japanese.
If somebody had told us at that time, when we listened to the words of the then Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill, on the fall of Singapore (which seemed to invigorate this nation once again) that the day would come when the people of Hong Kong would feel that a certain group of their minorities was going to be let down by a British Government, we would have said, "No way!" We cannot say that today. We all have grave doubts.
In June 1841, Captain Elliot, R.N., created the free port of Hong Kong. A year later China ceded to Britain the New Territories, as well as Hong Kong, which was quite a remarkable achievement. Before any of us in this House were born, our country was inducing settlers from other British colonies to go and settle there and make a success of it. That move was not 1414 particularly popular with the British Government of the day, but British businessmen and other British people thought that it was not at all a bad idea. In consequence thereof, trade grew. Hong Kong, with all its mixtures, became fundamentally British. That was a remarkable achievement.
Something almost similar to that had happened 100 years earlier, when the first British went to the United States. We made a mess of that, did we not? Let us hope that we shall not repeat that today if this order goes through. I hope that there are not a number of George IIIs somewhere around who will ruin the name of Britain by this abominable order, which is frightening people, particularly when one realises that Hong Kong ultimately became almost the financial capital of Asia and contributed so much not merely to Great Britain but to other British colonies as well.
We must take note of one remarkable fact. On our island we have Romans, Anglicans, Baptists, a few non-believers, people of the Jewish religion, the Scots, the Welsh, the Irish and the English, and we think that we are pretty good. But we cannot compare with I long Kong: they are miles ahead of us. They have Buddhists, Taoists, Christians—Roman Catholics and Protestants—Moslems, Hindus, Sikhs and Jewish people. They have all prospered and have enjoyed the basic element—just as we enjoy that basic element—of being British. Why do the Tory Government feel that this is not quite the thing to do? It is mystifying people. In the press and in the letters that most Members receive, it is the one thing that mystifies them. They point out all sorts of reasons why they are British. It may be because they play soccer, or because they go horse-racing or canoeing. The Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts is well-known. All participate in it; there is no hint or form of segregation. Even their local government is to a degree built on British lines. These are things of which the people in Hong Kong and we in this country can be mutually proud.
The development of their constitution, embracing so many ethnic groups, reflects great credit on those who have been in Hong Kong for 140 years, but particularly since the end of the last war. The Unofficial Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils (UMELCO) are a model of knitting groups together in developing pride in their homeland. Why do this Government not realise that not only the British love their homeland? The Hong Kong people love their homeland, too. This is what we have to face up to, and we must shed ourselves of our almost arrogant attitude.
In December 1984 the Sino-British declaration was made. At that time, and since, I thought it right to compliment the Government, particularly the Foreign Secretary, on their magnificent achievement. It was, let me say again, a truly magnificent achievement. That momentous document is something of which we can all be proud. Therefore, the future of Hong Kong was drafted in general. By 1st July 1997 it will become a special administrative region of China, and the famous free port of 140 years will inevitably, in some way or other, have to change. But the basic terms were acceptable to every part of this House and of the other place.
Then came the anguish and the threatened tragedy wrapped up in our Hong Kong nationality order. The 1415 cruel thing was not the agreement with China, which I think we all agree was fabulous, but the nationality order. We are not quite sure who thought it up, but the British Government seem to be stumbling lamentably over 10,000 loyal Hong Kong folk who happen to be of Indian origin. I do not think this is much to be proud of, and for that reason alone the Government should completely withdraw this order. They should have second thoughts.
One must strike a balance. In the correspondence that we received from various organisations in Hong Kong, there were three major apprehensions. One was that new passports should not require any visas. The Government agreed with that, and that was a good thing. It was also thought that former servicemen should be British citizens. The Government said "Yes", and that, too, was a very good thing. Then came the 10,000 ethnic minority of Indian extraction—not ethnic Chinese—and they will be in a worse position than the unfortunate people who, between the wars, had to depend on a Hanson passport. That is what will happen, unless we do something about it.
I beg the Government again not to compel Hong Kong to go to the European Court, as they have a right to do, on the basis of human rights, because, although this argument is about the 10,000 Indian Hong Kong folk, they are totally supported by every other element in the colony. They enjoy complete and total support. So what the Government are really opposing is the desire of all in Hong Kong to remove what they seem to think is a stigma on a tiny minority of their Hong Kong colleagues. Why do the Government do this?
As I said, these minorities have the full support of the Legislative Council and—and this should go on the record—they have the complete and total support of the Chinese majority. They do not have the support of the British majority in this Parliament, but outside they have total support. This is something which the Government should take on board. Why should we issue this grave threat and create this disturbance in Hong Kong, which in 140 years has never wavered in its desire to remain British?
Why deny the Indian minority their good name? Why do the Government want to damage our British good name, which is an equally serious crime that they are about to commit? I hope that the Government realise that this minority have no desire to search elsewhere for citizenship, unless this Government compel them to do so. That is what will happen to them.
It has also been put to us that there will be a knock-on effect. I do not know what the British Home Secretary means by a "knock-on" effect. I think it means that other nations will have other ideas. It has nothing to do with us. Our attitude must remain as faithful and loyal to the people of Hong Kong as the people of Hong Kong have been faithful and loyal to us. That is a fair proposition, and I cannot imagine anyone, even the Government, disagreeing with that.
In conclusion, I want to say that the majority of Parliament and people have no desire to make stateless people who were once our good friends and, indeed, our fellow Britons. The feeling of the British 1416 people is that the future desires of the folk of Hong Kong should be allowed to triumph. I believe that such is the general view of Members of this House and of another place, and that it is the general attitude of the British people as a whole. That is reason enough now to request the Government to withdraw an order that has already caused so much distress to people who for 100 years or more have been so loyal to our nation.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Lord Greenhill of Harrow
My Lords, there are many in your Lordships' House who are more qualified to speak on this subject than I am, and I recognise that the few words I am going to say will not have the authority of those of some noble Lords who have spoken and those of some who are to follow me.
The question is a very complex one. As I came to study it I realised that it involved a conflict between my heart and my head. The members of the ethnic minorities of Hong Kong command our sympathy and deserve our support. They have contributed to the prosperity of the colony and are a stable element in it. But for years they have been aware of the approach of the end of the lease, and for years the shape of things to come must have had an underlying uncertainty.
To a certain extent that uncertainty still exists, but the Anglo-Chinese agreement has clarified many points and the present situation is far better than we could have expected some years ago. But the agreement is finely balanced and we should do all that we can to reduce controversy around it and to prevent a renewal of argument. However, it cannot be denied that after 1997, and even before, the possibility remains that those minorities could come under pressure, and as a consequence could feel it prudent to leave Hong Kong.
What then? Quite obviously the solution that must commend itself to many of us, and to most of them, would be for them to come to settle in this country and acquire British citizenship. Such an assurance would banish most of their fears and they could continue to work and prosper in Hong Kong, confident that in the worst case they could have refuge among friends. In our hearts we know that that is the preferable solution.
But Members of this House of all parties must be realistic, and they know well there are difficulties in such a solution, and that there are very good reasons why such a comfortable assurance cannot easily be given. Those reasons have already been elaborated. There is not least the formidable problem of absorbing here an unknown number, which might far exceed the figure currently being quoted. The situation is not necessarily made easier by the fact that some of those concerned would have both skills and capital.
Until the noble Lord, Lord Todd, spoke, I thought that we would go through this debate without a mention of India. I know what the attitude is of the Indian Government in these matters, but in 10 years' time and more will that attitude be the same? India has need of skills and it has need of capital. I hope that the Government will not dismiss the possibilities of further discussions with the Indians. I hope they will realise, as we should all realise, that by 1997 many of the Indians in Hong Kong may find that India itself is a more acceptable place to go than this country.
1417 More importantly, there is the precedent that would be created and which would be interpreted by many thousands from other territories, who would see what they considered to be unfair and privileged treatment being given to people whose situation seemed to them very little different from their own. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, will remember St. Helena, because he is familiar with that territory, and he knows how St. Helena would regard that proposed solution.
With regret, I see no alternative to allowing the draft order of 7th May to stand and for the minorities to accept the firmest assurance of fair and sympathetic treatment that the Government feel able to give them in the event of unhappy development in the future. If the Government now feel able to go further, than I for one should be happy.
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ Lord Geddes
My Lords, not quite five years ago, on 22nd June 1981, the long and often tortuous passage of the British Nationality Bill, as it then was, began in your Lordships' House. It finished effectively some four months later, on 29th October, albeit with a shortened Summer Recess in the middle. Throughout that time, the question of the passports and nationality of those who eventually became known as British Dependent Territory citizens was raised again and again. Indeed, I recall my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel specifically mentioning that point on the Second Reading of that Bill, at col. 880 of Hansard for 22nd June.
In the intervening five years my noble and my honourable and right honourable friends, most ably guided and assisted by Sir Edward Youde, Sir Richard Evans, and Dr. David Wilson and their teams, have achieved really a remarkable agreement with Peking on the future of Hong Kong. However, the problems and the concern regarding passports, while reduced in numerical terms, certainly have not gone away, as is amply demonstrated by the most unusual amendment that we are now debating.
I use the word "unusual" not only in relation to the amendment itself but also with regard to the situation of the draft order which per se, as I understand it, we shall probably not debate at all. I should first like to raise a number of points that do not directly pertain to the amendment. The first—of which I have given notice to my noble friend Lord Glenarthur—was touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and it concerns the technical drafting of Article 4(3) of the draft order. Indeed, I recall that I raised this matter during our last debate on the subject on 20th January, and I have had subsequent correspondence with my noble friend on the matter.
Despite all my noble friend's persuasions, both verbal and written, it still appears to me that the drafting of Article 4(3) is defective. With apologies to your Lordships, my comments will now, very briefly, become a little technical. I can see the intent of Article 4(3). It is that if an individual renounces or for any other reason loses his BDTC status, he will lose also his BN(O) status. The problem as I see it is that, according to my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, no individual can hold both a BDTC and a BN(O) passport simultaneously. That would appear to indicate—and I hope 1418 that my noble friend can correct me—either that the holder of a BN(O) passport is both a BN(O) and a BDTC simultaneously, but cannot hold the BDTC passport to which his British citizenship entitles him; or that he cannot, regardless of passports, be both a BN(O) and a BDTC simultaneously; in which case—and this gets a little difficult so I shall take it slowly—he automatically ceases to be a BDTC, in which event Article 4(3) as drafted is triggered, and he equally automatically ceases to be a BN(O) as well. I am sure that that is not the intent but it appears to be the effect, and I hope that my noble friend can put us wise on that subject.
On a more constructive note—and I very much echo what other noble Lords have already said—sincere thanks and congratulations are due to my noble friend and Her Majesty's Government with regard to the BN(O) passport endorsement and the sympathetic consideration which will be given to the Hong Kong veteran's application for British citizenship. The Written Answer given by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on 23rd sipril was most encouraging and warmly welcomed in those two contexts. So, indeed, was his Written Answer recorded at the top of col. 148 of Hansard for 23rd April, when he said:If however, any British national were in future to come under pressure to leave Hong Kong, we [the Government] would expect the government of the day to consider sympathetically the case for admission to the United Kingdom.My right honourable friend repeated that phrase "any British national" in the same context in a recent letter to Mr. Sital, the vice-president of the Council of Hong Kong Indian Associations. I find the repeated use of the word "any" most significant and encouraging.
As to the amendment itself, I must first make it clear that it is not my desire to delay the draft order. It is important for Hong Kong that it goes through on schedule today; although I should like to support the question of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, as to why it is so important, for a relatively short time, should it be delayed. Secondly, while strongly sympathising with the intent of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, I suggest that its drafting is also defective—perhaps deliberately so—in that the last phrase which reads,but might in fact be rendered effectively statelessis one that even I, as a non-legal man, could drive the proverbial coach and horses through. However, I repeat that the wording might be deliberate.
However, with the ethnic minorities I suggest that we have a unique situation vis-à-vis a colony. I believe (but I stand open to correction) that this will be the first time that a British colony is not being granted independence to which nationality all its citizens will be entitled as of right. As I understand it, here we have a colony that is to be handed over to another sovereign government, for reasons that we all understand and agree, and under the terms of the Anglo-Sino Agreement on Hong Kong, only the ethnic Chinese will be entitled as of right—and I repeat that phrase deliberately: as of right—to the nationality of the People's Republic of China.
The arguments with respect to the ethnic minorities are well known and I shall not repeat them other than to re-emphasise my very real disappointment in this 1419 context in my right honourable friend the Home Secretary's Written Answer of 23rd April. I am persuaded by the argument and therefore agree with what the amendment says: that it should be the right of abode in the United Kingdom rather than immediate nationality that should be sought. I think that is an extremely important point. The Hong Kong ethnic minorities, and particularly the Indians, have repeatedly stressed that they do not want to leave Hong Kong. Having lived for a period of time in Hong Kong, I have every sympathy with that desire. More seriously, they have stressed again and again to myself and, I am sure, to nearly everyone in the Chamber this afternoon that they do not want to leave Hong Kong. What they want is the assurance that if they are forced to leave they will be allowed to come to the United Kingdom.
The situation that I consider is at issue is one in which an individual, having the right of abode in one country (in this case, Hong Kong, a special autonomous region of the PRC) but holding the passport of another (be it British, BN(O) or BOC; I do not think it is relevant which it is in this context) is forced for ethnic or any other reason to abandon that right of abode in the former, but has no right of abode in the latter or any other country. In such a case I feel—and I make clear to my noble friend that I feel it most strongly—that at the very least Her Majesty's Government have a moral obligation to grant right of abode in the United Kingdom, thereby giving such individuals the opportunity to qualify under the normal rules for full British citizenship.
I quote my noble friend Lord MacLehose. I thought that he summed this up extraordinarily well in our debate in January when he said:At the end of this long era of British rule inevitably there are some debts to be paid".—[Official Report, 20/1/86; col. 91.]I consider that that is just such a debt.
My noble friend Lord Glenarthur has already argued—and if I may say so, he did so very ably but perhaps not with full conviction—that the Written Answer of 23rd April answers that concern; but I must say to him that in my opinion it does not, and certainly not in Hong Kong. I fully appreciate, and I think this is also an important point, that no government can grant right of abode to an as yet loosely defined group of persons, en bloc, some time in the future. That is probably going further than what any government could grant. But I urge my noble friend in his reply today to go considerably further than that Written Answer of 23rd April. In an endeavour to help my noble friend—perhaps it will not help him at all—I suggest that he use the same format of words as was used for the veterans; that is, that the Government,will meet the spirit of the requestby such Hong Kong ethnic minorities as I have described.
I recall that in October 1981, at the dying breath of the Nationality Bill, the Government conceded what was an important point for Hong Kong and, to quote my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn, "took 100 lines". They did that at the very last gasp of the Bill. I say to my noble friend today that even at this late stage he may be able to strengthen, and significantly 1420 strengthen, my right honourable friend's Written Answer. In saying that, I must make clear that I am not looking for a variation on a theme of platitudes. If he is able to do that, I sincerly hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, will feel able to withdraw his amendment and the draft order can then be approved on the nod.
§ 1.28 p.m.
§ Lord Denning
My Lords, I should like to look at the matter from the legal point of view. Those who moved this Motion are under a misapprehension as to the legal position in international law and in ordinary law. What I want is that full faith and credit should be given to that most important agreement which was signed by the Foreign Secretary and the People's Republic of China and is set out in the original draft.
It is most exceptional that this special area of Hong Kong, important as it is in every way, is specially recognised in the agreement as a special representative region; virtually self-governing, with its own legislature and, I may say particularly, its own judges and its own laws entirely conforming to our English law as it is.
As we are told in the annex, the judges are to be chosen on the recommendation of "an independent commission composed of local judges, persons from the legal profession, and other eminent persons". That is just how they are chosen now; but in addition they can be joined by persons who have been recruited from other common law jurisdictions. That is just what happens now. In other words, there will be judges of the self-same calibre and background as one now has, so far as the judicature is concerned. Indeed the final judgment will be to a court of similar composition in Hong Kong.
Most important of all there are the rights which those judges are to enforce, which are set out quite clearly and distinctly. The Hong Kong regional government:shall maintain the rights and freedoms as provided for by the laws previously in force in Hong Kong, including freedom of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, to form and join trade unions, of correspondence, of travel, of movement, of strike, of demonstration, freedom of choice of occupation, of academic research; of belief, inviolability of the home, and the freedom to marry and the right to raise a family freely".Every one of the human rights which is in the Convention on Human Rights is to be part of the law of Hong Kong in this new region.
Furthermore, and perhaps most important, the right of abode is given to all those excellent people who are there now, whether they are Indian, Portuguese or of other origin and not Chinese. The right of abode is given to them in Hong Kong and I have no doubt that their right will be enforced by the judges and lawyers of Hong Kong under the agreement which has been made between China and ourselves. Full faith and credit should be given to the agreement. Full faith and credit should be given to the judges who will sit in the courts and enforce those rights. We ought to have confidence in this future judicial system of Hong Kong as it will be after 1997.
What about these people? Are they to be deserted by us? Certainly not. The Hong Kong Act provides for a special new nationality, a new form of British nationality, which shall entitle the holders to be known 1421 as British Nationals (Overseas). I hope this British nationality is still valued. During the time of the Roman empire the phrase civis Romanus sum, "I am a Roman citizen", carried the protection of the great Roman empire. I should like to think that the sentence "I am a British national" carries the protection of the British Crown. Surely that is so. If we look at the details of the agreement we see that all those people whom we are now considering will be entitled to be registered as British Nationals (Overseas) and hold or be included in a passport which is appropriate to that status. They will have a British passport—they will be British nationals holding British passports.
Your Lordships have not been told the legal position. It was threshed out in the case of Joyce (Lord Haw Haw, you will recall). He was an American citizen really but he obtained a British passport by fraud and deception and went off to Germany and, as your Lordships know, committed high treason, for which he was subsequently executed because he owed allegiance to the British Crown and held a British passport. The person who owes allegiance to the British Crown is also entitled to the protection of the British Crown. It is set out in the appeal case of Joyce v. the Director of Public Prosecutions in 1946 where your Lordships will see that the contention was that it would be well to consider what a British passport really is.It is a document issued in the name of the Sovereign on the responsibility of a Minister of the Crown to a named individual, intended to be presented to the governments of foreign nations and to be used for that individual's protection as a British subject in foreign countries. Armed with that document, the holder may demand from the state's representative abroad and from the officials of foreign governments that he be treated as a British subject and even in the territory of a hostile state may claim the intervention of the protecting power.As I see it, the consequence in law is that if any of these very good people who are taken over in 1997 are being oppressed or unfairly treated, turned out or whatever it may be, they can say, "I am the holder of a British passport". They can call on our Government to give them the protection which they ought to have. Surely that bears out the remarks of my noble friend the Minister, Lord Glenarthur. If they are oppressed or turned out they can say, "You are to protect me. I hold your passport. You should let me come in". No doubt, in view of what the Minister has said, that will be done. It will be the duty of the British Government to protect these individuals—each case may be considered individually—if they are in any way oppressed, turned out or expelled from Hong Kong. It is the duty of the British Government to protect them and I should have thought that the assurance given by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur was a very valuable assurance. Whichever the government of the day, it will be their duty to protect these people if they get into difficulties.
I am grateful for this order and, if I may say so, it goes as far as can reasonably be expected. Indeed, it would be unusual to give all or many of the individuals in a former colony such as Hong Kong the right of abode in England as if they had been born here, as they have not. It would be going much too far. Let us give them all the protection that we can under the order as it stands. The order should be approved, and we ought not to try to go further. We have done all that we can.
§ 1.29 p.m.
§ Lord MacLehose of Beoch
My Lords, first of all I should like to say how fascinated I was to hear again the noble Lord, Lord Kadoorie. His contribution was typical of his great and idiosyncratic contribution on so many matters in Hong Kong. I think that the number of noble Lords, who have indicated a desire to speak on this Motion this Friday afternoon shows how seriously your Lordships take their responsibilities toward the people in Hong Kong. I think that the best contribution I can make, rather than take up the points made by individual speakers, is to say how I see this matter in its context and what I think is the most useful thing that your Lordships can do this afternoon.
First of all, I should like to make the point that for many years there has been deep resentment in Hong Kong at the changes made in British nationality law and immigration practice by successive governments and over a long period. It is difficult for us here to realise the feelings of someone who was born a British national with right of abode in the United Kingdom who through no fault of his own finds that that right has gone from him, in spite of the fact that all this time he has been called British and has been administered from Britain. We know the reasons for those policies of expediency, but can one wonder at the resentment? It causes me more personal embarrassment, I think, than anything that I knew during my 10 years in Hong Kong.
There is nothing new about that, but the publication of the draft order was an unpleasant reminder to the people in Hong Kong. As the noble Lord, Lord Kadoorie, said, at that time in Hong Kong to that was added scepticism about the part that the United Kingdom was prepared to play in the territory's future. When the draft order was published last year those resentments boiled over, and officials and unofficials—that is to say, the whole government of Hong Kong—made the three points to which noble Lords have referred.
It was those three points rather than the draft order which were debated in your Lordships' House on 20th January. At that time (at col. 91 of the Official Report) I described the three points asa strong demand for a response in a highly charged situation".I am sure that I was right. The Government responded, and I congratulate the Minister on all the thought and effort that have been put in. Two of the points were accepted but not the third.
So far as I read it or heard it from Hong Kong people at the time, the reaction in Hong Kong was largely favourable, though there was also regret and disappointment that the full British nationality requested for the minorities had not been given. Now the position of the minorities is the subject of the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. Let me say straightaway how much I liked hearing him express his sympathies with the minorities in Hong Kong. I wish him well in trying to do something for them.
With regard to the details of the Motion, like the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, I fear that it may lead us straight back into the morass of British nationality law. It was clear from the Minister's reply that we should simply become stuck in it, rather than do 1423 something practical for the minorities. However, the Motion and what the noble Lord said seem to me to have considerable merit both in their great appreciation of the feelings of the minorities and in seeking an alternative way to give the people an additional assurance about their future if things go wrong for them in Hong Kong.
The Government too seem to me to have moved a little in the same direction. The noble Lord the Minister said that if any British national came under pressure to leave Hong Kong he would expect the government of the day to consider sympathetically his admission to the United Kingdom. The second half of that may be weak, but the reference to any British national who came under pressure to leave is very important. That has now been said by the Home Secretary, by the Minister of State and now again today by the Minister in your Lordships' House. I think that it is the first time the point has been made by the Government. It constitutes a notable moral commitment and was so greeted by Mr. John Swaine, himself a member of the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, a Q.C. and a senior member of the Legislative Council.
Let me add this. It seems to me absolutely right that the commitment should be to any British national under pressure and not only a member of the ethnic minority. We should remember that there are others apart from the ethnic minorities who may have worries about their future. I am glad that that statement has been made and I trust that it will never be forgotten.
The draft order was published nearly six months ago and it seems to me high time that we made progress. The Government will not add to it in present circumstances the British nationality for the minorities that some of us asked for. Today the Motion of the noble Lord does not ask for that either. That brings us back to what the minorities could count on as some insurance against eventualities short of full British nationality. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, I wonder whether the Minister can help by adding to or stiffening what has already been said so as to give the minorities the further assurance that they so obviously seek. That seems to me to hinge on expectation of abode in the United Kingdom if things go wrong in Hong Kong.
The Government are a signatory to the joint declaration with the Chinese Government, and that sets out precisely what the arrangements after 1997 will be for all Hong Kong people, including the minorities. It is a binding international agreement and a very good one. Having accepted it for Hong Kong people, the Government are accountable to all of them, including the minorities, for the faithful implementation of the arrangements. Since the minorities are in a rather different situation from the rest, and since they feel that so acutely, perhaps the Minister will confirm that, as the joint declaration is implemented and as its provisions come to be stipulated in the basic law of China, they will watch carefully to see that the special interests of the minorities are protected.
1424 At the end of the debate I hope that the Minister will make a response that will persuade the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, to withdraw his Motion. The Order in Council is important to very many people in Hong Kong—I think that the Minister said 3¼ million. It is part of a package agreed with China and reaching beyond 1997. Third countries are also involved as recognition of the passport of the new nationality has to be sought from them before it can be used. It is surely important for the enormous travelling public of Hong Kong to have a passport in which they have learnt to have confidence and to know that it will be good for them well after 1997.
It is satisfactory that that passport has been so much improved by the two endorsements, one agreed by the Chinese Government and one by the British Government. It would be a great pity if the launch of that new international process were now to become associated with controversy or delay through withdrawal of the order. I believe that it is very much in the overall interest of Hong Kong that the order should be made, as the noble Lord, Lord Kadoorie, said. If necessary, that can be done without prejudice to whatever further action should be taken about the minorities.
I have one further point. The Chinese and the British governments have evolved, agreed and been implementing the joint memorandum. That work has been a model of imaginative and constructive cooperation based on realities. Today we have been talking about extreme eventualities. I am convinced that the way to avoid them for all people in Hong Kong is to continue to make the joint declaration and all that stems from it work. The Government's order is an immediately important piece of that work.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he clarify one point? He said that if the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, were passed we should be "stuck with the morass of the present nationality law". The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, in his most interesting speech, referred throughout to the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, as an amendment. Is it not the case rather that if the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, were passed it would merely have the effect of asking the Government to withdraw their Motion, and follow it with another one as soon as possible? Is it not the case, with regard to the mistake of the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, that if it were passed it would have no effect on the law whatsoever; it would merely address the Governments intention?
§ Lord MacLehose of Beoch
My Lords, as I understand it the Motion calls on the Government to bring in a substitute Motion which would confer the right of abode in the United Kingdom to people who would otherwise become stateless. My point is that this Government and, I suspect, no Government would admit under the terms of the international convention on statelessness that those people were stateless.
§ Lord Geddes
My Lords, I stand corrected by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and I thank him for pointing it out.
§ 1.51 p.m.
§ Lord Saint Brides
My Lords, of all the problems that we have had to face in the course of winding up a 1425 world empire, none has been trickier or more fraught with passionate feelings, or a harder area in which to reach inter-party consensus, than that of devising a new nationality policy to fit our altered circumstances. During my career as a public servant I shared in the efforts of several successive British Governments to do so, and to recommend the results to our Commonwealth partners. In all three countries (Pakistan, India and Australia) where at different times during that long and painful process I had the honour to represent Britain, some of the adjustments which we were compelled to make proved in varying degrees and for different reasons unwelcome and produced more kicks for Britain than ha'pence. Nevertheless, we had no option but to persevere and try and find solutions which were as fair as could be managed to all concerned, including the people of Britain itself.
Let no one underestimate the sheer difficulty in this area of evolving measures which do justice to the claims both of heart and head, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, mentioned. Ministers, from whatever party, who have had to wrestle with these problems, albeit from somewhat different outlooks, have been obliged alike to make Solomon's judgments, to try to reconcile the irreconcilable, and to act judiciously and pragmatically, with prudent regard to what have often been conflicting considerations.
We are today discussing the case of the ethnic minorities of Hong Kong whose position there after 1997 may or may not be as favourable as Her Majesty's Government believe they have secured from China that it will be. I understand the anxieties which have been expressed by the Council of Hong Kong Indian Associations, but they are admittedly based on a "worst case" expectation of what the situation will be 11 years hence. Of course it is right to take into account in any situation, whether on the personal or political plane, the "worse case" scenario. But that is far from saying that one should frame one's actions in the here and now on the assumption that the worst case is bound, or is more likely than not, to happen. If that had been so, if worst cases generally came to pass, we should never have had an agreement with Communist China at all but instead, at some time during the past 37 years since the Communist takeover, we should have had confrontation with them of an extremely grave kind.
What we do have, thanks to British and Chinese statesmanship and good sense, is an agreement based on the specially devised principle (hitherto unknown to political science) of "one country, two systems" which the Chinese leaders described to my American colleagues and myself in Beijing last September as:a model of how problems that are left over from history can be settled in friendship and co-operation".It would doubtless not be far from their minds that some similar solution might be found for Taiwan.
It would be fruitless to speculate now on just who will be running China, or for that matter Britain, in 11 years' time. (In so far as the future government of our own country is concerned, it would be indecorous for a mere Cross-Bencher to identify which of the different possibilities he would regard as the "worst case"). But it seems to me that on the basis of the evidence today Her Majesty's present Government are right not to 1426 provide the ethnic minorities of Hong Kong with the additional and exceptional protection which has been sought in their name against the eventuality, 11 years hence, which is feared. To do so could, as Government spokesmen have said, entail adverse consequences for government policy elsewhere—and that not 11 years hence, but straightaway. I share the view expressed by the Home Secretary in another place that it would not be sensible to go into the next 11 years planning for the worst. As I see the matter, there is no currently valid reason for doing so on any wholesale basis.
So much for what I see as the main objection to the blanket solution which is proposed in the Motion. But I should like to ask the Government whether there may not be some other less sweeping step which they might be prepared to take, on reconsideration, such as to accord British citizenship, with the right of abode in the United Kingdom, to those within the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong who have spent or are spending their careers in Crown service through serving Hong Kong not just in the defence force hut in the civil administration. I should have thought that a deserving group also. I realise that a concession on those lines would not help all the members of the ethnic minorities, but I believe that it would help a significant number of them and would avoid the adverse consequences elsewhere that I mentioned just now.
Your Lordships will remember that it is not long since Crown service anywhere in the world carried with it the automatic right to British citizenship. I wish it still did.
§ 1.58 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, this has been a serious, fascinating and informed debate. Although I have been in Hong Kong several times, that has nothing to do with my views on the matter before us. We have heard from probably the two greatest experts in this country on Hong Kong in the noble Lords, Lord Kadoorie and Lord MacLehose. It is significant that neither of them displayed an entirely simple faith in the validity of an agreement backed by law in the case of Hong Kong. The noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides spoke of planning for the worst. Perhaps the views of the people of Hong Kong should be taken into account.
The noble Lord, Lord Kadoorie, who plays an enormous part in the life of Hong Kong, and my noble friend Lord Kennet expressed the view that changes may take place in that great country of China which might put pressures on the minorities in Hong Kong. This is a view that we in your Lordship's House must take. Indeed, it is a view that the, Government have obviously taken. The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, took pains to emphasis the care and worry that the Government had had in coming to the conclusion that they have reached. They had obviously agonised over the situation a great deal.
A number of arguments have been advanced, one or two of which I should like to comment upon. I am not intending to take up the time of your Lordships' House for too long. It is, however, relevant to examine the position of the 200,000 people, a number considerably scaled down, with generous intent, by the Minister, the 1427 majority of them having a nationality. They have dual nationality—an entirely different thing to the minority in Hong Kong, the Indians, the Portuguese and other minorities, who can apply there for nationality but who do not have it. The argument is not sound when compared to colonies that have achieved independence. That is different.
We have also to consider the feelings of these minorities in Hong Kong. This is backed up by the doubts, not strongly expressed, but expressed, by the noble Lord, Lord Kadoorie, and the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose of Beoch that we should really prepare for the worse. That is not a big thing to do. The precedent is there—in Gibralter, where there are far more people concerned, and also in the Falklands. These are the two that would not be independent where we have conceded the principle. Why we cannot concede the principle to the Indians of Hong Kong I do not know.
I urge the Government to do something. They have not even taken up any of the excellent suggestions made. One, made in the other place, by one of their own Members was that during the period from now until 1997 the Government should examine individual applications. But the Government have not even given way on that. They have given no assurance whatever. An assurance that they consider that some future government has a moral obligation to do something is not really a practical solution. No one knows better that if this Government will not accept a future obligation, then it is highly unlikely that another government in the future will accept it at that time.
It appears to me that the solution, according to the rules of the House as I understand them, is that this House should express its displeasure and then the Government, if they still feel that they have a moral right to do so, can move their Motion. This appears to me a practical way of showing displeasure. I may be wrong. I see the Leader of the House looking at me in an extraordinary way. Nevertheless, that appears to me to be a solution. If the Government choose to ignore it, they will have studied their arguments and their moral justification must be sound, or may be so.
§ 2.3 p.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, there are two lessons that I want to try to learn anew in this winding-up speech. The first is that no one who winds up a debate, as I have the privilege of doing on this occasion, should regard it as necessary to deal with all the arguments that have been advanced far better than he would be able to. The second lesson is not to over-dramatise or over-emotionalise as an advocate, an issue that has been taken so seriously by your Lordships' House. I hope that I am not disobeying that second lesson when I say that, truly, this afternoon, your Lordships are acting as the ultimate court of appeal. The appellants are the 11,000 people within the ethnic minority in Hong Kong. The respondents are the Government, but not the Benches opposite, because sympathetic speeches on this Motion have been delivered from all parts of your Lordships' House.
Before trying to deal with the appellants' case, if I may put it that way, I should like to get two things out of the way. The first is that, very properly, the noble 1428 Lord, Lord MacLehose, with all his experience relating to Hong Kong which is so much respected in this House, and the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, expressed some doubts about the practicality of the last words of this Motion. I should like to make it abundantly clear that the Motion calls for the order to be withdrawn and another order to be put in its place, which, in addition to all the other rights being given by the Government, will give ethnic minorities who have British National (Overseas) status, the right of abode. The last words are merely comments upon what they have at the moment—that is, a possibility of being rendered stateless, they and their children or their grandchildren. Those words are words of comment. They are not words that are supposed to be imported into any order.
I should like now, with great deference, looking at the shadow of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, since he is no longer in his place—his shadow is almost as substantial to someone like myself as his very presence—to deal with the question of the rights that were given under the agreement happily reached by a very skilful Foreign Secretary with the Chinese Government. It was an agreement heralded on all sides as being a very worthy bit of negotiation to the credit of both nations. The noble and learned Lord said that rights were given with which everyone ought to be satisfied, including the ethnic minority, because they had been given human rights. The noble and learned Lord detailed them.
I ask your Lordships a simple question. Is there any more fundamental or meaningful human right than to have a nationality for yourself and your family and to know that the nationhood that you bear gives you a homeland to which you can go as your home? That is a human right that is not in the agreement. It is not in anything that has been written or declared as between the parties, because the Republic of China has said—it is within its rights in saying it—"We give no guaranteee that those who belong to the ethnic minority will in fact be granted Chinese nationality even though they may continue with their children to live in Hong Kong".
To reside in a land where one is a foreigner but where one wants to be part of it may be a difficulty. I underline the words "may be a difficulty" because all that I have heard about the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong—Indians, Pakistanis, or Portuguese—is that they want to continue to live in Hong Kong and to continue their very considerable contribution to the welfare of Hong Kong.
Do not let us be bemused, my Lords, by the idea that we are throwing open the doors to hundreds of thousands of those who may claim a similar right if we give the right of abode. There is a simple sentence that I can utter which sums up the whole of the answer to that point. There is no other part of the British Commonwealth once the British Empire which is in the situation of Hong Kong. To every other part we have with honour given independence. Each has thereupon become a nation and a state. There is no State of Hong Kong. It is to be under the sovereignty of China.
There are two other examples. I shall not dwell on them because your Lordships have heard in speeches 1429 more eloquent than mine could ever be the comparison that is so aptly made. We knew that there was a risk—I put it no higher than that—that Gibraltar might come under another sovereignty. I remember the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, when we pleaded in this House for British nationality—in the fullness of that word, with every right including the right of abode—to be given to the people of Gibraltar. I hope that the noble Lord is consistent in his views and is supporting the Motion today.
In exactly the same way, with the Falklands, there was a risk that possibly one day that might come under someone else's sovereignty. We recognised the risk. We gave them the security of British nationality with all the fullness that is supposed to be implied in those words, including a right of abode.
When the Home Office, or indeed the Foreign Office, states to this House, as I am sure it does sincerely on all occasions, that there are grave difficulties in the way of granting the wishes of the majority of the Members of your Lordships' House, may I tell your Lordships what has happened? All sides of this House fought for the right of ex-servicemen in Hong Kong, who had defended Hong Kong, either in part to be registered as British subjects, or to be granted British nationality with a right of abode. It was granted, graciously—and I use that term in all sincerity—in one paragraph of a speech that was made by the Secretary of State in another place on Tuesday last. It read:We have also agreed to meet the concern for ex-servicemen. There are about 270, and of those, 60 or so are eligible to apply for registration as British citizens under Section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981."—[Official Report, Commons; 13/5/86; col. 656.]It was only January last when, from these Benches, I made that very plea. Many of your Lordships supported me on that occasion. I shall read to your Lordships the answer which the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, gave to that request. I refer to col. 101 of the Official Report for 20th January, where the noble Lord said:To expand a little, it is not possible to make provisions in the order to confer British Citizenship on all former servicemen in Hong Kong because it is not permissible under the Hong Kong Act 1985. It would require an amendment to the British Nationality Act 1981. Such amendment could not be made by the order because that cannot make any provision not permitted under the Hong Kong Act, and it would therefore require primary legislation".He went on to say at col. 102:As to registration of all former servicemen under Section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act, which I believe was one of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, that would not be possible because Section 4(5) can apply only to persons who have been in Crown service under the Government of a dependent territory".A miracle has occurred in the corridors of the Home Office and the Foreign Office? Within a matter of months, with no primary legislation before your Lordships' House and no invasion of the rights of Section 4(5), registration is to take place and British nationality, in the fullness of that term, is to be given to ex-servicemen in Hong Kong. I merely reiterate what I said previously: we must not be too deterred by being told all the problems that lie in the path of a solution.
1430 Without repeating the speeches which have been made in this debate—a debate of which your Lordships can be very proud—I believe that the people of Hong Kong, including the ethnic minorities, will all feel that your Lordships have given a great deal of weight to the case that has been presented and that your Lordships have viewed their problems with great seriousness.
I shall close by putting the case perfectly simply and then I shall look to the noble Lord the Minister with affection, as always, but also with a little expectation. This is the case. I ask your Lordships very humbly to consider yourselves at this moment as being in the position of those who are the appellants before your Lordships this afternoon. You have sworn an oath of allegiance to the Crown. You have given up, in the case of the majority of these people, your Indian nationality, or, it may be, your Portuguese nationality or your right to return to India or to Pakistan. You have regarded yourselves as properly coming under the British flag. You are British citizens. You hold passports. You do not think of your passports as only travel documents; you regard them as the passports issued by the country of which you are a subject and a citizen.
After being loyal, faithful citizens and proud of your British nationality, your territory very properly goes back to a freeholder because the leasehold is coming to an end. All of a sudden you are told, "You can stay in Hong Kong. We have given you that privilege and that right by agreement with China, the freeholder. But please, you have no rights if things do not turn out right in years to come after 1997". That is 11 years away and, as has been said so often in this debate, who knows what government will be here in 11 years time, and who knows who will be ruling China at that time? I say that with every conceivable deference to a great country which it would appear has at the moment a far-seeing and very reasonable government. But who knows? All they say is, "If things go wrong, please, Britain, we are British; don't make our passports just travel documents. We want, please, the right with our families to come back to your shores. We don't think we shall ever exercise that right, but please give it".
I now turn to the noble Lord the Minister. There is no point in trying to satisfy the anxiety that every single one of us would have in the same circumstances—no point at all in words that are vague. We must be able to talk in terms of an obligation—whichever way that be termed, it must be an obligation—properly taken by the Government of the day and properly accepted on behalf of governments to be. Short of that, my Lords, the appellants have not had a fair hearing in your Lordships' House.
§ 2.21 p.m.
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, as one would expect, we have had another full, carefully argued and well-informed debate about this important matter. It has rightly concentrated on the one issue about which there has been a difference of view: the position of those British Dependent Territory citizens in Hong Kong who are not ethnically Chinese and who have no other form of nationality. I hope that I have interpreted your Lordships' wishes aright that in 1431 responding to this debate I should concentrate principally on that central issue. I hope, however, that I may be allowed first to respond as briefly as I can to several particular points that have been made, and I hope that will be helpful. Most of them have a direct bearing on the central issue or are connected with it.
It is important to get right, and to explain, what is in fact involved with statelessness. I rather took from the noble Lord, Lord Kadoorie, in his excellent speech, that perhaps it was not fully understood. It is quite wrong to suggest that British Overseas citizenship and the status of British National (Overseas) are not effective forms of nationality. British Overseas citizenship is a recognisable British nationality status. Its holders may travel on British passports, and are entitled to British consular protection in third countries. There are about 2 million British Overseas citizens throughout the world, as I have said, of whom something over 200,000 have no other nationality. They are by definition former citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies who did not have the right of abode in the United Kingdom.
The British Nationality Act 1981 in no way altered this position. In its discussions of the British Nationality Act 1981 Parliament approved British Overseas citizenship as an appropriate nationality status for these people whose sole connection was with a former dependency. Parliament similarly approved the provision of British Overseas citizenship as a means of preventing statelessness. British National (Overseas) status was also approved by Parliament in discussion of the Hong Kong Act 1985.
By challenging the provisions of the draft order on the grounds that ndither British National (Overseas) nor British Overseas citizenship is an effective form of nationality, those who do so are really seeking to attempt to re-open questions which Parliament has already considered, and considered fully and decided. But I am grateful for the words of the noble Lord, Lord Kadoorie—and his enormous experience of Hong Kong has been acknowledged by others—about the significance of the agreement for Hong Kong.
We firmly believe that it takes fully into account the interests of Hong Kong and China and Britain. It permits the continuation of the dynamic economic and financial system in the territory, in which the noble Lord has played such a valuable and distinguished part, and it provides a framework within which the Hong Kong people of all communities can look to the future with confidence.
I should like to refer to the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. The Government fully appreciate their duty toward people who, by definition, are British nationals. They will be entitled to travel on British passports, as I have said, and they will be entitled to British consular protection. I hope that that is an elaboration which will help your Lordships when considering the remarks of the noble and learned Lord.
The noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn and Lord Todd, both raised the question of numbers. At present, as I have said, there are about 11,500 non-ethnic Chinese BDTCs in Hong Kong who have no other form of nationality. We cannot say what the numbers might be 1432 by 1997. But we do not consider it would be right to enter into a commitment which is at best uncertain and which we know not to be negligible.
Perhaps I may expand a little. There are about 65,000 current residents of Hong Kong who are eligible to apply for British Dependent Territories citizenship and who might thereby benefit from any provision we make to guard against statelessness. The potential for an increase between now and 1997 is considerable. Discounting those who are already British citizens, the total number could be in the region of 70,000. We are certainly not suggesting that all those people would necessarily become British citizens or that any who do would want to come to this country. But as the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, with his enormous diplomatic experience, said, the potential commitment is there and the only responsible way to accept a commitment is on the understanding that it may one day have to be met.
The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, suggested that it might be possible to try to limit the commitment in some way by confining it to the 11,500 who are at present liable to be affected. But it would not be particularly straightforward and I wonder whether it would be fair to try to draw a line between people who at present have no other nationality than BDTC and people who may in the future become BDTCs or may yet find themselves with that as their only form of nationality. They may all have lived equally long in Hong Kong and made equally solid contributions. We should need to consider what to do about their children. I doubt whether on reflection your Lordships would welcome a further level of citizenship and a further degree of complication in our nationality arrangements with Hong Kong.
I should like now to turn to the matter of right of abode raised particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and referred to also by my noble friend Lady Macleod. I rather thought from what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said that he was under some misapprehension. In asking how does the agreement grant a guaranteed right of abode in Hong Kong for non-ethnic Chinese BDTCs it is important to say that Section 14 of Annexe 1 to the joint declaration guarantees right of abode in Hong Kong after June 1997 for non-ethnic Chinese who have been ordinarily resident in Hong Kong for seven years or more and have taken it as their place of permanent residence either before or after the establishment of the Hong Kong special administrative region on 1st July 1997; persons under 21 years of age who were born of such persons in Hong Kong (again before or after 1st July 1997); and any other persons who have the right of abode only in Hong Kong before 1st July 1997. As I have said, this covers all non-ethnic Chinese BDTCs in Hong Kong unless they had left Hong Kong permanently and have the right of abode elsewhere.
My noble friend Lady Macleod asked whether the non-ethnic Chinese rights of abode in Hong Kong would be incorporated in the law of the special administrative region. The answer is, yes. The provisions of the agreement with China are already binding in international law, as I made clear earlier. They will be written into a basic law governing the Hong Kong special administrative region. I hope that to that extent she is reassured. As I said in my opening 1433 remarks, the BDTCs who are not ethnic Chinese have made plain—this has been stressed by others of your Lordships who have spoken today—that they want to continue to live and work in Hong Kong and to have a citizenship status that will allow them to continue to travel to other countries.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and to some extent my noble friend Lord Geddes as well, were concerned about what I said in my opening remarks about the pressures that delay may cause in Hong Kong. What I said was that if British citizenship were to be available to certain people in Hong Kong it would set up pressures and stresses there and elsewhere. I described the uncertainties which British Overseas citizens elsewhere may feel. I do not believe it would help orderly preparations in Hong Kong if it were known that the Government were ready to offer a significant community there British citizenship with a right of abode in this country. Nor do I believe that delay is in Hong Kong's interests. There has already been enough uncertainty about the nationality provisions, and there are strong administrative reasons for allowing preparations to go ahead now. That is what the people of Hong Kong want, and we ought now to bring this uncertainty to an end.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, can the noble Lord state what is the minimum reasonable delay for bringing forward a new order doing what Lord Cledwyn's Motion suggests? Will it be three months or four months?
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, if I may say so, I think that at the moment that is a hypothetical question. I think that it is important to make plain, in view of another point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, what is the Chinese view of the ethnic minority BDTCs. This was a point also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and to some extent by the noble Lord, Lord Kadoorie.
We have every confidence that the Chinese will fully implement the agreement on the future of Hong Kong. Excellent progress so far, as I have said, in the Joint Liaison Group demonstrates both sides' commitment and the determination to make the agreement work. There is no reason to suppose that the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong have anything other than the prospect of a secure future. The agreement contains provisions safeguarding the right of abode in the territory for non-Chinese who have lived there for seven years and taken it as their place of permanent residence. The agreement also specifically provides that non-Chinese may hold senior positions in the public service. This explicitly includes the police—a point raised, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. The agreement provides that these provisions will be written into a basic law for the Hong Kong SAR. The Chinese spokesmen have made clear that ethnic minorities will be welcome there in future.
The ethnic minorities have greatly contributed to the prosperity of Hong Kong, as the Chinese, of course, are well aware. Surely, the Chinese will not want to jeopardise Hong Kong's prosperity by taking any action which might cause that small but important minority to question their future in Hong Kong. Moreover, both Governments are committed to reducing statelessness to the UN convention on the 1434 reduction of statelessness. The Chinese have already said that non-Chinese who meet legal requirements can apply for Chinese nationality and that such cases would be dealt with by the appropriate authorities.
We cannot expect the Chinese to give a blanket undertaking so far in advance. Each case is different. We shall be exploring this further with the Chinese Government. I think I ought to say to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who raised the point, that when he and others have quoted statements by the Chinese spokesmen in Hong Kong suggesting that the nationality of the ethnic minorities is a matter for Britain, the authoritative Chinese position must be the one formally communicated to us. That is as I have stated it. Ethnic minorities can apply for Chinese nationality according to the usual procedures. There is no reason to suppose that it will not be granted to these long-settled communities.
My noble friend Lady Vickers and the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, both raised comparisons between Hong Kong, the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar. To deal with the Falkland Islanders first, it is not appropriate to draw a comparison. Over three-quarters of the Falkland Islands population of 1,800 automatically became British citizens as well as British Dependent Territory citizens on 1st January 1983 because they had the right of abode in the United Kingdom. The remaining 400 or so became British Dependent Territory citizens only in accordance with the general principles of the British Nationality Act 1981. Nevertheless, the Government did not seek to resist the Bill of my noble friend Lady Vickers, but we made it very plain that we considered the Falkland Islands situation to be unique and that the grant of British citizenship to them was not to be taken as a precedent for other dependent territories. This view was generally accepted by most of your Lordships at the time. I hope that that provides something of an answer, even if he does not particularly like it, to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie.
Similarly, with Gibraltar it is not appropriate to draw a direct comparison. Under the British Nationality Act 1981 Gibraltarians became British Dependent Territory citizens on 1st January 1983. However, a number of your Lordships have argued, as I said, that there was a clear distinction to be drawn between Gibraltarians and other British Dependent Territory citizens and, in particular, Hong Kong. The Gibraltarians were already United Kingdom nationals for European Community purposes, and had rights of movement, travel and work in the European Community area which other dependent territory citizens did not have. The provision proposed for the Gibraltarians was not therefore seen as a precedent for other dependent territories because, unlike the Gibraltarians, they did not already have any rights to enter and work in this country. Again, Parliament accepted the special nature of Gibraltar's case as a member of the European Community, and agreed to the amendment.
My noble friend Lady Vickers also raised this afternoon the matter of the acceptability of BN(O) passports to third countries. I am sure that many of your Lordships will understand the force of the concern she expressed. The freedom to travel is a matter of considerable importance to the people of 1435 Hong Kong, of course. The Government will do all they can to ensure that once the order is in place BN(O) passport holders enjoy the same access to other countries as is enjoyed at present by BDTC passport holders.
The importance we attach to this is one reason why we are introducing the new status at such an early date, in order to give immigration officers in third countries 10 years to get used to its endorsement in passports. We shall explain the new status and the new passport endorsements to third countries once the order is in place and before passports showing the new status are introduced in July 1987. Given a clear indication of the right of abode to be included in the passport, guaranteeing the returnability of BN(O)s to Hong Kong, and the endorsement regarding BN(O)s visiting this country, there is no reason for third countries to introduce different restrictions on entry of BN(O) passport holders from those which apply to BDTC passport holders.
Our diplomatic campaign on this matter is not yet under way. The order must first be made. However, there have already been—I hope this will reassure my noble friend—a number of very encouraging indications given to us informally by representatives of countries to which many Hong Kong people travel. I quite accept the importance which is attached, both here and in Hong Kong, to being kept informed of our progress in this campaign of explanation, and the Government will therefore provide reports from time to time on the countries which have been approached, with their responses.
My noble friend asked me another question about whether or not there were any servicewomen among the 270 or so. I am afraid I do not know the answer to that, but I can assure my noble friend that, if there are, they will of course be included in the provisions for servicemen.
The noble Lords, Lord Todd and Lord Mishcon, raised the question of the ethnic Indian BDTCs in another way, and the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, was intervening in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Todd. I can confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said in his intervention. As we understand it, Indian citizenship does not permit dual nationality so BDTCs could not under Indian law hold both citizenships.
I appreciate the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Todd, as regards the Indian BDTC community in Hong Kong, but to make British citizenship available only to those in Hong Kong before Indian independence and their dependants would, I submit, be divisive in Hong Kong and unfair to many others who have lived there a very long time and made a similarly important contribution. I am sure the noble Lord will understand the force of that. The ethnic Indian BDTC community in Hong Kong represents less than half of the 11,500 people we are considering.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, also referred to the Indian Government. At present, as he recognised, there has been no indication from the Indian Government suggesting readiness to accept for settlement those of the minority British Dependent Territory citizens who may have links with India. Under Indian nationality law, they cannot of course 1436 simultaneously hold Indian nationality. But I take his point that the attitude of the Indian Government might change in future. We would, of course, be ready in future to discuss any relevant issues with the Indian Government if this might appear useful. What we now propose for the ethnic minorities, of whom those of Indian extraction are a minority, would in no way preclude such discussions.
My noble friend Lord Geddes raised an extremely technical matter about the drafting of Article 4.3 and I am grateful to him for giving me notice that he was going to raise it. My noble friend suggested that the drafting of Article 4.3 was defective. I am happy to assure him, not for the first time, that this is not so. It is concerned only with providing that a BN(O) shall lose that status if he loses BDTC. Under the terms of the memorandum in the Hong Kong Act, BN(O)s will also be BDTCs up to 30th June 1997, but in line with normal passport issuing policy a BN(O) passport holder would not also hold a BDTC passport at the same time, even though he is a BDTC. This is nothing new. There are many people who are, for example, both British citizens and BDTCs but they may not hold two separate passports at the same time, one in each status. No doubt my noble friend will read what I have said and I hope that I have been able to convince him.
The noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides, suggested offering British citizenship to any Hong Kong BDTC who was from the ethnic minority communities and working in Crown service. We could not use this order to give such people an entitlement to British citizenship. That would require primary legislation, although I hate to use the word in view of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. It is, of course, open to any Crown servant to apply for British citizenship under Section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981, but I do not believe it would be justifiable to offer any form of special consideration to such applications on the grounds of ethnic background alone. To do so would not be fair to other Crown servants, nor to other members of the ethnic minorities, and I do not think it would be sensible or satisfactory to try to identify particular groups in Hong Kong in this way.
One assurance that I can give the House—and the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, asked about it—is to confirm that, as implementation of the joint declaration goes ahead, we shall pay particular attention to the position of the ethnic minorities and to the provisions of the joint declaration which protect their interests. I hope that the noble Lord will understand the force of that assurance.
I should like to turn now to the central concern in this debate. I repeat that the Government fully accept and acknowledge our responsibility towards all British Dependent Territories citizens in Hong Kong. The purpose of the order is to make provisions that are fair and consistent between them all and which reflect our wider responsibilities to British nationals throughout the world. We believe that the order achieves that.
The order gives an absolute right to all Hong Kong British Dependent Territories citizens to acquire a new form of British nationality, that of British National (Overseas), and to retain it for life. It ensures also that none of them will face statelessness, and nor will their 1437 children or grandchildren. And the agreement guarantees that all Hong Kong British Dependent Territories citizens who are living there permanently will have the right to continue to do so.
My noble friend Lord Geddes raised the question of blanket assurances. The Government cannot give blanket assurances that take no account of personal circumstances—of course not. Cases such as this always have to be considered on an individual basis, and we must expect that the government of the day will take account of the particular circumstances at the time when the person applies.
I have listened very carefully to your Lordships' comments in voicing concern for the future in Hong Kong for those who are not ethnically Chinese. The Government recognise that concern, and in response to what has been said, I hope that it will allay that concern if I go further than the assurances so far given to the community by this Government by saying that we should consider it an obligation upon any future government to treat with very considerable and particular sympathy the case for admission to the United Kingdom of any individual British national who, against all our present expectations, came under pressure to leave Hong Kong. I hope that your Lordships will recognise that, in reflecting the wishes of this House by making that further statement, the Government have provided a very clear assurance to members of the minority communities in Hong Kong.
The Government believe that the nationality provisions we propose, coupled with the guarantees of right of abode in Hong Kong and with the further assurances that I have just given, properly and fully meet the needs of all British Dependent Territories citizens of Hong Kong, whatever their ethnic origin. We are fully satisfied that they provide a secure basis from which the people of Hong Kong can look confidently to the future. The proposals are fair, just and fitting.
In reaching this stage, the Government have moved a long way in meeting the wishes of Hong Kong, and I believe that the proposals now deserve your Lordships' approval. As the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose said, with his enormous experience of Hong Kong, it is important that we now end the uncertainty in Hong Kong and move forward without further delay to put in place the necessary nationality arrangements.
I respect the sincerity of the views held and expressed so clearly in this debate. I hope therefore that, on reflection and in the light of this full debate and of my response to it, the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, will not feel it necessary to press his Motion and that I shall shortly be able to commend the order to your Lordships.
§ 2.48 p.m.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, the splendid speech of my noble friend Lord Mishcon makes it unnecessary for me to detain the House for very much longer. We have had a most constructive and valuable debate, and I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part. Most noble Lords who have spoken know Hong Kong intimately, and their views have certainly made an impression.
1438 I have just listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur. His winding-up speech was, if anything, better than his opening speech. He gave the House information that was not previously available, and also some important statistics. The Minister has gone substantially further than any Minister has done on any previous occasion, including his right honourable friend in another place.
His words, which I have just taken down, seem to be worthy of the most careful consideration. I wish that I had more time to consider them, but I must make a judgment at very short notice. If I have his words accurately, they were, "We would consider it an obligation". I noted particularly the word "obligation". It is the first time that any government Minister has, in this context, used the word "obligation". He said, "We would consider it an obligation upon any future government"—and these are the words—"to treat with very considerable and particular sympathy" the case for admission to the United Kingdom of any individual British national who, against all present expectations, is under pressure to leave Hong Kong.
I personally regard those as very important words, added to the words used by the Minister's right honourable friend in the Written Answer to the Question in another place, which has already been referred to in the debate. I believe that that is a strong undertaking. I must, of course, affirm that my party, in government, would honour that obligaton, but I must also say to the House that from my conversations with my right honourable friends in another place I have the authority to say that we would consider going further and taking other steps as well. It is right that I should say that.
Obviously the House, the Government and all the parties represented here will be looking at the matter in the light of the basic law when that is published in 1988. In my view that will be a crucial day for Hong Kong and for all of us who are interested in Hong Kong. In the meantime, I must say that I take very seriously this strong commitment from the noble Lord. I regard the word "obligation" used by the Minister as a most crucial word in the context of what we are now discussing. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.