HL Deb 12 December 1989 vol 513 cc1246-57

5.02 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement which was made by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary on Vietnamese boat people. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the repatriation of Vietnamese boat people from Hong Kong.

"This morning, Hong Kong time, a group of 51 boat people were returned to Vietnam by aircraft from Hong Kong. All 51 had been screened under a thorough process agreed with the UNHCR and did not qualify for refugee status under the terms of the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and 1967 protocol. The repatriation was conducted in line with procedures used worldwide to remove people refused permission to remain in a territory. No firearms were carried; no force was used.

"At the International Conference on Indo-Chinese Refugees in Geneva in June, the international community agreed that refugees would be resettled in other countries, and that those who did not qualify as refugees would not be resettled and should return to Vietnam. I stress that the criteria for establishing who qualifies as a refugee are not decided by Britain, or by the Hong Kong authorities alone, but by agreement with the UNHCR.

"We and the UNHCR have tried as the House knows, to encourage the boat people to return to Vietnam voluntarily. In the past year over 600 have done so. But, during the same period, over 30,000 have arrived in Hong Kong. In all, there are nearly 57,000 boat people in Hong Kong, most of whom are not likely to qualify as refugees. The Vietnamese have recently agreed to accept volunteers back at a faster rate, but it is clear that voluntary returns alone will not match the scale of the problem. The great majority of volunteers so far have come from the people not yet screened; of those already screened and found not to qualify as refugees, fewer than 1 per cent. are volunteering to return.

"We have therefore had to begin repatriating those who are not refugees and who do not volunteer. The international community has said that it will not resettle these people. If they were not returned to Vietnam, they would therefore face the prospect of indefinite detention in camps in Hong Kong. There is another point of great importance. Unless it is clear to people in Vietnam that those who do not qualify as refugees will be returned to Vietnam, Hong Kong faces the prospect of tens of thousands more arrivals in 1990. That is simply not an acceptable prospect.

"The arrangements for repatriation, like those for voluntary returns, have been agreed in negotiation with the Vietnamese Government. Vietnam has told us that those repatriated will not be punished for leaving. We have given aid to be used to help those being repatriated to settle back into Vietnam.

"I have paid particular attention, as the House would expect, to the question of monitoring to ensure that those who return are in no way ill treated. Our embassy in Hanoi will be monitoring their conditions both in the transit camp in Hanoi, to which they are immediately returned like the volunteers, and in the villages to which they are returned, as they have been doing for the volunteers. We hope that UNHCR will agree to help, as they do now for people returning to Laos from Thailand. We would also welcome, as I have made clear to them, the co-operation of NGOs. In the meantime I am grateful to my right honourable friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) and the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, who have agreed to go to Vietnam next month as independent observers to report to me on the conditions of those who were repatriated earlier today.

"There are still in the camps in Hong Kong about 40,000 Vietnamese not qualified as refugees. There is a serious risk, as I have mentioned, of as many more thousands arriving next year. This is a very serious situation. We shall now be discussing with the Vietnamese Government how to ensure the swift and safe return in future of those who are not refugees. We will be talking about ways in which we can help Vietnam to take people back at a faster rate—both volunteers and those repatriated. We will discuss how we can help those who return to be reintegrated into Vietnam. We shall be talking, as we have to, about ways of screening new arrivals quickly, as they reach Hong Kong, so that those who are not refugees can be returned quickly and safely to Vietnam. Those who are refugees will, as at present, be allowed to await resettlement in the West. We shall be working hard to find ways of checking the inflow of Vietnamese into Hong Kong next year, and shall be seeking international co-operation on this at the next meeting of the Geneva Conference Steering Committee in January.

"I know there is intense interest in the House in this issue. I believe the Lord President intends to announce that there will be a day for debates on the Estimates on Tuesday 19th December. This will include a half-day debate on Class II, Vote II, so far as it relates to the accommodation and repatriation of Vietnamese boat people. I can tell the House that no further repatriations will take place before that debate".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.9 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. However, while we recognise the grave and depressing problems which exist, there are disquieting aspects about this morning's operation to which attention should be drawn. All of us are aware and, indeed, we are proud of, this country's outstanding record over the years as regards its readiness to receive refugees. It is against that background that I should like to raise some points of concern with the noble Lord.

The Statement refers to the difficulties of screening. Amnesty International has criticised the screening process involved in the forced repatriation. Can the noble Lord say what representation, if any, the refugees received during this process and also what parties are present at the screening interviews?

Secondly, we note what the Foreign Secretary says in the Statement about monitoring. We of course welcome his concern, because Mr. Hurd is a compassionate man. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has indicated an unwillingness to undertake a monitoring role. When did it refuse? Is there a chance that it might change its mind? In relation to the action that the British Embassy will take, are the monitoring facilities regarded as adequate? Further, will the Minister describe the procedures to which he referred on 6th December with regard to refugees refused re-entry by the Vietnamese Government on the basis that they were forcibly repatriated?

I should also be grateful if the Minister would outline the details of the agreement reached with the Vietnamese Government. Does it include the possibility of the resumption of bilateral aid for Vietnam, which was cut off in 1979, as the House will recall, on the grounds that Vietnam's record on human rights was deplorable?

Further, is the Minister now satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that human rights in Vietnam today are respected and have been brought up to a standard which justifies forcible repatriation? In those circumstances, will her Majesty's Government consider restoring bilateral aid to Vietnam, since reducing poverty, which has precipitated the flow of refugees, would greatly reduce the number seeking to enter Hong Kong illegally? Does he agree that more realistic Western aid to Vietnam could provide a long-term solution to the plight of the Vietnamese boat people? Lastly, the United States has a considerable responsibility in this matter. Are the Government and the United States Administration discussing the problem? Is the United States prepared to alleviate its attitude to Vietnam and give some bilateral aid?

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for making the Statement, sad though that Statement is, and regrettable though the circumstances are in which this country forcibly repatriates 51 people (26 children, 16 women and the remainder, men) against their will to a country which they left voluntarily. I associate myself with two points that the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, made. First, have the Government considered—because it is urgently necessary—restoring aid to Vietnam so that it can improve economic conditions to prevent those who leave from leaving for economic reasons and to provide those who are forced to return with circumstances in which they can earn a reasonable living?

In addition, I should like to raise with the Minister, as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, did, and as I have in the past, the matter of screening, which must be a matter of concern to all of us. As I understand it, the people are not present or represented when their cases are considered, nor do they receive a written communication to say what is the result of the screening. Whatever the United Nations may say, that does not seem to me to be a reasonable, fair or just way to deal with people whose lives and livelihoods are at stake.

Our treatment of those unfortunate people is one aspect of a policy that we have been pursuing in the Far East which is marked by inhumanity and cruel consequences. I refer to our policy in Cambodia and towards British citizens in Hong Kong. This heartless process of repatriation, forced on reluctant adults who are removed secretly at 3 a.m., and the means of conducting it, is one of which I must confess that I, and I believe many other people, can only be ashamed.

The Government will unquestionably say that no one else will help. I do not believe that we have tried as we should to mobilise international opinion about British citizens in Hong Kong or about these people in Vietnam. If we are to do so, we must first put our cards on the table and say how many of these people we are prepared to receive. Then, and in those circumstances, we can ask for the co-operation of others.

I should like to add to the questions put to the Minister by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. First, the Statement says that no force was used. I still do not fully understand what that means. Does it mean sending in not police at 3 a.m.? What is the intensive counselling which we are told that these people received? We have undertaken that our embassy will monitor the conditions of 40,000 people. What staff will be available to undertake that monitoring? What is the estimated cost of monitoring, transport, resettlement, the police and all the rest that is involved? Presumably some estimate has been made.

Finally, why the secrecy? Why were journalists not informed and why were they prevented from covering the matter? Why was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees not informed? He said: They did not do it behind my back; they did it when I was asleep. The first I heard of this was from the press. I met the Government's Chief Secretary on Friday for talks on this issue. I was given no indication this was going to happen. Is that the way in which the British Government conduct their affairs?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to reply to the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn and Lord Bonham-Carter. I am grateful to them for their reception of the Statement that I have repeated. I am grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, who recognised the difficulties that were faced on this issue. The noble Lords asked me a number of questions, and I shall try to deal with as many as possible.

On screening, the purpose of screening is to identify genuine refugees as defined by the 1951 UN Convention and the 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees; that is, a well-founded fear of persecution. The process was evolved with the co-operation of the UNHCR, and is monitored by it. There is a full appeal procedure conducted by the Refugee Status Appeal Board, an independent tribunal headed by a retired magistrate. Procedures are thorough and fair. No one whom the UNHCR considers to be a refugee will ever be sent back. Some 10 per cent. of people are screened after initial interviews. That figure rises to 12 per cent. after appeal. We shall naturally look at the Amnesty report, but I can assure the House that the procedures adopted are fair and in line with those which the UNHCR approves.

The noble Lords asked about monitoring. Vietnam has agreed that monitoring should take place. The embassy in Hanoi will undertake the monitoring at the transit centre and in the villages, as it does now for the volunteers. We hope that the UNHCR will agree to help as it does in Laos in a similar situation. We should welcome the involvement of other NGOs. The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, asked what would be the cost of that monitoring. I am afraid that I cannot give him an answer this afternoon.

On the use of force, the procedures used were in line with those applied worldwide in removing persons refused permission to remain. No force was used. No guns were used.

The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carther, asked why there was secrecy with regard to the media. That must be fairly obvious. Experience has shown that media attention complicates such removal operations and this one, as we have seen, was bound to be particularly sensitive.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledlwyn, asked what were the terms of the agreement with the Vietnamese. The agreement covers the organisation of the return, humane treatment of the people returning, immunity from prosecution for having left Vietnam clandestinely, monitoring and financing. We are making available up to 620 US dollars per person to the Vietnamese to go towards transport within Vietnam, food, medicines, housing, resettlement domestic equipment, vocational training, job placement, administration costs and production tools. The level of expenditure will depend upon the individual family circumstances of each repatriated person. In addition, each repatriated person receives a small sum of pocket money personally.

On the wider issue of aid to which noble Lords referred, we are prepared to consider further aid, including perhaps aid through the NGOs. But this will have to be negotiated with the Vietnamese as part of the wider arrangements to repatriate boat people. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, who asked me whether the US would resume aid to Vietnam. That is a question which I am afraid I cannot answer here. It must be for the United States Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, criticised our policy over Cambodia. There is very little that I can add to what I said only a few evenings ago on that subject. As concerns the citizens of Hong Kong, they have made it very clear that they have wanted for a long time to see the Vietnamese boat people who are not refugees repatriated. Therefore they will be pleased with what we have done. I wish to pay tribute to the Hong Kong Government and to the people of Hong Kong for the fact that they have never turned away a single refugee who has arrived on their shores and that they have spent considerable sums of money in looking after these people in difficult circumstances.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of us very much resent the line taken by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, in particular his reference to what happened as being a "heartless process"? Is he aware that many of us realise, on the contrary, how difficult is the problem with which the Government have been confronted, with the arrival, uninvited, of these large numbers of people? The great majority of them are not in any sense refugees, they are simply illegal immigrants.

Can my noble friend confirm that no country in the world—including the United States, which has been somewhat censorious of our policies—admits illegal immigrants? Can he confirm that an illegal immigrant who attempts to enter the United States is refused admission and promptly sent back without any screening or any such process? Is the Minister aware that most people realise how important it is that we should seek to control this inrush of people? They are mainly not refugees but persons seeking a better life in a better run economy than that of their own miserably mis-run country.

Can the noble Lord also confirm that the camps in Hong Kong are grossly overcrowded and that there is a real risk of disease? There have already been some cases of cholera and there is the risk of disease spreading if further people are allowed to pour in and overcrowd the limited accommodation in Hong Kong. Is he aware that most people appreciate the great care and trouble which Her Majesty's Government have taken to see that the process of the arrival of these people is checked and that a flow back is started? I think he said, and perhaps he can confirm this, that if nothing were done the flow of these illegal immigrants would greatly increase, once the spring has come, with better weather on the ocean for boats. Therefore action is now urgent.

Finally, regarding aid for Vietnam, will Her Majesty's Government be careful not to let themselves be blackmailed into the position of apparently having to bribe the Vietnamese Government to take their own people back?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his remarks. If we have been accused of being heartless in what we have done, it would be even more heartless to leave these people in the camps in Hong Kong. No country in the world, the United States or any other, has agreed to take any of those who are not classed as refugees. As my noble friend said, the camps are overcrowded and there have already been some cases of disease. I pay tribute, as I did before, to the Government of Hong Kong for what they have done. It has been almost impossible to look after the numbers. The flow will increase next spring unless the message gets back to Vietnam that there is no point in these people coming to Hong Kong and that no country will take them.

Regarding my noble friend's last point on aid to Vietnam, I very strongly agree with what he said. We must not be seen to be bribing the Vietnamese to take back their own people. They have a duty under international conventions to receive their own people back in the country. This is part of the process of the return.

Lord Walston

My Lords, from these Benches perhaps I may thank the noble Lord for giving us this Statement. However, I am afraid that I cannot thank him for its contents. I accept entirely what the Minister says, that the responsibility does not entirely, or even perhaps mainly, lie with us. It is a sad day not only for this country but for those countries, our friends, who call themselves civilised countries, that they have refused to help us, and above all the Vietnamese, in this appalling situation. We all agree that it is a major world tragedy.

Will the noble Lord be good enough to amplify some of the answers which he gave to my noble friend Lord Bonham-Carter in reply to his questions? We read that the screening process was agreed with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. However, why was there no UNHCR presence at the screening?

Regarding the appeals which are apparently allowed, can the Minister tell us how many appeals there have been and how many have been allowed, if any? In the same paragraph of the Statement, happily it says that no force was used. Can he tell us, however, whether the reports in the press were correct in saying that the police who were present were wearing not gear? If so, why was this done? Was it to frighten those who saw them appear or because real violence on the part of these unarmed people was feared?

Turning to monitoring the returned refugees, that is an enormous job, as other noble Lords have pointed out. It is bad enough monitoring even the 51 who come in and will be scattered through a fairly large country. But if the repatriation process continues, as it will do, there will be thousands and tens of thousands. Have the Government any estimate of the number of people they will have to monitor, how many will be required to monitor them and what active steps are being taken to involve the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees? What active steps are the Government taking to recruit NGOs to help with this frightening problem?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, on the first point of the noble Lord, Lord Walston, that no other country had agreed to take these people, I should remind your Lordships that those who are genuine refugees, who have been screened in as refugees, have all been placed or will be placed in friendly countries around the world. That is quite a large number of people. This country has taken some 13,000 from Hong Kong and we have agreed to take a further 2,000, of whom the first have begun to arrive. The United States, incidentally, has taken 50,000. Our record on taking those classed as refugees is a good one. The noble Lord asked why the UNHCR did not take part in the screening process. It has done so. The process was evolved with the co-operation of the UNHCR and has been monitored by that body. It is an ongoing process which will continue to be monitored by the UNHCR.

The 51 Vietnamese returned last night comprised nine families, one single man and three single women. One family came from a province in North Vietnam and all the other families from another province also in North Vietnam. Therefore, the monitoring will not be too complicated in those cases. As I said in the Statement, we have asked the UNHCR to monitor these returned people as it monitors similar returns of people from Thailand to Laos. We have also asked the NGOs whether they would like to help in this issue. However, so far we have not obtained agreement from either of those bodies.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, will the Minister ask the Government to request the Chinese Government in Peking to stop their corrupt officials on the mainland from provisioning and fuelling the immigrants' boats as they voyage from port to port on the mainland? Those officials do that in return for bribes. They also allow immigrants to travel in buses to the coast, from where they can take boats to Hong Kong. Last week I was told by senior police officials in Hong Kong that the people who travelled by such a route constituted 60 per cent. of the problem. They considered that if the Chinese prevented those illegal immigrants from leaving their coast it would result in only 40 per cent. of the present number of refugees arriving.

Will the Minister further refute the claim made by Mr. Kaufman on the BBC this morning that if only the British Government had provided massive aid to Vietnam there would be no problem at all and no illegal immigrants would leave North Vietnam? I hope the Minister will note that the spokesman for the Labour Party on foreign affairs said that on no account would the Labour Party support calls for any of the refugees to settle in this country. He said they should all be kept in Hong Kong, where they are not allowed to have passports to enable them to come to this country.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to say that the alternative to returning to Vietnam for these people is to be kept in the camps in Hong Kong in difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances from a health point of view. As I have said before, no country in the world has agreed to take these people. I take the point made by the noble Lord that the Chinese should be persuaded to stop letting these people pass through China on their way to Hong Kong. It is certainly true to say nowadays, although it may not have been in the past, that the great majority leave North Vietnam and hug the Chinese coast, calling in as necessary, and some even travel overland and travel only the last leg of the journey by boat.

As regards aid to Vietnam, I have already covered that subject. However, I agree with the noble Lord and my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that the Vietnamese could do a great deal to put their own house in order, without the need for aid, and to make their country more attractive for their own citizens to stay in.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, in view of the fact that 26 children were included in the group of forcibly repatriated refugees, will the Minister say why three o'clock in the morning was chosen as the time to carry out the repatriation? Does he agree that this is not a humane way of dealing with the situation? It is not humane to wake children up in the middle of the night and for them to be surrounded by police. That is a very frightening situation for children. Why was three o'clock in the morning chosen for this operation?

Will the Minister also give the reasons the UNHCR has not agreed to carry out the monitoring of the refugees once they have returned to their villages? Will he also say which NGOs he has approached to help with the monitoring, and how long officials in our embassy in Hanoi will continue to monitor the families once they return to their villages?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I have already covered the first point made by the noble Baroness regarding why the operation was carried out so early in the morning. It would have been even more of an unpleasant experience for these people had full media attention been given to them. I have already said that the group consisted of nine complete families. We are not talking about individual children but of nine complete families, one single man and three single females. I think it is right to keep families together rather than split them up. I hope that the House will endorse that approach.

The noble Baroness asked which NGOs had been approached to carry out the monitoring. I was present at a meeting on monitoring with representatives from the British Refugee Council. Obviously, monitoring will have to continue for as long as that process takes.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement. Will he confirm that the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place was unanimous that repatriation was both necessary and urgent? Should we not in our consideration of this difficult matter keep clear in our minds the fact that the vast majority of these people cannot in any way be designated as refugees from communist tyranny but rather are very poor people who seek better living standards in the capitalist economies of the West?

Is it not also clear that the screening procedures that are adopted have been internationally approved and internationally monitored? Finally, is it not most regrettable that widespread attempts have taken place in the media and on the part of other interested groups to incite resistance to repatriation when in doing so they are acting directly against the best interests of the Vietnamese migrants?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, my noble friend is certainly correct in his last point. The point one has to make, as I have done, is that there is nowhere else for these people to go. All the options have been tried. They can either stay in the camps in Hong Kong in conditions which are not particularly good or they can return to their home country. I agreed with my noble friend in his comments on the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place, which concluded: We accept that the logical consequence of a screening programme is the repatriation of those who have been screened out. We believe that, in the absence of significant levels of voluntary repatriation, however regrettable it may be, there is no alternative to the mandatory repatriation of those who are screened out. We note that these people are fleeing not from persecution but from extreme poverty and that over 50 per cent. of them are under the age of 20 years". I cannot disagree with a word of that conclusion.

Lord MacLehose of Beoch

My Lords, I too wish to thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and for his subsequent replies to questions which covered all the points I had in mind. However, I wish to say to the Minister what a relief it must be to the people in Hong Kong that the Government have moved on this issue, which was causing so much concern and which without action would inevitably have invited a further influx in March when the winds shift south and it is easy to move up the Chinese coast to Hong Kong. From what the Minister has said today, it is clear that there has been intense and highly expert negotiation with North Vietnam. I congratulate the Minister and the Government on what they have achieved.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, who has a great deal of experience of Hong Kong. I am grateful for the words he used about the feelings in Hong Kong as a result of the action that we have taken. I shall pass on the tributes that the noble Lord has paid to those who were involved in the negotiations with the Vietnamese Government.

Lord Parry

My Lords—

Lord Denham

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Parry, will forgive me if before he asks his question I suggest to the House that, since we have now been on this subject for 31 minutes and have covered all the issues, after the noble Lord has made his brief comment and my noble friend has answered, we should move on.

Lord Parry

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his courtesy.

The Minister will know that the House appreciates his own concern and the fact that he has been able to give us some reassurance on this desperately difficult problem. He will accept that in the run-up to Christmas there is a particular irony in children finding yet again that there is no room in the inn.

Will the Minister tell me whether it is a fact that there are only two principals in the British Government's office in Hanoi, and that that is a tiny office? The country itself is vast and the logistical problems of dealing even with the immediately repatriated people will put a great strain upon it.

Is the noble Lord aware that a great many people will be encouraged to know that this House is being represented and that a further monitoring team is to be sent? There may well be a great many volunteers prepared to help with the monitoring in situ and also to act as hosts to some of these people in this country.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I certainly appreciate the noble Lord's remarks. I can assure him that if necessary the embassy in Hanoi will be increased in size in order to cope with the job that it has to do there.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, perhaps my noble friend the Chief Whip will forgive me if I ask my noble friend Lord Brabazon whether he does not agree that there were remarkably few options open to us in dealing with this terrible problem? As my noble friend is well aware, I was closely associated with the problem for some considerable time. The problems last summer were acute beyond belief. There were occasions when the arrival rate during the period of favourable winds to which the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, has referred, was such that there was nowhere in Hong Kong to put those people. That was a tragedy in itself.

Even if accommodation was found on any of the islands it was far from satisfactory. On one occasion, in order to accept the people at all the boats had to be beached and the people looked after for a night or two before some rudimentary form of accommodation could be rigged up for them. Then we were faced with the problem of tentage and so on at the airport in the north which was being used as a camp. Therefore the option of doing nothing did not exist. I am sure that my noble friend would endorse that fact.

One of the alternatives which some people have suggested, and which has been suggested in the media in the course of the past year, was to push the boats off. That was not an option either. It would have been as horrific as many of the more extreme suggestions which have been noted. Therefore it comes down to the fact that some form of repatriation is necessary—a combination of voluntary repatriation, as we have seen and to which my noble friend referred, and this further repatriation which, as my noble friend pointed out, was endorsed at Geneva in June.

Does my noble friend not agree that it is all very well for those who allow themselves the luxury of criticism on a matter as difficult as this but it is quite another matter to deal with a problem day by day and face up to the responsibilities which the Hong Kong Government and indeed Her Majesty's Government have had to deal with for so long?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. In the position which he held at that time he attended the conference in Geneva in June. At that time boat people were arriving at a rate of up to a thousand a day. I should like to pay tribute again, as did my noble friend, to the Hong Kong Government and the people of Hong Kong for the efforts they have made to accommodate those people. As my noble friend said, no one was pushed away, although that was a policy which was advocated by some people. As my noble friend said, the option to do nothing simply does not exist. That was endorsed at Geneva in June.

The fact is, as my noble friend said, that none of those who have criticised us has come up with any other solution.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for his Statement and warmly endorse that Statement, would he not agree that the tolerance of the people of Hong Kong has been quite remarkable in this context to date, but they are now very close to the end of their tether? The action which Her Majesty's Government have taken in co-operation with the Government of Hong Kong is, as my noble friend Lord MacLehose has said, the opening of a safety valve in that respect. It is a very important safety valve and must be kept open.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, my noble friend, with his experience of Hong Kong, is quite right to say that the tolerance of the people of Hong Kong has been stretched almost to breaking point. The importance of the repatriation exercise is that the message will get back to the boat people in Hong Kong who are not refugees that there is no future for them there or anywhere but back home. I hope that before the next sailing season the message will also get back to those in Vietnam who may be contemplating leaving that country but who are no more than economic refugees that there is no point in leaving.