HL Deb 23 July 1990 vol 521 cc1193-223

3.4 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [Acquisition of British citizenship]:

Lord Mishcon moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 6, leave out ("shall") and insert ("may").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the House will remember that in Committee I ventured to move this amendment which I based upon an important constitutional issue. At that time I had support from several quarters of your Lordships' House, on the basis that this was a matter which should be carefully considered by the Government. I do not wish to make a long speech repeating what I said in Committee. Perhaps therefore I may be allowed to summarise the argument as follows.

The Bill before us makes it mandatory upon the Secretary of State for Home Affairs to register as British subjects those whose names are sent to him by the Governor of Hong Kong. By this amendment I do not wish to upset the basic purpose of this Bill. I have already respectfully made my comments to the House as to where my noble friends and I stand on the Bill. However, the point I am making to the House is that the prerogative which gives to the Home Secretary a discretion to register or not to register, unless the matter is one which is set upon certain conditions which are laid down and which someone fulfils, is quite wrong. That principle is incorporated in the British Nationality Act. If any Member of the House cares to mention those provisions, I shall deal with the matter in my reply.

The situation is that a governor and a committee are to assess points which are to be given to various people in Hong Kong on the basis of which, subject only to a character check, the Home Secretary is bound to grant British nationality. The argument against the word "may" which maintains the discretion of the Home Secretary—I respectfully submit that that should be the case—is that this Bill is meant to create a strengthening of morale in Hong Kong, and if the word "may" were to remain in the Bill, it might be interpreted as meaning that the Home Secretary may not necessarily carry out what is deemed to be the purpose of the Bill. He may decide, if say 50,000 names of heads of households are given to him, only to register 40,000 of them. With respect, that argument is rather poor as regards this distinct constitutional issue.

I have asked myself this next question and I now ask it of your Lordships. Has British prestige sunk so low in Hong Kong that a Minister's word is not accepted when he repeats both in this House and in another place that it is his firm intention to carry out the object of this Bill and to ensure that 50,000 heads of families, as selected, shall be registered as British citizens although he still has ultimate discretion on this matter?

Am I to understand that your Lordships believe that the word of our Government would not be accepted? If that is so, we have come to a pretty poor pass. Why do I want the discretion to remain? Quite apart from the constitutional issue, what would be the position if, in the course of the examination of character carried out by the Home Secretary, he made some inquiries and found out that the committee had made a mistake? He may find out that the committee must have made a mistake because the person concerned has been valued on pointage in regard to an occupation, for example, that he has never had. If such a position came out in the course of an inquiry, am I to understand that in his review on character the Home Secretary would have no option but still to register the person concerned? I am talking about innocent mistakes. I do not want to think about mistakes made on purpose.

The gift of British nationality is one that all of us regard as a valuable exercise of a right of the Queen herself, through her Minister. That privilege is protected by the word "may"; it is not protected by the word "shall". I beg to move.

Lord Renton

My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, moved the same amendment at the Committee stage, I thought that he had done a useful service and I said that the argument that he put forward then deserved careful consideration. I said that because I was anxious, as he is still, lest the Secretary of State's discretion to grant or refuse citizenship should seem to be taken away or impaired. Since the Committee stage the noble Lord and my noble friend Lord Ferrers have had time to consider the matter in the light of what was said in that debate. So have I.

I described the matter then as a technical point, but it is an important one. I have consulted the British Nationality Act 1981. One finds in half a dozen of the early sections of that Act that the word "shall" is used in circumstances not entirely different from those in which it is used in this Bill. Section 43 of that Act, which is quite different, is very relevant to this debate. The essential part of that section states: Subject to subsection (3), the Secretary of State may, in the case of any of his functions under this Act … make arrangements for that function to be exercised—in any of the Islands by the Lieutenant-Governor … in any dependent territory … by the Governor". The matters referred to are registration and naturalisation, renunciation, resumption and deprivation of British citizenship or British dependent territories citizenship. In that case a circumstance was envisaged which is very similar to what we find here.

Section 43 goes even further because it delegates completely to a Governor what in this case is not delegated completely to the Governor, as I shall hope to show. It says that the Governor may make recommendations after certain procedural matters have been approved by Parliament; in other words, he may make recommendations to the Home Secretary. Therefore the matter comes back to the Home Secretary in any event.

What does the Bill say? It says that the Home Secretary has to consider the matter when it comes back to him. The noble Lord is right in saying that the Secretary of State "shall register" as British citizens people recommended to him by the Governor, but that provision is preceded by the words: subject to the provisions of this section". When we turn to Clause 1(5) we find that: Neither the Secretary of State nor the Governor shall be required to give any reason for any decision made by him in the exercise of a discretion vested in him by or under this Act and no such decision shall be subject to appeal or liable to be questioned in any court". Therefore, the word "shall", which admittedly appears in the Bill, is qualified within Clause 1 of the Bill. It is further qualified by the provisions of Clause 6(2) which provides that citizenship may be refused if the Secretary of State has reason to believe that the person is not of good character. I have been making inquiries and I understand that that expression "not of good character" is not used in the narrow sense in which it is used in our criminal courts, but is used in the broad sense in which it has always been used in the application of the nationality Acts. It may be a security reason; it may be a question of a notorious form of bad behaviour short of conviction in the criminal courts in this country; it may refer to convictions in courts of another country.

I was grateful to the noble Lord for raising the matter previously. I acknowledge his right to do so again. However, having considered the matter carefully, I do not consider that there is any infringement of precedent or any departure from what has been the practice laid down by Parliament regarding the exercise by the Secretary of State of his discretion. For those reasons, on this occasion I cannot support the noble Lord.

I hope that the purely drafting point is not one on which he would wish the House to vote, because although some Bills have more signposting in them than others every Bill has to be considered within its own four corners and read as a whole. The fact that there is not always a link between one clause and another is not regarded by the courts as impairing the meaning of the Bill or its effect.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I do not often have the privilege of being able to support what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has said although his birthday is on the same date as mine. Let that not detract from what I shall say now.

I presume to support what he said so masterfully because for decades I have been involved professionally with Hong Kong matters. Therefore, having considered very carefully what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said—and I presume to intervene only from a personal point of view—I can see no substance in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for supporting the amendment.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, it will be plain to those who were present during the Committee stage a week ago that I support the amendment on slightly different grounds from those of my noble friend on the Front Bench. I do not say that I disagree with his constitutional grounds, for I agree with them, although we were all impressed by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, who is unsurpassed as a textual critic of legislation in this House.

I want to ensure, and I believe that the amendment ensures, that the Secretary of State will have some flexibility in dealing with the proposals made by the Governor of Hong Kong in so far as he proposes certain persons for citizenship under the Bill. As those who heard the debate last Monday will recall, I am particularly interested in one specific group, namely, Hong Kong engineers, who I believe are woefully under-represented in the schedule which is in the Library and which we have discussed in passing during the passage of the Bill.

Last week we agreed that an emergency existed—I think that those were the words of the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls. But, as I reminded the Chamber, this is an emergency not only for Hong Kong but for certain sections of the British economy; in particular, consulting engineers. The drift away from Hong Kong through emigration strikes hard at a very important part of our economy. I want the word "may" to give the Secretary of State sufficient flexibility not at this stage to increase total numbers (though I should like to see that happen, as we shall discuss later today) but to adjust the proportions of each classification within the schedule. I should also like him to do something else.

Clause 6 of the Bill allows the Secretary of State to delete people from the lists because of certain aspects—shortcomings, I take it—of their character. It strikes me that when people are deleted from the list vacancies will be left. If the Secretary of State excludes people from the list, I should like him to have the flexibility to include other people on it so as to fill up the total number. I asked the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, a question last Monday and received the following reply: Those who are entitled to British citizenship are those referred to as suitable by the Governor of Hong Kong".— [Official Report, 16/7/90; col. 676.] As one expects from the noble Earl, it was a precise, courteous and exact reply but I did not find it wholly satisfactory. I wonder whether he could go further today to answer my question. If the Secretary of State is able to exclude people, for whatever reason, can he include other people for appropriate good reason?

I support the amendment both on the constitutional grounds advanced by my noble friend Lord Mishcon and also on grounds that I put forward—merely to allow the Secretary of State a more substantial flexibility than he has now.

Lord Kadoorie

My Lords, today Hong Kong lives in a climate of uncertainty but in general optimists outnumber pessimists by about 35 per cent. Full employment ensures continual development. Unfortunately, a substantial portion of senior Chinese professionals are leaving Hong Kong with consequent deterioration of the management skills upon which government, business and industry rely.

They fear that after 1997 they will no longer be able to enjoy the same freedom of choice as they now enjoy in a British Hong Kong. They fear that the basic common sense upon which rests the prosperity of Hong Kong will give way to political aspirations and that they will no longer be able to count on an impart[...]al administration. Last but not least, they fear the lack of a valid passport and all that that implies.

During this period of transition the ability of government to provide leadership is severely handicapped by unwarranted and unjust criticism. Now more than ever it is essential for the United Kingdom Government to support and show their full confidence in their duly appointed representatives.

Some are inclined to relegate the westerner to the status of a second-class citizen. It is now important for us foreigners to stress that we expect and are entitled to the same consideration and respect as the Chinese demand from the Western community. When giving face to others it is necessary to insist on reciprocal treatment. The West has contributed much to China's prosperity and the past must not be forgotten. The West also has much to contribute in the future to China's development in many fields.

With that in mind, to create a climate of mutual trust with the Chinese Government in Beijing must be a primary objective. Both Britain and Hong Kong have a vital role to play in achieving that aim. It is in the interests of both the United Kingdom and the Hong Kong Government to monitor stability, which can only be based on the confidence that this Bill is designed to achieve. Any commitment must be clear and without ambiguity. Delay creates distrust and must be avoided. Therefore I suggest that we defeat the amendment.

Lord MacLehose of Beoch

My Lords, it was very valuable to hear my old friend, the noble Lord, Lord Kadoorie, speak on this subject. No one has contributed more than he has to Hong Kong. It was very valuable to hear his broad appreciation of the situation.

The mover of the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said that it was not his intention to upset the basis of the Bill and that it would have come to a pretty pass if anybody thought that that would be its effect. I cannot follow him into the constitutional aspect. I can speak only on what I believe would be the effect in Hong Kong if this amendment were carried.

I am afraid that the people in Hong Kong would not see the situation in the way that he presented it. I do not believe that they would see it like that at all. As the clause stands they can see certainty—certainty that the Government's intention to give British citizenship to 50,000 heads of family will be carried out quickly and in full. They will see considerable significance in the substitution of the word "may", whatever words accompany it. I fear that it will be argued that the amendment has introduced not only a new layer of possible delay and restriction of number but also a United Kingdom political dimension. It will be asked with some plausibility: on what grounds other than political grounds could the Home Secretary contest the Governor's recommendations of people of good character within the maximum laid down?

As the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said, the Bill arises for the sake of morale in Hong Kong and to encourage people to stay in Hong Kong. It is to gain time—time, it is hoped, for the relationship with China to settle down and time perhaps for some perception of the opportunity as well as the danger of the future.

A better climate depends on many factors, but this Bill is a contribution to it which we in the United Kingdom can make. It is a brave initiative taken by the Government. It has received a considerable welcome in Hong Kong. It would be most unfortunate to appear now to want to detract from its force and invite speculation or even cynicism about it. I fear that that might be the case if the amendment were carried. I ask your Lordships to reject it.

3.30 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrets)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has returned to a subject that we debated at Committee. He has moved an important amendment. It is often the small word that has the most dramatic effect. To change the word "shall" to "may" may seem small but it has a remarkable effect. The noble Lord was peculiarly isolated on this. My noble friend Lord Renton was against him. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, was against him. The noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, was against him. Even the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, was against him; he was for the amendment but, as I understood it, did not agree with the reasoning of the noble Lord. The noble Lord was isolated; but such a sad position does not worry him too much. It would worry me, I am bound to say.

I undertook to consider the arguments which had been advanced for the amendment last week. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, pressed me peculiarly hard that I should do so with an open mind. He will be glad to hear that I did so with what I thought was an extraordinarily open mind. However, as I predicted, I believe that my original position is correct.

Perhaps I may mention one point to which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, referred; namely, joining one part of the Bill to another. He referred to cross references. When references to other parts of the Bill are inserted in the Act they act only as signposts, as my noble friend said and indeed as the lawyers would say. They add nothing to the Bill and their absence takes nothing out of the Bill. As my noble friend Lord Renton said, the Bill has to be read as a whole. Clauses 1 and 6 have equal authority. Clause 6 is not very far distant from Clause I and it therefore should not be difficult to read the two as a whole.

The Government remain opposed to the amendment for two reasons. First, it would give the Home Secretary an unfettered discretion to reject any recommendation which may be made to him by the Governor. He would have to discharge that discretion correctly. But the amendment would compel him to review the applications which the Governor had selected and to form his own judgment about them. It would mean that each case had to be reviewed twice: first, by the Governor; and then by the Home Secretary. That would not improve the quality of the decision since the Home Secretary would have no independent view on which applicants were of greatest value to Hong Kong. What it would do is delay the issue of assurances. The delay could well be a substantial one, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, agreed last week. That would be entirely contrary to the objectives of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Kadoorie, said that what is needed now is confidence. I entirely agree with him, as I believe do all noble Lords. The amendment would have the effect of removing that confidence. It is true that my right honourable friend would wish to consider before registering whether he has any reason to believe that a person is not of good character. But in the great majority of cases that is unlikely to be a very time-consuming task.

The noble Lord, Lord Howie, asked whether it would be possible to fill the vacancies. If people are removed from the list on character grounds, the vacancies created can be filled. The Governor would be able to recommend the next most qualified candidate from the relevant occupation group. But it would not be possible, in our view, or right, for my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to be able to switch places between sections of the schemes or between occupational groups without the approval of Parliament.

The amendment would give the Home Secretary an unqualified discretion to withhold registration. He would have to carry out his own assessment of the merits of each and every application recommended by the Governor. That is a much bigger task and would inevitably slow down the issue of assurances in a scheme in which speed will be of the essence.

I shall now refer to the second reason. It is the one which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said is a poor argument. I refer to it not because I think that it is a poor argument but because I believe it is a good one. The amendment would enable the Home Secretary to decide to issue fewer than 50,000 assurances. He could decide to put a halt to registrations before the ceiling had been reached. Some of the Bill's opponents in another place have called for precisely such a mechanism. If that possibility were to come about by accepting the amendment—that the Government intended to create a lower limit of 40,000, 30,000 or even 10,000 which the amendment would permit—confidence in Hong Kong would vanish and all the good of the Bill would be destroyed.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is always meticulously careful concerning what is put into Bills. By his amendment he would be putting in words which would permit the Home Secretary to do exactly what the noble Lord does not wish him to do. He shakes his head, but if he considers the amendment I believe he will find that that is so. The noble Lord then said that, surely to goodness, even if one put that in the Bill, if the Minister said, "I intend to have 50,000 people," the Minister's guarantee is surely enough.

I come back to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Kadoorie, mentioned. People in Hong Kong know that there are those in this country who are strongly opposed to granting 50,000 places. The Bill is all about creating confidence in the territory. That is why in our view it is very important that the Bill should guarantee the scale of the package. The amendment would undo what is in fact a cast-iron guarantee.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, also asked what we would do if the committee had made a mistake. There would be no need to register this because Clause 1(1) makes it clear that the duty to register arises only where the recommendation is made under the scheme. If, because there was a mistake, the person was not covered by the scheme, on the wording of the Bill there would be no duty to register.

Perhaps I may also refer to the Royal Prerogative to which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, also referred. I know that it was a matter for concern at Second Reading. There are no prerogative powers with regard to the grant of citizenship. It has for many years been governed exclusively by statute. The grant of passport is a different matter. It may be that which some noble Lords have in mind. Passports are, and will continue to be, granted to British citizens under prerogative powers. The Bill is not concerned with the grant of passports.

For all those reasons—which I believe are powerful—I hope that the noble Lord will not seek to press his amendment. However, if he were to do so, I should have to advise your Lordships not to accept it.

Lord Renton

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, there is one point that we should clear up, if we may. The question of the grant of nationality, or citizenship, has been governed by statute for many years, I believe since before the First World War. But when it was granted by statute it was in affirmation originally of the Royal Prerogative. I agree that it is academic.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, if I may have the leave of the House to speak again, perhaps I may say that I am glad that my noble friend says it is academic. My understanding of the position is that the Royal Prerogative has certain powers until they are overtaken by statute. When they are overtaken by statute I he Royal Prerogative lapses. That is the case with regard to citizenship or nationality, but not with regard to passports.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I am deeply grateful to all those who have spoken in this debate on what I still consider to be a very important amendment. The noble Earl said that I stood in isolation on this occasion. Of course, at the Committee stage I did not stand in isolation. It was the Minister who stood with great courage, although embattled, against the noble Lords, Lord Harmar-Nicholls and Lord Renton. At the time he was asked to think again because it was an important point. I admire the noble Earl for standing with such bravery in isolation on that occasion. I hope that he has a similar admiration for me now.

Without boring your Lordships with a long address I shall cover the two points that have been made. I shall then come to a conclusion about how I see the matter in the interests of the people of Hong Kong. First, I am met with an interesting point; it is that one does not need to add the words "subject to" when they refer to provisions later in the Bill because the Bill ought to be taken as a whole. Therefore, there is no point in adding the words "subject to Clause 6", which negates Clause 1. There is no amendment before the House which calls for deliberation on that matter.

However, as a matter of interest I refer your Lordships to the first words of the Bill. They are:

Subject to the provisions of this section, the Secretary of State shall register". If there is no point in including the words "subject to the provisions of this section", why do so? If there is a point, why not clean up the whole matter and clarify it by stating, "subject to the provisions of this subsection and Clause 6"? However, I repeat that such an amendment is not before your Lordships but out of sheer self pride I wished to make the point, which I still believe to be sound.

The real point at issue is that covered by the amendment. Noble Lords will join with me in saying that when one hears the noble Lords, Lord Kadoorie and Lord MacLehose, speak with all their knowledge and experience of Hong Kong and realises all that they have given to it, one listens with deep respect. One hopes that one will not find oneself in a position where what they say is gainsaid. I shall revert to that matter after the conclusion of the argument.

I still believe that the point has not been answered, if it be a point of principle which it is important to ram home. With his usual courtesy the noble Lord, Lord Renton, warned me in advance that he would refer to the British Nationality Act 1981. Therefore, he was responsible for the fact that I reminded myself of its provisions. He will be the first to say that the wording of Clauses 7 to 11 has nothing to do with "the Minister shall". The wording of Clause 7 is: A person shall be entitled … for his registration as a British citizen". The difference is obvious. Under the old law one was entitled to be registered as a British subject merely by the accident of birth within the United Kingdom. It was the entitlement of an individual who complied with certain conditions. This Bill does not talk about complying with conditions but makes a points system the basis on which those who qualify under it will be entitled to be registered by the Secretary to State.

The noble Lord, Lord Renton, then referred to Clause 43 of the British Nationality Act. In doing so there was no question of deception, because the noble Lord is incapable of any such thing. He talked in terms of the exercise of the functions of the Secretary of State by governors. He will know that the last subsection of the clause reads, Arrangements under subsection (1)"— they are arrangements for delegation to the governor— may provide for any such function as is there mentioned to be exercisable only with the approval of the Secretary of State".

Lord Renton

But need not.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, from a sedentary position the noble Lord makes as wise a remark as he does from an upright position. In answer I say only that Parliament saw fit to ensure that in appropriate cases even that delegation of formal powers, as well they may be, must in some cases be subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. But away with technical and academic arguments—

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

Hear, hear!

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, says, "Hear, hear", I should remind him of his eloquent speech to the House. It was to disagree with my amendment and then to sit down. I thought that the House was listening anxiously to know the reasoning behind his decision. However, he did not give it.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. I thought that I had made my argument clear, but apparently not clear enough for the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. I supported the argument so comprehensively and lucidly put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. It is unusual for me to agree with the noble Lord, so far distant from these Benches, but on this occasion I supported him without qualification.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, and without explanation. Obviously we want to conclude the matter. During the course of my remarks I said that when the noble Lords, Lord Kadoorie and Lord MacLehose, speak on behalf of the people of Hong Kong one listens with deep respect. I know that they regard the word "may" as putting doubt into the minds of people in Hong Kong about whether this Parliament is sincere in trying to help them, whether or not one agrees with the method of the help. My noble friends and I would be the last people in the world to want to interfere with the restoration of morale, which we know has sunk very low. It is for that reason and for that reason only that I shall not press the amendment to a Division.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, sits down, and in order to make quite clear my position, I must tell him that I agree entirely with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose. I had the advantage of meeting him in Hong Kong when he was a successful governor. I intervene only because the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, had not appreciated the full support of my speech.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Bonham-Carter moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 24, at end insert:

("(6) The Secretary of State may by order amend subsection (1) above by substituting a higher figure for the figure for the time being specified there if the Governor recommends that it is necessary to do so in order to maintain the stability of Hong Kong or the safety of its residents.

(7) An order under subsection (6) above shall not be made by the Secretary of State unless a draft of it has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps we may move on from that interesting, sometimes academic, sometimes legal argument in which some of our legal and academic friends made a meal out of two words. The basis and the heart of the Bill lies in its attempt to produce within Hong Kong a renewed confidence in its future. Unless the Bill achieves that it will not have succeeded. I draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that any order made under this amendment would require the approval of each House of Parliament.

I do not propose to rehearse, other than extremely briefly, the arguments discussed on Second Reading, in Committee and now today for this amendment. It stands in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, whose name for some reason does not appear on the Marshalled List.

The arguments are, first, that the current rates of emigration and the reduced confidence which for a variety of reasons at present exist pose a real threat to Hong Kong's stability in the period before 1997. Secondly, most of those who are emigrating are doing so reluctantly because it is the only means of acquiring the assurance of a foreign passport. Thirdly, most of them would remain if an assurance of a foreign passport were available without the need for them to leave Hong Kong".—[Official Report, 29/6/90; col. 1822.]

I am surprised that no noble Lord has accused me of reading, because that was precisely what I was doing. The words that I was reading, which are powerful in argument and powerfully expressed, were said, as one would expect by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, on Second Reading. There was not one element of those words with which I would dissent.

What about the figure of 50,000? In that same speech introducing the Bill the noble Earl went on to say that 50,000 is only about half the number of key personnel who might be expected to emigrate from Hong Kong by 1997 at the present rate of emigration. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, rejected the amendment which I moved in Committee because he said that he thought—and I now believe quite rightly—that any change should be subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament. The amendment before your Lordships today deals with that approval and meets that objection.

The noble Lord went on to say at col. 713 of Hansard that he believed that the Government had the right figure; that is, that 50,000 was the right figure. I asked in Committee and I ask again today: how can the Government possibly believe that 50,000 is the right figure? Everyone knows how that figure emerged. After hard bargaining in Cabinet, in which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office wanted a much higher figure and the Home Office wanted a much lower figure, 50,000 was a perfectly reasonable compromise in a smoke-filled room. It was not right in terms of reassuring or rebuilding the confidence of Hong Kong. It was right because the Government thought correctly that that was the figure which they could get through the House of Commons and which they could sell to their own party.

In any case, what is right today may not be right tomorrow. There is no reason to suppose that there will be no changes in China, in the situation of Hong Kong or in the general configuration of the world between now and 1997, either for better or worse. The Government have not been given any special gifts of prophecy. They have no prescience as to what developments will occur between China and Hong Kong in those crucial years. Hence, this amendment merely suggests that a little flexibility in the legislation would be nothing less than prudent.

That is precisely the point that was made by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in explaining the selection scheme on Second Reading. He said that the scheme had to be kept flexible: so that Parliament can, if necessary, be asked to approve changes later on in response to changing circumstances in Hong Kong". [Official Report, 29/6/90; col. 1824.] That is all that we propose in this amendment. As happens so often, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has expressed the case for it far better than I could. In my view, 50,000 should not be regarded as a magic figure. If the Governor so recommends in response to a changed situation or circumstances and if he were, under those circumstances, to recommend an increase in order to maintain stability in Hong Kong, the higher figure could be approved by Parliament. This amendment seems to be wholly constructive and I hope that the noble Earl and the Government will accept it.

Lord Shepherd

My Lords, in Committee I supported the amendment which had been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. I did so with some hesitation because I did not believe that it went far enough in providing for parliamentary control. I am very grateful that the noble Lord has added to that original amendment the words which would require the approval of both Houses of Parliament.

In Committee I spoke of the long time during which I have had connections with Hong Kong. I omitted to say that for three years I occupied the position of Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with responsibility for the affairs of Hong Kong. I add my affection and support for the noble Lords, Lord Kadoorie and Lord MacLehose, and pay tribute to the service which they have rendered to the colony and the people of Hong Kong.

I have consistently supported the Government in their approach as regards China and Hong Kong. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kadoorie, I still retain a high measure of confidence that the agreement between the British Government and the Government of the Republic of China will be fully honoured because! I cannot recall any occasion, in my time or at any other time, when the Republic of China has in any way reneged upon any agreement which it has made in regard to Hong Kong. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that the 50 years provided for in the agreement will not be fulfilled.

I remember giving advice to a very senior Chinese businessman in Hong Kong to that effect. His retort was, "It is all very well for you. You have a British passport and British nationality; I have not. I shall have nowhere to go". We must bear that very much in mind, although not so much as regards those of adult age in Hong Kong. Many of them share the same degree of confidence as I have expressed and which the noble Lord, Lord Kadoorie, has expressed. However, the basic anxiety of those people is that by not seeking a new citizenship or nationality, they will be limiting the future of their children. I believe that that is perhaps the greatest driving force of those in Hong Kong who today seek a new nationality in what has been described as the haemorrhage within Hong Kong.

I support this Bill because I believe, as I said in Committee, that it will give a measure of flexibility to the Governor and to those responsible for Hong Kong in order to retain throughout the seven years those who are most important to the economic well being and the political stability within the government of Hong Kong.

I believe that my anxiety as to whether 50,000 is the right figure is shared in every quarter of the House. The truth is that none of us can possibly say whether it is the right figure. It may be more; it may be less. However, if the purpose of the Bill is to provide for the Governor and those responsible to retain key personnel within Hong Kong, I wonder whether it is right to limit it, as the Bill now does, solely to 50,000. I know that some noble Lords in this House are opposed to the Bill because it permits a further entry to our shores of persons who were previously not British. Others believe that the doors should be opened wider.

I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, that if this amendment were passed it would not in any way loosen the regime which the Governor will clearly have to impose in the selection of those who apply to come to Britain. I do not believe that the amendment provides an easy option.

As we heard earlier, there is to be no flexibility within the various groupings—the definitions by which application can be made. In other words, there may be a shortage or fewer numbers may apply from the business community. I am quite sure that the noble Lord, Lord Kadoorie, would agree that the business community has already been very active in allowing their staff to proceed to America and Canada; so much so that sabbatical leave has been given in order that residence may be established. Those people have returned to Hong Kong to resume their positions within their companies. I do not believe that the pressure will be very great. The pressure will be greater in other areas, perhaps within the Civil Service.

I support the amendment for one reason only. At the end of the day the Governor may find that, in order to achieve what the Bill set out to do, perhaps 300 more applications should be approved. Under present circumstances he will be unable to do that. The Government will be unable to do it unless they come to Parliament with new primary legislation.

If the amendment were passed and the Secretary of State was satisfied with what the Governor recommended in the interests of Hong Kong—using 50,000 as the benchmark and treating the figures for the various groupings also as benchmarks—he could come to the two Houses with an order that could be dealt with rapidly. Those 300 applications could then be approved. I ask the Government to take this opportunity of having some flexibility in this very important issue of stability within Hong Kong.

Some may say that if we pass the amendment we may run the risk of losing the Bill. If the amendment were passed there is no doubt that the House of Commons could consider it tomorrow or even the following day. This House does that on numerous occasions when messages come from another place. We take them with expedition. The passing of the amendment in no way prejudices the passing of the Bill. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, that the Bill should be passed before the Summer Recess. The passing of the amendment does not prejudice that position. It gives the Government the flexibility to be able to act if, in their final judgment, it is necessary to act, and to act with expedition.

4 p.m.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, persuasive though the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is, I cannot go along with his argument. I did not speak to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, at Committee stage. There appeared to be a large number of participants at that stage and I had already spoken twice on other amendments. However, I spoke effectively to the amendment at Second Reading.

At Second Reading I said that I welcomed the Bill although I should have liked it to cater for more people. In that respect I am totally at one with the noble Lords, Lord Shepherd and Lord Bonham-Carter. The difference is that I said I supported the Bill, but would have liked it to have gone further. I cannot support the present amendment.

I strongly believe—as the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, said in his intervention on the first amendment which we discussed this afternoon—that the amendment would create doubts and, dare I say it, false expectations in the minds of the people in Hong Kong whom it might or might not affect. That is the last thing that the Bill is meant to achieve, as the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said at Committee stage. While I did not agree with all that he said he made the very strong point that the sole object of the Bill is to create confidence within Hong Kong. If we pass an amendment as presently tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, it will only create yet another question mark in the minds of the Hong Kong people whom it might affect—yet another set of false horizons.

The Bill as it stands has been accepted. The noble Lords, Lord MacLehose and Lord Kadoorie, tell us—and we should pay a great deal of attention to them—that the Bill is acceptable to Hong Kong. I have heard the same. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said—I believe this was his drift—that if this amendment were not passed it would require primary legislation to increase numbers if that became necessary. However, that was the position two years ago before this Bill arose. Legislatively we were not thinking of a Bill of this type two years ago. Who knows what the political climate will be in, say, another two years. If that climate is such that further legislation is needed in order to keep up the morale and the overall position in Hong Kong, I have no doubt that the Government will bring in further primary legislation. This is not the right time to do that. I certainly cannot support the amendment.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, I support the amendment to which my name should have been attached but for some slip in the Public Bill Office. The amendment does not risk large numbers being added to the 50,000 already due to come to Britain. If the situation deteriorates, under this amendment the Government would decide the numbers. The decision would have to be approved by both Houses. The amendment is necessary because a nasty situation could blow up between now and 1997. There might be an emergency which did not leave enough time for some new Act of Parliament to be introduced.

If the amendment were accepted it would not damage relations between Peking and Hong Kong. The Chinese attitude towards Hong Kongers wanting British passports for exit as a last resort is much calmer. The noises have become less hostile. Peking is beginning to realise that a limited number of British passports is a force for stability, and will genuinely anchor many middle range people whose work is essential to the continued prosperity of Hong Kong.

That is important both to Peking and to Hong Kongers. If the amendment were carried it would encourage Peking to behave tolerantly toward Hong Kongers. I hope that by 1997 the atmosphere will so improve that few, if any, of the 50,000 will come and the provisions in the amendment will never be necessary. The chances of good sense prevailing in Peking appear to be growing stronger. There is another important reason for the amendment. If it is accepted, more countries would be willing to take Hong Kongers in an emergency situation in the knowledge that we were doing our best, despite the smallness of our islands.

We tend to flatter ourselves that many Hong Kongers long to come here—even those with the right to do so. However, enterprising Hong Kongers look at Britain as a socialist state, despite Mrs. Thatcher. Their top income tax is 15 per cent. They pay no capital gains tax. As shareholders, when they own a company, they are taxed only once on the company's profits, and not a second time on dividends received from their own company. Britain is not seen, except sporadically, as having an agreeably warm climate. Parts of Canada, the United States and Australia are much preferred.

Most Hong Kongers who came here with passports allowing them to do so, would look upon Britain as a staging post. If they could not go to their preferred countries, they might well go to the warmer Mediterranean countries within the Common Market such as Italy or Greece where, incidentally, taxation is not the problem that it is here.

From 1st January 1993 anybody with a valid passport, whether from Hong Kong or this country, will be able to do that by right. That is the moment when 200 million Europeans will also be entitled to settle in this country if they so wish. I hope that the Government will realise that this amendment is not a departure from their policy but an integral part of it. It should cause no alarm for those who are afraid of a large influx of immigrants. We should not go on dwelling on the points system by which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, sets so much store. It is an old-fashioned Socialist outlook of equal shares of misery for all. I thought that had been abandoned. Bus drivers, lorry drivers and production workers are not in any way vulnerable to a malevolent communist regime as are the people doing the real work of keeping the colony going.

The amendment would go a little way towards redressing our removal of the right for Hong Kong citizens to hold British passports, a right which they have had for 120 years or more. There is some bitterness in Hong Kong over Macao where all the Chinese can have passports to go freely to Portugal or, incidentally, to any other part of the Common Market, yet we have denied that right to our Hong Kong subjects.

Acceptance of the amendment would make our cruel treatment of the Hong Kongers—and it is cruel—a little less shabby. They never wanted independence from Britain, unlike the immigrants from the Commonwealth countries whom we have accepted by the million. All they want to do is to continue their relationship with us but now find themselves being handed over to a singularly hard line communist government. Understandably, they are uncertain of their fate. I hope that it will be a good one, but at least in honour we should do all we can to give the Hong Kongers some comfort in case it is not.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, occasionally this House seems to approach matters in a very unreal way, in my judgment. There is no such thing as a correct figure on this issue because nobody knows what the situation will be. However, the figure we now have has been negotiated and it appears that it can be accepted, without trouble, on all sides.

When I intervened during the Committee stage, I said that it was right to think about the stability of Hong Kong. It is absolutely right that we should endeavour to move out from Hong Kong, and the controllers of it, in a way that will leave the minimum of disruption, if any. Many people in this country—including myself and other noble Lords if they think about it—are concerned about the stability of Britain. We should not underestimate the feeling existing in important parts of Britain on the question of extending immigration by any numbers, however small.

I live the Midlands. My business is there and my day to day knowledge is of that area where this is an acute problem. I know people of the highest decency, whose outlook is as good and as high as any in this House, who are truly disturbed about the position. They expect the government of whatever complexion to take their feelings into account. I do not know the number of elections with which the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, has been connected and where he has had intimate contact with the voters of this country. I have had experience of many elections and have had that contact. I live in the area where I sought election and I know that decent people are at the point of being disturbed. When it was first suggested that more people should be allowed in, the possibility of some form of disruption which would have affected the stability of England was not all that far away. However, they have accepted the result of the negotiations, as indeed have the people of Hong Kong. We have met the deputation from Hong Kong. The people have our sympathy and our support to the point where to go further will produce more damage.

It would be stupid to risk what has been achieved from the negotiations so far conducted. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, supported the amendment by saying that the amendment was only giving flexibility, and that it may not be used. He said that the proposals in the amendment are only anticipating circumstances that might arise and that he hopes they do not. Those are his arguments. However, the moment we give the impression that we are moving away from the figure that has been negotiated and accepted, we are risking real reactions from important parts of this country. I agree with my noble friend Lord Geddes. If we create false hopes in Hong Kong, we are merely opening up wounds that have now healed because the position has been accepted.

I accept that we must have stability in Hong Kong. Of course we must. We want the transition to be happy and sensible; but it is not our job to ignore the reactions in our own country. I am not anti-immigration. Indeed, I supported with joy the many steps that have been taken in the past and I have been only too sorry when we have made mistakes which have caused all sorts of disruptions and ill-feeling in various parts of the country. However, we must keep to the decision that has been made. Let us hope that there will be no need to amend it later, and that the transition will go through smoothly. If it does not, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that if there is a catastrophe which cannot be anticipated now, and if it is seen that it is our duty as a nation to do so because of our past connection and our desire to be honourable neighbours, we could make any necessary amendment in a matter of hours. Those of us who have sat in both Houses know, when war is threatened or declared, how quickly such action can be taken where the circumstances warrant it. I strongly urge the House to be aware of the danger of moving away from the figure that has been negotiated.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, was right to remind us that those of us with experience in campaigning at elections are close to the people. The noble Lord has had considerable experience. I remember an election in which he campaigned vigorously for several weeks and eventually won by three votes. I take it that had he campaigned for another half an hour or so he would have lost and he would have been in this House much quicker to enjoy life here!

I support the amendment. I do so for a reason which has been questioned by the noble Lords, Lord Harmar-Nicholls and Lord Geddes. They thought that the amendment might create doubt. That is not an inconsiderable argument. In fact, I believe that it will increase confidence. In saying that, I mean that it will increase confidence among the specific middle-management and professional groups to which the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, referred. They were not concerned in these particular negotiations. The negotiations were at a higher level. I have no doubt that the final figure adopted was after consideration of the effect that it might have upon public opinion in Britain, to which the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, referred.

Therefore, I do not regard the negotiations as creating confidence in Hong Kong as opposed to creating confidence in Britain, which is what I think they were really and ultimately intended to do. We all agree that the figure of 50,000 is an imaginary one. We take it that somebody wet his finger, stuck it in the air, tested the wind and decided that 50,000 seemed a reasonable figure. Once some families and relatives were added on, it came to a total of 150,000 or 250,000, all of it unknowable. Because it is unknowable it should not be enshrined in the Bill in such firm and fixed terms. That is why the amendment is important and acceptable.

Those of us who support the amendment are not looking for a much greater number. As I said at Second Reading a week ago, we do not know how many more; it might be 75,000 or 100,000. Who can tell? It might even be as few as 50,000, plus everybody who is equal on points to the end of the 50,000, whatever that may turn out to be. We are suggesting that the number is too low to create confidence at the middle level of management among those with professional expertise upon whom we depend, as much as do the residents of Hong Kong.

I should like to appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, on the Front Bench. During the Committee stage, when opposing a somewhat similar amendment to this one but without the parliamentary element in it, he said that the Opposition disliked the points system because it was unfair and that he could not support that amendment. That was a reasonable position to take. However, it is yet another example of the desire to achieve the best system, driving out the system which is merely good and which might be attainable. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, to think again in that respect. I certainly ask him to think again very carefully about the comment he made last week when he said: We could not support an amendment which meant that additional people from Hong Kong were selected under the points scheme".—[Official Report, 1 6/7/90; col. 718.] While I thought that his first comment was reasonable I do not think that that one is. There can be no reason why he can accept, or not oppose, the number of 50,000 and yet refuse to accept, and oppose, a slightly higher number. I appeal to my noble friend Lord Mishcon to think again and to support this important amendment. It is marginal in terms of the number but, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, pointed out, it is important in terms of parliamentary procedure. It gives the Government the capability and flexibility to change their mind rapidly and immediately.

For those reasons, and because I believe that this amendment would increase confidence among a key group of residents of Hong Kong, I support it and commend it to the House.

Lord Thurlow

My Lords, at the Second Reading I indicated my support for the Bill. I still support it and express the hope that your Lordships will not support the amendment.

I should like to make a point in relation to the drafting of the amendment. It says: if the Governor recommends that it is necessary to do so in order to maintain the stability of Hong Kong or the safety of its residents". I have been responsible for internal security in a small dependency. I should not have liked legislation in this Parliament to include a provision of this kind, which amounts to an invitation to mischievous forces to stir up disorder and artificially to create instability. On those grounds alone I feel that the amendment should be rejected.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, there is a risk of some misundertanding. The noble Lord, Lord Howie, said that the amendment would be marginal in effect. In fact there is nothing to secure that it is marginal. It can be "a higher figure", whatever higher figure may be decided upon.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, I accept the point he is making, but what I said earlier on was that no one in this House was thinking of a substantially higher figure.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, that may be, but whatever anybody in this House is thinking about, we are being asked to legislate in a way which would cover a substantially higher figure. Indeed, in moving the amendment some time ago the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, said that it would give a small degree of flexibility. Again, it would do a great deal more than that. If it were to give a small degree of flexibility only, there would obviously be much stronger argument for it, but it does not. It would provide complete freedom to the Secretary of State at a future date to fix whatever figure he liked provided he could get the approval of both Houses of Parliament.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, is that not a very important reservation: provided that he could get the approval of both Houses of Parliament? Both Houses of Parliament are not simply subject to the diktat of the Secretary of State. We are capable of making up our minds as to whether the number which he suggests is appropriate or inappropriate.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, that is quite true, but it does not enable the noble Lord to escape from the fact that he said it would give a small degree of flexibility. Does he attempt to justify that? Of course he does not. He is well aware that that is the point I was making. Therefore it is a highly damaging amendment to the whole concept of the Bill. We talk about 50,000, but in human terms it is 225,000 to 250,000 human beings, which is a very substantial figure.

It amounts to a measure of compromise between two conflicting points of view. There is the point of view of those who wish to maintain morale in Hong Kong and if necessary give refuge to a certain number of its people, and there is the point of view of a great many in this country—and I think a good many in this House—who are already disturbed at the level of immigration and regard the arrival of a quarter of a million more people as full of dangers: dangers of rousing ill feeling, dangers of rousing anti-foreigner feeling and stirring up the ethnic problem. Therefore, I think that the Government have been wise in trying to select a figure—admittedly an arbitrary one—which takes account of those two conflicting considerations.

If your Lordships were to adopt the amendment it would throw the whole matter open. Indeed, as the noble Lord has just said, it could stir up feeling in Hong Kong, with people agitating to have the figure increased. It could certainly produce a reaction in this country from people who have controlled the alarm they would otherwise feel at this possible substantial increase in immigration, and it would alter the whole atmosphere in which the Bill has been brought forward.

The Government are to be congratulated on bringing forward the Bill, despite the conflicting views of the country, with a very high degree of support. They have managed to get that support because they have produced something in the nature of a compromise. To accept the amendment would be to wreck the compromise and at this stage of the Session maybe wreck the Bill.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howie, said that no one was trying to get many more people into this country under the amendment.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, if the noble Earl closes the debate except for the mover of the amendment I shall be deprived of saying a few words. I did try to rise, but obviously I did not do so quickly enough.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I apologise. I obviously had my head in my lap. The last thing that I wish to do is to deprive the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, of the opportunity of giving his views and noble Lords of the opportunity of listening to them.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I shall give my views briefly in answer to my noble friend Lord Howie and in any event because I believe that the House is entitled to know the view of the official Opposition on the amendment.

I remember that, on the last occasion when we were in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said, and I noted that his comment was not challenged, that this Bill is not meant to be a fair or just Bill; it is a Bill that has its origin in expediency. That was a frank comment and I reiterate that no one denied that that was the situation. That is one of the reasons why the Opposition have opposed the Bill. We wanted an admixture of justice, fairness and expediency. We believe that the points system is not a system that enables us to achieve that.

Opinions on the matter on the other side of the House obviously differ and I respect that situation. For us to support the amendment would therefore mean that we supported the points system. I made the position clear in Committee. If you increase the figure appointed under that system, you are in effect saying that you approve of it. In those circumstances—as I said, I thought that the House was entitled to an explanation—I shall advise my noble friends to abstain if there is a Division on the amendment.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I propose to speak extremely briefly, but I thought that it would be right to comment on the speeches made by the noble Lords, Lord Harmar-Nicholls and Lord Boyd-Carpenter. They raised the issue of public attitudes towards immigration. That has been a sensitive issue in British politics for well over a quarter of a century. The noble Lord is right to look at the issue in terms of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, on the last occasion. He has been quoted on a number of occasions, but I agreed with him profoundly in that part of his last speech when he said that the whole approach will have been proved a failure if we experience the arrival of 50,000 heads of household and their dependants.

If things go well and the Chinese Government behave in the way that we hope they will, there is no question of 50,000 heads of households and their dependants coming to this country. As the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, said, few of them would necessarily choose to come here. In most cases, to come here would lead to a substantial reduction in their standard of living. We all recognise that. That is the first part of the argument.

Let us look then at the situation if things go badly. I particularly relate these remarks to what the two noble Lords said a few moments ago. In winding up the debate on Second Reading, I drew the attention of the House to what Sir Geoffrey Howe had said to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons; namely, that, if a grave situation arose in Hong Kong at about the time the Chinese Government were to take over responsibility for the colony's affairs, we might possibly be faced with a situation in which tens of thousands of people would want to leave Hong Kong. Sir Geoffrey Howe pointed out to the Foreign Affairs Committee that, given our responsibility for Hong Kong, we would then have to take substantial responsibility for that situation. If we did not, there would be little prospect of our colleagues in the European Community, the United States, Australia and so on agreeing to take large numbers of people from the colony.

That is the situation. All I would say to the two noble Lords and to the House generally is that there is no question of the Secretary of State simply being able to fix a totally unreasonable higher figure. First, he could act only if he wanted to act and, secondly, he would have to secure the approval of both Houses of Parliament. That is the answer to the two noble Lords opposite and it entirely justifies the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Bonham-Carter.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, to have denied your Lordships the benefit of the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, would have been a deprivation that I would never have orchestrated, but to have denied the House the benefit of both the noble Lords, Lord Mishcon and Lord Harris of Greenwich, would have been a double disaster. I can only apologise for having been too precipitate. I can assure noble Lords that it was not eagerness to get on my feet that was the cause of it.

The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, said that no one is trying to get many more people into the country as a result of the Bill, but that he did not like the inflexibility of having only one figure in the Bill. That sounded fairly persuasive. I listened carefully to the arguments of the noble Lords, Lord Bonham-Carter and Lord Shepherd.

With his usual ability to put his finger on the nail, my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said that the amendment would not just allow a few extra people in, but that the number might be very large. It was not just a question of small numbers. They might be large numbers, provided that the Secretary of State had the approval of your Lordships' House. My noble friend said that acceptance of the amendment would throw the whole matter open. He was right.

We discussed the matter at some length in Committee. Behind it all is the inference that, if the Government were confident regarding the efficacy of the assurances and of persuading recipients to stay in Hong Kong, they should not have too many worries about granting more of them the ability to come. That is an attraction, but it does not stand up to scrutiny.

All the discussion has been about numbers, but the Government have never offered a guarantee that the beneficiaries would not come here. There could be no such guarantees. It follows that it would be wrong to offer more assurances than the country could honour if, contrary to our expectations, most of the recipients came and settled here.

In order to meet a point made by my noble friend Lord Brabazon last week, the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, has ingeniously inserted the affirmative resolution procedure into his amendment as a safeguard in order, understandably, to try to persuade us of the reasonableness of his intentions. However, that does not meet the Government's main concern.

We have decided on 50,000 places because we believe that that figure will have a real impact on confidence in Hong Kong. However, the built-in ceiling on numbers has been and remains essential to public acceptance in this country of our proposals. The removal of that precise figure from the Bill would give cause for widespread concern. Attitudes towards the Bill and its aims would be likely to deteriorate both here and in Hong Kong and become speculative. That would not be helpful to the effectiveness of the Bill and the confidence that it seeks to create. As noble Lords know, the anxieties in this country about immigration are very real. That is a factor that the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, seemed conveniently to disregard.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said that it would be easy for another place to take this amendment tomorrow. Perhaps another place could take the amendment, but perhaps it would not do so. The noble Lord has wide experience of what happens to controversial Bills at the end of Sessions and knows that they may become a hazard to the parliamentary system.

In addition, as my noble friend Lord Geddes said, the amendment would inevitably arouse expectations in Hong Kong that simply could not be realised. He said that it would raise a question mark and false horizons. He is right. If the amendment were passed, there would be a continuing campaign for more places. I believe that no other noble Lord has pointed out that enormous pressure would be applied to the Governor to say to my right honourable friend, "Look, 50,000 places are simply not enough. We must have more". That would in turn resurrect all the anxieties which were initially expressed about the Bill in another place.

My noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls said that this figure has been negotiated. I agree with him; it is a negotiated figure. It was negotiated with a number of different parties representing a wide variety of interests. If you move away from the negotiated figure you risk a reaction from those various sections.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, I trust the noble Earl will forgive my intervention, but can he tell the House just who the figure was negotiated with? It was not negotiated with the people of Hong Kong.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, it was negotiated. It was discussed in great detail, both in Hong Kong and back in the United Kingdom, as being a figure which would have a reasonable chance of meeting the needs of Hong Kong and, at the same time, a reasonable chance of being acceptable to the UK Parliament. If we change the figure of 50,000, it could well give rise to feelings of resentment and dissatisfaction on all sides. Such feelings would work against the Bill. They would undermine the improvement in morale and the confidence which constitute the very purpose of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, is very ingenious. He takes little quotations and puts them into a different context. He said that what Hong Kong needs is flexibility and that that is what I had said. Of course, that is true; however, I was referring to the scheme and not to the numbers involved.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, we must clarify this point. I said that the noble Earl was referring to the scheme. There was nothing ingenious about what I said. I made the point quite clear.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is fine. We obviously agree about that point. I agreed that there should be flexibility in the scheme; but I was not saying there should be flexibility as regards the numbers. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, will be careful when quoting me in future not to imply, or perhaps suggest to others who were perhaps not paying quite the attention they should have been to the discussion, that I was in some way agreeing with him that flexibility over numbers would not be a bad thing.

We must now make a judgment about the commitment. It can never be a scientific calculation. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said that he wondered whether it was the right figure. There is no right or wrong figure; it is a figure which we, and the people of Hong Kong, believe to be reasonable and acceptable. We think that 50,000 assurances plus family followers is a substantial figure. It represents over half of the number of key personnel who could be expected to leave Hong Kong by 1997, if the current rate of emigration continues. If the figure of 50,000 should become greater, I believe that it would give rise to anxieties at home. However, if it were to become less, it would knock the stuffing out of the confidence of those in Hong Kong.

Both the Governor and the Government believe that the issue of 50,000 assurances to the core of Hong Kong's key personnel will have a substantial impact on curbing emigration and promoting stability. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, will realise that this is the best figure. It is one which is likely to have the greatest success from the point of view of securing confidence in Hong Kong. Accordingly, I hope that he will not press his amendment to a Division.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I have listened with great care to what the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said. I feel that I must first read to him the exact quotation which I used about which he made some qualified objection. On Second Reading he said: It would not have been sensible to write details of the scheme into the Bill. They have to be kept flexible so that Parliament can, if necessary, be asked to approve changes later on in response to changing circumstances in Hong Kong". [Official Report, 29/6/90; col. 1824.] I took that quotation from his speech only because the argument that lay behind my speech was that there may be changes in the circumstances in Hong Kong between the years 1990 to 1997 which we cannot altogether foresee. I felt that a prudent Government, just as they felt it necessary to keep flexibility in the administration of the scheme, should keep flexibility in the administration of the numbers which fall within the scheme. I honestly do not think that the use of that quotation was in any sense ingenious; it was highly relevant to the argument that I was putting forward.

Secondly, we must be clear about what lies behind the Bill. In my view, this was misunderstood on Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and again today by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls. Moreover, this was used in a kind of oblique way by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. The whole point of the Bill is that it is based on the premise that if you give people the assurance of a passport, to use the noble Earl's phrase, they will not in fact use it. Therefore, the threat of 50,000 heads of families or 250,000 invading this country is one which denies the whole purpose of the Bill.

If the noble Lords, Lord Harmar-Nicholls and Lord Renton, disagreed with the premise of the Bill, they and all those who agree with them should have voted against it on Second Reading. The whole premise of the Bill is that that invasion will not happen, despite the fact that the evidence regarding the 55,000 people a year who are leaving Hong Kong shows that they are not coming to this country. Indeed, they are going to Canada, Australia and America. Therefore, there is no threat.

I slightly resent the idea that I am totally ignorant of attitudes towards immigration in this country. It so happens that I spent 11 years of my life tackling some of the responses to immigration in this country. I am extremely aware that this is a sensitive and important matter. However, I do not think that that particular red flag should be waved in front of my nose.

I do not want to extend this debate, which has now gone on for 59 minutes. However, I should like to thank all those who have taken part. This is an extremely important issue. I believe that the response of the Government, which has been totally rigid, is inadequate. I am afraid that I cannot accept the position taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, who objects to the selection scheme. His objection is perfectly reasonable; but it seems to me to be an extreme case when someone thinks that half a loaf is not worth having if you cannot have the whole loaf. and when people say that the best is the enemy of the good. As I said, this is an important issue and I think that the opinion of the House must be tested upon it.

4.47 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 27; Not-Contents, 138.

Division No. 1
Addington, L. McNair, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Mais, L.
Bottomley, L. Mayhew, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Ogmore, L.
Falkland, V. Reilly, L.
Glenamara, L. Rochester, L.
Grey, E. Sainsbury, L.
Hampton, L. Shepherd, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Stedman, B.
Howie of Troon, L. Tordoff, L. [Teller.]
Hunt, L. Walston, L.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Wigoder, L.
Kilmarnock, L. Wyatt of Weeford, L. [Teller.]
Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Allerton, L. Birdwood, L.
Ampthill, L. Blatch, B.
Arran, E. Blyth, L.
Atholl, D. Boardman, L.
Auckland, L. Borthwick, L.
Balfour, E. Boyd-Carpenter, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Brabazon of Tara, L.
Beloff, L. Brigstocke, B.
Belstead, L. Brightman, L.
Bessborough, E. Brougham and Vaux, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Butterworth, L. MacLehose of Beoch, L.
Caithness, E. Macleod of Borve, B.
Caldecote, V. Mancroft, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Manton, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Margadale, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Carnock, L. Merrivale, L.
Cavendish of Furness, L. Mersey, V.
Clanwilliam, E. Monson, L.
Cottesloe, L. Monteagle of Brandon, L.
Cox, B. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Craigavon, V. Munster, E.
Crook, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Nelson, E.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Norfolk, D.
De L'Isle, V. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Orr-Ewing, L.
Derwent, L. Oxfuird, V.
Eccles of Moulton, B. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Ellenborough, L. Pender, L.
Elles, B. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Elton, L. Porritt, L.
Erroll of Hale, L. Pym, L.
Faithfull, B. Reay, L.
Ferrers, E. Renton, L.
Flather, B. Renwick, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Rodney, L.
Geddes, L. Romney, E.
Glenarthur, L. St. Davids, V.
Gray of Contin, L. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Greenhill of Harrow, L. Seebohm, L.
Greenway, L. Selkirk, E.
Gridley, L. Sharpies, B.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Shaughnessy, L.
Havers, L. Sherfield, L.
Hayter, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Henley, L. Slim, V.
Hesketh, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Hives, L. Strange, B.
Hooper, B. Strathcarron, L.
Howe, E. Strathclyde, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
Ilchester, E. Strathspey, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Swinton, E.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Joseph, L. Thorneycroft, L.
Kadoorie, L. Thurlow, L.
Kimball, L. Trumpington, B.
Kinloss, Ly. Tryon, L.
Kinnaird, L. Ullswater, V.
Kitchener, E. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Lauderdale, E. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Layton, L. Wedgwood, L.
Long, V. Westbury, L.
Lothian, M. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Lyell, L. Wynford, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.56 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I beg to move, That the Bill do now pass. No one who has listened to the Bill's passage could be in any doubt that Hong Kong needs the Bill. Reactions in Hong Kong make it perfectly clear that that view is widely held within the territory itself, where the outcome of these proceedings is keenly awaited.

I am especially grateful to those who, notwithstanding their disagreement with the principle of the Bill, have nevertheless helped us to examine the proposals in a most constructive spirit. I recognise that some compelling arguments were advanced last week, and today, in favour of some of the amendments which we discussed. I am grateful to those of your Lordships who have contributed to the Bill's passage.

The Bill is, of course, an exceptional measure and a departure from normal nationality principles. We have, therefore, been concerned that it should be tightly drawn. The arrangements will lapse in 1997. That is a built-in deadline. The Bill will apply only to the 50,000 people and their immediate families. That has been a central feature of the Bill, and it is especially important. It means that, for those who are not covered by the Bill, the acquisition of British citizenship will continue to be governed by the normal operation of the British Nationality Act 1981. It is for that reason that the Government were unable to accept proposals to make provision in the Bill for spouses of existing British citizens in the territory.

We recognise, however, that in the special circumstances of Hong Kong it is natural for British citizens to be anxious about the position of their spouses. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has given further thought to that matter in the light of the representations which he has received.

As I indicated last week, in responding to an amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, my right honourable friend has extended the assurance which he gave in April that widowed spouses of British citizens, who had died while resident in Hong Kong, would be allowed to settle here on the same terms as if the British partner were still alive. That assurance now applies whether or not the widowed spouse has citizenship of a third country, provided that he or she is still resident in Hong Kong and has not remarried.

Perhaps I could take this opportunity to bring to your Lordships' attention another step which my right honourable friend intends to take to assist British citizens in Hong Kong and their spouses. He understands the expatriates' concern that their spouses should be able to obtain some evidence of their status, and should be able to obtain an assurance that, if they decide to come to the United Kingdom, their entry clearance applications will be processed quickly.

I can now tell your Lordships that we are setting up an arrangement whereby the spouse of a British citizen can provide the Hong Kong immigration department with details of his or her marriage. The details will be entered in a register and the spouse will be given a letter, which will be issued on the Home Secretary's behalf, explaining that he or she is eligible to settle in the United Kingdom provided that the immigration rules requirements are met. The letter will also include an assurance that any future entry clearance application will be given priority.

Those new arrangements, together with the assurance on widows, will, I hope, remove any fears which the expatriate community may have had about whether their spouses or widows would be allowed to settle in the United Kingdom at any time in the future, without unnecessary delay, should they wish to do so.

We made it clear at the outset that both we and the Governor of Hong Kong would listen to views on the selection scheme. Your Lordships have provided some very helpful advice. The structure of the scheme remains unchanged. We envisage that some 36,200 of the 50,000 places will be issued under the general allocation section on the basis of a points system, places being divided between different groups of people based on their occupations and according to a formula which will reflect the rates of emigration of those groups. Another 7,000 places will be allocated to the disciplined services, again on points. Smaller allocations will be available for the sensitive services and for key entrepreneurs.

If, as I hope, the Bill is granted Royal Assent, both we and the Hong Kong Government will want to think carefully about the various comments and suggestions which have been made before coming forward with our proposals in their final shape. However, I think it only fair to say that we have heard little to date to make us doubt that the scheme is along the right lines in its essentials. To benefit Hong Kong it must select applicants on the basis of their value to Hong Kong's economy and stability. Our proposals provide a means of achieving this with maximum fairness and objectivity and minimum scope for bias.

The scheme is not designed just to cater for a wealthy and influential elite. It will provide places for people from all kinds of different walks of life and levels of income. The occupations and services which are covered will range from nurses and teachers to businessmen and administrators. We all recognise that, in the long run, the future of Hong Kong will depend upon China. The Government believe that the Joint Declaration and the unusual but imaginative Chinese concept of two systems within one country provide the framework for Hong Kong's continued stability and prosperity.

However, our concern today is not so much with the distant future but with the transitional period which lies ahead—and in particular with the urgent need to stem the drift or outflow of skills and talents from the territory. That is the issue which this Bill seeks to address. Providing encouragement for key people to stay will, I hope, benefit not just them, but all the people of the territory. I am grateful to noble Lords for the kind and courteous way in which they have considered in detail all the matters regarding the Bill. I commend it to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass. - (Earl Ferrers.)

5.5 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, it has been a great privilege to take part in the debate which has included contributions from those who have played a vital role in the life of Hong Kong. This includes in particular the noble Lords, Lord Kadoorie and Lord MacLehose. What they have said during the passage of the Bill has been of great help to those of us who, in all honesty, have found it difficult to put forward firm and unequivocal views. The reason for that was given by the Minister: the question marks which hang over the future of Hong Kong about who China's leaders will be in 1997, as well as what they will do in the interim.

We are grateful for the clear presentation of the Bill right from the start by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and for the way in which he has responded to the amendments put forward in good faith by all sides of the House. He gave the reasons he wanted the Bill and explained that he wished the Bill to take its place on the statute book with the minimum of delay. We from these Benches have accepted both the expediency factor that the Minister put forward as well as the urgency.

However, it must be said that although we have accepted the Bill, we have not accepted—indeed we have opposed—the points system. We feel that it includes neither justice nor fairness. It is not a system that we could ever applaud. That is why we have not opposed the Bill but have tried to put forward ideas which would create a better structure for the scheme and have removed certain anxieties and injustices. I am grateful to the Minister for confirming today his response to the points that we put about the widowed spouses of British citizens as well as the future of spouses of British citizens who will he registered in Hong Kong. This will make them eligible to settle in the United Kingdom.

We accept the urgency of the Bill. We said during its passage that it was a pity that the Government did not put forward a Bill much earlier. However, we understand that there were certain divisions within the Conservative Party as to the kind of Bill it should be. We can only regret that the Bill came so late and therefore had to be hurried through at great speed.

We hope that the Bill will fulfil the Government's aim of providing stability and confidence in the colony. By a strange and remarkable coincidence, in the newspaper the Guardian this morning there was a report on Hong Kong. I do not know whether the Minister saw it. The report threw a much more positive light on the future than the usual view. For instance, it made the point that last year—the year of the massacre of the pro democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square—deposits grew by 19 per cent. in Hong Kong. That can only mean that there is still confidence there. The report gave specific figures for those who were leaving, and also for those returning. It showed that one-fifth of emigrants have already returned but, on the other hand, those who were leaving were the people that Hong Kong needed. For that reason, the Minister has convinced us that some insurance policy is necessary to try to persuade those people to stay in Hong Kong. We see the Bill in that way, but not as a fair way of introducing a points system.

However, we sincerely wish the Hong Kong people the best future. Those of us who have visited Hong Kong will remember the great hospitality and courage of the people who live and work there. We would hate to think that their future was in any way overshadowed.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I wish to add one or two words to the obsequies on the Bill, or whatever they are. I am convinced that there is a future for Hong Kong. I hope that the Bill will have made a contribution to reinforcing that future by providing an element of confidence. That is what is most required and on it, we, the noble Earl and the Government are at one.

It is sad that the Labour Party felt unable to contribute to reinforcing that confidence. That was because they found unacceptable the way in which it was being done. Sometimes we have to find ways round and means to achieve ends on which we are agreed. Unless we can stem the emigration from Hong Kong and preserve its prosperity, the bargaining position of people in Hong Kong and this country vis-à-vis China will be weak. Therefore it is in the interests of all of us that everything should be done to stem the flow and increase confidence as well as to provide a real basis for that confidence. I hope that the Bill will do exactly that.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to both the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for what they have said. The Bill was calculated to be a practical response to the problem of Hong Kong. I believe that it will send a signal of Britain's continuing commitment to the wellbeing of Hong Kong.

I am particularly grateful to those who have taken part in the proceedings. If I dare to single out one or two noble Lords especially, the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, was a most distinguished Governor of Hong Kong. The enormous knowledge of the area of the noble Lord, Lord Kadoorie, has been a great help. I must mention also the noble Lord, Lord Sharp, my noble friend Lord Derwent and the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, who have a singular interest in and knowledge of the territory. I hope that this Bill will be a success for Hong Kong. As the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, said, we all wish Hong Kong well and we hope that the confidence which it requires will be added to by the Bill.

On Question, Bill passed.