HL Deb 08 March 1990 vol 516 cc1255-7

Lord Wyatt of Weeford asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why they did not take the advice of OMELCO (Office of the Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils) with regard to the introduction of genuine democracy in Hong Kong.

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

My Lords, I refer the noble Lord to the Statement made by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in another place on 16th February. We have decided to introduce 18 directly elected seats in 1991—just two seats below the OMELCO consensus. In return for this we have secured from the Chinese Government the improvements in the draft Basic Law outlined in my right honourable friend's Statement.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a feeling of numbness in Hong Kong and that morale in the police force and the Civil Service is at rock bottom? Can he assure the House that the Government will do their utmost to try to improve the amount of democracy in Hong Kong before we leave so that the people in that unhappy place will have some kind of protection, whether or not the Peking Government continue their hard line?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the number of directly elected seats in 1995 remains open. We have not agreed to 20 seats for 1995 but have said that the number will be at least 20. The improvement that we secured in the latest move was a commitment to provide 20 seats in 1997, 24 in 1999, 30 in 2003 and the possibility that full direct elections can be introduced in 2007. That is a considerable improvement on previous proposals put forward by the Chinese Government which provided for no more than 18 directly elected seats in 1997 and no commitment to further progress.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, what are the implications of the comments made by the Foreign Secretary in another place and repeated by the Minister: namely, that there should be at least 20 seats out of a total of 60? Is that figure negotiable with the Chinese Government between now and 1997? Secondly, can the Minister say what the reaction of OMELCO has been to the apparent settlement of 20 seats out of 60? Has it agreed or objected to that? What proposals has it put forward to Her Majesty's Government?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the current proposal in the Basic Law as drafted by the Chinese Government is that there should be 20 seats in 1995, the date to which that number refers. We should like to see more and for that reason we have stated a minimum of 20 seats. It will be most important to see the outcome of the 1991 elections. They will be a substantial and important step forward in democracy in Hong Kong and we should not play down their significance. It is important that the elections should be seen to be a success and that they should reassure the Chinese that they have nothing to fear from democracy in Hong Kong. Obviously some people in Hong Kong would have wished to see a faster rate of democratisation. However, there is also a sense of relief that a major uncertainty for the future of the territory has been removed.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, the Minister did not answer the second part of my question: namely, what is the reaction of OMELCO to the apparent settlement of 20 seats out of 60? Did it indicate agreement or make another proposal? Have the Government any expectation of being able to negotiate more than 20 seats out of 60 after 1995?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, under the terms OMELCO wished to have two more seats in 1990–91. However, there is a sense of relief that a major uncertainty has been removed. As regards the further provision to which I referred in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, the draft provides for 24 seats in 1999, 30 in 2003 and the possibility of full direct elections in 2007.

Lord Bramall

My Lords, despite what my noble friend Lord Wyatt asked only in the nick of time, does the Minister agree that we can take some encouragement from the fact that the senior member of OMELCO is on record as saying that the compromise reached with the Chinese Government under the circumstances was sensible and that it would be up to the Hong Kong elected members to show that democracy can develop sensibly and in harmony (not in conflict) with China, which may have moved more in that direction when supreme authority passes in 1997?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord has made a good point, particularly in referring to the statement made by one of the representatives of OMELCO. As I said, it is important that the 1991 elections go ahead and that the Chinese see that they have nothing to fear from the process.

Lord Harvey of Prestbury

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the island of Hong Kong and a small part of Kowloon belongs to Britain in perpetuity? Was that factor taken into full account during the negotiations, because it was a bargaining point and one does not have the impression that it was used?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, with respect, we have had such arguments on many occasions. We believe that we did the best that we could for Hong Kong. We do not believe that the island is sustainable on its own and without the mainland territory.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, as the British Government have had negotiations with the Chinese Government on the matter, can my noble friend tell the House exactly what the Chinese Government fear about the progress towards democracy in Hong Kong?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot answer for the Chinese Government; I can answer only for the British Government. However, I take to heart the point made by my noble friend.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the latest less than satisfactory proposals are likely to undermine progress towards democracy in China and make its stated task of anchoring people in Hong Kong more difficult? Does he also agree that, as a result, more people may take up our offer of passports, making it more likely that they will come here rather than stay in Hong Kong under the proposals?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, when discussing the move to democracy in Hong Kong there is no point in trying to impose something which will not go beyond 1997. We could do whatever we liked between now and then, but if it is something with which the Chinese obviously do not agree they will just sweep it away in 1997. We want to see something which will continue beyond that date, into the future.

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