HL Deb 26 June 1991 vol 530 cc569-70

2.48 p.m.

Lord MacLehose of Beoch asked Her Majesty's Government:

What success they are having in implementing the comprehensive plan of action over Vietnamese migrants who do not qualify as refugees agreed at the International Conference on Indo-Chinese Refugees of 1989.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, we believe that the comprehensive plan of action remains the best option for returning non-refugees to Vietnam. Seven thousand three hundred and twenty-one Vietnamese migrants have returned in safety but we would have liked to see greater numbers returned. We are investigating new ideas both to reduce the flow of Vietnamese to Hong Kong and to increase the rate of return of non-refugees.

Lord MacLehose of Beoch

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his Answer. Numbers of people are pouring into Hong Kong. Is not the American blockage of international aid a powerful factor in the delay over implementing the plan? Vietnam is reluctant to accept her own people back in reasonable numbers until aid is unblocked. Further, the prospect of poverty in Vietnam destabilises the whole area. Will the Government do everything they can to persuade the American Government to change their policy as soon as possible before there is an explosion in Hong Kong?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord for bringing this important matter to the attention of the House. As he says, the situation is becoming extremely critical. The camp population now exceeds 61,000 people. I can assure the noble Lord that we are in constant touch with the Americans. We undertook a successful visit at the beginning of June and hope that we shall be able to make progress with internationally managed centres in Vietnam as a result.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, can the noble Earl say whether the resumption of trade and the giving of aid to Vietnam have been discussed with the United States Administration? Can he say what the response of the United States has been? Can he further say when the screening of the boat people will be discussed with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and what prospect there is of making progress on that matter?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, aid to Vietnam is one of the important factors. If the situation in Vietnam improves, there will be less reason for people to try to leave the country. America has put forward what is called a road map of future development with Vietnam. However, much depends on the result of the negotiations on Cambodia; so it is a long-term prospect. As to the noble Lord's second point about screening, that is a matter in which the UNHCR is involved and an appeal can be made to it at any time.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that those of us who have been in Hong Kong recently were profoundly shaken by the deep feeling there about the boat people? We should bear in mind that the problem with the Vietnamese refugees was probably created by the United States of America. We have to realise that the United States has recently made communist China a most favoured nation. This also causes great concern. Could those matters be discussed with the American ambassador in this country in an endeavour to help to relieve the situation of the Hong Kong people?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we commend the Hong Kong Government for the manner in which they have handled this extremely difficult problem. We seek to help where we can legitimately do so, and American help is also needed. I say to the noble Lord that it is by no means the majority who are refugees. Quite the reverse—the vast majority of people arriving in Hong Kong are non-refugees.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the number of migrants in Hong Kong is increasing or diminishing to any substantial extent?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the number is increasing rapidly at the rate of about 200 a day. Over 5,000 arrived last month and 3,500 or slightly more have already arrived this month.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, in view of my noble friend's initial response, if the influx of boat people becomes so great that it exceeds the capacity of the camps, bearing in mind EXCO's reluctance to fund further camps, have Her Majesty's Government any views on assisting the Hong Kong Government?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that is precisely the point that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and I discussed with the governor this morning. We hope to work out a solution jointly.