HL Deb 04 November 1992 vol 539 cc1423-6

2.59 p.m.

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government: What is their policy concerning democracy in Hong Kong.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the Governor of Hong Kong has said that his aim is to extend the participation of' individual citizens in public affairs, and to ensure that the 1995 Legislative Council elections are broadly based, open and fair. We share those aims and fully support his proposals which he announced to the Legislative Council last month. Discussions with the Chinese Government have only just started. We look forward to continuing this dialogue.

Lord Judd

My Lords, will the noble Baroness accept that there is widespread goodwill and support for the Governor in his immensely demanding task? Does she agree that our commitment is not simply to the success of the economy and the stock market, vital

though those are as ends in themselves, but to the millions of people who make the community of Hong Kong? Does she agree that if that responsibility is to be discharged, human rights, of which democracy is the guarantee, must remain on the agenda? Can she explain how the strengthened executive will help in that respect after 1997?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, perhaps I may first answer the last part of the noble Lord's question. We continue to believe that the simplest way to develop democracy in Hong Kong is to increase the number of directly elected seats in the Legislative Council. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary put that to the Chinese Foreign Minister when they met in New York in September. As regards the first part of the noble Lord's question, I value his remarks. We greatly support Mr. Patten's proposals. We are convinced that they represent the best way forward for Hong Kong. Mr. Patten has emphasised that he wishes to continue discussing his proposals with the Chinese side. Our aim is to reach as much agreement as possible.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the publication last week of previously confidential correspondence between the British and Chinese Foreign Ministers in January and February 1990 shows clearly two things; first, that in no way can the Chinese claim that the proposals of the present Governor of Hong Kong betray any agreement privately made in 1990, and, secondly, that in negotiations carried out in 1990 Britain was fighting just as doughtily for the rights of democracy in Hong Kong behind the scenes as the Governor of Hong Kong is doing at present rather more publicly?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I believe that have already answered to a degree part of my noble friend's question. We have always supported the future of democracy in Hong Kong. As regards the release of the exchange of messages which took place in early 1990 between the Foreign Secretary and the Chinese Foreign Minister, China proposed that we should do so and referred to them in public. We wanted to set the record straight. The documents

make clear that there was no secret deal over any aspect of the 1995 elections in Hong Kong.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, while I accept entirely what the noble Baroness says, can she confirm that the speech made by the Governor, Mr. Christopher Patten, on 7th October in the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, conforms with the Basic Law? If it does not conform precisely, do Her Majesty's Government propose to reopen negotiations with the Chinese Government?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, there was a dialogue between the British and Chinese governments while the Basic Law was being drawn up. That took nearly five years and involved Hong Kong's people as well. We regard it as a generally acceptable reflection of the Joint Declaration but, as we made clear at the time, there were a number of provisions which we did not particularly like. The limit of 20 on

the number of directly elected seats to be allowed in the first post-1997 Legislative Council is one of them. The Chinese Foreign Minister has suggested that talks should continue in the joint liaison group and we are following this up with the Chinese side.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Governor's task—

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, perhaps I may pursue my point so that there may be complete clarity. Is the noble Baroness now saying that the Basic Law, as it exists, was not agreed completely between Her Majesty's Government, the Hong Kong Government and the Chinese Government? If that is the case, is she saying that Her Majesty's Government will reopen negotiations so that the Governor's proposals may be included in the Basic Law?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am sorry if I did not answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, properly the first time around. I had better try again. In our view, Mr. Patten's proposals are within the terms of the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law and they have been very well received by the people of Hong Kong.

Lord MacLehose of Beoch

My Lords, while I greatly admire the way in which Mr. Patten has endeared himself to people in Hong Kong in such a very short time, will the Government keep firmly in mind the fact that the reforms that he has proposed will be quite valueless to the people of Hong Kong in the long term unless they can be carried through 1997? Having so much in common with the Chinese Government over Hong Kong, is it not a great pity that this dispute over electoral matters should have developed into what amounts to a major confrontation? Will the Government bear in mind the admirable dictum of Chou En-Lai,"Let us set aside differences and concentrate on points in common"?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, who should know better than the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose? We want to provide the maximum possible continuity for Hong Kong when sovereignty is transferred in 1997, but Hong Kong is a dynamic society, as the noble Lord knows only too well. It cannot stand still either politically or economically if it is to maintain its vitality. The Governor's proposals are still receiving a remarkably high degree of support in Hong Kong in spite of sustained hostile campaigns in the pro-China press. Markets and international confidence remain strong. We do not seek a row.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, is it not the case that the response to Mr. Patten's proposals has to come from the Chinese Government and that it is not for us to appease them but to stick by the proposal that he has made? We hope that Her Majesty's Government will support him in the ingenious plan that he has put forward and in the courage with which he has supported it?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, as I said, the Chinese Foreign Minister has suggested that talks could continue in the joint liaison group.