HL Deb 24 April 1996 vol 571 cc1134-5

2.54 p.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull asked Her Majesty's Government:

What thought has been given to the use of Government House, Hong Kong, after 30th June 1997, and whether it would be suitable for use as a British cultural centre.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, Government House is the property of the Hong Kong Government and as such will belong to the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region after the transfer of sovereignty. It will be for the Government of the Special Administrative Region to decide upon the future use of the building.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. While it is not beyond the bounds of possibility to purchase or to lease this historic and recently listed building after June 1997, if the Special Administration has no appropriate use for it—for instance, as the chief executive headquarters—should not the concept of a British cultural centre, or some other use, be developed not only to mark the dynamic achievements of the recent past of the Hong Kong peoples but to add further to their confidence of continued British influence and interest in their future?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, what my noble friend says is interesting. We do not own the building. Like all land in Hong Kong, it is owned by the Hong Kong Government. It is quite sensible that we should have a proper functional building for the future British Consulate-General and the British Council which we are planning and working on at present.

The future use of the building lies, as with all Government-owned property, entirely within the autonomy of the Hong Kong Government. I think that there will be many uses to which this wonderful building could be put. My noble friend may be interested to know that Government House has recently been declared a monument by the Antiquities and Monuments Office in Hong Kong with the firm intention that the building and the grounds be maintained, irrespective of the future use to which they may be put. The future use, therefore, is yet to be decided; but I am sure that it will be a good one.

Lord Wilson of Tillyorn

My Lords, as a past inhabitant of that historic building, perhaps the Minister will forgive me if I do not comment further on it. In terms of a cultural centre, does the noble Baroness agree that the British Council does a tremendous job in Hong Kong and deserves adequate funding in the future so that it can be one of the main platforms for a continuing association at cultural level between the United Kingdom and Hong Kong after next year?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that that will be the case. The British Council will have proper funding.

I am also assured that that building will be properly used. It is a great tribute to the history of Hong Kong and it should be preserved as such. The British Council may well be housed in a more modern building more suitable for teaching, and for the exhibitions which the British Council puts on. However, Government House will be protected.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the noble Baroness give the House a direct undertaking that the building concerned will not meet the same fate as County Hall?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I think it highly unlikely that that building will meet what the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, calls the same fate as County Hall for the simple reason that the Hong Kong Government have run that beautiful house in a way in which we only wish that the late Greater London Council had run County Hall.

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