The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement about Hong Kong, which I visited from 2 to 4 July. I held extensive discussions with members of the Executive and Legislative Councils, with professional people, entrepreneurs, students and others.
There can be no doubt that the appalling events in Peking have badly shaken confidence in Hong Kong. It is of the first importance that the Chinese Government take early, tangible and sustained action to begin restoring confidence in China's intentions towards Hong Kong. We shall be pressing them strongly on this.
There has been understandable pressure on this country to grant a right of abode to all British passport holders in Hong Kong. I had to explain that this House would not support an indefinite and open-ended commitment of that kind. It would test our capacity in all kinds of areas--housing, employment, transport, inner-city services--on an unprecedented scale. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs reached a similar conclusion. I was, however, able to assure the people of Hong Kong that we can and will take action in a number of matters.
First, on the question of nationality, we want to enhance people's confidence to remain. We are working urgently on a scheme which will make some provision for people in both the private and public sectors on the basis not simply of connections with Britain but the value of service to Hong Kong.
Secondly, at the European Council in Madrid we alerted our Community partners to Hong Kong's problems. I am also in direct touch with the other countries which will attend next week's economic summit in Paris. We shall continue there and elsewhere to mobilise the support of the international community.
Thirdly, I was able to confirm as common ground that the Joint Declaration, with its prospect of the greatest possible autonomy, remains the best foundation for Hong Kong's future. We have identified a number of ways in which Hong Kong's traditions of freedom can be further protected. In particular, there is scope for reviewing the rate of progress towards representative government. In this, the wishes of the people of Hong Kong will continue to be fundamental to our approach.
We favour a Bill of Rights entrenching essential freedoms. The Hong Kong Government are announcing today that they will introduce such a Bill as soon as possible. It will form part of the existing law and be able to continue after the transfer of sovereignty.
We shall take up with the Chinese Government two matters of special concern --article 18 of the draft Basic Law, which could enable the central Government in Peking to declare a state of emergency in Hong Kong after 1997 and, even more important, the question of the stationing in Hong Kong of Chinese military forces.
Events in China have overshadowed Hong Kong's most immediate practical problem--how to cope with the 48,000 boat people who have found shelter there. I visited two of the camps housing boat people and saw the screening of new arrivals now being conducted under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Column 310The Hong Kong Government and people have dealt magnificently with an appalling problem, but Hong Kong is being overwhelmed by the sheer weight of numbers. The vast majority of those reaching Hong Kong are not political refugees. They have no hope of being accepted for resettlement anywhere else in the world. Hong Kong cannot offer them a home or a livelihood.
At the recent conference in Geneva, resettlement pledges are made for all those who qualify as refugees. The report of the Select Committee recognised that it is intolerable for those who do not qualify as refugees to have to spend years in camps. Their only future lies back home. I have discussed this problem with the Vietnamese Foreign Minister both in Geneva and in London. Official talks are continuing. I am hopeful that we will be able to find a solution which enables boat people to return to Vietnam in safety and dignity.
Hong Kong's predicament reflects the facts of its history and geography. Those are inescapable, but, in approving the joint declaration, the House undertook to make the best possible provision for Hong Kong after 1997. We shall pursue the measures I have outlined with vigour as part of that wider and unchanged commitment.
Mr. Kaufman : We trust that some of his experiences there will cause him to value all the more the balanced, restrained and positive approach to all subjects by Her Majesty's Opposition in the House. On the other hand, he will equally have learnt that the people of Hong Kong are capable of accustoming themselves speedily to democratic political activity. I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman said so little on that crucial issue. We trust that the Government will lose no time in making clear their acceptance of the Select Committee recommendation that 50 per cent. of the Legislative Council should be elected in 1991, with full democracy in 1995. We also support the Select Committee's advocacy of an elected Chief Executive, although we believe that he or she should be directly elected from the start.
I am glad to hear of the speedy introduction in Hong Kong of a Bill of Rights. People in Hong Kong asked for that when I was there, and no doubt they made the same demand of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
We hope that discussions on the Basic Law will resume quickly. While concerned that there should be no attempt on either side to unravel the Joint Declaration, which, if it is abided by, represents the best prospects for Hong Kong's future, it would be valuable if assurances could be obtained of firm Chinese adherence to the declaration and, if at all possible, of agreements by China to keep the People's Liberation Army out of Hong Kong.
The Opposition believe that it would not be right to offer any commitment to Hong Kong British dependent territory passport holders on the right of entry into the United Kingdom or the right of abode here. Others with an existing right of entry to the United Kingdom, which the Government refuse to honour--such as the dependants mentioned yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond)--have a much more specific and immediate claim. If there
Column 311are Crown servants in Hong Kong, at whatever level, who might feel or find themselves at risk as transfer to China approaches, of course it would be right for the Home Secretary to consider using his discretion under the Immigration Act 1971 in their favour on an individual basis. I am sure that this Home Secretary or his Labour successor would do so.
In the light of the scheme that the right hon. and learned Gentleman says he is considering, I state clearly that the Opposition are against the creation of special favoured categories based on status or affluence. I agree with yesterday's statement by Dame Lydia Dunn that the creation of such categories would be divisive and difficult to defend. I must tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if such categories are created a Labour Government would not necessarily be bound by them.
We believe that international action should be invoked to reassure Hong Kong citizens. I welcomed the right hon. and learned Gentleman's assurance that this issue will be raised at the forthcoming Paris economic summit. I believe that it should be discussed in detail at the Commonwealth conference at Kuala Lumpur in the autumn and at the European Community Paris summit in December.
We believe that the United States has a special responsibility towards the Vietnamese boat people, whose plight stems directly from the consequences of the Vietnam war. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, like myself, had the unforgettable experience of visiting the boat people in their detention centres. I hope that any solution to this difficult problem will be based only on arrangements that recognise and uphold the human rights of those unhappy migrants, whether refugees or not.
While it would be wrong to take the view that China must be permanently excluded from the international community, I must make it clear that we believe that it would be absolutely wrong, after an indecent interval, somehow to pretend that the Peking massacres never happened. It would be a betrayal of the murdered thousands and the people of Hong Kong were we to return to business as usual with the guilty men of the forbidden city.
Will the Foreign Secretary assure the House that there will be no Government support for the British-China Expo '89 due to be held in Peking in November or the major trade missions planning to go to China later this year, one of which boasts that it will be meeting Li Peng. We are told that the Department of Trade and Industry will be offering support to the participants in the trade missions and that official facilities will be drawn upon to the full. I hope that that offer will be withdrawn, as it would be unacceptable in the light of what has taken place in Peking.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman assure the House that there is no question of anything but rejection of Peking's reported order from Britain of 170 military vehicles?
We urge the Government to stand up for the basic rights of the people of Hong Kong and to stand up against the reversion to barbarism in China, exemplified by the massacres and executions. As long as they do so, they shall have the support of the Opposition.
Column 312focusing, although not sequentially, on the extremely important and difficult aspects to which we must address ourselves.
Nobody could condemn more strongly than myself, except perhaps the people of Hong Kong, the events that took place in Peking just over a month ago. Yet it is the people of Hong Kong who are most concerned to secure from this House the right balance of response to those intolerable events in the light of the significant responsibility of China for their future. That is why I noticed with sympathy the right hon. Gentleman's point about the importance of continuing now to build upon the Joint Declaration, to recognise that there should be no attempt to unravel that and to proceed further to examine particular aspects of Basic Law. Those propositions that he urged upon me necessarily involve engagement with the people now in charge in China.
The people of Hong Kong are also concerned to secure the least possible damage to their economic vitality as a result of what has happened in China, because China is their largest trading partner and vice versa. Although I take seriously--as does the House, I am sure--the right hon. Gentleman's point about the way in which we deal with the present Administration in China, we must also not neglect the need to promote in every way we can the interests of the people of Hong Kong.
I noticed with interest what the right hon. Gentleman said about the future of democratic arrangements in Hong Kong. The people to whom I spoke there are, of course, conscious of the recommendations of the Select Committee in that respect. Frankly, they have not yet had time to address themselves to the implications for their own 24 May recommendations, which fell short of those put forward by the Select Committee. They emphasised that they would need further time to consider that, and that is why I emphasised that we must pay attention to their conclusions.
The Select Committee said :
"we also believe even more strongly that Hong Kong people must be allowed to decide on their own system of government before 1997 as well as after 1997."
Therefore, that must be the guide.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the announcement being made in Hong Kong today, and confirmed in this House, about the intention to implement a Bill of Rights as soon as possible. I am also grateful to him for the reminder, although I need no reminding, of the need for the Home Secretary to pay special attention and exercise discretion to Crown servants and others whose occupations may put them at risk or in jeopardy.
The right hon. Gentleman made two further observations which, I confess, I find it a little difficult to reconcile. He confirmed that there should be no automatic conferment of a right of abode to BDTC passport holders, which is a point supported by the Select Committee. At the same time, he was apprehensive about the consequences of having specially favoured categories. If by that he means a set of narrow categorised propositions, I understand his point. However, the Select Committee, and many of those to whom I spoke in Hong Kong, would like attention to be paid--even if not to the extent urged by them--to the role that can be played by assuring people in the public and private sectors, and more widely, to encourage them to
Column 313maintain their position in the Hong Kong economy. That is a matter to which many people attach a great deal of importance.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for reminding the House of the extent to which the United States should accept its fair share of responsibility for the Vietnamese boat people. The United States representative at the Geneva conference, Mr. Eagleburger, said : "Those who flee clandestinely and cannot establish a well founded fear of persecution must understand that such flight no longer leads to resettlement. Such persons will face an indefinite stay in a holding camp."
He continued :
"It is important for those thinking of fleeing the former North Vietnam to realise that most will fail to qualify as refugees and will therefore not be eligible for resettlement."
But he stopped there, and, in our judgment, that is the wrong place at which to stop. If they are to be categorised in the way in which the United States and others have done, as not entitled to treatment as refugees, it must be right to try as we are doing, to secure a method for them to return to a secure future in their homeland.
Mr. David Howell (Guildford) : It is obvious, and has been for a long time, that it would be completely impractical for Britain to provide a right of abode for 3.25 million or many more Hong Kong people--a point which my right hon. and learned Friend has been making with great patience and courage in Hong Kong these past few days. Therefore, does he not share with me some regret that an orchestrated and expensive new campaign is yet again being mounted in Hong Kong and London to hammer home this single unattainable point? Does not that distract the people of Hong Kong from concentrating on the many more positive possibilities which are now opening up for the future prosperity of Hong Kong, including persuading the international community to underwrite assurances for the future security of Hong Kong and providing passports for certain hard working key personnel to stay in Hong Kong. Contrary to the views of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), those people are not the elite or the rich, but those who are most dedicated and vital to maintain the administration of the territory in the coming years.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his observations and for the work of the Select Committee, over which he presided. He was quite right to draw attention, as he did in the Committee's report, to these two distinct factors : first, the importance of seeking the widest possible international assurances against an eventuality which we all hope will never happen ; and secondly, as the Committee said, an immediate need to provide assurances to those people whose presence in Hong Kong, by reason of their skills and qualifications in both the public and private sectors, is vital to its continued prosperity. I hope that those who may be contemplating a sadly distracting campaign, of the kind to which my right hon. Friend referred, will think again about the wisdom of doing so.
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil) : May I first welcome the Foreign Secretary's commitment to a Bill of Rights, and secondly, may I welcome the fact of his visit to Hong Kong? It clearly would have been much worse if he had not gone, but how much better it would have been if he had not gone with an empty hand and a closed mind. Surely his
Column 314total failure to reassure anyone in Hong Kong, from the most senior expatriate downwards, cannot but have the effect of undermining the credibility of our administration in Hong Kong, of accelerating the flight of capital and brains from the colony and of placing in jeopardy our long-term strategic interests in the entire area. I ask the Government now if they will study the interesting report by Professor Bernard Corry, which outlines the economic benefits to Britain of honouring the right of abode, and I ask them for a response to it. Surely that is a much more rational way of approaching the delicate question of nationality than the sort of scaremongering that we have heard from the Government and from the Labour party.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The right hon. Gentleman is not very perceptive in his observations : he denounced my visit for having been undertaken with an empty hand, having immediately preceded that by congratulating me on the firm commitment to the Bill of Rights, which was one of several things on which I was able to give some assurance to the people of Hong Kong. I have dealt with the others in my statement.
If the right hon. Gentleman studies the Corry report, he will find that it deals separately with the economic aspect and that, in a very qualified judgment, it states :
"The feasibility of such a large migration therefore seems to be shown from an economic point of view".
It goes on to deal with what it calls management and logistical issues and clearly says that many of the problems that arise are exactly the same as those that I identified in my statement. The right hon. Gentleman would be wrong to conclude that the report offers any sort of support for his proposition, which is, on the whole, rejected on both sides of the House.
Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South) : Although the whole House understands the anxieties of the people of Hong Kong, may I add my voice to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) and say that it is perfectly clear to almost every Member of the House that Parliament would never pass the legislation necessary to give the right of abode to more than 3 million citizens of Hong Kong? I am sure that I speak for many friends of Hong Kong in the House when I ask whether it is not time, therefore, for the leaders of Hong Kong to study the alternative thoughts of my right hon. and learned Friend about an international operation to deal with the issue of abode, about how to push forward the Joint Declaration and obtain a good Basic Law, and about how to formulate a Bill of Rights--which, I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend, is an important proposal?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's support in that respect. I think that he should not respond too unsympathetically to the position of the leaders of the people of Hong Kong. He will understand as well as anyone the impact of the shock of the past month on the attitude of those in the territory. He will also join me in acknowledging that they have already shown themselves capable of responding in many respects to the need for leadership which their people are expressing. I hope that they will respond--I have some confidence that they may--to the kind of advice that my right hon. Friend has given them. It is important that they should
Column 315understand that the advice on these issues coming from this House is fully appreciative of the immense difficulty of their present position in Hong Kong.
Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley) : Whatever the validity of the treaty made long ago with a very different regime about the territory of Hong Kong, does the Foreign Secretary agree that we must at all costs uphold the right of self-determination of the people who now live there? Should not that right be emphasised in any negotiations with the Chinese Government?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The right of self-determination, in the sense in which it can sometimes be expressed, cannot be applied in anything like the traditional sense to the territory and people of Hong Kong, because of the extent to which their position depends on a lease that runs out in 1997 ; but that does not undermine the importance of paying the utmost respect, as far as it is possible to do so, to the wishes of the people of Hong Kong. That is why we consulted them so closely in the evolution of the Joint Declaration, why we tried to secure their support for it, and why I now attach the greatest importance to the fact that, in this House and in Hong Kong, the Joint Declaration that we achieved is regarded by people on all sides as the best common ground on which to build for the future.
Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel) : Is not one of the most important things that the Select Committee report reveals about the right of abode the fact that flexibility about those who could qualify to be British dependent territory citizens would mean that more than 5 million would qualify? That figure puts the problem into perspective. Given that background, does my right hon. and learned Friend also agree that now is not the time to run a campaign through advertising, but a time for quiet reflection? Would not an early debate on the Select Committee's report send out a clear signal from the House that would be valuable for Hong Kong and the world?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I welcome my hon. Friend's first point. His second point is also important. It has been heard by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and will no doubt be taken into account in his preparation of future business.
Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney) : There are no easy answers to the anxieties and problems of the people of Hong Kong, but one important element, as the Foreign Secretary has already recognised, is the status of representative government in Hong Kong before the 1997 deadline. With that in mind, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman make it plain that the ascertained wishes of the people of Hong Kong will be what determine the timetable of the advance towards full democracy, rather than apprehensions about the reactions of the Chinese Government?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support generally for our approach to this matter. I take note of the important point that he makes. In my answers, I have tried to say that the actual shape of the representative institutions that are appropriate to emerge between now and 1997 is not a question on which opinion in Hong Kong has yet focused
Column 316with as much care and precision as people there would like. They would want to take account not only of the generally recognised need for faster progress, but of the need to secure stability into the future. Once they have formulated their views in that respect, Her Majesty's Government will be paying direct attention to what they have to say. It is already clear from what I have learnt this week that the arrangements to come into place in 1991 will need review in any event. That is quite apart from what may be necessary for the longer-term shape of the institutions.
Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster) : Is not the best guarantee for Hong Kong people not to clamour to get out of Hong Kong, but rather to stay in Hong Kong, to develop and entrench their democracy, and to make Hong Kong the success that it undoubtedly can be? That success is the best guarantee, and the only long-term guarantee, of Hong Kong's future.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Yes, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend in that respect. I underline the extent to which the future pattern in respect of the matters about which he is talking depends crucially on the need for the Chinese Government to recognise the great damage that has been done to confidence in Hong Kong by the dreadful events of a month ago, and for them to take early and sustained action to begin to repair that damage.
Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport) : While the Foreign Secretary is right to concentrate on the central importance of improved relations with China, the events in Tiananmen square will remain indelible. At the economic summit, will he attempt to get the other six nations to help China to remain on course for economic reform, but also tie it in to changes in the Basic Law and make it see the interrelationship of economic reform in China with a peaceful and sensible transition in 1997 in Hong Kong?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I accept the point put by the right hon. Gentleman, and have already been in direct communication with the Governments who will be represented at the economic summit next week. I have drawn their attention to the central economic point that the right hon. Gentleman makes. We need to leave those in China in no doubt of our abhorrence of what took place a month ago, but nevertheless we must refrain from action that can sever all links between it and the prospects of economic reform. That is a difficult road to strike, but it is the position precisely endorsed, as the right hon. Gentleman may have forgotten, by the Madrid summit only a week ago. This is the prudent position. It is also important to secure the widest possible support for the measures advocated on both sides of the House on the Basic Law.
Dr. John Marek (Wrexham) : Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the solution to the problem of the Vietnamese boat people will be found when the Vietnamese realise that they have a stake in their country and wish to live in it? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will use his good offices to ensure that the necessary international agreements are obtained, Vietnam can be incorporated and reintegrated into the world community as a developing nation, and one that desperately needs substantial development aid--much of it from this country. If the Foreign Secreary agrees, what timetable can he suggest for those events?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I think that it is generally recognised that, if Vietnam is to join the ranks of those nations that might expect development aid, it will be necessary for her not only to begin taking effective action to receive her own people back into their country, but to secure the withdrawal of her army of occupation from Cambodia.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The whole House knows that the world will insist that, if Vietnamese troops withdraw from Cambodia, it must be on condition that Pol Pot and his cronies do not return to play any part there.
Another feature of the statements of Vietnamese Government spokesmen that is becoming increasingly clear is their recognition that the worst blight that they must remove from their own economy is the blight of Socialism, which produced the current disaster.
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his courageous visit to Hong Kong, and on the emphasis that he has placed on the fact that the best hope for the future of the people of Hong Kong resides in a stable and prosperous Hong Kong? Will he take action to implement the recommendations of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs' report on the establishment of a constitutional court to sit in Hong Kong, interpreting in accordance with the traditional principles of British law rather than the political principles of the People's National Congress? If there is no confidence in the stability of the legal system, the future confidence of Hong Kong itself will not endure for long.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his support. I have noticed, as have others, the Select Committee's recommendation of a re-examination of article 157 of the Basic Law and the specific proposal for a joint constitutional court. It is too early to reach a conclusion on that. It would, I think, be unrealistic to expect the sovereign authority of the People's Republic to divorce itself entirely from the constitutional process at the last resort, but the further the matter can be taken along the lines advocated by my hon. and learned Friend the better.
Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan) : Is the Foreign Secretary aware that if all of us here were Chinese in Hong Kong, none of us would be as sanguine about our future as various hon. Members have been this afternoon? Is he aware that the reason why people are anxious to maintain the pressure for the right of abode is that everyone in his right mind knows full well that, in the period after 1997 when China resumes full sovereignty over Hong Kong, any agreements that he secures will not be worth the paper that they are written on if China decides to apply its sovereignty in the murderous fashion that we saw in Peking last month?
Let me ask the Foreign Secretary a final question : if the people in Hong Kong were white, would he take the same view that he has taken today?
Column 318The assessment made by members of the Select Committee, and by many other Members of the House, rested on the sheer scale of the problem. The numbers involved could be well beyond 3.25 million--perhaps 4 or 5 million. The hon. Gentleman's other point has been manifest to most of us for very much longer than it seems to have been to him. The future of Hong Kong cannot be separated from that of China--the world's largest Communist country, on the very corner of which the people of Hong Kong have established a magnificent society. It is for that reason that we have all been working as hard as we have been--not with any undue optimism or sanguinity, but to achieve the best possible result for Hong Kong, as the House would wish.
Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that one of the results of his visit has been to reassure the people of Hong Kong that Britain has not turned its back on their future? His visit will have reassured them that their future lies at the very forefront of his thinking and the thinking of all hon. Members. Does my right hon. and learned Friend also accept that what is most urgently needed in Hong Kong is restoration of confidence in the future? As he said, the future lies in Hong Kong's relationship with China. When, therefore, does my right hon. and learned Friend think that it might be prudent to begin again the urgent discussions that are necessary if Britain, China and the international community are to provide a basis for the re-growth and rebirth of confidence in Hong Kong's future?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his first observation. Although I recognised that a lot of the message that I had to take to Hong Kong was bound to be seen as unwelcome, I was grateful for the fact that some of the most outspoken critics of views expressed in this House were the most outspoken in their thanks to me for having gone to Hong Kong. I am sure that it was right to take the opportunity to carry this dialogue forward. I certainly derived benefit from what they had to tell me.
As for my hon. Friend's second point, he is absolutely right that we need to promote the re-creation of confidence, but the Government of China have a leading part to play in that. I am not yet able to say when we can begin contacts of the various kinds that will be necessary--whether in the Joint Liaison Group, or in the Basic Law drafting committee, or more directly than that. It is important to achieve headway in that direction in a way that is compatible with all the other considerations that the House has in mind.
Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : Is the Foreign Secretary aware that friends of the Chinese people are appalled and saddened by the recent tragedy? However, there is no point, as some people have suggested, in Britain helping the people of Hong Kong in the distant future, if a disaster occurs. A disaster has already occurred. When the Chinese shot unarmed students in Peking, they shot the confidence of the people of Hong Kong. What is required now is the restoration of hope and confidence--hope by maintaining a dialogue with China and confidence not simply by alerting foreign countries, as the Foreign Secretary said, but by seeking immediate international guarantees of sanctuary for the people of Hong Kong, with Britain playing a leading role.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his advice. I know that he has played a leading part in establishing bilateral organisations between ourselves and the people of China, not least those connected with disability. He understands very well the basis of respect between the two peoples, which should form the basis of our relations. He is quite right to say that what happened in Tiananmen square did grave damage to many of those relationships. He is also right to urge the necessity for dialogue of the right kind with the people and the Government of China, along the lines that he suggests.
As for confidence, there, too, we shall certainly seek to do all that we can to promote confidence by dealing with the other nations that are of most importance, although it will be exceedingly difficult to translate that into precise numbers and timed guarantees.
Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend realise that the prospect of mandatory repatriation for the Vietnamese boat people is a very serious step? For many of them, particularly those in Da Nang province, his statement that their interests would best be served by staying at home means a return to abject poverty caused by war, the policies of their own Government and also natural disasters such as typhoons and other serious catastrophes which make their lives intolerable? If we are considering mandatory repatriation, is it not time to follow the advice of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in its 1986 report, which was to start to plan internationally how best to restore Vietnam to the family of south-east Asian nations and therefore give the people who are being forced back to Vietnam some prospect of a better standard of living than the one they have left?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I well understand my hon. Friend's long-term interest in the future of the people and country of Vietnam. I sympathise with the force of his point. It is encouraging to have the reluctant acceptance of the Select Committee that the logical consequence of a screening programme is the repatriation of those who have been screened out. It is important for us to couple that with every encouragement that we can give towards economic reform in Vietnam. As I have said already, it has to be coupled with the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia under terms well understood by the international community, and with a willingness to accept the people who are on their way back to their native land. Against that background, it is right to encourage Britain and the international community to look in the direction of the commencement of development aid.
Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton) : Now that we have clearly established that the moral responsibility of the Government, Parliament and the people of Britain to the people of Hong Kong extends no further than doing what will cause us least discomfort, should we not drop the pretence that there is anything honourable about our stance? Should not the Foreign Secretary feel a little abashed about having to dress up his statement with proposals about extending democracy in Hong Kong and a Bill of Rights? He must recall, as I do, the many debates in the House over decades, when various propositions by Back-Bench Members were rejected out of hand, mainly on the basis that to extend democracy to Hong Kong would offend the Government of the Chinese
Column 320People's Republic? Surely the Foreign Secretary is not suggesting for a moment that those proposals will help the people of Hong Kong in their present distress.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman seems at odds with most other right hon. and hon. Members, as everyone has welcomed the measures that we have supported in my statement earlier today. He will recollect that the history of Hong Kong has always been a matter of special interest and has been so treated from both Front Benches. Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : Order. I have to have regard for the following business today, which is an Opposition day, and for the fact that we may be returning to this matter later. I shall take two more questions from each side.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) : Was my right hon. and learned Friend aware of any moves now in Hong Kong towards the realisation that the greatest test of leadership for those who represent the people of Hong Kong is facing up to the need to build up Hong Kong as a successful and stable province economically and socially, so that beyond 1997 they have the best chance of preserving two systems in one country? Was he able to reassure them that the Government will do all they can to help that process towards democracy--for example, by issuing a Green Paper on electoral law as the Select Committee proposed? Finally, will he reinforce his clear statement that he will do all he can with the Government in China to stress that military forces should not be based in Hong Kong beyond 1997, particularly on HMS Tamar?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I certainly shall not neglect the importance of my hon. Friend's last point. In regard to a Green Paper on electoral reform, he will understand that all those matters are essentially for consideration and management by the Government of Hong Kong. I know from my discussions with them this week that they will be addressing themselves to that part of the agenda shortly, having felt it necessary to address other matters in the immediate aftermath of the shocking events of a month ago. I can certainly assure him that those in the leadership of the people and territory of Hong Kong are immensely aware of the importance of building up confidence in the territory in the years between now and 1997, and beyond. One of the most heartening features of the immense complexities and difficulties of this case is the quality, dedication, energy and skill of those who are currently leading the people of Hong Kong.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : While one understands the perfectly justified feelings of concern in Hong Kong, feelings that we would share if we were living in Hong Kong, is it not in the overall economic interests of China that the agreement signed between Britain and China should be firmly adhered to from 1997? Despite the horrors of what has occurred in China recently, is it not likely that China has every intention of honouring that agreement?
But does not the Secretary of State agree that, first and foremost, China should show that it understands our revulsion at what occurred by ending its present policy of repression and terror? How confident is the Secretary of State that the Chinese leadership will agree that Chinese troops should not be stationed in Hong Kong after 1997?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I address myself to the general point made by the hon. Gentleman, because I cannot make any predictions about the response of the Chinese Government on that or any other point at this stage. It is clear, as a matter of logic and common sense, that it is massively in the interests of China for the Joint Declaration to be upheld and for Hong Kong's stability and prosperity to be maintained. That is the basis on which the declaration was entered into, and the basis on which we have commended its credibility, not only in Hong Kong but around the world. The actions taken by the Chinese Government a month ago plainly were not in the interests of China, its Government, its people or anyone else. Those actions, which plainly flew so much in the face of justice and common sense, did much to damage present confidence. I certainly accept the hon. Gentleman's advice about the need to press China as strongly as we can to return to a true recognition of its interests in upholding the agreement.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) : Would my right hon. and learned Friend accept that a number of hon. Members were deeply concerned when we transferred the sovereignty of Hong Kong in 1984, and therefore affected the future of its people, without any meaningful discussions with them? Will he take seriously the recommendations of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which were reinforced by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), who said that the one way of re-establishing confidence in Hong Kong and guaranteeing its future is to implement a meaningful system of democracy, involving the franchise for all the people of Hong Kong, before the transfer of sovereignty in 1997?
Column 322at the time, in consultation after consultation with the people and the leaders of Hong Kong as well as hon. Members--