Column 1180success of the Joint Declaration requires the people of Hong Kong to believe that it can work and that it will be observed. The Foreign Secretary was absolutely right when he identified the purpose of the Government's actions and those of the House as being to recreate a sense of trust and belief in the Joint Declaration so that Hong Kong can remain economically prosperous and socially stable.
It is my case--I argued it five years ago, I have argued it in the lead-up to this debate and I argue it now--that at the heart of the re- establishment of that trust is the need to provide the people of Hong Kong with the capacity, as free citizens, to leave Hong Kong. Part of the Joint Declaration and of the agreement that the Government rightly reached with the Chinese was that the Chinese would follow what they referred to as an open door policy. People would be free to leave Hong Kong. However, an open door is useless unless, when one walks through it, there is somewhere to go. It may be that the Government of the People's Republic of China will honour their side of the open door agreement, but that agreement is meaningless unless we are prepared to underpin it, too. The freedom to have somewhere to go to is the bottom line in any action that is taken to ensure that the people of Hong Kong feel confident about the future.
We can have as much democracy as we wish, but it will not work if people are always looking over their shoulder at a tyrant who is just round the corner and who is prepared to lock them up for their views--if not today, tomorrow. It would be wrong of us to believe that democracy is like some magic charm that we can wave in the face of People's Liberation Army tanks and they will go away. If that was our belief, God knows, it must have been snuffed out after the terrible events in Tiananmen square. What will happen if those events are, despite our best efforts, recreated in Nathan road, Kowloon after 1997?
There is no earthly reason why those who are rich enough, clever enough or skilled enough will want to stay to make Hong Kong work and keep it prosperous and socially stable if, at the end of the day, the status that they are generously granted is not that of a free citizen but that of a refugee. If people do not stay now, the capital which underpins the financial stability of Hong Kong will leave, too. The question whether we honour that right of abode is not one that can be traded off against greater democracy. It lies at the heart of and underpins everything else that we do to establish and preserve stability in Hong Kong.
Before I come to that matter, let me deal with a few of the comments that are germane to the debate and that were referred to by the Foreign Secretary and others. I join the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) in congratulating the Government on having shifted their position. For the past five years all of us have argued that the issue of democracy is very important--that the arrival and takeover by the People's Republic of China of the special administrative region of Hong Kong should be more than simply a question of sending in a man with a screwdriver to change the nameplates on the door of Government house. An established democratic process in Hong Kong would ensure that that would happen. The Foreign Affairs Committee report was correct and wise in saying that the time has come to increase the pace of democracy in Hong Kong. It said something else which
Column 1181is also important. The decisions that must be taken about the pace of the adoption of democracy in Hong Kong are delicate and careful ones. They could unbalance political and economic stability in Hong Kong. In that sense, the Foreign Affairs Committee report was correct. What must guide us in the decisions that are taken about the pace of democracy are the views of the people of Hong Kong. It is far better that they should take their own decisions, in so far as that is possible, about the pace of democratisation than that we should draw up blueprints in Westminster or Whitehall.
Some of the ingredients of the democratisation process include a chief executive in Hong Kong. I share the view that it would be better if the chief executive were elected on a free franchise of all voters in Hong Kong than in an electoral college. The time of the excellent governor, Sir David Wilson, will run out naturally before 1997. I take the view that it would be extremely helpful to Hong Kong if his replacement were to be not a Foreign Office official but a politician, or some other person of independent standing in the United Kingdom.
It is correct to say that the Joint Declaration is the basis for going forward. There are voices--
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : I am astonished by what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. Does he not think that at some point before 1997 it would be better for a Hong Kong Chinese national to take over that role to prepare for the role as chief executive instead of importing someone from the United Kingdom? I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is offering his own services. However, it is a strange suggestion.
Mr. Ashdown : I hear the hon. Gentleman's words, but there are two arguments. I do not intend to tell him now which I think is the better argument. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman believes, as I do, that the views of the people of Hong Kong are important. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs is laughing. I wonder what the Government's stated view on this is now? There is a balanced argument, which I shall put to the hon. Gentleman in the terms in which it was put to me by very senior people in Hong Kong. The prevailing view among the Chinese on OMELCO and UMELCO is that it may be better not to have a Hong Kong national in those circumstances precisely because of the divisions that it might cause. The view in Hong Kong, and it is one to which the House must pay attention, is that it would be better to have an independent and objective person from the United Kingdom. I ask the hon. Gentleman to think a little more carefully about that.
The Joint Declaration is the right basis for going forward. There are those in Hong Kong, including Martin Lee, who believe that it should be scrapped. That would be wrong, dangerous and destabilising. We should strengthen the Joint Declaration by any means that we can. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup said that the Chinese are good at honouring agreements. He is correct, but there is one exception--the Sino-Tibetan agreement of 1951, which, rather chillingly, used the phrase, "One party--two systems". That agreement has been repudiated and ignored, leading to the destruction of religious, cultural and political systems, the flight of 100,000 people from Tibet and the death by starvation and execution of 100, 000 more. Almost as a dress rehearsal for the events in
Column 1182Tiananmen square, two months earlier there was a major descent on dissident elements in Tibet and hundreds, if not thousands, of people were summarily arrested at midnight on March 7.
I am not sure that I can take the same comfort in the Chinese honouring agreements as did the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. The Government should consider reinforcing the Joint Declaration, or perhaps the Basic Law internationally in the United Nations, not just by its registration as a treaty, but by passing a resolution before the Security Council. As China has a veto, it would be interesting to see how it would react. The Government should consider reinforcing the Joint Declaration or the Basic Law by guaranteeing powers or appointing people to scrutinise and investigate its operation.
I now come to the Basic Law and the legal system. I welcome the Government's agreement that we should have a Bill of Rights, but I ask them to look carefully at the June 1989 Amnesty report which points out some worrying factors about the use of the death penalty in Hong Kong and safeguards against torture and arbitrary detention. I share the Foreign Secretary's view on sanctions. I do not believe that sanctions would be appropriate at present, but the Government should recognise that China may be considered for chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights later this year. I hope that the Government will make it clear that any such decision would be extremely unwelcome and that they will oppose it.
On nationality, I believe that there is a moral obligation. Britain has handed over people to their own Governments many times before, rightly and properly, in the dismantlement of our empire. But we have never handed over an entire people to another Government, let alone to a Communist tyranny. We cannot remove the special responsibility for that special act by irresponsible scaremongering with figures such as 3.25 million. Everyone who has studied this matter knows that there is no possibility of 3.25 million people coming to Britain before 1997. A poll carried out by the South China Morning Post shows that 6 per cent. might come here before 1997. However, it is possible that they will come here if, to use the governor's expression, Armageddon should strike after 1997. The Government have already accepted responsibility for providing homes for the people of Hong Kong should Armageddon strike. The difference between the Government's proposals and mine is that their proposals would not allow an orderly transferral of citizens, but instead would require a panic plan to house penniless refugees.
What would happen if we gave right of abode now? Perhaps 6 per cent. would come here. However, as 1997 approached, many others would make preparations to take out an insurance policy in Britain in case the worst should happen. Hong Kong Chinese tell me that they would begin investing in Britain and establishing subsidiaries of Hong Kong firms here. They would prepare for that eventuality by diversifying their businesses.
Instead of orderly preparation, as was considered in the Corry report which suggested that under those circumstances there was a real possibility of economic benefit to Britain, and instead of an orderly approach to a desperate human problem, the Government are producing policies that rely on a mass influx of penniless, destitute refugees. Their policy is designed to bring about the very scenario that they say that they are trying to avoid.
Column 1183Peter Kellner was right when he wrote in The Independent : "What would really mess things up would be for Hong Kong's business people, teachers, doctors and engineers to settle in the United States, Australia and West Germany and for its pensioners, unmarried mothers, waiters and street-cleaners to come to Britain."
Mr. Adley : Everyone seems to consider the problem in terms of United Kingdom immigration policy. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the following scenario for Hong Kong, which is more likely and would be more damaging? Hong Kong has the Joint Declaration because of its usefulness to China. If we were to do as the right hon. Gentleman suggests and gave people in Hong Kong the right of abode now, and anything should happen in the next eight years to create a blip in confidence and people started to leave Hong Kong in numbers, a slow departure could become a flood and Hong Kong could lose some of its best people. It would then lose its attraction to China. Where would Hong Kong be without its attraction to China?
Mr. Ashdown : The hon. Gentleman's useful interruption takes me to my next point. The Government's argument is that that would encourage just such an exodus. At present there is no evidence for that. Why should people leave Hong Kong at present? It has a growth rate of 8 per cent. a year, it has a much more pleasant climate than ours and it is a well-ordered and beautiful city. The Government have provided their own answer by saying that they will give a right of abode in Britain to make sure that the skilled people and the administrators will stay in Hong Kong. They argue that the way to make sure that the skilled remain in Hong Kong is to give them the right of abode in Britain. If that applies to those people, why does it not apply to the rest?
Unless the assurance of the ability to leave is given, the people of Hong Kong will begin to leave. That is exactly what is happening. The Canadians are setting up seminars in hotels in Hong Kong to attract the best people to Canada because they do not have the confidence to stay in Hong Kong. The French are issuing passports to those working in French banks. When Singapore offered the opportunity of relaxation, there were 25,000 people outside the Singapore offices. Just down the coast, there is a large population of Chinese with Portuguese passports and the Portuguese have given them the right of abode.
As a result, families are being split and the best and the brightest are leaving Hong Kong. There are the beginnings of a flight of capital. Once again Government policy seems absolutely dedicated to undermining the financial and social stability that they wish to preserve, weakening the credibility of the Hong Kong administration and increasing instability. That policy is mad and nonsensical. The Government's selective approach is divisive and against the recommendation of the Hong Kong administration and adds to the worry about that general policy.
There is another broader consequence. The sense of betrayal and anger and the concern about Britain not living up to her responsibilities are not confined to Hong Kong but are spreading to other nations round the Pacific rim. A senior British business man who runs one of the most established firms in the colony said to me that the
Column 1184Government's actions had the potential of doing as much damage to Britain's interests in the far east and the Pacific basin as Britain's actions in Suez did to our interests in the middle east. We should offer right of abode. That is not too much. If people think that it is too much, perhaps we should try to reinsure that risk internationally. I was interested in the amended plan, published in a newspaper article the other day, put forward by the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), and I hope that we will hear more details. It may offer a way forward. In that article, he said that there must be a way round this difficult matter, if sensible brains can address it properly.
This is not just a moral issue. It is a practical way of underpinning democracy in Hong Kong. The only power that the people of Hong Kong will have to pit against the might of the Chinese Government after 1997 will be the power to withdraw the one thing that China needs so badly--a prosperous Hong Kong. If we make that power a reality, the power to limit the PRC's actions will be stronger. That is why I believe that our commitment to the establishment and preservation of democracy after 1997 depends on ensuring that we make a commitment before 1997 that the Chinese can leave Hong Kong if they wish.
This is not the first time that we on the Liberal and Social Democrat Benches have stood alone making these arguments. I did this five years ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) did it about a year ago and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) has done it several times. I am proud to say that our party believes that we have a moral and practical duty to honour the right of abode that underpins democracy in Hong Kong.
I am depressed by two factors. First, I am depressed by the attitude of the official spokesman for the Labour party, the right hon. Member for Gorton. It is incomprehensible that the Labour party voted against the 1981 regulations the consequences of which it is prepared to accept. I contrast the Labour party's words in that debate, when it declared its opposition to that legislation, with the attitude that it is taking today in support of the Government. I especially remember the words of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who is now deputy leader of the Labour party. On 4 June 1981, in committing the Labour party to repeal the legislation, he said :
"The necessity for repeal and replacement is all the greater, not least because the Bill is largely based not on Government theories about nationality, but on Government fears about immigration."--[ Official Report, 4 June 1981 ; Vol. 5, c. 1159.]
Now we note that the Labour party is joining in fanning those fears about immigration.
I remember the words of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) when he summed up that debate :
"Nationality is a fundamental concept which ought to be decided on principle and not on expediency. The Bill is shot through with expediency from start to finish, which springs from the artificial fears which the Conservative Party and others have attempted to create among the British people about the prospect of others immigrating to this country."--[ Official Report, 4 June 1981 ; Vol. 5, c. 1178.]
Brave words, but abandoned words. I think of the Labour party in its great period, when it helped with the dismantlement of empire. I think of the Labour party as a great defender of civil liberties, the rights of ethnic minorities and international justice. I compare that with
Column 1185what I see now--a sham, hollow replica of that Labour party. We now see the new model Labour party facing its first moral challenge--and it has failed.
I am depressed at the attitude that the House takes to these matters. We have never in our history taken a decision like this. Of course, we must hand back Hong Kong in 1997--we have no other option--but that means the territory, not necessarily the people. I ask the House to pause and think of the enormity of the act that we are contemplating. We hand over 6 million people to a Communist tyranny, all of whom are our responsibility, half of whom are our passport holders and the majority of whom fled from that tyranny in fear of their lives. We hand them over to a tyranny of old men who have only recently slaughtered their young citizens on the streets of the main square of their capital city for daring to believe in democracy.
The House shrugs its shoulders. It says, "We can do nothing about this. There is no way that we can help in that circumstance." My party does not believe that, and we shall divide the House. Britain is now writing the last pages in the history of its empire. If the House allows the Government to get their way in this matter, there will have been complicity in ensuring that those last pages are grubby, shameful and discreditable pages in what should be an important and glorious history.
Mr. David Howell (Guildford) : The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs will be grateful, I know, to nearly all right hon. and hon. Members for the way in which they have received its report after its inquiry into the position in Hong Kong. It is always nice for members and the hard- working staff of Select Committees to have their work appreciated. In fact, it is nice to get their reports debated at all. We certainly appreciate the comments that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and others have made about this study. It was obvious that in the first place the reception given to the Select Committee's report in Hong Kong was very different. There were cries of "Shame" and "Dishonourable", and many other rough words were used. I, for one--I suspect that I speak for all other members of the Select Committee--see nothing dishonourable in stating firmly and clearly at the outset what we are capable of doing and what we think should be done. Nothing could be worse--as others have said more eloquently than I-- than making commitments now that later, disastrously, we cannot keep.
Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the most telling paragraphs in the Select Committee's report is paragraph 4.10, which discusses the scale of the problem? The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) glossed over what could be a major problem. Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is a genuine problem in terms of refugees seeking to qualify as British dependent territory citizens and adding to the numbers?
Having had the opportunity to talk to a number of visitors from Hong Kong since the visit by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, I do not think
Column 1186that it is too optimistic to say that, on further study of what my right hon. and learned Friend, the Select Committee report and many people who are interested in Hong Kong's future are trying to say, there has been a slightly better and less hostile reception. I have no doubt that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has shown courage--the courage to say no. That is a difficult act of statesmanship. He has been accused, as we have, of not fulfilling obligations. We have unique obligations to the people of Hong Kong. In a sense, my right hon. and learned Friend is the embodiment of the fulfilment of those obligations, with his ceaseless visits to the territory and, above all, his achievement of an agreement that is unique in history. I remind hon. Members that one of the treaty partners--the People's Republic of China--agrees to forswear the right for its political system to be operated in a piece of territory that will be within its sovereign control. It is extraordinary that there will be capitalism and no Socialism will be allowed. It would be unconstitutional for Socialism--I apologise to Opposition Members--to operate in the special administrative region of Hong Kong. My right hon. and learned Friend has gone almost as far as possible in statecraft and politics in dealing and grappling with this appallingly difficult issue.
We are now moving into the realms of psychology and psychological reassurances, and some of the most complex and difficult issues that the House has ever been asked to face, particularly the unique issue of how we devise reassurances. It is not a matter of keeping people here, letting them go or allowing them in, but how to devise reassurances to keep people in another place--in Hong Kong. That is a difficult, complex issue.
There are three matters raised in the report with which I wish to deal, and the first is relations with China. The report carefully examined the relationship between the two treaty partners, ourselves and the People's Republic of China. We had some fairly firm words to say in paragraph 3.5 about the importance of further discussions and advice on the Basic Law, discussions in the joint liaison group, and any administrative changes in Hong Kong itself being built on the principle of recognising the needs of Hong Kong. During our visit to the territories, we heard and examined suggestions--we found no hard evidence or validity for them--from many leading opinion-makers in Hong Kong that not enough account had been taken of the needs of Hong Kong and that too much attention had been paid to second-guessing and apprehensions about what the Government in Peking really want for Hong Kong.
That period has passed. I do not think that there was validity for such fears, but they existed, and it is important for the Government to ensure that, from now on, not a scintilla of doubt is left in people's minds that the British and the Hong Kong Administration are pursuing the interests of Hong Kong. We must ensure that the Basic Law--which the Chinese are drafting and have reasserted is to be promulgated on the original schedule, although the length of the consultation period has been extended--at least conforms with the Joint Declaration, the remarkable document that was secured by my right hon. and learned Friend five years ago.
The situation is reinforced by the simple fact that the PRC now has a vastly greater interest in moving in a way that will maintain the stability of Hong Kong. In a sense, the dangerous and unpredictable giant has weakened itself
Column 1187by the horrors of the night of 3 and 4 June in Tiananmen square. It is now as much in China's deep interests as it is in our interests to see that everything necessary is done to maintain stability in the territory. That is what the Select Committee has to say about that matter. Perhaps hon. Members will elaborate on it.
The second matter is democracy. It is quite right that Hong Kong must decide. That must be the governing principle. The Select Committee took the liberty of offering its view. In discussions, the Select Committee did not see why it should not offer its own views, given the way in which the democracy issue is handled and is germane to maintaining stability in the territory. Our strong recommendation is that democracy should be entrenched before 1997. The recommendation is ahead of the decision that was taken by the Hong Kong Administration and the British Government before the massacres, and ahead of the view that was taken at that time by the Office of the Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils, on 24 May. Since then, I have heard that OMELCO is again examining the matter and is moving to support for an even more rapid timetable. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will keep in close touch with that matter, the development of ideas within the territory, and the move towards entrenching democracy.
There has been a turnaround. There were people who used to say, "We have done very well without democracy in Hong Kong ; why do we need it? It is destabilising and will bring out the Kuomintang and other things." Quite often, the same people are now saying the opposite--that the dangers of introducing democracy and stability too quickly are more than outweighed by the imperative need to ensure that Hong Kong is a strongly entrenched democratic institution and society by 1997 and that that will give it a strong and vibrant place under the sovereignty of the PRC, but as a democratic unit, the voice of which the world and, of course, Peking, its sovereign power, will recognise.
The third point is nationality. The Committee expressed the view that others have expressed, that the idea of granting right of abode to the existing 3.28 million people in Hong Kong who are eligible for British dependent territory passports, let alone the other 2 million or so who will be eligible in coming years, is an impossibility. I paraphrase the Select Committee's words, but the conclusion is obvious. It is an impractical, implausible and therefore worthless undertaking.
No country can put its immigration policy into commission. That is what it would be. We can talk about it being an insurance policy, but with an insurance policy the person providing the cover has certain criteria upon which a claim is honoured. In this case, the right to make a claim would be delegated and put in commission. In effect, it would put not merely our policy of 27 years standing but our entire policy in these matters into commission.
It is a great pity that able minds and much money in Hong Kong have been mobilised behind an advertising and public relations campaign to go on hitting against the single narrow target of right of abode for all those passport holders in the United Kingdom. It will cause grief, be a misdirection of energy, and keep alive unfounded
Column 1188expectations and divert the vast abilities of the Hong Kong people from thinking about their own situation in a more realistic, international way.
As for categories, the Select Committee's report endorses the view, which is now the view of my right hon. and learned Friend and the Government, that there should be eligible categories for passports. My right hon. and learned Friend has said that a package of proposals will come forward. That will be difficult, just as everything is difficult in this matter. Of course, expectations in Hong Kong, even on that narrow point, are growing. There are two views in Hong Kong. One is that the numbers must be very large. I have heard quite responsible people suggest that anything less than 100,000 will be worse than nothing. Others have said that everything would be worse than nothing and that it is such a divisive concept that it would be wrong for any categorisation at all to take place, particularly those who say that it is an all-or-nothing argument--either a right of abode for everybody or nothing.
Perhaps I am too frank, but the divisions are there already. Perhaps between 500,000 and 1 million people in Hong Kong already have passports. They can go anywhere they like. Many of them can already come here. To talk about it being divisive, to deny that perhaps not very highly salaried people doing absolutely vital work in law and order and administration should also have the reassurance of that passport--I accept the reassurance argument in this context--is a little unfair and crude, and does not recognise the importance of these matters.
Therefore, there are two voices in this. I believe that it is right to opt for categories, although there has been strong advice from some quarters that the whole thing should be dropped. This will be a difficult issue to bring forward, but I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has approached it with his usual extreme care and subtlety.
At the end of paragraph 4.15, the Committee referred to longer-term assurances and said--I paraphrase--that the British Government should take a lead with our EEC partners and with other immigrant-receiving countries, such as Australia, Canada and the United States, in putting in place and seeking to establish the definite assurances that are needed in the years ahead. I believe that that is the right direction for the Government to take. As I said earlier, that is a very much better direction into which the energies of the people of Hong Kong can be diverted than is knocking their heads against the unavoidable and pointless objective of passports for everyone. It has already been said by our EEC partners that they do not want to know about these things. As we look at this issue it is worth bearing in mind the Portuguese question. Of course, as the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) said, the numbers are quite different. I understand that the Portuguese are to give 100,000 full citizenships--not just passports--to the Chinese people in Macao, and that there has been talk of almost double that number.
The Portuguese example follows a different policy line from the one that we have adopted. Let us think for a moment about what it implies in Europe. Those people will become citizens of Portugal but in due course, when Portugal has fulfilled all its obligations and has become a full member of the European Community, those people will become citizens of the EEC. That will not happen
Column 1189immediately elsewhere because there are questions about right of settlement and right of abode for people coming to this country. However, I imagine that it will apply immediately in the case of Portugal and that the people who take up that right will be free to go anywhere in Europe--and that they may well do so.
If we are honest with ourselves, we know--I expect that my right hon. and learned Friend knows this full well--that at the moment every EEC country is facing the most severe and frightening prospect of mass immigration of one sort or another--whether from the Maghreb or anywhere else. Anyone who thinks that the problems of other EEC countries are not ours in relation to these pressures from outside and to the enormous volume movements of world immigration and emigration--and vice versa, that our problems are not theirs--is living in another world.
My right hon. and learned Friend is right to have discussions on this with the rest of the European Community--I shall come to the wider world in a moment--so that future pressures can be met in an orderly way. Those pressures are coming--only an ostrich with its head underground could deny that fact--and we shall not be able to deal with them alone, any more than we can contemplate the ideas about passports alone.
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) : Is it not a fact that the Portuguese have always granted rights of citizenship to those born in their colonies of Portuguese parents and that the British Nationality Act 1981 confirmed that that would continue to apply in Macao?
The Committee urged my right hon. and learned Friend to take the lead in this matter. I hope that he will consider what we said. Indeed, he has already given a response that sounded extremely positive on that.
My own view--this is not the view of the Committee which has stated its views in the report--is that other countries such as the United States, Australia and Canada and, as we have recently read, Singapore, which has announced a figure of 25,000, although I gather that larger numbers are now contemplated, should become involved in what is, in effect, an underwriting scheme. It is a scheme for keeping those people in Hong Kong, which is what we are concerned to do. I hope that the offers and assurances can be taken up, and not only if catastrophic events overwhelm the territory. Although my right hon. and learned Friend referred to such circumstances when he spoke to the Committee, that is a fuzzy concept. In reality, there would not be one single morning on which there was an overwhelming catastrophe. There would be ugly and rising tensions and dangers with sudden large groups of people seeking to leave the colony. Of course, one does not want any of that to happen--it is unpleasant even to have to talk about it--but we must realise that there will be circumstances well short of a neatly defined "catastrophe"--whatever that means--in which enormous pressures will come upon us and for which some provision and pre-vision would be desirable.
On a narrower scale, the flexible package that my right hon. and learned Friend will use on behalf of the
Column 1190Government is a first pebble in that pool, as are the ideas of the Singapore Government and the proposals that we are now hearing from the United States Congress.
Mr. Ashdown : I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House. We are all listening with great care to the right hon. Gentleman's personal views on this issue, which I find encouraging. Those views are obviously what he referred to in the Asian Wall Street Journal. However, I hope that he will not be guilty of raising the hopes that he has accused others of raising in Hong Kong. To be more specific, is he referring to an international agreement giving a promissory note in the event of catastrophe? Is he referring to something which would generously allow the people of Hong Kong to be considered as refugees in the event of terrible occurrences in the future, in which case such a provision would do nothing to keep people in Hong Kong--or is he referring to a commitment to citizenship? If he is not to raise people's hopes falsely, I hope that he will be a little more specific.
Mr. Howell : There are real difficulties in setting out what one suggests other countries should come together on and examine and the things in which my right hon. and learned Friend should take the lead. I am seeking to address perhaps unsolicited advice to the people of Hong Kong and am saying, "Please cease aiming all your huge energies at the right of abode for everybody"--which, if I understand his intervention, the right hon. Gentleman seems to think they should still work for--"and divert it into examining ways of seeking international assurances." I have used my words very carefully--I shall not repeat them because they are on the record--about in what circumstances those assurances should be given.
There is interest in this problem all around the world. It is not confined to just this country, as my right hon. and learned Friend recognised in his earlier remarks. Whether we "take a lead" as the Select Committee suggested or not--and, in my view, we have in a sense taken a lead--there are many other things to be done. The Bill of Rights is to be put in place. My right hon. and learned Friend is moving vigorously on that. There is also thequestion--
Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South) rose--
There is also the question of keeping the People's Liberation Army out of Hong Kong. The Select Committee warned about that, and I know that my right hon. and learned Friend has noted our words. There is also the question of the physical, long-standing, long-enduring construction of a mighty building which would be the Great British consulate-general, showing that Britain will remain interested in the territory for years and years ahead. It would be a physical manifestation of our interest. There is also the recommendation in our report that the issue of the boat people should be dealt with. I shall not elaborate on that difficult issue now. There is also the final interpretation of the law, which we suggest should be clarified, and there are proposals for the development of democracy. Most of those aspects of our report were denounced in Hong Kong in the heat of the moment. Now is the time for cooler consideration. Of course, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) has
Column 1191said, ultimately the interests and the future of Hong Kong depend on China. For all its unpredictability and for all the hideous upheavals of recent days and the past, China has stayed predictable throughout about Hong Kong. Even in the moments of blood, smoke and horror, we must remember that basic fact.
In eight years' time Hong Kong becomes a ward of China. We must make sure that it remains also a precious godchild of Britain, Europe and the whole free world. A secure future can surely be built on that basis.
Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West) : The current situation in Hong Kong has been described as a crisis of confidence. We can certainly understand why the people of Hong Kong have no confidence in the Government of the People's Republic of China after the recent atrocities in Peking and elsewhere, but they also have decreasing confidence in the British Government. Indeed, the feeling among many of them is that they are being betrayed. The first duty of the House, therefore, is to restore their confidence--especially when we consider their valuable contribution to the wellbeing of the people of Britain over many years.
We must consider the best way to restore that confidence. There have been suggestions from some quarters that the Joint Declaration should be torn up, but I believe that that would be unrealistic and undesirable. The track record of the Government of the People's Republic of China--despite what has been said about Tibet by the leader of the Democrats--has been generally a good one in terms of keeping to international agreements and treaties. The recent events in the People's Republic of China, horrific and deplorable though they have been, have not invalidated the Joint Declaration. What can we do to ensure that the Joint Declaration is implemented, to achieve security for the people of Hong Kong and political, social and economic stability in Hong Kong? First, we can try to encourage the emergence of strong and democratic institutions, which I have advocated during visits to Hong Kong and in this House for many years--even before the signing of the Sino-British agreement. Unfortunately, successive British Governments have been guilty of dragging their feet on that issue and have been content to continue governing Hong Kong in the style of a colonial dictatorship. I hope that the House will welcome the Select Committee's proposals for the Legislative Council--that 50 per cent. of the council should be directly elected by 1991 and 100 per cent. by 1995, and that the chief executive should be elected by universal suffrage as soon as possible. In the Select Committee I said that I should have preferred the latter election to take place at least six months before 1997. At least the Committee has gone some way towards meeting that point, although I accept the doubts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) about whether an electoral college would be the best way to proceed.
Column 1192At this point I part company with most other members of the Select Committee, because I believe that the second way to help to restore confidence and allay the fears of the Hong Kong people is to give the right of abode in this country to all British dependent territory citizens. I argued that point, too, in Committee, and I tabled an amendment which unfortunately was supported by only one other Member--my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Welsh). Bearing in mind what the right hon. Gentleman who chairs the Select Committee has said, is it not ironic that the Portuguese Government have granted the people of Macao a right of abode which in effect will give them the right not just to enter Portugal but to enter other European Community countries and to seek work in those countries, including the United Kingdom, yet the United Kingdom will exclude British passport holders in Hong Kong from that same and equal right?
It is also less than even handed on the part of the Government to have given special priority treatment to the Falkland Islanders, but to deny similar treatment to the people of Hong Kong. It is also worth bearing in mind that there are literally millions of people scattered throughout the globe who have the right of abode in this country, but who do not wish to exercise that right at present or in the immediate future. I can imagine, for example, the possible scenario in the event of a crisis in South Africa. It is estimated that 1 million white South Africans have the right of abode in this country. If a revolutionary situation emerged in South Africa, I am sure that the Government and Conservative Members would be bending over backwards to bring those people into this country. There would, probably, not be a whimper of protest from them and their supporters.
It is also indulging in scaremongering to conjure a vision of 3 million, 3 or 4 million people from Hong Kong suddenly appearing on our doorstep. It is most unlikely, even in an Armageddon situation, that they would all want to come to the United Kingdom. Even the Government have hinted that, if the worst comes to the worst, they would try to initiate some international response. Obviously, by 1997 there will be the opportunity for members of the European Community, with a population of about 240 million, and other immigrant-receiving countries such as Canada, Australia and the United States of America, to offer a generous response. If, however, a large number of Hong Kong people came here, their entrepreneurial and other skills would be an added asset to the economic and social wellbeing of this country.
Unfortunately, the Foreign Secretary is not present in the Chamber. In a recent BBC television programme called, "Hong Kong--A Matter of Honour", when pressed by the interviewer, he seemed to indicate that part or-- perhaps--the whole reason for not giving the right of abode to those people was that it would "exacerbate ethnic tensions". There are perhaps shades of Enoch Powell there. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House would deplore any discrimination on ethnic grounds. Certainly, British public opinion seems to be more progressive than British governmental opinion in that respect. An opinion poll in the same television programme, which has been confirmed by subsequent opinion polls in the quality press, showed that the majority of the British people would be in favour of granting the right of abode.
Column 1193If the right of abode were granted, what would be the likely effect in Hong Kong? Some people have said that it would lead to depopulation or even mass exodus. In fact, there is a partial brain drain in Hong Kong already, because people do not have the right of abode in the United Kingdom. Many skilled people, such as the managerial classes, are going to countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States for a period so as to qualify for the right of abode in those countries. Therefore, Hong Kong, temporarily at least, is being deprived of skills. More of those skilled people would stay in Hong Kong if they had the insurance policy of the right of abode in this country.
What would be the effect on the Government of the People's Republic of China if the right of abode in the United Kingdom were given to the people of Hong Kong? The Secretary of State referred to the self-interest of the People's Republic of China regarding Hong Kong. I maintain that if we gave the right of abode to the people of Hong Kong it would act as a disincentive to the People's Republic of China to intervene in the internal affairs of Hong Kong. Currently, many people in Hong Kong have nowhere else to go, which might be a temptation to the People's Republic of China to intervene. Paradoxically, if people had the freedom to go elsewhere, China would be more likely to behave in a reasonable manner because the last thing that it wants is a mass exodus. If that happened, it would simply inherit a desert instead of a country with an economic future.
The right of abode would therefore be a disincentive to the People's Republic of China to intervene and to breach the Joint Declaration. It would also be a positive incentive to the people of Hong Kong to stay in Hong Kong, to build their future there and to have a stable, peaceful and fruitful relationship with the rest of China, with Britain and with the rest of the world.
Sir Julian Ridsdale (Harwich) : The Foreign Secretary, in his excellent and wise speech, said that the Joint Declaration of 1984 was a triumph of diplomacy. Yes, it was, but, in my right hon. and learned Friend's modest way, he did not speak of the great part that he played in that triumph. We should be grateful to him not only for his experience, but for the part that he played in negotiating the 1984 agreement. We should also be grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his recent visit to Hong Kong. In the face of great difficulty, he resisted giving way to some demands that would have been extremely difficult to meet.
My right hon. and learned Friend said that it was important that we get deeds as well as words from China, which would be a clear message of assurance to the Hong Kong people, and that he hoped that that would happen as soon as possible. That is what we should aim to achieve. I know the tragedy of what happened in Tiananmen square--I know that square well, as I have visited it on many occasions. Over and above the tragedies that occurred, however, it is in the interests of Asia and in the interests of all of us that we get such an assurance from China as soon as possible.
Yes, the Joint Declaration of 1984, which is now seriously jeopardised, had international support and good will. All that was undermined by the happenings in Tiananmen square. I understand the deep anxiety felt by
Column 1194the Hong Kong citizens. I served there as a soldier at the outbreak of the 1939 war and I experienced the loyalty to the Crown given by its people. That loyalty was also expressed during the war and during the Falklands war. I appreciate the need for prompt action to restore confidence ; otherwise the unique position of Hong Kong as a financial centre could be seriously harmed before 1997.
As the Foreign Secretary said, our problem now is to stop the exodus of essential personnel and the international community must also play its part. It is in our interests, in China's interests, and, in this independent, global world, in everyone's interest that we have international support. If we do, we will have a greater chance of keeping Hong Kong as a thriving financial centre, to the benefit not only of China but of the world. That is why I was glad that the Foreign Secretary underlined that that was one of the important questions that would be discussed at the summit meetings. That is the perfect opportunity for such a discussion and we are fortunate to have it.
I have visited China a number of times, but the visits I recall most are those that I made in 1979, 1987 and 1988. In 1987, I led an all-party delegation and I was fortunate enough to have the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) as a member of that delegation. I understood the strong feelings he expressed when he made a statement to the House about the Chinese Government. When I visited China in 1979, I thought the conditions were austere, but the hon. Member for Warley, East told me that I should have been there a few years before, when things were much worse and contact even more difficult.
What a difference it was when we visited in 1987. There was investment in industry, and new hotels were being erected. I visited Peking and Shanghai and, in comparison to 1979, China had almost doubled her standard of living. I also met members of the People's Liberation Army. I was fortunate enough to take my young grandson aged 14 as a travelling companion. I can vividly recall the great reception we were given and how the Chinese Minister for Education sat him down on a couch and said that he could give my grandson a bird's eye view of China in 15 minutes.
When I visited China in 1988, even more change was taking place. There had been great economic progress, but it was noticeable that the Government were encountering difficulties, because at the same time as expansion had taken place, inflation was also rising. I am sure that President Nixon, in his excellent article in The Sunday Times, was right when he said that we must keep our presence in China behind the wall. I had to deal with Japan when it was controlled by a military power. Where there are extremists, it is important to try to support liberals and others. One must not lose contact with such regimes, but one must also realise that one is not dealing with the same type of regime as is found in Europe ; one is dealing with an establishment, not a democratic regime. We are fortunate that President Bush is at the summit, as he understands China so well. He was a China hand. He is a moderate, and he will understand only too well some of the difficulties that we face. Despite the difficulties and the drama of recent months, we must keep in contact with China. It is easy to get political applause by saying that the events of recent months were horrific. They certainly were, but a friend of mine, a distinguished China hand, told me that such things had happened in China in the past 30 years. He said that
Column 1195there had been four or five such incidents in the past, but that modern communication had made democracy difficult for China. Modern communication has brought such events home. Therefore, we must ensure that we have the confidence to overcome the difficulties. What a difference it is for me to consider Asia today, with the Pacific rim producing 40 per cent. of the world's gross national product, compared with the Asia of 50 years ago when I visited Hong Kong for the first time. I knew then that war was ahead of us and that, for Asia, disaster lay ahead. We have overcome those difficulties and the difficulties that we face now are much easier than those of the past.
I hope that we shall try to speed contacts with the Chinese Government, who are by no means all extremists. If we can do that, we shall achieve what my hon. and right hon. and learned Friend advocated. He is right to say that it is important that we get deeds as well as words from China, and that a clear message of assurance is given to the Hong Kong people as soon as possible. I hope that that happens, as it will be in the interests of China, Hong Kong, this nation and the world.
Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport) : During the past few weeks the Foreign Secretary has been under attack over his handling of Hong Kong. It is not easy, at any time, to be Foreign Secretary, but he has conducted this difficult task with immense skill, patience and courage.
In the short time that I have I shall concentrate on our responsibilities which are clearly to maintain the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong up to and beyond 1997. When discussing this with the People's Republic of China, we are entitled to remind those people that when we entered into the 1984 agreement it related to them as well as to the people of Hong Kong.
When the British Government say to the Chinese Government, "We need to take these actions to retain that prosperity and stability" they must be prepared to listen to us because we all know that Hong Kong is immensely fragile and has always been so. Its confidence can dissipate very quickly. I well remember when there was a near-mutiny in the police forces in Hong Kong in October 1977. It was a very difficult situation and the quite exceptional governor at the time, the then Sir Murray MacLehose, who now sits in another place, argued strongly for a partial amnesty to be given to a large number of people who had all the appearance of being guilty. I was extremely dubious about his proposal and took a lot of persuading, but he was right. The partial amnesty restored confidence in Hong Kong and taught me a major lesson : we cannot apply to Hong Kong some of the standards of fairness and equity that we would normally apply to the governance of the United Kingdom.
How we restore confidence and our handling of the Select Committee report will be crucial. The Select Committee rightly said that the Government must exercise discretionary power to give some people right of entry into the United Kingdom as a confidence-building measure so that they will continue to contribute to the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong. I agree with the Chairman of the Select Committee that it will be immensely difficult to exercise that judgment. I do not like the expression