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Column 1196"categorisation". How we exercise that discretion will be extremely difficult to justify to the House and Hong Kong. Frankly, it can be done only by the governor, who holds the necessary powers. He can directly advise the British Government and, through them, the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary. The governor must be given considerable discretionary power and, if necessary, we shall have to legislate for this.
The pace at which we make those discretionary judgments will depend on the most critical factor of all : the response of Peking. Perhaps we have not had enough discussion of the central importance of China in the restoration of confidence in Hong Kong. A few well-judged sentences, phrases and actions from Peking over the next few months could contribute more to the restoration of confidence than anything we do, even--begging his pardon-- granting the right of abode of which the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) spoke.
We must be careful about using words such as "shabby" and "grubby" in this context. These are very difficult issues and, in my experience, the more politicians talk about morality, the more they lose touch with reality. We face very hard choices. We may have to be far more generous in giving Hong Kong citizens the right of entry over the next few years than any of us realises. We should not take too rigid a stance. If the position were to deteriorate considerably in China, we would have to be more generous and maintain the confidence of many more people in Hong Kong than we shall over the next few months.
I openly admit that I have no greater wisdom than any other hon. Member on this issue, but I believe that China will not revert to the cultural revolution. I do not believe that the Chinese Government will decide to forgo the substantial reforms that flowed from the third plenum in 1978. Modernisation of the economy will still be a major thrust of Chinese policy.
We should also remind ourselves that the third plenum made another decision : to give priority to economic modernisation and political stability. When we criticise Deng Xiaoping we should remember that, in his experience, students were not always the fount of all wisdom in China. There is an intense fear of instability in China. That is no excuse for the massacre, which was almost beyond words to describe. The western world, Asia and, far more importantly, the people of China will not forget what happened in Tiananmen square. However, because what happened was wrong, it does not necessarily follow that a sequel of events in China will turn back the clock on the economic reforms.
It has always been clear that, unlike the leadership of the Soviet Union, the Chinese leadership is not aiming for serious glasnost or democratic reform, which I regret because I believe that it should. Violence, and the acceptability of violent behaviour, in China is not new. What the Chinese have been doing in Tibet over the past few years and months is little short of appalling in terms of human rights. Their support for Pol Pot in Cambodia was equally outrageous. We knew that when we negotiated the agreement in 1984. We took a judgment and hoped that the economic advantages of maintaining Hong Kong would be sufficient to justify it, but they may not be. If that is not so, the House will have to respond, as it responded to Uganda. We could not predict what was going to happen and, faced with General Amin, there was a
Column 1197humanitarian necessity for us to respond. That may be the case with China, although I wish that there was less talk of Armageddon and an horrendous future, which could prove to be a self- fulfilling prophecy, and a little more cautious belief that the changes that started in China in 1978 will not be reversed and that Hong Kong is an essential part of maintaining that economic modernisation.
Apart from his far too limited view about how we should use the flexibility of right of entry, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) spoke many wise words with which I agree--particularly his point about patience. We shall return to the issue of Hong Kong many times in the next eight years, and perhaps quite a few times in the next year, when the situation will be fraught. All that I beg of the House is to be confident in the Foreign Secretary's capacity to handle this matter. There will be a difficult judgment to make on the trade mission. I hope the Foreign Secretary meets his Chinese counterpart as soon as is humanly possible, certainly at the United Nations in September and, arguably, before.
We must weigh carefully the issue of how to handle economic and trade matters. The Government are right not to have applied economic sanctions to China, and to have followed the rest of the world and the United States in holding off from doing so. At the economic summit, the fact that we have not applied sanctions can be used to explain to China that we shall see how it responds to Hong Kong as a litmus test for whether it will continue with economic modernisation and whether the world will help in its economic modernisation. If we could obtain an expression of good will that, in the event of an Armageddon, there would be a world response, all well and good. I say to the Chairman of the Select Committee that it will be almost impossible to convince other Governments to make a commitment to accept the residents of other countries in advance of the holocaust. The most that we shall receive is a general expression of solidarity. The Chairman of the Select Committee is right to say that we shall see these forced migrations in many parts of the world for many different reasons and will have to learn how to respond to them internationally.
Confidence in Hong Kong is a fundamental issue. We can help to achieve this. It is not a matter of money. People in the public health service, education, social services, the transportation system, and the management of the stock exchange and commodity markets are all crucial to the economic prosperity and the social stability of Hong Kong. If it helps them to retain their jobs until 1997 and beyond, this country must be generous and give them that confidence. 7.29 pm
Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion) : Before I come to the main theme of our debate, I want to say a word about the boat people in Hong Kong. This is a painful and intractable problem, but, speaking for myself, I think that we must draw the line against forcible repatriation. We cannot accept that. Older Members will recall the forcible repatriation of the Cossacks and the Cherniks. No one would suggest that someone escaping across the Berlin wall should be sent back. At one human rights conference after another, our representatives speak of the right of emigration. If the newspapers are to be believed, we are
Column 1198proposing to give a per capita grant to Vietnam for every Vietnamese repatriated. We had much better spend the money getting them decent accommodation in Hong Kong or elsewhere until a more sensible solution to the problem can be found.
The growth of business ties with China, the fact that for many years it appeared to be almost an ally against Brezhnev's imperialism, and the spread of tourism, all fostered the illusion that the Chinese dragon had become the sleeping beauty--but it was always an illusion. I am probably the last British officer who served on Chiang Kai Shek's staff. I have no illusions about the brutality of his regime at times, and the Maoist- Communist revolution was more bloodstained even than the Leninist-Stalinist one. We should not be too surprised at what has happened. I was a little surprised that my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said that he was stunned by what had happened. Perhaps he should have had a slightly less naive view of the situation.
There is undoubtedly widespread discontent in China. It manifested itself first in Tibet. It arose not only in Peking and Shanghai--it was also to be seen in many of the provincial towns. This was no little local difficulty. That much is made clear by the official propaganda which denounces the counter-revolutionary plot and, rather than trying to play down what has happened, tends, if anything, to build it up.
The regime was clearly scared, because there appears to have been a moment of fatal hesitation when it did not react. Had it reacted more quickly there might have been less bloodshed. But the Chinese Government were not sure what to do. Were there divisions in the party and in the army? In a curious way I was reminded of General de Gaulle flying to Baden when I heard that Deng Xiaoping had flown to Wuhan to see the generals and recall the veterans of the long march. Perhaps order has been restored--if so, it is under a fairly elderly and old-fashioned leadership.
I shall not attempt to prophesy that China will return to warlordism, but the country has a history of instability, not just in the old days but under the Communist regime--under Mao, Lin Xiao Xhi and all the others. What has caused this instability? I suppose it is the difficulty of reconciling economic progress and political stability. That has been exacerbated by external influences--by business connections and by students going abroad, but perhaps more importantly by the influence of Taiwan. I believe that there were more than 300,000 Taiwanese visitors to the mainland last year. Perhaps above all, there has been the influence of Hong Kong, with its free press and vocal political views.
When it comes to the crunch between promoting prosperity or retaining political power for the party, we have seen that the regime opts for retaining political power, even at some damage to the chances of prosperity. This is awkward for my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and for all of us, because the basic calculation on which the Anglo-Chinese arrangement was made was that it was manifestly in China's interest that Hong Kong should continue as a prosperous capitalist centre and that "one country, two systems" was obviously what the future of China required. However, when a regime opts in favour of retaining political power at the expense of promoting prosperity, it is no wonder the people in Hong Kong are anxious.
Column 1199What can we do? Looking back, I sometimes wonder if we were right--I say "looking back" because I did not think this at the time--to surrender sovereignty as completely as we did. Of course, we could not have defended Hong Kong against attack, or even siege, but there might have been a Rubicon that Peking would have hesitated to cross.
I shall advance three suggestions of what we might do. They fit in well with what my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said, although perhaps I put them a little more brutally. We want an autonomous regime in Hong Kong of a kind which could continue after 1997. It must be equipped with its own security force, including perhaps a gendarmerie. Perhaps Hong Kong could even afford to employ some Gurkhas. The force should be of sufficient strength that any attempt to subvert Hong Kong from the inside, or to advance against it from the outside, would be visible to the whole world. There must be no Chinese army garrison inside Hong Kong, at any rate until the 50-year period is over. Beyond that, it is worth considering the interests of other countries in Hong Kong. The Germans, the Japanese and not least the Americans all have massive investments there. Could we not persuade them to underwrite the basic agreement that we have concluded with the Chinese Government? We hope, too--the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) said that there is reason to hope this-- that the Chinese will return to the good sense that led them to make the agreement originally.
If we fail, we shall face the problem of the right of abode much more clearly than we do today. Much has been said about it. I hope that I shall not be thought wet or lacking in determination if I do not pronounce on it today. We have time. I should like to see how matters develop and what the Chinese Government do to restore confidence in Hong Kong. Only yesterday they tried to give reassurances, at the same time saying that Hong Kong must be careful not to become a nurse to anti-Communist propaganda. That was not reassuring.
Let us see how the situation develops. The problem is with us for a long time to come. It will return to the House of Commons and I hope that the Government will bring it back to the House when we meet again in the new Session after November.
Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton) : I believe that we have a strong moral obligation to the people of Hong Kong. I think that every hon. Member realises that, but many are wriggling and trying to avoid facing up to it by making proposals which they think the people of Hong Kong should accept as a basis for future confidence in the behaviour of the Chinese People's Republic. It is very easy to lecture people in Hong Kong about how confident they should be, but it is revealing when we see the Foreign Secretary admitting on television that if he lived with his family in Hong Kong, he would be looking for an insurance policy.
Conservative Members who are so eager to suggest to the people of Hong Kong that they should have confidence should ask themselves how they react when they are asked to have confidence in the new regime in the Soviet Union and its policy of disarmament. Is there a ready acceptance
Column 1200of the new regime, confidence in it and attention to its words? Of course there is not. All we get is the cry of caution--nothing can be done until everything has been proved and every t crossed and every i dotted. Only then will they have confidence. However, the people of Hong Kong should have confidence in the face of what they saw on their televisions a month ago.
I base my case on morality. Ten minutes ago, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who has now left the Chamber, told us that when he hears politicians speak of morality, he thinks that they are departing from reality. When I hear people saying that we must face up to the reality of the situation, I feel that they are departing from morality, and morality is an extremely important part of a politician's make-up.
The people of Hong Kong must have a real basis for confidence. What better way to find out what they require than to ask them and to listen to what they say? Is there any doubt in anyone's mind about what would build the confidence of the people of Hong Kong? It is an extension of the right of abode in this country if they need it. I strongly support that. I advocate that it should be extended to them.
I know that that is contrary to my party's policy, but I believe that morally that is what should be done, and I will not justify it on the basis that perhaps only a few of them will come, so we need not worry about it. We have a moral responsibility, it should be faced up to and we should accept that we may have to meet it in full. If we have to do that, we shall have to ask the British people to make tremendous sacrifices. Are we so afraid of the morality of the British people that we cannot put that to them?
I represent a constituency in the north-west of England. What gives me most pride in that is something that I used as the theme of my maiden speech. It was the tremendous moral conduct of the textile workers in that area during the American civil war, when they refused to touch or work with the cotton brought here from the southern states, because they were against slavery. Because of their principles about what was happening in a country an ocean away, their children went hungry. Their houses were taken from them, but they did not flinch from that moral stance. I look back on that with the utmost pride.
I should like to think that, in the future, when people look back on this episode in history, they will not see that we tried to dodge our moral responsibility by saying, "Well, I am not sure that we have moral responsibilities," as the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said. I was astounded by that. I would have thought that he, of all people, would accept this moral responsibility. If we do not face up to it, this will be a black chapter in our history, and the people who come after us will look back and say that we did a dishonourable act.
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) : This country has a long and honourable record of providing a haven to those who are persecuted, subjugated or in other ways intimidated or discriminated against for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. That is entirely proper, for such persecution or discrimination forms the kernel of the reasons for granting refugee status.
Three groups of such refugees can be instanced quite easily and serve to illustrate our record of compassion. The
Column 1201first group was the Huguenots, who fled Europe three centuries ago to escape religious persecution, the second the Jews who came from eastern Europe to escape racist and religious persecution. In recent years, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said, came the third group--the Asians from East Africa who came here when those countries were Africanising their economies. Interestingly, those groups have generally prospered and made a considerable contribution to the country that gave them sanctuary. Recently, we have played a large part in settling a substantial number of Vietnamese boat people. However, the people of Hong Kong do not qualify as political refugees, because they are not persecuted, subjugated or discriminated against. I do not believe that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State could grant right of entry or abode to the 3.25 million Hong Kong British citizens, either on the basis of political asylum, or under the discretion of the Home Secretary. Without doubt, he would be acting ultra vires. Those of us who unequivocally supported the Joint Declaration in 1984 as a pragmatic, realistic and even elegant solution to the problem of how to secure the safety of the Hong Kong people beyond 1997 were encouraged in our support by the open door policy then being followed by China and by its new-found enthusiasm for strengthening its relationships with the rest of the world. We prayed that there would be no return to the madnesses of the cultural revolution, which would damage confidence in Hong Kong. In 1986, a number of my hon. Friends and I expressed concern at the creation of the British national (overseas) status, but we voted for it and kept our fingers crossed that China would maintain its progress towards modernisation and improving international relationships.
Earlier this year, before the flowering of the pro-democracy movement in China, reports of diminishing confidence in the Joint Declaration in Hong Kong reached us. However, we were inclined to dismiss such reports as a sign of Hong Kong volatility. Now, after the ghastly events of 3 and 4 June, confidence in Hong Kong is shattered and the demands for right of abode have risen to a crescendo. To grant such right of abode to all those who might claim it would, as I said earlier, be ultra vires.
What can we do to restore confidence? I am much attracted by the search of my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) for an international solution, with assurance given in advance by a number of nations. As my right hon. Friend said, it might be necessary for those international assurances to be honoured in circumstances well short of the Armageddon scenario, and perhaps before 1 July 1997, if events in China become so alarming that confidence in the Joint Declaration breaks down completely. In any case, if the agreement breaks down beyond 1997, it is most unlikely that the People's Republic of China will allow the Hong Kong people to leave, and a new and terrifying armada of small boats will take to the seas with a new boat people.
If such an eventuality came to pass, so that that international assurance had to be honoured, it is without doubt that Britain would need to give a substantial lead, taking a large proportion of those who wished to leave. Should we regard this with fear, or should we welcome the prospect of an influx of skilful and hard-working people who might help to bridge the shortage of modern skills that confronts industry, particularly when our pool of young and entrant labour diminishes as dramatically as it
Column 1202will do? Perhaps we should encourage a greater number of Hong Kong people to bring their skills and energies to this country, not as refugees from an Armageddon situation but through an orderly influx over a period of time.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford made clear in his statesmanlike and persuasive speech, if we wait for Armageddon, the skilled and the entrepreneurial will have long since left Hong Kong and gone to the States, Canada, Australia or almost anywhere but the United Kingdom. We will need to offer entry under circumstances well short of catastrophe in return for a commitment to stay in Hong Kong until 1997 or until such time as international opinion believes that circumstances in China have deteriorated to the point where international agreements and assurances are triggered.
It may be necessary to change the present law to enable us to give such an assurance to the Hong Kong people. So be it ; that will be the price of maintaining our international integrity. As others wiser than I have said, there is no doubt that the international community looks to us for a lead in the matter of Hong Kong, and we must not disappoint them.
Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan) : I was not in the House during the period leading up to and following the signing of the joint agreement with China, but I have taken the trouble to read extensively the debates and statements of the past 10 years. The picture that appeared was of the Government and the Opposition engaged in an orgy of self-congratulation ; complacency abounded ; the best of all possible solutions had been found. That is the message that strikes the reader of the records.
While it was acknowledged that the people of Hong Kong had no real choice but to accept the agreement concluded between the United Kingdom and China, the underlying theme was that a sophisticated and skilled United Kingdom team had obtained a good deal from a Chinese Government undergoing a profound change and a Chinese Communist party which no longer held the view that the only power worth exercising was that which came from the barrel of a gun. The skill of the United Kingdom, the deep changes within the ruling groups of China, and the text of the agreement were supposed, in themselves, to provide the foundation upon which the people of Hong Kong could place faith and reliance and maintain their sense of security and confidence in the future. What we have in fact, long before the fateful date of 1997, is a manifest failure of that agreement to maintain the Hong Kong people's sense of security and confidence and I am not surprised. When the United Kingdom Government entered into negotiations, they made a monumental error of judgment about the nature and character of the Chinese Communist party. The Government suspended their critical faculties. The party that had created the human misery associated with the great leap forward, the blooming and then the cutting down of intellectuals, and the disaster of the cultural revolution, was accepted at face value when it claimed to have changed beyond recognition. Our Government and Opposition did not have the ability to look below the surface of the slogan, "Socialism with a Chinese face" to see that it represented only a disguise. What the Hong Kong people got from the British contribution to their fate was not a sophisticated analysis
Column 1203of the Chinese Communist party and its workings and internal tensions, but an overdose of naivety. The British missed altogether the sort of evidence then available--which was quoted on page 146 of the minutes of evidence to the Select Committee on 20 April-- from a group called "1997 Concerns."
Deng Xiaoping said in 1988 :
"don't think that all of Hong Kong's affairs will be managed by Hong Kong, with the central government sitting idly by, and everything will be just fine. This is not acceptable. This type of attitude is not practical. Can you imagine that there will be no obstructions or destructive forces in Hong Kong? I see no grounds for such self consolation."
Against that hard-headed dose of realpolitik, the Hong Kong people got naivety. The Foreign Secretary conjured up visions of passing on Hong Kong, like a precious Ming vase, to his Chinese team mates, as he described them.
The Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), said :
"Secondly, we should acknowledge the essence of the joint declaration that, from 1 July 1997, the People's Republic of China will be sovereign. Some hon. Members have said that that means that the Chinese Government can do anything they wish, but, as others have said, there are constraints on them. Our responsibility is to secure all the safeguards that we can, realise their limitations and ensure that the Basic Law corresponds as much as possible with the spirit and letter of the joint declaration. After that it is a matter of trust.
In Beijing, the Government of the People's Republic of China described their signature of the joint declaration as a solemn commitment. I accept their sincerity--much more than I do that of the present British Government on a number of issues."--[ Official Report, 15 July 1988 ; Vol. 137, c. 754.]
Whatever one might say about the Thatcher Government, we have not yet had tanks and machine guns in the streets. The hon. Gentleman spoke those words in this Chamber only one year ago. None is so blind and deaf as he who does not wish to see or hear.
The truth is now emerging. Far from the cosy, cordial, open relationship where trust could be assumed, the Foreign Secretary said to the Select Committee on 14 June, at page 351 of the minutes of evidence :
"Everything one says about China, even in communications as open as they were before the atrocious events of a couple of weeks ago, is less than perfect ; one is looking through a thousand glasses darkly."
Bearing in mind his previous statement about Hong Kong being like a precious Ming vase passed from hand to hand, we wonder at his choice of metaphor when he now tells us that it was never easy to see the other side to which we are handing the vase.
Let us consider the reality faced by the people of Hong Kong, over whom we have absolute power and for whom we have absolute responsibility now and until 1997. There is to be a transfer of territory. There is to be, uniquely, a transfer of people against their will. The territory and the people will be placed under Chinese sovereignty. The Chinese have promised not to derogate sovereignty, but to exercise it within an agreed framework of autonomy, which they will set up in consultation with the people of Hong Kong but with the final version resting with them as the sovereign power. Britain will issue people in Hong Kong with passports purporting to give them a form of British nationality, but without the benefits of a real national. In fact, those passports will offer no British protective cover in Hong Kong.
It is an unenforceable agreement. I stand open to correction, but I am certain that China's arrangement for
Column 1204the International Court of Justice to have jurisdiction over certain matters will not cover a breach of the agreement. Even if I am not correct in that, we all know that in recent cases, such as the United States against Nicaragua, and Iran against the United States on the issue of hostages, the ICJ had no remedies because it had no sanctions to apply. The much-vaunted Joint Declaration cannot be enforced by Britain, but it can be broken by the Chinese. People say that the Chinese keep their agreements. They might keep their external agreements but, as Tibet has shown, they do not keep their internal agreements when they have sovereignty.
The unenforceable agreement makes the Hong Kong Chinese people hostages to fortune. The Government and the Opposition have tenaciously clung to the idea that those people cannot have the right of abode in the United Kingdom. The Foreign Secretary has said that there are many problems. We accept that there are practical problems, but they are mostly about resource pressure on important social services. There is a practical way out of that practical problem. We should give the right of abode and simultaneoulsy establish a Hong Kong investment fund, similar in character and objectives to the Kuwaiti investment fund, which has grown enormously over the years, to create a capitial resource which would allow us, in the event of Armageddon, to go to the British people and international community and suggest that they take not just the people of Hong Kong but the help of the capital resources to overcome the practical problems that have been described. If we do not give the people of Hong Kong the right of abode, we shall do them a great evil.
Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South) : I am glad to see the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) in his place because I wish to refer to his claim that Parliament shrugs its shoulders at Hong Kong. That that is not true has been shown by this deeply serious debate in which hon. Members have shown much concern. It would be a great pity if the message that we do not care were to go to the people of Hong Kong. The message that we want to send to them is that we understand the anguish and trauma that they feel as a result of the massacre in Tiananmen square and we understand why they feel that way. In return, I ask something of them. One sometimes sees reports of the questioning in Hong Kong of British motivation in relation to Hong Kong. It is alleged that the British Government, indeed the British Parliament, attach more importance to increasing British trade with China than to securing a good future for Hong Kong. Having had some experience as a Minister responsible for Hong Kong, and having followed the subject all my political career--indeed I was born there and have followed it all my life--I can confirm with great confidence that that allegation is untrue. The motivation of this Government, as of previous Governments, has been to secure the best possible future for Hong Kong. Not only is the allegation untrue ; it is a deeply unwise allegation for anyone in Hong Kong to make. It results in a self-inflicted wound because it damages confidence inside Hong Kong.
If one were to consider the matter on a purely commercial basis--which I am not--and examined the difference in trade between Britain and China and Britain and Hong Kong, it would be seen that we sell to China less than half what we sell to Hong Kong. On a commercial
Column 1205basis, it would be folly if the British Government sought to improve our trade with China at the expense of Hong Kong. The restoration of confidence in Hong Kong is one of the most difficult questions that we have had to face in our overseas deliberations for some time. The issue of right of abode is extremely difficult. I have to say to my friends in Hong Kong that the right of abode on the basis that they are seeking it is unattainable. Parliament simply would not pass the legislation required to give them what they have been asking for. The British people would not understand if it were proposed by the Government. That is a sober analysis of the position as I see it. Almost nobody in the House believes that we could do it. Almost nobody outside the House believes that we should do it. That is not because of any hostility towards the people of Hong Kong, for whom the many of us who know them have a deep respect. They are energetic, creative and active people. It is simply because of the sensitivity in Britain about the problem of immigration, resulting from the events of the past 30 years or more, and because of the sheer numbers that are being discussed. I hope that the Government will succeed in finding a satisfactory flexible solution, but I fear it must fall far short of what the people of Hong Kong have been asking for.
A point that has been implicit in many speeches is that the disadvantage of the present system, which allows people to go from Hong Kong to Britain-- although not many come--Australia, Canada and the United States is that to establish residence rights or citizenship they have to live in the country of their choice. That is bad for Hong Kong because it loses some of its best people. I hope that in seeking a flexible solution the Government will bear that in mind. The Government are right to consult other countries of good will on assurances that could be given so that the people of Hong Kong might have the prospect of moving elsewhere in the event of what my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary described as a fundamental and overwhelming violation of the Joint Declaration. Let me deal now with the prospects for faster direct elections in Hong Kong. I have said from the beginning that the second draft of the Basic Law was wrong in that respect. It was much too slow. The erection of a hurdle in the form of a referendum was a serious mistake.
It is important that the people of Hong Kong should arrive at a consensus on that question. The consensus of 24 May produced by OMELCO was an important step forward. I would go so far as to say that simply achieving another consensus may be more important than precisely what the consensus is, because it would be a powerful factor in the minds of the members of the Basic Law drafting committee.
On the question of the Vietnamese boat people, there should be an understanding that mandatory repatriation is right in the case of economic migrants. I am glad to say that the position is supported by the Save the Children Fund, so I am not speaking as somebody who has no compassion. We must obtain assurances from Vietnam that there will be no victimisation. Arrangements must exist which will give confidence that those assurances will be observed. However, I find the attitude of the United States Government and Congress on that matter incomprehensible and illogical. I hope that my right hon.
Column 1206and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary will make it clear to the Americans that that is the view of many hon. Members.
The United States says that the people now coming to Hong Kong are, for the most part, economic migrants and so do not qualify for resettlement in the United States. But it stops short at the point when it should go on. It should say that it is permissible and correct to repatriate them, as other economic migrants who have come without the benefit of visas are repatriated all over the world. They are certainly repatriated if they cross the Mexican border with the United States. Those economic migrants who come from Haiti in boats are sent straight back when they land on the coast of Florida. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will pursue that matter.
I am confident that by 1997 the future of Hong Kong will be that described in the Joint Declaration. We are familiar with the arguments about China's self-interest. China's economic self-interest is even stronger now than it was two or three months ago because it has severely damaged its economy by the events of Tiananmen square. Equally, the Taiwan factor is as strong as it has been for so many years.
I want to say something about an argument for history. It has never been true that freedom in Hong Kong has depended on democracy in China. There has been no democracy in China at any time that I can think of, certainly not in the past 148 years. The concept of "one country, two systems" is based on the assumption that China is likely to remain Communist. That is what it is all about. Therefore, we need not imagine that it is essential that China should be democratic for Hong Kong to have confidence in the future.
During all the turmoil of the past eighty years--the civil war, the arrival of Mao Tse-Tung at the border of Hong Kong in 1949 when no one knew whether he would stop or carry on into Hong Kong, the Korean war when Britain was at war with China, the United Nations trade embargo during the Korean war, the great leap forward, the cultural revolution and the Red Guards--during all that time China has not laid a finger on Hong Kong. In 1967, when the local Hong Kong Communists thought they could take the place over by a campaign of bombing and rioting, Peking positively discouraged them.
In all that time, Hong Kong was governed by "unequal" treaties--so described by China. Now that there is the "equal" treaty of 1984, why should we imagine that China is more likely to cut its own economic throat than it was during those 80 years?
We must remember that Hong Kong has come through times equally as alarming as the present, if not more so. If confidence is preserved, Hong Kong can come through this crisis, too. We have an obligation to do everything that we can to help preserve confidence. I ask the people of Hong Kong, as an act of will, to be confident. There is some will power involved, and it is for the people of Hong Kong to decide that they will keep their chins up.
The country that is best placed to help to restore confidence in Hong Kong is China itself, and it has much to gain from doing so. Recently, China reaffirmed the "one country, two system" concept. What we need now from China are practical steps and deeds, as well as more words of confidence.
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Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney) : The events that occurred in Peking on 4 June overshadow our debate and hang like a black cloud over the people of Hong Kong, but while those events remain firmly in our minds, we must take the longer perspective and try to place them in the context of the Joint Declaration signed in 1984, the transfer of sovereignty in 1997, and the 50-year treaty which will then come into force.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) that there is a unique aspect to the Hong Kong problem. Unlike all other former British colonies, the goal of independence that we have faithfully pursued across the globe for the past 40 years, since 1947, is not available to the people of Hong Kong because the lease on the new territories expires in 1997 and because China has never recognised the unequal treaties under which Hong Kong island and Kowloon were ceded in the 1840s. The result of the 1984 negotiations and the debates in the House that followed them was not independence but a treaty which guaranteed virtually total autonomy to Hong Kong for a 50-year period on the basis of the "one country, two-systems" formula.
I do not agree with the statement of the right hon. Member for Yeovil that Parliament handed over the people of Hong Kong naked to the tyranny of a Communist country. That is not so at all, and such an assertion flies in the face of everything that we set out to achieve and, indeed, accomplished. Right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House agreed that we should maintain for the people of Hong Kong substantial and almost total autonomy under one of the most remarkable treaties ever signed. That treaty granted the continuation of a separate economic system in Hong Kong. Even more important, it secured the continuity of Hong Kong's laws, system of justice, and independent legislature, based on Hong Kong itself.
One of our major concerns must be to ensure that the autonomy embodied in the Joint Declaration is fully translated into the precise language of the Basic Law, which is still in draft form. Weeks before the events in Tiananmen square, I reached the conclusion--as, I suspect, did many other right hon. and hon. Members--that the present draft of the Basic Law is inadequate and needs to incorporate stronger guarantees against any possible Chinese intervention based on the legalities of the Basic Law. It also needs to enact a Bill of Rights.
Above all, the Basic Law must provide for Hong Kong's legislature to be directly elected before 1997. That is why we and the Select Committee reject in terms the doctrine of mirror imaging, whereby the Hong Kong Administration and the British Government pretended to make proposals about democracy in particular only in so far as they thought that those proposals coincided with the intentions of the Chinese Government. We called for the people of Hong Kong themselves to determine the nature, extent and timetable for introducing democracy before 1997.
The crucial additional question that the Select Committee faced, and which now confronts the House, is whether, after the events of 4 June, the Chinese Government can still be trusted. Will they renege on their commitments? Will they tear up the treaty? Will they impose their authoritarian rule on Hong Kong? My view still is that they will do none of those things. That view is
Column 1208not based on any optimistic appraisal of the character of China's present Government. It is suggested by the immense blow to China's interests that would be struck if they were to violate the Hong Kong treaty.
Hong Kong is immensely important to China's economy. It is like a powerful tugboat, pulling the great liner of continental China towards greater economic growth and prosperity. It would be madness for the Chinese Government to tear up an agreement that guarantees continuity of Hong Kong's prosperity and progress. Perhaps the ultimate guarantee for Hong Kong is that if China tore up the treaty it would put paid for ever to the Chinese Government's cherished hopes of ultimately seeing the reincorporation of Taiwan into China. What if, despite all those considerations, a disaster occurred? I have wrestled with my conscience, as I am sure other right hon. and hon. Members have done with theirs, as to the extent of our obligation. There must have been many occasions in the past when we have launched a new nation into independence knowing very well that there could be no guarantee that after independence that nation would be safe either from internal tyranny or from external aggression, but on no previous occasion have we felt that our obligation to a former colony extended to offering a right of abode in Britain to all its inhabitants in the event of a disaster. Therefore, it is not reasonable to expect Britain to extend such a guarantee to Hong Kong now.
Any individual who is threatened or who has reason to fear persecution because of his political views should, of course, make use of our open-door policy. However, we have accepted that there is a difference between the granting of independence and the granting of autonomy, however strong we believe the treaty guaranteeing that autonomy to be. That is why the Select Committee called for Britain to take the lead in organising an international safety net if, after 1997, China tears up the 1984 treaty. For Britain alone to give such a guarantee would be unconvincing to Hong Kong and unacceptable to the bulk of our own people. If the burden can be shared with Canada, Australia, the United States and the European Community, it will provide a much broader base on which a refuge of last resort can be based. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will, as he has promised, enter into an early and serious dialogue with all our partners in helping to provide the safety underpinning that Hong Kong needs. 8.19 pm
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch) : The events of 4 June in Peking were undoubtedly significant for the history of China, both internally and externally. The first and most obvious point to make is that they illustrated, graphically and horrifically, the concern felt by many outside observers about the disparity between the movement towards economic liberalisation and the lack of movement towards political liberalisation. It would be immodest of me to refer to comments that I made in a book that I wrote in 1984 called "All Change in Hong Kong", but I do not think that I was alone in recognising the dangers that China faced. What we are now discussing is the effect of what seemed to many an inevitable crisis, and what that effect will be on the people of Hong Kong.
Hon. Members are normally required, at the beginning of speeches, to declare any interest that they may have. I
Column 1209suppose that my chairmanship of the British -Chinese parliamentary group could be construed as a political interest ; in any event, for those of us who, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and many others in the House, have watched with interest the development of politics in China during the past few years, to see China knock itself off the pedestal on which we have placed it has been a cause of grave concern.
I refer not to the Chinese Government but to the Chinese people when I say that our succour and support are needed at this time. Whatever we may fear for the future of the people of Hong Kong, I feel that we should spare--in spades--a thought for that of the Chinese, living as they do under a Government who are prepared to resort to shooting their own unarmed citizens. The Chinese Government have lost not only their credibility throughout the world, but their credibility among their own people.
I allow myself only a minor jest when I recall that, over the past few years, I have had the pleasure of showing Mr. Hu Yaobang and Mr. Zhao Ziyang round this building and chairing meetings with them, only to find subsequently that they had been disgraced. Perhaps the House should invite Li Peng to pay us a visit : he might share their fate. There can be few people who are more unpopular in China at present. Our debate has highlighted the difference between those with political responsibility--or the expectation of it--and those who have been willing to exercise their moral judgment without, perhaps, contemplating the effect of such a luxury on opinion in both Hong Kong and Peking. I implore hon. Members on both sides of the House to remember that, although the words we speak here are being spoken in a debating Chamber, they may have more of an impact on people living on the other side of the world than we are accustomed to expect of our speeches. Our criticisms of the Chinese Government should be objective ; our actions--if there is any point in saying such a thing-- should be designed to help the process of change in China, rather than to help ourselves to clear our consciences with breast-beating. That is of no use to the people of China who are suffering now.
Our message to the Chinese Government should perhaps be this : that they should understand that we understand that, on the one hand, overt external criticism is likely to be counter-productive, but, on the other hand, we appreciate their need for western technology. Perhaps the most useful action that the House can take is to allow them to contemplate how they will set the balance between what we say to them and what they need from us.
A number of hon. Members have mentioned the paramount need for China to ensure that Hong Kong remains prosperous and stable ; the point does not need to be laboured. It is, however, the key to Hong Kong's future. The only certain way in which to undermine that stability and prosperity is to destroy Hong Kong's value to China : that was the purport of my intervention in the speech of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). Sadly, some people in Hong Kong seem to aim unerringly in that direction, and I do not believe that they serve the real interests of the people of Hong Kong. China's role in Hong Kong's future is not a matter of debate ; it is a matter of fact. The 1984 Joint Declaration was and remains the only basis on which Hong Kong has any prospect of maintaining its stability and prosperity. Words such as "obligation" and "honour" may be used,
Column 1210but 1997 has always been in prospect. If I move into a house with a finite lease, my options will be limited when that lease ends : I can only hope that the leaseholder can negotiate my continued occupancy with the freeholder. That is the role that the British Government have seen themselves trying to play, and the role that, so far, they have been able to play. If we dare to send a message to the people of Hong Kong, let it be that, if it is necessary to live with a giant, sticking pins through his ankle may not be the best way of reaching an accommodation with him.
Talk of renegotiating the Joint Declaration strikes me as unhelpful ; whether we can improve the Basic Law through negotiation is an altogether different matter, but our probes must be constructed within the realistic bounds of China's bottom line--that is, the maintenance or re-establishment of sovereignty after 1997. Demanding of the Chinese that they do not station the People's Liberation Army in the territory must, in my view, seriously impinge on the sovereignty issue, and I find it hard to believe that they would be prepared to allow any such clause to be negotiated into any agreement.
It is fashionable in certain quarters in Hong Kong, and even in this country, to impugn or deride the integrity of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. That, I think, both insults the man and assaults an intelligent assessment of the situation, and those in Hong Kong who are leading the verbal attacks on my right hon. and learned Friend demean only themselves.
The 1989 scenario, as I have said, has always been there. June 1989 has created a climate of wholly understandable fear in Hong Kong. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker), however, made the shrewd and telling point that Hong Kong has never been dependent on--has never enjoyed the luxury of living in its dependency on--a democratic China. Deng Xiaoping is 84 years old, and there will undoubtedly be more change in China long before 1997. The Chinese now face a double-generation gap, between the octogenarians on the one hand and the students on the other. Time is undoubtedly on the side of China's youth. In the long run, that will be good for both China and Hong Kong, but do not let us delude ourselves into believing that stability in Hong Kong is in any way dependent on the emergence of what we call a democratic regime in China. Extravagant gestures and statements are rarely good guides in foreign policy.
There is no such thing--in Hong Kong, China, Britain or anywhere else--as a cast-iron guarantee for the future. I have always believed that the main threat to Hong Kong's future stability and prosperity comes not from China or Britain but from some of its own people, who--as the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) said in what was a shrewd and serious speech--seem to enjoy peddling the Armageddon scenario. I hope that the harbingers of doom in Hong Kong do not create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyl Tydfil and Rhymney) : Throughout the Select Committee's inquiry we kept returning to a basic but fundamental question : what is the nature of our obligation towards the people of Hong Kong, given, as my right hon. Friend the Member for
Column 1211Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) reminded the House in his speech, the unique position in which Hong Kong finds itself?
It was my privilege for a number of years to be a Minister with responsibility for our relationships with a number of dependent territories, though they did not include Hong Kong. During the years that I had that privilege, there was a choice for the dependent territories. Either they could choose to make progress towards independence at the pace that they decided for themselves or--the Falklands is a case in point--they had the right not to change. They demanded that right. In 1982, we fought a war on behalf of that right. The problem is that Hong Kong does not and cannot fit into those general characteristics. Self-determination cannot take place because of the curious leasehold relationship.
Given the existence of those unique characteristics, how do we fulfil our obligations towards the people of Hong Kong? I endorse the thrust of the policy, through the Joint Declaration and the draft Basic Law, to establish an autonomous Hong Kong region. Whenever one tries to devise an autonomous constitution, there are always grey areas of responsibility, sovereignty and division of power. In the case of Hong Kong and China, those grey areas were much larger, even before the terrible events of June. Now they are really large, particularly in relation to the changes that are required to the draft Basic Law.
I shall illustrate what is required by referring to one change that the Foreign Secretary mentioned. I am glad that he referred to it again today because he rather muffled what he said last week about article 157--that the interpretation of the Basic Law must be placed in the hands of a joint constitutional court, not in the hands of the Legislative Assembly of the People's Republic of China. That point had arisen even before the June massacre, but now it is a fundamental requirement in any further redrafting of the Basic Law.
The establishment of democratic institutions in Hong Kong must be an integral part of the autonomous character of Hong Kong after 1997. After all that has been achieved, will there be a residual obligation? I believe that there will. However, I do not believe that either the Select Committee or the Government are prepared fully to meet that obligation.
The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said that the present Government cannot bind future Governments over the thorny issue of immigration. There were sage nods when he said that, as though it were an absolute truth. However, when any Government sign a treaty, all future Governments are automatically bound by the terms of that treaty. This treaty is no different from any other treaty. It will bind future Governments, whether Labour or Conservative, to fulfil the obligations under the treaty. Those obligations do not come to an end in 1997. We shall be a party to the treaty after 1997.
The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) referred to the relationship between the leaseholder and the freeholder. He implied that the British Government had been a broker between the leaseholder and the freeholder. That is not an accurate description of the arrangements that are being put in place. The British