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Mr. Foulkes : On this issue, as on the issue about which I intervened in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, he wants to have it both ways. He said that we should take people for the reasons that I have just outlined, and I think that that is wrong.
We criticise the Government for not presenting a clear, powerfully articulated and credible alternative for restoring confidence. Such an alternative comprises three elements. The first is a firm commitment to full democracy on a fixed timetable. The second is a resolute approach to dealing with China, with the reminder that it is in its interests not only to return to civilised behaviour but to keep Hong Kong stable and prosperous. As right hon. and hon. Members have said, it is in China's interests to say--and even more so to do--things that will help reinforce confidence in Hong Kong. Thirdly, and above all, we believe in the vigorous pursuit of an international safety net, first advocated by the Opposition and now endorsed by the Select Committee.
In every debate on Hong Kong in this House, the Opposition have pressed the case for early and extensive
Column 1226democracy, but we have had procrastination and excuses galore from the Government. Britain is on very weak ground when criticising the lack of democracy in China or anywhere else while we retain colonial paternalism in Hong Kong. We wanted direct elections in 1988, but tragically--and even laughably in the light of subsequent events--the Government said that the people of Hong Kong were neither ready nor sufficiently sophisticated for that. Now there can be no excuse for delay.
We fully support the formula of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee for 50 per cent. direct elections to LegCo in 1991 and 100 per cent. in 1995. We also want some discussion on the possibility of electing in 1995, on the basis of universal suffrage, a Hong Kong Chinese resident with the appropriate age and residential qualifications as governor and chief executive
designate--notwithstanding the uncertainty and equivocation of the right hon. Member for Yeovil on the subject. The Government might say that that will need the agreement of the Chinese Government, but unless we take a stand and argue our case forcefully we shall continue to be perceived as kowtowing to the People's Republic of China on this and on other issues.
We accept that the views of the people of Hong Kong should be the main determinant of the nature and speed of introduction of democracy, but when there is no directly elected legislature to consult it is difficult to know how to determine what the views of the people of Hong Kong are. The assessment office device, which was used previously, was seriously flawed, as we have said in previous debates. If the Government do not accept, as the Opposition do, that the position is already clear from the current clamour for more and speedier democracy, surely a referendum on the options could and should be considered.
Of even greater urgency is an alternative to the right of abode. We have argued strongly that an international safety net is needed. That would not only be more credible because, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have argued, a group of countries could accommodate the numbers involved with less difficulty, but it acknowledges that many people in Hong Kong, if they really have to leave--we know that they do not want to--would prefer to join established Hong Kong Chinese communities in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and other Pacific rim countries.
If that is to be credible as an alternative, it needs to be pursued with some urgency and, if reports in the press are correct, they do not suggest that the Government are responding quickly and urgently to the pressure from the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Opposition. The Foreign Secretary referred to that slightly more positively today, but a sense of urgency was still lacking. The Foreign Secretary's only response-- the offer of passports to the elite--is the one which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton said, is most likely to cause division and dissent within Hong Kong. We urge him to think again about that before making the statement that he promised.
On a more positive note, we welcome the commitment to introduce a Bill of Rights, but a number of questions on that are still outstanding--most notably those relating to its form and timetable. I hope that the Under- Secretary of State will answer those questions, if not tonight, as quickly as possible. We also welcome the commitment to raise with the Government of China article 14 of the Basic Law on the stationing of troops of the PLA in the Hong Kong
Column 1227SAR after 1997--with the firm intention, I trust, of altering it. However, none of that is yet enough, especially combined with the Foreign Secretary's muffled message technique to restore the flagging confidence to which the huge queues outside the Singapore office testify. It needs a strong commitment and urgent action on the three areas that I have outlined.
It would be wrong to have a debate on Hong Kong and China without dealing with the plight of the Vietnamese boat people. No one who, like my right hon. Friend and I just a few weeks ago, has seen those bright eager eyes behind the wire netting of the closed camps pleading not to be sent back to Vietnam could ever forget them. We endorse the British Refugee Council's deep concern that forced repatriation would mean them returning to re- education camps and ill-treatment.
The British Refugee Council rightly asked that we should encourage voluntary return, seek detailed promises from the Government of Vietnam on their care, get the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees further involved and develop improved aid and other links with Vietnam. Economic development there will encourage others to stay and those who have left to return. It is also imperative that the Chinese stop assisting the continued flow of refugees and that Britain takes a lead to ensure that all those who were in Hong Kong before June 1988 are resettled, as agreed in Geneva. That applies also to genuine asylum seekers beyond that date.
It would be wrong not to consider the other end of China, and acknowledge with some remorse that the events in Peking have vindicated those who said that we accepted the Chinese Government's version of events in Lhasa too readily, and that the West's timid stand on Tibet may have contributed to the Peking tragedy. We should question why we are more ready to forgive China's transgressions than those of other countries, and whether it is right to give trade and investment priority over human rights and morality. Of course we want to see our relationship with China return to normal, and of course we recognise the vital importance of that to Hong Kong--and we must at some time resume talks on the Basic Law--and of course we desperately hope that China will return to the path of increased openness, but we cannot and should not resume normal relations until the killing and repression have stopped. I am sure that eventually there will be the necessary rapprochement, but we should never forget those who sacrificed their lives for democracy.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Timothy Eggar) : We have had a full and serious debate. At times it has been impassioned, and rightly so. There have been many notable and memorable contributions. The House has yet again exhibited its unanimity of concern for Hong Kong--a unanimity of concern that transcends party boundaries, which was demonstrated in the report of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. The speeches have, as usual, reflected right hon. and hon. Members' detailed knowledge of Hong Kong, its problems, challenges and successes. I shall try to answer as many as possible of the questions asked by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House in the time that I have available.
Column 1228The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) asked about the proposed mission to China by the 48 Group of traders. I assure the Opposition that the Department of Trade and Industry is in consultation with the 48 Group, and the question of the Government's financial support is being reviewed in the context of those consultations. I understand that the 48 Group itself has been reconsidering its plans.
This evening the House has accepted that the fundamentals of the Government's policy on Hong Kong remain the right ones--right because they offer the best chance for the people of Hong Kong to sustain their way of life after 1997. That is what the people of Hong Kong want--and it is what Britain, the Government and this House want for them. It is also what China is pledged to accept without conditions--and to continue to accept as its own economic and political system evolves in the years up to and beyond 1997. Tragic recent events in China mean that Hong Kong, understandably, looks to this House for reassurance. Many right hon. and hon. Members stressed the importance and extreme difficulty of rebuilding confidence in the territory. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley seems to think that it is simply a matter of discovering three magic wands, and of waving them, to make the problems go away. I do not pretend to believe that we can lay to rest all of Hong Kong's fears. The events of 3 and 4 June were too awful and too recent to allow us to say to the people of Hong Kong, "Don't worry." We would not presume to do that. However, we are working to give Hong Kong the reassurances that it needs--the reassurance of a Bill of Rights, of more changes to the Basic Law, and of more rapid progress towards representative government. We hope that, by doing so, we shall help to restore confidence in Hong Kong.
However, China--as many of my right hon. and hon. Friends said--also must play its part in restoring confidence in Hong Kong. China must demonstrate and re-emphasise its commitment to non-interference in Hong Kong--a commitment that it has already made.
I understand the feelings of many hon. Members that in these difficult circumstances it is right for us to give democracy to Hong Kong as quickly as possible. That is why we are carefully considering the pace and nature of democratisation. When we take these critical decisions, it is important that they are the right ones. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) said, a consensus is absolutely essential. It would be wrong to rush in and make snap decisions before opinion in Hong Kong has crystallised and to seek to impose our solution in this most delicate area. Clearly, there has been a shift of opinion in Hong Kong. Even before the events of 3 and 4 June, OMELCO had called for a faster pace of democratisation. We need to see whether that remains its view. It is already clear that plans for elections in 1991 will have to be reconsidered. We shall pay careful attention to that. Ever since the 1984 declaration, we have aimed to achieve continuity up to and beyond 1997. The Hong Kong people understand and share that objective. It must be right for us to seek to ensure that the democratic system that we establish before 1997 should continue after the transfer of sovereignty to the People's Republic. Therefore, it is critical that the provisions in the Basic Law reflect the wishes of the Hong Kong people and carry forward the changes that we plan to make before 1997.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) : I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend. Does he accept that even the leading Chinese negotiator on the draft Basic Law has said that he will look carefully at all its aspects? Should the Government not therefore push as hard as possible to ensure that the Chinese are prepared to accept a faster pace towards democracy?
Mr. Eggar : I am sorry that my hon. Friend has misunderstood me. Naturally, we shall pay the closest attention to opinion in Hong Kong. Once it has crystallised, we shall press within the framework of the Basic Law for the correct outcome and marry the Basic Law with that opinion.
Dr. Bray : Will the Minister confirm that, until 1997, the constitution and administration of Hong Kong are the responsibility of the British Government? It will then be for China to adapt to the circumstances when it takes over in 1997.
Mr. Eggar : I agree completely with the hon. Gentleman. I wish to make it clear that we want to understand exactly how the people of Hong Kong feel on this critical issue. Once that view has crystallised, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall fight hard for their interests within the Basic Law.
Many hon. Members have commented on the right of abode. As my right hon. and learned Friend has made clear, there is simply no way that the British Government could grant several million people the right to come and live in Britain. Such a massive immigration commitment is equivalent to about 6 per cent. of our population. It would be wholly impractical ; the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs agreed with that in its recent report.
It is more than impractical--it is wrong--to hold out the promise of an insurance policy in the knowledge that a future British Government could not possibly deliver. To do so would be a cruel deception. That having been said, however, the Government are looking as a matter of urgency at what can be done to meet the concerns of the people of Hong Kong, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary explained in his opening speech.
The scheme that we envisage will not apply solely to the rich and powerful, but will take account of factors such as the value of service to Hong Kong. Our aim is to encourage people from both the public and the private sectors whose skills are essential to Hong Kong's continued success to remain in Hong Kong, thus benefiting it between now and 1997.
Hon. Members have rightly emphasised the importance of the international dimension in seeking to give secure assurances for all the people of Hong Kong. It is clear that it would simply not be a practical possibility for Britain to provide such assurances alone. That is why we shall look for support to our friends and partners, who can help to reinforce confidence now by acknowledging that, if the worst comes to the worst, they have a responsibility to help. We have already begun discussions with our partners in Europe, the United States and the Commonwealth, and we intend to continue them vigorously at the Paris summit, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings and at subsequent international meetings. For us, Hong Kong's future is a top priority. Many hon. Members have commented on recent events and on the repression in China. About a week ago, we took the opportunity to raise China's human rights record at a
Column 1230meeting of the United Nations economic and social council, and we shall be working unremittingly to ensure that China's leaders understand fully how much world opinion condemns their appalling actions. They should also realise that continued repression will inhibit the progress of economic reform to which they say that they are committed, and which is so important to the future of their country.
We do not intend to isolate China. I can assure hon. Members on both sides of the House who have urged me to do so that my right hon. and learned Friend will take whatever opportunities occur to meet his opposite number in China to put across the specific anxieties expressed today.
Today's debate is being followed closely in Hong Kong. The people are anxious for reassurance. That is why my right hon. and learned Friend went to Hong Kong : to hear the territory's concerns at first hand and to make it clear that Britain has not wavered, and will not waver, in her commitment to the people of Hong Kong. We are honest and honourable enough to acknowledge that there are assurances that we cannot provide, and limits to what we can do. That is inevitable : it follows from the Joint Declaration and from Hong Kong's historical and geographical position. As the House recognises, we are not free agents in the matter of Hong Kong's destiny, any more than are the people of Hong Kong themselves. That may be a painful reality, but it is a reality nevertheless, and we in the House and the people of Hong Kong must accept it.
The Government are not about to cut loose from Hong Kong. We are not going to leave its people to an uncertain future. As a physical manifestation of that continued commitment, we are already planning for a large and prominent consulate-general, as was requested by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. Britain will be fully engaged at every stage in the establishment of an arrangement that will ensure the continuity of Hong Kong's way of life after 1997, a way of life that has provided the basis for a remarkable success story-- Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
Question put, That the Question be now put :--
The House divided : Ayes 19, Noes 0.
Division No. 298] [10 pm
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Johnston, Sir Russell
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Steel, Rt Hon David
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. James Wallace and
Mr. Archy Kirkwood.
Nil Tellers for the Noes
Nil Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Tony Durant and
Mr. John M. Taylor.
It appearing on the report of the Division that forty Members were not present, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative.
Column 1231It being after Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).
That the draft Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Modification) Order 1989, which was laid before the House on 26th June, be approved.
That the draft Visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law) (Amendment) Order 1989, which was laid before the House on 19th June, be approved.
That the draft Recovery Vehicles (Number of Vehicles Recovered) Order (Northern Ireland) 1989, which was laid before this House on 22nd June, be approved.
That the draft Recovery Vehicles (Number of Vehicles Recovered) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 22nd June, be approved-- [Mr. Lightbown.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed , That this House do now adjourn-- [Mr. Lightbown.]
Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen) : The purpose of the debate is to highlight the decision by Remploy to close its Rutherglen factory on safety grounds and relocate its 83 disabled workers at its Clydebank factory. The Rutherglen factory draws its work force from Rutherglen, Cambuslang, Castlemilk and south-east Glasgow, with a large proportion from East Kilbride. The catchment area is therefore very wide. If the factory were closed, there would be no employment opportunities for disabled people within that large area. All those places are further away from Clydebank than the present site and any workers who transferred would be faced with an additional 10 miles of travel, on top of the difficulties that they already face getting to the Rutherglen site. All credit is due to that work force, which makes tremendous efforts to get to work. Another 10 miles of travel would be the last straw for many of them.
The work force estimates that as many as 30 disabled workers would definitely not be able to undergo that extra travel. The local newspaper, the Rutherglen Reformer , has highlighted just one case where the proposed move would mean that the disabled person would have to give up his job. With upwards of 30 disabled people effectively being made redundant, so much for the boast of Mr. Trevor Owen, the managing director of Remploy, in a presentation made to the all-party disablement group in 1986 :
"We have never made a disabled person redundant."
The Remploy press release on the Rutherglen factory said : "In order to protect the jobs of the disabled workers at Rutherglen, the Board of Remploy has approved a substantial capital investment programme which will improve still further the employment facilities at the Clydebank Factory."
That is arrant nonsense. Employment opportunities for disabled people are governed by the proximity of the factory and the workers concerned. Progressively fewer people from the present catchment area would be employed at Clydebank, leaving the area devoid of such opportunities.
At a meeting, I was told by a Remploy representative that every effort was made to find other sites in Rutherglen and Cambuslang. When I asked, in writing, for the details, none was forthcoming. Subsequently, a senior Remploy representative told a meeting of the work force that no attempts had been made to find an alternative site, that none would be made and that, even if Remploy were offered a free factory, it would be rejected. The decision was made to reduce operating costs and economics demanded that the move takes place. Questions must be asked about the direction that Remploy has taken, especially over the past five years. Why does the company seem to have lost its way from the original philosophy of providing employment opportunities for disabled people in the locality? It is not good enough to say, as I understand that Remploy representatives have said, that other areas have no such provision. The answer is surely to level up, not down.
Column 1233Questions must also be asked about Government policy which has been implemented by the Government's appointees to the management and board of Remploy. The National Audit Office report of 1986-87 states :
"In November 1983, Remploy were asked to produce a business plan for the 4- year period 1984-85 to 1987-88 with a target of reducing government subvention so that by 1986-87 it would not exceed the employment costs of the disabled workforce. Remploy's four year business plan submitted in March 1984 showed that the bulk of the trading deficit (about £4 million out of £5 million) was accounted for by 20 of its 94 factories and that it aimed to meet its financial objective by increasing its profitable business but without closing any workshops or making workers redundant. Remploy's plan in fact provided for an increase in the number of disabled employees to 9,460 by 1987-88, but at an additional cost to DE of £6.1 million (though this was dependent on inflation factors and wage increase assumptions allowed for in the plan) in the three years 1985-86 to 1987-88. In the rolled-forward plan covering 1986-87 to 1988-89. Remploy revised the performance predictions for 1986-87 and 1987-88, which had been put forward in the previous plan approved by DE, and requested additional funds above the Public Expenditure Survey provision for 1987-88 and 1988- 89. DE did not approve additional funds and Remploy reduced the planned increase in staffing levels from 9,460 to 9,000 as a result. Although, therefore, DE/MSC do not seek to establish any direct control over the numbers employed by Remploy and in general Remploy management are left free to run their business as they think fit, DE's control of funding influences the numbers of disabled sheltered employment places available with Remploy."
So much for Government protestations that Remploy is free to make its own decisions. That freedom is clearly restrained by Government financial decisions. The Government are responsible for putting a financial squeeze on Remploy, which is forcing the company to depart from its traditional role of providing employment for disabled people in various localities. A parliamentary answer from the Department of Employment shows quite clearly that the proportion of the cost of employing people with disabilities at Remploy was 100 per cent. in 1984-85, 100 per cent. in 1985-86, 94 per cent. in 1986-87, 87 per cent. in 1987-88, and 90 per cent. in 1988-89, and the remainder was provided by the company from its trading surplus.
The public expenditure White Paper, Cm. 607, of January 1989, states :
"The aim is to provide sheltered employment in the most suitable and cost- effective way. During 1987-88 Remploy increased its turnover by £13 million to £91 million. The previous year's deficit of £0.2 million moved to a trading surplus of £1.9 million. The company's business plan for 1988-89 aims for a surplus of £2.8 million." Remploy's report to employees of June 1989 contains a statement by Tony Withey, the chief executive :
"But we increased our sales by £9 million to £99.7 million and we increased the amount we paid towards our disabled wages--our contribution'- -from £7.5 million to over £8.5 million."
A table in the annual report clearly shows that, from 1986 onwards, the Government's financial contribution to employing disabled workers has progressively fallen. I should not have thought that, in 1989, a case would have to be made for totally different criteria to be applied in the Remploy operation. Although in one year Remploy's excess of income over expenditure was £55 million, the estimate of net costs, after flow-back and savings to the Exchequer--I know that the Minister will understand the word "flow-back"--was just under £7.5 million. That is a relatively cheap cost for employing nearly 9,000 disabled people. Such costs have always been accepted as society's
Column 1234contribution to a vulnerable section of our society. I am confident that there is public support for paying those costs. In any case, the Rutherglen factory is profit-making.
The company seems to be using the excuse of the factory being declared unsafe to rationalise its costs to cope with Government restrictions. That is a dereliction of Remploy's duty as enshrined in the original Act of Parliament. The company was never intended to be treated as a wholly commercial enterprise, but it now seems that only commercial criteria are to be used.
As I understand it from the work force, Remploy has sold the factory in Rutherglen for £130,000. That means that the company is taking that money out of the Rutherglen area and it has had the nerve to tell me and local people that that will be for the good of the Rutherglen area work force. The company must know that many of those disabled people will be unable to travel further than they do at the moment.
Remploy has stated that a new factory would cost £0.75 million, but, as I have already said, the company has contributed a further £1 million from its trading surplus to the cost of employing its disabled workers. As I have shown, the effect of that is only to reduce the Government's share of those costs. I imagine that it is within the power of the Department of Employment to suggest to Remploy that a new factory should be built using that surplus. The Government would then meet the shortfall as they have in previous years.
In 1987-88 Remploy made a trading surplus for the first time. Therefore, let us be clear that Remploy could use its surplus to build a new factory or to reduce Government costs. Surely, for what is involved, it is not beyond the Government to suggest to Remploy that that £1 million would be better used to help the disabled than lying in the Government's bank account. In addition, the £130,000 from the sale of the factory could serve as a useful base for the £0.75 million cost of the factory.
That would enable the continued provision of employment opportunities for disabled people from a large catchment area. At the very least, it would mean that 30 people would avoid losing their jobs. It would also avoid long additional travel for the disabled people who might be forced to go to Clydebank. On the positive side, Remploy would retain a cohesive work force which has shown that it is profitable within the Rutherglen factory environment.
A trade union official has informed me that the Scottish Development Agency has made available to Remploy a factory of 10,000 sq ft at an annual rent of £22,000--in the Cambuslang investment park area. Although 10,000 sq ft was the wrong size, the rent is an indication of what can be made available from the Scottish Development Agency. I am sure that it will be able to come up with a suitable alternative site.
I appeal to Remploy and to the Government to find a new factory in the Rutherglen-Cambuslang area for those disabled pople, who have a hard enough life without losing a job which not only provides income but also proves that they can have independence. Their job means so much to them. I cannot believe that it is the deliberate intention of Remploy or the Government to cause so much hardship.
However, I have to accept that we live in a cynical world and that this could be a conscious decision by Remploy, backed by the Government. If that is the case and the factory is closed, as the local constituency Member of Parliament, I will neither forgive nor forget. I give the
Column 1235promise that, on the return of a Labour Government at the next general election, I will pursue with that Government the question of exactly what happens at the Rutherglen factory, who made the decisions and on what basis. Depending on the answers, I will then campaign for the appointment to the Remploy board and management of people who will operate the company on the original principles and philosophy of helping disabled people, not throwing them on the scrap heap.
The Minister can act. I call on him to do so and I advise him that he will be judged by his actions.