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House of Commons

Friday 24 November 1989

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Television (Deaf People)

9.34 am

Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South) : I wish to present a petition on behalf of and signed by more than 100 people from Portsmouth and the immediate area about television broadcasting and proper provision for deaf television viewers, which is an aim that I share, and also about such arrangements being made for broadcasts from the House. The petition says :

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your, Honourable House will ensure that legislation will be passed placing an obligation on television channel operators to make their programmes more accessible to deaf people by using Teletext subtitles, sign language or other means, and to reach complete coverage by a fixed date. And your petitioners, as in duty bound will ever pray, etc.

To lie upon the Table.

9.35 am

Mr. Michael Knowles (Nottingham, East) : I have the pleasure to present a petition from the citizens of Nottingham and other places which calls on broadcasters to provide complete access for deaf television viewers by the use of, for example, subtitles or sign language.

At least 4 million viewers are affected. As equal members of the general public, deaf viewers are entitled to equal access to television programmes. There are approximately 620 signatures on the petition, which states :

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your, Honourable House will ensure that legislation will be passed placing an obligation on television channel operators to make their programmes more accessible to deaf people by using Teletext subtitles, sign language or other means, and to reach complete coverage by a fixed date. And your petitioners, as in duty bound will ever pray, etc.

To lie upon the Table.

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National Health Service

9.36 am

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : I am delighted to present a petition on behalf of the people of Bradford, who have queued up to sign in the city centre at a stall organised by Bradford, South constituency Labour party. There are 1,300 signatures on the petition, representing a cross- section of concern about the Government's attack on the National Health Service through back-door privatisation, as expressed in the White Paper.

The petition was placed in front of people, who queued up to sign it, and it says :

The Humble Petition of the citizens of Bradford sheweth : That they are concerned at Government plans outlined in the White Paper on the National Health Service which will irreparably damage the health service, especially the proposals to opt-out hospitals and limit the budgets of general practitioners.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that the Government will withdraw the NHS White Paper and give an assurance that the NHS will be fully retained and developed as a publicly owned service.

And your Petitioners as in duty bound, will ever pray, etc. To lie upon the Table.

Television (Deaf People)

9.37 am

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East) : I wish to present a petition on behalf of deaf people in my constituency, concerning broadcasting. The petition was prepared by two outstanding deaf constituents, Mrs. Bridget Norris and Mrs. Christine Stalham, who run the SERA club in Sandhurst. They have obtained more than 1,400 signatures. I wish to place on record the fact that I endorse the aims of the petition. The broadcasting Bill is coming before the House shortly, and it is an excellent opportunity to allow the 4 million deaf people in Britain a chance to benefit from television, which they do not have now.

The petition says :

Wherefore your Petitioners pray your Honourable House will ensure that legislation be passed by placing an obligation on television channel operators to make their programmes more accessible to deaf people by using Teletext subtitles, sign language or other means, and to reach complete coverage by a fixed date. Your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, etc.

To lie upon the Table.

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Orders of the Day

Debate on the Address

[Fourth Day]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [21 November].

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows : Most Gracious Sovereign, We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.-- [Mr. Gow.] Question again proposed.

Foreign Affairs, European Communityand Defence

Mr. Speaker : Before I call the Foreign Secretary, I must announce that a great many right hon. and hon. Members wish to participate in the debate. There is to be another debate next Friday on Eastern Europe. May I suggest that right hon. and hon. Members who want to direct their remarks specifically to eastern Europe might reserve their speeches until next week. I shall find it difficult to call the same hon. Members in both debates.

Today, I propose to put a limit of 10 minutes on speeches made between 11.30 am and 1 pm, but I hope that hon. Members who are called before and after those times--including Privy Councillors--will bear that in mind.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We heard your remarks, and some of us watched a little of an interview you gave on television, in which you said that, in some cases, an intervention by a Back Bencher is equivalent to a 10-minute speech. Members of the Government are clearly identified and do not live in a state of suspended animation, flitting between the Front and Back Benches, making speeches from each. The same is not true of this side of the House. How will you identify genuine Opposition Back Benchers to ensure that we are not crowded out by so-called Front Benchers speaking from the Back Benches?

Mr. Speaker : I do not recall saying that in this context. Although I do not recollect saying that in the context of a debate, I may have said that a well-directed intervention can be more effective than a rather long speech. I hope that there will not be too many interventions today, because it is a timed debate.

9.41 am

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : Two days ago, the brutal assassination of the new, legitimately elected president of Lebanon shocked the world. We condemn this murder, which has caused a bitter setback to the process of reconciliation in Lebanon. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has sent our condolences to the Lebanese Prime

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Minister. In Lebanon, hope has suffered a severe blow, but in eastern Europe it rules the scene, for there, a peaceful and profound revolution is under way.

In the west of Europe, the steady strengthening of the European Community continues. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, we wrestle with a network of complicated problems. Of course, other important issues confront us--in the middle east, South Africa, Cambodia and elsewhere. We are meeting them with our allies and partners in NATO, the Community and the Commonwealth. The House will have opportunities to discuss those issues. Right hon. and hon. Members will, of course, want to speak about some of them in this debate, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will try to reply to as many of the issues that are raised as he can when he winds up the debate, but I hope that the House will understand if I concentrate on the three areas I have mentioned, as they are of central interest. In 1989, we have experienced upheavals on our continent which have been unparalleled in peace time since 1848, which also was a year of revolutions driven by a desire for political liberty and national self-expression. For the most part, however, the revolutions of 1848 ended in violence and disappointment. In 1989, as this astonishing pace of change continues, we have begun to hope that it may prove to be lasting. There may, of course, be halts and reverses, but it would be hard now to re-create the iron curtain.

Europe has had 40 years of stability east and west of the iron curtain, but stability has been assured in very different ways. In the West we have achieved and held stability after the most destructive convulsion in our history through free political institutions. Internally, we have relied on democracy ; externally, we have built up international institutions freely entered into to draw our democracies closer together. I refer to NATO for our defence, the European Community to strengthen our prosperity, based on free enterprise, and the Council of Europe to bind us in willing affirmation of these shared values of democracy.

The East has also had stability, but based on enforced uniformity and regimes imposed from the outside. It has been stability based on denying freedom and on one party having a monopoly of power. In the last resort, as we witnessed in the bloodshed of 1953, 1956 and 1968, that stability was based on the readiness of the Soviet Union to employ ruthless force to maintain its nominees in power. The tanks fired in those three years, and the people were forced back into the shadows.

Those systems of coercion are now crumbling fast. It is not hard to understand why. They lacked the basic foundation of consent by the governed. Metternich, who in 1848 symbolised the old regime, understood the appeal of freedom. He once said :

"It is useless to close the gates against ideas. They overleap them."

For gates, iron curtains and Berlin walls, that is what is happening. In 1989, the idea of freedom is leaping over them all. I am sure that the whole House welcomes those changes, and we salute the courage and wisdom of those who are using peaceful protest to break down the barriers which separated them from freedom. But it is only the beginning of a long and difficult transformation for the countries concerned.

What should our response be? We, by which I mean the Government, our partners and our allies, are working out

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and have expressed a careful and clear response. It was worked out in close consultation with our partners at the EC summit last weekend in Paris which I attended with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. To those of us who believe in the European Community, it was heartening to find the heads of state and Government, not to mention the Foreign Ministers, so clearly united on a response to these events.

We reached the following conclusions. First, we must do everything we can to encourage the process of political and economic reform in eastern Europe. We discussed the practical forms which such support should take in three main areas. We agreed that aid to Poland and Hungary should be stepped up and that the West should be ready to make a further generous response once the International Monetary Fund agreements now being negotiated are in place. The House knows that Britain has already established know-how funds for Poland and Hungary to help provide the skills needed to run a democratic system and a market-based economy. We have contributed to Community food aid to Poland worth £70 million and project aid to Poland and Hungary now worth three times as much.

In trade, we agreed that we should aim to build on the wide-ranging trade and co-operation agreements that we already have with Poland and Hungary. Quota arrangements for those countries are already under review and we shall go through that again at the Foreign Affairs Council next Monday. We also agreed to consider the scope for the best way to work out new forms of association between the Community and those reforming countries, suited to the needs of each. There will have to be further detailed work on that in the Community in the coming weeks.

Economic assistance and co-operation can help to ease the strains of transition to more market-based economies but, with our partners, we believe that a third way to encourage reform is to invite the reformers into the Council of Europe, which at present unites 23 western European countries in a common commitment to democracy and human rights. In principle, membership of the Council of Europe is open, as many hon. Members know, to any democratic European country ready to ratify the European convention on human rights. We believe that the Council should be and is ready to accept east European countries as members once they are able to meet those conditions. The second main conclusion that we reached in Paris concerned the importance of keeping stability and security in Europe. We all recognise that a time of change is also a time of uncertainty. Neither West nor East should feel that its fundamental security interests are threatened by peaceful change. That is why it has been agreed that it is important to send a clear message of reassurance to the Soviet Union that the West does not intend to seek to use recent events to prejudice Soviet security. For our part, we shall continue to look to NATO as a strong and reliable defence.

Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East) : Given the undertaking that was the result of the summit last weekend, will Her Majesty's Government now abandon the idea of replacing the Lance missile with another nuclear missile with twice the range, especially as both Lord Carrington and Mr. Genscher, the Foreign Minister of West Germany, have said that it is inconceivable and laughable?

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Mr. Hurd : The right hon. Gentleman, who follows these matters with intimate care, knows that the answer to his question was worked out by the allies earlier this year. Modernisation is not being pressed at present, because it has been agreed that the first priority should be to reach agreement at the negotiations on conventional armed forces in Europe--the CFE talks--at Vienna, and after that to consider how negotiations with the Soviet Union on short-range nuclear missiles should be conducted. Only after that, and in consideration of the circumstances at that stage, would the Alliance consider whether modernisation was necessary. That is the comprehensive concept that was worked out earlier in the year, and it seems to be entirely the present position.

To a large extent, it is Mr. Gorbachev's policies in the Soviet Union that have made possible the changes in eastern Europe. He has had the courage and clarity of vision to see the writing on the iron curtain, and to accept and even to encourage change. It is emphatically in the western interest that Soviet policies, which have contributed so much to improved East-West relations and to reform in eastern Europe, should be sustained. That is also in the long-term interests of the Soviet people. We shall therefore continue to give Mr. Gorbachev support and encouragement.

I believe that it has emerged already that the Community approach that I have summarised coincides with that of the United States. The forthcoming United States-Soviet summit provides a timely opportunity for President Bush to convey western views to President Gorbachev, and to explore the prospects for East-West relations as a whole. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is today meeting President Bush to discuss these and other matters.

On 4 December, President Bush will brief NATO leaders in Brussels on the results of his talks with President Gorbachev. We hope that the summit will provide additional impetus towards further measures of arms control, and especially to the successful conclusion of the Vienna CFE talks next year. There is reason to hope that this goal of agreement next year--it will be a substantial agreement--can be reached. We are playing a full and constructive part in the negotiations. An agreement at Vienna will mean the elimination of the massive conventional superiority and offensive capacity of Warsaw Pact forces in Europe. Numbers of tanks and artillery in Europe will be cut by half if the agreement is reached. Parity in United States and Soviet manpower stationed in Europe at 275,000 a side will mean a cut of over 50 per cent. in Soviet forces. Reductions of this size will transform the military security situation in Europe and bring greater stability when it will be most needed, at a time of great change.

I have spoken of the ways in which the European Community intends to encourage peaceful change in eastern Europe. There is no doubt, as has been said frequently in recent days, that the Community is a strong magnet for our eastern neighbours. Of course the Community has its arguments ; it has always proceeded in that way. Despite the arguments, however, it remains an outstanding example--perhaps this is because of the arguments to some extent--of the way in which free nations working together can co-operate to bring about a different sort of revolution. The Government believe that opening the Community to the East is entirely consistent with continuing to strengthen the ties between Community

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partners. As the House debated progress in this area last week, I do not want to go over the ground in more detail again. As there is a great swirl of discussion and debate on these matters, I shall state a few clear facts--facts which will remain when the headlines of yesterday are waste paper.

First, the European Community lies at the heart of our foreign policy, of our trading policy and of our concept of our place in Europe and beyond. The meeting in Paris last week showed again that the Community is far more than a free trade area. It provides a framework and meeting place for the member states to reach quickly and naturally, as happened in Paris, a common view on the course for Europe. Depite all the arguments, the habit of working together is now firmly established.

Secondly, the Community cannot be static. It is strong precisely because it has continued steadily to evolve. Thirdly, it is in the Community's own interest to move forward in an orderly way. Nothing is gained by forcing the pace. For example, we do not believe that in the near future the Community is likely to receive new full members. We are not attracted by the notion that we should in some way dilute the strength of the Community by enlarging it. There is a heavy work load for the existing members. There is a great deal to do, and we want to concentrate on that.

We wish success for the negotiations that are going on for a new relationship between our Community and EFTA. To be precise, the negotiations are being prepared. We expect that the formal negotiations will begin next year. The EC-EFTA negotiations are important in their own right, and we shall do our best for their success. They have nothing to do with the United Kingdom's position firmly in the Community.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, whatever the direction of the EEC may be--there may be differences of opinion about that--its inherent characteristics would not allow some of the eastern European nations, which we hope will emerge as democracies, to associate themselves with policies which were applied by Mr. Attlee as he then was, during 1945-50? Those policies were pursued when Britain was an emerging democracy and economy after the war. It would not be possible now for the United Kingdom or for the countries of eastern Europe to take such a course. Is there not a danger that this will create between the EEC and eastern European countries a difference of economic and political philosophies that will not be good for the future peace and tranquillity of Europe?

Mr. Hurd : It is perfectly true, as the hon. Gentleman knows, that the treaty of Rome and the characteristics of the Community rule out, for example, import restrictions, massive state aids to industry and some of the other excitements practised in Britain during the period to which the hon. Gentleman referred. These actions are excluded. That is one reason for my thinking that, for the forseeable future, Poland, Hungary and other eastern European states, as they move towards democracy, will not be able to become, or to aim at being, full members of the Community. That is why we should work out tailormade

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and specific European agreements that gradually increase in content, perhaps, with such countries as they join, as it were, the European democratic ranks.

It is agreed by all member states that our first and foremost priority is to complete the single market. Everyone believes within the Community that that is an indispensable stage in Europe's development. There is progress, but we believe that it is too slow. The Spanish presidency saw approval of a record number of measures removing barriers to trade in the Community. At the Madrid summit, which took place in the summer, Community leaders agreed new single market priorities, including financial services, technical standards, transport and public purchasing. Progress with some of these has so far been sluggish. There remains plenty to be done, and Britain will continue to urge that the pace that the Community has set in building Europe in this respect should be maintained and accelerated. We are in the fast track, urging others on.

Britain remains committed to the progressive realisation of economic and monetary union in the Community. We are strong supporters of the first phase as set out in stage one of the Delors plan. That envisages action by all member states to free their financial markets and to abolish exchange controls, as Britain has already done. As part of stage one, we have undertaken to join the exchange rate mechanism--about which we hear from time to time--and we have reaffirmed that undertaking more than once. The conditions that we have said must first be fulfilled are realistic, prudent and sustainable.

I noticed on Tuesday that the Leader of the Opposition got into a terribly sticky mess when he tried to define his conditions. I listened carefully through the gathering noise as he tried to find his way out of that sticky mess, but the more that he tried to explain, the more it appeared that his conditions--shorn of the rhetoric--were remarkably similar to the Government's.

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South) : Listening to the Foreign Secretary, one wishes that the Prime Minister went away rather more often, because the right hon. Gentleman appears to have found a new and welcome boldness. When he talks about eastern Europe and the Common Market, will he reflect on the fact that it is now the established practice in eastern Europe for senior members of a ruling party in difficulty, when faced with an aging and intransigent ruler, to go to that ruler and persuade him, in the interests of the party and the country, to resign? Does the right hon. Gentleman favour that practice, and why does he not emulate it?

Mr. Hurd : Perhaps I should get on with my speech.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : If we are indeed in the fast track in Europe, does the right hon. Gentleman support the contention that there should be a rapid move towards a two-tier system in Europe, and what is his intention for such a new treaty of Europe?

Mr. Hurd : The hon. Lady has obviously been preparing her intervention rather than listening to my speech. I have moved beyond that point. Perhaps the hon. Lady is referring to Mr. Andriessen's remarks yesterday, which came out of discussions with the EFTA countries, but they have nothing to do with Britain's full membership of the Community. I shall return to the general point in a moment. I have been sketching what has been agreed

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within the Community and the background that has created the position in which Britain is actually among the leaders in carrying out what has been agreed. That is a crucial point.

We are working to complete the single market. There is always a temptation for Community enthusiasts to flit from one flower to another in the rich meadows of Brussels-- [Interruption.] I am not sure that the hon. Lady has shared that temptation. Nevertheless, there has always been a temptation to propose a new charter, a new conference, a new treaty amendment and so on. All that can be intoxicating stuff. The Government prefer a more sober approach. It makes sense to move forward in stages, founding each move on the practical impact of the last move on the actual life and work in the Community. That is why we are setting the pace in pressing for new measures, which have already been agreed, to be implemented. We are in the fast track in performing what we have promised.

Of the 68 single market measures now supposed to be in operation across the Community, Britain has three still to implement. That compares with nine in France--the next best performer--through to Italy, with 33 measures not implemented. Last year, the European Court of Justice did not record a single case against Britain for alleged breach of the treaty, but that was not the case for our major partners. Our state aids to industry are among the lowest in the Community, while some of our partners still lag quite badly behind us in tackling protectionism and liberalising markets.

In all those areas, Britain, the so-called reluctant European, is the Commission's ally in speeding up the pace. Let us by all means accelerate the Community's development and intensify our co-operation, but the test of that is performance--actions, not declarations. I do not think that our eastern neighbours or our own citizens would be much impressed by a Community of communique s. Most of our partners, and certainly the Commission--

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) : What about a Community of press briefings by Mr. Ingham? Would that be better?

Mr. Hurd : Most of our-- [Interruption.] Despite the occasional trivialities tossed from the Opposition Benches, I am trying to pursue a considered sequence of arguments.

Most of our partners, and certainly the Commission--perhaps even the Opposition, if they took the time to listen to and think about these matters--would accept what I have said so far. Our partners and the Commission suggest that, in addition to implementing what has already been agreed, the Community should look further ahead. By all means let us do so, provided that we concentrate on implementing what we have already agreed. Let there be a full discussion of the steps beyond that. We are not afraid of such discussions, but let us not prejudice them before they begin.

Stages 2 and 3 of the Delors plan on economic and monetary union prescribe solutions that we do not regard as the best way to achieve agreed Community objectives. Those stages include centralising and bureaucratic tendencies. The questions about political accountability and institutional change are matters of concern not only for the Government, but for the whole House. That was evident from the thrust of our debate on 2 November, when it clearly emerged that no substantial group--

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certainly not on the Opposition Benches and not the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen)--believed that stages 2 and 3 are the right way ahead for the Community. Those reservations have been echoed by others, especially the president of the Bundesbank. The Delors plan offers one way forward. We have suggested a practical, evolutionary alternative that would work with the grain of a free economic system.

We are innocent of the charge of being half-hearted Europeans, but we plead guilty to the charge of working for a liberal and open Europe. That is not a crime ; it is a necessity. We look forward to a full discussion of the options, including at the Strasbourg Council next month. The presidency has suggested that the Council should consider the content and timing of a possible inter-governmental conference, primarily to address economic and monetary union. The Madrid summit concluded that any such conference would need full and adequate preparation, and that remains our strong view.

The differences within the Community are often over-dramatised. The Community is robust enough to survive such disagreements. After all, it has always thrived on argument. Each member state has important interests at stake. Everything we agree must be implemented, at home and in every other Community country. Our responsibility to this House and to the country as a whole requires us to subject every proposal to rigorous scrutiny, just as we do for purely domestic measures.

The history of the Community is one of agreement reached after often prolonged and lively discussion. The Community is often described as being in crisis, but when the smoke clears from each argument, the Community has not only survived, but has moved forward. The pessimists have invariably under-estimated the Community's resilience, the determination of its members to work together and the ability to find answers that each national Parliament can endorse. Britain is the country pushing forward the single market programme, which is the most tangible expression of Community ideals. We are scrupulous in implementing what has been agreed. We are urging the Community to think carefully about the form of its future development. We are playing in the centre of the field, and we intend to hold that position.

Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds) : I agree that the Community must be the centrepiece of our defence and foreign policies, but as my right hon. Friend looks to a broader constellation in Europe that reaches towards the East, will he make it clear that it is no part of Britain's interest that it should be a single European home that reaches to the Urals but excludes the United States?

Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend goes a little further than I did, because I did not state that the Community is the core of our defence policy, precisely for the reason that he mentioned at the end of his intervention. Our defence policy and the existence of the North Atlantic Alliance is based on partnerships with the United States. The American presence in Europe will, as the American President said in his Thanksgiving day address, remain as an essential element in our own stability.

I turn to China and to Hong Kong. I shall not add to what has been said already in this House about the events in Tiananmen square last June, except to say that I felt great personal sadness at what happened. As a young

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diplomat, for two happy years I lived a few hundred yards from the Gate of Heavenly Peace, and ever since I have felt strongly the fascination of China and of its people. At the same time--some 35 years ago--I came to know Hong Kong. I fully realise that it has transformed itself several times since then, but I know of no other place in the world that has the same mixture of glitter, hard work and adaptability.

There is no doubt that confidence in Hong Kong suffered a heavy blow in June, and we look to the Chinese authorities to co-operate fully with us in restoring it. We are doing what we can to provide the people of Hong Kong with the reassurance that they seek, and I shall give the details in a moment. Alongside their concerns for the future, the people of Hong Kong face an urgent and growing problem in the present. Here, too, they look to Britain for assistance and support. I refer to the presence in Hong Kong of almost 57,000 Vietnamese boat people, which is placing an unacceptable strain on Hong Kong's patience and resources.

Some argue that all those who arrive in Hong Kong by boat must by that fact alone be refugees entitled to settlement in the West, but that argument ignores the reality of the situation. The nature of the outflow from Vietnam has changed in recent years. Most of those now arriving in Hong Kong by boat are farmers and fishermen from North Vietnam in search of a better life. They have no connection with the former South Vietnamese regime or with the United States, and in most cases have no particular reason to fear political persecution. They are not refugees by the criteria established in the 1951 United Nations convention, and western countries have for that reason shown increasing reluctance to accept them for resettlement.

That is why, at the Geneva conference in June, the international community decided that all new arrivals in Hong Kong should go through a screening process, to determine whether or not they are refugees. There were commitments to resettle all those found to be refugees, including the 13,500 with refugee status already in Hong Kong, within three years. Two thousand new places were offered in the United Kingdom. It was made clear also, and accepted by all the countries represented at the conference, that those who are not refugees should return to Vietnam.

The screening procedures are being followed thoroughly and fairly with the full involvement of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Hong Kong has no interest in keeping down the number who qualify as refugees. However, on the basis of the results so far, it is probable that around 40,000 of the 57,000 now in Hong Kong will not qualify. They will not be resettled, and it surely cannot be humane or possible to leave them indefinitely in camps in Hong Kong. The reality is that their only future home is in Vietnam. It would, of course, be better if people who are not deemed to be refugees returned to Vietnam voluntarily, and we are doing everything to encourage them to accept that it is in their own interest to do so. However, Hong Kong now has more than one year's experience of screening and it is evident that voluntary repatriation alone cannot match the scale of the problem.

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In common with my two predecessors as Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), I have looked long and hard at the problem in the hope of finding an easier answer. We are continuing closely to consult Vietnam and the authorities in Hong Kong, and all that I can add today is that we have been forced to reach the conclusion that we cannot responsibly avoid the difficult question of involuntary repatriation. In practice, we are increasingly left with little choice.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) : Has the Foreign Secretary considered the option of developing with our international partners a development package for Vietnam itself? What is wrong with training the Vietnamese who have gone to Hong Kong seeking a better life and then allowing them to work in Hong Kong as contract labour, in the way that British subjects work under contract in the Gulf states? Would that not be more humane than forcibly repatriating people by a means that would not be considered for one moment by the West German Government in respect of East Germans from Leipzig and Dresden?

Mr. Hurd : The people who are returning to Vietnam now under the voluntary arrangement are receiving help with resettlement. That is a perfectly sensible principle and one that could be extended. I am not excluding that principle when I say that we are in touch with the Vietnam Government. However, I prefer not to go into further detail at this time.

I return to the future of Hong Kong itself. We continue to regard the joint declaration--an achievement in which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East played a primary role--as the best available foundation for our policy in Hong Kong. China also remains committed to the joint declaration. No alternative has been offered that would be capable of safeguarding Hong Kong's stability and present life. I ask the critics of this or that aspect of our policy in Hong Kong whether they accept that the joint declaration is the best foundation and, with it, the consequences of the way in which we handle ourselves in respect of particular matters. Or do our critics have some other foundation for the future of Hong Kong that would enable us to indulge in popular gestures as if China did not exist or as if 1997 is of no importance? If so, perhaps they will tell us what that other foundation is. It is no use saying, as some do, "If I were you, I wouldn't start from here." We must start from the geographical and historical facts.

If the joint declaration provides, as we believe it does, a valid and viable basis for Hong Kong's future, Britain has a crucial responsibility in working to implement it successfully. That will be hard and trying work. There is no question of our sitting back and saying, "It is all up to the Chinese Government. There is nothing that we British can do or say."

We are working to strengthen confidence in three main ways. We are preparing, as the House knows, a scheme of assurances to give key people in the public and private sectors the confidence to remain in Hong Kong. We shall fulfil our responsibilities for the administration of the territory, taking full account of the wishes of the people of Hong Kong. We are reviewing the pace of democratisation in Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong Government will soon

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publish a Bill of Rights. Finally, we are seeking the support of our friends and partners for Hong Kong's future stability and prosperity. Hong Kong's confidence in itself will be strengthened by assurances that its trading partners have a continuing interest in its future.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford) : Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Chinese Basic Law drafting committee is to hold its final session before Christmas in about three weeks' time, and that that session will include its final views on the pace of democratisation in Hong Kong after 1997? Will he confirm that, if we wished to choose a different pace or to depart in any way from the committee's decision, we should have to take such steps in the next three weeks?

Mr. Hurd : We have a responsibility to decide on the arrangements for 1997, of course that is related to whatever appears in the basic law concerning arrangements following that date. The timing of our decision is therefore related to the timing of the basic law. When we have reached a conclusion, we shall of course inform the House and the people of Hong Kong. I want to visit Hong Kong in the new year, and I should prefer to do so after decisions on these matters have been made and announced.

We will maintain our efforts on behalf of Hong Kong and its people. We will work patiently, intensively and honourably to rebuild their confidence in a secure and prosperous future.

Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East) : Have discussions touched on the right of the Chinese to station the People's Liberation Army--the principal instrument of suppression--in Hong Kong? Does the Foreign Secretary accept that their ability to do so is one of the causes of the lack of confidence that now exists in Hong Kong?

Mr. Hurd : I am aware of the importance and sensitivity of that issue. I would rather not give an answer off the cuff about what has occurred in the past, as I have not been personally involved, but I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about what is clearly a legitimate question.

I feel strongly that it is a notable privilege to stand here as Foreign Secretary at the Dispatch Box. That would be true at any time, but it is particularly true in this autumn of 1989. I hope that Europe's response to events whose drama we all feel has shown that we are not afraid of change. Certainly we want stability, and feel that change must be orderly, but that does not mean clinging to old assumptions. We are ready to modify our policies in the light of events, as we have done throughout the period in which Mr. Gorbachev has directed the affairs of the Soviet Union. Our democratic institutions--NATO and the European Community--are strong enough to accommodate and adapt to change : orderly change is our ally. New opportunities are opening up in Europe as a result of the peaceful changes in the East, and we are well placed to take those opportunities. We are confident in our policies, in our relationships with our allies and partners and in the values on which all else depends.

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