|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 247have listened very carefully. His entire policy appears to be centred round an aid package for Vietnam. If we are to take him seriously, he must tell us how much money the Opposition would spend on that policy if they were in government.
Mr. Foulkes : I do not have to tell the House immediately-- [Hon. Members :-- "How much?"] Of course I do not. I made the suggestion on 7 September and the Minister said that he was considering my suggestion. I did not suggest only an aid package. I suggested liberalising trade with Vietnam and aid packages from the IMF, the World bank and the Asian Development bank to Vietnam, to bring it back into the international community. Vietnam and Argentina were the only countries against which we operated trade embargoes ; now we are liberalising and opening trade with Argentina and excluding Vietham. Why are the Government pressing ahead despite all the opposition in Britain and throughout the world? It is for a very squalid reason. The Government and people of Hong Kong are pressing three issues. The Government know that they cannot give them what they want on the right of abode. They will not give them what they want and should have in terms of democracy, so they are sacrificing the boat people merely to satisfy one of those three demands. There is no other rational explanation.
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury) : Did not the hon. Gentleman hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) explain clearly in opening the debate that unless clear signals are given to people in Vietnam, another tide of boat people will arrive in Hong Kong in the very near future? In the light of those comments, will he withdraw the disgraceful allegations that he has just made?
Mr. Foulkes : They are certainly not disgraceful and I shall certainly not withdraw them. There is no evidence whatsoever that the despicable action already taken by the Government is having the desired effect. So it is proving to be ineffective as well as detestable.
I have given way many times and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends wish to speak, so I shall conclude my speech. I have outlined in detail our proposals for assistance to Vietnam, but I wish to outline a further dimension. On 13 September, the Financial Times stated :
"More forcible repatriation can be avoided, but only with international help. The consequences of not resolving this issue next month will be a shameful indictment which will not fall on Britain alone."
Best of all, the Daily Express, which I do not usually quote, stated :
"Mr. Hurd should announce an indefinite stay on the repatriation policy while Britain fights in every appropriate body to see that the international community comes up with a solution to what is an international problem."
How can the Government continue when the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) and Lord Ennals are being sent by the Government on a mission to Vietnam in the new year to examine the situation? Is it not a slap in the face for them if forced repatriation continues? How can the Government continue when there are no guarantees on monitoring arrangements and in the face of widespread and mounting opposition?
There is an alternative, and that is to bring some hope to Vietnam and its people--to bring them back fully into the international community and to try repeatedly to
Column 248persuade and encourage more boat people to return to some long-term hope. They will return if they have better prospects for a more tolerable life.
Once again, I urge the Government to abandon their plan for further forced deportation. To continue that as the last vote in the House before we adjourn for Christmas would be an inhumane act of boundless folly and I urge the Government to think again.
Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion) : We are dealing with what should be termed an immense human tragedy. It is not a question of right against wrong ; it is what all tragedies usually are--a conflict of right against right. I do not altogether dissent from the conclusion drawn by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) when he quoted from the Financial Times and the Daily Express, but I hope he will forgive me for saying that the polemical partisan terms that he used were below the level of events.
Mr. Kaufman : In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman was delineating various suggestions as absurd-- [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman is a very long-serving Member of the House and early in his political career he will remember recommending the bombing of Albania. That struck me as rather an absurd suggestion.
Mr. Amery : Obviously the 'flu has done its work. I never recommended the bombing of Albania. I have recommended the bombing of other places, including Nazi Germany, but not Albania. Of course the right hon. Gentleman got it wrong.
All I was saying was that the polemical speech by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley is below the level of the serious debate which we should be conducting on such an immense human problem.
First, we should be quite clear that Britain is involved with Vietnam only marginally by historical association. Hong Kong has come into the picture only because we have agreed that it should be a staging post for refugees. So far, it has carried out that role, but there is no question of Hong Kong being asked to bear any burden. If there is a burden, it should be borne by ourselves as the governing power, and by the international community. Obviously, we do not want to put any burden on Hong Kong as a result of this, and if extra personnel were needed, it would be up to us to recruit them. I hope that the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley will forgive me if I say that to bring Vietnam into the international community is no certain solution. It is all very fine to talk about reforestation, but we are talking about the problems of today and tomorrow. Hope might be given over a decade. Marshall aid took a long time to take effect so the idea that we can cope with the problem of the boat people now through the International Monetary Fund, the World bank or any other organisation is moonshine.
Column 249Mr. Foulkes : I also mentioned, as I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will recall, irrigation and other more short- term proposals. However, even the long-term proposals are meant not merely to provide immediate solutions, but to give some hope that there is a bright future for people in Vietnam. Surely the right hon. Gentleman agrees that that is one essential element.
Mr. Amery : I was involved in the old Commonwealth development irrigation schemes, and they took years. Dams have to be built and many types of equipment have to be provided. Such schemes will not solve the problem of people who are escaping, some from persecution and some from hunger.
The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley was a little nearer the truth when he talked about economic migrants, although the line between political and economic migrants, is difficult to judge. Were the5 million Afghan refugees all political migrants? Nobody suggests that they should be sent back. Did the Palestinian refugees escape purely for political reasons? The Ethiopian refugees are escaping from hunger. Is that economic or political? This is a complicated and difficult subject, which should not be dealt with as the hon. Gentleman did by talking about long-term developments.
Mr. Amery : I shall develop the argument a little. The suggestions of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley might ignite hope, but are the people in north and south Vietnam really scanning newspapers and listening to the radio to see whether there will be a loan? I do not think so.
The coming of the next boat season, to which the Government have drawn attention, is also a problem. The Government have made out a cast-iron, logical case, which I find it difficult, in logical terms, to combat. And yet I cannot bring myself to accept the idea of the forcible repatriation of thousands of people from a British colony. I am not much influenced by international opinion or much afraid of facing up to harsh decisions, yet I find it unacceptable and even obscene to repeat what happened with the repatriation of the Cossacks, or with the Jewish refugees after the war when we blew up ships that tried to take them back to the mandate territory of Palestine. My hon. Friend the Minister would not put it in those terms, but he would think, "OK chum, what do you want to do?"
I have to answer the question of what we should do. I would not like to take the responsibility--nor would I like my hon. friend the Minister to take the responsibility--for denying sanctuary to people who have spent money and run considerable risks to escape from the prison house so that they would then be sent back to it. Vietnam is still a prison house and we make no bones about what we think of it, as we have gone so far as to support an alliance that included the Khmer Rouge because we dislike the Vietnamese Goverment so much. What can we do? It is not given even to the wisest of us to read the future with any real clarity. The movement of history is sometimes slow and sometimes rapid. We have seen the whole of eastern Europe change overnight, like an avalanche or landslide. It might be wise to postpone the repatriation and to go to the refugee conference, where we could say, "All right, you won't take them, although it is
Column 250your duty, but at least cough up some money to make the camps tolerable for the present refugees and, if there is another boating season, for the next lot. Pay up."
The space in Hong Kong is limited, but the New Territories are quite extensive, as my hon. Friend the Minister and I, who have been there, both know. We need not take a decision yet. Many problems in life cannot be solved at a given time. Time may work for us and the position in Vietnam may improve, although some of the developments about which the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley spoke will not happen quickly. We do not know whether the fear of what will happen in 1997 will inculcate a greater readiness for repatriation. I do not know, but we should avoid taking decisions now and putting ourselves in the position of denying sanctuary. The answer is to call the conference quickly and to say to the international community, "It is your job to pay. We shall maintain the camps for a year or two longer. If you do not accept that responsibility, on your own head be it."
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil) : I listened with a great deal of interest and care to the impressive speech by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), which will bear careful study. I hope that the Government listened to his remarks as he made an important contribution.
There are some things that it is in a Government's power to do, but which they should decide not to do, not on the grounds of practicality or because there are no alternatives, but simply because such actions are wrong. Although I recognise some of the difficulties of the matter, the Goverment's actions a week ago last Monday were wrong. They were wrong by almost any standard by which one cares to judge them. Even if the policy of mandatory repatriation was right, it was wrong to go about it in that manner. The Government were wrong whatever the sinuous convolutions of facts and truth in which the Minister will, no doubt, get involved later. Even if the policy of mandatory repatriation is ultimately judged to be correct, it is still wrong deliberately to choose women and children to put at the front line of such a contentious policy simply because they will put up less of a struggle.
Whatever the situation and whatever conclusions we reach on this difficult subject, it is still wrong to put in place a screening mechanism that takes administrative decisions that condemn people to return to the tryanny from which they fled in fear of their lives. It is also wrong to put in place appeal tribunals that judge whether or not such administrative decisions are correct and at which the people who are so condemned are forbidden to be present, to have legal representation, to know the reasons why the decisions have been taken against them or to have access to judicial review. As I understand it, this is the first occasion in the history of British justice on which such a judicial review has been denied.
Whatever conclusions are reached about the rightness or otherwise of a policy of mandatory repatriation in difficult circumstances, it is still wrong for a Government to use the techniques of the 3 o'clock knock, to send in riot troops who outnumber those women and children by four to one and to cart those people off to detention against their will.
Last Monday morning I felt the same sense of revulsion at the Government's action and at the way in which they
Column 251have carried out their policy that was felt across the nation. That action has rightly caused international condemnation, opprobrium and obloquy to be heaped upon the Government. That action was wrong, and it shamed the Government, the Prime Minister and, ultimately, the nation.
Even if hon. Members do not accept my case that that action was, by any judgment, wrong, I ask them to reflect on what an appalling example we have set for the Chinese Government, who are to take over the care and safe keeping of our subjects after 1997. What if, after 1997, the Chinese state troopers turn up at 3 o'clock in the morning to carry off a British subject against his will and hand him over to a Communist state? How can we complain, since we shall have done it first?
What if the case of that British subject is put before an appeal tribunal and he is condemned to detention in a Communist state, and what if that British subject is not entitled to be present, to have legal representation or to know why the decision has gone against him? What if he is not entitled to judicial review? How then will we complain, since we shall have taken such action first?
I ask the House to understand that we shall leave behind little enough as it is to protect freedom in Hong Kong. After 1997, probably the only thing that will stand between our subjects and the tyranny that slaughtered its own citizens in Tiananmen square is our system of legal justice, and how terribly we damaged that system last Monday night. What a dreadful legacy we have left to be picked up after 1997. Those who come to abuse their powers--we know that they have the ability and the stomach to do so--will say, "But this was the example that British justice set us." What an appalling example to have set.
Mr. Walden : The right hon. Gentleman has a tendency to talk in moral absolutes, and he must expect to be asked to live up to those absolutes. He has just stressed the iniquities of the mainland Chinese regime. I repeat the question that I put to the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). We are returning refugees to a Chinese mainland, run by an iniquitous regime. How does the right hon. Gentleman square his repeated concern for the stability of Hong Kong with a moral argument that could lead only to the non-return of Chinese refugees to Hong Kong and the collapse of Hong Kong in very short order as a result?
Mr. Ashdown : The hon. Gentleman is right to say that that is the central issue to which we who object must address ourselves. I ask him to remember that I have so far concentrated not on the policy--with which I shall now deal--but on the way in which it was implemented. The
Column 252hon. Gentleman has asked an important question and I shall seek to answer it. If I do not, I shall be happy to accept another intervention from him.
I listened with interest to the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell). I realise that this is an extremely difficult problem to tackle. I accept that it is no good Opposition Members simply standing on the high peak of their self-righteousness, and mouthing--[ Hon. Members-- : "Oh!"] I assure hon. Members that I shall be dealing with the policy itself. It is no good our merely mouthing our outrage. The central question must be whether the Government had an alternative, and I believe that there was, indeed, an alternative, and that it was an effective alternative. It was the international programme for the resettlement of Vietnamese refugees.
The difference between the Chinese refugee who comes over the border and the Vietnamese refugee who arrives in Hong Kong is that, in 1979, we explicitly encouraged refugees to leave Vietnam and we put in place an international resettlement programme aimed at resettling every single one of them--something that we have never done with the illegal immigrants from China. Those Vietnamese who are now flooding into Hong Kong have not understood--rightly or wrongly--that the policy has changed.
The Government must realise that there is no point in their saying that there is no alternative when it was the Government who were, in chief measure, instrumental in destroying that alternative. Several hon. Members rose --
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) rose --
Mr. Ashdown : Oh, I see. The hon. Lady thinks that there is a difference between the south Vietnamese and the north Vietnamese. I am sorry, but I do not recognise that there is a difference. The country is a singular and unitary country. They are all refugees who seek our protection.
As I have said before, in 1985 I may well have been one of the first hon. Members to visit a Vietnamese refugee camp. I told the Government in an Adjournment debate then that unless they fulfilled their obligation under the international resettlement programme, the programme would collapse. The right hon. Member for Guildford criticised the Americans tonight. I ask him to remember that when the programme was in operation te Americans took 25 times as many Vietnamese boat people from Hong Kong as this Government did. They took 49 per cent. of those people, who were our responsibility, whereas the United Kingdom Government took 2.4 per cent. We took fewer than any other participating nation. Even Sweden took twice as many as we did.
It is all very well the Government saying that we had no alternative, but they were the instrument to destroy that alternative. I warned in 1985 that if the Government persisted in failing to carry out their obligations to the
Column 253international programme, that programme would collapse, and so it has. In 1980, no fewer than 37,000 people were taken under that programme whereas this year only 6,000 have gone. Since 1980, Britain's contribution has dropped from 6,077 to 101. If the Government had played their part in that international resettlement programme, we would now have in place a system that might begin to tackle the problem--
Mr. Devlin rose --
Mr. Ian Taylor rose --
Mr. Marlow rose --
Mr. Ashdown : Let me make this point before I give way to allow an intervention or two. It is quite simple. I can understand the reluctance of the international community towards bailing us out at this point when we have so signally failed fully to carry out our responsibilities under the programme previously.
Mr. Ian Taylor : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way to me. He seems to be living in a different world from the real one. The whole world community has changed the rules on the treatment of refugees since 1979. All refugees who arrived in Hong Kong prior to last June when the screening process, started have been confirmed by the Government as being treated as political refugees, so they will be resettled internationally. Therefore, they will be treated as was previously intended. There was then a public announcement that there would be a screening process, and that screening process is acceptable internationally as the only way to deal with the problem.
Mr. Ashdown : Yes, indeed. The hon. Gentleman has brought me to my next point. The international agreement is now that the screening process should be in place--I accept that--but it also states that we should be giving the maximum input. Last year's agreement, reached at the June 1989 international conference, stated that the first option for a Government is to apply voluntary repatriation and that only after that had been in place and only after the "passage of reasonable time" should alternative measures be put in place, and then only after a proper programme had been established to encourage that process.
I do not believe that either of those two conditions has been fulfilled, and UNHCR takes the same view. A programme of voluntary repatriation that has been running for only six months cannot conceivably be said to have allowed a reasonable intervening passage of time, and nor has there been the education programme for voluntary repatriation to which the June 1989 conference agreed.
However, despite that, it can be argued that voluntary repatriation is achieving much more than most people had predicted, and I admit to the House bluntly that it is achieving more than I had thought it would achieve. Applications are now running at 150 per week. As I understand it, 637 people--let us recognise that that is 10 times as many as the Government have repatriated--have returned to Vietnam voluntarily and another 1,500--
Mr. Ashdown : I hope that the hon. Lady will agree that I have given way a fair amount. I am trying not to take up too much of the time of the House so that other hon. Members, perhaps even the hon. Lady, can make their own speeches.
About 1,500 people have now registered in that process but--and this is the point to remember--there has already been a significant fall-off in applications for the voluntary repatriation programme since the forced repatriations began. The Government do not have the right to follow through enforced repatriations until, in accordance with the agreement that they made in June this year, they give the voluntary repatriation process some time to develop. That is why UNHCR, Amnesty International and other respected organisations working in this area have refused to agree with the Government's action. They believe that the voluntary repatriation programme can be given a boost and be allowed to expand.
I want to make several points about the need to reform the screening process because, as other hon. Members have said, it is a disgrace. I have with me a letter from a firm of solicitors, Boase and Cohen, which is representing some of the boat people. Perhaps it would be instructive for the House if I read a small passage of it for the record, because the Government must address the points that are made in it. That firm of solicitors writes about its clients : "What we have found is that we are obtaining great difficulties to get access to the camps even to advise our clients as to how they should deal with the questions at the initial review. Indeed, the Immigration Department do not even advise us as to whether our clients have been interviewed or when they are likely to be next interviewed. They also prevent us from attending at the interviews and making representations. Although the UNHCR may be able to monitor the interviews, my firm or any of my representatives are not allowed to be present. It is my experience from seeing the results of the initial interviews that the Immigration Officers dismiss out of hand pleas by my clients that they have been subjected to persecution. Indeed, at one interview, my clients had documentation to show that they had been placed in a Re-education camp but this was dismissed as being untrue."
I do not believe, UNHCR does not believe, and Amnesty International does not believe that the mechanisms by which we have been screening these people for a decision that will return them to the tyranny from which many of them have fled in fear of their lives is adequate. We believe that the wrong decisions are being taken and that many people are being returned who should not be returned and who will be subject to persecution on return.
Mr. Graham rose --
Mr. Graham : Did the right hon. Gentleman see on British television the other night a British television crew wanting to interview some boat people in a camp, but being prevented from speaking to those folk by the guards? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is strange that a country that says that it has a democratically elected Government does not allow ordinary men and women who are suffering the right to speak to British television companies?
Mr. Ashdown : We need no clearer example of the Government's shameful policy than that it had to be carried out in the dead of night and under the blanket of secrecy, so ashamed were they of what they did. The House
Column 255continues-- [Interruption.] Well, it cannot be in the Government's interests to lay down a system in Hong Kong that allows the Government of the day and the state troopers of the day to operate in such a manner. We can defend the rights of people in Hong Kong only if we are prepared to give the example of an open and free democracy, not the example of actions that are more in keeping with those of an east European state a year ago.
I have five brief points about what I believe should be done. I hope that the Government will consider them. First, the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley was right when he said that one of the long-term issues that must now be addressed is aid to Vietnam. It is illogical to allow the embargo on aid to Vietnam to continue and it is idiotic that the United States should seek to preserve it. If the Government must act unilaterally to lift that embargo and provide aid, they should do so.
Secondly, it is important that we fulfil the agreement that we made in June 1989 to give time to allow the voluntary repatriation programme to work and that we resource it effectively.
Thirdly, it is important that we return to the forthcoming January conference because perhaps one of the few positive results of this painful and tragic episode is that the international community is now alerted to the problem. The right hon. Member for Guildford is correct that the Americans' condemnation of our action gives us a unique leverage so that we can turn round and say to them and others, "Right, you must put your actions where your words have been and put into place an international resettlement programme." However, the Government must play a part in such a programme, and not leave others to carry the major burden.
Fourthly, as is now suggested by some at UNHCR in Hong Kong, it is important that we now consider the possibilities of converting Tai Au Chau, which is an uninhabited island in Hong Kong, into either a permanent or temporary resting place for the Vietnamese boat people for the period until the problem can be solved. The Minister is shaking his head. If he wishes to intervene, I shall of course give way to him, but I should like to make one point before he does. We know from Hong Kong--I am sure that the Minister knows also--that there is a shortage of labour there at present. There is also a massive shortage of labour in Singapore, which is seeking to buy in labourers from Hong Kong. I do not believe that this proposal is impossible and to those Conservative Members who believe that it is impossible, let me just say that the opinion of many at UNHCR is that something can be done along those lines.
Fifthly and lastly--
Mr. Ashdown : I shall ignore that comment since much of my time has been taken up answering interventions from Conservative Members. If I had not done that, my speech would have been significantly shorter. I hope that my fifth point will answer the right hon. Member for Guildford. There is a case for saying that we must do something that will stop the post-monsoon influx of arrivals in Hong Kong. Sending back 50, 150 or 250 people will not do that. We should use the intervening three or four months to put in place an effective, efficient
Column 256and fast screening mechanism which would prevent people from being put in camps for several months and would effectively allow a decision to be taken on their future on the spot. In other words, we should treat them on exactly the same basis as we treat the Chinese illegal immigrants.
If in the next three months that screening process were properly resourced with an appeals mechanism that respected civil liberties, and if the Vietnamese Government were asked properly to propagandise that fact, we would be able to tackle the problem in a way that did not bring shame and condemnation on the Government or set such an appalling example for the Chinese Government who are to follow us in 1997. The alternative, as I have outlined it, would tackle the problem at its roots in the long term and in the short term without shaming Britain's reputation and infringing the civil liberties of a few helpless people whose only sin has been to seek freedom under our protection.
Mrs. Maureen Hicks (Wolverhampton, North-East) : In the past week, Hong Kong has moved centre stage and the eyes of the critical world are focused on the policies to be adopted by the British Government on two major immigration issues : will we repatriate further Vietnamese boat people, and how many insurance policies are we prepared to give to Hong Kong residents in the run-up to 1997 to stem the brain drain?
Given the little time that we have, to deal with the second issue would be wrong. Suffice it to say that major concessions to Hong Kong residents could seriously misfire and it would be the likes of my constituents who would yet again bear the brunt of our
The extent of the humbug and hypocrisy that I have heard in recent weeks has made my blood boil and has prompted me to speak out tonight. It started particularly for me when I watched the events of Camp David, when Mr. Bush lectured my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. That was followed by one international attack after another, culminating in the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury joining in. What they all have in common is that they have no solution, no offer of help, and, like those Opposition Members we have heard tonight, no policy.
I had hoped to hear constructive solutions tonight, but I have heard only a lot of idealistic fantasy. I have heard no way of solving the prolonged crisis that mounts by the day in Hong Kong while Opposition Members procrastinate. There are 56,000 Vietnamese boat people living in artificial homes. Some have been there for years on end, jammed into crowded and often insanitary detention centres. In two months, they face the prospect of being joined by a further 1,000 a week. The problem has grown out of all proportion and has been too long ignored. Hong Kong just cannot cope.
Those of us who have been to Hong Kong will have seen the living conditions there. There are 13,000 people to every square mile. For how long do we let people go on living in misery in the hope of getting out of the camps? For how long do we tempt further Vietnamese to come in search of the brave new western world? Is that what our critics call compassion?
I shall stick my neck out and congratulate the Government on taking control of an intolerable situation. That is a reflection of the strong leadership for which the
Column 257Government are respected and renowned. The British people will stand behind us. To run away from the mounting crisis, as the Opposition parties would have us do, and be ruled by sentiment and emotions that we have heard tonight, would be irresponsible. Tempting as that might be, our hearts cannot rule our heads.
Mrs. Hicks : I will keep going, because of the shortage of time. Constituents in inner cities such as Wolverhampton, which I represent, have long lived with the repercussions of an open-door immigration policy, advocated by many Opposition Members. The residents in the leafy glades of Yeovil have not. Too often I have listened to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who would not listen to me tonight, pontificating on the need for the Government to be generous, and I listened to him tonight savagely attacking the Government's actions. But for how much of his time has he had to live with the tensions of inner-city life? Has he ever had to watch immigrants arrive in a community, often small and overcrowded, and endeavour to integrate, competing for jobs, housing and schools with locals who were born and bred in the area? It is all too easy to preach as long as the problem is not in one's own backyard.
Mrs. Hicks : The Labour party has no policy, but it will be quick to label me racist. But I am dealing with the realities of 57,000 people. I am not a racist ; I am a realist. I have to consider the effect of any more immigrants on people of all colours and creeds whom I represent. Opposition Members say, "Let's be nice to everyone. Let them all in and to hell with the consequences." But they will blame the Government for the consequences. Opposition Members parade the plight of the homeless in one breath, then say hello to everybody in the next.
Little England is creaking at the seams, and we have our own problem of overpopulation.