|Previous Section||Home Page|
We have 232 people per square mile. But in the past week we have heard vociferous criticism from Canada and Australia. Canada has about 2.5 people per square mile and Australia has only 20 people per square mile. America, the most vociferous critic, and a country that I usually love and respect, has 25 people per square mile. Yet those countries lecture us. They preach one thing and practise another. We have been condemned for returning 51 people, while Mr. Bush contemplates returning 42,000 Chinese students. What future can they expect after Tiananmen square? What about the forcible repatriation of immigrants from Haiti and Mexico? They are regularly returned. America, with its experience, should be able to give us help. As we have heard tonight, 50 people are daily turned back from Hong Kong at the Chinese border, and they have no right of appeal. Others seem to be able to do
Column 258what they like with their illegal immigrants, but if we follow suit we are labelled heartless and there is an enormous outcry. The Government, having taken a sad but honest decision, must guarantee that the Vietnamese boat people will be treated with dignity, and that physical force is never used against them. Boat people facing the prospect of repatriation must have their fears addressed and be reassured that their return to Vietnam will be peaceful and scrupulously monitored. Two embassy staff and three parliamentarians may be sufficient for the task of monitoring 51 refugees, but in the case of greater numbers, other agencies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees must take responsibility in a concerted international effort to help the refugees re-adapt to Vietnamese life--living, as they will, in the knowledge that their dreams of life in the West have been dashed. Others in Vietnam must learn from their harsh experience and realise that it is not worth leaving home, because they will be returned. The one plea that I make to my hon. Friend the Minister concerns orphan children held in the camps. There are conflicting figures, but I understand that as many as one third of them can be positively identified as orphans. To subject them to further insecurity by returning them to Vietnam now, while they are still young, would be tragic. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will make every effort, in conjunction with every possible agency, to arrange for the adoption of those orphans by Vietnamese families already settled in the West.
We have enough experience to know that to continue talking around the problem, to live in hope of other countries offering help, or to hold the unrealistic belief that voluntary repatriation will ever solve the problem is misguided. I ask the right hon. Member for Yeovil how long it will take voluntarily to repatriate 57,000 people. That is the size of the problem. While 600 refugees were voluntarily repatriated over the past three months, over the same period, another 3,000 boat people arrived in Hong Kong. The vicious circle continues.
To avoid taking an unpopular decision now is just to avoid the inevitable. It would nurture false hopes in the Hong Kong camps and in Vietnam, and would simply put off the problem until another fearful day. The Government will be respected for taking the decision that they have. They had no alternative but to take action now, and I support their resilience in ignoring the wrath of hypocrites. 7.12 pm
Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney) : The opening remarks of the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), the Chairman of the Select Committee, were couched in proper terms. He presented fairly not only the report but the different shades and nuances of opinion expressed by its members. He was right to say that, however the Government's decision may be judged, it was an agonising decision--and one that no Government, of whatever party, could take except after the deepest reflection and considerable anguish of thought.
I share the repugnance of all those, including the majority of right hon. and hon. Members, who blench at the very thought, let alone the sight, of men, women and children being bundled on to ships or into planes en route for compulsory repatriation in Vietnam. Not one person of any decency of feeling does not share that repugnance.
Column 259Therefore, if voluntary repatriation could work, it is infinitely to be preferred, because it avoids a horrible dilemma and the decision that would otherwise have to be taken.
Hon. Members have mentioned international action to relieve Hong Kong of the burden of the 57,000 Vietnamese refugees. That is a wonderful prospect, but the plain fact is that no international solution exists. There is a distinction between present circumstances and those of a decade ago which the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) keeps describing. Under the 1979 convention, there was an international commitment to accept from South Vietnam people who were overwhelmingly political refugees, who had backed the Americans, and who were deeply implicated in years of horrible war. That is how the 1979 commitment arose and why it was honoured by the international community.
The current position is very different, as anyone who reads the Committee's report will learn. Today's refugees are not fleeing from the taint of American collaboration in South Vietnam. Rather, they are peasants, farmers and fishermen fleeing from North Vietnam, where there is no serious evidence of their political disagreement with the rulers of that country. It is a different sort of exodus. The root of today's problem is entirely different. Whereas those who fled from South Vietnam risked all the savagery of attacks by pirates and others off the Malaysian and Thai coasts, the refugees leaving North Vietnam put into the Chinese coast two or three times in order to revictual, so that they could be assured of reaching sanctuary in Hong Kong. If we do not begin to recognise that central difference, we shall not begin to get the argument right. Of course we want to reach a solution other than compulsory repatriation, but time is running out very fast. We have between six and eight weeks to mobilise international opinion--if it can be mobilised after the tremendous upheaval in world opinion and disturbance that greeted Britain's initial actions. If the Americans really felt the same outrage about North Vietnamese peasants that they felt about South Vietnamese collaborators, they would be as generous now as they were when they absorbed 700,000 South Vietnamese into their country a few years ago. The same applies to the rest of the international community. It has the chance to act now. The Government have imposed a moratorium on movement, and it should be allowed to remain in force for up to six weeks. I say that because, in six to eight weeks, the next movement of boat people will begin. That movement is seasonal and depends on the winds and the weather. The North Vietnamese will start flowing out of their country again at the rate, some suggest, of 1,000 per week. The figure could be much higher. Their hope will be that, however temporarily inconvenienced they might be on their arrival in Hong Kong, the glittering promise of life in rich America, Canada or elsewhere, will stretch before them. There will be no cessation of the outflow, and that is why there must be no more than a few weeks' respite from making what will be a most painful and difficult decision.
There are 57,000 Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong, whose own population is around 5.5 million to 6 million. If one expresses those refugees as a percentage of the British population, they are equivalent to 570,000 people arriving at the south coast of Britain in a single year, mainly because they were looking for a better form of life.
Column 260How would we react to such a development? How would we face the prospect of those 570,000 people being followed by another 400,000 to 500,000 the year after? We must face the realities of sentiment in Hong Kong.
No one, with the possible exception of the right hon. Member for Yeovil, has suggested that it will be possible for Hong Kong to absorb another huge exodus of people from Vietnam.
Mr. Ashdown : Unlike the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), I made it clear that I should like refugees to be effectively screened and dealt with on the same basis as the unofficial illegal refugees from China, beginning with the next post-monsoon influx.
Mr. Shore : I am talking about how we could cope with another massive exodus. The right hon. Member for Yeovil suggested that an island might be used, but I doubt very much whether the physical space and facilities would be available for another such mass exodus. Even Mr. Hugo Young, whose conscience is as tender as that of any hon. Member, when writing in The Guardian about a week ago, had to try to draw a line between those who are already there and those who are yet to come. However much he accepted the case of those who were already there, he could not say, in all honesty, that one could do other than close the door to those who have yet to come.
Mr. Shore : But it is not a satisfactory line to draw, because the essence of the matter is that we have a deep moral obligation to give refuge to political refugees. Our duty lies with those who have a real apprehension of persecution and worse if they are sent back. The right hon. Member for Yeovil suggests that we should not even allow the next wave of people to be screened to discover who are genuine refugees, who are afraid of political persecution, and the rest who are looking for--
If there is not the space and facilities to accommodate the next 40,000 people from Vietnam, how can they be screened so that we can find out wo are genuine refugees and who are economic migrants? That is the essential physical problem. The right hon. Member for Yeovil should have to create space now to carry on the proper
Column 261screening process which he said he wants in the years to come. If I am still misrepresenting the right hon. Gentleman, I apologise, but I hope that I have made my point clear to him.
It is essential that we carry the distinction in our minds between political refugees and economic migrants. It is one thing to be sent back to a totalitarian regime to face prison, torture--as is often the case-- appalling ill treatment, cruelty and persecution, but it is very different, although not necessarily very pleasant, to be sent back to conditions of economic hardship and squalor. If we cannot make that distinction, we shall not begin to get the issue right.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : My right hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Is he aware that three years ago the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, of which I was a member with the hon. Members for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) and for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), recommended that when Vietnam withdraws from Cambodia the Government should contemplate some form of economic assistance? As that withdrawal is almost complete, and in view of the moral obligation of the United States to the economy of a country whose Government are evolving in a direction that we all understand, is there not an obligation on the United States and Britain to meet the Government of Vietnam to see whether those economic conditions can be ameliorated to get to the root of the problem?
Mr. Shore : My hon. Friend is right. I see no reason why there should be any serious contention between hon. Members, particularly now that the great political problem of Vietnam invading and holding Kampuchea has been resolved, on resuming substantial aid to the war-shattered Vietnamese economy. It needs help, and we should now be prepared to give it. We and the Americans should have started that process some years ago.
Of course I understand the need for the most rigorous examination of the credentials of those who apply for refugee status. If we are not examining them properly and adequately under the supervision of the United Nations, we must put that right until we get general agreement that our method of sorting the two categories is as fair as possible.
We should be as generous as we can, and immediately, in giving cash aid not only directly to the economic migrants who are returning, but to the Vietnamese authorities who will cater for them and offer them accommodation and employment.
We should ensure that the mission of my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Ennals and the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) is carried out seriously and not just cosmetically, and that they have sufficient support staff in Vietnam to do a thorough job.
The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) was also courageous and clear and has been consistent over the past few months on the issue, but the sad fact that we must face is that, if there were free movement for the people of
Column 262Vietnam, the number who would like to come to Britain over the next 12 months would perhaps be 10 times the size of the population of Yeovil.
The root of the Government's problem is that every sensible inhabitant of Vietnam would like to leave and move to the West. That is not necessarily an absurd idea, because over the past 15 years more than 1 million Vietnamese have moved to the West, mostly to the United States. Last year, incredible though it may seem, the money sent back by Vietnamese in the United States to Vietnam exceeded the hard currency earnings of its entire manufacturing industry. Some boat people have taken to the boats because of a fear of political persecution, and some have done so because of the actuality of grinding poverty. There are some signs that that poverty may be easing.
This summer, thanks to the Foreign Office, I met the Foreign Minister of Vietnam in London. He is a veteran Communist who, I am told, organised the great Tet offensive in 1968. When I met him it sounded as though he was seeking to be chairman of our Back-Bench finance committee. He told me that the economic problems of Vietnam had largely been caused by centralised planning, and that it would be able to cure its raging inflation with market forces. There are some signs that what he said is coming to pass, because visitors to Saigon and Hanoi speak of a renewed commercial vigour in Vietnam. There is also some hope that poverty will be relieved because of the run down of the vast Vietnamese military machine.
It is absurd that, 15 years after the departure of the Americans and 10 years after the Vietnamese army defeated the Chinese in a sharp, brisk, border war, Vietnam should still have the fifth largest army in the world, which absorbs about 20 per cent. of the GNP of that desperately poor country. Over the past 40 years, the Vietnamese army has defeated the French, partially defeated the Americans, conquered the south and seen off the massive Chinese army but, sadly, its greatest victory has been over the economy of its own country. The size of the military establishment has shattered the Vietnamese economy. It is absurd to talk of aid as the solution to the problem when 20 per cent. of the Vietnamese GNP goes on entirely unnecessary military expenditure.
What can we do in the short term? Clearly, it will take a long time to relieve the poverty. First, we should look at the interrogation system in force in the camps. When I was in Hong Kong in April, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative was unhappy about the screening process. Amnesty International and less liberal lawyers are unhappy about it. It is up to us and the British Government to ensure that the screening process is seen to be fair and thorough.
Secondly, we should accept greater responsibility for the camps in Hong Kong. The living conditions in some of them are disgraceful. We cannot ask the people of Hong Kong to contribute more. Admittedly, we have made millions of pounds available, but we should accept responsibility for the administration of the camps together with the Hong Kong Administration and assistance for the boat people in Hong Kong should have higher priority in the ODA budget.
Thirdly, we should take up the offer made by the Philippine Government at the boat people's conference at Geneva in June, when they offered to take political refugees into a transit camp in a town near Manila until they could be found homes. We should have grasped that
Column 263opportunity, which would have relieved the pressure on Hong Kong. Sadly, little seems to have happened. When I checked with the Philippine embassy a few days ago, we seemed to be no further forward.
Fourthly, together with the United States of America we should seek havens for the boat people outside the western welfare system. We should consider Mexico. Much has been said about the Americans returning immigrants froom Mexico, and they have returned a few, but one must be drunk, drugged to the eyeballs or crippled to be caught by the American immigration forces. Millions of legal and illegal immigrants have flooded across from Mexico into the United States. At the same time, the Mexicans owe a vast debt to the United States and recycling it is a constant problem. It is not beyond the realms of possibility to arrange with the Mexican Government for a few thousands or even tens of thousands of the boat people to be resettled in the southern part of Mexico. That is in the long term. What about tonight? I am in some difficulties. I appreciate the Government's problems, but in the 1960s I went frequently to Vietnam. I had many Vietnamese friends in the army and the Administration who are now either scattered or dead. I cannot with a good conscience support a policy of repatriation of their friends and families, so I fear that I cannot support the Government. I hope that we can find an alternative, on which we can look back with a little less shame than our present policy.
Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East) : Part of the difficulty over the boat people has arisen because we in the West have dealt with Vietnam as an economic leper over the years, denying it both aid and trade. The problem has been compounded because until comparatively recently all those who came were accepted as refugees. In Hong Kong we have built up a large camp society. Tonight I shall consider how that problem has been dealt with and, most of all, condemn the means of forcible repatriation which, to say the least, is unBritish. I doubt if anybody would have accepted that solution if the people being deported were white, not coloured. [Hon. Members :-- "That is disgraceful."] Deportation in this means is disgraceful.
We saw on our television screens how 51 people were deported. They were taken from their former camps and isolated in a group. The group was made up of 17 women, 26 children and eight men. They were awoken at dead of night by a thump on the door. Gazing out of the windows they saw the lights reflected off the riot squad helmets and equipment. Would hon. Members not have been intimidated? If that was not repatriation by force, it was repatriation by intimidation. Some 200 police stood outside waiting for them.
I know that the Secretary of State is an honourable man. The Government are all honourable men and women. What instructions were given to the police? I assume that they were not there to convey the seasonal greetings of the Foreign Office. What instructions were given if there was resistance? Is there any truth in the allegation that karate was used to persuade people to get on the aircraft? If it was an honourable exercise, why was it done in such a clandestine way, at dead of night, with little attempt to bring in official observers or the media? Something here does not bear the scrutiny of day, like
Column 264most clandestine operations, and, in a free and democratic society, we require an explanation of that from the Minister.
The Government's argument is that those people are economic refugees, and therefore we must vet them. What form does the vetting take? It has been condemned by Amnesty International, and although the United Nations Organisation may have been asked for advice, it was not consulted, and has not given its stamp of approval to the methods that are being used.
During the first screening, there is no access to advice or legal representation of any kind. Is it not also true that the immigration officers who carry out the screening find it an unpopular duty? Is it not true that they do not write up their notes after the completion of one interview, but record them from memory, days or weeks later, after many more interviews? Is that a legally just procedure for a country with a reputation like ours to adopt?
When people appeal, is it not true that the appeal can be made only by written application? No legal or other representation is allowed, and the defendant--if I may use the term--is not allowed to appear at a tribunal that has the power to deport him or to keep him. Will the Minister account for the fact that twice the number of people are granted refugee status after going to appeal when they first come before the first interview? Does that not show that it is not the appeals procedure that is fair, but the initial interviews that are biased, incompetent and inadequate for the type of cases that come before them?
Is it not also true that people's minds are conditioned, to compliance because they know that the people who run the camps--often the police--are responsible for their deportation? Is it not true that there have been complaints about police activity in raids in camps, which have resulted in the Hong Kong magistrates carrying out investigations? As a result of the investigations, and in spite of a condemning report, no action has been taken against those who acted against the people in the camps.
All those issues bear close investigation, as does the monitoring of what happens to people who return to Vietnam. If the Government are not moved by international concern from the Church at home and abroad, and from people with whom we are claimed to have a special relationship, at least Hanoi seems to be moved. If people who have been deported by the Government arrive in Hanoi and claim to have been deported involuntarily, the Hanoi Government have said that they will be returned. What will the Government's stance be on that? Is the Secretary of State going to make a statement tomorrow that will allow some 200,000 Hong Kong economic refugees into Britain? How does he reconcile a policy of pulling in one group of Hong Kong citizens, into Britain and presumably leaving the rest of them to the tender mercies of the Chinese People's Army, with his policy of refusing asylum to people from Vietnam?
I know that it is a difficult and complex problem. If the Government argue that their actions are in accordance with the traditions of British empire I am not surprised that the sun never set on that empire, because not even God would trust it in the dark.
Column 2657.45 pm
Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale) : I share with many right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in the debate concern, anxiety and horror about the misery and privation that so many Vietnamese boat people suffered during their journey to Hong Kong, and the conditions in which they live there.
In 1983, I was on a police launch in Hong Kong when we rescued one of those boats. I saw the utmost squalor. There were open fires burning on the deck and it was one of the most primitive sights that I have ever seen.
I also saw the boat people in April this year, when I visited one of the camps in Kowloon with the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. But despite that background, I cannot see any alternative for the Government but to take the steps that they are taking to return boat people compulsorily whence they came.
I have listened to every moment of the debate but, with the best will in the world, I cannot for the life of me understand why illegal immigrants into Hong Kong from Vietnam are different from other illegal immigrants in other countries. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) sought to give some sort of explanation. He said something about the boat people being settled in camps, but they are not. They are not settled anywhere. They are held in camps preparatory to something being done with them. They have been there for some time, but it seems to me that that does not make them any different from the illegal immigrants in other countries whom we have discussed.
Mr. Foulkes : Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that for the past 15 years the West has had a programme of encouraging Vietnamese people to leave the country and settle in the West? That programme and expectation did not exist for the Chinese people, and that must be one factor that makes the boat people different.
Mr. Jopling : That issue was covered a little while ago. For many years it has been the policy to help people who had been of assistance to the Americans during the Vietnam war. That is a totally different issue.
No one in the House tonight has adequately explained why the boat people are different from the Mexicans or the Haitians who enter the United States, or the Chinese who enter Hong Kong illegally.
Mr. Lester : The reason is that for the past 10 years Vietnam is the only country which, for whatever reasons, has had economic sanctions taken against it when it already had a poor economy. That has made its people among the poorest in the world.
Mr. Jopling : That is not enough to justify these people being regarded as different from the others. If it is right to return illegal immigrants from Haiti, Mexico or China, I cannot see why those from Vietnam should not be treated in much the same way. The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) said that they should have some sort of judicial review. I have not heard him or any other Opposition Member say during the past few years that judicial reviews should be used by illegal Chinese immigrants to Hong Kong or even by people who come to Heathrow airport who are turned back if they have come illegally.
I hope that the Government will press on as soon as possible with the policy that they began last week, and
Column 266send as many as possible of these illegal immigrants back home. I was hugely impressed by the speech of the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), and I agreed with much of what he said. The message that he gave the House was about the urgency of the problem. The House ignores that urgency at its peril. When my hon. Friend the Minister appeared before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee last week, he told us--I was not there, but he told the Committee --that, at the present rate, it would take two years to screen all the illegal Vietnamese immigrants to Hong Kong. Two years just will not do. The Government must ensure that more people are engaged, so that screening can be conducted a good deal more quickly. It must be completed in far less than two years. I believe that the screening process is fair and reasonable. As my hon. Friend told the Select Committee last week, the scheme "was devised in conjunction with the UNHCR who have unmatched experience."
It is essential that the Government continually make it clear to the world and to the British people that the rules agreed with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees are being closely followed.
The more successful we are at finding somewhere for these immigrants to go, the more others will be tempted to make the journey to Hong Kong. The House must ask itself a simple question. When we are faced with the proposition of giving the right of abode in Britain to an indeterminate number, so far, of citizens of Hong Kong, would we prefer to provide the right of abode for Hong Kong British dependent territory citizens who are fearful of the Chinese takeover in 1997 or to give such opportunities to illegal entrants, who are not refugees, from Vietnam? If we have space here, I would rather give it to the British dependent territory citizens of Hong Kong than to illegal entrants from Vietnam.
Mr. Foulkes : The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood. The purpose of giving the right of abode here to the people of Hong Kong is to encourage them to stay in Hong Kong to keep the colony prosperous. The right hon. Gentleman seems to assume that they will all come to the United Kingdom. He had better get his argument straight.
Mr. Jopling : I understand that that is the case. The hon. Gentleman is correct, but however many passports or rights of abode we give to Hong Kong people, they may not come at once. It may be intended that they will not come at once, but the House should not forget that they could come at some time, and in huge numbers. The right hon. Member for Yeovil is one of those who say that we should give the right of abode to everybody in Hong Kong. I hope that, when he argues that in future, he will stop talking about 3.25 million people coming, as paragraph 410 of the Select Committee report makes it clear that we are talking about 5.25 million people. It should be understood in the country that the policy being pushed by the right hon. Member for Yeovil means that there would be an opportunity for rather more than 8,000 people to come to every constituency in Britain. That is what the figures break down to. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has not thought about that before, but it is the truth.
Column 267Mr. Ashdown : I wonder whether the right hon. Member heard the speech of the Minister of State at the weekend when he said that the more passports are issued, the less chance there is of their being used. That is the point.
Mr. Jopling : I did not have the advantage of hearing what my hon. Friend said. I should be surprised if the number of passports that are issued had any effect on what the Select Committee described as the Armageddon scenario--that which would cause a huge number of those people to come here.
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : Heathrow airport is adjacent to my constituency. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the prospect that he has just outlined causes deep anxiety to my constituents and many other people in west London?
Mr. Ashdown : I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the statement made by the Leader of the House when he was Foreign Secretary. He said that if the Armageddon scenario arose, Britain would have to accept responsibility for all of them. The difference between the Government's stance and mine is quite simply that we would accept these people as full citizens capable of investing in Britain beforehand whereas the Government would accept them under the Armageddon scenario as penniless refugees--as the Vietnamese boat people writ large.
Mr. Jopling : I heard the right hon. Gentleman say that on the radio this morning. My wife wondered why I exploded when I heard it. I was present last July when my right hon. and learned Friend the former Foreign Secretary told the Select Committee that, if the Armageddon scenario came about, the international community would have to take a responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman has twisted that to say that Britain should bear the responsibility. My right hon. and learned Friend was very clear about that.
What should the Government do? Above all, they should concentrate on doing everything possible to stem the flow of illegal entrants from the south. How should they do it? First, they should use every opportunity to obtain better co-operation from the Chinese. I understand only too well how difficult relations have become with the People's Republic of China since the massacre in Tiananamen square earlier this year, just after the Select Committee was in Hong Kong. It is intolerable that the Chinese should support boats that port-hop up the coast. It is even more intolerable that a number of these illegal immigrants come overland by bus to the Pearl river estuary and take the short hop by water to Hong Kong. Despite the difficulties, we must do everything that we can to persuade the Chinese not to support and encourage those people.
Secondly, the Government must try to do more to help and encourage voluntary repatriation to Vietnam. Evidence was given to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that those who are voluntarily repatriated to Vietnam are given a greater cash incentive than those who are compulsorily returned. We should increase the cash incentive given to those who go voluntarily. I hope that the compulsory repatriation scheme will be restarted properly
Column 268and that it gets going as soon as possible. As more and more people are compulsorily returned to Vietnam and it is seen in the camps that the rest of them will inevitably be returned in the immediate future, I hope--
Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay) rose --
Mr. Jopling : I shall just finish my sentence. If there is then seen to be a greater cash incentive to go voluntarily, there may be a considerable increase in illegal immigrants prepared to return to Vietnam voluntarily.
Mr. Allason : If my right hon. Friend is advocating an increase in the existing money given to each returnee--which is about $620--rather than to the North Vietnamese authorities, that will have the reverse effect and be entirely counter-productive. It will encourage more people to make the journey, because $620 is an enormous amount of money to such people. If we increase the money and give it directly to the people, we shall increase the numbers.
Mr. Jopling : It costs a vast amount of money for them to go there in the first place. There is a huge extortion racket among those who provide the travel to Hong Kong. We should have to keep the matter in perspective to ensure that the policy does not have a counter-effect. We have some leeway to encourage voluntary repatriation.
Mr. Maude : In case there is any misunderstanding, I shall clear up the point. The vast bulk of the money given as part of the reintegration package goes not to the individuals or families, but the communities to assist the reintegration. Only a small part of it goes into the pockets of the families involved.
I hope that the Government will be firm and will press on with the compulsory repatriation scheme as soon as possible, increase the pace of screening and tell the United States that this House regards the attitude of the United States Government as hypocritical and unreasonable. The Government should realise that a by-product of that firmness is that it will be a good way of demonstrating to Hong Kong that Britain still cares deeply about the problems in Hong Kong and recognises that the Vietnamese boat people are only one of those problems.
Action must be taken at once. Tonight's debate has dismayed me because the opposition to the Government's policy has been confined to hon. Members wringing their hands and expressing horror at making people who are in an illegal position do what they do not want to do. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley has, frankly, given a woolly series of uncosted, long-term hopes that do not take account of the urgency to which the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney drew our attention.
One factor that unites the critics--whether the official Opposition, the Archbishop of Canterbury or all those in between--is the demand to continue dithering. Those policies are recipes for uncertainty. The critics would command much more respect if they could provide a sensible, workable alternative that addressed itself to the serious urgency of the problem-- something that the House should never forget.
Column 2698.6 pm
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) : It does not seem that long ago that I remember the press in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales proclaiming to the nation that we were a haven for the boat people, and the Prime Minister welcomed with open arms the Vietnamese people who were racing from the embrace of Communism and a dictatorial society.
Britain was like an oasis, a shining star in the West. What could be more appropriate in the month of December, than the Prime Minister saying that we were a shining star in the West? We did not need three wise men ; we had the Prime Minister, Reagan and a number of others saying, "Get out of Vietnam. Come to our land and we will put you in a home."
I remember the local authorities in Great Britain responding and I am delighted that they did so. In my constituency, they responded by giving homes to people from Vietnam.
Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead) : Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the position was entirely different? The South Vietnamese had fought a bitter struggle with the Americans and, in return, the Americans gave them refuge in their country for the services rendered in that war.
Mr. Graham : I admit that things have changed, not for the better but for the worse. Like a spider's web, we have enticed many people from Vietnam. The Prime Minister has encouraged people to desert Vietnam in droves. They came to Hong Kong expecting to get shelter, aid and support to come to the West.
Some things have changed because there has been an election for a successor to Ronald Reagan, but there has been no general election for our Prime Minister. A spider's web has been set and the people of Vietnam have left their country because they thought that they could get aid, support and security in the West. Our Prime Minister has disgracefully led those people up the path and is now sending them back to a terrible and incredibly uncertain future.
I have recently read many articles about people whom this country sent back to face Stalin. No hon. Member would suggest that it was right to send back to Russia people who, it has now been conclusively proved, were executed in their millions by Joseph Stalin. Surely conservative Members are not so naive that they see nothing wrong in sending back Vietnamese refugees to face that uncertainty. Surely they are aware of the anxiety that they feel. For years the Tory party has claimed that it is the scourge of the Communist party. Hanoi Radio recently told the western world that Vietnam is now incarcerating people because it wants to re-educate them and bring them into the fold. We do not know how long that will continue. I do not know whether it is even true or false, but Hanoi Radio has said that certain people are being taken in--
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill) : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Refugee Action estimates that 500,000 people are detained in the 150 re-education centres in Vietnam including 200 Catholic priests, 30 Protestant ministers and 3,000 Buddhists? That bears out what the hon. Gentleman is saying.
The Government are wrong to repatriate by force. I use the word "force" deliberately. Even the Evening Standard clearly states that Vietnamese people are being repatriated by force. The police come to them, armed to the teeth, in the middle of the night. What do I mean by armed to the teeth? They do not need to have guns or other weapons, they just need to be strong and fit and able to throw a bloke. If somebody in Glasgow were stronger than me and he twists my arm up my back, that would be by strength and arms. Many refugees are being forcibly repatriated by the power and strength of the police. They are being forced on to planes. If any hon. Member wishes to contradict me, I shall be happy to show him that it is true. The Evening Standard has never been famous for supporting the Opposition ; it usually supports the Government. One woman--a wife--told her story. She said :
"I suddenly felt something bad was going on and something was going to happen. I saw riot police carrying truncheons and shields. They beamed their flashlights at everybody and surrounded the bed. We were told that 21 people from the hut were to be moved immediately to another camp and we had one minute to collect our things." Is that what this country is now about-- threatening men and women in the middle of the night? Do we use truncheons and searchlights to bully people? This newspaper is not Labour Weekly, Tribune or The Times. I am quoting from the front page of the Evening Standard, a well-known supporter of the Government.
Britain faces international revulsion-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) is laughing. Would he want to be a refugee in one of those camps tonight, not knowing whether the police would arrive in large numbers with batons and searchlights to drag him away? Would he smile if his family had to face that tonight?
The position is appalling, and Britain faces international revulsion. My late father served for nine years as a Royal Navy service man. He was fully involved in the war. He said to me, "Thomas, son, there is one thing that we pride ourselves on in Britain, and that is being a democratic nation. The other thing that we pride ourselves on is sheltering people who suffer prejudice from other nations." We must, as a nation, support international brotherhood and womanhood.
The Government are betraying in principle the whole morality of refugee status. They are betraying the principle of the United Nations. We must do something to restore Britain, in the eyes of the world, as a free nation committed to democracy and to the right to life. One hon. Member earlier made a nonsensical statement about the United Nations. I thought that this Government had the most absolutely special relationship with America. I thought that the American Government would understand the difficulties faced by the British Government.
We must remember the Vietnamese conflict, the involvement of America in that conflict and the billions of pounds that it spent to keep that tragic war going while millions of people died. I thought that Britain had a special relationship with America that allowed us to discuss the problems of the Vietnamese refugees and the boat people, yet we are told by Conservative Members that it is all to no avail. Despite all its sins during the Vietnamese war, America has told the Prime Minister to get stuffed. It will