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would be unable to finance the present level of public expenditure without either a substantial and unfair grant from Westminster or substantial increases in taxation.

Devolution would inevitably result in a continuing constitutional crisis. The ambitions of the new legislature would be upwards, but the pressure on its finances would be downwards. Disenchantment would set in as the imperfections of a flawed system became apparent. The beneficiaries of that in Scotland would be the Scottish National party. As the arguments continued, the attraction to England of breaking up the Union would grow.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) has done the House a service by his choice of motion and by his comprehensive and entertaining speech. He concluded by quoting Aneurin Bevan. I am sure that the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne will also be quoted in years to come.

The debate has been wide ranging, and gave me an opportunity to emphasise the dangers to the House and to the United Kingdom--

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow) : Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to intervene? If there is any truth in the allegation that Labour's policies would be disastrous for Scotland, can the hon. Gentleman explain the latest opinion poll, published this week, showing that Labour has the support of 50 per cent. of the people of Scotland and the Conservative party only 16 per cent.?

Mr. Stewart : If one asks the people of Scotland whether they want a Scottish assembly, the immediate reaction of many of them is to answer yes. But when hard questions are put, people's opinions swing away from a Scottish assembly--which is precisely what happened in the referendum debate of 1978-79.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne on initiating an important debate and thank him for giving me an opportunity to emphasise the dangers of the current proposals in a sham convention attended by Scotland's 49 Labour Members of Parliament.

1.27 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : Opposition Members spend most of their time attacking Government policy, and rightly so. That is their job. However, it is useful and proper occasionally to scrutinise the policies of the official Opposition, who have the largest aspirations to Government. Perhaps I can add a slightly different perspective.

I have some sympathy with Labour's general aspirations. I am anti- establishment and anti-Conservative, and in general terms I believe that it is better to have a Government of the Left or centre Left than of the Right or centre Right. I feel sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends share the same view. However, even a sympathetic reader of Labour's latest policy statement must view it with substantial reservations.

I think about Labour party policy quite often. I live in a Labour-run borough and Labour's national headquarters are only about three yards outside my constituency boundary--which is fortunate for Labour because it would be embarrassing if its headquarters were based in territory held by the Liberal Democrats. I am

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surprised--as I intervened earlier to point out--that Labour's chief policy co-ordinator is not present to explain what his party's policies are. The name of the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) appeared on the Labour Whip to speak today, and it is unfortunate that his party did not consider that it was important to send him to the House for this debate, to explain Labour's policy positions. I think the explanation must be that he is not quite the personification of Labour policy on some key subjects that the Labour party would wish.

When Labour says, "These are our policies." I would love to know how many of the members of the Labour party support them. Many Labour Members in the House do not support them. That is certainly true of defence policy where 50 Labour Members have signed a letter saying that they do not agree with it. One of the Labour party's problems is that it is not democratic, although it is more democratic than the Tory party. Until it is democratic and until its policy-making bodies are elected on the basis of one person, one vote, and decide policy on that basis, and until the Labour party chooses its candidates for Parliament on that basis, its credibility when it argues for policy reform, particularly when it speaks of democracy, is severely impaired.

In the constituency of Birkenhead, for example, the Member of Parliament was deselected because of the block vote of the trade unions, as has happened in other Labour deselections.

In the constituency of Vauxhall last year, for example, the local Labour party chose one candidate but found that it had another candidate imposed on them.

Indeed, some constituencies have no local Labour party at all. I am fortunate. In my constituency the local Labour party has long been suspended, and the same has also happened in Peckham. The hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) is not accountable to any local Labour party. In that constituency as in mine it is even less

democratic--there is no person, no vote.

The Labour party must therefore first sort itself out. Only when it has done that credibly can it lay any claim to governing the country. That is why we must be interested to know whose are the policies that Labour is putting forward.

The Labour party takes a possessive view of its electors. The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) gave that away when he described policies on inflation and the economy as bearing down on "our" people. It is about time that the Labour party realised that the British people do not like to be possessed by any party, and many of them not infrequently change their political allegance. The age of class politics has gone and the sooner that the Labour party realise that too, the sooner it will make progress.

But the Labour party is trying to get its act together. I commend it for this exercise and for producing the document "Meet the challenge : Make the change". If we have to look anywhere for Labour party policy we must look at that document. I think that the hon. Gentleman the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) would agree that this is where we must now look to see how Labour have decided to overhaul their policy since the last election. This is the latest collective work.

What we discover is that the Labour party is slow to make change. It says that it is pro-European but Members are reluctant Europeans. Members of the party say that they are internationalists, but they are inadequate internationalists where the civil liberties of the people of

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Hong Kong are concerned. The Labour party says it is for constitutional reform, but the speech by the deputy leader of the Labour party to the Fabian Society in Oxford shows that they are very hesitant constitutional reformers indeed. The Labour party says that it is environmentalist, but one only has to consider the views of the hon. Member for Copeland, for example, to realise that they are only at best inadequate and belated environmentalists after all. The Labour party is not a radical Opposition party, although it is trying hard to become an acceptable Opposition party. Its policy is not radical, and its practice is not radical either.

I know a little about the practice of the Labour party when it is in government. I shall not do what hon. Members often do here and look back to the last time that Labour was in Government. I live in a local authority that has been run by Labour ever since the boundaries were reconstituted. And having studied local Labour government in practice has given me little consolation that a national Labour Government would be desirable. I became a Liberal party supporter at a time when Labour was in government because among other reasons I found Labour practice undesirable. I do not think that anyone who lives in Southwark, with the experience that they have of a Labour local government there, would think that a national Labour Government in practice had much to recommend it now, either.

We could take any issue, but let us take education. I happen to be on the distribution list of Walworth road or the local Labour party, which is very convenient. In January last year I received a letter which read :

"Dear Comrade/s,

33 ILEA and 7 Southwark School Governors vacancies

We urgently need to fill the above vacancies as they will otherwise be given to the SLD/Liberals. I am also asking Peckham and Dulwich CLPs if they have any members who can fill the vacancies as we have a matter of days to do it. Both School Governor and Charity places are an important role for local Labour Party members to represent us and to get socialist views across in the local community."

That was the purpose of appointing the governors.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett : It was not to run the schools.

Mr. Hughes : No, it was to put Socialist views across. The letter continued :

"The SLD/Liberals are pressuring both Southwark and ILEA to get these places and claiming that it's illegal for them to be unable to fill them so please respond quickly."

In fact, the letter did not obtain that quick response, but my main point is that, after years of not appointing sufficient people to governing bodies, the local Labour party then decided that all the nominations must come from Labour in any event. Labour could not fill the vacancies, but would not allow any other party to fill them either. That is hardly democracy.

Next, let us take public works and environmentalism. I honestly believe that Southwark must be among the five dirtiest boroughs in Britain. Until last year the local council apparently provided no rubbish bins at all, although the area has a large urban population and many visitors. It is a regular complaint that Labour environmentalism in theory means filthy streets and rubbish-strewn areas in practice.

As for the caring services, Southwark has not a happy record. Scandal after scandal has featured in many of the institutions that look after vulnerable people. In the Nye Bevan old people's home, old people were left unattended, on occasions lying in their own urine. Some actually died

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following neglect, which occurred in a home where members of the management would meet to enjoy themselves downstairs, although I do not suggest that the neglect was the only cause. The Opposition spokesman--who happens to be the local Labour Member--has never condemned that publicly in the House.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes : I will not, because there is little time.

In children's homes, children have been allowed to run riot. When the parents of a baby, at risk from birth, were eventually held responsible for her death, the local Labour party turned down the request for a public inquiry.

The housing department is a shambles ; we have empty properties galore, and people can never obtain a transfer when they want one. Until very recently, the Labour party did not even let anyone else take over any of the management of any of its housing, with rent arrears of some £40 million as one of the results. The local authority's debts have increased from £627 million in March 1988 to £820 million in March 1989, and are likely to exceed £1,000 million by March 1990. Interest payable on local authority debt now amounts to over £100 million a year--£1 per week for every adult resident. With the approach of the local elections in May, Labour is again announcing its intention of devolving services to a local level for the purpose of local constitutional reform. It promised that in 1982 and nothing happened ; it promised the same in 1986, and again nothing happened. Now it is about to make the same promise in 1990 : so far, nothing has happened. Labour in practice is not like Labour policy in theory, and my local area is living proof of that. I could also give many national examples, but I must be selective, as others wish to speak. I do not intend to speak for as long as many of the hon. Members who have spoken. I apologise to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), who is not here at present, for leaving the Chamber for a while during his speech, but it did go on for an hour and a half, and the best bits were clearly over ; I am told that I did not miss much.

The Labour party has claimed a belated conversion to

environmentalism, but the last Labour conference rejected a motion to phase out nuclear power within 15 years. Although environmental in principle, in practice the Labour party has decided to keep nuclear power. It pays lip service to energy conservation but it envisages a large nuclear power output for the forseeable future.

The Labour party said that it would not build any more nuclear power stations, but it has not said what it intends to do about those that are already under construction or that are the subject of a public inquiry. It has done worse than that. It intends to press ahead with the Thorp reprocessing plant at Sellafield, which would result in a large volume of waste imports, yet it is sort of calling, in general terms, for an international ban on the trade in toxic waste except, according to the hon. Member for Copeland, where it is proved to be in the wider international interest to do otherwise. That must take the biscuit when it comes to a fudged environmental policy.

Reference has been made to the Labour party's local government finance policy. That is not surprising. May I interpose that a good review is available to all hon. Members of the Labour party's new policies. It is a

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non-party review, published by Public Policy Consultants at £30. It is entitled "Labour's New Policies : The Complete Guide" and it was ordered to be printed only this month, in January 1990. It reviews the Labour party's policies and says that some are good, that some are less good and that it cannot be clear about others. It makes a preliminary point that it is worth putting on record, that "The Policy Review completely satisfied no one, but then a public relations exercise never does."

It makes the more important point that

"Current Labour policy is effectively what Neil Kinnock and communications chief Peter Mandelson want it to be."

That is a worrying thought. But, returning to local government finance, the Labour party's local government financial proposals are still all over the place. It has not yet decided, although it has had 10 years in which to do so, what it would do if it were to replace the rates. Would it introduce capital revaluations of property? Would it introduce a local income tax. The Labour party was going to have both. Now it might have neither.

I could make an entire speech on the Labour party's economic policy. It is certainly nationalistic and it is also very inconsistent. I could give many examples. The Labour party intends to introduce credit controls, with the objective of controlling inflation. Credit controls have been tried before, but have not succeeded. Credit seekers can always go abroad.

The Labour party has a national minimum wage policy. If that were to lead to an increase in the wages of those at the bottom end, that would be good. I would support any proposal that remedied low pay. However, research suggests that the Labour party's economic policy, as set out in its policy document, would increase unemployment by 500,000 and that the resultant inflationary pressure could reduce the value of social security benefits, thus making those who are not in work, who are the poorest of all, even poorer.

Mr. Grocott : Does the hon. Gentleman not concede that whenever any suggestion is made about improving working conditions the response is always that it would result in unemployment and lead to a fall in manufactured products?

Mr. Hughes : I accept that point. We need to do something about the widening gap between the rich and the poor. I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman's sentiments. However, there are other ways of doing it. I ask him to examine carefully the integration of tax and benefits, which we suggest is a better way to deal with this sort of problem.

We understand that the Labour party would reform taxation policy in order to outdo the Tories. It would introduce a basic income tax of 18p in the pound, just to be lower than the Tory's 20p in the pound. That would lead, however, to middle-ranking earners having to pay more. That message may not yet have been widely and clearly received.

I have a wonderful selection of quotations concerning the Labour party's views on the European monetary system. Extraordinary inconsistency is revealed if one looks at quotations from the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), and the right hon. Member for

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Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), about what the Labour party would do about European monetary union. In reality they are not converted to the idea. The policy review makes it clear that although the Labour party likes the idea of economic monetary union in principle, it would impose many pre-conditions. It has, in fact, very much the same views as the Government. Labour is wedded to the theory, but in practice it will not deliver.

I also know from serving with the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) on the Committee considering the Education and Student Loans Bill that everything Labour intends to do is qualified by the Monklands, East appendage, "When resources allow". It is important for everyone to understand that, too.

I have strong views on defence. I believe that the views and principles of Labour Members render much of what they say incredible. If they do not believe in nuclear weapons, a commitment to having them but not using them- -no first strike--is completely illogical. Either we should have nuclear weapons in the belief that they deter or we should not have them because we do not believe they deter. If Labour does not believe that we should have them, then it should not cancel one Trident, it must get rid of the lot. The Labour party has so far presented an incredible middle way.

Labour Members try to pretend that they are great Europeans, but when we discuss imports, exports and problems for domestic industries, they show much support for tariff barriers and protectionism. They say that they are great internationalists, but their record on Hong Kong shows them to be as prejudiced and nationalistic as the Government, if not worse, as they try to catch the votes of those who fear any non-white immigration from anywhere.

Perhaps the most fundamental concern goes to the heart of what any party would do in office--what it would do to the structure of government. I briefly follow on from the theme of the speech by the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) about Scottish constitutional reform. I endorse my colleagues' quoted views on that subject. We are greatly concerned that, as on many other aspects of its constitutional package, the Labour party is not committed to fundamental reform.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook clearly does not understand the difference between civil and political rights and economic and social rights, and therefore reaches the conclusion that under Labour there will not be a Bill of Rights because it might be open to the judges to interpret it, but there will be a charter of rights as defined by Labour. I have to say that I should rather have my rights defined and agreed by international jurists throughout my continent than by the Labour party. I do not think that constitutional reform of a partisan nature would be acceptable to anyone in Britain. We are meant to presume that the safeguard would be an elected second House. I believe in that, but Labour proposes that the second House should have proportional representation, so that it would become more democratic than this House while this House would retain the primacy for legislation.

Finally, Labour's constitutional programme would take at least 10 years. Section after section of the policy review reveals that the details have not been worked out on constitutional matters such as Welsh representative government, Scotland, the regions and local government.

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The reality is that the Labour party will never deliver. The only way in which they could do that is through a Bill of Rights, guarantees of people's rights, real devolution and proper electoral representation.

The Labour party should be thankful that there is not yet an election because its policies are certainly not yet ready to be put to the electorate. Whether it will get them ready remains to be seen. The Labour party is not yet a democratic party and it does not yet have a policy for a democratic country ; it does not yet accept that we are a pluralist political system and Labour Members keep talking about "our people" ; it is not now a principled party and it does not now have principled policy. The Labour party is not consistently internationalist as is evident from its record on Hong Kong ; it is not consistently environmentalist, as is evidenced by its position on nuclear power ; and it is not consistently pro -disarmament, which is evidenced by its policies on defence ; it does not have sufficiently clear policies, for many of them as the hon. Member for The Wrekin conceded, have yet to be resolved and questions answered. Above all, it is not even clear whether it will be a Socialist party. The dilemma facing the Labour party is whether it is a Socialist party which will implement Socialist policies or whether it is a different non-Socialist party that implements different non-Socialist policies.

The Labour party has undergone a policy review. Perhaps next, like all the Left-wing parties in eastern Europe, it should have a name and philosophy review. It will then be in a position to decide whether it needs a principles review as well.

I do not often make predictions, but I predict--and I may be wrong--that Labour packaging and presentation will improve its performance at the next election. But it is not certain that its lack of principle will be outweighed by Mr. Mandelson and the presentation and packaging. Without principle, a party cannot have good policies, and without good policy all the packaging in the world will not deliver the goods. The Labour party will make progress, but whether it will be sufficient to give it a majority in the House is very doubtful ; articles written every week by psephologists make that clear. For the fourth time in a row, its policies will not deliver political success. I hope that they do not deliver the Tories political success either. We shall have to wait to the next election to discover whether my prediction is correct.

1.51 pm

Sir David Mitchell (Hampshire, North-West) : Like other hon. Members, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) for giving us the opportunity to speak in this debate. I listened with great and growing regret as the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) failed to give the Opposition's policies but devoted his speech entirely to other matters.

I found myself in considerable agreement with the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). The essence of the message from the Leader of the Opposition is, "Comrades, we will not be elected on the policies in which we believe. Therefore, we shall search for others that may be more acceptable to the voters. We still believe in the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange and in concentrating power, wealth and decision making in the hands of the state, but that will not

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get us elected. Therefore, let us consider a range of alternatives with a view to getting elected." As the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey made clear, the difficulty is that that conveys no conviction and offers no encouragement to the troops on the ground who believe in their original faith in Socialism in which they were led for so long by their leaders.

Plausible policies are beginning to be fed out from time to time as offerings to encourage the electorate to believe that the Labour party has some credibility. Rather like the girl going to a party for the first time and being told that her slip is showing, every now and again the Labour party slips up and lets out some information which we should consider.

I do not want to detain the House for long, but I should like to consider two points. First, the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer has intimated that he would impose a top rate of income tax of 50 per cent. However, to that must be added 9 per cent. for national insurance contributions. The figure therefore is not 50 per cent. but almost 60 per cent. I am waiting to hear a denial that the Labour party is secretly planning to introduce a local income tax to finance local government expenditure. It is clear that that is on the short list of recommendations on the subject. With national income tax, national insurance contributions and local income tax, the tax rate may amount to about 75 per cent. I wish to draw the attention of the House to the demotivating effect of such a tax.

In the 1970s, a number of hon. Members--and not just

Conservatives--were concerned about the low number of small businesses in this country and the fact that there were about 40 per cent. more small firms on the continent than here. They realised that the small firm of today was the middle-sized and larger business of the future and that, if a large number of new businesses did not start up or small firms grow, the prospects for prosperity would be severely diminished.

The reason that we had such a low number of small firms and start-ups in this country in the 1970s was first that the people who might have started them or made their career in them were demotivated by the high level of income tax, the top rate of which was 83 per cent. Those starting a business do not aim to stay on the standard rate of income tax. They aim for the stars and their purpose, hopes and ambitions were so blunted and demotivated that there were few businesses starting up or growing.

The prospect, under a potential Labour policy, of returning to about 75 per cent. income tax--when all the factors are added together--is a major demotivator for small businesses. Such a policy would kill the motivation which has brought about so dramatic a change in our affairs. Between the 1970s and 1980s there was a huge change in this country's prosperity. There was a huge increase in the gross domestic product and massive increases in jobs. So many of those successes can be related to the turnround in the number of businesses starting up and expanding. We were unsuccessful in the 1970s and successful in the 1980s, because we now have a lower income tax and do not suffer the damage which would have resulted from Opposition policies.

The second major cause for the change round was that small and growing businesses were formerly starved of the resources that they needed to grow. The Government have reduced the rate of corporation tax for small firms from 42 per cent. to 25 per cent., leaving them with much more of their profits to plough back into the business. Today there

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have been no revelations about Opposition views. I had hoped that the debate would enable us to discover the Opposition's views on the level of corporation tax and the amount of internal resources that would be made available to small businesses to enable them to grow. That is a separate issue from that of income tax and motivation. We must consider the issue against the background of the third cause for the greatest damage done to the small business community in the 1970s : the soaring levels of inflation, which made every business cash hungry. Money which should have been spent on research, development and investment and improving the efficiency of the business for the future had to be diverted purely and simply into the extra cost of the same volume of stock or work in progress. The damage which inflation does to the small business community cannot be measured, but curbing it is one of the three major ways in which the Government have brought about a dramatic change which is to the benefit of the small business community.

Some 10 days ago, in an interview in The Daily Telegraph, the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he

"sees no great merit in a balanced budget".

Hon. Members may want to ponder those words because they are the clearest possible signal that, if we were to have the misfortune of a Labour Government, it would mean the restoration of inflation at the same or even higher levels as those when we last had the disaster to suffer under a Labour Government. At that time we had a top level of inflation of 26 per cent. which destroyed dramatically the savings of elderly people and those on fixed incomes, and the investment, resource and growth base of small businesses.

I said that I would not detain the House for long, and I have been on my feet for nine minutes. I shall close by saying that so far as we have been able to extract the Opposition's policies, they reveal that the base on which the prosperity and the change around of the past decade under a Conservative Government have been brought about, and the heart of the way in which business has been motivated, inflation brought under control and resources made available within industry for it to grow, will have the supports pulled away from underneath it with disastrous consequences for our prosperity. 2.1 pm

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) for providing an opportunity for this debate. We in Northern Ireland consider him to be of such high principles that we shall always hold him in high regard.

I, too, have noted references in the Labour policy review document of the 1990s, "Meet the Challenge : Make the Change". The Opposition make a commitment to a modern and wider democracy for the individual and community. That reads well and sounds good. We as Ulster Unionists represent the vast majority of the electorate in Northern Ireland. I say on their behalf that we wholly oppose and reject the solution to our problems advocated in that document, which is to establish a united Ireland.

I welcome, however, the document's firm rejection of the use of violence from whatever quarter it comes. That

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reaffirms the position of the vast majority of people, whether they are Protestant or Roman Catholic, Unionist or Nationalist. For the Opposition to give hope to those who seek to achieve a united Ireland through terrorism is not to help to bring the IRA terrorism campaign to an end. They fail to recognise that, unless IRA terrorists murder and maim, and intimidate massive numbers of Unionists to leave Northern Ireland, there is not the slightest hope of a united Ireland through consensual, peaceful and democratic means.

It is a matter of fact that the Roman Catholic birth rate is falling dramatically. Most intelligent Roman Catholics realise that their future prosperity, opportunities for their children and improved standards of living will be best secured within the United Kingdom. Therefore, not in the next 100 years and perhaps never will there be enough Roman Catholics-- and within that group--Irish Nationalists--in Northern Ireland for them even to consider exercising their democratic right to vote themselves out of the United Kingdom and into a united Ireland. Even then, Ulster Unionists will have no intention of following them. I appeal to the Opposition to abandon their belief that the solution to the problems of Northern Ireland is a united Ireland.

Many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have acknowledged the futility of the Order-in-Council procedure. They recognise the unfairness of presenting an unamendable draft Order-in-Council for consideration by hon. Members. In the early stages of this Session elected representatives of all constitutional parties have joined together to oppose that iniquitous procedure. The Opposition want to achieve a wider democracy and they should recognise how much we detest and abhor the Order- in-Council procedure. They should join hon. Members representing Northern Ireland in pressing the Government to consider further legislative changes in procedures in respect of Northern Ireland. Politics is about achieving consensus and about meaningful participation in decision-making. The Order- in-Council procedure does not encourage meaningful participation in governmental matters. Those hon. Members who want to contribute in a positive and principled manner have no opportunity to do so when they are faced with an unamendable Order-in-Council.

The Opposition should endeavour to persuade the Government to ensure that the same democratic and parliamentary rights enjoyed by their fellow citizens elsewhere in the United Kingdom are enjoyed by British citizens in Northern Ireland. The Government should, therefore, cease to introduce primary legislation for Northern Ireland through the Order-in-Council procedure.

I trust that my brief remarks will find support and will bring about some changes in the policies proposed by the Opposition. 2.7 pm

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) : May I add my thanks and congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) on introducing this debate. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has said, we rarely get such a good opportunity in the House to examine the policies of the Opposition.

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I am sure that the House will have noticed that the second motion on the Order Paper is in my name and it congratulates the Government on their decision :

"to offer full British citizenship to 50,000 special category households, involving some 225,000 Hong Kong people".

Because of the enormous interest my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne has engendered in the Opposition's policies, I fear that my motion will not be reached today. Therefore I should like to draw the House's attention to the positively disgraceful policy, or lack of policy, adopted by the Opposition towards Hong Kong.

It is vital to maintain the confidence of administrative workers, educational and health service workers, the business community and the disciplined services of the territory in the lead-up to 1997. The Opposition's attitude in this test of the intergrity of British foreign policy seems to me, as a publican of 20 years' standing, to be all froth and no beer.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made a formidable statement on Wednesday soon after his return from Hong Kong. He said of the Labour party's policy towards Hong Kong :

"I am in total confusion."

He said that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)

"Sometimes oozes sympathy, and sometimes says that there is nothing to be done. From all his foggy phrases, I get the strong impression that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have no interest whatever in a sensible future for Hong Kong".--[ Official Report , 17 January 1990 ; Vol. 165, c. 296.]

My right hon. Friend's confusion had nothing to do with jet lag. I believe that my right hon. Friend was too generous in his view that the Opposition's policy towards Hong Kong was driven either by fogginess or by confusion. That lack of clarity would be forgivable. My view is less charitable. I view their policy--if it can be called a policy--as mischievous at the best and as a cynical betrayal of our colonial past and the last large population of British colonial citizens at the worst.

On 5 July 1989, during a statement following a visit to Hong Kong by my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President of the Council, the right hon. Member for Gorton said :

"The Opposition believe that it would not be right to offer any commitment to Hong Kong British dependent territory passport holders on the right of entry to the United Kingdom or the right of abode here I state clearly that the Opposition are against the creation of special favoured categories based on status or affluence."--[ Official Report , 5 July 1989 ; Vol. 156, c. 312-3.]

On 20 December 1989, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary announced the Government's decision to allow full citizenship to 50, 000 households. The right hon. Member for Gorton repeated those remarks and sought to make a virtue of his position. He described my right hon. Friend's package as instituting a system that was "inherently unworkable, invidious and divisive The Foreign Secretary has come to the worse way of fulfilling what he regards as his commitment"--[ Official Report , 20 December 1989 ; Vol. 164, c. 365.]

It is clear that the right hon. Gentleman who was presumably speaking as the definitive voice of the Labour leadership, believes that Britain should give the right of abode neither to all Hong Kong citizens nor to a few.

During my right hon. Friend's statement on the citizenship package on 20 December 1989, the last

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