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Mr. Channon : I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. and learned Friend again, but may I ask him to check the position carefully? I understand that spouses must have three years' residence here. That entirely defeats the object of the Bill, as it means that families will have to leave Hong Kong rather than being encouraged to stay.
Mr. Waddington : With respect, my right hon. Friend is confusing two separate matters. Spouses will have an absolute right to enter the country, although three years' residence will be required after that for them to obtain British citizenship. They will not need British citizenship to have the assurance that they can come here at any time during the lifetime of their spouses. The difficulty arises only if they are widowed, and that is why I am making special provision for people in such circumstances.
In conclusion, I should refer to suggestions that the Bill either betrays the Government's lack of confidence in the joint declaration or will reinforce uncertainty about the future among those not selected. I do not believe that either allegation stands up to scrutiny. It is a fact of life that, following the events in China last June, confidence in Hong Kong declined to a low ebb. The Bill is designed to tackle that problem ; far from undermining confidence, it will bolster it.
As for the Chinese, they have not said anything to suggest that they will fail to honour their side of the joint declaration, and under the terms of the declaration it will be incumbent upon the Chinese Government after 1997 to go on allowing Hong Kong residents with British citizenship to continue to live and work in Hong Kong, and to have free movement in and out of the territory. That is clearly set out in paragraph 3(4) of the joint declaration, and in section XIV of annex 1 thereto.
Column 1573My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has taken pains to explain to the Chinese our reasons for introducing the proposals, and we believe that they will in time come to accept them as a sincere contribution to Hong Kong's successful transition to Chinese sovereignty. It is also profoundly to Britain's advantage to secure such a transition. That is why the Bill serves the joint interests of the British people and of the Queen's subjects in Hong Kong. I commend it to the House.
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook) : It is less than a year since the slaughter in Tiananmen square, so it is easy enough to understand the apprehension with which the people of Hong Kong anticipate the handing over of the colony to China in seven years' time. That apprehension is, I believe, felt by all the people--more than 5 million residents, including more than 3.25 million British dependent territories citizens.
There cannot be a solution to the problems of the colony and the confidence of the residents that does not address the needs of all the people, not just a few. There can be no just or even practical solution in a scheme that offers a special escape route to a favoured and arbitrarily chosen minority. Selection emphasises the existence of the problem, but offers no way out of it for the majority of Hong Kong residents. The real solution-- the only solution that meets the needs of all the people--is to make major progress towards democracy in the colony and to make it so complete and tightly organised that dismantling it in 1997 would be virtually impossible. That is the policy that the Labour party advocates and will pursue in government.
Mr. Hattersley : The right hon. Gentleman anticipates a subject that I shall address in a moment. It is not our view that such matters are best decided by thinking of a number first and working out the categories afterwards.
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil) : So the only thing that the Labour party will offer the people of Hong Kong is democracy. Has the right hon. Gentleman then not learnt anything from the experience of Tiananmen square? Democracy is not a magic wand to be waved in front of a Chinese tank. It needs to be supported by something ; it must be supported by the right of those people to leave as they wish with British passports and come to Britain. Why does the Labour party hand democracy to Hong Kong with one hand and damage and wound it with the other?
Mr. Hattersley : The right hon. Gentleman will understand in a calmer moment that I am about to address some of the questions that he has asked me. But as he has intervened, let me make one thing absolutely clear. It seems to me that the most cynical policy of all is to pretend to offer entry to every citizen of Hong Kong on the basis and understanding that most of them will not take up that right. That sounds very noble when spoken in a single sentence, but it is not a policy that bears a moment's moral or intellectual examination.
Column 1574greater democratisation in Hong Kong against the Basic Law which has been passed with the support of Hong Kong delegates' votes? How does he possibly argue that a Labour Government could introduce that democratisation?
Mr. Hattersley : I propose to argue in a little detail, if given the chance, that the next Labour Government will pursue the path towards democracy at the speed that the people of Hong Kong have always asked for and that was once offered to the people of Hong Kong by the present Government. The Government have flinched from making adequate progress towards full democracy. I believe that the Bill is intended to disarm the most vocal and influential minority and therefore make it easier for the Government to follow that craven course. The Bill is the alternative to the progress towards democracy which Hong Kong needs and deserves.
John Walden, the former director of home affairs in the Hong Kong Government, has no doubt where the root cause of falling confidence lies. Writing in today's The Times, he says :
"within a year of Parliament's endorsement of agreement"-- of the joint declaration with China in December 1984--
"Foreign Office officials had secretly agreed to China's demand that Britain slow down its plans for democratic reform."
He continued :
"The collapse of confidence in the future of Hong Kong was precipitated not by the tragic events in Tiananmen Square in June 1989 but by Britain's failure to stand up to China in November 1985 and to secure the political safeguards written into the Joint Declaration."
Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Hattersley : It has been claimed that the Bill discharges a debt of honour that we owe to the people of Hong Kong. However, no one explains how a debt of honour to 5 million people, 3.25 million of them British dependent territories citizens, can be repaid by selecting 50,000 of their number for special treatment. It has been claimed, in contradiction of opinion within Hong Kong, which I shall presently quote, that the Bill will increase confidence in the colony. However, no one explains what effect the Bill will have on the confidence of the overwhelming majority of residents who will not benefit from its provisions. The Bill legitimises the fear that an escape route is needed after 1997, but it offers the chance to escape to less than one resident in 20. There is not and cannot be such an escape route for the majority of the colony's residents. If general confidence is increased by the measure, it will be the first time that the morale of the other ranks has been improved by the announcement that the officers will retreat first.
Mr. Whitney : The right hon. Gentleman quoted with approval the article by John Walden in The Times today. Is he aware that Mr. Walden suggested that China's opposition is the best reason why the Government's Bill should be supported today? Does he therefore accept Mr. Walden's proposition?
Mr. Hattersley : I certainly accept Mr. Walden's proposition that the Bill is the best that we could get from the Government. Mr. Walden is saying that a very small amount of help is better than no help at all. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell me whether he accepts Mr. Walden's package in total or whether he accepts only part of it. As he had a hand in these matters some years ago, I suspect that he knows very well the betrayal of Hong Kong by the British Foreign Office.
Mr. Whitney : Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I take Mr. Walden's proposition seriously and I take the issue seriously, which the right hon. Gentleman is failing to do. Certainly it is right that we should stand up to Peking, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary suggested. The way to stand up to Peking and to make the Chinese Government understand their own interests is to pass and support the Bill. The way not to do that is to opt out and cop out of the issue in the way in which the right hon. Gentleman and apparently the majority of the Labour party intend to do.
"only for 50,000 households so for the majority of Hong Kong people is irrelevant."
That view, according to opinion polls, is shared by a vast majority of Hong Kong residents, as 90 per cent. of executives, professionals and entrepreneurs, the people whom the Bill is supposed to benefit, say that the Bill will not promote stability, and 88 per cent. of young Hong Kong residents--the future of the colony--regard it as of no significance. Most people in Hong Kong believe in a united territory which will move towards the genuine democracy and the Bill of Rights that will give reality to the concept of "two systems within one nation" after 1997.
The Government have chosen the diametrically opposite course. They have divided the colony between the favoured minority and the disregarded majority. No doubt they believe that by promising passports to Hong Kong's most vocal and influential residents, that has muted their opposition to the Government's failure to make proper progress towards the full democracy that Hong Kong needs and wants. The Office of the Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils was unanimous in calling for, a year ago, 20 elected members by 1991, 30 in 1995 and a fully elected Assembly in 2003.
Despite his predecessor's fine talk about the pace of democratic development reflecting the wishes of the whole community, the Foreign Secretary no longer even aspires to those figures and that result. Instead, he bends to the wishes of the Peking Government, and only half the Assembly's members will be elected by 2003. I want to ask him a direct question on this subject. Did the Prime Minister make any promises about Hong Kong when she dined, secretly as she thought, with the Chinese ambassador two weeks ago? Within 10 months of the Tiananmen square massacre, the Prime Minister was accepting Chinese hospitality. What hopes we had of the Prime Minister and the Government standing up for democracy in Hong Kong were extinguished when we discovered how she had spent her evening three weeks ago, allegedly in secret.
The Foreign Secretary's wish to accommodate China, which must be putting at risk the promised Hong Kong Bill of Rights, is a denial of the principle that his
Column 1576predecessor so often asserted--Britain's determination that it would not abdicate its right to govern Hong Kong in Hong Kong's interests before 1997. The Foreign Office and the Bill are now dividing Hong Kong to facilitate Chinese rule. The first step that Labour will take will be to increase confidence within the colony by moving towards real democracy at the pace demanded by the people of Hong Kong.
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : Speaking on radio not many days ago, the right hon. Gentleman said, presumably while trying to play to the anti-immigration lobby in Birmingham, that the Labour party, if given the opportunity, would limit the number of people allowed into this country. He further said that he did not know how or how many. Has he had time to think since and does he now know how and how many?
Mr. Hattersley : Let me assure the hon. Gentleman about something that even he, on reflection, will understand. Whatever else is represented by the Member of Parliament for Sparkbrook, it is not the anti-immigration lobby.
We do not intend now, or ever, to play the numbers game. There are a number of people in express and specific categories who in our view deserve the right to enter Britain. In a moment, I shall describe those categories, but we leave the numbers game to those who used to be led by the Home Secretary until he was coerced into supporting the Bill.
I shall describe in a moment how we shall deal with immigration from the colony, but first I want to make it clear that under no circumstances will we introduce a system that requires residents, in theory equal before the law, to compete with each other for a limited number of passports. The system that the Government propose is arbitrary and divisive. Its effect will be capricious and its result will be unavoidably unjust.
The Bill proposes that 50,000 individuals should be granted British citizenship. Why 50,000? Why not 40,000, 60,000 or 70,000, as the Foreign Secretary originally proposed? We know the honest answer to the question : 50,000 is the compromise between what the Foreign Secretary wanted and what the Home Secretary was prepared to agree. But, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will answer the question precisely when he replies to the debate, what is the official explanation of 50,000? What is to be said to the men and women who just fail to qualify and who know that they are on the margin of qualification because they have compared their ratings in the absurd points scheme that the Government propose and have realised that they just missed out compared with more successful applicants? Why will they be told that only 50,000 will be allowed?
Mrs. Currie rose--
Mrs. Currie rose--
Column 1577I hope that right hon. and hon. Members who will vote for the Bill tonight have studied the points scheme, by which British passports will be distributed. British citizenship is to be awarded on the basis of a calculation that most urban district councils would regard as too crude for the allocation of council houses. I invite hon. Members who doubt that judgment to read paragraph 23 of the proposed scheme :
"In the event that a number of candidates scored equal points and all could not be accommodated within the places available for each group, the Governor would have discretion to choose whom to recommend for citizenship."
An urban district council that gave such power to a housing manager would be driven out of office. The Home Secretary understated the case when he told us that this is an unprecedented way of awarding British citizenship.
The House is being invited to take or leave the points scheme. It is being denied any opportunity to amend it. It is not part of the Bill, but as it clearly will not be changed year by year there is no reason why it should be hidden away in secondary legislation, except the Government's hope that debate on the contents of the points scheme can be hidden away in a 90- minute debate late one night. Given the scheme's contents, that is hardly surprising.
I give another example of the scheme's absurdity, to which I hope the Foreign Secretary will give an explicit answer tonight. Paragraph 34 of the scheme suddenly begins to refer to heads of households, 50, 000 of whom will be granted British citizenship. How is a head of household defined? Is it a man? Is it the highest wage earner? If a woman earns less than her husband but qualifies in the scheme through education and experience, can she still be granted British citizenship?
What about children? Paragraph 34 says that children under 18 will not be allowed to accompany their parents if the Home Secretary is not satisfied as to their good character. Are the Government serious about that? Are they saying that when all the paraphernalia have been gone through, when the committee has sat, when the governor has recommended and when the Home Secretary has rubber-stamped the decision, somebody will say "You and your spouse can come, but your children under 18 are not, in the Home Secretary's judgment, of good character." Is this a serious scheme, or was it simply cobbled together overnight?
If the scheme were simply ludicrous, the tragedy would not be so great, but it is also arbitrary and contradictory in a way that should disqualify it from serious consideration. In The Times today, Mr. D. A. White of Hong Kong described one of its consequences, to which I hope the Home Secretary will listen. May I have the Home Secretary's attention?
Mrs. Currie : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you clarify for the House whether this is a debate or a statement from the right hon. Gentleman? Is it not time that he gave way to a Conservative Member?
Mr. Bell : I am seeking your protection as a Back Bencher. We are trying to listen to the debate, but Conservative Members are consistently intervening without any sanction from the Chair. I do not wish to
Column 1578challenge you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but we require the protection of the Chair against those who are deliberately disrupting the proceedings of the House.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : The Home Secretary and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) have been generous in giving way, but I remind the House that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak. Interventions inevitably prolong speeches.
Mr. Hattersley : I hope that the Home Secretary will concentrate on the example that I propose to give him in a moment as it reveals that he was wrong in fact in an answer that he gave earlier. Mr. D. A. White of Hong Kong wrote to The Times this morning describing the contrary consequences of the Bill. Mr. White is British ; his wife is Hong Kong-born Chinese. As a result of the iniquities of our general immigration law, Mr. White does not have an unqualified and unfettered right to bring his wife to this country. The Home Secretary said that he did. In fact, Mr. White has the right to apply to bring his wife here, but she has to pass a number of tests, such as the primary purpose rule, to come to this country. Mr. White points out that if he were not British, but a British dependent territories citizen, he would certainly qualify for the points scheme and would thereby acquire the unfettered and unqualified right to bring his wife to this country. He says that he is penalised by the fact that he is British. He says finally that if he died before his wife, she would lose even the residual right to apply and to be examined. That does not seem right and I hope that the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary will justify such an anomaly.
Anyone who has residual doubts about the Government's fear that the points scheme is literally indefensible needs to read no further than clause 1(5). It says :
"Neither the Secretary of State nor the Governor shall be required to give any reason for any decision made by him in the exercise of a discretion vested in him or under this Act and no such decision shall be subject to appeal or liable to be questioned in any court." British citizenship is to be handed out according to a points scheme, which turns out, on examination, to be run not by the governor, but by a group of Hong Kong officials who may well themselves be applicants. The points scheme would be ridiculous were it not wicked. However, the comparison, which I made a few moments ago, with local authority housing allocation may have been unfair. No housing points scheme could be so subjective or crude. No housing committee would deny an aggrieved applicant the right of appeal. No local authority would be allowed to avoid judicial review of its housing allocation, yet all those iniquities and absurdities are built into the scheme by which the right to be British is granted by a committee of Hong Kong officials and then rubber-stamped by the Foreign Secretary and the governor of Hong Kong.
Mr. Hattersley : The injustices inherent in the scheme were unavoidable once the Government decided on the principle--if "principle" is the right word--on which the Bill is based. The Government decided on a number and then had to decide how the total was made up. If the Government were determined to have a selective scheme, they should have begun by deciding which categories of
Column 1579residents they were prepared to allow to come to Britain and the number of entrants would then have been the total within those prospective categories.
Mrs. Currie : It is noticeable in the House that the right hon. Gentleman is ploughing through his notes with his head down. I am glad--and grateful to him--that he has at last raised his head to answer a question. Is it not a matter of logic from what he is saying that everybody in Hong Kong who wants to come in should have a passport and be able to do so? As that is not acceptable and is unlikely to happen, he is saying that nobody should come. Would it not be better to put his points into a reasoned amendment and to support the Second Reading tonight?
Mr. Hattersley : I am sorry that the hon. Lady missed the television at 5.10 pm-- [Interruption.] Of course, that is why I waited before giving way. What is right is that those with special needs should be allowed into the country. If she can bear to listen with patience, as the cameras are off, I am about to describe what those categories are and how we should assess them.
The net result of the strange compromise between the Foreign Secretary's pro-consular illusions and the Home Secretary's tabloid populism provides for people coming into this country who do not remotely conform to the criteria that the Government once laid down in the British Nationality Act 1981, such as the criteria of established relationship with this country or a determination to become permanently associated with it. More importantly, this strange, cobbled-together compromise will deny citizenship to men and women who need, deserve and want it. Such iniquities and inequities can be avoided only by the application to Hong Kong of this country's general policy on nationality and immigration--not the policy we have now, which is often unjust and discriminatory, but the immigration policy which we should have and which, under the Labour Government, we will have. Under that policy, there would be no general distribution of passports by Home Secretaries on the basis of schemes cobbled together from dubious principles and divisive practices. When Lord Whitelaw introduced the British Nationality Bill, the Tory party used to believe that the award of British citizenship should be based on constant principles : birth in Britain, a long period of residence in Britain or a close personal association with Britain. British citizenship should be given away by the Government according to principles, not according to the mood of the moment. That remains our view. We should apply to Hong Kong the compassionate and consistent principles of our published immigration policy. For many of the citizens who thus came to this country, British citizenship might well follow.
Mr. Bruce : The right hon. Gentleman is clearly a well-known international statesman, but he may not be as well known as his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). The right hon. Member for Gorton said that any right of abode given by this Parliament under the Bill, or under any other, would not necessarily be maintained by an incoming Labour Government. Will the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) repudiate that particular statement?
Mr. Hattersley : Our position on that is clear. If the Bill is passed, we shall, of course, accept its provisions, but, as I have already pointed out to the House, the Bill is so constructed that the scheme that it governs can be changed from time to time. Clearly, the Government would not abandon the right to change the scheme in the Bill and neither would we. If the Bill is passed, we shall respect it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has never said anything remotely different from that.
Mr. Hattersley : I hear the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) say, with the wit and intelligence that I expect from him, "What are your policies?" Under our policy, some Hong Kong residents would qualify immediately for entry into this country. Many of them were recommended for special consideration by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. Their problems have often been ignored by the Government. Indeed, all four special categories recommended by the Select Committee were ignored by the Government until 4.5 pm today. I am sure that the so-called rebels on the Tory Benches will feel that if they have achieved nothing else in their endeavours, they have got the widows of ex-service men into this country. They have achieved that at least because the Government ran away from them on that particular and progress would not have been made unless the Government had feared defeat this evening.
The Government have not gone far enough. We will offer immediate entry to other groups because they deserve and need it. The Select Committee referred to "non-ethnic Chinese" who are mostly east African Asians who took refuge in the colony 20 years ago and who do not have full rights of residence in Hong Kong. In 1997, they will be stateless. Despite what the Home Secretary said this afternoon, the Government are offering them nothing. They do not qualify under the points scheme. We will grant them entry rights and I repeat that it is our published and established policy to allow the small number of war widows to come to this country. If I welcome nothing else that the Home Secretary said this afternoon, I welcome his concession on those widows and rejoice at his conversion.
We should also--as the Select Committee proposes--accept that time spent as a bona fide student could be included in the qualifying period for naturalisation. As the Select Committee also recommended, we should use section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981 generously.
Column 1581That section allows the Home Secretary to grant British citizenship to public servants who have worked abroad in colonial
administrations. It enables the Government to offer citizenship to public servants of every rank, whereas the points scheme would clearly favour more senior officials. [Interruption.] How do I know? Who asked me how I knew? [ Hon. Members :-- "Langbaurgh."] I should have guessed.
Mr. Holt rose --
Mr. Holt rose --
Mr. Holt : The right hon. Gentleman--[ Hon. Members :-- "One."] The right hon. Gentleman--[ Hon. Members :-- "One."]-- and those behind him may think that this debate is funny and that the lives of people in Hong Kong are not important. This is not a game ; it is a debate about people's lives and futures and the right hon. Gentleman is not doing Parliament or his party any good by his behaviour this afternoon. I suggest that he is honest with the public and that he stands up and tells the House how many people from Hong Kong the Labour party would allow into Britain.
Mr. Hattersley : It is because I regard this matter as crucial that I reject and resent the fact that hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Langbaurgh will vote for the Bill this evening without understanding the first thing about what is involved.
Some public servants will no doubt wish--perhaps even need--to leave the colony after 1997. We shall certainly enable them to come to Britain. The Home Secretary's discretion--a major feature of both immigration and nationality legislation at present--can and will be used to assist other individuals--I emphasise individuals--who are in particular need of leaving the colony.
On 17 January the Foreign Secretary told the House that as we considered the Bill we should be mindful of our duty to the people of Britain as well as to the people of Hong Kong. It is to the consequences of the Bill for Britain that I shall now address my remarks. It now seems to be the Home Secretary's belief--it has always been the Foreign Secretary's belief--that most of the Hong Kong residents who receive British citizenship will choose not to come to Britain. The announcement by the Government of China that they will not recognise a second or dual nationality seems to me to undermine that conviction. My own view is that most of the 225,000 will not come immediately but will come eventually--in 1996 if they have not emigrated elsewhere. But I repeat that the number is not the issue. What concerns me--it is the nub of my passionate opposition to the Bill--is the damage that will be done to the interests and welfare of the black and Asian British. That damage will be real, practical and immediate.
This is an immigration Bill as well as a nationality Bill. It confers the right of entry into Britain on men and
Column 1582women who do not possess it at present. New rights to new immigration--the extension of immigration--must be seen, at least during the lifetime of this Parliament, against the background of the Government's established immigration policy. About the principles of that policy--if "principles" is the right word--Ministers have been brutally frank. The rigorous control of numbers is said to be essential. The then Home Secretary--now the Foreign Secretary--was explicit in his words to the House on 16 November 1987. These are his words, not mine ; they are his opinions, certainly not mine : "there is a limit to the extent to which a society can accept"-- Mr. Couchman : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Couchman : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In July the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said in the House that the Labour party recognised that 3illion Chinese could not be given the right of abode. On 20 December he said that 50,000 heads of households could not. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman--
Mr. Hattersley : The then Home Secretary said on16 November 1987 : "there is a limit to the extent to which a society can accept large numbers of people from different cultures without unacceptable social tensions. That remains our view. It is not an anti-immigrant view ; it is a realistic view.
It would not be in the interests of the ethnic minorities themselves if there were a prospect of further mass inward movement. That prospect would increase social tensions, particularly in our cities."--[ Official Report, 16 November 1987 ; Vol. 122, c. 779.] I repeat that that is the Government's view--the established principle of their immigration policy. Successive regulations have put it into practice. They have had the effect of reducing numbers and Ministers have boasted about it. What is more, adminstrative delays hold back the entry of men and women who are entitled to come here. The Government consistently refuse to allocate sufficient resources to reduce the queue. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) asked questions in the House during the week before the Easter recess. The answers that he obtained about the length of time that it takes, not to obtain the right to come here, but to demonstrate that right, was terrifying.
I have no doubt that if today we gave special priority immigration status to hand-picked residents of Hong Kong, the Government would hold back the entry into Great Britain of men and women with a far greater claim to British nationality. They would contrive more administrative delays and introduce new regulations. They would apply the primary purpose rule more rigorously. I remind the House that that is the rule that gives an immigration officer the power to read a husband's mind and announce that he cannot come to Britain because he is applying not because he wants to be with his wife but because he likes it here or wants a job here. The Home Secretary tells us that this is a Bill aimed at carefully chosen people with good jobs and good salaries. I know very well that he will compensate for that by keeping out