Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, perhaps I can clarify what I said. I talked to three trade organisations, if I can use that word. They could not give a guarantee in the case of every funeral director, but they were confident, or reasonably so, that there were some funeral directors in the organisations they represented who could provide such a funeral.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: I am delighted to hear that. It will involve a certain amount of shopping around, although I know, as the Minister has already accepted, that this is not on the whole an occasion when you want to shop around. I will take what the noble Minister said and examine it in detail. It certainly confirms what the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has been suggesting and also the noble Viscount, who has contributed a very important point to the debate. In those circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

12 Jun 1997 : Column 1043

Hong Kong

7.24 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to support the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and to maintain the common law system in the administration of justice in Hong Kong courts, in accordance with the autonomy accorded to Hong Kong in the Joint Declaration.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is indeed a privilege to raise the question of the unique territory of Hong Kong in the final days of the British administration and in the presence of many of those who have shown such a long and dedicated commitment to its people.

The bequest of the British administration of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China is a thriving economy, the eighth largest trading entity in goods in the world, producing the equivalent of 25 per cent. of China's gross domestic product. The GDP per head of population is up to 207,000 Hong Kong dollars, or £16,640, for the current year. Growth rates have been at an annual average of 5.9 per cent. and are estimated for this year at 5.5 per cent. The reserves stand in excess of the equivalent of £13 billion. We have provided the framework of administration and law, within which the natural genius of the Chinese people for business and for hard work has thrived. Commercial obligations have been entered into and enforced. Law and order have been maintained. Corruption has been checked. Human rights have been respected. These are the conditions within which prosperity and freedom can flourish and be enjoyed. Historically, we have also in Hong Kong offered a haven to those escaping repression and injustice, and many of them and their descendants we leave behind.

With this record, 30th June is a moment for farewell but not for regret. July 1st is a moment for pride. We are proud of our contribution. The British traditions of fairness and justice have not repressed or exploited the Chinese people or in some way distorted their philosophy, as is sometimes claimed. By contrast, representing as they do universal truths and freedoms, British values, liberal values, have been a liberating force.

Our responsibilities for Hong Kong are not over. We have to maintain the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984. A clear breach of that declaration was the creation of a "provisional legislature" in the territory. The previous Foreign Secretary, Mr. Rifkind, described it as reprehensible and unjustifiable. Representations were made by the previous government to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and in December last Mr. Rifkind announced that he had sought Chinese co-operation for an independent settlement of the question by the International Court of Justice. But nothing has happened. The first act promised by China after midnight on 30th June, no doubt in the red glare of the rockets, will be to swear in that unconstitutional provisional legislature.

12 Jun 1997 : Column 1044

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, speaking for the then Labour Opposition a year ago, said that it was beyond doubt that China was breaking the Joint Declaration by setting up the provisional council. His view has been confirmed by the International Commission of Jurists, the United Nations Human Rights Commission, the US Senate and, recently, the Australian Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred to a commitment by Mr. Major, the Prime Minister at that time:

    "If there were to be any suggestion of a breach of the Joint Declaration we would have a duty to pursue every legal and other avenue available to us".

Now that duty falls upon a Labour Government.

The current Legislative Council, as constituted by the 1995 democratic elections in Hong Kong, is in accordance with the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. On the other hand, the Provisional Legislative Council, set up on 21st December last year by the selection of some 60 members by 400 persons appointed, in effect, by the Government of China, has no basis in law. Constitutionally it does not exist. Any ordinances it purports to pass will be illegal. If you look at its make-up you will see that the pro-democracy parties in Hong Kong, who represent 52 per cent. of the current LegCo, would now hold only 8.3 per cent. of the membership of this appointed body.

Why is it illegal? It is illegal because the Joint Declaration provided in its first annex that the legislature of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be constituted by elections. It is illegal because the Basic Law itself, the constitution passed and approved by China, provides in Article 68 that the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be constituted by election, and Annex II of the Basic Law sets out how in its first term the council shall be formed in accordance with the decision of the National People's Congress.

That congress did make a decision, in 1990. It provided that the first council, which would last for two years, should be composed of 60 members, with 20 members returned by geographical constituencies through direct election, 10 members by an election committee and 30 members by functional constituencies. That has not been followed through. We owe it to the people of Hong Kong, the people whom Mr. Major declared would never walk alone, to demand free and fair elections, in accordance with the Basic Law and in fulfilment of the obligations of the Joint Declaration. And let no party in Hong Kong be proscribed from standing in those elections.

As the Harvard sinologist, Mr. Roderick McFarquhar, has pointed out, the notion that whispering to China regarding breaches of the Joint Declaration will have more effect than talking tough in public is a total chimera. He rightly points out that the present Chinese leadership is afraid of international humiliation before its own people. He urges that, to be effective, pressure on China must be firm, public and continual.

I urge upon this new Government that they fulfil the promises they made in opposition. If China refuses to respond to the invitation to take the matter to the

12 Jun 1997 : Column 1045

International Court of Justice, then let the issue of the provisional legislature be referred immediately to that court for an "advisory opinion". That is what happened in 1971 with the South African occupation of Namibia. The consent of the Chinese Government would not be required. All that is needed is that the United Nations votes to refer the issue to that court. China, as a party to the dispute, though a permanent member of the Security Council, could not exercise a veto. An advisory opinion, although not a binding judgment, defines international law. It would marshall international censure. It is wholly unsatisfactory that we should stand by while the Democratic Party in Hong Kong is forced, as it did this week, to issue proceedings for an injunction in the courts of Hong Kong to challenge the legitimacy of the provisional legislature. Not only are the individual members of that party exposed, but the independence of the new Final Court of Appeal will be under enormous and immediate pressure.

I turn to human rights. A year ago, Mr. Hanley, then a Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said that the Government were continuing to press China to ratify a range of international human rights instruments. The President of the International Commission of Jurists, the honourable Justice Michael Kirby, has since called for Britain to join the 92 other countries which signed the first optional protocol of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights so that individual citizens can appeal directly to the United Nations Human Rights Committee which monitors compliance with the guarantees of freedom of expression and of association. As Dr. Robin Fitzsimmons pointed out in an article in the Asian Wall Street Journal on Tuesday last:

    "Dissidents who demonstrate 'illegally' or who are charged with the new crime of 'subversion' against the PRC, could appeal to the committee in Geneva and gain an international audience".

In the Hong Kong courts, the common law system preserved by the Joint Declaration for the next 50 years and underpinning the commercial success of the territory is under an unexpected threat. It is the use of the English language and its place in those courts. If international confidence is to be retained, it is essential that Hong Kong's legal system functions in accordance with well tried and tested procedures. The essence of the common law around the world is that precedent will prevail. The precedents of the common law are in the English language. It is unrealistic to suppose that they can ever be translated into the Chinese language. It is obvious that difficulties may arise in the interpretation of precedents in a language which is not the mother tongue for the majority of the population.

In the criminal courts, where the liberty of the subject is at stake, there are compelling reasons why the language used should be Chinese. It is the language of nearly all the defendants and most jurors. But in the civil and commercial courts it is essential that a policy of bilingualism be introduced. That is well recognised by the elected Legislative Council, the Bar and the Law Society of Hong Kong. The outgoing British administration has been hesitant, afraid perhaps to

12 Jun 1997 : Column 1046

challenge what is perceived to be possible opposition by China and ready in an unthinking way to promote the use of Chinese in all the courts.

The final LegCo meeting on this special subject has resolved to request the Chief Secretary to set up a high level body to monitor and co-ordinate the implementation of a policy of true biligualism at a speed compatible with Hong Kong's paramount interests. The proposal is that the body should be under the leadership of the Chief Secretary, with representatives of the Bar, the Law Society, the judiciary, the universities, the Attorney-General's chambers and consumers of legal services. I urge the Government to give their full support to this proposal in the few days left when executive action can be taken.

I have no doubt that the people of Hong Kong will welcome reassurances from the new Labour Administration that they are determined to uphold their interests and their freedoms. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response in that regard. The best way in which the interests of the new Government can be signalled is by the attendance of the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, at the handover ceremonies on 30th June next. But he must not be there to preside over the swearing in of an unconstitutional legislative council. He is entitled to expect, before he signals his intention of going, that the People's Republic of China will announce a timetable for the implementation of the requirements of the Basic Law for democratic elections and for the creation of a constitutional legislative council.

I am grateful to your Lordships for the time and attention you have given to this Question.

7.37 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for providing this opportunity for debate. It is an important debate and I look forward to hearing other noble Lords' contributions.

There are only 18 days until the transfer of sovereignty and this Government took office only some 40 days ago. Clearly, the most immediate responsibility of the Government is to ensure that there is a successful transition. But I am sure that in this debate we can and will look further than this immediate responsibility.

For myself, there are two groups of issues which are in a tension with each other. The first is that Britain should work to use Hong Kong as a bridge into China to further its business interests in trade, manufacturing and mineral exploitation. The second group of issues is that we should continue to draw to the world's attention human rights abuses within China and how those rights are to be protected in Hong Kong once the transition is complete. I shall first say a few words about the business opportunities in China.

I have some little experience of that as I worked on oil exploration rigs in northern China in the early 1980s. The lesson I learnt was that when one is investing in China there is infinite flexibility in helping one make the investment. Unfortunately, the exploration programme with which I was associated was

12 Jun 1997 : Column 1047

unsuccessful, so we never found out whether that Chinese flexibility extended to recovering the fruits of our investment. Nevertheless, that initial encouragement was certainly there.

I should like to give two very minor examples of the flexibility which I encountered. First, we had a couple of small strikes on the rig on which I worked. By "strikes", I mean labour strikes and not oil strikes. The Chinese crews refused to work. We found that we resolved those strikes very amicably with the help of the Chinese authorities. They were speedily and practically resolved and, as far as I am aware, there were no repercussions on the crews concerned.

The second example of flexibility is that on my days off I travelled fairly extensively within China. At the time that was quite illegal and I was told not to do it. Nevertheless, I thought that I knew better and off I went. As I travelled I found that I was accompanied by a series of English-speaking students who attached themselves to me and ensured that I came to no harm. No doubt these students informed others that I had come to no harm and the whole experience was completely unthreatening.

These two small examples showed me that when one is associated with a project which is benefiting China, flexibility is the order of the day. There can be no doubt that there are huge opportunities available for Britain to work through Hong Kong.

The second group of issues, as I have said, relates to the question of human rights abuses within China. Last night I spent an idle couple of hours searching the Internet for information about Hong Kong and China. I have to report to your Lordships that, apart from the immaculately presented website of the Foreign Office, there is a huge amount of information about human rights abuses in China and particularly concern emanating from Hong Kong about how that issue will affect them.

I shall raise just one of these small issues, which has also been brought to my attention by Amnesty International--that is the issue of Vietnamese migrants who, I believe, have been refused refugee status. Many of them are petty criminals and stateless. My understanding is that China does not want to inherit that problem. It is also my understanding that the Hong Kong authorities have promised that the refugee camps, or the camps in which the migrants are kept, will be cleared by 1st July. However, that is unlikely to be the case, or so I am informed. I shall be grateful if my noble friend the Minister can tell me what the fate of those people will be.

In general, I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will say that the rule of law is the ultimate protection for the people of Hong Kong and that China has agreed in the Joint Declaration that its version of a socialist system shall not be imposed on Hong Kong. However, I believe that it is incumbent on the Government to do all they can to ensure that all the provisions of the Joint Declaration are met in full and that proper and verifiable reports are submitted to the UN treaty monitoring body.

12 Jun 1997 : Column 1048

But I go further than that. Quite rightly, Britain will be fully represented in Hong Kong after the transition of sovereignty. The FCO mission statement, about which we have heard so much, must become a tangible working document daily guiding us in developing our relationship with China. We should never shy away from raising our concerns about human rights, while at the same time trying to capitalise on the business opportunities that are available to us.

The unique experiment of managing two systems within one country will be an extraordinary challenge to China. The way in which China handles that challenge will be critical for the future prosperity of Hong Kong and an important test of China's own commitment to human rights. I wish them well.

7.44 p.m.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, this debate represents the continuing interest in Hong Kong which Parliament has taken and will, I believe, continue to take. To begin with, I declare that for a number of years I have been an adviser to John Swire and Sons, who have considerable interests in Hong Kong.

For at least the next 50 years the future of the people of Hong Kong will, by treaty enforceable if necessary, as the noble Lord pointed out, in the international courts, be in the hands of the Government and Legislative Council of Hong Kong. Their individual freedoms and rights will be interpreted and adjudicated by the Hong Kong courts. There is in place, I believe, the means to ensure the continuing prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.

The only concerns are therefore on how it will work out in practice. I will confine myself to two aspects of this: first, the coming handover at the end of the month; secondly, the style of government which will follow.

First, the handover. I believe that we should all be delighted that China's top leadership--that is, both Jiang Zemin and Li Peng--will be attending and that our Prime Minister, together with the Foreign Secretary, will be representing Britain, along with the Prince of Wales, who will represent the British Crown. It is also appropriate that among the representatives of other foreign governments will be the American Secretary of State, Mrs. Madeleine Albright.

There will also be in Hong Kong no fewer than 8,400 journalists, all of whom will be as ready as anyone fully to enjoy the festivities (and of course I know a thing or two about how journalists can enjoy themselves) but all of whose editors will be wanting, indeed demanding, a story. Thus in the remaining two weeks before, and for an unquantifiable period after the handover, there will be in Hong Kong a large number of highly intelligent people seeking symbols, signals or tokens to interpret--and, if necessary for dramatic effect, to misinterpret--events. It may not be easy for the Chinese leadership, who have what they at least would still regard as the benefit of a compliant and supportive media, to understand this.

I believe that the position of Hong Kong is fundamentally very strong but temporarily and superficially it could prove fragile. There is one point,

12 Jun 1997 : Column 1049

increasingly referred to in the press, which does worry me. That is the arrangements for the arrival of the Chinese military forces. Under the Basic Law they are there for the defence of Hong Kong. There is provision in Article 14 of the Basic Law for the Chinese military to be used in aid to the civil power to restore order, but only at the request of the Chief Executive, as has always been the case with the Governor under British administration.

In my view it is inconceivable that such intervention would be necessary under any circumstances which can be foreseen at present. Hong Kong, which is one of the best ordered cities in the world, has an extremely well trained 30,000 strong police force. The necessary advance party of Chinese military has already arrived. I regret, therefore, that it appears to be thought necessary that there should be a large scale "march in" of the People's Liberation Army at midnight on 30th June, complete with a press stand to cover their arrival. It would be still worse if these forces were to be accompanied by armoured vehicles. Frankly, that cannot be the TV image which China, Britain or Hong Kong would wish to see flashed around the world.

I now turn to the style of government. It is clear that the new Chief Executive, Mr. C. H. Tung, has the complete confidence of the leadership in Peking and that he has unfettered access to them. This is a particularly important means of guaranteeing the independence of Hong Kong under the one country-two systems formula.

China will also have two senior representatives based in Hong Kong. One will be Ambassador Ma Yuzhen, formerly Ambassador in London, who will be the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Liaison Office with a staff of some 200. The other will be the Director of the New China News Agency, whose present staff of over 1,000 is expected to be considerably reduced. The present head of NCNA, Mr. Chou Nan, is not expected to remain and he may be succeeded by Ambassador Jian Enzhou, who also, until earlier this year, was China's Ambassador in London. Britain will have a special locus for the next three years through the Joint Liaison Group.

Although there will have to be links at working bureaucratic level between Chinese authorities and the Hong Kong Government, there should be no need whatsoever for there to be any Chinese cadre pressure to be applied to the Chief Executive or members of his office. But we would be naive indeed not to assume that private, commercial and political interests, perhaps even some with allegiance to the Chinese Ministry of State Security, will not try very hard to worm their way into the heart of the new Hong Kong Government. I am confident that Mr. Tung will successfully resist this, provided he is aware of the danger.

One of Hong Kong's great assets is the calibre and integrity of its Civil Service. That integrity owes much to the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, who in the 1970s took resolute and effective action to root out corruption in the Hong Kong police and some parts of the administration. He also set up the Independent Commission against Corruption, which is a formidable

12 Jun 1997 : Column 1050

enemy of wrongdoers. Conflicts between personal interest and public duty are most rigorously excluded from the Hong Kong Civil Service.

One of the few risks which I would see to the future of Hong Kong, especially as the world's third most important financial centre (and what a prize it is for China, as a third-world country, to be acquiring this) would be the introduction of the corrupt practices which have so plagued China in recent years. It is crucial that Hong Kong, and especially the Hong Kong government, is defended against this. From this it follows that there must be the closest links and mutual confidence between the Chief Executive and the Hong Kong Civil Service.

Hong Kong is extremely lucky to have as Chief Secretary and head of its Civil Service someone of the talent and dedication of Anson Chan. And although, during these twilight weeks when she has been working for the Hong Kong government while it has been under British administration, it may have been difficult to forge the close partnership between Mr. Tung and Mrs. Chan which will be crucial, I hope it can be established from the beginning of next month.

Then there is the role of the Legislative Council. I agree that it is a pity that the "through train" did not apply to all members of the elected council. However, we should at least be glad that 33 of them are members of the new, nominated LegCo.

The final safeguard for Hong Kong's people is the judiciary. Everyone is delighted at the appointment of Mr. Andrew Li as the new Chief Justice. A member of one of Hong Kong's most distinguished families and a former member of the Governor's Executive Council, his reputation for impartiality is equalled only by his proved ability.

The perpetuation of the independence of the judiciary, based on the constitutional position in the United Kingdom, was one of the great achievements of the 1983-84 negotiations for the future of Hong Kong. That the resulting agreement was so good is a great tribute to my noble friends Lady Thatcher and Lord Howe, with their insistence that to be recommended to the British House of Commons any agreement negotiated in Peking must first be acceptable to the people of Hong Kong.

Finally, I would like to say a word of tribute to the last Governor of Hong Kong. I believe history will judge that Mr. Patten has served the people of Hong Kong, and thus the interests of China, well. He has ensured that after Westminster loses its 150 year-old role as the ultimate guardian of Hong Kong's rights and freedoms, the people of Hong Kong are in a much stronger position to speak for themselves.

I returned from Hong Kong yesterday. On Tuesday, an ordinary lower middle class Chinese man said to me, "It will all be OK. The eyes of the world will be on Hong Kong. China will do nothing bad to us." To me that is the real epitaph on Mr. Patten.

7.53 p.m.

Baroness Dunn: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for the opportunity to contribute in this House my brief thoughts on Hong Kong for the last time before it ceases to be a

12 Jun 1997 : Column 1051

British territory. As the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said, the means and the safeguards are in place to ensure that Hong Kong's rights and freedoms, and the rule of law, will continue. However, the question that goes on nagging so many commentators, particularly in the western world, is: will it all fall apart once the British have gone?

Normal pressure group activities in Hong Kong, an everyday occurrence in any civilised society, are reported as widespread discontent. Innocent comments by Hong Kong's political leaders are scrutinised for nuances to support the thesis that they are China's mouthpieces. The media play up proposals to modify the public security ordinances, but they play down the changes to those proposals resulting from public consultations. They tell us of friction between senior civil servants and the new Chief Executive, but they rarely report civil servants' repeated public pledges of loyalty and support. Far-fetched and irresponsible conclusions are drawn with little or no basis.

Those pessimistic pronouncements remind me of the character in Anthony Trollope who had predicted evil consequences and who then did his best to bring about verification of his own prophecies. Your Lordships will understand how deeply unsettling it is for Hong Kong's people to read such downbeat predictions about their future in the overseas media.

The reality is very different. Hong Kong's stock and property markets are at an all-time high. Hong Kong people who have emigrated to Canada and elsewhere are returning in droves. Hong Kong's economy continues to be the envy of the western world, growing at over 5 per cent. per annum in real terms. The auspicious list goes on and on.

Of course, it would be naive to suggest that everything will be smooth sailing; nor is it realistic to think that the Hong Kong of tomorrow will be exactly like the Hong Kong of today. The new Chief Executive and his team of advisers will have a crucial role to play in providing leadership to Hong Kong and advice to China. They will have to establish their credibility with the public by clearly demonstrating that they will exercise a high degree of autonomy within the framework of the Basic Law fearlessly and in the best interests of Hong Kong. They will need to establish a close working relationship with Hong Kong's well respected Civil Service, the morale of which has understandably taken a knock in recent months. The Civil Service has a proud record of professionalism and honesty. It is a pillar of Hong Kong's success. It has greatly contributed to Hong Kong's stability. Its members need to be assured by the incoming administration that their service under British administration will not be held against them, that they are trusted, that their professional judgment will be considered seriously and that their integrity will be protected. Those tasks are difficult enough without constant sniping by the media and fireside critics who have no responsibility for the fate of the 6 million people of Hong Kong.

12 Jun 1997 : Column 1052

My essential point is this: for the very first time in the history of this remarkable community, Hong Kong people have the opportunity to assume the role of governing Hong Kong's internal affairs. This is a turning point. Hong Kong's people will need time to develop their own style. They will need time for the new systems to bed down. They will need time to develop a relationship of mutual trust and respect with their new sovereign.

Britain has done much to put in place arrangements to enable Hong Kong's way of life to continue. The goodwill and support of this House is always a source of comfort and assurance. But the time has come for Hong Kong people to assume responsibility for their own affairs, and they should be encouraged to do so. They should be encouraged to resolve differences where they exist in their own way, to seek consensus wherever they can, and to seek unity in purpose and vision.

What has been built in Hong Kong from the magic mix of British administration and Chinese entrepreneurial energy and flair is a unique society. When the British flag comes down at midnight on 30th June Britain can feel justly proud that it leaves Hong Kong in good shape with a self-confident community that assumes responsibility for its internal self-government. There is no doubt in my mind that Hong Kong people will rise to this challenge with courage. Let us wish them well and give them our blessing, and let us root for their success.

8.1 p.m.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, this debate gives me the opportunity to thank the Government and people of Hong Kong for inviting me and my wife to visit that jewel of the Far East. I do so most warmly. My wife and I spent five days in Hong Kong just after Easter of this year. Both of us found it enjoyable, interesting and very rewarding. We learned a lot. I was particularly impressed by the Hong Kong civil servants with whom we had meetings. Apart from their warmth and friendliness, I was impressed by their obvious ability and professionalism. I also had meetings with business leaders and was impressed by their entrepreneurial zeal and investment plans for the future--not only investment in Hong Kong but also in mainland China. I also met British diplomats and the General Officer commanding the Hong Kong garrison. I was impressed by their professionalism and frankness in answering my questions.

This debate is about human rights. The opening speaker dealt mainly with classical human rights, that is, the right of freedom under the law, free expression, democracy and so on. I am surprised to learn that the English common law can operate only in English. I would have thought that the principles of English common law would be susceptible to translation into every language in the world. I should like to strike a slightly different note and emphasise the basic rights of human existence: the right to decent housing and the right to the means of sustaining life.

During my visit I was fascinated to learn that during the late 1940s and early 1950s the population of Hong Kong rose from about 600,000 to 3 million in the space

12 Jun 1997 : Column 1053

of 18 months to two years, and that as a result of a serious fire in a refugee or resettlement camp a major programme of public housing was introduced. It is of interest to reflect that the proportion of the population of Hong Kong then living in public housing was probably higher than in our major conurbations of Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and London.

Two particular aspects struck me about the Hong Kong situation. One was the apparent direction of Hong Kong Government policy to withdraw from public housing. The other was the apparent lack of adequate pension provision for the vast majority of the Hong Kong population. In this country over the past 20 years we have had experience in both areas. The Government in this country have reduced investment in public housing and encouraged the selling off of public housing assets under the right to buy policy. The same Government have also allowed the value of old age pensions to be eroded over the period. One knows that the result of those policies has been an increase in homelessness, due mainly to repossessions because of unforeseen repair bills, massive reductions in income because of loss of jobs and matters of that kind, and poverty in old age. Of course, it is not right for us even in this august Chamber, to lecture the people of Hong Kong on how to run their affairs. However, I hope that they will learn from our experiences in those two areas of public policy and thus try to escape some of the pitfalls into which we have fallen.

I hope that the new Government will build a constructive and positive relationship with the Government and people of China which in the long run will enable us to have influence with them and assist the people of Hong Kong to maintain close links with the rest of the world and also integrate with mainland China.

It is apposite in this House to discuss two elements of the historical perspective. First, I refer to the remarks of a late uncle of mine who took a great interest in Chinese affairs. When I asked his view on what had happened in Tiananmen Square his response was that the Chinese leadership had grown up in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s when the whole of China was a seething maelstrom of disorder. They were terrified of that disorder and the disintegration of the Chinese nation, and the whole of their political life had been shaped by it. That was a salutary message to me. It was not an excuse for what had happened but an explanation of it. Secondly, I believe that recently a film has been made based on what is generically known as the Chinese opium wars. I may not be a very good student of history, but I was amazed to discover that campaigns were mounted by British armed forces to protect capitalist entrepreneurs who were selling opium to the Chinese people. If one thinks of that in the modern context one is absolutely horrified. Therefore, in a historical context, compared with that portrayed over the past 20 to 50 years, Britain's involvement in Hong Kong is not a completely rosy picture.

I hope that as the new Government ascend through their learning curve they will also recognise the lessons of history and relate to the Government of China on the basis of mutual understanding not only of the historical perceptions of our two nations but the possibility of

12 Jun 1997 : Column 1054

peaceful progress and development with Hong Kong, not just as a jewel sitting in isolation in the Far East but as a gateway for the rest of the world into China and a gateway for the whole of China to the rest of world.

8.10 p.m.

Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be able to take part in what has been rightly described as the last debate of this kind on Hong Kong under British jurisdiction to take place in this House. I hope that the House, and, in particular, the Minister will forgive me if I have to depart before the conclusion of the debate to catch up with a long deferred engagement. I am privileged also to follow the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, who drew our attention to the lessons of history with regard to Hong Kong and China. I recollect one particularly vivid fact. It is that my opposite number Wu Xuequian, the Foreign Minister with whom I negotiated the Joint Declaration, was separated from his wife and sent into the countryside to work on the land for several years during the Cultural Revolution. That, too, is part of the background to which the noble Lord referred.

I join the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, to whom we are grateful, in describing Hong Kong's achievements as those of an historically unique society, and as a magic mix, as the noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, said, between two distinct and ancient cultures, with tremendous achievements. It was a great privilege for me to play any part in helping to negotiate, with a marvellous team of governors and ambassadors, starting with the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, and going through governors Youde and Wilson and ambassadors Cradock, Evans and McLaren, the production of the Joint Declaration which the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, signed in December 1984 on behalf of us all.

If I were required to identify one guiding principle in that negotiation I hope I shall not be counted egocentric when I identify a metaphor of my own when I said that it was as though China and Britain were engaged in running a relay race together in which we had to hand over at the critical point not a baton, but something of enormous value--a relay race run with a Ming vase. Within five years the agreement that we had hammered out had proved astonishingly successful as a means of withstanding the buffeting of the tragic events in Tiananmen Square, proving itself to be an agreement for bad times as well as for good, and remaining the foundation for subsequent agreements.

There was the most remarkable agreement to be laid upon that within 12 months of Tiananmen Square. It was arrived at between my noble friend Lord Hurd and his then opposite number Qian Guichen, and embodied in the Basic Law for the progressive extension of democracy in the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, as the noble Lord said, of 60: 20 in 1995 to be elected; 24 in 1999 and 50 per cent. in 2003.

It is remarkable that the relationship proved so strong that that could be agreed between the two governments within less than a year of Tiananmen Square. So was constructed the through train (a continuously evolving

12 Jun 1997 : Column 1055

LegCo, designed to carry the Ming vase over the historic frontier of 1997). I am not now proposing to review the events since then, still less to apportion responsibility for any mishaps along the way, but to come straight to the present position: it must be acknowledged that the position as it is today is not as it was foreseen by Wu Xuequian and myself in 1984.

We did not visualise the competing existence of two Legislative Councils, both in due course due to disappear. We did not visualise a situation in which the last British appointed governor should have little, if any, contact with Chinese officialdom for probably four years--a situation in which the chief executive designate and the outgoing governor are barely in communication with each other. The latest miracle of that unique society is that it has been so little disturbed by those features that it remains optimistic about its own future, as the noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, described.

How has that been achieved? I think it is because most, if not all, alas, of the key institutions and features that we needed are firmly in place: the economy, the separate currency, the budgetary system, and the financial institutions are prosperous and confident. The laws of course require work still to be done to them, but the laws, the administration (local and central) the legal system, the judges, including the newly appointed Chief Justice, Mr. Andrew Li, to whose appointment we all pay tribute as an outstanding one, are there. Alongside all those institutions there are the people who matter: a Chief Secretary of distinction and integrity, Anson Chan, and all her senior colleagues. Again, I endorse the tribute paid by the noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, to the quality and dedication of the civil service.

Last but not least, Hong Kong has enjoyed the benefit of two successive chiefs of high ability, intelligence, sense of duty and integrity, one of them being my most talented and experienced colleague in British politics. I spoke at the last meeting of his, alas, unsuccessful election campaign in 1992. He has been there since his appointment in that year. He is to be followed by one of Hong Kong's most distinguished world-respected citizens with, as my noble friend Lord Marlesford pointed out, real authority and influence in Beijing--Mr. Tung Chee Hwa.

Hong Kong must count itself fortunate. Any democratic society would surely be grateful to have had available the service of two such distinguished people. My only sadness is that their service has not been concurrent--literally running alongside each other: running the relay race together and in step--but very largely consecutive; and, alas, not as fellow drivers of the through train with the Ming vase safely aboard.

Yet I retain my optimism about the future of Hong Kong. What are the features that justify that that will secure her continuing success? The first is the response of the People's Republic of China to the extraordinary challenge identified by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby: the manifest determination of Chinese and Hong Kong leaders to achieve, in self interest and for the sake of self-esteem, the success that they want to achieve. The second is the appointments that have been made of the Chief Executive, the Chief Justice, and the rest. The

12 Jun 1997 : Column 1056

third is the sustained determination of the Hong Kong people themselves, not deterred by the past 40 years of political uncertainty. Nor will they be deterred in the days and months of possible uncertainty ahead.

I endorse strongly what the noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, said about the part that can be played by the world's media in commenting upon these matters. Of course they are entitled to comment and report freely, but responsibly and not in such a way as to create prophecies which will be self-fulfilling.

What more is needed beyond that for success? Most important of all, Chinese understanding, to the fullest extent, that Hong Kong's success depends as much on the continuity of political and social institutions, rights and obligations, as on the economic factors of Hong Kong. Indeed, they are probably more important than the economic factors in the last resort.

In that context--here I join hands with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford--what is needed is the speedy implementation of the Chinese pledge that the provisional Legislative Council will soon abolish itself, and proceed, as swiftly as possible, to the re-election of a Legislation Council, broadly on the basis agreed with my noble friend Lord Hurd, and that, in accordance with Article 26 of the Basic Law, the rights of all Hong Kong residents to seek election will be safely guarded. That is the key question. Will all those who were formerly travelling as elected members on the earlier edition of the through train be free to resume that role in the elections that I hope will soon take place?

What role, finally, for Her Majesty's Government? In that context I congratulate Mr. Robin Cook, on his arrival at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office--not an easy perch but a perch with huge challenges. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, on her appearance at the Dispatch Box, in this role on his behalf. I wish them both very well in a fascinating task.

I recognise that some features of the ceremonies that will take place at the end of the month will be less well integrated than some of us would have hoped. Ex-President de Klerk and President Mandela will probably go down in history as having managed the transition a little better at that ceremonial moment. It is important to keep the ceremonial differences to the minimum. It is good news, as the noble Lord pointed out, that both countries will be represented by their senior leaders, alongside each other at the ceremonies. It is important for the sake of Sino-British relations, for the sake of Hong Kong itself and, above all, for the people of Hong Kong, that Her Majesty's Government should now re-establish the continuity and confidence in relations between the two governments. There are many reasons to regret the change of government which took place in this country on 1st May, but here at least may be one area where the change of the political cast can provide an opportunity of help in the future towards restoration as quickly as possible of that confidence, which is so important.

I wish the noble Baroness and her colleagues well in this task. As one who cares passionately about the future of Hong Kong, and about Sino-British relations only second to that, I also wish the people of Hong Kong everything they wish for themselves in the years ahead.

12 Jun 1997 : Column 1057

8.20 p.m.

Lord MacLehose of Beoch: My Lords, there is little for me to say. Two of the people I respect most in the creation of the modern Hong Kong are the noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon. He negotiated the Declaration, which was a fantastic diplomatic achievement. He was helped by the late Sir Edward Youde and the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn. I am sorry that the noble Lord is not here tonight; he is looking after the electricity supply in the Orkneys. The noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, was a senior member of the Executive Council and took a leading part in the negotiations, not directly with the Chinese but in advice to the government.

I feel humble in following those two contributors to the debate and I am greatly relieved to hear their optimism. That optimism is clearly based on the same features, which encourages me about the future. Much as I love Hong Kong, I realise the anxiety of many people and wonder what we can do about it. I have a horrible feeling that, unless we are very careful, what we shall do is to start this great new experiment with a major row about the Provisional Legislative Council. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, seemed to speak with a strong brief on the subject.

The last time that the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, spoke in this House he begged the Government to face realities in Hong Kong. One of the realities to which he referred was the fact that the provisional legislature would come about. There was no way it could be stopped. I was very pleased that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, explained that the provisional legislature was not something to be frightened of. It consists of some extremely good people who were members of the previous legislature. Its role is to extinguish itself by passing legislation for an elected successor. That is not something to have an enormous row about. I cannot follow the legalities, but it does not seem to me to be anything like as bad as the media and some people in Hong Kong make out.

Anyone who has much to do with Hong Kong is inevitably asked what will happen and will it all fall to pieces. The noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, answered that question in her own way. My way is to say to anyone who asks, "Go to Hong Kong and look around you. Do you really believe that people who can achieve a city of that kind are incapable of managing their affairs and achieving a working relationship with China?". After all, the odds are very much in their favour. Their links with China--commercial, financial and of blood--are close and extensive. Yes, the residue of emigration from China and memories of what has happened in China worry people; they are bound to. However, the population of Hong Kong will find it easier to adjust to a new relationship with China than appears to us here.

It is a unique place in the world and I very much hope that we will not lecture it about what happens there. Our way of doing things is so very different from that of the East Asians, although of course we have a continuing responsibility to ensure that the terms of the Joint Declaration are implemented. We will have to do that

12 Jun 1997 : Column 1058

firmly if necessary, but, it is to be hoped, discreetly with no return to the mega-diplomacy which occasionally broke the surface in recent years.

Subject to that, prospects in Hong Kong are very good. The economy is right, the relationship of the SAR with China--sadly, not of the British Government with China--can be good and is good. The same applies to relationships with individual members of the community in Hong Kong. So long as the economy--an important aspect of Hong Kong's future--holds up and is linked to the level of world trade, the prospects for these delightful people are very bright. I am extremely glad to think that people such as the noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, will continue to play a major part there in one way or another.

Finally, I wish to emphasise the extreme importance of the quality of the public services in Hong Kong. I have served in six different countries and, as far as I am concerned, their quality has not been equalled anywhere. There has been a great deal of anxiety about a through-train of the legislature. I believe that what matters most is a through-train of the public services and, happily, I understand that there have been few defections. Most people are staying on with a degree of excitement to work for the SAR in the same way as they worked for the colony of Hong Kong. They are apolitical and highly professional, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. Happily, they are clean in their dealings with the public. So long as they and their confidence are maintained, the future of Hong Kong will continue to be bright.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, like other noble Lords this evening, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for introducing this debate at this timely moment. Like the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, who has just spoken, I find that there is very little for me to say. I believe that my speech will be reduced to a number of questions to the Minister.

First, is the Minister able to confirm that the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister will attend the handover ceremony but that he will follow the lead given by the American Secretary of State, and not attend the swearing-in ceremony and thus legitimise the provisional legislative council?

On that subject, I wonder whether the Government have had any contact with our European Union partners to see what is their attitude to that swearing-in ceremony. Will they follow our lead on that? I should be particularly interested to know what is the attitude of the French Government to that because the President of France, M. Chirac, has only just returned to the upright position following a visit to Peking in the pursuit of Airbus orders.

The question of the provisional legislative council has been covered very well already by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. I support him on that. I ask the Minister whether the Government believe that the Joint Declaration has been breached in any way. If so, will they state that very clearly, both in public and in private, to China?

12 Jun 1997 : Column 1059

I hope also that the Minister will take the opportunity this evening to confirm that the Government will press for early elections to a properly-elected legislative council, earlier rather than later, in the one-year period which is presently envisaged.

The Question this evening relates to how we can best protect Hong Kong after the hand-over. I should like to touch on that very briefly. When Hong Kong is talked about in certain quarters, there is a tendency to simply shrug our shoulders and say, "Well, we cannot do anything about it. China will do as it wishes". I do not think that that is right. If we accept that, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is action that we can take, if necessary, to ensure that Hong Kong receives the deal to which we put our name on its behalf.

If China does not wish the Hong Kong question to be internationalised, that is a very good reason for internationalising it if the case arises. We should not be frightened of doing that. In March of this year, the US Congress passed a resolution authorising the President to impose trade restrictions if China does not honour its promise. That is a fall-back position which I hope will not arise. Nevertheless, it gives some kind of weapon to the international community with which to support Hong Kong. Again, I stress that that is what we are asked to consider this evening in the Question before us.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page