|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can agree with what the noble Lord has just said. That is why I was careful to answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, by saying that this is not a change in the Basic Law. We cannot say that a fundamental point in the Basic Law has been challenged. However, it is an interpretation of the Basic Law which is uncomfortable given that the mechanism used, that of a proactive engagement, seems to have brought rather closer together the Chinese way of doing things with the Hong Kong way. That means that the two different systems, which we believe are fundamental to the way the handover was dealt with, have been made at least that much more difficult for future discussions. It is a question of interpretation, but I agree with the noble Lord that, by and large, the handover has been one in which the Chinese have stuck by what they said.
Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, I believe that I can provide some fortification for the last point made by the noble Baroness. Article 45 of the Chinese Basic Law makes provision for the ultimate aim being universal suffrage and for the gradual and orderly progress towards that aim. Does the noble Baroness further endorse the proposition that the latest announcement from the NPC appears, on the face of it, to represent no change in that direction? However, the noble Baroness may not have seen a statement issued today by the chief executive of Hong Kong asking the Constitutional Development Task Force in Hong Kong, which will submit its third report next month, to take forward actively the next stage of work relating to constitutional development,
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has provided a fair summation of the position and I gladly support what he has said. He was quite right in the point he made about Article 45 of the Chinese Basic Law. The eventual target of universal suffrage is enshrined in that article. While, of course, there are no dates in the article, nor any indications about how universal suffrage might be achieved, it was hoped very much that steps would be taken towards universal suffrage before the election of the chief executive in 2007 and the LegCo in 2008. Undoubtedly we have suffered something of a disappointment in that, but none the less the noble and learned Lord is quite right to point out that we still have a great deal to argue for. We believe that the right way to do that involves the points that the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, asked us to look beyond. For the moment, however, we should be engaging in dialogue and discussion.
Lord Marsh: My Lords, has not the problem we are now facing been with us for the entire period since 1949 when the new government of China made it clear that, at the handover of Hong Kong, they would exercise complete jurisdiction as the sovereign power? Some people in Hong Kong find that unpalatable but I think that the attitude outlined by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, is the proper one to adopt. We should stop pretending that we have authority over Hong Kong, which we do not and have not since it was handed back. We may then get a sympathetic hearing, which we will not while acting like a former colonial power.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord is right: the problem is inherent in the very nature of our period of tenure in Hong Kong. The party opposite negotiated the joint declaration in 1984 and I am sure that it did the best possible job it could in the circumstances. I do not blame it for the fact that the joint declaration does not have any hard and fast lines in it about universal suffrage and dates. I do not blame the party opposite for that; I am sure it negotiated in good faith. However, I find the implication that somehow the Government are blameworthy for not being able to push more on the issue of universal suffrage. I know that that was not an implication of the noble Lord's Question, but now and again one hears it from elsewhere. It is not a realistic position to take in view of the fact that all we can do is seek to persuade the Chinese Government in relation to Hong Kong, as a good friend of the people of Hong Kong and, I hope, as an increasingly good friend of the people of China.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I make no bones about it: both the declaration of 6 April and today's further interpretation are, from our point of view, unsatisfactory because they cause concern about the route to democracy in Hong Kong. That is absolutely clear but the point at issue is our locus in trying to do anything about it. We have the joint statement, which gives us at least the right to have discussions on these issues. But the noble Lord, Lord Howell, put it to me that we should be going beyond dialogue and discussion and that is an unrealistic position for the Opposition to take in view of the comments from the Cross Benches which, quite rightly, indicated that we no longer have a locus. Hong Kong is not in any sense a colony; it is not under a governor. We can only proceed by persuasion, dialogue and discussion and we are heavily engaged in so doing.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, Ministers commissioned a review of the five criminal justice service inspectorates to examine the existing inspection regime to ensure that it is as robust as possible. A report has been received by Ministers and discussions are currently taking place with the chief inspectors and others to ensure the report properly addresses all the issues. Structural change is being considered and significant progress has been made.
Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that interim reply. All the inspectorates are important but does she agree that the Inspectorate of Prisons is especially so? It is an expert body of undoubted independence and, under the previous two chief inspectors and the present one, it has done indispensable work in throwing light into corners of this public service which might otherwise remain in the dark. Can the Minister give an assurance that when the review is complete, or as part of the review, whatever its outcome, the duties and rights of the prison inspectorate will be no longer a matter of an administrative decision based on the wishes of the Home Secretary but enshrined in the law of the land with statutory back-up?
Baroness Stern: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the UK Government are to be congratulated on being one of the first three states to ratify the protocol to the United Nations Convention Against Torture in December 2003? The protocol requires the UK to put in place independent inspections of all places of detention. Therefore the remit of the chief inspector has been extended to all immigration detention centres and the military centre at Colchester. Can the Minister reassure the House that under the reorganised inspection arrangements, the UK Government will continue to meet the requirements of the convention for both the independence and the coverage of its inspection arrangements?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I have pleasure in confirming that that is the case. I thank the noble Baroness for her congratulations, which I must say, if somewhat immodestly, are well placed.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, the Audit Commission has reported that we now have the highest ever level of public spending in the criminal justice area. It has also reported that it is committed to working very closely with the criminal justice inspectors and that one of the objectives it intends to achieve is value for money. Does the Minister agree that public confidence is shaped by the quality of service provided by HM inspectors, particularly the Chief Inspector of Prisons? Will she give an undertaking that there will be full public consultation when the review report has been examined and that direct accountability to the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State will not be eroded as a cost-cutting exercise?
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page