The talks on the future of Hong Kong are progressing satisfactorily. The 19th round of formal talks was completed earlier today in Peking. They were once again described as "useful and constructive" by both sides. The working group continues to meet full-time between the formal rounds in order to consider documents submitted by the two sides. It will take a short recess between 31 July and the week beginning 13 August. My right hon. and learned Friend left on a further visit to Hong Kong and Peking earlier today.
In future meetings with the Chinese authorities, will the Foreign Secretary make it clear that the views and statements by members of UMELCO do not represent the views of the people of Hong Kong, and that it speaks only for the ruling and wealthy classes? Should not more notice be taken of the ordinary grass roots organisations, because they represent the real people of Hong Kong?
The hon. Gentleman is being extremely unfair to the members of UMELCO, who, under both Conservative and Labour Governments, have been appointed to undertake certain responsibilities. They fulfill those functions with a high sense of duty and responsibility, and a tribute should be paid to them for that. Throughout the past several months the Government have been making, as the hon. Gentleman knows, a sustained effort to ensure that we are aware of the views of the vast cross-section of people in Hong Kong. Each time that I have gone out there I have taken the opportunity to meet a different part of that cross-section. Reports come back to us frequently from all parts of the Hong Kong community.
Is my hon. Friend aware that any agreement with China about Hong Kong w ill be unacceptable to the House unless it assures continuous British sovereignty and British rights of administration over Hong Kong until 1997?
My right hon. Friend is right to refer to the fact that at the end of the day it is the British Parliament that has to take the decision whether the proposals that we hope to be able to recommend are acceptable. I can reaffirm clearly that it is the British Government' s firm intention to retain responsibility for Hong Kong until 1997.
On the latter point, the very fact that there is a working group that has been meeting day-by-day in Peking gives some measure of the fact that we are giving a lot of attention to the prospect of a detailed agreement. Progress is being made, but there is still a way to go. It is right, in order to reassure the people of Hong Kong about their future and the continuity of their way of life, that there should be as much detail as possible in any agreement that we can reach with the Chinese. That will provide the best assurance for them for after 1997.
Will my hon. Friend comment on reports in the papers of the proposal by the People's Republic of China that some Anglo-Chinese commission might be set up soon, presumably to supervise the gradual handover of power? Does he not agree that although this might be suitable 12 years hence, just before 1997, it is utterly inappropriate now and should be not just resisted but turned down?
I have seen those alleged proposals from the Chinese. However, it will not come as any surprise to my hon. Friend to know that when I visited Hong Kong recently I found that the cross-section of the public with whom I was in touch had their own views to express on this subject. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and I took them very carefully into account. This whole issue must be seen against the background of the British Government's very firm intention — which I cannot restate too often—to maintain responsibility until 1997.
Is the Minister aware that the recent Green Paper on the government of Hong Kong is seen by many democrats in Hong Kong and elsewhere as at best a sop and at worst an insult to the intelligence of the vast majority of the people of Hong Kong? Why are the British Government so unwilling to introduce an entirely directly elected legislative council fully to represent the views of the people of Hong Kong and why do they continue a system of colonial patronage that is seen throughout the whole world as one of the last bastions of British imperialism?
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has fairly reflected the views of the people of Hong Kong. As a result of the Green Paper which the hon. Gentleman has in his hand they have now been given two months in which to give their views about the proposals. The hon. Gentleman will note that the Green Paper—green for consultation—takes the stages forward very gradually. The Government are committed to the evolution of representative government. There is an element of direct election at local government level, involving urban, district and regional councils, but we are looking towards two stages in the 1980s—not in the 1990s—which allow for a process of indirect election, and which we feel will fit the situation in Hong Kong in the next few years.
Regardless of those who have a vested interest in trying to sow discord between Britain and China over Hong Kong, does my hon. Friend agree that, despite the difficulties, it would help if as much detail as possible could be written into the agreement between the two Governments? Does he further agree that, although the fears in Hong Kong are understandable, if some form of joint liaison commission were set up at a reasonably early date between the British and Chinese Governments it might ensure some sort of eventual smooth transition?
I agree with my hon. Friend. As I have said, we strongly feel that the best assurance for the people of Hong Kong, who are naturally anxious and uncertain about their future, is that there should be as much detail as possible in that agreement so that they can see that the way of life which they are used to and which has created Hong Kong's prosperity and stability can continue. That is why we hold the very strong view that it is essential to go on working, week after week, to try to persuade the Chinese that it is in their interests to see that, let alone the interests of the people of Hong Kong.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the confidence of the people of Hong Kong in the reliability of any agreement that is reached is of paramount importance both to our Parliament and to the Government of Peking. However, does the Minister agree that there may be some advantage in some sort of machinery through which Peking is made more directly aware of the state of feeling in Hong Kong? A commission composed of British and Chinese representatives might perform a useful role, provided that it is not given any effective authority before the handover takes place.
I have noted the right hon. Gentleman's view, and I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary will also note it. I do not think that anything that the right hon. Gentleman has said contradicts our view that if there is to be any form of contact with the Chinese Government about the future with a view to contributing to a smooth transition in 1997, nothing must be done to undermine in any way the authority of the British Government, who firmly intend to remain in charge and to maintain responsibility until 1997.