Hong Kong

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:39 pm on 20th January 1988.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris Shadow Attorney General 4:39 pm, 20th January 1988

The whole House will have listened closely to the words of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), drawing on his long experience. They were wise words on the need for direct elections and the fact that that would not be incompatible, as he understands it, with the Basic Law so far proposed.

On my last visit to Hong Kong as shadow Attorney-General, in the course of discussions with the legal community I gave an assurance that whenever an issue arose regarding freedom, the law or the constitution, I would be prepared to act as a conduit pipe if they had exhausted all the existing machinery. Over the years there have been occasions when one has had to go to Ministers because of anxieties expressed in Hong Kong.

Let me give one example — the public outcry regarding section 27 of the Public Order Ordinance enacted last March, which makes it a crime to publish false news. If that were a crime in the United Kingdom, the Home Secretary would have to build prisons for editors, sub-editors and the like. That law has caused great anxiety, especially as regards the freedom of the press and free speech.

I understand that there is now a film censorship Bill, for political reasons, mainly the likelihood of seriously damaging good relations with other territories. Freedom and censorship, particularly political censorship, are never compatible — a lesson forgotten perhaps by Her Majesty's Government in their litigious rampage through the courts of the world.

Whenever one goes to Ministers the answer is always the same—this is a matter for Hong Kong. If Hong Kong had a democratically elected Government that would be right, but when one hears of these aberrations which are contrary to our understanding of freedom, we cannot, like Pontius Pilate, wash our hands of what is going on there.

I come immediately to the issue raised by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. I believe, from the representations that we have had, that there is more than the beginning of a crisis of confidence in Hong Kong regarding progress on the road to direct elections. Informed opinion in Hong Kong, if we are to judge by the representations that we have had, is that they have been shaken by the timidity of the Government in grasping the nettle on how far and how quickly representative government is to be achieved.

The Foreign Secretary has not carried the matter one iota further. We do not know in what way Her Majesty's Government will encourage speed in moving towards a democratically elected government. Sophisticated Hong Kong, with a long tradition in the business world, perhaps will be unique as the only colony where we have not begun to move towards a democratically elected government when we hand it over. That is an odd reflection on the people of Hong Kong.