Orders of the Day — Hong Kong

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:20 am on 10th March 1988.

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Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North 2:20 am, 10th March 1988

I respect the hon. Gentleman's view, but he himself said that it was difficult to form a judgment during a brief visit to Hong Kong.

One cannot for a moment pretend that anybody can make an entirely accurate prediction of exactly what the views are at any one point in time. After all, I suspect that on the night of the hon. Gentleman's count after the general election he would not have been able to make an accurate prediction of his majority, despite being a distinguished mathematician and statistician. In other words, there is bound to be an element of subjective judgment. None of us should be under any illusion about that. I have tried to make a fair and reasonable assessment, although I take account of what the hon. Gentleman said.

The next important date for Hong Kong will occur in early May. It is a date to which people in Hong Kong are looking forward with understandable interest, and which has, I suspect, prompted the hon. Gentleman's wish to raise this subject at this time.

In early May the Chinese Government will publish the first draft of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong special administrative region. The Basic Law is the legal instrument whereby the People's Republic of China will implement the policies for the Hong Kong special administrative region as set out in the declaration.

As such, it will enshrine the fundamental principles of the joint declaration — that Hong Kong's capitalist system and lifestyle will remain unchanged for 50 years, and that the special administrative region will enjoy a high degree of autonomy, including executive, legislative and independent judicial powers.

The method by which the Basic Law has been drafted reflects the concern of the Chinese Government to ensure that it meets the concerns of the Hong Kong people and for it to provide for a smooth transfer of government in 1997. The Basic Law, as is well known, is being drafted by a Basic Law drafting committee set up the Chinese Government. Almost half the members of the committee come from Hong Kong, which has ensured that the people of Hong Kong have been involved in the drafting process from the start. We have welcomed the extent to which their views have been scrupulously taken into account.

The first stage of the drafting committee's work is nearing completion. The committee will meet in plenary session in Beijing in April. Shortly afterwards, in early May, a first draft of the Basic Law will be published in Hong Kong. Thereafter there will he a period of five months for consultation, to give the people of Hong Kong an opportunity to comment on the first draft and to make their views known. The views will be collected by the Basic Law consultative committee, which has already been established in the territory.

The procedure will give the people of Hong Kong the means to influence the content of the second draft of the law, which will be published in the autumn, before the final version is promulgated in 1990. The House will agree that this demonstrates a meticulous regard for the views of Hong Kong people. I know that hon. Members will join me in welcoming the opportunities for repeated consultations provided by the Chinese Government.

Dr. Bray It would be helpful if the Minister would make it clear that the drafting is not the same as the consideration that would be given to legislation in a Committee of the House, with amendments voted on and agreed. The drafting is done by a secretariat and is then discussed and taken away, and it may or may not be changed, but it is difficult to say that it has the endorsement of a drafting committee.