This debate is important. I am conscious of the fact that the choice of date is not initially convenient for some right hon. and hon. Members, and I am grateful to them for having accommodated the arrangements that emerged. Some hon. Members have travelled a long way to be here, and the House will appreciate that.
The debate is important for two reasons, the first being that our subject is Hong Kong. The territory ranks high in the Government's priorities, and our responsibilities towards it are special. The House will know that it has been a continuously important item on my personal agenda as Foreign Secretary. My most recent visit to Hong Kong was only a few weeks ago, and my noble Friend the Minister of State was there at the beginning of this month. Both of us were struck, as one always is in Hong Kong, by its continuous vitality and bustle. Hong Kong is enjoying a spectacular run of economic growth. Its full employment, low public expenditure and ambitious development projects are an example to East and West alike.
The second reason why this debate is important is that it is taking place at a time when the people of Hong Kong are engaged in a vigorous debate on the draft of the Basic Law—a document that will play a crucial role in giving effect to the provisions of the Sino-British joint declaration, and so in shaping Hong Kong's future.
The two co-signatories of the joint declaration have important obligations to each other under international law. The Chinese Government have the responsibility for drafting the Basic Law—that is entirely a matter for them. The British Government, on the other hand, have a right to assure themselves that the principles embodied in the joint declaration have been faithfully implemented in the Basic Law. That is why it is appropriate that we should have this debate. Both sides. in addition, have a common obligation to the people of Hong Kong. I know that that is something that the House takes very seriously. Already this year we have considered Hong Kong on three occasions. This is the fourth. The territory was also the subject of a debate in another place on 10 June. That sustained level of interest is very welcome. It is also a source of reassurance and encouragement to the people of Hong Kong.
Our first debate on Hong Kong this year focused largely on representative government in the territory. I later made a statement on the White Paper published by the Hong Kong Government on the same issue. The White Paper had its critics, both in the House and in Hong Kong itself, but I believe it is now clear that most people in Hong Kong regard it as a forward-looking document, which has struck the right balance between the need for reform and the need for stability during the critical transitional period.
The White Paper was overwhelmingly endorsed by Hong Kong's Legislative Council. An amendment regretting the decision to introduce direct elections in 1991 and not before was soundly rejected by 42 votes to seven, and Hong Kong is now concentrating on making the White Paper work. It is concentrating too, as I have said, on careful scrutiny of the draft Basic Law. The process of public consultation over Basic Law is being conducted by the Chinese authorities in a thorough and painstaking fashion. That is indeed a welcome sign of the seriousness with which the Chinese take their obligations to the people of Hong Kong. A crucial phase began at the end of April with the publication of a first draft, and it will continue for five months until the end of September.
The way in which this matter is handled will have a major effect on confidence in Hong Kong and on how Hong Kong people view their future. It is a heavy responsibility for the Chinese Government, but one which I have no doubt they recognise and accept. Their whole approach to the drafting exercise has demonstrated that.
First, mainland and Hong Kong members have worked together for over two years in the Basic Law drafting committee to hammer out a text that addresses the interests of all concerned. There have been seven plenary meetings of the committee and innumerable meetings of its sub-committees. Second, there is a considerable breadth of representation of Hong Kong people on that committee. Twenty-three of the 59 members of the committee are Hong Kong people, covering a diverse range of interests. Thirdly, the process of drafting has been remarkably open. There has been a free exchange of views within the committee, and no lack of information about the progress of the draft as that has evolved.
Speaking as someone who has long taken an interest in improving the quality of our own legislative process, I confess that I find myself impressed by the openness of this procedure, which has the great virtue of positively inviting public participation. Indeed, it might go beyond the earliest aspirations of my right hon. and learned Friend the Patronage Secretary, who is sitting beside me. The Chinese authorities have clearly recognised the need to retain the confidence of the people of Hong Kong in the drafting process. We very much welcome this approach.
The same can be said of the present process of public consultation. The Basic Law consultative committee, which comprises some 180 people in Hong Kong, has mounted an extensive publicity campaign to collect views among the Hong Kong public. The Chinese Government have made it clear that they accept that there is still a good deal of room for improvement in the text and that amendments will be made. There is thus scope for all Hong Kong people to make an input into the drafting process and they are, indeed, making their views known.
I hope and believe that the Chinese authorities will take careful account of all views expressed. It is firmly in China's interests to get the Basic Law right, in order to maintain confidence in Hong Kong and secure its future beyond 1997. The Chinese know as well as we do that the success of the arrangements that are being made for Hong Kong's future depend upon what Hong Kong people themselves think of them, so they will certainly want a Basic Law to emerge that can command the confidence and respect of people in Hong Kong and the wider international community.
Her Majesty's Government are, of course, following the public debate in Hong Kong extremely closely. The House will know that a thoughtful and constructive two-day debate has just taken place in the Legislative Council. My officials have had detailed and useful discussions with a delegation of Hong Kong lawyers who are visiting London for this debate, as well as with other groups from the territory. We are in regular touch with the Chinese Government on the matter, and I have discussed Basic Law questions with the Chinese Foreign Minister. Let me take this opportunity to express my warm appreciation of the part played by my former opposite number, Mr. Wu Xueqian, and of wishing him well in this new post as Deputy Prime Minister. I look forward to working equally closely with his successor, Mr. Qian Qichen, whom I was glad to meet in New York just a few weeks ago. That serves to emphasise the extent to which we have a continuous dialogue with the Chinese on several levels.
The House will, I am sure, understand why these discussions need to be conducted in confidence. To conduct this kind of exchange by public proclamation would certainly not help to secure the objectives for Hong Kong to which we all attach so much importance. We are taking care to transmit to the Chinese Government views and concerns expressed by bodies and individuals in Hong Kong and here in the United Kingdom. We ensure that the Chinese Government are made aware of the views expressed in both Houses. I have said here before, and I take the opportunity to say again, that there is no question of us subordinating the interests of Hong Kong to some concept of an Anglo-Chinese relationship that excludes Hong Kong. On the contrary, far and away the most important component of the Anglo-Chinese relationship is our joint commitment to the success of Hong Kong.
Let me turn for a moment to the draft Basic Law. It is a large, comprehensive document, covering virtually all the provisions of the joint declaration. Some of those provisions are included verbatim. It is important to recognise, before looking at some of the remaining areas of difficulty, that most of the text is already very much along the right lines. The main remaining areas of concern in Hong Kong have clearly emerged and are being addressed.
The first of those concerns is autonomy. The question is asked whether the Basic Law will enable the Hong Kong special administrative region to enjoy the high degree of autonomy provided for in the joint declaration. That is an entirely reasonable question to ask, but equally it must be recognised that a high degree of autonomy is not the same as independence. Sovereignty over Hong Kong will rest with China after 1997. It will require the most careful judgment to get the balance right. We believe that the joint declaration, on the whole, got this right. That is why we attach great importance to ensuring that the Basic Law accurately reflects the joint declaration in this respect. A topic that is of particular significance in this context is the relationship between Hong Kong and the National People's Congress in Beijing in legislative and judicial matters, as well as in the interpretation of the Basic Law itself.
The general questions involved here are not unique. They arise whenever there is a need to allocate power and responsibility between a central Government and a non-sovereign entity within the same state, which has a degree, even a high degree, of autonomy. This is a crucial and sensitive area. It will be vital to confidence in Hong Kong to define the relationship in a way that not only reflects the fact of Chinese sovereignty, but properly meets the legitimate requirements and expectations of the special administrative region.
A second part of the draft that needs to be looked at closely is the guarantees of essential rights and freedoms. There is understandable concern about the extent to which the provisions in the draft designed to protect the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people will work in practice. Once again the important thing must be to ensure that the ultimate result faithfully reflects the provisions of the joint declaration, so that Hong Kong people can be confident that they will continue to enjoy the rights and freedoms that they have today. We hope that the drafters will listen to those concerns and refine the draft accordingly.
Thirdly, there are the provisions on the economy. Many people have expressed reservations about provisions in the draft that appear to bind the future SAR Government to pursuing certain economic or fiscal policies. There would appear to be good reason for that anxiety. As drafted, the provisions seem to encroach on the autonomy in these areas which the future SAR Government are to enjoy.
There is an interesting irony in this last point. Five years ago we were worried that the Chinese might not permit capitalism to survive in Hong Kong after 1997. Now we see problems in a draft Chinese law that would, among other things, oblige Hong Kong to maintain policies that many other capitalist Governments would give their eye teeth to achieve—low taxes and a balanced budget—though I naturally understand that the Labour party may not share that view. The constitutional problem is important, but the irony is worth noting. It reminds us just how far we have come on Hong Kong in five years.
I do not think that the joint declaration includes a specific reference to a balanced budget in the form in which it appears here. This point was discussed extensively in the recent debate in the Legislative Council and the argument has been put on both sides. I recognise the legitimacy of the concern about this matter of constitutional anxiety, but it is worth drawing attention to the firmly established position of low taxes and a balanced budget as part of the reason for the success of the Hong Kong economy. That is the contrast that one wants to draw.
Finally, there is the political system, on which there are divergent views in Hong Kong. The important thing about the draft is that this diversity of view is plainly reflected in the number of options currently offered. Already, however, there is agreement on the need for a directly elected element in the legislature, and it is significant that every one of the four options in the Basic Law draft includes provision for that.
The aim of the Basic Law drafters must, I think, be very much in line with our aims in the recent White Paper: to preserve those elements of Hong Kong's present system which have always served it well, while responding to people's aspirations for a greater degree of involvement in Government. A particularly important aspect of the future political system is the arrangements for the formation of the first Government after 1 July 1997. We attach importance to achieving arrangements which, while clearly marking the change of sovereignty, as they must, provide for continuity in administration and the legislature across 1997. I have not been able to deal with every matter of concern in the draft Basic Law, and no doubt hon. Members will draw attention to other points. The central point is that these anxieties should all be taken into account and reflected in the revised draft. This debate is intended to help towards that end.
I turn to a separate issue which has been a source of the greatest concern in Hong Kong and to Her Majesty's Government: the problem of the Vietnamese boat people. The House was informed of the decision of the Hong Kong Government, taken with our full support, that from 16 June all arrivals would be screened, on the basis of criteria laid down by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The intention is to distinguish genuine refugees from those whose motives for leaving Vietnam are purely economic.
Hong Kong will continue to preserve access to resettlement for genuine refugees, but the great majority of arrivals, who are leaving Vietnam for economic reasons, will be detained pending their eventual repatriation to Vietnam as soon as satisfactory arrangements for their return have been negotiated. Until then they will be detained, in humane conditions of course, but without access to resettlement opportunities.
My right hon. and learned Friend has said that there will be satisfactory arrangements for the repatriation of these people. What discussions is he having with the Vietnamese Government and with those who would help with that repatriation to ensure that those who fled 'Vietnam because of desperate economic straits will not return to a worse situation?
With surgical precision my hon. Friend raises a point so important that it is the subject of my next paragraph.
In our bilateral contacts with the Vietnamese Government we have pressed for action. I took up the matter forcefully when I met the Vietnamese Foreign Minister in New York on 7 June. I am glad to say that the Vietnamese Government have now invited a team of British and Hong Kong officials to visit Hanoi and discuss the return of boat people from Hong Kong. These talks are expected to take place in the coming weeks. We do not know how much headway can be made and how soon, but this is a step in the right direction.
We have spoken, too, to the Chinese Government about this change of policy, and they have expressed full support for it. Other resettlement countries, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also understand why we have taken this action.
In the meantime, we are studying the impact of the new policy with great care. So far there has been no significant slackening in the rate of arrival of boat people in Hong Kong, but there should be no doubt about the message. There is no future in Hong Kong for economic migrants: they should not put to sea from Vietnam.
I hope that I am not anticipating my right hon. and learned Friend's next paragraph. Would he care to comment on the feeling in Hong Kong that perhaps the Vietnamese refugees are getting a better deal than refugees from mainland China, who are deported on detection?
In view of my hon. Friend's knowledge of the territory, he is right to draw attention to that point as one of the important arguments in support of the change of policy. It is not the only argument, but it is important.
I should like to mention one other matter of concern in Hong Kong, which was raised with me on my visit and subsequently with my noble Friend the Minister of State. Some hon. Members may also have it in mind. There have been a number of incidents in recent months in which Hong Kong travellers to this country have experienced immigration difficulties at ports of entry to the United Kingdom. There have been claims of discourteous treatment and unfair refusal of entry. These cases have led some in Hong Kong to wonder whether there is an underlying problem of discrimination against such travellers. I can assure the House that there is no foundation for that belief.
These matters must be seen in perspective. The United Kingdom is no different from anywhere else, in that problems can all too easily occur at points of entry control; nor is the Hong Kong traveller, as far as I can tell, especially liable to such trouble. The number of incidents is not large, especially when considered against the very large number of visitors that we receive every year from Hong Kong.
Let me make it plain that we take these complaints seriously, as I am sure the House expects us to do. I am discussing them with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to establish what lessons can be learnt to guard against this sort of thing in the future. We are both determined to see that appropriate action is taken. We are keen to do everything that we can to provide reassurance to Hong Kong about the operation of immigration controls in the United Kingdom.
I understand why the hon. Gentleman intervened to emphasise that point. My noble Friend the Minister of State and I discussed it on our visits and it is a point to which, understandably, people in Hong Kong attach importance. It is in that context that I am discussing this very matter with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. We are seeking to establish what further instructions need to be given, because it is an area of great sensitivity, and not just in that context. We all know that, day in day out, for the hundreds of thousands of individual cases that arise, it is extremely difficult to achieve the high standards of care that we all wish.
I turn now to another source of concern—emigration from Hong Kong. In the course of my recent visit to the territory, once again I was able to gauge the extent of the problem for myself. There can be no doubt that it is real, particularly among the professional and middle classes. Even so, the scale should not be overstated. We should remember that Hong Kong has had a tradition of emigration throughout its history. In the early 1970s the numbers emigrating were higher than they have been in the last few years. A key point is that emigrants from Hong Kong have filled the quotas available to them from the main destination countries for the last 30 years. There has recently been a marked increase in emigration opportunities to certain countries.
However, none of that means that we should not squarely face the fact that emigration is causing problems. For that reason the House will welcome the recent decision by the Hong Kong Government to establish the special task force on emigration, which is already at work. The Chinese Government are also very well aware of the significance of this question as a measure of confidence in the future: that, too, is important.
It is, of course essential that people in Hong Kong should be free to come and go as they please. That is a fundamental right, which must be preserved. There is no question of trying to stop people emigrating if they wish to do so. Each one of the three Governments concerned must devote their efforts to maintaining Hong Kong as an attractive place for people to make their lives and to provide for a future to which they can look forward with confidence.
I hope that the pattern of my speech, in the general perspective of Hong Kong, will show the hon. Gentleman that there is no crisis, but that there is a broad and widespread understanding of the importance of the achievement in the joint declaration. There is a natural, understandable, sustained interest in seeing that joint declaration translated into Basic Law. It is for that reason that I welcome this debate. I hope that nobody will jump to any kind of conclusion and suggest that there is a crisis.
The joint declaration provides a detailed and comprehensive framework for the future to which the people of Hong Kong will be able to look forward with confidence. It is the Basic Law that must now turn the substance of the joint declaration into reality, in a way that meets the concerns of Hong Kong people.
I have listened carefully to what my right hon. and learned Friend has said about some of the worries in Hong Kong during the transitional and difficult period. As trade is the lifeblood of Hong Kong, and will presumably remain its lifeblood well after 1997, can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm, although that date is some way ahead, that Hong Kong will continue to have ready access to the United Kingdom market for its exports? Will the SAR Government after 1997 have enough authority to negotiate the continuity of those agreements, which are vital for Hong Kong's future?
My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the importance of Hong Kong being able to continue to play an independent part in its own economic vitality in those international arrangements. One of the things for which the joint declaration made express provision is that Hong Kong should continue to have the same access, on its own, to those various arrangements. The discussions that have taken place so far with the Chinese through the Joint Liaison Group have secured, for example, continuing separate representation for Hong Kong in the general agreement on tariffs and trade and in the multi-fibre arrangement, and the establishment of separate air service provisions for Hong Kong. That is an important feature, which was recognised in the joint declaration. It is encouraging to find the extent to which, in concert with the People's Republic of China, we can translate that in this way.
The Chinese Government are the first to acknowledge that the whole process places a heavy responsibility on them. The people of Hong Kong also have a responsibility: a responsibility to themselves and, if I may say so without being patronising, a responsibility—which they have accepted with characteristic verve and energy—to make their own contribution to the Basic Law drafting process.
As I said in a speech that I made during my visit to Hong Kong, I believe that Hong Kong people can have faith in Hong Kong's future, just as financial institutions and multinational companies the world over clearly have, to judge by the booming investment of recent years. The economic facts speak for themselves: booming exports, full employment, indeed a labour shortage; a per capita income of well over United States $8,000, which is more than some countries in western Europe; and economic growth of well over 30 per cent. from 1986 through to 1988.
The British Government, as co-signatories of the joint declaration, will play their full part in securing a stable and prosperous future for Hong Kong and its people. The results so far, nearly four years after the negotiation of the joint declaration, have been very encouraging. On that basis, I commend this approach to the House, which has always demonstrated such firm support for the joint declaration and for Hong Kong.
At the outset of his speech, the Foreign Secretary referred to the fact that the timing of this debate is of considerable inconvenience to several hon. Members. To be here this morning, I had to cancel several long-standing engagements in Manchester. However, there is one engagement that it is simply not possible for me to cancel—that is my constituency advice bureau or surgery later today. If we are talking about representative democracy, that is what it is all about. That being so, I hope that the House will accept my apologies for the fact that I cannot be present for the closing stages of the debate.
Less than nine years are left to elapse before the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to the People's Republic of China. With the publication of the White Paper on direct elections by the Hong Kong Government earlier this year and its endorsement by the Foreign Secretary, there could be a feeling in Hong Kong and in Britain that there is not much left now for the British Government to do except to supervise the gentle ticking over of the administration in Hong Kong before the transfer of sovereignty on 1 July 1997. There could be a feeling that all the initiatives are now for the Government of China. Of course, the role of the Government of the People's Republic of China is very great, with the draft publication of the Basic Law and the procedures for consultation on and revision of the Basic Law which are now proceeding on their stately way.
This debate is an important opportunity for hon. Members of all parties to make it clear that, until midnight on 30 June 1997, the United Kingdom is still the sovereign power in Hong Kong and that this House of Commons, as the custodian of the joint declaration, which Opposition Members fully support, has the right to interest itself closely in the affairs of Hong Kong. It must be accepted in Hong Kong and, I trust, in Beijing too, which I visited last month and where I had useful discussions on these and other issues, that what we say in this House about the affairs of Hong Kong counts and must be heeded.
The Foreign Secretary referred to a number of important issues that are not directly relevant to the constitutional processes of Hong Kong. I am pleased that he referred to United Kingdom Government policy towards Vietnamese refugees. That problem, which is serious and unsought by Hong Kong, has an effect on it and on many thousands of human lives. The problem is obvious: how to deal with the issue in a way that is just and effective is difficult, but humanity must not get lost along the way. In the end the reason why people are refugees from a country is basic to their reception. The ultimate solution to the problem of Vietnamese refugees going to Hong Kong or anywhere else is the enhancement of human rights in Vietnam. The House should devote its attention to that.
The Foreign Secretary referred to the problems and hurt involved in the administration of immigration procedures. I was not much impressed by what he had to say. Although it is perfectly true that individuals are treated in an upsetting manner when they seek to enter this country from Hong Kong, it is not only people from Hong Kong who are thus treated. This is a general problem of the inconsiderate way in which immigration procedures can be imposed on people from many countries. The Foreign Secretary knows from my contacts with his office that constituents of mine have been extremely harshly treated by these same immigration procedures when trying to come here from Pakistan, for instance. So bland assurances that the problem is being looked into are not good enough.
The Conservative Chief Whip was here a few minutes ago. If any man in the House bears responsibility for the way in which people are being treated at the ports of entry, it was the Chief Whip during his time as Minister of State at the Home Office.
We have the right to make our views known, not only on the issues that the Foreign Secretary discussed but on the Basic Law. It is absolutely clear—no hon. Member will seek to contravert it—that the drafting of the Basic Law and its eventual ratification in 1990 is entirely a matter for the People's Republic of China. It is a domestic matter relating to what will be a domestic law for a special administrative region of the People's Republic. It is proper to pay tribute to the Government of China for the way they are going about drafting and consulting on this Basic Law. An unprecedented exercise in consultation is taking place.
There are two periods of such consultation and two opportunities for revision before ratification in 1990. The right hon. and learned Gentleman quite properly said that that was an admirably open procedure: it is very different from the way in which we go about legislating. The Government will seek to tighten up our procedures in a debate next Friday on the Official Secrets Act. It is enormously to the credit of the People's Republic of China that it is drafting the Basic Law in this way.
It is likely in a debate of this sort in which a number of right hon. and hon. Members who have taken a deep interest over a prolonged period in the affairs of Hong Kong will participate, that there may be comment on the detail of a large number of the 170 articles in the Basic Law. I shall confine my remarks to aspects of the Basic Law that involve continuity with present arrangements in Hong Kong—the through-train concept—or aspects of it that are relevant to the joint declaration, to which the United Kingdom is a party. The Foreign Secretary tiptoed around some of these issues using language that he will have phrased very carefully, and properly so.
I am glad to see that in all the alternatives advanced for the composition of the Legislative Council direct election is to be involved. I am pleased that none of them contains a proposal for fewer than 25 per cent. of elected members and that one goes as high as 50 per cent. These proposals, made by a Government who have never entertained pluralistic elective democracy in their own territory, are encouraging and show up the timidity of the 18 per cent. proposal by our Government for the Legislative Council elections in 1991. It is remarkable that the Chinese Communists are showing themselves to be more democratic than the British Conservatives in the matter of Hong Kong. I hope that when they decide to complete and ratify the Basic Law the Government of the People's Republic of China will opt for the 50 per cent. alternative stated in the Basic Law.
The right hon. Gentleman has just derided the fact that the proposal is to provide for 18 per cent. of members being directly elected in 1991. Is it not true that there will be a further election in 1995, at which time it would be possible to take a further step towards a higher percentage of directly elected members? Would not that be a step towards the sort of percentages he has mentioned for 1997?
It will be interesting to know what can be done. I suppose that the Government could try to leap ahead of the Chinese and announce a proportion higher than the Chinese Government would by then have decided upon. If so, that would be entirely undiplomatic. If they did not do that and stopped at 25 per cent., that would merely bring forward by two years a decision that had by then been made by the Chinese Government. They might, I suppose, split the difference and make it 25·2 per cent. I am not quite sure what good that would do. Although the hon. Gentleman's point is accurate, it does not get us anywhere.
It is also proper to refer to misgivings about some of the other articles. I would not give too much support to the Foreign Secretary's concern about a Gramm-Rudman amendment in the Basic Law. After all, the United States has had such a basic law to balance its own domestic budget but has never got around to doing it, despite the binding nature of that law. It seems a little anomalous to include a statement on economic policy in an inherently constitutional document. I doubt whether it will trouble people in Hong Kong in the long run. At the same time, I concur with the Foreign Secretary, if this is the implication of his remarks, that it is not necessarily relevant to have such a provision in a basic law and that it is more a matter for domestic legislation.
It is difficult for sympathetic observers to match four of the 170 articles in the Basic Law with the admirable commitments by the Government of the Chinese People's Republic in the joint declaration, to which I am confident the Government of China are determined to adhere. Article 16 empowers the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress to annul Hong Kong law on vague and unspecified grounds, and in non-conformity with the Basic Law. The article is not clear and it has aroused a great deal of concern in Hong Kong. I hope that the Chinese Government will examine it again during this period of revision.
Article 17 refers properly to the overriding powers of the People's Republic of China in respect of defence and foreign affairs which were reserved to the Chinese Government in the joint declaration. It is entirely proper, accepted and understood that that reservation in the joint declaration should be incorporated in the Basic Law. The article then adds overriding powers relating to what it describes as
laws which give expression to national unity and territorial integrity.
It seems to people in Hong Kong—this is apparent from studying the reports of the debate which took place there yesterday—and to some of us, too, that such vague and unspecific powers could go far beyond the provisions of the joint declaration and could be capable of nullifying the firm and honourable commitments by the Chinese Government in the joint declaration. I hope that during the consultation and revision process the Chinese Government will examine this provision, which is arousing concern.
Article 18 deprives the Hong Kong special administrative region of jurisdiction in defence and foreign affairs cases and of what are described as
executive acts of the Central People's Government.
A number of observers regard this as a vague provision which could count against the Chinese People's Government's commitments. I am sure that the Chinese Government will be considering this issue during the revision process.
Article 169 gives the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress power to make binding interpretations of the Basic Law in all its aspects, not merely in defence and foreign affairs. There are misgivings about this. It is felt that it could limit judicial independence within the Hong Kong special administrative region.
Article 172 allows the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress to throw out any existing Hong Kong law that the Standing Committee declares to be in contravention of the Basic Law. That is a wide power and I trust that it will be re-examined during the consultative and revisionary process.
There is one omission from the Basic Law as it has initially been drafted from what is in the joint declaration, and that is the provision for the Executive in Hong Kong and China to be accountable to the legislature in Hong Kong and China. I am sure that that is omission by error and not by deliberation by the Chinese Government. I trust, too, that that issue will be re-examined when the People's Republic finally decides the text of the Basic Law.
The matters that I have raised in detail are not in any sense criticisms of the Chinese Government. I am entirely confident of their good faith. I am full of admiration for the unprecedented process of consultation that is taking place on the Basic Law. There are two opportunities for revision. There is the opportunity that can be taken following the present consultation process, which continues until the end of the year. There is then the opportunity that can be taken after the second consultation process has come to an end.
As I said to members of the Chinese Government and of the Chinese Congress Party when I was in Beijing last month, these are not merely matters of legislative drafting. The final question is the confidence of the people of Hong Kong that, with the limitations that have been accepted through the joint declaration, their way of life and their way of conducting their economy will be maintained for 50 years from 1997 after the Chinese Government resume sovereignty in Hong Kong. I am sure that confidence is the key to the future of Hong Kong and the relationship of Hong Kong with the parent Government in China.
During my visit to China I met a number of people from Hong Kong, including some while I was on a train journey from Shenzheng to Guangzhou. Again and again they said, "We are concerned not so much with the form of government but with our ability to conduct our lives freely and to conduct our work, business and commerce in the way that we always have." The Chinese Government already have a considerable and creditable record of offering that reassurance, and it is important that they continue to offer it and to enhance it.
The Foreign Secretary referred to emigration, and it was proper for him to put the problem in its context. I have said to representatives of the Chinese Government and senior representatives of the Chinese Communist party that, whatever the past emigration statistics, the statistics over the final years of British sovereignty will be part of the test whether the people of Hong Kong are confident that the joint declaration will be carried out in every particular. People will not have votes to cast in polling stations before 1991, but between now and 1997 they will be able to vote with their feet. I hope that there will be a vote of confidence in the future of Hong Kong.
I have great trust in the motives of the Chinese Government. They are not merely pursuing a policy of one country, two systems in Hong Kong. They are planning to pursue that policy in Macao. They are already pursuing it within their own mainland territory. During my recent visit—I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) will be able to confirm this, he having returned from his own visit only yesterday—I found that the pursuit of different economic paths is already taking place. Therefore, a different economic system in Hong Kong will fit into this multi-coloured mosaic of Chinese economic development.
I saw a very different form of agricultural development near Shanghai. I suppose that a number of hon. Members have visited the special economic zone at Shenzheng, where there is an extraordinary manifestation of joint partnerships between Communism and capitalism. There is an enormous, growing and vibrant city.
The most remarkable memory that I took away from China was not the splendour of the Great wall or the beauty of the Forbidden city but the enormous Pepsi Cola bottling plant in Shenzheng, which makes available 50,000 cans or bottles of Pepsi Cola every day to the thirsty throats of people throughout south-east Asia, including Hong Kong. The Chinese are already displaying their readiness for a variegated approach to economic and commercial development. They may not yet have pluralistic politics, but then Hong Kong does not have pluralistic politics, and this House, under Governments of both parties, does not have a signal record on the development of representative democracy in Hong Kong. But, although there are not yet pluralistic politics in China, there is a pluralistic economy. Hong Kong China will fit snugly into that.
The Government of the People's Republic knows well that what happens in Hong Kong after 1997 will be watched closely by Taiwan, whose relations with the mainland Government are being enhanced every day. What takes place in Hong Kong will influence Taiwan's decision about whether to return home and when to do so.
I am full of admiration for the generosity and vision of the Chinese Government in conducting this unprecedented experiment. They have the time and opportunity to convince the people of Hong Kong that their future—their present system of government and their present system of economic policy—will be safe when they become part of the People's Republic. I am sure that the People's Republic will take that opportunity. Meanwhile, for the next eight years, 11 months and 15 days the House will continue to exercise those proper responsibilities for Hong Kong.
I join the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) in apologising to the House for the fact that I shall not be able to be here this afternoon to hear the winding-up speeches because I have a constituency duty, but I expect to stay for much of the debate.
It is appropriate that, in the week in which the Legislative Council has been debating the draft Basic Law, we are taking the opportunity to debate Hong Kong. It is perhaps natural that fears have been expressed in Hong Kong, but I believe that the speech made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary this morning has gone a considerable way to alleviate those fears. Yet confidence is at a low ebb and people fear for the future.
There has been a significant amount of emigration and, according to a briefing that some of us have received from the Hong Kong Institute of Personnel Management, it has, unfortunately, been highest among the most highly skilled people. More than 23 per cent. of those who have emigrated have secondary educational qualifications and more than 35 per cent. are graduates. They are the very people to whom Hong Kong would expect to look for its leaders in the venture that the territory will undertake in a few years. People feel that they will no longer have control over their basic destiny in the future that the draft Basic Law has mapped out for them and that they will have little or no democratic voice in shaping the country's future. Some people fear that this country has been washing its hands of the territory and that it cannot wait until everything is wound down after 1997. I do not believe that those fears will prove to be true, and those are not the views of the British Government about 1997.
The speech made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary will have done much to alleviate those sentiments. However, no one has a cast iron guarantee in political life. Even in this country, whose political system has evolved over centuries into one that is at least no worse than any other in the world, we do not have cast iron guarantees. We must say honestly and openly to those young people who have expressed their anxiety that nothing is absolutely certain under any regime. Their political future and political evolution are not matters that can be guaranteed for ever, but we should, we can and we shall insist that the letter and spirit of the Sino-British declaration should be adhered to in the Basic Law. If they are not adhered to—and there is some evidence to suggest that—we must insist that the Basic Law is effectively amended to entrench civil liberties and to give a clear devolution of power to the Hong Kong special administrative region. Hong Kong was promised that in the declaration and is entitled to expect the Government's support. It is the duty of the House and the Government to support the people of Hong Kong while we have the power to do so.
Any debate about Hong Kong must, as it has today, take into account the problem of refugees. The burden on the territory has been increasing day by day, until there are almost 13,500 Vietnamese refugees. To 15 June the arrival rate was eight times greater than it was in the same period last year and 3,000 people have been there for more than five years.
When this country began to take its share of refugees, a camp was set up in an open prison just outside my constituency and I visited it. I was impressed by the alertness of the people and by their spirit and determination to succeed and I was appalled by the suffering that I learnt they had undergone. The vast majority of them were decent people and I believe that they have settled well—certainly I have heard no complaints, and there are several hundred refugees in my area. I have never visited the camps in the territory—nor the territory itself—but is must be impossible to contemplate the totality of suffering that the 13,500 human beings incarcerated in the camps represent, and in particular the suffering of those who have been there for more than five years.
Britain has, of course, played its part in taking its share of refugees, and I acknowledge that. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has pressed the Vietnamese Government to deal better with the problem and with the conditions in their country, so the number of refugees should decline. If the Vietnamese Government were prepared to change their economic system, they would become more acceptable to the international community and the West would look more favourably on them.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary recognised, there are different types of refugees. Many are not refugees in the strict sense. They were originally civil servants and professional people with a basic command of English, so they settled well. Now those who claim to be refugees, we are told, are farmers, peasants and fishermen and are looking purely for a better way of life. They are not refugees in the normal sense of the word—no one is persecuting them for the kind of people that they are—so from 15 June the Hong Kong Government are to repatriate them unless they can prove that they are genuine refugees. I support that, as does my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.
The fact that a finite limit has been put on the number of refugeess gives us an opportunity to begin to clear the backlog, knowing that by taking in more we shall not simply be creating vacancies for more economic refugees to try their luck in another country. I suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary that on a one-off basis we should consider taking more, and that we should argue the case for other humane Governments to do likewise. Clearing the backlog is perhaps an unfortunate expression. I do not wish people to think that we are just clearing the books for 1997. It is a moral question and an appalling human question, but I believe that this country can continue to play a leading and honourable part in its solution. I commend that course to my right hon. and learned Friend.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this extremely important debate. It is of fundamental importance to the 5½ million people of Hong Kong, but it is also of the greatest importance to the Governments and people of China and of Britain. We have a deep affection and long responsibility for Hong Kong and a loyalty not just to preseent-day Hong Kong but to its future, certainly for the 50 years following the transition. It is important, therefore, that the welcome unanimity of this debate should be acclaimed and proclaimed so that it will be heard not just in Beijing but in Hong Kong. There is understandable apprehension and concern among the people of Hong Kong as to whether this Parliament and country continue to have a commitment to their future. I hope that today's debate will be a major source of reassurance in that respect.
I believe that we do not understand sufficiently well the immense task facing all concerned in achieving the transition to ensure a stable future for Hong Kong and to create, in the words adopted by the Chinese Government, one country with two systems. It is a task of great magnitude, and success in that task will be an achievement of the greatest magnitude.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary pointed out the difficulties that have always existed in the construction of federal constitutions, bringing different territories under one banner of sovereignty. The problems involved in bringing together the states that now comprise the United States of America and the Federal Government of Australia are as nothing compared with the task facing everyone, especially those in Government, concerned with the future of Hong Kong. In those earlier examples there was a common framework of attitude, culture, social values, political structure and, above all, the same basic approach to legal systems. In this case, all those factors are fundamentally different. There are massive differences, which go much further back than the Communist Government in China. For example, there are huge historical differences in attitude to law. Anyone who has studied the matter, even briefly, will appreciate the massive problems involved.
The progress already made by the two Governments, with the co-operation of those responsible in Hong Kong and enshrined in the joint declaration, is therefore truly to be commended, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary just remarked. We should take comfort from what has been achieved, as speeches in the Legislative Council this week have emphasised. I was especially struck by the contribution of the hon. Lydia Dunn, who clearly also recognised the historical background against which everyone concerned is working.
Having said that, we must recognise that we still have a long way to go up the hill, as shown by the undoubted apprehension and concern in Hong Kong and manifested in the emigration figures. My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the traditional pattern of emigration from Hong Kong, but there is no doubt at all that the current figures are high and give cause for concern. They may affect the very functioning of Hong Kong, and they must be taken as a thermometer of the problem. That special problem is made more difficult by the extraordinary success of Hong Kong.
I have referred to the different cultures involved. There is the ancient and distinctive Chinese culture and civilisation and the British tradition that has been grafted on to the colony. Another factor is the flowering of the unique experiment and experience that Hong Kong represents. We all know of that achievement, which has been created only through the people of Hong Kong and their talents. Hong Kong has no great natural advantage, except perhaps a helpful geographical position. It has been created by the vitality and enterprise of its people, aided by the now rather anachronistic political structure from which it has benefited, certainly since the second world war. That makes it even more difficult to achieve the fusion that we seek.
All those concerned, including the Chinese Government, the British Government, the Legislative Council of Hong Kong and the voluble people of Hong Kong—we all know the loquacity and power with which their representatives put their case—therefore have a responsibility to tread extremely carefully in the months and years ahead. We must all understand that we shall find no Utopian solution which will stand the scrutiny of every constitutional lawyer in the world, but I believe that progress can be made on points, such as articles 16 and 17 of the Basic Law, to which the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred. I believe that progress can be made, but only on the basis of good will and imagination.
Two responsibilities lie on the Beijing Government and those in Hong Kong. The Beijing Government must understand that it is confidence that keeps Hong Kong going. It is easy for the rulers in Beijing to understand the figures, to study the trade statistics and to do their analyses and so on, but it is difficult for them to have a fundamental grasp of the sensitivity and chemistry which have contributed to this miracle that is Hong Kong. I hope that they will continue to seek that understanding—and I hope that that does not sound too patronising coming from a British parliamentarian. It is equally difficult for us to understand the world through Beijing eyes. Beijing's view towards Lhasa is difficult to understand. I hope that the greatest attention will be paid towards that factor, which is just as much in their economic, commercial and political interests as it is in ours.
I greatly welcome this consultative process, which is an extraordinary step forward by a Communist Government. Glasnost in Chinese is kaifang. I should be interested to know whether the Chinese are given as much credit for their version of glasnost as the Soviets have been for theirs. That degree of openness on the part of the Chinese Government is greatly welcome, and I hope that, as the Labour party executive is now doing, the Chinese Government will turn out to be a listening Government.
It is up to those who have expressed their concerns, many of which are extremely well founded, not only to criticise and to give voice to their apprehensions, but to make constructive suggestions. We have the huge task of bridging two civilisations, two legal systems and two approaches to constitutional rule. We know what we want to achieve. All the aims were spelt out in the joint declaration: a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong, personal liberty for its residents, and the commercial and economic freedoms which it has been promised. It will not be easy to achieve and it will require the greatest flexibility, sympathy and understanding. I am sure that our Government have an important role to continue to play in that process, and I am delighted that the unanimity that we have seen so far in this House will greatly strengthen them in playing that role.
This debate is the last occasion on which the House can exercise significant influence on the future of some 5·5 million people in Hong Kong, the majority of whom—father, mother, son and daughter—entrusted themselves to the protection and government of the United Kingdom.
Trust has been the focal word in this debate. Can the People's Republic be trusted to fulfil in spirit as well as in letter the remarkable derogation of power it conceded in return for sovereignty in the joint declaration? Can the United Kingdom be trusted to exercise to the full its still considerable good offices and influence to ensure that the compromise of 1984 is in every particular sustained? We are now beyond the stage of compromise and negotiation. That was before 1984 when the United Kingdom Government faced the fact that the Chinese Government were unwilling to accept continuing British administration in any form and bent their will to seeking a solution which would give the inhabitants of Hong Kong a secure future, which retained the freedoms, lifestyles and opportunities for choice which they already enjoyed. The joint declaration, which was widely welcomed both in Hong Kong and in this House, finally defined that future as
a high degree of autonomy.
That many people in Hong Kong are unconvinced that the draft Basic Law guarantees that promise is evinced by the emigration flow which is calculated to have ruin at about 100,000 since 1984. We may think that that figure is not so great compared with the whole population of 5·5 million, but it assumes much more worrying significance when it is compared with the approximate 500,000 of Hong Kong's middle class. It is that group which gives Hong Kong its drive, and entrepreneurial and intellectual vigour.
Before I turn to the specific causes for anxiety, I wish to stress that neither on my part nor on the part of those with whom I discussed these matters both here and in Hong Kong, who have submitted memoranda, many of which I am sure have been available to hon. Members on both sides of the House, is there any lack of appreciation or, indeed, admiration for what has already been achieved and for the flexibility shown by the Chinese, operating, as they are, against a profoundly different historical and political experience which also creates difficulties in the use and interpretation of language. But those anxieties are real and, in some cases, crucial to working out the concept of one country and two systems.
The Hong Kong Law Society, which I have met, asked Sir William Wade QC of Cambridge to give an opinion on the draft Basic Law. He encapsulates the problem most succinctly and states:
it seems clear to me from the general tenor of the Declaration …that the intention must be that the Hong Kong SAR is to enjoy genuine legal autonomy, with effective judicial protection,. Admittedly Hong Kong will not be part of a federation, but the special arrangements set out in the Joint Declaration represent a unique constitutional amalgam of two wholly disparate legal systems. Autonomy of the political kind, depending merely on convention and international group faith, would be entirely insufficient in the circumstances of the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China. It can operate only where there is an established political and legal framework within which conventions can become established and operate reliably …These necessary circumstances are completely absent in the Hong Kong-China situation. Furthermore, the conception of the relationship between law and politics is entirely different in China, where legal remedies against the state are not available, the judiciary play little part in public law, and the rule of law as established in British countries is unknown.
The Minister will be aware that there is general agreement about the articles of the draft Basic Law that create alarm—and I use that word intentionally. Almost all of those articles have already been referred to—16, 17, 18, 38, 169 and 172. I shall deal with them briefly before returning to the political and democratic aspects to which article 171 and annex III are relevant.
Article 16 contains the phrase that the National People's Congress may revoke SAR law. That turns on interpretation, which refers back to what I quoted from Sir William Wade and forward to article 169, which the Chief Justice of Hong Kong, in an extremely interesting speech, described as——
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston), but I wonder whether you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, could help the House? You are probably aware that, at this moment, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is making a statement in Belfast to announce the Government's intentions regarding the Northern Ireland electricity industry, namely, that Kilroot phase 2 is to be dual oil-coal fired and that the next power station after that will be lignite fired. That is something that I welcome, because the Labour party and the trade unions of Northern Ireland have been urging it upon the Secretary of State for a long time.
I also understand that the Under-Secretary will make a statement about the Government's proposals to discover ways in which to privatise the Northern Ireland electricity supply and generation industry.
This is the second occasion on which a major statement concerning public investment in Northern Ireland has been made in Belfast without an opportunity for elected Members of this House and Members from Northern Ireland to examine the Minister and to discover the way in which the Government are setting about this problem. The Government have sought to avoid their responsibilities by means of a planted question in the name of the hon. Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran). I am sure that his new-found interest in the problems of Northern Ireland will be welcomed by the House.
The Government's action is a flagrant breach of the traditions of this House and shows a contempt for the Members representing Northern Ireland, who have not been given an opportunity to examine the Secretary of State on this matter in the House today. Have you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, received any request from the Northern Ireland Office that it be allowed to make a statement in the middle of this debate?
I am afraid that I cannot help the hon. Gentleman. I know of no such request, and certainly no such request has been made to me. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's remarks have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you know, it is fortuitous that I am here today in another capacity for another subject, but I have a strong constituency interest in this matter because Kilroot phase 2 will use coal from Barony colliery in my constituency as well as from the opencast mine. I have been pursuing this matter for some months, and there are two matters that concern me. One——
But these matters are of order. The Under-Secretary gave me a personal assurance that, before any statement was made, he would let me know the timing of that statement. I checked with my office half an hour ago and I have received no such information and no such warning from the Under-Secretary. I had an oral question down on 30 June and I have one down for 28 July, which would have allowed a statement to be made in this House.
I do not cavil at the perfectly proper point of order that has been raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), but I think that it is a pity that we have broken the continuity of this debate. That the hon. Gentleman has been forced to raise such a point of order is not a good reflection upon the Government. It is, after all, bad enough to have this debate on a Friday, the inconvenience of which has already been commented upon and is reflected by the attendance in the Chamber.
The hon. Gentleman might care to reflect that, a fortnight ago, I was asked to speak at 10.57 am, but at 11 o'clock there was a statement and that resulted in a 50-minute intervention in my speech. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman should consider himself extraordinarily lucky on this occasion, given that the points of order took up only about three minutes.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's sympathy.
I have already said that article 16 contains the proposition that the National People's Congress may revoke SAR law, which turns on interpretation. That
refers back to my quotation from Sir William Wade and forward to article 169, which the Chief Justice of Hong Kong described in a speech as
the most crucial article in the whole of the Draft Basic Law. The operation of the Basic Law depends almost entirely on its interpretation.
Let us consider articles 16 and 169. Sir William Wade and Martin Lee suggest some kind of court of final appeal. Sir William believes that it should be chaired internationally, and Martin Lee and the Chief Justice believe that it should be chaired within Hong Kong. In his speech the Chief Justice said of his formulation:
Regarding the provisions which are within the limits of the autonomy of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress will grant full power to the courts of the Region to interpret them when adjudicating cases.
The Chief Justice suggests that that proposition should be embodied in the Basic Law. Those questions go to the root of the matter. The agreement is intended to last for half a century and to entrench for that time a different system in Hong Kong founded on the Basic Law. The united view of the legal profession is that it does not.
Article 17 contains the vague phrase about laws that give expression to national unity and territorial integrity. If that phrase is to be included, its meaning must be defined, otherwise it leaves the way open for the arbitrary imposition of law by the National People's Congress which, as the Chief Justice has said, would be wholly contrary to the spirit of the joint declaration.
Article 18 also causes concern because of a particular vague reference to "executive acts", which in turn curtails the powers of the courts. Perhaps the simplest way to highlight the problems that this would create would be to quote an example given by Martin Lee in his commentary on the Basic Law. The House should give credit to those in Hong Kong who have given time, energy and considerable thought to the consequences of the Basic Law. They have tried to brief and explain the problems to hon. Members. The members of the Legislative Council deserve credit, which includes Martin Lee, but credit is also due to the Bar Association, the Law Society, individual groups such as that of Gladys Li, Emily Lau and Winston Poon and others. They have all spent a great deal of time considering this matter and their efforts are of great value.
Article 18 concerns "executive acts" and Martin Lee has given an example that highlights the problem, namely:
A law-abiding business man is suddenly arrested in the HKSAR on the ground that the CPG believes him to be a spy. He is being sent to Beijing. In the meantime, his wife goes to a lawyer who immediately applies to the High Court for a writ of Habeas Corpus. But the Court will have to decline jurisdiction if it is satisfied that the matter in question relates to defence affairs, or an executive act of the CPG, and under Article 169, it is up to the Standing Committee of the NPC to interpret this Article. This example shows that all the safeguards of human rights in Chapter 3 … could be rendered nugatory.
That is a simple, good example of what is possible.
On the face of it article 38 is admirable and the House will be aware that it deals with United Nations conventions. However, there seems to be a conflict between the joint declaration, which refers to the convenants on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and the draft Basic Law's references to the same thing. The joint declaration says that those covenants "shall remain in force". The draft law says that "they shall be implemented". However, in practice, the protection of human rights is now less in Hong Kong than the provisions of the conventions. It seems to many that the proper course would be to incorporate by reference the provisions of the international covenant on civil and political rights into the Basic Law. That would not impinge on Chinese sovereignty in the context of the joint declaration. I cannot see who would be offended if there was that entrenchment of human rights in Hong Kong. It would add considerably to confidence in the colony.
Article 172 gives the National People's Congress rights of annulment, which are enormously sweeping. I cannot see that they can be justified in any way. What I have said already in regard to articles 16, 17 and 169 applies. That section was added late on. There is an argument for reconsideration and possibty deletion.
Finally, on the legal side, there is the issue of language, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney). Two languages are involved—English and Mandarin Chinese. I confess that it took me some time to comprehend that difficulty because on the face of it it seemed to me, as a reasonably informed person, impossible that anything in English could not be translated precisely into Chinese, and vice versa. Those are two great languages and I thought that there should be no problem, but, as the hon. Gentleman properly said, the difficulty stems from two entirely different traditions. Language reflects tradition and cultural mores in a way that we become so used to that we do not notice it. For example, the concept "burden of proof" has no direct translation into Chinese. For the Chinese, the adversarial concepts of the common law to which we are accustomed are alien.
The joint declaration gave English and Chinese equality. I believe that the Basic Law should do likewise and enable cases to be founded on either. I doubt whether the integrity of the common law system can be maintained without an authentic text in English.
Against the background of those core legal concerns, I should like to refer to the political system and democracy, to which the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred. I accept what he said about the considerable movement in the Chinese attitude on democracy and acknowledge that. It is an earnest of their good intent and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the 50 per cent. proposition that is contained in the alternatives contrasts markedly with the 18 per cent. in 1991 proposed by the Hong Kong Government, presumably at our behest, or at least with our advice or acquiescence.
It was a bad mistake not to introduce a directly elected element this year. I shall not rehearse the arguments, which we all know, about who thought what and which opinion poll was valid. If one is to do that, and it is agreed that one will do it, the more quickly it is done the better, because it means that there is a longer time to bed down and for the people of Hong Kong to become used to a system that they are not accustomed to, as has been rightly said. They have been used to freedom and to saying what they like, but they have not been used to electing members on their behalf. My view as a Liberal—[HON. MEMBERS: "A what?"]
I do not think that we should get on to Kensington at this stage.
My view as a Liberal is that the whole of the Hong Kong legislature should be directly elected. I am not arguing for it to be done at once. If Hong Kong is to have a preserved separate system for half a century, that can be achieved only by a combination of legal protection and entrenchment and democracy. Those two things are the two sides of the coin. One can argue about phasing in and how quickly it is done, but I should be disappointed if the proportion of 50 per cent. was not achieved by 1997.
The grand electoral college has been mentioned. It seems to me to be basically an appointment system, and I suspect such systems wherever I see them. The through-train concept is much more to be preferred. With regard to the first SAR Government, it would be of value to the House if I read out the short comments by the Bar Association, because, again, it sums up the matter clearly and explains the concerns well. The association says:
The Joint Declaration promises that the legislature of the Hong Kong SAR shall be composed of local inhabitants. 'The legislature of the Hong Kong SAR shall be constituted by elections."'
That is a quotation from paragraph 1 of annex I to the joint declaration.
The association continues:
Under the Draft Basic Law, the first SAR Government is not constituted by elections. The distinction between election and appointment is blurred and the meaning of election is distorted.
Part of the explanation for that is language, as the hon. Member for Wycombe said. The quotation continues:
The word 'election' must be given its conventional meaning in accordance with international political practice, namely, direct election with universal suffrage.
On the formation of the First Government, Beijing appoints a Preparatory Committee, which in turn appoints an Election Committee. The First SAR Legislature is then `elected' by the Election Committee. This is a … appointment exercise … and a clear departure from the Joint Declaration.
As the draft Basic Law will be in pretty firm shape by 1990, there is no reason why direct elections cannot be brought forward to 1990 or 1991 and the proportion increased. Despite what the Foreign Secretary said, there has been a tendency for the British to be afraid to ask for too much. I do not think that democracy is too much.
I have not referred to the Vietnamese refugees, not because I do not think that their situation is tragic and important, but because that is not the issue today. The debate today is about our responsibility to the people of Hong Kong and our recognition of their trust in us. It is a trust that I want history to say we fulfilled. We cannot yet be sure of that.
I, too, welcome the debate as an opportunity to express our continuing commitment to a stable future for Hong Kong and to trying to make a contribution towards that. I, too, apologise for the fact that I shall have to leave before the end of the debate to attend a constituency surgery in the north of England.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) referred briefly to the Vietnamese refugees. The Hong Kong Government had no alternative to the action that they took in introducing screening. The number of arrivals was rising fast and departures for permanent resettlement were falling. Most of those coming in were economic migrants. Those who qualify under the 1951 United Nations convention relating to the status of refugees will still receive asylum, but it is important that arrangements are made with the Vietnamese Government for those who are screened out of Hong Kong to be taken back under fully acceptable conditions that guarantee their right to return to their homes and resume work. I appreciate that that is easier said than done, and I know that our good wishes and encouragement go to those in the British and Hong Kong Governments who are seeking to achieve that.
In the meantime, the international community and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees must find a way to solve the international problem of the 16,000 Vietnamese refugees awaiting resettlement in Hong Kong. It cannot be left to Hong Kong. Now that measures have been taken to stem the flow of economic migrants, I appeal again to the Government to redouble their efforts to secure the permanent resettlement of the Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong and, if necessary, adding to our quota in Britain as a catalyst in that process.
Hong Kong is very important to China in two ways: first, as a symbol of national unity; and, secondly, because of its people, their skills and the unique climate of enterprise that they have built. There are other ports on the China coast, but there is not, and never can be, one like Hong Kong. If that climate evaporates, although China will have achieved a measure of national reunification, it will have been at a very high cost. The current brain drain of people who are worried about Hong Kong's future and their children's propects is understandable, but it would be a tragedy if it were eventually to debilitate the genius of Hong Kong. As my right hon. and learned Friend emphasised, the perception of the people of Hong Kong of the Basic Law is crucial to confidence in Hong Kong and, therefore, to Hong Kong's future.
The joint declaration and the maintenance of confidence in the Hong Kong economy represent a massive achievement that few would have dared to predict. The promulgation of the draft Basic Law has been another important step, I join in the tributes that have been paid by both Front-Bench spokesmen to the openness of the consultation procedure, as arranged by the People's Republic of China. I believe that in order to achieve the conditions and confidence necessary for the future stability and prosperity of Hong Kong substantial changes will prove to be necessary in the Basic Law. That is a matter for the People's Republic of China in consultation with the people of Hong Kong. This debate represents an opportunity for those of us who regard ourselves as friends of China and Hong Kong to offer suggestions, in the hope that they may be helpful.
It is tempting to say that to quibble with the fine print of the draft Basic Law is mere legal pettifogging. On the one hand, no country in the world is constrained by its constitution if powerful forces will otherwise. On the other, some countries live happily enough without any formal constitution. We must put our faith for the future in the pragmatism of the parties.
I fear that such an attitude does not quite meet the case in Hong Kong. The future of Hong Kong will depend on the will of the People's Republic of China and the people of Hong Kong to make the experiment of one country and two systems work. That may from time to time involve sacrificing cherished beliefs and turning a blind eye to unpalatable factors. Such is the nature of a variation in sovereignty. I do not think that the necessary climate of competence to enable Hong Kong to flourish will continue to be a reality unless a number of changes are made to the draft Basic Law. Such change is implicit in the expression "draft" in the title and inherent in the consultation process.
Convention and good faith, international and internal, are obviously essential at every stage of such a unique constitutional amalgam of two wholly disparate legal systems. It must be said that good faith and good will have been present in abundance hitherto, and I have no doubt that they will be in the future. The task of future generations in the special autonomous region will be greatly eased by facing and ironing out as many potential difficulties as possible now and prescribing mechanisms for their resolution in the future.
What can be done to meet the concerns of the people of Hong Kong, which have already been referred to in the debate? Many people in Hong Kong have said that the draft Basic Law is in some ways incompatible with the joint declaration—the first Government of the special autonomous region, the interpretation of the Basic Law, the jurisdiction of the Hong Kong courts, the application of laws made by the Beijing authorities to the SAR, the review of the validity of SAR law and the protection of civil liberties. That the joint declaration may in some respects be incompatible with the constitution of the People's Republic of China is not surprising. After all, article 5 of the Chinese constitution provides expressly that no laws or administrative or local rules may contravene the constitution, which in articles 1 and 6 to 10 enshrine the Socialist nature of the Chinese state.
Article 31 of the constitution authorises the establishment of special administrative regions and the making of laws for them, but is silent on whether such laws or administrative or local rules may contravene the constitution. However, the provision in article 17 of the draft Basic Law—that laws enacted by the National People's Congress or its Standing Committee will not be applied in the Hong Kong special administrative region except in the stipulated cases—fetters the sovereign legislative power of the NPC in a way that may stand the test of time better if an arbitral body is agreed for the resolution of constitutional disputes. It could be, although not necessarily, along the lines suggested by Professor Wade in the paper mentioned by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber.
Questions over which such a body might have jurisdiction could include whether a law passed by the Hong Kong legislature was in conflict with the Basic Law; whether a law passed by the NPC or its Standing Committee was genuinely restricted to matters of defence, sovereign affairs, national unity and territorial integrity; what is the correct interpretation of the disputed provision of the basic law; and whether an amendment of the Basic Law made by the NPC was contrary to the established basic policies as set out in the joint declaration. Those are important questions connected with sovereignty.
Models for such a court or arbitral tribunal are found elsewhere in the world. They point to such a tribunal being composed of three Chinese judges, three Hong Kong judges—not, three British judges, as suggested by Professor Wade—and a president from a third country appointed by agreement from both sides. Such an arrangement might be viewed as a derogation from the powers envisaged by the PRC and the SAR, but might prove a helpful mechanism, certainly in the early period of operating the two systems together.
The joint declaration says much about the division of responsibilities after 1997, but nothing about who will have the last word when the inevitable demarcation disputes arise. It would be helpful, although I concede very difficult, if the Basic Law drafting committee could remedy that defect.
We cannot bind our successors. We would not like it if our predecessors had tried to bind us. The same is true in Hong Kong, but there is a great need to build the foundations as securely as possible.
Our impoverished convention in British politics, when it does not suit us to be wholly explicit, is to make coded references, usually to Disraeli. China has a much richer tradition of short poems. I shall leave the House with a few lines by Wu Ti, the emperor of the Liang dynasty from 464 AD to 549 AD, translated in 1918 by Arthur Waley as"The Liberator—A Political Allegory". It reads:
In the high trees—many doleful winds:
The ocean waters—lashed into waves.
If the sharp sword be not in your hand,
How can you hope your friends will remain many?
Do you not see that sparrow on the fence?
Seeing the hawk it casts itself into the snare.
The fowler to catch the sparrow is delighted;
The young man to see the sparrow is grieved.
He takes his sword and cuts through the netting:
The yellow sparrow flies away, away.
Away, away, up to the blue sky
And down again to thank the young man.
The sparrow is Hong Kong. The hawk is political failure. The fowler is "I told you so." The snare is resignation. The blue sky is stability and prosperity. The young man is the Basic Law drafting committee.
I have no special knowledge of Hong Kong. I have never been there. I am not a business person, and I have no shares, so I am not interested in the Hang Seng index. However, I have a sort of gut reaction to what has been going on over Hong Kong. I am certainly opposed to colonies, but I understand that nowadays the term used is dependent territories. That does not seem to be right, because British business people depend more on Hong Kong than Hong Kong depends on Britain. There is something amiss here.
One of my reasons for taking part in the debate is that there is a substantial population of Chinese people from Hong Kong in my constituency and in Haringey in general. There are so many that the local council provided a Chinese community centre and workers to help to ensure that the Chinese community maintains its traditions in Haringey. Earlier in the year I was pleased to join my constituents in the revelry at the time of the Chinese new year.
It is important for me to make a contribution to the debate, not least because my constituents have asked me to make clear some of their concerns about the Basic Law. The Foreign Secretary's contribution seemed a tiny bit complacent. He is trying to make out that all is well and that everything is under control, but my information is that people are very worried. They feel that there is a crisis of confidence in Hong Kong. There is a general feeling that the Government, having signed the joint declaration in 1984, are now about to wash their hands of Hong Kong. When the Minister of State winds up the debte, I hope that he will make a strong statement about the United Kingdom's continuing commitment to Hong Kong. The Government must see to it that their promises become a part of the Basic Law.
I should like to make a general point about the draft Basic Law. One difficulty that my constituents have about this document is that it seems to concentrate too much authority in the hands of Beijing and not enough autonomy in Hong Kong. Given that China will appoint the Chief Executive and the officials, there is a possibility that too much control will be exercised by China and that local Hong Kong people will not be as autonomous as they need to be. It is important that the people of Hong Kong play as large a part as possible in all the legislation and in the Government after 1997.
I should like to deal with one or two specific matters, the first of which is legal issues. According to the draft Basic Law, the right of interpretation of the Basic Law will be a matter for the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. Its interpretation will bind the courts of Hong Kong, and that presents a difficulty to my constituents. They feel that that will dilute the basic rights of the courts and may take away the independence of the Hong Kong judiciary.
The Government promised that they would allow direct elections for a certain number of representatives in 1988, but they have not done so. They now say that in 1991, 10 people will be directly elected to an assembly of 56. There will also be elections in 1994 and 1995. My constituents feel that at least 25 per cent. of the assembly should have been elected in 1988, with up to 50 per cent. being elected by 1991, and the other half by 1997. They feel that there is a need for that sort of programme to ensure that when Hong Kong is returned to China in 1997 its people have that sort of representative Government up to that date.
The joint declaration said that human rights would be enforceable by law. That does not appear in the draft Basic Law. International human rights covenants should be incorporated in the Basic Law, and rights and freedoms should be enforceable in the Hong Kong courts. Unless that happens there is a danger that basic human rights will be abused after 1997.
I asked the Foreign Secretary about the crisis in emigration, and he said that there was not a crisis. However, I think he will admit that the emigration figures are high. It is important for the Minister, when winding up the debate, to give us more of an explanation about the reason for this emigration. I should like him to comment on the emigration to Britain of Hong Kong residents. My constituents tell me that people are regularly turned back at United Kingdom ports and airports, even when they have return air tickets, and so on. I should like the Minister to explain to the House what is happening, not only about emigration from Hong Kong, but about emigration to Britain generally.
I am worried also about the autonomy of Hong Kong. I was interested when the Foreign Secretary said that the Basic Law accurately reflects the joint declaration in this respect. I do not agree with him. Clause 3 of the joint declaration says:
The HKSAR will enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs which are the responsibilities of the Central People's Government.
Article 17, refers among others things, to
Laws enacted by the National People's Congress or its Standing Committee, which relate to defence and foreign affairs as well as other laws which give expression to national unity and territorial integrity and which, in accordance with the provisions of this Law, are outside the minutes of the high degree of autonomy of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region".
It is clear that the draft Basic Law does not reflect accurately the terms of the joint declaration. There have been additions, and I should like the Minister's explanation of why there is this difference and what he intends to do about it.
My constituents are tremendously worried about the situation, and they have asked for the Minister to consider a referendum on the draft Basic Law in Hong Kong before 1997. I support such a proposal because it is important, if everything is to work well—we are all keen to ensure that—that we get as much a reflection of the feelings and thinking of the ordinary people of Hong Kong as of the officials and others. It is important that United Kingdom parliamentarians go to Hong Kong. Perhaps the Government could organise a visit there for a commission of parliamentarians.
If decisions are made on the basis of opinion polls, would it not be better to make them on the basis of an outright vote; for example, the referendum that he suggests?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point.
The attendance today and the fact that this important debate is being held on a Friday morning speak for themselves. The attendance shows the lack of commitment to, or the lack of interest in, this subject by British parliamentarians. Their interest would be enhanced by a commission to Hong Kong so that British parliamentarians, apart from the Foreign Secretary and his Ministers, would be able to speak direct to the ordinary people and to understand and take on board their feelings that would make us better informed when next we discuss this subject.
The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) expressed the concerns of some of his constituents about various aspects of the draft Basic Law. In some respects, my remarks will be very similar to his. However, he made a couple of points with which I disagree. There is a lot of interest in Hong Kong in the House. The attendance today is not what it would have been had we had this debate on another day of the week. However, we have an advantage today in that we have a five-hour debate instead of a three-hour debate, which is what we would have had if we had debated the matter on another day. Therefore, it is my hope that, contrary to what usually happens, everybody who wants to can give his opinion and have the opportunity to take part in the debate.
I can give an example of that interest. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, made it clear to me last night that had he not been irrevocably committed to a long-standing engagement in his constituency, he would unquestionably have been here wanting to contribute.
I agree that it is unfortunate that the debate is on a Friday. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that one of the consequent advantages is that we have five hours for the debate. Is not another consequent advantage that those listening to the debate in Hong Kong are listening to it at a sensible hour instead of in the middle of the night?
That is a valid point and must be an advantage. One admires the determination of the people in Hong Kong to listen to our debates about Hong Kong at whatever the hour that they have to. They have shown that they are determined to do so even if they have to listen at 2 o'clock in the morning. That is admirable.
The hon. Member for Tottenham said that the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary was complacent. I disagree with him. Perhaps he was listening to a different speech from the one that I heard, but it did not seem to me that my right hon. and learned Friend was complacent. He made it clear that genuine anxieties are felt in the House and in Hong Kong. I have no doubt that he will ensure that the views expressed in today's debate are transmitted to the authorities in China.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said that the drafting of the Basic Law is a matter for China, and we would be well advised to bear that point in mind. He paid tribute to the motives of the Chinese authorities in this operation of the preparation of the draft Basic Law, and I echo that. I wish also to support what my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said about the remarkable development, on the part of the authorities in China, of their understanding of a free enterprise system.
I was involved from 1979 to 1981 in the beginning of the negotiations that led ultimately to the joint declaration. That was not true of the then Government of China, who showed little comprehension of the free enterprise system. I do not say that in criticism. It was hardly surprising, for they had only recently emerged from the travails of the cultural revolution. They had not been concentrating on how the system in Hong Kong works. It is amazing how rapidly the Chinese Government have acquired an understanding of the system in Hong Kong. It is a matter of much closer interest to them now than it was 10 years ago, because China has big investments in Hong Kong—we should be pleased about that—and those investments are increasing every day.
I support those who have congratulated the Chinese authorities on the way in which the drafting of the Basic Law has been conducted. Of the 59 members of the drafting committee, 23 are Hong Kong people. All the 180 members of the Basic Law consultative committee are Hong Kong people. We have several phases of consultation to come—this has been the first phase—in what will be a thorough operation. We shall see a second draft next year, and only in 1990 will the final version be presented to the National People's Congress. Mr. Ji Peng Fei, Mr. Lu Ping and Mr. Li Hou, the director and his deputies of the Hong Kong and Macao affairs office in Beijing, have been in Hong Kong for an extended period, consulting with more than 100 organisations in recent weeks.
I hope that there will be an authentic English language version of the Basic Law. My Chinese friends from Hong Kong have pointed out to me one or two errors, as they see them, in translation that affect the articles about which we are most concerned. I am told that article 16 contains a translation error that could be significant. This is an important matter.
In drafting and operating a constitution, what really matters is motivation. The world is littered with examples of "perfect" constitutions. An earlier constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is full of promises on human rights and perfect freedom and on the right of any republic to secede, although I am not sure whether the present constitution contains such references. What counts is not simply what is in the text but the way in which it operates.
China's conduct in the drafting of the Basic Law confirms its sincerity about producing a document that reflects the joint declaration, which promises the Hong Kong people that the way of life which they have enjoyed, and all the freedoms connected with it, will continue.
In saying that motivation matters, I do not intend to imply that it does not matter whether the constitution is as good as possible. Of course that matters. Every effort should be made to iron out problems, resolve anxieties and make the constitution as good as possible. I have no doubt that that will be the intention of the Chinese authorities over the next couple of years.
Some of the problems to which hon. Members have referred are the result of deep conceptual differences between the English and the Chinese approaches to the interpretation of law. The approach in China law is shared by other countries, including France. Other problems arise from understandable attempts to fill in parts where the joint declaration is silent, and his may help to explain the problems associated with articles 16, 17 and 18.
Other concerns relate to articles which have been by members of the drafting committee from Hong Kong. I think that I can safely say that the article calling for a balanced budget resulted from a proposal by a Hong Kong member of the drafting committee rather than one from the Chinese side. I do not believe that it is right to retain that sort of policy statement in a constitution. This matter is bound to receive attention in the coming consultation process. I think that other articles arose from the same source.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that those economic references were designed to buttress confidence in the idea that the future Administration would promote not only the stability but the prosperity of Hong Kong? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that was the central concern leading to the inclusion of such wording? We would find such wording odd in a constitution, but it was designed to meet a specific requirement as seen by the Hong Kong people.
I agree entirely. Moreover, the inclusion of such a point shows the desire of the Chinese side of the drafting committee to do what it can to satisfy the views of the Hong Kong members.
Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the idea that this reference has probably come about because of the experience in the United States, where states are required to balance their budgets in accordance with law? This is to be reflected in an autonomous state of the Chinese Republic.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point, although I am not sure whether one can translate something from the constitution of a state in the United States to the Hong Kong constitution. However, I do not doubt that my hon. Friend's comment is accurate.
What are the matters of concern? There are, first relations between the Central People's Government and the SAR Government, with which chapter two deals. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred to article 16, which gives the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress the power to declare invalid any law of Hong Kong which is not in conformity with the Basic Law or with legal proceedings. I hope that this matter will be carefully considered. I bracket article 16 with article 169, which is the most important of all the articles mentioned in the debate. It gives the power of interpretation of the Basic Law to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. However, the third paragraph of article 169 states:
The courts of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region may interpret the provisions of this Law in adjudicating cases before them.
I have some difficulty in reconciling the two statements—the first, which gives the power of interpretation to the National People's Congress, and the second, which I have quoted. The apparent contradiction must be cleared up.
A more fundamental question is: with what body is the basic power of interpretation to rest? I wonder whether the drafters' intention was that courts in Hong Kong should have the power of interpretation of the Basic Law in adjudicating cases within Hong Kong's autonomy—cases that do not concern defence and foreign affairs. If so, that is not entirely clear from the article. The matter must be clarified.
We must understand that the constitution of China as a whole—not simply Hong Kong—gives the power of interpretation to the National People's Congress. I suspect that people in China would be amazed if they found that the power of interpretation was given to the courts. The people of Hong Kong and Britain have a deep-seated belief that the courts are the right organisations to have the power to interpret the constitution. There is, therefore, a contradiction between two valid principles which have a long history in the two countries mainly involved in this issue.
Suggestions have been made by various people, including Professor Wade. I have another suggestion, which I do not believe has been mentioned. Is it possible for the National People's Congress, as an exercise of its sovereignty—we must recognise that China's sovereignty is an important factor in the minds of its authorities—to delegate to the courts in Hong Kong the power to interpret the Basic Law, either as a whole, which I would prefer, or with some limitations, for example, the power to interpret the Basic Law in so far as it concerns matters other than defence and foreign affairs. I hope that my hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate will pass that point on to my right hon. and learned Friend and that the Government will reflect on it.
Another article causing concern is article 17 which states that the National People's Congress may pass laws giving effect to
national unity and territorial integrity.
Observers of the earlier stages of the negotiations and those who have read the joint declaration had expected that to be limited to defence and foreign affairs. They have been concerned by the addition of the words that I have just quoted. The question is, what sort of laws do the Chinese authorities have in mind as falling in the category of laws relevant to
national unity and territorial integrity.
The generality of that expression has caused alarm because people have imagined that it could be used by ill-intentioned people to stretch the jurisdiction of the National People's Congress. Would it not be helpful to consider the possibility of spelling out the sort of laws involved or to have a list of them? It must be possible for constitutional experts in Peking to define them. As I understand it, those laws include, for example, the system for election to the National People's Congress. That is a national matter, not a Hong Kong matter. They also involve questions of territorial waters, air space and the national flag. Could there not be a list of the laws in that category, perhaps in an annex, which could, if necessary, be more easily amended than the provisions of the Basic Law itself?
Article 18 states that the court of Hong Kong will have no jurisdiction over cases involving executive acts of the Chinese People's Government. An example might be the mechanics of running elections for the National People's Congress. I am not sure how much jurisdiction the Hong Kong courts have at the moment over executive acts of the British Government, but perhaps I should not go into that too deeply at present. However, the problem needs careful thought. I do not believe that those words have been included from any sinister motive. I believe that the drafters included them with good intentions. One relevant point when ascertaining the motivation behind the inclusion of those words is that article 13 gives jurisdiction to the courts of Hong Kong over members of the People's Liberation Army serving in Hong Kong. That was not called for by the joint declaration, which is silent on that point. The drafters have gone further than they needed in giving the courts of Hong Kong that jurisdiction. That is another encouraging point.
The other main area of concern is the political machinery—the choice of the Chief Executive and legislature and how that choice is made. Several options are set out. Most involve a substantial degree of indirect election. I believe that that is right because I favour a mixture of direct and indirect elections to the legislature. The reason why some of us have reservations about a 100 per cent. directly elected, one person, one vote system along the lines of Westminster is not sufficiently understood. The reason why I have reservations has nothing to do with the abilities of the people of Hong Kong to run their own system. They are some of the most intelligent, well-educated, energetic and sensible people in the world and are much more able to run a legislature than the people of many independent countries. My anxiety is that if one has a Westminster system, one may have created something in which there is an inevitable tendency towards the creation of parties, and those parties could become the Communist party and the Kuomintang. Everybody who knows Hong Kong knows that that would not be satisfactory. One should therefore approach that issue with caution.
When we are discussing the grand electoral college and the system of selecting the legislature and the Chief Executive, the problem is that the grand electoral college can be seen as something that could be used as a means of China putting its own placemen into position. I do not think that that is the intention, but it is the anxiety. Therefore, if there is to be a final proposal for a grand electoral college, it is necessary to consider the way in which its own members will be chosen because that seems the key to the problem.
A related area is that of the transitional arrangements. Again, there is a conflict between two valid principles, between China's desire to demonstrate that it is sovereign from 1 July 1997 and the desire of those who are interested in preserving prosperity and stability in Hong Kong for obvious continuity. China wants change because China will be sovereign from that date onwards. Proof of change can be shown by ceremonial, by all sorts of parades, demonstrations, fireworks and goodness knows what else. The holding of an Expo in 1997 in Hong Kong is a good idea. I hope that it can be pursued because it would mark the transition and draw the attention of the world to what will be happening in Hong Kong at that time.
The Chinese authorities seem to want a Chief Executive and legislature which will start afresh from 1 July 1997. I am not entirely clear why that should be so. I would prefer the Chief Executive and legislature to be in position before 1 July 1997 and to continue through that date so that the confidence of the world—because it is not just Hong Kong and this House which will be watching—will be greatly reinforced. Therefore, I hope that the question of how that continuity can be demonstrated publicly will receive further attention.
Several of my hon. Friends wish to speak, so I shall not prolong my remarks, although I do have a little more to say. The brain drain is a cause of anxiety, and I share that anxiety. However, we must face the fact that it will be difficult to control. I have been watching the phenomenon for many years. Educated, intelligent managerial and professional people have been leaving Hong Kong in substantial numbers ever since I can remember and those numbers have been dictated not by those wanting to leave but by the willingness of the receiving countries to accept them. The reason why more people have been leaving Hong Kong in the past eight months is that Canada has doubled is quota of arrivals from Hong Kong and the Australians are advertising in the Hong Kong papers for people to go to their country. It is the drag from those countries and the United States that has helped to swell the numbers. However excellent the Basic Law is, we shall not resolve this problem by its perfection——
Is not the worrying thing about the brain drain the fact that it is the managerial class of professional people with transferable skills who are going to Australia and Canada? It is not across-the-board emigration.
My hon. Friend is right. I share the anxiety about what is happening but if the brain drain continues at a significant rate, which I fear it will, we should not be too depressed and imagine that it is a consequence of the failure of the draft Basic Law, or of the Governments of the United Kingdom, China or Hong Kong. This problem has been going on ever since I can remember. It has accelerated in recent years because of the willingness of receiving countries to take more people.
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of Vietnamese boat people arriving in the past few months. Since I was in Hong Kong in February, their numbers have doubled. Hong Kong has been carrying a heavy burden. The Government of Hong Kong have done a wonderful job providing for these people. The conditions are not ideal because many of them are in closed camps. We cannot be happy about that, but it has been the only sensible policy, bearing in mind that word gets back to Vietnam. If the people in the closed camps were released into ordinary life in Hong Kong, the news would reach Vietnam and, instead of 1,000 people a month arriving from there, the number would multiply by many times. Sad though it is, the policies have been right. That is also true of the new policies of discrimination between economic migrants and people who can properly be classed as refugees. There is clear evidence that in recent months economic migrants have been arriving in substantial numbers.
There are problems with people who are classed as economic migrants. There is the important question whether Vietnam will be prepared to take them back. I am encouraged by what my right hon. and learned Friend said about the talks that we are to have with the Government of Vietnam. If the Vietnamese intend to withdraw their forces from Cambodia—there are signs that that may genuinely be their plan—that will open up possibilities of better relations between western countries, including the United Kingdom, and Vietnam. I hope that that will help us to repatriate economic migrants to Vietnam without fear that they will suffer the consequences.
As for proper refugees, more efforts must be made to encourage the countries of the free world to take numbers of them. That will be easier when the flow of boat people has been stemmed. While the flow continues at the present rate countries will not be keen to take more refugees, but I believe this country could take more once it has been stemmed. It is not well understood that the 468 that we have undertaken to accept in the current two-year period will not result in 468 people arriving. They exist only on a nominal list. If people on the list are taken by another country, or die, their places will not be filled by others. The number that we take will drop. At the very least the Government should consider ensuring that the 468 figure does not drop.
Hong Kong, I believe, has a great and prosperous future. It will retain its free way of life. I believe that China means what it says in the joint declaration and is doing its utmost in the joint liaison group and in the drafting of the Basic Law to observe its undertakings. China has an enormous self-interest in the success of Hong Kong. Forty per cent. of China's imports and exports pass through Hong Kong—a big increase compared with a little while ago. Between 1 million and 2 million jobs in south China depend directly on subcontracting from Hong Kong. China also has a powerful self-interest in Hong Kong setting an example to Taiwan that Taiwan might be happy to follow one day.
I am an optimist about Hong Kong's future. We should ask ourselves not only what China will do for Hong Kong—its intentions are excellent and the answer to that question is favourable—but what Hong Kong will do for China. The proliferation of economic zones up and down the coast of China are a good example of China's observing the success of Hong Kong and wanting to take advantage of its example.
China is taking the drafting of the Basic Law seriously. I believe that it genuinely wants comments from Hong Kong's people and others. I hope that the people of Hong Kong will respond; they are not responding adequately now, and I hope that they will be more forthcoming. In any case, China will carefully consider the views that are expressed, and I believe that there will be substantial progress on the points of concern by the time of the second draft.
I agreed completely with parts of what the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) said and disagreed with others.
First, I agree that the People's Republic of China is taking the drafting of the Basic Law seriously and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said, there has been an unprecedented exercise in openness in the drafting of legislation and of a constitution that will serve Hong Kong for the next 50 years.
The right hon. Member for Blackpool, South was somewhat complacent about the brain drain. I have my worries as we approach 1997 that it may become critical—or even a crisis—and will cause serious concern in Hong Kong, this country and China. The right hon. Gentleman was not correct to say that there was no complacency on the part of the Government in attending to Hong Kong's problems. If he reads the Foreign Secretary's speech, he will find little in it. The Foreign Secretary assured us that there will not be a cosy relationship between the British Government and that of the People's Republic, but that assurance needs demonstration. There are ways of demonstrating it, but the Foreign Secretary was completely silent on them.
Secondly, there is more than one party to the future of Hong Kong. One is the People's Republic of China, which will assume sovereignty over the colony. The United Kingdom Government administer the colony now and will do so until 1997.
Thirdly, we have the Hong Kong Government and the Hong Kong legislature, the members of which are nominated, not elected. They have their own particular and peculiar interests in what happens to Hong Kong after 1997.
Fourthly, we have the people of Hong Kong. They have not been especially voluble in claiming that this, that or the other should be included in their future after 1997. On the other hand, it can be said that, in responding to the various signature campaigns that have taken place recently in Hong Kong, a good deal of interest has been shown. It is not sufficient to base the Basic Law, or opinions on the Basic Law, on what the people of Hong Kong think now.
The People's Republic of China is formulating the Basic Law, and I accept that that is its sole prerogative. The Basic Law will apply for 50 years hence, and it may develop after that. It is important to try to anticipate decisions and situations that could occur and may face the Hong Kong legislature in 20, 30 or 40 years' time, not only in the next five or 10 years. If there are crises, the Basic Law must be able to manage them, as it were, without making them worse. That is one of the problems. There is the general thought that the Basic Law will not be able to ensure that that is achieved.
If there is a crisis facing the legislature, the only solution will be for the Chief Executive to dissolve the legislature. If the new legislature that is then elected still insists on a certain course of action, that will lead to the resignation of the Chief Executive. That is not good. Crises should be resolved at a lower level and headed off. There should be ways of achieving a compromise. There should be channels of agreement that can be used before a crisis is reached.
China has the responsibility of taking over the sovereignty of Hong Kong after 1997. It has an interest in stability for the colony, or that part of China as it will be then. China wishes to take advantage of the trade, economy and prospects for development that have been established in Hong Kong. China does not necessarily wish for democracy to be present in Hong Kong after 1997. That is not necessarily one of its main concerns.
I am not privy to what goes on in the inner councils of the People's Republic of China any more than I am privy to what goes on in the inner councils of the British Government. As has already been said, in some ways the British Government's approach to legislation is more secretive than China's approach to the Basic Law. It could be said that the democratic rights of the people of Hong Kong will take second or third place to the main desires and political aims of the People's Republic of China. I am not trying to denigrate the People's Republic. I am not accusing it of duplicity or hypocrisy.
I understand that the People's Republic has many competing claims. I wish merely to observe that the democratic rights and political freedoms of the people of Hong Kong could be at a lower level than the other desirable aims of the People's Republic.
The Foreign Secretary has assured us that there will be no cosy relationship between China and the United Kingdom. It could be, however, that the United Kingdom Government see the possibility of trade with China as being much more important than the political or human rights of the people of Hong Kong. To say that is not to say anything disgraceful; nor is it to accuse the British Government of hypocrisy.
If the Foreign Secretary wishes to assure us that there will not be a cosy relationship between the two Governments, he must demonstrate why that is so. This is difficult with the Administration that has been formed by the Prime Minister. Recently, three IRA terrorists were shot in Gibraltar. That was followed by a well-managed news broadcast of the bomb being found. The Foreign Secretary said from the Dispatch Box that there were threatening movements of the terrorists' hands, which meant that justice had to be dispensed with and the terrorists were shot on sight. Witnesses said later that that was not true. The inquest has been delayed. Given that experience—there have been others that I could go into, but I shall not do so because I know that other hon. Members are waiting to speak—can we necessarily believe what the Foreign Secretary says, that there will not be a cosy relationship between Britain and China that will lead to Hong Kong being passed over with as little difficulty as possible?
I note that the Under-Secretary of State is furrowing his brow. He can prove that my assertion is wrong by demonstrating that there will not be a cosy relationship. That could have been demonstrated by bringing forward direct elections to Hong Kong for 1988. The Foreign Secretary's justification for not doing so was to say that only seven of the 57 members of the Hong Kong legislature, who are not elected, voted for direct elections, or in a particular way, after the White Paper was published and debated in Hong Kong. That is no justification for failing to bring forward direct elections.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a fair amount of good evidence that quite a bit of pressure was brought to bear on some members of the legislature to vote "appropriately"?
The hon. Gentleman is right.
The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) spoke of a consensus that crossed the House. There might be consensus on some issues, but there is no consensus on other important issues that have been pushed into the background. The Government have used their usual disinformation propaganda campaign to try to dismiss these matters from people's minds.
I accept that the Basic Law is a matter for China. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), I am not amazed, but I regard it as an act of statesmanship, an act that other countries would do well to follow, that the Basic Law is being drafted in as open a manner as possible. I do not believe that that would have been done in this country or in Hong Kong because the present Government would have made sure of that.
The question arises whether the present draft Basic Law is in conformity with the joint declaration. That is our sole locus standi for discussing the Basic Law in the Chamber. I hope that what we say will be read by the authorities in the People's Republic of China. It is meant to be helpful and not in any way to ursurp the sole right of the People's Republic eventually to define the Basic Law.
Hon. Members have mentioned articles 16, 17, 18, 169 and 172. I agree in large measure with what has been said, especially by the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South in that regard. There are problems about article 16 for example. The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress can revoke or return any law to the Hong Kong special administrative region. Suppose that a law was passed that was hotly debated in Hong Kong and mattered to many of the people there. Quite arbitrarily—for a reason that was not necessarily definable or explicable—the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress could decide to revoke or return that law. That could give rise to an unnecessary crisis. I hope that the Basic Law drafting committee will reconsider and will try to define the circumstances under which any such law can be returned and revoked, as well as the procedure that the National People's Congress would use in deciding whether to take such action.
It is important to try to define as closely as possible the laws that fall within the ambit of the Hong Kong special administrative region, in accord with the high degree of autonomy that it will have, and those laws which fall within the ambit of the People's Republic of China. Hon. Members have mentioned laws governing national unity and territorial integrity. We need to spell out those provisions as clearly as possible. If there are such laws, what are they? They may be about a national day for China or the definition of the flag; none of us would object to that. On the other hand, the provisions in article 17 might be there to deal with an unforeseen problem or with legislation enacted by the Hong Kong special administrative region that the People's Republic of China did not like. It is important for the People's Republic of China to define that more clearly and. also to define the procedures that it would follow in seeking to exercise its influence over Hong Kong. If the People's Republic of China wants to exercise influence over Hong Kong, it will do so and rightly so because Hong Kong will be part of China.
There are other problems of interpretation. In mainland China laws are promulgated and interpreted by the National People's Congress. In Hong Kong, laws are enacted by the legislature, but it is up to the courts to interpret them. The systems clash. I shall not go into the matter in more detail, but I believe that it has not been addressed adequately by the Basic Law drafting commit tee and I am sure that the committee will receive many representations on it.
In my view, it would be quite wrong for the courts in Hong Kong to seek the advice of the Chief Executive and for him to say, under article 18, that a given law infringed the rights of the People's Republic of China and that he therefore refused to allow that law to be passed. It is wrong that any judgment should be given by one person. The Chief Executive could be an extremely powerful person in Hong Kong after 1997, depending on which of the variations is eventually accepted for the formation of the legislature and the powers to be given to him.
An ideal solution might be for the Basic Law drafting committee to examine the American model and consider having some kind of supreme court to settle questions about what is in the ambit of one party and what is in the ambit of the other. Alternatively, the committee could consider the European experience and what happens in the European Court in which one party can go to an appellate body whose decision is final. If the People's Republic could consider those systems and perhaps reach some agreement in the Basic Law drafting committee that some changes have to be made, I believe that progress along those lines would be useful.
I am concerned about the powers of the Executive and the absence of any checks and balances in the present draft Basic Law. Articles 70 to 73 deal with the Legislative Council. Article 70 provides, as an alternative, that
The Chief Executive shall concurrently be the president of the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region".
The equivalent here would be for the Prime Minister also to be Speaker of the House of Commons. If I am wrong, I hope that I will be challenged, but I do not believe that any hon. Member would agree with that. It cannot be right, and it should not be the case in Hong Kong after 1997.
Article 71 not as an alternative but as a firm provision in the present draft Basic Law, states:
The President of the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall exercise Ihe following powers and functions:
Those are extremely sweeping powers. The House should consider what the situation would be if the President were also the Chief Executive. That is unacceptable to almost everyone in this country and I am sure that it is unacceptable to the people of Hong Kong. I hope that the Minister will deal with that when he winds up the debate.
Experience in democracies throughout the world is such that the head of the Executive does not sit in the Speaker's chair controlling the agenda of the legislature. Whether there should be complete separation of powers is a question that we have not time to discuss today, but there must be sufficient separation.
The legislature must also include sufficient checks and balances to control or at least scrutinise the actions of the Executive. Article 72 provides for a certain amount of scrutiny. It states:
The Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall exercise the following powers and functions …
(2) To examine and approve budgets and final accounts submitted by the executive authorities;
(3) To approve taxation and public expenditure".
It does not say "to approve or otherwise". It may not be possible for a Back Bencher in this House to bring forward such measures, but we can scrutinise them and, if necessary, change them or vote them down. If that is possible in democracies throughout the world, it should be possible for the people of Hong Kong and the British Government must demand it.
I appreciate that there are problems and questions of diplomacy and that not everything can be openly stated from the Dispatch Box because discussions have to take place at diplomatic level between this country and the People's Republic of China. I therefore do not expect an immediate reply from the Minister agreeing with me on all these points. Nevertheless, the situation demands more evidence and assurance that the British Government are not in a cosy relationship with the People's Republic of
The powers of the legislature under article 72 include:
(4) To hear and debate on the work reports of the Chief Executive:
(5) To raise questions on the work of the executive authorities;
(6) To hold debates on any issue concerning public interests".
Again, that does not give the legislature after 1997 any powers to control the Chief Executive. It gives powers to ask questions, but whether those questions receive an answer, let alone an appropriate answer, is not provided for in the draft Basic Law.
The position could be even more difficult than that because article 73 states:
However written consent of the Chief Executive is required before the following three kinds of bills are introduced:
(1) Bills relating to revenue and expenditure,"—
that is done in various legislatures—
(2) Bills relating to government policies".
That is a sweeping constraint on anybody elected to the legislature in the Hong Kong SAR after 1997. The Chief Executive would have only to say, "This is a matter of Government policy, so you, as an individual member of the legislature of Hong Kong, will not be entitled to introduce any Bill on that." If that matter is not put right, it will lead me to conclude that there is a cosy relationship between the United Kingdom Government and the People's Republic of China. The people of Hong Kong have not had democracy for various reasons, which I understand, and it is unacceptable that they will not get it after 1997. Will the Minister reassure me that what I have said is not the case?
Other hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall not be too long. The United Kingdom is morally bankrupt in allowing only 20 people a month for resettlement from the closed camps in Hong Kong. If we doubled that number, we would have a little more credibility internationally. I visited a camp earlier this year and I was sorry to see evidence of countries such as Canada and Australia treating the camps as a market place. People with skills could be resettled immediately, but those without were to remain incarcerated. People have been deprived of their liberty for five years and nothing has been done about it until now. I welcome the Government's intention to resettle all those refugees who came in under the previous set of rules as quickly as possible. Again, the Minister is furrowing his brow, so I hope that that is the case. If it is not, he will face heavy responsibility for depriving people of their liberty for five years or more in these closed camps.
I welcome the fact that the United Kingdom is now talking to Vietnam. That and the involvement of the international community is the only way towards a solution of the problem.
The people of Hong Kong require democracy after 1997, and I do not believe that the People's Republic of China will find it incompatible with the policies that it wishes to pursue after Hong Kong has become part of the PRC. A directly elected legislature is to some extent necessary. Hon. Members cannot get away from the principle that a 100 per cent. directly elected legislature would be ideal. I realise that ideals are not always achievable—that is what politics is about—but I insist on at least 50 per cent. of the legislature being directly elected so that the Basic Law complies with the joint declaration.
I agree with the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) that a grand electoral college would be a sham because, somehow, somebody would have to select or elect that grand electoral college. At the end of the day there is no substitute for a reasonable number of directly elected members in the legislature. The present members of the Hong Kong legislature—I say this with respect—are not elected; or, rather, they are elected to represent functional interests. Therefore, they do not have the authority and the backing of the people. They are subject to all sorts of other constraints and influences. That is the problem, and we should recognise that, at this stage, what the Hong Kong legislature says is not necessarily in the interests of the people of Hong Kong. If it were a directly elected legislature, it would have that authority.
Some things in the draft Basic Law are in too much detail. The Foreign Secretary was right when he said that there was no mention of a balanced budget in the joint declaration—I was in error in thinking that there was. Article 105 mentions a balanced budget, but there is too much detail. The draft Basic Law should provide a skeleton of a constitutional framework. Sufficient thought should go into that draft Basic Law to ensure that, if there is a crisis within the next 50 years, the procedures of the draft Basic Law will take care of it. It should not have to say anything about the particular type of economic policy that should be followed, and it should not contain too much detail.
I hope that the People's Republic of China will understand that and will take that into account when it publishes its next draft.
After visiting a country such as Hong Kong there is always a grave risk of being billed by others, or billing oneself, as an instant expert. Therefore, I shall minimise that risk by speaking briefly on this subject, which may also increase my popularity with my hon. Friends.
That is very important, and I hope that that is a brownie point that I can store for the future.
The first fundamental question that everybody asks about Hong Kong is whether the Chinese will adhere to the joint declaration. I have little doubt that they will, because of three outstanding features of the Chinese economy. First, it is still incredibly backward. Anyone studying Chinese agricultural practices is struck by the fact that they are generations behind the West. Secondly, there is the enthusiasm of the Chinese for encouraging overseas investment. They discovered perestroika long before the Soviet Union did. They recognise that China needs massive investment and that they are unable to generate that investment. Therefore they rely on others to do so. The third factor is that China has enjoyed a significant degree of international investment from the United States, Hong Kong and Japan.
The Chinese recognise two facts. The first is that it is not in their interest to destroy trust by reneging on the agreement. Trust is a tender plant, which once uprooted takes a long time to reappear. China also recognises that it is not in her interests to upset the basis of Hong Kong's prosperity. It would gain nothing and put at risk a great deal. It is in China's interest to be able to boast that the phrase "dictum meum pactum"—for those who have not had the benefit of the national curriculum that means "my word is my bond"—is true of that country.
I believe that, looking to the future, China's self-interest is a good guide to how the Chinese are likely to behave. Looking at the vibrant Hong Kong economy, I believe that it gives every sign of believing that China will be a country of her word. The high levels of growth and investment are signs that those who take decisions in Hong Kong believe that prosperity will remain well into the 21st century.
Those who know much more about Hong Kong than any Member of the House have taken their decisions and shown the amount of faith that they have in China's word. The fact that China herself has invested significantly in Hong Kong is a sign that she does not intend to destroy the prosperity of Hong Kong.
Anyone who visits a factory in Hong Kong must be struck by the ingenuity and hard work of everyone there. Frequently there is a temptation in this country to erect barriers to trade with Hong Kong, but I believe that it is wrong to deprive the European or British consumer of the benefits of the hard work of the people of Hong Kong. I hope that we shall remain a relatively free trade country rather than become protectionist in our attitude to Hong Kong's industry.
Finally, I should like to speak about the scandal of the plight of the boat people. It is an international scandal that there are still 15,000 refugees in the camps in Hong Kong. The problem is not the fault of the people of Hong Kong, because the Hong Kong authorities pay 75 per cent. of the cost of the camps. One has to recognise that the refugees regard Hong Kong as an entrepot rather than a final destination.
The responsibility for the plight of the refugees of Hong Kong rests in the tardy and ungenerous response of the civilised world to their plight. We should remember that the boat people set out on their uncertain voyage with chances of survival that were not great and with twin feelings of desperation and hope. All who set out on that perilous journey did so with desperation at the plight of their own country and expectations about the reception from the West. We are not responsible for their desperation, but we are responsible for the churlish reception that we have given to those who opted for freedom.
The reception from the West has been neither generous nor humane. We in Western Europe frequently lecture the Israelis on the plight of refugees in the middle east, yet we have connived at the hopelessly inadequate response of the world to the plight of the boat people. It is intolerable that those who have opted for freedom should instead be incarcerated in refugee camps for as long as the boat people have been.
We are critical of the failure to solve the problem of the refugees in the middle east, yet if we had shown one tenth of the generosity of spirit and cash that we expect to be shown in the middle east, I wager that there would be no problem of refugees in Hong Kong today. I urge the Government to have an even greater sense of urgency and generosity in dealing with the problem. Historically, we in the United Kingdom have a magnificent record of offering asylum to the victims of oppression, be it he Huguenots or the victims of the holocaust. I apologise for the fact that I shall not be able to hear the no doubt excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, but I urge him to emphasise yet again the strong commitment of the British people to solving that intolerable problem at the earliest opportunity.
I shall try to emulate the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) with the brevity of my speech, but it will probably be impossible. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has had to leave. He appears to be following the custom that has developed in this debate, which is to make a speech and then leave. It is the parliamentary equivalent of "Ten Green Bottles", and I hope that someone will be left to hear the Minister's reply. I assure him that I shall be here to hear his excellent speech.
I wish to talk about an aspect of life in Hong Kong that is somewhat different from the matters that have been discussed so far. That aspect of life in Hong Kong, which fills me with horror and revulsion, is the illegal trade in rare and endangered species. Hong Kong is a party to the convention on the international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora—or CITES. I have been assured, through letters and parliamentary answers to questions, that the Hong Kong authorities take their CITES responsibilities seriously, but, from the results, I do not believe that they take them seriously enough. I hope that before China assumes responsibility in 1997 the British Government and the Hong Kong authorities will mount a campaign of education and enforcement, which will be long overdue.
There would be enormous support in this country for a campaign to eliminate the obscene trade in endangered species in Hong Kong. To judge from recent public responses to newspaper articles and television programmes, the average person is probably more worried about that aspect of life in Hong Kong than about its post-imperial future.
I highlight three aspects of that especially vile trade. The first is the trade in ivory. On 13 June I asked the Foreign Secretary—the Under-Secretary of State replied—about the quantities of ivory that had been traded in Hong Kong during the past five years. It is clear that the trade is enormous. In 1983 imports were HK$22 million and by 1987 had reached HK$61 million. The bulk of ivory was imported into Hong Kong from China, Macao, Japan and Singapore—all countries that are party to the CITES regulations but do not seem especially enthusiastic, or able, to enforce them. I am not singling out Hong Kong in that respect. Hong Kong is just one country which, although it is a signatory to the CITES regulations, is not prepared to enforce them in the manner that I would expect.
There is good news to report to the House about the ivory trade. I congratulate the Minister on the part that he has played in ensuring that the CITES regulations are enforced. The Hong Kong Government will announce on 26 July that they will require CITES permits for imports of worked ivory. That is one of the most significant measures for years in the battle to halt the illegal ivory trade.
Traders have established two carving factories in Dubai specifically to work illegal ivory and enable them to import it into Hong Kong without a permit, but from 26 July that loophole will be closed. We appreciate that the traders will try somewhere else, but, as Hong Kong is the centre of the world ivory trade, life will be more difficult for them. In the first three months of this year Hong Kong imported HK$3·5 million worth of ivory from Dubai, all of which was of illegal origin and represented about 4,000 dead elephants—all illegally killed. Therefore, Hong Kong's new rules for worked ivory come not a moment too soon.
Secondly, there is the trade in rhino horn, which is used in its solid form to fashion dagger handles and in its powdered form in medicine. I understand that some people believe that rhino horn can be used as an aphrodisiac, but there is no evidence to prove that. However, there is medical evidence to show that anthrax can be communicated through the use of rhino horn. One can imagine some fairly nasty things happening to people at certain moments of high emotion and enjoyment.
I have asked a whole series of questions about the trade in rhino horn. I put one to the Prime Minister, who I know takes a close interest in this matter. I hasten to add that it is not the aphrodisiac qualities of rhino horn that so
intrigue the Prime Minister, and of course all hon. Members pray to the Lord above that she never contracts anthrax. In January I asked the Prime Minister, after having given her notice, about the trade in rhino horn. She said:
A total ban on the sale of rhino products within Hong Kong will take effect from July this year."—[Official Report, 26 January 1988; Vol. 126, c. 172.]
Unfortunately, that answer did not quite square with the reply that I received in June from the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
The information that the Prime Minister had given to me did not seem to tally with the information coming to me from sources outside the House. The Under-Secretary of State said:
The Hong Kong Government will ban the internal sale of rhino horn in July. They intend to implement a ban on the internal sale of medicinal products claiming to contain rhino horn as soon as possible. They have concluded that such a ban cannot be achieved administratively, as they had earlier intended, but will require new legislation, which they plan to introduce later this year."—[Official Report, 13 June 1988; Vol. 135, c. 15–16.]
That is simply not acceptable to the House, because it clearly does not follow the undertaking given by the Prime Minister. Bearing in mind that black rhino are now one of the world's most endangered species, the Government must insist that the Hong Kong authorities carry out what the Prime Minister said they would do. There must be an immediate ban on the trade in medicinal rhino horn products in Hong Kong. I ask the Minister to give me some assurance on that when he replies to the debate.
My last point about this vile trade, in which Hong Kong seems to be so much involved, deals with the most repugnant and barbaric aspect of all—the use of endangered species as food in Hong Kong restaurants. An article appeared in the Sunday Times on 10 January based on an article in the magazine Asia Week. Both articles gave graphic details of the way in which tigers, leopards, civets, pangolins and other creatures are prepared for the tables of restaurants in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macao and China.
In case I am misunderstood, I should say that I am a firm believer in cultural diversity in this country and throughout the world, but no individual or country has a right to pursue cultural or economic traditions to the point where they are clearly endangering the very existence of another life form. The article in the Sunday Times attracted over 2,000 readers' letters, all of which expressed horror and complete opposition to what was described as a vile trade. I find it difficult to understand the sort of gastronomic perversion that seems to appeal to some people in Hong Kong. One of them is the eating of the brains of a live monkey. I think that it is called trepanning.
I propose to read to the House and for the record a description of trepanning. It is not a pleasant task. The description is from a book written by John Nicol and is based on a series of documentaries that appeared on Channel 4. The description of trepanning reads:
I only know of this particular practice from Hong Kong and Macao where, provided one goes to the right restaurants and is affluent enough, one can order monkey brain as the highlight of a meal to impress the guests. It is not just the serving of monkey brain, you understand, there is a whole ritual to accompany the dish. During the course of the day of the banquet the poor monkey who is to be the star of the evening is fed considerable quantities of booze so that by the time the meal is served he is pretty intoxicated. When it is time for the monkey brain course, he is tied so that he is completely immobilised and inserted into a small cage that is just big enough to contain his body but leaves his head sticking out
through a hole in the top. From underneath the table the monkey's head is poked through an opening so that he is completely invisible to the diners except for the head, whose chin rests in suitably attractive garnish. When the host is ready, the chef delicately and carefully cuts round the skull just above the eyes and ears so that the whole top can be lifted off like a lid to reveal the brain. All the diners clap in delight at the thought of the treat to come, and tell their host what a super chap he is, and they then all dig in. Each diner dips a bread stick or something similar into the soft, creamy brain tissue and munches it with suitably appreciative noises while the monkey blinks solemnly at them until the eyes close for the last time—and all the brain disappears down the throats of these sophisticated, civilised people.
I want to believe that such barbarism is confined to a small number of people in Hong Kong. If such perverts want to enjoy a unique taste, they should try trepanning each other, if, indeed, they have brains worth eating.
I asked a number of parliamentary questions to find out what efforts the Hong Kong authorities were making to enforce the CITES regulations and to prevent restaurants from making an obscene mockery of those regulations. According to an answer from the Under-Secretary, 136 seizures of illegally imported endangered species were made in 1987. They comprised 16 pangolins, 117 birds of prey, 24 giant salamanders, 140 kg of pangolin meat and 2·5 kg of giant salamander meat.
I also wanted to know how many restaurants had been checked by the authorities, and I was told that they had checked 80 restaurants in 1987 and made 14 seizures. They seized five pangolins, 18 birds of prey, 16 giant salamanders and 12 bear paws. I asked how many inspectors were involved and was told that only five are employed full time. I have never been to Hong Kong, and in view of my comments perhaps I would not be welcome there, but I cannot believe that there are so few restaurants that only five full-time inspectors are required, or that 80 restaurants represent a good cross-section of the gastronomic trade of Hong Kong.
What further steps will the Under-Secretary of State take to ensure that such checks on restaurants are stepped up? I have seen a letter from the Foreign Office to the International Fund for Animal welfare, which says:
There is therefore no doubt that the Hong Kong authorities are tackling this problem vigorously. But in the light of the strong public concern in Britain"—
that is a massive understatement—
we have asked them to look urgently at whether there is anything more they can do; and to consider whether they could address some of these problems through additional measures aimed at educating the public.
What additional measures are being taken by the Hong Kong authorities, supported by the British Government?
I can genuinely say that I know that, although one crosses swords on many occasions with the Under-Secretary of State, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, all of them take this issue seriously. I shall probably be the only hon. Member left in the House to hear the Under-Secretary's reply, so I hope he can tell me what pressure is being put on China to deal with the endangered species market in Shenzhen, a special economic zone on the border with Hong Kong. What educational and enforcing measures are being taken to stamp out this vile trade? On his answers, my attitude towards the future of Hong Kong very much depends. I know that he will address these matters seriously.
I am pleased to have caught your eye today, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as many hon. Members have sought to make contributions to this important debate—a stark contrast from a fortnight ago when I spoke on Northern Ireland affairs and, throughout the debate, was the only Conservative Back-Bench Member present.
I am not a lawyer, constitutional or otherwise, and I do not have a lawyer's facility to pick up a brief, analyse it and construct a case to suit my goal. Today, I have been lucky, for, since Monday, those of us who take an interest in the affairs of Hong Kong and the future of its citizens have been positively deluged with briefing material which contains eminent and skilful opinion on the draft Basic Law. The analysis has been done for me. Furthermore, a case has been constructed for me—notably by the Hong Kong Bar Association, the Hong Kong Law Society and a group of young professionals led by Gladys Li and Frank Ching. We have also had the benefit of the draft speeches of some eminent members of the Legislative Council, which will have been delivered over the past two days, including a thoroughly statesmanlike speech by the senior Unofficial Member Lydia Dunn. Those briefs and supporting material pay tribute to the work done by the drafting committee.
It is clear that a large part of the draft Basic Law has met with approval and can thus be construed as largely uncontentious. However, it is equally clear that articles 16, 17, 18, 169 and 172, together with annex III have caused much concern. Taken out and highlighted, leaving aside the remainder, this fraction of the draft Basic Law can be construed to demonstrate a determination by the People's Republic to undermine the spirit of the joint declaration. I say "can be construed" because, by putting a more positive gloss on those articles, it is possible to accept them as benign. The whole exercise is like a game of snakes and ladders, with 172 steps from t he beginning to the end of the game. There are undoubtedly ladders to accelerate one's progress towards one's goal—for much of the draft is excellent and reassuring to the concept of one nation/two systems.
The draft Basic Law even seems to have overcome the apparent inimical contradiction of a capitalist sub-state existing alongside its Socialist parent, a parent constrained to be Socialist by one of the most fundamental canons of its constitution. Articles 16, 17, 18, 169 and 172 and annex III appear to represent the snakes which send one slithering back to the beginning of the game. If one puts the worst interpretation on those articles, it is possible to conceive a position where one cannot attain one's goal because one falls foul of one of those impediments.
It is possible to see the whole draft as a cover, a smoke-screen, for the real PRC purpose of regaining Hong Kong and absorbing its commercial, industrial and trading pre-eminence, without conceding the basic Socialist tenet of the PRC's constitution.
I believe that that is the construction put on some of the contentious articles by the Hong Kong Bar Association, the Hong Kong Law Society and the group of young professionals. They have every right to view the Basic Law with great caution, and we would be foolish to disparage their caution. It is difficult for hon. Members to grasp the crucial importance of the Basic Law to the protection of the way of life of Hong Kong people for the rest of their lives. Yet a wholly cynical attitude to the Basic Law denies the role of the nearly 50 per cent. of the drafting committee who are Hong Kong people and who, therefore, have the most certain vested interest in seeing that the Basic Law faithfully reflects both the word and the spirit of the joint declaration.
That cynicism denies China's need to regain and retain Hong Kong in its present form as a thriving, thrusting, vibrant and entrepreneurial trading post. That cynicism suggests that the great mass of the Chinese population will just swallow up Hong Kong's 5·5 million people and be prepared to sacrifice the vastly disproportionate contribution to China's economy that that population can make. In short, that cynicism denies the good faith and trust embodied in the whole Sino-British agreement that led to the joint declaration.
To assuage that lack of confidence, that cynicism, we must urge the drafting committee to look again at the contentious articles and annex. In particular, I believe that the way in which the first Chief Executive and Government, as well as the first Legislative Council, succeed to their positions is vital to the success of the whole enterprise. If the election or selection process is seen as a charade designed to put Beijing's placemen in power, confidence in Hong Kong will collapse, the last days of Britain's colonial rule will be marked with bitterness and acrimony and the serious leakage of middle management and professional people will become a torrent. All of those, who have transferable skills, will seek their exit, many with great sadness at leaving their homes. That would be the surest recipe for a breakdown of everything that makes Hong Kong such a special place and of such value to China and the rest of the trading world.
We must exhort the drafting committee to establish a system for the selection of the first Chief Executive and the Legislative Council, which is seen as a further step towards democracy and universal suffrage and as maintaining an evolutionary pace towards an eventually fully-elected legislature. I agree that an elected proportion of 10 representatives in 1991 with a possible further tranche of elected representatives in 1995 is right. Furthermore, if there were, for example, 20 elected members in 1995, their term would, in the normal course of events, have lasted two years beyond the handover date. They could form the vital element of continuity, which is so essential to a smooth handover. We should press the People's Republic of China on that point.
I am no expert on that peculiarly Eastern concept of "face" but it seems to me that China has put its name—we must believe that it is in good faith—to its most important international treaty since the formation of the People's Republic. China has to make the agreement work and it can work only if it is perceived by Hong Kong people to have been honoured in both word and spirit. If the agreement is broken or collapses because it has not been honoured in word or spirit, in the eyes of the world that would involve a massive loss of face for all Chinese people, and especially their leaders.
I retain my faith that the agreement, born out of mutual pragmatism, can and will be made to work. Should that come to pass, I have no doubt that Hong Kong post-1997 will be as exciting a place as it is today in which to live, to work and to visit. I have no doubt that hon. Members of this House will be as keen to see one nation/two systems working as they are to visit the very symbol of enterpreneurial capitalism which Hong Kong is today.
The puplication of the first draft of the Basic Law is a remarkable event. Who could have conceived, fifty, twenty or even five years ago that the Government of China would one day publish the draft of such a law, widely promulgate its text, and formally invite public comment upon it? It is also remarkable that China from the beginning has involved Hong Kong people in the drafting process.
Those are not my words, they are the opening words of the hon. Lydia Dunn in her speech in the Legislative Council a couple of days ago. They enable me, first, to pay tribute to Lydia Dunn as she makes her swan song from LegCo; secondly, to establish a link between that debate and this; and, thirdly, to emphasise what she is saying and what a remarkable event it is.
I recall the visit here a few years ago, when the negotiations were at an early stage, of a senior Chinese Government official. He was seeking information and, knowing that I was an officer of the Hong Kong group, asked what the Hong Kong group was and what it did. I sought to explain and said that no doubt when some agreement was reached members of the group would be involved in the debate in Parliament. He asked, "What debate?" I said that once an agreement had been reached it would be published in the form of a White Paper and would certainly be debated in Parliament. He said, "What has it got to do with Parliament? If the two Governments have come to some agreement, how is Parliament involved?" I hope that he benefited from the little teach-in that I subsequently gave him.
That story demonstrates how far the Chinese authorities have gone in a relatively short time. In that time the people of Hong Kong have travelled far along the democratic path. They held their direct elections to LegCo only three years ago. When I was there, I recall seeing something of the interesting system of functional constituencies. I visited a hospital and found it plastered with election notices. That is something unfamiliar to us. The people of Hong Kong have not experienced parliamentary and representative democracy much in the past, but they are learning fast.
On the one hand there has been a Communist regime that is unfamiliar with parliamentary democracy; on the other, a community that is surely the epitome of private enterprise and to which representative Government was a new concept. We may protest that we do not approve of a few aspects of what is, in effect, a draft constitution for post-1997 Hong Kong, but we should surely marvel at the fact, that there is any draft at all in the circumstances that I have described. We should also marvel at the fact that about 95 per cent. of it is proving acceptable to both sides.
Various political, professional and legal figures have been making representations to us, in correspondence and in person, on their doubts about certain aspects of some articles. Those doubts have been well covered and I shall not go through the problems that have arisen. The interpretation of the Law is an interesting example of the differing approaches of the two countries. Those people have genuine concerns and valid arguments against some of the articles, but it is fair to say that the Chinese Government have made it clear that this is a draft. They undertook extensive consultations before producing it, and they are now offering more. Those professional, legal and political figures have an important part to play in that consultative process.
If it is true that the people of Hong Kong have not had a great deal of experience of politics, nor have they of diplomacy. I suggest to them that it is not helpful to the consultative process for some in important positions to use language, in public and in private, such as "broken promises", "bad law" and "an abomination"—that last having been used to describe one of the articles. That is not the way to influence those who will finally decide on the form that the Law will take.
I have been a friend of Hong Kong for many years, on a business and a personal level. I want the best possible arrangements for post-1997 Hong Kong, and I ask the people of Hong Kong to recognise what has been achieved, to use every means open to them to promote the changes and the clarifications that they justifiably want, but to do so in reasoned argument, not by using invective.
Other hon. Members have rightly raised the subject of the Vietnamese refugees. Hong Kong has an extraordinary record of having accepted 120,000 of them since 1975, of whom not one has been turned away from its shores. The rate has increased substantially recently. The figures are surprising: there were 8,000 arrivals in the first six months of this year—4,000 in June alone—compared with 405 in June last year. In those circumstances, it was surely right for Hong Kong to introduce its recent measures to try to control the influx and return the refugees.
Many of the genuine refugees have been resettled, about 13,000 of them here. We all remember well the publicity that attended the boat people and the great surge of interest and emotion in this country at the time—local authorities provided housing, the community made them welcome and so on. Recently we have heard of success stories among those who arrived at that time, but the problem remains in Hong Kong. There are still about 16,000 there, some of whom have been there for a long time. About 2,500 have been there for more than six years and 425 have been in camps for more than nine years.
What are we doing to solve the problem? The answer is very little. We have undertaken to accept fewer than 500, who have to be members of families, and we are taking them at the rate of 20 a month. They are multipying at twice that rate. There are 40 births a month in the camps in Hong Kong. Taking 500 at 20 a month will not be of much help. In any event, those who are taken must be members of families. It is an extremely restrictive policy. It seems that we have virtually closed the door on the further intake of refugees to this country.
My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the problems of refugees, but I was disappointed that he suggested no new steps that should be taken. How can we expect other countries to take more of these refugees if we are not prepared to do so ourselves? We are not talking about people from the Indian subcontinent who want to improve their economic position. Instead, we are talking about genuine refugees. As the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) said, we are talking about people, not about statistics.
I shall not apologise for expressing a personal interest. My son worked for a time in a Hong Kong camp with the refugees. On subsequent visits I have had the opportunity of meeting some of these people. To make a small contribution myself, I wrote to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office about 18 months ago. I referred to the Bach family. I gave full details of it, the members of which have been in Hong Kong for many years. The family arrived there in 1980 and have been in the camps ever since. I wrote to say that I would be willing to sponsor them to come here. I said that I would try to find accommodation for them and a job. After 18 months my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, "No. I am sorry but the family cannot be admitted." It is dispiriting for the refugees to feel that there are no prospects for them.
When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State replies, I hope that he will be able to say something that will give hope to the refugees. I appreciate that their admittance is a Home Office responsibility, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has some influence in appropriate quarters. I hope that he will use it to ensure that provision is made for more of these refugees to come to Britain. That will encourage other countries to take more as well. I feel that we have a moral obligation to them. I suggest also that we have a moral obligation to the Government and people of Hong Kong, who have borne the refugee burden for far too long. I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to review the Government's immigration policy in the interests of the refugees and in the interests of the territory, whose future many of us regard with concern and affection.
There are two major reasons why Hong Kong should be reassured about its future. The first reason is the negotiating ability of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. The second reason is that the People's Republic of China has carried out a formulation of the Basic Law in an open manner. These two factors should give the Kong Kong people and the House great confidence in believing that it is possible to get the Basic Law redrafted and put into a satisfactory condition so that Hong Kong may continue with the prosperity and freedom that its people now enjoy.
In the few minutes that are available to me I shall make one or two comments that might be helpful in getting those involved in the negotiations to understand the difficulties that face the Hong Kong people. The first issue is competence. Why, in view of what I have just said, should the Hong Kong people lack confidence in the future and in the negotiating procedure? Most people in Hong Kong left China and arrived in Hong Kong because it was a refuge and a way in which they could put behind them some of the horrific experiences that they and their families had I o undergo during a series of revolutions and changes of Government, the last of which was the cultural revolution. Those events are not easily put out of people's minds. so the Chinese People's Republic and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary must go out of their way to reassure the people of Hong Kong that they will re-enter the world that they wanted to leave.
Many hon. Members have referred to the worrying number of emigrants, which has doubled again this year to 48,000. That is an estimate, and the number is probably greater. Of those emigrants, 75 per cent. are in the managerial and professional classes. When one considers economies in the world that have failed, one realises that they have failed because those classes of people have left. They are some of the most indebted and poverty-stricken countries in the world and they are a warning to us. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has tried to reassure the House by saying that that emigration is nothing unusual, but I believe that we should take it seriously.
Why are people leaving Hong Kong? It is because they feel that their individual freedom will be restricted under the Basic Law as it has been promulgated. They fear that their quality of life will worsen, and they fear for their children's future, which is guaranteed by the joint declaration for only 50 years, if we get the constition right. People leave Hong Kong because they have the opportunity to go overseas, but they are also worried about the frequent policy changes in the People's Republic of China. They cannot be certain that the current conditions and philosophy in Beijing will continue, and they doubt the Chinese Government's ability to maintain stability. They fear for the safety and welfare of intellectuals; they remember intellectuals who emigrated from the People's Republic of China because they were persecuted and oppressed during the cultural revolution.
I want to concentrate my remarks on the position of the Chief Executive under the Basic Law. When I visited Hong Kong, I was worried by the way in which the Hong Kong Government propose to develop the system of government when the People's Republic of China takes over in 1997. There seems to be no urgency to develop the institutions of government, particularly those that are needed to provide checks to the executive power held by the Governor, which we see reflected in the Basic Law, and to provide checks to the power of the Chief Executive, which I believe is overstrong and will be insufficiently checked by the legislature. The legislature will not be the prime institution, as the House of Commons and the House of Lords are in this country. The powers that are proposed for the Chief Executive violate the principle that this country fought for and won in 1688, and which was incorporated in the Bill of Rights.
The Chief Executive will be the superior power in many ways and will be able to maintain his position despite any lack of confidence from the legislature. I believe that if the Chief Executive loses the confidence of the legislature, or of the Beijing Government, he should resign and a new selection and election should take place. Under the draft Basic Law, there will be a complicated procedure.
It would be very much better if the Chief Executive were to be elected by an alternative system, which would be at least vaguely democratic—that is, by selection by one tenth of the legislature, as proposed, and then by direct election on the basis of adult suffrage.
I shall illustrate the powers that will be unacceptable if they are not restricted by the legislature. The Chief Executive can appoint all judges and cannot be questioned on those appointments. There will be no means by which he can be checked when making those appointments. He will have the power to dissolve the legislature if it refuses to vote for legislation that he supports. That should be the other way round.
The Legislative Assembly has no powers to amend a budget, only to accept or reject it. The Chief Executive has the power, not just to appoint, but to remove, judges. Where is the independence of the judiciary there? The Chief Executive has powers similar to those of a colonial Government. In recent years the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has not been distinguished in its ability to formulate constitutions which have endured for long without becoming the instruments of dictatorial forms of government in many of our former colonies. The draft Basic Law gives the same impression, and I urge my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, in his attempts to revise it with the People's Republic of China, to ensure that the necessary checks on the Executive, the independence of the judiciary, universal adult suffrage and direct elections are built into the system of government instituted in 1997 with the support of the People's Republic of China and endure beyond that time.
That must be my right hon. and learned Friend's objective, and he has many levers of power to try to insist upon it. There are real reasons why the People's Republic of China wishes Hong Kong to be successful and independent. For instance, there is the question of Taiwan. We have the ultimate sanction of saying that the treaty has been broken, and there is much evidence to suggest that the proposed laws do not coincide with the joint declaration, as Professor Wade has said, and as the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) mentioned today.
I believe that we have the opportunity, with great effort, to ensure that the new system of government is subject to the necessary checks and balances. That will restore confidence that the people of Hong Kong will be able to conduct their own affairs, that they do not need to leave Hong Kong, that they will not be subject to unnecessary interference from the Chinese Government and that the miracle of Hong Kong can continue.
In this debate, I suffer the great disadvantage of never having lived in Hong Kong, although I have visited it, and of having no commercial or other interests, disclosed or undisclosed, in Hong Kong. That brings one advantage, however, in that I can speak dispassionately on the subject and, to some extent also, on this country's position.
I did not think of this as a debate about the Vietnamese refugees, but I very much endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) about the need for this country to be more generous in that context. Even if we have to wait until the flow has dried up, let us at least then pledge ourselves to be more generous and to take more refugees from the closed camps.
This interesting debate has perhaps underestimated the enormous excitement of the extraordinary experiment that is to take place. The whole concept of one nation and two systems is of dramatic interest and hope for the future. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary was right to say that Hong Kong is and should remain the principal component of any burgeoning Anglo-Chinese partnership. He was also absolutely right to stress our duty to ensure that the Basic Law, which we did not draft, honours the joint declaration that we signed. That duty is the more pressing in view of the seeming reluctance of so many Hong Kong citizens to stick their heads above the parapet and make public comment in the present period of consultation.
We should also remember the international context of this debate. It is being held at a time when we have an extraordinary vindication of the open, relatively unrestricted, substantially capitalist system of trade over the inward-looking, heavily regulated, state-run economic systems which have hitherto been the principal legacy of Marxism in the 20th century. Generally speaking, I can well understand the natural anxiety in the PRC lest, on the one hand, it kills the golden goose by failing to create the confidence necessary to keep Hong Kong alive and, on the other, it kills the farmer's wife by so encouraging the goose that the whole basis of China's political and social philosophy is undermined. I do not think that that is a real fear because clearly the PRC could at any time snuff out Hong Kong's independence if it felt threatened. There is nothing written anywhere to prevent it from doing that. As was well put to me yesterday by a representative from Hong Kong, we are not talking about some disastrous cataclysm. We are looking at the insurance policy, and when one does that one looks closely at the small print to ensure that one buys the best policy one can get.
There is a difficult balance between being prescriptive enough to reassure interests in Hong Kong which want particular safeguards written into the Basic Law, and being so prescriptive as to make it almost certain that the SAR will find its freedom of movement damagingly restricted. It is fair to say that the present constitution of Hong Kong is both undemocratic and authoritarian, but, as Lydia Dunn pointed out two days ago in Hong Kong, all recent governors have accepted the well established constitutional convention that they cannot override either the Legislative or Executive Councils and that the most important feature of the present system of government is that no one has supreme power. It is partly because it is vital to emphasise the importance of evolving convention in the creation and continuation of dynamic societies that I want to stress my unease at the articles in the draft Basic Law that seek to prescribe too closely the form of economic policy which the Hong Kong SAR should pursue.
Judicial independence is a crucial question. Enough has already been said in the debate for it to be unnecessary for me to do more than add my support to those who want to see that the statement in the joint declaration with the power of final judgment in the Hong Kong SAR should be vested in the court of final appeal and should not be undermined by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress extending its control year by year into additional areas of the law.
The great story told about Sidney and Beatrice Webb is that, when they were asked what constituted their happy marriage, Beatrice Webb said that the answer was that she took the small decisions and Sidney the big ones. It was then asked who took the decision about which were big and which were small decisions and she said, "I do." There is a slight flavour of that in the draft Basic Law in that when it comes to deciding whether a matter is for the Hong Kong courts, the Standing Committee has too much say. I am anxious about that.
Then there is the question of human rights. In the United Kingdom we can apply for a writ of habeas corpus. It is not in any statute, but it is still a right for which one can apply. Something of that kind, which would give assurance to Hong Kong citizens, whether they were under the jurisdiction of Hong Kong or, for some reason, China, would be useful.
Clearly there are important differences within Hong Kong about how exactly the political structure should be built. I am not knowledgeable enough to give useful advice except perhaps in general terms. I will venture two suggestions. First, it must be better for confidence in Hong Kong if the Chief Executive is elected from within Hong Kong rather than appointed, however indirectly, from without. The nomination and election system must be taken into account. Secondly, the system should be so constructed as to minimise the risk of friction between the Chief Executive, the principal officers and the Legislative Council.
The present draft Basic Law suggests that Hong Kong will have several years of disagreements followed by dissolutions. That would be wholly destructive. We should consider the proposal that Chief Executive candidates should be nominated by LegCo and voted for on a widening, if not universal, franchise if that would remove that risk. On those issues the draft Basic Law departs from, or is perceived by the people of Hong Kong as departing from, the joint declaration. It is our duty to ensure that that divergence is removed from the final version.
The role that the United Kingdom plays between now and 1997 is important. How we play our cards in Hong Kong is vital to us as well as to Hong Kong, the Western world and the future of our relations with the People's Republic of China. That role cannot rest on sentiment or nostalgia—those are broken reeds in international relations. Our role must rest on mutual self-interest. Last year our exports to the territory were a record £1 billion, and that made Hong Kong seventeenth in order of importance to our export markets. Our invisible earnings, of course, were much higher.
Our exports to Hong Kong grew slower than Hong Kong's global imports, so our share of available trade is falling. Even so, we exported to Hong Kong two and a half times as much as we exported to the People's Republic of China. We have even managed to set up a branch of Gieves and Hawkes. The idea of setting up a tailoring establishment in Hong Kong is amazing and the reverse of what I was brought up to believe in as a child.
Hong Kong companies own or have an interest in 2,000 factories in Guangdong province and they provide employment for 2 million Chinese people. Therefore, China has a major interest in the future of Hong Kong. Hong Kong companies are China's largest source of direct external investment and China earns more than one third of its foreign exchange through the territory. As the ruling power we need to use our position to take positive steps in the closing years to strengthen our position. We need to work hard to boost our trade and increase our investment.
Chinese is a uniquely inacessible language to people of the West. I know that because my daughter is about to spend nine months in Beijing to try to learn it. We should also insist on improving the teaching of English in Hong Kong schools. I understand that such teaching is not a success at the moment. We should also seek to strengthen our links with the Hong Kong university and increase substantially the exchange of students and other individuals between the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.
All those matters are within our control and are of mutual benefit and of long-lasting, substantial importance to the Western world. Such increasing commitment from the United Kingdom to Hong Kong would do more to boost the confidence of Hong Kong than anything else over which we have direct control. At the end of the day, the future of Hong Kong as a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China depends upon mutual trust, and no amount of legislation and logic chopping can provide the protection that mutual confidence and mutual interest would sustain.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said, we greatly welcome this debate on Hong Kong, which fulfils the promise given by the Government to the Opposition. We agree that it is right that the debate should be on a motion that allows discussion on all aspects of the current position there, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) illustrated rather strikingly, if somewhat horribly. He made me glad that I am missing my lunch today. However, it is understandable that most of those who have contributed to the debate concentrated on the first draft of the Basic Law. I shall return to that for the bulk of my contribution on behalf of the Opposition, but first I should like to refer to two other matters that were raised in the debate.
First, the Vietnamese refugees. Anyone who has seen, as other hon. Members and I have, the sad faces of the Vietnamese refugees, the number of whom now amount to 16,000 in the camps in Hong Kong, knows what a human tragedy they represent. In all cases, as hon. Members have rightly said, they are as well looked after as possible by the Hong Kong Government, with some assistance from voluntary groups. However, in the closed camps, one of which was built as an island prison, life can be nothing less than desperate in what amounts to an oriental Alcatraz. Our Government have direct responsibility for them. The recent decision to screen 4,000 new arrivals is only just beginning to be implemented. I recently found out in Hong Kong that it is estimated that only 10 per cent. will be accepted as refugees. As the Foreign Secretary said, the others will be put into separate camps. The Minister knows our reservations about the screening process, but, given that it is now going ahead, the crucial question that arises is: what happens to those who are screened out and put into the other camps?
We heard from the Foreign Secretary that a team, including a Foreign Office official, has been invited to Hanoi to discuss the situation, but the Foreign Secretary was rather bland about what is happening. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will reply to those questions. What guarantees of safety will the team seek from the Government of Hanoi if the screened-out refugees are to be returned? What will be the role of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees? What assurances will the team seek on ending the flow of refugees? Not just messages should be sent; positive action should be taken.
The Government need to make a much more determined effort to obtain the changes that will ensure that the flow of refugees is stopped. They must again press the Government of China to help to stop the flow and also the help that people in China give to the boat people as they journey from Vietnam to Hong Kong. I was able to say that in recent discussions that I had with the Chinese Vice-Premier on my visit to Beijing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) said that the Government had pledged to resettle all the refugees. I only wish that he was right and that that were so, but my understanding—subsequent speeches confirmed it—is that we shall take in only a very limited number with family connections, which is less than the amount that the birth rate is adding to the number of refugees.
What I meant to say was that the Government will now make arrangements for the refugees who were in the camps before the new regime to be resettled, not necessarily in this country. I hope that that is the Government's intention.
We shall see from the Minister's reply. I hope that he will make it clear. We should not leave 16,000 refugees rotting in camps in Hong Kong, but we should be sympathetic to the case for resettlement. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham said, the British Government should give a lead—not taking in all the refugees, but encouraging other Governments to join us in providing places for them. I hope that the Minister will say exactly what the Government intend to do.
The second issue was also raised in the debate. I hope that the Minister will say what the Government are doing about the Hong Kong tourist groups that have been turned back. As the Foreign Secretary said, members of the Legislative Council raised the matter with him and the Minister of State on their recent visits. It was also pointed out to me on my visit that some people of very modest means in Hong Kong, who save up and are thereby able to visit Britain, have many justified grievances. The Foreign Secretary said, again somewhat blandly, that appropriate action has been taken following their return. What action? I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us in his reply what action Ministers have taken to fulfil their promises to LegCo members to examine the matter.
The main issue in the debate today has been the Basic Law. I will deal with a number of points that have been made, but first, somewhat unusually when replying to a debate. I shall deal with a couple of contributions that have not been made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), who is on the Front Bench, has shown a long interest in Hong Kong and visited it with a human rights delegation. He would have participated in the debate if he had been here at the beginning and had been able to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but he has been doing a very valuable job during the past couple of weeks in the Kensington by-election. We have seen the excellent result in this morning's newspapers. He has been working to great effect, and I congratulate him and our candidate on the excellent result. I know that he endorses many of the points made from these Benches.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) would also have wished to be associated with the points that I am making on behalf of the Opposition, but again he is unable to be present.
As most hon. Members must by now be aware, I returned only yesterday from a visit to China, on which I was accompanied by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) and my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) and for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). They are in Hong Kong on their way back from China and may be listening to this debate on the radio. When we were in China we had a meeting with the Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Zhou Nan, during which the future of Hong Kong was the major item of discussion. We also met the Vice-Premier, Tian Jiyun, and discussed the issue with him.
On Wednesday, when I stopped over in Hong Kong, I was lucky enough to sit in on the first day of the debate on the Basic Law. I heard the speech of Lydia Dunn and some other speeches in the Legislative Council. I met the Governor and discussed the future of Hong Kong with him, as I did with some representatives of the young professionals, others of whom have been here in London talking to hon. Members during the past few days. Having listened to some of the speeches, especially those of Conservative Members, I appreciate that the lobbying has been to great effect.
During our discussions in China we heard the two familiar words—those of us who have been participating in these debates know them only too well—stability and prosperity. Like the Foreign Secretary, when we met and spoke to Ministers in China, we added the third important word that has come up repeatedly in this debate—confidence. We must talk not just about stability and prosperity for Hong Kong, but about stability, prosperity and confidence.
I said to Ministers in China that, by making the present consultation exercise on the Basic Law effective and meaningful and by being seen to make it effective and meaningful, the Chinese Government could give a significant boost to the confidence of the people of Hong Kong about the future of their territory. Some of the pessimists argue that that will not be sufficient to stem the damaging outflow of professionals that we have heard about in the debate. I agree that those professionals are vital to the future prosperity of the territory. It may not be sufficient, but it is certainly one of the necessary ingredients of any formula that will help to stem that tide and bring back and maintain confidence in the future of the territory.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the lack of confidence in Hong Kong was demonstrated by the fact that only six people turned up to the first central Hong Kong relationship session, organised by the Basic Law drafters to collect public opinion, and that only two voiced opinions? That pattern was repeated on 2 July when 30 people turned up and five voiced opinions. People are reluctant to voice opinions in case they are identified by the People's Republic of China, and in any case they do not think that their opinions would be taken seriously.
They are wrong if they think that they will not be taken seriously, because I am sure that they will. The hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest the identification of individuals for future retribution. That suggestion is unwarranted given the sort of changes that I have seen in the People's Republic. I am afraid that the small turnout mentioned by the hon. Gentleman is due more to disinterest by the people of Hong Kong. I hope that there will be greater interest and the kind of participation that we witnessed when the White Paper was discussed. I said to people in Hong Kong and to people that I met here that I hoped there would be greater participation in the consultative exercise by the people of Hong Kong because it was a meaningful exercise.
I think that without breaking any confidences I can tell the House that the Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs made it clear that he accepts that the first draft of the Basic Law is not perfect and will be amended, especially where a clear consensus emerges on Hong Kong issues. That deals with the point raised by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells). Every effort should be made by people in the territory to achieve consensus on the consultation exercise.
Following my short visit on Wednesday, I am a bit more optimistic that a broad consensus can be reached. That message does not seem to have got through to all my colleagues. Surely many of the deficiencies in the Basic Law are much more likely to be due to the cumbersome drafting procedure and to inadvertence than to a deliberate lack of concern to make a success of a unique one-country, two-systems, experiment of which Deng Xiaoping is extremely proud.
There is also a danger, which should be avoided, of some people in Hong Kong wrongly anticipating or second-guessing the views of Beijing. In doing so, they take a line which is not justified by the real view of the Government in Beijing, which I discovered when I talked to them. The Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs also made it clear that suggestions and opinions from Britain on the Basic Law are welcome, provided they are made in the appropriate way. While detailed comments are, as they should be, transmitted in writing, I strongly said, and repeat, that hon. Members should continue to have no inhibitions about making comments in the House that are subsequently transmitted to the Government of the People's Republic.
When we comment we should try to imagine what our reaction would be if the situation were reversed and we were receiving comments from China. We must also recognise that we have a special and important responsibility as the other signatory to the joint declaration. Some hon. Members have already said that, and it was emphasised by the Foreign Secretary. Most hon. Members have said that our particular responsibility is to comment if we feel that the draft Basic Law does not properly or adequately reflect the joint declaration. As Lydia Dunn rightly said in the LegCo debate, the draft Basic Law should reflect not just the letter but the spirit of the joint declaration.
On the bases that I have just outlined, I have several general comments to make. First, amendment to the draft Basic Law is necessary to ensure the unfettered application of all the human rights principles included in international covenants and applicable in Hong Kong. They were detailed by my noble Friend Lord Irvine of Lairg in another place in an eloquent and comprehensive speech. I shall not repeat, but merely endorse, what he said on that occasion. Like many other hon. Members, I feel that consideration needs to be given to ensuring that the balance between the powers of Beijing and the Hong Kong special administrative region reflects the high degree of autonomy promised in the joint declaration. That was underlined by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston). Like me, he has participated for a number of years in the debate on devolution in Scotland, and we can hear some echoes of that debate.
Of particular importance in Hong Kong is that responsibility for interpretation of the law on all devolved matters—which would appear to be more in line with the joint declaration—should lie with the Court of Appeal in Hong Kong. This applies also to the power to amend legislation passed in the special administrative region and on the revocation of the existing laws of Hong Kong.
After my visits to China and Hong Kong, I am optimistic that representations from Hong Kong will form a consensus and, in the light of the promises of the Government of China, will be accepted in the further drafting. There is also a growing consensus in Hong Kong that while China will assume sovereignty on 1 July 1997, this must not assume dissolution of the organs of Government, particularly the Legislature—and that has been repeated in the debate today. That would cause unnecessary disruption, and the concept of the through train, which a number of hon. Members have mentioned, is rightly finding much wider favour in Hong Kong, as I found in the LegCo debate.
There still remains some debate, and some differences, on the composition and method of election of the Legislature and on the method of the choice and accountability of the Chief Executive. I am sure that most hon. Members will agree when I say that I hope that consensus can be found in Hong Kong on these issues because, again, its views are then more likely to be accepted in China. Our view is that the term in the joint declaration, "constituted by election," is best reflected by direct elections, no matter what may be said by anyone of whatever eminence. Stretching a point, some form of indirect elections through an electoral college might be argued as fulfilling the obligation, although I do not like such a scheme. However, no stretching of the term can come up with the grand electoral college which, as other hon. Members have rightly said, means an attempt to legitimise some form of nomination.
Furthermore, the Chief Executive should be responsible to the Legislative Council, as others have said, or relations between them will be intolerable and confused, and the Chief Executive should be chosen from within Hong Kong.
We welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement that the reports of the proceedings in this place and in the other place will go to the Government of the People's Republic of China as part of the submission. We recognise that the Government of the United Kingdom have a responsibility to Hong Kong until midnight on 30 June 1997—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton said with his usual unerring accuracy, for eight years, 11 months and 15 days. We have discussed the 1991 LegCo elections, and the Foreign Secretary and the Minister know that we are not happy with the proposal that only 18 per cent. of the members should be directly elected.
We must also consider what further progress will be made towards democracy and direct elections to the Legislative Council between 1991 and 1997. Perhaps, as there will be a Labour Government during that time, I should be answering my own question. Nevertheless, it may need some preliminary discussion before 1991, and I hope that the Minister will consider that. We should also monitor the further stages of the development of the consultation process and of the discussions over the next few years.
We should note two further points. First, we should acknowledge the valid admonition by the Government of China that nothing was done to advance democracy during a whole century of British responsibility. I am not proud of that. Secondly, we should acknowledge the essence of the joint declaration that, from 1 July 1997, the People's Republic of China will be sovereign. Some hon. Members have said that that means that the Chinese Government can do anything they wish, but, as others have said, there are constraints on them. Our responsibility is to secure all the safeguards that we can, realise their limitations, as the Financial Times said in its leader yesterday, and ensure that the Basic Law corresponds as much as possible with the spirit and letter of the joint declaration. After that it is a matter of trust.
In Beijing, the Government of the People's Republic of China described their signature of the joint declaration as a solemn commitment. I accept their sincerity—much more than I do that of the present British Government on a number of issues. The Government of the People's Republic of China have asked us to join hands in making efforts to build up confidence. We should all be careful not to do anything, either deliberately or inadvertently, to undermine confidence in Hong Kong's future. The Government representatives whom we met added that China wanted to demonstrate, in deeds as well as in words, its commitment to one country, two systems, and to the future of Hong Kong. We said that the most striking evidence of that will be the account taken by the Chinese Government of the views, first, of all the people of Hong Kong and also of the British Parliament and Government during the consultation process.
I believe, from my observation of the current position in China—I am sure that the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford, who I sometimes think of as my hon. Friend, would agree—that the Chinese reject the cultural revolution even more than we do. There have been striking economic developments and, even more important, the start of fundamental political change in China. China is also concerned about the future of Taiwan. From our assessment of the statements by the Chinese, we have no reason not to trust them. We have a responsibility to contribute to the building up of confidence—the confidence that is so necessary for a successful and democratic future for the people of Hong Kong.
I am sure that we are all delighted that the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) has been able to return from China early to take part in the debate. I cannot help but reflect on the way in which he praised the economic revolution occurring in the People's Republic of China, although I sometimes wish that he would give rather more praise to the economic revolution that is occurring in the United Kingdom.
This has been another thoughtful and well-informed debate on Hong Kong. It reflects the great interest of the House in the territory's affairs and the depth of concern for Hong Kong and the future of its people. The debate has demonstrated the strong and undiminished sense of responsibility that we all feel towards Hong Kong and all its inhabitants. There should be no doubt that the British Parliament and Government intend to discharge their reponsibilities to Hong Kong to the full. That means that all of us are committed to doing all that we can to create the conditions for Hong Kong's continued prosperity up to and beyond 1997.
It is right that the debate has concentrated on the draft Basic Law. It is the instrument that will set out in legal form the principles and policies enshrined in the joint declaration. Therefore, it is the Basic Law, above all else, that can provide both the conditions for continuing confidence in Hong Kong and the conditions that will enable Hong Kong to continue as a thriving territory in which people will wish to make their homes.
Hon. Members of all parties have shared their knowledge and insights when discussing the draft Basic Law. We know that people in Hong Kong will follow today's debate closely. I trust that they will be reassured that the concerns that have emerged in the public debate there have been clearly reflected in the House today.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) said that this was the last occasion on which the House would have an opportunity to influence the future of Hong Kong. I doubt that, because I am sure that the House will follow events in Hong Kong closely between now and 1997. I dare say that we will have an opportunity to consider this matter at some stage and in an appropriate way when the second draft of the Basic Law is produced.
Before I turn to the points raised in the debate, I should stress again that we are paying close attention to all the views put forward on the Basic Law. I have no doubt that the Chinese authorities are paying equally close attention. We shall ensure that the record of today's debate is formally brought to the attention of the Chinese Government.
Hon. Members have noted that the Legislative Council in Hong Kong has also debated the Basic Law in the past two days. From the reports that I have received, it was a particularly thoughtful and constructive debate. We shall also ensure that the views expressed in that debate, many of which have been echoed here today, are drawn to the attention of the Chinese Government.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and other hon. Members have paid tribute to the openness with which the drafting of the Basic Law has been pursued. That is a general and strongly held view. We are glad that a number of mainland members of the Basic Law drafting committee visited Hong Kong in June to listen to the views of Hong Kong people. While there, they had opportunities, in discussions with the Governor and his officials to learn about the workings of the Hong Kong Government. We are encouraged by their public statements of readiness to reconsider critically those articles in the draft Basic Law that have given rise to concern in Hong Kong. We welcome the plans for a second group of mainland drafters to pay a similar visit to Hong Kong in September. I am sure that that will be appreciated generally.
I like to cover many of the specific points raised by hon. Members as quickly as I can. If I cannot cover any, I undertake to write to hon. Members in due course. Several hon. Members referred to the Vietnamese refugees. The House is considerably concerned about these people. I am sure that the people of Hong Kong will have been delighted by the support that has been given by this House to the Hong Kong Government in providing assistance and help to the refugees. The people of Hong Kong will also have noted that there has been acceptance by this House of the new proposals that have been introduced in Hong Kong in the past few weeks.
The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley asked several specific questions. Those who are screened out as non-refugees will be detained as illegal immigrants, pending their return to Vietnam when arrangements for their return under suitable safeguards—I stress those words—have been agreed with the Vietnamese authorities. Until that time they will be accompanied in closed centres, run on similar lines to the existing closed centres.
We have always made it clear that the boat people would be returned to Vietnam only if there were guarantees that they would be treated humanely. We envisage that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will play a valuable part in monitoring their conditions on return. Discussions with Vietnam will take place in the fairly near future.
The conditions in the new closed centres will be as similar as possible to those in the previous ones and will be as humane as possible. The correctional services department will run workshops and provide facilities for training and recreation. I can assure the House that families will not be split up and that children will have access to recreational facilities.
We remain conscious of the plight of refugees in Hong Kong who are awaiting resettlement. We are actively considering all aspects of that problem. We are in touch with other Governments about it. In the meantime, our existing resettlement programme is continuing. I can assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) that we shall take the 468 refugees under our existing commitments. That commitment is in numbers, not names.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) raised a number of questions about endangered species in Hong Kong. There are laws controlling the import and export of the products of endangered species. They are rigorously enforced and a review is under way that will lead to further legislation in the next LegCo Session to tighten up present provisions. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be delighted to hear that there will be a ban on the internal sale of rhino horn, to take effect from 1 August this year. I shall write to him about the other points that he mentioned.
Several hon. Members discussed the rate of emigration from Hong Kong. Some called it a brain drain. We must squarely face that problem. The Government do not intend to minimise it. That is why we have welcomed the establishment by the Hong Kong Government of a special task force to study the extent of the problem. At the same time, it is only right to point out that a considerable proportion of emigrants return to Hong Kong when they have established citizenship elsewhere. There was, for instance, an impressive response to recent advertisements for people for specific jobs in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is also rapidly replenishing its numbers of fully qualified people. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of people graduating from Hong Kong universities, and from overseas universities and then returning to Hong Kong. The number of qualified people is increasing, not decreasing, despite the current level of emigration.
Several hon. Members mentioned the concern felt in Hong Kong about immigration procedures here and the difficulties that some Hong Kong people have encountered when seeking entry into the United Kingdom. My right hon. and learned Friend has already said that he is having discussions with our right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about this, but it is important to put it into perspective. Last year, 61,000 Hong Kong British passport holders travelled to Britain, of whom only 310 were denied entry because immigration officials were not satisfied that the purpose of their visit or proposed length of stay had been genuinely explained. All countries and territories, including Hong Kong, operate rules controlling the level of immigration, but we are examining this concern as a matter of priority.
The major preoccupation of this debate has understandably been a discussion of the Basic Law. Hon. Members on both sides raised the question of its consistency with the joint declaration. Much of the draft reproduces provisions of the joint declaration, often word for word, but some parts of the joint declaration are couched in very general terms. It would be possible to give effect to the declaration in more than one way, so consistency is much more complicated than any single assessment would make it out to be. We do not want to come to premature conclusions. We will listen carefully to all the views that are expressed in the House about Hong Kong and so, I am sure, will the Chinese authorities.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to concern about the judicial system. We welcome the provisions in the draft Basic Law for the continuation of Hong Kong's common law system—article 8—and for an independent judiciary in articles 18 and 84. We note that there is provision for final judgment to be vested in Hong Kong.
We are well aware of concerns in Hong Kong that the provisions in the present draft on the relationship between central and local authorities on judicial and legislative matters are not yet quite right. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary referred to those provisions, as did many hon. Members on both sides of the House. These are articles 16, 17, 18, 169, 170 and 172. These are especially complex issues and I do not have time to comment on the detailed proposals that have been made. However, we shall consider the proposals carefully and draw them to the attention of the Chinese authorities. We welcome the statement by Chinese officials who have visited Hong Kong that they have taken careful note of the comments that have been made on these articles. I understand that a considerable revision of article 18 has been mooted.
We have taken careful note of the concern that has been expressed about the phrase in article 17—this is in addition to other laws—that gives expression to national unity and territorial integrity. We recognise the need for certain so-called nationwide statutes to apply to Hong Kong. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South suggested that all relevant laws should be listed in an annexe to the Basic Law, and we consider that to be an avenue that will bear further consideration.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek), among others, commented on whether the Executive is properly accountable to the legislature. It is not apropriate, lock, stock and barrel, to import into Hong Kong a system that is practised elsewhere outside Hong Kong. We know that Hong Kong has a different political tradition from other countries. We believe that future arrangements in the SAR should involve the present system, which has worked well and is suited to Hong Kong's unique circumstances.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed some concerns about the provisions on the economy—for example, a balanced budget and a low-tax policy. It has been suggested that the provisions should be drafted as guidelines rather than as legally binding stipulations. That may be something that should be pursued.
Concern has been expressed about the human rights provisions and their inclusion in the Basic Law. It is not clear at this stage whether concern about possible conflicts between international conventions and articles 38 and 39 is a matter of substance or more a matter of drafting. Chinese officials have indicated that there is no intention to impose greater restrictions on human rights than those that now exist. We think that it should be possible to devise drafting improvements that will resolve the issue.
A number of hon. Members mentioned the need for an authentic English text of the Basic Law. There is considerable force in the argument for such a text, and a recent statement by Chinese officials suggests that they are now fully seized of the importance of having one available.
A major theme of the debate has been the need for confidence. Several hon. Members referred to the important task of sustaining confidence in Hong Kong and we are firmly committed to that. I assure the House that we shall uphold our responsibilities to Hong Kong and its people until the last day of British sovereignty over the territory. We have no intention of washing our hands of Hong Kong. We shall not walk away from the problems of transition. On the contrary, we shall stay to tackle them in co-operation with the Hong Kong Government. An equal responsibility lies with the Chinese Government, and I have no doubt that they acknowledge and respect that fact.
In our many contacts with the Chinese authorities, a central theme has been the need to monitor and sustain confidence among the people of Hong Kong. We have emphasised to the Chinese that it is crucial to get the Basic Law right and to respond fully to the anxieties that have been expressed in Hong Kong and voiced today in the House. We have stressed that the first draft of the Basic Law must be amended to take account of genuine anxieties.
For their part, the Hong Kong Government continue to lay a firm foundation for Hong Kong's future prosperity. There are massive investment and development plans afoot to improve the quality of life and to underpin the territory's booming economic growth. For all that to work the people of Hong Kong must have confidence in themselves. Of course, they have their doubts about the future, and we understand those doubts. The future is mapped out——