Hong Kong

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 15th July 1988.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Bernie Grant Mr Bernie Grant , Tottenham 11:30 am, 15th July 1988

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.