Vietnamese Boat People

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:01 pm on 19th December 1989.

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Photo of Mrs Maureen Hicks Mrs Maureen Hicks , Wolverhampton North East 7:01 pm, 19th December 1989

In the past week, Hong Kong has moved centre stage and the eyes of the critical world are focused on the policies to be adopted by the British Government on two major immigration issues: will we repatriate further Vietnamese boat people, and how many insurance policies are we prepared to give to Hong Kong residents in the run-up to 1997 to stem the brain drain?

Given the little time that we have, to deal with the second issue would be wrong. Suffice it to say that major concessions to Hong Kong residents could seriously misfire and it would be the likes of my constituents who would yet again bear the brunt of our well-intentioned decision.

The extent of the humbug and hypocrisy that I have heard in recent weeks has made my blood boil and has prompted me to speak out tonight. It started particularly for me when I watched the events of Camp David, when Mr. Bush lectured my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. That was followed by one international attack after another, culminating in the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury joining in. What they all have in common is that they have no solution, no offer of help, and, like those Opposition Members we have heard tonight, no policy.

I had hoped to hear constructive solutions tonight, but I have heard only a lot of idealistic fantasy. I have heard no way of solving the prolonged crisis that mounts by the day in Hong Kong while Opposition Members procrastinate. There are 56,000 Vietnamese boat people living in artificial homes. Some have been there for years on end, jammed into crowded and often insanitary detention centres. In two months, they face the prospect of being joined by a further 1,000 a week. The problem has grown out of all proportion and has been too long ignored. Hong Kong just cannot cope.

Those of us who have been to Hong Kong will have seen the living conditions there. There are 13,000 people to every square mile. For how long do we let people go on living in misery in the hope of getting out of the camps? For how long do we tempt further Vietnamese to come in search of the brave new western world? Is that what our critics call compassion?

I shall stick my neck out and congratulate the Government on taking control of an intolerable situation. That is a reflection of the strong leadership for which the Government are respected and renowned. The British people will stand behind us. To run away from the mounting crisis, as the Opposition parties would have us do, and be ruled by sentiment and emotions that we have heard tonight, would be irresponsible. Tempting as that might be, our hearts cannot rule our heads.