With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about constitutional development in Hong Kong.
When I came back from Hong Kong on 17 January, I told the House that I hoped to be able to announce a decision on the introduction of direct elections to the Hong Kong legislature in 1991 in a matter of weeks. In view of intense press speculation in the past few days, I have decided to make the announcement now.
At the time of the signing of the joint declaration in 1984, there was no elected element of any kind in the legislature. In February 1988, the Hong Kong Government announced that 10 directly elected seats would be introduced in 1991. It has been clear for some time that the people of Hong Kong want to see a more rapid rate of progress. The question we have had to decide is what new starting point would be right.
We wish to establish in Hong Kong, before 1997, a system of government which includes from the outset a substantial element of democracy, and which can endure and further develop after 1997. That is what Hong Kong wants, and that would be the best outcome for the territory.
If the outcome is to be achieved, the start which we make in 1991 must be carried through in the arrangements set out in the Basic Law. With this objective in mind, we have entered into discussions with the Chinese Government about the provisions relating to the political structure after 1997 to be included in the Basic Law for the future Hong Kong special administrative region.
In those discussions, we have pressed the case for a faster process of democratisation in Hong Kong than that set out in the second draft of the Basic Law. We have also made it clear that the new proposals which emerged from the meetings of the Basic Law drafting committee, which took place in Canton in December and January, would not command general support in Hong Kong. We have stressed the importance not only of achieving a steady progression in the number of directly elected seats, but of arrangements for the political system as a whole which Hong Kong people will find acceptable.
The final plenary meeting of the Basic Law drafting committee has been taking place in Peking this week. The meeting has not yet finished, and the outcome is not yet certain. We shall want to study carefully the draft which emerges from that meeting. There are, however, indications that the draft will provide for 20 directly elected seats in 1997 and for further increases to 24 seats in 1999 and 30 seats in 2003. The rate of progress would not be as rapid as many people in Hong Kong, or we ourselves, would have liked to see, but it would be a considerable improvement on the position reached in December. It would reflect a willingness by the Basic Law drafters to respond to the representations which we and others in Hong Kong have been making.
We are following closely the recommendations which are emerging from the plenary meeting on other issues of importance to Hong Kong. The key issues are voting procedures; the composition and constitution of the grand electoral college which is to return a proportion of the members of the legislature; and restrictions on the nationality of members of the post-1997 legislature.
If, as I hope, the plenary meeting resolves these matters in a satisfactory way, and if the figures for directly elected seats which I have mentioned are confirmed, we would regard that outcome as one which, although not ideal, I could reasonably commend to the House, and to the people of Hong Kong, as a basis for the future.
On that basis, and in the interests of the continuity which we believe is what most Hong Kong people want, the Hong Kong Government will make arrangements to introduce 18 directly elected seats in 1991. There would thus be a continuous upward slope of development from 1991 to 2003, with the possibility that full direct elections could be introduced in 2007.
As for 1995, when the last elections under British Administration are due to take place, we plan to increase the number of directly elected seats to at least 20. If we then decide to introduce the electoral arrangements envisaged in the Basic Law, it will be possible for members elected in 1995 to carry on over the 1997 barrier to 1999.
Those who suggest that whatever we do now China would be obliged to accept in 1997 are out of touch with reality. The measures which we are introducing will preserve the concept of one country, two systems, which is the basis of Hong Kong's future success. We shall continue to press the case for a faster pace of democratisation. Opinion in Hong Kong and policy in China on this matter have both moved a long way since 1984. There will be further evolution between now and 1997.
This will be a substantially greater first step towards democracy in Hong Kong than was planned two years ago. That is the first important requirement. This arrangement offers the prospect of further such steps to be enshrined in the Basic Law, both in 1997 and thereafter. That is the second important requirement. I believe that, taken together, the arrangements make good sense for Hong Kong.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary's statement will be greeted with dismay in Hong Kong. In December, the right hon. Gentleman stated in the House that he was anxious that
the last main chapter in the story of this country's empire … should not end in a shabby way."—[Official Report, 20 December 1989; Vol. 164, c. 368.]
What he has said today, if he keeps to it, ensures that the chapter will end in a shabby way, for he has caved in completely to China.
Although the right hon. Gentleman told the people of Hong Kong last month that Britain alone was responsible for governing Hong Kong until July 1997, his surrender to China on elections to the Legislative Council has given China a decisive voice in what happens in Hong Kong not in seven years time but now. He has allowed the Chinese completely to dictate the pace of progress such as it is next year, right up to the end of British rule.
Only last week, the Foreign Secretary told me in the House, referring to the consensus of Office of the Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils:
We must take that seriously".—[Official Report, 7 February 1990, Vol. 166, c. 877.]
He said that we must take seriously the OMELCO consensus, yet he knows well that it calls for 20 elected members next year and 30 in 1995. He has rejected the OMELCO consensus for 1991 and for 1995.
The right hon. Gentleman has gone back on what he said to the House only nine days ago, and he has certainly
gone back on what his predecessor, the present Leader of the House, who is sitting next to him, told the House last July in the most specific terms. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said:
the pace of development should reflect the wishes of the whole community. The unanimous view expressed by OMELCO on 24 May was a significant step towards the establishment of a consensus in Hong Kong."—[Official Report, 13 July 1989; Vol. 156 c. 1170.]
The OMELCO consensus calls for 20 elected members next year, not 18, 30 in 1995, not 20, and a fully elected Chamber by 2003. By 2003 all that the right hon. Gentleman hopes for is a 50 per cent. elected Chamber—the limit laid down by China. Although he talks about the possibility of a fully elected Chamber by 2007, I should be grateful if he would provide the evidence for that hope. If the right hon. Gentleman fears that accepting the OMELCO consensus would offend China, he must be well aware, for Dame Lydia Dunn and Allan Lee of OMELCO must have told him as they told me only a few days ago, that the people of Hong Kong are ready to take that risk. If they are ready to take that risk, why has the right hon. Gentleman caved in to China?
Moreover, he must explain to the House what has happned to the Bill of Rights. His predecessor announced its introduction with a great fanfare in the House on 5 July, but there has not been a word about it today. What has happened to it? Has it been dropped? Is this yet another cave-in to the Chinese?
The Government's policy on Hong Kong is in complete disarray. Their half-baked plan to provide British passports to 50,000 Hong Kong heads of household has provided no confidence. An opinion poll in Hong Kong last week showed that 90 per cent. of executives, professionals and entrepreneurs—the people whom the passport scheme is designed to impress—doubted whether the package will achieve its objective, and 86 per cent. of younger Hong Kong residents regard the passport plan as irrelevant.
It is still not too late for the Secretary of State to change his mind and to implement the OMELCO consensus. I urge him to do so and, even now, not to betray the people of Hong Kong.
The right hon. Gentleman, not for the first time, is way out of touch with reality. He reflects some of the headlines in the London press today, but no doubt a little later he will be able to obtain translations of the Chinese language press in Hong Kong.
If the British Government had done what the right hon. Gentleman says—if we had simply caved in and surrendered to whatever the Chinese wanted—we would have accepted what the Chinese wanted, which is what we proposed in the different circumstances of February 1988—to start with 10 directly elected seats. That has been the Chinese preference.
We take seriously the OMELCO consensus, which was to start with 20 directly elected seats. We are starting with 18—two fewer than the OMELCO consensus, but eight more than the Chinese preference. That puts the position in perspective.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to Dame Lydia Dunn, who lives in Hong Kong and feels some responsibility for the territory's future. A few hours ago, she said that, although the result that I have announced had fallen short of the OMELCO consensus,
major uncertainties for the territory's future had been removed.
She further said:
What we must do now is put our efforts into making the 1991 elections a success.
That is entirely different, and much more constructive, from the vapourings of the right hon. Gentleman.
I pay tribute to Dame Lydia Dunn, to the people who would have liked us to go further and to the people who worked out the OMELCO consensus. Hong Kong is much in their debt. They will accept this outcome with a mixture of disappointment and relief. That is the tone of Dame Lydia Dunn's statement, which I commend to the right hon. Gentleman and to the House.
The Bill of Rights, which the right hon. Gentleman legitimately asked about, is alive and well and proceeding through the Hong Kong procedures. It is being examined by the Executive Council. When it is finished, it will be published as a consultation document and anyone will be free to give views on it. The Hong Kong Government hope to carry through the Hong Kong procedures during the rest of the year.
That concept was announced last summer by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House. It is a Hong Kong document, and it is proceeding through Hong Kong's procedures. The relevant United Nations convention is already embodied in the draft of the Basic Law for after 1997.
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has measured the difficulty of the situation or appreciates the tightrope that we have had to walk. We have tried to find an answer to respond to the two feelings that were expressed to me so often when I was in Hong Kong not long ago. The first is a feeling among a growing number of politically conscious people, who want a faster pace of democracy. The second stresses the damage done by constant collisions with the Chinese Government during the interim period. It has not been easy, and it will not be easy, to reconcile those two messages that are coming from Hong Kong all the time. I hope that the arrangements that I have announced are a reasonable effort to do so.
With his usual skill, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is trying to handle an agonising dilemma—maintaining confidence in Hong Kong and maintaining a relationship with a sullen and difficult China. He deserves the understanding of the House, which I hope he will get—he does not seem to be getting much from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman).
Will my right hon. Friend concede that the Basic Law is China's decision on how Hong Kong should be governed after 1997? We have advised the Chinese on it, but we are not bound by every detail. One understands the need to proceed in the careful way that my right hon. Friend wants, but what is the latest date by which the regulations must be laid that finally cast in concrete the number of 18 for the 1991 election, on which my right hon. Friend says the Hong Kong Government have now decided? Will he give an assurance that the numbers for 1995 will at least be kept open for further review and discussion, bearing in mind that we, not the Chinese, govern Hong Kong until 1997?
The electoral regulations for 1991 need to be produced and carried through in Hong Kong during the summer and autumn. The time has come to announce a decision for 1990–91, which I have done, subject, as I carefully set out in my statement, to the outcome of the present discussions in Peking being indicated to me. The figure for 1991 is two fewer than the OMELCO consensus, but eight more than the Chinese would have preferred.
My right hon. Friend will have noticed that I deliberately have not fixed a figure for 1995; I have simply said that it will not be below 20. I hope that it will be more, and that opinion and policy in China will continue to evolve in that direction. I am keen—anyone who thinks seriously about the democratic process in Hong Kong would be keen—that those who are standing for election in 1995 should be able to see Hong Kong through the transition in 1997 and retain their seats until 1999.
On reflection, surely the Secretary of State must agree that the sentence in his statement that opinion in Hong Kong has
moved a long way since 1984
must rank among one of the greatest understatements of the year.
The international community does not understand why the Government have adopted such a craven posture before the Chinese Government. What should have been said bluntly to them was that the demand for greater democracy and greater assurances on nationality in Hong Kong are entirely the responsibility of the Chinese Government because of their actions in Tiananmen square. If we had made that clear and adopted that posture, international opinion would be wholly behind us. The statement falls far short of the requests of OMELCO and of the Select Committee for 50 per cent. elected membership by 1995.
We have had a very blunt discussion with the Chinese Government, not just on numbers but on other aspects of the draft Basic Law, about which we have made representations to them. That is one reason why the discussions have taken so long.
If the right hon. Gentleman were aware of the nature of the discussions, he would agree that we have bluntly put the reasons why, in our view, opinion in Hong Kong has shifted since 1984. That is why the position of the British Government has shifted. Our main interest is the interests of Hong Kong; we have no other major interest in the matter. Our opinion has shifted, as the numbers reflect, with opinion in Hong Kong.
Opinion in, and the policy of, China has also shifted. It has not done so as far as we should have liked, but we shall continue the task of persuasion. In my view, it has shifted far enough, as the contrast with the figures for last December show. Last December, the Chinese were talking about starting with 18, with no changes for 10 years thereafter. There has been a considerable shift—I would not put it higher than that—and we hope that that evolution will continue.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that those who have taken the trouble to understand Hong Kong better than the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) will know the impossibility of satisfying all the main strands of opinion in Hong Kong in this sensitive matter and that there are powerful arguments in favour of the prudent decision that my right hon. Friend has taken? Is not the basic problem the change in the line taken by China since the events of June to a much more difficult stance? Does my right hon. Friend see any prospect of China returning to the more flexible line that it adopted before June? Is he satisfied that people in Hong Kong recognise the importance of making it clear to Peking that Hong Kong is not, as Peking appears to suspect, becoming a hotbed for subversion of China?
I think that my right hon. Friend is right. The events of last June have both increased the appetite and feeling in Hong Kong in favour of democracy and made the Chinese Government defensive, and, to use my right hon. Friend's word, "difficult". Our job is to continue to try to persuade the Chinese Government that Hong Kong's future in China—two systems, one country—depends, if it is to be successful, on keeping alive the spirit of enterprise and freedom in the territory. This measure is part of that. It is a start to democracy, not, as some headlines in today's press suggest, an end to it. It is a more substantial start than was envisaged previously.
On my right hon. Friend's specific point, he is perfectly right to say that the matter is one of the Chinese preoccupations. We must explain to the Chinese Government that the Hong Kong Government and this Government have no intention of using Hong Kong as a springboard for changing the system under which China is governed. We must also explain that, equally, people in Hong Kong have rights of free expression and free demonstration. That is part of the Hong Kong system and not something that we, or the Hong Kong Government, can snuff out.
Is the Foreign Secretary aware that he is all too painfully in touch with reality, under the heel of Peking? The humiliation of the Westminster Government may not matter to him, but humiliating the Hong Kong Government matters very much. This issue will vitally affect the interests of the people of Hong Kong, not only before 1997 but afterwards.
The calculation is not just what will happen after 1997, but what the effect will be up to 1997—a period for which the Government are responsible. It is not only a question of the proportion of directly elected seats in the Leglco, but the relations between the Executive and the legislature, which are potentially much more important both up to and after 1997. Considerable benefit can be gained from more effective arrangements.
Has the right hon. Gentleman sought any support from the United States, which is in a stronger bargaining position because of China's concern about sanctions, for a stronger line in establishing a strong democracy in Hong Kong? Is he aware that the action that he has announced today will have consequences for the progress of the immigration legislation that he will shortly bring before the House?
Yes, I think that it will be beneficial. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's main point. We would have achieved a better reception from the Opposition and the London press if we had planned for a break, a dead end, for Hong Kong in 1997. We would have got more immediate applause but I am sure that in Hong Kong it would have died away quickly.
People in Hong Kong simply do not want a series of collisions and controversies if they can be provided. They are anxious to make a start to democracy and we are providing for that. They are anxious to keep their freedom of expression and we are defending that. They do not want to proceed on the basis of constant collisions, which will not be good for confidence in Hong Kong or the future prosperity of the territory.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that neither this Government or this country nor world opinion have any way of imposing their will on China, except through patient and constructive argument and negotiation of the kind in which he has been engaged? Would it not be a folly and a cruel deception on the people of Hong Kong to give them a system, before 1997, that was unacceptable to the Chinese Government on takeover? Has my right hon. Friend received any assurance from the Chinese Government that Hong Kong citizens holding British passports, with the right of abode in Britain, will be qualified to stand for elections and vote in them?
On the last point, the Basic Law drafting committee has, as I understand it—this is one of the points of whose outcome we are not yet certain—increased from 15 to 20 per cent. the proportion of people holding foreign passports who will be able to sit in the Legislative Council. That is an important point and there has been some improvement.
I agree with my right hon. Friend's first points. It is important to proceed as far as possible after, to use his words, patient and constructive discussion, with the Government in Peking. We have our responsibilities, and they know that. That is why we have moved to the figure of 18. It does not make sense to proceed on the basis of a breakdown, a dead end, in 1997.
After the horrendous massacre in Tiananmen square, it was inevitable that the Chinese and British Governments would not agree on the pace of democratisation. Surely, the question for the House and the Foreign Secretary to determine was whether to go on patiently negotiating or have a confrontation and a battle of face that could have led to a calamitous fall in confidence in Hong Kong. Is the Foreign Secretary aware that he has taken a realpolitik decision of some courage and should not be too concerned about the talk of cringeing and cravenness from people who are not facing the realities?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are two categories of critics of the Government's stand on democracy in Hong Kong? The first category consists of well-meaning people who, in their natural anxiety to expedite democracy in Hong Kong, overlook the difficulties of dealing with a country of 1 billion people which is not in a noticeably co-operative mood. The second category consists of people, exemplified by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who cynically use the issue of democracy as a pious smokescreen to cover their own unwillingness and inability to reassure the people of Hong Kong over passports.
Did my right hon. Friend note in the question of the right hon. Member for Gorton his statement that the Government should be prepared to "take the risk"—he used the word "risk"—of a conflict with China? He thereby implied that the Opposition were prepared to risk the future of 4 million people in Hong Kong for their own political purposes.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Oppositions can, for some time, live in an unreal world. The right hon. Member for Gorton has put himself in a completely unreal world, in which the constitutional development of Hong Kong can be divorced from 1997 and considered in isolation from it, and no thought is given to the people who will be encouraged to come forward to stand in 1991 and 1995. An Opposition can dwell in unreality for quite a long time, as long as they do not pretend or claim that they are fit to govern.
I have seen the realities of Hong Kong recently and am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the vast majority of Hong Kong citizens will regard his latest plans as a slow boat to China. Is this not part of an overall sell-out, evidenced by a document sent by him to all hon. Members, stating that the people who are to be allowed here under his other plans are almost all ethnic Chinese? Are there still no arrangements to be made for others—for example, the 10,000 Indians—who live there? Surely the right hon. Gentleman, who usually tries to be so fair, must realise that the Hong Kong people, in their context, will see him as selling them up the Yangtse Kiang river?
The hon. and learned Gentleman, while searching for old-fashioned phrases, has missed the point entirely. He is on a different point about the non-Chinese in Hong Kong. As I explained when I made my statement before Christmas, non-Chinese will be covered by the nationality proposals, but there will not be separate and special provision for them. On the hon. and learned Gentleman's specific point, I repeat that the Opposition can toss these phrases about and get some immediate applause for them. As the hon. and learned Gentleman watches the response in Hong Kong, reads what is written in the newspapers that the overwhelming majority of Hong Kong people read, considers what is happening to the index there and the reactions, I think and hope that he will find that what I said earlier is true. The reaction will certainly be one of disappointment against politically conscious people, but also one of relief.
Does my right hon. Friend accept the overwhelming reality that, however much we may want democracy in Hong Kong, there is no point on earth in going ahead in a state of confrontation with China? Will my right hon. Friend utterly reject the remarks of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) about a craven posture and the rest of it? If Labour Members have some secret ingredient to solve a difficult and delicate situation, will my right hon. Friend ask them to put it before the House? Finally, does my right hon. Friend agree that, under one country, two systems, the best way for Hong Kong to proceed is to make its system work and perhaps concentrate less on the other system in mainland China?
Whatever the difficulties, in the end is not democracy indivisible? Therefore, does not the Secretary of State's statement about a substantial element of democracy mean a substantial element of autocracy? If we are in favour of democracy in eastern Europe and crave it for South Africa, why is it not also appropriate for Hong Kong?
Everybody who has studied or worked on the problem of the future of Hong Kong knows that the problem is unique and the solution has been unique. It is not easy to operate. The Government, the House and the people in Britain who are responsible for Hong Kong will be walking a tightrope for some years yet. I am not pretending that the solution will be easy. Equally, no purpose is served by letting others forget the unique nature of the problem. That is understood in Hong Kong and the OMELCO consensus. The discussion has been where to start on a steady progression.
Faced with the unreal expectations in Hong Kong, which have been reflected today in the Chamber, and the intransigent mood in Peking, should not the Government be congratulated on reaching a reasonable settlement in all the circumstances? Is it not highly likely that, following events in eastern Europe and bearing in mind the age of the curent leadership in Peking, a far more flexible mood will develop there long before 1997? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Hong Kong stock exchange has risen 70 points in anticipation of his statement this morning?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that last point. That is one measure in the territory, where the confidence of people who do business is extremely important for general confidence. His point is entirely valid, and I am grateful to him for it.
Is not the truth of the matter that these negotiations between Britain and China on Hong Kong have been a charade from beginning to end? The Government talk about democracy and propose a mini-House of Lords arrangement for Hong Kong in the hope that, by the year 2009, the Chinese will import some more? Why do the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister go rabbiting on about one person, one vote in eastern Europe, yet cannot put those arrangements forward where they have at least limited power? What will de Klerk say in South Africa when he hears this message and their talk about one person, one vote in South Africa? He will say, "I think I'll take my line from those people in Britain who don't have the guts to get one person, one vote for the people of Hong Kong."
Does the Foreign Secretary not realise that something happened in Tiananman square? Why did he not go to the Chinese and say, "All bets are off. We'll start again"?
The hon. Gentleman was so busy polishing up his question that he failed to notice that his hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) had just asked exactly the same question in rather better language. I have answered it as best I can. I am rather glad that I did not choose the hon. Gentleman as one of our emissaries to Peking.
Is it not clear that the best service that this House can provide to Hong Kong is to behave with bipartisan prudence and the worst to excite expectations that we have no chance whatever of fulfilling? Should we not remember that no one is immortal?
That is rather cryptic. None of us is immortal, as my hon. Friend says. I am grateful for his observation. I hope that opinion and policy in China will continue to evolve, as I hope confidence in Hong Kong will develop. The Chinese will increasingly understand that the huge prize of which Hong Kong consists, with its plans for the future which will make it even more prosperous and more important for the economy of south China, depends on their understanding the importance in Hong Kong of free institutions and progress towards democracy, of which this arrangement is the start.
The questioning of my right hon. Friend so far reflects the limited recognition that the House has given to the fact that the stamp of our political idealism and institutions has a far greater influence than that of our national power. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that, for a substantial development towards democracy, we must, to use his phrase, be patient and look to a perspective of the year 2007. If by then the democratic conditions that we have asked for from the Chinese Government and the people of Hong Kong have not been fulfilled, would he consider it appropriate that the sanctions that are now being placed on South Africa to achieve those conditions virtually immediately, should be placed on Hong Kong or China? If not—I am sure that he will say not—is that in itself not an adequate and wholly convincing argument why that dangerous precedent should be stopped straight away?
My hon. Friend is ingeniously leading back to a matter which the House debated two days ago. It is better to accept that the problems of, and, therefore, the solutions to, Hong Kong are unique and not easily comparable with those in other parts of the world.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm a report in today's Financial Times that the Chinese propose a change in the Basic Law to prevent persons who have a right of entry into any other country from holding any of a series of top legislative and executive posts? If that is true, does it not mean that, even by his test of preserving the future prosperity of Hong Kong, his proposal possibly to allow 50,000 Hong Kong Chinese into this country is a failure even at this stage?
My hon. Friend is mistaken. There has always been a number of senior posts—a few dozen at the most—which, under the arrangements with China, it is agreed will be held by Chinese citizens. That in no way negates or defeats the purpose of the wider scheme affecting many more people, which I proposed to the House before Christmas.
My right hon. Friend will acknowledge the almost inevitable feeling of disappointment that has come as a result of this statement. On the other hand, he will have been sustained by the congratulations that he has rightly received on what has been achieved. Does he agree that it is of immense importance that the rather unattractive sucking up to the red Chinese for major contracts in Hong Kong is not allowed to continue and that British interests and British corporations are firmly and wholly entrenched in the colony ahead of 1997?
It is important that British companies should ensure that that is so. They, like their competitors, should realise that the opportunities in Hong Kong are not decreasing, but increasing sharply. The first responsibility rests with British firms themselves. It is also the British Government's job to ensure that British interests in the territory are fully represented and protected. That is why we build up the scope and seniority of the trade representative. The Government of Hong Kong must ensure that there is a level playing field, and that British firms which submit proposals of the right quality and price have as good a chance as anybody else.