Orders of the Day — British Nationality (Hong Kong) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:09 pm on 19th April 1990.

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Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs) 9:09 pm, 19th April 1990

This is a constitutional Bill dealing with nationality, and I should have thought that the Government would volunteer to have it dealt with by a Committee of the whole House. The Government not having done that, I am surprised that the Liberal Democrats—the Liberal party was once a great constitutional party—should be voting with them to smother debate on the Bill.

There are some Conservative Members who seek to use the possible arrival in Britain of those holding passports under the Bill to provoke a racist scare. Any debate on Tory manifesto pledges on immigration must be a matter for disputation on the Conservative Benches; it is no concern of ours. The Opposition are concerned about the serious and unfair distortion of immigration policy that the Bill will bring about.

It is no good saying that the Bill does not have an immigration policy aspect. Let me tell the House about my constituent, Koon Tai Chan, a Hong Kong Chinese about whom I have received a letter from the Manchester law centre only this week. He is the brother of a British citizen, the husband of a British citizen and the father of a baby born here. He is at present subject to a deportation order. Unless the Home Secretary relents, which so far he shows no sign of doing, Koon Tai Chan will soon be permanently separated from his wife and child and sent back to Hong Kong. The only way in which his British family can stay united with their husband and father is to accompany him to Hong Kong—a place whose future the Government regard as so precarious that they propose to provide a lifebelt under the Bill for 225,000 of the colony's most influential and affluent citizens.

Koon Tai Chan is not essential to Hong Kong's business life or administration; he is simply a cook. The Home Secretary would no doubt add that, as an overstayer under the terms of the Immigration Act, he is what the Home Office calls a "bad case". To me, Koon Tai Chan, with a British wife and a child in my constituency, is a better "case" than all those who will receive passports under the Bill, and there is no way that I propose to agree to the passage of a statute that will perpetuate—indeed, make far worse—the heartless injustices of the Government's immigration policies.

Such injustices apply to citizens and residents of this country originating not only from Hong Kong, but from the Indian sub-continent and from other areas as well. Those who will get passports under the Bill will not have to submit to DNA testing, to humiliating medical examinations or to the primary purpose rule. They will not be subjected to offensive questioning of the kind that I heard in the immigration department of the British high commission in New Delhi last week. A man who wanted to come here for a short visit to attend a wedding was subjected to a catechism that included inquiries about how many acres of land he rented and what the annual return was on that land.

The people who receive passports under this Bill will not have to wait hours in a hut for an interview, as did an Indian university professor last week at the New Delhi high commission. Under this Bill, if he was a Hong Kong Chinese, he would probably get enough points to qualify for a British passport. However, as an Indian, he had to wait for hours simply to plead for a tourist visa.

In any case, the Bill is not even increasing confidence among its prospective beneficiaries. While awaiting publication of the Bill, Dame Lydia Dunn of OMELCO stated on 4 July last year that the creation of categories would be divisive and difficult to defend. She said that the creation of such categories would make it more difficult to govern Hong Kong. I am baffled as to why she has gone back on a series of such statements.

Many of her fellow residents of Hong Kong continue to be uninspired by the Bill. A trade union leader, Lee Chuk-Yan, said: It gives one more choice to people who already have lots of choices. It gives nothing to those who have no choice. An opinion poll in Hong Kong a few weeks ago showed that 90 per cent. of executives, professionals and entrepreneurs—the people whom this scheme is designed to impress—doubt whether the package will achieve its objective, while 86 per cent. of younger Hong Kong residents regard the passport plan as irrelevant.

Rev. Lo Long-Kwong who leads a group called "Hong Kong People Saving Hong Kong" said of the Bill: It is unbalanced and people who do not fall within these categories will feel deserted and unimportant. This does not help the whole society to face the confidence crisis. A scheme that divides employees in both the private and public sectors into selected and rejected will make the colony harder, not easier, to run.

I cannot understand the Home Secretary's argument that the 96 per cent. of the Hong Kong population who will not qualify will somehow gain confidence from the knowledge that 4 per cent. of their wealthier and more influential compatriots are to be passengers on Waddington's ark.

No doubt it is that adverse reaction among alleged beneficiaries that led the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonealth Office, the hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. Maude), to indulge in Hong Kong last week in his comedy performance, when he went around blithely promising Hong Kong residents passports from West Germany, Belgium, Canada, Australia, France, Luxembourg and numerous other countries, amounting to 50,000 passports in all. All the countries concerned instantly repudiated what the Minister of State had said. For example, the West German Government stated with some perplexity that the Minister of State's statement was "a strange thing". More curtly they describe it as nonsense. No wonder the Minister of State gave journalists a telling off for what he called interpreting the syntax in an excessively fastidious way.

It seems that the Minister of State picked up his strange ideas from reading newspapers—a method of acquiring information that the Prime Minister would certainly not recommend. We are told that the Foreign Secretary will deal with that subject when he replies tonight. I hope that any information that he has for the House is more firmly based. The fact is that the Government's policy has been an inconsistent mess.