Hong Kong

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 1:54 pm on 30th October 1996.

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Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick , Bosworth 1:54 pm, 30th October 1996

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last met the Governor of Hong Kong to discuss arrangements for transition; and if he will make a statement. [690]

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and I met the Governor of Hong Kong on 21 October. We noted that there had been useful progress this year in our exchanges with the Chinese on transitional issues.

Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick , Bosworth

Does my right hon. Friend agree that five years ago few would have predicted the phenomenal success of the economy of Hong Kong? Does not that success and the stability that Governor Patten has created mean that we shall be handing over the colony in very good shape next July? Is not one outstanding issue the 4,000 stateless British nationals? Does my right hon. Friend have any plans to review their position, given that some of them have served the British Crown for 30 years or more?

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

I agree entirely with the first part of my hon. Friend's question. Five years ago, when the Hang Seng stood at about 4,000, few would have envisaged that it would now be 300 per cent. higher—in the 12,000s. That is a great sign of confidence among the international business community in Hong Kong—present and future. We should be grateful to the Governor for his work in helping to create the Hong Kong that we wish to continue.

As for ethnic minorities, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced in Hong Kong that we shall guarantee to British nationals admission and settlement in Britain in the unlikely event that they are under pressure to leave Hong Kong after the transfer of sovereignty.

I should make it clear to my hon. Friend that no member of that community will be stateless after the transfer of sovereignty. They can apply for British national overseas passports before 1 July 1997. If they do not, and would otherwise be stateless, they will automatically become British overseas citizens. Moreover, their position in Hong Kong is secure. The Joint Declaration and the Basic Law guarantee them the right of abode in the special administrative region after handover.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

Why have the Government allowed the Governor to wreck the through-train arrangements that had been earlier agreed?

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

The Governor has helped to create modern Hong Kong. His popularity there is quite remarkable. He continues to do an outstanding job and he enjoys enviable support in Hong Kong. His approval rating is now more than two thirds. That is pretty high by any standards in any country in the world. We have made substantial advances with the Chinese over the past two years on a wide range of transitional issues against a background of an improving Sino-British relationship and intensified ministerial contact. Therefore, I do not believe that the effect that the hon. Gentleman gives to the so-called through train is valid.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , South Staffordshire

May I revert to the matter of the 4,000 people to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) referred? Does my right hon. Friend accept that no gesture that the British Government can make between now and 30 June will be more greatly appreciated in Hong Kong? Therefore, will he think again?

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

There is no change in the Government's position. I have mentioned that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister clarified the Government's commitment to the group. I believe that his statement has removed doubts about whether members of the group would be admitted to the United Kingdom in the unlikely event of their coming under pressure to leave Hong Kong. We are not, therefore, planning primary legislation for that purpose.