Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 1:43 pm on 12th February 1997.

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Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth 1:43 pm, 12th February 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans has he to make an official visit to China to discuss United Kingdom-Sino relations. [13957]

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

My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has at present no plans to visit China. However, he will meet the Chinese Foreign Minister at the Asia-Europe meeting in Singapore this week and will have a full bilateral meeting with him on Friday.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his advice about the meeting on Friday. Does he agree that one way to improve our already reasonable relationship with China would be to increase the number of Chinese students able to study in the United Kingdom? Will he therefore do his utmost to place on the agenda for Friday's talks an increase in the number of scholarships available to Chinese people? I am certain that that would do a great deal to improve our relations with the Chinese.

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

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. In 1995–96, Her Majesty's Government supported 450 students from China under various scholarship schemes. A new scheme for joint funding with the private sector got under way last year and a further similar scheme is being taken forward. An additional 192 Chinese scholars came to the United Kingdom in 1995–96 under the Overseas Development Administration's technical co-operation training programme. We shall continue to support scholarship and training programmes for Chinese students and to explore possible new initiatives within the limits of our resources.

I am afraid that the agenda on Friday will be very full. Because we already have a reasonably successful programme of students coming to the United Kingdom, I doubt that the issue will be on the agenda.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Does the Minister understand that the Secretary of State will have support from both sides of the House later this week when he seeks to persuade the Chinese Government to respect the democratic reforms introduced by Governor Patten? Does he agree that the maintenance of the reforms should not be just a bilateral matter between the United Kingdom and China? What steps are the Government taking to mobilise the opinion of the international community to persuade the Chinese Government to respect the democratic reforms?

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

The hon. and learned Gentleman is right to say that such important issues as the future of human rights and democracy in Hong Kong should not be matters only of bilateral relations. That is one reason why we were cheered by the international community's response to the decisions on the provisional legislature when my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State summoned the Chinese ambassador on 20 December. When the Chinese decided to water down the Bill of Rights ordnance, the international community, particularly the United States, was very supportive. I know that the whole world is taking a keen interest in the matter.

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

Will the Foreign Secretary be discussing the steps that Britain intends to take after the handover to China to discharge its responsibilities under the 1984 joint agreement, particularly once the joint liaison group has ceased to exist in 2000? Is there not a case for establishing a special parliamentary committee to keep in touch with the high level of autonomy that Hong Kong is promised under the agreement?

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

My right hon. Friend is right that it is important for the House to continue to exercise its scrutiny over the future administration of Hong Kong. He is also right to point out that we have obligations under the joint declaration. The joint liaison group will continue until 1 January 2000. We have an obligation for the next 50 years under the joint declaration to monitor the "one country, two systems" principle. The House will want to monitor the progress of Hong Kong. How it does that is a matter for the House to decide. We had a useful debate recently, and there is no doubt that the mood of hon. Members on both sides was that there should be proper scrutiny by the House. The exact form is yet to be determined.

Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett , Leeds Central

May I associate the Labour party with the words of the right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) and the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell)? We all agree that it is crucial that respect for human rights continues in Hong Kong after 1 July this year. We want to send the message again from the House to the Government of China that respect for human rights has been important in Hong Kong's way of life and economic success.

Will the Minister make it clear that, apart from the points that he has already made about marshalling international opinion, he will ensure that the Government take the toughest possible line against the Chinese proposals to repeal the human rights legislation and go ahead with the provisional legislature? Will he make it clear what action the Government intend to take, and make it abundantly clear that everybody here expects China to honour its agreement after 1 July, and that there will be continuing respect for human rights in Hong Kong?

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

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's co-operation in these matters and for the dialogue that we have established, which goes too for his right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), the shadow Foreign Secretary, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary himself.

It is important that the House has basic agreements on matters of such importance as, for instance, the establishment of the provisional legislature and the Bill of Rights ordinance. My right hon. and learned Friend set out the Government's considered view on the provisional legislature on 20 December. There is no basis for China's plans in the joint declaration or the Basic Law.

We are greatly concerned about the proposals of the preparatory committee's legal sub-group for the Bill of Rights ordinance, which has largely been endorsed by the preparatory committee in plenary. That has done great damage to Hong Kong, as I discovered only a week ago, and will have done great damage to confidence in Hong Kong around the world. I made a formal protest to the Chinese ambassador on 22 January. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend is urging Qian Qichen, the Chinese Vice Premier and Foreign Minister, to think again.

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

Further to the questions asked about Hong Kong, does not article 3 of the 1984 joint declaration specifically say that the laws and rights of the people of Hong Kong will continue after the handover? Are not the proposals of the provisional legislature flatly in breach of that treaty? What steps are we going to take when a treaty that we have signed in solemn good faith is so flagrantly breached?

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

My right hon. Friend is right to say that, when such agreements are breached we should query them, and query them with great resolve. The key issues still cause great concern. I believe that we in the House have accepted the principle of the joint declaration of one country two systems, not one country two economic systems. The very stuff of human rights, the recipe that has gone on to make up Hong Kong, which is not purely economic and contains the most remarkable sparks, has created the miracle that needs to be preserved for its continued success. We shall continue to press the Chinese on what we believe are breaches of the joint declaration.