|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but my question and that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, was: why will the Government not give that relatively small group of people British nationality?
Lord Chesham: My Lords, negotiations are going on at the moment. Indeed, I was just about to announce that there have been suggestions, including recently from Chinese officials, that the ethnic minorities in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region might be granted Chinese nationality. We continue to press for early expert talks with the Chinese, during which we hope to obtain clarification on that and other points. While that is going on, there is certainly nothing that this Government should do.
A number of noble Lords asked how pressure to leave will be determined. The Prime Minister undertook in Hong Kong to consider whether we should seek to identify specific circumstances that should be met. We are still considering the issue. However, the Prime Minister also made clear his view that setting down in advance a specific set of circumstances would not necessarily give better protection than the broad guarantees already in place and that it would not therefore best serve the interests of the ethnic minorities. In any case, I am sure that the Ministers of the day would not interpret Britain's commitment narrowly. We continue to accept that evidence of discrimination could be a relevant factor.
I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, that the Executive Council discussed on Tuesday the request for co-operation from the Preparatory Committee. We hope to respond soon on that point. On his question about agreement on procedures for the 1997-98 budget, to which other noble Lords also referred, I should say that the optimism may be a little premature. Discussions on arrangements for the 1997-98 budget are still continuing. We remain committed to the closest consultation and co-operation with China in that area without compromising the Hong Kong Government's authority until 1st July 1997.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, among others, asked why there is to be a Private Member's Bill for wives and widows. The Government believe that a Private Member's Bill is the easiest and quickest way of getting the provisions onto the statute book at a time when the legislative programme is full. The effect will be exactly the same.
I turn now to the point about Vietnamese migrants. It remains our firm objective to complete the repatriation of Vietnamese migrants before July 1997. Recent developments have been encouraging after the set-backs last year through factors beyond our control. The international steering committee on this issue met in Geneva in March and underlined the fact that the only viable option for non-refugees was to return to Vietnam. When the Minister of State, Mr. Hanley, visited Vietnam earlier this month, the Vietnamese Government promised their full co-operation in accelerating the return programme. We hope that the brake on voluntary repatriation caused by an initiative in the US Congress has now been lifted and that all migrants will quickly realise that their future lies in Vietnam.
On the release of non-nationals, the Hong Kong Government have released over 250 Vietnamese migrants covered by the terms of the Privy Council judgment on 27th March. That relates to migrants who claim that they are not Vietnamese nationals and who will therefore not be accepted back by Vietnam. We are continuing to discuss the issue with the Vietnamese authorities. The Minister of State, Mr. Hanley, raised it during his visit there earlier this month when the Vietnamese Government undertook to look at the problem again.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, mentioned the legislation being introduced on Vietnamese migrants. The Privy Council judgment exposed loopholes in the law. The judgment could have a disastrous impact on the number of migrants volunteering to return to Vietnam and is likely to encourage many more migrants to fabricate or destroy evidence of their nationality. Any of the 4,600 ethnic Chinese migrants in Hong Kong camps could potentially be released if they were to claim to be non-nationals. Substantial releases would cause an outcry in the community. The legislative amendments put forward by the Hong Kong Government would limit the scope of the Privy Council judgment to those migrants who have been rejected by the Vietnamese Government. The amendments are compatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
I must now move on to my final comments. On 30th June next year Britain's relationship with Hong Kong will change, but it will not end. The Joint Liaison Group will continue its work until the turn of the century. The Joint Declaration will remain in force for 50 years. As the Prime Minister said in Hong Kong, Britain will have continuing responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong, responsibilities we intend to do all in our power to fulfil, responsibilities which include holding China to the promises made in the Joint Declaration.
As the Prime Minister also suggested, our continuing commitment to Hong Kong stems not just from a sense of moral and legal responsibility under the Joint Declaration, essential though both of those are, but from a powerful awareness of our continuing direct stake in Hong Kong
Looking back at Britain's record in Hong Kong over the past 50 years and over the past five years, I believe there is much of which we can be justly proud. Under British sovereignty, Hong Kong and its people have succeeded like few other places on earth. Our efforts to secure the best possible future for the people of Hong Kong have been unremitting. They will continue now, in the next months and years, and well into the new century.
Chris Patten has been a magnificent Governor, the best we could possibly hope for. He has stood up for Hong Kong's interests with skill and courage. He enjoys popularity ratings in Hong Kong that would be the envy of any western politician. He will end our stewardship of Hong Kong on a high and honourable note.
Next summer, Hong Kong will undergo a transition unique in modern history. Sovereignty over 1,000 square kilometres of territory and 6 million people will be transferred from one great power to another. There will be much at stake--for Hong Kong, for China and for Britain. As we enter the final 14 months before that historic handover, the British Government will redouble their efforts to secure the best possible future for Hong Kong, in co-operation with China. We look to China to join us in this great enterprise--
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I wonder whether he can give us an assurance about the Bill on war widows. A number of noble Lords have raised the point. Can we at least have an assurance that the Bill will go through during this Session of Parliament? I think that that is what concerns everybody here. The method that is used is as important as the timing. We are talking about old ladies in Hong Kong. Time is not on their side. The background noises suggest that nothing much is happening. If my noble friend could dispel that, we would all be grateful.
Lord Chesham: My Lords, wheels have been set in motion to ensure that the legislation is enacted as soon as possible. We are very keen that it should happen in this Session. Meanwhile, the wives and widows can come to Britain to settle whenever they wish.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. When I tabled this Motion several noble Lords felt that perhaps it was not the right time for a debate on Hong Kong, for quite understandable reasons. However, having heard the quality of the speeches tonight, I am
The noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, made another outstanding contribution. She embodies the spirit of Hong Kong during the dark days following Tiananmen Square. It is a great honour to hear her speak again tonight. It is also a great honour to have with us two distinguished past Governors of Hong Kong. I thank them for their contributions. My noble friend Lord Skidelsky flew in today from America particularly to take part in the debate. I should like to thank him for his most stimulating speech, with which I agree wholeheartedly.
It falls to me to thank my noble friend the Minister for his courteous answers to all the questions put to him tonight. He has said that if questions have not been answered he will write to noble Lords on the subject. I believe that those who have listened to this debate or read about it in Hong Kong can only be encouraged by the robust assurances that my noble friend gave on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that we will maintain and fulfil our commitment to Hong Kong up to and beyond 1997. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.