§ 11 pm
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Harold Walker)
With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 2 and the following amendments:
No. 3, in page 2, line 17, leave out'new form of British nationality'and insert 'status'.
No. 4, in page 2, line 18, at end insert'andNo. 5, in page 2, line 18, at end insert—(c) a British Dependent Territory citizen who has a connection with Hong Kong may have the option of being given a multiple access visa stamp in any existing British Dependent Territory passport'.'(c) persons possessing that status may obtain a travel document.'.
I have the honour to move the amendments also on behalf of right hon. and hon. Members of the official Opposition.
Earlier, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) informed the Committee how closely in Hong Kong the proceedings on this subject in the House are followed. I can verify that from some information which the hon. Gentleman gave me, and which I hope he does not mind me quoting. He told me that when, on examining the Order Paper, my name was seen to be not only there but above the name of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), a frisson of alarm ran through the population of that colony. The hon. Gentleman confirms what I say. Therefore, it is incumbent upon me to do my best to damp down those anxieties by explaining that there is a simple reason for this unusual juxtaposition; I got there first.
As you will realise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the group of amendments that you have so wisely recommended the Committee to take together, two separate matters are raised. One is raised by the amendment that I have just moved, and on which I understand it is in order for the entire debate to take place—that the alterations in our law of citizenship, which are authorised by paragraph 2(2) of the Schedule to be made by Order in Council, should be made by substantive legislation. Only substantive legislation can permit the careful examination, clause by clause and detail by detail, of a change in the law on so important a matter. Apart from alterations from time to time in schedules to British nationality legislation, I believe I am right in saying that at no time has an alteration been made in the law of British nationality than by substantive legislation.
Therefore, I was happy to join the official Opposition in urging upon the Government that, instead of proceeding by Order in Council under this paragraph of the schedule, they should proceed by legislation. If they are anxious about time, in recognition of the importance of the subject, no doubt the House would be willing to facilitate the consideration of a Bill, which would be the only proper way to do it.
1044 Perhaps a bargain has been struck between the Government and the Opposition Front Bench. I do not know. Perhaps the Opposition Front Bench—
The hon. Member for Hamilton says no, and of course I accept that immediately. But suspicions keep recurring in one's mind, especially when one realises how difficult it is for an Opposition, in the circumstances of the present Opposition, to provide themselves with sufficient troops to carry a point to a Division and to make a reasonable showing in the Lobby. I realise that 1 am considering a theoretical possibility, but the Government might make the suggestion that a special procedure might be followed—indeed, this was mentioned in the debate on Second Reading—to facilitate the consideration of the Order in Council which the paragraph envisages. A green-edged, green Green Paper or something of the sort might be considered.
An hon. Member from Northern Ireland is qualified respectfully to advise the Committee on this point of procedure. We have the misfortune, under direct rule, that substantive law is made for the Province under Order in Council. However, the extreme severity of that method is modified by the fact that it is normally, although not invariably, the practice to publish what are called proposals for a draft Order in Council. If the Government were to say that they had something of that kind in mind, it might go some way to assuage the anxieties in the mind of the Opposition, and I would urge caution. The existence of a document that is not itself a draft of an Order in Council makes it possible for that document to be discussed, and for differences to be made in that document and in the eventual draft when it is made, without the Government appearing to lose face as they would do if they had to withdraw a draft and replace it by another.
However, I am afraid that whatever the good will with which this operation is conducted, and however frank and candid the discussions that take place, either in the course of the debate or more informally on such a document as proposals for a draft Order in Council, it is impossible, by the nature of the document, for the House to have the opportunity of considering severally the several aspects of the changes in law that are brought about. Even if the Government, as I hope that they will, go at least as far as to say that they will publish the draft Order in Council in proposal form, and give the House the opportunity to debate those proposals, I would still say, and place on record, that it is an unsatisfactory method of proceeding in legislating for citizenship.
The other topic is the new form of British nationality that is envisaged in paragraph 2 of the schedule, from which amendment 3 results. There is a curious story that lies behind the paradoxical proposal of Her Majesty's Government that, on relinquishing sovereignty over Hong Kong, a new sort of British nationality should be invented to be conferred upon up to 3 million of the present inhabitants of that colony. This is an act so paradoxical and so curious that it naturally provokes a certain conjecture as to how it might have come about. I have done a little careful, microscopic reading of the White Paper, which is one of the few public documents that we have to enable us to reconstruct the processes that may have preceded this extraordinary outcome.
There were such processes, and they were difficult processes. Earlier in these debates, we were told that the 1045 present proposals are the ninth in the series, there having been eight previous proposals that, for one reason or another, failed to stand up to whatever considerations were brought to bear on them. The Committee would do well to look carefully at the references to this proposal in the White Paper.
As you appreciate, Mr. Walker, the arrangements for a change in British nationality are no part of our agreement with the Government of the People's Republic of China. They are merely dealt with in an associated exchange of memoranda, which is the crosshead to paragraphs 62–65, the last paragraphs of the White Paper. The first three of those four paragraphs describe the position of Her Majesty's Government on the subject. Paragraph 65, the last — of Revelations, one might say — describes the Chinese position, and sheds a little more light upon the story that lies behind the curious and paradoxical proposal that we are considering. May I read it to the Committee, with commentary.
The Chinese memorandum states the Chinese Government's position that Hong Kong Chinese are Chinese nationals.Certainly. That is self-evident and follows logically of its own accord. It is in accordance with that thatBritish Dependent Territories citizenship cannot be retained or acquired on or after the relevant date by virtue of a connection with Hong Kong.Since Hong Kong is no longer a dependent territory, no doubt the Chinese pointed out that it would be inappropriate—because they are not entirely insensitive to the nuances even of the English language; they are subtle interpreters of language and its implications—for that status to be retained. Accordingly, and very necessarily and logically, we conceded that point in paragraph 2(1)(a) of the schedule. The White Paper continues:It"—that is the Chinese Government—indicates, however".May I pause there for a moment. Why do the Chinese Government indicate when they have stated their position that Hong Kong Chinese are Chinese nationals? I should be glad to hear whether the Minister and his advisers think that there is any difference of emphasis or nuance between the words "state" and "indicate". At least "indicate" is a much more general and a much more stand-offish expression that a statement on the part of a Government. But what is it that the Chinese Government, we are told, indicate?
It indicates, however, that those Chinese nationals who hold British travel documents may continue to use them after 1 July 1997".That is all that the Chinese said—rather, indicated. I must not get it wrong. The Chinese indicated that their own nationals who happen to have British travel documents may continue to use them after 1997.
§ Mr. Adley
The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) refers quite properly to the difference between "indicate" and "state". He used the words "paradoxical" and "curious". Will the right hon. Gentleman agree with me that the Bill does not seek in any way to confer United Kingdom citizenship upon 3 million people but that it is trying to supply the citizens of Hong Kong with some form of legitimate document to enable them to travel outwith Hong Kong but not to reside in the 1046 United Kingdom? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that that is a legitimate objective for the Government to try to achieve?
The intervention of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) has allowed me to anticipate exactly the next stage of my argument. I have succeeded, I hope, in establishing that the Chinese Government indicated that so far as they were concerned they would have no objection if their nationals who could get hold of them got hold of British travel documents and used them, except in the circumstances that are set out in the remainder of the paragraph. Therefore, one naturally asks what we are doing in implementation of this understanding to provide those persons who have hitherto had a curious sort of citizenship, British dependent territories citizenship, with British travel documents.
Why is it that this Order in Council is not an Order in Council that will create a status of those who can have a British travel document? As the hon. Member for Christchurch said, it does not confer United Kingdom citizenship. There is a reason for that. There is no such thing in our law as United Kingdom citizenship. But it does something perilously close to what the hon. Gentleman was indicating — I have used the word myself! It creates a new form of British nationality. So it confers British nationality. Perhaps the Minister will explain—it would be most interesting, and would be quoted in future textbooks on the law of British nationality, some of which will I hope be written by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook)—that it is impossible for this country to give anyone a travel document that could be described as a British travel document without conferring British nationality on him.
I have offered the Minister the opportunity to prepare himself to meet that daunting inquisition by placing upon the Order Paper illustrations of how an Order in Council might have been empowered by the schedule to give the Government the power to issue British travel documents conferring certain rights in British consulates and so on to persons of a defined class or status. But that is not what is happening. That is what the Chinese indicated they would put up with. But instead of that we have invented a new form of what, over and over again, we go out of our way to call British nationality, in order to confer it upon up to 3 million of the inhabitants of Hong Kong to be enjoyed by them after the cession of the territory. I do not think that I exaggerate in describing that as a most paradoxical and curious proposal.
I wish to go a little further into what might be the reasons for that proposal. Presumably someone did not think that a British travel document was good enough. Someone was dissatisfied with a British travel document. Who was it? Who said, "No, that won't do. That's not good enough. We want British nationality."? Who insisted on British nationality being conferred on up to 3 million of the Hong Kong people? It was not the People's Republic of China. Indeed, the astonishment is that its national sensibilities were not offended by the Government openly conferring British nationality on up to 3 million of its Chinese nationals. But I shall come shortly to why their offence was not carried to a point of mortal objection, although that objection may after all be concealed. We may one day find that that repugnance is concealed under the very cautious words of the "indication" in paragraph 1047 65 of the White Paper, which does not go to say that the Chinese Government take no objection to our conferring British nationality upon their nationals.
So who was it? There is only one cui bono here, and that is the Hong Kong people themselves—those whom we were anxious to carry along with us in the general agreement, and who were able to persuade us not to rest satisfied with providing them with what the Chinese indicated they might have, but to provide them openly and expressly with British nationality and passports. That is the terminology. From their point of view what was the difference? The Government have explained to the House that there is no difference, and that the new-fangled sort of British nationality will confer no sorts of rights except those that a travel document would confer. Why, then, was it so important to the people of Hong Kong to be given what is described as British passports and British nationality?
The answer is that they believe that, armed with that, in certain circumstances they can mobilise opinion inside and outside this country to enforce on a future Government of this country the concession of rights which do not attach to that status but which, it will be argued, are the natural implications of anything which is called a British passport or British nationality. If that is how it looks from the point of view of the Hong Kong people. I find it a little sinister that as yet it has excited no repugnance on the part of the People's Republic of China.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)
Is it not equally plausible that the reason why the citizens of Hong Kong sought this additional phraseology is that they believe that the travel document to which they would become entitled would receive more respect from those countries which they might wish to enter carrying that document if it contained that additional phraseology?
We know that this form of British nationality will confer no additional rights on them. It is in the power and capabilities of the House to confer on Her Majesty's Government the right and power to produce the most impressive documents, loaded with all sorts of minatory and monitory abjurations to those before whom they might come.
That could be done almost in the style of the old passports which we used to be so proud to carry, in which Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State called upon all kinds of lesser breeds without the law to extend all sorts of courtesies and protection to those who travelled under that illustrious patronage.
There would be no difficulty in doing that. The point is—and the people of whom I speak are by no means lacking in shrewdness—that they perceived that there was an essential difference for certain purposes between having British nationality and just having what the Chinese Government had indicated that they would not object to. Therefore, I return to the question: why did the Chinese Government not object to our going out of our way, beyond what they had conceded, to confer our nationality on their nationals?
I believe that they believed that for them, too, it might be convenient one day. They thought that if one day they found themselves somewhat embarrassed by some of the people in this category, it might be easier, more expeditious and more comfortable to dispose of them under the description — which we could not deny 1048 because it would have been our description—of British nationals than if they were merely Chinese nationals who held British travel documents.
A fraud is being perpetrated by three parties in league together. One is the Foreign Office, as usual. I think I see the Minister shaking his head in dissent at that reference to the Foreign Office. I should have thought that he had been there long enough to have found that out by now. The second is the People's Republic of China and the third are the representatives of the Hong Kong people who have been engaged in these negotiations.
They have put their heads together and have cooked this up to deceive the House and the people whom we represent, to deceive the House into supporting that nothing of any importance or significance, nothing that may ever rebound on them in the future, is being done or is being proposed. That is being done, and we should have the opportunity—in the form of considering this matter in legislative terms—to expose it further than I have been able to do in the debate on the schedule. At least, for the record, I have put it in evidence.
§ Mr. George Robertson
The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) has created a climate of hostility to the cause he has promoted by the very fact that he has promoted it. I believe that, 8,500 miles away, the people of Hong Kong do not treat the matter lightly. We have heard, as ever, an interesting exploration of the logic and illogic that can be demonstrated by a master of the art, building one premise on the other and coming to an inexorable conclusion which we all know instictively to be wrong.
The right hon. Member did the cause of an important principle a grave disservice by the accusation that he flung at the perpetrators of this "fraud". I am glad that I was left out of the catalogue of those who seemed to be involved in this deception of the House of Commons. This is the Committee stage, and the right hon. Gentleman has the right to re-enter the debate any time he chooses. Perhaps, by the end of my speech, I shall be added to the pantheon of those who would perpetrate this historic fraud.
On Wednesday 23 January the press comments collected by the Hong Kong Government for the benefit of hon. Members reported:Sing Pao and Sing Tao Jih Pao reported that five MPs including George Robertson"—I like the order in which the names are listed—Denis Healey, Enoch Powell and Donald Anderson would seek amendments to the Bill at the committee stage to require a debate in both Houses of Parliament on the nationality of Hong Kong residents. Sing Tao quoted sources close to the House of Commons as saying that the chance of success of these amendments was very remote because experience showed that Bills were normally passed without amendments at the committee stage.It is interesting to note that the Chinese language newspapers have managed to look carefully at practically all the legislation—
Mr. J. Enoch Powell
Not the Representation of the People Act.
§ Mr. Robertson
—with the exception of the Representation of the People Act, which comes up for later consideration.
The right hon. Member for South Down made the valid point—some of my hon. Friends will make that same point later—that the way in which the Government have chosen to create a new nationality has disturbing 1049 implications. It is true that never before has Parliament created a new nationality by means of an Order in Council. There are good precedents in statute law showing that nationality should be created by amendable legislation—legislation which is capable of being scrutinised and which has the safeguard of being difficult to pass through the House of Commons and, therefore, is not lightly undertaken by any Government.
The Bill creates a new nationality and that is a major and serious matter. There is an increasing number of nationalities and they were all enshrined in the British Nationality Act 1981 which received the detailed scrutiny of the House, and which contrary to reports in the Sing Pao newspaper was amended substantially in Committee.
My final objection is that anything that is created by statutory instrument or Order in Council can be easily amended or removed if circumstances change. It provides inadequate long-term security for those people fortunate or unfortunate enough to find themselves under the title designated within the Order in Council.
Those are serious objections to the way in which the Government have chosen to create this new nationality, and it is only right as the right hon. Member for South Down fairly said to place those objections on the record. The official Opposition might be prepared not to divide the Committee on this central issue, but with those words I have no doubt entered the list of those involved in the gigantic fraud.
The first precondition to the Committee accepting that exception to the normal rule has been conceded by the Government in their amendment No. 2 by which it is proposed to include the nomenclature of the new nationality in the Bill. A further assurance must be given by the Government on that exceptional circumstance before the official Opposition will be persuaded that to divide the House might not be in the best interests of those affected by the Bill.
The Government must assure the Committee that the Order in Council will not be dealt with in the conventional way and that a draft of the draft statutory instrument will be available to the House and the people of Hong Kong which should preferably be debated in the House before the final draft statutory instrument is laid before the House. That would provide an opportunity to scrutinise the detailed nationality proposals so that hon. Members and those people who will be affected can express their views. It would also give the House a better opportunity to express strong views on the contents of the statutory instrument than the more limited opportunity available when a draft statutory instrument is laid before the House.
The Government must provide sufficient time between the various stages of the legislation to allow those people who are unaware of Parliament's intricacies to discuss the Government's proposals and to rehearse their arguments of the past 10 days more pointedly as the new passports will be available long before 1997.
The Committee expects an assurance from the Government this evening — I accept the limitations placed on any Government committing themselves and their successors—that any future changes in the Bill will not be effected simply by an Order in Council.
1050 I have no doubt that the forensic skills of the right hon. Member for South Down will be applied to my plea that the limitations are considerable. However, the people of Hong Kong have a right to expect this from the Government who gave them the assurance in the first place and who negotiated the joint agreement and its annexes. They have the right to expect that in the foreseeable future the British Parliament will not indulge in any changes to the nationality based on temporary circumstances.
The other factors that would lead the Opposition not to divide the Committee are largely conditioned by opinion as expressed in Hong Kong. There are no fully democratic institutions in Hong Kong, and we are therefore at a disadvantage in expecting views to come forward with great authority, but inasmuch as opinion has been expressed, it appears to be in favour of the methods adopted by the Government in the Bill. However, I have a suspicion that the enthusiasm for the Order in Council has less to do with the constitutional mechanism put forward by the Government than a faith in the Government who gave the promise and a fear of the Parliament that includes the right hon. Member for South Down.
§ Mr. Bermingham
A new form of nationality will be created by Order in Council. I agree that the matter should be debated, and primary legislation rather than an Order in Council should be used. Does my hon. Friend agree that the new form of nationality creates a situation analogous to that in east Africa, in respect of those who are not ethnic Chinese in Hong Kong? I understand that there are some 6,000 Indians, for example, who might find themselves in the invidious position in which the Asians found themselves in east Africa, at a future juncture. That, too, should be covered by the orders that we make.
§ Mr. Robertson
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall come to some of the details. I am now dealing with the principle. My hon. Friend made a point about some of the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. In fact, he is referring not to the 6,000 people of Indian origin, but to their children after 1997, but I shall cover that point later. It is extremely important.
§ Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)
This was a matter that was raised in earlier debates and I think that the figure was 6,000 Indians. It is nothing to do with their children. It is Indians who are living possibly outwith Hong Kong at the moment, but are under the Hong Kong legislation as it presently exists, as the responsibility of the British Government. I understood from a commitment that the Minister gave excellently that those people's interests would be covered—I hope that the Minister will nod his head—by the arrangements that were being made.
§ Mr. Robertson
I have a faint feeling that that question was directed not to me but to the Minister—
§ Mr. Robertson
The Minister nodded his head in reply in the time-honoured fashion of Parliament. We shall come to that matter. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) that I shall be looking for precisely the same assurances that he is seeking.
I return to the reasons, Sir Paul. I apologise for the fact that in my intervention on clause stand part I omitted your knighthood, which is an honour well earned.
1051 For whatever reason, opinion as expressed in Hong Kong has crystallised round the idea of the Order in Council. It is a fact that there would be a misunderstanding that would be difficult to clear up if we were to seek to divide the House on this important issue. In many ways I regret that those misunderstandings have arisen. I regret that different views are now held about a constitutional and procedural issue in that regard, but we must live with it. The general non-partisan view that has been taken of the Bill up to now might conceivably be damaged if we were to seek to divide the House on a point of principle this evening.
The final reason on which I base my case for not contesting the Bill, although placing our reservations on record, is the fact that there are unique circumstances in Hong Kong. This is a unique agreement, a unique joint declaration and a unique situation will apply after 1997. Perhaps it is to expect too much that uniqueness itself will be a protection in future which can be discounted when precedent is quoted against us. It is a reality that we must live with and we should bear it seriously in mind.
A number of detailed questions have been asked in Hong Kong and I am sure that the Minister would want to give some assurances to the House this evening. The Legislative Council had a debate less than 24 hours ago in Hong Kong. It raised a number of points and I see from the telex today from the Hong Kong office that the Hong Kong Chief Secretary gave a number of interesting reassurances in that debate. It is right that some of those matters should be raised here so that the Minister, with whom the buck stops, can authoritatively tell the House and those who are watching us what the position is.
First, there is the question of the acceptability of the new British national overseas passports in third countries. That has arisen on many occasions in the Hong Kong press and was mentioned during the debate in the Legislative Council. The Government are in no position to give absolute guarantees and it would be unrealistic to expect them to do so. On the other hand we have a right to ask the Government what they are doing to ensure that the new passport will be acceptable to immigration officers all over the world. Specifically, what will the Government do as a gesture to show that acceptability should be the norm? Will the Government make entry into the United Kingdom by British national overseas passport holders visa free? Will they give them unrestricted entry and exit? Without that it is difficult to see other countries giving open entry and exit.
The second point is the question of identity cards being required alongside the passport in order to prove that the holder of the British national overseas passport has the right of abode in Hong Kong. That was not cleared up on Second Reading and it has concerned people in Hong Kong newspapers and in the Legislative Council yesterday. There is some confusion which was not cleared up by the Chief Secretary. Yesterday, he drew attention to section 14 of annexe 1 to the Sino-British joint declaration which provides for the holding of permanent identity cards to be stated in the future BNO passports as evidence of right of abode, and said that Her Majesty's Government would be discussing with the Chinese authorities the wording of the statement with a view to ensuring that BNO passport holders would not have to produce their identity cards for immigration clearance.
The confusion is illustrated by a variety of statements that appeared to be emanating from authoritative sources. 1052 Some newspapers in Hong Kong on Monday 28 January quoted Principal Assistant Secretary for Security, Regina Ip, who said that local residents would not need to take with them their Hong Kong identity cards when travelling abroad to prove that they had the right of abode in Hong Kong as that would be stated in the new British national overseas passports. She added, interestingly, that the United Kingdom Government would seek an agreement from other countries for the exemption of visas after the new nationality title was approved. It would be interesting to have the Minister's comments on that.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
Is the hon. Gentleman not ignoring the fact that after 1997 those to whom he is referring will be entitled to travel with British national overseas passports and will have an entitlement also to carry with them Chinese passports? Would they not be acceptable around the world by then? Why should he be so concerned about the acceptability of a species of British nationality passport which we all know is not 100 per cent. British?
§ Mr. Robertson
The form of passport that they will hold as Chinese nationals has not yet been resolved. They will have the right to carry a special administrative region identity card. The question whether one document will suffice seems to be taxing the people of Hong Kong. I am expressing anxieties that seem to be the subject of wide expression in Hong Kong. It appears that they wish to know whether they will be able to use one passport or the equivalent of two passports to prove that they have the right of abode in Hong Kong. As this is a source of anxiety and concern in Hong Kong, it is something that can be clarified only by the Minister when he replies rather than by his proxies on the Legislative Council in Hong Kong.
I am sure that the right hon. Member for South Down will find enormous interest in the debate which has taken place in the Chinese press over the Chinese interpretation of the new nomenclature. The translation from the English of "British national overseas", which seems remarkably clumsy in any event, appears to create some bizarre formulation which is not comprehensible in my pronunciation. The Chinese writing apparently creates confusion between the words "nationals", "citizens" and "subjects". We are told the Left-wing lawyer Dorothy Liu has been quoted as saying that it would be more appropriate to translate "British national overseas" as—there then follows a string of Chinese characters. The literal British translation of those characters is "British (overseas) subjects". The commentary of Wen Wei Po—that is a pro-Chinese newspaper in Hong Kong—quoted an English/Chinese dictionary and stated that the word "national" means — there then follows a string of hieroglyphics—(subject of a country, in particular those living overseas).It is said that Miss Liu's proposed translation could reflect the spirit of the proposed declaration more accurately but there is at least some room for confusion. It is conceivable that the title "British national overseas" was devised out of a knowledge of the Chinese language rather than out of a use of the English language.
§ Mr. Adley
May we not deduce from what the hon. Gentleman has said the very point that I tried to make in the previous debate, which was that we should not make an attempt to write in too much detail at this stage, which would risk the sort of misinterpretation which he has well 1053 illustrated? We all understand the fears and concerns of those in Hong Kong, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that some of those who have been pressing so hard for so much seem still to fail to realise the difficulties in nuance that could result from pressing for too much too precisely and too quickly in the way that the hon. Gentleman has illustrated?
§ Mr. Robertson
That is one version. The hon. Gentleman has a long pedigree in terms of Chinese relations. The problem is that the people who are creating the confusion are on his side of the argument. I agree that we must not allow ourselves to get too bogged down or encourage people in Hong Kong to get too bogged down with detail when their futures must be based on trust. Nevertheless, we are dealing with a Bill that concerns nationality, which people in Hong Kong deem important. If there is confusion, the Government should make the matter clear.
The Government have given guarantees for people who, without the agreement, would appear to end up with no form of statehood. We are told that they are to be given British overseas citizenship. The paradox is that, in one respect, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants finds itself in the camp of the right hon. Member for South Down. I am sure that is the first time that that has happened. The council has made it clear that British national overseas and British overseas citizenship are not really nationalities but travel documents. I hope that the Minister is now better able to identify his plans to deal with the 6,000 prominent non-ethnic Chinese British dependent territory citizens who happen to be of Indian origin, and others who will find that they are stateless after 1997. They need reassurance from the Government tonight.
The Minister has said that he seeks a durable solution for the Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong. The sooner we hear what that solution is, the better. I pay tribute to the Government of Hong Kong for its treatment of the 100,000 boat people who fled Vietnam. The residual problems of the 10,000 who remain, however difficult, cannot detract from the huge humanitarian effort that the Hong Kong Government mounted. My hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) and I visited a camp and saw the pitiful conditions. The people there do not benefit from the stability and prosperity of the free enterprise system of Hong Kong. They have little past and a bleak future. The House should give them early assurances about their future.
We must consider those who are able, because of their Government service, to register for full British citizenship. The Government have said that they will be generous with people, especially in the security services, who might have reason to fear the transfer of sovereignty. The Government have not been specific about the numbers who might be involved and the extent of the generosity that might be accorded. We know from what we are told that a number of people are very apprehensive about the future. Given that the generosity of the Government in this regard has not been notable in the past, some further assurances this evening would go a long way to reassure them that their future is guaranteed.
These are a few of the questions and issues that have been raised in Hong Kong to which the Committee deserves answers this evening. I ask them in no 1054 controversial or combative way. These matters need to be put on record, and a much wider public outside is waiting for the answers.
§ Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and, indeed, the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), because, in the course of their contributions, a number of points were raised which, in a sense, broadened the queries that I seek to pursue in relation to amendment No 4 standing in my name. In tabling the amendment, I had no prior knowledge of amendment No 2. I am in some difficulty in judging precisely the effect of amendment No 2. I am sure that when my hon. Friend the Minister replies he will want to take into account not only some of the questions that have been raised so far, but, I hope, what I am about to put to him. The suggestion encompassed in amendment No 4, in the light of some of the problems about which the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen have spoken, I hope will contribute to overcoming some of those difficulties.
The right hon. Member for South Down in his waspish and witty way was pointing to some unanswerable questions in my view. There are practical issues involved here, on which he touched, and I should like to think that what I am about to outline will provide a practical way out of some of the difficulties.
In my view, we are now in danger of getting slightly confused about which kind of passport and what sort of citizen we are referring to. What I have referred to in amendment No 4 as British dependent territory citizen passport (Hong Kong), to give it its full title, I shall refer to as BDTC for the purpose of my remarks. I recognise, however, that if Government amendment No 2 is agreed to, we shall be talking about BNO passports.
With relation to BDTC passports, and to put that into perspective, on the figures given to me by the Hong Kong Government Office in the helpful briefing that was arranged, I note that that covers current holders of just over one million and, for those eligible but who have not yet applied, two million. It is the largest group of passport holders in Hong Kong and is to be contrasted with the 18,000 British citizen passports of those who have the right of abode in the United Kingdom as opposed to the figure of some three million who have the right of abode currently in Hong Kong but not the right of abode in the United Kingdom, although they have the rights of access. To round off those categories, there are travel documents covering an additional one million people mainly through certificates of identity.
The purpose of amendment No. 4 is to facilitate the entry into the United Kingdom of those Hong Kong Chinese residents who in my judgment have a particular role in the relationship between our two countries. This tends to be a matter of the frequency of visits of many of the people whom I have in mind. Secondly, I seek to help create a system which recognises the needs not only of those who travel backwards and forwards between Hong Kong and this country at present, but, even more important, of those who will do so after 1997. Thirdly, I should like to think that what I suggest would help to begin a process of accreditation which will influence the thinking not only about visitors from Hong Kong but British visitors to Hong Kong and the People's Republic of China in the years after 1997.
1055 My concerns in putting forward the suggestion stemmed from two sources. One was the visit that many hon. Members paid in recent weeks to Hong Kong, courtesy of the Hong Kong Government, during which we learned of some of the practical problems. The second arises — and I declare my interest as parliamentary adviser to Cable and Wireless Ltd—from some of the examples of difficulties which, as I know from my experience, Cable and Wireless and other companies deeply involved with Hong Kong and China have had in the past.
The problem to which I refer relates essentially to BDTC passport holders coming to this country on a regular basis who find themselves constantly subject to quizzing and cross-examination as to the purpose of their visits. They are not included in statistics which merely show those refused entry. It is not just a matter of immigration officers who may have got out of the wrong side of bed. For the perfectly legitimate visitor, a dialogue of misunderstanding may occur that is time-consuming and causes disproportionate offence to many people who have important reasons to visit this country, especially in the pursuit of trade and investment between Hong Kong and the United Kingdom.
The problem is not confined to business visitors. My attention has been drawn to the number of Hong Kong officials who have also been required to explain in considerable detail why they visit this country so regularly and the exact purpose of their visits.
It seems to me that one way out of the problem would be for those who have reason to visit this country regularly to have that acknowledged in their travel document by an unlimited access stamp. I freely admit that I have followed the American example in this. In exchanges with my hon. Friend the Minister, who was kind enough to write to me after Second Reading, a certain amount of misunderstanding seems to have crept in. I may have contributed to that by using the word "visa". The present BDTC passport allows unlimited access. I merely suggest putting a stamp into that passport or its successor passport. That is not a visa system, because the process is voluntary. There has been careful consideration of words in many speeches today, so perhaps I should refer to a "multiple access stamp" and thus avoid any suggestion of a move away from existing rights, which is not my purpose at all.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will also tell us whether in the light of the latest advice from Hong Kong, following the debate there, there is to be an absolutely straightforward transfer as between BDTC and BNO passport holders on the right of access though not the right of residence. The comments that have come out of the message to Mr. Colvin Haye in the recent debate in Hong Kong seems to throw some doubt on that. I think that the only clarification given related to entry certificates. On the assumption that the current BDTC privileges in terms of United Kingdom entry would be transferred to the BNO passport, the procedure that I suggest would apply equally to the latter.
The problem that I have described has wider implications. The hon. Member for Hamilton referred to the acceptance of Hong Kong citizens' rights by third countries. There is an interesting difference in the figures that I gave earlier as between British citizen passports and BDTC passports. Some 104 countries allow entry on the 1056 basis of a British citizen passport with visa and 70 allow entry without visa for BDTC Hong Kong passport holders. In other words, some 34 countries will accept a British citizen passport but not a BDTC passport without a visa. Those countries include Austria, Brazil, Denmark, West Germany, Japan, Bermuda, Spain and Sweden. Therefore if my suggestion were to become part of the standard practice, I would expect the Government to seek reciprocity, certainly from other members of the European Community and from the Commonwealth. The people about whom I am especially concerned are involved in international trade, investment and the public service. They are important to the relationship between Hong Kong and the United Kingdom and to the wider relationship implied in the list of countries that I gave.
We may not have addressed our minds to the question of what is to happen about British visitors to Hong Kong, especially those who go in pursuit of trade, industry and the international relationship implicit in the agreement, as 1997 draws nearer. Our difficulty at present is that we have old-fashioned thoughts about the way trade has been done between the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and China. We should take the view that whenever we are concerned with Hong Kong we are also concerned with China.
We have a great opportunity to see the growth of investment in Hong Kong and to recognise that it is a longterm investment in China. I was glad to see that the Governor made that point in a speech to the stock exchange. Some people in the People's Republic of China will look for direct investment in China, but prudent business men, industrialists and those who already have a stake in Hong Kong would do well to consider the opportunity to create a centre of excellence in Hong Kong, which could relate, particularly to the special economic zones, as a natural bridge to the whole of China as its market.
The way to facilitate that process is to ensure the freedom of travel from Hong Kong to the United Kingdom and vice versa, and by extension into China. In other words visa liberalisation would allow wider access to China as a whole.
Those are some of the reasons why I urge my amendment on my hon. Friend the Minister. I hope that it provides him with a way through some of the practical difficulties. I have received support from members of UMELCO and members of the Hong Kong Government for my amendment. In talks about the issue it has become clear that the two classes of citizens—the BCCs and BDTCs — should be tackled in the short term. My proposal would help in that process.
After 1997, a whole new range of relationships will evolve. I hope that my suggestion will facilitate the building of bridges, and the strengthening of links and of a tripartite agreement, to which the Committee has shown its commitment tonight. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will see that the objections he put to me in correspondence were based on a misunderstanding about the rigidity of the visa system. My suggestion is flexible and, I hope, practical.
I recognise that the wording of my amendment would not fit into the terms of the Bill. My hon. Friend may be relieved to hear that I shall not, therefore, seek permission for a separate vote and to divide the Committee. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will respond in that spirit of good will and co-operation. I appreciate that, having heard the arguments in the light of current events, he may wish 1057 to give the matter further consideration. I reserve the right to come back on Report, because I believe this to be an important matter.
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)
Unlike many hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, I have not had the opportunity to visit Hong Kong. However, having spent many weeks and months in the Standing Committee on the British Nationality Act 1981, may I claim some familiarity with Hong Kong born of those long hours of debate?
I am not sure that I followed the argument of the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) correctly. He seemed to be implying that British dependent territory citizens have certain rights of entry into the United Kingdom, and that he wanted those rights to be retained when the measures about which we are talking come into force. My understanding is that, in the main, British dependent territory citizens do not have the automatic right of entry into this country. We established that during the passage of the British Nationality Act. Therefore, I had some difficulty following his argument, based as it is on an incorrect premise.
When I re-examined some of our debates on the British Nationality Act, I wondered whether some of the discussions that we are having now were not foreseen—
§ Mr. Dubs
—yet we seemed to ignore some facts that stared us in the face at that time. Shortly after that Bill becoming law we are forced to change some of its provisions, although we were assured at the time that the Government—the same Minister is sitting on the Front Bench now—had thought through the matters and were ertain that they were anticipating future developments in Hong Kong when they provided for the future citizenship of those in Hong Kong. If hon. Members doubt what I say, they should re-read those Committee debates.
My special concern is with amendments Nos. 1 and 2, and with paragraph 2 of the schedule. I share the views expressed by other right hon. and hon. Members this evening that a matter of such importance as the nationality provisions affecting one territory should not be dealt with by Order in Council. Referring again to our debates on the British Nationality Act, in Committee and on the Floor of the House, the way in which the House dealt in detail with those provisions, and the way in which we were able to develop the arguments, I am even more concerned that the Government believe that Hong Kong will not have the benefit of those procedures. I must admit that we came up with the wrong answer for Hong Kong in the debates on the British Nationality Act—
§ Mr. Dubs
I should say that the Government came up with the wrong answer, because we must change the provisions now. But as the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) said, that was not our fault. Many of those points were put to the Government during the Committee stage of that Act.
I shall not address any of my remarks to the ethnic Chinese, because I wish to keep my speech short. They are catered for, or at least there are not too many ambiguities about their position. I am concerned about other people 1058 now in Hong Kong who are not protected in the same way. Some of these problems were referred to on Second Reading and earlier today. First and foremost, I am still not happy about what the Government think will happen to the 6,000 people of Indian descent. At the moment, they are British dependent territory citizens. They will become British nationals overseas under the Government's proposals, if amendment No. 2 is passed. However, any children born to those people after 1997 will, I assume, become British overseas citizens.
Although the intention of British overseas citizenship in the Nationality Act is that that status should not be hereditary, I interpret what the Government have said to mean that this group of people will, exceptionally, have a citizenship that can be passed on from generation to generation. The Minister suggested that on Second Reading. He said:It is our intention that no British national or any child born on or after 1 July 1997 to a British national should be made stateless as a result of the nationality arrangements, envisaged in the Bill.He went on to say, when talking about British dependent territory citizens, that the "title announced today"—the transfer from BDTCs to British national overseas—does not give a right of abode here. It preserves all but one of the entitlements possessed by those who are at present BDTCs. The one exception is right of transmissibility." — [Official Report, 21 January 1985; Vol. 71, c. 809–10.]British nationals overseas do not have the right of transmissibility, and their children will therefore become British overseas citizens, who will, by implication, have transmissibility, although that was never the intention of the Nationality Act. If I have not got that argument right, I hope that the Minister will clarify the point, but, having studied what he said on Second Reading, I cannot come to any other conclusion. If it were possible to come to any other conclusion, the Minister's undertaking that nobody would remain stateless would not be capable of fulfilment.
I am concerned that we are getting ourselves into somewhat of a tangle, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) said earlier, we are in danger of putting a group of people into similar difficulties as those experienced by the east African Asians. They are still queuing up in Gujarat province in India and waiting six or seven years to come here and establish a right that has been given to them by successive British Governments, but is being handed out in meagre annual doses.
The right hon. Member for South Down anticipated that, and said that the new type of citizenship should not be given, and instead travel documents should be issued. I take the opposite view, that we have a responsibility to see that we do not leave any people high and dry, and stranded with no territory to which they belong, and no place to which they can travel. It is by no means certain that there will be a continuation of rights in Hong Kong when the status of Hong Kong is changed.
§ Mr. Michael Marshall
I am reverting to an earlier point made by the hon. Gentleman. I was trying to refresh my memory from the notes provided by the Hong Kong Government Office. The hon. Gentleman asked about British dependent territory passports, and I was looking to see what had been said in the debate in Hong Kong in the past few days. I see that no commitment is made as to when that passport will be superseded by the British 1059 national overseas passport. I understand, therefore, that this passport must continue for some indefinite period, and perhaps we shall hear a view on this tonight. While the passport or other travel documents continue, the question of access to this country still remains as previously arranged. My understanding of that is that a stay of between one month and one year is available to BDTC passport holders. For that reason, I am suggesting that a stamp that could go into such a document and could subsequently be transferred into any document that is issued within the SAR after 1997.
§ Mr. Dubs
No doubt the Minister can answer for himself in explaining the point. My argument was not that BDTC passport holders would lose their passports at a later date but that their children born after the due date in 1997 would become British nationals overseas. There were then difficulties. As to the hon. Gentleman's other point, I am sure that the Minister can answer that himself. My understanding is that at the moment, BDTCs do not have an automatic right of entry into this country. They may be allowed to enter this country for periods ranging from one month to one or two years, but they have to establish that right by seeking to obtain an entry certificate or by being allowed in. But that is by no means automatic. They may well be refused entry when they reach Heathrow.
§ Mr. Michael Marshall
It may be that the words that are used need to be defined. Entry equals access. It does not mean residence. I understand that there is no difficulty about those with British dependent territories citizenship visiting this country on existing passports, but their entry is for the purpose of making a visit, not for residence.
§ Mr. Dubs
I have to disagree with the hon. Member for Arundel. It may be that in practice the majority of BDTCs have no difficulty in obtaining entry to this country for the purpose of making a visit. Permanent settlement is not the question, but the fact is that they still do not have an automatic right, any more than do people from most other parts of the world. Therefore they have to be allowed in; they are not entitled to come in. In seeking to ensure that the existing rights of those people are not lost in their change of citizenship the hon. Member is saying that their very limited rights, which do not guarantee entry, should be transferred. I did not really follow the hon. Member's argument, even if I concede that in practice these people do not have too much difficulty in coming in as visitors. That is not the case with people from many other parts of the world, although this is not the occasion to develop that point.
My concern is that we shall leave certain people without the basic rights to which they are entitled. Ought we not to consider allowing those people who wish to become British citizens and who have no other citizenship to become British citizens after a certain date? If they wanted to avail themselves of it, this small group of people would be able to come to this country and exercise the right that I would wish them to enjoy. The alternative is to leave them with no obvious place to which they belong. If they have no citizenship they will be, in effect, stateless.
The other group of people about whom I am concerned are the Vietnamese refugees and any other people who do not come into the categories that we have discussed. I am not clear about the future position of the Vietnamese refugees. They are not ethnic Chinese; they are not BDTCs; and they have no means of becoming BNOs or 1060 BOCs. In other words, they will remain stateless. The Minister referred to other groups who, apart from the Vietnamese, are in this position. I should be unhappy if we passed legislation that left a group of people in a territory for which we are still responsible suspended in mid-air, with no citizenship, no rights and no guarantees about their future. I am not saying that every Vietnamese refugee in Hong Kong is directly our responsibility and ought to be allowed to come to this country. However, we ought not to ignore the fact that these refugees exist. We must not just hope that they wil not make a fuss when we pass legislation and that the Chinese will take care of them. That is not good enough. If there is no other alternative, I believe that we have to accept responsibility for these people and possibly share it with other countries. Therefore, I am unhappy about what is intended for the two groups of people I have mentioned. The Government owe us a responsibility, and we owe them a responsibility to say what their long-term intentions are. I have said what my solution would be, and I should like to hear the Government's view.
§ Mr. Adley
I join the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) in apologising to you, Sir Paul, for inaccurately designating you. I should like to take this belated opportunity to congratulate you on your merited and well-deserved knighthood. We all share in your pleasure.
I am happy to speak after the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs), who has never been to Hong Kong. I think that I first went there in 1955. But I have one thing in common with him, and that is that, like him, I have never travelled to Hong Kong with the benefit of a free ticket from the Government of Hong Kong. Many hon. Members will well understand the reasons for that.
In the past two weeks we have had a further chance to consider the Bill. That rightly enabled the people in Hong Kong to express their views and gave some of us a further chance to consider the point that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary announced on Second Reading about the designation of British National (Overseas) citizenship. I am slightly concerned that the Indian community in Hong Kong, and particularly those of its members who settled there before India achieved independence, will find that their new status is less advantageous than their BDT citizenship, for the very reasons that were outlined by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell). I did not necessarily agree with everything that the right hon. Gentleman said, and we may not draw the same conclusion, but it is important to discuss such matters openly and frankly.
There are three things that we should avoid at this stage. First, we should avoid misleading people, deliberately or otherwise. Secondly, we should avoid making promises that we cannot deliver. Thirdly, we should avoid upsetting the delicate balance of the relationship between the British and Chinese Governments, and between both of those Governments and the people of Hong Kong. I am quite clear about what we should and should not be doing in respect of the first two items, but in respect of the third, one must bear in mind that nothing is quite as simple or as black and white as the right hon. Member for South Down might have us believe.
§ Mr. Bermingham
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we are discussing the future of several million people 1061 who live thousands of miles away, and that they have a right to expect that whatever we legislate about will not deprive them of security in the future? At present we are putting a number of people in Hong Kong, who are not ethnic Chinese, in a position in which they may well find themselves stateless.
§ Mr. Adley
The House of Commons is not in a position to give any guarantees to anyone in Hong Kong about their indefinite welfare. To seek to pretend that we can legislate indefinitely for their perpetual welfare falls fairly and squarely under the heading of making promises that we cannot deliver. I take the point about the minority Indian population, who are in a special situation. I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister nodded earlier that the Government are seized of it and intend to do something about it. But it is wrong to give perhaps 99 per cent. of the population of Hong Kong—the Chinese citizens—the impression that, merely by passing legislation here, we can provide them with permanent guarantees about their settled future. That is to make promises that we cannot deliver. I stress again that the people of Hong Kong are dependent on good relations between the British and Chinese Governments, and ultimately on the intentions of the Government of the People's Republic of China.
In a book that I wrote on the subject, I recalled stating on 8 September 1982:The future status of Hong Kong depends ultimately on Beijing.Let us accept, as we debate this issue, that we can only do our best within the limitations of the power that we shall have in the future. The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) was right to point out that we should be failing in our duty if, by this legislation, we misled people into believing that they were being given something entitling them to what we know we are not able to deliver.
The right hon. Member for South Down used the word "fraud" and implied that there was a plot between the Foreign Office, the Chinese Government and the Government of Hong Kong. In fact, the pressure to dot the i's and cross the t's has come not from the British or Chinese Governments but from certain people in Hong Kong, for understandable motives, and that pressure has been led by UMELCO in Hong Kong.
All along we have been urged to provide security and guarantees. We cannot provide such guarantees, and that is why the right hon. Gentleman said that we were in danger of perpetrating a fraud on those people by this legislation. I emphasise that neither the British Government nor the Chinese Government have been behind the move to seek such guarantees, and even at this late stage the British Government are being pressed to make changes to the Bill.
The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) referred to the press in Hong Kong criticising us for showing a lack of interest in their affairs. They always know best. On 4 November 1983, the South China Morning Post, referring to a visit that I was about to make, wrote:Hopefully, his forthcoming visit to Hong Kong will impress on him the grave disquiet felt by people in many walks of life here about outsiders interfering in Hong Kong's affairs as negotiations on the future issue continue. Although Mr. Adley 1062 has a mandate to speak for the electors of Christchurch and Lymington he holds no such mandate for the people of Hong Kong.Leaving aside his poor homework in designating my constituency wrongly, I wonder who the deputy editor of the paper, who wrote that, thought was going to settle the future of Hong Kong. That is the task of hon. Members here, and I agree with the hon. Member for Hamilton that we have done our best, within the limitations of the power available to us, to attend to their problems.
§ Dr. Marek
It will not do to say that we have done our best and can wash our hands of the matter. There is an onus on us to ensure that nobody will be stateless as a result of what will occur in 1997. Although we may not be able to give guarantees here and now, let us hope that in the coming 12 or 13 years we will be able to ensure that nobody is stateless.
§ Mr. Adley
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but we cannot, in legislation tonight, give people guarantees. Certainly we must do what we can. As for people being stateless, presumably the hon. Gentleman was referring to that tiny fraction of people who are not of Chinese race. The hon. Gentleman must do me the credit of recognising that I raised this point on Second Reading and have done so again during this debate. I have made clear beyond peradventure my belief that we have a responsibility for these people, perhaps more than others. It is not practical or sensible to try to write into the Bill precisely how we shall do that. It is better to get these provisions right in the next six or 12 months or two or five years rather than try to identify in this legislation every problem.
It might have been better if we had had two Bills—one dealing specifically and solely with the sovereignty issue, and the other dealing with all the problems of nationality and citizenship.
§ Mr. Faulds
If the Government do not get this matter right within the next seven or nine months, or whatever, what recourse does the House of Commons have under the Order in Council procedure to put it right?
§ Mr. Adley
In June I shall have been a Member for 15 years. I cannot recall the House being incapable of doing what it needed to do if that was the will of the House and there was a majority to achieve that objective. I have great faith in the collective determination of hon. Members to act in a particular way if they wish to do so. I see that the right hon. Member for South Down is looking askance at that statement. He is probably thinking of the European Communities Act 1972. Whether hon. Members have the will to undo what we did at that time is a matter for debate—but not tonight.
I respect the right of the right hon. Member for South Down to make the point that he made and I agree with him that it would be improper for us to make promises that we cannot maintain. The right hon. Gentleman did not answer my question whether he believed that it was right for the British Government to evolve a form of status for the Chinese citizens of Hong Kong which applied to their movements when they were travelling outside Hong Kong but did not affect their position in so far as they might wish to come to the United Kingdom. I do not propose to pursue him on that point now.
Membership of GATT is one of the most important considerations for Hong Kong. That issue and others will depend upon finding some form of identity which makes 1063 Hong Kong a separate entity to the People's Republic of China in the eyes and minds of those countries with which Hong Kong will be negotiating to maintain its present commercial status. For that reason, if for no other, I believe that flexibility is the sensible order of the day. That is why I have been concerned about the persistent attempts to try to find detailed answers at one pop to problems that, are only just beginning to emerge.
I finish with these words. I believe that the flexibility I seek will prove to be the test of the sincerity of the Government of the People's Republic of China in their oft-stated intentions, now that sovereignty has been ceded, to maintain the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong.
I conclude by agreeing with the hon. Members for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) and for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) that we must be certain that we receive from the Government a firm and clear undertaking that we shall maintain for those members of non-Chinese minorities in Hong Kong our absolute obligation to find a solution to their problem long before 1997, even if we cannot write that provision into this legislation immediately.
§ Mr. Adley
That may well have been my third "finally". It will be the last. The success of this legislation will lie not in producing a bolt-hole in the United Kingdom for the people of Hong Kong but in maintaining the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong and maintaining for the Hong Kong people their ability to live in the present form of society in Hong Kong. Let us never lose sight of that aim.
§ Mr. Bermingham
I wish to draw to the attention of the Committee the fact that, although I have never been to Hong Kong, I have, as a practising lawyer for 15 to 20 years, been dealing with immigration problems. I view with horror any legislation that will again create some of the misery that I have seen in those cases. I feel that I have a duty to point out the legal problems that I see.
I have spent some considerable time studying the subject of the refugees. I am sad at having to take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), but I do not believe that anything good can be said about the closed and open camps in Hong Kong. One solution to the problem would be for the Hong Kong Government to allow the ethnic Chinese in the camps to assimilate into the community in Hong Kong. That would start to breach the logjam that has developed in those camps. I do not propose to develop that issue any further at this stage.
§ Mr. George Robertson
I remind my hon. Friend that when I referred to the Vietnamese refugees, I paid tribute to the work that the Hong Kong Government had done in resettling almost 100,000 of the Vietnamese boat people. The fact that people are held in closed camps and the circumstances in which they are kept continues to cause anxiety to the Hong Kong Government, and to Members of the House. We long to find a solution which will remove people from those quasi-prison camps.
§ Mr. Bermingham
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for intervening and correcting the record in so far as I may have misheard him. He takes the stance that I do. I have given my views here and elsewhere, and I shall continue 1064 to do so until the problem is solved because it is one that we must solve. I do not propose to continue with that point because it is outside the scope of the amendments.
I did not participate in the Second Reading debate, but I have studied the record carefully. I appreciate that nuances can occasionally be read into the written word and I looked for the assurances given to what we might call the "ethnic minority groups" who might find themselves in a difficult position if the legislation is left as it is.
I ask the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) to accept that my intervention in his speech was born out of the frustration of finding no commitment to the solution to the problem. I should not dream to seek to argue with him or any author about their books, but perhaps we could approach the matter in a way which does not leave us talking about BOCs, BNOs and BDTCss. They mean nothing to the man in the street. He wants to know whether he will have a secure status somewhere and somewhere he knows that he can go.
The solution is not beyond the wit of man. For instance, in 1982 we gave the Falkland islanders British citizenship, and under the British Nationality Act 1981 we allowed Gibraltarians to register in the United Kingdom as British citizens. I understand that some 5,000 did so in 1983 and 1984. When we talk about the minority groups in Hong Kong we are talking about relatively small numbers of people. We are not talking about numbers that will compare with the South Africans. As I understand the legislation, nearly 1 million South Africans have the right to come to the United Kingdom as British citizens if and when the majority take control of the state, as will undoubtedly happen one day. In those circumstances, up to 1 million South Africans have the right to come to the United Kingdom, and there is nothing that we can do about it. It is in legislation already.
If we can solve those problems and put forward such solutions, it is not beyond the wit of Parliament to put forward a solution in the years ahead before 1997 that will protect the rights of the Indians and other small minority groups who are not protected just now. There is no way that we can dodge that issue. Those people are not protected.
At this stage, I do not expect the Government to say, "We shall do 1, 2, 3 or 4." However, I ask for a clear and unequivocal statement in the House in respect of citizens of Hong Kong who are not ethnic Chinese, who could find themselves in much the same situation as the Asians in east Africa in the late 1960s. That was an appalling situation, which all of us recognise. Those persons should be told in simple terms that before 1997 we shall arrive at a solution that will create for them a citizenship and a right of abode in the United Kingdom in the event of their "security of tenure"—so to speak—in Hong Kong being jeopardised.
In saying that, I in no way seek to criticise the Peking authorities. I appreciate that times will change between now and 1997. It would be a fool who did not appreciate that. At the moment Peking says, "Fine, everybody in Hong Kong can stay and we welcome them." However, conditions may arise in which those who are non-ethnic Chinese find that they wish to move. The security of knowing that one can go is in itself a deterrent to go. It has been found in the past that where people feel secure and welcome at home, they tend to stay.
1065 The numbers involved are not great. I merely ask the Government to put down a marker, a clear undertaking that steps will be taken to protect those people's interests. I do not like the form of the Bill, in that it provides for those matters to be dealt with by Order in Council. That is not entirely satisfactory. However, I am prepared not to divide the House on the issue. I put the marker on the road for the future that if in the next couple of years clear provisions are not made, I, and I am sure many hon. Members, will seek to bring the matter back before the House.
I should like to mention just one other small point. There has been talk about people who may want to leave Hong Kong because of the nature of their job, which makes them feel that in the transfer of sovereignty they would rather go away. It might be because they have been customs officers in Crown service, and so on. I know that there are provisions for their protection, but I ask the Government to take this point on board, which has been raised with me by people from Hong Kong. I refer to people in sensitive jobs. If we are to have secure government between now and 1997, those who have to carry out sensitive functions, whether they are ethnic Chinese police officers or customs officials, must have the security of knowing that if they wish to come to the United Kingdom in 1997, provision will be made for them and their families to be taken care of.
I see that the Minister nods in acknowledgement of the problem. I concede that it has been raised in the past, but we have a duty to those whom we shall ask to serve us until 1997. They should know that, in the sensitive areas in which they serve, they have added security that will enable them to carry out their functions free from the pressures that would otherwise be upon them. If we are to have good governance in Hong Kong in those years—I am sure that we shall — we must give such security to those whom we ask to serve us.
§ Mr. Luce
There has been considerable debate for an hour and a half on a series of amendments that are important both to the Committee and the people of Hong Kong.
Let me set the scene with Government amendment No. 2 before I deal with amendment No. 1. The purpose of amendment No. 2 is to incorporate in the Bill the title of the proposed new form of nationality. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary announced on Second Reading, this will be, as we all now know, "British National (Overseas)".
I am glad that we have been able to propose the amendment at this stage. We were pressed to do so by a number of hon. Members on Second Reading.
The people of Hong Kong have now had an opportunity to express their opinions on the title, and I am glad to be able to report that it seems to be generally acceptable in the territory.
It was not easy to devise a title that meets all the necessary requirements. On the one hand, it needs to make clear that we are dealing with a form of British nationality. That was the strongest desire of the people of Hong Kong. On the other hand, it is essential that the title can be used after 1997, and, therefore, that it carries no implication of 1066 a continuing constitutional relationship between Britain and Hong Kong after 1997. The title "British National (Overseas)" meets both those criteria.
The benefits of the new status will be set out in the Order in Council and will be subject to parliamentary approval, but the Government's intention is that the new form of nationality will carry broadly the same benefits as British dependent territory citizen except that it will not be transmissible by descent. Holders of the new status will be able to use British passports. They will be eligible for British consular protection in third countries. They will have a right to registration as British citizens under section 4 of the British Nationality Act 1981 on the same terms as the British dependent territory citizen. The detailed provisions will be set out in the Order in Council to be set before the House when they can be discussed in greater detail.
The Committee will be only too aware that the title used to describe the status is itself the subject of great sensitivity in Hong Kong and the title now proposed has the endorsement of the Hong Kong Executive Council. As I have said it seems to have been generally well received by the public in Hong Kong. To put it in the Bill now will help to calm some of the anxiety on that score in Hong Kong. I hope that the Committee will be able to agree to the amendment. As it is a matter of importance to the people of Hong Kong, the amendment will be a reassurance to them.
Putting aside the fantasy world of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) of plots, deceptions and frauds, let me get down to the reality of the other amendments. The effect of amendment No. 1, as the right hon. Gentleman says, would be to remove the nationality provisions from the schedule to the Bill in their entirety. The Government firmly believe that paragraph 2 should remain in the schedule to the Bill. The measures concerned arise directly out of the agreement and the United Kingdom memorandum. They are part of the same package. It is, therefore, appropriate that all such matters should be dealt with in the Bill. In fact, I would go further and say that silence on nationality would cause great uncertainty in Hong Kong and might cast doubt on the Government's willingness to implement the provisions in the United Kingdom memorandum.
Since it was made clear that nationality questions were among the primary concerns of the people of Hong Kong, the Government consider that that would be damaging. In this enabling clause we are endeavouring to provide a clear framework and statement of intent with regard to nationality and to deal with what one hon. Member described as a unique situation. Of course, the details will follow in the form of the order, which on Second Reading my right hon. and learned Friend announced to the House we would undertake to introduce within a year of the passage of this legislation.
In the debate today, several hon. Members have made it clear, as they did on Second Reading, that they were not satisfied that there would be sufficient opportunity to discuss the draft Order in Council in detail under positive resolution procedures.
I acknowledge that the right hon. Member for South Down is saying that he believes that these matters should be dealt with by means of primary legislation. Other hon. Members support the right hon. Gentleman. I acknowledge that point of view but I have sought to explain why we believe that it is necessary to deal with the problem in 1067 the way that we propose. The Order in Council procedure is inevitable because of the timing constraints on the Bill, which I have explained to the Committee.
The Government have moved as far as they can to meet the wishes of the House of Commons. We agree that the House must be given the opportunity to have a preliminary debate on the draft order. In other words, it will be, as some hon. Members have described, an order with green edges. According to the way in which the debate goes, the Government will, if necessary, withdraw the draft order and revise it before laying it again before the House for debate in the normal way under the affirmative resolution procedure. It will be open to the House to express its views without having to oppose or reject the order as a whole. I hope that the House will find that procedure to be of help in enabling its views to he taken fully into account before the draft order is finally submitted for affirmative resolution.
The right hon. Member for Down South anticipated how the Government's mind is working—this is not a plot, fraud or deception—and I know that he will not be satisfied with the procedure that I have outlined. He has made it clear that he will continue to press for a separate Bill. However, for the reasons which I have advanced, I do not share his views on this issue. The creation of a new form of British nationality for those who must lose BDTC in 1997 was essential to securing the acceptability of the agreement in Hong Kong.
Amendment No. 3 seeks to insert "status" in the schedule instead ofnew form of British nationality".I have already said that the Government are committed to granting a form of British nationality to persons who are BDTCs by virtue of a connection with Hong Kong. I hope that this commitment will enjoy the support of the Committee. It was made clear at the time of the assessment exercise in Hong Kong and at the time of the debate on the agreement in this place that the "appropriate status" referred to in the United Kingdom memorandum would be a form of British nationality. It was on this basis that the people of Hong Kong and the House endorsed the agreement. If we failed to specify that in the order it would cause great dismay and lead to the belief that we were not keeping our word.
Amendment No. 5 is directed to the introduction of travel documents and I urge the Committee not to accept it. Paragraph 2 of the schedule does not cover the provisions in the United Kingdom memorandum relating to the issue of passports. These provisions will be implemented under the Royal Prerogative in the usual way. The United Kingdom memorandum makes the Government's intention absolutely clear. Persons who are BDTCs by virtue of a connection with Hong King will be eligible to acquire a status which will enable them to use passports issued by the Government. United Kingdom consular officials will be able to renew and replace these passports after 1 July 1997. The intention of the right hon. Member for Down South is presumably to deny former BDTCs the right to hold British passports after 1997. Their eligibility to hold passports was part of the package that was found acceptable by the people of Hong Kong and the House. I must urge the Committee to reject the amendment.
Mr. J. Enoch Powell
Will the Minister make it clear what the people of Hong Kong were told was the advantage to them of having a British passport over having a British travel document?
§ Mr. Luce
The deep anxiety of the people of Hong Kong, especially the 3 million who are BDTCs, is that they should retain some form of British nationality allied to a British passport, which would provide them, on the responsibility of the British Government, with, for example, consular protection in third countries. The matter has caused great concern in Hong Kong and we thought it right to satisfy that concern.
In amendment No. 4, my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) asks questions that are geared to facilitate for entry to Britain. I appreciate that my hon. Friend has the best interests of the people of Hong Kong in mind. Since Second Reading, we have had correspondence, and I shall think carefully about the additional comments that he made today, to which it would not be possible for me to give a detailed and clear reply until I have considered them. I do not believe that amendment No. 4 would facilitate travel by Hong Kong BDTCs, which is clearly his intention. There is no requirement for BDTCs to have visas, as opposed to entry certificates, for entry to the United Kingdom. I do not think that it would be appropriate, or well received in Hong Kong, to introduce such a requirement, even on an optional basis.
There is a system by which Hong Kong BDTCs may obtain entry certificates, as opposed to visas, before travelling to the United Kingdom. These are not required for ordinary visits of less than six months, although they may be obtained if the traveller wishes. In addition, BDTCs who are bona fide frequent travellers may already obtain entry certificates that are valid for two years and allow multiple entry to the United Kingdom. I believe that this practice already substantially meets the requirement suggested by my hon. Friend.
On the wider point of the international recognition of British National (Overseas) passports, I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government will do all that they can to ensure the same access to other countries as that enjoyed at present by BDTC passport holders. We intend to negotiate visa abolition agreements.
§ Mr. Michael Marshall
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, as what he has said is helpful. I confess that I had not appreciated the significance of the entry certificate for two years. Could that entry certificate be shown in a travel document and be carried over after 1997? If such a transfer of documentation were possible, that would go some way to meet the bridging process that was behind my amendment.
§ Mr. Luce
If I may, I shall respond to my hon. Friend as soon as I have had time to consider the matter.
I should not do justice to the Committee if I did not pick up some of the other important issues that have been raised, such as statelessness and other matters relating to passports. I was asked whether the British national (overseas) passports will state the right of abode in Hong Kong. A statement to that effect wil be entered by the Government with respect to the period before 1997, as laid down in s ection XIV of annex 1 to the joint declaration. 1069 After 1997, we shall be able to state that the holder of the passport holds a permanent SAR identity card which is evidence of his right of abode in the SAR. The Government will discuss with the Chinese authorities the wording of a statement to be included in the BN(O) passport. The aim is to ensure that an individual need use his passport—and not have to supply an identity card—only to satisfy immigration officials in third countries that he has the right of abode in Hong Kong.
The Government have undertaken to make every effort to explain arrangements to Third countries, as I have said. This will be done between the enactment of the Order in Council and the issue of BN(O) passports. Given a clear indication of the right of abode, I se no reason for third countries to introduce new restrictions on entry of BN(O) passport holders.
I deal next with statelessness. It is only right that the hon. Members for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) and for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) brought this up. I should therefore restate the position and clarify it. The hon. Member for Battersea raised an additional question that I should answer.
The Government have clearly stated their intention in this area. It is our intention that no former Hong Kong BDTC, nor any child born on or after 1 July 1997 to such a person, should be made stateless as a result of the arrangements envisaged in the Bill. All former Hong Kong BDTCs will be able to acquire BN(O) status if they wish before 1 July 1997. If they do this, they will retain that status for the rest of their lives. Any BDTCs who do not acquire BN(O) status and would otherwise be stateless — for example, if they are not Chinese nationals and hold no other nationality—will become British overseas citizens on 1 July 1997. The children born on or after 1 July 1997 to former Hong Kong BDTCs who are Chinese nationals will, of course, have Chinese nationality. Children born to non-Chinese former BDTCs will acquire British overseas citizen status at birth if they would otherwise be stateless.
Here I answer the question of the hon. Member for Battersea. The proposal that children born after 30 June 1997 to non-Chinese former BDTCs should acquire BOC status automatically at birth if they would otherwise be stateless is intended to apply to the first post-1997 generation. However, we appreciate that there may be concern about potential statelessness arising among subsequent generations of non-Chinese Hong Kongers. It would not be appropriate as a general principle to grant British nationality indefinitely and without restrictions to the descendants of British nationals. However, problems of further generations and potential statelessness—and we are looking here into the next century—are being urgently examined in response to representations made by the non-Chinese community in Hong Kong. In this category we include some 5,000 Indian citizens.
I therefore hope that what I have said answers the position as the Government see it. I reaffirm the position of non-Chinese BDTCs resident abroad which I outlined on Second Reading. Residence outside Hong Kong is not a bar to the acquisition of the new British national (overseas) status. Thus non-Chinese persons who are 1070 BDTCs by virtue of a connection with Hong Kong will be eligible to apply for the new status whether or not they are currently resident in Hong Kong.
§ Mr. Adley
My hon. Friend referred to "Indian citizens". However, the people who have lived in Hong Kong of Indian descent, and who were never citizens of India before they moved to Hong Kong, because it was not an independent country, are in a separate category. From what my hon. Friend said, it seems to me that these people of Indian race in Hong Kong who are being offered British overseas citizenship will be at a distinct disadvantage as against the overwhelming majority of the Chinese citizens of Hong Kong, who have the option of a BOC passport or Chinese citizenship. Is it not fair that in due course we should make sure that these Indian people in Hong Kong have an alternative, namely, British citizenship, over and above the proposals that my hon. Friend has made?
§ Mr. Luce
If I referred to them as Indian citizens, I must correct that. I am talking about people of Indian origin who are part of the community in Hong Kong—all of whom, incidentally, will have the right of abode in Hong Kong. They come into the category of non-Chinese citizens on which I have given a fairly long answer. I do not think that it would be right or proper to grant them a right of abode and British citizenship. I have tried to explain how we propose to deal with the problem of non-Chinese citizens. In any event, there will be further opportunities to debate this. There will be a preliminary debate on the draft order when we shall be able to take the views of the House. I may also be able to say something further on that occasion which I hope will be helpful.
§ Mr. Faulds
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and for the generosity of his assurances about Indian people living outside Hong Kong, but do those assurances cover the next generation?
§ Mr. Luce
I have explained the position very carefully. I ask the hon. Gentleman to read Hansard with care. Clearly there will be a problem with subsequent generations going well into the next century and we are considering that urgently. I would rather not add anything to what I have said at this stage.
§ Mr. Faulds
I appreciate the Minister's position and I do not wish to push him, but if he cannot give that assurance about the first generation after Hong Kong's subsumption by China what will be the position of those people? If they are refused British citizenship and abode, where will they be left?
§ Mr. Luce
The hon. Member for St. Helens, South referred to the admission to this country of people whom he described as "at risk". In certain very limited cases rights of admission will exist at the discretion of the Home Secretary, but this will be on a very limited basis for people who have been exposed to special factors and considerations. It would be inappropriate to disclose the categories and numbers of people involved or the special 1071 considerations or factors concerned. I should add that that point has already been covered in previous statements and debates.
§ Mr. Bermingham
I am grateful to the Minister for that assurance. Perhaps I may press him just a little further. I do not expect him to go into details about the categories. I appreciate the reasons for not doing that. Will the Minister confirm that the right of admission will apply not just to those people but to their families and dependants surrounding them? One accepts that there are varying degrees of family, but I hope that this will be considered in the Chinese context rather than the narrow English context.
§ Mr. Luce
Our policy is that the assurances extend to spouses and dependent children under the age of 18, as we have stated on previous occasions.
I have tried to answer all the main points raised in relation to the amendments. I hope that the Committee will find Government amendment No. 2 acceptable but for the reasons that I have given I do not think that it would be right to accept the other amendments.
Amendment made: No. 2, in page 2, line 17, leave out from 'acquire' to end of line 18 and insert'a new form of British nationality the holders of which shall be known as British Nationals (Overseas)'.—[Mr. Luce.]Question proposed, That the schedule, as amended, be the schedule to the Bill.
§ Dr. Marek
I tabled an amendment which replaced the word "may" with "shall", but it was not selected because in the House of Commons we are allowed not to instruct, but to ask Her Majesty to do things. The amendment sought to put strength into the argument that no one should be left stateless. This is not the time to consider constitutional questions. Although some people say that Orders in Council are archaic, they nevertheless allow the Government to do things that they could not do if they had to introduce legislation.
The arguments about statelessness were well put in the previous debate. I am satisfied with the Government's comments except for one matter that arose in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham). I am not happy that the relatives of some people who may be allowed to come to this country would be limited to spouses and children up to the age of 18. We should perhaps reconsider that and allow wider discussion. These cases, by their very nature being special, could also involve other close relatives.
We should now wait to see what the order provides. When we have it in front of us, we can debate it, and then it can be laid before the House. The Committee can do no more at this stage, and I am happy with the schedule as it stands.
§ Mr. Bermingham
I ask the Minister to reconsider his answer to me regarding the children and the spouse, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) referred. It worries me that a senior official in his middle years could be "at risk" and have a group of children with an age span from 10 to 25 years. I make this point because I acknowledge the sensitivity of the Minister's job.
It is important to accept that some people will be in that position, if we are to provide good Government up to 1072 1997. We must seek to protect them. Does the Minister propose that we protect such an official and his children who are under 18 years of age, but leave behind his children who are over the age of 18? If so, we are inhumane, unseeing and unthinking. Everyone will retire promptly before their children reach the age of 18, and we shall not have the continuity of service that we need.
Will the Minister reconsider the family definition in a broader context than in the past? Realism and experience show me and, I hope, the Minister, that a family must be taken as a unit, and that one must not draw an arbitrary line. In cases of immigration, arbitrary lines have caused a great deal of sadness. we can avoid that on this occasion. We are not considering a large number of people. If the Minister will consider the matter in a broader context, we could save a great deal of trouble in the future.
§ Mr. Faulds
The comment, perhaps, ought to be made before we finish that the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), as is his custom, issued some frightening prognostications tonight. He portrayed the preparation of a great plot between the Foreign Office, the People's Republic of China and the Government of Hong Kong. God help the Foreign Office. It normally does rather well, and I have the highest regard for it. However, that great plot was to pass a fraud on the people of Hong Kong and to fool them into thinking that their futures were safe when they were not. It ought to be known in those distant islands by the people whose future we are discussing that the right hon. Gentleman makes a practice of such frightening prognostications.
§ Mr. Faulds
Invariably, as the House will know, the right hon. Gentleman's forecasts prove utterly wrong.
§ Mr. Faulds
On many occasions, for example, his forecast of the terrible dangers of immigration and rivers running with blood. They were all wrong. He will also be wrong about this. It is only fair to tell those people to sleep easy. The right hon. Gentleman is incorrect. The House, the Foreign Office and the people and Government of China are concerned about the future of the people of Hong Kong. They should be assured that, although we have the greatest regard for the right hon. Gentleman as a parliamentary performer, we know that he is given to these strange frenzies and fevers. They should be disregarded, because, of course, politically, he is a busted flush.
Question put and agreed to.
Schedule, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported, with an amendment.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
§ Mr. George Robertson
At this late hour, we have completed consideration of an important Bill. Our consideration has not been without event, because although the amendment to the Bill is important, the prophecies of the Chinese language newspapers were probably right yet again. However, the Government have made some concessions during our considerations, and it is wise to put our gratitude on record. The Government conceded more time between the Second Reading and 1073 Committee stage. They agreed to have annual reports on the progress being made in the transition, and they have agreed to two debates on the Order in Council on British national overseas status. They have also included the name of that nationality in the Bill. They conceded that the Order in Council will have green edges. These are important concessions. The Government have listened to the will of the House and, in doing so, have done a great service to Parliament.
This Third Reading is not the end of the story. The book is not closing on Hong Kong, and there are 12 more years until the handing-over of sovereignty. The House must be conscious of its continuing obligations to monitor and to be vigilant about progress right up to 1997. On the evening of 30 June 1997, we shall make the transfer, and the House's direct influence will have gone. Until then, however, we shall not stop the scrutiny which, in the long transitional period, is imperative.
§ Mr. Johnston
It has been a privilege and a responsibility to have taken part in these debates on our acceptance, following negotiations, of the transfer back to China of the island of Hong Kong and its related territories. I include not just the land, but 5.25 million people—as many people as live in Scotland. It is a very different island that we hand back from the rocky pirates' base that we secured in the last century in circumstances in which we cannot take pride. It is also a very different China, though many traditions pulse unchecked through different political structures.
I said during our first debate, and repeated on Second Reading, that it is difficult for a Liberal to give an uncritical welcome to a Bill which surrenders sovereignty over a people without giving them an open, free choice. Nations, both large and small, continue, sadly, to be over insistent on their national pride and not sufficiently relaxed over the natural, individual and community urge to be independent that people have.
The enclaves that remain here and there across the globe are the leftovers of empires, and do not fit into tidy patterns, but why must we always have tidy patterns? Freedom and tolerance are more important than tidy patterns and historic rights. However, there is no doubt that the remarkable, indeed unique, agreement reached between the Government and the People's Republic of China can provide a framework which, while assuaging 1074 Chinese national pride, can equally facilitate the continuing evolution of the vibrant, yet controlled, free enterprise community that is Hong Kong.
The formulation of the basic law will continue to be central to setting the ground rules and to establishing whether or not the agreement will work. I hope that it will. I believe that at this moment, every responsible person in China, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom believes that it will work. We all pray that we are right, and that Hong Kong will have the future that we all want for it.
§ Mr. Luce
I think that hon. Members will agree that we have had full discussions in Committee and on Second Reading, and I hope that this will be a source of great reassurance to the people of Hong Kong. We hope that the Bill will proceed to the other place, and that the House will continue to show strong support for it. I have tried to accommodate as much as I could the anxieties and views of the House. I believe that the people of Hong Kong have every right to be pleased to know that it has been the strong desire of the House, on both sides, to retain the closest possible interest in Hong Kong in the years up to 1997. That, too should be a source of reassurance.
It is partly for that reason that the British Government felt it right to make concessions on annual reports and due debate on the draft order, so that the accountability of the House is fully demonstrated. As the House knows, ratification of the agreement has to take place before 30 June 1997. Strong views have been expressed about Hong Kong and its future, which, like the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Johnston) I believe should give a renewed sense of confidence. In the meantime, I repeat that Her Majesty's Government remain firmly responsible for Hong Kong until 1 July 1998. Against that background, I warmly commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.