§ 10. Mr. Darling
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on the situation of Vietnamese boat people in Hong Kong.
§ Mr. Darling
Does the Minister accept that aid to Vietnam is the one thing which might stop the flow of refugees from Vietnam to Hong Kong and might also encourage some of the refugees and boat people to go back? Have the Government been using the refugees as negotiating pawns in their discussions with the Vietnamese Government? Will the Minister make it clear that no matter how reluctant the United States Government may be to give it, unless aid is given to Vietnam the refugee problem—whether they are economic or political refugees —will continue?
§ Mr. Maude
When the boat people return to Vietnam, aid is given. Substantial amounts of money are given to accompany their return and to provide for their reintegration and resettlement in their own communities, and it is right that that should happen. The incentive for them to return is thus already provided.
As for deterring people from leaving Vietnam in the first place, one reason why they leave is, of course, poverty in Vietnam—a country which is undergoing economic reform. I do not think that it would be right for us to start any large-scale programme of support for Vietnam while that country steadfastly refuses to accept its international obligations in respect of its own people. The whole international community has rightly said that Vietnam should accept those international obligations.
§ Mr. Raison
Is the Minister satisfied that the number of volunteers in Hong Kong to go back to Vietnam is building up satisfactorily? Does he feel that sufficient information is given to boat people in Hong Kong about the advantages of return and that enough information is given to potential boat people in Vietnam about the disadvantages of going to Hong Kong?
§ Mr. Maude
I believe that more information is being transmitted in the way that my right hon. Friend suggests. There is some evidence this year that the number of those 1192 leaving certainly north Vietnam, from which there has been the biggest outflow in recent years, is reduced. I have no doubt that a principal reason for that was our decision in December last year to return a planeload of people to Vietnam. That sent a clear message to north Vietnam that there was only one place for people who were not refugees to go. and that was to return to Vietnam. I hope that that message is being understood more widely in Vietnam.
§ Mr. James Lamond
Is the Minister, in his determination not to allow any economic refugees from Vietnam to come to this country, keeping in mind the fact that in the German Democratic Republic right now there are more than 50,000 refugees from Vietnam on long-term work contracts? If Germany becomes united, presumably those people will be able to move into the Federal Republic and perhaps even into this country. What will the Minister do about that?
§ Mr. Maude
The hon. Gentleman talks as though it is a decision by us not to allow economic migrants to come here. He must be aware that that decision was reached unanimously by every country that has any interest in the matter. No country in the west is opening its doors to non-refugees. All have taken the view that the only place for those people to go is back to Vietnam. The fact that there are some Vietnamese workers in the GDR arises from the fact that the GDR voluntarily opened its doors to them. No country in the west is opening its doors to those in Hong Kong.
§ Mr. Lester
Does my hon. Friend realise that the Vietnamese Government are in a Catch-22 situation? If they seek to please us by agreeing to the involuntary repatriation of their people they offend the American State Department, which strongly opposes that. The fire ought to be directed at getting the American State Department to make an assessment of the present situation in Vietnam, because it believes that people are being sent back to a tyrannous regime that it remembers from 1979. We are now in 1990 and the situation is different, and for the American State Department to get its policy right it needs to make a reassessment of the true situation in Vietnam.
§ Mr. Maude
We have made the point to the United States Administration that the Vietnam of today is not the same as the Vietnam of 10 years ago. Things have moved forward. The country is certainly reforming in economic terms, with some reforms of a political nature, and that is very desirable. But the Americans have a position on this matter which is somewhat curious and is wrapped up in the history of the past 20 years. The view that my hon. Friend expresses is reasonable, but until Vietnam accepts its international obligations to accept its own people back it would be wrong for us to go unilaterally down the path of giving aid.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Will the hon. Gentleman reconsider the implications of the reply that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) in which he seemed to imply that the only economic aid to be provided for Vietnam would be if Vietnamese people went to Hong Kong and then back to Vietnam. Surely the answer to the problem of economic migration from Vietnam is to make that extremely poor country less poor so that people will not wish to migrate for economic 1193 reasons, and sensible western economic aid for infrastructure and construction is the best way to do that. Will the Government break free from the American obsession on Vietnam, have their own policy and provide economic aid?
§ Mr. Maude
The idea that the right hon. Gentleman seems to be propounding—that our policy on Vietnam is identical with that of the Americans—is a bizarre one. I did not say to his hon. Friend that aid was available only for those returning. The fact is that aid is given to those who return to encourage them to do so, and that is having its effect, but it must be clear that if we were to take a decision tomorrow to introduce aid into Vietnam that could not deter an outflow of people from Vietnam this year. Hong Kong has an immediate problem of enormous dimensions. It would be better if the right hon. Gentleman could bring himself to express a little concern about the burdens that that territory is bearing.