§ Lord Hylton
asked Her Majesty's Government:
How they intend to ensure that the people of Hong Kong continue to enjoy a high degree of autonomy and obtain full democratic rights by 2007, in accordance with relevant international agreements. [HL1570]
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
We continue to follow developments in Hong Kong closely, to ensure adherence to the principles of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong, which promised a high degree of autonomy for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) except in foreign and defence affairs. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary continues to report regularly to Parliament on the implementation of the joint declaration. The last such report, covering the period 1 July to 31 December 2003, was published on 24 February (Cmnd 6125). As the report makes clear, our overall assessment is that, generally, "one country, two systems" continues to work well in practice. Where we have had concerns since the handover that the principles of the joint declaration might be undermined, we have raised them with the SAR Government, or Beijing, as appropriate.
The joint declaration does not guarantee full democracy for Hong Kong by 2007, nor indeed by any date. There are provisions on democracy in the Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAP, in effect Hong Kong's mini-constitution. The Basic Law states that if there is a need to amend the methods for selecting the Chief Executive for the terms subsequent to 2007 and for forming the Legislative Council after 2007, then such amendments must be made with the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all the members of the Legislative Council and the consent of the Chief Executive. Any such amendments must be reported to the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress for approval (in the case of the Chief Executive) or for the record (in the case of the Legislative Council).
The Basic Law also states that the methods for selecting the Chief Executive and forming the Legislative Council "shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress". The "ultimate aim" is the selection of the Chief Executive and election of all members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage (and, in the case of the Chief Executive, upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures).154WA
On 7 January the Hong Kong Chief Executive announced the setting up of a task force headed by the Chief Secretary to examine the Basic Law's provisions on constitutional reform and to consult the Chinese Central People's Government before taking matters further. The task force has held meetings with various groups in Hong Kong to ascertain views and has visited Beijing to hold preliminary discussions on the principles and procedures of the Basic Law with officials from the Central People's Government.
Our position on constitutional reform in Hong Kong has been consistent and was most recently restated in the report to Parliament (Cmnd 6125): we hope to see early progress towards the Basic Law's ultimate aims of the selection of the Chief Executive and the election of all members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage, at a pace in line with the wishes of the people of Hong Kong.