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Commons Chamber

Volume 164: debated on Wednesday 20 December 1989

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 20 December 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

CITY OF LONDON (SPITALFIELDS MARKET) BILL

St George's Hill, Weybridge, Estate Bill

Orders read for consideration of Lords amendments.

To be considered on Thursday 11 January 1990.

British Film Institute Southbank Bill

Considered; to be read the Third time.

Redbridge London Borough Council Bill

City Of London (Various Powers) Bill

Orders read for consideration.

To be considered on Thursday 11 January 1990.

South Yorkshire Light Rail Transit Bill Lords

Ordered,

That Standing Order 205 (Notice of Third reading) be suspended and that the Bill be now read the Third time.—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Bill read the Third time and passed, with amendments.

Oral Answers To Questions

Scotland

Environmental Studies

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has any proposals to locate a centre for climatic and other environmental studies in Scotland.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland
(Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently announced the Government's intention to set up a United Kingdom centre for the prediction of climatic change.

The north of Scotland has outstanding centres of scientific excellence. Do Scottish Ministers back the proposal that the EC Environmental Protection Agency should be located there or do they back the Prime Minister's proposal that the centre for the prediction of climatic change should be located there? Both would be welcome.

The hon. Gentleman raises two separate issues. It is likely that the centre for climatic study will have close links with the Meteorological Office near Bracknell. That is still to be confirmed. We ane spending £1 million on environmental studies. With regard to a centre for environmental studies in Scotland, we always support locating the headquarters in Scotland. The attractions of Aberdeen and Edinburgh were carefully considered, but eventually the choice fell on Cambridge, for the simple reason that several factors were of influence, including the fact that the world conservation monitoring centre is located there.

Does the Minister recollect that I wrote to him to advise him of Grampian's bid for a European environmental agency to be sited in Aberdeen? He replied that it was too early to have a meeting on the bid, because the matter was still under discussion. A couple of days later, we discovered that it was proposed to site the centre in Cambridge. Has not the Minister fallen down badly on the job? Should he not have allowed us to push the case? Why did he abandon his responsibility in such a cavalier manner?

Ten per cent. of the British population live in Scotland. We compete with the rest of the British population for European institutions. All the factors are weighed on their merit collectively by the Government.

Does my hon. Friend agree that while the location of any centre to examine climatic change is important, it is more important that changing climatic conditions in Scotland are carefully noted? In particular, such matters as the short days in the winter months and changes in lighting-up time—and, indeed, the time when anything else happens—are important. We do not want dayrise to occur at 10.30 am, as the proposals put forward by the European Commission envisage.

We particularly note my hon. Friend's point on lighting-up time and changes to summer time. With regard to cold weather payments, we have a common test throughout Britain, which starts at 0 deg C. People living in areas where cold weather is more prevalent stand to benefit most.

British Steel

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the chairman of British Steel; and what matters were discussed.

I met the chairman of British Steel on 26 October. We discussed a number of matters of current interest affecting the steel industry.

Is the Secretary of State aware that that answer will be a bitter disappointment to thousands of steel workers and their families? Is it not about time that he faced up to his responsibilities? Will he make a start today, first by joining me in congratulating the workers of Clydesdale on their productivity efforts and, secondly, by making it plain to British Steel management that a failure to reward that effort with the necessary investment will be a gross betrayal of the workers and of the promises the management made to them? Thirdly, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give a public pledge to the people of Scotland that, if any one of the three Lanarkshire steel plants goes, he will do the honourable thing and go at the same time?

I do not know why it should be a disappointment to the hon. Gentleman that I met with the chairman of British Steel on 26 October. As he well knows, since then, I have been in correspondence with the chairman following the productive meeting that I had with the Ravenscraig shop stewards.

I share the hon. Gentleman's view about the importance of the British Steel works in Scotland. I have communicated my view and that of Her Majesty's Government that we expect British Steel to honour its commitment that it expects to continue steelmaking in Scotland at least until the 1990s. I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the excellent work done by the steel workers in his constituency and elsewhere in the steel industry.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the substantial investment in Ravenscraig has been fully justified by the results—all credit to the work force? Will he impress upon British Steel that it would be inconceivable that it should start to run down the industry in Scotland after 1994, and that, were it to do so, there would be universal opposition to that decision?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. It is significant that, in the two years since the privatisation of the steel industry, British Steel's operations in Scotland have never been so fully worked, and the work force at Ravenscraig and elsewhere have been fully occupied. I share my hon. Friend's view that we want that to continue for many years to come.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the formal commitment to continue steelmaking until 1994 means very little if the investment is not undertaken to maintain the steelworks in a fully operational condition, complete with the cold strip mill at Ravenscraig?

Of course we welcome any investment that British Steel may think appropriate in the steel industry in Scotland. In the past, Ravenscraig has received substantial steel investment, and it is important that that should continue.

Does not the Secretary of State agree that British Steel's commitment to Scotland is not good and that we cannot have any confidence in its commitment to the future of the Scottish steel industry? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman therefore say today that he will use his influence and authority to establish an independent Scottish steel industry with secure investment and a long-term future, which would not be subjected to the constant threats of closure?

At the time of the privatisation of the steel industry, British Steel said that, in the event of not wishing to continue its steel operations in Scotland, it would be open to making the steelworks available to any other interested purchaser. At the present time, British Steel says that it has every intention of continuing its steel operations in Scotland. If that ever ceased to be the case, the alternative option would have to be seriously considered.

Does not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that everyone accepts the importance of a steel industry? My right hon. and learned Friend's commitment to that steel industry is well known on the Conservative Benches. Does he also agree, however, that Opposition Members are practising a gross deception on the Scottish people if they suggest to them that any industry can have the guarantee of remaining in operation for ever, regardless of commercial conditions, especially bearing in mind the fact that the vast majority of the steel produced in Scotland is not used in Scotland?

It is certainly the case that the future of any industry depends upon the demand for its product. It is also true that, when the previous Labour Government were in office, employment in the steel industry in Scotland fell by some 5,000 and a number of Scottish steel plants were closed. That shows that, at the end of the day, it is economic considerations that are important. I believe that Scotland deserves to have a steel industry for a good number of years to come, and I believe that the work force at Ravenscraig have shown that they can be competitive with steel workers elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

While the pledge about steelmaking to the end of 1994 is important, does the Secretary of State agree that the key to the long-term future of Ravenscraig and the industry is investment? Will he join me in publicly pressing British Steel to implement the realistic £10 million investment package for the strip mill at Ravenscraig, which will improve our competitiveness and do wonders for morale in the plant? Does he accept the urgent need, and importance to the Scottish economy, of modernising the mill at Clydesdale so that Scotland can continue to supply the North sea tubes industry? If he does, what specific steps is he taking to fight for that investment and ensure that, when considering where to place any plate mill built by British Steel, full weight is given to the claims of Dalziel? Will he assure us that, now that the industry has been sold off, it will not be a case of Scottish Ministers simply shutting their eyes, crossing their toes and hoping for the best?

I can give the hon. Member a complete assurance on the last part of his question; our activities over the past couple of months are clear evidence of that. We have already made it clear to Sir Robert Scholey and British Steel that the Scottish Office would welcome further investment by British Steel in the Scottish steel industry. We would also expect it to consider the claims of Dalziel in relation to the future of any new plate mill in Scotland.

Disabled Students Allowance

3.

To ask the Secretary of Scotland whether he will review the disabled students allowance given to SED-funded students in higher education.

Yes. The level of the disabled students allowance for the session 1990–91 will be reviewed together with other supplementary allowance rates.

I am grateful for that answer, but I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would give a statement about the amounts today. Is he aware that my constituent, Caroline Munro, a profoundly deaf young lady, has been funded until this Christmas by the charity of an Edinburgh business man who read of her plight in The Mail on Sunday? What advice can the Minister give Caroline Munro? Should she look for more charity or do a lower-level course which the Strathclyde region can fund if his Department will not?

The hon. Lady might like to know that the level has risen from £180 in the last year of the Labour Government to £765 now—a substantial increase. The constituency case to which the hon. Lady referred involves a student who is profoundly deaf and needs special help. The young lady might like to apply to Strathclyde regional council's social work dept, which is able to help people with deafness problems.

The Minister must know that we are talking about a small group of students at universities and further education colleges in Scotland. Given the size of that group, can the Minister give a guarantee that, when students are unable to obtain outside support, he will ensure that they have the necessary support to continue their courses?

I can give the hon. Gentleman a guarantee that we shall review the levels, which will be increased in line with available resources and the needs of the students involved. We have already made a substantial increase from £180, during the last year of the Labour Government, to £765 now.

Homelessness

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what is his estimate of the number of homeless people in Scotland in the most recent year for which figures are available.

Some 9,500 households were assessed by local authorities as homeless during the year ending 31 March 1989.

I am sure that the House will be horrified by those figures, which are probably an underestimate. Will the Minister give serious consideration, perhaps over Christmas when he spends time with his young family, to those young homeless who are out on the streets with nowhere to go? This growing army of modern Oliver Twists have a nomadic life and no respite from their troubles. Will he try to match the money that has been given to England and Wales, so that the authorities can start to lay the foundations to provide somewhere for these young people to live?

The answer is yes. We have ensured that Scottish local authorities have an increase in net capital funding allocations of £64 million, which we have announced. We shall announce the individual allocations to local authorities this week. In those we shall have taken into account the incidence of homelessness. We are revising the code of guidance on homelessness, as it urgently needs updating. I debated this in the early hours of this morning with the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall).

I wonder whether the Minister watched a programme on television which showed a typical example of a homeless person who came from Aberdeen to London? He made only £50 a day in the tube stations and preferred, despite the advice of his mother, to remain in London making it, paying no tax and living in a cardboard box, rather than return to Aberdeen where he could have got a proper job.

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) spent the night looking into these matters last week It is significant that his advice was that young people should not come to London unless they have accommodation or are going to a certain job. Often that has not happened in the past.

Can the Minister explain why, during the progress of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988, he refused to give any responsibility for homelessness to Scottish Homes and insisted instead that responsibility should go to local authorities? Why, in the time since then, has he increased Government support in real terms for Scottish Homes, while cutting it in real terms for local authorities? Is that not evidence of the Government's betrayal of tens of thousands of homeless people in Scotland?

I specifically told Scottish Homes board members, whom I saw recently, that they should give priority to homelessness projects in co-operation with local authorities; but we have given substantial funding to local authorities by increasing their net capital allocations by £64 million. Scottish Homes will be coming forward with a cash incentive scheme to enable residents in its housing to move out into home ownership, so as to enable homeless families to move in.

How many council houses in Scotland are lying empty, and how long does it take to refill a council house when a tenant moves? Can my hon. Friend give some estimate of the number of homes that are vacant in the private sector because people do not believe that the housing legislation allows them both to let their houses and to get them back when they need them?

I most certainly can. There are about 25,000 empty council houses. Many of them are needed for decanting, but at least 4,000 of them have been vacant for more than three months, and I urge local authorities whenever possible to bring them back into use.

Of the approximately 128,000 empty houses in Scotland, most are in the private rented sector; by means of improvement grants and in every other possible way, we strongly encourage the private rented sector to bring these houses back into use.

When will the Minister stop being so cruelly complacent about homelessness in Scotland, and recognise that the true figure of 30,000 homeless people there represents a major crisis for him, for Scotland and for all whom he represents? Why does he—unlike his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment—not realise that there is such a crisis and allocate as much money to Scottish homelessness as his right hon. Friend has given to England and Wales? Will he announce today that he is giving £30 million to deal with the problem of homelessness in Scotland?

First, it is up to local authorities, when spending the extra £64 million net capital allocations, to decide on their most pressing needs. I invite the hon. Gentleman to consider the fact that the problems of London are not exactly reproduced in Scotland; most of the £250 million funding goes to London and the province of the south-east. I believe that local authorities should have the discretion to choose their priorities; projects against dampness and provision for the disabled might be given higher priority in certain areas.

Hill Farming

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last discussed hill farming with the National Farmers Union of Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

My noble Friend the Minister of State and I met the National Farmers Union of Scotland on 25 October to discuss hill farming.

I welcome the increase in suckler cow subsidy, but is my hon. Friend aware that the true hill farm depends on the amount of hill livestock compensatory allowances? Will he do everything possible to ensure that payments in 1990 and 1991 will be every bit as high as in 1989, in order to help that particular sector of the rural economy?

I recognise the importance of the hill farming sector in Scotland. Hill livestock compensatory allowances totalling almost £45 million have been paid annually. We shall make a statement concerning 1990 shortly. As to 1992, we voted against the proposals made in Brussels, and eventually had them moderated—but they were eventually adopted by a qualified majority. We shall bear in mind the points that my hon. Friend made, as we are aware of the importance of the allowance to conservation, the environment, jobs and the sturdy way of life in which hill farmers are involved.

There are many hill farmers in my constituency, which has a large farming community. Is the Minister aware of the great alarm felt among the farming community at the lack of availability of anthrax vaccine? Many farmers who are crying out for vaccine for their herds are discovering that it cannot be obtained. Will the Minister say what advice I can give the farmer who visited me recently, Mr. William King of Hawksland farm in Lesmahagow, who lost a herd in the 1970s through anthrax and who is now concerned that, because of the lack of the vaccine, he may lose more of his stock?

I shall follow up the hon. Gentleman's inquiry and will write to him as soon as possible.

If there is to be a headage limit on HLCA payments, that will represent a limit on the European Community contribution, as I am sure the Minister will agree. As HLCAs were devised by the United Kingdom Government and are widely recognised as a most useful form of support for the hill farming industry, will the Government undertake to meet any shortfall from the European Community?

That proposal will come into operation in 1991, and it would be premature to make a statement about rates now. We secured agreement to have the headage limits reduction set at £2·5 million instead of 4·8 million ecu. As I mentioned earlier, we voted against the Agriculture Council as we thought that the headage limit proposals discriminated against hill farmers such as those to be found in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. We made a firm stand.

Warrant Sales

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he intends to abolish the system of warrant sales in Scotland.

The system of warrant sales was reformed by the Debtors (Scotland) Act 1987. Those reforms removed the most resented and harsh aspects of the procedure. Those reforms were welcomed by the Opposition.

The Secretary of State's answer is pathetic and disgraceful, and he should be thoroughly ashamed of it. Despite the change made in 1987, warrant sales are degrading and humiliating. The practice belongs to the middle ages, not the 1990s. Does the Secretary of State not appreciate the urgency of the situation, when the Government's iniquitous poll tax is forcing thousands of poor people into utter destitution? Will he not reconsider even at this stage? Is it not legalised theft to allow sheriffs' officers to value goods worth many hundreds of pounds at a mere pittance? There are other methods of dealing with the matter. Why will not the Secretary of State use them and abolish warrant sales once and for all?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Scottish Law Commission examined the matter, and as an independent advisory body pointed out that the system enforced in Scotland is similar to that permitted in virtually every other country of whose practices it was aware. The hon. Gentleman referred to non-payment of community charge. One year ago, when the question in Scotland was of non-payment of domestic rates, Strathclyde region issued summary warrants against more than 77,000 people—but at the end of the day, there were only two warrant sales. It is very much open to the hon. Gentleman's own Labour-controlled regional council whether or not it wishes to adopt warrant sales.

Does the Secretary of State accept that Opposition Members believe that such an outmoded form of debt collection should be abolished? They will be introducing a Bill to that effect later today. Is the Secretary of State aware that the Scottish National party finance convenor for Grampian regional council preferred to lose his post rather than condone the continuation of the warrant sales system?—[Interruption.]

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Does not the Secretary of State think it a disgrace that Labour councillors—so-called Socialists—are threatening thousands of people with warrant sales and are happy to serve as Thatcher's poll tax collectors?

While the hon. Lady is criticising the Labour party, which I have no doubt that she is entitled to do, she might also inquire into the practices of the only local authority controlled by the Scottish National party—Angus district council—which I understand is properly carrying out its legal obligation to implement the community charge. I congratulate the authority and commend it for taking what is clearly a more responsible attitude to its legal obligations than the hon. Lady seems to wish.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that four SNP councillors in Midlothian who had promised not to pay the community charge are now paying it? Does he share my hope that the habit is contagious and that Labour Members of Parliament who have refused to pay the charge will soon do so, because by not doing so they are restricting the extent of local authority service and hurting those in greatest need?

I am happy to say that the vast majority of members of the public are paying the community charge—up to 98 per cent. in the Borders and more than 90 per cent. in Fife. As for those who say that they will not pay, it will soon be brought home to them that if they succeeded in their objective they would simply impose an increased penalty on the other 90 per cent. of the population, for which they would not be thanked. As I have said, the vast majority are carrying out their legal obligations, as Parliament would expect them to do.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the great majority of Scottish local authorities, especially Labour authorities, have an excellent record in not pursuing warrant, sales? Does he accept that the new pressures on local authorities derive entirely from the imposition of the poll tax, to which virtually all Scottish local authorities of all political persuasions were opposed? Will he guarantee that the Scottish Office will take no punitive action against councils which, on grounds of human decency, do not use the abhorrent weapon of warrant sales?

It is for the Commission for Local Authority Accounts, not the Scottish Office, to examine any allegations made about individual local authorities. The level of payment of the community charge is broadly comparable with domestic rate payment levels at this time a year ago, when local authorities were issuing tens of thousands of summary warrants against domestic ratepayers. More than 77,000 were issued in Strathclyde region. There has been no change in the procedure, or in the legal rights of local authorities, and I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me about that.

Employment (Renfrew)

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what meetings he has had recently concerning employment in Renfrew district; and if he will make a statement.

I recently met a deputation of local councillors and trade union representatives led by my hon. Friend when we discussed the economic situation in general in Renfrew district, and in particular the possibilities for protecting jobs at Armitage Shanks in Barrhead.

I thank my hon. Friend, and congratulate him on his immediate acceptance of the proposals put to him at that meeting by Renfrew district council, the trade unions and the shop stewards. Does he agree, however, that there are a number of disturbing features in what has happened—for example, the attempt by senior management just after the announcement to provoke industrial action by locking out of the factory honest, decent people who simply wanted to go to work as usual? Will he emphasise to the holding company, Blue Circle Industries plc that a positive response to constructive proposals would be in the interests not only of the work force and the community, but of the shareholders of this large, profitable and well-known company?

My hon. Friend's concern about, and involvement in, the company's problems are well known and I pay tribute to them. The decision must be a commercial one for the management of Armitage Shanks, but I am very pleased that the Scottish Development Agency is to participate in a feasibility study of employment opportunities in the area. Which I consider to be a constructive move. I have written to the chairman of Blue Circle Industries plc the parent company, urging him to defer the redundancies until the study can take place.

I thank the Minister for his prompt action. Does he not agree however, that the parent holding company, Blue Circle Industries plc, is indulging in downright grammatical inexactitudes in trying to allege that the decline in industry in Barrhead is due to the fall in the lira, which it claims has led to the dumping of sanitary ware in Scotland and in Britain as a whole? Does the Minister agree that the real reason for the decline is undiluted greed on the part of a company which made £231 million last year?

I cannot agree with the argument to which the hon. Gentleman refers. He mentioned the Italian lira and imports of products from abroad. In fact. the movement of the lira in the past 12 months has helped domestic production and reduced the threat of imports.

Nature Conservancy Council

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Wildlife Link about his proposals for the future of the scientific capability of the Nature Conservancy Council.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Wildlife Link both stressed the need for cohesive scientific advice on an all-Britain basis. I am happy to confirm that the proposed reforms will ensure that this is achieved.

Why has the Secretary of State refused the eminently sensible request of his Cabinet colleague, the Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), for an independent chairman of the science co-ordinating committee?

The hon. Gentleman must not jump to conclusions with regard to that proposal. The proposals on nature conservancy have been warmly welcomed in Scotland, as the hon. Gentleman knows, by the Scottish council of the Nature Conservancy Council, the Countryside Commission, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Scottish Green party and more than 90 other organisations and individuals. We broadly welcome the proposals from the Nature Conservancy Council United Kingdom headquarters for a joint committee. I believe that the proposals were constructive and helpful.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory non-answer to that question, I shall raise the matter at 5.30 am tomorrow in the Consolidated Fund debate.

Health Service (Waiting Lists)

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has to effect further reductions in waiting lists in the Scottish Health Service.

16.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has to effect further reductions in waiting lists in the Scottish Health Service.

Following the success of our waiting list initiatives, I will make £7 million available next year to make further progress in reducing waiting lists.

I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent reply, and for what it augurs for the people of Scotland. Does he agree that while the decreases in waiting lists have been primarily associated with Government initiatives, the increases have been critically associated with trade union strike action? Does he agree that the best thing that the National Union of Public Employees and the Confederation of Health Service Employees could do to improve the Health Service is not to posture on television, but to earn the sobriquet of the caring profession by encouraging their members to stay at work?

My hon. Friend is right to point to the effects of industrial action on waiting lists. In-patient waiting lists in Scotland currently stand at rather more than 60,000. The industrial action in 1982 added about 20,000 people to the waiting list and industrial action in 1978 did the same. It is important for everyone who supports strikes in the National Health Service to realise that it is the patients who are the victims.

The figures that my hon. Friend has given to the House will be welcomed by everyone. Will my hon. Friend compare and contrast the excellent record of the Conservative Government in Scotland with the truly lamentable record of the last Labour Government?

My hon. Friend is correct to draw attention to the record of the last Labour Government. I am sure that they did not mean to do badly with the Health Service. They cut the Health Service because they failed to manage the economy. Because of the economic success that we have enjoyed, we have been able to invest in the Health Service and bring waiting times down.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that my colleagues and I recently met the Lothian health board, who informed us that it had to make cuts of £6 million this year and that one method was not to reappoint staff? If one does not reappoint medical staff, how does the hon. Gentleman believe that one can deal with the patient waiting list?

I am somewhat surprised at the hon. Gentleman's account of the meeting with Lothian region.

In common with the other Scottish health boards, Lothian has enjoyed growth in resources and is announcing a major investment programme in the hospital service at the moment. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be aware of that. It is certainly true that the region will have to reassess its priorities. That is partly because it is introducing new services and bringing in new hospitals—for example, the major building project in the constituency of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook)—and has had to change expenditure to reflect that.

Is the Minister aware that, only this morning, I was on the telephone to the Edinburgh royal infirmary about a constituent who was told in August that he would have to wait two or three months for a heart bypass operation, who was then told that he must wait an extra six or eight weeks and who was told last week that he will have to wait until February? When I spoke to the doctor this morning, he said that people are waiting 15 months for heart operations in Edinburgh. We are getting to the point at which the queue is self-limiting because people die before they can have the operation. Does the Minister accept that that is a tragic and scandalous state of affairs, and will he take action to see that something is done about it?

I am concerned to hear about that case. The hon. Member is right to draw attention to increasing waiting times for heart surgery, but, in fairness, he should also mention the substantial extra number of patients being given cardiac surgery and the substantial resources that we have made available for that. He knows from the statement that we made last week that we are looking into how we can expand cardiac surgery. We have provided the resources to achieve that. I remind the House of what my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) said —that industrial action in the Health Service makes the task of getting waiting lists down even harder.

Can the Minister explain why he is so insecure in his stewardship of the Scottish Health Service that he has to arrange for planted dolly questions from English Tory Members to protect him from Scottish Members? Is not the Scottish Health Service exactly the type of subject which should prpperly be examined by a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? If the subject received such examination, does the Minister think that anyone in Scotland would regard the Health Service as safe in his hands?

I note the hon. Gentleman's appeal for a Scottish Affairs Select Committee. I served on the last Select Committee, which examined the hospital building programme and I am studying its findings. Members of the Scottish National party refused to serve on that Select Committee because they regarded it as a waste of time. The hon. Gentleman is in danger of being accused of having double standards. As for the accusation about planted questions, it is a sad testimony that the SNP is not interested in the progress being made to reduce waiting times for patients.

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman is the only Scotsman on the Government side who has risen.

I am obliged for your protection, Mr. Speaker. On matters of dress I take my orders from the Prince of Wales and give my orders to you. [Interruption.]

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government's success in the reduction of waiting lists in Scotland is just another reflection of the success of their economic policies, which have increased expenditure on the Scottish National Health Service from £1 billion in 1979 to £3,000 million in 1989? Is it not marvellous that we spend £550 on every patient in Scotland while £450 is spent on every English patient? Should not Opposition Members be proud that we have made in Scotland the best health service in the world?

You will forgive me, Mr. Speaker, for observing that my hon. and learned Friend was being barracked while he spelled out the record of success in the Health Service. He is right to say that expenditure in cash terms has been trebled. Expenditure on the Health Service in Scotland now represents £550 per year for every man, woman and child in Scotland. That is an increase, over and above inflation, of more than one third. That is a record to be proud of and one which none of the Opposition parties came close to approaching when they were in office.

As the Under-Secretary of State on occasion takes an embarrassingly close interest in broadcasting, may I congratulate him on the obvious care that he has taken to get the right camera angle today? I know that he is aware of reports that one in five heart operations at the sick children's hospital in Glasgow have had to be postponed, sometimes at very short notice, even at a few minutes' notice.

The Minister has expressed his concern about that serious matter, and said that he had asked for a report to be available at the end of last week. Does he intend to publish that report? Will he give an assurance that the situation that led the consultant surgeon at the sick children's hospital to complain about financial constraints and the shortage of intensive care beds will be tackled immediately? Does he agree that such a traumatic shortage gives the lie to the often complacent attitude of the Scottish Office towards the Health Service?

I have looked into the matter fairly carefully and I understand that the use of intensive care beds at the hospital averages about 76 per cent. There are peaks at particular times of the year and there have been problems with the management of the beds. It is a matter not of resources but of the management of resources. I have asked the Department to find out the detailed position and if additional resources are required to prevent operations on children being cancelled at short notice, we shall certainly seek to provide them. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that is not acceptable for something like one in nine operations to be cancelled at short notice and we shall certainly look into that. I do not think that it would be appropriate to publish a report setting out the position in detail. Most people are concerned that the children should get their operations when they need them.

Student Loans

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he has any plans to shorten courses in the central institutions in Scotland to meet the impact of a student loans scheme.

Unemployment in Glasgow has fallen by 32 per cent. over the past three years and by over 14,000 in the last year alone—

I always defer to my right hon. and learned Friend.

The length of courses in the central institutions in Scotland is a matter for the institutions themselves, rather than for Ministers.

I congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland on his performance in the first Scottish Question Time this Session. The Minister to whom my question is directed must be aware that all Scottish universities and central institutions which responded to the White Paper on student loans, the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland outlined their opposition to the proposal because they realise the detrimental effect that it will have on the fourth year of study in Scotland. They are quite clear that it will have a detrimental effect on the Scottish system of education. Is the Minister really saying that they are all wrong and that, as usual, only the Government are right?

I see no evidence at all that the top-up loan system should be detrimental to the four-year degree course. Scottish students enjoying a four-year degree course are receiving grants and maintenance for four rather than three years, but not all Scottish degree courses are for four years and not all courses south of the border are shorter than four years. It is important to find the best method of financing students in higher education. I believe that top-up loans are a very useful adjunct to the fees and maintenance grants which are continuing to be paid.

Does my hon. Friend agree that international comparisons suggest that access to higher education is rather better in countries with combined grant and loan systems than it is in Britain? Does he further agree that there is no evidence that top-up loans will be a disincentive to any Scottish four-year course? By definition, those who argue that it would be a disincentive are arguing that students themselves place a very low value on the fourth year of that course. If that were the case, it would raise a major question about why the taxpayer should continue to fund them.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have the most generous student funding arrangements of any industrialised country in the world. Most countries that have far more substantial student loan arrangements than we are contemplating also have higher student participation. In Scotland 20 per cent. of students come from south of the border. Clearly they do not regard a four-year degree course as a disadvantage.

We should pause for a moment and condemn the Minister of State's announcement yesterday on student grants. Increasing the grant by only 5 per cent. was a further imposition of a cut in living standards for students in Scotland. That means that there has been a cut of nearly 25 per cent. in the value of the grant since 1979. If it had been maintained at its 1979 level, it would have been worth £1,600 more over a four-year degree course. We are particularly worried about the length— [Interruption.]

Order. I think the House is anxious that the shadow Minister should ask a question.

Does the Minister agree that the cut will be particularly damaging to women, single parents and low wage earners who are considering a career change, because they will have to pick up the bill for a four-year Scottish degree course? Who will make such a change when it means debts of thousands of pounds?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. In the United States, where loans play a far greater part, women students at university are in the majority. It is important to get the balance right. We must decide whether it is fair to ask taxpayers—most of whom earn less than students will once they have graduated—to continue to bear the huge burden of higher education. It is entirely fair to ask students to bear a burden of 7 to 10 per cent. of the total cost of their education.

Unemployment (Glasgow)

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he will be taking to reduce unemployment in Glasgow.

I am happy to answer the hon. Gentleman's question. Unemployment in Glasgow has fallen by more than 32 per cent. in the past three years and by more than 14,000 in the past year alone. The full range of employment and training services will continue to be available to combat unemployment in the area, and I look forward to the establishment there of a local enterprise company under our Scottish enterprise proposals.

The Minister must know that the unemployment rate in Springburn ranks about the fourth highest in the United Kingdom. He gave a complacent answer. He knows that 6,000 people are unemployed, 30 per cent. of whom have been unemployed for more than a year. Young people in almost every street in places such as Haghill, Jermison and Possil Park have not had a decent job since they left school. If the Minister will not do anything about that, he should resign.

Not only are we as concerned as the hon. Gentleman clearly is, but we are doing a great deal about it. More than 8,000 youngsters in Glasgow are benefiting from the youth training scheme, which will enable the majority of them to gain employment. The hon. Gentleman is normally fair, and I should have thought that he would welcome the fact that unemployment in Glasgow has fallen by more than 14,000 in the past 12 months. That includes several thousand people in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. If he wishes to be balanced, he should give credit where it is due.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that setting up the student loans company in Glasgow will bring new job opportunities?

A number of initiatives have led to new employment in the Glasgow area in the public and private sectors. The fact that Glasgow is increasingly being regarded as an attractive location for work which was previously done in the south of England shows the growing effectiveness and attraction of the Scottish economy.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the close relationship between the Glasgow economy and that of Lanarkshire? Is he aware of the recently published Scottish Trade Union Congress document, which showed the potentially devastating domino effect down the Clyde of any loss of steel capacity in Lanarkshire? When the Secretary of State met the chairman of British Steel on 26 October, did the charman tell him that the company was purchasing a second-hand mill from Japan and storing it at Lackenby? If not, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that we cannot trust British Steel? Will he give an assurance on behalf of the Government and not just the Scottish Office that the Government will make an unequivocal demand that if there is to be a single plate mill strategy it will go to Dalziel and Motherwell and not to Lackenby?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that the north of England and Scotland will be concerned to get future investment in the steel industry. I appreciate that as a member of the Scottish National party he has no interest in what happens in the rest of the United Kingdom. He will also appreciate that the visit by his party to steelworkers in the north of England was seen as a most inopportune initiative which did no good service to steelworkers in Scotland. Of course, we would welcome investment by British Steel in Scotland and, in particular, hope that it will give favourable consideration to the claims of Dalziel for a new strip mill.

Police Accommodation

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimate he has made of the financial effect on police officers in provided accommodation arising from the recommendations of the police arbitration tribunal.

The effect on police officers would vary according to the level of the relevant community charge, the amount of the proposed force housing allowance and the rent charged for the accommodation provided.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the rent charged for police provided accommodation can be higher than the housing allowance payable? Is he further aware that officers in Scotland will have to pay rent, the community charge, income tax and an 11 per cent. contribution towards their pensions? Is he also aware that new entrants to the force will be substantially worse off than serving officers in post on 31 March 1990? What does he think that the effect of that will be on recruitment and on the maintenance of law and order in Scotland?

My hon. Friend represents the Police Federation and I am aware of the factors that he mentioned. The regulations will come into effect on 22 December. They will backdate the rent allowance for Scottish police officers, which will be popular with those concerned. My hon. Friend should be aware that we have today received the recommendations from the police negotiating board, but there is a difficulty with the police arbitration tribunal decision about officers occupying provided accommodation who would have to pay more rent than they would receive in housing allowance and that would be a less favourable position than at present. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will give urgent and careful consideration to the recommendations.

Is the Minister aware that that has been going on since April this year? I am asking my question in the interest of my constituents who are in the police force and not because I am being paid by the Police Federation. It is a simple matter to separate that part of the rent from that part of the rates given to police officers as their allowance. That would deal with the problems that have arisen for police officers who live in provided accommodation and which have been caused by the imposition of the poll tax in Scotland. I wrote to the Minister some months ago about this issue and he has had plenty of time to sort it out. It is an absolute disgrace that police officers are still suffering.

The regulations come into effect on 22 December. I am glad that Opposition Members have not prayed against them. The backdated sums will be paid out by many forces before the end of the year. Another problem about the police arbitration tribunal was that it recommended the right to buy for all police houses. In certain remote areas, such houses are not surplus to police requirements and we are duty bound to look into the implications of these matters.

New Towns

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will give the house waiting lists for each of the five Scottish new towns.

The numbers on house waiting lists in the five Scottish new towns are as follows:

Number
Irvine915
Glenrothes1,364
Cumbernauld1,213
East Kilbride4,364
Livingston746

Is the Minister aware that those figures represent a doubling of the waiting lists in East Kilbride and Irvine, and a lengthening of the lists in the other new towns? Does he accept that the lengthening of the lists and the failure to build sufficient houses in the new towns are his responsibility and are a direct result of Government policy for the new towns? Will he tell the House what he proposes to do to shorten the lists and to provide sufficient houses within the new towns?

I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that the lists should shorten. There are 4,300 public and, more importantly, private sector houses being constructed in the new towns. The development corporations' funding programmes for the current year add up to some £40 million, the figure for East Kilbride being £17 million.

Self-Governing Hospitals

15.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, if he has received any recent representations from the British Medical Association on self-governing hospitals.

I was interested to see that the British Medical Association in Scotland is now responding more positively to the proposed self-governing hospitals or NHS trusts and has offered to help us with monitoring their success.

Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a welcome change of heart on the part of the BMA, but is it not strange that the Labour party, which believes in devolution, does not believe in devolving powers down to the general hospitals from the health boards?

I think that my hon. Friend is being a little unfair. I think that the BMA is beginning to realise the opportunities that the White Paper offers for giving doctors more say in the management of hospitals and for expanding services to patients. The only consistency that my hon. Friend should look for among Labour Members is that of always being against what the Government do, whether or not it is in the interests of patients.

Steel Industry

17.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next expects to meet Strathclyde regional council and district councils from Lanarkshire to discuss the implications for local government services of the future of the steel industry in Scotland.

I will shortly be meeting councillor McGarry of Strathclyde regional council and others concerned about the future of Ravenscraig.

Does the Secretary of State accept that his replies to earlier questions about steel were widely at variance with the reply that I received on Thursday from his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who is sitting beside him now, when she made it clear that commercial considerations alone are what matter and that the golden share will not be used by the Government in defence of steel industry jobs? Does the Secretary of State accept that if he fails to persuade the Cabinet to fight for the future of the Scottish steel industry, he has a clear duty to offer his resignation?

The hon. Gentleman is, uncharacteristically, totally confused. The golden share to which he referred is an opportunity for the Government to be involved only if there is an attempt, through a proposed takeover of British Steel, to increase a holding in the company to more than 15 per cent. The golden share does not give the Government any power to involve themselves in the operational matters of British Steel. With regard to the other aspect of the hon. Gentleman's question, the Government share the hon. Gentleman's view that British Steel should keep to its commitment to continue steel making in Scotland at least until the mid-1990s.

Panama

3.31 pm

(by private notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the American activities in Panama and on the safety of British citizens.

We welcome the establishment of democratic government in Panama. We fully support the American action to remove General Noriega, which was undertaken with the agreement of the leaders who clearly won the elections held last May. Noriega's arbitrary rule was maintained by force. We and many others have repeatedly condemned Noriega and called for the election result in Panama to be respected. Every peaceful means of trying to see the results of the democratic elections respected had failed.

We have been in touch with the British charge d'affaires in Panama. So far as he has been able to establish, there have been no British casualties. The embassy has advised British residents to remain in their homes until the situation becomes clearer.

Will the Secretary of State be more forthcoming about the position of British subjects? Is the embassy in touch with them? Does it know where they are and can it guarantee their safety? Will they be given assistance to return home if that is what they want to do?

There is no doubt that General Noriega is a corrupt dictator and that Panama will be better off without him. Will the Secretary of State answer my following questions?

Under what provision of the canal treaty have United States forces intervened? If it is that relating to the smooth operation of the canal, can the Americans offer guarantees that the canal will continue to operate smoothly? Under what provision of the United Nations charter have the United States forces intervened? If the United States is citing section 51 of the charter, has it reported its action to the Security Council as a section 51 action? If the death of a United States service man triggered off the action, does the intervention qualify as self-defence under section 51? [Interruption.]

If so, does the Foreign Secretary believe that the deaths of 50 people, including nine American service men, justified the action—[Interruption.]

Does the United States regard General Noriega's statement that a state of war existed between the United States and Panama as a declaration of war? Is this an action of war, a police action, or an action of self-defence?

We ask these questions because any action of this kind, if it is to be justified internationally, must stand up to international scrutiny. Noriega's crimes are to be condemned, but any action that is taken against Noriega must thoroughly justify itself. So far, no such justification has been provided.

The right hon. Gentleman asks first about the British community. There are about 450 of them. Of course, the position on the ground is still obscure. There are no plans for evacuating them at present, but, obviously, our charge d'affaires is keeping an eye on matters and will do his best to offer them such advice and protection as they may need.

In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's main point, the President of the United States has stated that he took action only as a last resort. He gave four reasons: to protect American lives; to defend democracy; to arrest an indicted drugs trafficker; and to defend the integrity of the Panama canal treaty. That is the President's statement.

The right hon. Gentleman is right: no one can possibly accurately describe General Noriega as a romantic victim of oppression or as a symbol of legality. There was an election. There is no doubt of the result of that election. That result was overturned. There has been a clear threat to United States lives, including the recent death of an American officer and a statement from Noriega that Panama was in a state of war with the United States. Those seem to Her Majesty's Government to be strong and sufficient reasons.

Does my right hon. Friend understand that the people of Panama are very peace-loving and gentle and that, above everything else, they value their freedom? One thing that they have expressed to me time and again is their desire to be free from the military Government of their country. Above all, they look for freedom from American interference. The new Government will be yet another Government imposed upon the people of Panama by the American Government.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the Americans that the people of Panama, now that they have a Government who are free from the military dictatorship of General Noriega and the possibility of an election, also want freedom from American interference in Panama?

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend has the background correct. President Endara and the two vice-presidents were not selected by the United States Administration; they were elected by the people of Panama last May. Also, 279 independent observers from 21 countries, including at least one Member of this House, after observing the elections in Panama last May, formally declared that the election was overwhelmingly won by the Opposition alliance headed by President Endara. From what President Bush has been saying to the American people today, it is clear that the Americans have their rights under the treaty, but they have no desire to impose a Government on Panama, nor have they done so in this case.

When the President of the United States spoke to the Prime Minister this morning about this matter, which item of the United Nations charter did he cite as the authority under which he acted? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that for the United States President to act as judge and executioner in his own cause and in the cause of his country is a plain defiance of the United Nations charter? Do the British Government really intend that this shame should be repeated at the Security Council? Are we to stand up for the charter or to humiliate ourselves once again by supporting the United States' action?

In his conversation with my right hon. Friend, the President expounded the action that is being taken on the same lines as he then made it public when speaking to the American people. The right hon. Gentleman is on the wrong side in this matter—he is on the wrong footing. It is not a question of the United States intervening to impose a Government. A Government were elected but that election was set aside—[Interruption.] I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is listening, but these are the facts. Independent observers, of a type of which the right hon. Gentleman is always much in favour, observed the election and upheld the result. However, it was then set aside.

Constant efforts have been made—not just by the United States, but by many others also—to have the democratic results restored, but all those efforts have failed. More recently, an American officer has been murdered, threats and attacks have been made on others and General Noriega has declared that his country must be regarded as in a state of war with the United States. Having added up those considerations, they appear to us to be strong and sufficient.

Having led a delegation into the interior of Panama to supervise the recent election, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend will accept it from me that two statements are clear beyond peradventure? The first is that the opposition, led by Mr. Endara won an overwhelming victory, and the second is that, however much it may disappoint Opposition Members, far from sentiments of anti-Americanism, we received frequent expressions of sentiment that the United States must help the Panamanian people to secure the democracy that they so deeply wanted. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that we give Mr. Endara and his budding Government every support in the most difficult days that they are surely going to face?

I had hoped that my hon. Friend would be in his place, because it was he who joined observers from other countries to observe the election. From his personal experience, he has corroborated the points that I was trying to make. Of course it is regrettable and tragic that there should be loss of life on such occasions, but many people have already died as a direct result of the brutal and arbitrary rule of General Noriega. I endorse what my hon. Friend has said. We wish President Endara and his democratically elected Government every success in steering Panama out of this tragic chapter in its history.

We support the United States action, but do so under the terms of the United Nations charter that relate to self-defence. Whatever the provocation, is it not a vital principle, always worth upholding, that countries should invade others only under the terms of international law? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, having had a declaration by General Noriega of a state of war between the two countries and having had threats to the lives of American service men who had every right to be in Panama, it is under the terms of the charter that the Americans should now rest their case, not on the restoration of democracy, however desirable?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to stress the two latter points, on which, as I have said, we rest our belief that the reasons were strong and sufficient. However, one cannot get away from the political context, and I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would want us to do so. We are not talking about a military ruler being imposed by the United States; we are talking about a military ruler being deposed and a democratically elected president being able to take up his position.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the situation in Panama at present is an absolute tragedy? When the rest of Latin America is returning to democracy, is it right that Panama should be left under a jumped-up thug financed by drug money? Does my right hon. Friend further agree that the United States should be congratulated if it were to succeed, as it did in Grenada, in restoring democracy, removing tyranny and then withdrawing?

It is certainly the United States' aim, which we entirely share, that democracy in Panama should be restored. Fortunately, there was an election with a clear result which was attested by international opinion, so it is not a matter of choosing somebody from a group of Panamanian politicians and having to ask, "Is he the right man, or is he not?" We are talking about a person who was elected along with his two vice presidents. It amazes me that it should be thought undemocratic to restore democracy.

What attitude would Conservative Members have taken if that action had been taken by the Soviet Union in a sovereign country? However the right hon. Gentleman dresses it up, the American invasion of Panama City is an act of naked aggression against the sovereignty of that country. He knows that that is true. Whatever he might think of General Noriega, to describe the Noriega regime as a reign of terror is grotesque in the light of what is happening in Romania, what happened in Tianamen square and the death squad activities in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

When will the Government insist that the United States of America begins to act like a civilised nation upholding the United Nations treaty? When will the Government stop acting as apologists for every act of aggression perpetrated by the United States?

The hon. Gentleman is well astray. In the long-distant past, under policies now abandoned, the Soviet Union did intervene in eastern Europe—not to uphold a democratically elected Government but to suppress it. Our condemnation of that action was clear and absolute, under different Governments at the time. Now, fortunately, that policy has changed. There is no parallel with the position of the United States.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that our American allies were not exactly helpful when we faced a crisis over the Suez canal? May I say how glad I am that, with the future of a great international waterway at stake, we are better allies to them than they were to us?

There is a great deal of history in a special relationship, and my right hon. Friend remembers most of it. We are faced now not with history or with reminding people of events long past, but simply with common-sense practicalities and, I think, the morality of the present position. The considerations that we weighed up brought us to the conclusion that the American action was justified.

The Foreign Secretary is propounding a strange doctrine—that if the cause is good, the action must be right. Does he recall that, at the time of the invasion of South Georgia, the Government relied heavily and properly on the rule of international law? Where is the principle of the rule of international law in this affair?

The right hon. Gentleman, not for the first time, is at odds with the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who drew attention to the rules of article 51 of the United Nations charter; reminded us that an American colonel had been murdered and that there had been threats against others; and pointed out that a few days ago General Noriega declared that his country should be considered to be in a state of war with the United States.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that during a recent speech, and while waving a machete, General Noriega declared war on the United States? Can my right hon. Friend explain how it could possibly be in the interests of this or any other country for Panama and its important waterway to remain in the hands of an utterly corrupt regime and a dictator who is a psychopath, a drug trafficker and a flouter of the democratic will of his own people?

How can the Labour party, in its hostility to the United States, find it possible to praise almost anybody, including Noriega, just to make its own point?

The Labour party stance on these matters appears to become more and more eccentric. We are not concerned just with the strategic importance of Panama, although that is undoubted. For several years, efforts have been made by the United States, by democracies in central and southern America and by the international community to deal with the problem. Those efforts were made in good faith but have not been successful.

The moment clearly came, in the judgment of the President of the United States, when other action was required. It was justified by the election results and by the declaration of General Noriega to which my hon. Friend referred. We believe the action to be justified.

Listening to the hyperbole of Conservative Members, one could be forgiven for believing that they had bitterly condemned Noriega's Government during the past decade. Does the Secretary of State recognise that, until 1986, the United States awarded prizes to Noriega for his work against drugs and that, as recently as 1986, Interpol held conferences in Panama in recognition of the work done there against drugs? Does he recognise that what has happened today has nothing to do with drugs, little to do with the personality of General Noriega and everything to do with an American determination to renege on the Panama canal treaty? Does he recognise that to support military action aimed at creating the circumstances in which the treaty democratically arrived at by Torrijos and Carter can be reneged upon is a dangerous precedent for this country?

It is not a question of reneging: the hon. Gentleman gives a phoney account of what occurred. By his own admission, for several years the true nature, character and villainy of General Noriega's regime have been apparent to everyone. Elections in Panama this year were not cooked. Noriega lost them and overturned the result. I cannot understand why the hon. Gentleman makes excuses.

Order. This is an extension of Question Time. We must move on to the statement on Hong Kong.

Hong Kong

3.51 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about our proposals to improve confidence in Hong Kong.

The confidence of the people of Hong Kong is at a low ebb. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President told the House on 6 June about the traumatic effect in Hong Kong of what happened in Peking in June, and reported to the House on 5 July after he had paid a visit to the territory. Many hon. and right hon. Members have themselves visited Hong Kong since June, and the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs gave a lucid account of the problem in Hong Kong in its report of 28 June.

We must do all that we can to build a secure future for Hong Kong on the basis of the Sino-British joint declaration of 1984. We have a continuing responsibility which will involve us in many difficult decisions over the next eight years. In particular, we must provide for those whose services are necessary for the prosperity and effective administration of Hong Kong in the years up to 1997.

The problem of confidence is shown by increasing emigration from the territory, and increasing numbers of people who contemplate leaving—42,000 people have left Hong Kong this year, and 55,000 are expected to leave next year. [Interruption.] A growing proportion of these people are those whom Hong Kong can least afford to lose.

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Foreign Secretary. We cannot have a running commentary. It interrupts our proceedings. I ask the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) to desist.

This haemorrhage of talent puts at risk the competitiveness of Hong Kong's economy, the efficiency of its public service, the effectiveness of its education system—in short, its future.

Many of those who are leaving Hong Kong would not do so if they could obtain the assurance of right of abode in the United Kingdom. As hon. Members know from statements by the Prime Minister and other right hon. Friends, we have been working on a scheme to give such assurances to a limited number of key people and their dependants in the public and private sectors. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee recommended such a scheme in its report in June, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President told the House on 5 July that we would provide one. I can now explain to the House the conclusions we have reached.

We aim to give such people the confidence to remain in Hong Kong so that they can continue to make their contribution to the success and prosperity of the territory. We have to weigh in the balance our ability to accept the individuals concerned for settlement in this country, should that ever be necessary. We have to set this reality against our desire to be as effective as possible in restoring confidence in Hong Kong.

If, as has often been suggested, we gave the right of abode to all British dependent territories citizens in Hong Kong, we could, if that right was exercised, create unacceptable strains here. If, on the other hand, we kept the scheme too narrow, it would fail in its purpose and, at the end of the day, we might be faced with a much more severe problem.

After careful, detailed consideration over several months, we have concluded that the assurance to be given should take the form of full British citizenship, which would be awarded to recipients without their having to leave Hong Kong. The scheme will cover a maximum number of 50,000 households.

Not all the assurances would be distributed initially: in order to spread the administrative load and to give opportunities for those who may move into key positions in Hong Kong in later years, we shall hold back a proportion of the allocations for later in the life of this scheme. The best current estimate of the total numbers of people, including dependants, who might receive British citizenship in this way is 225,000. The scheme would cease by 1997. It is thus strictly limited in scope and time.

Beneficiaries will be selected on the basis of a points system, which will embrace people from a wide range of walks of life in Hong Kong. It will cover professional and business people, people working in educational and health services, and those with particular technical and managerial skills, as well as those in the public and disciplined services. The decisive criteria will be the value of the individuals' service to Hong Kong and the extent to which people in that category of employment are emigrating.

Provision will also be made within the overall total for those who, by virtue of their position, may find themselves vulnerable in the years ahead. Long service with British institutions in Hong Kong will be taken into account, so will knowledge of the English language.

In addition to this scheme, but again within the total numbers I have given, the Government propose to introduce a special measure designed to help companies and institutions in Hong Kong to retain their key personnel. We intend to reduce substantially the period of residence in this country which employees of such organisations would have to fulfil in order to achieve settled status and later citizenship. For those accepted on the scheme, employment or service in Hong Kong together with a period of residence in the United Kingdom would, after a total period of five years, result in citizenship. The companies and institutions concerned would arrange secondments of key personnel for work or training in the United Kingdom for relatively short periods of time, thereby minimising any disruption to their work in Hong Kong.

We intend to introduce the necessary legislation at the earliest opportunity which will provide for the grant of citizenship to beneficiaries under the scheme in both the public and private sectors.

Although this is a British responsibility, and one which we do not shirk, Hong Kong is an international centre, with huge international investment. Its major trading partners have a strong interest in Hong Kong's continuing stability and prosperity. Some countries have already found ways to give Hong Kong people assurances without their having to leave Hong Kong. It is clearly for us to take the lead, and I have set out our specific commitments. We shall now be asking our partners and allies to follow this lead.

I emphasise two final points. First, our proposals will be restricted to Hong Kong and the unique problem which we face there. They will have no relevance to other people elsewhere, and the principles of the British Nationality Act 1981 will remain intact. Second, they are designed not to encourage immigration into this country, but to persuade to remain in Hong Kong those whom we need to retain there if our last substantial colony is to pass successfully through the final eight years of British rule.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that on 5 July I made absolutely clear the view of Her Majesty's Opposition about the right of abode here? I said in this House:

"The Opposition believe that it would not be right to offer any commitment to Hong Kong British dependent territory passport holders on the right of entry into the United Kingdom or the right of abode here."
I added:
"I state clearly that the Opposition are against the creation of special favoured categories based on status or affluence." —[Official Report, 5 July 1989; Vol. 156, c. 312–13.]
For six months no one can have been in any doubt about our position. This afternoon the Foreign Secretary cited in his support the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. However, that Committee did not recommend his scheme, but specifically stated, under the recommendation of its own scheme, that the British Nationality Act 1981 would not be amended. What is more, it recommended use of the Home Secretary's discretion under section 4(5) of the Act. In this House on 5 July I suggested that vulnerable Crown servants could be helped by the use of the Home Secretary's discretion under the Immigration Act 1971.

On the basis of the scheme which he has put forward today, the Foreign Secretary has come to the worst way of fulfilling what he regards as his commitment. He has not worked out what he believes are essential categories and then decided to legislate on them, but thought of a number, haggled about it with the Home Secretary and been beaten down. He now offers that number to the House and says that it will be filled on the basis of a points system.

Such a system is inherently unworkable, invidious and divisive. How are the points to be weighted? How are they to be allocated? Who will allocate them? Will all heads of households in Hong Kong be invited to be considered? If not, how are those to be considered to be selected? Are they to be interviewed individually? For the British language qualification, are there to be tests? Will they be written or oral? How will points be allocated on the basis of the value of an individual's service—a highly subjective criterion? How will points be allocated on the basis of propensity to emigrate and of vulnerability? How will points be allocated on length of service to British institutions—and which institutions?

All hon. Members whose local authorities operate a points system for the operation of dwellings know what bitterness and dissatisfaction such a system arouses. How much more bitterness and envy will be aroused by a points system which decides who will receive the most prized possession of all—a British passport?

Does the Foreign Secretary believe that it is proper for a British passport to be allocated, not on clearly established criteria which everybody can understand, but on the basis of the accumulation of a number of points allocated on a subjective basis to the arbitrarily chosen number of 50,000 people placed in a queue? How will the 50,001st person in that queue feel, and how will others feel? Far from improving confidence, as the Foreign Secretary claims that he wishes the system to do, it will arouse doubt and uncertainty because no one will be sure whether he or she qualifies until the laborious process has been completed.

If the scheme is embodied in an Act, a Labour Government, on coming to office, will examine how far it has gone and how it has worked—[Interruption.]

A Labour Government will not be bound to continue it, but first we shall seek to prevent such a scheme from becoming law. We shall oppose legislation which is not only elitist and discriminatory but which, in our view, is wrong in principle.

The right hon. Gentleman began by saying that we could be in no doubt about the position of the Opposition. It is perfectly true that we are in no doubt about what they are against. As he said, the Opposition have made it clear that they are against the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who argued wrongly that everyone who had a United Kingdom dependent territories passport should be given the right of abode.

The right hon. Gentleman has said that he is against categories, but I am not sure what he is in favour of. He must know, because he has visited Hong Kong, the overwhelming feeling not only in the public service but in the private sector that unless there is a scheme of this sort—of course they would like the numbers to be bigger—the lifeblood will gradually drain out of Hong Kong.

People in key positions in Hong Kong—the right hon. Gentleman entirely neglected the private sector, which was absurd—are telling their employers that they want to stay. They say that their homes, positions and lives are in Hong Kong, but that they want some sense of assurance: if they belonged to a French company, the French would give them a French passport, but as they work for a British company they have no such assurance.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I have not been bashing out this difficult matter. It has been worked out between the main Departments for many months and it has involved different people. Some newspapers today said that I had won the argument; some said that I had lost it. The point is that we have eventually worked out what we believe to be the most sensible balance between our desire for good race relations and harmony in our cities—that leads us to reject the SLD proposal—and our strong feeling that the House and the Government have a continuing duty of responsibility to the people of Hong Kong.

The scheme involves a points system, and no one pretends that it will be easy to devise or administer it. The right hon. Gentleman will have plenty of opportunities as the Bill goes through the House to examine how the points system will operate, but basically assurances will be given to no more than 50,000 heads of households. Some of those assurances will be held back, for the obvious reasons that I have explained.

The figures will be distributed by categories of employment in the private and public sectors, and then the points will be awarded and the passports allocated accordingly. The scheme will be operated through the governor, the legal responsibility being that of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

We are not amending the 1981 Act, which provides the correct basis for the nationality law of this country. We are faced with a temporary—but quite long-term—and unique problem in our last major colony. It is a problem that will not go away and that is most sensibly tackled on the lines that I have described.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he has made a responsible and sensible decision which will help the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong? Is not one of the main problems about the existing schemes run by countries such as Canada, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom the fact that they require a period of residence in those countries before the acquisition of nationality, thus obliging people to leave Hong Kong and accentuating the Hong Kong brain drain? Is not one of the main advantages of my right hon. Friend's proposal the fact that people who qualify under these arrangements will be able to remain in Hong Kong and contribute to its prosperity?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who knows Hong Kong well, but who also knows well this country and his constituents. He knows very well, but was too polite to say, that the scheme and the numbers will be regarded in Hong Kong as being considerably too small. However, I believe that they will also be accepted as being likely to bring about the result at which we are aiming—to enable the kind of people on whom the colony depends to remain making their contribution to that colony.

My right hon. Friend is perfectly right in thinking that we examined various options. We examined an option that, in purely parliamentary terms, would have been easier. No primary legislation guarantees, or declaration offers, a right of abode. My right hon. Friend pointed out the trouble about that. For the assurance to be turned into citizenship, which is what most of the people concerned want, would require those people actually to come here. Therefore, that would, as it were, maximise the incentive to come here.

The point about the citizenship scheme requiring primary legislation is that it will not do that. It will enable the key people I am talking about to receive the assurance in the form of United Kingdom passports without leaving Hong Kong and the jobs that it is very important that they should continue to do.

Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House how many of the 42,000 people who, according to the statement, have left Hong Kong this year came to settle in Britain? If I am right in thinking that it was a very small percentage of the total, does not that give the lie to the fear that has been put about—that 3·5 million people are sitting in Hong Kong desperate to come to Britain? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that that is not the case and that it is the responsibility of the British Government to create the conditions in which those 3·5 million people can continue to live in prosperity in Hong Kong itself—which is what they wish?

By that standard, does the Foreign Secretary accept that, in our judgment, his scheme will fail to provide that assurance and, unhappily, will also involve so many arbitrary points where X will be chosen instead of Y—inevitably, by the nature of the scheme, which is also very unacceptable? There will be deep dismay in Hong Kong, deepened only by the statement of the official Opposition.

The right hon. Gentleman is correct on his first point. I do not have the figures, but I believe that one would find from them that most of those who left Hong Kong went to countries such as Australia and Canada. That is not our purpose. Our purpose is that they should continue as headmasters, engineers or professional people in running the colony. Any selective scheme requires something like a points system. If the right hon. Gentleman is endorsing the proposition of the leader of his party for a total grant of the right of abode, he is being totally logical but perfectly unrealistic.

Does my right hon. Friend understand how much I regret having to say that I disagreed with almost everything that he said and agreed with almost everything that was said by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) from the Opposition Front Bench?

Can my right hon. Friend say whether or not the pledge that we have given for the last four general elections—that there will be no further large-scale immigration—still stands?

My right hon. Friend knows that, over the past four years, as Home Secretary I spent a lot of time trying, with his full support, to plug loopholes and to keep our immigration control strict and fair. I earned a good deal of obloquy from Opposition Members for doing so. I do not need any education on the importance of strict immigration control for entry into this country.

The purpose of our scheme is to persuade those who are key to running Hong Kong to remain abiding by their professions in that country. I believe that our scheme is apt to succeed in that.

Supposing that my right hon. Friend is right in his fear, and supposing that considerable numbers—

I am answering his question.

Supposing that considerable numbers of people come here, what would be the nature of the penalty that we would be paying? We would be paying the penalty of a sizeable but limited number of professional people, selected for their talent and experience, coming from one of the most successful societies created in the 20th century.

I put one final point to my right hon. Friend. He was a very successful chairman of our party, and he knows its traditions. This is just about the last main chapter in the story of this country's empire. I am rather keen, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend is rather keen, that that last chapter should not end in a shabby way.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that no one in the House can beg the problem that will face Hong Kong in the next eight years? In the same spirit, let me add that it is an open secret that in the past three or four months there have, quite properly, been disagreements and arguments throughout the Government, and the Foreign Secretary should not be surprised when similar disagreements and arguments follow his announcement of the scheme to the House. The fact that hon. Members may disagree with any scheme proposed by the Government does not mean that they do not appreciate Hong Kong's problem.

I wish to ask the Foreign Secretary only one question: is this special measure necessary? Some of the other schemes that have been discussed—the Foreign Secretary mentioned one—would, in my view, constitute a better approach. It is all very well to describe this scheme as a special measure, and as primary legislation, but the Government cannot avoid affecting the British Nationality Act 1981. That is the weakness in the Government's approach, and in the coming months, as the legislation comes before the House and I attack it, I shall not be arguing that the problem does not exist; I shall argue that the Government have set about dealing with it in the wrong way. It would be interesting, incidentally, to know whether the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary will pilot the legislation through the House.

Both Departments have been studying the problem, and they have sent a joint team of officials to Hong Kong. We have done our best collectively, as a Government, to reach what we believe to be the right balance between the considerations that are clearly in the right hon. Gentleman's mind. Parliament will wish to examine the scheme and then make its decision, which is entirely right. In a way, by choosing the citizenship route we have increased the amount of parliamentary scrutiny and debate that would otherwise have been necessary.

The right hon. Gentleman covered a point that I had already touched on. There is already provision—although it would mean a change in stated policy—to expand the discretion of the Home Secretary regarding public servants, but there is nothing comparable in the private sector. My main quarrel with the official Opposition is that they have entirely ignored the crucial importance of the private sector to the running of the life of Hong Kong. A scheme is necessary to deal with the problem, and we believe that the scheme most likely to serve its purpose of keeping people in Hong Kong and not encouraging them to come here is a citizenship scheme. We have therefore decided that the most straightforward approach is the presentation of a Bill to the House.

Will my right hon. Friend reassure us that the sole, or central, aim of his proposals is to anchor people in Hong Kong for years ahead and not to encourage them to come here? Does he accept that if the success of this or a similar policy is undemined and confidence collapses in Hong Kong—as it may well do—this country may be faced with an immigration challenge, and with the arrival of refugees in numbers exceeding the worst fears of some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, for which they would have to take some of the blame?

Will my right hon. Friend tell us whether any thought has been given to the tiny number of non-ethnic Chinese, including the Hong Kong Indians—I believe that there are about 1,500 families in all—who will not be accepted as citizens after 1997? They once thought that they were citizens of the United Kingdom; unless we do something, they will become citizens of nowhere.

My right hon. Friend's first point is correct. We are anxious—as, indeed, they are—that those people should continue to ply their professions in Hong Kong, and the main aim of our scheme is to enable them to do so.

My right hon. Friend's second point is also right. In answering my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), I acknowledged that, in my own experience, it was right that, for the sake of good relations between communities in this country, immigration control should be strict as well as fair. If, however, because of political difficulties, we fail to make the necessary decisions about Hong Kong, now and in the years ahead—and I warn the House that they will be several and difficult—we shall ultimately have a refugee problem on our hands. [HON. MEMBERS: "No".] That is a statement of fact. We shall have a refugee problem on our hands that will make the numbers that we are discussing today seem relatively insignificant.

The Secretary of State may not be aware of the close relationship that has developed between Northern Ireland and many families in Hong Kong in the past decade. Many thousands of Hong Kong citizens now live in Northern Ireland, and they have turned out to be first-class and welcome people in the Province. They provide employment in the catering industry and electronics, and many Hong Kong families now send their children to boarding schools in Northern Ireland and to the two universities.

For years the United Kingdom has been keen to stand by its relationship with Hong Kong, within the old British empire and now, in the Commonwealth. We face the sensitive problem of 1997, and it would be an outrage for the United Kingdom to shirk its responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong. Therefore, I have no hesitation in saying that, when the legislation is presented to the House, the Ulster Unionist parliamentary party will look upon it sympathetically.

My right hon. Friend's statement fills me with foreboding for the future of race relations in Britain. How will he explain to the ethnic minorities who already live in Britain, many of whom have lived here for a great number of years, that we have to maintain strict controls on the permissions granted to their relatives when, at the same time, we have amended the law to create preferential class treatment for the Hong Kong Chinese?

I shall explain it on the grounds that I have already given to the House. My hon. Friend knows Hong Kong, and he knows the difficulties and the problems that we have to wrestle with. We are responsible to our constituents, but we are also responsible for supervising and monitoring what the United Kingdom Government and, to some extent, the Hong Kong Government do to steer the colony through the next eight years. We have tried to strike a balance for the reasons that my hon. Friend gave, and they are valid reasons.

We have turned down the suggestion that was put to us powerfully by people in Hong Kong and by some Members of the House, to allow everybody in the colony the right of abode. We did that for the reasons that my hon. Friend has in mind. For the reasons that my hon. Friend gave, we do not feel entitled to say that we will take no action, and there will be no scheme or effort to give assurances to those people who are key to the running of the territory. That would be an irresponsible line to take, and in the long run—perhaps not too long—my hon. Friend and hon. Members who have worries, which I understand, would live to regret it.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that what he has announced today is one law for the rich and another for the poor in Hong Kong and he is prepared to bend and break the British Nationality Act 1981 to achieve that? Will he join me in condemning the words of his right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), which do nothing to help race relations in Britain?

The hon. Member is wrong. If we were interested simply in extending privileges to the rich, we would have set about it in a different way. We are talking about the public sector. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) made that accusation before he saw the scheme, but now that he has considered the proposals, and knows that it is not true, he did not raise that objection today. The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) has not had the advantage of looking at the proposals for a few minutes, and is therefore repeating the old parrot cries, which are wrong. We are talking about key people in the public service regardless of their capital and affluence —head teachers, civil servants, engineers. The test is their importance to Hong Kong, and the danger to the territory if large numbers of such people left, and not their affluence.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the purpose of the proposal today is to restore confidence in Hong Kong and to enable it to continue successfully and in prosperity through 1997? Therefore, is it not surprising that he has made no mention in his statement of what is probably the most important way to restore confidence in the colony and that is to allow the development of democracy in Hong Kong in the fastest possible way, to ignore the veto attempted by the Chinese Republic, and to ensure that its arrangements—that it dictates after 1997—converge with those that my right hon. Friend and the Hong Kong people may make before 1997? Does my right hon. Friend accept that that is the best way in which to restore confidence and that this divisive measure—it is divisive in Britain and in Hong Kong—will not achieve that objective?

My hon. Friend raises a different and important matter. Before long, we shall have to make clear, and inform the House of, our decision about the nature of the democratic content of elections in Hong Kong in 1991. It is clear from the way in which my hon. Friend phrased his question that he knows the difficulties there, the problems of the Basic Law, and our aim to produce continuity before and after 1997. I shall inform the House about our conclusions on that fairly soon, I hope. I think that my hon. Friend is being unrealistic if he supposes that we can continue the successful governance of Hong Kong without a scheme that tackles this nationality problem.

I apologise to the House. I failed to answer an important question about the non-Chinese minority asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell). We have considered the matter carefully. They will of course qualify for inclusion in the scheme I have announced. They have assurances that were given to them by Lord Glenarthur in, I think, 1986. We do not think that it would be sensible to expand the number or the total scheme by making a special and different provision for them.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that this is a bad day for the Government, but a quite disgraceful day for the Labour party, which seems bereft of all moral principle and is in a position of shame, being linked to the point of view of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit)?

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the House has absolute power over the 3·5 million people in Hong Kong we are talking about, but that some right hon. and hon. Members do not want to exercise any responsibility for them and are prepared to wash their hands of them so that they may be handed over to what is known to be a murderous regime in Peking? Is he aware that, if he is to have our support—to judge from the noises behind him it might be important this time—we shall need assurances that among the vulnerable group he talked about will be journalists and local politicians, who are vulnerable to retaliation from Peking? Will he take this opportunity to demolish the myth that has been going about that the Government and the British state have no unqualified objection to people entering the United Kingdom? Will he confirm that there is a commitment to 1 million people from South Africa under the nationality legislation and to unquantifiable millions from north America, all of them white?

I accept the hon. Member's support without accepting his adjectives or most of his arguments. I have made it clear that we are talking about people who may be vulnerable because they have taken part in the democratic process in some way.

My right hon. Friend referred to the need for a statement on Hong Kong. Is it not a fact that the United Kingdom has a clear duty, as the governing power in Hong Kong and as co-signatory of the joint declaration, to maintain stability and prosperity there? Is it not also a fact that British and Chinese business quarters in the territory have made it clear that measures similar to these are just what they want to ensure that stability and prosperity?

They would like more, of course; I acknowledge that. We will have to explain why we have pitched on a scheme and on a number which is considerably smaller than the upper end of the scale that was hoped for in Hong Kong. Otherwise, my hon. Friend is perfectly right. Of course the Government and the House have a duty. The House has a long tradition of looking after the interests of those who live under the Crown in different parts of the world. We are coming to the end of that story and, as I said before, I should like to make a reasonable end of it.

How many entry clearance officers does the Foreign Secretary propose to send to Hong Kong? Will there be a primary purpose rule in the legislation that he will introduce to the House? If there are to be entry clearance officers, will he send some of those from Islamabad, who in the past few years have kept wives from their husbands, children from their fathers, fiancees from their future husbands, and grandchildren from their grandparents and have prevented a host of people who have a right to be here from coming to Britain? Will there not be a new word in the English language—Hurdism, standing for privilege, elitism, professionalism and all those who have wealth and authority as opposed to all those who are poor and underprivileged?

The hon. Gentleman appears to be advocating the total admission of everybody. No other meaning can be drawn from his question. I wish that the Opposition would get their act together. The accusation that the hon. Gentleman made against me stands up for a second only if he is in favour of admitting everybody; otherwise, it makes no sense at all. Of course the scheme will have to be carefully administered. The dependants selected will be spouses and children under 18; therefore, the question of primary purpose does not arise.

Will my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister accept congratulations on standing firm against more than a little pressure from Conservative Members and more than a little hypocrisy from the Opposition? Will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary press on with the proposals, fulfil Britain's obligations to Hong Kong, and restore confidence in Hong Kong without forgetting that Britain wishes to play a part in what will be an outstanding success story in future?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. The anxieties which have been expressed by Conservative Members are perfectly natural. It would have been surprising had they not been expressed. Conservative Members realise far more clearly than Opposition Members that immigration control which works is essential to decent race relations in Britain. We do not need persuading of that. That is why we have not gone nearly as far as has been suggested by almost everyone in Hong Kong. We have struck the right balance.

Surely the answer to the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) is that after what has happened in Tiananmen square, long after the Conservative manifesto, honour demands that the House meets the obligation to do more to sustain the prosperity and security of Hong Kong. The scheme that the Foreign Secretary has advanced, which is selective and based on service, has a very good chance of retaining those skilled people beyond 1997, as our responsibilities go beyond that, and ensuring a successful transition to Communist China's control and a successful Hong Kong into the 21st century.

The right hon. Gentleman is right. By and large, our imperial story is overwhelmingly honourable and we should try to keep it that way. But in this case honour and self-interest coincide.

My right hon. Friend has to choose between his perception—which I believe is mistaken—of the interests of the people of Hong Kong and the desires of the people of these overcrowded islands whose home he is, I believe, arrogantly, making available. He will understand that people here feel deep resentment after a generation of imposed immigration into Britain. I believe that they will feel that he has chosen the people of Hong Kong, and, although I have the deepest respect for my right hon. Friend, I believe that he will not be forgiven.

It is not a question of the Government choosing the people of Hong Kong over my hon. Friend's constituents; that is not the issue at all. We have struck a balance which we believe is necessary to safeguard an interest of this country, of my hon. Friend's constituents and, in particular, of the Conservative party. I do not think that we would be forgiven—to borrow my hon. Friend's phrase—if we simply took the short-term easy way, pretended that the problem would go away when clearly it will not, and failed to take any action on the lines that I have described. That would not only be wrong but would come back and seriously hit us before too long.

Will the Secretary of State accept—from one speaking as, in the words of the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), an imposed immigrant and Member of Parliament—that no Opposition Member has suggested that Britain should play host to 5·5 million Hong Kong Chinese this week or next week? Many Opposition Members and many people outside the House have listened with mounting incredulity as elements on the Tory Back Benches have outbid each other on the subject with sub-Powellite rhetoric.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that many people outside the House know that we should not be hearing from the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) if the subject were white South Africans? Many people outside the House are concerned that hon. Members continue to treat the issue for what it is—a unique and difficult issue about how Britain withdraws from its last outpost of the empire with honour, and not in the shabby and shameful way that some Conservative Members—

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but she must ask a question.

Order. The hon. Lady might be able to ask her question when we have a debate.

Is this an issue of how we withdraw from Hong Kong with honour, or is it, as some Conservative Members would have us believe, an issue of an imminent yellow peril?

The hon. Lady mistakes the position. It is perfectly natural that my right hon. and hon. Friends should express concern and anxiety. I do not think that anyone can seriously criticise them for doing so. Anyone who has followed events in Hong Kong and what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President have been saying for months will know what the problem is and how we propose to tackle it. It is perfectly reasonable that people should express their anxieties and concerns. I have not had any complaints or objections of the kind that the hon.

Lady made. Now that we have agreed on a scheme, the Government must show, as I believe we clearly can, that it is better to go ahead with it, to implement it and to offer assurances to key people, as it proposes, rather than to sit back and say, "This is too difficult; we propose to do nothing," and allow our last substantial colony to decline and perhaps slide into chaos.

Order. I must have regard to the subsequent business before the House. As the House well knows, it is a Back-Bench Members' day today, and we have a further statement before reaching that. I shall allow three more questions from each side, and then we must move on. It will be perfectly in order for hon. Members to raise this matter on the Christmas Adjournment motion if they are not called on the statement.

Does my right hon. Friend recall the spontaneous generosity with which British people accepted the sudden influx of Ugandan Asian passport holders in 1972 when they were confronted with the terrorism of Amin? Does he agree that his proposals for a new human line of credit, which may never be drawn on fully, to safeguard the future of the citizens of Hong Kong will be accepted by the same British public with the same generosity of spirit?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Of course these are difficult questions, and they stir feelings that have been quite accurately reflected in the House. Nevertheless, we must make decisions and take responsibility. I believe, as does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, that they will he much more clearly and sympathetically understood than is being assumed by some people.

Will the Minister accept that Opposition Members and others have constituents with relatives in Hong Kong? Will he say how he thinks confidence can be brought to a society by the creation of first and second-class citizens and apartheid by passport? Will he say what will happen to the rest of the community if the Chinese people's army moves in, because he has said that that is the only occasion on which the passports will be used? Is the majority of the community to be abandoned by the Tory party?

The scheme is of course only part of the total policy but it is an essential part. We will not be able to keep Hong Kong in security and prosperity without a scheme of that kind. Our main effort must be to enable the colony to go forward on the basis of the joint declaration, with all that that means.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the true key to the future stability and prosperity of Hong Kong lies in Peking? Only if the Chinese Government are able to show enthusiastic confidence in the future of Hong Kong will proper stability be retained. Will he also accept that the scheme he announced today will go some little way to providing reassurance, pending the wider support that Peking must show for the future of Hong Kong?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right on his first point. We must not be passive but constantly active in seeking to show the People's Republic of China that it is in its interests, as well as those of the people of Hong Kong, that the joint declaration should be fully honoured in the spirit as well as the letter.

What reflections, thoughts or advice come from the place where the Secretary of State once worked—our embassy in Peking? Does he accept that what was said by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) was far too facile, and ought we not to recognise that the complex position that arose after Tiananmen square cannot just be described as a "murderous regime"? In those circumstances, ought we not to remember that the history of China is that China has stuck to its international promises and there is no reason to believe that it will not do so in future, whatever the internal difficulties, in relation to 1997?

The House has expressed its views on what happened in Tiananmen square, and I do not think that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) would dissent from what was said. We must have important and continuous dealings with the People's Republic, for the reasons that I gave in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell).

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, until 1962, more than 1·5 million residents of Hong Kong enjoyed the right to a full British passport and to abode in this country, and that relatively few of them exercised that right? That supports strongly the belief expressed by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that, unless things go badly wrong in Hong Kong, very few of the people under discussion will exercise the rights that he has announced. If things go badly wrong, we have a strong moral obligation to help.

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am grateful for the way he expressed his view.

Why does not the Foreign Secretary admit that, although there are two tenable logical positions that the Government could have adopted, there is only one tenable principle position? The two tenable, logical positions are eiher that everyone should be given the right to come to Britain or that no one should. The one tenable principle position is that everyone should be given the right to come to Britain.

That comment comes from below the Gangway. It was specifically repudiated above the Gangway a few weeks ago. This matter will now be opened up for further discussion. The Government's measures will be discussed, and so will the total lack of coherent Labour party policy.

Order. I give an undertaking to the hon. Members I have not called that I will bear them in mind when the matter is next discussed, as I am sure it will be.

Mr. Jeremy Hanley
(Richmond and Barnes)