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British Nationality (Hong Kong) Bill

Volume 170: debated on Thursday 19 April 1990

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Order for Second Reading read.

Before I call the Secretary of State, I repeat that there is great pressure to take part in the debate today. In the interests of equity, I proposed to give some precedence to hon. Members who were not called when we last debated this matter in July. I hope that Privy Councillors will understand that they may suffer thereby by being called later on the list. I propose to put a limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 7 and 9 o'clock, but I hope that those who are called before that time will bear that limit in mind in the interests of their colleagues in the House.

4.12 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I hardly need remind the House that, although since the second world war Britain has granted independence to many former colonies, rarely have we had to make plans for handing over a territory to a foreign power, and never to a communist one. I certainly do not have to remind the House that the remarkable story of Hong Kong's economic success is one in which our own country has been and is intimately involved. Quite apart from what many, if not most, of us might regard as our moral duty to maintain the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong up to 1997 and to secure a smooth changeover in that year, Britain has an enormous stake, in terms of trade, investment and jobs, in Hong Kong's continuing success. This is a case, if ever there was one, where duty and the national interest march hand in hand.

It is with Britain that responsibility for Hong Kong rests over the next seven years. We must do our best to see that as long as we remain responsible for the territory, its prosperity and stability are maintained. That is what this Bill is about. I emphasise that our proposals, far from contravening the joint declaration signed in 1984, are designed to carry out the agreement's central purpose, which is to maintain Hong Kong's prosperity and stability in the run-up to 1997.

The Bill addresses a real and present threat to that objective. There are plenty of people who still want to go and live in Hong Kong—largely people without skills wanting to reap the economic benefits of making their homes there—but there are also many people leaving, who include professional, managerial and technical personnel in proportions far in excess of their numbers in the population. Indeed, 24 per cent. of all emigrants come within those categories, but represent only 5·5 per cent. of Hong Kong's population. Thirteen per cent. of Hong Kong's information science professionals—a classification which includes computer experts—have been leaving each year. Hong Kong's economy and stability cannot indefinitely survive such a haemorrhage of talent and enterprise.

The rationale for the proposals now before the House remains as set out by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in his statement on 20 December. First, current rates of emigration and reduced confidence pose a real threat to Hong Kong's stability in the period before 1997. Secondly, most of those who are emigrating do so reluctantly, because it is the only means of acquiring the assurance of a foreign passport. Thirdly, most of them would remain if such an assurance were available without the need to leave Hong Kong.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give an assurance to my constituents, most of whom must live in an already overbuilt area and are under severe pressure from Ealing council to build on such green land as remains? Can the Home Secretary assure me that overbuilt areas such as mine will not be pressed into taking even greater populations than they already have to bear and that provision will be made elsewhere?

I shall develop that theme later. First and foremost, this is not an immigration Bill, but a nationality Bill which is designed to anchor people to Hong Kong rather than to encourage them to come here. I certainly assure my hon. Friend that if the people selected were to come here they would have superior skills and be far less likely to concentrate in large numbers in city centres than, perhaps, people with lesser skills.

My right hon. and learned Friend has correctly said that the Government's objective is to make it possible for people to stay in Hong Kong. I ask him to put himself in the position of a Hong Kong business man aged between 35 and 40 who has the great good fortune to get a British passport. Such a man, having heard what is being said in communist China now, may feel that that may be a black mark against him when the communist Chinese take over in 1997. Would he not feel disposed to leave Hong Kong early so that he can re-establish his business, his family and his fortune?

I disagree with my hon. Friend. Once a person in a good, well-paid job in Hong Kong has the assurance of a British passport, there is no urgency for him to leave. We must not assume that the worst will happen. Under the joint declaration those who are in Hong Kong after 1997 will have the right to work, the right of abode and the right to travel to and from Hong Kong.

I fully recognise that the remedy which the Bill offers represents an unprecedented departure from the normal principles of our nationality law. We considered carefully whether a scheme leading to entry clearance rather than full citizenship would suffice, but we concluded that such a scheme would not resolve the problem. It would have precisely the opposite effect to that intended and would draw to the United Kingdom the people who were given guarantees. They would be anxious to get their children into Britain while the children were still under age and qualified for entry under the immigration rules. They would be determined to establish the residential qualification for citizenship as soon as possible.

The governor of Hong Kong is convinced that the assurances of citizenship provided in the Bill are the only effective way of restoring confidence and maintaining prosperity, and all the evidence emerging from Hong Kong supports that.

Clause 1 requires the Secretary of State to register up to 50,000 persons recommended by the governor under a scheme approved by Parliament and also to register their spouses and minor children. Clause 3(3) provides for a committee to advise the governor on the operation of the scheme. Obviously in arriving at the figure of 50,000 the governor—rather than the Government—has had to make a difficult judgment, but discussions—

If the hon. Gentleman would wait just a moment he would not make as big a fool of himself as he did on television last night.

Discussions with Hong Kong since December have reinforced my view that we have got it about right. The figure of 50,000 is a number which is capable of having a real impact on emigration and confidence in the territory, and that is what matters.

Clearly, citizenship granted to the head of a family would be unlikely to anchor him to Hong Kong if citizenship were not granted also to his immediate family, but it is obviously impossible to provide in the Bill for a limit on the number of wives and children. My right hon. Friend has, however, given an estimate of the absolute maximum number of people who might benefit, which is 225,000.

The 50,000 would be a carefully chosen and highly qualified group of people—in good jobs, earning good salaries. If they decided to settle in the United Kingdom they would doubtless have a valuable contribution to make here. But that is not the purpose of the Bill. It is a Bill designed to persuade them to remain in Hong Kong rather than go off elsewhere in the coming years to acquire another nationality as a sort of insurance policy.

My right hon. and learned Friend talks about establishing confidence and keeping prosperity in Hong Kong. Does he concede that it is important that the Chinese Government should make some moves to ensure that those two attributes stay in Hong Kong? Does he also concede that by putting the Bill before the House he is taking pressure off the Chinese who will see that we are giving relief to Hong Kong while they do nothing?

Obviously there is a joint responsibility. The Chinese Government have a responsibility as a result of what they undertook to do under the joint declaration, but there is also a duty on us. I should have thought that that was plain.

How will the Bill provide an assurance for the 93·5 per cent. of those eligible under the general allocation section as set out in the explanatory memorandum? That figure ranges from the 79 per cent. of those involved in the information services to the 96·1 per cent. of those involved in the education services who will not receive a passport under the scheme. How will they be encouraged to stay in Hong Kong as a result of the Bill?

We will give assurances to people who play a key role in the Hong Kong economy. Anchoring those people to Hong Kong will help to maintain its stability and prosperity. The maintenance of that prosperity and stability will be to the advantage of all those others who have not been selected under the scheme.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend, who has been extremely generous in giving way. He will know that many of us who have serious misgivings about the Bill are concerned specifically about the numbers who might come here. Many of us are worried that it will be the most dependent rather than the most able who will end up here. They will come with a view to exporting their labour and capital within the European Community after 1992. Those people will have no loyalty or obligation to the country or the Crown. What is the Government's best estimate of the numbers involved? Should we accept such an obligation?

I must remind my hon. Friend that the object of the selection scheme is to ensure that those selected are key workers. Therefore, my hon. Friend is far from the mark when he talks about the less able being selected. The most able will be selected. By definition, those selected will be key workers in responsible jobs, on whom an economy such as that of Hong Kong depends.

Does the Home Secretary accept that the Bill must be seen in the context of the Government's immigration control during the past 10 years? What additional resources is he prepared to give to the posts in Bombay, Islamabad and Karachi where people are having to wait up to six months for an interview in order to join their spouses in this country? What additional resources will he give to process the applications for those waiting for quota vouchers in Bombay? What additional resources will he give to the immigration and nationality department at Croydon, where people have to wait up to two years to get their naturalisation certificates processed?

If my recollection serves me aright, the processing of applications by members of families settled here speeded up last year and more were processed than in the year before. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the settlement figures for last year, he will find that half of all those granted settlement were members of families already settled here. I should have thought that that was a perfect illustration of the generosity of our policy on immigration, in that it has given rights to the families of those who settled here earlier.

In 1981 we made a political judgment about the number of Chinese residents in Hong Kong who would be genuinely at risk after the transfer of sovereignty. Under section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981 we made specific provision for them. Will that provision be used again or is it to be ended now?

We recognised some time ago, and announced to the House, that some provision would have to be made for those in sensitive posts. The scheme we put into operation then is subsumed in this scheme. The explanatory memorandum about the scheme contains a reference to the sensitive services scheme which will cover the people whom my hon. Friend would wish to see covered.

The Bill is designed to persuade people to remain in Hong Kong rather than go off elsewhere in the coming years to acquire another nationality as a sort of insurance policy. They might come here after 1997 if there were a collapse of confidence in Hong Kong, but in that event many more people from Hong Kong would arrive here seeking refuge. If that happened we would look to the international community for assistance, but, given our historical links with Hong Kong, who can doubt that in a difficult situation the United Kingdom would be expected to take the leading role? The Government believe that the Bill will greatly reduce the chance of such a collapse before 1997 and thus increase the prospects of a successful transition when the time comes.

It would have been unreasonable to ask the House to approve an enabling Bill such as this without revealing how the Government envisaged that the resulting powers would be used. Therefore, I turn to the explanatory note, which I have laid before the House, describing the selection scheme that the Government have in mind.

If the purpose is to encourage people to stay in Hong Kong, why should not the use of the passports be restricted until 1997? If they can be used immediately, surely that opens the door immediately.

I do not see how that meets the case. If one announced that one was going to grant passports in 1997 people would go off looking for passports in other countries now, because they would never know how safe was the undertaking that in 1997 another Government would honour the bargain and issue the passports. Having heard the irresponsible nonsense spoken by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) last July, I can well understand why that fear might be present in some people's minds.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend, but I think that he misunderstood what my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) said. He did not say that the passports should be issued at some time in the future; he suggested, as I have suggested to my right hon. Friend, that the passports should be issued—if the Bill is enacted—in due course and in the normal way, but marked "Valid 1 January 1997". If my right hon. and learned Friend is right and if this legislation is an encouragement to people to stay in Hong Kong, they will not wish to use the passports before 1997, will they?

To issue passports in such an unprecedented form would be an invitation to people to think that the bargain would not be honoured if, through some terrible catastrophe, someone like the right hon. Member for Gorton was the Minister responsible at the time.

Bearing in mind the fact that the Government of the People's Republic of China will not, it appears, recognise this legislation, and hence will not recognise the passports, how will the Bill ensure that the people whom we want to remain in Hong Kong will remain there? Does not my right hon. and learned Friend believe that granting proper democracy to Hong Kong, with a full franchise for all over the age of 18 by 1997, is the way to achieve what we are seeking to achieve?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made a statement about moves towards democracy, but there is no point in taking steps that will come to a dead end in 1997, as my right hon. Friend made clear in his statement not so long ago. That is the short answer. In the joint declaration the Chinese Government are committed to allowing people to stay in Hong Kong, to continuing to give them the right of abode there, to continuing to allow them to work there and to continuing to allow them to leave and return there.

My right hon. and learned Friend will know that I do not share some of my hon. Friends' concerns about the effect of this proposal on United Kingdom immigration policy, but I want to follow up his point about the attitude of the Chinese Government to those who may take up these passports. Is not it plain from the memorandum attached to the 1984 treaty that it was clearly seen by both the British and Chinese Governments that this possibility, if enacted as legislation, would in effect deprive the people taking advantage of my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals of their Chinese nationality? If that is so, how could it possibly make sense to say that we are encouraging people to stay in Hong Kong when, by enacting this legislation, we are virtually making them stateless after 1997?

We are certainly not making them stateless; we are giving them British citizenship—the opposite of statelessness. I must make it plain that in the United Kingdom memorandum we never undertook not to grant British citizenship to people in Hong Kong before 1997. We made it absolutely clear that people who will cease to be British dependent territories citizens in 1997 will be eligible to retain an appropriate status that will not involve a right of abode in the United Kingdom. So what we are doing is entirely in accord with the agreement reached with the Chinese in 1984.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend be kind enough to explain why it is proposed to extend the right to apply for citizenship beyond British dependent territory citizens to holders of Hong Kong certificates of identity and to any of the eligible categories who apply for BDT citizenship before the Bill receives Royal Assent?

It would be unjust if we did not because there is no difference between the qualifications of a person who is already a BDTC and a person who is entitled to become a BDTC but whose application has not yet been processed. Therefore, it would not for one moment be considered fair if one were to put the shutters down on those who by luck rather than good management have become BDTCs now and discriminate against those waiting in the queue.

Before the Home Secretary moves on to the detailed arrangements under the scheme, will he address himself to three particularly vulnerable groups in Hong Kong—the non-Chinese ethnic minorities who will be stateless after 1997, the non-British spouses of British citizens who are in great difficulty and anxiety and the pitiful handful of 24 war widows whose position remains, disgracefully, most uncertain? Will he give the House clear assurances about the safeguards that will be made to protect those three small but vulnerable groups?

If the hon. Gentleman will be patient for a while, I shall deal with the second and third categories. On the first category, the hon. Gentleman will remember that steps were taken some time ago to ensure that no one would be left stateless after 1997, and at the same time an undertaking was given to the non-ethnic Chinese in Hong Kong that if by any chance an individual were to come under severe pressure after 1997 we would consider sympathetically his application to come here.

Let me deal now with the explanatory note which I have laid before the House and which sets out the selection scheme that the Government have in mind. It is the product of extensive discussions with the Hong Kong Government and it is based on principles originally proposed by them.

The scheme that we envisage would be divided into four separate sections. Seventy-two per cent., or 36,200, of the 50,000 places would be allocated under a general section, open to people from a wide range of walks of life who had a key role in maintaining Hong Kong's prosperity and successful administration. They would come from the following seven broad areas of work—business and management, accounting, engineering, information services, medicine and science, law and education. The distribution of places to the various occupational groups within those broad areas would take account of the rate at which their members were emigrating, to focus the assurances where the need is greatest.

A number of places would be set aside for other technically or professionally qualified people who do not fit neatly into the listed occupational groups but who perform essential functions. Applicants in the general allocation section would be marked on a points system taking account of age, experience, qualifications, special circumstances, proficiency in English, British links and community service. Age is important because the scheme is intended to reflect Hong Kong's future need for personnel, and emigration is particularly high in the 30 to 40 age range.

Points for special circumstances would be a means of, for example, recognising exceptional individual achievement or of giving extra weight to occupations suffering higher emigration rates than others within the same group. As to British links, this will include service with a British firm and the Bill does not, therefore, contain provisions for a secondment scheme as originally envisaged. How best to give assistance to British companies will no doubt feature in our detailed discussions on the Bill.

A points system is not familiar to us in Britain, but it is well understood in Hong Kong as a result of its use by the Australian and Canadian immigration authorities, and considerable work has gone into devising one which would be as fair and objective as possible, with the governor's advisory committee playing an important and impartial role. The Independent Commission Against Corruption, which will be represented on the advisory committee, has already been involved in designing the way in which the points system will operate, and will monitor the practical application of this as of other aspects of the scheme.

The second section of the scheme is for key entrepreneurs. The House knows that Hong Kong has a number of well-known and respected entrepreneurs who have extensive investments there, who employ substantial numbers of people and whose departure would do much to undermine confidence. We therefore envisage that the scheme would reserve a small number of places—not more than 1 per cent. of the total—for people in that category.

The third section would provide places for Hong Kong's disciplined services—that is, the police, prison, immigration, customs, fire and auxiliary air force services, as well as the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the garrison. Places will be allocated to those services in proportion to their staff numbers. Applicants will be assessed on a points system, similar to that already described but adjusted to take account of the needs of each service.

Is the Home Secretary aware that Donald Tsang, the chief administrator of Hong Kong, has estimated that 750,000 people will apply for passports—15 times as many as the number of passports available under the scheme? Will not that have a very destabilising effect on Hong Kong?

I have made this point already, and I do not think that it needs repeating. The fact remains that the selection of 50,000 key personnel who are essential to the good government of Hong Kong and the management of its economy will stabilise Hong Kong, keep it prosperous and thus provide an incentive for the rest of the people to stay.

Finally, the sensitive services section will provide for people who, as a consequence of service to Hong Kong or United Kingdom interests in either a civilian or military role, would be especially vulnerable or exposed after 1997.

This is a scheme for key workers, not for a wealthy and influential elite. It makes provision for teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, computer programmers, accountants, business managers, civil servants, policemen and the like, and reactions in Hong Kong so far lend no credence to the claim that it is considered elitist or divisive there. It is—as the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) wisely said yesterday—selective, and that is its object. It is seen in Hong Kong as a scheme that will contribute to the stability and prosperity of the territory, and will therefore benefit the community as a whole.

There are two other groups of people whom I should mention—and about whom I was questioned a few moments ago—who are not covered by the Bill but for whom I believe some provision must be made. I refer to the widows and widowers of British citizens who were resident in Hong Kong. I am prepared to offer an assurance that they will be allowed to come here if they are still resident in Hong Kong, have not the citizenship of another country and have not remarried. They would, of course, have been able to come here anyway under the immigration rules during the lifetimes of their spouses. In accordance with the recommendations of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, the same assurance will extend to the widows of former service men who served in defence of Hong Kong during the second world war under the Government of Hong Kong, and they will be able to come here irrespective of the husband's nationality.

My right hon. and learned Friend has said that the objective of the measure is to enable people to stay in Hong Kong, but if people have British passports when they come into Britain the fact is not registered. How will we know how many of those 50,000—or 225,000—actually come to reside here? How will we know how successful my right hon. and learned Friend's prediction has been?

The Hong Kong authorities keep a careful check on people who leave Hong Kong and are absent for more than six months. Obviously, if a person is granted British citizenship he is not liable to immigration control, but a check would be kept of those who left Hong Kong with British passports. I think that that meets my hon. Friend's point.

The Home Secretary has not touched on the context of the measure and, in particular, the recommendation of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that it should be seen in an international context. What developments have taken place in his touting for support from other European countries, and especially from the United States?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will deal with that at length in his final speech, so I shall leave it to him.

My right hon. and learned Friend has not dealt with the question about the non-United Kingdom spouses of British citizens. Unless something is done, they will be in the curious position of being treated worse than the Hong Kong spouses of Hong Kong citizens are at present. Their numbers are very small. Will my right hon. and learned Friend say a word about that?

There is no difficulty, provided that their husbands are still alive. Wives of British citizens will have an absolute right to come here under the immigration rules. The problem arises in the case of those who are widowed, and who have therefore lost their opportunity to come here under the immigration rules.

My right hon. Friend seems worried by my reply, so I shall let him have another go.

I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. and learned Friend again, but may I ask him to check the position carefully? I understand that spouses must have three years' residence here. That entirely defeats the object of the Bill, as it means that families will have to leave Hong Kong rather than being encouraged to stay.

With respect, my right hon. Friend is confusing two separate matters. Spouses will have an absolute right to enter the country, although three years' residence will be required after that for them to obtain British citizenship. They will not need British citizenship to have the assurance that they can come here at any time during the lifetime of their spouses. The difficulty arises only if they are widowed, and that is why I am making special provision for people in such circumstances.

In conclusion, I should refer to suggestions that the Bill either betrays the Government's lack of confidence in the joint declaration or will reinforce uncertainty about the future among those not selected. I do not believe that either allegation stands up to scrutiny. It is a fact of life that, following the events in China last June, confidence in Hong Kong declined to a low ebb. The Bill is designed to tackle that problem; far from undermining confidence, it will bolster it.

As for the Chinese, they have not said anything to suggest that they will fail to honour their side of the joint declaration, and under the terms of the declaration it will be incumbent upon the Chinese Government after 1997 to go on allowing Hong Kong residents with British citizenship to continue to live and work in Hong Kong, and to have free movement in and out of the territory. That is clearly set out in paragraph 3(4) of the joint declaration, and in section XIV of annex 1 thereto.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has taken pains to explain to the Chinese our reasons for introducing the proposals, and we believe that they will in time come to accept them as a sincere contribution to Hong Kong's successful transition to Chinese sovereignty. It is also profoundly to Britain's advantage to secure such a transition. That is why the Bill serves the joint interests of the British people and of the Queen's subjects in Hong Kong. I commend it to the House.

4.48 pm

It is less than a year since the slaughter in Tiananmen square, so it is easy enough to understand the apprehension with which the people of Hong Kong anticipate the handing over of the colony to China in seven years' time. That apprehension is, I believe, felt by all the people—more than 5 million residents, including more than 3·25 million British dependent territories citizens.

There cannot be a solution to the problems of the colony and the confidence of the residents that does not address the needs of all the people, not just a few. There can be no just or even practical solution in a scheme that offers a special escape route to a favoured and arbitrarily chosen minority. Selection emphasises the existence of the problem, but offers no way out of it for the majority of Hong Kong residents. The real solution—the only solution that meets the needs of all the people—is to make major progress towards democracy in the colony and to make it so complete and tightly organised that dismantling it in 1997 would be virtually impossible. That is the policy that the Labour party advocates and will pursue in government.

To how many Hong Kong Chinese would the Labour party give United Kingdom passports or the right of abode in this country?

The right hon. Gentleman anticipates a subject that I shall address in a moment. It is not our view that such matters are best decided by thinking of a number first and working out the categories afterwards.

So the only thing that the Labour party will offer the people of Hong Kong is democracy. Has the right hon. Gentleman then not learnt anything from the experience of Tiananmen square? Democracy is not a magic wand to be waved in front of a Chinese tank. It needs to be supported by something; it must be supported by the right of those people to leave as they wish with British passports and come to Britain. Why does the Labour party hand democracy to Hong Kong with one hand and damage and wound it with the other?

The right hon. Gentleman will understand in a calmer moment that I am about to address some of the questions that he has asked me. But as he has intervened, let me make one thing absolutely clear. It seems to me that the most cynical policy of all is to pretend to offer entry to every citizen of Hong Kong on the basis and understanding that most of them will not take up that right. That sounds very noble when spoken in a single sentence, but it is not a policy that bears a moment's moral or intellectual examination.

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that it is somewhat cynical also to pretend that a Labour Government could introduce greater democratisation in Hong Kong against the Basic Law which has been passed with the support of Hong Kong delegates' votes? How does he possibly argue that a Labour Government could introduce that democratisation?

I propose to argue in a little detail, if given the chance, that the next Labour Government will pursue the path towards democracy at the speed that the people of Hong Kong have always asked for and that was once offered to the people of Hong Kong by the present Government. The Government have flinched from making adequate progress towards full democracy. I believe that the Bill is intended to disarm the most vocal and influential minority and therefore make it easier for the Government to follow that craven course. The Bill is the alternative to the progress towards democracy which Hong Kong needs and deserves.

John Walden, the former director of home affairs in the Hong Kong Government, has no doubt where the root cause of falling confidence lies. Writing in today's The Times, he says:
"within a year of Parliament's endorsement of … agreement"—
of the joint declaration with China in December 1984—
"Foreign Office officials had secretly agreed to China's demand that Britain slow down its plans for democratic reform."
He continued:
"The collapse of confidence in the future of Hong Kong was precipitated not by the tragic events in Tiananmen Square in June 1989 but by Britain's failure to stand up to China in November 1985 and to secure the political safeguards written into the Joint Declaration."

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment, but I should like to make some progress first. I promise to bear him in mind.

It has been claimed that the Bill discharges a debt of honour that we owe to the people of Hong Kong. However, no one explains how a debt of honour to 5 million people, 3·25 million of them British dependent territories citizens, can be repaid by selectiing 50,000 of their number for special treatment. It has been claimed, in contradiction of opinion within Hong Kong, which I shall presently quote, that the Bill will increase confidence in the colony. However, no one explains what effect the Bill will have on the confidence of the overwhelming majority of residents who will not benefit from its provisions. The Bill legitimises the fear that an escape route is needed after 1997, but it offers the chance to escape to less than one resident in 20. There is not and cannot be such an escape route for the majority of the colony's residents. If general confidence is increased by the measure, it will be the first time that the morale of the other ranks has been improved by the announcement that the officers will retreat first.

The right hon. Gentleman quoted with approval the article by John Walden in The Times today. Is he aware that Mr. Walden suggested that China's opposition is the best reason why the Government's Bill should be supported today? Does he therefore accept Mr. Walden's proposition?

I certainly accept Mr. Walden's proposition that the Bill is the best that we could get from the Government. Mr. Walden is saying that a very small amount of help is better than no help at all. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell me whether he accepts Mr. Walden's package in total or whether he accepts only part of it. As he had a hand in these matters some years ago, I suspect that he knows very well the betrayal of Hong Kong by the British Foreign Office.

Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I take Mr. Walden's proposition seriously and I take the issue seriously, which the right hon. Gentleman is failing to do. Certainly it is right that we should stand up to Peking, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary suggested. The way to stand up to Peking and to make the Chinese Government understand their own interests is to pass and support the Bill. The way not to do that is to opt out and cop out of the issue in the way in which the right hon. Gentleman and apparently the majority of the Labour party intend to do.

I return to opinion in Hong Kong on the subject of the Government's plans. Mr. Lee Cheuk Yan of the Pro Democracy movement said that the Bill is

"only for 50,000 households…so for the majority of Hong Kong people is irrelevant."
That view, according to opinion polls, is shared by a vast majority of Hong Kong residents, as 90 per cent. of executives, professionals and entrepreneurs, the people whom the Bill is supposed to benefit, say that the Bill will not promote stability, and 88 per cent. of young Hong Kong residents—the future of the colony—regard it as of no significance. Most people in Hong Kong believe in a united territory which will move towards the genuine democracy and the Bill of Rights that will give reality to the concept of "two systems within one nation" after 1997.

The Government have chosen the diametrically opposite course. They have divided the colony between the favoured minority and the disregarded majority. No doubt they believe that by promising passports to Hong Kong's most vocal and influential residents, that has muted their opposition to the Government's failure to make proper progress towards the full democracy that Hong Kong needs and wants. The Office of the Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils was unanimous in calling for, a year ago, 20 elected members by 1991, 30 in 1995 and a fully elected Assembly in 2003.

Despite his predecessor's fine talk about the pace of democratic development reflecting the wishes of the whole community, the Foreign Secretary no longer even aspires to those figures and that result. Instead, he bends to the wishes of the Peking Government, and only half the Assembly's members will be elected by 2003. I want to ask him a direct question on this subject. Did the Prime Minister make any promises about Hong Kong when she dined, secretly as she thought, with the Chinese ambassador two weeks ago? Within 10 months of the Tiananmen square massacre, the Prime Minister was accepting Chinese hospitality. What hopes we had of the Prime Minister and the Government standing up for democracy in Hong Kong were extinguished when we discovered how she had spent her evening three weeks ago, allegedly in secret.

The Foreign Secretary's wish to accommodate China, which must be putting at risk the promised Hong Kong Bill of Rights, is a denial of the principle that his predecessor so often asserted—Britain's determination that it would not abdicate its right to govern Hong Kong in Hong Kong's interests before 1997. The Foreign Office and the Bill are now dividing Hong Kong to facilitate Chinese rule. The first step that Labour will take will be to increase confidence within the colony by moving towards real democracy at the pace demanded by the people of Hong Kong.

Speaking on radio not many days ago, the right hon. Gentleman said, presumably while trying to play to the anti-immigration lobby in Birmingham, that the Labour party, if given the opportunity, would limit the number of people allowed into this country. He further said that he did not know how or how many. Has he had time to think since and does he now know how and how many?

Let me assure the hon. Gentleman about something that even he, on reflection, will understand. Whatever else is represented by the Member of Parliament for Sparkbrook, it is not the anti-immigration lobby.

We do not intend now, or ever, to play the numbers game. There are a number of people in express and specific categories who in our view deserve the right to enter Britain. In a moment, I shall describe those categories, but we leave the numbers game to those who used to be led by the Home Secretary until he was coerced into supporting the Bill.

I shall describe in a moment how we shall deal with immigration from the colony, but first I want to make it clear that under no circumstances will we introduce a system that requires residents, in theory equal before the law, to compete with each other for a limited number of passports. The system that the Government propose is arbitrary and divisive. Its effect will be capricious and its result will be unavoidably unjust.

Not for the moment.

The Bill proposes that 50,000 individuals should be granted British citizenship. Why 50,000? Why not 40,000, 60,000 or 70,000, as the Foreign Secretary originally proposed? We know the honest answer to the question: 50,000 is the compromise between what the Foreign Secretary wanted and what the Home Secretary was prepared to agree. But, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will answer the question precisely when he replies to the debate, what is the official explanation of 50,000? What is to be said to the men and women who just fail to qualify and who know that they are on the margin of qualification because they have compared their ratings in the absurd points scheme that the Government propose and have realised that they just missed out compared with more successful applicants? Why will they be told that only 50,000 will be allowed?

Not for the moment. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members who vote for the Bill—

The rule is that when I say that I shall not give way, the hon. Lady must sit down. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members who will vote for the Bill tonight have studied the points scheme, by which British passports will be distributed. British citizenship is to be awarded on the basis of a calculation that most urban district councils would regard as too crude for the allocation of council houses. I invite hon. Members who doubt that judgment to read paragraph 23 of the proposed scheme:

"In the event that a number of candidates scored equal points and all could not be accommodated within the places available for each group, the Governor would have discretion to choose whom to recommend for citizenship."
An urban district council that gave such power to a housing manager would be driven out of office. The Home Secretary understated the case when he told us that this is an unprecedented way of awarding British citizenship.

The House is being invited to take or leave the points scheme. It is being denied any opportunity to amend it. It is not part of the Bill, but as it clearly will not be changed year by year there is no reason why it should be hidden away in secondary legislation, except the Government's hope that debate on the contents of the points scheme can be hidden away in a 90-minute debate late one night. Given the scheme's contents, that is hardly surprising.

I give another example of the scheme's absurdity, to which I hope the Foreign Secretary will give an explicit answer tonight. Paragraph 34 of the scheme suddenly begins to refer to heads of households, 50,000 of whom will be granted British citizenship. How is a head of household defined? Is it a man? Is it the highest wage earner? If a woman earns less than her husband but qualifies in the scheme through education and experience, can she still he granted British citizenship?

What about children? Paragraph 34 says that children under 18 will not be allowed to accompany their parents if the Home Secretary is not satisfied as to their good character. Are the Government serious about that? Are they saying that when all the paraphernalia have been gone through, when the committee has sat, when the governor has recommended and when the Home Secretary has rubber-stamped the decision, somebody will say "You and your spouse can come, but your children under 18 are not, in the Home Secretary's judgment, of good character." Is this a serious scheme, or was it simply cobbled together overnight?

If the scheme were simply ludicrous, the tragedy would not be so great, but it is also arbitrary and contradictory in a way that should disqualify it from serious consideration. In The Times today, Mr. D. A. White of Hong Kong described one of its consequences, to which I hope the Home Secretary will listen. May I have the Home Secretary's attention?

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you clarify for the House whether this is a debate or a statement from the right hon. Gentleman? Is it not time that he gave way to a Conservative Member?

I am seeking your protection as a Back Bencher. We are trying to listen to the debate, but Conservative Members are consistently intervening without any sanction from the Chair. I do not wish to challenge you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but we require the protection of the Chair against those who are deliberately disrupting the proceedings of the House.

The Home Secretary and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) have been generous in giving way, but I remind the House that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak. Interventions inevitably prolong speeches.

I hope that the Home Secretary will concentrate on the example that I propose to give him in a moment as it reveals that he was wrong in fact in an answer that he gave earlier. Mr. D. A. White of Hong Kong wrote to The Times this morning describing the contrary consequences of the Bill. Mr. White is British; his wife is Hong Kong-born Chinese. As a result of the iniquities of our general immigration law, Mr. White does not have an unqualified and unfettered right to bring his wife to this country. The Home Secretary said that he did. In fact, Mr. White has the right to apply to bring his wife here, but she has to pass a number of tests, such as the primary purpose rule, to come to this country. Mr. White points out that if he were not British, but a British dependent territories citizen, he would certainly qualify for the points scheme and would thereby acquire the unfettered and unqualified right to bring his wife to this country. He says that he is penalised by the fact that he is British. He says finally that if he died before his wife, she would lose even the residual right to apply and to be examined. That does not seem right and I hope that the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary will justify such an anomaly.

Anyone who has residual doubts about the Government's fear that the points scheme is literally indefensible needs to read no further than clause 1(5). It says:
"Neither the Secretary of State nor the Governor shall be required to give any reason for any decision made by him in the exercise of a discretion vested in him or under this Act and no such decision shall be subject to appeal or liable to be questioned in any court."

British citizenship is to be handed out according to a points scheme, which turns out, on examination, to be run not by the governor, but by a group of Hong Kong officials who may well themselves be applicants. The points scheme would be ridiculous were it not wicked. However, the comparison, which I made a few moments ago, with local authority housing allocation may have been unfair. No housing points scheme could be so subjective or crude. No housing committee would deny an aggrieved applicant the right of appeal. No local authority would be allowed to avoid judicial review of its housing allocation, yet all those iniquities and absurdities are built into the scheme by which the right to be British is granted by a committee of Hong Kong officials and then rubber-stamped by the Foreign Secretary and the governor of Hong Kong.

The injustices inherent in the scheme were unavoidable once the Government decided on the principle—if "principle" is the right word—on which the Bill is based. The Government decided on a number and then had to decide how the total was made up. If the Government were determined to have a selective scheme, they should have begun by deciding which categories of residents they were prepared to allow to come to Britain and the number of entrants would then have been the total within those prospective categories.

We know that the Government chose the figure of 50,000 men and women of special merit and—

It is noticeable in the House that the right hon. Gentleman is ploughing through his notes with his head down. I am glad—and grateful to him—that he has at last raised his head to answer a question. Is it not a matter of logic from what he is saying that everybody in Hong Kong who wants to come in should have a passport and be able to do so? As that is not acceptable and is unlikely to happen, he is saying that nobody should come. Would it not be better to put his points into a reasoned amendment and to support the Second Reading tonight?

I am sorry that the hon. Lady missed the television at 5.10 pm—[Interruption.] Of course, that is why I waited before giving way. What is right is that those with special needs should be allowed into the country. If she can bear to listen with patience, as the cameras are off, I am about to describe what those categories are and how we should assess them.

The net result of the strange compromise between the Foreign Secretary's pro-consular illusions and the Home Secretary's tabloid populism provides for people coming into this country who do not remotely conform to the criteria that the Government once laid down in the British Nationality Act 1981, such as the criteria of established relationship with this country or a determination to become permanently associated with it. More importantly, this strange, cobbled-together compromise will deny citizenship to men and women who need, deserve and want it. Such iniquities and inequities can be avoided only by the application to Hong Kong of this country's general policy on nationality and immigration—not the policy we have now, which is often unjust and discriminatory, but the immigration policy which we should have and which, under the Labour Government, we will have. Under that policy, there would be no general distribution of passports by Home Secretaries on the basis of schemes cobbled together from dubious principles and divisive practices.

When Lord Whitelaw introduced the British Nationality Bill, the Tory party used to believe that the award of British citizenship should be based on constant principles: birth in Britain, a long period of residence in Britain or a close personal association with Britain. British citizenship should be given away by the Government according to principles, not according to the mood of the moment. That remains our view. We should apply to Hong Kong the compassionate and consistent principles of our published immigration policy. For many of the citizens who thus came to this country, British citizenship might well follow.

I will give way just once more, then I shall obey Mr. Deputy Speaker's injunction to make progress.

The right hon. Gentleman is clearly a well-known international statesman, but he may not be as well known as his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). The right hon. Member for Gorton said that any right of abode given by this Parliament under the Bill, or under any other, would not necessarily be maintained by an incoming Labour Government. Will the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) repudiate that particular statement?

Our position on that is clear. If the Bill is passed, we shall, of course, accept its provisions, but, as I have already pointed out to the House, the Bill is so constructed that the scheme that it governs can be changed from time to time. Clearly, the Government would not abandon the right to change the scheme in the Bill and neither would we. If the Bill is passed, we shall respect it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has never said anything remotely different from that.

I hear the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) say, with the wit and intelligence that I expect from him, "What are your policies?" Under our policy, some Hong Kong residents would qualify immediately for entry into this country. Many of them were recommended for special consideration by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. Their problems have often been ignored by the Government. Indeed, all four special categories recommended by the Select Committee were ignored by the Government until 4·5 pm today. I am sure that the so-called rebels on the Tory Benches will feel that if they have achieved nothing else in their endeavours, they have got the widows of ex-service men into this country. They have achieved that at least because the Government ran away from them on that particular and progress would not have been made unless the Government had feared defeat this evening.

The Government have not gone far enough. We will offer immediate entry to other groups because they deserve and need it. The Select Committee referred to "non-ethnic Chinese" who are mostly east African Asians who took refuge in the colony 20 years ago and who do not have full rights of residence in Hong Kong. In 1997, they will be stateless. Despite what the Home Secretary said this afternoon, the Government are offering them nothing. They do not qualify under the points scheme. We will grant them entry rights and I repeat that it is our published and established policy to allow the small number of war widows to come to this country. If I welcome nothing else that the Home Secretary said this afternoon, I welcome his concession on those widows and rejoice at his conversion.

We should also—as the Select Committee proposes—accept that time spent as a bona fide student could be included in the qualifying period for naturalisation. As the Select Committee also recommended, we should use section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981 generously. That section allows the Home Secretary to grant British citizenship to public servants who have worked abroad in colonial administrations. It enables the Government to offer citizenship to public servants of every rank, whereas the points scheme would clearly favour more senior officials. [Interruption.] How do I know? Who asked me how I knew? [HON. MEMBERS: "Langbaurgh."] I should have guessed.

I shall gladly give way to the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) if he will tell me the five basic principles of the points scheme that I have cited. Can he do that? [Laughter.]

The right hon. Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "One."] The right hon. Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "One."]—and those behind him may think that this debate is funny and that the lives of people in Hong Kong are not important. This is not a game; it is a debate about people's lives and futures and the right hon. Gentleman is not doing Parliament or his party any good by his behaviour this afternoon. I suggest that he is honest with the public and that he stands up and tells the House how many people from Hong Kong the Labour party would allow into Britain.

It is because I regard this matter as crucial that I reject and resent the fact that hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Langbaurgh will vote for the Bill this evening without understanding the first thing about what is involved.

Some public servants will no doubt wish—perhaps even need—to leave the colony after 1997. We shall certainly enable them to come to Britain. The Home Secretary's discretion—a major feature of both immigration and nationality legislation at present—can and will be used to assist other individuals—I emphasise individuals—who are in particular need of leaving the colony.

On 17 January the Foreign Secretary told the House that as we considered the Bill we should be mindful of our duty to the people of Britain as well as to the people of Hong Kong. It is to the consequences of the Bill for Britain that I shall now address my remarks. It now seems to be the Home Secretary's belief—it has always been the Foreign Secretary's belief—that most of the Hong Kong residents who receive British citizenship will choose not to come to Britain. The announcement by the Government of China that they will not recognise a second or dual nationality seems to me to undermine that conviction. My own view is that most of the 225,000 will not come immediately but will come eventually—in 1996 if they have not emigrated elsewhere. But I repeat that the number is not the issue. What concerns me—it is the nub of my passionate opposition to the Bill—is the damage that will be done to the interests and welfare of the black and Asian British. That damage will be real, practical and immediate.

This is an immigration Bill as well as a nationality Bill. It confers the right of entry into Britain on men and women who do not possess it at present. New rights to new immigration—the extension of immigration—must be seen, at least during the lifetime of this Parliament, against the background of the Government's established immigration policy. About the principles of that policy—if "principles" is the right word—Ministers have been brutally frank. The rigorous control of numbers is said to be essential. The then Home Secretary—now the Foreign Secretary—was explicit in his words to the House on 16 November 1987. These are his words, not mine; they are his opinions, certainly not mine:
"there is a limit to the extent to which a society can accept"—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In July the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said in the House that the Labour party recognised that 3¼ million Chinese could not be given the right of abode. On 20 December he said that 50,000 heads of households could not. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman—

The then Home Secretary said on 16 November 1987:

"there is a limit to the extent to which a society can accept large numbers of people from different cultures without unacceptable social tensions. That remains our view. It is not an anti-immigrant view; it is a realistic view.
It would not be in the interests of the ethnic minorities themselves if there were a prospect of further mass inward movement. That prospect would increase social tensions, particularly in our cities."—[Official Report, 16 November 1987; Vol. 122, c. 779.]
I repeat that that is the Government's view—the established principle of their immigration policy. Successive regulations have put it into practice. They have had the effect of reducing numbers and Ministers have boasted about it. What is more, adminstrative delays hold back the entry of men and women who are entitled to come here. The Government consistently refuse to allocate sufficient resources to reduce the queue. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) asked questions in the House during the week before the Easter recess. The answers that he obtained about the length of time that it takes, not to obtain the right to come here, but to demonstrate that right, was terrifying.

I have no doubt that if today we gave special priority immigration status to hand-picked residents of Hong Kong, the Government would hold back the entry into Great Britain of men and women with a far greater claim to British nationality. They would contrive more administrative delays and introduce new regulations. They would apply the primary purpose rule more rigorously. I remind the House that that is the rule that gives an immigration officer the power to read a husband's mind and announce that he cannot come to Britain because he is applying not because he wants to be with his wife but because he likes it here or wants a job here. The Home Secretary tells us that this is a Bill aimed at carefully chosen people with good jobs and good salaries. I know very well that he will compensate for that by keeping out people without good jobs and without salaries—husbands and wives who ought to be reunited with their families in Britain.

Men and women with an established right to come here will be passed over in favour of men and women for whom a new and absolute right is being created. Some of the most underprivileged families in Britain will be penalised while help is given to other individuals who, by definition, continue to enjoy a very great advantage.

I remind the House of the people to whom we currently refuse entry to Great Britain. Husbands of British citizens are prevented from joining their wives in this country on the most flimsy and artificial of pretexts. Dependent relatives are deprived of the right to spend their old age with their families. Many special voucher holders—east African refugees who were promised the right to come to Britain 20 years ago—have still not received visas. Perhaps worst of all, children of British citizens were denied entry because they were adjudged, in the notorious phrase, not to be related as claimed. Now DNA tests have proved that the Home Office was wrong—that they are the children of British citizens—but they are still being denied reunion with their families. Every week, I see families who are deperately damaged, materially and emotionally, by those exclusions—families who are separated when they should be together. While such exclusions continue, I do not propose to vote for the priority entry into Britain of men and women who qualify by a committee's judgment of such intangible attributes as
"special circumstances; experience and community service".

Now that the right hon. Gentleman has fully developed his argument, we can understand it. He has said, first, that he is worried about the possibility of 50,000 people coming here from Hong Kong because of the effect that it may have on community relations—[HON. MEMBERS: "No. It was you."] No, that is exactly what the right hon. Gentleman said. On the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman said that he would allow some people to come here from Hong Kong. How, in the light of that, can he again refuse to answer the straight question that has been put to him now half a dozen times? If he thinks that 50,000 people coming here would be bad for race relations, but believes that some peple should be allowed to come here from Hong Kong, how many people does he believe should come here from Hong Kong?

I had no doubt that the Home Secretary would eventually ask me the numbers question because that enables him to support the Bill and still preserve his racist credentials. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] In the meantime—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I distinctly heard the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) talk about the racist credentials of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. That is surely unparliamentary and it was a disgraceful thing to say.

If the right hon. Gentleman used a phrase that was unparliamentary I am sure that he would wish to rephrase it.

Of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Had I used a phrase that was unparliamentary, I should, as always, withdraw it without a moment's hesitation. However, the idea that the phrase "racist credentials", which I debase by saying that it is used in every debate on race that we have in this place, is in any way unparliamentary is, to put it simply, stretching it a bit.

I want to ask the Home Secretary a question about his policies.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is there precedent for the proposition that the word "racist" is unparliamentary?

I hope that the House will leave those matters to the Chair. There are remarks which some hon. Members find offensive. I did not feel it necessary to ask the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw that particular phrase, but I must tell the House that this is a very serious debate. There are strong emotions on both sides and these interventions prolong speeches.

The iniquity of what the Government propose for Hong Kong becomes clear when it is compared with the treatment now meted out to British ethnic minorities. For example, we are told—indeed it is the nub and basis of the Bill—that it is right that 50,000 selected Hong Kong residents should be allowed to enter Britain and bring their families with them. That is right because of their uncertainty about the colony's future.

If a Sikh woman from my constituency—Sikh and British—marries a man from the Punjab, that man will be subject to a searching examination of his motives and intentions if he applies to come to this country. If he says that he wants to come to Britain in part because he is uncertain about the future of the Punjab, he will be automatically denied entry to this country according to the primary purpose rule.

Anxiety about the future is a qualification for coming here if one lives in Hong Kong. If one is a husband wishing to join a British wife, anxiety about the future of one's country of origin anywhere else is an automatic disqualification.

I am familiar with the cliche that two wrongs do not make a right. Like most cliches, it is true. However, that cliche does not apply to this situation. Applying the principles of the Bill would do more than leave the black and Asian British in their present state of disadvantage. It would increase their suffering by pushing them further down the queue. Their relatives would be kept out as the new entrants were allowed in.

I have read that the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) has also expressed the view that Asian British living in his constituency would feel a bitter resentment if their husbands, parents, wives and children were kept out of this country while new candidates with no immediate claim on British citizenship were allowed in. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is right. However, our attitudes towards the problem diverge from that.

For 10 years I have been arguing that husbands, wives and dependent relatives should be allowed into this country. For 10 years the right hon. Member for Chingford has been voting to keep them out. That shows a substantial difference in our attitudes towards the problem. I say to him and to others, whether he votes for the Bill tonight is no concern of mine. I shall vote against it because it is a bad Bill—bad in concept, execution, principle and practice.

5.34 pm

I shall support the Government in the Lobby tonight—[Interruption.] Although in the past I have expressed doubts about some aspects of the Bill, I believe that it is the only course now open to the Government. What doubts I had were removed by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley).

I have seldom heard a less convincing speech than that made by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. We respect him because he normally puts forward an honest and convincing point of view from the Opposition Front Bench. However, to say tonight that the problem facing the Government can be solved by an extension of democracy in Hong Kong bears no relation to reality.

In the 1980s, I was one of those who strongly urged the Government to speed up the process of democratisation. I wanted that first stage to have been taken by 1989. However, we were unsuccessful in convincing the Government of that. I do not see now that the situaton in Hong Kong following Tiananmen square can be dealt with by saying that we will extend democratisation.

There is a lack of confidence in some quarters in Hong Kong. It does not exist in all quarters, and it may be exaggerated, but the uncertainty undoubtedly exists. The Government's obligation is to do their utmost to ensure that Hong Kong retains its stability and prosperity until the time comes to hand it over in 1997.

I differ from those who say that we have a moral responsibility to Hong Kong. I have always found it very difficult to understand how international affairs can be run satisfactorily on the basis of a particular chosen morality. The British have made a considerable contribution to the development of Hong Kong and to the welfare of its people. However, if we look at the figures we must also recognise that the Americans and the Japanese have made an even greater contribution in investment and trade. Very well—we do not criticise that, nor do we dispute it. All have contributed. Because we have helped to build up Hong Kong and its people, I cannot see that one can draw from that a moral conclusion as to what we should do now.

Our responsibility is clearly a political and practical one. We must ensure that, when Hong Kong is handed over to the People's Republic of China, it is as stable and prosperous as we can make it. The Goverment have quite rightly addressed themselves to the problem of securing that position. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook failed to address that problem; that was the great weakness of his speech.

I readily agree that there may be difficulties with the present immigration law and that there are anomalies which should be changed. I do not dispute that.

Yes, I know. With time, one learns things. All that was 20 years ago. If anomalies have emerged, they can be changed. Nobody is arguing about that.

I see nothing in the Bill that will suggest that those who are waiting for relatives to join them will be affected. I am strongly in favour of those who have an entitlement to come here being granted that entitlement as soon as possible. I have always been in favour of that. Therefore, I do not see any problems arising from the Bill on that aspect of immigrants or the relatives of those who have already settled here coming to this country.

The problem is how to maintain the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong until 1997. The Government's approach has been to try to ascertain how many and who among those who are essential to public services and local services and to management should come here. They have then said, "Very well, we shall arrange for that to happen." I have always been worried about discrimination, but we have to solve the problem of maintaining stability and prosperity, and I believe that this is the only path open to us. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook did not suggest any other.

We have heard that we do not want any discrimination in favour of the wealthy in Hong Kong. In my experience, the wealthy have already made their plans. They have already got out of Hong Kong. They are in Vancouver, building rather disagreeable high buildings in place of the natural type of architecture. They are looking after themselves. We do not have to worry about them and nor do the Government.

Others will seek a passport elsewhere. That is only to be expected until confidence is restored. It will require a period of residence overseas. However, we are also learning that those who have already followed that path and got their external residence are now returning to Hong Kong. If, by 1997, we have solved the bigger problem, to which I shall refer in a moment, those people will continue to remain and to work in Hong Kong because that is where they want to be. They are making the necessary dispositions themselves.

The larger problem relates to the attitude of the People's Republic of China. We are faced with the major task of restoring the relationship between Peking and Westminster and Whitehall and of both sides gaining confidence in each other. There is nothing to be gained from constantly dwelling on the tragedy of Tiananmen square, as did the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] First, because we want to get the Chinese back on the path that they were on before that tragedy. They were being supported by investment and technology from all over the world. They are still being supported by a large amount of investment and technology from all the European countries. Our business men who are already there are continuing as before. What is required is confidence about the future at the political level.

There is nothing to be gained by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), who always has a grudge against something or some country, continually muttering under his breath about the tragedy, which we all deplore.

We must build up that confidence, because it will then give confidence to Hong Kong about what will happen after 1997. Therefore, I urge the Government not to despair and not to be dogmatic about this. I urge them not to regard it as an incident that will mean that for years and years we shall be further apart from Peking, but to find a way of moving closer to it so that they can influence it.

No, I am sorry, but I shall not give way.

The democratic problems are not easy to solve. That was the problem in Tiananmen square. With a population of 1,050 million, it is not easy to say what democracy will be, how the people will vote or who will represent them—[Interruption.] Perhaps Opposition Front Bench spokesmen should take up positions at a university and explain the form of democracy to be brought about in a people of that size whose education has been developed to a high degree only in the past 10 years.

To restore confidence to Hong Kong, we must establish a relationship between London and Peking. That requires action from both sides—from Peking as well as London—if we are to give confidence to the people.

It is said that, if 50,000 families eventually come here, it will be the cause of great disorganisation. Having gone through the experience of the Ugandan Asians, I doubt that. I have heard it said that the Ugandan Asians tore the country apart. They did nothing of the sort. I have been looking up the records; they show that, like the rest of the world, this country felt that the British were doing the right thing in a difficult situation—as we did. We took 29,500 people from Uganda in the course of six weeks—not over a period of seven years. Those who came have been extraordinarily successful in this country, and have contributed an immense amount to it.

One thing on which I have formed a judgment about the Chinese is that, given an opportunity, wherever they are in the world, they will always be successful. It does not matter whether it is in the east end of London or in San Francisco—wherever there is a Chinatown, it is successful. Those who eventually come here will be successful and, I believe, will contribute to the welfare of this country.

I must emphasise that Chinese Governments have kept their undertakings in the past and, I believe, will keep to the undertakings that they have given about Hong Kong. It is said that they did not keep an undertaking about Tibet. However, the fact is that the agreement that was signed between Mao Tse-Tung and the Dalai Lama was broken by the military in Tibet, not by Mao or by the Dalai Lama. Therefore, that is not an example of the Chinese breaking an undertaking that they have signed. I think that they will keep their undertakings.

The Government are doing what is essential at this moment. They should be supported in that. However, they should back up their policy by re-establishing a relationship with Peking that will enable confidence about the future to exist in Hong Kong. If that can be achieved by 1997, some of the fears among my right hon. and hon. Friends and Opposition Members will prove to be groundless. I very much hope that that will be the case.

5.47 pm

As always, it is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), whose speech got to the heart of the Bill and of the bankruptcy of the Labour party's position.

I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman in one area. He said that the events of Tiananmen square are not relevant. I believe that he is wrong there. He is right to say that it is necessary to Hong Kong's future that we establish proper, stable relations with the Chinese Government, but he is wrong to ignore the Tiananmen event, because it is the shadow that hangs over Hong Kong at the moment, and the cause of its instability. It is not irrelevant to record that we are now within six weeks of the first anniversary of that appalling event, in which the Chinese state slaughtered its own young citizens in the main square of its own capital city. Today we are debating and deciding what safeguards and protections we should give our citizens whom we are about to hand over to that same state in a handful of years.

The House need be in no doubt about my party's position on this matter. We have stuck to it through thick and thin and we shall not vary from it now. I must advise the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup that we believe that Britain has a moral duty to honour the rights of all our passport holders in Hong Kong. That is not only the morally right thing to do; it is also the best practical thing to do. It provides the best way of ensuring Hong Kong's stability until 1997, and of preserving and protecting its democracy and prosperity after 1997. We believe that, if Britain had shown leadership and imagination, it would have been possible. It may still be possible to secure the international guarantees and agreements that would have reinsured our responsibilities to our passport holders with friendly countries in Europe, the Commonwealth and north America.

I wish to stress two points. First, as the Home Secretary properly said, we need to understand that the Bill is not an emigration policy for Hong Kong. It is a policy to discourage emigration from Hong Kong. It is about taking the measures that will give the people of Hong Kong the confidence to stay where they want to stay—in a free and capitalist Hong Kong. Secondly, we need to understand that Hong Kong is different from any matter on which the House has previously legislated. The House has legislated many times to transfer sovereignty over lands and people to self-government. But we have never handed a people over, most of them against their will, to another state, let alone a state from which many of them fled in fear of their lives.

The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup sought to argue that to allow the freedom of our citizens to be bartered away over their heads carried no moral obligation. I believe that it does carry obligations, and that it would be better if we faced up to them.

There was a time when Britain would have recognised those obligations and acted on them. In so doing, we should have won the respect of the whole world and furthered our interests in Hong Kong and the far east. But, since the Tiananmen square massacre, the activities of Ministers have fallen far short of that great tradition. They have ducked and weaved, moved forwards and backwards, hinted and warned, but they have never provided the leadership on this issue that was necessary even to make their own party recognise the gravity of the position.

Even now, the arguments that Ministers advance for not doing more for Hong Kong are the most disreputable that any Government could hide behind. When I hear Ministers say, "We should awfully like to do more for the people of Hong Kong but Parliament will not allow us to," I hear the clear echo of doublespeak. As if this Government had ever listened to the voice of Parliament. That is not leadership but the abdication of leadership.

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I hope that the House will understand that I have several points to make in my speech. I have no wish to detain the House longer than is necessary. I listened to the wise words of Mr. Speaker. I wish to allow other hon. Members the chance to speak. I shall give way to two interventions, one from the hon. Gentleman and the next intervention that I receive.

I am genuinely obliged to the right hon. Member for giving way. He was talking about doublespeak. Can he tell the House why, in a campaign for a parliamentary election, the Liberal party tried to besmirch my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn) when he stood as candidate for the Isle of Wight by suggesting that he had a black girl friend and was living with a black woman? Where was the doublespeak on that issue?

That was such an awful intervention that I shall give way to two more.

What arguments are advanced by those who would not uphold honouring the full rights of all passport holders in Hong Kong? First, they say that Britain could not possibly grant right of abode to 3 million people. Let me remind the House that in 1987, when we passed the Single European Act, we granted right of abode in Britain to 250 million people. Where is the high moral principle that makes it acceptable to grant right of abode to 250 million people who live only a handful of miles from these shores, when we are told that it is unacceptable and dangerous to grant it to the tiniest fraction of that number who live 8,000 miles away but happen mostly to be Chinese? Is the House prepared to go along with so blatantly disreputable an argument?

The second charge against our ideas lies in the assumption that all those who were given right of abode would board their international jets and come to Britain the day after tomorrow. That is arrogant nonsense. Who would wish to leave Hong Kong, which has a higher growth rate, lower unemployment and an immeasurably better ordered society? Do we believe that people in Hong Kong will dash to Britain to enjoy the poll tax, record mortgage rates, a failing economy and social disorder? What a ridiculous notion. [HON. MEMBERS: "To enjoy freedom."]

If what the governor of Hong Kong has called Armageddon were to happen after 1997, a mass exodus would indeed take place. But in those circumstances, the Foreign Secretary has rightly accepted that Britain would have the first responsibility for the welfare of those who would in his words be "refugees". I note that he is nodding.

The difference between the Government's proposals and ours is that the Government would choose to offer sanctuary to penniless refugees on a scale that would dwarf anything that we have seen with the Vietnamese boat people. But we would have them come as free citizens who have, by way of insurance, made preparations by investing in property, jobs and firms in Britain beforehand. That is the difference.

I do not want to drag the right hon. Gentleman into the numbers game, but most people who moved to Hong Kong in the past 50, 40 or 30 years were well aware that the lease on the territory ran out in 1997. No one asked them to go to Hong Kong, and no one is asking them to leave. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that, even though Britain's lease on 97 per cent. of the territory finishes in 1997, we have an obligation in perpetuity? Does he envisage a date 10, 20 or 30 years after 1997 when our obligation would end?

The purpose of the policy is to ensure stability before 1997 and the survival of democracy afterwards. That means that we have an obligation to those who have British passports when the territory is handed over. It is as simple and easy as that.

Why not, for those who have British passports? I remind the hon. Gentleman that, three years ago, he voted in the House—I do not know how he voted, but the House voted by an overwhelming majority—to give, not 3 million, but 250 million people right of abode. Did he ask then whether it was in perpetuity?

I was looking forward to an intervention from an Opposition Member, but I said that I would give way to two more interventions.

The right hon. Gentleman knows his constituency well. Does he believe that Yeovil could absorb 5,000 or 10,000 immigrants from Hong Kong during the next decade?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that he did not ask that question when he granted right of abode in Britain to 250 million people. If the hon. Gentleman wants me to say—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I shall give an answer. If, in extremis, the people who are being crushed under the Chinese tanks in Nathan road in 1997 are British passport holders and my responsibility, and if someone asked me or my constituents to give them sanctuary, the unequivocal answer to that I, and probably my constituents, would give would be, "Yes, of course." [Interruption.] May I move on? [HON. MEMBERS: "Move on."]

Even in the circumstances described or alluded to in the hon. Gentleman's question, could Britain accept its obligations? Contrary to all the scaremongering, the evidence is that we could accept those responsibilities. The Corry report, supported by expert research from elsewhere and the writings of economists such as Samuel Brittan, concluded that, with proper preparation, Britain could actually benefit from such immigration, just as we have done in the past.

I stress that that is less likely to happen if we take the right steps today, and more likely if we take the wrong ones. The broader the right of abode we grant today, the stronger freedom will be after 1997 and the less likely the chance of Armageddon. The narrower the right of abode we grant today, the weaker freedom will be after 1997 and the more likely the chance of Armageddon after 1997 and the fear that the Government say they have at the top of their mind.

It is only late in the day that the Government have accepted the force of the argument from these Benches, and almost unanimously from Hong Kong, that it is the assurance of passports that will enable people to stay. I congratulate the Foreign Secretary, who has understood the force of that position and won a limited victory within the Cabinet. It is greatly to his credit that he pressed on with that. Let me examine the logic of the Government's argument. They rightly say that giving 50,000 households the right of abode will persuade Hong Kongers to stay in Hong Kong. If that logic applies to the few, why does it not also apply to the many? If the 50,000 who get passports will stay, is that not more likely to be the case for the 315,000 households recommended by the Price Waterhouse study as the minimum required to ensure stability? If the argument applies to some British passport holders, why not to all who hold British passports?

The Bill shows that the Government know perfectly clearly what should be done, but do not have the courage of their convictions. The result is that the Bill is inadequate and apologetic. Against the scale of Britain's responsibilities, it looks puny and insufficient. It is concerned more with the troubled internal politics of the Conservative party than with our external obligations.

I warn the Government that there is a genuine risk that what they have done may turn out to be too little, too late. By pitching the numbers so low, they may well create the worst of all possible worlds by doing insufficient to secure stability, while creating a conduit for the emigration that they fear most. In their attempt to keep the numbers down, they have been forced to a system which is so selective that it must be divisive.

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene, I shall happily give way to him. His position was cruelly exposed last night and this morning and he is not prepared to put it to the test again.

The right hon. Gentleman has made much of the inadequacy of the Bill, and I agree that it is wholly inadequate. Does he agree that the 50,000 people of Hong Kong who will be admitted are possibly the most articulate members of the community? If, as he has been saying, he wants a much more liberal attitude, should we not encourage that articulate minority to speak for the overwhelming majority in Hong Kong? Is he aware that to go into the Division Lobby with the Tories is to go against his whole objective?

Obviously the hon. Gentleman has not been listening to the voices from Hong Kong, because they have been articulating precisely that case.

The Government must understand that their failure of nerve to do what is right and safe for Hong Kong runs a great risk. It is on the judgment of that risk that my party will ultimately base its attitude to the Bill.

To answer the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), a clear and welcome principle is embodied in the Bill—that Britain must grant the right of abode to its passport holders in Hong Kong. We shall support that principle by voting for the Second Reading tonight, but we shall seek to strengthen and improve the Bill in Committee.

Apart from the question of numbers, there are four areas where the Bill must be improved. First, it must be made less divisive. That can be done only by increasing the numbers. Secondly, we must address the needs of the non-Chinese ethnic minorities. Thirdly, the Bill must correct the injustice being done to non-British spouses of British expatriates. Lastly, there must be an amendment to the outrageous proposal in the Bill that no decision should be challengeable in any court or by anybody.

The Government would be wrong to assume that any Bill was necessarily better than no Bill. There comes a point when the numbers are so small and the provisions so divisive that they will create emigration rather than stem it, that they will undermine the credibility of the Hong Kong authorities rather than support them and that they will increase instability in Hong Kong rather than increase the stability of the colony.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I said that I would not give way to two interventions. In that way, I shall give him a better chance of speaking later.

We will bring that lesson home to the Government during the remaining stages of the Bill, and our judgment of the Bill's value will be based on the extent to which Ministers accept and acknowledge that truth.

One thing is certain: unlike the Labour party, we will not play domestic politics with the freedom and livelihood of more than 5 million people in Hong Kong. I am sure that I have had as many letters as the Leader of the Opposition, urging me to add to the Government's political troubles by voting against the Bill. They point to the leadership crisis in the Conservative party and argue that this could be the moment when Thatcherism is toppled. All that may be true, but my party, unlike the Labour party, will not hawk its conscience around according to short-term political electoral priorities.

I give the hon. Gentleman yet another chance. I note that again he is not prepared to intervene. He is willing only to speak from a sedentary position.

May I return to the right hon. Gentleman's comments about the Standing Committee stage of the Bill? I understand from his comments his desire to see the Bill fully debated in Committee. Given the wide diversity of negative comments about the Bill, does he agree that the whole House would have a greater opportunity to do so if the Committee stage were taken on the Floor of the House rather than upstairs?

I must disappoint the hon. Gentleman. We shall not vote for that. He knows perfectly well that those who vote against the Bill will lose. They want the Committee stage to be taken on the Floor so that they can win by another means. I am not prepared to go along with that. Those who argue for that are deeply irresponsible.

Nor will we seek, like the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), to play one ethnic minority off against another. There was a day when the Labour party, once the great defender of the rights of those who are vulnerable at home and abroad, would have responded without equivocation to the call from the people of Hong Kong; but not today. Today, the Labour party, in a grubby search for votes, is prepared to turn a blind eye to the terrible damage that would be done, if the Bill were defeated, to confidence in Hong Kong and to Britain's reputation in the world.

There was a day when the Labour party opposed the British Nationality Act 1981, with the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook to the fore; but not today. Today, he has defended that same Act to the last letter. He has argued that the only protection which should be given to British passport holders in Hong Kong should be the pathetic provisions of that Act which he, ironically, also on 4 June, committed his party to repeal. Then, he said:
"the necessity for repeal … is all the greater, not least because the Bill is largely based not on Government theories about nationality, but on Government fears about immigration."—[0fficial Report, 4 June 1981; Vol. 5, c. 1159.]
But today, it is the Labour party that is helping to fan those fears about immigration.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman's attitude to the Bill is best summed up in his own words as quoted in The Independent on 3 April:
"When we have decided the manner in which we will oppose the Bill, I shall vote on a matter of principle."

There is worse still, however, for Labour does not stop at just opposing the Bill; the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has already said that it would not be committed to upholding its provisions were the Labour party to come to power. Thus, the Labour party adds irresponsibility to the abandonment of principle, as no statement is better calculated to increase instability in Hong Kong between now and 1997. What greater inducement could there be to emigrate from Hong Kong than the knowledge that all passport rights could be taken away by a future Labour Government?

What an irony that, in threatening to remove British passport rights, the Labour party is doing exactly what the Chinese Government have said they will do. Having joined the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) in voting against the Bill, the Labour party will then join the Chinese Government in seeking to nullify it. I wonder, has it any shame about the company it keeps?

The Labour party's only promise to the people of Hong Kong is that it will allow full democracy in the colony. Has it learnt nothing from the tragedy of the students of Tiananmen square? Democracy is not some kind of lucky charm that can be waved in front of a tank to stop it in its tracks; it needs to be supported and safeguarded. If democracy is to survive, it needs the most powerful safeguards. The most powerful safeguard for democracy after 1997 in Hong Kong lies in the freedom of its people to call in their passport rights as free citizens and go elsewhere. In denying them that freedom, Labour gives Hong Kong democracy with one hand and fatally wounds it with the other.

The retreat from empire was never going to be easy for this country. It created many difficulties and obstacles, but, for the large part, Britain has behaved honourably and responsibly. We have managed that retreat with dignity, and it is a record of which to be proud. I fear that we are in danger of besmirching that record tonight. The Government's weakness in front of Peking and the inadequacies of the Bill have done us and Hong Kong great harm.

I have no doubt that our forebears in this House would have responded to the challenges in a way that gave the House its great reputation as a defender of democracy. They would have understood the great issues involved. They would have guarded the importance of standing by a principle and accepted the need for leadership in persuading people of what should be done. They would have recognised Britain's long-term best interests.

I recall that, in the 1930s, when the Jews fled from Germany, we did not cavil that they did not have our passports, nor did we limit their numbers. We gave them sanctuary freely. Britain benefited and freedom was strengthened by that. Why is it that today we will not do the same for our own passport holders in Hong Kong?

Today, we rightly wring our hands over what we can do to assure freedom for Lithuanian citizens, bemoaning the fact that our scope for action is small. Why, then, do we turn our backs on those in Hong Kong who hold our passports and whom we have the power and the ability to help?

We shall vote for the principle of the Bill tonight, but will do so with little enthusiasm, and we shall seek to amend it in Committee. As it stands, it is the very least that Britain should do to honour its responsibilities. Its defeat tonight would amount to a betrayal of the best traditions of our nation, of Britain's long-term best interests in the far east and, above all, of the people of Hong Kong.

6.14 pm

I shall not follow the speech of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), especially as his peroration amounted to 50 per cent. of his speech. I was, however, slightly mystified by the right hon. Gentleman's conclusion. Earlier he seemed to say that, although he would vote with the Government on Second Reading, unless the Bill was amended to remove what he saw as its defects he held out the prospect of voting against the Bill on Third Reading.

The right hon. Member for Yeovil then proceeded to call the Bill a betrayal. If it still constitutes a betrayal in his terms after its Committee stage, surely that would cause him to want to vote against it on Third Reading. Would the right hon. Gentleman like to make his position clearer?

I am sorry to intervene so early in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but he has asked me a question. I said that the defeat of the Bill tonight would amount to a betrayal—a betrayal which the right hon. Gentleman seems to be prepared not only to join, but lead.

I understood that, but would it constitute a betrayal if the Bill were defeated on Third Reading? If that is so, the right hon. Gentleman will not vote against it on Third Reading whether it is amended or not.

Oh! It would amount to a betrayal tonight only, so when we come to Third Reading it will be "Not tonight Josephine.". I can see why the right hon. Gentleman said he was standing on principle, unlike the Labour party.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in view of what the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) has just said, an hour in politics is a long time as far as the Liberal party is concerned?

My hon. Friend is right, and that is particularly true of a Liberal speech lasting an hour.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was asked on several occasions by the right hon. Member for Yeovil how many Hong Kong Chinese the Labour party would admit. I do not believe that the right hon. Member for Yeovil got a clear answer, but I can give him that answer in the words of the Labour party as written to a gentleman from Plymouth in a letter dated June 1987. One will appreciate that it has something to do with general election politics. The letter was from Mr. Bert Clough of the policy briefing unit of the Labour party on whose notepaper it was written. He thanked the gentleman from Plymouth for his letter concerning Hong Kong and said:
"Neil Kinnock has asked me to reply on his behalf.
Under our proposals British citizens in Hong Kong would become citizens of the British Dependent Territories. This would give them a meaningful citizenship with the right to enter, reside and work in Hong Kong but not the right to enter the UK."

The answer to the question posed by the right hon. Member for Yeovil about how many Hong Kong Chinese the Labour party would admit is simple—it is none. That was the Labour party's proposal at the time of the general election, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) has already observed, an hour in politics can be a long time and 18 months can be even longer. The Labour party is saying to one group of people that it would admit lots and lots of them, but to another that it would not admit any at all. In other words, it is traditional two-faced politics. I shall not go in for any humbug or evasion.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook should know more about the Bill that he is opposing. When one of my hon. Friends sought to intervene the right hon. Gentleman said that he would let him intervene if my hon. Friend could state the five criteria to be used for admission. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that there are seven criteria—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] I know where he has gone. He has gone to get a copy of the Bill to read it.

Although tonight there are clearly two groups of people—one, sadly, my right hon. Friends in the Government and one, the Labour party—who are intent on breaking their election commitment, I am intent on keeping mine. I welcome much of what my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said today. Certainly no one knows more about immigration than him, which raises a most interesting point. I think that my right hon. and learned Friend said that this was not an immigration Bill. If it is not, it would perhaps have been better if my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had taken charge of it rather than lumber the poor, unfortunate Home Secretary, who normally deals with immigration rather than foreign affairs matters. I think that I have my right hon. and learned Friend's support on that, at least, today.

My right hon. and learned Friend made a good speech, but it was not quite good enough. I do not believe that he had his heart in his own case at all times. I would not go all the way with the right hon. Member for Yeovil, but if 50,000 would offer a good measure of security, would not 60,000 offer 20 per cent. more, and would not 100,000 double the security? My right hon. and learned Friend says no, but I do not believe that he has confidence in the Bill.

I have one question for my right hon. and learned Friend which arises from his speech. He said that the Bill, if enacted, would do the work intended by section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981. If that Act is not to be used, will it be repealed if the Bill is enacted?

I must assure my right hon. Friend that I said nothing of the sort. I referred to the fact that it would replace the undertakings that we were prepared to give, and in some cases had already given, to those in sensitive occupations. At no time did I deal with section 4(5), which could not be used to fulfil the Bill's purpose because it deals only with the public sector and those who are servants of the Hong Kong Government.

I understand what my right hon. and learned Friend says, but, as I understand it, the Bill includes all those who would be included in section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act. So that section of the Act is no longer needed and could be repealed as it would perhaps be better as part of the Bill. We should not have two pieces of legislation covering exactly the same point.

With respect to my right hon. Friend, section 4(5) does not deal just with Hong Kong.

The Home Secretary's intervention appears to go back on what he said in response to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). When the hon. Member for Orpington asked about section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act, the Home Secretary said that it was subsumed within the Bill. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman is forcing the Home Secretary to admit either that he misinformed the House when the hon. Member for Orpington questioned him or he is misinforming the House now.

The right hon. Gentleman is over-excited and a little slow to take the point. As I understand it, my right hon. and learned Friend said that the Bill subsumed it in relation only to Hong Kong obligations, and he wished section 4(5) to remain to use for purposes other than Hong Kong. I believe that that is correct, but if I have not put it correctly, no doubt my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will put it right later.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary also said that there was no point in taking steps that would come to a dead end in 1997—I think those were his words—in relation to an accelerated process of democracy which would be unacceptable to the Chinese authorities. My right hon. and learned Friend nods, and I think that that is right. As the Chinese Government have said that they will recognise the passports that would be issued under the Bill for the use of, for example, entry or exit from Hong Kong, is not the Bill also proposing a dead end? Many Conservative Members are concerned about that.

I agree with the Bill's aims, which are to stabilise the position in Hong Kong and ensure its continuing prosperity so that it will be an asset to China in 1997.

I agreed with much of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said about the need for the future of Hong Kong to be secured through the relationship between Great Britain and China. That is the only conceivable way in which it can be assured. I shared everyone's emotions on seeing the film of the massacre in Tiananmen square, but in the real world we must assess what can be done in the future as well as express our regrets about what has happened in the past. It is pretty certain that more people have died in civil disturbances in Russia under Mr. Gorbachev than died in Tiananmen square. Perhaps Mr. Gorbachev has a better public relations agency than Peking.

I agree that we must avoid, not encourage, further large-scale immigration into the United Kingdom. Above all, I welcome the fact that the Bill offers the protection of the right of abode here to those who would be most at risk, on political grounds, after 1997. My difference with the Government is that I believe that the Bill will fail on three counts out of four. There is no difference between any of us about the need to offer the security of a home here to those Hong Kong Chinese who served the Crown, police or judiciary, or might otherwise be at risk, if the mood of China was difficult after the takeover in 1977. [HON. MEMBERS: "How many?"] I understand that there will probably be about 5,000 or so, but it is a matter not of numbers, but of principle. We should stand on principle. I am standing on the principle on which I have stood for many years. Those people would not be those who, when they come from Vietnam, are known in Hong Kong as economic migrants, but true seekers of political asylum.

I am also concerned about the fate of Asians of Indian descent who are likely to become stateless and possibly refugees. They are clearly not Chinese or British, but Indians. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will intervene most strongly on their behalf with the Government of India to ensure that India undertakes its obligation towards its peoples who have been residing in Hong Kong.

I said that the Bill would fail in its major purpose, and I shall explain why. It is clear that the Chinese Government regard the Bill as incompatible with the spirit, if not the letter, of the accord. They have no use for the concept of dual loyalties and expect the people of Hong Kong to be Chinese and loyal to China. Clearly, the swearing of allegiance to the Queen and taking up of British nationality are either cynical charades performed for personal gain or require true allegiance to the United Kingdom, not China. In addition, as I understand it, China does not appreciate the almost fruitless efforts of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to persuade other countries to denude Hong Kong of its key people before 1997.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary may not recollect that a man cannot have two masters, but the Chinese certainly do. Therefore, after 1997, they will discriminate against the holders of British passports. What is more, the Hong Kong Chinese know that, too, and for them the British passport is not an inducement to stay beyond 1997, but a ticket to a new life elsewhere, either here, on the continent or wherever. What is more, the sooner the passports are issued, the sooner the 50,000 heads of families—by definition, the key people needed to be kept in Hong Kong—will leave.

What then? Will we be asked to provide for another 50,000, at least to keep the second eleven in position in Hong Kong? We all sympathise very much with the wish of Hong Kong Chinese to remain, if they had their choice, under the British flag in Hong Kong rather than under communist rule, but that option is not open to them. Their future as Chinese is in China, if Hong Kong is to have a future.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made much of our debt of honour to the people of Hong Kong. I accept that debt in respect of those who might be at risk after 1997 because they have served the Crown, but have we a debt of honour to those who have served themselves? Are they not economic migrants no different from the Vietnamese whom Hong Kong is unwilling to accept? What about the debt of honour to the British people? Are not pledges made, not once but four or five times, also matters of honour? As far as I know, none of the people of Hong Kong was enticed there by agents of the Crown, or offered passports to go there; nor was there any doubt that, come 1997, it was certain that all but a tiny part of the colony would revert to China, and there was a clear expectation that the colony would do so, too.

Before I turn to immigration policy and my objections to the Bill on that ground, I want to make two other points about its drafting—first, on clause 1(5). That was the clause to which the right hon. Members for Yeovil and for Sparkbrook took such exception. It is an effort to judge-proof the Bill. If it is believed that this clause would actually stick in British law, it is a great pity that it was not put into some of our local government legislation.

Secondly, I welcome the fact that for the first time an immigration measure has been drafted to admit only those likely to be of discernible benefit to our economy as opposed to a liability to our taxpayers. That concept deserves rather wider application, but I am amazed by the extent to which the issue of United Kingdom passports should be delegated to persons not under any direct control of this House, who cannot be called to account in the House under any circumstances.

I turn now to immigration policy. For good reason, the Conservative election manifesto of February 1974 said this:
"We have provided the country with the necessary means for preventing any further large scale permanent immigration and also with important new powers for preventing illegal immigrants … the number of new immigrants admitted in 1973 was the lowest since control was first introduced by the previous Conservative Government more than a decade ago … We intend that this decline shall continue".
A year later, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister became leader of the Conservative party, and in September 1976 an elector in Northamptonshire wrote to her about immigration and received a letter from her private office from which I shall quote the relevant sentence:
"The last Conservative Government brought in the Immigration Act which from January 1973 stopped nearly all permanent immigration—with two clear exceptions (namely dependants and certain United Kingdom passport holders) … We believe that the numbers coming in must be restricted to the absolute minimum consistent with these undertakings".
In 1979, my right hon. Friend won the general election, campaigning then, as she has done since, for the strictest possible controls. In 1987, the pledge was repeated in full knowledge of the implication of the Hong Kong accord, in the following words in the party's manifesto. They are familiar to me more than to others in the House as I had something to do with the manifesto:
"Immigration for settlement is now at its lowest level since control of Commonwealth immigration first began in 1962 … we will tighten the existing law to ensure that control over settlement becomes even more effective".
Those pledges were made because these islands of ours are already overcrowded and they were made in the belief that great waves of immigration by people who do not share our culture, language or rules of social conduct and who, in many cases, owe no allegiance to our country, were and are destabilising factors in society.

During the Salman Rushdie affair, some who have lived here for years under the protection of the Crown and holding British passports clearly showed their contempt for our society and our laws. It became clear to many people that a dual system was operating in this country under which people who had been clearly seen inciting others to murder were not brought to book. I shall not rehearse all those arguments; I merely state that if we are not to see social upheaval arising from religious, cultural and ethnic differences, we have more than enough to do to integrate existing communities into British society without adding to that burden or exacerbating existing problems.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook referred to one of my views: how can I explain to my constituents of Indian, Pakistani or Singhalese origin that we have no room here for their families to join them but we have room for 250,000 Chinese?

No Conservative Member has said that there is no room for the families of those who are settled here. The immigration rules give them the right to bring in their families and I pointed out in my speech how great a proportion of total immigration into this country such people constitute.

My right hon. and learned Friend says that there is room for them, but not just yet. If he believed that there was room, he would increase the resources available to process their applications, but I know that that is not being done—

No, if my hon. Friend will forgive me.

I will not take any stick from Opposition Members over the processing of applications, because the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook was critical of the fact that almost 20 years after the Ugandan Asians came here there were some people who, although they appeared to have been entitled to come here, were still kicking around the world without visas—[Interruption.] I remind the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who has just spoken from a sedentary position, that there was a Labour Government in the intervening period. What happened to the vouchers then? Why were they not honoured by the Labour Home Secretary when he was in power? The Opposition have no right to enter the debate with words of that kind.

I would rather not.

We all know what our constituents feel about this Bill. According to my secretary, I have received more than 10,000 letters on this issue—

—so I have some idea of how other hon. Members' constituents feel, too. I have received 10,000 letters from all over the country, including, I suspect, some from Opposition Members' constituents.

A recent poll in The Independent on Sunday showed opinion to be split about 65 per cent. to 25 per cent. against the Government's proposals. Only 11 per cent. of the electors say that the Government should admit more Hong Kong Chinese, and by 84 per cent. to 13 per cent. the people of Britain say that there should be tighter restrictions on immigration. I might add that a rather higher percentage of Liberal Democrat supporters believe that than do supporters of the Labour party, which must be a great comfort to the right hon. Member for Yeovil.

I end by addressing a few remarks to some of my right hon. and hon. Friends. The poll that I mentioned also showed that no fewer than 59 per cent. of the electorate declared themselves "don't knows" when asked which of the parties had the best policy on immigration. They are confused and bitterly disappointed by the Government's policy U-turn—

—which they say, by 13 per cent. to 1 per cent., will make them less rather than more inclined to vote Conservative.

My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) must recognise that since I made my views known in public immediately after the issue arose in the House of Commons I have given no television interviews or written any articles about it. The issue will be decided here tonight, not out there in the country. [Interruption.] I have sought to show what the state of opinion is out there and I believe that we should listen to that opinion, but I did not seek to cause that opinion to be made. It was there.

My right hon. Friend knows full well that he has been portrayed throughout the country as the leader of this so-called revolt tonight. He knows jolly well that there has been no U-turn by the Government. As a former chairman of the Conservative party, he knows that manifestos cannot be cast in stone and that circumstances sometimes oblige Governments to change. He has done a grave disservice to the party which in the past he has served so well.

I did not want my hon. Friend to establish in the minds of many more people the enormous influence which he seems to think that I have. If he believes that I have created this wave of opinion in a matter of a few weeks, he must think that I am one of the most powerful politicians in Britain, and certainly that I have a much better rapport with public opinion than he has. I cannot imagine that he would ever be able to move public opinion to the extent that he has ascribed to me.

I agree with my hon. Friend. There are occasions when Governments have to say that, for good reason, they cannot deliver what was in their manifesto. But this is not a good reason. All the circumstances were envisaged when the manifesto was written and we should remain firm on it.

That is perhaps even more relevant. I had not expected to have the pleasure of hearing my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), but my mind went back to November 1972 when he introduced legislation to provide for state control of prices and incomes. It was a deeply unpopular Bill. It broke a clear and specific election pledge and it flew in the face of Conservative beliefs. My right hon. Friend believed that that Bill was in the interests of the country at that time. In their hearts, a clear majority of Conservative Back-Benchers knew that the Bill was wrong. We should have defeated it on Second Reading, but the Government were unpopular and the Whips argued that the Prime Minister's authority and position would be seriously damaged if there was a revolt against the Bill. The Labour party, which has always hankered after such controls, did, of course, vote against the Bill. I was one of those who was persuaded, against his judgment, to vote for it. In February 1974, the Government were trapped by a miners' dispute which they could not settle without breaking their own prices and incomes laws.

So I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends whether they will make the mistake that I made in 1972. What would the Conservative party Whips be saying if this had been a Labour Government's proposal? Would we be supporting it in breach of our election commitments? If we would have voted against a Labour Hong Kong Bill, why should we vote for it just because it is brought forward by a Conservative Government? [Interruption.] A voice says, "What about the poll tax?" That was in the Conservative party manifesto and I have voted for it at every turn.

I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the Government tonight with a heavy heart. In 20 years in the House I have never yet voted against my party Whips.

Yes, really. My hon. Friend has a more vigorous record in voting against the Government than I have.

Tonight I have had to choose between the Government and the Whips on the one hand and my party and its clear commitment to the voters who elected them to office on the other. That is why I will oppose the Bill tonight and stand by my commitment to the electors which I made in 1987.

Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), I should make plain that I have not selected for debate the amendment in his name and the names of his hon. Friends because it is beyond the scope of the Bill. He may draw attention to it in his speech without speaking to it.

6.44 pm

Whenever the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) seeks to persuade us that he is standing on principle, I—and, I suspect, some of the troops whom he is seeking to lead into the Lobby against the Government tonight—rush for cover.

I represent a constituency a third of whose inhabitants are of Asian origin. One of my endearing memories of the right hon. Gentleman as chairman of the Conservative party is the regular visits that he made to my city and other cities like it seeking to persuade black and Asian British citizens that the Conservative party was anxious to secure their electoral support and in government was doing everything possible to sustain and nurture the prosperity of black and Asian communities in Britain.

The right hon. Gentleman's speech tonight was in sharp contradiction to the statements that he made as chairman of the Conservative party on these matters and to the statements that he has made in recent weeks and months as we approached the debate on the Bill.

I thought that I heard gasps around the Chamber when the right hon. Gentleman sought to persuade us that he was not the leader of the campaign within the Conservative party against the Bill. Could I have been wrong? An avalanche of propaganda has been generated by the right hon. Gentleman seeking to persuade the British public that an army of Conservative Members of Parliament were anxious to follow him into the Lobby tonight to vote against the Bill.

First, I find nothing inconsistent between what I have said as chairman of the Conservative party, Secretary of State or in any other office that I have held, and what I have said this evening. As I said this evening, I believe strongly in the integration of immigrant communities into our country. That is the only way forward. New waves of immigration will hold hack that process and that is one of the principal reasons why I am against new waves of immigration.

Secondly, with regard to generating waves of publicity, I should tell the hon. Gentleman that I have one employee only, a secretary, and that if she and I between us could have generated all the publicity, my goodness me, we should take over Conservative central office and do its work more cheaply than it is doing it at the moment.

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman did take over Conservative central office on one occasion, and I do not want to speculate on why he no longer holds that office.

But the campaign that I still believe the right hon. Gentleman has been orchestrating during recent weeks and months has fundamentally changed in character during that period. Initially, he sought to oppose the Bill on straight immigration grounds. Subsequently, he sought to argue that he was against the Bill because it would upset all those people in Hong Kong who would not be eligible for British passports.

The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Nor can he conceal the fact that large numbers of people will shortly be eligible to come into Britain. We hear very little from the right hon. Gentleman or his acolytes about the 300 million EEC nationals who, after 1992, will be able to enter Britain and seek employment without a work permit. They will be able to establish businesses without any evidence of funds. They will also be able to bring their spouses, children aged up to 21, parents and grandparents.

In this case I do not agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) about the fundamentals of the Bill. Does the hon. Gentleman agree, however, that there is a big difference between the European Community's reciprocal rights of residence, work and abode and the right of immigration into a country?

What I will say is that most of these people will be white. That is why we do not hear very much from the right hon. Member for Chingford or his supporters about the 500,000 citizens of Macau who have been given a right of abode by the Portuguese Government, and who can also enter the United Kingdom after 1992 under the same rules. We do not hear anything from the right hon. Gentleman or his supporters about the 1 million British citizens in South Africa who could also come into this country without difficulty in the near future, or about the 8 million to 9 million British citizens in the old Commonwealth who have the right of abode and could enter. Between 300 million and 400 million people could flood into the United Kingdom in the foreseeable future, but we hear nothing about that from Conservative Members, especially the supporters of the right hon. Member for Chingford.

I must declare an interest: I was invited to Hong Kong last week by the Hong Kong Government. It was a valuable opportunity for me to have discussions with a large number of individuals and organisations between the publication of the Bill and this debate. Hon. Members from both sides of the House were also present, and I am sure that we all found the visit helpful.

It was clear to us that the vast majority of people in Hong Kong regard the Bill, and the scheme to allow just 50,000 heads of household to have British citizenship and the right of abode here, as a complete and utter irrelevance.

The vast majority of Hong Kong people do not want to leave Hong Kong, which they regard as their home. Many do not want to come here because they cannot afford to leave; the option of emigration is not theirs because they have not the money to exercise it. However, large numbers —1,000 a week—are now leaving, and that exodus is a potential threat to the viability of the Hong Kong economy. We need to consider what action needs to be taken now to stem it, and that is what the Bill is all about.

We hear much about democracy and the lack of it. If there is any blame for the absence of democracy in Hong Kong, I suggest that the accusing finger should be pointed at successive Governments of both political persuasions, spanning more than a century. For 150 years, Britain has administered Hong Kong—some say paternalistically; many would say in a most authoritarian way. If any criticism is to be made about the absence of democracy and the lack of enthusiasm for it among the Hong Kong people, surely the blame lies squarely with those Governments, but I question whether such an absence of democracy is a modern reality in China.

On our visit, we were shown photographs of the 1 million people in Hong Kong who came out on the streets before the Tiananmen square massacre to show their solidarity with the people of China—their relatives, their friends and their own people. They came out on to the streets to demonstrate their solidarity with the movement towards democracy, and stood in silent empathy and solidarity with the Chinese people. The massacre of 4 June had an enormous impact on the Hong Kong people. For months afterwards, they wore black armbands to show their solidarity, and their disgust with the actions of the Chinese Government. Even now, armies of Chinese police, agents and others are scouring the campuses of China to try to identify those who were active in the democracy movement, especially its leaders.

Every day 75 refugees go legally from China into Hong Kong; more than 100 seek to enter it illegally, and many who are detected are sent back. I plead with the House to understand that democracy is an extremely fragile entity in Hong Kong, and I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that we must do more to ensure that it progresses.

When my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) replies to the debate, I should like to hear what the next Labour Government would do to ensure that there is one person, one vote—full democracy—in Hong Kong before 1997, when the Chinese take over. If our claims to support the extension of democracy are to be credible, or to command support in Hong Kong and in Britain, we must spell out clearly whether we would take unilateral action to ensure that that full democracy was introduced in Hong Kong before 1997. We must have firm and clear assurances about the methods by which we would seek to do that. Few of the people to whom I spoke in Hong Kong last week, from the governor down, gave any hint or made any suggestion that the Chinese Government are any more amenable now to progress towards full democracy in Hong Kong than they have been in recent years since the negotiations took place.

We all recognise that there are major defects in the Bill. In my view—and in that of other hon. Members who would have wished to support the amendment—the figure in the Bill should be removed: such matters should be dealt with on the principle of fairness and justice. However, once we enter the numbers game, we are inevitably in the business of arbitrary and highly subjective criteria, which in this case are totally secret. There will inevitably be divisiveness if people do not know the basis on which the selection is made.

A fundamental reform must include the right of appeal for those people who are refused British citizenship and the right of abode here. Surely basic justice demands such a right of appeal. One of the long-standing grievances of the British Nationality Act 1981 is that people are given no explanation of why their application has been refused, and they have no right of appeal against that refusal.

We must remove the nonsense of the 500 top business men who will be invited by the governor to apply: that is wholly unacceptable, and should be deleted. We should also snuff out the proposal—still lingering on—that would effectively enable British companies to nominate people to become British citizens. That is wholly unacceptable and undemocratic. I hope that the Minister will make it clear that that scheme is dead and buried, and will not be revived.

We need to protect and safeguard political activists who have been in the vanguard of building democracy in Hong Kong and who are totally excluded from the scheme. We also need to ensure that there are genuine provisions for public service and local government workers. At the moment, there are no provisions whatever for social workers, who are leaving Hong Kong in large numbers and who are vital for the future of Hong Kong. Of course we need to ensure that those who are entitled to a British passport are not cash-limited by that arbitrary figure of 50,000.

Many in Hong Kong obviously consider British passports as an insurance policy; however, people are leaving Hong Kong for various reasons. There are those who are leaving to improve their economic prospects. Others are leaving because they are desperately worried about the safety of their families. Others are leaving, particularly for Canada, Australia, America and Singapore, to secure an overseas passport, and they have to live in those countries for two or three years to get the necessary residential qualifications.

The brightest and the best in Hong Kong do not want to come to Britain. Many of those who want to emigrate are not seeking to come to Britain. They do not see their future here, but they want an insurance policy. I hope that we shall make proper safeguards for the non-Chinese ethnic minorities. I am totally dissatisfied with the assurances given so far by the Home Secretary. I should like to see much better safeguards for the non-British spouses of British citizens in Hong Kong.

I urge the House to understand that it is not just a matter of insurance policies. The most important aspect of giving British citizenship to the largest possible number of people in Hong Kong is to place an effective sanction and to put effective pressure on the Chinese Government so that they know that, if they treat Hong Kong badly and unfairly after 1997, a significant number of Hong Kong British citizens will be able to vote with their feet and leave Hong Kong safely and in an orderly fashion.

That is what the Bill is all about. It is a totally inadequate and defective measure. It represents a shoddy and shabby compromise of a debt of honour to a country from which we have derived enormous economic benefits over 150 years to people who thought they were British citizens and who look to Britain as their home and to Parliament as their House of Commons and their democratic defence. It is a shoddy and inadequate Bill.

I shall abstain tonight and I shall seek with others to improve the Bill in the ways that I have suggested. I urge those who seek to demolish the Bill for motives which many of them do not have the guts to articulate publicly to think very carefully indeed. Not only are they playing with the lives of many in Hong Kong: they are playing with the destiny of that country and the relationship of Britain with mainland China.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) that that is an important matter. If we seek further to appease China, the plight of the people of Hong Kong. with or without democracy, will be extremely difficult up to and after 1997. Let us agree that the Bill is of modest help. Let us seek to improve it and, above all, let us remember that the best interests of the men, women and children of Hong Kong lie in offering British citizenship and the right of abode. The vast majority do not wish to exercise that option, but they need our reassurance and commitment. The Bill goes a little way towards offering that commitment and protection.

Speeches between now and 9 o'clock are limited to 10 minutes.

7.4 pm

The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) made some good points, but I disagree with the view that a faster pace towards democracy is the answer to the problem which the Bill seeks to address. Indeed, if a faster pace towards democracy were to lead to confrontation with Peking, confidence in Hong Kong would be weakened rather than strengthened.

I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has left the Chamber. His speech set a new record for prevarication and obfuscation. So far as I could make any sense of what he said about granting passports or the right of abode to Hong Kong Chinese, it appeared that fewer passports would be granted but there would be more rights of abode granted to people from the Caribbean and south Asia. There is an important distinction between those groups. The people from Hong Kong would not want to come here whereas the others would come here at once.

The House knows of my lifelong interest in Hong Kong. For the past 20 years I have had no financial interests there, but I have a deep political interest in doing what we can to perpetuate the amazing success that Hong Kong has achieved. The rejection of the Bill would be damaging to Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. The Hong Kong brain drain would certainly accelerate and there would be a decline in the economy. Other countries such as Canada and Australia are not worried about inviting people from Hong Kong who are of great merit or importance to Hong Kong to emigrate to those countries.

Nor should we be worried about the fact that those to whom passports will be granted are the people who are most important to Hong Kong. If the Bill were rejected, more raids would be made by other countries on the skilled people of Hong Kong. Recently, a United States medical centre wrote to all 74 radiographers in Hong Kong inviting them to join that organisation and offering them help in obtaining United States passports. Qantas sent recruiters to Hong Kong to lure away several hundred mechanics from the Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering company. Fortunately, those efforts met with little success, but such attempts would be accelerated if the Bill were rejected. Other countries would increase their quotas for immigration from Hong Kong in the misguided view that that would help.

The Bill is a credit to Her Majesty's Government, especially the new concept that selected people from Hong Kong would be able to get United Kingdom passports without having to spend several years working here first, thus damaging Hong Kong's prospects.

The rejection of the Bill would also be damaging to the United Kingdom. It would certainly damage our reputation for fulfilling our obligations. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will attach importance to that. It would damage our economy. Our visible and invisible exports to Hong Kong represent more than £2 billion a year. If the Hong Kong economy is damaged, those exports will suffer. The total net assets of companies in Hong Kong controlled from the United Kingdom are £6 billion. The gross stock market value of British-owned, controlled or managed companies in Hong Kong is £19 billion and those companies would suffer. If sufficient damage is done to the economy of Hong Kong, that will reduce the value of Hong Kong to China, and the economic value of Hong Kong to China is its most important safeguard.

I believe that the Chinese intend to observe the joint declaration and agreement of 1984, but I profoundly believe that a bit of Chinese self-interest is a better guarantee still. As long as Hong Kong continues to carry one third of China's foreign trade, and to account for one third of China's foreign exchange earnings and for two thirds of the value of foreign investment in China, that is a good safeguard that China will observe the joint declaration.

By damaging confidence and the economy in Hong Kong, rejection of the Bill would increase the possibility that we might see what the governor described as the "Armageddon" scenario. There might be a flood of refugees from Hong Kong whom we would be obliged to do our best to take, and we might be obliged to take more than those for whom the Bill provides passports. I have received representations from several British companies with business interests in Hong Kong. I shall read a letter from Geoffrey Maddrell, chief executive of the Tootal Group, which I received in November before the Government announced the policy encapsulated in the Bill. He explains the links that his company has with China through Hong Kong. He says:
"The total turnover of companies"—
that is in the Tootal Group—
"dependent on supplies out of China is around £75 million this year"—
"and earns approximately 10 per cent. in pre-tax profit. The continued success of our investment and interest in China depends very largely on our key managers in Hong Kong",
who are working in China supervising Tootal's joint ventures. He continues:
"However, in the current uncertainty surrounding British Government Policy all the senior managers are preparing to emigrate to obtain citizenship of Canada and Australia. They are taking this course of action as an insurance for the future, not because they wish to leave Hong Kong. In consequence, should they be offered right of abode in the UK, it is not their intention to exercise that right."
He says later in his letter, and I repeat that it was written before the announcement of the Government's policy:
"Tootal would seek rights of protection for some 25 managers and their families by issuing them with a full British Passport with right of abode in the UK."
I spoke two days ago to Mr. Maddrell to discover his reaction to the Government's policy. He said that his managers are waiting to see whether the Bill is passed. If it is rejected, they will accelerate their attempts to move to Canada or Australia.

I am afraid that I do not have time to give way.

That letter shows two things: first, that the few passports that will be given to key people in Hong Kong will make a tremendous difference; and, secondly—this is the key point—that we are talking not about people who are keen to leave Hong Kong but about people who want to stay there.

7.13 pm

I agree with the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) that all of us may face far heavier obligations and much more difficult problems in 1997 than we face today. We may have to take on far greater obligations to meet a disaster at that time than we are faced with at present.

Nobody can contribute realistically to the debate who is not prepared at least to identify the problem and to seek to remedy it. The problem will be between now and 1997. We are all agreed that there has been a massive loss of confidence in Hong Kong since the events of Tiananmen square. There is a heavy outflow of people who have the skills and responsibilities essential to the successful running of the colony over the next seven years and to its prosperity.

That is the problem. How will we—"prevent" is too strong a word—mitigate or slow the outflow of people from Hong Kong who are necessary to it? I believe that my right hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who I understand will wind up the debate, have somewhat misled themselves in their arguments. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said that his solution to the problem is to introduce democracy in Hong Kong. I am very much in favour of that and it is not impossible for Britain to do so—after all, we remain masters of the colony until 1997—but China has issued the Basic Law and everyone in Hong Kong knows that. However far democracy has advanced in Hong Kong, if the Chinese wish to roll it back they have the power to do so. Therefore, unless there is a great change in China, we cannot offer additional confidence to the people of Hong Kong by telling them that a Labour Government will introduce democracy in Hong Kong. It is no way out to say that we shall introduce democracy and restore confidence in Hong Kong between now and 1997. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook has misled himself on that point.

My right hon. Friend also misled himself on another major point—his assessment of the reaction of other ethnic communities in the United Kingdom to the passing of the Bill. I represent a large ethnic community and I can assure him that no such anxieties have been expressed by my constituents. I am certain that the grievances that my right hon. Friend properly expressed on behalf of the immigrant communities will be dealt with when a Labour Government take office. As my right hon. Friends and I expect that there will be a Labour Government within the next two years, putting right the grievances of the ethnic minorities should not be used as an excuse for denying people in Hong Kong the possibility and prospect of coming to the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend has misled himself on two quite major matters.

I shall deal briefly with the criticisms that have been made of the Bill. It has been said that the scheme is selective, which is so, but is anyone, except the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), realistically arguing for a general, all-embracing and non-selective United Kingdom scheme? With the exception of the right hon. Member for Yeovil, I have heard no one arguing for that. Critics say that we need different categories for selective admission in addition to those already in the Bill. To some extent, that is so, and I wholly share the views of those who have expressed the unsatisfactory position of the non-ethnic Chinese in China and the need for far stronger guarantees for their future, otherwise they will be citizenless after 1997.

I was glad to hear what the Home Secretary had to say about war widows and other widows, but there are other categories, including students, for whom the Select Committee recommended we should make special provision in assisting them to obtain nationality. I should like to see those categories included.

The categories are no substitute for a scheme to help to stem the exodus of key personnel from Hong Kong. War widows do not help in manning difficult positions in the Hong Kong police force, civil service or business, nor necessarily do ethnic minorities who are unfranchised or denied citizenship. Students certainly cannot assist in that respect. We must return to the main point and say that we must have a scheme to help to stem the exodus of key personnel from Hong Kong.

It has also been said that the proposal is elitist, not merely selective. In a sense, it is because the people concerned are key personnel. However, the House should bear it in mind that the main categories cited in the Bill and in the supporting papers are very similar to those in the work permit scheme, which we have operated under successive Governments for the past 20 years. I shall read out the list in the latest 1980 edition of the work permit scheme. Whom do we allow in other than relatives—who are a separate matter? We allow in
  • "(a) those holding recognised professional qualifications;
  • (b) administrative and executive staff;
  • (c) highly qualified technicians having specialised experience;
  • (d) other key workers with a high or scarce qualification in an industry or occupation requiring specific expert knowledge or skills;"
  • I am sorry. I cannot give way because of the time factor.

    I do not accept that the scheme can be described as elitist because of the perfectly sensible and open categories that are established. The scheme includes—and we must be clear on the range of people—judges, civil servants, Customs and Excise officials, the fire service, the immigration department, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Royal Hong Kong Police, the military garrison, engineers, architects, air traffic controllers, editors, doctors, chemists, midwives, nurses, physiotherapists, teachers and education administrators. Those categories add up to no fewer than 24,000 of the 50,000 promised passports. Many of the remaining 26,000 passports will have to go to managers and executives, but the balance may be wrong and overloaded in favour of those categories. That is a matter to be debated later.

    The scheme has a number of obvious defects and some have been well expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). The lack of review procedure and clause 1(5) are intolerable, as is the lack of help for people who may be in political danger in Hong Kong because of their expression of opposition to the Chinese Government. Such help must be included. There can be no guarantee that the Bill will succeed, but no serious alternative has been proposed. It is essential that the people of Hong Kong should not be given the impression that we have washed our hands of their problems. That would have a disastrous effect on the people there and on the international community, whose help we may need far more in 1997 if the Chinese tear up the joint declaration. For those reasons, I shall not vote against Second Reading and I hope that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will join me.

    7.22 pm

    I had prepared some remarks today that sought to expose the rather hollow and internally contradictory nature of the speech by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) on the basis of what he had said before about the Labour Government's contradictory position on the issue. However, it has turned out to be unnecessary for me to make a speech on those lines because the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) has just made it for me most persuasively. I hope that Opposition Members have listened carefully to what he said. His speech was most persuasive and could be taken as an argument in support of the Bill, although he has said that he intends to abstain.

    As we debate the Bill today, people are leaving Hong Kong at the rate of about 1,000 a day and it is important to bear that background in mind. Many are the most able and entrepreneurial people whom the colony badly needs to keep it going as a thriving community. It is, therefore, not a day too soon for the House to be asked to approve the Bill, which has my strong support. It is clear that the Bill's prime purpose is to staunch the outflow of people from Hong Kong and to encourage what the Americans call the "movers and shakers" to remain in the colony until 1997 and, we hope, well beyond that. The Bill will help to do that and it is a necessary confidence-building measure.

    The upper limit of 50,000, which is on the face of the Bill, is fewer than many in the Hong Kong community would have liked and it is certainly fewer than they argued for originally. However, it is equally far fewer than the number who might have to come here in a future crisis if the policy goes wrong. On the other hand, the figure is many more than some of my right hon. and hon. Friends seem prepared to accept, for the reasons set out so cogently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit). Ministers may be tempted to feel that they have got it about right as they find themselves between the Scylla and Charybdis of the two positions. I believe that it is the least that we should be offering in the circumstances to the people of Hong Kong and I shall explain why briefly.

    First, the Bill is an insurance policy, as many other hon. Members have said, which should give many of the key people the confidence to remain in Hong Kong. That is the cardinal point. Whether it will succeed in that venture is a matter of judgment and cannot be proved at this stage. Secondly, it is only if Britain takes the lead in this way and at least in part fulfils one of its last colonial responsibilities that we shall be able to look to other nations to play a fuller part in any rescue operation that may be needed in the event of the Peking regime reneging on its solemn commitment of 1984. I strongly hope that does not happen, but when one enters the realm of insurance policies, one must guard against all risks and one has to think of the chances of the Government persuading their partner nations such as the United States and those in the Commonwealth and elsewhere to pull their weight in the event of that coming about.

    Thirdly, the Bill is wholly consistent with the terms of our agreement with the Chinese, which never precluded our right to grant full British citizenship to people in Hong Kong. Fourthly, it can always be argued that any immigration arrangements run the risk of causing bitterness and resentment for some, especially those who cannot fulfil their wishes or who fall just the wrong side of some official dividing line. The point was made by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney and it is not an adequate argument against having the criteria for selection that are envisaged in the Bill. As the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney said, all such measures from time immemorial have involved a degree of selection and the House must face that reality.

    Fifthly, even if as many as 250,000 people, as distinct from passport holders, come from Hong Kong to Britain in the future, I am convinced—and I know that a number of my constituents are convinced—that they would prove to be a great asset to this country. The key point is that as long as the policy works—and I have already said that there can be no certainty that it will work 100 per cent. —these people will remain an asset in Hong Kong and will be to our own considerable economic and trading benefit, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) said.

    On the other hand, if the policy were not to work as intended and if all those who were entitled to do so came to this country, they would be a great asset to us in due course. All the evidence from the Hong Kong people who are already established in this country—and I remind the House that there are many of them—suggests that would be so. Similar evidence of Asian people who have settled on the Pacific coast of the United States and in Canada corroborates that conclusion. One has only to ask people who know of those circumstances. Asians have solid family lives, they believe in the value of education and getting on, and they tend to be self-sufficient high achievers. In short, they are exactly the sort of people—and I emphasise this to my right hon. and hon. Friends who may have doubts about the Bill—whom we should welcome if they ever felt the need to come to this country.

    The opposition to the Bill is rather shabby. It is disingenuous in the case of the Labour party and distasteful in the case of some of my right hon. and hon. Friends. The Bill is a sensible and timely response to an important problem which is principally the responsibility of this country and this Government. The Bill has my strong support.

    7.29 pm

    Honour is not a common component of political conduct, and in matters to do with nationality and immigration, British Governments over the years have behaved with craven dishonour. This mother of Parliaments—this exemplar of parliamentary democracy—has, over the post-colonial years, evaded and abandoned its responsibilities. It has dishonourably created a series of lesser, second-class nationalities. The French and Portuguese, with the same sort of history, have behaved with much greater rectitude and responsibility.

    Now we have come to these convoluted arrangements over Hong Kong. We have a direct responsibility for the people of Hong Kong until 1997, and of the two major parties neither the Government nor the Opposition are facing up honourably to those responsibilities. I grudgingly admit that it is perhaps the Liberal Democrats who are being truest to those responsibilities.

    The only just solution would be—and must be—the restoration of full British citizenship to all British nationals in Hong Kong. Then, of course, the scream would go up, helped by some of the more disreputable characters in the House, "You are letting in 3¼ million Chinese." What a load of rubbish. Of course nothing of the sort would happen. And who in their senses would want to come to Thatcher's Britain, with its inequality, its collapsing public services, its general tattiness—[HON. MEMBERS: "Us."] You fellows cannot get away; you are stuck here. [HON. MEMBERS: "What are you doing about it?"] I am trying to improve matters; I usually seek to try to improve the state of Britain.

    There is little evidence that many of the 3¼ million Hong Kong Chinese who hold British passports without right of abode would want to settle in Britain anyway. An opinion poll taken in the colony early last year showed that, of the 38 per cent. who would emigrate given the chance, only 6 per cent. would choose to come to Britain, so the nonsense about 3¼ million Chinese coming to Britain is easily dismissed. Incidentally, what a shot in the arm an influx of Hong Kongers would give to the tired, underperforming economy of this damaged country.

    The Bill and the proposed scheme are profoundly unsatisfactory. Their purpose is supposedly to restore confidence in the colony and staunch the flow of emigrants, which reached 50,000 this year. But the arbitrary and limited figure of 50,000 households is a one-off arrangement that does not ensure Britain's continuing commitment to Hong Kongers. In effect, the Government are saying to most of Hong Kong's many millions, "We are concerned only about those of you who are close to us—those of you who work with us, who are successful and whose future we choose to ensure. Come 1997," the message is, "the rest of you can go hang."

    That is not a proposition that I am prepared to support. The chosen few will have been nominated within a year or so. Where is the flexibility in the scheme to allow us to deal with changing events in the years up to 1997? Perhaps the Labour party should consider that there is a possibility that a Labour Cabinet and a Labour party conference may have to cope with the unfolding crises in those years.

    The scheme should be flexible, and open to review as events develop in China and in Hong Kong, to ensure the healthy functioning of that territory. Anyone whose application for registration under the scheme is turned down will he given no reason for the refusal and will have no possibility of appeal. Absolute discretion is vested in the Home Secretary, and with a Home Secretary of the calibre of the present incumbent—whose premise when he had responsibility for immigration matters was that if immigration control was not hurting, it was not working—that is not a heartening prospect.

    The scheme's most damaging flaw is its disregard for the non-Chinese ethnic minorities who have no nationality other than British and who will become stateless after 1997. In all justice, special consideration should have been given to that category in a loading of points. Better still, those people should be given special dispensation to gain full and proper British citizenship. I trust that the Labour party will do that if we come to government.

    The Opposition's amendment to commit the Bill to a Committee of the whole House I shall, of course, support. But what would we do in government? I was not reassured by the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). The Chinese have passed the Basic Law, and we should be foolish, if we came to government, to try to reopen that issue.

    We shall not be able to increase the number of elected Members in the process of democratisation that we have promised in the Government of Hong Kong before 1997. The Chinese will not budge from the figure of 20 elected Members of the Legislative Council. I hope that we shall be wise enough not to try to stir up difficulties and further damage confidence in the last two or three years of our responsibility by attempting to increase that figure to 40 or 60. The urgent need is to try to maintain confidence and economic performance in Hong Kong now.

    So how must I vote? I had hoped that the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) would be here. He has pretended some interest in this matter and taken on himself the leadership of the faction in the Tory party that fans every skinhead eruption of racism. His mail bag which he quoted proves that. For years, his only distinguishing feature has been his viciousness. A character such as he could only have flourished under a Thatcher Administration, with their mean-mindedness, and their lack of concern and conscience. He will vote against the Bill. For all the Bill's inadequacies and selectivity, I shall support the Government tonight, if only personally to cancel out the vote of that disagreeable and non-admirable right hon. Member for Chingford.

    7.36 pm

    As usual, the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) has gone over the top. His remarks about my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) were ludicrous, as the House well understands. One may or may not disagree with my right hon. Friend, but he represents a point of view that he is wholly entitled to express.

    On the other hand, at least the hon. Member for Warley, East made his position clear. We know where he stands, just as we know where the Liberal Democrats stand, and although I disagree with him, I believe that he has done the House a service in that respect. We must ask the Labour party what it would do. Our debate tonight is being watched not only here but in Hong Kong, and the people of Hong Kong are entitled to know what a Labour Government would do. It is wholly unreasonable for the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) to take refuge in a whole collection of clichés and weasel words designed to obscure, rather than saying clearly to the people of Hong Kong what the Labour party would do if it won a general election and came to power.

    The hon. Member for Warley, East was entirely right about democracy. Of course we should all like to see more democracy in Hong Kong, and that is conceivable; it is possible that, as the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) said, we could get a little more democracy, but in view of the Basic Law recently passed in Peking, that seems improbable even if it is worth trying. It is no good building a policy on the flimsy, implausible and improbable assumptions outlined in the speech of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook.

    The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who is not here at present but who will wind up the debate, also has a lot to answer for. Whatever he may or may not have said in Hong Kong, his remarks have been widely misunderstood. I hope that he will speak clearly to the House so that people in Hong Kong, who may have misunderstood his remarks, may know what will happen if the Bill is passed and a Labour Government come to power.

    In view of the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), I should at once declare an interest by saying that, like the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), I have been to Hong Kong recently. That was well worth doing, because I think that I now have some impression of what the state of opinion in Hong Kong is.

    The House must answer two questions. Will the package that the Government propose lead—as many of my hon. Friends believe it will—to large-scale immigration into Britain? The question whether it would matter if it did is a different question altogether. Secondly, will the package actually work in Hong Kong?

    In many ways, the package is unfair and flawed, but any package would be unfair and flawed. I do not kow how anyone could devise a package which was not unfair and flawed. I agree with many of the criticisms of the Bill. I agree in particular with the criticisms of clause 1(5) and the fact that there is is no appeal against an arbitrary decision which may mean the difference between a happy and successful life and a life that could be very unhappy indeed.

    Many small groups will be unfairly treated. I was grateful for the comments by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I would be extremeley grateful if he would consider the position of non-United Kingdom spouses of British citizens. For example, as I understand it, if a British husband was to die in Hong Kong now, his wife would have no right to come to this country. That would be invidious when we consider what would happen in the case of a Hong Kong citizen who is given a passport and whose wife would have automatic right of entry. Many other questions must also be answered later.

    I believe that the package might work for a while, but I do not have any great confidence in its long-term future. The only important factor that will settle the future of Hong Kong is the attitude of the Chinese Government to what happens in Hong Kong. We do not really know what that attitude is or what it will be after Tiananmen square. Do the Chinese Government still believe that Hong Kong is so valuable to them that it is worth preserving, or do they see it as a hotbed of people trying to intrigue for democracy against the wishes of the Chinese People's Government? That is the great difficulty.

    If the Chinese position improves, people will stay in Hong Kong. If not, they will go—if not now, then later. I fear that, in many cases, our policy towards Hong Kong is waiting for something to turn up. Perhaps it will and perhaps it will not. We do not know whether the Chinese Government will change before 1997 and, if they do change, whether they will be any better. Some people believe that the Chinese Government will be better, but that is a flimsy basis for policy.

    The package is designed to make people stay. I believe that people will stay for a few years. Some may stay until 1997 and see what happens. Others will not take that risk; who can blame them, when the Chinese Government make statements like those that they have made recently?

    There is a risk that the package will work for just a short time and that the House will have to return to issue before 1997. We delude ourselves if we believe that the Bill will be the last word. What we should do about the situation goodness only knows, but I believe that the issue will not go away.

    There is some evidence that people will stay for the time being at least. Singapore has offered many places. People are not leaving Hong Kong for Singapore, but they have the security that Singapore provides. I believe that it matters if people leave Hong Kong. A dramatic outflow of skilled people that will weaken the Hong Kong economy is in no one's interests.

    Even from narrow British self-interest, that is true, because Hong Kong receives billions of pounds of United Kingdom investment. If we include invisible investments, I suspect that British investment is greater than that of America or Japan. However, the Hong Kong Government have historically always played down our investment, I believe quite wrongly.

    I do not believe that people from Hong Kong will come here to stay. The hon. Member for Warley, East referred to a recent poll that showed that of those Hong Kong citizens who wanted to leave, 4 per cent. wanted to come to Britain, as opposed to 37 per cent. who wanted to go to Canada. I believe that people from Hong Kong may well use us as a staging post.

    We must ask the Government tonight to tell us more about what other countries are doing in that respect. I agree that we have a British responsibility. However, the issue may become a great international problem. Apart from Singapore and France, which will take a handful, and a few other countries that will take a handful, what countries will help in what might become a serious problem?

    The package is flawed, and it can give hon. Members no pleasure. All political parties are in a false position, and we can derive no pleasure from having to debate the Bill today. However, having thought about the issue with much care, I believe that it is worth buying the breathing space that I believe the package will bring. I do not believe that it will lead to large-scale permanent immigration to the United Kingdom, and I believe that those fears have been greatly exaggerated.

    The Bill will need amending in Committee or on Report. It is full of holes and that is inevitable in a package of this kind. However, on balance I believe that the House would be wise to accept the Bill. If it does not, the disillusionment in Hong Kong and the skills outflow in the early stages could lead to a situation which might be more serious than it is now in Hong Kong, and one which the House and the people of Hong Kong will come to regret.

    7.44 pm

    The right hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) is right. The future of Hong Kong will be decided, whether we like it or not, in Peking. How we handle China over the next seven crucial years will be of the utmost importance.

    I believe that the Foreign Secretary was right to pursue democratisation as far as he did and to accept at this stage that there was no further give in the Chinese position. I do not believe that that necessarily excludes a rather larger number for direct elections in 1995. We should pursue the argument for further democracy.

    The Foreign Secretary was right to refuse to accept Chinese statements criticising the granting of passports to a select group of people in Hong Kong. Anyone who has had any passing involvement in Hong Kong, let alone anyone who has held office as Foreign Secretary, knows how delicate is the governance of Hong Kong. That is a quite exceptional colonial responsibility in which confidence is everything. Confidence can disappear literally in a matter of hours.

    In the negotiations for the agreement, I think at the ninth meeting, the failure to reach an agreed statement between the British and Chinese negotiators, and their refusal to accept the word "constructive", caused a run on the Hong Kong dollar and a serious lack of confidence. The situation is that fragile. If the House was to vote against the Bill tonight, there is no doubt that the run on the dollar overnight—as we now have 24-hour exchanges—would be devastating. Therefore, we must watch everything that we say and do.

    I am glad that the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) has returned to the Chamber. From time to time I have some affection for the right hon. Gentleman. But, to put it bluntly, his actions over the past few months have had a devastating effect in Hong Kong. If he seeks the highest office in this country—to be Prime Minister—and he cannot understand the damage that he has caused over the past few months, his chances of ever holding that office have been considerably damaged.

    The chances of our carrying through the next seven years to a successful transition to China are uncertain and no one can be sure whether we will succeed. However, we must do all in our power to achieve that end. As we are losing key personnel from Hong Kong daily, we must be selective. We must try to help those people who contribute so crucially to the success of Hong Kong as it is at the moment.

    If we manage to staunch the flow of those key people, the prosperity for the millions of people in Hong Kong will be enhanced. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) must consider my argument. If we can get it right for the few, we will get it right for the many. However, we will not succeed unless our actions carry conviction in Peking.

    That is why I believe that the Prime Minister was absolutely right to talk to and have dinner with the Chinese ambassador. He understands the delicacy of the question and it is important to keep a dialogue going with the Chinese at all costs even when we disagree with them. The Chinese do not mind people who disagree with them. They would prefer open and honest dealing and in the past they have kept all their treaties. There is still a chance of a highly successful transition despite the horror of Tiananmen square.

    The events in Tiananmen square proved the right hon. Member for Chingford wrong. It is no good quoting manifestos from 1979, 1983 and 1987. Those have been completely blown apart by what happened in Tiananmen square. No one likes waves of immigration. I am sure that no Conservative Member under their Government liked accepting the 28,000 Ugandan Asians. We all lived through the traumas of the Kenyan Asians in 1968 and the question of restricting Commonwealth immigration in the early 1960s.

    It is a delicate and difficult issue. Many hon. Members would like to be more generous about immigration than we know would be acceptable in the country. That is the reality with which we have been grappling in these delicate years.

    For us not to respond to a traumatic event such as occurred in Tiananmen square would be dishonourable. That is the argument against those manifestos. Let us assume that those statements were given in good faith. Nevertheless, the statement about "swamping" before the 1979 general election is one reason why the official Labour party is not abstaining tonight, but is voting against the Bill. That statement has caused deep and continuing resentment.

    However, we must put such resentments behind us because we are dealing with the position in Hong Kong now. I share much of the criticism that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook deployed against current immigration policy. There is no doubt that there should be more generosity towards the relatives of immigrants who have already been accepted into full citizenship of this country. It is a scandal that we are not more generous, but that is no reason for voting against the legislation. Although it is a fair debating point, it is no reason to cause problems in Hong Kong.

    At this stage, we need to bolster the confidence of the key people in Hong Kong because if they stay, in a year or two years' time, there will be the chance of achieving a better atmosphere in Peking. Just as Tiananmen square was traumatic for us and for Hong Kong, we must accept that it was also traumatic in Peking. The atmosphere there is delicate. However, I believe that we shall find a more responsive attitude in two or three years' time and that the Chinese Government will accept as a fait accompli the decision that we have taken on passports. There is a chance that we shall see greater democratisation, but in the meantime the next few months are crucial.

    If we are to gain support from the international community, Britain has to show the lead. It is no use asking other countries to give extra passports to the Hong Kong citizens who work in their national firms. They will not be generous if they see the House of Commons rejecting this Bill. If that is the case, we can forget all about expecting generosity from others. If we are to urge other countries to be more involved and if we are to pave the way for possible greater international response if something went wrong, we must show that we are ready to take our burden and our share.

    It is in that spirit that the Social Democratic party will vote for the legislation. We shall vote against the Bill's Committee stage being taken on the Floor of the House because we believe that that is purely and simply a delaying tactic. What is more, we shall vote for the Bill on Third Reading.

    7.52 pm

    The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) has focused the attention of the House on the central issue of this debate—the stability and the future stability of Hong Kong. The issue of this debate is not which Hong Kong citizens have the best claim to live in the United Kingdom; it is how we exercise and discharge our responsibility for the future stability and prosperity of Hong Kong. We are faced with a serious exodus of skilled people from Hong Kong which threatens its stability. I do not know whether our responsibility to do something about that is moral, historic or practical, but we clearly have a responsibility. It is set out in paragraph 4 of the joint declaration, which states that we have a

    "responsibility to maintain the continuing prosperity and stability"
    of Hong Kong until the middle of 1997.

    Apart from the fact that we have that responsibility, we must remember that we have extensive commercial interests in Hong Kong, not only before 1997 but—we hope—afterwards which it is in our interests to protect. China has similar extensive commercial interests. The fact that China has not exercised its practical power to take back Hong Kong in the past 40 years can be related to those extensive commercial interests, and China, too, has obligations. It has the same obligations under the joint declaration.

    In such debates, we often lose sight of the fact that the purpose of China's policy is not only to get Hong Kong and Macau back into the Chinese fold—its main target is Taiwan. In the not-too-distant future, China wants to be able to do a similar deal with Taiwan and to bring it back into a greater China. To do so, China must be able to show the people of Taiwan the successful arrangements that it has made to work in Hong Kong. Therefore, it is in China's interests to honour its agreements and to ensure that it inherits and maintains a prosperous and stable Hong Kong.

    If we accept that we have an obligation to do something to maintain Hong Kong's stability, the question is, what should we do? I do not believe that it is practical to consider admitting to the United Kingdom either the 3·3 million United Kingdom passport holders or the 5·7 million people who live in Hong Kong. To put it in practical terms, it would amount to 8,000 people per constituency, although those people would not be distributed averagely across the country. That is not a practical proposition and to hold it out as such is irresponsible.

    However, we must do something. We cannot simply wash our hands of this and say that we are not prepared to grant any passports. We cannot simply let history take its course. We must do something and that necessairily involves a compromise. I do not know whether the right number is 40,000 or 60,000, but 50,000 seems reasonable. If the worst came to the worst, that would not be an impossible number of people to admit to the United Kingdom. On the whole, they would tend to be extremely useful people. The number is probably sufficient to give the boost to Hong Kong that we want to give.

    If we accept that we are to grant a number of passports under 5·7 million, there must be an allocation system which will necessarily be unsatisfactory. If we focus our attention on our purpose of stabilising what is happening in Hong Kong, we must grant those passports to the people whose continued presence in Hong Kong is likely to help to enhance that stability. If we do so, we shall discharge our responsibility in a way that is ultimately seen not as divisive, but as positive. It would give such people an insurance policy.

    To those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who say that that insurance policy will not work, I simply say that it is what thousands of Hong Kong citizens have been seeking and acquiring for themselves over the past 10 or 20 years. They have been going to Canada, Australia and the United States, fulfilling their residency requirements, acquiring foreign passports and returning to Hong Kong. We are simply offering to make that facility—that insurance policy—available to them without the need to leave Hong Kong for two or three years.

    The opposition to the Government's proposal has fallen into three categories. The Social and Liberal Democrats have taken the principled but thoroughly impractical position that everybody should be admitted. The Labour party has not only been impractical, but thoroughly unprincipled. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has got his party into a box of all or none. The right hon. Member for Birmingham Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), was not very successful in trying to wriggle out of that box today. The right hon. Member for Gorton has consistently opposed every proposal and whenever the Government have brought this proposal to the House for discussion, he has disparaged and denigrated it, but he has never offered an alternative. He must know that if there were a Labour Government—I am sure that this is recognised by many Opposition Members—they would have to do something similar to what the Government propose. The right hon. Member for Gorton has sunk to a new low—even for him—in his cynical and opportunistic exploitation of these events for party political advantage, dangerously regardless of the international consequences. If we ever needed further evidence of how totally unfit he is to be a British Foreign Secretary, we have had it in his contributions to this problem.

    The more interesting opposition has come from my right hon. and hon. Friends. They circulated a letter to all my right hon. and hon. Friends in which they set out their concerns about the Government's proposal. Basically, they said that they were worried about the future of Hong Kong, but they must realise that the people of Hong Kong want this proposal. They do not regard it as too much—if anything, they regard it as far too little. It is not for us to second-guess what is in their best interests. If they want the provisions, it is not for us to say that they are not good for them.

    The second point made by my right hon. and hon. Friends is that China will deny its citizenship to United Kingdom passport holders. Although that is what China is saying, I think that it is extremely unlikely that it will do that. The people to whom we will have granted passports will, in the main, be exactly the people whom the People's Republic of China wants and needs to remain in Hong Kong after 1997. Even if that is not the case, those in Hong Kong who have acquired British passports will have a choice between Chinese and British nationality. Even if they chose to retain their British nationality, under the terms of the joint declaration they would continue to have the right to reside in Hong Kong. Again, we should leave that choice to them. It is not for us to make such a choice on their behalf.

    The third and perhaps the most serious reservation of my right hon. and hon. Friends is that China will see the provisions as a deliberate attempt to undermine the joint declaration and the stability of Hong Kong. That might be what China is saying, but I cannot believe that that is how China genuinely sees it. Both China and the United Kingdom have an obligation under the joint declaration.

    Clearly we are trying to enhance stability, not to undermine it. It is so much in our interests and in the interests of China to maintain stability that I cannot believe that the Chinese will interpret the Bill as undermining the joint declaration. The Chinese have such enormous, overriding interests in the future prosperity of Hong Kong that I do not believe they will see the Bill as undermining our obligations to the future of Hong Kong.

    My right hon. and hon. Friends were a little disingenuous in their letter. Their real anxiety—which is a legitimate one—was that the Bill might be seen as a breach of United Kingdom immigration policy. But they must face the fact that this is a unique situation. It is not an immigration problem but a unique colonial inheritance which cannot be solved by granting independence. The problem has been exacerbated in the past year by events in Tiananmen square. We cannot ignore that. People in the United Kingdom will see Hong Kong as a unique case for which we have some responsibility. If that involves one-off granting of British passports to people in Hong Kong, they will accept it as the price that we must pay for that obligation.

    My hon. Friends are wrong not only about the reaction of people in the United Kingdom but about that of the Chinese Government. I ask both Conservative and Opposition Members who may be thinking seriously of voting against the Bill to reflect on the consequences outside if the Bill is rejected. In Hong Kong it will be seen as a betrayal and there will be a far greater and accelerated exodus of skilled and valuable people from Hong Kong in the immediate future. That will undermine stability to an extent that we have not yet even contemplated. There will be serious consequences not only for our future commercial interests in the far east but the intervening period of British administration of Hong Kong will be made extremely difficult, if not impossible.

    Rejection of the Bill tonight will be seen in China as a sign of immense weakness. It will weaken our negotiating position with the People's Republic of China in a devastating way. It will feel that it has the measure of us. In the world at large rejection of the Bill will be seen as Britain failing to honour its clear obligations.

    8.1 pm

    On the issue of Hong Kong, we face a problem because of past conduct, attitudes and judgments and neither the Tory nor Labour Front Benches have anything to be proud of. That was demonstrated in the debate this afternoon. If one reads the debates in the House from 1984 until just before Tiananmen square, what strikes an objective person—I can claim to be objective because I was not present—is the combination of naivety and stupidity on the part of both Front Benches. A self-satisfaction ran through all the debates about how well the negotiations with the People's Republic of China were handled and how everything in the garden of Hong Kong and China would be lovely. We are now paying the price for that lack of judgment.

    There has also been a failure of nerve on the part of both Front Benches, on the moral issues. I was remarkably surprised to hear the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), argue earlier that morality and international politics did not run hand in hand. I concede that a great deal of practice in human history might demonstrate that, but the essence of the argument for democracy is built on morality. It is morality that says that individually we grant other people, every man and woman, the right to be wrong, as we see it. That is a moral judgment that has been built up into democratic societies in western Europe and other places.

    I listened carefully to the arguments about the need for more democracy in Hong Kong. I argued for that many a long year ago, before I came to the House in 1970 and during the 1970s. We have left it a bit late. Democracy is not just about one man, one vote, but about building up democratic institutions capable of taking the stresses and strains of political debates. It is the creation of political classes, if one likes to put it that way, which can deal with each other in a civilised way and contain all the passions within a society without allowing them to overspill into violence. I am afraid that we have left Hong Kong too few years to build up democratic institutions. The Government's proposals will not fulfil our responsibilities to create democracy there.

    There is another point of shame for the Labour Front Bench, particularly the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). I was utterly appalled to hear him engage in divide and rule tactics between immigrant communities. I never thought that I would hear that from him. He asked why people from the Indian subcontinent should and themselves in difficulty because people from Hong Kong had been allowed in. His premise was not sound. Dependants and others from the Indian subcontinent who are waiting to come to Britain and people in Hong Kong have one thing in common. They both have a relationship with this state because of the colonial past of the United Kingdom. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman did not recognise that.

    I wish to put on record in the time available to me the joint Scottish National party-Plaid Cymru position. The House of Commons has a responsibility for the status of the Hong Kong Chinese. The House has the power to exercise that responsibility. We know to what type of regime we are prepared to hand over those people. When I was in Hong Kong earlier this year—I have no interest to declare because I paid my own way—I read in one of the newspapers a statement by the person who is supposed to be the head of the Supreme Court in the People's Republic of China. He said that the word of the Communist party was above the law. If I were in Hong Kong without a passport and a means of escape, I should be extremely nervous.

    For generations the House has brayed about morality. I remember the first time that I went to Hong Kong as a young service man, when there was a great outpouring of refugees from mainland China into Hong Kong. I read in the newspapers and was told in current affairs sessions held in our Army unit that we were there to defend democracy, freedom and the free world. Morality mattered very much in those days. There has been a great deal of preaching about morality but the present package offered by the Government and what the Labour party offers demonstrate that moral words have not been met by moral deeds.

    Our position is exactly the same as that of the Liberal Democrats. We believe that all people in Hong Kong with a claim to British citizenship should be granted British passports and the right of abode. The SNP and Plaid Cymru also deplore the racist basis of the denial of passports to 3·25 million of the 3·28 million Hong Kong Chinese.

    In other debates I have heard hon. Members argue that we cannot give millions of people a passport and an open-ended commitment to allow them to come to Britain at some time in the future. We have been told that it is impracticable. But what about the 1 million people in South Africa who have passports and the right to come here at some indeterminate point in the future, or the 8 million or 9 million people in north America and the old Commonwealth countries of Australia and New Zealand? They have the right to come here at any time in the future, yet no one seems to be terribly worried about that. Of course, they have white skins and that is what makes the difference. If Chinese people in Hong Kong were regarded, to use the racist term, as "our kith and kin" we should have a different Bill before us and different speeches would have been made from both the Front and Back Benches. I regard the Hong Kong Chinese as intellectual, political and human kith and kin as much as any white South African with a passport.

    The Bill is not the best one that could be brought before the House. It does not match the need for justice, as several other hon. Members have said. It has been cobbled together as an expedient to meet a crisis.

    We shall support the Bill because it does two things in principle, although perhaps inadvertently. First, it is an open acknowledgement of our collective ability to meet our collective responsibility in the House of Commons. Secondly, it breaches the Government's previous argument that we cannot give passports to people in Hong Kong and expect them to stay there. That was the argument, yet it is precisely the opposite argument that the Government are putting now.

    No one knows what the position will be on mainland China between 1990 and 1997. If China again demonstrates a willingness to kill people and suppress democratic movements, we have in the Bill markers on which later we can state the case for everyone who is entitled to receive a passport and the right of abode.

    Given the political difficulties of the Conservative Government, it is tempting to use the Bill further to upset the Government, but the SNP and Plaid Cymru will not lend ourselves to that. The Bill deals with human beings and they are far more important than tactics in the United Kingdom's internal politics. We should like to offer a rescue and insurance package to all the 3·28 million Hong Kong Chinese, but it is not in our power to do so. Tonight we have an opportunity to do that for 225,000 of them and we shall vote to do so.

    8.11 pm

    It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars). I do not agree with him. It is a question of the right to be wrong. Either he is or I am. It was also a pleasure to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples).

    I was in the East Indies fleet when Hong Kong was reoccupied in 1945, so my memories of the area go back a long way. I wish to deal with two sides of the issue: first, the effects on China and Hong Kong and, secondly, the effect on the United Kingdom if the Bill is enacted.

    Hong Kong is part of China. In 1984, we signed a treaty for its return, as we had neither the naval, military nor economic strength, nor the wish, to retain it. Its future lies entirely with China. I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) that our relationship with China is vital to its future. The 1984 treaty changed the whole position. The future of Hong Kong now depends solely on Peking. Whether it survives or dies depends on the relationships of Hong Kong and the United Kingdom with China. That important point must always be remembered.

    I am a layman and we in the House are generalists. Indeed, our strength is that we are generalists and representatives of the people. I believe that we have irritated China on two issues. It is interesting that Taiwan is not offering to take people from Hong Kong. People in Taiwan to whom I have spoken believe that China's stand on passports and democracy in Hong Kong is right, and the Taiwanese better than the British Foreign Office should know the Peking Government's attitude.

    We were in Hong Kong for a long time, yet we did little for democracy. It was ruled as a colony and the governor had the power. Suddenly we are in a hurry. It may not be a legal breach of the 1944 treaty, but if I were Chinese I would consider it an odd moral breach that we should expedite democracy when in a few years time Hong Kong is to return to China. I know that it is a question of one country, two systems, but whether it is capitalism against socialism or also democracy against some form of totalitarianism has never been properly worked out.

    The Bill will enable us to give 50,000 passports to 250,000 people who will then come under a foreign power, Britain. Knowing the historical attitude of China to people from the west, that is the silliest step that we have ever taken. I do not put it more strongly than that. It has irritated the Chinese. They do not believe in dual nationality. As far as I know, the Foreign Office would not employ people of dual nationality. I may be wrong, but we have positive vetting in sensitive areas. Those people with British passports would probably be in charge of sensitive areas, so it is inevitable that they will be dismissed at the beginning in 1997 for being servants of a foreign power.

    It is nice to have the agreement of my hon. Friend. I feel more certain in my views now, having carried at least one hon. Friend with me.

    The whole question of the 50,000 passports is suspect.

    We must work with Peking; otherwise, there will be no future for the people of Hong Kong—not just the 250,000 whom we have selected—the bureaucrats and those who have made money—but for anybody. What belief can the Chinese Government have in the pledges of a British Government who have reneged on their pledge to the people who elected them that there will be no more large-scale immigration? Only rarely do I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, but he rightly argued that we must look into the Chinese mind and see what we can do there. If one breaches a pledge to one's own people, how can anyone believe that one will keep a pledge to other people?

    There was no consultation on the Bill, not even with the Conservative party. We on the Back Benches were landed with it. There was no democracy about it. There was about as much democracy as there is in Hong Kong. I do not say that unpleasantly, but I put it on the record to cheer everybody up. We wonder what will happen next.

    Hon. Members have referred to the immigrant community in the United Kingdom. Obviously, the Bill affects them. At some time, people will say that we have enough immigrants. We may agree that there should be 100,000 or whatever, but at some stage there must be a bar. Everybody, and certainly the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), has dodged the question of numbers.

    I must not give way. I have only five minutes and today I shall finish in time. Last time, I was cut off even before my peroration. Not that I need one, but I intend to make one this evening.

    I have probably more constituents from immigrant stock than any other Conservative Member. I am continually trying to get in relatives of people who live here and who should be here. My priority is to look after my people first. They are here. One case of a couple will show how bad it is. The grandfather of the wife was a brigadier in the imperial British Army. Her father was a group captain in the Indian air force and provided great defence contracts to this country. The father of the husband was an inspector in the imperial police when we ruled India and won 40 commendations for gallantry. His only child is here.

    The couple have two children, one of whom needs constant attention, for which they pay. They want the wife's parents to come to this country. They can live on their pension. It will cost the United Kingdom nothing. They will not breed at that age, unless there is a great miracle. Nobody can have any objections. For 18 months, I have been trying to help those people to immigrate, but I still cannot get them in. There is no way that I can defend the Bill when I have to deal with such matters in my constituency. That has to do with the Bill, and those of us involved in such cases know that it does.

    My Chinese community do not want the Bill. They tell me that they came here because they wanted to, not because they were running away.

    Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her agreement. I am undoubtedly carrying the House with me this evening.

    What happened elsewhere at the end of the British empire? We often handed peoples over to one-party dictatorships. Did we provide passports then? Some funny things have happened in some of those countries. Did we help? Thank goodness we helped the Ugandan Asians, and in Kenya, but in some of the others, no help was given. The provision of passports has been highly selective.

    At the beginning, I would take in all those who have served in Her Majesty's forces and their widows. I would start from there. I would say no more than that at present. I am sorry to say this with the Foreign Secretary present—we served together in Northern Ireland—but it is a matter of personal integrity and I must say that Foreign Office policy on China has been wrong and has irritated China. It should be changed to working with China, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup said. He will not thank me for continually quoting him. He may think that he is in bad company, but I will do so again. He said that we must get on with the Chinese. We must get it right.

    If the Bill is enacted, it will further damage our relationship with China. My sympathies lie with China on this matter. It will do nothing for my people who want their families united now. I do not want to hear promises of other people coming here and worrying about where they will end up. Sad as it may be, I shall have to vote against the Bill's Second Reading.

    8.19 pm

    Tonight, we have witnessed a number of attempts at sophisticated racism, especially in the speeches of Conservative Members. It is a measure of Opposition Members' hostility to the Bill that those Conservatives have been forced to try to hide their racism in sophistry. One such attempt was made by the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), who talked about the Hong Kong Chinese queue-jumping. It is disgraceful that someone who was directly responsible for keeping black and minority ethnic people from joining their families in this country should now cry crocodile tears about those people having to wait while the Hong Kong Chinese queue-jump. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) also referred to this matter.

    Hong Kong Chinese are already in the queue to get into this country because they have been caught up by the racist immigration legislation now in force. It is absolutely wrong to argue that black and ethnic minority people whose relatives or friends are waiting in queues in Karachi, Jamaica or wherever object to Hong Kong Chinese coming here. The people to whom I have spoken understand the circumstances now facing the Hong Kong Chinese.

    It is important to understand how this Bill has come about. Partly it is a result of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, followed by the British Nationality Act 1981 which changed the status of Hong Kong citizens, who then became citizens of the British dependent territories. The citizens of a number of other colonies, for example Gibraltar, the Falklands and Montserrat, also had their status changed. Since that time the British Government have given full citizenship rights of entry and abode to the people of Gibraltar and the Falklands, but those rights have been denied to the citizens of Hong Kong purely on the basis of colour, although the Government will try to argue the numbers game.

    The best thing I can do is to quote from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants whose 1985 report states:
    "The barrier to acceptance of a residual moral responsibility for people who have lived under British rule, and whose future has been negotiated over their heads is the same barrier which has for twenty years obstructed justice and morality in British nationality and immigration law: the fear of non-white immigration to Britain. It is not merely a question of numbers, but of colour. Millions of other people from overseas have an absolute right to enter Britain: between three and nine million Commonwealth citizens, from Australia, Canada and New Zealand; over 200 million nationals of EC countries; about a million white South Africans. Almost all the people concerned are white; their right to enter Britain is unquestioned and does not lead to any public fears of being 'swamped' by immigrants."
    The Bill demonstrates what it is all about.

    I contrast the behaviour of the British Government with the way in which Portugal has acknowledged its responsibilities to its territory of Macau, which is also due to be handed back to China in 1999. The people of that territory have been granted full Portuguese citizenship rights, including the right to live and work in Britain after 1992. Unlike Britain, Portugal has recognised its responsibilities towards its colony.

    The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) tried to make out that Britain has no moral responsibility for the citizens of Hong Kong. I was a citizen of a previous British colony and I can tell the House what a colony is all about—possibly I am unique in the House in that respect. If one lives in a British colony, one must learn English and follow British traditions. Britain tries to mollycoddle such colonies and tries to engender a parent-child relationship with them. Because of that, and because it has exploited it economically, Britain has a clear moral responsibility to Hong Kong. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup said that Britain has given a lot of money to Hong Kong, but I assure the House that it has taken a lot more out.

    As a colonising power, Britain took on the responsibility for protecting the citizens of Hong Kong. It has a responsibility for their internal and external security and that is why there is a governor of Hong Kong. It is an absolute disgrace that Britain can just relinquish such responsibilities on a whim. The British attitude appears to be, "We do not mind what happens to the rest; we shall take just a few."

    Britain is further culpable because of its failure to honour its commitment to ensure at least a measure of democracy in Hong Kong before 1997. In Macau, the people can vote in the Portuguese presidential elections and for two seats in the Portuguese assembly. Britain has no such arrangements.

    A number of my colleagues and I have discussed the draft Basic Law and people have expressed their concern about human rights. We were teasing such things out until 4 June and the tragic events in Tiananmen square. Those events caused panic among the people of Hong Kong and they turned to Britain, the mother country—the protector of those people—for support. What they got from the Government was this Bill saying that, with a bit of luck, a quarter of a million people can come here if they pass I he test.

    It is important to consider the test that the Government have set. The points system is a disgrace. If one is aged between 30 and 50 and one passes the other criteria, one is allowed to come to Britain. However, if one is under 30 or over 50 one does not receive the 50 points necessary. Therefore, people over 50 will automatically leave Hong Kong by other ways. I do not understand how the Government can say that the Bill is intended to keep people in Hong Kong.

    Fifty points are awarded under the proposed points system if one is proficient in English. If the Bill is designed to keep people in Hong Kong, surely one should get points for proficiency in Chinese.

    Hong Kong needs to establish the ability to govern itself. The position in Hong Kong demands that the Bill of Rights which the former Foreign Secretary promised to the people of that territory be enacted soon. Secondly, there should be rapid progress towards democratic Government, directly elected by the people of Hong Kong. Thirdly, all British passport holders in Hong Kong should have restored to them full rights of citizenship, including the right of entry and abode in the United Kingdom. The British Government should accept their responsibility for all the people who are legally and lawfully resident in Hong Kong.

    I intend to abstain from voting on the Bill. I agree with my Front-Bench spokesmen that the Bill is elitist and that the method of selection is bad. I must, however, support the principle of allowing people to come to this country. I am not prepared to go into the same Lobby, however, as the right hon. Member for Chingford on this or any other issue to do with race. For those reasons I shall abstain in the main vote and support my hon. Friends' motion that the Bill should be discussed in a Committee of the whole House.

    8.30 pm

    I speak on this subject with some trepidation, because I know of the expertise of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends. From the tone of today's debate, it would seem that there is general acceptance of our duty to do all in our power to ensure the stability of Hong Kong during its last years as a British colony and the lead-up to its time as a special administrative region of China in 1997. When I say "in our power", the House will recognise that this is limited, not least because China has essentially held all the cards in the lead-up to the Sino-British joint declaration of 1984 and thereafter. However, our influence is still considerable and the measures before us today reflect that.

    When the Government announced the quota system for British passports for Hong Kong citizens, I was extremely sceptical of its merits. Well intentioned though it may have seemed, I thought that it was arbitrary, apparently flew in the face of our manifesto commitments on immigration and was potentially invidious in its application. It was with those preconceptions that I went to see the position for myself, in an unsponsored visit to Hong Kong during the Christmas recess. The object of my visit was not only to see the territory but, more importantly, to see the problem within the context of China as a whole.

    I learnt a salutary lesson, because the Chinese authorities left me stranded for four days in north-west China. Perhaps that is the best possible reason to make a sponsored visit rather than an unsponsored one. However, it gave me a chance to see more of the real China. My visit took place during the imposition of martial law following the horrors of Tiananmen square. Perhaps at no other time has the contrast between the vibrant prosperity of Hong Kong and the depressing mood and relative poverty of China been so marked.

    For the first time, I recognised the justification for the sense of vulnerability and real fear of the Hong Kong Chinese, many of whose families had fled communism in the civil war. On the other hand, the People's Republic of China has been relatively pragmatic in its treatment of Hong Kong during the years. It has refused to recognise the cession of Hong Kong island and Kowloon or the lease of the New Territories, but it has tolerated an historical legacy. By doing so, it has benefited enormously from Hong Kong's economic links with the outside world. It is not only in its own interests but in those of Hong Kong and British business for the territory to remain stable.

    While we cannot predict the outcome of the unresolved power struggle in Peking, the lesson of recent history is that even hard liners from Mao Tsi-Tung onwards recognised that Hong Kong's special status was to everyone's mutual benefit, and that any interference—which was possible at any time—would be counter-productive. Even if we take the bleakest view of China's future—that if, in the absence of any history of democracy or any sizeable ethnic minorities that could break away, China were to remain the last bastion of communism in the world—there is little, if any, incentive for China totally to disrupt Hong Kong's unique way of life. However, while that possibility exists, it is for us to take what steps we can to stabilise the position, pending the reforms that we hope to see in Peking. I heartily endorse the comments from hon. Members on the importance of establishing and maintaining a civilised exchange of views with Peking.

    The Chinese have consistently argued that all Hong Kong inhabitants of Chinese race are their compatriots, and thus any granting of British passports could in itself be interpreted as provocative. Any force-fed process of democracy in that territory is even more provocative. Therefore, we are talking about compromise and how many passports must be issued to anchor the key people in Hong Kong. The general feeling seems to be that we have got the number about right. China's greatest incentive to respect Hong Kong's position is that Hong Kong continues to be its gateway to trade in the outside world.

    I went to Hong Kong and China as an agnostic. Many Conservative Members will continue to doubt the wisdom of my right hon. and learned Friend's policies, but having made the offer, the consequence of withdrawing it now would be catastrophic. There would be a crash of confidence in Hong Kong, and all our responsibilities towards the territory's inhabitants would be thrown out of the window. The combination of my right hon. and learned Friend's policies and the long-term interests of China in the region combine to give the best chance of solving this delicate issue in an honourable way.

    We have heard a great deal today of the Opposition's so-called policies, but they constitute unprincipled, empty opportunism. The Government's proposals should be supported on practical, political and moral grounds.

    8.37 pm

    Had it not been for the events of 4 June in Tiananmen square, this debate would not be taking place. Therefore, it is necessary to measure the Bill against the necessities that arise from the events in Tiananmen square. The Bill is totally inadequate because if we consider whose human rights are most at risk as a result of Tiananmen square, it is not necessarily the business men, the people with skills and those who are being selected as a result of the Bill who have most to fear from the Chinese after 1997.

    What astounds me particularly about the Tory party is its willingness to appease Stalinism in China as it was never willing to appease Stalinism in the Soviet Union during the Stalinist period and afterwards. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) made a remarkable speech on that point. He made an apologetic speech for the Chinese regime.

    There will come a time, I hope in the not-too-distant future, when changes will take place in China as they are now taking place in eastern Europe. I do not want to be pointed at as one who refused to support the democrats when they had their backs to the wall in Tiananmen square and for the way in which they are now being dealt with by a Government who are willing to give way to the Chinese. The Bill appeases the Chinese Stalinists in Peking. It in no way seeks to protect the people who will be most at risk such as the students who led the way in demonstrating in Hong Kong their opposition to the Peking regime. Many of those who demonstrated in Hong Kong had fled from Stalinism in the years before 1989. Those who have most to fear are the students who, when I was at the terminus to the Star ferry last August, were collecting petitions full of signatures of people to support their counterparts in Peking. We must measure the Bill in terms of human rights and it totally fails to deal with that problem.

    The Labour party has put forward a belated argument for democracy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) rightly said, it has been neglected during the decades by successive Governments of both parties. However, it must be said that Hong Kong is a unique colony in that its population never sought independence, unlike, say, India or Cyprus. People did not form independence parties in Hong Kong when they became politically active. On the contrary, those who were politically active there took the side either of the Chinese Communist party or of the Kuomintang.

    Now we need to look at the rights of the people of Hong Kong. My right hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) have made it perfectly clear on a number of occasions where the Labour party stands in respect of the democratic rights of the people of Hong Kong. Long before 1997—indeed, by next year—they should be moving towards full democracy and a Legislative Council that is wholly elected by the people of Hong Kong. That is one way in which we can exert pressure on the Chinese Government.

    It is not, however, the only way. When Conservative Members argue that the Labour party proposes no alternative, they are wrong: there is another way. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton has spelt out other groups of people who should be considered for the right of abode in Britain. My hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) made it clear on Radio 4 this morning that a Labour Government would act with the international community. Britain has its connections with the European Community and the Commonwealth—

    Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman