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Hong Kong: Expiry Of Lease

Volume 417: debated on Friday 13 February 1981

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the future of Hong Kong was discussed at the meeting in October of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs with the Foreign Minister of the People's Republic of China and, if so, whether any understandings were reached.

No, my Lords.

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether time is not now short, since within a few years the Chinese lease for a decisive area of Hong Kong will be ended? Is it not desirable that the present ambiguity should be replaced by negotiations for a constructive agreement?

My Lords, our policy in this matter has two important strains. On the one hand, there is our commitment to the territory, which has been announced before today from this Box, and I confirm it again now; and, on the other, there are our excellent relations with the People's Republic of China. We have no doubt that this matter will be resolved in good time.

My Lords, as relations with the Peking Government have, happily, been improving over the last five years or so, and since there are nearly 20 years before the lease is due to run out, would it not be best to allow matters to proceed as they are at the moment?

My Lords, it is, of course, important to ensure that the confidence of the business community and others in Hong Kong is maintained. Therefore, it is, I am sure, desirable that this matter should be resolved well in advance of the expiry of the lease, and I have no doubt that it will be.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm, once more, that our understanding with China in regard to Hong Kong is part of the undoubtedly excellent relations that we now enjoy with the People's Republic of China, and that, however informal that understanding may be, it has proved workable and augurs well for the future, which both previous supplementary questions have raised?

Yes, indeed, my Lords. There is no doubt that the People's Republic of China derive very considerable benefit—for example, in terms of foreign exchange earnings—from the present arrangements with regard to the territory, and I can say that they are certainly well aware of our views, which I do not think depart very far from theirs.