With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about our proposals to improve confidence in Hong Kong.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Order. I shall take points of order after the statement.
The confidence of the people of Hong Kong is at a low ebb. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President told the House on 6 June about the traumatic effect in Hong Kong of what happened in Peking in June, and reported to the House on 5 July after he had paid a visit to the territory. Many hon. and right hon. Members have themselves visited Hong Kong since June, and the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs gave a lucid account of the problem in Hong Kong in its report of 28 June.We must do all that we can to build a secure future for Hong Kong on the basis of the Sino-British joint declaration of 1984. We have a continuing responsibility which will involve us in many difficult decisions over the next eight years. In particular, we must provide for those whose services are necessary for the prosperity and effective administration of Hong Kong in the years up to 1997.
Ask President Bush.
The problem of confidence is shown by increasing emigration from the territory, and increasing numbers of people who contemplate leaving—42,000 people have left Hong Kong this year, and 55,000 are expected to leave next year. [Interruption.] A growing proportion of these people are those whom Hong Kong can least afford to lose.
Ask President Bush.
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Foreign Secretary. We cannot have a running commentary. It interrupts our proceedings. I ask the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) to desist.
This haemorrhage of talent puts at risk the competitiveness of Hong Kong's economy, the efficiency of its public service, the effectiveness of its education system—in short, its future.Many of those who are leaving Hong Kong would not do so if they could obtain the assurance of right of abode in the United Kingdom. As hon. Members know from statements by the Prime Minister and other right hon. Friends, we have been working on a scheme to give such assurances to a limited number of key people and their dependants in the public and private sectors. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee recommended such a scheme in its report in June, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President told the House on 5 July that we would provide one. I can now explain to the House the conclusions we have reached. We aim to give such people the confidence to remain in Hong Kong so that they can continue to make their contribution to the success and prosperity of the territory. We have to weigh in the balance our ability to accept the individuals concerned for settlement in this country, should that ever be necessary. We have to set this reality against our desire to be as effective as possible in restoring confidence in Hong Kong. If, as has often been suggested, we gave the right of abode to all British dependent territories citizens in Hong Kong, we could, if that right was exercised, create unacceptable strains here. If, on the other hand, we kept the scheme too narrow, it would fail in its purpose and, at the end of the day, we might be faced with a much more severe problem. After careful, detailed consideration over several months, we have concluded that the assurance to be given should take the form of full British citizenship, which would be awarded to recipients without their having to leave Hong Kong. The scheme will cover a maximum number of 50,000 households. Not all the assurances would be distributed initially: in order to spread the administrative load and to give opportunities for those who may move into key positions in Hong Kong in later years, we shall hold back a proportion of the allocations for later in the life of this scheme. The best current estimate of the total numbers of people, including dependants, who might receive British citizenship in this way is 225,000. The scheme would cease by 1997. It is thus strictly limited in scope and time. Beneficiaries will be selected on the basis of a points system, which will embrace people from a wide range of walks of life in Hong Kong. It will cover professional and business people, people working in educational and health services, and those with particular technical and managerial skills, as well as those in the public and disciplined services. The decisive criteria will be the value of the individuals' service to Hong Kong and the extent to which people in that category of employment are emigrating. Provision will also be made within the overall total for those who, by virtue of their position, may find themselves vulnerable in the years ahead. Long service with British institutions in Hong Kong will be taken into account, so will knowledge of the English language. In addition to this scheme, but again within the total numbers I have given, the Government propose to introduce a special measure designed to help companies and institutions in Hong Kong to retain their key personnel. We intend to reduce substantially the period of residence in this country which employees of such organisations would have to fulfil in order to achieve settled status and later citizenship. For those accepted on the scheme, employment or service in Hong Kong together with a period of residence in the United Kingdom would, after a total period of five years, result in citizenship. The companies and institutions concerned would arrange secondments of key personnel for work or training in the United Kingdom for relatively short periods of time, thereby minimising any disruption to their work in Hong Kong. We intend to introduce the necessary legislation at the earliest opportunity which will provide for the grant of citizenship to beneficiaries under the scheme in both the public and private sectors. Although this is a British responsibility, and one which we do not shirk, Hong Kong is an international centre, with huge international investment. Its major trading partners have a strong interest in Hong Kong's continuing stability and prosperity. Some countries have already found ways to give Hong Kong people assurances without their having to leave Hong Kong. It is clearly for us to take the lead, and I have set out our specific commitments. We shall now be asking our partners and allies to follow this lead. I emphasise two final points. First, our proposals will be restricted to Hong Kong and the unique problem which we face there. They will have no relevance to other people elsewhere, and the principles of the British Nationality Act 1981 will remain intact. Second, they are designed not to encourage immigration into this country, but to persuade to remain in Hong Kong those whom we need to retain there if our last substantial colony is to pass successfully through the final eight years of British rule.
Is the Foreign Secretary aware that on 5 July I made absolutely clear the view of Her Majesty's Opposition about the right of abode here? I said in this House:
I added:"The Opposition believe that it would not be right to offer any commitment to Hong Kong British dependent territory passport holders on the right of entry into the United Kingdom or the right of abode here."
For six months no one can have been in any doubt about our position. This afternoon the Foreign Secretary cited in his support the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. However, that Committee did not recommend his scheme, but specifically stated, under the recommendation of its own scheme, that the British Nationality Act 1981 would not be amended. What is more, it recommended use of the Home Secretary's discretion under section 4(5) of the Act. In this House on 5 July I suggested that vulnerable Crown servants could be helped by the use of the Home Secretary's discretion under the Immigration Act 1971. On the basis of the scheme which he has put forward today, the Foreign Secretary has come to the worst way of fulfilling what he regards as his commitment. He has not worked out what he believes are essential categories and then decided to legislate on them, but thought of a number, haggled about it with the Home Secretary and been beaten down. He now offers that number to the House and says that it will be filled on the basis of a points system. Such a system is inherently unworkable, invidious and divisive. How are the points to be weighted? How are they to be allocated? Who will allocate them? Will all heads of households in Hong Kong be invited to be considered? If not, how are those to be considered to be selected? Are they to be interviewed individually? For the British language qualification, are there to be tests? Will they be written or oral? How will points be allocated on the basis of the value of an individual's service—a highly subjective criterion? How will points be allocated on the basis of propensity to emigrate and of vulnerability? How will points be allocated on length of service to British institutions—and which institutions? All hon. Members whose local authorities operate a points system for the operation of dwellings know what bitterness and dissatisfaction such a system arouses. How much more bitterness and envy will be aroused by a points system which decides who will receive the most prized possession of all—a British passport? Does the Foreign Secretary believe that it is proper for a British passport to be allocated, not on clearly established criteria which everybody can understand, but on the basis of the accumulation of a number of points allocated on a subjective basis to the arbitrarily chosen number of 50,000 people placed in a queue? How will the 50,001st person in that queue feel, and how will others feel? Far from improving confidence, as the Foreign Secretary claims that he wishes the system to do, it will arouse doubt and uncertainty because no one will be sure whether he or she qualifies until the laborious process has been completed. If the scheme is embodied in an Act, a Labour Government, on coming to office, will examine how far it has gone and how it has worked—[Interruption.]"I state clearly that the Opposition are against the creation of special favoured categories based on status or affluence." —[Official Report, 5 July 1989; Vol. 156, c. 312–13.]
A Labour Government will not be bound to continue it, but first we shall seek to prevent such a scheme from becoming law. We shall oppose legislation which is not only elitist and discriminatory but which, in our view, is wrong in principle.
The right hon. Gentleman began by saying that we could be in no doubt about the position of the Opposition. It is perfectly true that we are in no doubt about what they are against. As he said, the Opposition have made it clear that they are against the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who argued wrongly that everyone who had a United Kingdom dependent territories passport should be given the right of abode.The right hon. Gentleman has said that he is against categories, but I am not sure what he is in favour of. He must know, because he has visited Hong Kong, the overwhelming feeling not only in the public service but in the private sector that unless there is a scheme of this sort—of course they would like the numbers to be bigger—the lifeblood will gradually drain out of Hong Kong. People in key positions in Hong Kong—the right hon. Gentleman entirely neglected the private sector, which was absurd—are telling their employers that they want to stay. They say that their homes, positions and lives are in Hong Kong, but that they want some sense of assurance: if they belonged to a French company, the French would give them a French passport, but as they work for a British company they have no such assurance. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I have not been bashing out this difficult matter. It has been worked out between the main Departments for many months and it has involved different people. Some newspapers today said that I had won the argument; some said that I had lost it. The point is that we have eventually worked out what we believe to be the most sensible balance between our desire for good race relations and harmony in our cities—that leads us to reject the SLD proposal—and our strong feeling that the House and the Government have a continuing duty of responsibility to the people of Hong Kong. The scheme involves a points system, and no one pretends that it will be easy to devise or administer it. The right hon. Gentleman will have plenty of opportunities as the Bill goes through the House to examine how the points system will operate, but basically assurances will be given to no more than 50,000 heads of households. Some of those assurances will be held back, for the obvious reasons that I have explained. The figures will be distributed by categories of employment in the private and public sectors, and then the points will be awarded and the passports allocated accordingly. The scheme will be operated through the governor, the legal responsibility being that of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. We are not amending the 1981 Act, which provides the correct basis for the nationality law of this country. We are faced with a temporary—but quite long-term—and unique problem in our last major colony. It is a problem that will not go away and that is most sensibly tackled on the lines that I have described.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that he has made a responsible and sensible decision which will help the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong? Is not one of the main problems about the existing schemes run by countries such as Canada, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom the fact that they require a period of residence in those countries before the acquisition of nationality, thus obliging people to leave Hong Kong and accentuating the Hong Kong brain drain? Is not one of the main advantages of my right hon. Friend's proposal the fact that people who qualify under these arrangements will be able to remain in Hong Kong and contribute to its prosperity?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who knows Hong Kong well, but who also knows well this country and his constituents. He knows very well, but was too polite to say, that the scheme and the numbers will be regarded in Hong Kong as being considerably too small. However, I believe that they will also be accepted as being likely to bring about the result at which we are aiming—to enable the kind of people on whom the colony depends to remain making their contribution to that colony.My right hon. Friend is perfectly right in thinking that we examined various options. We examined an option that, in purely parliamentary terms, would have been easier. No primary legislation guarantees, or declaration offers, a right of abode. My right hon. Friend pointed out the trouble about that. For the assurance to be turned into citizenship, which is what most of the people concerned want, would require those people actually to come here. Therefore, that would, as it were, maximise the incentive to come here. The point about the citizenship scheme requiring primary legislation is that it will not do that. It will enable the key people I am talking about to receive the assurance in the form of United Kingdom passports without leaving Hong Kong and the jobs that it is very important that they should continue to do.
Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House how many of the 42,000 people who, according to the statement, have left Hong Kong this year came to settle in Britain? If I am right in thinking that it was a very small percentage of the total, does not that give the lie to the fear that has been put about—that 3·5 million people are sitting in Hong Kong desperate to come to Britain? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that that is not the case and that it is the responsibility of the British Government to create the conditions in which those 3·5 million people can continue to live in prosperity in Hong Kong itself—which is what they wish?By that standard, does the Foreign Secretary accept that, in our judgment, his scheme will fail to provide that assurance and, unhappily, will also involve so many arbitrary points where X will be chosen instead of Y—inevitably, by the nature of the scheme, which is also very unacceptable? There will be deep dismay in Hong Kong, deepened only by the statement of the official Opposition.
The right hon. Gentleman is correct on his first point. I do not have the figures, but I believe that one would find from them that most of those who left Hong Kong went to countries such as Australia and Canada. That is not our purpose. Our purpose is that they should continue as headmasters, engineers or professional people in running the colony. Any selective scheme requires something like a points system. If the right hon. Gentleman is endorsing the proposition of the leader of his party for a total grant of the right of abode, he is being totally logical but perfectly unrealistic.
Does my right hon. Friend understand how much I regret having to say that I disagreed with almost everything that he said and agreed with almost everything that was said by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) from the Opposition Front Bench?Can my right hon. Friend say whether or not the pledge that we have given for the last four general elections—that there will be no further large-scale immigration—still stands?
My right hon. Friend knows that, over the past four years, as Home Secretary I spent a lot of time trying, with his full support, to plug loopholes and to keep our immigration control strict and fair. I earned a good deal of obloquy from Opposition Members for doing so. I do not need any education on the importance of strict immigration control for entry into this country.The purpose of our scheme is to persuade those who are key to running Hong Kong to remain abiding by their professions in that country. I believe that our scheme is apt to succeed in that. Supposing that my right hon. Friend is right in his fear, and supposing that considerable numbers—
The Foreign Secretary should answer his right hon. Friend's question.
I am answering his question.Supposing that considerable numbers of people come here, what would be the nature of the penalty that we would be paying? We would be paying the penalty of a sizeable but limited number of professional people, selected for their talent and experience, coming from one of the most successful societies created in the 20th century. I put one final point to my right hon. Friend. He was a very successful chairman of our party, and he knows its traditions. This is just about the last main chapter in the story of this country's empire. I am rather keen, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend is rather keen, that that last chapter should not end in a shabby way.
Is the Foreign Secretary aware that no one in the House can beg the problem that will face Hong Kong in the next eight years? In the same spirit, let me add that it is an open secret that in the past three or four months there have, quite properly, been disagreements and arguments throughout the Government, and the Foreign Secretary should not be surprised when similar disagreements and arguments follow his announcement of the scheme to the House. The fact that hon. Members may disagree with any scheme proposed by the Government does not mean that they do not appreciate Hong Kong's problem.I wish to ask the Foreign Secretary only one question: is this special measure necessary? Some of the other schemes that have been discussed—the Foreign Secretary mentioned one—would, in my view, constitute a better approach. It is all very well to describe this scheme as a special measure, and as primary legislation, but the Government cannot avoid affecting the British Nationality Act 1981. That is the weakness in the Government's approach, and in the coming months, as the legislation comes before the House and I attack it, I shall not be arguing that the problem does not exist; I shall argue that the Government have set about dealing with it in the wrong way. It would be interesting, incidentally, to know whether the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary will pilot the legislation through the House.
Both Departments have been studying the problem, and they have sent a joint team of officials to Hong Kong. We have done our best collectively, as a Government, to reach what we believe to be the right balance between the considerations that are clearly in the right hon. Gentleman's mind. Parliament will wish to examine the scheme and then make its decision, which is entirely right. In a way, by choosing the citizenship route we have increased the amount of parliamentary scrutiny and debate that would otherwise have been necessary.The right hon. Gentleman covered a point that I had already touched on. There is already provision—although it would mean a change in stated policy—to expand the discretion of the Home Secretary regarding public servants, but there is nothing comparable in the private sector. My main quarrel with the official Opposition is that they have entirely ignored the crucial importance of the private sector to the running of the life of Hong Kong. A scheme is necessary to deal with the problem, and we believe that the scheme most likely to serve its purpose of keeping people in Hong Kong and not encouraging them to come here is a citizenship scheme. We have therefore decided that the most straightforward approach is the presentation of a Bill to the House.
Will my right hon. Friend reassure us that the sole, or central, aim of his proposals is to anchor people in Hong Kong for years ahead and not to encourage them to come here? Does he accept that if the success of this or a similar policy is undemined and confidence collapses in Hong Kong—as it may well do—this country may be faced with an immigration challenge, and with the arrival of refugees in numbers exceeding the worst fears of some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, for which they would have to take some of the blame?Will my right hon. Friend tell us whether any thought has been given to the tiny number of non-ethnic Chinese, including the Hong Kong Indians—I believe that there are about 1,500 families in all—who will not be accepted as citizens after 1997? They once thought that they were citizens of the United Kingdom; unless we do something, they will become citizens of nowhere.
My right hon. Friend's first point is correct. We are anxious—as, indeed, they are—that those people should continue to ply their professions in Hong Kong, and the main aim of our scheme is to enable them to do so.My right hon. Friend's second point is also right. In answering my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), I acknowledged that, in my own experience, it was right that, for the sake of good relations between communities in this country, immigration control should be strict as well as fair. If, however, because of political difficulties, we fail to make the necessary decisions about Hong Kong, now and in the years ahead—and I warn the House that they will be several and difficult—we shall ultimately have a refugee problem on our hands. [HON. MEMBERS: "No".] That is a statement of fact. We shall have a refugee problem on our hands that will make the numbers that we are discussing today seem relatively insignificant.
The Secretary of State may not be aware of the close relationship that has developed between Northern Ireland and many families in Hong Kong in the past decade. Many thousands of Hong Kong citizens now live in Northern Ireland, and they have turned out to be first-class and welcome people in the Province. They provide employment in the catering industry and electronics, and many Hong Kong families now send their children to boarding schools in Northern Ireland and to the two universities.For years the United Kingdom has been keen to stand by its relationship with Hong Kong, within the old British empire and now, in the Commonwealth. We face the sensitive problem of 1997, and it would be an outrage for the United Kingdom to shirk its responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong. Therefore, I have no hesitation in saying that, when the legislation is presented to the House, the Ulster Unionist parliamentary party will look upon it sympathetically.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member.
My right hon. Friend's statement fills me with foreboding for the future of race relations in Britain. How will he explain to the ethnic minorities who already live in Britain, many of whom have lived here for a great number of years, that we have to maintain strict controls on the permissions granted to their relatives when, at the same time, we have amended the law to create preferential class treatment for the Hong Kong Chinese?
I shall explain it on the grounds that I have already given to the House. My hon. Friend knows Hong Kong, and he knows the difficulties and the problems that we have to wrestle with. We are responsible to our constituents, but we are also responsible for supervising and monitoring what the United Kingdom Government and, to some extent, the Hong Kong Government do to steer the colony through the next eight years. We have tried to strike a balance for the reasons that my hon. Friend gave, and they are valid reasons.We have turned down the suggestion that was put to us powerfully by people in Hong Kong and by some Members of the House, to allow everybody in the colony the right of abode. We did that for the reasons that my hon. Friend has in mind. For the reasons that my hon. Friend gave, we do not feel entitled to say that we will take no action, and there will be no scheme or effort to give assurances to those people who are key to the running of the territory. That would be an irresponsible line to take, and in the long run—perhaps not too long—my hon. Friend and hon. Members who have worries, which I understand, would live to regret it.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that what he has announced today is one law for the rich and another for the poor in Hong Kong and he is prepared to bend and break the British Nationality Act 1981 to achieve that? Will he join me in condemning the words of his right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), which do nothing to help race relations in Britain?
The hon. Member is wrong. If we were interested simply in extending privileges to the rich, we would have set about it in a different way. We are talking about the public sector. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) made that accusation before he saw the scheme, but now that he has considered the proposals, and knows that it is not true, he did not raise that objection today. The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) has not had the advantage of looking at the proposals for a few minutes, and is therefore repeating the old parrot cries, which are wrong. We are talking about key people in the public service regardless of their capital and affluence —head teachers, civil servants, engineers. The test is their importance to Hong Kong, and the danger to the territory if large numbers of such people left, and not their affluence.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the purpose of the proposal today is to restore confidence in Hong Kong and to enable it to continue successfully and in prosperity through 1997? Therefore, is it not surprising that he has made no mention in his statement of what is probably the most important way to restore confidence in the colony and that is to allow the development of democracy in Hong Kong in the fastest possible way, to ignore the veto attempted by the Chinese Republic, and to ensure that its arrangements—that it dictates after 1997—converge with those that my right hon. Friend and the Hong Kong people may make before 1997? Does my right hon. Friend accept that that is the best way in which to restore confidence and that this divisive measure—it is divisive in Britain and in Hong Kong—will not achieve that objective?
My hon. Friend raises a different and important matter. Before long, we shall have to make clear, and inform the House of, our decision about the nature of the democratic content of elections in Hong Kong in 1991. It is clear from the way in which my hon. Friend phrased his question that he knows the difficulties there, the problems of the Basic Law, and our aim to produce continuity before and after 1997. I shall inform the House about our conclusions on that fairly soon, I hope. I think that my hon. Friend is being unrealistic if he supposes that we can continue the successful governance of Hong Kong without a scheme that tackles this nationality problem.I apologise to the House. I failed to answer an important question about the non-Chinese minority asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell). We have considered the matter carefully. They will of course qualify for inclusion in the scheme I have announced. They have assurances that were given to them by Lord Glenarthur in, I think, 1986. We do not think that it would be sensible to expand the number or the total scheme by making a special and different provision for them.
Is the Foreign Secretary aware that this is a bad day for the Government, but a quite disgraceful day for the Labour party, which seems bereft of all moral principle and is in a position of shame, being linked to the point of view of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit)?Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the House has absolute power over the 3·5 million people in Hong Kong we are talking about, but that some right hon. and hon. Members do not want to exercise any responsibility for them and are prepared to wash their hands of them so that they may be handed over to what is known to be a murderous regime in Peking? Is he aware that, if he is to have our support—to judge from the noises behind him it might be important this time—we shall need assurances that among the vulnerable group he talked about will be journalists and local politicians, who are vulnerable to retaliation from Peking? Will he take this opportunity to demolish the myth that has been going about that the Government and the British state have no unqualified objection to people entering the United Kingdom? Will he confirm that there is a commitment to 1 million people from South Africa under the nationality legislation and to unquantifiable millions from north America, all of them white?
I accept the hon. Member's support without accepting his adjectives or most of his arguments. I have made it clear that we are talking about people who may be vulnerable because they have taken part in the democratic process in some way.
My right hon. Friend referred to the need for a statement on Hong Kong. Is it not a fact that the United Kingdom has a clear duty, as the governing power in Hong Kong and as co-signatory of the joint declaration, to maintain stability and prosperity there? Is it not also a fact that British and Chinese business quarters in the territory have made it clear that measures similar to these are just what they want to ensure that stability and prosperity?
They would like more, of course; I acknowledge that. We will have to explain why we have pitched on a scheme and on a number which is considerably smaller than the upper end of the scale that was hoped for in Hong Kong. Otherwise, my hon. Friend is perfectly right. Of course the Government and the House have a duty. The House has a long tradition of looking after the interests of those who live under the Crown in different parts of the world. We are coming to the end of that story and, as I said before, I should like to make a reasonable end of it.
How many entry clearance officers does the Foreign Secretary propose to send to Hong Kong? Will there be a primary purpose rule in the legislation that he will introduce to the House? If there are to be entry clearance officers, will he send some of those from Islamabad, who in the past few years have kept wives from their husbands, children from their fathers, fiancees from their future husbands, and grandchildren from their grandparents and have prevented a host of people who have a right to be here from coming to Britain? Will there not be a new word in the English language—Hurdism, standing for privilege, elitism, professionalism and all those who have wealth and authority as opposed to all those who are poor and underprivileged?
The hon. Gentleman appears to be advocating the total admission of everybody. No other meaning can be drawn from his question. I wish that the Opposition would get their act together. The accusation that the hon. Gentleman made against me stands up for a second only if he is in favour of admitting everybody; otherwise, it makes no sense at all. Of course the scheme will have to be carefully administered. The dependants selected will be spouses and children under 18; therefore, the question of primary purpose does not arise.
Will my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister accept congratulations on standing firm against more than a little pressure from Conservative Members and more than a little hypocrisy from the Opposition? Will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary press on with the proposals, fulfil Britain's obligations to Hong Kong, and restore confidence in Hong Kong without forgetting that Britain wishes to play a part in what will be an outstanding success story in future?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. The anxieties which have been expressed by Conservative Members are perfectly natural. It would have been surprising had they not been expressed. Conservative Members realise far more clearly than Opposition Members that immigration control which works is essential to decent race relations in Britain. We do not need persuading of that. That is why we have not gone nearly as far as has been suggested by almost everyone in Hong Kong. We have struck the right balance.
Surely the answer to the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) is that after what has happened in Tiananmen square, long after the Conservative manifesto, honour demands that the House meets the obligation to do more to sustain the prosperity and security of Hong Kong. The scheme that the Foreign Secretary has advanced, which is selective and based on service, has a very good chance of retaining those skilled people beyond 1997, as our responsibilities go beyond that, and ensuring a successful transition to Communist China's control and a successful Hong Kong into the 21st century.
The right hon. Gentleman is right. By and large, our imperial story is overwhelmingly honourable and we should try to keep it that way. But in this case honour and self-interest coincide.
My right hon. Friend has to choose between his perception—which I believe is mistaken—of the interests of the people of Hong Kong and the desires of the people of these overcrowded islands whose home he is, I believe, arrogantly, making available. He will understand that people here feel deep resentment after a generation of imposed immigration into Britain. I believe that they will feel that he has chosen the people of Hong Kong, and, although I have the deepest respect for my right hon. Friend, I believe that he will not be forgiven.
It is not a question of the Government choosing the people of Hong Kong over my hon. Friend's constituents; that is not the issue at all. We have struck a balance which we believe is necessary to safeguard an interest of this country, of my hon. Friend's constituents and, in particular, of the Conservative party. I do not think that we would be forgiven—to borrow my hon. Friend's phrase—if we simply took the short-term easy way, pretended that the problem would go away when clearly it will not, and failed to take any action on the lines that I have described. That would not only be wrong but would come back and seriously hit us before too long.
Will the Secretary of State accept—from one speaking as, in the words of the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), an imposed immigrant and Member of Parliament—that no Opposition Member has suggested that Britain should play host to 5·5 million Hong Kong Chinese this week or next week? Many Opposition Members and many people outside the House have listened with mounting incredulity as elements on the Tory Back Benches have outbid each other on the subject with sub-Powellite rhetoric.Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that many people outside the House know that we should not be hearing from the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) if the subject were white South Africans? Many people outside the House are concerned that hon. Members continue to treat the issue for what it is—a unique and difficult issue about how Britain withdraws from its last outpost of the empire with honour, and not in the shabby and shameful way that some Conservative Members—
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but she must ask a question.
The question is—
Order. The hon. Lady might be able to ask her question when we have a debate.
Is this an issue of how we withdraw from Hong Kong with honour, or is it, as some Conservative Members would have us believe, an issue of an imminent yellow peril?
The hon. Lady mistakes the position. It is perfectly natural that my right hon. and hon. Friends should express concern and anxiety. I do not think that anyone can seriously criticise them for doing so. Anyone who has followed events in Hong Kong and what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President have been saying for months will know what the problem is and how we propose to tackle it. It is perfectly reasonable that people should express their anxieties and concerns. I have not had any complaints or objections of the kind that the hon.Lady made. Now that we have agreed on a scheme, the Government must show, as I believe we clearly can, that it is better to go ahead with it, to implement it and to offer assurances to key people, as it proposes, rather than to sit back and say, "This is too difficult; we propose to do nothing," and allow our last substantial colony to decline and perhaps slide into chaos.
Order. I must have regard to the subsequent business before the House. As the House well knows, it is a Back-Bench Members' day today, and we have a further statement before reaching that. I shall allow three more questions from each side, and then we must move on. It will be perfectly in order for hon. Members to raise this matter on the Christmas Adjournment motion if they are not called on the statement.
Does my right hon. Friend recall the spontaneous generosity with which British people accepted the sudden influx of Ugandan Asian passport holders in 1972 when they were confronted with the terrorism of Amin? Does he agree that his proposals for a new human line of credit, which may never be drawn on fully, to safeguard the future of the citizens of Hong Kong will be accepted by the same British public with the same generosity of spirit?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Of course these are difficult questions, and they stir feelings that have been quite accurately reflected in the House. Nevertheless, we must make decisions and take responsibility. I believe, as does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, that they will he much more clearly and sympathetically understood than is being assumed by some people.
Will the Minister accept that Opposition Members and others have constituents with relatives in Hong Kong? Will he say how he thinks confidence can be brought to a society by the creation of first and second-class citizens and apartheid by passport? Will he say what will happen to the rest of the community if the Chinese people's army moves in, because he has said that that is the only occasion on which the passports will be used? Is the majority of the community to be abandoned by the Tory party?
The scheme is of course only part of the total policy but it is an essential part. We will not be able to keep Hong Kong in security and prosperity without a scheme of that kind. Our main effort must be to enable the colony to go forward on the basis of the joint declaration, with all that that means.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that the true key to the future stability and prosperity of Hong Kong lies in Peking? Only if the Chinese Government are able to show enthusiastic confidence in the future of Hong Kong will proper stability be retained. Will he also accept that the scheme he announced today will go some little way to providing reassurance, pending the wider support that Peking must show for the future of Hong Kong?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right on his first point. We must not be passive but constantly active in seeking to show the People's Republic of China that it is in its interests, as well as those of the people of Hong Kong, that the joint declaration should be fully honoured in the spirit as well as the letter.
What reflections, thoughts or advice come from the place where the Secretary of State once worked—our embassy in Peking? Does he accept that what was said by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) was far too facile, and ought we not to recognise that the complex position that arose after Tiananmen square cannot just be described as a "murderous regime"? In those circumstances, ought we not to remember that the history of China is that China has stuck to its international promises and there is no reason to believe that it will not do so in future, whatever the internal difficulties, in relation to 1997?
The House has expressed its views on what happened in Tiananmen square, and I do not think that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) would dissent from what was said. We must have important and continuous dealings with the People's Republic, for the reasons that I gave in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell).
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, until 1962, more than 1·5 million residents of Hong Kong enjoyed the right to a full British passport and to abode in this country, and that relatively few of them exercised that right? That supports strongly the belief expressed by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that, unless things go badly wrong in Hong Kong, very few of the people under discussion will exercise the rights that he has announced. If things go badly wrong, we have a strong moral obligation to help.
I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am grateful for the way he expressed his view.
Why does not the Foreign Secretary admit that, although there are two tenable logical positions that the Government could have adopted, there is only one tenable principle position? The two tenable, logical positions are eiher that everyone should be given the right to come to Britain or that no one should. The one tenable principle position is that everyone should be given the right to come to Britain.
That comment comes from below the Gangway. It was specifically repudiated above the Gangway a few weeks ago. This matter will now be opened up for further discussion. The Government's measures will be discussed, and so will the total lack of coherent Labour party policy.
Order. I give an undertaking to the hon. Members I have not called that I will bear them in mind when the matter is next discussed, as I am sure it will be.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
I will take it after the statement.