The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1996Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Chris Patten’s Hong Kong Speech – 3 March 1996

Below is the text of Mr Patten’s speech, made before John Major’s speech, in Hong Kong on Sunday 3rd March 1996.


Prime Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The last time, Prime Minister, that you and I spoke as it were side by side, the circumstances were certainly very different. I think it is fair to say the Continent was different too but going back even further into the dark ages when we were both young with hardly a grey hair between us the first time we spoke, if not side by side then certainly seriatim, was when we were in the same queue of aspirants applying to become the Conservative Party’s candidate in Huntingdon, a safe seat in England [Laughter].

As my guests may have noticed this evening, I was not chosen. I doubt whether either of us, Prime Minister, would have guessed then where politics and charm were to carry us. I break no secrets when I say again – which you know I mean – that I am delighted that a fair wind carried you to No 10 Downing Street and that it has brought you here again tonight.

You are the second British prime minister to have visited Hong Kong in office; this is the fourth visit by a serving prime minister. Your predecessor came twice and you have come on your second visit as well but this is a community which of course you know well first as a banker – and we have Ian Wilson here tonight to prove it – I hope John Grey doesn’t mind me making that point – and more recently as a politician and as Prime Minister. We are delighted that we are able to see you at the end of a week which has included among much else the Anglo-Irish summit and the Bangkok summit. All of us are accustomed to being introduced by chairmen who express their gratitude that we have interrupted our busy schedules to come and speak to them. Prime Minister, we are a part not just of your busy schedule this week but of an extraordinarily punishing schedule and we are extremely pleased that you are able in those circumstances to spend a couple of days here with us in Hong Kong.

You know, Prime Minister, how tough and how difficult are the challenges that we face in Hong Kong. The last time you came here, you were hot-foot from Peking where you had just signed the Memorandum of Understanding at the airport. While it is true that things did not subsequently work out quite as smoothly as we had all hoped – I speak with my usual mixture of euphemism and diplomatic tact! – we nevertheless just got on with things and built the airport anyway and you were able to see the spectacular results today. I think that is typical of Hong Kong. Whatever the challenges, Hong Kong manages to rise to them so that today we remain one of the most successful, one of the most prosperous and one of the most decent cities in the world. I am optimistic that Hong Kong, with its magnificent civil service, will work its way just as successfully through the problems of the next few years.

In managing the transition – in managing this unique enterprise – both Britain and China face very difficult tasks. I want to thank you personally, Prime Minister, for the generous and unequivocal support that you have given to us in Hong Kong since I have been Governor. We couldn’t have asked for more and I think it is particularly valuable that the question of Hong Kong and its future has never been allowed to become a matter of cross-party controversy at Westminster.

I know, Prime Minister, that you will be making your principal speeches in Hong Kong tomorrow talking to the Legislative Council and talking to the Chambers of Commerce at lunch, and then addressing an open press conference later in the day and I also suspect – in fact I know – that you, share with me antipathy to spoiling the digestive process by making lengthy speeches after dinner but we would all be grateful if, on what may be the last occasion on which a British prime minister visits this house under British sovereignty, you would say few words to us this evening. Thank you! [Applause]