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Hong Kong

Volume 404: debated on Tuesday 6 May 2003

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4.

What representations he has made to the Hong Kong Government about article 23 of the Basic Law. [111597]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Bill Rammell)

I have discussed article 23 with senior members of the special administrative region Government in Hong Kong and in London. In those discussions, and in the statement that I issued on 27 March about the draft article 23 legislation, I made clear our concerns about certain aspects of their proposals.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. It might be too early for him to make an assessment of the impact, if any, that severe acute respiratory syndrome will have on the progress of the Bill, but may I put to him this crucial point? The institutions that have made Hong Kong so successful—freedom of speech, press freedom, the independence of the judiciary, and the rule of law—must not be compromised by the implementing of the legislation.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend far making that point. I very much agree that those key ingredients that have made Hong Kong such a success story need to be preserved through the passage of this legislation. I certainly welcome the fact that the special administrative region Government have made several changes in the draft legislation, compared with their original proposals. I also welcome their assurance that the basic rights and freedoms in Hong Kong will not be eroded. The devil will be in the detail, however, and that is why we shall follow this issue very closely indeed.

Will the Minister tell us which of the concerns to which he referred in his first answer has met with the least positive response from those with whom he has been talking?

There has been some movement on all the issues. There are a number of concerns, but the key remaining issue is that of the proscription of organisations in Hong Kong that are subordinate to organisations that are banned in mainland China. Part of the success of Hong Kong since the handover is the autonomy of the legal system, and the concern is that a move in this direction would blur the distinction between Hong Kong and the mainland. That is the key point that we are continuing to make.