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Sino-British Joint Declaration: Rule of Law

Volume 650: debated on Tuesday 4 December 2018

3. What recent steps the Government have taken to monitor and promote the rule of law in Hong Kong as set out in the Sino-British Joint Declaration. (907988)

The rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are the foundations of Hong Kong’s continued success and prosperity. The UK remains absolutely committed to the joint declaration and to upholding “one country, two systems.” I raised the concerns about the erosion of the rule of law when I visited Hong Kong only last month, and we will continue to monitor that situation closely, as detailed in the Foreign Secretary’s six-monthly reports to Parliament.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Recent events in Hong Kong have seen the movement restricted of those critical of the Hong Kong Government, including political opponents and journalists. What steps are the UK Government taking to protect British interests in Hong Kong and the rights of British national (overseas) passport holders?

I reassure my hon. Friend that we take very seriously our long-standing and ongoing duty to uphold the joint declaration. We have raised publicly our concerns about the decision, for example, not to renew the visa of Victor Mallet, of the Financial Times, and the subsequent denial of his re-entry into Hong Kong, as well as other developments. These call into question Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy. We have also made it clear in private to the Chinese and Hong Kong Governments that it is vital that Hong Kong’s rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy, which are set out in the joint declaration, are fully respected.

What will the Foreign Office do if the Government in China continue not to allow the likes of Victor Mallet, Benedict Rogers and others to have access to Hong Kong, as is correct and proper in a country with which the UK has such a long-standing relationship?

I agree with the hon. Lady that it is right and proper that such individuals are entitled to be there. We are concerned by the specific decision not to renew the visa of the Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet. As I said in Hong Kong the day I was there, that incident on 9 November undermines Hong Kong’s freedom of speech and, indeed, freedom of the press, which are guaranteed under the Basic Law. This, in turn, risks undermining Hong Kong’s economic success in the longer term. We will continue to raise those concerns.

Does the Minister share concerns about the trial that began on 19 November of nine leaders of the pro-democracy Hong Kong umbrella movement on such vague charges as “incitement to incite” public nuisance, and about the implications of such charges for freedom of speech and the rule of law in Hong Kong? Will Ministers raise such concerns with the Government there at the earliest opportunity?

I thank my hon. Friend for her tenacious work in this regard. The trials are a matter for the Hong Kong courts. I met Roberto Ribeiro, the deputy chief justice, and the head of the Hong Kong Bar Association when I was there in November. I have every confidence in the continued independence of the Hong Kong judiciary, which remains in high international esteem. But I hope that the incidents to which she refers will not discourage either lawful protests or the young from engaging in politics in Hong Kong.

The banning of a pro-independence party in September marks a disturbing new phase in the erosion of democratic rights and freedoms by China. It is a clear breach of the spirit of the 1984 declaration, yet the Government are so desperate for a post-Brexit trade deal that they have done nothing. Is Chris Patten right to describe the Government’s policy as “craven”?

May I reassure the hon. Lady that we have done rather a lot? We do not support Hong Kong independence as we feel that would be a clear breach of “one country, two systems”. Nevertheless, as she rightly says, the right to stand for election, and the rights to free speech and to freedom of association are absolutely enshrined in the Basic Law. We are also concerned that, if not the letter, then certainly the spirit of “one country, two systems” is being breached by this matter. We have issued a statement and we will continue to apply pressure through diplomatic means; we will do so on an ongoing basis. I share many of her concerns, but she should not believe that there is not a lot of work going on, both from our consulate general there and from London on this matter.