(Urgent Question): I wish to ask the Foreign Secretary to update the House on protests in Hong Kong.
I thank the hon. Lady for her urgent question. This is an example of when all sides of the House can come together to discuss an issue that is of joint concern across the political spectrum.
I remain seriously concerned by the situation in Hong Kong. Protests are now in their 16th week, and millions have exercised their right to peaceful protest. The majority are doing so peacefully and lawfully, but I know the House will join me in condemning the violence that we have seen on the streets of Hong Kong from a minority of those engaged in protests. It is essential that protests are conducted peacefully and within the law, and that the response of the authorities is proportionate.
With that in mind, the United Kingdom supports the one country, two systems model and framework and of course the rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy granted to Hong Kong and its people under the Chinese-British joint declaration. That joint declaration was signed by the Government of the People’s Republic of China and Her Majesty’s Government in 1984, and the autonomy, rights and freedoms it guarantees are enshrined in the Hong Kong Basic Law. It remains as valid today as when it was signed almost 35 years ago and is a legally binding international treaty. We expect China to live up to its obligations under it and, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, to its wider international human rights law obligations, including those in the UN charter.
The UK Government believe that a resolution can only be achieved with meaningful political dialogue that builds trust between all the parties on all sides. I welcome Carrie Lam’s formal withdrawal of the extradition Bill on 4 September and some of the incremental steps she has taken to improve the credibility of the Independent Police Complaints Council. The initiative this week from the Hong Kong Government to consult the people they serve will be a first step on the essential path towards a more inclusive political dialogue—one that builds trust with all communities in Hong Kong.
In recent weeks, I have spoken to both the Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, and to the Chinese Foreign Minister, State Counsellor Wang Yi, and I have made it clear that the UK continues to support one country, two systems. I have also made clear, however, our concern about human rights and, in particular, the mistreatment of those exercising their right to lawful and peaceful protest. The concerns of those peaceful protesters should be addressed by political dialogue, not crushed by force.
I have also spoken to a wide range of my counterparts internationally, and I welcome the strong statements from our international partners. The Prime Minister raised Hong Kong at the recent G7 meeting, where all G7 partners reaffirmed the importance of the joint declaration and called for an end to violence. We will continue to engage with Hong Kong and the Chinese Government, reiterating the fundamental importance of upholding the UK-Chinese joint declaration. Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy is what guarantees its future prosperity and success. It is incumbent on all sides to respect it.
Throughout the summer, Hong Kong has remained gripped by protests, with tens of thousands of demonstrators filling the streets each weekend to demand their fundamental rights. Although the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, has announced that the controversial extradition Bill will finally be withdrawn, this for some is far too little too late. The level of protest has grown in the face of brutal police repression, and I have been appalled by the way that protesters have been beaten by police officers and gangs rumoured to be associated with the Hong Kong Government.
Basic democratic freedoms of the press, the right to assemble and the right to protest are enshrined in the Sino-British joint declaration, an internationally recognised treaty to which we are of course a signatory. In the past few weeks, protesters have also been gathering outside the British consulate in Hong Kong demanding that our Government do more. Will the Foreign Secretary please tell the House what contact he has had with the Hong Kong Government about the ongoing protests in Hong Kong and specifically on the issue of police brutality? What dialogue has he had with the Hong Kong Government to promote a move towards universal suffrage as per the joint declaration? What steps are the Government taking to support any holders of a British national overseas passport in Hong Kong who are facing undue risk or harassment as a result of taking part in the protests? Finally, when will the next six-monthly report on the joint declaration be published?
I thank the hon. Lady for her questions and interventions on the substance and the constructive way she has presented them to the House. I share her concerns about the repression of peaceful protest, though mindful, as I have said, that some of the protests have been violent, which is unacceptable too. I also share her concern to make sure that the right of peaceful protest enshrined in the joint declaration is respected on all sides in Hong Kong and by us and the Chinese Government.
I will, if I may, make a couple of further points. The joint declaration, as a bilateral treaty, reflects not just the right to peaceful protest but the basic international human rights obligations, which would apply to China in any event. It is a bilateral expression of those rights, and it is important not just for the people of Hong Kong but for the wider model that China advocates—the one country, two systems model—and which we wish to respect.
The hon. Lady asked what contact I had had with the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam. I spoke to her at length on 9 August, and I raised all the issues that I have already expressed, particularly the disproportionate use of force by the police against the protesters. I also raised the issue of the Independent Police Complaints Council. In line with and alongside the withdrawal of the extradition Bill, that is an area where the Government in Hong Kong have taken some steps to try to strengthen and reinforce their impartiality and therefore their credibility. We need to test that very carefully and see whether it produces an impartial and objective review.
The hon. Lady rightly raises the issue BNOs, and I thank her for that. The status of BNOs is part of the package that was agreed in terms of the joint declaration. There is no right of permanent residence under the BNO passport, but it is part of the overarching model of one country, two systems which, at least at this point, we are arguing needs to be respected, but it needs to be respected by all sides, including by China.
Finally, on the six-monthly report, I would hope that to be due at the end of October, or by November at the latest.
Again, I welcome my right hon. Friend to the Chamber today, and I thank the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), a fellow member of the Committee, for raising this important question.
Although I appreciate the points that the Secretary of State has already made about BNOs, it is clear that the UK Government did take a subtly different position at the time of handover when certain key members of the Administration were granted UK citizenship in order to give them the confidence to stay on at a moment of—let’s face it— trouble and doubt. Is there not an opportunity now to assure people that they do not have to make urgent decisions now, by knowing that their rights will be guaranteed? Will he also talk to his friend the Lord Chancellor about the presence of UK judges in the Court of Final Appeal? We all know that Hong Kong’s economy is underwritten by the rule of law, as, indeed, is ours. The independence of the judiciary and the ability to have judges who can speak freely and fairly and without threat of influence from Beijing is one of the things that underwrites not just Hong Kong’s economic expansion but China’s. Therefore, valuing those judges, knowing that they are an integral part of the rule of law—not just on commercial rights, but on civil rights—would seem a very good place for the UK to start.
I thank my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Select Committee. He makes a number of very important and powerful points, and I have been reflecting on them and, indeed, on the reports from his Committee. May I just say that I will of course pass on his comments in relation to the judiciary to the Secretary State for Justice? He makes those points in an important way. Of course, they are good for Hong Kong and its reputation and the wider reputation of China as a place that is open to do business.
Let me be clear about this issue of BNOs. The BNO status, which did not entitle the holders of those passports to a right of permanent residence in the UK, was part of the delicate balance and negotiations that were conducted and then concluded at the time of the joint declaration. We are seeking not to change the status of any one part of that package, but rather to press all sides, including the Chinese, to respect the delicate balance reflected in that package. That is why, for the moment, we will not change or alter the status of the BNOs, but we will make sure that, in terms of their rights and entitlements they are entitled to expect within that status, they have our full support.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing it.
As the Foreign Secretary said, we are now entering the 16th week of this chaos and there is absolutely no sign of the crisis abating. We continue to witness appalling brutality by the Hong Kong police against the protesters. The abandonment of peaceful methods by some sections of the pro-democracy movement does nothing to help its cause, which we, on this side of the House, believe is right and just.
Will the Foreign Secretary tell us whether the Hong Kong Executive have made any progress in setting up the independent inquiry that we have all called for? Did the Foreign Office get any credible explanation from the Chinese Government for the paramilitary forces massed on the Hong Kong border over the summer?
The announcement that the Hong Kong Executive will formally withdraw the extradition Bill is welcome, but it is too little, too late. Peace and normality will be achieved only if the Hong Kong Government meet the largely reasonable demands of the protesters and fulfil the promises made to Hong Kongers in the Basic Law. That needs to start with democratic reform and moves towards universal suffrage.
The Foreign Secretary is the fifth Minister in four months to have spoken on the UK’s moral and legal responsibility to safeguard the rights of Hong Kong citizens, and I would like to ask him two further questions. What are the implications for BNO passport holders of the Government’s announcement over the summer of changes to the rights of students studying in the UK? Also, what is he going to do to fulfil the UK’s obligations to Hong Kong under the joint declaration if the situation does not improve?
I thank the hon. Lady for the measured and careful way in which she has responded to this issue. Amidst all the Brexit divisions we have, it is important that we have some cross-party consensus where it is practicable on this issue, because that allows us to send the clearest signal to our international partners, and indeed to Hong Kong and China, on its importance, so I welcome that.
I share the hon. Lady’s concerns around the issue of peaceful protest. We have expressed those to the Chinese Government. I spoke to the Foreign Minister about this. I have also spoken to Carrie Lam. The hon. Lady is also right to say that we condemn violence and that it risks tainting the protests, which, on the whole, have been conducted in a peaceful way by the majority.
The hon. Lady asked about the independent inquiry. The Administration in Hong Kong have not gone the full way we would like them to, but they have taken steps to reform and reinforce the independence of the police complaints council. Whether that is enough, we shall see. What we need to ensure ultimately is that we have the goal of a proper, thorough and objective review of some of the conduct by the police against protesters.
I share the hon. Lady’s concern about reports of troops being increased at the border. We in this House and across the international community must be clear with our Chinese friends and partners about the Rubicon that would be crossed if we saw a major intervention in Hong Kong. No one wants to see any repeat of the tragic circumstances in Tiananmen Square all those years ago. We want China and Hong Kong to move forward, not backwards.
The hon. Lady made the point that the action on the extradition Bill is not enough, and I share her frustration to see more done on political dialogue. In fairness, it is important to note that steps are taking place this week, and indeed today, to engage local groups in political dialogue. As she said, it is the long-standing view of the UK that there is a transition to universal suffrage for the elections of the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council, because that is provided for in the Hong Kong Basic Law, and that would be the best way to guarantee the stability of Hong Kong, but also to respect one country, two systems, which is advocated by China. There has been no change in the status of BNOs.
Overall, I share the hon. Lady’s concerns. There is not a silver-bullet answer to this. We know that the Chinese Government will be very mindful of behaviour and of its reputation, and of what is going on in Hong Kong in the lead-up to the anniversary on 1 October. We need to make sure in this House and across the international community that we are seized of this issue and that we make it clear to the Government of China that we want to respect one country, two systems, but that also needs to be reflected on their side.
Freedom of speech, including on constitutional matters, is one of the rights enshrined in the joint declaration, yet we have recently seen pressure exerted on individuals to desist from dialogue on certain issues—pressure that is completely unacceptable in any country, let alone in Hong Kong, where these rights are enshrined in the joint declaration. What can our Government do publicly to ensure that the right to free speech is upheld in Hong Kong?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s tenacious efforts to raise the issue of free speech and peaceful protest right around the world. She is a credit to this House and is doing a lot of work for the party on this. The UK has raised the issue of peaceful protest and the right of free speech, mindful that it must be lawful and peacefully conducted. I have done that consistently and will continue to do so, and I know the Prime Minister feels the same way.
As my hon. Friend and, I think, the shadow Minister said, we need to see steps towards meaningful political dialogue. We have seen the removal of the extradition Bill and the initiative from Hong Kong to consult with people from across the communities in Hong Kong. That is a first step, but we should recognise and credit the Administration in Hong Kong when they take steps in the right direction. We now need to see that followed up with meaningful, inclusive dialogue that preserves the autonomy of Hong Kong and the one country, two systems approach that China advocates.
I welcome much of what the Foreign Secretary has said this morning. Of course, it is important that we recognise the courageous strength of those in Hong Kong who have protested over the past few months. Indeed, this all takes place on the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way. What an inspiration it is to see the spirit of the Baltic Way invoked, with people standing up for liberty and freedom as they rightly should.
The Foreign Secretary mentioned the legally binding agreement with China. While it is not for me to defend old empires, he is right that it is, to this day, a legally binding agreement. Of course that must be upheld, not least because international treaties are being picked away at by populists around the world. However, context is everything, and the UN Security Council that he mentions—as we know from the conflict in Syria, for example—is utterly broken. This matter cannot be resolved in a broken Security Council. I have been asking the Government for years what proposals they have for reform of the United Nations Security Council. That will be pivotal in this affair and much else.
Finally, this issue in Hong Kong is undoubtedly falling prey to international disinformation and misinformation campaigns, from China to Russia and many others. What steps are the Government taking to support people in Hong Kong to get the truth out to the world?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks and his support for the approach we are taking. He made some valuable points about the joint declaration. It is legally binding and, of course, there is always the need to be vigilant to make sure that international treaties are respected on all sides. It is not just a bilateral arrangement, but reflects wider international human rights obligations, particularly those on peaceful protest reflected in the international covenant on civil and political rights.
I do not think the situation in Hong Kong is necessarily analogous to Syria, but I do—
I did not say that.
I know, but the hon. Gentleman made that reference. I do, however, share his sense that we need to make the UN work as effectively as possible. We have been out at the UN General Assembly this week. That has been curtailed, as he will know, but those are the kinds of things we talk about. Of course, China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, so it is reasonable and legitimate to expect China to uphold the values of the United Nations when it comes to Hong Kong.
Following directly the point that was just made by the SNP spokesman, is there any evidence that the Chinese intelligence services, adopting classic communist methodology, are trying to discredit the protesters by infiltrating them with agents provocateurs, where the violent fringe is concerned? Will my right hon. Friend give special consideration to about 265 former members of the Hong Kong armed services, who should in the past have been offered the choice of a British passport but, I believe, have yet to receive that offer?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks; I know that he follows these issues closely. I am going to be a bit careful about commenting on what is really happening in relation to intelligence services from any other country, but one thing I would say is that it is becoming increasingly clear, in relation to some of the counter-protests, that there are criminal gangs involved, and it is not clear entirely what their links may or may not be with the various administrations. I think, for our part, we need to play this in a very straight way, which is to say that there are some legally binding obligations on the Hong Kong Government, and indeed on China, to respect peaceful protest. Frankly, wherever those incursions or erosions or impingements come, we will call them out.
In response to a written question tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), Ministers have confirmed that UK law enforcement agencies provide training to the Hong Kong Police. With that in mind, has that training been put through the overseas security and justice assistance risk management system? If so, what assessment, particularly in light of recent events, has been made of the risk that that training may now be assisting in human rights violations in Hong Kong?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. Of course, one of the reasons that we might take a judgment in relation to Hong Kong, or anywhere in the world, to provide police training is precisely to make sure that policing is done in a proportionate way, and with some restraint where that is called for. So I would not quite accept the premise that he has argued from.
We will constantly consider all assessments in relation to this kind of support. The hon. Gentleman will know that, as the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), stated during his remarks in the House of Commons on 25 June in relation to, for example, crowd control equipment, no further export licences will be granted for that kind of equipment unless we have got absolutely clear assurances that our concerns around human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected and addressed.
Such illustrious colleagues! It is very hard to choose—wow. Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Might my right hon. Friend consider raising with Carrie Lam, when he next has a conversation with her, an issue that has been raised with me by a number of young people, including the demonstrators—the social mobility in Hong Kong? For the ordinary person, even if they have actually got a good degree, it is very difficult to get a job that is well enough paid to better their standard of living from that of their parents.
I thank my hon. Friend. He raises a very important point, which is that the protests that we are seeing have been fuelled by the economic/social concerns that, in any mature democracy, would find expression through the democratic institutions. I think he is highlighting, in a very specific way, why having political dialogue leading to the democratic autonomy that is reflected in the Basic Law would be valuable and important, not just for the individuals raising those issues, but for Hong Kong as an autonomous entity within the one country, two systems model, in order to address those issues in a way that is constructive and in the long-term interests of the people of Hong Kong.
All UK citizens’ rights and means to travel subject to entry requirements should continue to be protected, and we on the Scottish National party Benches call on the Government of China and Hong Kong to facilitate the safe passage of UK citizens when they are compliant with the law. BNO UK passport holders in Hong Kong, however, are not currently recognised by China. Can the Foreign Secretary update the House on the consular services and support that have been offered to those UK passport holders?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. We do provide consular assistance to the BNO passport holders, but he is right also to talk about the limitations on that status. That was part of the careful balance that I referred to in my earlier remarks. We want to see that respected on all sides. That is one element of the one country, two systems model. That is what China advocates. That is what we want respected. It must be respected on all sides.
A noted sinologist, I think—Mr Richard Graham.
The 98th anniversary of the Communist party of China approaches imminently, and there are range of issues which the Foreign Secretary knows are delicately balanced. One, of course, is the importance of what happens in Taiwan; the second is what is going on in Xinjiang; and the third is the current crisis in Hong Kong.
The Foreign Secretary knows that Committees in both the Senate and Congress have advanced a new Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which would require an annual assessment to see whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous still to justify that city’s special trading status with the United States. Has he discussed that with his US counterparts, and are things at a stage where Hong Kong’s special trading status could be seriously endangered by the situation?
My hon. Friend has raised quite a few questions. Let me try to address just two of them.
When I was in Washington earlier this week, I had a chance to talk to congressmen on both sides of the aisle about the United States legislation, and they are making progress in that regard. My hon. Friend also referred to the forthcoming anniversary on 1 October and some of the wider concerns beyond Hong Kong, and he mentioned Xinjiang. We are concerned about, for example, reports—and they are credible reports—of more than 1 million people being held in camps against their will. There is, I think, increasing international concern about that, and about the repressive mistreatment of those people and its impact on China’s international human rights obligations. Let me again make the point that China is now a leading member of the international community. It is a P5 member of the Security Council, and it is very important for those basic international obligations to be respected.
There is a long-standing affinity between many of my constituents and Hong Kong, primarily through family links or because they were posted there during service in the Army. There is particular concern about British National (Overseas) passport holders and the rights that are afforded to them. The Foreign Secretary has made it very clear that he does not wish to look at the issue at the moment because it forms part of the agreement, and there is a logic to that, but would he be prepared to move quickly should there be some variance, shall we say, from that agreement in some other regard, in which event their rights might need to be re-examined very speedily?
I thank the hon. Lady for the careful and measured way in which she asked that question. Our overarching effort now is to convey the message from the UK, but also from the international community, that the one country, two systems model is respected. It has implications for BNOs, and it has implications for autonomy and the right to peaceful protest in Hong Kong. They are all part of the same package. I am not going to start getting into what will happen if that package is ripped up on the other side, but I do think that—particularly given the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) about the question of troop movements and whether there might be a major intervention from Beijing—we need to be very clear about the fact that that would put at risk the model that China itself has advocated.
Does the Foreign Secretary understand the concerns in the House about the BNOs? China is not trying to abolish one country, two systems, but it is squeezing it and pressuring it, and it is therefore right for us to look at alternatives to the current BNO status, such as giving BNOs the right to work in the UK at short notice and, potentially, a fast track to residency. On that point, there are also 250 former servicemen in Hong Kong whom, arguably, we have not looked after well enough. Will the Foreign Secretary and the Government look at that issue as well?
My hon. Friend is, I think, right to say that China is so far respecting the one country, two systems model, and for the large part is trying to respect—or seeking to respect, or at least talking about respecting—the degree to which it is reflected in the joint declaration. I think that as long as we are in that position, it would be wrong for us to unpick one element of the package, namely the status of BNOs. Of course, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman), if it is all reviewed on the side of China, we would obviously want to think again, but I think that for the moment the right thing to do is convey to the Chinese Government and the Administration in Hong Kong why it is in the interests of all sides to respect the one country, two systems model.
Ofcom is currently investigating the Chinese state-backed news channel CGTN following its coverage of the protests. Has the Foreign Secretary spoken to his colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about that investigation, and, in particular, about the future of the channel ahead of its launch in London if it is going to continue to propagate state bias in direct contravention of our broadcasting regulation?
The hon. Lady has made an excellent point in a very powerful way. She will understand if I respect the role and the remit of Ofcom in this regard, but of course we follow that issue very closely.
Hong Kong is clearly a major financial and trading centre. Will my right hon. Friend impress on the Chinese Government, and the Chinese, the opportunities that arise from having such a vibrant centre, and the fact that anything that prejudices that or brings it into question damages China as well as damaging millions of citizens around the world?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, which is that it is in the interests of Hong Kong and China to respect the one country, two systems model and the autonomy, both economic and political, that is reflected within it.
As has already been mentioned, the 70th anniversary of the Communist party is coming up next week and it has been reported that this could be accompanied by large-scale pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. We have seen aerial photographs of armoured vehicles lined up ready to respond. Have the UK Government been in touch with their counterparts in China to stress the importance of maintaining a proportionate response, of the rule of law and of the protection of human rights throughout what could be a difficult period?
I agree with much of what the hon. Lady says, and I can reassure her that I met Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bangkok on 31 July. I was due to meet him again in New York this week, but of course the House is now sitting again.
I welcome some of the comments from my right hon. Friend, especially his condemning violence and praising peaceful protest. How can he use his offices and our position in the UN to make it clear that the Sino-British declaration is a live international treaty and not a historical document, as many Chinese officials have tried to suggest?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is widely accepted that this was an international agreement. It is binding under international law, and while there may be some who call it into question, I do not think it is in the interests of anyone in Hong Kong, in China or, for our part, in the United Kingdom, to call it into question. That is something on which there is widespread agreement among our international partners.
Those of us with friends in Hong Kong know how difficult it is now for people to go about their ordinary lives and how their businesses are being affected. Is it not the responsibility of the whole international community to try to settle these disputes before the situation gets even worse?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the latest developments we are witnessing in Hong Kong are part of a wider trend of civil and political freedoms being reduced over time? What actions can the UK take to halt, or indeed reverse, such a trend?
We can make our position clear both to the Administration in Hong Kong and to my Chinese opposite number, as the Prime Minister and all Members of the Government do. We also need to work with our international partners to look carefully at the situation to ensure that we are telegraphing as clear and broad a signal as possible to the Government in Beijing about the concerns that my hon. Friend rightly raises.
Further to the comments from the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) about the Chinese side repudiating the joint declaration, will the Foreign Secretary consider making it clear to the Chinese side that there is disquiet in this House about the status of BNO nationals, and that if China continues to repudiate that international treaty, this House would consider revisions to the Hong Kong Act 1985 to extend full citizenship to BNO nationals?
I do not think that the point right now is to issue threats to the Government of China. The UK and our international partners need to be very clear that we want to respect the one country, two systems model and that some of the things that we are seeing in Hong Kong and the military build-up of troops on the Chinese side of the border—about which concern has been expressed on both sides of the House—would put that at risk.
I call Sir Philip Dunne.
I am not actually Sir Philip, Mr Speaker, but thank you for elevating me.
I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman, who is a member of the Privy Council. I had thought that he had that additional honour, but I think it is only a matter of time. If I have moved it on a bit, that is surely a positive thing. However, for now, I call Mr Philip Dunne.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I lived in Hong Kong for some years, including during the political transition, so I feel particularly acutely the pressures on the people who are legitimately protesting there. I welcome the fact that concerns have been expressed across the House about the way in which the Hong Kong authorities have handled the protests. Although it was more than 20 years ago, I am acutely aware of the strong and close trading and financial links between this country and Hong Kong. What can my right hon. Friend do to ensure that business confidence is maintained so that Hong Kong remains the vibrant financial centre that is so important in international trade?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, responsibility for respecting the stability and the economic vibrancy of Hong Kong lies with the Hong Kong Administration and more generally with the Government in China. At the level of business and civil society and in our conduct and dealings with the Hong Kong Administration and the Chinese Government, we will be very clear about where we think their interests lie and the risks of undermining of Hong Kong’s autonomy—its economic as well as its political autonomy. That touches on the issues that my right hon. Friend raised.
There have been widespread reports that crowd control equipment is being used against protesters in a way that violates their human rights. In the Secretary of State’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna), he said that export licences would not be granted in respect of crowd control equipment from the UK to Hong Kong unless assurances are given that human rights will not be violated. Is he therefore saying that he has asked for those assurances and that they have been given?
I am saying that we have a rigorous and robust system—one of the best in the world—for export licence control and we will keep it constantly under review. That means that we monitor and listen to what the officials on the other side say about importing those goods, but fundamentally we make an objective and independent assessment to ensure that the UK rules are respected.
I was going to ask the Foreign Secretary about the position of BNO passport holders, but he has already answered many questions on that. I just want to add my support to doing all we can for them. What assessment has he made of the treatment of religious minorities in Hong Kong by the Chinese authorities? Will he ensure that the Government do everything we can to support not only the civil and political freedoms of the people of Hong Kong, but religious liberty there?
My hon. Friend is right. I put on the record that I have had conversations about BNO passport holders and I know that the Home Secretary is apprised of their situation. We have discussed the matter and we keep it under review.
My hon. Friend rightly raises freedom of religion. There is a broader issue around freedom of belief and conscience. We are concerned about the persecution of groups in China on the grounds of religion or belief and that the Chinese Government guidelines on unapproved religious activity, education and travel would restrict the peaceful observation of those rights, which are of course guaranteed under international human rights instruments.
Building on the Foreign Secretary’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), the confidence of the people of Hong Kong in the intentions of the Chinese Government is undermined by clear evidence of the violation of human rights, especially in freedom of religion or belief or the exercise of conscience, as my right hon. Friend described it. Will he be specific about the representations Her Majesty’s Government have made to the Chinese Government about the 1 million Muslims who are being held in re-education camps?
We raise that matter in the United Nations. I have been clear about the UK’s position, which is that we are very concerned about it. The reports look credible and it looks as if the most basic undertakings under international human rights law have been violated. We will continue to ensure that those concerns are expressed directly and candidly. We want a friendship and a partnership with the Government of China—I have said that to the Chinese Foreign Minister—but in all good friendships we must be able to talk candidly when there are concerns.