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Hong Kong: Sentencing of Pro-democracy Activists

Volume 685: debated on Monday 7 December 2020

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on the sentencing of the Hong Kong pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam.

We are deeply concerned by recent developments in Hong Kong. As the Foreign Secretary made clear in the most recent six-monthly report on Hong Kong, this has been and continues to be the most concerning period in Hong Kong’s post-handover history. The apparent focus of the Hong Kong authorities now seems to be on retribution against political opposition and the silencing of dissent. In the light of our concerns, we have taken decisive action in relation to the erosions of rights, freedoms and autonomy in Hong Kong, specifically in response to the national security law. This has included a new immigration path for British nationals overseas, suspending our extradition treaty with Hong Kong and extending our arms embargo on mainland China to Hong Kong.

We have made clear our concerns about a number of ongoing cases, and that includes the sentencing of the pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam on 2 December and the charges laid against the major media proprietor Jimmy Lai on the same day. We understand that the three sentenced on 2 December pleaded guilty to inciting people to take part in an unauthorised rally last year. They were not charged under the national security law. As the Foreign Secretary made clear in his statement of 2 December, prosecution decisions must be fair and impartial, and the rights and freedoms guaranteed to the people of Hong Kong under the joint declaration must be upheld. Hong Kong’s prosperity and way of life rely on respect for fundamental freedoms, an independent judiciary and the rule of law.

British judges have played an important role in supporting the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary for many years. That independence is a critical factor underpinning Hong Kong’s success. We want it to, and hope that it will, continue; however, the national security law that was imposed on Hong Kong in July poses real questions for the rule of law in Hong Kong, and the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms promised by China in the joint declaration. It is therefore right that the UK Supreme Court continues to assess the situation in Hong Kong, and the position of British judges, in discussion with the Government.

We have raised our concerns about these and other cases with senior members of the Hong Kong Government and the Beijing authorities, and we will continue to do so. We urge the Hong Kong and Beijing authorities to bring an end to their apparent campaign to stifle legitimate opposition, and to reconsider their current course. The Government will continue to work with international partners to hold China to account, as we did recently at the UN Third Committee on 6 October, where 39 countries expressed deep concern at the situation in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet. The UK Government will continue to stand up for the people of Hong Kong and our historic responsibility.

I thank the Minister for his answer, and I find nothing to disagree with, but, as in previous discussions on Hong Kong across the House, we want more, and we want to see more action. The fact is that this is getting worse, not better, despite all the warm words that we have heard across the Chamber and, indeed, internationally. Joshua Wong was sentenced to 13 and a half months’ imprisonment, Agnes Chow to 10 months’, and Ivan Lam to seven months’, for offences that are at best trumped-up charges. That is a direct breach of the Hong Kong Basic Law, and of the Sino-British agreement, which guarantees one country, two systems.

These are not just breaches of human rights somewhere in the world of which we know nothing; they are direct breaches of the Sino-British agreement and direct infringements of personal rights, which the UK is guarantor of until 2047. We need far more action than we have seen. I do feel for our Minister. I have much respect for him. He did not make these decisions and he is not responsible for the internal workings of Hong Kong. We need to be realistic about what is achievable and what is not. For me, it is international action, concerted with our allies in the EU and internationally, that will force Beijing to change tack.

We have a number of ideas on what we can do now, here. We can push forward with Magnitsky sanctions. We have called for progress often enough; let us see some action on that now. We can do an audit of UK companies to check their involvement in slave labour with Chinese companies, because there is no question but that there are UK companies that are profiting directly from gross human rights infringements. We can take action on HSBC and other banks that are colluding with Beijing in order to enforce the national security law. We can also enforce further action in the fight against organised crime and fraud, which has been grievously weakened by events in Hong Kong.

We can also audit and shine a light upon the role of Confucius Institutes across our academic community within these islands, because there is no question but that they are involved in activities that go well beyond what their expected remit should be. On immigration, there is one point specifically that I would be grateful for an assurance from the Minister on. Joshua Wong, under current UK asylum legislation, would be barred from applying for asylum in the UK by this sentence, which we do not respect. Can the Minister assure me— perhaps this is a question for his colleagues as well—that the UK will look at reforming the asylum process to ensure that Hongkongers will have access to this country, and not be barred by trumped-up charges?

So international co-operation will lead on this. The UK has not been idle, but a lot more needs to be done because we are bound to the people of Hong Kong and they will not be forgotten by this House.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this question to the House. I know that it is a subject that we discuss on a regular basis, but it is only right that we do so, given our history with Hong Kong. He mentioned the case of Joshua Wong and the inability to claim asylum. There will, of course, have to be criminality checks for anyone who comes and claims asylum, but it would be perverse to turn away people from the UK because they have participated in democratic protests, like Mr Wong.

The hon. Gentleman talked about international co-ordination, and it is absolutely the case that we are working with international partners. We are focused on adding our voice to the widespread international concern to protect Hong Kong’s rights and freedom. We do not rule out any diplomatic options, and we will keep the position under review. He referenced sanctions; of course, we have had this discussion before. We are actively considering, and will continue to consider, designations under our global human rights sanctions regulations, but I am sure that he will totally understand that it would not be appropriate to speculate on who may be designated under the sanctions regime in future.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned HSBC. We do not comment on issues related to individual private companies. Businesses will make their own judgment calls, and they will be judged on those calls, but we made an historic commitment to protect the autonomy, rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong, and so has China.

I congratulate the right hon.—or, rather, the hon.—Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) on bringing forward this question. [Interruption.] Who knows? I shall certainly, on the basis of this, be promoting him. I agree with pretty much everything he said about the Magnitsky sanctions, and the bad behaviour regarding these trumped-up charges, which are based on an old colonial piece of legislation that should have been done away with years ago, and that has been condemned by the UN.

I draw the Minister’s attention back to HSBC, which the hon. Gentleman touched on. I had the privilege of listening to one of the legislators from the Democratic party of Hong Kong who has fled Hong Kong, Ted Hui. He made it very clear that he came to the UK, having gone to Denmark first, because he was worried about the charges that would be levelled against him. In the meantime, HSBC and two other banks, obviously prompted by the Hong Kong Government and China, have frozen his accounts for no reason whatsoever. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister and the Government to condemn this action. This is not a bank started in China and based in China that has nothing to do with the UK; it is a bank that benefits from its location here in London, and that is highly thought of in the trading community. It has behaved in a disreputable and appalling way in freezing the accounts of an individual fleeing for justice. Surely this is an outrage that the Government can now say should stop.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his continued commitment to this issue. He speaks very powerfully, obviously, but as I have just set out, and as the Foreign Secretary has made clear, businesses, including HSBC in Hong Kong, will make their own judgment calls. People will also make up their mind about those judgment calls. We have made an historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong to protect their autonomy and freedom, and, more importantly, so has China. To reiterate the point, we will hold China to its responsibilities.

The arrest and sentencing of Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam sets a troubling precedent, and it is important that we send a united message in our opposition to attempts to erode the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong. The Government have recognised that there have been two breaches of the joint declaration, and a series of troubling incidents, including the charges against Jimmy Lai; the freezing of the assets of a former Opposition politician and democracy campaigner by a British bank; and this morning’s arrest of students on charges relating to peaceful protest. Despite the steps that the Government have taken so far, which the Minister outlined, and broad international condemnation, the Hong Kong Executive and the Chinese Government have not changed course.

The Government are in danger of trying to pursue two competing and confused strategies. We would like to know to what extent the Minister still believes that constructive engagement is possible. Does he share the view of the United States that Hong Kong is no longer an autonomous region, and if he does not, what is his plan to persuade Beijing to change course? If he believes that diplomacy is still fruitful, will he tell us what conversations the Government have had with the incoming Biden Administration about the development of a co-ordinated response? Will the Foreign Secretary consider convening a dialogue among our Five Eyes partners—including the new US Administration—in the new year, so that we can agree a broader, co-ordinated response? If he does not believe that that is possible, has he explored legal avenues through which the Chinese Government can be held to account? What progress has he made on sanctions, which we have debated in this House over and over again?

The Minister mentioned the role of British judges in Hong Kong. A decision to withdraw British judges would be hugely significant; it would suggest that the UK cannot continue to grant legitimacy to what is in essence no longer considered an autonomous system. I hope the Minister can see why such a step would make sense only in that context; otherwise, we risk doing further harm to the people of Hong Kong by removing an important safeguard in an independent judicial system. That is why we must hear today a clear view from the Government, and a strategy to match. Otherwise, the measures that the Government have taken so far on British national overseas passport holders, and the contemplation of the removal of British judges, coupled with an incredibly weak stance on the role of British businesses in the region, will be seen by Beijing not as a firm stance but as a retreat, which will send a message to the Chinese Government that they can continue on that path. That would be an utter failure of our obligations to the people of Hong Kong. We need to hear a clear view and a clear strategy from the Government today.

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. She mentioned Jimmy Lai; we are of course deeply concerned about the Hong Kong authorities’ apparent focus on pursuing legal cases against well-known pro-democracy figures like Jimmy Lai. It is crucial that the new national security law is not misused to silence critics or to stifle opposition. The freedom of the press is explicitly guaranteed in the Sino-British joint declaration and the Basic Law and is supposedly protected under article 4 of the national security law. There are indeed deeply worrying ongoing arrests of students, which are being used as a pretext to silence opposition. We always raise our concerns directly with Hong Kong and with the Chinese authorities; we urge them to uphold their international obligations.

The hon. Lady mentioned the incoming Biden Administration; the Foreign Secretary will of course be having conversations with his counterpart, and our ambassador in Washington is already engaged in conversations to set that up.

The hon. Lady also mentioned the role that British judges have played in supporting the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary for many years; we very much hope that that continues, although the national security law poses real questions for the rule of law in Hong Kong and the protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms promised in the joint declaration. As the Foreign Secretary discussed with the Foreign Affairs Committee on 6 October, appointments to the Hong Kong court are made independently, and we need to be mindful of that.

I, too, have concerns about HSBC and, indeed, Standard Chartered, both of which signed a petition supporting the draconian, authoritarian laws that have been introduced in Hong Kong.

On a wider note, I commend the Government on taking an ever-more robust stance on China. Its conduct over covid-19, with Beijing having tried to suppress the news of the outbreak; the militarisation of the South China sea; its debt-trap diplomacy through its one belt, one road, initiative; and now, of course, its actions in Hong Kong—all indicate how China is pursuing a competing geopolitical agenda. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the forthcoming integrated review will address the growing long-term threat that China poses, and will he say how we can work with our allies, not least the United States?

Absolutely. I thank my right hon. Friend for the leadership he has shown in this policy area. We can demonstrate that we are taking both practical and diplomatic actions with regard to China. I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks about the more robust approach we are taking. I can confirm that the integrated review will very much reflect the broader strategy globally—the Indo-Pacific tilt, as it has been termed.

First, may I thank the Minister and his officials for meeting me regarding the plight of young Hongkongers who are not BNO passport holders? Many of those young people have bravely demonstrated, and fear for their and their families’ futures. In answer to such questions in this House and elsewhere, the Minister has mentioned the youth mobility scheme. As he will be aware, there are only up to 800 places on that scheme, which is open for 48 hours in February, and they will be chosen by lottery—at random—by UK Visas and Immigration. Does he agree that leaving such matters to chance is not desirable? Will he work with me and others to implement a better scheme, ideally extending BNO passport status to all Hongkongers, regardless of age?

I thank the hon. Lady for visiting the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office last week to discuss this issue. That offer has been made available to other parties and is very much available to the hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith). I would have been meeting the Opposition spokesman on Asia this afternoon had it not been for this urgent question, but I am sure we will be able to get that re-diarised.

We have made a very compassionate and generous offer in terms of BNOs, which has been broadly welcomed. The existing youth mobility scheme is open to people in Hong Kong aged between 18 and 30. There are currently 1,000 places available each year. Dependants of relevant BNO passport holders are allowed to come here, and youngsters aged between 18 and 30 will be eligible to apply for those 1,000 places. Individuals from Hong Kong will also be able to apply to come to the UK under the terms of the UK’s new points-based system.

First, does the Minister at least recognise that it is probably only a matter of time before we pull UK judges from Hong Kong courts? Secondly, will he at least condemn the actions of HSBC? Frankly, its directors should hang their heads in shame. HSBC is freezing the accounts of Hong Kong citizens fearing oppression, and this afternoon, it has started freezing the accounts of churches in Hong Kong. Thirdly, he said that the new national security law should not be used to oppress people. Maybe I misheard him, but is it not patently obvious that that is what it is now being used for?

There were quite a few questions there. Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to apply for a Westminster Hall debate or some such; given his expertise in this area, that is probably not a bad idea. As I said, British judges have played an important role in supporting the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary for many years, and we want that to continue. If there were no independent judiciary in Hong Kong, that would naturally play into China’s hands.

May I remind the Minister that we in this House have a sacred duty? I was a member of one of the many all-party delegations that went to Hong Kong to persuade residents that they should trust China to keep its obligations on one nation, two systems. We have that obligation. The fact is that this quelling of democracy in Hong Kong is only the beginning. President Xi is an enemy of democracy worldwide who believes in world power and global economic and political domination. He has to be stopped in Hong Kong, because if not, he will not be stopped elsewhere in the world.

I hear exactly what the hon. Gentleman says. I am not entirely sure what the question was, but the UK Government are fulfilling our moral and political obligation to ensure that China respects its obligations under the joint declaration. I urge him to look at the action that we have taken on the new immigration path for BNOs. We consistently raise our concerns, such as the ones mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, with the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities; the permanent under-secretary at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office did so with the Chinese ambassador on 30 November.

It is very clear that nothing that has been said in this place, by this Government or by any Government in the international community about the crisis in Hong Kong has had any effect whatever on the actions or intentions of the Chinese Government. Piece by piece, we are seeing the stripping away of the freedoms and liberties of the people of Hong Kong. Does the Minister recognise that there is a moment here when the international community needs to do more? It is not about turning up the rhetoric and getting more bellicose in our statements. It is about practical action that shows the Chinese Government that we are serious, and makes them feel some of the pain that the people of Hong Kong are feeling right now.

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. In terms of international action, that is exactly why we and 38 other countries at the UN General Assembly in New York joined in our statement, which expressed deep concern at the situation in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang. The United Kingdom will continue to bring together international partners to stand up for the people of Hong Kong. It is absolutely imperative that we speak up and call out the violation of their freedoms, and that we hold China to account for its international obligations.

This House watches with sadness any reduction of the freedom of expression—guaranteed under the joint declaration—in Hong Kong, although, as the Minister confirmed, these sentences were not under the new security law. Does my hon. Friend agree that Hong Kong’s importance as a centre of international business hinges on its independent rule of common law, in which UK and other Commonwealth judges play a key role; that, without that, the system of one country, two systems, which Deng Xiaoping and Margaret Thatcher pledged would endure for 50 years, would be sadly weakened; and that we should not lightly make things worse for the people of Hong Kong?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this point. I agree that the assault on Hong Kong’s autonomy, rights and freedoms tarnishes China’s international reputation. The prosperity of Hong Kong and its way of life relies on respect for those fundamental freedoms, an independent judiciary and the rule of law. We have been vocal and practical in standing up for the people of Hong Kong, and will continue to do so.

China’s human rights track record is extremely distressing. From the gross human rights violations against the Uyghurs to the senseless arrest of peaceful protesters in Hong Kong, is it not high time that the Government followed in the footsteps of Canada and the USA and applied Magnitsky sanctions as a matter of urgency against perpetrators of human rights abuses in mainland China and Hong Kong? Just today, eight students were arrested for protesting peacefully on a university campus. What reassurance can the Minister provide that the Government will be doing everything they can to prevent further arrests of young activists in Hong Kong?

The hon. Gentleman is right. We are deeply concerned about the situation this morning with the students in Hong Kong. The FCDO was carefully considering further designations under our global human rights regime, which we introduced in July. We will gather and keep under close review all the evidence and the potential listings.

Many of my constituents in Redcar and Cleveland have contacted me in support of the people of Hong Kong. In this country we have historic ties and responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong, so can my hon. Friend assure me that we will never look the other way while China undermines the joint declaration it agreed to?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We made a historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong to protect their autonomy, rights and freedoms. We have highlighted China’s breaches of the joint declaration three times since 1997, the first being in 2016, the second in June of this year when China introduced the national security law, and the third, most recently, in November, with the imposition of rules to disqualify legislators in Hong Kong. We will continue to hold China to the obligations it freely assumed under international law.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) for gaining this urgent question.

HSBC stands accused, yet again, of colluding in the implementation of the national security law in Hong Kong. Do the Minister and their Government agree with this point, and if so, what are they going to do about it?

As I said, the Foreign Secretary has made it very clear that businesses will make their own legitimate calls. We do not comment on issues relating to individual companies. However, the world will see that these companies will be making their own calls in this regard. We have made a historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong to protect their autonomy and freedom—and it is worth pointing out, yet again, that so has China.

The people of Hong Kong were supposed to be protected by the Sino-British joint declaration, which consists of eight tenets, including a specific commitment to rights and freedoms such as those of the person, free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly and association. This declaration was subsequently registered with the UN as a legally binding international treaty that remains in force today. The Minister said that the issue of China’s abuse has been raised three times at the UN. Is it not now time to build a consensus among the 38 nations to ensure that sanctions are imposed on China that have a dramatic effect on the country and make it take notice? The only way for Hong Kong to survive is for the one country, two systems framework to succeed.

We are building, and have built, that international coalition with 38 other countries, and that is why the statement has been made at the UN. My hon. Friend refers to sanctions. I know that right hon. and hon. Members here today are very keen to know which sanctions this Government are considering under our regulations, but I am afraid that I am going to have to repeat that it is not appropriate to speculate. [Interruption.] I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for almost repeating my line. But this is an absolutely serious point: whoever is designated under the sanctions regime, it is not right to speculate on it, as to do so would reduce the impact of these designations. [Interruption.]

Order. Not too many conversations across the Chamber, please. We need to move on fairly promptly to the next piece of business, because a lot of speakers wish to contribute to that, so before we go to Sarah Champion, I make a brief plea for concise questions and answers.

Pro-democracy campaigner and owner of Apple Daily newspaper, Jimmy Lai, is a British citizen, so can the Minister confirm that he is receiving consular assistance? Does he believe that denying a 73-year-old man bail is proportionate or fair for allegedly breaking the terms of a lease? What conversations is he having with Carrie Lam about the use of the law in this manner?

We regularly raise our concerns directly with the Hong Kong authorities in this regard. We are very concerned about the arrest of Jimmy Lai and others. Normally, we do not provide consular assistance to dual nationals in the country of their other nationality. China does not recognise dual nationality. It is therefore impossible to be granted permission to provide consular assistance.

Joshua Wong has been imprisoned for over a year for participating in an unauthorised protest. Under the Government’s current immigration rules, that would bar him from being able to claim asylum. Will the Minister commit to following the Canadian Government and ensuring that such charges are not a barrier to vulnerable activists being able to claim asylum in the UK?

The hon. Lady makes a very good point, one I think I answered earlier in response to the hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith), who asked this urgent question. It would seem rather perverse if somebody involved in pro-democracy demonstrations were unable to claim asylum.

China passed domestic law unilaterally to break the joint declaration. Does my hon. Friend agree with me that the unilateral passing of domestic laws can never be an excuse to break international laws and agreements? [Laughter.]

I see what my right hon. Friend did there. All I would say is that we continue to raise our concerns with regard to Hong Kong and the way the joint declaration is effectively being abandoning. We consistently raise our concerns with the Hong Kong authorities, not least by bringing in the Chinese ambassador to be called by the permanent under-secretary.

Will the Minister outline how he is offering support to the peaceful pro-democracy stand against what many claim is Beijing aggression? Does he believe we are fulfilling our moral and political obligation to do our utmost to ensure that China respects its obligations under the Sino-British joint declaration? Respectfully, I believe we can and must do more, and that a reaction to this sentencing will be telling by itself.

Again, the hon. Gentleman is no stranger to championing this cause. I do think we are fulfilling our moral and political obligation to ensure that China respects its obligations under the joint declaration. As he will be aware, this is in line with our new immigration path. We have suspended our extradition treaty with Hong Kong and extended our arms embargo on mainland China to Hong Kong.

In light of the long-standing close relations between this country and Hong Kong, will my hon. Friend assure me that he remains committed to welcoming the holders of British national overseas passports to our shores if China continues these assaults on Hong Kong’s freedom?

Very much so. My hon. Friend is correct. We will continue to welcome people from Hong Kong. In fact, the route will open on 31 January 2021 for BNOs. It is a new immigration route and a major change to the UK immigration system. It will afford all those with BNO status, and their immediate family dependents, the right to live, work or study in the UK, and give them a path to full citizenship.

This is so frustrating. We gather every fortnight and we all say all the same things from all the Back Benches, and the Minister says all the same things from the Front Bench about how he cannot speculate and how it would be terrible to actually do anything. The truth of the matter is that we are allowing the Chinese Government endlessly to ratchet up the repression against the people of Hong Kong. Now, we even have British-based banks co-operating in that. For the avoidance of doubt, can I make it clear to the Minister that I do not want him to speculate about using the Magnitsky sanctions, I want him to use them? Secondly, surely to God the least we can do as a British Government is bring in the chairman and chief executive of HSBC and say, “You must not co-operate with oppression in China.”

The hon. Gentleman will understand that it is important that sanctions are developed responsibly and on the basis of evidence. We are, as I have said numerous times, carefully considering further designations. I will not use the word he refers to. It is not appropriate to second-guess who may be designated in the future, because, as I have said many times, it could reduce the impact of designations.

I am concerned that young Hong Kong demonstrators do not have BNO passports. Can my hon. Friend confirm that they will be eligible to apply for asylum in the UK, and that we will look on those claims favourably?

My hon. Friend is right to raise that. People are entitled to apply for asylum—that is, if they are outside their country and they fear that they could be in danger if they return.

Countries such as Australia and New Zealand, for example, have largely clear and relatively consistent strategies on China. The UK’s position can at best be described as reactive and pretty thin. When can the Minister provide further detail of the actual strategy that the FCDO is adopting to press the Chinese state to grow within the international rules-based order and with respect for human rights?

I thank the hon. Lady for her point, but, as I have said previously in this session, our strategy is demonstrated by our action. We have taken both practical and diplomatic action with regards to Hong Kong; we also take international action and bring together our international partners, including Australia and New Zealand, to whom she refers. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who is not in his place, when the integrated review is published it will very much reflect the broader strategy globally.

The legally binding joint declaration was signed by China as well as the UK and makes clear that Hong Kong will have a high degree of autonomy. Does my hon. Friend agree that China must respect that, and will he assure the House that the UK will redouble its efforts with international partners to ensure that China does not just hear words of condemnation, but feels appropriate acts that demonstrate our disdain for these despicable attacks on democracy?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that. We consistently raise our concerns with the Chinese authorities, and the Hong Kong authorities as well. As I referred to earlier, we have raised our concerns at the UN, where 38 countries joined our statement on 6 October expressing our deep concern about Hong Kong, and we will continue to bring together international partners in that regard to stand up for all Hongkongers.

What support is the UK Foreign Office offering to BNO passport holders who have been arrested by Chinese state authorities, and how are consular officials providing advice to BNO passport holders being held in Chinese prisons?

As I said in a previous answer, China does not recognise dual citizenship. Therefore, gaining access to provide consular assistance to BNOs is nigh-on impossible.

I thank my hon. Friend for all he has said so far today. Does he join me in welcoming the fact that already this year 216,000 BNO passports have been issued to Hong Kong residents, more than in any other year from 1997 to this point?

It is absolutely right that my hon. Friend raises that. From July 2020, BNO citizens and their dependants have been eligible to be granted six months’ leave outside the rules at the border to the UK. From 15 July to 14 October 2020, that number was over 2,115. My understanding is that it is now up towards 3,500, but obviously the data is not necessarily a reliable proxy for the number that may apply for the visa when it opens in January.

My hon. Friend will know that sanctions and other actions are effective only if large groups of countries join in with them, so what steps is he taking to mobilise the broadest and biggest coalition of international support to demonstrate freedom for Hong Kong and ensure that China understands that the actions it is taking are totally unacceptable?

There is no greater sign of international co-operation than when we managed to get 38 other countries to join us for a statement at the UN General Assembly, to express our deep concern about the situation in Hong Kong. We will continue to work on international partnerships in that regard.

Our hearts go out to those who have been imprisoned in pursuit of their human rights, but they deserve more than that. They deserve to be remembered in our trade and in our purchases. Will the Minister support the human rights amendment to the Trade Bill, which is currently in the other place, and will he say how he will prevent companies that facilitate human rights abuses from being integrated into our supply chains?

We have made clear that companies should absolutely do their due diligence in terms of their supply chains. I do not think that the amendment to the Bill in the other place is the correct vehicle for such a provision. That is very much a technical Bill, and without its passing in good order we will not be able to take action on things such as the dumping of Chinese steel. The Bill is not the right vehicle, but other potential vehicles may be suitable.

I am deeply concerned by these sentences, as are the people of South Ribble, who share my concerns about the trend of Hong Kong authorities targeting pro-democracy activists. Will the Minister join me in urging the Hong Kong and Beijing authorities to stop this insidious campaign to stifle political opposition?

My hon. Friend could not be more correct in what she has said, and we are deeply concerned about the ongoing arrests, even as late as today. They are being used as a pretext to silence opposition, which is outrageous, and as I have said, we continue to raise our concerns directly with the authorities in China and Hong Kong. As they will have heard today, we as a Parliament are on the same page, and we are urging China to uphold the rights and freedoms that are protected in the joint declaration to which it is a signatory.

I thank the Minister for answering the urgent question. We will now have a three-minute suspension for the safe exit and entry of right hon. and hon. Members.

Sitting suspended.

Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 2 September.)


Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the Order of 14 September 2020 (United Kingdom Internal Market Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:

(1) Paragraph (8) of the Order shall be omitted.

(2) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 9.00pm at this day’s sitting.—(Maggie Throup.)

Question agreed to.