[Ms Nusrat Ghani in the Chair]
[Relevant document: e-petition 585237, Sanction Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights violations.]
I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice in order to support the new hybrid arrangements. I remind Members participating that they must remain here for the entire debate. I must also remind Members participating virtually that they are visible at all times, both to each other and to us in the Boothroyd Room. If Members are attending virtually and have any technical problems, they should email the Westminster Hall Clerks. The email address is email@example.com.
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I beg to move,
That this House has considered human rights in Hong Kong.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. This is the first Westminster Hall debate that I have initiated. It is a privilege to speak, and I am grateful that this debate has been selected. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will understand it when I say that I wish I was not here. I wish none of us was here today to discuss this matter. This debate was entirely avoidable had international obligations been met.
Let me say at the outset what this debate is not about. It is not about colonialism or interference by a former colonial power. In his final act as Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten telegrammed London to announce,
“I have relinquished the administration of this government.”
The 156 years of British rule over Hong Kong ended on 1 July 1997, and we are not here to debate taking it back.
Hong Kong was handed over to China following an agreement that took the form of an international treaty lodged at the United Nations, which both the United Kingdom and the People’s Republic of China entered into freely. It is right that we consider whether that agreement—the Sino-British joint declaration on the question of Hong Kong—is being upheld and whether it meets our and Hongkongers’ legitimate expectations.
The joint declaration was signed in December 1984. The text sets out the basis on which Hong Kong would be returned to China. It states:
“The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will be vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication. The laws currently in force in Hong Kong will remain basically unchanged.”
It goes on to say:
“The current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, and so will the life-style. Rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief will be ensured by law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.”
I submit to you, Ms Ghani, that all those rights and freedoms have been diminished in modern-day Hong Kong.
Last year, China passed a national security law for Hong Kong that created a number of chilling measures. A new security office with its own personnel has been established by China in Hong Kong, outside local jurisdiction. Some criminal cases can now be tried in mainland China. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive has the power to appoint judges to hear national security cases.
The law includes many broad-brush offences, including
“provoking by unlawful means hatred among Hong Kong residents towards the Central People’s Government or the Government of the Region, which is likely to cause serious consequences.”
Given the extraterritorial nature of the legislation, it might well apply to those of us participating in this debate.
However, this debate is not about history, rules or what might happen to Members of Parliament; it is about people such as Donna Kong, who has lived in Hong Kong her whole life but has decided to take the difficult decision to leave her family behind and move with her husband to Liverpool. She says:
“Nowadays, we have to be careful what we say on the streets.”
Her husband adds:
“Hong Kong is going from a free, international city to just another Chinese city.”
It is about people such as Jimmy Lai, who was jailed in April 2021 for his participation in a peaceful protest in 2019. In reality, it was because he has the temerity to publish a newspaper that criticises the Government. It is about people such as Martin Lee, a barrister and member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong for over 20 years, who is regarded and revered as the father of democracy in Hong Kong. He has been silenced by the national security law. He has stopped his public activism and is no longer granting media interviews. He has also been sentenced for participating in an unlawful assembly, although his sentence was suspended.
The crackdown on human rights in Hong Kong has been all pervasive, and I will give some examples. The legislature has passed an immigration Bill to restrict freedom of movement in and out of Hong Kong. The police chief has floated the idea of a law to target so-called fake news, and he has called for the closure of Jimmy Lai’s Apple Daily, the last pro-democracy publication. Police have censored a website belonging to a Taiwanese church. The Government have attacked the Hong Kong Bar Association and fired 129 civil servants for refusing to sign an oath of allegiance. The local broadcaster, RTHK, has purged its online platform of any shows over a year old but given Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, her own television show, which is shown four times every day. So-called national security education is to be embedded across the curriculum in all secondary schools.
The examples I have given are from April 2021 alone—just one month in the life of Hongkongers—so I welcome the steps taken by the Government in response to China’s actions. The Government have suspended the UK’s extradition treaty with Hong Kong, and extended to Hong Kong the embargo on certain military items already imposed on mainland China. I particularly welcome the new visa route to people from Hong Kong who have British national overseas status and their close family members. It is a generous offer that befits a global Britain that takes this issue seriously, and I am pleased that the Home Office has announced that it has received 34,000 applications for visas in the first two months of operation.
The Government recognise that there is an ongoing breach of Chinese obligations, and I ask whether further measures might be taken. Is there scope to work with allies and partners to ensure a co-ordinated approach? I read recently that Germany will not accept BNO passports as identity documents, and it is important that democracies take a common line on such matters. We continue to have British judges sitting on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal—a position that perhaps looks increasingly untenable as the current situation continues. As we are able to identify officials in Hong Kong who are guilty of human rights breaches, I ask whether it is time to consider targeted sanctions against them, or at least to assess their effectiveness. Previously, the Minister has kindly indicated that he would be willing to meet me and fellow members of the all-party parliamentary group on Hong Kong to discuss this subject, and I am very willing to take him up on that offer.
There is no dispute resolution clause in the Sino-British joint declaration, but it is a living document, and the United Kingdom is party to it. This country has a duty to protect the rights and freedoms of Hongkongers. Until such time as those freedoms are restored, I expect that the voices from this island will only get louder. I look forward to hearing some of those voices this afternoon.
What we are seeing in Hong Kong is a two-pronged assault on truth. First, China attacks the source of truth—reporting—by threatening and expelling journalists who expose the extent of China’s authoritarian behaviour. Secondly, China creates an Orwellian alternative narrative in which those who tell the truth are the liars, and those who commit violent acts of repression are the liberators.
China’s leaders hate journalism. At the end of March, the BBC’s China correspondent was driven out of Hong Kong. Plain-clothes goons followed him and his family to the airport. This was not an isolated case. Most independent foreign correspondents have now been expelled, as Beijing proceeds to eliminate the last vestiges of Hong Kong’s freedom. With this in mind, it is hardly surprising to see China being ranked by the World Press Freedom Index as one of the worst countries in the world for media freedoms; it is ranked a dismal 177th.
Once upon a time, some thought that Hong Kong could be a beacon for China, spreading its values to the mainland. Instead, the opposite has happened. Under its current leader, China has become ever more controlling and hostile to the truth. Hong Kong is merely the latest victim of a malign system that has trampled on press freedoms, democracy, cultural and religious minorities, and once independent nations, as the downtrodden and oppressed people of Tibet, the Uyghurs and many others can testify.
Journalistic censorship is paired with other despotic trademarks, disinformation being the foremost. In the digital world in which we live, it is not enough for the Chinese leadership to stem information coming from legitimate news outlets; information from normal citizens must also be quashed. China employs what is sometimes called the 50 cent army, so-called because of their meagre daily pay. Thought to number millions, these Communist party drones track online activity and work to sway public opinion with disinformation both inside China and outwith. Bots counter unfavourable reports and conversations about the Chinese regime.
It is a tactic deployed by the Kremlin, too, and it is spreading across the globe. During the recent onslaught against Gaza by the Israelis, there were mounting reports of another onslaught—the mass reporting by pro-Israeli groups of Palestinian posts from Gaza. This is a new world in which social media is weaponised by the powerful.
What can we do when faced with this bleak descent into untruth? We must champion journalism; we must speak up when we are told that there are “alternative facts”; we must steel the resolve of social media companies when they crumble under the weight of totalitarian pressure and their own avarice; we must speak the names of those who are bullied, arrested and imprisoned; we must honour the memory of those brave young people crushed by the Chinese regime in Tiananmen Square; we must assert the rights of the Uyghurs, and call out their detention and torture; we must champion the right of Tibet to self-determination; and we must never accept Hong Kong’s slide into the grim and oppressive reality faced by so many in mainland China, because we promised its people better.
Ms Ghani, it is a pleasure, as ever, to serve under your stewardship.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) for securing this debate, on what is indeed the issue of the moment. It has not gone away; it will not go away. The debate is timely, because the G7 starts its meeting tomorrow and, frankly, if its major conclusion is not that China has become the greatest threat to liberal democracy here and around the world, it will have failed. It is as simple as that.
Today, we are talking about Hong Kong, but we could just as easily be talking about the suppression—nay, the genocide—of the Uyghurs; or about the suppression—nay, the genocide—of Tibetans; or about the increasing pressure on the Inner Mongolians, the Falun Gong or Christians. This is a regime that is intolerant, dictatorial and brutal. It accepts no difference from its dictated opinions and views, and any attempt to question it is treated with brutality and incarceration, without any possibility of a free or serious trial.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling is quite right to have made the point that this regime has now trashed a particular international agreement. It has broken what it agreed to do regarding the rights, privileges and freedoms in Hong Kong under the “one state, two systems” model. I suspect that the real reason for that is that the Chinese Communist party signed the original Sino-British agreement only because it believed that it would act as a magnet for the reintroduction of Taiwan completely under the umbrella of its state authority. The problem is that the elected Government in Taiwan rejects that future. On that basis, China can see no reason why it should continue with this troublesome area in Hong Kong, where people have been campaigning —we would say legitimately and freely—for the right to express their views, for a free press, and for democracy. For the Chinese Government, that is no longer necessary. The suppression that has followed has been swift, but in a way somewhat predictable; without the reason for Hong Kong to exist in this separate state, it must now be crushed.
It is quite interesting to see what they have done in the past month. They have fired civil servants and the rest of the leaders of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement; introduced national security education for children as young as six; amended Hong Kong’s electoral system to bar pro-democracy parties from running; and passed an immigration law that would allow officials to restrict freedom of movement into and out of the city. Arrests, prosecutions and jail sentences have been happening behind closed doors.
I question why British judges are still earning a living in Hong Kong. I believe it is no longer possible for them to argue that they are modifying or ameliorating the situation. All they are doing is giving, in a sense, a bit of succour to a brutal, intolerant and debased regime. The Bar Council here should speak to those who are earning a living in Hong Kong and say, “It is time to draw stumps and come home.” I call on them to do that.
The arrests and prosecutions are staggering: 10,000 people have been arrested and 2,300 charged since the anti-extradition protests started in 2019. Imprisonment for 10 years to life is now the norm, and subversion, secession, collusion with foreign political forces and terrorism are the new laws. They could have just put down terrorism because they are going to find them guilty anyway, so they might as well make it simple; I don’t know why they bothered with the others. However, they have gone through this prolonged process—no doubt they think it somehow persuades people.
I am worried about the way this is going. Children as young as six are being taught to memorise the four crimes under the national security law that I have just mentioned. Schools are to inform police and parents about incidents involving political propaganda, and Hong Kong universities have now fired pro-democracy academics and cut ties with their student unions, following direction from Beijing.
The real question is: what can we do? We have already done a lot, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling has mentioned. The BNO passports are key, although the Chinese are threatening not to recognise them, nor to allow people to leave the country on those BNO passports. I am saddened, but not astonished, by Germany’s response. I do not know if the German Government will one day wake up to the idea that no matter how much they appease the Chinese, it never works. The idea that they depend on Chinese manufacturers for their own requirements and therefore do not want to upset the Government is one of the grave errors taught to us by history. Once started down that road, such a dependency leads further and further, so I hope they will review that.
I want more Magnitsky sanctions on Hong Kong and Chinese officials, and I would extend those further to those involved in the dreadful Uyghur massacres. We must also offer assistance to Hong Kong residents born after 1997. The BNO visa scheme currently does not cover Hongkongers born after 1997, including many young Hong Kong students who are now vulnerable to arrest. I say to my hon. Friend from the Foreign Office, the Minister for Asia, that we should work with like-minded partners to ensure that there are lifeboat schemes for these young Hongkongers.
Ministers should ensure that Hong Kong is on the agenda at the G7—I started with that point and it is vital, so I want to come back to it at the end. I want the Government to review the rules around UK investment in companies that are complicit in human rights abuse and to be much more explicit about the supply chains, so that every single business or investor in the UK or abroad knows what the links are to the main companies all the way down the chain. That has not happened and it must happen.
I believe that this is the single biggest threat facing liberal democracy that currently exists. We are being complacent. We have run to China to do business and, across the western world, we have therefore turned a blind eye to the abuses taking place for too long. The lessons of the 1930s tell us that if we assume that what Governments say is not what they mean, then we are destined to be trapped in the reality of what they do. That is where we are now.
At the G7, which starts tomorrow, I would like my Government to insist that by the end of the meeting we make a clear, unequivocal, united statement that we will no longer put up with the abuses and the nature of the Chinese Government in their attacks on their neighbours and on their own people who live in China. If we do that, then just maybe we will have started the beginning of the change that will secure and rescue our own democracy and our own people’s freedom.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. I congratulate the hon. Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) on bringing this important and vital matter before the House. It is always an honour to speak after the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), who made an excellent speech. If ever, as a country and as a people, we should be thankful for our freedom to worship and to think openly—our freedoms generally—it must be today when we consider the weight of the matter before us.
I speak as a member of the all-party parliamentary group on Hong Kong. I will focus my comments specifically on article 38 of the Hong Kong national security law. If we look at that law and its full effect, it makes this meeting of Parliament and every single one of us here today, as well as those who are watching the proceedings, guilty of breaching that national security law.
Under article 38, the global extraterritorial jurisdiction remit, those measures mean that each of us could stand accused of collusion, sedition, terrorism and subversion against China with a foreign country. Just think of that: China has reached into this country and effectively passed a law that says that what we dare to talk about today is unlawful and that we could be held accountable for it if we went over to Hong Kong or China. Anyone who has lobbied us about this matter would also be guilty under that law.
Even friends of Beijing—there may be some MPs who are attending this debate or watching it who are openly or secretly friends of Beijing—are vulnerable because they have spoken about, participated in or associated themselves with the seditious practice that article 38 of the national security law brings about. As an officer of the APPG on Hong Kong, I certainly would not expect to go to Hong Kong anytime soon; neither should any hon. Member attending the debate.
This is a human rights issue that not only affects Hongkongers but affects anyone who dares to speak out or address some of the seditious issues that are ongoing. It is a breach of freedom, including freedom of religion. As we heard from the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson), it is a breach of freedom of expression by journalists. It is a clampdown on the right to worship, whether people are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish or Hindu, or practise any other religion. That freedom of worship is now officially to be oppressed.
It saddens me that I cannot mention in public, or in public prayer or in any of my speeches, my friends in the various mission groups that I have worked with in the past in Hong Kong. Hongkongers who wish to profess the name of their saviour can only do so under fear.
As parliamentarians, we have a duty to speak out. I agree with the hon. Member for Gedling that under the G7 our Government have signed up to article 18 of the universal declaration of human rights. That is a right to the freedom of religious belief and expression and a freedom to worship.
If my Hong Kong friend and pastor, whom I know very well but whom I will not name because that would be unfair because of the effect it could have on his family, were to come here and preach in one of our local churches in Northern Ireland, or even in his own church in Hong Kong, he would do so under the fear of breaking this national security law. That law can be interpreted only by Beijing. This is persecution and torture, and it is via the long arm of the state.
The bamboo curtain on freedom and toleration is falling, and fast. Our nation must speak out about the freedom of religions, journalists and businesses to practise in the way they wish without being tortured or in fear of being tortured in future.
The UK potentially faces a tsunami of millions of Hongkongers coming to Europe. I welcome the decision to grant the Hong Kong British national overseas visa, I must say; I think I cheered out loud when I heard that the Government had shown the courage to do that. However, this potentially puts massive pressure on the UK Government, and it is a pressure that we must be prepared for. The UK has a duty to place each part of this country into a state of preparedness, so that we have sufficient school places, housing locations, jobs and opportunities for these people, who will have a right to be here and whom we should welcome with open arms, because we should be a place of refuge for the persecuted. We need a plan, and we need it now. I hope that the Foreign Office and Home Office will bring that home soon.
Finally, I respectfully ask, urge and implore China to respect that Hong Kong is different from mainland China. I urge our new consul to make a strong case for the Hongkongers. I call for the release of the peaceful protesters who are already in jail and face persecution. I call on the Government in China to fulfil the Sino-British joint declaration on freedom and the rule of law. I challenge HSBC, as others no doubt will in the debate, not to do the dirty work of Beijing, clamping down on people for making a living and having their rights. I will leave those thoughts with hon. Members. I hope the debate goes some way in expressing the anger and contempt for what has happened to these dear people in Hong Kong.
May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani? I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) for securing this important and timely debate on Hong Kong and add my voice in support of the arguments he made so powerfully this afternoon.
Last Friday marked the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, when the Chinese Communist party brutally repressed pro-democracy protests in 1989, killing thousands and causing panic among Hongkongers, many of whom were refugees from Chairman Mao’s purges and feared authoritarian communist rule. That was five years after Margaret Thatcher had signed the Sino-British joint declaration with Deng Xiaoping, agreeing to hand over Hong Kong to China in 1987. In 1982, Deng told Mrs Thatcher that he could
“walk in and take the whole lot this afternoon”
if he wanted to, to which she replied, if he did,
“the eyes of the world would now know what China is like.”
Well, the Tiananmen Square massacre showed the world what China was really like, and its disregard for the rights of its own citizens.
The Sino-British joint declaration was supposed to guarantee Hong Kong’s freedom, the rule of law and a way of life unchanged for a period of 50 years. It was a legally binding treaty, lodged at the United Nations, underpinning Hong Kong’s mini- constitution and provided the Basic Law with freedom of expression, a free press and an independent judiciary, and the right of Hongkongers to participate in free elections. However, the national security law introduced by Beijing is nothing less than an all-out assault on the autonomy of Hong Kong and its freedoms and a complete violation of that treaty. The pace of the decline of one of the most open and international cities in Asia is shocking and should alarm each and every one of us.
As the co-signatory of the joint declaration and the guarantor of Hong Kong’s autonomy, Her Majesty’s Government must take more determined action. First, there must be a punitive cost for the Hong Kong and Chinese officials who are guilty of dismantling the city’s autonomy and are engaged in cracking down on the pro-democracy movement. All individuals involved in the destruction of democracy in Hong Kong should be subject to co-ordinated Magnitsky sanctions, with the Government working in tandem with our allies.
Secondly, we must do more to support those brave young protesters, many of whom face the prospect of arrest under the draconian law but do not qualify for the Government’s BNO visa scheme. We should make an exception for those born after 1997 who cannot come over as dependants. Thirdly, the Government must stand up for the pro-democracy activists in jail who have British citizenship. The British Government have a duty and responsibility to defend British citizens from Chinese Government oppression. Finally, the Government should not allow the United Kingdom’s chairmanship of this week’s G7 summit to go to waste. Hong Kong must be on the agenda, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) made clear. It is both the right time and the right forum to press for co-ordinated action from the world’s leading democracies. That should include the creation of a UN special rapporteur for Hong Kong.
The crisis in Hong Kong represents a substantial challenge to the idea of global Britain. The people of Hong Kong look to the United Kingdom, as a once-proud Crown colony, to lead the international response. Her Majesty’s Government simply cannot let them down.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Ghani. The UK Government have abandoned the people of Hong Kong, who once shared much of their national identity with ours. That is shameful. Over the past year we have had countless debates on the atrocious actions of the Chinese regime, but its human rights abuses continue, and we cannot condone that. Magnitsky sanctions have rightly been placed on Chinese Communist party officials responsible for the horrors of the Uyghur genocide, but there is no such action for their counterparts in Hong Kong.
We must not stand by as Beijing violates the independence of Hong Kong, imposing the oppressive national security law, manipulating the electoral system so that pro-democracy politicians cannot stand, expelling judges and ruthlessly arresting and abusing people who wish to challenge them. After years of the Chinese Government stripping Hong Kong of its basic access to freedom and democracy, we must show Hongkongers that we will not leave them high and dry. A year ago, Hong Kong Watch launched its international lifeboat scheme, and called for the UK to join international partners to provide refuge for those fleeing Hong Kong.
Extending the BNO visa to those wishing to leave Hong Kong was most welcome. Recent figures show that that has been taken up by nearly 35,000 people. However, it does not go far enough. We must make provision for young people from Hong Kong born after 1997, who are just as entitled to UK support and protection as their parents, and for the protesters who have bravely risked safety to challenge Beijing’s authoritarian takeover and now face serious criminal charges. We cannot just pull up the drawbridge.
Growing up in Hong Kong is dangerous not only for those activists; children as young as six years old—my child’s age—are being taught the national security doctrine in school. There are restrictions on what students can learn and discuss in universities; they are growing up with more and more limited access to neutral news sources. I ask the Minister, what will Britain do to fulfil our obligations to those children and young people? Will he join me in saying that we must not just stand with Hong Kong but stand up for Hong Kong? That means action. What action will the Government take?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) for securing such an important debate.
Today marks two years since the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, which were attended by hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds. That mighty display of people power symbolised an unwavering belief in civic values, hope and optimism for change, and a refusal to be cowed by the Communist party in Beijing. Two years on, however, every single person in the free world has a duty to feel horrified about the events taking place in Hong Kong, a supposedly free society.
Beijing detests dissent of any description, and in the past few years, it has tightened its stranglehold over free Hong Kong. The final straw was the huge protests against the extradition Bill. Almost immediately, Beijing imposed a security law straight out of the mainland Chinese playbook. What is most disturbing is that that repression was not discreet and creeping as one might have expected; instead, the Chinese are so brazen that they have turned Hong Kong into Shanghai overnight, banning vigils, destroying controversial books and libraries, and making mass arrests. It has sent a chill through society in Hong Kong. The grotesque policing of attempts to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre are testament to that. If that overnight transformation of society can happen in Hong Kong, it can happen anywhere.
There is no doubt in my mind that Britain is solely responsible for Hong Kong’s fate. We have a singular and enduring responsibility toward the people of Hong Kong as a former ruling power and the guarantor of the freedoms secured in the Sino-British joint declaration. Regrettably, we have not covered ourselves in glory in that role. There are no other examples of a leading democracy handing over a free society to an authoritarian regime that clearly could not be trusted. We failed again in the 1990s, when we made a grave and unforgivable mistake by granting Hongkongers a bespoke class of British citizenship in the run-up to the handover, abdicating our responsibilities. We have not done nearly enough to challenge China and make it pay for its actions.
Hundreds of thousands of British nationals have been left to their fate, and Asia’s brightest light is going out, with many fearing that Hong Kong will become just another Chinese city. We cannot stand by and watch. This is not only an attack on the people of Hong Kong, but a direct Chinese insult to the UK as a signatory of the joint declaration. In many ways, we have failed Hong Kong, and that failure occurred the moment we trusted China’s empty promises. That failure is evidenced by Hongkongers’ wholesale rejection of the PRC and everything it stands for, and their continued association with Britain. Hongkongers of course have their own proud sense of identity, but they also look to us as a guarantor of their freedoms and as a beacon of democracy.
I welcome the fact that this Government have somewhat corrected that previous folly by providing a pathway to full citizenship for British nationals overseas—that is commendable. I greatly look forward to welcoming Hongkongers to Britain, where they will make a hugely positive contribution to our society, but we could and must do so much more on all fronts.
What can be done? First, we must review British involvement, and the involvement of British nationals, in the Hong Kong police and judiciary, as we must not be complicit in Chinese oppression. Secondly, we must support Hongkongers who do not qualify for the BNO scheme. One of the few things that Portugal did right in Macau was to guarantee full Portuguese citizenship to all Macanese people. We have implemented that for our overseas territories, so we must look at it again for Hong Kong. Thirdly, we must marshal a strong and co-ordinated international response against China to make the Chinese think again. They must realise that this conduct is not acceptable anywhere, whether in the south China sea, Tibet, Xinjiang, the Indian borders or Taiwan.
Fourthly, and most importantly, we must never trust China again. The one country, two-systems model has been proven to be lie, and we must not be swayed by short-term financial dividends when dealing with China, as we know that by doing so, we will pay dearly in the long term. Lastly, young Hongkongers are the future of the city. We must do everything in our power to support them in their resistance, both here and in Hong Kong. I am certain that if we put those policies into action, freedom will once again reign from Gloucester Road to Victoria Peak, from Stanley to Aberdeen, from the Admiralty to Lamma Island, and from Kowloon to Queensway.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Ghani. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) on securing this debate. One of the things that he was quite right to say in his introduction was that this should not be about the history of our relationship with Hong Kong, and it is certainly not about recreating some sort of imperial past.
I think our own recent history with regard to the territory is worth reflecting on. The position in which we find ourselves today has not happened overnight; it is the product of three decades—possibly more—of British foreign policy and our determination to put commercial interests over human rights. I co-chair the all-party parliamentary group on Hong Kong with Baroness Bennett, and I am also a patron of Hong Kong Watch. We have seen a repeated pattern of people telling us, when we speak about human rights, “Maybe just wind your neck in. There is another deal coming. There is a delegation going. There is going to be a visit or a conference.”
In the years since we completed and entered into the joint declaration, we have essentially sent all the wrong signals, and that has brought us to where we are today. I am genuinely delighted that the Government have taken the action they have on BNO passport holders. How much better and stronger might our position be if we had done that at the point of handover in 1997? That was surely the point at which we could have sent a signal that we intended to stand with the people of Hong Kong. Our failure at that time was seen by the Chinese Government as an indication that we perhaps did not mean the things we said in the joint declaration.
That is ironic, when one considers that we entered into the joint declaration because of our experience in relation to the Falkland Islands. That was another instance where we had sent the wrong signals to a despotic regime, which then thought it could take advantage of that. We tried to avoid the same thing happening again by entering into the joint declaration, but we do not seem to have learned the lessons.
There are a couple of issues I want to touch on briefly. The first relates to the position of the BBC in Hong Kong and China. Its relationship with Radio Television Hong Kong as its local partner is becoming increasingly problematic. On 1 March this year, the new head of RTHK, a career civil servant, Patrick Li, took charge. He pledged editorial independence, but he said that there cannot be “freedom without restraint”. George Orwell would have been proud of that one. With the World News TV channel taken off air in China, and the blocking of news channels and internet provision for years, we have to look at what more we can do to support the World Service, which is still the blue chip standard in broadcasting around the world.
Secondly, I would like to hear more from Government about what we are saying to financial institutions, such as HSBC and Standard Chartered, that have come out in support of the national security law. That we allow them to continue to operate as normal in this country seems to contradict what we say of our intentions towards Hong Kong. It has been reported that there have been no fewer than 16 private meetings between the Treasury and those two banks in the six months from July to December 2020. What was said at those meetings, and why are we still engaging on a business-as-usual basis?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) for securing his first Westminster Hall debate on such an important issue.
I have just visited a school in my constituency, Oasis Academy South Bank, just over the river on Westminster Bridge Road. Students, ranging from year 7 to year 13, spoke to me about issues across the world and why it is so important for us in the UK to call out human rights abuse. We cannot, as a country, say that we stand in support of democracy if we do not call out the injustices that are happening right across the world.
Many of my constituents have written to me because they are concerned about what is happening in Hong Kong. There is no doubt that what is occurring is a severe breach of human rights. In 2017, activists Alex Chow, Nathan Law and Joshua Wong were given draconian prison sentences for taking part in democracy protests. The protest movement has been driven by disfranchised young people who just want representation, like our young people in this country do. A year ago this month, the Chinese Government introduced the national security law in Hong Kong, which gives Beijing the power to interpret laws in Hong Kong independently of any judicial or local policy body. Since then, the law has been used to crack down on pro-democracy activists and politicians. That is not right and cannot be happening in 2021.
In January, 55 leading pro-democracy figures were arrested for simply exercising their legitimate democratic rights. On 30 March, the election laws were changed to vet those running in the elections according to their patriotism. Taken together, those incidents suggest a really worrying trend in the rapid and dangerous erosion of human rights for Hong Kong nationals. There is no sign of that stopping, which means that the current sanctions are insufficient to deter China from its chosen path of action.
As a signatory to the joint declaration, the UK is in a unique position to guarantee a high degree of autonomy in Hong Kong until at least 2047. As a country we must therefore redouble our efforts to protect the people and the sovereignty of Hong Kong. When he responds, will the Minister outline what further steps the Government are taking to protect the basic human rights that we are all guaranteed, and will the Government impose sanctions on the Chinese officials who are responsible for the crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners?
It is always difficult and frustrating to identify what effective role we MPs can play when there is abuse of human rights across the world. My view is that we can at least bear witness to what is happening and then mobilise for action, whether it is in Gaza, Yemen or Hong Kong. At least we can call it out. In the few minutes I have, I want to bear witness to what is happening to my trade union colleagues—they have become friends during campaigns over the years—who are part of the Hong Kong 47 trial.
I have worked with Lee Cheuk Yan, the general secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions. Carol Ng was the chair of the trade union confederation until her imprisonment in February. I worked with Carol in the British Airways dispute, when she was a Unite rep. Winnie Yu is chair of the health workers’ union—one of the new unions formed in late 2019—which had a five-day strike in January 2019 against the Hong Kong Administration’s early covid complacency. They are all up before the courts and in prison. What worries me is that at the hearing on Monday 31 May, the Department of Justice declared its wish to move the trial from the district court to the high court. That implies that the sentences for the Hong Kong 47, which includes my friends, will exceed the limit of seven years that the district court is limited to. The maximum sentence could be up to life imprisonment.
At Monday’s hearing, my friends’ defence attorney asked for clarification that the trial would be conducted in an open court with a jury, and the prosecutors refused to give that assurance, so there is a real possibility that the judges will be able to convict without press or public scrutiny. The next hearing is on 8 July, at which it will be decided whether the trial will be public and whether there will be a jury. It is critical that we maximise pressure through our own Government, and through civil society here and internationally, and seek at least the openness of that trial.
Lee Cheuk Yan is still bravely agitating from jail. His sentences for illegal unauthorised assembly are piling up. So far he has accumulated 20 months, but there are more trials to follow. As with all trade unionists engaged in international dialogue, the regime might at some stage deem his work there a coalition with foreign powers and in breach of the national security law. That is my fear. Another prominent target of the regime is Leung Kwok-hung, widely known as “Long Hair”. He is an avowed left-wing socialist in the League of Social Democrats and so far has accumulated at least 24 months—and it just goes on.
I have listened to the other speeches, and of course I support the calls for Magnitsky sanctions and the accommodation of younger BNO passport holders born after 1997. I also agree with those who have pointed out the role that British companies are playing, and we have to address this matter. They lobbied the Prime Minister to try to get him to tone down the Government’s criticisms. Swire, the company that owns Cathay Pacific, led the way in sacking staff who supported the democracy movement. We know about HSBC and Standard Chartered bank, of course, but what about Jardine Matheson? They supported the national security law, and—I say this to colleagues in other parties—they were also Tory donors. We have a duty to call out UK corporations who are the sponsors of the Chinese regime’s repression in Hong Kong.
The Chinese Communist party has continued to dismantle Hong Kong’s autonomy at a worrying pace. This month marks the 32nd anniversary of Tiananmen Square and the second year that the Hong Kong authorities banned a vigil in memory of the atrocity. It would have been a meaningful show of solidarity had the British consulate in Hong Kong put candles in its windows to commemorate that anniversary, as the US and EU consulates did. It is disappointing that that did not happen.
We must condemn the arrest of Chow Hang Tung and continue to do all in our power to support those fighting for democracy. Western democracies need to show a united front against the Chinese Communist party’s attempt to silence historical truth. British foreign policy must be even more vocal in standing up for human rights. I urge the Minister to push for the creation of a UN special rapporteur for Hong Kong to monitor the human rights situation in the city, as we have heard about today.
Perhaps the biggest thing the UK can do to help Hongkongers is to make it easier for those with BNO status to make their lives here. The number of people who applied in the first 10 weeks of the citizenship scheme was about 35,000—more than a tenth of the 300,000 that the Government expect to apply in the first five years. The Government’s offer to open their doors to Hongkongers is welcome and supported by all parties.
Allowing people to come is one thing, but giving them the opportunity to make a good life here is another. What steps are the Government taking to support those from Hong Kong who want to make their lives in the UK? A survey conducted by Hongkongers in Britain showed that only half of those who responded have friends in the UK, and even fewer have family here. It is not easy, even in the best of circumstances, for someone to move to a new country thousands of miles away, where they may not know anyone, and to find a job and settle into the community. Imagine how difficult that would be in the middle of a pandemic for someone whose English language skills were initially not so good. From finding employment to using public services and placing their children in schools, many BNOs will need additional assistance to make their lives here in Britain.
Many BNOs in Hong Kong remain fearful that they will not be able to find employment when they reach the UK. The £43 million integration fund to help BNOs and their families settle here is extremely welcome, but there are reports that the UK Government have hugely underestimated the take-up of the offer and concerns that that money will not be enough to meet the scale of the challenge. What additional support will the Government offer to those born after 1997, many of whom have been at the forefront of fighting for democracy in Hong Kong? Can the Minister assure Hongkongers born after 1997 who are claiming asylum in the UK that they will not have their applications rejected and will not face deportation?
Today’s debate is a stark reminder that human rights are under threat in many parts of the world, and increasingly so in China. The plight of Hongkongers, whose history is closely linked to Britain’s, needs our urgent attention. We need to do even more than we have done so far.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, Ms Ghani. I know that if you were not in the Chair, you would be here on the Floor of this Chamber making your viewpoints known. I am sure you would like to be doing so, but it is good to have you here in spirit. I congratulate the hon. Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) on setting the tone of the debate.
The Chinese authorities have committed many human rights abuses in Hong Kong. However, Hong Kong is not an isolated case, and those human rights violations are situated in the context of some of the worst atrocities of the 21st century. Whether it be the forced organ harvesting of practitioners of Falun Gong or the mass incarceration of Uyghur Muslims, the Chinese Communist party has inflicted untold suffering on its citizens. I believe that those concerns must be considered together, because how a state treats its minorities is a reflection of its attitude towards democracy and human rights in general. Just as in Myanmar, with the military’s genocidal treatment of Rohingya Muslims, a minority community has suffered human rights abuses in China. I see all the things that are happening and I despair.
I declare an interest: I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief. I will cite a couple of other issues that the Chinese Communist party has influence over. The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy has said that the severely deteriorating human rights situation in Tibet has reach the level of a crime against humanity, as a result of the CCP’s forced assimilation policies. There are also concerns that up to half a million Tibetans are involved in forced labour in China. Deeply distressing though those reports are, they should not be a surprise to anybody who has been following the plight of the Uyghurs, who have been rounded up in the largest arbitrary detention of a religious group since the holocaust. Nor should it be a surprise to anyone familiar with the China Tribunal’s judgment that China’s campaign of forced organ harvesting against innocent victims is a crime against humanity. The Falun Gong have been central to that. I believe that constitutes one of the world’s worst atrocities.
Hong Kong authorities have used the same rhetoric and have increasingly adopted mainland China’s vague definition of national security to restrict the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and association. I welcome the commitment from the Government and the Minister to sanctions against a number of human rights violators in China, but I note that there are many other key figures, such as Carrie Lam in Hong Kong and Chen Quanguo in Xinjiang province, who have thus far avoided sanction by the UK. I ask the Minister to give us some assurance today that those two reprobates —I do not think that is a bad word; the word itself tells a story—will be made accountable for their activities.
The Minister must take the opportunity presented by the upcoming meeting of the G7 to collaborate with international counterparts to take decisive action. The public have called for the 2022 winter Olympics to be moved from Beijing. It would be unthinkable for a state that is actively engaged in crimes against humanity to be allowed to host such a major international event. Demanding that the winter Olympics be removed would send an extremely powerful message.
I also call on the Minister to establish a commission of inquiry on human rights abuses in China. I welcome the Government’s call for Beijing to allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights full access to Xinjiang, but China has thus far refused that call and is unlikely to change its position. I believe, as Human Rights Watch has stated, that UN inquiries into abuses have shown that investigations can be comprehensive and credible, even without the Chinese Government’s co-operation. There is ample evidence of the impact of the Chinese Government’s policies on human rights in Hong Kong and elsewhere. A commission of inquiry can be established outside the UN Security Council, and therefore can avoid China’s veto. Let us do the things that we can do and bite these people where it hurts.
We should first introduce sanctions against all violators of human rights in Hong Kong and China; secondly, publicly call for the 2022 winter Olympics to be moved from Beijing; and, thirdly, push for a UN commission of inquiry into human rights abuses in China. Those are three things that I believe this Government—my Government and my Minister—can do. I wish them to do those things. We have a responsibility to speak for the voiceless, who have nobody to speak for them. We are all here united. We want action, and we want our Government to take it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. I, too, warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) on an excellent speech, and I am glad to agree with its tone and content. There has been a number of constructive and strong contributions from across the Chamber.
The reality is that we are bound to the people of Hong Kong in a way in which we are not to a number of other people in other places. We owe them a debt of empire. It is a special case. We also owe a legal debt, in that the UK is a part-guarantor of the Sino-British agreement guaranteeing one country, two systems. Hong Kong’s autonomy is guaranteed partially by the UK, and yet the national security law was passed.
Since that law’s passing, more than 100 pro-democracy activists—there were plenty more before that—have been arrested. They face 10 years in jail on trumped-up charges. Joshua Wong has been sentenced to 10 months in prison for attending a peaceful vigil. In a particularly worrying development, on 20 May, Tong Ying-kit was informed that he was not entitled to jury trial for trumped-up terrorism charges. That is significant for everyone under detention.
On academic freedom, the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong have shut down their student unions and massively curtailed freedom of speech on campus, in stark opposition to the activities of Confucius institutes within our boundaries. And it goes on. As we have heard from many right hon. and hon. Members, the situation is deteriorating daily in every way.
The UK has not been idle. It would be churlish of me not to recognise the fact that UK diplomats have been active. In particular, I applaud and recognise the significance of the BNO scheme for the Hongkongers themselves. That is a major, significant commitment. However, I honestly struggle to think of anything that Beijing has refrained from or reversed because of UK Government pressure, be it in Hong Kong or, indeed, anywhere else. The reality is that one country, two systems is dead and it died on the watch of this Government. In the face of Beijing’s wolf warriors, the UK’s tiger has, I am afraid, been somewhat toothless.
As for concrete suggestions, we have heard a number of suggestions today and I will also make some. I echo the call for more Magnitsky-type sanctions against individuals. We have had that discussion before with the Minister. We are not looking for speculation; we are looking for announcements. I appreciate that there will not be speculation, but across the House we want to see progress. The financial assets and business dealings of a number of UK companies need more scrutiny, in particular the actions of the banks and, in that case, especially Standard Chartered and HSBC, which have on occasion acted on behalf of the authorities under very dubious legality.
Speaking of dubious legality, UK judges should absolutely withdraw from the Hong Kong judicial system. They are lending a veneer of credibility and respectability to a system that simply does not merit it. As I and others have said, the Confucius institutes active within the countries of the UK must have far greater scrutiny of their actions than has been the case to date.
I echo calls for a UN special rapporteur on Hong Kong. That would assist in broadening the coalition, which already exists in part, and give it greater focus in scrutinising events in Hong Kong. I also echo those who have said that the G7 is an opportunity to make progress and achieve a wider international alignment—in particular with our friends in the EU, the US and Canada—on sanctions and transparency on Hong Kong and the actions of Beijing.
To conclude, there has been a lot of good agreement across the Chamber, as well as a number of good suggestions. If our Minister takes concrete action, he will continue to have SNP support in his endeavours for the rights of the people of Hong Kong. They are a special case—we are bound to them and it is right that we keep them on our agenda.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Ghani. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) on securing this extremely important debate, and I pay tribute to all those who have contributed. It is striking to see how united we are across the Chamber in our condemnation of the behaviour and activities of Beijing. I hope that the Minister will note the united message that he is hearing. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) and for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) for their powerful and passionate contributions.
The Chinese Government’s assault on Hong Kong’s democratic institutions and their ongoing persecution of pro-democracy activists is a scar on the conscience of the world, but it is of particular importance to our country. Beijing’s actions represent a flagrant violation of international law via the multiple breaches of the Sino-British declaration, including the introduction and application of the national security law. They show contempt for the Hong Kong Basic Law, riding roughshod over the one country, two systems framework, and represent a relentless crackdown on established universal rights and freedoms, such as the right to free speech, media freedom, judicial independence and the right to peaceful protest.
We have seen opposition lawmakers being forced out of office and then a new law being imposed to prevent critics of Beijing from standing for office. We have seen Lee Cheuk-yan, the trade union activist, sentenced to 18 months in prison, simply for attending democratic protests, and others like him have also been targeted. And we have seen Jimmy Lai, the media owner, being jailed for more than a year on spurious charges, while Radio Television Hong Kong’s independence has been compromised, and BBC world radio has been taken off the air following the banning of BBC News in China, which itself came as a result of the BBC’s outstanding and important investigation into the persecution of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang.
Perhaps most tragically of all in Hong Kong, we have seen the arrests and sentencing of scores of liberal pro-democracy activists, including brave young leaders such as Joshua Wong, Ivan Lam and Agnes Chow, and the Hong Kong eight. Increasingly, trials take place in secret and without a jury, utterly undermining the basic foundation of judicial independence upon which Hong Kong’s rule of law is built. In short, the Chinese Government are doing all they can to crush the democratic rights of the Hong Kong people and to assert their own authoritarian and despotic system.
Let me be clear that the Labour party will stand up for democracy, human rights and the rule of law everywhere, and will call out violations wherever they take place. We apply these principles without fear or favour, and we will always encourage the Government to work in partnership with our international allies to defend the values that we cherish.
It is, therefore, a matter of real regret that the UK Government have at times left us in a position of weakness. Consecutive Conservative Governments since 2010 have been naive and complacent in their dealings with the Chinese Communist party leadership. These successive Conservative Governments have eroded the UK’s leverage and influence: first, by leaving the British economy over-reliant on Chinese imports and supply chains, as, shockingly, 57 of our critical national infrastructure supply chains are now reliant on China; and secondly, by failing to form or maintain the alliances on the world stage to defend our values and interests.
In 2015, David Cameron and George Osborne, with enthusiastic support from Boris Johnson, who was then London Mayor, proclaimed a “golden era” of UK-China relations, a strategy designed to open up UK markets to Chinese business and investment, in the expectation that China would fall in line with international norms on trade and human rights. The opposite has happened. Uncompetitive market behaviour by state-backed Chinese firms has contributed to the £19 billion deficit that we are still running with China and, in short, the Chinese Government have failed to align themselves with any of the values or norms that the “golden era” was supposed to be based on.
We have seen the compromising of national and economic security by increased reliance on China, and we have also seen a concerning tendency towards lack of consistency across Government. Of course, we saw the divisions on the genocide amendment to the Trade Act 2021. The UK Government chose to block it, which was a matter of profound regret to the Labour party.
We therefore need a long-term strategy. The Prime Minister has a unique opportunity to deliver this at the G7. It means rebuilding our strategic independence by reducing our exposure to Chinese investment in supply chains. It means addressing the national security issues, particularly around Taiwan. And it really does mean looking at areas where China holds a de facto global monopoly, particularly around rare earth metals, for example.
In the shorter term, we must do more to support the people of Hong Kong. We need more Government support for British nationals overseas, including language support and access to GPs and to housing. We must see a clear route to citizenship for Hongkongers born after 1997 and we must not give up on those who are still campaigning. We need the Magnitsky-type sanctions that have been mentioned by many hon. Members. We need a judge-led inquiry into police brutality, and we need—as the Labour party is calling for—British judges to leave Hong Kong.
British judges are simply lending a veneer of credibility to the undemocratic, broken system. Have the UK Government made an assessment of whether UK judges are protecting the rule of law in Hong Kong or simply legitimising an authoritarian regime? Will the UK Government join the Opposition in taking a clear and principled position? We also need to see action on banks such as HSBC, which, as hon. Members have said, appear to be doing the dirty work of the Chinese Government.
There are so many important actions that the Government can and should take. We should bear in mind that democracy is in retreat across the world. A recent report showed that, for the first time since 2001, authoritarian regimes outnumber democracies. We should take very careful note of that. Hong Kong needs the free world, and the free world needs Hong Kong. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response on these important issues.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) for securing this debate and to right hon. and hon. Members for their passionate and well-informed contributions on this subject, which we have had an opportunity to debate several times. I am sure this will not be the last time that the issue of Hong Kong is brought to the House. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.
I will try to respond to as many as possible of the points raised. As I have said during previous debates on this issue, and as I have written to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) and other members of the all-party parliamentary group, my door and the offices of my officials at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office are always open. We are very keen to discuss the issues on a one-to-one basis. We have a depth of experience and knowledge on King Charles Street and we are more than happy to share it, so I hope we will be able to follow up on that.
As has rightly been said, this has been and continues to be the most concerning period in Hong Kong’s post-handover history. As Minister for Asia, I deeply regret not having had the opportunity to visit Hong Kong in better circumstances—some of my predecessors have been able to do so. In saying that, I share the deep concern of this House. That is why we have taken clear and decisive action. We have extended the existing arms embargo on mainland China to include Hong Kong. Right hon. and hon. Members will know that we have suspended the extradition treaty with Hong Kong and are creating a new visa route for British nationals overseas, which I will come on to shortly.
As colleagues will know, the Sino-British joint declaration was registered with the United Nations on 12 June 1985. They will also know that the declaration is a legally binding international treaty that remains in force today. This agreement between the United Kingdom and China made clear that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, rights and freedoms would remain unchanged for 50 years from 1997, a point that has already been made by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi).
In the agreement, China undertook to uphold the freedoms of speech, of the press and of assembly. It also agreed to keep in force the international covenant on civil and political rights and to maintain the independent judiciary and rule of law. For more than two decades after the handover, those rights and freedoms underpinned Hong Kong’s prosperity and way of life.
Right hon. and hon. Members will also be aware that in 2019 and the early part of 2020, Hong Kong experienced a period of deep turmoil and widespread unrest, triggered by proposals that would have allowed extradition to mainland China. We were clear from the outset that the solution to that unrest must come from within Hong Kong and must not be imposed from mainland China. Instead, the Chinese authorities have shown an increasing propensity to breach their obligations in relation to Hong Kong. I think that on that, we are all agreed.
Since last June, Beijing’s actions have led us to declare three breaches of the joint declaration, including significant erosions of Hong Kong’s autonomy and the rights and freedoms of its people. The national security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing last June contains a slew of measures that directly undermine those rights and freedoms. China’s own Basic Law for Hong Kong makes it clear that the territory should put forward and enact its own security legislation, so the direct imposition of the national security law is in clear contravention of that.
Senior Chinese Government figures claimed at the time that this law would target a “tiny number” of criminals who seriously endanger national security, but everybody in this room and watching this debate realises that the law has been used systematically to restrict freedom of expression. It has been brought up today by just about every Member present. We see in the courts the ongoing trials of 47 pro-democracy politicians and activists for their alleged roles in unofficial political primaries last year. Those cases and others demonstrate, in the starkest way, that the national security law is being used to stifle political dissent.
As the Minister is clearly on the section of his speech relating to legal and judicial matters, does he agree with me and, I think, many other Members here today that the continuing presence of British judges in the Hong Kong judicial system is simply lending a veneer of credibility to a completely broken system, and will he today give us a guarantee that the British Government will be using whatever means necessary to bring that practice to an end?
The hon. Gentleman rightly raised that in his remarks, as did many other right hon. and hon. Members. British judges have played an important role in supporting the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary for many years. We really hope that that can continue. However, the national security law poses real questions for the rule of law in Hong Kong—basically, the fundamental protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, which were promised by China in the joint declaration. It is therefore right that the Supreme Court continues to assess the situation in Hong Kong, and that will be done in discussion with the Government.
I am conscious that I have to give my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling a few minutes to speak at the end, so I will try to get through my points and the rest of my remarks in order to allow him to do so. It is clear that the authorities are pursuing politically motivated prosecutions under other laws and against a range of pro-democracy figures. We have heard today about the cases of Joshua Wong and Jimmy Lai. On 11 November, China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress imposed new rules to disqualify elected legislators in Hong Kong; those rules contain vague criteria, allowing a wide interpretation. On 30 March, we declared this to be another breach of the joint declaration as it undermined Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and the right to freedom of speech, guaranteed under paragraph 3 and annexe 1 of the declaration.
On 11 March this year, the National People’s Congress unilaterally decided to change Hong Kong’s electoral system without prior consent from Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, giving Chinese authorities greater control over who stands for elected office and over the removal of elected politicians whom the authorities deem unpatriotic. They also reverse China’s promise to Hong Kong, in its own Basic Law, of gradual progress towards universal suffrage and hollow out the Legislative Council even further. As several right hon. and hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Aberavon, pointed out, these developments amount to a systematic and determined effort by Beijing to bring Hong Kong under its control. They erase the space for alternative political views and legitimate political debate.
What we are really asking for, with respect, is action from our Minister and our Government. Would it be possible to call publicly for the 2022 Winter Olympics to be removed from Beijing; for an independent UN commission of inquiry into human rights abuses in China, which could be held even with China’s veto; and for more sanctions against those violators?
No decision has yet been made about diplomatic attendance at the Olympics, but I can tell my right hon. Friend, as the Minister responsible, that that is very much at the forefront of our minds.
We responded quickly and decisively to the enactment of the national security law. The day after the law was imposed, the Foreign Secretary announced to Parliament that, after discussions with the Home Secretary, the Government would introduce this bespoke immigration route for British nationals overseas and their dependants, providing a new path to citizenship. This opened on 31 January, and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has implemented a welcome settlement package for those who wish to take up the offer. Prior to that, on 20 July, the Foreign Secretary announced the indefinite suspension of our extradition treaty with Hong Kong, and the extension of our arms embargo on mainland China to Hong Kong. The extradition treaty will remain suspended until we have safeguards to ensure that it will not be misused under the national security law.
We have also led action in the international community, holding China to account through our presidency of the G7. I will be very surprised if this issue is not discussed either on the agenda or in the corridors of the G7 meeting taking place this week. On 6 October, with Germany, we brought together 39 countries to express our grave concern for Hong Kong and Xinjiang in a joint statement at the UN General Assembly third committee. The Foreign Secretary, in his high-level segment to the Human Rights Council on 22 February, called for the UN to respond, and he undertook to continue to raise international support. More recently, on 5 May, he called on China to act in accordance with its international commitments and legal obligations and to respect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, rights and freedoms.
I acknowledge that many Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), and the hon. Members for Vauxhall and for Strangford (Jim Shannon), called for sanctions in respect of the events in Hong Kong. As right hon. and hon. Members will know, with the experience of our sanctions regime in Xinjiang, we do not speculate on listings, as to do so would potentially undermine their impact.
In the time I have left, I would like to address some of the points that Members have made. On the issue of young people born since 1997 without family ties who are not eligible for the BNO status, these individuals can still apply using our existing routes to live, work or study in the UK. Specifically, Hong Kong nationals aged between 18 and 30 are eligible to apply to our youth mobility scheme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling raised the prospect of Germany not recognising BNO passports, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green. We have raised our concerns with the German Government; they have assured us that all UK passports, including BNO passports, are recognised for the purposes of entry and stay in Germany. I have only a minute left. There are a number of issues I need to respond to, so I ask hon. Members to take up my offer of coming to see officials and me in the FCDO and I can address them then, or write to them following this debate.
While the turmoil on the streets of Hong Kong may have lessened since 2019, the underlying situation has certainly deteriorated further. After three breaches of the Sino-British joint declaration in nine months, since March the United Kingdom has considered Beijing to be in a state of ongoing non-compliance with it. There is a stark and growing gulf between Beijing’s promises and its actions. We must and we will continue to stand up for the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong. I give my assurance as Minister for Asia that we will continue to work hard and in good faith towards that goal. We will hold China to the obligation that it willingly undertook to safeguard the people of Hong Kong and their way of life.
I am grateful to all the hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken this afternoon. When I was preparing for this debate, I reread the Hansard debate on the joint declaration in December 1984. I was struck by the fact that although there were some concerns about immigration status, there was unanimity across the House that, at the time, that was the best deal that could have been obtained for Hong Kong.
As the hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) and the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) have identified, there has been a similar unanimity today across the Chamber on this issue. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) observed, many other human rights abuses have been committed by China in the region. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) said, this is the issue of the moment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) said, today we are discussing the decline of the most international of Asian cities.
The speeches we have heard today have illustrated the breadth of China’s actions in Hong Kong—brazen actions, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford). We have heard about the manipulation of election rules from the hon. Members for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) and for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi).
The right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) has spoken passionately about his comrades in the trade union movement who have been affected, and the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) has spoken about how even basic things like professing one’s faith have been hindered by the actions taken by the Chinese Government.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) and the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson) spoke about media clampdowns. At one of the most interesting and distressing meetings that I attended while involved in this subject I listened to Hong Kong journalists who had to be identified as witnesses 1, 2 and 3 because of fear of persecution. They underlined well the issues that they faced.
As the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) observed, democracies have to put on a united front. I am grateful to the Minister for his statement and what he said, and we would be encouraged if this matter were raised at the G7 this week. It is a matter that needs to be raised, and I am grateful for the clarification.
I will conclude by quoting from the six-monthly report on Hong Kong that is produced by the Foreign Office. The latest one said:
“It is not too late for the authorities to reach out and start to heal divisions, however complicated and difficult that might be.”
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered human rights in Hong Kong.