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Hong Kong: New Extradition Law

Volume 798: debated on Wednesday 12 June 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the government of Hong Kong’s proposed new extradition law on (1) the autonomy of Hong Kong, and (2) its Basic Law guaranteeing the rights and freedoms of its citizens.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare an interest as patron of Hong Kong Watch.

My Lords, the Hong Kong Government’s legislative proposals, if enacted as currently drafted, could impact negatively both on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and on the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the joint declaration. This morning, the Foreign Secretary publicly urged the Hong Kong Government to listen to the concerns of their people and to pause and reflect on these controversial measures. The Hong Kong authorities should engage in meaningful dialogue and preserve Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness. She will be aware that, as we meet, tear gas and plastic bullets are being fired indiscriminately, with reports of injuries. In condemning this, will the noble Baroness reflect that in 2018, according to the Wall Street Journal, the courts in China’s Jiangsu province acquitted just 43 people, while convicting 96,271? Does she recall that a Hong Kong bookseller, imprisoned for eight months in China, was told by the authorities, “If we say you have committed a crime, you have committed a crime”? Does she not agree, with the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square in mind, that when the law becomes a tool in the hands of an all-powerful communist state, everyone, from political dissidents, academics and lawyers to detained Uighurs, has legitimate cause for fear? This is not least because people in Hong Kong will be left vulnerable to rendition in unjust trials, effectively giving legal status to previously illegal abductions. Will she reflect on the statement of the International Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong that there will be,

“an adverse impact on Hong Kong as a place to live and work, and”,

on its ambitions,

“to continue growing as a major international business centre”?

While a delay in enacting this law is welcome, can we reiterate that its abandonment would be even more welcome?

I say to the noble Lord that the most important thing is that all of us are concerned at the degree to which protests are taking place as we meet in this Chamber. The Foreign Secretary this morning was absolutely clear when he issued a statement saying:

“The ongoing protests in Hong Kong are a clear sign of significant public concern about the proposed changes to extradition laws. I call on all sides to remain calm and peaceful. I urge the Hong Kong government to listen to the concerns of its people”.

As I said yesterday—I do not want to reprise in my response to the noble Lord things that we have already covered—it is legitimate to ask if these proposed legislative changes are breaches of the joint declaration. We do not believe that they are breaches in themselves, but of course there is a risk that future abuse of provisions in the legislation could be.

It is very important to recall, as I said in the Chamber yesterday, that Hong Kong has many strengths, two of the most important of which are the robust rule of law and an independent judiciary. On the one hand we have to recognise that it would not be reasonable for Hong Kong to become a sanctuary for suspected murderers, for example, who could flee there with impunity—that would seem undesirable under international law. At the same time, of course it is important that, whatever measures are being taken by the Hong Kong Government to address this issue, they must be explicitly fair and capable of being understood and they must contain protections for human rights. It is welcome that there has been a deferment in the process of legislation, but a longer period of consultation would enable a likelihood of consensus being found.

My Lords, I have twice in my adult life had the considerable privilege of living and working in Hong Kong. Will my noble friend reinforce what I hope I heard her say in her first Answer: namely, that the 1997 joint declaration is being appallingly abused by this proposed new extradition law?

At the risk of being unhelpful to my noble friend, what I said was that we do not believe that the proposals in themselves are a breach of the joint declaration, but that there has to be a concern about what could happen subsequently if there were an abuse of the provisions provided for in the proposed changes. That is why the independence of the judiciary, the robustness of the rule of law and, above all else, clarity in lawmaking and adequate protection of human rights must be explicit in any legislation.

My Lords, I do not want to repeat what we discussed yesterday, but the Foreign Secretary on Monday made it clear that he had discussed this issue with partners, and in particular international states including Canada. Of course, we all share the concern about where this law may lead: that is what the people on the streets are demonstrating against. Yesterday, the noble Baroness failed to answer my question about what we were doing to build alliances. In particular, will she tell us whether the Foreign Secretary has spoken not only to Canada but to the United States of America?

I do not have information on that specific point. All I can do is to reassure the noble Lord that the UK Government have been highly active on this issue; they have held discussions with the Hong Kong Government, they were instrumental in facilitating an EU démarche, they issued a joint statement with the Canadian Foreign Minister and they have been active in representing our very legitimate concerns. Under the joint declaration we continue to have a legal role to play. We are very mindful of that and are clear that we have a duty to Hong Kong under that declaration. It is a duty we take very seriously. As to the noble Lord’s specific point, I have no indication as to whom the Foreign Secretary has spoken with, but I will make inquiries and undertake to report to him.

My Lords, a point that was not made yesterday was that many Chinese people of religious faith fled to Hong Kong seeking sanctuary from the Chinese legal system and safety to practise their faith freely. Many Chinese people in Hong Kong today actively support religious believers in mainland China who are under, as we know, increasing pressure. Can the Minister assure the House that the need for protection of the rights of both of those categories of people, in the legally binding ways the Minister talked about yesterday, is being pressed by the Government?

The right reverend Prelate will know that the Government are deeply concerned about restrictions on freedom of religion and belief in China, for example, and the position in which some faiths and their practitioners find themselves there. My noble friend Lord Ahmad raised concerns about restrictions on freedom of religion or belief in China at the 40th UN Human Rights Council in March 2019, and he set out the Government’s position in this Chamber on 4 April. The right reverend Prelate makes an important point and it is certainly one of which the Government will remain aware and on which they will be vigilant.

My Lords, yesterday I quoted the huge concern of one Conservative elder statesman: the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes. Today I quote another: Sir Malcolm Rifkind. Does the Minister agree with him that there is not a “loophole” that must be closed in Hong Kong but that there is and must be a “firewall” between the Hong Kong and Chinese legal systems? Given that strength is in numbers, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, indicated, what further discussions are we having with our EU colleagues to help protect rights in Hong Kong?

We are concerned about the proposals, which is why we have been engaging in the very determined and focused activity in which we have been involved. Of course there are concerns; there are issues that have to be clarified and safeguards that have to be provided. These are all matters for the citizens and Government of Hong Kong to work through. The high level of concern is very clear, as the protests demonstrate. We understand that, but it is for the Hong Kong Government to clarify how they will address this issue.