Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the devolved government of Hong Kong about its decision to introduce Emergency Powers, which includes introducing a ban on face masks.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice.
My Lords, we have regular discussions with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government about their response to the protest, including their most recent measures. We are, of course, monitoring the situation closely, including the implementation of a ban on face masks under the emergency regulations ordinance. We believe political dialogue is the only way to resolve the situation. While Governments need to ensure the security and safety of their people, they must avoid aggravating and, instead, seek to reduce tensions.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that the very worrying use of emergency powers is a breach of the Sino-British joint declaration, which guaranteed rights and freedoms in Hong Kong, including the freedom of assembly and the right to protest? If not, why not? Does he agree with his noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Patten, who said on the “Today” programme this morning that what is happening in Hong Kong is “the destruction of a great international city created by Chinese people” and that the UK Government must urge China to give the Hong Kong Government the scope to resolve the conflict through the political means he mentioned?
I totally agree with the noble Baroness about the importance of reaching political agreement. I share her deep concern and that of my noble friend about the situation unfolding in Hong Kong. To call it disturbing would be an understatement. We have seen a real increase not just in tensions, but in the attitude shown towards the protesters. Indeed, the new law has caused deep concern. I reassure the noble Baroness that we are fully committed to upholding Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and its rights and freedoms as enshrined in the “one country, two systems” framework, which is also enshrined in Hong Kong’s basic law. On specific actions, we are in almost daily contact with the Hong Kong Government through our consul general on the ground and I know that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will seek an early call with the Foreign Minister, State Councillor Wang Yi, at the earliest opportunity.
My Lords, the latest draconian crackdowns on protesters in Hong Kong have failed to deter tens of thousands of people taking to the streets and instead have served only to further inflame tensions. Following my PNQ last Tuesday, I asked the Government to speak urgently to the Hong Kong Government. The House may remember that the Minister responded that although the Foreign Secretary had not spoken to Carrie Lam in nearly two months, he hoped that that would happen in the coming days. I am not clear from the Minister’s response whether that conversation has taken place. Can he confirm whether the Foreign Secretary has in fact spoken to the Hong Kong Chief Executive and expressed the concerns raised across this House over the potential infringement on human rights?
As I said in my earlier answer, as the noble Lord will be aware, the Foreign Secretary has spoken to, among others, Carrie Lam. To my knowledge, he has not spoken to her since that Question was asked. We are certainly seeking urgent calls not only with Carrie Lam, but with Foreign Minister Wang Yi. I will certainly come back to the noble Lord on that. The last formal contact was between the consul general in Hong Kong and Carrie Lam’s deputy on Friday, but I assure the noble Lord that we are very much engaged at all levels to ensure that this issue, which we have seen on our television screens, is kept at the forefront and we are consistently raising it with the Hong Kong and Chinese Governments.
Does my noble friend agree that, while we are absolutely right to argue strongly for the right to peaceful protest and to say that we have the right to talk directly with Beijing about the conditions of the original joint declaration, we cannot condone actions that involve throwing rocks and petrol bombs, smashing up legislatures, blocking the airport and moving from peaceful protest to outright violence? There are those who point out, as, indeed, my noble friend Lord Patten has, that this is the path to the self-destruction of Hong Kong as millions of dollars will leave the area as no one will invest there. We should point out to the Government of Hong Kong and the protesters in Hong Kong that they are destroying themselves.
I agree with my noble friend that any kind of violence—I am sure that I speak for every Member of your Lordships’ House—is to be condemned totally, but it is also vital that the response to any action is proportionate. That is why we stress again that the only resolution to this matter, as was reiterated by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, is political dialogue. That remains the Government’s primary objective.
My Lords, I am the director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. It has just had its annual conference, in South Korea. Many lawyers from around the world were there, and we awarded the human rights and rule of law award to Margaret Ng and Martin Lee, two leading members of the Bar in Hong Kong who argue for the rule of law and who will be known to many people in this House. It was interesting to hear from them. They said that the young are protesting about the absence of genuine democracy now and the continuous erosion of the processes that were put in place at the time of the handover. I strongly urge the Government to seek a dialogue and that China is reminded that the rule of law is not rule by law. I am afraid that often Chinese lawyers do not fully understand that the rule of law is not simply law and order but is also protecting the rights of people and strengthening democracy in a place that is going to be important to them as we go forward.
I totally agree with the noble Baroness. She has great experience and insight on these matters, and I fully associate myself with her sentiments and her remarks. Let me make clear that it has always been the position of the United Kingdom Government, irrespective of political affiliation, that all elements, including the elections that take place for the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council, are provided for in Hong Kong Basic Law. Our view is that the transition to universal suffrage should be applied wholesale. That is enshrined in Hong Kong Basic Law .
My Lords, what has been happening in Hong Kong recently is deeply depressing and very worrying indeed. It is understandable that the Hong Kong Government should wish to deal with people disguising themselves, particularly if they are engaged in violence, but it is not really possible to see how that is going to be an effective move. It is more likely that it will be widely disregarded and therefore seen as a weakness on the side of the Hong Kong Government. That said, and given that these situations are all very worrying and that we must all be concerned about the direction of travel in Hong Kong, does the Minister accept that Her Majesty’s Government would be well advised to be cautious about the way they deal with this publicly, lest they build up a picture—which some people would like to paint—of a lot of this being due to outside interference? That is not something that we would wish to do.
My Lords, the Government have shown that diplomacy is the way forward. Ultimately, in any public statement that we make, we consistently make the point that political dialogue is the solution. We are very mindful of the history of Hong Kong, but, speaking as the Minister responsible for human rights, when we see human rights being usurped in those countries with which we have a strategic relationship—and yes, that includes China—we stand up for them, and make those views known.
My Lords, to avoid the ultimate disaster of intervention by the People’s Liberation Army, and to give all sides a ladder down which to climb without losing face, is there, in the judgment of the Government, any prospect of outside conciliation or conciliation by respected individuals?
Reflecting on the previous question as well, first and foremost we need to see the restoration of law and order but, within that, guarantees of political dialogue. It is clear that the current law, as well as the “one country, two systems” principle, provides for the very notion of ensuring that people’s rights are protected and strengthened and that the autonomy enjoyed by Hong Kong continues. We believe that is enshrined in Hong Kong law. It is an agreement which has also been deposited with the United Nations, and all parties must have due regard and respect for it.