Motion to Take Note
My Lords, the purpose of today’s debate is to gain a better understanding of why up to 2 million people have felt compelled to participate in mass popular protests in Hong Kong; of how regressive changes in China have created a storm of anxiety; of why the UK has a moral and legal obligation to stand with its people, and of how the international community, including the Commonwealth, can provide guarantees to Hong Kong that will give its people an insurance policy of security and solidarity.
On more than 20 occasions in the past year, I have highlighted the weakening of the guarantees contained in the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration—which is an international treaty—the disturbing erosion of “two systems, one country” and the changes in China that have caused such apprehension in Hong Kong. The joint declaration, through the Basic Law, enshrines the fundamental principles of the rule of law, democracy, human rights and free speech—not just a treaty but for Hong Kong’s people a way of life, now placed at grave risk.
What began as a rejection of Beijing’s erosion of the territory’s Basic Law and Carrie Lam’s unjust extradition Bill has become a broader fight about Hong Kong’s autonomy and very future. It is hard to disagree with the proposition that Hong Kong is the new front line in a clash of value systems. In the aftermath of the 1997 handover, Beijing upheld “one country, two systems”, but in the past few years, both Hong Kong’s freedoms and trust have been undermined and eroded increasingly dramatically.
The final straw was Beijing’s attempt to compromise the judicial system. The people of Hong Kong are well aware of how the Chinese courts administer justice. In 2018, according to the Wall Street Journal, the courts in Jiangsu province acquitted just 43 people while convicting 96,271. They are the ones who are actually given a trial, unlike Lam Wing-kee, a bookseller in Hong Kong for 20 years, who was abducted and incarcerated for eight months, and whom I met in Taiwan last month. He told me that highly placed Communist Party officials bought books from him. Without irony, he said that his bestsellers included George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. The Chinese authorities told Mr Lam, “If we say you have committed a crime, you have committed a crime”. Denied all contact with his family and left in degrading conditions, he contemplated suicide.
Belief in the rule of law has been further compromised by Carrie Lam’s unenforceable ban on face masks and her decision to invoke emergency powers—always a harbinger of autocracy and the latest in a long list of blunders. Amnesty accuses the Hong Kong police and points to,
“an alarming pattern of … reckless and indiscriminate tactics”,
beatings and torture. Dominic Raab has condemned the use of force as “disproportionate”, with calls for an independent inquiry.
The brutality of China’s agents was underlined last week when Jimmy Sham, a leading voice for democracy, was viciously attacked by five hammer-wielding assailants. You will never create a harmonious and law-abiding society by using agents provocateurs, tear gas, iron bars and live ammunition. Shooting teenagers is no solution. The rule of law is not rule by law; it is simply inflammatory. If all this leads to diplomats issuing a formal warning to businesses in the region, there will be a flight of capital. Beijing would therefore be far wiser to seek dialogue and compromise, rather than killing the goose and the golden egg—China’s most profitable financial centre.
In recent months, I have asked about the expulsion of journalists and the banning of political parties, and I have worked with Hong Kong Watch, of which I am a patron. I particularly thank Luke de Pulford and Ben Rogers for their work and for bringing to Westminster the umbrella movement’s founders, Nathan Law and Joshua Wong, both of whom are totally committed to peaceful, non-violent protest but were jailed, with Nathan disqualified from the legislature. During this debate, we must discuss what the future holds for young people like them and for the city’s courageous people. Some 173 Members of both Houses have pressed the Foreign Secretary to lead an international initiative to guarantee second citizenship. The noble Lord, Lord Popat, will say more about this later, and I will refer to the position of BNO passport holders, but I think it would be helpful to the debate if, when the Minister comes to reply, he could tell us exactly how many people he believes are currently BNO passport holders. We will also hear today from many noble Lords with a great love of Hong Kong and its people, not least the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, and my noble friend Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, and many others with incredible knowledge about Hong Kong and China.
My own Hong Kong connections began when I was a student volunteer teaching English to families who had settled in Liverpool—home to one of Britain’s oldest Chinese communities—having escaped the cultural revolution. One of their descendants is my goddaughter. Liverpool was also the birthplace of William Gladstone, a vociferous opponent of the appalling opium trade, which he said was “at variance with justice”. The Opium Wars led, in 1842, to the treaty of Nanking, to the opening of five treaty ports to foreign merchants, and to the ceding, of course, of Hong Kong Island to the British Empire. It was in 1980, as a young Liverpool MP, that I first visited Hong Kong, and I subsequently went to Shanghai. There, I secretly met persecuted Christians whose bishop, Cardinal Ignatius Kung, had languished for 30 years in Chinese jails.
In 1979, it was against this backdrop that Margaret Thatcher had to negotiate with Deng Xiaoping the restitution of Hong Kong. In 1982, Deng told her:
“I could walk in and take the whole lot this afternoon”.
In a characteristic retort, the Prime Minister replied:
“There is nothing I could do to stop you, but the eyes of the world would now know what China is like”.
That is equally true today. The eyes of the world must stay trained on Hong Kong. Last week, the free world did just that when the US House of Representatives passed four pieces of bipartisan legislation, three of which were related to Hong Kong. But our eyes have seen other things too.
Thirty years ago, in Tiananmen Square, we saw the Red Army massacre 10,000 pro-democracy demonstrators, many of them young. We have also seen how Xi Jinping has been turning the clock back on Deng Xiaoping’s welcome attempts at reform. In June, on the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen, the regime said that the brutal suppression of those pro-democracy demonstrations had been good for society, describing it as a “vaccination” against political instability. We have also seen how Xi is repressing political dissent and religious belief. The assault on religion in China is the most systematic since the lethal cultural revolution, when churches were desecrated, looted, and turned into storerooms and factories. The religious were incarcerated, tortured, some burnt alive, some sent to labour camps, with Christians publicly paraded through cities and towns and forced to wear cylindrical hats detailing their crime of belief.
Over the summer I met Hong Kong’s Cardinal Zen and Martin Lee, the founder of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party—a meeting that the Chinese authorities tried to stop. I heard their fears that religious persecution will be visited again on Hong Kong. President Xi may not yet have a Little Red Book, but he has replaced the 10 commandments with his sayings. In addition to the lack of religious freedom, churches, mosques and temples have been shut or demolished, leaders imprisoned and surveillance cameras installed. The European Parliament described the situation as “a new low”. Writing about surveillance, George Orwell famously said in Nineteen Eighty-Four:
“Big brother is watching you”.
But not just watching—Orwell said:
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever”.
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history”.
For Buddhists in Tibet and Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, Xi’s Sinicisation programme seeks to do just that. To ensure that their history is obliterated, over 40 Uighur cemeteries have been destroyed, with bones and ancestors’ remains scattered. At the APPG for Uighurs, of which I am vice-chairman, we heard disturbing evidence about the vile incarceration of 1 million Uighur Muslims, for them to be re-educated, brainwashed, intimidated, and reprogrammed. We have also seen disturbing evidence suggestive of why Uighur DNA is tested. Falun Gong practitioners told a parliamentary hearing how bodies have been turned into sources of forced human organ harvesting. An independent tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, concluded that there is “incontrovertible evidence” that this has happened. We will hear more about this from my noble friends Lady Finlay and Lady Grey-Thompson. The Minister has the names of Chinese officials involved in this and other forms of persecution. Perhaps he will tell the House whether Magnitsky powers will be used to pursue those culpable.
Ministers and their officials need to be alive to China’s use of censorship, economic pressure and fear and favour to try silence criticism and to close the world’s eyes to what is happening in Hong Kong. Perry Link, a Princeton academic, describes China’s heavy-handed attempts to close and censor debates as the “anaconda in the chandelier”. But the anaconda is not just in the chandelier—it is the chandelier. President Xi’s “great firewall” and dystopian “cyber sovereignty” is entrenched by laws that can result in job loss, years-long prison sentences or exile. This is not the free air of Hong Kong with unimpeded access to the internet, and Hong Kong has been watching all this with alarm.
In 2008, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate the late Liu Xiaobo, along with hundreds of others, published the pro-democracy and human rights manifesto Charter 08. He received a sentence of 11 years’ imprisonment. He wrote that his crime was to,
“oppose systems of government that are dictatorships or monopolies … Opposition is not equivalent to subversion”.
He looked to the day when,
“different values, ideas, beliefs, and political views ... can both compete with each other and peacefully coexist”.
The same thought was captured in the 1984 joint declaration, which said that Hong Kong’s,
“life-style shall remain unchanged for 50 years”.
“freedom of the person … of the press, of assembly, of association ... of demonstration ... of belief”.
But we have watched with dismay as promises have been broken, legislators disqualified, mass arrests take place, employees are dismissed and live ammunition replace any attempt to cultivate dialogue or to find solutions. And we have seen China tell the UK—the only other signatory to a legally binding joint declaration —that we have no right to express a view. We have seen China say that the 1984 treaty is null and void: a “historical document”, with “no practical significance” and no binding effect on the Chinese central Government’s management of Hong Kong. So what must we do?
The United Kingdom has a unique moral and historic duty to bring together the international community in defence of the rule of law, democracy, free speech and human rights, and of “two systems, one country”. We should form an international contact group of like-minded nations to co-ordinate an international response. At next year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, in Kigali, countries should be urged to give all Hong Kong citizens an insurance policy of second citizenship and a place of abode, to be available if China continues to resile from the joint declaration.
I chaired a hearing about British National (Overseas) passport holders, including former police officers and the 250 military who served the Crown. Their plight was said by the late Lord Ashdown to be “worse than Windrush”. In a letter to me this week, the Home Secretary said that the Government have,
“no plans to amend the law”.
BNO passport holders are vulnerable and so are others with proven UK links. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that there is no legal impediment to us giving full British citizenship to those at risk and say whether we will help forge a comprehensive international solution for the people of Hong Kong.
Nobody wants anyone to have to leave Hong Kong. People are more likely to stay if they know that there will be ways to leave should the need arise. We should join the US in introducing legislation to strengthen the monitoring of the Sino-British joint declaration, with Magnitsky sanctions and the enactment of a Hong Kong human rights and democracy Act to hold perpetrators to account when it has been breached. We should ensure that, after Brexit, no free trade agreement is made with Hong Kong or China without a robust clause tied to the freedoms guaranteed in the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Trade law is critical and more enforceable than other forms of international law.
To conclude, the answers to Beijing’s fears about separatism and its desire for unity and a stable future are to be found in the free air of Hong Kong, not in the Uighur re-education camps of Xinjiang, or in a repeat of the massacre at Tiananmen, or through surveillance cameras or oppression. As Margaret Thatcher rightly said, the eyes of the world are on Hong Kong. We must stand in solidarity with them. In our day, we must neither avert our eyes or silence our voices. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on giving the House the opportunity to discuss the current problems in Hong Kong. His Motion is commendable and worthy of the support of this House. Yes, we should encourage countries with better democratic and human rights policies to accept the people of Hong Kong to their shores at this time, but the conflict in Hong Kong is surely mainly the responsibility of this country; it is this country that should be in the forefront of doing what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has ably given this House to discuss.
There are those who urge countries outside Hong Kong to avoid getting involved in a domestic dispute, but the conflict affects many other countries. In this vein, I was impressed to read in the Washington Post last week how the US Congress is being positive in its support for Hong Kong’s struggling democracy by promoting legislation advancing in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to amend the United States–Hong Kong Policy Act 1992, a pillar of America’s economic relationship with China and its special administrative region. Until now, the USA has treated Hong Kong differently from the People’s Republic of China for trade purposes, but that is currently very much under review. Under the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act 2019, the US Secretary of State is required to certify whether Hong Kong remains,
“sufficiently autonomous to justify special treatment by the United States ... including the degree to which Hong Kong’s autonomy has been eroded due to actions taken by the Government of China”.
The Bill would, under the terms of the Magnitsky Act, require the President of the United States to freeze the US-based assets of, and deny entry to the US by, any individual formerly responsible for abducting human rights activists in Hong Kong. Surely, this lead is very helpful and commendable and puts our own Government to some shame, considering our governorship of Hong Kong before the handover. Our Government should be in the forefront of opposing the barbaric measures taking place in Hong Kong today.
By way of conclusion, because of the time limit, I draw attention to an issue I raised last week in a debate, whereby students from mainland China in British universities are bullying and harassing fellow students from Hong Kong who support those demonstrating in support of the Sino-British declaration’s initial aims. I did not get a response from the Minister when he wound up then; perhaps I will today. Students at our universities should be given proper guidance on freedom of speech as part of their conditions of entry to universities in this country. It is important that students supporting the Beijing Government should not bring their standards of speech and tactics to these shores and our universities. If the Government are not prepared to take the lead in defending Hong Kong students and others at our universities, the obvious leader of that battle for freedom of speech should be the most qualified of all—none other than the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, who is in his place. He is chancellor of the best university in the land—Oxford—and I hope he does not mind me landing him with another job at this time.
Again, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, a great advocate for freedom and justice, not only in Hong Kong but universally.
I think my interests are all registered, not least the fact that, like my friend the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, I had the privilege of being Governor of Hong Kong for five years, the greatest privilege I have ever had.
The joint declaration incorporating “one country, two systems” was an extraordinary, clever, adept way of coping with an issue that was politically and morally difficult for both China and the United Kingdom. It was morally difficult for China because it knew that more than half the population of Hong Kong were refugees from events in China under a communist regime. It was morally difficult for Britain because it was pretty well our only colony that we were not preparing for independence with democratic structures. When occasionally in the 1960s and 1970s Britain talked about greater democracy in Hong Kong, Chinese officials, including, famously, Zhou Enlai, made it clear they did not want that, because it would give people in Hong Kong the idea that they were going to turn out something like Singapore or Malaysia one day—an independent country.
Moreover, it was always the Chinese Government's position that the future of the people in Hong Kong was nothing to do with the people of Hong Kong. It all had to be determined by the British and Chinese Governments. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that for a dozen or more years after 1997, “one country, two systems” worked extraordinarily well. There was some rowing back by the Chinese Government on the pledges they had made on the introduction of greater democracy in Hong Kong, saying at a number of points that this was a matter for people in Hong Kong. The joint liaison office, their main point of contact in Hong Kong, threw its weight around too much, but by and large things went pretty well. I think the caesura in Hong Kong, and in the development of China, in the past few years has been the election of Xi Jinping as head of the Communist Party and President of China. Just as that has changed attitudes to economic matters in China, it has had an impact on political issues as well. There has certainly been a tightening of Beijing’s control over Hong Kong in the past few years.
That is the backdrop to what has happened since the extraordinarily foolish introduction of the extradition Bill. That was seen, not just by pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong but by the business community, as an attempt to dismember the firewall between the rule of law in Hong Kong and whatever passes for the law—I note what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, had to say—in mainland China. We saw the huge demonstrations, which began peacefully but have unfortunately developed a violent edge in the past few months. Bear in mind that this has been going on for four months now.
I commend to the House an extremely good article in Asian Affairs by a retired Hong Kong police officer about what has happened in dealing with those demonstrations. First, he pointed out that, starting with the demonstrations on 12 June, which were around the government buildings, the police began to target not just the people behaving violently but a lot of those who were being perfectly peaceful. Secondly, we had the appalling affair in the MTR station and Yuen Long in July, when it was plainly the case that triads and other gangsters were used to beat up demonstrators to help in the policing. All those issues, along with the broader economic and social matters, justify establishing a commission of inquiry. That has been pressed for some months, including by the former Chief Justice Andrew Li and others. It is the most sensible way forward, and I implore the Government to do that in Hong Kong.
I also implore the demonstrators to recognise that they play into the hands of the Communist Party when they are violent. However, you have to understand that, when you say to them, “You will lose the moral high ground if you behave violently”, they say, “If we are on the moral high ground, who will be there with us? Who will be talking to us?”, because nobody addresses them or tries to form some sort of consensus with them. They are also extremely critical of the way the demonstrations have been policed, which has not been the greatest example of the behaviour of what used to be—and I hope still will be—a great Asian police force.
I will say three things in conclusion. First, I implore not just the demonstrators to give up the violence, but also Beijing to give the Government in Hong Kong, whether Carrie Lam or anybody else, the elbow room to make some accommodations with the demonstrators. Secondly, I implore the Chinese Government to behave more sensibly in general; most of us have received a rather impertinent letter this morning from the Foreign Ministry, which is a very good example of how the Chinese think that international laws and treaties they have signed must be followed by everybody else but not by them. Lastly, I refer to the Foreign Minister saying that all this has been whipped up by the CIA and foreign forces. It is always a weakness of authoritarian regimes that they do not understand what is happening below. That always causes difficulties.
I have one final point—I am sorry for going on for slightly longer than I should have. In 2016, I made a speech in Hong Kong saying that I would always support movements for democracy but was totally against any efforts to campaign for independence for Hong Kong, because it was not going to happen and it would be immoral of me to support it. Joshua Wong and others said, “Would you go along and talk to students, and say exactly the same thing?” I addressed 700 students at the University of Hong Kong and made those same points; I did the same the following year, and in between nobody from the Government had talked to them. At the end of that first session, the students said to me, “It’s all very well, Governor Patten, you coming along and making those sorts of remarks, but what happens if the Chinese continue to squeeze us? What will the rest of the world do? What will you do in Britain? What will the United States do? What will Europe do? What will you do personally?” It is a very good question.
My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, not just because of his distinguished governorship of Hong Kong but because of the time he spent in Northern Ireland, a place beloved by both him and me, and his distinguished chancellorship of Oxford University, where I find great intellectual nourishment and run a small centre dealing with intractable conflict. It is also always a great pleasure to participate in debates led and hosted by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who brings not only all his passion and enthusiasm but a thoroughly well-grounded and well-informed speech to start us off. I ask myself what I can usefully contribute after such valuable, insightful and experienced contributions. I will pick up where the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, left off: what can we do?
Can the Minister say whether there is any preparedness on the part of Her Majesty’s Government seriously to review the whole approach that has been taken to engagement with China over the last 20 years? I think it was largely informed by a view that, if markets were opened and there was economic engagement with China, a more liberal, democratic approach would, if not inevitably, most likely follow. There is a great vogue for evidence-based medicine. If there were any such thing as evidence-based politics, the evidence would be clear that economic openings have not led to liberal democracy. On the contrary, the situation is getting much worse.
The Minister has freedom of religion or belief as one of his many responsibilities in government. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed out, the situation on freedom of religion or belief in China itself is deteriorating in a quite extraordinary way. The Chinese Government do not make any apology for it or try to hide it; it is absolutely up front as part of their policy that, unless you follow the beliefs, culture and approach of the Chinese Government and the Communist Party, you are to be squeezed out. I read phrases such as “their bones will be crushed and thrown aside”. These are incredibly dangerous, as well as obnoxious, words from anyone, but from a Head of State and Government they are unforgivable. Are Her Majesty’s Government therefore prepared to review the approach that we have taken?
When Mr Blair was in government, he was very much of the belief that this was the way to engage. Resources were taken away from many other parts of the world and put into engagement with China because this was the way forward and we could not do without it. If China believes that that is the case, anything we say about Hong Kong or any of the other abuses in China will simply be brushed aside. What does this require? I make one specific proposition: that when it comes to business, our approach to human rights becomes an important agenda item. One reason why Hong Kong was allowed to continue as it was, at least for a period, was that it was the jewel in the crown of China’s economic prospects.
It is absolutely clear that many businesses are now reassessing whether Hong Kong is the place to be; some are moving to Singapore, others elsewhere. However, it will not do what is necessary if they simply quietly slip away. It is important that it is made very clear to Beijing and the current Administration in Hong Kong that businesses will leave, should leave and may well be encouraged to leave if the human rights situation does not improve and more prospects are not given. I support the call that, at the next Commonwealth meeting, the question be raised of whether—we must do this along with other countries, though we will have to take a lead if we are to ask others—BNO passport holders will be given the opportunity to relocate. It is the best possibility not only for their future but for maintaining them there with some confidence that they have alternatives.
My Lords, I too am grateful for this debate, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. There is a very high level of knowledge and expertise in the House: therefore, I make this contribution with some diffidence. However, the church in Hong Kong plays a significant part in the life of the community there, where it is distinctive, both in terms of worship and religious freedom but also education and social care. Hong Kong has a unique history, and this country has particular responsibilities.
The parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields, where I was vicar before becoming Bishop of Salisbury, has had a Cantonese-speaking, Hong Kong-based congregation for more than 50 years. At the handover there was some anxiety and much hope for a Hong Kong which developed as a special administrative region and was able to look both ways, inside China and out from China, uniquely connecting China to the wider world.
We want to stand with the people of Hong Kong. The question is: with which people, and how? It is a place with, to some extent, competing different views of the world. For mainland Chinese, the pride of the nation’s development is measured in education, employment, economic prosperity and healthcare. In Hong Kong, there is a deep commitment to democracy, the rule of law, human rights and religious freedom. The way in which the protests have been challenged and policed has been exacerbated by the use of artificial intelligence in the visual recognition of protesters, the ban on face masks, and so on. The different views of the world are not necessarily opposites but they are very different emphases. Maybe the role of those of us outside is to exert pressure—to push together the best of what it is to be human, and people together.
The current disruption has its roots in the extradition Bill, as well as in housing, income inequality and a lack of social mobility. However, it is much more to do with identity. At the handover, it was assumed by some, for better and for worse, that in time Hong Kong would lose its distinctiveness. For others, Hong Kong brought something distinctive to the Chinese polity, religion, and social and economic life. Now, those aged under 35 in Hong Kong see themselves as Hong Kongers first and Chinese second. In other words, Hong Kong’s identity has been hardened and has grown more significant, not less.
Of course, the Anglican Church in Hong Kong condemns violence but supports lawful and peaceful protest. From the perspective of Hong Kong leaders, it is less than helpful for foreign politicians to tell Hong Kong and Chinese people what to do and how to behave. The task for us is to work out how to exert pressure from outside so that we stand alongside those to whom we have not just a historic but a present commitment, to encourage the keeping of treaties and international law, and the finding of a peaceful resolution to the present conflicts.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to be able to participate in this debate.
For decades, when visiting vibrant, colourful, lively, bustling Hong Kong, we have seen rapid change melded with Chinese culture, keeping traditions alive, including music on ancient rare instruments. When Bradbury Hospice opened in 1992, supported by Lady Patten and the Jockey Club, several fine compassionate doctors sought palliative medicine specialist education through Cardiff and established world-class services, founded on deep humanity and high clinical standards, sensitive to Cantonese culture. When SARS happened, they cared for those dying and helped contain it.
As we have heard, Cantonese religious traditions are broad and varied. Some British, interned by the Japanese invaders during the last war, gained inner strength from St John’s Cathedral church’s ad hoc services, and today its Filipino Christian fellowship supports those in domestic service.
Following handover, Hong Kong’s gentle realignment with mainland China became palpable, while keeping its own distinct identity. Meanwhile, China has developed at an astonishing rate, across all disciplines. To the outsider, China has nothing to fear from Hong Kong—but Hong Kong now fears China, whose more than 1.4 billion people represent almost 19% of the world’s population.
In the early 1990s, Falun Gong, with its Buddhist origins and fundamental tenets of truthfulness, compassion and forbearance, was favoured by the People’s Republic of China. As it became popular, it was proscribed by the atheistic state, and adherents appear to have been systematically persecuted, imprisoned in labour camps without cause, and tortured, and an unknown number killed. They are prisoners of conscience, along with Uighurs, house Christians, and Tibetans.
Those of us in rich, vibrant societies cannot understand what the perceived threat is to the communist state from people whose philosophy is non-violent and peaceful at all times. Yet now there is extensive evidence that China has been killing its Falun Gong prisoners of conscience to remove organs for commercial human transplantation. I recently met Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, chairman of the Independent Tribunal into Forced Organ Harvesting from Prisoners of Conscience in China, whose judgment makes harrowing reading. That evidence-based judgment, delivered in June this year, followed the earlier interim judgment that:
“The Tribunal’s members are certain—unanimously, and sure beyond reasonable doubt—that in China forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been practised for a substantial period of time involving a very substantial number of victims”.
Is it possible that some doctors could perpetrate such crimes against humanity, even at times taking organs before the person was clinically dead? Shamefully, it seems so. The tribunal’s findings cannot be buried along with the bodies of the victims, so will the Government support the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, to cut off demand from any UK residents who want to participate in this transplant tourism?
How do we come to terms with this huge country, with which we work well and trade on a daily basis? We welcome Chinese students to our universities and work with China on many major projects. Cardiff Metropolitan University, which I chair, recently welcomed the Deputy Premier of China and his team to our ZER02FIVE Food Industry Centre to help China develop public health training programmes in food handling. In many scientific and medical disciplines, excellent-quality work in research and teaching is being undertaken. Collaboration across boundaries should benefit all.
Now, as Hong Kong cries out for open government, we have a moral duty to all those British passport holders. We must not abandon the strength and integrity of these people. We will lose highly skilled Europeans through Brexit, yet Hong Kong British should have open entry to the UK. China has nothing to fear from open ethical practices, but much to fear from abusing human rights. Meanwhile, the British people of Hong Kong, living by our code and legal system, must not be abandoned through wilful blindness.
My Lords, I have lived and worked in Hong Kong and have been a frequent visitor to China since the early 1980s. This debate comes at a time when tensions in Hong Kong are extremely high, and the prospects of greater violence are increasing. Estimates are that up to 10% of the demonstrators are using violence, and that these people are well resourced and uncompromising. I see nothing to be gained by raking over the recent events and trying to apportion blame. For every rumour of the involvement of PRC undercover agents there is a counter-rumour of CIA interference. This gets us nowhere. The overwhelming priority is to end the violent protests of the extremists, who are damaging the very cause that they uphold, as well as at the same time moving quickly to much-needed and unforgivably delayed reforms in Hong Kong.
I am a supporter of the joint declaration and the approach of “one country, two systems”. This was a substantial victory for common sense and was to the advantage of all sides. Unfortunately, rather than seeing this as a holistic concept, some people have concentrated on one rather than the other, which has led to many of the problems we see today.
An old Chinese saying describes this perfectly: “two people sleeping in the same bed dreaming different dreams”. However, on balance China has adhered to the agreement because it is in the interests of China so to do. Hong Kong remains the pre-eminent financial centre in China and Asia. It is also of paramount importance to Chinese relations with Taiwan going forward.
Unless there is a complete breakdown of law and order in Hong Kong, I do not see the likelihood of a Chinese invasion. I also do not believe that, if the authorities introduce the necessary reforms, the structure will change even after 2047. If it works, it is good for China and Hong Kong.
The problems in Hong Kong are principally home grown, in that it has had various ineffective Governments since 1997, who have failed to introduce much-needed reforms in a variety of sectors, both social and structural. While the population of China has become increasingly affluent, the population of Hong Kong, with the exception of the rich, has become poorer and consequently more disaffected. Some of this is due to the dollar peg, which has caused massive asset inflation, which benefits the haves rather than the have-nots.
The incompetence of the Administration has not been assisted by its poor briefings and overall handling of the media, which sometimes gives a very one-sided view of events. The constitution and performance of LegCo is a big stumbling block. It is less than representative and too pro-Beijing. Its composition needs to be changed. The fault is not all that of the Government, as the behaviour of some democratic Members has been appalling, with outright and needless insults to the very name of China. This lack of respect does no one any good.
Much needs attention, and we in Britain should be clearly pointing this out to the Hong Kong Government. These matters are arguably more important than issues around passports, which, we hope, will never be required. If the “one country, two systems” framework is made to work, it is to the overwhelming advantage of both Hong Kong and China. Hong Kongers will have little interest in passports. That is why all our current efforts should be directed to this objective alone.
First and foremost, the Government must restore law and order by giving their wholesale backing, including resources and training, to the police. The police are the first and only line of civic defence in Hong Kong, unlike in other countries. They are fellow Hong Kong citizens speaking Cantonese and with houses and children at the same schools in the community. They are not the PLA, which has none of these features or local relationships. It does not matter where in the civilised world you are: if you stab a policeman carrying out his duty, you are likely to get hurt as well as arrested, even if you are a 12 year-old. In the current circumstances, now that the Government have enacted the emergency law, they need to enforce it. The implementation of the face mask ban was a farce.
The police are already stretched and, unless they get full support, disintegration of the force could well begin. There have been no fatalities yet, but that is where things are headed. Once violent demonstrations are ended and there is a return to peaceful protest, the chief executive can start the conciliation process with inquiries and measures to reform LegCo, housing and much else. With compromise, good faith and good will, and without stirring nationalist sentiment, this can be solved. The Hong Kong Government’s withdrawal of the extradition Bill and their apology for the unintended spraying of paint at the Kowloon Mosque is a good start.
My Lords, the Chinese position now—that the “one country, two systems” agreement is obsolete and no longer valid—is a clear breach of an international treaty, ratified in the UN, which enshrines the autonomy, rights and freedoms in the Hong Kong Basic Law. In response to an Urgent Question on 26 September, the Foreign Secretary confirmed that the United Kingdom expected China to live up to its obligations. He confirmed that he had spoken to the Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, and the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, and made clear our concerns about human rights and the mistreatment of those exercising their right to lawful and peaceful protest. He said that their concerns should be addressed, not crushed by force.
That is a fine and noble sentiment from the Foreign Secretary, but there is scant evidence, more than a month on, of a positive Chinese reaction—until this morning, when it was announced that the extradition Bill had been withdrawn, according to the Times. But that is only one of five key demands of the protesters.
The Foreign Secretary also said that our international partners had placed on record their strong support and that the Prime Minister had raised Hong Kong at a recent G7 meeting, where all partners supported the joint declaration and called for an end to violence. The Foreign Secretary stressed to the Chinese Government that it was Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy that guaranteed its future prosperity and success.
Again, there was no positive response from the Chinese, apart from saying, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned, that the Sino-British joint declaration was an historical document that no longer had any practical significance and had no binding effect on the Chinese central Government’s management of Hong Kong. The British, the statement said, have no sovereignty after the handover, nor power to rule or power to supervise. That is a pretty clear statement, but wildly divergent from the fact that the treaty is registered with the UN, remains in force and obliges both signatories to adhere to the terms they agreed.
Over the past several weeks, Members have received a steady flow of emails from Hong Kongers, some setting out their analysis of the situation with great fluency. I will not give names, for fear of retribution, but outstanding arguments include:
“Unlike other British Overseas Territories, the British Hong Kong residents were denied a vote on the future. The land and the people were handed over to the Chinese without asking their consent”.
“Hong Kong Britons born in British Hong Kong before the handover were British by birth. After the handover, those of Chinese descent had Chinese nationality brutally imposed by Beijing. It is now impossible for them to register as British citizens due to the imposition of Chinese nationality”.
“Beijing is not concerned about the justifiable rights of the Hong Kong people, but only on how to silence opposition views”.
That is just a sample of the many emails that I and others have received appealing for help.
Should the situation in Hong Kong be seen as part of the broader picture of Chinese foreign policy? Most people will be familiar with China’s belt and road initiative—a massive infrastructure and investment project, a new Silk Road to transport Chinese goods through the heart of central Asia and into Europe, with defined maritime routes through and beyond the Indian Ocean, served by a string of naval bases, including in Sri Lanka and Djibouti, to protect their passage.
It smacks of imperialism on a global scale not seen since the 18th and 19th centuries. Chinese foreign policy includes extending territorial claims to a network of disputed islands, reefs and atolls throughout the South China Sea, stretching into the Pacific and closing on Australia. Harbour and airport facilities with military capabilities and defence infrastructure have mushroomed on islands that make up the Paracels and Spratlys.
China has just secured a 75-year renewable lease on the whole of the island of Tulagi in the heart of the Solomon Islands, complete with fully functional naval and air bases initially provided by the Allied forces in World War II. Last month, China persuaded the Solomon Islands to join Kiribati in switching diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing.
There are worries, particularly in the US and Australia, that these developments provide a foothold for establishing a military presence in their backyard. The annual Bersama Lima military exercise is currently in full swing, with the intention of five nations combining to provide defence across Asia from a potential Chinese conventional threat: the front line. However, the allies’ combined power compared to China’s is extraordinary: the details do not bear reading. However, given that military engagement would seem an invidious course of action, we must examine combined economic and other actions to persuade China to address the plight of the Hong Kongers. In the words of Hong Kongers:
“Hong Kong is not Hong Kong anymore. No freedom, no justice, not safe. Please help to save the Hong Kongers’ life”.
I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Alton for tabling this debate and for his continued interest in this area. I am speaking today in part not only because of the significant number of emails that I have received on this issue even before I put my name down to speak, but also because I have visited many countries that are being ripped apart by genocide, war and civil unrest. I have also been fascinated by the evolving relationship between sport and politics as countries have transitioned away from the Empire into the Commonwealth, which has led to my interest in Hong Kong.
I watched in real time the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, although personally I have never been comfortable with the word “handover” when talking about people. I was fascinated by the provisions of the joint declaration and how citizens would be protected during the transition and beyond. Many of the letters I have received are from individuals asking for protection and support as British national overseas citizens. They talk about feeling abandoned and their only protection being to look to us to hold China to account. Many say that we have a historical and moral responsibility to do so. They talk of cases of universal suffrage not being upheld, activists being banned from running elections and the impact of religious intolerance. Perhaps there are not many positive things about Brexit, but one is that in this country we have the right to protest in relative safety. In Hong Kong, however, we see real fear playing out on the streets.
As I researched this subject, I became aware of the work of Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, a distinguished prosecutor and respected expert in crimes of mass atrocity and forced organ harvesting. One could say that on the one hand China has been at the forefront of medical developments, but we have to consider at what cost. In 2004, 13,000 organ transplants were carried out in China, but where are the organs coming from? It has been publicly known for many years and was reported on in 2009 in China Daily that approximately 65% of transplanted organs still come from death row prisoners. That brings me back to the work of Sir Geoffrey Nice. In the final judgment of the China tribunal, he said:
“Forced organ harvesting has been committed for years through China on a significant scale and that Falun Gong practitioners have been one—and probably the main source of organ supply. The concerted persecution and medical testing of the Uyghurs is more recent and it may be that evidence of forced organ harvesting of this group may emerge in due course”,
“forced organ harvesting continues till this day”.
We can perhaps understand why Chinese transplant professionals and the Government chose not to participate in the tribunal. Lu Kang, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said on 30 June:
“Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China and Hong Kong’s affairs are China’s internal affairs ... Now that Hong Kong has returned to its motherland for 20 years, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as a historical document, no longer has any practical significance, and does not have any binding effect on the Chinese central government’s management of Hong Kong”.
That does not fill me with positive hope.
I should like to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether this is really acceptable. Where is our moral responsibility? I have a number of friends who have received organ transplants. I have seen them wait, I have seen the pain they go through and I have seen those who have passed away. Organ transplantation saves lives, but there is no place for organ tourism or for enforced organ harvesting. This is just one of many fears we must address for the citizens of Hong Kong.
My Lords, Hong Kong had everything going for it, including a fabulous future as part of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay area, which was and still is destined to be one of the richest, most innovative and powerful regions on the entire planet. Mention of the British national (overseas) passport issue sent me to my filing cabinet, where a dusty file reminded me that 24 years ago I had the privilege of leading the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee to a five-day inquiry in the old LegCo on Hong Kong island, where we conducted hearings on exactly the same issue: whether the British national (overseas) passport should give right of abode to the United Kingdom. We concluded that it should not, but we thought that certain categories of people should be admitted. They have been admitted progressively under quotas since then. We thought that the passport status was part of the Sino-British declaration that had been signed a year before in 1994, that we should leave it as part of the declaration, and that we should respect the whole declaration because we hoped and believed that it would give Hong Kong 50 years of prosperity and stability.
For 20 years it did, but what on earth went wrong? We know that the clumsy extradition law was the trigger and that it has now been withdrawn. However, in my view there is blame that lies in Beijing, in London and in Hong Kong itself. Whether we like it or not, the international legal position is clear. Under the declaration and our agreements, Hong Kong is now a sovereign part of the People’s Republic of China. The joint declaration was always based on an understanding that in the future, after signature, there would be a degree of trust and respect, along with constant dialogue with Beijing, as well as with the Hong Kong authorities, on the necessary reform and modernisation that has taken place, given that the whole world has been completely transformed since those days.
There was also a degree of ambiguity and compromise in the declaration. There had to be—there always is in these complicated situations. One problem is that in the digital age, when everyone is pushed to extremes, moderation is cast, and all nuances are neglected and there is hyper-communication that is very difficult to handle because everyone is driven to taking extreme positions. For instance, China simply carries on asserting that the declaration is null and void and Britain has nothing to do with it and should stay out of the picture, while we, on the other hand, keep on bravely asserting a point that is legally true, which is that it is a binding agreement. These are counter-assertions that get us nowhere. They are exactly the sort of megaphone diplomacy that the father of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, warned us against many decades ago. There has to be a dialogue of respect, trust and understanding, and the positive necessity is for that to be recreated now.
I think it was the former Prime Minister John Major who said to the people of Hong Kong, “We will never forget you”, but in fact we did forget them. We forgot the essential dialogue element needed to keep the situation under proper control. It is now utterly in China’s interests to see the Hong Kong situation restored and pacified. It is also utterly in Hong Kong’s interests to see that it reassumes its place in the fantastic and fabulous financial future as a hub of the whole world’s system of modern government and trade.
What do we need now and what can we can do? We can urge that a detailed inquiry be held into the grievances. It may be that a new Chief Executive is required to bring a new approach to the whole situation. Above all, we need full and continuing dialogue with the PRC and the people in Beijing, who are not totally ignorant of what is happening or the dangers it poses for China and everyone else, about what was intended when we signed the declaration and how it needs to be constantly nurtured and reformed. That is where we should put all our efforts. It is something we have not done; now we should start doing it.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for this opportunity to speak. I am no great expert on Hong Kong but I hope to make clear why I wanted to speak today. Previously, I was chief constable of Merseyside Police which lays claim to the oldest Chinese community in Europe and has the largest Chinese arch outside China. It is a great community, as is the large community in London. Its members are always very law-abiding, integrated with the wider community and supportive of each other. There are links historically to the former Royal Hong Kong Police Force through visits and trips.
The situation in Hong Kong appears to be deteriorating rather than improving. Large-scale protests are being held on a daily basis, with reports of serious violence and damage. My concerns relate to the behaviour of the Hong Kong police in dealing with those demonstrations. I remind the House in passing that, although the Hong Kong authorities have been criticised for passing legislation making it illegal to wear a mask, it is illegal to wear a mask in this country when, under certain conditions, a person refuses to remove it on the request of a police officer. It is not only in Hong Kong that we see this type of legislation.
I know just how difficult it is to police protests. The people protesting always feel strongly about the issue they are advocating. It can be a serious issue of principle for those people and often involves a passionate commitment to the cause they espouse. The majority of a crowd usually do not wish to be involved in violence, but their presence can be a way for those who intend to be violent to be hidden and to make it difficult for law enforcement agencies to deal with them.
My natural sympathies can therefore lie with any police force faced with that type of operation. However, I am afraid I have become increasingly concerned by the TV images of the police response in Hong Kong and the reports of respected bodies that have observed serious police misconduct and have evidence of human rights abuse. Both Hong Kong Watch and Amnesty International have published worrying accounts of police excesses.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned, a recent Amnesty International report confirms,
“an alarming pattern of the Hong Kong Police Force deploying reckless and indiscriminate tactics”,
in their arrests, as well as beating and torturing people in detention. The same report states that detained protesters have been “severely beaten” and that this,
“appears to have been meted out … for talking back”,
or being unco-operative. Worryingly, there are repeated reports of sexual violence in police detention. Further, as we have heard again today, there are reports of police firing live ammunition at protesters.
I accept that Hong Kong police are armed and, if they become isolated in a crowd, may use a weapon for self-defence—but I am afraid that the use of a firearm in a political protest is always a very serious development and increases the risk that the protesters will respond by arming themselves and using firearms in return. That is always the most serious turn of events at a protest, politically as well as practically. Finally, we have seen reports of a journalist being shot with a rubber bullet despite being clearly identified as a member of the press.
What steps are the Government taking to make sure that the Hong Kong Government establish an independent judge-led inquiry into these abuses? Have the Government considered raising with the UN Security Council the recent breaches of the human rights captured in the Sino-British joint declaration? What steps have the Government taken to investigate reports of sexual violence against young protesters in detention? Finally, will the Government make formal diplomatic representation to raise concerns about all these issues?
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Alton for bringing this debate and for his ongoing commitment to raising the issues of China and Hong Kong. I say “my noble friend” advisedly. I have not slipped into the wrong Benches; I think of the noble Lord as a friend.
Like the right reverend Prelate, I speak with some diffidence this afternoon. Hong Kong is not my area of expertise, and in your Lordships’ House it is always a little dangerous to speak from a position of no expertise. In particular, I am aware that—apart from former governors—we have young Hong Kongers watching us today. I agreed to speak precisely because, like my noble friend Lord Chidgey, I started receiving emails. Some probably came to all Members of your Lordships’ House. One came from somebody I knew, no longer resident in Hong Kong, who said, “I want you to make clear to Parliament what the real situation is like in Hong Kong”.
My sense is that noble Lords contributing to this debate need no lessons on what the situation is like in Hong Kong, but I felt that so many people were writing that it was important, as an ordinary Member of the Lords, to take a bit more time to find out what is happening in Hong Kong and at least raise my voice in support of those people in Hong Kong seeking what so many young people in the United Kingdom want. They want freedom, democracy and autonomy. After all, what have we been doing for the last three and a half years but trying to talk about freedom, democracy and autonomy, albeit in a slightly different format?
The situation with Hong Kong is a sui generis case. If what is happening in Hong Kong were happening in mainland China, the Chinese authorities would simply say, “This is about our sovereign territory. Please go away. We don’t interfere in your politics. Please don’t interfere in ours”. But the situation with the Sino-British joint declaration is different.
One of my questions to the Minister is: to what extent do the Government really feel they can play a part? In answer to my noble friend Lady Northover on 7 October, he said the Government 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”.—[Official Report, 7/10/19; col. 1903.]
How do Her Majesty’s Government plan to do this? We have not so far seen much evidence of it.
Among the other areas that have not been much discussed today are fake news and suicides. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said that there have not yet been any fatalities, but various people have said in their emails that what has changed in recent months is the number of unexplained suicides: people who appear to have perhaps fallen from a building, but nobody saw or heard them fall. Is it possible for Her Majesty’s Government to ask what is happening with this and whether the rule of law is being upheld? There are clearly questions about people dying in unexplained circumstances.
We are in a very difficult time. Several Members of your Lordships’ House have already mentioned residency for British nationals overseas, but there is a clear disparity among Hong Kongers. Some have BNO status, some have BOC status and some born after 1997 have neither status. They would not have a right of abode even if Her Majesty’s Government decided to give BNO citizens the right to reside in the United Kingdom.
What are Her Majesty’s Government able to do about the rights of Hong Kong citizens? Clearly it is vital that Hong Kong becomes again a place where people want to remain and exercise their rights under the Sino-British agreement. However, if that is not possible, what guarantees can be given to Hong Kong citizens, whatever their original nationality? If we have one country, two systems, there should not be three or four different citizenships.
My Lords, although I cannot claim the same extent of expertise in relation to Hong Kong and China as many who have spoken so far and many from whom we are yet to hear, I have had the pleasure of going to Hong Kong on several occasions and I have friends who live and work there.
I also was asked to add my signature to the letter initiated by Hong Kong Watch and sent to the Foreign Secretary recently, and I welcome the tone of his reply. However, one point arising from the Foreign Secretary’s reply to that letter—which I hope my noble friend the Minister can clarify—is the reference to his having spoken to a wide range of his counterparts internationally to encourage their support. Does this include the European Union? It was not listed in the Foreign Secretary’s letter, and we are after all still members and can still benefit from a united voice from Europe to carry weight in China. I hope he will tell us that this issue has been raised at that level. I would like to hear more about the reaction from other Commonwealth countries.
It is always difficult to know how best to support action against human rights abuses, and some of the horrific examples quoted today and the limitation on freedoms in Hong Kong require positive action by the United Kingdom. So, in spite of the advice to the contrary of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, I support the suggestion that the United Kingdom should provide an insurance policy of second citizenship and the right of abode. I see this as a part of our responsibility under the joint declaration. Can the Minister give an indication of the numbers involved if this approach should be taken?
On the wider issue of the protests, I have mixed feelings. I agree with those who consider that they have gone on too long, and I deplore the increasing violence on both sides. At the moment, protests and lengthy demonstrations seem to be springing up all over the world—witness Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Barcelona, and even here we have seen the recent paralysis of central London for almost two weeks—so we can all understand how the consequences of such protracted action can impact on the lives of ordinary citizens. However sympathetic one might be about the cause of the protest, patience can wear thin. We do not want that to happen in Hong Kong. I hope, therefore, that we can show tangible support for the grievances of the protestors and, by doing so, encourage them not to further provoke and escalate the violence and disproportionate force that we have all witnessed on our television screens.
I congratulate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on giving us this opportunity to show our support for the people of Hong Kong.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Alton for securing this important debate and ensuring that the voices of the supporters of democracy in Hong Kong are heard in this House.
Hong Kong was my second home, as I had my office there from 1984 to 1995, and I always found it a peaceful place. The recent scenes of unrest in Hong Kong have become increasingly disturbing as hostility towards the pro-democracy protestors grows. The ban by the Hong Kong Administration on wearing face masks has been counterproductive and only served to increase protests. Many people in Hong Kong believe the umbrella revolution in 2014 did not work and their frustration at the perceived violations to the “one country, two systems” agreement is growing.
As I am sure your Lordships’ House is aware, the protests began over an extradition treaty that would have allowed citizens of Hong Kong to be extradited to China. This caused alarm, a public outcry and led to the huge conflicts between police and protestors which have shocked the world. While the Bill to enact this legislation has been withdrawn, there are still many issues to be addressed.
Both sides, the UK and China, signed up to the Sino-British joint declaration agreement to respect Hong Kong’s traditions and way of life. Any actions contrary to the agreement should be swiftly addressed by the UK Government. We must do more—and fast— to ensure that democracy in Hong Kong is preserved and that the values the people hold dear are not eroded beyond all repair. Having an elected Administration and not one appointed by the Chinese Government, so that Hong Kong residents have faith in the running of Hong Kong, is a first step. The UK Government should insist on this to achieve real results.
While the calls to offer citizenship here and in other Commonwealth countries to BNO passport holders may help in the short term, and I support any moves to do so, it does nothing to resolve the issues faced by Hong Kong residents in the long term. The key issue is the fragility of democracy in Hong Kong at present. With more and more stories surfacing of ill-treatment of protestors by the police, the rule of law appears to be being violated. It cannot be right that the police can act with impunity and without proper systems in place to hold them to account for their behaviour.
Another issue that particularly stands out for me is the need to protect protesting citizens from being targeted by the Hong Kong Administration and the Chinese Government. What is being done by the Government to create dialogue with the protestors in order to bring about democratic reform in a reasoned way and to ensure that the dialogue is with bona fide protestors and not infiltrators? This is an important point, as it is only through careful and considered dialogue on all sides that we have any hope of bringing the situation to a peaceful resolution.
My Lords, I refer to my business interests in Hong Kong and mainland China as set out in the register. As someone involved in business in Hong Kong, I record my sadness and concern at the events of recent months. I add my condolences to all those affected by the news that 39 citizens of China died in yesterday’s appalling lorry tragedy.
Like other speakers in this debate, I condemn the violence. It has seriously threatened the well-being of the community and has taken a significant toll on the whole of Hong Kong and its international standing. I strongly support efforts to restore law and order for the greater good of the people of Hong Kong. To move forward, Hong Kong’s community needs to work together to restore the confidence of that great city and ensure the well-being and harmony of all its people.
The rule of law and the “one country, two systems” principle enshrined in the Basic Law are fundamental to the strength and stability of Hong Kong. Will the Minister confirm that the Government’s view is that “one country, two systems” has worked well over the 22 years since 1997? Will he also confirm that the Government have identified only one case in those 22 years which they believe to have been a breach of the joint declaration?
Hong Kong has become one of the world’s most successful financial and business cities and a city in which many British people and businesses have prospered since 1997. Hong Kong is Asia’s dominant equity market, and it has become the key conduit for Chinese inbound and outbound investment, including into the UK, so I urge the Government to continue to support and enhance the UK’s economic links with Hong Kong. To that end, will the Minister confirm that high priority will be given to a free trade and investment agreement with Hong Kong as part of the UK’s post-Brexit trade architecture? Will he confirm that work with Hong Kong under the UK’s global financial partnerships strategy continues to be a priority?
It will be for the people and the Government of Hong Kong to resolve the very concerning current situation, but the UK can and should play its part in supporting the prosperity of Hong Kong as a great, open trading city.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, who has great business experience in Hong Kong and China. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on setting the scene for us so well. I recall that it was exactly five years ago this month, I think, that I led a similar debate on Hong Kong following the so-called umbrella demonstrations, which were not as serious as the demonstrations in the past four months.
As a cosignatory to the international treaty, we clearly have a duty and a responsibility to the people of Hong Kong to take an interest and to express our views constructively about their future.
My mind goes back to a weekend in 1984 when I was Minister of State with responsibility for Hong Kong. The Prime Minister asked me to be on duty throughout the weekend because Geoffrey Howe, as Foreign Secretary, was having vital discussions in Beijing with Chinese leaders, including Deng Xiaoping. I sat waiting for news, and late on that Saturday news came from the British ambassador. Deng Xiaoping, he said, had told him, “I trust Geoffrey Howe and therefore I have given an instruction that we will go ahead and draw up an agreement”. Trust was at the heart of the issue and it is what started the whole process moving forward, to the extent that by the end of the year we had signed the joint declaration. It is one of the most remarkable declarations in the history of any country, with the juxtaposition of two totally different and contrasting systems of government: one an autocracy; the other with a relatively free way of life and rule of law.
At that time, and I believe that it applies just as strongly today, there was a mutual interest among all of us—the people of Hong Kong above all, the Chinese Government and the British Government—in seeing the successful implementation of that treaty and the Basic Law that went with it.
It seems that Hong Kong is facing one of the biggest challenges in its history. It has been through the 1967 cultural revolution, the 1984 anxieties about its future, the transition of the 1990s and the umbrella revolution, but this seems to go even deeper. Clearly, the young people are frustrated and worried about their future, their freedom, their jobs, their housing and the contrast between the wealthy and the less well-off. Alongside that, as we have already heard, China today under President Xi has stronger political and security control over the country. In Hong Kong itself, there has been a lack of political leadership by successive Chief Executives, and therefore a lack of confidence and trust.
What needs to be done? First, it would be sensible for Hong Kong to have a sharp look at the way it chooses its Chief Executives. The Basic Law allows the system to be devised in such a way that it is possible to elect a Chief Executive who is directly accountable to the people. However, if, as is the case at present, the means of appointing and electing a Chief Executive is through a body of 1,200 people who largely lean towards Beijing, with candidates who have to have Beijing’s approval, there is bound to be a large element of mistrust. That, I believe, needs to be looked at.
Then there is the question of an independent inquiry into the police. I would hope that such an inquiry would restore confidence in them. For the young, there needs to be improvement in their housing and conditions and in their job opportunities. I hope that businesses in Hong Kong will help them in that respect.
On citizenship, I have only one point to make, not that we need to dwell on the broader issue. There is a group of 260 Hong Kong former servicemen who served in the Armed Forces under the British Crown and they are getting extremely nervous about their position and their security. This matter has been raised regularly in Parliament with the Home Secretary and I would be very grateful for the Minister’s view on whether they can be given right of abode.
I believe that what is needed and what we should encourage—we cannot dictate; all we can do is persuade —is sustained dialogue in Hong Kong so that it can strengthen all that is embodied in the framing of the joint declaration and the Basic Law with imaginative leadership, and with us encouraging the international community to support it. That is the least we can do for the people of Hong Kong.
My Lords, I refer the House to my entry in the register of interests. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on introducing this debate. He has long been a beacon of morality in your Lordships’ House.
I first went to work in Hong Kong in 1961 and I have made numerous visits there over the last 58 years, most recently in May last year. In 1975, when I was a journalist, the Economist sent me to write a survey of Hong Kong, for which I had the most generous guidance from Sir Murray MacLehose. Sir Murray was Hong Kong’s longest-serving, hugely respected and, in the view of many, greatest governor. He served four terms from 1971 to 1982; from 1982 he was, of course, a distinguished member of your Lordships’ House.
I pay tribute also to my noble friend Lord Patten, whose governorship I was able to observe quite closely. Two parts of his legacy are especially relevant. First, during the run-up to the handover, he focused the eyes of the world on Hong Kong. Secondly, he taught the people of Hong Kong how to stand up for themselves.
I refer to Lord MacLehose because, together with Sir Philip Haddon-Cave, the financial secretary, he oversaw the development of Hong Kong from a trading outpost of the British Empire to a flourishing city state. He did so by advocating the interests of Hong Kong in London during the height of the British political struggle between socialism and capitalism. This aspect of the role of the British governor is, I believe, a clue to the cause of the tragic events over the last five months in Hong Kong.
Under the imaginative formula of “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong has for 20 years had a Chief Executive, selected—as the noble Lord, Lord Luce, explained—after some sort of consultation with Hong Kong, but really chosen by Beijing. Unfortunately, each Chief Executive has been perceived by Hong Kongers as representing the interests of Beijing in Hong Kong rather than being an advocate for Hong Kong to the leadership in Beijing. Indeed, Carrie Lam seems to have tried to anticipate what would please Beijing. That seems to be how the disastrous extradition Bill was conceived. The obvious sensitivities should have excluded such a provocative initiative, especially as we gather that it was not initiated by Beijing. When the storm first burst, it should have been withdrawn immediately, instead of which matters have been allowed to drag on and, indeed, deteriorate for some months.
During this period, Beijing has actually been remarkably restrained, and rightly so, in its own interests. I have sympathy also with the Hong Kong police, although they have not behaved perfectly. The initial protests were wholly justified, but the escalation into violence was not. It has become counterproductive to the cause and concerns of the protesters, rather as the actions at Canning Town tube station last week have been for Extinction Rebellion.
Let us face the fact that the “one country, two systems” regime will continue for another 28 years and that this is not likely to mean full democracy for Hong Kong; certainly, it will not mean any form of independence. Beijing was fortunate to inherit the world’s third most important financial centre. For China, that was indeed a treasure. While Shanghai is a world-class commercial centre, it is not under starter’s orders as a global financial centre to replace Hong Kong. There are many reasons for this. Perhaps the most obvious is that the judiciary in China is under the control of the Communist Party and will remain so. The only challenge to Hong Kong’s financial role comes from Singapore.
Mrs Lam should be allowed to retire. China’s leadership—which means President Xi Jinping—should rise to the challenge of appointing a successor who can acquire and maintain the trust and respect of the people of Hong Kong, without forfeiting the confidence of Beijing.
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for giving the House the opportunity for this debate. Its depth is testimony to the continuing close ties between the UK and Hong Kong.
I was warned by a veteran staffer in the office of Caroline Lucas to beware of becoming involved in too many foreign affairs issues, because there are so many, and the human needs are so pressing, that they can quickly consume every hour of your day and more. So many tragedies around the world have a British link, for the disastrous history of British colonialism continues to play out in the current day, as well as the destructive and counterproductive policies of military adventurism in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, the issue of Hong Kong is one to which I have a personal tie. As a young journalist, I oversaw the Bangkok Post’s coverage of the Hong Kong handover, now more than 22 years ago. What is more, the young people engaged in the struggle for democracy in Hong Kong have much in common with the climate strikers here in the UK, young people whose elders have failed them and who are now bravely taking the future into their own hands. Like many Members of this House, I have been contacted by multiple individuals asking that Britain both acknowledge and act on the actions of the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities and the state of repression and fear in Hong Kong. I could not resist their calls.
In 1997, I thought that the British would stand up for the democratic rights of the people of Hong Kong. I remember being shocked by the final agreement. Earlier, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, talked about how the idea of handing over people is deeply disturbing and this really sums up what I thought at that time.
As a nation, we bear responsibility for the state of Hong Kong today, and that, as we have heard from so many noble Lords, is a frightening breakdown of the rule of law and abuses by officialdom of their power and resources. The Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, calls on us to note the political unrest. I want to go much further than that. I want to condemn the clear human rights abuses and repression that are occurring and call for the British Government to take concrete action.
I will quote a few words from a woman who I will not name, for obvious reasons. She describes herself as an “ordinary working mother”, who is experiencing “the worst moment of my life”. This reflects the accounts mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. This mother in Hong Kong speaks of living in a city where floating corpses, sometimes decapitated, are being found in the sea, and where there are alleged suicides in and around residential buildings, with police culpability widely thought to be involved. She speaks of a city where people are understandably feeling “hopeless”. Reference has been made to this week’s report from Stand with Hong Kong on the conditions of the San Uk Ling detention facility and the broader treatment of protesters by police. There are deeply disturbing reports of beatings, sexual violence against young women and the denial of medical treatment.
So what should we do? When I stand up in this House, I will aim always to not simply condemn, but ask for action. Surprisingly, we can look to the United States of America to see the kind of action that could be taken. The House of Representatives has passed, and the Senate is expected to pass, Bills condemning China’s actions and supporting the right to protest in Hong Kong, and also requiring annual reviews of Hong Kong’s special economic and trade status. It is thought that the numbers exist to override any potential veto of those Bills by Donald Trump. I hope that we can at least match this action in the UK. In Germany, the Foreign Minister met a visiting Hong Kong activist to hear his concerns. I hope that our Government would do likewise, should a request for a similar meeting be made. Of course, there is also the special issue that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised, about the holders of British national (overseas) passports. Britain cannot simply abandon these people.
The joint declaration on the question of Hong Kong agreed two decades ago contains no enforcement provisions, but this year the Government, in response to the Question from Caroline Lucas referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said that they accepted that China had breached its obligations under the joint declaration, that this would,
“be a bilateral matter between us and China”,
and that the Government “would pursue it accordingly”. Given the widely reported state of Hong Kong today—the abusive behaviour of the police on the streets, the dreadful treatment of prisoners and the deaths linked to official action—I look forward to hearing from the Minister what action the Government plan to take.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for tabling this very timely debate. I refer to my registered interests, to my role as chair of the Hong Kong subgroup of the APPG on China, and to my being a British-born Chinese from Hong Kong.
The unrest in Hong Kong lately has been a cause of great concern to me personally and to those close to me. It is a beautiful place and its people possess a tremendous calling, not just to generate wealth and to be an entrepôt between mainland China and the rest of the world, but to be a source of people, ideas, and resources for the world. My ancestors left their village in Zhongshan, just across the border, after 23 generations via Hong Kong to join our global diaspora, like millions of others, by sea and air.
So it is especially heartbreaking to see the violence that has arisen on both sides of the divide in Hong Kong, in the streets and over the airwaves, as a city turns in on itself even as the world watches. This reflects a wider trend globally, where it seems that disagreement, fuelled by the internet as well as economic and political factors, is stretching our governance arrangements to the limit, whether in our own constitution, the situation in the US, in Northern Ireland, or indeed in Hong Kong with its “one country, two systems” model. It seems the hardest thing in the world right now is how to share power peacefully, whether you are being called to give some of it away or whether you want more of it. Evidently, the status quo everywhere needs to adapt. That is true even of the situation here in Westminster, but the question is always what we change the system into. As we well know, constitutional reform requires time to do well, and to listen to all parties and views. The unintended consequences of change can be severe further down the track.
However, to resort to violence seems to militate against carefully considered reform. All sides in the conflict in Hong Kong need to explore non-violent ways to move ahead and show restraint—I know that many do and they ought to be applauded—because the violence distracts from the real issues that need to be addressed around the world, whether around the rising cost of living, the creation of laws that infringe on individual freedom, especially of conscience or belief, intergenerational inequality and increasing monopolies of land, technology and talent. Doing nothing is not the answer to addressing these issues, nor, sadly enough, as we can see in the UK itself, is greater democracy in its current form necessarily a full-blown panacea to addressing the challenges we have here, which mirror those in Hong Kong and elsewhere.
The best way forward is for those who have the means and influence to help instigate change at the local level by bringing in responses based on truly listening to those who are protesting and the condition of the silent masses who sympathise with them. For example, how do we quickly build more affordable housing? I refer to the Bristol Housing Festival, which I am involved in, for a local UK response. How do we give our young people more hope, better jobs and opportunities, and empowerment in their lives generally? How do we curtail monopoly and monopsony domination of our markets?
Indeed, an era is coming soon when we will need to upgrade democracy itself. Our current model favours majorities over minorities and incumbents over new entrants, but in the age of the internet and social media a minority or new challenger that loses in our current democracy is no longer always content to let the matter rest. We need mechanisms to involve people and to get consent and buy-in at every level, not just at the headline majoritarian stage or in our formal legislatures. This is true in Northern Ireland, in Asia, in the US and around the world. Personally, I favour not just asking people who they like or what idea they like, which is expressed in our currently populist representative democracy and referenda model that we have inherited from over a century and decades ago, but asking directly what they think will work and allocating resources accordingly.
I have chosen so far not to engage with the top-line questions arising from this debate since I believe to focus on them is to miss the essential issue, which is how places such as Hong Kong can become better environments in which to live, in which their citizens feel they have a future and where no one is left behind or becomes so frustrated that they are tempted to rise up violently. Should we give all Hong Kong citizens full passports? That depends on whether doing so would help to increase the peace and address the future of Hong Kong, or risk antagonising an already tense and volatile situation.
Should the UK take a stronger stance with China on human rights abuses and back all pro-democracy protesters in the streets? The UK has been clear about its position on human rights, and has already made known its concerns about police conduct and rightly called for an inquiry. On the rule of law and the rising constraints on freedom in the region, the question is whether violent confrontation is the most effective way to address and convey these concerns, or whether there are other ways to help all our citizens have better lives.
I was encouraged, for example, when one of the developers in Hong Kong recently donated 3 million square feet of land to the Government to create affordable housing. It is a first practical step to change. While reform of governance is vital, the urgent way forward in many parts of the world is bringing immediate and long-term relief to workers and young people who have suffered a real-terms decline in wages over the last 20 years or more, compounded by rising housing and living costs. Only innovative and radical action by those who have the land, money and people resources can move the dial, working with protest groups as well as with government. It has happened in the past in our country, with Cadbury, Shaftesbury and Spedan Lewis, who founded the John Lewis model. Without them, we could well have suffered a bloody revolution here. We need similar Asian reformers now to step up and take their place in history.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, whose ability to make this House have a conscience is enduring. I hope that he continues to do so.
My own relationship with Hong Kong began when, in 1976, I was taken on a tour of south-east Asia by my mother, the highlight of which was a week in Hong Kong. Nearly a decade later, the Hong Kong handover and the plight of Hong Kong citizens was the reason why, as a newly naturalised Briton, I instantly became a political activist, driven by Paddy Ashdown’s passion for the rights of Hong Kong Chinese.
That support for Hong Kong’s people also prompted me to go there and support the umbrella protests in 2014. The remarkable determination of a new generation of young people so clearly expressing their identity in the face of retreating rights was a revelation that enables me to understand what is happening there now.
First, although housing and jobs may be important, the movement now is about much more than economics: it is about identity and a political culture—and that is the Chinese Government’s first miscalculation. The Chinese believe that their plans to build an economic powerhouse in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay area, which is intended to rival Silicon Valley, Tokyo and New York, will tie Hong Kongers into the Chinese dream—in other words, subsuming them into greater China. They hope that young people will be enticed by the trade-off they offer, whereby consumption is a proxy for freedom.
China’s second miscalculation is to keep Mrs Lam in office. For all her attempts at resolving the situation, it is too little, too late, and her credibility—such as it was—is entirely shot. There has been a profound miscalculation on China’s part, starting with the abduction of the staff of Causeway Bay Books—that China can act with impunity, prioritising its own interpretation of the Basic Law.
A further miscalculation is Beijing’s increasing use of its powers to interpret the Basic Law, eroding the independence of Hong Kong judges. So, as the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in the other place has said, it is starting to be “one country, one-and-a-half systems”. This loss of confidence in their constitution is surely fuelling the protesters’ anger. Who would not fight for their future, when they have only to look at Xinjiang province to see what it means to be a minority in China? Apropos Mrs Lam, a wiser Government in Beijing would see that a more pragmatic person, given some slack from Beijing, may be better able to start the confidence-building exercise so necessary for a political resolution to these issues.
So, what is the UK’s role in resolving this? I refer to the calls today for people of BNO status to be given indefinite leave to remain. But unilateralism, in my view, is not the answer to the UK’s obligations. What is needed as an insurance policy is for a significant number of countries to act together to provide those assurances. In a case such as this, multilateralism is the only way to send—if we want—a message to China.
We are too diminished a power to be able to make a difference on our own, so I ask the Minister to assure us that he is working with the European Union and the Commonwealth, as well as with the US, to advance the interests of Hong Kong’s citizens.
However, it is a mistake to think that these brave young people necessarily want to move abroad. They are fighting for their future in their own land, not somewhere else. They wish to remain within their culture and their identity group, and, above all, not to let their fellow protesters down by pulling the ladder up and leaving them behind. The UK must do its best to provide such safety nets as it can, but above all, to marshal its resources for a co-ordinated and joint response with all other like-minded countries. It should convince its friends and partners that if a bully can run riot at home, he will run riot in his neighbourhood, and eventually, more widely. It is not a matter simply for the UK, but for the whole international community.
My final thought goes to the pivotal question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, the question that the students put to him about what will happen if China continues to tighten the screws. I think that the answer lies with China as well as with us. The regression of China’s political trajectory is less than a decade old. Xi Jinping has been in power for only six years. While he has abolished term limits, he has not abolished longevity itself. He has not found the elixir of life yet. While 2047 is 28 years away, it is still a generation away. China may yet pivot away from its current trajectories. It is for us, and the rest of the international community, to ensure that it does so.
My Lords, I too wish to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing this timely and necessary debate, and for his continued work championing human rights.
We heard today that Hong Kong is an amazing place, a global centre for trade that has thrived for decades. It is a mini-Britain, with its love of trade and commerce, its commitment to democracy, its relentless work ethic and the importance it places on education. The residents of Hong Kong should have no reason to be concerned. After all, the articles in the joint declaration agreed between Britain and China guarantee the people of Hong Kong their rights to economic and political independence for a period of 50 years following 1997. Yet that is not the case, and when you hear that the Chinese Foreign Ministry called the treaty merely,
“a historical document”,
“no longer had any practical significance”,
it is no wonder that the people of Hong Kong are so distressed, and fear for their livelihoods.
My noble friend Lord Patten of Barnes said that the extradition Bill earlier this year was a tipping point, with millions of Hong Kong residents taking to the streets before it became too late. Many of those protesters have said that they consider themselves to be more British than Chinese. They have gathered outside the British consulate, singing “God Save the Queen”. These protesters want to escape the darkness of communism and bask in the light of democracy, and they are risking their lives to send us that message. We cannot and should not ignore them.
The making of modern China as a global power was done by copying Hong Kong’s success on a wider scale, opening up its markets to the world. Over the past decade, Britain has built strong relations with China and has considerable good will in China, perhaps helped by our £60 billion trade deficit with it. My noble friend Lord Howell often says that the Commonwealth is our family, and that, I strongly believe, applies to the residents of Hong Kong. I am very much in agreement with those organisations and members of both Houses that have said that Britain and the Commonwealth should play a proactive role in protecting the residents of Hong Kong and offering them an alternative to remaining in their current homes, ideally giving them second citizenship. In 1997, Hong Kong residents could apply for British national overseas status, giving those residents the right to a UK passport but not the right to live or work in the UK.
I can hear the echoes of my own history in this predicament. We Ugandan Asians were British overseas citizen passport holders, which included a subset known as British-protected passport holders. When we were expelled by the brutal dictator Idi Amin, this status was our lifeline—our greatest gift.
The situation facing the residents of Hong Kong is very familiar to me. I am drawn to the steps taken by the then Prime Minister Edward Heath, in the face of considerable opposition to the Ugandan Asians. This country welcomed 28,000 Ugandan Asians; 19,000 stateless Ugandan Asians were welcomed by the Commonwealth countries, including Canada taking 5,000 and Australia taking 2,000. New Zealand took a few thousand, as did some parts of the then European Community. Heath ruled that Britain had a legal and moral responsibility to take in those with British passports, saying: “This is our duty. There can be no excuse. They are being expelled from a country which in many cases is the land of their birth. They are entitled to come here and they will be welcome here”. I strongly urge the Government to take inspiration from those words today and to ensure that, if the situation does not improve in Hong Kong, these residents will be guaranteed a home in either Britain or other Commonwealth countries.
There can be no excuse. These are British nationals and our family. They need our support and deserve our compassion. They are English-speaking, highly educated people who are entrepreneurs by nature. They would be a tremendous asset to Britain or any Commonwealth country. When the Ugandan Asians arrived in Britain, we were given the warmest of welcomes and have never wavered in our loyalty to Britain. I am convinced that the same situation will arise again if we open our homes and our hearts to the people of Hong Kong.
My Lords, I come at the end of a long list of distinguished speakers. Two things are evident from that. In your Lordships’ House there is great personal experience of Hong Kong—people who have lived there and people who have worked there. There is also a universal affection for Hong Kong and its people, and there is universally deep concern about what has been happening there over the past few weeks. That can surely be no surprise. There were weeks of demonstrations, which started peacefully, with a majority of young people who were clearly well-intentioned and concerned about their own future. They were possibly not well informed about what they might reasonably achieve, but they had good intentions. There was then an increasing amount of violence. That is distressing to see, and not at all the way in which Hong Kong usually acts. It will be totally counterproductive and should not be tolerated.
There has been no occurrence of that degree of violence in Hong Kong that I can think of for some 50 years: in 1967, during the Cultural Revolution, there was serious violence. Then, the Hong Kong police behaved with great steadfastness. At the end of that year, so well had they behaved that they were given the accolade of being called the Royal Hong Kong Police.
There has been a good deal of criticism of the police recently, some of which your Lordships have shared. I noticed that my noble friend Lord Hogan-Howe could see how difficult it is to carry out such operations and probably how mistakes could be made. Such mistakes need to be remedied, but it is worth remembering not only that the police have been under enormous strain week after week, weekend after weekend, but that their families have also been threatened—their children going to school have been threatened—and their position has been extremely difficult.
I think it is clear enough that all of what has been going on is a consequence not just of the so-called extradition Bill, or the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, as it is properly called. That has been widely misunderstood. I think that a majority of those taking part in the demonstrations sincerely believed that they might be picked up for something that they had said about the Chinese leadership and sent to mainland China for trial Of course, it was for extradition for alleged offences in mainland China, not picking up somebody who had allegedly done something in Hong Kong. The people who were, in a way, rightly concerned were business people going into China who feared that there might be some artificial accusation against them by rivals that would enable there to be a demand for them to be extradited to China. It was an ill-conceived measure; it was in the “too difficult” box, to put it mildly, and was not a sensible idea to put forward.
What it showed was that there was a great pile of dry timber in Hong Kong. The extradition Bill was the light that set that on fire, and it has remained on fire. Noble Lords have referred to a number of the concerns that young people have about housing, job opportunities and their freedoms, and simply what will happen to them in the future and whether they will lose some of the privileges that they have at the moment. Behind a lot of that has been a growing concern and worry about the extent of mainland China’s involvement in Hong Kong. It is not a simple issue. My impression is that what tends to happen is that, when there is a period of confusion in Hong Kong and uncertainty about what is happening, all sorts of different organisations in mainland China send their representatives into Hong Kong to find out what is happening—and to influence what is happening, if they can. That begins to build up into a picture of much greater involvement in Hong Kong than should be the case.
At the time of the signing of the joint declaration, there was a strapline, or a slogan that was often put out from Peking: “gang ren zhi gang”, which I will translate as, “Hong Kong people running Hong Kong”. That seems to me to be an admirable objective. That was what it was said would be the future of Hong Kong after the implementation of the joint declaration and the transfer of sovereignty. But it needs the Hong Kong Government to be effective in what they are doing, the Hong Kong Legislative Council to be effective in backing up or questioning the Hong Kong Government, a mechanism for putting into effect laws and decisions, and for the Hong Kong people to show that they are capable of running Hong Kong. It is now more than 22 years since Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty. It is now a special part, a unique part—but a part nevertheless, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said—of the People’s Republic of China.
There have been a number of references made by noble Lords to the joint declaration. My impression, like that of the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, is that the only clear-cut case of the breaking of the joint declaration has been the bookseller in Hong Kong, Lee Bo, who was, without doubt, taken out of Hong Kong without legal process; he was kidnapped and taken to China. It would be interesting if the Minister could say whether the British Government think that there have been other straightforward occasions of the breaking of the joint declaration.
It is worth saying that, although it is possible to say, as some Chinese officials have said, that the joint declaration is no longer applicable, that is only the case if you refer to the joint declaration as being just that bit that says that Britain will return to China sovereignty over Hong Kong. The vast bulk of the joint declaration is in its annexes, which lay down in terms the policies of the People’s Republic of China towards Hong Kong for 50 years. That is where what that means is written down precisely and in great detail. Those are Chinese policies laid down there. That remains applicable; it cannot not remain applicable.
I will revert, if I may, to our own role. Since we no longer administer—
I am so sorry: I will wrap up. I just want to say that we cannot and should not try to tell the Hong Kong Government what to do, but we can hope for various things to happen. One would be a commission to look at the whole issue, which the noble Lord, Lord Patten, referred to. We share the position of being the only two survivors of an extinct species: Governors of Hong Kong. There are other things that could help to resolve the present situation. We must all hope that it will be resolved soon, for the good of Hong Kong and all the people who live there.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate and for introducing it so powerfully. He is indeed a formidable champion of human rights worldwide and our conscience in the Lords, clearly. It has been a passionate and extremely well-informed debate. We are especially fortunate to have heard the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Patten and Lord Wilson, with their different perspectives, maybe, on Hong Kong, as well as those of the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and of the noble Lord, Lord Wei, with his family background. We are also privileged, it seems to me, to be joined today by a number of young people who are quietly listening to our debate—I am not supposed to be referring to them, and I am not—and who I gather are from Hong Kong. We also have a former LegCo member here. Again, I am not referring to him, am I?
Like my noble friends Lord Chidgey and Lady Smith, I too have received a series of individual, very cogent emails from people in Hong Kong. I share the huge concern expressed today about Hong Kong. It is indeed a beautiful and dynamic place. I first visited in the mid-1980s, on my way to an academic conference in Japan which turned out to be much duller—it was on the slopes of Mount Fuji but not quite as exciting as my visit to Hong Kong. I was very much blown away by my visit and I still feel that excitement, even though the airport there is somewhat less terrifying than it used to be.
My last visit was a year ago, before the current protests, but you could see the challenges below the surface. In 1997, one-third of Chinese GDP was from Hong Kong; now, it is 3%, reflecting the growth of the mainland. That is a worrying statistic. It can be argued that this undervalues Hong Kong—the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, has made that point to me—because of its position as a financial centre. Some 70% of RMB are traded in Hong Kong and three-quarters of foreign direct investment comes via Hong Kong. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, says about Hong Kong’s current leading position.
Hong Kong has a rules-based system which is valued internationally, and that has been vital for Hong Kong, China and the world. My noble friend Lord Alderdice stated that businesses will leave, should leave and should be encouraged to leave if things do not improve. Clearly, the current position is unsustainable.
It was fascinating to hear the noble Lord, Lord Patten, on how challenging but imaginative was that Sino-British declaration. That declaration is a treaty lodged at the UN, yet this year, as other noble Lords have mentioned, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson described the handover treaty as,
“a historical document which no longer has any practical significance”.
Is that spokesperson till in place? If so, what does this say about China’s position?
The extradition treaty, which was the initial trigger, not the overall cause, of the protests, has now been fully withdrawn by Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, but the protests show little sign of letting up. Clashes and violence have escalated, as we have heard. Satellite photos show what appear to be armoured personnel carriers across the border in Shenzhen.
There are now reports that the Chinese Government are planning to replace Carrie Lam with an interim Chief Executive. Any such change must be accompanied by reform in Hong Kong, and not the opposite. There has still been no independent investigation into police violence, despite the UK Government apparently urging this. Does the Minister accept that the UK Government should now suspend all export licences for crowd control equipment to Hong Kong?
The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, mentioned the police. In response to a Written Question from my colleague in the other place, Alistair Carmichael, the Government said that we are providing training to the police force in Hong Kong. If that is still the case, what steps are being taken to ensure that this training includes the need to uphold human rights and freedom of expression?
Now we have the Chief Executive using emergency powers—many noble Lords have made reference to this. The ban on face masks is a serious breach of freedom of assembly and the right to protest, as others have said. Does the Minister agree that the use of emergency powers is a clear breach of the declaration? The EU issued a démarche a few months ago because there was a risk to EU nationals from the extradition treaty. Will the UK encourage the EU to issue a second démarche on the Chief Executive’s new powers? What are we doing to work with our EU allies?
The events of recent months, alongside the Chinese Government’s claims that the joint declaration is no longer a valid document, pose a serious challenge. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, spoke of how vital trust was and is. Lord Ashdown led a campaign 20 years ago to give the people of Hong Kong British citizenship, including the right to abode, if China ever reneged on its promises. Does the Minister not think we have reached that point?
The concerns of those in Hong Kong are informed by the human rights abuses known to have taken place on the mainland. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has mentioned a number of these: the lack of freedom of expression; Tiananmen Square; what has happened to certain booksellers. Most recently, we have had the report from the China Tribunal on forced organ harvesting in China. The chair of that tribunal, Sir Geoffrey Nice, is present here today. The tribunal on organ harvesting concluded that the,
“Commission of Crimes Against Humanity against the Falun Gong and Uyghurs has been proved beyond reasonable doubt”.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Grey-Thompson, laid out the tribunal’s appalling conclusions. Can the Minister say whether he has personally read the China Tribunal’s report? If he has not, will he go away and do so? This issue will not go away. If he has, can he say what action the UK Government will take on the matter, particularly as he is Human Rights Minister?
China has made astonishing progress over the last few decades, pulling people out of poverty and engaging on the world stage. It is producing extraordinarily able students who are studying around the world, including in this country—including at the clearly wonderful university over which the noble Lord, Lord Patten, presides. China is the superpower of the 21st century, but with that power should come responsibility. In what may seem the microcosm of Hong Kong, how China wields that power may become apparent. We know that China has responded to criticism of engagement in Latin America and Africa. It is vital for all of us that we engage globally when so many other pressures seem to be on us to turn inwards and put up barriers. What China does in Hong Kong matters. What the UK, as it contemplates Brexit, does in this circumstance matters. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
Like many noble Lords before me, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate. It follows on from a number of Oral Questions and Private Notice Questions that have been debated in this House over the past few months.
The relationship between the people of the UK and the people of Hong Kong is built not only on the foundations of our history but on shared principles. As I understand it, with 170,000 British passport holders currently living or working in Hong Kong, and up to 100,000 Hong Kong nationals in the UK, we remain very much interconnected today. For those reasons and others, it came as no surprise that this House has taken such a great interest in recent events. Having listened to noble Lords in today’s debate, it is clear that the insight this House offers on Hong Kong is likely to be unparalleled. I hope that both the Hong Kong and Chinese Governments are listening to this debate and to many of the issues and concerns that have been raised.
As we near close to five months of widespread political unrest in Hong Kong, the situation seems to escalate almost with each passing week. Earlier this month, we heard the shocking news that live ammunition had been used against protesters. Although I have not been made aware of any recurrences, there have been repeated reports of beatings of peaceful protesters, aid personnel and journalists, as well as attacks with batons and the misuse of non-lethal weapons. Indeed, only last week, the police responded to protesters with an onslaught of rubber bullets, tear gas and baton charges. As the weekend comes upon us, I worry about what could result from any further clashes between the protesters and the police. Therefore, in the immediate term, I hope that the Minister can assure the House that he is urging restraint by the Hong Kong authorities, and will be taking all necessary steps to persuade them to show such restraint and end this violent escalation.
On human rights, I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm whether the Government are exploring any options to urge the authorities to respect freedom of assembly. This principle and other rights are enshrined by international conventions and law, and there can be no excuse for any infringements. Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said earlier, we all condemn any protesters who have turned to violence, especially during the events of last weekend, when a small number crossed that line and turned to violence, with a few targeting businesses that had been deemed pro-Beijing. But at their core the protesters have been peaceful, and the cause that ignited the unrest ultimately remains unresolved.
When the Foreign Secretary was asked in the other place about an independent inquiry he responded:
“The Administration in Hong Kong have not gone the full way we would like them to, but they have taken steps to reform and reinforce the independence of the police complaints council”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/9/19; col. 866.]
As that was in September, can the Minister update us on whether there have been any advances or any further pressure put on the Hong Kong Government for an independent inquiry?
Although the proposed amendments to allow the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to extradite individuals to mainland China to face trial has been withdrawn, there is still immense frustration at their initial introduction and the manner in which the authorities proceeded with them. The noble Lord, Lord Wilson, is correct about the intent of the original extradition laws, and in his analysis that they were “ill-conceived measures”. However, rightly or wrongly, there was fear that those changes could be the thin end of a wedge or could lead, if changed in the future, to individuals in Hong Kong who had criticised the Chinese Government, either on social media or in other ways, being extradited to the mainland. As we heard, the judicial system in mainland China records a conviction rate of more than 99%. A lack of trust has clearly led to these issues.
We also cannot separate the issue of the Sino-British joint declaration and its associated democratic foundations, set out so well in 1984. In recent years, China has steadily eroded and undermined the joint declaration. There have been increasing restrictions on electoral rights and crackdowns on dissent, with pro-democracy candidates being disqualified and the Hong Kong National Party being banned by the Government in September last year.
We must remember that the people are protesting in the streets of Hong Kong simply for their judicial independence, human rights and democratic freedoms. Those are three principles that the 1984 agreement was designed to protect. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said in his introduction, we have a moral and legal obligation to the people of Hong Kong. Despite the UK’s responsibility to stand up for the declaration, the Government have remained not quite silent, but too quiet. It would be good to hear the Prime Minister speak up and stand firm in defence of the declaration. I ask the Minister to encourage the Prime Minister to do just that.
I am sure that, like me, many other noble Lords participating in today’s debate received emails from Hong Kongers. If the situation worsens in Hong Kong, I wonder whether we will be able to hear from those individuals in future. Will it be possible for them to email Members of this Parliament to outline their concerns and their plight, and will they feel comfortable doing so?
In conclusion, as all noble Lords have said, it is in the interests of both the people of Hong Kong and the authorities for a resolution to be found. The groundwork for such resolution can be found only if the authorities immediately practise restraint and respect for the primacy of the Hong Kongers’ human rights. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will now use their role on the global stage and our unique relationship to urge the authorities of both Hong Kong and China to do so.
My Lords, first, I join all noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for tabling this important debate. Many words have been used about him, and rightly so. I stand before you as perhaps the person most greatly challenged, at least from a parliamentary perspective, by the tenacity, but also great strength and expertise, that he brings to debates on human rights generally. I am sure that he also knows that I respect his insights and very much welcome the expertise, direction and advice that he gives, and I am very grateful for his contribution to this important debate.
I start by aligning myself with the words of my noble friend Lord Sassoon. I am sure I speak for all noble Lords when I say that we stand together in remembrance of and prayer for the 39 nationals who have been reported to have died in the incident in the lorry. We are all equally appalled by that tragic incident, and I express condolences to all the families of those victims on behalf of your Lordships’ House.
This was the first opportunity for me to hear from one of our newer Members, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. I listened carefully to the advice she was given about how foreign affairs can be all consuming. When you are the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs you do not have much choice in the matter, and I am sure she will agree that when we hold debates of this quality we are provided with great insight and expertise on the important matters confronting the Government and our country, as well as into the role played by Her Majesty’s Government on the world stage. I welcome her contribution.
As observed by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, I am sure that all noble Lords will join me in singling out the contributions of my noble friend Lord Patten and the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn. They brought their experience, insight and expertise to bear, and the value they brought to the debate because of their service in Hong Kong is well worth noting. I listened carefully to their contributions, particularly on how we should move forward in what is now clearly a very challenging situation in Hong Kong. I thank them both and acknowledge the indulgence of noble Lords; it was right that they were both given an extended time to speak, and I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lady Berridge for ensuring that that was done in a seamless fashion.
Hong Kong has been a subject of long-standing interest in your Lordships’ House, and rightly so. Concerns were raised in the debate about the ongoing situation, as they have been in the other place. They have also been expressed in correspondence that Members of both the other place and this House have received. Among other noble Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, pointed out that many people will be listening intently to this debate.
The Government share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and indeed of all noble Lords, about the situation, in particular the violent clashes between protestors and the police. The noble Lord, Lord McNicol, asked whether the Government are taking steps to raise the issue. I hope that he will be reassured by some of my responses, which will show that we are doing just that.
My noble friend Lord Marlesford rightly described Hong Kong as being once upon a time a real flourishing city. No doubt we will reflect on those times and ask that, with hope and ambition, it will again be the case in the not too distant future. I agree with my noble friends Lord Carrington and Lady Hooper, who both drew attention to the importance of peaceful and lawful protest while recognising that anyone who resorts to violent action should rightly be condemned. It is right that the majority of Hong Kong citizens have exercised over many months their right to protest and that they have done so through peaceful and lawful means. That needs to be recognised. Equally, I am sure that I speak for all noble Lords in saying that we must condemn the hardcore minority of protestors who at times insist on using violence. As the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, reminded us, the police have shown restraint in many instances when there have been direct attacks on them. We have seen the use of petrol bombs, while recently a police officer was slashed with a knife. This violence, as my noble friend Lord Carrington rightly said, must stop.
My Lords, perhaps I may intervene briefly to make one point to my noble friend. Criticisms have been made of the policing in Hong Kong, but the real problem is that public order policing has been regarded by the Government as a substitute for politics. Tear gas is not a substitute for talking to people and trying to deal with their real grievances. That has put the police and their families in a very difficult position.
I concur with my noble friend, who is of course right. That is why the ultimate solution to the challenge is political dialogue, which I will talk about in a moment or two.
The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked some specific questions about the situation on the ground as regards the use of emergency powers, which I would like to deal with at the outset. While of course Governments need to ensure people’s security and safety, as my noble friend has just reminded us, they must avoid aggravating situations and instead seek to reduce tensions. She also asked whether the introduction of emergency regulations is a breach of the joint declaration. Our assessment thus far is that they do not breach it. Again, Governments need to ensure that the security and safety of their citizens remains paramount. She also asked about crowd control equipment for Hong Kong. As my right honourable friend the then Foreign Secretary stated in the House of Commons on 25 June,
“we will not issue any further export licences for crowd control equipment to Hong Kong unless we are satisfied that concerns raised about human rights and fundamental freedoms have been thoroughly addressed”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/6/19; col. 551.]
The noble Baroness also raised police training. As she will be aware, an additional risk-management process is used with police training for all security and justice programmes to assess and mitigate human rights risks. The aim of the training we have provided to Hong Kong is to improve a foreign authority’s ability to deploy human rights-compliant, modern policing techniques. It is a fine balance, but we are keeping that situation under review.
The noble Lord, Lord Wilson, talked of the breach of the joint declaration, as did my noble friend Lord Sassoon. Both rightly pointed out the importance of one state, two systems continuing and continuing well. Her Majesty’s Government have not to date assessed that China has explicitly breached the joint declaration, with the exception of one well-documented case.
The police response was raised by several noble Lords. We had an expert contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, who asked about reports of sexual assault by the Hong Kong police. This was also a concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. I am aware of these reports, and we remain extremely concerned by reports of violence by the police. We also note that the Hong Kong police have announced that they are investigating a recent allegation from a university student, and that the student has said she is seeking legal advice. We will continue to monitor that situation. We have always sustained the position that the police response must be proportionate. We are seriously concerned by the instances of apparent mistreatment of protesters by the police. Of course, I note the words of my noble friend Lord Patten in this respect.
My noble friends Lord Patten and Lord Howell, the noble Lords, Lord Hogan-Howe and Lord Luce, and several other noble Lords all raised a police inquiry. We maintain that there must be a robust, credible and independent investigation into these incidents. Such an inquiry would be an important step towards healing divisions and rebuilding trust. The noble Lord, Lord McNicol, asked whether we are continuing to raise this bilaterally with the Chinese authorities. The short answer is that yes, we are.
As I have said, Her Majesty’s Government believe that political dialogue—as several noble Lords have expressed—is the only way to achieve a peaceful resolution to this situation. While we have welcomed the Chief Executive’s initial steps towards dialogue, it is clear that further clarity is required and that further steps need to be taken for the Chief Executive and her team to reach across communities and directly address the people’s concerns. Crucially, if the process is to succeed, it is incumbent on all to be involved and engaged in good faith.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Sassoon’s views on the importance of the strength and stability that the one country, two systems framework has provided to Hong Kong over the past 22 years. Hong Kong is already a valuable trading partner for the UK, and the UK for Hong Kong. We look forward to seeing this trading relationship develop post Brexit. Similarly, we enjoy deep and close co-operation with Hong Kong as a leading financial centre, which I hope and expect we can build on in the months and years to come.
We have rightly heard about concerns and the need to uphold rights and freedoms. This was a point made by the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Alton, and others. I was particularly taken by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, who talked about businesses working in Hong Kong. As someone who spent 20 years in the City of London and dealt regularly with Hong Kong, I know the city well. Those ties are important. However, as a co-signatory to the Sino-British joint declaration, the UK is committed to promoting and upholding the rights, freedoms and autonomies enshrined in it. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, that we have worked intensively in recent weeks and months to support a positive resolution. Those factors will be sustained and will continue to be part of our dialogue in this respect.
Several noble Lords raised the Prime Minister’s direct engagement on this issue—the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, mentioned it specifically—and they will recall that the Prime Minister raised Hong Kong at the G7 meeting in August, where G7 leaders reaffirmed the importance of the joint declaration and called for an end to violence. This also addresses in part the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. Furthermore, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister also wrote to President Xi on 30 September and underlined the importance of upholding the joint declaration under the one country, two systems framework.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has also set out our concerns directly in his engagement with the Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, and the Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor, Wang Yi. Regrettably, he was unable to meet Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the UN General Assembly as planned because he needed to return to London. However, following this, the Foreign Secretary wrote to him on 30 September and we continue to have regular exchanges with both the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities.
On the issue of our European partners, raised by my noble friend Lady Hooper and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, as I said, we meet with G7 partners on a regular basis. We also raised Hong Kong at the Human Rights Council in September and at the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly in October, where the UK underlined the importance of upholding the right to peaceful assembly.
Issues were raised around aspects of human rights—an area close to my heart, as noble Lords will know—and it is important that we address them. We continue to do so at ambassadorial level and the most recent meeting with the Chinese ambassador in London was earlier this week. We have also regularly raised the issue with the leadership in China and Hong Kong, who remain in no doubt about our concerns over the current situation.
On the Commonwealth, our recent exchanges on Hong Kong—including those by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary—have included some with Australian Foreign Minister Payne and European counterparts. At the United Nations, for which I am the Minister responsible, we raised Hong Kong in our national statement to the September session of the Human Rights Council, and last week we underlined the importance of upholding the right to peaceful assembly in a national statement to the UN General Assembly.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Grey-Thompson, raised the issue of the Falun Gong and its practitioners. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover asked me specifically about the tribunal and I note the presence in the Gallery of Sir Geoffrey Nice. I had occasion to meet him recently to discuss this issue and I can assure all noble Lords that we are aware of the findings. A final report is still due but we are watching this space carefully. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, specifically has had various exchanges on this issue. It is not lost on us; it is an important priority and I assure noble Lords that I will continue, as Human Rights Minister, to keep an eye on this issue.
On the wider issue of religious freedoms in China, again raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury and the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, among others, I can assure all noble Lords that this remains a priority for both Her Majesty’s Government and for me as Minister for Human Rights. We have not held back. We have regularly raised the issue of human rights and religious freedoms in our expressions, statements and formal contributions, particularly at the Human Rights Council. I recognise the immense work that has gone on to address concerns around Falun Gong in particular. Equally, we remain deeply concerned—and have raised these concerns—about the persecution of Christians, the Uighur Muslims and other minorities within China and we will continue to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked about the sanctions regime. The noble Lord will recall that we have passed legislation on this and we are seeking to bring forward the statutory instruments. That will provide the UK with an autonomous global human rights sanctions regime after we have left the European Union and will also allow us to respond to serious human rights violations.
I am conscious of time, so I want to move on to the right of abode. This was rightly raised by several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Popat, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked me about numbers. There are currently 248,000 holders of BNO, but there are 2.73 million people who are eligible for it. I note the points raised by all noble Lords in this respect, and I emphasise this Government’s commitment to and support for British nationals overseas, who are known as the BNOs. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary set out in the other place on 26 September, the status of BNOs was part of the delicate balance in the negotiations that led to the Sino-British joint declaration. The joint declaration is crucial to the future stability and prosperity of Hong Kong and the rights, freedoms and autonomy of its people. I would add that this only applies effectively for both sides to respect what is within the agreement.
I assure the right reverend Prelate and other noble Lords that we believe that the best outcome for the BNOs is the high degree of autonomy, rights and freedoms set out specifically in the joint declaration. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, raised this, as did other noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Howell and Lord Marlesford, and the noble Lord, Lord Luce. My noble friend Lord Wei, who provided a particular insight from his Hong Kong background, talked of reforms within Hong Kong.
I think that we are all clear that the way forward must be, first, constructive and meaningful dialogue with all communities, as my noble friend Lord Patten said. Bridges must be built to address their concerns directly. Our long-standing view is that transition to universal suffrage for the elections for the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council, as provided by Hong Kong Basic Law, would be the best way to guarantee Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity in the long run and would be in everyone’s interests.
We take the issue of the BNOs very seriously. The Foreign Secretary and his ministerial counterparts are listening to the concerns that are being expressed. The Government are not immune to receiving representations. We have received them directly and we will consider the best way forward to continue to support and strengthen our work with the BNO community. The Government have given careful consideration to the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, dated 9 September and signed by 176 noble Lords and other parliamentary colleagues. I welcome the broad spectrum of support for Hong Kong and its people and note the points that have been raised.
With regard to Commonwealth countries, it is not in my remit to talk about the immigration policy of other Commonwealth countries, but I reiterate my view that the best way for any like-minded countries to support BNOs is to defend the joint declaration, which they are doing. We have received strong support for that, including in discussions we have had with other Commonwealth partners, most notably recently with Australia.
The noble Lord, Lord Luce, mentioned Hong Kong servicemen and a number of noble Lords raised the status of former members of the Hong Kong Military Service Corps. I assure the noble Lord that the Home Secretary is listening very carefully to the representations that have been made on behalf of former Hong Kong Military Service Corps personnel who were unable to obtain citizenship through the selection scheme.
The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, raised the issue of Hong Kong students who are studying in the UK. My short answer is that it is unacceptable for anyone to be intimidated by any bullying. Universities have a duty of care to protect all students. If there are particular instances, I urge the noble Lord to make the Government aware of them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, asked about unexplained suicides. This is a very sensitive situation and I am aware of it. We have had one formal request from one family, and we urge people not to speculate on the reasons behind the issue. The circumstances are obviously very tragic for the family. If there are further details on this, I will share them with the noble Baroness.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and my noble friend Lord Popat talked about the Chinese view of the joint declaration, describing it as a “historic document”. The short answer from Her Majesty’s Government is that it is absolutely not. It is a legally binding treaty, registered at the UN, and it remains in force. As a co-signatory we have the absolute right to speak out when we have concerns about its implementation. I assure noble Lords that we will continue to make this point consistently in public, bilaterally and in private to the Chinese Government.
Once again, I thank all noble Lords for their insightful and expert contributions to this very comprehensive debate. I am sure that questions will be asked of me and I will continue to update noble Lords as and when we have further updates to provide. Ultimately, I am sure that we are all committed to encouraging all the parties that are directly concerned—the Hong Kong Administration, the Chinese Government and all international partners—to do all they can to realise and uphold the peaceful vision of a thriving Hong Kong and a thriving China under the “one country, two systems” model.
My Lords, the entire House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Minister of State, for the thorough way in which he has just answered the issues that that have been raised and for his promise to come back and keep us briefed on developments as they occur.
The noble Lord, echoing the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, reminded us of the tragic news that the 39 people who have been found dead in a lorry were of Chinese origin. We do not yet know their story, but we do know that they shared our humanity. Shared humanity has been a theme that has informed every contribution in today’s debate.
Many noble Lords referred to moving correspondence from Hong Kong. This morning, I received an email from a lady who said, “I don’t know if you will really read my email, but please try to do something so people know the pain we are suffering in Hong Kong”. I think that our speeches today, from every part of your Lordships’ House, have demonstrated that we have listened and that we have heard, and we have tried to articulate some of that pain.
In a range of knowledgeable and measured speeches, we have heard considerable support for finding an international approach to providing an insurance policy of second citizenship and a second right of abode. We have heard universal support for “one country, two systems”, yet we have also heard how that has been emasculated. Yesterday, I met Alan Leong, a barrister and one of the leaders of a Hong Kong political party, who set out a number of examples of where he believes that the 1984 agreement has indeed been breached.
We have spoken with depth, knowledge, passion and commitment. All of us have said that the best way forward—a point that the noble Lord, Lord Patten, made so well—is to try to find a way ahead that does not involve violence but ensures that constructive solutions and political answers are found, as were found in 1984 in what all of us have referred to as an act of diplomatic genius, to paraphrase something that the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said earlier.
I hope that the lady who wondered whether her email would be read or whether we have understood the pain of Hong Kong will have heard our debate today and that, like the young people whom we are not supposed to mention—although the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, quite rightly did—and who have packed our Galleries, she will know that they and their concerns have not been forgotten. It is a signal from a great and free Parliament that we will not forget our historic, moral and legal responsibilities. This Parliament will not be silenced in its responsibilities to safeguard “one country, two systems”, the rule of law, democracy, human rights, free speech and autonomy.
I end by saying that we must always replace fear with hope and indifference with solidarity and never neglect our common humanity. It only remains for me, once again, to thank all noble Lords who have spoken so eloquently today.
House adjourned at 5.23 pm.