Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on human rights in Hong Kong of the national security law proposed by the National People’s Congress of China.
The Question was considered in a Virtual Proceeding via video call.
My Lords, the draft legislation passed last week by the People’s Congress of China threatens to be the death knell for “one country, two systems”, the framework agreed before Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997 that protected its special status. The legislation would undermine Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and be a serious threat to human rights there. I therefore welcome the Statement made by the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons on Tuesday that if China does not reconsider its approach, the UK will not just look the other way when it comes to the people of Hong Kong; we will stand by them and live up to our responsibilities.
I shall outline the following issues: the nature of the legislative process so far, what it means for Hong Kong and why the UK should take action to protect the freedoms of the people there. My main questions to the Minister today are as follows. What is the Government’s current assessment of the legislation’s impact on human rights in Hong Kong if it were to be enacted? What will they do next to fulfil the commitment made by the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons and by the Prime Minister, writing in the Times newspaper yesterday? What factors will the Government then take into account when deciding on their next steps?
Last week the People’s Congress rubber-stamped a draft decision. That resolution will now pass to China’s senior leadership to be fleshed out into a draft law. The proposals outlaw behaviour deemed to be subversion, terrorism, separatism, assisting foreign interference or endangering national security. Charges such as these are often used in mainland China to detain dissidents and political opponents. It now seems that the era of Hong Kong’s political freedom could be over and that many could become criminals for actions that were legal until now.
Reportedly, Beijing wants the law to be implemented before Hong Kong’s own legislative elections in September. Direct imposition of the security law by Beijing, rather than through Hong Kong’s own institutions, would curtail the liberties of those in Hong Kong and dramatically erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and the system that made it so prosperous. Through the Sino-British joint declaration, we aimed to protect the city’s unique status and defend some of its key institutions, such as the Legislative Council and the court. The rule of law and an independent judiciary are the foundations on which Hong Kong’s success is built. Both are at risk from the draft legislation.
The legally binding joint declaration, signed by China and the UK, and registered at the UN, sets out that Hong Kong will have a high degree of autonomy. It also provides that rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of the press, of assembly, of association and others, will be enshrined in law in Hong Kong, and that the provisions of the two UN covenants on human rights—the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights—shall remain in force. But, as the Hong Kong Bar Association has pointed out, there is no assurance in the draft decision that the law will comply or be required to comply with those provisions.
If “global Britain” is to mean anything, it is vital that we maintain our values and uphold the agreements we signed up to. We have a duty to the people of Hong Kong to do just that. I have the honour to chair your Lordships’ Select Committee on International Relations and Defence. It was a privilege to take over the chair last year from my noble friend Lord Howell, who is speaking in this debate. He led us on our major inquiry into UK foreign policy in a shifting world order. The report concluded that the Government should work with China
“in a manner which is consistent with the rules-based international order”.
It also noted:
“In the longer term, the Government will need to weigh up the strategic challenge posed by China’s approach to its international role, and its impact on the rules-based international order, against China’s growing economic significance.”
In their response to our report, the Government stated that
“China’s position is sometimes at odds with parts of the rules based international system. Where China’s approach challenges important principles of the order, such as human rights—an important part of the international architecture—we and our allies speak up for our values.”
Given that, what will the UK Government do next? Ministers have already made it clear that they will commit themselves that if the Chinese Government go through with their proposed legislation, the UK will do the following. First, they will work with the international community on these matters. The joint statement by the UK, US, Australia and Canada last week was welcome, but how will they now develop that international partnership beyond the Five Eyes? Secondly, they will put in place new arrangements to allow British nationals overseas to come to the UK without the current six-month limit, which would include a path to citizenship. Does that include their dependants?
What impact, if any, will economic decisions have on the course of action the Government decide to take in fulfilling their commitments? Will they feel constrained by the vast flows of capital and trade between Britain and China? I would hope not and I believe that as we navigate the way ahead, we should continue to be an outward-looking country that is a champion of collective security, the rules-based international system and free trade, and a defender of human rights. Those are the values that have served us well and we should be constant in upholding them. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Before I call the next speaker, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, the Government Whip, to say a word about timekeeping.
My Lords, given the large number of noble Lords who wish to speak in this time-limited debate, perhaps I may underline the importance of keeping remarks to no longer than a minute so that the Minister has time to respond to the important points that your Lordships will raise.
My Lords, China is flexing its muscles rather like Hitler’s Germany in the early 1930s, using the distraction caused by the Wuhan virus to see what it can get away with. The new national security law will fatally damage the “one country, two systems” agreement on Hong Kong. China is already breaking international law by its actions in the South China Sea; its threats to Taiwan are becoming more vociferous; it is stealing intellectual property on an industrial scale and taking other aggressive actions in cyberspace; it is increasingly using its economic clout to browbeat and threaten smaller nations; and its treatment of minorities and trade in human organs is unacceptable among civilised nations.
I ask the Minister: is it not time to take some deterrent action, rather than appeasement, to show China that the international community will not put up with this? Appeasement, as we found with Hitler, will encourage bad behaviour and could finally lead to war. We should, for example, encourage the main westernised trading nations to recognise Taiwan; set up a new south-east Asia treaty organisation on the sort of scale we did with NATO in 1949; revitalise like-minded nations to review the successful world order established post World War II and make it fit for purpose in this new world; work with our allies to review all trading links with China; and review Chinese investments and educational links. Urgent action is needed.
My Lords, 4 June is a poignant date, because it is the day 31 years ago when the tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square, and many young protesters were the victims. Many in Hong Kong fear that their protests on 4 June, to recognise the sacrifice made by other young people, may well be the very last. My question is about young people, which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, alluded to. The Government’s plan suggests that the right to visit visa-free for those with BNO status will be extended from six months to 12 months, but there are 250,000 people with BNO passports out of an estimated 2.9 million people with BNO status. They had to secure that before 30 June 1997, and it cannot be passed down to children. There are nearly 7.5 million people in Hong Kong. Given that the greatest threat is to the young people of Hong Kong—many born after 1997—or to the children of those with BNO status, how will we show affinity with those young people and offer them the kind of support that we will offer others?
My Lords, I draw attention to my declaration of interests. There is nothing unusual about security legislation; after all, Britain made use of emergency legislation during its stewardship of Hong Kong. What matters is how such legislation is implemented in practice. Hong Kong’s Justice Secretary asserts that her department—not its Chinese counterpart —will make all prosecution decisions under the national security law and that Hong Kong’s judicial procedures will be followed, and I trust that she is right. Hong Kong’s Government accept that the security law is needed, and so does a substantial part of the Hong Kong business community. Both believe that Hong Kong’s future economic prospects will be better safeguarded and investment more readily attracted with a security law that is applied in line with Hong Kong’s common law traditions.
The Foreign Secretary has spoken up well for Hong Kong’s rights, making it clear that support from Britain does not extend to violent rioting or to claims for independence that have no basis in history or law. The Prime Minister’s proposal to extend the rights of BNO passport holders, if the new security law is misapplied, will reassure Hong Kongers that they have a safety net if one is needed. The most satisfactory outcome will be a national security law by which Hong Kong citizens feel protected rather than threatened. China’s present leaders should show the same wisdom and leadership as China’s then leader, Deng Xiaoping, when he agreed the 1984 joint declaration and the principles it contained.
My Lords, in the limited time I have, I ask the Minister three questions. First, in the light of the persecution of the Uighur people and the demolition of Christian churches in mainland China, what representation is Her Majesty’s Government making to the CCP about freedom of religion both there and, for the future, in Hong Kong? Secondly, while the extended BNO programme and joint statement with Australia, Canada and the US are commendable, can the Minister explain why the foreign policy review has been postponed just at a moment when a human rights-based foreign policy must surely be our collective starting point? Thirdly, what consideration has been given to an expanded BNO scheme with partner nations—a lifeboat policy—for the 6 million residents of Hong Kong?
My Lords, it is especially ominous that this is happening during the 4 June anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protest, as the “one country, two systems” framework is being eroded—a framework that has preserved liberty, prosperity and democracy in Hong Kong since 1997. I welcome the Government’s decision not to shrug our shoulders and walk away. Instead, we will honour our obligations and provide an alternative for the citizens of Hong Kong.
I am sure that my noble friend is aware of the letter that seven former Foreign Secretaries sent to the Prime Minister only a few days ago. They asked that we seek to set up, together with our allies, an international contact group to monitor the situation in Hong Kong and to co-ordinate joint action. Will my noble friend tell the House what consideration has been given to this proposal? Are the Government also seeking the support of our European allies?
My Lords, I am privileged to have been a friend of Martin Lee for quite some years. He is one of the most resolute defenders of democracy on behalf of the people of Hong Kong. It is clear that this new security law goes entirely against the Sino-British agreement; I believe that Deng Xiaoping would have opposed it. He supported the original “one country, two systems” approach. I remember meeting some students from China in Hong Kong. They told me that they regretted having to return to Beijing because they so valued the democracy under which they lived while they were in Hong Kong.
I believe that the majority of people in Hong Kong are against this new security law. The Hong Kong Bar Association has come out resolutely against it. It is a breach of all international agreements. Surely the key to this is international unity at all levels. We should tell the Chinese that we are totally opposed to it. We should also value the BBC for the contribution it is making in broadcasting to the people of Hong Kong.
My Lords, I support the extension of passport rights not least because, in 1997, that was called for in the House of Commons by the late Paddy Ashdown, the then leader of the Liberal Democrats. We must prepare for further abuse, threats and intimidation by the Chinese Government. However, we have not only a moral obligation to the Basic Law and the joint declaration; we have a legal obligation as well.
How many people in Britain still believe that we should continue our association with Huawei?
My Lords, I want to make one particular observation on the present turn of events. What motivates the willingness that many Hong Kong citizens have shown to expose themselves to extraordinary personal danger in recent demonstrations?
Prior to 1997, light-touch Administrations gave successive generations of Hong Kong citizens a sense of freedom under the law. The last of these was under the governorship of my noble friend Lord Patten of Barnes. I am pleased to see that he will be speaking in this debate. This sense of personal freedom dies hard. A real fear of its loss is causing many protestors to take extraordinary risks. They are putting their lives and livelihoods on the line against a bullying regime which gives the impression of regarding the 1997 agreement as little more than a scrap of paper. These courageous citizens deserve our support.
My Lords, I declare an interest as president of Migration Watch. I share the widespread concern for human rights in Hong Kong which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, so well described.
My problem is that the Government’s response is likely to do more harm than good. They accept that their proposals could permit roughly 3 million Hong Kong citizens to come and settle in Britain. This is a huge number—a hundred times the number of Ugandan Asians admitted in the early 1970s. It would add hugely to the existing pressures on public services. For what purpose? No one believes that our Government’s response will deter Beijing. China might even welcome the departure of many of its opponents. This is not a sensible nor even viable way forward. It is time to think again. The noble Lords, Lord West and Lord Powell, have both made some interesting suggestions.
My Lords, my anxiety about human rights in Hong Kong is partly a personal matter, as two of my grandchildren were born there. Fortunately, my son’s family is now in this country, but there is grave concern for their friends and former neighbours and colleagues. The Prime Minister has made a general offer of a route to UK citizenship for Hong Kongers who wish to leave. Can the Minister clarify who will qualify and when these programmes might start?
Strategically, I hope, with others, that Hong Kong’s crisis will be addressed through collective international action and international institutions. It was encouraging when the chair of the Commons committee and a US Senator together urged a revival of the Atlantic partnership, but I fear that we will not see positive collaboration from President Trump. Can the Minister report any progress on the proposal that Britain should lead the formation of an international contact group which could pro-actively engage in Hong Kong’s future?
My Lords, Britain cannot resist Chinese Communist pressure on Hong Kong on its own. We have to work with others. I read that our Government is thinking of promoting a new “club of democracies”. The world already has two such clubs: the Commonwealth and the European Union. It is characteristic of the incoherence of British foreign policy that we are calling for the creation of something, half of which we have just left.
When Boris Johnson was Foreign Secretary, he boasted that global Britain would send a carrier task force through the Malacca strait into the South China Sea. He never explained what purpose such a deployment would achieve or what place it would have in overall British relations with China. Our Prime Minister appears to have no clear idea at all of what should be Britain’s place in the world. Beijing’s abrogation of the 1997 agreement on Hong Kong requires a strategic reassessment of our relationship with China. Will the Minister tell us if this is under way?
My Lords, we are all indebted to my noble friend Lady Anelay, not only for securing this debate but for the manner in which she introduced it.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, two of my grandchildren were born in Hong Kong. I had the honour of leading the last British parliamentary delegation to Hong Kong before the handover. I feel that it is cynical of the Chinese Communist Party to be taking advantage of the pandemic—for which it bears some considerable blame—to flex its despotic muscles in Hong Kong.
While I endorse the Prime Minister’s robust response, and as much as I deplore the unfortunate response of HSBC and the Standard Chartered bank, I urge Her Majesty’s Government to do all they can to create a democratic alliance within the United Nations to put pressure on any nation which is inclined to destroy the rule of law by abrogating international treaties which they have willingly, and indeed in this case enthusiastically, entered into.
My Lords, two UK banks have indicated their support for the proposed national security law on the basis that this will stabilise Hong Kong’s social order—but everything depends on how this is done. Article 23 of the Basic Law makes it clear that making laws to prohibit matters with which the proposed law seeks to deal is for the region to deal with “on its own”. Article 18, which permits the addition of new laws, states that these should be confined to matters outside the limits of the region’s autonomy, such as defence and foreign affairs, which is not the case here.
We have yet to see the details, but there are real grounds for concern that civil and political rights, including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press, will be infringed. Does the Minister agree that it is crucial that the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary, which lies at the heart of the Basic Law, should not be undermined in any way by what is proposed?
My Lords, China’s national security laws imposed on Hong Kong are wrong for two important legal reasons. First, Hong Kong has not consented to these measures. Its governing authorities tried to pass an equivalent law in 2003, but the proposal fell after mass protests. Article 23 of the Basic Law clearly requires Hong Kong’s consent, as a constitutional requirement, as the Hong Kong Bar Association resolutely maintains. Secondly, these measures are a clear violation of the Sino-British joint declaration, which in paragraph 3 pledges that Hong Kong will
“enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs.”
I support the Government’s suggestion of visa offers to Hong Kongers with BNO status, but I want to ask finally about the Huawei decision, as did my noble friend Lord Campbell. Beijing’s actions in Hong Kong are not the reason to revisit that decision, but they provide evidence about the readiness of Beijing to ignore boundaries between the Chinese central state and other entities to pursue national security. Given this, I cannot see a justification for the Government to continue their plan, and I hope that they will revisit the decision urgently.
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. As a Hong Konger by descent, I am heartbroken by this turn of events. It seems that the strategy to influence China peacefully through trade and dialogue has failed and that, sadly, we are progressing towards conflict.
My hope is that, as we respond, and so as not to make their lives worse, we will distinguish between the actions of China’s Government and its citizens, the people of Hong Kong, and indeed British-Chinese here, who have suffered a manyfold increase in racism in the last six months. We must do what we can to support the Chinese diaspora around the world and grant as much protection as we can to BNO passport holders, and the option of migrating here if the worst should happen. I pray that it will not.
My Lords, I wholeheartedly welcome the United Kingdom Government’s proposals on a route to citizenship for BNO passport holders. I ask the Minister directly whether we could start the process by allowing the 16,000 university students from Hong Kong who are currently in the country the right to convert their tier 4 visas into that process as soon as possible.
My second question is this: what renewed efforts are we making for Taiwanese inclusion and recognition in international bodies? We know that Taiwan will come under increasing pressure as China continues to assert itself in the region, and it is extremely important that we also show our resolute alliance with Taiwan in that regard.
Finally, when can we expect to see the UK Government’s official response to US sanctions against companies using Chinese components and technology?
My Lords, the course of action on which the Chinese Government have embarked, imposing unilaterally on Hong Kong a wide-ranging security law, risks damaging grievously all concerned, including China itself. I endorse the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, in introducing the debate, and endorse too the wise advice of the seven former Foreign Secretaries that we should work with the widest possible group of like-minded countries to forestall the damage. Certainly, a wider group is needed than that so far mustered, welcome though it was.
I applaud too the Government’s willingness to ease the terms of visas for those holding British national overseas passports. That is the right and honourable course.
Can the Minister say what the Government’s view is of the US Administration’s intention to withdraw the special trade status and treatment they give Hong Kong? Were we consulted before that move was made? Is it not likely that that will only make a bad situation worse, damaging mainly the people of Hong Kong, whose welfare we should be seeking to protect? If that is our view, are we conveying it in Washington, to the Administration and on the hill?
My Lords, in thanking my noble friend for securing this debate, I associate myself with her remarks, which covered the current crisis so comprehensively. I also wish to confirm my support for the proposal to grant greater visa rights to the people of Hong Kong.
My interest is in the field of education. Given the numbers of Hong Kong students who attend UK universities and private schools, many of whom returned to Hong Kong at the outbreak of the pandemic when schools and universities closed here, can my noble friend the Minister tell us whether any action has been taken by the Government, or any representations made, to avoid restrictions being imposed on the freedom of movement of these young people to prevent their return to schools and universities in the UK when they eventually reopen? Some of these students may have participated in the peaceful protests in Hong Kong, which will put them at greater risk. Given a wide interpretation of foreign interference, is any consideration or advice being offered by the Government in that respect?
My Lords, 30 years ago today I joined a march of thousands around Hong Kong protesting against Tiananmen Square, ending at what was then the embassy of the China Government. I am distressed that today the annual candlelight vigil to celebrate or remember that disaster has been cancelled in Hong Kong, and I hope it is soon replaced. My heart is therefore with the protesters, young and old, but unfortunately they eschewed a strong leadership and have had no exit strategy. My head asks: why has LegCo not passed its own security laws? It operates under the Public Order Ordinance of 1967, which was a British ordinance, and has not dealt with it. LegCo is dysfunctional, reduced this week to throwing stink bombs and having struggles on the Floor. It would be far better employed in holding a full consultation with the Hong Kong people and promulgating its own law.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for initiating this debate. I agree with much that has been said, but I shall make one distinctive contribution about how we should go about this, which is that we could take a lead in building a coalition of islands, including Japan and Taiwan as well as Hong Kong, and including the West Indies, Sri Lanka and New Zealand. We have three mutual interests here: combating rising sea levels; ensuring the freedom of the seas; and resisting mainland domination. Islands are distinctive things and such an approach would bind Hong Kong closer to us.
My Lords, this is patently a very serious moment, both for the people of Hong Kong and of course more widely for many people and countries throughout the world. I completely support Her Majesty’s Government in the statements they have made, as it is of the utmost importance that democracy and human rights are upheld in Hong Kong. This has to be achieved with as many other countries as possible around the world.
I want to raise two important events that are coming up where China has a crucial role. I hope the Chinese Government recognise that that role and influence worldwide will be tarnished if matters are not resolved satisfactorily in Hong Kong. The Convention on Biological Diversity, due to be held in Kunming later this year—although I am not sure whether it will go ahead on time—is somewhere where the great strides forward in protecting and enhancing biodiversity in China could be highlighted and showcased. They have created vast new wetlands and offered enhanced protection to wildlife in the country, which is to be applauded. The COP in 2021 in Glasgow is another opportunity to show China that it is a key player in the future of our planet. What is Her Majesty’s Government’s view of the prospects for those two events at the moment?
I call the noble Lord, Lord Luce. The noble Lord is not responding. I therefore call the noble Lord, Lord Rennard.
My Lords, when China tells the truth about events such as those in Tiananmen Square 31 years ago today, in the way that Khrushchev eventually admitted to the crimes of Stalin, then we may begin to accept that it is prepared to be honest. Today, it is trying to ban commemorations of this event in Hong Kong. People in Hong Kong will be able to see, hear and read about this debate via the excellent BBC global news services, but, sadly, such independent news is blocked in China. The Sino-British joint declaration has a clear, jointly agreed legal text protecting some of the freedoms enjoyed by people in Hong Kong, so does the Minister agree that Magnitsky- style legislation may now be needed to discourage China’s abuses of human rights?
I thank my noble friend for her introduction to this debate. There has been a lot of talk about establishing an international contact group to put pressure on China to accept its legal and moral responsibilities in its actions in respect of Hong Kong. I hope that the Government will accept that suggestion and in so doing include the participating states of the OSCE, the parliamentary assembly of which I am a vice-president, since many of its states—especially in the Caucasus and Asia, although not exclusively—are crucial to the ambitions of China in its belt and silk initiative. If we do that, it may well be that an alternative to China’s support for various developments will be needed from our democracies.
I look forward to hearing from my noble friend Lord Patten of Barnes, who is giving much-needed leadership on this matter.
My Lords, in the time available I will ask the Minister for a number of clarifications. As regards the visa extension scheme, I understand that the trigger for the extension is the text of the law being published. Will the Government bring forward the detail of the scheme before it is triggered so that action can be taken immediately? As my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington asked, can the Minister clarify whether the scheme is for current BNO passport holders? If so, is or was there a cut-off date for applications, or is it envisaged that the scheme will be extended to all those eligible to apply?
This scheme does not solve the problems for many people in Hong Kong or the long term, so what other actions are being considered? Can the Minister set out why the Government seem to be resisting an international contact group or a UN special envoy for Hong Kong? These seem to be sensible suggestions that have widespread support.
Finally, I join the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, in his call for Magnitsky-type legislation for the UK. This is long overdue. We should follow America’s legislation and have our own legislation in this area.
My Lords, it is not surprising that people in Hong Kong are alarmed about a law on national security being passed in Beijing and its possible effect on human rights. It should have been dealt with ages ago. The Hong Kong Government, under the Basic Law, should have brought in such a law themselves. They tried and failed because of massive public protests. It would still be better if a law such as this came from Hong Kong.
If the Chinese Government insist on passing a national security law in Beijing, I hope that they will listen to the recently published wise advice from Andrew Li, the much-respected former Chief Justice. The three key points are these: any such law should fit with Hong Kong’s common law system; it should not be retrospective; any investigatory powers—meaning from mainland-based organisations—should be subject to Hong Kong law.
This is a hugely difficult time for everyone in Hong Kong. Much of my working life has been spent there. I know that the people of Hong Kong have come through many crises over the years, including the impact of those tragic events in Tiananmen Square 31 years ago today. They have the strength and the ability to do so again.
My Lords, I welcome this debate as it gives us an opportunity to demonstrate our support for the people of Hong Kong. As has been made clear, there are difficulties and limitations on what we can do, and obviously we want as wide a grouping of people and other countries working on this, but one thing we can do, as sketched out by the Prime Minister this week, is provide a safety net that may lead to a gateway for entering into and working in the United Kingdom. I know that some people are concerned about this, but I point to the experience of Canada; people, many from Hong Kong, went there, integrated into the community and made a significant contribution. I am sure that that can happen again. We should keep that door open.
My Lords, I am very sad, as I think many people in the world are, about the deterioration in relations with China. It will not be easy to engage President Xi on the issue of Hong Kong. It is very sensitive. In the past, contact groups seemed to have some success; I have been involved with both of them. The first was in South Africa in 1978. Eventually, Namibia moved to independence as a result of that contact group’s work, although it took 12 years. The other was in the Balkans in 1994 and undoubtedly helped to lay the foundations for the success of the Dayton accords and all that had gone before in the negotiations. Assembling many countries to work together is difficult. The key aspect of a contact group is that it does so at all levels: politicians, diplomats, lawyers and sometimes even the military. That is one of the most practical ways of proceeding.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Anelay. Of course, I am strongly against Chinese bullying and strongly in favour of a united front among nations in addressing China over Hong Kong’s future as an autonomous region. We have been through some of this before—for instance, when I chaired the old LegCo inquiry on British national (overseas) passports in Hong Kong back in 1996—but, as with so many issues nowadays, the middle ground here has evaporated. It seems that you have to be on the side of the protesters, however violent and disruptive some of their actions are, or you are deemed to be a lackey of Beijing.
There is a middle path. It is totally in China’s interests to see Hong Kong flourish as part of the vast Greater Bay Area and totally in our interests, and those of our friends, to see Hong Kong prosper in stability and security. This is the basis on which tough and insistent dialogue with China must take place. Neither arbitrary China law nor the senseless street violence of Hong Kong rioters nor encouraging a mass exodus is the right way forward for this great and brilliant Chinese and world city.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and declare my interest. Will the Minister, as he is being urged to do, reflect further on the proposal of seven former Foreign Secretaries, including my noble friend Lord Owen, for an international contact group and ensure that Beijing’s actions are on the next G7 agenda? Given his Commonwealth responsibilities, will he urge Commonwealth nations in particular to support the UK’s lifeboat policy, offering pathways to second citizenship to Hong Kong citizens—especially those ineligible for BNO status?
How will the UK offer exclude those who have collaborated in the destruction of Hong Kong’s freedoms? What sanctions will await collaborators, including UK banks such as HSBC, for aiding and abetting those who, having incarcerated 1 million Uighur Muslims, now threaten Hong Kong? How does the Minister respond to Jeremy Hunt’s warning today that, following Hong Kong, democratic Taiwan will be next, and subjected to China’s willingness to use force? On this anniversary of Tiananmen Square, are we at last recalibrating our assessment of the nature of the Chinese Communist Party, especially before handing over yet more of our assets and strategic infrastructure to it?
We will have to be prepared for a very tough China. Xi Jinping is pursuing an all-Chinese nationalist programme of getting all the Chinese territories back and under its control: Hong Kong, Taiwan and the borders between India and China, where China has opened up hostilities with India. Whatever promises the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have made, we will have to be detailed and exact on the scope of those policies. As my noble friends Lady Jay and Lady Kennedy said, all the details of what will happen with dependants—who precisely has the right and to whom it can be extended—will have to be worked out beforehand and then implemented. We will have to be ready for China’s retaliation both to British citizens resident in China right now and to British businesses.
My Lords, I declare an interest, as I was for some years the joint chair of the European Parliament Hong Kong friendship group and I have been to Hong Kong on numerous occasions. We are now facing what I think of as a Rhineland moment. It is a time when you have to draw the line, because the line has clearly been crossed. We have seen a lot of Chinese pressure over the years: China’s pressure on states not to recognise Taiwan; its pressure on countries when they entertained the Dalai Lama, as David Cameron did; and, more recently, its pressure on Australia when it called for an independent WHO inquiry. It is time now for there to be some international action against bullying, and taking in 3 million citizens is not necessarily part of it. I call on the Minister to tell us how he is going to get together with like-minded states and co-operate in opposing these Chinese moves.
My Lords, by its actions over Hong Kong, China is making a mockery of both the Sino-British declaration and the notion of “one country, two systems”. What action have Her Majesty’s Government taken to co-ordinate an international response? I declare an interest, listed in the register, as a visitor to Taiwan last summer. The proposed new national security law ensures that any application of “one country, two systems” to Taiwan is a Peking dead duck now, if it was not already. Does the Minister agree that recent developments in Hong Kong are especially disturbing for the people of Taiwan? Will he reiterate Her Majesty’s Government’s support for Taiwan’s vibrant democracy?
My Lords, first of all, several noble Lords have referred to the significance of the date. It would be helpful if the Minister could arrange to put in the Library of the House of Lords the telegram that the late Sir Alan Donald sent on 5 June 1989, which was declassified a couple of years ago. It is a reminder of why so many people in Hong Kong today are concerned about what has happened.
Secondly, people have referred to the national security law. There is, of course, a national security law in Hong Kong now. The worry is that the Chinese communists do not have in mind a national security law that respects the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. If they did, we would have seen a national security law some time ago. That is the challenge and the problem; to think that they have a different view is whistling past the cemetery.
Thirdly, I hope that we can continue to have cross-party support for a policy not only on Hong Kong but on China. With other countries, we need to reset our relationship with China, which has shown that it bullies, it breaks its word and it is a threat to the world in many respects. I hope that we can recognise that this is an issue where honour and national interest march hand in hand.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for this debate. Nothing is more fundamental to human rights in Hong Kong and elsewhere than an independent, impartial judiciary. Hong Kong has that; mainland China has not. An important feature of the judicial system in Hong Kong is that, since handover, its local Court of Final Appeal has replaced appeals to the Privy Council. This was authorised by the Hong Kong Basic Law in London. The judges in the Court of Final Appeal are mostly from Hong Kong, but very senior judges or retired judges are from the United Kingdom, Australia or Canada and do participate. A clear violation of human rights in Hong Kong would be interference by China in the composition of the Court of Final Appeal for cases or categories of case, or interference in the filling of vacancies. There is no doubt that the independence of the Hong Kong judiciary is under attack, and this is a grave danger for the rule of law in Hong Kong. Hong Kong judges have been threatened—
My Lords, I am sorry but we are running very tight.
Okay. Can I continue or not?
I call the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer.
My Lords, I have only three points to make. First, the UK has a moral and political responsibility for the future of Hong Kong. Secondly, I warmly welcome the Government’s initiative to offer the possibility of full citizenship to BNO passport holders. Thirdly, we now need a coalition of the like-minded to come up with a common China strategy. Even in the days of the Cold War, there were agreed rules of the road to avoid miscalculations and nuclear war. That is wholly missing from our relationship with today’s increasingly aggressive China. Does the Minister agree that the G7 meeting will be an opportunity to forge such a coalition, and that the UK must play a leading part?
The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, does not seem to be responding. I call the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury. Oh, we seem to be having a little problem with the system here. Is that the noble Baroness, Lady Northover?
I thank the noble Baroness for this debate. There is clearly widespread agreement that this move potentially breaks the 1997 Sino-British agreement. The Chinese Government have been criticised internally over coronavirus; this will send key messages to their citizens. Carrie Lam has stated that her Government will fully co-operate and that the law would not affect legitimate rights in Hong Kong or the independence of the judiciary. Those two positions look totally contradictory.
I welcome the Government’s offer to BNO passport holders. However, it needs to be extended to all Hong Kong citizens, not just those with BNO status and their dependants. How will the UK work with its allies, particularly its closest allies in the EU, to protect Hong Kong? Will it rework its economic and foreign policy in relation to China?
My Lords, I have two quick points. I welcome the Government’s announcements on visa arrangements. The Foreign Secretary suggested that this would apply only to the 350,000 current BNO passport holders in Hong Kong. The Prime Minister subsequently indicated that it would also include the 2.5 million eligible to apply for the passport. Which is correct?
Hong Kong has seen the most brutal response to peaceful protest. Earlier this week, the Foreign Secretary said that he raised with the Hong Kong authorities last August the need for an independent inquiry. He then indicated that one response to the failure of the Hong Kong authorities to act would be to consider the new Magnitsky-type sanctions. When will we see the promised legislation from the sanctions Act approved by Parliament?
My Lords, I first join all noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lady Anelay for tabling this debate and thank them for their very focused contributions from the outset. There were a lot of questions; if I am unable to cover them in the time I have, following the usual courtesies I shall write to noble Lords and lay responses to those questions in Library.
I am sure noble Lords will forgive me—and join me—if I start by paying tribute to the important contribution of my noble friend Lord Patten. He is for ever a reminder to us of the importance of standing up for the rule of law in the context of Hong Kong, and the role he played was instrumental. I listened carefully to all of his contribution, in particular his specific proposal to have the telegram of 5 June 1989 placed in the Library. I will certainly take that forward, and hope that we will be able to deliver on that in the very short term.
As we all know—noble Lords alluded to this—on 28 May China’s National People’s Congress adopted a decision that would impose a national security law on Hong Kong. Let me assure all noble Lords who have contributed that we share their concerns about this unprecedented development; my closing remarks will echo the Foreign Secretary’s comment. I also thank those noble Lords, including my noble friends, who gave their support for the Government’s statement last week. I particularly note the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins. More details will of course follow on the specifics of the announcements around BNOs. I will come on to that.
As my noble friend Lord Patten and other noble Lords reminded us, Hong Kong’s success was built on its high degree of autonomy and freedoms. My noble friend Lord Howell made this point well. This is under the “one country, two systems” framework that China itself has long advocated and reaffirmed. This framework is enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law and underpinned by the provisions of the Sino-British joint declaration of 1984. As my noble friend Lady Anelay reminded us, the joint declaration is a legally binding international treaty, a point also well made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. The treaty is registered with the United Nations and remains as valid today as it was when it was signed, more than 35 years ago.
The imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong would lie in direct conflict with China’s international obligations. Yes, as my noble friend Lord Patten reminded us, there are provisions for a national security law. However, as several noble Lords including him pointed out, this imposition goes directly against those obligations under the Sino-British joint declaration. It would also lie in direct conflict with article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which gives Hong Kong sole jurisdiction to enact these laws. Imposing the national security law would undermine Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and threaten the freedom of its people. The Basic Law is unequivocal: it allows for Hong Kong to make its own laws and there are a limited number of areas in which Beijing can directly impose legislation. These include foreign and defence policy, and emergency legislation in extreme circumstances such as a state of war. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has made clear, we do not oppose Hong Kong having a national security law. What we strongly oppose is its imposition by Beijing.
The impact on human rights was touched on, rightly, by many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Bridgeman. The noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Truscott, reminded us about the joint declaration as well. The proposed national security law further raises the prospect of prosecution in Hong Kong for political crimes. It threatens to undermine existing commitments to protect the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong, as set out in the joint declaration, which reflects the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We are also acutely conscious that Hong Kong’s rule of law and world-class independent judiciary, as mentioned by several noble Lords including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, are a cornerstone of its economic success and way of life. We will of course watch the impact of these proposed measures closely.
I turn to Her Majesty’s Government’s response. I have listened carefully to a number of helpful suggestions and detailed questions. If I may, I will respond in writing to several of them. However, we are very clear-eyed in our approach when it comes to China. That is rooted in our values and interests. The point was made about China and its partnerships. Several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Randall, reminded us of our international workings. When it comes to issues such as climate change—my noble friend reminded us of COP 26—we believe that China also has a vital role in the international community, including in its global response to the pandemic. It has worked with many countries and the World Health Organization in its response.
It has always been the case that when we have concerns, we will raise them. On human rights, let me assure noble Lords that we will continue to raise the issue of the Uighurs, which was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, as we have previously done at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. We will speak out.
Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who speaks with great experience, referred to the proposal of the seven Foreign Secretaries, including the noble Lord, Lord Owen, for a contact group. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned human rights and the importance of broad coalitions. My noble friends Lord Patten, Lord Balfe and Lady Helic talked about international action, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. Last Thursday, alongside his counterparts in Australia, Canada and the US, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary released a joint statement expressing deep concern over the proposed new security legislation. We are working with New Zealand, Japan and, yes, our partners in the EU—which the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and my noble friend Lady Helic mentioned—who also made statements expressing concern.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, talked about the international group. My noble friend Lord Cormack talked about broadening coalitions, including at the UN. I am sure that noble Lords will have seen that we raised the issue of Hong Kong at a recent Security Council meeting, despite the challenges that China posed. We have taken steps towards creating broader coalitions. My noble friend Lady Meyer talked of the G7, my noble friend Lord Bowness talked of wider coalitions and the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, suggested how we might strengthen and broaden coalitions. I will of course reflect on all noble Lords’ contributions regarding how we can further strengthen international opinion on this issue. I assure noble Lords that we will work with all international partners, including those in the EU, because we want to implore China to reconsider its current path.
My noble friend Lord Wei talked of great hope, and we hope that hope can be restored. We encourage China to work with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government and the people of Hong Kong. Several noble Lords rightly pointed out that the needs of the people should be put first in order to find a solution that will encourage dialogue and respect for human rights; I am unequivocal about that. I am proud to have among my responsibilities the role of Minister for human rights for Her Majesty’s Government. It is important that we put human rights at the forefront of our agenda because by doing so, we will help to restore trust.
The proposed imposition of a national security law—an incredibly sensitive subject in Hong Kong—would exacerbate existing divisions. From the beginning of the unrest, this Government have been committed to our responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong, to supporting their right to peaceful protest and to encouraging dialogue on all sides within the “one country, two systems” framework, to which several noble Lords pointed. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and my noble friend Lady Goudie mentioned the independence of the judiciary; I agree with them. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, also made a point about HBSC and companies that made statements about the national security law. I shall not comment specifically on that, but I underline our hope that China will think again in respect of enacting this law.
In the time I have left, I will turn to the important issue of British nationals overseas. My noble friend Lady Anelay and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jay and Lady Falkner, amongst others, talked passionately about this issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, asked about Taiwan. We have not changed our position on Taiwan. I reiterate that it is important that a lasting solution to any issues and disputes between both sides is brought to the fore by exchanges by both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
My noble friend Lady Hooper also mentioned the issue of students returning from Hong Kong. We are of course monitoring the situation. They have a right to return to the United Kingdom and we will do what we can to ensure that we facilitate their return.
I am sure that noble Lords noted that the Foreign Secretary said last week and again on Tuesday that if China continues down this path, we will look to amend the arrangements for BNOs. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised that issue, as did other noble Lords. Under the current status, BNO passport holders in Hong Kong are already entitled to UK consular assistance outside of China and protection and entry clearance for six months into the UK. However, in response to actions that the noble Lords, Lord Powell and Lord West, suggested, if China follows through with proposed legislation, the Government will put in place arrangements to allow those with BNO status to live, work and study in the UK for an extendable period of 12 months. That will provide a path to citizenship, as my noble friend Lord Trimble reminded us. We will keep the door open. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, also mentioned that point.
We want to give the Chinese Government the chance to step back from their current course of action, and I note some of the questions that have been raised, including those from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. I shall of course write to noble Lords regarding the questions I have not had time to answer.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, mentioned the Magnitsky proposals and secondary legislation in that respect. We are working through this and I assure noble Lords that it is certainly our aim to bring this to Parliament at an early stage—I hope in advance of the Summer Recess, but a lot of work is being done. I am sure that noble Lords will accept that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on specific designations at this point. The noble Lords, Lord Wood and Lord Campbell, asked about Huawei. Our decision on that carries the strongest possible scrutiny.
I thank my noble friend Lady Anelay for tabling this debate. I am sure this is an issue that we will continue to return to in the coming days and weeks, but I want to put on record that the UK and its partners have been clear to China. Imposing this national security legislation would be a clear violation of China’s international obligations, including those made to the United Kingdom under the joint declaration. I put on record our call to China to reconsider this path, because I assure all noble Lords that the UK will not look the other way when it comes to the people of Hong Kong.
Virtual Proceedings suspended.