House of Commons
Wednesday 1 July 2020
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
I would like to take a few moments to pay tribute to Glasgow’s emergency services for the enormous courage they showed in dealing with last week’s shocking knife attack. Our thoughts are with all those who were caught up in that terrible incident. In particular, I know that the whole House will join me in wishing Constable David Whyte a speedy recovery from the injuries he sustained in trying to help others.
I have regular discussions with my Cabinet colleagues, including the Chancellor, on all aspects of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in Scotland. As we emerge from tackling this global crisis, we are determined to get Britain’s economy back firing on all cylinders, and as we do, protecting people’s health remains our top priority. However, just as we entered lockdown together, the best way to ensure the recovery of our economy is by working together across the United Kingdom.
May I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s opening remarks?
In his insipid word salad of a speech yesterday, the Prime Minister committed barely more money to rejuvenate the British economy post coronavirus than we have committed to refurbishing the Palace of Westminster. The Scottish Parliament lacks the powers to properly borrow and invest that other tiers of government take for granted. Will the Secretary of State commit to look again at the fiscal framework and giving Scotland the borrowing and investment powers it needs for the future?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the fiscal framework is due to be reviewed in 2021. In the interim, we have given huge support to Scotland from the British Exchequer, with £3.8 billion in business support for the covid crisis, and the furlough scheme, which has supported almost 800,000 jobs. There is a capital budget for Scotland this year of £5.4 billion, and there is no shortage of projects that need to be done, so I ask him to encourage the Scottish Government to get on with them.
Some people are facing much more than just a financial meltdown as we emerge from this crisis. A year ago tomorrow, the all-party parliamentary group on terminal illness published a report on heartless Department for Work and Pensions rules that mean terminally ill people can only access fast-track benefits if they can prove that they have six months or less to live. Under pressure from the APPG, Marie Curie, the Motor Neurone Disease Association and others, this Government launched their own review, yet we have had only silence since. In the meantime, thousands of people have died waiting for support. The Scottish Government have already committed to scrap the arbitrary six-month rule when they take over the personal independence payment, but universal credit and employment and support allowance are reserved. Will the Secretary of State urge his colleagues to finally end this pernicious policy?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, universal credit support has been increased during the covid crisis, but the point he makes about the last six months of life is one that I would like to raise with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. If he writes to me on the subject, I would be pleased to push the case for him.
Mr Speaker, I do not need to tell you that Scotland has some of the most beautiful landscapes across our country. My nephews are Scottish, and like many young people, they rely on the tourism and hospitality industry for work. Those industries are likely to take a lot longer to recover. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that businesses and young people employed in those sectors will continue to receive the Government support they need?
As the hon. Lady will know, the Chancellor is making a statement a week today. I have had discussions with him about the support. The furlough will continue for another four months, until the end of October, and there is a variable element to it now, so that people can go back to work part time. The tourism and hospitality industry will effectively go through three winters unless we get it up and running this summer. It is deeply regrettable that the First Minister has encouraged reckless talk. This talk of quarantining people from other parts the United Kingdom is disappointing and divisive, and it is not the language we should be hearing from a First Minister because it undermines the joint efforts we have made in tackling covid-19, and it is bad for business—especially the tourism business.
The unemployment rate is going up faster than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, and we are proving in Scotland to be slower at reopening our economy—something I regret. It is important that we get our economy reopened as quickly as possible, because that is the best way to save jobs. As I say, we are currently supporting almost 800,000 jobs through the self-employment support scheme and through the job retention scheme. It is important that once we get back to near-normal, our economy bounces back as quickly as possible. The best way to achieve that is to keep money in people’s pockets, and the 80% furlough has done just that.
I echo the Secretary of State’s remarks about our heroes in the public services in Glasgow who responded to the stabbings last Friday. I am sure that he, and the whole House, would wish to join me in expressing our deepest sympathy and all our thoughts to the family and friends of the three-year-old boy who was tragically killed yesterday when a car went out of control and mounted the pavement in Morningside Road in my constituency—a very young life taken far too soon.
As lockdown measures are eased, some sectors of the Scottish economy, as we have heard, will take much longer than others to return to some sort of normality, particularly tourism, hospitality and the creative industries. It is vital that both Governments continue to protect jobs and support businesses by extending the current furlough support to those hard-hit sectors. Even now, far too many are falling through the cracks of Government schemes—for example, many freelancers working through pay-as-you-earn contracts. With many taxpayers in this situation going from full income to no income, will the Secretary of State commit to raising in Cabinet the need for Government to support those taxpayers who have received nothing, and for an extended sectoral furlough scheme for Scottish industries?
Let me start by echoing the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about the shocking incident on the pavement in Morningside Road yesterday.
The Chancellor acknowledged right at the beginning that we cannot save every business and we cannot save every job, but there has been a huge rapid response from the United Kingdom Government to covid-19, with unprecedented sums going to Scotland in the form of £3.8 billion for business support and, as I mentioned, the 800,000 jobs that have been supported. I have raised this with the Chancellor and we have talked about how we go through to the next stage. He will be addressing that when he speaks to the House a week today.
I appreciate that answer from the Secretary of State, but there are still too many people who have gone from full income to no income while paying full taxes.
The former SNP finance spokesperson and author of the First Minister’s Growth Commission report has said that Scotland will have the worst performing economy in the developed world post covid. The response by the SNP Finance Minister was to reignite the demand for full fiscal autonomy, which would have the effect of creating a multi-billion-pound black hole in Scotland’s public finances. First, has the Secretary of State undertaken any analysis of the impact that this policy would have on post-covid recovery in Scotland? Secondly, rather than both Governments playing politics, will he work collaboratively with the Scottish Government to seek solutions to the immediate post-covid budget challenges so that we can save as many jobs, businesses and public services as possible?
The Scottish Finance Minister, Kate Forbes, has questioned the Barnett formula and has raised full fiscal autonomy as a preference. I would say to the people of Scotland that, for £100 of spending per head in England, the Barnett formula guarantees £125 per head of spending in Scotland. The Barnett formula has produced the extra £3.8 billion of covid support. Last year, the Barnett formula plugged a £12.6 billion deficit in Scotland’s spending. Along with the furlough scheme, these things would not have been possible under full fiscal autonomy. In fact, had the Scottish Government imposed that on the Scottish people, I would call it full furlough absence.
I would like to echo the remarks of the Secretary of State with regard to the events in Glasgow. Our thoughts are with all those affected.
The Secretary of State says that the Chancellor will be updating the House with regard to the furloughing scheme, so I will note that with interest, but could he tell us specifically what recommendations and requests he has made to the Treasury with regard to Scotland?
Discussions that we have with the Treasury ahead of a statement are confidential, but I have highlighted the threats around tourism and hospitality, and I say again to the hon. Lady that the First Minister’s remarks about the border are irresponsible. If we think back to 26 April and “The Andrew Marr Show”, she admitted that it was a border that she had no control over, so let us not undermine the Scottish economy by moving too slowly as we come back—we need to crack on—and let us not undermine Scottish business by talking about keeping people from other parts of the United Kingdom out of Scotland.
Let us also not undermine public health when it comes to the decisions that we make. Scotland has sought to trial universal basic income in four separate locations. Given that the Scottish Government would be providing the funding for this, does the Secretary of State know why the UK Government are blocking it, and what assistance will he provide in unblocking it?
On the hon. Lady’s first remark about public health, it is absolutely imperative that we protect lives, but we must also protect livelihoods. On universal basic income, we do not believe it is the best way to deliver social security because it is not targeted at those who need it most. We believe universal credit is the best thing because it gets people back into work, and getting people back into work gets them out of poverty. Countries such as Finland and Canada have tried universal basic income and walked away from it. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation also found that it can increase poverty and it said that it is not the way forward in the report that it released two years ago, so we will not be moving towards a universal basic income.
At the end of 2020, we automatically take back control of our waters as an independent coastal state. We will be out of the common fisheries policy and we can decide who can fish in our waters and on what terms. This Government will maintain funding throughout this Parliament to support both our seafood industry and the regeneration of coastal communities in Scotland and around the United Kingdom.
The Minister will be aware that taking back control of our waters and regaining our status as an independent coastal state was one of the reasons why 1 million Scots voted to leave the European Union, so can he confirm that the UK Government will not sign up to anything that will take away those provisions and put that status at risk?
Yes, I can indeed confirm that. For the first time in 40 years, we will be free to decide who can access our waters and on what terms. Any access by non-UK vessels to fish in UK waters will be negotiated annually, as is standard practice in many cases between independent coastal states such as Norway, the Faroes or Iceland. We continue to engage with the EU constructively, but we will be making sure our position is understood. We will always defend our rights under international law, just as any other independent coastal state does.
EU Transition Period
I have regular discussions with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on EU transition matters, including the end of the transition period and the benefits to Scotland of once again being able to control our own laws, our own trade and our own fishing waters.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that while it is outrageous that even last month the Scottish Government were wasting resources on fighting the battles of the past with regard to the transition period, the UK Government are focused on delivering the benefits of free trade not just for Scottish businesses but for all businesses in our United Kingdom?
Yes, I agree. I think Scottish Ministers need to wake up to the fact that we have left the European Union and we will leave the transition period on 31 December. I know that the Scottish Government do not like the outcomes of referendums when they do not go their way, but this is another one we are delivering on.
An opinion poll recently found that 63% of the Scottish people back a Brexit extension—that is on top of the overwhelming majority who oppose the Brexit disaster in its entirety—and the Secretary of State has probably seen an opinion poll that found that 54% of the Scottish people now want an independent Scotland. What does the Secretary of State believe links those opinion polls, and what does that tell him about where our country is heading?
I was going to say I was pleased that for once that the hon. Gentleman had not made it all about independence, but he managed to weave it in. I think the whole House would like to congratulate him on giving up his own independence by getting engaged last weekend.
The answer is that we had a general election and we had a resounding majority across the United Kingdom for a manifesto that said we would honour the result of the referendum. We are going to honour that result: we are going to take back control of our laws, borders and money and we are going to leave the hated common fisheries policy and become—here is the independent bit for the hon. Gentleman—an independent coastal state.
Covid-19 Testing: Care Sector
The UK Government, assisted by the British Army, have through six fixed testing sites, 13 mobile testing units and the Glasgow Lighthouse mega-lab significantly increased testing capacity in Scotland to respond to covid-19, in addition to NHS Scotland’s own capacity. It is for the Scottish Government to determine policy for the use of that capacity, including in respect of testing for care home residents, recipients and staff.
Some 1,431 people were discharged from Scottish hospitals into care homes by the Scottish Government. In Scotland, the proportion of care home deaths is much higher than that in England, where it is also too high. Will the Minister assure the House that when the inevitable public inquiry happens, the question of Scottish care home deaths is not lost in the wider questions about the Government’s response but is given very serious attention, because thousands of families will demand that those Scottish care home deaths are investigated?
Based on the latest figures that I have seen, although the number of covid-19 deaths in care homes in Scotland has been falling in recent weeks, it still represents around 41% of the total. That is compared with the proportion in England, which is closer to around 32%. Both of those proportions are still far too high, but what any inquiry will say is a matter for that inquiry.
When the First Minister is questioned about the high rate of care home deaths in Scotland, she merely replies that England does not count in the same way, which is not an answer. The number of care home deaths in Scotland is a national scandal. Despite that, care home staff are still not receiving the level of testing that they have been promised. The Scottish Health Minister said that all care home staff would be tested every week, yet in no week has that happened, and only around a third of staff are receiving tests. Given the fact that the UK Government deliver part of the testing regime in Scotland, will the Minister inform the House of what work is going on across both Governments to ensure that care home staff are receiving the weekly tests they were promised?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will join me in acknowledging the excellent work done by all our frontline staff, whether in the NHS, care homes or elsewhere. I encourage the Scottish Government to actively promote the fixed testing sites and the mobile testing sites that I mentioned earlier, to ensure that all care homes and care home staff can access the testing that they need.
Scottish Agricultural Sector
The Government have provided unprecedented levels of support to the sector, and, to the credit of all involved, the UK’s food supply chain has remained secure throughout this crisis. Farmers across the UK produce some of the best food in the world, and to the highest environmental, welfare and safety standards. Our farmers have what it takes to compete with the rest of the world, and they can be confident that this UK Government will back them all the way in securing new global markets while protecting those standards.
I thank the Minister for his answer. What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the opportunities that might arise for the agricultural sector in Scotland and the wider United Kingdom—including my local farmers here in Truro and Falmouth—once the EU transition period ends?
There are great opportunities for farmers right across the UK, in Scotland and in my hon. Friend’s constituency in Cornwall. Outside the common agricultural policy, we can provide our food and farming sectors with the opportunity to become more competitive, productive and profitable, while—importantly—taking into account each nation’s unique geography and heritage. We can create our own system of farming support, with each part of the UK being able to meet the specific needs of its farmers.
I welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box. I represent a constituency which is 75% agricultural land here in north Wales, so he can understand how important our farmers are across the United Kingdom. Recently I met a load of local farmers who are concerned about support for the industry, so may I ask him what steps he and his team are taking to support the agricultural industry once we leave the economic institutions of the EU?
I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome to the Dispatch Box. This Government have guaranteed the current annual budget for every year of this Parliament, giving significant certainty on funding in the coming years not just for Scottish farmers, but for Welsh farmers and around the UK. As I said in an earlier response, we can agree ambitious new trade deals around the world while protecting our own world-class standards.
We have made a commitment to deliver a deal for every part of Scotland. Five deals are now fully agreed and four are agreed in principle. We are in discussion with the Treasury to agree the parameters of the final two deals and the role that the deal programme as a whole can play more generally in our economic recovery.
The Minister will be aware that the Borderlands is considered a great success. However, to ensure that such initiatives are truly successful and properly implemented requires timely decisions by all parties involved, and that is something the Prime Minister certainly wants to see happen. Will the Minister commit to doing everything he can at UK level and the Scottish parliamentary level, particularly with regard to the Treasury, to ensure that the Borderlands initiative proceeds quickly and effectively?
Yes, absolutely, and I should add that my hon. Friend has been an excellent champion of the Borderlands deal. We are making good progress with it, including the consideration of individual projects such as the dairy innovation centre. We hope to be able to agree the terms of a full deal later this year. I should also mention that I am meeting the Campaign for Borders Rail team later this month to discuss that project, and I would greatly welcome his thoughts on that.
Air Travel Corridors
The Government have been working closely with the devolved Administrations throughout the covid-19 pandemic to ensure a coherent UK-wide approach. The Government will shortly announce further details on regulations, including a full list of countries and territories from which arriving passengers will be exempted from the self-isolation requirements.
Edinburgh Airport is not just one of the largest employers in my constituency when taken together with all the cargo handlers and the shops on site, but a linchpin of Edinburgh’s economy and Scotland’s economy. During this crisis, 80% of its staff have been furloughed, and it has gone from having 40,000 passengers pass through it on an average day to fewer than 200, and on some days none. Although I am deeply concerned about the airport, the airlines and the directly related jobs, they also feed into the tourism industry, which is worth an estimated £10.5 billion a year to Scotland. With the loss of the Edinburgh Festival, the Royal Highland Show, the incomplete Six Nations this year, and now the loss of tourism, potentially every job in Edinburgh is under threat. Will this Government use their—
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I do know the importance that Edinburgh Airport in her constituency has not just for the airport but for the wider economy. I would be very happy to meet her to discuss her specific points in further detail, but the global airline industry is facing a huge challenge, and it will require considerable efforts to get it back on its feet.
Strengthening the Union
The Government have always stressed the importance of the Union, and the current crisis demonstrates the value in responding collectively. We have world-leading expertise and the economic strength to support jobs and business with generous financial packages. It is the strength of our Union that will enable us to rebuild our economy quickly and fairly.
I thank my good friend the new Minister and congratulate him on being at the Dispatch Box. Devolution in Scotland has given the Scottish people a localised legislative body. It gives Scottish people greater powers over their own affairs and is replicated in Northern Ireland and Wales. Does my hon. Friend agree that this has caused a democratic deficit for England, and as devolution is now being revisited in my own constituency county of Greater Lincolnshire, what lessons can be learned from Scottish devolution to give the people of Lincolnshire greater powers over their own affairs?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the considerable powers that are being devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but England has also seen significant devolution and that is a process that continues with further deals in the pipeline and the Government’s commitment to a White Paper on devolution in England. I suggest that devolution has given Scotland the best of both worlds: localising decision making, but being able to access the collective resources of a strong United Kingdom.
More than 60% of Scottish exports go to the rest of the UK. That represents three times more than the rest of the EU. Does my hon. Friend agree that, as we emerge from this pandemic, trade between all four of the home nations is going to be critical not only to Scotland, but to the rest of the UK?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight these figures. We do not need the barriers and division that separation would bring, nor do we need the reckless talk of effectively closing the border when tourism in Scotland needs all the help it can get.
I welcome the Scottish Government’s decision to put off their preparations for a second Scottish referendum on independence while dealing with the coronavirus. Does the Minister agree that, once this pandemic is over, those plans will still be unnecessary and still be unwanted by the people of Scotland?
The Prime Minister was asked—
May I start by commending the Together initiative for organising this coming Sunday what will hopefully be the nation’s biggest ever Thank You Day to mark the birthday of the NHS? It will provide the perfect moment to thank not just our amazing NHS and care workers, but also those key workers who have helped in the national effort throughout our fight against coronavirus and, indeed, all those across the country who have gone the extra mile for their local communities in these challenging times. I am sure we can agree across this House that the NHS represents the very best of us, and that we will always be there to support it.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
As the Prime Minister says, today is the 72nd anniversary of the NHS and a good moment for us all to appreciate the immense role of the NHS in all our constituencies—perhaps especially, the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, which has put up with me as a summer volunteer for the last 10 years.
The Prime Minister’s launch of the UK new deal yesterday paves the way for exciting new projects. May I highlight for his attention the proposed eco park and green energy park in Gloucester, which may need a little of the Chancellor’s oil? May I also highlight, should it be approved, the shovel-ready new Gloucester to Cheltenham cycleway, which I hope he might accept an invitation to come and open, with my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and me, when it is ready?
May I, too, celebrate the birthday of the NHS, as we all will this Sunday, particularly at this time?
At the daily press conference on 18 June, the Health Secretary said, “There’s an outbreak of covid-19 right now in parts of Leicester”, yet it was only on Monday evening this week that the Government introduced restrictions. That is a delay of 11 days, during which the virus was spreading in Leicester. Why were the Government so slow to act?
Well, actually, the Government first took notice and acted on what was going on in Leicester on 8 June, because we could see that there was an issue there. We sent mobile testing units—four more mobile testing units—shortly thereafter. We engaged actively with the authorities in Leicester, with public health in Leicester and with everybody responsible in Leicester in the way that we have done with other areas that have had similar issues. Unfortunately, in Leicester, it did not prove possible to get the results that we have seen elsewhere, so on Monday we took the decision, which I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman approves of, to go into lockdown in Leicester. I have been absolutely clear with the House and with the country that we are going forward. We have made huge progress, but, where necessary, we will put on the brakes. We acted decisively, and I think it was the right thing to do.
I do support the Government’s decision of Monday, but I think the 4,000 businesses and 160 schools that are now shut might take some persuading that the Government acted quickly enough. One of the problems in Leicester was that the local authority had only half the data. It had data for pillar 1 covid tests—NHS and care worker tests, and tests in hospitals—but not for pillar 2 tests, which are the wider tests in the community. That may sound technical, but it meant that the local authority thought there were 80 positive tests in the last fortnight when the real figure was 944. The local authority was given the real figure only last Thursday, so there was a lost week while the virus was spreading. There are now real fears of further local lockdowns across the country. Can the Prime Minister give a cast-iron guarantee today that no other local authority will ever be put in that position again?
I am afraid the right hon. and learned Gentleman is mistaken, because both pillar 1 and pillar 2 data have been shared, not just with Leicester, but with all authorities across the country. We did in Leicester exactly what we did, for instance, in Kirklees, Bradford, Weston-super-Mare or other places where very effective whack-a-mole strategies have been put in place. For reasons that I think the House will probably understand, there were particular problems in Leicester in implementing the advice and getting people to understand what was necessary to do. But, let’s face it: we have had to act and the Government have acted. He wants to know whether we will act in future to ensure that we protect the health of the entire country, and I can tell him that we will, absolutely.
I spoke to the Mayor of Leicester this morning, and I know the Prime Minister spoke to him yesterday, and he was absolutely clear that he did not get that data until last Thursday—I doubt he told the Prime Minister something different yesterday. The Prime Minister cannot just bat away challenge; these are matters of life and death, and people’s livelihoods. For example, last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) asked the Prime Minister, “How can seaside towns be expected to cope with the likely influx of visitors to beaches and parks during the hot weather?”. The Prime Minister replied, “Show some guts”. Two days later, Bournemouth beach was closed; there were 500,000 visitors and a major incident was declared. Does the Prime Minister now regret being so flippant?
I really think the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not distinguish himself by his question, because I was making it absolutely clear that as we go forward with our cautious plan for opening up the economy, it is very, very important that people who do represent seaside communities, places where UK tourists will want to go, should be as welcoming as they can possibly be. That was the message that I think it is important to set out. But it is also vital that people behave responsibly. That is why the scenes in Bournemouth were completely unacceptable and it is why we stick to the advice that we have given. I made it absolutely clear that if people are going to travel to the seaside and take advantage of the easing of the lockdown, they must observe social distancing, and it is everybody’s responsibility to ensure that that is the case.
The Prime Minister must understand why this is of such concern. There is a nationwide lifting of restrictions this weekend, without an app, and without clear data for local authorities or the world-beating system we were promised. [Interruption.] I do support it, but I am not blind—[Interruption.] I support the easing of restrictions but, unlike the Prime Minister, I am not blind to the risks, and I do not think anybody else should be. Last week, I pointed out to the Prime Minister that two thirds of people with covid-19 are not being reached and asked to provide their contact details. The Prime Minister, typically, said it was all a stunning “success”. The updated figures now show that things have got worse; of the 22,000 new cases of covid infections per week in mid-June, just 5,000 were reached and asked to provide details. So now three quarters of people with covid-19 are not being reached. How does the Prime Minister explain that?
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows very well, the test, track and trace operation is reaching huge numbers of people and causing them to self-isolate in ways that I do not think he conceivably could have expected a month ago when the system was set up. It has now reached 113,000 contacts who have undertaken to self-isolate to stop the disease spreading, and that is why the number of new infections has come down for several days running to below 1,000, and the number of deaths continues to come down. That is a great achievement on the part of the entire population and their willingness to support test and trace.
If the Prime Minister cannot see that three quarters of those with covid-19 are not being contacted and asked for their own contacts, that is a real gap in the system. He cannot just brush it away by referencing those that are contacted. It is a real problem and it is growing; it is going to have to be addressed. The Prime Minister did this at phase 1, brushing away serious concerns.
I want to turn to the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday, if I may. Amid the normal bluster, there was a really striking line in that speech. The Prime Minister said:
“We…know the jobs that many people had in January are…not coming back”.
I fear that this is the equivalent of the line in the Prime Minister’s speech of 12 March when he said:
“I must level with you…Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”
We know what happened next. That is why there needs to be a laser-like focus on protecting jobs, so how many jobs does the Prime Minister think yesterday’s announcement will protect?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman might first pay tribute to the work of this Government in protecting 11 million jobs throughout this crisis. He might draw attention to the fact that we have supported huge sectors of the UK economy at a cost of £120 billion. I am not going to give a figure for the number of job losses that may or may not take place, but of course the risk is very serious, as he rightly says. That is why we are proceeding with the new deal, the fair deal for the British people, which will be not just massive investment in our national health service— £34 billion in our NHS—and £14 billion more into our schools but an investment in infrastructure going up to £100 billion. We are going to build, build, build and deliver jobs, jobs, jobs for the people of this country.
The reality is that the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday was investment equivalent to less than £100 per person across the United Kingdom—0.2% of GDP. Not much of his announcement was new, and it certainly was not much of a deal. Meanwhile, as the Prime Minister was speaking, Airbus announced 1,700 job losses, easyJet announced 1,300 job losses and T. M. Lewin and Harveys announced 800 job losses. That was just yesterday. There was nothing in the Prime Minister’s speech for the 3.2 million people in hospitality or the 2.9 million in retail. Next week’s financial statement could be the last chance to save millions of jobs. Will the Prime Minister start now by extending the furlough scheme for those parts of the economy that are still most at risk?
Let me repeat and remind the House that, overall, the package represents a £600 billion package of investment in the UK economy. The best single thing we can do is get our economy back to health by getting our people back into work and getting the virus defeated and under control, and the best thing that the Opposition could do is stop equivocating—doing one thing one week and one thing another week—and decide that they emphatically support ending the lockdown and emphatically support kids being back in school rather than being bossed around by the unions. We are the builders; they are the blockers. We are the doers; they are the ditherers. We are going to get on with it and take this country forward.
I must say I find the suggestion absolutely astonishing and shameful. There have been no discussions with the Scottish Administration about that, but I point out to my hon. Friend what he knows very well: there is no such thing as a border between England and Scotland.
I am sure that the thoughts of everyone in the House will, like mine, be with those who were caught up in the terrible incidents in Glasgow last Friday, and in particular with PC David Whyte and those who went to do their duty. We hope that everyone makes a speedy recovery from their injuries.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister delivered his self-proclaimed relaunch speech, but when asked at the daily press briefing what new money will be given to the Scottish Government, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson laughed—laughed, Mr Speaker. That is what this Government think about funding for the Scottish economy, jobs, families and livelihoods: they think it is a joke. Is the Prime Minister capable of answering a direct question? I do not want the usual waffle. It is a straightforward question: what are the new Barnett consequentials coming to Scotland as a result of yesterday’s speech?
To start with, the right hon. Gentleman probably does the spokesman in question a serious injustice, because I do not believe he would have taken this issue anything other than seriously. The right hon. Gentleman should wait till next week to have the full Barnett consequentials for what we are outlining from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. I really do hope that he and all his SNP colleagues go around brandishing the fact that not only has this crisis seen the British Army and the British armed services being absolutely indispensable in Scotland and elsewhere in helping us get through it, but we have seen the UK Treasury step up to the plate and get furlough funding across all four parts of our United Kingdom. It was a massive success. Let me tell him that the Barnett consequentials already amount to £3.8 billion for Scotland.
The Prime Minister simply could not answer the question, because the question was about the Barnett consequentials from yesterday. We know that there was not a single penny for Scotland in the supposed reset speech from the Prime Minister yesterday. It was a speech devoid of action, devoid of ambition and devoid of any support for the most vulnerable in our society. The Prime Minister has set the UK on a two-tier recovery. On the same day he delivered his speech, this Tory Government reintroduced their benefits sanctions regime after a three-month freeze. That is not levelling up; it is heartless, cruel and unnecessary. Will the Prime Minister announce right now that he will keep the freeze on benefits sanctions, or will we have to wait until he is shamed into yet another U-turn?
I beseech the right hon. Gentleman just to think that he may be mistaken. The UK Government are absolutely dedicated to supporting people of all incomes across the country. That is why we have actually increased spending on benefits by £7 billion with universal credit, and we stand ready to do more, but I can tell him that there will be plenty of wonderful things that we want to do, working with him and with the Scottish Administration, to improve transport and other infrastructure across the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland. I really hope he will co-operate.
Yes, the show must go on. I know the power of the theatres of London’s west end and the entire cultural industry in London, not just as a magnet for our country, but for the sheer revenues they deliver. We want that to get going as fast as we possibly can, and we want life for theatres and theatregoers to get back to normal as fast as we possibly can, but to do that we have to defeat the disease, and that is what this Government are engaged in.
Exactly six months from today, the Northern Ireland protocol will sadly come into operation. The Government have already recognised that it will involve checks and infrastructure with regard to regulation, which the Prime Minister knows is different from customs. The business community is desperately seeking answers as to how the processes will work in detail. Will he commit to providing that clarity before the end of the summer?
It is very clear from the existing text of the protocol that Northern Ireland is, and remains, a part of the customs territory of the United Kingdom. There should be unfettered access between all parts of the United Kingdom, and that is what we are going to ensure.
We stand for rules and obligations, and think that they are the soundest basis for our international relations. The enactment and imposition of this national security law constitutes a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British joint declaration. It violates Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and is in direct conflict with Hong Kong Basic Law. The national security law also threatens the freedoms and rights protected by the joint declaration. We made it clear that if China continued down this path, we would introduce a new route for those with British national overseas status to enter the UK, granting them limited leave to remain with the ability to live and work in the UK, and thereafter to apply for citizenship; and that is precisely what we will do now.
The victims have waited too long for these payments, and the way to unblock the progress is through the designation of a department to provide support for the victims’ payments board. The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), has indicated that she is prepared to take on that role, so the Executive must now move formally to designate and to prevent any further delay for victims.
The hon. Lady raises a very important point about the self-employed. As she knows, we have provided very considerable support as part of the overall package of £120 billion—I think we have given £22 billion altogether through the furlough scheme for employed and self-employed people. Her further suggestion for a universal basic income is one that we have looked at. The best way forward for our country is to get the disease under control in the way that we are doing; get our people back into work; build, build, build; and take this country forward.
I am trying to stick off the pies at the moment, but my hon. Friend can tell his communities in Tipton that we are investing massively not just in education, with, as I say, £14 billion more into our schools, but in infrastructure that will reach every corner of the country, particularly the west midlands. I am delighted that West Bromwich will receive at least £500,000 from the Stronger Towns Fund this year to support its high street and local community.
The Met arts centre in my constituency is rightly proud of the work that it has done during lockdown, responding to the needs of young people and disability theatre groups in Bury, but its income has been decimated due to the fact that it is unable to stage events. Will the Prime Minister continue to do everything possible to support the cultural and creative sectors in Bury, Ramsbottom, Tottington and elsewhere to ensure that important community assets such as The Met have a bright future?
Absolutely; I thank my hon. Friend for making those representations. We will do everything we can to get all those sectors going as fast as we can and get life back as close to normal as possible for as many people as possible in this country. But the way to do that, at the risk of repeating myself, is to continue to defeat the virus and take the country forward.
This is becoming quite a theme this morning, and quite rightly too. I am a fan of Chickenshed Theatre and I know its work. We will do everything we can to assist; the economic case for doing so is overwhelming. I would just say to people, “Keep supporting your workers with the furloughing scheme. It is much better now to wait for times to get better rather than laying people off.” That is my message.
Newton Rigg College is a land-based further education college in Penrith that has been listed for possible closure next year by its host institution. Will my right hon. Friend ask Government Departments to work with me and local stakeholders to secure a sustainable future for this vital institution, and, if we are successful, may I invite the Prime Minister to come to Penrith to see this fantastic college and the opportunities it provides to upskill, strengthen rural economies and support this Government’s levelling-up agenda?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that this will be a difficult time for the community and all those who care about this Penrith college. May I propose that he and I have a proper conversation about what we can do to help, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, and see whether we can find an appropriate solution? I thank him very much for the work that he is doing.
I do not wish to accuse the hon. Gentleman of failing to listen to what I have been saying over the past few days, but in addition to the £120 billion of support that we have put into the economy, we have to recognise that people now are, as he says, worried about their jobs. That is why we have a plan to build, build, build with a £600 billion programme of investment and to deliver jobs, jobs, jobs. For sectors across the country where we need to keep young people in particular in employment we have offered, as he knows, an opportunity guarantee so that they will have either an apprenticeship, an in-work placement or the opportunity for training.
The pubs are reopening, but we still will not be able to go to the Marsden jazz festival, the Slaithwaite Philharmonic, the Holmfirth Picturedrome, the Lawrence Batley theatre or even a Honley male voice choir concert. Will the Prime Minister, in an effort to support the thousands of musicians, actors and dancers across the country who are struggling, look at replenishing the Arts Council funds that have been redirected to the emergency covid response so that we can have vibrant creative industries coming out of this crisis?
The House is speaking with pretty much one voice this afternoon. I totally share people’s sense of urgency about wanting to get our wonderful creative culture and theatrical sector open as fast as we can, but the House will also remember that what we are trying to do now involves striking a balance. It is very important, as we open up the economy, that we do not go too far and risk a second spike and further outbreaks. People can see what is happening in Leicester, for instance. We need to be very careful that we do this in a prudent way. As we open the theatres, which we will, we want to make sure that we can do it in a covid-compliant and covid-secure way, and I am sure that is what the House would want.
Following the publication on 8 June of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government report on the risks of fraud and corruption in local government procurement, does the Prime Minister agree that procurement fraud betrays the taxpayer? It erodes public trust in our democratic systems, and we should take firm action against those who waste our public money.
I passionately support the objective of making sure that there is IT fairness and that all kids have access to the technology that they need. We have rolled out huge numbers of laptops across the country to pupils on free school meals. But the most important thing that I think should happen now is that all pupils in year 6 should now be back in school, and it is still very disappointing that we have not had an unequivocal declaration of support for the safety of schools from the Labour party.
Enterprise zone status at Silverstone Park and Westcott in my constituency has been critical in bringing high-tech innovators to Buckinghamshire across 5G, rocketry, automotive and motorsport. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating those wealth creators, innovators and entrepreneurs, and commit to extending their enterprise zone status and business rates relief period from 2021 to 2024 to ensure that they continue to be an engine of economic growth?
I will certainly look at the proposal that my hon. Friend makes, and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will want to study it, but I also congratulate everybody involved with the Aylesbury Vale enterprise zone on the cutting-edge technology that exemplifies the very best of this country and shows the way to our future.
We have done a huge amount. The right hon. Gentleman is a tireless campaigner on this matter, but the House will accept that we have done a huge amount to increase support for people on benefits. I remind him of the increase in universal credit and working tax credit of up to £1,040 a year, which is benefiting 4 million families across the country.
Given the state of us, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I will be among the first in the socially distant queues as barbers and hairdressers reopen this weekend. Neither of us is likely to be queuing for an appointment at a beauty salon, however, as much needed as it may be, and sadly, neither will anybody else, because many of those much-loved businesses remain closed. Will the Prime Minister review that decision, so that the likes of Lush Beauty in Romiley in my constituency can reopen safely as soon as possible?
I am sure that one day I will go with my hon. Friend to Lush Beauty, but it is a sad reality for many of those excellent businesses that they cannot yet open in the way they want. I certainly share his sense of urgency, which I know people feel across the country. People feel a sense of unfairness when they look at hairdressers opening, but I repeat to the House the need to strike the balance that we have described—I believe that is understood by the Labour party—and the need to open up in a way that is covid-secure. As soon as we are sure that nail bars and beauty salons can open in a way that is covid-secure, we will do that.
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his service in the police, and for raising an important subject that I have followed for many years. The murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher was sickening and cowardly. The best thing I can say to the hon. Gentleman today is that I would welcome the opportunity to talk to him in person about the issue he has raised, and see what we can do to take the matter forward.
I thank the Prime Minister for confirming that the virus has receded far enough to open tourism in Cornwall next week. Will he join me in politely asking visitors to Cornwall to follow the example set by local people over the past three months, and strictly to respect distancing guidance? We want people to come and have a fantastic holiday in Cornwall, but we want to them to be sensible when they are visiting.
My hon. Friend brilliantly sums up the approach that we want to take. We want our seaside communities and fantastic national tourist areas to feel confident about welcoming visitors this summer. We want loads of staycations—I think we will get loads of fantastic staycations—but we want people to observe the rules and keep defeating the virus.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on returning so fast to the fray on that issue. He is absolutely right, and the best thing I can do is write to him immediately, setting out what we propose to do. There are issues with the DBS scheme, and every MP will have received representations from people who feel that they have been unfairly treated by it. The scheme needs looking at, and we shall do so urgently.
The Education Secretary has confirmed that he will set out this week a comprehensive plan to get every child back to school in September. I know that the Prime Minister strongly supports that, as do I. The Prime Minister is a great fan of buses. Can he confirm that that plan will also include the significant number of children who depend on buses to get to school, so that they can go back to school in September as well?
Hong Kong National Security Legislation
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement regarding the latest developments on Hong Kong.
As feared when I addressed the House on 2 June, yesterday the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in Beijing adopted a wide-ranging national security law for Hong Kong. This is a grave and deeply disturbing step.
We have carefully assessed the legislation. In particular, we have considered its impact on the rights, freedoms and, critically, the high degree of autonomy bestowed on Hong Kong under China’s Basic Law for Hong Kong and under the joint declaration, which, as the House will know, is the treaty agreed between China and the UK in 1984.
Today I have the depressing but necessary duty to report to the House that the enactment of this legislation, imposed by the authorities in Beijing on the people of Hong Kong, constitutes a clear and serious breach of the joint declaration. Let me explain to the House the grounds for this sobering conclusion.
First, the legislation violates the high degree of autonomy over executive and legislative powers and the independent judicial authority provided for in paragraph 3 of the joint declaration. The imposition of this legislation by the Government in Beijing, rather than it being left to Hong Kong’s own institutions to adopt it, is also, it should be noted, in direct conflict with article 23 of China’s own Basic Law for Hong Kong, which affirms that Hong Kong should bring forward its own national security legislation. In fact, the Basic Law elaborates on that, and allows Beijing to impose laws directly only in a very limited number of cases, such as for the purposes of defence and foreign affairs, or in the exceptional event of the National People’s Congress declaring a state of war or a state of emergency. None of those exceptions applies here, nor has the National People’s Congress sought to justify the law on any such ground.
Secondly, the national security legislation contains a slew of measures that directly threaten the freedoms and rights protected by the joint declaration. The House will be particularly concerned by the potentially wide-ranging ability of the mainland authorities to take jurisdiction over certain cases without any independent oversight, and to try those cases in the Chinese courts. That measure violates paragraphs 3(3) and 3(5) of the joint declaration, and directly threatens the rights set out in the United Nations international covenant on civil and political rights, which, under the joint declaration, are to be protected in Hong Kong. That in particular represents a flagrant assault on freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest for the people of Hong Kong.
Thirdly, the legislation provides that Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, rather than its Chief Justice, will appoint judges to hear national security cases—a move that clearly risks undermining the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary, which is, again, protected by the joint declaration in paragraph 3(3). Fourthly, the legislation provides for the establishment in Hong Kong by the Chinese Government of a new office for safeguarding national security, run by and reporting to the mainland authorities. That is particularly worrying, because that office is given wide-ranging powers, directly intruding on the responsibility of the Hong Kong authorities to maintain public order. Again, that is directly in breach of the joint declaration—this time, paragraph 3(11). The authorities in Hong Kong have already started to enforce the legislation; there are reports of arrests by the police, and official notices warning the people of Hong Kong against waving flags or chanting.
In sum, this legislation has been enacted in clear and serious breach of the joint declaration. China has broken its promise to the people of Hong Kong under its own laws, and has breached its international obligations to the United Kingdom under the joint declaration. Having committed to applying the UN’s international covenant on civil and political rights to the people of Hong Kong, China has now written into law wide-ranging exemptions that cannot credibly be reconciled with its international obligations, or its responsibilities as a leading member of the international community.
We want a positive relationship with China. We recognise its growth, its stature, and the powerful role it can play in the world. It is precisely because we respect China as a leading member of the international community that we expect the Chinese Government to meet their international obligations and live up to their international responsibilities. They have failed to do so with respect to Hong Kong by enacting legislation that violates its autonomy and threatens the strangulation of its freedoms. It is a sad day for the people of Hong Kong—one that can only undermine international trust in the Chinese Government’s willingness to keep its word and live up to its promises.
For our part, the Prime Minister and the Government are crystal clear: the United Kingdom will keep its word and live up to our responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong. After further detailed discussions with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I can now confirm that we will proceed to honour our commitment to change the arrangements for those holding British national (overseas) status. We have also worked with Ministers across Whitehall and have now developed proposals for a bespoke immigration route for BNOs and their dependents. We will grant BNOs five years’ limited leave to remain, with a right to work or study. After these five years, they will be able to apply for settled status, and after a further 12 months with settled status, they will be able to apply for citizenship. This is a special, bespoke set of arrangements developed for the unique circumstances we face and in the light of our historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong.
All those with BNO status will be eligible, as will their family dependents who are usually resident in Hong Kong, and the Home Office will put in place a simple, streamlined application process. I can reassure hon. Members that there will be no quotas on numbers. I pay tribute to the Home Secretary and her excellent team at the Home Office for their work in helping to prepare for a moment that, let’s face it, we all dearly hoped would not arrive. She will set out further details of our approach in due course.
In addition to changing the arrangements for BNOs, the UK will continue to work with our international partners to consider what further action we should responsibly take next. I can tell the House that yesterday in the UN Nations Human Rights Council, the UK made a formal joint statement expressing our deep concern about the human rights situation in both Hong Kong and Xinjiang. Twenty-six other nations joined that statement. It is the first time a formal statement has been made at the Human Rights Council on this issue, and it was delivered through our diplomatic leadership. We will continue to work with our partners in the G7 and the EU and across the region.
I say again: we want a positive relationship with China, but we will not look the other way when it comes to Hong Kong and we will not duck our historic responsibilities to its people. We will continue to bring together our international partners, to stand up for the people of Hong Kong, to call out the violations of their freedoms, and to hold China to its international obligations, freely assumed under international law. I commend this statement to the House.
The new security law is deeply shocking, and the arrests overnight have stunned the world. This will have a chilling effect on democracy. It fundamentally undermines the commitments made by the Chinese Government to the United Kingdom and those we made in turn to the people of Hong Kong when we signed the joint declaration. I pressed the Foreign Secretary yesterday not to waver in his commitment to the people of Hong Kong, and I am grateful to him for coming to the House today to make this statement, for advance sight of it, and most of all for honouring the promise he made on 2 June. He is right to do so and has our support.
When will the Home Secretary provide details of the scheme for BNO passport holders and dependents, and has the Foreign Secretary made an assessment of likely take-up? Will salary thresholds apply? We are concerned that this does not become a scheme simply for wealthy Hongkongers to abandon the city and leave others behind. Under the national security law, the Government can extract money from those they believe to be involved in criminality or guilty of offences. In some cases, the people of Hong Kong will not be able to take sums of money out of the city and could have their bank accounts frozen, so what recourse to public funds will apply and will he ensure that dependents will be treated as home students for the purpose of tuition fees?
The Foreign Secretary’s commitment to BNO passport holders is welcome, but it does not resolve the problem. I was deeply moved to see the young activists who bravely took to the streets to protest against this law, at considerable personal risk. The majority will not be covered by this scheme and must not abandoned. The loss of many highly skilled workers will be a blow to Hong Kong and to China. That is why we need additional measures. We in this House have been waiting for Magnitsky legislation for two years now. He must give us a date for when that will be introduced before the summer recess, so that targeted sanctions can be applied to those who breach human rights in Hong Kong.
Overnight, pepper spray and water cannon were used against the pro-democracy protesters. It is now time for Britain to lead on an inquiry into police brutality. I welcome the cross-regional statement that our ambassador co-ordinated and place on record my thanks to him for his efforts, but will the Foreign Secretary now lead the charge for the appointment of a UN special rapporteur on Hong Kong? The provisions in the national security law that encourage people to confess and disclose others’ so-called “criminal behaviour” have raised serious concerns about the prospect of torture. We must not turn away.
What conversations has the Foreign Secretary had with Carrie Lam about the provision for the Chief Executive to hand-pick judges? Given the comments by the former Hong Kong Chief Justice Andrew Li that this would fundamentally undermine the independence of the judiciary, what assessment has he made of the continuing role of British judges in the court system? I wrote to the Foreign Secretary some time ago to ask him to address the direct challenge made by British companies such as HSBC and Standard Chartered to the UK’s stance by supporting this law. We cannot allow British businesses to become complicit in undermining the international rules-based order that they themselves rely on. Yesterday the Foreign Secretary spoke up in this place in defence of press freedom. What discussions is he having with UK news agencies to defend their ability to continue to report freely on the situation on the ground, and with non-governmental organisations, which will be deeply concerned that the law applies anywhere in the world?
The Government have taken a step forward today with the announcement of new rights for BNO passport holders and a statement at the United Nations, but this is no substitute for ongoing and sustained international leadership. I urge the Foreign Secretary to bring forward a comprehensive, detailed and serious package of measures with international partners, as I have outlined.
Finally, the Government must now develop a much more strategic approach to their engagement with the Chinese Government. We support the Foreign Secretary’s view that a constructive relationship remains essential, but it is also clear that the UK needs far greater strategic independence in order to speak from, and act from, a position of values. Will he provide an updated assessment of the implications for national security of the involvement of Huawei in the 5G network? Will he make a similar assessment in relation to the planned nuclear projects involving CGN, in particular at Bradwell? Although this announcement is to be welcomed, I remain deeply concerned that his counterparts at the Treasury see Chinese investment as a central plank of the UK’s recovery and that the Government’s approach remains deeply confused. For too long in relation to China, we have had no strategy at home and no strategy abroad. I hope he can give us a commitment today that this marks the start of a very different era.
I thank the hon. Lady for her support for the action that we are taking on Hong Kong and the measures that we are introducing in relation to BNOs. She made a number of points and lamented the lack of a comprehensive strategy. I would always welcome any particular suggestions she has. I did not hear any specific suggestions that were not covered in my statement, but I am happy to keep engaging with her.
The hon. Lady asked about the details of the BNO offer. The Home Secretary will come forward in due course, as appropriate, and set out all those details to the House. Obviously, there will be all sorts of regulatory arrangements that we need to put in place, but the contours of the offer are very clear. We welcome BNOs to come to this country. We have a specific historical responsibility to them and there will not be any quota.
In answer to the hon. Lady’s question about numbers, we constantly assess the likely take-up. I think that, in reality, a large number of those who might be eligible will want to stay in Hong Kong. Others may go to countries in the region, but we have a historical responsibility and therefore we are making our position clear. I have also had a number of conversations with our international partners, particularly those with specific and close relationships with Hong Kong and who have large numbers of that community in their countries. I would expect others to be looking very carefully at what they do.
The hon. Lady asked about the Magnitsky legislation and said that it was promised two years ago. It was in the 2019 election manifesto. I have been clear that we will come to the House before recess, not just with the legislation but with the first designations. She also asked about Carrie Lam and the representations that have been made to her. Andy Heyn, our consul general in Hong Kong, spoke to her in the last 24 hours to express our objections to the new legislation.
The Foreign Office’s permanent secretary will also summon the Chinese ambassador, to reiterate the points that I have made before the House. I spoke to Foreign Minister Wang Yi for a considerable period on 8 June, to make clear in advance our strong objections to the nature of the legislation, in order to try to avert this outcome.
The hon. Lady was right to note that extraterritoriality is a feature of this legislation. It is not entirely clear how that will be applied in practice, but it is another sobering cause for concern, and I join her in expressing that. Finally, she asked about Huawei. She will know that the National Cyber Security Centre is reviewing the situation in relation to Huawei and 5G, in the light of US sanctions, and will report in due course. I am sure that the House will be updated as soon as that review is concluded.
Above all, this is an important moment when we agree across the House on the strategic point that we all wish to make, which is that there has been a clear and serious violation of the joint declaration, that we must honour our obligations to BNOs and that we must work with our international partners to build the widest caucus and coalition of like-minded countries who say—not just on the issue of Hong Kong but on the wider question of trust—that China must live up to its international responsibilities.
I welcome the bipartisan nature of this discussion and the fact that both sides of the House so clearly agree that this is a violation of the Sino-British joint declaration. I also welcome the Home Secretary’s decision to extend immigration rights to those with BNO status. As the Foreign Secretary will know, that is supported by about two thirds of UK people, according to a China Research Group poll published this morning.
The extraterritorial nature of the legislation has direct implications for our own university sector and freedom of speech in our academic institutions, as Chinese students have already been influenced to silence debate and change outcomes here in the UK. The legislation also raises questions about our legal system because, as the shadow Foreign Secretary said, British judges sit in judgment in Hong Kong. How can they defend civil and commercial rights if those rights are being violated by the very law they are sent to uphold?
We are watching this spread to other areas. Taiwan is already under increasing pressure, as the former Foreign Secretary and former Health Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt), has pointed out. The removal of the word “peaceful” in reference to the bringing together of China by the time the Communist party is 100 years old is a big change. Will the Foreign Secretary join me and the Chairs of the Select Committees in Australia, Canada and New Zealand in calling for not just a statement at the UN Human Rights Council but that the Council send a special rapporteur to Hong Kong? What happens in Hong Kong matters to the whole world.
I thank my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and pay tribute to his assiduous work on this issue. He is right to pay tribute to the Home Office, which has done an excellent job with the Foreign Office on working through this issue. He is right to say that we should be standing up for freedom of expression not just in Hong Kong but within British universities. I have raised that issue across Government, including with the Education Secretary. We need to be acutely aware of that and ensure that we have every safeguard we need in place.
I pay heed to the various points that my hon. Friend made. He is right to say that we need to work with the UN. I note the point he makes about the special envoy. I hope that he will be reassured by the fact that we have delivered this unprecedented statement in the Human Rights Council with 27 international partners, which has not been done before. That is a testament to the leadership of the Foreign Office and our diplomatic network. We must continue to do that, because we increasingly see China trying not just to violate international obligations on occasion but to undermine the rules-based international system. It is incredibly important that we work with our partners around the world, including our Five Eyes and European partners, to avoid that happening and to firm up the international rule of law.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement. As far as it goes, I agree with it also.
The joint declaration was signed by Margaret Thatcher on 19 December 1984. A couple of years before that, the then Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, resigned after the unilateral invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina, describing the action as a “humiliating affront”. The UK is not just a party to this agreement but a guarantor—a guarantor of the rights of Hongkongers and of one country, two systems. Beijing has ripped up this treaty in the Foreign Secretary’s face, in full view of the international community. No amount of shiny new planes can disguise the fact that this is a humiliating affront both for global Britain and for the Foreign Secretary personally.
On the substance of the statement, I agree with and support the one point of note about accelerating BNO passport holders’ status. I would point out, though, that when the people of west Berlin were threatened by the USSR, the international community did not offer them safe passage out; the international community worked a bit harder. It is good that the European Parliament, at least, has been active in its defence of international law, passing only last Friday a very strong motion urging that the EU should lodge an action against China in the International Court of Justice to hold it to account for its breach of international law. It is remarkable that the European Parliament and the European Union are rather more active on this than the UK has been. Will the Foreign Secretary commit to join that action in the International Court of Justice?
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s words on the Magnitsky legislation, but it has been a long time coming. Will he now, finally, open active consideration of targeted sanctions against China and Chinese companies active within the UK, because it is quite obvious that only internationally concerted action will bring China to account, and quite clear that it pays global Britain no heed whatsoever?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. It is always a pleasure to be lectured by the SNP on Margaret Thatcher. Amidst all the differences that we may have, I think we agree on the fundamental points of principle at stake in relation to our commitment to BNOs and the people of Hong Kong.
The hon. Gentleman said that the EU had been more active than the United Kingdom, which is nonsense. However, we do welcome the fact that the EU, which has different views among member states in relation to China and the specific issue of Hong Kong, is being more active. I was in Berlin recently to meet my French and German opposite numbers. One of the issues that we work together on, including within the G7, is taking as clear a position on Hong Kong as possible. We will continue to work on that. It is incredibly important that it is not just a small minority of western states making this point, because China will seek to ignore that. That is why we have tried to expand it as broadly as we can, as we did in the Human Rights Council only yesterday.
I was not entirely clear what the hon. Gentleman was suggesting beyond proposals that the Government have already indicated they will make, but if he does, in due course, want to come back with something specific, I would be very happy to consider it.
In relation to Magnitsky, these were proposals of the Conservative party in our manifesto back in December. We will be passing the relevant statutory instrument before the summer recess, with the first designations. I will not speculate on or pre-empt who or what will be in those designations.
Canada has today updated its Hong Kong travel advice to its citizens, stating:
“You may be at increased risk of arbitrary detention on national security grounds and possible extradition to mainland China.”
Will the Foreign Office be changing our advice? Can my right hon. Friend assure me that we, along with our international partners, will continue to speak out against this violation of Hong Kong’s autonomy?
I thank my hon. Friend and welcome all the work that she has done on human rights. She is right to draw attention to the specific issue of extra- territoriality. It is not clear, given the opaque way in which this is drafted in the national security legislation, how it was intended to be applied. We will take a very close look at it. We keep our travel advice under constant review. I hope that she has had the positive reassurance, given the statement made by 27 members in the UN Human Rights Council, that we are working actively and energetically with all our international partners to be very clear that China must live up to its international obligations when it comes to the people of Hong Kong.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement.
The statement will have been heard not just in this House but in Beijing also. I hope that in hearing it, China understands that the analysis that the Foreign Secretary has laid before the House today is not just the analysis of the Government but of this House as a whole. When we see reports of Hongkongers as young as 15 already being victims of this law, he must surely understand the importance of making sure that no Hongkonger is left behind in relation to the BNO passport arrangements. I very much share his frustration and disappointment that things have reached this point, but surely all countries and all institutions must understand that this is a moment when you have to pick a side: either you can be on the side of, and stand with, Hong Kong and the joint declaration, or you choose to stand with the Chinese Communist party. What will he do to urge the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation and Standard Chartered bank to reconsider the decision they took in relation to taking sides?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his judicious remarks, and I certainly welcome the substantive points he made. He talked about the importance of this House, not just the Government, speaking with a united voice. That is exactly what we have had today on the key issue at stake, and I welcome his contribution to that. I also agree that it is heartbreaking to see the scenes in Hong Kong, just hours after the enactment of this national security legislation. We are counselling the Hong Kong authorities and Beijing to step back, but it is clear that, having enacted this legislation, they wish to proceed. We will need to wait to see the precise application and enforcement of this action before deciding some of the measures that we might take next, but these are under active consideration, including with our international partners.
I took the right hon. Gentleman’s point about BNOs. The full details will be set before the House by the Home Secretary, but we are very clear with our commitment to provide a path to citizenship for all eligible BNO-status holders and we will do the right thing by all of them. I have been very clear in relation to HSBC and I will say the same thing in relation to all of the banks. The rights and the freedoms of, and our responsibilities in this country to, the people of Hong Kong should not be sacrificed on the altar of bankers’ bonuses.
I welcome every word of my right hon. Friend’s statement and the bipartisan nature of these exchanges. I invite him to take up the appeal made by the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) for a long-term strategic approach to China. What can we learn from the disastrous mistake of the Government just a few years ago, who thought we were embarking on some new “golden era” with this dictatorship?
Let me draw attention to the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster at the weekend, when he said that
“foreign policy-making is often weakened by the lack of deep knowledge of the language, culture and history of the nations with whom we are negotiating or whom we seek to influence.”
Why has that been the case? What can we learn from it? How will the Government now embark upon a big, comprehensive, sustainable strategic review of our relations with China, involving not just people within the Government but people beyond the Government and other nations?
I thank my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Liaison Committee, for that. He makes a range of important points. On Chinese expertise, I do not think the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was referring to the Foreign Office. In any event, I can provide the reassurance that we have some of the finest Mandarin-speaking diplomats around the world and we are exceptionally well represented in Beijing by Her Majesty’s ambassador, Dame Barbara Woodward. We are increasingly, across Government, looking at all aspects of our relationship with China. Obviously, the House is interested in and will know about Huawei. My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who is no longer in his place, referred to the situation in universities, and rightly raised the question, as, in fairness, did the hon. Member for Wigan, about an integrated strategy. Clearly, as we bring forward the integrated review, China’s role in the world and our relationship with China will be an essential element of that, and that work is already under way.
China’s national security law completely undermines previous agreements on the status of Hong Kong and those who live there. It is a threat to judicial independence and freedom of the press, as well as to political, civil and human rights. Given Huawei’s ties to the Chinese state, instead of a long, tedious review of the 5G contract, will the Government not take a stand now and cancel it?
I certainly share the hon. Lady’s views on our responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong and our concern about their treatment. In relation Huawei, as I have already said to the House, given the US sanctions, it is currently under review by the National Cyber Security Centre. We will come forward with our response in due course.
This morning I read an English translation of this disgraceful law and saw that article 38 extends the law to any offences committed outside Hong Kong by non-Hong Kong residents. Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley (Mrs Drummond), will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary press the point with China that UK visitors to Hong Kong and China will not face prosecution for things that they may have said or acts that they may have done while in the UK?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we are concerned about that provision and it is not entirely clear how it will be applied. It has already been raised with Carrie Lam by the consul general in the past 24 hours. We will be expressing our concern. It is, of course, something that the entire international community, and tourists and visitors from all around the world, will be concerned about, which is why it is so detrimental, not just to Hong Kong and the international community but to China itself.
The UK has benefited from Hong Kong for 155 years; we have a legal and moral duty to it. It just cannot be right that a Hongkonger protesting peacefully for rights that we bestowed on them 23 years ago could now end up in jail for life. I really welcome what the Foreign Secretary has said about BNO passport holders, but will he speak a little about what he would do for the human rights of all Hongkongers in Hong Kong, not least because last year his Department funded China with half a million pounds of foreign aid specifically in respect of human rights?
I thank the hon. Lady, who chairs the International Development Committee, and share her concern about what is going on in Hong Kong. I also welcome her support for the position that the Government have taken; she joins Members from all parties in doing so. We are obviously deeply concerned about all aspects of the national security legislation and will do everything we can to encourage the Chinese Government to think again. We need to be realistic about it. In relation to BNOs, as the hon. Lady will know, there are close to 3 million eligible BNOs and more than 300,000 passport holders. The offer that we have made is right, given the responsibilities that we have. We are clearly concerned more broadly about the residents of Hong Kong, and that is a conversation we are rightly having with our wider international partners.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement and the decisive action that is being taken. Unfortunately, this legislation follows a catalogue of actions by the Chinese Government to undermine international law. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that when the Chinese ambassador is summoned to the Foreign Office, we will bring up not just this awful legislation but that catalogue of actions, and make it clear to the Chinese Government that it can no longer be business as usual?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we will raise our concerns in relation to the national security legislation right across the board. The permanent secretary will do that with the ambassador and our consul general has done it with the Chief Executive. I had close to an hour with Wang Yi, the Foreign Minister, on 8 June, as I have said previously to the House. Of course, we talk about the full range of our relationship. We want a positive relationship with China—there are all sorts of opportunities in relation not only to trade but to climate change, with COP26 coming up—but what we cannot do, whether it is in relation to our national security or our values, is look the other way and, just because of its asymmetric power, think that we have to kowtow, duck or bow. We will not do that—we will not do it on the issue of Hong Kong or wherever else our vital interests are at stake.
Last week, as the Foreign Secretary knows, the European Parliament decided to call for Magnitsky sanctions to be applied on officials who abuse human rights; for China to be brought before the International Court of Justice; and for a United Nations envoy to Hong Kong. Will the Foreign Secretary now take the lead on these issues and bring with us European and Asian nations and the United States? Or is he content to sit on the sidelines when we have a special interest in championing democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong?
I think the hon. Gentleman is a bit confused. The EU does not have an autonomous human rights sanctions regime, but the United Kingdom will do by the summer recess with our first designations. We are engaged in a conversation with our European partners—[Interruption.] He is shaking his head, but he is just not right about this. None the less, we are engaged with our European colleagues to encourage them to follow suit and take this step. He raised a range of other issues, which we are very happy to look at, but I draw his attention to the statement—an unprecedented statement—that was made at the UN Human Rights Council with 27 states signing up to make our concerns clear in relation to human rights not just in Hong Kong, but in Xinjiang.
I salute the outstanding leadership being shown by my right hon. Friend on this issue, and, indeed, the superb leadership being shown by Dame Barbara Woodward as our ambassador in Beijing. It is one of our most difficult posts and we are truly lucky to be led by a diplomat of such calibre. The basic difference is that we believe that freedom of expression and peaceful protest support social stability, whereas the Chinese Government think that they undermine social stability. When we look at what is happening in the rest of the world, we can see that it has never been more important to stand up for those values, so will he tell the House what other steps the Foreign Office is taking to support freedom of expression and media freedom across the world?
I thank my right hon. Friend and pay tribute to his work not only on the issue of media freedoms, but in relation to China and Hong Kong. This has been a long time coming and we have hoped for the best, but we have been prepared for the worst. He is right to pay tribute to Dame Barbara. It is a difficult posting. She has performed exceptionally well. He asked, in particular, about media freedoms. He will know, because it was established under his tenure rather than mine, that we have a media freedom campaign, which we, along with the Canadians, lead. We are swelling the ranks of that. It provides support for countries that want to protect media freedoms, and it also provides support for journalists. We also have a campaign to protect freedom of religious belief and the third element of this will be the Magnitsky sanctions regime, which I will bring before the House with the first designations before the summer recess.
Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House what discussions the Foreign Office has had with non-governmental organisations operating in Hong Kong who will likely be targeted as a result of this new national security law?
We obviously have contacts with civil society on the ground not only through our missions and posts, but through direct contracts here in London. They are deeply concerned and they fear that they will be subject to this law and bear the brunt of this law in the harshest terms conceivable. We are deeply concerned for them, which is why we are taking the action that we are.
I served in Hong Kong as an Army officer. The great thing about Hong Kong is that it has one foot in China and another in the west. When we look at financial services, we can see that that is a huge advantage to the people of Hong Kong. This law could now see many people considering withdrawing their money out of Hong Kong’s money markets and financial services, possibly moving it to Tokyo, Singapore, or perhaps Shanghai. I wonder whether this is a little gambit by the Chinese authorities to reduce the money-making influence of Hong Kong in the world.
The reality is that my hon. Friend is right: Hong Kong has long been regarded as the jewel in the financial crown. Of course, its relative economic importance has ebbed overtime as China has developed economically, but the reality is that the steps that have been taken are clearly counterproductive to China’s own self-interest in economic terms. What we are seeing clearly is China putting the political imperative to control Hong Kong and other so-called restive provinces of China over its economic interests. In any event, regardless of the financial circumstances, there is a point of principle at stake here based on their freedoms, their autonomy and the commitments under international law that China has signed up to. If it wants to be a leading member of the international community, it must live up to the international responsibilities and the international obligations that it undertakes.
The action that the Secretary of State has announced for BNO passport holders is welcome, but it does nothing to bring China to book. The reality is that global Britain is so weak with regard to China because it is reliant on CGN for nuclear and on Huawei for 5G. If he wants to prove me wrong, will he rule out any future deals with CGN for nuclear power stations?
The open investment culture that we have in this country constantly needs to be kept under review. We have seen it with Huawei and we will look at it in other areas. However, the reality is that it is also a source of this country’s strength, so I do not accept for a second the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that Britain being an open and outward-looking country, and welcoming investment, is somehow the reason for what has happened in Hong Kong. He should not let China off the hook. It is China’s—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) says “Brexit” from a sedentary position. It is ludicrous to blame what is happening in Hong Kong on Brexit. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) should not let China off the hook. It is China’s failure to live up to its responsibilities that is at fault and at stake here, and it is important that we have unanimity across the House on this critical point—otherwise, the truth is that we just weaken our message in Beijing.
I also welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement and his decisive action, and I fully endorse the idea from the shadow Foreign Secretary, the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), of having a UN special rapporteur as a way forward in tackling Hong Kong. The people of Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke were shocked by the actions of China upon our friends in Hong Kong. Does my right hon. Friend agree that now is not the time to allow the Chinese Government-funded Huawei to have access to our mobile networks, and that instead, we should be backing local and regional solutions at home, such as a Staffordshire 5G connected growth deal?
I take many of the points that my hon. Friend makes and I share the concern of his constituents. I think the issue we have on 5G is, frankly, a longer-term issue, where we have failed to provide the diversification of supply that allows us to rely on high-trust vendors, rather than high-risk vendors. That matter is now, as he knows, in the light of US sanctions, currently under further review by the National Cyber Security Centre and we will come to the House when that has been looked at thoroughly.
I saw reports this morning that the prominent young activist, Joshua Wong, is now removing himself from politics and taking a step back. What assurances can the Secretary of State give us that the Government will be doing everything they can to protect young activists in Hong Kong such as Joshua from being arrested and disappearing?
It is very sad to see Joshua Wong’s movement be disbanded for fear of the consequences. I share her concern about that and I welcome her support. We have taken a step on BNO because that gives us the opportunity to provide sanctuary to those who feel that they cannot stay in Hong Kong. Many will choose to stay and we will work with our international partners to convey our views as effectively as we possibly can to China and consider all the potential actions that we might take next.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the content and tone of the statement today, because it is a cause of great sadness that we have just witnessed the death of one country, two systems, with all the implications that that will have internationally—something that will be shared across the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China countries. Hong Kong is still the entry point for much of China’s inward investment. Has my right hon. Friend had the chance to assess what implications the disregard for international treaty law that we have seen today will have for the security of international investments in Hong Kong, which are still so necessary for the social stability and prosperity of the Chinese people?
I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend’s sentiments, as well as his specific points. Of course, as well as the people of Hong Kong, investors and other people who might wish to visit Hong Kong, and who ordinarily would have done so, will be looking very carefully, not least given the extraterritorial elements of this law, at what it will mean. At the very least, above all the points that have been made in the Chamber today, it will risk a further range of uncertainty for businesses and for finance into Hong Kong and, as I said, that must be counterproductive not just for the people of Hong Kong and those investors, but for China.
I recall my first visit to Hong Kong when I was on the parliamentary delegation that, to our shame, went to Hong Kong and assured the Hong Kong people that the Chinese would stick to the agreement. I am very angry about this morning, but may I remind the Secretary of State of what I have learned about China over the years? It is a ruthless communist dictatorship; it despises and hates democracy and—worldwide—it is busy undermining democracies. Like all dictatorships, it cannot be appeased, and if we do not take action in trade and investment, and really hit them where it hurts, we will not be able to stop this tiger growing more and more ferocious.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the concerns he has expressed. I do not think he should personally feel bad about the commitments he made; we all shared the hope that China would live up to those responsibilities. We are making it clear that, even if China fails to live up to its responsibilities, we as one United Kingdom, including the hon. Gentleman, will live up to our responsibilities to those BNO passport holders. I take his point about the wider threat from China. Of course, given its size and the economic asymmetry, we need to think very carefully with all our international partners about how we proceed. We do not want to have a poor relationship with China; we want a positive relationship with China. However, one thing is clear: we will not duck issues such as human rights, our values or issues that touch on a vital national interests.
As the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) said earlier, a recent poll by the China Research Group expressed strong support for extending the rights of BNO passport holders to come to the UK, and I welcome this statement in that regard. It also expressed very strong support for sanctions: 80% of the people who expressed a preference felt there should be travel bans and asset freezes for the Chinese officials responsible for this legislation. Is that under consideration?
I thank my hon. Friend for the points he has made. It is right that the public support this, and the scale of that public support, given the issue, is I think remarkable. It is a tribute to the open-heartedness of the British people and to their sense of history and responsibility. He raised a range of other issues that are clearly trying to tempt me to give him a foresight of what may be in the Magnitsky legislation, which is coming. He will have to wait a little longer, but it will come before the summer recess.
We have already seen dozens of individuals arrested since the passing of the law—many, if not all, solely for their political opinions. Are the Government aware of any BNO passport holders having been arrested, and if so, how many? Have the Government made specific representations to the Chinese authorities on behalf of those people, given that many of them could face life in prison simply for expressing their opinions?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I do not have a detailed breakdown of how many BNO passport holders or BNO status holders have been arrested at this point in time. Of course, the legislation has only been in place for a day. We have made representations more generally on the national security legislation, and of course, one of the features, even before the changes that we will make for BNO passport holders, is that we can exercise consular protection on their behalf in third countries. I think that the most important thing at this stage is to proceed with the changes that we have made and to be very clear that the United Kingdom will be able to offer sanctuary by means of a route to citizenship in this country.
I very much welcome what my right hon. Friend has said about the Magnitsky proposals, on which he and I have worked together in the past, and I also very much welcome what he said about the new rights for BNOs. In dealing with China, we should always champion our values and never trim on that. Will he make it clear to the Chinese regime and reinforce this with them that, wherever possible, we seek co-operation, not confrontation?
I thank my right hon. Friend. He is absolutely right, and he has long-standing experience, from when he was Secretary of State for International Development, of the relationship with China. It is double -edged: there are opportunities as well as risks—not just on trade, but on climate change, as he will know given the strong development angle. I think that he is absolutely right to say that we want a positive relationship. We do not want it to deteriorate or to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are very clear in our approach to China on this; but equally, when it comes to issues of values, human rights and international obligations that go to questions of trust and confidence—not just the United Kingdom having trust and confidence in China, but the world and the international community having trust and confidence in China—China must live up to its word and China must keep its international obligations.
The offer to BNO passport holders and to those eligible is the right, decent and thoroughly British thing to do, but those people and the Chinese Government must be convinced that this offer is not theoretical and that it is absolutely real. Will the Foreign Secretary set out the practical steps he will take to ensure that those who arrive in the UK are welcomed in our society and in our wider communities?
I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments. It is all very well to put the process in place, and I have set out the framework for it, but we need to be clear that we will embrace any BNOs that come to this country. We understand the ordeal that they have been through. Frankly, the Chinese and Hong Kong residents who live in this country make an incredible contribution already, and I know that any who come as a result of these changes will continue to do so.
I join with others in strongly welcoming the Foreign Secretary’s decisive action today in creating a bespoke route to citizenship for the BNOs and their dependants, but can he reassure me that he will continue to take our unique responsibility to those in Hong Kong deeply seriously and continue to stand on the side of all those who are seeking democracy and freedom?
I absolutely agree with the points that my hon. Friend has made. As I have said, we are taking this up not just with the authorities in Hong Kong but with China. I spoke to Wang Yi on 8 June for a considerable period, and we have raised this in the UN Human Rights Council. More generally, the three pillars of our approach to freedoms more generally are media freedoms, which we are taking forward in leadership with Canada; the freedom of religious belief, which now has an international caucus that we are actively trying to swell the ranks of; and the Magnitsky legislation, which we will be bringing forward before the summer recess.
We heard yesterday from the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa that the UK Government had made it clear to Israel that the UK opposed annexation and regarded it as contrary to international law, yet the Israeli Government have paid no heed to the UK in this matter. So how do the UK Government intend to be less ineffectual in their protests to the Chinese Government over Hong Kong? Can the Foreign Secretary confirm what steps the UK will take with international partners to co-ordinate an international, collective response to this indisputable and flagrant breach of the Sino-British joint declaration?
I did not hear a specific proposal of what the hon. Gentleman would like us to do that we are not doing, but I can tell him that, in addition to all the things we are doing that I have set out before the House, we are actively working with our international partners. If he looks, he will see that in the G7 Foreign Ministers statement that we previously put out, in the Five Eyes statement that we put out when the decision was taken to proceed to enact the law and in the statement made in the UN Human Rights Council by 27 different states, proposed and led by the United Kingdom.
What has happened to the people of Hong Kong is chilling. In one sinister moment, their rights and freedoms have been swept away. These are rights and freedoms that we perhaps take for granted too often here, but we must defend them to the hilt. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the people of Hong Kong that it is not only the British Parliament but the British people who stand alongside them, and will he therefore make it clear that Britain will do whatever it takes to make the Chinese understand that they cannot behave in this way without consequences?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It feels to me, from the various interventions and points that have been made in relation to the polling that has been done on this, that we are sending out a clear message to the people of Hong Kong: we stand with you as a Government, as a House and as a country.
Anyone who cares about freedom of speech must be gravely concerned about the criminalising of dissent that the security law represents. Concerns are also heightened by growing evidence of the appalling atrocities being committed by the Chinese regime against the Uyghur population. Does the Secretary of State agree that now is the time for an independent investigation and for us to support the creation of a UN special envoy or rapporteur for Hong Kong and for the people of Xinjiang, with a special responsibility for monitoring the human rights situation on the ground?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments. In the statement, I referred several times to the Human Rights Council and the work over the past 24 hours in relation to Hong Kong and Xinjiang. He needs to be realistic about the likelihood of China ever accepting a rapporteur, or an international investigation being allowed into that area to seek the facts and monitor the situation on the ground as he describes, but that should not deter us for a moment from keeping up the international pressure, and I welcome his statement in that regard.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his strong leadership and his clear focus on human rights. After expressing concern about this for some years as chair of the Conservative party human rights commission, that is welcome and refreshing. Is he aware that this week more than 50 UN special rapporteurs have called for a special rapporteur or envoy on Hong Kong? Will he respond to the many calls made in this Chamber for the UK to take a lead on that in the Human Rights Council?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work in promoting freedom of religious belief all around the world. We have worked in the United Nations and raised the issue in the UN Security Council, as well as in the Human Rights Council. We will do everything we can, and I am open to the idea of a UN special envoy. I think that we need to be realistic about what that alone can achieve, but as part of a wider approach that uses every available lever of pressure on the Chinese Government to think again; it is an important consideration.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement and thank him and the Home Secretary for their action on BNOs. The action by the Chinese Government has been roundly condemned. Does the Foreign Secretary share my view that this is the time for all countries committed to peace, freedom and democracy to come together and make it clear to the Chinese Government that their action is likely to prove counterproductive in the advancement of their own national interests?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the challenges for us as China exerts all its economic and diplomatic leverage to sway countries either to support it or to stay quiet on these issues is to make sure that people and other countries understand what is at stake. That is why it is important that in framing this issue, we talk not just about the human rights and autonomy of the people of Hong Kong, but about the quintessential issue of trust—trust in China’s ability to keep its word, freely given as in the joint declaration.
Before the handover, John Major said that if there were any suggestion of a breach of the joint declaration, we would have a duty to pursue every legal and other avenue available to us. What avenues are the Government pursuing to respond to the national security law, which dismantles the one country, two systems law. Will the Foreign Secretary consider lodging a case as a signatory to the Sino-British declaration with the International Court of Justice?
The hon. Gentleman is not the first person to raise the question of the ICJ, but as hon. Members may know, unless it is under the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court, we cannot submit a case to the Court without the consent of the other side, and it is very clear that China would not accept that. I did raise the question of third-party adjudication with my Chinese opposite number, but it is clear that the Chinese will not accept that. There is no easy adjudicative route, but I hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman that we have already looked at that very carefully.
I commend my right hon. Friend for his statement and clear leadership here and in the UN and for the Magnitsky arrangements he intends to bring forward. I remind him and others that China thinks that Hong Kong is collateral damage, which it can happily sweep to one side. The truth is that China sees itself as engaged in an ideological battle about how Governments should be formed, and it dismisses the rules-based order of the west. The Chinese have made that very clear, and they have a strategic view on it. So does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time for us to bring the free world together, not just to complain or to get rapporteurs, but to hit China in the one place it worries about—its economy? We have run to China to buy goods and to invest; it is time we reviewed every single programme here in the UK and around the free world. We learned a lesson 80 years ago about the appeasement of dictators. Maybe it should be applied today.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his generous remarks. He is absolutely right to point to the importance of shoring up the values that we hold dear—the values reflected in the United Nations and the multilateral system. It is right to say that at threat are not just individual obligations in relation to the people of Hong Kong; there is a wider question of China trying to recraft the rules of the international system. It will take concerted effort with our international allies, in Europe and North America but much more broadly than that—that is why the G7 statement in support on Hong Kong was so important—to make sure that we can shore up the multilateral system and the international rule of law.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I fully understand and appreciate his deep concerns. He is well aware of China’s systematic suppression of religious beliefs and human rights among communities such as the Christians, the Uyghur Muslims and Falun Gong. Indeed, just this week, China initiated the sterilisation of Uyghur mothers to prevent them from having children. Does he share my concern that the legislation will allow those abuses to take place in Hong Kong? How can we prevent that from happening?
I share entirely the hon. Gentleman’s outrage, frankly, at the reports that we have seen about what is happening in Xinjiang and, indeed, Hong Kong. The reality, given China’s economic size and, indeed, its military size, is that we have to focus, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) mentioned, on swelling the international caucus of like-minded countries who understand what is at stake here. It is not just the issue of Hong Kong, as important as that is, but the rules-based international system and the values represented within it.
That is exactly the issue at stake here. We recognise China’s economic strength and potential growth, and also the opportunities for China to be a force for good in the world on things such as climate change, but with that status—that role as a P5 member of the Security Council—it must show leadership. That means living up to its international responsibilities and adhering to the international commitments it has made, in particular in relation to the joint declaration.
I have been contacted by a number of constituents who are worried about the safety of loved ones in Hong Kong. What guidance is the Foreign Office offering to British nationals living overseas in Hong Kong, and when does the Foreign Secretary expect the extension of BNO passport holders’ visa rights to be implemented? Now more than ever, the UK must fulfil its commitment to the people of Hong Kong.
The full details will be presented by the Home Secretary in due course. We have set out the parameters of the offer—the bespoke offer—that we are making to the BNOs. In relation to any of my hon. Friend’s constituents who are in Hong Kong or family members who may be worried, I would urge her to look at the Foreign Office travel advice, which we keep constantly under review.
I strongly support and welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. This really is a sad day for Hong Kong and all its people. Does he agree that the new national security law is of course hugely detrimental to the people of Hong Kong, but will also do great damage to China and its reputation? We must therefore continue to be robust in our responses on behalf of the people of Hong Kong, as he has outlined.
I totally agree with my right hon. Friend. It is a deeply sorrowful day, when we look back at the opportunity, the potential and the success of the vibrant community—business and social—in Hong Kong, that we see it come to this. He is right that that should inspire us to redouble our efforts to work with the international community to try to safeguard the rights of the people of Hong Kong and, in any event, to make sure that they can come to the United Kingdom through the new offer that we are making to BNO passport holders.
Although it is clearly tempting to look at the potential financial benefits of increased trade and investment with China, this is a regime, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) reminded us a few minutes ago, that is committing acts of brutal violence against its own people, including credible accusations of genocide against its own citizens. Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the desire to increase the profits of British businesses and the wealth of British citizens cannot be allowed to overcome our revulsion at the evils being committed on our fellow human beings by the Chinese regime right now?
I thank the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary for their very welcome support for BNOs. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that this dreadful law is proof that China has changed? I hope he sees the clear agreement in the House that we need a new strategic approach to this communist dictatorship, not just the naive hope that China will change into what we want it to be. We were slow to prepare for the new authoritarianism in Russia and now in China. Will he take the feelings and sentiments that he has heard today from the House on Huawei and other issues onboard?
I certainly always pay very close attention to the remarks that my hon. Friend makes on China, which he follows very closely. He is right that we have special responsibilities to the BNOs. We look at the relationship right across the board—every aspect of it—through the National Security Council, in the Foreign Office and more broadly across Whitehall. I personally do not agree with the cold war analogy he has provided. I think that not only the opportunities, but the challenges that China presents in the 21st century are different, partly as a result of technology and such things as cyber and partly just because of the unique nature of China as a country. We want a positive relationship. I and the Government do not want a bad relationship to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but what is equally clear—I can reassure my hon. Friend of this—is that we will not do anything that imperils our vital interests, and we will not lie down and sacrifice our values for the purposes of trade, commerce or anything like that.
I, too, welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement and the thoughtful manner in which he has responded to questions this afternoon. It is a very British characteristic to make the Hongkongers welcome when they come to the UK. Part of the welcome will be adequate housing, adequate health services and all sorts of other issues that are devolved to the devolved Administrations. May I seek reassurance from the Foreign Secretary that Her Majesty’s Government will consult and discuss fully with the devolved Administrations how the Hongkongers can be given the best welcome possible?
I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman. We obviously need to consult with the DAs on any significant measure such as this that comes into force. We will do that, and I know the Home Secretary will do that. One of the things that will give a fillip to the people of Hong Kong on a very dark day will be the statements of support right across the House from all parties that we stand with them. They will know, if they come here and when they come here, that we support them, we value them and that we understand the plight they are fleeing.