(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on the planned reforms to Hong Kong’s electoral system by the Chinese National People’s Congress.
The United Kingdom is deeply concerned about the situation in Hong Kong and the erosion of rights enshrined under the Sino-British joint declaration. In response to these worrying developments, the United Kingdom has already taken decisive action. This includes offering a bespoke immigration path for British nationals overseas, suspending our extradition treaty with Hong Kong indefinitely and extending our arms embargo on mainland China to Hong Kong. The United Kingdom has led international action to hold China to account. As recently as 22 February, the Foreign Secretary addressed the UN Human Rights Council to call out the systematic violation of the rights of the people of Hong Kong, making it clear that free and fair legislative elections must take place with a range of opposition voices allowed to take part.
On the question raised by the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), this week meetings of China’s National People’s Congress are taking place behind closed doors. We understand that the agenda includes proposals for changes to Hong Kong’s election processes. Although the detail is yet to be revealed, these measures might include changes to the election of the Chief Executive, the removal of district councillors from the Chief Executive election committee and the possible introduction of vetting for those standing for public office to ensure that they are described as patriots who govern Hong Kong. Such measures, if introduced, would be a further attack on Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms.
Ahead of possible developments this week, the United Kingdom has raised our concerns, including with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Hong Kong Government and the Chinese embassy in London, as have many of our international partners. The Chinese and Hong Kong authorities can be in no doubt about the seriousness of our concerns. Given recent developments, including the imposition of the national security law last year, the imposition of new rules to disqualify elected legislators in November and the mass arrests of activists in January, we are right to be deeply concerned. We are seeing concerted action to stifle democracy and the voices of those who are fighting for it.
There is still time for the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities to step back from further action to restrict the rights and freedoms of Hongkongers, and to respect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy. We will continue working with our partners to stand up for the people of Hong Kong and hold China to its international obligations, freely assumed under international law, including through the legally binding Sino-British joint declaration.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and I would like to thank the Minister for his reply.
This Government have a duty to the people of Hong Kong to guarantee their rights and the integrity of their democratic institutions. The proposals made at the National People’s Congress spell the end of democracy and of one country, two systems in Hong Kong, and are another blatant breach of the Sino-British joint declaration. In response to my last urgent question on this, the Minister told the House that the UK
“will stand up for the people of Hong Kong”,
“hold China to its international obligations.”—[Official Report, 12 November 2020; Vol. 683, c. 1051.]
Well, here we are again. Almost every prominent member of the democratic movement is in jail. The BBC has been banned in China. Our ambassador has been rebuked just yesterday, and now free and fair elections are being erased. Surely by now, any red line that might have existed has been well and truly crossed.
On Hong Kong, China behaves like a bully, and bullies only understand words when they are followed by concerted action. Does the Minister really believe that it is going to step back? Will the Government now impose Magnitsky sanctions and other measures on the officials responsible, such as Carrie Lam and Xia Baolong? Sanctions were applied in the cases of Belarus and Alexei Navalny. Why there and not here, when we have a direct duty of care? Will the Government take this case to the International Court of Justice? It is up to us to lead that international co-ordinated effort to hold China to account. What conversations has the Minister had with our allies to join us in any actions we take?
I hope that Members across the House will join me in putting on record how welcome all Hongkongers using the British national overseas scheme are to this country. I am distressed to hear that some are now being targeted by China for doing so. Enough is enough. I urge this Government to take immediate action to protect Hong Kong, its democracy and human rights, as they are obliged to do under international law. No more excuses—it is time for real action.
I thank the hon. Lady for bringing this urgent question to the House. As she rightly says, we will continue to bring together international partners to stand up for the people of Hong Kong, to call out the violation of their freedoms and to hold China to its international obligations. It is worth reminding her that the National People’s Congress is currently debating electoral reform behind closed doors. We have made clear our concerns and urge the authorities to uphold their commitments to the people of Hong Kong. She mentioned this being a clear breach of the joint declaration. We declared two breaches of the joint declaration in 2020 in response to the national security law, and when the details of these proposals are published by the NPC, we will closely examine them.
The hon. Lady also referenced our new ambassador to Beijing, who was summoned by the Chinese MFA in response to an article that was posted to the embassy’s WeChat account in her name. I strongly support the work of our ambassador in Beijing and the rest of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on this important issue. The United Kingdom is committed to media freedom and to championing democracy and human rights around the world.
I start by saying that Caroline Wilson enjoys the support of the Foreign Affairs Committee and, I am sure, everyone in this House in championing media freedom and the right of a free press to criticise a Government—even, perhaps, this one.
The actions that Her Majesty’s Government have taken in recent months are very welcome. Despite the list that the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) set out, the welcoming of British nationals overseas—the correcting of a wrong that we all made in 1984—and of Hong Kong people to the UK is important in standing up for the values that we signed into international law when we signed the Sino-British joint declaration.
I must welcome one or two things that the hon. Lady said, one of which was about Magnitsky sanctions. We really do need to see greater action. I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said in the past in championing Magnitsky sanctions and ensuring that they come into law. We now need to see names put to those charges, because this has gone on long enough. We know that the abuses of human rights in Hong Kong have continued, and we need to stand up for those who have been targeted.
I thank the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, in particular for his work on this issue and his support for our excellent ambassador, Caroline Wilson. He mentions sanctions. As he will know, we do not speculate on who may be designated. They are just one tool in our arsenal. The UK has already offered a new immigration path for BNOs, which my hon. Friend raised. We have suspended our extradition treaty with Hong Kong and extended our arms embargo on mainland China to Hong Kong, and that is all in response to Beijing’s behaviour.
Beijing’s assault on Hong Kong’s electoral system is the latest breach of the Sino-British declaration and is viewed by experts as the final nail in the coffin of Hong Kong’s democracy. It follows the arrest and charging of 47 opposition politicians, 32 of whom were refused bail. As a signatory to the Sino-British declaration, the UK has not only a legal duty but a moral responsibility to stand up for the democratic rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong. As parliamentarians, we will feel a sense of profound sadness as we witness this steady suffocation of democracy. For the past few months, the UK Government have just been going through the motions, so may I ask the Minister these questions?
Labour welcomes the BNO offer, but there appears to have been very little planning, and a family of four need £16,000 up front. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the scheme is accessible to all BNOs, and what steps are the Government taking to support their integration into British society?
Hong Kong Watch’s latest report describes Hong Kong as being a “canary in the coalmine” of China’s expansionism, so what assessment have the UK Government made of the threats facing Taiwan, given that Chinese fighter jets and bombers buzzed Taiwanese airspace more than 300 times last year?
China’s growing presence in the UK’s critical national infrastructure clearly has implications for our own national security. What assessment has the Minister made of the role of the China General Nuclear Power group, which owns one third of Hinkley Point, but has been blacklisted in the US for stealing nuclear secrets?
The Conservative party is deeply divided over China, but we cannot afford any more dither and delay. Will the Minister work across Government to undertake an audit of the UK’s relationship with China and come back with a clear strategy to replace their failed golden era policy? What steps has the Minister taken to deliver a co-ordinated international response to China’s assaults on democracy and human rights and, finally, where on earth are those Magnitsky sanctions?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. He will have heard the response that I gave to the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), on Magnitsky sanctions. With regard to CGN’s involvement in our nuclear sector, obviously, investment involving critical infrastructure is subject to thorough scrutiny and needs to satisfy our robust legal, regulatory and national security requirements, and all projects of this nature are conducted under that regulation to ensure that our interests are protected.
As with all foreign policy priorities, the FCDO recognises the importance of cross-Whitehall collaboration, particularly on Hong Kong. The Foreign Secretary regularly chairs a ministerial group meeting attended by Ministers from across Whitehall and a number of Departments. We obviously take any threat to the joint declaration very seriously, but we need to wait and see what comes out of the National People’s Congress before making an assessment. We have already called a breach twice last year, but the hon. Gentleman will need to wait until we have seen what comes out of the NPC.
On BNOs and the integration of BNO passport holders, that is a really important question. We are working across Government and alongside civil society groups and others to support the integration of those thousands of people who will be taking up that route and arriving here. We encourage and look forward to welcoming applications from those who wish to make the United Kingdom their home. The Foreign Secretary has met the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to discuss exactly this issue. I know that the hon. Gentleman has been in contact with one of the Ministers at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and we look forward to seeing the outcome of those discussions, because it is absolutely crucial that we support those individuals who are coming here from Hong Kong.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) on securing his timely urgent question. I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that we have heard a lot of this already before. The problem that we have in waiting for the National People’s Congress to come to a decision is that we know what will happen. The Chinese Government have already dismissed the Foreign Secretary’s comments about their failures and essentially told him to mind his own business, despite the fact that we are co-signatories to that agreement. Furthermore, we have evidence from Xinjiang, Tibet, the Christians, the Falun Gong, the entries into the South China sea, and the abuse on the border with India.
The real problem is that we sit and wait for something really substantial to happen. Other countries have moved, but we have still not come forward with Magnitsky sanctions, which were promised again and again. When will this happen? That is the only real action we can take that tells the Chinese that we have had enough of their behaviour and that they now have to step back into line with the international order or they will be sanctioned.
My right hon. Friend asks about action. Well, the action that we have taken on Hong Kong is substantial. He knows the answer on Magnitsky sanctions—we do not speculate on whom, and this is a policy area that is under constant review. Let me give him an example of our action. In response to the arrests in January, the Foreign Secretary issued a joint statement alongside his Australian, Canadian and US counterparts underscoring our concern. He also released a further statement following the charges of conspiracy to commit subversion brought against 47 of those arrested. We have made the very generous BNO offer. We have made it clear that in our view the national security law violates the joint declaration, and its use in this way to stifle political dissent contradicts the promises made by the Chinese Government as a co-signatory.
I do feel for the Minister in this discussion, and in the further ones we will have about Hong Kong. I will do my best to be constructive. We are agreed across the House that Hong Kong matters are not a domestic affair specifically and only for Beijing. They are subject to an international agreement and subject to international law. If these measures to curtail democracy come forward—let us be realistic, we are talking about how and when, not if—it will be increasingly clear that the UK Government and global Britain look increasingly toothless, powerless and, most worryingly, friendless in this discussion. I do not say that the UK has done nothing within the UN, but where is the global coalition to move beyond warm words, inaction and concern to action against the economic interests of China. There are measures that can be taken and I would be grateful if the Minister updated us on what assessment has been made of the impact of the sanctions on Chinese economic interests domestically here, however we define domestically, and in the academic community as well. There are things that can be done while we push towards the international coalition.
No, we can’t. That would be rather foolish.
As I have said, sanctions are just one tool in our arsenal. We have already offered the immigration path for BNOs, as I said, and cancelled the extradition treaty. I have an awful lot of time for the hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith), who is very constructive on these issues. We are working closely with our international partners, and the work we have done with the US, with Canada and with Australia, and the statements made by the Foreign Secretary have managed to bring together the international community. As a co-signatory to this joint declaration, we have a responsibility to uphold the content and a duty to speak out when we have concerns. When we do so, it is a matter of trust, and leaders of the international community, including China, also need to live up to their responsibilities.
There seems to be no purpose in having the Magnitsky sanctions as a tool but popping them on a shelf. If the Minister or the Department feel vulnerable in applying them in a solo fashion, what work is being done with the Five Eyes countries to introduce co-ordinated Magnitsky sanctions against the Hong Kong and Chinese officials responsible for the national security laws? My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned our allies the Americans. Just this morning, the Biden Administration reconfirmed their belief that genocide is taking place against the Uyghur at the hands of the Chinese state. What work is being done with the Minister’s counterparts in America to prevent this genocide from carrying on?
I thank my hon. Friend for the assiduous way in which she pursues this matter. She knows exactly what the longstanding policy of the British Government is: any judgment on whether genocide has occurred is a matter for a competent court, rather than for Governments or non-judicial bodies. She mentioned the United States. It has a different process for determining genocide that is not linked to a court decision. Of course, given our longstanding policy over many decades that this is a matter for a competent court, she will understand the reason behind the responses that she may have heard once or twice before. I make no apologies for having to repeat myself to her.
I find this so frustrating. We come back time and again, and we hear exactly the same old words: “We’re not allowed to speculate about using the Magnitsky sanctions.” We do not want anybody to speculate; we want them to use them. It is like they are z, the unnecessary letter. It is like they are an appendix that we are never prepared to use for any bodily function. We should be using them. To be honest, it feels as if the Government are completely two-faced on this—not individual Ministers, but the Government—because one day the Government say, “Yes, it’s terrible what’s happening in Hong Kong. Yes, it’s terrible what’s happening in Xinjiang province,” and the next day the Prime Minister says that he is “fervently Sinophile”. Frankly, we should be calling this out with a great deal of urgency, and we should be using every single tool in the box, so please Minister do not give us all the old stuff all over again. Just get on and do it.
The hon. Gentleman needs to be congratulated for the work that he has done in the first place, working cross party, to allow and help the Foreign Secretary to deliver our own sanctions regime. Again, we continue to hold China to account. We lead international efforts in that regard. We work very closely with not just the US Administration. We have a huge opportunity this year through our presidency of the G7. What I will say to him—I will try to use slightly different language from that in the answer I provided to my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani)—is that we are carefully and closely considering further designations under our global human rights regime. They were introduced, as he knows, in July, and we will keep all evidence and potential listings under very close review.
What assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of the impact of the national security law and the further dismantling of human rights in Hong Kong on freedom of religion or belief, particularly in the light of the raid on Good Neighbour North District Church, the freezing of its bank account, and the Catholic diocese of Hong Kong’s instructions to clergy to be careful in their sermons? What implications does the proposed national security education curriculum have for FORB in faith schools there?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work as the Prime Minister’s envoy for freedom of religion or belief. We are deeply concerned about the issues that she has raised, and about the severity and scale of violations and the abuses of freedom of religion or belief in many parts of the world, including China. Religious intolerance and persecution are often at the heart of foreign and development policy challenges. Where freedom of religion or belief is under attack, other human rights are often threatened too, as she knows full well. The prosperity of Hong Kong and the way of life relies on respect for those fundamental freedoms. We are committed to defending freedom of religion or belief for everyone.
As the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) said, freedom of expression is under attack in Hong Kong like never before. With the introduction of national security education, new censorship guidelines encouraging students and teachers to monitor each other for thought crime, and the removal of pro-democracy academics, the chilling effect on the education sector in Hong Kong is profound. Unfortunately, the UK Government’s visa programme favours the richest in Hong Kong society because of the high costs of the BNO visa route. What steps will the UK Government take to make it easier for students, academics and intellectuals to seek refuge in our democracy?
We are actively encouraging people and their immediate family members to apply through our new bespoke immigration route. They will be able to come here to live, study and work. They will be able to choose whether to apply for 30 months’ leave in the first instance, followed by a further 30 months, or to apply straight away for five years. Of course, there is an application fee, as well as the associated immigration health surcharge. Since 23 February, applicants have been able to apply via a fully digitally accessed process. We did an impact assessment in October, and we now estimate that between 123,000 and 153,000 BNOs and their dependants could take up the route in its first year. That is a forecast as exact uptake is likely to vary, but, especially looking over five years, potentially between a quarter of a million and 300,000 people will be using this route—something the whole House will welcome.
Before I call the next speaker, let me just say that I want to get everybody in on this urgent question, and we have two very well-subscribed debates later, so I ask for single questions, and I am sure the Minister will be succinct in his replies.
The reported proposals in China’s National People’s Congress to change Hong Kong’s electoral system will break the promises that she has made and end democracy in Hong Kong. With almost every prominent leader in Hong Kong’s democracy movement now on trial, in exile or in jail, what steps are the Government taking in multilateral institutions to hold China to account for her actions?
One example of that was on 22 February, when the Foreign Secretary addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council calling out the systematic violation of the rights of the people of Hong Kong. We have made it clear that free and fair legislative elections must take place. The impact of our diplomacy is reflected in the growing number of countries supporting the statements that we have led or co-ordinated at the UN: we have gone from 23 countries to 39 within a year. This sends a powerful message to China about the breadth of international concern.
Will the Minister raise with the Chinese authorities the cases of Lee Cheuk-yan, the general secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, and Carol Ng, its former chair, who have been arrested and charged with organising an illegal assembly and with subversion of the national security law for participating in the democratic primaries? What action do the Government intend to take against those UK-based companies that have expressed support for the national security law, like HSBC and Jardine Matheson, and Swire, which has victimised its workers who have expressed opposition to this law?
Through our network, we raise our concerns and have constantly raised our concerns with the Hong Kong authorities, and we will continue to do so. I will make sure that I get an update with reference to the two cases that the right hon. Gentleman refers to.
It is clear that Conservative MPs are deeply divided over how to respond to the Chinese Government’s increasingly belligerent policies and actions, from its assault on democracy in Hong Kong, to the genocide of the Uyghurs, to its mistreatment of minorities and its aggression on the Indian border and in the South China sea. This Government are increasingly out of step with opinion in all parts of the House, so does the Minister agree that there is an urgent need for a cross-departmental strategy—it is long overdue—for our engagement with China? If so, what specifically is he doing to take that forward?
As I said in response to the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) earlier, the Foreign Secretary chairs a cross-Government ministerial group. We meet regularly cross-departmentally on all issues to do with our engagement with China, including Hong Kong. The hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) refers to the South China sea. We have made it very clear that we encourage all parties to settle their disputes peacefully through existing legal mechanisms, particularly the UN convention on the law of the sea.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is only through working with like-minded allies that we will be able to convey to China the international community’s concerns about the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong? Will the Minister ensure that those concerns, along with those of the Uyghur in Xinjiang, are raised when we host the G7 later this year?
My hon. Friend raises a very good point. This is a real opportunity for the United Kingdom to raise important matters, as we have the presidency of the G7. It is absolutely crucial that China understands the breadth of international concern regarding its actions not just in Xinjiang but in Hong Kong, and we are taking a leading role in that regard. I referred to the number of countries that have supported our statements at the UN General Assembly Third Committee rising from 23 to 39, and that does send a very powerful message to China.
Does the Minister share my assessment that it is inappropriate for UK-based financial institutions, such as HSBC, to have corporate sponsorship in the UK, given their public support for the national security law and the freezing of Ted Hui’s and his family’s bank accounts? Does he agree that this support undermines the UK Government’s attempts to hold the Chinese Government to account?
The hon. Lady raises two important point. I met Ted Hui recently, in February, and we are in close contact with a wide range of businesses in Hong Kong, but it is important that businesses themselves make their own judgment calls. Businesses, including HSBC in Hong Kong, have to do that. They need to be able to stand by each decision they make publicly. We have made a historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong to protect their autonomy and their freedom and, importantly, so did China when it signed the Sino-British joint declaration.
Everybody who values freedom and liberty has an interest in standing together with the people of Hong Kong, but China’s behaviour is a particular threat to the stability of that region. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to strengthen relations in the Indo-Pacific to combat Chinese aggression and the flouting of international law?
My hon. Friend raises a very important question. He will be aware that the Government are about to publish our integrated review, and our Indo-Pacific tilt is not just about any one country, but how we respond to the challenges and opportunities across the whole of this dynamic and important region. We will ensure that we deepen our many bilateral and multilateral partnerships in the Indo-Pacific to address together key challenges in the region and globally.
After these latest and most troubling examples of Beijing tightening its grip on Hong Kong, how can the UK Government justify not suspending any further trade talks with China in response to its inability to live up to its international treaty obligations? With this Government’s shameful watering-down of the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill, and now this current situation, how can the Minister reassure the general public that the UK Government are not putting profit above human rights?
Of course, the situation is not as the hon. Lady describes. I understand why she has put it in such terms, but we must remember what the Trade Bill is intended to do. Its key measures will deliver for UK businesses and for consumers across the UK, and it provides continuity and certainty as we take action to build a country that is more outward-looking than before. The UK has long supported the promotion of our values globally, and we are clear that more trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights.
Under the Sino-British joint declaration, obligations exist that clearly state the UK will ensure a “high degree of autonomy” and way of life in Hong Kong. While I applaud Her Majesty’s Government for introducing the BNO scheme to defend the rules-based international system, we must ensure that China is held accountable, and that there are consequences for breaching a binding treaty. Will my hon. Friend outline how his Department intends to properly hold China to account for breaching the Sino-British joint declaration?
My hon. Friend raises a good point. We are a co-signatory to the joint declaration. We have a responsibility to uphold the content, and a duty to speak out when we have concerns, which is what we have done. We did so last year: the Foreign Secretary has declared two breaches of the joint declaration in response to the national security law, and, of course, when the details that come out of the National People’s Congress are published, we will examine them and respond accordingly.
May I first reinforce the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) in extending the warmest possible welcome to Hongkongers coming to the United Kingdom under the BNO passport scheme? As part of that, we should all be calling out any increase in racially motivated abuse or violence against our own Chinese community.
The Minister is quite right when he says that we should not speculate about the list of who might be subject to Magnitsky sanctions, but can I say to him in the nicest possible way that that speculation will continue for as long as he and his colleagues in Government refuse to act? If he wants to end the speculation, the tools for that are in his own hands. Why will he not use them?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the work he does with the all-party parliamentary group on Hong Kong. He knows what I have to say about sanctions, and that to speculate would be unhelpful, but I will just say to him—as I have said to other hon. and right hon. Members this afternoon—that we are closely and constantly reviewing our sanctions regime. I know it is not the answer that he wants immediately, but that is the situation. We will keep any designation under extremely close review.
Does my hon. Friend agree that China’s behaviour towards Hong Kong will have a huge effect on China’s standing in the world, and particularly in Africa, where I have seen for myself the extent to which China is involved in the economies of a whole range of countries? Does this not show that China cannot be trusted as a member of the international community?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. No doubt he refers to the belt and road initiative that China has under way on that continent and elsewhere. He is right to say that it is vital that China understands the breadth of international concern about the situation not just in Hong Kong but elsewhere, and we have made clear the extent of our concern directly to the Foreign Secretary’s counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi. It is precisely because we recognise China’s role in the world, as a fellow member of the G20 and a fellow permanent member of the UN Security Council, that we expect it to live up to its international obligations and the responsibilities that come with that stature.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Despite a degree of paranoia on the part of some in mainland China, they should understand that nobody here disputes its sovereignty over Hong Kong. We are, however, joint guarantors of the common law system, democratic rights and freedoms continuing for 50 years after handover. We care about these provisions because our word is our bond. How do we move beyond statements and actually deliver a co-ordinated international response with the US, the EU and democracies in the Indo-Pacific region to this assault on democracy on Hong Kong?
I agree totally with the hon. Gentleman’s assessment. This is an assault on democracy in Hong Kong. It looks like what it says on the tin: it is an attempt to stifle that democracy. As I outlined in previous responses, we are working with international partners in this regard and we will continue to do so. We will continue to communicate directly with the Hong Kong authorities and the authorities in China. We have taken robust measures, and our presidency of the G7 this year gives us a great opportunity to step up that work.
Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what further discussions he is having with Five Eyes allies and other allies so that BNO status holders, who are most welcome in the United Kingdom, have similar rights of abode in those countries? More importantly, if we all act in lockstep, we are much more likely to influence China’s policy towards acting in accordance with international norms of behaviour.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We are of course liaising with our international partners, including our Five Eyes colleagues. The United Kingdom is not the only country that is offering access for Hongkongers, certainly since the national security law was introduced. He will know that this is a generous offer for BNO status holders and their dependants. As I said, we are working with international partners, across Government and alongside civil society groups and others to make sure there is effective integration of BNO status holders when they arrive in the United Kingdom.
Several international media outlets have reported gross human rights abuses in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet. Today, 10 March, marks the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against the presence of the People’s Republic of China and the subsequent crackdown on Tibetan independence groups. Does the Minister agree that senior Chinese Government officials who are responsible for these abuses should be sanctioned through the global human rights Magnitsky sanctions legislation?
The hon. Member is right to mention Tibet. He knows the answer in terms of Magnitsky sanctions. We are very concerned about the human rights situation in Tibet, where there are restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, assembly and association, as well as reports of forced labour. We are urging China to respect all fundamental rights across the People’s Republic of China, including in Tibet, in line both with China’s own constitution and with the international framework to which it is a party.
China is in clear breach of the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration, and we must stand with Hongkongers in their fight for freedom. The Minister says that China understands the breadth of international concern about these issues. If China does understand, it does not seem to respect international opinion and is not respecting human rights within China and Hong Kong. May I join the calls for Magnitsky sanctions sooner rather than later?
My hon. Friend is right to push this point and, of course, we are constantly reviewing our regime, as he knows. We have raised our concerns directly and with our international partners, and it is no mean feat to have increased the number of countries signed up to our declaration in the manner in which we have over the past year.
The Chinese Government insist that they are within their rights to unilaterally propose these undemocratic changes to Hong Kong’s constitutional framework, as Hong Kong’s Basic Law was enacted by the Chinese National People’s Congress. What assessment has the Minister made of the validity of this claim and whether it contradicts the Sino-British joint declaration?
As the hon. Lady knows, we called two breaches of the joint declaration last year. We will have to wait and see what comes out of the National People’s Congress, possibly this week, but who knows when we are likely to get an accurate read out? We will closely examine what comes out of this, and we will make it clear what action will be taken once we have seen it.
My hon. Friend talks about liaising with the United States on the actions that the Communist party of China has taken in abusing human rights in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet and elsewhere. Will he also follow the example of the Biden Administration in reviewing this country’s critical infrastructure and supply chain links with the Chinese economy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, of course. This is something that we have under review, and we have a responsibility to do so. I think I mentioned early in my remarks, for example, the work we do with China General Nuclear Power Group in the nuclear sector. He is right to raise it, and it is important that we continue to assess those arrangements regularly.
Can the Minister tell the House which Government Department has overall responsibility for supporting the successful integration of BNO passport holders coming from Hong Kong to the UK? What support is available to Hongkongers who are travelling to the UK under the BNO visa extension? And how can he make the scheme equitable to all those who wish to come?
The hon. Lady makes a fair point about the offer to BNOs. Work is happening across Government, and the scheme is devised principally by the Home Office, but in close collaboration with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. We are working very closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which has the work of ensuring there is proper support not just by Government but across civil society and other groups to ensure that those who take up this route arrive here with the correct support.
The not-yet-confirmed accounts of proposals being considered by the National People’s Congress would, if true, contradict the commitment of the UK and China that the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong, including those of speech and assembly, will remain unchanged. Does the Minister agree that they might also run against China’s own Basic Law for Hong Kong, article 45 of which states that the ultimate aim of elections in Hong Kong is the selection of a Chief Executive by universal suffrage, in accordance with democratic principles?
As chairman of the all-party China group, I will be writing to the NPC on this issue. Will my hon. Friend confirm whether he has raised this with the acting Chinese ambassador, and whether Dame Caroline Wilson has raised it with the Chinese MFA in Beijing?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for all the work he does and has done in this area over many years. We have spoken directly to the chargé at the Chinese embassy, and our ambassador in Beijing, who has been there only a small number of months, is in regular contact there as well. My hon. Friend raises the issue of universal suffrage, and we certainly will not be taking any lessons on that from Beijing. We have made clear our concerns and urged the Chinese authorities to uphold their commitments to the people of Hong Kong. That includes respecting their fundamental rights and freedoms, and also Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.
I thank the Secretary of State and every Member who has requested action, as I do. Will the Secretary of State outline what steps have been taken to co-ordinate with businesses in the financial sector so that they play their part in letting the Chinese Government understand that their continued acts of aggression, which make a mockery of any agreement at all, will have financial consequences?
The hon. Gentleman speaks regularly in this place on these issues and he has elevated me to Secretary of State. I thank him for that, but there has not been a reshuffle just yet. [Interruption.] That is kind of the Opposition spokesman, but that has certainly not occurred. I am, however, happy to be here responding to this urgent question. We are regularly in touch with businesses in the region to make sure that they are living up to their responsibilities. Whatever decisions they take they have to be responsible for publicly. That is probably the best way of putting the response to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).
Does the Minister accept that an estimated 250 to 300 former naval and military personnel are at particular risk as Hongkongers who served the British Crown? Will he discuss with the Home Office the fact that it has said in answer to questions, both in June last year and January this year, that their situation is under review and that it is time for that review to be brought to a close and for those Hongkongers who served this country but were not awarded citizenship to have their right to come here now granted?
Electrical Safety (Online Sales) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Richard Thomson presented a Bill to apply electrical safety regulations to goods advertised for sale on online marketplaces; to require online marketplaces to remove electrical products from their websites within 24 hours of them being reported as unsafe; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the first time; to be read a second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 271).