Hong Kong Security Legislation - Commons Urgent Question

– in the House of Lords am 11:58 am ar 21 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Wednesday 20 March.

“Yesterday, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council passed new national security legislation unanimously under Article 23 of the Basic Law. The Bill, which rushed through the legislative process, and is likely incompatible with international human rights law, will come into force on Saturday. Since 2020, we have seen Hong Kongers’ rights and freedoms deliberately eroded as a result of the Beijing-imposed national security law, and this law continues that pattern.

Yesterday, His Majesty’s Government made it clear that the law’s overall impact will be to further damage the rights and freedoms enjoyed throughout Hong Kong. It will enable the authorities to continue their clampdown on freedoms, including freedom of speech, assembly and the media. It will further entrench the culture of self-censorship dominating Hong Kong’s social and political landscape. It fails to provide certainty for international organisations, including diplomatic missions, operating there. Broad definitions will negatively affect those who live, work and do business there.

Although Britain recognises the right of all jurisdictions to implement national security legislation, Hong Kong is also required to ensure that laws align with international standards, rights and norms as set out in UN treaties, the Sino-British joint declaration and its Basic Law. Hong Kong is an international city. Respect for the rule of law, its high degree of autonomy and the independence of its well-respected institutions have always been critical to its success. The British Government have urged the Hong Kong authorities to respect rights and freedoms, uphold Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and the rule of law, and act in accordance with its international commitments and legal obligations.

Let me conclude by welcoming the contribution that our growing Hong Kong diaspora make to life in the UK; they are safe to live here, and exercise the rights and freedoms that all other British residents enjoy. We will not tolerate any attempt by any foreign power to intimidate, harass or harm individuals or communities in the UK. This law has no effect in the UK, and we have no active extradition treaty with Hong Kong”.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 12:08, 21 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, Andrew Mitchell said yesterday that the legislation is a breach of the Sino-British joint declaration, adding that the United Kingdom decided in 2021 that China was in ongoing breach of that agreement and declaration. Earlier this week, Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that there were serious concerns raised about the incompatibility of many of its provisions with international human rights law. Can the Minister tell us what we are doing at the United Nations to support the high commissioner on these points and to raise these serious breaches of the joint declaration? Can I also ask about the ongoing detention of Jimmy Lai, a British citizen who is a stark symbol of the decline of Hong Kong’s freedoms? What update can the Minister give the House in relation to our efforts to secure Jimmy Lai’s release?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I can confirm for the noble Lord that, after a series of breaches by China, including the imposition of the national security law and the changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system, the UK declared China to be in a state of ongoing non-compliance with the declaration in March 2021. This new safeguarding Bill, as the High Commissioner for Human Rights said, may not uphold those obligations, which are bound to it within international human rights laws. It falls short of international standards that Hong Kong itself has promised to uphold. The agreement that we signed with China—the joint declaration—is a legally binding international agreement registered with the UN. So I assure the noble Lord that we will continue, as we have done and as my noble friend the Foreign Secretary did in his announcement, and that the legislation will come into effect this weekend. We will look at this in a focused way. My noble friend has commented quite strongly in this respect.

We continue to raise the case of Jimmy Lai consistently. The Foreign Secretary reiterated the call for his release on 16 February directly with Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Munich Security Conference. On 23 January, the UK’s Permanent Representative to the UN also called for China to cease his prosecution and repeal the 45th national security law during the universal periodic review. On 28 February, I myself called again for the immediate release of Jimmy Lai, at the UN Human Rights Council.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, in spite of what the Minister says about the UK saying that there is an ongoing breach, the first time a Minister of His Majesty’s Government visited Hong Kong, it was the Investment Minister, Lord Johnson. He did not raise Jimmy Lai with Hong Kong or Chinese officials; he did not raise human rights with officials; he did not raise the sanctioning of democracies; and he did not meet democracy campaigners in Hong Kong. The Minister made only one media comment saying that the British Government were concerned about human rights. In his comments today, the Foreign Secretary said that he was concerned that this would impact on investment. Is the UK so dependent on Chinese imports of goods and Hong Kong investment that we will not act when it comes to enforcement on what we believe should be human rights breaches? Why do Ministers visit Hong Kong but not raise these issues with Chinese officials?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

As the noble Lord mentioned, on the visit of the last Minister, he did, according to our records, raise the issue of human rights. That is a consistent policy; I, as the Minister for human rights, ensure that they are included in briefings, wherever they are and with whatever Minister.

I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis: as I demonstrated in my response to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, we have consistently raised the issue of Jimmy Lai specifically. On the issue of not acting, we have. When it comes to broader issues around human rights—for example, the noble Lord will be aware of Xinjiang—the United Kingdom has been instrumental and has led action at both the UN Human Rights Council and the UN in New York.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, I declare a non-financial interest as a patron of Hong Kong Watch. In addition to the case of Jimmy Lai, at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong only yesterday morning, we heard from a young man who had been tortured, had suffered violence and had been brainwashed before he was able to escape. He is now in the United Kingdom with many of the others who have come here under the Government’s commendable BNO scheme.

That young man raised the issue of transnational crimes, as well as the breach of the basic law, and the experience that some are already having in the UK as a result of Chinese operations in Great Britain. What are the Government going to do about this and about raising, along with the case of Jimmy Lai, the cases of the 1,700 political prisoners who are still in jail in Hong Kong? As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, just said, we are more interested in building trade relationships to try to address the £50-billion trade deficit with the People’s Republic of China instead of doing something to make it honour these things.

Secondly, I want to ask the Minister about something that the right honourable Member for Chingford, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, raised only yesterday in the House of Commons on this question. He asked about a document that has been circulating from the Foreign Office saying that sanctions have been suspended indefinitely in the case of Hong Kong and China. Is that true? Will the Government please publish it? After all, not a single person has been sanctioned in Hong Kong by the UK, while the United States has sanctioned 47.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I will answer the second question first because it is very important. I assure noble Lord that that is incorrect. The FCDO has never ruled out sanctions designations on any individual or entity. This is something that I confirmed before coming here. I am aware; I followed the debate in the other place and noted its strength. I commend the noble Lord because he suffers directly as a result of sanctions that have been imposed on him. We recognise this; I hope he recognises the support that the UK Government give. I say again, very clearly, that the FCDO has not done this and continues to review designations on individuals and entities. Of course, I cannot go into what we may do in future, but I want to give the noble Lord that assurance.

On prioritising trade over human rights, I think the noble Lord recognises that, as was said in our integrated review, we recognise that China has an important role when it comes to key partnerships on areas such as our response to Covid, climate change and even areas of AI. We look to see how we can work together constructively but we are clear in our approach, as was demonstrated in my earlier answer. When my noble friend the Foreign Secretary met the Foreign Minister of China, we made it clear that the case of Jimmy Lai and human rights were key areas of discussion between them.

Photo of Lord Kamall Lord Kamall Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned the fact that 47 individuals in Hong Kong have been sanctioned by the US Government. Given that, what co-ordination does my noble friend the Minister’s department and the Government have with other Governments around the world to make sure that they are targeting the same people so that, where they sanctioned by a liberal democracy in another country, we do the same or have very good reasons for why we do not follow suit?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that we co-ordinate on sanctions across the piece with all our key partners, as we have said on a number of occasions, in relation to other countries, regions and situations. We work closely with the United States on China. Of course, its application of sanctions is different to ours. I can go no further than to say that, of course, we have not stopped or paused any of this. Where we see egregious abuses of human rights, and where we see that there is a legitimate reason, those names and entities are tested in a robust way. We will bring forward sanctions at the appropriate time.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, as there is a moment before we leave this Question, I want to go back to something that I asked the Minister about just a week ago: the way in which we go about sanctions. It is an opaque and random process. As the noble Lord just said, we should be doing this in co-ordination with others. A genocide had been declared in Xinjiang. Whom have we brought to justice? What sanctions have we imposed in those circumstances? There are daily threats to Taiwan and we have seen extraordinary cruelty and barbarism in Tibet, along with anybody who is a political or religious dissident being imprisoned —and, yes, seven Members of both Houses of our Parliament have been sanctioned by the PRC. Why do the Government place trade as a higher priority than speaking out in favour of the rule of law, democracy and human rights?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I have already partly answered that question. We regard human rights as a key part of our foreign policy. On Xinjiang, we have taken direct action against the Chinese authorities, which the noble Lord is aware of. We will continue to review the appalling situation in Xinjiang—in particular that of the Uighurs, which I know the noble Lord is very much seized of. We will continue to update the House accordingly.