Foreign Affairs Committee (Hong Kong Visit)

Part of Overseas Voters (15 Year Rule) – in the House of Commons at 2:06 pm on 2nd December 2014.

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Photo of Sandra Osborne Sandra Osborne Labour, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock 2:06 pm, 2nd December 2014

It is a pleasure to speak after Richard Graham, who made a very moving and sombre speech about his experiences in China and how sad it is that China has chosen to reject his arrival. The Chairman of the Committee, Sir Richard Ottaway, gave a very full and effective explanation of what he called this unfortunate and unhappy episode—I am sure we all agree with that.

I am pleased that we have the opportunity in this emergency debate to highlight how unacceptable the actions of the Chinese Government have been in banning the entry to Hong Kong of democratically elected representatives and hampering our ability to scrutinise our own Government’s actions, as is our role as the Foreign Affairs Committee. It is very important to emphasise, as others have, that we are totally separate from Government. I think that is sometimes misunderstood by some foreign Governments, and certainly by the Chinese Government. We do not take orders from our own Government, so we are certainly not going to be deterred from carrying out our duties by any foreign Government, from whatever part of the globe.

I cannot honestly say that I am surprised about what has happened, because I was present when the Foreign Affairs Committee went to China during the last Parliament, as outlined by my hon. Friend Mike Gapes. It was quite an experience. I recollect that we received a friendly welcome and had meetings with many representatives of the Chinese Government. However, as my hon. Friend said, when it became clear that we intended to visit Taiwan, we were told in no uncertain terms that this would lead to “serious consequences”. My recollection of the meeting that he described is that we were more or less thrown out; “asked to leave” would be a more polite way of putting it. As he said, the serious consequences did not arise for us, but it was an illustration of the kind of overreaction we can expect from a Government who do not understand the concept of transparency and democracy, not to mention scrutiny and accountability.

Taking the unprecedented step of refusing entry to a Select Committee takes the whole matter much further. I believe that this amounts to a diplomatic crisis. It is more than regrettable, as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has publicly stated—it is totally unacceptable. I hope that the FCO will make the strongest representations on the matter and take it further with a view to seeking a change of position on the part of the Chinese Government forthwith. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about what the Government intend to do.

We as a Committee have been working hard on this inquiry for some time and taken extensive evidence to date. However, there is no real substitute for finding the facts on the ground, as we have often found in some of the most dangerous places in the world, which often lack democracy. Under the chairmanship of Sir Richard Ottaway, we have sought to conduct the inquiry in a responsible manner and as inclusively as possible, preferably with the full co-operation of the Hong Kong authorities. Of course, our concern for human rights and democracy is part of that, but our inquiry is wide ranging and we believe it is timely to look at how the Sino-British joint declaration is being implemented 30 years after it was agreed by both parties.

Contrary to the views of the Chinese Government, Lord Patten told us that the terms of the 1984 joint declaration between the UK and China, agreeing the transfer of sovereignty to China and setting out “one country, two systems” principles of governance, explicitly gave the UK a legitimate interest in Hong Kong’s future. When China asserts that what is happening in Hong Kong is nothing to do with us, we should make it absolutely clear, publicly and privately, that that is not the case. We are not interfering in China’s internal affairs.

Notwithstanding all that, we have the right and the remit to scrutinise the work of the FCO throughout the world, which, of course, we do. This snub by the Chinese Government and the confrontational manner with which they have conducted themselves is an insult not only to the Committee, but to the whole House. We cannot accept it, especially from a Government with whom we have friendly and mutually beneficial relations. The FCO has pointed to the visit of the Chinese premier in

June as an example of the positive trend in UK-China relations, but it is fundamental to our democratic system that we reserve the right to criticise our friends, and that should not have come as a surprise to the Chinese Government.

Mr Speaker, I hope you will be able to find it in your power to draw to the attention of the Chinese Government the role of Back-Bench MPs and the House’s disapproval of what has happened. If in refusing us entry to Hong Kong it was their intention to shut us up, they have achieved the exact opposite and shown to the whole world what their agenda is for Hong Kong in a way we will not be able to achieve in our report. However, we have postponed, not cancelled, our visit, so I look forward to the Committee engaging with all parties in Hong Kong in due course.