(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on the disqualification of pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong.
Yesterday was another sad day for the people of Hong Kong. China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee imposed new restrictions that mean that any Hong Kong legislator who is deemed to support independence, refuse to recognise China’s sovereignty, seek foreign forces’ interference or endanger national security should be disqualified from membership of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. This decision led to the immediate removal of four elected Members of the Legislative Council, who were, at that moment, sitting in the Chamber.
It is my unfortunate duty to report to the House our judgment that that decision breaches the legally binding Sino-British joint declaration. It breaches both China’s commitment that Hong Kong will enjoy a high degree of autonomy and the right to freedom of speech, guaranteed under paragraph 3 of the declaration. This is the third time that the Government have called a breach of the joint declaration since 1997, but the second time that we have been forced to do so in the last six months.
This decision is part of a pattern designed to harass and stifle all voices critical of China’s policies. The new rules for disqualification provide a further tool in that campaign, with vague criteria open to wide-ranging interpretation. Hong Kong’s people are left now with a neutered legislature, and 15 pan-democratic legislators have already resigned en masse in protest.
China has yet again broken its promise to the people of Hong Kong. Its actions tarnish China’s international reputation and undermine Hong Kong’s long-term stability. The UK has already offered a new immigration path for British nationals overseas, suspended our extradition treaty with Hong Kong and extended our arms embargo on mainland China to Hong Kong. The permanent under-secretary at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has today summoned the Chinese ambassador to register our deep concern at this latest action by his Government.
Hong Kong’s prosperity and way of life rely on respect for fundamental freedoms, an independent judiciary and the rule of law. China’s actions are putting at risk Hong Kong’s success. The UK will stand up for our values. We will stand up for the people of Hong Kong. We will call out violations of their rights and freedoms. With our international partners, we will continue to hold China to its international obligations.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and I thank the Minister for his words. Today I have a very simple question. What are the Government going to do as “one country, two systems” disappears before our eyes? The disqualification of pro-democracy lawmakers from the Legislative Council of Hong Kong means it has effectively been reduced to a rubber-stamp Parliament and democracy on the peninsula is now in mortal peril.
Although the previous actions of this Government are to be commended, it is time to do more. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary told the House in July that the Government
“will hold China to its international obligations.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 678, c. 1832.]
Yet here we are again. Through these actions, the Chinese Government are making a mockery of the joint declaration. I ask the Minister what legal routes to defend the joint declaration are being considered. What has the Minister done to co-ordinate a response with our allies internationally, in particular the USA, including President-elect Biden, and the European Union? Will the UK finally impose Magnitsky-style sanctions on those individuals in Hong Kong and China who are responsible for human rights abuses, and, if not that model, will he look at a sanctions register, as used by the US?
The BNO citizenship scheme excludes those who need it, particularly young people who have so bravely protested in the best traditions of democracy. We must protect them. The estimated true cost for a Hongkonger to come here for five years is £3,000, and that is before living costs. Many simply cannot afford it. Will the Minister confirm how many applications have been made under the scheme and how many have been granted? Will he consider introducing a bursary scheme for those unable to pay, and will he introduce a lifeboat policy for all Hong Kong citizens regardless of age and, if not, will he agree to meet me to discuss this matter further?
In 1996, John Major underlined our commitment to Hong Kong when he said:
“If there were to be any suggestion of a breach of the Joint Declaration we would have a duty to pursue every legal and other avenue available to us.”
“Hong Kong will never have to walk alone.”
It is time for actions, not just words. It is time to make good on our promise.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this urgent question. One of her points was about whether I would meet her; of course, I am more than happy to meet her. I know how important this issue is to her and other Members of this House, and my door is always open for conversations with me and my team. I can tell her that we have already seen statements from our partners thus far on this particular issue. Australia, the USA, Canada and Germany have all made statements on the matter and we will continue to work with all our Five Eyes partners to hold China to account. The actions we have taken at the UN over the last few months are testament to that and proof of our leading diplomatic role in this regard.
The hon. Lady asked about sanctions and we will continue to consider designations under our Magnitsky-style sanctions regime. She will appreciate it is not entirely appropriate to speculate on who may be designated under the sanctions regime in the future, as that could reduce the impact, but we are carefully considering further designations under the scheme.
She was right to mention the action we have taken on British nationals overseas. The Home Secretary issued a statement on
“in compelling and compassionate circumstances, and where applications are made as a family unit, we will use discretion to grant a visa to the children” of BNO status-holders
“who fall into this category…the existing youth mobility scheme is open to people in Hong Kong aged between 18 and 30, with 1,000 places currently available each year. Individuals from Hong Kong will also be able to apply to come to the UK under the terms of the UK’s new points-based system”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 678, c. 115WS.]
The hon. Lady asked about the number of BNOs. From July 2020, BNO citizens and their dependants have been eligible to be granted six months’ leave outside the rules at the border to the UK, and from
I welcome my hon. Friend’s designation that this is the third breach of the Sino-British joint declaration, and I do not think that anybody in this House disagrees with him. After all, we are now seeing that China really does believe in “one man, one vote”, and that man, of course, is Chairman Xi. We now need Her Majesty’s Government to respond not just, as my hon. Friend quite rightly said, by looking at our own laws and Magnitsky sanctions, or, indeed, by seeking to work with others, but by working on the international trade platform as well. What conversations has my hon. Friend had with the Department for International Trade, partners at the World Trade Organisation and others around the world to make sure that Hong Kong is designated correctly as a part of China and that it no longer has a separate status for customs or, indeed, any other form of commerce?
I thank the Chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs for his question and for his ongoing leadership on this particular issue. Trade with China is absolutely pivotal and crucial to the UK. Figures over the last six months show that China is only one of two countries where our exports have actually grown over a very difficult period. We have a high level of ambition for our trade partnership. We want to work with it to increase trade, but as we strive for that positive relationship we will not sacrifice our values or our security. We are very clear-sighted about the challenges. As we continue to engage, we will always protect our national interests. Absolutely and imperatively, as the Foreign Secretary has said at this Dispatch Box on many occasions, we will continue to hold China to its international commitments and its promises.
This assault on democracy represents not only a clear breach of the Basic Law and the joint declaration; it also confirms that the Chinese Government and the Hong Kong Executive are committed to the removal of dissenting voices from the democratic process, and to the repression of the rights of the people of Hong Kong. The Labour party stands in solidarity with the four pro-democracy representatives who have been removed from the Legislative Council, and with the 15 additional Opposition Members who have resigned in protest. Their departure leaves Hong Kong without an Opposition in the legislature, removing one of the vital checks on the Hong Kong Executive and effectively denying the people of Hong Kong the right to choose their own representatives.
The UK Opposition welcomed the Government’s recent announcement regarding BNO passport holders, but it would be unacceptable for the UK Government now to conclude that they have done all they can for the people of Hong Kong. With that in mind, I ask the Minister the following questions.
First, does the Minister agree that the British Government are legally obliged, through the joint declaration, to defend human rights in Hong Kong, and that failure to do so, to the utmost of their abilities, would put the UK in default of its treaty obligations? Secondly, when will we see details of what the UK Government are offering by way of support to Hongkongers born after 1997? Thirdly, will senior Hong Kong Executive officials now be added to the Magnitsky list? The Minister has been asked this question many times and he has consistently declined to give a definitive answer. Who in Government is holding this up? Fourthly, the Foreign Secretary has rightly condemned the likes of HSBC and Standard Chartered bank for their stance on Hong Kong, but could the Minister please update the House on what action, if any, has actually been taken against those two banks?
I thank the Opposition spokesman for his questions. On sanctions, he will be fully aware that it is not appropriate to speculate on who exactly will come under the radar of our new sanctions regime. We are considering further designations constantly. In terms of HSBC and Standard Chartered in Hong Kong, I have had previous conversations with HSBC, and I am very happy to have more. I am also more than happy to write to the hon. Gentleman on that particular issue.
As I said to the Liberal Democrat spokesman, Layla Moran, our door is always open. Our offer to British nationals overseas of a pathway to UK citizenship is compelling and compassionate, and as I said in my previous answer, the youth mobility scheme is open to people in Hong Kong aged between 18 and 30. I am more than happy to flesh this out with Stephen Kinnock when he is next in the Chamber or in London.
I fully understand the issues for my hon. Friend the Minister and the Government, but the reality is that we face an arrogant country, led by an arrogant leadership that has trashed the Sino-British agreement and is guilty of huge human rights abuses and dangerous confrontations with its neighbours. The British Government must lead in this matter, not wait. It is time for us to let the Chinese Government know that these actions come with serious repercussions. Does he accept that we need to sanction individuals responsible for any of these actions? Let us start with Carrie Lam in Hong Kong.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his continued efforts on this issue, and for working positively with the Government. We will continue to consider designations under the sanctions regulations. I fear I am repeating myself, but he will know, given his background, that it is not appropriate to speculate on who may be designated in the future, as putting that on the record may well reduce the impact of the designations. I completely agree with his opening comments, but we have offered a new immigration path for BNOs; we have suspended our extradition treaty with Hong Kong; we have extended our arms embargo on mainland China to cover Hong Kong; and we have led international efforts to hold China to its international obligations. Gaining 39 signatures at the UN is no mean feat. We have also, rightly, consistently raised our concern with the Chinese authorities.
I try to be fair, and I have much respect for the Minister. I listened to his statement carefully, and anyone would accept that there are limited things that the UK Government can do about the internal workings of the Chinese state. It would be unfair to say that the UK Government have done nothing on this, but it would be fair to say that they have not done much of any consequence—certainly nothing that has elicited a change of heart from Beijing. I reiterate colleagues’ calls for Magnitsky sanctions. We are not looking for speculation; we are looking for announcements, which are overdue. I appreciate that it is difficult, but we need to take that forward.
There are things that the Government can do, and that are in their control. I would be interested to hear plans for an audit of Chinese engagement with our academic infrastructure, and particularly of Confucius institutes and their activities in the UK. We are overdue an audit of Chinese involvement in the UK’s physical, and data and communications, infrastructure, big chunks of which are being bought up by Chinese companies that are emanations of the Chinese state. We should also look at audits of UK companies engaged in trade in Hong Kong to make sure that they are not benefiting from slave labour. There are things that the UK Government can do domestically now, and I support calls for, and moves towards, our taking those steps.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his considered question. He is absolutely right to raise the issue of academic interference. UK universities are international at their core, and we warmly welcome overseas students, including from China, and the valuable contribution that they make, but we will not tolerate any attempt to interfere with academic freedom, or freedom of speech. As I have said before in the House, if any universities experience any attempts to undermine free debate, we encourage them to get in touch with the Government.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned data infrastructure. The long-term security and enduring resilience of our telecoms network are incredibly important, and we are taking difficult decisions to protect those interests. The position in January on high-risk vendors was based on the need to balance security with the need for us to level up and be a world leader in our digital infrastructure. I hope that answers the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I am more than happy to have a direct meeting with him when he returns to London, as I have said to the Lib Dem and Labour spokespeople, the hon. Members for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) and for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock).
First, the Minister says that our Government continue to hold China to account. Has the Chinese ambassador been summoned to meet the Foreign Secretary following the most recent developments? If so, with what results, and, if not, will the ambassador be summoned? Secondly, it is clear that human rights safeguards have effectively collapsed now in Hong Kong. One of those, of course—a key human right—is freedom of religion. We have seen what has happened with the attacks on freedom of religion in China. Have the Government considered how that can be protected in Hong Kong? What calls have they made to ensure that the right to worship remains there?
I can confirm that the Chinese ambassador has been summoned to the Foreign Office this morning. Freedom of religion or belief is a key issue for this Government. My hon. Friend has spoken on this matter on many occasions, and I have had the pleasure to be in such debates. We are very concerned by what has been going on in mainland China—particularly in Xinjiang—but we are concerned by all restrictions placed on freedom of religion or belief in China.
It started with the disappearance of a bookseller. Then there was state-sanctioned violence against protesters and health workers, university lecturers were sacked and the free press challenged. Twelve Hong Kong youths have been detained for over 80 days, and now we see the disqualification of four moderate legislators. Things are clearly escalating. What will the Minister actually do to hold China to account for the breach of the joint declaration and international treaties, and what consular support is he providing to Hongkongers?
As I have laid out in previous answers, we are working with international partners and have summoned the Chinese ambassador. We have done an immense amount of work at the United Nations whenever we believe that China is transgressing, particularly on human rights. We could not be any clearer; our assessment is that this action is a breach of the joint declaration. This is a subject on which we have been incredibly robust over the past 12 months, as the hon. Lady will know. The joint declaration is in force and the policies contained within it should remain unchanged for 50 years. It is a legally binding international agreement that is registered with the UN, and we are fully committed to upholding Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, rights and freedoms.
Just last year I had the privilege of meeting, here in Parliament, one of the legislators who has now been disqualified, and we had extensive discussions about the rights of British national overseas passports. It is now clear that our very generous offer to BNO passport holders is a critical lifeline to Hongkongers, but there is concern that those in positions of power in Hong Kong with links to Beijing may seek to use the BNO route to come to this country and enjoy the very democratic liberties that they are seeking to oppress. What discussions has the Minister had with the Home Office on this matter, and will the Government do everything possible to ensure that those who seek to undermine democracy and violate human rights are not able to come to this country and enjoy the benefits of BNO passport holders?
We have a duty to uphold our promise to the people of Hong Kong to protect their rights and autonomy. I am pleased that my hon. Friend realises that the offer that we are making to BNO citizens and their dependants is a generous one. In turn, they will be expected to be self-sufficient and contribute to UK society. We look forward to welcoming applications under this new immigration route. However, he raises a good point, and I can tell him that the existing provisions in the immigration rules will apply in relation to criminality and other adverse behaviour.
Under the national security law, individuals and companies outside Hong Kong and China can be prosecuted for offences that pertain to that law. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that Hongkongers in the UK or British-based businesses with operations in Hong Kong will not be targeted by this repressive law?
We have made our position very clear on the national security law—the second occasion that we called out a breach of the joint declaration. That certainly should not be the case, but as the hon. Lady would expect, we are in contact with firms that have investments both ways between China and the UK. It is key that we do not agree with the principal tenet of this national security law. We believe it is vague and far-reaching and could have very damaging consequences. I appreciate the question, and we do have communication lines open with those firms.
Yesterday the world witnessed the ousting of elected lawmakers in Hong Kong by the Chinese Government, and over the past week the world has witnessed the outgoing President of the US fail to concede defeat, despite the outcome of the election being clear. It is in everybody’s interests—especially here in the free world—for the benefits of democracy not to be undermined. Will the Minister join me in condemning these blatant attacks on democracy, and does he recognise that continual attempts to deny the will of the Scottish people in relation to our own constitutional question will also be viewed by the watching world as an attack on democracy?
That is the one of the cleverest ways I have seen of segueing from an urgent question on the actions in Hong Kong to a question about Scottish independence—the hon. Member should be applauded for his gall. Of course, we object in the strongest terms to the actions that have been taken in the last 48 hours.
I congratulate Layla Moran—she is my hon. Friend, because we are both members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China—on securing this urgent question, and I welcome the Minister’s robust language. He stated that China’s policy is to “stifle all voices critical” of it and that China has failed to meet its international obligations. I want to ask about the Magnitsky sanctions; I am not asking the Minister to speculate, but to explain. If our friends and allies can gather enough evidence on Chinese officials’ abuses of the Uyghur, what is stalling the Minister’s Department in doing the same?
As I have said in previous responses, it is not appropriate to speculate on sanctions or individuals. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will consider any evidence that is put forward, and if my hon. Friend has such evidence, I urge her to get in touch with that Department.
The sleeping giant is most certainly not sleeping anymore, and Hong Kong is shaking. The new legislation passed this week is not just illegal but, frankly, tyrannous. Are the Government actively considering compiling a case to take China to the International Court of Justice for breaching the Sino-British treaty for the third time, as well as the Vienna convention on the law of treaties?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question, and for her continued interest in China and her work at the FCO previous to her work in this place. The simple answer is that we cannot submit a case to the ICJ without the consent of China. In my judgment, and I would imagine that of anybody of sound mind, it is very clear that China would not accept that. There is no easy adjudicative route, I am afraid.
What progress has the Minister made in identifying the senior Chinese Government officials who have committed serious human rights violations in Hong Kong, and also those who have persecuted Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang? We are not asking for speculation: when will the Government do more than just consider Magnitsky sanctions and actually use them?
The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue. We are deeply concerned about the extrajudicial detention of over 1 million Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in so-called political re-education camps. We have made our case very clear to the Chinese authorities in this regard—that invasive surveillance targeting techniques and suppression of freedom of religion and belief are unacceptable. I am sorry to have to refer to my previous answers in terms of sanctions. We are constantly considering designations under our Magnitsky-style regime, but it would not be helpful to speculate on the names of the people that are being considered at the moment.
I thank the Minister for his response and Layla Moran for the urgent question. On Monday, the United States State Department announced that it was to impose further sanctions on four more Chinese officials over their alleged role in recent crackdowns on democracy in Hong Kong, and that is further to its sanctions on officials with regard to the actions in Xinjiang and the unacceptable treatment of the Uyghur Muslims. My question is on sanctions, but it is slightly different to the questions being put by others. Can the Minister explain the difference in terms of why emergency Magnitsky-style sanctions were rightly imposed in Belarus and why they are not being imposed on Chinese officials with regard to their behaviour in Hong Kong or their behaviour in Xinjiang on the treatment of Muslims?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for all his work as the Prime Minister’s special envoy on freedom of religion and belief. We are aware of the designations by the US, and we will continue to consider designations under our regulations. I am more than happy to write to him to try to clear up the point he has made. Again, I apologise for repeating this, but it is important to emphasise that it really is not appropriate to speculate on who may be designated under the sanctions regime in future.
Depressingly, I think we know where all this will end, and it is not pretty. We are therefore into mitigation. Does my hon. Friend agree that, not least out of a sense of enlightened self-interest, we should encourage and welcome Hongkongers who wish to leave Hong Kong for the UK, as those from other countries have also done, noting, for example, those we welcomed from Hungary in 1956, as well as Iranians in 1979 and Chinese after Tiananmen Square in 1989?
My right hon. Friend is very highly skilled in this area, having served in a similar role to me at the FCO, and he is absolutely right. Hongkongers are highly skilled and highly educated individuals, and we very much look forward to welcoming applications under our new immigration route.
I listened to the answer that the Minister gave to Sir Iain Duncan Smith. I can understand the logic of it and I can understand his caution, but, in practical terms, the idea that the likes of Carrie Lam might at some stage be subject to Magnitsky sanctions is something for which we may now have lost that element of surprise. Therefore, the practical consequences of the Government’s position are probably not that significant, but the political consequences of a more robust answer to the hon. right Gentleman and others could be immense, especially if we were to pursue this through our membership of the UN Human Rights Council, to which we have now been elected for the next two years. What will the Minister do with that very useful tool?
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman, my former ministerial colleague, on his question and also on the interest that he takes in this particular issue, but he will have to forgive me when I say that, as tempting as it may be, it is absolutely inappropriate and not right for us to speculate on our sanctions regime. We do not want a situation where the effect of our regime is diminished, and speculation could very much do that. We are working very closely and very hard with the EU, as he will be aware.
I hope that every self-respecting member of the international community will condemn this action by China. I also hope that the businesses that have tried to shut their eyes to what has been going on now open them and realise that this affects them, too. This is the latest attempt to try to crush the spirit of the people of Hong Kong and my friends from there are understandably anxious. What is the Minister’s message to the people of Hong Kong?
We will always stand by Hong Kong. That is why we have taken the actions that we have. We believe that there have been three breaches of the joint declaration. Our offer to BNOs is generous, compassionate and widely welcomed. We have a duty to the people of Hong Kong, clearly, given our history there and we will not stop speaking up on behalf of the people of Hong Kong when we believe that there have been these serious breaches.
In October this year, the Government confirmed that a new immigration route for BNOs from Hong Kong will open in January. Unfortunately, under the current plans, BNOs will still be subject to an expensive immigration health surcharge of £1,560 per 30 months and £3,120 for five years. Will the Government consider abolishing the immigration health surcharge for BNO applicants?
We have been generous with regard to BNOs, and rightly so, given the duty that we owe to them. We have developed proposals for a bespoke immigration route for them and their dependants with five years’ limited leave to remain, with the right to work or study. The issue to which the hon. Lady refers is a matter, of course, for the Home Office. It is entirely appropriate for her to write to the Home Office and see whether she can get a response that gives her the satisfaction that she requires.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for confirming to the House this morning that this is the third breach of the Sino-British agreement, which was registered at the UN. As a friend of China for 25 years, I say that this is unacceptable. He and the Foreign Secretary must now show the Chinese that this sort of breaking of international norms has consequences. Will he therefore build as wide a coalition of the free world as possible to act in unison on things such as the Magnitsky sanctions? If he does that, they will be much more effective.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. We have already seen statements from four of our partners earlier today. I understand there may very well be a statement from the European Union later. In response to these developments, we have, as I say, offered this new immigration path, suspended the extradition treaty and extended our arms embargo on mainland China to Hong Kong. We have summoned the Chinese ambassador. We will continue to raise our concerns internationally at the UN. We will continue to lead the international community in calling on China to live up to its obligations under the joint declaration.
One country, two systems was supposed to be a magic formula, but it has turned out to be nothing more than a mirage. Democracy and free speech are as good as dead in Hong Kong. The British Government are bound by their obligations through the joint declaration to defend human rights in Hong Kong. The offer to BNO passport holders is welcome, though it does nothing to hold the Hong Kong Executive to account for the human rights violations they are carrying out against their own people. Does the Minister not run the risk of allowing the UK to default in its treaty obligations if it fails to do more to hold the Hong Kong Executive and the Chinese Government to account on this?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise his question. I do not necessarily agree with his last point. On the one country, two systems point that he raises, these actions by China have had an incredibly detrimental impact on many areas of one country, two systems. We will do everything possible to uphold Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and, most importantly, the rights and freedoms under the joint declaration.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s clear statements in relation to the violations of freedom and democracy in Hong Kong. Will he assure me that he will continue to speak out against any violations of the one country, two systems protocol that we have and take up in every international institution, including the United Nations Security Council, this clear abuse of democracy in Hong Kong?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Again, I would like to thank him for his continued work on this issue. We have played a leading role in the international community in holding China to account. On
I am sorry to say that it feels as if the Government have given up on this, to be honest. They did not choose to make a statement on this; they had to be dragged to the House by an urgent question. Frequently, it is Back Benchers in this House who are dragging the Government to make more categorical statements and to stand up to the cross words, which is so far all we have had. They have devoted next to no energy to pursuing this in the vast majority of international forums. The one thing that they could do they repeatedly refuse to do, which is to implement Magnitsky-style sanctions against Carrie Lam and others. I do not know what more the Minister needs to know. We have a country that has millions of people in concentration camps. We have people who are being refused the right to their own religion, and women who are having forced abortion and sterilisation. We have the whole of democratic systems being suppressed, and, frankly, communism today looks remarkably like fascism. Every single time he says, “I can’t speculate,” he is actually announcing that he is not implementing sanctions. Please, please take the whole of the House seriously on this. We must not give up.
I have got an awful lot of time for the hon. Gentleman, but to accuse this Government of sitting idly by on this issue, frankly, is nonsense. We have led the international community in this regard, and we have made incredibly generous offers in terms of the BNOs. I applaud him for harrying and hassling the Foreign Secretary in terms of making sure the sanctions regime has been delivered; it has been delivered. I appreciate that we are in the theatre of the Chamber, but the hon. Gentleman will know in his heart that it is not right to speculate publicly about individuals and sanctions before there are any designations—he will know that—but I would just ask him to reflect on the actions that we have taken, particularly internationally, where we have led the way.
I am afraid that history teaches us what happens if regimes like this are not stood up to, but we cannot act alone, so what engagement has the Foreign Office had—at an early stage, I know—with the incoming American Administration, because their support on these issues will be key?
Also, I recognise that we have a healthy and robust debate in this Chamber about matters such as Scottish independence, and I know we proceed with good humour, but does the Minister agree that to link in any way, shape or form what is happening in Hong Kong, with the absolute destruction of people’s rights and fundamental freedoms, with the healthy debate that we have around Scottish independence is disrespectful to the people of that country making that fight?
My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point. I will not use the term disrespectful to describe the comments of Steven Bonnar from the SNP, but I would say that he has more front than Scarborough in trying to link the two issues during this urgent question.
I can tell my hon. Friend that we have seen this morning the United States make its statement on these latest moves to disqualify the four legislators. The Prime Minister has had conversations with the President-elect, and I am sure that Hong Kong will feature in future conversations. I would add that we have consistently led the international community with regard to the response to breaches of the joint declaration and the events in Hong Kong.
We have a technical problem with question 25, so I call Bob Stewart.
What I can tell my hon. Friend is that we work very closely with our international partners, and to have 39 countries sign up to our statement at the UN on this single issue was quite the achievement. People internationally do realise that China has yet again broken its promise to the people of Hong Kong, and its actions tarnish its international reputation and, more importantly, undermine Hong Kong’s long-term stability.
I thank Layla Moran for securing this urgent question and the Minister for his answer. As MPs in this House, we stand side by side with the MPs in Hong Kong; they need to know that, and we are doing that today. Will the Minister outline whether any support can be offered to these MPs who have taken a stand, specifically in regard to their families, who are often the ones left trebling in the background, fearing for their very lives? Can any support of a practical nature be offered, and what form might that take?
I have laid out the terms and the offer that has been made to BNOs over the past couple of months. We completely understand the issue for Hongkongers and MPs advocating in particular for the families left behind. If the hon. Gentleman has any specific cases that he wants to bring to my attention, I am more than happy to discuss them.
A great many of us have little faith in the processes at the United Nations when it comes to defending liberties in Hong Kong, precisely because of the influence of China at that body. Aside from the 39 signatures at the UN that the Minister has mentioned, will he please tell the House what precisely we are doing as a Government to build the international coalition of support that he talks about, specifically in putting together an international contact group or using the G7 as a forum for bringing together a coalition of democracies, to really show China that the international community is serious about defending the rights of Hong Kong people?
As I say, and as my right hon. Friend will have seen this morning, we are working closely with our international partners. Australia, the US, Canada and Germany have all joined us with their statements this morning. We will of course continue to work with our partners—our Five Eyes partners in particular—to hold China to account. My right hon. Friend is right to point this out. There is a growing caucus of support at the UN that is very much behind the UK’s leading diplomatic role on the issue of Hong Kong.
After the ethnic cleansing of Buddhists in Tibet, the cold, calculated genocide of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang and the mistreatment of Christians and other minorities, the authoritarian Chinese Communist party regime has now turned its tyranny on to pro-democracy Hongkongers. What concrete steps is the Minister taking to mobilise our international partners so that the world’s democracies act against this human rights crisis in an effective and co-ordinated manner?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this, and I know that he has a deep interest in freedom of religion and belief. We are very concerned about the reports coming out of Tibet. We had a debate in Westminster Hall on this very issue. I believe that our growing caucus at the UN is bearing fruit. Thirty-nine countries is no small achievement. The Foreign Secretary should be congratulated for his work in this regard, and Lord Ahmad, a fellow FCDO Minister, has delivered several statements at the UN on this issue. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, with the Foreign Secretary and the FCDO taking a leading role on this issue, we are getting purchase internationally, and China will have heard the remarks today and countries’ abhorrence at the actions in Hong Kong.
The legally binding joint declaration signed by China as well as the UK sets out that Hong Kong will have a high degree of autonomy. China must respect that. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he will continue to work with our international partners to condemn these attacks on democracy in every possible way?
My hon. Friend is 100% correct in every word he has just said. I can assure him that we will continue to lead this international effort against the violations and the breaches of the joint declaration. We are in constant touch with our international partners on this, not least Australia, Canada, Germany and the US, which, I reiterate, have all issued statements today condemning this action by China.
Given the latest brutal attack by China on Hong Kong democracy and freedom of speech, will the Minister undertake to increase the number of visas available to Hong Kong citizens, tell us what he will do if they are not recognised by China and reassure those who may need them that they will have access and recourse, in the short term at least, to public funds in the UK if they need to flee?
It is a very generous offer that we have laid out to British national overseas citizens. We will expect them to be self-sufficient and contribute to UK society. We look forward to welcoming those applications. As I have said, the new route that the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary have hammered out is compelling and compassionate, particularly, as the hon. Gentleman will welcome, with regard to applications that are made as a family unit. We will use discretion in issuing a grant to children of BNO status holders who fall into this category.
The United Kingdom, a stalwart champion of democracy, pluralism and liberty, has demonstrated its purpose to defend those values with all available tools, including Magnitsky-style sanctions. The disqualification of four Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers from the Legislative Council is another case in an ever-growing list of intrusions by the Chinese Communist party into the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong. Will my hon. Friend outline what efforts the Government are making to ensure a co-ordinated approach among our international partners to the crisis in Hong Kong and ensure that the Chinese Communist party is held responsible for its violations of both its international treaty obligations and fundamental human rights?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and his continued leading voice on these matters. We are focused on giving voice to the widespread international concerns, basically in order to protect Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms. As I have said, the increasing number of countries supporting joint statements in the UN’s various human rights bodies underscores, we believe, the success of our approach. There are elections next September, and there not being an effective Opposition voice in them when half of the Legislative Council is appointed does make a bit of a mockery of the situation. We will continue, however, to call on China to uphold the contents of the joint declaration and, most importantly, live up to its responsibilities.
Extending the right to apply for BNO status has been very welcome and indeed is a lifeline to many Hongkongers. However, the CCP is likely to do its utmost to obstruct the process. Will the Government consider giving diplomatic assistance to legitimate applicants who are still in the process of applying but might get arrested under the draconian new security laws?
We are very much opposed to, and have called out, the new national security law. We welcome applications under our new immigration system, which has been broadly welcomed in the House and beyond for Hongkongers. Of course, the Home Office will work with applicants on visas. On the specific point the hon. Lady makes, if she writes to the Home Office, it will hopefully be able to give her the satisfaction she is looking for.
My hon. Friend raises a good point that has been made previously. These latest actions by China have had an incredible impact on many areas of the one country, two systems approach. However, I assure her and all right hon. and hon. Members of the House that we will continue to do everything possible to uphold Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, rights and freedoms under the joint declaration.
The world has watched aghast as President Trump desperately tries to suppress domestic democracy. Thankfully, his successor President-elect Biden has promised to fully enforce the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. Ironically, even the Trump Administration have imposed sanctions on four more Chinese officials in Hong Kong over their role in crushing dissent. What concrete action will the Minister’s Government take to uphold the Sino-British joint declaration and the Hong Kong Basic Law, which were supposed to grant a high degree of autonomy to Hongkongers until 2047?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. This should have been a 50-year agreement. We continue to call out breaches of the joint declaration. The actions we have taken at the UN have been almost unprecedented, having 39 co-signatories. We will continue to call out China on its actions with regard to Hong Kong, and, as we speak, the permanent under-secretary at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has summoned the Chinese ambassador to make our points incredibly clear to him directly.
The anti-democratic national security law shows that China is willing to break the Sino-British joint agreement, and that puts religious freedom under threat. Religious leaders in Hong Kong are already fearful for their safety, with some scared to read certain scriptures in case they are accused of subversion by the Government. What conversations is the Secretary of State having with the authorities internationally on the dangerous experience of people of faith in Hong Kong, and what will he do if the situation worsens?
It is absolutely the case that all countries, China included, must comply with their international obligations. Freedom of religion and belief is incredibly important, and this UK Government take that incredibly seriously. We will continue to make the case that individuals should have the ability to practise their religion, and whatever they believe in, in a free way. We will continue to call out any transgressions of that where people are being oppressed, not least in mainland China.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.