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Hong Kong: Kidnapping of British Subjects — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:29 am on 14th January 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Chair, EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee 11:29 am, 14th January 2016

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities regarding the kidnapping of British subjects from Hong Kong.

Photo of The Earl of Courtown The Earl of Courtown Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary raised our deep concerns about the disappearance of British citizen Mr Lee Bo with the Chinese Foreign Minister on 5 January. We have requested further information from the Hong King authorities and are pressing the Chinese authorities for consular access. We continue to call on both the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities to protect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and the rights and freedoms of its people.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Chair, EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee

I thank the Minister for that reply. As he knows, Mr Lee Bo was the fifth person to disappear from Causeway Bay Books in the past three months. Given that the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration guarantees free speech as well as Hong Kong’s judicial independence until 2047, are the Government engaging with other partners—Australia, the United States and other countries, as well as the Hong Kong authorities—to secure his release and are they planning to raise the issue at the Security Council if they do not gain any comfort from the Chinese authorities?

Photo of The Earl of Courtown The Earl of Courtown Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the noble Baroness mentions a number of important points. I should first say that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary told the House of Commons earlier this week, on 12 January, that if these allegations of Chinese security agents taking Mr Lee Bo out of Hong Kong are proven, it would be an “egregious breach” of the joint declaration. Perhaps the noble Baroness would also like to hear about a press conference held by the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR, Mr CY Leung, on the afternoon of 13 January, in which he said that, because there had been reports of mainland authorities arresting or abducting the person in Hong Kong, if that were the case, it would not be acceptable under the principle of one country, two systems—Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy—and would not be acceptable under the basic law.

Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour

My Lords, as I understand it, it would be not just a breach of the agreement between Britain and Hong Kong but a breach of China’s own laws if people were kidnapped by members of their security forces—the police, particularly. I understand that there is an element of double standards in what the Chinese Government are saying and what they may be doing, but has this been taken up with the Chinese Government? If police officers who serve in China are involved in kidnapping citizens in other territories, is it not against China’s own law and should that not be put to the Chinese?

Photo of The Earl of Courtown The Earl of Courtown Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord, Lord Soley, is quite correct in what he says and if I have anything more to add on this I will write to him. It is also quite correct that other countries were involved; a citizen of one of the Scandinavian countries, who is part of this publishing group, has also gone missing.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, we have obviously condemned the abduction of South Koreans into North Korea and some of us have condemned rendition for other purposes by other countries. Are we now giving different advice to British citizens of Chinese origin about travel to both mainland China and Hong Kong, if they have been involved in any form of political activity?

Photo of The Earl of Courtown The Earl of Courtown Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I do not think that we are at present, but what also concerns us is what is happening in Hong Kong in the media and the publishing sector, where books are being published that could perhaps be deemed critical of the Beijing leadership. There is a certain amount of self-regulation going on, which cannot be a good thing.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, obviously our thoughts are very much with those who have disappeared and, in particular, for their welfare, but at least one of them is a British citizen. What does the Minister think the implications are of the Chinese Foreign Minister’s statement, in which he said that, based on the basic law of Hong Kong and Chinese nationality law, the person in question is first and foremost a Chinese citizen? China does not and will not recognise dual nationality of its own citizens, so what are the implications of that statement in the light of this case?

Photo of The Earl of Courtown The Earl of Courtown Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, perhaps there are two things that I can tell the House and the noble Lord. First, with respect to this individual case an initial report was made to the police by the wife of Mr Lee Bo. She later withdrew that complaint but the police are still carrying out the investigation. In addition, Mr Lee holds a British passport and, in line with this, we stand ready to offer consular assistance to him and his family.

Photo of Lord Wilson of Tillyorn Lord Wilson of Tillyorn Crossbench

My Lords, these are very troubling cases, particularly that of Mr Lee. Does the Minister agree that the rule of law is vital for the prosperity of Hong Kong and the peace of mind of its citizens, and that it is in everybody’s interest—including that of mainland China and Hong Kong—that the rule of law, which up to now has been maintained very effectively, should continue properly?

Photo of The Earl of Courtown The Earl of Courtown Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, with all his experience on this subject, the noble Lord is quite right about the importance of the rule of law and the relationship between the United Kingdom, Hong Kong SAR and the Chinese people. It was only in the recent past that we had the state visit of President Xi to the United Kingdom. It should be noted that both Her Majesty the Queen and President Xi mentioned Hong Kong in their speeches.