Hong Kong Protests - Private Notice Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:06 pm on 1st October 2019.

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Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Opposition Whip (Lords) 3:06 pm, 1st October 2019

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports that police have used live ammunition against protestors in Hong Kong.

Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the Government remain seriously concerned about the situation in Hong Kong, and today’s shooting of a protester is a deeply worrying development. The Government are clear that there is no excuse for violence and we will continue to condemn it. This incident also underlines why a constructive dialogue that addresses the legitimate concerns of the Hong Kong people is so important. What is required now is calm from both protesters and the Hong Kong authorities.

Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Opposition Whip (Lords)

I thank the noble Earl for his Answer. After four months of protest, today’s use of live rounds against protesters in Hong Kong marks a worrying escalation. I am sure that all noble Lords will share my concern at the spiralling levels of violence on all sides, which appear to be increasing on a near daily basis. Can the noble Earl say whether the Foreign Secretary has made any representations to the Hong Kong or Chinese Governments since the reports emerged earlier today and, if so, can he share any of their responses? Finally, in the light of today’s events, can he confirm what further steps, if any, will be taken to support British national overseas passport holders in Hong Kong?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, as I said earlier, I share the noble Lord’s deep concern about the situation. However, we must be clear that the situation is fluid. We do not yet know the precise circumstances of this incident. No formal statement from the Hong Kong police has yet been issued, and it goes without saying that the situation is fast moving. Having said that, I can assure the noble Lord that we are in regular contact with the Governments of Hong Kong and China. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Chief Executive of Hong Kong on 9 August. He was due to have a meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi at the United Nations last week. He was called back for reasons that I do not need to explain, so the meeting did not occur, but he expects to speak to him in the coming days.

As far as the British nationals of Hong Kong origin are concerned, we are clear that the best solution for Hong Kong and the British national overseas passport holders who live there is full respect for the rights and freedoms set out in the Sino-British Joint Declaration. That will be the basis of any actions going forward.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, it is clearly appalling that a protester has been shot while calling for their democratic rights. There is much that the People’s Republic of China might celebrate today—its 70th anniversary—not least pulling millions out of poverty. But does the noble Earl not agree that promises made on both sides at handover must be kept? Reform must be moved forward. Surely, in this instance, the need for the UK Government to request that the Hong Kong Government instigate an independent investigation into violence in Hong Kong has become paramount.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

One of the most concerning features of the current situation is the loss of trust between the Hong Kong people and the authorities there. That trust has to be rebuilt, and to do that the Hong Kong SAR Government should establish a robust, credible, independent investigation into events. We note that the Independent Police Complaints Council is carrying out an inquiry and we look forward to further details on its scope.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in light of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, have Her Majesty’s Government made any attempt to speak to the other Commonwealth countries about whether visas and rights of residence will be issued across the Commonwealth to the young demonstrators in Hong Kong when and if action of that nature is required? In other words, will we live up to our obligations to provide safe harbour to them?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I share the noble Baroness’s concerns on this issue. We are in dialogue with many of our friends and partners around the world. We have made our concerns about human rights clear to the Chinese Government. Earlier this week, my noble friend Lord Ahmad co-hosted an event in the margins of the UN General Assembly on the situation in Xinjiang, which remains an issue of serious concern.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, does my noble friend realise that those of us who saw the chilling programme on Tiananmen Square last night are particularly concerned by today’s reports? Because we have a legitimate interest, can the Foreign Secretary be asked to see the Chinese ambassador here in London and suggest that there should a British judicial presence on any committee that is established? There is a precedent for that in what has followed the one country, two systems solution, and it would give great confidence around the world if that were the case.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I think it is important that we do not get ahead of ourselves here in a way that might make the situation worse. We are currently reliant on media reporting. As I have said, the situation is fluid. We do not yet know the precise circumstances of the incident that has been reported. It is difficult to confirm the reports in an independent way. We are monitoring the situation closely. I take note of my noble friend’s constructive suggestion, but I think it is too early to go down that path.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence)

While accepting the seriousness of the use of firearms, does the Minister understand that elements of those who wish to protest are using petrol bombs and Molotov cocktails? If such means are used to try to advance their interests, it perhaps creates a degree of fragility in which there is a very considerable risk that more serious exchanges will take place, including the use of firearms.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

The noble Lord makes an extremely good point. We have been clear all along that we condemn utterly any violence at all. It is essential that any protests that occur are conducted peacefully and within the law, and that the response of the authorities is proportionate.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

Does the Minister not accept that any foreign interference will only make matters worse?

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench

Are the Government aware of the request of some 300 former members of the forces in Hong Kong, who are still resident in Hong Kong and who took an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty, that they be granted the right of abode in the United Kingdom? Many Members of the House of Lords and, indeed, of the other place, have raised this very reasonable request with successive Secretaries of State over the past three years and more, but they have yet to get an answer. Will the Minister encourage an answer?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, members of the Hong Kong forces who were recruited from Hong Kong and, in most cases, completed their service in Hong Kong are in that respect different from other members of the UK forces who may have served in the UK. Those serving in Hong Kong before 1997 would not have qualified for British citizenship on the basis of their service. There are a number of existing provisions within British nationality law under which former Hong Kong personnel may apply for citizenship, subject to meeting the relevant criteria.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench

As the Minister will know, there are other human rights concerns besides Hong Kong, notably the situation of the Uighurs. Can he confirm that there used to be a regular human rights dialogue, and whether that has now been abandoned?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, we lose no opportunity to express our views to the Chinese authorities on matters relating to human rights. Of course, those human rights are embedded in the Joint Declaration. However, I will have to write to the noble Earl about the extent to which regular talks on this subject occur.

Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Opposition Whip (Lords)

Perhaps I may come back on one of the points made by the Minister in his response to my supplementary question. He said that the Foreign Secretary last spoke to Carrie Lam on 9 August. That is getting close to two months ago now, which, with so many fast-moving developments, seems a rather long time. I wish to encourage Her Majesty’s Government to have more dialogue and conversations.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am happy to confirm that I will pass that recommendation on to the appropriate quarter.