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Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:50 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Pendry Lord Pendry Labour 3:50 pm, 16th October 2019

My Lords, I intend to raise an issue that was not specifically referred to in the gracious Speech but should have been. I refer to the recent troubles in our former colony of Hong Kong, which must be taken much more seriously by the Government and need some urgent action. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, when delivering her first policy address in October two years ago, said she wished to enhance people’s livelihoods and foster a more inclusive and harmonious society under “one country, two systems”. However, her actions over the past few weeks hardly square up to that pledge. She went on to say that her Government would take concrete actions to resolve problems for the people. These words must have a hollow ring in the ears of those who are demonstrating for a freer and democratic Hong Kong on its streets today. We must recall the pledges of the Sino-British joint declaration, including that Hong Kong would have its own legal system, multiple political parties, and human rights including freedom of assembly. These pledges and the need to have them implemented are precisely what the demonstrations wish to see enacted.

I have a deep affection for Hong Kong and its people. I lived there during my national service days in the Royal Air Force, and I also had the distinction—some unkind colleagues may argue that it is perhaps my only one—of winning the colonial middleweight boxing championship of Hong Kong in the late 1950s. More seriously, however, in those days I was able to see a great determination by the then Administration to solve a massive housing problem not of its own making, which was little short of miraculous. This involved resettling some 300,000 refugees who had, as a result of both the civil war in China and the Japanese occupation, felt the need to flee to Hong Kong for sanctuary. The Hong Kong Government could have refused entry. They could have placed a duty on the citizens of the outside world, or they could have sent the refugees to their homelands, but they did not. They embarked on a resettlement programme of gigantic proportions, which would shame a number of countries faced with immigration problems, including our own, in the present world.

I raise this historical example to illustrate the ingenuity of that Administration at that time. Going back to Hong Kong some years later as a young MP with my colleague and now noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling—he was in his place, but he is not there now—on a parliamentary fact-finding mission, one could see good progress in many areas, but it was painfully slow in others, such as law and order, human rights and industrial relations. However, we did meet some promising people who were doing their bit: a doughty, elderly Geordie and human rights campaigner called Elsie Elliott, whose work has been carried on since then by others—in particular, Emily Lau, the vice-chairperson of the Democratic Party; Henry Litton QC, who works on legal reform; and a Jesuit priest and member of LegCo who was the founder of the industrial relations institute. All these and others were forging ahead for progressive policies until of course the recent events brought the likelihood of positive advancements in jeopardy.

That is a very sketchy background to where we are today. What should the Government do? I have twice asked the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, in Parliamentary Questions what steps the Government are taking in relation to the United Nations, being a co-signatory to the declaration, requesting that they engage in directing the Hong Kong Government to honour the Sino-British joint declaration. Perhaps the Minister replying to this debate will do rather more than his colleague and answer that.

The Government should also follow the US Government’s legislation by introducing the equivalent of the Magnitsky Act, which would ban officials from Hong Kong and mainland China who are guilty of violating human rights and the rule of law from entering the United Kingdom and freeze their assets, sending a powerful signal to the regime and to the demonstrators. Furthermore, the Government should endeavour to bring forward legislation to ensure that all holders of British national (overseas) passports have the right to enter the United Kingdom to work, which would give an uplift to the young people of Hong Kong.

Finally, the Government must address a very up-to-date worry: supporters from mainland China are bullying and intimidating fellow students from Hong Kong in British universities who are merely carrying out legitimate activities in support of those demonstrating in Hong Kong in favour of the Sino-British declaration. What are the Government doing to stamp out this practice? I await the Minister’s reply.

The future for Hong Kong cannot be easily forecast. The words of Napoleon Bonaparte conjured up a feeling of uncertainty in many when he wrote: “Let China sleep, for when she wakes the world will be sorry”. Napoleon’s words ring true today, but the question is how we will move forward. Perhaps as a nation we should also bear in mind the words of a previous Conservative Prime Minister: “Hong Kong will never walk alone”. Let us hope not.