Sir Iain Duncan Smith calls on the Government to make China, Hong Kong and human rights a priority. He says “The freedom of people and the imposition of dictatorial regimes should always be our number one cry. We should speak out when others are not able to have the freedoms that we take for granted.”
I rise to speak to amendment 1, but with it are a whole bunch of other amendments that I have tabled alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) and the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion). I had intended when I originally tabled them to speak on the basis that the Government needed to act, but since then they have acted—and that is never a bad thing. Although I, with my colleagues, may well have provoked the Government to act, I still want to speak, because things are happening at the moment which mean, I hope, that the Government will pay full attention to further action that may be required, stretching across extradition and into sanctions.
I thank the Government for finally agreeing to rule out the extradition arrangements with Hong Kong, but it is worth noting what has been going on since the imposition of the national security law, which is now making the lives of many in Hong Kong a misery. More than that, they now fear very much indeed not only for their lives but their liberty in a way that none of us here, I sometimes think, could possibly imagine—what it is like to live in such an environment.
We have a historical relationship with Hong Kong, and we have a legal right, under the Sino-British treaty, to have an opinion and view on what is happening in Hong Kong. No matter what the Chinese Government may say, that is our right in international law. The imposition of the national security law runs counter to that arrangement—that treaty. On that basis, the Government have acted correctly in cutting off any potential problem that may arise as a result of the use of the extradition agreement—but there is more, even now, as we speak. Quite recently, we have seen action against a number of people who have done nothing other than use the kind of rights that we would take for granted in this House. Jimmy Lai, the owner of the largest pro-democracy publication in the city, has been charged with undermining the state. There have been arrests of young activists, some of which we have seen on television, but others go on. There have been media posts and people holding blank pieces of paper at protests. People have been arrested in shopping malls for sedition. The targeting of Hong Kong activists overseas is going on apace and gathering pace, as is retrospectively applying the law to supposed crimes that took place before it even came into force, which I find remarkable—perhaps I should not, but I do.
There are then all the elements that the UK Government will find themselves having to deal with, and I believe all the devolved Administrations are united in this sense as well. The evidence around censorship is really quite astonishing. References to the Tiananmen Square massacre have now been removed from all textbooks and all materials that might say anything at all about it—they are simply blanked out. There is a new cultural revolution, with teachers and students being asked and encouraged to spy on each other. If somebody says the wrong thing, or something that is considered the wrong thing, or if someone is remembered to have said the wrong thing, all such talk invokes the use of the security law. There is a new national security centre in Shenzhen to re-educate those who do not comply. Benny Tai, the organiser of the yellow umbrella protest, which is a peaceful movement—I stress that these are all peaceful movements—was fired from his teaching post at a university simply because he was party to that movement. The censorship of university content is now gathering pace, as they are filleting out anything that references any concerns or issues around the nature of China, and even its historical nature.
The latest issue that should concern the Government completely is that we are now seeing problems for journalists from the free world. I say the free world because it is not just a western issue; it is an issue of all those who believe in rights and freedom around the world, whether they be in the far east or in the west. The New York Times has to relocate its staff, completely—lock, stock and barrel—to Seoul after the visa renewal of a senior journalist was rejected; the threat was clearly there that the rest would follow. A senior journalist at the Hong Kong Free Press had their visa rejected. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong described the trend as a weaponisation of visas by China. We even saw on the news the other day that the Australians are being heavily targeted—brutally targeted—and not only with sanctions; their journalists are now having to flee the country. In fact, two journalists who were due to leave were stopped from leaving and ended up in the consulate. They have now finally left, but the authorities wanted to question them for writing stuff of which they did not approve.
The whole point of this issue then comes into focus. It is the co-operation of the Chinese officials that I find perhaps the most galling. In the announcement by Chief Executive Carrie Lam that they were postponing the LegCo elections that were due to take place on Sunday 5 September—the weekend just gone—she cited covid cases as a reason for the delay. I have heard a few excuses in my time but that one really did take the biscuit, because so many other countries have had elections, both local and national, even during the covid saga. It is also worth pointing out that the Hong Kong rate of infection is lower than pretty much any of the countries that have held elections already. The idea that they can latch on to covid as some kind of excuse for cancelling elections had nothing to do with the reality; the reality was that they did not approve of the opposition and wanted to stop the election so that they had time to make sure they arrested the key elements so that they would never be able to stand. Many members of the opposition have fled here to the UK and I have met and seen them.
There are two points, really, that dismantle the whole process. I made the point earlier that a number of countries—dozens, I think—have held elections. It is part of the total crackdown and acquiescence with what is in essence an illegal process going on in Hong Kong. That brings me to the next phase. The Government are right to have reacted and to have ceased the extradition procedures, but yet more needs to be done. I like to think this is something that unites us all. The sanctions that come from the Magnitsky amendments need seriously to be deployed by the Government. When I was most recently in the Chamber for exchanges on this issue, the Foreign Secretary said that the Government would review other actions that need to be taken with regards to Hong Kong, and that they would take it as the situation develops. The situation has been developing. It has been developing at a pace which, if my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security will forgive my saying, is faster than the Government or the Foreign Office seem to be able to move. We have nothing to lose anymore by holding back. It is not as if the Chinese Government are going to turn around and thank us, because they already think that we have caused problems, so my answer is: let us get on with it.
The deterioration of the situation has accelerated over the summer, and the US Government have already sanctioned Hong Kong and Chinese officials responsible for the implementation of the new law and for human rights abuses. I urge my right hon. Friend and the Foreign Secretary, who is not here, to move on to that and listen to Nathan Law, who fled directly after the Hong Kong Government did not agree to him standing. Others have also had to flee, and they have all called for those sanctions to be applied. I hope that the Government will listen to people whose lives have been under threat and whose families are still in Hong Kong and yet are brave enough to call for such sanctions, knowing full well that that might bring further problems for them.
A related issue is the excessive and expensive visa fees under the present Government policy for BNO passport holders, which could be prohibitive for those who wish to get passports. We have been generous in opening up and saying that individuals with BNO status who wish to get passports will have the right to get them and to travel to the UK if necessary, but we have then put another problem in their way, and we do not make it easy for them. It is surely not right that potential British passport holders should have to face these fees. BNOs are allowed to serve in our armed forces but are not yet able to become British nationals without paying a large cost. I hope that the Government will think about suspending those fees, to encourage these people—particularly young ones—to take advantage of what is essentially a lifeline. Many of the people I have met who have fled Hong Kong have spoken of their difficulties in obtaining these passports. I know that this is not directly my right hon. Friend’s responsibility, but I hope he will raise it with the Foreign Office, so that it can give its blessing.