On the 24th October 2019 Lord Alton hosted a debate in the House of Lords about the current political situation in Hong Kong. The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam spoke in the debate about the church in Hong Kong, the importance of identity and the need to stand alongside those to whom we have not just a historic but a present commitment, to encourage the keeping of treaties and international law, and the finding of a peaceful resolution to the present conflicts.
Lord Ahmad responded for the Government and extracts of his remarks and a link to the whole debate can be found below.
The Lord Bishop of Salisbury: My Lords, I too am grateful for this debate, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. There is a very high level of knowledge and expertise in the House: therefore, I make this contribution with some diffidence. However, the church
in Hong Kong plays a significant part in the life of the community there, where it is distinctive, both in terms of worship and religious freedom but also education and social care. Hong Kong has a unique history, and this country has particular responsibilities.
The parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields, where I was vicar before becoming Bishop of Salisbury, has had a Cantonese-speaking, Hong Kong-based congregation for more than 50 years. At the handover there was some anxiety and much hope for a Hong Kong which developed as a special administrative region and was able to look both ways, inside China and out from China, uniquely connecting China to the wider world.
We want to stand with the people of Hong Kong.
The question is: with which people, and how?
It is a place with, to some extent, competing different views of the world. For mainland Chinese, the pride of the nation’s development is measured in education, employment, economic prosperity and healthcare.
In Hong Kong, there is a deep commitment to democracy, the rule of law, human rights and religious freedom. The way in which the protests have been challenged
and policed has been exacerbated by the use of artificial intelligence in the visual recognition of protesters, the ban on face masks, and so on.
The different views of the world are not necessarily opposites, but they are very different emphases. Maybe the role of those of us outside is to exert pressure—to push together the best of what it is to be human, and people together.
The current disruption has its roots in the extradition Bill, as well as in housing, income inequality and a lack of social mobility. However, it is much more to do with identity. At the handover, it was assumed by some, for better and for worse, that in time, Hong Kong
would lose its distinctiveness.
For others, Hong Kong brought something distinctive to the Chinese polity, religion, and social and economic life. Now, those aged under 35 in Hong Kong see themselves as Hong Kongers first and Chinese second. In other words, Hong Kong’s identity has been hardened and has grown more significant, not less.
Of course, the Anglican Church in Hong Kong condemns violence but supports lawful and peaceful protest. From the perspective of Hong Kong leaders, it is less than helpful for foreign politicians to tell Hong Kong and Chinese people what to do and how to behave. The task for us is to work out how to exert pressure from outside so that we stand alongside those to whom we have not just a historic but a present commitment, to encourage the keeping of treaties and international law, and the finding of a peaceful resolution to the present conflicts.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, first, I join all noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for tabling this important debate. Many words have been used about him, and rightly so. I
stand before you as perhaps the person most greatly challenged, at least from a Parliamentary perspective, by the tenacity, but also great strength and expertise, that he brings to debates on human rights generally. I am sure that he also knows that I respect his insights and very much welcome the expertise, direction and advice that he gives, and I am very grateful for his contribution to this important debate….
…On the wider issue of religious freedoms in China, again raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury and the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, among others, I can assure all noble Lords that this remains a priority for
both Her Majesty’s Government and for me as Minister for Human Rights. We have not held back. We have regularly raised the issue of human rights and religious freedoms in our expressions, statements and formal contributions, particularly at the Human Rights Council. I recognise the immense work that has gone on to address concerns around Falun Gong in particular. Equally, we remain deeply concerned—and have raised
these concerns—about the persecution of Christians, the Uighur Muslims and other minorities within China and we will continue to do so…
…I assure the right reverend Prelate and other noble Lords that we believe that the best outcome for the BNOs is the high degree of autonomy, rights and freedoms set out specifically in the joint declaration. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, raised this, as did
other noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Howell and Lord Marlesford, and the noble Lord, Lord Luce. My noble friend Lord Wei, who provided a particular insight from his Hong Kong background, talked of reforms within Hong Kong.
I think that we are all clear that the way forward must be, first, constructive and meaningful dialogue with all communities, as my noble friend Lord Patten said. Bridges must be built to address their concerns directly. Our long-standing view is that transition to universal suffrage for the elections for the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council, as provided by Hong Kong Basic Law, would be the best way to guarantee Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity in the long run and would be in everyone’s interests.
We take the issue of the BNOs very seriously. The Foreign Secretary and his ministerial counterparts are listening to the concerns that are being expressed. The Government are not immune to receiving representations. We have received them directly and we will consider the best way forward to continue to support and strengthen our work with the BNO community.
The Government have given careful consideration to the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, dated 9 September and signed by 176 noble Lords and other parliamentary
colleagues. I welcome the broad spectrum of support for Hong Kong and its people and note the points that have been raised. With regard to Commonwealth countries, it is not
in my remit to talk about the immigration policy of other Commonwealth countries, but I reiterate my view that the best way for any like-minded countries to support BNOs is to defend the joint declaration, which they are doing. We have received strong support for
that, including in discussions we have had with other Commonwealth partners, most notably recently with Australia….