Meeting date: Thursday, October 31, 2019
Meeting of the Parliament 31 October 2019
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Hong Kong, Portfolio Question Time, European Union Farming Funding (Convergence Funds), The Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions Annual Target Report for 2017, Forestry Act 1919 (Centenary), Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill, Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill, Domestic Abuse Bill, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Correction
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Hong Kong
- Portfolio Question Time
- European Union Farming Funding (Convergence Funds)
- The Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions Annual Target Report for 2017
- Forestry Act 1919 (Centenary)
- Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill
- Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill
- Domestic Abuse Bill
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-19293, in the name of Alex Cole-Hamilton, on Hong Kong. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament believes that people in the Edinburgh Western constituency, and across Scotland, are deeply concerned by what it considers the escalating seriousness of the current situation in Hong Kong; recalls the long and close ties between Scotland and Hong Kong, which are evident throughout the territory; considers that human rights are currently under threat; supports peaceful and legitimate pro-democracy protests; notes the calls for a full, independent investigation into the reported police violence during the protests; believes that the UK has a legal and moral duty to the people of Hong Kong, and stands with the people of Hong Kong in support of their rights, freedoms and campaign for what it considers genuine democracy.12:49
I am very grateful for the time to raise the issue of Hong Kong in Parliament. I am also grateful to members of the Labour Party and the Green Party who signed my motion, which expresses concern about the seriousness of the current situation in Hong Kong.
It is right that Parliament takes an interest in what is happening in Hong Kong, because the ties between Scotland and Hong Kong are strong. That can be seen in Hong Kong’s road signs, from Aberdeen Street to Dundas Street. Countless Scots call Hong Kong home, and vice versa.
The situation in Hong Kong has become a powder keg. For five months we have seen protest after protest. Views are becoming more and more entrenched and the situation shows no signs of abating.
One of the most densely populated and high-tech modern cities on the planet is now regularly brought to a standstill. Thousands of protesters have been arrested, among them 750 children. There have been serious casualties: a journalist has been blinded in one eye, and more than 1,000 people have been treated in hospital for injuries. Earlier this month we saw footage of a teenager being shot in the chest with live ammunition at point-blank range, by a police officer.
The international community needs to keep up the pressure for a full independent investigation into police violence in Hong Kong. Amnesty International says that the approach by the police violates international human rights laws and standards. Trust in the police has evaporated and people are afraid, so such an investigation is in the interests of the Hong Kong Administration, too.
We must, of course, acknowledge that some demonstrations have developed a violent edge. Anger has flared into street skirmishes. Innocent people and businesses have been caught up in mob violence and protesters have trashed the world-renowned mass-transit railway—the MTR—and other things that they perceive to be linked to the Chinese mainland.
The escalation can be traced back to the severe police response to what were, initially, peaceful protests. Those protests began from legitimate and peaceful demands for human rights. A million people filled the streets on 9 June alone—and with good reason. The protests were sparked by the extradition bill. As members will be aware, the bill would have meant people being sent to face trial in mainland China, amid fears that the Communist Party would prosecute them for political reasons. The extradition bill has now been formally withdrawn, but the threats to the right to free assembly and freedom of speech still exist.
The anti-mask law has been introduced. People who have been protesting peacefully in the pursuit of universal suffrage have been sprayed with tear gas and arbitrarily arrested. They just want to enjoy the same freedoms as we all enjoy here.
Take Joshua Wong. On Tuesday, that prominent democracy activist was barred from running in the local elections next month. The problem is his political views. Just imagine that, for a moment. That has happened despite his having stated that he does not even support independence for Hong Kong—the apparent cause of his disqualification. Joshua Wong has called that “political screening”. We should be alarmed that the public are being denied the right to channel their concerns through the ballot box.
Protesters want the United Kingdom Government to make a clear and unambiguous statement that the Sino-British joint declaration has been breached, which means that China is now in contravention of international law. Liberal Democrat colleagues have been making that point for some time.
The UK Government says that it is
“fully committed to upholding Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and its rights and freedoms as enshrined in the ‘one country, two systems’ framework”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 October 2019; Vol 799, c 1903.]
Where, though, is the evidence for that?
Last month, 130 MPs and others called on the UK Government to urge Commonwealth nations to grant people from Hong Kong citizenship as an insurance policy. Those people include Hong Kong’s last governor, Chris Patten, Ian Blackford of the Scottish National Party and my colleague Alistair Carmichael, who is a patron of Hong Kong Watch, as Paddy Ashdown was before him. Paddy Ashdown campaigned tirelessly for Hong Kong British national (overseas) passport holders to be offered the right to live and work in the UK if China were to renege on the promises that it made during the handover. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that we have now reached that point.
The 1984 Sino-British treaty is, after all, an international agreement that is lodged with the United Nations. It remains in force and it obliges both signatories to adhere to the agreed terms. However, the Chinese foreign ministry has described it as “a historical document” that
“no longer has any practical significance”.
It is important that neither the United Kingdom nor the international community shy away from what is happening in Hong Kong. Beijing has tightened its control over the city, and it was chilling to hear the recent comments of China’s President Xi Jinping while he was visiting Nepal—a message that many people believe was intended for Hong Kong. He said that any attempt to divide China will end in
“bodies smashed and bones ground to powder.”
Nobody, wherever they are and whatever their cause, should talk about other human beings in such hideous and graphic terms. The concerns need to be addressed—not suppressed and silenced.
As one protester told The Guardian, this is now about “the soul” of Hong Kong. It is about the future of the principle of one country, two systems. It is about the future of democracy in a place that has the closest of ties with the United Kingdom.
It is time that the Scottish Parliament stood with the people of Hong Kong in support of their rights and freedoms. [Applause.]
I say to members of the public in the gallery that I understand why you wish to applaud, but it is not permitted in Parliament. Only members may applaud.12:55
I thank Alex Cole-Hamilton for bringing this important debate to the chamber.
Hong Kong is a city that is very dear to me, as I have had the pleasure of visiting it on several occasions and it is where a very dear friend, his wife and new son live. I was speaking with my friend only a couple of hours ago in order to hear from a voice on the ground there, and to hear his reflections on, and experience of, living in Hong Kong, where he has lived for almost five years. The situation is deeply concerning, but I will come to that in a moment.
I will pick up on some of the remarks that Alex Cole-Hamilton made with regard to the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration. I am in complete agreement with Alex Cole-Hamilton’s point that it is an international treaty that is lodged at the UN and must be respected. However, we are, to an extent, running up against the cold hard reality of realpolitik. If we are honest in understanding the motivations of that treaty, we see that it was fundamentally a means of achieving the peaceful transition of sovereignty over Hong Kong from Britain to China, and it allowed the UK to save face as the sun finally set on the last remnants of the British empire.
Indeed, UK Government attempts in the negotiations in the 1970s to broker a compromise that would recognise Chinese sovereignty but enable British control were dismissed, and the then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping made it very clear to the UK Government that there was nothing stopping him from walking across Boundary Street and taking Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, which had, of course, originally been ceded in perpetuity. That is the reality that we face.
There also has to be very keen recognition of the role that Hong Kong plays in the political consciousness of Beijing: it was a symbol and an emblem of the unequal treaties of the mid-19th century. The events in Hong Kong have to be understood in the context of the People’s Republic of China as a multi-ethnic and multilingual state, in which there are pressures from other territories for greater autonomy that we understand Beijing is resisting. It is important to establish that context.
We can lend our voices in tracking back to why the People’s Republic of China engaged in the joint declaration process in the first place. It was about legitimacy and demonstrating that China was intent on, as it has been characterised, “a peaceful rise”, with Hong Kong becoming a part of China peacefully, and with China engaging in international norms and in an international treaty—the 1984 agreement. It is incumbent on us to remind our friends in China of that obligation.
We must also be alive to a key aspect of the relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing: Beijing wants to demonstrate to Taiwan that there is a future for Taiwan as part of the People’s Republic of China—that it can be politically incorporated in such a way that it can enjoy a degree of autonomy. If Beijing wants to demonstrate that credibly, it is important that Hong Kong’s special status, at least until 2047, as agreed in the 1984 declaration, be maintained.
It is worth noting where we are with regard to the situation on the ground in Hong Kong, because there are five demands, four of which concern the actions of the police.
The calls for an investigation are vitally important, and it is right that the international community should back those calls—not least because a polity’s being able to function requires that it have confidence in the police services, but that has suffered significant damage in recent months. An inquiry would go some way towards addressing such concerns.
One of the final demands, which is for universal suffrage, is more complicated. Although I wish that that could be granted to all the peoples of the world, it is a challenge to see how it could possibly be implemented in Hong Kong in the near future. However, that is an aspiration that I share with the people of Hong Kong.
A slogan that has been appearing on walls in Hong Kong relates to the demands, but another worrying slogan that is appearing on walls and underpasses is “If we burn, you burn”. The reflection of my friend in Hong Kong is that a new status quo has emerged: there is peace, calm and order from Monday until Friday afternoon, then the weekend lockdown commences, with restrictions on the mass-transit railway and shops closing earlier. That is having a significant detrimental impact on Hong Kong’s economy.
We are aware of the increased vacancy rates in hotels in Hong Kong—now up to 60 per cent—and of the number of tourists who are no longer visiting Hong Kong, but it is also becoming apparent that many people who have chosen to live and work in Hong Kong and who contribute to its being such a dynamic and vibrant international city are considering their options. My friend is reflecting on whether a future in Hong Kong is the best choice for him and his family.
It is vital that we return to a period of stability.
I am loth to interrupt, and I am fascinated by the speeches, but I am afraid that you have overrun by two minutes, Mr Arthur. Please make this your last sentence.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
I thank Alex Cole-Hamilton for securing today’s debate and I hope that we see a return to peace and stability in Hong Kong as soon as possible.
Not too many members wish to speak, so I can be a bit freer with other members’ time, too. I have been generous with Mr Arthur, so I feel compelled to be so with other members. I see Ms Baillie is giving me an evil look to ensure that I give her an extra minute. She frightens me sometimes—but not enough.13:02
She frightens us all, Presiding Officer.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak in the debate, which is on a very serious issue. I thank Alex Cole-Hamilton for lodging the motion. It is not often that we are able to discuss international issues in the Parliament, in large part because they are mostly reserved matters, but it remains important that, on occasion, we are able to do so.
The on-going situation in Hong Kong is highly sensitive and of deep concern to us all. I share many of the thoughts already expressed by Alex Cole-Hamilton and Tom Arthur. I was particularly struck by Tom Arthur’s speech and his suggestion—a correct one—regarding the legitimacy China sought by agreeing to the 1984 agreement and the fact that the solution to the problem in the future may lie in the past. There is much in that.
Since 1997, Hong Kong has remained a strong ally of the United Kingdom. There is a deep and meaningful connection between both Britain and Hong Kong and Scotland and Hong Kong.
I first visited Hong Kong just prior to the handover in 1997, when the UK Government and the British Army still had a visible and important presence. I have returned since the handover, and although there were some obvious changes, Hong Kong retained its unique and dynamic character as an international hub for business, as well as being a beacon of democratic government in the region. However, it is important to paint a fair picture. It is still one of the most expensive cities in the world and the gap between rich and poor has widened considerably.
Before I entered politics, just after university, I worked at a think tank in Washington DC. From my time there, and from a general interest in the far east, and travelling in the region, I have been acutely conscious of—and we have all been concerned about—China’s approach to Hong Kong and the freedoms that Hong Kong residents have enjoyed, in comparison to other cities in China.
The one country, two systems model and framework of 1984, which has been referred to, was agreed to last for 50 years, allowing Hong Kong a degree of autonomy and freedom. I hope that the recent situation will serve to reinforce the principles behind that agreement and timeline.
I welcome that the UK Government has at least reiterated its commitment to that agreement. The Foreign Secretary said explicitly that the UK expects
“China to live up to its obligations under it and, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, to its wider international human rights law obligations, including those in the UN charter.”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 26 September 2019; Volume 664, c 863.]
Like many in the chamber, I remain concerned that, at present, the 1984 agreement is being put to the test. I reiterate the need for dialogue and diplomacy on the part of both the UK and Chinese Governments to find a solution.
Some of the protests have been peaceful, but others have not been. There has been a degree of significant violence and mayhem. Others mentioned the police, and there is a real problem in that the hatred that is directed towards the police is very evident. One example of that is the fact that protesters are attacking railway stations in Hong Kong. The railway system has been used to transport the police, meaning that it has become the subject of the ire of protesters. That is a real problem, as a society that loses trust and confidence in its police force is in deep trouble, in not just the short term but the long term. Plainly, the excessive force that has been used by the Hong Kong authorities has not helped. Just as I hope that protesters will conduct themselves peacefully, I urge the Government of Hong Kong to engage in meaningful and peaceful dialogue with protesters.
I welcome the fact that the initial cause of the protests—the extradition bill—has been withdrawn by the Chief Executive of the Government of Hong Kong. The steps that have been taken by that Government to improve the credibility of the Independent Police Complaints Council are also welcome. However, we must be under no illusion—the root cause of the protests is about much more than specific issues of governance. People in Hong Kong, young and old, are concerned about the erosion of their freedoms and liberties. They rightly expect the level of freedom that many of us take for granted, and which should be afforded them under the Chinese-British joint declaration. We must continue to do all that we can to ensure that a peaceful resolution to the situation is eventually achieved.13:07
Clearly, I need to practise smiling, because I was giving you my friendly look, Deputy Presiding Officer. To Donald Cameron, I say that I am not remotely frightening—provided, of course, that you agree with me. I would just like to put that on the record.
I thank Alex Cole-Hamilton for bringing the debate to the chamber. The issue is close to my heart, and I am encouraged by the level of support that has been received by both the motion and the debate.
I know all too well the close ties that Scotland and Hong Kong have. It was, in fact, merchants from Scotland who first colonised Hong Kong, and the city’s streets bear many old Scottish names. Indeed, companies such as Jardine Matheson continue a long association with Hong Kong. I was born in Hong Kong—in Aberdeen, actually—to a Scottish mother and Portuguese father. I spent my formative years there, and all my earliest and happiest memories involve Hong Kong. Its people, landscape and culture are, for me, unique, and its determination to embrace and practise democratic values has gained Hong Kong much-deserved respect around the world. However, I have to say that it is a shame that the British Government waited until very late in the day to bring democracy to Hong Kong and remained content for it to retain its status as a colony, with a governor and limited democracy, for far too long.
Although I will resist taking too much of a walk down memory lane, I remember clearly the debates in my household about the Sino-British joint declaration that came into effect in 1997. There was much debate about China’s intentions, but the declaration guaranteed democratic freedoms and recognised human rights for the people of Hong Kong. That was very welcome, and I supported the return of Hong Kong to China. However, the treaty contained important undertakings that
“Hong Kong’s previous capitalist system and life-style shall remain unchanged for 50 years.”
and that Chinese and Hong Kong law would maintain freedom
“of the person, of speech, of the press,”
to name but a few.
Those principles are critically important. They are the very principles that are under threat due to the actions of the Hong Kong Government and the—frankly—ineffectual leadership of Carrie Lam, its Chief Executive.
I have enormous respect for China, but the reaction to the protests from official representatives and the press has been disappointing, because it is in direct contradiction to the agreements that were laid out in the Sino-British declaration.
Hong Kong and China will of course disagree—they are allowed to do so. However, the declaration means that China has no right to impose its own policies, including the Chinese penal code or any other Chinese state policy. China is obligated by that binding declaration to respect the principle of the one country, two systems arrangement, which we all passionately believed in, not least because of the economic importance of Hong Kong to China. In the declaration, Hong Kong and its people were granted the power to practice autonomy and China must not forget that.
I have never in my lifetime—some members might unkindly say that I have been around for a while—seen the scale of protests that are taking place on the streets of Hong Kong. I have never seen the Hong Kong police used in the way in which they have been used, frequently resorting to the indiscriminate and unlawful use of non-lethal weapons such as tear gas. They have engaged in a clear pattern of unnecessary and excessive force during the arrests of protesters. That said, I condemn violence on all sides. As parliamentarians, it is right for us to shine a light on the issue and to demand an independent investigation into the allegations of police abuse. The protests have increasingly signalled—to me, at least—a systematic suppression of freedom of speech, as well as a dismissal of the Sino-British joint declaration.
It is not what I expect from China. I sincerely hope that an agreement can be reached so that Hong Kong citizens can continue to enjoy the rights that they deserve.
However, we must not let Britain off the hook, either. The UK Government has legal and moral obligations to the Hong Kong citizens who served in our armed forces and wider obligations to people who live in Hong Kong, and the Government needs to step up.
There is an expression about having an iron fist in a velvet glove, which signals determination to achieve one’s ends. I respectfully suggest to the Chinese state that what we need here is less of the iron fist and much more of the velvet glove.13:12
I am grateful to be able to speak in the debate and I thank Alex Cole-Hamilton for bringing the motion to the chamber for debate.
I say to Jackie Baillie that the only thing that I am intimidated by is following in a debate such as this someone who clearly has a deep personal connection to the issues that are being discussed. I am sure that the sincerity and depth of feeling in Jackie Baillie’s speech is respected by everybody in the chamber.
A number of members began by placing the issue in its historical context, and it is right to do so. The motion reflects the legal and moral duty that the UK has to the people of Hong Kong, and it is worth remembering where that duty originates. It originates in some of the most repulsive and abusive actions in the shameful history of British colonialism and with the use of military and economic force to make Indian farmers grow opium to export to China, merely to achieve an economic benefit. The huge social, economic and personal cost that played out from that—including two wars, the end of which resulted in the UK’s claim of ownership of Hong Kong—cannot be overestimated.
As the inheritors of that moral responsibility, the only legitimate way that we can put right the wrongs that were committed by UK imperialism and colonialism is to ensure that the people who are left behind gain control over their own lives. Transfer to democratic institutions is the only legitimate way to respond to the moral responsibility that we have as a result of the act of colonialism. That responsibility needs to recognise the place of democracy in the future of the people of Hong Kong and not just for the decades covered by the treaty.
On the use of violence, states need to be held to a higher standard. I think that we all recognise that there have been times when people struggling against antidemocratic forces and autocratic and dictatorial regimes have needed to resort to violence. States should be held to a higher standard, however.
How does that responsibility play out in relation to Scotland, given that we are not the UK or the legal entity that is party to the treaty? We have issues that we need to take seriously in terms of our own responsibility, because the tear gas used against civilian protesters, to which members have referred, includes tear gas manufactured by arms companies that have received funding from the Scottish Government. Chemring—
The member might not have been in the chamber on 26 June when I made it clear that the Stevenson plant of Chemring Energetics UK, which has received funding in order to sustain permanent jobs in North Ayrshire, does not produce tear gas.
I did not refer to a plant that produces tear gas; I referred to a company that produces tear gas. Chemring, which recently touted its wares at the arms fair in London, is responsible in that regard. If we seek to fund for any other purposes companies that are responsible for the production and export of munitions that are used against civilian protesters in the way that we have seen, we bear the responsibility for that use. Work done by The Ferret and my colleague Ross Greer has shown that the Scottish Government’s usual response that it does not fund the production of munitions simply does not stand up. A recent grant application by Chemring drew attention to munitions as “a key growth area” for the company. There needs to be a higher degree of scrutiny and responsibility in such a case.
In general, the Scottish Government states that it is willing to support civilian sectors, including what it calls the “blue light sector”, but that is a euphemism that is intended to put us in mind of fire engines and ambulances. The blue light sector clearly includes police forces that use weapons, as the Hong Kong Police Force does. We should hold ourselves to a higher standard and public money should not go to any company involved in the arms trade. However, if the Scottish Government wants to maintain that option, it should redefine its approach to the blue light sector so that authoritarian police forces into whose hands munitions will be put are not provided with any support or funding on the Scottish taxpayer’s account.12:18
It is always somewhat hazardous to speak towards the end of a debate like this, because the things that we want to say have invariably been said by other members—and possibly in a more effective and powerful way than we ourselves could muster.
Nonetheless, I, too, begin by thanking Alex Cole-Hamilton for bringing the debate to the chamber—particularly because Hong Kong is a place that is close to my heart, too. My wife was born and brought up in Hong Kong—she is half Chinese—and we talk regularly at home about Hong Kong to ensure that our daughters, both of whom have Chinese middle names, are aware of their cultural background and heritage.
Over the past few months, it has been hugely worrying for us to receive reports from friends and family who are still in Hong Kong about what they are facing. They have genuine personal worries about their immediate safety as they wander the streets: many people simply will not venture out at night. Previously, that would have been unthinkable in Hong Kong, which was thought of as a very safe city. More important is that they have worries about their future in Hong Kong.
The fact is that, for months, millions of people have been taking to the streets in a territory whose population is not much bigger than Scotland’s. It is a huge worry that matters have escalated. That has undoubtedly been provoked by the police’s heavy-handed response, which has turned a peaceful and orderly process into something violent. That has worrying implications for Hong Kong and for the future of China.
Other members have rightly focused on the history of Britain in Hong Kong and on the opium wars, and have talked about the deep historical links between Scotland and Hong Kong. It is important to highlight the direct link between the opium wars and Scots in Hong Kong. Jardine and Matheson have been mentioned. Those two Scottish individuals directly sought and brought about the opium wars. UK imperialism is a legacy of which we must all be mindful and take ownership of. That heritage belongs as much to Scots as it does to other people in the United Kingdom.
It was very late in the day—at the 11th hour—that the UK Administration in Hong Kong extended the franchise. Nonetheless, democracy is much bigger than simply holding elections. Democracy is about accountability, transparency, freedom of expression and the rule of law. Although we did not implement democracy in Hong Kong as fully as we should have, those principles are entrenched in Hong Kong and are at the very heart of the Sino-British joint declaration of 1984.
Members have rightly said that we need to return to those principles, because they are important not just for the future of Hong Kong, but for the future of China. Over the past 30 years, since the Sino-British joint declaration, China has changed beyond all recognition. I argue that that is in no small part because of the 1984 declaration. Hong Kong opened a window to the world for China; it gave it access to the global stage. China benefited as much from the things that had been established in Hong Kong as it did simply from having additional territory.
I ask China, bearing in mind the historical context that we have laid out, to think very carefully before it breaks the principles. Above all else, it must embark on dialogue. Alex Cole-Hamilton was right to emphasise that we must have an inquiry into the Hong Kong police’s actions. However, we have to go further—there must be a serious concerted effort by the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities to have dialogue in order to seek a way forward that has broad popular support, because that is, ultimately, what democracy means.
I implore the Hong Kong authorities to engage in talks. We ask China to listen. We ask the UK Government to remind China gently and respectfully about the principles that both Governments signed up to in 1984.13:23
I welcome the debate and thank Alex Cole-Hamilton for lodging the motion on the current situation in Hong Kong. I also thank other colleagues for their considered contributions. I pay particular tribute to Jackie Baillie for her personal reflection and considered political analysis.
I will take the points of the motion in order. The Scottish Government is seriously concerned about the situation in Hong Kong and the recent violent clashes between protesters and the police. It is clear that political dialogue is the only way to resolve the situation, so we urge all communities to engage in good faith in order to achieve a peaceful resolution. We welcome the Chief Executive of Hong Kong’s announcement of the withdrawal of the extradition bill, and we welcome the initial steps towards dialogue, which must continue.
On the close ties between Scotland and Hong Kong, the motion is right to recall
“the long and close ties between Scotland and Hong Kong, which are evident throughout the territory”.
Those ties go back for many, many generations. As we have heard, they can be seen in place names, such as Aberdeen harbour, in the thistle of Jardine Matheson’s emblem and, of course, in the presence of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, which was founded in 1864 by Thomas Sutherland, who was from north-east Scotland. The debate has reflected on that imperial heritage; we should be conscious of it.
Contemporary ties between Scotland and Hong Kong are also strong—in education, business, tourism and culture. For example, in 2017, Scotland’s exports to Hong Kong of goods and services, excluding oil and gas, were worth £255 million, which was 15 per cent higher than they were in the previous year. Also, there are 930 students from Hong Kong studying at higher education institutions in Scotland.
As we heard from Tom Arthur, Jackie Baillie and Daniel Johnson, many connections are of family and friendship. I, too, have family in Hong Kong; a number of members from across the chamber have such connections. I was interested to hear members’ personal reflections, particularly those of Tom Arthur and Jackie Baillie, on their experiences and connections. We all want a strong, stable and prosperous Hong Kong.
On human rights currently being under threat, as I set out in my answer to a parliamentary question on 27 June,
“the Scottish Government’s position ... is that it is vital that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and the rights and freedoms”
that are set out in the legally binding Sino-British joint declaration, which is registered with the UN,
“are respected in full.” —[Official Report, 27 June 2019; c 3.]
That is the best way to ensure that the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong are upheld.
On our experience at home, we aspire for Scotland to act as a good global citizen in order to promote tolerance and respect for human rights in other countries. We want to ensure that our commitment to securing democracy, the rule of law and human rights all around the world is communicated, and we expect China to fulfil its human rights obligations with respect to Hong Kong.
Alex Cole-Hamilton mentioned the right to stand for political office. The right to stand for election is a fundamental right that is enshrined in “The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China” and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance. That right should be fully respected, and I am concerned that it is not.
We fully support the right to peaceful protest that has been exercised by the majority of protestors over many months. There is no excuse for violence, so we condemn the minority of hardcore protestors who insist on using violence. However, it is vital that the police’s response be proportionate. We have heard concerns about that from a number of members.
On calls for a full independent investigation into the reported police violence, there must be a robust, credible and independent investigation into events. An inquiry into reported police violence would be an important step towards healing divisions and rebuilding trust, which will support the process of dialogue and resolution.
On the UK’s legal and moral duty to the people of Hong Kong, and to support for their rights, freedoms and genuine democracy, I reaffirm the Scottish Government’s support for the one country, two systems legal framework, which is guaranteed by the legally binding joint declaration of 1984, and enshrined in Hong Kong’s basic law. We urge the UK Government to continue to assert its strong commitment to that agreement. As we heard from Jackie Baillie, the Chinese Government should also discharge its responsibilities. Tom Arthur and Donald Cameron mentioned the issue; Donald Cameron also made the point that the framework was meant to last for 50 years and is still within that period.
As I set out in answer to a parliamentary question on 27 June, the Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation has written to the Chinese consul general outlining the Scottish Government’s position.
I finish by restating the Scottish Government’s view—that the way forward must be found through constructive and meaningful dialogue by both sides to address the concerns of the people of Hong Kong.
We welcome the Chief Executive of Hong Kong’s announcement of withdrawal of the extradition bill and we welcome the initial steps towards dialogue. However, the dialogue must be structured and transparent. In order to successfully bring about a peaceful resolution, it must take on broad views, allow wide engagement and listen to the concerns of the people of Hong Kong. That is the only way to resolve the situation and to ensure that Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity endure.
The debate has been thoughtful, and it is timely. Our message must be one of solidarity with the people of Hong Kong: we offer them our best wishes for a stable and secure future. In order to secure that, a great deal of responsibility lies on the shoulders of the Chinese and UK Governments.
I thank members for their thoughtful and interesting contributions.13:29 Meeting suspended.
14:30 On resuming—