Hong Kong (24 October 2019)
Lord Alton of Liverpool
That this House takes note of the recent political unrest in Hong Kong, and of the calls to offer residents of Hong Kong citizenship in another country.
My Lords, I too wish to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing this timely and necessary debate, and for his continued work championing human rights.
We heard today that Hong Kong is an amazing place, a global centre for trade that has thrived for decades. It is a mini-Britain, with its love of trade and commerce, its commitment to democracy, its relentless work ethic and the importance it places on education. The residents of Hong Kong should have no reason to be concerned. After all, the articles in the joint declaration agreed between Britain and China guarantee the people of Hong Kong their rights to economic and political independence for a period of 50 years following 1997. Yet that is not the case, and when you hear that the Chinese Foreign Ministry called the treaty merely,
“a historical document”,
“no longer had any practical significance”,
it is no wonder that the people of Hong Kong are so distressed, and fear for their livelihoods.
My noble friend Lord Patten of Barnes said that the extradition Bill earlier this year was a tipping point, with millions of Hong Kong residents taking to the streets before it became too late. Many of those protesters have said that they consider themselves to be more British than Chinese. They have gathered outside the British consulate, singing “God Save the Queen”. These protesters want to escape the darkness of communism and bask in the light of democracy, and they are risking their lives to send us that message. We cannot and should not ignore them.
The making of modern China as a global power was done by copying Hong Kong’s success on a wider scale, opening up its markets to the world. Over the past decade, Britain has built strong relations with China and has considerable good will in China, perhaps helped by our £60 billion trade deficit with it. My noble friend Lord Howell often says that the Commonwealth is our family, and that, I strongly believe, applies to the residents of Hong Kong. I am very much in agreement with those organisations and members of both Houses that have said that Britain and the Commonwealth should play a proactive role in protecting the residents of Hong Kong and offering them an alternative to remaining in their current homes, ideally giving them second citizenship. In 1997, Hong Kong residents could apply for British national overseas status, giving those residents the right to a UK passport but not the right to live or work in the UK.
I can hear the echoes of my own history in this predicament. We Ugandan Asians were British overseas citizen passport holders, which included a subset known as British-protected passport holders. When we were expelled by the brutal dictator Idi Amin, this status was our lifeline—our greatest gift.
The situation facing the residents of Hong Kong is very familiar to me. I am drawn to the steps taken by the then Prime Minister Edward Heath, in the face of considerable opposition to the Ugandan Asians. This country welcomed 28,000 Ugandan Asians; 19,000 stateless Ugandan Asians were welcomed by the Commonwealth countries, including Canada taking 5,000 and Australia taking 2,000. New Zealand took a few thousand, as did some parts of the then European Community. Heath ruled that Britain had a legal and moral responsibility to take in those with British passports, saying: “This is our duty. There can be no excuse. They are being expelled from a country which in many cases is the land of their birth. They are entitled to come here and they will be welcome here”. I strongly urge the Government to take inspiration from those words today and to ensure that, if the situation does not improve in Hong Kong, these residents will be guaranteed a home in either Britain or other Commonwealth countries.
There can be no excuse. These are British nationals and our family. They need our support and deserve our compassion. They are English-speaking, highly educated people who are entrepreneurs by nature. They would be a tremendous asset to Britain or any Commonwealth country. When the Ugandan Asians arrived in Britain, we were given the warmest of welcomes and have never wavered in our loyalty to Britain. I am convinced that the same situation will arise again if we open our homes and our hearts to the people of Hong Kong.