Many Members of the UK House of Lords Criticise Hong Kong’s Article 23 Legislation

On 1st July 2003, many members of the UK upper house of parliament, the House of Lords, raised questions to the UK Foreign Office minister on the widely opposed Article 23 legislation in Hong Kong.

Lord Goodhart asked whether the UK government “have made representations to the Government of China or Hong Kong about the terms of the National Security (Legislative Provisions) Bill”.

The Foreign Office Minister Baroness Symons stated: “We have made frequent representations to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government about their draft national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law. We have also discussed the issue with the Chinese Government. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary did so with the visiting Chinese Foreign Minister last week. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Mr Rammell, issued a further statement about the draft legislation yesterday, 30th June.”

Lord Goodhart responded: “...I understand that there has been a big demonstration against the Bill in Hong Kong earlier today. Do the Government agree that there are still serious defects in the Bill which raise concerns about the rule of law in Hong Kong?...Will the Government therefore make representations to the authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing at the highest possible level?”

Baroness Symons replied: “...We are particularly concerned about the proposed new provisions on prescription, which I believe may be the issue troubling the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. We believe that these provisions blur the dividing line between the separate Hong Kong and mainland legal systems by introducing into Hong Kong legislation links to mainland law. That is the real problem and the nub of the issue. We share the view of many in Hong Kong—who may well have been demonstrating today—that this is inconsistent with the one country/two systems principle that underlies the joint declaration.”

Then, Lord Howell of Guildford stated “…did we not tell the people of Hong Kong six years ago that they would not be forgotten? …will the Government nevertheless be very bold indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, suggested, in pointing out to the Government in Beijing, at the highest level, that their pressure for these changes could lead to very serious long-term damage for Hong Kong? Does the Minister agree that quiet dialogue is no longer the appropriate medium for handling this issue?”

Lord Hylton asked “can the Minister confirm that this objectionable law is likely to come into effect as early as 9th July? Does she see any prospect, in the short time remaining between now and then, of achieving changes in the sweeping provisions which are liable to affect the media, the churches and groups such as Falun Gong?”

Baroness Williams said: “…will the Minister consider drawing to the attention of the Chinese government the damaging effect on foreign direct investment that this is likely to have, if it is pursued in its present form? If Hong Kong, as the Minister indicated, does not have full recognition of its special status, there is likely to be concern among foreign investors about continuing to invest in that region.”

Several other members of the House of Lords also raised questions on the proposed legislation, which has been shelved due to public pressure.

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