HKB questions the Minister of State on the transparency, representation and security of the UK Government’s BN(O) Taskforce
Hongkongers in Britain (HKB) has learned that Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government (MHCLG) has established a ‘national Taskforce’ to support the ‘Cross-Whitehall Inter-Ministerial Group for BN(O)s’, to manage policies relating to Hong Kong British National Overseas (BN(O)s) arriving into the UK. According to MHCLG’s description, the Taskforce’s membership should consist of “representatives from local government, civil society and BN(O) representative groups.” The Taskforce has convened for the first time in early July.
However, HKB has also learned that amongst the members currently invited into the Taskforce, not only is there:
- a total lack of representation of Hongkongers groups established in the UK since the BN(O) visa scheme was introduced, but more worryingly,
- an individual who is holding an important position in a pro-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) UK-based association has been invited into the Taskforce.
This group has recently openly expressed its support for the National Security Law (NSL) and the ‘Patriots Rule’ of Hong Kong, therefore its inclusion in the Taskforce is in direct conflict with the very ethos and rationale of the BN(O) visa scheme. HKB is deeply concerned and disappointed at the grave risks posed to the UK’s national security and the safety of Hongkongers, by giving pro-CCP/NSL groups access to any key information made available by the UK Government to the Taskforce.
Given the serious nature of the matter, HKB issued a letter on 16th July, sincerely recommending the Minister responsible, Lord Greenhalgh, to carry out immediate rectifications, and make necessary amendments as listed below:
- Increase the transparency of the decision-making processes relating to the BN(O) policy. For example, the criteria of membership and minutes of the Taskforce should be made available to public where possible and under safe circumstances.
- Include recognisable Hongkongers groups into the Taskforce, in order to ensure that the Taskforce consists of broad representation and carries legitimacy, where Hongkongers are able to have full participation and are fully involved in the decision-making processes.
- Prohibit UK-based groups and associations which have expressed support for the CCP and NSL to participate in all official Taskforce/committees relating to the BN(O) policy, thereby preventing CCP United Front’s infiltration and gathering of intelligence, so as to protect Hongkongers’ safety and UK’s national security.
On 20th July, HKB issued a further letter to provide additional evidence, and highlight the disastrous policy impact of the inclusion of individuals directly related to pro-CCP/NSL groups into the Taskforce. By reiterating its stance, HKB hoped that the Minister would take the matter seriously, and follow-up on the recommendations as suggested. On 23rd July, MHCLG acknowledged the receipt of the letters, informing HKB that they have reached the Minister and will aim to provide a reply to HKB in one to two weeks. On 12th August, HKB received the Minister’s reply in letter.
HKB issues the following reply:
- HKB thanks the Minister for agreeing with us that “more recently created BN(O) organisations should attend the Taskforce”. However, HKB expects concrete actions and a timeline to address the issue of unrepresentativeness by including representatives of BN(O) communities in the Taskforce.
- HKB finds a lack of mention of when the next review of the membership of the Taskforce will take place and the applicable criteria in the review. The absence of minutes and membership details of the Taskforce are contrary to the principle of transparency and community involvement in the policy-making process to welcome BN(O)s. Transparency therefore continues to be in question.
- HKB thanks the Minister for agreeing with us that “if a member did express views contrary to the purpose of the immigration route, their place on the Taskforce would be reconsidered”. The evidence submitted by HKB has clearly demonstrated that a member of the Taskforce has a leading role in another organisation which is a signatory to a statement backing the NSL. Therefore, HKB sees that the government has no reason not to swiftly “reconsider the place” of the members of the Taskforce, and HKB is looking forward to the fulfilment of the Minister’s pledges.
- Since there is currently no representation from the Hongkongers organisations community, and all discussions in Taskforce are not transparent, the public has no avenues to oversee whether a member of the Taskforce has expressed views contrary to the purpose of the BN(O) scheme.
- In principle, HKB questions how an representative of an organisation that openly supported the NSL could be part of the effort to “ensure BN(O)s and their families can live their new lives here safely and securely”, not to mention giving her a place on the Taskforce.
- HKB welcomes the guarantee that “Taskforce attendees will not see any personal information which could compromise the safety of those BN(O)s who choose to come to the UK.” However, concerns over possible threats to UK’s national security and BN(O)s’ personal safety remain as members of the Taskforce have direct access to internal information and data provided by the UK government. This acute threat must not be disregarded.
Based on the HKB’s disappointment over the absence of concrete actions to address the aforementioned concerns, HKB has decided to publish this public statement alongside the two letters from the HKB and the Minister’s reply. HKB hopes that it will allow the public to better understand the timeline of events, in order for external parties to bring public office to account, with the objective that the UK government will rectify these issues promptly, and to take all necessary precautions to avoid repeating similar situations in the future.
本會就 官方 BN(O) 政策諮詢小組 的 透明度、代表性、安全風險 等問題 質詢 社區事務國務大臣
本會 從外部得悉 房屋、社區及地方政府事務部 (MHCLG) 已成立 咨詢小組 (Task Force) 協助 跨部門協調委員會 (Inter-Ministerial Group) 處理 英國國民(海外) 公民 (下稱 BN(O) ) 的政策，據該部門描述，該小組之成員由地方政府、公民團體、 志願機構、及英國國民(海外) 之港人代表所組成。 該咨詢小組已在七月初召開首次會議。
惟本會得悉會議成員名單當中， 不但 : 一) 沒有任何近年來英的港人團體及代表， 更 二) 見有親共華僑團體的重要人員被邀請在內，該些團體曾經登報公開支持 港區《國安法》 以及「愛國者治港」的理念，與 BN(O) 簽證政策的初衷背道而馳， 若在會議中掌握任何情資，更構成嚴峻的安全風險，本會對此深感擔憂及憤怒。
鋻於事態嚴重，本會早於七月十六日寄出公函予該部門，向負責有關事務的首長 Lord Stephen Greenhalgh 陳述情況，建議當局予以糾正，並作出下列改善:
- 增加官方處理 BN(O) 政策機制的透明度，例如咨詢小組 (Task Force) 人 員的組成標準、 會議紀錄， 能在安全的情況下公諸於眾。
- 讓具認受性的港人團體參與咨詢小組 (Task Force)， 確保小組具充分且 廣泛的代表性及正當性，讓港人有真正的發言權利及影響。
- 禁止支持港區《國安法》 的親中共團體所屬人員參與官方 BN(O) 政策的 委員會，杜絕中共統戰工作的滲透及情蒐，切實保障安全。
直至七月二十日，本會再以補件形式呈交具體證據，並嚴正重申本會立場，希望該部門能嚴肅處理問題， 跟進有關建議。該部門曾表示已收妥信件， 並將會在一至兩周內回覆， 後來又因為各種理由，經歷兩次延宕後，終於八月十二日收到回覆。
就該 社區事務國務大臣 Lord Greenhalgh 的回信，本會的回應如下：
- 感謝 國務大臣 同意 近來成立的港人團體應當被納入咨詢小組 (Task Force)，惟 本會希望政府設下時程，採取實際行動，改善目前小組代表性不足的問題。
- 國務大臣 提及 有恆常機制檢討 咨詢小組 (Task Force) 的組成，卻仍未見下次檢討的具體時程，以及用何等標準審視，其施政透明度依然成疑。
- 感謝 國務大臣 同意 「若成員發表與是次簽證計劃初衷相違背的言論，該成員的議席必須重新審視」，本會發函提出的證據已充分表明有小組成員在其職權範圍之內， 其所從事的組織簽署支持《國安法》 的聲明，責無旁貸。 因此， 應當「重新審視」 政府內部之擇人標準，本會期待政府有所作為，履行承諾。
- 再者，目前的咨詢小組 (Task Force) 本來就無港人的參與，當中的會議紀錄及名單又不透明公開，外界無法得知內情，更遑論能審視成員是否違背初衷。
- 更甚， 本會難以想像在公開支持港區《國安法》的組織擔任重要職務的人士能繼續勝任咨詢小組的工作，尤其該小組的主要目標之一，就是研擬措施妥切保護英國國民 （海外）公民及其家屬的人身安全。
- 本會歡迎 國務大臣 承諾 「諮詢小組成員 將不會接觸到英國國民（海外）公民的個人資料」， 不過誠如所述， 咨詢小組能接觸到英國政府所提供的整體資訊及內幕數據，此等或已足以構成國家安全的威脅， 不應輕視。
本會量及內部途徑已無法讓當局正視現況，所以決定發出此聲明， 並附上本會曾發出的郵件及陳列部份證據，藉由公開事態始末， 讓外界及公眾對政府進行有效監督，回應是次決策所造成的種種問題及疑慮，盡快更正且杜絕同類情況再次發生。