Foreign AffairsSpeeches

Catherine West – 2022 Speech on Arrest of Edward Lawrence

The speech made by Catherine West, the Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, in the House of Commons on 29 November 2022.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing his first urgent question in the House—who would have known that it was the first?

I turn to the serious matter of the arrest and detention of journalists, which is deeply shocking and, in this particular case, concerns our own BBC. Sadly, this is the approach and tone that we have come to expect from an increasingly authoritarian Chinese regime. That has been further demonstrated this week by the case in Hong Kong of the independent media outlet, Apple Daily, whose founder, Jimmy Lai, faces court cases in Hong King on basic freedom of expression for local people. We must show solidarity in that terrible situation, not just in Hong Kong but across the People’s Republic of China.

I welcome the fact that the Foreign Secretary has summoned the Chinese ambassador, as well as the consular support that has been provided for Mr Lawrence. The robust response is a welcome change to the Government’s previous handling of Chinese overreach in Manchester, which the House thought did not match the severity of the violence outside the Chinese consulate. Our support for the work of the press must be unified, and we stand squarely behind the Government in making it clear to Chinese officials that their treatment of journalists doing their job is not and never will be acceptable. The Opposition have made it clear that the BBC must be protected in its crucial work abroad, tackling disinformation and providing reliable, accurate reporting—I am sure the Minister agrees with that.

I have one question for the Minister. We are in the middle of profound cuts to the BBC World Service, including of Chinese journalists. Will the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office say on the record today that it will not defund Mandarin-speaking journalists, because, particularly in covid lockdown, it is crucial that individuals can listen to good journalism on our BBC World Service?

David Rutley

I thank the hon. Member for her considered and important words. Of course, with the calling in of the ambassador, we will raise those matters, and to hear them raised across the House helps to add strength to what we are going to say, so we are grateful for that.

The hon. Member made an important point about protecting journalists across the board, and I will raise that with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and with the Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), who is responsible for the Indo-Pacific and is currently travelling.

The hon. Member made some important points about Manchester, and I assure her that we do not have any intention of giving the Chinese Government any excuse to make this a political issue. It is about law, and we will see it through.

The hon. Member made points about the BBC World Service. There is a move to a digital platform, and we have set out our funding plans with the World Service. I will meet it shortly on the wider points that she made.