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Trade Deals: Human Rights Clauses

Volume 689: debated on Thursday 25 February 2021

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade deals. (912430)

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade deals. (912436)

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade deals. (912465)

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade deals. (912472)

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade deals. (912478)

The United Kingdom has long promoted her values globally. While our approach to agreements will vary between partners, it will always allow this Government to open discussions on issues, including on rights and responsibilities. We are clear that more trade does not have to come at the expense of our values.

The Lords have listened to the Minister’s objections to the genocide amendment and done everything to accommodate them in its latest iteration, while retaining the fundamental objective that judges should decide whether genocide has been committed. On behalf of the Government, will the Minister of State finally agree to accept the will of Parliament and back this historic amendment?

We are clear that Britain has a long history of protecting rights and promoting our values globally. We will continue to encourage all states to uphold international rights obligations, including under the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide. We supported an amendment in this House on the principle of a formal parliamentary process leading to a guaranteed debate, but the latest amendment is unacceptable because it seeks to bring about constitutional reform by the back door, and it would impinge on the proper constitutional settlement, blurring the distinctions between the courts and Parliament.

I say to the Minister that this country does have a proud record of upholding human rights, but this Government have a very unhappy record of allowing, for example, arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which has seen the killing of innocent men, women and children. On that basis, does he accept that trust is fundamentally important on the issue of human rights under any Government? Why should anybody trust this Government?

I certainly want to make sure that all Members across this House can trust this Government, but I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that Labour’s record on this is hypocritical and, sadly, it enabled antisemitism to be rife within its ranks. They turned a blind eye to terrible behaviour from countries that they like, like Venezuela, and the shadow Secretary of State even shared a platform with Hamas. So we will not be lectured by the Opposition on these issues.

I last raised this issue on the Floor of the House on 19 November, and the Minister for Trade Policy told me to

“judge us on our deeds and not always on our words.”—[Official Report, 19 November 2020; Vol. 684, c. 455.]

So can I clarify, when it comes to human rights and Saudi air strikes in Yemen, that we should be judging the Government on the export licensing statistics published last month, which included the sale of £1.36 billion-worth of bombs and missiles to Saudi between July and September 2020—almost as much as the last 19 quarters put together?

We have a rigorous arms export control system in this country, one of the best in the world, and no arms will be exported that are inconsistent with the consolidated criteria, which were introduced in 2014.

I just want to press the Minister on the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith). Last September, the UN said that Saudi airstrikes in Yemen had led to a consistent pattern of harm to civilians, unlike our own Government who said in July that there was no such pattern and that it was therefore lawful to resume arms exports. Can the Minister of State explain how his Department looked at exactly the same evidence as the UN and reached an entirely different conclusion?

We rely on a range of information from across Government, non-governmental organisations and elsewhere and we will always make sure that all of that evidence is properly considered before any arms are exported anywhere in the world.

Grave human rights abuses, including torture, rape, extra-judicial killings, and arbitrary detention continue to be committed against Kashmiris in Indian-occupied Kashmir. Will the Minister ensure that any trade deal signed with the Indian Government includes firm commitments to ending those human rights abuses and holding a free and fair plebiscite, as agreed by the United Nations, that allows the sons and daughters of Kashmir to fulfil their birthright to self-determination?

I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman’s passion for this issue, but where is the passion for jobs, where is the passion for exports, and where is the passion for investment? That is what this Government are getting on with. Perhaps it is because they cannot make up their minds on the Opposition Benches: they are against deals with democracies such as Israel as well, and yet they have cosied up to regimes such as Venezuela. Although this question was about future trade deals, we will get on and deliver jobs and prosperity for the British people.

It has now been two months since Ministers agreed a trade deal with Cameroon. It was shortly before the US Senate voted to suspend theirs because of President Biya’s human rights record. Incredibly, we do not know what the UK’s trade deal with Cameroon says on human rights, because it has still not been published. Can the Minister tell us when Parliament will be finally shown that deal, and can he guarantee a debate on it in Government time?

I welcome the fact that the shadow Minister is interested in our trade agreement with Cameroon, which benefits both countries to the tune of £177 million-worth of bilateral trade, but the British people will have heard today six questions from the Labour Benches and not one of them included anything about jobs. That just shows, sadly, that Labour has no intention of delivering for the British people and capitalising on our independent trade policy, because it is anti-trade, anti-jobs, EU-obsessed and it sneers at those who do not share their world view and are proud to be British.

One area, of course, where we do not have problems with human rights clauses being inserted is the EU. The Minister is interested in jobs. I have a small company in my constituency, Poco Nido, which employs four people. The owner of that company, Catherine Lobley, has told me that, since the end of December, she has not had a single shipment of goods getting through to the EU. The goods are caught up in customs and have been stuck there for three weeks. She says that the whole system has collapsed. Her 10-year-old business will be destroyed, with the jobs, within a month unless the Minister acts. When will the Minister ensure that the Brexit deal that the Government promised is actually delivered in practice?

My hon. Friend the Minister for exports is doing great work to make sure that British businesses can export to the world, including to the EU, and the hon. Gentleman will know that we have covered deals with 64 countries, plus the EU, protecting trade worth £889 billion. Of course we want to make sure that, in the years ahead, there can be more trade with the EU, our near neighbours and good friends, but we are also focused in this Department on trading with the world.