Consideration of Lords message
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendment 3E. If any Lords amendment engaging financial privilege is agreed to, I will cause the customary entry waiving Commons financial privilege to be entered in the Journal.
After Clause 2
Trade agreements and genocide
I beg to move,
That this House insists on its Amendments Nos. 3C and 3D and disagrees with the Lords in their Amendment No. 3E.
Let me start by saying that I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), and the apparent targeting of her in an intimidatory way by anybody, including foreign embassies, is totally unacceptable. I will pass her comments directly to the Foreign Secretary. The Government take very seriously indeed the intimidation of Members of Parliament, as indeed do the House authorities. I remember that about 10 years ago, in a meeting, actually, with Lord Alton and the North Korean Speaker, I was shoved by a North Korean diplomat, and it was taken up very seriously by this House and by the Foreign Office at the time.
The Government agree with the principle that our proposed free trade agreements should be subject to the most searching parliamentary scrutiny in any instance where genocide may be occurring. The amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) passed by this House on 9 February delivers on that principle, and that is why the Government continue to support it today.
That amendment ensures that the Government must put their position on the record in writing, in response to a Select Committee publication raising credible reports of genocide in a country with which we are proposing a bilateral free trade agreement. Where the Committee is not content with the response, it can insist on a parliamentary debate, and the Government will be obliged to make time for that.
The amendment also affords the responsible Commons Select Committee the responsibility to draft the motion for debate. That is a very powerful ability for Parliament to stop any free trade agreement negotiations. This is a substantial concession, affording Parliament significant control over the process, and it has the Government’s full support. On timing and effectiveness, to be very clear, the Government expect that their production of a report and the scheduling of any subsequent debate would be undertaken swiftly and within agreed timescales.
I note that in the amendment passed by the Lords, tabled by Lord Alton, peers have removed the role that they had previously proposed for the High Court. Hon. Members will recall that it is the Government’s long-standing position that the determination of genocide is a matter for a competent court. As I have previously made clear, competent courts include relevant international courts and domestic criminal courts.
Let me be clear on this point: we are not changing settled Government policy here. But likewise, in supporting the amendment from the Chair of the Select Committee on Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, we are not asking Parliament to make a determination on whether genocide has occurred. We are instead supporting a process that guarantees scrutiny and debate where Parliament has established for itself that credible reports of genocide exist. That is not the same as a judicial finding; nor is it intended to be. It is both a lower bar and swifter to establish credible reports than it is to prove genocide itself, and it leads to a debate on a substantive motion. I believe that that is the right way forward.
That brings me to the latest amendment passed by a former Liberal MP, Lord Alton, in the other place, which seeks to give a quasi-judicial role to an ad hoc parliamentary judicial Committee to make preliminary determinations of genocide. Lord Alton proposes that this ad hoc Committee would be comprised of five Members from either House who have all held “high judicial office”. It should be clear that this approach is problematic, first, because it is in conflict with the Government’s settled policy. Competent courts must make determinations on genocide, not parliamentary Committees.
I do not pretend to have expertise in this controversy, but I recall that one of the objections made when it was last debated was that an outside court would be taking power away from this Parliament if it were to make the determination, yet now the Government seem to be objecting to parliamentarians making the determination, even though they are highly qualified by dint of being former judges. That seems to be a little bit of a cake-and-eat-it situation.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention, because there are clearly areas of possible confusion in this space, so let me be absolutely clear that the objection from the Government was because the High Court would be determining that there be a debate in Parliament. That is the crucial difference between the previous Alton amendment and our objections to this one. It is not about whether genocide is determined; it is about whether the courts dictate the proceedings of Parliament.
The approach that Lord Alton proposes is problematic, first, because it is in conflict with the Government’s settled policy, as I have said. Giving such a power to an ad hoc parliamentary judicial Committee would represent a fundamental constitutional reform. It would blur the distinction between courts and Parliament and upset the separation of powers, and so the Government cannot support it.
Unintentionally, yes; forgive me. The term “quasi-judicial” has a meaning in law. The Alton amendment proposes that Members of the House of Lords who were previously judges are able to make and review any decision that the House of Commons Select Committee makes. It is not a court; it is just a Select Committee in the House of Lords. What has the Minister got to fear?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, but the definition in the amendment of those who have held “high judicial office” would, in the view of the Government, inevitably confer quasi-judicial status on that Committee. By definition it would have five Members who have held high judicial office; it would be very difficult not to have the impression that it would operate in a quasi-judicial manner.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I am going to make some progress; there is very limited time.
Let me deal with the matter of engaging financial privilege. When an amendment is designated as engaging Commons financial privilege, the Government are procedurally required to provide this as the reason if disagreeing to the motion, although our reasons for disagreeing in this instance are much broader, as I have just set out. Financial privilege is sufficient reason in itself to deem the amendment disagreed to. The designation of Lords amendments as engaging financial privilege is an impartial process determined by the Speaker on the advice of House authorities.
We have listened closely to debates in both this House and the other place and take seriously the issue of genocide and the passions it has rightly stirred on all sides. Consequently, I can announce from this Dispatch Box today that the Government are willing to work with Parliament and relevant Select Committee Chairs should they choose to establish new Joint Committees or sub-committees or to engage the expertise of former members of the judiciary in considering reports of genocide in the context of our proposed free trade agreements.
For example, a new Joint Committee could be made up of members of both Select Committees. The relevant Lords Committee would have Cross-Bench membership and it would be possible for the convener to ensure that at least one of those members were an ex-judge. That is the established process followed for other Committees, which have been chaired by ex-Law Lords. In addition, with the agreement of the usual channels, it would be possible for additional Members with relevant expertise to be appointed to the Joint Committee, as is the case with the Lords Sub-Committee on the Northern Ireland protocol. The Joint Committee would also be able to take evidence from other former members of the judiciary, if desired.
I am going to make more progress.
In any case, it is not necessary to set out such provision in legislation. In fact, I would be surprised if hon. Members voted today to bind themselves by setting out in legislation the procedures of a parliamentary Sub-Committee. Parliament is free to amend its Standing Orders to set up Committees and Sub-Committees as it chooses, and to take evidence from those with legal expertise if it deems that to be necessary. Legislating for these matters would only serve to remove flexibility from both Parliament and Government should the issue of genocide as it pertains to trade arise in future. A more nimble and flexible approach may be necessary depending on the context.
The precise details remain to be worked out—by Parliament, quite properly—but I hope it will be clear from what I have said today that the Government are supportive of working with hon. Members on this issue, and we are committed to doing so in line with the process previously agreed to by this House on 9 February.
There is very limited time in this debate.
However, we regret that we cannot support the creation of a parliamentary judicial Committee as envisaged in Lord Alton’s amendment, as it blurs the distinction between the legislative and the judicial, and runs contrary to Government policy that it is for competent courts to make determinations of genocide.
Finally, I would like to highlight the statement that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made earlier today on the sanctions that the Government will be undertaking. I hope that that is another illustration of the Government’s commitment in this very important area, taking tough action on China in relation to Xinjiang with Magnitsky sanctions, in conjunction with our international allies.
In the light of what I have said, I hope hon. Members will support amendments 3C and 3D.
I inform the House that the Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of Nusrat Ghani.
Before I call the shadow Secretary of State, I inform the House that there will be a three-minute limit on speeches for Back Benchers. There is a countdown clock for those in the Chamber, and for those participating virtually it will be on their screens.
By my calculations, it has been three years, two months and two weeks since this House first debated the Government’s proposed Trade Bill, so if today’s debate proves to be the final one on a long drawn-out Bill, it would be appropriate to thank all Members of both Houses, all the parliamentary Clerks and all the officials in the Department for International Trade who have contributed to its passage.
Looking back at the very first day of debate in January 2018, I was struck by two things that were said by the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), the then Secretary of State, which seem very prescient in retrospect. The first was:
“Trade is an issue that transcends party politics”.—[Official Report, 9 January 2018; Vol. 634, c. 220.]
Time and again over the past three years, we have seen that to be the case, as Members from all sides of the House have campaigned together on different issues from farming standards to online harms. It seems fitting, after more than three years, that we should have been left with one final issue to resolve: a cross-party consensus on where we stand as a Parliament and on what we believe as a country will be most important.
That relates to the second thing that the former Secretary of State said three years ago, which I believe is equally relevant today. He said that
“trade is not only about self-interested commercial gain.”—[Official Report, 9 January 2018; Vol. 634, c. 209.]
For me, that simple statement of principle goes to the heart of the debate we have had in recent months, and especially in the past week, about human rights and trade. It goes to the heart of the decision that we have to take today on the Alton amendment to the genocide amendment.
I know that some people believe that the choices we make as a country on with whom to sign trade deals should be entirely dictated by our commercial interests and that considerations about human rights should be dealt with entirely separately. But there is another point of view—I believe it is shared by the majority of people in this country and by the majority of MPs in this House—which is simply this: there is a line that needs to be drawn; there are certain countries whose crimes are so great that they cannot simply be ignored on the basis of commercial self-interest; and Britain as a country must be willing to say no to trade deals with countries that cross that line.
The Alton amendment, as advanced today by the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), seeks to draw that line by giving Parliament the power to debate whether Britain should sign any form of bilateral trade or investment deal with a Government held responsible for genocide by our country’s most experienced judges. Whether Members in this House decide to support the amendment today should have nothing to do with what party they represent. It should have nothing to do with the long overdue sanctions against Chinese officials announced by the Foreign Secretary earlier today. With all due respect to the Minister for Trade Policy, it should have nothing to do with the points of constitutional precedence that he made in his opening speech.
Whether we support the Alton amendment should only come down to the fundamental question, which is one we must all ask ourselves: should Britain be willing to sign trade agreements with Governments who are committing genocide? Should Britain be willing to sign trade deals with a Government who are engaging in torture, mass detention, slave labour, organ harvesting and non-judicial executions—not on an isolated basis, but on an industrial scale—against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang? Should Britain be willing to sign trade deals with a Government who are separating hundreds of thousands of children from their parents and re-educating them in different languages, religion and history in an attempt to wipe the Uyghur culture off the Chinese map? Should Britain be willing to sign trade deals with a Government who are carrying out the systematic sexual abuse, rape and sterilisation of hundreds of thousands of women in Xinjiang in an attempt to guarantee that this current generation of Uyghur children is the last?
I cannot see how anyone in this House can read the evidence of those crimes being committed against the Uyghurs and think that a potential trade or investment deal with China can be considered only on its commercial merits and not on the basis of morality. That is surely where we need to draw the line, and that is what the Alton amendment seeks to do. That is why I urge Members from all parts of the House to look into their souls this afternoon, to vote with their conscience and to make clear that this is the line that Britain is not prepared to cross.
I beg to move amendment (a), to leave out from House to “with” and insert “agrees”.
I rise to continue the debate that has been going on among us about what constitutes a fair and reasonable settlement with the Government. I started by moving the amendment standing in my name, and that of my hon. Friends the Members for Wealden (Ms Ghani) and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), because I think that the Government have got themselves twisted up in knots, and I think my right hon. Friend the Minister knows that.
My right hon. Friend knows very well that, when the amendment was first put through the Lords, I spoke to a number of Ministers. I must say that the reaction of each of them was, “I don’t think there is a problem here. You have met our red lines, and this is a Committee in the Lords.” Suddenly, late in the day, they discovered this phenomenal red line called “quasi-judicial”.
On the definition the Government have given us today, “quasi-judicial” can be applied to any Select Committee in the House of Commons. Here is what a quasi-judicial committee is defined as in legal terms:
“A proceeding conducted by an administrative or executive official”.
That is important, because Parliament does not have any of those on its Committees—Parliament is separate from the Executive—so that does not apply to Parliament. The Minister knows very well that in this amendment, we have allowed the Government to set the terms of how the committee will sit, the balance of evidence and the kind of peers who would sit on it, which is to do with the judiciary.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is very difficult to see a position that the Minister would actually agree to, yet the Lords have changed and tried to compromise so often? Does he also agree that the Uyghurs do not come under the remit of the Government’s amendment to the Bill, and therefore would be given no protection by this House?
Yes; I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. The problem is that this Lords amendment incorporates the original Neill amendment in its entirety and makes two adjustments. First, there are already trade arrangements with China, but they are pushed aside in this. It can only be an FTA, and it is a prospective one, which means that the Uyghurs are not going to get in front of the Select Committee at all. Secondly—this is very important—it opens the door, because of the definition, to any state activist who has nothing to do with the authority in that state. All QCs who have seen the amendment have accepted that this is a major problem, so we have dealt with that, made it a better arrangement and added the legal committee.
It seems to me that the Government simply do not want to have these judges involved. They say, “We’ll have a judge, if you want, on one of the Select Committees.” Does that not apparently make it another quasi-judicial committee? If the Minister does not mind me saying so, it is a bit sad that the Government could not have accepted this amendment. There was no need for us to be here today voting on it. This was a major compromise, and it would have settled everything.
My right hon. Friend the Minister knows that I have huge respect for him in the job that he has to do right now, but I simply say this. We have a chance tonight, following a very good statement by the Foreign Secretary, to send the message that we simply will not put up with this; we are not frightened of finding that this is genocide, and we are not frightened of saying it from the steepletops. We know that we have to stand up for those who have no voice. This Chamber has a history of doing that. It has an opportunity tonight to do that, and I am sorry that my Government, whom I hugely respect, do not think that they can do it. I urge Members to vote for this Lords amendment.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I notice that the countdown timer is running, but I assume that I get the Front-Bench privilege for this speech.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The original intent of the Lords amendment on genocide was to bind the Government, to ensure that their trade policy was not actively engaging in propping up the economy of a country that was committing genocide. The SNP regarded that as being reflective of the bare minimum standards of what should be our commitments to human rights and global citizenship. I say “bare minimum” because much more power should be given to that commitment than was contained even in that amendment. We should see an approach along the lines of a comprehensive cross-departmental strategy aimed at preventing atrocities and binding the Government in their behaviour and intent. The original amendment from Lord Alton was a bit hingum-tringum; despite the fact that it was not nearly strong enough, we supported it, as it was at least a step in the right direction. Make no mistake: as we debate the text of this Bill, we are very far away from even that place.
Any idea that we are actively debating accountability on human rights, even on the terms originally intended, is blown apart by the very Government texts that the House is now considering. The Government have maintained that they do not need the law to reflect their commitments to human rights, and that they would not do anything to compromise them. Furthermore, they maintain that their so-called compromise amendment facilitates a new level of commitment, but as soon as one Minister pours honey in the public’s ears, another drops the mask and lets slip the poisonous truth that condemns those warm words as cozenage.
It is clear from the remarks of the Foreign Secretary, who is also the de facto Deputy Prime Minister, that there is absolutely no substance to the Government’s rhetoric about their being champions for human rights at every turn; shamefully, they are willing to actively pursue an unethical trade policy. If there was ever any doubt about the hollowness of the maxim of global Britain, it has rung out loud and clear in the Foreign Secretary’s words. The amendment backed by the Government is completely inadequate in checking their actions. It would bind them to naught, and it is crystal clear that in reality the Government would rather not be subject to any moral position or restriction on their trade policy.
The Government could have committed in the Bill to maintaining existing consumer and labour standards; they turned that chance down, and the public should ask why. The answer is because they are all too willing and ready to sacrifice them to get a deal—any deal. Anyone naive enough to think that that is not the case should look at what is happening with the NHS and human rights. The Government could have taken the opportunity to ensure the protection of all aspects of the NHS from private foreign procurement, but they turned the chance down. Why? Well, in a sign of the times, they have been busy allowing the sale of NHS GP practices to US companies, with the US health insurance giant Centene Corp quietly assuming control of the care of half a million patients in recent weeks. Donald Trump may mercifully be gone, but few will forget the rare moment of honesty when he confirmed that the NHS is on the table in a US-UK trade deal. We all know that it very much still is. His Tory cohorts are still here and have earned zero trust over their deeds and actions.
We now see the Government looking to shirk their commitments on matching their trade policy to our values on protecting human rights. Why? Again, we know exactly why, thanks to the words of the Foreign Secretary. The cat is not only out of the bag, but running feral, alerting the world to the fact that human rights abuses will not matter to the UK. This Government will forgive almost anything in their haste to get a deal—any deal. They turned down the chance to do the right thing. We can hear loudly and clearly that behind the scenes, this does not matter to the Government; publicly, we can see the Government retreating from their legally binding manifesto commitment to international aid spending. The amendment does not do justice to the intentions of Members from all parties who have sought to meet that commitment head-on.
The Government’s empty words on global Britain have no bearing on virtually any aspect of their policy on protecting the most vulnerable around the world, on how we determine any notion of responsibility for who the UK sells arms to, or now, apparently, who we trade with. If this issue were not so serious, it would be laughable that this Government are trying to rest on laurels that simply do not exist. They should wake up to the reality that the UK’s moral standing is already badly damaged. This legislation makes matters worse. With their actions today, the Government have done nothing to repair that standing; they are solely responsible for bringing it into such disrepute.
Today, as the UK Food and Drink Federation publishes details of how exports of beef, pork and cheese to the EU have been savaged, having fallen by more than 80%—for salmon it is 98%, which is in effect an utter wipeout of a major Scottish export—another poll shows that the people of Scotland have had enough of this attitude; it confirms majority support for independence, as does the long-term poll tracking. The people of Scotland see for themselves the economic and moral vacuums being created by this Tory Government. When they look at this shameful situation, they know that the only way to protect our international trade reputation, and to be represented in the way that they want, as global citizens, is if Scotland once again joins the international community as an independent nation.
Following that speech, I will return to the subject we are discussing. I thank the shadow Secretary of State for her generous words and her accurate quotation. None of us actually believed the process would take quite as long as it did when we began. On the point of order made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), I am extremely distressed that she should feel frightened by the intervention of a foreign power in her actions in the House of Commons. Given the level of cyber-intrusion in the United Kingdom in general, it is perhaps something we should all be afraid of.
There are three brief reasons why I support the Government’s position, and I have set them out before. First, I do not believe we should make generic law on the basis of specific cases. The history of our legislation is littered with victims of unintended consequences, which come about when we make law in that way. We should have specific actions for specific issues, such as the actions set out by the Foreign Secretary today on the atrocious way the Chinese treat the Uyghurs. That is the appropriate way to proceed.
Secondly, I believe that the House can vote down any free trade agreement through the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 process. If a preferential free trade agreement with China was proposed that gave China greater access to the United Kingdom market than it would have under World Trade Organisation regulations, we would already have the ability to block it; but I do not believe, for a range of reasons, that we are likely to see that any time soon. The trade conditions, never mind the human rights conditions, mean that is not going to happen.
Thirdly, I do not believe we should restrict the right of the elected Government and the House of Commons to implement policies on which a Government were elected. That is the point of principle that I have raised in every single debate we have had on this issue. The House of Commons should reject unwarranted intrusion, whether by an unelected Lords Committee of senior judges or the courts, on to the rights of democratically elected Governments to implement the policies on which they have been elected. This House should not put limits on what they can do, or, moreover, allow elements outside the House of Commons to do so. That would set a constitutional precedent that we would come to regret in time, whatever the good reason was for considering those changes.
In this place we should recognise a win, so I am grateful that the Government have accepted the principle that they cannot be unaccountable when negotiating trade deals with genocidal states. That is the proposition in the Government’s Neill amendment, which we have banked. However, the proposed Government amendment excludes the Uyghurs, which makes no sense considering the very forceful statement made by the Foreign Secretary just a few hours ago. I welcomed the Foreign Secretary’s statement, especially the sanctions. We have also banked that, but the message we are sending to tyrannical states by denying the genocide amendment is that we have a two-tier genocide system, from which the Uyghurs are excluded.
In case it has to be said, I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith)—and my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton)—who is moving my amendment to agree with the Alton amendment, formally known as the genocide amendment. I regret that I cannot support the Government’s amendment, because it responds to the Uyghur crisis by producing an amendment that excludes them. The Government amendment applies only to countries that are formally negotiating a free trade agreement. The genocide amendment excludes the Uyghurs. Considering everything that has been said today, I really think that is a shameful way to deal with our international and national responsibility. It fundamentally sends a message that we have a two-tier system.
I was trying to explain this to my daughter this morning. It is as if the Government put together a call for evidence on violence against women and girls and said, “We’re not going to allow women and girls to give evidence.” Let me explain. The forced sterilisation of Uyghur women is at a rate that makes “The Handmaid’s Tale” seem like a fairy tale. There is a birth rate drop of 84%—a clear marker of genocide. We are saying to Uyghur women, “You don’t matter. Anyone else but you can present to the Select Committee.”
Not only does the Government’s legislation not cater for the Uyghurs at all, but this afternoon’s announcement, welcome though it was as an extra step, does not include Chen Quanguo. As my hon. Friend knows, he is the chief of the Communist party in Xinjiang. He is the author and architect of some of these genocidal activities and he needs to be held to account.
I know that the president of the World Uyghur Congress has written to many Members and said, “We do not understand why the UK Government would treat us like this, bringing forward a proposal which excludes us in response to a campaign which is all about the suffering of our people.” I am grateful for how far the Government have moved, but we moved too. I just wanted to ensure that the Uyghur people were treated equally to everybody else facing a similar plight. Today, we have an historic vote on a simple question: do we apply genocide policy equally to all people or do we have a two-tier genocide policy now? The Board of Deputies of British Jews wrote
“we are always extremely hesitant to consider comparisons with the Holocaust.”
But it also “noted the similarities” between what is happening in China and what happened in Nazi Germany. By backing the genocide amendment, we can act when we say, “Never again”, by allowing the Uyghur to be included in, not excluded from, the Government motion. I hope colleagues will join me in the Aye Lobby on the genocide amendment, which just gives further teeth to the Government’s earlier sanctions and tidies up a little flaw in the Government’s proposal. We cannot have a two-tier genocide process. We have moved so far forward, let us not fall at the last hurdle. We must and we can be on the right side of history, by voting for the genocide amendment.
I support the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) and very much appreciate the opportunity this evening for a straight vote on the Alton amendment, which is particularly welcome in the light of the procedural shenanigans that prevented it last time. I want to call out the rank hypocrisy of the Government on their approach to the whole issue of determining whether a genocide is taking place. They have always ducked the question of whether the Chinese regime is committing genocide against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang by saying that the determination of genocide is a judicial decision, not a political one, and that it requires legal determination. The Prime Minister said that when he was the Foreign Secretary; when answering Foreign Office questions in November 2017, he said:
“genocide is a strict legal term, and we hesitate to deploy it without a proper judicial decision.”—[Official Report, 21 November 2017; Vol. 631, c. 839.]
In fairness, that has been the position of successive Governments, but this Government know that there is no international mechanism that will enable a legal determination on genocide against the Uyghurs because China will use its veto. None of the options for competent courts under international law is viable.
Now that there is a way forward in a domestic setting with the new Alton amendment, which in itself is a significant compromise—we are no longer considering a role for the High Court, but one for former senior judges in the House of Lords to make a determination on genocide—the Government say that they are happy to leave this issue to parliamentary Select Committees instead. This is unconscionable, unacceptable, breathtaking hypocrisy, and the House should take a stand against it today. If the Government are acting in good faith, I cannot think of any reason why they will not accept a role for the judges panel in the House of Lords, as per the Alton amendment. So we all have a fundamental judgment to make today. It has nothing to do with constitutional precedent or any other separate actions that the Government have announced today, in particular their welcome, though long overdue, decisions on deploying the Magnitsky sanctions regime. Today is simply about whether we draw a line in the sand and say that Britain must not do trade deals with countries that commit genocide. That is the only issue at stake here today, which is why I urge all Members to vote for the Alton amendment this evening.
I would like start by commending the Department for International Trade for its fantastic work in continuing to secure free trade agreements around the world. Last week, I hosted a webinar on exporting, in partnership with the Department and my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan). It was inspiring to hear of the opportunities our small and medium-sized businesses were taking in boosting skills and jobs in our local areas. With about 6.5 million UK jobs supported by UK exports, it is vital that we continue to support and encourage businesses to export, which will help drive a jobs-led recovery from the covid-19 pandemic.
The Bill updates and builds on our existing continuity trading relationship, which formed part of our membership with the EU. I particularly welcome the WTO’s agreement on Government procurement, which will secure access for UK businesses to overseas procurement opportunities worth £1.3 trillion a year. I also welcome the new trade remedies authority, which will enable Britain to secure the benefits of freedom while providing a safety net for domestic industries.
This country leads the way in making the case for human rights, as proven by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary’s statement this afternoon, and we have not embraced an independent trading policy to do otherwise. Our trading policy must therefore reflect our human rights priorities in a way that is both practical and coherent with our constitution. First, in order to work effectively, the determination of matters of genocide needs to be practical and follow established methods. As a result, it is perfectly reasonable for the judgment to rest with the competent courts, which include domestic criminal courts and relevant international courts, rather than Governments or non-judicial bodies. We all support the objective of upholding human rights; it is a question of how we best achieve that in practice.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) has already stated, the Government have listened and given an assurance that Parliament and Select Committee Chairs will be part of the process to establish new joint committees or sub-committees or to bring in the expertise of former members of the judiciary. Amendments proposed by the other place, however, would apply a wrecking ball and enable the High Court to fundamentally challenge the royal prerogative. In my view, such a move would undermine our confidence in Parliament.
Brexit was about strengthening the voice that Parliament has. This Bill and the amendment from my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) give a clear role for Parliament to act quickly and decisively in human rights situations, while also seizing the new global opportunities ahead.
As the shadow Secretary of State for International Trade pointed out earlier, we have had many debates in this place about the Trade Bill, but today there is only one question before us: should the UK have trade deals or agreements with countries that practise genocide on their own people? It seems very clear to me and my fellow Liberal Democrat Members that we need to grab this opportunity to make that very clear statement. We welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement earlier today about the Magnitsky sanctions, but we absolutely must follow that up and make it so clear in everything we do that we do not tolerate genocide in any shape or form.
The Liberal Democrats therefore remain unflinching in our support of Lord Alton’s amendment. We welcome the fact that their lordships have once again returned the Bill to the Commons with this amendment. I urge the Government to listen to all the cross-party voices on this issue and allow the amendment to stand. Time is short, so I will not rehearse all the reasons why this genocide amendment is so necessary in combating the actions of regimes against their own people, such as we are currently seeing against the Uyghurs in China at this very moment.
It continues to baffle me that this Government, which fought so hard for the rights of the UK to agree its own trade deals, have so little to say about how they plan to use that power. They have resisted calls from across the House to use the power of our trade deals to demand environmental, social or human rights improvements from our trading partners. How can we ensure that our goods and services will not be cheaply traded away if the Government will not even allow this amendment? The Government’s objections to the original amendment have been ably addressed by their lordships, and we will be voting this evening for the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani).
I would have no hesitation in voting against a trade deal with a state that commits genocide, nor would I have any hesitation in voting against a trade deal with a state whose oppressive behaviour and conduct fell short of the legal definition of genocide. But either way, those are political decisions and should be taken here; therefore, we need a political process to deal with those.
That is why, despite the changes, there still remain difficulties with the latest iteration of this Bill to come back from their lordships. The problem is given away by the language, which was recognised by the shadow Secretary of State when she referred to a finding by our country’s most experienced judges. That is the rub of the wording of the amendment. When it talks about a “Parliamentary Judicial Committee” and “a preliminary determination”, later defined as “a public finding”, that is the language of courts rather than of Parliaments.
The tension is further revealed by the provisions specifying the procedure by which judges may be appointed to the parliamentary judicial committee. That is constitutionally inaccurate, never mind anything else, because once former members of the judiciary sit in the other place, they sit there as former members, no longer as judges. They have ceased their judicial function. To pass this amendment with its current wording would be constitutionally illiterate. Although the expertise of the former members of the judiciary is very great and very welcome, it is surely objectionable in principle to create a parliamentary Committee on which only one class Member of either House can serve by reference purely to their previous occupation.
Secondly, it seems to me undesirable that, by statute, we should seek to circumscribe so closely both the membership of a Committee of either House or the proceedings by which such a Committee operates, which normally should be a matter for Standing Orders. I would have thought that that was much the better way to go.
The thing that has always concerned me about the hon. Gentleman’s amendment is that it is for Select Committees to make decisions about whether there has been genocide, but the Chairs of the Select Committee who would be the primary candidates have all said that they do not think that they are up to it, that they do not feel that they have sufficient experience, and that it would be the sort of thing that someone with judicial experience would be better able to do.
That would lead the right hon. Lady back into the constitutional problem that was recognised and rejected by this House on a previous occasion with the first version of the Alton amendment. Secondly, I posit that the better way forward is to use the Standing Orders of this House to set up a Joint Committee of both Houses to scrutinise the matter. That could, of course, from the Crossbench Members of the other House, include Members of the House of Lords with former judicial experience, but they would be there as Members of the House, not as former judges and that is their proper constitutional position. None of them has sought to suggest that they will be doing so otherwise.
I am sorry, but time presses. I have given way once, and, with respect, it would not be fair on other people.
I hope that, when the Minister responds to the debate, he will make it clear that the Government would facilitate the bringing forward of motions to enable the establishment of such a Joint Committee of both Houses and I hope very much then that Members of the other place with high judicial experience might well lend their expertise to that. The obvious precedent is the work of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, ably chaired by the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). Over the years, that has established a very high reputation for its rigour of scrutiny, the quality of its decision-making, and the respect in which it is held. It is inconceivable that such a Committee would be ignored by any Government on an issue as important and significant as potential genocide by a potential trading partner. I urge the Government to take that as the right way forward rather than falling yet again into the totally well-intended, but none the less undesirable, constitutional trap of this latest iteration.
My hon. Friend is making a speech that contradicts the Government’s position right now. The Government do not believe that what this House, or a joint House, would do is decide that genocide has taken place, so, in a sense, he is quite a long way towards our amendment.
I fear that my right hon. Friend misunderstands—inadvertently, I am sure. My stance is entirely consistent with that of the Government because it would be for the Select Committees to refer the matter to the Joint Committee, which would then take a view as to whether genocide had potentially taken place. Ultimately, that would then be a matter that informed the House as to whether it decided to go through with the signing off of a trade agreement. Even under the CRaG process, this House has control over that matter. There is, therefore, with respect to my right hon. Friend, no contradiction at all. The nonsense would be to have a situation where we seek to create—however well intended—a quasi-court in the other place through the language of this amendment. That would, I suspect, do more harm than the good that is intended by it. I hope that, if the Government make clear their intentions and facilitate the setting up of a Joint Committee, we will have a better and an altogether more suitable resolution.
Genocide is the most horrific act of barbarity that humans are capable of. In 20 years’ time, I probably will not be around, but most Members will be. By then, the true horrors of what the Chinese regime is doing in Xinjiang will be known by all, and each Member of this House will want to look back with the knowledge that, when presented with the opportunity to do something, they took it.
When we hear the word “genocide”, we think of the Nazi concentration camps, gas chambers and the horrors of the holocaust. What is happening in Xinjiang is more subtle. It is genocide by stealth: forced sterilisation, the forceable transfer of children and forced labour camps—all of a specific ethnic group. In this case it is the Uyghurs. In this case it is genocide. The genocide amendment would help us to prevent our nation from being complicit with genocidal regimes. The status quo of determining genocide is not good enough. It is foolish to rely on the International Criminal Court. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China will veto any trial. Imagine a murder suspect vetoing their own trial; the situation is ludicrous.
It has now been 75 years since the Nuremberg trials. In that time, our country has never succeeded in recognising genocide while it was happening. This is our chance to do so. In January, I joined Members across the House to remember the victims of the holocaust and to say “never again” to genocide. Now is the time to take action and put those words into practice. I appeal to all Members of this House: consider your vote carefully and vote with your conscience. In years to come, no Member wants to look back with regret. Do not be party to this Parliament looking the other way.
Tonight the Government have to decide whether they allow Parliament to intervene in trade deals, specifically in relation to genocide. We have all heard the stories of mass rape, concentration camps, people unable to have babies, brainwash and cultural genocide. The issue is whether Parliament is given the ability, on the basis of evidence, to restrict trade in these situations.
Last time, of course, we saw a Lords amendment that said that the courts should decide whether there is conclusive evidence of genocide, and then we—the politicians in Parliament—would decide whether we restricted trade or not. It was said that these were not competent courts. Of course if you refer to “competent courts” as international courts, China can veto them, which defeats the object. It was said that that amendment would mean judicial interference in Parliament, when of course it would not.
The Lords have come back with a new amendment, saying, “Fair enough; if that’s the way you see it, we’ll have a Committee making decisions on the basis of concrete evidence that is judicially prepared.” Now the Government are saying, “Well, you can’t do that because that’s the judiciary interfering with Parliament.” They cannot have it both ways. It does seem that, in essence, this is an intentional evasion by the Government to prevent Parliament from its solemn duty to defend our intrinsic values.
I certainly do not accept the point made by the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) that the Government have some sort of mandate to muzzle debate and blur scrutiny. We must be free to debate and to decide based on the evidence. The Government must explain what they are doing if trade continues with perpetrators of genocide. We should know the economic cost of protecting our values and decide whether to act.
These are fundamental questions of humanity. The Government have no right to quash or stifle our parliamentary duty to consider them. The fundamental question is: are we going to bow to the power of China and back-room deals, or are we going to rejoice and empower Britain’s gift to the world—that is, robust and unfettered parliamentary debate on the basis of sound evidence in order to make key decisions on when and whether to put our values above our economic interests? We are morally obliged to support this amendment, and I certainly will be doing so.
As a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which recently produced our report on Uyghur forced labour in Xinjiang and UK value chains, I understand the concerns lodged around trading with countries where genocide is suspected to be happening, or, in particular, where it is felt it is almost certain that it is happening. The supply chains of all companies operating in this space need to either dramatically increase their capability and delivery of transparency, or accept the presumption that they are profiteering from exploitation.
It is who determines getting past the key statement of whether genocide is happening in law that this amendment questions, and I believe it is clear that the place for that determination is in the courts. The Government have been consistently clear that it is for competent courts, not Committees, to make determinations of genocide. I do not believe it needs a trade agreement discussion to engage in actions on concerns as significant as genocide. I welcome the statement earlier by the Foreign Secretary on taking steps, along with our partners, where evidence is apparent of actions incompatible with our values. I wholeheartedly support his words. Indeed, I would encourage him to go further.
I believe the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) meets the concerns raised around parliamentary scrutiny in that, should a credible concern of genocide be raised within a country that we are proposing a new free trade agreement with, it ensures that a debate and a vote in Parliament would result. Credible reports rather than determination is a lower level of proof for stimulating this intervention, and that is wholly appropriate, as the practical difficulties in proving genocidal intent mean that genocide is very difficult to prove even when apparently obvious.
I am convinced of the need for us to ensure that any new free trade agreements should not be made with countries where there is a credible concern regarding genocide or, indeed, any other significant human rights issues, but I am not convinced that this amendment is the mechanism by which it should be done.
This has been a short but good debate. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) said, the amendment from the other place will have significant unintended consequences in creating a so-called Parliamentary Judicial Committee, destabilising the balance of powers between Parliament and judiciary while not actually helping those suffering at the hands of the Chinese authorities or those elsewhere in the world. When it comes to China, the UK is leading action internationally, as we saw earlier in this House, when the Foreign Secretary, who had already announced a series of targeted measures in respect of UK supply chains and trade, announced concerted international action through Magnitsky sanctions with 29 of our friends and allies. We will continue to hold China to account for its actions in Xinjiang.
This Bill is a hugely important and necessary piece of legislation for the UK economy. The sooner we enact it, the sooner importers, exporters and the general public can harness the benefit that it brings. Let us not forget that it is the Trade Bill—it is about trade. I will return to that in a moment.
The shadow Secretary of State spoke eloquently about human rights abuses in Xinjiang and I agreed with every word of what she described. Less than a year ago, however, she was seemingly urging us to do a trade deal with China. On 12 May 2020, from that Dispatch Box, she attacked the Government for engaging in negotiations with the United States. She said that she would not agree measures with the United States
“that would constrain the UK’s ability to negotiate our own trade agreement with China”.—[Official Report, 12 May 2020; Vol. 676, c. 111.]
[Interruption.] It is in Hansard. She should not have said it if she did not want to say it. So she is opposed to a trade deal with the United States in case it jeopardises a trade deal with China.
We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who suggested that it was difficult to see what position the Government would agree with. I would say that we agree with the amendment put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill).
Others asked, “What does this do to help the Uyghurs?” This is a Trade Bill. It is mainly about the continuity of previous EU trade agreements and trade defences and trade data. We do not have a free trade agreement with China. We have no plans or intention to negotiate a free trade agreement with China. There is no historical free trade agreement with China. None of this is even in the range of the Bill as it was written. But nor is it clear to me, with the Alton amendment, that there is a significant agreement in scope to cancel. This is a Trade Bill dealing with free trade agreements. There is no FTA with China. That is why Xinjiang and the Uyghurs would not be in the scope of the Trade Bill. That is why, instead, the Foreign Secretary and others are taking the tough action that we propose.
We heard from the SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), whose speech was more about the EU, Brexit and Donald Trump than about trade, China or the Uyghurs.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) talked passionately about the cause, but the Parliamentary Judicial Committee would be given a new power in law to make a determination of genocide, and the Government cannot agree with that. Instead, we agree with the approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, who describes the Parliamentary Judicial Committee as “constitutionally illiterate”. The Government would facilitate such motions as he asked to allow Select Committees to set up a Sub-Committee to examine these issues if the Select Committee chose to do that. That is the most important point.
I hope that hon. Members can now come together to underscore our support for this approach in place of the approach proposed by the other place, and to pass once more the amendment in the name of the Chair of the Justice Committee.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Main Question put.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
That this House insists on its Amendments Nos. 3C and 3D and disagrees with the Lords in their Amendment No. 3E.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83H), That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for insisting on Commons amendments 3C and 3D and disagreeing to their amendment 3E;
That Greg Hands, Maria Caulfield, Michael Tomlinson, Emily Thornberry and Drew Hendry be members of the Committee;
That Greg Hands be the Chair of the Committee;
That three be the quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Tom Pursglove.)
Question agreed to.
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.