Motion to Approve
That the Regulations laid before the House on 31 January be approved.
My Lords, in moving this Motion I will speak also to the Venezuela (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, the Iran (Sanctions) (Human Rights) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and the Republic of Guinea-Bissau (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
Noble Lords will be familiar with the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, which passed through this House last year. It provides the UK with the legislative framework to continue to meet our international obligations, implement autonomous sanctions regimes and update our anti-money laundering framework after we leave the EU—although the last of these is not under consideration today.
Noble Lords will also be aware of the importance of sanctions. They are a key element of our approach to our most important international priorities. They help to defend our national interests, support our foreign policy and protect our national security. They also demonstrate our support for the international rules-based order. The United Kingdom has been a leading contributor to the development of multilateral sanctions in recent years. We have been particularly influential in guiding the EU’s approach, which is why we intend to carry over the policy effects of the EU sanctions regimes by transitioning them into UK law. I will say more about that in a moment.
The principal interests and threats facing the UK and other EU member states will not change fundamentally when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. The Government recognise sanctions as a multilateral foreign policy tool and intend to continue to work in close partnership with the EU and other international partners after we leave the European Union to address those threats, including through the imposition of sanctions. We are committed to maintaining our sanctions capabilities and leadership role after we leave the EU. The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 was the first major legislative step in creating an independent UK sanctions framework.
However, although the Act set out the framework needed to impose our own independent sanctions, we still require statutory instruments to set out the detail of each sanctions regime within that framework. Such statutory instruments set out the purposes of our regimes, the criteria under which the Secretary of State may designate individuals and entities, and the types of restrictive measures imposed. They do not specify which individuals or entities will be sanctioned. The Government will publish a list of those we are sanctioning under UK legislation when those prohibitions come into force. We will then seek to transfer EU designations in each case, but these decisions will be subject to the legal tests detailed in the sanctions Act. Any EU listings that do not meet the tests will not be implemented.
Noble Lords will recall an important feature of the sanctions Act that we discussed in detail during its passage: the right to challenge. Anyone designated under these instruments will be able to request that the Minister carry out an administrative review of their designation. The procedure applicable to such requests for reviews is set out in the Sanctions Review Procedure (EU Exit) Regulations, which were made in November last year and which are now in force. If, following the review, the Minister’s decision is to uphold the designation, the designated person has the right to apply to the High Court, or the Court of Session in Scotland, to challenge that designation decision. The court will apply judicial review principles to determine whether the designation decision should be set aside and will apply the procedure set out in the amended civil procedure rules for England and Wales, the rules of the Court of Judicature for Northern Ireland and the rules of the Court of Session for Scotland, which in particular allow for closed material proceedings to take place in relation to such challenges. The regulations underpinning this process have already been subject to debate and approved by this House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these statutory instruments extremely briefly—more briefly than his right honourable friend in the Commons.
We all agree that sanctions can play a key role in the implementation of the rule of international law and we support all four of the SIs. Clearly, no one wants our sanctions regime to lapse if we leave the EU. As the Minister said, the UK has been a leading contributor to the development of multilateral sanctions in recent years and we have been particularly influential in guiding the EU’s approach. Indeed we have—but we risk losing that influence. I am sure that the Minister will agree that sanctions carry greater weight as part of an EU-level arrangement, rather than going it alone. The Minister said:
“We are committed to maintaining our … leadership role after we leave the EU”.
Can he say how this is supposed to happen?
I note that in response to a Written Question on 8 October 2018 on the UK’s sanctions policies, Sir Alan Duncan stated:
“In future it will be in the UK’s and the EU’s mutual interest to discuss sanctions policy and decide where and how to combine efforts to the greatest effect”.
In light of that, are there any differences in the arrangements here or do they completely mirror what we have in the EU? What exploration has there been on how alignment will be assured in future?
The Explanatory Memorandum says that these regulations have “substantially” the same effect. Why have the Government chosen this word? Is it a “just in case” word, or does it mean that there are some differences, even if slight? Will the Minister clarify that?
If we diverge in future, can the Minister indicate what the future direction might be? Will we respond when we come under pressure to align with the US or some other ally? In one area, during the passage of the original Bill, Parliament added in our own version of the Magnitsky provisions, which I very much welcomed. Can the Minister explain why that appears not to have been carried over in these provisions? If they are only to mirror what we have in the EU, when does he think that such provisions will be brought forward? We have quite a lot of parliamentary time on our hands.
I turn to the specific sanctions regime, although my noble friend Lord Chidgey will deal with Guinea-Bissau. The sanctions on Burma aim to encourage the Myanmar security forces to comply with international human rights law and to respect human rights. Additional sanctions were introduced in April 2018 in response to the recent appalling human rights violations by security forces. As we know, an EU-wide arms embargo has been in place against Myanmar in some form since 1991. Will the Minister confirm that the UK will continue to adhere to this?
On 26 April 2018, the European Council also sanctioned the export of any equipment to Myanmar that could be used for internal repression. Similarly, it prohibited the export of dual-use goods to the military and border guard police that could be used for internal repression or monitoring. There is also a ban on all military training and co-operation with the army. These provisions were recently extended until April 2020. Will we adhere to this?
Myanmar also currently benefits from the EU’s Everything But Arms scheme. The EU has considered temporarily removing Myanmar from the scheme on the grounds of possible violations of UN and ILO conventions. Myanmar’s textile industry benefits the most from the EBA scheme. The European Commission and European External Action Service have conducted a fact-finding mission and will now analyse the results. How will the UK respond to any findings? Are we likely to align with the EU?
Human rights campaigners such as Burma Campaign UK have referred to the possible removal of the EBA scheme as a misdirected sanction, likely to impact workers rather than officials. It has instead argued that imposing economic sanctions on the two largest military conglomerates would better target the military. Will the Minister comment?
The European Burma Network has requested that the EU fundamentally reviews its position on Myanmar. It notes that some member states have favoured a stronger approach on human rights, while others favour a policy led by trade and strategic interests. In its view, these divisions undermine EU and international efforts to promote human rights and democracy. How does the UK plan to navigate its way through this effectively? Is it at all likely, for example, that it would impose targeted sanctions, banning European companies doing any form of business with military-owned and controlled companies?
On Venezuela, the EU agreed a sanctions regime on 13 November 2017, given the concern about human rights violations and the repression in civil society and domestic opposition. Thus far, the sanctions include an arms embargo and a ban on exporting any equipment to Venezuela that could be used for internal repression. Will the Minister comment on whether either the EU or the UK alone is considering further sanctions, possibly involving funds held by the Bank of England or the City of London, in the light of current events in Venezuela? Some have argued that oil and financial sanctions are more likely to be effective, while others have warned that such sanctions could have a devastating effect on the people of Venezuela—a position that the EU has taken. The US and the EU have increasingly diverged on Venezuelan sanctions, with President Trump imposing sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil firm. What is the UK’s position? Is it likely to align in future with the EU or the US?
On Iran, the regulations relate to its human rights record rather than the development of nuclear weapons, which will be dealt with in a separate set of regulations. The Explanatory Memorandum states:
“This sanctions regime is aimed at encouraging the government of Iran to comply with international human rights law and to respect human rights”.
In terms of human rights sanctions, the EU has adopted restrictive measures since 2011. These include a ban on exports to Iran of any equipment that may be used for internal repression or monitoring tele-communications. There are also currently 82 individuals, including judges and prosecutors, and one entity—the Iranian cyber police—on the sanctions list. They are subject to a travel ban and asset freeze in the EU. The Council has just extended the sanctions regime until 13 April 2020, when it will next be up for evaluation. How will the Government engage with this evaluation, and are they minded to stay in line? What is their view on how it would best help those dual nationals held in Iran, such as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe? Can the Minister tell us what her situation is in light of the proposed prisoner swap that could involve her?
The Minister will know that the US takes a harsher view of Iran than we do, with draconian trade sanctions that may affect many of our companies trading in Iran. Is the Government’s current plan to stay in line with the EU on this, as we have on the nuclear side? How are they seeking to protect those companies that could be affected by US sanctions? Can they do so or are they in effect fairly powerless in this respect?
If, indeed, the UK leaves the EU, clearly we need to have in place an effective sanctions regime. I am glad that the Government seem currently to be seeking to align themselves with the EU on this matter, but that does not map out the future. Although some may see opportunities here to strengthen what we might do, there has to be a greater risk that we will be tempted to soften our approach as a competitive advantage—and that clearly would not be leading by example.
My Lords, I am very happy to support the four SIs before your Lordships’ House, and welcome the way in which the Minister introduced them. I am vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy in Burma, a founder of the Jubilee Campaign and patron of Karenaid.
When I took my seat in your Lordships’ House in 1997, the then Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, the former Speaker of the House of Commons, Lord Weatherill—one of my two sponsors—encouraged me to take an interest in the plight of the Karen in Burma. He introduced me to our late and very much missed colleague, Viscount Slim, whose family had so many historic associations with Burma. Viscount Slim encouraged me to support Prospect Burma, the charity he established, and to take these issues seriously.
I travelled to Burma and entered the Karen State illegally on two occasions, visiting the refugee camps where, to this day, there are more than 100,000 refugees from the Karen communities; some families have been there since the 1940s and 1950s. However, it has to be said that the situation in the Karen State significantly improved during the period of transition when the National League for Democracy won the elections in Burma and started to have some say over the governance of the country. But it has become very clear in the years that have followed that whatever hopes and progress we believed there would be in Burma—not least because of the role that Aung San Su Kyi, we felt, would be able to play—have been dashed.
Two years ago I was able to go to Naypyidaw, the capital city of Burma, and met with Daw Suu. I raised specifically with her what I had seen the day before in a village. I had been to a small village where Buddhists and Muslims had lived together alongside one another in harmony and coexistence for generations, and I saw that the madrassa in the village had been burnt to the ground. I was grateful to the Foreign Office official who accompanied me. We took evidence and gave it to Aung San Suu Kyi. I raised the issue of what was happening to the Rohingya people as well as the Kachin people and other groups among the many ethnicities in Burma who were clearly increasingly suffering. What has been happening to the Rohingya people ever since does not need to be rehearsed at any length with your Lordships. Around 1 million Rohingya are in camps, adding to the 44,000 people around the world who, according to UNHCR figures, are displaced every single day. That is creating untold misery, whether for those who take to the sea or for those who try to cross the borders into Bangladesh and have now been displaced for what is approaching years, with very little progress made to establish their rights to citizenship or to deal with the fundamental issues that led to them fleeing in the first place.
The Minister says that sanctions are a key element of our policy as a way of putting pressure on the military authorities in Burma who have brought this sad situation to pass. I agree that they are a tool in the kit, but one has to ask whether, by themselves, they are actually achieving a great deal. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is to be applauded for being the most rigorous of departments in European Union countries in enforcing the arms embargo. We have one of the best records, and that should be said. But let us be clear about what these sanctions actually do. Apart from the arms embargo, they only amount to a ban on some 14 military and security personnel in Burma going on holiday to European Union member states. When we think of that as a response to crimes against humanity and what may even be approaching genocide—a point I shall come back to in a moment—it is, to coin a phrase used in a note I received only this morning from Burma Campaign UK, “pretty pathetic”.
It is certainly disproportionate, and I remind the Minister of his reply to a Question I tabled on 19 June last year. He rightly said:
“The Foreign Secretary has been clear that ethnic cleansing has taken place in Rakhine, and that the violence of August and September 2017 may even constitute genocide, though that would be a determination for an international court to make”.
On 26 June, I pressed the same issue with his noble friend Lady Fairhead, given that trade is central to the question of sanctions. On 12 June I had asked the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, whether the Government planned to issue official guidance to companies not to engage in any form of business with companies owned by the Burmese military. The reply from the noble Baroness simply did not accord with the sort of words used by both the Foreign Secretary and the noble Lord speaking for the Foreign Office. The noble Baroness said:
“DIT continues to support trade with Burma as an important part of driving mutual prosperity”.
Who is it that we are driving mutual prosperity with? We are talking about the Tatmadaw, the military junta. They are the people responsible for what has happened in Rakhine, for what is happening to the Kachin people, and for many of the depredations of which we are all too well aware. The noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead, went on to answer my question about whether the Government planned to make a public statement of support for a UN mandated global arms embargo against Myanmar. The reply from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, who dealt with that aspect, was:
“The Government continues to assess that there is insufficient support at present for a UN Security Council Resolution instituting a global arms embargo for Burma”.
Perhaps I may press the noble Lord again today as to whether that remains Her Majesty’s Government’s position and whether sometimes, even if you know you are going to be defeated—I say this for those of us who have spent our lives often being defeated—there are moments when it is right to take a stand and to put people on the spot. If we are saying that representatives of the People’s Republic of China are the ones who would veto such a resolution, let them do so and let us demonstrate the difference between their values and ours. Sometimes, I get frustrated that we use this as the first line of defence in places like North Korea, which has been described by the UN as a state without parallel when it comes to human rights violations, and in the case of Myanmar. We are saying that we will not take this forward because we think that others will oppose or veto it. Well, let them do so.
Post Brexit, we no longer have to be mute in our response. The Government frequently say that we cannot speak out of line with our European Union neighbours—a point alluded to in a positive way by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover—and when we can speak together we should always do so. However, this is used as a double-edged weapon when questions are raised about why we do not ensure that our colleagues in Europe do more about European Union sanctions. The Government say that the discussions are confidential and that they require consensus before the sanctions are toughened up. When this is pressed further, you find out from, for instance, a statement from Burma Campaign UK that the policy is still based on the assessment made of conditions on the ground in 2012-13 and that there is a “three-way split” in the European Union. Some countries work together on a human rights-based approach; others want trade issues to be paramount. But the,
“European Commission/External Action Service has largely been following its own agenda, at times in direct contradiction of what EU member states have agreed”.
These positions do not therefore reflect the position of Her Majesty’s Government. All these divisions in approach play, in my view, into the hands of the military junta, the Tatmadaw, in Burma. The stated priorities of the European Union—peace, democracy, development and trade—are right, but by anyone’s reckoning, Burma is in default on all those things. Surely that alone should be grounds for a fundamental review.
There was never a genuine transition to democracy. The 2008 constitution in Burma is not democratic and the military has not allowed for the fundamental changes that were hoped for and worked for. Military committees regularly take decisions about the future of Burma, rather than civil society, and they carry out human rights violations with impunity. Media freedom and freedom of expression are declining while the number of political prisoners is growing. The peace process is stalled and conflict has increased. A policy based on the realities of today and not those of 2012, on what will happen post Brexit and what we will do about a United Nations-mandated global arms embargo on Burma, are the issues I put to the Minister. I hope that when he responds, he will be able to say something about them.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for bringing these four instruments before the House and I shall listen with interest to his replies to the many questions that have already been raised. My own interest lies primarily in the Venezuelan situation, which at the moment is highly topical and very fluid. The Venezuelan people have been going through a very difficult time not just over the past two years but for several years. I think that they have suffered enough. Given the fluidity of the situation, would my noble friend be prepared to commit to keeping the House informed with updates as and when any further action may be relevant? Can he also confirm that the Government will continue to co-ordinate and co-operate with the Lima Group in particular to ensure that regional considerations are at the forefront of any actions we take in relation to sanctions against Venezuela?
My Lords, I am delighted to thank the Minister for opening the debate and for giving me the opportunity to contribute and talk about Guinea-Bissau, which lies in an incredibly complex part of Africa, given its history and the influences placed on it, not just by western, European colonialists but by Asia, by religion and by their own ethnic empires in the region. It is a real melting pot. The point is that here we are in the 21st century looking at sanctions on Guinea-Bissau specifically to try to influence the way it relates to the values we believe to be absolutely fundamental in a modern state.
We have to take into account that the political evolution of Guinea-Bissau, before and after independence, has been as troubled and turbulent as that of any country in the region. The armed rebellion against Portugal, the colonial power, began in 1956 with the support of Cuba and the Soviet Union—and China, which was almost unheard of in those days. Meanwhile, in the neighbouring Republic of Guinea, or Guinea Conakry, Ahmed Sekou Toure’s Government were choosing not to join de Gaulle’s post-colonial French community. This resulted in the immediate withdrawal of all French investment and assistance, creating an economic crisis. In the 1980s, I gained first-hand knowledge of the results of that situation.
Sekou Toure’s soldiers crossed into Guinea-Bissau to join the rebels fighting the Portuguese, and the rebels gradually took control of the country. In 1970, the Portuguese organised an attempted coup in Guinea Conakry, with the aim of releasing their troops captured in the fighting in Guinea-Bissau and then held in appalling prison camps just outside Conakry. They succeeded and withdrew, leaving the exiled Guinean troops they had accompanied to fight on alone. Those troops failed to reach the radio station in Conakry in time to prevent a warning being sent to Sekou Toure, the President, thus allowing him to evade capture and certain execution. Following independence, the ruling party in Guinea-Bissau massacred hundreds of thousands of local soldiers who had fought alongside the Portuguese. In Guinea Conakry, over 50,000 people were killed in massive purges. A third of the population fled to neighbouring countries and all French citizens were banished.
Against this background, the introduction of democratic elections in Guinea-Bissau in 1994 was almost bound to end in failure, culminating as it did in civil war. It is a matter of record that, since 1998, Guinea-Bissau has had 10 Prime Ministers and three elected Presidents, none of whom has been allowed to complete their mandate. Four chiefs of general staff of the armed forces have been removed by the military, two of whom were assassinated by fellow officers. With the latest crisis also being marked by military intervention, it is no wonder that, in December 2018, the UN Security Council warned that unless political actors in Guinea-Bissau demonstrate renewed good faith to hold,
“genuinely free and fair elections”,
the country is set to face a continuing cycle of instability.
According to the UN’s deputy special representative, David McLachlan-Karr, the recent elections were a very positive result for people, heralding the dawn of a new chapter for democracy in Guinea-Bissau. I note that in the SI, however, the Government acknowledge that the democratic process in the Republic of Guinea-Bissau remains uncertain. The SI needs to promote the rule of law and good governance and seek to prevent threats to democratic principles, and the Government plan to continue to hold Guinea-Bissau to account for any action that undermines the peace, security or stability of the country. This of course is very commendable, and much to be welcomed and supported.
We understand that the identity of designated persons targeted by the SI cannot be revealed in advance, to limit the opportunity for them to remove assets from the UK. However, if the Minister could advise us, it would be helpful to know the scale of the assets considered and an approximation of the number of designated persons there might be, given that Guinea-Bissau’s population is well under 2 million. Are they resident in Guinea-Bissau? Are there conspiracies of organised crime involved? How do the Government expect to monitor their activities and respond to their actions?
My Lords, I too welcome the Minister’s introduction to these SIs, and his brevity. I also welcome the contributions from other noble Lords that related to policy issues. Whenever we talk about sanctions, there is a reason for them, and those reasons need to be clearly expressed. I therefore welcome the contribution of all noble Lords in that regard.
I shall raise specific points that arise primarily from the discussion in the other place, in particular on the Magnitsky clause and the question of human rights. During the passage of the sanctions Bill, we had a detailed debate on human rights, and it was this House that pushed for amendments to include that as a primary reason for sanctions. The Magnitsky clause is an opportunity to expand the scope of the impact of our sanctions.
In the other place, we heard quite a few reasons why we were not going to see anything on the Magnitsky clause in these SIs. It was a bit confusing. The reasons given included that we cannot act too rapidly, and that we have had various legal advice. Sir Alan Duncan also said that we have about 3,000 statutory instruments to get through, and that there is a risk of constant legal challenge. A different explanation seems to have been given by the Permanent Under-Secretary and the Foreign Secretary. When pushed, the Government seem to be arguing that we cannot do this because we are operating within the EU framework and cannot act independently. Yet we know that there are EU countries that have exactly those provisions—Estonia and Lithuania, to name two—where individual Russians who have committed human rights abuses are specifically named.
If Sir Alan Duncan, the Minister, is saying that that action is not consistent with the Government’s legal advice, perhaps the noble Lord the Minister can tell us exactly how and when it might fit properly within the implementation period. When pressed, Sir Alan Duncan said that it was difficult to forecast—that seems to be the position of the Government at the moment on this uncertainty. When pushed again, he said that it would be as soon as was practicable. That sounds like quite a short timeframe to me, because it ought to be practicable to do this. I hope the noble Lord will be more precise than the Minister in the other place.
I want to focus on the following questions. What are sanctions for? How do we measure their effectiveness? We have had previous debates on sanctions, and often we get a report from the Government which says that sanctions are effective because they have stopped X, Y and Z. We then have to ask ourselves what impact they are having: are they actually influencing the people committing all these things?
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, is absolutely right. Stopping military leaders means stopping those who control not only the policy of Burma but the economy of Burma. We are not talking about individuals who simply have a role in government. Their influence and the way they have exploited the economy of Burma goes well beyond their military role. We need to address that. The idea that we should simply stop them going on a shopping trip beggars belief.
Both Sir Alan Duncan in the other place and the Minister today have spoken about the importance of our leadership role, which we should not underestimate. It has been vital in influencing the European Union and it has had positive effects on foreign policy. We have used different measures in Iran and we are trying to influence it to change its policy on nuclear weapons and engage positively. On human rights, we are clear that its behaviour is totally unacceptable. I hope the Minister will be able to update us on the position of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. However, human rights abuses in Iran go beyond that into capital punishment and abuse of the LGBT population. The list goes on.
On the fundamental point of effectiveness and impact, the reason our sanctions have most impact is that we impose them collectively. If we take actions in isolation from the international community, they will not have impact. Can the Minister respond to other noble Lords’ questions about the mechanism for maintaining that impact through collective action with our European allies? What discussions are we having? We have taken many actions to prepare for the eventuality of X, Y and Z, but how we are planning? What sort of forums will we consider to ensure that we have a consistent response from our allies?
Another point raised by noble Lords concerns the differences within NATO. Iran is a classic example of where the impact and effectiveness of sanctions on the nuclear weapons programme is undermined by the United States. That, of course, has implications for business and trade.
I had a number of questions on the individual SIs but other noble Lords have picked up on most of them and I will not repeat them. The fundamental point is how we ensure that we have ongoing effectiveness and impact working with our allies in the European Union.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have again contributed to a very practical and focused discussion. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, noticed the brevity of my opening remarks. We have talked about sanctions to a large extent and perhaps I was pre-empting some of the questions. I was not disappointed. There were focused questions on the specific proposals in front of us today and I will answer them directly.
In thanking everyone here, I acknowledge and put on record the thanks of the Government to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which have been working terribly hard in the current climate. I appreciate their close scrutiny of the statutory instruments laid before us today.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that it is important that, as we leave the European Union, we align ourselves to working closely with our European Union partners to ensure that any sanctions we impose have the desired impact. It is no good applying a sanctions regime in the UK which is different from that of some of our nearest and closest allies, including the European Union. Discussions on that have taken place with our partners and continue to do so, because we all desire to ensure the robustness of those schemes.
From the discussions I have had with a number of European Foreign Ministers, I can assure noble Lords that, notwithstanding our departure from the European Union, there is a real commitment to continue to work and align ourselves closely on many issues in which we share common perspectives—and sanctions is certainly one such area.
As noble Lords will be aware, the Sanctions Act requires a review of all UK sanctions listings at least every three years. In addition to this triannual review, we will also review all sanctions regimes such as those being debated today on an annual basis. That will present yet another opportunity to review and scrutinise how we are acting in conjunction with other key allies around the world, including those within the European Union. As I have already said, these arrangements will also provide protection for designated persons, especially when coupled with wider safeguards than the Sanctions Act.
I turn to some specific questions. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly asked why we had proposed what is in front of us today and what was the exact purpose of sanctions. As I said in my opening remarks, the SIs are intended to transfer into UK law the respective EU sanctions regimes. The instruments seek to substantially mirror the policy effects and mutually reinforce the measures in the corresponding EU sanctions regime.
The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly raised the issue of human rights. I assure noble Lords that human rights are a significant focus of the sanctions regimes we are debating today. I know that many are keen for the UK to develop its own stand-alone human rights sanctions regime and may therefore query why we are simply transferring existing EU sanctions regimes. I assure both noble Lords that the Sanctions Act gives us the necessary powers in UK law to develop our own such regime. However, these SIs were laid on a contingent basis to provide for the continuation of some existing sanctions regimes should we leave the EU without a deal. Transferring our existing EU measures by laying SIs such as these has been our priority, and I am sure noble Lords acknowledge that. We will soon be able to consider new regimes specifically.
The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked a series of questions across different elements. I have already alluded to the issue of the EU and how we will work closely together. I assure noble Lords that we will continue to work closely to strengthen our bilateral relationships with key partners. The UK’s existing co-operation with the EU on foreign policy, security and defence issues provides a strong platform on which to build our future relationship. Last week I was at the Security Council of the United Nations, under the German presidency, discussing the important issue of sexual violence in conflict. The bilateral discussions I had with the German Foreign Minister and others concerned how we could align ourselves closely in areas of mutual co-operation.
The EU-UK political declaration, which I am sure noble Lords saw, also mentions specifically:
“Consultation on sanctions, with intensified exchange of information where foreign policy objectives are aligned, with the possibility of adopting mutually reinforcing sanctions”.
That is a clear statement of intent on how we seek to co-operate going forward.
The noble Baroness asked about divergence from EU sanctions. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said that the UK,
“will look to carry over all EU sanctions at the time of our departure”.
I assure the noble Baroness that, under the sanctions Act, the Government will produce secondary legislation for each existing EU regime in order to carry EU sanctions over into UK law. Stating what will happen in future would be purely speculative, but I hope that I have given a level of reassurance to noble Lords in respect of our intention to work closely with our European partners.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly raised human rights and specifically the Magnitsky sanctions. I was proud of your Lordships’ role in ensuring that there was a real focus on human rights in the sanctions Act. As noble Lords will have noted, three out of the four sanctions regulations being debated today—on Burma, Venezuela and Iran—are made at least in part to promote compliance with international human rights law and respect for human rights. The sanctions imposed under these regulations are designed to ensure accountability for human rights violators.
As I have already said, the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 provides powers for the UK to make secondary legislation to impose sanctions to provide accountability for or to deter gross violations of human rights, and to promote compliance with international human rights law and respect for human rights. I assure noble Lords that the UK strongly supports current efforts to establish a thematic human rights sanctions regime. The Government’s focus to date has been on ensuring that we have the necessary secondary legislation in place to implement EU and UN sanctions. The SIs we are debating today are part of that preparation. As a member of the EU, or during the implementation period, EU sanctions will apply within the UK, and we will use the powers provided by the sanctions Act to the fullest extent possible during that period. The noble Lord talked about different countries during that interim period, and there will be some limitations on what we can impose autonomously. I assure noble Lords that it is our intention that national sanctions in relation to human rights will be brought forward, but we will need to design and draft a statutory instrument to ensure that associated processes and structures are in place. I am sure noble Lords will agree that it is also important that we set up the regime correctly to ensure that sanctions meet the legal tests set out in the sanctions Act. In summary on that point, the Magnitsky clause in the sanctions Act, and the Act itself, provide the governance and framework to allow us to take forward those principles and those protections for human rights.
If I may digress for a moment, it was a huge privilege recently to mark the 40 years in Parliament of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. He has been a strong promoter of human rights over many years. I pay tribute to him and put on record my thanks for being such an advocate for human rights over a number of years. The contribution he made today underlines the intense focus, detail and sensitivity he brings to this subject. I look forward to working with him and, indeed, all noble Lords on these important issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness mentioned Burma. I assure noble Lords that the regulations in front of us impose an arms embargo as well as prohibitions relating to dual-use items and items that can be used for internal repression and for the interception and monitoring of telecommunications. There are also currently prohibitions on the provision of interception and monitoring services and on military related services, including the provision of training, personnel and funds to the Tatmadaw. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, alluded to the leadership of Burma. We have led the way in the EU when it comes to sanctions on Burma. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, rightly made a point about the situation in the United Nations. Burma has been an issue. As the penholder on Burma at the United Nations Security Council, we are cognisant of the importance of moving forward on these issues. Undoubtedly some members of the Security Council are reluctant to move forward in the way all of us in this House would want to see, but I will apprise the noble Lord of the progress we can make in this respect. It is not something that we are losing focus on. I stress that in my capacity as the Prime Minister’s special representative on preventing sexual violence in conflict, ensuring that we bring justice for the victims and survivors of tragic events such as the ethnic cleansing we have seen in places such as Burma by bringing the perpetrators to justice will remain a key focus of my human rights work.
My noble friend Lady Hooper and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, talked about Venezuela. We will continue to work very closely with partners on Venezuela. We are working very closely with the Lima Group and will continue to do so in this respect. Indeed, at a meeting at the UN when the crisis first broke out, my right honourable friend Sir Alan Duncan reiterated our alignment with the Lima Group. To take up a number of points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, on the unfolding situation, the EU has firmly condemned recent events in Venezuela. I must admit that like all noble Lords yesterday evening I was watching what was unfolding on our screens. We are watching events very closely. I assure noble Lords that whether it is through an Answer to an Urgent Question or otherwise we will update and apprise your Lordships’ House as things become clearer on the ground. What is very clear is that it is time for Mr Maduro to step aside and time to ensure justice and for the voices of the people of Venezuela to prevail. That is why we have aligned ourselves in support of interim President Guaidó to ensure that we can move forward. We continue to call for free, transparent and credible presidential elections at the earliest opportunity. In this respect we are working very closely with most EU member states, the United States and members of the Lima Group.
The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked about the Bank of England and Venezuelan gold. As I have said previously from the Dispatch Box, it is entirely the Bank’s decision. I stress again that the Bank of England rightly takes its responsibilities on this matter with the utmost seriousness. We are keeping it extremely well briefed about the fluid situation in Venezuela. As the noble Baroness is aware, the Bank does not comment on its client relationships. I assure her that we are keeping the Bank fully appraised of events on the ground.
Turning to the Iran SI, the noble Baroness raised specific issues. On Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the treatment of British detainees in Iran is a priority for Her Majesty’s Government. I am sure the noble Baroness will acknowledge my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary’s direct intervention in this case. His intervention has resulted in what we hope is improved access to medical treatment. It is important that we continue to raise this issue consistently and regularly with the Iranian Government, and we continue to do just that.
The noble Baroness asked about working with our European partners on issues around Iran. I go back to what I have said previously from the Dispatch Box about the importance of keeping the Iran nuclear deal on the table and of working with our European partners. That reflects our priority of ensuring that the Government in Tehran continue to be engaged internationally with Governments elsewhere in the world. A point was made about ignoring human rights to pursue nuclear trade concerns. I assure noble Lords that this is a personal priority. We do not pursue trade to the exclusion of human rights or the rule of law and we believe that a complementary approach can be adopted. When it comes to Iran, we believe that we can encourage economic development and openness and that that is the best way to develop our relationship. That provides better leverage.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about human rights and trade vis-à-vis Burma. In a former role as Transport Minister, I was one of the first Ministers to arrive in Burma heralding the arrival of a new civilian Government. It is regrettable that those ambitions have not been lived up to. We are using all our expertise in Burma in direct relations with the Burmese Government and through the offices of the United Nations to ensure that human rights are rightly seen as a priority.
Turning back to Iran, the human rights situation remains dire and we are determined to continue to hold the Government to account. Perhaps I may give a few facts and figures. The EU has designated more than 80 Iranians as being responsible for human rights violations. We have also helped to establish the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran and have lobbied for the adoption of UN human rights resolutions on Iran. We regularly raise these issues bilaterally, including when the Minister for the Middle East visited Tehran in August 2018.
We are fast approaching the month of Ramadan for Muslims around the world, and it is a time for great compassion and humanity. I am sure that we look to everyone across the world to consider some of these cases with the compassion and humanity that their faith calls for, and I particularly appeal to those in Iran to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked what the UK is doing specifically on Burma. I have already alluded to various elements and he is fully cognisant of the aid programme and support that we continue to provide. Sanctions have been raised against 14 individuals in the Burmese military, including the border guard and associated persons who were responsible for human rights violations in 2018. The Foreign Secretary wrote a joint letter with the French Foreign Minister making it clear to the Burmese authorities that their commission of inquiry needs to be both independent and credible. That will lead to a judicial process. As the noble Lord will be aware, the Foreign Secretary visited Burma on 19 and 20 September to see directly for himself the situation in Rakhine State, among other places. In terms of specific sanctions on Burma, the sanctions Act provides a new legal framework through which the UK will impose, amend and lift sanctions in the future. However, while we remain a member of the EU, we will continue to work closely in alignment with the EU sanctions regime.
I assure the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, that I have not forgotten him—I am coming to Guinea-Bissau. Currently 20 individuals are subject to asset freezes in Guinea-Bissau. We cannot reveal the names of the persons to be designated ahead of the regulations but I assure the noble Lord that we are committed to ensuring that this matter is prioritised, and we have brought forward this SI to ensure that that happens.
To conclude, these statutory instruments transfer into UK law well-established EU sanctions regimes that are in line with the UK’s foreign policy priorities. Again, I emphasise that they will encourage respect for human rights, the rule of law, and security and stability in very challenging environments. Approving these SIs will allow the UK to continue to implement sanctions from the moment we leave the EU. It will also send a strong signal about our intention to continue to play a leading role in the development of sanctions in the future.
Once again, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this short but important debate. When it comes to sanctions regimes, I will continue to work very closely with noble Lords across the House to ensure the prioritisation of human rights obligations. I commend these regulations to the House.