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Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime

Volume 804: debated on Thursday 9 July 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to report annually to Parliament on the operation of the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime, including the details of those subject to that Regime.

My Lords, as required by Sections 30 and 32 of the sanctions Act, we will report annually to Parliament on all sanctions regulations. This year’s Section 32 report, which focuses on sanctions for human rights purposes, will be laid shortly. We will also publish a list of names of those subject to UK-autonomous sanctions. This has been updated with the names of those designated on 6 July under the global human rights sanctions regime.

I thank the Minister for his Answer and, like other noble Lords yesterday, I warmly congratulate the Government on this hugely significant step, which is a flare of light in the continuing darkness of human rights abuses. It was good to hear that the Government are to report annually to Parliament. Given the Minister’s well-known and serious commitment to this area, and the fact that in the House of Lords, in particular, there is widespread concern about this issue, can he give any kind of indication as to when the earliest opportunity might present itself for us to engage with him on this issue?

My Lords, within the sanctions Act there are provisions stating that after the laying of these final designations, which was on 6 July, there is a period of 28 sitting days during which the debate would take place in Parliament. I think that we will seek, through the usual channels, to have an early debate when we return in September.

If, as envisaged in the guidance, someone is sanctioned who is discovered to be in the United Kingdom, can they be removed more easily than under the current Immigration Rules?

My Lords, when such scenarios arise, each case will have its specific circumstances to be looked on. Various tools are available to us, including the cancellation of a visa if someone is in the UK. But without going into the details of any particular case, it would be looked upon on its merits and circumstances.

I welcome the new sanctions proposals, although they need to be extended to cover corruption. Does the Minister agree that the new regime must be overseen and run by an independent body so that it is not driven or impeded by political considerations?

My Lords, there are measures in place. If someone has been designated and they feel that needs to be reviewed it would go to a Minister, but the court systems exist to allow for that review. In all of this there is a parliamentary overview and, as I have said, there will be opportunities to debate designations. They will be looked at. On corruption, as I said yesterday, we are looking at other frameworks, including the UN frameworks. We will follow those in bringing new proposals forward in time.

Your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Committee is ready, willing and able to engage in regular constructive scrutiny. Will my noble friend the Minister consider writing to us when new statutory instruments are laid, setting out the background to the measures?

My Lords, I have spoken to my noble friend specifically on the scheme. We have received her letter of 2 July and I know that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will respond to her. However, I take note of this, since I subscribe strongly to the scrutiny function of the House of Lords. I will certainly feed that into discussions and the response.

My Lords, while I welcome the action the Government have taken on this matter, can I press the Minister a little further on his reply to the noble Baroness who chairs our Select Committee, on which I also sit? Would he be able to come and talk to members of that committee about how best they can assist the House in scrutinising these important decisions, many of which will no doubt come forward, and play a useful role in that way?

I am always very pleased to speak to Members of your Lordships’ House. We will seek a time when I might come and brief the committee and engage some of its thinking.

My Lords, I welcome what the Minister said about scrutiny. He reminded us yesterday about Section 30, and the debates that we had on the sanctions Bill and the consequent Act. What is lacking is a clear idea about how that scrutiny will take place. I certainly welcome the fact that we are possibly going to get the Intelligence and Security Committee looking at that. Can he offer us more transparency by offering a proper debate on these regulations, so that we can not just debate those designations the Government have decided upon, but discuss new designations?

My Lords, may I say first that I am missing the noble Lord from across the Chamber? It is good to see him virtually. Nevertheless, I had thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, would pose the questions from Her Majesty’s Opposition. On the point he raises, he will be aware that I mentioned yesterday that I believe there will be a debate in the other place on 16 July. We will be speaking through the usual channels to see how we can constitute an early debate after the return of the House in the autumn.

My Lords, in his initial response the Minister stressed UK-autonomous sanctions. I note from the Explanatory Memorandum on the regulations that, in the past, the UK’s implementation of UN and other sanctions has been through the European Communities Act, now rescinded. To what extent do the Government plan to work with the European Union in putting forward sanctions? Clearly, multilateral co-operation would make sanctions even more effective.

My Lords, on the wider European sanctions, we continue to work with our European partners. Indeed, during the transition period whatever has been agreed with them continues to apply. There is also a rollover of many of the sanctions that have been applied through the European scheme. But as the noble Baroness knows, the European Union does not have a specific human rights sanctions regime. We will work constructively as it seeks to develop that. As I said yesterday and have said before, sanctions work effectively only when we work with like-minded partners and, after our departure from the European Union, we should reflect that important partnership.

Well done, Minister, but how many more people are under active consideration of being sanctioned? Is it a handful, tens or hundreds?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his initial statement and welcome it because it is always nice to be told “Well done”, wherever it comes from. On his second point, I am sure he will appreciate that there is a lot of sensitivity around designations, so I do not want to speculate on numbers of future designations at this time.

While I strongly support the need to hold individual perpetrators to account, does the Minister agree that a new global human rights regime should supersede existing UK economic sanctions? As the UN’s special rapporteur emphasises, it is now undisputed that existing economic sanctions

“contribute to a worsening of the humanitarian situation”

in places such as Syria. Will the Minister therefore accept advice from UN experts, who emphasise that

“it is now a matter of humanitarian and practical urgency to lift … economic sanctions immediately”?

My Lords, in certain areas and with certain regimes around the world, it is appropriate that we look at sanctions overall. However, the primary purpose of these sanctions is not to punish a population or a country, but to target sanctions specifically on those who abuse global human rights. Those who usurp the rights of others should be held to account.

My Lords, may I press the Minister a bit more about applying sanctions on a wider basis than by one country? Does he agree that if sanctions are agreed across a range of countries, they are many times more effective than simply a unilateral step taken by Britain in the hope that other countries will follow suit? Secondly, whereas we could all suggest the names of people who should be on the list, I am a little surprised that the Salisbury poisoners were not on it, given that we know who they are and exactly what they did.

My Lords, I totally agree with the noble Lord’s first point and we will continue to work with key partners. On his second point, I am sure he noted that we included certain people, including those responsible for the human rights abuse and ultimate death of Sergei Magnitsky. That is what has driven this agenda and I pay tribute to him. The noble Lord raised other issues and other countries. They are all very much part and parcel of our consideration. As I said, without speculating, I am sure that we will look at future designations across the piece.

Sitting suspended.