Skip to main content

International Relations and Defence Committee

Volume 818: debated on Wednesday 2 February 2022

Motion to Approve

Moved by

Further to the resolution of the House of 13 May 2021, that the Committee should also have power to appoint a sub-committee for the purposes of any inquiry under section 3 of the Trade Act 2021;

That the Committee have power to appoint the Chair of the sub-Committee;

That the Committee have power to co-opt any member to serve on the sub-committee;

That the sub-committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;

That the sub-committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the sub-committee have power to meet outside Westminster;

That the evidence taken by the sub-committee be published if the Committee so wishes.

My Lords, this Motion is consequential on the decision of the House of 1 December last year to designate the International Relations and Defence Committee as this House’s responsible committee for carrying out any inquiry into genocide under Section 3 of the Trade Act 2021. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am one of those who would be very happy to see this Motion approved. It originates out of an amendment that I moved to the Trade Bill, which became the Trade Act 2021. I am a Member of the International Relations and Defence Select Committee of your Lordships’ House and was involved in the discussions about the creation of this committee. Nevertheless, I hope that the Senior Deputy Speaker will address one or two points about this that I raised and have concerns about.

First, it should be clear to your Lordships’ House that this, of course, goes no way to deal with the specific issue of genocide in Xinjiang, regularly raised by Members of this House, which is the blight of the Uighur people in that province, and that it will not be possible for the committee that is being approved to examine that situation, because there is no free trade deal with the People’s Republic of China currently in the offing. The House should be aware, therefore, that this does not deal with the substantive question that was raised at the time, and that this committee, however worthy, made up of the great and the good, will not even be able to deal with that issue.

Secondly, will the Senior Deputy Speaker give some clarity about what would happen if the identical committee that is also being established in another place were to reach a different conclusion at the end of an inquiry into this issue? Who would actually resolve that, and what would be the mechanism or procedure between the two Houses for dealing with this matter? With those simple questions, I personally am very pleased that we are making some incremental progress, at least, on this issue.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. He obviously had a very considerable input into these matters. Just to confirm, it will be for the International Relations and Defence Committee to decide when there is a need, in line with Section 3 of the Trade Act, to appoint a sub-committee into whether there exist credible reports of genocide in the territory of a counterparty to a prospective free trade agreement with the United Kingdom. These are absolutely the parameters in which this matter relates to the Trade Act 2021.

On the second matter—it is clearly an interesting point in terms of the two Houses—one question that has come across is why there was not a joint committee. My understanding is that the language of Section 3 of the Trade Act appears to preclude this, not least because different procedures apply in each House, as detailed in the Liaison Committee report which the House agreed on 1 December when it designated the IRDC as the responsible committee. Clearly, if and when there was this dialogue between the two Houses, it would be important for the two Houses and their respective committees to reflect on the fact that both Houses had a responsibility to consider these matters. But, with those two questions in mind—

Is there anything in the legislation to preclude a joint sitting of the two committees to resolve any differences that may arise between them?

My noble friend raises an interesting question. I have to say that the actual construct of the Trade Act is not within my scope of knowledge. Clearly, there may well be occasions when those sorts of pragmatic considerations would, I imagine, be reflected on by pragmatic people in both Houses. I am just saying that my understanding is that the language of the Trade Act appears to preclude a Joint Committee—but the noble Lord raises a pertinent point. Unless there are any further questions, I beg to move.

Motion agreed.