Consideration of Lords amendments
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendment 11. If the 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
Parliamentary approval of trade agreements
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 2, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 3, Government motion to disagree, and amendment (a) in lieu.
Lords amendment 4, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 5, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 6, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 7, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 8, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 9, and Government amendments (a) and (b) thereto.
Lords amendment 10, and Government amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 11 to 31.
This Bill marks a significant milestone. Its passage into law will have numerous benefits for the UK economy: giving certainty to business with regard to our continuity trade agreements; confirming the UK’s access to the global procurement markets; providing protection to businesses and consumers from unfair trading practices; and ensuring that we have the appropriate data to support our exporters and importers. This Bill has enjoyed rigorous parliamentary scrutiny, having been through many of its parliamentary stages twice, and I am delighted to finally see it reach this stage. I am sure it will soon be passed into law, to the satisfaction of all.
I will speak to each amendment in turn, beginning with Lords amendment 1, which is in the name of Liberal Democrat peer Lord Purvis. With our new-found freedom, it is right that Parliament should be able to scrutinise effectively the UK Government’s ambitious free trade agreement programme. However, Lords amendment 1 goes far beyond what would be appropriate for our unique constitutional make-up and would unduly tie the hands of Government to negotiate in the best interests of the UK. The Government have listened to the concerns of both Houses throughout the passage of this Bill and have moved significantly to improve further its enhanced transparency and scrutiny arrangements.
My right hon. Friend said that the amendment would go too far. In the European Parliament the power existed for MEPs to give consent to trade Bills. Now that power has come back to this country, is he suggesting that this should not go to MPs but should go to the Executive? I think that is what he is suggesting.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I know that he has taken a long-standing interest, during the passage of this Bill and its predecessor, in these questions, and I will make two points. First, it would be inappropriate to compare this Westminster-style of democracy with the European Parliament and the European Commission. Secondly, all the trade agreements in scope within the continuity provisions of the Bill have already been scrutinised in this House. These arrangements were set out in a written ministerial statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade on 7 December. The enhanced arrangements that we have set out are entirely appropriate for a Westminster-style democracy such as ourselves; they are at least as strong as, and in some cases are stronger than, those in comparable systems, such as those in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
I am going to make a bit more progress.
Finally, I remind the House that ultimately if Parliament is not content with a trade deal that we have negotiated, it has statutory powers, under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, to prevent ratification by resolving against ratification indefinitely. That is in addition to Parliament’s power to vote down any necessary implementing legislation, again thereby preventing ratification.
That brings me on to Lords amendment 5. I suggest to the House that this amendment is unnecessary, as it covers things that the Government are already doing, or that are established precedent of the UK as a dualist state. The Government are already under a statutory obligation to publish an explanatory memorandum when a treaty is laid before Parliament. As Members will have seen, in section 5 of our explanatory memorandum to our agreement with Japan, we set out how we would implement the agreement and where legislation would be required. We, as a dualist state, have well established precedents for putting in place implementing legislation place before ratification of a treaty. If we did not do so, we would risk the UK being in breach of its international obligations. We have no desire to change this established way of working.
The Government have clearly stated that we will work to facilitate requests for debates, including from the relevant Select Committees, on free trade agreements as part of CRaG, subject to available parliamentary time. The Government have a good record of this; last year, debates took place in this House and the other place on the Japan free trade agreement, and that is in addition to the six debates we have facilitated in the other place on our continuity agreements.
One of the complaints of the International Trade Committee, on which I sit, was that there was not enough time to debate the report that the Committee put forward on the Japanese trade deal. Will my right hon. Friend perhaps look at offering extra parliamentary time—I know it is perhaps not in his purview—for Parliament to have such debates? They could be followed up with debates on the general trade agreement that has been agreed by the Government at the time.
My hon. Friend makes a very strong point. The whole purpose of providing the relevant Select Committee with the relevant text in advance is so that the Select Committee can produce a report that will inform debate in Parliament. In that sense, I agree with him. On his specific point about making time available to the Select Committee to debate that report, I think that question is properly within the domain of Parliament, rather than the Government. I am sure you would agree, Madam Deputy Speaker, that allowing time for a parliamentary Select Committee to debate a report is best done through the usual channels, in conjunction with the Speaker’s Office. I do not think it is entirely within the gift of the Government to allocate time to a parliamentary Select Committee.
No, I am going to move on, because I want to come on to what I think might be the areas of greatest interest in this debate, including Lords amendments 2 and 3 on human rights. I remind hon. and right hon. Members of the Foreign Secretary’s statement on Tuesday last week, in which he outlined a range of measures in response to the deplorable human rights situation in Xinjiang. I also refer colleagues to the article I wrote about Xinjiang as long ago as 2011, showing my personal interest in that question.
I recognise that the amendments before the House are not specific to China per se, but some of the supporters have China in mind, and it is worth reminding Members of what the new measures the Foreign Secretary announced will do, as they are germane to the ongoing debate on human rights. The measures will help to ensure that UK businesses and the public sector are in no way complicit in human rights violations in Xinjiang. They include: first, strengthening the overseas business risk guidance to make clearer the risk to UK businesses investing in, or with supply chains in, Xinjiang; secondly, a review of export controls as they apply to the situation in Xinjiang to ensure we are doing all we can to prevent the export of goods that may contribute to human rights violations in Xinjiang; thirdly, the introduction of financial penalties for organisations that fail to comply with the Modern Slavery Act 2015; and, fourthly, ensuring that the Government or public sector bodies have the evidence they require to help them exclude suppliers that are complicit in human rights violations in Xinjiang.
I understand the point my right hon. Friend is making, and we do not have a free trade deal with China at the moment, and we are not likely to, but many of us for years have been frustrated that every time we try to raise genocide in this place in terms of trade deals, we are told that it is subject to the international courts, and that China, Russia or other countries in the UN Security Council have a veto on the matter. Is there any way we can acknowledge that genocide is taking place in a country when we do a trade deal, without losing parliamentary control of our trade deals, and without getting trade deals bogged down for months or even years in courts?
I can reassure my right hon. Friend that the Government are very ready to have these discussions. I am sure that the amendment in the name of Lord Alton is not an appropriate amendment to put into this Bill. As my right hon. Friend will have seen from the Foreign Secretary’s statement last week, we do take the situation in Xinjiang, and other allegations of serious human rights abuses, extremely seriously. However, we also have to think about what we are dealing with—the appropriate role for the High Court in international treaties, and particularly the right in the Alton amendment for an automatic revocation of an international treaty.
I thank my right hon. Friend for presenting what the Foreign Office is doing on human rights. We have tabled a compromise amendment that takes into account all the concerns that the Government have expressed about the Lord Alton amendment, and that makes very clear the separation of powers—fundamentally, that Parliaments advise, and Ministers decide. What is his objection to the compromise amendment tabled by me and my colleagues?
I gave the amendment to the Foreign Secretary and his team last Wednesday, and it is on the amendment paper today. With respect, is not a case of, “We can have a look at it”; the Minister must have a view on it, surely, because it is there on the paper.
I note what my right hon. Friend says. The Government are open to further discussion on these matters. Nobody denies the importance and seriousness of the situation in Xinjiang, nor this Government’s continued commitment to combating human rights abuses, or that human rights cannot and should not be traded away in a trade agreement or anything like it.
I should emphasise to hon. Members the seriousness with which the Government approach human rights issues as they relate to trade. We are taking action and will continue to do so. The UK has long supported the promotion of our values globally. We are clear that doing more trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights. In fact, as I am sure my hon. and right hon. Friends will agree, there is a strong positive correlation between countries that trade freely and human rights.
I think we all appreciate the work that the Foreign Secretary has done to ensure that firms look at their supply lines to check that they are not purchasing goods produced through slave labour or through human rights abuses. Now that the United Kingdom is out of the EU, we want to stand on the world stage as a global leader. What objections does the Minister have to putting in the law of this country that we will not tolerate trade deals with countries that abuse their population by engaging in genocide?
I emphasise to the right hon. Gentleman, who I know is passionate about these issues, the importance attached by the Government to the underlying issue of allegations of genocide and human rights abuses. However, it is right that the Government give significant attention to how that process would work. The Lord Alton amendment, which allows automatic revocation by the High Court of an international trade agreement that was negotiated between Governments and approved by Parliament, would not be the right way forward.
Lords amendments 2 and 3 pose significant legal and other problems and so cannot be accepted by the Government. Lords amendment 3, tabled by Lord Alton, seeks to revoke trade agreements where the High Court of England and Wales makes a preliminary determination regarding genocide. This would, in effect, take out of the hands of Government their prerogative powers to conduct international relations with regard to trade. That goes to the heart of the separation of powers in Britain’s constitutional system. If we accepted the amendment, the High Court could frustrate or even revoke trade agreements entered into by the Government and approved after Parliamentary scrutiny. That would be an unprecedented and unacceptable erosion of the royal prerogative, and not something that the Government could support.
I will make a little more progress, if I may.
It is for the Government, answerable to Parliament, to make trade policy, not the courts. In any event, the Government already have the power to terminate trade agreements. Modern trade agreements include termination provisions as standard, allowing either party to terminate the agreement if they so decide, usually following a specified notice period. The option of terminating agreements would remain available to the Government to use at their discretion, with or without the amendment.
It is crucial to understand that we do not have a bilateral trade agreement with China. There is no trade deal with China to revoke. Not a single person in Xinjiang—the people we are trying to help—would benefit from the amendment.
I am listening to the Minister carefully. He is right that, of course, we do not have a trade deal with China to alter. If we did, given the situation with the Uyghurs and the genocide going on, would the Government be minded to implement their power to revoke such an agreement?
Obviously that is something the Government would have to look at. We would have to consult across Government, and there would also be, quite properly, a significant role for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in that decision. But it is clear that we do not have a bilateral trade agreement with China that is within the scope of the Bill. We have no plans for a bilateral trade agreement with China. The amendment could have an impact on bilateral trade agreements that the United Kingdom is party to, but China is not a party relevant to the consideration.
As my right hon. Friend knows, I admire him enormously, but I want to take him back to that point. He said he has no plans for a trade deal with China, but what that really means is that we may yet make up our mind to have one, so that is not an absolute statement. If he decides that the British Government will never do with a trade deal with a country guilty of genocide, how would he know whether a country was guilty of genocide, if only a court can decide that and the International Criminal Court cannot reach that decision? Surely the amendment would give him a chance to say, “Our High Court has said this country is guilty of genocide.”
I am very interested in this topic, but it is not for me as Minister for Trade Policy to make Government policy on which court would be involved, or where that court should be, or on aspects relating to genocide. However, I think the amendment before us is flawed and should be rejected by this House.
Will the Minister give way?
No. The right hon. Lady will have plenty of opportunity to speak, and I can respond to her points in due course.
The lack of evidence for the effectiveness of such action underscores the need for the Government to take targeted, appropriate and effective measures on human rights, such as those we are taking towards China in the package of measures announced by the Foreign Secretary.
Lords amendment 2 seeks, among other things, the publication of risk assessments, annual reports and determinations on whether trade agreements comply with the UK’s international obligations. Such legislative requirements would again represent serious constraints on the royal prerogative powers to negotiate, ratify and withdraw from treaties. Erosion of the royal prerogative is a red line for the Government, so we cannot support that amendment, either.
I need to make a little more progress, Madam Deputy Speaker—I am conscious that we are 18 minutes in and there are a lot of speakers. I turn to Lords amendment 4, which would introduce a wide range of restrictions on the regulations that can be made under clause 2. Those relate broadly to the delivery of free, universal health services, the protection of medical data and scrutiny of algorithms, and a prohibition on the use of investor-state dispute settlement, ratchet clauses and negative listing provisions.
May I first remind the House of a simple fact that underlines our entire trade policy? It is that we are wholly committed to ensuring that the NHS remains universal and free at the point of service. Our position could not be clearer: the NHS, the services it provides and the price it pays for medicines will remain off the table when we are negotiating free trade agreements. These are not just words. I am pleased to confirm that none of the agreements we have signed with 63 partner countries has threatened the delivery of a free and universal NHS. Not a single one of those agreements has affected our ability to protect the health service.
The powers contained in this legislation are required only to provide continuity with the existing EU trade agreements. The NHS was always protected by specific exclusions, reservations and exemptions in the EU trade agreements, which we have rolled over into our continuity agreements. We do not see the need for this amendment, as protecting the NHS is already a top priority in negotiations. We have all witnessed the heroic efforts of the NHS through the covid-19 pandemic, and we are immensely grateful for all that it has accomplished. The idea that we would now seek to sell off the NHS to foreign corporations is, frankly, offensive and absurd. The NHS is not on the table. The NHS is not and never will be for sale.
I am pleased to address Lords amendment 6. This amendment on standards is both unnecessary and counterproductive, and we will be opposing it today. I remind the House that the powers in the Bill are required for the implementation of non-tariff provisions of continuity agreements. We have already signed agreements with 63 partner countries covering trade worth £217 billion in 2019. Most of those trade agreements are now trading under those terms. Standards have not been undermined in any of those agreements.
I will now address Lords amendment 7, which seeks to prevent the Government from signing international trade agreements that are not explicitly compliant with international and domestic obligations relating to the protection of children online. That is an extremely important subject. The Government are already fully committed to ensuring that every free trade agreement signed, and those yet to be signed, maintains and strengthens our international and domestic obligations on protecting the most vulnerable members of our society from online harm.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has now published an initial Government response to the online harms White Paper, and we believe that online harms protection belongs in online harms legislation. Through the Trade Bill, we are simply seeking to provide continuity in trading relationships with existing partners. I understand that many concerns in this field relate to negotiations with the United States. I remind the House that there are no powers in the legislation to implement a future free trade agreement with the USA or any other new negotiating partners. I ask that we should be judged on our record, which shows that trade policy is not being used to water down protections for vulnerable users online.
Lords amendment 8 seeks to ensure that there is no discrimination in the UK internal market against Northern Ireland goods and services, and I very much share that aim. As the House will be aware, the Government have been unequivocal in their commitment to unfettered access for Northern Ireland goods moving to the rest of the UK market. That means no declarations, tariffs, new regulatory checks, customs checks or additional approvals for Northern Ireland businesses to place goods on the UK market. I can further assure the House that the Government are already fully committed to ensuring there are no barriers to discrimination within the UK internal market, as this amendment seeks to prevent.
I am going to make a little bit more progress, with apologies to the right hon. Gentleman. He obviously has a special interest in this space, but I am conscious that time is moving on.
Turning to the amendments concerning the Trade and Agriculture Commission, the Government have offered alternatives to Lords amendments 9 and 10. We also accept Lords amendments 11, 12, 29 and 30. These amendments put the commission on a statutory footing to help to inform the report required by section 42 of the Agriculture Act 2020. The Trade and Agriculture Commission was originally set up by the Department for International Trade in July 2020 to boost the scrutiny of trade deals. That is alongside other steps that the Government have taken to ensure that relevant interests are taken into account at every step of the negotiation process, from public consultation at the start, dedicated trade advisory groups during the process and independent scrutiny of the final deal at the end.
The Trade and Agriculture Commission will advise the Secretary of State for International Trade on certain measures set out in section 42 of the Agriculture Act concerning the consistency of certain free trade agreement measures with UK statutory protections for animal and plant health, animal welfare and the environment. The Government amendments were modified in the other place, however, also to include advice on human health. The Government do not consider the inclusion of human health to be appropriate for the Trade and Agriculture Commission, as it would duplicate the work of other appropriate bodies. Just because human health will not be in the remit of the Trade and Agriculture Commission does not mean that there will be no scrutiny in that area. It must still be covered in the section 42 report under the Agriculture Act, for which the Secretary of State may seek advice from any person considered to be independent and to have relevant expertise.
I hope that that has been a useful introduction to the Lords amendments we have in front of us. I am looking forward to the debate and to responding later.
It is a pleasure to open this debate for the Opposition. I want to thank Members from the other place for all the work they have done on these amendments, which follows the considerable amount of work on the Bill’s previous iteration, all of which is welcome.
It is a great tribute to how deeply Members on all sides and in both Houses have engaged in our debates about trade over the last few years that we have such a wide range of important amendments before us today. They reflect the values, priorities and safeguards that we believe the UK should apply when negotiating new trade agreements. We have one amendment that reflects our desire that young boys and girls growing up in this country should be able to learn, play and interact with their friends online without the fear that those experiences will be tainted by bullying, grooming or exposure to harmful content. We have another amendment that reflects our equally strong desire that young boys and girls growing up 4,000 miles away should be able to live in freedom, practise any religion they choose and one day have children of their own without the fear that those rights will be taken away by the criminal actions of the Chinese state. I want to focus most of my remarks today on the amendments relating to human rights and to parliamentary scrutiny, but let me first talk briefly about the other key amendments we have before us.
We welcome Lords amendment 4, which seeks to exclude NHS patient data from the scope of future trade deals. This amendment cuts to the chase of the debate over whether the NHS is on the table when it comes to trade negotiations. To some people, that concept would mean private healthcare companies from overseas being able to compete against the NHS to provide taxpayer-funded healthcare, but in fact it is much more realistic and pernicious. What it means is those same companies winning a greater right to provide services to the NHS through open procurement contracts and thereby gaining access to the vast resource of NHS patient data, which, quite frankly, they have been actively pursuing for years. This amendment seeks to prevent that, and I cannot see why any Member of the House would disagree with it.
We welcome Lords amendments 6 on standards affected by international trade agreements, which rests on the very simple notion that the international trade agreements we negotiate should not undermine the domestic standards we apply on everything from environmental protection to employment rights—again, something we would have thought everyone would support.
I have spoken already about Lords amendment 7 on the protection of children online, which seeks to protect the very welcome progress we are making in the UK to keep our children safe when using the internet, and to force major service providers to help prevent children from exposure to illegal content or harmful activity. We know for a fact that the major US internet companies have sought to use trade deals with Mexico, Canada, Japan and Korea to exempt themselves from liability over the harms caused by their services and to guarantee unrestricted access to user data, including that of children. The Minister might well assure us that the same thing will not happen here, but I would simply urge him to allow the passage of this amendment to ensure that the same thing cannot happen here.
We also welcome Lords amendment 8, the Northern Ireland amendment, on non-discrimination in goods and services, for which we thank my good friend the former right hon. Member for Neath—a much missed presence in this House, but still a good friend to the people of Northern Ireland. When we look at the delays, disruption and economic damage that has been caused by the loss of unfettered access for goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland surely we would all agree how important it is that we protect the unfettered access for goods travelling the other way and for the exchange of services in both directions. Indeed, if the Government are promising to maintain that unfettered access, I cannot see why they would urge Members of this House to vote against the opportunity to put that promise into law.
Finally, let me turn to the other amendments. We welcome amendments 9 and 10, which would expand the remit of the Trade and Agriculture Commission to cover the impact of food on public health. If the Government are to leave it to the commission to protect our food and farming standards against low-cost, low-quality imports, rather than putting those protections into law, then the least they can do is ensure that the commission’s remit covers all the standards that we wish to protect, including those related to public health. I understand that the Government are trying to lift the public health aspects of this amendment, but, before the Minister does that, I urge him to speak to his colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about Government undertakings that may have been given before we had clause 42 of the Agriculture Bill.
There is a common thread running through all the amendments that I have mentioned and through those that I will come on to relating to human rights. The common thread is this: if we do not have the right procedures in place to allow proper parliamentary engagement in the Government’s trade negotiations and proper parliamentary debate and approval of the Government’s new trade deals, then, inevitably, Members will seek instead to ring-fence what the Government can give away and protect in law the standards that we want to preserve.
I just do not understand why the Government are so stubbornly holding on to the Ponsonby rule and CRaG and laws that come from a previous century and a previous age. Why we cannot step into the 21st century as a confident democracy is beyond me. In other words, if we do not have proper scrutiny of the Government’s trade deals, we must have proper safeguards on what the deals can do. Personally, I argue that we should want the best of both worlds—proper safeguards coupled with proper scrutiny—but surely every Member of this House can agree that the worst and most illogical of all worlds is to have neither. I urge Conservative Members, when they are instructed by the Government later to vote down not just the amendments relating to NHS data, online harms, standards, public health and unfettered access, but Lords amendments 1 and 5 relating to parliamentary scrutiny, please to say to the Government that one set of amendments or the other may be opposed, but logically they cannot oppose them both.
It is somewhat unfair to suggest that the Government have not moved on this issue already. I serve on the International Trade Committee and the facts are that the Trade Committee is able to scrutinise each trade agreement, Parliament is then able to debate that, and there is CRaG. That means that there is scrutiny, so it is not acceptable to go back to constituents and say that there is no scrutiny mechanism for our trade deals. Does the right hon. Lady not agree that that is enough?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said, but as he and I know, the International Trade Committee was promised access to the Japan deal and to the assorted documents attached to it by a certain date, and that did not happen. First, the Committee did not get the time that it should have been given. Secondly, notwithstanding some fairly wild claims made by the Minister about the ability of Parliament to vote on these matters, the reality is different. An international deal can be signed on behalf of Her Majesty by this Government and the only way in which this Parliament can vote against it is under CRaG, which means that Labour needs to use an Opposition Day to have a vote. What happens—and this has happened—when we do not get Opposition Days during the period in which we are allowed to debate a trade deal and have a vote on it? It cannot be claimed that the roll-over deals that we have had so far have been followed by time given to Parliament to debate them.
The hon. Gentleman is in a privileged position as a member of the International Trade Committee, because he has a greater opportunity to scrutinise any deal, but the rest of Parliament does not. We are making deals with countries that come from the same stable—because of historic reasons, have developed their democracies on the back of learning about democracy from our country—and yet they now have a greater chance than we do to scrutinise those trade deals. What holds up a trade deal is not British Parliament having the time to scrutinise it, but the other Parliament in the country with which we are signing the trade deal.
I do not think I am going to allow double-dipping; we are talking about democracy but there is no one on our side here in Parliament because we are all participating remotely. The Labour party has taken the decision that the correct way to react to the pandemic is to work from home when necessary, so it is more difficult for Labour Members to intervene in these circumstances. I do not mean to be unreasonable or unfair, but frankly that is the reason why.
Is not the situation at the moment that, effectively, the amount of scrutiny provided is at the whim of the Executive? If they want to give us hundreds of pages of Bill the day before we have to sign, they can do that. If they want to give another country a month for scrutiny, as with Japan, but us no time at all, they can do that. We need a system here.
Order. I do not think we should go much further down this line. I have 59 Back-Bench Members who wish to participate in this scrutiny now, so let us not go down the rabbit hole of scrutiny but stick to the purpose of the amendments before us.
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. My argument is simply that the scrutiny amendment among these amendments is perhaps the most important, because if Parliament could be allowed scrutiny, we would not focus on other particular issues, because we would know that, in the end, Parliament could make the decision. I would find it particularly astonishing if any Government Minister or Whip is able to look their colleagues in the face and ask them to vote down the amendments on parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals after the shambles we saw in December with the supposed scrutiny of the new continuity agreements—10 deals that were agreed too late to complete the 21-day ratification process before they came into force.
The Minister is an intelligent man, and I am surprised that he is so uninformed. Four of those deals were finally laid before Parliament on the afternoon of new year’s eve, just a few hours before they took effect. The deal with Cameroon has still not been laid before Parliament, almost three weeks after it came into force. Needless to say, there was not a single word of parliamentary debate about any of those 10 agreements before they took effect, let alone any suggestion of parliamentary approval. The very fact that it is possible for all that to happen without falling foul of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act is all the evidence we should need that the procedures set out in CRaG for the scrutiny of the Government’s trade deals are simply not up to the job.
The Government might make the argument that, since those 10 deals in December did not sell any NHS data or alter our standards on food hygiene, their agreement does not make the case for the amendments I mention or for new levels of parliamentary scrutiny. However, that brings me to the issue of human rights. What happened in December makes an incontrovertible case for Lords amendments 2 and 3, on human rights, and 1 and 5, on parliamentary scrutiny.
It is understandable and right that many Members will focus their contributions on the situation in China and the plight of the Uyghur people. We have all read with horror the first-hand accounts of torture and extrajudicial killings, mass incarceration in detention camps, forced sterilisation and abortions, servitude and slave labour. It shames the world that this is happening in our lifetime and it disgraces the Government of China. It is absolutely right that if a UK trade deal with Beijing is proposed or agreed, representatives of the Uyghur community should be able to seek a ruling from the High Court that the crimes they face in China meet the criteria for a charge of genocide, in turn requiring the UK Government to consider revoking that trade deal. When the Minister has an opportunity to look at the compromise amendment, as it has been called, he will see that that is what is being suggested.
There have been various arguments by Ministers as to why the proposed genocide amendment is neither appropriate nor necessary. I will deal with one of those in particular. It has already been suggested that no trade deal with China is imminent, and so measures to block such a deal are premature—a point well made, Members may think. However, the problem is that it cannot be squared with the fact that both the UK and China have to different degrees announced their plans to consider joining the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, the trans-Pacific trade partnership.
If the Government cannot guarantee, first, that they will beat China to the punch, and secondly, that they will be given veto power over any future bid by China for membership, I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman is not in a position to guarantee to Members of the House that a trade deal with China is not on the horizon, because in the shape of CPTPP it most obviously is. That was why I was trying to intervene on the right hon. Gentleman—to see what his answer was. I would be happy to give way again, or perhaps he can answer at the end of the debate.
That dispute about the potential timing of any China deal raises a very important issue, which I hope all supporters of the genocide amendment will consider very seriously. During this debate on trade and human rights, and the surrounding media coverage, it would be very easy to tell ourselves that this is a discussion entirely about China, and therefore entirely about deals that might or might not take place in the future. The reality is that it should, and it must, also be a debate about the deals that the Government have done this month, and the deals that they are openly planning to do in the next two years, because anyone who cares deeply about the human rights of China must also have deep concerns about the records of Egypt, Turkey and Cameroon or Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Brazil. That is why Lords amendment 3 demands that before the Government negotiate and sign such trade deals in future, they should present Parliament with a report on the human rights record in each country in question and allow Parliament to take that into account during the process of scrutiny and approval.
Let me give the House one example of why Lords amendment 3 is required. Just five days before the US Senate was attacked, it came together to approve a resolution co-sponsored by 20 senators from both parties, from Marco Rubio to Cory Brooker. It was about the brutal campaign of subjugation by the French-speaking Government in Cameroon against the country’s English-speaking minority. The Senate resolution condemned with great force the atrocities committed by the Anglophone separatist militias, and it speaks with equal power about the actions of the Cameroon Government, including “torture, sexual abuse,”
“burning of villages, the use of live ammunition against protestors, arbitrary arrest and”
“detention…enforced disappearances, deaths in custody,”
attacks on journalists and the regular killing of
“civilians, including women, children and the elderly”.
The Senate resolution noted approvingly that, exactly one year before, the Office of the United States Trade Representative—remember, this was Donald Trump’s trade representative, the direct counterpart of the Secretary of State for International Trade—had terminated Cameroon’s access to preferential trade rights due to
“persistent gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”
Finally, in that same spirit, the Senate resolution urged members of the international community to join the United States in a strategic collective effort to put pressure on the Government of Cameroon, including through “the use of” all
“available diplomatic and punitive tools”.
I have quoted that Senate resolution at length because I believe that we must ask ourselves what on earth those senators would think if they knew that on that very same day, when they were unanimously passing those strong words of condemnation towards the Government of Cameroon and urging the international community to join them, here in the United Kingdom we were bringing into effect a brand-new continuity trade agreement with Cameroon—a trade deal that was agreed by Ministers apparently with no consideration, and clearly no concern, for the persistent gross violations of international human rights that are taking place inside Cameron; a trade deal that none of us in this House bar Ministers have even been allowed to read, let alone debate or approve; and a trade deal that may or may not contain provisions on human rights, but until the Government finally decide to publish it, we the elected Members of this Parliament simply cannot know. I hope that Members on both sides of the House will keep the example of Cameroon in mind, and consider the words of the US Senate and the actions of the US trade representative, when judging how to vote later.
We all know that on occasions such as this when amendments are up for debate, Ministers will try to persuade us that they do not disagree with the good intentions behind them, but they just do not think that they are really required. However, if that is what Ministers say today in relation to Lords amendments 2 and 3 on human rights, or Lords amendments 1 and 5 on parliamentary scrutiny, I only ask Members to remember Cameroon: a trade deal done with a regime that is slaughtering women and children just because they live in English-speaking towns; a trade deal done in the face of the US Senate on the same day that it called for international support; and a trade deal that, incredibly, has still not been laid before Parliament, almost three weeks after it came into force.
I urge all Members to think about the Cameroon deal and how little consideration Ministers gave either to human rights or to the rights of this Parliament when they decided to sign it. Finally, I urge Members to ask themselves and their conscience whether they accept what those same Ministers are saying when they go through the amendments before us today and tell us, “They’re not really required.”
I had hoped that we might manage at least the first part of this consideration without a formal time limit, but I will have to impose a time limit initially of six minutes, at the absolute outside—in the hope that Members will take less time than that.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate. I am conscious that time is tight, so I am going to try to make my points as quickly as possible. I rise to speak in support of Lords amendment 3, and in particular to support and speak to amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment 3 standing in my name and the names of my colleagues, as set out on the amendment paper. Amendment (a), by the way, has been in the hands of the Government now for over a week, and I put it on record that I have had no calls back or contact, but maybe that is going to change.
Let me turn to the reasons behind Lords amendment 3. The Lords tabled this amendment because it would enable the courts in the UK to make an advisory—I stress, advisory—preliminary genocide judgment for Governments to consider when signing trade deals with states accused of committing genocide. The amendment provides a sound legal basis for the Government to engage in obligations under the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide in a way that is consistent, frankly, with the long-standing UK policy on genocide. After all, we were founder signers of the original charter, which bound the UK Government and all Governments to implement that charter in their own rights, rather than simply leaving it to the International Criminal Court.
The amendment is necessary because, as we have all seen, existing international mechanisms have, frankly, failed: in the UN, any reference to the ICC that is not agreed to by particularly intolerant states is immediately vetoed. The amendment would open perhaps the most important thing that has gone missing: the ability for victims of alleged genocide to see justice. That would include ethnic and religious minorities, such as those in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur region, maybe even the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and others. My point is that the amendment would bring that back to the UK courts.
The amendment is very important, as it deals with the UK’s independent trade policy—for the last 50 years, we have not had control; now we have left the European Union and have control—and would allow the UK courts, when a trade arrangement is being negotiated or taking place, to determine on a preliminary basis whether genocide has occurred in the country that we are supposing to strike that trade arrangement with at that particular time. Let me say that this is in regard to free trade arrangements; it does not really cover bilaterals.
The amendment is needed because Uyghurs and victims of alleged genocide have been denied justice for many years. As the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) said, these are people at the moment—there are others as well—who have been pushed into slave labour, have had sterilisation forced on them and whose population has shrunk by some 85%, and that country is exporting trade goods produced by slave labour. It is quite clear to me, but I am not able to say so, that this has all the hallmarks of genocide. I am not able to say so, because at the end of the day we all agree that the courts have to make that decision. It is not for individual politicians to do so.
That is why the amendment is necessary and what, for us, it is about. I also want to say what it is not about. The amendment does not give the courts too much power, because it does not take power from the House of Commons or the House of Lords. We do not have the power to decide whether the Government should do trade deals or not. It is a Government power under royal prerogative. The power does not go across to the courts. The courts simply make a preliminary judgment. On the back of that the Government, even with this amendment, would have to come back to the House if they disagreed. They could disagree by putting forward primary legislation. Here, I really need to quote the spokesman in the Lords. He was quite clear when he said:
“Parliament would remain sovereign,”
after the amendment passed
“but it would require primary legislation to reverse the court’s decision effectively”,—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 December 2020; Vol. 808, c. 1053.]
which it could do. The UK Government therefore could, if necessary, disagree with that. The idea has been put about that it blocks us, locks us and is the end. It does not.
I am tempted by my right hon. Friend’s amendment and I am listening to him very carefully, as I always do. At the moment we have a form of public health activism, where experts make decisions and it is then very difficult for politicians to disagree with those determinations. What does he say to that form of judicial activism? What would be the likelihood of this House disagreeing with such a determination? That is the concern some of us have with his amendment.
I agree. I put the question back to my hon. Friend, as I have to other hon. Friends. If, on balance, the courts decide—we have faith in our courts—that this is likely to be genocide, I simply ask why would we be doing a trade deal with a country that is guilty of genocide. We may not wish to disagree, but the power still remains. The pedantic point put forward by the Government was that it was all about loss of power. I say that that is simply not the case. It would certainly not be in our amendment, because it is very specific that the Government have to do that.
On the vexatious claims point, the High Court is quite capable of dismissing anything on that level. By the way, this is the highest bar that can be set for any accusation. To try to wipe out an ethnic group is the No. 1 crime in the world. The High Court knows that and would dismiss anything that was vexatious. There would be no point in doing otherwise—that would demean it and wreck its reputation.
The Government say that the amendment, being limited to genocide, is practically unenforceable. Well, maybe that is true, in which case we need to look again at the UN charter, but the reality is that right now this is unenforceable—nobody out there can bring a charge of genocide, because they are blocked. We come back to the same point: we argue about genocide, and the Government say they do not want to do deals with people who commit genocide. I have huge admiration for my right hon. Friend the Minister. We have worked very closely together on many things. However, I noted his language when it came to accusations of the sale of the NHS. He said, “Not and never will be sold.” When it came to China and a trade deal it was, “No plans to do one yet.” We can be emphatic from the Dispatch Box when we want to be. We can make absolute statements when we want to, but when we do not—I have been in Government—we simply do not. That tells us everything we need to know. The Government need to have that check on them.
I conclude by saying that the Government cannot have it both ways. If they say it is for the courts, then the question is which court and the amendment says that. Overall, I have to say that the amendment is not anti-China, but it is anti-genocide. We need now to stand tall. We left the European Union because we did not want to accept judgments from a court over which we said we did not have power. We did not come away because we disliked our courts. I think we have the best courts in the world, and I think they can make this judgment. My question, therefore, is this: what is it about? Why did we leave? So that we would stand tall and have a global vision about the morality of what we do. I say to my colleagues and to those on the Front Bench that tonight is about more than just pettifogging. Tonight is all about shining a light of hope to all those out there who have failed to get their day in court and to be treated properly. If this country does not stand up for that, then I want to know what would it ever stand up for again. I urge my colleagues to vote to keep Lords amendment 3 in the Bill.
If I may start by making some general observations, we have previously agreed with the Secretary of State for International Trade about the necessity of keeping trade open, recognising the importance of supply chains and how important it is that we stand against protectionism. I am happy to reiterate all of that today. Indeed, we all should, because we need to combat the three main threats to trade. The first, self-evidently, is the covid crisis, which the World Health Organisation suggests could lead to a massive fall in global trade. The second is the impact of Brexit, and thirdly, we must address the systemic problem of the continued implementation of new trade restriction measures, and the continuation of existing ones. For example, tariffs valued at somewhere north of $1.6 trillion are in force around the world. I am not confident that any of those problems will be resolved any time soon, and the Bill does not address any of those matters directly. It is presented mainly as trying to facilitate the roll-over of existing deals, and maintaining trade that the UK has with third countries, which is vital.
The Bill does a number of other things, as the Minister set out. It creates procurement obligations arising from membership of the agreement on Government procurement. It creates the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and gives power to HMRC to collect and share data. As I have said, however, it is not without its problems, as evidenced by the large number of amendments that have come from the other place, which cover a large number of areas. I will address those issues shortly—and hopefully briefly.
As the Scottish National party has made clear during the passage of the Bill, a number of the problems relate to the impact on the devolved Administrations and consent, the role and powers of any scrutinising Committee, parliamentary scrutiny and approval, international standards and agreements, food and animal welfare issues, concerns about the NHS and, as we have just heard, concerns about human rights in trading partner countries. The amendments from the other place deal with a number of those issues.
Let me summarise the SNP’s attitude to the main amendments. Lords amendment 1 seeks to enshrine parliamentary approval of trade agreements. That is one of the fundamental problems with the Bill as it stands. The absence of meaningful parliamentary scrutiny and a parliamentary vote on significant changes or modifications, or in future on new trade deals that may be envisaged by the Government, is a massive problem. Modern democracies need full scrutiny of trade agreements, from the scope of the negotiating mandate, right through to implementation. Without amendment 1, the CRaG provisions, which are prayed in aid by the Government, amount to little more than a “take it or leave it” choice at the end of the negotiations, without the ability to amend. That is inadequate.
Lords amendment 1 also requires the UK Government to consult the devolved nations. That is not consent, but it is progress of a sort.
Lords amendment 2 seeks compliance with international obligations. We raised that matter previously, and new clause 7 on Report was designed to do a number of things. First, it was intended to affirm the UK’s rights and obligations under the sanitary and phytosanitary measures in annex 1A of the WTO agreement. The amendment focuses mainly on human rights, but it also states that before publishing trade objectives, the Government must conduct a risk assessment to consider whether the agreement would comply with the UK’s international treaties and other obligations. It seems eminently sensible to ensure that any free trade agreement complies with international obligations, whether human rights obligations or otherwise.
Lords amendment 3 deals with genocide, and as the Minister knows, there has been a great deal of support for such a measure. There are some serious concerns about the amendment as it stands, not least in allowing the English High Court to determine what is and what is not genocide, but the principle of revoking a trade deal with a state committing such heinous crimes is beyond reproach.
Lords amendment 4 covers IT and related activities in the NHS. I have previously argued that there should be no use of negative listings, because such clauses require that all industries are liberalised in trade agreements unless there are specific carve-outs, and it is not always easy to define which services count as, for example, health services. Digital services may be irrelevant to health, but NHS data management and GP appointment systems are increasingly digitised. There should be no standstill or ratchet clauses, because those provisions would mean that after a trade deal was signed, parties would not be able to reduce the level of liberalisation beyond what it was at the point of signature. Lords amendment 4 explicitly excludes the use of such negative listing and ratchet clauses and rules out the use of ISDS-type provisions for public services, including health, which would be extremely popular with the public.
Lords amendment 5 addresses ratification, including the requirement for a debate. I have previously asked whether, if it was the intention of the Government to provide sensitive information to a scrutiny Committee, that would be the Select Committee on International Trade, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil). I also asked whether any papers provided would be publishable or restricted. Lords amendment 5 would force the Government to publish an analysis, which would presumably ensure that such information was more widely available. The amendment would also ensure that a debate was held, on the recommendation of such a Committee. That is a very sensible measure indeed.
Lords amendment 6 deals with standards, including food and animal welfare standards, which are of massive concern to the public. As I said on Report, we know that trade deals can put pressure on food standards and lead to the importation of low-standard food. For example, the previous US Administration made it clear that they wanted the UK to lower its food and animal welfare standards. We suggested a ban on the importation of food that was produced to standards lower than those in the UK. Lords amendment 6 is clear that a Minister of the Crown should ensure
“as far as possible that a future trade agreement is consistent with United Kingdom levels of statutory protection regarding, among other things—
(a) human, animal or plant life or health;
(b) animal welfare;
(c) the environment;
(d) food safety, quality, hygiene and traceability;”
and so on. That is an eminently sensible thing to do. The amendment also states that should a Minister seek to change standards, they would have to “seek the consent” of the devolved nations in advance. That is absolutely the right way to proceed.
Lords amendment 7 seeks additional protection for children online, ensuring that legislation is consistent with international treaties. Lords amendment 13, which I understand the Government are minded to accept, addresses the relationship with the devolved Administrations, ensuring that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs can provide information to the devolved Administrations so that they can fulfil their obligations in terms of trade.
A comprehensive trade Bill is vital, but it has to be right. This Bill has been subject to dozens of amendments in the other place, many with widescale public support. There is still a great deal of work to be done and compromises to be made before this Bill is acceptable.
I want to say at the outset that I completely agree with the need to set ethical frameworks in all our overseas dealings, including trade. In so far as these amendments deal with China, I also completely agree that the treatment of the Uyghurs is a violation of historic proportions that should be condemned whether or not it meets the very high legal test of genocide. We should be willing to take action when we think that behaviour does not meet that very high international bar.
However, I am against these specific Lords amendments for four reasons. First, I think trade policy should be conducted via the elected Government through Parliament. I, along with many Conservative Members, voted to leave the European Union to take back control. I do not want to take back control from unelected judges in Europe and give more power to judges in the United Kingdom, however high the esteem in which they are held. I want the decisions about the ethical nature of our policy to be decided in Parliament, by elected parliamentarians. I agree with many of the elements that are being discussed here. I do not want to see more powers coming back from Europe, only for them to be exercised by royal prerogative; I want to see them exercised by the democratic House.
Those who had discussions with me when I was Trade Secretary will know that my preference, which would have dealt with many of the reservations of the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), was for us to have a meaningful debate on a motion that was amendable at the outset for the mandate of trade discussions. That would have enabled the House to set the ethical parameters within which we would operate, and then the Government would have gone ahead and carried out the negotiation. To have a vote at the end of the process, which could undo a great deal of work, does not seem to be a particularly logical way to go about it. I hope that, at some point, we might be able to change that.
I will not—my hon. Friend will forgive me—given the constrictions on time.
It would have been possible to create a system that allowed us to do that. The House would have been happy that Parliament would have been able to set those parameters, and not anyone else.
My right hon. Friend will know that we have offered such a compromise, which very easily separated the role of powers, whether of the courts, the Executive or parliamentarians, but it has been rejected outright. If there is no apparent objection to that, really, what is the Government’s position on dealing with genocide within trade?
My hon. Friend should ask the Government; I am not the Government. My view is that we want to ensure that the powers are exercised exclusively by Parliament. I do not want any outside body, including the courts, to have a say on what we should or should not do. But I agree that we could have had a mechanism that allowed the House to do that in a way that satisfied all the reservations that have been put forward.
My second reason for objecting to the amendment is that I think it is the thin end of the wedge. If we set a precedent that says that the courts can make a judgment on genocide, where does it stop? In future trade Bills, we may get amendments on the use of torture or on other human rights violations. Valid though those points may be, once we have set a precedent that the court can make a judgment and tell Parliament what it can and cannot do, I wonder how we can reverse that trend.
Thirdly, I think the amendment is not good for our judges. It is difficult to know what the evidential base would be upon which judges would make such a decision, and therefore we bring judges into the territory that many of us saw and were uncomfortable with in the last Parliament, where judges are dragged into making political decisions; that is an uncomfortable place for them and us.
Finally, I do not think this amendment would make any difference whatever to the behaviour of the Chinese Government in relation to the Uyghurs or anyone else. It would not affect our trade with China in any way, shape or form. It would not even deal, for example, with dual-use materials when it comes to the Chinese state security apparatus. For that reason, it is an impotent tool when it comes to dealing with the Chinese Government.
If we believe in this Parliament that the behaviour of the Chinese Government warrants sanctions, we have sanctions available to us. The British Government, if enough pressure is applied by Parliament, can use those sanctions—whether the Magnitsky sanctions that come from our more recent legislation, or wider sanctions. We do not have to wait for an international agreement to be able apply sanctions that we are bringing forward on the grounds of the high bar of genocide. So it is up to Parliament to make such decisions.
We talk about taking back control, but Parliament has got to stop giving its decision-making powers away. If we want to be respected in this Parliament, we have to be the ultimate arbiters of the decisions and direction of travel of our country. We can have those powers. I say to the Minister for Trade Policy that we have had these discussions. I hope that the Government will bring forward mechanisms that allow the House to have much greater scrutiny at the outset of a trade negotiation to set those ethical parameters.
I will be quick, because I know that my right hon. Friend has to be quick. When it comes to genocide, it is different, because genocide has to be decided by the courts. We have no right to make that decision. So how is he going to allow that we would affect anything on trade, unless a court makes that decision? Why not the UK courts, so that then we can decide if we implement it or not?
Because I believe that the high court of Parliament is the appropriate place to do that. Parliament can apply sanctions where it believes they are justified. Our new legislation allows us to do that.
I believe that setting a political precedent to make a political case is bad practice. If Parliament wants to take action against China or any other country, on behalf of those who they believe have been partially, unfairly or violently dealt with, the best route is to try to pressure the UK Government to take those measures. The Lords amendments being put forward today for the very best reasons are the very worst practice. That is a good reason for Parliament to reject them.
Before I call the next hon. Member, I give notice that the time limit will be reduced to four minutes after the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil). We have three more colleagues on six minutes; thereafter, four minutes. I call Shabana Mahmood.
I wish to speak in support of Lords amendment 3, known as the genocide amendment, moved by Lord Alton in the other place, which deals with trade agreements made with states accused of committing genocide. I associate myself with the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), the shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, on that amendment and on the human rights situation more generally.
I am grateful for the cross-party efforts that led to the addition of the amendment to the Bill; I hope that another cross-party effort in this House will be successful today. I note the comments the Minister made in opening the debate today. They follow the position taken by the Foreign Secretary when he made a statement to the House on forced labour supply chains last week. The approach taken by the Government is dispiriting and deeply disappointing. If the Government prevail today, I believe they will come to regret it.
The amendment will, first, send a clear signal about the absolute basic threshold that must be crossed before we strike trade deals around the world, and about the sorts of people, countries and regimes that we will do business with. Not being a genocidal state should be the absolute minimum requirement that all of us in this House should be able to sign up to. It would enable the UK courts to make what is, in effect, an advisory preliminary determination of genocide for the Government to consider when they are signing trade deals with states accused of committing genocide.
The Government say that genocide determination is a matter for judges, not politicians. That is the long-standing position of UK Governments of all political persuasions. The amendment would provide the only viable legal route to have a genocide determination made by judges.
That is why the remarks made by the former Secretary of State for International Trade, the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), just a few moments ago, are entirely wrong. When we talk about genocide, it has to be a determination made by judges in a legal context. The problem is that at the moment the international legal system—the routes provided by the United Nations and international treaties—are, frankly, a busted flush. Something is needed to break the cycle of inaction and ineffectiveness. We are awash with warm words that simply do not change the situation on the ground. All we are currently laying the ground for is an after-the-fact statement of sorrow when genocide has occurred. The world keeps saying, “Never again” in relation to genocide, yet it occurs with shocking, depressing regularity.
China is, of course, the most striking example of the failures of the international system. The Government recognise and condemn the actions of the Chinese regime against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang. Mountains of evidence exist about forced sterilisation, mass detentions, slave labour and the destruction of culture and heritage. To my mind, a genocide is being perpetrated by the Chinese regime against the Uyghur people, but of course that requires a legal determination in a court to have legal force, rather than simply political and moral force.
Every international legal route is blocked by the Chinese Government—China has a veto. It has a majority on the UN Human Rights Council and is not a party to the International Criminal Court. The amendment provides a mechanism for the UK High Court to make a preliminary determination in the context of a trade agreement. If the UK High Court rules that the extremely high evidential bar for the crime of genocide is satisfied, its judgment will be available for the Government to consider.
Perpetrators of genocide should not be rewarded. They must know that actions have consequences, and an increasingly belligerent China needs to see that the British Government will not simply stand by and watch, impotent and unable to do anything whatsoever. The modest import and export restrictions linked to forced labour abuses that were made by the Government last week are welcome, but they do not deal with the specific charge of genocide, so I am afraid that that action, although it is welcome and although it was taken by the Government only last week, cannot get them off the hook on agreeing with the amendment today.
The amendment does not give the courts too much power. It is supported by eminent lawyers in the other place who have dealt with the issues around the separation of powers far better than I can in the short time available to me. In any case, if the Government agree that genocide determination is a matter for judges, the fact that at the moment their position amounts to saying that they will go along with a genocide determination made by international judges through the international system, but not one made by our own High Court, to my mind, simply does not stand up.
The amendment does not prevent the international legal system from kicking into action, although frankly that seems impossible at this point. In any case, it is a preliminary determination. It would enable the word “genocide” to be used credibly in a legal sense and I simply do not buy the idea that the courts would be swamped with vexatious claims. They can, will and regularly do dismiss claims that lack minimum standards of evidence. I say to the Minister that, if the amendment still does not work for the Government, they should have considered compromise amendments and efforts to reach compromise offered by Members from their own Benches, which I agree with and support. They say we have no trade agreement with China. We do not have an FTA with China, but we have other bilateral trade agreements with China, such as the UK-China bilateral trade and investment treaty. Others could be made.
Genocide is described as the crime above all crimes. Surely we can all agree in this House today that it must be the minimum starting point for the conditions we will place on whom we will trade with. I urge the Government to change course and accept the amendment today.
It is an enormous pleasure to speak in the debate this afternoon because this is one of the most important questions our House will consider. It is worth remembering why genocide is a crime beyond others. It is not just that many of us in this House have personal experience through family of genocide within the lifetimes of many people alive today. That is one reason why the Jewish News has been so active in support of this measure. Genocide tries to do something that no other crime attempts. It tries to end history. It tries to remove an entire people, an entire culture and an entire part of our world from the planet and to pretend it never happened. It is an erasure of life unlike every other crime. It is worse in all senses, therefore, than torture or murder, worse than the destruction of cultural property and worse than slavery, even though it may include all those elements. That is why I think genocide stands unique, and why I think the amendment does not give way to a drip, drip of further encroachment.
Genocide is unique. Genocide is distinct. It is much, much worse than any other crime, even though it makes up others. That is why we have always reserved this power to the courts. We have always said that this is not a political tool. It is not a tool for politicians to wield against trade rivals or enemies. It is a charge that can be wielded only by a court. The way we have done that is to try to act together, and allow the charge to sit only with international courts. For years we could see why that was the case, because it ensured that we all acted together. If there was a charge and it was proven, we were all as one responding to an abuse against the whole of humanity. Genocide is a crime against the whole of humanity.
Sadly, the way the world has changed means that the obstacles we are facing in our international institutions is becoming overwhelming, so we have a choice. That choice is either to allow the current system to stand and to say that in reality we will never again recognise genocide, or to say that there is a way through this. There is a way through, and that is by trusting our institutions and our judges, and recognising that our judges and legal institutions are actually trusted worldwide. The House does not have to take my word for this—look at how many foreign cases are pressed through our courts. That is a choice that we have to make, and I understand the Minister’s comments. In fact, he has done an amazing amount of work in supporting Britain’s position overseas, defending our legal infrastructure and promoting our legal business around the world, so he knows better than anyone the respect in which we are held.
I respect very highly my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) the former Secretary of State for International Trade, so I am sorry that we find ourselves on different sides on this. However, I have to say that I am going to support this amendment, because we are not talking about whether or not it is for the court of Parliament or for a court of justice; we are talking about whether it is for any court at all. The choice is not this court or another court; it is British judges or foreign judges.
We recently voted to take back control of our laws, our borders and our money. This is about taking back control of our laws and, indeed, our conscience. It is about reminding ourselves that when a people is under oppression so that their very existence is threatened, we have a duty and a responsibility to stand up. So I will be standing with the Muslim community around the world—Ummah Islamiyyah—and the Jewish community around the world, as well as with many, many people across the United Kingdom and across the world who are seeing the abuses that we are seeing, sadly, in western China and reminding ourselves that that crime does not just fall on the heads of the victims, but threatens us all. It is therefore genuinely a crime against humanity that cries out for justice in any court, but particularly, in a British court.
Feasgar math, Mr Deputy Speaker, and thank you very much for calling me at this stage of the Bill. I am speaking from the island of Barra in Scotland, which has just been included in tier 4 with the mainland. That is one of the reasons why I have not been travelling and why this is the first time I will speak in any stage of the Trade Bill. I am grateful that we are back to a virtual Parliament, which should have been happening long ago.
I would like to mention a couple of things before I get to the meat of this. A lot of constituents, and people who are not constituents, have been getting in touch about the NHS. I did hear the Minister say that the NHS would not be on the table and I hope that that includes the back door and every other side angle into the NHS. Food standards concern an awful lot of people. Over a quarter of a million emails were sent to MPs in the last year on food standards, so we should be very aware of that, as indeed we should be of standards in agriculture and general trade. The role of Parliament in scrutinising deals comes up a lot in correspondence, so I will raise that, too. ActionAid has pointed out, very valuably, that the fallout from covid-19 has shone a new light on the disproportionate impact of trade policies on women and girls, who comprise the majority of unpaid carers. It has had a particular impact on women and girls in the global south and has affected the work of women in trade. When trade is considered, we should think of all of humanity, and particularly the half of us who are of a different gender.
Scrutiny is indeed a very good thing. Let us think about this. With a lack of scrutiny, which Brexiteer thought that they were making the EU bureaucrat king over the UK’s export trade? But that is what has happened, as the shellfish guys and girls, and other exporters, will tell us. Much to the frustration of many in the shellfish sector, we have the EU bureaucrat with the clipboard, demanding five or six more bits of paper before things can move, where once they moved freely. And it is not just them, but exporters in general. From July, they will met by not just the EU bureaucrat, but another set of bureaucrats coming in as quasi-monarchs—the bureaucrats of the UK—and importers will be hit as well. The lack of scrutiny was probably one of the reasons that it came as a late dawn for many that the UK trade bloc is now smaller than the UK—quite an achievement for Brexit.
We move towards scrutiny in a bit more depth in amendment 5. My Committee had difficulty with the Japan agreement because of the time we had at the end for scrutiny and the experts we could share it with. I would have raised this concern earlier in Parliament had I been able to, but of course then there was no virtual Parliament. The access we had to negotiators was very interesting. We usually got the debonair, bland kind of guys at the top when we wanted the guys at the coalface who were negotiating during the trade deal—but that did not happen. Information we got during the briefings did not bear much relation to the matters that came up at the end, such as UK negotiators setting the principle of playing second fiddle to the EU when it came to tariff rate quotas in relation to Japan.
The UK boasts that it is doing 63 more trade deals. What it is doing is rolling over trade deals, and it is not actually getting any GDP increase from that. It is worth considering the numbers, because in the flowery language that is often thrown around on this, the numbers talk most. The cost of Brexit at the moment is 4.9% of UK GDP; it is costly. No trade deal that the UK has made or signed so far is recovering this 4.9% damage. The Japan trade deal was touted as being a 0.07% gain. To put this in context so that people understand, let us call that £4.90. The Japan trade deal was reported as giving us back 7p of that damage, but in fact it was not, because the UK was already trading under the trade deal that the EU had with Japan, so the net gain was, in effect, zero. The UK Government had not done the numbers comparison between the two, which was disappointing. Again, the need for scrutiny is large.
When it comes to the best trade deal we can get—the American trade deal—that is only going to give the UK about a 20p increase on the £4.90, comparatively, that is lost. We need 24-and-a-half times such trade agreements to make up the damage. As America has a quarter of the world’s GDP, that effectively means finding seven or eight planets we can drive lorries to, or ship containers on boats to, to counteract the GDP damage that Brexit has done, so clearly it ain’t going to happen. The trade deals that we are doing need to be looked at responsibly and carefully. Incidentally, on the American side, the GDP gain for them is only 0.02%, or 2p. I am sure that the new Biden Administration will have bits of paper showing other priorities for greater economic growth, before a trade deal with the United Kingdom. Again, that scrutiny could have stopped us misleading ourselves.
On Amendment 3, I think everybody considers that to be the right thing. It is just that if the FTAs are suspended, do we then go back to trading on WTO rules, and when does that happen? Surely something stronger needs to be in place on that.
The best of all trade deals available is the one we have just walked away from. If the UK wants to increase GDP by 4.9%, there is the single market and the customs union, and that will help our shellfish guys as well. Tapadh leibh, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Let me speak to the Lords amendment tabled in the name of Lord Alton. I join colleagues in utterly condemning the human rights abuses in Xinjiang with the Uyghurs. They are awful; it shames the perpetrators and to put it bluntly they should stop, immediately. However, like many colleagues, I am concerned about subcontracting Government policy to a bunch of unelected judges and lawyers. We cannot, as a Government, put ourselves in the position, however noble the intent, of allowing an agreement by a democratically elected Government with another Government to be struck down or put in jeopardy by a court, no matter how morally correct the case may be and how much I would personally agree with it. I say this because trade is just too important to our people—to the businesses and communities of South Ribble, Lancashire and beyond.
We heard recently in this House about global Britain—quite right. This Government are creating opportunities. We had 60-odd trade deals signed last year and there are more under negotiation. These are brilliant times. Instead of involving the courts, we should put all our focus on encouraging and supporting small businesses and breaking down barriers to trade. We should do everything we can as a Government and strain every sinew to encourage small businesses to trade globally, exporting their goods and services.
Practically, I am calling on the Government to use and build on their brilliant work in this area to further the take-up of this challenge in two main areas. The first is practical help. If somebody is thinking about exporting and they put “How to export” into Google, they get a list of nonsense. We need simple, clear “how to” guidelines to get people started and to build their confidence so that they believe that this is something for them. We need to invest in start-up units at affordable rates to make sure that somebody with a great idea or somebody wanting to expand is not getting caught with huge capital costs up front. Let us make exporting the everyday thing it so easily is, as I know from my own experience.
Secondly, we need to address the emotions of pride and ambition, and community pride. If a businessperson starts exporting and they create a job for somebody in their community because of it, the whole pub should buy them a drink, because what they are doing is on a par with the amazing community spirit that we have seen during these covid times of volunteers. They are doing a community service and they should be celebrated. Let us have a national award scheme for businesses that start exporting, and let us give them a plaque to put up on their business’s wall, “Here resides a great British exporter”.
I will oppose the Lords amendments today because I do not think this is the right place, but I welcome this whole Trade Bill. Ultimately, I believe that global Britain wins arguments against repressive regimes by proudly sharing how our way is better for all of our peoples.
We were told that we were going to take back control and we were going to ensure our sovereignty, and that to do that, we must be allowed a say on the rules and standards by which we are governed—to be rule makers, not rule takers. These are phrases we have heard many times over the last few years, and these amendments coming back from the Lords today will do precisely that—give our sovereign Parliament a say over any trade agreements made by the Executive.
When we were members of the European Union, our MEPs had, on any trade deal negotiated, a guaranteed debate and vote in the European Parliament, and if a trade deal was not deemed acceptable, it could be rejected. Why would we now accept a lesser say in this Parliament? Our constituents expect representation. It is not just in Europe, but in Japan and the United States that they have higher standards.
I welcome President Biden’s inauguration tomorrow, and he will be working with a new Senate and a new House. The new Congress will enjoy scrutiny over its trade deals, but without these amendments, we will not. Before negotiations, Congress can see and vote on general objectives, which are then published for public consultation. Once negotiations are complete, the agreement must then be ratified by Congress. Why would we hold ourselves to a lesser standard than that?
I know these principles have wide cross-Bench and public support, including from the National Farmers Union, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Greener UK, the CBI, Which? and so on—we should pass Lords amendment 1. However, that is not the only amendment in front of us today. Half a million people have signed a petition calling on the Government to protect our food standards in law. Lords amendment 6 provides that
“a Minister of the Crown ensures as far as possible that a future trade agreement is consistent with United Kingdom levels of statutory protection”
for food standards, as well as animal welfare, employment and welfare standards, and environmental protections.
If this year has taught us anything, it is that we need to ensure that we do not have a race to the bottom. We must keep our qualities and standards, and we cannot leave the quality of our food on the table in any trade negotiation. In addition, we need a robust TAC that defends public health, protects the environment and ensures the future of our farming communities. As president of COP26, one of the weapons in our armoury for a binding agreement is trade deals, and we would not want to have trade pulling one way and diplomacy another.
Finally, I come to Lords amendments 2 and 3, and the many excellent speeches from around this Chamber already on human rights and democracy. We have a responsibility to people across the globe who are suffering tyranny and genocide. While others have mentioned the impact that these amendments will have in relation to the Uyghurs, these amendments would also be powerful in challenging transactions in Hong Kong as well as the human rights abuses by several other countries, such as Egypt.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) made an excellent speech about Cameroon, and the suppression of the Anglophone people there. We have signed a trade agreement with Cameroon that we have not yet seen, which is quite unbelievable. We have future trade negotiations with Indonesia. The Department for International Trade met the Indonesians in November. Future trade discussions must take into account the horrific human rights abuses in West Papua, which many universities have classified as a genocide. We need only look at the current beating and intimidation of voters and Opposition politicians in Uganda to know that situations emerging around the world are important to consider in future trade negotiations.
There is not time to cover in detail all the amendments that I will vote for, as many others wish to speak and time is limited, but this is a defining moment in our history. The Brexit referendum in 2016 was divisive, but no one voted to lessen our standards and safeguards and no one voted to dilute our democracy. We need to pass the Lords amendments so that we can continue to be a beacon of light and hope across the world, championing the human rights of all people.
I am an internationalist. I came into politics to encourage Britain to play a more than influential role on the international stage. We certainly have a track record of building alliances and stepping forward when other nations hesitate as a force for good, but the world is changing fast: power bases are shifting and threats are diversifying and, indeed, intensifying. What the debate illustrates is a temporary absence in clarity about what we now stand for, what we believe in and what we are willing to defend. Those are the basic benchmarks that frame our international standing, and they can all be summed up in the absence of an integrated review. We await the Government’s defence, security and foreign policy review—to give it its full name—which is the critical statement of intent that defines our ambitions on the international stage, assesses the current and emerging threats and gives clarity on how our soft and hard power capabilities should be upgraded. Without that, the term global Britain lacks direction, and there is no strategic or doctrinal clarity over how to approach the geopolitical challenges posed not least by China.
International opinion on China is clearly changing, following its conduct in suppressing the pandemic’s outbreak, challenging security laws in Hong Kong and continued militarisation of the South China sea as well as, more widely, snaring ever more countries in debt through its One Belt, One Road programme and telecoms programmes. The Foreign Secretary broke new ground last week by speaking so robustly about China’s breaches in human rights, with over a million Uyghurs in political re-education camps, extensive use of surveillance targeting minorities and systematic restrictions on the freedom of religion. That came on the back of the Government’s changes to telecoms policy to remove high-risk vendors from our critical national infrastructure.
We must not lose momentum. For too long, the west bit its tongue as China ignored international trade norms and exercised human rights abuses while we still hoped that it would mature into a responsible international citizen. That clearly is not going to happen. China is on a geopolitical collision course with the west, taking full advantage of our wobbly international rules-based order while we remain in denial.
Today, President Trump is in his last day of office, and President-elect Biden has made it clear that his foreign policy objectives are to recommit to building western alliances and to attempt to address the geopolitical challenges posed by China. The Lords amendment is about offering strategic clarity directed not just at China and standing up to its human rights abuses, but at the United States, our closest ally. This is an opportunity for Britain to craft a post-Brexit international role as we assume the G7 presidency.
The world watched and hesitated when genocide took place in Rwanda and, indeed, in Syria. Let us not hesitate again. Let us have the moral courage to stand tall on what we believe in and what we are willing to defend. It saddens me that I am having to rebel today to encourage my Government to take the moral high ground. It should be our default position.
I rise to support Lords amendment 8, in relation to Northern Ireland, and Lords amendment 3, in relation to acts of genocide. First of all, I will deal with Lords amendment 8. I believe that it is a necessity that we have in the Bill a commitment that Northern Ireland will not be excluded from the benefits of any trade agreements that this country reaches with the rest of the world. People in Northern Ireland are still reeling from that impact that the withdrawal agreement, and particularly the Northern Ireland protocol, have had on their economy and indeed on their preferences and their ability to purchase goods from other parts of the United Kingdom.
Despite some of the efforts made to undo and mitigate the impact of the protocol, it is clear that the withdrawal agreement that we reached with the EU will have a detrimental impact on the Northern Ireland economy. Lords amendment 8 seeks to ensure that, when we enter into future trade agreements with other parts of the world, the impact and benefit of those agreements are not reduced as a result of the protocol. A commitment that no agreement can be ratified until it is ensured that Northern Ireland will have unfettered access to the GB market and services coming from GB is very important.
Lords amendment 3 concerns genocide. I have listened to the arguments—that we are handing control over to the courts; that we are diminishing the role of Parliament; that such a situation would be unworkable—but I believe that, first of all, this country has an important duty to send out a message when entering into trade agreements with other parts of the world—that if the Governments of those countries are guilty of abusing their population or seeking to wipe out certain sections of their population, we will not do business with them. We have talked about taking a lead on the global stage now that we have left the EU. Well, here is an opportunity to make clear in legislation where we stand on this issue and that if Governments wish to do business with the fifth biggest economy in the world, we expect certain standards of them.
I do not accept that we would be giving too much power to judges. First of all, this is a very specific power and not the thin end of the wedge, as has been suggested, and if we wished to give more power to the judges, we would have to amend the legislation. We are simply saying, “Look, the only body capable of making a judgment about whether genocide has occurred is the courts.” In fact, it would be wrong for Parliament to have that power. It would be abused, and our arguments against genocide could be diminished, because people could say we made them only for political reasons, or because the majority in this Parliament do not like those people or have some other axe to grind. I therefore think it is important that that power is in the Bill.
Assurance needs to be given to people in Northern Ireland that we still remain part of the United Kingdom and will have the benefits of United Kingdom trade deals, and assurance still needs to be given to people across the world who are being persecuted. The best way of doing that is to include both amendments in the Bill.
It is a pleasure to speak on this Bill. I rise to speak against Lords amendments 1 and 3. I start by saying how sorry I am that I will not be in the same Lobby as 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). I have gone into battle with them in the past and hope to do so again.
At the start of the Minister’s statement, he made a point about the opportunities that Parliament would have to ensure that human rights were included in trade deals, and that mechanisms could be provided to ensure that every trade deal had the proper level of parliamentary scrutiny. I would welcome his going further—and intervening, if he must—and telling us how Parliament will be able effectively to ensure that every Member can scrutinise, debate and discuss these issues.
I thank my hon. Friend for that specific request. I think it is fair to say that this House enjoys significant expertise and experience on questions of human rights, which the Government would seek to take advantage of. I hear various Members and Chairs of Select Committees and others with great experience in this space, and the Government are absolutely committed to making sure that knowledge is utilised and to exploring how we can make sure that the views of colleagues are heard and considered on these issues in relation to our future trade agreements.
I thank the Minister for his comment, which I would echo in terms of the scrutiny that the International Trade Committee, through the reports we publish, can give each and every one of the trade deals that comes before us.
What is the intent here? We are trying to address the injustices that people face around the world, from the Uyghurs to the Yazidis to the Rohingyas.
The right hon. Lady is very quick to criticise the fact that many of the deals that we now have are continuity arrangements from the EU. She complained last week that the deals took too long to do and did not include enough detail. The purpose of these deals is not to be the end point but the start point for the future relationship that we wish to have with those countries.
I go back to the point about the intent of amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment 3. The intent for every single one of us should be to eradicate genocide and to do everything we can to prevent human rights injustices. Instead, we have an amendment that will do grave injustice not only to the trade deals, but will still essentially see countries trade with one another. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green suggested that this non-advisory trade amendment was advisory. He makes the point that we will be able to take the advice of the High Court but potentially ignore it. That is not what is written in the wording.
My hon. Friend is completely wrong. It is absolutely clear that that remains the right of the Government, and I read out what the Government spokesman said in the Lords. If they wish, they can change it—I do not say whether they want to or not, but it is in there; it is our right as Parliament to do that.
I will carry on, but my right hon. Friend can come back to me later on. We need to get to the point where we can help those countries where genocide is being committed. That is not done by a trade deal. What do the people who are suffering expect? Is it the High Court deciding whether or not to sign a trade deal? They expect the international community to be engaged and to take action, and that is what we must seek to do. This is global Britain, and global Britain must reach out to its allies to create new institutions and ensure that we take action where appropriate. If we are unhappy with the current international landscape, let us seek to create new international bodies with like-minded colleagues, whether it be Five Eyes or North America. Those are the things that we must do, and we must be ambitious in doing so. I believe to my heart that the Government have the right intent of doing that.
I will speak briefly on Lords amendment 1 on scrutiny. We have heard much from the Opposition about how the Bill does not give any scrutiny to the trade agreements, but that is simply not true. The whole purpose of what is going on in the International Trade Committee, of CRaG and of having debates in this Chamber is to be able to debate such agreements. Frankly, to stand up and say that Parliament is given no time is not an acceptable line of argument. While the Committee had less time to scrutinise the Japanese-UK trade deal, that is now being amended. Ministers have proven themselves particularly willing to listen and have accepted a checklist of parameters before putting forward a trade agreement in the future.
I revert to what the Minister said earlier about the House being able to have more scrutiny through the International Trade Committee’s individual report on a trade deal, and then a future trade debate can happen around the deal, whether it is between the UK and America or whoever. There should be multiple debates on these trade deals, so that we can all feel that the scrutiny has taken place. That is important, and I do not believe it to be completely against what others are arguing. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) is chuntering from a sedentary position. In her entire speech, she said absolutely nothing about the EU-China deal. She seems completely content to ridicule every continuity agreement that we have come to. The purpose of what we are doing here today, what we have done previously and what we will do in the future is to enable us to scrutinise those trade deals, so that the Committee may report back, and to ensure that Back Benchers from every part of this country are able to decide what our future is when it comes to those deals.
As time is ticking away, I will conclude. I appreciate hon. Members’ intention in supporting Lords amendment 3, but we can do better than that and we can go farther. No one in this House supports genocide. No one in this House supports the violation of human rights. So let us look to different ways in which we can effectively engage the international community and show leadership.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) for speaking so exceptionally well for us on the amendments.
Tonight I will support the amendments protecting our NHS, child safety, parliamentary scrutiny, our environment and animal welfare, but I shall use my short time this afternoon to speak on the amendments on the most serious human rights abuses and genocide, which is clearly the most heinous crime of all. Those Lords amendments would help us to ensure that our trade policy was in line with our words—and if not now, when? Today, I have time to give voice to just one example, and I want to make it about the Uyghur people in Xinjiang in China. In 2006, tired of racism, Gulbahar fled with her family to France. Ten years later, she was told that she had to return to sign important documents. She returned, and was immediately detained. Her daughter had been at a Uyghur rights demonstration in France, and Gulbahar was therefore branded a terrorist. She was imprisoned in a re-education camp and endured more than two years of humiliating, terrifying, torturous abuse and violence from the Chinese state; and she was forcibly sterilised. She came to understand that the strategy was
“not to kill us in cold blood, but to make us slowly disappear. So slowly that no one would notice.”
Finally, she was found innocent on the trumped-up charges and released.
Such practices are part of a systematic abuse of human rights aimed at millions of Uyghur Muslims. Perhaps, legally, it still is not classified as genocide, but the Uyghur people deserve a fair hearing. We must hear them. I believe our courts must be empowered. If the very worst abuses are going on, it is clear that our trade policy must change. We have heard from holocaust survivors about the importance of that change, and I believe it is about living up to our words when we say “never again”. Every year, we make that commitment for Holocaust Memorial Day. I hope that on that day, next week, the UK can say that it is acting decisively to give those words substance.
Today we should do the right thing, because if we do not, tomorrow we will certainly be judged. Let us not be found wanting in our duty to act.
It is a great privilege to be called in this debate. I spoke on Second Reading, but today I am speaking in opposition to the Lords amendments. Before I say anything else, I should make it clear that I am a huge supporter and a friend of Lord Alton, a person of tremendous integrity, and I respect what those who are supporting the amendments are seeking to do, but are we really saying that on genocide—the most heinous crime imaginable—the Government’s trade policy should be reliance on the ability to go to a court? Surely to goodness, if we in this House believe that genocide is occurring, we should be acting a lot more swiftly and a lot more decisively than simply seeking the opinion of judges. It is this Parliament and this House that should be acting, and forcing a Government of any persuasion to take action against any country in the world engaged in genocide.
I urge colleagues to think carefully about what they are seeking to do. What would happen if Parliament decided that genocide was occurring and action had to be taken, but the courts felt that the bar for what determined genocide was not met? What action would be taken then? Would that tie the hands of Government? Would it mean that action, whether on trade or otherwise, was constrained? That would be one of the concerns with the amendment. I do not believe that supporting this measure would, to use the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), give us moral courage. The opposite is true. It would allow some people to say, “It is now up to the courts to decide. It is not a matter for Parliament.” If we believe in moral courage, it is for Parliament to show it, take action, challenge the Government, and hold them to account when we believe that genocide or any other significant human rights abuses are occurring, whether in relation to trade or anything else.
I am also very much reassured by the contribution from the Minister for Trade Policy. As a member of the Select Committee on International Trade, I can say that we will use all the powers available to us—and will seek more powers as time rolls on—to make sure there is scrutiny, and that Parliament carries out its role and looks at continuity or rollover agreements. This is not a matter of accepting continuity agreements as they stand. As those agreements move from being continuity rollover agreements, as they are now in most cases, to something country-specific or trade bloc-specific, this House absolutely needs more of a voice in making sure that nothing in there is detrimental to the British people.
Above all, it is important that this Bill goes through; after all, is it about ensuring that trade takes place and the prosperity of our constituents is protected. More importantly, it is about vulnerable countries around the world—ones that are desperate to trade with the UK in order to enrich their populations and take themselves out of poverty. It is really important that this Bill goes through to allow that to happen. It has my support.
The Liberal Democrats will today vote to put human rights at the centre of our country’s trade policy. Our party has a long history of leading the way in upholding human rights, from our opposition to South African apartheid to the late Paddy Ashdown’s role in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We are proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with colleagues in all parts of this House on that frontline again today.
The world is watching us, and we have a choice: to make a bold, confident statement about our fundamental commitment to human rights or accept this Government’s buccaneering approach to trade, in which effective scrutiny, rights and freedoms are trumped by self-interest. We of course back Lords amendment 2, which requires the Government to conduct due diligence and report to the House on the human rights implications of trade deals, but I wish to focus in particular on Lords amendment 3, the so-called genocide amendment.
Is there anything that blackens humanity’s soul more than genocide? Edmund Burke famously said:
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
For too long, in cases of suspected genocide, despite many good men and women raising the alarm, nothing has been exactly what happens, and it is time to change that. I believe that what is happening to the Uyghurs in Xinjiang is genocide. Of course, it is not the only instance of genocide being committed in the world right now, but it is not for me or for this Government to make the legal determination; that is quite rightly a matter for the courts, but the Chinese Government, by virtue of their position, regularly block routes to such determinations, and so we tie ourselves up in knots while the perpetrators of these gross atrocities go largely unchallenged, leaving victims and survivors without justice.
The UK needs a practical mechanism for fulfilling its international legal obligations on genocide, and Lords amendment 3 provides that. It is based on the world as it is, not the world as we hope it to be. Allowing UK judges to make an advisory, preliminary determination is a necessary step if the UK is to lead by example and meet its obligations. That determination can then be taken up in international courts, but we will have made our position clear.
The Government say that they would revoke an agreement well before we reached that stage. If so, why not just accept the amendment? It does not prohibit them from doing that. A number of colleagues have talked about Parliament taking action, challenging Government and standing up on this issue. Well, in 2016, Parliament voted unanimously to recognise the Yazidi genocide, and the Government ignored it. Can the Minister tell us what exactly has changed since then?
This amendment is backed by the International Bar Association, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Muslim Council of Britain and many others, and it has support on both sides of the House. Never again should we wring our hands in horror after the fact, saying we should and could have done more. “Never again”—words we use every Holocaust Remembrance Day, and words that we today have a chance to live up to.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate on this important piece of legislation. I welcome this Trade Bill, and believe it is vital for our country as we move forward as an independent trading nation and navigate the turbulent economic situation that we face as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic. Existing trade agreements and the future ones we can sign will be crucial in our recovery from the coronavirus shock to the economy, and will give us the platform to become a major independent global trader. It will say to the world, “The UK is open for business; come trade with us.”
As I have said in the House on many occasions, it is so important that we uphold our high animal health and welfare and farming standards in existing and future trade deals. As an MP and veterinary surgeon, I was gutted that we were not able to secure that in the Agriculture Act 2020. We missed a real opportunity for the UK to make the powerful statement that we can be a beacon in these areas—to say, “If you wish to trade with us, you must come up to our high standards in animal health and welfare and farming.” I will continue to stand up for the farmers in Penrith and The Border and across Cumbria and the wider UK. We have the best farmers, and produce great food using high standards. We should be very proud of that.
I welcome the fact that the Government listened to colleagues on both sides of the House, to Minette Batters and the NFU, and to the British public, and created the Trade and Agriculture Commission and put it on a statutory footing. However, we can go further with parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals, including with the option for the House and relevant Select Committees to amend and block deals, not just delay them. Accordingly, I will be supporting amendments to increase parliamentary scrutiny; to uphold our high animal welfare, food production and environmental standards in trade deals; and to further bolster the Trade and Agriculture Commission.
I am pleased that the Government have repeatedly assured the House that products such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef will remain banned in the UK. However, in drafting trade deals, a practical solution would be to reaffirm that ban, and specify other banned products, such as ractopamine-fed pork, excessive use of antimicrobials, use of bovine somatotropin and use of growth promoters. If bans on those products were written into animal welfare chapters in trade deals, that would make it clear that these products are off the table, allowing other acceptable products to be traded. That would drive up animal welfare standards globally. From speaking to prospective trading partners, I know that this approach could work and be acceptable; they would merely exclude these products from shipments to the UK. I hope the Government will continue to listen and move on these issues, which are important to my constituents and folk across the United Kingdom.
I truly believe that we have the potential to be an outward-looking, ethical, progressive country with a trade policy that matches that, and I believe that this Conservative Government have the appetite to do that. Maintaining our high standards in animal health and welfare, farming and food production is pivotal. As this Trade Bill completes its journey, I wish it well.
I understand that we are pressed for time as many Members wish to speak on this important matter, so I will endeavour to be brief.
In the coming months and years, the Government will seek a range of free trade agreements which will profoundly change our country and the lives of our constituents. That is obviously a matter of great interest to my constituents, and I have been inundated in recent weeks with messages urging me to speak in this debate. The view of the people of Birkenhead is clear: they do not want these trade deals to be agreed behind closed doors and signed in secret. They understand that the only way to safeguard our health service, maintain our world-leading food standards and protect our environment is to ensure robust parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals by elected representatives. This is one of the opportunities that this House has to discuss the 10 continuity agreements that the Government have signed since the new year.
The experience of the past few weeks has shown that we simply cannot depend on the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 to guarantee parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals. I am therefore glad that this Bill has returned from the other place amended by Lords Purvis and Stevenson. Their amendments are badly needed and would go a long way to addressing the democratic deficit at the heart of the UK’s trade policy, so I hope that when this debate concludes, Members from across the House will join me in voting for the amendment to guarantee Parliament’s right to debate and approve trade deals.
I rise to speak in support of Lords amendment 3—the genocide amendment. It is the only vote on genocide on the table today. I regret that the compromise amendment that we tabled has been rejected.
Let us remember that we are talking about genocide: the systematic destruction of an entire people. It is a threshold that is so hard to reach because it is the most heinous of all crimes—the forced sterilisation of women, forced labour and re-education camps for hundreds of thousands of children. The Board of Deputies of British Jews stated that it is reminded of the holocaust when it thinks of the plight of the Uyghurs; it cannot get any worse than that.
Members across the House have a very simple choice to make today. We can, by voting in favour of Lord Alton’s amendment 3, empower the UK to fulfil its UN obligations under the genocide convention and ensure that we do not offer advantageous trade deals to genocidal states. It really is that simple. The UN continues to fail to recognise that genocides are happening until it is too late. The UN and the Security Council are in a state of frozen paralysis, held hostage by Russia and China and incapable of holding genocidal states to account.
Against the amendment, the Minister and some of my hon. Friends argue that we should not outsource trade policy to the UK courts, and that the proper place to make decisions about genocide is in international courts. In practice, that means that we have to accept that foreign states will always hold a veto over our determination of genocide. I do not accept that that is taking back control. I do not accept that our courts are not skilled enough to determine breaches of international law. I do not accept that the Bill as drafted gives Parliament sufficient say over whether states that we wish to strike trade deals with are committing genocide.
I understand the concerns about Executive power, and the role of Parliament versus the courts, which is why I tabled an amendment with colleagues in lieu of Lords amendment 3 to address those concerns. Courts will judge, Parliament will opine and Ministers will decide. Yet that amendment was rejected. If the Government believe that this is still an unacceptable derogation of power, what is the alternative and what are the Government’s objections? If we do not pass the amendment today, we will be outsourcing all future decisions on genocide to Russia and China. We now have an independent trade policy after leaving the EU, and Brexit was a vote of hope and optimism and for Britain to play its part in leading the world, so why would we want to use our new-found freedom to trade with states that commit and profit from genocide? Britain is surely better than that.
Tomorrow, Joe Biden becomes the President of the United States, our closest allies. Today is Britain’s moment to blaze a trail and showcase global leadership on trade and international law. We can all talk about our noblest values, but we cannot do so while allowing the vilest of crimes to continue. We have an amendment. We can make a stand against genocide. We can uphold our United Nations obligations and ensure that we do not trade with genocidal states, or we can do nothing, and to do nothing is a counsel of despair.
It is a pleasure to speak briefly in this debate in support of the amendments made in the other place. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) who made a very passionate and convincing case for supporting Lords amendment 3, to which I will refer later.
Lords amendment 1 would introduce vital democratic safeguards into international trade policy by ensuring that the Executive cannot operate unilaterally. It would strengthen the hand of Parliament without undermining the ability of the UK Government to conduct negotiations as they see fit. In reality, the negotiations with the European Union have clearly shown that trade agreements can have far-reaching consequences for people’s everyday lives, from food standards to workers’ rights, from environmental legislation to the impact on our public services. It is to be welcomed then that Lords amendment 1 would require the UK Government to outline their negotiating objectives to Parliament prior to the commencement of any trade negotiations and to secure the agreement of both Houses before a deal is ratified, giving Members of Parliament a meaningful role in setting trade policy.
There was much debate during earlier proceedings of the Bill about how domestic democratic empowerment would strengthen the hand of the UK Government when it comes to trade negotiations. That was certainly my experience during a brief visit to the United States many years ago to scrutinise the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and the US, where we were reminded that there were certain matters, such as access to food markets, which were non-negotiable for Congress.
Although I support Lords amendment 1, I would have liked to see it go even further in respect of strengthening the role of the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Governments and respective Parliaments. That would not be without precedence. In the EU, every single member state has a veto over its international trade deals as well as sub-national Governments such as Wallonia in Belgium. Although I accept that the UK Government have a direct responsibility for trade policy, I believe that a world of constitutional trouble awaits us unless there are statutory safeguards for the respective countries of the British state. I therefore urge the British Government not only to retain Lords amendment 1, but to go a step further by giving the devolved Parliaments a veto on trade agreements.
I wish briefly to pledge my support for Lords amendment 3—the so-called genocide amendment—which several right hon. and hon. Members have supported this afternoon. Effectively, it couples international trade policy with the promotion of human rights.
Lords amendment 4 would place protections for the NHS on a legislative basis. I also support Lords amendment 6, which sets out to protect a range of regulatory standards such as for food, animal welfare and workers’ rights. Given the increasing noises coming from the Government Benches about a bonfire of standards, acceptance of this amendment would go a long way to allaying fears that our trade policy would be used as a regressive Trojan horse.
I am disappointed to see that the Government are seeking to remove provisions from Lords amendment 9 that strengthen the Trade and Agriculture Commission. Again, I ask Ministers to include representatives from the devolved Governments on the commission and introduce scrutiny protocols for the commission with the Welsh Senedd, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
A lot in this Trade Bill is to be welcomed, including its reinforced commitments to an agricultural commission, which has been welcomed by the farming sector and the NFU, as well as more scrutiny by the International Trade Committee. In my 10th year as trade envoy for three Prime Ministers, I believe that the Bill is further evidence of our commitment to take forward UK trade and investment across the world as a key part of global Britain, and that is not just an idle slogan, for international trade and investment secures jobs across our country, funds our welfare and social justice, and requires engagement globally.
Today we face the so-called genocide amendment, which would propose to replicate the role of the UN and the International Criminal Court because of issues with how that process is currently functioning. The amendment would—as the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) clearly illustrated when she spoke about both Cameroon and Egypt—be used by many Members who wish to expand the creation of such a court to have a much wider role on human rights issues and their implications for our trade arrangements, including those already signed, as well as those proposed.
Earlier we heard another Opposition Member, the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), refer to human rights abuses in Indonesia—a country that has moved further and faster in the development of an open democratic society over the last decade than almost anywhere else I can think of—so let us be in no doubt as to where some would take this amendment. We would find, in an imperfect world, that such a court would be used to limit and constrain our free trade severely, which neither the Labour party nor the SNP was ever in favour of anyway. These are issues that should be decided by our Government and, above all, this Parliament.
Let me briefly address the Uyghur question, for Lords amendment 3 in the first place is aimed squarely at the People’s Republic of China. Many years ago, I almost died in Xinjiang, crossing its great Taklamakan desert. What has happened there for many decades, but with greatly increased severity since 2009, cannot conceivably be supported by anyone in the United Kingdom, but I do not believe that this amendment, if implemented, would achieve anything at all for the Uyghurs or Xinjiang. We should not be asking judges to make political judgments. It is for this place to decide what our relationship with China should be. Over the last decade, we have veered from golden era to worst era in a short period of time. We have to find that balance, and the Trade Bill is not the place for it. It should be part of the integrated review on foreign policy and defence that we await shortly. Meanwhile, I support the Government strongly in opposing an amendment that would subcontract our scrutiny of human rights and of our trade relationships to a new court.
I am pleased to see this Bill return to the House in a much better state than when it left. Taken together, the Lords amendments will ensure that our trade deal lives up to the standards that the public rightly expect, both at home and in regard to our international obligations. I will focus my comments on Lords amendment 3 to 5, because they address issues that Vauxhall residents are concerned about.
I heard the Minister’s opening statement, seeking to reassure us that the NHS is safe, but I am not reassured. My late mother, as a sufferer of sickle cell disease, received excellent care from King’s College Hospital, and in later life as a renal dialysis patient. My two children were born locally, in St Thomas’ Hospital—the same hospital that treated our Prime Minister during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. My constituents do not support the creeping marketisation of the NHS and neither do I, so I urge Members to vote to ensure the amendment is protected on our statute book.
Lords amendment 3 focuses on the extreme crime of genocide and obliges the Government to revoke any future trade agreement with countries found responsible for it by the UK High Court. Our trade policy sends a message to the rest of the world about who we are and what we stand for. Surely no one in this House wants us to continue to trade with countries where genocide occurs, so will the Government reconsider their opposition to Lords amendment 3 and support it today?
Finally, we all recognise that Parliament is sovereign when it comes to lawmaking. It is the cornerstone of our democracy and vital for legitimacy and accountability, yet in the past month alone we have seen numerous trade agreements come into effect without proper parliamentary scrutiny. Lords amendment 5 improves the procedure for ratification and prevents important domestic safeguards on issues such as food safety being undermined by external trade agreements. I hope every Member will reflect on that fact and vote for the amendment to ensure that our trade deals are subject to the proper procedures, debates and approvals as a matter of parliamentary right, not as a concession and an afterthought from the Government.
The Bill was intended to provide a limited scrutiny process for EU trade deals that we wished to roll over for the UK to operate post Brexit. That objective has now largely been achieved, which means that if this Bill is to be of any meaningful scrutiny benefit it must now address scrutiny of future trade deals, including with roll-over countries, and any proposed with countries such as the US, India and China. If we fail to do that, we will have to fall back on a pre-EU, 1920s-based system of allowing limited recourse to debates, whereby a trade deal can be delayed but not stopped and then only on ratification but not before signature. This system, now contained in the CRaG Act, is inadequate for modern needs and requires reform towards a system of pre-signature parliamentary approval, as is used by our trading counterparts such as the US, the EU and Japan.
Lords amendment 1, from Lord Purvis, based on my Report stage new clause 4, is the proposed way of proceeding. It gives Parliament a vote on deals before and after negotiations, and will require the Government to report on any changes to food, health, environment, human rights and equalities standards. It provides for consultation with devolved authorities, but it specifically retains the Government’s prerogative powers to commence, conduct and conclude trade negotiations. Lords amendment 1 has the support of all Opposition parties and many Conservative colleagues in both Houses. It has the support of the NFU, the British Medical Association, many environmental, human rights, food standards and data use groups, business concerns, the CBI and so on.
Against that, Ministers complain about loss of prerogative power, but the existing CRaG Act itself restricts such powers. Even if Ministers were to stick with CRaG, they are the only people saying that CRaG does not need reform. Lord Lansley has provided in Lords amendment 5 that if a relevant Committee asks for a ratification debate, the Government must make time for that to happen. Even that mild, common-sense proposal is rebuffed by Ministers. Ministers suggest that a pre-signature vote would make them look less decisive and weaken their hand, but I would suggest that the opposite is actually the case. In the US, negotiations are often strengthened by the Executive suggesting that Congress simply will not accept such and such a proposal.
As things stand, unbelievably, the UK shall have less legislative scrutiny of trade deals than when we were a member of the European Union. Surely that is not what taking back control was all about. The power of approval that was given to MEPs now needs to come back here to Parliament, not to be forgotten about by Ministers. Having proper scrutiny votes will go towards establishing the UK as a modern, democratic, confident international trading nation. We should be embracing that by supporting the Purvis amendment and by voting no to the Government motion to disagree to it.
In the House in November 2020, the Secretary of State give me an assurance from the Dispatch Box that Northern Ireland would have full access to any trade agreements struck by the United Kingdom, and that they would apply to Northern Ireland in the same manner as they do to other parts of the United Kingdom. It is of paramount importance that the Government clarify again the Northern Ireland protocol, which has seriously undermined the promises made by the Prime Minister of unfettered access to our internal markets between all parts of the United Kingdom. I have serious concerns that any future trade deal will not deliver the level access that the Secretary of State promised.
I would warmly welcome a commitment today from the Government that Northern Ireland will have full and equal access to the trade deals of the United Kingdom. As an example, I want to mention our steel industry, which is predominantly engaged in export. It contributes £3.2 billion to the Northern Ireland economy in transport, manufacturing and engineering. Much of its product has to come from GB and from mainland UK. Unfortunately, tariffs of 25% were going to be imposed on steel. We need clarity on all aspects of the additional costs that are going to be given to Northern Ireland businesses in relation to the additional paperwork that will be required because we have not left on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom.
A major player is our agrifood industry, which contributes about £1.5 billion to the Northern Ireland economy. We welcome the support from the House to ensure that our high standards are protected. The United Kingdom leads the world in food standards and in welfare production of food, and we want to ensure that those standards are not lowered, and that other parts of the EU come up to the standards that we require.
On Lord Alton’s amendment, we as a party will be supporting Lords amendment 3 on the basis that we believe it will deal with issues such as genocide and those countries that turn a blind eye to human rights issues. It is vital that we have some pre-emptory norms set within the Bill to ensure that we can deal with those in any future trade deals that are brought forward. Northern Ireland basically has not been given the opportunity to benefit from the trade deals that the United Kingdom will benefit from through leaving the EU.
I will be speaking to Lords amendment 7, tabled by Baroness Kidron, which seeks to protect the rights of children online with regard to the use of their data and the design of services targeted at them. This has been enshrined in UK legislation through the age-appropriate design code—something that Baroness Kidron has been a tireless campaigner for. That world-leading piece of legislation is already influencing the decisions of technology companies on how they design and create tools for young people to use online.
In opening the debate earlier, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade Policy told the House that the Government’s forthcoming online harms Bill was the correct place to ensure the internet safety of children and all UK citizens. However, I understand why Baroness Kidron moved to insert Lords amendment 7 in the Bill, to ensure that those rights cannot be traded away in the small print of a future agreement. We can easily see how rights granted in international trade agreements on how companies can use data, where they can processes it and whether they can be subject to an independent audit of their algorithms could undermine the ability to create and enforce a robust duty of care regime on technology companies to meet their obligations to tackle online harms. In fact, in the trade negotiations between the UK Government and the outgoing Trump Administration in America, the US negotiators have sought to do just that. President Trump’s Government have sought to persuade the UK to trade away digital and data rights as part of securing a deal, as they have done in their agreements with Canada, Mexico and Japan. That would clearly be unacceptable, and I am pleased that Ministers continue to reassure me and others that they would not allow that to happen. Indeed, the UK has objected to those provisions being inserted in the trade agreement. A first positive step from the incoming Biden Administration will be to remove those clauses from the negotiating text.
It is important, though, for us to consider how the House will scrutinise detailed trade negotiations involving data and citizens’ and children’s rights online. I would not want to see trade agreements becoming the mechanism through which domestic legislation is undermined. In the agricultural and food sectors, the Government have now given a particular role in statute to the Trade and Agriculture Commission to advise Parliament on the impact of future trade deals on food standards and food safety. The Information Commissioner’s Office should have the same role on a formal basis to give advice to Parliament on the impact of draft trade agreements with regard to child protection, data sharing and data privacy.
A consumer can make a decision about whether they want to buy goods or not, depending on how they are made. Governments can enter into trade agreements to seek to reduce tariffs on particular goods to boost trade, create jobs and lower costs to consumers. All of those actions can be good things, but the impact of getting trade agreements wrong on data privacy and protection can be hard to see. It is hard to see how someone is exploiting a loophole in a trade agreement to gain improper access to someone’s data and to use it in ways to which they would not have consented. That is why it is so important that we safeguard digital rights online.
I will not be voting against the Government tonight on these amendments, but I ask the Minister to consider a formal role for the Information Commissioner to advise Parliament on future trade agreements, and in particular to make sure that they comply with our data protection laws and the age-appropriate design code, to keep children safe online.
I will first talk to Lords amendment 1, pertaining to parliamentary scrutiny. The Bill provides inadequate statutory procedures for parliamentary scrutiny and ratification of trade agreements, and Lords amendment 1 seeks to remedy that. It also ensures parliamentary engagement and scrutiny during the negotiation process and consultations with devolved authorities and means that the Government are obliged to seek approval from both Houses of Parliament before becoming a signatory to any trade deal. It means that colleagues across the House can scrutinise any agreements that impact on our constituents or Britain’s reputation and standing on the international stage.
The amendment is important as it ensures that an independent impact assessment is carried out on any proposed trade deal on human rights and equalities, employment and labour and the protection of human, animal or plant life or health, among a whole host of other important markers.
On the back of that, I am also proud to give my support to Lords amendment 2, which ensures that we do not embark on trade agreements with countries that have committed grave human rights abuses. By creating a triple-lock barrier against such agreements, the amendment ensures that we will keep our international and national commitments to respect human rights, guaranteeing that we do not enter trade negotiations with those who seek to undermine human rights principles through actions such as unlawful detention and the unlawful killing of citizens.
Lords amendment 3 sets out in clear terms the UK’s determination to abide by human rights principles, standing firmly against the grave human rights abuse of genocide more specifically. By voting against that amendment, the Government will showcase that a country committing genocide is not of any consequence for the UK when seeking trade deals, which ultimately makes us complicit. The amendment ensures that we do not do business with countries that have a low regard for human life.
I also speak in support of Lords amendment 4, which seeks to protect our NHS and NHS data and safeguards our NHS, particularly in the event of a trade deal with the United States, which is of the utmost importance. The amendment protects NHS patient data against private healthcare corporations. The amendment is crucial, as it prevents the Government from making deals with those who want to undermine the Government’s ability to deliver free, universal public health and care services. It sends a strong message that our NHS is not for sale and that this Government are committed to respecting and protecting the long legacy of providing free healthcare to all at the point of use.
Finally, I also support Lords amendment 7, which focuses on protecting children from online harm. The Government have gone so far with the online harms White Paper to outline the actions they are determined to take to protect young people online. The amendment provides another opportunity for the Government to protect young people when they use the internet, particularly when the Government are seeking to embark on trade negotiations with countries that have poor or relaxed online protections.
I think we need to be far more robust about calling out genocide when it takes place. I can do no better than quote our present Prime Minister, writing in the Financial Times in 2016, when he criticised the Foreign Office because
“for some baffling reason the Foreign Office still hesitates to use the term genocide”
about the attacks on the Yazidis. In our own lifetimes, we have seen appalling acts of violence based purely on people’s ethnicity. We need to be robust.
I was originally attracted to the amendments, particularly as they come from good friends such as Lord Forsyth and Lord Alton. I am grateful to the Minister for having spoken to me earlier today, and to his colleague in the Foreign Office. I listened to every word the Minister said. Although I was attracted to the Alton amendment, I now think there are serious faults with it. It is true that our efforts to name and shame on genocide and to act on it have been stymied in the international courts. On the one hand, we have said that it is for the courts to decide. On the other, because of the power of veto of major players on the world stage, international courts will not act.
We have to remember that we are Members of Parliament. We are elected. We are the high court of Parliament. It is for elected officials, not court officials, to decide trade policy. Any other approach would be utterly chaotic.
I am a barrister. I know that when we accuse somebody in a court, the defendant has a right to turn up. Do we really think that, if we accused any country—China, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, Egypt—they would agree for a moment to send counsel to defend their position? Look at it from our point of view. Some people around the world think that our human rights record, for instance in Ireland, is not that great. What would we think if we were going to do a trade deal with somebody and some group took us to court in, say, Japan? Would we ever turn up in some Japanese court and defend our position? No, we would think that that would be a fundamental denial of the supremacy of this Parliament. So I do not think that the court route is the right approach.
I listened to the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), and was quite alarmed by what she said. We all know that what is happening to the Uyghurs is quite appalling. We suspect that it is genocide, and we think that if there is any sort of trade deal with China we should question it very closely. But then she started talking about other countries. She started talking about Egypt, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Where would it all stop? Any trade deal could be bound up for months—years—in the courts, and any group could take the Government to court.
I voted for Brexit to take back control. I am a free trader; I believe in international free trade. I want these free trade deals, but there is one very important point that I hope the Minister will address when he winds up. There is a lacuna in parliamentary scrutiny of these trade deals; there is no doubt about it. It is simply far too late to conduct a trade deal, agree it and then at the very last minute send it to the International Trade Committee. Sometimes there is no opportunity for Parliament to discuss it at all.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), a former International Trade Secretary, said, let us have a proper parliamentary scrutiny system so that as we embark on a trade deal the Select Committee can consider it in detail at the start and can report back to Parliament, so that we can debate it and give either instructions or guidance to Government. That is the way the Government should proceed, and I commend that approach to them this evening.
I support the amendments from the other place, particularly Lords amendment 1, 2, 4 and 6. I am conscious of time, so I shall restrict my points.
First, we have to put this in context. We are in the lee of Brexit and the trade deal that has followed from that, which has taken us into new territory. Speed will be required because of the urgency of the situation. We must try to minimise difficulties and maximise employment opportunities. What we are seeing at ports is shameful, frankly, and we cannot have that continuing or being replicated. But some things have to remain constant and some standards have to be maintained. As other Members have correctly said, parliamentary scrutiny is essential. This is a democracy, and that deal fundamentally affects each and every one of our people, so we have to ensure that Parliament is able to properly scrutinise it.
Secondly, we have to ensure that food and animal welfare standards are maintained. We are rightly proud of those high standards and have always adhered to them here, which must be maintained. Thirdly, it is absolutely essential that the national health service’s being free at the point of delivery and predicated on being a service delivered by a public duty, rather than by private practices, is maintained. We have to ensure the integrity of the NHS and ensure that it is not undermined.
Putting that into context, we have to remember that we are in a situation where urgency is to the forefront, but we are also at a time when we have to negotiate trade deals that are by their very nature complicated. A trade deal with the United States will be essential, given the nature and scale of the country and its importance to us. However, let us remember that the United States may be the home of capitalism and free trade, but it is deeply protective of its own sectors and industry. When it comes to a trade deal with the UK, the US will be looking after its interests, companies and people, and we have to ensure that ours are not undermined as a result. Let us also remember that US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made it quite clear—this will continue under President Biden’s Administration—that Brexit was an opportunity to eat the UK’s lunch, which means to have a go at our food and agriculture standards and to undermine the circumstances of our protecting the NHS from privatisation, so we have to ensure that steps are taken.
It is always the situation that all Governments have Executive creep—that was no doubt the situation even in the Government I served in another Parliament and institution. Governments tend to do that by nature. However, in the United Kingdom over recent generations, it has certainly become a hell of a lot worse, which requires to be addressed. The nadir was the shameful absence of opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill for Brexit. It may have had to be delivered in the last few days before Brexit, but the almost total absence of that opportunity cannot be allowed to be replicated, because at the end of the day, in my constituency, high food and agriculture standards are essential. We make premium products there, and we cannot have a race to the bottom that would see our own industry undermined. We have to protect and cherish our health service. We welcome the steps it has taken on coronavirus. We have seen it hollowed out with privatisation south of the border. We cannot allow those two areas of our society and economy to be sold out in a trade deal delivered to ensure that the United States protects its own vested interests.
Before I call Gary Sambrook, for the information of the House and those contributing from outside the Chamber, Minister Greg Hands will respond to the debate at 5.39 pm, and the first Division will be called at 5.54 pm. I understand that there may be several Divisions thereafter.
I am pleased to see the Bill making progress through the House today. It is important to reflect for a moment on the backdrop of the Trade Bill and why we are where we are. Ever since 2016 when we had the referendum, we have constantly heard from Opposition Members that much of this was never going to be possible, that in some way the world would overlook the United Kingdom and reach across us to the European Union and so on. We are making good progress, and it is because of the imagination and determination of our Prime Minister, this Government, the Secretary of State and departmental Ministers that we have secured 63 deals across the world, covering £885 billion in trade. These are really good things that will create opportunities for people in all our constituencies up and down the country, which we can all be proud of.
However, we cannot be proud of the tone that this debate has taken over many years. For as long as I have been alive, there have been allegations that the Conservative party and this Government were going to in some way sell off the NHS, and we see that again today in some of these amendments, which shape the argument as if some Government estate agent is outside a hospital banging in a for sale sign, or that we are taking Donald Trump around A&E and he is deciding what wallpaper he wants to put up. All this has always been nonsense. We see it all the time in the opportunities Members have in Opposition day debates, which they use to spread fear and misinformation. It is damaging to our politics because those allegations cause fear, spread anxiety, arouse anger and stoke suspicion in our politics. That is not healthy. It is unfounded, it is wrong, it is irresponsible and it is dangerous to our democracy.
The all-party parliamentary group on trade and export promotion, of which I am co-chair with Lord Waverley from the other place, has been talking to businesses and consumers about how we want global Britain to be shaped over the coming years. We are clear from the conversations we have had that our global trade strategy should be green. It should be about supporting biodiversity and reducing waste. It should be about promoting opportunities for sustainable, high-quality jobs for people across the United Kingdom. It should be about supporting fair and sustainable trade. It should be about capitalising on the digital economy, and it should promote sustainable investment and finance. All those things are the way in which Britain can stand tall in the world, be a beacon for high standards across the world and ensure we create the conditions in which people have the opportunities to prosper, to trade and, most importantly, to get the jobs that, as we come out of the covid pandemic, many of our constituents will need. The Government are creating the foundations for a fine opportunity and I wholly support them in their endeavours today.
The amendments we are discussing are incredibly important. Amendment 1 would provide vital parliamentary scrutiny obligations preventing the UK from signing a free trade agreement unless a draft of the agreement had been laid before and approved by both Houses of Parliament. That is immensely important when we consider protecting human rights, environmental standards, animal welfare regulations and protecting the NHS as a public service. Those are all matters of immense importance to my constituents. The trade justice movement has highlighted that the provisions of the amendment offer a considerable improvement on the level of parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals in the UK, and that currently our processes lag behind those of the US, the EU and other countries.
Amendment 4 would provide for protection against the undermining of the ability of Government to deliver free and universal public health and care services. That is extremely important, particularly given the Government’s very clear agenda to privatise the national health service and put it in the hands of profit-making companies, instead of protecting it as a public service, as they should. It would also provide for the protection of employment rights for public sector employees and those working in publicly funded health and care sectors. The fact that the Government will not commit in legislation to protect our NHS is worrying for us all. It is time for Members across this House to show their support for the NHS and those who work in it by voting for the amendment.
There is also immense concern about environmental standards and animal welfare. A report published in November by the Future British Standards Coalition, which includes representatives from Sustain, Compassion in World Farming and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, warned that
“the UK government has already weakened protections around food imports and is failing to consider the impact of trade on public health, animal welfare and the environment with adequate rigour or transparency.”
Amendment 6 would require the Secretary of State to establish a code of practice setting out how a Minister should maintain standards in certain areas, including the environment, animal welfare and food standards, where they are likely to be affected by a proposed international trade agreement. A National Farmers Union petition that states that the Government
“should ensure that all food eaten in the UK…is produced in a way that matches the high standards of production expected of UK farmers”
has been signed by more than 1 million people.
Trade agreements should contain commitments on the protection of human rights. I believe that all Members across the House should support amendment 2, which proposes a triple barrier against trade agreements with countries that abuse human rights. They should also support amendment 3, which would provide the power to revoke bilateral international trade agreements if they found that a signatory to that agreement had committed genocide as defined in the genocide convention. Trading is global, and so are our responsibilities. I believe our treaties should respect that.
I wish to make some brief comments about three of the amendments, including amendment 3 on genocide. I have listened to some excellent speeches from colleagues across the House who have made a clear and passionate case for the amendment, and I agree, of course, that states that engage in genocide must face serious consequences for their actions, including in trade. In addition to arguments about the separation of powers, which have already been made, I have serious concerns about the practicalities of amendment 3 and about the amendment in lieu.
The amendment refers to a preliminary ruling by the High Court, but it is not clear what that means in this context, or how authoritative it would be. Neither is it clear how the court would deal with the applications that are envisaged. The amendment sets out who could bring an action, but not who the respondent would be. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) said earlier, it is hard to see the respondent being the foreign Government in question. Would it be the UK Government instead, and if so, how would they present a case about the behaviour of a foreign Government, of whom they are likely to have been critical? All that needs to be clarified before such a change in legislation could be contemplated.
Amendment 7 deals with the protection of children online. I cannot support the amendment as drafted, because I think its drafting contains the seeds of potential conflict between current and future parliamentary judgments, and potentially between parliamentary and ministerial authority. I also think that the concerns it expresses are more relevant to trade deals that are not covered by the Bill, although I entirely support and share those concerns.
The Government have made important and welcome progress in their plans to reduce and remove so-called online harms, and offer real protection to children and others from harassment, abuse, manipulation, and misery. It is that progress that Baroness Kidron, who tabled the amendment in the other place, and others, are determined to defend, and they are entirely right to do so. It may well need defending when negotiations on a trade deal with the USA in particular begin. Although I welcome what the Minister said about the Government’s determination not to bargain away the progress we have made, I hope he will recognise Parliament’s determination to reinforce that, and engage further on how that can be done, before we move on to discuss other trade deals in detail. I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) said about that, especially his suggestion about how Parliament might benefit from the assessment by the Information Commissioner’s Office on the digital aspects of any deal.
That brings me to amendment 1 on the approval of trade agreements in Parliament, with which I have considerable sympathy. I take the Minister’s point that the trade deals covered by the Bill may not be those where parliamentary scrutiny is most important, but the CRaG processes that he relies on were not designed for post-Brexit Britain, or for the trade deals of breadth and ambition to which the Government rightly aspire. For those, Parliament needs more time and information than CRaG currently allows us in order to do our job of scrutiny properly. The Government need to think further on that, and do more before those broader trade deals are negotiated.
We are experiencing a number of challenges with the outworkings of Brexit, not least here in Northern Ireland, and that is, in part, due to the failure to progress and confront some of the realities of the situation. That is followed through by the fact that the trade deal is in place without this Bill, and there is also an environmental governance gap, due to the failure to pass the Environment Bill before the end of what passed for the transition period. Many see that as a reflection of the Government’s priorities regarding environmental and other protections.
I had the opportunity to speak on Second Reading of the Trade Bill in May and, at that point, set out the SDLP’s concerns about the loss of rights, standards and protections that were enjoyed by everybody in the UK as members of the EU, as well as our disappointment about the lack of scrutiny and oversight provided for by the Bill. I do not want to rehash all those as well, but I raised specifically the potentially regressive impact that the Bill might have on food standards and on the NHS, which is an issue of great concern to my constituents in south Belfast. Several of the amendments before us today would assist greatly in protecting and maintaining those standards. I say again that warm words and assurances, and protesting too much, as I think we heard in a number of previous speeches, do not give reassurance to the public if opportunities are not taken to place protections in law. If the Government are serious about protecting the environment, workers and the NHS, they will have no issue in legislating to put those protections into law.
On scrutiny, we heard a lot from Vote Leave about taking back control and about the sovereignty of the UK Parliament, but we see in practice in this Bill much control being put into the hands of a small number of Cabinet Ministers, and very little in the way of parliamentary oversight. The UK Government’s scrutiny processes and, therefore, democratic legitimacy for trade deals fall far behind those of, for example, the US and the EU. If Brexit was an issue of accountability for many people, I believe that this approach is further storing up dissatisfaction with the political process.
Amendments 8 and 9 provide a good opportunity for the UK to ensure that trade policy is in line with other international obligations on not entering into trade deals with those committing human rights abuses and genocide, and we very much welcome this. On the issue of Northern Ireland, trade deals and non-discrimination —that is, amendment 26—the SDLP has been very clear before and since 2016 that we do not wish, and have never wished, to see any barriers to trade from Northern Ireland north-south or east-west. That is what we enjoyed pre-Brexit, as well as trading arrangements with the vast majority of the planet, but we are now restricted by the need to manage the problems that have been foisted upon us by an ill-thought-out Brexit. The Ireland-Northern Ireland protocol exists precisely to protect the people of Northern Ireland from the risks and consequences of a hard border. We therefore have to take a very cautious approach to anything that might inadvertently or deliberately undermine that. It remains the case—I will finish with this point—that the higher the UK’s commitments to the standards that we maintain here in Northern Ireland, the softer the barriers to trade in the Irish sea will be.
It is a pleasure to speak in such an important debate this afternoon and to hear such eloquent arguments on the merits of the amendments that we are considering today, and I have listened intently to the arguments on both sides.
Last week, in the debate on global Britain, we debated in this House how we wanted this country and its values to be a beacon of hope in this dark world—a country that champions free trade, the rule of law, human rights and democracy. It is these values, which everyone in the House shares, that are driving right hon. and hon. Friends in supporting Lord Alton’s amendment or amendment (a), backed by colleagues this afternoon. Nobody in this House or beyond would ever support this country doing a trade deal with a country engaging in acts of genocide. The United Kingdom continues to encourage all states to uphold international human rights obligations, including under the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, and our position on that will never change.
We all look at what is happening in Xinjiang and the plight of the Uyghur Muslims with increasing alarm. In response, the UK has announced an ambitious package of measures to help make sure that no British organisation, whether Government or private sector, is inadvertently contributing to human rights violations against the Uyghur Muslims or other minorities in the region. On 6 October, the UK and 38 other countries made a statement at the UN Third Committee expressing deep concern about the situation. This House and this country therefore cannot be accused of not being aware of or not taking seriously the issues in China at the present time.
However, the amendments pose a serious threat to the separation of powers that this country has observed for hundreds of years. It is this place, and it is the Executive who are held to account in this place, that are responsible for developing trade agreements and the operation of our foreign policy. It is really important that we separate the issues here. Is there increasing alarm over whether genocide is occurring in Xinjiang alongside horrific acts of slave labour and forced sterilisation? Yes; that is not in question. Should we allow the Court power over British trade and foreign policy? No. Although my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) stresses that the Court would only be able to make a preliminary decision, it would be impossible—rightly, might I say—to ignore that decision. Therefore, we would be de facto giving powers to the High Court.
I would be ashamed if it took a decision from the High Court to determine that a country we were looking at doing a trade deal with was engaging in acts of genocide for us to revisit whether it would be the right thing to do. I have faith—faith borne out by the recent examples of what we have done and how we have acted towards states that do not share our values—that the British Government today and in the future will do the right thing, and that if the day comes that they do not, this House will hold them to account and rightly stop them. That is how parliamentary democracy works. We do not offload or subcontract our moral compass to judges in the High Court. We are elected to take tough decisions.
I am against these amendments, but I am for tougher action against China and other Governments around the world who are committing human rights abuses. I have spoken about my support for the Bill before, so I will not take up the House’s time by going over the same ground again. The Bill has been improved since it first came before Parliament, not least with the creation and putting on a statutory footing of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which puts the voice of farmers, who were concerned about the effect on standards of future trade deals, at the heart of the Government’s trade policy. I hope we can now allow this very good Bill—a Bill on which the Government have listened and acted and which they have improved—to proceed.
I am pleased that this Bill has returned from the other place in a much stronger form, with an enhanced role for parliamentary scrutiny, and I will be opposing any attempts to water down those changes today. If I had a bit more time, I would talk about protecting NHS patient data, protecting children from online harms and, of course, the genocide amendments, all of which have been raised with me by concerned constituents, as well as the need for a triple barrier against trade agreements with countries that abuse human rights. I am pleased that so many other speakers have more than done justice to those issues, in particular raising concerns about appalling human rights abuses in China.
Only last week, we saw shocking reports about the connection between many global brands and the forced labour camps in Xinjiang. This is something we simply should not tolerate in our business relationships. In this speech, I will focus—not for the first time—on another issue that constituents have contacted me about in droves: the need to ensure that we do not bargain away our existing environmental and food standards in the heated pursuit of new trading relationships.
The damage we have done to our trading relationship with our closest partners in the EU with the flimsy Brexit deal last month puts the UK in an even weaker negotiating position, but we need to stand firm and, for the sake of our health and the planet, refuse to sacrifice British standards. The Government have continually claimed that they will not allow UK food and environmental standards to be ripped up but have still fought every attempt to put such protections into law, despite massive public support for them. Principles-based parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals, impact assessments and a robust Trade and Agriculture Commission are essential if we are to hold the Government to account.
It is not just about protecting our own standards. We ought to be using what leverage we have in trade negotiations to put pressure on other countries to raise their standards where they are low. If we import and consume food, or if our companies are involved in its financing or production, from countries where land degradation and the abuse of animals and workers are commonplace, we are complicit. Deforestation in Brazil is one such example. Current Government proposals to eliminate illegal deforestation from UK supply chains simply do not go far enough—not when there are Governments such as Bolsonaro’s in Brazil, who have given the green light to it. The World Wide Fund for Nature found that 43 million hectares—an area the size of California—was lost in deforestation fronts such as the Amazon in the 13 years between 2004 and 2017. If business continues as usual, by 2030 we will have lost another 170 million hectares.
Put simply, I do not trust the Government to raise such issues in anything more than a tokenistic way when it comes to negotiating a bilateral trade agreement with the likes of Brazil. When I asked about that in the Chamber last week, the answer that I got confirmed that. That is why parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals is so important, and why I will be voting for these amendments.
There are several amendments to be considered today, but I propose to speak only to Lords amendment 3—the so-called genocide amendment—which I have particularly considered.
After Brexit, the country appeared to divide into two camps: those who saw Brexit as a problem to be solved and those who saw it as an opportunity to be embraced. I am firmly in the latter camp. We can now develop our own trade policy in a way that we have not for some time. It also gives us the opportunity to export our values —if hon. Members will excuse the phrase—as well as our goods and services.
I hope that Britain’s trade policy in the 21st century will be like that of the 19th—the Britain of the West Africa Squadron, unafraid to stand up for what we believe in around the world. However, we have to take the world as it is. Not all countries are western-style democracies, and as we stride the world at large it is inevitable that we will want to trade with some countries that are perhaps not quite the same as ours, but there are obviously limits. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda described genocide as
“the crime of all crimes”.
Rightly, this country will not seek to make trade arrangements with countries that commit it.
In that light, Lords amendment 3 has much to commend it. It could apply to any country, but discussion of the amendment so far has centred on the People’s Republic of China and its treatment of ethnic minorities. As the vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Hong Kong, I have become much more aware of and interested in China’s activities, and the amendment would send a very powerful message to China that her actions are unacceptable.
I have a great deal of sympathy with those who are minded to support the amendment, and I applaud the work of the Board of Deputies, the Muslim Council of Britain and others that have raised the profile of the amendment and the surrounding discussion. However, lawmaking is not just about sending messages; it is also about creating a set of workable rules. In that respect, I regrettably have some doubts about the Lords amendment.
A free trade agreement is likely to take the form of a treaty that has been through Parliament under the procedure set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. The amendment would effectively revoke a trade agreement on a ruling from a High Court judge. That introduces a judicial element that may or may not be desirable, but needs to be considered at greater length and very carefully. Is it desirable that a judge considers an international agreement that has already been considered and approved by Parliament? If a free trade agreement is being considered with a country that is suspected of committing genocide, which I suggest is a situation that is not going to arise, is this House not capable of considering that and voting it down? Is a court able to amass the relevant evidence to decide whether genocide has occurred? Can the Government or Parliament not do so? Perhaps the Government are better placed to do those things.
I am not sure how the amendment might work in terms of our international law obligations. Would our domestic legislation be overturned while our international obligations, which the trading partner could still enforce, were still in place?
I have not fully addressed those questions in my own mind, and it is for those reasons that, with considerable regret, I do not feel that I can back the amendment as it stands. I urge the Government to consider this matter carefully, use this amendment as a first draft and turn it into a workable safeguard to ensure that, in the future, Britain continues to hold our head high on the international stage.
I rise to speak in favour of the amendments tabled in the names of the noble Lords Alton and Collins, the driving purpose of which is to root our foreign and trade policies in the values and principles that our country and our constituents hold dear.
According to the British Foreign Policy Group’s polling, more than eight in 10 of the UK public believe that the UK should sometimes or always lead the way on global issues, while across this House we know that if global Britain is to mean anything, our country must have the moral authority to lead by example. That authority will be fatally undermined if we end up sacrificing our ethics and values on the altar of tawdry trade deals with genocidal states.
The term “genocide” evokes harrowing memories of Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia and, of course, the holocaust. If ever there is a time for Britain to show global leadership and stand up for our values, it is at the very moment when we witness those early, chilling signs of genocide. On that note, the nation was collectively aghast when we saw Andrew Marr show the Chinese ambassador a video of shaven-headed Uyghur Muslims being forcibly loaded on to trains, the video accompanied by moving accounts of women being sterilised and the horrors of forced labour camps. The Jewish community knows all too well that comparisons with the holocaust should be used sparingly, so when the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews writes to the Prime Minister to draw parallels between events in Xinjiang and Nazi Germany and then calls for the Prime Minister to support the Alton amendment, the Government must surely take note.
I turn now to the profoundly misleading and disingenuous arguments that the Government are deploying against the Alton amendment. First, the Foreign Secretary claims that the amendment is unconstitutional because it would allow the High Court to frustrate trade agreements. That is nonsense, as it has been the settled policy of UK Government for decades that judges, not politicians, rule on genocide; so the Alton amendment is entirely consistent with that principle. The only difference is that we would be empowering, through that amendment, our esteemed British judges to make such a ruling, rather than the judges in an international court.
Secondly, the Foreign Secretary claims that the evidentiary bar for genocide is simply too high, and that the Government would set their own threshold far lower, by which to determine whether the UK would be entering into trade deals. Well, fine—then the Government should cease their attempts to defeat the amendment, as the amendment should surely be seen as purely an insurance policy against future backsliding. Moreover, if it is indeed the case that the Government are seeking to adopt an even more progressive approach, then Conservative MPs should also be supporting the Collins amendment, which rightly sets out why the UK Government should apply a human rights assessment to all negotiations.
Thirdly, the Foreign Secretary argues that the amendment would give rise to vexatious claims—again, disingenuous nonsense. The High Court has a well-established process for filtering vexatious claims out of its system. For far too long, the international community has allowed authoritarian regimes to hold the international human rights legal order hostage. Russia and China wield their vetoes cynically and ruthlessly, and that is why the UK Government have never succeeded in recognising a genocide while it is ongoing since the Nuremberg trials, 75 years ago.
If this House votes with the courage of its convictions tonight, we will be grasping the opportunity to lead the world in standing up to those regimes and breaking the stranglehold that they currently have on our system. Let us show some global leadership. Let us back Alton and Collins this evening. Let us send a message to the world about the type of country we really are.
I believe this is a good Bill, which we should pass in its current form, but I want to address the amendments raised most frequently by my constituents—Lords amendments 1 to 3.
I have confidence in the robustness of our system of scrutiny. We have been absolutely clear that in all our negotiations we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards, and every Government announcement has been entirely consistent on that. The Food Standards Agency maintains rigorous standards. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 transfers existing EU import requirements on to the UK statute book. We have the power of Parliament, where MPs will be able to scrutinise and effectively veto future trade deals under the CRaG procedure, and we have the Trade and Agriculture Commission, with newly extended powers putting it on a statutory footing.
Secondly, I am, of course, appalled by the reports from Xinjiang, but the amendment on genocide will do nothing to help the Uyghur people. I simply say that the UK has a long and proud history of extending and protecting human rights, and promoting our values abroad. A well-intentioned amendment to bring human rights within the scope of this Bill would seriously compromise the separation of powers. I do not want to see judicial intervention in legitimate trade and foreign policy, particularly in the context of our existing checks and balances. I believe in this Parliament, and in its duty and commitment to determine appropriate sanctions and in what circumstances we conduct trade negotiations.
Most vital is what the Bill enables in its current form. It provides a fantastic platform for growth. It is my firm belief that to realise the potential of global Britain, we need to recognise the role of this place in that endeavour. We do not create growth, but we can enable it. Throughout the pandemic, we have relied on frontline heroes—our doctors, nurses, care workers, police and shop workers, to get us through—but in the next stage of recovery it will be the wealth creators, business people and entrepreneurs who will take us forward, leading our recovery into long-term prosperity. What they need is a dynamic and investable playing field open to them. To think differently, innovate and grow, we need the freedom to trade.
This Bill has the power to transform Britain’s economy by going further and faster in the sectors of the future. It will not be establishment banks and oil companies dominating the FTSE 100 in 20 years’ time, but it will be the innovation sector, digital, data and artificial intelligence that creates the most new wealth, and we can enable Britain now to become the global hub for growth sectors for the future. I will not be supporting today’s amendments, because I am truly confident in the levels of scrutiny that exist and I am confident that this Parliament and Britain’s moral compass do not rely on judicial intervention. Most of all, I believe in the global Britain that this Bill represents and realises.
Whenever this Bill comes before this House my inbox is the same, as I suspect every Member’s is; once again, constituents have emailed en masse to express their support for many of the amendments being debated today. From this correspondence, it is clear that my constituents do not want to compromise on standards; that they fear for the future of the NHS under any US trade deal; and that they want more scrutiny, not less. However, what is clear more than anything else is that they do not trust this Government. Although the Government have said that our farmers will not be undercut, that the NHS is safe and that human rights are non-negotiable, my constituents simply do not believe them. There is a very simple reason for that: although the Government are happy to make promises, they will not commit them to law. People have suffered too many U-turns, too many failures and too many excuses from this Government to believe them any longer. My constituents want legal guarantees, not empty ones.
The incredible thing is that these Lords amendments cover issues on which the vast majority of this House would claim to agree, yet the Government will today vote down a series of vital protections. Who can argue that a trade deal with a state such as Egypt, whose Government jail and execute religious minorities and human rights activists, should not contain iron-clad human rights clauses? If we are to be a country that promotes and defends human rights, we should make a stand and not do business with those who seek to destroy those protections. A faction in government is proud of its record and would welcome scrutiny, yet not surprisingly this Government want to hide from it. It is time that this Government recognised that MPs are paid to debate important issues, make decisions and represent our constituents. Why are they so afraid to do so?
Finally, there is the issue of standards. Whether it is food standards, environmental standards or labour standards, people are worried. These standards have been fought for in this country and the EU, and we do not want them undermined or undercut. It would be devastating for our farmers and damaging to already struggling businesses.
While the Government will no doubt ignore the public’s concerns once more and vote down these reasonable amendments, they should know that the Labour party will continue to fight for our NHS, fight for our standards, and fight for our right to scrutinise this Government.
Alongside many Conservative colleagues, I have had a very difficult decision to make. Rebellion against one’s own Government is torturous, but in this case I feel compelled. I have no doubt but that it is the right thing to do.
The United Kingdom has a proud history as a staunch defender of human rights, champion of the oppressed and celebrant of diversity and freedoms everywhere. The anti-genocide amendment is our chance to continue this proud tradition and help protect innocent lives from evildoers. The amendment creates a necessary mechanism by which the United Kingdom is able to uphold its international obligations regarding genocide, and safeguards us from being complicit, through commerce and trade, with genocidal regimes. I have spent many years in places scarred by war, slavery and genocide. What I witnessed moulded me, and I swore I would do all I could to inhibit such suffering.
Critics of the amendment note that a designation of genocide should be determined only by international courts. We all know that there are certain states against which a verdict of genocide is inconceivable, due to the nature and limitations of the international legal system, its courts and base Realpolitik. We must not allow those who commit crimes against humanity, such as genocide, to be protected by the deficiencies of our evolving international system. We must be prepared to act unilaterally when required and lead by example.
Encouraging states to uphold their international human rights obligations should be the keystone on which we build global Britain. As a newly independent, sovereign United Kingdom, now is the time to re-establish ourselves as a global moral authority. The best way to do this is by standing up for our values and employing innovative thinking, as exemplified in the genocide amendment.
I have heard several hon. Members express concern about our courts determining whether there has been a genocide. I find it curious that international courts are not objected to, yet our domestic ones are. Other Members have suggested that Parliament alone should determine genocide; I remind them that this runs against long-established UK policy. I also ask Members to consider that in 2016, this House unanimously voted to recognise the Yazidi genocide, but the Government took no action, stating that genocide recognition is for the courts.
I loathe rebellion and would go to great lengths to avoid it, but there are occasions when it is simply impossible to reconcile personal conviction with party loyalty. The genocide amendment is not perfect, but it provides a real opportunity for a new beginning for a re-imagined foreign policy. I urge all in this House to support the genocide amendment and find themselves on the right side of history.
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) in saying that whenever this Bill comes to the Chamber, the interest and concern from my constituents is huge.
I will start by talking about amendment 4 and the NHS. So much of the past year has been about protecting the NHS. It is fair to say that we all appreciate the NHS more than ever before, and this must be reflected in the Bill. My constituents are concerned about the increasing marketisation and outsourcing of NHS services. They are concerned, too, about the selling of and open access to NHS UK patient data. They want to protect our NHS. That is why amendment 4 on data protection is so important. While the Government consistently claim in public statements that the NHS is not for sale in future trade deals, the best way to ensure this is to legislate in this Bill, once and for all, to ensure that the NHS is outside the scope of any future trade agreement, in all respects. The Government’s resistance to taking that step and to including that in the Bill gives us reason for concern about their long-term intentions.
I turn to amendment 6 on our food and farming standards. I have received an overwhelming number of emails from constituents on food standards and animal welfare standards, which go hand in hand. It is so important that we get this right. We have some of the most stringent food and farming standards in the world, in terms of the rules that producers must keep to before food reaches our shelves. It is crucial that we keep the standards consistent across imported goods as well. We need a code of practice, as provided for by amendment 6, to ensure that standards are maintained in any trade deal expected to affect food, animal welfare or, very importantly, the environment.
It is really important, as we have heard, that Parliament has the chance to scrutinise properly the full text of any trade deals. The CRaG arrangements are simply not effective and strong enough to ensure that we have a chance to consider whatever is in the trade deals. We need a much stronger way of scrutinising these deals, which affect so many aspects of our lives. That is why I support the amendments on scrutiny.
Finally, I want to speak in support of the amendments on human rights, including the so-called genocide amendment. For so many years, UK Governments have supported the principle that trade treaties should contain commitments on the protection of human rights, and have given the European Union the right to suspend or revoke those treaties if there are serious abuses of human rights. Now that we are no longer part of the EU, it is right that we make sure that we retain that provision. The two cross-party amendments to the Bill agreed by the House of Lords would obligate the Government to provide an assessment of the human rights record of a state before starting trade negotiations with it, as well as allowing for that assessment to be scrutinised by MPs and peers. It is vital that we include these changes.
I start by saying that I will not vote in favour of any Lords amendments this evening.
The huge efforts we witnessed the trade team make in order to secure continuity agreements worth £897 billion are not just one of the strongest expressions of Brexit delivered, but bring confidence to businesses by eliminating the uncertainty that so many pundits said that Brexit would bring. That confidence means investment, which means growth, and growth means jobs. It is lamentable, especially at this time of crisis, that we have not had a single speech from an Opposition Member of any party that promotes UK plc; instead, we have had a litany of criticism and negativism, which does the opposite of generating business confidence. One would think that at least some of the pragmatists on the Opposition Benches might, in the national interest, bring themselves to accept that Brexit has happened, and that we should come together to do everything possible to rebuild our economy, because that means jobs for the people of Islington and Camden, as it does for the people of Dudley North.
There are huge prizes to be had. Accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership would open up amazing opportunities in a market worth about $30 trillion. I have huge confidence that our team will bring this about; that we will sign agreements with Australia, New Zealand and the USA; and that we will strengthen ties with Mercosur countries such as Brazil, which have huge growth potential.
Lords amendment 3 has special importance for some of my colleagues. Although I completely agree with the spirit and intentions behind it, the key for me is that Parliament must always remain sovereign. Ultimately, this is what Brexit was all about—answering the crucial question, “Who decides?” The unintended consequence of this amendment is that it would provide the judiciary with powers that would undermine Parliament. My contention is that questions of genocide—its definition, its impact over time, and measures for responding to it—are so complex that it is not the judiciary, but Parliament, under advice and with the royal prerogative, that is best placed to deal with them. Therefore, while I very much respect colleagues who are minded to support this amendment, and understand their reasons for doing so, I will not.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this most important debate. I will support the Collins and Alton amendments on human rights. Members from all parts of the House will have heard the Foreign Secretary on the “Andrew Marr Show” this weekend. When challenged about today’s amendments on human rights, he responded,
“we shouldn’t be engaged in free trade negotiations with countries abusing human rights.”
What does that mean for the UK’s continued arms trade with some of the most despotic regimes in the world, including Saudi Arabia, the UK’s biggest arms customer and one of the world’s most authoritarian regimes? UK-made warplanes, bombs and missiles are playing a central role in the attacks on Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition, which has led the largest and longest humanitarian crisis in the world.
Today, 80% of the population in Yemen are living a brutal cycle of starvation, malnutrition and sickness, and they are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. In the words of a recent UN report, the situation in Yemen is a “stain on humanity’s conscience”. By continuing to sell arms to the Saudi regime, despite overwhelming evidence of that regime’s repeated breaches of international humanitarian law, Britain is made complicit in these war crimes. The same UN report states that the continued supply of weapons is only perpetuating the conflict and prolonging the suffering of the Yemeni people.
Between March 2015 and July 2020, there were 535 alleged breaches of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, according to the Ministry of Defence. That is more than one a week for the entire duration of the conflict. These breaches include strikes in residential areas—on schools, hospitals and family homes. Civil rights organisations such as the Campaign Against Arms Trade and Amnesty International have repeatedly and consistently called for the UK Government to halt arms transfers to the Saudi-led coalition because of the clear risk of such arms being used to breach human rights and international humanitarian law in Yemen.
While this Government continue to duck their legal responsibilities, Yemeni civilians are dying in their thousands. It is shameful, and it has to stop. Questions of legality have already been raised around our ongoing arms deals with Saudi Arabia. These amendments would add an extra layer of scrutiny, so that we could ensure that UK products were not being used in violation of international humanitarian laws. They would oblige Ministers to provide a full assessment of the human rights records of any overseas states before starting trade negotiations with them. MPs and peers could scrutinise any evidence, and human rights reports would be reviewed annually to check ongoing compliance with a robust system that ensured that the UK’s ongoing and future trade partners adhered to basic human rights principles. If being an independent trading nation means one thing, it should be the choice to decide which countries we are prepared to trade with and which we are not. If we do not support the amendment today, the Government will have clearly shown that it is happy to turn a blind eye to the blood on its hands. Today, we have a chance to put that right, and the constituents of Liverpool, Riverside urge Members from all parts of the House to support the amendment.
This Bill builds on a really strong platform that we delivered in 2020, despite those headwinds of the global pandemic. Having got Brexit done, we have struck trade deals with 63 countries around the world, covering £885 billion-worth of trade.
We are here to talk about the amendments sent from the other place. On genocide, the United Kingdom has never shied away from protecting the rights of the world’s most vulnerable.
A lot has been said about the atrocities and, let us face it, genocide going on in Xinjiang. Does my hon. Friend agree that while Lords amendment 3 is not perfect, it is a starting point to address the real human rights concerns? Now is a chance to be the light in the darkness.
I welcome that intervention from my hon. Friend. He is right to highlight what is going on in China at the moment. It is an incredibly awful, complex situation. My worry with Lords amendment 3, to address his point, is that it would place our courts in a uniquely difficult position. They would be acting akin to international courts in determining where and when acts of genocide have occurred. Invariably, they will be doing so with unco-operative and oppressive states, as we are witnessing at the moment.
We risk, I think, turning our courts into arenas for foreign nations to play out their foreign policy objectives. The political and diplomatic risks associated with that would go far beyond the intended scope of the amendment, well-meaning though it is. It would be a dereliction of our duty as parliamentarians to place a political burden on our judges. We would undermine the separation of powers that is the bedrock of the political stability of this nation, and it would erode the royal prerogative powers to conduct international relations. That is not something I think any Government could do, and it is not something I can agree to.
On scrutiny, amendment 1 would place limits on negotiators to seek trade deals with flexibility. In a rapidly changing world, fortune will favour the nimble. Dither and delay will not help and will not bring back those trade deals. We are all familiar with deals, no deals and bad deals, but any deal negotiated by a Government is the legacy of that Government. The amendment would remove the responsibility from Government and the obligations would fall between those institutions that I have talked about. Our trade policy would be aimless, not decisive—hesitant, not energetic. If Parliament is not content with the terms of any negotiated agreement, the power remains for ratification to be blocked. The Bill does not change that.
In general, Lords amendments 1 and 3 simply contradict each other. One pulls the centre of political gravity towards the legislature, and the other towards the courts. We would be dismantling a proven structure of approving trade deals of scale at pace.
The Bill in general builds upon our newly acquired status as an independent trading nation. We will be taking a values-driven approach to trade policy, which includes defending, championing and promoting high standards around the world in areas such as food and animal welfare, the environment and human rights. It comes at the beginning of an important and exciting year for the UK. Despite everything that the world has thrown at us and at itself over the last year, this year can be the UK’s year: more trade deals; the G7; the G20; and leadership of the COP26. This is Britain’s year, and the Bill goes a long way to kick-starting us into that year.
The Government are at pains to say that the NHS is safe in their hands. They say that we do not need to worry about US healthcare companies. They say that it is fear-mongering. “Trust us,” they say, “and stop asking questions.” But in politics, if you want to know someone’s agenda, just look at their actions: see what they say when they think people are not listening. If we do that, we see that the Government are saying something quite different.
A 2011 book argued that the “monolith” of the NHS should be “broken up”, and that
“private operators should be allowed into the service, and, indeed should compete on price.”
The book set out a plan for a Conservative Government after the coalition. Its authors? Well, they were five newly elected Conservative MPs, who now sit on the Government Front Bench, including the Secretary of State for International Trade, the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, and the new Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It does not stop there. The Prime Minister, when he was a Back Bencher in this House, called for the privatisation of what he called the “monolithic” and “monopolistic” NHS. Writing in a 2002 book, he also said:
“we need to think about new ways of getting private money into the NHS.”
If we look at this Government’s actions, again we see their true intentions. During the last 10 years of Conservative rule, the NHS has not just been chronically underfunded; it has been privatised by stealth. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 opened the floodgates to private health companies. In the last five years, nearly £15 billion-worth of contracts have been handed to private providers; that is an 89% increase. In this crisis, again they see an opportunity. They call it NHS Test and Trace, but really we all know that it is Serco test and trace. Billions of pounds have been handed out to failing private companies that put profits before people.
The clearest test of all was last summer’s vote on the amendment to this Bill that would have provided legal protection for the NHS from outside private health companies. The Government voted it down, with not a single Tory MP rebelling to vote in its favour. Sadly, I do not have time to go through the donations, speaking fees and close links between Government Members and private healthcare companies and firms linked to NHS privatisation—but, of course, they know that too well.
In conclusion, the NHS is our proudest and most precious public service. Its staff are incredible, dedicated to public health and caring for our country. Today we can show our thanks. Conservative MPs can finally put their warm words into action. This House can vote to protect our NHS. I urge all Members to vote for the NHS protection amendment, Lords amendment 4, and for the scrutiny amendment, Lords amendment 6.
With the leave of the House, I will respond to what has been a wide-ranging debate, covering many domestic and international matters.
Let me first say that the Government recognise that this House enjoys significant expertise and experience on questions of human rights. We are committed to ensuring that that knowledge is utilised, and to exploring how we can ensure that the views of colleagues are heard and considered on these issues in relation to our free trade agreements.
Let me turn to the points raised during the debate, although I do not have so long to respond. The shadow Secretary of State made a number of points. She said that the Government were stubbornly holding on to CRaG and the Ponsonby rule, despite entry into the 21st century. I was intrigued by that, because, of course, CRaG was introduced by the last Labour Government, in the 21st century—and the right hon. Lady supported it. I would add that, through CRaG, there is an ability to prevent ratification.
Through the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, we have added to the process the publication of negotiation objectives and economic impact assessments, and parliamentary statements after each round of negotiations. We have created the Trade and Agriculture Commission to inform Parliament; section 42 of the Agriculture Act reports; and the International Trade Committee and the International Agreements Sub-Committee having access to the texts to provide their own reports to Parliament.
The right hon. Lady mentioned China. She has come a long way in a short time on China. In her very first appearance at the Dispatch Box in this role on 12 May, she asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to make it clear to the USA that she would not agree to
“any version of article 32.10 of the USMCA that would constrain the UK’s ability to negotiate our own trade agreement with China”.—[Official Report, 12 May 2020; Vol. 676, c. 111.]
She did not want anything that would conflict with the UK’s ability to negotiate a trade agreement with China. I have been absolutely clear that the Government—
The Government have no plans to negotiate a trade agreement with China, but it does seem that the right hon. Lady might.
I turn to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). We know that he is passionate on the issue and we know he has had a long-standing interest. We have worked together on many aspects and on trade. He is right that it is for the UK to shine a light across the world. I do not disagree with any of his passionate statements about human rights and genocide. However, we also in this country shine a light around the world by making good law. The scope of his amendment is very wide. It would cover not just free trade agreements, but potential trade agreements, and agreements that the UK might hope to accede to. It covers not only bilateral agreements, but plurilateral and global agreements—even WTO agreements. I do not think it would be right for the Government to wait for the human rights in a country to reach the level of genocide, which is the most egregious international crime, before halting free trade agreement negotiations. Any responsible Government would have acted before then.
It is also unclear what is meant by preliminary determination procedure. The nature of that procedure has not, I believe, been thought through. As a matter of international law, it is individuals not states who commit genocide. Therefore, in requiring a preliminary determination as to whether a state has committed genocide, it is also unclear what both amendments would actually require a court to deliver.
What the official spokesman for the SNP, the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie), did not say is that it is the SNP’s policy to rejoin the EU.
I am not going to take any interventions. I have a lot of points to respond to. I apologise to my right hon. Friend, but I have responded to his speech.
As I was saying, that would mean immediately having to sign up to the EU’s brand new investment deal with China from day one. The hon. Member for Glasgow North says, “Oh, we wouldn’t do that,” but he has just said that he would re-join the EU.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) made a very strong point that trade policy must be conducted by the elected Government. We have taken control from unelected judges in Brussels and it should be for elected parliamentarians to scrutinise. He said that amendments put forward today for the very best reasons will result in the very worst practice.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee made a powerful speech, in particular about his own family’s experience of genocide. He is absolutely right. Genocide is the worst crime there is; it removes an entire people, but we still need to make sure we are making good law. If a country is committing genocide, it is extremely unlikely that any UK Government of any colour would be negotiating a trade agreement with it. I do not believe it would need a court to tell us that, a point also made by my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie).
The Chair of the International Trade Committee had a few points to raise in terms of the Committee’s scrutiny of the Japan deal. I remember that his Committee actually praised it, but we can work with him further to improve scrutiny.
We had some very good speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher) spoke against the involvement of courts. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) made strong points on the UK’s international position, but I do not believe that if he had really dug into Lords amendment 3 he would be supporting it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall), who has studied the amendments, made an excellent speech. He pointed out that, from the scrutiny from the International Trade Committee, Ministers have proven ready to listen. My hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) knows trade policy well and was also against the amendments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) called for more parliamentary scrutiny. Well, there is a very significant increase in parliamentary scrutiny from the CRaG position that we inherited. We compare favourably with other Westminster-style democracies, such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) was passionate on the issue, but she said that the UK Government are in a do-nothing position. That is not correct. The statement made by the Foreign Secretary last week was very clear about the trade actions that the UK Government are putting in place on supply chains and information and on making sure that no companies benefit from any of the appalling practices happening in Xinjiang.
I am going to try to summarise all the points that have been made.
The amendment in front of us says:
“International bilateral trade agreements are revoked”—
it is not a suggestion—
“if the High Court of England and Wales makes a preliminary determination that they should be revoked”.
That is an absolutist position as expressed in the Alton amendment. More to the point, there is not a bilateral free trade agreement with China to revoke. I will come back to that point shortly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), who has been to Xinjiang and spoke strongly against what is happening there, made the point that the amendment, which may have China in mind, could well be used for countries with whom we do have trade agreements. I agree on finding a balance, but the Bill, as he rightly points out, is all about continuity trade agreements and agreement on Government procurement and so on.
My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) quoted the amendment of the LibDem peer Lord Purvis. I say to him that parliamentarians can have their say through the CRaG process on any future trade deal, if Parliament has concerns. That is a key part of our scrutiny arrangements that are set up.
The hon. Member for South Antrim (Paul Girvan) questioned whether Northern Ireland would benefit. It is absolutely clear that Northern Ireland will benefit from UK trade deals. The UK says that. The EU says that. The 63 continuity trade deals all apply to Northern Ireland and the withdrawal agreement and protocol are clear that Northern Ireland will benefit from UK FTAs.
My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) spoke on platform liability. He asked us to agree that what happened with the US in relation to the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement, which the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury quoted earlier, will not take effect in the UK. We have been absolutely clear that those provisions will not take effect in the UK. He also called for a formal role for the Information Commissioner. I met her recently and I am considering what she has to say on the matter.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) made a powerful point about the importance of the issue, but the flaw is in the amendment in front of us today. It is not for the courts to revoke trade treaties. That is a denial of the fundamental supremacy of Parliament. He is absolutely right on that, while being passionate about what is going on in China and other parts of the world. He asked for more parliamentary debate. Determining the parliamentary timetable is not always entirely in any Government Department’s hands, but we at the Department for International Trade always welcome more debate on trade deals, wherever parliamentary time allows. It is great to have Members passionately interested in trade deals.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Gary Sambrook) made a powerful speech on the 63 deals done. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), a former Attorney General, raised some really strong points about the legal language of the genocide amendment. What does a preliminary hearing mean? Who is the respondent? Would it be the foreign Government, or would the UK Government have to respond for that foreign Government, which in almost all conceivable cases would be a Government that the UK Government would have been very critical of? He raised serious points that get to the heart of the amendment and how it is not appropriate in our constitutional settlement for the High Court to be doing such as thing as trying to revoke an international treaty. On online harms, I am very happy to engage with him further.
There were excellent speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, for Hertford and Stortford (Julie Marson), for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) and for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt) on the importance of our trade agenda.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) is quite right. He is passionate—he is the vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Hong Kong—but he also said that lawmaking is about workable rules and doubted whether a court should have the right to automatically revoke an international treaty.
May I also say a few words about some of the Opposition contributions? I do not have time to reply to all of them, but it is good courtesy to try to reply to as many as possible. I think the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) was making an argument about whether courts should pronounce on genocide, and that is a relevant topic for debate. However, what we have in front of us is not the question of whether courts should pronounce on genocide; the question is whether the courts should have the right to automatically revoke an international trade agreement. That is the amendment that is in front of us, and that is the amendment that I urge my colleagues to reject. It is not for a court to revoke international treaties.
The NHS was raised by Opposition Members including the hon. Members for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood). The Government have been consistently clear about their commitment to the guiding principles of the NHS: that it is universal and free at the point of need. The Government’s position is definitive: the NHS is not and never will be for sale. The NHS is of course the most beloved of British institutions and is not in anyone’s interests, including this Government’s, to change that. No UK trade deal will change that either.
Let me just say a few final words about Lords amendment 3 on genocide from Lord Alton. I know Lord Alton well. I have worked with him closely on a lot of these issues. He and I were instrumental in the all-party parliamentary group for North Korea, and I know his absolute passion on these issues. I also know from my own involvement in these questions in relation to central Asia, including here in Parliament in 2006, and in articles that I wrote in 2011, how passionate he is about these issues. Being passionate about an issue is why we are in this place, but it is also incumbent on us to make good law, and that is fundamentally the question in front of us tonight with the Alton amendment.
I want to make three other points quickly. The first is that there is no bilateral free trade agreement with China to revoke, so even if the High Court decided to do so, that would not bring any comfort to the Uyghurs. Secondly, as I have mentioned, is it a matter for the courts automatically to revoke international treaties negotiated by this Government and approved by Parliament? I do not think that can be right. Thirdly, we do not have a bilateral free trade agreement with China, but we do have such agreements with dozens of other countries. I am not at all sure that it is the right role for the High Court to be potentially clogged up with questions of other countries, international relations and international treaties. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to consider carefully whether that is the route they wish to go down.
The amendments introduced into the Bill by the other place were undoubtedly done with good intentions, and I hope that I have spoken to all the points arising in this debate and to the speakers and the amendments. But it is our strongly held position that these amendments would, in the aggregate, be to the detriment of the Bill rather than to its advantage. I hope that what I have said here provides the House with clarity regarding the Government’s position on the amendments we are discussing today, and that it will vote to reject them.
Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.
Lords amendment 1 disagreed to.
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.
More than four hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).
Government amendments (a) and (b) made to Lords amendment 9.
Lords amendment 9, as amended, agreed to.
After Clause 6
Trade And Agriculture Commission: Advisory Functions
Amendment (a) proposed to Lords amendment 10.—(Greg Hands.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Amendment (a) made to Lords amendment 10.
Lords amendment 10, as amended, agreed to.
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.
After Clause 2
Free Trade Agreements: Determination on Compliance with International Obligations and State Actions
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 2.—(Greg Hands.)
Lords amendment 2 disagreed to.
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.
After Clause 2
Agreements with states accused of committing genocide
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 3.—(Greg Hands.)
Lords amendment 3 disagreed to.
After Clause 2
International trade agreements: health, care or publicly funded data processing services and IT systems in connection with the provision of health and care
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 4.—(Greg Hands.)
Lords amendment 4 disagreed to.
After Clause 2
Ratification of International Trade Agreements and Treaties
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 5—(Greg Hands.)
Lords amendment 5 disagreed to.
After Clause 2
Standards affected by international trade agreements
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 6.—(Greg Hands.)
Lords amendment 6 disagreed to.
After Clause 2
Protection of Children Online
Motion made and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 7.—(Greg Hands.)
Lords amendment 7 disagreed to.
After Clause 2
Northern Ireland: Non-Discrimination in Goods and Services
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 8.—(Greg Hands.)
Lords amendment 8 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 11 to 31 agreed to.
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 disagreeing to their amendments 1 to 8.
That Greg Hands, Maria Caulfield, Maggie Throup, Emily Thornberry and Patrick Grady 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.—(Mr Marcus Jones.)
Question agreed to.
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.
In order to observe social distancing, the Reasons Committee will meet in Committee Room 12.
Business of the House
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 15 and No. 41A),
That, at this day’s sitting, the motion in the name of Andrew Stephenson relating to Business of the House (High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill) may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Mr Marcus Jones.)
Question agreed to.
Business of the House (High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill)
That, at today’s sitting, proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments to the High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill may continue for up to one hour from the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this Order and shall then (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion in accordance with the provisions of Standing Order No. 83F (Programme orders: conclusion of proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments).—(Andrew Stephenson.)