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Trade Deals: Human Rights

Volume 701: debated on Thursday 21 October 2021

1. What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights into future trade deals. (903681)

I and my whole team would like to associate ourselves with the tributes to Sir David Amess that have been made this week. He was listed on the Order Paper for today’s oral questions and I have no doubt that he would have championed the export opportunities for Southend, our newest city.

The Government are clear that more trade will not come at the expense of human rights. The UK will continue to show global leadership in encouraging all states to uphold international rights obligations and to hold to account those who violate those rights. By having stronger economic relationships with partners, we have the opportunity to open discussions on a range of issues.

I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s comments about our friend, Sir David. I welcome the Secretary of State to and congratulate her on her new position.

I note that the recent trade deal with New Zealand refers to indigenous people. Does the Secretary of State share my concern that when it comes to human rights it is important that we protect freedom of religion? Will she meet me to discuss further how UK trade deals can promote human rights and religious freedoms globally?

The hon. Lady is right: as we reach out, with our new ability to do free trade deals with our friends and allies, it is important to us to consider such important issues. For New Zealand, a chapter on indigenous peoples and their part in their nation’s future progress, in respect of both economic and wider issues, was very important and we were happy to work with New Zealand to include it. I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss more fully the particular area of freedom of religion, which I agree is extremely important and which the UK continues to champion around the world.

I welcome the excellent Secretary of State to the Dispatch Box. Does she agree that free trade agreements enable us to influence the supply chain in the countries with which we trade freely? When I chaired the all-party parliamentary group against human trafficking, the improvement of supply chains was very much appreciated and reduced the amount of human trafficking.

My hon. Friend, who has done a great deal of work in this policy space, is absolutely right. It is important that we make sure not only that we use the power of trade to build relationships, as I said, but to give our businesses that want to work globally through supply chains the best tools and protections that they might need to ensure that they have authority with countries where the improvement of the position of the supply-chain workforce and, indeed, the protection of other human rights is critical.

With the Government’s own data showing that the vast majority of the UK public would not support a trade deal with Saudi Arabia, will the Government confirm that they will not be seeking trade agreements with countries with poor human rights records?

As I have said, we have been clear that trade never comes at the expense of human rights, but we will always make use of the many relationships we have, including a very strong and long-standing relationship with Saudi Arabia, to work with partners not only to get mutual trading benefit but to help to make improvements on the issues that we consider to be important.