That this House do not insist on its disagreement with Commons Amendments 3C and 3D, on which the Commons have insisted for their Reason 3F, and do not insist on its Amendment 3E in lieu, to which the Commons have disagreed for the same Reason.
3F: Because Amendments 3C and 3D make appropriate provision for taking reports of genocide into account during parliamentary scrutiny of trade agreements, and because Amendment 3E would impose a charge on public funds; and the Commons do not offer any further Reason in respect of Amendment 3E, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.
My Lords, with this possibly—perhaps hopefully—being the final debate on the Bill, I will take the chance to say a few words before responding substantively to the amendments before us today. I hope that noble Lords agree that the overall tenor of the debates in this House and the other place has been positive. There will always be disagreements and different opinions on policy; that is the nature of politics. However, I believe that we have worked constructively and made this Bill into a commendable piece of legislation that reflects the will of Parliament.
I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton. He has been a force of nature over the past few months and shown us how determined advocacy can lead to real change. Again, while there are certainly disagreements about how best we should look to approach human rights around the world and in trade, he has brought to the fore an incredibly important issue, and we are all the better for that fact.
I turn now to Commons Amendments 3C and 3D. The Government have moved in response to noble Lords’ concerns and supported the process and approach set out in the amendment from the chair of the Commons Justice Select Committee, which passed in the other place again yesterday. The Government continue to support that amendment as a reasonable and meaningful compromise on this difficult issue; today, I ask noble Lords to do likewise. The Government agree whole- heartedly with the principle behind this amendment: that we must have robust and searching parliamentary scrutiny of proposed trade agreements, especially where there are credible reports of genocide in a prospective partner country. This amendment delivers on that principle by ensuring that the Government must put their position on record, in writing, in response to a Select Committee publication identifying such credible reports. The committee can then insist on a parliamentary debate if it is not satisfied with this response, and the Government will be obliged to make time for such a debate.
The amendment also gives to the responsible committee for the elected House the authority to draft the Motion for debate. This is a substantive concession. In light of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, I can confirm that the Government expect that its production of a report and the scheduling of any subsequent debate would be undertaken swiftly and within agreed timetables. This approach allows us to ensure that Parliament is in the driving seat on this issue, and that it can hold the Government to account for their trade policy, debating the issues openly in your Lordships’ House and in the other place. It does this while respecting the Government’s long-standing policy that it is for competent courts to make determinations of genocide.
The other place yesterday debated the issue of legal expertise and how parliamentarians who have previously held high judicial office might be involved in deliberations over credible reports of genocide. While this proposal was disagreed to in the elected House for reasons of financial privilege, I draw noble Lords’ attention to the remarks made by the Minister of State for Trade Policy at the Dispatch Box. He made it clear that the Government are willing to work with Parliament to develop an approach that draws on judicial expertise, if that is indeed Parliament’s express wish. I repeat that undertaking in your Lordships’ House today. Implementing such an approach could be readily achieved through Standing Orders and we would support this.
Of course, it is ultimately up to Parliament how it wishes to organise its own affairs. It is possible, for instance, for the membership of a new Joint Committee to be made up of members of Select Committees from both this House and the other place. It would be possible for such a committee to be chaired by a former senior member of the judiciary drawn from the Cross Benches and, with the agreement of the usual channels, to appoint additional members with relevant expertise to this Joint Committee. The precise details remain to be worked out but the Government are supportive of working with Parliament on this issue within the bounds of the procedure agreed to—for the second time, I have to say—in the other place yesterday. I beg to move.
Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)
At end insert, “, and do propose Amendment 3G as an amendment to Commons Amendment 3C—
3G: In subsection (6), at end insert “within reasonable time.””
My Lords, I move this amendment only for the purposes of precipitating a debate. The Minister rightly said that the other place has considered this matter three times, and three times produced a majority for the position that comes before us again this afternoon. We obviously should not impose our will again. I pay tribute to the Minister, who has been extremely conscientious in his handling of this matter all the way through. I add that the only reason I am moving an amendment myself is that I could not persuade the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to move one.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, is the hero of this whole process. He is held in very high esteem in the House. The Minister described him as a force of nature; I would add that he is also a force for humanity in the House. When, as I hope, we ultimately we get to grips with the situation in respect of China and the Uighurs without the rollout of a full genocide—which could be in progress at the moment—the noble Lord will be among those who deserve credit, as will all those who have fought so hard over so many years for the rights of these people to be heard. They are people who would not be heard if politicians like the noble Lord, Lord Alton, did not take up their cause.
On the merits of the case before us, we have converged. There will be a process involving a formal review of what is going on in Xinjiang in respect of the Uighurs. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, would have preferred that it had a more formal judicial component, a view which I supported. We began with it going to a court and then to a judicial committee; we now have a parliamentary committee. While a parliamentary committee has limitations, I note that the Minister flags up in his own amendment that the committee could bring in senior judicial figures to help in its considerations. We could therefore get quite close to what was being proposed before—and I respect the Minister’s final remarks about these matters being considered in a timely fashion.
It is also very important that nobody thinks that there are easy answers here. Of course our relations with a great trading nation such as China—one of our greatest trading partners and a rising, not declining, power—are always going to be problematic. When the Government say in their strategy paper Global Britain in a Competitive Age, published last week, in respect of China:
“We will continue to pursue a positive trade and investment relationship with China, while ensuring our national security and values are protected”,
that is a perfectly fair statement of policy, which I think any Government would sign up to. I was a member of a Government who sought to maintain precisely this balancing act, and one of the very few Ministers since the war to have visited Taiwan. I went to look at its outstanding education system but I remember being told by very senior members of the Foreign Office what I was and was not allowed to say when I was there. I was urged particularly to avoid having any photographs taken with members of its Government, lest this be taken as somehow giving recognition to Taiwan as an independent state.
We have all been there, in a sense, and I do not criticise the Government for having to maintain a difficult balancing act. This is the nature of modern life, where we live in interdependent economies. I still fondly hope that it will be possible to foster better relations with China, including being able to boost trade on the basis of an improved recognition of human rights in China itself.
As the Bill finally reaches the statute book, however, it is worth us considering the problem we may be entering into. It is not because this issue is not difficult—we all recognise that it is—but because it seems, and I say this with all due respect to the Minister and his colleagues, that the Government are in danger of dialling up both their concern for human rights and, at the same time, their desire for improved trading relations with China, without recognising that there is an inevitable tension between those things. They seem to be moving on from a recognition of the facts of life into, dare I say it, wanting to have their cake and eating it. You just need to read the relevant documents and statements by members of the Government to understand that.
In what I thought was in many ways an admirable Statement by the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons yesterday, he said of the persecution of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang:
“This is one of the worst human rights crises of our time and I believe the evidence is clear … It includes satellite imagery; survivor testimony; official documentation and, indeed, leaks from the Chinese Government themselves; credible open-source reporting, including from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International; and visits by British diplomats … In sum, the evidence points to a highly disturbing programme of repression. Expressions of religion have been criminalised, and Uyghur language and culture discriminated against on a systematic scale. There is widespread use of forced labour; women forcibly sterilised; children separated from their parents; an entire population subject to surveillance, including collection of DNA and use of facial recognition software and so-called predictive policing algorithms.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/21; col. 621.]
He went on in this vein. Let us be clear what is happening: this is prima facie evidence of a genocide, and the Foreign Secretary as good as said that in the House of Commons yesterday.
The Minister’s letter to us, which he kindly made available just before the debate, says that
“the UK is sending a clear message that we believe those responsible for serious human rights violations or breaches of international humanitarian law in China should face consequences.”
But the head of the Government, the Prime Minister, said in a meeting of Chinese businesspeople in Downing Street on 12 February—I know that Harold Wilson told us a week is a long time in politics, but 12 February is only a few weeks ago—that he was “fervently Sinophile” and determined to boost trade
“whatever the occasional political difficulties”.
Are we talking about prima facie evidence of genocide or “occasional political difficulties”? There is a bit of a gulf between those two statements. Ministers such as the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, whom we hold in high regard, are having to walk the tightrope between those policies, and I say gently to him: I think they will fall off.
It is not possible to square what is going on in China at the moment with a policy of expanding trade as if there were only “occasional political difficulties” when another part of the Government, and a large and increasing part of the international community, rightly say that there is prima facie evidence of a genocide and there must be consequences. The reason is not just because it is the right and humanitarian thing to do, although it obviously is, but because it is not a sustainable policy for this country to pretend on the one hand that we can boost trade and have business as usual with China while, on the other, there is ever greater evidence, which will become ever more prominent in the media, of an extreme situation in the western part of China that increasingly resembles a genocide.
The previous time I spoke on this matter in the House, I pointed out that no British Government in modern history have ever declared a genocide while it was taking place. It never happened in respect of Hitler and the Jews or in respect of Turkey and the Armenians. My noble friend Lady Kennedy told me that it never happened in respect of Rwanda; it was only afterwards that we declared the genocide there. It never happened in respect of Stalin and any of his genocides. This is not a sustainable position for a country which claims to proclaim values and which wishes to see a more interdependent world, because there is simply no way that we, promoting our values as we do, can coexist with regimes which perpetrate genocide.
I say gently to the Minister that we respect the statement he has made to the House. We have moved in the right direction in these amendments, but I do not believe it is sustainable to say that we want steadily more trade, on more advantageous terms, with China but that we also propose to sanction China in respect of gross human rights abuses. You cannot have that particular cake and eat it at the same time. I hope that we can start to resolve this issue more effectively in the immediate future, lest we pay a much bigger price in the medium and long term. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uyghurs. The noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, was very generous to me in his opening remarks, and so was the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. It brought to mind EM Forster’s book, Two Cheers for Democracy, in which he says that the justification of our political system is the curmudgeonly, awkward, cantankerous and difficult Member of Parliament who sometimes gets some minor injustice put right. I suspect that rather than being a force of nature, that is more descriptive of the kind of role that all of us who have the privilege of serving in your Lordships’ House should take when it comes to causes such as this one.
As the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has reminded us, what is happening in Xinjiang is certainly very close to a genocide. Terrible atrocities are occurring there and without a pathway to determine whether this is technically in breach of the 1948 genocide convention, nevertheless, many of us, without using rhetorical flourishes or hyperbole, are able to say: we believe that, accurately, this indeed is a genocide. I will come back to this.
This is not about individuals. This was not my amendment but the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill, and it was supported right across this House. Its support was bipartisan and from the Front Benches of the opposition parties but also from distinguished Members on the Government Benches. That was true in both Houses. A former leader of the Conservative Party was the principal sponsor in another place and it was supported last night in the Division Lobby by the former Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. This is not about obscure people who are just trying to make life difficult for the Government; it is better than that. This is about a hugely important cause and it has been an honour for me to work with colleagues drawn from across the divide. In both Houses, there has been a coalition of significant players.
Ministers such as the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, will doubtless be relieved that they have arrived at the touchline and that the Bill will shortly become an Act of Parliament. However, I would caution them if they assume that they have heard the last of the all-party genocide amendment. Last night, 300 Members of the House of Commons brought the Government within a whisker of defeat. That, and repeated majorities of over 100 in your Lordships’ House, have demonstrated that as new genocides occur in places such as Xinjiang, this argument is far from over and is unlikely to go away.
By establishing a degree of parliamentary accountability in the way that the Minister outlined, the Government narrowly avoided defeat in the Commons. They have— and I welcome this—left a way open for Parliament to name atrocity crimes for what they are, enabling us to address our duties under the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, said it was up to Parliament to decide exactly how to go about doing that. One possibility is a Joint Committee of both Houses. The Joint Committee on Human Rights is not a bad precedent, were we to go down that route.
In line with what the House of Commons decided yesterday, our House could, if it wished, establish its own ad hoc committee comprising former judges who now sit in the Lords. To determine precisely what a genocide is will take time, expertise and great knowledge of the law—things that this House is uniquely equipped to contribute. Such a committee should urgently evaluate the evidence of the genocide and atrocity crimes being committed against the Uighurs in Xinjiang. This is undoubtedly urgent, and I will write to the Liaison Committee urging it to think about the various options open to it.
Yesterday also saw three welcome harbingers of a change in mood music. First, some Ministers accepted the principle that they should not strike trade deals with genocidal states, allowing parliamentary oversight of trade deals with nations accused of genocide. I would like to hear a simple statement from the Minister that he too would oppose trade deals with any state credibly accused of genocide.
Secondly, we have also been told that changes strengthening supply chains will be made to the Modern Slavery Act 2015. That was repeated earlier during exchanges on the Statement by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon. It would be very helpful for your Lordships’ House to know when that will happen.
Thirdly, ahead of the vote yesterday, the Government finally announced those Magnitsky sanctions. But they left out the organ grinders, such as Chen Quanguo, referred to by the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws and Lady Blackstone, during earlier exchanges on the Statement. He was the architect of the Xinjiang atrocities and indeed, before that, those in Tibet as well.
Like the famous curate’s egg, the Government’s response to the genocide amendment is there in parts. What is missing is a failure to remedy the policy that only a court can fully determine whether a genocide is occurring and there is no provision of a pathway or mechanism to do so. Undoubtedly, the parliamentary debates on the Trade Bill have exposed this argument for the sham that it is. Since earlier stages of the Bill a bad situation in Xinjiang has only got worse, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, rightly told us.
The outgoing and incoming Administrations in the United States have recognised this as a genocide. The Canadian House of Commons, the Dutch Parliament and others have declared it to be a genocide. A 25,000-page report by over 50 international lawyers says that it is a genocide, with every single one of the criteria in the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide having been breached.
Meanwhile, the BBC has been banned in China because it dared to broadcast the testimonies of courageous Uighur women who describe conditions in the concentration camps, including their “re-education”, their rape and public humiliation by camp guards. Those women have been threatened, bullied and defenestrated publicly by the Chinese Communist Party, with their characters besmirched.
Speaking only last month at the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Foreign Secretary rightly said that what is afoot in Xinjiang is on an “industrial scale” and “beyond the pale”. Earlier in the year he said
“frankly, we shouldn’t be engaged in free-trade negotiations with countries abusing human rights well below the level of genocide.”
In Committee, on Report and in various iterations during ping-pong, we have tried to address the discrepancy between the rhetoric and the United Kingdom’s inability to make a declaration of genocide and whether we should continue business as usual. The reality is that some in government want to keep things as they are.
Just a week ago, during two sessions of a Select Committee of this House, key witnesses—a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the former National Security Adviser and the former head of the Foreign Office on China—declined to say when asked whether trade should continue with a state accused of genocide. One said there was not enough evidence, another said the question was too political. One rejected suggestions that Britain should distance itself from China owing to its human rights record, saying:
“I see no British prosperity without a trading relationship with China.”
“There are many countries in the world with appalling human rights records with which we have had an economic relationship over many decades. That has been a traditional position of the UK”.
But should it be?
Two hundred years ago, the foremost champion of free trade Richard Cobden, that great northern radical, said that free trade was not more important than our duty to oppose both the trade in human beings and the trade in opium. Today, the red line should be states involved in the crime of genocide. Genocide is not one of those “on the one hand this, and on the other hand that” questions; no balance needs to be struck.
In 1948, Raphael Lemkin, who studied mass atrocities throughout the 1930s, was drafting the genocide convention. Nearly two years ago, I visited a site in northern Iraq at Simele, where Assyrians were murdered in a massacre that became a genocide. Raphael Lemkin described that, and he went on to experience the slaughter of all his extended family in the Holocaust: over 40 of his relatives were murdered. He coined the word genocide from “genos” and “cide”—“genos” being the family and “cide” being the destruction, the cutting of the family or any group that is part of it. The genocide convention came out of that. It was his way, and the way of nations, to ensure that the world would not witness atrocities like those committed by the Nazis again. But acts of genocide and atrocity crimes have continued to occur.
Since 1948, we have witnessed genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, northern Iraq and now in China, Burma, Nigeria and Tigray. That is not an exhaustive list. The response to these atrocities has always been inadequate. Whenever a genocide has taken place, there is a collective wringing of hands. But the promise to break the relentless and devastating cycles of genocide has never materialised.
In forcing Parliament to address these questions, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have helped to open the debate. I thank Members of both Houses and people outside of Parliament who have given so generously of their time in promoting and supporting this amendment. I must make special mention of the Coalition for Genocide Response, of which I am a patron, and the role of Luke de Pulford, who organised a campaign in the House of Commons. I also thank the clerks in the Public Bill office for their patience and help throughout.
The debate on the genocide amendment may now be drawing to a conclusion, but the debate it has raised in the country has begun and it will not end here.
My Lords, throughout the debate on this Bill, we have had a focus on ministerial accountability and parliamentary scrutiny. I would like to acknowledge that there has been movement by the Government and that has certainly been prompted by the Minister, who has been listening to us.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has been absolutely determined to ensure that these issues are brought to the forefront of our attention. What we have sought to do from these Benches is to complement the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I also thank him for supporting my amendment to the Trade Bill on this issue. We wanted to ensure that there was a broad debate about human rights in relation to trade and for the United Kingdom’s commitments to match its actions, including on human rights and international obligations.
My noble friend Lord Adonis is absolutely right: we want a proper joined-up government approach to end the position of one department condemning the actions of a country committing outrageous crimes against humanity while another department signs preferential—and I mean preferential—trade agreements. We cannot allow that to continue.
My noble friend Lord Adonis is absolutely right to draw attention to the words of Boris Johnson on 12 February, when he stated that he was “fervently Sinophile” and determined to improve ties
“whatever the occasional political difficulties”.
I do not think that the evidence we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton—or from the Foreign Secretary, for that matter—is simply of “occasional political difficulties”; it is far more than that.
I also draw attention to the Minister’s response to my amendment on human rights, when he highlighted the FCDO’s annual human rights and democracy report, saying that it was the right place to report on human rights and trade. When we had discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, on this issue, and he addressed Peers in the meeting several weeks ago, he said that the report would be strengthened to include a greater focus on trade, since, in my reading of that report over the last few years, there has been no mention of our efforts to secure trade agreements—obviously because of the new regime we are now in, in relation to leaving the European Union. It is even more important that, today, the Minister repeats to this House those assurances from meetings so that we can hold him and this Government to account on the commitments that they made in the progress of the Trade Bill.
It has always been reassuring to hear the Minister say, in consideration of the Bill, that trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights. We were particularly concerned when we saw the words of the Foreign Secretary reported in the press last week; we have to address those concerns. The fact of the matter is that what is happening to the Uighur population and the terrible crimes committed by the Communist Party of China should absolutely be at the forefront of our minds—but they are not the only human rights abuses. As we heard earlier today, there are other human rights abuses that we need to focus on, and we need to ensure that we operate consistently, putting our values at the forefront. I appreciate the sympathetic words of the Minister about the need for human rights to be taken into account, but, if we look at the words of the Prime Minister, we need more than sympathetic words.
I hope that, with the progress of the Bill through Parliament, we will be able to hold the Government to account on their words and commitments. I wish the Bill speedy progress. As the Minister said, when it becomes an Act, it will be a work in progress, and we need to deliver on that.
My Lords, before saying a few words, I apologise in advance. I have agreed with the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, and the other Whips that, if this debate extends beyond 3 pm—which looks exceedingly likely—I will withdraw and go to the Economic Affairs Committee, of which I am a member. I apologise for not being here, but I will of course read all the contributions in Hansard.
I wanted to speak because this topic started before we got to this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, others and I were debating an amendment not dissimilar to this one on a previous Bill, so I have been involved in this for many months—most of the year, I would say. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, did not intend this to be a lap of honour, and he will no doubt be modest, but he deserves great praise for his strength. Many of your Lordships have stood alongside him—colleagues on these Benches as well—but his moral leadership has kept us focused on this issue. Going forward, that support will continue to be important.
As other Peers have noted, there have been changes in the political landscape, as this issue has been debated—it has been changed by things such as these debates. There is widespread recognition and condemnation, here and internationally, of what is happening in China —but, sadly, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, notes, the situation in Xinjiang has deteriorated rather than getting better. It is clear that, while the Government may repeatedly have won votes on this amendment, they are losing the wider argument about this issue.
Yesterday, we saw what some could describe as an 11th hour decision by Dominic Raab to slap sanctions on key senior Chinese officials involved, as we have heard, in the mass internment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. Of course, the timing may have helped to swing the vote against the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, but it is to be welcomed. We also heard the Foreign Secretary implicitly denounce Beijing itself. However—and we have heard the rationale for this from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis—he fell short of using the word “genocide”. That has been at the heart of this debate: acknowledging genocide when we see it and finding ways of characterising it. This has been, and continues to be, an important part of this debate.
As such, we should remember that the atmosphere for this comes soon after the integrated review, and many would say that the Government pulled their punches on China. The Foreign Secretary’s words, reiterated by others, at best describe a moral ambiguity around the trade and genocide issue—the same ambiguity highlighted in the Prime Minister’s words. We should be clear that that ambiguous situation is sitting around the Cabinet table today: the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, spoke about a balancing act and, yesterday, the former Chancellor, the noble Lord, Lord Hammond of Runnymede, was quoted as saying that there is too much naive “optimism”, in his words, in
“assuming that the Chinese will allow us, as it were, an à la carte approach to the menu of relationships”
on trade and human rights.
As such, it is easy to detect why Dominic Raab and colleagues would want to, in a sense, target individuals, rather than the state—because that balancing act is coming through. Of course, the Government are desperate to fill a big hole in our export account, but your Lordships’ House has repeatedly shown that we should not be this desperate. If what we see—as I think this shows—is that this ambiguous view is the actual view of this Government, then we have not seen the last of this debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said. Today is not a full stop in this debate; it is a semicolon.
I will now call the following eight speakers in this order: the noble Lords, Lord Cormack, Lord Lansley, Lord Shinkwin and Lord Blencathra, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the noble Lords, Lord Balfe and Lord Polak, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. I first call the noble Lord, Lord Cormack.
Having been called first, I lead a very distinguished company; I am most grateful to the occupant of the Woolsack for that.
I have taken part in all these debates, and I have become increasingly impressed by the dogged, persistent leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has carried the flag with distinction throughout and is certainly not laying it down this afternoon. I have also been very impressed by the way in which the Minister has sought to respond. Although he is new to your Lordships’ Houses, I think he has a genuine understanding of how it works, and he certainly has a genuine understanding of the evil that has motivated those of us who have, on three occasions, formed part of a massive majority in your Lordships’ House.
I use the word “evil” very deliberately. One thing that I have been doing during lockdown is to read, as I am sure we all have, and I read again the three volumes of the diary of Harold Nicolson dealing with the 1930s, the lead-up to the war and the war years themselves, then carrying on until 1965. Many of your Lordships will be familiar with those diaries but, if you are not, I warmly commend them. The theme—although he does not put it in those words—particularly in the diaries covering the period from 1937 to the outbreak of the war, is that democracy cannot and must not compromise with evil. If we do, we lose our democratic credentials. Of course, one of the great evils of history was the genocide perpetrated by the Nazi regime in the war, and we have seen other things in my lifetime. Stalin’s purges began just before my lifetime and continued through. We saw terrible things happen in China under Mao Tse-Tung, and we have seen many others, in Rwanda and Bosnia—who can ever forget Srebrenica?—and with Pol Pot, as a noble Lord interjects from the back.
It is a challenge to democracy to repudiate evil. Although one may have to pay a price, which may be to lose a lucrative trade deal, there must never be compromise with evil. That, to me, has really been the theme of our three very passionate debates, and now we move towards the end. Of course, those of us who supported the various Alton amendments, as I shall call them, have not achieved all that we set out to do. But the Government have listened to a degree and have moved, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, readily recognised a few moments ago. For that, we are grateful, but I do not consider that a great victory. What I consider is that Parliament, to which government is accountable and responsible, has impressed on the Government that there are certain things in the immortal words of the great Churchill “up with which we will not put”. So this Bill is going to go on to the statute books significantly different from how it was when it was brought to your Lordships’ House, and with a recognition on the part of the Government that genocide is indeed evil and that anything approaching genocide must make us very careful about what we do.
There is a certain ambivalence between the statements of Dominic Raab, which I warmly welcomed yesterday, as did the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and the one where the Prime Minister talked about trade with China. I give the Prime Minister’s remarks about being a Sinophile a charitable interpretation, because what I hope he really meant is that he is, as I am—and I believe all your Lordships probably are—an admirer of ancient Chinese civilisation, which is the oldest surviving civilisation in the world and has achieved great things. However, that does not mean that it should be translated into any sort of admiration for the frankly evil Communist Party regime that exists in China at the moment. China is going to be the dominant power towards the end of this century and is already one of the dominant powers in the world—but look at its record, with the belt and road, and giving aid to buy influence and to subvert. Even we are in danger of Chinese subversion, and we have to recognise that. If we do not, that will be to our own peril.
There are two fundamentals of our unwritten constitution. One, of course, is that the Government are answerable to Parliament, no matter what their political complexion and no matter what Parliament’s political complexion. The other is that the unelected House must in power be subordinate to the elected House. I am a passionate believer in your Lordships’ House, a House of experience and expertise, but I am also a passionate believer in the ultimate supremacy of the other place, in which I had the honour to serve for 40 years. That is why I would not have personally countenanced a vote today. We have given it its chance to think again and to some degree it has. The Government must surely have been influenced by the concerns of people like former Secretary Hunt, Iain Duncan Smith and others. At the end of the day, they have said, “No, we won’t take all you’re trying to give us from the second Chamber”, so we must with reluctance accept that, while being thankful for the crumbs that have fallen from the masters’ table.
Although we are a subordinate House in political power, we are a unique House among the second Chambers of the world. There is no other Chamber as large—and, of course, many of us believe that we are too large. The Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber, which I have chaired, assisted by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, for almost 20 years now, has campaigned on that—but that is another issue for another day. But we are unique in the extraordinary accumulation of legal wisdom. I talk not just of those who have held high judicial office, important as they are and respect them as we do. We have such Members as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, who brings extraordinary wisdom to this subject. I hope that the Alton suggestion, made towards the end of the noble Lord’s admirable speech, will be acted on, the Liaison Committee will look at it, and we will have a committee composed largely or wholly of judicial Members. I would like to see a Joint Committee of both Houses, because I believe in the two Houses working together. We are embarking on a journey, which must not end in the victory of those who perpetrate evil.
My Lords, I am glad to follow my noble friend. I want to focus on the point that he rightly makes about the Government’s accountability to Parliament and, in particular, the question of how they are going to be accountable to Parliament. I join the tributes to the noble Lord and others, including in the other place, who have put the arguments extraordinarily well, which will be sustained into the future. I also pay tribute to my noble friend on the Front Bench, not least for the constructive way he has approached all our debates throughout the consideration of this Bill.
First, before I get on to Parliament’s accountability, the Foreign Secretary, in exchanges on the Statement yesterday in the other place, said:
“the arguments around genocide and the importance of its being determined by a court are well rehearsed.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/21; col. 625.]
They may have been rehearsed, but they have not been resolved, and that is important. I cannot compare with the descriptions in our previous debates by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of the Shaws, who will speak in a moment, but the questions that she set out of which court, under what circumstances and by what processes genocide will be determined are absolutely instrumental. It will not be in this Bill or the Act, but we need to keep pressing on that issue.
In this Bill, not least by virtue of Sir Bob Neill’s amendment, which we now see as Amendment 3C, we have a process. We have set up that process, it is important and we need to get it right, but I want to illustrate to your Lordships that it is not sufficient. Let me give two examples. First, it relates to free trade agreements; it does not relate to our treaty-making processes in general. We will come back to this regularly, but I think we are beginning to realise, not least after leaving the European Union, that we are making treaties to a greater extent and with greater importance than previously. Parliament should play a central role in those processes, which brings me to the point that my noble friend was making about how the Government are accountable. They should be accountable, but in some respects they are not, because the exercise of the prerogative means that we are not, in Parliament, involved; we simply receive. Where free trade agreements are concerned, we are going to be involved.
Secondly, Amendment 3C refers to a “prospective FTA counter-party.” What is that? It is a state with which the Government are in negotiations relating to a bilateral free trade agreement. We have all been hearing the debate about China. The Government are not in the process of negotiating a bilateral free trade agreement with China, so the question does not arise. If the Government were to enter into a bilateral investment agreement with China, would that qualify under this amendment? I think the Government would say not. If China were to seek accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership—of which, in due course, we hope to be members—would that qualify under this amendment? I think the answer is that it would not. So we could enter into a substantive, wide-ranging free trade agreement with China without this amendment ever being invoked.
The proposition I generally make, as a member of the International Agreements Committee, is that we have an instrument in this House that I hope we will use actively to examine not only bilateral free trade agreements but the whole structure of free trade agreements and international treaties and agreements. Not neglecting the Grimstone rule, which relates to free trade agreements, we should bring forward reports on the negotiating objectives and give at least this House—and, probably by extension the other place, by remarking on what we say—the opportunity to do what my noble friend said, which is say what Parliament will not put up with. That is really important. It may not be written into law at this stage—although I suspect that it ought to be one day—but it will be a further important step in moving the public debate. Although it is not in this Bill, which will be an Act, we should be active in considering by what means we exercise scrutiny of international treaties, trade agreements and agreements generally.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Lansley. I, too, pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Alton for the way he has brought noble Lords together in support of the Muslim Uighur people and the crucial principle of our common humanity.
I have only two points to make. First, I am saddened by the Government’s position, because the genocide of the Muslim Uighur people cannot be swept under the carpet as the Government’s rejection of the amendment passed by your Lordships’ House implies. The reason is simple: to be able to sweep an issue under the carpet, one has first to be able to lift the carpet. The carpet is too heavy to lift, because it is saturated with the blood of the Muslim Uighur people, who, as we have heard, are being subjected to genocide by the Chinese Communist Party regime for the supposed crime of being Muslim.
Secondly, in a few weeks’ time, on 6 May, Muslims will vote in the local elections. I trust they, and all who care about human rights, will ask their candidates what their party is doing to stop the genocide of the Muslim Uighur people.
My Lords, first, I apologise for joining the debate about three minutes late. I was in a minor road traffic accident with a slowly reversing delivery vehicle. While my chariot has a few scratches on it, I do not, so I live to fight another day.
I congratulate all Peers on the superb speeches we have heard yet again today, and I thank the Minister, who has been exemplary in his courtesy in dealing with us troublesome Peers making the amendments, for his patience in defending the Government’s position. But I simply do not understand why the Government I support, which are so robust on so many matters, are so lily-livered when it comes to China—or the dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party, to be more precise.
As the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said, we all know and understand that we have to trade with China for the time being, because we get too many vital supplies from them, and we do not yet have sufficient alternative resources onshore. So it is legitimate to say, in the medium term, and possibly even in the long term, that we have to carry on trading; and calling China a trading partner is legitimate. But in this House, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has described China as a “strategic partner”—the terminology that we would usually use to describe a NATO ally, not a country behaving as China does.
What does China do? This so-called strategic partner of ours has destroyed what remains of democracy in Hong Kong and removed all human rights. It is stealing sand banks in the South China Sea and turning them into military bases. It is threatening all its near neighbours. It is increasingly flying armed aircraft sorties into Taiwan’s airspace. It is building up massive military forces capable of invading Taiwan in the future. It has lied and lied again about the origins of Covid. It has launched a trade war with Australia, which had the effrontery just to ask for an independent inquiry into the cause of Covid—something we have never done. It has a massive cyberwarfare capability and has used it against companies and government organisations of the United Kingdom. It is running concentration camps in Xinjiang province, with up to 1 million people detained. It has been accused of genocide by Canada, Holland and the United States.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said again in his excellent speech today, last week, more than 50 lawyers published a 25,000 page report stating that every single article in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide had been broken by the Communist Party in Xinjiang. These are not the actions of a strategic partner; these are the actions of a hostile state.
The integrated security review rightly identified Russia as a threat, in terms of seeking to interfere in elections, issue fake news and murder individuals whom Mr Putin dislikes, but Russia is not capable of waging all-out war on a massive scale: China is building up the capacity to do that in future. China is not, as the review says, “a systemic challenge”; it is a clear and present danger and a threat to world peace. It is not a military threat to the United Kingdom yet, but how are we going to trade within the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, if we join it, if we cannot keep the South China Sea open to all world trade? Why are we so afraid of calling out China for the threat it actually is?
In 2019, we exported £30 billion-worth of goods to China and imported £50 billion. Are we afraid that, if we denounce the genocide taking pace in that country, China will stop exporting to us and give up on its huge trade surplus? The FCDO said in an answer to me:
“We do not hesitate to raise concerns and intervene where needed … We will hold China to its international commitments and promises.”
What does that mean in reality? China, I fear, sees us as a country which calls it “a strategic partner” and merely “a systemic challenge”. It sees that we do not even bark, let alone bite.
The FCDO says that it raises concerns where needed. I think my noble friend Lord Cormack referenced Dad’s Army when he said, “We’re doomed”, the words of Private Frazer. I too shall reference Dad’s Army, but in the words of Sergeant Wilson—older Peers will remember Sergeant Wilson—because that is how I imagine that the FCDO speaks to China. “Er, I’m terribly sorry to have to mention this, but is there any way you could see to it, if it is not too inconvenient to you, to possibly be a tad nicer to those Muslim chappies up there in that province? And, of course, if you don’t want to do it, that’s all right.” Okay, I may be making that sound a bit farcical, but I would love to know what the FCDO actually says to China when it says it calls them out on their human rights abuses.
Of course, yesterday, we rightly praised the Foreign Secretary when he announced sanctions against four people in China for what he called
“appalling violations of the most basic human rights”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/21; col. 621.]
Yesterday, the United States also imposed some sanctions and said:
“China continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity.”
I think we can all see the slight difference in language between what we said and what they said. We need to signal that we mean business, and even the constantly watered-down amendments we have sent back to the other place send a signal that we take genocide seriously and we mean more than just feeble words.
As noble Lords will patently see, I am no Cato, and I am not ending my speech with a modern equivalent of “Carthago delenda est”, but I do say that we need a new expression: “China must be challenged”. The Government may have killed the amendment in the other place last night, but we have one measure we can take forward. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others have said, this issue will not go away. Sooner or later, the Government will have to screw their courage to the sticking point, or we shall all fail.
I am delighted to follow my noble friend and I hope he is completely injury-free and that his chariot will be repaired at the earliest opportunity so that he maintains his mobility. I am full of awe and praise for the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I watched him with great admiration in the other place and I think that, if anything, he has come into his own in this place, so I pay huge tribute to him and those who have supported him in this. I also pay tribute to the Minister. I know there will be some disappointment on a particular aspect, but the Bill will definitely leave this place better than it was before.
I have a specific question about the sequencing of the reports that we are now going to have as trade agreements are being negotiated. We know that the Secretary of State is going to do a report, taking into account the report from the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which I am delighted now has a statutory basis and is on a more permanent footing. That report will come and the Government will presumably find time for it to be debated. I would like to understand better the sequencing of that report with the report that we have agreed today will also come forward if the responsible committee in the House of Commons publishes a draft report and is not satisfied with the Secretary of State’s response. Will the sequencing permit both reports to have been prepared and debated in Parliament before, as my noble friend Lord Lansley said, the free trade agreement is signed by the Government and ratified by Parliament?
The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Polak.
My Lords, I am pleased that this Bill will become law, because it is important for the welfare and prosperity of this country. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Grimstone, the Minister, because he has listened and understood. I am grateful, too, to the Foreign Secretary for the limited sanctions announcement yesterday. It is progress. I also agree with a number of noble Lords that the ad hoc committee comprised of former senior judges in your Lordships’ House is an excellent idea; I look forward to seeing it become a reality. As I said earlier, I pay tribute to the 29 so-called rebels in the other place; 29 Members who have shown their humanity and voted in support of the genocide amendments. It is also clear to me that many other honourable Members of my party would have voted the right way had whipping pressure not been exerted.
On 23 February, I referred to the festival of Purim and the role that Queen Esther played in saving the Jewish people from genocide. Fortunately, there are many festivals in the Jewish calendar: this weekend, we celebrate the festival of Passover and we recall that Moses, on behalf of God, appealed to Pharaoh to “let my people go”. My appeal is that the Uighur Muslims are free to go, and free to live their lives in peace and prosperity. That will clearly come about only if we continue to apply pressure, and I will continue to follow the lead of my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has just celebrated his seventieth birthday. I wish him a happy birthday. It is a Jewish tradition to wish a person “many more years, up to 120”, which gives him another 50 years of great humanitarian leadership.
My Lords, I want to mention “Catch-22”. Many noble Lords who are old enough will remember that this is a novel by Joseph Heller that was made into a film. The title refers to a certain rule whereby you might not be required to take part in war if you are mentally impaired, but if you say that you are mentally impaired, it shows that you are not really mentally impaired, so you cannot claim this particular way out. I think we are infected here with the same thinking. Catch-22 is a problem whereby the only solution is denied because there is a rule that cannot be fulfilled. That, of course, is what we keep hearing repeated by the Foreign Secretary and Ministers: that the proper place to determine whether genocide is taking place is a court of law, a competent court, but the problem is that there is no competent court able to do so.
I have mentioned this before, and the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to it again: there is no competent court because using the International Court of Justice, which would normally determine whether a genocide was taking place, would involve one nation taking another nation before it. However, unfortunately, China has put in a reservation to the treaty establishing the court. A reservation is
“a declaration by a state made upon signing or ratifying a treaty that the state reserves the right not to abide by certain provisions of the treaty.”
So, the idea that China will say, “Yes, of course, take me to the International Court of Justice”, and not claim its reservation, is risible, as we all recognise.
The other international court that might be able to deal with a matter of genocide is the International Criminal Court. But, as distinct from the International Court of Justice—a nation-to-nation court—this is a court where individuals can be brought and held accountable for serious, egregious crimes against humanity, and indicted for genocide. However, as I said, it is individuals who are brought there. The treaty of Rome, which brought that court into existence, involved nations signing up to its jurisdiction; China did not sign up.
So, there is no international competent court to which China can be brought. Determining whether a genocide is taking place is beyond the capacity of the international courts. So what were we to do? That is why the different possibilities were presented by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in amendments to this Bill, and supported by many in this House. The suggestion was: with our courts and competent, able judges—and with one of the great prides of Britain being our legal system and senior judiciary, admired throughout the world—who better than judges in one of our own courts to determine whether there was a genocide? The alternative when that proposal failed was to say, “Well, what about getting our most senior judges, who sit in this House in retirement, to come together, look to the evidence, measure it and decide whether it reaches the standard threshold, which is high, to determine whether a genocide is taking place?”
Unfortunately, we are left with very little. International law has acquired new teeth in the form of sanctions; I mentioned them in an earlier short debate. The fact that sanctions are now being used is to be welcomed. I would like to see our Foreign Secretary and Foreign Office at the forefront in persuading nations around the world to establish regimes to deal with international law in the same way: by creating sanctions regimes, as we, the United States, the European Union, Canada and other countries have done.
Many noble Lords know that I run the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. We engaged with Japan, Australia and other countries and sought to have them join this union of democracies in creating a sanctions regime to deal with serious breaches of international human rights. We are making some progress, but it is a source of great regret to me that we have not decided to confront what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to as this dilemma, this serious problem, that we have no venue to which we can bring this serious allegation of genocide. By and large, therefore, China can get off scot-free.
We must have serious mechanisms for dealing with this. I hope that the Government are listening to the sensible and serious suggestions being made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. They could take different forms, such as a Joint Committee of Parliament or a committee of our judges in this House established by this House. We have the power to make that happen. So, yes, we are seeing some advances being made but, really, they are very slow and very small.
I have one other thing to say, which is on targeted sanctions. Go after the people who have the power. Go after the people who have salted away money and assets in different places. Go after them. Deny them visas. Make it uncomfortable for them. Shame is something that matters to the powerful. That is the purpose of targeted sanctions, but, so far, we have tended to use them in rather meagre ways—not for the top guys but for the people in middle-ranking positions. We have to use them. Many noble Lords knows that I was involved in the investigation into the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. All the evidence points to where that decision to murder came from, yet we are not using targeted sanctions against the man who authored that horrible assassination and dismemberment. We are not using these sanctions in the way we should be in relation to Hong Kong, Belarus and other places.
So I urge the Foreign Office to take up that challenge. The mantra being used now is that we are “global Britain”—having exited the European Union, here we are as global Britain. What does that mean? How do we have our stature, small nation that we are, in the world? We have many things that we can be proud of, but one of them is to do with law and having values that have meaning and moral authority. We really must use that, because it is where we can have traction in the world. It does not mean that you do not trade, of course, but it does mean that you stand by the things you believe in.
I urge our Foreign Office to do this thing of joining up its policies on trade with its policies on aid. Regrettably, I am watching a diminution of trade to places where we should be putting some funding to preserve the rule of law and make it possible for people to create real democracies. Instead, we have China doing it all across Africa in its belt and road policy—which means, of course, that it has the backing of all those indebted nations when it comes to any international debate about calling China to heel. What a mistake we have made in allowing that to happen and not being the people who are helping the development of Africa, Pakistan and the other such places that are now in China’s pocket.
So I say to the House that I am glad that we are making a bit of progress, but it is not enough. This will come back, and I hope that the Foreign Office, our Foreign Secretary and his Ministers will find good ways of making our standards real.
Before I call the winding-up speakers, does anyone else in the Chamber wish to speak? No? Then I call the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness and endorse the points that she made. This may be the final debate on this issue for the moment, but it has nevertheless been a strong one.
In my mind, the noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord Adonis, got to the nub of the issue: the dilemma that we face when we seek to trade with countries that move away from the human rights standards that we seek. However, that dilemma is not new; what is perhaps new is the scale of it over the past few years. I remember clearly when, as a Member of the Scottish Parliament, I and a number of committee members shook hands with the Dalai Lama on a visit to Edinburgh. An official Government of China communiqué said that the economy of Scotland would be harmed as a result of this handshake. This was 15 years ago, so there is no new element of the line—as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, put it—that the Foreign Office has trodden for a great number of years, in raising human rights aspects but also seeking to increase trade with the largest trading country in future.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, indicated that it is not just FTAs that cover this gamut. I am interested to know whether the Minister at the Dispatch Box can confirm that the Office for Investment, set up and chaired by the Prime Minister, is not proactively seeking investment agreements with China at the moment. If the Minister can confirm that, that would be reassuring, because it would be a live-time example of whether or not a government office chaired by a trade Minister is seeking new financial trading relationships on a preferential basis with China. If the Minister could confirm that in his winding-up speech, I would be grateful.
Perhaps it is different now because the tightrope—as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, called it—is impossible to straddle because of, as the Foreign Secretary said, the
“industrial-scale human rights abuses.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/21; col. 622.]
The question is what consequences there are in our trading relationships with preferential trade. Sir Geoffrey Nice, who is held in very high regard in this area, communicated with me and my noble friend Lady Northover today. He said something in his email which I asked his permission to quote as it really struck me. He reflected on the fact that, in my opinion, somewhere in the last two generations we have lost something. He said that we should understand and recognise that human rights exist for and should be honoured by
“every citizen of the world for every other citizen of the world, not just sometimes by some governments when it suits them.”
Some people argue that trading relationships are between businesses and people and treaty-making and diplomacy are Government-to-Government, but now, in this very interconnected and complex trading world in which we live, with comprehensive trading agreements, investment partnerships and strategic alliances, there is a wide gamut of preferential terms of access to the UK financial sector, the UK market or areas where we have sought the competitive advantage of China’s massive industrial and commercial manufacturing base.
It is the moral ambiguity that my noble friend Lord Fox and others have indicated at the heart of this Government’s policy that we have been highlighting. I would go further and say that there is a degree of intransigence and contradiction at the centre of the Government’s policy in this area. One contradiction is that the very approach outlined by the Minister today at the Dispatch Box and in his letter this afternoon, in which he describes the process now going forward, is against the mechanism that he and the Government have indicated for other trading agreements, and parliamentary approval is against UK constitutional approaches with regard to scrutiny. We cannot have both, so I hope that the Government will see that opening up scrutiny and allowing greater parliamentary say, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, indicated, is of benefit, not against UK constitutional approaches. In my view it should be one of the core elements of the UK constitutional approach that Parliament has a key role in these areas.
I share, as have others, my noble friend’s perseverance on this issue and that of those on the Government Benches in the Commons who have consistently told the Government to think again. On our Benches, Alistair Carmichael and Layla Moran were part of a wide coalition that will not now go away. The debate that has been started—the persistence and the perseverance —indicates that there will need to be much greater comprehensive elements in the Government’s approach to trade and human rights. We have said repeatedly that there should be a trade and human rights policy that outlines the Government’s policy, with triggering mechanisms that will suspend bilateral agreements, not just FTAs, when there are significant human rights concerns.
There needs to be a triggering mechanism, because we know that the nuclear option of cancelling all trade with a country should be reserved for the most grotesque situations, as we have been debating. However, there are other situations where we wish to use UK preferential market access as a lever around the world. It is a contradiction because we have moved away from an approach, which we were party to in recent years as part of the EU, of having triggering mechanisms to suspend bilateral agreements when countries are in breach because of significant human rights concerns. Indeed, there is a contradiction at the heart of what the Government are currently doing by reinstating preferential terms for Cambodia while the EU had withdrawn them because of human rights concerns. This Government have reinstated them without any indication of why.
When it comes to wider aspects of the partnership agreements, strategic alliances and other preferential areas, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, in response to the Statement earlier today, I asked the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, whether any of our current preferential trading agreements with China have been suspended as a result of the alleged genocide against the Uighur community in China. It is quite clear that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, did not have an answer in his briefing pack—if he had, he would have said so—so I hope that the Minister for Trade will give an indication of whether we have indicated that any preferential trade agreements with China are now open for suspension.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, indicated, it is now time to open the debate about moving some of these decisions away from Governments. If this Government are refusing to, or perhaps any Government cannot, tread the line the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, indicated, of making decisions about suspending trading relations or preferential trading relations when there are gross human rights abuses, now is the time to start debating whether the UK should have an independent trade and human rights commission, not only for the sanctions regime but for other areas of new trading relationships.
When the noble Lord, Lord Alton, was a very young MP for Liverpool—I hope he will not mind me saying so since it was his birthday recently—he was a street campaigner and coined one of things that every Liberal campaigner, including me, has copied since, which was a slogan on the focus leaflets: “A record of action, a promise of more”. We have seen his record on this issue. I know there is a promise of more. As a veteran of three trade Bills in three years, I will not say goodbye to this issue but “Au revoir” until the next one. Inevitably there will be one. These issues—the contradictions at play and the moral ambiguities—need to be ironed out. This House and many others will do our best to do so.
My Lords, this is the last round on the Trade Bill—for the moment, as has just been said—and, as my right honourable friend the shadow Secretary of State said in the other place, it has taken
“three years, two months and two weeks”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/21; col. 668.]
to get to where we are today, which is quite a record and may indeed be worthy of the Guinness Book of Records. Given the length of time we have been involved in this, it is appropriate to thank all involved in this parliamentary marathon, not least both Ministers, the noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead, and the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone. Of my colleagues, I make special mention of my noble friends Lord Grantchester, Lord Bassam and Lord Lennie and, in particular, my noble friend Lord Collins, who has been taking the weight over the past few weeks while we have been discussing this issue and hoping for a better resolution than we have got.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for his work in trying to forge an amendment on scrutiny issues that we could persuade the Government to accept. As he said, we have not got there yet, but it is a work in progress and I am sure we will get there eventually. The noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, were instrumental in keeping the pressure on in relation to non-regression of standards. I pay tribute to them for their tireless work on that, and I pay particular tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has been much in our thoughts in the past few weeks, particularly today. He again made a wonderful speech and covered the ground so carefully and so well that we cannot forget the issues that we have in front of us.
In almost three and a quarter years, trade policy has been transformed from being a largely commercial issue handled at arm’s length, because it was dealt with in policy terms by the EU, to being a central policy driver as important to the people of this country as every other mainstream policy—arguably more so, because trade deals that we sign in the future will shape who we are as a nation and how we will be regarded as a partner, even though we have made a bit of a bad start on that.
In some senses, the narrow issue which, sadly, is being determined today in favour of the Government, against the strong wishes of your Lordships’ House over three successive ping-pongs, is a measure of how much further we need to go to complete the work of creating an appropriate structure for the determination of trade policy in this country in the future. I think the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, pointed out rather effectively the gaps that already exist in the new arrangements; they are not as comprehensive, and certainly not as complete, as we would wish. But he also urged us, rightly, to make the new system work and to learn the lessons from the activity in the committees and in Parliament when we are able to do so, which will allow us to inform future debates and discussions.
I am sure that when the Minister responds he will say how much progress we have made—in fact, he has already touched on this—in setting out where there should be non-regression of standards; in parliamentary scrutiny; in reforming the CRaG system, although it has been hardly touched; in setting up the TRA and the TAC; and in signing up to the GPA—the government procurement agreement. While it is true that we have hammered out a modus vivendi which will see us through the next few years, there are issues which still need to be resolved if we are really going to get confident about how we determine our trade in the future.
I am at heart an optimist, so I take the view that the experience gained in the last three and a quarter years already spent on the Bill will be added to by the experience gained by the International Trade Committee in the other place and the International Agreements Committee of our own House. Perhaps these reports and debates will finally convince the Government that Parliament has a constructive role to play in this process—one which can and will aid the Executive as they set up the trade agreements and treaties which are so urgently needed in this brave new world.
My Lords, in my closing remarks there are just a few points I would like to focus on. First, I am sure we would all agree that the tone of debate in this House has been excellent throughout the passage of this legislation. It is a testament to this House that we have been able to have these debates, and noble Lords should be proud of the improvements they have made to the Bill. I would like very much to join with the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, in thanking all the noble Lords and officials who have helped us to reach the point that we have done today.
In some areas, the Bill is not recognisable from the one that we started with. In particular, I believe that we have demonstrated through our words and actions during the passage of the Bill that trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights. Indeed, I think if one wanted a fitting short title for the Bill, given the point that we have reached, that would be a perfectly admirable one: “Trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights”. Speaking personally, I find it impossible to envisage the circumstances in which Parliament would agree to any trade deal to be done with a country that is found to have committed the evil of genocide.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised the issue of the content of the FCDO’s Human Rights and Democracy report. Of course, the Foreign Office publishes that report annually, and it touches on many relevant issues, including matters concerning human rights in the context of business and the private sector. I understand completely why the noble Lord has raised these points, and I will look to see whether this can be enhanced in further reports.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, asked about the timing juxtaposition of reports produced under the Agriculture Act and any reports produced under today’s amendment. I am afraid to say to the noble Baroness that, as no process has yet been put in place in relation to reports being produced under today’s amendment, her question is unanswerable.
In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, I can confirm that the Office for Investment is not in the process of negotiating any investment agreements with China. Again, I can also confirm that we have no preferential trade agreements in place with China.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, himself stated in one of our earlier debates, with a memorable reference to Banquo’s ghost, that the reason he was tabling an amendment was so that the other place could take up the baton and adapt and improve his amendment. Similar statements were made by my noble friends Lord Blencathra and Lord Lansley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham. This place has discharged its duties by asking those in the other place to reconsider; they have reconsidered and sent back an amendment.
I believe that the amendment passed for the second time by the other place is a reasonable and proportionate compromise that will ensure that the voice of Parliament is heard loudly and clearly on this vitally important issue going forward. The decisions to be made on future trade agreements are, of course, political decisions to be taken by the Government, but with appropriate oversight from Parliament. This is what the amendment before us now guarantees, and noble Lords can and should take pride in the knowledge that the Bill might very well not have contained such guarantees—indeed, I will go further and say that there are no circumstances in which the Bill would have contained those guarantees were it not for the sustained and passionate representations that Members on all sides of this Chamber have made over recent months. Again, I believe that the House can take pride in that, and I offer my sincere gratitude to all Members who have contributed to the debates we have had on this issue.
I hope that noble Lords can now come together to support the Government’s approach, pass this amendment and progress this Trade Bill on its way, at long last, to becoming a Trade Act, content in the knowledge that we have fulfilled our constitutional obligations and—if I may say—have done so in the most searching, diligent and passionate manner. I say to noble Lords that they have undoubtedly made this a better Bill.
My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Motion A1 withdrawn.
Motion A agreed.