Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020
29 July 2020 Volume 805
Motion to Approve
Full debate at:
6.05 pm July 29th 2020
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB) [V]
My Lords, the Foreign Secretary may make an unlikely lord high executioner, but, like WS Gilbert’s Koko, renowned for drawing up the Mikado’s list, Dominic Raab’s Magnitsky list has rightly struck a chord across the political divide and I, like so many others who have spoken, support these regulations and pay tribute to the courageous Bill Browder.
Notwithstanding the view that I expressed in a letter to Mr Raab—that primary legislation, as my noble and learned friend said earlier, would have been the proper and better way to do this—it is nevertheless hugely welcome that the UK will no longer be a bolthole or safe haven for serious violators of human rights.
If primary legislation becomes necessary to strengthen these provisions, I hope that the Minister will commit to introducing it and will say little more about what role he envisages for Parliament.
My noble friend Lord Hannay has previously asked about your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Committee. In his reply, will the Minister specifically say whether he would welcome the committee being given a scrutinising role and, if so, if he will facilitate that?
Named of course for Sergei Magnitsky—as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, reminded us, a Russian lawyer who uncovered a £230 million corruption scheme and was murdered for doing so—the powers that the Foreign Secretary has taken, including visa bans and asset freezes, will enable him to stop murderers, torturers, dictators, generals and oligarchs exploiting the UK’s rule of law and the freedoms that they deny their own citizens.
Top of the Foreign Secretary’s list should be Chen Quanguo, the former Communist Party chief in Tibet, now responsible for the oppression of the Uighurs in Xinjiang referred to by many other noble Lords.
Not far behind should be Carrie Lam and her chief of police in Hong Kong, who have been the CCP’s willing accomplices in crushing the freedoms of one of the world’s greatest cities. Then there are those accused by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC’s independent tribunal into coercive organ harvesting—names that have been sent to the Minister.
When he replies I hope he will tell us more about the process that will be used in assessing names such as those, how they will be added to the list and the role of Parliament, not least our own House of Lords International Relations and Defence Committee.
Minister’s Reply To The Debate
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in today’s debate. As I said in the closing of my opening remarks, I put on record my personal thanks to noble Lords from across the House who I know have been focused on the issues we have discussed today but also, importantly, on the broader issue of human rights. I give my personal commitment to continue to engage, as I did during the passage of the Act in 2018 and subsequently on issues of future designations. I put on record my particular thanks to both Front-Benchers, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for their continued support and challenge. I assure noble Lords that they are quite often robust challenges. Nevertheless, it demonstrates both the insights and expertise contained within your Lordships’ House that are so valuable to our thinking.
We have two Lady Kennedys participating today: the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy of Cradley and Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. Among others, such as the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lady Altmann, they rightly mentioned specifically the important role of Bill Browder, and I pay tribute to him. It was notable—as I am sure noble Lords observed—that the Magnitsky family was also present at the Foreign Office on the day the first designations and these regulations were laid. We pay tribute to their sacrifices and to the great campaigners; I have the great honour to work alongside the likes of Amal Clooney. I am also grateful in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, for her continued focus and support in this regard.
We have had a wide-ranging debate. We talked about links to the City and, as ever, my noble friend Lord Moynihan talked about the importance of the read-over to other sectors, including sport. Many noble Lords asked about process and designation. In the time I have, I will seek to work through the specific questions raised.
First, I agree with the many noble Lords who made the important point that these sanctions work effectively only when we work with others. I have already mentioned our Five Eyes partnership. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that we have robust systems at the Foreign Office through the existing work we do through the Five Eyes partnership to continue to work in co-operation in this regard.
My noble friend Lord Holmes and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, among others, mentioned the important role of the EU. We will continue to support the development of an EU human rights sanctions regime and we look forward to working in co-operation with all partners.
The noble Lords, Lord Desai and Lord Bhatia, among others, talked about the importance of international human rights law. This regime is totally compatible with international human rights law. I assure the various noble Lords who raised how this will apply that we will use these sanctions without fear or favour. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked whether we will apply them to friends. The first designations included sanctions on individuals in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We will continue to focus in this respect and I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, is also reassured.
We heard from others, including the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that working with EU partners is not new. The likes of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia already have such sanctions in place and we will continue to strengthen our work across all countries to ensure that we can apply these regimes consistently and focus on the individuals who abuse human rights.
I will go through some of the specific questions before I get on to countries. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked about the process of parliamentary scrutiny. I assure him that we remain very much committed, as we are in the Act through Sections 30 and 32, to the review of our sanctions legislation. The sanctions Act remains the primary legislative vehicle to establish regimes via secondary legislation. I note that the noble Lord said that although it was delayed, he certainly welcomed it.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised scrutiny by committees and mentioned the debate in the other place. We stand ready to engage on all issues. As the process evolves, we will strengthen our processes. We wish to engage directly with committees in this regard.
The noble Lords, Lord Hussain and Lord Bhatia, referred to the human rights report. I assure noble Lords that just because a country is listed as a human rights priority country, it does not mean that such countries alone are the ones that we would look to work on. Clearly, there are partners and friends in those countries. The human rights report is used as a tool to strengthen the role of human rights within countries. While we may sanction individuals and organisations, our battle is not with a country itself or the people of a country. As we have seen from the example of what is happening in Xinjiang, many populations within countries suffer human rights abuses.
The noble Lord, Lord Hussain, asked specifically about Kashmir and India. I assure him that I raise these issues consistently. Indeed, I was on a virtual visit to India yesterday. During various conversations I raised this specific issue.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, rightly reminded us of the ordinary principles of judicial review. I assure him that administrative reviews of designations will be undertaken in strict accordance with the Act and the regulations. The Act makes it clear that, on any challenge, the court must apply principles applicable to an application for judicial review. I thank the noble and learned Lord for his continued contributions to the statutory provisions as they pass through Parliament. I assure, among others, the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, and my noble friend Lord Holmes that we will continue to adhere to the principles of judicial review, as I have articulated.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about the ISC’s scrutiny role. It is not my job to tell Select Committees or the House what to do, but I have already alluded to the fact that we welcome engagement with various committees.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, asked about prosecutors, judges and non-state actors. Those involved in human rights abuses and violations sadly include those set up to protect—including prosecutors and judges. If they meet the criteria it will apply to them as well, and to non-state actors.
The noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Collins, raised specific countries. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, referred to Zimbabwe and South Africa. Other noble Lords mentioned various countries. I assure your Lordships that we will keep situations of human rights concern under review. Although I have said, and will say again, that it is inappropriate to speculate on future designations, we will continue to focus on the particular cases that noble Lords have raised. I stay ready to engage directly and to take forward discussions in your Lordships’ House and on a bilateral basis.
My noble friend Lord Naseby and others mentioned other countries, such as Sri Lanka. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, mentioned Colombia. I thank all noble Lords for raising specific cases. I assure them that the FCO, as it currently stands—and the foreign, commonwealth and development office that will exist from September—will continue to consider each designation and each case that is raised quite carefully.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier rightly raised the issue of resources. I assure noble Lords that we have a dedicated sanctions unit, and I pay tribute to its incredibly hard work in getting this regime together and on the rollover EU sanctions during the transition period. We are working very closely with geographical leads within government and posts overseas to identify and develop designations. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that we will continue to work very closely with other partners.
Several noble Lords asked about the scope of the sanctions, including the right reverend Prelate, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and the noble Lords, Lord Loomba, Lord Collins and Lord Wood. The point was made that the sanctions, as currently announced, have a narrow focus. I assure noble Lords that all rights are equally important, but we want to ensure the success of the sanctions regime by keeping the scope targeted in the first instance. Furthermore, the sanctions regime will support other human rights issues, including imposing sanctions for unlawful killings perpetrated against journalists and media workers. In answer to the right reverend Prelate’s direct question, I can say that they extend to those who abuse freedom of religion or belief. Both these issues—media freedom and freedom of religion or belief—remain government priorities. I hope that the right reverend Prelate is reassured by that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, talked about anti-money laundering and the City of London. While the Treasury leads overall, as a Government we are committed to ensuring that the UK’s financial system is hostile to all forms of illicit finance.
At this point, I will revert to the issue of corruption. I mentioned in my opening remarks that we have not included corruption within the scope of the regime initially. As I said, we are considering how a corruption regime could be added to the current legal tools that we have, and we are already looking at the UN convention. As the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, reminded us, already Canada and the US have working regimes in this respect, and we are working very closely with them. This was a point of concern raised by other noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Wood and Lord Hain, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Falkner. The UK is a global leader in tackling corruption and illicit finance. In 2017, we introduced the ambitious and far-reaching five-year anti-corruption strategy.
A specific point was made about the application of these regulations in the overseas territories. There are processes in place, either through Orders in Council or directly through the OTs themselves, so that they will be able to implement these sanctions regimes.
At this juncture, I want to acknowledge the important work done on human rights by the Council of Europe, as we were reminded about by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. He might not remember—it has been a while—but, on joining your Lordships’ House, my first role was as a member of the team at the Council of Europe. I pay tribute to the important work done there—we will continue to work with parliamentarians engaged in that agenda—and at the Human Rights Council. I thank noble Lords for their support in that respect.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and others talked of delays that occurred in introducing the regulations, and he specifically asked about schools and universities. On the delay, as has been mentioned, work was done outside government. I have been involved with the work of government for a few years now and I assure noble Lords that this was a priority when I first joined your Lordships’ House; there are many in government who remain very committed to it. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, reminded us, it is thanks to the combined efforts of many that we have finally seen this regime introduced. It was appropriate that we took the time to get it right.
Modern slavery was mentioned by various noble Lords. I am sure that many noble Lords in this Chamber and joining us virtually recognise the important role played on the agenda on modern slavery by my right honourable friend the former Prime Minister, Theresa May. She championed this cause as a priority for Her Majesty’s Government. It remains a key issue that we continue to champion on the broader human rights agenda.
As to whether this will apply to schools and universities, asset freezes prevent UK organisations providing funds to a designated person, so the sanctions regime applies to every sector.
My noble and learned friend Lord Garnier and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised the important issue of consultation with NGOs. I work closely with many NGOs on the human rights front. We regularly have meetings with them. There is a body and an advisory group that meets the Foreign Secretary on human rights issues. We will continue to engage with them on a regular basis. I cannot provide a timeline, as I am sure noble Lords will respect, on whether we will be looking at a particular process for future designations every month, every week or every two weeks.
However, I can say that we have the resources available to us and we have strengthened consultations to ensure that we can act—and act swiftly—if needs require. But we will do so most effectively when we work alongside international partners. We value the insights and information that NGOs provide in this respect and intend to set out a clear line of communication. As I am sure noble Lords acknowledged, we have published an information note aimed at NGOs and civil society organisations on the specific issue of dialogue with government.
Finally, on China and Xinjiang, as well as other specific countries, I want to mention this. I have deliberately left it to the end. My noble and learned friend Lord Garnier, the right reverend Prelate, the noble Baronesses, Lady Smith, Lady Kennedy of Cradley and Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Wood, my noble friend Lady Altmann—the list goes on—all rightly focused on the important issue of Xinjiang and the long-term suffering of the Uighur population. Again, while I cannot comment on future designations, let me assure noble Lords that the UK regularly raises its serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang. This is done both directly with the Chinese authorities, including by the Foreign Secretary raising it directly with his counterpart, and at international organisations, as I have continued to do during our engagements at the Human Rights Council. I assure noble Lords that we will continue to raise these issues. Many noble Lords raised issues around Xinjiang. Let me assure them that the FCO is carefully considering further suggestions for designations under the global human rights sanctions regime.
I have been handed my final slip of this session before the Summer Recess. It says that I am literally out of time—and virtually out of time for those joining us from wherever they may be. It is important, and good, to end by saying that we have had a challenging session because of Covid-19 and the coronavirus. But we end on an issue which reflects the best of what your Lordships’ House is about; how we work together and strengthen relationships on the important priorities that define our country and our values. It is a great honour to be standing here in front of your Lordships to conclude our Session by talking about human rights, and also talking about the important regime which has now come before us. It shows the strong workings across your Lordships’ House and across party divides.
As I outlined in my opening speech, these regulations underline our commitment to be an even stronger force for good in the world. They demonstrate our leadership in the promotion and protection of human rights. They are rightly a priority—and long may they remain so. I thank all noble Lords for their continued support in this respect. I wish them a restive—albeit at-home staycation—Summer Recess. For me the next immediate issue is that it is Eid in a day, and I look forward to spending it with my family.
House adjourned at 6.59 pm