And a link to Nusrat Ghani MP’s article on Politics Home: https://www.politicshome.com/thehouse/article/britain-must-not-be-a-safe-haven-for-businesses-profiting-from-uyghur-forced-labour
She says: The wilful blindness of the international community as China interns millions of Uyghurs and profits from slave labour is simply becoming impossible to ignore
Two speeches in Parliament today about why we should rethink trade and aid to China – by Lord (David) Alton and Lord (David) Blencathra – moving an all Party amendment to the Trade Bill
Today’s Guardian newspaper report
My Lords, I have pleasure in speaking to Amendment 33, which enjoys support from across your Lordships’ House. It appears in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra, Lord Adonis and Lord Rooker. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for his remarks in opening the debate on this group of amendments.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, said, at a meeting this morning of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong—of which I am vice-chairman—the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, expressed his support for this amendment and Amendment 68, which we will come to in due course and which homes in specifically on trade deals with states accused of genocide. The Committee may be interested to hear a little more of what the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said this morning. I quote him verbatim:
“China has over the years broken both the spirit of what it had agreed to with the WTO negotiations and in many respects made a mockery of the letter, so that you cannot invest in China in the same way that China can invest here. China is involved at the moment in predatory purchasing wherever it can.”
He went on to give instances of the imbalance, citing the example of robotics from Kuka, and of the interference and intimidation which follows when, for instance, a country speaks up for the beleaguered Uighur community or hosts the Dalai Lama. He described the Chinese Communist Party as
“a regime which regards business, as well as the state-owned enterprises, as part of the political project.”
At this stage, Amendment 33 is an attempt to open a debate on three things. First, what should be the constraints on business as usual with states which are undemocratic? Secondly, what regard do we have to our critical infrastructure? Thirdly, in making trade deals, what should be the role of Parliament? This is something on which we have focused a lot already in the opening stages of this Committee debate on the Trade Bill; what should be the role of Parliament if these first two conditions become matters of contention? I particularly agree with the earlier remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and, again, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson.
In tabling Amendment 33, I return to issues that I raised at Second Reading of this Bill, as well as in Committee and on Report on the telecommunications infrastructure Bill. I know that some noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Falkner of Margravine, will have concerns about drawing these provisions more tightly. Between now and Report, there will be time to address that point, preferably with the help of the Government. I should say that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, has played a major part in the drafting of this amendment; I am grateful to him for doing so.
It would be helpful to the Committee if the Minister could say what progress has been made in bringing forward a human rights threshold—an amendment which, it was agreed, would come forward when we had our debate at the Report stage of the telecommunications infrastructure Bill and was promised for Third Reading of that now-delayed Bill. I have written about this to the Minister as well as to the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, the Minister overseeing the other Bill. It would be helpful if the Minister today could say what role the Government envisage for the Joint Committee on Human Rights in scrutinising trade deals; this might address some of the issues raised thus far.
Why does this matter? I am particularly conscious that this Bill gives the Government significant powers to be exercised by secondary legislation using the affirmative procedure, a point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. Let us not fool ourselves that this amounts to effective scrutiny. The last time the House of Commons failed to pass an affirmative action Motion was the year before I was elected to the Commons: 1978. Unfortunately, other legislation currently rolling through this eviscerated Parliament like a juggernaut—I think of the medicines Bill and other examples that have been raised day after day as we come to debate other legislation—inevitably gives the Government authority to amend primary legislation in order to implement rolled over agreements via affirmative orders. That is why this amendment seeks to put control back into the hands of Parliament.
In these strange times, we have seen the emasculation of Parliament, and extreme global conditions have brought home our inadequate national resilience. I was struck that, in a briefing sent to your Lordships only this morning, the Trade Justice Movement said:
“In the previous Trade Bill, Lords passed an amendment on parliamentary scrutiny. Since then, the government has not made good on promises to give Parliament a say in new trade deals. Lords should support a similar amendment in this bill.”
In the present circumstances and context, that is more important than ever.
During the first stages of the Covid pandemic, thousands of doctors and patients were unable to get hold of life-saving equipment. In part, this was due to our reliance on China—and, by extension, its Government, the Chinese Communist Party—for medical supplies. As the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said this morning, there is a big difference between loving, honouring and respecting the people of China and doing the same for the Chinese Communist Party.
Following questions that I tabled, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, was good enough to meet me, the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and Samuel Armstrong to discuss the Henry Jackson Society report, Breaking the China Supply Chain, which was published in May. The report says that “strategic dependency” on China means being a “net importer” of a good, sourcing more than 50% of that good from China and China having significant control of the “global market” of that good. The report found that the United Kingdom is strategically dependent on China for our supplies in 229 separate categories of goods. Equally troubling is that 57 of those categories service elements of our critical national infrastructure, including computers, telephones, antibiotics, painkillers such as aspirin, antiviral medicines, PPE and industrial chemicals.
The report recommends that we conduct a national review of the industries that are dependent on China and make reducing that dependency on China, and indeed on other human rights-abusing states, an aim of new trade deals. It also recommends that we campaign for the withdrawal of China’s developing nation status at the WTO, another issue touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, this morning. It would be good to hear the Minister’s view on such a review and China’s status at the WTO.
It would be good for the United Kingdom to move away from a position in which its economic dependency can be weaponised to discourage its leadership in championing human rights and the rules-based order. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s view on the funding that we provide to China as a country that is no longer a developing nation. I find it bizarre that last year the United Kingdom gave it £67.9 million in aid, up by £12.3 million. Why are we spending money on manufacturing programmes in China? It simply bewilders me.
Concerns about our overreliance on the Chinese Communist Party have only grown stronger following the ways in which it has attempted to deploy economic coercion against countries such as Australia, following its call for an inquiry into the origins of Covid-19. As the Minister reminded us earlier, we enacted Section 1 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 on slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour, but what do we do in our trade deals to ensure that items are not products of modern-day slavery, forced labour or any other form of criminal or unlawful conduct? The noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, referred to this earlier, but can he say how it is being implemented in the case of slave labour being used in Xinjiang?
Over the recent months, we have seen a number of reports emerging suggesting that many of the United Kingdom-based and UK trading brands have benefited from forced labour of the Uighur Muslim communities in China. I should mention in this context that I am vice-chairman of the all-party group on the Uighurs. A recent report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute estimated that some 80,000 Uighurs are working in factories in the supply chains of at least 82 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen. Some of the same companies also turn a blind eye to the use of child labour in Congolese cobalt mines.
Companies using forced Uighur labour in their supply chains are in breach of laws that prohibit the importation of goods made with forced labour or mandate disclosure of forced labour supply chain risks. How do we verify this? How do we do that in Xinjiang? This is surely something which Parliament is, and should be, entitled to hold a view about. Cross-departmental action is needed, which is why, if the Bill were amended to incorporate the concerns about egregious and gross violations of human rights, as I have suggested in a letter to the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, we might be able to go some way to making progress on this.
It is not simply about Uighurs. I know the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will address your Lordships in due course about the trade in organ harvesting, and again when we come to the later amendment on genocide I will draw the Committee’s attention to trade taking place under the umbrella of the Chinese authorities that deals in the trade of human organs.
There is not time in Committee to go into all those details today, and there will be opportunities at later stages. These are some of the reasons why we need to take these issues more seriously. As part of the post-Brexit trade agreement policy, and in line with the Government’s own national action plan, we should implement a cross-departmental plan to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and the FCDO’s human rights unit should be better resourced and given a major role in this.
In a letter to me in July, the Minister said: “We understand the importance of this issue and believe the United Kingdom should continue to set an example to other countries in this area and be a world leader in human rights procedures”. He is right. I also remind the Committee that when we considered the earlier Trade Bill 2017-19, modern slavery was raised explicitly by Her Majesty’s Opposition at Lords Report stage in Amendment 35 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and in this Bill in the House of Commons at Third Reading as human rights amendments to new Clauses 12 and 21 and in Amendment 17. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, specifically required trade agreements to reflect the offences in Section 1 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which relates to slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour.
I hope that Amendment 33, or something like it, will commend itself to your Lordships and that even if we are still unready to wrest control of such matters into the hands of Parliament, when we come to Amendment 68, which co-sponsored by the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth and Lord Adonis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, that we will have no hesitation in saying that it cannot be business as usual with states that are complicit in genocide.
I complete my remarks with a quote from this morning’s Guardian newspaper, from the right honourable Iain Duncan Smith, who said that he supports the amendments that have been laid before your Lordships’ House. He said:
“The government has still not got it on human rights in China. If an African country was doing what China is doing, Ministers would be all over it, but because of China’s size and influence at the UN, it runs away. It is time we stood up against the abuses under way within China.”
I entirely agree with him.
My Lords, I am delighted to support Amendment 33 proposed by my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool, and I congratulate him on the excellent and thorough speech he has just made.
If the Committee will permit me for just a moment before I get into the substance of what I wanted to say, I was amused by the usual rant from the noble Lord, Lord Hain, against Singapore. I just had to comment on it. He does not like Singapore, and he does not want us to emulate Singapore: a country with the highest GDP per capita in the world, the wealthiest people and the best education system in the world, which is rated fifth in the world for happiness and the third highest for anti-corruption. If he considers that the bottom, I would prefer to be there than at the so-called top, or perhaps he still considers South Africa to be the hero state of his dreams.
I had better get back to the amendment. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has campaigned tirelessly against the vile human rights abuses against the Uighurs perpetrated by the Communist Party regime in China—not the Chinese people but the Communist Party regime. The evidence is overwhelming about the concentration camps, the so-called training centres, and the use of these people as slave labour. Of course, the Uighurs merely join the people of Tibet, who have suffered the same oppression for decades. The communist regime in Peking wants to wipe out all people, races and ethnicities who do not comply with every aspect of their communist philosophy.
So, since these gross abuses of human rights are well-known to take place, what should we do about it? Would we dream of buying goods from the military regime in Burma or that of the late and thoroughly unlamented evil Mugabe in Zimbabwe? Of course not. So we must not trade with any country, including China, where there are human rights abuses, no democracy and no equality under the law.
I shall not spend time here on the list of critical infrastructure, since I think it is the same as in the definitive and highly respected Henry Jackson Society report called Breaking the China Supply Chain, which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has more than adequately described to the Committee, and which revealed that the UK and, indeed, the Five Eyes countries are reliant on China for a frighteningly large number of goods and services that are vital to our critical infrastructure. I accept that we cannot disengage and reshore overnight, but I would like to hear from the Minister what progress we are making and what progress we expect to make on reshoring some of our critical goods and services.
I want to focus on the second part of the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, setting out the criteria for “non-democratic”. I am privileged to serve on the Council of Europe. The four criteria listed here are not our technical definition, but they summarise everything that we consider to be democratic. In fact, I do not think there is a technical definition of democracy anywhere in the world. The Council of Europe has three pillars: the rule of law, human rights and democracy. When we observe elections in, say, former Soviet Union countries, those are the main criteria that we consider to determine whether or not the elections are free and fair.
I simply say: can anyone in this Committee or in government disagree with the four criteria that the noble Lord has built in here? The amendment says that
“‘non-democratic’ means a country which does not have … a political system for choosing and replacing the government, through free and fair elections”.
That may apply to a few countries. In fact, I have just reported on Belarus, which has severe deficiencies there although it, does not have some of the other deficiencies. However, China certainly does not satisfy criterion (a). A country is not considered democratic, in criterion (b), if it does not have
“the active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life”.—
that applies to China—or, in criterion (c), if it does not have
“protection of the human rights of all citizens”.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has just described the gross human rights abuses that are happening to the Uighurs and the people of Tibet. Finally, a country is not democratic if it does not have
“a rule of law in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens, and the judiciary is independent.”
There are quite a few countries in the world that that does not apply to, but it is certainly relevant to China as well. So, while one may identify some other countries, the one that is right in our sights here is China, because it fails to satisfy these four criteria that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has built in.
I say to the Minister that this amendment, if accepted, would not ban trade with China or any other country. It simply asks that Parliament has the chance to look over the deals and approve them. No doubt, with the Government’s majority in the Commons, they can approve and rubber-stamp anything, but we heard in our House yesterday in the Chamber unanimous demands from all sides that Parliament have a chance to approve new Covid regs before they are made. I suggest that the matters the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has raised here are every bit as important and, therefore, Parliament should have a chance to debate and vote on this. I support the noble Lord in his amendment.
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