Trade Bill (Ping Pong Amendment) February 2nd 2021.
All-Party Genocide Amendment Passed After Second Debate in the Lords by 359 votes to 188. With a majority of 171it returns to the House of Commons on Tuesday next – having been defeated by a slender Government majority of 11 votes on the first time of consideration during ping pong between the two Houses. Full debate and briefing here:
My Lords, I would like to add my voice to that of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, before I turn to my own all-party amendment on genocide. His proposition that great thought must Toggle showing location ofColumn 2086be given to a more coherent and comprehensive approach to dealing with gross violations of human rights is the right approach. It is always a privilege to follow the noble Lord because many of the same issues motivate and animate the two of us, and it is always a privilege to speak about these issues in your Lordships’ House.
As co-chair and co-founder of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, I gave evidence to the United Nations commission of inquiry into human rights violations in North Korea. Six years ago, it found North Korea to be a state “without parallel”. Its crimes were found to include
“extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”
It concluded that these crimes were
“ongoing … because the policies, institutions and patterns of impunity that lie at their heart remain in place.”
It also concluded that crimes against humanity had been committed, and recommended that the Security Council request that the International Criminal Court initiate a prosecution. That has never happened because, as the United Kingdom repeatedly says, China would use its veto to prevent a referral to the ICC. That is on the issue of crimes against humanity and human rights violations, even before one comes to the crime above all crimes—genocide.
Of course, we should challenge the ability of any country to use a veto when human rights violations of this magnitude are found by a commission established by the United Nations, but there is no treaty obligation to prevent even crimes against humanity. However, there is one on genocide—hence the amendment in lieu that I have laid before your Lordships today and on which, later, I will seek the opinion of the House.
On Thursday last, I spoke during the proceedings on the telecommunications Bill. I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, for responding so positively to many of the points that I and other noble Lords had made to her and, as a consequence, it was possible not to have a Division. During that debate, I outlined some of the appalling atrocities which have been occurring in Xinjiang and which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has just referred to—an issue which I first raised in your Lordships’ House in 2008. I am vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uighurs and follow this matter on an almost day-by-day basis.
This amendment on genocide has its origins not in China or Xinjiang or in the Uighurs but in 2016, when, despite Parliament passing a Motion on genocidal crimes against Yazidis and other minorities, the Government refused to accept it because a court had not made the declaration. The all-party genocide amendment remedies a circular argument. It also supports the position of successive Governments that only a court has the authority and ability to make such a determination. For at least a generation, the policy of all Governments has been that genocide determination is a matter for courts, not politicians.
Boris Johnson, at Prime Minister’s Questions on 20 January, said that
“the attribution of genocide is a judicial matter”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/1/21; col. 959.]Toggle showing location ofColumn 2087
Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, said on “The Andrew Marr Show” on 17 January, “Whether or not it amounts to genocide is a matter for the courts.” Boris Johnson, as Foreign Secretary, said on 21 November 2017 that
“genocide is a strict legal term, and we hesitate to deploy it without a proper judicial decision.”—[Official Report, Commons, 21/11/17; col. 839.]
The United Kingdom reviewed this policy in 2016. The then Prime Minister, David Cameron, concluded:
“It is not for the Government to be prosecutor, judge and jury … Not only are the courts the best place to judge criminal matters but their impartiality also ensures the protection of the UK government from the politicisation and controversies that attach themselves to the question of ‘Genocide’.”5.00pm
This is in contrast, of course, with the United States and other jurisdictions that have made non-judicial or political determinations of genocide, the latest of which was the designation by the outgoing US Administration on 19 January regarding the treatment of Uighur and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. The following day, it was reaffirmed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the incoming Administration, so it is a bipartisan view.
The Government accept that the present process in the UK is not fit for purpose. Yesterday, at a meeting of Peers that was addressed by three Ministers—many of those present in your Lordships’ Chamber will have heard this—they said that they intend to offer a concession to turn the policy of 40 years on its head and allow Select Committees to consider whether a genocide, as defined under Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on the Crime of Genocide, is under way.
Respectfully—I say this as a member of your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Select Committee—Select Committees already have such authority to examine evidence of genocide if they wish to do so; they do not need legislation to give them that power. Members of the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs have already expressed public opposition to and scepticism about this proposal.
If, however, such an approach were to include a legislative right—for instance, for a committee not only to examine the evidence but to be able to trigger a referral to the High Court—this would not only open a judicial route, it would also enable parliamentary scrutiny and provide a trigger mechanism. An otherwise toothless concession might then be given some teeth.
This lunchtime, a letter was sent to all Peers, rather belatedly, from two of the three Ministers who were present on that call yesterday. The noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, was one of them, although, interestingly, the signature of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, was not on this letter. My noble friend Lord Hannay, who knows a thing or two about foreign affairs, emailed me to express his support for the amendment before your Lordships’ House. About this letter, he said:
“It seems to me that the letter makes one fundamental error when it says that your amendment”—
that is, the amendment before your Lordships—Column 2088is located here
“is designed to get a British court to rule on whether country X or Y had broken its obligations under the genocide convention. It’s surely aimed at getting a British court to rule as to whether the British Government would or might break our obligations under the genocide convention if it were to conclude a trade agreement with country X or Y in the light of evidence about their genocidal actions.”
My noble friend is right: the amendment does not seek to convict a country through the courts. Many of the windmills that the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, invited us to tilt at earlier on are therefore imaginary ones. We do not need to be like Don Quixote in that respect. This amendment does not provide for a criminal prosecution. My noble friend Lord Hannay is right when he says that its purpose is to enable the United Kingdom to fulfil its obligations under the genocide convention.
On Report, this amendment received a majority of 126 in your Lordships’ House. The Government, with their large majority of more than 80 in another place, had a majority of 11 when the amendment was considered there. It is greatly welcome that the Government are beginning to address the issue and offer some way forward. I am grateful to the Ministers and their teams. Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, just reminded us, the only way that such concessions can be agreed is by our voting today to send this amendment back to the Commons. Otherwise, it will die in the ditch.
When Ministers say that they do not want the courts involved and question the ability of the courts to deal with such issues, they should consider that among the supporters of the amendment before us today are two illustrious former Lord Chancellors from both sides of the House: the noble and learned Lords, Lord Mackay of Clashfern and Lord Falconer of Thoroton. Other supporters include two former Supreme Court judges, the former Lord Chief Justice and a range of QCs, including the noble Lords, Lord Carlile of Berriew and Lord Pannick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, who is in her place. As ever, we all look forward to hearing her speak. The Government can hardly plausibly argue, therefore, that the amendment is legally defective or incapable of operation.
At yesterday’s meeting, Ministers said that the amendment may frustrate foreign policy and create diplomatic difficulties. We are talking about genocide, not diplomacy. The amendment is designed to frustrate business as usual on the narrow and specific issue of genocide and honour our obligations as spelled out in international law in the genocide convention. Senior figures from the world of foreign affairs are appalled by the Government’s extraordinary argument.
Encouragingly, the amendment is supported by two former Conservative Party Foreign Secretaries and the former leader of the Conservative Party, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, along with the Front Benches of the opposition parties; we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and will hear, I think, from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, later on. The chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in another place also supports the amendment, I might add. Outside the House, the amendment has received important support from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Chief Rabbi, the Muslim Council of Great Britain, Humanists UK, Anglican and Catholic bishops, the Bar Council, the International Bar Association and a range of human rights organisations.Column 2089is located here
In response to issues raised during earlier stages of consideration, those who tabled the amendment listened carefully. They have responded to the argument about the separation of powers—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, on Report. We listened to that argument and have tabled this revised amendment in lieu. In accordance with their wishes, it therefore reserves to the Executive and Parliament the final say about what action to take on trade arrangements once a preliminary finding has been made by the court that there is evidence of a state, whichever state it may be, being complicit in genocide.
This is not a theoretical argument. It is borne out in a Written Answer given only yesterday to my noble friend Lady Cox by the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone. He said:
“China is an important trading partner for the UK, and we are pursuing increased bilateral trade.”
Ministers have said previously that this amendment would not help Uighurs, for instance because currently—I emphasise “currently”—they have no plans to negotiate a free trade agreement with China. However, the wording of the amendment is not limited to free trade agreements; it specifically refers to bilateral trade agreements. Are the Government really arguing that we have no bilateral trade agreements in force with China? That is not what the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, said to my noble friend yesterday.
On Thursday last, I set out one example of where a court might determine that the high threshold of the 1948 convention might be met, citing the example of the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. The amendment makes no mention of China and originates from the attempts of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, the noble Baronesses, Lady Cox and Lady Kennedy, and myself to have the atrocities against the Yazidis declared a genocide—something that, as I said earlier, Her Majesty’s Government said at the time could not be done because it is a matter for the court.
None of this should blind us to what is happening to a million incarcerated people in Xinjiang. The Prime Minister himself once said that our inability to say the same as the United States, in his words, “baffled him”. We can help him out of his bafflement by passing this amendment. No one can seriously believe that the Chinese Communist Party is about to refer itself to the International Criminal Court for an examination of potential genocide, so the convenient but hollow argument that an international court will make such a declaration leaves us derelict in our obligations under the genocide convention.
When you hear evidence of a state being complicit in the destruction of a people’s identity, in mass surveillance, in forced labour and enforced slavery, in the uprooting of people, in the destruction of communities and families, in the prevention of births, in the ruination of cemeteries where generations of loved ones had been buried—and when you hear of people being re-educated to believe that you, your people, your religion and your culture never existed and the certainty that, through ethno-religious cleansing, you will simply cease to exist—this needs the full authority of a judicial hearing. That would also put us at the fore in defending a rules-based order—global Britain at its best, if I may Toggle showing location ofColumn 2090say so. This all-party amendment would enable us to lead by example and be more vociferous in encouraging like-minded nations to take their convention duties seriously.
It is important to be clear what the amendment does not do. It does not empower the court to carry out a criminal prosecution, but simply to establish whether it has found sufficient evidence to say that atrocity crimes meet the criteria set out in Article II of the genocide convention. It does not take decisions about what happens when it finds evidence of genocide; it leaves it entirely to the Executive and Parliament to determine what happens next. It does not overturn 40 years of government policy, which has always been that genocide determination should be left to the courts; it complements and fulfils it. It does not stop the UK continuing to try to put evidence before the International Criminal Court, futile as such attempts have proved hitherto; indeed, it would provide impetus and a sound legal basis for so doing. It does not reopen historic cases of genocide. It is not a futile gesture or virtue signalling.
It applies to all states with which we have bilateral trade deals—including, for instance, China—but could be invoked only when the court has established evidence of a genocide. As I have said, the wording of the amendment is “bilateral trade arrangements” not “free trade agreements”. It is not the intention of the movers that the amendment be limited to free trade agreements. It would include other such trade agreements—yes, we have numerous such agreements with China. To reiterate, it will then be up to Parliament and the Executive to decide what they wish to do about such trade with states found to be complicit in genocide.
Those opposing this amendment ask the perfectly legitimate question, as the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, has done today, whether our courts would be capable of doing or the right place to do this. It is deeply frustrating, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said earlier, that we have been unable to hear the voices of many who, if they could have been physically present, could have dealt with this question far better than me. There is no better example than the wise and authoritative counsel of my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead, a former first Deputy President of the Supreme Court and previously the second senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary. He has made it abundantly clear that the amendment is sound and capable of implementation.
On Report, he told the House that
“any idea that this is not a matter for the courts really is misplaced … the enforcement mechanisms … of the Crime of Genocide”
“simply not up to the job”
and that, as a consequence, the objective of the genocide convention
“remains largely unfulfilled and we have to face the fact that the international institutions are falling short too.”—[Official Report, 7/12/20; col. 1070.]
On the competence of our courts to deal with this crime, he says:
“Courts are well used to hearing and drawing conclusions from evidence. So, in principle, the task of addressing whether there is or has been genocide should be well within their grasp.”
He says that the amendment in lieu
“looks very good to me”Column 2091is located here
and believes our decision to refer to the definition in the genocide convention removes the risk of dispute over what constitutes genocide for the purposes of the application. Also, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, said in an email to me that
“the courts will apply the facts before it to the question and say whether or not they constitute genocide.”
Speaking yesterday to a meeting of your Lordships, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who was lead prosecutor at the trial of Slobodan Milošević in The Hague, said not only that our courts and lawyers are perfectly competent to examine the evidence and determine whether a genocide is under way, but that many senior figures in the judiciary feel passionately that the failure to declare genocides makes a mockery of the convention duties. Sir Geoffrey has received 80,000 pages of evidence. Xi Jinping said, as appeared in a leaked document, that his officials should “show no mercy” to anyone who disobeys the edicts in Xinjiang, and an official said on television:
“Break their lineage … break their connections and break their origins”.
This amendment is therefore deliberately specific and narrow. In the hierarchy of crimes, genocide is in a league of its own. Anyone who has stood alongside mass graves or genocide sites in Rwanda and Iraq, as I have, or visited the charred remains of homes and villages in genocidal attacks in Burma and Darfur, as I have, knows that the calculated intention of this heinous crime is what marks it out, even beyond the other horrendous crimes against humanity and human rights violations that have been referred to. Perhaps one day there will be a treaty and convention duties for these other egregious crimes but, unlike genocide, there is not. That is the benchmark for this amendment; its precision is what has enabled many parliamentarians who would be reluctant to support a broader approach to support this one.
One person watching our debate today is a Uighur musician who speaks powerfully about persecution in Xinjiang. She spoke at the briefing held yesterday for your Lordships. The testimony of Rahima Mahmut, translated from the Uighur language, is courageous and harrowing. These personal stories are rare glimpses into the tightly controlled and secretive world of Xinjiang, which one British academic has described as “a creeping genocide”. Yesterday she pleaded with us to name this crime for what it is, but it remains the crime that dares not speak its name.
Having shared her story with Ephraim Mirvis, the Chief Rabbi wrote this about his encounter with her:
“An unfathomable mass atrocity is being perpetrated in China. The responsibility for doing something lies with all of us … I can no longer remain silent about the plight of the Uighurs”.
Nor should we, who have the privilege to speak and to act.5.15pm
Let me end, as I have probably wearied your Lordships for too long. Last week we commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. As a young boy, Judge Thomas Buergenthal was incarcerated in Auschwitz. He survived. Judge Buergenthal throws down this challenge to each of us:Column 2092is located here
“The human mind is simply not able to grasp this terrible truth: a nation transformed into a killing machine programmed to destroy millions of innocent human beings for no reason other than that they were different … If we humans can so easily wash the blood of our fellow humans off our hands, then what hope is there for sparing future generations from a repeat of the genocides and mass killings of the past? … one cannot hope to protect mankind from crimes such as those that were visited upon us unless one struggles to break the cycle of hatred and violence that invariably leads to ever more suffering by innocent human beings.”
This all-party amendment is a modest attempt to break the cycle of hatred and violence which will otherwise lead to more suffering of innocent human beings. It is why the House should support it. I hope we will send it back to the House of Commons for further consideration. I will press it to a Division and commend it to the House.Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con) [V]Sharethis specific contribution
My Lords, what a powerful speech from the noble Lord—I hesitate to call him the noble Lord; he is my noble friend. It was an extraordinary account of why the Government ought to accept this amendment. I think all of us in the House pay tribute to him for the fantastic work he has done over the years in supporting human rights and campaigning to have genocide named where it is happening.
I owe the House an explanation for my amendment, which, as Members will realise, is almost identical to that of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, except in one respect. The reason I tabled it—I entirely support the noble Lord’s amendment—is the ridiculous rules being applied in this House on ping-pong. On the one hand, we are told by the Clerk of the Parliaments that we should not come to the House in the current Covid circumstances, and on the other we have rules saying that Members may not speak on these amendments at ping-pong unless they appear in person. I got around that by tabling my own identical amendment, which enables me to speak remotely; the Procedure Committee, or someone, needs to put this right, because it is denying the opportunity to many Members of this House—after all, the previous amendment was passed by a majority of 126—to participate in this debate and provide support to the noble Lord’s amendment while obeying the injunctions of the House not to go in and put themselves and others at risk.
The original amendment, as the noble Lord said, was defeated in the Commons by a very small majority of 11. This amendment responds to the concerns expressed by the Government and some Members in the other place by removing the role of the court in determining whether a bilateral trade agreement should be terminated if a state is found to be involved in genocide. It simply provides for the court to consider whether genocide is occurring.
I must say to my noble friend the Minister, providing us with a letter on the very day we are considering the amendment, as he has done today, is—to put it politely—putting a bit of a strain on people’s ability to read it, consider the arguments and treat them seriously. However, I notice that the terminology in the letter has changed; whereas the Government have always argued before that genocide is to be determined by the courts—the noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave a number of quotes from the Prime Minister and others in which they Toggle showing location ofColumn 2093made that clear—we now have this phrase whereby it should be determined by a “competent court”. I am not sure whether the Government are actually arguing that the High Court is not a competent court; certainly, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed out, looking at the number of former senior judges, lawyers and Lord Chancellors who support this amendment, I would have thought we could rely on their judgment as to whether the High Court was competent to carry out the duties set out in this amendment.
Recently, after the defeat of the original amendment in the House of Lords, when I asked my noble friend Lord Ahmad why the Government were persisting in their opposition to this, he said he was concerned about the “separation of powers”. This amendment deals with that argument. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has pointed out, in the United States both the incoming and outgoing Administrations have taken a view on whether genocide is happening in China. I think the Government are right that this should be determined not politically but by an independent judicial body, and the High Court is fully equipped to carry that out. Therefore, I would have thought this was something which the Government would welcome.
In his letter to us today, my noble friend Lord Grimstone said:
“It is not appropriate for the Courts to be drawn into a decision-making process relevant to the formation of international trade policy.”
This amendment does not do that. He says:
“It is not appropriate for the courts of one state to sit in judgement on whether another state had met its international obligations under a multinational treaty”—
nor does this amendment do that. It does not apply to all trading arrangements; it applies only to bilateral trade agreements.
I know that Ministers, including my noble friend the Minister, have suggested that this amendment would not make any difference because we are not planning on having a free trade deal with China. But only yesterday, in a Written Answer, the Minister said:
“China is an important trading partner for the UK, and we are pursuing increased bilateral trade”,
which is what this amendment seeks to deal with.
Even more surprising today was the news of a government late concession. I have to ask my noble friend: if the Government were making a serious attempt to offer a concession, given the huge support in both Houses of Parliament for my noble friend Lord Alton’s amendment, why have they left it so late that they were unable to table an amendment today? I think both the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and my noble friend Lord Alton made the point that the only conclusion one can make is that if the Government are serious about bringing forward a serious concession, it is necessary for this to go back to the House of Commons. So, while the Whips may be asking us to vote against this, the Minister, with his late concession, appears to be asking us to vote for it, in order that the Government can bring forward that concession in the House of Commons.
I have to say, having seen the concession, my own view is that it is pretty hopeless. It sets up a Select Committee. We already have plenty of Select Committees, and in the other place, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, Toggle showing location ofColumn 2094has pointed out, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee supports this amendment, along with a whole load of luminaries. The Government today have done something that I do not recall ever having seen; they have managed to unite all the lawyers and all the experienced people in the judiciary in agreement on one thing, which is that they support this amendment. The suggestion that by setting up a committee to look at this and debate it will somehow take us further forward is clearly off beam. Parliament can pass resolutions; indeed, as the noble Lord pointed out, it did pass a resolution following the massacre of thousands of Yazidi Christians by ISIL in Iraq. When we had the debate then, we were told that determining genocide was something which was a matter only for the courts.
Surely the key point is that we are party to an international treaty, and that puts us under an obligation. We have obligations to identify, punish and prevent genocide under the genocide convention. All that the amendment does is allow an application to the High Court for a preliminary determination on whether a current or prospective trading partner has committed or is committing genocide. If that is found to be the case, the Government have to present these findings to both Houses of Parliament and indicate what, if any, action they plan to take. That is entirely appropriate; there is no threat to the separation of powers in this matter.
Of course, the amendment is solely about the crime of genocide. It does not apply to other types of international crimes, such as war crimes and so on. I feel very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, is supporting this amendment, but I am nervous about supporting his, because I think it will be used to argue the case against this amendment, which is rightly and properly honed on genocide.
The amendment also applies only to bilateral trade agreements of the kind which my noble friend the Minister has indicated he is pursuing with enthusiasm with China. But nor is it about China in particular; it seems to me that what has been happening to the Rohingya Muslims is equally a matter of concern and that it is appropriate to consider whether genocide is indeed taking place. And nor does it apply retrospectively.
I have to say that, having listened to my noble friend the Minister, read his letters and absorbed the information from the Government, I find it difficult to understand their position. They cannot argue that we must rely on international mechanisms which have clearly failed. Every dog on every street corner knows that the international procedures will fail because they will be subject to a veto. It does not take away power from Parliament; it offers justice and the chance, which the Government have claimed essential for the last decade and more, for a judicial process which will determine whether or not genocide has taken place.
I support this amendment from my noble friend Lord Alton with enthusiasm. I certainly will not press my amendment, for the reasons that I have explained. I am sure it will be overwhelmingly supported should he divide this House. My advice to the Ministers is this: when you are in a hole, stop digging. The case now is so overwhelming and all the arguments have been dealt with. It would be wise to accept the advice Toggle showing location ofColumn 2095of my noble friend Lord Alton, accept this amendment and enable the other place to debate it properly. I am sure everyone would welcome the Government changing their position and accepting that the arguments they have put have been soundly defeated.Lord Cormack (Con) [V]Sharethis specific contribution
My Lords, it is a pleasure and an honour to be able to follow my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean and, of course, my noble friend—for he is a friend—Lord Alton.
I took part in the debate on the Floor of your Lordships’ House in December on Report. I spoke then in strong support of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I have tabled this amendment today in my name—which alters a couple of quite important timings—not because I oppose in any way, shape or form the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, but because I discovered last week that I could not take part in this debate unless I tabled an amendment. I thought things had changed a little since Christmas.
I spoke in your Lordships’ House quite often from September to December, and I came to realise that those of us present had a certain privilege when it came to ping-pong. Since Christmas, I have received almost countless messages, as your Lordships will have done, telling me, in effect, not to come. Some were because of my age—I am over 80—and others because I needed to be vaccinated, and I now have been. But being told not to come does not chime with the injunction that the occupant of the Woolsack recites every day: “Some Members will take part in the debate on the Floor of the House and others by remote means, but all will be treated equally.” This afternoon, all are not being treated equally.5.30pm
The House would have benefited from a speech by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, but he is not able to take part. I hope not only that the Government heed the lessons of today but that the authorities that regulate business in your Lordships’ House will do likewise. It is wrong not to treat Members equally if, at the same time, you are telling or urging certain Members not to come.
I turn to the substance of the amendment. I like and respect my noble friend the Minister, and he tried to make what my late father would have called “a good fist” of his argument today, but—I say to him gently but firmly—he failed, as he did with the letter from which my noble friend Lord Forsyth quoted a moment ago. The Government are on barren moral ground and I hope that they move to more stable ground, following the defeat that I trust will be inflicted upon them in an hour or so.
I grieve that a defeat has to be inflicted upon them, because I do not doubt the personal bona fides of my noble friend the Minister, the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary, but this is not the way to go about it. We live in the midst of many and great dangers, and perhaps the greatest of all was underlined only yesterday with the news from Burma. The greatest danger of all is the collapse of civilisation and civilised values. There is no more heinous crime than genocide, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said in his brilliant and moving Toggle showing location ofColumn 2096speech. We have to put down a marker today. The other place is clearly moving in this direction. The majority for the last amendment, which we all acknowledge was defective in certain particulars, was only 11. It would be failing in our duty not to send the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to the Commons today, so that they can truly reflect and think again.
What is going on in China is appalling. The Chinese Communist Party is as objectionable a regime as any as we have seen since the beginning of the last century—in which we fought two world wars to defend civilised freedoms. I commend to noble Lords, and in particular to the Minister, a report that I have had the privilege and honour to be asked to endorse, from the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. It is entitled The Darkness Deepens: The Crackdown on Human Rights in China 2016-20. No one can read that report—meticulously researched and spelled out in detail—without feeling revulsion to the very pit of the stomach. It is endorsed by two former Conservative Foreign Secretaries in the noble Lord, Lord Hague, and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, by two former leaders of the Conservative Party in the noble Lord, Lord Hague, and Sir Iain Duncan Smith, and by many others. It is a party-political service, but it is not a party-political document. I doubt that any Member in your Lordships’ House or those who are observing this debate remotely could fail to be both moved and convinced by it.
Fundamentally, this is all about human values. Today, we had the very sad news of the death of Captain Sir Tom Moore, a man who stood for the values that it is our duty, as parliamentarians, to uphold. He fought for his country to uphold those values, when Europe was in danger of being plunged into the deepest darkness of all—citing the title of the report I just mentioned. It is less than a week since we commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day. Surely we do not need to be reminded that, if we are vigorously pursuing bilateral trade deals with the Communist Party of China, we are turning our backs in a way that does not do us credit. It is a very evil regime that can do what it is doing to the Uighur Muslims and others—think of Tibet—yet it has world ambitions and will be the dominant power as we move through the 21st century.
That country also has one of the greatest and oldest- surviving civilisations in the world. We must appeal to the people of China, who are the guardians of that civilisation, to say that we want them to realise that the regime that presently governs them is not honouring that great civilisation.
I will vote for the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I will not press my amendment to a Division—although it would marginally improve that of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, by putting in a couple of dates and concentrating the mind in that way—no more than my noble friend Lord Forsyth will move his. But I will vote with determination. I hope that the other place heeds the advice that we seek to give and that together, as a Parliament, we can be proud of what we are doing in creating global Britain.The Deputy Speaker (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)Sharethis specific contribution
My Lords, nine Members have asked to speak. I will list them, so that noble Lords know the order in which they will be speaking: the noble Lord, Toggle showing location ofColumn 2097Lord Blencathra, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, the noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann and Lady Neville-Rolfe, the noble Lord, Lord Polak, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Shinkwin.Lord Blencathra (Con)Sharethis specific contribution
My Lords, perhaps I may begin by being the first person in this Chamber to pay tribute to the late Captain Sir Tom Moore, who died a few minutes ago, I understand. He was a great British hero and, even if I were to live to 200, I could never hope to emulate his courage, his thorough decency, his niceness and his sheer pizzazz. No doubt there will be proper tributes, in this Chamber and elsewhere, in due course, but I simply say this—we shall remember him.
I also commiserate with my noble friend the Minister, who I believe is self-isolating. I did it for four months and one week last year and, despite getting a letter almost every other week from the Secretary of State warning me that I must not go outside but I could open a window for fresh air, I am dashed if I am going to do that again—so here I am.
Of course I support my other noble friend Lord Alton’s excellent Amendment 3B. He has a long and noble history of advancing the case against genocide, wherever in the world it may occur. I pay tribute to his highly persuasive speech today, and also to my noble friends Lord Forsyth and Lord Cormack. I only say to my noble friend Lord Forsyth that I wish I had known his ploy a couple of days ago, before I spent hours trying to figure out the difference between the amendments —goodness knows how many pages of paper I wasted printing them out to compare them. I agree with both noble Lords that we have to look at our House procedures to make sure that this problem is overcome.
I cannot hope to be as persuasive as my noble friends who have spoken, but I wish to direct my remarks to Conservative colleagues who may have a few concerns about supporting these amendments. First, the Government oppose the new clause sent to the other place on the grounds that
“it is not an effective means of dealing with cases of state genocide.”
Okay, so what is an effective means? The Government have not advanced any credible alternative means. All UK Governments, as has been said repeatedly, have hidden behind the excuse that they cannot declare a genocide because only a court can do that. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said it on a couple of occasions, the Foreign Secretary has said it and David Cameron also said it when he was Prime Minister.
Of course, the court they have in mind is the International Criminal Court—but, as we have also heard, the ICC cannot take a case unless it is authorised by a resolution at the United Nations, where Russia and China can exercise their veto. Thus, it seems to me that UK government policy is to rely on a motion approved by Russia or China, which will never happen. We have therefore subcontracted the UK’s morality to two regimes which the new head of MI5, Ken McCallum, says are a threat to the United Kingdom. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, gives the Government a way out, because it asks a UK court to make a preliminary determination on whether genocide has occurred.Toggle showing location ofColumn 2098
Is there anyone in your Lordships’ House who thinks that our United Kingdom courts are less able to do that than the ICC? Indeed, was it not top UK lawyers who prosecuted and adjudicated at Nuremberg and set up the ICC? Are we seriously suggesting that noble and learned Lords, with whom that part of the House is normally awash, or their successors now in the High Court, are incapable, or not as good judges as those in the International Criminal Court? Of course they are—and of course there are technical difficulties in hearing evidence, but the courts are in a better position to do it than any Select Committee. So I believe that the revised amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has removed that principal objection the Government had, that only a court can do it.
The Minister—I pay tribute to him—is a highly intelligent and very able Minister and he has had countless meetings on this. He knows that the brief he has to defend today is utterly illogical. The typical FCDO letter that has been circulated today is incredibly feeble. We all know that the Foreign Office does not want to say “boo” to any evil regime, wherever it may be in the world, whether it is in China, Zimbabwe, Burma/Myanmar, Venezuela or wherever. We have a government policy that only a court can decide on genocide. Then we have an amendment giving our High Court a power to decide on genocide, but the Government says that it is not effective. How illogical is that?
The suggestion that the Government favour a Select Committee making a pronouncement instead is utterly wrong. There is nothing to stop a Select Committee doing that at the moment, but the idea that a Select Committee, meeting for a couple of hours a week, could give the same consideration as the United Kingdom or the English High Court taking evidence day after day, week after week, is for the birds. Of course, no matter what the Select Committee decided, the Government could ignore it on the basis that “It is not a court”.
There is another worry many Conservatives have—I shared it initially—and that is that we cannot have a court determining foreign policy which is rightly the preserve of the Executive. I agree, and I have believed for some time that judicial activism in this country, especially judicial review, has gone too far. That is an argument for another day, but this amendment is quite different from what we debated before, because it does not permit the court to determine government policy. If the court makes a preliminary determination that genocide has been committed, what does the court then do? Absolutely nothing—the court’s work is now done.5.45pm
The amendment before us, from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, merely obliges the Government to put down a Motion for debate in both our Houses, setting out what they propose to do. The Government have a completely free hand on what they may propose to do, ranging from doing absolutely nothing at all, to possibly deploring the killings, to some sanctions on individuals or not going ahead with a trade deal—a wide range of options. The political policy decision is 100% with Her Majesty’s Government and I ask my noble friends to agree that this amendment is no threat to the Government’s executive authority and does not intrude the courts into it.Column 2099is located here
I know there will be some colleagues on the Conservative Benches—indeed, on all sides—who may be concerned that this power would be used and abused by the supporters of Hamas and Hezbollah to try it on with bogus claims against Israel. No doubt they will try stunts like that, but the threshold for proving genocide is extremely high and, in my view, nothing Israel has done has come within a million miles of the definition. But these terrorist groups and their bedfellows will have a go, just as they invoke bogus allegations against Israel now. Also, some Conservative colleagues may be concerned that this is a move against free trade. Yes, it is—but first of all, as I said, it is a very high threshold to prove, and we are not going to have dozens of countries determined by our courts as genocide perpetrators.
Secondly, once the court has made a determination, it will be up to the Government to decide what trade we do with the country concerned, or whether we continue trading at all. Thirdly, genocide must trump unfettered capitalism. Trade is the greatest lever the world has to relieve poverty. The more trade we have, the more freedom from want. The more capitalism we have, the more wealth for all. However, just a United Kingdom Prime Minister said in 1973, there is
“the unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/5/1973; col. 1423.]
We still have that today. That was Ted Heath referring to Tiny Rowland hiding some unimportant information from his board. What words would Ted Heath have used to describe a situation where a company or a country was profiting by murdering its own people? Thus I submit that the evil of genocide must take precedence over free trade.
My final point is that this is a moral issue. In July 1995, in the Srebrenica massacre that took place in Bosnia, 8,000 men, women and children were slaughtered. Nearly every country in the world calls it a genocide, but it is not genocide as far as the United Nations is concerned. Why? Because in 2015, I think it was, Russia vetoed a resolution calling it a genocide. Is that the limbo in which the UK Government want to be trapped, when in future we could see thousands or tens of thousands of civilians murdered and massacred and we could do nothing about it, not even call it genocide, because Russia, China, Venezuela or Vietnam —or anyone else on the Security Council—has vetoed it going to the International Criminal Court?
This amendment has nothing to do with Brexit—thank goodness—but taking back control of our laws must mean a bit more than merely rewriting EU rules on square widgets or the meat content of sausages. It must also mean taking a lead on moral issues such as genocide. We are the country that led the way on the abolition of slavery; we should now lead the way in making a very firm statement that we will not tolerate genocide, nor seek to profit from it. And this is not just for the Government. I hope that, over the coming months and years, the media and campaigning organisations will highlight whether we get any goods from countries indulging in genocide and persuade customers to boycott them. I believe in free trade, but there is no God-given right for British consumers to buy T-shirts at £2 a piece if people have been murdered Toggle showing location ofColumn 2100or forcibly sterilised in their production. I believe that the FCDO is way behind the curve on this. Its attitude is trapped in a past decade. I think the British public is much more aware now and want action on this.
I also appeal to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to take a close look at this. He has been way ahead of the curve on vaccination. He is way ahead on environmental matters, with which I am concerned, with the 25-year plan, rewilding—there is a whole host of environmental matters where he is ahead of much of the rest of departmental government policy. I am certain that if, in the course of his busy day, he could take a look at what we are suggesting in this House, he too would realise that the old Foreign Office policy on genocide is no longer sustainable. The British people do not want it, this House does not want it, and I am certain that the Commons will not want it when this amendment gets there.
Amendment 3B in the name of my noble friend Lord Alton deserves support from all Conservative colleagues who believe in the executive authority of the Government, believe in free trade, and believe in having a moral foreign trading policy.Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)Sharethis specific contribution
My Lords, I join the noble Lord in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who really is the moral conscience of this House and who reminds us so frequently of our role in making sure that we protect the most vulnerable in our world.
I declare immediately that I am a practising member of the English Bar and the director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. The International Bar Association has been engaged with the issue of genocide for many years and it supports this amendment, as I do in my personal capacity as a Member of this House. The IBA has worked with organisations on this; in recent years I have worked closely with the United Nations Human Rights Council on the issue of genocide and certainly on the position of the Yazidis, and more recently with the World Uyghur Congress, which collates evidence on what is happening to the Uighur community in China.
I have seen much of the evidence and spoken with exiled Uighurs about their direct knowledge of serious crimes against humanity taking place back in China. The list has been set before your Lordships eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Alton: the horror of internment in concentration camps and the torture, systematic rape and forced labour. We have listened to grieving mothers describe how their children were taken from them and put into “secure boarding schools”, as they are called, having their culture removed and their religious observance forbidden, and then all the other things your Lordships have heard about, including forced sterilisation. Modern technology has helped to supplement oral testimonies, so that we now have evidence coming from drones and satellites, and so on.
The list is long, and the evidence points towards a Chinese policy of genocide. However, the best form of analysis takes place in the best forum for the assessment of evidence: an independent court of law. The best forum to determine whether the high evidential bar for genocide is reached is a court of law, not a parliament. Toggle showing location ofColumn 2101As this reconstituted amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has made clear, once a preliminary determination has been made by our High Court, using its best skills and the things that it comes into being to do, which is to analyse evidence and to look at the evidential thresholds, it will be for Parliament to decide how to make use of that determination with regard to bilateral trading relations. Therefore, on the concerns that were being expressed—I echo the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, in saying this—about the constitutional principle and the fragile and careful way in which we have to protect the independence of the judiciary as distinct from the matters that should be dealt with by Parliament, the very way in which this amendment is devised means that it does that perfectly.
Some in the other place who opposed the amendment said that they had not left the European Union and the European Court of Justice to be told what to do by judges. That is not what is happening or what is contained in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Iain Duncan Smith, who was certainly up there leading the way on Brexit, has said very clearly that he wanted our judiciary to deal with matters of law concerning the people of this nation. It does concern the people of this nation. Along with the long list of the great and the good—the former Lord Chancellors: the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton; the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the many distinguished lawyers, including the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and so on, all of whom support this amendment—there are the many ordinary people who feel that we should not be trading. These are people who are not lawyers and are not tarred with the brush of being one of my community but who still feel very deeply about what is happening in China.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned the distinguished and great international lawyer, Sir Geoffrey Nice, and he made the point that this amendment will save lives. We should be very clear about that. He posed the question: but for the defeat in war, would the Nazis have pressed on with their intention to destroy the Jewish people? They were stopped only by external intervention. It is for that reason that we should remember that Raphael Lemkin, the great lawyer who, through his relentless scholarship and lobbying basically brought the genocide convention into being and who drew on his own experience, having lost 40 members of his intimate family to the Nazi examination policies, realised that no law existed to prevent another Holocaust. That was why in the post-war years he worked relentlessly to have this convention come into being. He made the point that it was for the prevention of genocide—not to wait until it was over and then to wring our hands but to act when such an atrocity was in progress to prevent it reaching its horrifying conclusion. But we are being stymied because the system allows the big authoritarian nations to block the route to justice. They hold the trump card—the veto.
The convention is a construction of a particular time. It was created without envisaging, for example, that non-state actors could be perpetrators of genocide, which was one of the issues that was so difficult when we were dealing with ISIS and creating accountability for its genocidal intent in relation to the Yazidis in Toggle showing location ofColumn 2102northern Iraq. The convention’s protocols also envisaged that the international courts would be the venue for establishing guilt of such an egregious crime as genocide. So it should be but, of course, as we have heard several times already, members of the UN Security Council block the cases and will continue to block cases going to the court by exercising the veto. China and Russia do not want nations to be held to account for genocide or indeed for serious crimes of inhumanity to man—and woman—as it comes too close to home and their own misconduct.
The genocide convention was created in 1948 at a different time, in a different era. Nothing concentrates the mind like world war and the horrors that were disclosed of Auschwitz and Treblinka. The urgency of that time can be forgotten if it is not kept alive, which is what last week’s Holocaust Memorial Day and the fact that the Jewish community has been so strong in its support of this amendment make clear to us. We are being held hostage by authoritarian regimes and we have to break their stranglehold on our use of international law and of the genocide convention and our obligations under it.
The Government claim that it is not for this House to overturn a decision of the other place. Of course, normally that would be true, but this House is the protector of constitutional matters, and I think it must address grievous abuses of human rights. We should take exceptional steps when we are dealing with something of this magnitude.6.00pm
The Government claim that there is a court designated to deal with genocide, but this procedure would not usurp the function of that court. A declaration by the High Court here would not prevent the matter then going to the international court to determine criminality and to convict. The Government claim that there could be vexatious claims. Really? Our judges would be quick to give short shrift to such claims. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, was clear about that in our discussions with him. The Government ask: would our courts be capable or competent to deal with such a thing? We have some of the greatest courts in the world and should have absolutely no doubt about the competence of our senior judiciary.
The Government are taking a default position in refusing any amendment to the Bill, not wanting their hands to be tied in trade negotiations. I am afraid that sometimes hands do have to be tied. We are also tying them to remind future generations of the seriousness of these matters. It is telling the world that we have values that will determine how we conduct ourselves in the world. There is a moral imperative in making this change to our law, but there is also a legal imperative.
The votes in this House and those that will eventually follow in the Commons are being watched by the world. I say that to noble Lords as someone who is involved in the largest global organisation of lawyers. Many nations that respect the rule of law will follow our visionary lead in creating a domestic legal mechanism for addressing our duties to prevent genocide. China is also watching us, and those votes may actually affect its conduct, too. Watching, too, are the generals in Myanmar and other tyrants.Column 2103is located here
Genocide is the crime above all crimes. I urge our Parliament to vote for this amendment to change the ecology of law by bringing into our own institutions of law and Parliament a way in which to make genocide have serious meaning in our contemporary world.Viscount Waverley (CB)Sharethis specific contribution
My Lords, these matters must not be allowed to die this evening and, I hope, will allow for variations that the Government will introduce in a concession amendment. It is my sincere wish that the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, in his response factors that in as a possibility.
Before I turn to the genocide amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said that he does not support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, because it complements the Alton amendment. Coming to the defence of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, my understanding is that his amendment is not a substitute but underlines the position that, when evidence on human rights does not pass the high bar of the definition of genocide, his amendment serves as a safety net.
I address my remarks on genocide globally—I am not being country specific—and support unequivocally the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Collins. He and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, strike a chord of British values and stand for what the United Kingdom is recognised for around the world—decency. The genocide amendment strikes at the heart of our constitutional process, however, and magnifies the call for Parliament to make more meaningful contributions to foreign policy objectives. The motives of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, are undeniably valid but the harsh realities and complexities of our constitutional and legal systems mean that compromise must necessarily be found.
The detail can be endlessly discussed. However, the key principles and norms held by the High Court, the United Kingdom Parliament and the international judicial processes somehow need to be reconciled and merged, rather than remain in potential conflict in future deliberations. This is a quandary, with the devil being in the detail and definitions. I am taken by the suggestion that a Select Committee be chaired, or at least advised, by a former judge.
An endgame that ticks the boxes of being nimble and well-informed, but not disruptive of judicial domestic or international processes, is highly desirable—where the United Kingdom is deemed in lockstep so as not to trespass on constitutional territory or infringe on the royal prerogative. However, democratic oversight should be contained within this mix to instil our values; that is what I am looking for today. That will ensure democratic oversight in a manner that addresses the heart of the points made both by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and by Mr Tugendhat from another place —whom I had the privilege to listen to while he made his remarks—and, ideally, the Government, mindful that the UK, or any other country, is not in a position to solve issues before us in isolation.
I understand that the Government are—or at least were—minded to bring forward a concession amendment, which would certainly be my preference, but for technical reasons, as we have heard already this evening, it is not before us at this time. That in itself is sufficient to send this process back to the other place, to allow that possibility Toggle showing location ofColumn 2104to occur. I urge all noble Lords to support the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Collins of Highbury, to hopefully then allow a concession to be included for consideration.Baroness Altmann (Con)Sharethis specific contribution
My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment C1, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the very similar Amendments C2 and C3, in the names of my noble friends Lord Forsyth and Lord Cormack. I echo the tributes paid to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his dedicated work on this issue and his powerful and moving speech.
As the child of two parents who fled the Holocaust, and most of whose family was wiped out by the Nazi regime, I feel duty-bound to do my best to ensure that the repeated promises of “never again” are more than mere words. Just a few days after Holocaust Memorial Day, there are lessons that we should have learned from the genocides of the 20th century, but too often we turn a blind eye, as this is so much easier.
I recognise my noble friend the Minister’s words, that our courts can find individuals guilty of genocide, but this will not cover Governments which engage in such behaviour. It is all too easy to appease and to look for ways to avoid confrontation. Of course, there is a place for diplomacy, but if there are no consequences, in trade and other areas, for a country whose Government engage in such behaviour, then they can continue with impunity. Such impunity will lead to further crimes against humanity.
We are living in an increasingly authoritarian world, as powerful countries are crushing domestic dissent and those who oppose the ruling power. The lessons of World War II are being forgotten, but they must not be. I mention just one of the horrific concentration camps, Ravensbrück, which began as a labour camp that was, uniquely, exclusively for women opponents of Nazism in the 1930s. It ended up as a forced labour camp producing goods for powerful German companies and then also as a camp for the industrialised death of innocent victims.
There are clearly parallels today in Xinjiang, where what is happening to Uighur Muslims should provide a reason for our Government to support an opportunity to ask our courts to investigate this. As others have said, clearly China would just veto an ICC inquiry. This cannot just be left to the Executive. There is no excuse for inaction in the face of such evil in the 21st century. I echo the words of Chief Rabbi Mirvis that we must not be silent, and I believe that these amendments also uphold the Government’s stated aim of putting victims first. The Government now have the chance to do so.
As it prioritises trade, this amendment has a specific focus. It aims to ensure that in the tiny number of cases—thankfully, today—where our trading partner or prospective partner is committing genocide and this determination is made by our courts, the Government will have the reason, and the power, not to continue to negotiate or co-operate on trade. No matter how important trade and economic prosperity are to us in the short term, it cannot be worth being complicit in genocide and, in the long run, it will damage us all. This country increasingly favours ethical trade and, as other nobles have said, this is a matter of morality and values. Trade cannot be prioritised over genocide.Toggle showing location ofColumn 2105
A parliamentary Select Committee is not enough on its own; it would still need to have the power to refer this to a court. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has confirmed that there are no practical difficulties in courts evaluating evidence of genocide. This has been echoed by the powerful words of so many other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay, Supreme Court judges and former Attorney-Generals. They are all united in the view that this issue can and should be determined by the courts. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister himself has said that
“genocide is a strict legal term, and we hesitate to deploy it without a proper judicial decision.”—[Official Report, Commons, 21/11/17; col. 839.]
Precisely, my Lords, which is why it is important for us to support Amendment C1.
The concession made by the Government this afternoon—I have huge sympathy for my noble friend the Minister in the position in which he finds himself today—does not provide for a court ruling on this issue and would therefore not trigger the UK’s obligations under Article 2 of the 1948 genocide convention. I believe this country has never recognised genocide while it was taking place. This amendment would take the pressure away from politicians and place it with the courts, of which we are rightly so proud; they are world-leading authorities in legal matters.
These are complex problems, but I urge noble Lords to support this amendment and remember that, as Edmund Burke said, all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to be silent.Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)Sharethis specific contribution
My Lords, it is always good to follow my noble friend Lady Altmann, who speaks on these issues with such eloquence. As noble Lords will know, I have supported this Bill, and its promotion by Department for International Trade Ministers since its first outing in 2017. It is vital to have a proper framework for trade in global Britain. I refer to my interests as in the register, and perhaps I could remind noble Lords that the purpose of the Bill is a sensible one: to ensure continuity for UK businesses and consumers. It allows us to join the GPA to implement 63 agreements and establish the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory basis, as well as our own independent Trade Remedies Authority. There is a wide measure of agreement on all this, and this is the only time I will speak on the Bill today.6.15pm
As a general rule, I am opposed to attaching conditions to the trade negotiation process. Our negotiators need as much flexibility as possible to secure the best overall result in trade negotiations. I know this from my experience on the margins of EU trade negotiations both when I was in business, operating in Asia, and as a Minister when CETA was going through. As was briefly referred to, the UK and some of the poorest countries in the world benefit from free trade and, of course, they are harmed by protectionism.
On the specifics of the three genocide amendments, my concern is as follows. I was persuaded by the argument outlined yesterday by my noble friend Lord Toggle showing location ofColumn 2106Wolfson of Tredegar at the Bill briefing that a UK court would find it difficult to reach firm conclusions on the basis of inevitably partial evidence of genocide. Indeed, it might find it impossible. Moreover, if a respected UK judge was unable to make a preliminary determination of genocide, this might give a state in the firing line a PR opportunity to say that they had been exonerated in a British court. That is the opposite of what we want. In any event, political life has, if anything, been dogged by too much judicial interference in matters that are properly decided by government or Parliament, and it could be perverse to encourage our distinguished legal colleagues to deploy their talents on yet more issues. To my mind, many of these matters are better decided by the wider population and through the democratic process.
Many important points have been made on all sides of the House, and they reflect the values that have been articulated rightly and the horror of genocide. However, a different solution must be found to the amendments before us today, as the noble Lord, Lord Waverley has said. I very much look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.Lord Polak (Con)Sharethis specific contribution
First, First, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Forsyth, a great free-trader, who spoke with common sense and great dignity and clarity. Supporting the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is always a privilege, but on this occasion it is so much more than a privilege; it is a duty. I spoke in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in December and commend him for bringing back a form of words that have addressed the legitimate concerns that the Government had, most especially on the issue of the separation of power. As a result, I am again honoured to support the amendment.
This amendment is a crucial step towards fulfilling the UK’s obligation under the Geneva conventions, and I firmly believe that it is not only a legal obligation to fulfil, but the moral and right thing to do. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lady Altmann, referred to an article published in the Guardian on 15 December 2020 by the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis. He reminded us that it was on 9 December 1948 that the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted, a document that he said stands
“among humanity’s most vital legal and moral proclamations”,
but that is
“at risk of fading into the political periphery if we are not prepared to act”
on it. He continued by suggesting that the
“freedoms we enjoy, coupled with a perception that nothing we do will help, often create a culture of apathy”,
and that history is littered with examples of apathy that allowed hatred to flourish. The amendment gives us the ability to take action rather than just to shake our collective heads.
In the last Shabbat Torah reading from Exodus, we read the famous storyline of ancient Egypt, the mightiest nation on earth, with its military might, untold wealth and cultural sophistication—but also known for its cruelty. A small primitive group was abused, persecuted and enslaved, but eventually they were freed and left Toggle showing location ofColumn 2107Egypt. Today we have video images and testimonies, and we all have an obligation not only to speak out but to act. On Report in December I said the following:
“We all witnessed the footage of Uighur”
“being herded on to trains and transported to camps. It is footage that is all too familiar. Many of us who have heard first-hand accounts of the depredations of the Nazi camps know how major industrial companies ruthlessly used the slave labour in those camps to produce their goods and to make their fortunes. Will it be a case of business as usual as companies profit from the blood, sweat and tears of today’s slave labour or are we prepared to do something about it?”—[Official Report, 7/12/20; col. 1083.]
Good intentions and nice words are good and nice, but good and nice are woefully inadequate. I have listened carefully today and read the ministerial responses but I have not been persuaded. I will once again vote for the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton.Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)Sharethis specific contribution
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Polak; I did not realise we had so much in common. I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Alton, on their moving speeches. I support them and very much hope that there will be a vast majority in favour.
I have been an elected, and now appointed, politician for more than 20 years and in all those years, I have seen critiquing the Government, whichever side they were, as good sport; it is what small parties are for and what opposition is. In the last year, though, there have been two well-publicised, well-known events that have brought home to me just how morally bankrupt this Government are. The first was the decision to restart arms sales to Saudi Arabia, calling the possible war crimes against the Yemenis “isolated incidents”, and the second was their inability to see that feeding hungry schoolchildren is actually a moral imperative. They had to be shamed into it by a footballer who had principles. Well done, Marcus Rashford; thank God for people like him. So, this Government actually need these amendments to do the right thing.
During consideration of the last set of amendments, the Minister took a dig that was slightly below the belt, saying that I was implying that officials were not competent and got us bad trade deals. My point is not that the officials were at fault; rather, they are operating in a political climate of inept and, worse, incompetent government. We have to do the right thing here today. We have to vote for these amendments because that is the only way of making sure that our Government do the right thing.Lord Adonis (Lab)Sharethis specific contribution
My Lords, we have heard many powerful speeches today. If I may say so, the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is one of the most powerful I have ever heard in the House. He made an utterly compelling case for sending this issue back to the House of Commons. Purely as a matter of parliamentary protocol, we should do so, and not only because, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, rightly said, the opportunity for the Government to honour their own commitment to seek a compromise can arise only if this matter goes back to the Commons, but because the current amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has addressed Toggle showing location ofColumn 2108the points made in the Commons speech last week by Greg Hands, the Minister for International Trade, about why we should not agree to the earlier Alton amendment.
Greg Hands said in the House of Commons last Tuesday:
“Nobody denies the importance and seriousness of the situation in Xinjiang … or that human rights cannot and should not be traded away in a trade agreement or anything like it.”
He went on to say that the Government are clear
“that doing more trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights. In fact, as I am sure my hon. and right hon. Friends will agree, there is a strong positive correlation between countries that trade freely and human rights”.
However, he said that the House of Commons should not agree to the then amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, because it
“would, in effect, take out of the hands of Government their prerogative powers to conduct international relations with regard to trade”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/1/21; cols. 796-97.]
The current Alton amendment meets that point entirely. It does not take prerogative powers out of the hands of the Government; rather, it enables Parliament and government to be better informed. They could not be better informed than by the advice and judgment of the High Court, and other courts in the land, on the specific issue of whether genocide is being committed. It does not even matter whether the Government intend to come back with further proposals. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has already met the test which Greg Hands set last week.
On the wider question, where I have some sympathy with the Minister, there are wider issues involved here —of course there are. When I was a Minister, I visited China and had substantial dealings with them. Those who of us who have been engaged in these events for many years are aware that we have a growing China problem, which is not just about the Uighurs and potential genocide. It is also about Taiwan, Hong Kong and China’s belt and road initiative. What we have in Xi Jinping is essentially a leader who is not so new now—his leadership is 10 or 11 years old—but who is increasingly Stalinist. It was reasonable to think in the decades after Deng—although, of course, Tiananmen Square was a wake-up call—that China might be on a more liberal path and that we should move accordingly. It turns out that that was a mistake. We all make mistakes, and there has been a significant change in circumstance. The Xi Jinping decision to essentially abolish what passes for the Chinese constitution at the end of his original 10-year term was clearly a massive wake-up call. Many of the worst atrocities being reported now, which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to, have flowed from the radicalisation of his regime, and we have to respond accordingly.
We have been here before. I said that the regime was increasingly Stalinist. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, in a powerful speech, did not exhibit himself to be a great fan of the Foreign Office. He used certain epithets about it, which might indicate its weakness or pusillanimity, and so on. I have spent a large part of the last two years researching and writing about Ernest Bevin who, I can assure the noble Lord, was in no way weak as Foreign Secretary. He stood up to Stalin with determination, well before that was fashionable either in this country or, crucially, the United States, where Toggle showing location ofColumn 2109the early years of the Truman Administration sought to appease Stalin. Bevin stood up with a relentlessness for which we should all be grateful; maybe our freedom depends upon it. Great departures such as NATO certainly depended upon his actions.
However—and this goes straight to the point of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton—although two situations are never alike and there are differences between the situation with China today and with the Soviet Union in the 1940s and 1950s, one hugely important commonality is that there was then a distinct absence of knowledge about, and much controversy about, what was actually going on in Russia. Many people, predominantly but not exclusively on the left in politics, I am ashamed to say, thought that Soviet Russia was “a new civilisation”—to use the phrase in the famous book by the Webbs. They thought that it had found a new pathway to success and prosperity which we should honour. What goes straight to the point of this amendment is that they constantly poured cold water on reports coming out of Russia that there were massive abuses of human rights which verged on genocide, and which we now know were genocide.6.30pm
On the point from the immensely powerful speech of my noble friend Lady Kennedy, the same was true of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Many people, including reputable people—mainly on the right, as it happens—such as Foreign Secretaries and distinguished leaders of society and business, constantly poured cold water on the atrocities which we now know were taking place in Germany and paved the way for genocide. It would have been better if we had had these provisions in place so we could have had open and transparent debate and some legal, formal process of testing evidence. It would have made it easier for Governments—who are, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, said, subject to public opinion—to shape that public opinion and respond to it. That is precisely what the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, does. It makes the business of establishing facts transparent and open so that we can have a wider debate. The courts are quite good at eliciting and elucidating facts.
I agree with the Minister that these issues are difficult. We have had his different opinions recycled in the last few days. At one and the same time, he thinks we should be cracking down hard on a regime that abuses human rights while continuing to trade with it more. I do not wish to make a party-political point; that dual mentality is precisely the dual mentality of the West at the moment. It is not just Britain; it is the European Union, which has just done another trade agreement with China, and it is also the United States. This is the situation we have got ourselves into over the last 30 years, and we must seek to resolve it.
I do not come to the House with great ideas of how we resolve this. I am not much in favour of slashing our trade with China—I hope that we can establish a basis for improvements in the Chinese regime so that that is not necessary. But the crucial point, on which I so strongly support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is that we must have an open, factual debate based on what is actually happening and not sweep anything under the carpet.Column 2110is located here
Ernie Bevin was making these arguments about Russia in the 1930s, because, as a trade unionist, he saw what Soviet Communists were up to in the trade union movement. That is what turned him strongly against dealing with Russia. The biggest problem he had was getting agreement on what was actually happening in, first, Nazi Germany, then Russia. When I was searching in his papers, I came across correspondence between him and Charlie Chaplin. Charlie Chaplin produced a great film, “The Great Dictator”, which exposed and ridiculed Hitler and Nazi Germany and had a huge impact on opinion across Europe and the United States. However, the film was nearly not made, because the financial backers of Charlie Chaplin in Hollywood were worried it would be banned in Britain. We should support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton.Lord Shinkwin (Con)Sharethis specific contribution
Lords, I rise to speak in support of this all-partyamendment so powerfully advanced by my noble friend Lord Alton and supported so eloquently by other noble Lords. I know that my remarks cannot compare with the brilliant speeches we have already heard, so I shall keep them brief.
As I assume do all noble Lords, I believe passionately in freedom—freedom of trade and freedom of conscience. So I have one question for my noble friend the Minister. Just how bad does it need to get before global Britain stands up for that freedom?
I conclude with a question to all noble Lords and, crucially, Members of the other place. If we really believe in freedom, and if we want others to respect and honour it, how, in all conscience, can we not support this amendment?Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)Sharethis specific contribution
My Lords, I refer to my entries in the register of interests. This has been a comprehensive and very thorough debate, as it should be. It has been ably led by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, introducing his amendment and who I think is now collectively our noble friend Lord Alton, for introducing so—Lord Campbell of Pittenweem (LD)Sharethis specific contribution
Yes. I will not be distracted by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem with regard to where the noble Lord, Lord Alton, used to sit on these Benches. Nevertheless, he is our noble friend.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, referred to the three years of this Bill. There are two things in her contribution I would like to reflect on. First, one of the elements of the Bill that she highlighted as important was not in the Government’s draft. In fact, putting the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing was as a result of considerable cross-party pressure. The Government recognised that the case was very strong and amended their own legislation. We are seeking a similar kind of regard when it comes to human rights and how the UK trades. The Government have not only scope but precedent in changing this Bill—in listening to arguments and making changes. That is what we are seeking.
The second thing I reflected on was the three years. The reason I referred to the register of interests was that, during this time—although the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, might think I have no spare time other Toggle showing location ofColumn 2111than that spent on this Bill—I travelled extensively to northern Iraq and to Sudan, two countries that have been badly afflicted by gross human rights abuses of the worst kind. I was in the north of Iraq, with victims of the gross atrocities of Daesh, and with people who were on their phone to their families who were in cellars of houses as prisoners of Daesh. I went to Sudan before, during and after the revolution. I was driving around Khartoum behind vehicles with armed paramilitaries and militia who the BBC had exposed the previous week as throwing people into the Nile and sending people away using the euphemisms—as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, so accurately said—of oppressive regimes or military forces.
I have therefore been a supporter through all the stages of this Bill. Our trading relationships and where we give preferential trading relationships with states should not be isolated from our human rights and foreign policy. This is personal to me, as it has been over these last three years, and therefore I can completely understand the personal nature of many of the speeches in this debate today.
I commend the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others who spoke so powerfully and those in the House of Commons. My right honourable friend Alistair Carmichael, who co-chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uyghurs, has led on this issue in partnership with many others and I commend his work. Therefore, from these Benches, we will be supporting Amendments B1 and C1 if they are pressed and we hope that they will be.
There are two key elements in my view. What would be a triggering mechanism that would bring about, as the Minister said in his opening remarks, tough decisions and courses of action? What would an appropriate framework be for making those decisions and what would the course of action be? Because we are operating under legislation, those processes would have to be compliant with domestic legislation and WTO requirements.
On the triggering mechanisms, because these are bilateral agreements, we have to have a triggering mechanism here in the UK, either through an international tribunal or commission—a judicial body—because of our international obligations, or through a domestic court. There has to be a domestic triggering mechanism, either by virtue of our international obligations or starting here domestically.
I have reflected on what the Minister said, and I wonder, with regard to the Minister’s letters, what would have happened when a Spanish court indicted General Pinochet. If we had listened to what it says in the Minister’s letter, I do not think that we would have put him under house arrest until there was the assuredness that he would be put on trial back in Chile. What would have happened last year if we had listened to the Minister’s letter, which was not about a domestic court, when the ruler of Dubai was found guilty in a domestic court of crimes against his wife and children? I found it useful for the Government to say, in international diplomacy, that these are court decisions and that due process was being carried out. If we had to rely on the methods within the letter, I am not sure that that would have been as transparent.Toggle showing location ofColumn 2112
I am so glad that the noble Baroness made reference to selling arms to Saudi Arabia. I wanted to direct this to the Minister, given the letter that was sent to us at lunchtime, which referred to a committee that would then seek a debate on any decisions made with regard to genocide and human rights. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I have been sitting on the International Relations and Defence Committee, although unfortunately I have just left it. In our report on the Middle East, the committee’s finding was that the UK was on the wrong side of international human rights legislation with regard to arms sales, and called for a pause to sales before further judicial processes. The Government’s response was simply to say that they disagreed. There was no debate, and the Government did not have any “tough decisions” or “courses of action”, as the Minister said. I am with the noble Lord in being very sceptical about the contents of this letter, because we have seen a committee make a determination and the Government simply say that they disagree.
A domestic triggering mechanism is needed on genocide and, in our view, other gross violations of human rights or war crimes for existing agreements. These Benches also want to see a process in place that is the framework for what actions can be taken. We have had one through virtue of our membership of the European Union, since 1995 and 2008. There were mechanisms in place before trade agreements started to be negotiated, with an impact assessment on the human rights of that country which included the round, to inform the Commission and European Parliament on the decisions that it would take in negotiating with that country. The impact assessments would be carried out during negotiations, which would then inform a vote in the European Parliament on whether it approved of the negotiations having been conducted. Importantly, the agreements would have human rights chapters that included suspension clauses, which could be activated with regard to existing trade agreements.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, referenced the opaqueness around whether the continuity agreement with Cameroon should have other elements, and I hope that we will debate that. I am also alarmed by the decision of the Government to open trade negotiations with Cambodia, to which we are currently offering preferential trading agreements that had been removed when we were in the European Union last year. So we are now restoring agreements to a country which we had been party to determining did not meet a human rights threshold for the “everything but arms” criteria. I can add that to the litany of complaints made by the noble Baroness with regard to this Government.
We have called for a comprehensive trade and human rights policy with draft legal texts of human rights clauses. This is not just us asking for this because it is something afresh—we are asking the Government to do what they said that they would do.6.45pm
It has not been mentioned in the debate so far, but in March 2019 the Joint Committee on Human Rights concluded a report on human rights protections in international agreements. Paragraph 30, which I thought Toggle showing location ofColumn 2113was very interesting, quoted a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, Minister at the then Foreign and Commonwealth Office:
“‘The UK’s exit from the EU provides us with an opportunity to explore how we can most appropriately use free trade agreements to pursue broader international objectives while recognising the need for a balanced and proportionate approach. The Government is exploring all options in the design of future trade and investment agreements, including relevant human rights provisions within these.’”
We are now at the final stages of the three years-long process of this and the previous Trade Bill. All we are asking of the Government is for them to do what they said they would do to the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
In response to the previous amendment, the Minister quoted at length from the report of the Constitution Committee. With regard to scrutiny, let me quote from paragraph 52 of the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights:
“The current system intended to ensure Parliament has information about the human rights implications of proposed agreements is not working. Parliament has not received adequate or timely information from Government about the potential human rights implications of international agreements being negotiated or those subject to CRaG scrutiny.”
When the Government respond not only to these amendments but to those on scrutiny, I hope that they will move. As the noble Lord said, a concession is not to say that a parliamentary committee can carry out its work; it should be a full response.
I do not want to conclude by ignoring what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly said in relation to his amendment, which I am glad to see—along with the Labour Front Bench, we on these Benches have been calling for a human rights report. The Minister referred to the annual Foreign Office human rights report. I had to smile listening to that because it had been referred to in Committee. At that stage, when I was indicating a potential way forward, I suggested that that report could be expanded to include specific elements of our trade agreements with human rights implications. The Minister said that it was unnecessary to do that, but he now refers us back to that very report. Like the noble Lord, I have read every human rights report since I have been in this House. I can say to the Minister that the report in its current format is not sufficient, so I am really glad that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has indicated that.
We support these amendments. Should they pass, I hope the Government will take the opportunity afforded to them to consider full scrutiny and to listen to this House and to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, that other people around the world should be listened to as well, because we lead in this United Kingdom; we can be a force for good on prevention around the world. I hope that this House will allow the House of Commons to reflect on this properly.Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab) [V]Sharethis specific contribution
My Lords, despite the problems in relation to attendance and ability to speak that we have heard about, this has been a very good debate, full of passion and erudition. We do not have nearly enough Charlie Chaplin in our House, and so I was glad that my noble friend Lord Adonis was able to bring him in, even at this late stage.Toggle showing location ofColumn 2114
Both opening speeches on the two amendments, from my noble friend Lord Collins and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, respectively, were moving, persuasive and, of their type, almost unanswerable. As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, pointed out, the Government are in a hole here. The blizzard of meetings, calls and letters across three departments, and the tone of the arguments deployed by Ministers, are all indicative of a panicked response, stemming perhaps from a failure to anticipate the problem and compounded by a worry, as my noble friend Lord Collins saw it, about no longer being able to have their cake—trade—and eat it, with no worries about the ethical elements. If a concession is to be brought forward which is “Let’s set up a committee”, one wonders what they thought the original question was—it will not wash.
It is clear that these amendments need to be considered as complementary, as my noble friend Lord Collins and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, agreed. Together, they pose the question of when and in what way we bring in an ethical dimension to our trade policy. The Minister said at the start of the discussion that trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights, but it does—unless, as the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, warned us, good people follow Burke with action, not just nice words. As the noble Lord, Lord Polak, said, words are completely inadequate when you are facing a case of genocide.
We, the Official Opposition, will support both amendments when they are called. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, respects parliamentary authority now and it has been changed in a way which makes it more effective and more appropriate for its purpose. It sets in place a process to remedy the current defects in the way the international order deals with the egregious crime of genocide. The amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Collins rightly places a responsibility on Ministers to make a determination about crimes against humanity and to keep Parliament fully informed about breaches of compliance in relation to the UK’s human rights and international obligations. This seems to be a logical, balanced and appropriate approach to the issues that are before us and we will support the amendments.Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con) [V]Sharethis specific contribution
My Lords, this has, quite rightly, come to be the most passionately debated issue. We have heard a number of remarkable interventions from across the House. Anybody listening to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, could not have failed to be moved by what he said, and I pay particular tribute to him, as I have done on previous occasions.
The Government have listened carefully before today, and we will listen very carefully to the points that have been put forward in this debate. First, I make it crystal clear to noble Lords that the UK does not have a free trade agreement with China and is not currently negotiating one. If it were to do so, any concluded agreement would be laid before Parliament, as is usual under the terms of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act, which empowers Parliament to undertake treaty scrutiny prior to ratification. This mechanism is available to Parliament now, as it has been since 2010, and it rightly does not turn on determinations being made in the courts.Toggle showing location ofColumn 2115
I say without any minimisation that it is always open to parliamentarians to raise the issues of the day with the Government and to spotlight developments of serious concern, both domestically and internationally, on human rights, trade and myriad other issues. Parliamentary committees have existing powers to hold inquiries and publish reports and the Government welcome and encourage the searching and serious efforts of parliamentary colleagues from both Houses in this regard. However, there are critical, practical concerns with this amendment which I outlined earlier. I shall not repeat the arguments I gave in my opening, but they are real and serious. I must ask noble Lords to put aside the quite understandable emotional reaction that they have to this issue and to consider these arguments and the points that my noble friend Lord Wolfson and I put in our letter today. Of course, I apologise to noble Lords that the letter was not issued earlier.
There are serious wider issues affecting the issues in this amendment, as has been recognised by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and others. This Government are committed to working with Parliament on this most heinous crime of genocide and to explore, and to continue to explore, options with Parliament in this regard as it relates to trade, but we must proceed without amending the delicate balance in the constitution or the role of the courts, no matter how terrible these issues are, or we will run the risk of undermining the very aims of those seeking justice.
However, yet again, I want to make it completely clear that the Government understand the strength of feeling on this matter. It is completely common ground between the Government and the noble Lords who have spoken that there must be enhanced scrutiny for Parliament on both the issue of genocide and the Government’s response to this most serious of crimes. I accept that point completely on behalf of the Government.
Accordingly, the Government are looking at how we can ensure that the relevant debate and scrutiny can take place in Parliament in response to credible concerns about genocide in defined circumstances. We want to work with Parliament to find a parliamentary solution and ensure that the Government’s approach to credible claims of genocide is both robust and properly accountable to Parliament. This is not a subject that can be swept under the carpet. It must be dealt with transparently and openly.
The Government’s proposal is that if a Select Committee takes such evidence it considers appropriate, publishes a report stating that there exist credible reports of genocide and subsequently seeks a debate on the report or is dissatisfied with the Government’s response, HMG will of course facilitate a debate on the report in Parliament. Such a debate would bring extreme focus to the issue in question. It would greatly increase political pressure on the situation in question and provide further scrutiny of government policy. I am convinced that that is the best way forward.Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)Sharethis specific contribution
My Lords, this has been an amazing debate. We have heard some powerful speeches; I will remember many of them for a very long time.Toggle showing location ofColumn 2116
I was struck by the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. I tried to participate in Holocaust Memorial Day through listening to lots of online events. I was struck by someone who, like the noble Baroness, lost her family and parents. She talked about how she speaks to schoolchildren about these horrible events; obviously, children are too young to be really hit with that horror. She said that we understand where genocide ends but do not understand where it begins. That is what this debate is about: human rights and respect. She said that she was teaching children about how failure to respect is a slippery slope. I know that myself from being a gay man in the 1980s; I would recommend watching “It’s A Sin” because you can see what happens when people lose respect.
We are in a new era where we have a responsibility to start negotiating trade agreements outside the EU. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, is absolutely right: we must ensure that, with that responsibility, we take cognisance of all our human rights responsibilities.
I want to pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. He and I have disagreed about policy on many occasions but we agree on so many matters of principle, and on principles relating to human rights and genocide there is not a single difference between us—we are both committed. I reassure him that the purpose of my amendment is to complement and underpin the very important amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Alton. He should have no fear in voting for my amendment, because the Minister has just told us that what the Government are doing is work in progress. Great—I want to make that work progress even more, but the only way we can do that is by ensuring that the elected House has the opportunity to consider both these amendments. I wish to test the opinion of the House.Columns 2117 – 2120is located hereDivision 3Division conducted remotely on Motion B1 (as an amendment to Motion B)Content327Not Content229Motion B1 (as an amendment to Motion B) agreed.Held on 2 February 2021 at 7.00pm7.13pm
That this House do not insist on its Amendment 3, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 3A.
3A: Because it is not an effective means of dealing with cases of state genocide.
Motion C1 (as an amendment to Motion C)
At end insert “and do propose Amendment 3B in lieu—
3B: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Agreements with states accused of committing genocide
(1) The High Court of England and Wales, or the Court of Session in Scotland, or the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland, may make a preliminary determination that another signatory to a relevant agreement represents a state which has committed genocide, within the meaning of Article II and Article III of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, following an application to the Court from a person or group of persons belonging to a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, or an organisation representing such a group, which is alleged to have been the subject of that genocide.
(2) “A relevant agreement” in subsection (1) is a bilateral trade agreement towards which the United Kingdom is negotiating or to which it is a signatory.
(3) The Lord Chancellor must lay before both Houses of Parliament any such preliminary determination by the Court.Toggle showing location ofColumn 2121(4) After the laying before Parliament of a preliminary determination under subsection (3) a Minister of the Crown must, after a reasonable period, make arrangements for a motion to be debated in each House of Parliament requiring the Government to set out its course of action relating to the relevant agreement in subsection (1).
(5) This section applies to genocides which occur after this section comes into force, and to those considered by any Court in subsection (1) to have been ongoing at the time of its coming into force.
(6) A Minister of the Crown may by regulations made by statutory instrument make provision for or in connection with an application and preliminary determination made pursuant to subsection (1).
(7) Regulations under subsection (6) above may in particular— (a) specify the form, content, and criteria for applications;
(b) make provision about the procedure to be followed in relation to applications;
(c) make provision about the procedure and rules of evidence necessary for consideration of an application by the Court, allowing for contradictory representations to be made.
(8) In making such regulations the Minister of the Crown must have regard to—
(a) the experience gained in the operation of this section;
(b) the object and intended purpose behind the operation of this section including—
(i) the upholding of all undertakings in and international obligations arising from the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide;
(ii) provision of meaningful access to the Court by persons making applications specified in subsection (1) without hindrance from unreasonable provision made pursuant to subsection (7).
(9) Regulations under subsection (6) may contain supplemental, incidental, consequential and transitional provision.
(10) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (6) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.””Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)Sharethis specific contribution
My Lords, the House would not forgive me if I were to detain it long. We have heard extraordinary—perhaps an overused word during this debate, but I think a proper one—and powerful speeches from all sides of your Lordships’ House. I can only say that I am extraordinarily indebted to everyone who has supported Motion C1. I was particularly touched by some of the personal stories we heard during this debate.
If anyone outside this Chamber has any doubts about the purpose or point of your Lordships’ House, surely, having listened to today’s debate, they will have understood why we are here and that we are doing our duty in trying to demonstrate to the world outside that we would be prepared to go to the stake for the values we stand for in Parliament, in government and throughout the whole of our society.7.15pm
The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, referred to Richard Cobden. He brought back to my mind that that arch-priest of free trade, who was a radical Liberal Member of Parliament from the north of England—who started a calico factory not very far from where I live in the north—and who went to Manchester and became this extraordinary figure in the great battles over the Corn Laws, opposed slavery and the opium trade, and he spoke eloquently in Parliament against them. He knew there were limitations, and we are trying to impose a limitation where genocide has been demonstrated to take place.Column 2122is located here
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, reminded us that Raphael Lemkin saw over 40 members of his family murdered in the Holocaust but, prior to those events, had studied atrocity crimes. Like the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and I, he studied events in northern Iraq in particular; like the noble Lord, last year I visited the Yazidis and also the Assyrians. I went to a place called Simele, where the Assyrians were murdered in 1933. Lemkin wrote about that; he understood the enormities and horrors and what happens when you fail to take a stand. He felt it personally. He coined the word “genocide”, which is where the genocide convention came from.
Before we vote, let us remind ourselves what this high threshold in the convention says—no one has actually said it during this extraordinary debate. Article II defines genocide as
“any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
We have heard during noble Lords’ speeches that precisely those things are happening in Xinjiang in China. However, they can be demonstrated to be a genocide only if a court is given the option to do so. That is why this amendment was laid before your Lordships’ House.
The noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, made a perfectly reasonable point about trade—I will draw my remarks to a close in a moment. He said that we were against having a free trade agreement with China. Yesterday he said in a Written Answer:
“China is an important trading partner for the UK, and we are pursuing increased bilateral trade.”
The only way we can deal with making agreements with genocidal states is to be able to demonstrate that there is a genocide. If there were to be a propaganda victory, surely such a victory would be able to demonstrate that the British Parliament did not care enough to put this in the Bill and make it into legislation.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. I know he made a very passionate and emotive speech earlier. The purpose now is to press his amendment, should he choose to do so.Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)Sharethis specific contribution
I am also exercising my right of reply at the end of debate, and I am drawing my remarks to a conclusion.
Two heroes of mine from the Nazi period have been referred to in this debate. One was a man called Maximilian Kolbe, who was taken to Auschwitz and executed there. He said that
“beyond the … hecatombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul … what use are the victories on the battlefield”—Toggle showing location ofColumn 2123
in other words, what use are all the privileges we enjoy—
“if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?”
The other person was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed by the Nazis, who said:
“Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
I commend Motion C1 to your Lordships’ House; this is our chance to speak and to act. I would like to test the opinion of the House.Columns 2124 – 2126is located hereDivision 4Division conducted remotely on Motion C1 (as an amendment to Motion C)Content359Not Content188Motion C1 (as an amendment to Motion C) agreed.Held on 2 February 2021 at 7.19pm
‘Their goal is to destroy everyone’: Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape
By Matthew Hill, David Campanale and Joel Gunter