I stand to speak in support of the draft regulations. They may sound elementary, but it is important that the UK is explicit in its opposition to instruments of torture. The UK’s commitment to that is exemplified by our being one of the signatories of the Alliance for Torture-Free Trade, which the UK has helped to champion around the world, and that sends out a signal internationally.
The United Kingdom has been a leader on human rights for a long time. My hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat has already referred to how strong the United Kingdom has been in the past, and this is not just about the recent past. Back in the19th century, this Parliament was one of the first among the advanced nations to abolish slavery. Yes, the United Kingdom was involved in the slave trade, but it is often overlooked that this was one of the first Parliaments to abolish it. Not only did we reinforce that decision in British waters but we enforced it in international waters around the globe. All merchants in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and throughout what was then the empire were led by this House and told what the right actions were to take and what the moral course was. They were told why trade should be not just about profits but about overall prosperity and moral righteousness.
Statutory instruments such as this are becoming increasingly important. We must ensure that our legal system is explicit, both domestically and internationally, about the element of transparency. Before I came to this place, I worked in finance—I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—and I was able to work abroad. I worked in several Asian countries that are far less democratic than our own, and I regularly heard of cases in which people were subjected to overt, covert, explicit and emotional torture. No one was ever held to account. There was no transparency in the judiciary to hold people accountable, there was certainly no authority to hold the Government to account or, indeed, individual traders or merchants involved in supplying the materials that facilitated torture. When people who were taking part in political demonstrations, the likes of which we see outside this place every day, are taken away, bundled into a van and then never heard of again, one starts to understand the importance of this type of legislation and why the United Kingdom’s position as a leader in human rights and against torture is so important.
Maintaining standards is also important. We in this House are acutely aware of that just now, and it is certainly something that we should probably reflect on more and more. However, this is also about our country maintaining standards across the world. Over the past two decades—certainly when I was going through my education—I have seen the United Kingdom soften its lines and sometimes let standards slip. Whether in the misadministration in Iraq or not adhering to red lines in Syria, mistakes have cost so many lives, both at home and abroad. The ghosts will haunt us for many years to come. We cannot dare to repeat those kinds of mistakes in this place or elsewhere.
We must continue to champion human rights and to reinforce the international order. We must also continue to set new standards, so that when new challenges to the international order emerge—in whatever form they may be—this House can rise to meet them and ensure that we lead people together in prosperity, in peace and in moral authority.