Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a statement on the global human rights sanctions regulations. As we forge a dynamic new vision for a truly global Britain, this Government are absolutely committed to the United Kingdom becoming an even stronger force for good in the world: on climate change, as we host COP26; as we champion 12 years of education for every girl in the world, no matter how poor their background; and on human rights, where we will defend media freedoms and protect freedom of religious belief; and, with the measures we are enacting and announcing today, hold to account the perpetrators of the worst human rights abuses.
I first raised this issue in a 2012 Backbench Business debate. It was a cross-party issue then, as I hope it will be now. I recall co-sponsoring it with the former Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. I also would like to pay tribute to Members from across the House, particularly my right hon. Friend Mr Davis, who sponsored that debate, and Chris Bryant, who joined me in that initial debate and who has been chivvying me along ever since, normally from a sedentary position.
You better had.
The idea of taking targeted action against human rights violators has received further cross-party backing since then, from hon. Members in all parts of the House, including five former Foreign Secretaries and the current Chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. In 2019, it was in the Conservative party’s manifesto as a clear commitment.
Today I am proud that under this Prime Minister and this Government, we make good on that pledge, bringing into force the United Kingdom’s first autonomous human rights sanctions regime, which gives us the power to impose sanctions on those involved in the very worst human rights abuses right around the world. These sanctions are a forensic tool, which allows us to target perpetrators without punishing the wider people of a country that may be affected. The regulations will enable us to impose travel bans and asset freezes against those involved in serious human rights violations. We are talking about, first, the right to life, where it is threatened by assassinations and extra-judicial killing; secondly, the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and, thirdly, the right to be free from slavery, servitude or forced or compulsory labour. The powers enable us to target a wider network of perpetrators, including those who facilitate, incite, promote or support these crimes. This extends beyond state officials to non-state actors as well. So if you’re a kleptocrat or an organised criminal, you will not be able to launder your blood money in this country. Today this Government and this House send a very clear message, on behalf of the British people: those with blood on their hands, the thugs of despots, the henchmen of dictators, will not be free to waltz into this country, to buy up property on the Kings Road, do their Christmas shopping in Knightsbridge or siphon dirty money through British banks or other financial institutions.
The regulations are just the latest next step forward in the long struggle against impunity for the worst human rights violations. We have deliberately focused on the worst crimes, so we have the clearest basis, to make sure we can operate the new system as effectively as we possibly can. That said, we will continue to explore expanding this regime to include other human rights, and I can tell the House that we are already considering how a corruption regime could be added to the armoury of legal weapons we have. In particular, hon. Members will be interested to know that I am looking at the UN convention against corruption, and practice already under way under the frameworks in jurisdictions such as the United States and Canada.
Today we have also published a policy note, which sets out how we will consider designations under these regulations, for maximum transparency. As the House would expect, the legislation will ensure that due process will be followed in relation to those designations, reflecting the process rights contained in the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. In practice, those people designated will be able to request that a Minister review the decision. They will be able to challenge the decision in the court. And, just as a matter of due diligence, the Government will review all designations at least once every three years.
In addition to introducing this new legal regime, today we are proceeding directly to make the first designations under the regulations. We are imposing sanctions on individuals involved in some of the most notorious human rights violations in recent years. The first designations will cover those individuals involved in the torture and murder of Sergei Magnitsky, the lawyer who disclosed the biggest known tax fraud in Russian history. The designations will also include those responsible for the brutal murder of the writer and journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and those who perpetrated the systematic and brutal violence against the Rohingya population in Myanmar. They will also include two organisations bearing responsibility for the enslavement, torture and murder that takes place in North Korea’s wretched gulags, in which it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of prisoners have perished over the past 50 years. With those first designations, the Government—and, I hope, the House and the country—make it crystal clear to those who abuse their power to inflict unimaginable suffering that we will not look the other way. You cannot set foot in this country and we will seize your blood-drenched ill-gotten gains if you try.
In practice, targeted sanctions are most effective when they are done through co-ordinated collective action, so we will be working closely with our Five Eyes partners, including in particular the US and Canada, which already have Magnitsky-style sanctions legislation, and Australia, which is considering similar legislation. We will also strongly support efforts to bring an EU human rights sanctions regime into effect and we stand ready to co-ordinate with our European partners on future measures. In fact, I discussed that in Berlin recently with our E3 partners.
Mr Speaker, with your permission I would like to end by paying tribute to the man who inspired these sanctions, Sergei Magnitsky, a young Russian tax lawyer. Between 2007 and 2008, Magnitsky exposed the theft of $230 million committed by tax officials in Russia’s own interior ministry. While others left Russia, understandably fearing for their lives, Magnitsky stayed on to take a stand for the rule of law and to strike a blow against the breath-taking corruption that plagues Russia. That courage cost him his life. He was arrested in 2008 on trumped-up charges of tax evasion and, in a particularly Kafkaesque twist, the very tax investigators that Magnitsky had exposed were the ones who turned up to arrest him. The Public Oversight Commission, a Moscow-based non-governmental organisation, found that while in detention Magnitsky was subjected to physical and psychological abuse amounting to torture. Over the course of his time in prison he developed abdominal pain and acute bladder inflammation, but prison officers cruelly withheld the medical treatment he needed. Eventually, he was transferred to another facility ostensibly to receive medical care. Instead, he was handcuffed and beaten to death by riot police with truncheons. He died on
The House will recall that the European Court of Human Rights found Russia had violated its most basic human rights, from the treatment of Magnitsky in prison to the lack of an effective investigation. None of those involved have ever been brought to justice. Perversely, some have been promoted or even decorated with medals. In fact, the only person ever prosecuted for this appalling crime was Sergei Magnitsky himself after his death; Russian’s first ever posthumous trial.
I pay tribute to Bill Browder, who employed Sergei Magnitsky and has campaigned for justice ever since his death. I hope that today we in this House show our solidarity with the family that Sergei Magnitsky left behind: his wife Natalia and his son Nikita. I can tell the House that they will be watching from my office in the Foreign Office as we speak. Amidst their enduring loss, they can be proud of Sergei’s courage, which inspires us to hold up a torch on behalf of all those who perished or suffered at the hands of those we designate today and to keep the flame of freedom alive for those brave souls still suffering in the very darkest corners of the world. I commend this statement to the House.
May I start by strongly welcoming this statement and the advance sight of it? It has been, as Bill Browder rightly said, a long and difficult journey to persuade the Government to take this step. I know that it has been personally frustrating for the Foreign Secretary to be repeatedly challenged by me over recent weeks about the delays when he has spent the last eight years as its champion. For too long the UK has been a haven for those who use corruption, torture and murder to further their own ends. Today, I hope, sends a strong message that the UK is not their home and that their dirty money is not welcome here.
I pay tribute, too, to Sergei Magnitsky and his family, who have waited far too long for this day. Magnitsky worked for a British company, and it is right that, today, in his honour, we start to clean up the global corruption that he exposed and that cost him his life. I also put on record our support for ensuring that some of those responsible for his murder are the first to face consequences. The time for action against Russian Government officials who oppress LGBT people, Muslims and other minorities and who use chemical weapons on the streets of the UK is long overdue. This is a profound act of solidarity with the Russian people over those who have made their lives a misery for far too long.
I welcome, too, the Foreign Secretary’s action against those involved in the appalling murder of Jamal Khashoggi. I gently say to him that, although today is not the day for sparring across the Dispatch Box, it would be welcome if it marked the start of a more consistent approach from the Government towards Saudi Arabia, and in particular the arms sales from this country that are being used to harm innocent civilians in Yemen.
Similarly, we are grateful to the Foreign Secretary for including the Rohingya in Myanmar in today’s announcement. I hope that he will use his new remit to consider why the UK investment arm, CDC, continues to invest in those who are complicit in silencing people who speak out against human rights abuses in Myanmar.
I welcome the inclusion of trafficking in the measures; the former Member for Bishop Auckland would be delighted to see that, as the Government have previously resisted it. I express serious concern, however, that the Foreign Secretary has not yet been able to persuade his colleagues of the need to include corruption in scope. Corruption and human rights abuses go hand in hand and that must be urgently resolved. The former Prime Minister, David Cameron, expressed regret that he had not acted on the issue earlier:
“I soon realised…the advantages of working together—with other countries—under a common heading…You get extra clout from coming together across the world and saying with one voice to those who are responsible for unacceptable acts: ‘We are united’”
The Foreign Secretary mentioned the USA and Canada and our desire to stand closely with them. They have included corruption in scope and the UK must follow suit.
Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that the measures apply to UK overseas territories and Crown dependencies? We must not create a back door that allows the laundering of blood money in the United Kingdom.
Will all names be published, including those subject to visa bans? I am sorry to do this to the Foreign Secretary, but I refer him to his earlier words. As he put it:
“If we are dealing with people who are complicit in torture and there is enough evidence to substantiate and justify a visa ban, what possible countervailing reason can there be, whether it is to change their behaviour or otherwise, for not making their name public? Would not making their name public deter others?”—[Official Report,
He also tabled an amendment to the Criminal Finances Act 2017 seeking a public register of people who are subject to such orders, and he rightly set out in that amendment to ensure that third parties could refer to the list. We agree with him. There must be a clear mechanism for civil society to refer in line with the criteria. Can he give us an assurance that that will be forthcoming?
Similarly, will the Foreign Secretary reflect on arrangements in the United States that provide a congressional trigger and allow our Select Committee Chairs to make referrals to the list as well? I can see that the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee is nodding; I would expect him to agree with that suggestion. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will agree too.
Finally, as the Foreign Secretary has long championed, we must have transparency in the process. There has been serious concern about the influence of big money on politics. It is essential that there is independent oversight of the list to ensure that nobody can buy their way out of British justice. Will he commit to parliamentary scrutiny of the list and the way that decisions are taken? I know that he will face resistance from colleagues, but we will strongly support him in that endeavour.
Today is a day that we stand up against corruption and dirty money and for our values with the full support of this House. There can be no ambiguity and no double standards. The UK must lead the way at home and abroad.
I thank the hon. Lady for her full-throated support. Although it is always a pleasure to spar with her, it is also worth reflecting on those occasions when the House can stand in unison and support such measures. I know that the family of Sergei Magnitsky will hugely appreciate her personal solidarity at what will be a difficult time, after an incredible and ongoing march for justice. I also agree with the wider support that she expressed for the designations.
Let me try to address her queries and concerns. On corruption, work is under way. We are committed to that. There are different definitions of corruption, which has been one of the challenges at international level, but I agree with the point that corruption and human rights abuses are often interlinked. Indeed, in the case of Sergei Magnitsky, what is astonishing is that we have one of the most egregious corruption cases, coupled with an appalling human rights abuse. I reassure the hon. Lady that that work is under way.
The hon. Lady asked about the overseas territories and Crown dependencies, to which the legislation will be extended. The designations will be published online, so her plea for transparency is, I believe, fully met. Finally, whether in relation to Select Committees, scrutiny of the process or the designations, we would welcome a full and rigorous engagement and scrutiny of all that process. I will not, of course, tell Select Committees or the House how to organise their business, but we welcome that and engage with it.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend. We have been waiting for a while for excellent foreign policy suggestions, but we have had three in the past three weeks—one on British national overseas passports last week, and now this on the Magnitsky sanctions. This is another fantastic policy change by Her Majesty’s Government, and something that Chris Bryant and the Foreign Affairs Committee have been clear on for a number of years. Indeed, I know that the hon. Gentleman will have read our “Moscow’s Gold” report of May 2018, in which this was one of the many recommendations. This builds on his earlier work as a human rights lawyer at the Foreign Office, and I pay tribute to him twice over.
There has been a remarkable silence on human rights violations in China. As yet, there is no announcement on any sanctions against those who are either exploiting or abusing the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, or repressing democracy activists in Hong Kong. I wonder whether that is merely because this is the first stage of sanctions and the Foreign Office has not quite yet caught up with it, or whether it is a policy change. I also pay tribute to the few words the Foreign Secretary said about co-operation with others. As he knows, sanctions work best when they work with others. Working with our European and CANZUK friends is an important aspect of that.
I also pay tribute to two other people who have done incredibly well: Oliver Bullough and Luke Harding are two writers who have brought huge amounts of attention to the problems in the UK system, and I thank them for their work.
I thank my hon. Friend, and pay tribute to the work that he and the Foreign Affairs Committee have done. I thought he mentioned three foreign policy triumphs, but I felt a bit short-changed because he missed one out. [Interruption] There is plenty of time yet. I thank him for his warm words. We fully respect and engage with scrutiny from that Committee, but it is also good when we can work together and produce results, and today’s regulations are an example of that. He asked about China, and recently the Human Rights Council led a statement with 27 countries on the human rights situation in Xinjiang, as well as in Hong Kong. Of course, as with China and many other countries, people will wish to come up with further suggestions going forward, and we will consider those carefully, based on the evidence. If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will not pre-empt what the next wave of designations will be, but I assure him that we are already working on them.
I also thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement. He is entitled to a quiet moment of personal satisfaction today, and it would be remiss not to recognise his role in getting the House and Government to this point. The SNP certainly supports those measures. We would like to see more of them. We called for them repeatedly for a number of years. I have to say, however, that I was surprised to read about them in the Financial Times before we heard about them today. That is something that we should all consider about how announcements are made.
I will pick up on two aspects of the statement, particularly on international co-operation. It is vital that the measures, welcome as they are, are co-ordinated across other countries—obviously with the European Union and the Five Eyes partners. I would also like a statement from the Foreign Secretary on how they will interact with British overseas territories. There is already a vast array of loopholes to tax transparency and other mechanisms of accountability. This is a welcome step, but how will it work with the other territories where we have some influence?
The Foreign Secretary said in his statement that dictators will not be able to launder their blood money in this country. Who would not be able to support that? Progress on the ground, however, suggests that we have an awful lot still to do. I refer him and the House to the Open Democracy report published last month that said that
“400,000 British companies do not, will not or cannot say who controls them”,
and, from its own research, Britain has long operated
“as a global hub for financial crime”.
We have a long way to go to build on today’s announcements. Scotland is not immune to that. Scottish limited companies have been abusing money laundering. We all need to work on this together. I would be grateful for some statements about how the British overseas territories will interact with the measures and, indeed, on the wider financial transparency reform that we need in order to clean up the UK’s jurisdiction.
I thank the hon. Member for his support for the measures and the designations, and for his kind words. He is right about international co-ordination; the measures will be most effective if we can conjure a groundswell of co-ordinated action, even if we want to be free to assign the designations as and when we see fit based on the evidence. Co-operation with the Five Eyes countries, both those that have existing Magnitsky mechanisms in place and those that are working on it, like Australia, is important. Certain EU member states already have them, particularly in the Baltics, I think, but there is no EU-wide human rights regime. Certainly, if it wishes to consider that, that will be an area for strong ongoing co-operation, notwithstanding our departure from the EU.
The hon. Member asked particularly about the OTs. As I thought I made clear, we will ensure that the measure extends the regulations, and indeed the designations, to all the overseas territories and, of course, the Crown dependencies.
I unreservedly congratulate my right hon. Friend. As my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat and others have said, he has personally been an advocate of this for some considerable time, so he will have the right to satisfaction on that. I also commend him for naming all those to do with the Magnitsky case and in Saudi Arabia.
Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling, I again raise the issue of China, because this is where big business will start to lean on the Government quite hard. Last week started with an exposé from the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China regarding the involvement of Chinese officials and Government in the Uyghur suppression, sterilisation and forced encampment, and it ended with their involvement in the stripping away of the rights and freedoms of the people in Hong Kong, all the way up to the top.
I do not expect my right hon. Friend to answer specifically, but I ask him a simple question. Given the announcement in the papers today, many in Hong Kong have said that it should go to whatever highest level the evidence takes it. Would he be prepared, therefore, to follow through with the measures no matter who the individuals are, no matter how high they go, and even if it meant starting with Carrie Lam, whose family, I understand, have the privilege of British passports?
I thank my right hon. Friend. He is absolutely right that, with these regulations and this legislation, there will of course be a whole range of suggestions and proposals from inside this House, from civil society and from non-governmental organisations about potential names. We will, of course, want to ensure that we proceed in a rigorous way. We want it to be based on evidence, but the advantage that we have is that the measures—this is one of the reasons I have always been a fan, champion and supporter of them—allow us to continue to engage bilaterally with countries that, frankly, we need to, while having targeted sanctions, the visa bans and the asset freezes, on the individuals who may be responsible. Where the evidence shows that that is the case, we have the mechanism to deliver that.
I too thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement and congratulate him on what I think will be seen in years to come as a watershed moment in the development of human rights law. He is absolutely right to focus on the most clamant cases that he has listed in early designations today, but I hope that frees up time and resource within the Foreign Office to turn attention towards China, and particularly to those in Hong Kong, for whom sanctions of this sort would appear to be the logical next step.
The Foreign Secretary rightly outlines and refers to the role of the courts in due process and ensuring that proper safeguards are put in place. There is another element, which is the role of this House in that regard. Others have referred to the Select Committees. The one Select Committee we are missing at the moment is the Intelligence and Security Committee. Does he agree that the announcement he has made today, which has been so widely well-received around the House, demands the early constitution of the ISC?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support. These measures are important. I am not going to start, without proper appraisal and assessment of the evidence, handing out future designations. What I can tell him is that one of the delays or bits that took time was making sure we have a proper mechanism so that, as he rightly says, we go into a sort of steady state and can assess judiciously and carefully any future candidates for designations, if I may put it like that. He asked about the ISC. We want to see the ISC up and running as soon as possible. Once it is duly constituted, it will have a role in issues such as this.
Many of us on the Back and Front Benches, especially my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, have been working for some time on the Magnitsky measures, and I congratulate him on this important announcement today. I just ask two questions. First, may we please see strong transparency and openness in how these measures are brought to bear? Secondly, and in particular, does he agree that Parliament should have real input into how the measures are put into effect?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for all the work he has done in this area and in promoting human rights in international relations, particularly in his time as International Development Secretary. There is clearly an important role for the legislature, not only in debates and scrutiny in this House, but in the Select Committees. Select Committees, individuals, NGOs and external actors can provide information and evidence, as well as suggestions about how we take these matters forward. We have also, to give maximum transparency to the House today, published a policy note to explain how we will go about it and in particular how the designation process will look at the worst crimes and those who bear the greatest responsibility for those human rights violations.
I am absolutely delighted. Well done. That is not least because human rights in the end are a seamless garment. Uyghur Muslims, gay Chechnyans, Russian journalists, Colombian campesinos and the Rohingya all have human rights. Corruption nearly always goes hand in fisted glove with human rights abuse and nearly always the first step is the repression of democracy—the preventing of people from enjoying their freedom of assembly and their freedom of speech. That is why I strongly urge the Foreign Secretary to look at another clause that would include the repression of democracy and the rights of assembly and of freedom of speech, and therefore look very carefully at whether Carrie Lam should not be on the list.
I thank the hon. Gentleman and also pay tribute to him. These measures would not have come about without the tenacity and advocacy he has consistently put into this area over many years and on a cross-party basis. As I said, this is a first step, and we will consider how we can proceed, but I make no apology for wanting to make the first step a sure-footed one. Just for clarity, the most serious human rights abuses that we have chosen often are used precisely to suppress peaceful protest or freedom of speech. Magnitsky himself was a whistleblower who was tortured for blowing the lid on the biggest tax fraud that we know of in Russian history. I take the hon. Gentleman’s wider points. We will look to progress, develop, fine-tune and enhance this regime as we proceed.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his excellent statement, which adds serious substance to underpin the values, particularly in respect of human rights, that global Britain will champion around the world. Does Ramzan Kadyrov appear on this list? Has my right hon. Friend seen “Welcome to Chechnya: The Gay Purge”? If he has not, I commend it to him. I also commend the incredible courage of the people who documented what happened in Chechnya’s gay purge, so that formal legal action can begin at some point, whether in the European Court of Human Rights or elsewhere. Clearly, there is a case for sanctions on Ramzan Kadyrov, and on President Putin, who gives Kadyrov impunity for his actions. This is a jurisdiction that does not criminalise homosexuality, but there are 72 around the world that do, including 34 in the Commonwealth. I sincerely hope that this issue will be a leading part of the work carried out on human rights.
I thank my hon. Friend, who will be able to see the list and check individual names for himself. There are 25 individuals under the Magnitsky designation, 20 under the Khashoggi one, and two under Myanmar, and two organisations in relation to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. As I said, in the interest of maximum transparency, they will be published. I take his point and commend him for the full-hearted and full-throated way he has championed human rights in this House.
I strongly support the measures and personally congratulate my right hon. Friend on pioneering them. May I echo the words of many right hon. and hon. Members that it will be good to see representatives of the Chinese regime included, whether it is because of Tibet, the Uyghurs or Hong Kong, where we learn today that, free speech by protest having been suppressed, libraries and bookshops are now being purged? All three of the criteria apply in those cases. Will he look closely at my Tibet (Reciprocal Access) Bill, which I shall be re-presenting straight after this statement? It would ensure access by UK officials to investigate human rights abuses in places like Tibet, and if access were denied, there would be repercussions for Chinese officials based on legislation that had unanimous support in Congress. That would be another tool to confront serial abusers of human rights.
I thank my hon. Friend for his support and his generous remarks. We will of course look carefully at any further proposals he might wish to make to strengthen the measure. I will not pre-empt or prejudge further designations down the track, but we are already working on the potential next wave and will proceed based on evidence.
I, too, warmly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement. I assume that when he talks about the powers applying around the world, it means they will be open to individuals from any country, not just those on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s list of countries of concern. On corruption, he says he wants to extend the regime. He will be aware that, over a decade ago, the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 was used to seize the assets of three former Nigerian state governors. It would be helpful if he told the House what further powers he is considering to bring corruption within the scope of the arrangements that he has just announced.
I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for all his work on human rights in the international sphere, both in the Select Committee and previously as a Minister. We have the asset-freezing powers in place; the additional element that makes the Magnitsky model is the visa bans. We will look throughout at ways to fine-tune and strengthen the measures. With corruption, the legal definition is an issue. We want to get it right and to avoid all sorts of people bringing litigation against the Government regarding people on the list; we do not want to mis-step in that regard. Also, we want to make sure we have a firm basis for the regime, so that we are not judicially reviewed, so we have started with the clearest and most serious human rights violations. We want to proceed based on evidence and I am certainly open to further consideration of evidence and information, which we will assess independently, from Members in all parts of the House, and to suggestions of other ways to strengthen the regime.
I also warmly welcome the statement. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that we will implement the new regime without fear or favour; that if necessary we will go after individuals from ally states; and that we will target the decision makers who order human rights abuses and atrocities, and not just the little men who execute them?
It is for precisely that reason that we set out a policy note that gives, I hope, my hon. Friend and hon. Members across the House reassurance about how we are going about this. Obviously, our approach will need to be evidence-based and evidence-driven, but if she takes a look at that policy note, once it is published, it will give her the reassurance she needs.
Despite the humanitarian situation, the UK has traded almost £5 billion to Saudi Arabia since the war began, which eclipses the aid it has given to Yemen. The Foreign Secretary has just said he wants things to be evidence-based. The UK Government have to be willing, therefore, to stand up to countries they see as allies, and there must be consequences where UN-confirmed systemic human rights violations and murders have been committed. Does the Foreign Secretary agree and will he give that effect in the UK’s sanctions regime?
I agree with the hon. Lady, and that is precisely the reason for the designations we have made today. If she looks at them, she will see that we have not ducked the issue. We need to be evidence-based; we cannot do it on a whim and it must be able to withstand legal scrutiny, but she will see from the designations, including the ones we will do in the future, that this regime will be applied without fear or favour.
I warmly welcome this statement. At a time when it seems that every dawn brings notice of fresh human rights horrors, it is good to see the Government taking such decisive action. Will my right hon. Friend reassure those of us who see Britain as a force for good in the world that this is just the first step in a review that will see him and the Government take whatever action we can to hold to account those who commit these dreadful human rights abuses?
The Magnitsky regime is the third of three pillars. We have been pioneering a campaign—I pay tribute to my predecessor in this role, my right hon. Friend Jeremy Hunt—with the Canadians to champion media freedom, by protecting individual journalists and strengthening the legal codes in more vulnerable countries around the world. Our media freedom campaign continues apace. We are also supporting freedom of religious belief and plan to co-host the international conference next year. These Magnitsky sanctions are, if you like, the third pillar. They will provide direct accountability through visa bans and asset freezes for those who commit these appalling abuses.
I wholeheartedly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s long-overdue introduction of the global human rights sanctions regime, but does he not concede that the delay in publication of the Russia report and the lack of constitution of the Intelligence and Security Committee seriously undermines the Government’s credibility in the eyes of our allies? The Russia report has been gathering dust on the Prime Minister’s desk since last year. In order to ensure sufficient scrutiny of this error-prone Government, right hon. and hon. Members have been demanding for months that the ISC be finally formed. What has the Prime Minister got to hide?
The ISC of course does incredibly important work and will be up and running as soon as is practicable, but it needs to constitute itself. It is correct that there is a Government role in that, but there is also a parliamentary one. We look forward to and will embrace its role once it is up and running.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement. Does he agree that this will act as a deterrent to those who wish to commit the most horrific human rights abuses around the world while attempting to live a life of luxury in this country on the back of dirty money?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are sending a message that people cannot do things that in the past some have got away with. We hope that, particularly in concert with likeminded countries, we can start to have a deterrent effect and also embarrass those countries from whom these individuals come. It is through that co-ordinated action, backed by hard measures such as asset freezes and visa bans, that we can make a difference.
I too welcome today’s statement. Israeli annexations are a violation of international law and jeopardise any chance of a two-state solution. I would like to believe that a two-state solution is not a lost cause, but that is only possible if we speak up. I urge the Government to take action and condemn violations such as the recent bulldozing of a historic Muslim cemetery in Jaffa. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that such contempt for international law warrants sanctions? If not, could he please explain his reasoning?
We certainly oppose not just the settlement building but other violations of international humanitarian law. The hon. Gentleman may have seen the letter that the Prime Minister recently published in the Israeli press, which made it clear that we are not giving up on a two-state solution. We oppose annexation and we want both parties to come to the table and negotiate a lasting settlement.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on his truly important statement. If employed wisely, it promises to be a great force for good in the world. As he knows, hundreds of thousands of Uighurs, other Muslims and Christians continue to be imprisoned in inhuman Chinese camps, which are a revolting violation of the universal rights held sacred by freedom-loving people everywhere, namely the freedom to live, work and worship as desired.
In 2019, 23 countries, including the UK, US and Japan, signed a letter addressed to the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly Third Committee urging communist China to close its camps. It saddens me that, as we condemn slavery and other beastly historical crimes, horrific exploitative labour continues—
Order. Foreign Secretary.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the passionate way in which made his case. I reassure him that, if he looks at the statement that the UK led on with 27 other countries on the Human Rights Council, we have condemned the human rights abuses that he refers to against the Uighurs and in relation to Hong Kong. That is the first time the issue has been on the agenda at the Human Rights Council. We will continue to keep up that work and shine a light on what, I agree, are appalling human rights abuses.
I agree with everything the Foreign Secretary has said today—he will not be surprised to hear that—but in the interests of transparency, will he look at the possibility of amending the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014, not to curtail commercial lobbying, but so that there is some sort of register and we know who is hiring lobbying firms? The vast majority of those people are perfectly respectable, law-abiding and, in most cases, open, but some are not. We need to know who is doing it.
I know that considerable work is being done on both sides of the House on that issue. We want maximum financial transparency. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to write to me, I will certainly take a look at that in the context of all the other work that we are doing on corruption in the next strengthening of the Magnitsky regime.
I very much welcome the establishment of the sanctions tools, which will allow Britain to take a far more robust position when dealing with breaches of human rights. I join other hon. Members in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. As a human rights lawyer, he was well placed to see this through. He will be aware that sanctions are designed to be targeted and focused on individuals, and to change and challenge behaviour. I join my fellow Chair, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, to ask for an announcement on China, not just on tactical issues to do with human rights, but on the wider foreign policy stance, given China’s trajectory.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Chair of the Defence Committee. We have taken these measures. He has heard what we have said on Hong Kong. He will know that Huawei is going through the review in the context of US trade sanctions. The integrated review is coming forward, which will be completed by the autumn. That is the right opportunity, in parallel with the comprehensive spending review, to make sure that we have the right strategy and the resources to back it up.
Can the Foreign Secretary assure the House that the application of the sanctions regime will be transparently even-handed and will not be blind to human rights abuses carried out by or in the name of our so-called allies and friends such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Israel or India, or indeed countries with which we are seeking to secure a post-Brexit trade deal?
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the designations, he will see that we have answered that in the first round that we are making today.
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his personal commitment to human rights, which is becoming a hallmark of his tenure and is extremely welcome. If we are to have an international order that promotes not just our economic interests but our democratic values, there have to be consequences for people who violence those principles, which is why this statement matters. Will the Foreign Secretary look at whether the process for deciding who gets designated should become an independent process, as we have with compliance with the consolidated criteria for arms exports? That could be a way to disentangle the decision from the complexities of diplomatic relations, which we have to have even with nefarious states.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question and pay tribute to him for all the work that he did at the Foreign Office to promote human rights, particularly in respect of the media freedom campaign, which we continue to champion. He makes an interesting point. I have not seen another jurisdiction that has done it as autonomously as he suggests but, as I said, we want to take sure-footed steps and will look at ways in which we can strengthen the regime, including making it more resilient, in the weeks and months ahead.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and commend the strong stand that we are taking on human rights. This is clearly a Secretary of State who get things done. He referred in his statement to holding up a torch and the “flame of freedom”; we must question any sanctions policy that does not target the Chinese officials responsible for the mistreatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, where more than a million are in concentration camps. In addition, an independent tribunal in Xinjiang concluded that forced organ harvesting is undoubtedly taking place with the knowledge and support of the Chinese Communist party. Will the Secretary of State join his US counterparts and act against human rights abusers in China?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. We certainly want to make sure that we can work with allies. We are already talking to our Five Eyes partners and I hope to have another a call with them shortly. We will certainly look at the suggestions that the hon. Gentleman has made. We need our approach to be evidence based. Sometimes, in the most authoritarian countries, evidence is difficult to come by, almost by definition, but I hope he will see from the designations that we make today that when we have the evidence and the crimes are clear, we are willing to act.
I warmly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement and the commitment that he shows to the rule of law being just as important in international affairs as it is in domestic matters. I also welcome his reference to continued co-operation and alignment with our European partners, which is particularly important when it comes to enforcement. Will he therefore ensure that as we come to the end of the transition period, we make it a priority to maintain the same levels of access to policing and judicial co-operation as we have currently and, indeed, seek to expand that to other non-EU members, so that we do not have any gap in the ability to enforce these important and welcome sanctions?
My hon. Friend was very deft in getting the EU issue into his question. I reassure him that, at E3 level and more broadly, we want to co-ordinate with our European partners, friends and allies. The Magnitsky sanctions are a good illustration of how we can reinforce and strengthen co-operation in the years ahead. Law enforcement vehicles for co-operation are certainly important. We want to see what the right approach is under the future relationship, but I know the work that my hon. Friend has done and have no doubt about the value that such co-operation can add.
I wholeheartedly welcome the statement and the measures that the Foreign Secretary has announced today. Given its expertise in gathering intelligence and evidence of human rights abuses and corruption, will the Foreign Secretary be proactively canvassing civil society, both in the UK and globally, in drawing up the lists? May I press him further on the points raised by other hon. Members in relation to Hong Kong? Will he seriously consider opening the door to naming in any future designation the perpetrators of abuses under the new national security law?
We will certainly work with all our international partners to accumulate the evidence. The hon. Gentleman asked about civil society and non-governmental organisations; yes, we absolutely will work with them. Indeed, sometimes the primary evidence comes through open-source reporting, so that relationship is very important. As I have said to the House already, we will look at strengthening the regime as we go forward. I am not going to second-guess subsequent designations in relation to China or any other country, not least because of the importance, as has already been highlighted, of making sure that we have a rigorous and judicious process leading up to designation.
I believe they do demonstrate that. It is early days. We wanted to make sure that we took firm, clear steps, as the worst thing in the world is to trip up over this sort of thing; it gives precisely the wrong people succour. We also recognise that there will be scope for strengthening the regime even further. This, therefore, is the point of departure in terms of this sanctions regime, and we will look very carefully at it with the benefit of the House’s scrutiny in the months ahead.
I welcome the sanctions and I want them to be as effective as possible not only as a punishment, but as a deterrent. Will the Secretary of State just outline what provisions there will be in secondary legislation to ensure that not only the perpetrators are punished, but their agents and nominees, including family members and associates, who have benefited from these crimes?
I thank the hon. Lady for her support. We will have a further debate before recess on the terms of the regulations. I think she will see that it is not just the direct perpetrators who can be captured, but those supporting and in other ways contributing to the human rights abuse. I hope that that will reassure her, but, as I have said, we will be looking to further strengthen the regime—for example, in relation to corruption—in the months ahead.
I begin by paying tribute to Sergei Magnitsky. I think that, if Sergei and many others like him pay the ultimate price, they at least hope, in their final moments, that it will make a difference. I am sure that we can all agree that that is exactly what Sergei has achieved. Will my right hon. Friend outline to the House which other countries, some of which he has already mentioned, have similar regimes and how we plan to work with them on best practice and co-operate to make the most of our independent action in this regard?
I thank my hon. Friend. I agree with what he said about Magnitsky. He was an incredibly courageous man. I think of him as the Solzhenitsyn of his age. To make these sanctions effective, to deter action and to hold people to account, we do need to work closely with our partners. We are one of the first major countries, certainly in Europe, to draw up this regime and start implementing it. There are some other countries doing so, but the EU as a whole has not adopted it yet. I can tell him that the US obviously has a mechanism in place, as do the Canadians, and the Australian Parliament is also considering it. We are talking with the full range of international partners, and indeed others, because we think that this provides a strong and resilient model for raising human rights and not allowing them to be swept under the carpet, while still engaging in the diplomacy that is required and all the other things that serve the British national interest.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement today, but why is the Commonwealth Development Corporation continuing to invest millions of pounds in a company called Frontiir, a telecommunications and internet company that has been obeying what the Myanmar Government have been telling it, which is to suppress the transmission of evidence of human rights abuses and atrocities being committed against the Rohingya?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I hope that she will be reassured to see that the designations include those in relation to human rights abuses against the Rohingya. I do not know about the specific case that she is referring to, but if she would like to write to me, I am very willing to take a look at it.
May I too welcome the global human rights sanctions regime as proposed by the Foreign Secretary? Will he outline to the House whether this sanctions regime ensures that the UK continues to uphold the necessity of freedom of religion and belief around the world?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The regime focuses on the most serious human rights abuses—those against the right to life, the prohibition against torture, and the prohibition against slave labour and forced labour—but of course many of those abuses can be directed at journalists and those practising their religion, and if he looks at the designations that we have made today, he will find that that is true even in relation to the first wave.
May I add my voice to the congratulations to the Foreign Secretary? This has been a personal crusade of his and this is a great moment not just for him, but for the Government and the country as well. May I press him to go a bit further and a bit faster, perhaps, on the points that he has made about fighting corruption and extending these measures to include corruption? He will understand that while many human rights abusers are indeed corrupt, there are many people who are corrupt but who are not necessarily human rights abusers, and therefore we may be able to get people only on corruption charges. Strengthening that element is vital if we are to be able to get people designated on corruption by Christmas.
I thank my hon. Friend and pay tribute to the work he has done not only on human rights but on transparency and anti-corruption. As I said, we will look at this. Work is already under way on the corruption element. I look forward to his contribution as we develop these proposals.
I welcome the designation of those from Saudi Arabia responsible for the death of Jamal Khashoggi. I also welcome the fact that in the notes that the Foreign Secretary has provided, there is clear indication that non-state actors who have acquired a significant degree of control, authority and organisation over people in an area will also be held to account. As the Foreign Secretary knows, for the past few years my constituent Luke Symons has been held by the Houthis in Sana’a in Yemen, in a severe breach of his human rights. Will the Foreign Secretary commit to doing all that he can to secure his release and make sure that my constituent and his family can leave Yemen and travel to the United Kingdom?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s advocacy and tireless campaigning on behalf of his constituent. Of course we want to secure his release from the Houthis. The hon. Gentleman rather smartly wove in the non-state actor element of these regimes. That is important, because this is not just about perpetrators who come from arms of the state: there are a lot of other people out there, whether from militia, armed groups, various organisations or organised crime, who are aiding and abetting and supporting these human rights abuses, and we need to target all of them.
I particularly welcome the reference to the hundreds of thousands of people who perished in the gulags of North Korea—a country about which we learn very little from television reports or social media posts. In his statement, the Foreign Secretary mentions organisations rather than individuals in respect of North Korea. What are we going to do to publicise the names of the individuals responsible for these heinous crimes, in North Korea and globally?
Part of the problem in North Korea, as we discussed earlier, is the clandestine nature of the decision-making process. However, my hon. Friend is right that we would certainly now be able and willing to proceed to name and designate any individuals. The two organisations that we are designating are bureau 27 of the Ministry of State Security, which oversees the political prison camps, and the Ministry of Public Security’s correctional bureau, which oversees the ordinary prison camps—both ghastly in their own right.
This announcement is indeed welcome, but will the Secretary of State ensure that justice is at the heart of this global human rights sanction regime? With that in mind, will he commit to supporting women human rights defenders in countries such as Saudi Arabia, where women are legally the property of their closest male relative and denied basic freedoms? Will he guarantee that these women are not overlooked in any attempt to address the abuse of human rights?
I thank my right hon. Friend—[Interruption.] It is a perfectly good question, because all sorts of legal issues have to be scrutinised very carefully when introducing these designations. We have done our due diligence. We have lawyered this very carefully. I hope I can give him the maximum reassurance that the risk is being mitigated to the very lowest level.
May I add my congratulations to the Foreign Secretary? I pay my respects to the memory of Sergei Magnitsky and to his family. I also pay tribute to Bill Browder, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting a couple of times in this place.
Will these regulations allow us to follow the money and prevent other people—family members or close business associates—from being used as a front to try to give financial legitimacy to people who are abusers? Will the Foreign Secretary ensure that people who are associated with the abusers will feel the effects of these regulations too?
I hope that the expressions of support for Sergei Magnitsky give solace to Natalia and Nikita through their enduring grief. The hon. Member is absolutely right. One of the reasons that this matter has not been discussed quite so much has been the opportunity with this regime to follow the money; if we can cut off the money and the people who are profiting from these appalling human rights abuses, we have a better chance of cutting out the activity and deterring it for the future. The hon. Member is bang on.
The largest group in the world subject to persecution today are Christians. We are not just discussing lethal persecution such as in North Korea; in many parts of the world there is persecution for churchgoing, blasphemy and many other issues. Will the Foreign Secretary assure me that this new regime will be used to target with sanctions those who deliberately target Christians?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that this new regime gives us that power. On top of the legal regime, the asset freezes and the visa bans, the work of the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief has been immense; it has been a herculean shift. We are working with our international partners and intend to co-host a conference on freedom of religion or belief. That will give us the ability to do precisely what my hon. Friend wants us to do.
Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi are all classed as close trading and political allies of the UK. What they also have in common is locking up political prisoners, torture and execution without due process. Zuhair Abdullah and Husain Rashid are in imminent danger of execution in Bahrain, having exhausted legal remedies. Will the Foreign Secretary be sure to sanction human rights abusers in so-called friendly countries, as well as those that are not so friendly?
The hon. Gentleman has been a passionate human rights defender over many years. He can take reassurance from the designations that we have made, and can see that the Government are willing to do—and are doing—just that.
The introduction of global human rights sanctions sends a strong message to those who violate human rights across the globe that they are not welcome in the UK, and reinforces our position as a defender of human rights at an international level. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government will continue to work with other countries to ensure that perpetrators of such violations are held to account for their actions?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have mentioned some of our existing partners, but what we want to do is show—by the measures that we are taking and the efficiency with which we go about this, in a targeted and smart, evidence-led way—that this is a regime not only that can hold individuals to account, but which other countries can adopt. That is certainly part of our advocacy and diplomatic plan in the months ahead.