With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the situation in Xinjiang and the Government’s response.
The evidence of the scale and severity of the human rights violations being perpetrated in Xinjiang against the Uyghur Muslims is now far-reaching. It paints a truly harrowing picture. Violations include the extrajudicial detention of over 1 million Uyghurs and other minorities in political re-education camps; extensive and invasive surveillance targeting minorities; systematic restrictions on Uyghur culture, education and, indeed, on the practice of Islam; and the widespread use of forced labour. The nature and conditions of detention violate basic standards of human rights. At their worst, they amount to torture and inhumane and degrading treatment, alongside widespread reports of the forced sterilisation of Uyghur women.
These claims are supported now by a large, diverse and growing body of evidence that includes first-hand reports from diplomats who visit Xinjiang and the first-hand testimony from victims who have fled the region. There is satellite imagery showing the scale of the internment camps, the presence of factories inside them and the destruction of mosques. There are also extensive and credible third-party reports from non-governmental organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, with the United Nations and other international experts also expressing their very serious concerns.
In reality, the Chinese authorities’ own publicly available documents also bear out a similar picture. They show statistical data on birth control and on security spending and recruitment in Xinjiang. They contain extensive references to coercive social measures dressed up as poverty alleviation programmes. There are leaks of classified and internal documents that have shown the guidance on how to run internment camps and lists showing how and why people have been detained.
Internment camps, arbitrary detention, political re-education, forced labour, torture and forced sterilisation —all on an industrial scale. It is truly horrific—barbarism we had hoped was lost to another era is being practised today, as we speak, in one of the leading members of the international community.
We have a moral duty to respond. The UK has already played a leading role within the international community in the effort to shine a light on the appalling treatment of the Uyghurs and to increase diplomatic pressure on China to stop and to remedy its actions. I have made my concerns over Xinjiang clear directly to China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi. We have led international joint statements on Xinjiang in the United Nations General Assembly Third Committee and the UN Human Rights Council. In the Third Committee, we brought the latest statement forward together with Germany in October last year and it was supported by 39 countries.
China’s response is to deny, as a matter of fact, that any such human rights violations take place at all. They say it is lies. If there were any genuine dispute about the evidence, there would be a reasonably straightforward way to clear up any factual misunderstandings. Of course China should be given the opportunity to rebut the various reports and claims, but the Chinese Government refuse point blank to allow the access to Xinjiang required to verify the truth of the matter.
We have repeatedly called for China to allow independent experts and UN officials, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, proper access to Xinjiang, just as we in this country allow access to our prisons, our police custody suites and other parts of the justice system to independent bodies who hold us to account for the commitments to respect human rights that we have made.
China cannot simply refuse all access to those trusted third-party bodies that could verify the facts and, at the same time, maintain a position of credible denial. While that access is not forthcoming, the UK will continue to support further research to understand the scale and the nature of the human rights violations in Xinjiang. But we must do more, and we will.
Xinjiang’s position in the international supply chain network means that there is a real risk of businesses and public bodies around the world, whether inadvertently or otherwise, sourcing from suppliers that are complicit in the use of forced labour, allowing those responsible for violations to profit—or, indeed, making a profit themselves—by supplying the authorities in Xinjiang. Here in the UK, we must take action to ensure that UK businesses are not part of supply chains that lead to the gates of the internment camps in Xinjiang, and to ensure that the products of the human rights violations that take place in those camps do not end up on the shelves of supermarkets that we shop in here at home week in, week out.
We have already engaged with businesses with links to Xinjiang; we have encouraged them to conduct appropriate due diligence. More widely, we have made a commitment to tackling forced labour crystal clear. With the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the United Kingdom was the first country to require companies by law to report on how they are tackling forced labour in their supply chains. Today, I can announce a range of new measures to send a clear message that those violations of human rights are unacceptable and, at the same time, to safeguard UK businesses and public bodies from any involvement or links with them.
I have been working closely with my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for International Trade and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Our aim, put simply, is that no company profits from forced labour in Xinjiang, and that no UK business is involved in their supply chains. Let me set out the four new steps that we are now taking.
First, today the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and the Department for International Trade have issued new, robust and detailed guidance to UK businesses on the specific risks faced by companies with links to Xinjiang, and underlining the challenges of conducting effective due diligence there. A Minister-led campaign of business engagement will reinforce the need for UK businesses to take concerted action to address that particular and specific risk.
Secondly, we are strengthening the operation of the Modern Slavery Act. The Home Office will introduce fines for businesses that do not comply with their transparency obligations, and the Home Secretary will introduce the necessary legislation setting out the level of those fines as soon as parliamentary time allows.
Thirdly, we announced last September that the transparency requirements that apply to UK businesses under the Modern Slavery Act will be extended to the public sector. The FCDO will now work with the Cabinet Office to provide guidance and support to UK Government bodies to exclude suppliers where there is sufficient evidence of human rights violations in any of their supply chains. Let me say that we in the United Kingdom—I think rightly—take pride that the overwhelming majority of British businesses that do business do so with great integrity and professionalism right around the world. That is their hallmark and part of our USP as a global Britain. Precisely because of that, any company profiting from forced labour will be barred from Government procurement in this country.
Fourthly, the Government will conduct an urgent review of export controls as they apply, specifically geographically, to the situation in Xinjiang, to make sure that we are doing everything we can to prevent the export of any goods that could contribute directly or indirectly to human rights violations in that region. The package that has been put together will help to ensure that no British organisations—Government or private sector, deliberately or inadvertently—will profit from or contribute to human rights violations against the Uyghurs or other minorities. I am of course sure that the whole House would accept that the overwhelming majority of British businesses would not dream of doing so. Today’s measures will ensure that businesses are fully aware of those risks, will help them to protect themselves, and will shine a light on and penalise any reckless businesses that do not take those obligations seriously.
As ever, we act in co-ordination with our like-minded partners around the world, and I welcome the fact that later today Foreign Minister Champagne will set out Canada’s approach on these issues. I know that Australia, the United States, France, Germany and New Zealand are also considering the approaches they take. We will continue to work with all of our international partners, but the House should know that in the comprehensive scope of the package I am setting out today the UK is again setting an example and leading the way.
We want a positive and constructive relationship with China, and we will work tirelessly towards that end, but we will not sacrifice our values or our security. We will continue to speak up for what is right and we will back up our words with actions, faithful to our values, determined, as a truly global Britain, to be an even stronger force for good in the world. I commend this statement to the House.
The persecution of the Uyghurs has been of great concern to hon. Members in all parts of this House. We have read the reports and heard the testimony, and it is past time to act. There must be a unified message from this whole House: we will not turn away and we will not permit this to go unchallenged. So may I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement but say to him that the Government had trailed in the media long-awaited sanctions on officials responsible for appalling human rights abuses in Xinjiang? We have waited months, and he briefed the papers that he was planning to announce this today. What has happened to this announcement, and who in government has overruled him this time? The strength of his words is, once again, not matched by the strength of his actions, and I am sorry to say that that will be noticed loud and clear in Beijing.
I was pleased to hear the Foreign Secretary acknowledge that the Modern Slavery Act is not working. The independent review was right to say that it has become a “tick-box exercise”, and we need a robust response to ensure that companies are not just transparent but accountable. But there is little in today’s statement that is new, and I am left slightly lost for words as to why he has chosen to come here today. Back in September the Government said they would extend the Modern Slavery Act to the public sector. He mentioned France, which has already gone further than the UK, with its duty of diligence law, which includes liability for harm. The European Union intends to bring in legislation next year on due diligence, which will be mandatory. Even under the new arrangements, will a company profiting from a supply chain involving forced labour have broken any laws in this country? What law would a company actually be breaking if it profited from what the Foreign Secretary called the “barbaric” forced labour in Xinjiang? If the UK really does intend to set an example and lead the way, he will have to do more than tinker around the edges. One of the best things he could do for those British businesses he rightly praised is to make the playing field level for the many British companies that do the right thing.
We warmly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s proposed review of export controls. If the Government are successfully able to determine whether any goods exported from the UK are contributing to violations of international law in Xinjiang, that will be a breakthrough, not just in taking robust action against China’s human rights abuses, but as a model that can be used in other countries around the world where British exports risk being misused. So we will pay close attention. He will also know that the House of Lords recently came together to pass two cross-party amendments that put human rights considerations at the centre of our trade policy. I was astonished not to hear any reference to them today. Do the Government intend to get behind those efforts to ensure that our trade policy defends, not undermines, human rights? I can tell him that I will be writing to MPs when the Trade Bill returns to this place to urge them to vote with their consciences. I hope the Government will not find themselves stranded on the wrong side of history.
We cannot allow this moment to pass us by. The Foreign Secretary was right to say that this is truly horrific, and the House is united in condemnation of what is happening in Xinjiang. Members of all parties want Britain to act as a moral force in the world. Despite today’s disappointing statement, I believe he is sincere when he says that he wants the same, but now he has to make good on his promise to back up words with real action.
May I at least thank the hon. Member for what she said about the approach that we are taking on export controls? She is wrong on a number of fronts, though; we certainly did not brief the papers. We have said that we would keep Magnitsky sanctions under review, and we continue to do so. Only one other country has applied Magnitsky sanctions in relation to China and specifically Xinjiang, and that is the US. We are taking targeted sanctions both through the fines that we will be legislating for under the MSA and through the stronger export controls, so what she said in that regard is not accurate. All four measures that we announced today are new. I was a little surprised to hear her refer to the EU regarding the new investment deal that it has done with China, and the suggestion that it has adopted stronger measures, which is simply not factually correct.
The hon. Member referred to the amendments to the Trade Bill, which I would like to address. The noble Lord Alton’s amendment has attracted a lot of interest. I think that it is well meaning, but it would actually be rather ineffective and counterproductive. Let me briefly explain why. It would frankly be absurd for any Government to wait for the human rights situation in a country to reach the level of genocide, which is the most egregious international crime, before halting free trade agreement negotiations. Any responsible Government would have acted well before then. At the same time, every campaigner against free trade would seek to use that legal provision to delay or halt FTA negotiations by tying the Government up in litigation that may last months—if not years—with no plausible genocide concluded at the end.
Finally, although I think it is right that the courts determine whether the very specific and, frankly, technical legal definition of genocide is met in any given situation, it would be quite wrong for a Government or for hon. Members of this House to subcontract to the courts our responsibility for deciding when a country’s human rights record is sufficiently bad that we will not engage in trade negotiations. Parliament’s responsibility is to determine when sanctions take place and with whom we negotiate.
The measures that we have announced today will ensure that both business and the Government can cater for the very real risk that supply chains—either coming to the UK or going into the internment camps of Xinjiang—are not affected, and that UK businesses are not affected. The hon. Member should unequivocally support these measures.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Her Majesty’s Government have taken some important actions of late. Indeed, supporting the Australian Strategic Policy Institute inquiry into Xinjiang was a very worthwhile action by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I am glad that some of the recommendations that my right. hon Friend has spoken about were in the report published by the China Research Group only a few weeks ago. There are, however, other areas into which he could go.
I am particularly conscious not just of the shaping of the economic environment that we are seeing coming out Xinjiang and the nature of slave goods getting into the UK manufacturing chain, but also of the distortion of academic ideas and academic freedoms that we are seeing here in the UK; there is a centre in Jesus College, Cambridge that is refusing to talk about these abuses of Uyghur Muslims for fear of causing offence. Is this the first time that Jesus himself has taken 30 pieces of silver? This is a deeply disappointing moment for all of us who believe in academic freedom in the UK, and it is another example of why the UK and the Foreign Office need to be clear in demonstrating that dirty goods are one thing, but dirty money is also unacceptable.
I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done in the Foreign Affairs Committee, and in the parliamentary grouping to which he referred, including the report that that group published. I thank him for his support for these important measures. They are very targeted—this is often the case with international organised crime or war crimes—to ensure that we follow the money and prevent the ability to profit from, or to financially support, the kinds of actions on which we all want to clamp down.
My hon. Friend raised the issue of academic freedoms. We are taking further measures in that regard, and further legislative measures will be taken when the relevant legislative vehicles are brought forth. He is absolutely right to raise this issue. He talked about Jesus College, Cambridge; I did my LLM there. There is a very real risk of academic coercion in places where we need to protect the heartbeat and the life and soul of freedom of expression and debate, and there is also a risk to research that takes place, in advance of it becoming intellectual property. In all those areas, in both non-legislative and legislative measures, we are actively looking at that.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement, and indeed, I thank him for the statement; these are measures that we and colleagues across the House have called for over a number of months, so I am glad to see some progress today. While I would like to see more, as usual, I do not doubt that the reaction to this from Beijing has been and will be ferocious. It is important for me to put on record our support for the objectives that the Foreign Secretary has set out. I do not believe in pretending difference exists where it does not, and I believe in working together where we agree.
In that spirit, I have a couple of constructive suggestions. I note with interest the Foreign Secretary’s reassurance that the Government did not brief the press—well, somebody did. There was an expectation of a more concrete announcement today on Magnitsky sanctions than we have had. I reiterate my view, which I know he shares, that Magnitsky sanctions allow a very targeted response against individuals who are directing the sorts of activities that we do not want to see. I warmly echo the comments of Tom Tugendhat on Confucius institutes. These organisations are directly much closer within the control of the UK Government, and they merit a lot more scrutiny than they have been getting.
The Foreign Secretary says that scrutiny of the supply chain will go up to “the gates” of labour camps. I applaud that and warmly welcome it, but getting the due diligence right will be a challenge, because there is a lot of opacity within the supply chains here. I have not seen the detail of the package yet, but I look forward to an assurance from him that it will indeed go right up to the gates of the camps. The Home Secretary has yet to lodge the legislation setting out what the fines for malfeasance will be. I would welcome a reassurance from the Foreign Secretary that those fines will be sufficient to focus corporate minds, and not just another sunk cost. I think we agree on that, but reassurance would be useful.
I have discussed previously with the Minister for Asia how warmly we welcome the extension of the procurement rules to Government Departments. On the exclusion of companies from Government procurement contracts, could the Foreign Secretary reassure us that that will extend to groups of companies? Many of the companies involved in dubious activities will be trading subsidiaries, so I would welcome an assurance that this measure will apply to groups of companies and that there will be a more robust approach to this than a strictly legal one.
Perhaps it is just a point of drafting in the statement, but can the Foreign Secretary assure us that the audit of export regime controls to Xinjiang will extend to goods that might end up in Xinjiang, not just those going directly to it? Again, the opacity of the supply chains—
Order. The hon. Member has two minutes, and he is now almost on three. Is he about to finish?
On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, we will make sure that the audit trail includes direct and indirect elements of the supply chain. I thank him for his full-throated and undiluted support for these measures. On Magnitsky, we will keep that in reserve. The advantage of the measures we are taking is that they will target in a forensic way either those profiting from forced labour or those who would financially support it, whether deliberately or otherwise.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point on academic freedom, which I raised in response to my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat. On the due diligence of the audit trail for businesses, there will be a ministerially led series of engagement with business to both advise and warn them of the risk to their supply chains of doing business or touching on business links with Xinjiang.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the level of fines; I will of course leave that to the Home Secretary, but they will need to be struck at a level at which they can deter those who willingly flout the transparency requirements.
Finally, on Government procurement, the measures we have announced will apply in England. I hope that the Scottish Government and the other devolved Administrations, with whom we will collaborate very closely, will be able to follow suit. The hon. Gentleman will understand that we will of course want to respect their competencies, but that is something on which we could usefully work together.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. The effects of the things he has announced today have been called for by the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China and by the Centre for Social Justice in respect of modern-day slavery, so I welcome them. It is vital to crack down on businesses and their supply chains. However, in this week of the holocaust memorial, surely Magnitsky sanctions should have been on the list. I happen to believe that my right hon. Friend wants that to be the case, so I wonder who in Government is blocking it. Perhaps he can whisper it to me in the Chamber; I promise him that I will not tell anybody else outside. The reality is that we need those sanctions now, because the evidence is clear.
Genocide really is a vital issue for us, and my right hon. Friend now needs to sit down with myself and others to discuss bringing forward a better amendment to make sure that we can start the process. In this week of the holocaust memorial, we need to act; after all, when they last did not act, just look what happened.
I thank my right hon. Friend and pay tribute to the work that the IPA and the CSJ have done and to his leadership on this subject. I also thank him for again full-throatedly welcoming the measures we have taken. They are quite technical and forensic but, as I said, they target those who either profit from or help to finance the gruesome trade in the internment camps.
My right hon. Friend will have heard me make the point already that on Magnitsky sanctions we keep it under review—it is evidence-led and we work with our allies. He will know that in relation to Xinjiang so far only the US has brought in Magnitsky sanctions, but that is something we have certainly not ruled out. The measures we have taken today are actually more targeted and forensic in addressing the finance going into or profiting from and coming out of the labour camps.
I am happy to talk to my right hon. Friend about the issue of genocide. He will know that my father fled the holocaust; I could not take it more seriously. I hope he will also have listened to what I said to Lisa Nandy; he will be all too aware of the risks of subcontracting issues to the courts, which are rightly the responsibility and the prerogative of this House, and also the fact that, frankly, we should be taking action well below the level of a genocide in terms of the Executive decisions that we make.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement. I believe that he cares about these issues, as we all do, and I was pleased to hear him say that more must be done. He also mentioned:
“Internment camps, arbitrary detention, political re-education, forced labour, torture and forced sterilisation—all on an industrial scale.”
Horrific and barbaric, yes, but there is another word and it is genocide.
Given China’s blocking of routes to pursue genocide amendments through international courts, does not the UK have a responsibility, in line with its obligations under the genocide convention, to find alternative routes to make the legal determination? Will the Foreign Secretary clarify the Government’s position, which previously was that the determination of genocide is a matter for judges, not politicians? He seemed to contradict that a little today. I echo what has already been said about coming up with an amendment that can get cross-party support: this House clearly wants to discuss this issue and do something about it; we must act and not stand by.
I thank the hon. Lady for—I think—her support for the measures we have announced today. She is right to point to the need for a court to determine the very specific and, frankly, very exacting definition of genocide. When I was a war crimes lawyer, at the time—it is probably still true today—that determination had been made only in relation to Bosnia, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge and Rwanda. It is very exacting and a lot of international lawyers have criticised it for that reason. There is a big difference between saying that it is for the courts to determine that specific requirement under international law and saying that it is for the courts to decide when and how this House and this Government engage in free trade negotiations. Frankly, the bar would be well below the level of genocide, and it is unthinkable that this Government would engage in free trade negotiations with any country that came close to that kind of level of human rights abuse.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement today and the four new measures that focus on business requirements and supply chains to Xinjiang, which is something that the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has been looking at. None the less, I found the rest of the statement quite chilling. My right hon. Friend talks about the high level of the crime—the vilest of all crimes—being committed. In particular, he mentioned birth control and forced sterilisation, which are markers of genocide. I am confused why he cannot call this crime what it is and ensure that Britain is not complicit in genocide. He has talked about judges, but we know that the UN is a busted flush when it comes to investigating genocide and when it comes to China. Even though the amendment, which is in the other House but will return here, is not perfect because it asks judges to get involved, the Foreign Secretary has an opportunity to sit with colleagues and come up with a better amendment that focuses on judges, not on trade, on investigating genocide and on bringing that decision back to the House. There is no excuse, Mr Speaker, to allow these atrocities to continue.
I thank my hon. Friend. I know that she takes a close interest in these matters. I pay tribute to the work of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. In relation to the genocide definition, it is not just evidence that persecution is taking place to destroy a group, but evidence that it is taking place with the intention to destroy a group as such. It has very rarely been found in international forums, because that definition is so high. She is right to acknowledge that the amendment is, in her words, “ not perfect”. In some respects, it could be counterproductive. The No. 1 thing to advance this debate in a sensible and targeted way and in a way that would attract international support would be to secure the UN human rights commissioner, or another authoritative third body, to be able to go in and review and verify authoritatively what is going on in Xinjiang. I raised that with the United Nations Secretary-General yesterday.
I thank the Secretary of State for his clear determination to address the human rights abuses in China. Despite having had much less media attention lately, Tibetan Buddhists have faced persecution similar to that of the Uyghurs at the hands of the Chinese Government. More than half a million labourers were detained in camps in the first seven months of 2020 alone. It is suspected that the labour of Uyghurs and of Tibetan detainees is also in the supply chains of businesses that are household names in the United Kingdom. Will he outline what he is doing to address the issue of forced labour from other areas under Chinese Communist party control?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is also a friend, for consistently raising these issues in a very targeted way. We are deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Tibet, including restrictions on freedom of religion, freedom of religious belief, and freedom of assembly, and also about the reports of forced labour. The evidence is not quite as well documented as it is in relation to Xinjiang, but we will, of course, keep those measures under review. Indeed, the transparency requirements under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 will apply across the board, not just in relation to Xinjiang.
I am not sure that I was listening to the same statement as the shadow Foreign Secretary. I thought that, as a statement about our values, it was extremely clear. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is plainly morally unacceptable for British firms to profit from forced labour? We should also bear it in mind that there are now 1 million people extra-judicially interned in Xinjiang. Will he also confirm the implications of what he said about torture? Torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction, so perhaps he could tell us what the implications are for Chinese officials now engaged in that.
I thank my hon. Friend for his support for the measures we are taking. He is right about them. I share his concern in relation to Xinjiang and also, specifically, torture. Torture is an international crime, and anyone who engages in it, directs it or even takes an order in relation to it will be guilty under international law. The real challenge with China, as we know, is how to get remedy—redress—for these actions. The measures that we have announced today will prevent any profiting from forced labour, or indeed torture, and also prevent any UK businesses from financially, whether inadvertently or otherwise, supporting it.
If we want more significant accountability, the answer is to get an authoritative third-party body that is to review such matters—as, with the greatest respect to my right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith, we have managed to secure in relation to World Health Organisation access to China this week. We have to keep pressing, with our international partners. That is why the group of international partners that is assembled is very important. It must be as broad as possible in order to secure access for the UN Human Rights Commissioner.
Of course I warmly welcome these measures, but they simply are not sufficient for the moment at hand. We need only listen to the Secretary of State’s own comments and read them against the genocide convention to see that there is a clear example of genocide being practised in Xinjiang now. Killing people, causing bodily or mental harm, preventing births, forcibly transferring children—these are all the markers of genocide. Of course we need to come to a view both in this House and in the courts, but the difficulty about doing so through the courts is that China has a veto. How are we going to make sure that we name this as it properly is and that the people who are accountable for it actually come to justice? I have lauded the Secretary of State many times for introducing the Magnitsky measures, but there is no point in having them and just constantly reviewing them if we never blasted well use them.
We have used the Magnitsky sanctions. We recently announced another tranche of measures in addition to the first, and, as the hon. Gentleman will know, we are working on proposals to extend the model to corruption, so we have been extremely assiduous in this area. I understand his point about how we actually hold people individually to account for these crimes. Whether it is genocide or gross human rights violations, the label is less important than the accountability for what are, no doubt, egregious crimes, but he has not suggested anything to me that would precipitate that. We are taking the targeted measures that will cut the funding, inadvertently or otherwise, going into the internment camps, and prevent those in the internment camps who are running them from profiting from it. If we want any wider initiative, we will need a far wider range of international support and we will need to get authoritative third parties to have some kind of access. That is why I referred to the work of the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, as difficult and challenging as it is, and why I raised it with António Guterres yesterday.
My right hon. Friend has made a very well measured and balanced statement. Of course we seek a constructive relationship with China, but it has to be within the rules-based system. As he has so eloquently made clear, global Britain is values-driven or it is nothing. May I add to those who have urged him to keep on the table continuously the Magnitsky provisions, which he, I and others worked so hard to get through the House, to ensure that those provisions are consistently kept under review? On the subject of Jesus College, of which I am also an alumnus, may I make it clear that there are two China centres? My hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat was referring to the one run by Peter Nolan.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his knowledge and for his commitment on this issue. He is absolutely right in what he said. I thank him for his support. He is right to say that we need a balanced approach. China is here to stay as an asymmetrical economic influence. There are positives in the relationship as well as the negatives. In particular, it has taken steps on climate change, which is very important. It is the biggest net emitter but also the biggest investor in renewables. We want to try to have a constructive relationship. What I have set out today, what this Government believe in and what this Prime Minister believes in is that we will not duck when the issue of our security is at stake and we will not duck when our values are at stake. Of course we will not take the Magnitsky sanctions lever off the table, and of course it is evidence-driven in relation to the particular individuals; that has to be collated very carefully. Only one country so far has instituted sanctions, but I can assure him that it is not off the table.
The persecution, genocide and horrific human rights abuses faced by Uyghur Muslims at the hands of the Chinese Government is an issue that I and many others across the House have been raising for a considerable period, so of course it is welcome that the Government are finally taking some action. However, this action still does not go far enough, as pointed out by a number of hon. Members. Even those Uyghur who have managed to flee China as refugees are still being forcibly returned. So will the UK go further, and call for a full independent UN investigation and push regional countries to grant protection to Uyghur refugees?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. He, palpably and sincerely, is committed as I am to doing what we can to have accountability and to deterring the appalling violations of human rights. We have set out the measures on the finance and profiting from it that I think will be important in the way I have described.
In relation to an independent investigation, of course the challenge, as my right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith has said, is getting access to the relevant parts of Xinjiang. That is why I believe, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will support this, that one of the things we ought to be doing is gathering as wide as possible a group of like-minded countries to press for the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner to be able to have access. That would have the dual benefit, first, of substantiating the widespread reports of the violations of human rights I have described and, secondly, give China its opportunity to rebut and to reject those claims based on the evidence that it and only it has and can control.
I welcome this statement and the exceptional strength of the terms in which it was made by my right hon. Friend. As somebody who represents thousands of British Muslims, I can tell him that this is an issue of the most acute concern right here in Wycombe. I listened to how he answered the Labour Front Bencher and also our hon. Friend Ms Ghani. The Government will need to be extremely careful to make sure that they demonstrate to British Muslims that we are in fact taking leadership in this matter by any international standard, and I would ask him to make sure that he does at all times maintain our leadership.
I thank my hon. Friend, and he is absolutely right. There will be widespread concern among Muslim communities right across the country about this issue. I can reassure him that we have led in the UN General Assembly Third Committee, we have led in the United Nations Human Rights Council and we have led the way very much with the package of measures that I have announced today. We will continue to work with our international partners—including Muslim and Arab countries and those of the region, as well as with the traditional and predictable Five Eyes and European partners—to try to expand the caucus of like-minded states that will stand up to be counted on these issues. I believe that we are the ones setting an example and that we are the ones, in his words, leading the way.
As others have said repeatedly, this is genocide—very clearly genocide—and the parallels with the 1930s are equally clear. The Foreign Secretary knows that at least as well as anyone else. The boldness of the Chinese Government is demonstrated by the fact that they repeatedly claim that forced sterilisation is a victory for feminism. As twisted propaganda goes, that is about as bad as it gets. Could I ask him a specific question: in his discussions with the Home Secretary and others across Government, could they look at the possibility of prioritising asylum applications from Uyghur Muslims and offering appropriate support to those applicants? When they arrive in Britain, as some undoubtedly will—hopefully they will—they will be vulnerable and they will be traumatised, and they are also very likely to have no English at all.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about the appalling human rights violations. He asked whether we could prioritise one category of asylum claimants over another. I think that would be problematic. The asylum system is blind to region or political considerations; it is based on the suffering and persecution that the individual can present. I think that is the right approach, but of course I take on board the points that he made about ensuring that those who have suffered such awful crimes when they arrive in this country get the support that they need.
It is clear that in western China more than half a million minority workers are being coerced into seasonal cotton picking. That, of course, is in addition to a large-scale network of detention camps, where more than 1 million are reportedly being forced to work in textile factories. All of this is denied by the Chinese Government. I very much welcome today’s announcement. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the mechanisms will be key to combatting forced labour and modern slavery?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s support. The mechanisms will be an important tool; they are very targeted and forensic. What is also important is that we work with our international partners, because of course we are one country. If we want to deal with supply chains and prevent the kind of abuse, or the profiting from abuse, that we are all, I think, in this House rightly concerned about, we need to get the widest caucus of support in order that those measures are effective as possible.
The Secretary of State will know that the World Uyghur Congress has called for the Uyghur diaspora, such as it is, to be provided with financial, medical, psychological and legal support. I echo the calls made by the hon. Members for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) and for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) about discussing this with the Home Office. Even if we cannot give priority, at the very least there ought to be a presumption against the deportation to China of anyone from the Uyghur community who is seeking refuge and asylum.
Of course, anyone who has a claim to asylum could not be deported. Those are the rules, so people may apply. If we want to strengthen and go further, I would welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support in working with the Scottish Government and the devolved Administrations more generally to ensure that in lockstep the UK can send out a single, coherent, crystal-clear message. That would be a good example of global Britain, on which we should all be able to work together.
Whether it be abuses against the Uyghur in Xinjiang or against people in Hong Kong, Tibet or elsewhere, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the responsibility of the United Kingdom to build a global alliance to ensure that we act together against a China that is going against international norms? What is this country doing in that respect?
I point to the work that we did in the Human Rights Council and on the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly where we collated more than 30 countries to support our statement on human rights in both Hong Kong and Xinjiang. Of course, many countries are nervous in their dealings with China because of its asymmetric economic clout. Therefore we need to proceed carefully and sensitively to ensure that we carry with us as many people, and as many countries, in order to have the maximum effect in deterring the actions that China takes and to maximise our chances of protecting human rights.
I welcome what the Foreign Secretary has said. I think he has been strong, though he could be a bit stronger on sanctions. Right across the piece this is a repressive regime that hates democracy and does not care for human rights. Can he comment on what I thought was a veiled threat from the Chinese ambassador, who recently left our shores, when he said that the UK must make up its mind on whether it is a rival or a partner?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support. We will not take diktats from any Government on the way we proceed. We recognise, as I said, the scope for positive relations with China; the example I gave was climate change. However, I was also clear that we will absolutely protect every area of our national security and we will stand up for our values. I thought, frankly, that the ambassador’s performance on “The Andrew Marr Show” when he was shown live footage of what is going on in Xinjiang represented all the scrutiny that we need to see and promote. It was a good example of the questions that are left unanswered by the Government in Beijing.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement. Today we are deeply concerned about the plight of the Uyghurs; on another day it is the plight of the Rohingya and on yet another day the Yazidis. How can we effectively hold those responsible to account so that we can truly say and mean the words “Never again”?
I thank my hon. Friend, and pay tribute to her and congratulate her on her recent appointment as special envoy for freedom of religion or belief; her knowledge and tenacity will stand her in good stead and be a great asset to global Britain.
My hon. Friend is right to raise all the different groups; in relation to the Rohingya, that is an area where we introduced Magnitsky sanctions. The most important thing to do is proceed first of all with targeted measures, as we have done today, to try to address the specific wrongs we wish to right, and to work effectively and assiduously with all our international partners. In many of these cases shifting the dial and making the relevant Government listen requires concerted international action, and that is what we are committed to.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. The measures announced today are welcome, but they do not sufficiently address the genocide against the Uyghur people and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang. I noted with deep dismay his remarks about the amendment to the Trade Bill regarding China, which many other Members will wish to support. Will the Foreign Secretary at least acknowledge that efforts to allow UK judges to provide expert input and make preliminary determinations on genocide is, in the absence of any other viable legal option, the only legal route to hold the Chinese Government to account and the only viable opportunity in a legal forum to call their actions by their proper name: “genocide”?
I thank the hon. Lady and respect the passion and commitment with which she speaks. Of course I do not think the amendment she refers to would hold China to account for the awful human rights violations that she and I rightly deplore.
What we have sought to do today—and we will continue to do so—is take the targeted measures that will have an effect and an impact on the conduct that we want to stop by preventing people from profiting from it or financially supporting it. I think that is the right approach. Of course, we keep other measures in reserve, such as Magnitsky sanctions, but I do not think that the proposal that the hon. Lady has referred to would advance the cause of accountability in any meaningful sense at all.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The most important thing that could shift the dial on accountability—and, frankly, have a deterrent effect—would be an authoritative third party being able to go and review, and test the denials of the Chinese Government against the widespread reports that we have seen. I personally think the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is well placed to do that—authoritative, independent, no bias, no partisanship, no political interference. China has rejected that. We need to keep the pressure up for that individual or someone else of a similar level of impartiality, influence and authority.
What is happening in Xinjiang is the tragic reality of state-sanctioned Islamophobia. Leaders within the Muslim community in Luton North have expressed to me their horror at seeing this Government stand idly by while these human rights abuses are carried out, including reports of the forced sterilisation of Uyghur women, which is expressly forbidden under article II(d) of the UN convention on genocide.
I have asked before and I ask again: will the UK Government now use, not just talk about, sanctions to address these gross human rights abuses imposed on the Uyghur people?
The hon. Lady may have missed what I said: through the transparency requirements, the fines, the export controls and the four measures I announced today, we are increasing the strength of the targeted measures we are taking. Of course, as other Members have asked, we hold the Magnitsky sanctions in reserve.
The appalling and abhorrent persecution of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang has rightly received sustained condemnation not only from all parts of this House but from around the world. Let us not mince words and let us call it what it is: genocide.
As we head towards Holocaust Memorial Day, for which this year’s theme is to be the light in the darkness, let us, the UK, be that light in the darkness and take a firm stance against these crimes. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend outline what practical steps he is taking to co-ordinate international responses, providing hard-hitting sanctions against the Chinese Government and all those guilty of these heinous crimes?
Order. Before I call the Foreign Secretary, I should say that it is really important that questions be short. I have had to cut down the speaking list because we have another statement, then a well-subscribed debate. Foreign Secretary.
I thank my hon. Friend Christian Wakeford. I think that we have shown precisely the international leadership that he has cited. The reality is that we gained, I think, 35-plus countries in support of our statement in the United Nations General Assembly Third Committee, but a lot of countries around the world either do not wish to take the measures that he described or are understandably nervous, given their proximity to China or their economic size, about the reprisals that China would take. We need to proceed carefully and sensitively with our international partners—on that point, he is absolutely right.
Although I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s announcement on forced Uyghur labour, like a number of hon. Members I feel that it failed to address suspected genocide against Uyghur Muslims. A recent tweet by the Chinese Communist party branded the forced sterilisation of Uyghur women as emancipation. The UN convention on genocide clearly forbids such measures, so what steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to support the appointment of a UN special rapporteur to investigate forced labour and ethnic persecution in Xinjiang?
The hon. Gentleman raises a really interesting matter, and I know that he has raised it before. The challenge is that we know that China would block efforts to appoint a special rapporteur or envoy. He would agree that we do not want to give that, if you like, PR coup or failed initiative to our detractors.
The one thing we can and should do, as I have said several times to the House, is focus on getting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights some kind of access to Xinjiang. That will keep it on the agenda—I do not think that anyone can accuse the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights of being anything other than objective and impartial. That is something that other countries ought to be able to rally to, and that is where we have focused our efforts.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He is right as a matter of human rights, but he is also right as a matter of trust. One of the issues on this and in relation to the joint declaration in the context of Hong Kong, as we have said, is that these are obligations freely assumed. These are basic obligations that come with being a responsible and, as he says, leading member of the international community. Ultimately, if China cannot live up to those responsibilities and obligations, that raises a much broader issue of trust and confidence.
The poet Perhat Tursun, one of the foremost living writers in the Uyghur language, is one of around 1 million who have been disappeared by the Chinese state into the so-called re-education camps. Turson has been missing since his detention in January 2018. In one of his poems, he writes presciently:
“When they search the streets and cannot find my vanished figure
Do you know that I am with you”.
The Foreign Secretary must go further than today’s announcements. Uyghurs are not being persecuted for what they pick, but for who they are. As with the Tibetans, does he support their right to the self-determination that they seek?
We certainly want to see the human rights, freedoms and basic liberties of the people of Tibet, Hong Kong and Xinjiang respected. We are taking a series of measures, and are in the vanguard internationally with the measures that we have taken. It is important to try to keep clusters of like-minded partners with us to have the maximum effect precisely to provide redress and accountability for the violations of human rights that the hon. Gentleman and I rightly deplore.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and welcome the strong stance that we are taking against the atrocious human rights violations we are seeing evidence of. I have had a number of constituents ask how we in the UK can play our part in tackling those violations. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is incumbent on businesses to ensure that nothing they are doing is contributing to making the situation in Xinjiang worse?
I absolutely agree with the spirit, but also the practical advice and warning that my hon. Friend is giving. What we are trying to do is set out clear guidance for businesses, to which she refers, to make sure they are warned of the risks, because of course conducting due diligence on supply chains emanating from Xinjiang is quite tricky. We want to work with them, which is why Ministers will be engaging with businesses. Ultimately, they need to comply with their transparency obligations, so that everyone can see the due diligence they have conducted. If they do that, they have nothing to fear. If they do not, we will fine them.
The Government are to be congratulated for the international leadership they have applied in this matter. To what extent does the Foreign Secretary think that the bribes, inducements and threats under the belt and road initiative are muting international condemnation from countries in Africa, the middle east and continental Europe that would otherwise be expected to join the UK wholeheartedly in condemning the depredations of President Xi and his people?
My right hon. Friend will know—I pay tribute to his time at the Foreign Office, where he was an exceptional Minister—the challenges we face. He asks about belt and road. The truth is that China is a massive investor all over the world. We can see, with the EU investment agreement right the way through to what the Chinese Government are doing in Africa, that there is a huge amount of money at stake.
China has asymmetric economic size and clout, and of course countries are bearing that in mind and taking that into account. What we have to do is ensure there is a compelling, plausible, credible alternative to those investments, and make sure that everyone understands the shared value and stake we have in upholding the rules-based international system, of which human rights are a key component.
Vauxhall residents have contacted me, appalled at the widespread forced labour of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province. We must do everything in our power to stop the Chinese Government abusing their own people and to ensure that those responsible are held to account. I welcome the measures outlined by the Foreign Secretary on what additional help we can do to get our own house in order when it comes to doing business with Xinjiang, but the world must be united in its message to China. Can the Secretary of State confirm what further actions we are taking with our allies across the world to take a shared robust response to these appalling abuses?
I share the outrage of the hon. Lady’s constituents and I thank her for her support. We have laid out a suite of measures. I have explained what we are doing in the Human Rights Council, the United Nations General Assembly Third Committee.
We keep working with our international partners, but, as the hon. Lady will have noted, while we are leading the way a lot of countries are nervous of speaking out, partly because of China’s economic clout. We have certainly been having conversations with many countries, including countries with larger Muslim populations than our own, about why they are not more outspoken on this issue.
One of the things that I think would help, given China’s blanket denial, is to get the UN Human Rights Commissioner into Xinjiang, so there can be no doubt, no quibbling and no question that these violations are taking place. Having an authoritative and independent party like the UN Human Rights Commissioner conduct that kind of review would help to raise the kind of coalition of the like-minded that the hon. Lady talks about.
I very much welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement on dealing with the horrific situation in Xinjiang. With regards to the United Kingdom’s leadership on the matter and the further actions it can take, the UK will be hosting the G7 later this year and will have the presidency of the Security Council next month, in February. Will this issue and the wider topic of freedom of religion or belief be put on the agenda of both conferences and events to show the United Kingdom’s strong leadership and to take firm, decisive action?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work as special envoy for freedom of religion or belief. I can assure him, without divulging too much of the agenda in advance, that human rights will be at the forefront of our leadership this year—our presidency of the UN Security Council, our G7 presidency and more generally—because we believe that the UK has a crucial role to play in promoting open societies, including on human rights, but also in defending public goods in areas such as climate change and covid response.
Like others, I have been horrified by the reports of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, including mass detentions, forced sterilisations, efforts to restrict cultural and religious practices, and mass surveillance, disproportionately targeting the Uyghur population. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to support the appointment of a UN special rapporteur for the investigation of forced labour and ethnic persecution in Xinjiang?
We would certainly welcome such a special envoy, but, as I said in answer to a previous question, the reality is that China will block that if we formally propose it. That is why, as I have said repeatedly, what really matters is that an authoritative, independent, non-partisan individual or body can have access to Xinjiang. The UN human rights commissioner would seem to me to be one such individual who could perform that role—there are others—which is why we have raised it with our international partners and I have raised it with the UN Secretary-General.
Last week, the Chinese embassy in Washington proudly proclaimed that employment policies in Xinjiang promoted gender equality for Uyghur women, so now we know that the Chinese Government are an equal opportunities slave labour employer. I strongly welcome these measures, but will my right hon. Friend go further? Will he not just call out this persecution at the UN as genocide and invoke Magnitsky sanctions, as colleagues have suggested, but follow the example of Congress in passing a reciprocal access Bill—I have my Tibet (Reciprocal Access) Bill on the Order Paper—to prohibit Chinese officials from travelling to the UK if UK and western human rights inspectors are denied access to factories and prisons in Xinjiang and Tibet, for example, to verify the new measures that he has announced today?
I thank my hon. Friend for his support for the measures that we have taken. I understand that he wants us to go even further. He knows—he is an expert in this area—the challenges in cajoling and carrying an international coalition to advance those goals. He is right to say that scrutiny and accountability are key. That is why we want to see an authoritative third party such as the UN human rights commissioner have access to Xinjiang. I will await with great interest his Bill, and I am sure Members will scrutinise it very carefully when it comes before the House.
I am afraid that this will be the last question, because we had an hour allocated and we will have been an hour and 10 minutes by the time we have finished this one. The last question is from Alistair Carmichael, and I think it is audio only.
Frustrating though it is for many of us, I understand the Foreign Secretary’s reluctance to engage on the question of genocide, but he will know from his own professional background that the Government have a duty to assess the risk factors of genocide against the Uyghurs in China in order to trigger their duty to prevent. All this came from the International Court of Justice judgment in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro. He will also know that that obligation crystallises at the moment that a state learns, or should have learned, of the serious risk of genocide. Can he confirm that his Department is making that assessment of the risk factors of genocide, and will he publish its conclusions?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting and insightful comment on genocide. Of course, I was in The Hague when the Bosnia judgment was being considered.
The reality is that, in order to secure authoritative assessment and conclusions in relation to those widespread reports, which we think are tenable, plausible and credible, we need access to the camps. In a sense, throughout this statement, we are redefining the question. However, we come back to the point that we need to try to secure access to Xinjiang, and we will not be able to do that without sufficient and widespread pressure on the Chinese Government. The best vehicle for that is an authoritative, independent body or individual entrusted by the United Nations, of which China is a leading member through the Security Council. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights seems to me the right place and the right individual to support in that regard.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for that statement. In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.