With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the treatment of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
This is one of the worst human rights crises of our time and I believe the evidence is clear, as it is sobering. It includes satellite imagery; survivor testimony; official documentation and, indeed, leaks from the Chinese Government themselves; credible open-source reporting, including from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International; and visits by British diplomats to the region that have corroborated other reports about the targeting of specific ethnic groups.
In sum, the evidence points to a highly disturbing programme of repression. Expressions of religion have been criminalised, and Uyghur language and culture discriminated against on a systematic scale. There is widespread use of forced labour; women forcibly sterilised; children separated from their parents; an entire population subject to surveillance, including collection of DNA and use of facial recognition software and so-called predictive policing algorithms.
State control in the region is systemic. Over 1 million people have been detained without trial. There are widespread claims of torture and rape in the camps based on first-hand survivor testimony. People are detained for having too many children, for praying too much, for having a beard or wearing a headscarf, for having the wrong thoughts.
I am sure the whole House will join me in condemning such appalling violations of the most basic human rights. In terms of scale, it is the largest mass detention of an ethnic or religious group since the second world war, and I believe one thing is clear: the international community cannot simply look the other way.
It has been two and a half years since the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on China to stop arbitrarily detaining Uyghurs and other minorities in the Xinjiang province. It is over 18 months since the UK led the first ever joint UN statement on Xinjiang at the UN General Assembly’s third committee, back in October 2019. The number of countries now willing to speak out collectively has grown from just 23 to 39 as the evidence has accumulated and as our diplomatic efforts have borne fruit. That is a clear signal to China about the breadth of international concern.
Last year, 50 independent UN experts spoke out about the situation in an exceptional joint statement calling on China to respect basic human rights. Last month at the Human Rights Council, I led the calls on China to give the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet—or some other fact-finding expert—urgent, unfettered access to Xinjiang. Since then, Ms Bachelet herself has reinforced in the clearest terms the need for independent access to verify the deteriorating situation. We regret that, instead of recognising those calls from the international community, China has simply sought to deny them. Chinese authorities have claimed that the legitimate concerns raised are fake news. At the same time, the authorities continue to expand prison facilities, surveillance networks and forced labour programmes. China continues to resist access for the UN or other independent experts to verify the truth, notwithstanding its blanket denials.
For the UK’s part, our approach has been to call out these egregious, industrial-scale human rights abuses, to work with our international partners and ultimately to match words with actions. In January, I announced a package of measures to help ensure that no British organisations—Government or private sector—deliberately or inadvertently can profit from human rights violations against the Uyghurs or other minorities, and that no businesses connected with the internment camps can do business in the UK.
Today, we are taking further steps, again in co-ordination with our international partners. Having very carefully considered the evidence against the criteria in our global human rights sanctions regime, I can tell the House that I am designating four senior individuals responsible for the violations that have taken place and persist against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. Alongside those individuals, we are also designating the Public Security Bureau of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. That is the organisation responsible for enforcing the repressive security policies across many areas of Xinjiang. The sanctions involve travel bans and asset freezes against the individuals and asset freezes against the entity we are designating. The individuals are barred from entering the UK. Any assets found in the UK will be frozen.
We take this action alongside the EU, the US and Canada, which are all taking similar measures today. I think it is clear that, by acting with our partners—30 of us in total—we are sending the clearest message to the Chinese Government that the international community will not turn a blind eye to such serious and systematic violations of basic human rights, and that we will act in concert to hold those responsible to account.
As the Prime Minister set out in the integrated review last week, China is an important partner in tackling global challenges such as climate change. We pursue a constructive dialogue where that proves possible, but we will always stand up for our values, and in the face of evidence of such serious human rights violations, we will not look the other way. The suffering of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang cannot be ignored. Human rights violations on this scale cannot be ignored. Together with our partners, we call on China to end these cruel practices, and I commend this statement to the House.
There is no question but that this is a welcome step, and I welcome the moves by the EU today and other partners. I am sure the whole House will stand in solidarity with our fellow European parliamentarians who have been sanctioned by the Chinese Government in response. This is an unacceptable attack on democratic lawmakers simply for highlighting the horrific evidence from Xinjiang.
However, the Foreign Secretary has just read out the evidence that we have known about for years. He rightly called it barbaric, but when it has come to taking concrete steps, for years he has not listened. He did not listen to his hon. Friend Ms Ghani or his right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith. He did not listen to us. He did not listen to the Board of Deputies. He did not listen to the World Uyghur Congress. Yet suddenly today the Foreign Secretary has discovered a new-found sense of urgency about the desperate plight of the Uyghur, despite that mounting evidence over several years. The truth is that the timing is grubby and cynical; it is designed to send a signal first and foremost not to the Chinese Government but to his own Back Benchers. It is motivated primarily by a desire to protect the Government, not the Uyghur. For all the talk of being a force for good in the world, it is only when this Government are staring down the barrel of defeat that they discover a moral centre. Only now that the US and the EU have acted has the Foreign Secretary finally moved to take this step.
I urge all Members, especially those brave and conscientious Conservative Members, to think carefully before accepting that this signals a change of approach from this Government. This week we learnt that, despite his protestations, the Foreign Secretary has been talking up a trade deal with China in private at gatherings with Beijing officials. This week, the Prime Minister launched his global Britain policy, signalling a closer economic relationship with China. Members had eagerly awaited details of the Indo-Pacific tilt; we did not dream for a moment, from the talk over the last year, that it would be a tilt towards China.
Today is perhaps the most acute example of the Government’s decade-long incoherent, inconsistent approach to the Chinese Government. On the day the Foreign Secretary finally announces sanctions on some of the officials responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang he is also pulling every trick in the book to stop Parliament gaining the power to block any bilateral trade or investment agreement with China based on a determination of genocide.
I ask hon. Members to pause and ponder: if this is about co-ordination, why has it taken so long? The Government could have taken co-ordinated action with the United States when it brought sanctions in July last year, or if they felt so strongly they could have moved independently from the EU, as they have done in sanctions on other countries over the last year. Where are the sanctions on officials in Hong Kong when the US took that step this week? We should be taking a leadership approach given our historical commitments in the bilateral treaty, which China is in breach of. We are signatories to the joint declaration, not the United States. Where is the tougher sanctions regime that brings corruption into scope? Why did the Foreign Secretary say at a private gathering earlier this month that he had no reason to think that we could not deepen our trading relationship with China? Why did the Prime Minister say last month that he was committed to strengthening the UK’s ties with China
“whatever the occasional political difficulties”?
If this signals a change in approach, why on earth on the same day as the Government are announcing these sanctions are they twisting the arms of Back Benchers who want to support the genocide amendment?
Today I urge all parliamentarians to stand firm: to stand with the public, who overwhelmingly support a principled stance on genocide; to stand with their consciences; and most of all to stand with the Uyghur people. After a decade of rolling out the red carpet for Beijing and turning a blind eye to human rights abuses, this is the moment when we will finally force a change in Britain’s foreign policy, live up to our values as a country and be a force for good in the world.
I think the hon. Lady welcomed the step, notwithstanding everything she said that followed, but let me correct some of the—frankly—false statements she made. First, she said I talked up a free trade agreement with China—
May I just say that I do not think any hon. Member would deliberately make a false statement, would they?
No, but you said “false”. I am not sure that it was false, and I am not sure that all the script was read out either; certainly my pages did not match what was said—I am not sure whether it was the same for the shadow Foreign Secretary— in which case we all might feel a little aggrieved if we did not see the full script. It was only when you read it out that I realised that the pages were not corresponding.
On the first point, I am certainly not imputing bad faith, but what the shadow Foreign Secretary said is wholly inaccurate and I will correct the record shortly. In relation to the statement, the only bit that has been removed was reference to the individuals sanctioned, because for legal and propriety reasons we cannot give that out in advance. I hope you will accept my apologies for that, Mr Speaker, but we were doing it so as not to frustrate the very purpose of the sanctions.
In relation to the remarks, or rather selective snippets, made by the shadow Foreign Secretary, it is wholly inaccurate to suggest that I talked up an FTA with China. I made it very clear that there was no realistic or foreseeable prospect of a free trade agreement and that the way to deepen our trade with China was for it to improve its human rights record.
On the one hand, the hon. Lady welcomes the fact that we have proceeded in concert with 30 partners, including ourselves. On the other, she says it is too slow. It is the Goldilocks of criticism. She suggests it was linked to the Trade Bill. [Interruption.] I know she believes in human rights. I had hoped that she would at least recognise that 30 countries imposing targeted sanctions on China for human rights abuses is an important moment. It is a bit disappointing to hear her trying to score political points in relation to this important step, let alone suggesting that the concerted and unprecedented action of 30 countries is somehow tied up with the UK’s domestic legislative timetable.
The reality, on the genocide amendment, is that we absolutely recognise the ability of this House to hold the Government to account. Through support for the Neill amendment and further concessions, we continue to want to see maximum scrutiny of the Government by Parliament. The reality is that this British Government under this Prime Minister have done more to stand up for human rights around the world than any previous British Government. We have demonstrated that through our diplomatic leadership in the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly Third Committee. We have demonstrated it through the actions that we are taking on modern slavery. We have demonstrated it in the offer that we have made to the British nationals overseas from Hong Kong. And we have demonstrated it again today with these Magnitsky sanctions.
I very much welcome the announcement of sanctions that the Foreign Secretary has made this afternoon. He knows that he has no greater supporters on this decision than the Foreign Affairs Committee. However, may I ask him—a gentleman who has devoted so much of his career to human rights law—what is it in human rights law or in the UN definition of genocide that fails to get him to use the word in this circumstance? My understanding —I admit I am not a lawyer—is that the attempted destruction of a people or its culture in whole or in part constitutes genocide. What he has just described to the House sounds to me like it fits that definition, so I am just wondering why he is reticent to use the word.
Given that the Foreign Secretary rightly identified that sanctions on individuals operating in the UK are a matter of great concern, will he please let the House know when he intends to bring forward a foreign agents registration Act? He knows as well as I do that there are, sadly, too many British people in the UK—sometimes, sadly, even former Ministers or those connected to Government—using their influence in a surreptitious manner to further the aims or interests of a country such as China, which is so violating human rights.
I thank my hon. Friend the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. There will be ample time for further discussions of the Trade Bill, but the arguments around genocide and the importance of its being determined by a court are well rehearsed. Equally, we have made clear the importance of this House in controlling the Executive in relation to free trade policy. On further legislation, an announcement will be made by the relevant Secretary of State in due course.
The SNP wholly condemns the human rights violations taking place in China.
Last week, the Prime Minister published the long-awaited integrated review, which stated:
“Our first goal is to support open societies and defend human rights, as a force for good in the world.”
Despite that, the Prime Minister wants to forge closer ties to some of the worst human rights-violating states in our world. Moreover, in the immediate aftermath of the review’s publication, the Foreign Secretary lamented that restricting trade because of human rights abuses would mean missing out on growth markets. The Foreign Secretary’s remarks last week do not chime with today’s statement. His insistence that the UK will seek to do trade deals with countries that violate standards enshrined in the European convention on human rights—the very laws drawn up by British officials after the horrors of the second world war—marks yet another record low for this UK Government.
China is a serial human rights violator and we must call out the appalling state-backed human rights violations taking place there. It is crystal clear: it is genocide. Indeed, the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy think-tank found that through its actions in Xinjiang, China has breached every single article of the UN genocide convention and has accused China of clearly demonstrating
“intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
Shamefully, the UK Government refused to back the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill, making clear their desire for a trade deal with China as opposed to the preferable tougher approach on human rights.
The Foreign Secretary can talk tough on China but until he takes action it does nothing for those living under oppression in Xinjiang and elsewhere. Will he tell the House and the world what specific actions he intends to take to ensure that the UK upholds human rights and that this is a new approach that will not be characterised by the inconsistency, ambiguity and policy incoherence that has defined this Government so far? Finally, will he call out what is happening in China? It is quite simply genocide.
The hon. Gentleman made a whole range of remarks that suggest he lives in a parallel universe. I have to say that some of what he said was just pure nonsense. I made it clear that we would never do an FTA with a country with a human rights record that is beyond the pale. Through the recent action we have been taking under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, particularly in relation to supply chains, we have demonstrated that we will not allow businesses that profit from modern slavery either here or abroad to do business in the UK, and we have introduced the Magnitsky sanctions.
The hon. Gentleman raised the question of whether we would ever trade with countries that do not have ECHR-level human rights; I put it to him that neither he nor Lisa Nandy has ever once suggested that we should tear up any of the free trade deals that we have with countries that still have the death penalty, which of course does not comply with the ECHR. If he wants to keep making that argument, will he tell me which of the FTAs—whether with Korea or Japan, or the negotiations with the US—he is opposed to?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his welcome statement. Does he agree that it is because a Conservative Government put in place Magnitsky legislation that we are able to make these designations, and that by working closely with the United States, the EU and others we can lead the charge against authoritarian regimes that have poor human rights records?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of real significance today is not just the groundbreaking measures that we are taking but the fact that 30 other countries are taking action in concert. We are far more likely to have impact that way and far more likely to get China to think twice.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement. I am glad that this Government and others are now taking seriously the treatment of Uyghur people and the violation of their human rights. Will he tell us what action is being taken over the historic profits made by British companies from manufacturing in that part of China? By the same token, will he undertake that the UN requests about the treatment of those being discriminated against—such as the Dalit peoples in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh—will also be included in the advice given to British companies, so that we do not profit from the abuse of human rights in any country around the world? If we do, we put ourselves in further violation of the universal declaration of human rights.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. He makes an important and focused point about the fact that the requirements under the Modern Slavery Act, particularly in respect of the transparency of supply chains, apply across the board. He is absolutely right on that, and it is an issue on which we ought to work with businesses but ultimately be willing to fine them if they do not comply.
What China has been doing to the Uyghur people and others, including the Tibetans, is nothing short of absolutely appalling. Frankly, as the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat, said, we are dancing elaborately around the whole idea of genocide when it is clear that that is what is going on.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on making this statement. He knows that I and many others in this place have called for action for some time, so I welcome it. As I understand it, though, two people are not on the list. First, Chen Quanguo, the political commissar of the infamous Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps—which is on the list, but he is not—is the architect of what is going on in Tibet and in Xinjiang. Will my right hon. Friend please take that into consideration?
Secondly, the buck for all this stops with the President of China, who was recently quoted as saying that the Chinese should show the Uyghur people “no mercy”. When do we start calling his name up?
I thank my right hon. Friend. First, may I pay tribute to him for his campaigning efforts in this regard? I know he will feel no small sense of accomplishment today, because has eloquently and powerfully made the case in the House. I will certainly look at any names he has. Of course, we have a clear, specific legal regime, and I and the Government have to assess the evidence based on it, but we should be willing to call out. The action we have taken both today and more generally, with the Magnitsky sanctions regime, shows that we not afraid not just to talk, but to act.
May I too give a warm welcome to this announcement of these sanctions? They have been long sought and they are welcome now that they have finally arrived. May I say to the Foreign Secretary that while he is on a roll we might possibly see some positive announcement on the Alton amendment later on today, as he has a taste for this? Will he also give urgent consideration to the recent report from the Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which came forward with good and constructive suggestions about how to tackle the issue of the use of Uyghur slavery in the supply chain of many goods available in this country, possibly including the eventual linking of that to the disqualification of directors?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for welcoming the action we have taken today. More generally, in relation to the Committee’s reports, may I say how important it is, as I mentioned in response to a previous question, that we take action on supply chains? Often, particularly in relation to the internment camps in Xinjiang, which are profiting, the best source of action is to follow the money, to cut it off and to prevent those who are profiting from making money out of it—if they do so, it should certainly not be through UK companies or through UK consumers.
My hon. Friend will have noticed that we have taken action with our Canadian and US counterparts, and we have also engaged closely with my Australian opposite number; they have legislation that is being actively considered at the moment. I have also had engagement with my New Zealand opposite number. The Five Eyes are important, and the EU is important. What we really need to do is broaden the caucus of countries, like-minded on values, that will take action and have the courage to stand up for these important universal rights.
I thank the Secretary of State for his strong action in today’s statement. China’s systematic persecution and abuse of Uyghurs and Christians, and Buddhists in Nepal, is outrageous and despicable. Following the latest news that the EU has imposed sanctions on Chinese officials, due to what some of us are terming as the genocide of the Uyghurs, will the Secretary of State outline what discussions have taken place with global powers to send a joint message that the removal of children from their parents and their being sent to orphan camps will not be tolerated by the global community and that these words will be followed up with economic action?
I thank the hon. Gentleman and I absolutely share his concerns. Those are some of the appalling violations of human rights that I set out before the House today. They clearly violate the most basic human rights protected under not just domestic law but international human rights law. We have taken sanctions partly in response to the evidence related to them, and we will continue to do so. They are some of the worst and most egregious violations we have seen.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for his long-standing personal commitment to upholding human rights around the world. What steps has he taken to rally further international support for action on Xinjiang? Does he agree that China can be considered a leading member of the international community only if it abides by basic human rights norms?
I thank my hon. Friend for his support. It is crucial, although we have 30 countries taking this stance today, that we swell those numbers. Different regions and countries around the world take a different view, but it is crucial that we swell the ranks and also hold China to keeping its obligations. This is in part about human rights, and in part about a leading member of the international community being held to account and living up to its international obligations.
The Foreign Secretary has described what is happening to the Uyghur Muslims as
“barbarianism we had hoped was lost to another era”.—[Official Report,
He has previously set out measures on the use of forced labour from Xinjiang province in supply chains, so will he now commit to strengthening section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to stop forced labour being supported by UK business supply chains completely?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for, I think, welcoming the measures we have taken today. He will have seen the Modern Slavery Act supply chain measures and action that I announced to the House some weeks ago. If there is a specific further piece of action that he would like us to take, he should write to me or to the Home Secretary and I would be very happy to consider what we do on that.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Just 25 years ago, it was China that hosted the UN’s platform for action to ensure greater equality for men, women, girls and boys, yet today we are seeing the appalling record that he has set out. Does he agree that China will be considered a leading member of the international community only if it abides by basic human rights norms in its day-to-day business?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. China is a leading member of the international community, and we want a positive, constructive relationship with it, but that is in no small part dependent on what China does. As a permanent member of the Security Council and a leading member of the United Nations, it must stand up and respect the basic tenets that come with that status.
We have been pretty clear that there are no realistic prospects of a free trade deal on the horizon. Of course, given China’s size, there is an economic reality that we recognise, as every other country around the world does. As I have said before, the best route to engaging more deeply with China on trade, including going down the track I have set out today, is for China to improve its human rights record, but that is for China itself to demonstrate.
I welcome today’s announcement, but I am afraid that, as China’s power and influence grows, our ability to pressure it into following the international rules-based order shrinks. Does my right hon. Friend welcome the recent revival of the quadrilateral security dialogue, and does he agree with the Australian Prime Minister that the largely benign security environment in the region has gone?
I am in very close co-ordination with my Australian opposite number. We understand that Australia is very much on the frontline in all sorts of different ways relating to some of the challenging and threatening behaviour from China. We worked very closely with China, and we obviously collaborate with what the Quad is doing. We will continue not just to deepen and expand that but to look and see if there are concrete areas where we can do more.
Given the actions and the rightful condemnation that the Foreign Secretary has announced today, does he still feel it will be appropriate to hold the winter 2022 Olympics in Beijing?
The hon. Lady raises a perfectly legitimate question, but we have a long tradition in this country of keeping politics and sport separate. Of course, she will also know that that is an independent decision made by the sporting authorities, and not one for the Government.
Last year, along with many other Members, I signed a joint letter organised by my hon. Friend Ms Ghani condemning China and calling for sanctions and an independent investigation, so I welcome the sanctions announced today. The Chinese Government continue to issue denials. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that for Beijing’s denials to have even a shred of credibility, China must give the UN Commissioner for Human Rights full access to Xinjiang immediately?
I thank my hon. Friend, and I certainly agree with that statement. Indeed, the UK, alongside the United States and Canada, has reiterated the calls in a common statement today to precisely that effect.
Article 2 of the convention on genocide sets out five different aspects of genocide. I hope that the reluctance to invoke the term “genocide” is not based on avoiding the widespread responsibilities that arise from that under international law. Will the Government now automatically grant refugee status to all Uyghur people fleeing to the UK?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. Asylum applications are quite rightly done independently, rather than just on a political whim. He refers to the definition in the genocide convention. Before coming to the House, I worked on war crimes, including in The Hague. It is very rare that a tribunal has found human rights abuses to amount to genocide because of the specific legal definition, but we do think the right thing is that a tribunal, whether it is domestic or international, makes that judgment.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement today, but it is one element of so much more that needs to be done. Everything he referred to as industrial scale assaults on human rights against the Uyghurs has been committed by the Chinese Government against the Tibetans since 1959, until recently by one Chen Quanguo, who brought what he called “ethnic stability”—it is what we know as “ethnic cleansing”—to Tibet and who is now bringing genocide to the people of Xinjiang. So why is he not on the list? And when our Five Eyes partners, such as America and Canada, and allies such as the Netherlands have referred to this as genocide, and many other countries are considering doing so, why can we not call it out for what it is: genocide, pure and simple?
The reality is that genocide has a very, very complex legal definition, which is why, in war crimes tribunals since Nuremberg, it has very rarely been found. The right thing to do is to respect the legal definition and allow a court to make those determinations. It is principally for the purposes of finding criminal accountability, but I understand the wider points that my hon. Friend makes.
The Foreign Secretary said in January that we should not be doing trade deals with countries committing human rights abuses
“well below the level of genocide”— yet now, in private, he has been caught out on record saying that he is happy for the Government to do trade deals with countries who fail to meet international human rights standards. Indeed, just this month we have signed one with Cameroon. Is the Foreign Secretary concerned that he has been misleading the House?
I think that needs to be withdrawn—I will let the hon. Lady withdraw it. Nobody misleads the house.
I am not sure what is left of the question with that bit withdrawn, but the reality is that it is a totally inaccurate reflection—I am sure inadvertently —of the remarks we have made. I made it clear that we will never do free trade deals with countries whose human rights records are beyond the pale. We are taking Magnitsky sanctions, as well as modern slavery action measures, precisely because we never shirk our human rights and responsibilities. But we do recognise the value of trade deals, and if we held countries around the world to ECHR-level standards, we would be—I do not hear Opposition Front Benchers calling for this—ripping up trade deals with Korea, Japan and not engaging with other countries that have either the death penalty or corporal punishment. We take a balanced approach, but, as we have shown today, we will never shrink from standing up for human rights and holding those to account, and we have done more than any other Government in this country’s history, and certainly more than the Labour Government before.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement word for word and, of course, the sanctions that so many of us have argued for for so long.
I will cut to the chase: my right hon. Friend talks about supply chains. He knows that my Select Committee—the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee—produced a report on this. Let us just blacklist companies that are based in Xinjiang. We cannot go in and check what is happening, and we know that it is basically a prison camp. Secondly, because I agree word for word with my right hon. Friend’s statement, I assume that he is going to be in the Lobby with me tonight backing the genocide amendment, because without it, the Neill amendment excludes the Uyghurs. Let us not have a two-tier genocide policy. Let us make sure that the Uyghurs have their case heard.
I thank my hon. Friend, who continues to campaign with her usual eloquence and tenacity, and I pay tribute to her on the issue of the Uyghur Muslims. We will look very carefully at the BEIS Committee report, not least because of the action that we are taking on supply chains under the MSA. She will understand my position on genocide, which I have already set out.
Amnesty International’s report, “Hearts and Lives Broken: The Nightmare of Uyghur Families Separated by Repression” tells a very chilling story of families who have no idea where their children are. What is the Secretary of State doing to make sure that the Uyghurs and all Chinese ethnic minorities who have been separated are facilitated to get back to their children and to put those families back together?
All I can say to the hon. Lady is what we have set out before the House, which is that we are taking action under the Modern Slavery Act and that we are using the Magnitsky sanctions. I was asked earlier, I think, about asylum. Of course asylum will be applied independently in the normal way. If there is anything else that she would specifically like me to consider, I am very happy for her to write to me.
Two weeks ago today, we celebrated International Women’s Day. Many of us spoke about the abhorrent persecution of the Uyghur women, but this community is clearly experiencing genocide by the Chinese Government. I am appalled to hear that the Secretary of State told his staff candidly that he planned to trade with any country regardless of their human rights record. If that is true, it is shameful. When will he call out the genocide of the Uyghur people and when will the UK take a world-leading role on this matter?
The remarks that the hon. Lady quoted are simply wrong. Today, we are demonstrating the world-leading approach that we are taking to hold to account those responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
It is extraordinary to hear the Opposition criticise the Government for not working with the international community one week and then criticise us this week for working with the international community. Today, we are taking a lockstep approach with 30 other countries. If the Opposition will not ask the salient questions then we will. May I ask how the Foreign Secretary will look to include or expand the list of those named in China and how we will be able to further engage the international community to take action where human rights violations take place?
I thank my hon. Friend for his powerful statement and his welcome support. Obviously, we do not comment on individual names, not least because we do not want to give them foresight or advance warning if we were to take measures. We keep the evidence under review. If he has any particular evidence—I have talked to other Members of the House in relation to some of the third-party and open-source information that has been published—we will, of course, look at it very carefully.
I warmly commend what the Foreign Secretary has announced today, not least because I have been calling for it, like many others across the House, for weeks and weeks. It is a delight to hear what he has had to say today, but I wish he would be a little bit less of a lawyer about all of this. Sometimes it ends up looking as if the Government are trying to have it both ways all the time. Yes, announce sanctions against those involved in what I would certainly call genocide in China, but, at the same time, they drag their feet about it, take too long to deal with the human rights abuses in Hong Kong being perpetuated by Carrie Lam, and quite often refuse to take action against the dirty money, for instance, from Russia that is coming into the UK. May I urge him to think seriously about how we make the Magnitsky sanctions regime, which he very wisely and courageously introduced, have more of a parliamentary angle to it, so that we can help review and bring these sanctions into place?
I thank the hon. Gentleman and pay tribute to him, because, back in 2012, he was one of the cross-party alliance in favour of these measures. I remember his moral courage and tenacity in calling for it in relation to the Uyghur Muslims. He has complained about lawyerliness. Let us remember that we are talking about a legal regime that imposes visa bans and asset freezes, which affects the rights of others. It is absolutely right that we take very seriously the legal criteria and the evidence base for doing so, and there is absolutely nothing stopping him, either in relation to the regime or by providing evidence to the Government, from playing a full role. However, let us also ensure that we have due process, otherwise the risk is that we trip up, we get legally challenged and we give the PR coup to precisely those whom we want to be calling to account.
I warmly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement. States where the fundamental human right of freedom of religion or belief is respected are more likely to be stable and therefore to be more reliable trading partners, and less likely to pose a security risk. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it makes good sense for the UK to promote FoRB across the world, apart from this being the right thing to do?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I pay tribute to her for her eloquent and tenacious role as a champion for freedom of religion and belief, and as the Prime Minister’s special envoy. She is right that we should do this as a point of principle because it is the right thing to do, but she is also right to say that liberal democracies that respect, more or less, freedom of religion or belief, and other principles of open societies, are easier to trade with and resolve problems with, and that we are less likely to find ourselves in conflict or dispute with them.
It is good to see action finally being taken with regard to the atrocities being perpetrated in Xinjiang. I urge the Foreign Secretary to take further steps regarding the situation in Hong Kong. Last week, it was reported that Lord Neuberger will remain on the Hong Kong court of final appeal for another three years. Does the Secretary of State accept that such decisions risk legitimising China’s failure to abide by its international commitments, and will he agree that it is no longer appropriate for UK judges to sit in Hong Kong courts?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising a really important point. I have had discussions about this not just with the Lord Chancellor, but with the President of the Supreme Court. We have agreed a common set of principles that should apply. The challenge is whether, by removing UK judges wholesale, we would actually be removing a moderating impact on the way in which the national security legislation is applied. I hope the hon. Lady will know that the Hong Kong Bar and other countries around the world have suggested to us that they would prefer those international judges to stay. With one narrow exception, I do not think that any other country has removed its judges. We are very much seized of the issue, and I hope that my answer demonstrates that.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement and the action being taken, and congratulate him on the personal role that he has played in building the international coalition to highlight the atrocities against the Uyghurs. What in his opinion would be the ideal response from the Chinese regime to the actions today, and what response does he fear we will actually get?
That is a great question. Of course, we live in hope; I always want the door to be open on this and other issues where we want to engage. What I would like to see is either for China to moderate its action, or—if it contests that this is all fake news and nonsense—for it to allow Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to go in and verify the facts. That would seem, under all international auspices, a fair and reasonable way to determine the accuracy of all the allegations that have been made.
In their 2019 report on human rights and democracy, the British Government rightly label the death penalty “abhorrent”. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the British Government will not attempt to secure new trade deals with countries where the death penalty is operational in order to give global Britain a moral underpinning?
We already have free trade deals—indeed, the EU did such free trade deals—with countries around the world, from Asia to Africa, which have the death penalty or corporal punishment. I am curious to know whether the hon. Gentleman is actually advocating that we tear up those existing deals. I do not think that that would be the right thing to do. Of course, different countries have different approaches and different legal systems, but we are very clear that we would never do trade deals with countries whose records are beyond the pale. Notwithstanding whatever trade or investment we have, as we have demonstrated today, we will impose Magnitsky sanctions to hold to account those individually responsible for whatever abuses they may be involved with.
I am now suspending the House for two minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.