Syria (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 - Motion to Approve

– in the House of Lords at 6:06 pm on 9th May 2019.

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon:

Moved by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

That the Regulations laid before the House on 5 April be approved.

Special attention drawn to the instrument by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 58th Report

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My Lords, I will speak also to the Chemical Weapons (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, the Republic of Belarus (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and the Zimbabwe (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.

Noble Lords will be familiar with the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, which passed through this House last year. It provides the UK with the legislative framework to continue to meet our international obligations, to implement autonomous sanctions regimes and to update our anti-money laundering framework after we leave the European Union—although the last of these is not under consideration today.

Noble Lords will be aware of the importance of sanctions. They are a key element of our approach to our most important international priorities. They help defend our national interests, support our foreign policy and protect national security. They also demonstrate our support for the rules-based international order. The United Kingdom has been a leading contributor to the development of multilateral sanctions in recent years. We have been particularly influential in guiding the EU’s approach and that is why, when we transition the EU sanctions regimes into UK law, we intend to carry over their policy effect. I shall say more about that in a moment.

The principal interests and threats facing the UK and the other EU member states will not fundamentally change when the UK leaves the EU. The Government recognise sanctions as a multilateral foreign policy tool and intend to continue to work in close partnership with the EU and other international partners after EU exit to address those threats, including through sanctions. The SAMLA 2018 was the first major legislative step in creating an independent UK sanctions framework. However, while the Act set out the framework needed to impose our own independent sanctions, we still require statutory instruments to set out the detail of each sanctions regime within that framework.

Such statutory instruments set out the purposes of our regimes, the criteria under which the Secretary of State may designate individuals and entities, and the types of restrictive measures imposed. They do not specify which individuals or entities will be sanctioned. The Government will publish the list of those we are sanctioning under UK legislation when those prohibitions come into force. We will seek to transfer EU designations in each case, but these decisions will be subject to the legal tests in the sanctions Act. Any EU listings that do not meet the tests would not be implemented.

One important feature of the sanctions Act, which I am sure noble Lords recall, was passed in your Lordships’ House and discussed in detail during its passage: the right given to individuals to challenge their designation. Anyone designated under these instruments will be able to request that the Minister carry out an administrative review of their designation. The procedure applicable to such requests for reviews is set out in the Sanctions Review Procedure (EU Exit) Regulations, which were made in November last year and which are now in force. If, following the review, the Minister’s decision is to uphold the designation, the designated person then has the right to apply to the High Court, or, in Scotland, the Court of Session, to challenge that designation decision. The court will apply judicial review principles to determine whether the designation decision should be set aside. It will also apply the procedure set out in the amended Civil Procedure Rules for England and Wales, the Rules of the Court of Judicature for Northern Ireland, and the Rules of the Court of Session for Scotland, which allow in particular for closed material proceedings to take place in relation to such challenges.

The sanctions Act requires a review of all UK sanctions listings at least every three years. In addition to this triannual review, the UK will review all sanctions regimes, such as those being debated today, on an annual basis and present the results in a written report to Parliament. These governance arrangements provide protection for designated persons, especially when coupled with the wider safeguards in the sanctions Act. We have published reports on the purposes of each of the sanctions regimes under consideration today and the penalties contained within them alongside the statutory instrument. These reports, plus an Explanatory Memorandum for each SI, are available in the Vote Office should noble Lords wish to see them. As I have done on previous occasions, I once again thank the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments for their close and helpful scrutiny of these SIs.

Before closing my opening remarks, I draw it to your Lordships’ attention that while the majority of the substantive provisions in the regulations come into force only on exit day, the provisions enabling sanctions designation decisions to be taken were commenced so that decisions could be taken in good order in advance of exit day. Due to the extension of Article 50, the provisions that have been commenced have not had any practical effect as no designations have been made under these powers. In the case of the Russia sanctions regulations, the provisions in Regulation 1(3) to allow designation decisions to be taken were commenced on 11 April, the day after the regulations were made. The regulations were laid before Parliament at midday on 11 April. As no time was specified for when the regulations came into force on 11 April, there was a period during that day in which the regulations were in force but had not been laid.

I regret that due to an administrative oversight, we failed to follow the correct procedure to inform the Lord Speaker and the Speaker of the other place of this pre-laying commencement. This matter was addressed as soon as the error was found but I regret that the Easter break led to the Lord Speaker not being notified until eight working days after the instrument was laid. We take seriously the procedural and legal requirement to notify the Speakers, in accordance with Section 4(1) of the Statutory Instruments Act 1946. My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, Sir Alan Duncan, has already written to the Speakers of both Houses, and to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. A copy of his letter has been placed in the Library. Although this is an unusual situation, we have also reviewed our processes and taken steps to ensure that it does not happen again.

I will say a brief word, if I may, on the SIs in front of us. As I said earlier, these instruments seek to substantively mirror the policy effects and mutually reinforce the measures in the corresponding EU sanctions regime. Noble Lords will note that human rights are a significant focus of the sanctions regimes being debated. I know that many are keen for the UK to develop our own, stand-alone human rights sanctions regime and may therefore query why we are simply transferring existing EU sanctions regimes. I assure noble Lords, as I have done previously, that the sanctions Act does give us the necessary powers in UK law to develop our own such regime. However, the SIs we are debating were laid on the contingent basis to provide for the continuation of some existing sanctions regimes should we leave the EU without a deal. As such, our priority has necessarily been to ensure the transfer of existing EU measures by laying SIs such as these. We will give consideration to new regimes as circumstances suggest and parliamentary time allows.

I turn briefly to each of the SIs in front of us. The Syria sanctions regulations aim to deter the Syrian regime from actions, policies or activities which repress the civilian population, and to encourage a negotiated political settlement to end the conflict. They include: asset freezes and travel bans on designated persons, together with financial, sectoral and aircraft sanctions; and wide-ranging trade restrictions, including on goods and technology which may be used for internal repression and in intercepting and monitoring telecommunications, but also in respect of other goods and technology such as crude oil, jet fuel, luxury goods and items that could contribute to chemical and biological weapons.

Noble Lords will have noted that the JCSI has reported on the drafting of these regulations. Paragraph 16 of Schedule 6 to the Syria (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations permits the Secretary of State to issue licences for financial transactions involving the Central Bank of Syria or the Commercial Bank of Syria. The JCSI’s concern is that this paragraph could be seen to prejudge the question of whether those banks are to be designated under the regulations. We take these concerns seriously and recognise that the drafting could have been clearer. However, from the outset, I reassure your Lordships’ House that the Secretary of State’s discretion has not been fettered, and any decision to designate will be taken in the proper way.

The Chemical Weapons (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations aim to deter the use and proliferation of chemical weapons and encourage the effective implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention by imposing immigration and financial sanctions on those involved in their use and proliferation.

The Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations seek to deliver a cost to Russia for its actions in Ukraine to pressure Russia into changing its Ukraine policy. The continuation of sanctions since 2014 sends a strong unified international message that Russia’s actions in Ukraine will not be tolerated. The three corresponding EU sanctions regimes—including asset freezes, travel bans on individuals and entities, sectoral measures restricting parts of the Russian finance, energy and defence industry sectors, and trade and investment restrictions on Crimea—were introduced in response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and continued destabilisation of Ukraine. These regulations combine all three existing EU Russia sanctions regimes on Russian actions in Ukraine into a single sanctions regime, which will replace existing EU Russia sanctions legislation on EU exit day. They are designed to deliver the same effect as existing EU regulations.

The Republic of Belarus (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations aim to address human rights abuses and threats to the rule of law, and to encourage the proper investigation and institution of criminal proceedings against those responsible for the disappearance of four individuals. Measures include an arms embargo, financial and immigration sanctions, and restrictions on goods or technology that may be used for internal repression.

The Zimbabwe (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations aim to encourage the Government of Zimbabwe to respect democratic principles, the rule of law and human rights, and to deter the repression of civil society. The regulations impose an arms embargo and other financial, immigration and trade restrictions, including on the trade in goods and technology that may be used for internal repression.

To conclude, these statutory instruments transfer into UK law well-established EU sanctions regimes that are in line with the UK’s foreign policy priorities. They will encourage respect for human rights, the rule of law, and security and stability in difficult environments. Approving these SIs will allow the UK to continue to implement sanctions from the moment we leave the EU. It will send a strong signal of our intention to continue to play a leading role in the development of sanctions in the future. I welcome this opportunity to debate the SIs in front of us. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 6:15 pm, 9th May 2019

I thank the Minister for introducing these SIs in somewhat more detail than he introduced the last set. I think he was in a considerable hurry last time, which we all appreciated. If we leave the EU, we need to incorporate into UK law the sanctions regimes we have as an EU member. These reflect our support for the rules-based international order to which he has referred.

There has to be a concern that we may lose influence in this field in the future. When we acted as part of the EU we had greater effect and are credited with playing a leading role. If we end up outside the EU, we lessen our effect. I am sure the noble Lord knows that, even if he is not willing to admit it. In addition, there will be new pressures on the UK from allies such as the US, which may wish us to align more with them, and maybe from the City of London, which may not wish us to take certain actions. Maybe our own economic short-term interest will mean that we are less keen to sanction those who may bring their funds to the UK. That is a completely predictable situation.

We considered a series of sanctions regimes last week and we now come to another set. I am grateful once more that my noble friend Lord Chidgey will deal with Zimbabwe.

On chemical weapons, I note that, in answer to a recent Written Question, Sir Alan Duncan stated:

The UK played a key role in EU efforts to establish a new Chemical Weapons sanctions regime, which was adopted on 15 October 2018”.

This is a case in point. Will the EU be as proactive as it was without the United Kingdom there?

On 21 January this year, the EU added nine individuals and one entity to the regime, which included those involved in the use of chemical weapons in Syria and members of Russia’s main intelligence directorate deemed responsible for the Salisbury attack in March 2018. Sir Alan referred to, “This strong collective action”. Does the Minister agree that “collective” is key?

Sir Alan also stated on 7 February, in response to a Question from my honourable friend Jo Swinson:

“The UK has actively supported proposals for three new EU thematic sanctions regimes in order to strengthen our international resilience to hybrid threats. These regimes are in different stages of development in the EU”.

These included the chemical weapons regime. The second was a mandate for work on EU cyber sanctions, and the third followed a Dutch initiative to establish a regime on global human rights. All are important developments but, having supported them, the UK is of course in danger of no longer being able to play such a leading role. Can the Minister update us on how these three strands will be taken forward and what part we might play in them?

On Belarus, the measures include an arms embargo, financial and immigration sanctions, and restrictions on goods or technology that may be used for internal repression, as the Minister has laid out. The Explanatory Memorandum states:

“This sanctions regime is aimed at encouraging the Government of Belarus to respect democratic principles and institutions, the separation of powers and the rule of law in Belarus, refrain from actions, policies or activities which repress civil society in Belarus”.

The EU is calling for the proper investigation and institution of criminal proceedings against those responsible for the disappearances of four named people, and for Belarus to comply with international human rights law and to respect human rights. What effect does the Minister think the sanctions are having in bringing any change in Belarus? Are there any plans to extend or limit sanctions against Belarus? I note that some were removed in 2016.

The stated aim of the Syria sanctions regulations is to deter the Syrian regime from,

“actions, policies or activities which repress the civilian population”, and to encourage a negotiated political settlement to end the conflict. The sanctions against Syria have been in place since December 2011. They are reviewed annually and the next review will be on 1 June—just coming up.

The sanctions comprised an oil embargo imposed in September 2011, restrictions on trade, a freeze of Syrian central bank assets, export restrictions on arms, weapons and equipment that might be used for internal repression, and a ban on export of equipment and technology for the monitoring or interception of internet or telephone communications.

In April 2013, the EU eased the oil embargo to allow oil exports and oil equipment exports to areas under opposition control to help the civilian population. As of March 2019, 277 Syrians are targeted by a travel ban and an asset freeze. Seventy-two entities are targeted by an asset freeze. Will the UK abide by the results of any EU sanctions review? Is there any plan to share intelligence on such matters? How is the review into oil sanctions to be conducted? What kind of impact assessment was made of sanctions on the civilian population? What actions must the Syrian regime take to get sanctions lifted? Has consideration been given to the difficulties of international development NGOs working in Syria, an issue discussed in the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill? However, I note that the much-respected former FCO Minister, the right honourable Alistair Burt, emphasised in the Commons,

“the importance of the roll-over of these sanctions, in particular in relation to Syria”.

He expressed his concern that there was,

“a risk of Syria becoming almost a forgotten conflict because it is no longer on the front pages and it needs to be”.—[Official Report, Commons, 29/4/19; cols. 78-79.]

He is surely right.

I hear what the Minister said about the sanctions in relation to Russia. I note that the Commons has not debated these and he has given some explanation of why they were separated and not put forward with the others. As he said, the EU sanctions against Russia broadly relate to the aim of bringing about Russian policy change on Ukraine. They followed restrictive measures after Russia’s actions in Crimea. These regimes are reviewed regularly, two on a six-monthly basis and one annually. How will we play a part in that, and will we follow what the EU decides?

The sanctions regime was most recently strengthened in March 2019, when eight Russian officials were added to the sanctions list after escalation in which Russian forces took Ukrainian sailors into custody. The EU has called for the release of the sailors and their ships, as well as free passage for all ships through the straits in the future. The US and Canada have also adopted similar sanctions in response to the incident. There are currently 170 persons and 44 entities from Russia on the EU’s sanctions list. This will next be reviewed in September 2019. The assets of individuals responsible for misappropriating Ukrainian state funds have also been extended until March 2020. All these review dates will be important for the United Kingdom. Where will we fall in our reaction to those? Do the Government anticipate remaining in line with the EU? Since March 2015, EU leaders have aligned—or sought to align—the economic sanctions with the implementation of the 2015 Minsk agreements but these have not been implemented and many political commentators think it unlikely that they will have an effect. What are the implications for the sanctions regime? The US has generally imposed a harsher sanction regime on Russia and dealt with other issues, such as interference in the 2016 US presidential election. We have not become involved in those. Does the Minister think that we might align ourselves on them too?

The general effectiveness of sanctions against Russia has been contested. Some have argued that Russian actions demonstrate the failure of EU sanctions to influence Putin and Russian policy. The Minister referred to the separate Magnitsky provisions put into the sanctions Bill by the Commons but there is no sign of them there. The Minister made brief reference to that and said that they might be brought forward when parliamentary time allows. Given that parliamentary time clearly does allow, might they be brought forward sooner rather than later?

In conclusion, we support these SIs, but are concerned about exactly how we will liaise with the EU down the track, how we align ourselves, and how we will have most effect in the future.

Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the sanctions regime is aimed at encouraging the Government of Zimbabwe and anyone else involved in human rights abuses to respect, as the Minister said, democratic principles and institutions and the rule of law; to refrain from actions, policies and activities which repress civil society in Zimbabwe; and to comply with international human rights law and respect for human rights. There has not been much sign of that in recent months. I note from the Minister’s remarks that there will be scope for the UK to update the sanctions in time, so I will just put down a few markers in advance.

The EU has been imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe for the last 17 years in reaction to serious human rights violations, usually occurring in the run-up to presidential elections. Over that period we have seen the removal of President Mugabe, yet the repressive legislation of that era is still in place. The EU has adjusted the restrictive measures over time in response to constitutional changes or to intimidation, restriction or violence from the political and security establishments. The current sanctions were updated in February 2019 and consist of an arms embargo, asset freezes and travel bans on, I believe, two individuals. This followed appalling violence against civilians, with security forces using live ammunition against rioting crowds. There clearly remains a serious human rights situation in Zimbabwe, with no improvement in respect for democratic principles or the rule of law in sight. The Government say they are working with international partners to encourage Zimbabwe to improve. What examples can the Minister give us of improvements made since last year or planned, sending a strong political message that human rights violations will not be tolerated?

In February 2019, during an Oral Question on asylum seekers from Zimbabwe, I reported to noble Lords that the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission had found that the police and the military were breaking into the opposition MDC offices. From there they were downloading membership files from computers and subsequently visiting members’ homes to make arrests and carry out beatings under the cover of darkness late at night. US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Matthew Harrington, has said that President Emmerson Mnangagwa can forget any lifting of US sanctions until he moves to jail soldiers accused of killing at least six civilians last August and goes ahead with repealing repressive laws governing the media. Harrington also cited the protests in January that left another 17 people dead, when the army launched a sustained crackdown on citizens in response to their protests over fuel price increases. He said:

“We welcome a better relationship with Zimbabwe, but the ball is very much in the Zimbabwean government’s court. If there’s real, concrete progress in the areas laid out in the ZDERA legislation, Zimbabwe will find a committed partner in the United States”.

Does the UK share this view?

The United States passed the ZDERA in 2001, imposing travel restrictions and asset freezes on more than 200 individuals and entities accused of abetting human rights violations. This compares with travel bans on just two individuals under the current EU regime. Can the Minister explain this apparent contrast in approach? Has time meant that many of these bans were lifted? I do not know, but it will be interesting to find out.

Speaking at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Matthew Harrington stressed that Zimbabwe has shown little political will to have the sanctions lifted by “doing the right thing”. It could repeal the Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, two laws emblematic of a repressive regime. Does the UK support that analysis?

Finally, do the Government agree that these simple actions, including ending harassment and intimidation of innocent civilians, would send a strong signal to the international community that Zimbabwe is on a very different path: genuinely committed to embracing democratic institutions and values; becoming a responsible member of the international community; taking steps, not one of which requires outside assistance? Can the Minister assure us that the UK sanctions regime that will apply should the UK leave the EU without a deal will truly match the measures taken by the USA and others?

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench 6:30 pm, 9th May 2019

My Lords, may I leave the House with no doubt whatever that sanctions which achieve their purpose are an essential tool in the arsenal?

I have studied, albeit some weeks ago, the individuals on the proscribed sanctions list, and I was initially surprised that Russians listed do not appear in a list under “Russia”. This is confusing, as they appear under Ukraine sovereignty, so Russians listed may be missed by observers. However, I place on record the courteousness and informative manner in which the sanctions unit in the Treasury responds to information requests.

I was intending to speak in a more substantive way on the specifics before us on Russian sanctions, but points have been articulated by the Minister that stand on the record. This leads me to more questions than answers. The question in my mind is: where do we go from here? What are the sanctions to accomplish, and by when? What accompanying engagement is planned? Many suggest, including within this building, that sanctions without engagement could become self-defeating and lead nowhere. Do the Government believe that co-operation is more likely to come from engagement and if so, what form is that engagement taking—or are the Government of the view that the sanctions regime in isolation is the cure to all ills? I have heard it said by a trusted friend in Moscow that sanctions are mostly hurting the more fair-minded, Western-orientated Russians who support democracy, free trade and the rule of law. That cannot be good.

The Minister will be aware that a United Kingdom unilateral sanctions policy could place us at a trade disadvantage with other countries post Brexit, especially those within the European Union. While government should not necessarily be bound by such, I would expect Her Majesty’s Government to have reflected heavily upon the deliverables behind unilateral policies. It would therefore be reassuring to hear this evening that a commitment to review the policy regularly, supported by multilateral engagement, is intrinsic to this process.

There is one regrettable reality. Today is Victory Day, the solemn remembrance day of the sacrifice that the Russian people, including Ukrainians, made in the Second World War. It is a shame that people forget that we were once on the same side. That said, I was delighted that the Deputy Leader of this House, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, representing the United Kingdom Government and accompanied by the noble Lord, Lord West, were present today at the Soviet War Memorial and contributed to marking the anniversary of the Allied victory over fascism.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to these SIs. I admit that a quote came to mind from an old trade union colleague, who used to say every year when he negotiated with his truck driver companies, “It’s déjà vu all over again”. The Minister has previously addressed many of the issues that we have raised today, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Northover.

I want to come back to the specific issue of human rights, because, as the Minister acknowledged before, we placed human rights at the centre of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act, and we in this House were responsible for raising the Magnitsky clause, which was adopted in that Act. When we discussed the last group of SIs, the Minister explained that it was the Government’s intention that,

“national sanctions in relation to human rights will be brought forward, but we will need to design and draft a statutory instrument to ensure that associated processes and structures are in place”.—[Official Report, 1/5/19; col. 1035.]

The simple fact is that we need a clear timetable from the Government. When will this be completed? What are the impediments to drafts being brought forward? It is a critical part of our foreign policy. When we come to address the specific issues raised by the SIs, I shall ask: will we extend sanctions to cover the kind of human rights abuses that the Magnitsky clause is specifically designed to address? I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a more specific commitment, rather than just say, “when time allows”, or another vague reference to the future.

On Syria, I read with interest this morning the Joint Committee’s report. I have not had a huge amount of time to study it, but I want to pick up on some of the Government’s responses, particularly to the second question on the grounds for existing licensing derogation. During consideration of the Bill in Committee, the Minister was able to facilitate a range of meetings with NGOs over that precise issue. I am very keen to hear not only how he believes that the Government have addressed the concerns of the Joint Committee but whether they have consulted with the NGOs we met before when considering the draft Bill. This is important, because we are talking about humanitarian support getting through to those most in need. I hope that the Minister will be able to address that.

Not only are we discussing these specific SIs but we are looking at the impact and effectiveness of our sanctions policies and regimes. I completely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, that we need assurance. I know that the Minister keeps talking about our co-ordinated approach, working with our close allies and that we “will continue to ensure”, but sanctions conducted simply by one country will not have an impact. They work because of collective action and because we work in solidarity. I hope that he will answer specifically the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, about the review dates, how we work in conjunction and, where there is an extension or a change, how we will co-ordinate that activity. What mechanisms does the FCO envisage to do that?

On Syria, I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to update the House on what we are trying to do to achieve a ceasefire to halt the killings on all sides, and what progress we are making towards a negotiated political settlement under UN auspices.

I want to raise a specific issue relating to the effectiveness of sanctions: media reports that President Assad’s niece has been studying in the United Kingdom for a number of years. That raises questions about the effectiveness of sanctions and the ability of UK government agencies to implement them. Can the Minister tell us what discussions he has had with Home Office colleagues about President Assad’s niece, such as how she gained entry, what clearance was given and whether any consideration is being given to stopping something similar happening again?

I hope that the Minister can give us his opinion on what evidence the Government have that the chemical weapons sanctions regime is proving effective in reducing the use of chemical weapons or encouraging compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. As we have heard, there has been repeated evidence of the use of chemical weapons in conflicts in the Middle East, particularly by Assad’s regime but also by the other players in that conflict. It is important that the Minister addresses that precise issue.

Yesterday, when I met leaders from West Papua, I was particularly concerned about their allegations of the use of white phosphorous in West Papua in December—only a few months ago. Has the Minister received any reports about these allegations? If they are proved correct, what action will the Government take, particularly regarding sanctions on the use of chemical weapons? I hope that he will come back to us on that issue.

On Russia, I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, that the Government’s policy has been to engage and beware. We supported sanctions specifically regarding the situation in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, but we have seen human rights abuses in Russia increase. We have seen assaults on LGBT rights, particularly in Chechnya, which I hope the Minister can update us on. We have also seen their encroachment into other areas, not least in Venezuela. Regarding targeted and effective sanctions, this is one area of human rights abuses where we could usefully see the effectiveness of the Magnitsky clause. The US has been using it, and I hope that the Minister will come back to us on that. As the noble Viscount said, we must assess the fact that since we have specifically targeted Russia with economic sanctions, the Russian economy has grown—certainly far faster than that of the United Kingdom. I hope that the Minister will address that issue.

I am also concerned about the sanctions on Belarus. Since they have been imposed, particularly on individuals, we have seen the situation continue to deteriorate. What is the Minister’s opinion on the lifting of sanctions against 170 individuals and four companies in 2016? Does he think that that was the right decision, bearing in mind what has continued to go on in Belarus?

I join with the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, in what he said on Zimbabwe. There is no doubt that the situation has not improved. We can see that further abuses are going on, and I have certainly raised with the Minister before the actions being taken against civil society players, not least trade union leaders, who have been arrested, detained, released and then charged. What are we doing to ensure that the Government of Zimbabwe respect the human rights of those individuals and organisations?

The question we have to ask ourselves again is this: how effective are we in targeting our sanctions at the people who are actually abusing human rights so that they suffer, rather than at those whose human rights are being abused? I know that the Minister has been keen to address the issue of humanitarian support in Zimbabwe as well, and I hope he will be able to talk about these issues.

I conclude by saying that of course we support these statutory instruments. We support the policy intent of applying sanctions to effect change; there is no dispute about that. However, I have raised certain specific concerns which I hope that the noble Lord will be able to address.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State 6:45 pm, 9th May 2019

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, said that I spent a bit more time setting out the detail in my introductory remarks. I had hoped to avert certain questions by doing so, but as I look at the pile of notes in front of me, perhaps that has not quite been the case. However, I want to put on the record my heartfelt thanks to the noble Baroness and to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, in acknowledging the co-operation and collaboration I received during the passing of the sanctions Bill.

Turning to the SIs before the House, again I am very respectful of the detailed assessment that has been made by the noble Baroness, the noble Lord and, indeed, other noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, has brought to us his specialist insights into Africa. I will certainly seek to answer some of the specific questions which have been raised, but if some are not responded to in the time I have available, I will write to noble Lords.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, set out a series of questions on the thematic issues covering cyber, human rights and chemical weapons. As she will know, the EU chemical weapons sanctions regime was adopted in October 2018 and the listings were then adopted in January 2019. On cyber sanctions, we welcome the strong October Council conclusions giving a mandate to progress this work. We look forward to taking this work on through the EU both quickly and thoroughly. Again on cyber, I take the lead responsibility on this issue for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and of course I will be pleased to work with the noble Baroness in respect of any specific suggestions she has as we move forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, both raised the issue of the human rights regime. One example that I can share is that we continue to work closely with our Dutch colleagues by supporting their efforts in crafting a cross-European perspective on human rights for an EU human rights regime. Perhaps I may reassure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that we are working closely with the Netherlands in that respect.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, referred to an issue that she has raised several times in the past. She asked how the UK would work with the EU in the future on sanctions, and specifically how that would be decided. The EU-UK political declaration states that there would be consultation on sanctions with an intensified exchange of information where foreign policy objectives are aligned, with the possibility of adopting mutually reinforcing sanctions. We are working to strengthen our bilateral relationships with key partners not only in Europe but also globally. We are also establishing a new network of sanctions officers in key partner countries.

Perhaps I may also say for the record that I agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that the effectiveness of sanctions can be felt only if they are imposed in collaboration and through collective action. It is certainly our intention to do just that. There is no point imposing sanctions on an individual or organisation if they can be in a neighbouring country and operating freely. The collaboration and collective action we have seen with the EU—the close co-operation—will continue after we leave the European Union.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked a specific question about the Belarus sanctions and what they have accomplished thus far. The sanctions regime is part of our efforts to engage with the Government of Belarus to improve the situation, particularly on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. It is also designed to encourage the Belarus authorities to institute credible investigations into and criminal proceedings against persons responsible for the disappearances of various individuals between 1999 and 2000. I assure noble Lords that they are having an effect. We will continue to press—through bilateral discussions as well as through the EU with colleagues—the continuing importance of seeing that effected.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised the issue of Syria. A series of sanctions continue to be in place across the piece on Syria, and I will come on to some of these in a moment. They act as a key lever by which we maintain pressure on the Assad regime to end its atrocities against the Syrian people and to engage seriously in the UN-led political process. Sanctions on Syria aim to end the violent repression of the civilian population, and we will continue to raise these issues consistently.

The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, talked of Zimbabwe and what has been achieved thus far. As the noble Lord will know, Zimbabwe remains one of the UK’s 30 human rights priority countries. The UK continues to call for the Government of Zimbabwe to uphold the rule of law and human rights and to promote free and fair elections under the protection of the 2013 constitution and international human rights law.

The noble Lord raised the issue of a limit to the number of sanctions. I believe that we have been balanced in our approach while very candid and forthright on human rights abuses. I am sure the noble Lord agrees that the Zimbabwean economy continues to be very fragile and faces severe challenges. We are therefore balancing to ensure that we can continue to commit to some of the reforms we wish to see while maintaining a sanctions policy that still allows the economy to develop and the citizens of Zimbabwe to progress. The situation in Zimbabwe remains very fragile, and we will continue to work closely to ensure that, while the sanctions are being imposed, at the same time we look to provide some relief for the economy of Zimbabwe.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked what we hope to achieve from some of the sanctions against Russia. She is quite right to say that we led on many sanctions regimes, particularly in areas of financial services. She expressed concern over how this will continue once we leave the EU. While I cannot give her the specific nature of the governance procedures—I am sure she will respect that; it will be under discussion—I believe we will work in close alignment with EU partners and, indeed, other partner countries as well to ensure that the sanctions applied to Russia and elsewhere continue to be effectively applied.

The noble Baroness asked specifically about stronger sanctions against Russia. Through a combination of our leadership and diplomatic engagements, the UK has been at the forefront of strengthening EU sanctions in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. This includes new sanctions designations in response to Russian elections in Crimea, the construction of the Kerch bridge linking Russia to Crimea and, most recently, Russian aggression in the Black Sea. The UK has also been at the forefront of efforts to put in place a new EU sanctions regime focused exclusively on chemical weapons that was adopted in October 2018.

The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, asked for examples of violations not tolerated in Zimbabwe. We condemned the human rights violations by security forces in January 2019, including the use of live ammunition against protesters. The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum has recorded many human rights violations, including 17 deaths and 81 gunshot injuries. Minister Baldwin summoned the Zimbabwe ambassador on 17 January to urge the security forces to stop using disproportionate force. As the Foreign Secretary said in the House of Commons on 22 January, President Mnangagwa must not turn the clock back. He needs to work with all Zimbabweans in dialogue for a better future. As I said, we are applying sanctions in a way that will bring some relief to the Zimbabwean people, but I assure the noble Lord that we are keeping a very close watch on the prevailing political issues on the ground.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked about the effect of the Belarus sanctions and whether there were any plans to extend them. I partly covered that in my opening remarks, but we are looking to transfer existing EU Belarus sanctions into the UK for the exact purpose that we are aligned with our EU partners.

A general point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, about Syria. While there are a number of EU sanctions, during the implementation period EU sanctions will continue to apply to the UK, including the results of EU reviews that take place during this time. Sanctions on Syria aim to end the violent oppression, as I have said, but we will work closely with our EU partners on any reviews that happen during the implementation period. We will be very much part of them and we will apply any changes in the sanctions as appropriate.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, was right to hold me to account on the Magnitsky powers. I am afraid I cannot give him an exact timetable at this stage. But as I have said, the whole idea is that the human rights elements of our sanctions regime will be a key part. That is why they feature so extensively as part of the Bill itself. Work is being done in that respect. If it helps the noble Lord, I can assure him that we are working extensively on this issue and will provide further information as we make progress. I give a commitment to the noble Baroness, as the Front-Bench spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that I am happy to discuss progress outside your Lordships’ House and keep them both informed on this important issue. This is a personal priority for me as the Minister for Human Rights and I will certainly be keeping a close watching brief.

The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, asked whether EU sanctions would be weakened by our leaving the EU. Sanctions remain a key policy tool and are most effective when designed and applied, as I have said already, in conjunction with our international partners. We will continue, I am sure, to share common interests and values on sanctions policy. As I have alluded to, however, the governance structures and how they will work are still being discussed with EU partners. I believe that we will work in close conjunction. Will we then be able to provide the same leadership as before? I believe that provisions will be made that will allow us to contribute extensively with our information and expertise, together with the expertise and information of our EU partners.

On Syria, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked a specific question about President Assad’s niece studying in the UK. He will understand that I cannot comment on individual cases. However, where there is evidence that sanction funds have been used by families or associates of sanctioned individuals in the UK, relevant authorities in the UK will investigate and take appropriate action. But I would add one other factor. As I am sure the noble Lord is aware, some members of the Assad family, far from being aligned with President Assad and his regime, are, on the contrary, very much against it. We all have extended families but that by itself should not be a definition of support. It is not always proportionate to sanction extended family members when there is no indication or evidence of their personal wrongdoing. We can all respect that. The noble Lord raised a valid concern, however, and I assure him that our agencies are working very closely in this respect to ensure correct adherence to the law.

The noble Lord also asked what we are doing to deliver a ceasefire on the ground in Syria. As he is aware, we work very closely with our partners and the UN to support a political solution to the conflict in Syria. I believe that we have reached a deeply concerning juncture in Syria. The regime led by Bashar Assad is supported by Russia, and forces that have fought against the Daesh insurgency across Syria and Iraq are supported by the UK and other allies. It is important to invest in the UN processes and we continue to press international partners in that respect.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised LGBT rights in Chechnya, and rightly so. There have been reports of abhorrent—there is no other word for it—LGBT persecution in Chechnya. The UK, along with 31 other member states of the Human Rights Council, delivered a statement about it on 18 March. I assure the noble Lord that we will work very closely on issues of LGBT persecution, not just in Chechnya but elsewhere, and I will certainly keep your Lordships’ House informed about it.

The noble Lord also asked whether there is evidence that sanctions relating to chemical weapons are functioning. He raised a specific case involving the use of white phosphorus. If I may, I will write to him about that.

As I said at the outset, if there are questions that I have not answered, I will certainly review Hansard—

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

I think that the Joint Committee has reported back but, if I may, I will cover that in my letter to the noble Lord. He raised one other point about NGOs which I have not covered. During the course of the Bill we had a discussion in which NGOs were directly involved, and there are now provisions in the Bill to protect humanitarian elements. We will continue to work very closely with NGOs. I am looking towards the Box for an answer to his specific question. I am not aware that consultations were held with the NGO community in advance of the SI. However, it is a practical idea, and consultation is always useful. I am a great believer in consulting with NGOs. As I said, I will write to the noble Lord with an answer to his question.

Once again, I put on the record my thanks to all noble Lords who have participated in this debate. I apologise if my voice sounds slightly hoarse. As I am sure noble Lords will appreciate, I am fasting at the moment. With the day having started at half-past three, and with various speeches, Questions, Statements and SIs, as much as I enjoy my role at the Dispatch Box, by 7 o’clock the Ahmad voice needs a rest. However, I appreciate noble Lords’ contributions.

Motion agreed.