Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:24 pm on 29th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Wood of Anfield Lord Wood of Anfield Labour 6:24 pm, 29th July 2020

My Lords, I welcome the regulations and congratulate the Foreign Office on its leadership in finally producing them.

The regulations focus on the most egregious breaches of human rights, as many noble Lords have said. In doing so, they are welcome and essential and provide at least the capacity for the UK to exercise, for the first time, unilateral action against individuals, thus targeting the worst criminals in positions of significant economic and political power. But in focusing on those larger crimes, their scope is relatively restricted. Can the Minister assure the House, first, that the regulations will not simply be used by the UK to reinforce targeted sanctions already imposed by the United States, but will be supported by a rigorous independent assessment here in the UK?

Secondly, as other noble Lords have noted, the first designations contained no one involved in the ongoing human rights atrocities against the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province in China. The USA, with whom the UK works closely on this issue and others, has placed two leading officials from the Xinjiang autonomous region and two security and police chiefs on their Magnitsky list. When will we take corresponding action? Thirdly, when will the Government look to expand the range of offences eligible for targeted sanctions—for example, to include kleptocrats and those perpetrating gross corruption?

One final point: taking action against the financial assets of foreign violators of human rights requires us to know where those assets are. However, the property market in the UK, and especially London, is known the world over as a safe haven for criminal proceeds of the global criminal elite. Over 90,000 properties in the UK are anonymously owned by firms registered in tax havens, and 40% of them are in London.

The Government have long promised a register of beneficial ownership, to enable transparency about who owns what and who benefits from ownership; it has been delayed again and again. I understand that a Bill is ready to go now, but it has yet again been delayed. Can the Minister tell us when it will finally be introduced? I am sure the Minister agrees that placing Magnitsky sanctions on individuals who may own property in the UK would be a farcical situation.