Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:34 pm on 29th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues) 6:34 pm, 29th July 2020

My Lords, the regulations have the full support of these Benches. As the Minister said, they are the result of cross-party work generally and also in this Chamber when we were dealing with the sanctions Act. Many changes and concessions were made during the progress of that Act, which I very much welcome.

However, the powers in these regulations are not enough on their own. They must be used correctly, be applied to the correct individuals and form part of a wider foreign policy that stands for human rights. There must be consistency in the Government’s approach, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester highlighted. So, although the designation of individuals linked to the Saudi regime is welcome, the decision to resume arms sales for use by the same regime in the Yemeni conflict is inconsistent with our intolerance of human rights abuse.

Transparency in the designation of sanctions will better their effectiveness. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, Parliament should be afforded the opportunity to scrutinise designations and suggest new ones. The Minister in the other place, James Cleverly, said that

“the exact nature of the scrutiny of the Government’s actions … will evolve over time, because this is a new process.”—[Delegated Legislation Committee, 16/7/20; col. 8.]">Official Report, Commons, Ninth Delegated Legislation Committee, 16/7/20; col. 8.]

I hope that the Minister will be able to say a little more on this subject. For example, can he confirm whether the Intelligence and Security Committee will have a role, as my noble friend Lord Foulkes suggested and as had also been previously suggested? The scrutiny of sanctions by the legislature is not a novel idea. Many of our democratic allies, in particular the US, already have these arrangements in place.

I would appreciate clarification on a few sections of the regulations. First, Regulation 1(4) details the purpose of the sanctions. Specifically, as the Minister said, it states that they intend to deter violations of the right to life, the right not to be subjected to torture and the right to be free from slavery. However, as the Minister knows, the definition in the 2018 Act, which we debated in this Chamber and moved amendments on, is much wider. We also of course have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So why do we have this narrow definition in the regulations? Why do we not have a much broader definition? That seems to me a little inconsistent.

Of course, the Minister highlighted the circumstances of Sergei Magnitsky’s imprisonment and death. I, too, pay tribute to his family and, of course, Bill Browder, for campaigning so hard to bring this law about—but the definition in these regulations is narrower than in the Act and the Universal Declaration. Is the Minister satisfied, for example, that the definition will cover the arbitrary detention of populations such as the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang and the cases in Zimbabwe mentioned by my noble friend Lord Hain?

Turning to other issues, unlike the US Act on Magnitsky, the regulations omit corruption. James Cleverly said that the Government were

“considering how a corruption regime could be added to our armoury of legal weapons.”—[Official Report, Commons, Ninth Delegated Legislation Committee, 16/7/20; col. 4.]

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, made reference to and highlighted the points he made. But can the Minister tell us today what the timeframe for such work is? Will we see something this year, or next year? Corruption is such an important element of tackling human rights abuses, as noble Lords have said.

Finally, I echo the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, regarding penalties and offences created. We had a lengthy debate about these issues on the sanctions Act. As I read the Explanatory Notes again, one thing that struck me was the different terms of imprisonment an individual who makes funds available to designated persons could be subject to. It is six months in Northern Ireland, 12 months in England and Wales and there is a difference for Scotland. I hope the Minister can again explain these differences. I know there is a reference to the different legislation, but it shows a little inconsistency.

With the introduction of the powers contained in today’s instrument, the Government have the potential to put our values at the forefront of the UK’s foreign policy. I am pleased that the regulations have been introduced, but their effectiveness will be determined by their implementation and, above all, as many noble Lords have said in today’s debate, by whether the Government choose to confront human rights abusers wherever they appear, rather than only when it is convenient to do so.