Amendment 8

Trade Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 7th December 2020.

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Lord Collins of Highbury:

Moved by Lord Collins of Highbury

8: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—“Free trade agreements: determination on compliance with international obligations and state actions(1) Before publishing the objectives and any initial impact assessments of a proposed trade agreement to be implemented under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, the Government must conduct a risk assessment which considers whether the agreement would comply with the United Kingdom’s international treaties and other obligations, with particular reference to human rights, and examines serious violations committed, or alleged to have been committed by the state or states who will be signatory to the proposed trade agreement.(2) The risk assessment under subsection (1) must be presented to the relevant Committees in both Houses of Parliament.(3) Before a trade agreement can be laid before Parliament under section 20(1) of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (“the CRAG procedure”), Ministers of the Crown must determine whether the trade agreement, if ratified, would be compliant with the United Kingdom’s international obligations, with particular reference to human rights, and whether serious violations have been committed by the state or states of the signed trade agreement. Such a determination must be published and made available to the relevant Committees at the same time as they are requested to consider a signed trade agreement.(4) The Government must present an annual report to the relevant Committees in both Houses of Parliament on the continuing compliance of trade agreements with the United Kingdom’s international obligations, with particular reference to human rights, and which examines serious violations committed or alleged to have been committed by the state or states who are signatory to the trade agreement since it was signed. If breaches of the United Kingdom’s international obligations or serious violations have taken place, Ministers of the Crown must make a determination on the continuation of a trade agreement.(5) In this section, “serious violations” include an activity by a state which would violate an individual’s—(a) right to life, including but not limited to genocide;(b) right not to be subjected to torture or cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;(c) right to be free from slavery and not to be held in servitude or required to perform forced or compulsory labour; or(d) other major violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms as set out in relevant international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.(6) In this section, “trade agreement” refers to any agreement between the United Kingdom and one or more partners that includes components that facilitate the trade of goods, services or intellectual property, including but not limited to—(a) free trade agreements as defined by section 4;(b) Interim Association Agreements and Association Agreements; (c) Economic Partnership Agreements;(d) Interim Partnership Agreements;(e) Stabilisation and Association Agreements;(f) Global Agreements;(g) Economic Area Agreements;(h) Cooperation Agreements;(i) Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreements;(j) Association Agreements with strong trade component;(k) Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnerships; and(l) Investment Protection Agreements.”

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

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for signing this amendment. I also particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his support. Despite what we might read in the newspapers, there is no difference between us on these issues and, in particular, in ensuring that those people who commit genocide are held to account. We have a long record of working together on this and I am sure we will continue that co-operative approach tonight.

As we heard in the previous group of amendments, all EU trade deals since 2009 have had human rights clauses embedded in them, allowing the EU to suspend a deal, either partially or fully, if the third country is adjudged responsible for human rights abuses. While this power has not been exercised in any case so far, EU representatives say that it is vital, first as a basis for dialogue and progress on human rights issues during the negotiation phase for any new deal and, secondly, to apply ongoing pressure on third countries around these issues.

In February 2019, the then International Trade Secretary Liam Fox revealed that the watering down of human rights provisions was something many third countries were demanding as the price of agreeing a deal. He suggested then that the UK would not accept these demands, saying:

“Some countries have said that they did not like some of the human rights elements that were incorporated by the EU and they would like us to drop those in order to roll the agreements over.”

Mr Fox went on to say:

“I am not inclined to do so, because the value we attach to human rights is an important part of who we are as a country.”—[Official Report, 13/2/19; cols. 892-93.]

I totally agree with Mr Fox in that regard, and the Minister’s words in Committee expressed similar sentiments, but how are such words being translated into reality? Is there evidence of a consistent approach on human rights? Do we have a joined-up government approach? In 2016, Simon McDonald, head of the Diplomatic Service, told MPs that

“clearly more resource is devoted … to prosperity than to human rights.”

Human rights are one of the things we follow, but not one of our top priorities. When Theresa May visited China in 2018, she was praised by the Chinese state media for sidestepping the issue of human rights, putting the importance of what it called “pragmatic collaboration” with China first. The media concluded:

“May will definitely not make any comment contrary to the goals of her China trip…. For the Prime Minister the losses outweigh the gains if she appeases the UK media at the cost of the visit’s friendly atmosphere.”

The Government’s pragmatism on human rights has been particularly clear when it comes to the promotion of trade. We have seen the red-carpet treatment given to notorious human rights abusers such as Crown Prince bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, justified by his willingness to invest Saudi’s wealth in the UK and increase Saudi imports from the UK.

However, as with the previous group, there are 15 countries with which the Government say they are still in ongoing negotiations about rolling over beyond 31 December the preferential trading arrangements the UK currently has with them as a member of the EU. These include countries with very poor records on human rights, including Cameroon, Egypt, Singapore, Uganda, Turkey and South Sudan. All those countries have been the subject of very detailed debate in this House and condemnation by Ministers in this Chamber. Can the Minister say whether the draft deals under discussion will replicate or improve on the EU clauses on the protection of human rights?

The end of last week saw the announcement that a rollover trade agreement has been signed between the UK and Egypt. This is welcome news for UK firms trading with Egypt, but that cannot be the sole consideration when reaching an agreement with a regime such as President Sisi’s—a regime which has jailed, executed and disappeared hundreds of political opponents and human rights activists, brutally persecuted the country’s LGBT community and seen Egypt become one of the world’s top worst countries for workers’ rights. As President-elect Biden has said, there should be no more blank cheques handed to a dictator such as Sisi.

In negotiating this rollover agreement the Government had an opportunity and a responsibility to replace the toothless platitudes on human rights in the 2001 EU-Egypt agreement, and its total silence on workers’ rights, with meaningful, binding commitments on those issues and serious, enforceable penalties. My honourable friend Emily Thornberry, the shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, wrote to Liz Truss this morning, asking her to divulge the terms of this agreement, so that when we debated the issue this evening we would be aware of what the Government had achieved. Sadly, there was no response and there has been no agreement, so we cannot debate it. That is why we desperately need this human rights amendment, which seeks to make that process more transparent and accountable to Parliament.

This amendment proposes a triple barrier against trade agreements with countries that abuse human rights. First, Ministers would be obliged to provide an assessment of the human rights record of any overseas state before starting trade negotiations with them, so that this could be examined by the relevant scrutiny committees. Secondly, before seeking to ratify any subsequent trade deal, Ministers would have to publish a determination of whether the state has committed serious violations of human rights, so that this could be considered by MPs and Peers as part of the CRaG process for the scrutiny of new trade agreements. Thirdly, Ministers would be required to produce an annual report on the ongoing compliance of their new trading partner with international human rights laws and determine whether the UK’s trade agreement should continue if serious violations have occurred. Crucially, the determinations made by Ministers at stages two and three would be subject not only to scrutiny by Parliament but could potentially be challenged in the courts by human rights campaign groups, if there was clear and verifiable evidence that the Government were ignoring serious human rights abuses and violations of international law.

The definition of serious human rights violations in the amendment includes references to genocide, torture, servitude and compulsory labour. These are all charges that have been laid against the Communist Party of China’s Government in their treatment of the country’s Uighur population. The purpose of this amendment is to cover the widest possible spectrum of abuses, mirroring the language used by the Government to determine the liability of foreign nationals to the Magnitsky sanctions under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, and to decide whether weapons can be sold to overseas Governments under the arms export licensing criteria.

We will be discussing a further amendment in the next group, and I want to make it clear that this side of the House will support it too. We do so because we support the principle. There may be issues around the legal process that we need to address, but we will certainly support it. We are working together across the House to ensure that human rights abuses are properly addressed.

This amendment targets a range of serious human rights abuses wider than the ultimate crime of genocide; that is its purpose and I am sure that is why the noble Lord, Lord Alton, signed it. These include indiscriminate massacres of civilians, the use of torture and arbitrary mass detention, serious violence against peaceful protesters, et cetera. It also demands that the Government make a determination of responsibility for human rights abuses, the basis of which can be challenged by Parliament and by the courts.

Finally, I want to repeat the argument that sympathetic words on the need for human rights and that human rights are taken into account, as I have heard used by the Minister, are not enough. They need to be translated into a clear and accountable process—a process that is accountable to this Parliament. For me, the best outcome today would have been if the Government had committed to come up with their own transparent process, thereby alleviating the need to divide the House. I think that, across all sides of the House, we are totally committed to human rights. There is no disagreement among us. What this amendment is clearly seeking to do is ensure that Parliament takes its responsibilities properly and that the processes used by the Government on human rights are properly scrutinised. That is what we want.

I fear that, prior to Report, the Minister has not given us the assurances that we so desperately wanted. Therefore, I must give notice that, potentially, I will seek to test the opinion of the House. However, it is not too late. I know that the Minister is listening. I sincerely hope that he is able to give us the assurances that we so desperately seek.

7.10 pm

Sitting suspended.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 7:41 pm, 7th December 2020

My Lords, the Government may be concerned to see noble Lords return from that intermission invigorated and fortified for the remainder of the evening that lies ahead. I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Collins, on the way in which he introduced his important amendment, to which I am a signatory, and the thoughtful way he expressed the reasons that lie behind it. I will not say it is a pleasure, because the issues we are discussing are hardly that, but I am always glad to be able to stand with the noble Lord, specifically when we deal with atrocity crimes and human rights, and tonight is no exception. I support Amendments 8 and 11 and the consequential new Schedule, which is linked to Amendment 11. I am a signatory to those amendments, proposed by the noble Lords, Lord Collins, and Lord Blencathra, from whom the House will hear in due course.

In his well-judged opening speech, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, explained that the amendments focus on our duty to examine the human rights records of trading partners. Later, as the noble Lord said, the House will debate Amendment 9, an all-party amendment in my name, which is more narrowly drawn, specifically targeting trade agreements with states accused of committing genocide, and putting in place a judicial mechanism to break the vicious circle that leads to inaction as genocides emerge.

Like Amendment 9, Amendment 11 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, also provides a judicial mechanism to enable a wholly independent judge to assess human rights violations wider than genocide. Amendment 8, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, provides the opportunity, through risk assessment, parliamentary scrutiny and an annual report to Parliament, to look at serious violations of human rights, including torture and servitude. I should declare that I am a trustee of a charity, the Arise Foundation, which combats modern-day slavery, and a patron of the Coalition for Genocide Response.

These amendments are not dependent on one another, or mutually exclusive. Taken together, they could provide a combination of oversight and pressure from within and outside Parliament, providing belt and braces. If enacted, they will enable us to redefine our willingness to trade with those responsible for egregious crimes against humanity—an opportunity which I flagged at Second Reading. Subsequently, on 29 September, during day 1 of our Committee proceedings, I moved Amendment 33, an all-party amendment which I described as an attempt to open a debate around three things: first, doing business with regimes which commit serious breaches of human rights; secondly, the overreliance on non-democratic countries in the provision of our national infrastructure; and thirdly, the role that Parliament and the judicial authorities might have in informing those questions. On 13 October, the fifth day of Committee, I moved Amendments 68 and 76A on the narrower point of trading with countries judged by the High Court of England and Wales to be complicit in genocide.

For the sake of completeness, I shall also refer to my Amendment 5, which I moved on 29 June on Report of the telecommunications infrastructure Bill, in which a number of noble Lords present tonight, in the House and online, participated. Despite a range of powerful speeches from all sides during that debate, the movers agreed to the Government’s request not to press the amendment to a vote following an undertaking by the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, that the Government would engage with them and return at Third Reading with an amendment of their own. Several cross-departmental meetings were subsequently held but the Government were unable to table a Third Reading amendment, and indeed that Bill has disappeared into the long grass.

I am deeply disappointed that the Government have not used the Trade Bill to resolve this issue. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said about that missed opportunity for the Government to bring forward an amendment that they themselves had crafted. The House needs to understand that, despite the willingness of noble Lords to engage with Ministers, the principle that serious human rights violations and even the crime of genocide should determine our trading relationships has not been accepted by the Government. Sadly, like Banquo’s ghost, a government amendment is this evening absent from the Room—probably having suffered the same fate as Banquo—which is why these amendments are on the Order Paper.

It should be clearly stated that Amendments 8, 11 and 9 make no mention of any particular country that might fall foul of these provisions. The movers are clear that these are not catch-all amendments but are carefully constructed to assess both the seriousness of such violations and the direction of travel of the country concerned. I could of course provide the House with a Baedeker’s guide to countries where human rights violations occur, but that is not the point of these amendments.

However, in imagining the circumstances in which such amendments might come into play, I will give the House just one hypothetical example of a country whose human rights record should be scrutinised and would be likely to be affected by these amendments. In that context, I refer to my role as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uighurs and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong. However, I add that the example is merely illustrative.

Forty years ago, as a young Member of another place, I had the opportunity in the early 1980s to travel in China. It was in the aftermath of the death of Mao Tse-Tung, whose 27-year reign of terror, which led to the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, took the lives of tens of millions of people. Estimates of the number of people who died under his regime range from 40 million to as many as 80 million, through starvation, persecution, prison labour and mass executions.

Notwithstanding the massacres in Tiananmen Square, China in the late 1980s and early 1990s—I know the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, sometimes alludes to this himself and knows it to be true—appeared to be moving towards economic and political reform, perhaps exemplified most of all in the important “one country, two systems” pledge of the 1984 Sino-British declaration on Hong Kong. However—as we have seen with the dismantling of the Hong Kong model, the brazen arrests of pro-democracy campaigners, distinguished lawyers and opposition Members of the Legislative Council, and the emasculation of the rule of law—one-party, one-system hegemony is the order of the day. On the mainland, plurality and diversity are outlawed, made manifest by the arrest and imprisonment of dissidents, lawyers, artists, writers and religious adherents.

I have reduced what I was going to say today in the interests of time but I shall specifically mention Xinjiang, where an estimated 1 million Muslims are incarcerated in re-education and forced labour camps, subjected to brainwashing and surveillance, turned into slaves, separated from their families, sterilised and aborted and told to disown their culture and their religion—even forced to watch the destruction of their cemeteries, the desecration of their mosques and the obliteration of their identity. Professor Adrian Zenz, a German scholar, has described this as

“the largest detention of an ethnoreligious minority since World War Two”,

while a Newcastle academic describes it as

“a slow, painful, creeping genocide.”

Notwithstanding a great love of Chinese people and respect for Chinese culture, I carefully distinguish between my love of China its people and my enmity to an ideology and a system that would treat its own people in this barbaric way, brutally silencing any dissent. In considering our business and trade relations with the Chinese Communist Party, we can do little better than to consider the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes. He says that the CCP is

“a regime which regards business, as well as the state-owned enterprises, as part of the political project.”

There is an umbilical link between the CCP and the country’s companies—that is not in dispute. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute meticulously details the global expansion of 23 key Chinese technology companies and their links to the state. We know that Uighurs are used as forced labour in factories within the supply chains of at least 82 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Huawei, Apple, BMW, Gap, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen. According to one report, the UK is strategically dependent on China for our supplies in 229 separate categories of goods, 57 of which service elements of our critical national infrastructure.

The deepening ideological hostility of Xi Jinping—who, as President for life, has returned to a personal dictatorship not seen since the days of Mao—his hostility to democracy, international institutions, the rule of law, and fundamental human rights, show how wrong western Governments were to believe that more and more trade with the CCP was going to insure us against an ideology which despises liberal democracy and the freedoms which we associate with it. I could cite other examples of how these amendments might have application, but do not intend to weary the House with that now.

As we consider future trading partners, we have the chance to link the trade we do with the values for which we stand. The United Kingdom was one of the nations that gave the world the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the convention on the crime of genocide. Later, through the Helsinki accords, the United Kingdom and its allies knew the central importance of upholding of human rights with a patient determination that ultimately saw the collapse of the Berlin Wall. We did not achieve that by selling our souls to dictators.

We believe in a rules-based international order and we espouse liberal democracy, the upholding of diversity, the protection of minorities and the eternal quest for freedom. Those principles enunciated in these amendments would send a signal of hope to beleaguered people in dire circumstances, but I end with what I think it will say to the Chinese Communist Party and other violators of human rights. Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese writer and dissident, and Nobel laureate, who died in 2017, after serving four prison sentences, said:

“There is no force that can put an end to the human quest for freedom.”

We owe it people such as him, the incarcerated Uighurs, the suffering Tibetans, the Falun Gong and other religious believers persecuted for their faith, to stand four-square with them in that quest. By voting for these amendments, we will demonstrate—to arrested lawyers such as Hong Kong’s Martin Lee; young jailed pro-democracy campaigners such as Andy Li, Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow; to imprisoned newspaper owner Jimmy Lai; and defiant women like the brave Grandma Wong—that we will uphold the human rights of place such as Hong Kong and Xinjiang. We will put our belief in the quest for human freedom before menacing intimidation, brutal suppression of human rights and trade based on slave labour. It is for those reasons that these amendments are so important, and I will have no hesitation in voting for them tonight.

Photo of Lord Blencathra Lord Blencathra Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee 7:45 pm, 7th December 2020

My Lords, I rise to speak in support of Amendment 8 and my own Amendments 10 and 45—that is 10 and 45, not 11 and 45. I have been monitoring proceedings—watching them upstairs in my office—and I have popped down to the Chamber for this debate. I shall attempt to be brief because much has been said, in such wonderful ways and in such a powerful speech by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, whom I regard as my noble friend, and by the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury—I think it is the first speech I have ever agreed with him on, although he may not find that helpful.

My Amendment 10 is designed to emulate the excellent Amendment 9 of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, because I seem to recall that, when he moved his amendments in Committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, commended the approach of involving the courts, and I thought, “That amendment has got some traction”. As such, my amendment on human rights—not genocide—follows the structure of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. For the human right abuses, I have selected, in the main, the principal ones from the European Convention on Human Rights. I do not intend to push my amendments to a vote because I hope Amendment 8 will succeed, and I will vote for it.

The only little quibble I have with Amendment 8 concerns subsection (5)(d) of the proposed new clause. Subsection (5) talks about “serious violations” and lists “genocide”, “torture”, “inhuman or degrading treatment”, “slavery” and so on—but paragraph (d) then talks about

“other major violations of human rights” and lists:

“the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

My worry here is that one is getting down to less important human rights, some of which I regard almost as motherhood and apple pie. My concern is: would the Government use this as an excuse not to go down this route?

Yes, of course, they might accept genocide, slavery and torture, but I question reporting to Parliament every time that one of the more minor human rights is contravened. We may consider this terribly important in our western liberal democracy, but I suspect that, if you look at the huge range of UN human rights, the protocols and the additions to them, almost every single country in the world could be accused of breaching one of them. That is my concern, and it is why, in my Amendment 45, to which Amendment 10 refers, I listed the main ones from the European Convention on Human Rights:

“The right to life

Freedom from torture

Freedom from slavery

The right to liberty

The right to a fair trial …

Freedom of expression

Freedom of assembly

The right to marry and start a family” and so on—because it is important to concentrate on the main ones.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has set out in detail the incredible abuses of the Uighur people in China. I put it this way: would we dream of doing a trade deal with the regime in Burma, considering what it has done? Would we do a trade deal with the late and highly unlamented Mugabe of Zimbabwe, after his extermination of 20,000 of the Matabele people? No—of course not. Yet in China—again, I distinguish between the people of China and the communist regime—the regime is equally as bad as Burma or Mugabe, and, as the noble Lord described, it is doing genocide in slow motion, whereas Mugabe exterminated 20,000 Matabele in a few months.

Of course we would not do a trade deal with those countries or other regimes, but we are trading with China because it has got a grip on us: we are overreliant on trade with it and overdependent on it. This is not the time to get into and debate this with my noble friend the Minister, but I wish all success with Project Defend, which is aimed at trying to make sure that we reshore some of the things that we are dependent on China for or that we source them from other countries. Even something as bog-standard as paracetamol, which costs about a penny a tablet, should not be 99% sourced from chemicals in China and then produced in India; we must source more of these vital products and services from other countries. That is why I support Amendment 8.

To save time, because we are running rather late tonight, I intend to withdraw from speaking on Amendment 9, but I completely support it. I will vote for it, and I hope it passes because it is probably the most important amendment we have dealt with today or tomorrow—or whenever we will address this Bill again; it is the most important amendment, and I think the Government can easily, and should, accept it. If the wording is slightly wrong, they have time to clean it up in the other place for us to get it back here during ping-pong. With those remarks, I will conclude and let others speak.

I would be grateful if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, would make a comment, if he can bear it, on my point about some of the more trivial human rights abuses in case that weakens the argument. I may be totally wrong, but if he has a chance to comment on it, I would greatly welcome that.

Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Deputy Chairman of Committees

I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, who will be followed by the noble Lord, Lord Curry.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 8:00 pm, 7th December 2020

I thank noble Lords for putting down these amendments, which I wish to support. Noble Lords who have spoken have laid out clearly why the amendments are needed and how vital it is that we do not slip backwards with regard to human rights. As noble Lords have explained, Amendment 8 sets out three ways in which to ensure that in agreeing to potential trade deals we do not condone the abuse of human rights. Ministers must assess human rights in the country or countries in question before starting trade negotiations, present their conclusions for scrutiny by the relevant parliamentary committees, and reassess when the negotiations are complete. They must also present an annual report on the matter. The courts could play a role in those first two stages, ensuring that these are not empty gestures, for example to a Parliament with an overwhelming majority for the Government of the day.

The amendment’s definition of serious human rights violations includes genocide, torture, slavery and forced labour, complementing the amendment that we will consider in the next group. As noble Lords have said, the amendment reflects the language used by the Government in relation to the Magnitsky sanctions and arms export licensing. Of course, the FCDO produces an annual report on countries of concern with regard to their human rights.

The noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Alton, have laid out many instances of human rights abuses around the world, including genocide. Until now, we have made trade agreements as part of the EU, and as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has explained, human rights conditions are now applied to all EU trade deals. Surely we do not intend to drop below those standards. However, I noted during scrutiny of a recent SI on conflict minerals that we have fully signed up so far only to what the EU is implementing for Northern Ireland—because of the Northern Ireland protocol. That does not reflect centrality for human rights. I realise that the FCDO has a huge amount on its plate, but EU agreements, with their human rights provisions, are scrutinised in the European Parliament. We have just passed an amendment that will, we hope, ensure that scrutiny by Parliament is part of our democratic future, just as it was when we were in the EU.

The Government have made it clear that high human rights standards and values will drive global Britain. Yet we hear that countries seek to exploit the fact that we are in a weaker position, as a nation of 67 million people, than the powerful economic bloc that is the EU. We can already see how the EU is, for example, seeking to drive up environmental standards using its muscle.

The Government indicated that we could simply roll over agreements with other countries—a somewhat peculiar thought, since it implied that there would be no advantages from leaving the EU. We have since discovered that other countries do not regard our market as being as significant as the EU’s, and, moreover, they want to see how useful we might be as a route into the EU. All this means that in future it is likely to be more difficult to make sure we build in human rights when seeking trade deals with other countries. It has been a feature of the whole Brexit process that things have been promised that turn out not to be easy to achieve after all.

Amendment 8 is totally in keeping with what the Government say they wish to do, so they should surely support it. If they do not, it becomes even clearer that we need this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, has withdrawn, so I now call the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle.

Photo of Lord Curry of Kirkharle Lord Curry of Kirkharle Crossbench

My Lords, I fully endorse the wise comments of the noble Lords, Lord Collins, Lord Alton and Lord Blencathra, and the remarks made just now by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. I fully support these amendments and will reserve my comments for the debate on Amendment 9 in the next group.

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords), Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords)

My Lords, I will speak in support of Amendment 8; I also support Amendment 10 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. In response to his kind invitation, I say to him that I do not think that the reference in his proposed new schedule to other human rights weakens the argument in any way. I hope that he rests assured that that is the position, and that his amendment stands as a good amendment that should be carefully considered.

I do not believe that this country has been at all at fault in its support for the international treaties and obligations with reference to human rights to which the amendment refers. Indeed, we have led the way from the very start in the international campaign for the protection of human rights that began more than seven decades ago. Legislation has been brought forward with the minimum of delay on each occasion to incorporate each of the protections and rights into our domestic law. Nevertheless, there are gaps in the mechanisms for giving effect to our international obligations. With the exception of the UN Convention against Torture, which enables the contracting parties to bring proceedings against any persons within their jurisdiction for acts of torture, wherever they were committed, and some extensions of the reach of the European Convention on Human Rights that have resulted from decisions of the European Court in Strasbourg, the contracting parties can deal only with offending acts that are committed within their own territories. They can deal only with persons who have infringed their provisions; they cannot deal with acts, however egregious, committed by states. The fact is, however, that some of the most horrific infringements have been committed by state actors, to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred, with the encouragement and support of the states themselves. The prospect of those states bringing the perpetrators to justice is remote. The result is that there are places across the world where those who are crying out for the benefit of internationally recognised human rights are without any effective protection whatever.

Quite how to meet this problem has puzzled many minds: it is not easy to find a workable solution, but we cannot stand idly by. We have to do the best we can. The amendment that follows, Amendment 9 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, offers one way in the case of the international crime of genocide. This amendment, which reaches out more widely across a whole range of violations affecting our international human rights and obligations and, happily, has the support of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, too, offers another. It fits in neatly with the aims and purposes of this Bill. Furthermore, the way it seeks to give effect to our international obligations should serve as an example to other state parties that have joined with us in the endeavour to extend the protection of fundamental human rights throughout the world. The amendment would show leadership in an area of human affairs where this is much needed. I hope very much, therefore, that the Minister will feel able to accept it.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Collins, on so eloquently moving his amendment. He has done the House a great service and expressed himself much more clearly than I was able to do on subsection (9)(e) of the new clause proposed by my Amendment 7, where I briefly spoke about human rights. I ally myself with comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Alton, my noble friend Lord Blencathra and, in particular, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, whom I am delighted to follow. I was a little disappointed by the less-than-enthusiastic response by my noble friend the Minister to my raising of human rights in the context of Amendment 7, and I hope that he will do full justice to this group of amendments, which I intend to support if they are pressed to a vote.

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Conservative

My Lords, my first point on these amendments is that I am fundamentally in favour of trade. It is a huge part of our history as a nation and is certainly part of our ambitions for our future outside the EU. Being in favour of trade does not mean that I am against human rights, but I believe that a mature trading nation has to be able to balance competing interests; for example, the desire for all nations to uphold the highest standards of behaviour towards their citizens against the economic well-being of our own nation.

Human rights abuses are not a black and white issue. At one extreme, there is appalling abuse, such as the treatment of the Uighurs in China—though we must not forget that China contests the facts. At the other extreme, there might be a nation state that has never committed a human rights abuse, but I am not sure one exists. The UK, for example, has been founding wanting by the European Court of Human Rights on several occasions, and our own courts have found the same. Importantly, there is a spectrum of grey where the difficult task of responsible government arises.

Both Amendments 8 and 10 envisage using the courts to decide whether a human rights abuse is one that could, in effect, override or cancel the free trade agreement. In the case of Amendment 10 in the name of my noble friend Lord Blencathra, this is explicit, but in the case of Amendment 8, the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury—I think that I am quoting him correctly—said that the Government’s determinations under his new clause could be challenged by the courts. The courts in the UK may be good at determining whether human rights abuses have been committed in this country, but I do not believe that they are well placed to make any such determination in relation to overseas territories.

Furthermore, both amendments open our courts to vexatious claims by human rights activists of all kinds. I have a vision of our hard-pressed judicial system being swamped by the kind of litigation that is bound to follow if these amendments become law. It is not wise to invite our courts into the territory that is properly the domain of the Government’s foreign and trade policy; that would be a very poor outcome.

Amendment 8, unlike Amendment 10, does try to restrict itself to “serious violations”, but it defines them widely in subsection (5)(d) as

“other major violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

I do not know what that means and I do not want our courts getting sucked into these sorts of issues, which are, inevitably, political judgments at the end of the day.

I have one fundamental objection to these amendments: they attack free trade agreements only. They do nothing about trade that carries on on WTO terms. We do not have a free trade agreement with China but we certainly trade with it. If noble Lords think that passing either of these amendments, or Amendment 9 in the next group, will do anything for the Uighurs in China, they are not being honest with themselves. We should be wary of using our power to legislate to do no more than virtue-signal.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench

My Lords, I support Amendment 8. We have been privileged to belong to the European Union and follow the Copenhagen principles, as they were once called. We followed these rules as EU members; they will now be translated into our own legislation. Even in the EU, there are countries where the rule of law falls short, yet we still trade with them. Beyond that, how can we influence and do business with the more serious human rights offenders? Should we bring them aid and trade on the grounds that, in time, that might lead to a culture that could introduce new ideas and alleviate human rights offences? It is an outdated, even arrogant, position—I am not sure that it worked with Macaulay and Curzon in India—but we still argue it. Sometimes, we have to go further and resort to sanctions.

On the International Agreements Committee, I have argued for a stronger reference to human rights in the Explanatory Memorandum. In the past, you would see the phrase “no significant human rights considerations”, but I know from the Minister’s reassurance that the FCDO has been working hard on this and things such as trafficking. The rollover agreements reiterate the EU clauses, including protection for minorities. Can the Minister confirm that there has been further progress there as far as the new free trade agreements are concerned?

Normally I stand next to my noble friend Lord Alton in human rights Divisions—I see him now in front of where I would be. However, on genocide, I part company with him, I am afraid. I am not an expert like our noble and learned friend Lord Hope or several others here, but I know that some of the famous cases of genocide or ethnic cleansing have foundered in the courts because of definition or determination. Indeed, some flagrant ones will never be proved on that basis unless they fall under the simpler tests—the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, talked about these—of human rights violations that contravene the many international conventions mentioned in these amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, himself admitted that there were legal issues.

The Uighur case is different, simply because China will not discuss it and we have no leverage, even through international law, so in that sense it would be a waste of time as a free-standing amendment in this Bill. However, I fully acknowledge the benefits of trade sanctions and any adverse publicity, which are bound to disfigure China’s international profile— and rightly so. We have not given up on Tibetans and we will not abandon the Uighurs or the people of Hong Kong.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence) 8:15 pm, 7th December 2020

My Lords, I support Amendment 8. Unlike the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, I also support Amendment 9.

In opening the debate on this amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked whether we have a consistent approach on human rights. The Prime Minister spent a lot of time when he was Foreign Secretary, and since then as Prime Minister, talking about going global. That is not just about trade, which concerns the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, but about a wider set of interests and principles. We can trade widely but is that all that we should be doing? I do not believe that it is mere virtue-signalling to suggest that, if we want free trade agreements, we should also think about wider issues associated with the countries with which we are trading.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, is right that there are difficulties in adjudicating on genocide. Whenever genocide is raised with the Ministers at the FCDO, they say, “We cannot possibly talk about it unless it has been brought as a legal case and confirmed by the courts.” That is why Amendment 8 is important as a wider amendment that talks about human rights more generally, but the two go together.

As my noble friend Lady Northover pointed out, it is important that the Government support this amendment. Free trade should not be the only thing that matters. If, as an independent country now separate from the European Union, we seek to play a major role in the world, surely that should be based on our fundamental values and principles—not just on the value of trading contracts but on the value of relationships more generally. Trade in goods that comes from forced labour, modern slavery and concentration camps is surely not something that anybody in this country or Her Majesty’s Government can condone. As my noble friend Lady Northover said, surely the Government can support this amendment. If they cannot, it is even more important to have it in the Bill. I support Amendment 8.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I declare my position as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong, which may have some relevance to this. I join with many other noble Lords in thanking those noble Lords who have tabled and supported these amendments. I should warn the House that, in about the next minute of my contribution, I am going to be very concrete and graphic—this needs a trigger warning for anyone who has been a victim of torture or abuse.

This is an account provided by Ömir Bekali, a Uighur Muslim from Xinjiang in the far south-west of China, the former owner of a small tourism business, who spoke to the “Varsity” magazine in Cambridge in October. The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, talked about the big picture of what is happening in Xinjiang, but this is one man’s story. Ömir said:

“They shackled my hands and put black fabric [over] my eyes … I feel my body tremble whenever I remember that moment … My feet and my hands were tied up with iron shackles and they beat my hands, they beat my feet … they beat my back and my stomach … They put needles in between my nails and my fingers”.

After I have spoken, I will tweet a link to the report, which contains much more and worse than what I have just put on the record.

The world has, sadly, been hearing reports of human rights abuses for decades, centuries and millennia. I have to respectfully disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, who suggested that these amendments would not help the Uighurs. What we are doing is making sure that we do not go backwards from the inadequate but still existing controls that we have with regard to human rights and trade under our former EU membership. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, who said that the calling out of human rights abuse and putting it on to the international agenda is crucially important in terms of influencing the behaviour of peoples and nations.

In the UK, we have often had the cover of saying, “Perhaps little can be done in far-away places with few connections with over here, and there is little that we can do to help.” It was often the excuse—a very thin and inadequate excuse—that that was only the word of one individual; it was not hard evidence of what was happening. But that is not the case anymore, because we now have satellite pictures of massive so-called re-education camps, concentration camps or straight-out prisons in Xinjiang. We have even, due to the globalisation of the economy, the occasional desperate note pleading for rescue from abusive forced labour falling from a holiday present into the living-room of a shocked British household. That is a practical demonstration of the fact that we know well: our trade, companies and society, and our prosperity, are inextricably linked in a crucial way to the economic structures that are fed by these abuses. Our economic structures and political arrangements all too regularly, either tacitly or even explicitly, condone or accept such behaviour.

I note that Amendment 8, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, has been criticised as being too weak, but it is a start and a step in the right direction of acknowledging the link between trade and human rights. Amendment 10, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, steps up to and links with Amendment 9 that we will consider in the next group. The Green group will support them all. The amendment provides a strong and clear focus on genocide, even if it is limited in scope.

Let us start here and see how far we can get. I would say to Members of your Lordships’ House that if you will not be joining the many Lords who have said that they will back at least some of these steps, my question is this: what will you say to Ömir, who has spoken out bravely in the hope of action to protect people still in Xinjiang and people around the world who are suffering human rights abuses? Choosing not to do something is not a neutral act, but an active choice, a choice of morality, a choice about the kind of world we all live in, now and in the future.

I am sure that many noble Lords will be familiar with the short story by the late and brilliant Ursula K Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”. For those who are not, it is about a wonderful, prosperous and flourishing city that relies for its prosperity entirely on the permanent misery and the deliberate abuse of the human rights of a single child. Those who walk away are those who reject this bargain. We have today a trade system built on the misery not of one but of millions. Will noble Lords reject that bargain?

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My Lords, I am glad to have an opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Collins of Highbury and Lord Alton of Liverpool, my noble friend Lord Blencathra and other noble Lords for bringing forward amendments. They give us an opportunity to consider some important issues. I will talk about Amendments 8, 10 and 45, and refer to Amendment 9. Having done so, I will not speak on the next group.

With Amendment 8, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has set out an encompassing process for an examination of the human rights situation in countries with which we might enter into international agreements. The list of agreements to be included at the end of his amendment is very wide ranging indeed. Many of these agreements would extend far beyond trade, but it is not criticised on that account; it is intended to be encompassing. This is a very wide-ranging process on the route into trade agreements, on the point at which they are laid before and, if necessary, reported to this House and subsequently in annual reports.

The question that immediately comes to mind is what happens as a consequence. What happens is that one of the two Houses of Parliament has to do something about it. From listening to the debate, noble Lords have specific and sometimes compelling examples of the human rights abuses, violations and even—as Amendment 9 refers to—genocide that may be the responsibility of states with which we enter into agreements. The first point to make is that we should be responsible for thinking in precise terms about whether to enter into those kinds of agreement with those states and under those circumstances. We should not set up a wide-ranging, encompassing, endless process of bureaucratic scrutiny but take responsibility for determining with whom we have relationships, the character of the relationships we enter into and whether to sustain them.

That brings me to my second point, where I agree with my noble friend Lady Noakes: how can we abdicate that responsibility to the High Court? We have spent a lot of our time debating whether Parliament should intervene in the Executive’s prerogative power to initiate, conduct and enter into trade agreements and treaties. Here we are discussing an amendment in which people seem to think that Parliament should not do that but hand responsibility to the High Court to determine whether we remain in an agreement or should revoke an agreement that we have entered into. I cannot, for the life of me, see that it is right for Parliament to abdicate its responsibility to the High Court.

In practice, I come back to how we have to take that responsibility ourselves. Everybody has talked about China, but the noble Lord, Lord Collins, made an interesting speech illustrating this by reference to Egypt. I am not going to take a view on that today, because I do not have the knowledge to argue that it is right or wrong to roll over the agreement with Egypt in the way in which we intend, but the noble Lord asks the right question, in my view, at the right time. We have all the powers available to us to decide whether to enter into such an agreement. We do not need to change the Bill to change that fact; it is a matter only of looking at the circumstances of an individual agreement with an individual counterparty, and asking whether we should do it or not.

Another thing to mention is the timing of this. There is always, “If not now, when?” This is difficult because, yesterday, the Government initiated a review of our own human rights legislation. Our Human Rights Act requires that, if a court were to determine that we are acting in a way that is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, it can make a declaration of incompatibility. Then Ministers can make an order—they do not have to—to remediate that incompatibility.

However, this amendment and, likewise, Amendment 9 seek to go much further. The High Court would not make a declaration of incompatibility between our international obligations or human rights commitments and the agreement that we have entered into—no, it can directly revoke it. It overrides not only the Executive but the legislature, and that cannot be right. It is my view that the terms of reference of the independent review encompass thinking about how we enter into international agreements, and treaties, and how those relate to our human rights obligations entered into internationally. I would welcome my noble friend the Minister saying something on that.

The extraterritoriality of our human rights legislation is part of the terms of reference of that independent review of our Human Rights Act. In the months ahead, this should be the subject of that independent review and we will come back to it. Inevitably, I suspect, we will have legislation on human rights, and that is the time when we should consider precisely how this Parliament should take that responsibility forward.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade) 8:30 pm, 7th December 2020

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. I remember very clearly the debate that he led in Committee. I think it was just the two of us and the Minister in the Chamber, shortly before midnight, when we debated a framework for human rights and trade. That is the point that he was trying to make, and I agree with him very strongly. That is why I commend the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for tabling this amendment to try to persuade the Government that there will be support if they bring forward a trade and human rights policy that we can engage in and work on with them. That is an appeal. I commend the noble Lord for bringing the amendment forward and I am delighted to have added my name to it.

With regard to a list of countries, we are yet to roll over an agreement with Algeria, which Freedom House has classified as “not free” or similarly with Cameroon, Egypt or Eswatini, which are also classified “not free”. We would not engage in this with Syria—although if we were rolling over all agreements, that could include an agreement that did exist but is not in place because the country is under sanction. We have arrangements with the Palestinian Authority, which Freedom House indicates is “not free”; Zimbabwe again is “not free”.

We have separate debates over Turkey and Vietnam. When it comes to Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, we know that those two countries have had year-long disputes over the definition of genocide within the international tribunals. I agree to an extent that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, indicated, this is a grey area. That is not, however, a reason not to progress into a framework to continue to seek improvements.

I hope the Minister does not mind if I remind him that he has twice been referred to in this way as a private citizen and business leader. As chair of a British financial company he commended the authoritarianism of President Xi over protests in Hong Kong, stating that this ensured economic continuity in Hong Kong and was in the UK’s interest. He has now migrated from business leader to political leader. In many respects, that is illustrative of the challenges that we all face about choices that we make in the business community as well as the political community—it is illustrative of this wider debate.

I serve on the International Relations Committee, as does the noble Lord, Lord Alton. We said in our report on the Middle East that the British Government were on the wrong side of international human rights law in continuing to sell arms to Saudi Arabia as the Yemen tragedy ensued. We have high standards in this country and I believe we are a force for good around the world, but we should not delude ourselves about how others see us: inventor of concentration camps, holder of weapons of mass destruction and declarer of illegal wars. I love my country, but I am not totally rose-tinted about our history.

Still, we have had a proud record post war as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said. We have helped to shape international norms on human rights, in which we can take particular pride. One of the theatres where we have done so was in the European context when we were a member of the European Union. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, quite rightly said that a common approach on the use of political clauses was agreed in the European Union in 2009, to ensure that there would be systematic references of human rights clauses in all agreements going forward. I will come back to that.

I want to make it very clear what I am calling for, so that the Minister understands that there is no equivocation: a human rights and trade policy which has proper indicative measures and triggering mechanisms, so that we can replace what we had within the European context and have a distinct United Kingdom approach for all trade. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to proposed new subsection (6). I am pleased that the amendment outlined the breadth of the type of agreements that we have. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, does not mind me saying that Amendment 9 would have been strengthened if it had been more specific about the areas which we will be covering.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, asked about what proposed new subsection (5)(d) means by some of those

“other … violations of human rights … including … the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

One example is that we hold strongly to the view that countries should not have the death sentence for people who have a mental illness, or for children. That is within the ICCPR and there should be no disagreement that it is a serious human rights violation. If such a violation is being practised, the question is what impact that should have on our trading relationships.

This is all about the trade relationships that we have through agreements, whether it is a full free trade policy or one of the other agreements outlined in proposed new subsection (6). Those all invariably involve preferential access for that third country to our economy: preferential either because there is less tax or because they have access to our markets or partnerships which we would deny to others except, in general, the WTO. As my noble friend Lady Smith asked: what value do we put on that preferential access? One part is economic; the second part is the value that we have for our wider rights.

I return to the common approach in the European Union and the use of political clauses. The agreements with third countries included human rights and they were all under what was termed “essential elements clauses”. Free trade agreements would be linked to the political framework agreements with that country, encapsulating all the agreements that we have. If they did not exist in the framework, this would be included specifically in a free trade agreement. I would be interested to know whether the Government believe that this is of merit too. Should we include our human rights element in our trading agreements, linked with the other partnership agreements that we have with that country? Labour rights have been included in specific trade and sustainable development chapters. I tried my hardest in Committee to get the Government to state their position on the inclusion and sustainable chapters in future agreements. They did not do so; I hope that the Minister can be clear about it today.

The fact that there has been a standard approach since 2009 meant that, during negotiations on agreements with countries, the EU was able to proactively assess the overall positive and negative impacts on trade agreements, including human rights, and the totality of the human rights record and domestic legal frameworks of that country. That informed the negotiations with those countries. It is not necessarily a case of seeking to impose a legislative framework on that country, but we assess what it is. At the very least, we determine how many international obligations, from labour rights to a whole set of legislative requirements on human rights, they have domesticated into their law. In the European context, it is interesting how many countries revised their domestic legislation during the process of negotiations with the EU, and domesticated international obligations—something they had not done up until then.

Up until that point, most of the agreements had the ability to either pause or suspend. It is only in the recent EU-Canada agreement that, for the first time, there is a specific mechanism where, if there is a gross violation of human rights, or non-proliferation, that could serve as grounds for termination of the entire agreement. We will get into this in the next group, but given that this is the first time, I would like to know from the Minister whether that element has been replicated in the UK-Canada agreement? If it has, it would be the first time that the UK has done this. If the Government have not replicated it, that is, in my mind, a very clear signal that they are departing from the approach that we had led up until now.

I hope that the Government will listen carefully to calls from across the Chambers. We need a UK Government impact assessment tool for the UK that is cross-departmental, including the Department of International Trade, the FCDO and BEIS, so that we can take a considered approach to human rights clauses in our trade agreements, sanctions regimes on human rights from our Foreign Office, and, potentially, remedial acts from the Department for Business. Without a proper impact assessment tool, it is very hard for us to consider this. We need mechanisms and we need frameworks. I hope noble Lords do not mind me saying so, but I believe that this is more important at this stage in this Bill than simply referring to individual examples of human rights abuses around the world that we know, to our shame, have existed.

I hope that the Government will respond positively to Amendment 8 and, before Third Reading, set out clear draft human rights clauses for future trade agreements, draft trade and sustainability chapters, and the mechanisms for escalating concerns around the implications of human rights, and the mechanisms that will then be triggered for us to judge not only whether we believe that the relationship should be questioned but what mechanisms can be put in place. At the end of the day, all of this is about the people and the victims. Unless we have a clear framework and a clear position from the Government, we are letting those people down in the countries with which we trade.

Photo of Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Lord Grimstone of Boscobel The Minister of State, Department for International Trade, The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, for his Amendment 8. It touches on an important issue that, as noble Lords know, this Government take very seriously and to which I would like to assure the House I am personally committed.

Before I address the amendment specifically, I want to emphasise that the Government share the concerns underpinning the amendments before us today. The UK has long supported the promotion of our values globally and remains committed to our international obligations. We are clear that more trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights. I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that in rolling over continuity agreements we are seeking to deliver continuity of effect for agreements with all our partners. I can confirm that we are not seeking a continuity agreement with South Sudan.

In answer to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, I am sure he appreciates that I cannot comment on agreements presently still under negotiation. I have noted the point of my noble friend Lord Lansley on the ongoing human rights review, and I will make sure it is considered. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that we seek to ensure that human rights are recognised and protected in all our free trade agreements. This includes clauses in our trade agreements with many developing and emerging markets, suspensive powers in our trade preferences regime, and recourse to trade levers through our sanction policy.

Turning to the amendment in hand, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I am sure the noble Lord will be pleased to hear that the Government are already delivering on some of the commitments that his amendment seeks. For instance, the amendment seeks publication of an annual report. My department has already committed to publish an annual report on our programme of trade activity, and we can certainly explore whether that report could be used for the purposes envisaged here.

However, there are a number of concerns and legal risks raised by the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, which means that we are unable to support it. It would constrain the royal prerogative powers to negotiate, ratify and withdraw from treaties. Of course, curtailing the royal prerogative is not something that the Government would do lightly.

The inclusion of alleged violations, as well as actual violations, would make it very difficult to compile the reports envisaged in the amendment. What criteria would there be for determining whether an allegation needs to be included? How is evidence meant to be gathered with respect to such allegations, particularly when such evidence likely resides mainly in the territory of the trading partner? I apologise for dealing in practicalities, but it is my responsibility to put these practicalities before you. These are fundamental questions to which there are clearly no easy answers, and they should be considered before your Lordships seek to place this amendment into legislation.

The amendment also foresees potential termination of a trade agreement in the event that reports produced by the Government indicated that serious human rights violations have occurred in a trading partner country. Termination of any trade agreement would be an extraordinary action and would entail significant economic disruption, as well as legal, diplomatic and political risks.

This brings me to Amendments 10 and 45, which are also directed at termination of trading arrangements. These amendments seek to give the High Court of England and Wales powers to revoke trade agreements where the court holds that another signatory to the relevant agreement has committed serious human rights abuses, in the case of Amendment 10. We have many problems with this approach, but I will detail the two most serious.

First—and I know this has been recognised by some noble Lords—the approach strikes at the heart of the separation of powers. It would give the High Court the power to frustrate unilaterally trade agreements entered into and implemented by the Government and ratified by Parliament. Parliament would remain sovereign, but it would require primary legislation to reverse the court’s decision effectively and, in the meantime, that could result in significant damage to relationships with trade partners.

Secondly, with respect to my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s amendment specifically, this would enable courts to revoke plurilateral or multilateral trade agreements altogether, even if only one of the signatories to the agreement had committed an abuse of human rights. This could give the High Court the power to terminate the UK’s membership of the WTO if any single WTO member were found to have committed abuses. An extreme example, perhaps, but it is important to be clear that it would not be possible to revoke agreements in a way that targeted only the country held to have committed genocide or human rights abuses. The entire agreement would be affected. This is a very serious legal defect, and so noble Lords will understand why the Government must strongly oppose it.

Given the ongoing wide range of activities the Government continue to undertake on human rights, I hope that the noble Lord will be reassured of the seriousness that the Government accord to this issue and that he, and other noble Lords, will continue to work with us on this agenda. In the light of the legal difficulties, the unintended consequences and other risks outline above, I therefore ask the noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development) 8:45 pm, 7th December 2020

I thank the Minister for his response. I also thank all noble Lords who contributed to this debate. I say straightaway to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, that I am pleased that on this fundamental issue of principle we are agreed, and I think that that applies across the House. It has been a very positive debate, even where we have disagreed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is absolutely right that I am committed to trade, but we are not talking about stopping trade; as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said, we are talking about preferential arrangements and agreements, going out there and seeking special agreements to enhance trade and to do more. As I said at the beginning of the debate, we are following a principle that has already been adopted, and we want to make sure that we have a proper process. The fundamental issue here is how Parliament scrutinises the actions of government, particularly on this important point of principle.

I will not take up the House’s time too much; I just want to come back to what the Minister said. He said that on the one hand, “We are already doing what you seek”; on the other hand, he said, “There are fundamental problems with what you’re trying to argue for.” The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said that now is not the time and that there are issues here that we need to address elsewhere. I disagree. I think that this is absolutely the time. When the United Kingdom is about to leave the European Union, it is very important that we commit ourselves to clear processes that allow for proper parliamentary scrutiny.

I tend to agree with some of the concerns about the intervention of the courts, but at the end of the day there is a clear separation of power here. If Parliament decrees and the Government fail to act within the requirements of Parliament, our courts have a right to intervene. That is our constitutional position, although I would hope that no Government would ever breach the commitments they have given to Parliament. That is why I think that my amendment, signed by the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Purvis, and the right reverend Prelate, is so important. We need that clear process.

I am afraid that the Minister has failed to give us the assurances that we want, so I want to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 297, Noes 221.

Division number 3 Trade Bill - Report (1st Day) — Amendment 8

Aye: 297 Members of the House of Lords

No: 221 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Division conducted remotely on Amendment 8

Amendment 8 agreed.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates Deputy Chairman of Committees 9:05 pm, 7th December 2020

My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 9. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.