Thursday 25th November 2021

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Hansard Text
Motion to Take Note
11:50
Moved by
Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool
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That this House takes note of the reported remarks of the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs that a genocide is underway against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, China.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, in moving the Motion that the House takes note of the reported remarks of the right honourable Liz Truss MP, the Foreign Secretary, that a genocide is under way against the Uighur people in Xinjiang, I need to thank all noble Lords who will speak today. I declare that I am a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uyghurs and a patron of the Coalition for Genocide Response, whose founders I thank—along with the Library of the House—for the briefing material which has been made available to your Lordships. Similarly, thanks are due to the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, of which I am also a member.

Today’s debate on genocide has deep roots, stretching back to the still unrecognised genocide of 1915 against the Armenians. It was carefully studied by the Jewish-Polish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin. More than 40 members of his own family were subsequently murdered in the Holocaust, the genocide of 6 million European Jews. Lemkin both created the word “genocide” and campaigned for the 1948 genocide convention, to which we acceded in 1970, and which ultimately led to the creation of the International Criminal Court.

Article II of the convention sets out what constitutes a genocide. This is not dependent on numbers killed—indeed, no killings at all are necessarily “required” if at least one or more of the five prohibited genocidal acts are proven—but it evaluates

“intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.

As we debate what is afoot today in Xinjiang, recall how, in Europe, bureaucrats identified who was a Jew, confiscated property, used their victims as slave labour, scheduled trains to uproot them from their homes and communities, and deprived them of livelihoods and positions in society; and how German pharmaceutical companies tested drugs on camp prisoners, confiscated personal property, shaved heads, sent hair, jewellery, and other artefacts as trophies, and then made prisoners build their crematoria.

Since 1948, we have witnessed genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, northern Iraq and Burma, and now in China. Repeatedly, we have failed to honour our convention duties to predict, prevent, protect and punish.

As a new member of the House of Commons, as long ago as November and December 1979, I criticised the failure to utilise the visit of the Chinese Communist Party’s chairman, Hua Guofeng, to raise with him the Cambodian genocide being perpetrated by the CCP’s allies, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The Government declined at the time to name it as a genocide.

In Darfur, Rwanda, northern Iraq and Burma, I have seen first-hand how the promise to break the relentless and devastating cycles of genocide has never materialised. Will it be any different in Tigray, where the warning signs for mass, ethnically targeted violence are flashing red?

A former Yazidi MP asked me why we had not recognised the attempts to liquidate her community as a genocide. She was not alone in her incomprehension. Boris Johnson, then the Foreign Secretary, said Isis was

“engaged in what can only be called genocide … though for some baffling reason the Foreign Office still hesitates to use the term genocide”.

Following the attempts to eradicate the Yazidis and other minorities in Iraq, the world watched aghast as the same fate befell the Rohingya and others in Burma. Then came reports of mass incarceration and “re-education” of more than 1 million Uighurs in Xinjiang, with evidence of displacements, sterilisations of women, torture, rape and the use of slave labour in what has become a surveillance state. Speaking at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Dominic Raab rightly described the persecution of the Uighurs as being “on an industrial scale”.

During consideration of what is now the Trade Act 2021, by a majority of 129, the House passed an all-party amendment prohibiting trade with genocidal regimes. The House will remember that the so-called “genocide amendment” sought to provide an answer to the problem of the United Kingdom’s inoperable policy on genocide, a policy which refuses to engage with our convention obligations without the prior decision of an international court. However, as the House knows, no such court will ever hear a case against the People’s Republic of China.

Agreeing with this point, the House provided a judicial route to make a preliminary determination on the question of genocide via the High Court, a proposal devised on the advice of my noble and learned friend, Lord Hope of Craighead. A compromise amendment designated committees in each House to consider whether there was credible evidence of genocide committed by a potential trading partner. But this new mechanism is triggered only when there are formal negotiations for a free trade agreement with China, so it does nothing to help Uighurs now.

In any event, even if it did, the Foreign Office has said the committees’ decision would not be binding, any more than the historic decision of the House of Commons in April to declare a genocide in Xinjiang. The Foreign Office also rejected the findings of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report Never Again: The UKs Responsibility to Act on Atrocities in Xinjiang and Beyond. It said it would not accept the Select Committee’s conclusion that the Government should

“respect the view of the House of Commons that crimes against humanity and genocide are taking place, and take a much stronger response.”

In September, our own International Relations and Defence Committee, on which I serve, published a report on China, trade and security. In evidence, Charles Parton, a leading authority, told the inquiry:

“Xinjiang and the genocide—and it is genocide under the UN convention’s description—have to be taken into account. This is not just about the sheer goodness and badness aspect but the reputation of companies of ours that are trading with those that are producing materials through forced labour and benefiting from what is going on in Xinjiang.”


The United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, is quite clear. He says:

“the forcing of men, women and children into concentration camps, trying to, in effect, re-educate them to be adherents to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide.”

Genocide is not part of the great game of diplomacy; it is the ultimate atrocity crime.

Very unusually, and to her enormous credit, Liz Truss has refused to follow the Foreign Office line and is reported as stating that the treatment of Xinjiang’s Uighurs must be regarded as genocide. With the British Foreign Office saying the opposite of what the Foreign Secretary is saying, the Prime Minister has the right to be even more baffled.

Major independent analysis and leaked documents all reach the same conclusion as the Foreign Secretary. Essex Court Chambers found that there is a “very credible case” that the Chinese Government are carrying out the crime of genocide against the Uighur people. A 25,000-word report from the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, involving over 30 independent global experts, found that the Chinese state is in breach of every act prohibited in Article II of the genocide convention.

One could also read: the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s compelling report The Architecture of Repression; Laundering Cotton, the joint report of Sheffield Hallam University and the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice; the joint contribution of Dr Joanne Smith Finley and Dilmurat Mahmut on cultural genocide, which will appear in the forthcoming volume The Xinjiang Emergency, edited by Michael Clarke; Dr Adrian Zenz’s recent work on the use of population control, separation of families, sterilisations and abortion to target the Uighurs; and Darren Byler’s book In the Camps: Life in China’s High-Tech Penal Colony. I have sent links to these reports to the Minister.

The published research suggests that, since 2016, at least 1 million people have been detained in Xinjiang without trial. The purpose is to “re-educate” them and replace their Muslim faith and culture with adherence to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party.

Last month, CNN broadcast an interview with a former Chinese police detective who described how Uighurs had been pulled from their homes, with police officers

“handcuffing and hooding them, and threatening to shoot them if they resisted”.

The BBC bravely broadcast the testimonies of courageous Uighur women who described conditions in the concentration camps, including their re-education, rape and public humiliation by camp guards.

No one can say we did not see this red light flashing. No one can say we did not know. I have been to western China and Tibet. Since 2008, I have raised the plight of the Muslim Uighurs on over 70 occasions, in questions, speeches, endless emails to the ever-patient noble Lord the Minister and a take-note Motion in 2013.

The fate of these 1 million incarcerated Uighurs should be seen in the context of the enormities committed by the Chinese Communist Party, with one estimate holding the CCP responsible for the deaths of 50 million Chinese people over the decades. See it against the massacre in Tiananmen Square, the outrages in Tibet, forced organ harvesting, the destruction of Hong Kong’s freedoms, the daily intimidation of Taiwan and attempts to silence the parliamentarians who call them out. See it in the context of the £2 billion Evergrande South Sea bubble, the disappearances, torture, persecution and the imprisonment of lawyers and brave Chinese journalists asking the difficult questions about, for instance, the emergence of Covid-19 in Wuhan.

Lamentably, UK institutions care far too little about the origins of dirty money, about the use of slave labour in Xinjiang or the nature of the CCP. Note that the Commons report says that

“there are substantial research connections between the Chinese organisations responsible for these crimes and UK universities”.

While the Commons committee tells us that

“the issue of forced labour in Xinjiang is pervasive, widespread”.

Yet in your Lordships’ House, the Trade Minister told us that his ambition is to further deepen our trading relations.

Meanwhile, companies like Hikvision, banned in the United States but not here, are, according to the Commons inquiry, responsible for the cameras

“deployed throughout Xinjiang and provide the primary camera technology used in the internment camps”.

The same facial recognition cameras are even collecting facial recognition data in the United Kingdom. The Government were asked to prohibit UK organisations and individuals from doing business with companies known to be associated with the Xinjiang atrocities through the sanctions regime. Can the Minister tell us whether we are doing this and why the Government have declined to carry out an audit of the UK assets of CCP officials? Will he explain why we sanctioned four lower-level Chinese officials for their repression in the Uyghur Region, but left out Chen Quanguo—the architect of the whole thing, whom the US has sanctioned and who is also responsible for mass human rights abuses in Tibet?

Critically, given that, as per ICJ case law, the trigger for state responsibility is not whether a state has concluded that the criminal threshold for genocide has been reached but rather, that it believes there to be a serious risk of genocide, can the Minister tell the House if his department has undertaken an analysis of whether or not there is a serious risk of genocide in the Uyghur Region, and if not, why not?

Today, following the remarks of the Foreign Secretary, we need to provide a feasible judicial route to justice for victims of genocide and strengthen our capacity to identify and prevent emerging genocides. We should be ensuring evidence collection and preservation for future trials, insisting on criminal accountability and taking long overdue action on forced labour supply chains and trade linked to Uighur slave labour. Are we on the side of the slaves or the slave drivers?

Last week I met a Uighur woman who told me that more than 20 members of her family have disappeared. What we are doing to protect witnesses, including those who have given evidence to the Uyghur Tribunal chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC? What are we doing to stop Uighur refugees being repatriated to China? What of the Winter Olympics? Not only should there be a diplomatic and ministerial boycott, but the public should protest to the big-name IOC sponsors—Intel, Omega, Panasonic, Samsung, Toyota, Coca Cola, Allianz, Alibaba, and others—that their sponsorship brings them discredit and that their money is blood money.

The word “genocide” should not be used inaccurately. But we should not hesitate to use it when and where all elements of the crime are present. That is what Liz Truss has done and I admire her for doing so. It is unacceptable for the Foreign Office to dismiss the view of this House, of the House of Commons, of its Foreign Affairs Committee, and of the Foreign Secretary. It is simply not tenable to go on with the same unresolved circularity—a vicious circle which debases the duties of the genocide convention. We cannot continue gesturing in the direction of courts, which we all know are incapable of holding China to account; that is immoral. We also owe it to the memory of Raphael Lemkin and to all of those who have been victims of genocide to do far more to confront this evil and those who have been getting away with genocide. I beg to move.

12:04
Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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My Lords, it is with great respect for the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that I say that he has provided the most incredible leadership in this House on what is happening to the Uighur people at the hands of the Chinese authorities. I have all too often made speeches in this House about the full horrors of the human rights abuses that are taking place there. I am not going to rehearse them all again today, but we know that what is happening is certainly one of the most grievous kinds of human rights abuses. When we signed the convention on genocide, we were committing to preventing genocide taking place. So, when our Foreign Secretary indicated that she, too, took the view that there was a genocide in train—that it was processing—she was really talking about the very thing that is to be prevented under the genocide convention.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I too am frequently in contact with people who give me accounts of what is happening to their family members or what has happened to them. As a lawyer, I look for evidence. A report published by Dr Laura Murphy of Sheffield Hallam University—a very impressive academic who is rigorous in the material she uses and the evidence she applies to her work—has indicated that slave labour is being used in Xinjiang province, in the internment camps, and should be a source of serious alarm to us all. As well as writing Laundering Cotton, she has also written a very important report pointing out that 35-40% of the polysilicon used worldwide in the creation of solar panels is created in this province and in the factories and camps where forced labour is used.

Her most recent report is on cotton, and it points out that 20% of the world’s cotton emanates from Xinjiang province and that the way it is produced should be a source of deep alarm. She relied on the first-person testimonies of people who had been held and managed to escape, of those who work in the internment camps as security staff or teachers, and of relatives of those in the camps. They reveal that minority citizens held in those camps are “forcibly sent” to work as part of their daily schedules. Participation in labour programmes is not voluntary; it is coerced through threats of imprisonment, and torture has regularly been used.

People who are supposedly released or transferred from the camp system are often required as part of their release to work in co-located proximate factories or industrial park employment. Approximately 135 camps have these co-located factories, so people are released but have to work in the factories; there is compulsion to do so. In compelling people to work in these internment camps, the CCP has designated certain Uighur citizens as “surplus” labour. They are allowed to live outside the camps, but are forced into this form of employment, and that includes many people of retirement age.

Local governments are required to identify surplus labourers and compel them to take these jobs in factories. The surplus labour programmes affect nearly every minority family in the region. We know that this is a coercive system because the CCP explicitly argues that anybody who is not in vocational training or the right sort of economic condition has to be placed in these factories and in work. These transfers take place on a mass scale. If a Uighur person resists, a state-sponsored programme is put into play through which they are required to take part in the processes that bring them into the factories.

The details of the conditions in these factories are also shocking. There are razor wire fences, iron gates and security cameras. The surveillance is constant, and people are monitored by the police at all times.

The report by Laura Murphy makes it clear that people are paid either nothing or minuscule amounts, but then have deductions made from the small amount of money they might receive on the basis that they have to pay for their own transport and food. The food provided comes at great cost, so they end up with very little in the way of recompense for the work they do.

These are militarised working conditions. People are moved around the country. Young women are moved to places far from their own homes to work in factories. It is all part of what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, described, which is a way of disrupting a community. It has its culture removed from it and experiences serious human rights abuses. This is a genocide in progress, as the Foreign Secretary has said. I hope the House will take note of that as we go forward.

12:11
Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for yet again bringing to the attention of your Lordships’ House, of the country and, I hope, of the Government the importance of looking at what is happening in China, particularly in the Xinjiang region. He has put such great effort into this that we need to stop and try to understand why the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office seems to find it so difficult to recognise a genocide going on. He made it clear that there are various ways of looking at a genocide; there are aspects of understanding it. Essex Court Chambers has made it clear that it believes that all aspects of genocide are visible in Xinjiang province.

This is not a new issue; it has not suddenly come on the horizon. We have been hearing about it and debating it for months, years or, in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, decades. So why does the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office find it so difficult to acknowledge this as a genocide in progress, particularly if former Foreign Secretary and now Prime Minister Boris Johnson was baffled and the current Foreign Secretary sees it as a genocide in progress, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, has just pointed out? Surely if the Foreign Secretary believes that something is a genocide, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office should look very closely at it.

It is worth reading out an extract from an ICJ ruling from 2007 on the application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina v Serbia and Montenegro. Paragraph 431 stated that

“a State’s obligation to prevent, and the corresponding duty to act, arise at the instant that the State learns of, or should normally have learned of, the existence of a serious risk that genocide will be committed. From that moment onwards, if the State has available to it means likely to have a deterrent effect on those suspected of preparing genocide, or reasonably suspected of harbouring specific intent … it is under a duty to make such use of these means as the circumstances permit”.

The House of Commons has already called the situation in Xinjiang a genocide against the Uighur people. The Foreign Secretary believes that it is a genocide happening right now. How can Her Majesty’s Government say that they did not know? How are they not in breach of their duties under the convention on genocide? Surely they have to admit that they are aware of this issue.

One of my academic colleagues some years ago gave a presentation from a book that she had written on the recognition of genocide. She suggested that European Governments were often reluctant to name genocides precisely because they felt that, if they did so, they would have to take action. You cannot just turn away if you know something to be a genocide. Can the Minister explain to us why the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, unlike its Secretary of State and unlike the House of Commons, thinks that somehow this is not a genocide in the making?

We are hearing about forced labour, forced abortions, forced sterilisations, family separations and transfer of people of the Uighur minority and other minorities across China. It is a genocide potentially on the grounds of ethnicity but, since we are also talking about Muslim minorities, there is potentially another aspect of genocide. What work are Her Majesty’s Government doing to look into what is happening and to consider what action they can take? Magnitsky sanctions can be used; I declare an interest as an officer of the new APPG on Magnitsky Sanctions. What work are the Government doing to identify individuals? We have heard in previous debates that people have been named but not yet sanctioned. Could the Government look into who has been involved in causing genocide and perhaps sanction some more people?

I raised a question on 21 October about labelling of textiles. The Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone —kindly wrote to me and said that the Government do not require the origins of goods to be named, except for food products. Very often, something says “Made in China”. Many of your Lordships are wearing masks, as required. Please look where your masks were made. Can we consider whether we believe that any of the supply chain could have included slave labour? Are we perhaps all complicit?

12:17
Lord Anderson of Ipswich Portrait Lord Anderson of Ipswich (CB)
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My Lords, this is the first time that I have presumed to speak on the atrocities in Xinjiang, although I have followed previous debates with nothing short of admiration. I came to the subject by two slightly unorthodox routes: a professional interest in surveillance techniques, and an invitation to British experts in late 2015, backed by our respective Governments, to talk to the Chinese about counterterrorism. We were politely received, but I cannot claim that the presentation that I gave with the defence attaché on lessons learned from the excessive use of internment in early 1970s Northern Ireland had the slightest impact. Indeed, it later transpired that, as we were speaking, plans were being made elsewhere in Beijing for brutal mass internment on a scale unimagined since the Second World War. I declined the invitation to participate in the return leg of the dialogue.

To read accounts of so-called de-extremification in Xinjiang is to recall the torturer near the end of Nineteen Eighty-Four explaining Big Brother’s ability to strip Winston of his humanity:

“You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”


But the claim of genocide requires more than that—indeed, more even than proof of one or more of the terrible acts specified in the genocide convention. The perpetrator must be shown to have acted with the aim or desire of destroying a protected group, as a whole or in substantial part—a question which needs to be answered on the facts as they apply to each specific act and each specific defendant.

To see how demanding this test can be, let us take the horrendous human and logistical evidence of organ harvesting from healthy young Uighurs that was detailed this summer in Ethan Gutmann’s shocking interim report, The Killing of Innocents for their Organs. The author characterises what he believes to be taking place as “maintenance genocide”. However, if, for the sake of argument, it could be shown that such practices were intended only to ensure a source of supply for China’s notorious transplant industry, however murderous and inhuman the practice, the purpose of group destruction would not have been made out. To establish the responsibility of China itself, as the international law expert Alison Macdonald QC explained in her published legal opinion of January this year, would require either the genocidal intent of specified senior officials to be attributed to the state, or for genocidal intent to be

“the only possible inference available from the pattern of persecutory conduct.”

She described that threshold as a high one. Regardless of what the Foreign Secretary is reported to have said in a private conversation, I have some sympathy with the Government’s view that such intricate and fact-dependent questions are more appropriately resolved by judicial or quasi-judicial bodies than by the assertions of Ministers.

Although China has so far been able to ensure that the competent international courts cannot entertain these claims, we are fortunate to have other bodies which, although not courts, are at least equipped to take the necessary forensic approach. The Newlines Institute published in March this year its clear and fully referenced analysis of what it considered to be China’s breaches of the genocide convention. Meanwhile, here in London, the Uighur tribunal will hand down judgment on 9 December. Its president, Sir Geoffrey Nice, was the chief prosecutor of Slobodan Milošević in The Hague and was knighted for services to international criminal justice. The Chinese Government think the tribunal significant enough to have imposed what were described as sanctions on Sir Geoffrey back in March, as they did on the first two speakers in this debate. I hope that our own Government will afford equal attention to its findings, whatever they may be.

My last point is this: whatever the Uighur tribunal may conclude about genocide should not obscure the broader picture of international criminal responsibility, including for crimes of the highest seriousness that are easier to establish than genocide because they concentrate on the individual victims and no group-destructive purpose must be proved. I have in mind in particular the seven crimes against humanity, ranging from torture and rape to enforced sterilisation and disappearance, for which the Macdonald opinion considered there to be evidence. The badge of genocide is one that its victims are fully entitled to wear, but it has been argued that, in the long term, that badge could, in some circumstances at least, perpetuate fruitless outrage rather than contribute to reconciliation or the resolution of historic disputes—a point made thoughtfully by Philippe Sands QC in his book East West Street.

In short, legal labels matter, particularly when they are written by courts, and genocide is the most arresting label of them all. I support all those who are investigating whether it can be justified—but, if the product is sufficiently visible, the label becomes secondary. The fact that the Nuremberg tribunal convicted senior Nazis of crimes against humanity rather than genocide, as it had been invited to do, does not, I hope, diminish anyone’s opinion of the Holocaust as the ultimate evil.

I join other noble Lords in saluting all those who have brought the horrendous situation in Xinjiang to the attention of the world, often at great personal risk, and thank my noble friend Lord Alton for stimulating once again the conscience of the House.

12:23
Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, I too pay tribute to my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

The summer of 1936 is a dark stain on British history, when in another attempt to appease Germany, Britain participated in the Berlin Summer Olympic Games. This event was orchestrated by Joseph Goebbels as an attempt to camouflage the Nazis’ racist, militaristic character, an attempt undermined by Adolf Hitler’s snub of Jesse Owens. This infamous moment was just one xenophobic and prejudiced step on the path to the Nazi genocide. Today, Britain finds itself in a chillingly similar position. Should we participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics, which will be hosted in China?

As we speak, Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang are being detained in concentration camps, with testimonies of torture and rape taking place daily. Mosques are being destroyed, imams have been imprisoned, and prayer has been listed as suspicious activity. We are witnessing a watershed moment and, if we choose to participate in these Games, we are repeating our same mistakes from 1936. As we know too well, if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.

A few months before his passing, Lord Sacks of blessed memory published a post about the distressing developments in Xinjiang. He wrote:

“As a human being who believes in the sanctity of human life, I am deeply troubled by what is happening to the Uighur Muslim population in China. As a Jew, knowing our history, the sight of people being shaven headed, lined up, boarded onto trains, and sent to concentration camps is particularly harrowing. That people in the 21st century are being murdered, terrorised, victimised, intimidated, and robbed of their liberties because of the way they worship God is a moral outrage, a political scandal and a desecration of faith itself.”


This coming Sunday is the first night of Hanukkah. Jewish families across Britain and the world will stand by their windows as they light candles and tell the story of Hanukkah. The story tells the tale of religious persecution in an attempt to spread Hellenism. Antiochus seized the Jewish Temple, prohibited all Jewish practices and began the mass conversion, re-education and indoctrination of all Jews to the Hellenist lifestyle. A small group of Jews fought to regain control of Jerusalem, led by Judah the Maccabee. On re-entering the temple, the Maccabees went to light the Menorah; they found a small jug which contained just enough oil to last for one day, which lasted for eight—and thus the eight days of Hanukkah.

The light of the Menorah, burning for eight days, represented then, and represents now, the importance of freedom. The Maccabees fought for their religious freedoms, and they fought against Hellenist conversions and indoctrinations. The Menorah light burning signified to all that God protected the Maccabees and helped this small group of rebels overthrow a large Greek army so that they could freely manifest and practise their religion to protect their rights to be different. To quote the Al HaNissim prayer that we say on Hanukkah:

“God delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, and the many into the hands of the few, and the wicked into the hands of the righteous”.


It is our duty at this Hanukkah to stand up for those in their time of need and to give support to the weak and suffering.

There is so much that we can learn from the Hanukkah story. The bedrock of our democratic society is built on the rights of each person to express themselves as they wish and to practise and worship as they choose. We are a country that prides itself on diversity and acceptance. We must not stand idly by, as we watch a genocide take place under the guise of re-education. We must be the light that represents and fights for these freedoms. We must be a leading nation that takes action. We cannot repeat history by appeasing China and ignoring the atrocities taking place in Xinjiang.

I read the tweet of my noble friend the Minister from yesterday. He said:

“I am delighted by the announcement made by our UK Foreign Secretary … that the UK will be hosting the International Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief on 5-6 July 2022, in London”.


I commend the Government on that excellent initiative, but our lead will be taken seriously only if we act in the name of freedom of religion or belief. So today I say to my noble friend the Minister that history is currently being written and we have the chance to change course. I have previously praised the Government for their condemnation of China’s appalling and inhumane treatment of the Uighur Muslims. Today I ask my noble friend and the Government to take these criticisms one step further. In response to China’s disregard for human rights and human dignity, I implore the Government to stand up on the world stage and refuse to participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics.

12:29
Lord Bishop of St Albans Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Albans
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My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his tireless work in this area. I also share with him a sense of frustration—I feel as if I have stood up so many times as we have engaged with this issue, yet it seems that we are not able to confront it in a way that is really making a difference. Despite all our hopes of human progress, it is quite extraordinary that here we are, at the start of the 21st century, witnessing events such as we see and which are now well documented. There is no doubt that they are going on.

We are all too willing to use words such as “never again”. Year by year, we stand at the Cenotaph and pray for peace, but I note that, when Christ spoke, he said “Blessed are the peacemakers”. Peace is not simply the absence of strife; it is something that has to be fought for, time and again—it is something we have to make. Surely, of all things, as we want to be a global Britain and a force for good in the world, we must realise that this will be a costly battle. This will not come without any implications for us as a nation—perhaps that is the reason why so many people are reluctant to move on it.

Back in June, I wrote a piece called “‘Global Britain’ —A force for good or free trade power?” As I struggled with thinking through the issues, I came to the conclusion, reluctantly, that very often those two things are incompatible. We will not be able to have all the trade and free trade that we want if we are to be a global force for good. It is all too tempting to strike a Faustian bargain to maximise economic prosperity at the expense of foreign policy, or to accept that, in pursuit of the good, trade may be disrupted. That is especially true when it comes to China, given that our bilateral trade is more than £90 billion per annum. The question is not whether this is the price to pay for standing up for the Uighurs but whether the lives, welfare and future of the Uighurs as a people are the concession that we make to healthy economic ties with China.

A number of noble Lords have already raised the issue of our approach to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Many people are calling for, as a minimum, a diplomatic boycott. It is something that I support; my personal view is that I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Coe—with whom I have been in correspondence —that such a boycott would simply be a meaningless gesture and that non-engagement between government officials rarely bears fruit. Let us be in no doubt: it would mean a huge amount to those Uighurs who are living in fear and feel abandoned to their fate. Can the Minister tell us what consultations are taking place in government about our approach to the Winter Olympics and whether there is serious consideration at least of a diplomatic boycott?

I have no doubt that the Minister will assure us that Her Majesty’s Government are using all the diplomatic routes available. But diplomacy sometimes—in fact, frequently—needs to be matched with action. Diplomacy in this instance clearly has not been bearing the fruit that we need if we are going to see China confronted. A diplomatic boycott may be a gesture, but it would be a strong gesture—one that expresses our anger and frustration at the events and atrocities going on in front of us. It would be a signal that the current diplomatic approach is unsatisfactory in the results it is producing and that western Governments are capable of taking most robust action in defence of beleaguered minorities across the world, in whichever country they may be.

I personally believe that we need to find an international coalition to stand up to China on this. If we do not, there are many other areas in which it will expand. I am sure that the Government are in close contact with our American counterparts as we consider those options but, as part of those considerations, one question will be: what price might we have to pay for it? Perhaps a better question is: what moral authority will we lose, and what price will the Uighurs pay, if we do not do all in our power, whatever the cost, to confront these dreadful atrocities that are unfolding in front of our eyes?

12:34
Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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My Lords, my noble friend Lord Alton has most admirably and in great detail set out the facts that confront us. I will not repeat what he said, because he has been an example to all of us in the way that he has brought this matter, time and again, before your Lordships’ House.

I suspect that I may be one of the few Members of your Lordships’ House, perhaps the only one, who has some direct experience, and indeed shared collective responsibility, of having failed to avert not one but two genocides—those in Rwanda and at Srebrenica—when I was Britain’s representative at the UN Security Council. Those were genocides that met the Government’s —in my view—narrow and legalistic criterion of being so judged by an international court. That experience scarred my conscience and demonstrated how defective the 1948 genocide convention was, lacking as it did any enforcement provisions or processes.

Following those two searing events, some progress was made to meet the challenges of prevention of genocide and retribution for it. In 1999, the International Criminal Court was established, albeit with a lot of signatories missing, and, in 2005, the “responsibility to protect” norm was endorsed unanimously at a UN summit. But neither of these steps forward has prevented further genocides being committed—most notably and unmistakeably, I would argue, in an instance mentioned by my noble friend Lord Alton, on the Yazidi community in northern Iraq and Syria by IS, for which, shamefully, no legal proceedings at the ICC have yet been instituted.

Now, in Xinjiang, evidence has emerged, validated by journalists, academics, and members of the Uighur community and their families, by technical means and by many Members of your Lordships’ House, of acts by the Chinese Government which undoubtedly constitute serious breaches of international humanitarian law and human rights against the Uighur people of that region and which, being based on ethnic and religious identity, resemble genocide or a prelude to it. Faced with this evidence, what has been the Government’s response? To repeat what I have called a narrow, legalistic definition of genocide, that only an international court can define it as such.

There are, I suggest, two fundamental defects to that view. The first is that, for genocide to be so deemed, a lot of people—in Rwanda, hundreds of thousands, and at Srebrenica, thousands—have first to be killed. The second is that, as China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council with a veto, and a non-member of the ICC, there is not the slightest chance of that criterion ever being met.

I therefore hope that, when the Minister replies to this debate, he will not simply repeat what has been said so often before, and cease saying what the Government will not do when genocidal evidence emerges, as it has done, and will focus rather on what they will say and will do. First, I suggest that, if such evidence is solid and convincing—and it looks like that to me—the Government should not hesitate to say that it constitutes a prima facie case for deeming that genocide is taking, or has taken, place. Secondly, I hope that he will also say that, if they do take that view on the prima facie case, our policies will be based on and guided by that prima facie judgment. If we can take those two steps, we would be beginning to contribute effectively both to prevention and to retribution, instead of just wringing our hands and waiting for the bodies to be brought out.

12:39
Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, we have just heard a very brave speech from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, admitting the failures of the past with which he was inadvertently associated. We owe a great deal today, not only to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for what he has just said, but particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has indeed been a leader in this particular case. I salute him for what he has done, persistently, not over months but over years and indeed decades, as somebody said. We are all in his debt. We are also in debt, in a lesser way, to our Library for producing such a useful paper as a background to today’s debate.

My parliamentary hero has always been that remarkable small man from Yorkshire, William Wilberforce, who, against all the odds in his time, spearheaded in Parliament the campaign against the slave trade, and then against slavery, and who, as he died, in 1833, was brought the news that the Bill abolishing slavery itself had passed through both Houses of Parliament. He can and should be an inspiration to us all. But, of course, as one evil is combated—and we have every reason in this country to be proud that we took a lead there—others arise. I was born just before the outbreak of the Second World War. I remember being taken to the cinema and seeing those newsreels from Belsen, from which my mother tried to protect me, but my father said I should see them and realise what evil mankind can be capable of. When I was a young Member of Parliament, in another place, I had the great honour of being chairman of the campaign for the release of Soviet Jewry.

Those were evils that were combated, but at enormous cost. And now, what are we to do to take a lead against unspeakable atrocities being committed in China? A great nation that persecutes its minorities can never be great in stature, however great it may be in size, and we have to realise that. No nation can be great in stature, as ours has been in the past, unless it is prepared to stand up and say, “This is something we cannot accept”. It is often said that he who sups with the devil must use a long spoon, and he who trades with a nation that is committing bestial atrocities against its own people has to say, “Where is our moral compass in all this?”

Of course, there are things we cannot do, but there are things we can do. My noble friend Lord Polak talked about the forthcoming Winter Olympics, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. They were right: it is not a futile gesture to say that we will not take part, and I hope we will not. Certainly, there should be no participation on a diplomatic level, but I do not think there should be participation on the ski slopes either. I think we have to nail our colours to the mast here. We have to be very careful. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, spoke again—she has done so before—about cotton. We have to be able to say that we want to keep our hands as clean as we can and try to find our moral compass again. We want to try to point the way to how one should deal with nations that are perpetrating great evil.

The Chinese have done it before, in Tibet. They have virtually extinguished a unique civilisation. They have done it in other parts of their own enormous country and they are doing it now. I do not think there is any more appalling, revolting manifestation of what they are doing than the trading of organs. It is despicable, and I do not mind if my Chinese visa is withdrawn for saying that, because I say it deliberately. Yes, we have to engage diplomatically with the Chinese—of course we do—but we have to engage from a point of moral strength. I hope that the message will go out today that we in this House will not give up supporting the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in his campaign: we will all make it our campaign and I hope we will have an encouraging response from the Minister.

12:45
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, I declare that I am UK chair of Tribute to Life, which aims to promote ethical management of organ failure and transplantation across the Commonwealth.

We cannot unknow what we now know or ignore the information that has accumulated. My noble friend Lord Alton has opened our eyes. To ignore is to risk more lives, more groups and ultimately, potentially, our own safety. Thousands of Uighurs—an unknown number—are missing and their families do not know what has happened to them. There are heartbreaking scenes outside Chinese embassies abroad as people, in the most quiet and dignified way, demand to know where their relatives are, if they are being held or even whether they are dead.

On my way here I went past a small group of demonstrators who have been on Portland Place for years, drawing attention to the thousands who have disappeared in China. They are Falun Gong practitioners, but their fate is the same as that of the Uighurs—to be killed for their organs to supply a despicable trade in transplant tourism for profit. There are estimates that 1.5 million people have been murdered for their organs and that international organ sales run into billions of dollars every year. The recipients of organs in transplant tourism are led to believe that organs are donated. They need to know the truth, as cutting off demand is the only way to stem the flow of supply.

The verdict from Sir Geoffrey Nice QC’s “people’s tribunal” is that China is removing, without consent, the organs of prisoners it has executed in the camps. China says it stopped this abhorrent practice in 2015, so can China explain the evidence of widespread, exhaustive and expensive medical testing of Uighurs and others in hospital settings and in mobile buses? We know that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, was so deeply concerned that he was moved to write to the WHO about this. Such tests include CT all-body scans, blood testing and the sort of tissue matching required for a systematic programme of killing to meet the demand for organs. China’s secretive medical service has no transparent voluntary organ donation programme, despite the valiant efforts of ethical transplant teams from the UK and internationally to try to provide some education.

One problem is the cultural tradition in China that bodies of the deceased are buried whole, but there have been no efforts to establish proper programmes of true donation. That is just not happening. China needs to tell the families and the world, where are the missing? What are these medical tests for? Why execute prisoners if these really are educational facilities? I understand that the same BBC investigative journalists behind the award-winning revelations of the rape and sexual torture of Uighur women in the Xinjiang camps have gathered unprecedented evidence of China’s organ harvesting among Uighur camp inmates. I welcome their efforts, which once again underline the importance of the World Service of the BBC and the grant in aid to the new BBC Russia and China investigation teams. I trust their evidence will be shared promptly with the world when it is ready. It is vital that what they know is shared and broadcast.

Many of us have been increasingly worried by reports seeping out of Myanmar, where the military regime seems to be supported by China and part of a chain of organ supply. It is possible—I can say nothing stronger—that the organs of people murdered by the regime in Myanmar are being imported to China, as China has an economic interest there. Young people are arrested at night and the next morning their corpses are found. The brutal military regime exposes all internal organs; their corpses show they have been split open as required to remove them. There even appears to be a fast-track channel at one of the airports for exporting human organs from Myanmar.

Sir Geoffrey Nice’s work is commendable. He has faced, and worked with his colleagues to expose, the most terrible practices. He has now established an independent tribunal specifically to examine the evidence of Uighur genocide; with great anticipation, we await the publication early next month of his preliminary findings. It would be good to hear from the Minister whether his officials were able to attend the proceedings and how he intends to engage with the tribunal’s findings, whatever they are. Do the Government recognise that silence is taken as condoning? Has there been any progress at the World Health Organization in examining the “incontrovertible evidence” of forced organ harvesting identified by the earlier tribunal? We cannot ignore this.

12:51
Lord Moynihan Portrait Lord Moynihan (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interests in sport as set out in the register. Many powerful speeches have been made in today’s debate, and I genuinely thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing it. As he knows, I have taken an active stance on issues concerning human rights, most recently as vice-chair of the All-Party Group on Sport, Modern Slavery and Human Rights. All Governments need to act decisively on human rights abuses, wherever they exist. I believe this should as far as possible be through constructive engagement, not by way of boycotts or isolation.

The related question I will raise, and answer, is the same as that of my noble friends Lord Polak and Lord Cormack, whom I greatly respect. The question is whether a boycott of the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Beijing, in any form, is reasonable, proportionate, effective and the right way to change the course of Chinese domestic policy, or whether asking the Royal Family and Ministers for Sport to boycott them would be anything more than a short-term political gesture which would serve to alienate constructive dialogue and slow down the very progress many noble Lords seek to achieve?

I remember well, as an athlete, being called on to boycott the Olympic Games in Moscow. Then, Team GB was being turned into a political pawn to assuage the conscience of the Government of the day, which, along with many athletes I knew, opposed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Looking beyond athletes to past sports boycotts, they have an at best patchy record of effectiveness. All, bar one, have been ineffective tools in seeking change, with the one notable exception of South Africa. That ban was used to undermine and isolate South Africa over 30 years. Its success was due to the fact that the international community were in broad agreement on taking a wide and comprehensive range of punitive political measures against the South African Government, for which sport was tangential but important.

In response to my noble friend Lord Polak, it is my view that, for sports boycotts to be effective, they must have the broad support of the international community and be the product not of reprisal but of an astute and practical moral calculus, including a wide-ranging package of trade, travel and diplomatic measures to lead to action that will best advance the cause of human rights and the well-being of those whose rights are violated. These are the criteria against which any decision on sports boycotts, including the Moscow, Los Angeles, Beijing and Sochi Olympics, must be judged. To address human rights issues in relation to the Olympics but in isolation from the broader diplomatic framework would serve no useful or realistic purpose.

I take the view that one significant advantage of international sporting events is the high media profile of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. This ensures that the spotlight of international attention shines brightly on the host city and country. This spotlight, in time, will bring dividends: that sport and the Olympics are a force for good in themselves and that engagement is preferable to isolation. Precedents show that sports boycotts rarely achieve their goals; seeking to impact the PRC in this way will not achieve positive improvements on the ground—it could become a symbolic gesture which would isolate and punish China and potentially prove a counterproductive and retrograde step.

Ultimately—this is often overlooked—the greatest damage would befall the athletes. Neither the Olympic movement nor anyone else should have expected the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games alone to bring China into an Olympic-led metamorphosis. That was simply naive. The same applies to the Winter Olympic Games in 2022. I do not believe the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee should be expected to solve a problem to which the Governments of the international community, including ours, have yet to find an answer.

Throughout my time as chair of the British Olympic Association, I supported and continue to support the attendance of our Sports Ministers and members of the Royal Family—which includes HRH the Princess Royal, as a member of the IOC and of the British Olympic Association board—as an expression of support for our teams, just as I did when Minister for Sport. The invitations come from such bodies; they do not come from the Chinese Government.

I absolutely respect the views of colleagues who have spoken with passion and commitment in today’s debate, and their strength of feeling on human rights grounds, but I do not believe that a boycott of the Games in any form will alter China’s stance on the treatment of the Uighurs, for all the reasons I have sought to articulate. I remember well how this issue dominated my attendance at the Games in 1980. I know only too well that when the curtain came down on those Games, there was no change in policy direction by the Soviet Union on its invasion of Afghanistan following the boycotts. The same was true of Los Angeles in 1984.

Sport is a powerful soft power tool. As Minister for Sport, I remember being asked by Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister to meet Honecker in East Germany, the Foreign Office recognising that sports diplomacy could open locked doors and had the chance to initiate change. Through such engagement, constructive and open dialogue can take place. We should support our teams at the Olympic and Paralympic Games next year and ensure that Ministers, invited to support their national teams by those who select and lead them—the national Olympic committees, not Governments —accompany them to the Games if they so wish.

12:58
Baroness Grey-Thompson Portrait Baroness Grey-Thompson (CB)
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My Lords, I apologise if it looked as though I was not in my place for the opening speech of my noble friend Lord Alton. I was merely sitting in a different place. I draw noble Lords’ attention to my register of interests in sport and physical activity, which are quite wide.

I thank my noble friend Lord Alton for his continued persistence in bringing the plight of the Uighurs to the attention of your Lordships’ House and beyond. I also thank the number of organisations which have been in touch. If anyone has not read it, I recommend looking at the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China report, which is harrowing and educational. The Coalition for Genocide Response has also spoken; I agree that the word “genocide” should not be used lightly, but we have only to look back to the situation in Rwanda to see how long it took the international community to decide whether it was civil unrest or genocide. I applaud Liz Truss for speaking out on what is happening right now in China.

I have previously spoken on organ harvesting. My noble friend Lady Finlay covered this extensively. We must learn from previous conflicts and decide as a country where we want to draw the line. At what point does the international community step in? It will come as no surprise that I will use this debate to talk about soft politics and the use of sport as a tool for change, not least because the Winter Olympics and Paralympics are happening in just a couple of months’ time.

Back in 2000, Nelson Mandela said:

“Sport has the power to change the world”.


Sport has an amazing power to pull people together, and my own life experience and that of other Members of your Lordships’ House can attest to this. London 2012 was an amazing Games but limited in what it can do because it is a moment in time—quite like the Olympic Truce, which the noble Lord, Lord Bates, has worked on extensively. He should be commended for this. All the truce asks is that, during the Olympics, countries try not to kill each other. What about the rest of the time in between those Games every two years? We cannot allow the Olympics and Paralympics to be about tick-box compliance without other things stepping in place to bring about change.

We should never pretend that sport and politics are not inextricably linked. There is more politics in sport than in politics. Until a few days ago, I was going to make some relatively simple comments on the responsibility of the international sporting community and the decisions to award major sporting events to countries with poor human rights records, but we have seen in recent days just how difficult the relationship between sport and politics can be.

Interestingly, in recent times we have discussed the ability of athletes to use their platform to bring about change, and there have been some incredible examples of this. Some of our own UK sporting bodies are now proactively discussing this and allowing athletes to use their platform. However, the reality is that the public like athletes using their platform only for subjects they agree with, and it is wrong to say that every athlete, regardless of their net worth or fame, has the ability to use their platform, or even necessarily wants to.

But we have seen what happens when an athlete uses their platform. We only need to look at the example of Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis player. Today, the foreign ministry in Beijing has accused unnamed people of “malicious hyping” in this case, as reported in the Guardian this morning. The Guardian goes on to quote Ho Pin, an exiled Chinese publisher in New York, who said that:

“The Peng Shuai saga could happen in any country and in any system”.


We know that it does, but this is happening right now in a country where the Games will take place in a couple of months’ time.

The role of sport and politics is, as I have said, inextricably linked. The medal table is a form of politics, and countries pride themselves on where they finish. We do this; I have celebrated Great Britain for where we have finished on the medal table. The noble Lord, Lord Coe, has asked my friend in sport, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, about athletes boycotting the Games, and they are able to speak on this from a personal perspective. But asking athletes on their own to boycott is not the answer; the medals just get divided up between the countries that are there. Could the Minister have a conversation with DCMS about the athletes who choose to boycott the Games? How will they be supported for taking a moral and personal stance?

I worked in Beijing, I have worked on the Games, and I have worked with sponsors of the Games. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, asked a very important question. We can all think about what we can do differently to bring about change. Professor Simon Chadwick has written some really powerful articles on social media about sport and politics, and the journalist Matthew Syed has written very powerfully on this as well.

But we also have to be honest about the Games. The IOC, IPC, FIFA and other big sporting organisations need countries who can afford to pay for the Games. There are fewer and fewer countries that can afford to do so, and these countries can have human rights records that we do not celebrate, recognise or support. We have just seen the change to the way in which the Games are awarded from the traditional seven years out, to give countries a longer lead-in, because some are not able to step in in the same way.

This is not just about the international federations. What about the role of sponsors or spectators? We can all play a role in bringing about change. I have to say that a video call between the IOC president, Thomas Bach, and Peng Shuai is not enough to assure us of her safety. We have to ask questions about the closure of the UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace. The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China has asked the BOA to look at the relationship between the IOC and Chinese officials, but I would argue that it does not have the capacity or the skills to do that.

I turn to the diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games. Jacob Rees-Mogg has very recently said that the door is open on that, and that currently no flights have been booked for government Ministers. That is one step in a moment in time, but sportswashing is a really serious issue. We all have to do more to ensure that sport is used for all the things it is good for and not to sportswash and allow inappropriate regimes to hold up the appalling way they treat their populations, including the Uighurs and beyond.

Finally, I thank my noble friend Lord Alton for all he does to keep going with this really important debate.

13:05
Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, I, too, begin by paying personal tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his courage, determination and persistence in confronting the appalling crime of genocide.

We can argue the criteria of what constitutes genocide and who should determine whether it applies to the actions taken for many years, but especially since the 2014 campaign, against the Uighurs in Xinjiang. As we have heard, the actions of genocide include arbitrary detention and incarceration, torture, death, enforced abortion, starvation and sexual abuse, and these actions are intended to wipe out a cultural, ethnic and religious minority. This is genocide according to the UN convention, as we have heard from many speakers so far.

The US Secretary of State and the Foreign Secretary recently referred to the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang province as genocide. According to international law, this requires the US and UK Governments to act to stop and prevent further efforts to destroy the Uighur ethnic community. However, increasingly strong-arm tactics or confrontation by western nations risks the way forward in building vital relationships with the PRC. As the UK and USA are as yet still to be regarded as firm allies, could the Minister expand on joint work and agreements between our two countries on this issue? An impasse such as we have in relation to the PRC has, in the past, called out the best in the UK’s foreign relations armoury, namely intensive and extensive diplomacy. To what extent is this happening and what is the reception of these—I hope—joint efforts in the PRC?

We know that the economic reach of the PRC is now worldwide and that it threatens any nation that thwarts its expansionist intentions. But there are still areas in which the UK and the US, among other countries, could bring effective pressure—for example, by providing an economic alternative for Amazon’s apparently insatiable need for cotton currently provided by the PRC, much of it from Xinjiang province; working with Facebook to persuade this mammoth enterprise to cease taking PRC propaganda advertising space; or confronting Disney film about its carefree use of Xinjiang province, even inserting the concentration camps in some background shots and profusely crediting the PRC authorities for such use.

I hope I may be forgiven for considering what might be the wider consequences of this failure to confront the PRC on what is happening to the Uighurs—that is, what might happen to Taiwan. The USA appears to have shifted somewhat beyond its erstwhile policy of “strategic ambiguity” with reference to Taiwan. Does this imply that the USA and the UK are now contemplating the increased provision of deterrence armaments to the Taiwanese Government in anticipation of further aggression and possibly even invasion by the PRC? If this is not the case, might the Minister indicate any recent shifts in response to the PRC’s stated intention to reclaim Taiwan? Would the Minister be able to say if a strong, united and multilateral intention to defend Taiwan’s democracy would have a delaying effect on the PRC’s actions?

Does the patrolling of the Taiwan Strait by the US warship and of similar passages by the navies of the UK, Canada and France signal the intention to go beyond the optics? The mantra of “one country, two systems” has suffered a shocking demise in Hong Kong. There is still time to prevent a similar outcome for Taiwan, but this surely means that there must be contingency plans, which must take effect immediately.

13:10
Lord Shinkwin Portrait Lord Shinkwin (Con)
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My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to both my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool, for securing this debate and his good friend the late Sir David Amess, who was a tireless campaigner for and supporter of the charities for which I worked before entering your Lordships’ House. May Sir David always be remembered for his faithful witness to the truth.

Ultimately, that is what we are discussing today. Will we and Her Majesty’s Government bear witness to the truth—in this case, that the most heinous of crimes, genocide, is once again being perpetrated, this time against the Uighurs?

Like others, I draw encouragement from the Foreign Secretary’s clear-eyed recognition of the challenges posed by the Chinese Communist Party regime and the need to develop a robust policy position in response. I welcome the sharp focus she is putting on human rights, democracy and freedom as a central theme in foreign policy. Her emphasis on building “a network of liberty” and strengthening alliances among freedom-loving nations, and her renewed focus on countering sexual violence against women and girls around the world—an initiative begun by my noble friend Lord Hague of Richmond—are surely absolutely right.

I therefore hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to update your Lordships’ House on what concrete policy steps Her Majesty’s Government are taking to stop the genocide against the Uighurs, Uighur slave labour in supply chains, sexual violence and religious persecution against the Uighurs and the horrific live organ-harvesting detailed in a report circulated to noble Lords earlier this morning.

Other noble Lords have already mentioned various reports. I want to highlight a point referred to in a report by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, when the late and much-missed Member of your Lordships’ House, the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, said that the holocaust in Xinjiang is surely a prompt

“for the international community to wake up and take the reports of atrocity crimes … extremely seriously and with the utmost urgency.”

Like others, I should be grateful if my noble friend the Minister would tell the House what steps Her Majesty’s Government have taken, more than 10 months after the report’s launch, to act on its findings and recommendations.

I should also be grateful if the Minister could tell me what steps the Government are taking to ensure that UK pension funds are not being invested in companies complicit in genocide or gross human rights violations. Do they support the adoption of a similar entities list to that of the USA, which would ban investment and sanction companies linked to the camps in Xinjiang? He may also be aware that many of these companies advertise heavily that they are ethical and uphold environmental, social, and governance—ESG—criteria. Fine, but what about genocide? Where does that fit within ESG criteria? Is ignoring it for profit ethical? Surely we should move towards defining ESG criteria in primary legislation and regulating the ESG sector to ensure that companies are not ensnared and are not mis-selling products or marking their own homework.

We cannot afford inaction any longer. The amoral regime of the mass murderer Xi Jinping clearly represents a threat to world peace. I am encouraged that the Foreign Secretary seems very much alive to that reality. That is why we must act now to stop the genocide of the Uighurs and confront the wider repression of Xi Jinping’s Chinese Communist Party regime before it is too late. This is a race against time.

13:15
Baroness O'Loan Portrait Baroness O’Loan (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate. It is a matter of the utmost importance. Foreign Secretaries do not use the language of genocide to describe the activities of another state loosely. For years we have seen the development by the Chinese Communist Party of the processes and procedures which have led to the evidence that enabled the Newlines Institute and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights to find that the Chinese Government have breached every article of the UN genocide convention in their treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang and bears responsibility for that. Many countries have condemned it. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to the extensive condemnation here in Parliament, but the Government have not moved to act.

Of course, the CCP has vehemently denied committing atrocities and abuses against the Uighur Muslim minority, despite all the evidence which is emerging and despite the considerable power wielded by the CCP and the way it treats those who have the temerity to challenge its denial of rights to those not just in China but also in Hong Kong and Taiwan. We have heard reference to the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, have been formally sanctioned by the Chinese Government. This will not prevent them continuing their courageous and necessary work. The mere fact that it happened shows how important it is to continue to challenge the CCP.

Those affected by the activities of the CCP, which are so manifestly in breach of China’s international legal obligations, need our voices, because the brutal silencing of them, the deliberate creation of policies designed to destroy the Uighurs and others, has left them voiceless apart from international voices which speak up on their behalf.

Your Lordships have heard about the techniques used by the CCP: the mass internment of more than a million people, the taking of children from their interned parents and placing them in state institutions in which they can be educated only in the tenets of the CCP, increased secrecy and surveillance, mass labour transfer schemes, eradication of Uighur identity and so on. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, referred also to the extensive evidence of crimes against humanity in China.

Having established and refined the modus operandi for the genocide of the Uighur people, the CCP began years ago extending its reach to other areas. Reports of similar, sinister CCP activities affecting the Kazakhs and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups are well documented. The list of offences for which people are interned, includes praying regularly, having a beard, wearing a veil and having a wife who wears a veil. When interned, people must renounce Islam and promise not to follow religion. Compliance is secured. Churches, domes and minarets have been destroyed. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute estimates that approximately 16,000 mosques in Xinjiang have been destroyed or damaged as a result of government policy since 2019.

In particular, we have seen a determined attempt to destroy any religious practice, not just Islam, that does not conform to CCP ideology, to curb the spread of the faith and to reduce the numbers of religious people, including Christians, in China. The threat, which is clearly identifiable, applies to both government-approved and underground churches. It is estimated that there are between 60 million and 100 million Protestants in China and some 12 million Catholics. In 2018, President Xi Jinping and the CCP began implementing even tighter controls on Catholic and Protestant churches. Policies of sinicization were introduced. Patriotic churches are the only ones allowed to operate; they must support the leadership of the CCP and the socialist system, and they must practice the core values of socialism. Sermons and homilies are to be based not on the Bible but on President Xi’s pronouncements. Religious artefacts, crosses and artworks are being removed and replaced by pictures of President Xi. The CCP is even said to be rewriting the Bible—to get it right.

Members of the patriotic churches and others are being recruited to spy on those in the underground churches. A reward of 2,000 yuan was offered in one area for reporting illegal religious activity. There are authorised religious activity venues, in which only authorised religious activity is permitted. Under-18s are not allowed to attend, nor can they receive the sacraments or study the Bible. In the period up to September 2021, state-sanctioned patriotic churches held meetings where clergy and leaders from the five major religions—Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism—were required to study President Xi’s speeches.

We have seen the concerted development of attacks on Christian schools. Thousands of illegal churches have been shut down. In July this year, the Supreme People’s Court announced measures for intensifying punishment for “illegal religious activities” and overseas infiltration activities in rural areas. If Christians are caught practising their faith, they will be locked out of all government-supplied services and resources, including housing.

This is a very determined programme aimed at depriving people in China of their fundamental human rights and at controlling their lives in a way that permits no deviance from CCP ideology. We have seen what the CCP has been able to do to the Uighurs. We have seen terror, genocide and forced extraction of organs. There is evidence not just of the extraction of organs from the Uighurs but from other minorities—Christians, Tibetans and Falun Gong members. There is no doubt that this is happening. There is a terror attached to living in a country where you can be seized—taken away with no recourse to the law—and have your organs extracted, leaving you no longer capable of life. No safeguards exist in China. There can be little doubt that the CCP intends to expand its activities to eliminate all religious practice that is not controlled by the CCP and informed by the teachings of President Xi.

The situation in china is very dangerous and there is a duty on our Government to respond further. We have a duty as a state to take action against what is happening, not just in Xinjiang but in other parts of China. At the very least, the Government should take the opportunity presented by the 2022 Olympics to make a clear statement that these activities are wrong. We really need to challenge China. We need to challenge the way in which its membership of the UN Security Council is being used to further China’s aims, not the aims of the UN. We must no longer stand by. China needs its links with the UK and its markets. We must not stand by in silence. We know that our Government can make a difference.

13:23
Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Alton for bringing this matter to our attention but I am sorry to say that I shall depart from him.

We do not actually live in a world of laws—certainly not in the international sphere. We live in a world of power and national sovereignty. About 30 years ago, I founded the Centre for the Study of Global Governance at LSE, which I ran for 30 years. So while I am not a lawyer, I know something about this. The United Nations is not a system that can ever settle a dispute, which it does not do, or deliver justice. Nothing is going to happen about the Uighurs. Nothing happened about the Holocaust. All the virtues that people claim about the Holocaust happened after 6 million people had died. We knew what was happening and we did not do anything. Indeed, some countries, such as the United States, tightened their immigration rules to prevent Jews coming from Germany. All this Holocaust business is sort of after-the-event boasting. We did not even talk about the Judeo-Christian civilisation until after 1945. The story of Christian anti-Semitism is well known.

I do not deny the ongoing tragedy regarding the Uighurs but, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, says—who, unfortunately, is not in his place; I am sure that he is having a nice lunch, and good luck to him—we have not prevented a single genocide in the post-war period. We may have a genocide convention, which is nice and fine, and a human rights convention, but the Chinese kill not only Uighurs; 40 million Chinese died in famine and nobody did anything, and they do not like the Falun Gong. We live in a lovely paradise of human rights, liberal laws, tolerance and all that, notwithstanding our various problems, which we will not worry about now—we live in good liberal order but the world does not.

Lately, there has been an anti-China feeling, which started with trade and competition in cyber goods. We used to love China and then suddenly went against it because of competition. Suddenly, the climate has changed. The United States formed the quad against China and agreed AUKUS. We are going to rush to the defence of Taiwan but we are not going to rush to the defence of the Uighurs—do not worry about it. We are not going to start a world war for this; we have never started a world war for any genocide.

So let us all calm down and face the fact that there is nothing that any convention can do to force anything on a sovereign state, not just China. We could not do it to Cambodia or even in Rwanda and Burundi—remember what happened there—at which time an Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations was from Africa and later became Secretary-General. We know all this, but we have a conscience. We do not like what is happening in China and somehow we are supposed to do something. What? What are we actually going to do? The Foreign Secretary is new, and so she said something about the Uighurs. After some explanation, she would have learned that the realities of power are very different. While we need moral courage, we have to realise where we are.

Let me add one more thing that I have not mentioned while I have been a Member of your Lordships’ House. People in Asia know what was done to them by the British Empire. We poisoned the Chinese with opium on the grounds of free trade from 1840 on—they have not forgotten that. I will not go into other problems. Do not think that we are morally superior to them. The Chinese will come back to us, saying, “We know what you did to us. Don’t you dare tell us about humanity”.

A little realism is called for. As I have said, we are not going to enter a world war with China—not for the Uighurs. We may do so for cybertechnology, but not for the Uighurs. We must have a realistic discussion as to what we will do. The answer is: not much.

13:29
Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Portrait Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick (CB)
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My Lords, it is certainly interesting to follow the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and it gives us an opportunity to reflect on the hub of where our hearts are.

Most of us in this House, maybe barring one, are agonised and deeply frustrated by the detail that we have listened to. The essence of what has been presented to us in this debate rests on two fundamental pillars. The first is that there seems to be an ongoing debate within the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office as to whether the Foreign Secretary knows what they are talking about and can actually attribute a crime of genocide—ultimate atrocity crimes on an industrial scale. A former Foreign Secretary may say, as may the current one, that that is our sense of frustration, so it lies with the Minister of State to clear this up in his response to the debate.

The second thing that frustrates and angers us all—so brilliantly presented in speeches by so many noble Lords, especially that of my dear friend of over 30 years, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, my sponsor when joining your Lordships’ House—is that every small detail, even if disputable, is significant enough to make us furious at indecision and desperate for clarity on what to do in response. There will of course be a debate immediately following this which will focus on what the media will take the greatest interest in today, and maybe rightly so: the cause of migrants, minorities and people lost in the tragedy in the channel just 24 hours ago. The parallel issue that lies behind that is the responsibility of very rich countries such as China and us towards marginalised communities and minorities—people who are easy to forget.

Is that responsibility only ever triggered at the point at which we see awful tragedy that can be confirmed; or did we not know, for example, in the case of the awful atrocity yesterday just off the French coast, that this has been going on for years? It was a tragedy waiting to happen. It is only when people die that everybody comes out and shakes their heads and wrings their hands. We could have been involved in this much more meaningfully—not just diplomatically but through real, concerted action; not running away from the fact that people who seek migrant support and who leave as refugees do so because their living circumstances are not what any of us would wish on ourselves or our neighbours.

I am not an expert on these matters at all, but I trust implicitly the keen insights that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and so many others have brought. They know what they are talking about. They have seen, witnessed, and studied, so we should attribute to them, and so should the Minister, the dignity of truth telling. For the past 19 years I have chaired the council of ZANE—Zimbabwe a National Emergency—and during that time I have seen briefings and information, and even been present in Zimbabwe to witness things that at one point we were desperately concerned about under Mugabe. We then lost our concern altogether when Mugabe was otherwise dissipated and Mnangagwa took control. Our media and our politics walk away, and we lose our emphasis on these issues. We can totemise them, but we do not want to respond to them with detail.

Everything that can be said about this issue has been said in this debate. However, I have three questions to ask the Minister. First, will Her Majesty’s Government declare with clarity whether it is the view of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Foreign Secretary that what is under way is genocide? Can the Minister declare that and not circle around the issues? Secondly, given the concern of this House and the other place, at what point will the Government request that the legal representatives of the Chinese state here in London, including the ambassador, brief Members of this House? Let us hear from them directly and have the opportunity for dialogue and conversation. If it is an open dispute, let us present evidence. Thirdly, as was necessary with the Covid crisis, there must be an authentication visit to the province of Xinjiang on a UN and a governmental basis, to establish whether these attributed and unattributed claims can be seen for what they are and proven. Without that, we will continue to circle the issues and not resolve them. Please, Minister, respond to those questions. We have all been infuriated, but let us not remain so; let us get some answers.

13:35
Earl of Sandwich Portrait The Earl of Sandwich (CB)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for this chance to discuss one of the most pressing matters of today, our relationship with China. As always, he has set the scene admirably—although it does not make for happy listening—and he has kindly shared briefings with us. There is no need to repeat any of what has been said, but I endorse it to the extent of my own knowledge. The treatment of China’s Muslim and other minorities by Beijing is one of the disgusting scandals of our time, of which there are many, and we must confront it squarely.

This is not a new issue. I can remember a number of us, including Lord Avebury, inviting to the House the then Uighur leader in the United States, Rebiya Kadeer, and my friend Christian Tyler, the writer, back in March 2013. We heard then the latest revelations of the re-education camps and the manipulation of the Uighur community by officials in Xinjiang province, which still remind us today of the sinister totalitarian world of the thought police conjured up by Orwell and Huxley. My noble friend mentioned facial recognition. Everyone is encouraged to report on their friends and neighbours. Any deviation by any person throws suspicion on other members of their family, who may then be detained.

All this is happening in one of the world’s greatest and oldest countries. We can still acknowledge the remarkable qualities of the Chinese throughout history, including in science and the arts. I would add China’s endurance against our own colonial exploitation, which the noble Lord, Lord Desai, just mentioned, and its extraordinary escape from poverty, at least in some provinces. However, none of this justifies the behaviour of the Han-dominated Chinese Communist Party during the cultural revolution, at Tiananmen Square and now towards minorities.

Last month, 43 countries complained to the UN about

“reports of widespread and systematic human rights violations”

and accused China of detaining more than 1 million people in the camps. Not surprisingly, China responded that these were “lies, all lies”.

We must get down to practicalities: in our case, careful consideration of our trade and foreign policy. We must ensure that, as far as possible, our trade with China is not in any way assisting the oppression of the Uighurs or any others. This may be an easy statement, but it is no simple task. Due diligence by companies importing cotton goods will depend on detailed research to identify the active supply chains. Judging by the work done by Sheffield Hallam University, it will be nearly impossible to identify Uighur fabric and yarn supplied to other Asian cotton producers.

The legal route is also arduous. I expressed doubts during consideration of the Trade Bill that the Government, or even a dedicated parliamentary committee, could ever arrive at a definition of genocide to satisfy both judges and human rights activists. I admire the courage of so many human rights lawyers who have worked for years in Rwanda and Bosnia. My noble friend knows that, much as I agree with him on the principle of human rights abuse, I was unable to support his amendments, simply because of the problem of definition. There, I warm to my noble friend Lord Anderson, who spoke so well about this difficult question of labelling.

The wider issue is whether exposure of China’s abuse of the Uighurs and other minorities, not forgetting its abuse of the Tibetans and their culture over decades, could ever rule it out of global diplomacy and international trade in particular. We have to be realistic and admit, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, that we cannot rule it out. The size and outreach of the Chinese economy means that it has now percolated the economy of almost every country in the world, but we can make it increasingly difficult for it. As has been suggested, Magnitsky-style sanctions listing individuals can be very effective and we should continue to apply, widen and strengthen them. In so far as we can identify local leaders in Xinjiang, we should add them to the list.

I declare that I am also a member of the International Agreements Committee of your Lordships’ House. As it happens, we are half way through our discussion of the CPTPP, the trans-Pacific partnership, and we are likely to have a debate quite soon on the UK’s objectives. These will be based on the present membership of the partnership and the current state of the agreement. However, with China and Taiwan becoming serious applicants, it would be absurd to discuss the benefits of membership without taking them into account—but that is for another day.

We are hanging all kinds of weights around trade deals, such as climate change, concern for developing countries and human rights. Whatever we think of our Government’s policies, they are rightly beset by a number of obligations that can and must slow down their negotiations of treaties. I am looking forward to hearing the Minister on this. In fact, I believe Ministers are listening more to the demands of human rights, climate change and devolution, but I am impatient to hear what he is going to say on China.

13:41
Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Earl always enriches our debates, as he did those on the then Trade Bill. His work on the International Agreements Committee is valuable for this House, and I am pleased that it took the lead from some of the debates on that Bill and will be scrutinising elements of our international agreements on human rights and sustainability. I look forward to reading its work, which I hope we will debate in the future.

We are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for again bringing this issue to us. His persistence and dedication are renowned and, on an issue of this importance, he brings great value to our deliberations. I also commend the Minister. Yesterday, with the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and other Members, I attended his event in the Foreign Office on the protection of minorities and freedom of religion and belief, and we know that he is personally committed to this. We will all be very interested in his response not only on the wider debate but on the very specific question from the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick. This is an opportunity not for us to rely on press briefings or private conversations between the Foreign Secretary and diplomats—on which I know the Minister would never comment—but for the Minister at the Dispatch Box to clearly state what the Government’s position is about whether genocide is now going on.

Forty years ago to the day, the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief was passed with consensus by the United Nations. Article 1 is that:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.”


Articles 4 and 7 are duties on countries to put into their national legislation protections for such. Article 5 is that:

“Every child shall be free from discrimination.”


As was movingly and depressingly indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, it is perhaps more valid today than it was 40 years ago. That is why the debate brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is so important.

The irony has not been lost on any Members who have taken part in this debate that, after raising and debating concerns and seeking remedies, and by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others showing the strength of an open parliamentary democracy, China’s response is to ban them from visiting the country. In some ways, that is the clearest illustration of the gulf that exists on this issue. But he will not be cowed, as will none of us in Parliament, from raising such issues. He chillingly said, as others have indicated, that while scale is not necessarily the issue, the aspects of genocides that make them more egregious are that they are often systematic and bureaucratic, with boring systems of administration and a hierarchy of actions, the systematic nature of which leaves us all so cold. The scale is of a million people—an “industrial scale”, as the former Foreign Secretary said—but the motives and intent are critical. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, is absolutely right: the response has to be equally bureaucratic, thorough, systematic and judicial. I entirely agree. In the week after next, I will be returning to northern Iraq on the case of the Yazidis, with the discrepancy of Iraq having not been a signatory to the Rome statute and the difficulties when it comes to judicial processes not being lost there.

Sir Geoffrey Nice has been referred to; he memorably told me that human rights norms are now for all the people, all the time, everywhere—not just some of the people. This is the nub of this debate. We had the debates on the then Trade Bill and now have a situation in which we want to progress the international norms and protect the conventions of which we are a signatory but, over the same period, we have been encouraging extra trade with and investment in China, knowing that there have been egregious human rights abuses. My noble friend Lady Smith of Newnham highlighted this dilemma very well, but also that everybody has a responsibility to consider the clothes or PPE that we wear. Perhaps because I am a former representative of a textile company, I check where things are from. The tie I wear was woven in the Scottish Borders; I know what its traceability is, but consumers will not necessarily. We all have a responsibility for informing consumer choice in this area. In 2021, in figures released yesterday by the Department for International Trade, the UK imported £5.7 billion-worth of clothing from China—an astonishingly high amount. That is from consumers wanting those goods. We need a conversation with consumers.

The private conversation with the Foreign Secretary has been referred to a lot. I believe that statements from Foreign Secretaries are not neutral acts. We cannot only comment on genocide or the risk of it, then fail to act. To do so compounds the persecution of those minorities. They are a double victim if they have been persecuted by one country, and then another country comments on it but fails to act. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, referred to “fruitless outrage”. I fear that this Government all too frequently have a willingness to act when the perpetrator is a small nation, but have fruitless outrage for larger ones. It is the reverse of the Roosevelt approach of speaking very loudly but, when you have the option to act, you are carrying a very small stick indeed.

As we debated the then Trade Bill, the Government and Liz Truss, then Secretary of State for the Department for International Trade, ensured that the House of Commons turned down every amendment that passed—for a statement on human rights, for a human rights and trade policy, and on genocide. There is therefore a need for this House to continue. When, during those debates, I asked if any of the agreements announced during President Xi’s state visit, which were referred to in the next room from this Chamber, had been suspended, the Trade Minister said no. When it comes to growth in trade, we have seen the early reports from 2019, which have started to be confirmed, coincide with the trade and investment agreement with China and the dialogue that is being conducted. That was in the context of trade with China having literally doubled since 2011, from £46 billion to £93 billion. China is our third-largest trading market and certain sectors are even more dependent on it.

I respectfully disagree with those who said that China relies on us. The reality is that we rely on China. The most worrying question for human rights is: when we rely on a country, does that mean that our voice is worth less on human rights? The reality is that that is indeed the case. In this period, the fastest growth in our trade with China, with investment, was during Liz Truss’s tenure at the Department for International Trade. Now we are asked to believe that we are going to go down a different path, but we have been asking repeatedly where that path will now deviate, and we have had no indication of where that would be.

The question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, about pensions and investments was a very good one, because during the time of the Trade Bill, the Prime Minister was chairing an investment conference in Downing Street to promote extra investment from China. In that economic and financial dialogue, which took place in June 2019, when there were clear signals that there was a risk that genocide was taking place, it was agreed with the Chinese that they could have 51% of UK investment portfolios for pensions and we could have 51% of theirs. That is in paragraph 41. I very much hope that the Minister can confirm that British pension funds are not being funded through any Chinese government vehicles that have commercial interests in areas where the Government have indicated that there are significant human rights abuses.

Finally, as I said, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, talked very movingly about the searing scars on his conscience. He contributes greatly to this House, and I listened very carefully when he said that expressions of concern were not matched by actions and that that will potentially happen again. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will not simply restate what the Government’s policy has been, but rather will say what the Government’s policy will be. I also very much hope that that will be underpinned by the clearest of all statements. Are these people at risk of genocide and, if so, what are we going to do about it?

13:52
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, not only for initiating this debate but for his courage in standing up to the bullying and intimidation of the Chinese Government. The sanctioning by Beijing of the noble Lord and my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws for speaking out is an absolute affront to our democracy.

As we have heard today, the evidence of the appalling treatment of the Uighur population in Xinjiang is clear: the mass surveillance and arbitrary detention; the torture and the brutality; the rape and the abuse; the forced organ harvesting; the forced sterilisation of women; the enforced separation of children from their parents; and the denial of the Uighurs’ right to practise their religion or to speak their own language. The sad fact is that there is no prospect that either the ICC or the ICJ will be able to examine this evidence, as this would require the consent of China. The Chinese Communist Party will also continue to prevent the United Nations conducting a proper investigation in Xinjiang.

Through our amendments to the Trade Bill, we sought to create a route to genocide determination through the UK’s courts, or through a panel of senior Law Lords, but those cross-party efforts were shamefully resisted by the Government. My attempt to include human rights as a matter of course in trade negotiations was also resisted. One thing I am glad about is that the noble Lord also announced yesterday at the event at the FCDO that the human rights report—which was meant to also include reference to trade—will be published more regularly so that it will, we hope, inform those discussions.

What was ultimately included as Section 3 of the Trade Act 2021 was that designated committees in each House would consider whether there was credible evidence of genocide committed by a potential trading partner. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has acknowledged, however, that triggers only when there is a prospect of a negotiated trade agreement. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s recent inquiry into Xinjiang detention camps. This concluded that the Government should respect the view of the House that crimes against humanity and genocide were taking place, and must make a much stronger response.

With the international route to legal determination of genocide blocked by China, and the domestic route to legal determination blocked by the Government, it falls to Parliament to act. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, highlighted the opinion by barristers at Essex Court Chambers, concluding that there was a very credible case that the Chinese Government’s actions constituted genocide. In response to that, of course, the chambers were also sanctioned by Chinese Government.

As a signatory to the 1948 genocide convention, the United Kingdom is legally bound to take all reasonable steps to both punish and—most importantly, as noble Lords have said—prevent genocide. It is incumbent on us to take action. Genocide can never be met with indifference or inaction; the question, then, is what should be done. Sadly, the Government’s actions do not match their rhetoric. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and Labour have been calling on the Government to apply sanctions to the Chinese officials responsible. The Government have sanctioned only four Chinese officials, and not even Chen Quanguo, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said.

We should be supporting UK businesses to ensure that their supply chains do not include workers subject to human rights violations in Xinjiang by working across Whitehall departments. We should push for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to be given full and unfettered access to Xinjiang. If that request continues to be rejected, this side of the House will support—and will call on the Government to implement—a political and diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.

The UK Government should also have publicly opposed China’s election to the UN Human Rights Council in the recent elections, and to hold firm to this position until such time as Beijing provides the commissioner with access to Xinjiang. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, I would also like the Minister to give us an update on what we have called for on that forced organ harvesting. The WHO should conduct independent verification of organ transplant systems, and not just rely on self-verification.

Consecutive Conservative Governments has been naive and complacent in their dealings with the Chinese Government. By leaving the British economy over-reliant—as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said—on Chinese imports and supply chains, while failing to defend our values and interests on the global stage, we have seen the United Kingdom’s leverage and influence consistently eroded. In 2015, David Cameron and George Osborne, with the enthusiastic support from then London Mayor Boris Johnson, proclaimed a “golden era” of UK-China relations—a strategy designed to open up UK markets and infrastructure to Chinese business and investment, in the expectation that China would fall in line with international norms around trade and human rights. That strategy has been an unmitigated failure. We have seen uncompetitive market behaviour by state-backed Chinese firms, the human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and—as the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, said—China’s increasing military aggression towards Taiwan and in the South China Sea.

The Government compromised the UK’s national and economic security by increasing the UK’s reliance on China and reducing our strategic independence. For instance, 57 of our critical infrastructure supply chains are now reliant on China. The UK’s failure to build alliances with fellow democracies has hampered our ability to stand up to the Chinese Government when required.

Despite all this, no global challenge, from climate change to pandemics, can be solved without China’s co-operation. Constructive engagement with China is essential but that will be achieved only on the basis of mutual respect and a fundamental reset in UK-China relations. Labour has called on the Government to commit to a fundamental strategic reset in Sino-British relations, starting with a complete audit of every aspect of the UK-China relationship across the whole of government.

First, the UK Government must seek to rebuild our strategic independence by reducing our dependence on China. There needs to be a far more joined-up approach across Whitehall on these issues. Secondly, we must build an alliance of democracies to champion co-operation based on shared values, human rights and the rule of law. We must rebuild trust with our European allies and across the globe, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, in order to stand firm in the face of authoritarian regimes. That approach would allow for engagement with China from a position of unity, strength and consistency—the type of position that the Chinese Communist Party leaders respect and respond positively to.

Labour stands in solidarity with the Chinese people, with whom the British have a deep, long-standing and valued relationship. We have deep respect for China’s history, culture and civilisation, and we fully acknowledge and recognise its great power and status. Our judgment, as is clear from today’s debate, is focused on the actions of the Chinese Government and Chinese Communist Party leaders, whose irresponsible and increasingly hostile behaviour is undermining their own wish to shape global affairs.

14:03
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, I join noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, not just for his tabling of this very important debate but, as several noble Lords have mentioned, for his dedication and devotion to human rights over many years. That is a priority on which we often joke in private that I am hugely challenged by his scrutiny and expertise, but, rightly, I am also accountable as the government spokesman and, indeed, Minister for Human Rights. As the noble Lord knows, I very much appreciate his insight and expertise on a range of issues covering human rights across the world.

I also acknowledge a point made by the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, about—I was going to say “the irony” but actually it goes stronger than that—the perverseness of the countersanctions that have been applied by the Chinese. We have applied sanctions on Chinese authorities and individuals, and I will come on to those in a moment, but the perverse response to those who have spoken out strongly, as we have heard again today, on the issue of human rights and the rights of all communities in China, particularly the Uighurs, has been that they have sought to challenge those voices and silence them. However, as we have heard today in the contributions from the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, they will not succeed. I assure your Lordships’ House that the Government, and indeed I, with my responsibilities as Minister for Human Rights, stand very firmly with them on that important principle.

I recognise that the debate was also occasioned somewhat by the media report in question, which relates to a private meeting held by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary more than a year ago. Noble Lords will not be surprised when I respond to the various comments that have been made simply by saying that I am not going to comment on private meetings that have taken place between Ministers and officials. However, noting what the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, summarised, I will seek to provide clarity on the Government’s position on the various areas that the noble Lord highlighted, which other noble Lords asked for. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked specifically what the Government’s position is. Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear me say that our clear stated policy remains the policy of successive British Governments.

We have heard various references made to the fact that it is not for Governments or, indeed, non-judicial bodies to make determinations in relation to genocide, but I was very taken with the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, who rightly articulated that whatever labels we may apply should not deter us from action. I hope I will allay some of the concerns that have been raised by noble Lords in that respect.

I respect greatly the insights provided by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. Particularly in my role as Minister for the United Nations, I recognise the various challenges of diplomacy that often occur but, equally, the inability, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned, of international mechanisms, including any referral by the ICC—of course China is not a state party to the Rome statute—which can be superseded only by a referral by the UN Security Council, and we also know that will not happen.

Nevertheless, I totally agree with the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Hannay, and others that genocide is a crime and there must be no impunity for it. As with any other crimes, judgment should be made after all available evidence has been considered by a competent court, but the policy that I have restated today does not detract from the Government’s resolve to address the egregious human rights violations and the abuses against Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, that we continue to focus on what can be done diplomatically but also on what specific actions can be taken in this respect.

I turn to the current situation. We heard very telling examples from, among others, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baronesses, Lady O’Loan and Lady Kennedy, about the situation in Xinjiang, which, frankly and candidly put, to my mind is one of the worst human rights crises that the world is facing today. I accept, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, mentioned, that as time moves on attention is taken away by the media being engaged in the ongoing Afghanistan crisis; we all know how true that is. It is therefore right that we have debates of this kind in your Lordships’ House and, indeed, in the other place to keep the focus of both the Government and the world community on this issue, which continues to concern and requires further action.

The extrajudicial detention of more than 1 million Uighur Muslims and other minorities in so-called political re-education camps is well known to all of us. Systematic restrictions on trying to dilute and, indeed, eradicate the Uighur culture and the practice of Islam altogether, the banning of headscarves and of beards and the extensive and intensive surveillance of minorities have continued. New research continues to reveal disturbing details about the repressive policies enforced in Xinjiang. This includes credible evidence of invasive surveillance technology—the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, drew attention to this—along with forced labour and the forced suppression of births, which the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, alluded to. In that regard, to address some of the concerns, I assure noble Lords that we have taken robust action.

I respect the noble Lord, Lord Desai, greatly but I do not agree with his assessment in this case. I believe that by acting not just as the United Kingdom but with key partners—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins—we can effect change. We should never give up hope that we can effect change; otherwise, what is the point of anything? We must work together and collaborate on important priorities. In that regard, the UK has led international efforts to hold China to account.

I assure my noble friends Lord Cormack, Lord Polak and Lord Shinkwin that we are focused on this and we want to ensure that we work collaboratively and collectively, and I will come on to that in a moment. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, that we are working closely with our US partners. I have recently returned from a visit to Washington to discuss these very matters.

We have voiced our concerns over Xinjiang directly with the Chinese authorities. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, that I have recently had an exchange with the Chinese ambassador specifically on human rights, and I hope to meet him. In advance of that, I look forward to insights from your Lordships’ House on that meeting. Equally, just last month my right honourable friend the Prime Minister raised the topic of the Uighurs in a conversation with President Xi, as did my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in her introductory call with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

We continue to work with our international partners on this very important issue. Noble Lords will recall the second element beyond direct diplomacy: multilateral action. We led the first formal joint statement on Xinjiang at the UN, which was supported by 23 countries. Since then, we have used our diplomatic network to increase the pressure on China to change its behaviour in Xinjiang. Last month, there was a global diplomatic effort to secure the support of 43 countries for a joint statement at the United Nations. This reiterated our serious concerns about human rights violations in Xinjiang. It also demonstrated positively in what is a very challenging situation—several noble Lords referred to the powerful role of China on the world stage—that we have seen increasing numbers supporting the statement that we have championed, and partner countries have come on board. For example—the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has raised this issue with me before—it attracted support for the first time from countries from the OIC, such as Turkey. We also saw support from Eswatini and Liberia. We have consistently used our national statements at the UN to underline our serious concerns and did so most recently in September. On the G7 and leadership on the world stage, we convened world leaders and Foreign Ministers under the G7 presidency to signal our grave and collective concern.

On the point raised by the noble Lords, Lord Hastings and Lord Collins, we have consistently and repeatedly called on China to give UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet unfettered access to the region, and I am engaged directly on that issue with the high commissioner. We have also welcomed UN plans to publish an assessment of the human rights situation in Xinjiang based on all available information.

There is also a harder-edged element to our actions. Several noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, referred to sanctions policy. Since its inception a year and a half or so ago, the sanctions policy has seen us calling out egregious abuses of human rights. It is something I have believed in for a very long time, and I was delighted that we brought forward such instruments. I assure all noble Lords that we will continue to work with international partners to hold China to account for its gross human rights violations in Xinjiang. However, it is not enough simply to exert diplomatic pressure, and in March we announced sanctions against perpetrators of gross human rights violations against Uighurs and other minorities. We imposed asset freezes and travel bans against four Chinese government officials as well as Xinjiang security bodies.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, as he will be aware, we co-ordinated our sanctions policy and its application with our key partners; namely, the United States, Canada and the European Union. This had an impact and sent a clear message to the Chinese Government that the international community will not turn a blind eye to their serious and systematic violation of human rights. As the Minister for sanctions as well as human rights, I can say that future sanctions policy remains very active in my inbox list, but I cannot comment further on designations we may make in future.

It speaks for itself that while 30 countries united in sanctioning those responsible for these violations, China’s response, as I said in my introductory remarks, targeted parliamentarians in our Parliament as well as others in the UK. My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have made it clear that Chinese attempts to silence those who highlight human rights violations, including MPs and Peers in the United Kingdom, are unwarranted and totally and utterly unacceptable.

We also announced strong domestic measures last January to help ensure that no UK organisations are complicit in human rights violations through their supply chains, and we are now implementing those measures across government. We are also funding research on international supply chains to understand how they contribute to the situation in Xinjiang.

We have funded a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which was published last month, on how China is implementing its repressive policies in Xinjiang, and the Rights Practice released a report in June, funded by the FCDO, which analysed the legal tools used to enforce China’s policies in the region. It is crucial that we listen to compelling and well-researched reports, and we will do so, and that we listen to the Uighur community. In this regard, I reassure noble Lords that on several occasions I have had the honour of meeting incredible and courageous survivors of that persecution who continue to be challenged by the persecution and detention of family members in Xinjiang. As we speak, a range of stakeholders from the diaspora community continues to inform government policy to ensure that those voices are central to our response.

Some specific questions were raised. Understandably, there were various contributions on the Winter Olympics. I am grateful for the contributions of my noble friend Lord Polak and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and for the insight and expertise provided by my noble friend Lord Moynihan. The right reverend Prelate also spoke quite passionately about the importance of what the UK Government should be doing, and how, as did my noble friend Lord Cormack. I highlight particularly the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. It is not often that we have a chance to acknowledge an incredible Olympic medallist in our midst. She spoke with great insight and personal expertise on this issue.

I often call your Lordships’ House a place of experts and of great wisdom, and one thing I think we should be doing when we move forward on the most sensitive issues is to leverage the expertise of your Lordships. I think we are well minded, and I will certainly be passing on my thoughts to the Sport Minister in this respect. Nevertheless, the Government have made it clear that no decisions have yet been made about government attendance at the Beijing Olympics. As noble Lords know, the participation of Team GB in the Olympics and Paralympics is a matter for the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association. They operate independently of the Government, as required by the International Olympic Committee.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, spoke again about an issue on which she and I have exchanged a lot of correspondence and had meetings. We have engaged extensively with the chair of the Uighur tribunal, Sir Geoffrey Nice, who I have met on several occasions. We have also attended various tribunal sessions. We welcome any initiative that is rigorous and balanced and, importantly, that raises awareness of the situation faced by the Uighurs and other minorities. We are following the work of the tribunal very closely and will study any resulting report.

The noble Baroness also spoke about Myanmar and the brutality against civilians as a read-across. I have just returned from Bangladesh. I have seen the continuing challenge faced by the Rohingya community in the camps, and I look forward to updating your Lordships’ House and the noble Baroness on some of the specifics of what I saw and on some of the further actions we are taking.

The noble Baroness also raised the ongoing issue of the World Health Organization. This is a bit of a continuing exchange. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, has also raised this. I have written to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord several times. I was informed that they did not have the report, so I got it together and sent them a copy. I met Sir Geoffrey Nice on this issue. I am hoping to visit Geneva very soon and not just the Covid pandemic but this issue will be part of my engagement with the World Health Organization.

My noble friend Lord Shinkwin made a point about the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission’s report. As a member of the Conservative Party and the Human Rights Minister, I have seen that report and taken careful note of it. As a Government, we have produced our own human rights report and laid the interim human rights report in Parliament recently.

The noble Baroness also raised the issue of organ harvesting, as did the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. I have been clear that if this practice is systematic state-sponsored organ harvesting, it constitutes a serious violation of human rights. I look forward to hearing directly about some of the practical steps that can be taken. The noble Baroness and I have exchanged information on what other countries may do, based on their own systems. We need to challenge this practice and see how we can deter it. The challenge is clear, but I look forward to further practical discussions of the measures we can take in this respect.

The issue of co-operation with the United States on human rights in China was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza. When I was in Washington, I met Uzra Zeya, the new Under Secretary of State for democracy and human rights. A democracy summit is being held, to which, incidentally, I believe Taiwan has also been invited. We are working very constructively: the AUKUS agreement demonstrates and underlines the importance of our working with key partners in challenging some of the Chinese influences in the region.

The UK continues to believe that the Taiwan issue can be settled peacefully on both sides. We are concerned about the activity that risks destabilising the status quo. Regarding specific UK actions as part of our G7 presidency, we and our G7 partners have recently restated the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

As an added point for noble Lords’ information, today we also announced the British investment initiative, which looked at the old CDC. In broader terms—the noble Lord, Lord Alton, alluded to this, as did other noble Lords—there is the question of what more we can do in the counteroffer of economic strength. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, will know all too well what China does on the world stage. This is a positive offer to help plug the significant financing gap that developing countries face in terms of honest, responsible, open investment.

I am conscious of the time and the limits to my contribution as I reach the last minute. On the issue of trade, specifically pensions, if there are additional details, I will write to my noble friend.

We continue to take action against China, notwithstanding where we are and the challenge that is posed on the world stage. Human rights remain central to our thinking, demonstrably so in terms of our policy-making at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. I assure noble Lords that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, as she has shown in recent statements, is committed to standing up for girls’ rights and particularly for the rights of women around the world who continue to be oppressed.

The list of actions I have outlined is not exhaustive and we continue to seek new avenues to increase pressure on Beijing. Last week, in our response to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report on Xinjiang, we committed to raising this matter with further international bodies, including UNESCO and the International Labour Organization. We also pledged further consultations with the Uighur community.

I hope I have brought a degree of clarity to the questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings. We will continue to work with our international partners. We will work with the Uighur people themselves to hold the Chinese authorities to account. In doing so, we will continue our long and proud history of protecting human rights and promoting our consistent human values, shared by so many around the world.

Finally, I am conscious of the point made by my noble friend Lord Polak. We celebrate diversity in our country. We respect human rights. We respect people’s rights to practise whatever faith or religion they choose to. On behalf of the Government and myself, may I take this opportunity, as Sunday approaches, to wish all Jewish friends and, indeed, the wider Jewish community, both home and abroad, chag sameach, happy Hanukkah.

14:23
Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, sometimes the word “remarkable” is overused in the context of our debates in your Lordships’ House, but I do not think it would be overstating it to say that this has been a remarkable debate and I am truly grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to it. My noble friend Lord Purvis talked about the importance of open parliamentary democracy. He said that it was the greatest rebuke that we could give to those who would silence other opinions.

A number of us have referred to one another as “noble friends” today even though we are from different places in the House. That is because many of us are friends. It has struck me that this has been a united response and the Minister is right to say that we have stood in solidarity on the fundamental freedoms. I cannot think of any better Minister to have answered the debate in your Lordships’ House today.

The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, and I go back a long way. I have never ceased to be impressed by his diligent approach to his portfolio and the commitment he has made to human rights and fundamental freedoms. I was very struck by his saying that he will be seeing a number of people in the future, including the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China. I hope that whenever he has the opportunity, he will share the Hansard from today’s remarkable debate so that people will know the opinions that have been so freely expressed in your Lordships’ House today.

The noble Lord, Lord Desai—who again is a noble friend—expressed an opinion that was different from those expressed in the mainstream of the debate, but that is the whole point of your Lordships’ House. He remarked that often, silence was the reason why some of the terrible atrocities of the past occurred. There is some truth in what he said, and I was struck by how Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Protestant theologian, and Edith Stein, a Catholic nun, both said no to the Nazis and both were executed. Indeed, Bonhoeffer said:

“Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”


I think all of us have to bear in mind the privileges we enjoy in your Lordships’ House—the truth-telling that my noble friend Lord Hastings enjoined upon us—and that we have a duty to use those privileges, liberties and freedoms whenever we have the chance.

The Minister gave some clarity to the questions that my noble friend asked, but the specific question of competent courts that are able to determine these matters—the point that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, made so effectively from the Opposition Front Bench—is still unresolved and lies at the heart of this debate. A voice that has not been heard today—but all the arguments have been listened to by him throughout—is that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. If anyone can convince people of the merits of the amendments that he voted for during the passage of the Trade Bill, I know it is him.

Now that Mr Dominic Raab is the Lord Chancellor, he is in a very good position to do something about the circular argument whereby this issue is only for a competent court to address. Given his background, I know that this will be something close to his own heart. I have written to him about this essential issue and I hope that the Minister, whom I copied in, will ask him to share the reply with all who have participated during the debate today.

I cannot go point by point on everything that has been said—your Lordships would not want me to—but I particularly endorse what the Minister said about the roles of AUKUS and the United Nations. Here, again, I rather dissent from the slight pessimism of my noble friend Lord Desai. We were very blessed today to hear from my noble friend Lord Hannay, with his huge experience of the United Nations—in what was described rightly as a moving and powerful speech—when he talked about his own experiences at the United Nations with Rwanda and Bosnia. We must remind ourselves of what he did when he was our ambassador at the United Nations, what the noble Lord does as our Minister responsible for the United Nations, and what most of us in your Lordships’ House believe in, which is internationalism and the importance of nations standing together.

Dag Hammarskjöld, perhaps the greatest of the Secretaries-General, said that:

“The United Nations was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.”


If anything, today, I think we have a glimpse of what hell may look like. My noble friend Lady Kennedy gave an analysis of the use of slave labour in Xinjiang and said that a genocide was in progress. My noble friend Lady Smith of Newnham said that following the Bosnia judgment, we have a duty to prevent at the instant—from that moment onwards—we come to know what is under way. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, with his enormous experience of the law, gave us a forensic examination of atrocity crimes but he also referred to Nineteen Eighty-Four and the hollowing out of humanity. That phrase will stay with me.

My noble friend Lord Polak reminded us of the contribution of the late Lord Sacks to your Lordships’ House. His books, The Dignity of Difference and The Home We Build Together, sit on my bookshelves and I look at them again and again, because that is what we have to crack: we have to find ways of learning to live together. He reminded us of the hope that Hanukkah holds out and, like the Minister, I wish him a great festival and celebration. I thank him for reminding us what hope looks like—as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, who has done so much on this issue over such a long period. He asked us, “Are we going to be a force for good? Are we going to balance this with trade?”

The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, referred to the way that William Wilberforce persisted over 40 years when ending the slave trade. But I am struck that people such as Richard Cobden, that great proponent of free trade, stood with Wilberforce as he did on the Opium Wars, which have been referred to. Not everyone went with these things and it is to the credit of parliamentarians that some said no and, in the end, the public changed their minds. The noble Lord reminded us that even when Wilberforce was on his deathbed—his book on the subject is well worth reading—the message was brought from Parliament to say that the law was being changed.

My noble friend Lady Finlay gave us horrific evidence of forced organ harvesting. She reminded us in her peroration about the dangers of unacceptable silence. I hope that when the Minister goes to Geneva, to talk again to the World Health Organization, he will take my noble friend with him.

We have heard speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson about politics and sport. The very first speech I made in my student union in 1970—I remember trembling at the time—was on the Stop the Seventy Tour campaign. Why? It was because I opposed apartheid. Again, that was a remarkable example of cross-party co-operation, of people standing together and ultimately changing the laws in South Africa, and people’s attitudes as well.

My noble friend Lady D’Souza talked about the insatiable need for cotton. She is right that we have to look, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said, even at the ties we wear and ask ourselves where these things come from. During the campaign against slavery, there was a rising up of people through the sugar boycotts and suchlike which made parliamentarians say, “The public are behind us—let’s do something about it”. She also talked to us, as did my noble friend Lady O’Loan, about the wider consequences. The fearful harbinger of Hong Kong, as my noble friend reminded us, is held out in the context of Taiwan. The Minister was right to talk about the dangers that lurk in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, and how we have to stand with our natural allies—in Five Eyes, but specifically in AUKUS as well—in confronting these dangers.

My noble friend Lord Shinkwin reminded us of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and its admirable report, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger. That report deserves to be read by every Member of your Lordships’ House. He told us about the importance of dealing with supply chains; the recommendations in that report looked at ways of trying to sort out where commodities come from.

My noble friend Lady O’Loan told us about the things that have been happening to other groups of people. Yesterday was Red Wednesday, and the Minister reminded us all of the importance of freedom of religion or belief. Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifically says that everyone has the right to believe, not to believe or to change their belief; it is violated every day. One of your Lordships’ parliamentary committees said that it is an orphaned right. We should take it out of the orphanage, and no one does more to do that than the Minister.

In the context of China, what is happening to the underground churches and Falun Gong, as referred to by my noble friend Lady Finlay? What is happening to Mongolians and people of many different extracts, religions and politics? We must deal with that.

My noble friend Lord Sandwich and others have made great contributions to your Lordships’ House during this debate. I am conscious that there is another debate to follow. I think I was told that we have until 2.45 pm but I do not think I should trespass any longer on your Lordships’ time, other than to say thank you to everyone who has taken part. We will not be silenced on this issue. All of us who have spoken today will return to it again and again, until this injustice is properly recognised and put right.

Motion agreed.