Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020

Debate between Lord Hain and Lord Bruce of Bennachie
Wednesday 29th July 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for International Development
Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab) [V]
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I thank the Minister for his introduction, wish him a well-deserved break and again press him about sanctions against key individuals over escalating human rights violations in Zimbabwe and corruption in South Africa.

In Zimbabwe, three women have recently been abducted and tortured: opposition MP and former Canon Collins scholar Joana Mamombe, together with Netsai Marova and Cecilia Chimbiri. On 20 July, highly respected journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was arrested and denied bail for supporting an anti-corruption protest and faces 10 years in jail. Opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume was arrested, and youth leader Takunda Madzana abducted and tortured by state security agents on 26 July. As well as rampant corruption, there is a pattern of ongoing human rights violations under the cover of Covid-19 crackdowns. Can the Government update their sanctions to cover more Zimbabwean Ministers and security chiefs?

Why are not British sanctions also being applied to the Gupta brothers over their role in a massive corruption and money laundering operation linked to the former South African President, Jacob Zuma, which robbed taxpayers of over £500 million—billions were robbed? What have the British Government done about my letter to the Chancellor on 11 October 2019, in which I gave identification details of Rajesh, Atul and Ajay Gupta, who escaped South Africa to live freely in both Dubai and India? They used a corrupt network of their own companies, buttressed by shadowy shell companies. Surely, just as the United States Treasury sanctions forbid US entities from doing business with this Gupta family or handling their assets, so all UK entities should face the same ban, including London-based banks such as HSBC, Standard Chartered and the Bank of Baroda, which in recent years facilitated money laundering by the Gupta brothers on a grand scale.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie [V]
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My Lords, as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe from 1999 to 2005, I saw the Russian delegation emasculated, changing from a pluralistic group, with liberals, Yabloko and opposition MPs willing to speak freely, to a block of Putin clones. When the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, as rapporteur on Chechnya, was refused a visa to visit the province, the assembly suspended the Russian delegation’s voting rights—yet, sadly, a week later Tony Blair took Putin for tea with the Queen. Subsequently, the conservative group in the assembly teamed up in the same group as Putin’s MPs and served under the leadership of one of his acolytes.

I became involved in supporting Mikhail Khodorkovsky after Yukos was crushed by the Kremlin and he was arrested in Siberia in 2003 and prosecuted and imprisoned, in reality for his support for opposition parties and his challenge to Putin. At that time, I tried to secure support for the plight of Svetlana Bakhmina, a lawyer advising Yukos who was imprisoned on trumped-up charges and denied access to her young children. Disappointingly, UK MPs and the British media were impervious to her plight. I attended a seminar at Columbia University, where a session was entitled “Are We Back in the USSR?”—to which the answer was, “No, it is much worse, there are many more KGB-trained personnel running Russia than ever was the case in the Soviet Union.”

I then came into contact with Robert Amsterdam, Khodorkovsky’s lawyer, and Bill Browder, whose successful business in Moscow was targeted by the Kremlin. I learned how they were exposing high-level activity and fraud, for which Sergei Magnitsky, as Bill Browder’s lawyer, paid the final price of his life, dying in agony having been denied effective treatment for pancreatitis. The names of those responsible were well documented, and campaigns were begun to ban them from visiting or engaging with democratic countries.

So the Government came late to this process, and it was only with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko that our leadership finally woke up. Today’s instrument is therefore welcome and necessary but, I would suggest, late. I appreciate that the Government make much of unilateral action, but I trust that the Minister will acknowledge that co-ordinated efforts are much more effective. These regulations need to pave the way for further measures against agents of the Kremlin and other hostile agents.

Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Section 75 —Designation of Public Authority) Order 2020

Debate between Lord Hain and Lord Bruce of Bennachie
Wednesday 8th July 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Ministry of Justice
Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, in thanking the Minister for his clear explanation, I note that one of the functions of the Independent Monitoring Authority that is the subject of this Motion is to

“ensure that persons are not prevented from exercising their rights”

under the citizens’ rights agreement post Brexit. I have no difficulty in supporting this Motion in relation to Section 75 designation; protecting citizens’ rights must be a priority for any Government. Regrettably, however, we have been witnessing a savage denial of rights enshrined in legislation initiated in your Lordships’ House and passed in the other place without a Division, which should be providing modest payments to those terribly injured through no fault of their own during the Northern Ireland Troubles. It is now 40 days since the victims’ payments scheme should have been opened for applications but, because of a disgraceful display of political intransigence in the Executive Office in Stormont, some of the most vulnerable men and women in Northern Ireland and beyond have been denied access to it.

When I last spoke about this at the beginning of June, I said that a severely injured victim, maimed for life in a terrorist atrocity decades ago, had been forced to put the devolved Administration on notice of judicial action to force it to honour its moral and legal obligations. Jennifer McNern was only 21 years old when her legs were blown off in a no-warning IRA bombing in 1972. I have met Jennifer and I can tell your Lordships that she is a courageous and determined woman. She had no option but to go to the High Court to seek legal redress from the Executive Office, which has so blatantly defied the law.

How did the UK Government respond to Jennifer’s attempt to have the very same law that was passed in the Government’s name upheld and implemented? They instructed a Queen’s Counsel to argue before a High Court judge that Jennifer’s judicial review against the Executive Office be set aside to allow another, arguably weaker, judicial review to proceed in its place. That was and is disgusting behaviour by the Secretary of State. As a former holder of that office, my natural stance is to support my successors. However, I say to Brandon Lewis and his Northern Ireland Office officials: you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourselves, the lot of you. Jennifer’s case will proceed, although it cannot be heard until August, a full six months since the structures to administer the scheme should have been put in place.

In this Parliament we do not have the power to hold the Stormont Executive Office to account for its shocking—and illegal—refusal to implement the law. However, we can and must demand that the UK Government explain what they will do to address this gratuitous insult to victims and survivors, who have suffered so much already through no fault of their own.

It is simply not good enough for Ministers to intone that this is a devolved matter and say how awfully sorry they are that things have turned out this way. The Secretary of State cannot be allowed to wring his hands and sit on them at the same time. I will continue to hound this Government until this is resolved and people like Jennifer get the acknowledgement, recognition and payments for which they have had to struggle for far too long.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I fully support the campaign of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, which he has doggedly pursued, and I certainly agree with everything he says. However, I do wish to address the issue of the IMA and this order. The order must be supported because it ensures that the IMA’s operation within Northern Ireland will be not only in accordance with the law and the previous legislation applying to Northern Ireland but focused on ensuring equality for European citizens’ rights. In that context, I will, of course, support it.

However, I would like to ask the Minister a few questions about the IMA and how genuinely independent it is. Looking at the legislation and the schedule, one sees that the chair and board of the IMA are appointed by the Secretary of State and can be removed by the Secretary of State. The grounds for removal identified in the schedule are fairly broad and give quite a lot of discretion to the Secretary of State. It is also stated in the schedule that, although the devolved Administrations need to be consulted about those executive directors who have particular responsibility for each of the devolved Administrations—that includes Gibraltar—the Secretary of State may not accept their recommendation, may appoint without their approval and has to give an explanation only, but no redress.

Elsewhere in the schedule, it says that the functions of the IMA can be transferred to another body by the Secretary of State, its functions can be removed by the Secretary of State and the IMA can be abolished by the Secretary of State. In the internal operation of the IMA itself, the IMA may decline an inquiry; that may be a fair discretion, but it is able—even when the grounds for such an inquiry have been demonstrated—to decline to pursue it. There is concern that, with the significant power of the Secretary of State, pressure may be brought to bear subliminally in ways which would compromise the independence of the IMA. I would be grateful if the Minister could give categorical assurances of that independence and address those questions.

On a more practical basis, I welcome the fact that the chief executive has been appointed, the location in Swansea has been confirmed and the recruitment of the other directors and staff is under way. Can the Minister give us an indication of when the directors will be appointed and, in the specifics for the devolved Administrations, how soon each of those will be in place?

Finally, because it clearly says that the Secretary of State may abolish the IMA, can the Minister give an indication of how long the Government think that this authority will be required? Is the IMA permanent—I note that the chair is appointed for five years—or do the Government envisage that it will have a timeframe, beyond which it will no longer function? It seems to me that all of these questions need to be answered to ensure that there is confidence in the genuine independence and freedom of action of the IMA, and its ability to stand up for citizens’ rights, challenge the Government and not be threatened with premature downgrading or abolition. I would be grateful if the Minister could answer those questions.

Northern Ireland Banknote (Designation of Authorised Bank) Regulations 2020

Debate between Lord Hain and Lord Bruce of Bennachie
Tuesday 2nd June 2020

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, and welcome this instrument, which brings a practical reform necessary for Ulster Bank Ltd to continue to be an authorised bank issuing commercial bank notes in Northern Ireland through National Westminster Bank.

I must raise an urgent Northern Ireland issue as well. Last year, legislation which had all-party and Cross-Bench support was initiated in this House to provide modest financial payments to men and women who suffered the most horrendous physical and psychological injuries through no fault of their own during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Section 10(2) of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 imposed a statutory obligation on the Executive Office in Northern Ireland to have a scheme up and running by Friday 29 May 2020 so that claims could be made and payments quickly processed to these victims. However, not only is the scheme not operational, none of the structures to support it are in place as, again, they were statutorily required to be over three months ago, by 24 February 2020—that is, before the Covid-19 lockdown.

The Executive have palpably failed, indeed refused, to comply with the law. Even more damning is the heartless treatment of some of the most vulnerable victims of Northern Ireland’s violent past, who are now part of its living, tortured legacy. Elderly men and women, permanently disabled through no fault of their own by terrorist attacks some 50 years ago, are confined to wheelchairs or on prosthetic limbs, or are blind and live in permanent pain; and, because of underlying medical conditions as a result of their injuries, they now also live in constant fear of contracting Covid-19.

I and other noble Lords have met members of the WAVE Injured Group, whose campaigning over many years was the driving force behind the 2019 legislation initiated in your Lordships’ House. They had been expecting a pension to help them better survive in the last period of their lives, backdated to the Stormont House agreement of December 2014, but they discovered last week, only days before the scheme was due to commence, that nothing had been done—nothing had been done. As you would expect, they are devastated.

The Executive Office says that the Government should fund the scheme, and the Government say that funding should come from the Northern Ireland block grant. If that is indeed the cause of the impasse, there needs to be an urgent adult conversation to resolve it. Either way, it is completely unacceptable that the law has been flouted in this way. I ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as the sponsor of the 2019 Act, to have urgent discussions with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland to resolve this shameful impasse. I hope that the Minister will respond positively on this matter. How on earth can politics have sunk so low that a severely injured victim, maimed for life in a terrorist atrocity decades ago, has now been forced to put the devolved Northern Ireland Administration on notice of judicial action, and possible judicial review, to force them to honour their moral and legal obligations?

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, I have, of course, supported the campaign by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, on behalf of those suffering historical injuries, but I will concentrate on the instrument in question. This is relatively uncontentious and arises as a result of the restructuring of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, which is, of course, majority-owned by the Government. In Northern Ireland, as in Scotland, the public are attached to their own local-issue bank notes and are resistant, I would suggest, to any reduction, although the number of issuing banks has been cut over the years. So can we be assured, in the Scottish context, that there will be no move to transfer the note-issuing rights of the Royal Bank of Scotland to NatWest in Scotland? Can the Minister indicate whether the instrument will lead to any change in the number and value of Ulster Bank notes in circulation? Can the Minister tell us the current value and volume of Northern Ireland-issued notes altogether, and what proportion are held or issued by Ulster Bank? In this context, will existing notes be withdrawn and replaced with designs incorporating the NatWest logo? Given historical problems, are the Government and the Bank of England satisfied that measures are in place to eliminate fraud or counterfeiting, and that they are robust?

Although during lockdown there has been a reduction in cash transactions, will the Minister assure us that, as lockdown eases, there will be adequate supplies of cash and that Northern Ireland notes will be as freely available as before? Is there any consideration that, as the economy starts moving again, there will be sufficient cash for what might well be a much greater demand than has been the case in the past? Many will seek the assurance of cash transactions rather than credit. Is that likely to lead to raising the amount of Northern Ireland banknotes issued above the most recent aggregate, which I understand was £2.86 billion?

Will the announcement by Allied Irish Banks that it will cease to issue its own banknotes in Northern Ireland after the end of this month affect the total value of notes issued? Will other banks be able or willing to take up the difference, or will it just lead to more Bank of England notes in circulation in Northern Ireland?

As banks in Northern Ireland also operate through associated companies in the Republic of Ireland, is the Minister satisfied that resources to support bounce-back loans are adequate? What arrangements, if any, are in place between the UK Government and the Government of the Republic to underwrite these loans?

What responsibility for any of this lies with the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly? I know that in my own lifetime—the history of note issuing in Scotland and Northern Ireland goes back way before that—issuing banks have disappeared: I remember the North of Scotland Bank and the British Linen Bank, both of which are long gone. Nevertheless, people wish to see this continued. The fact that note issuing is authorised and monitored by the Bank of England was a detail to which I referred in a pamphlet I produced when I was Treasury spokesman for my party, making the case for the operational independence of the Bank. I suggested that, as part of the reform, it should be renamed the “United Kingdom Reserve Bank”, because that is effectively what it is.

The reality is that Scotland and Northern Ireland have benefited in the past few months from massive injections of funds from the Bank and the Treasury. It has shown that we are better together and raises the question of how Scotland could have coped on its own. Northern Ireland is even more exposed. If the ending of lockdown coincides with a no-deal Brexit, the resources of all the components of the United Kingdom might be stretched to breaking point.

Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL]

(3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
Debate between Lord Hain and Lord Bruce of Bennachie
Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, if we had not had our concerns about what the other place would do, I think Hansard would have recorded that this Bill went through all its final stages in about three minutes. It is beyond belief that, at the other end, the House of Commons cannot find a few minutes to deal with the Bill, given that I cannot believe that any Member of Parliament would raise any objection from any quarter. And even if they did, it would be on the head of the Member concerned. If this is not put to the House of Commons, I am sorry to say that it will be on the head of the Government, and I do not believe that the Government would want to go into an election having failed to deliver this.

I know that the Minister is entirely with us. Everything that we have done and said here is to support him, and indeed his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office. I want to impress on the Government, through him, that this is something they would be well advised to find time for. They should recognise that there will be no understanding of an incapacity to find the few minutes that would be needed.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain
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My Lords, I echo what has been said but simply add one point. If this historical institutional abuse of the most horrible kind had taken place in Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Yorkshire, or any one of the regions of England or in the nations of Scotland or Wales, do we seriously imagine that this Bill would not be speeding through the House of Commons immediately it followed its passage here? The answer is surely self-evident: it would have been dealt with. I would not like this Parliament to be in the position where it has failed the people of Northern Ireland, where it would not have failed anybody in Great Britain, because the MPs in Great Britain would make sure that the ruling party was held to account, as I know the Minister wants it to be.

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill

(Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords)
Debate between Lord Hain and Lord Bruce of Bennachie
Wednesday 17th July 2019

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Northern Ireland Office
Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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My Lords, I think the Minister has demonstrated the patience of Job with the House this evening and I commend him for that; we are enormously indebted to him.

In moving Amendment 17, I will speak to associated Amendments 18 and 23 in my name and those of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Bruce, to whom I am most grateful. I thank the Minister and his officials for working with us to enable these amendments to be accepted by the Government and to establish, for the very first time, a system of payments for a pension which severely injured victims of Northern Ireland terrorism should have had a very long time ago.

My understanding is that the crucial words,

“through no fault of their own”,

that were in my original amendment in Committee on Monday cannot appear on the face of the Bill, on the advice of parliamentary counsel, because they are not sufficiently legally precise. For the avoidance of any doubt, I ask the Minister to confirm for the record that the intent and purpose of,

“through no fault of their own”,

remains in the Bill as amended, especially in Section 3(d), covering whether or not an applicant has a conviction for an offence. Will he also confirm that it is his intention that the regulations and the eligibility assessment procedure to come will abide by the “no fault of their own” principle, which I think was supported right across the House? Can he also further confirm that “offence” means a terrorism-related or serious criminal offence, not some unrelated minor or summary offence that could have happened, for example, long ago in youth?

Those of us who have had the privilege to meet the remarkable men and women who, despite the most horrendous injuries imaginable, have reconstructed their lives, will know just how important this breakthrough is. I thank your Lordships’ House for the steadfast way in which the principle has been supported over the last 18 months or so. I understand that the mechanisms to deliver the pension will take some time to set up, but the date for it to be operational—May 2020—has to be the very last date. Will the Minister confirm that heaven and earth will be moved to make payments as quickly as possible? These individuals are no longer young, and some could possibly even pass before 2020.

This modest but essential measure is long overdue, and it is right that the Government have recognised that by agreeing payments to be backdated to December 2014, and through the Stormont House agreement on these matters, meaning that many recipients could be due many thousands of pounds; at least they have that to look forward to. I was heartened that the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, spoke positively about the proposal in the debate on Monday. I trust that his colleagues in the other place will follow his lead. Indeed, if working devolution is to be restored before 21 October, I hope there will be no attempt by anyone or any party, on whatever pretext, to try to overturn what we have done here in this Parliament. That would be unthinkable when Parliament—and before that, Stormont—have together, completely and shamefully, failed these people for so many years. At long last, we are today bringing some relief and justice to people who have suffered for so long.

In concluding, when I spoke to my amendments on Monday, I said that we are a civilised society and we do not turn people away from services that they need provided; for example, by the NHS and the Victims & Survivors Service in Northern Ireland. However, this pension is not a service; it is a recognition of the horrific harm done to men and women through no fault of their own. They have endured, and continue to endure, almost unimaginable pain and suffering through no fault of their own. They do not ask for sympathy, let alone pity; they ask for our recognition for what they have gone through, and help to live independent lives with dignity. I am glad that we can play our part in making that a reality by agreeing this amendment this evening.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie
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My Lords, as a signatory to this amendment, I thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hain, on the work he has done on this and on taking this opportunity to bring it to a conclusion—and, I hope, by negotiation with the Minister to have a clause that will be acceptable.

I want to back up what he has asked the Minister to say on the record about the “no fault of their own” determination. A ministerial statement on it would be enormously valuable and I know that the Minister understands that. I think it would unite the House. This is one amendment where everybody has recognised that we have waited far too long and that these people, many of whom have died, and their dependants really need this. This is one situation where perhaps one thing that nobody wanted to happen—namely, this legislation—has nevertheless opened a window to do another which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said, should have been done a long time ago.