Thank you for contacting me about the Trade Bill and the anti-genocide amendment tabled in the House of Lords.
I fully understand your support for the amendment and I share your concern over human rights abuses in countries around the world including in China. The crimes perpetrated against the Uyghur people and the Chinese population more widely are well-documented. I condemn them absolutely.
Indeed, while the amendment is not only directed at China, human rights abuses in that country are much in people's minds, quite rightly. On China specifically, as you may be aware, the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, has made clear his and the Government's revulsion at the Chinese Government's massive violations of human rights including “extensive and invasive surveillance targeting minorities, systematic restrictions on Uighur culture, education, and the practice of Islam, and the widespread use of forced labour.” Among other announcements he said that deterrent fines would be imposed on firms that do not take measures to ensure that their supply chains do not include companies that use forced labour and that the Modern Slavery Act will be extended to the public sector.
As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the UK has a role in bringing perpetrators of such crimes to justice. The UK has long promoted human rights and Ministers have been clear that increased trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights. Trade agreements also often contain suspensive clauses in the event of human rights abuses.
While no-one not in favour of genocide could fail to support the ultimate aim of the amendment, the Government believes that the mechanism it proposes to achieve it would have significant legal and constitutional consequences. It would alter the UK constitutional system by allowing courts to frustrate trade agreements agreed by the Government and ratified by Parliament. The amendment would establish a profound shift in the separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive. The Trade Bill itself also only focuses on continuity agreements rather than new trade agreements.
Strong economic relations with countries around the world give the UK the opportunity to have frank discussions on difficult issues. While China is an important economic partner to the UK, there are no plans to negotiate a free trade agreement with the country. The Government’s priorities are instead focused on countries with interests more aligned with the UK’s such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP