19 January 2021
Sir Iain Duncan Smith speaks in support of the House of Lords genocide amendment to the Trade Bill

Sir Iain Duncan Smith backs a House of Lords amendment to the Trade Bill that would allow a British court to determine if genocide has occurred in a country that we are proposing to make a trade deal with.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)

It is a privilege to speak in this debate. I am conscious that time is tight, so I am going to try to make my points as quickly as possible. I rise to speak in support of Lords amendment 3, and in particular to support and speak to amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment 3 standing in my name and the names of my colleagues, as set out on the amendment paper. Amendment (a), by the way, has been in the hands of the Government now for over a week, and I put it on record that I have had no calls back or contact, but maybe that is going to change.

Let me turn to the reasons behind Lords amendment 3. The Lords tabled this amendment because it would enable the courts in the UK to make an advisory—I stress, advisory—preliminary genocide judgment for Governments to consider when signing trade deals with states accused of committing genocide. The amendment provides a sound legal basis for the Government to engage in obligations under the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide in a way that is consistent, frankly, with the long-standing UK policy on genocide. After all, we were founder signers of the original charter, which bound the UK Government and all Governments to implement that charter in their own rights, rather than simply leaving it to the International Criminal Court.

The amendment is necessary because, as we have all seen, existing international mechanisms have, frankly, failed: in the UN, any reference to the ICC that is not agreed to by particularly intolerant states is immediately vetoed. The amendment would open perhaps the most important thing that has gone missing: the ability for victims of alleged genocide to see justice. That would include ethnic and religious minorities, such as those in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur region, maybe even the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and others. My point is that the amendment would bring that back to the UK courts.

The amendment is very important, as it deals with the UK’s independent trade policy—for the last 50 years, we have not had control; now we have left the European Union and have control—and would allow the UK courts, when a trade arrangement is being negotiated or taking place, to determine on a preliminary basis whether genocide has occurred in the country that we are supposing to strike that trade arrangement with at that particular time. Let me say that this is in regard to free trade arrangements; it does not really cover bilaterals.

The amendment is needed because Uyghurs and victims of alleged genocide have been denied justice for many years. As the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) said, these are people at the moment—there are others as well—who have been pushed into slave labour, have had sterilisation forced on them and whose population has shrunk by some 85%, and that country is exporting trade goods produced by slave labour. It is quite clear to me, but I am not able to say so, that this has all the hallmarks of genocide. I am not able to say so, because at the end of the day we all agree that the courts have to make that decision.  It is not for individual politicians to do so.


That is why the amendment is necessary and what, for us, it is about. I also want to say what it is not about. The amendment does not give the courts too much power, because it does not take power from the House of Commons or the House of Lords. We do not have the power to decide whether the Government should do trade deals or not. It is a Government power under royal prerogative. The power does not go across to the courts. The courts simply make a preliminary judgment. On the back of that the Government, even with this amendment, would have to come back to the House if they disagreed. They could disagree by putting forward primary legislation. Here, I really need to quote the spokesman in the Lords. He was quite clear when he said:

“Parliament would remain sovereign,”

after the amendment passed

“but it would require primary legislation to reverse the court’s decision effectively”,—[Official ReportHouse of Lords, 7 December 2020; Vol. 808, c. 1053.]

which it could do. The UK Government therefore could, if necessary, disagree with that. The idea has been put about that it blocks us, locks us and is the end. It does not.

Steve Brine 

I am tempted by my right hon. Friend’s amendment and I am listening to him very carefully, as I always do. At the moment we have a form of public health activism, where experts make decisions and it is then very difficult for politicians to disagree with those determinations. What does he say to that form of judicial activism? What would be the likelihood of this House disagreeing with such a determination? That is the concern some of us have with his amendment.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith 

I agree. I put the question back to my hon. Friend, as I have to other hon. Friends. If, on balance, the courts decide—we have faith in our courts—that this is likely to be genocide, I simply ask why would we be doing a trade deal with a country that is guilty of genocide. We may not wish to disagree, but the power still remains. The pedantic point put forward by the Government was that it was all about loss of power. I say that that is simply not the case. It would certainly not be in our amendment, because it is very specific that the Government have to do that.

On the vexatious claims point, the High Court is quite capable of dismissing anything on that level. By the way, this is the highest bar that can be set for any accusation. To try to wipe out an ethnic group is the No. 1 crime in the world. The High Court knows that and would dismiss anything that was vexatious. There would be no point in doing otherwise—that would demean it and wreck its reputation.

The Government say that the amendment, being limited to genocide, is practically unenforceable. Well, maybe that is true, in which case we need to look again at the UN charter, but the reality is that right now this is unenforceable—nobody out there can bring a charge of genocide, because they are blocked. We come back to the same point: we argue about genocide, and the Government say they do not want to do deals with people who commit genocide. I have huge admiration for my right hon. Friend the Minister. We have worked very closely together on many things. However, I noted his language when it came to accusations of the sale of the NHS. He said, “Not and never will be sold.” When it came to China and a trade deal it was, “No plans to do one yet.” We can be emphatic from the Dispatch Box when we want to be. We can make absolute statements when we want to, but when we do not—I have been in Government—we simply do not. That tells us everything we need to know. The Government need to have that check on them.

I conclude by saying that the Government cannot have it both ways. If they say it is for the courts, then the question is which court and the amendment says that. Overall, I have to say that the amendment is not anti-China, but it is anti-genocide. We need now to stand tall. We left the European Union because we did not want to accept judgments from a court over which we said we did not have power. We did not come away because we disliked our courts. I think we have the best courts in the world, and I think they can make this judgment. My question, therefore, is this: what is it about? Why did we leave? So that we would stand tall and have a global vision about the morality of what we do. I say to my colleagues and to those on the Front Bench that tonight is about more than just pettifogging. Tonight is all about shining a light of hope to all those out there who have failed to get their day in court and to be treated properly. If this country does not stand up for that, then I want to know what would it ever stand up for again. I urge my colleagues to vote to keep Lords amendment 3 in the Bill.