All 2 contributions to the Genocide (Prevention and Response) Bill [HL] 2023-24 (Ministerial Extracts Only)

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Genocide (Prevention and Response) Bill [HL]

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2nd reading
Friday 22nd March 2024

(3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Genocide (Prevention and Response) Bill [HL] 2023-24 Read Hansard Text Watch Debate

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Genocide (Prevention and Response) Bill [HL] 2023-24 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

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 others in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, for tabling this Bill. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, who talked of the incredible work that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, do in this area, and have done over many years. I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that a fair bit of that is done in my office, with both the noble Baroness and noble Lord ever-present. I am sure they both recognise the deep affection that I have for both of them in the challenge that they provide—but it is not just a challenge. As we see from the tabling of this Bill, it is also about making practical suggestions on how we can move forward.

I concur with the noble Lord, Lord Collins. I think there are many across your Lordships’ House who genuinely put the importance of human rights at the heart of their work, in our diplomacy and development activities. That is an important attribute to continue. I shall be honest in saying that it is a challenge, particularly when we look at the global world as it is today, but we should not give up this important flame of hope and humanity.

In thanking the noble Baroness, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. My noble friend Lord Polak struck a very poignant note about Purim, and the history behind it. I totally appreciate and associate myself with the important principle of survival. It is something to celebrate. Anyone who has met a survivor of an atrocity, as I have had the honour to do in meeting survivors of sexual violence in conflict—as I know other noble Lords have—gains incredible inspiration from their courage not just to survive the most atrocious of ordeals but to have the courage and conviction and become advocates on how change can be effected.

My noble friend Lord Polak was described by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, as being from Liverpool. The only claim I can make is that I am a Liverpool fan, although after last weekend’s events I am feeling rather sore, so we will park that one there.

This is a very important debate. The UK Government remain absolutely committed to preventing and responding to genocide and other atrocities taking place around the world. I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that we should be learning, and that experience is important. While we are doing work, there is so much more to be done.

My noble friend Lord Bourne talked about Srebrenica, and paid tribute to many—apart from himself. Let me put on record the important work that he did when he was the Minister responsible for communities and faith, particularly in relation to the shocking events that took place in Srebrenica—again, on the lack of intervention and prevention. For anyone who has been to Srebrenica, or to Auschwitz-Birkenau, as I have, the chilling effect of what you see remains with you and, I think, strengthens your own conviction in these areas. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, talked about Rwanda. Again, anyone who goes to the memorial in Kigali cannot but be moved by the thousands and thousands of lives that were taken at that time, and have a real conviction to prevent that happening again.

The provisions of this Bill are highly commendable, and many of them are very much aligned with the activities of the Government that we are planning or which are already in place. I agree that we need to be very focused. The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, rightly said that there was great care in the Bill being put forward and many doable mechanisms, as she described them. I say at the outset that, in this instance, I would be delighted to meet the noble Baroness to discuss what the UK is currently doing to prevent atrocities and look at the specific provisions of the Bill to see how they can best be taken forward.

I also miss Lord Sacks. Anyone who met him could not but be inspired by his example. Perhaps when we look across the world, and particularly at the Middle East, we are reminded that his engagement and involvement are very much missed at this important time.

The noble Lord, Lord Hussain, said that atrocities do not happen overnight. I give him a reassurance that our relationship with India is such—it is strong and one of friendship—that it allows us, both ways, to bridge issues of importance, as I did recently with Home Secretary Bhalla on the issue of human rights in India. We will continue to do this in a candid, constructive way.

With the challenging outlook we currently face, with conflicts and crises continuing and worsening, my noble friends and all noble Lords will recognise the need for prioritisation and making the best use of resources. So I say from the outset that the Government agree with many of the provisions of the Bill—the question is how best to take them forward. I was scribbling during the debate and I think the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, was right to say that, while I cannot give it total endorsement and agreement, I want to very much examine the provisions of the Elie Wiesel Act to see how we can best adapt. I am going to be very up front in saying that there are issues of training and cost within the provisions of the Bill that need to be considered: those are two of the main considerations for the Government.

For example, the Bill proposes to establish a genocide monitoring team. We recognise, as all noble Lords have said, that robust early warning and monitoring mechanisms and early response are key to preventing atrocities. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, reminded us that we cannot stop every atrocity, but we can certainly look to see how we can focus on mitigation. That is why the FCDO has integrated risk analysis into global horizon scanning. We are continuously looking to improve our forecasting capabilities through forging new partnerships and harnessing innovative, data-driven approaches.

The Bill would also provide for training for civil servants. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, talked about the sometimes disjointed nature of this, as did the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness when she introduced the Bill. We have got better at the FCDO and it is certainly my intention, as the Minister responsible, to ensure that any diplomats deployed into defined conflict zones are fully versed in the importance of the training they receive. But again, as a way of moving forward constructively, I am very keen to understand how we can strengthen that training. This is an open invitation to the noble Baroness and others to see how we can integrate more professionalised training and more insights that are country-specific, to enhance the training that our civil servants and those being deployed into conflict zones receive, and to ensure that it is tailored to the country in question.

The enhanced offer that we are developing will also enable staff to recognise the very early warning systems that my noble friend Lord Polak and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, talked about, and understand the levers available when preventing and responding to atrocities, recognising that there is still more to do—I fully recognise that. We need to build further capacity and we intend to explore further training options, both internally and with external experts, as I have said, to ensure that not just diplomats but our most senior officials, who are the key decision-makers and provide advice directly to Ministers, are also versed in this. We will continue to learn from experience.

The Bill also calls for the Government to report to Parliament on atrocity risks. All noble Lords present know that, at times, information can be highly sensitive. That said, we have, based on the contributions I have heard and the advocacy of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and others, defined within our Human Rights and Democracy Report a specific element on atrocity prevention and human rights. It has been expanded to now include the responsibility to protect. Again, I encourage suggestions and recommendations on how we can improve that further, with that ambition.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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I apologise for interrupting, but I asked the noble Lord specifically about the joint assessments on conflict and stability which the Foreign Office undertakes. Why can they not be shared with parliamentarians? Even if it cannot be right across the piece in both Houses, why not to the relevant Select Committees, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of another place and our International Relations and Defence Select Committee? JACS assessments are crucial in recognising what signs are emerging.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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Again, I will take that back. The noble Lord and I have had discussions on that. Previous answers we provided related to the sensitivity of that information, but I will certainly take back the practical suggestion he makes on particular committees to the FCDO to see whether there is more we can do in that area.

The outstanding provisions would also appoint a Minister for genocide prevention and response. I like that idea, specifically as it is described, rather than encompassed within my current role as Human Rights Minister. That is something to be thought through again in the discussion that I hope I will be able to have with the noble Baroness. This is very much cross-government. I have been discussing with officials—in preparation not just for this debate but generally on the issue—how to make it cross-government. The Ministry of Justice, for example, would have a key role. We have worked well together in this respect.

With my experience as the Minister for Human Rights and as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, I assure your Lordships’ House that preventing and responding to atrocity remains a priority for me and for the Government. Prompted by this Bill, we will also look at how we can make that specific element, as suggested by the noble Baroness’s Bill, a key ministerial responsibility.

On the provision of funds, as raised by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and others, this is always a challenge for government. There are provisions in the Bill on this which are probably my key reservation—if I can put it that way—and would need to be considered. However, it is my clear view that we need to ensure that by addressing the prevention element, we will have a medium- to long-term impact on the costs of dealing with the end product of these awful, abhorrent atrocities.

A number of noble Lords made points about our embassies and high commissions across the globe. I can assure the House that—based on some of the central initiatives that we are taking—they have been implementing programmes to target the risk factors that can lead to atrocities, as well as to strengthen reporting and improve accountability mechanisms. These will be a critical part of our commitment to atrocity prevention.

On specific actions, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for recognising the work that we are doing with the ICC. UK funding amounting to £6.2 million since the invasion of Ukraine has helped to train more than 100 judges and deploy 30,000 forensic medical kits for police officers. In respect of this shocking and illegal invasion, the core group that we are part of to ensure criminal accountability for Russia’s aggression is also adding to the mechanisms that we are putting in place, not for after the conflict but during it, to deal with this.

On Myanmar, as has been recognised, we have now joined with Canada, Denmark, France, Germany and the Netherlands. The UK has also filed a declaration of intervention at the International Court of Justice in Gambia’s case against Myanmar. The UK is clear that there must be accountability for atrocities committed. Again, we have put money behind this, providing over £600,000 to the UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar. We have also established Myanmar Witness, a programme to collect and preserve evidence of human rights violations for future prosecutions. The culture of impunity in Myanmar must end. I have seen this directly during my visits to meet survivors of those atrocities in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

The Sudan was mentioned, most notably by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Atrocity prevention is one of the key pillars of our Sudan strategy. We have enhanced our atrocity risk monitoring work in Sudan, including on conflict-related sexual violence. Our work with open-source investigations—the noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about civil society in this regard—continues to play a vital role in amplifying the voices of victims and survivors. Again, however, I accept that we need to do more.

We are supporting the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sudan in monitoring and reporting on human rights violations. As part of these actions, marking one year since the start of the current conflict, my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Development and Africa will be visiting the region shortly.

I am conscious of time. China was also raised. In this regard, the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Collins, will know of the long-standing work that has been done. The OHCHR’s assessment found possible crimes against humanity. We should take robust action. As noble Lords will know, the UK has led international efforts to hold China to account for its human rights violations in Xinjiang. Indeed, we were the first country to lead the joint statement on China’s human rights in Xinjiang at the UN. We continued to advocate during the recent UPR in January as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked for an update on the situation in Gaza. I assure the House that our priorities remain that the fighting must stop now. This is the only way that we will get the return of the hostages. I met the families of the hostages again this week, as did the Foreign Secretary. Irrespective of their view on this conflict, no one can fail to be moved by the devastating nature of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza.

The latest update is that there has been a lot of diplomacy. Secretary Blinken has embarked on a tour of the Middle East, partly in conjunction and in parallel with UN Security Council resolutions. As I came into this Chamber, a lot of work had been done overnight to get countries in the right place. Unfortunately, the resolution by the United States calling for an immediate ceasefire was vetoed by Russia and China. We must continue to find a way to get agreement in this space. Noble Lords will be aware of Secretary Blinken being in Cairo. He is in Israel today. I will be travelling to Egypt next week as part of our continuing diplomatic efforts not only to bring an end to the immediate conflict but for a resolution based on peace, justice and equity for Israelis and Palestinians alike. All noble Lords have expressed views on the importance of the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine side by side in peace and justice.

In thanking the noble Baroness, I have not given a ringing endorsement—

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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My Lords, I think the Minister is coming to an end, but I just wanted to raise one point that he has not covered. He covered extremely fully the ground which has been covered by the noble Baroness in her Bill, but I heard nothing about making an annual or regular report to Parliament specifically about genocide and the risk of genocide. It is quite important. The FCDO does an annual report on human rights, but it is all too easy for things to become somewhat fuzzy in such a report as to whether what you are talking about are the many breaches of human rights or specifically a precursor to, or a risk of, genocide.

Some countries will be shameless, but if the Foreign Office produced a report about the risk of genocide and the precursors, some countries would do an awful lot not to get into it. I think the FCDO would find that report quite a useful tool.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his prompt. Two lines down I was going to address that issue as my penultimate comment, but I will take it now.

I mentioned the human rights report. I have asked officials to see what our options are to cover the aspects that the noble Lord highlights—for example, a quarterly statement or a WMS. I cannot give a definitive answer because those options are being worked up. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, that it will be helpful to have this level of engagement to ensure that we get something which is acceptable and the right product for Parliament to allow for the analysis that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has once again highlighted.

I hope that in the qualified support for the provisions of the Bill the noble Baroness recognises that we respect and appreciate her constant advocacy on these important issues. As she rightly acknowledged, there is support for many of the principles within this Private Member’s Bill. It is ambitious, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said, but the Government believe in the priorities stated in the Bill. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated today. The UK is working with other partners in preventing and responding to human rights violations and atrocity risk. I look forward to listening to, learning from and working with noble Lords from across your Lordships’ House to further strengthen our aspirations and our delivery on these important issues and mitigations. If I was to provide a sense of where I am on this, whenever I talk to anyone, I say that we must put humanity at the heart of our policy-making.

Genocide (Prevention and Response) Bill [HL]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
3rd reading
Friday 17th May 2024

(1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Genocide (Prevention and Response) Bill [HL] 2023-24 Read Hansard Text Watch Debate

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Genocide (Prevention and Response) Bill [HL] 2023-24 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome the comments of my noble friend and thank everyone who has engaged on this. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, said at Second Reading that many elements of the Bill were commendable and aligned with the Government’s own activities. I hope that, following the meeting my noble friend had with others, the noble Lord will also meet with me to look at how we can progress these things strongly. I welcome the comments and what the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, has said.

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 put on record my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, the noble Lord, Lord Alton—who is not in his place—and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for a constructive meeting recently. The Bill has been an extremely important tool to bring focus to this important issue of atrocity prevention. As I have reminded the noble Baroness a number of times, I am the Minister responsible for this, but I work alongside other colleagues in this respect.

As I have said, there are many elements within the Bill that we are already undertaking and have committed to take forward. It proposes to establish a “genocide monitoring team”—we agree with that, and a dedicated unit is following this issue directly at the FCDO. Following the meeting we had with noble Lords earlier this week, I have asked officials directly to schedule a private briefing on how we compile, for example, the sharing of areas around early warning systems.

The Bill would provide for training for civil servants; again, it has been a useful tool for focusing on that issue. As I outlined to noble Lords, both at Second Reading and during the meeting, we have already invested in diplomats who have benefited from atrocity-prevention training. I am exploring options for making atrocity prevention training a requirement in the training provided directly to diplomats prior to their being deployed to conflict zones or areas with a high risk of atrocities. I recognise that there is more to do on building capacity, but, as I said, we do not believe in the primary legislation route here; much is already being done.

The Bill calls for the Government to report to Parliament. We have the human rights report, but we are also looking to see how we can be more specific on the elements raised in the Bill.

As ever, I am grateful to all noble Lords who participated in the important debates on the Bill. We are all at one on trying to prevent atrocities. Sadly, and tragically, we are not succeeding in that objective around the world today. But this means that we need to be more focused. As the Minister with responsibility for such matters, I assure all noble Lords that we at the FCDO are very seized of this.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, and I meet regularly to discuss a raft of issues, and I say to him that I am keen to ensure that this becomes embedded in FCDO policy. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and others who have once again drawn attention to this important issue. I look forward to working with noble Lords across the House on strengthening our atrocity prevention response.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.