Lord Polak contributions to the Trade Bill 2019-21

Tue 23rd March 2021 Trade Bill (Lords Chamber)
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Tue 2nd February 2021 Trade Bill (Lords Chamber)
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Tuesday 23rd March 2021

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Department for International Trade
Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Polak.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, I am pleased that this Bill will become law, because it is important for the welfare and prosperity of this country. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Grimstone, the Minister, because he has listened and understood. I am grateful, too, to the Foreign Secretary for the limited sanctions announcement yesterday. It is progress. I also agree with a number of noble Lords that the ad hoc committee comprised of former senior judges in your Lordships’ House is an excellent idea; I look forward to seeing it become a reality. As I said earlier, I pay tribute to the 29 so-called rebels in the other place; 29 Members who have shown their humanity and voted in support of the genocide amendments. It is also clear to me that many other honourable Members of my party would have voted the right way had whipping pressure not been exerted.

On 23 February, I referred to the festival of Purim and the role that Queen Esther played in saving the Jewish people from genocide. Fortunately, there are many festivals in the Jewish calendar: this weekend, we celebrate the festival of Passover and we recall that Moses, on behalf of God, appealed to Pharaoh to “let my people go”. My appeal is that the Uighur Muslims are free to go, and free to live their lives in peace and prosperity. That will clearly come about only if we continue to apply pressure, and I will continue to follow the lead of my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has just celebrated his seventieth birthday. I wish him a happy birthday. It is a Jewish tradition to wish a person “many more years, up to 120”, which gives him another 50 years of great humanitarian leadership.

Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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My Lords, I want to mention “Catch-22”. Many noble Lords who are old enough will remember that this is a novel by Joseph Heller that was made into a film. The title refers to a certain rule whereby you might not be required to take part in war if you are mentally impaired, but if you say that you are mentally impaired, it shows that you are not really mentally impaired, so you cannot claim this particular way out. I think we are infected here with the same thinking. Catch-22 is a problem whereby the only solution is denied because there is a rule that cannot be fulfilled. That, of course, is what we keep hearing repeated by the Foreign Secretary and Ministers: that the proper place to determine whether genocide is taking place is a court of law, a competent court, but the problem is that there is no competent court able to do so.

I have mentioned this before, and the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to it again: there is no competent court because using the International Court of Justice, which would normally determine whether a genocide was taking place, would involve one nation taking another nation before it. However, unfortunately, China has put in a reservation to the treaty establishing the court. A reservation is

“a declaration by a state made upon signing or ratifying a treaty that the state reserves the right not to abide by certain provisions of the treaty.”

So, the idea that China will say, “Yes, of course, take me to the International Court of Justice”, and not claim its reservation, is risible, as we all recognise.

The other international court that might be able to deal with a matter of genocide is the International Criminal Court. But, as distinct from the International Court of Justice—a nation-to-nation court—this is a court where individuals can be brought and held accountable for serious, egregious crimes against humanity, and indicted for genocide. However, as I said, it is individuals who are brought there. The treaty of Rome, which brought that court into existence, involved nations signing up to its jurisdiction; China did not sign up.

So, there is no international competent court to which China can be brought. Determining whether a genocide is taking place is beyond the capacity of the international courts. So what were we to do? That is why the different possibilities were presented by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in amendments to this Bill, and supported by many in this House. The suggestion was: with our courts and competent, able judges—and with one of the great prides of Britain being our legal system and senior judiciary, admired throughout the world—who better than judges in one of our own courts to determine whether there was a genocide? The alternative when that proposal failed was to say, “Well, what about getting our most senior judges, who sit in this House in retirement, to come together, look to the evidence, measure it and decide whether it reaches the standard threshold, which is high, to determine whether a genocide is taking place?”

Unfortunately, we are left with very little. International law has acquired new teeth in the form of sanctions; I mentioned them in an earlier short debate. The fact that sanctions are now being used is to be welcomed. I would like to see our Foreign Secretary and Foreign Office at the forefront in persuading nations around the world to establish regimes to deal with international law in the same way: by creating sanctions regimes, as we, the United States, the European Union, Canada and other countries have done.

Many noble Lords know that I run the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. We engaged with Japan, Australia and other countries and sought to have them join this union of democracies in creating a sanctions regime to deal with serious breaches of international human rights. We are making some progress, but it is a source of great regret to me that we have not decided to confront what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to as this dilemma, this serious problem, that we have no venue to which we can bring this serious allegation of genocide. By and large, therefore, China can get off scot-free.

We must have serious mechanisms for dealing with this. I hope that the Government are listening to the sensible and serious suggestions being made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. They could take different forms, such as a Joint Committee of Parliament or a committee of our judges in this House established by this House. We have the power to make that happen. So, yes, we are seeing some advances being made but, really, they are very slow and very small.

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Lord Polak Excerpts
Tuesday 2nd February 2021

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Many important points have been made on all sides of the House, and they reflect the values that have been articulated rightly and the horror of genocide. However, a different solution must be found to the amendments before us today, as the noble Lord, Lord Waverley has said. I very much look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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First, First, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Forsyth, a great free-trader, who spoke with common sense and great dignity and clarity. Supporting the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is always a privilege, but on this occasion it is so much more than a privilege; it is a duty. I spoke in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in December and commend him for bringing back a form of words that have addressed the legitimate concerns that the Government had, most especially on the issue of the separation of power. As a result, I am again honoured to support the amendment.

This amendment is a crucial step towards fulfilling the UK’s obligation under the Geneva conventions, and I firmly believe that it is not only a legal obligation to fulfil, but the moral and right thing to do. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lady Altmann, referred to an article published in the Guardian on 15 December 2020 by the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis. He reminded us that it was on 9 December 1948 that the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted, a document that he said stands

“among humanity’s most vital legal and moral proclamations”,

but that is

“at risk of fading into the political periphery if we are not prepared to act”

on it. He continued by suggesting that the

“freedoms we enjoy, coupled with a perception that nothing we do will help, often create a culture of apathy”,

and that history is littered with examples of apathy that allowed hatred to flourish. The amendment gives us the ability to take action rather than just to shake our collective heads.

In the last Shabbat Torah reading from Exodus, we read the famous storyline of ancient Egypt, the mightiest nation on earth, with its military might, untold wealth and cultural sophistication—but also known for its cruelty. A small primitive group was abused, persecuted and enslaved, but eventually they were freed and left Egypt. Today we have video images and testimonies, and we all have an obligation not only to speak out but to act. On Report in December I said the following:

“We all witnessed the footage of Uighur”


“being herded on to trains and transported to camps. It is footage that is all too familiar. Many of us who have heard first-hand accounts of the depredations of the Nazi camps know how major industrial companies ruthlessly used the slave labour in those camps to produce their goods and to make their fortunes. Will it be a case of business as usual as companies profit from the blood, sweat and tears of today’s slave labour or are we prepared to do something about it?”—[Official Report, 7/12/20; col. 1083.]

Good intentions and nice words are good and nice, but good and nice are woefully inadequate. I have listened carefully today and read the ministerial responses but I have not been persuaded. I will once again vote for the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Polak; I did not realise we had so much in common. I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Alton, on their moving speeches. I support them and very much hope that there will be a vast majority in favour.

I have been an elected, and now appointed, politician for more than 20 years and in all those years, I have seen critiquing the Government, whichever side they were, as good sport; it is what small parties are for and what opposition is. In the last year, though, there have been two well-publicised, well-known events that have brought home to me just how morally bankrupt this Government are. The first was the decision to restart arms sales to Saudi Arabia, calling the possible war crimes against the Yemenis “isolated incidents”, and the second was their inability to see that feeding hungry schoolchildren is actually a moral imperative. They had to be shamed into it by a footballer who had principles. Well done, Marcus Rashford; thank God for people like him. So, this Government actually need these amendments to do the right thing.

During consideration of the last set of amendments, the Minister took a dig that was slightly below the belt, saying that I was implying that officials were not competent and got us bad trade deals. My point is not that the officials were at fault; rather, they are operating in a political climate of inept and, worse, incompetent government. We have to do the right thing here today. We have to vote for these amendments because that is the only way of making sure that our Government do the right thing.