Lord Polak debates involving the Department for International Trade

There have been 4 exchanges involving Lord Polak and the Department for International Trade

Tue 23rd March 2021 Trade Bill (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (294 words)
Tue 23rd February 2021 Trade Bill (Lords Chamber) 2 interactions (312 words)
Tue 2nd February 2021 Trade Bill (Lords Chamber) 2 interactions (503 words)
Fri 10th July 2020 Saudi Arabia: Arms Sales (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (82 words)

Trade Bill

(Lords Hansard)
Lord Polak Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd March 2021

(3 weeks, 4 days ago)

Lords Chamber

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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The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Polak.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.

Trade Bill

Lord Polak Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd February 2021

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for International Trade
Lord Blencathra Portrait Lord Blencathra (Con)
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My Lords, I rise for yet another time to support my noble friend’s amendment on genocide.

As Peers, we know our place, and this noble House asks only that the other place think again about the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Last time, the other place did not get a chance to think again because, in a brilliant and fiendishly clever move, our amendment was not considered. I pay tribute to the Government. It is the sort of clever, dirty, underhanded trick that I would love to have played if only I had thought of it when I was Chief Whip.

I will not spend time on the merits of the amendment and why it is necessary. The case has once again been put with frightening authority by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lord Cormack. The justification for it is overwhelming and in direct contrast to the increasingly desperate government excuses not to accept it, all of which have been discredited.

The Government say that only a court can decide, so they do not want a committee of former Supreme Court or High Court judges; nor will they tolerate the High Court—the second-highest court in the land—although they say that a court has to decide. They Government want only the International Criminal Court to adjudicate but they know full well that that is a sham. No case of state genocide will get before the International Criminal Court in a million years because it will be blocked by one or more players in the Security Council. No Minister, in either this House or the other place, can stand before a Dispatch Box and say hand on heart that he or she honestly expects a case ever to get before the ICC, so I am afraid that the Government’s case is a sham. I do not blame my noble friend the Minister, who is thoroughly decent and very able, as he has been handed a poisoned chalice. But, while he has been forced to drink from it, the rest of us have not.

Initially, I simply could not understand why the Government, whom I support, are so terrified of passing this amendment—a Government who have had the courage to leave the EU and stand up to its bullying, have threatened to break international law with regard to the Northern Ireland protocol and have had the courage to throw out some of Putin’s spies but are terrified to make one gesture in case they offend the Chinese regime. But I think I can throw some light on the Government’s inexplicable position on this matter, and it is our dear friends in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, who are never short of a tyrant or two whom they can appease. A few weeks ago, I asked the FCDO about our relationship with China and, in a Written Answer last week, they called China an “important strategic partner”. That can be found in the Written Answers produced by Hansard.

Can your Lordships believe that? The UK Government consider China to be a strategic partner. Now, if they had said that China was a very important trading entity and we had to be careful in how we negotiated with it, I could accept that, but “strategic partner”? Surely that is the terminology we use to describe one of our NATO allies, not the despotic regime run by the Chinese Communist Party. But that perhaps explains why we do nothing about China and say nothing—in case we cause offence to our valued, so-called “strategic partner.” So, the Foreign Office calls a country which imposes dictatorship on Hong Kong, threatens Taiwan, and steals islands in the South China Sea to turn them into military bases, a strategic partner.

China caused the Wuhan virus, covered it up and lies about it every day, and economically attacked Australia when it called for a genuine independent inquiry into the virus. It steals every bit of technology it can, has cyberattacked all our vital industries, infiltrated our universities and schools, and the new head of MI5 says that it is a threat to our western way of life and democracy, yet the FCDO calls it a “strategic partner”. Typical FCDO: sue for peace before anyone declares war.

We can do nothing about these things in this Bill, but the western world has to get off its knees and start to stand up to China before it is too late. The genocide of the Uighurs, of which there is now overwhelming evidence, is a sample of how the Chinese communist regime will treat every race and people it subjugates.

In this Bill we can make a small start by tackling the issue of trading with a country which commits genocide. I thought that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that we sent to the Commons last time was superior to this one. I am certain that it would have passed if Members of the other place had not been robbed of a chance to vote on it.

Last week the Canadian Parliament voted to describe the treatment of the Uighurs as genocide. If our Canadian colleagues can make such a judgment, surely the great Parliament of this House and the other place is able to do likewise. This amendment is not going nearly that far, but it wants to start a process of thorough investigation which could eventually determine genocide. It is then left to the UK Government to have a completely free hand to decide what to do about it.

We cannot tackle all the iniquities of the Chinese regime, but this amendment is a start. It will show that the UK Parliament, with our new independence, cares not only about trade and prosperity but about moral issues, human lives and people in a faraway country of whom we know nothing, to paraphrase Chamberlain.

I say to the Government that this will not go away. This House will come back to the issue of genocide time and again in every other Bill where there is the slightest chance of pushing an amendment like this. The Government will face this issue again and again until we get off our knees and stand up to China on genocide. I urge all noble Lords to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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I rise once again to support my noble friend Lord Alton. It is always a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Blencathra, a former Chief Whip, who does himself down—he knew all the tricks of his trade.

I will not repeat the arguments I made in this Chamber on 7 December or 2 February; they are on record. I pay tribute to my noble friend the Minister, who perhaps could have chosen an easier Bill debut. I am grateful that the Government have listened and tried to find the right path to ensure that those guilty of genocide are not just called out but made to pay for their evil and despicable acts. I am sure we are all agreed on that. Sadly, I am not sure that there is agreement on how it should be done.

As Members have said, it is deeply unfortunate that for such a huge and important issue it was felt adequate to schedule the debate in the other place for just one hour. This ensured the bundling together of your Lordships’ amendments in order to stop a vote on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. It is true that Erskine May is very clear that this is usual practice and is in order. While the business managers followed the letter of the law, they failed miserably in enacting the spirit of the law.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, makes clear, his amendment tidies up the Neill amendment. Let me explain by referring to Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who argued that the Neill amendment applies to state and non-state actors and allows state parties to be held responsible for non-state parties. The alleged genocide does not have to be committed by the state but merely has to have happened in the territory. This contrasts with the Alton amendment, which is limited exclusively to state-sponsored genocide.

Trade Bill

(Ping Pong (Hansard))
(Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Polak Excerpts
Tuesday 2nd February 2021

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for International Trade
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”

Muslims

“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.

Saudi Arabia: Arms Sales

Lord Polak Excerpts
Friday 10th July 2020

(9 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for International Trade
Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel
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We indeed have assessed that there were a small number of incidents that have been treated, for the purposes of the analysis, as violations of IHL. However, these were isolated incidents that did not display any particular pattern, and our analysis shows that Saudi Arabia has a genuine intent and the capacity to comply with IHL in the specific commitments that it has made.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con) [V]
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My Lords, we are all rightly deeply concerned about the horrendous violence in Yemen, and I am grateful that my noble friend the Minister has just confirmed that he will continue to raise issues of human rights. We should, however, also reflect on the whole map of the region, with destabilisation from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean by the Iranian regime’s support for terrorists and militia. Can my noble friend explain why there was such a long delay in taking this particular decision?

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel
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I think my noble friend will understand that this is of course a complex matter. It was very important that, this time, we got it right. Developing a revised methodology and applying the enhanced IHL analysis to recorded allegations across the conflict is not a straightforward task. It was vital that the Government got this right first time, with a comprehensive assessment process that was strictly in accordance with the legal approach identified by the Court of Appeal.