The speech made by Lisa Nandy, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, in the House of Commons on 12 January 2021.
The persecution of the Uyghurs has been of great concern to hon. Members in all parts of this House. We have read the reports and heard the testimony, and it is past time to act. There must be a unified message from this whole House: we will not turn away and we will not permit this to go unchallenged. So may I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement but say to him that the Government had trailed in the media long-awaited sanctions on officials responsible for appalling human rights abuses in Xinjiang? We have waited months, and he briefed the papers that he was planning to announce this today. What has happened to this announcement, and who in government has overruled him this time? The strength of his words is, once again, not matched by the strength of his actions, and I am sorry to say that that will be noticed loud and clear in Beijing.
I was pleased to hear the Foreign Secretary acknowledge that the Modern Slavery Act is not working. The independent review was right to say that it has become a “tick-box exercise”, and we need a robust response to ensure that companies are not just transparent but accountable. But there is little in today’s statement that is new, and I am left slightly lost for words as to why he has chosen to come here today. Back in September the Government said they would extend the Modern Slavery Act to the public sector. He mentioned France, which has already gone further than the UK, with its duty of diligence law, which includes liability for harm. The European Union intends to bring in legislation next year on due diligence, which will be mandatory. Even under the new arrangements, will a company profiting from a supply chain involving forced labour have broken any laws in this country? What law would a company actually be breaking if it profited from what the Foreign Secretary called the “barbaric” forced labour in Xinjiang? If the UK really does intend to set an example and lead the way, he will have to do more than tinker around the edges. One of the best things he could do for those British businesses he rightly praised is to make the playing field level for the many British companies that do the right thing.
We warmly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s proposed review of export controls. If the Government are successfully able to determine whether any goods exported from the UK are contributing to violations of international law in Xinjiang, that will be a breakthrough, not just in taking robust action against China’s human rights abuses, but as a model that can be used in other countries around the world where British exports risk being misused. So we will pay close attention. He will also know that the House of Lords recently came together to pass two cross-party amendments that put human rights considerations at the centre of our trade policy. I was astonished not to hear any reference to them today. Do the Government intend to get behind those efforts to ensure that our trade policy defends, not undermines, human rights? I can tell him that I will be writing to MPs when the Trade Bill returns to this place to urge them to vote with their consciences. I hope the Government will not find themselves stranded on the wrong side of history.
We cannot allow this moment to pass us by. The Foreign Secretary was right to say that this is truly horrific, and the House is united in condemnation of what is happening in Xinjiang. Members of all parties want Britain to act as a moral force in the world. Despite today’s disappointing statement, I believe he is sincere when he says that he wants the same, but now he has to make good on his promise to back up words with real action.