1.46 pm

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): I last spoke on this issue in February 2014, and I started out, as I will now, by noting that Wales is a proud exporting nation, despite recent setbacks. Wales outperforms the other component parts of the UK, and according to HMRC statistics we have a trade balance of £5.86 billion based on 2014 figures. By contrast, England has a deficit of £125.6 billion.

Despite recent setbacks in Welsh exporting figures, the potential of a trade deal for Wales is hugely significant, but it should not come at any price. The cost should certainly not be the destruction of public services or environmental and safety standards, or the subversion of public justice to one law for corporations and one law for everybody else. I should state from the outset that I am in favour of further developing trade links between the EU, which is already the world’s largest trading bloc, and the United States. However, I still have many reservations about the proposed TTIP, despite the recent attempts by the European Commission to allay those concerns by proposing alternatives.

It is a great irony that the UK Government are dead set on ploughing ahead with TTIP while at the same time jeopardising the future of Wales and the UK within the EU with a referendum conceded in panic by the Prime Minister when UKIP were hot on the Tories’ tails. I see that the renegotiation is not going as well as he planned and I suspect that the charade of Tory unity on this issue will disappear very rapidly as the referendum approaches.

Guto Bebb: Is the hon. Gentleman not concerned that the attacks on TTIP, which is being negotiated by the European Union, are in effect undermining our relationship with the European Union? Is it not the case, therefore, that some of these outspoken attacks are more damaging to the position that he supports, which is continued Welsh membership of the European Union?

Jonathan Edwards: I am grateful for that half-clever intervention. The biggest danger to our relationship with the EU is Tory policy on the needless referendum that we will be having in the next year.

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When I spoke on TTIP 22 months ago, I set out many of the concerns that I and my party, Plaid Cymru, had regarding the proposal as it stood then. I set out our concerns about the highly controversial ISDS as well as the potential for the agreement to allow for the privatisation of public services despite the public’s desire to keep those services in public hands, not to mention the concerns over lowering environmental and safety standards through so-called harmonisation.

The economic benefits of TTIP are contested. A study for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills estimates that the gains for the UK would be £4 billion to £10 billion annually by 2027. However, the average tariffs on trade between the EU and the US are already relatively low. Therefore, many of the proposals within TTIP and much of the negotiation are centred on non-tariff barriers to trade, such as product regulation and standards, which would need to be harmonised, and measures to protect the rights of investors.

Rachael Maskell: Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the Tufts University analysis of TTIP, which concludes that we would suffer a net loss as a result of the proposals for the future of our economy?

Jonathan Edwards: I have not read that report, but I take the hon. Lady’s word for it.

The estimates overstate the gains, and alignment of regulatory standards in areas such as consumer safety, environmental protection, procurement and public health could have substantial social costs. Wales’s existing trade with north America has grown rapidly over the past decade and a half as a share of our overall exports, without TTIP in place. Of course, a trade deal could help to grow that even further, but that should not happen at any social cost, and certainly not at the risk of further hollowing out Wales’s industrial base. Any trade deal that does go ahead should definitely not be a large corporation closed shop in relation to trading across the Atlantic, as TTIP most definitely appears to be at present. Some 99% of Welsh companies are SMEs, making up the backbone of the Welsh economy. In any trade deal they deserve as much of a look-in as the big companies.

Alongside the potential for the default privatisation of public services such as health, the most controversial element of TTIP so far has been the ISDS provisions, which would allow investors to bring proceedings against Governments who are party to the treaty. The proceedings would be heard in tribunals outside the domestic legal system, meaning that Governments might determine policy with an overriding fear of being sued by corporations—a point made earlier. I said the last time I spoke on TTIP, and I will say again, that the US and the EU already have advanced legal systems. Neither is a banana republic, and corporations should abide by the same well functioning legal system as the rest of society.

Throughout Europe, including here in Wales and the UK, Governments have been listening, and the UK Government and the European Commission have sought to allay concerns via a new proposal for an investment court system, published only last month. It appears, though, that they are only changing the name. My original point is relevant and remains valid. We already have a highly advanced court system in existence in all

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the places within the reach of the proposed trade agreement. The proposals for any alternative shadow legal system should be dropped immediately. Not to do so is an affront to democracy.

Given that public services are devolved, the devolved legislatures and Governments of the UK should have a veto over TTIP.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I want to put on record how TTIP could affect NHS contracts. We in the Democratic Unionist party are totally opposed to it for that reason. We also oppose ISDS. As health is a devolved matter, we want to put it on record that it should be the regional Assemblies and Parliaments that make the decisions, and the Government should liaise closely with them. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?

Jonathan Edwards: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am sure there will be some collaboration on the issue between Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in the near future. Those areas of public service delivery are the competencies of those Administrations. They might have a different agenda from the UK Government, and devolved Administrations should be fully consulted on and fully involved in any ratification of TTIP by the UK Government.

I am grateful to groups such as Global Justice Now and the Council of Canadians as well as Unison for bringing to my attention CETA, the comprehensive economic and trade agreement between the EU and Canada, often referred to as TTIP’s little brother. Although there is much public awareness of the TTIP negotiations, CETA is on the verge of being ratified but is not receiving the scrutiny or attention it deserves. CETA includes the most controversial part of TTIP, investor state dispute settlement. Many US firms have Canadian subsidiaries, thereby allowing US firms to operate in the EU market. Public services are vulnerable because CETA locks in current levels of liberalisation, meaning that future Governments will find it extremely difficult to stop Canadian companies delivering public services in the EU. CETA is due to be fully ratified in mid-2016, and I urge the UK Government, the Welsh Government and the public to reject this deal unless the safeguards that I have outlined in relation to TTIP are put in place.

The public and politicians should also be aware of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is little known over here. Again, the criticisms of this proposed deal bear the hallmarks of TTIP and CETA—secrecy, and the fact that large corporations will exert undue influence over public policy through shadow legal systems.

In conclusion, I am still optimistic that a trade deal aimed at further reducing tariffs in order to secure a level playing field can be achieved, and I believe it would benefit Welsh exporters and our economy as a whole. Many of the environmental standards that the EU requires from its producers and manufacturers should not be compromised. They are already above and beyond those required in the US, placing us at an advantage without the potential social costs that would result from the proposals that are the areas of major concern. In order for any trade deal to have my support and that of Plaid Cymru and the wider public, it must unquestionably drop any proposals for a shadow corporate legal system and ensure that the EU’s existing environmental and social safeguards are maintained.

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1.55 pm

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and other colleagues on securing this important debate. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) on her speech. Like her, I agree with much of what the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) said in a very honest speech.

I am of the left. The Conservatives accuse some of those who oppose TTIP of being on the left. Well, I am of the left. I call myself a democratic socialist, but as our party defines itself in its constitution as a democratic socialist party, I think I am in the right party and I am happy and proud to be so.

Those who support TTIP should read “Fighting TTIP, CETA and ISDS: Lessons from Canada” by Maude Barlow on behalf of the Council of Canadians. Everything they say will be shown to be wrong when they read that.

TTIP must be opposed with all possible force as a dangerous attempt to negate meaningful democracy. It is designed simply to hand economic power to global corporations and to prevent democratically elected Governments from acting in the interests of their peoples. It has been negotiated largely in secret between private corporate representatives and bureaucrats, with no real democratic political involvement and certainly no representation from workers and their trade unions. On the continent of Europe millions of workers are aware of the dangers, and it is vital that the people of Britain, especially the working people of our country, also become properly aware of the dangers before it is too late.

I mentioned Europe and have seen evidence of the growing resistance to TTIP there. I was recently in Brussels, on the day of the European Council, when the Prime Minister announced his intention to write his famous letter to Donald Tusk. What was also significant on that day was the complete lock-down of the political centre of Brussels to protect politicians from a massive anti-TTIP demonstration. There were police road blocks at every turn, with water canon at the ready and public transport services in the area closed down. I could not persuade a taxi driver to take me anywhere near my destination, and the metro was not stopping at the station serving the political district. Most significantly, there seemed to be an effective news blackout of the demonstration, so the political and bureaucratic establishment was doing its bit to protect the interests of the corporate capitalist world.

There will, of course, be all sorts of public reassurances from that same political establishment that TTIP will be benign and beneficial. That is a lie. If TTIP eventually becomes established, there may be some superficial qualifications, which will simply be pushed aside when the private corporations get their way. There is a parallel in the European Union’s hypocritical and empty commitment to workers’ rights and trade union rights—the sham of so-called social Europe. The Viking and Laval cases show that when push comes to shove, employers’ rights override any supposed worker rights. The Greek bail-out required the Greek Government to restrict trade union and worker rights as a condition of the bail-out, and there is more of that to come.

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Now we see the nomenklatura of the European Union seeking to sell out workers’ rights, trade union rights and citizens’ rights to control their own lives and their societies through their elected democratic Governments. We are moving towards the referendum on Britain’s EU membership, and millions of trade union votes will be a significant factor in that referendum. The TUC is strongly opposed to TTIP and my own union, the GMB, is likely to recommend a vote to leave the EU if TTIP goes ahead. If 6 million public sector trade unionists fear that TTIP is going to happen, with the likely threat of privatisation of our public services without redress, and the threat to the services they provide and their livelihoods, they will vote to leave the EU.

I have argued that the EU is fundamentally anti-democratic, although some of my colleagues may disagree. If the Commission does a deal with the US and the corporations, that will confirm what many of us believe—that the EU is an agent of the global private corporate world.

Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP): The hon. Gentleman talks about the threat to public services. Given that the people of Scotland were told by the Better Together campaign that the best way to protect Scotland’s NHS was to vote no in the independence referendum—the People’s NHS is organising a very effective campaign in Scotland—does he agree with the position of the First Minister, who has asked the Prime Minister specifically to exempt the NHS from TTIP?

Kelvin Hopkins: I would certainly support that.

Over 10 years ago Tony Blair wined and dined American health corporations in Downing Street as a prelude to what has been happening. Private companies, with the connivance of the current Government, are even now buying into bits of the national health service to make a profit, cherry-picking the most profitable bits and leaving the difficult bits for the public sector. I believe that it is time for us all, especially in the Labour party, to wake up to the dangers and reject TTIP before it is too late.

2 pm

Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde) (SNP): I commend Conservative Members for sitting through this entire debate; if I had gold, silver and bronze medals to hand out, I would have one medal too many.

I find myself in agreement with the general principles of the motion. It is entirely appropriate for an all-encompassing agreement such as TTIP to be scrutinised by elected representatives in this House and in the European Parliament. As Members are aware, negotiations on the agreement began in July 2013. During the subsequent two and a half years it has been extremely difficult for elected representatives at any tier of government to acquire clear information about it. Holding negotiations behind closed doors rarely instils public confidence, particularly when the results of any agreement will have wide-ranging political and economic ramifications. Unsurprisingly, this lack of transparency has generated widespread public scepticism about the proposed agreement.

Drew Hendry: On that point, if the TTIP agreement is as benign as we have been told, particularly for the NHS, does my hon. Friend agree that we should get the details out into the open so that they can be debated properly in this Chamber?

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Ronnie Cowan: I agree with my hon. Friend.

My Scottish National party colleagues, whether MSPs, MPs or MEPs, have held a consistent position on TTIP: although Scotland might benefit from a free trade agreement with the United States, we require a number of assurances before we can give the proposals our full support. First, under no circumstances can TTIP threaten NHS Scotland with privatisation. I previously wrote to the Prime Minister regarding that specific issue, as did the Scottish Government, who urged the UK Government

“to ensure that the NHS is fully and explicitly exempt from TTIP and, if that is not the case, to use its veto at the European Council to prevent TTIP progressing”.

The UK Government’s response expressed the opinion that TTIP poses no threat to the NHS. I know that my constituents will not find the assurances of a Tory Government sufficient evidence that the NHS is safe from privatisation.

Unionist Members will no doubt say that health is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, but I remind them that any privatisation of health services in England will have associated funding implications for Scotland. It is unfortunate that no clear evidence has been provided regarding the protection of NHS Scotland and that we are instead reliant on an assurance from the EU and the UK Government that we should not be concerned. Legal advice sought by Unite the union was quite clear in concluding that the NHS is:

“Included in the material scope of the TTIP”.

The concerns of many people in Scotland about TTIP and NHS privatisation could easily be alleviated by an explicit opt-out for the NHS in the text of the agreement. As yet that has not been forthcoming. The SNP will continue to engage and advocate for NHS Scotland to receive adequate protection.

Rachael Maskell: Would it not be better to have a positive list of what is included in TTIP, rather than a negative list of what is excluded?

Ronnie Cowan: I could not argue with that. Either way, we need to have the assurances in writing.

Worryingly, there are already examples of Government policy changes resulting in legal action from foreign investors, including in the health sector. We must do everything possible to oppose such a situation in the UK’s nations. I would add that the European Commission’s proposal to replace the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism with the investment court system is little more than a rebranding exercise that will not alleviate the concerns that have been raised. It is unclear to me why an entirely separate legal mechanism is required to “protect” investors from national Governments. Foreign investors should not have the privilege of a special court, and multinational corporations, like individuals, should continue to operate entirely within the existing legal framework.

For those reasons, the text of any TTIP agreement must be subject to parliamentary scrutiny before the UK votes on it at European level. The Scottish Parliament must be part of that process, as Holyrood is best placed to determine the effects of any agreement on Scotland.

I have no objection in principle to free trade agreements, but it must not be free trade at any cost. The potential threat to NHS services, the transfer of powers to the

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private sector and the lack of transparency in the negotiation process are all areas of serious concern. It may yet be possible to reform TTIP in a positive way, but that can be done only when elected representatives have a more active role in drafting the agreement. Until the European Commission recognises these concerns, I am unable to see how any elected representative can give unqualified support to TTIP.

2.6 pm

Roger Mullin (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (SNP): I marvel at the utter certainty of the many hon. Members who are not here. Before negotiations are even completed, they seem to know what is in the final settlement. I marvel, in particular, at the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), as we can see him fading away into the mists of the past—

John Nicolson (East Dunbartonshire) (SNP): Like Brigadoon.

Roger Mullin: Yes, like Brigadoon. I marvelled at his utter certainty and faith in the European Union as he read a letter to us for two and a half minutes. We can be comforted by the fact that we received assurances from the UK Government, and from Government Members, on a negotiation that is not complete, and unlikely to be completed for a considerable time.

I am in favour of international trade—it would be surprising if I were not, as the Member who represents the constituency that was home of Adam Smith. It would be wise of Government Members, had there been any here, to read some of his writings and see what leads to free trade and effective markets. My concern is that much of what is being proposed takes inadequate account of small and medium-sized enterprises, for example. We will be faced with a costly, bureaucratic and legalistic international court system.

Drew Hendry: Given the historically important factors for Scotland, such as shellfish and wild salmon, does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital that the Scottish Government understand the implications of the details of any TTIP agreement before it is implemented?

Roger Mullin: Absolutely. That is a particularly important reason why it is not only this House that needs fully and properly to debate any final settlement; it also needs to come to the devolved authorities, and not only in Scotland, but in Northern Ireland and Wales—I assume that Members from Northern Ireland and Wales would welcome that opportunity. If there is anything that new Members, who have been here for a mere six months, have come to understand, it is that this Government have no interest whatsoever in the concerns of the Scottish economy, and it is matched only by their complete ignorance of it.

Anna Soubry indicated dissent.

Roger Mullin: Well, the lady on the Government Front Bench can do her snide little waving, but it does not hide the truth of my statement. [Interruption.] Yes, does she wish to intervene? [Interruption.] Silence is golden in some cases.

I commend the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) for securing this fine opportunity to debate this important issue, but I am sure that he, like me, is very disappointed at the lack of interest shown by

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Government Members in international trade. I have particular interests that have not been mentioned so far, so I am going to take a little time to delve into one or two other areas.

I became aware some time ago that the Department for International Development had commissioned a study by the University of Sussex on the impact of TTIP on developing countries, or what it called “low income countries.” I would like to read into the record one of the paragraphs produced by the University of Sussex for the Government:

“A transatlantic agreement carries potential threats…in some sectors. The reciprocal removal of”

most favoured nation

“tariffs in transatlantic trade could entail LIC”—

low income countries—

“lose market share to the TTIP partners as a result of the fall in tariffs and other barriers.”

In other words, and to put it simply, the removal of barriers to partners within the deal while maintaining barriers elsewhere will make it more difficult for international trade to be accessed by some of the world’s poorest countries, which we should be encouraging to engage in trade. I am concerned about that and hope that when the Minister responds she will address the effect the proposal will have on some of the poorest countries in the world.

Like many Members who have already spoken, I am also concerned about the great democratic deficit in the proposed investor-state dispute settlement or, as it is becoming known, the international court system. I was particularly intrigued by the comments of the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley), that he was greatly concerned about the issue. ISDS will put in place a system that could usurp the legitimate democratic processes of those countries involved. On this point, as on so many others, those of us who are concerned have been reassured and told that we are foolish because there have been 94 ISDS agreements and nobody ever uses them. If that is the case, allow me to save millions of pounds in negotiating them by suggesting that they be immediately dropped. Then everybody will be happy and content, will we not? Some of the arguments strike me as completely and utterly fallacious, if enjoyable near Christmas time.

I wanted to refer to many other issues. I have been encouraged by my fellow SNP MPs to respond to all the detailed contributions made by Government Members, but since they are not here to hear my words of wisdom, I think I will save them for a more convivial time, in order to take them to task.

John Nicolson: For those of us who are having trouble seeing across the aisle, will my hon. Friend, for the record, remind us how many Conservatives are taking part in this debate? Perhaps he could count them for us.

Roger Mullin: My hon. Friend is being very unkind. I believe there is one to come, but I do not see the right hon. and hon. Members I would have expected to be flooding the Government Benches, had they a genuine interest in international trade or in the issues under discussion. They have gone away, like much of this Government’s policy.

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If anybody needs to be convinced that we need to be concerned about TTIP, the democratic deficit and the way in which it provides favours, but only for the large corporations, this debate has served its purpose and served it well.

2.14 pm

Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) on securing this debate and the other hon. Members who signed the motion.

I want to focus on the potential impact of the investor-state dispute settlement on our NHS. Before coming to this House, I worked in the NHS for 15 years, so it is personally important to me. Many of my constituents have also sent me emails stating that they are very concerned about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the potentially damaging effects on consumer safety, environmental protection and public health.

The ISDS allows investors to bring proceedings against foreign Governments who are party to the treaty in tribunals outside the domestic legal system. The Government state that the ISDS provisions are still under negotiation and that they must strike the right balance on protecting investors. I believe that that threatens to lead to greater corporate interference in public policy, as Governments may be motivated by fears that they are going to be sued by private companies. Therefore, I was particularly concerned when in February the summary of a legal opinion commissioned by Unite—a left-wing union of which I am a member—suggested that

“there are real risks arising from the TTIP that could impact on the NHS unless a robust carve-out is put in place.”

I am encouraged by the Government’s answer to a parliamentary question on 28 October that they have protected the national health service and public services in these trade agreements and that it would be possible for a future Government to terminate private provision of services, but I am deeply concerned that they will facilitate further privatisation under this Government. Many campaigners, including People’s NHS, who took to the streets in November, also fear for the NHS.

I end my speech by asking the Government, first, to clarify their position on the use of the ISDS element of TTIP and, secondly, to reiterate their guarantee that it will not interfere with our ability to de-privatise our NHS.

2.17 pm

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): I, too, thank my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and the Backbench Business Committee for initiating this important debate.

TTIP may not be on the lips of everyone in every constituency, but there is great interest in it in my constituency, so much so that during the general election campaign, when I was pleased to be joined on the campaign trail by the wife of the then Leader of the Opposition, she was absolutely amazed to find that the inhabitants of the first three houses whose doors we knocked on all wanted to talk to her about TTIP. I think she went away appreciating that Cambridge is a very special city indeed.

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Such is the interest in the city that we have had a series of public meetings, one of which I organised. I was very pleased to welcome my colleagues Richard Howitt and Lucy Anderson, who are both Members of the European Parliament, to help throw light on what for many people is still a deeply opaque process.

Of course, I agree with other hon. Members that trade agreements are important, but they are also intricate and complicated, perhaps inevitably so. For many of our citizens they seem very remote, and they are often negotiated under wraps. Even to those of us who are following the detail, TTIP can seem fiendishly complex, but it is so important that it cannot be ignored, which is why we must keep asking questions and make sure that they are answered to our satisfaction.

As other hon. Members have pointed out, of course we are in favour of trade agreements. They bring significant benefits and boost trade and growth, and they should secure and create jobs, bring down costs and extend choice for consumers. The Government tell us that an ambitious agreement could add as much as £10 billion annually to the UK economy in the long term, which would be good for jobs and good for consumers. That would, indeed, be welcome, but those economic benefits are contested, and I suspect that, in truth, the reality is that there is simply no way of knowing for sure at this stage what the potential gains may be. We should beware hyperbole. We need to be able to weigh the possible benefits against the possible risks, which is why the Government should assess, in a transparent, comprehensive manner, what the real economic impact might be. I understand the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee has recommended that this assessment should set out the potential benefits and risks on a sector-by-sector basis, which would probably provide much sought-after clarity.

There are many concerns about TTIP, and they have been well rehearsed in this debate. I share with many hon. Friends the concerns about the impact on public services, particularly the national health service. The investor-state dispute settlement mechanism might gift transnational corporations the power to sue countries for profits that have been lost as a result of that country’s policy decisions. There is a very real fear that the inclusion of the ISDS mechanism will prevent a future Labour Government from reversing the Health and Social Care Act 2012 in England due to the fear of the cost of legal challenges they may face.

Mr Spellar: If companies have existing contracts as a result of privatisation, can they not, under contract law, take action in the domestic courts? Is that not the problem, rather than that there will be a new legal procedure?

Daniel Zeichner: I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend that real problems are created by our own Government, and we do not just have to fear TTIP, but I think TTIP might make the situation worse. As someone who endured the horrors of a tortuous and expensive tendering process for our health services in Cambridgeshire during the past few years and has seen it collapse spectacularly and expensively in recent weeks, my advice to the House is: “Don’t go there.”

We have had reassurances from Ministers. Recently, the Minister for Skills said that

“the Government were entirely satisfied that the position regarding TTIP would not threaten the public status of our NHS or other

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public services. We were entirely satisfied that there was absolutely no intention on the part of the Commission in negotiating the agreement, or on the part of any other EU member state, to allow the status of either our public services or theirs to be threatened.”—[

Official Report

, 9 July 2015; Vol. 598, c. 568.]

I must say that I am not so sure, not just because of who told us that, but because, from what I have heard, my constituents are not satisfied and because we will not be satisfied until we have concrete proof that a TTIP deal would not irreversibly expose the NHS to competition and threaten its very basis as a public service.

Finally, TTIP is no ordinary trade agreement. Its prime objective is the removal of regulatory barriers to trade, but there is a significant gap between EU and US regulations in a host of areas—safety at work, food production, the use of pesticides and GM crops are just some of them. The danger is that instead of TTIP harmonising regulations upwards to remove regulatory barriers, it will seek the mutual recognition of regulations between the EU and the US. That will inevitably lead to pressure for deregulation in the EU, as EU businesses find that they can no longer compete against US companies that operate to inferior standards of environmental protection and health and safety legislation.

Jo Stevens: There are significant concerns about the United States not ratifying the International Labour Organisation conventions and about violations of fundamental labour rights in the United States, such as the right to organise and the right to negotiate collectively. Does my hon. Friend support the implementation of those core ILO standards within TTIP?

Daniel Zeichner: It would most certainly be good for our Government to recognise many such obligations, and certainly to do so within TTIP. I wanted to conclude that section of my speech by saying, to put it rather crudely, that the US can keep Donald Trump—we do not want that here.

These issues are not easy to resolve, but we should proceed with caution. A trade agreement that brings economic benefits for our country is undoubtedly welcome, but putting ourselves at a disadvantage, undermining our public services and weakening consumer and workplace safeguards is not. We deserve to know what is going on, and we demand that the Government stop ducking and dodging and ensure that future negotiations with the EU and the US are done in the open so that everyone can make an informed judgment.

2.23 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner). Like him, I have heard many concerns expressed by many constituents in relation to this issue at a number of levels. They do not come at it with an anti-American point of view. My constituency enjoys significant US corporate investment—would that we had more—and many people are employed by firms that are US-based or were US-based but now have a more global formation. The city of Derry has long been key to the transatlantic partnership. It was a key transatlantic port for many years, and even during the second world war. As Base One Europe, the Americans’ first base in Europe in the second world war was in Derry. In fact, they started building it six months before Pearl harbour.

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My constituency gives such transatlantic relationships a very positive embrace. We are not against anything transatlantic, we are not against trade, we are not against investment and we are not against partnership, but people have a right to be concerned about what has been proposed and to make sure that parliamentarians—at Westminster, in the European Parliament and, I hope, in the Parliaments of other member states—will do due diligence and give due scrutiny to what is involved, because the potential is significant.

I do not dispute that some aspects of TTIP are potentially very positive. I have listened to the arguments that some hon. Members have made in offering assurances about what this trade deal actually represents. However, they too must listen to people’s serious and genuine concerns. I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) on introducing this debate, but I also congratulate the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) for helping to delineate carefully some of the different issues involved.

We have to make sure that we are not creating, in the name of all the good we want to happen in relation to trade and investment, any new constructs that are beyond accountability, meaning that we end up with transnational capital having more legal clout than the parliamentary systems of democratic states in determining public policy and national law.

It is also important to recognise that some hon. Members have cited the assurances given either by Ministers in this Parliament or by members of the European Commission. Some people say, “Well, other investor-state dispute settlement systems have not resulted in cases being lost.” We know that past performance is no guarantee in relation to future prospects. We particularly need to recognise that the scale involved in this deal is much greater than that involved in any of the other existing bilateral ISDS set-ups.

We must remember that there is potential not just for cases against the UK to be lost, but for cases against other member states to be lost, which would then create case law that could, in turn, be used against the UK and other member states. That is a key worry for the devolved Administrations: what are the consequences for them of cases brought elsewhere? Indeed, the devolved Administrations may be targeted—for example, a case may be brought against a devolved health service—because they are seen not to have very deep pockets and are seen not to be in a strong position to hold out against such a case. For some corporate interests, that may then be a Trojan horse to get into other UK services.

We have had such an experience in relation to the EU. The fact is that the European Commission has often introduced directives, and given assurances about its intentions and the import of those directives, but has not then been in control of subsequent European Court of Justice decisions. Such ECJ decisions have meant that the European Commission has had to revise its guidance to member states, and member states that previously relied on those assurances have had to bow to different demands.

Christina Rees: Does the hon. Gentleman think that a separate judicial system available only to foreign investors is called for?

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Mark Durkan: That could be one answer. There may be something in that. It is interesting that the European Commission seems to have accepted that there are some problems with the proposed ISDS. I note that even the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) said that some legitimate concerns about the ISDS had been made, although he did not tell us what they are. Does the proposed investment court system answer all such questions? I am not sure that it does, and we must look at that. We must come up with a system that actually works in all terms: yes, one that provides free trade, open trade and fair trade, but also one that protects public services in this country.

We must remember that aspects of TTIP have previously been debated in this Chamber and elsewhere. Indeed, the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) introduced a private Member’s Bill during the last Parliament. I was on the Public Bill Committee on the National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill. It was filibustered by Conservative Members who wanted to stop a private Member’s Bill that would have provided belt and braces protection against the implications of TTIP for the health service. If they thought that the protection was already there and the Bill was superfluous, it seems strange that they would go to such lengths to filibuster it. The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) treated us to hours of papal encyclicals on social good and health. We were treated to his version of “Top of the Popes”, all in an attempt to stop this House putting in place a bulwark to protect health services. That makes people suspicious as to the true import of this agreement.

The hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) was right to ask how this issue will play into the EU referendum. He said that the arguments that are being made for TTIP could be used by people who want us to exit the EU to say, “We can have all the benefits of trade outside the EU.” On the other hand, the referendum will probably be highly personalised as the Prime Minister’s referendum and, as he will have little to show from his renegotiation that will persuade the doubters on his Back Benches, he will instead go before the electorate saying, “If you don’t stay in the EU, you won’t have the benefits of TTIP.”

This referendum may well be sold, as was the original referendum, on the basis of market opportunity. If the market opportunity is the TTIP market, this might become a very significant issue during the campaign. The experience in Ireland shows that issues that appear to be esoteric and technocratic can become the running strand in a referendum—one does not know where that will lie. The fundamental misgivings that people have about TTIP need to be addressed now through proper scrutiny, otherwise we might find ourselves casualties of the public debate during the referendum campaign.

2.32 pm

Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP): I would like to put on the record my appreciation for the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) and the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) did to secure this important debate on TTIP. It is a matter of great concern to many of us across the House and it has been important to hear the varied contributions. I pay tribute, in particular, to my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin), whose contributions are always considered and colourful.

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The position of the Scottish National party on the proposed trade deal has been clear and consistent, and was reached democratically by the membership of our party. I reflect the views of my hon. Friends, the membership of my party and many, many Scots when I say that we have real and legitimate concerns about a number of the proposed provisions in the trade agreement that would threaten the ability of elected Governments in Europe to act and regulate in the public interest. I will touch on those concerns later.

At the outset, I will address the value of international trade and foreign direct investment, which are vital to our economy. The debate on this trade agreement is not about the principles of free trade. I and my party are passionately pro-trade. Instead, this debate is about the need to achieve a balance. There must be a balance between securing opportunities for further international trade and doing so transparently, while protecting the integrity of democratically elected Governments to run public services and make decisions in the interests of the people they were elected to serve.

Scotland is an avowedly outward-looking and ambitious nation, and is punching well above its economic weight. According to Ernst & Young, Scotland was the UK’s most successful inward investment magnet outside London last year in terms of the number of investment projects secured. In all, 80 separate inward investment projects came to Scotland last year, almost half of which were from the United States. There is a pattern of competitive excellence. Over the past 10 years, Scotland has secured more than 37,000 jobs from foreign direct investment, making it a narrow second to London but well ahead of other parts of the UK. In the past six years, under the SNP Scottish Government, the value of international exports has increased by 40%. That is good for Scottish business, good for the Scottish economy and good for working people in Scotland. The internationalisation of Scottish business, boosting exports and attracting foreign direct investment remain key to Scotland’s economic strategy. My point is that Scotland is a proud and successful trading nation.

In the interests of balance, it would be remiss of me not to highlight the Conservative Government’s record on trade and exports. There were 4,000 fewer British businesses exporting in 2014 compared with the number that traded internationally in the previous year. Earlier this year, it emerged that the Chancellor has presided over the largest annual trade deficit since records began in 1948—a deficit of £92.9 billion, which is the equivalent of 5.1% of GDP at current market prices. The claim that the Government lay to economic credibility is a myth and it lies in tatters.

I highlight that trading record because it is important to recognise that the economic achievements of the SNP Scottish Government are characterised by an openness to trade with our partners and friends around the world. We welcome the opportunity to forge better trade links and encourage our businesses to release their international potential. However, TTIP represents better trade links at the expense of transparency and democracy, and potentially at the expense of good public services owned and managed by the public. I will address three specific concerns.

The first concern relates to the investor-state dispute settlement, which has been much talked about today. We have seen movement on this issue over the past few

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months from the European Commission, which has conducted somewhat of a rebranding exercise with its revised international court system, which replaces ISDS. Although the ICS proposals contain a number of important reforms of ISDS, the changes are nowhere near what is required to overhaul the inherently unfair system of extra-judicial rights for foreign investors. The fundamental question of why private companies require the ability to challenge public policy decisions made by democratically elected Governments remains unanswered.

This is not a fringe concern. Without intimating any political preference in the upcoming US presidential election, I highlight the comments of Hillary Clinton in her book, “Hard Choices”. I commend it to the House—it is a great read. She says of trade agreements that

“we should avoid some of the provisions sought by business interests, including our own, like giving them or their investors the power to sue foreign governments to weaken their environmental and public health rules”.

While I am talking about views in the US, it is interesting to note the letter of objection to ISDS, which claims that it weakens the rule of law, that was signed by eminent lawyers and academics such as Judith Resnik, professor of law at Yale, and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz.

The SNP has repeatedly pressed the Government for an explicit exemption from the agreement for the national health service. There must be absolute clarity that although the UK is, for the time being, the member state, any decision it takes in the context of TTIP, such as opening up the NHS in England to greater private sector involvement, in no way interferes with the Scottish Parliament’s devolved responsibility for the Scottish NHS. I commend the campaigns that have stimulated public interest in the potential consequences on important public health services, particularly the People’s NHS campaign. I urge the Government to pursue meaningful exemptions for the NHS.

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is concerning that the public information campaign on TTIP has been left to such grassroots organisations? They are going out and making the case to people on the streets on a voluntary basis, but there is no wider campaign.

Hannah Bardell: I share my hon. Friend’s concern. Perhaps we should draw on the experience of the Scottish referendum, which showed that full engagement and full transparency allow full participation in these processes. It is important that the public have all the information available to them.

My second concern about the potential impact on Scotland of a ratified TTIP is the effect on protected food names and geographical indicators.

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP): This week, we had an excellent Westminster Hall debate on bees and the use of neonicotinoids. There are worries that TTIP could water down the regulations on pesticides. Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the threat to names and geographical indicators, TTIP poses other threats that could affect Scotland’s clean, green status and its £14 billion food and drink sector?

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Hannah Bardell: My hon. Friend makes her argument eloquently, and I share her concerns.

I understand that in the course of the negotiations the UK Government have suggested three Scottish products—Scotch beef, Scotch lamb and Scottish farmed salmon—for inclusion in TTIP as protected geographical products. However, there are at least 11 other protected Scottish food names which must have clear and explicit protection in TTIP. The consequence of this not happening would be the potential flooding of the market with imitation products. I invite a commitment from the UK Government that they will negotiate for the inclusion of special protections in TTIP for the full range of protected Scottish product names.

Negotiations on the scope of TTIP began in July 2013, but the people of these isles, who will be affected for better or worse by this trade agreement, have had to rely on speculation in the column inches of newspapers for any insight into how they might be affected. Indeed, the progress of this trade agreement has been characterised by a lack of transparency, and that is simply not good enough. Again, this is not a fringe concern; it has also been expressed by the President of the German Bundestag, Norbert Lammert, who has indicated that he would even oppose TTIP without a more transparent process of negotiation.

Should an agreement on TTIP eventually be reached, it will be for the Heads of Government across Europe to indicate their approval and for the European Parliament to approve or reject the agreement. On the question of whether the final deal is good for us, good for our public services and good for our small businesses, we will need to place our trust in this Prime Minister’s judgment. I would suggest to him—and to this Government—with the greatest respect, that should an agreement on the scope of TTIP emerge, he might wish to afford this House the opportunity to properly debate the merits of any such agreement. That point has been made numerous times today, and I would welcome a commitment from the UK Government to that effect. I also suggest that that courtesy might be extended to the devolved legislatures and Governments.

It is by no means clear when, or even if, a final agreement on TTIP might emerge. To be clear, should it come to pass that an agreement is reached, any potential economic benefits of TTIP cannot come at the price of the threat of the privatisation of our public services such as the NHS, and it cannot come at the expense of the integrity of our distinct national products. I suggest that public and political confidence, if they are not already lost, might be won by embracing a more transparent process in the progression towards an agreement. I look forward to the contribution from the Government today.

2.41 pm

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): First, I want to say well done to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) for securing the debate. If I counted correctly, there have been 16 Back-Bench contributions. I hope I have not missed anyone out. The speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) was followed by a very important speech from the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley). His thoughtful and important points about international bureaucracies outside democratic

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control resonated across the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar), the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on European Union-United States trade and investment, put the case in his typically robust style and in a very effective manner.

We also heard speeches from the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson), the hon. Members for Newark (Robert Jenrick), for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) and for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards), my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), the hon. Members for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) and for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin), my hon. Friends the Members for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) and for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), and the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). Finally, we heard from the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell), speaking from the Front Bench for the Scottish National party. All those speeches made for a very interesting debate, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to it.

There have been several debates on this subject in the House over the past couple of years and I am sure that they have helped to shape the debate about TTIP and to influence the negotiations in a positive way. There is general cross-party support for trade, and for a good trade agreement, but, as we have heard, there is also a great deal of controversy and concern, and in some cases outright opposition.

A comprehensive trade agreement between the EU and the USA has huge potential benefits. The CBI has described it as a global economic game changer, but of course for that to be true we have to get it right. The hon. Member for Livingston pointed out the Government’s dismal record on trade. I can tell her that new figures have come out today on the UK trade deficit in goods and services which show that the figure had risen to £4.1 billion in the three months to October 2015, which is £2.4 billion higher than in the previous three months. If that is not clear evidence that we need to improve our trade and export performance, I cannot imagine what is.

Kelvin Hopkins: Does my hon. Friend agree with Anthony Hilton, who has written in the Evening Standard that the disaster facing us is in fact a trade deficit disaster, and that this Government and future Governments will have to address it?

Kevin Brennan: Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. When the Government discuss deficits, they seem not to want to talk about the trade deficit at all. It is extremely important, however, because it will in effect become a tax on every household in the country if we allow it to persist. We have to do much better, and this point simply highlights the difference between the Government’s rhetoric and the reality of what is happening in our economy.

Estimates commissioned by the Government, and others, suggest that the potential gain from TTIP to British output could be between £4 billion and £10 billion, or 1% and 3% in exports. We must, however, be cautious about the overall figures, as they have been questioned. It would be helpful if the Government could do more to explain their case. In particular, given the wide range of

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contributions to today’s debate from Members representing constituents in all the nations and regions of the UK, it would be helpful if they could break down a little further what the potential benefits would be across the nations and regions.

I put a written parliamentary question to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, which the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise answered recently. My question was about the potential benefits of TTIP to various parts of the UK economy. The part of the question that the Government could not answer was the part relating to the benefits for the economy of each region and nation. It would be useful if the Government did that work if they want to convince the public across the United Kingdom of the benefits of the process.

We support the core objectives of a good deal—job creation, better wages, higher standards and consumer benefits—but as the debate has shown, there are still legitimate concerns that the Minister needs to address in her response. The desire to get the deal through is understandable, particularly given the US presidential election in 2016. Europe and the US are Britain’s most important markets. The US is already the UK’s largest export market, but more can be done to tackle barriers to trade and to improve market access—hence the need to reach a deal. However, any trade deal must filter down to employees, to small and medium-sized enterprises and to consumers. The business case for TTIP must be more than a case just for business. That point will be crucial in assessing any final deal.

We have set out four tests in the past and I want to repeat them today. The first key test is the ability of the deal to deliver jobs and growth. The second is that it should be open and accountable. The third is the aim to achieve the highest possible standards regarding social and environmental concerns and, of course, wages. Fourthly, the agreement must allow enough space for national Governments to act in their own interests and according to their own democratic mandates. We have been monitoring closely the negotiations between the EU and the US, and the UK Government’s input into them, through the prism of those tests. We want the benefits that businesses experience to be passed on to consumers through better choice or lower prices.

I am sure the Minister will argue strongly for the benefits that TTIP can bring, and it would be useful to hear whether she thinks it would be in Britain’s interest to leave the European Union, given that we are negotiating this agreement. Can she explain what would happen to TTIP if the UK left the EU? Reports suggest that the Prime Minister is considering recommending such a course of action if he cannot get his way in the negotiations. Labour Members strongly believe that it is in the UK’s interest to stay in the European Union, and I hope the Minister will echo that in her response to the debate.

Real concerns have been raised about the ISDS, and many of our Labour colleagues in the European Parliament have pressed hard on that issue. The current European Parliament resolution calls for the ISDS to be replaced by a

“new system for resolving disputes between investors and states”

that is

“subject to democratic principles and scrutiny.”

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The text does not address the issue of having a separate judicial system that is available only to foreign investors. The European Commission responded to the European Parliament’s demand by publishing on 16 September a proposal for a new mechanism called the investment court system, which would be used as a reference for TTIP and all future trade negotiations. Labour MEPs are considering that proposal closely and have expressed strong reservations about it.

It would be helpful to hear a strong statement on the NHS from the Minister, given the concerns that have been raised by constituents and by right hon. and hon. Members today. When does the Minister believe that the TTIP agreement is likely to be concluded? What representations have Ministers made to the European Union about ISDS, and what are the Government doing to engage better with businesses, charities, consumer groups and trade unions to improve public understanding of TTIP and counter the view that it is all being done behind the public’s back?

The prize of a successful agreement must be shared among all—businesses, employees and consumers—and not just large corporate interests. Labour will continue to push for transparency so that the benefits of this major deal are clear to all. As hon. Members have mentioned, there are concerns about the impact of TTIP on working people and public services in the UK. Our major concern is that the trade agreement has the potential to dilute workers’ rights, and given the Government’s record on that—not least the Trade Union Bill in the other place—those concerns are understandable. What assurances can the Minister give about labour and workers’ rights, and will she assure the House that the agreement will not be used to block future attempts to bring a health service back towards public ownership?

Time is limited, so in conclusion we believe it right that this important issue be debated in Parliament, and we agree that the proposals deserve proper scrutiny at UK and EU level. Labour supports trade agreements that can bring significant benefits through boosting trade and growth, securing and creating jobs, and bringing down costs and extending choice for consumers. However, we want to hear the Government’s response to the legitimate concerns that have been raised in the House today about TTIP.

2.51 pm

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry): I think you are too young, Madam Deputy Speaker, to remember Sanatogen wine, but yesterday I was unfortunately on my sick bed. In fact, I was so ill—I do not expect any sympathy—that I could barely sip water, never mind Sanatogen wine, but today’s debate has been an absolute tonic. At times my blood pressure rose a little too high for comfort, but I think we have had a really good debate about this important agreement.

Unfortunately I have only about seven or eight minutes to try to answer all the points that have been raised, and I will fail in that. The usual rules apply, and anybody who has raised an important point will get a letter in response to it, because time—as ever—is against me. I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) on securing this debate, and hon. Members on the quality of almost all the speeches.

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My hon. Friends the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), and for Newark (Robert Jenrick) raised a point about the unfortunate scare stories that have been put around. I gently chide the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) who spoke about the fact that the Government Benches were empty. In fact, many Members seem to have disappeared by the time he rose to speak—I am sure that was not a comment on his oratory. There were about 15 SNP Members in the Chamber, and it would be silly to suggest that those who were not present do not care about this important matter.

Callum McCaig (Aberdeen South) (SNP): Will the Minister give way?

Anna Soubry: No I will not.

It does not enhance the reputation of the Chamber when hon. Members refer to the lack of people present, because that does not mean that other hon. Members are not in their rooms working and following the debate, or that they will not read it in Hansard. We all care, on all sides of the House, about this matter.

My hon. Friends the Members for Brigg and Goole, for Aberconwy and for Newark made very important points about the scare stories. There has been a lot of unpleasantness around this matter. I would just say to the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) that perhaps he and others on the Labour Benches are now experiencing the sort of abuse and attack that, frankly, most of us on the Conservative Benches have been receiving for many, many years. This is really a rather good example of it. We have been told that we do not believe in our national health service, although we do, and that we want in some way to privatise it, which we do not. Equally, we have been told by an SNP Member that such was his concern that he decided to write to the Prime Minister and that the Prime Minister wrote back giving an unequivocal guarantee that neither the NHS nor any other public service was under threat from this agreement, at which point he—the hon. Gentleman—said it was not worth the paper it was written on. I do not think that that advances democracy; it is grossly insulting to the office of the Prime Minister and it does him no credit at all.

We then have the letter from the European Commission. I will not repeat it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole read out the most important points and put them on the record. Well, I hope hon. Members will take the view of the European Commission. It is a remarkable document from the EU. It is succinct and it answers good questions with good straight answers. It is absolutely clear that this trade agreement poses no threat to the national health service or any other bit of the public sector. It is most unfortunate that too many Opposition Members refuse to listen to the reality and take those assurances, and instead scaremonger and whip up a storm where no storm exists.

There has been criticism about an apparent lack of transparency. I am very grateful to the European Union, which during the course of the debate has tweeted a link to its website. I have visited its website. If Members follow me on Twitter, I will very happily provide a link to it. Again, I have to say—perhaps remarkably, although

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I am a firm supporter of our continued membership of the European Union; that is well known and has been known for donkeys’ years—in all seriousness that it absolutely lays out everything that is being negotiated very clearly in good plain English. The idea, therefore, that this is all being conducted in a secret manner is an absolute nonsense.

It is very important to make the point that there have been six debates about TTIP in this place, and rightly so. That is exactly what this place does extremely well. Backbench Business debates, Westminster Hall debates—it matters not. They have all been opportunities, like today, for hon. Members quite properly to stand up and raise their concerns, as the hon. Member for Swansea West so ably did.

Helen Goodman: Will the Minister use the last three minutes to respond to the questions that have been raised about ISDS, instead of telling us what she drinks?

Anna Soubry: The hon. Lady has just wasted 30 seconds in which I could have provided exactly that response.

May I now deal with the actual subject of the debate, even though others seem to have drifted off? This is an important trade agreement and it is all about free trade. It will bring huge benefits to the economy of this country. We have heard mention, quite rightly, of independent assessments that say that the benefit to the United Kingdom economy is somewhere in the region of £10 billion—that is real benefit to everybody. We have many examples of previous treaties. The hon. Lady should know all about these investment treaties and ISDS clauses, which she says she does not like in this treaty. She should like them. She should know all about them, because when she was in government she approved 20 of them—20 of these sorts of treaties were signed by the previous Labour Government, and rightly so. We have a great record of creating the right environment in the United Kingdom for investors and for treating them fairly. We have over 90 such agreements in place with other countries, and, as other hon. Members have said, there has never been a successful claim brought against the United Kingdom. To date, 90-plus existing bilateral investment treaties have not led to any regulatory chill. The European Union wants an improved approach to investment protection, and ISDS in TTIP guarantees the right of Governments to legislate in the public interest fairly and without discrimination.

I will deal quickly with the point about small and medium-sized businesses. I take exception to the idea that they will somehow suffer disproportionately under TTIP. On the contrary, large companies can often overcome non-tariff barriers, such as differing regulatory standards, because they have the necessary resources that small businesses simply do not have—small businesses cannot afford the time and the costs involved. TTIP is likely to be most beneficial precisely to small businesses in our country, because it will help them trade, notably with the United States.

I can assure hon. Members that these provisions will not prevent the Government from taking regulatory action to protect the public or the environment, nor will they force the Government to change laws, to open markets, or, as I say, to privatise public services such as the NHS. I want to make it absolutely clear that climate change policies are not on the table in the TTIP negotiations,

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so TTIP will not hold back action on climate change or undermine current or future legal obligations, under the United Nations framework convention on climate change, to reduce carbon emissions.

TTIP is not a secret negotiation. It is there for everybody to read on the internet, and it is reaching the right conclusions. When it has concluded, it will be for this Chamber to ratify it. It will lie here for 21 days. At that point, any hon. Member could put before the House a motion to reject it. However, I hope that when that day comes Members will accept this agreement because it is about free trade and it is the right thing to do.

3 pm

Geraint Davies: I thank all Members from all corners and all nations of the United Kingdom who have contributed to this excellent debate. The problem that people have with TTIP is ISDS. Nobody has made a compelling case for the inclusion of ISDS. The wolf’s teeth should be drawn so that we can move forward to get the benefits of trade. In addition, we need to introduce enforceable and binding measures to protect our environment, our democracy, our labour standards, and our human rights.

The simple fact is that we want trade. Yes, we will have trade, but let us not trade our democracy, our liberty, our sovereignty, our public services and our environment into the pockets of multinational companies. Let us have trade, let us move forward, let us keep all that we have in Europe that we value, and let us have a global trading situation where everybody can benefit fairly and our environment is sustained.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House believes that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the Comprehensive European Trade Agreement, the Trade in Services Agreement and any associated investor-state dispute settlement provisions should be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny in the UK and European parliaments.

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International Human Rights Day

3.2 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I beg to move,

That this House has considered International Human Rights Day.

As we celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta this year, it seems particularly appropriate to debate international human rights to highlight the fact that in many parts of the world the values of Magna Carta, the rule of law and basic rights are routinely, systematically and severely violated; and to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether human rights remain at the very heart of our foreign policy, and, if so, how we protect and promote them in practice. That is the thrust of this debate.

I am aware of the recent reconfiguration of human rights priorities within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to address human rights within the broad contexts of democratic values, the rules-based international system, and human rights for a stable world. I look forward to hearing from the Minister what that will mean in practice and how human rights will be more effectively delivered under the new framework.

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP): Having written to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Office a fortnight ago regarding proposed mass executions in Saudi Arabia, I am dismayed that the Government evidently do not share my alarm, as I am yet to receive replies. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the UK Government wish to be taken seriously about human rights, they need to show more leadership globally?

Jim Shannon: Yes, I do, and I have already put that on the record in debates in Westminster Hall.

I am particularly pleased to have secured this debate alongside the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who is sitting across the way; she is a dear friend who is well respected in this House. There have been many debates in this House on human rights themes in relation to specific countries, but we have not, to my knowledge, in the time of this Government or the previous one, had a wide-ranging debate with an opportunity to review the human rights situation around the world and the different ways in which Britain—this great nation—has responded to the challenges so far. The House of Lords has had several such debates, and I welcome this opportunity to do likewise.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office publishes an annual report on human rights, as well as quarterly updates. May I suggest that we consider having an annual debate in Government time in the main Chamber of this House to coincide with the release of the annual report, giving the House as a whole an opportunity to respond to it?

It is vital that we discuss human rights today, on international human rights day, when we commemorate the adoption 67 years ago of the universal declaration of human rights by the UN General Assembly. The declaration was written to provide a common standard for all peoples and nations of which individuals and societies should strive to secure effective recognition and observance. It has helped to shape policy around

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the world and paved the way for nine legally binding human rights treaties, including the international covenants on civil and political rights and on economic, social and cultural rights, which were both adopted in 1966 and which more than 160 states have ratified.

Despite these treaties, the human rights and basic freedoms we enjoy in this country are under sustained and severe attack in many other parts of the world. Some 67 years on from the declaration’s adoption, the preamble is worth recording in Hansard, because it is very relevant today:

“disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people”.

That is what we should focus our attention on.

The first three articles of the declaration make it clear that human rights are not confined by geography, territoriality, culture or religion. As its name suggests, they are universal—for everyone—and as the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has underlined, it is not called the partial declaration of human rights or the sometimes declaration of human rights. Article 1 unequivocally states:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Article 2 states:

“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction…or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”

Article 3 insists:

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

These and the following 27 articles should provide the framework for this debate and our foreign policy.

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): When I was a trade union representative, I went on a training course about the Human Rights Act 1998, and one thing that has always stayed with me is that the Act was introduced to prevent another holocaust from happening. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, were this country to scrap the Act, it would send a terrible message to the rest of the world?

Jim Shannon: Yes, I do agree. The Human Rights Act is an integral part of this debate, as I think contributions from across the Chamber today will confirm.

Despite everything I have said, freedom of expression, including freedom of the press, is denied in many countries. Journalists, dissidents and bloggers have been arrested, imprisoned or murdered in countries such as China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Russia, Cuba, Egypt and Iran. Women’s rights are abused in many places through rape and sexual violence in conflict. Can we begin to understand the violence, barbarity and horror of what that means? Such things have occurred in parts of Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo; such acts have been carried out by religious extremists in India and Pakistan; in countries such as Saudi Arabia women are denied basic freedoms. In addition, the rights of children are under attack through the forcible conscription of child soldiers in many countries and the use of child labour. Refugee rights are a particularly topical concern, given

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the unprecedented movement of people escaping desperate situations in the middle east and north Africa and the situation of the Rohingya people from Burma on boats in the Andaman sea.

Freedom of thought, conscience or religion is set out in article 18 of the declaration, and is the most basic right of all, yet the right to choose what to believe, to practise one’s beliefs, to share them with others in a non-coercive way and to change them is increasingly under threat throughout the world, and it affects everyone, of all religions and no religion. The Conservative party manifesto and the Government have recognised freedom of religion or belief as a fundamental British value, and the Government have pledged to stand up for this right at the UN Human Rights Council in 2017-19.

I am proud to chair the all-party parliamentary group on international freedom of religion or belief, which boasts 55 Members and 22 expert stakeholders dedicated to advancing this fundamental right. Freedom of religion or belief is a litmus test of the state of human rights in any society and is inseparably linked with other freedoms, such as the right to life, freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, the freedoms of expression and of association, as well as rights such as those concerning unjust detention, the right to a fair trial and the rule of law.

It is vital to recognise that such violations affect everyone, not just particular religious or belief communities. Minority belief women and children are particularly vulnerable, and are often doubly discriminated against for their identity. As Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, and Benedict Rogers of the Christian Solidarity Worldwide highlight, where Christians are persecuted, minorities from within Islam—Shi’a or Ahmadiyya, for example—also suffer, as do the Baha’i. Where Muslims are the prime victims as in Burma, and the Uighurs as in China, Christians and other minorities suffer alongside them.

In many parts of the world, those who choose to exercise their right not to believe, to reject religion and to become agnostics, atheists or humanists, face discrimination, arrest, imprisonment, torture or even death. That is the reality of today’s world. Religious freedom involves far more than merely freedom to worship, and is not just a concern for some minorities that hold strong religious convictions. Religious freedom is not just a right to be tackled in moments of crisis.

My first suggestion for policymakers and diplomats therefore is directly to address freedom of religion or belief as a mainstream human right inseparably linked with other fundamental freedoms, and proactively to address religious freedom abuses before they escalate and result in devastating violence—the like of which we have seen at the hands of Daesh in Syria and Iraq. Ensuring that individuals have freedom of religion or belief is in the interests of all nations, including our own.

This year, 100,000 Christians will be murdered because of their faith, while 2 million will be persecuted for it and 2 billion will live in what is called an endangered neighbourhood. That is just one section of religion—Christians—and shows what can happen to them and to all the other religions as well. Extensive research carried out by Georgetown University’s Berkley centre demonstrates that greater religious freedom leads to

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better security, stability and even economic growth, and that it reduces extremism, societal tensions, violence and even poverty.

Promoting and securing the right of individuals to have the freedom to practise their beliefs in peace and safety is a fundamental British value that we all uphold. It should therefore be treated seriously as a framework on the basis of which many of the UK’s foreign policy aims can be achieved. Perhaps the Minister will respond to that point in his reply.

My colleagues will be able to expand on why a strategy including the advancement of freedom of religion or belief should inform how the 2015 national security strategy and the strategic defence and security review should be implemented. In its bid for re-election to the UN Human Rights Council, the UK pledges to advocate

“in favour of equality and non-discrimination, including on the grounds that freedom of religion or belief can help to counter violent extremism”.

I strongly believe that it can, so it is a pledge that I welcome and sincerely hope will be carried through.

It is important that the Government not only speak out about religious freedom and other human rights abuses, but proactively ensure that their current policy is not directly or indirectly supporting violations of human rights and particularly of religious freedom. Steps should be taken, for example, by the Department for International Development—it is important for this debate to encompass defence and DFID issues—in line with sustainable development goal 16 to ensure that aid is not given to schools that preach intolerance, as happens in Pakistan, and to encourage trading partners to ensure that religious minorities and those who have non-religious world-views are given equal rights in the workplace. Aid must be channelled, I believe, to organisations and programmes that can demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of freedom of religion or belief and can show how their work will have a positive rather than a negative impact.

Given that the Government have recognised in their various guises the importance of freedom of religion or belief as a fundamental stability and security-generating human right, and given that human rights are to remain at the centre of UK policy abroad, how will the Government ensure that its staff are “religious-freedom literate” and that this right will be taken seriously across all Government Departments? How will the Government ensure that all Departments work in conjunction with each other effectively to secure this right?

While the visits over the last few weeks of the Indian and Kazakhstani Prime Ministers and Chinese and Egyptian Presidents are important for building economic and trade ties, we sincerely and honestly hope that the human rights, and indeed human rights clauses in trade agreements, are kept integrated into the discussions during such visits. It is great to have economic ties, and we should have them, but let us have human rights enshrined and protected as well. Foreign policy cannot be based on fiction and we cannot allow immediate political and economic interests consistently to take precedence over more long-term security objectives, even if seen as controversial.

The spirit of the universal declaration of human rights, adopted 67 years ago today, must be respected and upheld. We must strive to secure effective recognition

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and observance of human rights that will in turn provide all victims of rights violations around the world with the hope that we take their situation personally and we take it seriously. We have an opportunity in this House today to be the voice of those who do not have a voice.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. I am going to impose a time limit of eight minutes, and we will see how we get on.

3.14 pm

Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): I am delighted to be under your chairmanship again, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for his inspirational introduction to the debate, and for organising it. It is essential for international human rights day to be remembered in the House of Commons, which is, in many ways, the foundation of many of the rights of which we speak. It is from this Parliament, and from this voice of free-born sons of the country—originally English, but now including representatives of Scotland, Wales and Ireland—that many of the rights that we now see around the world have sprung. The traditions of democracy that were brought together here 750 years ago led to the rights in the declaration of New York, of which the hon. Gentleman rightly spoke, and which echoed around the world to fight the fascism and hatred that resulted in the holocaust. The hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) spoke of that earlier.

Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab): On this international human rights day, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the issue of violation of the Igbo tribe’s human rights needs to be resolved, and that the Biafran leader should be released, as has been suggested in representations by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman)?

Tom Tugendhat: The hon. Lady clearly speaks with great knowledge of those issues. I am sure that she will raise them with the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development on the appropriate occasions.

If the House will forgive me, I shall now focus on a specific aspect of human rights, namely the right to freedom of religion. This may surprise some Members, but I am going to begin with a quotation from the Koran. It is from the second Surah, Surah al-Baqarah, which states “la ikra fï al-din”: “There is no compulsion in religion.” One of the seminal tenets of Islam is that it is a religion freely entered into by free people, and one of the reasons why many of us recognise it as one of the great religions of the world is that very principle of freedom—that very underscoring of rights.

Those of us who may not share the same belief system as the Islamic faith, because we are from a Christian tradition, may not follow all its tenets. However, that freedom of association, that freedom of religion and expression, that freedom to choose whose God, which God, or indeed no God, is a fundamental human right. I am very pleased that we are beginning to have this conversation in the House of Commons, which, as we

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know, recognises all religions and none. As the west becomes more secular—and, indeed, as the “none” gains more power over the plurality—it is worth remembering that those freedoms do not always apply, and that some religions turn the minds of young men and women towards the extremism that this House would fight. However, I am pleased that we are at last talking not only about extremism as something that we might fight—as we did only a week or so ago, in the debate that was summed up so eloquently by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)—but about a right: a very fundamental right that all people in our country and, we hope, around the world will share.

As we emerge from talk of extremism in the global area, I hope that Members will forgive me for speaking about extremism at home. In view of Operation Trojan Horse and Peter Clarke’s impressive report on Birmingham schools, it is worth remembering that even in our own society—even in our most multicultural and free towns, such as Birmingham and London—it is possible to find havens of hatred and islands of ideology that are absolutely inimical to the freedoms that we expect of all people, not just all British people but people around the world. I am delighted that the Government are fighting that extremism, and I urge them to stand even more strongly against it. When we see young people being brought to the school of hatred rather than the school of understanding, we must fight that with every fibre of our being. It is not those young people who are born to hate, but the so-called leaders, the so-called community elders who teach them hatred, and we must fight that too.

Extremism is of course not just a threat to the souls of humans all around the world; it is a threat to our security and it is therefore absolutely right that when we consider how we shape and defend ourselves, we form one simple principle into which we must all fit. That principle was underlined in this country with the signing of the Great Charter at Runnymede; that single understanding that we all stand equal before the law, from King to pauper, is a fundamental principle. It has applied for 800 years because the common law is indeed that: it is common to all of us and it works for all of us.

When I hear people talk, as some have over the past number of years, that we should have different legal structures for different religious communities, I say that as a man who follows the Church of Rome—I know not all Members of the DUP would agree that that is a great thing to say in this House—and who stays loyal to the Holy Father, I recognise very strongly that we here follow the common law. We follow the Queen’s law and it is right that we do so.

My own private confession is precisely that; it is a confession of private faith. It is not an act of public statement, and I would urge those of other religious communities that when they seek to structure the way they operate within our great United Kingdom to also see it as that. There is of course a place for conscience in our country—and there is a place for tradition and there is a place for culture—but it is not the same as the place for common law. That is why I am absolutely vehement and will bow to no one in my defence of that common law.

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It is not just articles of the common law that some people speak of, and it is not simply Acts that may have been passed in the last 15 or 20 years, that guarantee those rights; it is the sum total of law that has been built up over nearly 1,000 years that guarantees those rights. Yes, there are other Acts that bring in elements of continental jurisdiction. Yes, there are Acts that bring in elements of other foreign concepts of jurisdiction as well. But personally, when people speak of the right of men, I prefer the rights of British men and women, because those are the fundamental rights that have kept us safe, free from fascism and communism and free to live our own lives in dignity and to practise our own faiths.

That leads me to think about some of the times when we have not been free. There have, even in this great kingdom of ours, been moments when our forebears were not free to practise their faiths, and when they were victims of hatred and religious wars. I am thinking, of course, of the reigns of the great Queens Mary and Elizabeth, when people under their authority executed and tortured people of opposing faiths. There were great saints on both sides of that national moment and there were great heroes on both sides of the debate, but for me what sums up that debate is something we should remember as having the heart of Englishness in it—it was, as we know, a very English moment. What summed it up for me was Queen Elizabeth’s great line; “I will not put windows into men’s souls.” That illustrates the understanding she had that freedom of expression under loyalty to the Crown was an essential part of being part of our kingdom.

That is the central aspect we must remember on international human rights day, because that understanding that freedom of faith and expression is something the state must guarantee for us—that, in our case, the Crown must guarantee—is essential but it works only if the relationship is two-way. Yes, the state must guarantee the freedom of expression, but the freely expressed religious faith must not be of a kind, an ideology or an extremism that seeks to undermine the liberties of others, which in our case means the application of common law.

I am deeply honoured to be following the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and I am deeply proud to be standing here on international human rights day in this Court of Parliament, which I see very much as the heart of the court of human rights in this world, because this Court of Parliament has been a light, a beacon, a city on a hill. It has been that ideal, and we can see, my own family included, how many migrants, activists and others have shaped their concepts of democracy and freedom on the basis of the words that have been spoken on these Floors and from these Benches. So I am honoured to be here speaking on behalf of this motion, and I urge the House to consider it well.

3.24 pm

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), whose family has a long tradition of public service. I also thank the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) and the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) for securing this debate,

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because we are here to celebrate human rights today, not to bury them. I do not know whether hon. Members have seen the website of the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, but he sent down images of Earth from space and showed us the beauty of where we live. He showed us Earth as one world, where we live together and the only boundaries are those of land and sea. Injustice and discrimination know no boundaries, which is why international human rights are necessary.

The universal declaration of human rights set out articles and protocols. They are the guide, the code, the commandments of how we should live together in a common humanity. The UK was one of the first countries to sign it and was the first to ratify it, in March 1951. What are they? The hon. Member for Strangford alluded to a few of them, but I want to put them on the record: the right to life; the prohibition of torture; the prohibition of slavery and forced labour; the right to liberty and security; the right to a fair trial; no punishment without law; the right to respect for private life; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom of expression; freedom of assembly and association; the prohibition of discrimination; and, under the first protocol, the protection of property, the right to education and the right to free elections. Every single one of those we hold dear in our country, and they are embedded in the declaration’s words.

The universal declaration of human rights was drafted after the ending of the second world war, as a response to the oppression and tyranny that came out of the two world wars. Every one of the rights I listed had been systematically violated, which is why we need the declaration, and why we incorporated it into the European convention on human rights and subsequently into the Human Rights Act 1998. This was not to take anything away or add anything and make things difficult for judges; it was so that judges could read into our legislation whether it is compatible with our fundamental rights. Ministers do not have to do anything apart from declare that human rights and their legislation are compatible.

There is a myth that the European Court of Human Rights is taking some sovereignty away, as it applies the doctrine of the margin of appreciation. The margin of appreciation gives flexibility and enables the Court to balance the sovereignty of member states with their obligations under the convention and now the 1998 Act. It takes into account the sovereignty of member states and their laws.

Breaches of human rights still occur around the world. In Burma, despite the election win by the National League for Democracy, there are political prisoners who still need to be released—Pyone Pyone Aung took part in a peaceful protest; and the army can still overthrow a democratically elected Government in cases of national security. That must change. In Australia, Human Rights Watch found that the Government had done too little to address indigenous rights and disability rights—indigenous Australians are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. In the USA, the criminal justice system, from policing to prosecution and punishment, is plagued with injustices, such as racial disparities and excessively harsh sentencing. In Yemen, with which a number of Members have links, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who spent his childhood there, Amnesty International has

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reported 21 air strikes which killed at least 241 civilians and injured 157 people, most of them women and children. The strikes were found to be indiscriminate or disproportionate, and arms are still supplied by the UK.

We then come to the lawyers who have died defending human rights. The Law Society said it was shocked and saddened by the murder on 28 November of the Kurdish human rights lawyer Tahir Elçi. Karim Hamdy, 27, died in February 2015, after two days’ detention in Cairo, with broken ribs and bleeding in the brain. Rashid Rehman was killed in 2014 for defending people charged under Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Salwa Bugaighis was shot dead in her home in Libya in June 2014 after voting. She was a prominent human rights lawyer who opposed moves to make the hijab compulsory.

Finally, human rights—both the Human Rights Act and human rights generally—are the David to the Goliath of the powerful. They provide help to the helpless and a voice to the voiceless, which is why we must protect them and celebrate them today.

3.30 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on opening the debate on international human rights day so comprehensively, and on all that he does in this regard. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), and I commend her on her speech and all that she has done, particularly with regard to the people of Burma, over very many years.

This House is debating the most crucial of issues. A former Foreign Secretary was clear that human rights are at the very heart of foreign policy. I thank the Foreign Office Ministers for attending this debate, and for regularly raising human rights issues around the world, as I know they do. It is important that Ministers from the Department for International Development do so, too.

As a member of the International Development Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I was concerned to see a lack of any focused reference to human rights in the recently published Department for International Development strategy, “UK aid: tackling global challenges in the national interest”. Yes, there was reference to supporting women and girls, and yes there was reference to the disabled, but it is my contention that if there is not a core focus on human rights in our strategy for international development, we will miss out on addressing the cause of so many humanitarian problems around the world, which, ultimately, DFID and our aid funds have to address.

There must be much more focus on human rights in our international aid work. For example, not addressing article 18 disproportionately affects women and girls in any society. Not addressing inequality disproportionately affects the disabled. Twenty one of the 28 countries in which UK aid is spent are either fragile or conflict-affected, and for many of them, that fragility is at least in part—if not in large part—a result of their Governments’ lack of respect for human rights.

The hon. Member for Strangford mentioned Pakistan, which is a recipient of substantial UK aid, but many other countries that receive UK aid should be challenged on their human rights abuses. In Bangladesh, for example, freedom of expression is denied to journalists, dissidents and bloggers, who are arrested and detained. In Uganda and Sudan—also recipients of UK aid—the rights of

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the child are under attack. There is forcible conscription of child soldiers, and child labour. In Ethiopia, where we support women and girls, there is a closing down of the political and media space. In Nepal, where we have done so much to help with the recent disaster relief outcomes, there have been recent endeavours to restrict the constitution. In every country where UK aid is spent, DFID Ministers and in-country officials should challenge it when they see that human rights are not being respected.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I have a huge respect for what she does. Is it her belief that we should not give aid unless human rights are maintained in a country, or do we have to compromise in giving aid? I think we do. What does she think?

Fiona Bruce: It would be a tragedy for the people of those countries to suffer even further and not receive our aid, simply because their Governments were abusing their human rights.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently said that the freedom for civil society to operate is diminishing around the world, and there is real concern that the space for human rights has been closed down in many countries. Increasing restrictions in some countries are limiting the ability of non-governmental organisations to work or receive funding. If civil society is to play its full role, the international community, with the UK in the lead, needs to act to protect its operating environment, particularly as implementing the sustainable development goals—the new global goals recently signed up to by 93 countries—is a huge challenge. In those countries, the contribution of a healthy civil society, which very much needs those goals to succeed, will be essential. We cannot afford to see civil society space closed down.

Let me give examples of how even in the past few years, new laws and policies in countries that we support have restricted NGOs’ ability to operate. In Kenya, legislative restrictions on freedom of information are inhibiting the fight against corruption, and hundreds of NGOs have been shut down or had their bank accounts frozen. Amendments have been sought to legislation with the aim of capping foreign funding for NGOs at 15%, basically making it impossible for many to operate. Ethiopia, too, had similar restrictions on organisations receiving more than 15% of their money from abroad, and on working on issues such as women’s rights, child rights or peace building. What are the Government doing to help protect civil society space, particularly in countries with which the UK has a relationship?

Let me turn to concerns about sovereignty. If human rights are to be universal, the sovereignty of a country cannot be used as an excuse for ignoring them. We need to resist the growing argument that sovereignty is somehow paramount, and that that therefore allows countries to interpret human rights subjectively. If human rights are universal, they are universal. China cannot say that it is justified in incarcerating its human rights lawyers without due trial process, as it has recently, simply because it is a sovereign country and they have broken its laws. Nor can North Korean officials say, as they did to me only this morning, that they have their “own way” of interpreting human rights. They certainly do. When their view of

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human rights is state-sanctioned prohibition of freedom of expression, the imprisonment of anyone who utters even the slightest contradiction to the Government’s views and a host of atrocities, including against children, we need to stand up and speak out about them. Particularly when countries have recently signed up to the global goals, with their integral commitment to good governance and strong and stable institutions, we should speak out and challenge them on human rights.

It is a long time since 1948, and somebody asked me recently whether we would be able today to get the same broad sweep of clear human rights expressed in a document as we did then. We at least have the SDGs, or global goals, which were signed only in September; many of the statements in them re-express a clear commitment to human rights. Human rights should be not only universal but transparent. We should be transparent in how we challenge countries such as Saudi Arabia. We are challenging and should challenge it, as a country with which we trade, though it does not receive aid from us. It might be uncomfortable for those countries, and they might not like it, but the public require it, and it is right that we do it.

There are a number of other countries that I would have liked to have spoken about in more detail. The Conservative party human rights commission, which I chair, has done a lot of work to highlight the need to raise human rights and concerns about them across the world. Will Ministers reconsider some of the recommendations that our commission has made over time? For example, we recommended that there be a Minister responsible for international human rights in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who could focus on this issue, and that he be supported by an ambassador at large for international human rights; perhaps there could also be a number of special representatives on issues such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and women’s rights—a model employed effectively in other countries.

Will Ministers consider a high-level international conference, in which the UK takes the lead, perhaps similar to the summit held last year on preventing sexual violence, to raise international attention of increasing concerns about human rights abuses? It could co-ordinate international strategies, and ensure that media institutions and Governments around the world both speak out for oppressed individuals and help to ensure that, in their lifetime, we can truly say:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

3.39 pm

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): I am pleased to follow the very thoughtful speech from the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), and I welcome the way in which the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) opened the debate.

There is no doubt that the publication of the universal declaration of human rights on 10 December 1948, 67 years ago, was a profoundly important moment in establishing the freedoms that men and women should expect to enjoy across the planet in the modern era. Eleanor Roosevelt, who chaired the drafting committee, made the comparison—the hon. Member for Strangford touched on this—with the Magna Carta. She referred at the time to the universal declaration as the

“international Magna Carta for all”,

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and in this 700th anniversary year of the Magna Carta, it is right for us in this Chamber to underline that comparison. The universal declaration is a vitally important document around the planet.

One of the submissions sent to us ahead of this debate came from the British Institute of Human Rights, which published an advertisement today. I think a meeting is being held at this moment in the other place under its auspices, chaired by Sir Nicolas Bratza, who was the president of the European Court of Human Rights. It is drawing attention to the importance of our own Human Rights Act 1998. In its advertisement, the institute describes the legislation as

“the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights made law here”

in the UK. I hope it will remain part of our law.

The Conservative manifesto pledged to scrap the Act. As others have suggested, that would be a terrible mistake, sending very bad signals around the world. I note that the Justice Secretary has delayed his consultation on this until the new year, no doubt reflecting serious, very proper concerns among Conservative Members about that course of action. I hope that the Human Rights Act will remain on our statute book.

Like the hon. Member for Strangford, I want to say something about article 18 of the universal declaration, which states:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

There is growing concern that that article, as well as others, is being breached with increasing frequency around the world.

In September, along with the hon. Member for Strangford, I attended a conference in New York of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief, focused on that article. There was a big attendance of parliamentarians from a large group of countries, including European countries and Tunisia, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, Senegal, Malaysia and Turkey. It was good to hear a speaker from Iran addressing that conference on the subject of religious freedom. A strong case was made that more needs to be done to strengthen observation of adherence to that article around the world. It is increasingly clear that there is a link between religious freedom and prosperity. There is no doubt that over our history, economic growth has been bolstered by the ideas and inventiveness of people inspired by deep religious commitment. Prosperity has been increased by the contributions and brilliance of many people—including Protestants from France and Jews from central and eastern Europe—who fled to Britain to escape from religious persecution elsewhere, because they knew they would find freedom here to practise their beliefs.

Recent research has suggested that religious freedom more broadly can enable economic growth more directly. It can help create an environment in which wealth creation can flourish. Researchers in the US—the hon. Member for Strangford referred to research at Georgetown University—looked at GDP growth in 173 countries in 2011, controlling for a range of factors, and found a positive correlation between religious freedom and prosperity. That is another ground for us to support and promote article 18 of the universal declaration.

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When the conference in New York concluded, the Members who attended sent out three letters. The first was sent to Vietnam, where there are proposals to restrict religious freedom in new legislation. The second was sent to Burma—my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) mentioned Burma—and concerned a member of the Myanmar Parliament who was being prevented from standing in the forthcoming election, which took place in November, because he is a Muslim from the Rohingya minority. We wrote to the President of Myanmar to complain about that, and to urge that people not be barred from standing for election on religious grounds. The third letter was sent to the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, expressing grave concerns about restrictions on religious freedom in that country. In 2010, for example, seven Baha’i leaders were sentenced to 20 years in prison simply for exercising their faith.

We also wrote about a number of Christian figures imprisoned in Iran. I particularly want to mention Maryam Nagash Zargaran, who is serving a four-year prison sentence in the notorious Evin prison. Her sentence began in 2013. She suffers from a serious heart condition, which has significantly worsened in the two years she has served so far. I understand that she was recently allowed a short period in hospital for treatment, but she needs more. I would like the Minister to ask his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Foreign Office to raise her case with the Iranian authorities, because her only crime has been to practise her faith.

One of the submissions that I and, no doubt, others received ahead of this debate asked us to draw attention to human rights violations being suffered by the people of Palestine. It listed articles that are being breached there, such as article 9, which states:

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”

I hope that we will see progress in that country as well.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. I have to reduce the time limit to seven minutes, as so many Members wish to speak.

3.47 pm

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): It is a great honour to speak in this debate, and I very much welcome the speeches of all Members who have contributed to the debate so far. Indeed, I do not have an awful lot more to add, but I want to make some points about the relationship between freedom and development and, in particular, as my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) said, the importance of respecting, and taking great note of, freedom in international development. I do not see enough of that in the aims of the Department for International Development, much as I respect its work.

The right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) mentioned the huge contribution that people of religious faith have made to the development of this country, particularly those who fled persecution. He mentioned the Huguenots—I declare an interest, as I come from a Huguenot family—who were followed by the Jews and many others, including Asians from Uganda and, most recently, people from Somalia and Syria. They have all had a tremendous impact on the economic, cultural and social life of this country.

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Freedom, in my view, is absolutely bound up with development. We cannot have long-term development without freedom. If we look at the four main aims of the Department for International Development’s strategy, as set out recently, we see how vital freedom is to them all. If we take the first two—strengthening global peace, security and governance, and strengthening resilience and response to crises—we see that it is often violations of freedom, whether religious or political, that lead to tensions and insecurity. Conversely, countries in which freedom is respected, despite—or perhaps because of—diversity, are often those that are most at peace. I had the honour of living in Tanzania for many years and I chair the all-party group on Tanzania, a country that has lived at peace since independence, even though it has a very wide variety of peoples, including very strong representations of both Christians and Muslims and, indeed, those of neither faith. They have lived at peace because they have respected the freedom of those people to practise their religion and faith. Indeed, more recently they have also respected political freedom since the mid-1990s.

The third and fourth aims of DFID are promoting global prosperity and tackling extreme poverty, and helping the world’s most vulnerable. The right hon. Member for East Ham has already referred to the work of Georgetown University. Amartya Sen’s book “Development as Freedom” was published in the late 1990s. He rightly points out that economic development entails a series of linked freedoms, including not only freedom of opportunity and economic freedom but political freedom and, by extension, religious freedom and freedom of thought.

If DFID is to achieve those four goals over the next five years, as I very much hope it will—it has some excellent Ministers and staff, both here and in the countries in which it operates, to do so—it needs to place the upholding of freedom and human rights at its core. I very much support the suggestions of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton for human rights ambassadors and, indeed, a Minister with that specific responsibility.

In closing, I would like us to pay a little attention to our own record. We sometimes come here and talk about human rights and freedoms around the world, and that is absolutely vital, but we must make sure that we do not let those human rights and freedoms slip in our own country. I believe that sometimes it is necessary to take risks in order to maintain human rights. It is all too easy to think that, by clamping down a little here and with a bit more surveillance there, we are giving ourselves the security that we all desire for ourselves and our families, and yet, little by little, we are eroding those human rights that have taken so much pain and so much struggle over the centuries to realise in this country.

We also have to make sure that we do not consider security and economic progress to be the only goods—the only things—that we should strive for. There are many other things that are very important in life—friendship, family, the arts, laughter, the company of friends. Of course, those things do depend on and flourish with security and economic progress, but security and economic progress are not absolutely necessary to have them. It is vital that we ensure that freedoms and rights are placed above security and economic progress. We can run the

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risk of saying that unless we keep ourselves secure and unless we make ourselves more and more prosperous, we cannot be free. In fact, it is the other way around.

3.53 pm

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): Today is international human rights day and I want to focus my attention on two communities that are at the heart of my constituency, namely the Ahmadiyya Muslim community and the Sri Lankan Tamils.

Britain’s Ahmadiyya Muslims contribute greatly to this country, and their belief in peace and religious tolerance is an example to us all, as we would expect from a community whose motto is “Love for all, hatred for none”. However, in Pakistan the very same peaceful community continues to be persecuted on a daily basis. It is the only religious community to be targeted by the state on the grounds of faith. In Pakistan, Ahmadis cannot call themselves Muslims and are forbidden by law to vote as Muslims. This state-sponsored persecution has been enshrined in the country’s constitution since 1974. On top of that, they are openly declared as “deserving to be killed”, with neither state nor civic society willing to stand up for them against extremists. Perpetrators are given free rein to attack Ahmadis, safe in the knowledge that they will not be prosecuted for their actions, and in the past few years alone, hundreds of Ahmadis have been murdered.

It is quite shocking to think that the persecution this community faces is enshrined in Pakistani law. It is a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment, a fine or even death, for Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim, to refer to their faith as Islam, to call their place of worship a mosque or to say the Islamic greeting, “Peace be upon you”. The laws specifically against the Ahmadi Muslims also conflict with the constitutional right of Pakistani citizens to freedom of religion.

State laws have emboldened other state actors and extremists to harass, attack and kill Ahmadis. They are denied the right to life. Hundreds have been murdered on the grounds of their faith. The deadliest attack on the community occurred in 2010, when the Pakistani Taliban attacked worshippers during Friday prayers at two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore. In 2014 alone, 11 Ahmadis were killed solely because of their faith. This year, a vigilante mob targeted an Ahmadi family in Gujranwala, setting their home alight and killing three family members—a grandmother and her two little grandchildren. No arrests have been made, and Pakistani news channels refused to air bulletins about the incident.

Ahmadis are denied the right to vote—they are disfranchised unless they declare themselves as non-Muslims—and are the only disfranchised group in Pakistan. It is crucial to note that no prosecutions have been brought in relation to any of these murders, or indeed in respect of any killings of Ahmadi Muslims. Civic society fares little better. The Pakistani Urdu press continues to publish fabricated stories inciting violence against Ahmadis, who are often presented as the root cause of the problems in Pakistan. In 2014, at least 2,000 such reports were published. Article 20 of Pakistan’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion. The country is also a signatory to the UN universal declaration of human rights, which makes it obligatory for the Government to safeguard the fundamental rights of all, without any discrimination based on religion, faith or belief.

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It is clear that Pakistan is systematically failing to uphold the human rights of all its citizens. The ongoing persecution of Ahmadi citizens undermines Pakistan’s progress and development, and stores up huge problems for the future stability of the country. Furthermore, state policies allow extremism to flourish, which threatens the security of Pakistan and the rest of the world. It is also clear that the international community has a moral responsibility to act and to apply pressure on Pakistan to abide by international conventions and treaties to uphold the human rights of all.

The UK Government should consider what further steps to take to ensure Ahmadis have the right to vote in Pakistan. They should think about how to guarantee that UK taxpayers’ money will not be used to promote intolerance and extremism in Pakistan. They should decide how to raise the specific issue of anti-Ahmadi laws and corruption that allow extremists to target and murder Ahmadis.

Very sadly, Pakistan is not the only country where we have to be watchful of violated human rights and reflect on the UK’s moral responsibility. I am in the process of writing to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about my concerns regarding the release of UK Government funds to Sri Lanka. I have previously raised the ongoing inadequacy of justice mechanisms.

In Sri Lanka, the Tamil community has suffered greatly. This group continues to be the victim of ongoing security sector human rights abuses. Despite the recent change of Government in Sri Lanka, which may offer some hope, the charity Freedom from Torture has received seven referrals in relation to people tortured in the country since the January elections, including as recently as July 2015. Let us consider the significance of that evidence by comparison with the UK’s seemingly unwavering confidence in the new Sri Lankan Administration. This confidence has been expressed in terms of financial support, with our Government providing funds from UK taxpayers partly to fund military reform in Sri Lanka, without any proper safeguards as to how the money will be spent.

Six years after the end of the brutal civil war, not one person has been prosecuted for war crimes, despite the fact that 40,000 Tamils died in the final stages of war alone. Furthermore, contemporary evidence of secret torture camps, sexual violence against Tamil war widows and the militarisation of Tamil lands demonstrate that the UK Government’s optimism is unfounded, and their financial support questionable without explicit safeguards.

This example demonstrates that the UK has an incredibly important role to play in encouraging countries to do the right thing when it comes to human rights. Where it can choose between calling for justice against human rights abuses and turning a blind eye, I hope the content of this debate will make it clear what its moral responsibilities should be.

3.59 pm

Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con): In today’s world, most of the major human rights treaties have been ratified by the vast majority of countries, yet I believe that the human rights mission is struggling. Although I admire and am grateful for the aims, the means have faltered.

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In much of the Islamic world, women lack equality, religious dissenters are persecuted and political freedoms are curtailed. Political authoritarianism has gained ground in Russia, Turkey, Hungary and Venezuela. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities are treated inhumanely in countries as diverse as Russia and Nigeria. The United States, which denied a fair trial to detainees in Guantanamo Bay, has lost credibility on civil liberties. Even slavery, which was supposedly abolished, continues to exist, with nearly 30 million people being forced to work against their will. Why do more than 150 countries of the 193 that belong to the UN still engage in torture? Why do women remain subjugated in many parts of the world? Why do children continue to work in mines and factories in so many countries? It was not supposed to be like this.

Based on the plight of millions of people, I say that, sadly, human rights law has failed to accomplish its objectives. I have the sense from my experience as a barrister that human rights were never as universal as people had hoped. The belief that they could be forced on countries as a matter of international law was shot through with misguided assumptions from the very beginning. Part of the problem is the imposition of top-down solutions on developing countries. I believe that it is time for a new approach.

I applaud and respect the aspirations of the universal declaration of human rights by the UN General Assembly in 1948, which arose from the ashes of the second world war and heralded a new, brighter era of international relations. It provided a long list of rights, most of which are the familiar political rights that are set down in many conventions or that have been constructed by courts over the years.

The weaknesses that would go on to undermine human rights law were there from the start. The universal declaration was not a treaty in the formal sense. No one believed at the time that it created legally binding obligations. It was not ratified by nations, but approved by the General Assembly, and the UN charter did not give the General Assembly the power to make international law. Moreover, the rights were described in vague, aspirational terms that could be interpreted in multiple ways by national Governments, who were wary of enshrining duties. At that time, the US did not commit itself to eliminating racial segregation. Several countries, such as the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Saudi Arabia, refused to vote in favour of the universal declaration and instead abstained.

The words in the universal declaration may have been stirring, but I question how much they have influenced the behaviour of Governments. Yes, countries have changed, but in Saudi Arabia, which ratified a treaty banning discrimination against women in 2007, women are still treated unequally in all areas of life, and child labour exists in countries that have ratified the convention on the rights of the child, such as Uzbekistan, Tanzania and India. In a very rough sense, the world is a freer place than it was 50 years ago, but is that because of the human rights treaties or because of other events, such as economic growth and the collapse of communism?

There are three key problems. The first problem with human rights law is ambiguity. A lack of precision allows Governments to rationalise almost anything that they do, as a result not of sloppy draughtsmanship but of the choice to overload the treaties with hundreds of

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poorly defined obligations. The sheer quantity and variety of rights, which protect virtually all human interests, can provide no guidance to Governments. Given that all Governments have limited budgets, protecting one human right might prevent a Government from protecting another.

Let us take as an example the right not to be tortured. Brazil is one of the largest democracies, and it is rarely considered a human rights violator, but unfortunately the local police often use torture because they believe that it is an effective way to maintain order and solve crimes. If Brazil’s national Government decided to wipe out torture, they would need to create honest, well-paid investigatory units to monitor the police. They would also need to fire their police forces and increase the salaries of the replacements. They would probably need to overhaul the judiciary, and possibly the entire political system, as well. Such a Government might reasonably argue that their resources should be put to other uses, such as building schools and hospitals. Such value judgments compromise the universality of human rights and undermine the status that it supposedly possesses. Problems such as those arise because the task of interpreting human rights has been left to trusted institutions such as the United Nations. Sadly, the UN is weakened by a lack of consensus between the nations and the lack of an accountable structure and hierarchy.

The second problem is that there is a misassumption running through our rights culture relating to the predominance of the individual over the communal interest. The importance of the individual is seen as the defining axiom upon which we should base our policy and gauge its success. This assertion of individual instincts is frequently transposed into rights and is becoming paramount. It now prevails over consideration of how our choices might affect others and have consequences for those born later, and of how they might be measured by past experience. The third problem goes to the core of our social values. Where is the reverence and respect for the habits, cultures and customs of our country? Tradition has deteriorated, and British values have declined at the expense of permissiveness. I hope for a fairer society in which value is stored in the commonality of our men and women.

4.7 pm

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP): It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and I congratulate those hon. Members who secured it. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes). I actually thought that, for once, I was going to agree with everything she said, but as it turned out, that was not the case, even today.

It would be great if the whole world could celebrate international human rights day, but unfortunately too many countries are still blighted by regimes that ignore the human rights of their citizens and persecute ethnic and religious minorities. Last week, we had a debate on Syria. Despite all the human rights abuses in that country, we on these Benches opposed the bombing of Daesh in Syria. We did so for a variety of reasons, but mainly because there appears to be no co-ordinated political strategy, no exit strategy, no plans for rebuilding and no proper commitments from the coalition on any of those elements.

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It is clear that any plans for Syria must be based on lessons learned from Iraq. The de-Ba’athification of Iraq helped to create the power vacuum that led to religious persecution and the rise of al-Qaeda. Now we have come full circle with the creation of al-Qaeda’s offshoot, Daesh. We must ensure that those mistakes are not repeated in Syria. A future Syria must enshrine religious freedom and human rights in its constitution and legal system and ensure that no minorities are excluded or persecuted in revenge.

We have already heard about Saudi Arabia today. I felt that Saudi Arabia was the elephant in the room when we were discussing Syria last week. Not only does it have appalling human rights abuses, but it is clearly a state sponsor of terrorism, given its involvement in Yemen and, of course, in Syria. And yet Britain continues to sell arms to the country. The use of the death penalty is still extensive there, political opposition is closed down, and women are not even allowed to drive cars and are still subordinate to men. We need to send a much stronger message to Saudi Arabia.

Neighbouring Iran also has serious human right breaches, including extensive use of the death penalty. In 2014, Iran had the second-highest number of executions after China, and it is one of the biggest jailers of journalists and bloggers. Over the years, there have been an estimated 120,000 political executions in Iran, and the UK must speak with a strong voice in negotiations with that country. In many of those countries, it is illegal to participate in homosexual sex and there is a risk of the death penalty if men are caught engaging in homosexual activity. When using examples of such abuses as an excuse to bomb Daesh, we should remember that some other countries still incorporate such things in their legal systems.

I do not have time to mention all the human rights abuses in different countries, but we have already heard about Burma, Sri Lanka, Chad and the Congo. Palestine has not yet been mentioned, although that issue is worthy of a debate in itself. As hon. Members have said, Amnesty International does a great job of publishing human rights assessments for 160 countries.

When talking about human rights we are talking about the great traditions of the UK, but it is worth also reflecting on some of the human rights abuses that have taken place under UK Governments and Administrations since world war two. In the Malayan emergency of 1948, 500,000 ethnic Chinese were forcibly removed from their homes and rehoused in new villages. Between 1952 and 1963, concentration camps in Kenya imprisoned up to 1.5 million people. When Cyprus was agitating for its independence, the story was the same. Suspected rebels or insurgents were rounded up and tortured, and it turned out that a lot of innocent people were wrongly tortured. The Aden emergency in Yemen also led to torture chambers. We must always be careful and never become complacent.