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Peers Warn Government Against Blocking Anti-Genocide Legislation With Parliamentary Games

3 min read

The House of Lords will make a third attempt at passing anti-genocide legislation and peers have warned the government not to block their path with parliamentary games.

The Tories only narrowly held onto their majority this week when 31 rebels signalled they would back a House of Lords amendment to the Trade Bill giving the High Court the power to block UK trade deals with a country it considers is committing genocide. 

MPs were prevented from having a straight vote on the Lords proposal by the government. Instead they were encouraged to vote for a rival amendment that would give power to select committee chairs to reject trade deals with countries with records of human rights abuses.

The government has said repeatedly it is not appropriate for the High Court to be asked to determine genocide, and it would blur the separation of powers. 

Crossbench peer Lord Alton, who tabled the anti-genocide amendment, which was had cross-party support in the Lords, passing 359 to 188, a majority of 171, said he will table a fresh amendment to the Trade Bill and have another go at trying to get it into law. He said it was possible for the government to block a similar amendment again but warned "this is not a moment to use the black arts to try and prevent debate".

He said he and his colleagues are now working on two options to be voted on in the Lords on February 23. 

If passed, it goes back to the Commons for a vote, raising the prospect of a further rebellion from the Tory backbench from leading Conservative figures like Iain Duncan Smith and Nus Ghani.

Lord Alton said their first proposal is for select committees to sift through accounts of genocidal behaviour and gross human rights abuses by trading partners, getting rid of clearly vexatious claims, and then send cases to the High Court to determine.

The second option is to recreate an appelate style committee made up of retired judges, who would determine if behaviour amounted to genocide. 

He said: "We will do our very best to ensure that what goes to the Commons is not only in order but it also is so narrow that it just concentrates on the key question of genocide determination in the hope that you know that they will be very difficult for them.

"I think also by the way that there would be a huge, huge row in the Commons, if they tried to do it again."Lord David Alton (C) joins a group of Hong Kong citizens protesting outside Houses of Parliament in London

He said he believed there was enough support in both Houses for one of the suggested amendments to pass. 

In the Lords he has the backing of former Tory cabinet member Lord Michael Forsyth, Labour peer Baroness Helena Kennedy QC and former Conservative chief whip David Maclean, Lord Blencathra.

The backdrop to this debate has been China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim population in Xinjang, where thousands of people are said to be living in concentration camps with reports of sterilisation of women and the forced removal of children from their families. China denies there is abuse of the Uyghur people.

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