It is important to consider the role of human rights not only in the EU’s external policies but inside EU member states. In that context, I would like to ask the Minister about the situation in Hungary. Last year, the Commission used its legal powers to raise concerns with the Hungarian Government about media law, because

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the Commission had serious concerns that the law would severely restrict freedom of expression. Fortunately, the Hungarian Government were persuaded to agree to a raft of changes to ensure that those concerns were addressed.

Nevertheless, there remain ongoing concerns about the actions of the Hungarian Government, in particular over the introduction of the new fundamental law, which came into force at the start of the year and replaced the constitution that had transformed Hungary from communist dictatorship to liberal democracy.


Jeremy Corbyn: I appreciate what my hon. Friend says about the media laws in Hungary, but does she also share my concern about the disgraceful systematic treatment of the Roma in Hungary and the many cases reported at a very high level to human rights organisations? There is a case for the strongest possible statements to be made by both the EU and the Council of Europe.

Emma Reynolds: I agree with my hon. Friend that the protection of the human rights of the Roma community is incredibly important and that those rights are at risk in Hungary. Their human rights have been threatened in other member states, too—I will not mention a former President of the French Republic and some of the things he said about that community.

The fundamental law extends the Hungarian Government’s control over various bodies that should be independent, such as the central bank and the courts. In particular, there are concerns about the independence of the judiciary. We believe that an independent judiciary is a vital safeguard of human rights. The European Parliament and the Commission have raised concerns about democracy and the accountability of the Hungarian Government, and it is clear that human rights must be protected within the EU and its member states, if the EU is to have an authoritative voice on human rights in external countries. I would appreciate it, therefore, if the Minister could shed some light on these matters by answering the following questions: does he think that the situation in Hungary weakens the EU’s voice on democracy and human rights in third countries; and will he update the House on what discussions he and his colleagues, including the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, have had with the Hungarian and other EU Governments about the new Hungarian fundamental law and its the implications for the human rights of the Hungarian people?


Mr Cash: Is the hon. Lady aware of the enormous majority that the President, Prime Minister and Government of Hungary have as a result of free and proper elections? Does she think it the right and duty of the EU or the Venice Commission to tell a member state how it should behave, when it has such a massive democratic mandate? This is a very serious question.

Emma Reynolds: I agree only that it is a very serious question. The EU must promote and protect human rights within its member states, regardless of the majority that a President or Government have received from the electorate. We should not tolerate the judiciary, the media or other such institutions being under the control of whatever Government in whatever member state. Labour Members are proud of our record on human

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rights while in government. We passed the Human Rights Act and prioritised the promotion of human rights in our external policies, particularly our development policy. Further back in history, the UK was one of the leading architects of the European convention on human rights. We remain proud that the UK is a signatory to that convention, and we are a full and active member of the Council of Europe.

Although we welcome the Government’s position on the documents before the House, it seems that the Government are not always entirely consistent in their commitment to human rights. The Minister has said positive things today, but his Conservative MEPs in Brussels say and vote entirely differently. Regrettably, they sit with a rag-bag of anti-Semites, holocaust deniers and homophobes.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): Rubbish!

Emma Reynolds: I do not think it is rubbish at all.

We need a Government who will consistently champion human rights in the UK, in Brussels and around the world. The new EU strategy, the action plan and the appointment of a special representative for human rights will hopefully make the EU’s promotion of human rights and democracy more effective. We therefore support the motion.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. A number of colleagues wish to participate, but I should remind the House that the debate is time limited, and we wish to leave some time for the Minister to respond.

5.30 pm

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): I have listened to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), and my concern about this whole debate is that it seems that, somehow or other, there is a universality about human rights, without reference to democracy in individual countries. The question I have to ask is: how do we define what a human right is?

It is not so simple. I believe in human rights; I believe in the manner in which we legislate. However, we are already having a massive debate in the House of Commons about the Human Rights Act 1998, and about the commission that has been set up as a result of the coalition agreement. There are also massive questions being raised about the manner in which our judiciary is interpreting human rights—in relation to extradition, deportation, Abu Qatada, and so on. I have even noticed some Opposition Members showing an increased interest in whether human rights can be regarded as entirely generic and universal, when it is actually up to individual member states and individual Parliaments, based on the votes cast in general elections, to decide whether a particular human right is or has been contravened.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD) rose

Mr Cash: I will happily give way to the hon. Lady, because I am getting increasingly fed up with these people who continually assert, with their political correctness, that they know what a human right is. It is down to

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Parliament, based on what is decided by the voters in general elections, to determine those questions. It is a matter of law, not just some generic universality. I will be the first to fight for habeas corpus or trial by jury. What worries me is all these generic expressions—I will come to that in the middle of my speech—and this whole concept, which is promoting more and more generic human rights creep.

Jo Swinson: I sometimes wonder whether it is better not to encourage the hon. Gentleman, but I want to challenge him on universality, because I believe, as do many others, in the universality of human rights, as have been signed up to by our Government through the United Nations conventions. Does he really think that we in this country have no role in arguing and campaigning for changes abroad, and that if, for example, even a democratic country elsewhere in the world decided that it would persecute Christians—torturing them, and so on—just because of their beliefs, that should be of no concern to us whatever and that we should not try to change minds or persuade others to take action to change it?

Mr Cash: No, I do not. As a matter of fact, I have been very much personally involved in the Jubilee campaign, standing up for the rights of people in other countries who are being persecuted. Indeed, as the hon. Lady will know, I have also promoted the issue by forming the all-party group on water and sanitation in the third world. I stand absolutely 100% behind people’s rights in that regard. What worries me is when the whole thing is codified—as it is in the papers before us and the strategic plan—and interwoven with the universality matrix, and then buttressed by legal requirements. Therefore, when I hear the Minister saying, “Well, we will exercise the veto as and when it is appropriate”—if I can put it in generic terms—I simply do not believe that to be a realistic way of dealing with the issue.

This is another example of the European Union engaging in European creep on a monumental scale. I am not against the individual defence of people in relation to human rights questions, and there are many things that crop up in the European strategic framework and action plan that I would strongly support in an individual context. What worries me is the universality, not only because of the panoramic view that is taken of all these matters, but because of the panoramic way in which it will be applied in practice, headed by the European representative. This is essentially a practical question.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Is it my hon. Friend’s assertion that, while he has no objection to a democratic country expressing strong views about abuses of human rights in other countries, democracies or otherwise, his real objection is that the European Union is seeking to take on this role without constituting a democracy in its own right?

Mr Cash: That is exactly the point. This is almost a jurisprudential question. It is not about fancy philosophy; it is about how we make decisions relating to individual, practical instances. My hon. Friend is entirely right to make that point. It is difficult to imagine that we will be able to make a choice, once the machinery is moving forwards. I shall give the House an instance from among

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the wide range of activities in the many pages of the strategic framework and action plan that has been adopted by the EU Council. By engaging in this proposal, we are effectively endorsing European creep. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister says that that will not happen, and that we will have the opportunity to exercise the veto, but I just do not see this as a practical way of working.

The Council has adopted the measure, and we have demanded this debate on the matter for very good reasons. We want to examine exactly what the measure contains. There simply is not enough time, in the one and a half hours allotted to us, to go through the incredibly complex questions that arise from the matter or to deal with the interaction of the decisions and the impact that they will have on human rights law in this country or in others.

I shall give the House a flavour of what I am talking about. Anyone listening to or reading the debate might like to look at the range of matters in the action plan. I mentioned that it is divided into outcomes, actions, timings and responsibilities. It is divided into seven chapters, and it sets out a variety of external policy activities. This has been agreed by all member states. Seven headings cover 36 policy areas and 97 potential actions, and that deals with the matter only in the generic sense. When we reduce this to individual cases, we are effectively saying that the EU will have a supervisory responsibility, subject only to the caveat that we will be able to exercise the veto, as my right hon. Friend the Minister said. I do not see that happening, however, once the machinery has been set up.

This is very much like the External Action Service. Indeed, it is very much like the EU itself. I said in 1992, or whenever it was—it seems a very long time ago now—that once the Maastricht treaty had gone through, once the European governmental system had been created with all the qualified majority voting that went with it, once we had created the mechanism and endowed it with resources, and once we had increased and implemented its legislative capacities and functions, we would have constructed an enormous creature that was incapable of being restrained. That is exactly what has happened, with disastrous consequences.

To come back to the main issue, let me provide a few examples. In the first place, the action plan refers to

“Human rights and democracy throughout EU policy”.

For those who are interested, this is taken from a Library note dated 9 July. It is also referred to in the papers before us and it has been looked at by the European Scrutiny Committee. The plan refers to the need to

“Incorporate human rights in all Impact Assessment”,

and to

“Insert human rights in Impact Assessment, as and when it is carried out for legislative and non-legislative proposals, implementing measures and trade agreements that have significant economic, social and environmental impacts, or define future policies.”

I would like to know what is not included in that, and what the opportunity would be for any restraint on the use of such provisions in the strategic plan.

The plan also refers to

“Genuine partnership with civil society”,

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and that

“Heads of EU Delegations, Heads of Mission of EU Member States, heads of civilian missions and operation commanders shall work closely with human rights NGOs active in the countries of their posting.”

I would be the first to support NGOs in their individual activities, but this is a mandatory requirement, going beyond what I would describe as voluntary activity. Then there is the need to

“Present EU performance in meeting the objectives of its human rights strategy in the annual report on human rights and democracy in the world.”

I would be on the side of all those campaigners when it comes to individual human rights matters. I see in his place the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who knows that I campaigned with him on issues relating to the Chagos islanders. Going further back, I was also involved with the issue of aboriginal rights in Canada. I could provide a whole list to show that I have been as much at the forefront as anyone else when it comes to campaigning against abuses of human rights. Where I differ, and why I object to these arrangements, is in respect of this overarching determination to get away from specific campaigns into this idea of universality, whereby I think we miss the wood for the trees.

Jeremy Corbyn: I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman’s genuine support for human rights issues in many parts of the world and the fact that he campaigns on them. Does he agree with me, however, that the issue of the Chagos islanders is now before the European Court of Human Rights and that it will take a decision? Both the hon. Gentleman and I want it to go in the same direction. Is this not one possible way of bringing about justice for the people who were treated so abominably in 1982?

Mr Cash: I would rather have the hon. Gentleman leading the campaign for the Chagos islanders than the EU representative who is being appointed under these documents. It is the individual commitment that counts. If I may say so, it is rather like John Bright, who campaigned for people’s rights throughout the world—in our colonies and our empire—in the 19th century. It is the individual passion and determination to stand up for people that I look towards. That is what Wilberforce was all about. I doubt whether William Wilberforce would have been deeply impressed by the manner in which this is being done. I really have to ask that question, because in my judgment, it is not desirable to end up creating this universal approach.

The second chapter is

“Promoting the universality of human rights”.

With the outcome of “universal adherence”, it specifies the action:

“Intensify the promotion of ratification and effective implementation of key international human rights treaties, including regional human rights instruments”—

and so it goes on and on, page after page, and I am reading from a tightly compressed printed version. In an intervention, I think I mentioned four pages, but there are seven pages of this. All I need to say is this: is this really the right way to go? Baroness Ashton and the entire External Action Service are, I believe, simply another manifestation of the problem. On the very day we have been told that we are to examine all the workings

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of the European Union in relation to the United Kingdom —all its competences—the central question is being lost, and a globalising, universal approach is being taken to something that will have to form part of the review announced by the Foreign Secretary.

On the very day we have advocated an analysis of the manner in which the European Union functions, we seem to be effectively endorsing a strategy that goes in exactly the opposite direction to the views of all those Members who support not only the review, but the repatriation of powers and the resolution of the human rights questions that are so bedevilling the relationship between Parliament and the judiciary and the whole question of extradition, the whole question of immigration policy, and the whole question of the application of law in this country on matters pertaining to human rights.

I view this development with grave concern. I do not refer to its individual application to individual cases; I refer to the attempt, through what I consider to be European federalisation or European creep, to convey the concept of a European Union that is acting on behalf of all of us. If a country such as Hungary has made a decision in its own Parliament, I think that that should be respected. Through their electors, through general elections and the democratic will of their own people, individual nation states, or member states, should be allowed to decide these matters, rather than having their decisions overridden by universality of the kind that these documents represent.

5.46 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I will be brief, so that the remaining Members who wish to speak can do so before the debate has to end.

I support the motion, but I acknowledge what has been said by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash). Human rights changes are achieved because people are prepared, very bravely, to stand up for them. We should spare a thought for the role played by human rights defenders throughout the world who often put themselves at huge risk to speak up for other people. Many of them are assassinated or murdered as a result, and they are the ones whom we do not hear about.

Anything we can do to improve the general atmosphere and narrative of human rights is very important. We should not be over-sensitive when we are criticised by people outside this country, for we are not perfect when it comes to human rights. We make many mistakes. For instance, we imprison far too many young people, and I think that our treatment of asylum seekers is highly questionable. We impoverish many people who are legitimately seeking the right of asylum here.

I spent many years campaigning for the rights of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four, who were wrongly accused of bombings and murder in this country and were eventually released. I was very pleased by the open declarations of support that were made by many people around the world, including in Australia and the United States of America. I did not see that reaction as an interference in the political system or rights in this country; I saw it as a legitimate and helpful element of political debate.

What I find slightly odd is that we should end up confusing support for human rights with treaty obligations. Every time any country signs a treaty and ratifies it through its own system, it gives up some of its sovereignty.

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That is what a treaty is about: it gives a country international obligations. When we sign a document such as the universal declaration of human rights, the European convention on human rights or any other convention and incorporate it into UK law, of course that changes things, and of course it limits what we can do in our national law. I think that is fair enough; we should enter into agreements with an open mind, and if we do not agree with certain aspects of them, we should try to change them later. Although I support the Government motion, only a week ago we were debating with great intensity in this House the alleged interference in British law of the operation of article 8 of the European convention on human rights, and the right to family life in the context of the new immigration rules introduced on Monday, which are limited and damaged in that respect. We must be more consistent in such matters, therefore.

Earlier, I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) about the situation in Hungary. I hope that all the member states of both the Council of Europe and the EU will be prepared to stand up and say something about the loss of rights of free expression that is going on and the abominable treatment of the Roma people in Hungary—the systematic discrimination and the brutality against them. During a visit to Brussels, I met a MEP from Hungary who shared my views on that. The people in Hungary who are trying to stand up for the rights of minorities in that country need open declarations of support. They need to know that others are watching what is going on, and that we support them in their efforts.

I would like the Minister to say whether the EU human rights strategy will include generic human rights that are not necessarily specific to any one country. I am thinking about migrant peoples, migrant workers and itinerant asylum seekers across Europe. We are facing a human rights crisis in many parts of the world. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people are dying trying to flee to a place of political, military or economic safety: those who die trying to cross from the west African coast to the Canary islands; those who try to cross the Mediterranean to Greece, Spain, Sicily or elsewhere; and those who die in transit. Many of these people will have paid a great deal of very hard-earned money in order to try to get to a place of economic security, yet they die in the process or are subsequently grossly exploited by industrialists, farmers and others all across Europe. Throughout Europe, there is an entire underclass of people who are leading a twilight existence. That is an abuse of their human rights.

Sadly, there is a growing narrative of far-right racist parties across Europe that are prepared to attack these people at every turn, and we need to say that these people deserve, and should get, protection from national and international laws. Worldwide, there are even more such people, such as the poor people who recently died trying to get from Indonesia to Australia. They are the ones we have heard about; there are many others whom we do not hear about at all. I would like to know, therefore, whether there will be a systematic approach to such human rights issues.

Turning to the abuse of human rights in Russia, the decisions on two cases that were before the European Court of Human Rights were announced yesterday. One was that there had been brutal treatment of an individual, which was a welcome decision. The other

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decision, however, was more than slightly surprising, as it found that it was within Russia’s national competence to suppress demonstrations in the run-up to the recent elections. Without having had the benefit of reading the entire judgment, I have to say I find that more than a little surprising. I would have thought that we, and the European Court of Human Rights, would respect the right to demonstrate peacefully in any circumstances, and that we would agree that to curtail that right is clearly an infringement.

Turkey has had the presidency of the Council of Europe and is bound by the European convention on human rights and decisions of the European Court. There are still significant problems, however. Political parties have to achieve a threshold of 10% of the national vote to be represented in the Turkish Parliament, and there are serious concerns about the conduct of trials of Kurdish people in Diyarbakir and other places in the south-east of Turkey. Although I suppose pretty well everyone in this country supports the Turkish application to be a member of the EU, I hope that there will be some recognition of the fact that there are problems in the treatment of Kurdish people in Turkey.

The last point I wanted to make relates to the international operation, outside both European Union and Council of Europe states, of the proposed new system of an EU human rights representative. The EU has trade agreements with a large number of countries, all of which include a human rights clause. Many of us have raised many times the issue of the human rights clause in the EU trade agreement with Israel and the detention of Palestinian people, including Palestinian parliamentarians and Palestinian children, and a number of associated issues. Is raising such issues going to become the duty of the EU representative? Will the representative be prepared to do so, or will they be bound by a sense of unanimity—an issue raised by the hon. Member for Stone—in raising questions on the ground?

The same things apply to the EU trade arrangements with Morocco, which remains in occupation of the Western Sahara. The EU trade agreements with Morocco continue, but the fishery agreement has been suspended following an EU decision made, as I understand it, because the proceeds of fishing were not evenly spread, particularly among the people who ought to be able to live in the Western Sahara.

If we are to be effective, as the EU representatives sometimes can be, we should say so. I have visited Mexico on a number of occasions and was very impressed with the EU ambassadors working together—all 27 of them—and being prepared to put joint pressure on the Mexican Government to support the decisions of the inter-American human rights court. Such an approach is effective. The hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) and I were part of a delegation when those issues were raised, and we acknowledged that that was an effective representation that made a difference which encourages the Mexican political system to acknowledge that Mexico, too, has responsibilities to the inter-American human rights court.

I hope that the Minister will be able to assure me that the EU representative is prepared to be robust, particularly where EU trade interests are involved, given that it may sometimes be pointed out by the country concerned that trade relations with the EU are being damaged. We

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want to see people having the right to speak freely, to demonstrate freely, to organise themselves freely and to join trade unions freely. Just as much as we would want those things for ourselves, we would want them for other people around the world.

Having said that, we have to acknowledge the huge work done by voluntary sector organisations in this country—by Amnesty International, the Bar Human Rights Committee and so many others—in improving human rights around the world. In reality, what we legislate for has often come from the activities of very brave individuals and brave groups all around the world. What we are doing is acknowledging that in legislation by what we are trying to do today.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. With the proviso that I am going to interrupt proceedings at 6 pm, may I advise hon. Members to be conscious that if they want to give the Minister any time to wind up, they must take into account the fact that the Question must be put at 6.16 pm?

5.58 pm

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I rise to support the motion and the documents before us. It is worth remembering the origins of the European Union and its predecessor organisations in the aftermath of world war two. The original body was set up not only to promote peace and security across western Europe, but as a result of the appalling human rights violations seen in that war, with the aim of ensuring that such things could never happen again. Obviously, it has not always been successful, but the over the decades it has been a strong guardian of human rights through its role in international negotiations and through the incentive—the carrot—offered of potential EU membership, which has encouraged many countries to make progress and take steps to improve their human rights records. Of course more can always be done, and it is right to recognise that there are problems within EU member states. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) said, we in the UK should not be complacent but should maintain an ever-vigilant approach to improving human rights in this country, too.

Member states do a lot individually, but we can do even more with the strength of 27 nations acting together. That is why I support the historic opportunity to further the aims of UK foreign policy. The action plan and the creation of the special representative have already been approved by 26 member states and I urge the House to support the motion today, so that we can also do that.

6 pm

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 41A(3)),

That, at this day’s sitting, Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply to the Motions in the names of Mr David Lidington and Mr Mark Hoban relating to European Documents.—(Michael Fabricant.)

Question agreed to.

Debate resumed.

Main Question again proposed.

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Jo Swinson: I very much welcome the strength of the language in the strategic framework, particularly the emphasis on the centrality and universality of human rights in EU foreign policy. Like the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), I think that the mainstreaming of this question across different policy areas is important, as it means that human rights are not dealt with in some sort of isolated box. The ability of the EU to take an active position—the special representative will certainly help in that regard—is incredibly important, particularly in the context of recent events during the Arab spring and in many countries around the world that still have grave human rights problems. The action plan is comprehensive and I will touch on a few specific areas.

Section 11, on trade, is helpful on the question of mainstreaming and includes in its list of actions one, (f), which states that we must:

“Work towards ensuring that solid human rights criteria are included in an international arms trade treaty.”

I know that the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) were at the negotiations that are ongoing in New York. Indeed, I think we are soon to have an Adjournment debate on the topic—unfortunately, I am unable to stay, as I need to catch a train to get back to Scotland this evening. It would be helpful for the House to hear how those negotiations are progressing in the context of the human rights criteria that we so much want to be a strength of that treaty.

I also welcome sections 13 and 18 of the action plan on entrenching human rights in counter-terrorism activities and providing effective support to human rights defenders, which was an issue raised by the hon. Member for Islington North. In 2010, along with the noble Lord Judd, I visited Chechnya to see the human rights situation there. We were both struck, as the report we produced made very clear, by what we experienced and witnessed. We spoke to people who were victims of human rights abuses and heard about disappearances, assassinations, murders and violence where there was no proper judicial process—cases would be opened and not followed through, so people would not be brought to justice and the security forces would perpetrate the abuses. It was clear that that worsened the security situation and in some ways created a breeding ground for the terrorism that the security forces were trying to repress. Human rights defenders play an important role in bringing abuses to the attention of the wider community, and some of the points in the plan, particularly those on temporary havens for human rights defenders when they are under particular threat, are matters on which we could do more within the European Union.

I also warmly welcome section 16, which is about the death penalty and what is being done to work for its abolition in other countries. I particularly welcome the suggestion of targeted campaigns to try to get the retentionist countries to change their minds. Next year, we will have the world congress against the death penalty; it would be wonderful if some countries agreed at that point to abolish it. Can the Minister update us on any recent discussions? The Government always say that they raise the issue in discussions with other countries, and I am certain that that is true, but we also want to see action and some indication of whether progress is likely with some of our counterparts around the world.

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On that point, I warmly welcome the recent decision that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has taken on export controls on the drug propofol, which can be used in executions in the United States. That comes on the back of a similar decision about sodium thiopental in 2010. If we are serious about opposing the death penalty, it is vital that we do not make it easy for other countries to implement it through our sales to them. Two years ago, the UK’s leadership ultimately led to a EU-wide ban, which shows how we are stronger working with all the states together.

I mentioned earlier in my intervention on the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) the section on freedom of religious belief. We are lucky to enjoy a great degree of religious tolerance in our society. Given the tensions in South Sudan and Sudan, the persecution of Christians in Iraq, the Baha’i in Iran, the treatment of Sikhs in India, about which many of my constituents have expressed concern, and the host of other countries around the world where people do not have the freedom to hold the faith they choose and to worship in peace without fear of violence, that is a hugely important section in the plan.

I do not endorse the concerns that were raised about competence creep. The Minister has reassured us absolutely on that point. This is about enhancing UK influence, not reducing or constraining it. It is about 27 states agreeing on something and it therefore having the agreement of our Government and this place. An additional voice can only be a good thing. I warmly welcome the motion and the documents and I hope that the House will support them today.

6.5 pm

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): It is important to put on the record that I supported giving the Minister a waiver so that he could go to the Council and support this document, rather than having to break the scrutiny reserve if he had to do so. The reason was that we were going to have a debate anyway, and in the document there is much to support. I want people outside who listen to this debate and who do not spend all their time reading European documents to know exactly what we are supporting.

On 25 June 2012, EU Foreign Ministers adopted an ambitious EU strategic framework and action plan on human rights and democracy. It included an ambitious human rights package consisting of 36 policy areas, ranging from the fight against the death penalty, effective support for democracy, the eradication of torture and the promotion and protection of children’s rights. A division of that work into not fewer than 97 actions has been agreed, and I hope will come into effect, in full respect of national competences—a point made by the Minister. Indeed, only with a joint commitment between the EU and its member states can change be made on the ground.

The action plan sets out a wide variety of external policy activity agreed by all member states. The 97 potential actions have seven headings: human rights and democracy throughout EU policy; promoting the universality of human rights; pursuing coherent policy objectives; human rights in all EU external policies; implementing EU priorities on human rights; working with bilateral partners; and working with the multilateral institutions. The last

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one is very important because the non-governmental organisations now feel that they have been invited in to the discussions in a way that they have not felt the EU institutions have dealt with them in the past.

The appointment of a human rights representative or envoy will be the first ever thematic envoy. There are many at the moment in parts of the world, but not on a theme such as human rights, and that will be fundamentally important.

The document assigns responsibility for each proposed action to the European External Action Service, member states, the Commission or a combination of two or more of them. It is clear that there is a commitment to consolidate consultations with civil society, which is fundamental.

I think that when these measures are combined with the decision of the EU to sign up to the convention on human rights, there has to be a fundamental rethink of how the EU carries out its policies. The director of Amnesty International’s European institutions office, Nicolas Beger, who was today debating with me in another place on this issue, said:

“We never thought we would see such a positive move forward”.

He commended Cathy Ashton, who has done so much in a way that people did not believe possible. As Hollande said to Sarkozy, “The reason you lost is you underestimated me.” We underestimated Cathy Ashton’s ability to deliver.

We have to ask the EU to look again at its trade agreements. If they are in breach of human rights, which are fundamental to the Council of Europe, the EU has to consider why it did not take on human rights conditions in Colombia, Israel, Peru and Sri Lanka, and it must look again at conditions in Turkey. All of them contain breaches of human rights. If this is going to work, the action plan and the envoy must speak up for human rights defenders before they are thrown into jail or killed by repressive regimes, and we must make sure that we do not sign trade agreements that allow continued breaches of human rights. That is what I see in this policy, and I hope that, by supporting it, we will see forward movement that we have not seen from the EU for some time.

6.10 pm

Mr Lidington: May I first thank all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate? I say to the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) that the action plan clearly sets out the fact that part of the special representative’s role will be to act as an advocate for human rights concerns with both the Council, representing the member states, and the EU institutions because, as he will know, the Commission in particular will have a leading role in trade negotiations, for example. The purpose of the framework, with the strategy, the action plan and the special representative, is to ensure that human rights concerns cannot be overlooked or dismissed in any area of the EU’s external activity.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) asked about Hungary. Our general approach to the Hungarian legal changes has been to support the European Commission in its approach to the Hungarian Government. As she acknowledged, the

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Hungarian Government altered their proposed media law after conversations with the Commission, and the same was true of their proposed changes to the governance of the Hungarian central bank, which were later amended. I have had a number of conversations about these issues with my Hungarian opposite number over the past 18 months. I will write to the hon. Lady with a little more detail on the matters she raised.

The hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) asked about the scope of the action plan and the special representative’s role. Article 20 of the action plan relates to gender-based violence, article 14 deals with action against human trafficking, and article 9 covers trade agreements, so these generic issues are within scope. The particular issue of migration that he talked about can be covered in the action plan’s reference to the EU’s development instruments. My one word of caution is that this particular set of documents comes within the framework of the common foreign and security policy, whereas some of the questions he asked are really about the treatment by EU member states of migrant and minority populations within their own borders, and that is outwith the scope of the special representative, whose responsibilities pertain to the EU’s external policy only. It is probably best if I do not talk about the Russian cases he mentioned, because I have not read the judgments or been able to take a considered view on them. His point about human rights defenders was well made. Again, standing up for human rights defenders is listed explicitly as one of the items in the action programme.

I will write to my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) on some of the detailed points she made, particularly those about the death penalty. As she said, the two issues that concern her—women’s rights and freedom of religion—form an important part of the action plan and will be within the scope of the special representative’s work. With regard to the arms trade treaty, the United Kingdom remains firmly of the view that we want an ATT that contains strong human rights and international humanitarian law provisions, and that is what British Ministers and officials will be pressing for in the forthcoming round of negotiations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) raised the serious question of how we get the balance right between an acceptance that people everywhere are entitled to respect, dignity and what we would term human rights and the right of electors in a democracy to express their will and have it carried into effect by those whom they choose to govern them. That takes us a long way beyond the scope of the motion before us, but they are very important and profound questions with which countries throughout the world are grappling, and we accept that in the national sphere there should be constraints, legislative or constitutional, on the untrammelled freedom of a majority to act, which may be temporary, when that action might unfairly or unreasonably damage the interests of minorities.

The debate to which my hon. Friend was contributing was about the extent to which that principle should be adopted internationally, too, and I would just say this with regard to the EU. The EU is not just an economic club; it has always been a club for democracies. Spain could not get in until it established democracy, and the EU accession process is the most important driver of

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democratic, political and rule of law reform in eastern and central Europe today. I ask that the House support the motion before us.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 18635/11, relating to the Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council on Human rights and democracy at the heart of EU external action-towards a more effective approach, together with an unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum dated 7 June 2012, submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, relating to a draft Council Decision appointing the European Union Special Representative for Human Rights, and the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, and No. 8905/12 and Addenda 1 and 2, a Commission Report to the European Parliament and the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the Application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights; notes the Commission document on the Progress on Equality Between Women and Men in 2011; endorses the Government’s intention to support the draft Decision on the EU Special Representative for Human Rights; and welcomes the Government’s work to provide for enhanced Member State oversight of the Special Representative’s activities in Articles 10 and 11 of the draft mandate.

Business Without Debate

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

Global Satellite Navigation Systems

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 17844/11 and Addenda 1 and 2, relating to a draft Regulation on the implementation and exploitation of European satellite navigation systems; and supports the Government’s aim to avoid prejudging the negotiations on the Multi-Annual Financial Framework whilst establishing more effective governance arrangements to address previously identified deficiencies within the programme, principally by ensuring that the Regulation provides greater clarity of the roles and responsibilities of different organisations, and greater budgetary transparency for Member States in order for progress of the programme to be monitored.—(Angela Watkinson.)

Question agreed to.

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Arms Trade Treaty

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Angela Watkinson.)

6.16 pm

Martin Caton (Gower) (Lab): The final negotiations that can create a robust and effective conventional weapons arms trade treaty, built on humanitarian and human rights principles, are happening in New York most of this month, and they are potentially a major step forward in the protection of human life across our planet. The world must grasp this opportunity, because it is far from certain that another one will come along again in the foreseeable future.

In one sense, it is astonishing that we have reached this year and not adopted a worldwide agreement to regulate the global arms trade before. We have treaties that control trade in a whole variety of goods, such as in endangered species, ivory and rhino horn, dinosaur bones and bananas, but not in the global arms trade, and the absence of such a treaty has undoubtedly meant death and injury, often to some of the most vulnerable people throughout the world, on a truly alarming scale.

As the Control Arms Coalition points out in its briefing to parliamentarians on the treaty, every minute at least one person dies from armed violence; 85% of all killings documented by Amnesty involve guns; and two bullets are produced each year for every person on the planet.

The arms trade is global, so controlling it must take place on a worldwide basis. Many individual states have laws regulating the international transfer of arms, and some regions have agreements in place to do the same, but too often they are not legally binding, not properly enforced and not based on adequate criteria.

Of course, a considerable number of countries are not signed up to any sort of multilateral agreement and do not have well developed national laws in this area, so what regulation we do have, in the absence of an arms trade treaty, is patchy and inconsistent, so creating an environment that is all too easily exploited by unscrupulous arms traders. Consequently, weapons get into the wrong hands, where they are used mercilessly to facilitate serious human rights abuses, armed violence and conflict, destabilising regions and further impoverishing people and communities in the process.

It is estimated that armed violence costs Africa $19 billion every year—coincidentally and ironically, roughly the same amount that the continent receives in development aid. The dangers and the damage of an absence of adequate regulation on the international transfer of conventional weapons have been recognised for a long time, going back to 1995 when a group of Nobel peace prize laureates proposed globally binding rules on arms control.

The main message that I want to put over this evening is that, yes, we need an arms trade treaty and we need it now, but not just any agreement that bears the title will do. It must be something that will make a real, practical difference—a treaty that will save lives.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does he agree that, although an arms trade

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treaty needs widespread support to be effective, given that 150 of the UN’s 193 member states support a comprehensive and robust treaty, a strong treaty with a large number of signatories and the potential for more is better than a weak treaty with a few more signatories?

Martin Caton: I completely agree; my hon. Friend has made it unnecessary for me to give part of my speech, but I will mention an alternative option, if the worst comes to the worst, for trying to get something really valuable.

I am chair of the newly formed all-party group on weapons and protection of civilians. We have made it our first priority to work for an arms trade treaty that is robust and workable. We were persuaded to do so by the group of non-governmental organisations that make up the Control Arms Coalition—organisations that have been working for many years to try to achieve the objective of such a treaty.

What do we mean when we call for a robust and workable arms trade treaty? We can achieve it by bringing together countries’ existing obligations and commitments, and other widely accepted norms of state behaviour, under international law and applying them to the trade in conventional weapons.

In practice, that means establishing in international law a binding obligation to prevent transfers of weapons if the arms would pose a substantial risk of being used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law, or to undermine socio-economic development and poverty reduction goals. States should be required to conduct rigorous case-by-case assessments of all proposed imports, exports and international transfers of conventional arms to enable them to prevent those that breach the criteria of the treaty.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. I know that he recognises the excellent work done by NGOs on this issue. Does he agree that any treaty needs to address the whole issue of resale? An awful lot of arms get transferred to countries that use them inappropriately.

Martin Caton: That is absolutely right. As I am sure that the Minister will report, there is a real danger in negotiations at present; some states are trying to reduce various things that should be covered. We want a comprehensive treaty.

The treaty needs to cover all types of conventional weaponry, munitions, armaments and related articles used for potential lethal force in military and law enforcement operations, as well as their parts and accessories, machines and the technologies and expertise for making, developing and maintaining them. It must have strong and effective implementation systems, including a public and transparent reporting mechanism, good monitoring, reporting and verification procedures, and provisions for settling disputes over suspected violations of the treaty. To achieve that, the treaty must also provide institutional support and periodic review for those states that do not have experience of enforcing a high standard of arms transfer control. That will require both resources and technical assistance.

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The treaty must create an international framework of legal obligation, but it must be implemented nationally. Arms transfer decisions will still have to be decided by national Governments, but under the treaty they will be obliged to deny any transfer that breaches the arms trade treaty criteria.

When the all-party group decided to prioritise securing the treaty, we set ourselves the task of convincing the UK Government to fight for the sort of robust agreement at the UN that I have just described. We secured a meeting with the Minister, who is leading on the issue, and his diplomatic team, along with the NGOs that I have mentioned. We were very pleased to learn at that meeting that we did not have to convince the Minister or his team; it became apparent that their objectives for a strong, effective treaty mirrored ours pretty well. That has been further confirmed at a joint public meeting in Westminster, at which the Minister spoke, organised by our all-party group and the all-party United Nations group, chaired by Lord Hannay of Chiswick.

The Governments of some other nation states are, however, either opposed to such a comprehensive treaty or, at best, sceptical about it. The objections and reservations vary from state to state, so there is a real and challenging job to be done at the UN in the next couple of weeks if we are to secure our shared, progressive objectives. Given the nature and structure of treaty conferences, it is difficult during the process to get an accurate overview to help to assess the prospect of a successful outcome, but from the reports that I have received, the signs appear to have been positive and less positive so far.

The Control Arms NGOs are pressing for what they describe as a bullet-proof treaty, and they have presented a 600,000-signature petition to Ban Ki-moon. Parliamentarians for Global Action has delivered a petition signed by 2,053 Members of Parliament from 96 countries, including, of course, from this Parliament. However, a small minority of sceptical states have managed to get the NGOs excluded from a substantial part of the conference.

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, showed appropriate leadership in his opening statement to delegates when he said:

“You will need to agree on robust criteria that would help lessen the risk that transferred weapons are used to commit violations of international humanitarian law or human rights. You will also need to define the scope of the treaty to cover an extensive array of weapons and activities and that leaves no room for loopholes. Our common goal is clear: a robust and legally binding ATT that will have a real impact on the lives of those millions of people suffering from the consequences of armed conflict, repression and armed violence.”

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I compliment my hon. Friend on his speech. I share his disappointment that the NGOs were removed from the discussions in New York, because that is completely contrary to the spirit of the UN. Does he agree that they will be needed in the monitoring of the treaty should it finally be achieved, as that is the only way in which we will ensure its success?

Martin Caton: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The experience from recent treaties, some of them outwith the UN—for example, on landmines and cluster munitions—is not only that we have needed those in civil society to bring them about, but that we need them to watch what is going on afterwards.

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Worryingly, the statement by Ban Ki-moon was followed by a discussion paper from the new chair of the conference that fell way short of what he had described. Its stated goals and objectives for the treaty fail to require respect for international human rights law or humanitarian law. Its proposed criteria for identifying circumstances in which a transfer of arms should be denied are over-complex, inconsistent and unworkable. It uses language that has no foundation in international law and would allow weapons transfers with a significant risk that the arms would be used to violate human rights or humanitarian law or to undermine sustainable development. Its scope is far too narrow and unclear, leaving out a range of lethal munitions, technologies and activities.

It appears that the negotiations have started very slowly, with some nations clearly attempting to block progress. In contrast, there have been strong calls for a robust treaty from a number of states, including Norway, Australia and the Caribbean community countries. The UK delegation has similarly called for

“a robust, effective and legally binding”

ATT. Every delegation in such negotiations will have its own red lines beyond which there can be no compromise because fundamental principles would be lost—the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). I will not ask the Minister to describe, in the middle of negotiations, what his red lines are, but I urge him and his delegation to redouble their efforts to secure the ATT that we in this House all want.

In particular, we need to make it clear that the treaty must require states to refuse transfers with a substantial risk that they will be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law, and there should be no agreement to so-called mitigation measures that would allow transfers even where those risks applied. Similarly, development must be a clear criterion against which to assess transfers.

I should like to ask the Minister some specific questions that I hope he will be able to answer. So far, the process seems to have been dominated by a small minority of countries intent on disrupting and delaying the negotiations. Have he and his team been able to make bilateral contacts to help to speed up progress, and if so, who has the UK identified to work with or influence? On criteria, the new chair’s paper seems to be heavily influenced by the US, with much weaker proposals than those in the previous chair’s draft treaty. How is the UK team going to secure the oft-repeated aim for robust criteria based on international human rights law and humanitarian law?

I congratulate the Minister on the UK’s intervention at the conference that referred to the positive role that the ATT can have in reducing armed violence and gender-based violence. That needs to be addressed in the criteria section. Is that one of the UK’s priorities in the negotiations? If so, what are he and his team doing to encourage other states to support its inclusion in the treaty?

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), I appeal to the Minister not to settle for a weak treaty. It would be better to have a smaller number of signatories and a strong treaty. I am not suggesting that the Minister should be thinking about failure at this time. However, if the only treaty

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that we can get is a very weak one, we should not sign up to it, but should join with the progressive countries and get agreement at the General Assembly to a strong treaty. I hope that it does not come to that. I wish the Minister and his delegation every success in securing the robust and effective treaty that he wants and that this Parliament supports.

6.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): I congratulate the hon. Member for Gower (Martin Caton) on securing this debate on the arms trade treaty. I thank him for his courtesy in letting me and my officials have a copy of his remarks, which will make it easier to respond directly to his questions.

As we can tell from this debate and as I know from my correspondence, this issue commands a great deal of cross-party interest and support. The hon. Gentleman, the other Members who are present and many others feel passionately about this issue and follow it closely. I returned recently from the treaty negotiations in New York, where I had the good fortune to meet the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), who is in her place tonight, and the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). That emphasises the interest that colleagues have in seeing as much of the process as possible after waiting for so long.

The timing of this debate is opportune, coming as it does at the mid-point of the highly significant negotiations that began in New York last week. It offers an opportunity to take stock of the negotiations and to set out the Government’s priorities for and commitment to a robust and legally binding treaty. I briefed the all-party parliamentary groups on the United Nations, on landmines and unexploded weapons of conflict, and on weapons and protection of civilians at the end of April. I stressed that securing a positive outcome in July would not be easy, but that we would do everything within our power to secure a good result.

Nothing that has happened since I attended the opening day of the conference has led me to change my view. This remains an incredibly complex negotiation, made more difficult by a hard core of countries that would like to derail the negotiations, as the hon. Member for Gower said. I assure the House that the UK’s teams in London and New York—and our embassies and high commissions across the world, because sometimes the decision makers are not in New York, but in their home capitals—are working long and hard to ensure a successful result.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Gower (Martin Caton) on securing this debate. Has the Minister spoken with his colleagues at the Department for International Development about how this trade affects the impact of UK development money, given the considerable amount of money that the UK taxpayer is spending in some of the worst affected regions of the world?

Alistair Burt: I assure my hon. Friend that I have spoken long and frequently with my colleagues at the Department for International Development, and in particular with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, who will be going to the negotiations next week.

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It is clear that in a number of the countries that are most affected by the misery of an unregulated arms trade, we have deep concerns about all sorts of other issues. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the importance of that element of the negotiations and to the need for joint working. He and the House can be assured that there is exceptional joint working across the Government on this issue.

It is important that we keep in mind why we are having these negotiations and why the UK has led international efforts towards an arms trade treaty for so long. Those efforts started under the last Government, for which we give them great credit, and have continued under the coalition. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s questions on 27 June that

“we back the arms trade treaty, as we have done for a considerable amount of time, and lobby very vigorously on that issue.”—[Official Report, 27 June 2012; Vol. 547, c. 302.]

The House is genuinely working together on this, recognising the problems that need to be faced.

The problems caused by the unregulated trade in conventional arms need to be addressed. The lack of effective and coherent global regulation fuels conflict, destabilises regions and hampers effective social and economic development. It can also have devastating effects on communities and individuals, with armed violence destroying lives and livelihoods and displacing communities. A lack of regulation means that arms can slip into the hands of those who would use them against our own troops and civilians. That situation has gone on too long, and we need to stop it now.

Those are the reasons why we have placed such a high priority on securing a treaty described as comprehensive, robust and effective. Ministers and senior officials regularly raise the arms trade treaty in our bilateral and multilateral meetings around the world, so that we can both work through particular issues that states may have and encourage positive and constructive engagement in the diplomatic conference in New York. We have used our international networks of posts to lobby in support of an arms trade treaty, and we have provided funding for non-governmental organisations from developing states to attend the conference.

No matter how committed we are to securing an arms trade treaty—I do not think anyone is in any doubt about that commitment—we cannot deliver it on our own. That is why we have put so much emphasis on working with our international partners, NGOs and representatives of the UK defence industry in the run-up to the conference. We have collaborated closely with the treaty’s co-authors, the EU and the P5, and will continue to do so as the negotiations progress, to seek to achieve a successful conclusion.

To get a truly effective treaty, we need standards not only high enough to meet our aims but with the global reach provided by the broadest participation of states, including the major arms exporters. It was always my intention to travel to New York for the start of the diplomatic conference, to signal the UK’s continuing commitment to securing an arms trade treaty. I arrived at the beginning of the first week and saw at first hand the real challenges that our delegation and other treaty supporters will need to overcome to ensure a successful

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outcome by the end of the month. In fact, the start of the conference was delayed for a couple of days by one such challenge, which threatened the start of the negotiations. The question of Palestine’s status in the United Nations is important, and there are plenty of colleagues in the Chamber tonight who understand that very well, but it cannot and should not be decided by the UN process on the arms trade treaty.

Despite the distraction and the loss of a couple of days, negotiations are now firmly under way, but challenges remain. To answer the first question that the hon. Member for Gower asked me, a particular problem that has dogged the first two weeks has come from a small group of states that continue to try to thwart the will of the vast majority of the international community, using a smokescreen of procedural points to stop substantive engagement on the issues that really matter. Of course, when a country has a real concern about what an arms trade treaty might contain or how it might operate, we will listen to it and work through its concerns, as is only right. However, we will not allow the conference to be railroaded by states that want only to prevent eventual agreement. We have already lost two days to procedural wrangling, and we cannot afford to lose further time.

Despite all that, the process is well under way. Ambassador Moritan continues to steer us towards our eventual goal, despite the choppy waters. Following my visit last week, I spoke to the ambassador on the telephone on Tuesday and offered him the UK’s full support. As I mentioned, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for International Development will be in New York next week, helping to sustain the momentum of the process and maintain our leading role at this critical time.

I have seen the engagement of our delegation in negotiations, and I do not think the House can overestimate how effective and useful its members have been, how much they know and how engaged they have been in the process in the many years since it started. A Minister’s presence can add a bit of weight. Whether that comes through my right hon. Friend’s physical presence or through me making the telephone calls that are needed to certain capitals, the House can be assured that our comprehensive effort will continue across Government right until the very end.

A programme of work for the conference has been agreed, and two main committees have been formed to look at different aspects of the treaty. They are being ably chaired by the Netherlands and Morocco and are gathering the views of UN member states quickly and effectively, trying to make up for the time that has been lost.

I regret that agreement on a programme of work has meant that some meetings are closed to the public. Despite that, we still recognise the important part civil society has to play in the ATT negotiations. The UK delegation is in constant touch with non-governmental organisations in New York and meets with them regularly to ensure their views are heard. It is important that we continue to work closely with them at this crucial point. They have been instrumental in the progress we have made on the ATT and we still very much need their help and expertise if we are to be successful.

I tried to remain close to NGOs in the run-up to the negotiations and considered whether they would formally join the delegation. For perfectly understandable reasons—

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namely, for their independence—they felt that that was not the right thing to do, but we continue to stay close. At the end of this weekend, I intend to speak on the telephone to our ambassador in New York who is dealing with the negotiations. I will probably also call the representatives of Amnesty International and Oxfam on behalf of others to see how they are with the process and to maintain my contact with them. That emphasises how much the Government are trying to keep engaged with NGOs.

Jeremy Corbyn: Can the Minister give us some good news about the involvement of NGOs in the monitoring process when the protocol is finally agreed, which will hopefully be soon?

Alistair Burt: The role of NGOs in monitoring and in the transparency efforts that we are trying to make in the treaty will be vital. They can see an important role for themselves and we will certainly encourage that. I am very keen to keep them involved but practically, not everybody can go to the same meetings. The chair has taken the view that to get things done now—we have lost a bit of time—he has had to produce this programme. Everybody over there understands that, but we will do our best to keep everyone in touch.

It is too early to say how the negotiations will conclude. A lot can change in two weeks in a multilateral negotiation of this sort—I am sure colleagues appreciate that momentum builds either towards success or something different. It is already clear that contentious issues remain, particularly around the treaty’s scope and criteria. As the hon. Member for Gower has noted, and as he said in his second question, a new chair’s paper has issued. The text is a discussion paper based on his consultations with all UN member states. Although the Government believe the paper is a good basis for discussions—we welcome large parts of the document, including, for example, the retention of ammunition in the scope—there are undoubtedly aspects that we believe need further work and strengthening.

One such aspect is the section on criteria. The UK delegation has made it clear in its interventions in New York and its bilateral consultations that the UK would like the language on criteria to be strengthened. The UK supports an ATT containing a mandatory refusal if there is substantial risk that the export would be used to commit a serious violation of international humanitarian or human rights law. Ministers and senior officials are echoing those sentiments in their bilateral and multilateral meetings on the treaty.

The hon. Gentleman also rightly raised in his third question the positive role the ATT could have in reducing

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armed violence and gender-based violence. Let me assure him and the House that gender-based violence is an important issue for many states, not least the UK. We want it included in the treaty. All groups, whether characterised by age, gender, ethnicity, religion or other, should be afforded protection by an ATT. We will continue to work with like-minded states to ensure we secure the strongest possible ATT.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): May I reiterate on behalf of the House the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Martin Caton)? We need firmer measures. If that means fewer measures, so be it. We then take the battle into the Assembly itself.

Alistair Burt: As the hon. Member for Gower suggested, I do not want to indicate at this stage what the likely outcome will be, but I am on record as saying at one or two meetings that we will not sign an agreement that makes things weaker. There is no point in that, and there has to be a moment when we walk away, but I will not hide it from colleagues that the choice might end up being very difficult. We want to get enough in to make it worth while and we want enough people to sign to make it effective, but there will be some tough choices to make at the end. All I can say is that we will do our best to be as inclusive as possible when we get there. Then we will see. There will always be a tomorrow. That is important. Whether or not this is as successful as we want—it is highly unlikely to be written as we would want it—there will always be the opportunity of a further process.

The commitment of the Government, the UK delegation, the wider team in London and our network of posts around the world remains clear, and reflects the view of the House. We will work tirelessly, co-ordinating closely with civil society and the UK defence industry in support of our common goal. This is an historic opportunity to make the world a safer place. The international community owes it to the people whose lives have been blighted by conflict and armed violence associated with the unregulated trade in arms to use the remaining two weeks to maximum effect. The UK will be working tirelessly to this end. One of the purposes for which the UN was founded was to achieve co-operation in solving problems of a humanitarian character and to encourage respect for human rights. An effective, legally binding ATT will help to do that and more, and we are sparing no effort in our pursuit of that aim.

Question put and agreed to.

6.46 pm

House adjourned.