In a heavy defeat for the government, the House of Lords backed a cross-party amendment to the Trade Bill by 367 votes to 214 — majority 153 — which would allow a parliamentary panel of judicial experts to make an initial determination on whether genocide had been carried out by a signatory to an agreement.
The vote is the latest iteration of the legislative tussle between the House of Lords and Commons — known as parliamentary “ping pong”.
Peers are insisting safeguards are put in place to prevent the UK signing free trade deals with foreign powers deemed guilty of genocide.
With original proposals to give the High Court powers to determine whether a foreign power has committed genocide rejected by the government, the crossbench peer Lord Alton put forward a fresh amendment on Tuesday.
Proposing a “tweak”, Lord Alton pressed for a parliamentary panel of former judicial experts — rather than the High Court — to be involved in making a determination on whether genocide has been carried out by a signatory to a trade agreement.
Arguing for the measure, Lord Alton told peers: “We have failed to predict genocide, we have failed to prevent genocide, we have failed to protect victims of genocide and we have failed to prosecute perpetrators of genocide.
“The genocide amendment is a modest attempt to begin to address some of those failings. The all-party amendment is a genuine attempt to try and meet the government halfway.
“We have tweaked the government amendment, which would enable the appropriate select committee to refer evidence, if they have found some, to an ad hoc judicial committee comprised of members of our House who have served at the highest levels of the judiciary.
“Although emphatically it is not a court, which was the preferred option of peers, it would be empowered to determine whether the evidence is sufficient to support the claim that genocide has been or was being committed by a state counter-party to a bilateral trade agreement.”