The government has seen off a major Tory rebellion mounted to prevent ministers signing trade deals with countries implicated in genocide.
An amendment to the Trade Bill tabled by Conservative MPs Nus Ghani, Iain Duncan Smith and Tim Loughton was on Monday night defeated by 318 votes to 300, slashing the government’s majority of 80 to just 18.
They wanted to establish a parliamentary panel of judicial experts to determine whether any proposed signatory to a trade agreement with the UK had committed genocide, a proposal added to the bill in the House of Lords.
MPs later voted to formally reverse Trade Bill amendments made by peers which had sought to establish the panel, voting 319 to 297, a majority of 22, to disagree with the Lords.
The vote also approved a government compromise amendment.
The division list showed 29 Conservative MPs rebelled over two votes in a bid to stop the removal of the Lords genocide amendment. They included former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt.
MPs heard earlier that this will ensure ministers must put their position on record in writing to any select committee publication that raises “credible” reports of genocide in a country with which the UK is proposing a bilateral free trade agreement.
It follows a similar rebellion last month.
Ministers opposed the move arguing it would “blur the distinction between courts and parliament” while the response to concerns over genocide in relation to trade policy was ultimately a “political question”.
However they have faced growing unrest on the Tory benches among MPs concerned about China’s treatment of its Uighur minority in Xinjiang province.
Trade minister Greg Hands said the compromise the government has brought forward would require it to formally put in writing its position should any select committee publication raise “credible reports of genocide” in a country with which the UK is proposing a bilateral free trade agreement.
Hands had urged MPs to defeat the Lords proposal as it “blurs the distinction between legislative and judicial and runs contrary to government policy that is for competent courts to make determinations of genocide”.
But Conservative former party leader Duncan Smith said he was “sad” the government had not gone further on the matter.
Ahead of the vote and amid concerns over the treatment of the Uighur people, Duncan Smith said MPs had a chance to “send a message” that “we simply won’t put up with this”.
He said: “We’re not frightened of finding that this is genocide and we’re not frightened of saying it from the steeple-tops. We know that what we have to do is stand up for those who have no voice.
“This chamber has a history of doing that, it has an opportunity tonight to do that and I am sorry that my government who I hugely respect doesn’t think they can do it.”
Conservative former minister Ghani added she could not support the government’s amendment, telling MPs: “The government amendment only applies to countries which are formally negotiating a free trade agreement – the genocide amendment excludes the Uighurs.
“Considering everything that has been said today, I really think this is a shameful way to deal with our international and national responsibilities, that fundamentally sends the message that we have a two-tier system in place.”
The Trade Bill is now on the verge of becoming law following a lengthy parliamentary process known as “ping-pong” in which it moved between the Commons and Lords following amendments.