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Britain in the World

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:42 pm on 13th January 2020.

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Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development) 9:42 pm, 13th January 2020

It is an honour to address this House on behalf of the Government and to close this debate on Britain in the world. I am grateful for the insightful contributions from all the right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken, and I will try to respond to as many of the points raised as I can. I am particularly delighted to welcome the maiden speeches from new Members—my hon. Friends the Members for Delyn (Rob Roberts) and for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), Daisy Cooper, and my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford (Theo Clarke) and for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan).

For me, my hon. Friend the new Member for Stafford is a familiar face, as I have met her several times in her former role as chief executive and founder of the cross-party Coalition for Global Prosperity. She paid full and deserved tribute to her predecessor, Jeremy Lefroy, whose expertise in international development was respected across this House. She has already proven herself as a powerful advocate of Britain’s global role in promoting international development, and I think the people of Stafford will be incredibly well served by her.

It is appropriate that my hon. Friend the new Member for Wakefield made his maiden speech in this debate, given his wide experience around the world—and we “Agadoo” warmly welcome him. [Laughter.] He is the first Ahmadiyya Muslim ever elected to this place, which is an important first and consistent with our party’s record as one of opportunity. His experience advising a range of Governments across the world will I hope be extended to offering me some helpful tips, and I hope he will not mind if I try to parachute him in from time to time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton has a tough act to follow in Sir Alan Duncan, but her maiden speech has been rightly praised from both sides of the House.

I am sure all Members will agree with her remarks on serving our constituents to the best of our abilities. She also made several telling comments about the complex nature of the diplomatic and national security challenges we face today. I welcome the expertise she brings to this and look forward to her contribution in future debates on this topic.

My hon. Friend the new Member for Delyn spoke persuasively about our Union and Wales’s place in Britain, largely speaking without notes. It is excellent to see more Conservative representatives from Wales, and particularly from constituencies with large aerospace factories, in his case Airbus, in mine Rolls-Royce. As he said, we are now truly the party of the workers. He spoke warmly about his predecessor, who was, indeed, well respected across the House, as I feel sure my hon. Friend will be.

I also welcome the contribution from the hon. Member for St Albans. As someone who lives next door to a pub, I welcomed the focus of her remarks. I can assure her that the Government will keep Britain open—open to business and open to collaboration on science and climate change. She paid a generous tribute to her predecessor, Anne Main. Anne was one of this House’s leading advocates for the Bangladeshi community and for persecuted Rohingya Muslims. I pay tribute to Anne for her work, and I am sure the hon. Lady and other Members around the House will continue with that work in this Parliament.

This Government are immensely proud of Britain’s role in the world—in history, now, and in the new role we will play as we get Brexit done and unleash the potential of this country. My right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary is in Kenya today meeting the Kenyan President to discuss the huge potential of closer partnership between our countries. I have just this morning returned from Africa—I was pleased to visit Angola, Uganda and Namibia—where I discussed deepening our trading partnerships with those countries. Relationships that boost British business but also strengthen countries across Africa are very important, and that point was made by several Members in this debate. Supporting countries’ economic growth to help them become self-sustaining is their best route out of poverty.

As we leave the European Union, we will embark on a new chapter in our country’s history, deciding for ourselves our own priorities and negotiating our own trade deals—deals that will be fair as well as free. We will strengthen our links with the Commonwealth, which boasts some of the most dynamic economies around the world. The African investment summit we are holding in London next week was mentioned by Chi Onwurah and my hon. Friend Theo Clarke. It will create lasting partnerships that will deliver investment, jobs and growth across Africa and in the UK.

As a responsible world-leading nation, from promoting the rights of girls to be educated or combating the devastating effects of climate change to responding to the biggest health issues around the world, we are a country that leads on the world stage. We are the only major country that meets both the NATO target of spending 2% of our GDP on defence and the target of spending 0.7% of GNI on international development. They are targets this Government will honour, and that is only possible with a strong economy.

We should be proud of the role that Britain plays in the world; where we lead, others follow. When countries call for support, Britain answers. The UK is a development superpower; our global leadership projects our values and helps to protect our interests and secure our place in the world. Development is also central to our role in bolstering the rules-based international system, a role the UK is committed to, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear in his remarks earlier.

After Brexit, we will bolster our crucial international alliances and institutions. We will stand up and be counted in the United Nations Security Council, the UN, NATO, the Commonwealth, the G20, the G7 and the World Trade Organisation. We are proud of our peace-building and humanitarian efforts around the world. We are proud of our record in helping reduce global poverty and helping to save lives around the world. Building on those efforts, we will aim to end the preventable deaths of mothers, babies and children by 2030. This means ending malaria, one of the leading causes of death in children under five, and ending Ebola as a public health threat. It also means supporting the development and deployment of vaccines; an important signal of our commitment will be when we host Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance global replenishment conference in June.

Under this Conservative Government, the UK will continue to play a leading role in fighting for the rights of women and girls. Investing in girls’ education helps to boost women in the workforce. It boosts economic growth and prevents child marriage and early pregnancy. We will stand up for the right of every girl in the world to have 12 years of quality education, one of the most basic human rights—the right to a decent education. We will strengthen our role protecting human rights around the world by further developing an independent sanctions regime to tackle those who abuse them. We will continue our campaign to promote international media freedom and to end human trafficking and modern slavery. We will continue to promote and protect LGBT rights, including as Equal Rights Coalition chair, and we will host an international LGBT conference in May. We will seek to protect those persecuted for their faith and implement the Truro review recommendations, a topic eloquently raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield.

Another area on which the United Kingdom proudly leads the world is climate change and biodiversity loss. We were the first major economy to legislate for net zero emissions, and we will deliver by 2050. We have already reduced our carbon emissions by 43% since 1990. We have doubled the support we offer developing nations to tackle climate change and, as hosts of the UN climate change summit in Glasgow this November, we will ensure that we continue to provide global leadership. We will build new international partnerships to tackle deforestation and to protect landscapes and wildlife. We will establish a new £500 million blue planet fund to help to protect our oceans from plastic pollution, overfishing and rising sea temperatures, something rightly referred to by my hon. Friend Henry Smith.

Turning to a few more points raised during the debate, my right hon. Friend Mr Whittingdale spoke passionately about the importance of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in bringing parliamentarians together, and the role of the British Council and the BBC World Service. I could not agree more. His comments on media freedom and the number of journalists killed or still in jail really brought home why this is a top priority for the United Kingdom.

My right hon. Friend Dr Lewis spoke eloquently about the importance of defence spending, an area in which he has considerable expertise. As part of the spending round 2019, the Government committed to an additional £2.2 billion of funding for defence this year. That recognises the critical role defence plays in ensuring the safety and security of British people at home and abroad, supporting our allies, projecting influence and promoting UK prosperity. However, I appreciate, as always, that he will want us to go further.

My hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat, who so ably chaired the Foreign Affairs Select Committee for the past two years, spoke of the need to build new partnerships while remaining vigilant about the threat from China and Russia. He also reminded us that Britain will remain in Europe—Europe is not Brussels.

I am delighted to welcome back to this place my hon. Friend Mrs Drummond, who rightly paid warm and deserved tribute to her predecessor, Sir George Hollingbery. She spoke with real knowledge about soft power. I am delighted that we are helping to re-establish the all-party group on Yemen.

My right hon. Friend Alec Shelbrooke spoke with passion about defence infrastructure and, most importantly, the benefits of democracy. That is particularly apt exactly one month on from a sleepless night for all of us.

My hon. Friend Mr Baker spoke about the need to prioritise a free trade agreement with the USA. As he knows, we intend to secure a deal with the EU by the end of December, but there is a strong rationale for us to progress trade negotiations with the US from 31 January, as he said today and so eloquently set out in his recent article in The Daily Telegraph.

Having just returned last week from visiting the Commonwealth countries Namibia and Uganda and visiting Angola, which has applied to join the Commonwealth, I strongly agree with the comments by my hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell about the importance of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was also touched on by my hon. Friend Bob Blackman, who has always been a strong advocate of strengthening and deepening our ties with India.

My hon. Friend Andrew Bowie reminded us why as the UK we are stronger together and of the fact that the UK was the first country in the G7 to hit the UN target of spending 0.7% on overseas development. My hon. Friend John Howell reminded us of the importance of the Council of Europe and the issues that are discussed there. He is correct when he says that there is a lack of understanding about the Council of Europe. However, I hope that he accepts and understands that, as a former pairing Whip who used to try to move heaven and earth to get him and other people there, I do get it.

My hon. Friend Bob Seely spoke about his concerns over Huawei. The final decision on high-risk vendors will be taken in due course and the Government will consider the full range of risks when making that decision.

In conclusion, the Queen’s Speech lays out our ambitious, optimistic and bold vision for our new place in the world. This new vision builds on the work of the British people—their work in making our country world-leading, whether that is British medics who spent their Christmas fighting a deadly measles outbreak in Samoa, or our world-leading climate change scientists and clean energy pioneers whose endeavours will benefit from our new £1 billion Ayrton fund, or the brave men and women of our armed forces who, in 2019, were involved in 35 operations across 30 countries.