Topical Questions

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office – in the House of Commons on 26th April 2022.

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Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss Minister for Women and Equalities, Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Despite having failed in his initial aims, Putin continues his barbaric war in Ukraine. The United Kingdom, together with our allies, has stepped up sanctions and lethal aid. We have put more sanctions on than any other nation, including on oligarchs and banks, and we have supplied everything from hundreds of Starstreak anti-air missiles to ammunition. This week, our ambassador, Melinda Simmons, is returning to our reopened embassy in Kyiv. We will continue to back Ukraine until it prevails and Putin fails.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

In addition to the devastating impact of the conflict in Ukraine itself, the International Monetary Fund report shows that this is now having an impact on world food prices, particularly affecting some of the world’s poorest communities. In Yemen alone, there is evidence that food prices have increased by 150%. Will the Secretary of State tell us what assessment her Department has made of the impact of rising food prices in some of the world’s conflict zones and what the Government’s response will be?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss Minister for Women and Equalities, Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The hon. Lady is absolutely right: we are working closely with our international allies. We committed extra billions at the spring meetings last week to help to provide food aid to the rest of the world. We are also restoring our humanitarian budget, as part of our aid budget in the United Kingdom, to help to deal with the crisis.

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives

The independent review of persecuted Christians that was carried out in 2019 by the Bishop of Truro has been mentioned this morning, and it has its formal review this summer. The FCDO has made progress in adopting the report’s recommendations, but will the Secretary of State assure the House of further progress in this area by the summer?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss Minister for Women and Equalities, Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I am working very closely with my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce, who is our religious freedom envoy. I am pleased to be hosting and attending the global summit to promote the freedom of religion in July, and we continue to make progress on implementing all the recommendations of the Truro review.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

Wars rage in Africa, the middle east and now Ukraine. There is a growing climate crisis, food prices are surging and 300,000 children face death by starvation in Somalia. Britain’s reputation is in tatters after two years of callous aid cuts, having shut down the world-renowned Department for International Development. It is clear that Britain needs a strategy for long-term development to stop lurching from crisis to crisis. Can the Secretary of State confirm today exactly when the new strategy will be published? Will it be backed with the funding, focus, ambition and expertise needed to make a lasting difference in the world?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss Minister for Women and Equalities, Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

We will be publishing our new development strategy this spring. There are some key elements to the strategy: first, we will restore the budget for women and girls and restore the budget for humanitarian aid. In the face of the appalling crisis in Ukraine, we have already committed £220 million of development funding, and we are one of the largest donors.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

Across Keighley and Ilkley, there is no shortage of good will to help those who are affected by the conflict in Ukraine—including from Ilkley and Surrounds Support for Ukrainian Evacuees, a volunteer group led by Caroline Hyde that is working to help those seeking refuge within our community. Of course, that is dependent on the Government working with our European counterparts to ensure the safe passage of refugees from Ukraine. What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with her counterparts to make sure that that happens?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss Minister for Women and Equalities, Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the fantastic work that he is doing with the local community in Keighley and Ilkley. We are seeing people across Britain really contributing to the effort to support the people of Ukraine. We have now issued more than 70,000 visas to Ukrainians. We are working with Foreign Ministers right across Europe to ensure that we are completely co-ordinated, particularly with those Governments that are close by, like the Poles.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs)

We are now three weeks into the UN-sponsored truce in Yemen, which has resulted in the release of 14 foreign captives including UK national Luke Symons and his family. It is also intended to open roads, allow fuel through the port of Hodeida and allow commercial flights from Sanaa to Jordan and Egypt. But it is a fragile truce that could collapse at any minute, so can the Minister tell me what steps the UK is taking to support Hans Grundberg, the UN special envoy for Yemen, to keep the peace and to prevent a return to conflict and a re-escalation of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen?

Photo of Amanda Milling Amanda Milling Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The UK welcomes the two-month truce announcement in Yemen. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we continue to support the UN special envoy and co-ordinate closely with international and regional partners.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the £40 million support package over 10 years that was announced in 2016 for the Chagos island community?

Photo of Amanda Milling Amanda Milling Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for being such a strong voice for the Chagossian community; I know that he has a large Chagossian community in his constituency of Crawley. We have gone to great lengths to find projects for that money that will benefit the Chagossian community. I would like to meet my hon. Friend to discuss what more we can do.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport)

According to Human Rights Watch’s “World Report 2020”, the Rwandan regime is active in

“Arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities”.

Despite the Home Secretary’s nonchalant dismissal in the Chamber recently of legitimate concerns about the safety of asylum seekers, what mechanisms will the Foreign Secretary exercise in the oversight of those detention facilities to ensure that the same ill treatment and torture does not befall the already vulnerable human beings whom this Tory Government will be callously shipping off to Rwanda?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I make it very clear that there is an agreement between the Government of Rwanda and the Government of the UK: they have agreed with the Home Office to make sure that the rights of those who go from the UK to Rwanda are protected. May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that just last month, the UN Refugee Agency sent 119 refugees to Rwanda, and the UN itself described it as a very safe country? In December, the UN said that Rwanda had done an excellent job on integrated refugees. Will he please look at what is being said right now about how Rwanda is caring for these people with kindness?

Photo of Simon Jupp Simon Jupp Conservative, East Devon

Exmouth has welcomed Afghan refugees and their families while the Government work hard to find them long-term accommodation around the UK, but sadly some of their friends and family members have stayed behind. What reassurances can my right hon. Friend give that UK aid reaches those who need it most in Afghanistan, not the Taliban?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Minister of State (Minister for Europe)

Last month the UK co-hosted a donor conference with the United Nations, Qatar and Germany which raised more than £2.4 billion. We work through international agencies to ensure that the money reaches the people who need it, and that half of it reaches women and girls, who are particularly vulnerable in Afghanistan at the moment. We will continue to press the Taliban to adhere to their international commitments, and to press our international friends to ensure that the money is received by the appropriate people.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The recent fire in Hargeisa market has had a terrible effect on the people of Somaliland and their livelihoods. I understand that the FCDO is supportive and that is great, but what practical help will be given to the people of Hargeisa to help them to rebuild their lives?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

That fire was devastating. The UK is leading diplomatic and development response efforts on the ground, which include chairing an international co-ordination group that has visited the site and is assessing potential response options. This week our ambassador met the President of Somaliland, senior Cabinet members, the mayor of Hargeisa and the fire service commander to help shape our response. We are leading the international community, but also working with the locals on the ground.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee, Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee

The Taliban’s decision to suspend secondary school classes for girls in Afghanistan was deeply disappointing. Can the Minister confirm that the Government are working with our international allies in continuing to pressurise the Taliban to allow equal access to all levels of education?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Minister of State (Minister for Europe)

My hon. Friend has made a valuable point about the importance, internationally, of education for girls and support for women. I can assure him that the UK will always push to increase the availability of education for girls, particularly in Afghanistan, and will also push to ensure that our money, and international money, reaches the people who are most in need and is not siphoned off by the Taliban regime.

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member)

Last month a Saudi teenager, Abdullah al-Howaiti, was given a second death sentence for a crime that he was accused of having committed as a 14-year-old child. Sentencing a child to death is a violation of international law, and Reprieve has strongly condemned the move. Will the Secretary of State make representations to her Saudi counterparts, on behalf of the House, to prevent such a grotesque miscarriage of justice and violation of the rights of the child?

Photo of Amanda Milling Amanda Milling Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I will happily follow up that case after this questions session.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

The people of both Myanmar and Ukraine are risking their lives to continue fighting for freedoms that have been taken away. In both those countries, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy was running projects that were making a real difference in bolstering their democracies until the men with guns moved in. Today is the 30th anniversary of the foundation, of which you, Mr Speaker, are a patron, and many Members on both sides of the House have played an active role for a generation in promoting peace and democracy around the world, currently in about 30 countries. The Foreign Secretary has recently resolved our funding issues. Will she agree to play a leading role in events celebrating this anniversary, and ensure that her Department continues to give its own in-house open societies champion every chance to do even more good work?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss Minister for Women and Equalities, Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I am pleased that we were able to resolve the funding issues so that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy could continue its excellent work. What we are learning about as a result of the Ukraine crisis is the strength of democracies in fighting back and fighting for what they believe in, and it is organisations such as the foundation that help to provide the intellectual ballast for them to do so.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

The Spanish Government stand accused of using Pegasus, the controversial Israeli spyware, to hack into the phone of a Scottish solicitor who was representing Professor Clara Ponsati, Catalonia’s former Education Minister and now a Member of the European Parliament. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that if this occurred, it would constitute a disgraceful breach of solicitor-client privilege and a direct attack on a democratically elected politician, and will she take the matter up with the Spanish ambassador next time she meets him?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Minister of State (Minister for Europe)

I can assure the hon. and learned Lady and the House that we have a strong international relationship with Spain and we are able to raise all kinds of issues. I am not going to speculate or comment on the details that she has raised, as I have no way of corroborating them, but I can assure her that this Government will always stand up for the rule of law and our willingness to support it.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon

The Minister will be aware that next Tuesday is World Press Freedom Day, yet free media are under greater pressure than ever before, particularly in Russia where independent journalism has been ruthlessly suppressed. Does she agree that the need for independent news providers such as the BBC World Service is greater than ever, and will she ensure that they continue to receive all the funding they need?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour is absolutely correct. We totally condemn Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the lies it is using to promote it. It is seeking to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty, to obscure the truth and to hide war crimes. An independent media, including the World Service, is vital. We are providing the World Service with over £90 million this year, but we have also created a Government information cell to counter Russian information and ensure that the people of Russia can access the truth.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

When words are not enough, sometimes actions are required to bring about change. When is the UK going to ban the import of goods that are produced in the Israeli settlements that they deem to be illegal under international law?

Photo of Amanda Milling Amanda Milling Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We are clear on our position on the settlements: they are illegal under international law and we urge Israel to end settlement expansion. This is something that we raise with our counterparts.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

Has my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had an opportunity to raise the cases of my constituent Aiden Aslin and of Shaun Pinner with her Ukrainian and Russian counterparts? These two British citizens continue to be held in captivity and to be tortured and abused for propaganda purposes by the Russian military, which I hope all of us in this House will uniformly condemn. We want to see those individuals released as soon as possible.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Minister of State (Minister for Europe)

I have discussed the issue of foreign volunteer fighters with the Ukrainian Government. They are clear, and we are clear, that those fighting under the Ukrainian flag for the Ukrainian armed forces in the defence of Ukraine should be treated as Ukrainian military and as prisoners of war, with all the protections that the international humanitarian law affords to those individuals.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

On 21 April, an attack targeting the Hazara mosque in Afghanistan killed 30 people and injured 80. The violence and the dangerous situation is getting worse. What steps is the Minister taking to protect minoritised communities in Afghanistan and bring them to a place of safety in the UK?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Minister of State (Minister for Europe)

My hon. Friend the Minister in the other place, Lord Ahmad, discusses these issues with regional partners regularly. The UK remains committed to ensuring the protection of minorities. We will hold the Taliban to the commitments they have made and ensure that where possible we work with international partners to push them to the protection of ethnic minorities, religious minorities and other vulnerable people in Afghanistan.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes

I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s work on combating sexual violence in conflict and the fact that the Government have upgraded the money for this area. If she recognises that the International Criminal Court and the United Nations do not bring better outcomes for survivors of sexual violence or bring perpetrators to justice, does she agree that we need to look at a new international mechanism that the UK could lead?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss Minister for Women and Equalities, Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that we need to bring these perpetrators to justice. That is why we are funding the ICC to do more, as well as collecting our own evidence and working with the Ukrainians, but if a new mechanism is needed, we would be prepared to lead the work on that. The conference later this year on the prevention of sexual violence is a good opportunity to do that.