Prime Minister’s Visit to India

– in the House of Commons at 12:34 pm on 26th April 2022.

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Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford SNP Westminster Leader 12:34 pm, 26th April 2022

(Urgent Question): To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his recent visit to India. [Hon. Members: “Where is he?”]

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

I thought we treated women with respect in this place.

The Prime Minister visited New Delhi and Gujarat on 21 and 22 April to deepen our comprehensive strategic partnership with India. The relationship between the UK and India is one of friends, partners and equals. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shown the importance of greater and deeper partnerships between democracies. This visit enhanced our objectives on green growth, security and defence, as well as trade.

Security and defence are a vital element of our growing partnership, and the Prime Minister discussed next-generation defence and security collaboration, including through supporting the “make in India” approach to security and defence. A commitment was outlined in a joint cyber statement to deepen co-operation across cyber-governance, deterrence and strengthening cyber-resilience. The UK also issued an open general export licence to India, reducing bureaucracy and shortening delivery times for defence procurement. This is the first for a country in the Indo-Pacific.

Another priority is our trade and prosperity relationship, and the Prime Minister agreed with Prime Minister Modi to conclude the majority of talks on a comprehensive and balanced free trade agreement by the end of October 2022. UK businesses also confirmed more than £1 billion of new investments and export deals, creating almost 11,000 jobs here in the UK.

The Prime Minister and Prime Minister Modi discussed co-operation on clean and renewable energy, aimed at supporting India’s energy transition away from imported oil and increasing its energy security. We launched a hydrogen science and innovation hub to accelerate affordable green hydrogen, as well as committing new funding for the green grids initiative announced at COP26. The Prime Minister also confirmed a major new collaboration on science and technology.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford SNP Westminster Leader

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to the Minister for being here but, of course, this was a question to the Prime Minister. There is a clear convention that Prime Ministers have a duty to update this House following their attendance at major summits or following significant visits. This convention has been respected and followed by all Prime Ministers in recent years and, as on so many other matters, the only exception to that rule is the current Prime Minister.

Following the Prime Minister’s visit last week, he should have come to this House to give an update. He has once again failed to do so. Instead, he chose to go campaigning for his party in the local elections, although I suspect that will not do his party much good.

The Prime Minister’s failure to come before the House is by no means a one-off, as he failed to come before the House after the extraordinary NATO summit in March. There is a very clear pattern. This is a Prime Minister who has no respect for the office he occupies, and even less respect for this House.

Now the Minister has fronted up for her boss, I will ask her a number of questions. Can she provide an update on what discussions were had with Prime Minister Modi regarding the deteriorating situation in Kashmir? We all know how difficult and delicate this region is, and it requires constant vigilance and attention. Putin’s war in Europe is rightly our collective focus, but we must not lose sight of other countries and regions where conflict and violence are a constant threat.

Can the Minister also give more details on any progress towards a free trade deal? Reports suggest that October is the timeline for completion. Is that accurate?

What reassurance can she give to our farming and crofting communities, which have already been badly undercut by the post-Brexit trade deals this Government have negotiated? Given the many concerns about ongoing human rights violations in India, what provisions will be made in any free trade deal to promote and protect our values?

Finally, can the Minister guarantee that, whoever happens to be Prime Minister in the next few months, they will again follow convention and come before this House to make statements on significant visits?

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

The right hon. Gentleman should be congratulating the Prime Minister on going to visit one of the world’s largest and oldest democracies, with which we have a deep and broad relationship. India is the world’s sixth largest economy and is set to be the third largest by 2050. Its population is bigger than those of the United States and European Union combined. The relationship between democracies, especially at this time, with democracies under threat, is vital. He asked about the current trade deal. It would supercharge the growth of our trading relationship. Products such as Scotch whisky, let alone cars, currently face tariffs of more than 100%, so there could be particular benefits for the people of Scotland in agreeing this trade deal. If he had been here to listen to the Foreign Secretary earlier, he would know that she answered questions on the relationship with Kashmir, which I am sure we will come to later in this session.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

Does the Minister share my frustration that so often India’s reputation on human rights is traduced in this place unreasonably? Of course, the long-standing dispute in Kashmir gives rise to complexities and suffering, but we must always remember that India is a democracy that respects the rule of law and is doing its best to deal with a very difficult security situation in Kashmir.

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

My right hon. Friend speaks so eloquently on this subject. India is one of the world’s oldest democracies and there is a unique living bridge, including a 1.6 million-strong Indian diaspora in the UK, that connects our countries in so many ways. We must continue to have close, honest and open friendships with countries, such as with Rwanda, because it is important to have these friendships so that we can raise issues that concern us, such as on human rights, when they come up.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade

Conservative Prime Ministers being abroad when their leadership is under threat is not something new in our politics, but a Conservative Prime Minister abroad seeking to negotiate binding legal commitments from other world leaders when they have themselves broken the law is new, and the Prime Minister should be here giving a statement. Instead, we have a Prime Minister whose moral authority is so sullied, whose political authority is so weak, that he did not challenge India to change its official stance of neutrality on the appalling, illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine. India has a right to remain neutral, but why would a UK Prime Minister waste such an opportunity to at least try to convince our Indian friends to join us in standing up to Putin’s aggression? This sends out a worrying message that our Prime Minister lacks both the ambition and the ability to effectively use Britain’s diplomatic clout to influence others.

Questions were also raised when the Prime Minister visited a JCB factory owned by a Conservative donor, when bulldozers are being used on properties owned by Muslim people, yet the issues of communal violence and human rights breaches were not even raised by the Prime Minister, despite his promising to do so. That is not standing up for Britain and our values on the world stage; that is a moral failure from a Prime Minister too distracted by trying to save his own job. On trade specifically, the Prime Minister spoke about a deal by October. Labour values the historic link with India and the growth of trade, but we must set the standard high, not engage in a race to the bottom. So will the Minister confirm what the Prime Minister said to Prime Minister Modi about human rights, about binding commitments on climate change, about what he expects on labour standards and trade union rights, on gender equality and on protecting our public services, and about how he will prevent the outsourcing of UK jobs to India? What will the Prime Minister do to support exporters to take advantage of trade opportunities? The Minister mentioned Scotch whisky—is the negotiating aim for the removal of tariffs altogether? Finally, what will the Prime Minister do to meaningfully involve business, trade unions and civil society in the negotiating process itself, so that they are not presented with a “take it or leave it” deal at the end of the negotiations?

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

On Ukraine, the British Prime Minister and Prime Minister Modi released a statement immediately after their meeting which unequivocally condemned civilian deaths and reiterated the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities and a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The right hon. Gentleman might like to take a look at that statement.

We are aware of recent reports that properties were demolished in New Delhi and other states. We condemn any instance of discrimination because of freedom of religion or belief, regardless of the country or the faith involved. If we have concerns, we raise them directly with the Government of India. Our network of deputy high commissions will continue to follow the reports closely, while also recognising that it is a matter for India.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the free trade agreement. It could supercharge the growth of our trading relationship, which already totalled more than £23 billion in 2019. There is a great opportunity to forge a new economic partnership to the benefit of both countries. The information published at the time of the launch provides detailed information on what the UK seeks from a deal and the reasons for that, but we are just at the start of talks. We need to make sure that the final deal is mutually beneficial and acceptable to both countries, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. As is normal, more information on the shape and scope of the FTA will be made available at an appropriate time as negotiations progress.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

You and I, Mr Speaker, were looking forward to a visit to India during the Easter recess, but we have witnessed the Prime Minister’s groundbreaking visit. He is the first Prime Minister to visit the state of Gujarat, which is where Shri Narendra Modi was Chief Minister and is the powerhouse of the Indian economy. Many Gujaratis live in the UK, and wherever they have come they have brought with them economic power and the ability to contribute directly to our economy. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the plan is to conclude the free trade talks by Diwali? We will then be able to have a double celebration of Diwali—the Hindu new year—and a new opportunity for a free trade deal between our two great countries.

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

My hon. Friend is a great supporter of the people of India. Many members of the Indian diaspora live in his constituency and he is always incredibly good at standing up for them and wanting closer ties between our countries. The two Prime Ministers agreed that they want to conclude the majority of the talks on the comprehensive and balanced free trade agreement by the end of October. I hope that will give us all something to celebrate in the autumn.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Labour, Walsall South

The Minister said that we are at the start of the negotiations; will she confirm that the trade unions, business and civil society will be included in any discussions in both countries?

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

I am afraid the right hon. Lady will have to discuss the details of the negotiations with my counterparts in the Department for International Trade. There has been a public consultation, which showed that a significant number of barriers prevent UK companies from trading and investing in India. We want to reduce barriers but must also listen to those who are involved throughout the UK. The right hon. Lady really needs to raise the matter with a trade Minister.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

The partnership between the UK and India is not only vital to both our nations but important for global peace and security. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the UK Government will continue to discuss global security matters with India?

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

Absolutely—my hon. Friend is spot on. It is vital, at this time, that countries that believe in democracy come together and work more closely against authoritarian regimes, against aggression and in favour of global security.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

Had the Prime Minister been here today, I would have inquired of him whether, while he was in India, he impressed on the Indian Prime Minister the fact that the £2 billion increase in trade with Russia at a time when we had sanctioned it in respect of Ukraine potentially undermined our position, and whether he tried to persuade the Prime Minister of India that that was not an acceptable route for a UK trading partner. Notwithstanding the statement that the Minister read out, will she assure us that the Prime Minister made the case to the Indian Government for sanctions against Russia?

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

I thank the hon. Lady for her point. Again, the two Prime Ministers made a joint statement condemning the civilian deaths that have occurred during the Russian invasion, and called for an end to all hostilities. One of the key issues was increasing our defence and security partnership with India. That is about helping India to become more self-reliant and less reliant on imports from other countries.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

I very much welcome the strengthening of relations between the UK and India, two great democracies. In that vein, what discussions did the Prime Minister have with his Indian counterparts on the defence of democracy against growing threats from autocracies, not only in the Indian Ocean region but in Europe?

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

An absolutely key part of the visit was about great democracies coming together to stand against aggressive states. The Prime Minister discussed India’s commitment to transforming defence and security co-operation and enhancing engagement in support of a free, open and secure Indo-Pacific. That whole part of the region, and its security, was a key part of the discussions between the Prime Ministers.

Photo of Khalid Mahmood Khalid Mahmood Labour, Birmingham, Perry Barr

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister could not make himself available for this urgent question—an important part of the work that he should be doing. We know that this Prime Minister does not want the duties that he is assigned.

The Minister said that India is the oldest democracy, but it was founded in 1948; that does not make it the oldest democracy. India is a human rights abuser across all its country—for the Sikh community, for the Muslim community, for the Christian community and particularly strongly for the Kashmiri community. The Minister talks about signing an agreement in the run-up to Diwali, but that would be dancing on the human rights and civil liberties of all those people who have been persecuted in India. Does she accept that that is not acceptable to us as a democracy?

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

We do not pursue trade at the exclusion of human rights. We regard both as an important part of a deep, mature and wide-ranging relationship with our partners. The partnership with India is very important for both our countries.

Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

East Lancashire has a wide diaspora community, not just from India but from the wider region, including Pakistan and Bangladesh. Will the Minister illuminate the House on what steps her Department will take to engage that diaspora when it comes to negotiating a free trade deal, not just in India, but in the wider region? I suggest to her that entrepreneurs in east Lancashire who go to work every day know better what supercharges the economy than civil servants who work from home.

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

My right hon. Friend makes a really important point. It is businesses and entrepreneurs who create jobs and employ people; it is not Governments, and we should always remember that. It is important therefore that we listen to the voices of businesses and entrepreneurs while we seek to negotiate trade deals. Trade deals are there to tear down the barriers that they often face when trying to free up business opportunities. Their voices must be listened to as part of the negotiations.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Labour, Brent North

Three British citizens—Saeed and Sakil Dawood and Mohammed Aswad—were murdered in the communal violence in India 20 years ago. Their families have been asking that the remains of the bodies, which are held by the authorities, be returned to them in this country. The Prime Minister knows of the issue and has been asked to do something about it. Did he raise it when he spoke with Prime Minister Modi?

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

The hon. Gentleman raises a very serious case. I am not aware of the details, but I will follow up with my noble Friend Lord Ahmad, who leads for us on Indian matters in this case. I know that the Prime Minister raised a number of different consular cases with the Prime Minister of India, and handed over a note on various other consular cases, but I will ask Lord Ahmad to get back to the hon. Gentleman on the issue that he has raised.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

India has been dependent on Russian defence equipment for a very long time. It is therefore vital, in the process of our closer alignment and partnership with India, that we do all we can to discuss and take forward a defence relationship that includes equipment and manufacturing. Does my hon. Friend agree that that security reason above all makes it vital that the Prime Minister—whoever the Prime Minister of the day is—visits India and takes forward that relationship?

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

I agree that it is important to have a very strong UK-India defence relationship. That is why we work together as trusted partners in the India-UK defence and international security partnership framework. As I said in my opening statement, part of that is about supporting the Government of India’s “made in India” approach to security and defence. The two Prime Ministers noted the importance of robust defence industrial collaboration for manufacturing and key capabilities. It is absolutely correct that, at this time of global insecurity, we work with partners such as India to make sure that they are more self-reliant in their security.

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Labour, Batley and Spen

Does the Minister agree that, although we all want an improved trading and diplomatic relationship with India, it should be on the basis of shared values, including religious tolerance and respect for minorities? As the Prime Minister is not here to answer for himself, can she tell us what representations he made to Narendra Modi about the concerns of British Muslims—including in my constituency of Batley and Spen—that Islamophobia and attacks on religious minorities are on the increase in India?

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

The UK is absolutely committed to defending freedom of religion or belief for all, and to promoting respect and tolerance between different religions and indeed between religious and non-religious communities. We condemn any incidences of discrimination because of religion. Our high commissioner in Delhi, and our network of deputy high commissioners across India, regularly meet religious representatives, and have run projects to help support minority rights. The Indian constitution protects all communities, but we will always raise human rights issues with countries across the world where we have concerns.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, as the UK holds the COP presidency, the Government are working to support India’s energy transition away from imported oil and towards a more sustainable energy source, to address both energy security and climate change?

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

Yes. As president of COP, the UK is absolutely focused on ensuring that the promises made in Glasgow are delivered. I was really pleased to hear that during the Prime Minister’s visit we launched the hydrogen and science innovation hub to accelerate affordable green hydrogen; we committed new funding for the green grids initiative that we announced in Glasgow; and there was collaboration on the public transport electrification. Globally, we also committed up to £75 million to rolling out adaptable clean tech innovations from India to the wider Indo-Pacific and to Africa. That benefits not only India but the Indo-Pacific, Africa, the UK and, indeed, the planet.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (PPS to the Westminster Leader)

I wish every Sikh on these islands a happy Vaisakhi, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford on securing the urgent question.

The Minister mentioned Scotch whisky but not the Scot Jagtar Singh Johal; she noted a list of priorities, but not Jagtar Singh Johal. Can the Minister advise on whether, in discussions with Prime Minister Modi, the Prime Minister—not civil servants, not with a note—directly challenged the arbitrary detention of Jagtar Singh Johal, who now faces a death penalty, and question the trial-by-media that my constituent has faced since 2017? If not, why not?

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

The Prime Minister did raise Mr Johal’s case and handed over a note on consular cases. The 2030 roadmap for India-UK future relations, which was agreed by the UK and Indian Governments, includes a commitment

“to resolve long-running or complex consular cases.”

The Foreign Secretary has agreed to meet the hon. Gentleman and for Mr Johal’s brother and wife to join the meeting. I know officials are in contact to schedule that meeting.

Photo of Lee Anderson Lee Anderson Conservative, Ashfield

Just last week, the Opposition parties were having a go at Rwanda; this week it appears to be India, and goodness knows what country it will be next week. Can the Minister confirm that it is vital to have a good relationship with India that benefits not only the UK, but Scotland?

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

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, as ever. India is the world’s sixth largest economy, a member of the Commonwealth, a long-standing democracy and a good friend of the UK. We must continue to keep our good relations with India going.

Photo of Apsana Begum Apsana Begum Labour, Poplar and Limehouse

In recent months, there have been reports that prominent Muslim women in India have appeared on unsanctioned apps listing them for auction, and leading public figures have openly called for Muslims to be killed. In Karnataka, a court passed a ruling banning schoolgirls from exercising their religious beliefs by wearing the hijab in class. Did the Prime Minister raise concerns about human rights violations by the Indian Government, including the anti-Muslim violence that many feel is being whipped up by Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP?

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

It is a shocking story that the hon. Lady tells, but we do engage with India on a range of human rights matters. We work with both union and state governments and with non-governmental organisations to help to build capacity and share expertise to promote human rights for all. As she knows, supporting women and girls is a top priority for this Government and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Where we have concerns, we raise them directly with the Government of India, including at ministerial level.

Photo of Andrew Bowie Andrew Bowie Conservative, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of being at the opening of the next round of trade talks between the UK and the United States in Aberdeenshire. There was genuine excitement, particularly from the businesses represented in the room, at the prospect of a deal by Diwali with India. However, as my hon. Friend Richard Graham has said, given the situation in the world right now, of more immediate concern is our security and defence relationship. Can my hon. Friend the Minister expand on what was discussed by the Prime Minister and Narendra Modi about how we can improve our defence and security relationship with India?

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

I know my hon. Friend, as a former member of the Royal Navy, cares passionately about our defence. The leaders agreed to intensify co-operation as trusted partners under the India-UK defence and international security partnership framework. They noted the importance of robust defence industrial collaboration and worked specifically on the issue of cyber-security in a joint cyber statement. The aim is to deepen co-operation across cyber-governance, deterrence and strengthening cyber-resilience. The open general export licence will also reduce bureaucracy and shorten delivery times for defence procurements. This is the first time we have signed such a deal with any country in the Indo-Pacific.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Trade), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Chief Whip

Mr Modi has the right to set India’s own foreign policy, of course, but did the Prime Minister specifically raise India’s continuing trade with Russia and Mr Modi’s decision to abstain on the UN motion condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

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

It is right that every country in the world has the right to make its own decisions. The UK should not go finger-pointing at our friends and partners every time we decide to do something different from them. I know the two Prime Ministers discussed the situation in Ukraine. This is a time when it is really important that democracies stand together and deepen the way they work together to prevent aggression and to strengthen global security. That is why the two Prime Ministers released a statement immediately after their meeting in which they both unequivocally condemned the civilian deaths that have been happening in Ukraine and reiterated the need for an immediate ending of hostilities.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

A trade deal with India is incredibly important. It is extraordinary that the Prime Minister has not come here to make a statement and that the Government have had to be dragged here by an urgent question titled “Prime Minister’s Visit to India”. We want to raise issues with the Prime Minister about human rights, religious tolerance, the impact on jobs both here and in India, women in particular and peace across the world, particularly in the light of India’s failure to condemn Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. That shows that we have a Prime Minister who is not capable of doing his job. He is avoiding scrutiny in this House because of the troubles he has created for himself. It is an absolute disgrace. What does the Minister think that having her, who was not even on the delegation, at the Dispatch Box answering for the Prime Minister says to the Indian Government?

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

It is really important that the Prime Minister of our country goes to visit other major Prime Ministers and to make deals that are good for our security, our defence and jobs in this country. Our Prime Minister answers questions from MPs in this House every week on Wednesday, and they will get to question him tomorrow.

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

While the Prime Minister was away in India, the London School of Economics published research showing that our trading relationships with the EU have plummeted by one third since the Prime Minister signed that trade deal and it came into effect. Will the Minister tell the Prime Minister when she sees him after this UQ that no free trade deal he could ever achieve with India will replace the damage done to Britain’s international trade by Brexit?

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

I know the Prime Minister keeps a close eye on trade and economic numbers and on the prosperity of this country at a very difficult time for world prosperity.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South

The Prime Minister began his trip to India with a visit to a JCB factory, just one day after the company was embroiled in controversy after its bulldozers were used to illegally demolish Muslim homes and businesses in Delhi, and following widespread anti-Muslim violence in India, which is widely seen as being whipped up by Modi and the ruling BJP. I ask the Minister again, since she has failed to answer the question: did the Prime Minister challenge Modi on the BJP’s role in anti-Muslim violence in India, or did he again disregard human rights abuses? Does the Minister acknowledge that the visit to the JCB factory was a mistake?

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

We condemn any instance of discrimination because of religion or belief. I will say it again and again: protecting freedom of religion or belief is one of the top human rights priorities for this country. Where we have concerns, we raise them, including at ministerial level.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade)

If I heard the Minister correctly earlier, she said that we do not pursue trade agreements to the exclusion of human rights. In the Prime Minister’s attempt to escape the consequences and publicity surrounding breaking his own laws by very quickly announcing this trade agreement, can the Minister confirm whether he raised any red lines on human rights at all that would stop this deal’s proceeding?

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

We regard both trade and human rights as important parts of a deep, mature and wide-ranging relationship with our partners. India is one of the largest and fastest-growing economies in the world, and it is absolutely right that we work with it as a partner, both raising issues of concern and trying to increase economic ties to the benefit of all our constituents and the people of India.

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East

I am going to try again, since the Minister did not answer my hon. Friend Zarah Sultana when she asked. We know that during the Prime Minister’s visit he was photographed leaning out of a digger in a JCB factory. Just days before, the BJP had used JCB diggers to bulldoze Muslim shops and homes and the gate of a mosque in New Delhi. Local governments in a number of other Indian states have carried out similar demolitions. I ask again: did the Prime Minister raise that with Modi? If not, why not? Does the Minister accept that the Prime Minister’s visit to India has helped to legitimise the actions of Modi’s far-right Government?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

When the Prime Minister raised the case of Jagtar Singh Johal, did he do so on the basis that for the past four years Mr Johal has been the victim of arbitrary detention?

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

I know that the Prime Minister raised his case, I know that he handed over a note on consular cases, and I know that the Foreign Secretary has agreed to meet with the hon. Member who represents Mr Johal’s constituency and with Mr Johal’s brother and wife. We deplore and condemn the use of arbitrary detention in all circumstances.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

We should be concerned about human rights abuses of religious minorities across India. We should be concerned about the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir by the Indian Government. We should be concerned about the military lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir and the resulting human rights issues. I really do wish the Prime Minister was here to answer. The Minister said earlier that we do not pursue trade at the cost of human rights. If that is correct, what clauses to protect human rights do the Government intend to put into any trade deal with India?

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

As regards Kashmir, any allegation of human rights violation or abuse is deeply concerning and needs to be investigated thoroughly and transparently. We have raised our concerns about Kashmir with the Governments of both India and Pakistan. We are very clear on the importance of rights being respected. We continue to call for all remaining restrictions imposed since the constitutional changes in August 2019 to be lifted as soon as possible and for any remaining political detainees to be released. It is for India and Kashmir to find a long-lasting political resolution on Kashmir, but that also needs to take into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

My constituent Syed has been in touch regarding persecution of Muslims in India. Because the Minister has not answered anybody else’s question on this issue, let me specifically ask her: what did the Prime Minister say to Prime Minister Modi about the persecution of Muslims and those of other faiths in India?

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

As I have said again and again, we engage with India on a range of human rights matters, working with the union and state governments, and where we have concerns we raise them directly with the Government of India, including at ministerial level.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport)

It is incredibly important that we increase co-operation, ties and trade with allies across the globe, including India, but it is extremely discourteous that the Prime Minister could not even update the House about his visit, as is convention. Why could he not be bothered to raise at the highest level the much publicised issues of human rights of minorities and the detention of British citizens, and why did he not convince his Indian counterpart to show support and solidarity with the people of Ukraine, as is our collective effort?

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

The Prime Minister was on a mission looking at increasing trade between our countries, increasing security and defence at a time of global interest in security and defence, and addressing the issues of climate change and making sure that we help India to deliver on the important promises that it made at COP. I have already told the House that we raise issues of human rights in India at ministerial level, and that we raise consular cases. I think that the hon. Gentleman should welcome that. On Ukraine, I point again to the joint statement that the two Prime Ministers made immediately after their meeting.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary)

Through the European Scrutiny Committee, on which I served for a number of years, when the United Kingdom was a member of the European Union, this House had sight of every trade deal before it was signed. Every trade deal the UK entered into as a member of the EU was subject to the consent of this House. Given that Brexit was about taking back control to this Parliament, can we assume that the Minister will commit that any trade deal with India will be brought back to this House for consideration before it is signed?

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

I can confirm that information on the shape and scope of the free trade agreement will be made available at an appropriate time as negotiations progress.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

I start by wishing all my constituents in Warwick and Leamington a happy Vaisakhi. The trade deal would have been an extremely important matter for the Prime Minister to take questions on, particularly as it relates to my constituency, where Tata is very much represented; it is a major part of our regional, if not the UK, economy. The much-respected Jonathan Powell said that at all meetings, it was normal for a Prime Minister to be attended, on a one-plus-one basis, by the opposing Prime Minister or President. Will the Minister confirm that that happened on this trip? Will she also specify whether the Prime Minister raised the issue of joint sanctions, or of India reducing its dependency on Russian energy?

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

The entire point of this trip was to increase co-operation between the UK and India, to increase trade deals between ourselves, and to make sure that India can become more self-reliant. On energy, as I have updated the House, we made progress in a number of areas on the move towards clean energy. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, moving towards the use of more renewables and clean energy is a key part of our domestic strategy to help reduce reliance on fossil fuels. As regards one-on-one meetings with leaders, a number of times, on recent visits to countries, I have met one on one, as opposed to one plus and one plus, as occasionally people may want to discuss things directly. I cannot confirm who was in the room, but I am sure the hon. Gentleman can ask the Prime Minister tomorrow.

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford on bringing forward this urgent question. I have respect for the Minister, but it is a matter of fact, at this late stage, that she has been unable to answer many of the questions asked. I do not criticise her for that; I criticise the Prime Minister for putting her in this position and for the discourtesy shown to the House. I will ask an easy one: can she tell us, for the record, about the Government’s best-case scenario of a boost to UK-India trade from this agreement, and does it come anywhere near to touching the sides of the proven—as calculated by the London School of Economics and published this morning—decline of 25% in UK exports to the EU relative to the rest of the world?

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

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, when it comes to trade deals, we need to look at what is negotiated in the final partnership to see which sectors will benefit most, and it is important to have a trade deal that benefits both partners. We believe that this could significantly increase, and indeed supercharge, the trade between our two countries, which already totals over £23 billion. There are various sectors in which there are significant barriers. I mentioned that Scotch whisky has a tariff of over 100%, and cars do as well. I am sure that as these negotiations progress, further analysis will be looked at.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (COP26)

This too might be a tough question for the Minister to answer, but has the Prime Minister insisted on specialists in human rights and environmental matters being included on trade delegations to India during the ongoing free trade negotiations?

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

As I have said, we are just at the start of talks. The final deal would need to be mutually beneficial and acceptable to both countries. I am sure that the hon. Lady can ask questions about who takes part in which delegations in International Trade questions.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Let me return once again to defence. At the G7 last year, considerable mention was made of the new D-10 grouping, which includes India and is against the autocracies of the world. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has the Prime Minister taken the D-10 forward, because it could be extremely useful to this country in terms of our future stance, and if not, could the Minister encourage him to do so?

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

I have heard the hon. Member’s comments. More widely, it is absolutely key that we continue to work with democracies to counter aggressors and strengthen global security. India is one of those countries that it is really important to work with at this time.

Photo of Stephen Flynn Stephen Flynn Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

The Prime Minister secured no new commitments on human rights and no immediate concessions on Scottish whisky, and did not change the Indian Government’s stance on the war in Ukraine. Is it not safe to say that the only thing he succeeded in last week was getting 4,000 miles away from his Back-Benchers?

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

During the meeting, UK and Indian businesses confirmed more than £1 billion in new investments and export deals, creating more than 11,000 jobs in the United Kingdom. I suggest that the hon. Member talks to one of the individuals taking up one of those jobs and tells them that there was no worth in this visit.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

During talks with Prime Minister Modi, did the Prime Minister discuss India’s relationship with China and how pressure from China could slow or hinder trade deals?

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

I have given a great deal of detail on what was discussed about trade and security; security in defence, including cyber-security; and climate change. I cannot go into further detail at this time.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister for the details of the visit to India. There is a strong and growing evidential base showing high levels of persecution of Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Kashmiris and other ethnic and religious groups. Can the Minister say what talks about persecution and human rights abuses took place? Are the Indian Government committed to allowing the freedom of expression that we have in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

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

I know that my hon. Friend was born in Omagh, as I was. It is a part of our country where differences in religious views have led to violence. I know that he cares about that as passionately as I do. We engage with India on a wide range of human rights matters, including issues relating to freedom of religion and belief, and we will continue to do so. We are working with non-governmental organisations to build capacity and promote human rights, and where we have concerns, we raise them with the Government of India, including at ministerial level, because friends should be able to have difficult conversations when there are differences of opinion, and should stand up for those whose human rights are threatened.