Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office – in the House of Commons on 31st January 2023.
If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.
Since the last oral questions, I have hosted my German counterpart in London, travelled to the United States and Canada, and hosted the Georgian Foreign Minister for bilateral meetings. In those meetings, I discussed the UK’s contributions to Ukraine’s war effort, including the decision to send tanks. Consequently, I am delighted that the US, Germany and others have now committed to send tanks to Ukraine.
Last December, I set out my vision for a far-sighted strategic approach to UK foreign policy. Over the next 25 years, we will invest even more in our relationships with the world’s rising powers. We will continue with our Indo-Pacific tilt. On Wednesday and Thursday this week, the Defence Secretary and I will be hosting our Australian counterparts at the AUKMIN meetings.
The Afghan citizens resettlement scheme is heavily backlogged. Just four people have been resettled under pathway 2 and no one under pathway 3. The schemes do not even support female NGO workers who are banned from working in Afghanistan. What are the Government doing to support these women in desperate need who seek refuge in the UK?
The plight of women in Afghanistan and the reprisal attacks the Taliban are perpetrating are disturbing to us all. We are very proud of the fact that we evacuated 15,000 people during Operation Pitting and a further 6,000 since. The administration of the schemes the hon. Member has raised is a matter for the Home Office, but we continue to liaise very closely on operationalising the commitments we have made to the Afghan people.
We all condemn the violence that has led to the death of so many Palestinians and Israelis this month. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that the UK still regards Israeli settlements as a flagrant breach of international law, as specified in Security Council resolution 2334, which I understand was largely written by the United Kingdom? If that remains the case, what is the penalty for those continued breaches?
I can assure my hon. Friend that our position on the illegality of those settlements remains unchanged. We raise the matter with Israel. As I have said, in my initial call with the Israeli Foreign Minister, I raised our desire for a meaningful, peaceful two-state solution. We will always speak out when we believe that something is happening with which we disagree, but we will always seek to provide a route to reconciliation, to dialogue, to de-escalation and ultimately to the delivery of that peaceful, sustainable two-state solution.
I call the shadow Foreign Secretary.
Last week, in response to my urgent question, the Government admitted that there was no ministerial oversight when they granted a sanctions waiver to Putin warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin enabling him to launch a legal attack on a British journalist. The Treasury conceded that it would consider changing the rules. What is the Foreign Office doing to ensure that the sanctions regime is never undermined in that way again?
The House will understand why I do not speak in detail about that specific case, but I know that a Treasury Minister responded to the right hon. Gentleman’s urgent question. More broadly, the whole point of sanctions is that they deter and change behaviour. That is why the enforcement of sanctions is so important. It is done predominantly through the Treasury, working very closely with my Department and in close co-ordination with our international partners. Enforcing sanctions is just as important as issuing them, so we will continue to work closely internationally to ensure that they are robust.
Last month, the Prime Minister heralded the international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace as an exciting new way of empowering peaceful co-existence. Does the Foreign Secretary share my passionate support for this groundbreaking initiative? Will he commit the UK to being at the heart of the effort to prepare for the much sought-after two-state solution as we deepen the Abraham accords?
The Abraham accords were groundbreaking. The UK supported them at the time, and we continue to support them. We will explore opportunities to make the most of that normalisation of relationships, particularly at the moment, when there is a real desire to de-escalate the current tensions that we are seeing in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. I can assure my hon. Friend that I personally and the ministerial team put a huge amount of effort into ensuring that.
Foreign Governments are requiring British workers to certify their covid status before taking employment in their countries. That leaves people who are medically exempt from vaccination, like my constituent Mr Hussain-Khan, in limbo. Without any formal documentation, their employment is at risk. Will the Foreign Secretary explain exactly what is being done to ensure that medically exempt people can get their status certified so that they can take employment?
If I have understood the hon. Lady’s question correctly, it is about the employment of British nationals in other countries. Obviously, each country is responsible for its own employment practices, rules and regulations. I was not aware of the circumstances of the case that she raises, but if she writes to me I will be more than happy to look into the details and see whether there is something we can do domestically, within the UK, to facilitate the actions of other Governments in relation to employment.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the glorification of martyrdom within Palestinian society remains a key obstacle to any future lasting peace agreements? That includes the payment of salaries to convicted terrorists by the Palestinian Authority, with higher salaries going to those who have killed more Israelis.
If there is to be any chance of a sustainable peace in Israel and the OPTs, it is incredibly important that people recognise the importance of tolerance and of working and living together. When I first became a Minister in the Department, I raised with the then Palestinian Education Minister the situation relating to textbooks being used in Palestinian schools. We will continue to work to encourage greater understanding and co-operation, rather than allowing this divisive narrative to be imposed on young Palestinian children.
Most people and businesses in Northern Ireland accept the need for the Northern Ireland protocol, but they want to see pragmatic solutions to the various challenges involved, and I am therefore encouraged by the progress that is being made in negotiations with the European Union. However, while I am conscious of the sensitivities, may I ask the Foreign Secretary to deepen his engagement with the Northern Ireland business community, particularly the Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group, in order to better road-test emerging solutions to ensure that whatever comes out of the talks will work on the ground?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s positive comments about the tone of the current conversations with the EU: I feel vindicated in my belief that professional but discreet negotiations are the route to success. As for Northern Ireland businesses, I met a group of them during my trip to Northern Ireland at the beginning of the year, when they raised a series of specific concerns that they wanted to be addressed. We took careful note of those concerns, and I assure the hon. Gentleman, the House and those businesses that we have them at the forefront of our minds during our negotiations with European Commission.
The Monserrat port development project, which is being funded by the UK, is essential to the driving of Montserrat’s economic development following the devastation caused by volcanic eruptions and hurricanes in recent decades. Will my hon. Friend confirm the Government’s commitment to funding this much-needed project until its completion, and does he agree that it is a tangible demonstration of the UK’s commitment to the overseas territories and, more specifically, to Montserrat?
I recognise my right hon. Friend’s sterling work for overseas territories when she served in the FCDO. We are absolutely committed to supporting economic development in Montserrat, and we are providing £28.3 million for the new port. I am pleased to say that construction work is due to begin shortly.
The Foreign Secretary spoke earlier about the malign impact of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran, and said that we were not limited to the current sanctions. However, he did not answer the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) about when we might see some action. What more will it take—this is, perhaps, a more important question—to persuade the Government to prescribe the IRGC?
I do not know whether my microphone is not working properly, but I listed the actions that we have taken. We have imposed a series of new sanctions in the last couple of months, specifically in response to the Iranian regime’s persecution of its own people and in response to its supply of drone weapons to Russia for use against Ukraine, and in relation to the executions of protesters, the execution of Mr Akbari, and to the regime’s malign activities in the region. I am willing to do more, but what I have said is that I will not speculate about what that might be. I can put something in the Library if it will help, just to make sure that the actions we have taken are fully understood by the House.
Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that the Government remain fully committed to deploying £11.6 billion of international climate finance up to March 2026? Will he also commit to setting out the annual projections for ICF spending over the next three years and, if possible, a breakdown between mitigation and adaptation finance?
My right hon. Friend knows a great deal about this subject, and has done an enormous amount. The Prime Minister announced at COP that Britain would stand by the commitment to spend £11,600 million on climate finance through the ICF, and yesterday there was a cross-Whitehall meeting with Ministers involved in the programme to discuss how that would be done. I will try to establish how much we can put into the public domain about those plans, as my right hon. Friend suggests, but I should emphasise that the pipeline of high-quality eligible projects is extremely important.
Thousands remain unjustly imprisoned in Egypt, including many lawyers. As well as doing all that it can to secure the release of the British-Egyptian dual national Alaa Abd el-Fattah, will the FCDO ensure that it continues to make representations for the release of Alaa’s lawyer and human rights defender, Mohamed el-Baqer?
As I said earlier, we are working closely on this particular case. I will ensure that the hon. Lady’s views are relayed to Lord Ahmad, and we will continue to work on those issues.
A recent poll of 33 countries found that people around the world are now more likely to believe that the UK is a positive influence than in 2016. Given our fantastic soft power and our fantastic global presence around the world, does my right hon. Friend agree that Opposition claims of reputational decline might be premature?
It is noteworthy that 92% of Ukrainians believe that the UK has had a positive influence on world affairs, second only to Canada, that 86% of Americans have a favourable opinion of the UK and that 34% of Americans have a very favourable opinion of the UK, which is up 4% since Labour left power. My hon. Friend is right to say that 69% of the 33 countries surveyed in the poll he mentioned said that they had an improved opinion of the UK. I suspect that the criticisms Mr Lammy deploys indicate that he spends a little too long on Twitter and radio phone-ins and not quite long enough going around the world listening to people what actually think about our fantastic country.
Order. Can I just say, we are going to be here a while because although these are topical questions, they are not being treated as topical questions in the answers. If the Foreign Secretary does not want to be here a long time, he needs to look at the length of his answers.
[R] As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for crypto and digital assets, I have been reading about the success of Oxfam’s UnBlocked Cash project. It uses blockchain technology to ensure the digital identity of recipients, and it has won the European Horizon prize and the World Summit award. What progress has the Department made on maximising UK aid reaching the most vulnerable via blockchain and distributed ledger technology?
Just a minute, Minister. When I said to the Foreign Secretary that he was taking too long, that did not mean that Back Benchers could take up all the time instead.
The hon. Lady raises an important point, and she specifically mentions Oxfam. Anything that Oxfam is involved with is well worth pursuing and I will look into it.
FSO Safer, the oil tanker off the coast of Yemen, continues to deteriorate. Funding has been raised, so can my right hon. Friend update the House on when the oil will be offloaded and the tanker made safe?
The Safer oil tanker has been an issue of international concern for quite some time and I am glad that funds have now been made available. I have spoken to the Yemeni Government, the Saudi Government and even representatives of the Houthis about this to try to get the matter resolved, and we will continue to push to prevent what would be an ecological disaster on an unprecedented scale if that tanker were breached.
Four million Yemeni people have been forced from their homes, thousands have died and Britain has sold billions of pounds-worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, which have been used to bomb Yemen. When will we stop supplying Saudi Arabia in order to bring about peace in Yemen?
When will the right hon. Gentleman condemn Iran for providing weapons to the Houthis that have been used against both Saudi and the United Arab Emirates? We have been instrumental in facilitating talks, which have brought temporary periods of peace, and we will continue to work with the Yemeni Government and with the other countries in the region to bring about a sustainable peace in Yemen. That should be our aim, and that is what we will continue to do.
In the horn of Africa, millions of people are facing starvation due to the worst drought in 40 years. We know that local non-governmental organisations can play a vital role in reaching the local groups of people affected, so what proportion of our £156 million of promised aid is going to people through local NGOs?
We take an absolutely pragmatic approach to this and we use the best possible vehicle for getting the humanitarian aid through. I can tell my right hon. Friend that we will meet the target of £156 million that we budgeted for by the end of the financial year.
A UK Treasury official recently said of Japan’s attempt to co-ordinate a G7 response to China’s economic coercion that it is “more words than results”. Does the Minister agree with Japan’s Economy, Trade and Industry Minister that effective responses to economic coercion should be a major focus of this year’s G7 summit?
I was in Japan just a couple of weeks ago, and I spoke to Foreign Ministers. The focus they are bringing to their G7 presidency will ensure that economic security and all that falls from it are at the heart of discussions.
Following the anti-India propaganda recently broadcast by the BBC, there were widespread protests outside the BBC’s headquarters on Sunday. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Indian high commissioner to reassure our Commonwealth partner that this propaganda is not the policy of this Government?
I recently had the opportunity to speak to the Indian high commissioner on this and a number of other issues. We recognise how this portrayal of the Indian Government has played out in India. I made it clear that the BBC is independent in its output, that the UK regards India as an incredibly important international partner and that we will be investing heavily in that relationship in the coming decades.
During Colombia’s national strike and protests of 2021, gender-based violence was used as a tool of repression by the national police to punish those who dared to speak out. This included the rape and torture of girls who were detained and the targeting of LGBTQ people. With a new Government in Colombia who are committed to the peace process, will the Minister do everything he can to support them to ensure the police never again use these tactics?
The short answer is, yes, we are working very hard on that issue, which I know is important to the hon. Lady. We are committed to working to tackle these atrocities, particularly against women. When I went to Colombia, I was privileged to meet victims of sexual violence. Our recent conference on the preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative illustrates our commitment to tackling this horrendous crime.
I thank the Chair of the International Development Committee for raising this important point. We have put disability at the centre of what we do. I met the Bond Disability and Development Group, a group of experts, yesterday to consider what more we can do on education, climate and humanitarian crises. More than a third of all development programmes now contain disability-inclusive activities.
My constituent Daniel Gadsden is in prison in the Philippines, facing drugs charges that he strenuously denies. After 17 months in custody, in appalling conditions, his mental and physical health is very poor. He has an untreated eye condition and is now almost blind. His parents, Helen and Nick, are terrified that they will never see their son again. Will the Foreign Secretary meet me and them to discuss what more can be done to ensure that Daniel is treated with decency and humanity, and that he receives a fair trial?
We regularly raise the poor prison conditions of British nationals detained in the Philippines, and we appreciate how difficult and distressing the situation is for Daniel. Officials are working very closely with his family, and I am happy to meet the hon. Lady and her constituents if that would be useful.
Contrary to the Foreign Secretary’s response to Wera Hobhouse, the Government’s website says that pathway 3 of the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme is administered by the Foreign Office. Will he correct the record and say exactly what he is doing to support women whose lives are at risk, including 70 female judges, or are we going to see more cases like that of Mursal Nabizada, the former MP who was murdered?
The scheme is administered across a range of Departments, including the FCDO, which identified the initial list of individuals who are eligible. We work closely with the Home Office to ensure that all the relevant checks and administration are done so that those people can come to the UK. As I said, I am very pleased that we were able to resettle so many people so quickly through Operation Pitting, and we have resettled 6,000 people since Operation Pitting. We will continue to ensure we do right by the people who supported us in Afghanistan.