Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office – in the House of Commons on 14th March 2023.
If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.
Yesterday I set out how the Government will ensure that the country remains safe, prosperous and influential. In San Diego yesterday afternoon the Prime Minister, alongside President Biden and Prime Minister Albanese, announced that we will deliver a multi-billion-pound conventionally armed but nuclear-powered submarine capability to the Royal Australian Navy.
Last month we negotiated the Windsor framework for Northern Ireland with our European Union colleagues, and last week at the UK-French summit we struck a deal that will help to stop the boats bringing illegal migrants to the UK.
On Ukraine, the UK stands ready to provide a further $500 million of World Bank loan guarantees to cover the cost of vital Government services. We are accelerating delivery of our £2.3 billion-worth of military aid and Challenger tanks and will keep—
Order. I call Matt Vickers.
On behalf of the people of Stockton South, I offer our deepest condolences to the families of victims of last month’s devastating Turkish-Syrian earthquake. I was glad to see the Government’s fast response in sending humanitarian aid, but can my right hon. Friend ensure that the UK will assist both Syria and Turkey in elaborating strategies to prevent any future natural disaster from having such a devastatingly high fatality rate?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Development Minister, who travelled to the region shortly after the earthquakes, keeping a close eye on the swift financial and technical response we deployed. I can assure both my hon. Friend and the House that we will continue to pay close attention to the humanitarian need as a direct result of the series of earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.
In recent weeks, allies in the US and EU have moved to ban TikTok from Government phones, but the UK Government’s response is to say that it is a personal choice. Will the Foreign Secretary clarify whether the Government will recommend a Government agency ban, or whether the UK will be behind the curve again?
As it is a security matter, this issue is taken up by the Security Minister, which is a Home Office competency.
Last week, the UK warned that the regime in Tehran is now dangerously close to weapons-related activities, after Iran was caught enriching uranium to 83.7% by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Considering that Iran has systematically escalated its nuclear activities in the face of diplomatic efforts, does my right hon. Friend agree that the time has now come for a snapback in sanctions, as enshrined in the joint comprehensive plan of action?
We continue to work closely with our international partners and the leadership of the IAEA on Iran’s nuclear activities. Our position is clear: it is unacceptable for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon or nuclear weapon technology. We will continue to work with our international allies to prevent that from happening.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for aid match. The Government funding rounds for UK Aid Match and the Gavi and Malaria match funds ended in 2023 and totalled £377 million, which represents just 0.3% of UK overseas development assistance. When will the next round of aid match be announced, how much will be announced and will the Government increase the percentage of ODA that is aid matched?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right to accentuate the importance of aid match, which has done an enormous amount to swell the funds that can be deployed. I will come back to the House as soon as we are able to set out the amounts we will be spending in the next financial year and, I hope, in the financial year thereafter as well.
There are striking parallels between the 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the 1974 invasion of Cyprus by Turkey. Both involved aggressive incursions into the sovereign territory of another country. Will the Foreign Secretary call on Turkey to remove its troops from Cyprus and enable Cypriots to determine their own future?
The UK led the international response to Turkish actions in 1974, including through drafting UN Security Council resolution 353 calling for the immediate withdrawal of Turkish troops. The best way to address the situation in Cyprus is through a just and lasting settlement, in line with the UN parameters based on the model of a bizonal, bicommunal federation, and the UK will continue to engage actively in pursuit of that.
Many people who come here on small boats are fleeing war where this country has sold weapons, natural disasters where this Government have given up on tackling climate change, and hunger and disease where this Government have slashed the aid budget. How does anything in yesterday’s integrated review tackle the push factors that cause so much displacement and migration in the first place?
The integrated review published yesterday sets out a comprehensive approach to dealing with all those issues, including migration in particular. Migration is a complex area that requires a whole series of different interventions. There is, alas, no silver bullet.
The behaviour of Iran is increasingly concerning, particularly that of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) said earlier. What more will my right hon. Friend do, particularly by working with our allies, to ensure that we attack that threat head on?
We have sanctioned individuals and entities in response to their malign behaviour, including the sanctioning of the IRGC in its entirety. We continue to work very closely with our international allies and friends in the region to deter Iran and the IRGC from further such actions.
I was in Ukraine two weeks ago, where I heard stories of horrific war crimes by Russian forces against the Ukrainian people, including sexual crimes and rapes of children as young as four and of women as old as 90. What are the Government doing to ensure that a special tribunal is set up for the crime of aggression?
We continue to work with the International Criminal Court on ensuring that it is able to bring people to justice. We are working closely with our friends internationally to look at what other legal vehicles we may need to ensure that everybody—from perpetrators and facilitators right up to the decision makers in Moscow—is held to account for the brutality and perverse actions taken by Russian troops in Ukraine.
I call the Father of the House.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, after giving assurances that it would not carry out death penalties, has just executed Hussein Abo al-Kheir, a father of eight. Will the Foreign Secretary try to arrange to make a statement to the House later this week on the ramifications for our relationship with Saudi Arabia, recognising people such as 14-year-old Abdullah al-Huwaiti, who was tortured into making a confession for a crime that he could not have committed?
The UK strongly opposes the death penalty in all countries and circumstances. We regularly raise our concerns with the Saudi authorities. Saudi Arabia is well aware of the UK’s opposition to the death penalty.
To follow the question asked by the Father of the House, Hussein Abo al-Kheir was executed in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, despite allegations that he had been severely tortured and calls from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to halt his execution. Last year, the number of people executed in Saudi Arabia reached a record high, with 81 people killed in a single day. Can the Minister explain further how the UK is working with our international allies?
As I said, we strongly oppose the death penalty in all countries and circumstances. On the al-Kheir situation, Lord Ahmad has raised that case with the Saudi ambassador, the Saudi vice-Foreign Minister and the president of the Saudi human rights commission on multiple occasions since November, including during his visit to the kingdom in February.
I call the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The abduction, so-called re-education and illegal adoption of 6,000 Ukrainian children is an act of genocide. So far, the UK has sanctioned only two Russian governors who are complicit in that activity, which has clearly been learned from China in Tibet and Xinjiang. Will we now back the Avaaz campaign and sanction the further eight responsible individuals, including the directors of the so-called boarding houses for Ukrainian children?
The abduction, forcible deportation and—to all intents and purposes—kidnapping of Ukrainian children is a terrible and perverse act. I assure my hon. Friend and the House that we will not rest until the people who are involved in that are held to account. She will know that we do not routinely discuss future sanctions designations, but I can assure her that, with our international partners, we look very closely at that terrible state of affairs.
A loophole in the sanctions regime means that Russian steel is rolled in countries such as Turkey and then imported to the UK. The Foreign Secretary will know that the UK is the only country in the G20 where steel production is declining, and our domestic steel production is essential to our support for Ukraine. Will he follow the lead of the EU, which is closing the loophole in the regime, and tell us when the UK will also close the loophole?
There was a lively debate on this in Westminster Hall last week. I can confirm that our sanctions regimes are under constant review, and our enforcement activity at His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in particular will be focused on these issues.
In the least developed countries, over half of health centres do not have hand-washing facilities, and I recently saw the benefits of delivering those during a trip to Ghana with the charity WasteAid. The Government’s new health position papers contain approaches to integrate water, sanitation and hygiene within health programming. Will the Minister commit to progress the implementation of that, to raise standards of hygiene and reduce levels of infection across the developing world?
The crisis in Kashmir now spans across nine decades and, today, those living in the region still face unimaginable human rights abuses. Police brutality, arbitrary arrest and the repression of journalists there are still too common. Will the Minister ensure that the plight of the Kashmiris is not forgotten, and will he launch a renewed effort to facilitate dialogue between Pakistan and India, so that a political solution can be found?
The UK’s long-standing position is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting political resolution on Kashmir, taking into account the wishes of Kashmiri people. We continue to monitor the situation and encourage both countries to engage in dialogue and to find those lasting diplomatic solutions to maintain regional stability.
The Ukrainian economy is suffering immeasurably because of the war imposed by Russia. One of the things that would help the Ukrainian economy now and post conflict is more joint ventures with western multinationals, which help with not just economic growth but governance reforms. What steps are we taking to help Ukrainian companies to partner with western multinationals?
My hon. Friend makes the right point. As well as ensuring that the Russians who have violated Ukraine repair the damage they have caused, there will be a need for a long-term relationship to rebuild the Ukrainian economy. UK Export Finance will help British-based companies to help Ukrainians rebuild their homeland once we have helped them to successfully defend themselves against this invasion.
For the past 15 months, my team and I have been battling to bring five British children who are in hiding in Kabul to safety. Their British father was blown up by the Taliban. Their Afghan mother will not be granted a visa by the Home Office and they are too young to travel alone. Neither the Foreign Office nor the Home Office are responding to my correspondence on this case. Please will the Secretary of State or one of his Ministers grant me an urgent meeting, so that we can bring this family to safety?
I will look into the point that the hon. Lady has made about her correspondence not being responded to, and I will—[Interruption.] I will, of course, take the opportunity to meet with her to find out the situation. As she knows, we do not have a consular presence in Afghanistan, but our consular teams in neighbouring countries provide remote support for British nationals overseas.
Earlier in this session, we heard about the importance of respecting self-determination when it comes to the future of the Falkland Islands. Can my right hon. Friend update the House with regard to consultations with the Chagossian people on the future of the British Indian Ocean Territory?
My right hon. Friend Lord Goldsmith had a meeting with representatives of the Chagossian community. We will ensure that, as far as we can, we keep those lines of communication open.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing that issue to my attention. I will find out why there has been such a protracted delay, and ensure that he gets a response in good time.
Whether China is a threat, a challenge, an opportunity or all of the above, the UK’s response to it will surely be enhanced by better Chinese language skills. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that he is doing what he can with colleagues in Government to improve the UK’s capacity in that regard?
In the integrated review published yesterday, we set out a comprehensive list of tools that we will be using to help us to continue to grow our Mandarin speakers, and more widely as well. I recommend that all Members of the House have a fulsome read of the integrated review in due course.
AerCap is the largest provider of commercial aircraft in the world and, after the imposition of sanctions, it required a number of leased aircraft in Russia to be returned. That has not happened; instead, those aircraft have been re-registered in Russia, and continue to fly and operate. I know that there is a court case on the issue of loss with the insurance industry, but do the Government consider that to be an example of sanctions evasion?
It is very difficult for me to come to an assessment based just on the points made in the hon. Gentleman’s question. I am more than happy to look at the matter in more detail, if he will write to me about it or catch me privately. As I say, with regard to the legal action, he will understand that the Government cannot comment while that is ongoing.
I recently visited the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and what I saw made a deep and lasting impression on me. Does the Minister agree with me and with former Israeli ambassador Ilan Baruch, whom I met yesterday, that the UK and others must stop giving Israel impunity for its illegal actions under international law and again become serious and active players for peace?
I assure the hon. Lady that we want nothing more than peace in that region. I have visited the OPTs and have met representatives of the Palestinian Authority and Israelis. Of course, it is in everybody’s interest that we have peace in the region: it is in the interests both of Israelis and Palestinians and of the wider region. That will continue to be at the heart of UK foreign policy in the region.
I am grateful for the many pieces of correspondence I have had from the Foreign Office regarding the death of my constituent’s son abroad—the many parliamentary questions and binary interactions across this Chamber. Will the Foreign Secretary meet me to discuss the finer points that will allow my constituent closure in this case?
The hon. Gentleman has been a great champion and advocate for his constituent, and officials have continued to keep him informed. I will be happy to meet with him to discuss the case more fully, if he wishes.
British nationals Morad Tahbaz and Mehran Raoof still remain incarcerated in Iran. What is the Foreign Secretary going to do to bring them home?
I assure the right hon. Lady that we continue to make every effort to support British dual nationals incarcerated in Iran. This remains an ongoing piece of work, and she will understand that it is not always possible, or in the best interests of the individuals, for us to go into details. However, I assure her that it remains a priority for the UK, and is one of the reasons why it is important that we maintain a bilateral diplomatic relationship with Iran.
The Foreign Secretary will be well aware of the huge demonstrations in Israel opposing the Government’s plans to control the judiciary, which will undermine the rule of law—a situation described by the President of Israel yesterday as “very serious”. Does the Foreign Secretary share President Herzog’s concerns?
Ultimately, of course, the Government of Israel need to understand that they have a responsibility to the people of Israel. We always suggest that, when there are protests, Governments listen to why those protests are happening, and of course, we want to see Israel abide by the rule of law.
The Russell Group has co-ordinated new research, highlighting the scale of the ongoing delays in the academic technology approval scheme, which is having a detrimental impact on students, research projects and universities. These delays have already led to businesses retracting funding and PhD applicants withdrawing from UK opportunities. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with his Cabinet colleagues about that, and will he meet me to discuss the Russell Group findings?
We recognise that international students coming to UK universities is an incredibly important part of our economy. That is important for our soft power internationally, and it is one of those things where the knowledge that those students take back to their countries of origin helps those countries, too. We recognise how important it is, and I will continue to work with other Departments to ensure that our international offer to students remains top quality.
The global crisis of malnutrition threatens the lives of 200 million people. Will the Development Minister look to support my early-day motion 951, which seeks to welcome the Bridgetown agenda, which will transform the mission, the model and the money in the global finance development architecture? Now is not the time for half measures.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that Government Ministers do not normally sign early-day motions, but in respect of his point about Bridgetown, there is no more important agenda around internationally. We need to ensure that we turn billions into trillions, as the rich world has promised repeatedly at recent conferences of the parties, and the Bridgetown agenda is in very large part the way we do that.
I was honoured to attend the UN Commission on the Status of Women last week, where I heard from the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts about its #SheSurfsFreedom survey, which highlighted the impact that online harassment, misogyny and abuse are having on girls around the world. Can I ask what actions the Minister intends to take to work with partners to ensure a free and equal digital future?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point, and I will study the results of those events, if she will make them available to me. Then the Government will consider what, in addition to what we are doing already, we may be able to do.