Topical Questions

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office – in the House of Commons at on 30 April 2024.

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Photo of Tonia Antoniazzi Tonia Antoniazzi Opposition Whip (Commons)

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The Government continue to stand up for our values, our allies and those most in need. The Foreign Secretary attended the NATO and G7 Foreign Ministers meetings and reaffirmed our unwavering commitment to Ukraine. He urged partners to increase their support in line with the Prime Minister’s pledge of 2.5% of GDP for defence. I returned overnight from the United Nations in New York as part of Britain’s contribution to the international conference on population and development 30 and our work on Sudan and securing funding to stave off a famine in Ethiopia.

Photo of Tonia Antoniazzi Tonia Antoniazzi Opposition Whip (Commons)

Conditions in Gaza are desperate and civilians are suffering. It is now an immense issue. Water has still not been fully switched back on and famine is taking hold. The World Food Programme reports that 90% of people in northern Gaza are living on less than a meal a day. Will the right hon. Gentleman clearly outline what his Government are doing to alleviate the threat of famine and prevent its further spread?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

We are trying to make sure that the water is restored, as I set out earlier, and we are championing the provision of aid by land, sea and air, and I set out the help we have received from the Royal Air Force in that respect. But at the end of the day, the right way to get aid into Gaza is by road and we are pressing in every way we can to ensure that that access is restored.

Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Conservative, Bosworth

Following on from that discussion about getting aid into Gaza, sometimes we need novel ways of thinking about doing that, so what conversations is my right hon. Friend having with other countries and counterparts about opening a new maritime corridor if the road routes are failing?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

My hon. Friend makes a good point. We are working closely with a number of partner Governments, including the United States of America, Cyprus and the United Nations. Maritime discussions include corridor planning for the delivery of UK aid and our package of support including equipment and the use of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Cardigan Bay.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

Last week the US Congress agreed a new $61 billion aid package for Ukraine. The bipartisan co-operation led by Mike Johnson is essential if Ukraine is to continue to defend against Putin’s illegal invasion. I am proud that this House will stand united on Ukraine for as long as it takes to win. Will the Minister update the House on progress with our G7 allies to seize and repurpose frozen Russian state assets in the UK, to support the reconstruction of Ukraine?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The Government are seeking agreement on a way of advancing this matter with the G7. The right hon. Gentleman is right about the mechanism, and we are doing everything we can with our allies to achieve precisely what he describes.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Conservative, Southend West

Hamas are rightly an internationally proscribed organisation, yet the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which funds and supports Hamas, is not. Should it not be?

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The list of proscribed organisations is kept under review, but we do not comment on whether any particular organisation is being considered for proscription. However, the Government have taken measures to counter the threat from Iran, including sanctioning the IRGC in its entirety.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

Tibet is currently ranked as the least free place for civil and political rights by Freedom House, alongside Syria. There are credible reports of torture, extrajudicial killings and serious restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of the media. Last year, three independent UN experts warned that almost a million Tibetan children are coerced into a residential schools system designed to systematically assimilate them into Han culture. What diplomatic steps have the Government taken to hold the Chinese Government to account for these grievous violations?

Photo of Anne-Marie Trevelyan Anne-Marie Trevelyan Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The Government consistently raise human rights issues with the Chinese authorities, as I did during my visit last week, as I have mentioned. We also regularly raise Tibet in multilateral fora, such as in January at China’s universal periodic review and in March as part of our item 4 statement at the UN Human Rights Council.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

Many people in the Aylesbury constituency are understandably concerned about the plight of Palestinians in Gaza. They condemn the appalling actions of Hamas, but at the same time want the UK to do everything possible to get more aid in. Can my right hon. Friend let them know what further plans he has to provide more aid directly, especially with our friends in the region, including Egypt, Qatar and Jordan?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his thoughts and ideas, which he came and spoke to me about last week. He was conveying the views of the mosques in Aylesbury. We are pursuing many of the ideas that he set out, as he knows, especially on meeting the evident humanitarian needs that have rightly preoccupied the House today.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

One month since UN Security Council resolution 2728 passed with UK support, what are our Government doing to bring about the immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the compliance with international law, the release of hostages and the passage of aid that it calls for? What are the consequences for non-compliance, apart from more death and destruction?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

As the hon. Lady knows, UN resolution 2728, which was passed on 25 March, reflected the international consensus behind the UK’s position about the importance of getting aid in and the hostages out. That is what we are bending every sinew to achieve.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham

Bearing in mind Lord Cameron’s unique responsibility for Libya, following our intervention in that country during the Arab spring, what are the Government doing to help the Libyan Government to tackle the enormous fraud that is taking place from the sale of oil from the Libyan state oil company?

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We continue to work closely with the Government in Libya. Lord Ahmad and I keep in touch on these matters, and I will update my hon. Friend further.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway Workers Party, Rochdale

When the International Court of Justice, almost 100 days ago, sent Israel for trial, plausibly on charges of genocide, the British Government called it a foreign court. What attitude will the Government take if, as is widely reported, the British King’s Counsel chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court issues an arrest warrant for Benjamin Netanyahu?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I think the hon. Gentleman is speculating in an extraordinary manner. What the Court said at the time was that the hostages should be released, that there should be more aid into Gaza and that Israel should not commit acts that violate the rights of Palestinians. That is where the Court rests at this point, and we must wait for further events.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

Ahead of the UN General Assembly high-level meeting on antimicrobial resistance, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital to build the political will of developed and developing countries to prioritise tackling AMR? What discussions has he had with his counterparts coming up to this high-level meeting?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

My hon. Friend is right. An enormous amount of work is going on in respect of AMR, which is being discussed extensively this year at the United Nations. Dame Sally Davies, who leads for Britain on this vital issue, is doing a fabulous job, and Britain is committed to doing everything it can to make real progress.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration)

As of 9 April, eight field hospitals are reportedly active inside the Gaza strip, with some operating at 265% of their capacity and with a shortage of medication and supplies. What are the UK Government doing to help facilitate medical evacuations, particularly of children?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

We have worked extensively with our partners in the Gulf on evacuations, and Britain is doing a great deal through our medical support for the field hospital we have in Gaza as well as to support other humanitarian and medical activities, which are so vital there.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on the Overseas Territories, Chair, Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on the Overseas Territories

British citizen Ryan Cornelius has now been imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates for 16 years. In 2022, the UN determined that he was “arbitrarily detained”, and before the Deputy Foreign Secretary came to his current position, he signed a letter calling for his immediate release. On Saturday, Ryan turned 70, and his children have grown up without him. Will the Government please update us on what they are doing to get him home and whether they will lodge a plea for clemency, given his age and ill health?

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I assure my hon. Friend that FCDO Ministers and officials continue to raise the cases of both Mr Cornelius and Mr Ridley with the UAE authorities. We are urgently looking into the information provided by the family and seeking expert advice. We will follow up with the people concerned when we have more information.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Farming, Agriculture and Rural Affairs)

The proposed EU-UK youth mobility scheme would have allowed 18 to 30-year-old UK citizens to work and study in the EU without barriers that the Government’s Brexit have created, yet the Tories and the Labour party immediately rebuffed the offer. What is the message to young people across the UK who are watching opportunities being blocked by Westminster?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Minister of State (Minister for Europe)

The EU scheme requires people between the ages of 18 and 35—I did not realise that you were still a young person at 35—to have absolutely free movement. That discussion has been had at length both in the Chamber and during the Brexit vote. What we do have is bilateral youth mobility schemes, which we are more than happy to propose with interested parties.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

On Gibraltar, the Minister has stated that our current EU negotiations are consistent with UK sovereignty. How will that be achieved, given our defence and RAF assets as well as any nuclear naval capability that the UK has in that region? How will our sovereignty be guaranteed at the border if there is a Schengen border post on the soil of Gibraltar?

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My hon. Friend can be assured that we will continue to safeguard the sovereignty of Gibraltar, which is much cherished. He can also be assured that in the negotiations we will fully protect the operations and the independence of the UK’s military facilities in Gibraltar. I very much look forward to discussing this more fully in front of his Committee tomorrow morning.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party, Belfast South

Despite repeated claims by the Saudi authorities that they would abolish the death penalty for children, child defendants are still regularly sentenced to death. Some 11 have been executed since 2015. Child defendants Abdullah al-Howaiti, Abdullah al-Derazi and Youssef al-Manasif have all received death sentences for crimes allegedly committed before the age of 18. In April 2020, Saudi authorities issued a royal decree purporting to abolish the death penalty, but that appears to have been an empty promise. Will the Minister intervene and impress on them their human rights obligations?

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We continue to engage with the Saudi authorities on this and, as the hon. Member knows, we push back on the death penalty being used in any country around the world.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

When will the Foreign Office and the Home Office abandon their ridiculous pseudo security argument that is preventing the return of Shamima Begum and other women and children from northern Syria? Our allies oppose that policy because they know that it risks turning those children into tomorrow’s terrorists.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

My right hon. Friend, who knows a great deal about this matter, speaks with considerable authority on it. I have no doubt that his voice will be heard in both the Foreign Office and the Home Office.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

Spain, Norway and Ireland are ready jointly to recognise Palestine as a state within weeks. Four other European countries look likely to follow suit, and France recently voted to admit Palestine as a full member of the UN. Is it not time that the UK Government joined their European partners in recognising Palestine?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

As we have made clear, recognition of a Palestinian state cannot come at the beginning of the process, but it does not have to come at the end.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

Could the Deputy Foreign Secretary update us on the state of our relations with Djibouti, and his assessment of the impact of the UK recognising the memorandum of understanding between Ethiopia and Somalia on the development of the port of Berbera? Does he have any plans to visit Djibouti? If so, may I give him some advice?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that I have visited Djibouti, without suffering the fate that I am so sorry he suffered. As he knows, we are taking up this matter with the authorities in Djibouti.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East

Israel’s deliberate and wilful starvation of Gaza is a war crime, yet the Government deflect all questions on UNRWA funding by saying that it runs until the end of April. We are here—today is the last day of April. If the Government do not restore UNRWA funding, are they not aiding and abetting Israeli war crimes?

Photo of Andrea Jenkyns Andrea Jenkyns Conservative, Morley and Outwood

Ahmed Ali Alid, the Moroccan asylum seeker convicted last week of murdering 70-year-old Terence Carney, wandered through 13 European countries before entering the UK illegally and claiming asylum. Does the Minister agree that we must redouble our efforts and work with international allies, and that we do not want criminals like that in our country?

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I understand the hon. Lady’s concerns. I am not familiar with the case, but I will follow up and get back to her.