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LGBT Rights (Uganda)

Volume 578: debated on Wednesday 2 April 2014

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Harriett Baldwin.)

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this important and timely debate.

While England celebrated its first same-sex marriages over the weekend, including that of a former constituent of mine, Peter McGraith, who was among the first to marry in the early hours of Saturday morning, scenes of jubilation of a different kind in Uganda made me feel physically sick. Parades have been taking place to celebrate the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act; to celebrate that the human rights of Ugandans are being undermined because they happen to be gay in a country determined to regress legislation relating to homosexuality. It is almost laughable that those celebrations are continuing in the streets of Kampala in the same week as the Equal Opportunities Tribunal opened in that city to great fanfare. Its launch press release claims:

“The Tribunal will handle complaints related to discrimination and marginalisation to ensure that everybody is treated equally regardless of their sex, age, race, colour, ethnic origin, tribe, birth, religion, health status, social or economic standing, political opinion and disability.”

While I hope that that new institution does much to eradicate intolerance in Uganda, those of us in the Chamber will notice one glaring omission: sexuality. As hon. Members will know, President Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act into law five weeks ago, and its impact has already been felt by Ugandans, even before the abhorrent law has been enforced. It has been signed into law by the President, which technically means that it can be fully implemented at any time, although no one has been arrested yet. Convention means that the new law should now be gazetted—or published—in order formally to tell the nation about it, but that is not absolutely, legally necessary, leading to confusion in the country.

A legal petition has been submitted to the constitutional court in Uganda, with MP Fox Odoi-Oywelowo and leading activist Frank Mugisha, who is known to many of us in this House, among the petitioners. The petition states that the Anti-Homosexuality Act is in direct contravention of the Ugandan constitution. Unfortunately the petition cannot delay the enforcement of the law, but the legal challenge is extremely significant and I hope it is successful. In the meantime, LGBT people in Uganda are facing increased risk of violence and persecution every single day.

The brave non-governmental organisation, Sexual Minorities Uganda—or SMUG, as it is widely known—has informed me that it knows of more than 40 violent attacks on LGBT people in Uganda since the law was passed in December, including at least one murder. However, SMUG does not have the resources to monitor that rise adequately. The monitoring and reporting of human rights has been a crucial and integral part of the roles of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development over the years. Will the Government undertake human rights monitoring in Uganda to document the violence and terror that I think constitutes the human rights abuses that LGBT people face every day? If we monitor and publicise such abuses, we might shine a light on them and prevent them from happening at all.

Unfortunately, many people are at serious risk of attack, and one reason for that is the actions of the tabloid newspaper, Red Pepper. It recently published the names of “200 Top Homos”—that was the headline—many with photographs, including of Frank Mugisha. I have already made it clear in a recent Westminster Hall debate that my blood ran cold when I saw that report because I fear that history might repeat itself. Three years ago another awful Ugandan tabloid, Rolling Stone, published a similar list, which included the name of SMUG’s leader at the time, David Kato. Rolling Stone decided to out gay Ugandans, and in the process it deliberately stoked twisted vigilantism that led ultimately to the murder of David Kato.

The David Cairns Foundation, set up in memory of my predecessor chair of the all-party group on HIV and AIDS, has provided immediate financial assistance for a limited number of at-risk individuals to get to a safe place in Uganda following the outbreak of violence. I believe that this could be expanded at a very low cost. It is more than the David Cairns Foundation can afford, but a fund could provide an emergency phone line, transport and safe accommodation to rent in emergencies. SMUG and other LGBT organisations have set up the Defenders Protection Initiative in Uganda, to protect those at immediate risk of violence and abuse.

We are currently drafting a proposal to maintain this potentially life-saving work, and I understand that it will be submitted to the UK Government imminently. It would cost about £200,000 to implement, and would require technical support to maintain as an emergency service. Will the Government consider making available funds to provide emergency security and protection for those at risk? Will they consider seriously supporting the initiative if a full proposal is submitted in the very near future? Will the Minister join me in condemning Red Pepper for publishing names and putting people in direct danger? Will the Government consider a travel ban for the staff of both Red Pepper and Rolling Stone. This was widely called for in recent weeks, as it was when Rolling Stone published names.

There have been calls for travel bans for those actively engaged in promoting hatred of homosexuals in Uganda. I discussed this recently with Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, an MP who has been very brave in speaking out against the Act. He is one of only two Members of the Ugandan Parliament to do so. He said to me:

“Hatemongers shouldn’t roam the world unchecked, unrestrained.”

I completely agree. The UK Government have a good track record in preventing those who preach hatred from having the privilege of visiting our country. For instance, last year Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, the anti-Islamic US bloggers, were excluded from visiting Britain.

In a little more than three months’ time, I will be welcoming visitors from all over the world to my home city of Glasgow for the Commonwealth games. I particularly look forward to welcoming the Ugandan delegation, as the country is so close to my heart. However, I would not be comfortable welcoming people who have been preaching hatred and peddling homophobic nonsense in Uganda, and I think the vast majority of Scots and Brits agree with me. Glasgow will have a Pride House as part of its celebrations of the Commonwealth games, and I am very proud of that. Will the Minister say whether the Government are considering travel bans for those found to be making hate speeches against the LGBT community in Uganda and in other countries? Will the Minister share with the House whether the UK Government are considering any other sanctions following the passing of the anti-homosexuality Act?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point, which is one of the few not in my speech—I apologise for the length of my speech. I have raised that point with the Government. I agree that there is a risk to LGBT visitors from throughout the world to Uganda. I understand that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has changed its advice to travellers from Britain, but it would be helpful to hear reassurance from the Minister on protection and support in Uganda for British LGBT people visiting or working in the country.

I apologise for being late, Mr Speaker. I had duties in Westminster Hall.

Is my hon. Friend aware that many Commonwealth countries have dubious laws—to put it mildly—on LGBT rights? Does she agree that the Government should be doing more in relation to the Commonwealth?

I thank my hon. Friend for that point. In a recent Westminster Hall debate to celebrate Commonwealth day, we discussed how we could strengthen our relationship with the Commonwealth and use every lever at our disposal to ensure that we get that message across. A key way of doing that and influencing our friends overseas is by implementing the Commonwealth charter.

I, too, apologise for being a few minutes late for this important debate.

My hon. Friend has mentioned the question of travel to countries such as Uganda which have such a terrible record on LGBT rights. Is not a real issue for businesses that want to trade and engage with those countries having to decide whom to send there? They may either be putting people in danger or discriminating against the LGBT community.

I agree, and that point has been raised with me by businesses and non-governmental organisations. In recent weeks, I have been speaking to businesses working both in Uganda and more widely. I shall say more later about some other countries that are implementing similar legislation as we speak. I chair a group that is organising visits to certain countries, and we are looking at visa applications and online biographies of Members of both Houses. Given that some of them are gay, we must consider whether they will be at risk if they visit those countries, and we must think about what we should do to protect our own colleagues in such circumstances.

I understand that the World Bank has conducted a study of the economic effects of discrimination in foreign countries. I am told that the sum effect of the discrimination that is driving multinationals away from countries where there are such laws has been a reduction of up to 1.6% in GDP. I do not have the references, but this is a straightforward economic argument: what is being done in Uganda is absolutely not in its own economic interest.

I do not have the figures to hand either, but I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman, who is showing great interest, respect and dedication in relation to these issues, is right. I am sure that the public will soon correct us on Twitter if that is not the case.

I should like to hear from the Minister whether the Foreign Secretary intends to raise at the EU-Africa summit in Brussels next week the issue of travel bans, sanctions or any other action against countries and individuals who have shown themselves to be homophobic in recent months, and whether he will be advocating to other Governments travel bans or any other action in relation to those who preach hatred.

I must now put on my all-party group chair hat. I chair the all-party parliamentary group on HIV and AIDS, and I want to say something about the problems that the Ugandan legislation will cause to people with HIV. The HIV epidemic began 30 years ago, and Lake Victoria was its epicentre at that time. It then became the epicentre of the response, and there was great success in preventing HIV transmission in Uganda, but today, sadly, Uganda is the only country in Africa where HIV rates are increasing, and the Anti-Homosexuality Act will not help at all.

Uganda’s health Minister, Dr Rugunda, has claimed that the Act will not affect the fight against HIV and will not prevent men who have sex with men from seeking testing and treatment, but I do not see how that can be the case. The Act criminalises just knowing that someone is taking part in

“homosexual behaviour and related practices”,

It thus threatens to divide or imprison families, and will cause men who have sex with men to fear visiting health professionals in case they are turned over to the authorities. They will not accept that reassurance from a Minister who has just passed such a draconian law against them and their community.

I consider the Act to be, quite simply, a violation of the human rights of the Ugandan people. It contradicts Uganda’s constitution, which states:

“All persons are equal before and under the law in all spheres of political, economic, social and cultural life and in every other respect and shall enjoy equal protection of the law.”

Unfortunately, the LGBT community in Uganda no longer has equal protection under the law. In fact it is now criminalised. The message being sent out is that LGBT people are worth less than the rest of the population, and this gives licence for all sorts of further discrimination.

I now want to turn to the matter of LGBT Ugandans who are leaving Uganda. Frank Mugisha said in a recent interview that he was one of only about 20 out gay men in Uganda. I find that figure astonishing, but given the information we are hearing about it is not a surprise. The fact, however, that only 20 are out in an entire country and that everyone is leaving is shocking.

I want to raise the case of Jackie Nanyonjo, who sought asylum here in the UK as a Ugandan lesbian. She was deported after the UK Border Agency reportedly told her there was not enough evidence to prove she was gay. It has been reported that during her removal from the UK in January last year she sustained injuries when struggling with four Reliance guards escorting her on a flight to Uganda on behalf of the UKBA. When she was handed over to the Ugandan authorities upon arrival at Entebbe airport, she was detained for hours without medical attention and when her family arrived she was in severe pain and was vomiting blood. Because of the nature of her case with UKBA and her removal and the handing over of her to the authorities, her sexuality was exposed in Uganda and she and her family felt unable to seek medical treatment when she was allowed to go home as that would have put them in serious danger. Jackie died at home two months after this incident. This is not acceptable and it is not unique.

While I obviously understand that the Government will have big concerns about asylum seekers claiming they are gay even though they are not in order to gain leave to remain, I have to ask the Minister what discussions his Department has had with the Home Office on its policy of granting asylum to LGBT people from Uganda and other countries with homophobic legislation, and whether this policy has changed given the real threat to the lives of LGBT activists in Uganda and other countries in which this level of state-sponsored homophobia is rapidly rising?

The final major area I want to cover is the current support for related projects in Uganda. The Under-Secretary of State for International Development said to the House and in private meetings recently that DFID is undertaking a full review of expenditure in Uganda following the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, and I agree that that is necessary. The total expenditure must be protected and must definitely not be cut, but we must ensure it is spent wisely, and perhaps is used for the protection of people who may not be getting protection from anyone else at the moment.

I am concerned that, as far as I am aware, no details of this review have been published. I was also concerned to learn that the only resource that has been dedicated to this important task is 10% of the time of a single civil servant. I do not think that commitment is enough for such an important task. Can the Minister confirm that this is indeed the case, and will he share with us some details about the review and when we might expect its findings to be published?

I was also concerned that the Under-Secretary of State for International Development confirmed to me recently in response to a written question that DFID has been financially contributing to the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda. This organisation has been extremely vocal and public in its support of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Indeed, Church leaders were out in force at the parades at the weekend and the recent public celebrations of the passing of the Act. I also have concerns about DFID’s financial support for the Ugandan Parliament’s Committee on Human Rights Affairs, which sat back and offered no scrutiny whatsoever of a Bill that was blatantly in breach of the human rights of Ugandan people, and the Members of Parliament on the Committee supported the Bill. Has the Minister discussed this expenditure with his colleagues at DFID? Can he explain how this happened, and what measures are being taken to ensure that never again will UK taxpayers’ money be spent on campaigning against human rights? May we also have a reassurance today that money is not being spent on any other organisations in Uganda that promote this Bill, or on organisations in any other countries that are campaigning against LGBT rights and human rights more generally?

This DFID funding was funnelled through Uganda’s democratic governance facility, which is also funded by the EU and six other European countries. Will the Minister ask the Foreign Secretary to raise this issue with his counterparts at the EU-Africa summit, and review expenditure and support to organisations that have been actively promoting the Anti-Homosexuality Act?

Sadly, Uganda is not the only country with anti- gay legislation, as has been mentioned in interventions. I fear that we are on the brink of many countries intensifying their anti-homosexuality legislation. According to the Human Dignity Trust, as of 2014, more than 80 jurisdictions, including some 80% of the 33 Commonwealth countries, have existing laws criminalising private consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex, making the expression of their identity illegal and punishable by imprisonment and sometimes even death. The most notable cases include Nigeria, which signed a new anti-gay law in January modelled on the Uganda Bill. Earlier this month, it was reported that four men aged between 20 and 22 had been convicted of homosexual conduct under sharia law. They were whipped publicly as punishment in an Islamic court in northern Nigeria. They were among dozens caught in a wave of arrests after Nigeria passed the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act in January.

We have also heard reports that the majority leader in Kenya’s national assembly has described homosexuality as a problem in Kenya on the same scale as terrorism, and suggested that it should be handled in the same way. There is also a copycat private member’s Bill of the Uganda Bill making its way through the Kenyan Parliament.

Ethiopia is heading in the same direction. Several sources have reported that legislators there are expecting to pass into law a Bill that would make same-sex acts a non-pardonable offence. Recently, India took the retrograde step of reversing a landmark 2009 Delhi high court order that had decriminalised homosexual acts. This was a major blow to human rights in India and further demonstrates this dangerous trend. The many people who came out as a result of homosexuality being legalised in India now face the prospect of being out in a country where their sexuality has been deemed illegal.

The UK has long been and still is a proud advocate of human rights, and we are strongly pushing the rights of women and girls in our foreign diplomacy and international development programme. I commend the Government for this work and for speaking out on the human rights of LGBT people, but I do not think those rights have been given the same prominence in international relations as those of women and girls. Despite the Foreign Secretary having spoken out repeatedly and strongly against the Anti-Homosexuality Act when it was eventually passed, it appeared that little action was taken. The most obvious action would have been to call the Ugandan high commissioner in London to the Foreign Office, but it took weeks before this was done and it only happened after I raised the issue in a Westminster Hall debate and tabled a written question.

Some Back Benchers and Front Benchers have been cautious about talking about this issue in this place, for fear of being accused of imperialism—of cultural export. However, this is not the west versus the rest of the world: this is good versus ignorance. It is not homosexuality that the west has exported to Uganda, but homophobia.

Friends in Uganda, including Frank Mugisha, have told me that homophobia was not a big issue in Uganda 20 years ago. Being gay was not widely accepted, but it was a part of life there, and hate speech was not. Similarly, campaigning against the LGBT community was not an issue. If we fast-forward to the past five years, we can see that the homophobic elements of the US evangelical movement have been proactively stoking revulsion towards the LGBT community. Pastors including the infamous Scott Lively have toured Uganda and had a major impact on public reaction to homosexuality. They have managed to distort public opinion and have now linked homosexuality to paedophilia, as is made clear in the wording of the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

I am pleading with the Government to protect those at risk of human rights abuses in Uganda by providing security and protection measures, and by undertaking suitable human rights monitoring. I ask them to use every lever in their power to halt this trend towards regressive anti-homosexuality legislation. We have a responsibility to protect those at risk, and I ask the Government to act quickly.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) on securing this debate, and thank her for supporting me when I had a debate on this subject. I further congratulate her on securing a slot that means we can actually debate this matter properly. I am not sure whether you had something to do with that arrangement, Mr Speaker, but I know that you are the president of the Kaleidoscope Trust, an organisation set up to support activists in countries in which LGBT rights are oppressed. I have the privilege of being the chairman of the parliamentary friends of the Kaleidoscope Trust.

I salute our two parliamentary colleagues in Uganda, whom the hon. Lady knows, who have been brave enough to speak out against the Anti-Homosexuality Act. That has been a pretty tough call for them, and it is brave of them to take that position against the overwhelming popular and parliamentary attitude. We should register our support for them and for the position they have taken.

I want to pick up on a couple of the issues that the hon. Lady has raised. I welcome the review that the Home Secretary is now undertaking of our handling of cases in which people have claimed asylum following discrimination on the ground of their homosexuality. That review is long overdue. The commitment to give refuge to LGBT people seeking asylum from oppression in their own country was in my party’s manifesto, as well as in that of the Liberal Democrats. Given that both parts of the coalition supported it, it should have been in the programme for government. It is also the stated position of the United Nations, and there has now been a Supreme Court ruling that people should be able to expect to live their lives as they are. Those are therefore the standards that people expect when they claim asylum and freedom from persecution. The disgraceful stories of how the UK Border Agency has handled some of these cases in the past few years are now, happily, a matter of public record and have caused the Home Secretary to take this extremely welcome action.

I put it to the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), that our failure and the wider failure of the global community to prevent this legislation from getting on to the statute book in Uganda will cause a wave of people who are desperate to escape persecution to come here, and that we have a duty to give them refuge, as we have done in the past for people who have been persecuted in other ways. That such people will come to the United Kingdom and other parts of the world to escape persecution will in part be a consequence of our failure as a global community to prevent this legislation from being passed, and of our failure to assist countries that already have such legislation to get rid of it or not to enforce it, as happens in much of the world.

It is not often I have cause to praise the current Scottish Government in this House, but I would like to make hon. Members aware that they have offered to take any LGBT Ugandans who are claiming asylum and have called on the UK Government to grant them asylum and send them up to Scotland.

I am not entirely sure it is within the purview of the Scottish Government to do that. Perhaps they are being a little previous in the powers they think they will have. I anticipate that they will not get such powers in September—at least I hope they will not.

We have had a discussion about the economic impact of this law, and the hon. Lady followed up on the point about how a very small proportion of the work of a civil servant is devoted to this issue. I wish to contrast that with the fact that we appear still to have a prosperity officer sponsored by the UK in Uganda. If the Ugandan Government and Parliament are taking a pistol and blowing their toes off as far as their economy is concerned by passing these kinds of measures, I am slightly puzzled as to why the UK should then think it appropriate to pay for a prosperity officer to be in the country to assist the Ugandan Government in trying to repair some of the damage they have inflicted entirely on themselves.

Let me now deal with the issue of travel bans by repeating to the Minister the message I have already given in this House: at the moment, it looks as if the Government are in absolutely the right position, giving overtly all possible assistance, short of actual help. We are not actually asking for changes to the amount of money that the Department for International Development gives Uganda. We are expecting the money not to go anywhere near the organs of the Ugandan Government and to ensure that it goes to civil society associations that are not associated with this kind of persecution or oppression and that do not support it. The Prime Minister eloquently made the case about the effectiveness of travel bans in respect of Russia’s behaviour over Crimea. Targeted travel bans against people who have been responsible for the promotion of this legislation are exactly the right policy response to bring things home to the individuals who have made it part of their work to get this wretched Act on to the statute book and to create the climate in which it is then enforced. We ought to be in the business of stopping their travel to the United Kingdom and, we hope, to the European Union, and then beginning to examine any assets they may have in the UK.

In the first instance, therefore, we should be considering a travel ban. Mr Deputy Speaker, top of the list for a travel ban is your colleague the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga. She has played a leading role in the passage of this Bill through the Ugandan Parliament and its becoming an Act. The story of how she reacted to advice given in Canada is perhaps a lesson that we ought to learn about how one can have a negative impact through campaigning, but the fact is that even if her mind was changed in a highly negative direction by people imploring her to do the right thing in other parts of the world, that does not mean that she should be allowed to get away from the fact that she has done an absolutely evil and wrong thing to LGBT people in Uganda and to the reputation of her country.

Rebecca Kadaga should be top of the list for a ban on travel to the UK, but she is closely followed by David Bahati, the Ugandan Member of Parliament who proposed the original Bill in 2009—that Bill stipulated the death penalty for homosexual acts. After the passage of the Bill in Parliament, he was quoted in the media as saying:

“I am glad the parliament has voted against evil. Because we are a God-fearing nation, we value life in a holistic way. It is because of those values that members of parliament passed this bill regardless of what the outside world thinks”.

I think we should make it perfectly clear what the outside world thinks, by banning his travel to the United Kingdom.

Then there is Mr Simon Lekodo, the Minister of Ethics and Integrity, which is amusing if one has a black sense of humour. Mr Lekodo was sued by four brave LGBT activists, on behalf of the whole LGBT community in Uganda, for interrupting and closing a capacity-building workshop in Entebbe in February 2012. His extremely homophobic comments are frequently quoted in the media.

Then there is Mr Lekodo’s predecessor, Nsaba Buturo, whose strong support for the anti-homosexuality Bill has also been widely reported. He is apparently of the view that the United Nations has a surreptitious mission to impose on sovereign countries the acceptance of homosexuality.

Then there is the role of Stephen Tashobya, the Chair of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee of the Ugandan Parliament. It was his Committee that chaired and completed the report on the anti-homosexuality Bill for the Parliament, and the Bill was passed on the basis of its findings.

Going wider than Parliament, we have the people, the so-called Christians, who created the climate under which this wretched legislation was passed. I am not sure that the version of Christianity that I would want to understand and recognise is so filled with hatred of other people as it appears to be in Uganda. Pastor Martin Ssempa of the Makerere Christian centre has been on Ugandan television to demonstrate with fruit and vegetables how he believes that gay men and women have sex. I am sure that that must have been particularly enlightening.

Pastor Solomon Male of the coalition for the advancement of moral values is another strong religious voice in favour of the Act. The coalition compiled and distributed to MPs a brief urging them to pass the Act.

Then there is the utterly disgraceful wrong of some of the popular press in Uganda. What possible case can there be for allowing the senior staff of the tabloid Red Pepper to come to the United Kingdom, particularly in the light of their incitement to hatred by the listing of 200 so-called homos in Uganda? Why should Richard Tusiime, the chief executive officer; Arinaitwe Rugyendo, the chief marketing officer; James Mujuni, the chief commercial officer; Patrick Mugumya, the chief operations officer; Johnson Musinguzi, the chief finance officer; Ben Byarabaha, the news editor; or Gazzaman Kodili, the deputy news editor be allowed to come to the United Kingdom? They surely should be subject to a travel ban. As should be the disgraceful Giles Muhame, the editor-in-chief of ChimpReports, but formerly the managing editor of the weekly tabloid newspaper Rolling Stone (Uganda), which was absolutely associated with the incitement to hatred that led to the murder of the Ugandan gay activist, David Kato. His murder was almost certainly a consequence of the climate of opinion that was created by that newspaper, which called for the execution of gay people.

This is an immensely serious issue. The hon. Lady referred to the regrettable tide against what had seemed to be a steady march of progress, enlightenment and decency around the world. That march, which has been in progress in our own country for 50 years, was marked so wonderfully last weekend by the first same-sex marriages. I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that the United Kingdom continues to deserve its proud reputation of standing up for rights in this area and to find ways to back up our fine words with action.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) on securing this debate on a good day on which we have a little more time to discuss the issue than we might otherwise have expected. I want briefly to add my voice to those from all parties who have expressed concern about the actions of the Ugandan Parliament in passing this appalling and repressive legislation.

We are witnessing a tale of two worlds. In one world, we saw last weekend the joyful sight of same-sex couples in this country being able to enter into marriages for the first time thanks to a vote in this House of Commons that passed that legislation by a substantial majority, while similar legislation is being passed around the world—in France, in New Zealand and increasingly in the states of the United States of America—where a majority of the public is now in favour of such progressive legislation. In another, less admirable, world, not only have some countries retained repressive regimes towards homosexuals and other minorities but others are engaged in passing populist and discriminatory legislation of the kind we have seen in Uganda. This is not just evil homophobia that is making people’s lives a misery and, in some cases, leading not only to the repression of gay people but to their deaths. It is state-sponsored homophobia, and that is what makes it so ugly.

I want to make two broad points. First, Uganda’s decision followed hard on the heels of Nigeria’s. The Nigerian President, having sat on a similar piece of legislation to Uganda’s for some time, suddenly passed what is called—paradoxically, after we passed our Bill to enable same-sex marriage—the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, to which the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts referred. It not only prohibits same-sex marriages in Nigeria but outlaws any public expression of affection between gay people, with extraordinarily severe sentences. There is a maximum 10-year prison sentence for those who commit that offence. Imagine the chilling and repressive effect that that criminal legislation has on young gay people in Nigeria today.

My second point is that this legislation is being passed by Commonwealth countries, Nigeria and Uganda. Just over a year ago, those countries signed up to the Commonwealth charter. Article 2 of the charter takes a stand against discrimination and article 4 also prohibits legislation of this kind. From memory, I think it talks about “mutual understanding and respect”. How can those countries sign up to the Commonwealth charter and so quickly pass legislation in flagrant breach of it? What does the Commonwealth stand for, and what is the point of its charter unless it is willing to take a stance and say that this is not acceptable?

It is very easy to be cowed in this place and the west by the view that, as the hon. Lady so eloquently put it, to condemn such legislation is to engage in a form of neo-colonialism and that it is not our place to lecture other countries about their morals and how they do things in their society. If we took that view, we would silence ourselves for ever as regards our ability to condemn human rights abuses that we consider completely unjustifiable. We have to take a stand in the west. Yes, it should be an intelligent and sensitive stand and we should be guided by courageous activists on the ground, such as Frank Mugisha, who tell us what will and what will not help, but we should not be cowed from speaking out about such legislation. If we are, that is the same as seeing a child being bullied on the street and saying that it is better to pass by and ignore the bullying because otherwise we might make the bullies worse and they might do it again. No, we have to take a stance and intervene.

The Government have rightly taken a stance and should continue to do so. The Commonwealth should take a stance and should continue to do so. Individual Members of Parliament should feel emboldened to stand up and look Members of Parliament in Uganda and Nigeria and now Ethiopia in the eye and say, “This is wrong. What you are doing is wrong.” We are not neo-colonialists for standing up and saying it is wrong. We are subscribers to the universal declaration of human rights. We are subscribers to fundamental values that say that people shall not be discriminated against because of the colour of their skin, their sexual identity or their sexuality. We subscribe to these universal human values and everybody should adhere to those standards.

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful and important point, which was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash), about the need for every one of us to be able to stand up for these values. Does he agree that just as many countries in Africa stood up and condemned apartheid in South Africa, and stood up and condemned the civil rights position and the Jim Crow laws in America in the ’60s, it is for us also to stand up and condemn where we see that evil is happening in those countries?

I welcome the hon. Lady’s intervention. She makes a powerful point. That must, of course, be right. In the same way that it was right to condemn those regimes and that evil, it is right to do so now.

The list of countries that continue to foster these repressive regimes is much longer than the list that has been read out this evening. There are still countries all around the world that have these regimes. We have not talked at all about Russia and the despicable link that President Putin made recently between homosexuality and paedophilia, and the way in which gay people in Russia are being brutalised while the authorities turn a blind eye. The Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme made a powerful documentary in February which showed quite horrific scenes of young people being physically assaulted by gangs on the streets and the police merely turning a blind eye.

Do not let us make the mistake of thinking that this is just Uganda, or just Nigeria, and a minority of countries. I regret that it is not. This is a tale of two worlds. This House of Commons knows which world we belong to and which side we belong to, and we should not be afraid to stand up and say, “Yes, we too made these mistakes. We too once had this kind of legislation.” We had legislation in the not so distant past that was repressive of gay people, and we learnt from those mistakes. We admit that we got things wrong and we urge others to understand the fundamental importance of these universal human values and why it is wrong for them, too, to discriminate against minorities, including gay people.

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) for securing this debate. I am aware from having done my research that she has a great affinity with Uganda and has family and friends there, and she has often visited, including as a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association member.

Members on both sides of the House share a commitment to protecting minority rights, not only in Uganda but all around the world. As we have just heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), alas, the lack of such protection it is all too prevalent and widespread around the world.

The depth of feeling on the issue is reflected in the way it has been the subject now of two debates in the House in as many months. Regrettably, other ministerial commitments prevent the Minister with responsibility for Africa, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), from being here today. But in the debate on 12 February he emphasised that combating violence and discrimination against LGBT communities forms an integral part of our tireless efforts to protect and promote human rights internationally.

We share the concern about the discriminatory legislation passed by the Ugandan Parliament late last year and signed into law by President Museveni on 24 February. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was clear in his statement that same day that the United Kingdom strongly opposes discrimination on any grounds and questions the compatibility of the anti-homosexuality Act with Uganda’s constitution and international treaty obligations, which I understand are being looked at in that country at the moment.

We have left the Ugandan Government in absolutely no doubt about how strongly we feel about this issue, as well as the significant damage done to Uganda’s reputation internationally. My hon. Friend the Minister for Africa raised the issue with the Ugandan Foreign Minister on 28 January, with the Deputy Foreign Minister on 13 February and with the Ugandan high commissioner on 18 March. He hopes to meet the Ugandan Foreign Minister at the EU-Africa summit in Brussels, which began today. Our high commissioner to Uganda discussed the issue at length with President Museveni on 11 March. In recent weeks she has also met the Ugandan Minister for Justice, the Inspector General of Police, the Foreign Minister and the Deputy Foreign Minister to seek assurances on the protection of individuals and the impact of the legislation.

We are also making representations through the EU. At a political dialogue meeting on 28 March, the EU called on Uganda to repeal the Anti-Homosexuality Act, to reconfirm its commitment to human rights and to ensure protection and equal treatment under the law for citizens. We fully endorse those calls. Ugandan Ministers present included the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Internal Affairs, Ethics and Integrity and Information.

I join in the condemnation we have heard from hon. Members today of the contemptible journalism, if it can even be described as such, in both Red Pepper and Rolling Stone. At every stage of our contact with the Ugandan authorities, they have given us assurances that their intention is not to undermine the personal security of the LGBT community. When we have informed the police about the persecution of individuals, they have responded immediately to ensure their security. However, I absolutely take the point the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts made. We will certainly want to look at any project designed to protect the LGBT community very closely and in great detail when it is presented to us.

Is the Minister saying that the UK Government’s advice to LGBT people in Uganda who feel at risk because they are LGBT is to call the police so that they can protect them, because the police will be enforcing a law that means they could be imprisoned because they are gay?

I can only explain what has happened to date. I was responding to the hon. Lady’s request in the second part of what I was saying. I repeat that we will certainly want to look at any project designed to protect the LGBT community very closely and in great detail if it is presented to us. We will continue to hold the authorities to their assurances to investigate any attacks fully and to urge the Ugandan Government to protect all their citizens from discrimination. The hon. Lady also talked about monitoring human rights abuses. We have a human rights report, of course, but we will certainly consider her very relevant point and see what more we can do.

We have listened carefully to calls, in this debate and elsewhere, for us to consider sanctions against those who have supported the anti-homosexuality law. The United Kingdom has already ended budget support payments to the Ugandan Government following concerns about corruption last year. Our development programme to Uganda goes through a variety of channels, including private sector organisations, non-governmental organisations and multilateral agencies. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Africa said in the debate on 12 February, we do not believe that imposing travel bans or any other sanctions on supporters of the Bill would be effective in promoting a rethink.

It is worth bearing it in mind that there is widespread support for the legislation in Uganda. We must therefore be mindful of the requests made to the international community not to make well-intentioned public statements and threats that many activists in Uganda fear would be counter-productive and likely to worsen the situation of LGBT individuals or harm efforts to promote LGBT rights. That is also our assessment. In that regard, I note that the guidelines issued on 3 March by the Ugandan Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, which includes LGBT groups, including Sexual Minorities Uganda, do not call for travel bans or other sanctions.

It is a bit strange, then, that the chairman of Sexual Minorities Uganda, who has been here and has met my hon. Friend’s colleagues, including the Foreign Secretary—we are profoundly grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving the time to see him—has asked for these travel bans. I am not quite sure what is going on, and different interpretations appear to be being placed on it. I urge my hon. Friend to take this up, because it is absolutely not the message that we are receiving.

It is certainly not the message that we are receiving. I repeat that the Ugandan Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, which includes LGBT groups, including SMUG, does not call for travel bans or other sanctions. However, I am happy to discuss this with my hon. Friend, and the door of my hon. Friend the Minister for Africa is open to him if he has other information.

I am grateful to the Minister for being so generous with time; he is probably here a little later than he expected. Let me clarify this point. There have been calls not to implement travel bans for all Members of Parliament and all Government officials who have been involved, but a very specific list exists—I am sure that the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) and I could share it with the Minister—of certain politicians who have actively been promoting the Bill. The hon. Gentleman read out a list of those working for the newspaper, Red Pepper, and several other activists. SMUG had previously asked that not all Government officials and Members of Parliament be given travel bans because that would not be helpful.

I commit my absent hon. Friend the Minister for Africa to having a meeting, at which I shall also want to be present, to go through this and look at the information to which the hon. Lady alludes.

What we should be doing is to continue, first, to make it very clear where we stand on this Bill, and on discrimination and harassment against individuals on any grounds; and, secondly, to engage with NGOs and civil society groups on how best to support their efforts to promote LGBT rights in Uganda—something to which the Government remain committed. For example, on 11 February my hon. Friend the Minister for Africa met the executive director of SMUG, Dr Frank Mugisha, at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to hear first hand the challenges faced by the LGBT community in Uganda. Dr Mugisha also met the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), and the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker). On 12 March, Dr Mugisha met my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my noble Friend Baroness Warsi to discuss latest developments following the introduction of the law, the LGBT community’s next step, and how we can continue to work closely together in this even more difficult environment. These meetings with, and access to, senior Ministers demonstrate just how seriously the Government take this issue.

Our high commission in Kampala is working extremely closely with Ugandan civil society groups on the ground to promote inclusivity, diversity and tolerance, in co-ordination with our international partners. We have supported training, advocacy, and legal cases related to the protection of LGBT rights, and have recently supported a Kaleidoscope Trust project working with the LGBT community in Uganda. United Kingdom officials have also engaged extensively with UK and Uganda-based NGOs, including Stonewall, the Kaleidoscope Trust and the Human Dignity Trust, to explain our approach.

Our objective is clear: to improve respect for and protection of LGBT rights. That will involve long-term cultural change, not just legislative fixes, important as they are. And our focus is not only on Uganda—we are only too aware of countries of concern elsewhere in the world. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have therefore asked officials across Whitehall to have a fresh look at our global approach on LGBT rights. That review is now under way.

The hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne), who is not in her place, raised the issue of the Commonwealth. Speaking as the Minister for the Commonwealth, I am deeply concerned that over 40 of the 53 countries in the Commonwealth continue to criminalise homosexuality, despite signing up to the Commonwealth charter, which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs said, includes language opposing “all forms of discrimination”. He mentioned article 4, which is about promoting mutual understanding and respect. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has also written to the Commonwealth secretary-general to seek his support to address that worrying trend in a number of Commonwealth countries.

Over the past three days I have hosted a conference at Wilton Park on the future of the Commonwealth with politicians, diplomats and civil society groups from across its 53 countries. This morning, we invited the Kaleidoscope Trust to run a session on LGBT rights as an integral part of the values expressed in the Commonwealth charter. My absolutely excellent Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), was also there throughout. The secretary-general’s recent statement calling for Commonwealth values to be upheld in respect of sexual orientation and gender identity is a welcome step.

Let me conclude by saying that I believe the Government’s record on promoting LGBT rights is second to none. This week we have seen the first gay marriages in the UK take place. I am proud that last Saturday I attended one of the first same-sex marriages in the UK, between the excellent mayor of Exmouth, John Humphreys, and his long-term partner, David Marston—in fact, it is possible that I can lay claim to being the first Minister to attend a same-sex marriage.

Before we pat ourselves on the back, however, it has taken us long time to reach this point, and we need to recognise that it will also take time for others. Nevertheless, universal rights, including for LGBT individuals, are something on which we will not compromise. Free, tolerant and inclusive societies are better able to fulfil the aspirations of their people, and are more resilient and forward looking. Some work needs to be done on the claims made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) about the adverse effects on GDP for countries that enact regressive legislation of the sort we are discussing. A country that is accountable—

I was just reaching my peroration. The hon. Lady has ruined it, but of course I will give way.

My deepest apologies to the Minister, who has said that he was concluding. I asked specific questions about DFID funding. I appreciate that DFID is not his Department but I have serious concerns about its money being spent on organisations that are promoting the Bill in Uganda and doing other such work elsewhere. Will he undertake to have a conversation on that with DFID and ask it to put that expenditure on record with an explanation?

There have been a number of questions to DFID Ministers on that point. The hon. Lady will no doubt have seen those and will want to review them. If she has any remaining specific questions about particular aspects of DFID funding, I would advise her to raise those with colleagues in that Department.

As I was saying, a country that is accountable and treats its people with dignity is more likely to foster creativity, ingenuity, economic opportunity and harmony—all prerequisites for long-term stability and security, not least with regard to neighbouring countries. That is a message that the British Government will continue to carry forcefully and ceaselessly around the world and one that, through her eloquence and by securing tonight’s debate, the hon. Lady has helped to ensure will continue to be heard.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.