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UK Soft Power

Volume 660: debated on Tuesday 14 May 2019

10. What steps he is taking to enhance UK soft power (a) in the EU27 after the UK leaves the EU and (b) throughout the world; and if he will make a statement. (910875)

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will answer Questions 10, 11, 14, 15 and 19 together. [Interruption.] What a terrible bunch they are on the Opposition Benches!

Needless to say, our engagement with Europe goes well beyond EU membership. To ensure that the UK’s soft power potential is maximised after Brexit, we have already strengthened our diplomatic network, increased programme funding and produced bilateral strategies for each and every EU country. Globally, the FCO continues to support funding for, among others, the BBC World Service, the British Council and Chevening scholarships. We regard that as a key part of post-Brexit diplomacy.

With around 350 million people each week tuning into BBC radio and television programmes worldwide, and with the British Council, which my right hon. Friend mentioned, we no doubt have far greater soft power than other countries of our size—perhaps the biggest in the world—but is there more, even more, that the Government could be doing?

We could always be doing much more. From our tradition of democracy and our internationally acclaimed justice system, to our inclusive values of free speech, freedom of religion and gender equality, many of which have been raised in questions today, we hope that we are promoting our values globally through the influence and reach of our diplomatic network.

I am keen to accommodate colleagues with very important inquiries. I hope they can help each other by being extremely brief.

What representations has my right hon. Friend made to his counterparts about tackling the growing and potentially devastating problem of antimicrobial resistance?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning that. We believe the UK is at the forefront of international efforts to tackle antimicrobial resistance through a variety of UN agencies. We were instrumental in drafting a UN political declaration on AMR, agreed by no fewer than 193 member states at the General Assembly in September 2016.

The British Council all-party group, which I chair, is conducting a wide-ranging inquiry into our future soft power relationship with our European partners. Does the Minister agree with our early finding that we could better co-ordinate our efforts, and will he meet the all-party group as part of our inquiry?

We have strengthened our diplomatic network, increased programme funding and produced bilateral strategies for each and every EU country, as I mentioned. I am happy to engage with the British Council APPG, which my hon. Friend so skilfully chairs—or at least, that is what it says here. [Laughter.] I am being a little unfair to my hon. Friend. He is a fantastic chair of the group, and of course I will co-operate with the inquiry in every way he wishes.

With China creating more emissions than the EU and USA combined, how can the UK use its soft power and influence as a global leader in reducing carbon emissions to encourage other nations to follow our example?

Our soft power influence globally on climate change is extremely strong and—I think we all would recognise—extremely important. The Climate Change Act 2008 has inspired numerous other countries, not least New Zealand, which is promoting its own legislation in this area along those lines. We are working with Canada and have launched the Powering Past Coal Alliance, and the UK has hosted international zero-emissions vehicles and carbon capture, utilisation and storage summits in recent months.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Somerset on reaching the final of the one-day cup? With the cricket world cup here in the UK just a fortnight away, does he agree that sport is one way in which we can promote British values and strengthen relationships around the world?

That is a classic piece of shoehorning of a very high quality, upon which the hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated.

I congratulate Somerset on reaching the Royal London cup final, Obviously, that comes alongside commiserations to my hon. Friend’s local football club. Those of us who follow league two will realise that Yeovil Town have gone down this season, but I hope they will bounce back very shortly. That will make the headlines in the Yeovil Express, I am afraid.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: sport is a major soft power asset. We believe it does help to project and connect the UK internationally, not least with the cricket world cup that is imminently upon us.

23. The UK-EU sanctions regime has largely been shaped by the UK’s pre-eminence in the European financial services market. Post Brexit, both will have separate policies. How does the Minister think we can sustain our influence, particularly given the flight of the financial services industry to either Frankfurt or Paris? (910889)

The hon. Gentleman talks about the flight, and it is worth pointing out, as I have said—I am the City of London MP—that some jobs have of course been lost, but not to one particular place; they have actually gone to places such as Amsterdam, Luxembourg, Dublin and others. The truth of the matter is that financial services will work very closely together and there will be a mutuality of interests and an equivalence, not least because of the importance of London as Europe’s capital market, regardless of Brexit.

The British Council is a key agency of the Foreign Office. My constituent Aras Amiri was yesterday given a 10-year sentence on trumped-up charges by Iran. Will the Foreign Secretary meet me urgently this week, and will he update the House in a statement on what can be done in this terrible situation?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that point. I know this matter is very close to her heart, not least because of a constituency interest. The Foreign Secretary will meet the family during the course of this week. I personally believe, as I am sure everyone does, that the sentencing of any individual purely on the basis of their employment with an entirely legitimate institution is entirely unacceptable. We deeply regret Iran’s attitude towards entirely legitimate organisations such as the British Council.

Will the UK use its soft power with India in particular to raise the case of a group of Christians who were beaten during a prayer meeting on 3 May? What are the Government going to do to raise the escalating number of cases of Christians being persecuted, particularly in India?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he says. The earlier exchanges made it very clear how seriously we take the issue of the persecution of Christians. India is one of many countries where there has been an increased worsening in recent years, and we will obviously take up at consular level all the cases to which he refers.

May I ask the Minister of State to use all his soft power and diplomatic skills with the French Government over the next three weeks, and urge them to ensure that the 71 veterans of la Libération who are still waiting to receive the Légion d’Honneur to which they are entitled get those honours before the 75th anniversary of D-day on 6 June?

I must confess that I will travel to Paris next week for the OECD ministerial meeting, and I will endeavour to have a line—those from my private office are waiting in the wings here—to make sure that we speak to counterparts about this injustice.