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UK Soft Power

Volume 667: debated on Tuesday 5 November 2019

17. What the activities are of staff working in his Department on soft power; and if he will make a statement. (900316)

As the first woman to speak, may I also congratulate you on your new job, Mr Speaker? The UK is home to world-class universities, cultural institutions and major sporting events that are known throughout the world and that help to promote our values and build relationships. We will keep investing in our soft power assets, including the British Council, the BBC World Service and Chevening scholarships, and engaging with partners as part of our role as a positive influence in the world.

I thank the Minister for that answer, Mr Speaker, but more importantly I thank you, because I believe that our soft power overseas has already been enhanced as a result of your appointment to the Chair. May I ask the Minister what we will do with this newly enhanced soft power to speak up for persecuted Christians around the world?

Congratulations from the west midlands as well, Mr Speaker: everybody is congratulating you.

We actively use our influence to speak up for persecuted Christians and individuals of all faiths or beliefs at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the UN, among other bodies. Throughout our diplomatic network, we lobby Governments for changes in laws and practices and raise individual cases of persecution in countries recently including Egypt, Indonesia and Sudan. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), the PM’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief is working very hard as well.

Last summer, the Red Arrows went to North America on an 11-week deployment and I happened, by sheer coincidence, to be in Chicago with the Mayor of the West Midlands. There we were, walking along the esplanade and we saw the Red Arrows on display with around a million Chicagoans cheering the Royal Air Force, which was great. That is a great example of soft power, but when does my hon. Friend think that a soft power strategy might be published?

I thank my hon. Friend, with his great links to the west midlands and the Mayor of the West Midlands, all congratulating the Speaker on his new position. Of course, this was a great example of global Britain going forward. We are all incredibly proud of the Red Arrows and they are a great example of soft power. When the Red Arrows were out there, the engineers and the pilots ran STEM––science, technology, engineering and maths––workshops in schools throughout their route, which was an excellent opportunity to showcase our soft power. To put my hon. Friend’s mind at rest, yes, we will introduce a strategy for soft power once we have won the general election and come back.

No soft soap from me, Mr Speaker. The fact of the matter is that I have known you since you came into the House. I am really pleased that you are in the Chair and we at least have a northern voice. It is Lancastrian rather than Yorkshire, but it is nice to have a regional accent. It is very nice to see your dad up in the Gallery, another old friend and colleague of ours. It is a very happy occasion for the Hoyles.

Now I am turning into angry mode. Will the Minister define what is soft power and what is hard power? Is what the Russians did to us in the last election, and possibly during the referendum, soft or hard power, what are we going to do about it and when are the Government going to publish this report that they are trying to hide from the public?

I am always concerned about the health of the hon. Gentleman; far be it from me to suggest that that was theatrics. To answer his question, soft power is one of the best values of the UK as a nation, in that we are out there with our embassies, trade envoys and cultural attachés and our British Council work. All that is absolutely excellent, as is the World Service that we help pay for. As regards Russia, the hon. Gentleman is an assiduous parliamentarian and I believe that an urgent question on the matter has been agreed by the Speaker, the first he has agreed in his time as Speaker. I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman hangs around, he will get the answers that he is looking for.

Mr Speaker, I am delighted to join the congratulations on your election yesterday on behalf of the people of Liverpool.

An important element of soft power is our commitment to international development. Will the Minister take this opportunity to reaffirm the Government's commitment to that, including the 0.7% aid commitment and the continuation of the Department for International Development as a stand-alone independent Government Department?

It is a pleasure to take a question from the hon. Gentleman, who has been unbelievably good as Chairman of his Select Committee. He is standing down and, honestly, we will miss him. To answer his question, absolutely: 0.7% is writ large. We are very proud that this is the Government that brought that in and put it on a statutory basis. As regards keeping DFID going after the election, let us get through the election.

As the first born and bred Lancastrian to catch your eye, Mr Speaker, may I also congratulate you and wish you well in your role? Last night, the director of the British Museum, Hartwig Fischer, came to dinner at the House of Commons. I wonder whether the Minister will join me in putting on the record our appreciation of the museum’s work. Not only is it an extraordinary lending institution of artefacts around the world, but its work in Iraq, for example, where the British Museum trains men and women archaeologists, is doing so much to preserve and protect sites that have been destroyed by Daesh and others in recent years. If the Government are looking for an envoy for anything, I am going to be free. [Laughter.]

I thank my right hon. Friend for that wonderful question. I am delighted to include the British Museum’s work as another area of soft power for the great UK and for global Britain everywhere. My right hon. Friend is standing down and will be greatly missed not only here but in the middle east, where his expertise and humanity are respected by everybody.

As the first Bury Member of Parliament to speak, may I congratulate you on your fantastic achievement, Mr Speaker? Following yesterday’s decision, which was based on merit, you have been able to bring a great sense of unity to the House.

Turning to soft power, what are the Government doing to make it clear to the Indian Government that we have extremely serious concerns about human rights abuses in Kashmir? What will the Government do to promote the concept of self-determination for the Kashmiri people? Time and again before elections, people on the Front Benches make commitments to promote self-determination, yet Governments have repeatedly failed to do anything about the issue when it comes to using soft power in international institutions.

That was a serious question, and it behoves me to give a serious answer. The Foreign Secretary has spoken to the Indian Foreign Secretary about the matter, raising our concerns about humanitarian issues, particularly in Kashmir. As for the election and commitments regarding an independent Kashmir, the matter should be sorted out on a bilateral basis between the two countries.