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Soft Power

Volume 673: debated on Tuesday 17 March 2020

Our consistent top-table ranking in numerous soft power indices makes the UK’s strengths clear, from our diplomatic network to cultural institutions and leading scientific research. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office enhances the UK’s soft power overseas by investing in international future leaders through the Chevening and Marshall scholarship programmes, supporting the BBC World Service in its biggest expansion in 70 years and, this year, showcasing our creativity alongside the British Council as part of the UK-Japan season of culture, as well as taking a leading role on climate ahead of COP26. Through our actions, we continue to have a positive influence in the world.

I recently visited Union Papertech in my constituency with Britain’s high commissioner to Pakistan to see how its innovations in paper technology are leading the way in booming consumer and green economies in the subcontinent. Does the Minister agree that some of global Britain’s best advocates and ambassadors open our markets for our values as well as our products?

My hon. Friend is spot on. I agree that British innovation is a key soft power asset. We recognise the importance of innovation and technology for global Britain, which is why the Prime Minister has committed to the UK being a global science superpower by increasing investment in R&D. My hon. Friend’s example of the high commissioner’s visit to Heywood and Middleton shows that our diplomats are committed to supporting innovative British products, as they do throughout our global network.

Does the Minister agree that our cultural exports are a major contributor to our soft power, in particular our film and television industry, which is prominent in south Wales? Will he do all he can to support it?

My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. I have had the pleasure of visiting studios in Wales. I agree that our creative industries are at the forefront of the innovation I have mentioned. They put the UK’s skills and expertise on a global stage, about which we can all be proud. People who work in those areas, including in Bridgend, are an asset to our influence around the world.

The British Council is an important institution. My constituent, who remains its employee, is still in Evin prison in Iran. What assessment has the Foreign and Commonwealth Office made of this morning’s announcement that some prisoners have been released? Is Aras Amiri, or indeed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, among them?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised that issue with his Iranian counterpart yesterday. We are deeply concerned about both the individuals the hon. Lady mentions. We are liaising constantly with the Iranian authorities whenever possible and keeping in touch with family members to ensure that they are let out as soon as possible.

In what way is continuing to disregard the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice and the resolution of the UN General Assembly on the future sovereignty of the Chagos Islands a diligent exercise of the UK’s soft power?

We are confident in our position on the issue the hon. Gentleman mentions. We are more than happy to talk to him following the session so we can discuss it further one to one.