Since the last oral question session, on 25 August I visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to press for a new dialogue and to reinforce the UK’s commitment to a negotiated two-state solution. On 2 September, we launched the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to integrate our aid expertise and our diplomatic reach and to project global Britain as an even stronger force for good in the world.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the case of Ye Ming Yuen in Singapore, and will he ensure that the Government continue to raise our objections to the use of corporal punishment all over the world?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and our staff continue to support Mr Yuen and his family during what must be a very distressing time. I can tell her and reaffirm that the United Kingdom’s long-standing global position is to oppose corporal punishment in all circumstances and to call for the consideration of alternative sentences.
In the last six months, the Foreign Secretary has publicly reminded Iran, Israel, China and Russia of their obligations under international law. I agree with him, so does he agree with me and with the most senior legal official in Government, who has behaved with honour and principle this morning, that when the Prime Minister briefs that he will unilaterally tear up our international obligations under the withdrawal agreement, it undermines our moral authority, harms our national interest and makes a mockery of the Foreign Secretary’s attempts to stand up for international law? Will he assure the House that he, as the Foreign Secretary, will never vote for amendments that violate our international obligations?
I obviously respect all the brilliant civil servants who work for us. I used to work as a Foreign Office lawyer myself. I can say to the hon. Lady that I am surprised she would open up this question. As we go through the uncertainty of changing our relationship with the EU, we will make sure that there is maximum certainty for businesses as regards the UK internal market, and of course we will legislate to that effect. Ultimately, we will take every measure necessary to protect the integrity of the United Kingdom and to comply with and live up to the Good Friday agreement, ensuring that it is respected. I am surprised she is not supporting that.
The right hon. Gentleman clearly does not read the newspapers, because his own Government have been briefing the precise opposite. Let me try him on another international obligation. An international arbitration ruling determined that the UK owes a debt to Iran, which has not yet been paid. In a letter to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family last week, the Defence Secretary said that the UK
“acknowledges there is a debt to be paid”
and is seeking to find ways to pay it. It is absolutely vital that the Government have a clear and agreed strategy for Nazanin, Anoosheh Ashoori and all dual UK nationals to ensure that they are brought home as soon as possible. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Defence Secretary, and if so, what steps is he now taking to resolve these heartbreaking cases?
I can tell the House that I had two conversations throughout August with Foreign Minister Zarif. We pursue all the cases of our dual nationals. The question of the International Military Services debt is a parallel issue, but we have always said that we would work to resolve that. As well as all the wider issues that have already been raised in relation to Iran, there is never an engagement, a meeting or a telephone conversation that goes by without our being absolutely clear—and I hope that the hon. Lady agrees—on the appalling and arbitrary detention of all dual nationals and calling for their immediate release.
I thank my hon. Friend and hugely welcome all his efforts in this regard. We are taking forward all these strands—from media freedom to the Magnitsky sanctions, to the work that we are doing on LGBT rights. He will know that we intend to build on our current official development assistance allocation for the strategic review on LGBT rights, which will be completed in the autumn. As a founding member of the Equal Rights Coalition of 42 states sharing the same values, in 2019 we took on the role of co-chair and we plan not only to deliver the first ever UK-led five-year action plan, committing the coalition to taking domestic and international measures on LGBT and equality issues, but to expand the ERC and, in particular, to try to draw in more participation from Asia, Latin America and Africa, for all the reasons that he mentioned.
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the UK has a comparative advantage internationally, with research that is going on at Oxford and Imperial in pursuit of the vaccine and the leadership that the Prime Minister showed at the Gavi summit to smash all the records and get $8.8 billion-worth of funding to ensure equitable access to the whole world. That is good for the United Kingdom—we do not want a second wave globally—and important as a matter of moral responsibility. On misinformation, we have discussed it in the G7 and plenty of other formats, and the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we must be rigorous and robust in rebutting false information, particularly when it is irresponsible about something such as vaccine safety standards.
I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend does as one of the leading parliamentarians and Select Committee members, and indeed, Chairs. The normal position that the Government take is that Select Committees ought to shadow Departments, but having said that, the representation is ultimately for the House to decide. I welcome all the scrutiny; he will know that we have not only affirmed the role of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact in providing scrutiny and accountability on aid decisions, but I want to review it to make sure that it is focused on what adds the most value and that its critical analysis is followed by practical recommendations.
First, on the issue of timing, covid has shown precisely why we need to integrate more in respect of our international endeavours. That was true in relation to the combination between research for a vaccine, the Gavi summit and the misinformation that was asked about earlier. On the cost of the merger, we would envisage that, notwithstanding our commitment to 0.7%, over the long term—over the course of the comprehensive spending review—we can make considerable savings on administrative costs as we streamline, fuse and synergise the various different aspects of the previous Departments.
As we have left the EU, it is curious to have an operation overseas. We have a global network of 280 overseas posts, which represent all parts of the UK, including Cornwall. The decision to operate overseas is one for Cornwall Council and, ultimately, the voters of Cornwall, who I am sure will want at the next local elections to have a say on whether it is a good idea and a good use of their taxpayers’ money.
I thank and pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for an exceptional endeavour. As we depart the EU and forge our way in the world, we ought to have stronger relationships with that part of the world. I would be very interested in receiving directly those proposals and ideas and would make sure that either I or the Minister for the region meets the hon. Gentleman and those involved.
My right hon. Friend will know that the resolution that was tabled garnered only two votes in the UN Security Council. The UK’s position is clear: we want to see the continuation of the arms embargo. It has to get through the Security Council, as frustrating as that may be. We have offered our good offices; indeed, had time been allowed between the original tabling of the resolution and the vote, we had offered, with the E3, to work with all the permanent members of the Security Council to try to find a compromise. Ultimately, unless the resolution can pass, it has no impact in restraining Iran.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and he is absolutely right to raise it. We have serious concerns about gross human rights violations being perpetrated against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, including the extrajudicial detention of over 1 million Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in political re-education camps—as they have been referred to. We are playing a leading role in holding China to account for its widespread violations of human rights. On 30 June, the UK led a joint statement on behalf of 27 other countries at the UN Human Rights Council about the situation in Xinjiang. Finally, the Foreign Secretary has again raised Xinjiang with his Chinese Foreign Minister counterpart.
My hon. Friend will know that, along with our E3 colleagues, we have triggered the dispute resolution mechanism for the JCPOA on the nuclear side. It has always been the case that the JCPOA did not encompass the wider destabilising activities in which Iran engages in the region through militias and proxies, and we have always been open and willing, and indeed pressing, to try to incorporate a bigger agreement. But it is also right to say that until there is scope for that wider agreement, what we have is the JCPOA, which provides the vehicle for some kind of restraint on Iran, although I accept that it has been eroded because of systemic non-compliance. We would be reluctant to move to something bigger until it is in place, and should not lose sight of what the JCPOA adds.
I share the hon. Lady’s concern about the situation in Zimbabwe. We follow it carefully and engage with our international partners as well as directly with the Government of Zimbabwe. Working with our partners, we have the tools, if the evidence allows and we decide it is the right thing to do, to apply targeted sanctions on those who commit the most egregious human rights abuses.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.