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Volume 682: debated on Tuesday 13 October 2020

What the Government's policy is on promoting human rights, democracy building and the rule of law internationally, following the merger of his Department and the Department for International Development. (907438)

The UK is committed to the promotion and protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law acting as a force for good in the world. The UK is one of the longest- standing members of the Human Rights Council, and we are aiming to maintain that record at today’s election. Another good example is our recent activity at the UN on China, which shows our commitment to defending human rights in Xinjiang.

I welcome the Minister’s words, but may I refer him and his words to the situation in Colombia where, since the signing of the peace deal in 2016, we have seen hundreds of human rights defenders, civic leaders, trade unionists and former FARC—Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—members murdered, and where the fragile democratic process saw the FARC move from the armed struggle to the political process? Will the Minister commit to making Colombia a priority for this Government, and will he or one of his colleagues commit to meeting a small delegation of MPs who are concerned about Colombia?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He is absolutely right to raise this matter. We believe that democracy, human rights and the rule of law are the absolute foundations on which open, stable and prosperous societies thrive. I am more than happy to commit on behalf of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this issue.

The International Development Committee is currently holding an inquiry into sexual abuse and exploitation of the beneficiaries by aid workers, and I am ashamed to report that we are finding that it is rife. I welcome the fact that the new Department has brought forward a safeguarding document as one of its first publications. However, will the Minister please comment on why the FCDO’s terms and conditions for staff say:

“Sexual relations with beneficiaries are strongly discouraged”?

Why is this not gross misconduct when there is an obvious power imbalance, and what will the Minister do to remedy this immediately?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising a very important issue. I do not have those terms and conditions in front of me, but I am more than happy to meet her to discuss what sounds like an incredibly serious point that she has raised.

Of course, what the Minister forgets is that the reason we are getting a seat on the UN Human Rights Council today is that the seat is uncontested. We actually have no representatives—a historic low—on any of the main committees of the 10 United Nations human rights treaty bodies and we have already failed to be elected to the International Court of Justice for the first time since world war two. Human rights barrister Amal Clooney resigned as a UK envoy, saying that it was untenable for her to urge other states to respect and enforce international obligations when the UK declares that it does not intend to do so itself. With so many crucial human rights abuses that we should be rightly taking leadership on, does the Minister accept that we undermine our position when his fellow Ministers undermine the rule of law and our commitment to human rights?

No, I do not accept that whatsoever. We have clearly set out our reasons for introducing the measures related to the Northern Ireland protocol. We need to create a legal safety net to protect the integrity of our internal market and ensure that we can deliver on our obligations. The UK Internal Market Bill is a defensive, precautionary and proportionate measure to safeguard the integrity of the United Kingdom.