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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 682: debated on Tuesday 13 October 2020

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The Secretary of State was asked—

Hong Kong: National Security Law

What assessment he has made of the effect of the National Security Law on the people of Hong Kong. (907434)

What assessment he has made of the effect of the national security law on the people of Hong Kong. (907454)

We have been clear that the national security law has had a chilling effect on society and that it constitutes a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British joint declaration. It contains a range of measures that directly threaten the freedoms and rights protected by the joint declaration. In response to the national security law, the UK has offered a new immigration path for British nationals, suspended our extradition treaty and extended our arms embargo on mainland China to Hong Kong. We urge the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities to abide by their international human rights obligations.

In July, books by pro-democracy figures were removed from public libraries, and just last week Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, said that it was important to

“weed out the bad apples”

from the education system in response to a teacher “promoting Hong Kong independence”. Does my hon. Friend agree that the UK reserves the right to take further action to safeguard the rights of those in Hong Kong, especially if the human rights situation continues to deteriorate further?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have taken clear action in response to the national security law, including, as I said, offering a new immigration path for British national overseas passport holders, suspending our extradition treaty and extending our arms embargo on mainland China to Hong Kong. We will continue to bring together our international partners to ensure that we stand up for the people of Hong Kong, to call out the violation of their freedoms and to hold China to its international obligations.

Does the Minister agree that the national security law in Hong Kong has infringed the rights of many Hongkongers and broken international law by breaching the joint declaration? Will he now either urgently review his Magnitsky sanctions regime or outline how he intends to target those who instigate such appalling human rights abuses against this once proud British Crown colony?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that. As he will know, on 6 July we established our global human rights Magnitsky sanctions regime, and it is under constant review. However, he will be aware that it is not appropriate to speculate on who may be designated under any future sanctions regime, because to do so would reduce the impact of those designations.

Successive Conservative Governments since 2010 have been naive and complacent in their dealings with the Chinese Government. The resulting combination of over-dependence on China-based supply chains and the breaking of important international alliances has diminished our ability to exert influence on Beijing. Yet, despite these failings, there is clearly more that the UK could be doing for the people of Hong Kong. Will the Minister specify what the Government plan to do regarding citizenship for Hongkongers born after 1997? What consular support can he provide to the four BNO passport holders who are now detained in mainland China after attempting to flee? Will he commit to sanctioning the senior mainland Chinese Communist party and Hong Kong Executive officials who have been committing human rights abuses? It took the Government just days to sanction Belarusian officials. What, or who, is causing this delay?

We are working closely with the Home Office on our response for the BNOs, and there will be much more detail coming out in due course.

With regard to the cases that the hon. Member raises, we have raised the cases of the people detained in Shenzhen with the Chinese authorities in Hong Kong, and we have made it clear that due process should be followed. The rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong, including their rights to freedom of speech and assembly, are expressly guaranteed in the joint declaration, and rights committed to under the declaration must be upheld. Under the memorandums to the joint declaration, BNOs are entitled to consular assistance in third countries, but not in Hong Kong, Macau or mainland China. The Chinese authorities do not recognise dual nationality, and absolutely would not grant UK consular access for those individuals. On sanctions, I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell).

Trinidad and Tobago: Repatriation

What steps he is taking to assist the authorities in Trinidad and Tobago to repatriate their citizens stranded in the UK as a result of the closure of that country’s borders in response to the covid-19 pandemic. (907435)

The Trinidad and Tobago Government decided to close their borders on 22 March due to covid-19, and they remain closed. Consular support for Trinidad and Tobago nationals remains the responsibility of their Government. However, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office officials are in close contact with the Trinidad and Tobago authorities, and we advise all Trinidad and Tobago nationals to contact their high commission in London for assistance.

I have Trinidad and Tobago citizens in my constituency who are burning through their savings and really terrified about failing to get home to protect their homes and businesses from the approaching severe weather. Will the Minister join me in calling on Trinidad and Tobago to ensure that their citizens get home? I think it is common humanity to enable people to return to protect their homes.

My hon. Friend raises an important point about people in his constituency. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has alerted the Trinidad and Tobago high commission to cases of stranded Trinidad and Tobago nationals whom we have been made aware of, and has supported affected individuals to contact the high commission directly. It is also important to say that we are in regular contact with our counterparts in Trinidad and Tobago.

Education for Girls

What assessment he has made of the effect of the covid-19 pandemic on progress in implementing the Government’s policy on ensuring that girls throughout the world receive 12 years of quality education. (907436)

About 650 million girls were removed from primary and secondary education at the pandemic’s peak, and some risk dropping out of school permanently, so we must mobilise global investment and commitment to get education back on track and defeat the global learning crisis. The UK is proud to be co-hosting the Global Partnership for Education 2021 financing conference. We have adapted our education aid programming, and have committed new funding to UNICEF, Education Cannot Wait and the United Nations Population Fund to address the impacts of covid-19 on women and girls. We will use our presidency of the G7 next year to rally the international community for greater support for girls’ education.

I certainly welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday about the summit on global education. One reason girls are prevented from receiving education is that they are forced into child marriage. A recent Save the Children report revealed that a further 2.5 million girls are at risk of being forced into marriage by 2025 because of the current pandemic. With that in mind, will the Minister assure me that the FCDO will ensure that programmes to end the heinous practice of child marriage are at the centre of international development strategy?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and ending child marriage is key to delivering the Prime Minister’s commitment of championing 12 years of quality education for girls. Since 2015, our £39 million flagship programme has helped to reach just under 40 million people with information designed to change attitudes towards child marriage. The UK will continue to use its development programmes and global leadership to end child marriage.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister spoke about his manifesto commitment that every child should have the best possible chance to have an education, yet development spending on primary education has been cut by more than 27% this year, which is evidence of a Government without a strategic direction who cannot be trusted to deliver on their rhetoric. Will the Minister tell us whether the Prime Minister is aware that the Foreign Secretary is cancelling and postponing programmes that would enable girls to have a safe education, such as the one investing in adolescent girls in Rwanda?

The UK is a world leader in both our educational expertise and our development spend, and during the official development assistance prioritisation process difficult but necessary decisions were made to meet our 0.7% ODA commitment. However, the process has ensured continued support and commitment to ODA priorities, including girls’ education. On Rwanda, the issue was raised with the Prime Minister at the Liaison Committee. A tough decision was taken, but the UK has protected schools and education spending across the world. We continue to support women and girls in Rwanda to have a decent education, and our spend in the country is expected to total approximately £13.6 million.

Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel

With reference to the resolution of the House of 13 October 2014, what steps the Government are taking to recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution. (907437)

The UK is a strong supporter of Palestinian state building efforts. In 2019, we spent £81 million in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Part of that contribution is helping to build Palestinian state institutions; fostering private sector-led sustainable economic growth; and providing technical assistance to strengthen the Palestinian Authority’s financial management. However, such progress can never be a substitute for a political settlement, which is why the Foreign Secretary visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in August actively to encourage Israel and the Palestinian leadership to renew co-operation and work together. I also discussed this matter with UN special co-ordinator Mladenov on 1 October.

That is not an answer. Six years ago today, this House voted by 274 votes to 12 to recognise the state of Palestine. Three years ago, the Prime Minister, then Foreign Secretary, said that

“you have to have a two-state solution or else you have some kind of apartheid system”.

How can there be a two-state solution without two states? The UK’s recognition of the state of Israel shows that we respect its non-negotiable rights. Why should our recognition of the state of Palestine be a matter for negotiation? Are Palestinians entitled to less respect and fewer rights than the Israelis?

As I have said, the UK Government have supported the Palestinian Authority in putting in place the building blocks for a future Palestinian state, which we recognise. We have been very vocal that our preferred option is a safe, stable two-state solution, with a prosperous and peaceful Palestinian state neighbouring a prosperous and peaceful Israeli state.

The middle east is changing before our eyes and the significance of Israel’s peace agreements with the UAE and Bahrain cannot be overstated. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this new development between Israel and her Arab neighbours changes the narrative, creates a new dynamic in the region, and gives rise to new hope for a peace deal?

The normalisation of relations represents a move towards peace in the region, and the UK strongly welcomes that. We encourage other states to choose the same path, but, ultimately, there is no substitute for direct talks between the Palestinians and Israel, which is the only way to reach a two-state solution and a lasting peace. We do hope that normalisation can encourage dialogue between the parties and the UK stands ready to support such efforts.


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.

Amazon Rainforest

What recent representations he has made to his Brazilian counterpart on climate change and protection of the Amazon rainforest. (907439)

On 7 October, the Foreign Secretary held a strategic dialogue with his Brazilian counterpart which covered a number of topics of mutual interest, including trade, security and human rights. The Foreign Secretary raised the issue of climate change and the need to protect the Amazon from further deforestation. We run major programmes on sustainable agriculture and deforestation with various stakeholders in Brazil that totalled £259 million between 2012 and 2020. Climate change is one of the most important global issues, and international co-operation is vital to tackling it. As COP26 president, the UK will continue to work in partnership with Brazil on this important issue.

Some 58.4% of the Amazon rainforest sits within Brazilian borders. I am glad that the Foreign Secretary is raising the issue of climate change, but it is not one of the greatest issues facing the world; it is the biggest issue facing the world. Coronavirus is bad, but the longer-term problems of climate change could consume various countries around the world through flooding or deforestation. With COP26 now moved to next year, will the Minister make far more robust representations—not just to the Brazilian Government, but to many South American Governments—about the prioritisation of stopping illegal logging and the process of deforestation?

As I said in my previous answer, the Foreign Secretary had a strategic dialogue with his Brazilian counterpart, and both countries have affirmed that they will work to ensure that the COP delivers substantial negotiated outcomes in the fight against climate change. We believe that climate change is one of the most important global issues, and will be working not just with Brazil but with other countries to tackle this important issue.

Iran: BBC Persian Journalists

What recent representations he has made to the Iranian authorities on the intimidation of BBC Persian journalists in that country. (907440)

The attacks against BBC Persian employees and their families, and threats to an entirely legitimate media organisation, are unacceptable. We raise this harassment regularly with the Iranian Government, as well as at the Human Rights Council. We will continue to defend BBC Persian’s editorial independence. We most recently raised our concerns about media freedom in Iran in an E3 Foreign Ministers’ letter to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif on 22 September.

I thank the Minister for that reply and for sharing the concerns about this serious issue. Will he give us some information on what responses the Foreign Office has received from the Iranian authorities to such representations? The BBC journalists themselves get very little feedback on this issue.

Sadly, the Iranian authorities have yet to provide any kind of justification for their actions that stand up to scrutiny. Their behaviour is indefensible, and we are confident that our Iranian contacts, including Foreign Minister Zarif, fully understand our concerns and our condemnation of such harassment.


What proposals the Government have put forward to the UN Security Council on a resolution to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. (907442)

We remain deeply concerned about the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, and call on all parties to take every measure possible to protect civilians. That is why, on 29 September, the UK called for discussion at the UN Security Council. The day before that, on 28 September, I spoke to both the Azerbaijani and the Armenian Foreign Ministers to urge a return to dialogue under the OSCE Minsk group to ensure a peaceful and sustainable settlement.

The Minister will know that there are more Azeris living in Iran than there are in Azerbaijan—some 50 million of them, who hold great sway and influence. Russia, on the other hand, is firmly committed to supporting Armenia in this conflict, and that could see the Russian and Iranian co-operation in the Syrian war come under severe strain. What concerns does the Minister have about the potential for Iran to become embroiled in the dispute, and what steps is her Department taking to avoid that situation?

As I clearly indicated, we remain very concerned about this conflict, and the hon. Gentleman is right to raise it. That is why we are continuing to work to urge both parties back to the table to have dialogue, and to use the Minsk process to further that.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. I have two very concrete points. We are all concerned about the risk of a proxy war within this, because there are more than two sides to the conflict. What steps are the UK Government taking to make sure that no UK-made armaments, or indeed UK citizens, are finding their way into this theatre?

Again, the hon. Gentleman is right to raise this important point. On armaments, we have export licences in place and a very rigorous process to deal with applications with regard to any country, and that is always kept under careful and continual review. We are aware of many media reports that other countries are providing military support, for example, but we absolutely maintain a commitment to encouraging and urging both sides to come back to the table and have the dialogue that is needed.

I gently suggest that there is something for us to follow up in that, because there is a great deal of concern that UK armaments and people are finding their way into this theatre.

On a wider point, does the Minister share my concern about Turkey’s increasingly belligerent statements in the wider region? She will be aware of yesterday’s statement by the EU High Representative, Josep Borrell, about the retaking of the Varosha settlement in northern Cyprus, which continues to be illegally occupied. What discussions is she having with Ankara in order to strongly stress our defence of international law?

In terms of Turkey, the Defence Secretary discussed the conflict during a recent visit to Ankara and again agreed that de-escalation was the best option for all. I reiterate that, as the Foreign Secretary has said on previous occasions, we urge all external parties and friends of both states to redouble their efforts in support for an end to these hostilities and to refrain from taking actions that risk deepening the crisis. As co-chair of the Minsk group, Russia has a role in working to end the conflict too.

Further to the question of Nagorno-Karabakh, obviously the ceasefire is very fragile, and with the use of foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria, there is a real risk of escalation. What steps are the Government taking to ensure a return to dialogue, as ultimately only through dialogue can this dreadful conflict come to an end? Specifically on Turkey and Russia, what urgent discussions are being carried out in order to try to get them to stop their arms sales so that that does not increase the militarisation and the number of civilians who are tragically being killed in the region?

The hon. Lady makes a very important point reinforcing the need for dialogue. The Foreign Secretary issued two statements with Canadian Foreign Minister Champagne, most recently on 6 October, calling for an immediate ceasefire and a return to the negotiating table under the auspices of the OSCE group. On 28 September, the Prime Minister spoke to President Erdoğan and discussed the recent escalation. On 2 October, I spoke to Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Önal to register concerns at the military escalation. We have been engaging with the co-chairs of the Minsk group—the French, the US and Russia. I will continue to reach out to my counterparts—both the Armenian and the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers—to reinforce the UK’s support for de-escalation and a return to dialogue.

UK Internal Market Bill: Diplomacy

What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK Internal Market Bill on the effectiveness of UK diplomacy. (907443)

What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK Internal Market Bill on the effectiveness of UK diplomacy. (907456)

What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK Internal Market Bill on the effectiveness of UK diplomacy. (907473)

Last week the Foreign Secretary told the Foreign Affairs Committee that no one he has met thinks that the UK is not a defender of international law. The reality is that a fellow Cabinet member has admitted that the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill breaks international law. The reality on the ground is that 27 EU countries have begun legal proceedings against the UK, and in the US both sides of Congress have said that they will not support a Bill that breaks the international rules-based order. When will the Foreign Secretary see reality and admit that the UK is acting like a rogue state?

No, I do not agree with that. The measures in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill are defensive, precautionary and proportionate, to safeguard the integrity of the UK. I was in Washington recently and had very constructive conversations on both sides of the aisle on the hill.

The way that the Government have used the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill to allow the United Kingdom to abrogate an international treaty in recent weeks has seen the UK take a step away from being a normative power committed to an international rules-based order. As my constituent Jagtar Singh Johal now faces his third anniversary in custody without charge in India, will the Secretary of State at least tell both my constituent and the House how he and his Government seek to remind the Republic of India of its obligations under international law, given that his own Government have so flagrantly disrespected it?

I am afraid I just do not accept the assertion, and I do not accept the equivalence. We have very clear understandings in relation to the positions we take in terms of consular access and upholding human rights. We engage with the Indian Government and other Governments across the world. I have never had the pushback the hon. Member describes.

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), can the Secretary of State specifically outline how and in what ways he believes the United Kingdom International Market Bill strengthens the international credibility of the UK, given that it is in breach of international law?

I thank the hon. Lady. As I have made clear, the Bill is a defensive, precautionary measure to safeguard the integrity of the UK. If the hon. Lady wants to know what people outside the United Kingdom and the EU say about the United Kingdom when it comes to upholding the international rule of law, perhaps she would like to listen to Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the Belarusian opposition leader, who said on 5 October in an interview:

“I am really grateful to the United Kingdom. For them to be so vocal, for them to be so brave, for them to be so strong in their position—it was all action. The United Kingdom has really shown itself as an example to the whole world.”

That is what they say about the United Kingdom outside the EU.

My right hon. Friend is rightly addressing the rule of law in a particular negotiation. Will he recognise, however, that the negotiations we are conducting around the world, including with the Japanese Government and the beginning of the conversation with the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership will rely on the UK making deals that will endure the future? Those deals will only endure truly if the UK holds together and values all parts of this United Kingdom. Will he recognise, therefore, that his role is to promote the voices of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland together to make sure all those four nations achieve the best for the whole United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have just signed a deal with Japan, and we have signed a continuity deal with South Korea. We are looking at a second one, and we have ambitions for scoping talks in relation to that, so that we can improve in areas such as data. We are making good progress on Vietnam. That is precisely the way that, in trade negotiations, we will represent the businesses and consumers of all four nations of the United Kingdom, and that is the way we will continue.

Climate Change: International Co-operation

What progress the Government have made through international co-operation on tackling climate change. (907451)

The Government are fully committed to independent parliamentary scrutiny in this House. The Foreign Secretary has already announced our commitment to maintaining the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. He has also announced a departmental review to make ICAI even more effective, leveraging what works and producing more practical recommendations. This will make scrutiny stronger.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. What steps is he is taking to deliver the COP 26 goals when he engages with foreign Governments around the world?

May I apologise to the House? In my enthusiasm sharing a joke with you, Mr Speaker, I had the wrong page on my briefing and so answered in advance the question tabled by the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran). I apologise to the House for my enthusiasm.

I thank my constituency near neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), for his question. We are committed to COP 26 through the presidency of G7 next year. We will be urging Governments to be bold in what they are hoping to achieve. Indeed, we are co-hosting events with the UN on 12 December to mark the fifth anniversary of the climate agreement.

I will not be thrown off course.

With the United Kingdom being the fastest country in the G7 to decarbonise, it is quite apparent that this Government are leading the world in tackling climate change, but our efforts will pale into insignificance if other nations around the world do not face up to their own responsibilities. What efforts is my hon. Friend making to ensure that everybody plays their part?

It is important that everybody plays their part and that there is collective action. My hon. Friend may be alluding, in part, to China. I warmly received China’s commitment—in particular, its intent to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

Transition Period: Cabinet Discussions

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on progress in ensuring that the UK is prepared for the end of the transition period. (907445)

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on progress in ensuring that the UK is prepared for the end of the transition period. (907448)

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on progress in ensuring that the UK is prepared for the end of the transition period. (907449)

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on progress in ensuring that the UK is prepared for the end of the transition period. (907452)

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on progress in ensuring that the UK is prepared for the end of the transition period. (907453)

It remains our intention and our hope to reach an agreement with the EU, but as a responsible Government, we continue to make extensive preparations for a wide range of scenarios. The two Cabinet Committees focused on EU exit strategy and operations meet regularly to discuss the Government’s work, to ensure that the UK is prepared for the end of the transition period.

I thank the Minister for her response. The new Department will no doubt have a busy autumn as it looks to seize the many opportunities that lie ahead. What discussions have been held with the Department for International Trade to ensure that the Government sing from the same hymn sheet in their future trade negotiations on food, animal welfare and environmental standards?

I can assure my hon. Friend that FCDO Ministers are in regular contact with DIT colleagues on a range of trade-related issues. The UK Government have been consistently clear that we will never sign a trade deal that would compromise the UK’s high environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards. All existing food safety provisions will be retained.

Two thirds of my constituents in Stourbridge voted to leave the EU—“Roll on 31 December” is the message I hear loud and clear. Does the Minister agree that we must strongly back the Government’s negotiating position to deliver a trade deal that takes back control of our money, laws and borders, but that we should not be afraid to fall back on an Australia-style arrangement if necessary?

My hon. Friend asks an important question. We continue to work hard towards reaching an agreement with the EU. We want a deal with free trade provisions similar to those that the EU agreed with Canada, and if that is not possible, we will have a trading relationship similar to how Australia trades with the EU. Either way, we will be leaving the single market and the customs union.

The United Kingdom has a proud history of defending human rights. Does the Minister agree that a key benefit for our foreign policy of leaving the European Union is the ability to put in place our own independent sanctions regime, allowing us to go further on human rights than the EU?

Yes, the UK will indeed pursue an independent sanctions policy driven by our foreign policy objectives. We established a global human rights sanctions regime on 6 July, which gives us new powers to fight those involved in serious human rights abuses. The sanctions we imposed recently on individuals in Belarus are a good example. Sanctions are best delivered, though, through collective action, and we will continue to work with EU and other international partners.

Does the Minister agree that the end of the transition period will herald a global Britain with more freedom to follow our own path in the world, to the benefit of my constituents in Clwyd South?

Yes. At the end of this year, the process of transition will be complete, and we will recover our economic and political independence. That is why we did not extend the transition period. We need to be able to design our own rules in our best interests, without the constraints of following the EU.

The UK now has a new role outside the EU as global Britain. Will my hon. Friend advise the people of Ashfield what the FCDO’s priorities should be in the future?

The Government’s integrated review, which is ongoing, will define the UK’s role in the world and the longer-term strategic aims for our national security and foreign policy following our departure from the European Union. We are committed to the UK being a force for good in the world, defending open societies, free trade, democracy and human rights.

South China Sea

What recent assessment he has made of the effect on regional security of China’s actions in the South China sea. (907446)

On 3 September, I reiterated our concern about reports of militarisation, coercion and intimidation in the South China sea, and I called on all parties to refrain from activity likely to raise tensions. Given the importance we attach to the UN convention on the law of the sea, I also put our comprehensive legal position on the SCS on public record for the first time.

China’s brazen human rights abuses and its increasingly assertive behaviour internationally are both deeply disturbing issues. In the light of this behaviour, what consideration has the Department given to the integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy to safeguard British friends and interests in south-east Asia?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this. I remind him that, on 6 October, 39 countries joined in a statement at the UN Third Committee expressing deep concern at the human rights situation in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet. This growing caucus willing to speak out reflects the UK’s diplomatic leadership. The tilt to the Indo-Pacific is a key ambition for our integrated review. It will outline the UK’s intention to become a long-term partner to south Asian and Asia-Pacific countries. We are already working to develop closer partnerships with the region through our bid to achieve Association of Southeast Asian Nations dialogue partnership status. The Foreign Secretary visited Hanoi recently, and that was high on our agenda. We are also keen to pursue our accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership.

President of Belarus

What comparative assessment he has made of the ability of the (a) UK and (b) EU to impose sanctions on the President of Belarus. (907447)

The UK does not accept the results of the rigged presidential election in Belarus. We have worked with our international partners to promote a peaceful resolution. We have condemned the actions of the Belarusian authorities, and we hold those responsible for human rights abuses to account.

Everybody’s favourite continental politician Guy Verhofstadt expressed his huge frustration with the European Union recently, surprisingly enough, when he said that unlike the United Kingdom and Canada, which have imposed sanctions on Belarus for the very reason that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has just cited, the European Union has been unable to do so because of the unanimity rules. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the EU foreign policy ability to impose things such as sanctions, and does he share my relief that the United Kingdom has now left the EU?

I thank my hon. Friend. He makes a powerful point about the agility and the autonomy that we have with our new Magnitsky sanctions regime, and also some of the latitude we will have now we have left the EU. Equally, I co-ordinate closely with our European partners. He is right to say that the UK, with Canada, proceeded first, on 29 September, to impose targeted sanctions on Lukashenko’s son and six other senior Belarusian officials. I can, though, reassure my hon. Friend that the EU has followed our lead and, at the latest Foreign Affairs Council, announced that it will now follow that lead and impose sanctions on Lukashenko.

ASEAN Countries: UK Relations

I visited Vietnam last month, where we held the first UK-ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ meeting, discussing collaboration on covid, the green economic recovery, and the UK’s application for dialogue partner status with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer so far. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to support new growth markets in the ASEAN region, such as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, to ensure that the UK economy and UK businesses, especially South Derbyshire firms, feel the full benefit of global Britain?

First, I must congratulate my hon. Friend on her appointment as trade envoy for Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. She will know that UK-ASEAN trade is already worth over £40 billion in 2019. There are huge opportunities to strengthen that. The International Trade Secretary was meeting ASEAN Economic and Trade Ministers last month. I have been out to ASEAN to talk about our partner dialogue status. We also have a broader ambition to join the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. All that, through our Indo-Pacific tilt, will increase opportunities for businesses and consumers in her constituency and across the whole United Kingdom.

Wales and Welsh Businesses

The FCDO works in partnership with the Department for International Trade, the office of the Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Government to promote Wales internationally. The GREAT Britain campaign, which is actively supported by our diplomatic posts overseas, showcases the very best of the whole UK, encouraging the world to visit, study, and do business here, and generating jobs and growth for the UK economy. The GREAT challenge fund also promotes Welsh business and culture throughout the world. In the last financial year, more than 40 projects were promoting the devolved nations, including Wales.

Diolch yn fawr, Mr Speaker. For some bizarre reason, the Conservative party in Wales is pledging to scrap the Welsh Government’s Department for International Relations and Development, yet the Federation of Small Businesses is calling for a greater international footprint from the Welsh Government. Will the Minister support the Welsh Government to expand their independent international presence, since many in Wales have little faith that so-called global Britain will even acknowledge the existence of Wales as a nation?

I reiterate our commitment to the work that we do to promote the UK as one whole UK—we are much bigger as one UK than in our parts. The Department for International Trade promotes British trade and investment across the world, and we are engaging regularly with the Welsh Government on their international offer to businesses in the devolved nations. The Department promotes capital projects in Wales to international investors, such as Cardiff’s Central Quay, and the new Shaping Swansea regeneration project.

Topical Questions

Since the last oral questions, I have hosted my German and French counterparts at Chevening to discuss Iran and Belarus. I visited Washington where I met Vice-President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo and others to discuss the free trade agreement and a range of foreign policy issues. In late September I visited South Korea and Vietnam to forge closer partnerships and discuss our application for ASEAN dialogue partner status.

With tensions increasing in the China-Pakistan-India border area, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government are willing to redouble efforts to resolve the long-standing conflict in Jammu and Kashmir?

My hon. Friend takes a close interest in this issue, and he will know that India and Pakistan are both long-standing and important friends of the United Kingdom. We have encouraged, and continue to encourage, both sides to engage in the dialogue that is necessary to find a lasting diplomatic solution to the situation in Kashmir, and to maintain regional stability. It is, of course, ultimately for India and Pakistan to find a lasting political resolution, taking into account the wider issues of the people of Kashmir.

The Foreign Secretary has said that the Chinese Government must accept the responsibilities that come with being a leading member of the international community, and he has rightly highlighted the egregious human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Since July, he has apparently been gathering evidence to impose targeted sanctions against the officials involved, but so far we have seen very little action. Today China is standing to be elected to the UN Human Rights Council. While I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s willingness to speak out about this issue, surely, today of all days, we should take a clear moral stance and show that the UK has more than words at our disposal. Will he confirm that we will oppose China taking a seat on that council?

I suspect the hon. Lady will know that the UK has a long practice, under successive Governments, of not commenting on voting in UN elections that are conducted by secret ballot—[Interruption.] Never under a Labour Government: the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) is wrong.

The hon. Lady and I stand in total solidarity on the point of principle. We have unequivocally made clear to China our grave concern about Xinjiang. On 6 October, since we last met, the UK joined 38 other countries in the UN Third Committee to call on China to allow immediate and unfettered access to independent UN observers.

May I say to the Foreign Secretary, who is a former human rights lawyer, that it is quite desperate and a sign of our diminished influence in the world that the UK is not willing to take a stance on this important issue? We are deeply concerned about our relations with the rest of the world. Whether it is the covid vaccine, climate change, the Iran deal, west bank annexation, NATO or Scotch whisky, the Government appear to have no influence at all in Washington at the moment when we most need it. We are told that they are now scrambling to repair the damage to relations with Joe Biden and his team. There is no greater indication of why that matters than the case of Harry Dunn. In July, the Foreign Secretary told the House he had reached an agreement with the US about immunity arrangements for the Croughton annex. His repeated refusal to publish that agreement has fuelled the family’s anguish and underlined the widespread belief that his Department has chosen to side with the US Government over its own citizens. Why does he believe that neither Parliament nor the family of Harry Dunn should see the small print of this important agreement with the United States?

We did indeed change the arrangements, exactly as I undertook to the family and to the House. We also issued a written ministerial statement, which set out the terms. When the Labour party was in government, at two points when they reviewed the arrangements for Croughton, they did not make a WMS and they did not put into the public domain the memorandum of understanding. It has been standard practice not to do so, and I think the hon. Lady knows that.

I am going to say to both Front Benchers once again that from today onwards—just a warning—I will be stopping questions that are too long. Topicals are meant to be short and punchy for the benefit of everyone. I have got to get through a list. Please, let us help to make sure that other hon. Members get on it.

The merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development is a welcome acceptance that the UK’s outward-facing Departments should merge to best employ all the tools at our disposal. I detect, however, a concerning trend in the new FCDO for diplomacy and development to be regarded as separate and equal. Assimilating DFID’s obtuse culture into King Charles Street is dangerous and will cripple the Foreign Office’s ability to achieve its objectives. We must, above all, regard development as a foreign policy tool. Can the Foreign Secretary assure the House that the current reform programme at the Foreign Office ensures that our development programme supports our diplomatic activities, rather than transcending and undermining them? (907495)

I reassure my hon. Friend that the raison d’être of the merger is to bring together our aid clout and heft with our diplomatic reach and muscle. If he looks at the visit I made to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, he will see the support we provided for the Palestinians in dealing with covid alongside our diplomatic support for a two-state solution; if he looks at the situation in Yemen, he will see that we are doing the same; and he will see the same in our response to the explosion in the port of Beirut. I think he will find that we are practising what we preach, which brings together the aid—taxpayers’ money—with our diplomatic muscle to make a real difference on the ground.

Will the Foreign Secretary tell us what representations the Government have made to the Turkish authorities over their latest silencing of political opposition, with the arrest of 82 members and office bearers of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, the HDP? Do the Government share the view of many of us that those actions are, once again, a fundamental violation of human rights against the Kurdish population? (907498)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, Turkey is a close NATO ally, but that has never stopped us from raising human rights across the whole range. We will obviously continue to do so as a part of our partnership.

The Prime Minister set this Thursday as the deadline for achieving a comprehensive free trade agreement with the European Union. Foreign Secretary, what is the likelihood that on Thursday evening you will be popping champagne corks? (907496)

We have a European Council this week. The scope and the prospects for a deal are there. I am hopeful that we can close the gap, but ultimately it will require the same good will, the same pragmatism and the same flexibility on the EU side that the United Kingdom and this Prime Minister have shown.

The reputation and effectiveness of DFID was built on strong scrutiny within Parliament. What progress has been made on establishing a Select Committee on official development assistance to review spending and ensure that every penny reaches where it needs to go? (907499)

I share the hon. Lady’s view about the importance of scrutiny. We have made clear our commitment to not just maintaining but strengthening the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. Select Committees of the House are ultimately a matter for the usual channels and for the House, but we will make sure that the FCDO is willing to be scrutinised whatever the House decides.

I warmly welcome the announcement yesterday that the UK and Kenya will jointly host next year’s replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education. May I urge the Foreign Secretary, when we hold the G7 presidency next year, to make the campaign for 12 years of quality education a top priority? (907497)

I thank my hon. Friend and pay tribute to her work in government; I know her commitment on this issue. She will know that since 2015, the UK has supported 8 million girls to gain a decent education. What is important is not just the number, but the quality of education. Our global objective is to help 40 million girls into a decent education. That is a key focus of our use of ODA—this touches on the point about merging DFID and the Foreign Office—and it is also one of our top priorities for 2021, in the context of both the summit that she mentioned and our G7 presidency.

I have been contacted by constituents who are concerned that covid-19 has resulted in an increase in the persecution of Christians across the world, with reports that Christians are being denied food aid and access to personal protective equipment, and in some places are even being blamed for the virus. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that Christians and other religious minorities do not face additional discrimination in the distribution of aid because of their faith? (907502)

I absolutely agree with the concern that the hon. Lady has raised. Bringing ODA into the FCDO gives us the opportunity to raise these issues diplomatically, as well as to look very carefully at our aid budget. We are a member of the International Religious Freedom Alliance. We are looking to co-host one of the next summits, whether that is next year or the following year, depending on covid, and the issue that she raises will be very much at the top of our agenda.

Given the wider destabilising activities of Iran in the middle eastern region, what steps has my right hon. Friend taken to consider the use of sanctions against it, and what discussions has he had with our US ally? (907500)

We continue to hold Iran to account for its destabilising activity in the region. We currently have over 200 EU sanctions listings in place against Iran, including sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in its entirety. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and FCDO officials take every opportunity to discuss Iran with our US counterparts. As part of this regular dialogue, the Foreign Secretary last spoke to Secretary Pompeo on 16 September.

The Iranian regime routinely commits human rights atrocities and abuses against its people, with, recently, the execution there of Navid Afkari. It plays an appalling role in the destabilisation of the whole region. Does the Foreign Secretary not think that the UK should be more robustly condemning that regime and the pernicious role that it plays across the middle east and against its own people? (907505)

I agree with the hon. Member about the importance of raising human rights. The most recent thing we did, with my French and German counterparts as E3, was issue a démarche to Tehran on the human rights situation, including not only the case that he raises but the fate and arbitrary detention of the UK dual nationals held in Iran.

What assessment has my right hon. Friend’s Department made of the potential shifting geopolitical centre of gravity on natural resources as the world moves from oil vehicles to electric vehicles? (907501)

My right hon. Friend makes a good point about the shifting economics and the shifting geopolitical centre of gravity. We have more co-operation with South America, as well as other regions, and that will be crucial if we are to shift the dial on climate change. Earlier this week I had a strategic dialogue with my Brazilian opposite number that was very much about not only the issues he raises but tackling deforestation and sustainable commodity use.

Eighty-two arrest warrants against sitting and former mayors; 200 members of the pro-Kurdish and pro-peace HDP party currently in detention; and now even MPs of the CHP, the Republican People’s party and modern founding party of Turkey, arrested—what is the Government’s view on this undermining of democracy in Turkey, and how has the Foreign Secretary expressed it to our Turkish allies? (907509)

Turkey is a close partner and a strategic ally in NATO, and has Council of Europe obligations. We raise the whole suite of international obligations that apply as a matter both of customary international law and of the conventions that Turkey itself has signed up to.

What diplomatic efforts has my right hon. Friend engaged in personally to work with China to ensure success in next year’s CBD15 and COP26 conferences on global biodiversity and climate? (907503)

That is a good example for all the other challenges we have; it is an area where we must work with China if we are going to shift the dial on climate change. China is the largest emitter, but also the largest investor in renewables. My right hon. Friend will have seen the welcome recent commitment by China to be carbon neutral by 2060. In that and other areas—including, for example, the recent UN General Assembly leaders’ pledge for nature on biodiversity, co-led by the UK—we want to work with China. We will not persuade others to step up to the plate unless we can shift the dial with China.

Last month, the remote village of Washah in northern Yemen was hit by an airstrike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition, killing three women and six children. This is yet another breach of international human rights laws in that area. When will the Government step up to their international responsibilities and properly hold Saudi Arabia to account for its actions in Yemen, done in the name of the UK-supported coalition? (907510)

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an important strategic partner, and we recognise its right to defend itself against attack from parties within Yemen. The UK has a stringent arms control regime, and it is used whenever we work with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in terms of arms trade with the Kingdom.

I was pleased to hear the Foreign Secretary reaffirm the important role of the BBC World Service for UK soft power and influence for good when he appeared in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee recently. What consideration has the Department given to guaranteeing direct funding for the World Service, as the BBC looks at new funding models? (907504)

My hon. Friend brings the passion for journalism that he had outside this House to the core of this issue. He is right to say that we value the role of the BBC World Service in projecting UK soft power around the world, and I will look very carefully at future funding in the context of the spending review.

Saudi Arabia has been an ally of ours against terrorism for some time. Foremost among Saudis, the erstwhile crown prince Muhammad bin Nayef was a great friend of this country. He has now disappeared from public life, with great concerns over his safety. Will the Foreign Secretary make plain the importance of Prince bin Nayef’s safety to the United Kingdom Government?

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for all the work that he has done in this area. We will of course look very carefully at the case he raises, and I understand the point that he makes.

Canada and the Netherlands have formally joined the International Court of Justice case, led by Gambia, on the genocide against the Rohingya people by the Myanmar Government. Can the Foreign Secretary explain why the UK Government, despite being a penholder on the UN Security Council, for instance, in relation to Burma, have not done so, and when he plans to change that? Will he meet me and my co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the rights of the Rohingya to discuss this matter further?

We have a Commonwealth Foreign Ministers’ meeting coming up, where we will be looking at the further amount of support we are providing to ease the humanitarian plight of the Rohingya. We have looked at the ICJ proceedings and will continue to keep those under close review.

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.

Sitting suspended.