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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 24 November 2020

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The Secretary of State was asked—

Deportation: Human Rights Compliance

What recent steps he has taken with the Home Secretary to ensure UK Government compliance with international human rights law in the handling of deportation cases. (909149)

Deportations, removals and returns are a Home Office lead. The Home Office is responsible for ensuring that action is in compliance with the relevant legal frameworks. The Foreign Secretary and the Home Office meet regularly to discuss international business, and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Ministers periodically discuss FCDO support for return flights to specific countries with Home Office colleagues, most recently the resumption of flights to Nigeria and Ghana following a pause due to the covid-19 pandemic. The UK’s international legal obligations, including under international human rights law, underpin all those exchanges.

The Julian Assange case is just one of many recent cases that have led to greater public discussion of the issue of extradition between the US and the UK in recent years. There are concerns across the House about our country’s extradition treaty with the USA. One is that the US can request extradition in circumstances Britain cannot, something the Prime Minister labelled “unbalanced” earlier this year. Another is that provisions within the treaty are not properly upheld—for example, the treaty bans extradition for political offences. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the ban on extradition for political offences is always upheld?

As the hon. Member may already know, changes were made under the previous Government to make the system more balanced. I can tell him that the FCDO is committed to upholding the full range of rights set out in the universal declaration of human rights and in international human rights treaties to which we are a state party.

Mahboob Ahmad Khan

Whether the Government have made representations to the Government of Pakistan on the killing of Mr Mahboob Ahmad Khan in Peshawar on 8 November 2020; and if he will make a statement. (909150)

We strongly condemn the murder of Mr Mahboob Khan, another recent and apparently religiously motivated killing of an Ahmadi Muslim in Pakistan. On 8 November, my ministerial colleague Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth, publicly condemned the murder of Mr Khan. On 16 November, he raised concerns about killings of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, including Mr Khan’s murder, with Pakistan’s human rights Minister.

I thank the Minister for his response. Given that four Ahmadi Muslims have been murdered on the grounds of faith in the past four months, the latest being 31-year-old Dr Tahir Ahmad murdered at home in Punjab just last Friday, what further representations can his Department make to the Government of Pakistan on ending their state-sponsored persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, which is rooted in federal laws that explicitly target Ahmadi Muslims?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She may be aware that we had a very robust Adjournment debate highlighting this issue last night. We remain deeply concerned by reports of discrimination and violence against any religious communities in Pakistan, including the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. We raise regularly at senior level with Pakistan our concerns about the mistreatment of Ahmadiyyas and other religious communities. On 3 November, FCDO officials in Islamabad met representatives of the Ahmadiyya community in Rabwah to engage with their concerns, as well as raising the matter with Pakistani authorities.

UK-US Co-operation

What recent discussions he has had with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team on future co-operation between the UK and the US. (909187)

We send our warmest congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on winning the election. Whether it is on trade, security or defence, we do more together than any other two countries and we see huge opportunities in the months ahead.

As President-elect Biden embarks on building his internationally focused team, including Antony Blinken as Secretary of State who said that Joe Biden would bring aid back to the centre of foreign policy, does the Foreign Secretary regret that the UK Government’s disgraceful plans to change the law to cut aid spending below 0.7% not only sends the wrong message to the rest of the world, but gets the relationship with the new Administration they did not want to see off to a bad start?

Actually, we consistently showed that we are a leading, if not one of the leading countries, on aid. That will continue. We also—this will matter to the United States—indicated the increase in defence spending, which shows what a dependable ally we are. All the soundings that we have had—that I have had—with the incoming leadership show that there are huge opportunities on climate change and covid to strengthen the relationship even further.

I echo the Secretary of State’s congratulations to President Biden and, in particular, to the Vice President-elect on this historic election. However, the spectacle of democracy under attack in the United States has sent shockwaves around the globe. Even after the transition announcement yesterday, the President has continued to say that he will

“never concede to fake ballots”.

Ron Klain says that the President has “set back” the democratic norms of the United States. Does the Foreign Secretary now regret emboldening those who attack democracy by refusing to assert that all votes should be counted and that processes need to play out, or will he stand with me and the incoming White House chief of staff in defence of free and fair elections?

First, I warmly join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to and welcoming the historic election of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Frankly, the stuff that the hon. Lady said about emboldening critics of the US elections could not be further from the truth. What we have said consistently—[Interruption.] She might want to listen to the answer to her question. What we have said consistently is that the US has the checks and balances in place to produce a definitive result. It has. We warmly welcome the new Administration. We look forward to working with them.

Global alliances are based on shared values: democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Human rights will be a key pillar for the Biden Administration. They rightly recognise that Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe, sustained by US and UK support. The war has gone on for more than five years, with a dangerous rocket attack in Jeddah just yesterday. Does the Secretary of State agree with the incoming US Secretary of State, the National Security Adviser and the ambassador to the UN that it is time to end participation in, or any form of support for, the disastrous Saudi-led campaign? Will he now commit to playing the UK’s part by ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia?

I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that we have to pursue every effort to get peace in Yemen, both on the humanitarian side and on the political track. That is why we have been fully supportive of the UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths. I have been out to Saudi to encourage, promote and cajole the Saudis into doing the right thing. Of course, the Houthis need to move. Actually, the most important thing is a concerted regional push for a political end to this wretched conflict.

Hong Kong Opposition Lawmakers

What steps the Government plan to take in response to the disqualification of four pro-independence opposition lawmakers in Hong Kong. (909152)

Beijing’s imposition of new rules to disqualify elected legislators constitutes a clear breach of the UK-China joint declaration. This is only the third time we have judged a breach, and the second in six months. China has once again broken its promises and undermined Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.

As the Foreign Secretary said, the Chinese Government have breached the Sino-British joint declaration twice in the past six months, so when will he implement the Magnitsky sanctions against the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam? What steps is he taking to tighten capital flows into China via Hong Kong from the City of London?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his interest. He will know that we have already made a new offer to British nationals overseas, suspended our extradition treaty with Hong Kong and extended our arms embargo on mainland China to Hong Kong. On the Magnitsky sanctions, this is not just something that we can decide at our fiat. We need the evidence to back it up. We are looking at and assessing that, working with our international partners. On 18 November, I led and issued a statement with our Five Eyes Foreign Ministers condemning the latest China move in relation to legislators. That was hot on the heels in October of 39 countries joining the UK in the UN Third Committee with a statement on Hong Kong as well as Xinjiang.

Climate Change: International Co-operation

What recent progress the Government have made through international co-operation on tackling climate change. (909153)

As the host of COP26 and the president of the G7 next year, securing greater global ambition on climate change is a diplomatic priority for this Government. Ministerial colleagues in the FCDO and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary regularly raise this subject, and he has done so, including with Japan and South Korea earlier this year. This strategy is working. China has pledged to become a carbon-neutral country by 2060 and Japan and South Korea have committed to become net zero by 2050. On 7 November, the Prime Minister appointed my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) as the international champion on adaptation and resilience for COP26.

My constituents in Barrow and Furness have welcomed the Government’s focus on renewable energy, but it is clear that a global approach is required to deal with this crisis. As such, can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that the Department is working flat out on COP26 and the climate ambition summit to make it a success?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the answer to this lies in global co-operation. The United Kingdom is leading from the front, and we are pressing foreign Governments for greater action and higher commitments at the climate ambition summit on 12 December. Our posts across the globe have engaged with host Governments, businesses and civil society on climate change issues ahead of COP26, and we will continue to do so in the run-up to the climate ambition summit this December.

Climate change is going to drive the future crisis that humanity is facing. Parts of the world will get wetter and parts drier, with all the world more climatically unstable, population growth and resource scarcity. Climate change is going to be at the heart of every crisis that we are going to face.

The UK is undertaking the integrated review of foreign and defence policy right now. I will be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that climate change will be high on the agenda of that review, and that he will take good note of the Scottish National party’s suggestions, which we submitted to the review in good faith. We all need to work together on this, because climate change is a crisis facing humanity as a whole.

The hon. Member is right to highlight the fact that climate change is going to be an important factor in the foreign policy of all countries around the world. We recognise that in terms of pressure on food production and resources, the potential implications and the conflicts that may come about because of that. That is why climate change and our response to it, development and diplomacy will all go hand in hand through the integrated review.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reassurance. I suggest that he has a read of the SNP submission to the integrated review. There are some very good ideas in there, not least to maintain development at the heart of climate mitigation and to fund it properly. If I were a Minister in a Government who stood on a manifesto in December to maintain 0.7%, I would be considering my position were that to be walked back upon. Is he considering his?

I am very proud of the fact that the United Kingdom is and will remain one of the most generous aid donors in the world. We have focused relentlessly on ensuring that the work of the United Kingdom Government across all Departments focuses on addressing the poorest in the world, as well as the implications of climate change.

ASEAN Countries: UK Relations

We are very much strengthening our relations with the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Last month, I had a meeting with the ASEAN Secretary-General. I have also met all ASEAN ambassadors to London. The Foreign Secretary visited Vietnam in September and met ASEAN Foreign Ministers. Last week, I was in the Philippines and met Secretary of Foreign Affairs Locsin, among others.

I welcome the Minister’s meeting in the Philippines. He knows that our relationship with the Philippines is not just on security and defence, but extends to the 30,000 healthcare workers in this country who came from the Philippines. May I press him on the conversations that he has had with the Government in Manila about those 30,000 workers and how we can strengthen the healthcare relationship?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that. While I was in Manila last week, I met a range of Cabinet Secretaries, including the Health Secretary and the Foreign Minister, as I said, and the British Red Cross. As my hon. Friend knows, there is currently a ban on Filipino nurses leaving the country. They are fantastic, committed health workers and we are very grateful to the 30,000 of them in the national health service. I am pleased to report that we managed to secure important progress in that regard. Following the discussions that I had with the Health Secretary, the Philippines President has confirmed that he will lift the ban, allowing our NHS to recruit these highly skilled and excellent health service workers.

I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s efforts with ASEAN and his emphasis on the Indo-Pacific. He will no doubt have seen the fantastic Policy Exchange report by my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho), who has been instrumental in emphasising some of these points. Does he agree that this tilt towards the Asia-Pacific is fundamental to defending democracies in the region, to ensuring that British interests are valued and to respecting the individual rights of countries that for too long have been pressed by China to come under a different orbit?

I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for his question. He is absolutely right, and I also applaud the work of my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey in this regard. Our tilt towards the Indo-Pacific region as part of the integrated review is testament to how much we value that part of the world. There are a number of issues that we will raise with China. We are concerned in particular about issues around the South China sea, and these are conversations that we have regularly with China. I made our legal position on that very clear here at the Dispatch Box a couple of months ago. Our support in that area has been widely supported by our ASEAN friends.

Hungary: Same-sex Couple Adoption

What representations he has made to the Government of Hungary on proposals to ban adoption for same-sex couples in that country. (909155)

The UK is committed to the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. If it is passed, the legislation will reserve adoption for married couples, which in Hungary means heterosexual couples. While there would be an avenue for exceptions, adoption would be very difficult for same-sex couples in the future, as well as for single people. Our embassy in Budapest is closely monitoring the discussions of the proposal in the Hungarian Parliament, and will be discussing it with Hungarian officials and civil society actors.

This unacceptable development in Hungary is a very worrying one, and is part of a wider movement to define families as a union between a male and female husband and wife and children. Does the Minister agree that we have to take every possible opportunity to impress upon the Hungarian Government how unacceptable this is to so many people in our communities here in the United Kingdom?

We are completely opposed to all forms of discrimination and we continue our work to uphold the rights and freedoms of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in all circumstances. We are really concerned that the amendment of Hungary’s Registry Act, which was passed by the Hungarian Parliament in May, will have an adverse impact on the rights of transgender people, and I raised our concerns about the amendment to the Act with the Hungarian Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in April. I can assure the hon. Lady that our embassy in Budapest takes all appropriate opportunities to discuss the rights of transgender people with senior government officials and civil society.

Ethiopia

We are very concerned about the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, in terms of both the humanitarian impact and the risk of spill-over and spread through the region.

Having chaired the all-party parliamentary group for Ethiopia and Djibouti for a long while, I have seen the relative peace that Ethiopia has lived in since 1987, and the last thing it needs at the moment, following the locust problem and covid, is this situation. Does the Foreign Secretary therefore agree that the best way forward, and the only realistic way forward, is to find a peaceful solution to the problems? Will he also do everything he can to ensure that aid continues to get to the Tigray people who need it?

I thank my hon. Friend and pay tribute to the work that he has done in this regard. I share his concern. I spoke to Prime Minister Abiy on 10 November. We have made it clear that there needs to be a de-escalation of violence, humanitarian access and protection of civilians. Of course, there are also all sorts of regional implications, which is why I have also spoken to the Prime Minister of Sudan and the Foreign Ministers of Egypt and South Africa. This will require not only regional but international efforts to secure peace and protect the humanitarian plight there.

As the Foreign Secretary said, this conflict has implications for the whole region, including Somalia, with Ethiopian troops being pulled out of that country to be re-deployed to Tigray. Given reports that President Trump also intends to move troops out of Somalia, and given the threatening presence there of al-Shabaab and Islamic State, what discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with international partners about ensuring that Tigray does not end up helping to destabilise Somalia, too?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) made clear, Ethiopia has been a relative success story lately, but there is a real danger for the people of Ethiopia and he has highlighted the risks of spillover to Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea, which will be very damaging not only for people in the region, but for wider equities. As I say, I have spoken to regional leaders. I will speak to the Deputy Prime Minister of Ethiopia soon. Of course, we will be engaging with the Americans. I was in Berlin talking with the E3 and our European colleagues. We have expressed our concern, and we are doing everything we can to bring peace and a de-escalation of the conflict.

The war and famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s are seared into the memories of the British people and the world, and yet again we are on the brink of another tragedy for the people of that wonderful country: hundreds of civilians hacked to death, tens of thousands of refugees, hundreds of thousands cut off from assistance, women and children caught in the violence between rebels and a Government now threatening to shell a city. So can the Foreign Secretary say why it has taken until today for the United Nations Security Council to meet on this? What more are we doing to secure humanitarian corridors and access for independent human rights monitors? Does he not agree that this is another reason why it would be the wrong time to cut our 0.7% commitment to humanitarian assistance?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s horror at some of the reports of the civilian casualties. We take this incredibly seriously, energetically and actively at the United Nations. Let me reassure him that UK funding is already helping those in urgent need of assistance. In Ethiopia specifically, the UK funds the World Food Programme, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF and the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Yemen

What recent assessment the Government have made of the (a) political and (b) humanitarian situation in Yemen. (909157)

The humanitarian situation in Yemen is dire. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary warned in September, Yemen has never looked more likely to slide into famine than it does now. Almost 16 million people—53% of the population—are currently unable to afford food. In response, the UK is rapidly disbursing the £200 million-worth of aid commitment this year. We fully support UN special envoy Martin Griffiths, who is seeking the parties’ agreement to proposals for a nationwide ceasefire and formal talks.

We strongly support the UN’s efforts and we regularly engage with all parties that have an interest in Yemen. On 18 October, I spoke to the spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam about the peace process and the Safer oil tanker; on 6 October, I spoke to the Yemen Foreign Minister about the progress; and on 17 September the Foreign Secretary co-hosted a P5+ ministerial meeting to encourage all parties to engage fully with the proposals that the UN has put forward.

Saudi Arabia: Human Rights Defenders

What discussions he had with the Government of Saudi Arabia at the G20 on human rights defenders in that country. (909158)

Our strong relationship with Saudi Arabia allows us to raise human rights concerns through a range of ministerial and diplomatic channels. Ahead of the G20 leaders’ summit, I raised human rights concerns with the Saudi ambassador, including the continued detention of at least five women human rights defenders. The UK also signed the UN Human Rights Council joint statement in September calling for the release of all political detainees. We will continue to raise human rights concerns with the Saudi authorities.

Women in Saudi Arabia now have the right to drive, but some of those who fought for that basic equality remain behind bars. The UK is, as the Minister suggests, Saudi Arabia’s closest European ally, but does he understand why the detention of women human rights defenders by the Saudi Arabian authorities is an important test of our Government’s commitment to defending human rights? Will he call on them to release these women and all political prisoners immediately?

We welcome the improved situation for women in Saudi and encourage the Saudis to continue steps in that direction. As I have already said, we engage on this specific issue at both ministerial and official level and will continue to urge the Saudis to go further.

The Minister knows full well that the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is terrible, and many people believe it is getting worse. Now that the G20 summit has been held, what precisely do the Government intend to do to put pressure on the Government of Saudi Arabia to release human rights activists, including women’s rights activists who are being held for fighting for freedoms that we in this country take for granted?

I spoke to the Saudi ambassador about this very issue on 16 November. As I say, it is important that we recognise when progress has been made. Saudi is embarking on a reform programme and we are seeking to ensure that that goes further and faster, but as I said in response to the previous question, we do engage at ministerial level and at official level to encourage the release of women’s human rights defenders.

Covid-19 Vaccines

What steps the Government are taking to help ensure equitable access to covid-19 vaccines for people living in the global south. (909159)

What diplomatic steps the Government are taking to support the development of a covid-19 vaccine (a) in the UK and (b) throughout the world. (909180)

The UK is committed to rapid, equitable access to safe and effective vaccines through multilateral collaboration. We strongly support the COVAX advance market commitment, which is the international initiative to support global equitable access. The UK is the largest bilateral donor to the AMC, having committed up to £548 million to help provide vaccines for up to 92 developing countries. The UK also committed £71 million in non-official development assistance to participate in the COVAX facility for self-financing countries, in order to secure options to vaccines for UK domestic use.

In a pandemic we are only as strong as our weakest link. Is the Minister convinced that, even though we are one of the largest donors, we are doing enough to ensure that developing nations have the infrastructure they need to organise a mass roll-out of the vaccine?

A pandemic response is absolutely what we need to tackle this virus, and that requires global collaboration. The UK strongly supports multilateral approaches so that we can meet both domestic and global needs, and that work goes alongside UK deals with individual vaccine developers. I am sure that, like me, the hon. Lady will welcome AstraZeneca’s commitment to non-profitable access during the pandemic and the fact that AstraZeneca estimates that up to 3 billion doses will be available globally by 2021.

My question follows on from that asked by the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle). What specific steps is my hon. Friend the Minister taking to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of providing vaccines to vulnerable countries around the world?

I know how interested so many Members are in the access to and distribution of these incredibly important vaccines as part of our covid-19 response. Our £250 million of funding for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations is helping to develop vaccine candidates that can be scaled up and accessible for developing countries. Our commitment of up to £548 million to the COVAX AMC will contribute to the target of supplying 1 billion doses for 92 developing countries in 2021 and vaccinations for up to 500 million people. We have also worked with the World Bank to secure up to $12 billion in financing to support developing countries’ access to covid-19 vaccines, treatments and tests.

Myanmar: ICJ Case

What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of Canada and the Netherlands formally joining the Gambia in the International Court of Justice case on the genocide of Rohingya people by the Myanmar Government. (909160)

The UK Government have been clear about their political support for the ICJ process, and we continue to urge Myanmar to comply with the provisional measures ruling. We are aware of the intention of the Netherlands and Canada to intervene and understand that they will take a final decision once the case progresses. We are monitoring the case closely and continue to consider whether UK intervention would add value to its merits.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. The failure to secure justice and hold the Burmese Government and the military in particular to account sends a dangerous message to other Governments that genocide and ethnic cleansing are acceptable policy tools. We are seeing that elsewhere in the world, too. I have asked this question of the Minister and the Foreign Secretary time and again, so, let me ask it once again: can the Minister say very clearly that the UK Government will join that case? If he cannot say so today, will he commit to saying so soon? Very eminent British lawyers, such as Philippe Sands, are involved and are asking the British Government to support it, because if they do not, people will quite rightly ask whether it is a case of the UK Government taking the stance that it is acceptable to commit acts of genocide on Muslim minorities.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her work on this issue, alongside the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt). She is absolutely right that accountability is vital. The Myanmar military has committed atrocities against the Rohingya and other minorities, and there has been no tangible progress on accountability. We have been very clear about our support for the ICJ process. It is putting pressure on Myanmar to protect the Rohingya and to work towards genuine accountability. She mentioned genocide. We agree with the UN fact-finding mission that the events of 2017 constitute ethnic cleansing. We are clear that the question of whether genocide took place is a legal determination to be made by a competent court. The ICJ is a competent court and we welcome its consideration of the issue. I look forward to welcoming her and my right hon. Friend to discuss these issues in the FCDO shortly.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference

What the Government’s priorities are for the nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference in 2021. (909162)

The United Kingdom’s priority is to reinforce the non-proliferation treaty as a vital part of the international security architecture and to highlight the UK’s strong track record across all three pillars of the treaty. Building on the successful 2020 UK-led P5 process, we will work to promote transparency between nuclear and non-nuclear states and submit a national report to highlight our achievement in support of the NPT. The UK will also emphasise the important role of peaceful uses of nuclear energy in achieving the sustainable development goals.

Given that the UK is a signatory to this treaty, does the Minister agree that the logical next step would be for the UK now to become a signatory to the UN treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, taking the lead from the First Minister of Wales, who has welcomed this treaty? In that way, we in the UK can take a lead internationally to create a future throughout the world without nuclear weapons.

The UK has reduced by half its nuclear arsenal since the end of the cold war, but we will not sign or ratify the prohibition of nuclear weapons. We do not believe that this treaty brings us any closer to a world without nuclear weapons, and it will not improve the security environment.

I hope the Minister will agree with me that the UK must seize the opportunity of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference early next year to push multilateral nuclear disarmament back up the global agenda and take the steps necessary to bring about a world free from the threat of nuclear weapons. With major non-signatories, such as India and Pakistan, still remaining, will the Minister outline how the Government plan to encourage those countries and others to commit to signing the treaty?

I think that everyone from all parts of this House will share the desire to see a world without nuclear weapons. However, we do need to ensure that at no point do we compromise the United Kingdom’s defence. We worked at the P5 conference of NPT nuclear weapon states that took place in February 2020 to demonstrate our engagement with the wider non-proliferation treaty community, and we will continue to work on our priorities: transparency, the UK national report, disarmament verification and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

UK Preparedness: End of the Transition Period

What progress his Department has made on ensuring UK preparedness for the end of the transition period. (909163)

Although it remains our intention and hope to reach agreement with the EU, as a responsible Government we continue to make extensive preparations for a wide range of scenarios. The FCDO is leading communication campaigns aimed at UK nationals living in the EU and UK travellers to the EU to help to ensure that they take the actions they need to be ready for the end of the transition period. We have also launched the UK nationals support fund, providing up to £3 million to support at-risk and hard-to-reach UK nationals who might need additional support to apply for residency in their host EU member states.

Will the Minister tell us how businesses and organisations in Clwyd South and the rest of the UK can access practical advice and support from the Government to ensure that they are ready for the end of the transition period?

My hon. Friend is right to ask such questions on behalf of his constituents. Let me point him in the direction of some areas of support. First, the Welsh Government provide an online EU transition portal at www.businesswales.gov.wales, where businesses and organisations can find up-to-date advice from the Welsh Government; there is an online query service and a helpline. For the UK as a whole, the best place to start is the gov.uk website, which provides comprehensive and up-to-date advice and includes step-by-step guides in key areas. From a business perspective, it might also be of interest to my hon. Friend to know that we continue to make excellent progress in our negotiations for a comprehensive free trade agreement to come into force in 2021, and we have agreed with the European economic area and European Free Trade Association states a continuity deal to ensure that trade flows continue at the end of the year while we finalise the more ambitious FTA that we are negotiating.

Quality Education for Girls

What assessment he has made of the effect of the covid-19 pandemic on the Government’s commitment to ensure that girls throughout the world receive 12 years of quality education. (909164)

Since 2015, the UK has supported 15.6 million children to gain a decent education. Sadly, due to covid-19, 1.6 billion learners were out of education at the peak of school closures, and an estimated 8 million girls are at risk of not returning. As one of our key priorities, we are working with countries directly and supporting the efforts of the Global Partnership for Education, Education Cannot Wait, UNICEF and the UNHCR to get girls back to school.

Britain’s contribution to ensuring girls’ education is one of the most important and proudest parts of our entire work in international development. How will the Minister ensure that the Global Partnership for Education conference is a success, and that countries around the world continue to step up to the plate on this most essential agenda?

My right hon. Friend makes a really important point. I know of his continued interest in education, particularly girls’ education. I assure him that we have established regular senior engagement with the Global Partnership for Education and our Kenyan co-hosts to ensure a successful replenishment that delivers major funding for girls’ education. We will secure significant pledges through bilateral engagement and in global forums from both traditional donors and new partners, and through domestic and global networks we will build attention to and expectation around this important replenishment.

The Minister is aware that girls can only benefit from education if we tackle child marriage, female genital mutilation and all gender-based violence. NGOs report that funding for GBV programmes are not keeping up with the rise in cases due to covid-19. In October, the United Nations Population Fund stated that

“funding for GBV prevention and response remains unacceptably low.”

Is the UK going to further increase UK official development assistance for GBV programmes to combat the secondary impacts of covid-19 on women and girls? Is the money ring-fenced? And will the Minister be challenging the Chancellor’s attack on foreign aid, which will undermine all this work?

The hon. Lady may attempt to draw me into the debate on aid, but she knows that I am not going to speculate on that. She emphasises the importance of girls’ education. The UK is a world leader in our education expertise and our development spend. As I said, since 2015—[Interruption.] Opposition Front Benchers may mutter, but let us be absolutely clear: the UK has supported 15.6 million children to gain a decent education, and 8 million of those are girls. Our country direct programme for research and funding to organisations such as the Global Partnership for Education and Education Cannot Wait makes the UK a global leader in promoting girls’ education.

Armenia and Azerbaijan

What recent assessment the Government have made of the political situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan. (909165)

The Government welcomed the news of the 10 November peace deal agreed between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I spoke to Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Bayramov on 13 November welcoming the news of the deal. It is now important that the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk group—France, the US and Russia—continue to work together to ensure a sustainable peaceful solution that is based on the Minsk basic principles. In the meantime, the UK is also playing its part in dealing with the humanitarian impact of the fighting.

I thank my hon. Friend for her response and the work that she is doing on this issue, which is raised by a number of constituents in Warrington South concerned, in part, because this conflict is not covered in the UK media. Does she agree that the critical action to ensure that the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh comes to an end is continuing UK support for the OSCE Minsk group and dialogue between Azerbaijanis and Armenians?

My hon. Friend makes a really important point about making sure that we seek and maintain a lasting peaceful settlement to this conflict. He is absolutely right that now that the proper fighting has ended, it is critical that the members of the Minsk group work together to deliver a lasting peaceful settlement. The UK has consistently supported the work of the co-chairs of the Minsk group to deliver that. Continued dialogue between Azerbaijan and Armenia is essential to prevent any further loss of life and to bring about a permanent negotiated end to this conflict.

Topical Questions

Since the last oral questions, I have opened the first ministerial meeting of the global Media Freedom Coalition of 37 countries, which the UK co-chairs alongside Canada; I have spoken to Prime Minister Abiy of Ethiopia to call for an urgent ceasefire in the Tigray region; and worked with my Five Eyes counterparts to issue a joint statement expressing serious concern regarding China’s imposition of new rules to disqualify legislators in Hong Kong.

Will the Secretary of State identify opportunities to pressure the Chinese Government into ratifying the forced labour convention, the abolition of forced labour convention, and the 2014 protocol to the forced labour convention, allowing the UK to be sure that supply chains being used by UK businesses and government are in no way supporting the Chinese Government’s persecution of the Uyghurs? Does he agree that if UK business cannot get a full assurance, they should preferably onshore their supply chains back to UK plc?

I warmly welcome the spirit of my hon. Friend’s question, although I think we need to be realistic about what China is going to be willing to sign up to. Therefore, for our part, we work very closely with UK businesses. It is very important—a hallmark of global Britain—that our businesses conduct themselves with integrity. We were the first country to produce a national action plan on the UN guiding principles on business and human rights, and the first country, with the Modern Slavery Act 2015, to ask businesses to report on their supply chains and how they could be affected. We are very proud of our international leadership in this area.

Our existing 0.7% aid commitment sends

“a strong signal that the UK is a reliable partner for long-term economic, social, environmental and educational advancement across the globe”,

and this is “cheaper than fighting wars”—not my words but those of the CBI and the former Chief of the Defence Staff, General Lord David Richards. Does the Secretary of State agree that rowing back on our promise to the world’s poorest people would jeopardise our soft power status ahead of the year when the UK will host the G7 and COP26, and will he recommit to his manifesto pledge, made exactly a year ago today, to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid?

ODA and our aid budget will remain at the absolute centre of the work we do as a force for good. I am afraid that we will have to wait for the spending review to hear what the Chancellor has to say on that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the aggressive language from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, saying that the west “should beware of their eyes being poked and blinded”,demonstrates that country’s contempt for freedom and democracy and that now is the time for stringent actions, including targeted sanctions? If the current sanctions regime does not allow for the targeting of those responsible for what is happening in Hong Kong, will the Government consider new regulations that target those authority figures who are truly guilty, not innocent Hongkongers? (909211)

I totally share my hon. Friend’s objective. With the Magnitsky sanctions, the key thing is to target those directly responsible. That requires evidence, and we work very closely with all our international partners to share our experience and compare notes in relation to that. The recent comments follow on from the solidarity that we as Five Eyes, alongside the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, have shown in relation to human rights, in particular in Hong Kong. It also follows on from the wider caucus of 39 countries that backed the UK in the UN Third Committee on not only Hong Kong but the issue of Xinjiang.

Christians, Muslims and others have been persecuted for their faith across India. What are the UK Government doing to ensure that people have freedom of religion and belief worldwide? (909215)

My hon. Friend is right to raise that. Protecting and promoting the freedom of religion or belief is an important part of our bilateral and multilateral relationships, and we do not shy away from acting on our concerns. We continue to deliver the recommendations of the report by the Bishop of Truro. Of the 22 recommendations, we have fully delivered 10 and made good progress on another seven, and we are on track to deliver all 22 by the time of the three-year review in mid-2022.

It was reported last week that the Government are considering reducing our international aid spending from 0.7% to 0.5% of our GNI, despite that being a commitment enshrined in UK law and a firm Conservative manifesto promise. Does the Secretary of State agree that the pandemic landscape has changed things in such a way that this spending is probably needed now more than ever, and the FCDO must build up the resilience of vulnerable and developing countries to tackle current and future pandemics? Is the 0.7% commitment written in stone? (909212)

The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the important work that we do through ODA and on development. The Prime Minister hosted the Gavi summit, working with countries around the world to ensure that there is equitable access to a new vaccine. In relation to the 0.7% commitment and our future ODA spending, I am afraid he will have to wait for the spending review tomorrow.

My right hon. Friend is aware of my concern about the economic collapse that the pandemic has caused in some of the world’s most important conservation areas and the resulting increase in poaching and the illegal wildlife trade in many areas. Could he reassure me that, over the coming weeks and months, he will target more of our aid budget at helping communities in those areas, protecting wildlife and tackling the illegal trade, which is damaging so much of our conservation? (909219)

The full extent of the impact of covid-19 on the illegal wildlife trade is not known, but my right hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. We know that it is a serious crime undertaken by organised criminal networks. We have contributed £250 million to the Global Environment Facility, which runs the world’s biggest programme to tackle the illegal wildlife trade. He will understand that I am not able to give full details of future ODA spending commitments at this point.

Tomorrow is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, as declared by the United Nations. British citizen Caitlin McNamara has spoken publicly about being seriously sexually assaulted by Sheikh Nayhan, the United Arab Emirates Minister of tolerance. Has the Foreign Secretary raised that case with his counterparts in the UAE and demanded action on it? Have the Government looked at using Magnitsky sanctions, given that this gentleman is based in the UK and has property here? What are the Government doing in this case to show that it is not just words but deeds that matter when it comes to gender-based violence? (909213)

The FCDO takes all reports of sexual assaults abroad extremely seriously. Miss McNamara had a deeply distressing experience in the UAE earlier this year. Consular officials from the embassy supported her when she reported the incident to them, and the FCDO consular staff are standing by to do everything they can to support Miss McNamara and her legal team.

My right hon. Friend will know that we enjoy very close security and other relationships with the United States of America. This will indeed have been strengthened by the Prime Minister’s announcement to increase defence spending and, of course, our membership of the Five Eyes. However, my right hon. Friend will know that this morning the Dunn family lost their appeal against the Foreign Office regarding the recall of Anne Sacoolas to the United Kingdom to face trial for death through dangerous driving. Could my right hon. Friend make a statement about that, and does he think that, with the change of Administration, she might now be able to come back to the United Kingdom? (909220)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this case. He is right to say that the High Court has found that the Foreign Office behaved lawfully, properly and in good faith throughout. However, I appreciate that, as he will know, that will be no solace to the family, who are still very much grieving for the loss of their precious son. We have made it very clear that we are on side of the Dunn family. We have consistently called for Anne Sacoolas to return. We will continue to do so, including, as my hon. Friend asked, in relation to the new Administration. I also negotiated the change of the arrangements as they affect the Croughton base so a case like this—an injustice like this—cannot happen in the future. In relation to the claim that the family are bringing in the US, I have made it clear that we are willing to support it in various ways.

Kenyan Government pensions in respect of service often decades ago have not been paid since early last year. A cross-party group with constituents affected has just written to the Minister for Africa—the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge)—about this. Will the Minister meet us to discuss what more can be done to ensure that payments do resume and that the arrears due are paid as well? (909216)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman, who I know always raises this case and these issues very assiduously and conscientiously. Of course, I will make sure that he can have a meeting with the Africa Minister to look at what further we in the FCDO can do.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to fighting disease abroad, and I have personally seen the benefits that UK projects have brought to parts of Africa affected by malaria. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the £500 million investment by the UK in tackling malaria is both a welcome step against disease abroad and a benefit at home? (909222)

I thank my hon. Friend, and he is absolutely right. The UK is a founding member of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Malaria deaths have halved since 2002. That is an incredible achievement, and vital to bringing stability and hope to those countries affected.

The human rights abuses that Kashmiri people have faced over generations are unacceptable. The 2018 and 2019 United Nations human rights reports documented the scale of these abuses, and since August 2019 things have only got worse. Just last week, shelling between India and Pakistan—two nuclear powers—across the line of control saw at least 15 people killed. This follows on from escalating tensions between India and China in the Galwan valley since the summer. Kashmiris feel that they have been abandoned by the international community, including the UK. What is the Foreign Secretary doing to contribute to an international coalition to support India and Pakistan in negotiations on de-escalating the immediate crisis, and will he commit to targeting development funding to support Kashmiris? (909217)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and for her continued emphasis in this regard. These matters about the region of Kashmir have to be settled bilaterally between Pakistan and India. What I can say is that we do raise this issue at every opportunity with both authorities. I am more than happy to ask the Minister for South Asia to meet the hon. Lady, so that she can get a deeper insight into the actions that the Government are taking.

Will the Secretary of State comment on the FCDO’s activities promoting Wales in the world, particularly around the time of St David’s day each year? What other Wales-focused activities does it conduct in its embassies and diplomatic missions globally? (909224)

An important part of the work we do involves promoting all four corners of the United Kingdom. We do that in our post through a celebration of St David’s day, as well as other national festivals, and we do it all round the world. Through the GREAT UK Challenge Fund, the FCDO promotes Welsh businesses and Welsh culture. My hon. Friend might be interested to know that in the last financial year we supported 40 projects promoting the devolved nations, including 14 in Wales, and with the Department for International Trade we helped to attract 62 foreign direct investment projects, creating 2,736 new jobs. That demonstrates the value to the people of Wales of the United Kingdom Government, including in their foreign policy.

    The International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed that Iran is building an underground nuclear facility, and that its enriched uranium stockpiles are now more than 12 times the limit set out in the 2015 nuclear deal. Given those facts, will the Minister confirm to the House that in the event of continued non-compliance by the Iranian regime, the UK is prepared to consider sanctions? (909225)

I was in Berlin yesterday for an E3 meeting with my French and German counterparts on exactly that issue, and on how we are taking forward accountability within the scope of the joint comprehensive plan of action. More than 200 EU sanctions are listed in place against Iran, and with our E3 partners we are continuing the JCPOA to maintain and constrain Iran’s nuclear programme as best we can. We are looking to re-engage with the new US Administration, to see how we can strengthen that even further.

The Minister for Europe is aware that my 18-year-old constituent, Tom Channon, tragically died at the Eden Roc complex in Mallorca in July 2018. That followed a similar death of Tomas Hughes, just weeks earlier. I believe there is a strong criminal case to be pursued for prosecution for negligence, and on 10 July this year I wrote to the president of the provincial court. I have pursued the matter persistently, but I still have not received a reply. Covid will have played a part, but does the Minister agree that waiting five months after the deaths of two 18-year-olds, two years earlier, is wholly unacceptable?

My right hon. Friend is right to raise that case. Deaths abroad of our constituents are always tragic, and our consular staff at post have spoken with the president of the provisional court in Palma. We have asked him for a response to my right hon. Friend’s letter. He is right to point out that there are some enormous workloads as a result of the covid pandemic, but the president has assured us that he will respond to the letter in due course. We will continue to push on behalf of my right hon. Friend and his constituents.

Given that the Rajapaksa Government in Sri Lanka have effectively withdrawn from the commitments that the country made at the UN Human Rights Council, can we count on the Foreign Secretary to show the leadership we need to secure a new UN resolution, and ensure the prosecution of historical war crimes and accountability for previous human rights abuses, as well as an effective challenge to the present Government for ongoing human rights abuses?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue and I applaud his work with the all-party group for Tamils, alongside that of other colleagues. We will work closely with our international partners and the Human Rights Council on how best to take forward this important issue. The Minister responsible for Sri Lanka, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, raised a number of those concerns, including the harassment of civil society and the militarisation of civilian functions, when he spoke with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister on 5 November. We have been clear in our support for the UNHRC framework, both in our discussions with the Government of Sri Lanka and with the UNHRC in February, June and September.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has witnessed the most appalling attacks and bullying by the dictatorial Chinese Government against Australia, including sanctions just because it asked for an independent inquiry into the covid issue. We stand together with our oldest friend and ally, so will the Secretary of State please now publicly condemn the actions of China, and support Australia at this very difficult time?

We stand absolutely shoulder to shoulder with Australia. I had exchanges with Marise Payne, the Australian Foreign Minister, at the weekend, and as we have shown, not just on the issue that my right hon. Friend has mentioned, but on Hong Kong, with the Five Eyes alliance, we will always stand shoulder to shoulder to make sure that we protect our key interests, protect our values, and show the solidarity that he expects and requires.

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.

Sitting suspended.