House of Commons
Tuesday 19 January 2021
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings continued (Order, 4 June and 30 December 2020).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
Happy new year, Mr Speaker. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has a new strategic framework for official development assistance that focuses on poverty and delivery of sustainable development goals. Specifically, our priorities will be climate, biodiversity, covid, global health, girls’ education, science and research, open societies, conflict, humanitarian assistance directly and trade.
I am grateful to the Minister for his response. With international development spending already falling in line with the country’s drop in gross national income, and given the Chancellor’s deplorable plan to slash the UK’s commitment to the world’s poorest still further, it is more important than ever that UK ODA spending directly reaches developing countries and the communities and individuals in those countries who need it most. Could the Minister explain what criteria are being used to ensure that poverty alleviation is prioritised in decisions on spending? How are the Government planning to consult civil society on this?
I can reassure the hon. Lady that the UK Government remain one of the most generous donors in relation to ODA, with more than £10 billion focused on poverty reduction. Clearly, we will consult with civil society and non-governmental organisations; Lord Ahmad has recently done that, and we will all continue to do that. In addition, £1.3 billion has been focused specifically on covid, and more than 300 programmes have been repurposed to deal with covid issues.
Global poverty has risen for the first time in more than 20 years, and by the end of this year, it is estimated that there will be more than 150 million people in extreme poverty. Against that backdrop, the UK Government recklessly abolished the Department for International Development, they are reneging on their 0.7% of GNI commitment, and they do not even mention eradicating poverty in the seven global challenges that UK aid is to be focused on. Can the Minister explicitly commit to eradicating poverty within the new official development assistance framework, rather than pursuing inhumane and devastating cuts as part of the Prime Minister’s little Britain vanity project?
The hon. Gentleman knows that we share a passion for international development. These specific targets do aim to alleviate and eradicate poverty, but the causes of poverty and the solutions to it are complex. That is why the merger of the Departments works, dealing with development and diplomacy alongside one another to overcome the scourge of poverty, which, sadly, has increased not decreased as a result of covid. The joined-up Department will help in the objectives that he and I care so passionately about.
UN Human Rights Council: Sri Lanka
We are disappointed at Sri Lanka’s withdrawal of support for resolution 30/1; we made that clear in statements at the United Nations Human Rights Council in February, June and September 2020. We are working with international partners and have had discussions with the Sri Lankan Government on how to take this forward at the UNHRC in March. We are committed to the principles of the resolution, and our approach to Sri Lanka will be a priority for the UK at the HRC over the next few months.
The UK’s leadership on the issue of human rights in Sri Lanka, in terms of both historical and ongoing human rights abuses, has been critical. We saw, whether through David Miliband as Foreign Secretary or David Cameron as Prime Minister, the importance of leadership at the very highest level. What specifically will the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister do as leaders of the core group ahead of that crucial UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March to ensure that the perpetrators of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka do not go unpunished, and that we can look forward to a future based on truth, justice and reconciliation for all the peoples of Sri Lanka?
As I pointed out in my response, we are absolutely committed to the principles of the resolution. My ministerial colleague, Lord Ahmad, discussed human rights and accountability with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister and the high commissioner in November and December respectively. We have spoken with Sri Lankan officials and with Geneva over the last week on these very issues.
We on the Opposition Benches believe that the Government’s foreign policy should be rooted in our country’s commitment to human rights and the rule of law. Therefore, we deeply regret that in February 2020 the Sri Lankan Government withdrew from their Human Rights Council obligations to promote reconciliation and accountability following the country’s devastating civil war. More recently, the Sri Lankan Government have introduced forced cremation for covid-19 victims, a policy that has absolutely no basis in science, rides roughshod over the traditional practices of Sri Lankan religious minorities and has rightly caused hurt and outrage among Muslim and Christian communities across the UK. So I ask the Minister: what steps has he taken to persuade the Sri Lankan Government to end forced cremations, what work is he doing with international partners ahead of the next Human Rights Council session in March to ensure that the Sri Lankan Government re-engages with the peace, reconciliation and accountability process, and what discussions has he had about human rights in the context of UK-Sri Lankan trade deal negotiations?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and he is right to raise it. We have shared guidance and scientific background with the Government of Sri Lanka on how the UK has ensured that burials can continue to operate in a safe format within the World Health Organisation guidelines. We also discussed, via my colleague Lord Ahmad, the importance of minority rights with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister in November. Our high commissioner to Sri Lanka has raised forced cremation several times with the Sri Lankans—most recently, just over a week ago. We continue to speak with Sri Lanka, and have done so within the last week, and with Geneva regarding its commitment to upholding this resolution. We are certainly committed to it, and we will continue that dialogue.
Events at US Capitol
The resumption of Congress and the certification of Joe Biden’s victory on 7 January sent an essential message that the democratic will of the US people cannot be challenged by a violent minority.
In the wake of what happened on Capitol hill, politicians around the world looked on in condemnation at the incendiary language of Mr Trump—without regretting how close a relationship they had formed with the President. Sadly, though, the same cannot be said for political figures in this Government. So I must ask the Foreign Secretary whether he and his party regret cosying up to Trump, kowtowing to him and legitimising him and his racist, climate change-denying rhetoric, or will they remain eclipsed by any populist leader who comes along?
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman’s assertion and caricature are very far from the truth. We made it clear that the scenes by a small but ugly minority in Washington were disgraceful. We also made it clear we had full confidence in the system of checks and balances in the US to provide a definitive result and a smooth transition. We look forward to working with the new Administration.
There were 342 assaults on journalists in America last year and there have been 13 further this year. Will my right hon. Friend work with the new Administration in America to protect the rights of journalists around the world, and also call on social media companies to do more—[Interruption]—not just to tackle harmful disinformation, but to make sure that social media platforms are not used to incite attacks against journalists?
I thank my hon. Friend. I do not know whether that bell came from his end or our end, but in any event it certainly added a bit of flourish to his question.
It’s Amazon, is it? Okay. Thank you, Mr Speaker, as ever.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The press must be allowed to cover events without fear or denial of access. We have discussed our concerns about the violent events that we saw at official level, but also at ministerial level. I have done that myself. I can assure him no British journalists were detained. Of course, working with Canada and others, we have a media freedom coalition, and we certainly look forward to co-operating with the US and many others to pioneer that work through our global leadership year in 2021.
Today, we all utterly condemn the lawless and violent storming of the US Capitol on 6 January, with the FBI identifying the involvement of far-right activists and domestic terrorists. It is clear that, week after week, President Trump’s behaviour, undermining the electoral victory of President-elect Biden, played a key role in inciting the mob. Does the Foreign Secretary believe that this violent episode has damaged democracy, and what urgent steps can be taken to mend the sense that our Government were lukewarm around the election time and failed to uphold the sense of democracy that we all deeply care about?
I say to the hon. Lady that the UK was not lukewarm, and she must have missed the Prime Minister’s statement in which he was very clear that what President Trump should have done—[Interruption.] We do not conduct diplomacy by Twitter, unlike the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy). We were absolutely clear about it. At the same time, we are also confident in the US system of checks and balances, and we are very much looking forward to working with the new Administration.
Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
We are very concerned about Iran’s continued systemic non-compliance with its nuclear commitments, and we have made that clear with our E3 partners, including recently at the ministerial meeting of the joint comprehensive plan of action.
Recent confirmation from the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran has resumed enriching uranium to 20% purity at its Fordow facility is enormously concerning, and it is arguably the most significant breach of the JCPOA. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that his Department will press the new Administration under President-elect Biden to rejoin the deal, and put much-needed pressure on Iran to return to compliance?
My hon. Friend is right about the risk from the now systemic serial non-compliance from Iran. On 21 December we held a ministerial meeting of the JCPOA ministerial commission, which was an opportunity to set out clearly our position, not just the UK, but with our French and German partners. It is welcome that President-elect Biden and the new Administration have talked about coming back to the JCPOA, and enhancing and strengthening it, and that will be one of the early topics of conversation that we have with the new Administration.
I hope the whole House will join me in welcoming the newest member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) on the birth of her second child, which I have just heard about. Before the Secretary of State joins me in offering such congratulations, will he also give some thought to the approach of the new Biden Administration on the Iran deal? He will have read in the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report, which was expertly helped by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton, the various thoughts that we put down, including looking at how we can work with regional partners and allies who are deeply concerned by the change of Administration, and perhaps a change of tone in the White House. How will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Biden Administration, the UK Administration, and our friends and partners in the region work together to ensure that we stop this malevolent dictatorship expanding its evil reach any further?
I thank the Chair of the Select Committee, and pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns). I congratulate both parents on their new child—a very happy moment. We are obviously putting a lot of thought into how we engage with the new Administration, including on Iran. The E3 unity that we have shown throughout is a value of strength, and a lever for the United States and the new Administration. My hon. Friend will also be aware that there is a window of opportunity between now and the Iranian presidential elections in early June, to try to make some definitive progress. Against that timeframe we ought to be able to focus minds.
Covid-19 Vaccine Access
The UK is committed to rapid equitable access to safe and effective vaccines through multilateral collaboration. We are combining our diplomatic influencing, development expertise, and money to tackle covid-19 and secure vaccines. The UK is a founding member, and one of the largest donors to the COVAX advance market commitment. We have committed £548 million to this international initiative for global equitable access, which through match funding has encouraged other donors to commit an additional $1 billion.
The world is on the brink of a “catastrophic moral failure” according to the head of the World Health Organisation. Unless there is a collaborative global approach, the pandemic and the ensuing human and economic suffering will merely be prolonged. Does the Minister therefore agree that any hoarding of vaccines by richer nations is unforgivable and unconscionable, and that we must all work collectively for the betterment of all humanity by simultaneously helping people within our nation while helping to provide for those who are less affluent than us?
The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point and I am sure that that is why he will agree with me that the COVAX AMC is such an important tool and facility for us to help developing countries. This particular facility will support access to covid-19 vaccinations for up to 92 developing countries. This will contribute to the supply of 1 billion doses in 2021 and the vaccination of 500 million people. Let me be clear, Mr Speaker: the UK is at the forefront of multilateral efforts to ensure equitable global access through the COVAX facility.
Yesterday, the director of the World Health Organisation stated that 39 million vaccine doses had been administered in 49 higher income countries, whereas in one poor country just 25 doses had been given—not 25 million, not 25,000, just 25. Does the Minister agree that global equality on the vaccine roll-out should not just be a moral imperative but a strategic one to stop the spread of the virus? If she does agree, why do her Government not support calls for pharmaceutical companies to waive intellectual property rights and openly share technology through the World Health Organisation covid technology access pool?
When it comes to vaccines, we have been very clear that we support equitable access. This is a global pandemic. This is a virus that respects no boundaries and no barriers. That is why we are working and leading the way at the forefront of multilateral efforts to ensure we get equitable access through this really important COVAX facility.
I want to press the Minister further, because none of us is safe until all of us are safe. Clearly, with the threat of the spread and the mutation of the virus we are all at risk until the world is vaccinated. Will the Minister say specifically what work her Government have done to overcome intellectual property rights to ensure the manufacture of the vaccine in the global south and ensure that those countries that currently cannot get access to the vaccine can distribute it locally?
The UK believes that a robust and fair intellectual property system is a key part of the innovation framework that allows economies to grow and become innovators, while enabling society to benefit from knowledge and ideas. We believe that non-exclusive voluntary licensing has advantages over compulsory licensing, because it creates a sounder basis for long lasting beneficial relationships and incentives to create and commercialise new inventions such as those life-changing vaccines.
I thank the Minister for her answer. What steps is her Department taking to ensure that the poorest and most disadvantaged countries have access to vaccines?
I think this goes to the heart of this particular question today. Our commitment will support access to covid-19 vaccines for up to 92 developing countries by contributing to the supply of 1 billion doses in 2021. That is only possible through the COVAX AMC facility, which we have been leading on from the front with our big commitment of £548 million to that facility and the encouragement of others to step up to the mark and reach the $1 billion target, too.
The Minister has set out how important it is for people around the world to be vaccinated against covid-19 and reminded us about the UK’s strong record of supporting vaccination in the developing world. Is she confident that we will be able to continue to meet our international commitments on vaccination if we reduce our levels of aid from 0.7% of GDP?
I know that my hon. Friend takes a keen interest in international development. The seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK economy has forced us to take tough but necessary decisions, including our temporary reduction of ODA from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income. We will return to that level as soon as the fiscal situation allows, but let me reassure him that we will remain a world-leading aid donor, spending that 0.5% percent of GNI. When it comes to our commitment, particularly on vaccines and vaccinations, I point to the Gavi vaccine summit, which the Prime Minister hosted in the early part of last year. At that summit the UK Government committed to £1.65 billion over the next five years to support Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. That will immunise 300 million children and save up to 8 million lives.
I echo the concerns of colleagues across the House that vaccine nationalism is dangerous and self-defeating. This is not an Olympics; it is a global problem that we must deal with on a multilateral basis. I pay tribute to what the UK has done in donating to the COVAX system. There is still a $4.3 billion dollar shortfall to this and, as we have heard, nobody is safe until everybody is safe on a global scale. What plans are there to convene a Gavi II summit to bring international donors together to work with colleagues across the world to make sure that nobody gets left behind in this? And would she condemn colleagues in her Government who are indulging in vaccine nationalism and pretending that one country is doing better than another, when we really are facing a common challenge?
This is a global pandemic and I commend the work of the Government in the vaccination programme that we have. I look to my constituency and the tremendous work that Walsall Manor Hospital and the Oak Park centre are doing. Alongside that, let me reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are absolutely committed to equitable access. The global Gavi summit that we held earlier last year was just one example of the leading part that the UK Government are taking when it comes to the fight against the covid-19 pandemic.
The longer the pandemic rages, the more damage will be done to ordinary families around the world who are suffering from a crisis they did not create. We have an opportunity to save countless lives and livelihoods here in the UK and abroad by playing our part in co-operating with other countries and using our influence to bring them together. As we have seen during the pandemic, the Government have consistently struggled with transparency and accountability, so will the United Kingdom fulfil the ask made yesterday by the director general of the World Health Organisation and make public all bilateral contracts that they have signed for covid-19 vaccines, including on volumes, pricing and delivery dates, so that we can deal with production bottlenecks and ensure equitable access to the vaccine, giving us all the best chance of beating this deadly virus?
I do not accept the hon. Lady’s assertions when it comes to transparency. We, the UK, are absolutely at the forefront of multilateral efforts on ensuring equitable global access. If we look at what the UK Government have done, we see that we have contributed to CEPI—the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations—in the early part of this pandemic and to FIND, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics. We have contributed to Gavi and to the COVAX AMC. This is all about helping the world’s poorest. We have also flexed a lot of our normal aid work to help countries that are suffering from the pandemic, because we know that, as well as the primary impact of covid-19, there are many secondary impacts.
The Minister is right that vaccines alone are not enough, and she is aware that the International Development Committee has just done an inquiry on the secondary impacts, which show that developing countries are suffering economically through their healthcare and through gender inequality. What efforts and preparations are being made by FCDO to prevent there being a development mountain to climb after the pandemic subsides?
I recognise the work of the IDC and I am very pleased that its work is continuing. Let me just reiterate that when it comes to covid-19, the UK and the FCDO remain at the forefront. With the funds that we have, we continue to support the world’s poorest, and we will continue to focus on the bottom billion. Yes, it is about working with the development world, but it is also about working, where we can, with the public sector and the private sector. I look to the example of Oxford-AstraZeneca. The UK Government invested £84 million in helping to develop that vaccine, and we are now rolling it out. We have committed to the AMC, and we are absolutely committed to helping the world’s poorest.[Official Report, 25 January 2021, Vol. 688, c. 2MC.]
Science and Technology: International Development
Scientific advances funded by the UK have helped drive reductions in extreme poverty, declines in childhood mortality and increases in life expectancy across the developing world. Our investments, including in affordable rapid diagnostic tests for covid-19 and the world’s first child-friendly antimalarial drug, are delivering benefit to hundreds of millions. We will continue to leverage UK and global scientific excellence and invest in cutting-edge technology and research to provide solutions to critical development challenges.
The Government are doing extremely well in rolling out the vaccine in the UK. The AstraZeneca vaccine in particular is potentially deployable in developing countries. Will the Minister say at what point we will pass vaccines that we have ordered that greatly surpass the need of our population to COVAX? Does he agree that it is vital that, in advance of that, we do everything in our power to develop healthcare infrastructure in developing countries, without which a credible vaccine roll-out is just not possible?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. I agree that we should be incredibly proud of the work that we have done with regard to the vaccine.
I have had meetings with my Philippine counterparts on vaccines, alongside AstraZeneca. We are supporting equitable access through our funding for the COVAX facility. We are one of the largest donors to the COVAX advance market commitment to support access for 92 developing countries; we have committed £548 million. COVAX’s partners, which include Gavi, the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, have huge experience in supporting developing country immunisation systems and the programming of immunisation. We expect the initial roll-out to COVAX AMC countries to start in the first quarter of this year.
The UK is a global leader in promoting action on antimicrobial resistance. It is an international priority. We helped achieve the 2016 UN political declaration on AMR, and UK aid contributes significantly to AMR efforts around the world. This includes our flagship Fleming fund, which builds capacity on AMR in lower and middle-income countries, focusing on investments in water, sanitation and hygiene; healthcare facilities; and broader health systems strengthening.
A leading Oxford-based professor of microbiology today described covid as “the short, sharp earthquake” and antimicrobial resistance as
“the massive tsunami in the background.”
On the basis that AMR in pigs and chickens has trebled in developing nations since 2000, will my hon. Friend press for more action to limit the unnecessary use of antibiotics in humans, pigs and chickens?
This is a really important point. My hon. Friend has taken a keen interest in this topic for some time in this place. We absolutely recognise the risks to human health of the inappropriate use of antimicrobials in agriculture and food production, as seen through our national action plan. The vast majority of global antimicrobial use, as he will probably be aware, is in agriculture. We are a major funder of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, which supports low and middle-income countries in controlling agriculture-associated AMR risks and is working to understand how antimicrobials are used, by whom and how that contributes to the misuse of antimicrobials.
The UK remains deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen. We welcome the positive steps towards implementation of the Riyadh agreement, including the formation of a new inclusive Yemeni Cabinet. We condemn in the strongest terms the Houthi attack on Aden airport, which killed over 25 civilians, and we call on the Houthis to cease such attacks and demonstrate a renewed commitment to the political process.
As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary warned in September, Yemen has never looked more likely to slide into famine. We are using our £214 million in aid funding to help around 500,000 vulnerable people each month and to enrol 25,000 children into malnutrition prevention programmes. While we share the US concerns about the Houthis’ continual attacks on civilians in Yemen and cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia, we do not intend to proscribe the Houthis at this time, but we will keep this under regular review.
The crisis in Yemen is of great concern to all of us, and it is perfectly clear that Iran is exploiting the conflict for its own ends. Reports of Iran sending advanced unmanned aerial vehicles to the Houthis will no doubt only inflame tensions further. Does the Minister agree that until Iranian aspirations for regional dominance are curtailed, this conflict and many others will continue and more lives will sadly be lost?
We must see an end to Iran’s destabilising influence in Yemen, which has stoked further conflict. We have raised this issue directly with the Iranian Government. Iran’s provision of weapons to the Houthis is in contravention of UN Security Council resolution 2216 and the UN Security Council embargo on the export of weapons by Iran. We remain deeply concerned at Iran’s political, financial and military support to a number of militant and proscribed groups in the region, and we will continue working with international partners to dissuade Iran from proliferation and wider destabilising actions.
Mark Lowcock, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, has clearly stated that the US’s designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group will push Yemen into a famine on a scale not seen for 40 years and that only a reversal of the US decision will fix this, so could I ask the Minister what the UK Government are doing to avert this catastrophe and get the US Administration to change their mind?
Following President Trump’s Administration’s decision to designate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organisation, we have requested that the US put in place comprehensive exemptions to limit the humanitarian impact and the impact on commercial imports and the UN peace effort. Our priority is to support the UN peace effort, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will engage with the incoming US Administration on this and a number of other important bilateral issues.
Salford is home to one of the UK’s oldest Yemeni communities, as well as charities providing humanitarian relief to the region, and they fear that the US designation will have a devastating impact, as humanitarian access and the ability of food supplies and other goods to reach Yemeni civilians will be severely obstructed. I welcome the comments that the Minister has just made, but will he go one step further? Will he contact President-elect Biden and ask him to revoke the designation when he starts in office?
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will no doubt engage at the earliest opportunity with the incoming Administration in the White House. I have made it clear that we have already requested the US to put in place comprehensive exemptions to facilitate humanitarian support. We will continue to work both bilaterally with the US and internationally through the UN and others to protect the people suffering in Yemen, to prevent famine where we can and to work with all parties involved to bring this extended conflict to a conclusion.
As we have heard, from today President Trump and Mike Pompeo have designated the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organisation. That will make peace in Yemen more difficult to achieve and could now lead to the starvation of more than 1 million people, yet our Government have said and done little, and even abstained at the United Nations Security Council. Why have the Government failed to condemn this obviously dangerous step? Will they now join us in calling on Joe Biden to reverse this decision as quickly as possible?
The idea that the UK has not been active on this issue is self-evidently nonsense. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have discussed the issue with each other, and with the international community through the UN. We have provided significant amounts of humanitarian support to Yemen. We have lobbied to ensure that humanitarian access remains. This is a genuine global tragedy, and I am incredibly proud of the work that the UK Government have done, both on their own and in conjunction with the international community, to bring this terrible, terrible conflict to a conclusion.
The British Government remain concerned at the continued conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, and I urge both sides to end fighting, protect civilians and allow unfettered humanitarian access. The Foreign Secretary has stressed those points directly to Prime Minister Abiy, and to Deputy Prime Minister Demeke when he visited the UK recently.
Mrs Peta Benson, a constituent of mine, has supported an orphanage in Tigray for years. Like many, we are extremely worried by the reported appalling humanitarian crisis that conflicts have brought to the region. Can my hon. Friend tell me that every effort is being made by the British Government to calm those hostilities and further de-escalate civil war in that region of Ethiopia?
I thank my hon. Friend for his activity on this issue and can reassure him that we are making such efforts. I certainly underlined the need to end the fighting and prioritise the protection of civilians when I spoke to the Ethiopian Finance Minister last month, and I have also raised the issue of the conflict with regional leaders in the past few weeks. The Foreign Secretary and I will continue to raise these points, and I thank my hon. Friend for the contribution he is making to the debate.
The UK has invested £3.7 billion in tackling malnutrition since the nutrition for growth summit in 2013. The UK has reached 55.1 million children, women and adolescent girls through our nutrition programmes from 2015 to 2020. I was really pleased when the Foreign Secretary appointed the UK’s first special envoy for famine prevention and humanitarian affairs last year, announcing alongside that £119 million to address food insecurity and a £30 million partnership with UNICEF to address acute malnutrition.
It was excellent to see UK leadership on global nutrition acknowledged by world leaders at the Canada nutrition for growth event in December, which launched 2021 as a year of action for nutrition. That could hardly be more timely, given that covid-19 is causing rates of malnutrition worldwide to rise for the first time in decades. So nutrition must be central to my hon. Friend’s new Department’s objectives for aid spending. For example, it is impossible to meaningfully progress girls’ education while rates of malnutrition among girls are on the rise. Will the Government therefore urgently review their commitment to tackle malnutrition as part of their participation in the year of action?
I know my right hon. Friend has taken a keen interest in this and has been trying to get a question at Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office orals for some time. It is evident that good nutrition underpins education and health outcomes, and adult learning, in developing countries. That was the rationale for the UK playing a lead role on nutrition over the past decade. The prevention and treatment of malnutrition remain key to achieving the Government’s commitment to ending the preventable deaths of mothers, newborns and children. The Department is, of course, beginning a rigorous internal prioritisation process in response to the spending review announcement, and we will update on the implications of that for nutrition as soon as is feasible.
Kashmir: Human Rights
We are aware of reports that an Indian soldier has been charged after the deaths of three Kashmiri men. We welcome assurances from the Indian Government that their army is committed to ethical conduct, and that disciplinary action will be undertaken in accordance with Indian law where necessary. Where we have concerns about human rights in Kashmir we will continue to raise them with the India and Pakistani Governments.
Three young Kashmiris working as labourers were abducted and brutally murdered by an army counter-insurgency officer. Illegal weapons were strapped to their bodies and they were wrongly branded hardcore terrorists. I know the Minister shares my concern that horrific abuses in Kashmir are not new or uncommon, but as our country continues to chart a new course internationally, can he tell us what the Government are actually doing to protect human rights in Kashmir and why the Secretary of State, sat next to him, lacks the courage to speak out against injustices around the world?
The hon. Lady, I know, is very passionate about this area and speaks on behalf of many of her constituents who have an interest in Kashmir. I can assure her that the Foreign Secretary has spoken directly with his counterpart as recently as December on this issue. India and Pakistan are long-standing important friends of the UK. We encourage both to engage in dialogue and find lasting diplomatic solutions to maintain stability in the region. It is not for the UK to prescribe a solution or act as a mediator; it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting political resolution on Kashmir.
A Kashmiri man showed me footage of his home in Kashmir on fire, purportedly after being shelled by India. I have provided to the Government some evidence that cluster munitions were used by India against another village in Kashmir. These things really matter to my constituents. After the pandemic, people in Wycombe could easily be in their homes in Kashmir. Is it not time to take seriously a UN report on the human rights situation on both sides of the line of control, to have a co-ordinated international effort to put UN human rights inspectors on both sides of the line of control and then to move forward with a new human rights framework for the UK, which can reassure diaspora communities such as mine in Wycombe that the UK is standing up for their human rights when they are in the countries from which their families and their ancestors hail?
My hon. Friend is 100% correct to raise this matter again. He is a constant champion for his constituents on this area. We do recognise that there are human rights concerns in both India-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Again, we encourage all states to ensure that domestic laws are in line with international standards and to co-operate with UN human rights officials and all mechanisms of the Human Rights Council. We have requested permission for officials from the British high commission in New Delhi to visit India-administered Kashmir as soon as the situation permits.
Since the last oral questions, I have visited India, where I had positive conversations with Prime Minister Modi, Foreign Minister Jaishankar and others about strengthening our trade, our security co-operation and, indeed, human rights, which Members have asked about in this session. Last week, I introduced measures to ensure that no British organisations—Government or private—profit from, or contribute to, human rights violations in Xinjiang. Last month, we delivered the historic EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement, which is an excellent deal for all parts of the United Kingdom.
I certainly welcome the comments of the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa earlier regarding the situation in Yemen. However, will the Government now back up their words with action, and suspend all arms sales and military support to the Saudi-led coalition for use in Yemen, especially in the context of President-elect Biden’s commitment to end the war in Yemen?
We are absolutely pushing every lever to try to precipitate peace in relation to Yemen. Our arms exports to Saudi, to which the hon. Member referred, are subject to a world-leading and very rigorous process, so we are ensuring that we do everything that is required on that front. On 3 December, I announced an extra £40 million of UK aid to help 1.5 million households to access food and medicines, and of course we are pushing, through every possible avenue, the efforts of UN special envoy Martin Griffiths.
My hon. Friend is right; we have taken decisive action in relation to South Africa and South America. We have also, as a precautionary measure, suspended the travel corridors and ensured that we have a system in place whereby people have to have a pre-departure negative test. The passenger locator form is backed up by increased enforcement by both Public Health England and Border Force. Of course, we have also reintroduced quarantine on arrival, with extra checks to ensure that people are resting in the home.
The Foreign Secretary had strong words about the arrest of Alexei Navalny, but he knows that those words will not be taken seriously by Moscow until the UK takes action to disrupt the networks of dirty money on which this regime depends. How many of the Russia report recommendations have now been implemented?
We, like the hon. Lady, are absolutely appalled by Alexei Navalny’s politically motivated detention. It is a Kafkaesque situation, frankly, when the victim of this Novichok poisoning, instead of being dealt with and supported, has been arrested. The hon. Lady will know that we have taken action, including imposing sanctions on six individuals and the State Scientific-Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology. We are leading efforts in the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is the real action that will send a message to Russia.
The Secretary of State seems to be struggling with the answer, so I can tell him that the answer is none. Of 21 recommendations made 15 months ago, the Government have implemented not a single one: no action on foreign agents, no action on golden visas, and the London laundromat is still very much open for business. Can he not see the problem? For as long as the City of London acts as a haven for dark money, he can tweet all he likes, but those words will be met with nothing but derision in Moscow.
Let me ask the Foreign Secretary an easy one that he should be able to answer. We know that the laws in this country on espionage and foreign interference on British soil are not fit for purpose, so will he commit to the House today that he will bring forward legislation to fix this great big gaping hole in our defences—not in the coming months and not at a date to be determined, but before this House rises for recess next month?
The hon. Lady raises the report that preceded the poisoning of Alexei Navalny. I am explaining to her what we are doing in response to that, which I thought was what she cared about. Not only have we introduced sanctions on the individuals and the organisation to which I referred; we led the joint statement in December, supported by 58 countries in the OPCW, calling for Russia to be held to account for what it does. If she really wanted to do something about the issue at hand, she would support and commend those efforts.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. We recognise the importance of securing a budget deal between Irbil and Baghdad. The UK continues to encourage both sides to work towards resolving their issues to get a sustainable budget solution, but also to solve internal boundary disputes. The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa discussed this with the Governments of Iraq and of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq during his visit in November and December. We regularly raise this in the United Nations and will continue to do so.
I have had detailed discussions with the Home Secretary about the response to this and other examples of hostile state action. We have one of the most open and generous asylum systems in the world, and we continually focus on the support we provide for civil society groups, including media organisations in both Russia and Belarus.
I must say that my hon. Friend dresses better at home than he does in the House of Commons.
Travel advice has always been against all travel to Syria. There is no consular support. We do not have a diplomatic presence. For those reasons, sadly, we do not have a firm number. However, I invite my hon. Friend to discuss privately the security issues and very difficult situation of some of these cases—as he very well knows—with the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa to try to carve out a better solution to the problems that he quite rightly and so eloquently and visually addresses.
We are leaving no stone unturned to secure the release of Nazanin, but also all the other dual nationals arbitrarily detained. I have spoken to Nazanin—she is subject to furlough at the moment—a number of times over recent months. We are doing everything we can. The fact that she is on furlough and not in Evin prison is a sign that we have made some progress, although not enough, in securing her release and return back to her loved ones at home.
My hon. Friend is always a great champion for all the different community groups in his constituency. He is right to talk about the importance of balance in these UN resolutions. In fact, our record has not changed in recent years; it has been consistent. We support the Palestinian right to self-determination consistent with a two-state solution. We support the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. We have called out illegal Israeli settlements. In relation to Jerusalem, what he says is not quite correct, because the resolution explicitly notes its importance as a holy site for the three monotheistic religions. We have also voted against one resolution and abstained on three precisely because we did not feel they were balanced.
We can talk to the banks, but of course they will follow the designation made by the US. As the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, my right hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly), said earlier, we are concerned that those sanctions and that designation will not allow for the humanitarian aid that we, the hon. Lady and others across the House feel is absolutely essential to alleviate the blight of the conflict in Yemen. It is also right to say that the effort has to be on bringing that conflict to resolution, which can happen only through Martin Griffiths and the UN-sponsored plan.
I could not agree more, and I am more than happy to visit Blyth Valley to talk to my hon. Friend’s constituents of all ages. Young constituents, in particular, are a powerful catalyst for change. As COP26 hosts, we will work with all international partners, including young people across the globe. I am particularly interested in talking to them about the fact that the Italian Government are having a pre-COP26 youth event in Milan, bringing together 400 youth delegates. It will make a final declaration, which will be submitted to COP26. I look forward to returning to my office soon and seeing the invitation on my desk.
I thank the hon. Lady for her interest and passion. What has happened to the Rohingya is a heartbreaking story. Not only has the United Kingdom supported the diplomatic efforts, and not only is it a major provider of aid to deal with the refugee crisis, but, as she may be aware, it has imposed travel bans and asset freezes through our Magnitsky sanctions on those responsible for the persecution of the Rohingya.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I join him in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), who will do a fantastic job in this crucial area. On the UK’s approach to girls’ education, we have a global target of getting 40 million more girls into education, and ensuring that they can have at least 12 years’ quality education. We want to get 12 million young girls literate by the age of 20. We will be discussing that with the new Administration, and I have already discussed it with leading members of Congress, including Speaker Pelosi.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. I discussed the protests with Foreign Minister Jaishankar when I visited India in December. Of course, this is a major, Government-led reform that reduces subsidies as part of the liberalisation process, but the hon. Gentleman makes some important points about freedom of protest and sensitivity. Of course, India’s politics is very much our politics, but we need to respect its democratic process.
We are aware of the factsheet. I have had discussions with Secretary of State Pompeo about this, and will continue to discuss it, I am sure, with the new Administration. Our focus has been on the World Health Organisation review, making sure that the WHO can access the area to conduct the review, and that it has proper access, so that it can come up with the answers that people want. WHO officers and the review team were given access last Thursday, and that is a first step. We need to ensure that they can proceed through that inquiry in order to give the proper, clear and fact-based answers to the questions that my hon. Friend rightly poses.
I gave an update to the House on the situation recently, just a few days ago. We regard the reports of forced labour, the conditions of detention and the forced sterilisation of women as grave violations of human rights, which is why we have introduced new measures to prevent any British businesses from feeding into the supply chains, or any businesses in China from profiting in the UK from this gruesome trade.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for this question, and for highlighting the work that so many civil society organisations do. They are key partners for the FCDO in delivering the response to the covid-19 pandemic. They work as critical delivery partners with other donors and with international organisations, such as the UN, that are active in responding to the crisis. We have allocated almost £67 million directly to international and UK-based charities, so that they can play their critical role in supporting vulnerable communities with the humanitarian impact of this virus. I thank World Vision for the work they do, and if they contact me, I will happily arrange a meeting.
I am suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements for the next business to be made.
UK Musicians: EU Visa Arrangements
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport if he will make a statement on visa arrangements for UK musicians in the EU.
This Government recognise the importance of the UK’s world-leading cultural and creative industries. We recently demonstrated that commitment by providing an unprecedented £1.57 billion package of support to help them through the covid-19 pandemic. It is therefore entirely consistent that, during the negotiations with the EU, we pushed for ambitious arrangements allowing performers and artists to work across Europe.
Our proposals, which were informed by our extensive consultation and engagement with the UK’s cultural and creative industries, would have allowed UK musicians and other cultural touring professionals to travel and perform in the UK and the EU more easily, without the need for work permits. Regrettably, those mutually beneficial proposals were rejected by the EU. As a result, UK cultural professionals seeking to tour in the EU will be required to check domestic immigration and visitor rules for each member state in which they intend to tour. Although some member states allow touring without a permit, others will require a pre-approved visa and/or a work permit.
It is absolutely vital that we now support our touring sectors to understand the new rules associated with working and travelling in the EU. We are delivering an extensive programme of engagement with the sector to help them understand any new requirements. That includes working with Arts Council England and various other sector bodies, to help distil and clarify the new rules.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has already made very clear, we will also look at whether we can work with our partners in EU member states to find ways to make life easier for those working in the creative industries in our respective countries. In the meantime, we will continue close dialogue with the creative and cultural sectors, to understand the ongoing impacts and ensure that that they have the right support at the right time to continue to thrive.
That is an immensely disappointing response from the Minister. Touring Europe means everything to our artists and musicians: the thrill of that first tour, crammed into the Transit van with all your gear; four to a room in a cheap hotel in Paris, Rotterdam or Hamburg; using what is left of the fee for a post-gig beer; the dream of coming back on a lavish tour bus, staying at five-star hotels—gone, all gone. Musicians and artists are mere collateral in this Government’s obsession with ending freedom of movement.
Does the Minister acknowledge that visas and carnets will render such tours beyond the financial reach of future generations of new musicians? Does she appreciate that is not just our new musicians but the whole creative sector that will have increased costs and red tape? What will she say to the crews, the technicians, the set designers, the transport? We were promised by her predecessor that arrangements would not change. What has happened to that commitment? The EU said it was prepared to offer a 90-day deal. Why was that turned down? The Government said they were holding out for a better deal, but we have ended up with nothing. How could that happen? Given that the Minister’s approach is totally contradicted by the EU, will she provide complete transparency in all these negotiations?
Our constituents really care about this; 263,000 have now signed the petition organised by our artists, calling for this to get sorted. We do not want any more of the EU-blaming—we have had quite enough of that in the past few years; we just want the Government to fix this. The Secretary of State has said that the door is still open, so will she walk through and fix it out? Will she restart talks with the EU immediately, to get our artists the arrangements that they need? Will she let the music tour freely once again?
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that this is incredibly disappointing news for the music sector—it is not the deal that we wanted; but I am afraid that in many other senses he has fallen for some very selective briefing. The EU did not offer a deal that would have worked for musicians. It is quite simple. The EU made a very broad offer, which would not have been compatible with the Government’s manifesto commitment to take back control of our borders. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the British people, the British public, voted for that at successive elections.
To the extent that the EU proposals might have covered music, they would not have worked for touring artists at all. The EU proposals covered ad hoc performances. They would not have covered support staff or technicians at all—which, as the hon. Gentleman will remember from his touring days, are essential. I would love him to explain to me how tours will happen without support staff or technicians, because although I am not a music professional, I cannot see how that could be the case.
The UK’s proposals were based on what those in the music industry said they wanted. We spoke to them long and hard about that. I am fascinated to think that the hon. Gentleman knows better than bodies like the Musicians’ Union. We fought very hard— [Interruption.] We fought very hard for what it wanted, but the EU would not play ball.
Let us focus on the future. If the EU is willing to consider the UK’s very sensible proposals, the door is open, and yes, I am very happy to walk through it. I will be the first to walk through that door. A mutually beneficial deal is not what the SNP Members want, though, is it? They voted for a no-deal Brexit, so under their plans, that would have been even harder. As those in the music industry have said, what they need now is clarity, not recriminations; and that is what the British Government are working to provide.
This issue is not just about musicians being able to travel and perform with ease. They also need somewhere to strut their stuff. Will the Minister commit to an overarching strategy to get live music thriving again, involving a restart of urgent negotiations for a pan-EU musicians visa, bearing in mind previous EU intransigence and by listening to the music industry? Will the Government also commit to backing covid insurance for our festivals and live music sector to allow them to plan for the summer and beyond?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and there is quite a lot we can do. The sector needs clarity and certainty, and because the situation with every member state is different, that will be tricky to provide. We therefore need to make it as simple, easy and clear as we can for them to tour and go about their business, and that is what we are setting about to do.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about insurance, which we understand is a barrier to many live music events taking place later in the year. We are in discussions with our colleagues in the Treasury about that at the moment.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. As we have heard, the Government still blame the EU, so, to get this issue straight, will the Minister make clear what exactly the EU proposed, when it was proposed and whether the UK offer was more than the standard visa policy?
The Minister said that the EU offer was a broad offer not consistent with taking back control of our borders. Will she go further and explain specifically when that was turned down? Finally, so that we can all be clear, will she place in the Library of the House of Commons all correspondence between the UK and the EU and all correspondence between UK Government Departments on this issue?
What matters is what happens now. A third of the creative industry is self-employed, and the situation is a massive kick in the teeth for a group of workers who are already having the worst year in living memory. What representations has the UK made to resolve the situation? What meetings are scheduled? Will the UK still rely on mode 4 exemptions, even though doing so is without precedent? Does the Minister agree that the resolution to the situation requires a supplementary agreement?
The Minister must go further and spell out exactly what the proposal is from the UK to resolve the situation. When musicians and creative people tour, they do not just power up an economy that is massively important to us; they represent us all on the global stage, so we must get this resolved now.
I am happy to talk the hon. Lady through the situation. The EU tabled texts regarding short-stay visa-free travel during the negotiations, and embedded in the proposal was a declaration that would have covered a very small number of paid activities. With regard to artists, it covered ad hoc performances. Of course, the declaration was non-binding and did not address things such as technical or support staff. Crucially, it did not cover work permits, which EU member states can put in place unilaterally. Furthermore, the proposals would have enshrined permanent visa-free short stays for all current and future EU citizens in the agreement, and that is not compatible with our manifesto commitment to take back control of our borders.
Our proposals were based on the views of the music industry and would have been mutually beneficial across the EU and the UK. They would have allowed musicians and support staff to travel and perform in the UK and the EU more easily without needing work permits. The EU did not propose and would not accept a tailored deal for musicians, artists and their support staff to tour across the EU and the UK.
As I have said, the UK’s door remains open should the EU change its mind. We recognise that the outcome means that some additional requirements will need to be met for the sector, and we are working with the sector as fast as we can to put in place the support and information that it needs. Labour Members voted for this deal in the knowledge of what it involved, including the end of free movement. What they are asking us to go back and renegotiate now is exactly what we negotiated at that time. They cannot have it both ways; they need consistency. What the sector needs more than anything at the moment is certainty, and that is what we are working to provide.
The international success of UK musicians has, for decades, been not just a big economic benefit for the country but a hugely successful way of promoting our culture around the world, so it seems extraordinary that any British Government would turn down a deal that allowed our musicians to tour if that deal was practical. Can the Minister assure me that that is not what happened? What is she doing to resume negotiations, so that we can get a realistic deal, which is essential for the future of our music industry?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right; the Government recognise the vital importance of the UK’s thriving cultural and creative industries. That is why we pushed for ambitious arrangements for performers and artists to be able to work right across Europe after the end of freedom of movement. The EU did not accept our proposals, so now we need to ensure that we are working to facilitate those arrangements as best we can. That means giving musicians and others access to information and guidance about the criteria for each EU member state and then working with those individual member states to ensure that the process is as seamless, fast, effective and simple as it can be.
Covid has been gruelling for the industry. The last thing it needs is the new Brexit visa barriers that we now know the UK Government—not the EU, but the UK Government—insisted upon. There is no money to be made from streaming. Artists make their income by touring. New barriers, visas and endless red tape mean that EU performers will not come to our festivals and our performers will face prohibitive new costs. It is wantonly cruel.
The Minister mentioned the Musicians’ Union, so let me quote its head. He said:
“the government fails to understand the issues facing touring musicians”.
He is an expert, and I know that the UK Government do not like experts, but this is more Brexit zealotry causing misery. Will the Secretary of State listen, intervene and publish that correspondence, as my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) requested? Put it in the Library—let us read it.
There is a close historical relationship between the UK and the EU. That must endure, and it will endure. Artists and musicians from the EU are welcome. They are encouraged to visit and perform in the UK and vice versa, and the Government will do everything they can to make that as seamless as possible.
I thank my hon. Friend for the work she is doing to support the arts and culture sector through the pandemic. Can she confirm how many music venues and other music organisations have benefited from the Government’s £1.57 billion culture recovery fund?
I thank my hon. Friend for the work that she does to champion the cultural institutions across her constituency. She is a great voice for the people of North Dorset—sorry, I mean North Devon, but I am sure she is very nice about the people of North Dorset as well. The £1.57 billion culture recovery fund—of which we have already delivered more than £1 billion in support to various arts, heritage and performance organisations—has, to date, made 680 awards to music totalling more than £111 million.
I did ask the Prime Minister about this last week, and he promised a meeting with me and the Conservative Chair of the Select Committee, and I was told I would hear from No. 10. I do not know if the Minister can shed any light on that.
I do want the Minister to realise that a lot of touring musicians are not there with a lot of tech support; they are actually individuals who are starting out or perhaps established but not with that level of support. In effect, this represents the research and development of an important industry, but they may just be travelling with a single instrument on a plane with some fans in Europe. I think the most important thing the Minister could do today—others have asked this—is to publish in full the details of the discussions between the EU and the UK on this, so that we can all see what the ambitious proposals were and why she finds them so objectionable.
I know the hon. Gentleman is a great champion for the music industry, and not a bad musical performer himself. He is absolutely right, and we do understand that, for those starting at the music industry, the ability to tour is vital to their career and their future prosperity. That is why the EU proposals—they did not support touring activity; they just supported ad hoc artist activity—would not have done it for so many of them, which is why we pushed for something so much better. We are very disappointed that the EU did not it see our way, but we will try to do everything we can to support them. I will speak to my colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Home Office about publishing the information he has requested.
As the Minister will be aware, South West Hertfordshire is home to many successful and established musicians. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the UK’s proposals in the negotiations were based on the views of the UK music industry and would have allowed musicians to travel and perform in the UK and Europe more easily, without the need for work permits?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. As I have said already, we worked very collaboratively with a whole range of stakeholders, including UK Music and the Musicians’ Union, to put forward proposals that were really based on the views of the musicians and the music industry about what they needed. It would have been mutually beneficial to the UK and the EU, and it would have allowed musicians—and, crucially, their support staff or their technicians—to travel and perform more easily, without the need for work permits.
I must be honest and say that I do welcome the fact that the door is still “open” to UK performers performing permit-free in the EU. Surely the danger is that concert promoters in the EU will simply take the easy option and go for a Dane or for a German performer, rather than the sheer hassle of British performers. There are also problems with the movement of musical instruments, which we know about. I have written to the DCMS just now, asking if we could please have a meeting between Ministers, me and musicians who are knowledgeable about this issue. At the end of the day, we have to try to sort it out, so I would be extremely grateful if the Minister agreed to such a meeting.
Absolutely. I am very happy to meet anybody on this, because it is really important that we continue regular engagement with the sector. We need to make sure that we have a very deep understanding of its needs and its questions in the light of these changes, which we know will pose a number of queries. Most recently, we held an EU exit explainer seminar with over 200 sector representative bodies in attendance, and the Secretary of State has a roundtable on Wednesday—tomorrow—with representatives from across the cultural and creative industries. We will keep doing those sorts of sessions all the time that people need and require them.
I have had quite a number of constituents contact me from Hyndburn and Haslingden highlighting their concerns on this, so can the Minister please reassure my constituents by outlining what the Department is doing to address it?
My hon. Friend is a great champion for her local area and will be taking the concerns of her constituents incredibly seriously, as indeed do we. We understand that we need to work with all the music sector trade bodies to make sure that we give people access to the information they need as to the situations in all the individual nation states; they are all different, which is one of the most confusing things about this. We also need to make sure that we work with those individual nations as closely as we can, to ensure that any barriers that are in place are made as simple and easy to navigate as possible.
In Putney, creative artists and support staff have already been damaged by the uncertainty around Brexit, on top of the covid effects that mean they are not able to tour. This failure of negotiations on a creative industry 90-day visa is letting down industry and the arts. Is the Minister really just going to sit back with her door open, or will she re-enter negotiations and be prepared for some give and take with individual countries to get that tailored deal that the creative industries really need?
I do not know what I have said during the course of today that could ever give the hon. Lady the viewpoint that I am just prepared to sit back and do nothing about this, or that I am happy with the way things have panned out; I voted for the trade agreement, but I presume so did she. We are not sitting there doing nothing. We are talking and will continue to talk to EU member states. They could of course unilaterally make things easier for travelling artists and musicians, but any changes they make would be likely to cover all visitors, not just those from the UK. The key thing we can do is to continue to talk to the sector and make sure that we put in place any support, information and guidance that it needs.
I have been contacted by a number of constituents on this issue, notably the Furness Tradition group. Could my hon. Friend confirm that, despite some of the reporting in recent days, touring in the EU is still possible for UK artists and musicians, and that the Government are working towards a more formal arrangement with the EU?
Quite simply, of course touring is still encouraged. Artists and musicians from the EU are very welcome and encouraged to visit and perform in the UK, and absolutely vice versa. I am sure that individual member states have different restrictions when it comes to visas and work permits; some are very limited, some are a little bit more complicated. This is very much a quid pro quo—it works for the EU as much as it does for our musicians here in the UK—and I am sure that many countries want to come to an arrangement that will allow their musicians to move, travel, work and tour and to take their beautiful music around Europe.
I am sure the Minister will agree that this is a double whammy for anyone who cares about levelling up and the creative industries in West Yorkshire and beyond. Recent figures show that the creative industries in West Yorkshire and the Humber have grown by 10.9%. It is really important for jobs and opportunities that we keep this industry flourishing, so will the Minister tell us what the Government have put in place to compensate for the inevitable loss of these opportunities, and will she make available what impact assessment has been done on the changes that this will make to the ability of businesses to continue to flourish after covid?
Of course we know that this has been such a horrible year, particularly for the sectors that I represent—the cultural and creative industries in west Yorkshire and around the whole UK. Covid has been a bitter blow. Of course we did not get the agreement with the EU that we wanted on touring musicians, but we want to do everything we can to support them, including providing clear, easy-to-access information and speaking to our colleagues in EU member states. We will also talk to our colleagues in the Treasury to see what financial support can be put in place at a future fiscal event.
The Edinburgh Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world. I hope the Minister will be aware that this event and others like it have a vital role to play in developing new work and providing a springboard for artists who then subsequently tour that work. Does she therefore not understand that by refusing to maintain a visa exemption for artists, she is fatally undermining festivals in Scotland and the United Kingdom?
I am a massive fan of the Edinburgh Fringe and, in fact, of all the Edinburgh festivals. Last summer was the first in any since I can remember that I was not able to go to Edinburgh to see them at first hand and it was something that I missed greatly. Very recently, just before Christmas, I met representatives from across the Edinburgh festivals to talk about all the issues that they are facing, particularly with regard to coronavirus, but others as well. I should correct the hon. Gentleman. It was not for want of trying that we do not have this free movement of our musicians to be able to perform and to tour across the EU or, indeed, vice versa. We fought very hard for it. Our own arrangements with regard to visas and work permits mean that musicians and performers from outside the UK are very welcome to our shores.
British bands and professional musicians represent a hugely successful cultural export for the UK. I know that the Minister recognises that and I know that she understands the importance of international touring in that success, but may I ask her what more she can do on a bilateral basis with her counterparts in EU member states to find specific solutions to the problems that we are discussing today and ensure that touring remains as easy as possible for our world-leading musicians?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. Of course, as I have said, the door is open and I would love to be able to change this across the board straight away, but that will not be possible in the immediate or foreseeable future. It is all about having those bilateral conversations with colleagues in EU member states. At this stage, it would not be about a waiver but about facilitation and what we can do to make the situation as easy and as straightforward as possible and, of course, those are the conversations that we will be having.
Van Morrison penned the protest song “We Are Born to be Free”, but it appears that musicians like him and others are now completely caught up in a red tape trap and are not free at all. Can the Minister clarify the situation with regard to carnets for musicians and instruments travelling from GB to Northern Ireland and from Northern Ireland back to GB? Can she confirm that they are definitely not required within the UK? However, once a person gets to Northern Ireland, will they be required to travel south, or will the common arrangements that we have with the Republic of Ireland still be in place? Once south, can a person then onward travel without a carnet to the rest of Europe? Can we have clarity on those issues?
Van Morrison also penned “Brown Eyed Girl”, which is my own personal anthem. I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. Artists and organisations based in Northern Ireland will not be required to obtain ATA carnets or musical instrument certificates when touring in the EU because the Northern Ireland protocol means that Northern Ireland is part of the same regulatory environment for goods as the European Union. Northern Ireland citizens who do not hold Irish citizenship as well will be subject to the same changes as other British citizens on mobility and business travel when going to EU member states, but, of course, not to the Republic of Ireland.
A number of my constituents in the entertainments, arts and creative industries have contacted me setting out the impacts that the new immigration restrictions will have on their livelihoods. It is clear that the UK Government strived to gain a mutually beneficial agreement with the EU. Will the Minister therefore set out what steps the Government are taking to continue to urge the EU to return to the negotiating table and reopen discussions to reach a more preferable agreement for all parties? May I take this opportunity on behalf of my constituents to ask the EU to reconsider its position?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The negotiating team did negotiate an opportunity to come back and review this in the years ahead, so the light at the end of the tunnel is not entirely switched off. But there is quite a lot we can do between European nation states to try to make things a lot easier and straightforward. She is right to highlight that this impacts EU artists as much as it does those from the UK. We want to make their lives as easy and as straightforward as possible.
As well as issues with visas or work permits, UK musicians working in EU countries risk being double-charged their social security contributions if they work in a country that has opted out of the social security co-ordination under the detached worker rules. Can the Minister set out what the Government are doing to avoid that and ensure that UK musicians do not face that financial penalty while they are working in the EU?
I am really pleased that the hon. Lady has given me the opportunity to answer that question. The protocol on social security co-ordination secured in the agreement ensures that UK nationals and EU citizens have a range of social security cover when working and living in the EU and the UK. It also supports business and trade by ensuring that cross-border workers and their employers are only liable to pay social security contributions in one state at a time. That is, obviously, very beneficial in particular to smaller cultural organisations that may not have the required cash flow to finance any duplicate payments. Member states have until 31 January to sign up to the detached worker provision. The UK continues to engage with our European counterparts via our global and international stakeholder network to encourage countries to sign up to that provision ahead of the deadline.
There is clearly no substitute for live music and during the covid pandemic opportunities have been severely depressed. In addition to having discussions on how we might ensure musicians can travel within the European Union and within the UK, can my hon. Friend update the House on what discussions she has had with TV companies to allow emerging musicians in particular the opportunity to have their music recorded and broadcast in parts of the European Union?
As ever, an ingenious question from my hon. Friend. I know that so many of our brilliant cultural organisations have worked really hard to improve their digital offer, particularly over the various lockdowns. Earlier in the year, I visited the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and saw the amazing work it is doing to bring its beautiful music to audiences around the world because of the investment it has made in that capacity. He has hit on a really strong concept. I will discuss it with my dear colleague, the Minister for Media and Data, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale).
The Minister may not be aware of this, but the world-renowned Cory Band from Rhondda Cynon Taff are the current European brass band champions. To travel through Europe to defend their hard-fought-for title, and to visit the concerts and workshops, each member of the band will now require a visa and a work permit, despite them being an amateur organisation. This will undoubtedly add an additional financial and administrative burden that could be avoided. What discussions has the Minister had to ensure that brass bands from across the UK can continue to fly the flag for us in Europe without this bureaucracy?
I was not aware of the hon. Lady’s band and I wish them the very best of luck in their endeavours to defend their fantastic title. If the tour they are going on is not paid by the individual venues they are visiting, there may not be an issue here. The band would have to discuss that with individual member states to get clarity on that, but I am very happy to speak to her further about it.
It is clear that this issue gets to the core of our inextricable cultural links with our European partners. It is good to see the Minister stressing the urgency of securing bilateral agreements and ensuring that current arrangements are simplified for people. May I make a special request that she bears in mind individual musicians, many of whom carry multiple instruments, in her efforts to simplify the current arrangements?
As ever, my hon. Friend makes an excellent point. There are so many facets to this issue that we need to keep in mind as we move forward. That is certainly something that I am very happy to talk to him further about.
I have been contacted by a number of constituents—not just musicians, but actors, dancers, choreographers and puppeteers—about the Government’s failure to secure visa-free work permits for touring artists in the EU. This comes as a further hammer blow to their livelihoods, with the continued shutdown of live entertainment as well as the huge gaps in the Government’s support for many working in these industries. What assurances can the Minister give to my constituents, particularly students such as Fresca David, who is just starting out on her career, that they are not being treated as an afterthought by this Government?
My message to the hon. Lady’s constituent would be that the Government entirely recognise the vital importance of the UK’s thriving creative artists. We want to support them in every way we can. I am just so pleased that there was not a Liberal Democrat Government, who would have voted for no deal.
This is a really serious issue and Scottish musicians will undoubtedly be affected. Does my hon. Friend agree that, instead of simply masquerading as a serious party of Government, the Scottish National party should start acting like one, cease these politically charged, ill-informed, deliberately misleading games—an example of which we have seen today—that do nothing to help the situation, work with us and support us in attempting to find a mutually agreeable solution, support Scottish musicians who have been let down by the EU’s decision not to accept our compromise proposals, and work to get an agreement over visa arrangements?
My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. What we need to do now is to move forward. We need to come forward with sensible proactive solutions for the UK music sector. The industry itself has said that what we need now is clarity, not recriminations. That is what we are working to provide and we very much appreciate support from across the House for us to do that.
My Belvidere constituent, Louise McLean, is just one of the many people connected to the music industry who can see that live performers are just the latest casualty in a Brexit that Scotland did not vote for. Last year, as Culture Minister, the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), said:
“It is essential that free movement is protected for artists post 2020.”—[Official Report, 21 January 2020; Vol. 670, c. 56WH.]
Does the hon. Lady agree with her ministerial colleague? Why was that view ignored in Government, if it is also the view of the music industry?
Yes, absolutely, I agree with the comments of my predecessor. That is why we put to the EU fantastic proposals, which were based on the views of the music industry, would have been mutually beneficial and allowed musicians and support staff to tour. We are very disappointed that the EU did not see it the same way.
I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend mention technicians—the sound and lighting engineers who make touring possible. When she is looking for a solution, which I know she is doing, will she also include companies such as Beat the Street in Romsey, which provides the tour buses that make it possible for artists to travel Europe? It will spell a death knell for the entire industry if they are not able to access the continent.
My right hon. Friend is such a great champion for businesses in her local area, particularly those that have been so badly affected, not just by covid, but by the very disappointing EU refusal to accept our very reasonable propositions. She will know that the sector has benefited from a range of different support measures over the last year that were put in place because of covid, but we do need to support it moving forward. The EU’s proposal would not have worked because it would not have supported the valuable support workers in my right hon. Friend’s constituency to do their work. Quite simply, without them, touring would not be possible.
The Minister and Conservative MPs keep claiming that they made this fantastic offer, but we cannot test that because they have not published it. The EU has. It is there in black and white on page 171 of the draft agreement from March last year, allowing 90-day visa-free touring by British musicians and other cultural activities. Will the Minister publish the Government’s proposal, so we can see where the truth lies?
I have to correct the right hon. Gentleman. The document does not say 90 days visa-free touring by UK musicians; it is a lot more opaque than that, which is why we could not simply sign up to it. It just would not have delivered what we needed for our musicians, and it flew in the face of what the British public voted for in the case of controlling our borders. As I have already said, I will speak to colleagues across BEIS and the Home Office to see what further details on the negotiations we can publish.
As you know, Mr Speaker, the north of England has helped to form and then exported some of the biggest musicians and bands across the world in recent decades. Touring is not a “nice to have”; it is an absolute financial necessity for musicians from both the UK and the EU. Can the Minister confirm that it was the UK Government who pushed for a more ambitious agreement with the EU on temporary movement of business travellers, and that it was the EU that unreasonably rejected this proposal?
I thank my hon. Friend for putting it so simply and succinctly; that is exactly what happened. The proposals that we put forward would have allowed musicians to travel and perform in the UK and the EU more easily, and they were rejected by the EU.
I have been listening to the Minister’s replies, and it is always somebody else’s fault with this Government, isn’t it? Our world-class events and production companies, such as Adlib in my constituency, tour the EU with UK and US-based musicians, but very few EU-based companies tour the UK. Does not the Minister realise that her giving up on agreeing comprehensive arrangements to enable this to continue could destroy a sector that has huge export success and destroy the jobs and livelihoods of the technicians, who are already struggling because of the pandemic restrictions to their trade?
Of course I recognise that this is not the solution that we would have wanted, and it is not the solution that we fought really hard for. I point out to the hon. Lady that the Labour party voted for this deal in the full knowledge of what it involved, including the end to freedom of movement.
From The Horns to the Colosseum to the Palace Theatre, music literally beats at the heart of my constituency of Watford. That means that we have many amazing musicians. They are asking me whether my hon. Friend can confirm that it was not the UK that ended these visas, and what measures are going forward to support this amazing sector?
My hon. Friend is such a vibrant champion, and not just for the music industry in his constituency; we have also spoken about the film industry. I expect him at any moment to be descending from the ceiling on a wire in the next “Mission Impossible” movie. He does it all with great panache, and that is exactly what we want to do. The cultural recovery fund has been about supporting music venues so that musicians can get back to doing what they love. Arts Council England is there to support them. We will look at every opportunity we have to put in place more of that vital encouragement and support.
Professor Paul Carr of the University of South Wales reports that in 2019 music tourism alone generated a spend of £124 million in Wales, supporting 1,754 jobs. The Government’s failure to secure visa-free travel is a huge blow, especially to young people at a tipping point in their creative careers. In particular, it will diminish the strong international quality of our national culture. What assessment has the Minister made of the long-term impact of this wholly avoidable mess, specifically on the cultural industry in Wales?
We know that there will be obstacles in the immediate period for those who want to travel and tour abroad, but I am sure that that will change once we enable people to access the information they need and they can see what the situation is with all the different member states, because they all vary wildly. In Wales in particular, musicians are dedicated, vibrant, resourceful and practical, and I know that they will overcome any bumps in the road to be able to do what they do so brilliantly and to continue to share it with our European neighbours.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, and the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) for providing the opportunity to help the Minister correct the misleading social media chatter among professional musicians and other performance artists, and from Opposition Members, about exactly where the responsibility lies for this situation. Will she confirm my impression that the European Union negotiators appear to have rather cynically used and abused the interests of its musicians and its music fans to undermine the United Kingdom Government’s commitment to its own citizens around regaining control of our borders? However ungrateful and ungracious the Musicians’ Union has been in regard to my hon. Friend’s efforts—
Order. I call the Minister, please. That was far too long a question.
My hon. Friend is right that we did fight very hard for this. We understand this not just for performers from the UK, but—he is absolutely right—for performers from the EU as well, because the UK music scene is, I would say, the best in the world, and putting any obstacles or tests in the way of EU performers coming here is a very difficult position for them as well. We are a lot more forthcoming: we do not put in place work permits, and we have a lot more sensitive approaches to visas for performers coming across from the EU. It would have been lovely for that to have been the situation right across all EU member states as well.
Similar to many families in my constituency, artists have been pointing out that many bands comprise a mixture of EU and UK nationals. Does the Minister not see the impossible situation that they will now face, with different members being faced with different levels of bureaucracy and red tape wherever they tour?
Absolutely; I understand the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that this causes a problem for bands, in particular, or orchestras who have members from all different EU member states. The guidance is that we all have to seek instructions from each member state on how we proceed, but had the EU accepted our suggestions in the first place, we would not be in this position.
I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that our world-leading artists and musicians are not just important to the UK economically, but vital to our country’s culture and soft power. The arts play an important role in my constituency, where we have the Leopallooza festival and the Rock Oyster festival, attracting hundreds of talented artists and performers. Given that, I was disappointed to hear of the EU’s rejection of the UK’s visa-free travel offer. Will she commit to doing what she can to secure access to EU countries for UK artists and musicians and keep negotiating to try to encourage the EU to show some flexibility, for the sake of my constituents?
Yes, of course, we will keep that negotiation open and try to make things as simple and as painless as possible. Our door remains open if the EU wants to come back and look at this again. Where visas apply, our agreement with the EU does contain measures that will help to ensure that processes are as prompt and smooth as possible, and we will work to exploit those as much as we can.
This morning, the UK music industry told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that despite being 1% of the world’s population, the UK produces 10% of its music. This industry has been one of the fastest growing over the last 10 years. It employs 2 million people, with the potential to create 1 million jobs in the next 10 years, so I am incredulous that the Government have got us into this situation. Will the Minister say when she will start the negotiations on a supplementary agreement so that we can sort this mess out?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say how incredibly successful our music industry is around the world, and that is why we fought so hard to get much better arrangements in the agreement. What we need to do now is ensure that our sectors are prepared to face any challenges in the future, which is why we are continuing those dialogues with them to understand the ongoing impacts and challenges that may be faced. We need to ensure that they have the right support at the right time and do everything we can to work with other member states to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible.
In addition to trying to improve visa-free travel for musicians, could my hon. Friend say whether the Government hope to progress on easing the movement of musical equipment from country to country within Europe, so that it is not treated like any other physical goods, and on easing the cabotage restrictions for festivals and bands? Finally, can she confirm whether EU-based music showcases fall under the short business trip exemption for conferences, trade fairs and exhibitions? These showcases are often so important in making the careers of developing talent.
With regard to the haulage—the cabotage—that has not been imposed just on us because we have left the EU. They are rules that apply to both UK and EU haulage firms. I want to speak more about this with colleagues in the Department for Transport and with European colleagues to see what more can be done to address it. It impacts not just us but companies that are moving musical equipment across Europe, no matter which European member state they come from. As for my hon. Friend’s other question, if performers are visiting in a business capacity, that is to negotiate a future tour, for any other scoping arrangements or for various other things, that would fall under the business visa waiver. It is always really important to check the individual rules of that EU nation—that member state—to ensure that they do not have anything that would need to be abided by.
Is it not the case that the longer the situation persists, the worse it gets—
Order. This is my fault, but I missed out Mary Kelly Foy. I beg the House’s pardon and that of the hon. Gentleman. Mary Kelly Foy.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think we can all agree that no competent Government would accept such a significant loss of revenue for an already struggling sector without a plan B to mitigate the economic impact. Can the Minister tell me what plan is in place to make up for the financial shortfall for the creative industries resulting from the Government’s failure to negotiate visa exemptions with the European Union?
I just want to make sure that the hon. Lady is not labouring under any misapprehension that the EU made a bespoke offer on musicians that we turned down. That simply is not the case. We fought very hard to get a solution that would have worked to the benefit of our musicians and those from the EU. As ever, we want to ensure that our music industry is supported. We supported it with the cultural recovery fund, and Arts Council England has a range of grants and financial support on offer. On this particular issue, we will speak to colleagues in the Treasury to see whether any support can be put forward at a future fiscal event.
Surely the longer this situation persists the worse it gets for UK artists, and the longer their recovery from covid becomes. Right now, musicians, agents and those who book for them have way too much risk in fixing European gigs. It is no good Opposition Members who voted for no deal joining the debate now. We have the deal, but surely we need to return to it with the sensible UK proposal that was on the table, which presumably, as the Minister has said today, still stands.
My hon. Friend has just hit the nail on the head, and does so in a much more articulate way than I could. That is absolutely right: the deal is still on the table and our door is open for the EU to come back and take up that deal if it wants to. In the short term, we are speaking to member states bilaterally about the visa regime and whether there is any facilitation, as opposed to a waiver, that could be put in place. What the sector now needs is certainty and for us to be able to put in place the guidance and support for it to move forward.
The Minister acknowledged that this situation is deeply unsatisfactory, and so too have the many MPs who have signed my early-day motion highlighting this crisis for touring artists. Today she committed her Department to preparing the creative sector for this new regime. Can she assure the House that this will be better than the way that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs helped to prepare fishermen and farmers, which was to throw them off the bureaucratic cliff? Is she not worried that this wanton and wholly avoidable impediment to the fraternal sharing of arts and culture exposes a rather narrow and isolationist vision of the future by this UK Government?
The key is ensuring that we put in place the guidance and support that the sector needs to be able to deal with the new changes. We are talking collaboratively with the sector about that at the moment, and we will be putting in place opportunities for people to learn much more about how things stand and where they need to go to access advice and support. Those are the practical things that we can talk about right now to help our sector move forward and continue to be the vibrant ambassador for the UK and the hugely brilliant cultural sector that it has always been.
A single European tour may visit dozens of venues, employing hundreds of people skilled in everything from logistics to finance, lighting, pyrotechnics, costumes and more to make it a success. What reassurances can my hon. Friend give people like Aberconwy resident and experienced front-of-house engineer Berenice Hardman that practical arrangements such as visas, carnets and cabotage will be easier and simpler for them to deal with in the future?
The assurance I would give my hon. Friend’s constituent is that we will be having conversations with colleagues across all the nation states of the EU to see what measures we can put in place to facilitate the arrangements. Some of them have very straightforward arrangements right now—some of them do not impose extra work permits, and some are very flexible when it comes to their visas, and others less so. We need to speak to them to ensure that these arrangements can be as smooth, fast and easy to understand as possible, and that is the key to us being able to move forward.
There being almost nobody present in the Chamber, I am not going to suspend before we go on to the next item of business, so we will move straight to the ten-minute rule motion.
Freedom of Speech (Universities)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to place a duty on universities to promote freedom of speech; to make provision for fining universities that do not comply with that duty; and for connected purposes.
I commend your efficiency, Madam Deputy Speaker. The principal reason that our kingdom is a great nation can be encompassed in one word: freedom—freedom of action, freedom of assembly, freedom of thought, freedom of belief, freedom of speech and freedom under the law. Of all those freedoms, the most precious is freedom of speech. It has been fundamental to the development of our culture, our society, our literature, our science and our economy. Indeed, our national wealth today owes more to the free exchange of ideas than to the exchange of goods. Freedom of speech is fundamental to everything we have, everything we are and everything we stand for.
Over 300 years ago, it was this Parliament that enshrined our right to freedom of speech in law. The 1689 Bill of Rights became a symbol of hope for the rights of people everywhere throughout the globe. Since then, peoples and democracies the world over have followed our example. When representatives of the globe gathered in 1948, in the aftermath of unthinkable destruction and despair, we as one people—one human race—said, “Never again.” Fundamental to this united course of humanity was article 19 of the universal declaration of human rights, which states:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Today that is under threat, and it is under threat in the very institutions where it should be most treasured: our universities.
Freedom of speech only matters when it is controversial —when it is challenging. That is why the greatest characterisation of free speech is attributed to Voltaire by his biographer, who said:
“I disapprove of what you say