Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 690: debated on Tuesday 2 March 2021

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The Secretary of State was asked—

Iran’s Regional Activities: Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

What recent assessment he has made of the role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran’s regional activities; and if he will make a statement. (912749)

We have long condemned Iran’s regional destabilising activity, including its political, financial and military support to militant and proscribed groups including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, militias in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is, in its entirety, subject to the UK’s autonomous sanctions. On 18 February, the Foreign Secretary, alongside his E3 and US counterparts, committed in a statement to working with regional parties to address their security concerns. We continue to support the security of our partners working to end the conflict in Yemen, and strengthen institutions in Iraq and Lebanon.

As my hon. Friend the Minister will know, it is not just activity in the middle east that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is responsible for; it is not just with Hezbollah. There have been incidents in France and other parts of Europe, and it has caused the United States to ban the Revolutionary Guard and make it a terror organisation. When will the United Kingdom do the same and designate it as a terrorist organisation?

We keep the list of proscribed organisations under review. As my hon. Friend knows, we do not routinely comment on whether organisations or individuals are under consideration for proscription. As I say, the IRGC is, in its entirety, subject to our autonomous sanctions regime. The UK, along with our European partners, wholeheartedly condemned the bomb plots in 2018 and 2019, including the one in Paris to which my hon. Friend referred.

Cameroon: English-speaking Minority

What the Government’s policy is on the current status of the English-speaking minority in Cameroon. (912750)

The situation in Cameroon’s anglophone region remains deeply concerning. We continue to call for an end to all violence and the restart of an inclusive dialogue that addresses the root cause of the crisis. When I spoke to Prime Minister Ngute in December, I reiterated the UK’s commitment to supporting a peaceful resolution to this issue.

The situation in southern Cameroon is indeed deeply concerning. What is happening there to the anglophone minority of some 5 million people is terrible. There are numerous human rights abuses. The francophone president—a corrupt dictator—has been in power since 1982, and is refusing to devolve any power at all to the English-speaking minority. Will the Government now act? Will the Foreign Secretary, at the highest level, take it up with our French allies, as they have enormous influence in francophone Africa? Will the Minister for Africa do the equivalent of old gunboat diplomacy in our soft-power age, and himself visit southern Cameroon to take up this issue, and try to help our English-speaking friends who we betrayed back in 1962?

I certainly will visit Cameroon at the earliest possible opportunity. I can reassure my right hon. Friend that we have worked very closely with our French and American partners, alongside other partners. We also do an awful lot of work through this House and through the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) on bringing peace to that region and sharing experiences. I thank him for his interest and certainly will commit to further activity and a visit in due course.

Sri Lanka

What steps he is taking to propose a new UN resolution to hold the Sri Lankan Government to account on their responsibilities for justice and reconciliation processes following that country’s civil war. (912774)

The Minister for South Asia, Lord Ahmad, set out our serious concerns about human rights in Sri Lanka in a statement at the UN Human Rights Council on 25 February. On 22 February, the Foreign Secretary confirmed that the UK would lead a new resolution on post-conflict reconciliation, accountability and human rights. We continue to engage with Sri Lanka on these issues and on climate change, trade and the covid-19 response. UK-funded programmes in Sri Lanka support peacebuilding, resettlement, police reform and demining.

For decades, the UK has provided extensive military and police support to the Sri Lankan police and military, and this support has continued despite deeply troubling reports of the widespread use of torture by the Sri Lankan police, including the use of the death penalty for drugs charges. Will the Minister please explain why the UK has spent more than £7 million through its conflict, stability and security fund to assist the Sri Lankan police and military? More importantly, will he commit to publishing the full overseas security and justice assistance assessments for activities under this programme to reassure the House that the UK is not contributing to serious human rights violations?

I know the hon. Member takes a very keen interest in Sri Lanka. Our engagement with the military in Sri Lanka is designed to support the development of a modern, effective and human rights-compliant military. Engagement with the police is focused on community policing, increasing women’s representation, and improving responses to sexual and gender-based violence. Our engagement is subject to ongoing overseas security and justice assessments, as he says, to ensure that it supports UK values and is consistent with human rights obligations.

Many of my Slough constituents, especially those worshipping at Masjid Al-Jannah, were extremely distressed by the alarming reports of forced cremations of Sri Lankan coronavirus victims, including Muslims and Christians, for whom burial rights and traditions are sacred. As the country hopefully progresses with truth, justice and reconciliation after its devastating civil war, what representations has the Minister made to his Sri Lankan counterpart on respect for and the protection of everyone’s religious beliefs and freedoms?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this matter, which I know is of great concern to his constituents and to many other hon. Members’ constituents. My colleague, Lord Ahmad, who is the Minister responsible for Sri Lanka, has raised the important issue of human rights, accountability and reconciliation with his counterpart, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, and the UN high commissioner, but he also has deep concerns about the decision to mandate cremations for those deceased due to covid. The United Kingdom has shared guidance on how burials can happen within World Health Organisation guidelines to the Sri Lankan authorities.

With reference to the expiry of UN Human Rights Council resolution 40/1 this month, what success have the Government had in their role as leader of the core group on Sri Lanka at the UNHCR in drafting a new UN Human Rights Council resolution that secures international support and reflects the eight areas of focus set out by the UNHCR’s recent report?

We are very concerned by the recent UN report on human rights and accountability in Sri Lanka. As I have said previously, we have made our concerns about the human rights situation clear. The Foreign Secretary has confirmed that the United Kingdom would lead a new resolution on post-conflict reconciliation, accountability and human rights.

Covid-19 Vaccines

What diplomatic steps the Government are taking to support the development of covid-19 vaccines (a) in the UK and (b) throughout the world. (912752)

Having visited the Kingston vaccination centre recently, I have seen first-hand the fantastic work that our healthcare workers are doing to vaccinate my Stafford constituents, but in order to fully defeat covid-19 we must vaccinate people around the world. During my virtual visit to Kenya last week, there was much excitement about the upcoming delivery of some covid-19 vaccines. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is essential that we not only allow countries to access our surplus capacity via COVAX but donate vaccines to the poorest countries in the world?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the great work she is doing locally but also for raising the issue of international access to the vaccine. She will know that the UK has contributed £548 million to COVAX AMC, which is the international mechanism that will secure over 1 billion doses. In relation to her virtual Kenya visit, the roll-out of the first deliveries under COVAX has now begun in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire, and by the end of June, in 92 of these poorer countries, we want to see all the vulnerable receiving their vaccines. That is global Britain as a force for good.

I welcome the news that the Foreign Secretary has just outlined about the COVAX deliveries in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire; that is excellent. Tragically, we have seen 50,000 deaths in South Africa alone from covid-19, but we have also seen 409,000 deaths from malaria and 700,000 deaths from AIDS-related causes. An estimated 1.8 million could die from tuberculosis in 2020, and there are Ebola outbreaks in Africa at the moment. Vaccines, whether for covid or other diseases, only work when there are the strong public health systems to deliver them, with the nurses, doctors and cold chain and diagnostic capacity. We have a moral duty to do our fair share, and it is in our global common interest. Will the Foreign Secretary be maintaining our overall bilateral and multilateral health spending, or will it be cut?

The hon. Gentleman is right to pay tribute to the work that the UK has done internationally not just on COVAX and the vaccine for this pandemic but on TB, malaria, polio and a whole range of other areas. We have had to make the difficult decision on the 0.7%, and the allocations will be published in due course, but we have been very clear that public health is the No.1 priority to be safeguarded across the piece.

China: Human Rights

What progress he has made on identifying and applying sanctions against senior Chinese Government officials responsible for human rights violations against (a) the Uyghur people and (b) Hong Kong citizens. (912753)

The Foreign Secretary announced targeted measures on 12 January to help ensure that no British organisations are complicit in the gross human rights violations occurring in Xinjiang. The United Kingdom continues to lead international action, including at the UN, to hold China to account. The Foreign Secretary made a robust intervention at the Human Rights Council on 22 February, calling out the systematic violation of the rights of people in Hong Kong and pressing China for unfettered access to Xinjiang for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Ahead of International Women’s Day, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the recent report by the BBC, which highlighted the extensive use of sexual violence in Xinjiang. I am sure the Minister will agree that the report was incredibly troubling and details what can only be described as torture and abuse of human rights and dignity. Can he explain why it is taking the Government so long to sanction Chinese officials? In the light of recent Magnitsky sanctions in the case of Myanmar, can he explain why they have yet to be used in the case of Xinjiang?

The hon. Gentleman takes a keen interest in this subject, and I appreciate all the work he does on it. We are carefully considering further designations under our human rights sanctions regime, but he will appreciate that it is not appropriate to speculate on who may be designated in the future, as to do so could reduce the impact of such sanctions.

I have agreed with the Minister to separate Questions 8 and 9, so we now have a substantive question from Jamie Stone.

Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games: Team GB Boycott

If he will make an assessment with Cabinet colleagues on the potential merits of Team GB boycotting the 2022 winter Olympic and Paralympic games in Beijing. (912800)

The hon. Member will no doubt have heard the Prime Minister highlight that we are not normally in favour of sporting boycotts. Along with that, participation of the national team at the winter Olympics is a matter for the British Olympic Association, which is required to operate independently of the Government under International Olympic Committee regulations.

I am indeed aware of what the Prime Minister has said. Nevertheless, allies such as the United States and Canada have referred to what is going on in Xinjiang province as genocide. First, does the Minister agree that we should get international condemnation of these ghastly goings on in China? Secondly, in view of what the Prime Minister said, does the Minister agree that we should support those athletes who choose individually to boycott the winter Olympic and Paralympic games, as a demonstration of their opposition to this genocide?

We are leading international action, including at the UN, to hold China to account. We have led from the front. We have an increasing cohort of countries supporting our statements on the happenings in Xinjiang. This is a matter for the British Olympic Association and the individual sportsmen. The British Olympic Association is required to operate independently of Government, and rightly so, under the regulations set down by the International Olympic Committee. This is a matter for the Olympic organisations and individual sportsmen.

The malfeasance of the Chinese Government in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong is well documented, and my party supports the offer that has been made to the 5 million Hong Kong citizens of a route to citizenship. However, I would be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that proper preparations and proper funding for the integration of Hongkongers coming to the UK are actually in place, because I am not convinced they are. We cannot let this scheme just be a first-class lifeboat for the rich of Hong Kong; it does need to be properly run through for everybody. Can he commit to a statement to the House in due course explaining how the scheme is being worked through with the Home Office and the proper funding being allocated to make sure this is open to all Hongkongers?

That is a very sensible question from the hon. Gentleman. It is absolutely the case that we need to ensure that those British national overseas passport holders who arrive in the UK are treated and greeted well. We welcome the many applications that we have had thus far. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has met the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to discuss exactly the issue the hon. Gentleman raises. It is important that people are given the right support when they arrive in the United Kingdom, and I am sure that further information on such schemes and what has been organised for these people coming from Hong Kong will be announced very shortly.


I visited Iraq and the Kurdistan region of Iraq in December last year, meeting Iraq’s Prime Minister al-Kadhimi and the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Prime Minister Barzani. Recent attacks on coalition forces and civilians in Irbil are unacceptable. The UK stands fully behind Iraq and the Kurdistan region of Iraq. We welcome the Iraqi investigation to hold the perpetrators to account, and the UK encourages co-operation between Baghdad and Irbil to agree a sustainable budget, something I discussed with both the Iraqi Finance Minister and Prime Minister Barzani on that visit in December.

Official Development Assistance Budget

What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect of reductions in the official development assistance budget on poverty in the global south. (912755)

What the (a) timetable and (b) scope is of his proposed changes to official development assistance spending. (912770)

What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect of reductions in the official development assistance budget on poverty in the global south. (912771)

The Government remain firmly committed to helping the world’s poorest people. Our aid budget will continue to serve the primary aim of reducing poverty in developing countries, including in the global south.

The Government have made the appalling decision to slash life-saving support for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people in the middle of a pandemic, and an equally appalling announcement yesterday about Yemen highlighted a blatant disregard to fulfilling their moral duty. Will the Minister and the Foreign Secretary press the Chancellor to use this week’s Budget to rebuild Britain’s proud position as a country that supports those in need by reversing his decision to make the UK the only G7 nation to cut its aid budget?

I am sorry the hon. Gentleman thinks that £10 billion is a small sum of money. He mentions Yemen; we should be proud that, since the start of that conflict, we have contributed £1 billion, and at the pledging conference yesterday, a further £87 million. That is activity from this Government, and we are proud of that activity.

It is reported that cuts announced to international aid spending will not come in until after the G7 summit. This merely delays rather than avoids humiliation on the world stage, while the absence of a timetable for when the cuts will take place leaves charities trying to plan ahead in limbo. Does the Minister agree that this unsustainable position will be detrimental to project outcomes, and would it not be preferable to reverse this shameful decision now?

I just do not recognise the timescale that the hon. Member speaks of. We work with partners on an ongoing basis on the delivery of programmes, and we will continue to do so. That is what I do on a daily basis, among other Ministers.

Britain holds the pen on Yemen, but as the senior country is it not our duty to lead by example, and is not cutting aid by 60% at a time of acute humanitarian crisis a terrible example? The UN Secretary-General said that reducing aid was a “death sentence”. Is he wrong?

Another person who does not think that £1 billion is a lot of money—[Interruption.] Well, £87 million is a lot of money. We are doing exactly what the hon. Gentleman is saying and we are standing up. This is the fifth largest pledge to Yemen, and he should be proud of that, not attacking it.

I am hearing a lot of bluff and bluster. This Government are pressing ahead with the deepest and most devastating cuts to the aid budget at the worst possible time, and in doing so they are reneging on the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid, which is enshrined in law. When I asked the Foreign Secretary about that, he said:

“We want to respect that legislation, and we will.”

With press reports speculating that cuts will take place from April, and that the legislation will not be amended until July, will the Foreign Secretary refuse to implement those cuts before the legislation is passed? Will he resign if he breaks the law—yes or no?

As the Foreign Secretary said earlier, we will look carefully at what is required by law, but the law envisages that 0.7% target potentially not being met in any given year, in view of the specific fiscal and economic circumstances. We will abide by that law. Furthermore, the legislation allows us to report to Parliament on what we are doing, and we will stick to that.

I was ashamed yesterday when this Government more than halved their contribution to the humanitarian support in Yemen—the worst humanitarian disaster on the planet. I hope that is not the global Britain we want. What consultation has the Minister had with non-governmental organisations, recipients, and partners in the global south, to minimise the impact of changes to the UK aid budget? When will the Government publish their forthcoming country allocations for official development assistance spending?

The process the hon. Lady mentions regarding the decisions on publication has not yet been met. Our focus has been on looking at country plans and the programmes centrally, and on doing that through countries. By extension, part of that will be looking through delivery partners, including the NGOs that play an excellent role. We are engaging with them as early as possible, including through embassies to where a lot of this relationship is devolved. That is essential, and we remain committed to doing that.

Girls’ Education: Covid-19

What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the covid-19 pandemic on the Government’s policy to ensure that girls receive 12 years of quality education. (912756)

What steps his Department is taking to help ensure that every girl receives 12 years of quality education. (912759)

Over the past five years, UK aid has helped 8 million girls get a decent education, and, as the House knows, our global ambition is to ensure that 40 million girls have 12 years of quality education by 2026.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Choose to Challenge”, which serves as a reminder to us all to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality where we see them. According to UNICEF, only 66% of countries have achieved gender parity in primary education, falling to only 25% by upper secondary education. Will the Secretary of State reassure me that he will not only continue working with his international counterparts to ensure that girls do not fall further behind as a result of the pandemic, but that he will continue his vital work to break down the very real barriers to girls’ education?

I thank my hon. Friend, and reassure her that not only do we have a target of 40 million girls getting 12 years of education, but we want 20 million girls to become literate by the age of 10. With Kenya, we will be co-hosting a major summit in July this year to progress those goals. In January I was in Addis Ababa and had the chance to visit the Yeka Misrak Chora School, which showed me at first hand the incredible difference our aid budget makes.

I welcome what the Foreign Secretary has said regarding the UK’s commitment to ensuring an education for girls. There is no doubt that the UK has world leadership on this issue, as we do on modern slavery and preventing gender-based violence, and of course it was the UK that worked to help stop Ebola becoming a global pandemic. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm his commitment not just to this area, but to maintaining overseas development spending on these very important issues?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of this issue. As we go through the difficult financial situation that we face, we have been very clear that girls’ education is a top priority to safeguard. On top of the money that we are putting in and the convening power that we are exercising with the joint summit we are hosting with Kenya, the Prime Minister has appointed my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) as the special envoy on girls’ education.

I applaud the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister for making educating girls a foreign policy priority. As host of the G7, we have a critical opportunity to encourage others to do the same. Can my right hon. Friend tell me how much ODA spending he will commit to girls’ education this year to make sure that our manifesto commitment to ensuring that every girl gets 12 years of quality education has the funding that it needs?

I reassure my right hon. Friend, first of all, that the money is being safeguarded; of course, it is published in the normal way, through the formal channels, in the autumn. Through the appointment of the Prime Minister’s special envoy, the convening power that I have described and, as she quite rightly says, our presidency of the G7, we are making sure that this is at the very top of the international agenda.

The British people have a proud history of stepping up and supporting those in need, but the actions of this Government yesterday betrayed hundreds of thousands of Yemeni children, as the Foreign Secretary chose to leave them to starve. In November, he told the House that humanitarian crises were one of his priorities, yet he has cut funding to the largest humanitarian crisis in the world by 60%. Clearly, the Foreign Secretary’s commitments are worthless. Does he agree that his Government’s actions have shown our allies and our detractors that his word cannot be trusted?

I thank the hon. Lady, although the obvious point to make is that the last Labour Government never hit 0.7% and only hit 0.5% twice. In relation to Yemen, over the last five years, including for 2021, we have been between the third and the fifth highest donors. We will keep up that effort. We have provided more than £1 billion of funding to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen since the conflict began, and of course we fully support the efforts of Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy, to find peace there.

The Foreign Secretary is leading a hasty retreat from the world stage while others are stepping forward. We are the only G7 nation to cut aid. The United States has added billions to its development budget, and France has committed to increasing its support for the world’s poorest by reaching 0.7% by 2025. The Government cannot keep pretending that they can make cuts without risking millions of lives, so will the Foreign Secretary immediately publish all the details of the cuts made in 2020 and those projected for 2021? Will he also explain to the House what his priorities are? Clearly, preventing hundreds of thousands of Yemenis from going hungry and starving to death is not one of them.

Of course, the allocations are published formally in the normal way, as I have just described, in the autumn. In fact, the new UK aid pledge of £87 million, which the hon. Lady so blithely dismisses, will feed an additional 240,000 of the most vulnerable Yemenis every month, support 400 health clinics and provide clean water for 1.6 million people. We are doing our bit. Of course these are very difficult financial circumstances. We remain, as we have over the last five years, between the third and the fifth highest donor into Yemen.

I very much welcome the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to women’s and girls’ education. Does he agree, however, that female genital mutilation, which sadly affects so many girls across the world, is one of the great hindrances to the education of girls in many parts of the world, including, sadly, Nigeria? I am sure he joins me in welcoming the release of the girls from Zamfara state only the other day, but will he raise with the Nigerian Government, when he next has the opportunity to do so, the likelihood that some 14 million will go through female genital mutilation between now and 2030? This is a crime, it is a sin, and it is against all justice.

I thank my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Select Committee. I join him in welcoming the release of the young girls who were kidnapped, which I am sure came as a huge relief to the whole House. He raises, in a passionate way, the issue of FGM. We have been leaders in calling that out, and also in trying to work with Governments around the world, in particular in Africa, to try to bring an end to this appalling practice. We will continue to do so, in Nigeria and elsewhere.

East Jerusalem: Forced Evictions and Dispossessions

What recent discussions he has had with his Israeli counterpart on forced evictions and dispossessions in East Jerusalem. (912757)

The United Kingdom provides legal aid to vulnerable Palestinian communities at threat of demolition. In 96% of cases, those receiving UK-funded legal support have remained in their homes. The UK ambassador joined ambassadors of European states to urge the Government of Israel to cease demolitions. He attended a meeting with Israeli authorities on 25 February. At the United Nations Security Council on 26 February, the UK permanent representative called on Israel to end demolitions of Palestinian homes and allow the delivery of emergency humanitarian aid.

I, like many colleagues, have heard repeated stories from Palestinians who are facing forced eviction, dispossession and demolition of their homes in areas such as Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and Issawiya in occupied East Jerusalem. I and many other people see that as a deliberate attempt to re-engineer the demographic make-up of occupied East Jerusalem. What more can the Government do, rather than just urge the Israeli Government to stop it? What more can the British Government do to bring an end to this unacceptable situation?

The United Kingdom has a close and productive working relationship with Israel. When we speak, the Israelis absolutely do listen. The hon. Lady dismisses our urgings, but I remind her that the UK’s voice has had an influence on decisions made by the Government of Israel. We will continue to engage, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did very recently with his counterpart Foreign Minister Ashkenazi and the Israeli ambassador to the Court of St James’s only last month.

Israel and the Palestinians: Support for Peace

The UK is actively encouraging both parties back to dialogue. As I just mentioned, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met his opposite number on 10 February. I spoke to the Palestinian head of mission here in the UK on 2 February. The UK has been working with both the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, alongside the United States and international key partners, to progress specific areas of co-operation, including water and gas provision, energy infrastructure and trade facilitation. We are also seeking to re-establish formal Israeli-Palestinian mechanisms, such as the joint economic committee and its relevant sub-committees.

The International Criminal Court’s controversial determination on jurisdiction relating to Israel and the Palestinians not only undermines the middle east peace process but heightens the exposure of our armed forces to vexatious claims by setting a precedent that non-state actors can initiate proceedings. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of reforms of the ICC?

The UK respects the ICC’s independence, but we are working with other countries to bring about positive change within the court. The UK was instrumental in the establishment of the independent expert review, which reported in September, together with other state parties. Additionally, the UK is driving forward reforms to governance, prosecutorial excellence, and a more rigorous approach to budget control and value for money.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I do hope Madam Deputy Speaker will be pleased that I have a jacket accompanying my jumper today.

It has been almost a year since my right hon. Friend expressed his hopes that the European Union would produce a balanced and independent report into the Palestinian Authority’s school curriculum, which contains shocking material inciting violence against Israel and Jews. What steps will the Government take if the long-awaited report, due for publication this month, falls short of the required standard?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this point and for the consistent approach that he has taken to this issue. We remain concerned about the allegations in Palestinian Authority textbooks and have lobbied European partners to bring forward their report in a timely manner. I have also discussed the issue directly with the Palestinian Authority’s representative in the UK, and we have regular discussions with the EU to encourage it to get this report into the public domain. In the interim, the UK will continue to raise our concerns bilaterally with the Palestinian Authority at the very highest levels.

Climate Change: International Co-operation

What progress his Department has made through international co-operation on tackling climate change. (912762)

In December, the UK co-hosted the Climate Ambition summit, where 75 world leaders set out more ambitious climate commitments. Last week, the Prime Minister chaired the UN Security Council debate on this issue. In addition, the Foreign Secretary has discussed climate in his meetings with the US, Brazil and India, among other counterparts.

I thank my hon. Friend for his response. Does he agree that our hosting of the UN conference on climate change, to be held in Scotland this year, reinforces the UK’s claim to be leading the world in tackling climate change?

I welcome that question—it appears, Mr Speaker, that we are welcoming the whole family into the House. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the UK has a proud record of climate leadership. In 2019, we were the first major economy to legislate for net zero by 2050. We are also doubling our international climate finance facility to £11.6 billion in the 2021 to 2025 period and, this year, we are encouraging every country to make ambitious new pledges to fulfil the 2015 Paris agreement.

As a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, I am very interested in the international engagement in COP26. Will the Minister outline exactly what actions the Department is taking to help the President of COP26 to maximise the potential for a successful event in Glasgow?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. In every call that we make as Ministers, we raise this issue. My right hon. Friend the COP26 President designate has the full support of the diplomatic network. In fact, just last month, he met Ethiopian, Gabonese, Egyptian, Nigerian, Indian and Nepalese partners, and those are the only ones I know about. Later this month, we will convene international partners to help to identify practical solutions to the challenge that every country must face, particularly to help the most vulnerable on this really important issue of climate change.

Occupied Palestinian Territories: Humanitarian Situation

What recent assessment the Government have made of the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (912761)

If he will maintain the level of the UK’s funding contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. (912765)

What recent assessment the Government have made of the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (912777)

The UK remains concerned about the fragile humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, particularly in Gaza. The UK is providing £4.5 million in humanitarian assistance to the OPTs, including £1 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s emergency appeal and £2.5 million to the World Food Programme for cash assistance. The UK supports UNRWA as a vital humanitarian force in the region and the FCDO is running a prioritisation exercise across all its programmes to ensure that every pound goes as far as possible.

The Minister rightly highlights forced evictions and demolitions breaking international law, but none the less, Israel continues with its evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and Batan al-Hawa. The proposed construction of 1,200 houses at Givat HaMatos is out to tender at the moment. Action is needed, not just words, so when will the UK Government implement trade bans on goods from illegal settlements?

The UK’s position on this issue is long standing and clear. We oppose the points that the hon. Gentleman has put forward. We raise the issue of demolitions regularly with our Israeli counterparts, and we will continue to do so at every opportunity.

[Inaudible.]—aid budget implies the loss of a third in UNRWA funding, and there are rumours that the Government could be planning to cut twice that. UNRWA is responsible for almost 6 million Palestinian refugees, including the education of 500,000 children, the healthcare of 3 million and emergency food aid for over 1 million. Because of the occupation, Palestinians in Gaza, the west bank and surrounding countries rely on UNRWA for basic public services, so will the Minister give a clear and courageous answer and guarantee at least the current level of funding?

The UK Government regard UNWRA as an important partner in support of the people in the OPTs and surrounding areas. We are going through a prioritisation exercise at the moment, the outcome of which will be published in due course.

As schools around the world deal with the challenges of the covid pandemic, Palestinian schoolchildren face a further threat. According to the United Nations, 53 Palestinian schools in the occupied west bank are subject to Israeli Government demolition orders. Does the Minister agree that demolishing any school is wrong and that any such action should have consequences?

The UK regularly raises the issue of demolitions and our position on this is clear. We will continue to do so, and we will continue to highlight the importance of education, which remains one of the Government’s priorities.

The Israeli covid-19 vaccination programme is the best in the world. However, the Minister has indicated that Israel has a legal responsibility to ensure the health and wellbeing of Palestinians on the west bank. Will he therefore join me in urging the Israeli Government to work with the Palestinian Authority to ensure that Palestinians are vaccinated, as well as Israelis?

The UK is justifiably proud of the work it is doing on the international stage with regard to vaccinations, including through Gavi and the COVAX scheme. We are pleased to see the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority co-ordinating their work with regard to vaccinations, and we look forward to that vaccination programme rolling out not just across Israel but to the people who are living in the OPTs.

Topical Questions

Since the last oral questions, I have visited east Africa. I have also visited Cyprus, where I met President Anastasiades and the Turkish Cypriot leader in support of the peace initiative and the UN talks. On 18 February, I met our E3 partners in Paris and also the new Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, to co-ordinate our approach to Iran. Finally, I am sure the whole House will be pleased to hear that the international community has elected not just the first British female judge in the International Criminal Court but the first British chief prosecutor.

The Prime Minister has rightly condemned the UN’s Human Rights Council for its disproportionate focus on Israel, which he said was

“damaging to the cause of peace”.

As the UN Human Rights Council meets over the coming weeks, will the Government commit to voting against one-sided resolutions singling out Israel, including those outside permanent agenda item 7, in order to send a clear message that such blatant anti-Israel bias will not be tolerated?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have stood up for Israel when it has faced bias and, frankly, politicised attacks in the UN and other forums. We will continue to press for the abolition of item 7, because it is the only country-specific standalone agenda item and it focuses on Israel, and that cannot be right.

The US intelligence report released last Friday makes a clear and compelling case that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Last year, the Foreign Secretary said of those with “blood on their hands”:

“You cannot set foot in this country and we will seize your blood-drenched ill-gotten gains if you try.”—[Official Report, 6 July 2020; Vol. 678, c. 664.]

Can he confirm that he will be bringing forward sanctions against bin Salman following this report and that he now finally accepts that it is time to fundamentally reappraise our relationship with Saudi Arabia?

The hon. Lady is a bit behind the curve here. Of course, we have an important relationship with Saudi Arabia on security, on trade and on other things, but the reality is that it was this Government, and me, who introduced Magnitsky sanctions on 20 Saudis involved in the murder under our global human rights regime—[Interruption.] We did it last July. She ought to catch up.

I am, frankly, astonished; I genuinely expected a better response from the Foreign Secretary. He will not stand with the family of Jamal Khashoggi as they seek justice. He will not stand to lift a finger against the dirty money flowing into the City of London. He will not stand with our allies in ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia. He will not even defend the children of Yemen against brutal aid cuts by his own Department, even as his Government seek to sustain the conflict that they are party to. Last year, we heard him talk tough about standing up to despots and henchmen, but now he tells us that in response to this report he is not prepared to take a single action, will not stand up to corruption, will not stand against humanitarian catastrophe, will not stand up for press freedom and will not stand up for human rights. Is there a single thing that he will actually stand up for?

I again say to the hon. Lady that we were already right out in the lead in imposing asset freezes and visa bans on 20 of the most directly responsible. She refers to the US report. The US has not put sanctions on the Crown Prince, as she well knows. More generally, she will have seen the action that we have taken—[Interruption.] She ought to listen. On dirty money, we have already said, and I have committed to this House, that we will introduce an extension of the Magnitsky sanctions to cover corruption—[Interruption.] She is now going on to talk about Russia. The reality is that we will continue to support standing up for human rights, and I will be introducing to the House Magnitsky sanctions and extensions in the corruption space shortly.

The growing ties between Israel and her Arab neighbours are extremely positive developments that provide an opportunity to reinvigorate the middle east peace process, which has regrettably stalled for many years. Will my right hon. Friend outline what more the UK can do to help support the resumption of direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, alongside our allies in the region? (912814)

I thank my hon. Friend. We have supported the normalisation of relations, which is a good step around the region. Of course, this also led to the suspension of the threat of annexation on the west bank, which was very important. As a result of that, I was able to go to talk to President Abbas and Prime Minister Shtayyeh and encourage them to resume dialogue on west bank issues, which is very important for security, and to make sure that Palestinian public servants are paid. Plans are at least mooted for elections on both sides—both in Israel and on the Palestinian side. Ultimately, we need leadership from both sides to secure the peace that my hon. Friend and other Members want. We need a two-state solution, and the UK will support all those efforts.

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan, we appear no closer to a successful exit strategy. The NATO mission faces difficult choices: leave and see the Afghan Government fall; continue the stalemate and face a permanent involvement in the country; or ramp up the war, with the devastation that follows and no guarantee of success. What discussions are the British Government having with the Biden Administration about the way forward? (912810)

We are having discussions with the Biden Administration on the approach to the proposed US withdrawal or drawdown from Afghanistan. It has to be linked to violence on the ground and to the wider peace talks and the agreements that have been made in Afghanistan between all the local parties, and it has to be based on the delivery of those conditions.

Given that covid-19 is reported to have killed more than 120,000 of our fellow citizens it is reasonable, in time, to understand where lessons can be learned domestically, but surely it is our moral duty to establish the origins of the virus and how it spread as an international community. So may I ask the Minister: what is the British Government’s view on where this came from and on the efficacy of the World Health Organisation’s current fact-finding mission to China? (912818)

My hon. Friend asks a very sensible question. The UK co-sponsored the World Health Assembly resolution in May 2020 that agreed an investigation into the origins of covid. It is important that that investigation is given the time it needs. The field mission to Wuhan was a key early step in the investigation. Of course we cannot pre-empt findings, but we will look closely at the field mission’s report when it is published. We have been clear that the investigation must be robust, open and scientifically rigorous.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) the urgent question that is to follow on Yemen, which is a human rights catastrophe. Similarly, every Member of this House must acknowledge the humanitarian hellhole that Syria has become over the past decade. Given that the existing programme has now run out, will the Secretary of State update the House on our country’s intentions on welcoming refugees to our shores from Syria and the region, and the good quality of life that we will guarantee them once they are here? (912811)

We will of course continue to make sure that we provide vital humanitarian support. I agree with the hon. Lady that the ongoing crisis in Syria is appalling. I think she asked about the Home Office plans for a new global resettlement scheme; that is for the Home Secretary to talk about, but I will—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady is right that it is a diplomatic issue, which is why I fully support it.

The UK is a global leader in refugee resettlement, and the new UK resettlement scheme will demonstrate global Britain’s efforts to tackle humanitarian crises wherever they are. To what extent does my right hon. Friend consider that refugee resettlement is an important part of the UK’s wider diplomatic efforts, particularly in respect of supporting those who may now be refugees and have been involved in supporting our military and peacekeeping efforts? (912819)

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The truth is that I would not be here today if it was not for this country’s proud tradition of offering sanctuary to those fleeing persecution. Since 2015, we have resettled 25,000 refugees, with the support of brilliant charities—I always think of Elmbridge CAN in my constituency, which helps new families to settle in. We remain committed to discharging that historic role. The new global resettlement scheme will be developed and launched by the Home Office in due course.

The perception that corporate interests and market-friendly laws are prioritised over economic fairness, local communities and the environment has resulted in the Indian farming protests. Given the Foreign Office silence on the issue, will the Prime Minister be raising the injustices that the farmers feel when he visits India? (912812)

I appreciate that there are concerns on this issue; we have a large Indian diaspora and have had lots of constituents writing in. I did raise the matter with Foreign Minister Jaishankar when I was in India and we discussed it. Ultimately, the situation is the result of a reform agenda that the elected Government are pressing through. It is of course contentious and we have discussed it, but ultimately it is for the Government of India to decide.

    The Government have made it clear that we must protect the reputation of organisations such as the UN Human Rights Council. Given our work on gender-based violence and the fact that next Monday is International Women’s Day, I would be grateful for an update on what work is being undertaken on the preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative and what steps we might take to implement an international body that can support survivors, document crimes and lead prosecutions. (912825)

The PSVI remains a top priority for the UK Government. Since its launch in 2012 we have committed £48 million and funded 85 projects across 29 countries to prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence. Of course, the UK’s G7 presidency is an excellent opportunity for us to galvanise support for the PSVI.

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm the Government’s commitment to a bizonal, bicommunal federation as the only basis for a political settlement on the island of Cyprus, ahead of next month’s UN-sponsored 5+1 talks in Geneva? (912813)

I was out in Cyprus recently, as I have already discussed, and spoke to President Anastasiades and to Ersin Tatar, the new Turkish Cypriot leader. That is, of course, the starting point. The most important thing that we need to see right now is for both sides to go to those UN 5+1 talks without preconditions, so that we can re-engage in the kind of flexibility and pragmatism that can see lasting and enduring peace for the whole of Cyprus.

What steps is my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary taking to respond to the ongoing campaign for Papuan independence? (912830)

The UK Government have repeatedly asserted our long-held position that we respect the territorial integrity of Indonesia, including the provinces of Papua and West Papua. The UK Government categorically do not support the activities or views of Papuan separatist activists. The presence of some individuals in the UK, including Benny Wenda, in no way means that we support their position. We engage with a diverse range of cultural and political figures in the Papua region, and our ambassador made a visit to Papua in November, when he met environment, education and human rights experts, as well as the Governor of West Papua.

Iranian officials have made it clear that the imprisonment of British dual nationals is directly linked to the £400 million IMS debt. The longer the Government deny that link, the longer Anousheh, Nazanin and Aras will be kept away from their families. Will the Foreign Secretary tell me what consideration has been given to an urgent repayment of the debt through alternative means, such as covid-19 supplies or other medical aid? (912815)

The hon. Lady takes a heartfelt interest in this matter. I have recently spoken to the families of all three British-Iranian dual nationals. Of course, we accept that there is a long-standing dispute in relation to the IMS debt that needs to be resolved, but that is separate from the arbitrary detention of British nationals. Frankly, we should not be giving succour to the idea that anything should happen other than their unconditional and immediate release.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed that Iran’s uranium stockpile is now more than 14 times over the limit agreed in the 2015 nuclear deal. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the framework is working? What consequences will there be for Iran’s continued non-compliance? [R] (912831)

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Iran’s systemic non-compliance with its obligations under the joint comprehensive plan of action are rightly a concern of the whole international community, particularly the state parties to the JCPOA. Frankly, Iran has a clear choice: return to compliance or face increasing economic and diplomatic isolation. On 18 February in Paris, I joined my French and German counterparts and the new US Secretary of State Tony Blinken to reinforce the transatlantic alliance and concerted action to bring Iran back to full compliance, which is our overriding focus.

I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to War on Want’s new report into Israel’s military court system in the occupied west bank. Does he agree that Palestinian civilians should not be tried in military courts? What is his Government doing to support Palestinian human rights defenders who are being tried in them? (912817)

The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the treatment of Palestinians. The reality is that I do not think there is a bar on the use of military systems of justice under international law—let alone under the International Criminal Court system. Indeed, we use a military justice system with some of the highest standards in the world. What is crucial is that there is adequate due process to ensure that people’s rights can be fairly and duly heard.

Yesterday, the last case arising from Jonathan Taylor’s whistleblowing concluded, with Paul Bond being sentenced to three and a half years in prison for conspiracy to give corrupt payments. Jonathan Taylor has been vindicated again, but he remains stranded in Croatia due to the Interpol red notice issued by Monaco based on a debunked allegation by his old employer in retaliation for his whistleblowing. Now that the relevant court cases are complete, will my right hon. Friend redouble his efforts to bring Mr Taylor home? Will he also speak to ministerial colleagues about the need for whistle-blowing law reform so that, in future, people like Jonathan Taylor get the support and protection they need?

We are providing ongoing consular support to Mr Taylor. Consular staff have been in regular contact with him and his UK lawyer. The British ambassador in Zagreb met him in December to discuss his concerns and explain the FCDO’s consular functions. I spoke to the Monégasque Foreign Secretary and the Croatian Secretary of State for European Affairs in November and sought assurances that both authorities were giving full consideration to the fact that Mr Taylor is a whistleblower. The UK is a state party to a number of multilateral conventions that require adequate arrangements to be made for the protection of whistleblowers. The UK has made appropriate provisions to do so in our own law, demonstrating the seriousness with which we take our obligation, and we are encouraging our international partners to do likewise. We are, however, unable to protect whistleblowers in other jurisdictions that may not have the same law.

I am now suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Sitting suspended.