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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 697: debated on Tuesday 15 June 2021

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The Secretary of State was asked—

Human Rights Violations against Uyghurs: Sanctions

What plans he has to extend Magnitsky-style sanctions to Chen Quangou, Party Secretary of Xinjiang region in China, in response to his alleged involvement in human rights violations against the Uyghur. (901215)

On 22 March, the Foreign Secretary announced global human rights sanctions against four Chinese officials and one entity responsible for serious human rights violations in Xinjiang. We did so alongside the United States, Canada and the European Union, sending a powerful message to China about the strength of international concern. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will continue to keep all potential evidence and listings under close review.

While we wait for the Government to take further action on sanctions against individuals, I would like to press the Minister on whether the UK Government will follow this House and the US and Canadian Governments in declaring the Chinese Government’s persecution of the Uyghur people to be a genocide.

As the hon. Member probably knows, we do not shy from taking action. We have led international efforts to hold China to account. It is the long-standing policy of several Governments of the United Kingdom that the determination of genocide should be by a competent court.

Aid Budget Reduction: Humanitarian Impact

What assessment he has made of the potential effect of reductions in the UK aid budget on UK humanitarian work overseas. (901224)

What assessment he has made of the potential effect of reductions in the UK aid budget on UK humanitarian work overseas. (901226)

What assessment he has made of the potential effect of reductions in the UK aid budget on UK humanitarian work overseas. (901228)

The UK will spend £10 billion in official development assistance in 2021, making us the third highest bilateral humanitarian donor country based on the OECD data.

Let me start by saying that I understand full well that this is a policy imposed by an unintelligent Treasury edict. Nevertheless, it has, potentially, the fatal consequences of a medium-sized war. The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa could not tell us whether the 60% cut to Yemen meant more or less than 260,000 deaths of women and children as a result. On Ethiopia, where the UN told us that 350,000 faced imminent starvation, the Minister for Africa—the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge)—yesterday could not tell the House the size of the cut in our aid. I understand from impeccable sources that we propose to cut that aid by £58 million—more than half. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm the size of that cut and tell the House what we intend to do to reduce the hundreds of thousands of deaths arising from our policy?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. I do not accept the proposition that he has put forward. As a global leader in ODA—and we continue to be a global leader in ODA—we stretch to put as much in as we possibly can. Of course, we have temporary financial exceptional circumstances, but we will get back to 0.7% as soon as we can. He raised, in particular, the issue of Yemen. We have committed at least £87 million in 2021—that is more than £1 billion since the conflict began. He asked about the firm statistics. They are sent out in the normal way through Development Tracker and the final returns that are made annually.

Last week, the Prime Minister casually dismissed protests against billions of pounds-worth of aid cuts as “lefty propaganda”. Analysis by Save the Children estimates that at least 3 million people in need of life-saving humanitarian assistance right now will not receive it because of this Government’s decision. Can the Foreign Secretary not see that this is not about left or right? It is about right and wrong. Does he recognise that this is not propaganda? This is about life and death for the most vulnerable people, so will he now U-turn on this decision before it is too late for them?

What I recognise is that we remain the third largest donor in the G7, based on GNI. What I recognise is that we have made the biggest ever donation to the Global Partnership for Education, pursuing our goal of 40 million girls receiving 12 years of education. As a result of that, we raised at the G7 billions of pounds from other partners towards that goal. What I recognise is that we have doubled bilateral spending on international climate finance and we secured, through our donation of 100 million surplus vaccines, a contribution of a billion more by the middle of next year, which means that we will be able to vaccinate the world not at the end of 2024, which is the current trajectory, but by the mid-point of next year. That is what global Britain is about. That is what we achieved at the G7.

Two aspects of the recent integrated review that jumped out at me were the explicit wish to integrate diplomacy and development and the so-called Indo-Pacific tilt, which stated the desire to see the UK’s ODA more effective in the region. As a member of the Defence Committee, I am always interested to know how one can make the so-called region that is home to three of the five largest states in the world, and which is named after the first and third largest oceans on the planet, any sort of effective domain for UK foreign policy, so can the Foreign Secretary, while his Government cut aid to many of the poorest in the world, advise the House which areas or countries of the Indo-Pacific they will be prioritising to maintain their investment with this new-style of integrated development and diplomacy?

As I mentioned to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), the final figures, as has historically always been the case, come out not just through DevTracker, but in the international development statistics.

Let me give the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) the example that I think he is searching for. At the weekend, we made a £430 million contribution to the Global Partnership for Education—a 15% increase on last year that will affect many of the countries and regions that he describes. Above all, we used not just our aid spend, but our diplomatic convening power, to get others to make billions of pounds’ worth of contributions. Not only will that encourage 40 million more girls back into education, but it will help to deliver our second goal of getting 20 million more girls literate by the age of 10.

The real question is: do this Tory Government even care? At a time when the poorest nations of the world need support, humanity and compassion, this UK Tory Government are turning their back. Even one of their own Back Benchers has admitted that these cuts will kill. The other G7 countries have stepped up their aid budget; the UK is the only one to cut it. It is utterly shameful. Do you know what I really want to know, Mr Speaker? I want to know how the Foreign Secretary and his Tory Government sleep at night, knowing that they have the blood on their hands of some of the poorest people in the world.

I think that that was pretty unsavoury from the hon. Lady, but I will tell her how we sleep at night. We sleep at night because we are the third biggest ODA budget contributor in the G7. We sleep at night because we have just made the biggest global commitment on girls’ education ever, of any Government ever in the UK. We sleep at night because we are doubling the average annual spend on international climate finance. We sleep at night because we led the way with the 100 million doses that we are providing from excess surplus because of the money that we spent on the AstraZeneca vaccine: of the doses that the poorest countries have so far received via COVAX, 95% have come from AZ. In relation to humanitarian spend, bilaterally, we are the third biggest as well. We continue to be a global leader, but I think that our constituents would be asking some pretty serious questions if, at a time when we face the biggest contraction in our economy for 300 years, we were not also making or finding savings from the international as well as the domestic budget.

COVAX aimed to deliver 2 billion doses of vaccine to countries around the world in 2021. Six months in, less than 5% of that total has been shipped. To rapidly vaccinate health workers and older people in low-income countries, we must address global shortages with a global plan to increase production of vaccines and equitable access. Instead, what we got this weekend from a Prime Minister who has been in perennial retreat from the world stage was a commitment to 5 million doses by the end of September, and a vague commitment to more at some point over the next 12 months. Does the Secretary of State agree that cutting the aid budget while most of his counterparts were increasing theirs made it harder for the Prime Minister to play a leadership role at the G7, and that the cuts are a key reason for the Prime Minister’s abject failure to deliver a comprehensive strategy that accelerates global vaccine access so that we can achieve at least 70% coverage in all countries and end the pandemic as quickly as possible?

I am afraid that the hon. Lady is just mistaken and clearly did not pay attention to what the G7 agreed. We agreed 100 million doses on the UK’s part by the middle of next year. That was not some kind of loose commitment; it was a very clear one, and comes on top of the 1 billion doses that we secured through our financial commitment to COVAX. As a result of our commitment, we have now raised the ability, through the G7 and the other contributions, to secure 1 billion extra doses, so there are new doses. What that will mean in practice is that rather than the world being vaccinated by 2024, as in the current trajectory, it will happen by the middle of next year. I would have thought that if the hon. Lady really cared about the issue, she would recognise that that is a massive step forward.

It is apparent that no matter how many examples we give of why the aid cuts should be reversed, the Foreign Secretary is either unwilling or unable to answer, so let us try this another way.

It is estimated that these cuts will result in the deaths of more than 1 million children throughout the world—1 million more than already die as a result of being the poorest and most vulnerable. Many of us have children of our own and would never neglect their fundamental needs, yet with no consent and with widespread opposition both inside and outside this Parliament, this Government are determined to inflict death and suffering on those with no voice. Thinking of those children, will the Foreign Secretary finally commit to reversing the decision, or is he willing to let the ink dry on the death sentences on these innocent lives?

I have to say that using language like that reflects more on the hon. Gentleman than on the approach of the Government or any Ministers. Of course we take seriously the financial predicament we are in and the difficult choices we have made, but we remain the third biggest G7 donor, and I have given the House the positive effects that we will achieve with our £10 billion. Of course, if we were right at the bottom and donating only £1 billion a year, and we increased it by 20%, according to his moral paradigm we would be doing better than if we were giving £10 billion this year. That is a totally clueless approach to take.

I welcome the G7’s call for unimpeded access for aid workers to the Tigray region of Ethiopia, as a potentially catastrophic man-made famine is unfolding. The UN estimates that more than 350,000 people are currently living in famine conditions and that 2 million are just one step away. There are reports of crops being destroyed, farmers being prevented from cultivating land and food aid being stolen. Endemic sexual violence means that women and girls are staying in hiding, unable to seek the little food that is available. How much humanitarian aid is the FCDO providing to support this response, and how much of it has already been distributed? What action is the FCDO taking to secure and safeguard the distribution of emergency food aid to communities in Tigray, and what steps is it taking to work with partners to prevent a catastrophic famine?

The hon. Lady, like me, cares passionately about that appalling situation. I can tell her that we have provided £22 million of badly needed support to the people in Tigray. At the G7, under the UK presidency, we issued a statement on 2 April and on 5 May expressing deep concern. Following my visit in January and my conversation with Prime Minister Abiy, humanitarian access went from consent to notification, but we know that humanitarian workers still cannot reach the places they need to reach. We need to work on that, and we need to get Eritrean forces to withdraw. In relation to accountability for some of the appalling human rights abuses we have seen, we certainly support the High Commissioner for Human Rights in her planned investigations in conjunction with the Ethiopian human rights commission.


What recent assessment he has made of Iran’s compliance with the 2015 joint comprehensive plan of action nuclear agreement. (901217)

Iran is systematically in non-compliance with the joint comprehensive plan of action—the JCPOA—and, working with our European partners and with the United States, China and Russia, we expect and require a return to full compliance.

The UN’s nuclear watchdog has warned that Iran is now producing uranium at levels that “only countries making bombs” are reaching, after successfully enriching to 60% purity. Given that this knowledge cannot be unlearned, does my right hon. Friend share my concern that Iran’s nuclear activities already extend far beyond the outdated JCPOA? What steps will he be taking to address not only Iran’s nuclear belligerence but its support for terrorism and the ballistic missile programme?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is not just the stockpile of enriched uranium, which is 16 times the permitted limit, but the operation of the centrifuges and the production of uranium metal that are of deep concern. All sides agree that Iran must return to full compliance, and there has been some progress in the talks in Vienna, but a successful outcome is far from guaranteed. Those talks cannot continue to be open-ended; we need to see a return to full compliance. My hon. Friend is also right to refer to the need for “longer and stronger”, as it is dubbed, to ensure not just that we have permanent guarantees in relation to the nuclear issue but that we address the destabilising activity that Iran sponsors. I have just got back from Iraq, where we can see at first hand the support for the Shi’a militias and what that means in practice.

May I first pay tribute to the work of the HALO Trust, a British charity and the largest de-mining organisation working in Afghanistan? Tragically, 10 of its team were killed in an ISIS attack a week ago. James Cowan, the CEO, has vowed to continue their important work, and I hope that the Government will encourage the Afghan Government to improve local security so that the HALO Trust can continue that important work.

In the 1970s, we attempted to sell 100 Chieftain tanks to Iran. We took the money—£400 million—but following Iranian revolution, the tanks were of course never delivered. We need to repay that debt, because it is starting to interfere with other bilateral issues. I invite my right hon. Friend to speak to Tony Blinken, because this is to do with legacy sanctions and we need to resolve the issue.

I pay tribute not just to the work of the HALO Trust—I extend my condolences for the loss of life—but to all the non-governmental organisation workers on the frontline who take extraordinary risks to do incredible work.

On the International Military Services debt to which my right hon. Friend referred, we have always said that we are committed to resolving that issue. I shall not say more at this point because legal discussions are ongoing and I do not want to prejudice them.

I join the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) in sending our thoughts and best wishes to the victims of the terrible attack on the HALO Trust staff in Afghanistan. Ten people were murdered and many more injured, and I am sure the whole House would want to send best wishes and sympathies.

The proposed plan to increase the UK’s stockpile of nuclear warheads has made it abundantly clear that the Government have ditched multilateralism and embraced unilateralism. Such a reckless move is out of step with all our allies and will have a big impact on our ability to participate in nuclear non-proliferation agreements such as the JCPOA with Iran. What impact does the Foreign Secretary think the proposed increase in warheads will have on our international standing, given that we appear to have abandoned our obligations under article 6 of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty? Will he recommit to those obligations today?

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the maintenance of a minimum credible deterrence has zero impact on the JCPOA talks and is entirely consistent with our non-proliferation obligations.

Foreign Policy and Overseas Aid: Co-ordination

What recent assessment he has made of the potential merits of strengthening co-ordination between foreign policy and overseas aid. (901218)

The creation of the FCDO combines our diplomatic network with our development expertise and resource to maximise our interests, influence and impact as a global force for good. The Foreign Secretary’s strategic oversight of ODA is bringing greater coherence and impact to UK aid, sharpening our focus where we can make the most difference and ensuring that every penny delivers results. The integrated review sets out the ambition for the UK to be a model for an integrated approach to tackling global challenges.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the ministerial team on their part in securing the vaccination commitment to the developing nations at the G7 over the weekend. There are to be 100 million vaccines from the UK, 500 million doses from the US and 100 million from the EU bloc; although not necessarily proportionate, those commitments will have a major impact on the world’s most vulnerable people. Does my hon. Friend agree that the impact of overseas aid is greater when it is integrated with our diplomatic aims?

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend and I am grateful to him for asking that question. As we saw just last weekend at the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, the UK really can achieve much more when diplomatic and political levers combine with our development objectives, be that on vaccines, as he illustrated, or on girls’ education or climate change. We can also use aid commitments to leverage greater financial commitments from other G7 countries and multilaterals. The G7 development-finance institutions and multilateral partners have committed to investing more than $80 billion in the private sector in Africa over the next five years. This is the first time that those institutions have made a collective commitment on funding for Africa. That absolutely demonstrates how the UK’s diplomatic network and development expertise can have a much greater impact when they work together.

Crimes against the Rohingya: Accountability

What diplomatic steps he has taken to help ensure that the Myanmar military personnel responsible for crimes committed against the Rohingya are held to account. (901219)

Accountability is vital. The military has committed atrocities against the Rohingya and other minorities and must be held to account. We have sanctioned 16 individuals, including the commander-in-chief, for human rights violations against the Rohingya. We have sanctioned the two largest military-economic entities, which are both a key source of revenue for the military. We have boosted our funding to the independent investigative mechanism, which preserves evidence for future prosecution, and we have been clear in our support for the International Court of Justice process and that we urge the military to comply with the provisional measures ruling.

May I first extend my solidarity with, and deepest condolences to, the HALO Trust staff who were killed in Afghanistan and to all those who were injured?

Myanmar’s military has been allowed to act with impunity against the Rohingya, and its assault has now widened to the whole population following the military coup earlier this year. At the same time, our Government have unfortunately slashed the budget by nearly half for the refugee camps in Bangladesh, and humanitarian cuts are likely in Myanmar. While the Foreign Secretary is listening, may I ask the Minister once again to reverse those cuts, because they are literally costing lives? Will the Foreign Secretary and the Minister also please consider formally joining Gambia on the genocide prevention case at the ICJ? If they do not agree to do so now after all that has happened and after all that the Myanmar military has done, then when will we formally join, given that we are a leading country in relation to Myanmar?

I know how passionate the hon. Lady is about the situation in Myanmar, particularly on behalf of the Rohingya community. On the ICJ case, we have been absolutely clear in our support for the process. We have urged the military to comply with the provisional measures rulings, and we have provided funding to enable Rohingya refugees to attend those hearings in December 2019.

With regard to aid support, we remain a leading donor to the Rohingya response, providing more than £320 million to the Rohingya response in Bangladesh since 2017. That includes £27.6 million of new funding announced in May in Rakhine State. We have provided more than £44 million to all communities since 2017, including over £25 million for the Rohingya. The Government are providing education, nutrition, water, sanitation, health and livelihoods.

Education of Girls: Covid-19

What assessment he has made of the effect of the covid-19 pandemic on the delivery of 12 years of quality education to girls throughout the world. (901220)

Covid-19 has raised the stakes for girls’ education, deepening the crisis that they already face in basic skills, and too many children have missed crucial schooling since last year, which we know does long-term damage to their future and disproportionately affects girls. The UK is committed to standing up for the right of every girl around the world to 12 years of quality education. That is why the UK has put girls’ education at the heart of our G7 presidency, and we are co-hosting the global education summit with Kenya in July.

I thank my hon. Friend for her response. Does she agree that the G7 announcement on girls’ education represented a huge boost to our efforts to ensure that girls around the world get the education that they need and deserve?

Absolutely. We have put girls’ education at the heart of our G7 presidency and made huge strides in achieving our ambition of standing up for the right of every girl to 12 years of quality education. At the G7 summit in Cornwall, the Prime Minister secured a landmark commitment from our G7 partners to pledge at least $2.7 billion to the Global Partnership for Education ahead of the global education summit. That includes £430 million from the UK, which is an uplift of 15% on our current position as top bilateral donor, and our largest ever pledge to the GPE. That, along with our commitments to getting 40 million more girls into schools and 20 million more girls reading by the age of 10 in the next five years, demonstrates the commitment that this Government are putting into girls’ education.

Sri Lanka: Human Rights

At the UN Human Rights Council in March, we successfully led a new resolution which expresses deep concern about the situation in Sri Lanka and enhances the UN’s monitoring role. For the first time, it requests that the UN collect evidence of human rights violations, for use in future accountability processes. We continue to engage with the Government of Sri Lanka on that process.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Tamils and on behalf of Tamils in Carshalton and Wallington, I thank the FCDO for its work in securing this new resolution at the UNHRC sessions. However, more can and should be done to provide accountability for the brutal war crimes committed during the Sri Lankan civil war. What actions can my hon. Friend take to ensure that evidence collected satisfies conditions for sanctions against current Sri Lankan officials who are credibly accused of overseeing the enforced disappearance and sexual assault of thousands of Sri Lankan civilians during the conflict?

As my hon. Friend will know, this Government have led international efforts over many years to promote accountability, reconciliation and human rights in Sri Lanka, including at the UN Human Rights Council. The new UK-led resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council in March included, for the first time, a request for the UN

“to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve information and evidence”

of human rights abuses and violations so that this can be used to support future accountability processes.

Aid Budget Reduction: Covid-19

What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect of reductions in the UK aid budget on tackling the covid-19 pandemic. (901223)

[Inaudible]—is having on the world’s poorest countries. The FCDO is committed to the global effort to tackle the pandemic. We have made new public commitments worth up to £1.3 billion of ODA to counter the health, humanitarian and socioeconomic impacts of covid-19 and to support the global effort to distribute vaccines equitably, as well as adopting our programmes in 2020 amounting to more than £700 million. As we have heard, the Prime Minister announced at the G7 that the UK will donate 100 million vaccine doses within the next five years, with 5 million of those by the end of September, to ensure global vaccination by the end of 2022.[Official Report, 28 June 2021, Vol. 698, c. 1MC.]

That is simply not good enough. With the failure of the Prime Minister to deliver a credible plan at the G7 for vaccinating the world compounding his savage cuts of 80% to clean water and sanitation programmes, which we all know are the best way of slowing the spread of covid-19, does the Minister agree that the scale and impact of these cuts on the lives and life chances of the poorest people in the world are devastating and that the pandemic will kill more people and actually last longer as a result?

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was following entirely all the announcements at the G7 at the weekend, because we announced that we will donate 100 million vaccine doses within the next year, with 5 million by the end of September. Our Prime Minister led the G7 to help commit to ensure global vaccination by the end of 2022 and also announced his plan to share 1 billion vaccine doses, and to expand vaccine manufacturing as well. When it comes to our ODA commitments, the UK is one of the largest donors to the international response, committing up to £1.3 billion of ODA since the beginning of the crisis, and our overall ODA budget remains at £10 billion, helping the world’s poorest.

North Korea

What recent assessment the Government have made of the political and humanitarian situation in North Korea. (901225)

The threat posed by North Korea continues to grow. Its nuclear and ballistic missiles programmes threaten to destabilise the region and pose a grave threat to international peace and security. The United Kingdom is deeply concerned that humanitarian needs in North Korea may be growing following the closure of its borders in January 2020. We urge North Korea to facilitate access for international humanitarian organisations to carry out an independent assessment of needs and to allow aid to flow freely into that country.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the international community’s complete failure to stop the ongoing brutal treatment and subjugation of the North Korean people is testament to the fact that we need new international structures to tackle the worst human rights abuses outside of the UN Security Council, which is not able to deliver on this and many other issues?

My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue, but he can be reassured that the UK is clear that there must be no impunity for the most serious international crimes. The international community has a responsibility to respond to human rights violations in North Korea. The United Kingdom remains committed to continuing to push for action at all levels to bring pressure to bear on the Government of North Korea.

I listened with great interest to the Minister’s answer, and North Korea really should be higher up our agenda, because there is a looming humanitarian disaster coming in that country. The corn harvest is failing and food prices are now up 30-odd per cent., the border remains closed with China, so imports are not able to alleviate that, and we are also seeing electricity being diverted away from the provinces to Pyongyang—all the actions of a deeply unstable regime, but jeopardising the interests of 25 million people. We have heard great tell about the Indo-Pacific tilt and integrated foreign policy and development, but it really would be a lot more credible if we heard less about aircraft carriers and more about preparations for a pending humanitarian disaster.

The hon. Member is again right to raise this issue. We are extremely concerned about the humanitarian situation in North Korea. He will be aware that our ambassador to North Korea maintains diplomatic relations from London. He routinely discusses issues of concern. We will seek to re-establish our presence in Pyongyang as soon as the border reopens. The Foreign Secretary and other G7 Foreign and Development Ministers made clear on 5 May our deep concern for the welfare of vulnerable communities, particularly in terms of access to adequate water, nutrition and medical facilities. This humanitarian assistance should be delivered consistent with UN Security Council resolutions and humanitarian principles.

Global Poverty and Inequality

What steps he is taking to ensure that tackling global poverty and inequality remains a priority for his Department. (901227)

What steps he is taking to ensure that tackling global poverty and inequality remains a priority for his Department. (901241)

The UK’s overseas development assistance continues to serve the primary purpose of reducing poverty in developing countries. We are proud that we remain firmly committed to helping the world’s poorest, and we will spend £10 billion on overseas development assistance this year—spending more on international aid in 2021 as a proportion of our gross national income than the majority of the G7.

With Brexit, the UK has the freedom to be a truly global nation, not just in trade and diplomacy, but also in leading the world in tackling climate change, poverty and inequality. Does my hon. Friend agree that we have an opportunity to expand our presence abroad, particularly in developing nations, so that we have personnel on the ground who really understand the issues faced in these countries and who can advise on how aid can be specifically targeted to ensure real measurable help is given where it is needed most?

I agree that we have an opportunity to expand our presence abroad, particularly in developing countries. As part of the UK’s diplomatic and development expansion, we now have heads of mission in Lesotho, Vanuatu and Eswatini. We are also opening a new British embassy in Djibouti and upgrading our two existing offices in Chad and Niger to full embassy status.

As a Labour and Co-operative party MP, I am so proud that tackling poverty is at the heart of the co-operative movement. What assurances can the Minister give that the co-operative sectors, which do so much to alleviate poverty in developing countries, will not be impacted by cuts to the aid budget? Will he commit to reinstate the 0.7% aid budget target?

I can certainly commit to going back to 0.7%—that is the Government’s intention when the fiscal situation is right. I can agree to co-operate with co-operatives across the developing world—with a small C and a large C—including the Fairtrade movement.

Overseas Commercial Interests

My hon. Friend asks a very timely question, as the Prime Minister has today announced a free trade agreement with Australia, which will bring fantastic opportunities for British businesses from all over the United Kingdom. The UK-Australia trade relationship was worth more than £13.9 billion last year, and we look forward to it growing even further under this deal. The FCDO has co-ordinated the transition of 150 key international agreements in which the UK previously participated as a member of the EU, including supporting the Department for International Trade to agree bilateral trade agreements with 67 non-EU countries, plus the European Union.

Ahead of English Wine Week next week, would the Minister give me his personal assurance that he will do everything in his power to ensure that our embassies and our high commissions around the world do all they can to promote and showcase this growing and successful English product?

I could not agree more, and I know my hon. Friend and I do our best to support this fantastic industry. There is no better champion for the British wine industry, and he has some superb vineyards in Arundel and South Downs. The quality of our sparkling wines in particular are superb, not least those from north Yorkshire vineyards, including the Yorkshire Heart vineyard in Nun Monkton and the Dunesforde vineyard in Upper Dunsforth. I recommend a visit. He is totally right: there should be no excuse for our embassies, our high commissions and our consulates not stocking British projects, including our wines. I am sure all our ambassadors and high commissioners are watching, so I would ask them to make sure that their cellars are stocked up with British produce, including our fantastic British wines.

Source of Covid-19 Outbreak: Discussions with China

Whether he has had discussions with his Chinese counterpart on the source of the covid-19 outbreak. (901232)

In their call last month, the Foreign Secretary raised the response to the pandemic and global health reform with Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi. The Health Secretary also discussed covid-19 with his Chinese counterpart at the UK-China health dialogue in December 2020. He underlined that a shared understanding of the virus’s origins, grounded in robust science, is vital to global pandemic preparedness.

The covid-19 pandemic has had huge implications for the global economy, for our constituents across this House and for billions of people around the world, so it is vital that we learn the lessons and do not brush anything under the carpet for fear of reprisal. With President Biden having asked US intelligence agencies to investigate the origins of the pandemic, could the Minister reassure me and the House that we will be playing our full part in those efforts, and that we will be putting pressure on the Chinese Government to make sure that they behave in a much more transparent way than they have done to date?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. As he will know, phase 1 of the WHO-convened covid-19 origins study was always meant to be the beginning of the process, not the end. We are working with our international partners to support the timely, transparent, evidence-based and expert-led phase 2 study, including, as recommended by the experts report, in China. World Health Organisation director general Tedros has said that “all hypotheses remain open”, and further data and studies are required. As such, we expect all WHO member states to live up to their responsibilities and co-operate with phase 2.

Middle East: Two-state Solution

The UK remains fully committed to a two-state solution as the best way to permanently end the occupation, deliver Palestinian self-determination and ensure Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories on 25 and 26 May for talks with senior leaders to reaffirm this commitment. We welcome the ceasefire in Israel and Gaza, and we are working with partners in the region to find a durable solution to the conflict. We also look forward to hearing more from the Alliance for Middle East Peace and the US Government about the international fund’s objectives and the projects it will support. Once more information is available, we will consider options for UK involvement.

As the Minister has said, for many years there has been widespread international support for a two-state solution, but he will know that a growing number of voices now say that the window on this is closing rapidly, and that if it does, Israel will have to accept full and equal civil rights for all Palestinians. In the light of this, what policy would he encourage the new Government formed this week to pursue?

We congratulate the new Government on their formation and look forward to working with them in pursuit of the almost universally held goal in this House and across the international community of having a secure, sovereign, prosperous Palestinian state alongside a secure and stable and safe Israeli state. Ultimately it is for the Government of Israel to make decisions about these policies, but, as has been the long-standing position of the UK Government, we will work to support any and all actions which are complementary to or part of the process towards making that sustainable two-state solution through political negotiations a reality.

Despite hosting the G7 in Cornwall this weekend, the Government have yet again missed the opportunity to make global Britain a reality in the middle east by not seizing the initiative for UK leadership of the international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Why did the Government pass over that opportunity, and is there any prospect of the UK stepping up and leading that exciting new project with the United States?

I pay tribute to the right hon. Lady for her passion for finding a peaceful resolution to this situation; it is our shared goal. As I said in my answer, we will look at the detail of what this programme seeks to deliver, and as yet all the details are not available to us. We have always looked favourably on programmes that bring about peace but we want to make sure that they are effective and, as I have said, once we have more details we will assess our contribution or collaboration.

Over the last few weeks I have been contacted by many constituents who are distraught at the loss of civilian life on both sides. Will my right hon. Friend reassure them that the UK continues to work with both sides to avoid future conflict?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary travelled to both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories shortly after the most recent scenes of violence. We enjoy good relations with both the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel, and we will of course be working with the new members of the Israeli Government to pursue the long-standing UK policy of finding a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution. I have no doubt that I speak on behalf of my right hon. Friend when I say that our efforts in this area are undiminished.

May I begin by expressing my sympathies to the families of the HALO Trust staff who lost their lives in Afghanistan? They were killed by an armed group while on a mission clearing land mines; they were extremely brave people and we pay tribute to them.

The British consul in Jerusalem recently visited his neighbours in Sheikh Jarrah. In support of the Palestinians he said that the threat to the community

“grows more acute by the day”.

He correctly stated that,

“Settlement activity & associated evictions & demolitions”

in East Jerusalem

“are illegal and undermine prospects for peace.”

Those are powerful words but what is needed is action, so what do the Government propose to do to ensure that Palestinians in East Jerusalem can live in peace and security, and that the rule of law prevails in East Jerusalem?

The UK Government’s position on demolitions, settlement expansion and annexation is clear and long-standing. As I have said, we enjoy good bilateral relations with the Government of Israel and are able to speak with them frankly and firmly when we believe that their actions are counterproductive to a peaceful two-state solution. We will continue to do so, but ultimately the resolution to this long-standing challenge will be through negotiations between the Government of Israel and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, supported—perhaps even facilitated—by their friends in the international community, such as the United Kingdom.

Topical Questions

Since the last oral questions I have visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to discuss how to reinforce the ceasefire. I also visited Saudi Arabia and saw at first hand the changes under Saudi Vision 2030, including greater rights for women, which we have been very much supporting; visited Iraq to support free and fair elections in October; and, of course, joined the Prime Minister in Carbis Bay for the G7 summit, which under his presidency delivered groundbreaking pledges on international vaccines, decisive action on climate change and G7 commitments to get 40 million more girls into 12 years of quality education.

Nepal is in a deep covid crisis, with thousands of people dying each week because of the lack of oxygen supply and ventilators, and the severe lack of vaccines. Without urgent help from the UK Government, more lives will be lost. Can the Secretary of State outline what additional support the UK Government are providing following the visit last month by medical advisers to Nepal?

I am very concerned about the situation in Nepal. The UK announced very recently an additional support package, and I will write to the hon. Gentleman to set out the full details, so that he has all of that to hand.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments about the workers serving so bravely in the HALO Trust in Afghanistan. He knows as well as I do that many other people are serving the Afghan community, and indeed the international community, by seeking to assist women and girls in education, to help farmers, and to fight the corruption in various institutions—and, indeed, the drugs business that has blighted so many lives.

Can the Secretary of State, today at the Dispatch Box, redouble his commitment to the Afghan National Defence and Security Force and to supporting all those institutions that made such a difference in protecting the Afghan population, and that really are the legacy of the British Army and many other armies’ continuous operations in Afghanistan over much of the last 20 years? Will he ensure that the sacrifice of all those who fought in Afghanistan, and all those who have given so much to rebuilding it, will not go to waste in aid cuts that are so unnecessary?

My hon. Friend is right to point to the precarious situation in Afghanistan. We had long, detailed talks not just with the United States at Carbis Bay but with other allies. We had the NATO summit as well, which has been an opportunity to reinforce the need to stand by those who have stood by us in the way that my hon. Friend the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee described, and to ensure that we encourage a political dialogue to avoid the spectre, or the risk, of civil war and that we bank not just the security gains from all the blood, sweat and tears that have been spent in Afghanistan, but a more inclusive Government.

I associate myself with the tributes paid to the brave workers of the HALO Trust and put on record our unequivocal condemnation of the targeting of a BBC journalist outside Parliament yesterday. Press freedom is under attack around the world; we must defend it here.

Yesterday, NATO recognised China as a systemic challenge to our security and the values that underpin it for the first time. While we welcome the reference to forced labour in the G7 communiqué, the failure to agree concrete measures in relation to Xinjiang was a missed opportunity to send a clear message that the world stands against genocide and anyone who seeks to profit from it. Can the Secretary of State assure us that he and the Prime Minister supported the stronger language and tougher measures that President Biden made it clear were needed, and that, despite the failure of the G7 to agree them, he will continue to do so?

I agree with much of what the hon. Lady said. Of course, she will know that there are varied views at the G7, including among our European partners, about quite how robust to be with China on some of these issues. She will know, because of the stance that the United Kingdom has taken in the Human Rights Council, the UN General Assembly, the United Nations and other forums, and indeed from the statements that we have put out and the sanctions that we have imposed in relation to Xinjiang, how importantly we take the issue, but the reality is that in relation to China, on this and many other issues, we need to be able to carry a broader group of like-minded countries with us. That is why the Prime Minister invited India, South Korea and Australia to join the G7 as guests, and why it is important to engage with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the way that we have been doing.

While I welcome that, if we want to carry a broader group of like-minded countries with us we need to lead by example. Does the Secretary of State regret whipping his MPs to support preferential trade deals with countries that commit genocide? Can he tell us why, last week, his Government turned down almost every single recommendation made by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee to get tough with China over forced labour in Xinjiang, and why the Minister for Exports, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), told parliamentarians last week:

“China offers more opportunity for the UK economy than perhaps any other market”?

The sheer incoherence of that approach is what, time and again, causes the Government to come up short. It gives us the absurd spectacle of Ministers standing up for human rights in the morning and then defending trade deals with countries that commit genocide in the afternoon. Will he please get a grip on that across Government, because who in the world could rely on a Government who cannot even rely on themselves?

I think the hon. Lady is a bit confused. Can she name a single country with which the United Kingdom under this Government is engaged on FTA negotiations that has committed anything close to genocide? Of course it is unthinkable; of course we would not do it. [Interruption.] Incorrect. What we have done—[Interruption.] She is chuntering from a sedentary position because she knows what she is saying is bereft of substance. We have imposed—we led the way in imposing—sanctions on Xinjiang. We have raised it at the G7 level. It is absolutely inconceivable that the UK would do a trade deal with any country that has engaged in genocide. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady is chuntering again. It is absolute nonsense.

It is right, though, to say that we want a constructive and positive relationship, where that is possible, with China across the piece. In areas such as climate change, the hon. Lady talks a good game but does not seem to understand the elbow grease that needs to go into it. We need to have a conversation with China, because it is the biggest emitter and the biggest investor in renewable technologies, but we have demonstrated time and again that we never shrink from standing up for our values. She talks a good game; we do the business.

My right hon. Friend knows my concern about the impact of deforestation around the world. At the moment I am particularly concerned about what is happening in Brazil, where, far from giving greater protection to the Amazon rainforest, the Brazilian Government appear to be moving in a direction that will allow greater deforestation. Please will he take every step possible to put pressure on the Brazilian Government to ensure that that does not happen, and that protections for the Amazon are increased, not reduced? (901276)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. On the positive side, we welcome President Bolsonaro’s commitment to reach zero illegal deforestation by 2030, and we are working with the Brazilian Government to address some of the underlying factors that fuel deforestation, including trying to get sustainable production of agricultural commodities—an issue not just in Brazil but around the world. Through international finance programmes, we have committed £259 million to help protect the Amazon, which has already enabled clearance of 430,000 acres to be avoided.

The Government are fully aware that my constituent, Mr Anoosheh Ashoori, has been detained as hostage in Iran because of his British citizenship, with declining health and no contact with his family. Does the Secretary of State agree that Anoosheh should receive the benefit of every tool the Government have to secure his release, including diplomatic protection? If he does, will he update us on Anoosheh’s diplomatic status, and confirm whether dual nationals being held in Iran were discussed at the G7 summit? (901277)

I have had long conversations with the families of Anoosheh Ashoori and all the other dual nationals who have been detained. Nothing is more moving or heartbreaking in this job than seeing the situation of dual nationals in Iran and, indeed, of nationals and dual nationals around the world, and I have been intensively engaged in trying to resolve this. With other issues, it was something I discussed with our US friends at Carbis Bay. I am doing absolutely everything I can to secure the release and return home of all our detained dual nationals in Iran and, indeed, around the world.

I congratulate the Foreign Secretary and his whole team on delivering such a successful G7 summit in Carbis Bay. I welcome the generous contribution to the replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education. May I ask for an assurance that as our economy recovers, we will revert to 0.7% of GNP for overseas development assistance, and that our contribution represents merely the foundation of our ambition to ensure that every child in the world gets 12 years of quality education? (901282)

I thank my hon. Friend for making those points. I can assure her that in all the conversations we have about our commitment to Africa and to the broader world, ensuring 12 years of quality education for girls remains the top priority. We recognise that, as the Prime Minister has said on many occasions, it is the Swiss Army knife for global problems, and it will remain a high priority for us, both in this part of the world and more broadly.

While the Foreign Secretary was in Cornwall over the weekend, I was out knocking on doors in Chesham and Amersham. I spoke to lifelong Conservative voters, who told me that they were angry that the Government have broken their promises to them and the world’s poorest by cutting the aid budget. They said that they were planning to stay at home or vote Lib Dem for the very first time. Does the Secretary of State agree with them that, if someone wants to send a message to the Government on cuts to the aid budget, they should vote Lib Dem? (901278)

I am glad that the folk of Chesham and Amersham managed to have a rare sighting of a Lib Dem. I went to school in Amersham, and I can tell the hon. Lady that I do not think that they will be that daft come election day.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a successful G7 conference in Conservative Cornwall. During my time at the Royal College of Defence Studies, I led a seminar on the South China sea, and through my interest in fisheries I have gained knowledge on the UN convention on the law of the sea. Could he tell me what his Department is doing to encourage a code of conduct for the area that reflects UNCLOS? (901284)

I started life as a maritime lawyer, so I can geek on UNCLOS with the best of them. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s expertise in this area. We welcome the negotiations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on a code of conduct relating to UNCLOS. What is really important is that that reflects and is faithful to the international obligations in one of the world’s most widely ratified international treaties that is widely regarded as reflective of custom in international law. A code of conduct should not be used by China to unpick the obligations under UNCLOS.

Can I just say that I am very disappointed that lots of Members have not got in? Those who asked questions and those who responded to them should consider others because, unfortunately, I am now ending questions and suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements for the next business to be made.

Sitting suspended.