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Topical Questions

Volume 699: debated on Tuesday 20 July 2021

Is the Foreign Secretary concerned about the deliberate erosion of trust in America’s electoral system—in particular, what is playing out in Arizona—and what lessons should be learned here, where, as in America, there is no evidence of electoral fraud on anything other than a minuscule scale? Does he really think the Elections Bill is going to help or hinder our democracy?

We obviously follow attacks on any democracy—particularly, as we have talked about, through misinformation or cyber-crime—very carefully. Ultimately, we work in collaboration with partners such as the US and we will take our lead from them.

Mr Speaker, thank you very much for calling me. The line from Kent is pretty terrible, I am afraid, but that is a complaint for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Today, on Eid al-Adha, will the Foreign Secretary join me in welcoming the number of Muslim communities in the UK who have come from abroad to make their lives here, but will he also reach out to Muslim communities around the world and ask them to stand with the people of Xinjiang, who this year will not be celebrating—as, indeed, they have not been celebrating for many years—under the rule of the Chinese Communist party and the authoritarian dictatorship that it has caused?

I thank my hon. Friend, and he is absolutely right. We celebrate the role of all communities and all religions in this country: they make Britain what it is. He is absolutely right to say—I regularly raise it with my colleagues and opposite numbers overseas—that particularly in Muslim-majority countries it seems there is not quite as much concern as in the UK and other western, non-Muslim-majority countries about human rights abuses. This is an actor-agnostic issue; it is merely about treatment—persecution—based on religion, creed or ethnicity. We call on all countries to uphold those basic values, but particularly those most directly affected with the victims in Xinjiang.

Last week, the Government finally gave the EU ambassador the legal recognition they so arrogantly denied him earlier this year, and last month we saw the Government’s needlessly antagonistic approach towards our European partners overshadow the G7 summit and consequently hamper international efforts to tackle pressing global challenges. Does the Foreign Secretary now accept that this was a mistake that has undermined our relationship with Europe, and will he commit to treating our European partners as equals to ensure that we can work together on common concerns such as security, freedom of speech, covid and climate change?

Particularly after the Harry Dunn case, and what we learned about the risk of finding gaps in immunity—including long-standing gaps that date back to the last Labour Government—I will make no apologies for being very careful with EU representation, which falls somewhere between a normal international organisation and a sovereign Government’s mission. We must ensure that privileges and immunities are tailored to their functional need, and that we do not find ourselves with a gap. That means that we can hold people to account for ordinary crimes, as the public would expect. Frankly, given the various voices from the Labour Front Bench who have raised the case of Harry Dunn, I am utterly surprised that the hon. Lady would not expect us to take such a rigorous approach.

I have been in correspondence with the Minister for European Neighbourhood and the Americas with respect to a complex constituency case. What help can FCDO officials give to constituents who have favourable court orders in both this country and another jurisdiction to repatriate a child to the UK, but who face constant battles and hurdles to do so? (903053)

My hon. Friend raises an important point on a very sensitive issue. International child parental abduction is a hugely distressing matter for the parents and families affected, and they have my deepest sympathy. Consular officials can provide support to British people affected by such issues both overseas and here in the UK. Officials can advise left-behind parents about the most effective way to make local authorities aware of the court orders they hold. Where appropriate, the FCDO can express an interest in the case with the relevant court and other local authorities. We can also put families in touch with partner organisations, such as Reunite International, which offers specialised support and mediation services. We can liaise with local authorities and, with the permission of UK courts, present with court orders served in the UK, but it is important to note that the FCDO is not a law enforcement body and is unable to enforce court orders in the UK overseas. We are unable to compel foreign jurisdictions to enforce UK—

Earlier this month the FCDO published its human rights and democracy report, which lists in total 31 human rights priority countries. The UK Government currently grant licences to sell arms to 23 out of those 31 countries. How can the granting of those licences be reconciled with any meaningful commitment on the part of the UK Government to improve the human rights of those who live in those countries? (903051)

We take our responsibilities on those issues very seriously. We have one of the most stringent export control regimes in the world, and we regularly review it. At the same time, with our introduction for the first time ever in this country of an autonomous human rights sanction regime, the so-called Sergei Magnitsky sanctions regime, we have shown that from Xinjiang to the murder of Khashoggi and the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar, we will not hesitate to hold those who violate serious fundamental rights to account.

The Minister for Middle East and North Africa indicated earlier that the Government have yet to consider joining the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, because they are awaiting further information. Why are the Government not showing more initiative in working with the US to drive that? Our chief negotiator in Northern Ireland held a similar initiative, the International Fund for Ireland, to be the great unsung hero of the peace process. Does the Minister agree that the middle east need be no different? (903052)

As I said earlier, the UK values and welcomes means for Israelis and Palestinians to work more closely together, and we call on the leadership of both to do so at Government and Palestinian Authority level. We work closely with our US counterparts, and we will continue working with them as they put more details on that fund. Once they are in a position to engage with us in more detail, we will consider that in due course.

I have received more than 2,000 emails from constituents raising their concerns about violence towards worshippers at al-Aqsa mosque, and the threatened evictions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah. In response to those concerns, will my right hon. Friend outline what steps he has taken to raise those issues directly with the Israeli Government? (903055)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised this very issue with his Israeli counterpart, I have raised it with the Israeli ambassador, and we have consistently called for sensitivity in the security arrangements around the most holy sites in Jerusalem. We continue to call for a permanent ceasefire, and we will continue to work with all parties, both in the west bank and in Israel, to pursue that aim.

The Foreign Office is funding projects exploring why modern slavery is taking place in Malaysian factories. The Foreign Secretary need not look far; he can just ask the Health Secretary, because the Department of Health and Social Care has purchased more than 760 million rubber gloves for the NHS from Malaysian factories accused of using slave labour during the pandemic. Can the Foreign Secretary tell me—perhaps this time I will get an answer, unlike when I have asked a number of his colleagues this question—why, if the Foreign Office views this as a serious problem, his colleagues in the Department of Huealth and Social Care do not? (903059)

We scrutinise very carefully any allegations—the hon. Gentleman has called them allegations—of human rights abuses. I can tell him about the supply of rubber gloves from Malaysia. At the peak of the pandemic, when we were seeking personal protective equipment for our NHS staff on the frontline, in care homes, we of course looked at all possible suppliers, including Malaysia, which is one of the biggest global suppliers of rubber gloves.

Following the G7 summit, with its focus on vaccinations and their global roll-out, does my hon. Friend agree that the challenges of antimicrobial resistance are at least as great and therefore need a similar focus in terms of research, manufacturing and distribution? (903056)

AMR is one of the most pressing global challenges we face this century, and the UK is a global leader in taking action on AMR. We champion it as a priority on the international stage, including through our G7 presidency and the work of Professor Dame Sally Davies, the UK’s special envoy on AMR. Since 2014, we have invested more than £360 million in research and development on AMR.

I and many of my constituents are horrified by the increasing hostility and outright homophobia and transphobia shown by the Hungarian Government towards their LGBT+ citizens. It is shameful that the UK Government are treating Viktor Orbán like a close friend when we should be making clear that such discrimination is anathema to British values. Does the Secretary of State regret the decision to roll out the red carpet to Viktor Orbán and welcome him into No. 10 just a few weeks ago? (903061)

The Prime Minister did indeed meet Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán on 28 May. Co-operation with Hungary, as the incoming president of the Visegrad Group from 1 July, is important for the UK’s prosperity and security. As hon. Members would expect, the Prime Minister raised various values in his meeting, such as media freedom and issues of discrimination. I can assure you, Mr Speaker, that where we have issues of concern, we do not shy away from raising them.

This month marks six years since the joint comprehensive plan of action nuclear deal was signed, yet Iran has faced no consequences for its flagrant violations of the deal. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that Iran has failed to live up to its nuclear commitments, and will he confirm that nothing is off the table, including the reimposition of sanctions? (903057)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point to the continued systemic non-compliance by Iran with its JCPOA commitments. Of course, Iran is still subject to wide-ranging sanctions. We strongly urge Iran to halt all its activities in violation of the JCPOA and, in line with the new US position, come back to the table and make sure that we can conclude a return to the JCPOA. I would just say that we do not believe that those negotiations can remain open-ended forever.

Eid Mubarak to Muslims celebrating both in Luton South and around the world, but for those living in Palestine, their Eid al-Adha celebrations will not be peaceful or safe. Does the Secretary of State agree that attempts to get a meaningful peace process back up and running are made harder by the building of settlements and the eviction of Palestinians, which entrench division and are illegal under international law? (903065)

I totally agree with the hon. Lady. I have been out to both Israel and the west bank twice. We are a stalwart supporter of Israel, but we also, not least because of our principled approach to international law, make it clear, whether on the evictions, the demolitions in Jerusalem or the broader question of settlement building, that they are not just contrary to international law but entirely counterproductive to the peace set-up we need to see for a durable two-state solution for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the best possible investments the UK can make with its aid budget is in the education of girls globally? Will he outline the steps he is taking to further that aim at the Global Partnership for Education next week? [Interruption.] (903060)

Labour Members are talking about cuts. We have just made the biggest ever donation to the Global Partnership for Education, a 15% increase on last time. As a result, at the G7 we corralled one of the biggest G7 sets of donations—close to $3 billion. We are hosting, with our Kenyan friends, the Global Education summit in the next few days. The point is that, through the leadership of our official development assistance contribution and our diplomatic leadership, we are bringing the world together in pursuit of two targets: 40 million more girls receiving 12 years quality education, and 20 million more girls literate by the age of 10.

It is cheering to see the new US Administration repairing relations that the previous President damaged. Will we take a leaf out of our closest ally’s book and recognise the 2 million dead under the Ottoman empire from 1915 to 1923 as Armenian genocide, as Biden and dozens of other states worldwide have done? Can we also commit to playing our part to resolve current disputes with Azerbaijan? (903066)

Our position on the Armenian genocide is unchanged, but certainly in relation to the other disputes the hon. Lady mentioned, we of course work with the international community to try to alleviate the plight of those on all sides who are suffering.

The situation in Tigray is truly horrifying, and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia sparked fears of further mass atrocities by saying that the “weeds” of Tigray will be crushed. What steps is the UK taking to urgently de-escalate the conflict, and map out Ethiopian and Eritrean forces perpetrating atrocities so that they can be held accountable? Will the new conflict centre look at what further steps, such as Magnitsky sanctions, can be taken to alleviate the crisis? (903062)

The UK is supporting the joint investigation into abuses and violations in Tigray, which will inform actions against those identified as having committed abuses or violations. I want to be very clear: we will consider all—all—policy options in response. We will also co-sponsor a resolution at the July Human Rights Council, and conflict experts are providing technical advice to guide our response during this crisis.

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

Sitting suspended.