The Secretary of State was asked—
Losing Loved Ones Overseas: Support
Losing a loved one is always extremely difficult, particularly if it happens overseas. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office supports about 4,000 families affected by death abroad annually. Consular staff work tirelessly to provide information on local laws and systems, and offer tailored support to British people and their families in order to make arrangements.
In my constituency, we have sadly had two recent and high-profile cases of families losing a loved one abroad, including Susan and John Cooper in Egypt, and more recently Kelsey Devlin in Pakistan. Will my right hon. Friend look into those two cases to see whether there is anything further that the Foreign Office can do in order that the families can finally get the answers they need so that they can grieve?
May I first offer my deepest sympathies to my hon. Friend’s constituents following the deaths of their loved ones? Officials continue to support Mr and Mrs Cooper’s family and are working with Her Majesty’s Coroner and Egyptian authorities to enable the inquest to take place as soon as possible. My officials are also supporting Ms Devlin’s family, and will assist them in reporting their concerns surrounding this tragic case to the police in Pakistan. I would also like to offer to meet my hon. Friend to discuss these two cases.
Does the Minister agree that although charities such as the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust in Northern Ireland do a tremendous job in assisting with complex repatriation, there is a greater role and need for a Government-led repatriation section to be established?
Palestinian Authority: ODA
Development programmes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories work to preserve the prospect of a negotiated two-state solution and simultaneously to improve the lives of Palestinians, in line with the UK’s long-standing approach to the middle east peace process. Although the UK will no longer provide direct funding to the Palestinian Authority, we understand the importance of capacity building of Palestinian institutions.
Earlier this year, the long-awaited EU review into the Palestinian Authority’s school curriculum was published, and it confirmed numerous examples of antisemitism. I note the Minister’s recent announcement that the UK is no longer funding Palestinian teachers to draft and deliver this curriculum, but will he ensure that any further UK support to Palestinian education is conditional on a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism, and that that is shown at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East?
I assure my hon. Friend that the UK Government take a zero-tolerance approach to anti- semitism, wherever it is. The reduction in funding to the Palestinian Authority was in direct response to the official development assistance prioritisation review, which was itself in response to the economic constraints driven by covid. We do, however, continue to support the Palestinians through the UNRWA. We will ensure that, as we have done, we continue to press for that education curriculum to be devoid of any examples of antisemitism.
I obviously totally agree with bringing pressure to bear on issues such as antisemitism. Nevertheless, the humanitarian crisis that exists in Gaza in particular ought to shock the world, with a lack of access to clean water and of proper education, particularly for young girls and women in Gaza. As a country, we still ought to support the provision of those things. Can the Minister give us a clear understanding of when that assistance will return, because it matters?
As I said, the UK continues to support UNRWA, which does fantastic work in both the west bank and Gaza. On my recent trip to Egypt, I spoke with Egyptian officials about the work that they had done to help to support Gaza after the conflict. The best thing that we can all do for the people of Gaza, the OPTs and the wider region is to push for a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution. That will remain the foundation stone of the UK’s policy in the region.
I welcome the new Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and I hope that she has a long and welcome time in that place.
How can this Government be serious about supporting the peace process and striving for reconciliation when they are cutting aid spending by 71%? With further deeply damaging cuts expected in tomorrow’s Budget and spending review, does the Minister not see that slashing the aid budget fundamentally undermines our national security as well as being against our national interest?
I remind the House that because of covid this country experienced the worst economic contraction in three centuries, and it was absolutely right that we responded to that. We remain, in both absolute and percentage terms, one of the most generous aid donors in the world. We are proud of that record, as I and my right hon. Friends in Government have said. We aim to return to 0.7% as soon as the fiscal situation allows.
Economic and Security Ties with Allies
We are deepening our economic and security ties with allies, including the United States, members of the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, and India. We need to win the battle for economic influence through free enterprise and economies based on democracy.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I was in New Delhi and Mumbai last week doing just that. India is a key strategic partner for the United Kingdom. It is the world’s largest democracy. There are huge opportunities. We are shortly about to launch trade talks with India and we are working to increase two-way investment flows.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary to her role and congratulate her on becoming the second woman in history to hold the post. I think I speak for Labour Members when I say that we look forward to welcoming the third. The Foreign Secretary is right to make delivering build back better a priority. COP26 will fail without a commitment to clean and reliable infrastructure in the developing world. We will never be taken seriously in Beijing if we do not claw back some of the influence we have lost in the world. She is right to identify that being a pushover with the Treasury does nothing for our national interest and nothing for our national security. However, the non-official development aid budget has been halved—ODA spending is down by £4 billion—and the Treasury’s accounting tricks will leave her coffers almost empty. With just days to go until the most important climate summit in a generation, has she clawed back some of that funding in tomorrow’s Budget, or will we see the same story playing out of a Foreign Secretary who is not taken seriously in Beijing because she is not taken seriously around her own Cabinet table?
I thank the hon. Lady for her warm welcome to the Dispatch Box. I look forward to working with her over the coming years—many, many years. I do not think the Chancellor would be very happy if I announced the spending review today—and I am not sure you, Mr Speaker, would be very happy either. However, I assure her that we are absolutely prioritising our humanitarian aid budget. We are prioritising women and girls as part of our development budget, and we are prioritising investing in honest, reliable infrastructure in developing countries, particularly clean, green infrastructure.
If the Foreign Secretary is still the only person in this country who has not seen the contents of the Budget, may I refer her to the Daily Mail, which has the entire read-out for her and for the rest of us?
When the Foreign Secretary’s budget has been devastated over the past 10 years of Tory Government, can she not see the problem with no new money being announced in the Budget tomorrow? The Department she inherited was hollowed out under her predecessor and everything that she says she plans to do depends on her ability to reverse that. This House needs not more words but a serious plan. Only a few months ago, Members of this House made clear our view that what has been happening in Xinjiang constitutes genocide. She is an enthusiastic supporter of the UK’s application to join the trans-Pacific partnership, which she mentioned in relation to an earlier question. However, China’s application leaves open the very prospect that this House sought to avoid and that her predecessor blocked. We should not be entering into preferential trade arrangements with countries that commit genocide. If she cannot give the House guarantees that she has won the battle for resources, can she at least guarantee that she will veto China’s membership if the application is successful?
I completely agree with the hon. Lady about the terrible atrocities that are taking place in Xinjiang, and I raised that with the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, on the phone last week, as well as our concerns over Hong Kong, which I have also raised publicly. It is important that we trade with China, but we need to ensure that it is reliable trade, that it avoids strategic dependency and that it does not involve the violation of intellectual property rights or forced technology transfer. I urge China to respect the rules of the World Trade Organisation. Of course, the United Kingdom is not yet a member of the CPTPP, so we do not have rights over decisions, but I am clear that any country that enters the CPTPP needs to follow its high rules and standards, including high environmental and labour standards.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend to her place at the Dispatch Box. Given her past experience and her former jobs, can she tell us how she will build on the economic power of the United Kingdom to develop our strategic influence around the world? This country grew rich not on the force of arms, but on the force of law and the different ways in which we have traded and travelled around the world. It would be fantastic to hear from her how she will use the office she now holds to defend the place of law both at home and abroad and to shape our alliances to promote our interests.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that developing our economic ties with like-minded allies is vital to developing our influence in the world and also the influence of free enterprise, freedom and democracy. That is why we are pursuing trade deals with the likes of the CPTPP, India and the United States, which are all democratic and free enterprise-based. We now have a unique opportunity, as post-Brexit Britain, with all the tools at our disposal—development, trade, diplomacy and security—to build those links that I describe as a network of liberty across the world.
I know the Foreign Secretary will agree that the sharply reducing ice in the Arctic is producing huge environmental challenges and serious economic and commercial opportunities, but also therefore an increase in security risks and the possibility of militarisation of one kind or another. Does she agree that the Arctic is an area worthy of intense diplomatic activity in the years to come?
I also welcome the Foreign Secretary to her place. Like many other Members, I look forward to seeing many more glossy pictures of her in exciting places around the world doing her job looking fabulous. Perhaps she should sign them for Members keen to have more images of her.
We will get a signed copy for you.
That would be most kind, if the Minister can arrange that. Consistency in international law is vital for credibility and for building trust, none more importantly than in Cyprus, where part of the island remains under illegal occupation. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the only basis for peace in Cyprus is a bizonal, bicommunal federation and that any speculation —we have heard some speculation—to the contrary would be deeply unhelpful and a retrograde step?
I am pleased to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s reading material. What I would say on the subject of Cyprus is that the UK supports a comprehensive settlement based on previous parameters set out in the UN Security Council resolution, so I do not agree with the premise of his question.
The security situation in Afghanistan remains fragile and volatile. Islamic State has launched deadly terror attacks, including at Kabul airport and a number of Shi’a mosques. The situation for women and girls has become even more difficult since the Taliban took power. Women are now largely absent from public life and barred from many roles in the workplace. We continue to press the Taliban to allow secondary education for girls to ensure full and equal access to education for all. Between April and 18 October, we disbursed nearly £35 million of life-saving humanitarian support to Afghanistan.
Before the Taliban took control, more than 3.5 million girls were in school, and many more were in university and vital roles across the Afghan economy. Taliban spokesmen say that girls can go to school, yet in many areas they are permitted only up to grade 6 or 7, and in some areas they are not permitted at all. There is a growing gap between the Taliban’s promises and the reality. To those girls and women, it must feel that the doors that opened over the last two decades are slamming shut in their faces, and those who have stood against that have been met by violence. What are our Government doing to give them hope?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question about this incredibly important issue. This year, we are doubling our humanitarian and development assistance to Afghanistan to £286 million, including for women and girls. We continue to press the Taliban to ensure that women play a full and equal role in life and that girls of all ages can go to school, holding the Taliban to the commitments that they have made. On 5 October, the Prime Minister’s high representative for the Afghan transition, Sir Simon Gass, travelled to Afghanistan and held talks directly with the Taliban in which they discussed the humanitarian crisis and we pushed for improved rights for women and girls.
I thank my right hon. Friend for grouping my question. Many colleagues on the Government Benches and across the House have made representations to the Department regarding specific individuals in Afghanistan whose lives, or whose families’ lives, are at risk and would benefit from UK support similar to that given in previous years to our country’s agencies and armed forces while in Afghanistan. If former UK special forces members can vouch for certain individuals, why has the Minister’s Department not acted quickly to patriate these individuals to the safety of the UK? Would it help if they played football?
The Afghan relocations and assistance policy is designed to allow Afghan nationals who served alongside Her Majesty’s armed forces and wider Government in Afghanistan, and those whom we judge to be at serious risk because of that service, to settle in the UK. We continue to assist those who were called forward under that scheme during Operation Pitting. Sadly, we were not able to evacuate all, but we continue to seek to evacuate those who can be evacuated.
My hon. Friend referred to football—I take it that he means the Afghan junior women’s football team. As we have just discussed, the situation for women in Afghanistan is particularly acute and we are prioritising those people who are at serious risk of reprisals.
Further to the question from the hon. Member for Lincoln (Karl MᶜCartney), the Minister will know that hundreds of people, including men who I served alongside, remain stranded in Afghanistan. Many are being hunted by the Taliban, and some have already been murdered, all because of their association with us. Will the Minister say a bit more about what the Government are doing to ensure that those who risk their lives for us are afforded safe passage out of Afghanistan?
I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for the question. He is right that many people in the House—himself included—have served alongside incredibly brave members of the Afghan armed forces, translators and others who supported our work while we attempted to support the Afghans. The ARAP scheme is designed specifically to facilitate their evacuation from Afghanistan. He, perhaps more than most, will understand the practical difficulties in executing that on the ground.
My noble Friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon speaks regularly with the countries in the neighbourhood to facilitate the evacuation from Afghanistan. I assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the UK Government take incredibly seriously the debt of honour that we owe to those brave Afghans who are currently in danger because of their support for our work in the country.
I realise that the Government can do much more for at-risk Afghan women who have managed to cross the border and are outside the country. One thing they can do for at-risk Afghans who are still in Afghanistan is link the provision of extra aid with their not being persecuted. How explicit are we making that link? How strongly are we exploiting that leverage?
My right hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. I assure him that we hold the Taliban to their word. They will be judged on their actions, rather than just on what they have said. Clearly, they now find themselves the de facto Government of Afghanistan. We have made it clear that the support from us and the wider international community will be contingent on their behaving in a way that they have said that they intend to behave. We will always base our decisions on Afghanistan on the facts on the ground, not just on the words of Taliban spokespeople.
Like the shadow Foreign Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), I welcome the Foreign Secretary and her team to their places.
It has emerged that our ambassador in Kabul sent a series of diplomatic cables to the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), in July and August, warning him that Kabul would fall at pace and with little resistance. The former Foreign Secretary’s response to those urgent telegrams was to go on holiday. Will the new Foreign Secretary assure the House that she is putting early-warning systems in place across her Department to ensure that such a catastrophic failure of decision making is never allowed to occur again? Will she commit to coming to the House within the shortest possible timescale to make a statement outlining our political, diplomatic, economic and security strategy for Afghanistan, as opposed to making policy on the hoof, as her predecessor did?
The hon. Gentleman takes the opportunity to talk about things that have been widely discussed in this House, rather than about the future. That is of course up to him. The former Foreign Secretary explained his actions and there is nothing much more that I can add. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the ministerial team that she leads remain entirely focused on ensuring that where we can exert influence to bring about peace and stability in Afghanistan, we will continue to do so.
G20 Rome Summit
The G20 Rome summit is an opportunity to rally the most powerful nations to tackle the ongoing covid-19 crisis and to secure a sustainable, inclusive recovery. The summit this weekend is immediately before the UK hosts COP26. We will work to build a consensus on climate objectives and to drive forward priorities on health, girls’ education and the economic recovery to build back better.
The Minister mentioned in her answer tackling the covid-19 pandemic. Last week, WHO’s ambassador for global health financing, Gordon Brown, shared that 240 million doses of covid-19 vaccine are lying unused. Will the Minister set out what will be prioritised at the G20 to ensure that the poorest nations around the world can gain access to those unused vaccines? As has been said many times, we are not all vaccinated until everyone is vaccinated.
This is a global pandemic and we need to get the global population vaccinated. That is why we led the way at the G7 summit earlier in the year, where the Prime Minister committed to sharing 100 million doses by June 2022, 80% of which will go to COVAX. We need to ensure that the global population gets vaccinated.
One of the best ways to ensure a global recovery from the covid pandemic is to enable northern businesses to trade freely across the world. One of the biggest challenges is the non-tariff barriers that they face in advance of any trade deal. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister confirm to the House what support is available through our embassy network and how do businesses access it?
My right hon. Friend is a real campaigner for the north of England. Having lived there for 15 years, I know that it is very important. I have just come back from a visit to the Philippines, Singapore and Japan, and one of the things I saw was posts doing everything they can to promote British business on the ground to ensure trade links in exports and in foreign direct investment.
I welcome the Minister to her place. She mentioned her visit to the Pacific, but the G20 also includes one African representative, and it usually invites the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development. I hope that the specific economic health climate and the humanitarian crises affecting some countries in Africa will be discussed, not least because we heard yesterday about the terrible events in Sudan. I also hope that the UK will raise the worsening situation in Ethiopia, which is a past G20 invitee, given the resumption of attacks on Mekelle, human rights atrocities, and the humanitarian crisis affecting people in Tigray and beyond. What will the Government be doing specifically on that issue at the G20, other than cutting our assistance to Africa?
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, there was an urgent question yesterday about the situation in Sudan. The situation in northern Ethiopia is dire, and the UK condemns the ongoing violence and the spread of the conflict into Afar and Amhara, as well as the airstrikes impacting civilians and the ongoing human rights abuses and violations. We call on both sides urgently to implement a ceasefire and for the Eritrean forces to depart, and to seek a solution.
Pakistan: Maira Shahbaz
We strongly condemn forced marriage and the forced conversion of women and girls, including in Pakistan. We regularly raise our concerns, including individual cases, at a senior level with the Pakistani authorities. We fund projects in Pakistan to address child and forced marriages, gender-based violence, and discrimination and intolerance, especially against minorities.
At the age of 14, Maira Shahbaz was abducted, forced into a marriage against her will, and raped. She managed to escape, and she is living in fear for her life in one room with her entire family. We have now been campaigning for over a year, 12,000 people have signed a petition, and we saw the Home Secretary. Can the Foreign Office not do more? Is it for fear of alienating the Pakistan Government, to whom we give £300 million a year? Can we have action this day to move the court case on, get her out, and get her to safety in the United Kingdom?
My right hon. Friend will understand that it is difficult and sometimes counterproductive to discuss individual cases in detail, as to do so could put individuals and their families at risk. The House, and indeed hon. Members, will have heard his points, and I assure him that requests for asylum will be considered on their merits.
Child marriage is an abhorrent practice wherever it is found, and I urge the House to support the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) in her Bill to ban it in this country. I welcome the Foreign Secretary to her place, and particularly the fact that she has kept the women and girls brief. Will she explain why, in her first week in the job, she signed off £183 million in cuts to education for women and girls, when such funding is one of the key drivers to prevent child marriage?
I assure the Chair of the International Development Committee, and the whole House, that my right hon. Friend, the Department, and the wider Government take the rights of women around the world incredibly seriously. Education for girls remains a priority for the Prime Minister, and we will continue to advocate for that internationally, and fight for that as a priority within Government.
Development: Promoting the Rule of Law
The UK is committed to being a force for good in the world, which includes upholding the rule of law. We promote the rule of law through our policy and programme engagement, which includes the UK’s Rule of Law Expertise Programme. That engages with stakeholders across the legal, judicial and development sectors, and is currently working in Nepal, Nigeria, Uganda, Malawi, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.
For many poor people around the world, lack of access to justice is their biggest issue. If someone is too frightened to go to school because they think they will be raped on the way, or too scared to develop their smallholding because they think someone will steal the land, it will be much more difficult to escape poverty. What proportion of our development spending goes on ensuring easy access to a robust criminal justice system for the global poor?
My hon. Friend is a true campaigner for freedom, human rights and, as we have heard, access to justice. Many of the UK’s programmes contribute directly or indirectly towards access to justice, and we therefore do not quantify the exact proportion of our development spending in that area. The UK remains a world leader in international development, and we use our aid budget to strengthen democratic institutions, defend human rights, champion free media, and promote effective governance.
I am sure the Minister agrees that reports that the Turkish Government are to expel many of our allies’ ambassadors from the country, after they rightly raised concerns about the ongoing slide in civil liberties and freedom of expression, are extremely worrying. We simply must not hang our allies out to dry. Given that Turkey is a key NATO ally, will the Minister join us in finally making clear, as she has not publicly in the past, that the UK will not accept any further attempts to undermine civil liberties, and that we stand with the 10 countries whose representation in Turkey has been affected by such a provocative act?
We are very pleased that Turkey and the 10 countries concerned have found a way to resolve this diplomatic crisis. We will continue to work closely with Turkey, which is a very important NATO ally, and we will continue to work with other key partners to strengthen the productive ties with Turkey from which we all benefit.
Indo-Pacific Region: UK Relations
We are strengthening our relationships to promote a free and secure Indo-Pacific. That includes working with like-minded allies to build strong economic partnerships, to undertake joint military exercises as part of the carrier strike group, which I was fortunate to visit this week, and to secure our accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership.
In recent weeks, there has been an alarming increase in the number of Chinese military jets staging incursions into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone. Given China’s repeated statements that reunification with Taiwan must happen, which of course the Taiwanese do not want, and China’s recent record in Hong Kong, will my right hon. Friend tell the House what diplomatic efforts are being made to strengthen UK relations in order to ensure the stability of that region?
The large number of Chinese military flights that took place near Taiwan at the beginning of October are not conducive to peace and stability in the region. We need peaceful resolution through constructive dialogue, and the work that the United Kingdom is doing through the carrier strike group and our security partnerships is contributing to peace across the region.
We have the deepest sympathy for Harry’s family. I have spoken to them about the case. I raised the case with Secretary Blinken, and we also raised it with President Biden when we were over in the United States. I am very clear that justice needs to be delivered for Harry and his family.
I pay tribute to Harry’s mum, Charlotte, and Harry’s dad, Tim, for their incredible courage in determining that they will achieve justice for Harry one way or another. They have already been striving for that for more than two years. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have to do everything possible with our great allies around the world to ensure mutual respect, and that abiding by the rule of law and achieving justice in a harrowing situation such as this is vital to those relationships?
I praise my right hon. Friend for the huge support that she has given to the family of Harry Dunn. I had the opportunity to speak with them; of course, the situation they find themselves in is absolutely terrible. I am determined that we should deliver justice for Harry and his family, and I am pushing the United States. Of course it is a key ally of the United Kingdom, but we must see justice delivered.
Safe Passage from Afghanistan
The Government continue to do all they can to ensure safe passage of eligible individuals who wish to leave Afghanistan. The UK has had constructive engagement with near neighbours, led by my noble Friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon. British nationals continue to be facilitated and supported in their exit from Afghanistan, including through Qatar Airways flights. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met Afghan evacuees and the Qatari authorities on this very issue on her recent trip.
I thank the Minister for that answer and the Secretary of State for her recent update on this issue. It is important to acknowledge the considerable efforts that are being made, but concerns persist for those who remain and are seeking refuge or safe passage from Afghanistan. Members will understand that I cannot name my constituents for fear of putting their relatives in a deeply perilous state, but what more can the Government do to assist hon. Members to alleviate the anguish and distress of constituents with loved ones in Afghanistan? Will the Government commit to working with Members to secure safe passage from Afghanistan, removing their constituents from immediate risk?
The situation in Afghanistan is painful for us all. Three routes have been set up: for British nationals, through the Foreign Office; for Afghan nationals, through the Home Office; and for those who have supported us directly, through the Afghan relocations and assistance policy scheme. We continue to engage directly with the Taliban. The Prime Minister’s High Representative for Afghanistan, Simon Gass, and the Chargé d’Affaires of the UK mission to Afghanistan based in Doha, Dr Martin Longden, travelled to Afghanistan on 5 October to have direct talks with the Taliban, and to hold them to the commitments they have made about respecting and protecting people within Afghanistan.
Outside the ARAP scheme and within Operation Pitting, a number of other people were called forward for evacuation. Can the Minister give the House full transparency in terms of how many people were actually called forward, how many people were evacuated, and how many of that cohort still remain in Afghanistan?
Since 28 August, over 500 more individuals eligible to come to the UK have been able to leave Afghanistan, as well as more than 400 British nationals and their dependants. We have assisted over 135 British nationals and their dependants to leave Afghanistan on Qatar-chartered flights. The total number of people who may be eligible is almost impossible for us to assess with clarity.
Bahrain: Political and Human Rights
We continue to monitor the political and human rights developments in Bahrain. Bahrain is a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office human rights priority country. We publish our assessment of the situation, including on areas of concern and areas of improvement in Bahrain, in the annual FCDO human rights report, most recently published on 8 July 2021. The details the hon. Lady requires are available in that document.
Over a decade after pro-democracy protests were crushed and oversight mechanisms, which the UK helped to fund, were adopted, cosmetic reforms have failed to remedy Bahrain’s deep-rooted problems. Will the Government show their commitment to Bahrain and publicly call for meaningful and inclusive political dialogue there, and for the unconditional release of all political prisoners, including Dr al-Singace, Hassan Mushaima, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, and Sheikh Ali Salman?
The United Kingdom enjoys a constructive relationship with Bahrain, which means that where there are areas of concern we are able to bring them up directly. I myself have done so in bilateral meetings I have had with Bahraini officials, both here in the UK and on my trips to Bahrain. We continue to monitor the cases the hon. Lady raises, and others as necessary.
Iran: Middle East Terror Groups
The UK has long condemned Iran’s regional destabilising activities. We regularly raise our concerns at the United Nations, most recently doing so on 9 August. We support the security of our allies in the middle east, including defence partnerships and capability building. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed continued security collaboration with her Saudi counterparts on 20 October and her Israeli counterparts on 19 October.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Iran remains the world’s leading sponsor of terror groups, including those committed to the destruction of Israel, and continues to enjoy impunity for its actions. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that having a nuclear weapon would give Iran the ultimate protection to spread its malign influence in the region? Will he confirm that the UK will keep all options on the table to stop Iran becoming a nuclear power?
I can assure my hon. Friend that our priority remains to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. Sadly, Iran’s nuclear programme has never been more advanced, and it is more worrying today than perhaps it has ever been. We regularly call strongly on Iran to halt all activities in violation of the joint comprehensive plan of action without delay and take the opportunity in front of it at the Vienna talks to restore the JCPOA. The current offer cannot remain on the table indefinitely.
AUKUS: Shared Security Priorities
To protect freedom and democracy around the world, it is vital that we deepen our security relationships with friends and allies. AUKUS represents a long-term commitment to deeper co-operation on future defence capabilities with Australia and the United States, and we want to build on it, including with other partners.
My hon. Friend is right; we must ensure that technology standards and advances are shaped by the free world, whether that is the free flow of data, cyber, artificial intelligence, 5G or quantum computing. In India this week I agreed a partnership on future technology, especially on 5G. We are also working with the US and other partners to shape the future of technology.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her earlier answer. She recently spoke of building
“a network of liberty across the globe.”
Beyond Australia and the United States, can she advise the House of any other nations with which she would like to deepen our security relationship, to improve our position and security across the globe?
Alongside AUKUS and of course NATO we are building partnerships with other allies. I recently hosted the Baltic three to talk about increased co-operation in the area, we have agreed enhanced co-operation with Greece and we are in talks with Japan about future security co-operation.
India is a very strong ally of the United Kingdom and we want to work more closely together across a range of security and defence issues. While I was in Mumbai, the UK carrier strike group was stationed off the coast; we have just conducted the UK’s largest ever joint exercise with Indian armed forces, and we are now deepening that co-operation.
As Foreign Secretary, I will work to deepen our economic and security partnerships, to challenge malign actors from a position of strength. In our development budget, I will prioritise investing in honest, reliable infrastructure in developing countries, providing life-saving humanitarian aid and supporting women and girls across the world. We are pursuing a positive, proactive foreign policy that delivers for people across our great country.
I am sure my right hon. Friend shares my grave concern at Iran’s escalation of uranium enrichment to 60% and production of uranium metal, which has no credible civilian purpose. Will the Government therefore seek a resolution of censure at the next International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors session, so we can ensure that we hold Iran to account?
Iran has no credible civilian justification for its nuclear escalation. As I made clear to my Iranian counterpart, Iran urgently needs to return to the negotiating table and, if it does not engage meaningfully in negotiations, we will reconsider our approach. All options are on the table.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her place. Yesterday, it emerged that the Prime Minister’s pleading at the G7 and the United Nations to deliver £100 billion of climate finance has failed. With that, we had another example of the waning global influence of this Government in retreat. I had hoped that the new Foreign and Development Secretary would have put a stop to that, but her first act was to sign off on savage aid cuts to climate programmes and climate-vulnerable countries, disproportionately impacting women and girls, weeks before the most important climate summit of our lifetime. Does the Secretary of State agree that cuts to programmes such as the green economic growth initiative to preserve Papua’s 90% forest cover, and cuts to the aid budget, have actively undermined the UK’s ability to deliver not only at the conference of the parties, but on the world stage, exposing global Britain as little more than a slogan?
I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s analysis at all. We are making very positive progress on COP26; only this morning, we heard Australia’s announcement about its commitment to net zero. I am looking forward to attending COP in Glasgow next week and presenting a very ambitious finance package. Only a few weeks ago, when we were in the United States, we saw it commit to over £11 billion of climate finance. There are trillions available in the private sector that we will be unlocking to deal with the climate crisis.[Official Report, 27 October 2021, Vol. 702, c. 2MC.]
I know that my right hon. Friend takes a keen interest in the topic of nutrition. The prevention and treatment of malnutrition remain important for the UK as part of our work on global health humanitarian response and in support of our goals on girls’ education. I assure him that the Government are actively considering our approach to the Nutrition for Growth summit, including any commitments on nutrition, and we will update the House following the conclusion of the spending review.
The UK committed more than £500 million to the COVAX facility and helped it to deliver more than 81 million doses to 44 African countries. In addition, we are providing UK emergency medical teams to 10 African countries. We have put a public health rapid support team into Nigeria, Gambia, Tunisia and other countries in Africa. At the World Bank annual meetings the week before last, I raised the importance of ensuring longer-term vaccine financing for Africa and that all programmes work together. We are strengthening the support that we give in African countries, to help them to have the health systems they need to continue providing essential health and getting those vaccines out.
I was delighted that yesterday the Foreign Secretary met the Greek Foreign Minister, Minister Dendias, and signed a new strategic bilateral framework that will build on the co-operation between our countries. It will open up new opportunities for trade and investment in both countries, allowing us to build on the £4.5 billion-worth of annual trade that we already have. It will also enable better co-operation among our businesses, investors and industry, and will promote even stronger security and defence co-operation, both as NATO allies and in enhancing Europe’s resilience in the face of security threats.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary engages regularly with the leadership of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. It remains a foundation stone of UK foreign policy in the region to pursue, support and, where possible, facilitate a two-state solution based on 1967 lines with agreed land swaps and Jerusalem as a shared capital of both states.
My hon. Friend is right: we absolutely must stop Iran securing those nuclear capabilities, and we are working closely with our allies across the world. I have chaired a meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council to discuss this very issue.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the terrible situation in Afghanistan. I travelled to the region this week—I went to Qatar, where I met evacuees from Afghanistan—and we are working very closely with our international allies. We have increased our aid for Afghanistan to £286 million, and we are working to hold the Taliban to account to ensure that they live up to the promises they have made.
Pakistan is a significant, important and close partner to the UK. Travellers from Pakistan can come to the UK freely provided that they adhere to the relevant covid-19 restrictions, the details of which are on the gov.uk website. We will continue to work with our Pakistani colleagues to reopen international travel safely.
The UK’s relationship with Israel is strong and important, and the strength of that relationship allows us to raise sensitive issues such as this. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will be speaking to our friends and colleagues in the Israeli Government about the reasons why they felt that they needed to designate those organisations.
The Foreign Secretary referred in her opening remarks to the work that her Department was doing, but did not mention the support that she is providing for environmental projects, particularly the valuable projects in the Congo basin. May I ask her to ensure that the work she does on land, in forests, is matched by support for marine projects, where the loss of habitats is equally serious and the benefits for tackling climate change can be enormous?
I assure my right hon. Friend that this Government are determined to protect the ocean. We are leading international efforts to protect 30% of the world’s ocean by 2030, and are substantially increasing our investment to support that. Our £500 million blue plant fund will protect mangroves and coral reefs, tackle ocean plastic pollution, and reduce coastal poverty.
The UK is deeply concerned about what is happening in the north-western regions of Myanmar, particularly the significant troop movements by the Myanmar armed forces, and about reports of multiple civilian casualties and displacements. On 15 October, the UK released a statement urging the military to end their campaign of violence. We are monitoring developments closely, and are in discussion with our international partners in the UN Security Council.
I warmly welcome my successor’s successor to her place, although saying that makes me feel rather old. She will know that Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin’s husband, has restarted his hunger strike this week. She will also know that Nazanin is not going to come home until we pay the debt that we owe Iran for the Challenger tanks, which the Defence Secretary has accepted that we owe Iran. When are we going to repay that debt, and what will the Minister do to ensure that hostage taking never pays?
I have huge sympathy for Nazanin and Richard Ratcliffe. I have spoken to both of them about the terrible situation that Nazanin faces. It is imperative that she is not put back into jail in Iran, and I am working as hard as I can, both directly with the Iranian authorities—I have had a meeting with Iranian Ministers—and with our international allies to bring Nazanin and the other UK detainees home.
We absolutely condemn violence across Nigeria. These attacks have devastating effects on all communities. Religious identity is a factor in some incidents of intercommunal violence, but the root causes are very complex. When I met African heads of mission in London on 21 September, I emphasised that democracy, human rights and the rule of law are all core UK values and that those values also include the freedom of religion or belief.
We know that 2,763 Yazidi women, girls and children are still missing, seven years after they were abducted by Daesh in Iraq. Many were taken as sexual slaves and child soldiers. Will the Minister meet me and members of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief to review what action the UK can take to support the call to assist those people by members of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance this week?
I thank my hon. Friend for her important question and for all the work she does in this area. This Government and I are committed to freedom of religion or belief and to the protection of women and girls, and I would be happy to discuss with her this issue and the wider issues of concern in this area.
Can the Foreign Secretary and former Lord Chancellor impress upon her counterparts in Poland the importance of a judiciary that is free from political interference, as that seems to be under threat there? Can she also reiterate that, post Brexit, Her Majesty’s sovereign Government control their own border policy, which totally entitles them to exclude hate speakers such as the polemicist Rafał Ziemkiewicz, as happened the other day at Heathrow airport?
In relation to Poland, we are aware of the recent European Court of Human Rights ruling, which found that recent Polish constitutional court rulings involving controversially appointed judges did not constitute a tribunal established by law. It is for each country to decide on its constitutional arrangements, but here in the UK we expect alignment with international law.