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Topical Questions

Volume 702: debated on Tuesday 26 October 2021

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.]

T2. The Nutrition for Growth Tokyo summit will now take place in December, having been postponed by a year. In the meantime, rates of malnutrition have spiralled as a result of the covid-19 pandemic. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that she will use the summit to reaffirm UK global leadership on nutrition and commit to reaching 50 million people with nutrition services by 2025? (903855)

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.

T3. As we encourage the take-up of the booster jab here, we know that we are not safe until everyone is protected. The same applies globally, yet the vast majority of Africans are yet to receive a single jab. Only 2% of Nigerians have been jabbed, for example, despite Nigeria having the potential to manufacture its own vaccines. Will the Secretary of State work to identify and equip the many manufacturing and fill-and-finish facilities required in Africa, as Labour is calling for, so that Africa can afford to vaccinate Africans? (903856)

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.

T5. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State welcome the new agreement signed recently with Greece? Can she give examples of how the UK and Greece are working in greater (903858)

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.

T4. I welcome the Secretary of State to her position. Will she update the House on her Government’s recent discussions with international allies on restarting a meaningful peace process between Palestine and the Israeli Government? Will she describe the personal importance that she attaches to achieving a two-state solution? (903857)

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.

T7. As well as funding anti-Israel terror groups in Lebanon, Gaza and Syria, Iran is systematically and aggressively advancing its nuclear weapons programme, and is now enriching uranium to 60% for the first time ever. While the west dithers, Iran enriches more uranium. Do we actually have a serious and credible plan to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon? (903860)

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.

T6. It was reported recently that eight children from the same family in Kabul had died of starvation. With Afghanistan on the verge of its worst-ever food crisis, may I ask the Foreign Secretary to say what urgent action the Government are taking to support humanitarian access to Afghanistan? (903859)

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.

T8. I have been informed of unfortunate cases of constituents who are unable to return home from Pakistan owing to disparities in international travel laws, including the fact that certain Pakistan-administered vaccines are not recognised by the UK Government. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the Ministry of Defence will open discussions with Pakistani counterparts to find a solution, and will work with colleagues in the Department for Transport to ensure that my constituents who want to return home from Pakistan are able to do so safely? (903861)

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 website. We will continue to work with our Pakistani colleagues to reopen international travel safely.

T9. What evidence have the Government of Israel given the Foreign Secretary or her Department to justify the designation of six Palestinian human rights organisations as terrorist organisations? Does she agree with me—and, indeed, with the assessment of B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organisation—that this is not worthy of a democracy, and is more what we expect from repressive regimes? (903862)

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.

T10. I welcome the Secretary of State to her new role. As the United Nations penholder on Myanmar, and given the Burmese military build-up and increased attacks in north-western Myanmar, are the UK Government planning to convene the UN Security Council immediately to discuss how to respond to these deeply disturbing events? (903863)

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.

What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with the Government of Nigeria about the attacks by Boko Haram and other groups on just about every minority in Nigeria, particularly Christians?

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.