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Supporting Democracy

Volume 707: debated on Tuesday 25 January 2022

4. What diplomatic steps her Department is taking to support free and democratic states from threats by autocratic regimes. (905227)

10. What steps her Department is taking to help strengthen democracies and open societies across the world. (905233)

Democracy and freedom are at the heart of our Foreign Secretary’s vision for a network of liberty that will use partnerships in trade, security and technology to promote democratic values. We are committed to working with partners and allies across the world, including civil society, to support more open, inclusive and accountable societies.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the people of Ukraine chose for it to become a free and independent country, which, rightly, was supported by the United Kingdom. At this time of Russian threat, can the Minister confirm that she will do all she can to ensure that it stays free, whether by diplomatic, economic or military means?

The UK and our allies are unwavering in our support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Any Russian military incursion into Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake and would come at a severe cost to Russia. We are working with our partners to develop a package of broad and high-impact sanctions that target the Russian financial sector and individuals. We are also providing a range of support to enhance Ukraine’s defensive capability.

I saw in Sarajevo last week how well appreciated is the Government’s robust response to the secession threat from Republika Srpska and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and how appreciated is the Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s five-year programme that works closely with missions there on more inclusive community and political leadership. That valuable programme comes to an end at the end of March and does not have certainty of further funding, so will the Minister do all she can to expedite budget decisions so that it can continue across the region?

I thank my hon. Friend for his work as chair of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and for all the good that that organisation does globally, including in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We are proud supporters of it and especially of its work to increase the participation of women and young people in politics. On funding decisions, the Foreign Secretary has been clear that we intend to restore funding to women and girls and to humanitarian programmes. We will finalise budget allocations shortly.

When it comes to democracy and supporting civil society, one of the best things that the Government have done is establishing the Jo Cox memorial grants, which fund precisely the sort of women’s empowerment organisations that strengthen civil society, and with which Jo worked throughout her life. Through the Minister, I ask whether the Foreign Secretary would consider meeting me and colleagues from all parties who supported the creation of those grants and would like to discuss the future of them with her.

We have made it clear that we have a clear role to promote freedom and democracy. That is a core mission of the FCDO. I did not know Jo Cox as, sadly, I arrived in the House after she had left us, but her legacy lives on. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary would be very happy to meet those who work to keep that legacy going.

There is common agreement across the House that Britain’s soft power is of inestimable value, so why are the Government placing the British Council in a situation where it may be forced to close 20 of its offices?

As I said, we are looking at budget allocations for the years ahead now that we have a three-year settlement review from the Treasury. Budget decisions have not yet been made.

Time and again in this House, the Labour party has raised the issue of the failure to act on the Russia report. The Government have been painfully slow at bringing forward the action that we need to implement its recommendations. With mounting threats of Russian hostility, can the Minister tell the House what discussions she has had with colleagues across Government on the proposed implementation of the counter state threats Bill, the new and refreshed Computer Misuse Act 1990, the reform of Companies House and the register of property ownership, so that London will no longer have the reputation of being the laundromat for the dirty money that comes out of such regimes?

Mr Speaker, happy Burns night to you and to colleagues later on.

“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us”

would be a useful thing for those on the Treasury Bench to remember at the moment.

The best contribution that we, however we define ourselves, can make is to help other countries with resilience against disinformation, and I would praise to the rafters the Resist toolkit run out of the Cabinet Office. We already have a set of measures that we can use to assist other countries to combat disinformation. Could the Minister assure us that this will be beefed up, better financed and rolled out internationally? It is a very good domestic toolkit, but we could do a lot more to it, because plenty of other places really need it.

The integrated review made it very clear that the UK will be a responsible and democratic cyber-power. We intend to use our global network to strengthen the case for open, peaceful and secure digital space, pushing back against those who misuse technology or spread disinformation to undermine democracy.

Could the Minister reassure the House that there are no other Members who have received hundreds of thousands of pounds of funding without question from hostile actors, and what confidence the public can therefore have in this Parliament?

I am sure that all Members of the House have been watching these stories very closely. Let me just say that the UK does want to have a mature, positive relationship with China based on mutual respect, but we will not sacrifice our values or our security.