Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 722: debated on Tuesday 8 November 2022

The Foreign Secretary is at COP27 in Egypt to continue to provide UK leadership on the global transition to net zero and to help vulnerable countries adapt and build resilience to climate shocks. Since our last oral questions, the UK has continued to work with international partners and allies to address all threats to international peace and security. The Foreign Secretary held discussions in Germany with his G7 counterparts last week, including on Russia, Iran, China and North Korea. All G7 partners reaffirmed their strong sense of unity and their unshakeable commitment to upholding the rules-based international order.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) has built up a fantastic relationship with the Ukrainian President, and I thank him for his lead. Has his advice and expertise been sought as we work to continue this excellent relationship into the future?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip has led the world in our collective determination to ensure that Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine will fail. The work led by the Ministry of Defence to provide defensive weapons to the Ukrainian army and the sanctions work led by my team at the FCDO are both part of the legacy he leaves in Government as we continue to stand alongside our Ukrainian friends. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) is absolutely right that his commitment to the Ukrainians and his friendship and support to President Zelensky have been unwavering. I have every confidence that he will continue.

Order. Come on, it is topicals—let us try to help each other. Let us have a perfect example from Fabian Hamilton.

I hope the whole House will join me in congratulating Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on his recent victory in the Brazilian presidential election. As we know, Brazil is home to the lungs of the planet, the Amazon rainforest, but because the previous Administration in Brazil turned a blind eye to deforestation, it has been systematically destroyed. Does the Minister agree that now is the time to support Labour’s call for an international law of ecocide, to criminalise the widespread destruction of the environment?

Order. This is not acceptable—I am saying it now, and I mean it. Other Back Benchers have waited and waited, and this is selfish and unfair. I expect better treatment. I have to represent the Back Benchers, and I expect the Front Benchers to show the same respect.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I look forward to working with the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton), who raises an important point. We also welcome and congratulate President-elect Lula, and we will be working strongly with him on formal partnerships on not only trade, but climate change. I look forward to meeting the hon. Gentleman to discuss this more fully.

T5. Not content with being the world’s largest state sponsor of international terrorism, Iran is using its same terror enforcer, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, to brutally repress its own people. It is also now arming and training the Russian army in its barbaric invasion of Ukraine. So in the same vein as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), may I ask whether the Minister thinks it is now time to proscribe the IRGC? (902133)

The Government share my hon. Friend’s concerns about the regime’s shocking disregard for the rights of the Iranian people. I have to give him a similar answer to the one I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, and I will follow up with him later on.

T2. Does the Minister agree that given everything we put into Afghanistan over the past 20 years or so, we have a particular responsibility not to look away, not least given that 6 million Afghans are living on the brink of famine? (902129)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, which is why this year alone we are committing £286 million of humanitarian aid that is being disbursed through international organisations. That is all the more needed because of the deprivations of the Taliban regime.

T6. Images of thousands of peaceful protestors in Iran, young and old, male and female, of all religions and beliefs, are heartwarming for those who choose democracy and civil liberties and despise authoritarianism. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the Iranian regime will bow to the demands of liberty and freedom of the great Persian people? (902134)

The death of Mahsa Amini was a shocking reminder of the repression faced by women in Iran. The continuing protests send a clear message that the Iranian people are not satisfied with the path their Government have taken. We have given a robust response; we have summoned the Iranian head of mission to the UK to express our concerns and we have designated new sanctions. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.

T3. Afghans are starving, women’s rights are in reverse and the economy is in freefall. The United Nations has warned that if insufficient action is taken now to treat the causes of the crisis, not just the symptoms, next year’s humanitarian funding needs could double to $10 billion. So what is the Minister doing to convene international action to unlock Afghanistan’s economy and secure a long-term solution for millions of Afghans on the brink of crisis? (902130)

We bring a huge amount of diplomatic pressure to bear. Clearly, it is difficult countering the deprivations of the Taliban regime, but we have a huge stake in the game because we disbursed £286 million-worth of aid this year alone. That is the right thing to do, because we know that women and children are disproportionately affected by this kind of conflict.

When Kabul fell, the Government rightly undertook to assist in the relocation of courageous Afghan judges who had taken a key role in the fight against the Taliban. Since then, however, a High Court decision has ruled against the operation of the latest resettlement schemes and there is concern that the level of support initially given is drying up. Will the Minister meet me to discuss, with members of British judiciary, schemes and ways by which we might improve and revise the system?

Of course, I am happy to meet. We have had some success extracting judges, but if my hon. Friend would like to meet me to furnish me with those specific details, I will try to try to expedite a response.

T4. In the last two Foreign Office questions sessions, I have raised the issue of the role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Today, again, Members on both sides of the House have raised it, asking us to follow our allies in the United States and ban the IGRC. The IGRC are the protectors of the Iranian clerical fascist regime. Will the Minister go back to his Department and tell the officials to get on with banning the IRGC? (902132)

The right hon. Member raised his strong concerns about the Iranian regime’s disruptive activities in Yemen at last week’s important debate, for which I am grateful. The list of proscribed organisations is kept under constant review, but we do not routinely comment on whether an organisation is or is not under consideration for proscription.

Crown dependencies and overseas territories are an important part of the Commonwealth. The UK Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, on behalf of the Government, provides essential services, including audits, scrutiny and election observation, but there are gaps. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss how we can tackle that, because those territories and countries deserve the best?

I would be delighted to meet my right hon. Friend. We are committed to deepening our ties with all our Commonwealth partners. For the past five years, the FCDO has provided funding to CPA UK to strengthen the ability of legislators in the overseas territories to hold their Governments to account. I look forward to discussing the matter with her more fully.

T7. For the 30th consecutive year, the United Nations voted over-whelmingly to condemn the US embargo and sanctions on Cuba. Given the importance of tourism to the Cuban economy, can the Minister or the Foreign Secretary indicate what steps are being taken to restore direct flights between the UK and Cuba? (902135)

The hon. Member raises an important point. I will pick that up with our ambassador over there and follow up with him directly.

The Europe Minister will be familiar with the case of my constituent Mr Thomas Toolan and the ongoing retention of his daughter in Poland. This is a heartbreaking case that has been going on since 2018. Will the Minister meet me and other Members of this House who have similar child abduction cases in Poland, and will he please raise this case with his Polish counterpart?

I am aware of this case, and I thank my right hon. Friend for her advocacy on it. I know that she met our ambassador to Warsaw and, of course, I would be very pleased to meet her to see whether we can make some progress.

T8.   The United Nations Population Fund estimates that among the millions of people severely affected by floods in Pakistan, at least 650,000 are pregnant women. Last month, the then South Asia Minister announced an additional £10 million for flood relief efforts. Can the Minister tell us how much of that funding is being used to ensure that women who have lost everything can at least have access to maternal health services? (902136)

I am happy to write to the hon. Member with a specific breakdown, but I think that it is the majority, because women and children are disproportionately affected. We are proud and pleased that we have committed £26.5 million in our immediate response to the tragic flooding.

What consideration have the Government given to opening two new high commissions in the two newest Commonwealth countries, Gabon and Togo?

Mr Speaker, if I may, I will ask the noble Lord Goldsmith to write to my hon. Friend with the details.

T9. UK Foreign Secretaries of every political hue thrive on declaring themselves defenders of democracy the world over. I am sure the Minister would agree with Aristotle that the absence of democracy leads only to oligarchy or tyranny. Given that democracy is a continuous process and not a single event, does the Minister accept that Westminster’s continued denial of Scottish democracy makes a laughing stock of UK foreign policy, and is it oligarchy or tyranny, when an argument for both could easily be mounted? (902137)

May I attend the meeting that the Minister is going to have about judges, so that the plight of Afghan interpreters and others who helped our forces can also be considered?

It has been well reported that a very sizeable proportion of the UK’s international aid budget is being spent within the UK on the costs attributed to Ukrainian and small boat refugees. The OECD Development Assistance Committee rules on spending are clear, but the Government’s spending is less clear. Will the Minister commit to publishing a breakdown for this financial year of how the UK’s in-country refugee costs are being spent based on the DAC eligible costs guidelines?

Yes, I will, Mr Speaker. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for the work that she does through her brilliant International Development Committee. I should make it clear that this expenditure is allowed under the OECD DAC rules. We cannot pick and choose; it is either allowed or it is not, and this expenditure is allowed.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Benjamin Netanyahu on his recent election victory in Israel and in wishing for Bibi to form a broad-based coalition across Israel, so that there is a proper stable Government for our key ally?

We congratulate Benjamin Netanyahu on his election victory. As one of Israel’s closest partners, the UK looks forward to working with Israel to ensure that our relationship continues to flourish.

Pakistan and Somalia are at the extreme ends of the climate crisis and face dire humanitarian consequences. Can those on the Government Benches tell me how cutting international aid will help them to help those countries—and do they have no shame?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that those are two terrible crises, and money is important. It is not everything, but it is important. We will have to wait until the outturn from the autumn statement to see where we stand on that.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) has just pointed out, the IRGC has led and organised the brutal crackdown on protesters in Iran. What do those fascist thugs have to do to get themselves designated a terrorist organisation?

I understand the point the hon. Gentleman makes, and it has been made with real passion, but we are not able to add anything to the points we have already made to hon. Members on this issue.

Last week I had the immense pleasure of visiting Japan with the British Council. I put on record my sincere thanks to the ambassador Julia Longbottom, Matthew Knowles and the entire British Council team in Japan. I got to see first-hand the brilliant work that the British Council does in Japan, educating people in our English language and using our arts and culture for the greatest good. What more can the Government do to support the British Council, not just in Japan, but across the world?

It is lovely to hear that and I know the team in Japan will be very pleased to have welcomed the hon. Lady there. Our bilateral relationship with Japan continues from strength to strength in every possible area, and we will continue to work closely with them.

I was contacted by a constituent from Devon whose sister died in east Africa while working for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. Joanna Toole was serving humanity and our environment when Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 crashed near Addis Ababa. Will the Minister commit to lobbying the Ethiopian Government to release the air accident report so that an inquest in the UK can proceed?

I am extremely sorry to hear that terrible news from the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. I suggest we have a meeting outside of the House to discuss the best way forward; I will be very happy to meet him to do that.

What assessment have the Government made of the role of far-right parties in Israel’s new Government, as they are Netanyahu’s principal coalition partner? Will UK Ministers be meeting representatives of those far-right parties?

As I have already highlighted, Israel is one of our closest partners and we will continue to have a close working relationship with the new Government. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage, ahead of the Government’s formation.

What does the Minister for Development think are the biggest challenges to the effective use of the aid budget: the fact that it is facing further cuts, the fact that so much of it is being double counted against Defence expenditure or the fact that, as the Chair of the Select Committee said, it is being increasingly spent in the UK?

The aim of the international development budget, every penny of which is spent in Britain’s national interest, is to prevent conflict and to build prosperous societies. That is the aim, and that is what we seek to do with every penny we spend. All that expenditure is completely in the interests of the British taxpayer.