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Topical Questions

Volume 736: debated on Tuesday 18 July 2023

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is at the United Nations in New York for a meeting of the Security Council under the UK presidency.

Since the last oral questions, we hosted the Ukraine recovery conference in London, which raised $60 billion towards Ukraine’s reconstruction. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary attended last week’s NATO leaders summit in Vilnius, where a new tranche of military support for Ukraine was announced. The new White Paper on international development to 2030 is the subject of a written ministerial statement today.

On Sunday, in Auckland, New Zealand, the UK signed the CPTPP—the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership—which represents more than 500 million people and a GDP of more than £12 trillion, which is larger than the European Union. As well as the economic benefits to this country, what diplomatic benefits will the agreement bring?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on getting the letters of the agreement in the right order. He will know that the agreement spans 12 economies across Asia, the Pacific and now Europe. By 2040, we hope that it will add £2 billion to our GDP.

There are reports of widespread, systematic and targeted destruction of 26 communities in Darfur. Eighty-seven bodies were found buried in a mass grave last week, and fears are growing of genocide. I welcome the fresh sanctions, but what steps are the Government taking with international allies to ensure that the International Criminal Court has the resources needed to investigate and to hold those responsible to account?

I want to assure the hon. Lady that we will do everything we can to make sure that there is not a culture of impunity in the dreadful civil war in Sudan. Together with our allies, we hold the pen at the United Nations, and with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the African Union, and the Troika—all of these different organisations—we are doing everything that we can to ensure that there is transparency on what is being done in Darfur and to bring to an end this dreadful conflict.

T2.   In April three members of the British-Israeli Dee family were killed in an appalling terror attack. The Palestinian Authority continues to proudly send hundreds of millions of pounds to the terrorists behind these very same attacks. Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning this grotesque “pay for slay” policy? (906058)

The UK has not directly funded the Palestinian Authority since official development assistance reprioritisation in 2021. We do not fund prisoners’ payments and we believe that the prisoner payment system should be reformed so that it is needs-based, transparent and affordable. We continue to raise this at the highest levels with the Palestinian Authority.

T3. We talk of a two-state solution, but we are witnessing an increase in illegal settlements and an increase in violence, not least in Jenin recently. How is the Secretary of State using the power of his office to set a new framework, using the articles of the UN declaration on human rights, to bring about a movement towards peace, so that we see not just talk but action? (906059)

We remain committed to the middle east peace process and to finding a way forward. We use our convening power as the current president of the UN Security Council, and the Foreign Secretary will no doubt be discussing these issues while he is in New York at the UN Security Council.

Most of NATO, including America, Canada, France and Germany, have repatriated their citizens from detention facilities in Syria. The United Kingdom repeatedly refuses to do so and is now an international outlier. Twenty-five British families are held in Syrian detention facilities without charge or trial. Our independent reviewer of terrorism legislation has said that, without action, this will become our Guantanamo. Will the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office review this policy to avoid our suffering international embarrassment for failing to take responsibility for our own citizens?

Repatriating citizens and the management of risks posed by returnees are ultimately matters for individual countries. Our priority remains ensuring the safety and security of the United Kingdom. The UK will continue to work closely with international partners in addressing the issues associated with those who fought for, or supported, Daesh and to bring to justice those who have participated in terrorism overseas.

T4.   Last month, the UK hosted the Ukrainian recovery conference in London. Ukrainian trade unions have an important role to play in laying the foundations for the reconstruction of their country, but the general secretary of the Ukraine’s construction workers’ union had his application to attend the conference denied and was subsequently unable to secure a visa to travel to the UK in time. Does the Secretary of State regret that Ukrainian construction workers were denied a voice in a conference dedicated to the reconstruction of Ukraine, and can he assure the House that this was not the result of a proactive policy of excluding representatives in the trade union movement? (906060)

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and thank you for your strong response to the point of order last week on the threats against me by President Vučić of Serbia. One colleague here raised the daily reports that we are receiving about extreme identity violence in Darfur, which will only get worse. As a UK penholder, what are we doing to create a protective wedge between civilians and the militias? Will my right hon. Friend show leadership at the Dispatch Box by declaring these as crimes against humanity, because it matters that Britain says that now?

I fully understand what my hon. Friend is saying about Darfur. She will know that I first went there with David Cameron in 2006 and saw what was happening on the ground—what George Bush called a genocide. We will do everything that we can to protect the civilians there who are in great jeopardy today. That involves the use of words, as my hon. Friend said, and actions at the UN. We will do everything that we can, as holder of the pen, to ensure that progress is made.

T6. Last month the UN’s world food programme announced the cessation of food aid in Ethiopia following the large-scale diversion of supplies. The UN has this week estimated that 8.8 million people in northern Ethiopia are in need of food aid, and severe malnutrition has increased by 196% over the past year. Will the Minister set out what the Government are doing to respond to this desperate humanitarian crisis? (906062)

We are working incredibly closely with the UN agencies, in particular the World Food Programme. We are conscious of, have investigated, and I think have now dealt with the issue of food being stolen. We announced recently that we would spend £143 million on humanitarian support in the horn of Africa.

I welcome the written ministerial statement on the international development White Paper, although an oral statement to the House would have been better. How does my right hon. Friend the Minister intend to achieve the consensual approach that is clearly his aspiration for international development, and does he agree, having heard many examples this morning, that nutrition and combating hunger must be at the heart of any strategy?

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comments. As he knows, we will hold a summit specifically on stopping children starving to death in November. I hope that the White Paper will be announced at that summit, but of course he is right. This is a cross-party White Paper designed to ensure that we reach the sustainable development goals, which are way off target at this midway point, and do something to combat the appalling dangers that the world faces, and which we have seen so graphically in recent days, on climate change.

T7. For more than a year, the House has been highlighting the threat of atrocity crimes returning to Sudan, as the Minister has heard again today cross-party. Last week, we saw more mass graves and widespread and systematic identity-based targeting of communities. How much evidence do the Government need before they acknowledge those crimes against humanity, and act on their own policy to take effective action to prevent and respond to atrocities? (906063)

The hon. Lady is entirely right in the language that she uses about the atrocities taking place in Sudan and Darfur. That point has been extensively ventilated at this question time. All I can say to her, to add to what I have said already, is that we are working very closely with our allies, particularly the Americans, on precisely the subject that she has identified.

Murder, rape and pillage continue on a massive scale across Sudan. As well as ensuring that humanitarian aid gets to those on the borders, and the financial sanctions that we introduced last week, will the ministerial team look further at ways to cut off the source of funding for this violence, in particular by sanctioning Al-Khaleej Bank and Omdurman National Bank, which are associated with the two warring generals?

My right hon. Friend, who knows a lot about the subject, can rest assured that we are looking at all possible sanctions and other measures that we can take. She refers to humanitarian access. She will know that 15 humanitarian workers have been murdered during the course of the violence, but we will do everything that we can to ensure that what she wants to see happen happens.

T8. The Department’s travel advice is highly respected, with observance considered mandatory by many businesses. What advice will the Minister give to a British organisation that needs to send an employee to Uganda—advice that protects the rights of that employee and their privacy, while also protecting LGBT+ employees in this country from exposure in Uganda to its cruel Anti- Homosexuality Act, which criminalises LGBT+ intimacy and freedom of expression? (906064)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The British Government and the whole House are appalled by the law that has been passed by Uganda. We make very strong representations, our high commission there works closely with affected groups, and we always keep travel advice under sharp and close review.

Children being able to play is something we take for granted, yet Ministers will know from their travels that it is not something that all children around the world get to do. Play instils confidence, builds life skills, enhances resilience and restores hope, so will a Minister commit to the House that they will take a lead role in the forthcoming UN General Assembly to support the resolution for an international day of play, which is spearheaded by a coalition of organisations such as Lego and IKEA, to ensure that every child’s right to play is protected?

The idea of an international day of play is very important, and we take it seriously. I will pick the matter up with the noble Lord Ahmad and keep in touch with my hon. Friend.

T9. In the past decade, more than 1.7 billion people have been affected by climate disasters through displacement, drought and food insecurity. The climate crisis is both creating and aggravating humanitarian emergencies. Where is the ambitious strategy for UK aid to build resilience and offset the implications of climate breakdown? (906065)

The hon. Lady is right to identify climate change as the great existential crisis of this era. Two weeks ago we had the hottest temperature seen in the world ever on the Monday; it was then exceeded on Wednesday and exceeded again on Thursday. One way we have changed how humanitarian work is done is by building in more adaptation and resilience when we deploy humanitarian support, and we will go on doing that.

Evidence suggests that malaria is on the move; it has appeared in parts of the US and is creeping across Europe. Can the Foreign Office please confirm that it is serious about eradicating malaria and neglected tropical diseases across the world, and say what plans are being taken, if any, to keep British people safe?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. I was recently in Mozambique, where they had managed to cut malaria infection by 50%, but we saw that climate change is now leading to its increasing again. We will do everything we can to make sure that what had previously been a successful policy of malaria eradication gets back on track as soon as possible.

T10.   A loophole in the sanctions regime has seen Russian steel processed in Turkey and exported to the UK. The 43% increase in Russian steel exports to Turkey in the last year alone shows the extent of the problem. The Government have belatedly introduced a ban on imports of such steel, but without enforcement the ban will be meaningless. Can the Minister tell the House what the Government’s plans are to enforce the ban on imports of Russian steel processed in Turkey? (906066)

As I have said, we continue to work on our sanctions policy to ensure that we get to grips with any potential circumventions, but it would not be appropriate for me to announce any future plans yet.

Whether it is the accession to the trans-Pacific partnership, the first free trade agreement with Malaysia and Brunei, our Foreign Secretary at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit or the joint economic trade committee with Indonesia on Thursday, the Government are rightly doing all they can to bring alive the benefits of our trans-Pacific and Indo-Pacific pivot. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we in this House should all do everything we can to bring alive the potential for businesses in our nation, whether in designing frigates, cyber, EdTech or anything else?

Mr Graham, do not push it too far. I am not being funny—it is totally unfair. Some Members are not going to get in now.

My hon. Friend is right. The opportunities the Indo-Pacific brings for UK citizens and businesses are enormous and we look forward to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership being one more new opportunity for them to discover one of the most exciting parts of the world.

Following up the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), a Billingham constituent is regularly in touch with me. Her Ugandan girlfriend lives in fear of her life every day, as new laws have seen more and more LGBT+ people persecuted. What more can the Government do with our allies to help people such as my constituent’s girlfriend and protect LGBT+ activists and human rights defenders in Uganda?

We are making representations as often as we can. There are limits to what we can do, but we are seeking to stretch those limits as far as possible. I spoke to the Ugandan Foreign Minister on 4 May to underline our opposition to the Anti-Homosexuality Act and highlight its impact on the safety of LGBT+ people in Uganda. Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have spoken to the Ugandan Foreign Minister and the Ugandan high commissioner in London.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is finalising our report on food security, which has come into sharp focus because of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. With Russia regrettably pulling out of the Black sea grain deal, will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that the UK Government are working closely with the UN and NATO allies such as Turkey to restore that deal, which is so important for food security across Europe and in developing countries?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, we should make it clear that what Russia is doing is leading directly to people starving in Africa. Everyone should understand that, as well as the atrocious action that Russia has taken in invading a neighbouring country.

The Minister is aware of the arrest of Yasin Malik, a Kashmiri political prisoner whose only crime is opposing the Indian military occupation of Kashmir. What talks have been had with the Indian Government about his death penalty?

As I said in response to an earlier question, the UK opposes the death penalty in every country in the world, including India.