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LGBTI: Human Rights Conference

Volume 769: debated on Monday 21 March 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representatives they intend to send to the forthcoming 2016 Global LGBTI Human Rights Conference to be co-hosted by the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Government of Uruguay in Uruguay.

My Lords, the composition of the UK’s delegation at the conference in July is not yet finalised. It is expected to include selected officials with experience of working on LGB and T human rights issues, for example from DfID and the UK’s mission to the United Nations in Geneva. The chargé d’affaires at the British embassy in Montevideo will also attend.

I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. Under the previous Government, DfID built up a great deal of expertise on handling sensitive issues across social, political and religious lines. This conference is an opportunity to leverage that expertise with other international donors and the private sector. Will the noble Baroness tell us what the Government plan to announce at the conference regarding the implementation of DfID’s new approach to LGBT rights?

My Lords, I am not able at this stage to say what is going to be announced as far ahead as July. As the noble Baroness will realise, these matters are usually announced at the event itself. But I can say, to assist her, that DfID has assured me that it recognises that the realisation of human rights underpins sustainable development and that across its work it will seek to protect the human rights of LGB and T people and ensure that all groups are able to share in the benefits of development regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. That will underpin the announcements it makes in July.

My Lords, I have to express some concern that there is no clarity about who is responsible for LGBTI issues, either within DfID or at the Foreign Office. Given this very important conference taking place in Montevideo, I ask the Government to reconsider their position and follow the lead given by President Barack Obama and the Labour Party and appoint a global LGBT envoy—or, at the very least, a Minister to lead on these important issues.

My Lords, I lead on issues of equality and human rights at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and I have the great advantage of knowing that, around the world, there are 267 Foreign and Commonwealth Office posts and that the heads of those missions, whether they be ambassadors or high commissioners, play a very strong role in promoting equality and human rights, paying particular attention to LGBTI issues. I might add that during my visits last week to Colombia and to Panama I saw this at first hand.

It is comforting to hear the noble Baroness commit the Government to human rights. Can we be certain that when it comes to considering the application of Turkey for membership of the European Union there will be a similar, wholehearted commitment, all in accordance with the Copenhagen criteria?

The noble Lord makes an extremely important point. We have made it clear to Turkey that accession to the European Union comes only to those countries that abide by human rights rules. Of course, Turkey would have to do that. We are concerned about some of the human rights violations which have taken place, particularly with regard to freedom of expression. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister made that clear at recent meetings.

How much priority are the Government giving to their objective of securing the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the many countries where it remains against the law?

My noble friend is right to raise this. The UK Government believe that laws to criminalise consensual same-sex relations are wrong and should be changed and this underpins the work that we do, both as Ministers and throughout our posts around the world. We have, of course, carried out a lot of lobbying on this and I am very pleased to see that Mozambique recently changed its penal code so that “acts against nature”, which had previously been widely interpreted as homosexuality, have now been decriminalised.

Would the Minister say that there were some positive results from the recent Commonwealth conference, and will she ensure that those who go to the next conference take those positive results with them?

Indeed. That is a very important point. Both my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and my noble friend Lady Verma, the DfID Minister, raised these issues at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. In fact, my noble friend Lady Verma held a side event on these very issues. I have undertaken to take these matters forward at the Human Rights Council and in the United Nations.

Will the Minister advise the House whether, since the 2015 general election, as part of the official development assistance programme, a budget has been allocated specifically to LGBT issues? If so, what is the criteria for bids against that budget?

My Lords, funding from the Government with regard to promoting equality of action comes not only from DfID but from other sources: for example, from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I explained earlier that DfID has ensured that equality for LGBTI people will underpin the work it does generally and will always be considered when funds are to be disbursed. There is no specific hived-off part of the funds, as far as I am aware—if I am wrong I will, of course, write to the noble Lord—but I point out that this year the Foreign Office has doubled its Magna Carta fund for human rights and democracy to £10.6 million, which is the most we have ever had. I understand that bids are already coming in for LGBTI projects.

My Lords, would it not be a good idea if a government Minister from either DfID or the Foreign Office attended this conference as well as officials? I say this because no Minister from either department turned up at the last two world AIDS conferences. That was a great pity.

My Lords, I will certainly take back my noble friend’s view to the FCO for consideration. I am, of course, aware that because this event is being co-hosted by the Governments of the Netherlands and Uruguay, their Ministers will be there. As far as I am aware, other attendees are intended to be officials but I will take further advice on that.