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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 671: debated on Tuesday 4 February 2020

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked—

NATO Allies

Does my right hon. Friend agree that NATO is the cornerstone of UK and Euro-Atlantic security? Will he support all efforts to increase burden sharing across the alliance?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Non-US defence investment has increased by £130 billion between 2016 and 2020. It is expected to rise further, by £400 billion, by 2024, and that is progress, but allies need to increase their defence spending in the way that he described. Of course, the UK is one of nine NATO allies meeting its 2% commitment, including a 20% increase in investment in new capabilities.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that NATO is the cornerstone not only of UK security, but of Euro-Atlantic security? Will he prioritise it—I ask on behalf of Montgomeryshire constituents who have been asking me—to strengthen that alliance, to deal with the malign Russian threat?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to use NATO, and it will require reform to adapt to meet new threats. The way to do that is to strengthen and reinforce NATO, so that it can deal with state actors, including Russia, cyber, and all the modern threats. We are absolutely committed to doing that, and bringing our European and north American allies together.

With the American primary season upon us, political tensions both within and between our NATO allies seem to be higher than ever. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that means we have a greater responsibility than ever, here in the UK, to promote diplomacy between our allies, and to speak judiciously when commenting on their internal politics?

My hon. Friend is right. He knows, from the last NATO leaders’ meeting, which the Prime Minister hosted and chaired, that we take that very seriously. We contribute to every NATO mission. We are the top defence spender in Europe, the second-largest in NATO as a whole, and the leading contributor to the NATO readiness initiative.

During the recent NATO summit, there was a concerted effort by President Erdoğan of Turkey to block progress unless fellow NATO members agreed to label our Kurdish heroes in northern Syria as terrorists. After my last visit to Syria, the Secretary of State dismissed me and my concerns to try and reach out on that point. So maybe, if he refused to take advice from me and other members of the Opposition—and his two colleagues who came with me on that trip—he might take a lead from the Belgian court case that said that the Kurds were not a terrorist force; or the French, who objected publicly at the NATO council, as did Poland, the Baltic states, and even Donald Trump. I ask the Foreign Secretary: why did our own Prime Minister say nothing to defend the British interest and our Kurdish allies?

The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong. We have raised our concerns in relation to Turkey’s incursion into Syria, which obviously has affected some of our Kurdish partners in the region. We had a very successful NATO summit, precisely because the Prime Minister and the UK Government are focused on making NATO work, bringing all our allies together and making sure that our foes cannot exploit weaknesses or divisions between us.

Turkey’s relationship with its NATO allies is becoming ever more strained. Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria, which we have just heard about, and increasingly close relationship with Russia are two clear examples of how tension is being created within the alliance by Turkey. As we are a leading member of NATO, how do the Government think NATO should respond to the situation?

As with all strong partnerships within NATO, if we have issues we raise them candidly and clearly, and the relationship has the depth and the maturity to enable us to do so. We have expressed our disappointment, for example, that Turkey chose to acquire Russian S-400 air defence systems. None the less, Turkey remains a valued NATO ally, on the frontline of some of our most difficult security challenges, and I raised with the Turkish Foreign Minister on 5 January the positives and our concerns.

The Minister rightly speaks of the success of NATO as an international peacekeeping force. Does he agree that part of the problem is that it does not get the international recognition for being that successful alliance? What more can we do to ensure that that is the case?

The hon. Gentleman is right: a lot of the solid, steady work that NATO is doing, and the work in bringing our allies together, goes unnoticed, as is often the case in security. The most important thing the UK can do is continue to lead by example. We contribute to every NATO mission. This includes leading the enhanced forward presence battle group in Estonia; contributing to the US battle group in Poland; and working with our NATO allies on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we will continue to do all those things.

17. We learned this week that the Foreign Secretary has instructed British ambassadors around the globe that when they attend international meetings they are no longer allowed to sit near our European allies, so that we can project the image of a “confident independent country”. Of course many of our NATO allies are EU members. Does he honestly believe that behaving like a moody teenager will help to strengthen our alliances within NATO? (900602)

Following the protocol at international meetings to make sure that the UK is asserting its voice confidently, and in tandem with but independently of our allies, is absolutely the right thing. That is what the referendum required and that is what we are doing.


2. What steps he is taking to support political development in Ukraine; and if he will make a statement. (900586)

The United Kingdom is a strong supporter of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and President Zelensky’s commitment to reform and fighting corruption. We have provided financial support to the tune of £38 million this year, across multiple areas, and we lead robust sanctions on Russia for its attacks on Ukraine’s sovereignty. We look forward to welcoming President Zelensky to the UK as soon as a date can be found.

Will my right hon. Friend welcome President Zelensky’s decision to extend the visa-free regime for UK citizens for another year? Does my right hon. Friend share his ambition for Britain and Ukraine to conclude a new framework agreement as soon as possible, including possible liberalisation of the visa regime for Ukrainian citizens?

My right hon. Friend is a doughty champion of Ukraine’s determination to look westward and be a modern European country. We will certainly welcome, as soon as we can, the ratification of such an arrangement, and I congratulate the President on his announcement on visa-free access for UK nationals. That will certainly help trade with the UK, which we want to ensure is successful, but we also need to protect our own borders. The Home Secretary is responsible for border control, but we keep our border policy under constant review, and visas to and from Ukraine are something I discuss with her regularly.

On political development and the importance of having human rights protected, including in Ukraine, I am aware of a number of examples where Christians have been persecuted, injured and politically challenged for their beliefs. What has been done in discussions with Ukraine to ensure that human rights are protected and people have the right to express themselves?

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his question. We of course discuss these matters with Ukraine. I am particularly concerned about the repression of fundamental human rights—the right to speak the Crimean language—in Crimea by the annexing forces, and I raised that issue when I went to Kiev last year. We will always place these issues, be they in Ukraine or elsewhere, high on the agenda.

Climate Change

3. What progress the Government have made on tackling climate change through international co-operation. (900587)

4. What progress the Government have made on tackling climate change through international co-operation. (900588)

15. What progress the Government have made on tackling climate change through international co-operation. (900600)

Climate change is not a distant threat. We must act together to accelerate action. The UK has already doubled its international climate finance funding from £5.6 billion to £11.6 billion, and is investing £220 million in a new international biodiversity fund.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Does she agree that increasing the UK’s climate diplomacy capabilities is important for a successful COP26 conference in Glasgow later this year, so that we can be more successful than last year’s conference in Madrid?

The UK was disappointed at the lack of progress made at COP25 in Madrid. The UK and Italian diplomatic efforts will be squarely focused on achieving a successful COP26. COP is about more than negotiations; it is about real change happening across countries, civil society and the private sector. These broader elements will be a primary focus of COP26.

At the weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a Stroud Greenpeace exhibition about climate change and protecting our oceans. Will the Foreign and Commonwealth Office continue to advocate for international agreement on climate change at the United Nations? Will the Minister tell us more about the Government’s commitment to protecting our oceans and the work on the UN global treaty negotiations?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. This is the first time I have answered a question from her, so I welcome her to her place.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s view on international oceans. We are looking for a maximum ambition on oceans to protect them for future generations, and I am working hard with Lord Goldsmith on that ambitious project.

Both the councils in the Sedgefield constituency—Darlington and Durham—have declared climate change emergencies, but given the relatively low impact of the UK on climate change compared with places such as China, how do we convince our constituents to engage? Does the Minister agree that it is imperative that we not only challenge other countries to make progress but share the efforts that our international colleagues are making, in order to motivate and share good practice?

I hope my hon. Friend, whom I welcome to his place, will excuse my having my back to him as I speak to the Chair.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that climate change is one of the most urgent and pressing challenges we face today, so no country can solve the problem alone. COP26 in November will bring together more than 300,000 delegates from around the world to tackle climate change. It is vital that all countries come together and come forward with increased pledges and nationally determined contributions in the coming months. The UK has committed to increasing our international climate ambition and NDCs before COP26.

We meet today on the 75th anniversary of the Yalta conference, at which Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin carved up post-war Europe, and in doing so unwittingly created the conditions for half a century of cold war between east and west. Their mistakes were eventually fixed, but when we have conferences that affect the climate emergency today, we have to realise that it is too late to fix any more mistakes as we rapidly approach the point of no return on global warming, so let me ask a specific question. When the Prime Minister hosted the UK-Africa trade summit just a fortnight ago, he told its delegates that

“we all suffer when carbon emissions rise and the planet warms.”

Will the Minister tell us what percentage of the energy deals that were struck at that summit were based on the mining of fossil fuels?

I thank the right hon. Lady for that question. She always puts her questions so perfectly; her diction is superb for the House. Everybody was clear about what she said.

We are weaning all the world off coal. The Powering Past Coal Alliance, which is clearing away from coal, is very important. We are leading on that and my hon. Friend the Minister for Africa, who led at the Africa conference, has managed to secure an amazing deal on that. We are looking towards the bright future that that Prime Minister has been talking about today.

The hon. Lady focuses on coal and boasts about the announcement on coal, but according to the Environmental Audit Committee, UK Export Finance has not supported a single coal project since 2002. I do not know whether she is uncertain about the answer or just too embarrassed to answer, but the reality is that more than 90% of the £2 billion of investment in energy deals that was agreed at the UK-Africa trade summit was committed to new drilling for oil and gas—more fossil fuels. None of that was mentioned in the Government press release, which focused instead on the paltry figures for investment in solar power. Does the Minister accept that she is part of a Government who talk the talk on climate change but never walk the walk? They make symbolic moves on the domestic front but will never take any global lead. Worst of all, they refuse to stand up to the climate denier—

Order. We have to get to the question; we cannot keep reading out a statement. A quick question, please.

Worst of all, the Government refuse to stand up to the climate denier-in-chief, Donald Trump. Does the Minister not realise that in the face of this climate emergency we no longer have time for cowardice?

Shall I be succinct, Mr Speaker? We recognise that countries will continue to need to use a mixture of energy sources, including renewable energy and lower-carbon fossil fuels such as natural gas, as part of the transition towards a low-carbon, sustainable economy. I am afraid the right hon. Lady is making too much hot air today.

What evidence does the Minister have that the Government’s diplomacy is having an impact on the biggest polluters, such as China and United States, in that those countries are prepared to do something more than they are doing now?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We are working very closely with countries around the world. I have been to five of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries so far, and, at every opportunity I have asked them to have more ambitious targets for reducing their carbon emissions, and that is exactly what will happen when our Secretary of State meets representatives in China very soon.

Wuhan: UK Nationals

I spoke to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on 28 January about the evacuation of UK nationals from Wuhan and also about UK medical supplies to help the Chinese authorities tackle the coronavirus.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his reply, but does he agree that the safety and security of British nationals must be our primary concern, and will he therefore press the Chinese authorities to co-operate in granting any assistance necessary to ensure that our nationals are looked after while they remain in China?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and those are precisely the issues that I raised with the Chinese Foreign Minister. In fairness, we have seen 83 British nationals repatriated on Friday, and another seven British nationals and four dependants evacuated on a French flight that returned to the UK on Sunday. I can also tell him that we have been allocated 14 places on an Air New Zealand flight today for UK nationals and their dependants.

The evacuation of British nationals and their families from Wuhan has been nothing short of a shambles, given the delays, the lack of information and the terrible cases of family separation that have occurred. Why on earth does the Foreign Office not have protocols and plans in place to manage these crises when they occur?

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong on everything that he has just said. I visited the crisis centre yesterday. We have an excellent cross-Whitehall team, including the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Health and Social Care working with our consular officers. There are challenges dealing with the Chinese authorities in relation to the permissions to get the charter flight in and to get people to the muster points. We hired four coaches for the first flight that arrived on Friday, and we delayed the flight for three hours on the tarmac to ensure that all the people who needed to get on could get on, and of course we will continue working with our international partners and the Chinese to get those who need to come home out of the country.

Prosperity in Africa

Increased trade and investment in Africa will improve African Government revenues, and support job creation and economic growth, which is beneficial for African states and the United Kingdom. On 20 January, the Government hosted the UK-Africa investment summit, where £6.5 billion-worth of commercial deals and £1.5 billion-worth of Government funding initiatives were announced. Commitments announced at the AIS will help to drive prosperity across the continent.

I congratulate my hon. Friend and everyone involved in the very successful Africa investment summit. Will there be another one and, if so, what would the African countries that were not invited to this one need to do to get an invite to the next one?

I start by paying tribute to my predecessor for the work that she did in the early preparations for the summit. The summit achieved its objectives of laying the foundations for a new, stronger relationship between the United Kingdom and Africa, based on mutually beneficial trade and investment. Following our departure from the European Union, the Government will build further on those foundations in a range of ways, and we are currently looking at the feedback from the summit.

I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) on the Africa investment summit. Too often, Britain’s interests when it comes to Africa are piecemeal and we are not good enough when it comes to sustained engagement, so what plans does the Minister have to engage with the African Union on a regular basis?

Excellent. I very much welcome that question. The African Union is justifiably seen internationally as a strong and influential partner, able to bring African countries together. During the Africa investment summit, chairperson Faki met the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. To support the development of the African continental free trade area, the Secretary of State for International Trade announced a £200 million southern African regional trading connectivity programme and a £20 million trade connect programme at the summit, which will further and deepen our partnership with the African Union.

May I ask the Minister how much time during the UK- Africa investment summit last month was dedicated to discussing the elimination of corruption and the protection of human rights, as two of the key preconditions of any new trade deals, especially given the presence of a notorious human rights abuser such as Egypt’s President Sisi?

The subject of human rights was raised by the Foreign Secretary in every single one of his bilateral meetings. Corruption is a barrier to business and growth, which is why the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, through the prosperity fund, is investing in extensive anti-corruption projects in Africa, including legal reforms, policy reforms and transparency reforms, and operational work to recover the billions that have been stolen from the African people over the years.

As trade negotiations progress with Africa, there will be conflicting pressures with our trade negotiations with the US and South American states. What reassurance can the Minister give me that he will put pressure on the Department for International Trade to ensure that Africa is prioritised when it comes to trade deals, and does not lose out as a result of US or South American deals?

The very fact that we have hosted an Africa investment summit indicates the Government’s strategic priority towards Africa. We are opening five new missions in Africa, and are increasing the number of our staff—including Department for International Trade staff—across the continent by 400. Africa is a key trading partner, and UK-Africa trade increased by 7.5% last year to £36 billion.

UK Nationals: Consular Support

Our consular staff help more than 20,000 British people abroad every year. The support is tailored to the individual circumstances of each case, and prioritises those who are most in need. We constantly strive to improve our support, and use customer feedback to improve our services and staff skills.

I very much welcome the assurances that this Government have given to the 3 million EU nationals who will continue living in the UK after the transition period, but we have heard far less about the rights of the 1 million UK citizens living in the EU post Brexit. What work is the Department doing to help preserve those UK citizens’ futures?

Protecting citizens’ rights in the EU is absolutely a priority for the Government. The withdrawal agreement provides certainty for UK nationals living in the EU about their rights going forward. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is proactively engaging with EU member states to ensure full and timely implementation of the withdrawal agreement.

Do the Minister, the Secretary of State and the Government believe that UK citizens deserve the right to consular services and support enshrined in law?

There is currently no legal right to consular assistance. Domestic law would not improve the outcomes for our most complex cases. Even if there was a right to assistance, the Government’s ability to provide it would remain dependent on other states respecting that.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but with respect I disagree. In December last year, the all-party parliamentary group on deaths abroad and consular services and assistance—which I founded and chair, and of which many of the Minister’s colleagues have been members—published its report, with 92 recommendations. We took evidence from more than 60 families from across the UK whose loved ones died abroad in suspicious circumstances or are being incarcerated against their will, and they said that they feel they are being let down by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. With Brexit set to make international co-operation harder and this Government’s cuts resulting in the reduction of more than 1,000 diplomatic staff, UK citizens deserve better. Will the Secretary of State or the Minister meet me to discuss enshrining into law—

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I have already agreed to meet her, as did my predecessor, but neither offer has been taken up. On 23 January, the consular murder and manslaughter team held a workshop bringing together key stakeholders, including Murdered Abroad, the Help for Victims homicide service, the Ministry of Justice, the Metropolitan police and the Chief Coroner’s Office to focus on always improving our support for bereaved families. I participated in that meeting. We will always strive to improve the service that we provide to those who have loved ones murdered abroad.

One of the consular cases most on the minds of people in this House is that of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Does the Minister agree that western countries need to work together to call out the vile practice of hostage-taking by countries such as Iran? Article 4 of the NATO treaty says if that one country is invaded, all have to treat it as if they have been invaded. Should we not do the same when our innocent citizens are taken hostage?

I applaud my right hon. Friend for his question and the work that he did on this case when he was Foreign Secretary. The Prime Minister met Richard Ratcliffe on 23 January. We continue to make strong representations to send a clear signal in this case that Iran’s behaviour is totally wrong and unacceptable.

Middle East Peace Plan

9. What steps he plans to take to encourage (a) his Israeli counterpart, (b) the Palestinian Authority and (c) other middle east states to discuss the potential merits of the US Administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan. (900593)

11. What representations he has made to his counterpart in the US Administration on the proposed peace deal for the middle east. (900595)

21. What representations he has made to his counterpart in the US Administration on the proposed peace deal for the middle east. (900606)

We welcome the US proposals for peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians based on recognition of the two-state solution. We support this initiative to get both sides around the negotiating table.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the United States’ “Peace to Prosperity” plan is a set of serious and constructive proposals that deserves more than instant rejection, and that whatever the pros and cons of the plan, if we are to secure a lasting peace, the only way to do so is through direct talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis?

I thank my hon. Friend. This is a first step on the road back to negotiations. The absence of dialogue creates a vacuum that only fuels instability and leads to the drifting of the two sides further and further apart, so whatever the different views, we want both sides to get around the negotiating table to work to improve the plan and to get peace in the middle east.

A peace plan without Palestinian participation is not a peace plan—it is an annexation plan. Can the Secretary of State assure us that the Government will not accept either this plan or any unilateral annexation plan, and perhaps take the step now to recognise an independent Palestinian state before there is no state left to recognise?

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that any annexation unilaterally would be contrary to international law, damaging to peace efforts, and cannot go unchallenged, but the answer is to get both sides around the negotiating table. That is why not only the UK but the French, the Italians, EU High Representative Josep Borrell, Japan, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Oman have all called for the parties, based on this initiative, to come back to talks.

I am sure that the Secretary of State considers himself a friend of the people of Israel, as I do, and of America, and, I hope, of Palestine. Does he agree that it is the duty of real friends to speak the truth at difficult times? The truth is that this is no peace plan: worse, by making the Palestinians spectators in their own land, annexing illegal settlements and destroying hopes, it paves the way for further conflict. Will he speak that truth to Israel and America?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we need to speak candidly on all sides of this debate. I have spoken to the Americans. I also spoke to President Abbas on 27 January. The reality is that whatever concerns any side has about this set of proposals, they will get resolved and improved only with both sides around the negotiating table. Rejectionism—the current vacuum—is only making matters worse. We would like to see peaceful dialogue and a negotiated solution, and that must be based on the two-state solution and the principles of international law.

The 22-member Arab League and the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Co-operation have both rejected the so-called Trump peace plan, because they recognise that it has no benefit for the Palestinian people, so why do the British Government continue to support it?

We support it along with—the hon. Gentleman failed to mention this—the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Omanis and Qatar. They have all given statements saying that it is a first step on the road to negotiations that can resolve the conflict. [Interruption.] They put out two statements. I heard the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) chuntering from a sedentary position. The reality is that rejectionism—the vacuum that currently exists—will only make matters worse. We want to see a negotiated two-state solution. That will happen only if both parties come to the negotiating table.

Libya: Peace Process

The Berlin conference attended by the Prime Minister on 19 January showed wide international support for a ceasefire, resumption of UN-led political talks and an end to external interference. International actors agreed to freeze military activity on the ground, not to send reinforcements and to respect the UN arms embargo. All parties must honour their Berlin commitments and demonstrate their support for the UN-led political process.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Libya seems to have drifted out of the headlines somewhat, and this war has been going on for 11 years. The Russo-Turkish Libyan initiative has now failed, and we must not take our eyes off the ball. Are we sure that we are not being short-sighted and piecemeal, when what Libya really needs is long-term international efforts diplomatically and on the ground?

My hon. Friend is right to say that this is a very busy region indeed. However, I disagree that the international community is taking its eye off the ball—witness the Berlin process and activities at the United Nations. I shall be going to Ankara tonight, and I will of course be talking about Libya, among other things, with my Turkish interlocuters tomorrow.

Gambia: Arrests of Protestors

13. What representations he has made to his Gambian counterpart on reports of arrests of peaceful protestors by Gambian security forces. [R] What the Gambia did in coming together to rid itself of the human rights abuses of former President Jammeh was nothing short of spectacular and gave a real opportunity to build a world-leading democracy, but last week, hundreds were beaten by security forces for peacefully demonstrating. Four journalists were detained and charged with incitement, and two radio stations have been closed down. Using the Government’s global media freedom campaign, what can the Minister do to support the majority of Gambians, who are terrified that this is the start of a slippery slope backwards, when they clearly want to go forwards? (900597)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We are concerned that the political protests on 26 January turned violent. We are monitoring the investigations into that incident closely through our high commission. The UK is clear that the right to peaceful protest and media freedom must be upheld without recourse to violence and intimidation.

Leaving the EU: Human Rights

14. What plans he has to bring forward legislative proposals for a UK autonomous global human rights sanctions regime after the UK leaves the EU. (900599)

Now that we have left the EU and regained control of our sanctions rules, we will be bringing into force our own global human rights Magnitsky-style sanctions regime, which will give us a powerful new tool to hold the world’s human rights abusers to account.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that any new Magnitsky legislation must be targeted at the worst human rights abusers, including those perpetrating terror against minorities in China, most notably the Uighurs and the Tibetans? To that end, will he support my Tibet (Reciprocal Access) Bill, mirroring legislation passed in the US which is throwing a spotlight on some of the worst human rights abuses against the Tibetans within China?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and pay tribute to his tenacious efforts in this regard. When I was in Washington, on the hill, I had a number of conversations about US legislation and the approach it is taking. He is right to say that our regime should target the worst human rights abusers. He will see the individuals designated in due course, but I can reassure him that our approach will be universal in its scope.

The 6,500 children fleeing Idlib in Syria daily, where barrel bombs are being used on hospitals and schools, must wonder where on earth the protectors of their human rights are. Unfortunately, in this House we have all but forgotten them. What is the Foreign Secretary’s plan to ensure that those children know that their human rights are protected?

I share the hon. Lady’s concern about the situation in Syria. We encourage all the actors—whether it is the Russians, the Turks or, indeed, the Assad regime itself—to find a peaceful way through. We support the UN efforts to find a peaceful solution and, in particular, the humanitarian relief that will provide relief to the children and other vulnerable people suffering in that terrible conflict.


The security situation in Iraq is deeply worrying. The threat from Daesh remains, and the recent attacks by Shi’a military groups on diplomatic premises are unacceptable, as is the use of disproportionate force against demonstrators. We are committed to supporting the Government of Iraq to face its profound security challenges. The Prime Minister reaffirmed that with his Iraqi counterpart on 5 January, and we stand ready to work with the new Prime Minister Mohammed Allawi.

Members of the Kurdish community in Newport have contacted me as they are very concerned that the recent vote in the Iraqi Parliament on expelling foreign forces will leave the Kurdish people, scarred by war over many years, even more vulnerable. What will Ministers do to act on their behalf?

I thank the hon. Lady for her supplementary question. I spoke to the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Masrour Barzani, recently—last month—and we discussed this issue, among others. She is right to say that the security of the region is of vital importance, and we will do all we can to work with our friends to assure that, including helping to train the peshmerga.

Middle East

As I said on 14 January, our strategic aims remain to de-escalate US-Iran tensions, constrain Iran’s nuclear development and hold Iran to account for destabilising activity in the middle east. We remain fully committed to the joint comprehensive plan of action. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Defence Secretary and I have all spoken to counterparts in the United States, Iran and across the region to underline the need for de-escalation on all sides.

Any unified and prosperous Palestinian state living peacefully alongside Israel is unrealistic as long as the Hamas terror group continues to be committed to the destruction of Israel. Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling for renewed international pressure on Hamas to renounce violence and to disarm?

My hon. Friend is of course absolutely right. The renunciation of violence and the return to the political process are of crucial importance in trying to get towards what I think we all want in this House, which is a peaceful and amicable settlement that respects the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, and in particular a deal that gives refugees, of whom there are a huge number in the region, a proper future.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the ways we can help to secure a long-lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is by working with our allies to support initiatives that promote dialogue and co-existence, such as the international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace, as well as ensuring that UK taxpayers’ money is not misdirected or misused but goes to the people who actually need it?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are of course a large number of projects and initiatives, many of them funded by the United Kingdom, that are aimed at promoting peace. He will be aware that we are one of the major contributors to the humanitarian situation—we hope, of course, pro tem—before we get a definitive political process that enables a viable Palestinian state to live alongside the state of Israel.

In relation to de-escalating tensions, may I thank the Minister for having met my constituent Mr Robert Cummings, the grandfather of Luke Symons, who is being held by Houthis in Sana’a? May I convey, through him, a request for an opportunity to meet the Foreign Secretary himself to discuss the case further?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. We have discussed the case of Luke Symons at some length, and of course my door always remains open. We continue to do what we can in a very difficult and challenging situation with our interlocutors and partners to secure the outcome that I know the hon. Gentleman wants for Mr Cummings.

Australian Bushfires

24. What support the Government are providing to Australia to help tackle the bushfires in that country. (900609)

The UK deployed a team of experts on 8 January to assess what support Australia needs, and we are working with Australia to establish where we can work together on this issue.

I welcome the Government’s pledge to create 500 new hectares of vibrant ecosystems here, but Australia’s ecosystems are facing unprecedented threats following these bushfires. What steps is the Department taking to assist the Australian Government in the recovery of these precious habitats?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. One of the pieces of work we are doing with Australia, I hope, is on biodiversity and specifically on seeds. We are hoping to work with Kew so that the re-energising of that biodiversity area, which has been so badly affected, will come to fruition, if I can use that word. It is excellent that our experts will be working completely hand in hand with the Australian authorities.

What discussions have the Government had with the Australian Government about the link between the bushfires and climate change to make sure that the Australian Government get serious about tackling carbon emissions in their country?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Australia is a signatory to the Paris agreement, and a number of Australian states have already committed to net zero by 2050. Ahead of COP26 we look forward to working with Australia to increase its climate ambition, in line with principles that it has already agreed to.

Topical Questions

Last week we left the European Union to become an independent country, delivering on the promise made by politicians to the British people. Later today I will be departing for Australia, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore, to deliver on this Government’s vision of a truly global Britain.

Yesterday the World Health Organisation evacuated 30 patients from Yemen who needed urgent medical treatment, including several children, but those are very much the lucky exceptions. What is the Foreign Secretary doing, together with his international counterparts, to negotiate peace in Yemen, so that all its people can receive medical assistance when they need it?

The hon. Lady raises a conflict that I, and the whole Government, are very concerned about. We work with all our international partners, and in the past week I met the Saudi Foreign Minister to consider how we can pursue dialogue and get a peaceful resolution to that conflict, not only for the parties and the region, but also for the vulnerable people affected.

T3. I was at Vicarage Road on Saturday, when both goals for Watford were scored by foreign players. Will the Secretary of State assure me that the premier league will still be able to attract talent and international players from around the world? (900612)

What an excellent question, particularly bearing in mind how important soft power is to our standing in the world. We are proud to host the best league in the world, showcasing the greatest talent in the world, and this year we will welcome our European friends to Glasgow and London for Euro 2020—yes, my hon. Friend can be assured about that.

T2. As the Foreign Secretary should be aware, members of the Public and Commercial Services Union who are employed by Interserve at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have begun a month of strike action. The dispute is over a lack of trade union recognition for collective bargaining purposes, sick pay, and unfair contractual changes. I am pleased that some of those workers are here today watching proceedings, and I stand in solidarity with them in their fight for dignity, respect, and fair treatment at work. Will the Foreign Secretary urgently review the situation, and work with all parties to bring the dispute to an end and achieve a fair and dignified resolution? (900611)

That is exactly what we would like to happen. The Foreign Secretary has already underwritten financial arrangements between Interserve and the employees, and we would like everybody to go back to ACAS and get this settled.

T5. Does the Minister share my view that unless and until peaceful co-existence is taught, championed and modelled in Palestinian schools, any peace deal with Israel will be short-lived? (900614)

My hon. Friend is right, and she will be aware of the support that we give for health and education in the occupied Palestinian territories, pending the definitive political solution that we would like to see in the not-too-distant future, which remains a huge priority. She will also be aware of concerns about things such as teaching materials in schools, and of the active role that we have taken to ensure that no inappropriate material is used. I spoke recently to the Palestinian Education Minister. I know that this issue is at the top of his agenda, and in advance of the academic year in September, changes will be made.

T4. For those who believe in the international rules-based order, the Trump annexation plan is an utter disaster that ushers in the law of the jungle. If the British Government support this plan, surely they will also be giving a green light to Russia and China for their various annexation activities. If it is okay for Israel to do this, what will the Foreign Secretary say to Russia and China? (900613)

I think the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the UK position. There is a proposal for peace talks, which would require a two-state solution, based on both sides agreeing. We have made it clear that we would disagree with and challenge any unilateral annexation on the basis of settlements.

T6. Soft power will be increasingly important in the post-Brexit world. Among the many international treasures the UK can marshal is the BBC World Service, with an audience of over 320 million. After the BBC recently reneged on the funding agreement for free TV licences for over-75s, will the Minister ensure that the BBC does not try to compensate by raiding the BBC World Service budget and endangering this vital resource? (900616)

I thank my hon. Friend for that very interesting question. He is quite right: the BBC World Service does reach 319 million people weekly. It is incredibly important that that carries on. We have the 2020 agreement between the BBC and Her Majesty’s Government to invest huge amounts of money and we want that to continue.

The National Federation of Indian Women estimates that 13,000 teenage boys from Jammu-Kashmir have been detained following the revocation of article 370 on 5 August. Will the Secretary of State support a fact-finding delegation from the all-party group on Kashmir to the region, given that so many of the UK’s Kashmiri diaspora still have family members there?

The Foreign Secretary raised this issue with the Foreign Minister for India. Perhaps I could write to the hon. Lady afterwards.

T7. Will the Minister provide an update on why the Chinese Government are not giving permission for their citizens to leave the country with their British partners? (900617)

I appreciate my hon. Friend raising this very important issue. There are huge challenges in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. We are working collaboratively with the Chinese. There is clearly a tension between the desire from our point of view to ensure that UK nationals and their dependants, whatever their nationality, can return to the UK, and the legitimate desire of the Chinese to prevent the spread of the virus. I have spoken to the Chinese Foreign Minister and received reassurances that no UK-national-related families who want to return to the UK will find themselves divided on the basis of dual or split nationality among their families.

Does the Minister agree, with regard to the Trump so-called peace deal, that since no Palestinians were involved in negotiating it, it is not a negotiation or a deal but an imposition and that therefore an imposition is no basis for a lasting peace?

The hon. Gentleman is putting the cart before the horse. He is right that both sides will need to agree a two-state solution based on coherent, credible states on both sides and with the security considerations without any unilateral annexation—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) is again speaking from a sedentary position. There will need to be the resolution of all the key final status issues, including Jerusalem and refugees. But we have to get out of this vacuum and the only way we will do that is if both sides come to the negotiating table.

T8. The Prime Minister’s speech yesterday was welcomed by many businesses in Bishop Auckland for his words about championing free trade globally. On freedom, a number of my constituents have been in touch to ask specifically what we can do to help to promote freedom in Venezuela. (900618)

My hon. Friend is right to tirelessly champion freedom across the world. I met interim President Guaidó. We continue to want a peaceful resolution of the situation in Venezuela and a transition to free elections that are credible for the people of Venezuela.

This morning, the now-sacked President of COP26 said that the Prime Minister has shown

“a huge lack of leadership and engagement”

and “doesn’t really understand” climate change, which has led to the UK being “miles off” globally from where we need to be. Now rumours are flying around suggesting that the Government are planning to shift COP26 from Glasgow to an English location. What on earth are the public supposed to make of this shambles?

The hon. Lady will not need to wait long, because today, with Sir Richard Attenborough, the Prime Minister is launching and setting out the detail of our approach to COP26, where we will lead in bringing the world together to tackle one of the global challenges of our age.

T9. With regard to Hong Kong BNO—British National (Overseas)—passport holders, can the Secretary of State say whether the Government consider them to be British or Chinese nationals? If it is British, what more can we do to enable them to access consular support in the place they live? (900619)

The BNO passport holders have, by definition, a bespoke status. They have Chinese and British nationality, but they are not British citizens. They hold a BNO passport, which entitles them to consular support when travelling away from home. It also entitles them to six months’ entry clearance into the UK. That, as I think my hon. Friend will know, was agreed as part of the arrangements around the joint declaration in 1984. We support that. We want to see one country, two systems upheld, precisely because it is the best way of ensuring the freedoms and the autonomy of the people of Hong Kong.

My constituent, Jagtar Singh Johal, has been incarcerated in the Republic of India for 830 days. Will the Foreign Secretary consider meeting me and Jagtar’s family to assure them that while he is pursuing a free trade British agenda, he will not sacrifice our commitment to openness, transparency and due process in any future free trade agreement?

We take allegations of torture and mistreatment very seriously and we raise them with the Indian authorities. I know that the hon. Gentleman recently met Lord Ahmad on 23 October and 19 December. I am happy to arrange another meeting with Lord Ahmad or to have a meeting with him myself.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has touched on the COP26 preparations. Will he talk a bit about the strategy that the FCO will take on the Kunming biodiversity conference and the UN ocean conference in Lisbon, because clearly, climate change diplomacy will be absolutely front and centre of his agenda?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that in all those conferences, we want to lead with an ambitious approach to tackling climate change. The Prime Minister is setting out with Sir Richard Attenborough today the approach to COP26, and if my hon. Friend would like any more detail, I would be very happy to write to him.

With the rights of indigenous peoples in danger around the world—particularly from the Bolsonaro Government in Brazil—does the Minister agree that the rights of indigenous peoples should be embedded in the proposed international treaty on human rights and transnational corporations?

I think the hon. Gentleman was present at a Westminster Hall debate last year when I made clear the work that the British Government are doing to help indigenous peoples in places such as Brazil. We have to make sure that we support such people. I think the point was made by the former Member for Bishop Auckland that tariffs are a good thing. Tariffs hurt the poorest and tariffs on food hurt the very poorest. We will make sure that we support indigenous peoples wherever they are, and particularly in Brazil.

I note the Minister’s earlier remarks about the Iran nuclear deal, but does he accept that since it was signed in 2015, Iran has launched major cyber-attacks against the UK, including on this Parliament? It has used its warships to harass our fleets in the Gulf and it has supported a huge arms build-up in the middle east. Where is the evidence that Iran can be a trusted partner for peace?

My right hon. Friend is right to point out not only the systematic Iranian non-compliance on the nuclear front, but its wider destabilising activities in the region and its use of covert cyber-attacks against western interests. The reality is that we want to hold Iran to account every time it steps beyond the international pale, but we also want to leave the door ajar for it to take the confidence-building steps—when the regime in Tehran makes that decision, as only it can—to come in from the international cold.

Can the Minister outline the discussions that he has had with our Commonwealth ally, India, about its industry and climate change and how we can help it to be sustainable, environmentally friendly and reduce emissions while carrying on with its industry?

My hon. Friend is right not just to ask that specific question, but to do so in that tone. As COP26 beckons, we want to see increased ambition right across the world in terms of nationally determined contributions to get emissions down. We also want to work with big developing countries such as India and China, with the technology and the innovation that the UK is particularly adept at providing, to help them to transition to a greener economy.

Following the acquisition by Turkey of certain key military equipment from Russia, what is my right hon. Friend doing to try to maintain strong bilateral relations with Turkey as a key NATO ally?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right—we have, as I mentioned, expressed our concern to Turkey about its acquisition of Russian-made weapons. That is against not just the letter, but the spirit of NATO. Equally, we value Turkey as a trusted NATO ally. It is often on the frontline of some of the greatest challenges that the alliance faces, so we are working with Turkey and all the European and North American partners to try to bring it into the fold and make sure that it is focused on NATO’s priorities.

I think the Foreign Secretary inadvertently said that the Prime Minister was launching the COP26 plans with Richard Attenborough today, but of course he is no longer with us. He might want to take the opportunity to correct the record.

Will the Foreign Secretary consider the request I made earlier through his colleague to meet my constituent, Robert Cummings, in relation to the case of Luke Symons in Yemen?

I am happy to correct the record as to which Attenborough I meant. We are lucky to have had so many fantastic Attenboroughs in this country. I also repeat that we are ambitious for COP26.

Of course, I will look carefully at the case the hon. Member raises. In all these consular cases, we want to provide the most effective representation to secure people’s release and to provide the reassurance they need and comfort to the family.

What proposals has the Minister for the Wilton Park conference on Nigeria later this month as regards reducing the persecution of Christians in that country?

As my right hon. Friend knows, we take freedom of religion and belief extremely seriously, and the Prime Minister’s envoy, my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), is working closely with me on the plans for that conference.