Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
Our thoughts remain with the people affected by the terrible events in Beirut. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and I spoke with the Lebanese President, Prime Minister and ambassador respectively. We rapidly deployed UK medical, humanitarian, military and logistics experts to support Beirutis in their response to the blast. The UK is a long-standing friend of the Lebanese people, and we were pleased to commit £25 million to help the most vulnerable.
On refugee resettlement, the resumption of arrivals remains dependent on covid-19 developments internationally and in the UK. We are not in a position to resume arrivals in the short term.
I thank the Minister for that answer and for the UK humanitarian response. The Lebanese people have suffered greatly from the consequences of civil war and then failed political institutions. What is the Minister doing to help bring about a stable political settlement, to allow the people of Lebanon to restore peace and security to their lives? Will he and the Foreign Secretary consider introducing Magnitsky-style sanctions in conjunction with other key members of the international community if any political leaders are found culpable?
As I say, my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have engaged at the highest levels with the Lebanese Government, and ensuring that there is political and economic stability, as well as security, is key. We support the Lebanese Government in many ways, including through the Lebanese armed forces, which recruit cross-faith and cross-community. Our diplomatic efforts go hand in hand with our humanitarian efforts. My right hon. Friend will understand that future designations under our autonomous Magnitsky sanctions regime are not something that we wish to speculate about at the Dispatch Box, but we will ensure that our support to the people of Lebanon, and Beirutis in particular, continues.
Migrants are crossing the channel partly because of a lack of safe and legal routes. Refugee resettlement, including from Lebanon, is a safe and legal route, but the pandemic has understandably seen it suspended. Now is surely the time to reopen those safe and legal routes. Will the Minister take steps this week to assist the Lebanese Government in restoring safe routes to the UK for refugees?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. In 2015, the then Prime Minister committed to help 20,000 vulnerable refugees. As of March this year, 19,768 had been taken in by the UK, in a typical act of generosity. As I say, future acceptances will be dependent on the covid situation, which we will keep under review.
Before last month’s tragic blast in Beirut, Lebanon was already facing financial ruin, requiring investment from regional partners. Countries will obviously be reluctant to invest if they feel that some of their money may go to help fund Hezbollah and its activities. Has my right hon. Friend had conversations with his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states about what they can do to help Lebanon in its time of need?
My hon. Friend is right that the diplomatic efforts of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office go hand in hand with its humanitarian efforts. We have indeed spoken to good friends of the UK across the region about what more they can do to support the Lebanese people. I hear what he says about concerns about money going to Hezbollah, and I can assure him that the money committed by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to support the Lebanese was targeted directly at the vulnerable people in need and did not go through Hezbollah.
One month on from the horrific explosion in Beirut and the subsequent collapse of the Lebanese Government, the UK Government have rightly pledged aid to support the people of Lebanon. Global leadership is urgently needed now to ensure the rapid reconstruction of the port of Beirut, to allow vital supplies and international aid to reach those in need. How are the Government planning to work with our international allies, such as France, to ensure that aid is delivered swiftly and directly to those who need it most on the ground in Lebanon and that the port can resume its vital role as a point of entry for UN aid to the whole region, including Syria, Iraq and Jordan?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the importance of Beirut as a port city for the Lebanese—a traditionally internationalist and commercially minded people. On international leadership, my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary engaged very swiftly at the highest level and, in her role as Secretary of State at the Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) engaged within days with an international group of leaders—national leaders—to co-ordinate the response. I am very proud that British expertise, including under-sea survey experts, was deployed at haste to Beirut to help with the technical support in its rebuilding programme.
Climate Change: International Co-operation
The UK is leading by example on climate change. We are the first major economy to legislate on net zero by 2050. Globally, we have provided 33 million people with improved access to clean energy and helped 66 million people cope with the effects of climate change. As co-host of the conference of the parties and president of the G7 next year, we will bring together accelerated action on the climate change crisis.
With the UK being president of the climate change conference, COP26, I am really pleased to see the Government bring forward proposals that would prohibit large businesses from using products that have been grown on illegally deforested places such as in the Amazon, but what steps is the Minister’s Department taking to ensure that this is a workable and successful policy?
As a Government, we have worked for many years to tackle deforestation, and specifically deforestation caused by trade in unsustainable agricultural commodities, including timber. For example, in Indonesia, we have worked to improve regulations, improve independent monitoring and improve law enforcement. I am pleased to say to the House today that 100% of timber exports from Indonesia are sourced independently from audited factories and forests.
Next year, the UK will both host the UN climate change conference and assume the presidency of the G7, so does my hon. Friend agree that, at this crucial time for our foreign policy, now is the perfect opportunity to bring together security, foreign and development work and leverage that behind tackling climate change?
I do agree with the thrust of the question. The world is looking for the UK to show global leadership in one of the greatest challenges of our time. The creation of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office brings together our diplomatic and development experiences, which means that we can do more to tackle climate change. The Department and I are working very closely with ministerial colleagues to support this agenda. In particular, we are working with Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, who is known well to Members in this Chamber.
If we are to achieve our goal of carbon net zero by 2050, some form of effective carbon taxation that takes account of the challenges of international trade will be necessary. Given that, what negotiations has the Department had with our European partners on the establishment of an effective system of carbon border adjustment payments?
I have discussed this incredibly important and technical matter with Treasury officials. I can reassure the House that we remain a global leader on decarbonisation and recognise that, as we cut domestic emissions, it is important to ensure that that does not lead to emissions elsewhere. An active debate is under way on which interventions are going to work, and the Government are monitoring and actively engaging with those discussions.
To avoid scrutiny, the Secretary of State snuck out cuts of £2.9 billion from the aid budget on the day Parliament rose for the summer recess. That is around 20% of the aid budget, despite the fact that projections of an economic downturn suggested a required fall of something closer to 9%. Can the Secretary of State tell us where those cuts will come from, and how the Government will ensure that they tackle poverty and the climate crisis and deliver value for money for the British people? Will he today commit to ending the use of UK aid and investment to fund fossil fuel projects in the global south?
The Government take our responsibilities very seriously. I remind the hon. Lady that we have delivered on 0.7%, but that does mean that the budget goes down as GDP goes down. In our prioritisation process, we have looked at a number of things to protect, including, in particular, the vulnerable, the bottom billion, climate, girls’ education and using Britain as a force for good overall. The details of that will be presented to the House in due course.
The humanitarian situation in Yemen is worsening, and we are particularly concerned about the growth of famine. In addition, UK-funded modelling predicts that the number of symptomatic cases of covid-19 in Yemen could reach as many as 10 million. In response to the risk of famine, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs announced last week that we are committing a further £25 million to Yemen, and we continue to reiterate the UK’s unequivocal support for the efforts of the United Nations special envoy, Martin Griffiths.
Does the Minister agree that the action this Government have taken to support those in need in Yemen will be further enhanced by bringing together our diplomatic clout and development expertise in the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office?
I agree with my hon. Friend on that. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary speaks with his international counterparts about the international effort to support Yemen, and I speak with the Yemenis themselves. The best thing that can happen for the people of Yemen is for the conflict to cease, which is why diplomatic pressure is applied to that end.
Today, Oxfam campaigners are visiting the new FCDO to hand in a letter on behalf of thousands of people, including my constituents, that calls on the UK Government to stop fuelling the war in Yemen and to reverse the decision to resume arms sales licences to Saudi Arabia. Does the Secretary of State not accept the inherent contradiction between selling arms with one part of the FCDO and providing aid with the other? Does he also accept that what Yemen needs is an urgent and immediate ceasefire, rather than an escalation of this five-year-old conflict?
The UK has an internationally respected and robust arms trade licensing regime. We have a close working relationship with the allies that are involved in the conflict in Yemen, to minimise civilian casualties and collateral damage. It is completely legitimate for all countries around the world to defend themselves against external aggression, and we are proud of the work we are doing to help the people of Yemen through this difficult time.
The Government are deeply concerned at the situation in the north-west and south-west regions of Cameroon. We are assisting humanitarian efforts, and today I can announce that we are increasing funding to the humanitarian efforts by £4.5 million, bringing the total for this year to £13.5 million.
I am grateful to the Minister for his answer and for his clear commitment, as I am to the Chair of the Select Committee for his interest in this area. What is going on in Cameroon is concerning for us all, whether we are talking about the multiple hundreds of thousands of displaced persons internally or in neighbouring countries, the more than 1 million people going hungry or the significant and continuing violence, including last month’s suicide bombing. This country has a special connection to Cameroon and a special responsibility to be part of a peaceful future there, as does France. It is hard to see a future settlement that does not involve both countries, so will the Minister tell us what conversations he has had with his counterpart in France about working together to bring about a peaceful solution?
That is an excellent point. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his passion on Cameroon, and I know that a number of colleagues share concerns, which the Government of Cameroon understand. We regularly engage with a number of partners, including the French and Americans, and the UN, where there have been resolutions. I intend to travel to Paris, covid permitting, in the next few months to discuss areas of mutual interest across the continent where we can work together, and Cameroon will be high on that list.
The Government have been clear: we do not accept the results of the fraudulent presidential elections in Belarus. We have strongly condemned the shocking scenes of violence by the authorities in Belarus towards peaceful protestors and the targeting of journalists, including representatives of the BBC. I have raised these concerns with the Foreign Minister of Belarus, and in my statements to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe on 28 August and to the UN Security Council on 4 September. The Belarusian authorities must be held to account, and we are calling for an independent investigation through the OSCE. We support sanctions, and there must be dialogue between the people of Belarus and the authorities.
My constituents in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath do not view the suspension of military training to Belarusian forces as a cause for celebration. That the UK was supporting the last dictator in Europe does not square with the UK’s espoused role as a beacon of hope. Between 2018 and ’20, UK armed forces provided training to 17 of the 30 countries where the FCO is particularly concerned about human rights issues. Will the Minister urgently provide me with comprehensive detail on the specific training provided to the Belarusian armed forces and full details of police and military training being provided to Turkey, Bahrain and the Philippines?
With specific regard to Belarus, the hon. Gentleman raises a very important point around defence co-operation. The UK shares a co-operative relationship with the Belarusian armed forces, including mutual learning, winter survival training, language tuition and peacekeeping, but in the light of recent events we have suspended all defence engagement with Belarus.
There are protesters outside Parliament today trying to draw attention to the situation in Belarus. I hope that the Minister will find time to pop out to meet them, as it is really important that we talk to members of the diaspora community here. The EU is currently drawing up a list of Belarusian officials who they will make subject to asset freezes and travel bans. Is the UK looking to do likewise, and if not, why not?
The hon. Lady makes a very important point. She can rest assured that we will, at the very least, match that list.
As the Minister said, two BBC journalists have had their accreditation revoked in Belarus, and we have also seen entire shutdowns of the internet in that country to stop citizens both reporting on what is happening in their country and finding out information for themselves. Does she agree that this is completely intolerable and a violation of the rights of citizens of that country? What representations have we made to the Government of Belarus that they should stop these internet shutdowns and removals of accreditations for BBC journalists?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this with me today. The Belarusian authorities have indeed blocked internet access for the entire country on several occasions. I have made clear through my statements at the OSCE and the UN that the democratic values and rights of the Belarusian people, including freedom of expression and media freedoms such as access to information, must be respected, and those who violate them must be held accountable.
I know that my hon. Friend shares my deep concern about the violence we have seen to suppress the peaceful demonstrations in Belarus, and I welcome her comments so far. Can she assure me that she will continue to work with our international partners to put pressure on the Belarusian regime to stop all violence against journalists, protesters and opposition candidates, and does she share my concern over the forced deportation of such individuals?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question and for his interest in the situation in Belarus. I can assure him that we are supporting an independent investigation through the OSCE into the fraudulent election and the violations by the Belarusian authorities. I spoke to Germany and the US on 18 August and France on 19 August, and I have also spoken to the Baltic states, Finland, Sweden and Poland.
We on the SNP Benches, and I am sure those across the House, support and salute the bravery of pro-democracy activists and call for the immediate release of all political prisoners, along with, of course, Maria Kolesnikova. I am sure that we all agree on that point.
I am grateful for the Minister’s statement and I agree, as far as it goes, but I would urge her to go further. I make four concrete proposals specifically based on the rule of law. There are things we can do through the OSCE and European partners, but there also things we can do specifically. Targeted sanctions on individuals under the Magnitsky regime is something that the UK can do now. We welcome the suspension of military co-operation, but could we have an explicit statement on what it actually involves and its ramifications? Can we explore humanitarian aid to activists? Poland has given €10 million to brave activists. Can we explore sanctions against companies involved in facilitating oppression by the regime? These are concrete points that the UK can act on now.
You have two questions, so do not take so long, please—we have to get other colleagues in.
First, on sanctions, we have made it very clear that we support sanctions against those responsible for the election fraud and human rights abuses. We will work with our international partners to sanction those responsible and to hold the Belarusian authorities to account. We currently implement EU sanctions and we will continue to do so during the implementation period, and we will consider future designations very carefully, based on evidence.
The hon. Gentleman raises a number of points. I want to touch on humanitarian support and support for civil society, which will be really important. That is why we have doubled our support to independent media, human rights organisations and community groups in Belarus with an extra £1.5 million of projects over the next two years. I am sure that he will welcome that.
A brief second question from Alyn Smith.
I will be brief, Mr Speaker—my apologies. I welcome the Minister’s comments. There is a lot of common ground. Will she commit to meet Belarusian activists here in the UK? My office will be happy to facilitate that.
I will undertake to get in touch with the hon. Gentleman’s office to see if that can be arranged.
I do hope that the Minister has a chance to meet the activists who are outside Portcullis House as we speak. There is a consensus that the bravery and determination that they have all shown during this terrible crisis has been an inspiration to us all.
I have some specific questions around election monitoring in Belarus and other countries. Have the Government cut funding for that particular function? Is there a desk officer on Belarus who speaks Belarusian? At the same time, the Government are turning up the heat on European allies with leaked briefings that they will break internationally binding treaties, which is hardly the behaviour of a responsible Government intent on working with our allies to solve common challenges. Could we have, perhaps, great tweets but also specific action, to pull together with Europe to solve this terrible problem?
Let me be absolutely clear. The hon. Lady raises some very important points here. We are working very hard with our international partners, because we recognise the importance of doing so. As I highlighted earlier, we are working through the OSCE. We are also working to support sanctions. In terms of the support that I have from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, I have a great team of officials who are working really hard on this area, as I am sure the hon. Lady would expect and welcome.
As I made clear in my statement on 13 August, we welcome both the suspension of plans to annex parts of the west bank and the normalisation of relations between the UAE and Israel. The deal was a historic step forward between two great friends of the United Kingdom.
A week before the election in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated he would move forward with the expansion of the illegal settlement at Efrat—an additional 3,500 homes. That plan had been previously frozen for years. It would cut off the north and the south of the west bank and is particularly problematic. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the suspension of annexation plans should be made permanent and should not be substituted for the massive settlement expansion such as the 5,000 homes that are planned in E1 zone, which represent—in my view and that of my constituents—annexation in all but name?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that settlements are both contrary to international law and counterproductive to peace. It is hugely welcome, first, that Israel has taken the plans off the table for the foreseeable future, coupled with the UAE deal, which is a substantial step forward in the wider process of reconciliation and peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours.-
I welcome the Israel-UAE deal, which stops the prospect of any damaging annexation and should bring about normalisation between the two countries. What steps are the Government taking to encourage more Arab states to follow the UAE’s lead and to use it as a catalyst to get lasting negotiated peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians?
I thank the hon. Lady. She is right and there can hopefully be a virtuous cycle of these normalisation agreements. I have been in touch with US authorities, including Jared Kushner when he visited London and Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, and I visited Israel on 25 August, where I not only saw Prime Minister Netanyahu, Alternate Prime Minister Gantz and Foreign Minister Ashkenazi, but visited the west bank and spoke to President Abbas and Prime Minister Shtayyeh—all with a view to encouraging normalisation with the countries of the region and, now that annexation is at least off the table for the foreseeable future, encouraging greater dialogue between the Palestinians and the Israeli Government.
Will the Secretary of State talk to European colleagues, particularly the Irish, with a view to taking joint action on settlement trade and on recognition to ensure the Israeli Government do not go ahead with their annexation threat in future?
I thank the hon. Lady. We do talk regularly to our E3 and wider European colleagues—we consider all the different permutations—but I think the positive here is that, through engagement and indeed through this wider process of normalisation, Israel has pulled back from those plans for annexation. That does create a window of opportunity not just with the countries of the region, but with the Palestinians themselves. My focus and the Prime Minister’s focus is on trying to use that to catalyse dialogue between the Palestinians and the Israelis, which is the only route to a two-state solution, which is the only route to enduring peace.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the United States Administration and indeed the US State Department on helping to broker this deal? I suspect he will not agree with me when I say that I think it is their pragmatic approach to say that a two-state deal is not going to happen as long as we have Hamas and Hezbollah taking the line they do, but what I would ask my right hon. Friend is: what role does he see for the United Kingdom in brokering further such peace deals between the United Kingdom and Arab states?
I thank my hon. Friend. I think he is right about the positivity of this step. We need some good news in the peace process and in the middle east, and I think the UAE deal with Israel is very positive. We are looking to and will certainly be encouraging—indeed, we have already started to encourage—others to follow suit, but also to make sure that we can engage with the Palestinians, at the level of the Palestinian Authority, to try to galvanise some dialogue between the two principal protagonists to the dispute.
My right hon. Friend knows very well that one of the reasons for the proximity between the United Arab Emirates and Israel is the pressure put on both by the Iranian regime, and the work that his Department has done in holding the Iranian regime to account at the UN has been hugely impressive. Applying the rule of law and applying the principles of non-violable international treaty to international negotiation has been so important. Could he please tell me that the UK will read the letter of the treaty of United Nations Security Council resolution 2231, and recognise that any of the named states has the opportunity to snapback sanctions on the violating state of Iran? Will he recognise as well that those international treaties are not for interpretation, but are actually pretty clearly laid out in black and white?
I thank my hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee. Lawyers will always have different views on the precise permutations, but I think the position on snapback in relation to the joint comprehensive plan of action is tolerably clear. He is absolutely right also to point to the role that Iran plays not just with its own activities—those it engages in directly—but working through Hamas and Hezbollah and other proxies throughout the middle east as a source of tension and instability. We are working with all of our allies to try to make sure we limit and hold to account Iran for those activities.
The social and health situation in Gaza is extremely serious, especially with regard to covid-19, and recently there was a clash between Israel and Hamas. Fortunately, a ceasefire was agreed, but a concern is that it is only a matter of time before another outbreak of violence occurs. How does the Secretary of State believe that further conflict between Gaza and Israel can be avoided?
First, we need to see an end to the targeting of civilians and the firing of improvised explosive devices by Hamas into Israel. That is unlawful and totally unacceptable. I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns on the broader humanitarian situation. When I visited the west bank on 20 August, I announced £2.7 million-worth of further humanitarian assistance. Now that Israel has taken annexation off the table, it would make sense, even irrespective of the broader peace talks, for the Palestinian Authority to engage with the Israelis on finance and security co-operation in the west bank and Gaza, including in relation to being able to receive tax revenues to pay Palestinian public servants. As a confidence-building measure, given the UAE deal, that is something the Palestinians could do on their side as well.
Saudi Arabia: Human Rights Defenders
The United Kingdom has a strong relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which allows us to have important frank discussions. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised human rights defenders with Saudi Ministers on his recent visit to Riyadh, and I have raised concerns with Dr Awwad, the head of the Saudi human rights commission, as did Lord Ahmad in June.
I am pleased to hear that the Minister is having robust conversations with the Saudis, but will the UK Government publicly call on the Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the five women human rights defenders who are still being detained, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada, and for all charges to be dropped against the 13 women’s rights defenders currently on trial for peaceful protest and activism?
It is important that we recognise that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is taking significant steps in the right direction, and we encourage and support it to do so. The Foreign Secretary raised the release of those human rights defenders face-to-face on his visit to Riyadh just last month[Official Report, 15 September 2020, Vol. 680, c. 1MC.].
The Government will prioritise the bottom billion, the very poorest around the world, as part of our core mission. This is in our national interest and it will project the UK as a force for good in the world.
The UK has a proud record as a provider of aid across developing countries and has achieved significant milestones in reducing poverty abroad. However, can my right hon. Friend assure my constituents in Ashfield that this aid money will be used as effectively as possible and will not be provided to countries that spend vast amounts of their GDP on projects such as space programmes, as opposed to addressing their own poverty problems?
I am happy to reassure the residents of Ashfield and beyond that reducing poverty will be at the beating heart of the FCDO. That is why we are committed to the Independent Commission for Aid Impact; that is why the Foreign Secretary has appointed Nick Dyer as the first ever envoy on famine prevention and humanitarian affairs; and that is why we have allocated a new £119 million package to look at the threat of the coronavirus and of famine more generally across the bottom billion.
Rule of Law
Promoting the rule of law internationally is integral to the UK’s global influence and to our status as a force for good. That is one of the reasons that the Foreign Secretary has commended the candidature of Judge Joanna Korner QC for election as a judge in the International Criminal Court in the December 2020 elections. The FCDO is supporting ROLE UK to provide expertise in law and justice to developing countries through its partnerships for development programme.
I thank the Minister for that answer, and I wish my old friend and colleague Judge Korner well in her candidature. Of course, the best way to promote the rule of law is always to adhere to it ourselves. But more specifically, will the Minister confirm that the Government will continue with the excellent ROLE UK, the rule of law expertise programme that has been run by the Department for International Development for the last five years, which has given very modest grants to enable British lawyers and judges to give pro bono advice and support to developing countries?
I thank my hon. Friend. We have greatly appreciated the enormous contribution of the pro bono work of some of the UK’s best judges and legal professionals, delivered through the ROLE UK programme. This year we had to reduce its funding due to potential shrinkage in the UK economy and a decrease in the value of the 0.7% commitment. The FCDO has had to prioritise urgent and high-priority work, such as tackling climate change, championing girls’ education, and UK leadership in the global response to covid-19. Although this is a significant cut, through our conversations with ROLE UK we are satisfied that we will be able to continue its good work.
The UK enjoys a strong relationship with Egypt, which is a key economic and security partner. We regularly engage at the most senior levels. In January, we welcomed President Sisi to London for the UK-Africa investment summit. The Foreign Secretary speaks regularly with Foreign Secretary Shoukry and I spoke with the Egyptian ambassador yesterday.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Security Print Solutions in Consett, County Durham, has a long-standing contract with the Egyptian Government to provide high-quality tax stamps for tobacco products, which have seen revenues to the Egyptian exchequer rise by 121%. Egypt is in the process of developing its own facility, but in the interim, ongoing contracts remain. Will the Minister use his good offices to do all he can to work with the Department for International Trade to help SPS fight for those interim contracts and look for other long-term opportunities to protect and expand export jobs in Consett worldwide?
My hon. Friend, in his relatively short time in the House, has shown himself to be a passionate defender of the businesses and people of North West Durham, and I commend him for doing so. I am aware of the case that he has raised. The ambassador and I did not speak directly on that case, but we did talk about bilateral trade relationships. I know our officials are following up on that, but I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend directly, so he can raise the case with me.
Education of Women and Girls
Standing up for the right of every girl to 12 years of quality education is a major priority for the Government and the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, but covid-19 is having a profound effect on the barriers girls face to education and putting them at risk of dropping out of school permanently, so a focus on girls’ education is more important than ever. That is why, in response, we have adapted our education programmes in 18 countries and provided more than £10 million of new funding to support refugee and displaced children to access education.
I hear what the Minister has said, but today and this week we want the Prime Minister to stick to his agreements and promises, and he recently promised me that the Government’s highest priority would be tackling the lack of education for girls worldwide. Some 15 million little girls do not even get to primary school. There is an enormous commitment from the United Nations sustainable development goals to do something about that. Can I have an assurance that the ministerial team will keep berating the Prime Minister until we get action on that?
Let us be absolutely clear: as the FCDO, we will continue to deploy the UK’s diplomatic clout and world-leading development expertise to secure greater global ambition and investment in girls’ education. The Prime Minister has been clear in his commitment to that.
Integrated Review of Policy
The integrated review was formally launched in February 2020. It was paused because of covid and then recommenced in June. We expect it to conclude in the autumn. Ministers have met regularly. I have chaired those meetings on key themes from trade to security.
On the integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, I would like to understand what specific steps the Secretary of State is taking to establish an atrocity prevention strategy to avert further identity-based violence worldwide.
I entirely agree with the hon. Lady’s passion and commitment on the subject. Of course, we have already introduced Magnitsky sanctions, which allow us to target the perpetrators of human rights abuses with visa bans and asset freezes. More generally, in the context of the integrated review, one of the powerful themes is the United Kingdom’s role in the world being joined up, which is why we have brought DFID and the Foreign Office together, in solving disputes, managing conflict and holding the worst perpetrators of human rights abuses to account.
I strongly believe that the Government must be more transparent and engage with the British people as we attempt to define our place in the world and how ambitious we want to be. Let us follow the example of the confederation papers, which through consensus helped unify what the US originally stood for. Will the Foreign Secretary please publicise the threat assessment of how the world is changing and the strategic options in response that reflect the degrees of global ambition and the scale of influence we might pursue? Only then can we design the appropriate defence posture. If he takes the nation with him as we define what “global Britain” really means, there will be greater support for the upgrading of our soft and hard power tools that is so urgently needed.
I thank my right hon. Friend. I share his commitment to making Britain an even stronger force for good in the world. We have engaged far and wide. We are engaged with the Foreign Affairs Committee’s inquiry on the integrated review. We are engaged with think-tanks, from the Royal United Services Institute to the Overseas Development Institute. In the other place, Baroness Sugg is chairing regular meetings with representatives of civil society, led by Bond and including Save the Children and Plan International. Those meetings are related to the covid recovery, but they also touch on the merger, both of which are key elements of the IR.
The integrated review was unpaused in late June. It is supposed to be the most comprehensive evidence-driven evaluation of foreign policy since the cold war, so why did the call for evidence go out only in mid-August for 20 working days, and why are the sustainable development goals absent from the scope of the review? Should we assume that the outcomes are a foregone conclusion?
I thank the hon. Lady. She should not assume any foregone conclusion. It is precisely because the consultation is open that we have not stipulated any particular thing with the level of specificity she has asked for. I have explained to the House the breadth of consultation. She is right to note that it was interrupted—that was an inevitable result of covid-19—but I reassure her that we are absolutely committed, as the merger into the new FCDO shows, to bringing all our international assets and attributes together to be an even stronger force for good in the world.
Since the last oral question session, on 25 August I visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to press for a new dialogue and to reinforce the UK’s commitment to a negotiated two-state solution. On 2 September, we launched the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to integrate our aid expertise and our diplomatic reach and to project global Britain as an even stronger force for good in the world.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the case of Ye Ming Yuen in Singapore, and will he ensure that the Government continue to raise our objections to the use of corporal punishment all over the world?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and our staff continue to support Mr Yuen and his family during what must be a very distressing time. I can tell her and reaffirm that the United Kingdom’s long-standing global position is to oppose corporal punishment in all circumstances and to call for the consideration of alternative sentences.
In the last six months, the Foreign Secretary has publicly reminded Iran, Israel, China and Russia of their obligations under international law. I agree with him, so does he agree with me and with the most senior legal official in Government, who has behaved with honour and principle this morning, that when the Prime Minister briefs that he will unilaterally tear up our international obligations under the withdrawal agreement, it undermines our moral authority, harms our national interest and makes a mockery of the Foreign Secretary’s attempts to stand up for international law? Will he assure the House that he, as the Foreign Secretary, will never vote for amendments that violate our international obligations?
I obviously respect all the brilliant civil servants who work for us. I used to work as a Foreign Office lawyer myself. I can say to the hon. Lady that I am surprised she would open up this question. As we go through the uncertainty of changing our relationship with the EU, we will make sure that there is maximum certainty for businesses as regards the UK internal market, and of course we will legislate to that effect. Ultimately, we will take every measure necessary to protect the integrity of the United Kingdom and to comply with and live up to the Good Friday agreement, ensuring that it is respected. I am surprised she is not supporting that.
The right hon. Gentleman clearly does not read the newspapers, because his own Government have been briefing the precise opposite. Let me try him on another international obligation. An international arbitration ruling determined that the UK owes a debt to Iran, which has not yet been paid. In a letter to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family last week, the Defence Secretary said that the UK
“acknowledges there is a debt to be paid”
and is seeking to find ways to pay it. It is absolutely vital that the Government have a clear and agreed strategy for Nazanin, Anoosheh Ashoori and all dual UK nationals to ensure that they are brought home as soon as possible. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Defence Secretary, and if so, what steps is he now taking to resolve these heartbreaking cases?
I can tell the House that I had two conversations throughout August with Foreign Minister Zarif. We pursue all the cases of our dual nationals. The question of the International Military Services debt is a parallel issue, but we have always said that we would work to resolve that. As well as all the wider issues that have already been raised in relation to Iran, there is never an engagement, a meeting or a telephone conversation that goes by without our being absolutely clear—and I hope that the hon. Lady agrees—on the appalling and arbitrary detention of all dual nationals and calling for their immediate release.
I thank my hon. Friend and hugely welcome all his efforts in this regard. We are taking forward all these strands—from media freedom to the Magnitsky sanctions, to the work that we are doing on LGBT rights. He will know that we intend to build on our current official development assistance allocation for the strategic review on LGBT rights, which will be completed in the autumn. As a founding member of the Equal Rights Coalition of 42 states sharing the same values, in 2019 we took on the role of co-chair and we plan not only to deliver the first ever UK-led five-year action plan, committing the coalition to taking domestic and international measures on LGBT and equality issues, but to expand the ERC and, in particular, to try to draw in more participation from Asia, Latin America and Africa, for all the reasons that he mentioned.
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the UK has a comparative advantage internationally, with research that is going on at Oxford and Imperial in pursuit of the vaccine and the leadership that the Prime Minister showed at the Gavi summit to smash all the records and get $8.8 billion-worth of funding to ensure equitable access to the whole world. That is good for the United Kingdom—we do not want a second wave globally—and important as a matter of moral responsibility. On misinformation, we have discussed it in the G7 and plenty of other formats, and the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we must be rigorous and robust in rebutting false information, particularly when it is irresponsible about something such as vaccine safety standards.
I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend does as one of the leading parliamentarians and Select Committee members, and indeed, Chairs. The normal position that the Government take is that Select Committees ought to shadow Departments, but having said that, the representation is ultimately for the House to decide. I welcome all the scrutiny; he will know that we have not only affirmed the role of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact in providing scrutiny and accountability on aid decisions, but I want to review it to make sure that it is focused on what adds the most value and that its critical analysis is followed by practical recommendations.
First, on the issue of timing, covid has shown precisely why we need to integrate more in respect of our international endeavours. That was true in relation to the combination between research for a vaccine, the Gavi summit and the misinformation that was asked about earlier. On the cost of the merger, we would envisage that, notwithstanding our commitment to 0.7%, over the long term—over the course of the comprehensive spending review—we can make considerable savings on administrative costs as we streamline, fuse and synergise the various different aspects of the previous Departments.
As we have left the EU, it is curious to have an operation overseas. We have a global network of 280 overseas posts, which represent all parts of the UK, including Cornwall. The decision to operate overseas is one for Cornwall Council and, ultimately, the voters of Cornwall, who I am sure will want at the next local elections to have a say on whether it is a good idea and a good use of their taxpayers’ money.
I thank and pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for an exceptional endeavour. As we depart the EU and forge our way in the world, we ought to have stronger relationships with that part of the world. I would be very interested in receiving directly those proposals and ideas and would make sure that either I or the Minister for the region meets the hon. Gentleman and those involved.
My right hon. Friend will know that the resolution that was tabled garnered only two votes in the UN Security Council. The UK’s position is clear: we want to see the continuation of the arms embargo. It has to get through the Security Council, as frustrating as that may be. We have offered our good offices; indeed, had time been allowed between the original tabling of the resolution and the vote, we had offered, with the E3, to work with all the permanent members of the Security Council to try to find a compromise. Ultimately, unless the resolution can pass, it has no impact in restraining Iran.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and he is absolutely right to raise it. We have serious concerns about gross human rights violations being perpetrated against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, including the extrajudicial detention of over 1 million Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in political re-education camps—as they have been referred to. We are playing a leading role in holding China to account for its widespread violations of human rights. On 30 June, the UK led a joint statement on behalf of 27 other countries at the UN Human Rights Council about the situation in Xinjiang. Finally, the Foreign Secretary has again raised Xinjiang with his Chinese Foreign Minister counterpart.
My hon. Friend will know that, along with our E3 colleagues, we have triggered the dispute resolution mechanism for the JCPOA on the nuclear side. It has always been the case that the JCPOA did not encompass the wider destabilising activities in which Iran engages in the region through militias and proxies, and we have always been open and willing, and indeed pressing, to try to incorporate a bigger agreement. But it is also right to say that until there is scope for that wider agreement, what we have is the JCPOA, which provides the vehicle for some kind of restraint on Iran, although I accept that it has been eroded because of systemic non-compliance. We would be reluctant to move to something bigger until it is in place, and should not lose sight of what the JCPOA adds.
I share the hon. Lady’s concern about the situation in Zimbabwe. We follow it carefully and engage with our international partners as well as directly with the Government of Zimbabwe. Working with our partners, we have the tools, if the evidence allows and we decide it is the right thing to do, to apply targeted sanctions on those who commit the most egregious human rights abuses.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.