House of Commons
Tuesday 20 July 2021
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Orders, 4 June and 30 December 2020).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
Hong Kong: National Security Law
The national security law in Hong Kong is not being used for its original avowed purpose, which according to Beijing was to target
“a tiny number of criminals who…endanger national security”.
Instead, it is being used to stifle the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and undermine the joint declaration.
I welcome the continuing success of the new visa relief for holders of British national overseas status; it reflects the UK’s historic and moral commitment to the people of Hong Kong in the face of the new national security law, which continues to be used to crack down on freedom of expression, as we have just seen from the recent closure of Apple Daily. Will my right hon. Friend confirm what steps he is taking to ensure that those Hongkongers will be welcomed to Britain and able to integrate into our local communities?
I think that this is the most big-hearted offer that the UK has made since the Indian Ugandans fled Idi Amin. My hon. Friend is right that it is not just about offering safe haven; the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has announced a £43 million dedicated support package to ensure that BNOs can integrate and thrive in our country.
We have watched as the situation has deteriorated in Hong Kong and as genocide is committed in Xinjiang. The Foreign Secretary has issued statements and introduced sanctions while clinging to the absurd prospect of boarding a plane to Beijing next year to participate in a public relations coup for the Chinese Government. He is asking the royal family and senior politicians to stand by while journalists are rounded up, pro-democracy protesters are arrested and 1 million Uyghurs are incarcerated in detention camps. In October, before he was overruled by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, he said that there comes a point where sport and politics cannot be separated. When is that point?
The hon. Lady knows that the participation of any national team in the Olympics is a matter for the British Olympic Association, which is required, as a matter of law under the International Olympic Committee regulations, to take those decisions independently. We have led the international response on Xinjiang, and also on Hong Kong. Of course, as we have said, we will consider the level of Government representation at the winter Olympics in due course.
While the Foreign Secretary continues to duck the question, the Chinese Government have raised the stakes. Yesterday, he admitted that China was responsible for the Microsoft Exchange hack, which saw businesses’ data stolen and hackers demanding millions of pounds in ransom. He said that the Chinese Government
“can expect to be held to account”.
He might want to have a word with the Treasury, because just two weeks ago, at Mansion House, the Chancellor said that it was time to realise
“the potential of a fast-growing financial services market with total assets worth £40 trillion”.
While the Foreign Secretary is imposing sanctions, the Chancellor is cashing cheques. How does the Foreign Secretary expect to be taken seriously in Beijing if he is not even taken seriously around his own Cabinet table?
I thank the hon. Lady, but she is wrong on two counts. It was yesterday that the UK, along with our EU, NATO and US allies and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, publicly attributed the Microsoft Exchange server attacks to the Chinese; it was not then that they took place. She is also wrong in her characterisation of the Mansion House speech. Of course, we have made it clear right across Government that we will hold the Chinese Government to account on human rights, but also on cyber-attacks or other nefarious activities, while also seeking a constructive relationship.
Sexual Violence in Conflict: Ethiopia
Our priority is to get access for humanitarian actors in Tigray. We have seen some improvements since the Foreign Secretary called for greater access, but it is still not good enough. We have, however, deployed an expert at PSVI to Ethiopia in June for a scoping mission, recommendations from which will outline further support that may be possible, including additional deployments.
I thank the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for deploying a member of the PSVI unit or team—whichever we are calling it. It is particularly welcome that we are stepping forward and providing that assistance, but in the light of the fact that the United Nations cannot consider any of the issues without a resolution, will the UK Government push for a resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Council to consider all the ongoing human rights abuses in the Tigray region?
We look at all options. Under the G7 presidency, we issued a joint statement of Foreign and Development Ministers on 2 April; there was also a statement on 2 May and a communiqué from leaders on 13 June. We will continue to work with UN colleagues as well.
I welcome the Minister’s response. The allegations of rape and sexual violence have shocked the world. I also welcome the recent comments by our permanent representative to the United Nations about the shocking attacks on humanitarian workers, including those in recent days. Unfortunately, we have heard increasingly inflammatory language from Prime Minister Abiy, and in recent days fighting involving Tigrayan forces has allegedly spread to the Afar region. With famine, violence and so many needs increasing, will the Minister confirm whether our total support to Ethiopia will increase or be cut this year?
We are committed to helping the community, and our support overall will of course increase, but I think the hon. Gentleman is talking not about support but about finance. Actually, what is critical is our focus on resolving the conflict, because only then can we get humanitarian partners in to deliver the aid. Aid convoys have come under attack and 600 vehicles are needed each week, so without a diplomatic effort to quell that conflict—for the Eritreans to remove themselves from Ethiopia and to quell the types of additional conflicts that the hon. Gentleman is talking about—any more money is not going to get through.
Overseas Humanitarian Work
Humanitarian preparedness and response is one of the Foreign Office’s seven priorities under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, and is a priority for the UK’s aid budget spend this year. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will spend £906 million to maintain the UK’s role as a force for good at the time of crisis. We have consistently been one of the largest bilateral humanitarian donors globally: since 2015, the UK has provided over £11.1 billion in humanitarian funding. However, it is not all about money. The FCDO is uniquely placed to bring together diplomatic clout and humanitarian expertise, to ensure the drive for more effectiveness in the response to humanitarian crisis through preparedness, and an example of that is the G7 famine compact.
In that case, what is the Minister’s message to constituents in Glasgow North who have donated in good faith to UK Government aid match programmes such as those run by Mary’s Meals or War Child, who have now been told that the match funding they were expecting for every pound donated by a member of the public will be delayed at least until next year? That is delaying and slowing down vital life-saving humanitarian work, so when are the aid match funds going to be released? Hopefully it will be sooner rather than later. [Interruption.]
As my ministerial colleagues have just said, the hon. Gentleman answers his question in his question. I pay tribute to the generosity of spirit of the people of the UK—all parts of the UK—who have contributed to humanitarian relief causes. I also pay tribute, of course, to the excellent work of the FCDO members of staff who are based in East Kilbride; they do fantastic work .
May I ask the Minister specifically what support is being made available to the small island states? They have climate vulnerability—they are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events—and they have been devastated financially by the pandemic, but the metrics that are used to calculate whether they count as least-developed countries often do not take into account those particular vulnerabilities. What is he doing to ensure that aid will get to them, and that debt relief is also considered?
The hon. Member makes an important point, and we take our responsibility to small island nations seriously. That issue does not necessarily fall within the humanitarian spend, which is designed for more acute need, but we will of course, through things like COP26, take into consideration the factors that are difficult for small nations to deal with, whether they be island nations or otherwise, and that will always remain a serious piece of work in the FCDO.
The official development assistance budget, before it was cut, would have amounted to 1% of covid borrowing. We all know that the motion that was passed last week essentially spells the end of the 0.7% commitment. In the absence of the development strategy from the Department, which continues to be delayed, is it now the case for the Government that those who need help the most are relegated to the bottom of the pile to wait for everything else to be done, rather than being put front and centre of foreign policy?
The hon. Gentleman seems to disregard the fact that the UK will remain one of the most generous aid donors in the world, spending £10 billion to help some of the poorest people in the world. We are experiencing the worst economic contraction in three centuries, driven by a global pandemic beyond any of our control, but our commitment to get back to 0.7% has now been set out and the conditions for doing so are now public. We are proud of the work that we do supporting the poorest people around the world, and we will continue to be one of the most generous aid donors in the world.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the work he does as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution. Air pollution is the largest environmental risk to human health and it results in 7 million premature deaths globally. The UK is showing global leadership in this area, and since 2011 UK international climate finance has provided 33 million people with improved access to clean energy and reduced or avoided 31 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
University College London found in its February report that 8.7 million people die each year due to air pollution from fossil fuels. That is one in five deaths globally, and one in three in eastern Asia, including China, which now produces more emissions than the EU and the US combined. Will the Minister press the Government to show leadership at COP26 by enshrining World Health Organisation air quality limits in the Environment Bill to help prevent tens of thousands of avoidable deaths in Britain, and millions abroad?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise east Asia, but there is also south Asia and the Pacific. We are working closely with the COP26 energy transformation, transition and zero-emission vehicles campaigns to make sure there is closer integration with public health objectives. This will facilitate a global, green, healthy and sustainable recovery from the pandemic. I am happy to work with the all-party group in this regard.
We continue to fully support the UN efforts to end the conflict in Yemen, alongside the US, the Saudis and other international partners. The United Nations has put a fair deal on the table, consisting of a ceasefire and a measure to ease restrictions in Hodeidah port and Sanaa airport. However, the Houthis are not engaging constructively with the proposals to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people. Rather than coming to the table, the Houthis continue their offensive in Marib. We are committed to reaching a peaceful settlement to the conflict. We await the appointment of a new special envoy, and we look forward to working with them when they are in place.
After seven years of violence, suffering and hardship, there is still no end in sight, as the Minister acknowledges. The UN has warned that Yemen faces the worst famine the world has seen for decades. After more than halving their aid to the country, what will the Government do to stop families dying of starvation and disease? As penholder for Yemen at the UN, we clearly have a special responsibility. What further pressure are the Government putting on all the parties for meaningful and inclusive peace talks involving all key stakeholders—not simply the Houthis, who are clearly blocking the discussions, but the Hadi Government and the Southern Transitional Council?
The hon. Gentleman is right that we are concerned about the humanitarian situation in Yemen. We have given over £1 billion-worth of aid to Yemen since the conflict began. I recently spoke about the food security issue with David Beasley of the World Food Programme in the margins of the G7 in Italy.
The best thing we can do for the people of Yemen is to bring this conflict to a conclusion. We engage constructively with the Saudis and the Government of Yemen but, unfortunately, the people we have the most difficulty engaging with meaningfully are the Houthis, and I publicly call upon them to engage with us, to engage with the UN, to engage with this process and to bring peace to these people who so desperately need it.
Where is the morality and sense in the Government trumpeting at the G7 the importance of fighting famine while, at the same time, withdrawing food aid from nearly a quarter of a million people in Yemen? As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) said, Yemen is facing what the UN is calling the worst famine in decades. I am told by the aid agencies that the Government have said they hope to restart the life-saving programmes at some point next year, which is a year too late for those in need now. It is also totally impractical and wasteful to shut down the delivery infrastructure, which takes years to build, only to restart it from scratch a year later. Would it not be better to maintain the current programmes, which are so badly needed and which enhance the UK’s global reputation, rather than making the poorest pay for the global pandemic?
Despite the worst economic contraction in 300 years, the UK remains one of the largest bilateral donors in supporting the humanitarian efforts in Yemen, but it is not just about money, important though that it is; it is also about bringing the diplomatic power of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to bear. I spoke with the Government of Yemen about making sure fuel ships outside the port of Hodeidah are able to land, so that fuel can be used to mill grain and transport food. That work, alongside our work with the United Nations, the Saudis and the Government of Yemen to bring about peace, is the best thing we can do to help the medium and long-term situation for the people of Yemen.
As set out in the integrated review, tackling climate change and biodiversity loss is this Government’s top international priority. As Minister for Africa, it is integral to my work, and so far this year the Foreign Secretary has raised the issue of climate in more than 100 engagements. We are making progress, as can be seen by last month’s first ever net zero G7, where all countries committed to reaching net zero by 2050.
I warmly welcome the commitment by G7 countries to the Build Back Better World initiative, which will be vital in supporting developing countries with clean infrastructure and could unlock greater progress on climate finance at COP26. While congratulating the UK Government on their leadership, may I ask my hon. Friend how he plans to take this forward and secure firm commitments from our allies?
At the end of March, the COP President-designate and the Foreign Secretary hosted the climate and development ministerial. Ministers from 35 climate-vulnerable and donor countries attended, plus representatives from institutions and civil society. At that, we saw consensus about the importance of practical action, and we will continue to build on this success.
Climate change remains a hot topic across my constituency, and I intend to engage with my local schools in COP26-style roundtables. Does my hon. Friend agree that working with young people across the world will help promote international co-operation on climate change? Should he need a doughty champion to do that around the world, I have my passport at the ready.
A stonkingly excellent idea! I am glad my hon. Friend has her passport at the ready—I am sure the Whips will have heard that. Young people are an important voice, and the UK is committed to involving young people in the planning and hosting of COP26. COP26 will engage civil society and the youth advisory council, which is co-chaired by the Kenyan 25-year-old climate change activist and Bella Lack, an 18-year-old climate activist from the UK.
The UK should feel rightly proud of the progress we are making to cut our carbon footprint and our commitment to net zero, but with less than 1% of global emissions it is clear that the UK cannot fight climate change on its own. So will the Minister assure me that we will use both our diplomatic and commercial influence to put pressure on not only the G7, but other nations that are the most polluting to take urgent action to address this matter and reduce their emissions?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: tackling climate change and biodiversity loss will require a global effort. We are asking all countries to agree ambitious nationally determined contributions that align with net zero and to invest in policies that will phase out coal, which will turn these targets into a reality. We have already made great progress, as has been seen by last month’s first ever net zero G7, which I believe he part-hosted.
We have already heard this morning about emissions from China. Following up on the point from my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), I should say that China generates 60% of its electricity from coal, which compares with a figure of just 2% in the UK. As well as being a major contributor to global climate change, that gives Chinese manufacturers a competitive advantage, because it makes their energy costs lower. What discussions have been held with the Chinese authorities to encourage them to speed up their transition to carbon free sources of energy?
The Foreign Secretary raised this issue with Wang Yi, and at the US climate leaders’ summit President Xi made the commitment that China would reduce its coal use. That is a positive sign, but more information is needed, so we look forward to hearing more about how China will strictly control and then reduce coal consumption, to make sure that its commitments are Paris-compatible.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Bede Academy in Blyth where concerned students questioned me on the steps that we are collectively taking to tackle climate change. Will my hon. Friend assure me that the Government are doing all they can to pursue international co-operation on climate change, so that we can best tackle the serious environmental issues and protect our planet for future generations?
My hon. Friend can return to Bede Academy and reassure students that he has raised this matter in the House and that we will tackle climate change and biodiversity. He can also reassure them that that is the Government’s top international priority. We look forward to delivering a successful COP26 this November. That will be a key focus for Ministers and our diplomatic network over the coming months and, indeed, years.
It is vital that climate action does not come at the cost of further crushing debt for developing world countries. Debt cancellation would be one fast way for those countries to free up resources, achieve the sustainable development goals, and tackle the climate crisis. Will the COP26 President and UK Government be pushing for international agreement on this as the SNP has long called for?
That is something that we have worked and delivered on both in Sudan and Somalia recently. We also had a focus on suspending debt initially during this crisis. However, we need to look at all options going forward as we build back better, sorting the debt issue, but doing so in a climate-sensitive way.
It is clear that low and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change. Wealthier countries, including the UK, have so far failed to commit to the agreed £100 billion climate finance promise made in Paris to address this. Evidence submitted to my International Development Committee inquiry suggests that only 10% to 15% of the current climate finance available actually reaches the local communities that bear the brunt of this emergency. What steps are the Government taking to secure the £100 billion before COP26 and what is the Minister doing to ensure that local communities in the areas worst affected by climate change are consulted, including in designing programmes, and can actually access the climate financing themselves?
On the numbers, the hon. Lady is wrong. We have doubled our commitment to international climate finance to take it up to £11.6 billion. That is a big commitment to the global number, but we are asking other partners to step up, and we will use events such as COP26 in Glasgow and the G7 to encourage others to step up as we have done.
The newly unelected Baroness Davidson of Lundin Links described her Tory colleagues as “a bloody disgrace” for condemning millions of the world’s poorest people to this Government’s death sentence cuts last week. If those cuts were not stupid enough, vital projects combating climate change across the world are now being immediately cancelled as a result. Does the Minister agree with the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh that the Chancellor has cut the COP26 President
“off at the legs. He will not have any credibility… asking other countries”
to be more ambitious on climate change.
The COP26 President-Designate has done a very good job in engaging international partners and we are already making traction. I am not predicting that the hon. Gentleman is wrong; I am saying that the facts already demonstrate that he is wrong. Is it not good that we have a thriving democracy and a variety of views in this House and in the other place?
We remain concerned about reports of human rights violations in relation to recent protests in Colombia, and we regularly raise our concerns with the relevant state actors. I spoke with the then Colombian acting Foreign Minister Adriana Mejía on 14 May to express my concerns and to welcome Colombia’s commitment to transparent investigations into allegations of excessive use of force by the police. I also spoke with the Colombian ambassador to the UK on 12 July to ask for an update on investigations. I was pleased to learn that more than 200 investigations into alleged misconduct by the police are now open.
I am grateful for that answer, but the truth is that the UK Government are providing extensive training and support to Colombian police, despite evidence of extensive police brutality, with up to 43 people allegedly murdered, a catalogue of sexual assaults and people being blinded by having tear gas canisters fired in their face. Will the Minister commit to publishing full overseas security and justice assessments for activities under this programme, so that the House can satisfy itself that the Government are not contributing to further abuses of human rights in Colombia?
On police training, our conflict, stability and security fund’s Colombia peace and stabilisation programme launched the £2.1 million police innovations for stabilisation in Colombia project in 2021. The project is supporting the transformation of the Colombian national police, but we are not aware of any police units in Colombia that have received UK training support being involved in human rights violations. Colombia is a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office human rights priority country. We take the growing levels of violence against social leaders and human rights defenders extremely seriously, and we consistently raise our concerns with the Colombian Government and in multilateral forums.
Human Rights: Trade Deals
FCDO Ministers are in regular contact with Cabinet colleagues on a range of trade-related issues and we are clear that more trade does not have to come at the expense of our commitment to human rights. The UK will continue to show global leadership in encouraging all states to uphold international human rights obligations and will hold to account those who violate human rights. Since the inception of the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020, we have used those powers to impose sanctions on 78 persons involved in human rights violations. The UK has a strong history of protecting human rights and promoting global values. By having a strong economic relationship with partners, we can have more open discussions on a range of issues, including human rights. We continue to take a balanced and proportionate approach with partners to deliver the best outcome for the UK and to maximise the benefits of trade, while ensuring that we promote our core values.
The UK has a free trade agreement with Colombia that contains a human rights clause, but we have just heard that in recent months protesters in Colombia have faced brutal violence at the hands of Colombian police, with human rights organisations documenting 43 protesters potentially killed by the police. Given those abuses, and the Colombian Government’s repeated attempts to deny and minimise the crisis, will the UK Government signal their commitment to human rights and, rather than turn a blind eye, ensure that this human rights clause is actually upheld?
Colombia is an FCDO human rights priority country, and we take the growing reports of violence against social leaders and human rights defenders extremely seriously. We consistently raise our concerns with the Colombian Government and in multilateral forums. The point that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), has just made is still very much the case. When we export our products and services, we also export our values and buy the right to have serious conversations with partners around the world.
Will the Minister confirm here and now that it is our foreign policy to defend human rights and the rule of law across the world? Does he agree that, as well as putting UK businesses with high human rights and labour rights at a disadvantage, signing trade agreements with some of the world’s worst human rights abusers without any human rights clauses undermines that policy and our global reputation?
The UK is proud to be incredibly vocal on the international stage about our commitment to human rights. As I have said, having an open and expansive trade policy is not any kind of contradiction to our passion for promoting human rights. If the hon. Member has particular concerns about forthcoming trade agreements and the human rights elements thereof, please feel free to write to the Department.
During an Adjournment debate earlier this year, the Minister for Trade Policy justified the deal with Cameroon on the basis that there had been a reduction in human rights abuses against its own people. Next day in the House, the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, the hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena), refused to confirm whether he was right or wrong. So can this Minister tell the House what level of abuse the Government are prepared to accept with similar oppressive regimes to grant them a trade deal with the UK?
We continue to monitor the situation in Cameroon closely. We raise our concerns directly with the Cameroonian Government and within multilateral forums calling for an inclusive dialogue and the end to violence. As I say, the Government have always been clear that increased trade will not come at the expense of our values and, specifically, will not come at the expense of our commitment to human rights. We want to have trade relationships with countries around the world, but ultimately the foundation stone on which all Government activity is built is our commitment to human rights.
I spent 16 years in the European Parliament scrutinising and voting on trade policy. Trade policy is not just about trade; it is an opportunity to raise standards on the environment, human rights and elsewhere. It is therefore really concerning that, in 179 pages, the Department for International Trade’s 2021-22 statement makes no mention of human rights, slave labour or workers’ rights at all. This is a missed opportunity. SNP support for future trade deals cannot be taken for granted—it was not in the European Parliament, as often we did not find them ambitious enough. In a constructive spirit, I urge that we have an FCDO statement to ensure co-operation between the two policy areas so that future trade deals can raise standards in these vital areas.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving us due notice that the support of the SNP for future trade arrangements cannot be guaranteed. I had kind of worked that out by myself, because over the past 15 years the SNP has never backed a trade agreement anywhere. There is, no doubt, always a reason for SNP Members to say no to trade agreements. To return to the broader point, our commitment to human rights is a foundation stone of our foreign policy and our “force for good” agenda in the world. We will ensure that we use our trade relationships not just to export products and services but to export our principles and values. He is right that that should be an inherent part of all trade agreements, and indeed it is, but ultimately, given that the SNP will be looking for an excuse to say no to a deal, he, I am sure, will always find one.
Covid-19 Vaccines: Global Distribution
Through our investment in the development of the AstraZeneca vaccine, our finance for COVAX and our commitment of 100 million vaccine doses from surplus domestic supply, the UK is a global leader in our support for vaccinating the poorest around the world.
Lebanon has been hit by a succession of crises in recent months, not least the massive explosion in the port of Beirut last year, a deepening economic crisis, and rising political instability. Can the Foreign Secretary assure me that his Department is doing everything it can to support the people of Lebanon with their vaccine deployment so that Lebanese people do not have to endure shortages of covid-19 vaccines on top of the hardship that they are already enduring?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will recall that, last year, as that terrible disaster took place, we committed $2 million in extra support for medical equipment. In relation to vaccines, in March, Lebanon received its first doses from COVAX: 33,600 AZ vaccines. The UK, through our £90 million commitment, got the AstraZeneca vaccine at cost price to the world, and the vast majority of COVAX doses—some 98%—that will have reached Lebanon have been the AZ vaccine. That demonstrates the value that the UK is providing not just with the domestic roll-out but abroad as well.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. At the G7, by making it clear that we would donate 100 million doses from surplus domestic supply by the end of June 2022, we also leveraged 1 billion doses from other countries. We are committing 80% to COVAX, which will be distributed according to its criteria, and a further 20% on a strategic basis. Allocations will be announced in due course.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the employees of Wockhardt in my constituency of Clwyd South for the indispensable role they have played in our vaccine manufacturing process? It has allowed us not only to roll out doses swiftly and effectively in the UK, but to support countries across the rest of the world that have been badly hit by the covid pandemic.
My hon. Friend can be rightly very proud of the role his constituents have played. It is not only Wockhardt employees, but the wider AstraZeneca collaboration with Government and the £90 million of support that the Government put in for research and development and for getting capacity up that have meant that we not only have this world-beating domestic vaccine roll-out, but have supplied 98% of the vaccine to the poorest and most vulnerable countries around the world delivered by COVAX.
Less than 1% of sub-Saharan Africa has been fully vaccinated, leaving the Prime Minister’s claim that he would vaccinate the entire world hanging by a thread and his credibility in tatters. Having sneaked out cuts to the aid budget, which his Government have now made permanent, he has made the UK the third lowest donor in the G7, and in the middle of a pandemic, this Foreign Secretary has presided over the largest drop in humanitarian aid of any major donor country, apart from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It is clear that the Foreign Secretary’s claim that the UK’s reputation has not been diminished under his watch is unfounded in reality. What does he say in response to the damning comments last week of the former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf? He said that this Government’s cuts will have
“a negative impact on millions of people in less wealthy nations”.
If this Government have a conscience, they will want to know how many lives have and will be lost as a result of these cuts. I urge him to publish the impact assessments immediately so that more lives can be saved, but will he do it?
What I would say to the hon. Lady is that Labour promised it would hit 0.7% in 1974. That was the year in which I was born. Labour has never once hit 0.7%. It only twice hit 0.5%, so we will take no lectures from the Labour party when we are the third biggest G7 donor when it comes to aid.
Israel and Palestine
The UK Government share the objectives of increasing understanding and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. UK officials remain in close contact with the US Government regarding the international fund. The US is at the early stages in its planning and, once more information is available, we will consider options for collaboration.
The UK’s overseas business risk guidance is intended to provide guidance for UK businesses to identify and mitigate security and political risks when trading overseas. The guidance is not aimed at public bodies or Her Majesty’s Government. The UK’s position on settlements is clear, and we have articulated it regularly. We regard them as illegal under international law, and they are therefore a risk to the economic and financial activities in settlements. We do not encourage or offer support for such activity.
The UK consulate in Jerusalem has given vocal support to oppose the illegal evictions in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah. What practical action can the UK Government take to ensure that those evictions end? They run contrary to the intentions of the international fund for peace and, as the Minister has just stated, we are opposed to illegal occupations.
The UK enjoys a close and important relationship with Israel, and because we have that close relationship, we are able directly to bring up sensitive issues. I and my ministerial colleagues have brought up with the Israeli Government our opposition to those demolitions.
Given that the Minister has just said that his Department’s policy is not to encourage or support economic and financial activity in settlements, will he at least say that, where public bodies decide that they do not wish to invest in settlements, following his Government’s advice, he will not stand in their way in doing so?
Procurement by public bodies is governed by various public procurement regulations. The Public Contracts Regulations 2015 require contracting authorities to treat all economic operators equally and without discrimination. In addition, the Local Government Act 1988 requires local authorities to exercise their functions in relation to public supply or works contracts without regard to non-commercial matters, which includes the location in any country or territory.
Human Rights Abuses
Under UK leadership, the G7 has committed to work collectively to strengthen the foundations of open societies and to promote human rights, including agreeing new measures to support media freedoms, tackle disinformation and enhance co-ordination of freedom of religion, sanctions and, indeed, arbitrary detention.
[Inaudible]—facing harassment and imprisonment without due cause since the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was revoked by India. The United Kingdom proudly stands for freedom and democracy, so can my hon. Friend ensure that he will use the full weight of his Department, via discussions with the G7 and others, to ensure that these terrible abuses of human rights in Kashmir are put to an end?
I think I got the drift of the question, although I missed the beginning. We recognise that there are human rights concerns both in India-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. We encourage all states to ensure that domestic laws are in line with international standards, and any allegation—any allegation—of human rights violations or abuse is deeply concerning and must be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently.
The UK has led international efforts to press China to grant urgent and unfettered access to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Is the Foreign Secretary concerned about the deliberate erosion of trust in America’s electoral system—in particular, what is playing out in Arizona—and what lessons should be learned here, where, as in America, there is no evidence of electoral fraud on anything other than a minuscule scale? Does he really think the Elections Bill is going to help or hinder our democracy?
Mr Speaker, thank you very much for calling me. The line from Kent is pretty terrible, I am afraid, but that is a complaint for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Today, on Eid al-Adha, will the Foreign Secretary join me in welcoming the number of Muslim communities in the UK who have come from abroad to make their lives here, but will he also reach out to Muslim communities around the world and ask them to stand with the people of Xinjiang, who this year will not be celebrating—as, indeed, they have not been celebrating for many years—under the rule of the Chinese Communist party and the authoritarian dictatorship that it has caused?
I thank my hon. Friend, and he is absolutely right. We celebrate the role of all communities and all religions in this country: they make Britain what it is. He is absolutely right to say—I regularly raise it with my colleagues and opposite numbers overseas—that particularly in Muslim-majority countries it seems there is not quite as much concern as in the UK and other western, non-Muslim-majority countries about human rights abuses. This is an actor-agnostic issue; it is merely about treatment—persecution—based on religion, creed or ethnicity. We call on all countries to uphold those basic values, but particularly those most directly affected with the victims in Xinjiang.
Last week, the Government finally gave the EU ambassador the legal recognition they so arrogantly denied him earlier this year, and last month we saw the Government’s needlessly antagonistic approach towards our European partners overshadow the G7 summit and consequently hamper international efforts to tackle pressing global challenges. Does the Foreign Secretary now accept that this was a mistake that has undermined our relationship with Europe, and will he commit to treating our European partners as equals to ensure that we can work together on common concerns such as security, freedom of speech, covid and climate change?
Particularly after the Harry Dunn case, and what we learned about the risk of finding gaps in immunity—including long-standing gaps that date back to the last Labour Government—I will make no apologies for being very careful with EU representation, which falls somewhere between a normal international organisation and a sovereign Government’s mission. We must ensure that privileges and immunities are tailored to their functional need, and that we do not find ourselves with a gap. That means that we can hold people to account for ordinary crimes, as the public would expect. Frankly, given the various voices from the Labour Front Bench who have raised the case of Harry Dunn, I am utterly surprised that the hon. Lady would not expect us to take such a rigorous approach.
My hon. Friend raises an important point on a very sensitive issue. International child parental abduction is a hugely distressing matter for the parents and families affected, and they have my deepest sympathy. Consular officials can provide support to British people affected by such issues both overseas and here in the UK. Officials can advise left-behind parents about the most effective way to make local authorities aware of the court orders they hold. Where appropriate, the FCDO can express an interest in the case with the relevant court and other local authorities. We can also put families in touch with partner organisations, such as Reunite International, which offers specialised support and mediation services. We can liaise with local authorities and, with the permission of UK courts, present with court orders served in the UK, but it is important to note that the FCDO is not a law enforcement body and is unable to enforce court orders in the UK overseas. We are unable to compel foreign jurisdictions to enforce UK—
We take our responsibilities on those issues very seriously. We have one of the most stringent export control regimes in the world, and we regularly review it. At the same time, with our introduction for the first time ever in this country of an autonomous human rights sanction regime, the so-called Sergei Magnitsky sanctions regime, we have shown that from Xinjiang to the murder of Khashoggi and the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar, we will not hesitate to hold those who violate serious fundamental rights to account.
As I said earlier, the UK values and welcomes means for Israelis and Palestinians to work more closely together, and we call on the leadership of both to do so at Government and Palestinian Authority level. We work closely with our US counterparts, and we will continue working with them as they put more details on that fund. Once they are in a position to engage with us in more detail, we will consider that in due course.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised this very issue with his Israeli counterpart, I have raised it with the Israeli ambassador, and we have consistently called for sensitivity in the security arrangements around the most holy sites in Jerusalem. We continue to call for a permanent ceasefire, and we will continue to work with all parties, both in the west bank and in Israel, to pursue that aim.
We scrutinise very carefully any allegations—the hon. Gentleman has called them allegations—of human rights abuses. I can tell him about the supply of rubber gloves from Malaysia. At the peak of the pandemic, when we were seeking personal protective equipment for our NHS staff on the frontline, in care homes, we of course looked at all possible suppliers, including Malaysia, which is one of the biggest global suppliers of rubber gloves.
AMR is one of the most pressing global challenges we face this century, and the UK is a global leader in taking action on AMR. We champion it as a priority on the international stage, including through our G7 presidency and the work of Professor Dame Sally Davies, the UK’s special envoy on AMR. Since 2014, we have invested more than £360 million in research and development on AMR.
The Prime Minister did indeed meet Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán on 28 May. Co-operation with Hungary, as the incoming president of the Visegrad Group from 1 July, is important for the UK’s prosperity and security. As hon. Members would expect, the Prime Minister raised various values in his meeting, such as media freedom and issues of discrimination. I can assure you, Mr Speaker, that where we have issues of concern, we do not shy away from raising them.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point to the continued systemic non-compliance by Iran with its JCPOA commitments. Of course, Iran is still subject to wide-ranging sanctions. We strongly urge Iran to halt all its activities in violation of the JCPOA and, in line with the new US position, come back to the table and make sure that we can conclude a return to the JCPOA. I would just say that we do not believe that those negotiations can remain open-ended forever.
I totally agree with the hon. Lady. I have been out to both Israel and the west bank twice. We are a stalwart supporter of Israel, but we also, not least because of our principled approach to international law, make it clear, whether on the evictions, the demolitions in Jerusalem or the broader question of settlement building, that they are not just contrary to international law but entirely counterproductive to the peace set-up we need to see for a durable two-state solution for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Labour Members are talking about cuts. We have just made the biggest ever donation to the Global Partnership for Education, a 15% increase on last time. As a result, at the G7 we corralled one of the biggest G7 sets of donations—close to $3 billion. We are hosting, with our Kenyan friends, the Global Education summit in the next few days. The point is that, through the leadership of our official development assistance contribution and our diplomatic leadership, we are bringing the world together in pursuit of two targets: 40 million more girls receiving 12 years quality education, and 20 million more girls literate by the age of 10.
The UK is supporting the joint investigation into abuses and violations in Tigray, which will inform actions against those identified as having committed abuses or violations. I want to be very clear: we will consider all—all—policy options in response. We will also co-sponsor a resolution at the July Human Rights Council, and conflict experts are providing technical advice to guide our response during this crisis.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on the reported Chinese state-sponsored cyber-attack on Microsoft exchange servers.
I thank my right hon. Friend for asking this important and timely question. Yesterday, on 19 July, the UK Government joined like-minded partners to confirm that Chinese state-backed actors were responsible for gaining access to computer networks around the world via Microsoft exchange servers. As the Foreign Secretary made clear in a statement yesterday, this cyber-attack by Chinese state-backed groups was reckless, but sadly a familiar pattern of behaviour. The Chinese Government must end this systematic cyber-sabotage and can expect to be held to account if they do not.
The attack was highly likely intended to enable large-scale espionage, including acquiring personally identifiable information and intellectual property. At the time of the attack, the UK quickly provided advice and recommended actions to those affected. Microsoft has reported that, at the end of March, 92% of customers had installed the updates that protected against the vulnerability.
As part of that announcement, the UK also attributed the Chinese Ministry of State Security as being behind activity known by cyber-security experts as APT40 and APT31. Widespread, credible evidence demonstrates that sustained irresponsible cyber activity emanating from China continues. The Chinese Government have ignored repeated calls to end their reckless campaign, instead allowing their state-backed actors to increase the scale of their attacks and act recklessly when caught.
Statements formally attributing Chinese responsibility for the Microsoft exchange attack and actions of APT40 and APT31 were issued by the EU, NATO, the UK, Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Norway and Japan. That co-ordinated action by 39 countries sees the international community once again calling on the Chinese Government to take responsibility for their actions and respect the democratic institutions and personal commercial interests of those they seek to partner with. The UK is calling on China to reaffirm the commitment made to the UK in 2015 as part of the G20 not to conduct or support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property or trade secrets.
I simply make the point that it is a surprise that it has taken you, Mr Speaker, to bring the Government to the Dispatch Box when they could have made a statement yesterday.
This is the latest form of Chinese attack—it is not a one-off—on the west, which has included espionage, economic sanctions against Australia, wolf warrior diplomacy and naval aggression in the South China sea to name but a few.
I have some questions for my right hon. Friend. Will he explain why the Government did not come to the House yesterday to make a statement? Given that this is an aggressive attack, why are the Government allowing the UK’s largest silicon chip manufacturer, Newport Wafer Fab, to be bought by a Chinese firm when they know very well what they are up to? Why is it that the US Justice Department, also with this, brought federal criminal charges against four named MSS officers over their role in the hacking of the American targets, yet no such charges have been brought against operatives here?
The integrated review said clearly that Russia was a threat to the UK, but China was merely a competitor. I wonder why, if China goes on attacking us and trashing us, we continue with this deceit when it is quite clear that China is a clear and present threat. Beyond tearing up the treaty, conducting a genocide and upsetting the international order, China has now been found to be conducting systematic attacks on targets in the UK. Will the Government now finally agree to a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing winter Olympics to make their statement clear?
On a personal note, you will know, Mr Speaker, that I set up, with others, the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China—politicians left and right in 20 countries who are concerned about China’s activities. There are over 200 members. I understand now that there is intelligence from Five Eyes sources that shows that a very active and direct threat from the Chinese Government is aimed directly at the co-chairs of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China. Some of the co-chairs, of which I am one, have now been warned by their intelligence services in receipt of this that they should be very careful and that they will be supported. Can I ask my right hon. Friend to confirm whether his Government are in receipt of this same intelligence and, if so, why have they not informed the co-chairs and others here in the UK, as other allies have done?
Finally, Mr Speaker, China is not just a competitor. These attacks tell us that they are a clear and present threat to the United Kingdom and to our beliefs in freedom, justice, democracy and the rule of law and human rights. It is time that the Government stood up, made that clear and boycotted these Olympic games.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the points that he has made. The unanimity of voice among the international partners—the 39 countries that I listed—is incredibly important to us, and we will continue to seek to work collaboratively with our international partners in our response to this. My right hon. Friend makes the point about Chinese investment, or Chinese purchasing—specifically Newport Wafer Fab—and that is a decision that the Government are looking to review. He asks about the differential language between China and Russia. Our response is based on the actions, and we will continue to react robustly to any and all cyber-attacks that occur. He will understand, I am sure, that I am not necessarily going to go into details here and now about what further measures we might take, because to do so might undermine their effectiveness, but we will continue to work with international partners; and, as I said in my answer to his question, the Chinese Government should expect to be held to account if they do not come back into compliance with norms of behaviour.
With regard the Olympics, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said that we have not as yet made a decision on formal attendance at the Olympics. The attendance of athletes is ultimately a decision for the British Olympic authorities. On intelligence matters, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) will understand that we do not discuss intelligence-related issues on the Floor of the Chamber, but I take his point about making sure that people who are potentially the target of overseas intelligence actions are given the opportunity to defend themselves against them.
This is an unacceptable attack, costing businesses millions and raising the alarm for people across the country, who will be concerned that their personal information could be compromised. The Government confirmed yesterday that a quarter of a million servers were affected worldwide, but how many British businesses and organisations were victims of the attack and how many may still be vulnerable? What is the cost to British businesses of compromised data and were public bodies among those targeted? Can the Minister guarantee that hospitals, local authorities, universities and this Parliament have not and will not be compromised?
The Government have been repeatedly warned about this. A year after the Russian report was published, still no meaningful action has been taken. The Computer Misuse Act 1990 is now three decades old. It was written before smartphones, before Google—before the public could even use the web. When will the Government finally update it? The Minister says that this is a pattern of behaviour, and he is right, but Ministers have tried naming and shaming before. It did not work then, so why would it work now? Only weeks ago, President Xi said that those who expressed dissent about China’s actions would
“have their heads bashed bloody against the Great Wall Of Steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people.”
Last year the Government were willing to act. They announced targeted sanctions against individuals involved in the Russian state-backed cyber-attack on the German Parliament. So why are there no sanctions in response to the Chinese state-backed cyber-attack on, among others, the Finnish Parliament?
The truth is that the Government are unable to send a clear, coherent message to Beijing because they are still arguing among themselves. Just two weeks ago, the Chancellor was telling Mansion House that it was time to realise the potential of our relationship with China. While the Foreign Secretary imposes sanctions, the Chancellor is cashing cheques. It is extraordinary that the Minister can stand at the Dispatch Box today and refuse to tell us how he will safeguard critical infrastructure, or whether he and his colleagues will board a plane to Beijing early next year to participate in a public relations exercise. The seriousness of this attack must concentrate minds. We need a coherent strategy. When are we likely to get one?
In response to the specific questions that the hon. Lady raised, we estimate—we can only estimate—that 3,000 UK-based organisations were put at risk by this attack. It was an untargeted action. It was not targeted at specific sectors. We do not believe that Government organisations were a victim of it, and because it was an untargeted action it is not possible for me to give a credible assessment of the economic damage of this particular attack. The National Cyber Security Centre and Microsoft gave advice at the time and, as I say, by the end of March it was estimated that 92% of organisations had installed the patch to protect themselves. Advice is available to any organisation that still thinks it may be at risk in some way, both from the National Cyber Security Centre and from Microsoft.
With regard to our attendance at the winter Olympics, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary answered that point in departmental questions. There is nothing more that I can add to that.
The hon. Lady asked about naming and shaming. The fact that 39 countries collectively put their name to the statement is unprecedented, and it sends a significant signal that countries are working together to steer China’s actions. China is a significant economic and political player. We cannot pretend that China does not exist. We want China to change its behaviour, and we will work with international partners to urge it to do so. As I say, we reserve the right to take further actions if necessary.
As the ISC’s inquiry into China is still current, I shall limit myself to asking why the Government generally describe the communist Chinese system as authoritarian rather than totalitarian, what the Minister’s understanding is of the difference between the two, and whether the Chinese regime took any steps to close down the hacking group APT10, which was denounced in a similarly forceful statement by the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt), and our allies in December 2018.
I understand the point that my right hon. Friend makes about the use of language. I am not in a position to have a debate on that specific point, but I make the broader point that the UK Government’s actions, and indeed the actions of our friends and allies around the world, are based on actions whether they be from Russia, China or wherever else, rather than on the narrow definition that may be found in international documents.
The reason that we put out this joint statement and attributed responsibility to state-backed Chinese actors is to let the Chinese Government know, to an extent, that we can tell what they are up to and we will not accept it. That is why taking actions in concert with our international partners is so important and will always be the foundation stone of whatever else we choose to do in response to the behaviour, if it does not change.
I warmly congratulate the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) on raising this vital issue, and echo his concern about the fact that this was an urgent question rather than a statement made proactively by a representative of the Government.
I was glad to hear a Minister say that China can expect to be held to account for this truly breathtaking attack, which facilitated a range of attacks on private and public organisations on a broad scale by other actors. I applaud the statement that there will be sanctions—there will be measures—but I would like to hear what they are, because a somewhat homeopathic approach to date does not seem to have had much of an impact on stopping anything.
May I suggest that it is the UK Government’s breathtaking lack of policy coherence that is giving mixed signals to Beijing? I can give a fairly concrete example. China General Nuclear Power Group remains a significant stakeholder in the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, but the UK is pushing for another deal at Sizewell which will involve an even bigger Chinese state holding. May I also suggest that ending policy incoherence starts at home, and we should really see about that?
Countries around the world trade with and receive investments from China, and, as I have said, pretending that that does not exist or that it is not a significant economic player in the world is completely unrealistic. What we are seeking to do is change China’s behaviour, and we are doing it collaboratively with our international partners.
The hon. Gentleman asked what specific actions we would take. I will not answer in detail at the Dispatch Box—[Interruption.] For the same reason that we do not discuss intelligence matters, we do not speculate on future sanctions, because to do so would undermine the effectiveness of those measures. However, as I have said, we and our international partners have made it clear that these actions will not go unresponded to.
If you will allow me, Mr Speaker, I should like to wish you, and especially the people on the estate who are celebrating it, a very happy Eid Mubarak.
I am not going to ask the Minister to explain China’s actions, but I want him to try to explain why we do not align ourselves with our allies—particularly the United States—who have moved much further on this issue, notably in protecting individuals who have been sanctioned or targeted by China. As has already been mentioned, IPAC’s website has been hacked twice; colleagues on IPAC are also being hacked, as it were—I cannot think of a more appropriate term—and there are four sanctioned MPs on the call list today. We need far more support than is being provided at present.
May I ask the Minister whether the Foreign Office has reached out to Alan Estevez, who was appointed by the Biden Administration to take over security with a special focus on China tech concerns? We seem to be moving at a snail’s pace while America is moving far faster, and, of course, China is light years ahead. It is here, Mr Speaker: it could be hacking the estate, it could be hacking sanctioned MPs’ websites or email addresses and it could be hacking Ministers’ servers, but we are none the wiser, and we do not feel any more protected after the Minister’s response to the urgent question.
I completely understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, but I assure her that we work incredibly closely with international partners, including the United States of America. The unprecedented number of countries and multilateral organisations that co-authored yesterday’s statement is testimony to how closely we are working on this issue as an international community. However, I will certainly take back the points that my hon. Friend has raised about ensuring that individuals who may be the target of cyber-attacks are given all the support that they need both to defend themselves and to respond to those attacks.
It is absolutely right that we are working in lockstep with our international allies to combat these attacks on our cyber-security. However, the Minister will be aware of hugely concerning reports that activists, civil society leaders, Government officials and politicians around the world have been targeted by NSO Group’s Pegasus software. Is he aware of any individuals in the Government, or indeed any UK citizens, who have been targeted by that software, and is there any indication that it may have been used by the Chinese Government?
The House will understand that I will not discuss security and intelligence operations at the Dispatch Box, and that I therefore will not be responding to that part of the hon. Lady’s question. We do of course know about the capabilities of the Pegasus software; its licensing is ultimately a decision for the Israeli Government, but we are working closely with our friends and allies around the world in response to any emerging technical threat at this time.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that skills are an important part of our arsenal to defend ourselves. The Government are working with industry, academics and many other partners to ensure that we develop the essential cyber-skills we need to be a credible force in the modern world. In April, we launched the UK Cyber Security Council as a new professional body for cyber to raise standards and guide people through their career. In addition, the UK has committed to promoting an international stability framework for cyber-space, based on the application of existing international laws, voluntary norms of responsible behaviour and confidence-building measures.
Once again, we see no member of the Cabinet here. I take it they are all somewhere else, taking precautions I hope, perhaps at Chequers.
Will the Minister please wake up? A young John Kennedy came to the London School of Economics after the war and wrote a book, “Why England Slept”, and of course it was about appeasement. Are we talking today about appeasement? This is a ruthless Chinese Government, and they are systematic in the way they target intellectual property in universities and companies. There is no respect for democratic institutions from China. We have allowed the Chinese to buy significant strategic assets in our country, and the UK Government have no courage in facing them down.
Please do not let England sleep this time. Wake up, Minister. Please deliver that to your boss in Chequers.
The hon. Gentleman may not have been at his screen during departmental questions, but the Foreign Secretary was in the House earlier and spoke about the UK’s posture with regard to China.
The simple fact is, as I said earlier, that we are acutely aware of the challenges and threats, but we are also aware of the significant position that China takes in the world. We have to be realistic in our response, and we have to work internationally. That is why I am pleased that the 39 countries represented in yesterday’s statement spoke with one voice, and we will continue to work with our international partners to try to drive an improvement in the behaviour of China and to make it clear to China that the countries with which it seeks to work expect a change in behaviour. We will take actions to support that.
The SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith), is right: homeopathic remedies do not work when we are dealing with a psychopathic regime. We have had industrial-scale human rights abuses, industrial-scale buying of influence in our boardrooms, universities and schools, and now industrial-scale cyber-hacking of our computer systems.
The Minister has quite rightly said there is widespread and credible evidence that this is a state-backed actor and state-backed sabotage, so where is the beef? Where are the practical consequences for the Chinese communist Government? What officials will be prosecuted or sanctioned? If he will not tell us if, will he tell us when we will get a decision on the Olympics, on which this House voted unanimously last Thursday?
I am disappointed that my hon. Friend echoes the rather flat joke made by the hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith). [Interruption.] I am glad the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is laughing, but I regard this as quite an important issue.
The sanctions we imposed on the human rights abusers in Xinjiang are not homeopathic. The fact that we have granted visas to British national Hong Kong Chinese is not homeopathic. We are taking action, not all of which I can discuss at this Dispatch Box. As I say, we will continue to work with our international partners to make sure that, collectively and collaboratively, we send a very clear message that there are patterns of behaviour that are unacceptable, and we strongly urge China to change its position and to come into line with international norms, values and standards.
In Thursday’s urgent question on Newport Wafer Fab, the Government emphasised their desire for a
“positive relationship with China, based on mutual respect and trust.”—[Official Report, 15 July 2021; Vol. 699, c. 537.]
I hope the Minister recognises how naive that sounds, and that it reflects the chilling effect of China’s power and influence on criticism. Fortunately, politicians in all parts of this House, academics and businesses do continue to speak out. What assessment has he made of the likelihood of those who oppose the Chinese state being the target of cyber-attacks, and what is he doing to better protect them and us all?
The hon. Lady raises a point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) has already raised, and I have already touched on it. As I have said, we will continue to work with our international partners to persuade China to come into accordance with the international standards and norms that we see other countries around the world subscribing to. We want China to be a better-behaved international player. We cannot pretend China away; we cannot prevent China trading and investing around the world, and neither should we, but we should ensure that its behaviour comes into line with the international values, norms and standards that the rest of us subscribe to.
The exchange attacks mark a further dramatic escalation in China’s state-backed espionage, which is stripping our intellectual property and undermining our democracies. My right hon. Friend the Minister is surely right that we must all work together with our international partners to defeat this escalating and aggressive pattern of behaviour, but will he say a little more about the key themes within that international co-operation to try to stop this increasingly aggressive behaviour?
My hon. Friend makes an important point: working with our international partners is an incredibly important part of this. The joint statement that we made attributing responsibility to Chinese state-backed actors is important because it is the precursor that legitimates further actions that we might take. It seeks to make it clear to the Chinese Government that we can see what is happening—we are not blind to what is happening—and there is no veil of anonymity behind which they can hide. That then gives us, as part of the international community, the opportunity to go further if required. As I said in my statement, we have made it clear, and are making it clear, to China that such future actions will not go unresponded to.
I don’t know, but every time a Minister comes to talk about China to the House it feels as though they refuse to listen to what the House is saying. We are looking for a sense of urgency and determination, of backbone, of steel. Half the time it sounds as though the Minister is bored by what he is saying. We have courageous Members of Parliament from different political parties who are sanctioned by the Chinese Government and are being targeted by them, and all we can say is, “We are thinking of having a review of a policy decision. We might think about whether we are going to go to the Olympics or not.” We need some urgency and determination. We need to stand by those colleagues who have been sanctioned, because this is not just about China—it is about all the totalitarian regimes in the world. If we do not get this right, the rule of law and of democracy will pass us by.
I understand and respect the passion that the hon. Gentleman and others speak with, and no one takes the targeting of parliamentarians lightly. We do not take the cyber-attacks on organisations around the world lightly. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) is no longer in his place, but as I said to him a few moments ago, we have imposed sanctions and we have offered the hand of friendship to British national Hong Kong Chinese in response to the security laws that have been passed in Hong Kong. We are taking action and we will continue to do so. We seek to do so internationally, because that is how we are strongest. We endeavour to speak with one voice on these issues and make it clear to China that so do all the countries with which it may want to work in future. That is what we seek to do, and we have been successful in doing so: an unprecedented number of countries spoke with one voice yesterday. We will continue to work with partners to push China towards a better course of action.
Last year, Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council was the victim of a ransomware cyber-attack that originated from Russia. Like others, I am increasingly concerned by the rise of such foreign attacks online, some of which are state-backed like the ones that we are discussing today. Will the Minister assure me that he is working across Government to build our resilience to this worrying trend?
I can assure my hon. Friend that we are working across Government on the issue. We recognise that it is an incredibly important area of activity: as we are now all reliant on information technology and cyber-space, these cyber-attacks go to the very heart not just of our ability to conduct commercial activity, but of public service and government. We are building up our domestic defences and have already delivered a sustained programme of investment through GCHQ and the National Cyber Security Centre to establish the UK as a global leader in cyber, but we are not just reinforcing resilience in the Government; we are helping everyone, including businesses and families, to take basic, necessary steps to stay safe online.
Given that in the past the NHS in England has been paralysed by cyber-attacks due to outdated systems and Microsoft Windows vulnerabilities, what steps are the UK Government taking to ensure faster roll-out of computer system upgrades with an aim to preventing vulnerability to such cyber-attacks in future?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that point. As I said in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), the immediate response to the attack was to release a patch. By the end of March, 92% of organisations had installed it and closed the vulnerability. Advice has been provided by the National Cyber Security Centre and by Microsoft to deal with any residual impacts. Government computer roll-out programmes will always have cyber-security at the very heart of their thinking, planning and deployment.
The Chinese state harbours and collaborates with cyber-criminals, as well as being guilty of genocide. A sound telling off, no matter how stern it might sound, will have no impact on this brutal and ruthless regime. Does the Minister understand the House’s impatience with what seems today like more hand-wringing and platitudes?
China has total disregard and disrespect for anybody or any country that stands opposed to its warped and perverted ideology. The reported cyber-attacks by the Chinese state have undermined the security and integrity of thousands of networks worldwide. What discussions has the Minister had with NATO in relation to the cyber-attacks on Microsoft servers earlier this year? What further steps will he take to expose these Chinese state-sponsored attacks, to ensure that this is not a recurring pattern of events—which it quite clearly seems to be at the moment?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I am very pleased that NATO was one of the signatory organisations to yesterday’s statement as an important multilateral partner, along with the European Union. As I have said in response to a number of questions, that joint statement is an important and necessary foundation stone on which other actions are built, making it clear to the Chinese Government that we can see what is happening—we are not blind to it. The fact that we are able, with a very high degree of certainty, to allocate specific responsibility for actions is a really important step, which must not be underestimated, towards what else the UK, more likely working in conjunction with international partners, might choose to do in response to further such attacks.
China has a widening sphere of influence. Was this discussed at the G7 summit? I am pleased to hear that 39 countries have signed up. Is the UK leading that group or simply part of that group in mitigating threats? Most importantly, what can the Minister say to those in Bosworth and up and down the UK about protections for the UK’s businesses, interests and citizens when it comes to dealing with China?
I can assure my hon. Friend that the UK is very much taking a leadership role with regard to the development of cyber-security and cyber-response. We are always most effective on issues such as these when we work in close conjunction with our international partners, and I can therefore assure him that at multilateral gatherings this will always be one of the issues that is important to us. On the practical steps that people can take, I would urge people to heed the advice from the National Cyber Security Centre and take a range of relatively simple and practical steps that will help to protect them and their organisations from cyber-attacks.
The Chinese cyber-attack is of real concern, but it is most certainly not the only game in town. The Guardian reported on something equally concerning this weekend, which is Project Pegasus from the NSO Group. It has been used in the surveillance of humanitarians, including the late Father Stan Swamy in India. With our own concerns in this House around the surveillance of the former Secretary of State for Health, which led ultimately to his resignation, I would like to know what our involvement is with Project Pegasus, if we actually have any involvement. What are we doing to monitor that undetectable phone app, which provides full access to phones that become infected in a way that is untraceable?
The hon. Gentleman will understand that I am not going to speculate or comment on individual cases. Ultimately, the licensing of this software is the responsibility of the Israeli Government. I can assure him that we speak regularly with our partners globally about the importance of maintaining cyber-security and about how important it is for us all that cyber-technologies are used responsibly. We work closely with our allies around the world to tackle cyber-threats and to improve the overall global resilience to such attacks.
It is not just that China steals so relentlessly, but also the reason that lies behind the theft, which is that its communist regime does not support innovation in a way that countries such as the US and the UK do. Does my right hon. Friend agree that countries or companies thinking about getting closer to China should look at this latest example in a very long list of breaking international norms and steer clear instead?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about going into relationships with China with eyes wide open. That is why this message of attribution yesterday was so very important. It sets out that the international community can see clearly what is happening and will highlight it publicly so that, wherever in the world they are, people can see what is really going on. Ultimately it is not the job of the UK Government to dictate to other countries how they interact with China, but we are and will always be a powerful advocate for human rights, for the protection of intellectual property and for those norms of behaviour that the international community, including ourselves, very much holds dear. Ultimately, we want China to amend its behaviour. That is ultimately what we will seek to achieve, and we will work with our international partners to pursue that.
I thank the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) for securing this urgent question. He highlighted the recent indirect acquisition by a Chinese firm of Newport Wafer Fab in my constituency. This appears to have slipped through the UK Government’s screening system. My focus and commitment to the people of Newport West is on protecting jobs for people in my community. Does the Minister think that this situation shows that the Government’s security policies simply are not working?
We do value jobs; jobs matter. Jobs in emerging technologies and high-skilled manufacturing jobs are incredibly important to us, which is why we value overseas investment, but why we also take our responsibility to secure intellectual property incredibly seriously. The Government are looking at the situation with regard to Newport Wafer Fab. We will always ensure that we look at the security implications of our commercial relationships, whether with China or anyone else.
Listening to the Minister, it appears that the Government policy is that China has done something unacceptable, the Government have found them out, and if the Chinese do it again the Government will take action against China, although they are not specifying at this time what that action will be. If that is the case, I do not understand why there was not a statement to the House by the Foreign Secretary after departmental questions, when he could have laid this out, rather than an urgent question, with the Minister being, if you like, dragged to the Dispatch Box. Will the Minister explain why the Government did not volunteer a statement on this very important matter?
I was not privy to the discussion about the statement, urgent question or otherwise. Yesterday’s statement was made by and in conjunction with international partners. I can assure my hon. Friend that I do not need to be dragged to the Dispatch Box to be questioned by colleagues and Opposition Members on this incredibly important issue.
In March, the former head of the National Cyber Security Centre said that the Government have been confused in their approach to China. After the failed policies of the so-called golden era, the subsequent persecution of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, the persecution of Buddhists and other minorities, the suppression of democracy and free speech in Hong Kong, the military aggression against its neighbours and now this state-sponsored cyber-attack on Microsoft Exchange servers, when will the Government finally lay out a consistent approach to dealing with China?
I have made the points that the UK Government recognise the significance of China on the world stage, that we want China to be a responsible actor, that we recognise that China will engage in trade and investment with countries around the world and that we seek to influence China to be a better player on the world stage. This is best done in conjunction with international partners, which is why the attribution statement yesterday was so important, with an unprecedented number of countries—39—working together to attribute responsibility. As I said, that is the foundation stone upon which other actions may well be taken in the future.
The success or failure of the COP26 rests heavily on whether the UK, as chairman, can persuade China—the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide—to set tough targets to cut its output. Is this affecting the Government’s response to this issue? What is the UK’s strategy to influence China across the piece, as there are many areas where it needs to do so?
I can assure my right hon. Friend that the actions of the UK Government in response to this cyber-attack are driven by this cyber-attack and our complete unwillingness to accept it as a pattern of behaviour. He does make an incredibly important point though, and it reflects the point that I have made that we cannot simply ignore China. A previous question this morning highlighted the fact that China is still heavily reliant on coal as an energy production source, and we know the climate change implications of that. We want China to behave better on the international stage both on things such as cyber-security, intellectual property and human rights, but also on the incredibly important agenda that will affect our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren, which is the protection of the environment and a move towards greener energy generation.
The Minister is right in one sense, because attribution is important, but actions also matter, so while we congratulate him on the statement of 39 signatories—that is a positive step—when he looks at sanctions, should he not look at the very least for an audit of the role of Confucius institutes in institutions up and down the United Kingdom? Moreover, the current patchwork of international norms benefits authoritarian states over democratic ones. Is it not time for us to heed the advice of the Microsoft president, Brad Smith, in calling for a digital Geneva convention?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his thoughtful contribution. Internationally, we will have to look at how we deal with this new sphere of human activity. It is moving quickly and there is not an established framework to which the international community subscribes in the way there is for armed conflict, for example. That is an incredibly important point.
I also thank the hon. Gentleman for recognising the significance of having a range of international partners and multinational institutions on the statement that we made yesterday. As I have said a number of times, it is an important but necessary precursor to other actions that we might take. It highlights to China that we can see what action it is taking and also that its actions contradict commitments that it has made. We are not trying to hold China to our standards; we are trying to hold it to standards that it has put forward itself. That is an important part of trying to establish a global acceptable framework on behaviour in cyber-space.
China’s military and Government have been targeting key industries in the west, including the defence industry, Government and intellectual property. This has been known for so long now, yet what have the Government done so far? They have protested, and handed dossiers of evidence on what the Chinese authorities are up to, but it seems that China is almost now no longer scared of being caught because the sanctions are so weak. If we can impose sanctions on Russia for cyber-attacks, why can we not impose hard and hurting sanctions on China?
I completely understand the right hon. Gentleman’s point. He will understand that we never speculate on the future use of sanctions because to do so could be counterproductive to the effect that we are trying to have on China. As I say, this is an important foundation stone statement. It sets a very clear line in the sand from the UK, the US, Japan, NATO, the EU and others that we recognise what is happening here, that China can no longer plead ignorance, that we demand that it takes action against organisations and individuals conducting these cyber actions and that it severs any links that it might have with such organisations.
Colleagues across the House have spoken about appeasement. The truth is that the Ministry of State Security will curb its maligned perversion of the digital Silk Road only if the west shows its willingness to respond in kind. Among the 39 signatories that the Minister has cited today, what appetite does he discern for a willingness to develop doctrine around the use of cyber interdiction for use in a measured and proportionate way against those who threaten and attack us?
I thank my right hon. Friend and predecessor for the point that he has made. I hope he will understand that I will not speculate at the Dispatch Box about the nature and scope of our cyber capabilities, save to say that we are a global leader, particularly in cyber-defence, although of course that is not the only thing that he mentioned. With regard to our international partners, this is something that we do discuss. In the recent G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ communiqué, the G7 expressed serious concern about human rights violations in Xinjiang and reiterated the call for independent experts to be given unfettered access to Xinjiang. The international community is aware of, thinking about, talking about and taking action on some of the activities of the Chinese state that we find unacceptable.
This hack shows that the need for a comprehensive approach to cyber-security is probably greater than ever before. In the light of this latest attack, will the Minister now give a date for the publication of the Government’s new cyber-security strategy?
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right that a comprehensive approach to cyber-security is incredibly important. As I say, the UK is proud of the fact that we are a global leader in cyber-security. The publication of the document she mentions, and others, will come in due course. I am not able to give her a precise date at the Dispatch Box at the moment.
Let me just say to all Members who have participated that my call list says that some were to be virtual and some physical, but nobody seems to be what I am being told on this list. A lot of effort goes into creating it—a lot of staff time—and staff need to know where Members are. If you intend to be physical, please let us know very early, and if you are going to go virtual, please also let us know. Do not let me have to start spotting who is here around the Chamber and who is not.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker, of which I have given you notice and also notified the Leader of the House. You will be aware that yesterday a statement about vaccine passports was made at the Dispatch Box by the Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment. There is a relevant part that potentially pertains to the House of Commons. He said:
“By the end of September, everyone aged 18 and over will have had the chance to receive full vaccination and the additional two weeks for that protection to take hold. At that point, we plan to make full vaccination a condition of entry to nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather. Proof of a negative test will no longer be sufficient.”—[Official Report, 19 July 2021; Vol. 699, c. 688.]
It seems to me that when we get back to normal, that definition, particularly on a Wednesday, could equally apply to the House of Commons. It would be outrageous if the Executive were to attempt to prevent any Member of Parliament from attending this House to represent our constituents without first undergoing a medical procedure.
I raise this matter with you, Mr Speaker, because I hope you will be able to make a ruling on it. In closing, I just note that your 17th-century predecessor, Speaker Lenthall, stood up very effectively against an over-mighty Executive and it did not end well for the over-mighty Executive.
It did lead to the end of the monarchy as well, I might add, for a short period, so let us hope we are not quite going back that far.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for giving me notice of his point of order. I have had no indication that the Government consider that the policy he mentions should apply to this House. What I would say, as Speaker of this House, is that there is nothing to stop a Member coming in here. You have the right to come to this House unless this House otherwise says so. The Government have not been in touch and I do not expect them to be in touch, because as far as I am concerned this does not apply to Members.
I will now suspend the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.
Minimum Energy Performance of Buildings Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Sir David Amess presented a Bill to make provision to increase the minimum energy performance of buildings; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 22 October, and to be printed (Bill 150).
Dogs (Protection of Livestock)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953; and for connected purposes.
Earlier this year, one of the farmers in my constituency suffered a horrific attack on his sheep. Tecwyn Jones found seven pregnant ewes and three rams dead in his field in Bodedern. They had been killed by an unknown dog or dogs in what police described as a “brutal and horrendous attack.”
When I visited Tecwyn’s farm, he told me about the impact the attack had had on his business and his wellbeing. His account of the event was harrowing. Tecwyn shared the awful moment when he found his sheep: coming across one dead sheep, then another dead sheep. They were sheep he had lovingly reared, their faces torn and bodies twisted. His sheep had been brutally killed and had clearly suffered horrendously.
The dogs that carried out the attack have never been identified. Even if a dog were suspected, the law has no teeth to identify and seize it unless it is found unsupervised at the scene of the assault. For Tecwyn, it was not just the financial loss that hit him, although that went into thousands of pounds, but the emotional loss of these prized animals, which he had put his time and devotion into rearing.
Tecwyn is not alone. This is a huge issue for farmers across the UK. Livestock worrying takes place when dogs that are not kept under proper control attack or chase livestock, particularly sheep. Although attacks are not officially recorded, and it is widely accepted that many incidents go unreported, it is estimated that around 15,000 sheep are killed by dogs each year.
With the increase in visitors to the countryside during lockdowns, incidents of livestock worrying have grown over the past 18 months, and the financial impact has increased. Data from the National Farmers Union indicates that the average insurance claim for attacks is over £1,300, and some claims rise to tens of thousands of pounds. In 2020, the cost of livestock worrying to the farming community was estimated to be around £1.3 million.
I first became involved with this matter when local farmers such as Brian Bown and Peter Williams raised it as a significant concern. I met Rob Taylor, Dave Allen and their colleagues from the North Wales police rural crime team, who have been working with farmers, such as the NFU county adviser Iestyn Pritchard, to gather data and work through proposed solutions. It soon became apparent to me that the legislation currently covering livestock worrying, the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, is outdated and no longer fit for purpose. It is hardly surprising given that it has barely been touched in 68 years. It has not kept pace with dog ownership, leisure trends, DNA technology or modern farming practice.
Earlier this year, as part of the Government’s animal welfare action plan and as set out in the Queen’s Speech, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs introduced the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. Part 2 of the Bill addresses dogs attacking or worrying livestock. Although I welcome its content, I share the concerns of farmers across the UK that it still does not go far enough. Yes, it gives the police greater powers to tackle livestock worrying incidents and it expands the scope of species that are afforded protection to include llamas, ostriches and game birds, but it still fails to give farmers the security they so desperately need.
That is why I have pursued this ten-minute rule Bill to make amendments to the 1953 Act. Specifically, my Bill proposes that the police be given the power to seize a dog or other items and to take DNA samples where they have reasonable grounds for suspicion that a dog has worried livestock. It further seeks a clearer and tighter definition of “close control”, which is used in both the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill and the 1953 Act. The definition of “close control” in the kept animals Bill requires that a dog
“is within sight of a person and the person remains aware of the dog’s actions, and has reason to be confident that the dog will return to the person reliably and promptly on the person’s command.”
Experience shows us that the natural instincts of even the best-behaved domestic dog can take over when other animals are in close proximity. It has to be a legal requirement that dogs be kept on a lead when they are near livestock of any kind.
Finally, the upper limit of the fine, currently set at a maximum of £1,000, must be removed. Where farmers are facing costs of up to £20,000, irresponsible dog owners must be made to realise the full financial impact of their actions.
I reassure my hon. Friends that these proposals are not intended to persecute dogs or dog owners. I am a dog owner myself, as are most famers, and none of us wants to see dogs destroyed or owners made to suffer. We know that in many cases the dogs that carry out livestock worrying will be otherwise lovable and good natured family pets that abscond from their premises in the absence of their owner or are left off the lead on countryside walks.
By raising the penalties for livestock worrying and making the regulations clearer, we want the Bill to highlight the problem and be used as a way to educate dog owners. A recent survey found that only 40% of dog owners accept that their dog could injure or kill a farm animal, and the same survey found that 64% of dog owners allow their pets to roam free in the countryside, despite half of them admitting that their dog does not always come back when called. By their very nature, pet owners and farmers almost universally care deeply about animals, and much of the solution to this problem is about raising awareness of the countryside code through legislation. It is vital that dog owners who live near or visit land on which livestock is being raised understand that, even without physical contact, sheep can die or miscarry as a result of the distress and exhaustion caused by a dog chase.
This May, 19,000 people supported the NFU’s campaign for changes to legislation to prevent dog attacks on farm animals. In presenting the Bill, I represent them. I represent those such as the North Wales police rural crime team who have worked hard to raise awareness of this important issue. I represent Tecwyn Jones and the hundreds of other farmers who have suffered financial and emotional loss through dog attacks. I represent decent, law-abiding dog owners everywhere. I represent the animals that should not have to bear this unbearable suffering.
Question put and agreed to.
That Virginia Crosbie, Sarah Atherton, Craig Williams, Simon Baynes, Alun Cairns, Mr David Jones, Dr James Davies, Andrew Rosindell, Neil Parish, Bill Wiggin,
Damian Hinds and Robin Millar present the Bill.
Virginia Crosbie accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 10 September, and to be printed (Bill 151).
Nationality and Borders Bill
[2nd Allocated Day]
Debate resumed (Order, 19 July).
Question proposed (19 July), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Amendment proposed (19 July), to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add
“That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Nationality and Borders Bill, notwithstanding the need to address the increasing number of dangerous boat crossings in the English Channel, because the Bill breaches the 1951 Refugee Convention, does not address the Government’s failure since 2010 to competently process asylum applications which has resulted in a backlog of cases and increased costs to the taxpayer, fails to deal with the serious and organised crime groups who are profiteering from human trafficking and modern slavery, does not address the failure to replace the Dublin III regulations to return refugees to safe countries, fails to re-establish safe routes and help unaccompanied child refugees, and fails to deliver a workable agreement with France to address the issue of boat crossings.”—(Nick Thomas-Symonds.)
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
I am delighted to warmly welcome many of the measures outlined in this Bill, specifically those to make some well-reasoned amendments to nationality law and consequently our policy towards those wishing to become British citizens.
As the House will no doubt be aware, citizenship is often the smaller, quieter sibling of immigration policy. Successive Governments have often, and quite understandably, prioritised their focus and thoughts on immigration—how to control it, who to let in, why and when. The Government have done very well in reforming our country’s immigration policy in the midst of our exit from the European Union. We have reshaped our immigration system toward our country’s needs, which is the correct approach for a country navigating different waters in a brave new world as we move towards a global Britain on the world stage.
Previous Governments, however, have seldom thought about the part after immigration, and it is to this Government’s credit that they are now doing just that. Last year I had the pleasure of chairing an independent inquiry into UK citizenship policy with the highly regarded think-tank British Future; it included a number of colleagues from this House and experts from relevant stakeholders such as the Law Society of Scotland. The inquiry’s report, which is entitled “Barriers to Britishness”, sought to explore the means and capacity for possible reform in this often-forgotten area of policy to see how the UK Government could take a more welcoming and positive approach to those who have come here, built their lives here and made a significant contribution here.
It is often said that the journey to become a British citizen is too expensive or too complicated. However, I am pleased that the Government have taken on board a number of my inquiry’s recommendations. As a result, the Bill goes some way towards simplifying the process of becoming a British citizen. For those applying for citizenship, the introduction of the requirement for applications to show a sustained connection to the UK was one of my inquiry’s key recommendations. That is reflected in clause 8. It comes at the expense of the previous requirement for applicants to prove that they were physically present in the UK five years before their application. That helps to remove a barrier towards Britishness while reducing the need for applicants to rely on costly legal advice for their application. The clause may also benefit non-British members of the armed forces, who might serve abroad for protracted periods.
Clauses 1 to 4 remove some of the remaining anomalies associated with British overseas territories citizenship, allowing mothers and unmarried fathers to pass on BOTC status, which could previously be passed on only by a married father. That introduces a most welcome route to full citizenship for those who hold BOTC passports in 14 qualifying territories, including the Falkland Islands, whose residents, as we all know, have as much a sense of being British as those living here in the UK.
Another welcome change is outlined in clause 7, which creates a new process for the discretionary registration of adults as British citizens in circumstances when they would otherwise have become British had it not been for historical unfairness in the law, an act or omission of a public authority, or other exceptional circumstance. As the House will be aware, the Home Secretary already possesses the power to grant citizenship on a discretionary basis to children. However, by extending that right to adults, the Bill will benefit those such as the Windrush victims who have been stranded abroad or young adults who have grown up in care and whom the local authorities neglected to register as British as a child, or registered them under the EU settlement scheme.
The Bill, in making those amendments to nationality law, goes a long way towards simplifying the citizenship process for those who wish to be British. There are, however, further areas of citizenship policy to which I and the inquiry have recommended changes, not least the cost of a citizenship application. The cost of becoming a British citizen is £1,330. Let us compare that to the cost in Australia, which is £155; in Canada, which is £373; in New Zealand, which is £243; and in the United States, which is £590. I would be most grateful if the Minister explained why the cost of an application is extremely high, compared to the cost in those countries. I urge the Government to consider a much more reasonable application fee and reduce that further barrier to becoming a British citizen.
Overall, I welcome the Government’s proposals to make the offer of citizenship more open and accessible. I hope we can go further in ensuring that those who have chosen the UK in which to work and build their lives, and who have made enormous contributions, have that matched by the offer of citizenship. I will support the Government’s Bill this evening.
First, I thank the hundreds of constituents who have written to me asking me to oppose the Bill, which I will this evening. I am proud to be here as a Member of Parliament for Glasgow. I praise Glasgow’s role as a dispersal city, and the great work of organisations such as the Govan Community Project and the Govan Home and Education Link Project, which help asylum seekers on a daily basis.
Glasgow is well aware of the reality of asylum seekers’ experiences, which we cannot really contemplate. Victims of torture, sexual violence and persecution—that is the reality of asylum seekers’ experience. As restrictions ease, the Government had an opportunity to introduce some substantial legislation to address the inequalities that the covid pandemic has exposed, such as an unemployment Bill to deal with precarious work or, indeed, to reform the broken social security system. I am afraid that this Bill exposes the Conservative party in all its guises, because it is the politics of the dog whistle—the politics where every person seeking sanctuary is viewed with suspicion.
I read Hansard today and the phrase “economic migrants” was used liberally by Conservative Back Benchers yesterday. Perhaps they could benefit from Show Racism the Red Card coming in here, as they do in classrooms in Glasgow, and explaining the difference between an asylum seeker, a refugee and an economic migrant, because I suspect that some Conservative Back Benchers would fail that simple test. It is the politics where the legal profession is collectively dismissed as Marxist, despite some incredible court rulings. For example, Serco obtained an extraordinary High Court ruling that private sector companies, which the Government use across public services, do not have to comply with basic human rights legislation when providing accommodation to asylum seekers.
It is surprising to hear Government Members say that the legal routes issue is different from those in the Bill. It is not. If the Government close legal routes to seek sanctuary in this country, it cannot be a surprise that people would be so desperate that they choose to try other routes into the UK. There has been a lack of real engagement in the consultation process for the Bill. The Bill was, of course, published before any formal response to the consultation—a consultation in which many organisations that deal and work with asylum seekers on a daily basis raised real concerns that have not been addressed.
Depriving asylum seekers of the chance to obtain competent legal representation and to challenge poor decisions increases the risk of returning people to extremely serious danger. That approach also ignores the numerous reasons why refugees may be unable to provide all the evidence and information regarding their case at an early stage in the procedure. Such reasons include a lack of knowledge of the system. Asylum seekers do not have expertise in the UK’s immigration system when they get here fleeing oppression. They do not know what evidence they have, so it should not be a surprise that people who are survivors of trauma do not immediately disclose information, especially women and survivors of sexual violence.
There are a number of concerns. I mentioned accommodation. It is astonishing that Home Office providers of asylum accommodation do not need to use registered social landlords to provide that accommodation. Even worse, the Government now want to legislate to increase the use of military barracks. That is utterly unacceptable and will do serious harm, I fear, to the mental health of many of those seeking sanctuary in the United Kingdom. By vowing to continue that practice, the Government are ignoring the views of public health experts. It really is astonishing.
The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration described the Home Office’s use of that sort of accommodation as a “serious error of judgment”, while the immigration court ruled earlier that the Home Secretary failed to ensure that deaths in immigration detention centres were properly investigated. A Home Affairs Committee report published in December 2018 described the conditions in which vulnerable people are being housed as “degrading” and called on the Home Office to show “greater urgency”.
My last concern is that we want to follow the Australian model. Centres in Australia saw cases of sexual abuse and the rape of refugees leading to some falling pregnant, and there were instances of staff using unreasonable force, while the remoteness of offshore facilities also caused deaths due to the lack of healthcare facilities.
Glasgow has risen up to the Home Office time and again, as we did in Kenmure Street, and I was very proud to be there exercising my right to freedom of peaceful assembly. The people of Glasgow in opposing the Bill say this: “Say it loud, say it clear: refugees are welcome here”.
The Nationality and Borders Bill is important and necessary legislation to address the growing problem of illegal entry into the UK by migrants crossing the Dover straits. Last year, in 2020, more than 8,500 people made such a journey in small vessels: 87% of them were men and 74% were aged 18 to 39. This year, over 8,000 have already completed the trip, including a record number of 430 in a single day—and that was yesterday. For residents on the Kent coast, including in my constituency, it has become a fact of life that, when the weather is good and the sea is calm, hundreds of undocumented asylum seekers will attempt to cross the channel in small boats.
We need to be clear that illegal crossings of the channel are dangerous and cost lives. In recent years, migrants have died while being smuggled in lorries. There have been deaths from people trying to walk through the channel tunnel, and there have been drownings at sea from people trying to make it across the channel in small boats. We cannot allow this to continue. No country would allow this to continue, or should.
The Government have made substantial investments, along with the French authorities, to improve security at the port of Calais and the channel tunnel, making it much harder for people to gain illegal entry there. Improved patrolling along the French coast has led to the successful detection of many people as they attempt to make their crossing, but before their vessel enters the water. Some people have called for vessels to be intercepted at sea, and suggested—I think wrongly—that vessels are just being escorted across the channel by the French authorities or by our own. I do not think that is the case. Vessels need to be intercepted before they get into the water, as interception at sea is dangerous if the migrants on the vessels are not co-operating with the authorities.
We cannot, of course, patrol in French waters, and we are reliant on the French authorities to do that. Of course, it would be much better if they could do that just as those vessels leave French waters, when returning to France would be easier, but we have no means to patrol in its waters. I would say, though, that excellent work has been done at sea when it has been needed by Border Force and most importantly—I would like to thank this group of people—by the volunteer lifeboat men working for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution at the lifeboat stations from Dungeness in my constituency round to Dover, who are now regularly called out to assist people in distress at sea.
Pascale Moreau, the European director of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said a couple of years ago of this problem:
“Our collective response should be comprehensive and complementary—from saving lives to combating smuggling rings, expanding legal options, and ensuring that all those who are in need of protection can effectively access it”.
That is why the approach set out in this Bill is so important.
We need to make it clear that illegal entry to the UK is not a shortcut to residency in this country. We need to make it clear to the people traffickers who prey on vulnerable people for profit that they will face tough sentences for bringing people illegally into this country. We need to make people think again before attempting these life-threatening crossings. That is why it is right that the Bill addresses that. It will make it illegal for people to arrive in UK waters without permission, which it already is; increase the maximum sentences for people who are arriving in the country illegally from six months to four years; make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission; and introduce tough new sentences for people traffickers, so they know they will face lengthy prison sentences—up to life prison sentences—if they are involved in operating people trafficking rings. These are the reforms we need.
Alongside these reforms must also go the work for safe routes to make sure that migrants and asylum seekers are aware of safe legal routes to enter this country. The safe routes scheme this country invested in saw more than 25,000 refugees settled in this country from 2015 to 2020. In addition, more than 29,000 close relatives joined people in this country. Under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, working with UNHCR, we were able to identify the most vulnerable people in the most dangerous places and give them a safe route to enter this country.
We want people to take that route, not to put their lives in the hands of people-trafficking gangs to make a journey across Europe and a life-threatening journey across the channel, but instead to work with the authorities in war zones and danger zones, where we know people are displaced and need help, to give them a safe legal route to this country and to know that at the end of that safe legal route will be a successful asylum claim and with it indefinite leave to remain in the UK. That is the route we need to establish. We need to close down the illegal crossing points, which are incredibly dangerous, that are profiting criminal gangs and are rightly concerning to people who live on the Kent coast, too. We need to close this route down and give people safe routes to this country and safe ways to claim asylum.
In 1933, Einstein lived in Norfolk, guarded by local residents and a Conservative MP to prevent attempts to assassinate him by the Nazis. At the time, he said:
“I shall become a naturalised Englishman as soon as is possible for my papers to go through.”
He never did get those papers, though.
Throughout this debate, I have heard Members laud our history of accepting refugees as if it somehow explains and justifies the Bill before us; as if our capacity as a nation to retrospectively see that we did the right thing means that we are doing so now. Yet even when it came to geniuses like Einstein, the term “asylum seeker” has always meant second-class citizen. There are no photographs of the parents of the Kindertransport children, the ones denied entry by Whitehall, only to be murdered by the Nazis. When it came to east African Asians, we introduced the Commonwealth Immigration Act 1968 to make it harder for them to seek sanctuary. Now we have orphaned children sleeping rough on our border with France and in Greece in overcrowded covid-ridden camps, and we say that they must be safe so they are not our problem.
Let us stop re-writing the UK’s history to provide cover for legislation like this, which makes plain the Government’s disdain for those who find themselves with little alternative but to run for their lives. They want to penalise people for how they run, creating a third class of citizens who are at perpetual risk of being deported: because they did not queue properly and fill in the appropriate form, they did not travel directly to an island nation or present themselves immediately for a claim, they must be suspect, regardless of their story or why they fled, breaching the refugee convention. I hear this a lot: “Well, they came through France, Germany, Belgium. Why should we help them?” The convention is clear that there is no requirement to claim asylum in the first safe country. It was intended to get nations to work together to help make managing those at risk possible.
It is true that it was easier to quietly ignore those in danger when there were not that many of them, before the mass refugee camps in Sudan or the Syrian civil war, but just because the challenge is harder does not mean that our response should be, too; that we should be a nation that does not keep its promises to the 3,000 children we said we would take under the Dubs scheme; we have only taken 480. Turkey is taking 4 million refugees and we are quibbling about 26,000 applications. The vast majority of refugees end up staying in the areas they have run from, displaced and living in developing countries when wealthy ones like ours want to look the other way.
Persecution does not happen in an orderly fashion. Wars are not run to a timetable to be able to make people make applications. You run, you grab your children, you flee with what you can, you try to save their lives—yes, many of them boys and young men—from certain death. What parent cannot understand that ambition? We all want to stop the traffickers, but the gangs will use these changes as a selling point to those desperate people. If we want to stop the gangs then take away the market, but there is no safe and legal route being proposed here, no new commitments made. The vulnerable persons resettlement scheme has stopped. If we think that the only place that people are running from is Syria, we do not understand what is going on in Ethiopia, Iran, Afghanistan, to the Uyghurs, to LGBTQ people in Myanmar, or to Christians and religious minorities around the world.
Ministers claim the legislation will protect women from trafficking when it will do the reverse, because it is not based on any evidence. Their own statistics show that the majority in detention referred to the national referral mechanism are then recognised as potential victims of trafficking and that 81% of reasonable grounds rejections that are challenged are granted a positive ruling, yet many of those women would fall into that group, too. Women repeatedly abused on their journeys here, who cannot find the words to speak about the hell they have been through, will be criminalised because they did not have all their paperwork neatly folded about their person for presentation during this time. Locking them up in detention centres reinforces, not removes, the abuse they face. Yarl’s Wood is a stain on our national identity, a place where victims of sexual abuse and rape in war are jailed. Not only does it cost more than community schemes to run, but it retraumatises those women over and over again.
Home Office costs are spiralling, 40% of appeals are successful and more and more people are forced to live in misery and destitution as a result of the scheme we have. The Government’s solution is to try to house them offshore in a move that makes Yarl’s Wood look compassionate. Those who have lauded the Australians and their offshoring facility at Nauru would do well to read the horrifying accounts of the sexual abuse of women and children over the years, in addition to the hundreds of incidents of threatened and actual self-harm, and ask whether this is really the path we want to go down.
“A bundle of belongings isn’t the only thing a refugee brings to his new country.”
Out there, the British public know that. They know that we need a system that can process people fairly and quickly. They know that but for the grace of God there they go. If the worst were to happen to them and they had to flee their homes, they would want a new home that saw them not as a burden, but as a benefit. Our past does not mean we cannot build a future in which we make that ambition a reality. This Bill will not stop the boats; it will encourage them. So let us not give the criminal gangs their latest recruiting tactic. I urge colleagues to vote this Bill down and stand up to those who want to demonise refugees. Let us come together to come back with something that can make Britain proud of how we treat the persecuted, not an international pariah.
This Bill is incredibly wide-ranging, and I associate myself with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) about the nationality changes. However, I will confine my remarks to illegal immigration and allow other Members to get in.
This debate is particularly poignant today, when we hit a new record high for small boat crossings, with 430 people crossing in a single day. While Redcar and Cleveland