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Topical Questions

Volume 707: debated on Tuesday 25 January 2022

Together with our allies, we are standing up to Russian aggression. We will not tolerate their campaign of hybrid warfare aiming to destabilise democracies across eastern Europe. We will continue to expose Russian disinformation, including attempts to install proxies and puppets. The UK is at the forefront of providing support to Ukraine, with defensive weapons and through economics and trade. Any Russian military incursion would be a massive strategic mistake, with severe costs. The Ukrainians will fight and Putin should beware of an intractable quagmire.

As talks continue in Vienna on reviving the joint comprehensive plan of action nuclear deal, there are fears that Iran gets ever closer to a nuclear weapon. Will my right hon. Friend please convince the House of what is happening to maintain peace in the middle east?

This negotiation is urgent, and progress has not been fast enough. We continue to work in close partnership with our allies, but the negotiations are reaching a dangerous impasse. Iran must now choose whether it wants to conclude a deal or be responsible for the collapse of the JCPOA. If the JCPOA collapses, all options are on the table.

Some 9.4 million people are going hungry in northern Ethiopia, airstrikes are killing civilians and the blockade is being used as a political weapon. I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), met Abiy Ahmed last week. Did she make it clear that preventing humanitarian access is an abuse of human rights, that airstrikes on refugees are completely incompatible with UK partnership, and that a real dialogue to enable peace must start now and include the Prime Minister’s opponents?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right: we need to secure peace in Ethiopia. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs was in Ethiopia and she has been extremely active on the issue. I have also discussed it with the Ethiopian Foreign Minister and urged them to join peace talks.

T3. When I was in Ukraine last week, the senior Government officials and military commanders wanted me to express the sincere gratitude that that country has for the support the United Kingdom is providing. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the involvement of the regime in Belarus in supporting Russian threats to Ukraine? (905250)

The world is aware that Russia is on manoeuvres both on Ukraine’s borders and across Belarus. We continually develop our assessment of the situation. I can only repeat what my right hon. and hon. Friends have said about the massive strategic mistake that Russia would make were it to invade Ukraine’s territorial borders.

T2. Just 5.5% of people in low-income families are still vaccinated against covid-19. That means disaster for so many nations. Why are the Government blocking the patent when the in-country manufacture of the vaccine could save millions of lives? The Government’s donation is simply a drop in the ocean. (905249)

Throughout the pandemic our top priority has been to save lives. We firmly believe that the best way to do so is to support the world’s leading scientists. There is no evidence that the intellectual property rights waiver would help to save lives. The TRIPS—trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights—waiver proposal would dismantle the international IP framework that helped to produce the vaccines at an unprecedented pace.

T4. [R] People in Dudley South and across Britain with vivid memories of the famines that followed civil war in Ethiopia in the 1980s will look with horror at recent reports from that country. What update can my hon. Friend the Minister give on the situation in Ethiopia and the prospects for a lasting peace? (905251)

My hon. Friend is right that the war in northern Ethiopia has caused huge suffering, but there are some welcome signs that it may now be possible to move towards peace. I visited Ethiopia last week and met Prime Minister Abiy. I urged him not only to work towards peace talks but to ensure that humanitarian aid flows to those who need it. We in the UK stand ready to support all efforts towards finding peace.

T5. The country will be astonished by the Minister’s answer on the TRIPS waiver. If it is right that nobody is safe until the whole world is vaccinated, how is it that the United States, for example, thinks that the waiver would allow vaccines to be produced in the right places for the right people but we are one of the very few countries sticking out to prevent it? (905252)

This is the country where the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was developed. It has been supplied at cost around the world and I have seen it being produced in the Serum Institute in India, as well as in Mexico. The fact is that we have supported the roll-out of vaccines around the world and donated to developing countries.

T8. How does the Foreign Secretary believe the role of the Commonwealth could and should be developed in future, now that the UK has left the EU? (905256)

The Commonwealth is a vibrant and valued network of countries and we are deeply committed to it. Commonwealth nations are crucial friends in the delivery of the Foreign Secretary’s vision of a network of liberty and the need to plant the flag for freedom around the globe. We look forward to hosting the Commonwealth games in Birmingham this summer and to attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kigali in Rwanda soon.

T6. Members of the all-party parliamentary group on Fairtrade recently met Bismark, a Fairtrade producer from Ghana who attended COP26 to explain how climate change was affecting his crops. As we approach Fairtrade fortnight, will international development Ministers outline how a farmer like Bismark will be able to access the climate-adaptation finance that the UK pledged at COP26 and that will support producers, tackle climate change and improve food security? (905254)

We are soon to launch the developing countries trading scheme, which will help developing countries to get better access to the UK market. We have also just launched British International Investment, which will help developing countries with their climate change adaptation by supporting their investment.

T9. With the NATO leadership set to change this September, does my right hon. Friend think it apposite that the leadership should go to a representative from a country that actually meets its defence spending commitments, which are vital to repel aggression from states such as Russia? (905257)

The UK is proud to be a long-standing—indeed, founding—member of NATO and to consistently meet its 2% target. NATO remains one of the most important institutions for Euro-Atlantic security and it is incredibly important that its future leadership recognises not only traditional threats, as we now see on Ukraine’s borders, but emerging threats such as cyber, space and other realms of conflict.

T7. Last week saw the first eviction of a Palestinian family in Sheikh Jarrah in east Jerusalem in five years. Demolitions of Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories have increased by 21% in 2021, and currently, 200 more Palestinian families have eviction orders and are at risk of being displaced. The forced evictions of Palestinians must stop, so will the Minister condemn these demolitions, and what action will he take to stop further evictions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah? (905255)

I forgive the hon. Lady for not being a devoted follower of my social media feeds and statements; I have already put out a statement on those demolitions. As I said in response to an earlier question, the UK enjoys an incredibly strong relationship with Israel. That allows us to bring up difficult and sensitive issues such as this, but also enables us to work with Israel on areas of mutual interest and concern, including ultimately a viable two-state solution.

I very strongly welcome the strength and determination of the message that the Foreign Secretary is sending to Mr Putin to deter any possible aggression against Ukraine; it is just right. However, are there any circumstances under which she could foresee British troops being deployed in a combat role, defending Ukraine?

As the Defence Secretary said, it is unlikely that that would be the circumstance, but we are working very hard to make sure that Ukraine has the defensive weapons that it needs; that it has the training that it needs—we have trained 20,000 Ukrainian personnel—and that it has the support of the international community. We are pushing our allies very hard to make sure that they are offering similar defensive support.

The Foreign Secretary has concluded a trade deal with Australia, which advantages those who produce their food using animal welfare standards far worse than those met by Cumbrian farmers or British farmers in general. So when will those of us who care about farming and animal welfare standards get a chance to vote on that deal?

Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I have faith in Cumbrian farmers, and I believe that they are world-beating, and Cumbrian lamb is world-beating. So I encourage the hon. Gentleman to get behind the new trade deal that we are negotiating—the CPTPP. Why does he not go out to the Asia-Pacific region and promote his farmers, rather than talking them down in the House of Commons?

The Minister will be aware that I have raised repeatedly the case of Maira Shahbaz, a 14-year-old Christian girl forcibly abducted, raped and forced into a marriage. Will the Minister assure me, given that we give hundreds of millions of pounds in aid to Pakistan, that we are insisting that aid is contingent on reform of the blasphemy laws and making sure that there are no forced conversions in that country?

My right hon. Friend will understand why I will not go into specific details of that case. I can assure him that in our bilateral relationships with Pakistan and other countries where we are aid donors, we also ensure that we use that relationship to promote the values not just of tolerance but of protection of religious freedom. That is as true in Pakistan as it is in other areas, and it is an issue that my noble Friend Lord Ahmed raises bilaterally.

What more evidence does the Foreign Secretary need to take sanctions against General Silva, the chief of the defence in Sri Lanka, to follow the American Government in those sanctions for war crimes?

We have regularly engaged with the United States and other partners on issues relating to Sri Lanka. The UK Government keep all evidence and potential designations under the UK global human rights sanctions regime under close review, guided by the objectives of the sanctions regime. We would not normally speculate about future sanctions targets, as to do so would reduce their impact.

The Chinese Communist party is expanding its grip over the people of Hong Kong, destroying the freedoms and liberties defended by the British Crown for 100 years. Will the Foreign Secretary join me in condemning China for its flagrant misuse of power and its undermining of the rule of law?

We continue to make clear to mainland Chinese and Hong Kong authorities our strong opposition to the national security law, which is being used to curtail freedoms, punish dissent and shrink the space for opposition, free press and civil society. As a co-signatory to the joint declaration, we will continue to stand up for the people of Hong Kong.

It is good to be back after my brush with covid.

This could not be more topical; this morning we have seen crisis around the world, particularly in the problems on the border with Russia. Let me say, as the Labour Member who has been in the House the longest, that when we have such a crisis, we expect to see the Prime Minister not on the phone or on video calls, but out there visiting, talking, organising and showing leadership—showing that we care and that we lead from the front? Please, knock on No. 10 and get him out of there, and let us hope he does not say, “Crisis? What crisis?”

We have been leading on the response to Ukraine. Only last night, the Prime Minister was on a call with the President of the United States, the President of France and the Chancellor of Germany. We are showing leadership in providing defensive support to Ukraine and putting in place the toughest economic sanctions in the case of a Russian incursion. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to put his points to the Russian President.