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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 724: debated on Tuesday 13 December 2022

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The Secretary of State was asked—

British Indian Ocean Territory

1. What recent progress he has made on negotiations on the sovereignty of the British Indian Ocean Territory. (902757)

I can confirm that negotiations have begun. Officials from the UK and Mauritius met at the end of last month and had constructive discussions. The UK and Mauritius have reiterated that any agreement will ensure the continued effective operation of the joint UK-US defence facility on Diego Garcia, and we will be meeting again to continue negotiations shortly.

What consultations are being held with members of the Chagossian community in my constituency and around the UK ahead of any proposed changes to the British Indian Ocean Territory?

I recognise my hon. Friend’s championing of the Chagossian community in his constituency. He will recognise that there is a diversity of views in the various Chagossian communities in Mauritius, the UK and the Seychelles. We will of course take those views seriously, but the negotiations are between the UK and Mauritius. We will ensure that we continue to engage with those communities through this negotiating process.

Do the UK Government now accept the finding of the International Court of Justice that the process of the decolonisation of Mauritius was not lawfully completed in 1968 and that the UK’s continued administration of the Chagos archipelago constitutes a wrongful act?

The UK has expressed regret about the manner in which the Chagossians were removed in the late 1960s and the 1970s, but we are working constructively with the Mauritius Government and, as I say, one of the strong principles that underpins the negotiation is the reiteration that the UK and US defence facility on Diego Garcia will continue.

LGBTQ+ Rights: Qatar World Cup

2. What diplomatic steps his Department is taking to promote LGBTQ+ rights during the men’s World cup in Qatar. (902758)

Ministers and senior officials have raised the UK’s position with regard to LGBT+ football fans and the status of those fans in Qatar. I raise these issues regularly in my direct engagement with the Qatari authorities, and on my recent visit to Qatar it was again restated in the conversation between myself and my opposite number in the Foreign Ministry.

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary. Qatar has brought into focus the denial of people’s basic rights over their sexuality and gender. Around 70 countries still criminalise homosexuality, with 10 or more still using the death penalty. We are seeing a regression for LGBT rights in many parts of the world. Last week in Russia, Putin criminalised any act of public mention of same-sex relationships. In parts of eastern Europe, LGBT people are facing aggression, with violence in Bulgaria, new anti-LGBT laws in Hungary and so-called LGBT ideology-free zones continuing to operate in Poland. What is the Foreign Secretary doing to ensure that we do not see a pink curtain descend across Europe?

The hon. Gentleman raises incredibly important points. My position on the importance of promoting and defending the rights of LGBTQ+ people is well known, and that absolutely reflects the British Government’s position. We do not shy away from raising these issues in the conversations we have with those relevant countries where there are issues and where we are seeing a slip backwards, and I can commit to him and the House that we will continue to do so.

A proportion of the gay and lesbian community in Qatar will statistically also be part of the Christian minority, and Qatar has one of the worst records in the world for persecution of Christians. What is the Foreign Secretary going to do about that?

Again, the British Government have a long-standing commitment to the protection of freedom of religion or belief, and we report on it regularly. The Prime Minister has in the past appointed a special envoy for this issue. My ministerial friend Lord Ahmad in the other place champions it when he has conversations in the region. The protection of minorities is an issue that is brought up regularly in the conversations that I have in the region.

Ukraine: War Crimes

3. What diplomatic steps he is taking to help ensure that perpetrators of war crimes in Ukraine are held to account. (902759)

6. What diplomatic steps he is taking to help ensure (a) prosecution of and (b) effective sanctions against perpetrators of war crimes in Ukraine. (902762)

The UK has led diplomatic efforts to refer the situation in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court. With the US and EU, we established the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group. We are working closely with our international partners to ensure that our sanctions are effective, and that those who are responsible for atrocities and breaches of international humanitarian law, at whatever level, are ultimately held accountable for their actions.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his answer. In her recent visit to Parliament, the first lady of Ukraine highlighted that Russian soldiers had carried out sexual violence, including rape, against Ukrainian women with the consent of their commanders. As the Foreign Secretary will be aware, under UN international law the use of rape in combat is a war crime. Will he set out specifically what he will be doing on the diplomatic stage to ensure that when the war is over, or indeed before then, the soldiers who committed those crimes and the officers who authorised those disgusting and heinous rapes are dealt with in the International Criminal Court?

The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important point. I had the privilege of speaking to the first lady at the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative conference that we hosted in London recently. I can inform him and the House that this morning we designated 12 more Russian military officers who were in command of Russian troops when atrocities took place. We work closely with the Ukrainian chief prosecutor, the International Criminal Court and our international allies to ensure there is an accountability framework that is effective, from the people on the ground who are perpetrating these crimes directly, to the officers who are ordering them to do that, right up to and including Vladimir Putin himself, who is ultimately responsible for these vile acts, which have taken place because of his invasion of Ukraine.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that prosecutions and sanctions for atrocities in Ukraine should also be extended to those in Russia who perpetrate violence against women and girls, such as the Russian police officer Ivan Ryabov, who tortured courageous Russian women for speaking out against the brutality done in their name but against their will in Ukraine?

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. There are many, many Russians who are deeply opposed to the invasion that Putin initiated against Ukraine. Their bravery is legion. We have sanctioned more than 1,200 Russians and more than 120 entities as a direct result of Putin’s invasion. I will make note of the name he raised. He and I have discussed this previously, and he will understand that we do not comment on specific designations that might have been brought about.

Labour has been calling for a special tribunal to prosecute Putin personally since March. This is a necessary part of securing justice for the victims of Putin’s war crime, and would add to the legal basis for confiscating frozen Russian assets. The EU has already set out a plan to shift frozen assets into a fund to help rebuild Ukraine, and Canada has already passed laws to do that. Why are the Government not doing the same?

The Government and I have committed to exploring ways of ensuring that those individuals who supported Vladimir Putin—the kleptocrats and oligarchs who have helped to fund this aggression against Ukraine—are not just sanctioned; ultimately, we will look at legally robust mechanisms to seize assets as part of the reparations, rebuilding and reconstruction phase. Of course, we work closely with the Canadian authorities. Canada has a similar legal system to ours, for obvious reasons, and we will explore what it has done to see what we can learn to ensure that whatever vehicle we put in place has the desired effect and is robust.

Northern Ireland Protocol

4. What recent discussions he has had with the European Commission on the operation of the Northern Ireland protocol. (902760)

13. How many hours his Department has spent on negotiations with (a) EU member states and (b) the European Commission on the Northern Ireland protocol in the last month. (902770)

Fixing the Northern Ireland protocol is a top priority for this Government. Since September I have been in regular contact with Vice-President Šefčovič. We last spoke on 1 December and I will be seeing him for further talks this week. My officials have also been working with our counterparts in the EU on a regular basis to try to resolve the issues, which we recognise—and we are impressing this upon them—are causing serious, genuine and damaging friction in relationships between the various communities in Northern Ireland.

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for that answer. It was reported recently that the Prime Minister has assured President Biden that an agreement will be reached with the EU in time for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement. We also read that the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is on ice while the negotiations continue. Can the Foreign Secretary assure the House that if an agreement with the EU is reached—and we all hope that will happen—the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill will be dropped?

The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill exists for a reason. The commitment that I made to Maroš Šefčovič in the conversations that I had with him and others was that we would not either artificially accelerate that process or artificially hinder or retard it. We have always said that our preferred option is through negotiations. We speak regularly, the tone is positive, and I think that there is now an understanding that the concerns that we have raised, and that have been raised particularly by the Unionist community in Northern Ireland, are not confected but real, and that any agreement would need to address them.

Is it not the case that there has not been one hour of actual negotiations, because the EU has not extended its mandate to allow for any changes whatsoever in the operation of the current protocol? That being the case, does the Foreign Secretary not believe that the EU will smell weakness in this Government if they take their foot off the pedal with the protocol Bill in the other place? I encourage him to press on with the Bill.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the UK negotiating team are very conscious of the frustrations, particularly in the Unionist community in Northern Ireland. But we have also made the point to our interlocutors in the EU that, across communities in Northern Ireland, there is a recognition that the protocol is not working, that it needs to be addressed, and that the relationships between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK—of which Northern Ireland is a part—all have to function properly. That is the underpinning of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and that is what we seek to achieve through our negotiations.

One needs only to visit the port at Belfast and see the potential for new facilities there to realise the interruption there could be to the vital east-west trade routes that Northern Ireland relies on. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is vital that the Government are clear that we do not take anything off the table in getting to an agreement? Even though we want an agreement, we still need all the options to be on the table, to ensure that we get what we need for the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom’s position has been consistent. We recognise that the way the protocol is working is undermining community cohesion in Northern Ireland and disrupting business flows, particularly east-west between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. These issues have to be addressed. That is, I think, something that the EU negotiating team understand, and we will continue negotiating in good faith. However, as I say, the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill exists for a reason, and we want to ensure that we get a good working resolution that is sustainable for all the communities in Northern Ireland.

For 18 months we have been at an impasse on the Northern Ireland protocol. Instead of negotiations, we have had cheap rhetoric and threats to break agreements. With a UK Government showing determination and diplomatic skill, and an EU willing to be flexible, these problems would be easily resolvable. Is the real problem that the Prime Minister is in the pocket of the European Research Group, too weak to stand up to his Back Benchers, and putting his party before Northern Ireland?

The right hon. Gentleman needs to keep up. We have had very well-tempered negotiations between the UK and EU negotiators. He will find in our public reporting of those negotiations that there has been a high degree of mutual respect. He says that there is an easy resolution. If he believes that, all I would say is that we are waiting to hear it. If it were easy, it would have been done already.

I say to the Foreign Secretary that if politics goes wrong for him, he has a great career in stand-up ahead of him.

This discussion is not happening in a vacuum. The Foreign Secretary will be aware of a poll in The Irish Times yesterday that showed that 54% of the people of Northern Ireland are in favour of EU membership. I want to see a negotiated outcome over the protocol; we all do. There are things with the protocol that need to be addressed, and we all agree on that, but the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is not the way to do that. Surely he must recognise that it is the biggest block to progress in these talks, and that now is the time to scrap it.

I am the one who has been in the conversations with the EU. I know that it does not particularly like the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, but, nevertheless, the conversations that I have had with my direct interlocuters and that our officials have been having with their opposite numbers in the EU system have been progressing. As I have said, there are still a number of serious issues that need to be resolved, but we are working in good faith. The Bill exists for a reason and it is important that it is there.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman highlighting the fact that there is pretty much universal agreement now that the protocol needs to be changed, because that is what is driving an increased degree of community tension and disruption in Northern Ireland.

While I am on my feet, let me welcome the hon. Gentleman resuming his place.

Commonwealth Countries

We want to see a Commonwealth that delivers greater benefits to all member states across a range of policy priorities, including climate, human rights, health, education and security. We are building long-term partnerships on shared priorities, such as on trade, where we have secured free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand and are presently negotiating further FTAs with Canada and India.

The Commonwealth is a family of nations that shares the UK’s great values, culture, history and language, and I passionately believe that it is a force for good in an ever more uncertain world, and acts as a bulwark against intolerance and authoritarianism. In the wake of our departure from the EU, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to deepen our engagement with Commonwealth on matters to do with the economy, foreign policy, culture and security, because they truly are our brothers?

In an increasingly uncertain world, where sovereignty is challenged, the UK believes that the Commonwealth provides an important network of prospering free nations of brothers and sisters. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in June, we agreed funding of £270 million to support girls’ education across the Commonwealth and £15 million to help the Commonwealth countries defend themselves against cyber-attacks, and we are supporting small states through our international climate fund.

One way the Minister could help to support the Commonwealth is to support the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee in Montserrat who has been trying to investigate spending under the Deputy Governor’s Department, but has been told that, constitutionally, that is not allowed, even though a significant amount of taxpayers’ money in Montserrat goes into that budget. Perhaps we could have a conversation about that so that we can support proper financial scrutiny of Government spending wherever it happens in the Commonwealth.

As a former member of the hon. Lady’s Public Accounts Committee, I would be very happy to take that up. I know that Lord Ahmad in the other place would be willing to sit down with her.

One way that we strengthen relations with the Commonwealth is through the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which the Government work with in the UK. You, Mr Speaker, are an extremely supportive co-president and I am proud to be chair. The status of the CPA headquarters as a UK charity is creating significant problems, as the Minister knows from conversations with my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger). The noble Lord Goldsmith has met me to hear the importance of changing the status of the CPA, so that our headquarters can remain in the UK, but we need to move quickly to a resolution. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me and Lord Goldsmith to effect that change?

I am happy to commit to that. I know that the Foreign Secretary and you, Mr Speaker, have also discussed this important issue, and I will make sure it is picked up as soon as possible.

The Commonwealth is an incredibly influential body across the whole world and we recognise the good work it does, but we must also recognise the issue of human rights abuses and the persecution of Christians and other ethnic minorities in Commonwealth countries. What discussions has the Minister been able to have with those Commonwealth countries that do not allow freedom of religion or belief and that do persecute people about human rights?

The hon. Gentleman is a stalwart champion on this matter. I can assure him that in all our conversations with the Commonwealth countries within my regional portfolios and those of other Ministers, we always have on our agenda the question of human rights issues. We are a strong and critical friend where we need to be, and that will always continue.

In the Commonwealth we have a unique vehicle with which to engage on the global stage. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s comments in his speech yesterday, but while Foreign Office budgets are under continual strain and the Department is beset by strategic incoherence, does he accept that under the current approach, his vision is simply unachievable?

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments on the Foreign Secretary’s speech yesterday, which I thought set out very clearly the patient diplomacy that we consider the Commonwealth to be at the heart of. These are long-standing relationships, where we work together to build, to help economies to grow and on mutual security issues. I was out in the Pacific recently, where six of our Commonwealth family are. Working together on maritime security, on climate and on helping them to support their populations for the future is at the heart of what we do.

Saudi Arabia: Human Rights and Death Penalty

7. Whether he has made recent representations to his counterpart in Saudi Arabia on (a) the use of the death penalty and (b) potential human rights violations in that country. (902763)

Saudi Arabia remains an FCDO human rights priority country, particularly because of the use of the death penalty and restrictions on freedom of expression. We strongly oppose the death penalty in all countries and circumstances. We regularly raise our concerns with the Saudi authorities and will continue to do so. The Minister for the Middle East raised the death penalty and freedom of expression with the Saudi ambassador on 24 November.

I am afraid that recently it feels as if the Government are frightened of saying boo to Saudi Arabia on human rights abuses. The Minister himself, only a few days ago, said that Hussein Abo al-Kheir had been abhorrently tortured by Saudi authorities. He withdrew the remark; as I understand it, the Saudi authorities asked the Foreign Office to withdraw that remark. The truth is that Hussein Abo al-Kheir has been tortured and he has been on death row since 2015. The Saudi Government executed 81 people on one day earlier this year and are intending to execute a large number more later this year. They have already reneged on all of their promises on ending the death penalty for non-violent crimes. Will the Minister please go back to Saudi Arabia and make it clear that this country abhors torture and the death penalty?

I corrected my answer to the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) to clarify that those were allegations of torture, as I underline again today. That is consistent with the line I used in my opening remarks on this issue in the urgent question on 28 November. I also contacted the right hon. Gentleman to ensure that he was aware of the correction. Notwithstanding that, of course it is vital that we continue to raise these issues, as Lord Ahmad has done and will continue to do.

I am sure the Minister would agree that, in moving away from any possible reliance on Russian energy supplies, the UK should not simply choose further dependency on a different authoritarian regime. It has been reported that the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), when he was Business Secretary, held undisclosed meetings with Saudi Arabian firms. Will the Minister tell us what was discussed—and if he cannot, why can he not?

I do not recognise those conversations that the hon. Gentleman refers to, but clearly the important thing is that we have access to the energy we need with allies that we trust and, over time, build our own energy security as well.


18. What steps his Department is taking to help tackle destabilising activities by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. (902775)

These protests in Iran are a watershed moment. After years of repression, the Iranian people have clearly had enough. They are standing up to the authoritarian regime under which they live. Sadly, the regime has responded in the only way it knows: with violence. The UK is committed to holding Iran to account, including with more than 300 sanctions—including the sanctioning of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in its entirety. We will continue to work with partners to challenge the regime’s aggression at home and its disruptive behaviour in the region.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Iranians are being hanged from cranes with black bags over their heads and their hands and feet bound while Iranian weapons are being used to perpetrate Putin’s illegal war murdering Ukrainians. Will the Secretary of State join me in condemning those human rights violations and tell me exactly what sanctions he will bring forward against Raisi’s abhorrent regime?

I personally and the UK Government have regularly condemned the abuses in Iran. Of course, I recognise that that tone is reflected right across the House. We have sanctioned the morality police; we have sanctioned the Iranian judges whom we know to be involved in those secret trials. We will continue to work with our international partners, and directly, to sanction the members of the Iranian regime who continue to abuse the human rights of the people within that country.

The Minister has rightly identified that the clerical fascist regime in Tehran is increasingly using violence and terror in trying to crush the popular protests there, while also destabilising the region through proxies, as well as further afield. He knows that a vital underpinning of this dreadful regime’s activities is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. He mentioned working with other parties; he knows that the United States has already taken action to proscribe the IRGC. Will that finally persuade him to sanction to the IRGC?

We already sanction the IRGC in its entirety. We will continue to work closely with our friends in the international community to prevent the point that the right hon. Gentleman raises: the exporting of attack drones and other munitions to Russia, which are then being used by Vladimir Putin’s troops to attack civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. We will continue to sanction individuals, and as I say, the IRGC is already sanctioned in its entirety.

The Metropolitan police have warned about threats described as an “imminent, credible risk” to life against British-Iranian journalists in the United Kingdom. The Iranian regime has also threatened BBC Persian journalists. I ask the Foreign Secretary again to set out what further targeted sanctions the Government will be taking against the whole Iranian regime and, more importantly, to ensure that the Government act against any threats to individuals in the United Kingdom.

The hon. Gentleman will understand that it is counterproductive to detail what future sanctions designations might be brought in—we want to ensure that the targets of those sanctions do not in any way try to evade the sanctions before they are brought in. The UK remains absolutely determined to ensure that Iran does not intimidate people within this country. We will always stand up to aggression from foreign nations. We will absolutely not tolerate threats, particularly towards journalists who are highlighting what is going on in Iran, or indeed towards any other individual living in the UK. On 11 November, I summoned the Iranian chargé d’affaires to highlight the UK’s position on this; and, working with our colleagues in the Home Office, we ensured that the Iranian journalists who were under threat according to our information were protected by the British police.

Recognition of Genocide

9. If the Government will take steps to recognise (a) the Holodomor and (b) the events of 1915-16 in Armenia as genocide. (902765)

The long-standing position of the UK Government is that genocide recognition is a matter for competent courts, rather than Governments or non-judicial bodies. Our position in no way detracts from our recognition that the Holodomor is an appalling tragedy and an important part of the history of Ukraine and Europe. Similarly, although the massacres committed against Armenian people in the early 20th century were a tragic episode in that country’s history that should never be forgotten, the Government have no plans to recognise these appalling events as genocide.

November’s Holodomor Memorial Day to remember Stalin’s enforced starvation of millions of Ukrainians with the intended purpose of wiping out their entire culture and society particularly resonated in this 90th year, given what Putin is doing at the moment in that country. Every March, the Armenian diaspora solemnly commemorates the systematic extermination of more than 1 million of their forebears over an eight-year period, and there is also trouble in that region now in Nagorno-Karabakh. Our closest ally, the US, recognises both of these as genocide. Given the painful reverberations today, why can’t we?

As I have said, our consistent view across successive Governments—not just this one—is that the recognition of genocide is a matter for judicial bodies, not Governments. However, we take allegations seriously, and we work hard to end violations of international human rights law, to prevent escalations of such violations and to alleviate the suffering of those affected.

Supporting Democracies

10. If he will make an assessment of the potential merits of establishing an FCDO centre of expertise to help support democracies across the world. [R] (902766)

Officials have assessed the merits of establishing an FCDO centre of expertise to support democratic governance around the world; and, funding permitting, we fully intend to establish one to address the democratic deficit that the world is facing.

I am encouraged to hear that, because as Ministers know, democracy is in decline globally—not everywhere, but in aggregate—and therefore, drawing on 30 years of experience, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s proposal is to help the FCDO build a democracy strategy, which includes this centre of expertise designed to help our embassies and high commissioners abroad. Will my right hon. Friend therefore agree to meet with the WFD as soon as possible to discuss how best we can take these proposals forward?

I certainly will, and I congratulate the Westminster Foundation for Democracy on its 30 years. Across the House, Members have advanced democracy and accountability and, despite huge pressures on our budget, there will be no reductions in the Westminster Foundation’s budget this year. May I finally commend the tremendous work being done on LGBT+ rights around the world, specifically in 20 countries?

Is the Minister aware that NATO has set up a centre for democratic resilience? Will he make sure that the Government do not undermine that work or duplicate it?

Yes. That is a very good point, and we will enhance and emphasise the work in a perfectly seamless, joined-up approach.

Israel and Palestine

11. What recent assessment he has made of Israel’s compliance with its obligations under international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (902767)

As a friend of Israel, we have a regular dialogue on human rights and all matters relating to the occupation. That includes encouraging the Government of Israel to abide by their obligations under international law. We are concerned by instability on the west bank and call on all sides to work together to urgently de-escalate the situation.

In the past year, we have had three compelling reports, produced by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Israeli organisation B’Tselem. All of them accuse the Israeli authorities of committing the crime of apartheid. We have had plans published recently to effectively annex the west bank into Israel, and we now have the appointment of violently racist Ministers into the Israeli Government. Is it not time to step up the diplomatic pressure on Israel to ensure that it abides by international law and upholds the rights of Palestinians?

First, we do not recognise the terminology about apartheid. Any judgment on serious crimes under international law is a matter for judicial decision, rather than for Governments or non-judicial bodies. We do work closely with the Israeli Government. We condemn any incidents of violence by settlers against the Palestinians.

Africa: Sovereign Debt

12. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of trends in the level of sovereign debt in Africa on stability in that region. (902768)

I thank the Minister for his reply. We have seen crippling crises affect various parts of Africa this year, from drought in the horn of Africa to floods in Nigeria. The debt burden of many low and middle income countries impacts the state’s capacity to cope, and the crisis only worsens the economic outlook further. As the charity Debt Justice has proposed, will the Government commit to supporting a universal framework for debt cancellation when an extreme climate event strikes, to prevent that double whammy?

We look at every way of helping to address the problem that the hon. Lady sets out. We are providing bilateral technical assistance to help many countries better manage their public funding, and we are working with partners in the Paris Club and the G20 on how to address international debt issues together. We have already seen the progress that results from that in Ghana, where I am going today, and in Malawi.

Is my right hon. Friend concerned, as I am, that Chinese sovereign debt is perhaps understated in countries such as Zambia, where banks lend directly to the Government but are effectively controlled by the ministry of finance in China? Will he do more to understand the totality of the debt and the indebtedness of specific countries to the Chinese Government?

Yes. My right hon. Friend makes a very good point, and we need to show through what we do that there is a much better alternative. In 2020, we provided debt relief on repayments to the International Monetary Fund for 23 countries and contributed £150 million to the IMF catastrophe containment and relief trust. It is by doing such things that we show that there is a better way than the one the Chinese are using.

The IMF says that three out of five of the world’s poorest countries are now in debt distress. The last Labour Government cancelled billions of pounds of multilateral debt. Any solution now depends on China, which receives 66% of all bilateral payments, and private creditors such as BlackRock. The future of millions of the world’s poorest depends on halting debt defaults, so what steps will the Government now take to engage seriously with China and bring forward the incentives, regulation and education needed to force private creditors to the table?

The shadow Minister makes a good point. I think she is referring specifically to vulture funds, which we will certainly address. I want to make it clear to the House that we are working very closely with the international financial community. We understand absolutely the risks of instability that the situation creates, and the hon. Lady will have seen the work on stabilisation that has been done by both the Africa Development Bank and the World Bank.

Ukraine: Energy Supplies

14. What assessment he has made of the impact of UK diplomatic and development support to Ukraine on the resilience of Ukraine’s energy supplies. (902771)

We are supporting Ukraine on air defence to help to protect its critical national infrastructure against Russian attacks, and providing support to repair and restore energy infrastructure. We have provided £22 million to Ukraine’s energy sector and a $50 million financial guarantee to their electricity operator.

Fully 40% of energy infrastructure in Ukraine has been damaged or destroyed since Putin’s illegal invasion. After one strike in October, 1.5 million households were without electricity, and a winter of freezing days and dark nights lies ahead for many in Ukraine. I welcome the aid that my right hon. Friend mentions, and the £10 million that has been donated to the Ukraine energy support fund, but does she back the Business Secretary’s calls to UK business to help the UK Government and make donations of emergency energy equipment to Ukraine?

My hon. Friend is right that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for International Trade are mobilising UK industry. The DIT held an event in Manchester yesterday with UK supply chain companies to encourage them to find ways to supply Ukraine with energy equipment and services. High-voltage transformers and more generators—the UK has already provided 850—will continue to be needed through the winter.

Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme

15. How many at-risk British Council and GardaWorld contractors and Chevening alumni in Afghanistan his Department has (a) assessed as eligible for and (b) resettled under the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme pathway 3 since 6 January 2022. (902772)

20. What humanitarian support his Department is providing to Afghan people (a) in and (b) fleeing Afghanistan. (902777)

The UK has already resettled more than 6,300 people through various resettlement schemes. In the first phase of the Afghan resettlement scheme pathway 3, we will offer up to 1,500 places. We have received 11,400 expressions of interest and we are working through those quickly. We have disbursed £228 million since April 2022, on top of £286 million in aid for Afghanistan last financial year.

The Foreign Secretary says that he is working quickly, yet we know that zero Afghans have been resettled under the ACRS. No wonder yesterday the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), admitted that we must do better when confronted with the staggering delay. I am in touch with Chevening alumni, for example, who have been living in fear of their lives for more than 16 months now. By the Government’s own admission, pathway 3 in its first year will help only 400 applicants and their families—a tiny number—out of more than 11,000. Will the Foreign Secretary and the Home Office urgently supercharge the scheme, increase the number of people working on it in the Department and, crucially, allow the 20,000 people Ministers say they want to help over five years to come now? They cannot wait for another four or five years; they are in fear of their lives now.

I have to correct the hon. Lady. She says that we have not made any resettlements under the ACRS. As I said in my answer, we have granted indefinite leave to remain to 6,300 eligible people. I think that she was making specific reference to pathway 3, which we are working on, but the House ought to recognise that we have already given indefinite leave to remain to more than 6,000 eligible people.

Last year my team and I heard countless harrowing, brutal stories of people and their families being murdered in Afghanistan, often while on the phone to my casework team. My team are still shocked and triggered by that awful experience; by the pictures they saw and the voicemails they heard. The FCDO really has to do a lot more to make sure that more people in Afghanistan do not die at the hands of the Taliban. I do not know whether I am going to correct my friend the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), but my understanding is that only four Afghans have been resettled under the ACRS. Many of my constituents have lost loved ones, so I want to know just two things from the Foreign Secretary: what support is being offered to Afghan refugees currently stuck in Pakistan, and what will he be doing to speak to Home Office colleagues and ensure that this absolute mess of resettling people is sorted out promptly?

Yet again, I have to correct the hon. Gentleman. He said that only four people had been settled under the ACRS. I say again, for the third time, that around 6,300 eligible people have been granted indefinite leave to remain under the referral pathways of the ACRS. We will of course continue to work both across HMG and with our international partners to resettle at-risk Afghans, and will particularly look at the individuals who have been supportive of the UK, and those particularly at risk because they are women, academics or members of the judiciary.

Topical Questions

Since being appointed, this ministerial team and I have criss-crossed the globe on behalf of the British people, including making visits to Somalia, Australia and Colombia. The Minister for Europe has visited more than half a dozen European capitals, I have been to multilateral events such as NATO, the G7 Foreign Ministers meeting and COP27 in Egypt. We do so to strengthen our bilateral and multilateral relationships so that we can address pressing issues such as illicit migration, climate change and the pressures being felt around the globe as a result of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response, but I am disappointed that he failed to mention the news this weekend that more than 11,000 children have been killed or maimed in the war in Yemen. As he knows, the truce has collapsed, escalation is feared and the humanitarian situation is desperate. In the past he has defended UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia on the basis of the UK’s strict arms export licensing criteria. Since the Government watered down those criteria—

I can inform the hon. Lady that I had a meeting with my Yemeni counterpart at COP27 in Egypt. I know that the plight of the Yemeni people is close to the hearts of many Members of the House. It remains a focus of the UK Government. We call on all sides involved in the conflict, especially the Houthis, to abide by the ceasefire agreement, but of course Saudi Arabia has, as all countries have, a legitimate right to self-defence.

T3. Carshalton and Wallington is home to many Ahmadiyya Muslims, who remain concerned about the continued persecution, especially by the Pakistani Government, of the Ahmadiyya community. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to raise the matter with the Government of Pakistan? [R] (902784)

My hon. Friend has a long track record of pursuing these important matters. We are raising this matter with the Government of Pakistan, and we will make sure he hears the outcome of those representations in due course.

Last week, the courageous Dunn family finally secured some justice for Harry, but the disrespect that they received from Ministers at the FCDO was a disgrace. Given the latest allegations that a bullying Tory Minister caused delays to Afghan evacuations, does the Foreign Secretary accept the need for an independent review of whether there has been a toxic culture at the FCDO that is undermining Britain on the global stage?

I completely reject the points the right hon. Gentleman has made. I pay tribute to my predecessor, the former Foreign Secretary, for the work that he did pursuing justice for the Dunn family, and I think it is completely inappropriate for the right hon. Gentleman to suggest anything otherwise.

T6.   The response of the Iranian regime to political process has been judicial murder. Two young men were reported to have been executed yesterday, and there is a list of 41 executions rumoured to be happening before the weekend. Will my right hon. Friend call in the Iranian ambassador and express our revulsion, and will he also introduce immediate sanctions against the Iranian regime? (902788)

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. We have summoned senior Iranian diplomats to make clear the UK’s position on the brutality they are meting out on their own people, we have sanctioned judges involved in the secret courts that have imposed the death sentence on Iranian protesters, and we will continue to push the Iranian regime to do better.

T2. Is the Secretary of State aware of the abusive hate speech issued by Ken Mifsud-Bonnici, who works in the office of President Ursula von der Leyen, and his comments about Northern Ireland, which matched indeed the equivalent to a goose-step across Ireland by President Ursula von der Leyen herself when she spoke from Dublin? Could the Foreign Secretary indicate if he has spoken to those in the President’s office and asked them to disassociate themselves from those abusive comments about Northern Ireland? (902783)

I think it is incredibly important when we discuss issues as serious as this that everybody is cautious and thoughtful in their language. I had seen those comments, which were inappropriate.

T9. Notwith-standing the answer my right hon. Friend gave earlier, given that Germany now believes that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was behind several terror attacks against synagogues, that our own security services have revealed at least 10 attempted killings by the IRGC in the UK this year alone, and as the threat it poses looms ever closer to home, does the Foreign Secretary agree with me that now is the time to proscribe the IRGC? (902791)

My hon. Friend, who speaks with great passion and authority on this issue, knows that it is a long-standing Government policy that we do not speculate on future proscriptions. He will know that we have sanctioned the IRGC in its entirety, and we have brought specific actions against individuals who we know to be involved either with arms distributions or violations of international humanitarian law.

T4.   Does the Foreign Secretary or the Minister for Development believe that there should be an upper limit on the amount of the aid budget that can be spent in the UK? (902785)

All British aid must be spent in accordance with the OECD Development Assistance Committee rules governing its spending. The hon. Member is talking about the expenditure on the first year of a refugee’s time in the United Kingdom, and that is absolutely legitimate expenditure under the official development assistance rules.

Last week, G7 nations imposed a cap on the price of Russian oil exports in an attempt to limit the revenue fuelling Putin’s war in Ukraine. As G7 nations have already largely ceased purchasing oil from Russia, can my right hon. Friend explain to the House how this measure will be effective?

We are working alongside the G7 to end that reliance on Russian energy and with the international community to open up alternative sources of energy, ensuring market stability. We introduced an oil price cap designed to enable countries to access the oil they need at affordable prices while undermining Russia’s ability to profit from inflated prices.

T5.   Does the Minister agree that unjustifiable Iranian bombardments on Iraqi Kurdistan and other attacks require resolving disputes between Baghdad and Irbil plus accelerating economic and political reform, and that these should continue to be key themes for our excellent diplomats there? (902786)

I met the President and Foreign Minister of the newly installed Iraqi Government when I was in Egypt, and we of course have a very good working relationship with both Irbil and Baghdad. It is in the interests of all Iraqis that the relationship between Irbil and Baghdad is fruitful and we will continue to invest diplomatic effort to ensure that continues.

We have heard how Putin’s henchmen in the Wagner Group are implicated in many barbaric war crimes in Ukraine, including a brutal assassination of a defector, and how they are sending Russian prisoners to their deaths as cannon fodder, and a massacre in Mali. Do we let this evil continue or should the UK proscribe the Wagner Group as a terrorist organisation?

My right hon. Friend rightly speaks with great passion about this as there has been terrible behaviour by members of the Wagner Group. She has been in my position so will recognise that we do not speculate on future proscription, but the actions of the Wagner Group are being watched by this Government and other Governments around the world.

T7. Why did the UK Government withdraw at the very last minute, on 10 December last year, from sanctioning the torturous and barbarous members of the Bangladesh rapid action battalion and then invite them to be trained in the UK in surveillance technology? (902789)

Understandably, the process by which sanctions are applied needs to be done discreetly. I am not able to discuss in detail how sanctions are processed, but I will ensure we get details to the hon. Gentleman on this issue.

In the south-east corner of Europe, Azerbaijan is again waging a human rights abuse against the people of Armenia. Today it has cut off the Lachin corridor, cutting off the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia, on top of the continued detention of prisoners of war, their torture, and lobbing shells into Armenian sovereign territory. Will the Foreign Secretary haul in the Azerbaijan ambassador, read him the riot act and take a delegation of the all-party group on Armenia—I declare an interest as its chair—to put a stop to this continued attempt at genocide and ethnic cleansing?

My hon. Friend takes a keen interest in this issue. I spoke with the Azerbaijan ambassador yesterday on a range of issues, and I will reiterate a point I have always called for: de-escalation in that area.

T8.   Yesterday Reuters reported on a massacre by Nigerian Government forces that included at least 10 children who were allegedly unarmed and shot while lying down. Reports said children, some born from rape by Jihadist fighters, are being viewed as tainted. Treating children like that is abhorrent, so what action has the Secretary of State taken to raise these issues with the Nigerian Government and ensure accountability for alleged war crimes even during operations against jihadist armed groups? (902790)

The hon. Lady is right to raise this matter, which is of immense concern, and we will be raising all the issues she has set out through our high commissioner in Abuja.

The management of the official development assistance budget has been chaotic, leading to a freeze in so called non-essential spending. Can the Minister tell us what the impacts have been and will he publish any impact assessment that has been done?

The first thing to say is that the pause has now been lifted. I know there is some concern in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency about the R&D spend, and I am very pleased to tell him that, despite the extremely difficult circumstances of the ODA budget, we do not expect there to be a reduction in that level of spend.

The backlog of academic technology approval scheme certifications means that many research projects at Durham University are being delayed. What actions are being taken to ensure that any cases my office raises with the Department are investigated and responded to immediately?

We have received more than 49,000 ATAS applications, of which only 824 remain beyond the target processing time. I am happy to pick up with the hon. Lady any specific cases that she wishes me to look at.

What is the Foreign Office going to do about the significant delays in the academic technology approval scheme, which is preventing professors at Edinburgh University and Heriot-Watt University from getting the top PhD candidates?

ATAS continues to be an essential tool to prevent sensitive UK technologies from reaching military programmes of concern, so we are proud of the work done by our incredible team to monitor and manage every single case. I am happy to sit down with the hon. and learned Lady if there are specific cases that she wishes me to look at.

Yesterday, I learned that I was to be sanctioned by the Iranian regime for my support for human rights and freedom in Iran. I assure the House that that support will continue unabated. What support are the Government giving to the BBC Persian service?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will wear that sanction designation as a badge of honour, because the point that he has made in standing up for the voice of the Iranian people who are being oppressed by their own regime is an important one. We take the protection of people here in the UK, whether British nationals or Iranians, incredibly seriously, and I will work with the Home Office to ensure that that protection is meaningful and strong.

We know about the draconian restrictions faced by women and girls in Afghanistan. The new all-party parliamentary group for Afghan women and girls, which I co-chair, has written to the Foreign Secretary and looks forward to his response. Will he commit that in any conversations or negotiations that he has with the Taliban, the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan will be prioritised?

The protection of women and girls remains an absolute foundation stone of Britain’s foreign policy. We look upon the images we see coming out of Afghanistan, with humiliation and abuse meted out against Afghan women, and take our response incredibly seriously. I assure her that that will always be a firm point when we raise things with the Afghanistan Government.