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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 734: debated on Tuesday 13 June 2023

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The Secretary of State was asked—

NATO Unity

I regularly engage with our NATO allies. I did so most recently at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting from 31 May to 1 June in Oslo, where the UK demonstrated our continued solidarity with Ukraine and we discussed preparations for the upcoming Vilnius summit for NATO leaders. We continue to hold NATO as the foundation stone of the Euro-Atlantic defence structure.

NATO’s unity is its strength. It brings countries together to deter aggression and defend freedom—things that would be enhanced by welcoming Sweden into the alliance. When does the Foreign Secretary expect a unanimous decision in NATO to do just that?

The UK has been a strong supporter of both Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO. I was very pleased that Finland joined us at the most recent Foreign Ministers meeting. The UK will continue to push for both Hungary and Türkiye to ratify the accession of Sweden to NATO.

I was very pleased to hear the Prime Minister confirm that Ukraine’s rightful place is within NATO. Will my right hon. Friend outline what steps he has taken to build the path towards its membership?

The commitment that was made at Bucharest many years ago still stands. In the intervening years, Ukraine has demonstrated through its experience on the battlefield an increased acceptance of NATO’s standards and doctrine, which has been driven by the training that the UK and other NATO allies have provided. Inevitably, that will have shortened the time between now and the point it becomes a full member of NATO. Of course, it is impossible for us to speculate when that will be, but I hope that it will be soon.

Our ambassadors play a skilful role in NATO and I wish to place on the record my thanks to Fleur Thomas in Luxembourg, which hosted the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, for her excellent briefing. What assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of Sweden actually joining NATO, which will strengthen its unity, before the Vilnius summit?

The UK’s position has been clear on this: Sweden should join soon. Our desire, which is shared by all allies with the exception of a couple, is that Sweden should be a full member by the time of the Vilnius summit. We aspire to have a flag-raising ceremony and for Sweden to play a full part in the discussions at Vilnius. That will continue to be the aim towards which we work.

When did the Foreign Secretary last engage with Hungary and Türkiye on the matter of Swedish accession, and when will he do so again? How easy is it to stress to them the importance of Sweden being in NATO? What is the blockage?

My last conversation with Türkiye on this was at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Oslo on 1 June. My most recent engagement with Hungary on this was at the OECD meeting in Paris at the tail end of last week.

As the NATO Secretary-General said last month, Ukraine’s “rightful place” is in NATO. Over time, our support will help to make that possible. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that once, with our support, Ukraine has prevailed in its war against Russia’s invasion, there can be no Minsk 3.0, and that Britain should play a leading role in securing Ukraine’s path to join NATO?

I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with the Government’s position on this, which is that Ukraine’s rightful place is within NATO. We have worked towards that aim. Our support—the training, equipment and advice that we have provided—will have helped to speed up the pathway from now to the point when Ukraine becomes a full member of NATO.

We would all agree that NATO is the cornerstone of defence policy, and, like many other colleagues, we support Sweden’s membership. However, the EU defence capacity is evolving at lightspeed because of events in Ukraine and events within the EU. We are seeing with the peace instrument, the strategic compass and procurement policy, that the UK really does risk being left behind in many of the discussions outwith NATO. Is it not time for a comprehensive security treaty between the UK and the EU to regulate these discussions?

We enjoy a strong series of bilateral relations with EU member states and a strong relationship with the EU at the corporate level. However, I repeat that NATO is the foundation stone for the Euro-Atlantic defence structure. I have had that conversation with many Foreign Ministers from EU countries, and they agree. That is why we are committed to strengthening NATO and why at the Vilnius summit we aspire to have Sweden as a full member. However, we also need to progress the modernisation process for NATO to ensure that it continues to be fit for the future. That will be our aim. NATO is what keeps us safe in the Euro-Atlantic area.

Brazil: Environmental Activists

2. What diplomatic steps he is taking to support the Brazilian Government on protecting environmental activists in that country. (905337)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visited Brazil in May and I visited in March. We both met Brazilian authorities to discuss the risks faced by environmental activists in Brazil and how the UK can support their protection, including through the UK-Brazil partnership on green and inclusive growth, which was signed in May during the Foreign Secretary’s visit.

Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the brutal murders in Brazil of the environmental activists and journalists Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira. It is vital that those responsible for their murders are brought to justice, but we in the UK must play our part to protect environmental and indigenous activists from violence. What steps is the Minister taking to protect activists, especially British nationals, who are engaged in environmental activism abroad? On Brazil, what assessment has the UK Government made of President Lula’s attempts to halt deforestation of the Amazon rainforest?

I thank the hon. Member for his question. I offer my sincere condolences and the condolences of all on the Government Front Bench and, I am sure, of the whole House, to the families of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira, particularly considering the first anniversary that the hon. Member highlights. I know that the Foreign Secretary had meetings with the police and with Ministers to discuss the case, and I have had similar conversations. We want to make sure that those who committed that heinous crime are called to account and face justice. We continue to have active dialogue with the Brazilian Government to find ways that we can tackle environmental crime and deforestation.

As we have heard, it is one year since the tragic murder of Dom Phillips and the Brazilian activist Bruno Pereira, who were murdered because of their environmental activism. I want to broaden the question slightly, because it seems to me that there is a role for those who take that kind of action to try to stop the destruction of the Amazon rainforest in particular. As long as it is peaceful and legal activism, not just in Brazil but across Latin America, what else is the Minister doing to protect British nationals and support human rights defenders across the region?

I recognise the hon. Member’s comments; he has taken a keen interest in the case, along with others on both sides of the House. We are working closely with the Brazilian Government on these matters. We have invested £300 million in the Amazonian biome, a huge amount of which is focused on Brazil. That will provide all kinds of support for indigenous communities and help to tackle environmental crime. We want to work within that framework to help protect environmental activists as well.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

3. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ activities in (a) the middle east and (b) globally. (905338)

The Government regularly assess the impact of the IRGC’s destabilising activities on the UK’s interests and on British nationals. We work closely with our partners to deter those destabilising activities, including on the interdiction of Iranian weapons in the Gulf and of weapons proliferation in Russia. The UK sanctions the IRGC in its entirety.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the regime is boasting that its hypersonic missiles can hit Tel Aviv in 400 seconds, that the joint comprehensive plan of action restrictions end in October and that there are suggestions that British universities have been involved in research that has led to drones that are attacking Ukrainian positions from Russia. Will he therefore commit to ensuring that there is no delisting of any organisations involved in any of those activities, undertake to research the position with UK universities and proscribe the IRGC in its entirety?

I am aware of the reports about research that my hon. Friend mentions and we are, of course, looking into that. We continue to stand firm on our commitment that Iran cannot become a nuclear weapons state, and we will ensure that, as the sunset clauses in the JCPOA arrive, we take evolved measures to ensure that that is the case. He will know that we keep designations consistently under review.

The Foreign Secretary knows that there are concerns across the House of Commons about the involvement of Iranian state-based actors here in the United Kingdom and their threats towards Iranian activists here who have fled persecution in their homeland. He knows the strength of feeling about proscription as well. What assessment has the Department made of the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and the Iranian regime, and has he spoken to anybody in Saudi Arabia about that?

I have had conversations with both the Saudi ambassador to the Court of St James and the Saudi Foreign Minister on that issue. They are making attempts to permanently bring ceasefires in Yemen to a full peace settlement. If that is the case, we are very happy to support that action. We remain deeply engaged with regard to Iran’s regional behaviour. On the threats to British nationals and people based here in the UK, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office maintains a very close and ongoing working relationship with the Home Office, as the hon. Gentleman would expect, so that we can co-ordinate both our defence and our international actions on that issue.

Deep-sea Mining Exploration Regulations

4. What his policy is on the proposals for a precautionary pause on deep-sea mining exploration regulations at the International Seabed Authority Council and Assembly in Kingston, Jamaica. (905340)

UK policy is not to sponsor or support the issuing of any exploitation licences for deep-sea mining unless and until there is sufficient scientific evidence about the potential impact on deep-sea ecosystems, and strong, enforceable environmental regulations, standards and guidelines have been developed by the International Seabed Authority and are in place. That is both a precautionary and a conditional principle that we are following.

The Minister has just read out the written answer that was given fairly recently. As I understand it, that actually means that the Government have rejected calls for a precautionary pause, saying that it is better to be involved in negotiating environmental protections. I have to say that it is a brave politician—or perhaps a foolish one—who takes on Sir David Attenborough, who has said that it is

“beyond reason to consider the destruction of deep sea places”

before we understand them properly. Sir David also says that we should listen to scientists. More than 700 scientists from 44 countries have just supported a precautionary pause, so why won’t the Government?

The hon. Lady is quite right: David Attenborough’s championing of all things in the natural world gives us as policymakers around the world, and all those in the next generation who are passionate about ensuring that Governments get this right, the enthusiasm and the energy that are required. As I have said, at the moment the policy is not to sponsor or support the issuing of any exploitation licences, precisely because we want to ensure that, using the International Seabed Authority—the organisation that brings all state parties together—we are working together to come up with a policy that will protect and assure the deep seabed.

One of the seas that may become most vulnerable to deep-sea mining is the Arctic ocean, as the ice retreats and it opens up. We are extremely concerned about what the consequences may be for the environment there, and that is why the Government agreed to a moratorium on fishing in the central Arctic ocean. If they can agree to a moratorium on fishing in the central Arctic ocean, why can they not agree to a temporary “no digging” agreement in respect of deep-sea mining?

My hon. Friend is, of course, a great champion for and expert on all things to do with the Arctic. If I may, I will ask the Minister, Lord Goldsmith, to get back to my hon. Friend with more detail on that. As I say, the UK continues to take the very firm position that we will engage through the ISA Council to ensure that we get a global position that protects the seabed.

AI and Diplomacy

6. What recent assessment his Department has made of the potential impact of artificial intelligence on diplomacy. (905342)

8. What recent assessment his Department has made of the potential impact of artificial intelligence on diplomacy. (905344)

17. What recent assessment his Department has made of the potential impact of artificial intelligence on diplomacy. (905354)

Artificial intelligence can bring huge economic and social benefits for the UK and our global partners. We are working with key partners to embrace the opportunities of AI, as well as seeking global co-operation on managing the risks. AI will present significant new opportunities to revolutionise how the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office operates, and how it delivers impactful diplomatic and development outcomes across the globe.

Since I delivered my speech written by AI in the House in December, we have moved on to the fourth iteration of ChatGPT, which wrote it. Advancements are happening at such pace that we need to build a regulatory framework to prevent a similar situation to the one that we find ourselves in with the internet: 20 years on, we are trying to police it. What is my right hon. Friend doing to pull the world together around a globally agreed framework on AI?

I did not have the pleasure of hearing my hon. Friend’s ChatGPT-written speech, but I shall definitely look it up and see just how good it was. On 7 June, the Prime Minister, who was in the USA with President Biden, announced plans for the UK to launch the first global AI safety summit, so that we can do exactly what my hon. Friend says: try to tackle the challenge of agreeing safety measures, in order to evaluate and monitor the most significant risks from AI. The FCDO will engage with key international partners to deliver the Prime Minister’s ambition for the summit.

It was good to see the Prime Minister visit Washington last week to continue building our relationship with the United States, so that it is the strongest it can be. Will the Minister outline how we will work with the United States to ensure that the AI summit that was agreed to can be a success under UK leadership?

The Prime Minister and President Biden agreed that the UK and US would take a co-ordinated approach to the opportunities and challenges of the emerging tech that we see around us, such as AI. The UK welcomes early support from the US on the global summit on AI safety, which we will lead. We will work very closely with the US, and of course other international partners, to ensure that we deliver an important step forward on this issue.

AI represents a massive opportunity across a number of sectors, including in the diplomatic sphere, but we must recognise that there are risks. Specifically, what is the Foreign Office doing to counter the potential efforts in this space of Russia and China, which may use artificial intelligence to undermine British interests overseas?

Global co-operation will be vital to ensure that AI technologies and the rules governing their use are developed in the right way, and are aligned with our values of openness and freedom. The FCDO is working with departments across the UK’s national security ecosystem, including the National Cyber Security Centre, to ensure that we contribute to and benefit from advances in AI, while making sure that we increase our resilience against, and reduce the risk from, any threats that we face. We hope to have as many leading nations as possible involved in the AI summit.

The opportunities of AI are global, but so are the threats. It is obvious that significant co-ordination and co-operation in scientific research will be essential. In that context, could the Minister explain how cutting ourselves off from the world’s biggest scientific research programme helps the United Kingdom?

The hon. Gentleman is right: we absolutely all see the huge potential of AI, but we must not be complacent about the risks. That is why the UK, in leading the AI summit and bringing together all parties from around the world, will ensure that we establish world-leading governance and regulation, so that we can take the opportunities while ensuring public safety and trust.

Never! Humour aside, may I thank the Minister very much for her response? It has been quite positive. Given that artificial intelligence will have a significant impact on international relations, will she provide reassurance that all AI advances must and will be scrutinised to a greater extent, for the safety of the people in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

Mr Speaker, I assume that your reference was to the hon. Member’s great intelligence, because that is what artificial intelligence is demonstrating it can be. It is always a joy to support what he says and answer his questions, and he is exactly right: by working through those international relationships, with the UK driving things and holding that really important leadership role, we want to be able to bring countries together through bilateral engagement, using the many multinational fora out there to really ensure that we are tackling and understanding those threats. We need to provide an environment in which, as AI develops, we can maintain oversight while ensuring that we take advantage of opportunities that will bring economic prosperity. I look at the work that we are doing across the world, and I see how it can assist developing countries to safely leapfrog ahead with technologies in so many ways.

We have all seen how hybrid warfare has been used against this country and our allies in recent years, and of course AI systems could pose new cyber and information threats as well as providing economic and social opportunities. We have already called on the Government to close gaps in the AI White Paper by introducing proper oversight of models such as GPT-4, and I have raised with Ministers the specific issue of whether access is allowed in the FCDO. I was told that access was not permitted on FCDO corporate systems, but that further guidance was being developed. Has that guidance now been issued, and are FCDO staff currently able to access AI systems on personal devices, for example? What safety protocols are in place?

If I may, I will write to the hon. Gentleman, because I do not have the latest information on that issue.

As we have heard, artificial intelligence presents opportunities but also threats, many of which are impossible to quantify at this time. That is as true in AI diplomacy as in anything else, so at the world’s first major AI conference, will the UK Government commit to developing and facilitating AI only with countries that respect human rights and will obey the rules of international law?

As we bring the world together at the AI summit in the autumn, we want to have discussions with all our international partners about what the rules of the road need to be. The UK Government are absolutely going to be leading on making sure that the facilitation of AI in every sphere of our lives takes place within a framework that provides safety and gives trust to both our citizens and the rest of the world.

Hunger: East Africa

16. What recent steps his Department has taken to respond to hunger in east Africa and the horn of Africa. (905353)

On 24 May, the United Kingdom co-hosted an international pledging conference for the horn of Africa that helped mobilise nearly £2 billion to help nearly 32 million people across the region.

The east African wet rains and the pledging conference have both come, but the food crisis is worsening. Just three weeks ago, the Government announced a further cut in aid to the region. Local organisations need more funding than most, so will the Minister set targets to increase funding to local organisations for adapting to climate change in the region and to diversify livelihoods to support vulnerable communities?

The hon. Lady is right about the importance of localism and localisation. I should make it clear to her that Britain’s pledge was £143 million—that will have an enormous effect. She should also bear in mind that we have a degree of flex when it comes to humanitarian budgets, and we have announced for next year that Britain—the British taxpayer—will be spending £1,000 million on humanitarian relief.

When the UK co-chaired the UN pledging conference, the Minister described the situation as

“one of the most devastating humanitarian crises in the world”,

yet he has cut funding compared with previous years and pledged less than 20% of the contribution that was given by the UK during the 2017 droughts. With over 70 million people now classed as at threat of starvation, is he not rather ashamed of the UK’s meagre response?

If I may say so, the hon. Lady’s response to what I said is not fully comprehensive. We have allocated something like £400 million to east and central Africa, and although it is true that the bilateral spend is slightly below last year’s level, as I said, we do have some flexibility. It is the starting point for our spending this year, and of course, we will keep all these matters very much in our minds.

Climate change and conflict are causing untold misery across the horn of Africa and forcing millions of people to leave their homes. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should be spending more of our overseas aid on stabilising lives in such places as east Africa and less on expensive asylum hotels here in the UK?

My right hon. Friend is right, and she can rest assured that those points are made in discussions within Government. The point I would make is that as a result, the Treasury agreed to provide an extra £2,500 million of support to compensate for that spending. I think that was the right decision, and I strongly support it.

In February, I visited Kenya with World Vision UK and saw first-hand the impact of climate change on drought and hunger. While the £143 million aid package, which the Minister mentioned and which was announced at the UN pledging conference in May, is welcome, what more can the UK Government do to support this crisis-stricken part of the world at this important time?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right in what she says. That is why we have announced that we intend to publish a White Paper setting a road map towards achieving the sustainable development goals by 2030 and making greater progress on tackling those climate change problems. We hope to engage the interest, involvement and support of colleagues on both sides of the House in that White Paper endeavour.

More than 29 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan are now experiencing catastrophic hunger levels following a fifth failed rainy season in a row. It is also the fourth year in a row that this Government have cut aid to those countries. Oxfam has estimated that one person is likely to die of hunger every 28 seconds between now and July. Can the Minister please explain how he is restoring Britain’s leadership in international development while decimating our support to some of the very poorest people on earth?

First, let me say that British leadership has been exercised at the two big conferences that took place in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. British expertise and technical know-how is ensuring greater resilience and adaptation spend to drive up the ability to survive these crises when they take place next. If I may say so, the hon. Member must not diminish the extraordinary support and leadership that Britain is giving across the horn of Africa. The figures we have announced are preliminary figures, as I have said. We will react to the crisis—that is one of the things we are able to do—and those figures take no account of the tremendous support that British taxpayers are giving through the multilateral system.

Africa: Sovereign Debt and Resilience to Climate Change

9. What recent assessment he has made of the potential impact of levels of sovereign debt in African countries on their resilience to climate change. (905345)

The Government recognise the challenging debt situation facing many African countries. The UK is working with international partners to address rising debt vulnerabilities.

Every dollar spent by low-income countries on servicing unsustainable debt is a dollar not spent on providing basic services and tackling climate change. I know that the Minister wants to make a difference on this, but the status quo clearly is not working. Given that 90% of developing country debt contracts are governed by English law, why will the Government not agree even to consult on legislative opportunities to compel private creditors to take part in debt restructuring, to make them part of the solution, not the problem?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are looking at that specific issue. We think there is a case for majority voting when it comes to debt settlements, and we are exploring all that. He is right to emphasise that 15% of low-income countries are already in distress and 45% are at high risk of entering debt distress. Next week, at the Macron summit in Paris, Britain will be driving forward the climate-resilient debt clauses, which our export credit agency, UK Export Finance, was the first to start to put into grants. That will make an enormous difference, and we are pressing for all creditors to offer such clauses in their loans.

Colombia: Establishing Peace

10. What diplomatic steps he is taking to support the Colombian Government to establish peace in that country. (905346)

We share Colombia’s delight for the rescue of the four children in the Amazon. We commend the efforts of all those who took part in the inspiring search and rescue.

During his visit to Colombia last month, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met President Petro and Foreign Minister Leyva and discussed our ongoing support for the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement in Colombia. Through our conflict, stability and security fund, which has now committed £80 million since 2015, we will continue to support the implementation of the peace agreement and improved stability and security in Colombia.

Colombia’s Attorney General Barbosa was appointed under the previous Government, who oversaw numerous human rights scandals, including the killing of protesters by police. Barbosa is now harming President Petro’s “total peace” policy by blocking the lifting of arrest warrants that would enable some leaders to come to the negotiating table. As UN Security Council penholder for the Colombian peace agreement, what technical and financial assistance can the Government provide to ensure that all of Colombia’s institutions are supporting peace?

As I have said, we are working very closely together at the highest level. The Foreign Secretary has met President Petro and the Foreign Minister to push the cause for peace, and I was fortunate to attend the UN Security Council in January. We want to continue to tackle the challenges in Colombia, working with our Colombian counterparts, and we have put serious investment into that cause to back up our penholder relationship.

Jagtar Singh Johal

We remain committed to doing what we can to assist Mr Johal. We have raised concerns about his case with the Government of India on over 100 occasions, including his allegations of torture and his right to a fair trial. The case was raised most recently by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, who is the FCDO’s Minister of State for south Asia, with Indian External Affairs Minister Jaishankar on 29 May.

Last week, Scotland’s First Minister, Humza Yousaf, met Jagtar’s brother Gurpreet and pledged to do everything he can to bring Jaggi home. The First Minister is raising his concerns with the UK and Indian Governments, and the Scottish Government stand ready and eager to work with the FCDO to bring about Jagtar’s safe release. What engagement has the FCDO had with the Scottish Government on this, and will the Minister pledge to work with Scottish Government colleagues to bring Jagtar home to Scotland safely and soon?

I thank the hon. Lady for demonstrating the Scottish National party’s support for the work the UK Government continue to do in our discussions with the family and when raising this with the Government of India, and we encourage the SNP to continue to have those conversations with us and to support the work we are doing.

Mr Johal is not the only person detained in India who needs the Government’s attention at the moment. Since 2017, a group of human rights defenders known as the BK 16 have been imprisoned. Their only crime has seemingly been to defend the rights and values of some of the poorest and most marginalised people in the country. Father Stan Swamy, aged 84, died in custody with Parkinson’s only a couple of years ago. May I ask what representations the Foreign Office is making on their behalf?

As I say, we engage broadly with India on the whole range of human rights matters both to help build capacity and to share expertise in these areas, and where we have concerns, we always raise them directly with the Government of India. Lord Ahmad last raised these human rights issues with the Indian Minister for External Affairs in New Delhi at the end of May.

Chagos Islands: Resettlement and Sovereignty

12. What recent steps he has taken to reach a diplomatic agreement with Mauritius on resettlement and sovereignty of the Chagos islands. [R] (905348)

The UK and Mauritius have held four rounds of constructive negotiations on the exercise of sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory and the Chagos archipelago. Negotiations are ongoing, so we cannot speculate on the possible outcomes or pre-empt their conclusions.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his answer. I would be grateful if he could assure the House that these negotiations are going on in the spirit of the International Court of Justice advisory opinion and the decision of the UN General Assembly in 2019 on the reunification of the Chagos islands with Mauritius. Can he give us some idea of when he expects these negotiations to come to fruition?

I am not able to give a date or a projected date of when we will conclude these negotiations. We want to ensure that we conclude them successfully. Our shared objective is to ensure the continued effective operation of the joint UK-US defence facility on Diego Garcia, protecting the vital role it plays in both regional and global security.

There is absolutely a moral duty for us to allow resettlement of the Chagos island people on the British Indian Ocean Territory, but in those negotiations what discussions have been had with Mauritius with regard to who will be able to resettle the Chagos archipelago? Will it be only Chagos islanders, Mauritians, or even Chinese?

While the negotiations are between the UK and Mauritius, we are very conscious of the Chagossian communities and will keep them in the forefront of our minds throughout this negotiating process. Our primary objective is to ensure the continued effective operation of our defence facility on Diego Garcia.

US Inflation Reduction Act

13. What assessment he has made of the impact of the US Inflation Reduction Act on the UK’s relationship with the US. (905349)

The US and UK Governments do more together than any other two Governments in the world. We have a trading relationship worth £280 billion, and last week the Prime Minister was in Washington when he and President Biden signed the Atlantic declaration, a first-of-its-kind economic partnership.

The Inflation Reduction Act is attracting investment from the UK to the US, as industry groups across our economy are saying. Does the Minister agree that the refusal to publish an industrial strategy shows there will be no made in Britain plan in response to President Biden’s made in America agenda while this Conservative Government remain in office?

Well, that is an interesting question, to which I say that we have a very clear economic strategy, and the Atlantic declaration is a very important element in strengthening our partnership with the US. The beginning of the negotiations on critical minerals will make sure UK companies are eligible for tax credits under the US Inflation Reduction Act; this is a hugely important and positive step forward.

Our allies in the United States, the European Union, Australia and Germany have all entered the global race to reach net zero and create the jobs of the future with massive public investment, but the Government’s Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero described the United States Inflation Reduction Act as “dangerous” and the Chancellor described it as “distortive” and “not the British way.” Does the Foreign Secretary agree with his colleagues in Cabinet or our allies in the United States? It will be interesting to see whether the Foreign Secretary answers.

We are working incredibly closely with the United States. They are taking their steps forward; we do not want to get involved with the subsidy race, because the UK had a head start of over a decade on green investment. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, as we have been at similar meetings, we are working incredibly closely with the United States and it is a very strong relationship. In my recent visit to the US we highlighted that there is $1 trillion invested in each of our economies; we are going to move forward from that very strong space.

War in Ukraine

I had the pleasure of meeting the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Kyiv last week. I reassured him that the UK support for Ukraine and its territorial integrity is unwavering. The Ukrainian Government and people can count on our continued support both in their work on the battlefield and diplomatically, and, through the Ukraine recovery conference, our support in the rebuilding of their country once this war is over.

The Secretary of State will know from his many visits and discussions that Iranian drones continue to terrorise the Ukrainian people, not least in the capital city of Kyiv, so it was worrying last week to learn from the US National Security Council that Iran is helping Russia build a drone facility just outside Moscow that could be operational as early as next year. How is the Secretary of State working here in London but also with partners to suffocate that capability as quickly as possible?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. When we first received credible reports of Iranian support to Russia in its drone attacks on Ukraine we investigated them and subsequently sanctioned entities and individuals involved in that. We are aware of the report he mentioned, and that will of course form part of our thinking on what other action we should take. It is important to remember that the action we have taken thus far is not the limit of our work, and we will continue to choke off the financial supply both to Russia itself and those seeking to arm it in that brutal war against the Ukrainian people.

Sanctions: Russia and Belarus

Sanctions have isolated Russia and Belarus from western financial markets and services, undermining their long-term growth, starving Russia’s military of key western components and technology and restricting Russia’s ability to fight a modern war. The Government remain committed to increasing pressure on Russia and Belarus and have recently introduced further sanctions targeting Putin and Lukashenko’s regimes.

Dewsbury-based Alunet, a supplier of aluminium doors and windows, is being crippled due to unfair competition and sanction circumvention by its Belarus-based former supplier. To help save a £20 million business in my constituency, may I request that my right hon. Friend urgently looks to impose increased tariffs on aluminium products from both Russia and Belarus?

The import of aluminium originating from Belarus and Russia attracts an additional duty already of 35 percentage points, which we brought in last year. The import of iron and steel products and of some articles of aluminium from Russia is prohibited. The import of iron and steel products from Belarus is also prohibited. Of course, we keep our sanctions under review, as the Foreign Secretary has said. Indeed, following feedback from my hon. Friend and others, on 20 April, we expanded the list of products covered by the import prohibitions on Russian iron and steel. I am happy to discuss with my hon. Friend and his business what more we can think about doing, working with our colleagues at the Department for Business and Trade.

Last year, the Russian Government introduced a new law that requires all businesses, including foreign businesses that have any footprint in the Russian Federation, to assist in the war in Ukraine. That means that any British businesses that are still doing business in Russia are complicit in the war crimes that Russia is perpetrating against the Ukrainian people. Will the Minister make it absolutely clear that all British businesses should completely and utterly desist from business in Russia immediately?

One of the extraordinary things we saw only last year when the war broke out was the positive attitude of British businesses and their willingness to take financial pain immediately. They pulled themselves away, not only where we imposed sanctions and prohibitions but beyond that, from Russian markets and activity. We continue to work with businesses, but I take the hon. Gentleman’s point and we will continue enforcement using the tools that we have. We work closely with our business sector, as does the Department for Business and Trade on trading questions, to ensure that that is understood. However, I have always found British businesses to be incredibly positive in stepping beyond what is asked of them in support of Ukraine.

Topical Questions

Since the last oral questions, we have concluded our successful evacuation operation in Sudan and of course continued to support Ukraine in its fight for freedom. Ministers from the Department have travelled extensively around the world, including my right hon. Friend the Development Minister, who overnight returned from the G20 in India. I visited Latin America and the Caribbean. I have recently returned from meetings at NATO and visited British servicemen and women stationed in Estonia. I have also recently chaired the Foreign Ministers’ meeting of the OECD—the first time that the UK has done that in decades.

Could my right hon. Friend please provide an update on the current political situation in Pakistan?

Pakistan remains a close and important partner. We have a strong bilateral relationship. When we see political instability and sporadic escalations of violence, it is concerning. We continue to work both directly at political level and through our high commission in the country to seek to de-escalate the tension to ensure that future elections are not marred by the violence that, unfortunately, we have seen recently.

On several occasions, Labour colleagues and I have raised our concerns about the safety of Hongkongers here in the UK. There is still a significant fear felt by the Hong Kong community and a sense that the Chinese Government can act with relative impunity here in the UK. Will the Foreign Secretary commit to the House today to work with colleagues across Government to look at this urgently, as he promised me last year?

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Security conducted a review of the so-called Chinese police stations in the UK. My Department has engaged with the Chinese Government to ensure that those so-called police stations no longer operate. We released a statement on that last week. The security and safety of people here in the UK remains a Government top priority. We will continue to ensure freedom of speech across this country and the protection of individuals.

T3. Could the Minister give us an update on the Government’s approach to the dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan? (905362)

We continue to work to prevent Afghanistan becoming a future source of terrorist threats here in the UK. We work with our international partners to limit the flow of illegal drugs and illegal migration. We continue to provide lifesaving humanitarian assistance and to work to ensure that our target—that 50% of the beneficiaries are women and girls—is reached. We are on track to reach that, despite the attempt by the Taliban to prevent women and girls from receiving the international support they deserve.

T2. May I refer the Foreign Secretary to column 289 of the Official Report on 24 May, when I asked the Prime Minister to publish the list of the 1,700 veterinary medicines that will no longer be available in Northern Ireland? He told us all to “take heart” that the extension of the grace period would work that out. However, in correspondence, the Ulster Farmers’ Union has said that the EU has told it that veterinary medicines are not up for discussion with the EU. What heart can we take from that? (905361)

T6. Thank you, Mr Speaker. The casual homophobia that is still, sadly, too prevalent in our society here in the United Kingdom is put into stark contrast when one considers that 67 countries around the world still criminalise private consensual sexual activities between same-sex couples. Thirty-two of them are Commonwealth countries and, of the 67 countries, 11 still have the death penalty for sexual acts between same-sex couples on their statue books. This has been brought into focus by the appalling and barbaric legislation brought forward recently in Uganda. May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the Government’s language on this issue and urge him to put this— (905365)

Order. I have to say this is topical questions and I have to get everybody else in. It is a very important question and I am sure the Minister has got it.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on his honour? The UK is appalled by Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, in particular the introduction of the death penalty for so-called aggressive homosexuality. We have expressed our strong opposition to the legislation, at all levels, with the Government of Uganda. The criminalisation of LGBT+ persons threatens minority rights, and risks persecution and discrimination of all people across Uganda.

T4. Has the Foreign Secretary seen the report in the i newspaper today that a Ukrainian businessman suspected by the FBI of being a Russian FSB asset is living in London and used the Homes for Ukraine scheme to bring his family over to join him? Will there be an official response to that investigation? (905363)

I have not had a chance to see the detail of the report the hon. Member refers to. I will ensure that my Department looks at that. Whether it is the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office or the Home Office, we will investigate that.

I welcome that the UK has been a long-standing champion of the sustainable development goals, so may I ask my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to commit to publishing another voluntary national review of our progress towards the SDGs, and will he attend the UN high level political forum on SDGs next month?

On my hon. Friend’s last point, I think at least two Ministers will be at that forum to represent our country. She asked about the domestic analysis of the SDGs. There was a voluntary national review in 2019, conducted by our former colleague Rory Stewart. He said that it was a work in progress and we are doing quite well. On the wider SDG point, I hope that the whole House will engage with the White Paper, which can help to inject British leadership to drive it forward.

T5. I recently met a Hongkonger living in Scotland, who told me at first hand about the oppressive surveillance that his community is under by the Chinese state police. He said that, no matter where they are in the world, they are subject to Chinese law. What steps is the FCDO taking to work with the Home Office to provide reassurance to that community, so they can report instances of suppression and oppression directly to UK Government? (905364)

As I said in response to a similar question, we work closely with the Home Office. The Security Minister has conducted a review on this issue, and I have made it very clear to the Chinese Government that any such activities are completely unacceptable in the UK. They have committed that they will not continue.

In its 2030 road map for Israel-UK bilateral relations, the Government committed to working closely with Israel on the threat from Iran. I urge the Secretary of State to do that. Will that include proscription of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps?

I have spoken regularly about the process by which proscriptions are made. We do not routinely speculate on future proscriptions. Our relationship with Israel is key. I met the Israeli Foreign Minister and signed a UK-Israeli bilateral road map on 21 March. We continue to hold their safety and security as a priority in our bilateral relationship.

I am disappointed. I am sure that next time, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) will put on a tie.

T7. I have a sore neck and shoulder, Mr Speaker, so I have difficulty tying one. The Government rightly acknowledge that Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are illegal. When it comes to trade, instead of allowing settlers to benefit from selling goods and products from land that is not theirs, is it not time to make trade with settlers illegal as well? (905366)

The UK’s position on settlements is of long standing. We continue to call on the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to work towards a sustainable two-state solution. We will always endeavour to make that a reality. That remains the foundation stone of the UK’s foreign policy in the region.

It is now six months since the illegal blockade of the Lachin corridor—the vital lifeline between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Since then, the Azerbaijan President has made increasingly bellicose threats towards Armenian people. Can the Under-Secretary of State, who recently returned from Armenia, update us on what we are doing to bring pressure to end that humanitarian disaster?

We support the Euro-Atlantic efforts to bring the two sides together. We have urged our interlocutors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to get back around the table. I look forward to updating my hon. Friend in person.

T8. Following the elections in Türkiye, OSCE observers said that the lack of a level playing field gave an unjustified advantage to Erdoğan. When I was in Turkey, I saw intimidation at the ballot boxes, ballot irregularities and heard of particular security forces targeting the Kurds. Turkey is a key ally. Its beautiful people deserve a functioning democracy. So what steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to raise these issues with our ally, and to ensure that Kurds do not have intimidation in Turkey, here or in Sweden, where they are being used as a bargaining chip for NATO membership? (905368)

Our bilateral relationship with Türkiye is important. It is a NATO ally and is heavily involved in the facilitation of the Black sea grain initiative, which is helping to feed starving people around the world. I note the hon. Gentleman’s points about the election, which we will look into, but ultimately it is in our bilateral and indeed regional interests to maintain a strong working relationship with Türkiye, and that will continue to be the case.

Education can make a real difference to the empowerment of women and girls, and a positive difference to communities—something highlighted in a recent impact report from Five Talents, which focuses on setting up savings groups to help communities. Does my right hon. Friend agree that those types of groups can play a vital role in strengthening the resilience of communities in a sustainable way?

T9. Every year, 430 million tonnes of plastic are generated. Thankfully, many of the world’s Governments have committed themselves to creating a global plastics treaty, which could cut production by a huge 80% by 2040. The timeline for that treaty is short. What are the UK Government doing to encourage the big plastic polluters to sign up and meaningfully enact its provisions? (905369)

The hon. Lady raises an extremely important matter. She may rest assured that the Government are fully engaged, through multilateral channels, in driving that forward.

In early June, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps unveiled Iran’s first hypersonic Mach-15 missile, which was widely celebrated in Tehran. What has my right hon. Friend done to challenge the dangerous and continued militarisation in Iran?

We continue to work closely with our international colleagues, particularly the members of the E3, the United States of America and our partners in the region, to dissuade Iran from its increasingly militaristic presence. We continue to maintain our policy that it should never be a nuclear-weapons state, and we also keep a close eye on other weapons technology development.

The Windsor framework is a welcome settlement but may I seek an assurance from the Government that they will work closely with the Northern Ireland business community over the detailed operational guidance, such as with the red and green lanes?

I am pleased to report that we have issued guidance. We will continue to work with businesses as the green lane rolls out between September this year and September next.

I am proud to represent many Pakistani-British dual nationals in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, who are rightly concerned about the human rights violations that are taking place, as well as the threats they fear they will face if they return to see family members in Pakistan. What is the Foreign Office doing to ensure those dual nationals will be protected and prevented from ever being detained?

As I say, we have a strong bilateral relationship with Pakistan. We have access at the most senior levels within Government, and we make it absolutely clear that those British nationals are always at the forefront of our minds. Their protection and security is always a priority for the UK Government. That is universally the case, but that is also something that we make clear to our Pakistani friends.

We are all concerned about Russian attempts to destabilise the western Balkans, but does the Secretary of State agree that what is required now is maximum co-ordination and co-operation between ourselves, the United States and the European Union?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We are urging Kosovo and Serbia to de-escalate and return to dialogue, and I am sure the Foreign Secretary will make that point when he sees the Serbian Prime Minister later today.

The blowing of the Nova Kakhovka dam is the biggest act of ecocide in generations. For the record, will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary confirm again that the UK will leave no stone unturned in holding the Russian regime to account for the damage that has been caused by their war?

My right hon. Friend is right about the huge environmental damage that has been caused by the breaking of the dam. Although I am sure Members are already conscious of this, it is worth reminding the House that incidents such as this and the damage to other civilian infrastructure across Ukraine is happening only because of Russia’s war and its illegitimate invasion of Ukraine. The best thing that Russia can do to protect the environment and civilian infrastructure, and to end the loss of life, is to withdraw its troops immediately.

The UN high seas treaty is a landmark for conservation. Will the Foreign Secretary assure the House that the Government will look to adopt and ratify it as quickly as possible?

What assessment and representations have the Government made on the decision by the Arab League to readmit the Assad regime of Syria back into the organisation?

I had conversations with my interlocutors, the members of the Arab League, prior to that decision. I expressed the UK’s concerns about the speed with which that happened. We continue to liaise closely with them on the issue. The UK’s position on Syria has not changed.

Consistency in applying sanctions across Government is crucial to maximise the impact on Russia, and the Secretary of State’s leadership in this respect is vital. Is he aware that the Home Office is considering requisitioning a hotel whose multiple shareholders include those who have invested from an address in Russia? Will he raise this matter with Home Office Ministers, to ensure taxpayers’ money will not be used to pay dividends to Russia?

That question would probably be aimed more accurately at the Home Office, but I will of course raise it with colleagues across Government.

Last week’s revelation from Canada’s national security adviser that the republic of India was among the most active sources of foreign interference in that country—along with China, Russia and Iran—is deeply concerning. Does the Minister know whether the Department has taken soundings from our treaty ally and fellow Five Eyes member regarding India’s activities abroad, particularly its surveillance of not only Sikh activists but Members of this House in relation to the ongoing detention of my constituent Jagtar Singh Johal?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have met his constituent’s family, and we continue to raise this case with the Indian authorities. I regularly meet my Canadian counterpart, who has not raised directly with me the specific concerns raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Last year seven-year-old Ibrahim was abducted by his estranged father from a school in my constituency. His mother is naturally distraught. Will the Foreign Secretary, or another Minister, meet me to discuss this matter and help to move things forward? Ibrahim was taken to Saudi Arabia.

I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman has access to either a Minister or the most appropriate officials in the consular department.

It is nearly seven years since the people of Glasgow North voted by 78% to remain in the European Union. Can the Foreign Secretary give just one example from that whole period of our United Kingdom’s diplomatic or international reputation being enhanced as a result of Brexit?

I am sure you will tell me off, Mr Speaker, because I have more than one such example and I know that time is short, but I will keep talking until you do tell me off. Our ability to move quickly in respect of vaccines—[Interruption.] SNP Members may not like it, but nevertheless our ability to move quickly at that time meant that we were one of the first countries in the world to come out of lockdown. Our ability—

Yes, Mr Speaker. You will know that the issue of the Windsor framework falls within the remit of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. It is a joke to be told by an FCDO Minister that he will take this matter up with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, because DEFRA has no role in negotiating veterinary medicines. How can I obtain an answer to the question that I posed today, Mr Speaker?

As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, we will inevitably liaise closely with those in DEFRA on the practicalities of this, because they are the experts on the subject matter. However, ownership of the policy does lie with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. We will continue to negotiate with the European Union on all files where there are still outstanding issues, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that this will be one of the matters I will raise during my imminent conversations with Maroš Šefčovič.