Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 736: debated on Tuesday 18 July 2023

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The Secretary of State was asked—

Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

1. What diplomatic steps he is taking to help support the de-escalation of violence in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (906032)

2. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (906033)

3. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of recent violence in Israel and Palestine. (906034)

15. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of recent violence in Israel and Palestine. (906046)

19. What steps his Department is taking to help secure peace in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (906050)

22. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of recent violence in Israel and Palestine. (906054)

23. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of recent violence in Israel and Palestine. (906055)

The accelerating cycle of violence in the west bank is a cause of enormous concern, and the Government are intensely focused on the situation. While the UK firmly supports Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens against terrorism, we urge the Israel Defence Forces to demonstrate restraint, adhere to the principles of international humanitarian law and ensure that civilians are protected. The UK’s position on settlements is clear: settlements are illegal under international law and call into question Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution.

Regrettably, a lasting peace deal seems as far away as ever. In 2023, dozens of Palestinian children have been killed in Israeli military operations. We should never become immune to the tragedy of those deaths, but will the Minister urge the Israeli Government to show compassion and restraint and urge all sides to put respect for human life first?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Every one of those deaths is tragic and a real tragedy. In the annual “Human Rights and Democracy Report” published by the FCDO last week, the OPTs were identified as a human rights priority. The UK will continue to oppose violations and abuse of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the Government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, including through our ongoing support for civil society actors. It is vital work.

Seven years ago in this very Chamber, I raised the case of 68-year-old Nora and her family, who faced being forced out of their home by Israeli settlers. Despite international opposition, last week she was tragically dragged from her home of more than seven decades. If this case is not it, what is the Government’s red line? How many more Palestinian grandmothers must be forcibly evicted? Will the Minister stand by the words of his own former Prime Minister and leader, David Cameron, who told me on that day seven years ago that what we are seeing in occupied East Jerusalem is now more than an expansion of illegal settlements, but an “encirclement”?

Demolitions and evictions of Palestinians from their homes cause unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians and call into question Israel’s commitment to a viable two-state solution. In all but the most exceptional cases, demolition by an occupying power is contrary to international humanitarian law. Lord Ahmad has raised this case with the Israeli ambassador and made it clear that we urge Israel to reconsider forthcoming evictions.

This year has already been the deadliest for violence in the west bank since 2005. The expansion of illegal settlements keeps on growing. The UK Government now have the presidency of the UN Security Council. Will the Minister commit to supporting an International Criminal Court investigation into the killing of innocent Palestinians and suspend all arms sales to Israel until it abides by international law?

We are using our powers as president of the UN Security Council to convene and bring people together. We are concerned about the ongoing deterioration of the situation. We continue to monitor the situation on the ground with our international allies.

Earlier this year, I was privileged to visit healthcare facilities supported by Medical Aid for Palestinians in the west bank. This week, it has taken the unprecedented step of providing bulletproof vests and helmets to medical workers in the west bank because of an increase in the attacks they are facing. In last week’s urgent question on violence in the west bank, the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) announced that the Minister responsible for the middle east and north Africa, Lord Ahmad, would be speaking to the Israeli ambassador to demand that access to medical care is allowed according to Israel’s obligations under international law. Can the Minister set out what assurances he has received from the Israeli authorities that violations against healthcare workers and barriers to health access in the west bank will be brought to an end?

Lord Ahmad did meet the Israeli official and talked through the importance of this matter. As the hon. Lady rightly highlights, international humanitarian law requires military forces to allow medical access in order to evacuate and treat the wounded. We are always urging Israel to live up to those important requirements.

This year has seen the highest number on record of settlements in the west bank. In just the first half of 2023, the Israeli Government promoted 12,855 housing units and 10 new outposts. The total number of settlers in the west bank is now 750,000. This is contrary to international law and further displaces many Palestinian families as their houses and land are taken away. How will that help the peace process? What are the Government doing to uphold international law?

That is an important question. As was laid out in the Foreign Secretary’s trilateral statement with the Foreign Ministers of Australia and Canada on 30 June, the continued expansion of settlements is an obstacle to peace and negatively impacts efforts to achieve a negotiated two-state solution. We call on the Government of Israel to reverse these decisions, and we have continued to do that with the Foreign Secretary speaking to his counterpart on 5 July.

In the first five months of 2023, the United Nations recorded 475 instances of settler-related violence resulting in casualties or property damage, which was the highest daily average since 2006. What plans has the Minister got to request that the Israeli Authorities take action to prevent settler violence against Palestinians? As the settlements are considered to be illegal under international law, will he commit to a ban on the importation of settlement goods as has been done with goods arising from other breaches of international law?

We welcome the joint statement from the heads of the Israel Defence Force, the Israeli Security Agency and Israeli police as well as statements by other Israeli leaders that condemn these criminal acts. We call on the authorities to ensure accountability for all perpetrators of violence. It is important that words are turned into actions.

Back in 2016, I was part of a parliamentary delegation that visited the Sub Laban family in their home of 70 years in the occupied old city of Jerusalem. Last week, Israel forcibly evicted them to make way for illegal settlers, as has been replicated time after time across occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the west bank. How many such violations of international law by Israel will have to take place before the Government act, including by banning UK trade with illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, as organisations such as Oxfam, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for?

As I said, we are concerned about demolitions and evictions of Palestinians, which call into question Israel’s commitment to a viable two-state solution. We are pushing for it to reconsider forthcoming evictions.

For those of us who are friends of Israel—and proud to be—one of its strengths has been its independent judiciary, which has on occasion struck down arbitrary action by Israeli authorities. Will the Minister say, as friends, to his Israeli counterparts when he next meets them that any proposals that might reduce the independence of the judiciary in Israel would not help Israel’s cause, would not help stability in the region and would make it harder for its friends to advocate for its cause?

I understand my hon. Friend’s important point. We endorse the words of Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who is seeking a compromise. He recently said:

“In the midst of a deep and worrisome crisis, the responsible act of leadership must be to sit and talk”.

What makes this latest tragic wave of violence even more concerning is the emergence of new terror groups in the Palestinian territories such as the Lions’ Den and the Jenin Brigades alongside Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, coupled with the seeming loss of control of the Palestinian Authority. Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the influence of outside actors—namely Iran—in enabling and encouraging violence in the region?

My right hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. The actions of Iran are abhorrent and causing all sorts of challenges in regional instability, and they need to be called out.

Recently published documents reveal an ambitious peace project to establish a continuous land bridge directly connecting Israel to Jordan and other Arab states. What steps is the Foreign Office taking to support our middle east allies on this welcome peace project?

We welcome all steps to help move forward with the middle east peace process and follow those particular points with interest.

The Minister will have heard the strength of feeling across the House this morning. Recently in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories we have seen new illegal settlements announced, increasing violence and terrorist attacks and a rise in civilian deaths. All those steps imperil a two-state solution, yet the Government’s focus has been on their ill-conceived and badly designed Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill. Reports suggest that our diplomats warned Ministers that it would breach our obligations under UN resolution 2334. Is that true? If so, why is the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), undermining UK foreign policy?

The shadow Secretary of State is correct that these are really concerning issues and there is a lot of passion on both sides of the House. The Government’s position was agreed by the FCDO and all relevant Government Departments. The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has written to the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee on that issue.

Sri Lanka: Alleged War Crimes

4. If he will take steps with his Sri Lankan counterpart to ensure accountability for alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. [R] (906035)

The Foreign Secretary met Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry on 14 July, when they discussed Sri Lanka’s human rights initiatives. We will continue to urge the Sri Lankan Government to make meaningful progress on human rights, justice and accountability. That includes at the UN Human Rights Council, where the UK and our partners made resolution 51/1 on Sri Lanka in October last year.

Will the Minister appeal to the Sri Lankan Government to ensure that the possible establishment of a South Africa-style truth and reconciliation commission does not mean that those responsible for war crimes in Sri Lanka will not be brought to justice?

We recognise the concerns from some members of the Sri Lankan public and victims groups about the creation of a credible domestic accountability process, given the history of impunity and unfulfilled commitments. We encourage the Sri Lankan Government to create an environment for meaningful reconciliation by addressing those long-standing and emerging concerns. That includes ensuring proper consultation, sufficient consensus of key communities and a commitment to accountability.

Human Rights Watch has reported that Tamil families looking to memorialise those who died in Sri Lanka’s civil war remain subject to intimidation and banning orders. Alongside the Minister’s Sri Lankan counterparts, what steps is she taking to promote free expression in Sri Lanka?

As I said, we all understand and see that long history of impunity and broken commitments. We will continue to encourage the Sri Lankan Government to create that climate of recognition for all parties and communities, making sure that no one is left out of that process.

Nearly 15 years after the end of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war, the Sri Lankan Government continue to evade accountability and delay any scrutiny. As the Minister said, instead of justice there is impunity. Last week’s FCDO human rights and democracy report recognises Sri Lanka as a priority so, in simple terms, will the Minister say when the UK will sanction those individuals responsible for the worst human rights abuses in that conflict?

We will continue to urge the Sri Lankan Government to uphold their constitutional and democratic processes. Those concerns were made clear in statements to the UN Human Rights Council, most recently on 20 June. Imposing sanctions is one response among other diplomatic tools to tackle serious human rights violations and abuses, but the shadow Foreign Secretary knows well that it would not be appropriate for me to speculate about future designations because that could reduce the impact.

Climate Finance Commitments

5. What recent steps his Department has taken to help meet the UK's international climate finance commitments. (906036)

As the Prime Minister set out at COP27, we are committed to spending £11.6 billion on international climate finance over the timeframe originally envisaged.

I take some comfort from the Minister’s reply. He will know that there has been much speculation—and indeed, some leaks—in the national media that demonstrate real concern that the Government were reneging on their climate finance commitments. Could he explain to me and the 50 cross-party MPs and peers who have written to the Prime Minister about this when the £11.6 billion will be delivered in full, broken down by each year? Could the Minister explain how the commitment will be met and assure us that it will not be by raiding the aid budget? He will know that the money is meant to be new and additional. It would be wrong for it to come at the expense of recipients who are expecting that aid budget and should have it.

The hon. Lady will have noticed yesterday that there was a very considerable return of transparency in the figures published by the Foreign Office. She will have seen that the allocations for aid for next year are nearly double what they were this year. We have a commitment to greater transparency and I expect to be able to publish in full how we will reach the £11.6 billion, probably in September.

The Minister will realise that £11.8 billion is quite a lot of money. How do the UK’s international climate finance commitments compare to other G7 and G20 countries, or, historically, to before 2010?

We are a global leader on these issues, as my hon. Friend knows, and we have set a lead. Part of that leadership, but only part of it, is in respect of money. The UK has delivered extraordinarily on its commitments. For example, we met our previous climate finance commitments, including spending nearly £6 billion between 2016 and 2021.

The effects of climate change are intensifying—NASA has just reported that June was the hottest month ever recorded—so it is important that the Government stand by their promise to double international climate finance. Will the Minister, at the Dispatch Box, confirm that that is exactly what they will do, or is the rumour that they are about to renege actually the case?

The hon. Gentleman will have heard my response to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). I can tell him that we are committed to tripling our adaptation finance from £500 million in 2019 to £1.5 billion by 2025. I hope he will wait, with admitted patience, until September when we will be able to set all these figures out.

Afghanistan: Rights of Women and Girls

We condemn the Taliban’s decision to restrict the rights of women and girls. We are working with international partners to urge the Taliban to reverse its decisions to ban women from working for the United Nations and non-governmental organisations, and to deny girls access to education.

I thank the Minister for his answer. As he said, in Afghanistan, households led by women are effectively banned from leaving the home and are, therefore, wholly dependent on female Afghan aid workers. With the Taliban now effectively banning female aid workers from delivering humanitarian aid, even a one or two week delay in reaching families means that mothers are turning to appallingly unacceptable negative coping mechanisms such as child marriage. What is the impact assessment of the Taliban’s policy on the distribution of essential aid and what are the Government doing about it?

The impact assessment is truly horrific. The effect of the Taliban’s decision is absolutely appalling and we are working with other countries to press the Taliban to reverse its decision on education, especially that on 23 March and the ban on girls going to secondary schools. On the specific point the hon. Lady makes, we are doing everything, along with our likeminded allies and others with greater influence on the Taliban, to try to rectify that.

Indo-Pacific Region: Diplomatic Relations

9. What progress his Department has made on improving economic relations with the Indo-Pacific region. [R] (906040)

As was made clear in the “Integrated Review Refresh” published a couple of months ago, the Government are committed to long-term economic and security partnerships with the Indo-Pacific. The Foreign Secretary was in Jakarta last week for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, meeting regional and global partners—the first Foreign Secretary ever to attend that meeting. This weekend we signed the agreement—there will be a discussion on this later—paving the way for the UK’s formal accession to the Indo-Pacific trade block, the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, which now covers an area with a total GDP of £12 trillion.

With AUKUS subs at Barrow and Team Tempest continuing to progress at Warton, the UK’s relationship with allies in Japan and Australia is not only defending our demographic values but creating jobs in Fylde and across the north-west. What assessment has the Minister made of the role the skills of those working in the defence manufacturing industry have played in developing diplomatic partnerships across Asia and the Pacific?

Our world-leading defence industrial base underpins our national security. British ingenuity and skills have therefore made us a sought-after partner, as is demonstrated by the global combat air programme with Japan and Italy and AUKUS with Australia and the United States. These enhanced partnerships will help us collectively to deliver better security for our citizens and allies. Moreover, AUKUS submarines will be based on the UK’s world-leading submarine design. This project will bring extensive new jobs and skills to the UK, as well as the opportunity to help Australia in particular to build up a new cohort of experts.

As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Cambodia and Laos, may I ask what my right hon. Friend thinks the new and improving relationships in the Indo-Pacific region will mean for UK trade?

The Indo-Pacific is important to UK security and to prosperity. It is home to half the world’s people. At least 1.7 million British citizens live in the region, and given the new trade deals with Australia and New Zealand, the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership and the improved relations resulting from the UK’s status as a dialogue partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the importance of our relationships with the Indo-Pacific, including those with Cambodia and Laos—in which regard my hon. Friend’s work is hugely appreciated—will continue to present opportunities to the UK and, indeed, protect our security.

Tomorrow, Thailand’s Parliament will vote for a second time to choose a Prime Minister, following the May election won by the Move Forward party, which is now leading an alliance of eight parties opposed to the military junta that seized power in 2014. It is likely that Move Forward’s leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, will again be blocked from taking office by the 250 senators in the upper House, all of whom were appointed by the junta. While the UK may not be best placed to advise on the role of unelected second Chambers, our country is a good friend of the Thai people. What representations has the Foreign Secretary made to the Thai authorities to let democracy take its course?

We welcomed Thailand’s strong show of support for democracy through the huge turnout in the May election, and we look forward to working with the new Administration. We continue to work closely, through our teams in Thailand, to support those who will make up the next parliamentary group.

I was pleased to hear the Minister talk about democracy in the Indo-Pacific area, but at present Prime Minister Modi seems to be a very popular man in countries around the world, including the United States and this country. Should we not look, laser-like, at his real record—for instance, his systematic persecution of Christians in India, and his takeover of press freedom and other civil liberties?

We have a close and enduring relationship with India. We talk of a living bridge between our countries, and we are working closely with India on our 2030 road map. However, as with all our international partners with which we have close links, we are happy to raise concerns, and we do so privately on a regular basis.

Strengthening NATO Unity

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary engages regularly with NATO allies, and did so most recently at the NATO leaders’ summit in Vilnius last week, where allies were united on the delivery of a strong package of support for Ukraine that will bring it closer to NATO.

The Prime Minister has made it very clear that the UK’s position is that Ukraine belongs in the NATO family. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to help our other NATO allies to reach the same conclusion?

At the historic summit in Vilnius, NATO leaders agreed that Ukraine would become a member of NATO at a time when allies agree and “conditions are met”. Like the Foreign Secretary, I will continue to engage with NATO allies and with Ukraine, not least because we know that Ukraine is a hugely valuable and courageous partner in the defence of freedom.

Will the Minister inform the House whether the Government will be supporting or opposing Ursula von der Leyen’s bid to become the next Secretary-General of NATO? Given her lamentable performance as Germany’s Defence Minister, I would urge the latter, but it is clear that she has preferment, and despite all her failures she has always failed upwards.

UN Convention against Torture

10. Whether his Department has received recent representations on the adequacy of the United Nations convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. (906041)

The UK is a state party to the United Nations convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and works closely with partners to eradicate the use of torture.

War manifests itself not just in today’s combat but for future generations. As a signatory to the convention on cluster munitions, the UK is aware of the reprehensible nature of these weapons. Will the Minister assure us that US supplies of those weapons to Ukraine will not be allowed through US airbases in the UK?

The hon. Member makes a point about cluster munitions, and the position of the British Government is very clear: we have signed the treaty against their use. Other countries’ position is a matter for them, but that is the very clear position of the British Government.

Hong Kong Nationals Living Overseas: Arrest Warrants

11. What discussions he has had with his international counterparts on the issuing of arrest warrants for Hong Kong nationals living overseas. (906042)

The Hong Kong authorities’ egregious targeting of eight individuals living overseas is unacceptable. The UK and our allies were swift in our condemnation, and on 13 July, at the Foreign Secretary’s instruction, his senior official conducted a démarche of the Chinese ambassador. With our allies we are developing a shared understanding of transnational repression, its scale, and its impact on our democracies.

In the last two weeks there have been repeated examples of the Chinese Government’s attempting to intimidate those who have bravely stood up for the freedoms promised to Hong Kong. Does the Minister accept that we must urgently improve our own protections of the Hongkongers, especially given our moral and legal responsibilities, and take the leading role in international discussions on how to protect the Hongkonger community?

We absolutely support the three individuals in the UK for bravely speaking up and using their voices to challenge activities in Hong Kong. We will always champion freedom of speech, but I will not comment here on any support that may be in place, as I do not wish to compromise that in any way.

What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Home Secretary or others in the Home Office regarding the availability, if that is the word, of Chinese police stations operating here in the United Kingdom?

Earlier in July, the Foreign Secretary set out that any attempt by any foreign power to intimidate, harass or harm individuals or communities in the UK will not be tolerated. We have made it clear to the Chinese authorities that the existence of any undeclared sites—sometimes known as secret police stations—in the UK is unacceptable. Their operation must cease. The Chinese authorities have confirmed that they have been closed.

Many Hongkongers have sought refuge not only here in the United Kingdom but in other Commonwealth jurisdictions, principally Canada and Australia. What work is the Foreign Secretary doing with our counterparts in those countries to ensure that there is a united and concerted effort to support Hongkongers in those countries in the face of China’s repression?

We work closely with our allies and friends and we are very proud, as the UK, to have made available British national overseas visas. So far, I think, 166,000 have taken up the opportunity to be here in the UK.

The Chinese communist Government have broken British laws in their threats against people legitimately given safety in the United Kingdom. If my right hon. Friend and other Ministers have spoken to their counterparts, they will know that they have brought in sanctions against officials in Hong Kong and s freezing of assets. What have we done, and if, as I suspect, we have not done anything, why not?

As I say, the Foreign Secretary asked a senior official to call in the Chinese ambassador last week, which he did, highlighting that the issuing of arrest warrants and bounties for eight individuals living overseas was unacceptable. We obviously continue to express our ongoing opposition to the imposition of the national security law, and as my hon. Friend knows, we continue to consider the use of diplomatic tools, including sanctions where appropriate. I cannot discuss what we may do in future.

Last week’s Intelligence and Security Committee report exposed the consequences of more than a decade of Conservative division, inconsistency and complacency towards China. It looked rather like a bad Ofsted school inspection report. It described the UK’s approach to China as “completely inadequate” and it said it had left us “severely handicapped” in managing Britain’s future security. National security is the first responsibility of Government. What will the Government do, in response to this report, to rectify their past mistakes and raise their standards?

The integrated review refresh, published in March, set out very clearly the Prime Minister’s strong and robust position on China. The Foreign Secretary’s speech at Chatham House, a few weeks later, also identified that we will protect UK assets and interests, that we will engage where appropriate, that we will align with our international partners to ensure that issues we consider unacceptable to us—the coercion we are seeing from China is one—are made very clear, and that we will use the tools available to us as required.

Kashmir: Human Rights

12. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the human rights situation in Kashmir. (906043)

We recognise that there are human rights concerns in both India-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. We encourage all states to ensure that domestic laws are in line with international standards. Any allegation of human rights violations or abuse is deeply concerning and must be investigated thoroughly and transparently.

Many of my Luton South constituents have expressed concern at the recent appeal to change Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front leader Yasin Malik’s sentence from life imprisonment to the death penalty, due to be heard on 9 August. The UK is home to significant diaspora communities of Pakistanis, Indians and Kashmiris, and emerging issues related to Kashmir have the potential to affect community cohesion if not handled sensitively. Will the Minister ensure that the Government conduct any action relating to Kashmir sensitively and with consideration of the concerns of the diaspora communities?

The hon. Lady is right that these are difficult situations and that we want always to reassure those who are here, but it is not for the UK to comment on an independent judicial process in another country. We encourage all states to ensure that their domestic laws adhere to international standards on free and fair trials and that their treatment of detainees respects international obligations. The UK Government oppose the death penalty in all circumstances, as a matter of principle, in every country.

We are approaching the anniversary of the abrogation of article 370 and the other temporary changes to the Indian constitution, which were finally removed after more than 70 years. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this means equal rights are restored to people in Jammu and Kashmir and, particularly, that women now have the right to property, which was denied under those temporary arrangements?

My hon. Friend is a passionate champion for all these communities, and I thank him for the important work he continues to do with them. His leadership is well respected on both sides of the House. Our long-standing position, of course, is that India and Pakistan should find a lasting political resolution on Kashmir that takes into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. It is not for the UK to act as a mediator.

Food Security: Developing Countries

We committed in the integrated review refresh, published in March, to lead an 18-month campaign to improve global food security and nutrition, and to mitigate the risk of famine.

The devastating war in Ukraine and the destruction of its agricultural sector has sadly meant that, at the start of 2023, roughly one in three Ukrainian families were classified as food insecure. Whether we live in Blyth Valley or in Kyiv, food security is of the utmost importance. Will my right hon. Friend assure me his Department is doing all it can to ensure that Ukrainian families are getting the vital support they need, despite what is happening in their country?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. In November, Britain will host a major event in London focused on preventing children from starving to death, and on preventing malnutrition and food insecurity.

It is all good and well that the UK is hosting events, but the reality is that the amount of money it has to invest in food security is declining, because of cuts to the aid budget and now because of the Home Office’s use of official development assistance to house refugees. If the Home Office really wants people not to come here on small boats, perhaps it would be better to spend that money on famine relief and food security so that people do not flee their countries in the first place.

The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the importance of international development in tackling these problems upstream. He will have seen yesterday’s publication of the very sharp increase in bilateral aid, and he will also have noticed that I announced that we will spend £1 billion on humanitarian relief next year.

Ukraine: British Council

14. What recent steps he has taken to support the work of the British Council in response to the conflict in Ukraine. [R] (906045)

We work closely with the British Council in Ukraine. The British Council continues to provide online professional development to English teachers, reaching one in five English teachers in Ukraine. The British Council’s teaching centre in Kyiv reopened online in April 2022, and it teaches English to approximately 500 students.

I thank the Minister for that response. The British Council’s teaching and learning in difficult times programme has provided nearly 2,000 Ukrainian English teachers with help to support young people and children who have suffered trauma during the Russian invasion. Thanks to the work of Zhanna Sevastianova, who runs the programme, and Leigh Gibson, the country director, the future of Ukraine, its young children, is being safeguarded. Will the Minister therefore confirm his thanks for this outstanding programme, his support for Zhanna, Leigh and the team in general, and his recognition of the real strategic impact the British Council is having in challenging times?

Yes, I definitely will, and I thank my hon. Friend for recognising that outstanding team’s important work. The programme has already trained 1,482 English teachers to support young Ukrainians, to whom I pay tribute for their great resilience in incredibly challenging circumstances.

You did not look at me, but I appreciate your calling me, Mr Speaker. Thank you, very much.

Hon. Members are right to point out the advantage of education, but for the children in Ukraine it is not just about education, but about the trauma they have had. What is being done to work alongside those in education and health to enable those young people to deal with the horrors that they have experienced?

As always, the hon. Gentleman makes important points. He can be assured that the work we are doing is not only about education, but about providing reassurance and support for these children and young people who are going through extraordinarily challenging times.

As we know, the British Council has been a force for good in Ukraine and across the world for decades. Given what we have just heard about the Government’s support for its vital work in Ukraine, will the same energy and commitment now be used to support safe passage for those former British Council teachers and contractors who are stranded in Afghanistan, despite having cleared all the security checks required to come to this country through the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme?

The hon. Gentleman can be assured that we are honouring our commitment to resettle eligible at-risk British Council contractors, and it remains an important priority for the Government.

British Nationals Detained Overseas

Supporting British nationals abroad through consular assistance is an FCDO priority and of concern to all the ministerial team. The best interests of detainees are at the heart of our consular work, and we support and work with families wherever we can.

More than 100 other MPs and I wrote to the Foreign Secretary expressing our concern about Alaa Abd El-Fattah, who has been perilously close to death because of hunger and water strikes, and remains imprisoned in Egypt, in awful conditions. Members of Alaa’s family are in the Gallery today, hoping for a positive update. Will the Foreign Secretary commit to making a statement at the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in September to condemn Alaa’s imprisonment by the Egyptian Government?

I recognise the hon. Lady’s concern and sincere commitment to this important case, and I am pleased that she has raised it today. The Government continue to make every effort in our engagement with the Egyptian authorities on Mr El-Fattah’s case. We remain concerned about his welfare, and are pressing for consular access and his release. We continue to provide consular support to Mr El-Fattah and to his family, whom Lord Ahmad most recently met on 6 July. The Foreign Secretary has raised Mr El-Fattah’s case on several occasions with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, most recently on 2 March. Since then, Ministers have raised his case at every opportunity.

Jagtar Singh Johal, Alaa Abd El-Fattah, Morad Tahbaz, Mehran Raoof and Jimmy Lai are all high-profile British citizens detained abroad, whose families have severely criticised the Government’s weak, complacent and inconsistent record in supporting them. Does the Minister agree with us that consular assistance should be a right of British citizens, not based on the whims of Ministers?

We take all these cases incredibly seriously. They are very challenging. I do not really understand the tone of the question, because my interactions with Opposition Front-Bench and other colleagues reflect the sincere efforts, in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, to help in all the cases that the hon. Lady raises.

Iran: Human Rights Violations

We detailed Iran’s dire human rights record in the FCDO’s annual report. The UK is at the forefront of holding Iran to account. At the United Nations Human Rights Council, we have worked with partners to establish a UN fact-finding mission. We have announced over 80 human rights sanctions since the start of the process and we raise human rights with Iran at all appropriate opportunities.

I am sure the Minister will share my concern at the excessive use of force and violence by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps against those women who are protesting. This week’s news that the morality police are reinstating the hijab patrols illustrates the need for possible protections for those women. Has the Minister had any conversations with the Home Office about a potential visa scheme for those women and girls who have been instrumental in the protests, who may need to flee Iran?

These are very important and concerning issues. For decades, the morality police have used the threat of detention and violence to control what women wear and how they behave in public. The UK sanctioned the morality police in its entirety in October 2022. It is intolerable that that institution still exists in 2023. We will continue to focus on that.

Western Balkans: Stability

We are working with western Balkan states and our allies to create a secure, safe and prosperous region, built on strong foundations of democracy, the rule of law and regional co-operation. We have invested just over £47 million on a programme of activities supporting that vision last year, and we will always oppose efforts to destabilise the region.

Last week, thanks to the British Group Inter-Parliamentary Union, a cross-party delegation of parliamentarians visited Serbia, an incredible nation at an east-west crossroads, with an alluring, tempestuous history and so much potential. I impressed upon them the need to work together for peace and prosperity in the Balkans, but they consistently expressed concerns about the situation of the ethnic Serb minority in Kosovo. What steps is the Minister taking to help ease tensions and ensure that the mayors of the four Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo are truly representative of the areas that they serve?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question and for his conveying his experience. We engage on all sides diplomatically to encourage positive progress, and we urge all leaders in the region to de-escalate and work towards peace.

We all want to see a stable western Balkans. To my mind, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe is in a strong position to cohere those efforts. Does the Minister agree with that assessment and that the OSCE will need more resources to help achieve the stable western Balkans that we all want to see?

I do agree and I think it is a hugely valuable platform. We must ensure that efforts to deliver good impact from the OSCE are not derailed by Putin’s machinations.

Topical Questions

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is at the United Nations in New York for a meeting of the Security Council under the UK presidency.

Since the last oral questions, we hosted the Ukraine recovery conference in London, which raised $60 billion towards Ukraine’s reconstruction. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary attended last week’s NATO leaders summit in Vilnius, where a new tranche of military support for Ukraine was announced. The new White Paper on international development to 2030 is the subject of a written ministerial statement today.

On Sunday, in Auckland, New Zealand, the UK signed the CPTPP—the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership—which represents more than 500 million people and a GDP of more than £12 trillion, which is larger than the European Union. As well as the economic benefits to this country, what diplomatic benefits will the agreement bring?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on getting the letters of the agreement in the right order. He will know that the agreement spans 12 economies across Asia, the Pacific and now Europe. By 2040, we hope that it will add £2 billion to our GDP.

There are reports of widespread, systematic and targeted destruction of 26 communities in Darfur. Eighty-seven bodies were found buried in a mass grave last week, and fears are growing of genocide. I welcome the fresh sanctions, but what steps are the Government taking with international allies to ensure that the International Criminal Court has the resources needed to investigate and to hold those responsible to account?

I want to assure the hon. Lady that we will do everything we can to make sure that there is not a culture of impunity in the dreadful civil war in Sudan. Together with our allies, we hold the pen at the United Nations, and with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the African Union, and the Troika—all of these different organisations—we are doing everything that we can to ensure that there is transparency on what is being done in Darfur and to bring to an end this dreadful conflict.

T2.   In April three members of the British-Israeli Dee family were killed in an appalling terror attack. The Palestinian Authority continues to proudly send hundreds of millions of pounds to the terrorists behind these very same attacks. Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning this grotesque “pay for slay” policy? (906058)

The UK has not directly funded the Palestinian Authority since official development assistance reprioritisation in 2021. We do not fund prisoners’ payments and we believe that the prisoner payment system should be reformed so that it is needs-based, transparent and affordable. We continue to raise this at the highest levels with the Palestinian Authority.

T3. We talk of a two-state solution, but we are witnessing an increase in illegal settlements and an increase in violence, not least in Jenin recently. How is the Secretary of State using the power of his office to set a new framework, using the articles of the UN declaration on human rights, to bring about a movement towards peace, so that we see not just talk but action? (906059)

We remain committed to the middle east peace process and to finding a way forward. We use our convening power as the current president of the UN Security Council, and the Foreign Secretary will no doubt be discussing these issues while he is in New York at the UN Security Council.

Most of NATO, including America, Canada, France and Germany, have repatriated their citizens from detention facilities in Syria. The United Kingdom repeatedly refuses to do so and is now an international outlier. Twenty-five British families are held in Syrian detention facilities without charge or trial. Our independent reviewer of terrorism legislation has said that, without action, this will become our Guantanamo. Will the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office review this policy to avoid our suffering international embarrassment for failing to take responsibility for our own citizens?

Repatriating citizens and the management of risks posed by returnees are ultimately matters for individual countries. Our priority remains ensuring the safety and security of the United Kingdom. The UK will continue to work closely with international partners in addressing the issues associated with those who fought for, or supported, Daesh and to bring to justice those who have participated in terrorism overseas.

T4.   Last month, the UK hosted the Ukrainian recovery conference in London. Ukrainian trade unions have an important role to play in laying the foundations for the reconstruction of their country, but the general secretary of the Ukraine’s construction workers’ union had his application to attend the conference denied and was subsequently unable to secure a visa to travel to the UK in time. Does the Secretary of State regret that Ukrainian construction workers were denied a voice in a conference dedicated to the reconstruction of Ukraine, and can he assure the House that this was not the result of a proactive policy of excluding representatives in the trade union movement? (906060)

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and thank you for your strong response to the point of order last week on the threats against me by President Vučić of Serbia. One colleague here raised the daily reports that we are receiving about extreme identity violence in Darfur, which will only get worse. As a UK penholder, what are we doing to create a protective wedge between civilians and the militias? Will my right hon. Friend show leadership at the Dispatch Box by declaring these as crimes against humanity, because it matters that Britain says that now?

I fully understand what my hon. Friend is saying about Darfur. She will know that I first went there with David Cameron in 2006 and saw what was happening on the ground—what George Bush called a genocide. We will do everything that we can to protect the civilians there who are in great jeopardy today. That involves the use of words, as my hon. Friend said, and actions at the UN. We will do everything that we can, as holder of the pen, to ensure that progress is made.

T6. Last month the UN’s world food programme announced the cessation of food aid in Ethiopia following the large-scale diversion of supplies. The UN has this week estimated that 8.8 million people in northern Ethiopia are in need of food aid, and severe malnutrition has increased by 196% over the past year. Will the Minister set out what the Government are doing to respond to this desperate humanitarian crisis? (906062)

We are working incredibly closely with the UN agencies, in particular the World Food Programme. We are conscious of, have investigated, and I think have now dealt with the issue of food being stolen. We announced recently that we would spend £143 million on humanitarian support in the horn of Africa.

I welcome the written ministerial statement on the international development White Paper, although an oral statement to the House would have been better. How does my right hon. Friend the Minister intend to achieve the consensual approach that is clearly his aspiration for international development, and does he agree, having heard many examples this morning, that nutrition and combating hunger must be at the heart of any strategy?

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comments. As he knows, we will hold a summit specifically on stopping children starving to death in November. I hope that the White Paper will be announced at that summit, but of course he is right. This is a cross-party White Paper designed to ensure that we reach the sustainable development goals, which are way off target at this midway point, and do something to combat the appalling dangers that the world faces, and which we have seen so graphically in recent days, on climate change.

T7. For more than a year, the House has been highlighting the threat of atrocity crimes returning to Sudan, as the Minister has heard again today cross-party. Last week, we saw more mass graves and widespread and systematic identity-based targeting of communities. How much evidence do the Government need before they acknowledge those crimes against humanity, and act on their own policy to take effective action to prevent and respond to atrocities? (906063)

The hon. Lady is entirely right in the language that she uses about the atrocities taking place in Sudan and Darfur. That point has been extensively ventilated at this question time. All I can say to her, to add to what I have said already, is that we are working very closely with our allies, particularly the Americans, on precisely the subject that she has identified.

Murder, rape and pillage continue on a massive scale across Sudan. As well as ensuring that humanitarian aid gets to those on the borders, and the financial sanctions that we introduced last week, will the ministerial team look further at ways to cut off the source of funding for this violence, in particular by sanctioning Al-Khaleej Bank and Omdurman National Bank, which are associated with the two warring generals?

My right hon. Friend, who knows a lot about the subject, can rest assured that we are looking at all possible sanctions and other measures that we can take. She refers to humanitarian access. She will know that 15 humanitarian workers have been murdered during the course of the violence, but we will do everything that we can to ensure that what she wants to see happen happens.

T8. The Department’s travel advice is highly respected, with observance considered mandatory by many businesses. What advice will the Minister give to a British organisation that needs to send an employee to Uganda—advice that protects the rights of that employee and their privacy, while also protecting LGBT+ employees in this country from exposure in Uganda to its cruel Anti- Homosexuality Act, which criminalises LGBT+ intimacy and freedom of expression? (906064)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The British Government and the whole House are appalled by the law that has been passed by Uganda. We make very strong representations, our high commission there works closely with affected groups, and we always keep travel advice under sharp and close review.

Children being able to play is something we take for granted, yet Ministers will know from their travels that it is not something that all children around the world get to do. Play instils confidence, builds life skills, enhances resilience and restores hope, so will a Minister commit to the House that they will take a lead role in the forthcoming UN General Assembly to support the resolution for an international day of play, which is spearheaded by a coalition of organisations such as Lego and IKEA, to ensure that every child’s right to play is protected?

The idea of an international day of play is very important, and we take it seriously. I will pick the matter up with the noble Lord Ahmad and keep in touch with my hon. Friend.

T9. In the past decade, more than 1.7 billion people have been affected by climate disasters through displacement, drought and food insecurity. The climate crisis is both creating and aggravating humanitarian emergencies. Where is the ambitious strategy for UK aid to build resilience and offset the implications of climate breakdown? (906065)

The hon. Lady is right to identify climate change as the great existential crisis of this era. Two weeks ago we had the hottest temperature seen in the world ever on the Monday; it was then exceeded on Wednesday and exceeded again on Thursday. One way we have changed how humanitarian work is done is by building in more adaptation and resilience when we deploy humanitarian support, and we will go on doing that.

Evidence suggests that malaria is on the move; it has appeared in parts of the US and is creeping across Europe. Can the Foreign Office please confirm that it is serious about eradicating malaria and neglected tropical diseases across the world, and say what plans are being taken, if any, to keep British people safe?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. I was recently in Mozambique, where they had managed to cut malaria infection by 50%, but we saw that climate change is now leading to its increasing again. We will do everything we can to make sure that what had previously been a successful policy of malaria eradication gets back on track as soon as possible.

T10.   A loophole in the sanctions regime has seen Russian steel processed in Turkey and exported to the UK. The 43% increase in Russian steel exports to Turkey in the last year alone shows the extent of the problem. The Government have belatedly introduced a ban on imports of such steel, but without enforcement the ban will be meaningless. Can the Minister tell the House what the Government’s plans are to enforce the ban on imports of Russian steel processed in Turkey? (906066)

As I have said, we continue to work on our sanctions policy to ensure that we get to grips with any potential circumventions, but it would not be appropriate for me to announce any future plans yet.

Whether it is the accession to the trans-Pacific partnership, the first free trade agreement with Malaysia and Brunei, our Foreign Secretary at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit or the joint economic trade committee with Indonesia on Thursday, the Government are rightly doing all they can to bring alive the benefits of our trans-Pacific and Indo-Pacific pivot. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we in this House should all do everything we can to bring alive the potential for businesses in our nation, whether in designing frigates, cyber, EdTech or anything else?

Mr Graham, do not push it too far. I am not being funny—it is totally unfair. Some Members are not going to get in now.

My hon. Friend is right. The opportunities the Indo-Pacific brings for UK citizens and businesses are enormous and we look forward to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership being one more new opportunity for them to discover one of the most exciting parts of the world.

Following up the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), a Billingham constituent is regularly in touch with me. Her Ugandan girlfriend lives in fear of her life every day, as new laws have seen more and more LGBT+ people persecuted. What more can the Government do with our allies to help people such as my constituent’s girlfriend and protect LGBT+ activists and human rights defenders in Uganda?

We are making representations as often as we can. There are limits to what we can do, but we are seeking to stretch those limits as far as possible. I spoke to the Ugandan Foreign Minister on 4 May to underline our opposition to the Anti-Homosexuality Act and highlight its impact on the safety of LGBT+ people in Uganda. Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have spoken to the Ugandan Foreign Minister and the Ugandan high commissioner in London.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is finalising our report on food security, which has come into sharp focus because of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. With Russia regrettably pulling out of the Black sea grain deal, will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that the UK Government are working closely with the UN and NATO allies such as Turkey to restore that deal, which is so important for food security across Europe and in developing countries?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, we should make it clear that what Russia is doing is leading directly to people starving in Africa. Everyone should understand that, as well as the atrocious action that Russia has taken in invading a neighbouring country.

The Minister is aware of the arrest of Yasin Malik, a Kashmiri political prisoner whose only crime is opposing the Indian military occupation of Kashmir. What talks have been had with the Indian Government about his death penalty?

As I said in response to an earlier question, the UK opposes the death penalty in every country in the world, including India.