Debates between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon during the 2019 Parliament

Afghanistan: Aid for Women

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 11th September 2023

(9 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, recognising the important work the noble Baroness has done in this respect, I think I speak for everyone in saying that what is happening in respect of the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan is abhorrent. It is against the very traditions of the faith that the Taliban claim to follow; it is not right, it is simply wrong. That is why we are working with key partners within the Islamic world—for them to seize back the narrative on empowerment of women and girls’ rights and education. On our specific support, we are working with key agencies. I have already alluded to the figures but—just to share with the noble Baroness—we are supporting 4.2 million people with food assistance, of whom 2 million are women and girls. The issue of nutrition is high on our agenda, as well as empowering them through education.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how many Afghan interpreters who have been relocated to the UK have wives still awaiting security clearance in Afghanistan so that they can join their husbands here, as they are entitled to do? They are very likely to be living in vulnerable situations while they wait; even living in hiding. Perhaps the Minister could write to me if he does not have this figure to hand today.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that I keep abreast of figures on a weekly basis, but I do not go into specific details at the Dispatch Box for the sole reason of protecting those vulnerable individuals. We have seen a large number of interpreters arrive in the UK and there is an issue about supporting family members. Where I can, I will share the specifics with the noble Baroness.

Kosovo and the Western Balkans Region

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Tuesday 6th June 2023

(1 year ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I believe I speak for the whole House when I join my noble friend in paying tribute to the incredible work done across the world by both NATO troops and those deployed through key missions. The situation in Kosovo is of course very alarming, although the latest report I have is that it is calmer. There is direct engagement by our key partners; we are working closely with the EU and the United States in this respect. Their representatives are on the ground speaking to both sides. We have also called for a four-step de-escalation.

Both sides have a role to play. Kosovo should perhaps now enable its mayors to work from locations outside municipal offices until such time as these issues can be resolved. Importantly, Serbia needs to reverse its decision to raise the level of readiness of its armed forces. The read-across to Bosnia-Herzegovina is very clear. Of course, I know that my noble friend engages consistently and extensively in that area. The UK fully supports EUFOR and KFOR in Kosovo; my right honourable friend the Minister for Armed Forces recently announced our continuing commitment to KFOR in Kosovo.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, one recommendation from the inquiry into the western Balkans by the International Relations Committee was that the UK should actively help to preserve the large amount of evidence held by EULEX on conflict-related sexual violence in Kosovo. Witnesses suggested that it would be better safeguarded by the UN, or its loss would feed the continuing culture of impunity. Can the Minister say what has happened to safeguard this evidence and, in the current circumstances, what is being done to prevent further conflict crimes of sexual violence?

Execution of Alireza Akbari

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Wednesday 18th January 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I totally agree with my noble friend and I could not express my abhorrence of this in clearer terms than those he has outlined. What is becoming increasingly clear is that these abhorrent executions take place on trumped-up charges, often relating to people who are perhaps seeking through their own good will to provide hope for Iran and to bring some semblance of normality to the future of Iranian communities and the Iranian people. Shockingly, this goes from bad to worse.

If I may, I missed a point that I wanted to raise with the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about activities here in the UK. I know of a particular centre in Maida Vale into which the Charity Commission is working on an inquiry. We are working closely with the Home Office and across government on all these issues to ensure that, as I said, all the levers that we have in our hands are exercised effectively.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, referred to the vulnerability of BBC Persian staff. What can be, and is being, done to support the family members of those staff, who have also been targeted with threats and violence—in particular, the family members of BBC staff who are London-based and, by definition, cannot offer their family members in Iran any personal or direct support?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, there are those who are based here in the UK and receive threats, including those who work for British interests and are receiving threats. When I say “British interests”, I mean British companies such as BBC Persian, in terms of the important work that it does on the ground in providing communication. Although the service is operationally and editorially independent, the support that we give it is important. We are providing both that support and the information that is needed.

Of course, as the noble Baroness pointed out, the threat goes much wider than Iran itself. We have an unprecedented situation—it is certainly unprecedented in my time in Parliament—where Members of both Houses have had to be directly advised about the nature of a threat from a foreign state actor, in this case Iran. That puts into context the gravity of the situation and the actions that the regime may resort to in order to cause further disruption, challenge and misery not just to its own citizens but elsewhere. We are clear in our stance on this, which is why it is important that we work closely with all departments across government and equally important that we work closely with our international partners as well.

United Nations Security Council

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Tuesday 17th January 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I do not want to contemplate a day when there is any break-up of the United Kingdom, and that is why we must stay united in ensuring that our United Kingdom—these four nations—is absolutely at one. The importance of the United Kingdom’s position on the world stage through our membership of the P5 and active membership of NATO and other multilateral organisations demonstrates that strength. We are better and stronger together.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, can the Minister update the House on any progress there has been towards achieving a Security Council resolution on the protection of civilian interpreters working in conflict zones along the same lines as the resolution for the protection of journalists?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, first, I commend the noble Baroness on her long-standing campaigning in this regard. I assure her that we continue to campaign on the very basis that she has illustrated. It is important that, as we stand up for media freedom, we also recognise the important role that translators and interpreters play.

Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Wednesday 23rd November 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, among other things I am the UK Human Rights Minister and, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, would testify, I believe in co-operation and working very closely with the Trades Union Congress and indeed with the CBI. I assure the noble Lord that in our interactions I meet regularly with the ILO and hear the views of the TUC. Indeed, the TUC forms part of the UK delegation in the annual International Labour Conference. I stand by that. Trade unions play an important role in our consultation and, as he said, both in Qatar and elsewhere we take their views very much on board in standing up for the rights of migrant workers. We have a debate later this week on human rights, workers’ rights and migrant rights. It is because of UK support, technical support, diplomatic support and through experience of our CSOs that we are able to help countries, including those in the Gulf, improve migrant rights as we have seen in places such as Bahrain.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, there is an in-principle agreement between the UK and Mexican Governments to hold a human rights dialogue alongside the free trade negotiations. Although the trade talks have already completed two rounds, the human rights dialogue has not even started yet, and there is no sign of a timetable despite the human rights crisis in Mexico. Can the Minister tell the House whether a date has been set for this dialogue to begin and, if not, what the problem is?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I am not sure of the date of commencement, but I will write to the noble Baroness. We work very closely on this agenda with Mexico. I know, for example, on issues of LGBT rights, on the Equal Rights Coalition we handed over in September the co-chairmanship among other countries to Mexico, so we have a comprehensive human rights dialogue with it. As I said, I will write to the noble Baroness about the date.

Women, Peace and Security Bill [HL]

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, certainly from my perspective, that is very much a government commitment that was given. Of course, we have a new Prime Minister, but the same Foreign Secretary. It is a strange question to be answering while we are still in the last throes of a ministerial reshuffle, but our commitment to women and girls remains focused, particular and prioritised. Indeed, I was delighted that our former Prime Minister and former Foreign Secretary committed to these issues. The commitment, for example, to the immediate issue on the horizon—the PSVI conference and our support for that—indicates the direction of travel. I will of course update your Lordships’ House on anything more specific. On the PSVI issue, I also put on record the Government’s thanks to Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex for her engagement and involvement in continuing to throw a spotlight on these important issues.

I listened very carefully to the valuable and insightful comments to this debate. The Government are committed to the WPS agenda. As my noble friend acknowledged in introducing the Bill, there are some reservations about specific proposals before us. The Government have strong existing and forthcoming WPS policies: the integrated review, which was referred to; the international development strategy; the women and girls strategy; Human Security in Defence; and the WPS national action plan. All these underline not just our commitment but the progress we have made. I know how strongly your Lordships support these policies, as was clear from the debate. It is critical that, within the frameworks in which we work, we retain the freedom of agile policy-making—that is where some of the limitations of the Bill have been highlighted to me.

On a positive note, I have been listening and there are aspects of the Bill we can commit to. Let me give a couple of examples of what we are doing, drawn directly from the Bill. The measures proposed in the Bill seek to increase women’s participation in peace processes. The UK’s ambition is to support meaningful participation and secure positive peace process outcomes for women and girls, with more women being pivotal in decision-making. We have seen the power of this approach. The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, talked about Latin America. We have seen real progress in Colombia, where civil society, including women’s groups, ensured that there were real and specific gender considerations in how the peace agreement was reached. But that is only half the job, and we need to ensure a continuing focus. I welcome insight on specifics from all noble Lords on how they feel we can further strengthen our work in this area.

The Bill aspires for the UK to take gender into account when formulating foreign policy. In this regard, the gender equality duty in the International Development Act 2002 requires the Government to have regard to gender inequality before providing development assistance. On what will happen next, the new women and girls strategy will pick up on some of the specific provisions that my noble friend highlighted on this very point in her presentation of the Bill.

Before I hand back to my noble friend, I again thank all noble Lords. I share the points that have been made. Importantly, the Government have done specific work on this agenda, and I feel very strongly that the House and all parties are at one in their perspectives on how to pursue the agenda. Of course, there are different speeds at which we may travel at times.

The issue of annual reporting came up. What I can commit to—PSVI is within my portfolio—is that we should have an annual report. We have looked at WMSs, but I can certainly work through the usual channels to see how we can facilitate a specific debate annually. I do not think there is disagreement on this: it will further enhance the progress we can make. I am sure the usual channels can work together on how it can be presented.

Although I lead on the PSVI agenda, I think it is totally sensible to present a report that demonstrates the work that has been done over the last 12 months. Certainly, when it comes to our duties, although not a legislative requirement, how we report to your Lordships’ House and to Parliament as a whole on the WPS agenda and progress on NAPs could be much more contextualised and structured. I will take those aspects back to see how best we can work them through.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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Can the Minister reassure me on one of my specific points and confirm that Latin America will feature on the agenda of the November conference?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I will give that commitment now, which will cause a flurry of activity if it is not the case. I have already mentioned Colombia specifically. I want to use what has worked well in Colombia as a reflection of what we can do, not just further in Latin America but across the world. I come back to my earlier point: if there are specific elements that the noble Baroness feels we can introduce, even at this point I am quite happy to ensure those are considered as part of the agenda.

I end by thanking all noble Lords for their contributions. This has been a wide-ranging debate. There are some specific questions I have not had time to respond to in my concluding remarks but—

Iran: Women’s Rights

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Wednesday 12th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, with teenage girls being beaten to death in the streets for protesting, I press the Minister to agree that now is not the right time for the World Service to scrap its Persian radio service. Digital services are all very well, but if internet access is blocked or restricted, as in Iran, the radio can be a lifeline. Can the Minister say what the Government can do about the disturbing increase in harassment by the Iranian authorities of the families in Iran of London-based BBC Persian staff?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I have already alluded to the noble Baroness’s second point; we have called that out specifically. I have heard very clearly from both the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the noble Baroness about its importance, and I assure your Lordships’ House, as the Minister now responsible for our relationship with Iran, that this is something I will take back. I will update the House accordingly.

Ukraine and Russia: Military Developments

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Wednesday 8th December 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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Again, I can assure my noble friend. He is right to raise the issue of NATO. We remain very strong supporters, based on the 2008 Bucharest summit declaration, of Ukraine’s membership of NATO. I assure my noble friend that we are talking to NATO allies on this very point; indeed, it was a subject of conversation in my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary’s recent meeting with NATO.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, when Russia annexed Crimea, there were reports that we would have been better able to anticipate and track events if there had been more Russian speakers in the Foreign Office. Are we better equipped now to monitor what might be happening between Russia and Ukraine?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, Russian is one of the languages that form part of our diplomatic academy, and of course those deployed to Russia receive language training. Our diplomats speak more than 40 languages, and Russian is one of them.

Afghanistan: Food Shortages

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Tuesday 9th November 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that we have engaged at the highest level with the World Food Programme, established agencies on the ground and, indeed, all UN partners. I have engaged directly with the Secretary-General, the Deputy Secretary-General and all the heads of the different agencies and we are working directly with the World Food Programme. What is needed is co-ordination on the ground and that is why we have implored the UN to ensure that all humanitarian activities are co-ordinated. I assure your Lordships’ House further that both my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the new Foreign Secretary, my right honourable friend Liz Truss, are engaging directly on issues with key partners. Indeed, she is currently visiting Asia, where she will be having discussions specific to the role of the Muslim world in leading on ensuring that the Taliban stands up for its promises. She will be having discussions with the likes of Indonesia, and continuing discussions with the likes of Qatar and Pakistan.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, will the Minister agree to revisit the list of ODA cuts to NGOs that are running programmes of volunteering within Afghanistan to do with health, education and food distribution, such as VSO, for example, to check whether, in these circumstances, instead of their budgets and programmes being cut, they could be cranked up and reinforced instead of being decommissioned?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I have already said that the Government have announced an increase in funding to £286 million, but it is appropriate that we allocate this funding in a structured way, with trusted partners, to ensure support gets through to the people who need it most. On the issue of volunteering, the challenge in Afghanistan is that volunteers at the moment, particularly non-Afghans, are unable to enter. Equally, Afghan nationals are unable to operate.

Afghanistan: Security

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 6th September 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. I assure him that we are doing just that. At an operational level, we are already, through our diplomatic efforts, engaging with those on the ground to ensure that we can provide access and security and hold the Taliban true to their assurances of security within the country. Engagements with the near neighbours are equally important. In that regard, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and I have just returned from various visits to the region, where we are also seeking to ensure safe passage of British nationals and others who seek to come to the UK eventually, but also seek a safe haven away from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, how many Afghan interpreters who have already relocated to the UK had to leave behind wives and children still to be processed? While the Minister obviously cannot go into detail, can he at least give a firm assurance to the House that security arrangements which are proactive and targeted will be made so that these eligible dependants can come safely to the UK without delay?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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The noble Baroness is right, and there are many heart-rending stories in this respect of choices having to be made not in days or minutes but in seconds. In this regard, we have of course ensured the safe passage of 15,000 to 17,000 people —2,000 came through the ARAP scheme before the actual crisis unfolded in Kabul. However, in the short time that we had, over 15,000 people under three categories—British nationals, ARAP and others—were evacuated from Afghanistan. I assure the noble Baroness that, as I have said already to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, the issue of security is important, and, in any support that we give, it has to be paramount before we can ensure safe passage. This is exactly what we are working on, including by engaging with the Taliban from an operational perspective—not through any issue of recognition, but to ensure that they remain true.

Colombia: Human Rights

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 12th July 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that it is important to focus specifically on the concerns that she has highlighted. We have made representations through ministerial engagement and regularly do so through our embassy on the ground. We continue to support transitional justice within Colombia as a key part of our work.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB) [V]
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that the FTA was breached when the Colombian police targeted clearly identified journalists and human rights defenders in the recent protests, seriously injuring many of them in an attempt to prevent them from reporting? What, if any, specific representations has the UK made to the Colombian Government about this, especially as we recently co-hosted the Global Conference for Media Freedom?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct. We have prioritised media freedom in our work globally and I can assure her that we have raised a broad range of human rights abuses and concerns arising particularly from the recent protests. In this regard, we welcome the concerted attempt to look into investigations and hold to account those who have committed these crimes.

British Council

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Wednesday 9th June 2021

(3 years ago)

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Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chair of the APPG on Modern Languages. This is supported by the British Council, which last year used £30 million of its income from English language schools to supplement its grant in aid. Covid has wiped out this commercial income. Between five and 20 country programmes are at risk for the sake of £10 million, including the Five Eyes countries, risking trade and cultural benefits, and Afghanistan, which could see the end of valuable work with women and girls that would be hard to digitalise. How is this compatible with global Britain?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I acknowledge the important work that the British Council does on the English language. I assure the noble Baroness that the Government recognise that the British Council is a leading provider of English language training and examinations and reaches more than 100 million learners across 100 countries. We will continue to remain focused, and in countries where we need to take a step back or there are office closures, we will look at how best we can provide such services there.

Iran: British-Iranian Prisoners

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 7th June 2021

(3 years ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My noble friend is right to highlight the limitations of the JCPOA—specifically on arms, for example, ballistic missiles are not included. As I said earlier, we continue to work with partners in asking Iran to uphold its obligations. I assure my noble friend that we are working at the highest level, including through the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, to ensure the early release of all dual nationals under detention and their return to the UK.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, many of the World Service Persian staff are dual nationals who live in the UK but cannot visit elderly parents or attend family funerals in Iran for fear of arrest and imprisonment. The aim of this intimidation appears to be to coerce them to leave the BBC, and family members in Iran are often targeted too. What practical steps, in addition to the support I know the noble Lord has expressed before, are the Government able to take to step up the efforts to end this harassment?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to raise the issue of journalists. As she will be aware, media freedom remains a key priority for Her Majesty’s Government. We are working with key partners, most notably Canada, on this important issue and on the arbitrary detention of journalists in Iran.

Overseas Development Assistance: Budget

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Tuesday 27th April 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Lord articulates, the importance of girls’ education is key for this Government and our Prime Minister. However, the challenging situation means that we have had to look at all elements of our ODA spend. I assure him that we will invest at least £400 million in girls’ education, which will have a really progressive impact in over 25 countries.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, the VSO was told last Friday that its volunteering for development grant would get a one-year extension, amounting to a 45% cut. How does this represent either protection for the VSO, which the Foreign Secretary promised, or help for 4 million of the world’s poorest and most marginalised, whose services from the VSO will now have to be scrapped? Will the Government reconsider the terms of the VSO grant?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, we are working very closely with the VSO. We are proud that the FCDO and the VSO were able to work together to pivot over 80% of programme funding to the pandemic response. On managing the current budgets, I assure the noble Baroness that we are working very closely with the VSO to ensure that any impacts of any reduction in funding are managed. I stress that this is a settlement for this year; we are looking at how we can best manage the impact on programmes for the medium and longer term directly with the VSO.

Latin America: Future Foreign Policy

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Wednesday 21st April 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) the need for, and (2) the benefits of, engaging with countries in Latin America as part of the United Kingdom’s future foreign policy.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, Latin America is an increasingly important partner for the UK’s global ambitions. It is one of the regions most aligned to UK values. Our relationships are based on democratic values, sustainable, inclusive and resilient economic growth, and the championing of free trade. We also have strong people-to-people links and effective co-operation on innovation, health and climate change.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, despite the Minister’s positive words, Latin America gets just two brief paragraphs in the recent integrated review. As well as the scope for export growth, there is huge potential for UK influence and global leadership on climate change and human rights, not least in Colombia, where the UK is the UN penholder for the peace process. Will the Minister ensure that future FCDO policy does not short-change itself by ignoring Latin America?

International Soft Power Strategy: Role of BBC

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 18th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I believe I have already done that several times today, and I will continue to do so.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, can the Minister update the House on action taken by the Government to protest about and bring an end to the systematic persecution by Iranian authorities of the BBC’s Persian service journalists and their families, both in the UK and in Iran?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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The noble Baroness raises a very important point. I reassure her that we consistently raise the important role of journalists within Iran with the Iranian authorities. Let me also reassure her that, as she will know, media freedom and protecting journalists around the world is a key Government priority.

Colombia

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 7th December 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, I first pay tribute to my noble friend for her leadership, during her tenure as Minister of State at what was the FCO, on a broad range of human rights and for standing up for human rights defenders. Indeed, in my virtual visit, my first meeting was with journalists, to ascertain and understand more effectively the challenges they have. We are aware of allegations that members of the Colombian military have been illegally gathering surveillance on activists, including journalists and opposition politicians. We have raised this directly with the Colombian authorities. We are lending technical support and will be raising the issue of journalist freedom and press freedom across the piece in our leadership role on the coalition for media freedom.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, the UK has spoken up in the Security Council about the special jurisdiction for peace, but can the Minister say what public support has been given by the UK embassy in Bogotá to this war crimes tribunal, in light of attempts by President Duque to undermine its work?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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I pay tribute to the noble Baroness’s work in this area. The United Kingdom has provided, and continues to provide, support to help Colombia tackle, in particular, the legacy of sexual violence from its long conflict. The UK continues to support survivors and has now helped document 1,200 new cases that are now before the transitional justice system. Let me assure the noble Baroness, that in my visit to Colombia I made it absolutely clear that, while this is an independent judicial body, it should not be interfered with. We continue to stand up for the rights of all survivors of sexual violence during the period of conflict.

Protecting Civilians in Armed Conflict

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 12th October 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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The noble Lord rightly points out the situation in Yemen, which is dire. The most vulnerable communities are unable to access healthcare There are issues around epidemics, including cholera, which continue to persist. That is why it is important, as my right honourable friend has said, that there has to be a political settlement within the parties in Yemen as well as with the countries supporting it. I can assure the noble Lord that that is exactly the objective we are working towards.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, this policy paper is silent on the need for additional protection for civilian interpreters working in conflict zones. Although the Minister told the House as recently as June that the UK would pursue this issue with the UN Security Council, does he accept that the Geneva conventions are currently inadequate to protect civilian interpreters? Can he report on any progress to date towards a Security Council resolution?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s second point, I have recently discussed with the team in New York how to look at this issue, in particular during our presidency of the Security Council. Let me assure her that since she first raised this issue and continues to do so, it has remained very much on my agenda. Interpreters play an essential and vital role. They are regarded as civilians and the UK recognises their invaluable contribution, as the recent support for Afghani translators has demonstrated.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development: Merger

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 27th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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I assure my noble friend, notwithstanding the merger—and I have been directly involved in aligning responsibilities as part of the merger—we continue to retain, sustain and strengthen our commitment to helping the most vulnerable communities around the world and supporting international programmes.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB) [V]
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My Lords, will the new FCDO provide funding for projects to combat sexual violence, particularly in Colombia, on a longer-term basis than the one year’s funding generally provided by the Foreign Office now, and with survivors more rigorously involved in programme design? Does the new department plan to host the PSVI conference in 2021, after its cancellation in April this year because of the pandemic?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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As the Prime Minister’s PSVI envoy and representative, I assure the noble Baroness that it remains a key priority for Her Majesty’s Government. I am sure she respects the fact that we have to look at the idea of next year for the conference in terms of the coronavirus pandemic and how we can organise any conference effectively. We are already committed to holding the COP 26 conference in November.

Press Freedom

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 8th June 2020

(4 years ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, I assure my noble friend that we will continue in our capacity as chair in office until and when the Kigali CHOGM takes place, and that has been confirmed. On the importance of Commonwealth countries standing up for press and media freedom, I agree with him and assure him that, both within the context of the Commonwealth and in our bilateral exchanges with Commonwealth countries, media freedom is very much a key issue.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB) [V]
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My Lords, is the Minister aware of recent reports from Colombia that the army has been illegally compiling secret files on journalists, containing personal information on their contacts, homes, families and other private information? This undermines the peace process and I hope that the Minister will condemn it. Will he also tell the House what progress has been made since January this year, when, in the context of another question on journalists’ safety, I asked him whether equivalent protection could be negotiated for interpreters who work with journalists, especially in conflict zones? He said then that discussions were taking place on the proposal for a Security Council resolution, and I would be grateful if he could update the House.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s second question, obviously, given the focus on Covid-19, we have not been able to make progress on that Security Council resolution to the extent that I would have liked, as Minister for the UN. However, I assure her that our work in this respect will continue, and I will shortly have a discussion with our acting representative in New York on how we can make further progress. I will write to her regarding the question she raised concerning Colombia.

Covid-19: Refugee Camps

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Wednesday 20th May 2020

(4 years ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My noble friend is quite right to raise this issue. I recently engaged in a virtual call with Pramila Patten, the SRSG on preventing sexual violence in conflict for the UN. I will be having further discussions on this to ensure that we give maximum support to girls and women who suffer because of conflict—and the Covid crisis brings this into focus.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, will the Minister pay tribute to the work of Translators Without Borders, which DfID helps to support? Its work with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, for example, found that older women have very limited access to information about Covid-19. It provides support in 89 languages, has produced a multilingual glossary on Covid to help health workers and monitors social media in multiple languages to eliminate fake or inaccurate data—work that no other international organisation undertakes. Will the Minister look positively at TWB’s need for more funding to leverage language technology to meet the needs of refugees?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, I fully align with the sentiments of the noble Baroness and of course I will look at all future funding requests.

British Citizens Stranded Overseas

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 14th May 2020

(4 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My noble friend is right to raise the important issue of South Africa. We have run flights from there and we have considered, and continue to consider, further options. I am aware of cases in South Africa; my honourable friend the Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, is prioritising flights in that respect.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, does the Minister know how many UK citizens employed by the British Council and based overseas may need to be brought home as a result of the council’s operations closing down because they are financially unsustainable as a result of Covid-19? Is he aware that the British Council risks having to close altogether unless additional emergency funding can be provided?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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I am fully aware of the challenges which have been imposed on many networks, including the British Council. We have brought back diplomats and staff of the British Council because of the health situation or lack of flights in certain parts of the world. I shall write to the noble Baroness on the specific numbers.

Violence Against Journalists

Debate between Baroness Coussins and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Wednesday 22nd January 2020

(4 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, on the latter point, as the noble Baroness will know, of course I would be willing to meet the family. I suggest, as I said in my original Answer, that my colleague the Minister for Africa is also present, who most recently met with Christopher’s cousin. I assure the noble Baroness that, if there have been any shortcomings in our approach, we always take that issue very seriously. I am constantly looking at issues of consular assistance to ensure that we not only respond accordingly to citizens when a particular tragedy befalls them but offer them support afterwards. On this particular issue, we want to link the support that we are providing through legal expertise to journalists with how we can bridge the gap and support those families where, tragically, the journalists themselves have been killed.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is an equally strong case for additional and specific protection for interpreters working alongside journalists, particularly in conflict zones, where the journalists could not do their jobs unless the interpreters were working with them? The protection that interpreters get as civilians under the Geneva convention is regarded as inadequate because they are not ordinary civilians in this context. Does the Minister agree that a good place to start would be to persuade the UN Security Council to agree a specific resolution on the protection of interpreters in conflict zones that mirrors the resolution that already exists on the protection for journalists?