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

Tue 28th Jun 2022
Wed 12th Jan 2022
Tue 11th Jan 2022
Mon 10th Jan 2022
Thu 11th Feb 2021
Wed 22nd Jul 2020
Tue 30th Jun 2020
Thu 30th Apr 2020

Commonwealth

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Tuesday 28th June 2022

(1 week, 2 days ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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The right reverend Prelate raises an important issue. It seems to be a continuum. As someone who is overseeing the FoRB conference as well, I was wondering whether the “Minister for Conferences” is being added to my portfolio. Nevertheless, it is an important area which is of focus to Her Majesty’s Government. I am working very closely with Fiona Bruce on the delivery of next week’s conference, at which over 30 countries will be in attendance. On the countries the right reverend Prelate referred to, I would also note that there are many where there are distinct constitutional protections for all communities and faiths. It is important that all countries of the Commonwealth stand up for the rights of the faiths and beliefs of all.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, at last week’s CHOGM, the communiqué read that the

“Heads emphasised the commitment in the Commonwealth Charter, to international peace and security, and to an effective multilateral system based on international law.”

What have Her Majesty’s Government, as chair-in-office, and the Prime Minister, in particular, done to talk to other heads of Commonwealth Governments to try to persuade them of the importance of supporting Ukraine and the British position on Ukraine, rather than seeing Prime Minister Modi alongside President Putin and President Xi?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the importance of Ukraine—indeed the next Question I will be answering is on that very subject—was a discussion that did not meet with total agreement. I sat through and indeed represented the United Kingdom at the Foreign Ministers’ meeting. Nevertheless, I think we worked very constructively with all partners to ensure that the language on Ukraine was not just sustained but also recognised by all members of the Commonwealth. Our advocacy and that of other partners is important. The Ukraine conflict is far from over as we saw through the attacks only yesterday.

Ukraine: NATO Membership

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 24th February 2022

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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The noble Lord speaks with great insight and experience. I assure him—indeed, all in your Lordships’ House—that the whole purpose of my being at the United Nations yesterday as part of the General Assembly debate was, again, because of the brinkmanship that was being shown by President Putin. He went to the brink and has now stepped over the line. We will of course outline further action and further details during the course of today. I understand from my right honourable friend the Chief Whip that a debate on Ukraine is also scheduled for tomorrow, and I am sure that we will be discussing further details of statements that will be made during the course of today.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, we on these Benches also support the Government in their reaction to the invasion of Ukraine, but we wonder whether it would be possible to go further; obviously, we will be discussing sanctions later. For example, one of the issues that has faced Ukraine for months is the attack on its cyber system. To what extent might NATO be able to give support from its Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, which is based in Estonia?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness for her support. Again, it is important that there is a single unitary voice from your Lordships’ House and across both Houses of Parliament against this unprovoked Russian aggression against a sovereign state. On the issue of cyber, I was in Estonia about 10 days ago as part of our engagement on broader issues. I met our forces on the ground there and looked at our capabilities, including cyber. We are, not just through NATO but directly, offering the Ukrainian Government and Ukrainian people our full support. However, I would add that cyber is a challenge that is being met and felt not just by the Ukrainian people; we have felt it right here in the UK as well.

Nuclear Weapons

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Wednesday 12th January 2022

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I am sure that I share with my noble friend and everyone in your Lordships’ House a real admiration for all elements of our military, including our naval assets. Of course, I cannot discuss specific operational aspects, but I can say to my noble friend that we have one of the best militaries, and indeed navies, in the world.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked the Minister how he could justify the increase in the number of warheads. He says that that is in line with our commitments under the NPT. If that is the case, what actions are Her Majesty’s Government actually taking to look for disarmament? The Minister said that we support multilateral disarmament, yet we seem to be increasing our armaments. So what, in practical terms, are we doing to meet our commitments?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the specific point about our own capacity, ultimately of course we retain our defensive capacity. Referring back to the P5 statement, it was encouraging that all countries have underlined the importance of the defensive nature of being nuclear states. On specific aspects of what we are doing, we have, for example, recently had discussions with other countries, including the likes of New Zealand, specifically looking at elements of the NPT. We also ensure that we look at issues of disarmament through regular reviews, ensuring that bodies are set up to review the capacity of countries to develop nuclear weapons and ensure that they do not do so. We work together with our P5 partners to ensure that that remains the case.

Kazakhstan

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Tuesday 11th January 2022

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I beg to disagree with the noble Lord. We have been very clear; in my statements I have highlighted, most importantly and centrally, the engagement on adherence. Kazakhstan recognises itself as a democracy, which means protecting human rights and the rights of citizens to protest. We have made that point very clearly. The situation remains fluid, if somewhat more stabilised today, and we are observing it very closely. We will continue to exert maximum influence in our relationship with Kazakhstan and build on it.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, Vladimir Putin suggested that the protesters were external forces. Does the Minister think that Vladimir Putin knows something that the rest of us do not? What does he think the causes of the protests really are?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to point this out. Various descriptions have been given of the protests. As she will be aware, they started because of the energy crisis and fuel prices in Kazakhstan. That perhaps demonstrates —the facts are still emerging—other reasons and concerns that the citizens of Kazakhstan have. As to what the protesters’ reasoning is and who they are, we have noted quite carefully the statements made and I have pressed directly that, if there is evidence of that kind of interference, we should be informed accordingly.

Russia

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 10th January 2022

(5 months, 4 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I listened very carefully to what my noble friend said, but I do not agree. We have not ramped this up, and nor has Ukraine. It is Russia that has ramped this up. I referred earlier to the entry into the sovereign territory of another country, Crimea, and the annexation of that region against international law. That goes totally against the agreements that Russia itself has signed up to. So this is not about ramping up; it is about responding. It is right that we work with NATO and our allies to ensure that Russia understands very clearly that it is Russian aggression that is at the root of this, and this week—we continue to invest in this—we are seeking to ensure that diplomacy is at the centre of finding sustainable solutions to this crisis.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the Statement also mentions the western Balkans and the fact that the Prime Minister has appointed Sir Stuart Peach as special envoy. What assessment have the Government made of relations between Russia, Serbia and Republika Srpska, and of the future of Bosnia?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to point that out. Of course, the appointment of Sir Stuart Peach, which she referred to, underlines our commitment to ensuring that we are at the forefront of ensuring the territorial sovereignty and integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Our noble friend Lord Ashdown, who was respected greatly and whom we miss greatly, made some notable efforts, but I repeat what he said when we discussed Bosnia previously: that this was just the bottom line, not the top line, of what we sought to achieve through the creation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and it is important that we not only sustain but protect it.

We are deeply concerned that we are in the middle of three days of so-called unofficial celebrations in Republika Srpska, which is currently celebrating with Mr Dodik its creation as a republic. It has not been sanctioned; it is unofficial. Indeed, the scenes that we are seeing unfold are adding to the insecurity. As I said previously, again, it is deeply regrettable that this has been spurred on by support directly from Moscow.

Ukraine and Russia: Military Developments

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

(7 months ago)

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the European response was delayed because it happened at Christmas. When the Americans left Afghanistan, the British response was marred by the fact that the Foreign Secretary and the Permanent Secretary were both on holiday. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is now looking again at leave policy to make sure that at crucial times somebody is always in the office?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, in any crisis lessons are learned, and the noble Baroness is right. The challenges of the situation we saw in Afghanistan are all too apparent. What we did achieve we look at with a great degree of humility, and we must show humanity in our response to Afghanistan. On the issue of Christmas, and the situation not just in Ukraine but in other parts of the world, we are very much prepared and focused on that, as is my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary.

Afghanistan: Women and Girls

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Tuesday 7th September 2021

(10 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I assure the noble Lord that we are working on the specifics of what was proposed, and from other groups as well. I know the organisation very well, and in coming weeks I shall certainly look to meet colleagues in the organisation directly to discuss actions further.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, will the Minister tell the House what support and advice is being given to vulnerable women who could be eligible to come to the UK under the ARAP scheme but have not yet been called forward and do not have a male guardian? They are, perhaps, among the most vulnerable, and advice would be most welcome.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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If we were to identify such individuals, with all sensitivities considered, we would see what support could be offered. The noble Baroness points to a very vulnerable category; I agree with her, and we continue to work with all channels, including international partners, to reach that particular group.

Afghanistan: FCDO Update

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Tuesday 7th September 2021

(10 months ago)

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I pay tribute to the service men and women, the diplomats and indeed the Minister himself for the huge efforts put into place under Operation Pitting and in the weeks following the end of the evacuation. But as we heard during the previous Statement, there are some serious questions to be asked about the nature of the evacuation and why we needed to evacuate when we did. A longer-term inquiry may be the time for those questions.

In the shorter term, there are questions about how many people we have left behind. There is clearly the question of how many British nationals who want to leave are still in Afghanistan. My understanding is that all were encouraged to leave back in April; some have chosen not to. If British nationals have chosen to stay, that is their choice, but do the Government have a sense of how many individuals want to leave? Is there a difficulty for people with dual nationality? Will the Taliban make it difficult for people with British and Afghan citizenship to leave? If so, are the Government seeking assurances that people with British passports will have the opportunity for safe passage?

What are the Government realistically able to offer those who have been offered a place under ARAP but have not yet been able to leave the country? The Statements suggest that everyone who has currently been offered a place under ARAP will be able to leave. Is that realistic? Should those of us who are trying to support the British Council and others on individual cases say that, yes, those people will be got out, or do we have to say that realistically we cannot guarantee that?

Beyond those who have already been offered a place under ARAP, what about those second-tier contractors—for example, for the British Council—who have not yet been given the right to come? What hope is there for them? Beyond that, for interpreters and others who worked for the MoD, my understanding is that the MoD has done a great job of getting the interpreters out now, but many others worked alongside our service personnel: the cooks and the people who did the laundry—a whole set of people whose lives are very vulnerable. Where do they feature in the Government’s thinking? Can they be assured of safe passage?

What sort of support will the Government be able to offer, directly or indirectly, to those who are currently away from their homes because they moved towards Kabul hoping to be able to get to the Baron hotel and on to a flight, and who now find themselves without food, shelter or money because they cannot access their bank accounts?

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, I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for their questions and contributions during what has been a particularly challenging time. I fully acknowledge the noble Baroness’s remarks about my personal engagement. Simply put, I sought—others will judge—to do my job in the best way I can.

I join the noble Lord, the noble Baroness and my noble friend the Leader of House in acknowledging the real debt of gratitude we owe to our servicemen and diplomats. I know Laurie Bristow very well—I was engaging with him daily prior to his appointment, as he went out, and during that appointment. I know first-hand about his commitment. As my noble friend the Leader of the House said, there are always lessons to be learned, and we all have to look back on what we have achieved with a degree of humility in recognising that, yes, it was a massive operation in terms of the people who were able to evacuate from Afghanistan, but at the same time, I assure noble Lords that at the heart of the Government’s approach is humanity in what we do next.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly talked about Operation Pitting and comments have been made about the Government’s role and preparedness. My noble friend has already alluded to the fact that plans were prepared and looked at regularly. Undoubtedly, it was clear from the speed at which the Taliban came into Kabul—which was a key point at which the operation was stood up—and the gains that were being made elsewhere in Afghanistan that the Taliban were making inroads very quickly.

That said, from the Foreign Office perspective, as Minister with responsibility for Afghanistan, I was engaging quite directly with the Government of Afghanistan, not for a week or a month before but for many months before. I was in Uzbekistan three weeks or so before the fall of Kabul, with all the key partners— from the Americans to Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey and other countries, and I engaged quite directly, including with President Ghani and Foreign Minister Atmar, on the situation on the ground.

Notwithstanding the comments made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, the issue is the joint assessment, which, as the noble Lord will know from his own time, brings together all the intelligence sources et cetera to ensure that we are fully prepared. Something which has not been said in this context is that, had we not been prepared—notwithstanding the heartbreaking scenes we have all witnessed; and I can assure you, I was hearing live stories during the evacuation process—we would not have achieved this if plans had not been in place. We stood up plans and worked together across government. I put on record my thanks to the Minister for the Armed Forces and the Minister for Immigration. Every day during the operation, we were convening a meeting at which we would address every single issue to ensure that the teams on the ground—be they diplomats or the military—the Minister at the Home Office and his Border Force team were trying to meet in real time the challenges we faced during the evacuation.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to everyone, but the job is not done, and I therefore recognise many of the questions that have been posed. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly raised the issues of safe passage, humanitarian aid and human rights, and I thank him for acknowledging the efforts of the United Kingdom, together with France, at the UN Security Council. We are also working in the margins at UNGA through events which will focus specifically on the points made by the noble Lord about minority rights, women’s rights and the LGBT community. I look forward to working with noble Lords to see how we can plan effectively, including in respect of civil society groups.

The UN resolution really does call for safe passage, human rights and humanitarian aid. Regarding the countries we were engaging with, not just during the crisis but beforehand and subsequently, we are looking at safe passage. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary visited Qatar and Pakistan; I visited Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and on returning, I visited Dubai to thank the Emiratis, who played a pivotal role in our evacuation process. Although the media may not have covered the operation, it was very smooth in terms of our ability to evacuate through Dubai, and I am grateful to our Emirati friends.

As for holding the Taliban to account, I totally agree with the noble Lord. My views on the Taliban and their perverse ideology are on record, and I speak, as I have said before, as a man who follows the same faith. Their Islam, or their faith, is not one I recognise, and I do not recognise what it presents. In the context of Islam, there are many countries within the Islamic world that have an added obligation, including those near neighbours, but we are working with the United States, the Qataris and others to ensure safe passage. Today, a humanitarian flight arrived at Kabul airport; it was a Qatar Airways flight and it brought in humanitarian aid.

On the specific advice we can give, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about ARAP and those who were given leave outside the rules. We have already made the point that for those who have already received their letters—from whatever route it was secured—we will guarantee that, through ARAP, they will get exactly what they have been promised. The ARAP scheme remains live and will continue to be so. On leave outside the rules, if someone has a letter, when they are called forward they will be prioritised under the new Home Office resettlement scheme. Of course, we await details, but as my noble friend the Leader said, we are working at pace with our Home Office colleagues, and I know the priority the Home Secretary places on ensuring that details are brought forward at the earliest possible opportunity.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised the issue of correspondence. A response was given on 6 September which dealt with a large number of the inquiries that were coming in from MPs about what would happen to individuals who had already received the letter. The intent of that letter was to signpost and reassure. I accept that there are some quite specific cases, and I have certainly said to our teams at the FCDO that, working alongside the Home Office, we will work through these. There are some sensitivities in these cases, and we need to protect individuals, but I am very cognisant of the fact that many individuals in this House and the other place in particular have raised specific cases. There are lots of details on specific cases, and some are split, and we are seeking to provide appropriate signposting. Whether through the FCDO or the Home Office, we will work to resolve particular issues that arise in particular cases. Certainly, I can give that assurance.

On the issue of preparedness, my noble friend alluded to the rapid deployment teams. We are finalising the Home Office policy, and I assure noble Lords that, when I was in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, part of my role was to ensure that our RDTs were embedded—and they are—as they are in Pakistan. I met the team in Dubai on my way back from Tajikistan. We are working in a very sensitive way, recognising the challenge on near neighbours and standing up infrastructure and support. Indeed, the additional funding to Afghanistan, which is now at £286 million, is, let me assure the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, focused not just on providing support for those people we are seeking to evacuate and bring back to the UK but on recognising the burden there will be on neighbouring states, including Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. That is why my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary immediately stood up £30 million, £10 million of which will be applied directly to help support facilities within those neighbouring countries.

The noble Lord asked about holding the Taliban to account. In the previous debate there was a discussion of the levers we have available. I assure all noble Lords that there is one thing above all else that the Taliban strives for, which is recognition. Yes, they may be a much more polished version of what was there before, but we need to hold them to account. That means working with our international partners and those who have influence over the Taliban, but also ensuring that the humanitarian aid gets through. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that I have spoken—not just on this occasion but previously—with different UN agencies, and in the last few weeks have spoken directly to Filippo Grandi at the UNHCR and Henrietta Fore at UNICEF, among others. I have engaged directly with Michelle Bachelet to ensure that our focus remains not just at the UN Security Council but at the UN Human Rights Council as well.

Afghanistan: Security

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

(10 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on my noble friend’s second question, of course, the issues about security and safe passage of those wishing to leave Afghanistan are in front of us. The issues of human rights and humanitarian aid are all very much part of our discussions. We have engaged with China and Russia, in the formulation of the Security Council resolution that was passed. Further discussions are under way, and I am sure that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will announce those in the near future.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his tireless efforts on behalf of those who have worked with the United Kingdom and those who have already been recognised under the ARAP scheme. What advice should be given to individuals who have been called forward and are now in Kabul but have not been allowed out of the country? Some of them have had no food and are having to move from safe house to safe house, which, after a while, cease to become safe for anybody at all.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness and many across your Lordships’ House and in the other place. The last three weeks have been an extremely testing time for all of us. The stories of courage that we have heard from individuals stuck in Afghanistan to whom we owe a responsibility are very clear. In this regard, I thank all noble Lords and those in the other place who have worked tirelessly across party lines to ensure that we do the right thing and get people out. That remains a central objective. The noble Baroness is right about the ARAP scheme. First and foremost, an assurance has been given that those who have been called forward, if they go to a third country, will be processed and brought back to the United Kingdom. The important issue is of safe passage. On the humanitarian side, today Qatar landed the first aircraft, which has provided humanitarian assistance, but the issues of security and stability in Afghanistan must remain primary in our minds. Anyone whom we seek to assist will have that particular context in relation to the advice that we give them. On ARAP specifically, anyone who is called forward through a third country—I assure the noble Baroness that we are working on that—can hold us to the obligation that we have given.

Cyberattack: Microsoft

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 22nd July 2021

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the Answer in the House of Commons suggested that there had been a response in the form of a statement by 39 countries. That is welcome, but what action are the Government taking, beyond making statements, to ensure that the United Kingdom and her allies are no longer vulnerable to China? Statements are one thing; sanctions or other actions would surely be far more effective.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness will acknowledge that when we call out such action, as we have on this occasion, that is done in co-ordination with our key partners. The fact that 39 countries, including those of the European Union and NATO, including Norway, as well as Japan, are among those demonstrates the strong condemnation of these actions. Alongside international partners, we continue not just to call this out but to ensure that we are vigilant to these threats, wherever they come from, and ready to defend against them. As for specific sanctions, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, pointed to Russia, and the noble Baroness will be aware that we have an autonomous sanctions regime and, where necessary, we have acted in the past, although I cannot speculate on any future action that we may take in this respect.

Arctic: Security and Co-operation

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 28th June 2021

(1 year 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 Lord that it is important to retain dialogue with all key partners and key players involved in the Arctic, and as an observer at the Arctic Council we have strongly claimed and talked of the importance of convening all Arctic states inclusively for retaining a peaceful, stable and well-governed Arctic. We attend the Arctic Council ministerial meeting and we are looking to work constructively with Russia under its stewardship, particularly as we look at wider issues beyond security in the lead-up to COP 26. However, I hear what the noble Lord says, and I can assure him that we are working with key international partners to ensure that the Arctic remains a peaceful and stable part of the world.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, can I press the Minister a little further? Last week, the leaders of France and Germany were calling for the European Union to engage more closely with Russia. Do Her Majesty’s Government believe that, in the context of the Arctic, we should be working more closely with Russia, or do we need to view Russian build-up in the Arctic with suspicion?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, as I have already said, we are concerned by the recent increase in activity by Russia in the Arctic region. However, I assure the noble Baroness that we look forward to working with all Arctic states, including Russia, particularly on important issues such as environmental protection and sustainable development, during the Russian chairmanship of the Arctic Council during 2021 to 2023. However, security remains a concern, and we will continue to work with partners in defence and in NATO.

Hong Kong: Pro-Democracy Campaigners

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 19th April 2021

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s first point on asylum, as I said, I am proud that the United Kingdom continues to be a sanctuary for those seeking protection from persecution internationally, as it has been over the years. On her broader point, the BNO scheme has been introduced; it is working well. There are no other plans, but we continue to press the Hong Kong authorities to restore democratic rights and the right to protest within Hong Kong.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, following on from the noble Baroness’s question, I will press the Minister a bit further and ask whether the Government will go away and think again about the rights of young Hong Kongers. Would it be possible to pave the way for those who were too young to have been eligible for the BNO passport scheme to have access to jobs and education here?

NATO: Russia and Ukraine

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 15th April 2021

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, we have repeatedly stated our position on the issue of Nord Stream 2; while we ourselves do not welcome it, it is an issue and a challenge for Germany. I agree with the noble Lord’s earlier point, and we are working closely with our allies. The noble Lord alluded to reports that are currently circulating on further actions the United States will be taking. The formal announcement of that is imminent, and we will respond accordingly.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem about the importance of a strong transatlantic response, but does the Minister agree that if we are concerned about Russia building up its forces on the border, the UK also needs to be careful not to be seen to be fuelling any sort of arms race by threatening to increase its nuclear weapons?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent, as well as working with our key allies, is reflective of the importance the United Kingdom attaches to the defence of Europe and the wider world. History has shown us that our independent deterrent has ensured that those who sabre-rattle know that there would be an extensive response from allies of the United Kingdom if they were to go down that route. That said, the deterrent has done exactly what it is intended to do. It has deterred further action and aggression, which no one wishes to see.

Myanmar

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 11th February 2021

(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, the noble Lord, who served as a Foreign Office Minister himself, knows that I cannot make those specific commitments from the Dispatch Box, but I have noted what he said very carefully. As I indicated in my earlier answers, we are looking at all options to ensure that those who have committed and are behind the coup are also held fully to account. That includes all tools. We have noted the sanctions that the Americans have already acted on and, as I have said several times, when we act together on sanctions, we see a better result.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Minister’s indication that the Government are thinking of formally intervening in the Gambia’s genocide case against Myanmar, at the ICJ, is welcome. Given the Government’s preference for Parliament to express its views on genocide now, rather than taking things to a court, could the Minister tell the House whether parliamentary interventions and suggestions on how to intervene would be welcome?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I always welcome interventions from parliamentary colleagues. On the specific issue of the ICJ intervention, as I said before, our long-standing position is to support the action that the Gambia has taken. We regard a formal intervention as something that should be measured and timely to make sure that the issue can move on. It does not mean that we are not supportive, because we have not formally intervened. I further assure the noble Baroness that we have been engaging with the APPG, for example, which is looking carefully at these issues. Recently, Minister Adams and I convened a meeting with, among others, my right honourable friend Jeremy Hunt and Rushanara Ali to discuss this very issue.

Overseas Territories: Humanitarian and Disaster Relief

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Tuesday 9th February 2021

(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 assure the noble Lord that we have done just that. In the event of a major hurricane impact, the relief and recovery unit leads on providing immediate and medium-term programme funding response. I have already referred to the multinational co-ordination cell within the Caribbean, and we work very closely with CDEMA specifically. It is based in Bermuda but, at the moment, given the Covid crisis, it is set up on a virtual basis.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Minister said that other overseas territories have not asked to have reserve units to deal with crisis response. Will the Government consider being proactive and suggesting to some of our overseas territories that it would be a good idea to follow the example of the Turks and Caicos?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, we were proactive; in this I pay tribute once again to my noble friend. It was he who wrote to me and we then acted together; he facilitated the training. However, I take on board the noble Baroness’s point, and we will continue to present the benefits of such regiments to all the territories.

Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 21st January 2021

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I assure my noble friend, who speaks with a great deal of insight and expertise in this area, that we remain very much committed. Our commitment to our obligations and our adherence to the rules-based system of international law and the treaties that we are part of will ensure the very objective he seeks and I seek as well.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, one of the key aspects of non-proliferation in recent years has been the JCPOA. The UK has been involved in this but under President Trump the US pulled out. What are her Majesty’s Government doing about talking to President Biden about re-engaging in the JCPOA?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, we look forward to fruitful discussions with the United States on a range of issues and look forward to working with it on this important priority as well.

Xinjiang: Forced Labour

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Tuesday 19th January 2021

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, in his previous response, the Minister pointed out that the advice given to the public sector was not the same as that given to the private sector. Can he reassure the House that public sector procurement has not included PPE or other imports from slave labour? The House and the rest of the United Kingdom really needs that reassurance.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I cannot—and I am sure the noble Baroness would not expect me to—give 100% affirmation that every single public sector body and contract has complied fully with the issues that she raised. I assure her and all noble Lords, as I have the noble Lord, Lord Field, just now, about the new government guidance. We will work with public bodies to ensure that the rules are fully understood and that there is a sufficient focus on, and sufficient evidence of, human rights violations that occur in supply chains. We will make public bodies fully cognisant of these so that they can act appropriately. With that reassurance, I hope and am certain that we will strengthen our work within the public procurement sector.

International Soft Power Strategy: Role of BBC

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

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I take note of what my noble friend has said. In looking towards what is now global Britain and our support, I am sure that the BBC and its valuable service will be part of our thinking as we strengthen our approach to trade and other areas around the world.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, does the Minister envisage that the soft power strategy that was anticipated will ever be produced, or has it been subsumed into the integrated security and defence review? Where will the BBC World Service fit into that?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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As I have already said, the integrated review is a vital part of that, and all these component elements will be in the announcement of the findings of the integrated review. The BBC World Service provides an important source of communication and information, as we have heard from noble Lords, and it will continue to be part of our thinking. The issue of soft power around the world is a key part of what we do. Whether we look at the BBC, some of our scholarships or global Britain’s place in the world through the Commonwealth, all of these are part and parcel of our soft power strategy and part of what will feature in the announcement of the integrated review.

Foreign Policy: UK-EU Dialogue

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 14th January 2021

(1 year, 5 months 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 will know from his own experience as a Minister and as a Defence Secretary, and as he rightly articulated, NATO is the cornerstone of our relationship on the defence of Europe and the democratic values that we stand for. We remain committed to and at the centre of that NATO alliance, working with EU colleagues as well as other nations, most notably the United States. I reiterate our commitment to co-operation with our EU allies and others on important issues that currently confront the world.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Minister reiterates the Government’s commitment to co-operation with the European Union, but now that we no longer have a seat at the table, what mechanisms is the FCDO putting in place to ensure that we have regular contact with our bilateral partners in the EU 27 and individual member states?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as I have already alluded to in my original Answer, formality of mechanisms is not a necessity for having close alliances, not least as demonstrated by our alliances with the United States, Canada and Australia in our meetings through the Five Eyes. We will continue to co-operate with our EU colleagues, as we have done on important statements on the JCPOA and on support for human rights issues around the world, including a recent statement in relation to Xinjiang.

Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Tuesday 3rd November 2020

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, it will not surprise the noble Lord that I disagree with him. We continue to have a very big influence at the United Nations, including at the UN Human Rights Council. He is all too aware of the recent incremental success we have had on the challenging subject of Xinjiang. On elections, the noble Lord refers back to that of 2017 on the ICJ; subsequently, there have been several UN positions, as well as an election to the important institution of the ITU, where the British candidate was successful. This was down to the influence we carry. I assure him that I agree with him on this point: it is important that we sustain and retain but also strengthen the role of the United Kingdom in global affairs, including through our work at the UN.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to money and asked whether we would be looking at chicken or egg. Does the Minister agree that although it is vital that we spend at least 2% of GDP on our Armed Forces, in the context of a declining economy with Covid 2% may not be enough? What conversations are being had with the Treasury about this?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I am sure the noble Baroness appreciates that the whole idea behind a one-year spending review is to ensure that we prioritise the issue of the economy, as she rightly said, but also other challenges that we face in the Covid crisis. That said, when we look at the context of the thresholds set, particularly at NATO, I am proud that the United Kingdom continues to stand by our commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence but also 0.7% on development.

Iran: UN Arms Embargo

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 8th October 2020

(1 year, 9 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 Lord that we are working with our E3 partners, as he has suggested. On INSTEX, a number of countries have come on board. It was set up so that important sectors such as healthcare could be dealt with, which is particularly important in the current coronavirus crisis, and—I can confirm—the first transaction under INSTEX has already taken place.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Minister said that the United Kingdom abstained at the UN because there was not going to be agreement. Is that not a dangerous precedent: surely that would be true of many decisions taken at the UN? Should the UK not be voting?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as Ministers at the UN we often take a decision to abstain. It is very rare for us to veto any resolution: it should be a last resort. On this issue, the Security Council resolution is valid, and can go forward, only if all P5 members agree to it, and we will continue to work with permanent members of the Security Council to find a resolution.

China: Uighur Internment Camps

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Wednesday 23rd September 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the latter issue of the medicines Bill, that will be discussed in your Lordships’ House; however, as a domestic piece of legislation, I do not think it is the right instrument with which to be looking at this issue, which is about international action. As for the World Health Organization, as I have said, we have taken steps. I will also seek a meeting with it to see what action can be taken. The evidence base is building, and it is clear that, if proven true, the abuses will be there for all to see. It is now important for the World Health Organization to consider the evidence carefully.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, returning to the original Question: could the Minister tell us what it would require for Her Majesty’s Government to analyse the treatment of the Uighurs as a potential genocide, and what it would take for them to raise that internationally?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as I have already said, as well as raising this internationally, we are raising concerns bilaterally and directly, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has done, with the Chinese Foreign Secretary and State Councillor. We are also raising this through multilateral fora, through the third committee at the UN and the Human Rights Council. On the specific definition of genocide, the noble Baroness is aware of the Government’s position that this is something for tribunals or judicial authorities to assess.

China

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Wednesday 22nd July 2020

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, in responding to the right reverend Prelate, the Minister said that the Government are calling out China over human rights abuses. That is not sufficient. Given that China, despite being led by a so-called Communist Party, relies on the global system of international trade, what scope is there for naming companies that rely on Uighur labour and trying to have a regime whereby people simply do not buy products produced by forced labour?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, the United Kingdom has been at the forefront of the issue of modern slavery, led by my right honourable friend the former Prime Minister, ensuring that rights of workers, wherever they may be in the world, are fully protected. I disagree with the noble Baroness: I think we have been very clear and frank, and we have led on the issue of the persecution of Uighurs in Xinjiang and we have done so consistently over a long period.

Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 9th July 2020

(1 year, 12 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, may I say first that I am missing the noble Lord from across the Chamber? It is good to see him virtually. Nevertheless, I had thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, would pose the questions from Her Majesty’s Opposition. On the point he raises, he will be aware that I mentioned yesterday that I believe there will be a debate in the other place on 16 July. We will be speaking through the usual channels to see how we can constitute an early debate after the return of the House in the autumn.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, in his initial response the Minister stressed UK-autonomous sanctions. I note from the Explanatory Memorandum on the regulations that, in the past, the UK’s implementation of UN and other sanctions has been through the European Communities Act, now rescinded. To what extent do the Government plan to work with the European Union in putting forward sanctions? Clearly, multilateral co-operation would make sanctions even more effective.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, on the wider European sanctions, we continue to work with our European partners. Indeed, during the transition period whatever has been agreed with them continues to apply. There is also a rollover of many of the sanctions that have been applied through the European scheme. But as the noble Baroness knows, the European Union does not have a specific human rights sanctions regime. We will work constructively as it seeks to develop that. As I said yesterday and have said before, sanctions work effectively only when we work with like-minded partners and, after our departure from the European Union, we should reflect that important partnership.

Hong Kong National Security Legislation

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 2nd July 2020

(2 years ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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I totally agree with the noble Baroness’s concern. It is important that we value the incredible contribution of all our communities to the United Kingdom’s progress and prosperity, and the British Chinese community is reflective of that ambition and contribution. On the issue of further work within the international arena, as I already alluded to, we are exploring what more can be done. We have achieved a great deal in the time. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about a strategy. I believe, having looked at this brief very closely, that, domestically and internationally, we have had a strategy in place, and we will continue to apply that pressure. The diplomatic channel remains open with China and we will continue to work with China bilaterally to raise these issues as well.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the offer to BNO passport holders and citizens is welcome, but for those who do not have passports—about nine in 10 of those who are eligible—what mechanism is in place for the Government to recognise them if they come and seek to take up residence in the United Kingdom?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, I believe I have already addressed this issue. The route, or the programme which has been announced, is specifically for those who currently hold or qualify for BNO status and their family dependents. As to others, each case will be looked at on its merits. If someone comes to the United Kingdom, from wherever they may be in the world, and seeks sanctuary or asylum in the United Kingdom, that case will be looked at on its merits.

Korea

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Tuesday 30th June 2020

(2 years ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that we continue to work to ensure peace on the peninsula. He is quite right to say that both the United States and China have a key role to play. We continue to liaise with both nations bilaterally and, more importantly, through the Security Council. On his second point about Magnitsky sanctions and the regime, as I said earlier, we are proposing to bring those forward before the Summer Recess, and we are in the final stages of doing that now.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Minister has talked about the Government supporting sanctions but also about providing humanitarian aid. What assessment have the Government made of the relative balance between the two in the context of North Korea?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, the sanctions are not targeted against the North Korean people, and we will continue to support delivery of humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable in that country. Denuclearisation will assist in that respect.

Yemen: Humanitarian Aid Funding

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 4th June 2020

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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I am very much aware of its work there, and it underlines the importance of a collaborative approach on the ground. Some 80% of the population of Yemen needs assistance, and that applies very much to the Covid issue. We also need the involvement of the different parties to the conflict to ensure that we can provide the healthcare support that is required to deal with the Covid challenge. DfID estimates that up to 100,000 people will be impacted directly by Covid, and the death rate will correspond to that. The issue is acute, and we need to act now.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister says that we need to act now, and the Government’s pledge of £160 million is most welcome. Can he confirm that that money will be paid immediately, so that the charities working in Yemen and the UN are able to continue their work without a gap?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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I assure the noble Baroness that we are working on that, and I believe that very shortly we will be able to release the first tranche, which will be 30% of the funding. We are imploring other countries which have made pledges, not just at this conference but last year, to step up and make sure that the moneys are passed on to the UN, so that we can make a difference on the ground.

Syria

Debate between Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 30th April 2020

(2 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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The noble Lord is right to raise this. The Covid-19 pandemic around the world has shown the interdependency of states across the piece. We are working multilaterally to ensure that anyone, wherever they are in the world, benefits from what we hope will be a solution found through a vaccine. In the interim, we are providing humanitarian aid. I am proud that we have already given £744 million of aid for these causes, including to organisations such as the World Health Organization. We will continue to work with Russia, as we have previously, through the UN and particularly on the Security Council, to see how we can work together to find lasting peace in Syria.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the international aid that has been offered is clearly welcome. However, given that the health infrastructure in Idlib has been so badly damaged, will the Government do more to hold the Syrian Government to account for the attacks on the health facilities and make sure that they are indeed held accountable under international law?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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The noble Baroness is right to raise this issue. We have condemned the offensive by Syria in Idlib, supported in part by Russia. At the beginning of the year there were flagrant violations of international law by Syria that lacked basic human decency. We hold the Syrian regime to account. It has been responsible for using chemical weapons on its own population, and that is why we do not believe that President Assad should be part of any future solution, although ultimately that will be a decision for the Syrian people.