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

Wed 30th Mar 2022
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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: Forced Confession

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Tuesday 24th May 2022

(1 month, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord for repeating the Answer. The interview with Nazanin was very moving. One of the most moving parts was her concern about those who had been left behind. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised the case of Morad Tahbaz, and we must ensure that we continue to press for his release. I urge the Minister to continue to do that.

Nazanin rightly protested that she had to sign a false confession. Will the United Kingdom Government agree with Redress, which helped very much in her case, that they should now set up an independent external review of FCDO policies on protecting British nationals overseas from torture and ill treatment? The noble Lord will have heard what Nazanin said about the Prime Minister’s words and how damaging they were. Will the noble Lord make a clear apology for those?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s second question, I believe the Prime Minister met Nazanin and Richard directly, as I said in my earlier answer, and he has previously expressed regret if his statement in any way impacted on Nazanin’s continued detention.

I can confirm to the noble Baroness that we have indeed received Redress’s most recent correspondence. While we do not recognise all the claims made in the letter, we will respond in due course.

On the issue the noble Baroness raises of British nationals and detainees around the world, I am sure she is aware that the Foreign Affairs Committee has announced an inquiry in this respect, and we will of course co-operate fully with it.

Ukraine

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Wednesday 30th March 2022

(3 months ago)

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Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing us this Statement.

The leadership in Ukraine and the courage of the Ukrainian people have been remarkable, and we pay tribute to them. I am very glad that we are standing with them, and we support the Government in this regard. Clearly, the suffering is terrible. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, just said, it is surely right to say that war crimes have been committed here, and people must be held to account.

Can the Minister tell us what progress is being made in regard to humanitarian corridors? It is appalling that, as has happened elsewhere in conflict, such corridors can become opportunities for targeting the most vulnerable. It is vital that those responsible are brought to account.

Clearly, the political tectonic plates have shifted with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The increased focus and unity of NATO and the EU is striking, but that unity does not fully extend globally, as the Minister will know. I would like to ask him a few questions about that. Commissioner Borrell and others have described Mariupol as “our Aleppo”, but at least two Middle Eastern Foreign Ministers have said that Aleppo is their Aleppo. Does the Minister pick up a sense that across some parts of the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, there is some concern that the response to Ukraine was not mirrored when other conflicts arose elsewhere? How are the Government tackling that?

How are we working internationally to make sure that this crisis is recognised as being of vital importance globally, and that the unprovoked invasion of one country by another is not accepted? Are we having useful dialogue with China and India in this regard? Does the Minister now recognise that it is vital that we have closer co-operation with the EU so that we can address our common interests, whether in foreign affairs or defence, more effectively? Will that now be taken forward? I have put this to the Minister many times, as he knows. Surely it is crystal clear that this must now happen.

Does the Minister also recognise that European countries have welcomed refugees with open arms but we have simply put up barriers in their way? Are the Government not ashamed of the paltry number of visas issued? Will they move to the same arrangement as the Irish, for example, and do the paperwork afterwards? I think of all those homes offered by the British people, yet few refugees are allowed through. The Statement mentions, I think, 150,000 homes offered. Will the noble Lord tell us exactly how many Ukrainian visas have now been granted? How could we ever have asked people to scan in documents that they might not have with them as they fled and that these were translated with a certified translation?

I welcome the action on sanctions but why did we allow time to slip before we put sanctions on individuals, some of whom have made it clear that they have offloaded their properties or passed them to their families in trusts? Will we pursue those family members? Will we increase the capacity in the sanctions unit? What are we doing to close loopholes that may be used in the overseas territories?

Are the Government working with others to try to get trusted information into Russia? Do the Government now recognise how important the BBC is, not only in the UK but worldwide? I hope they will not just praise the BBC World Service, as they did in the integrated review, while at the same time undermining it at home.

There are of course major consequences of this crisis. What is being done to address the potential food shortages across the Middle East and Africa? We already have famine in Yemen and Afghanistan. Do the Government recognise the potential for instability? Are the rumours right that, despite this, the Government are about to slash the ODA budget that goes towards tackling instability? Is it not now time to restore the aid budget to 0.7% of GNI?

I welcome that we are seeking to end reliance on Russian gas and oil. We are of course not in the position of the Germans and others in this regard. However, surely this is the time when we need to recognise the urgency of the climate crisis, and that this shows that developing our own renewables is not only the right thing to do but helps us to defend against reliance on countries such as Russia.

Above all, we must continue to be strenuous in our efforts to support those in Ukraine who have been subject to such a terrible and unprovoked attack. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

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, once again I thank the noble Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for their support of the Government’s position—indeed our country’s position—in our solidarity with and support for Ukraine and its people, and for the courageous leadership within Ukraine under President Zelensky and other colleagues and Ministers. We continue to engage with them on a daily basis at the very highest level.

I will address some of the specific questions. First, I totally agree with the noble Lord Collins, in his opening remarks about the importance of our position and the collaboration and strength that we have shown across both Houses, both sides of this House and, equally, as a country as a whole. I certainly saw that when I visited Poland last week, which also provided me with detailed insight into some of the questions that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness raised. I had the occasion to go right to the border point where crossings are taking place, and I can share with noble Lords the heart-wrenching scene of seeing split families coming through. The majority were women and children—97%, as estimated by international agencies, including the UN—as boys over the age of 16 and men below the age of 60 are not crossing the border. Many unaccompanied families are coming through.

I will come on to the specific figures of those wishing to come to the UK but what was evident to me from speaking directly to those crossing the border and fleeing the conflict was their desire to remain very near to Ukraine. One can imagine oneself in that position; if you are split from a father, a brother, a sister or any family member, your inclination would be to be as close by them as you could be.

The other thing I want to put on the record is that I acknowledge, as I am sure all noble Lords do, the absolutely sterling role that the Polish Government are playing in this respect. I saw evidence of that in the reception at the border, through to the processing, immediate support and support centres. Although it was tragic to see what was unfolding, what I witnessed at one of the two major border crossings was a structured and co-ordinated approach to the Ukrainians who were crossing over.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, referred to the International Criminal Court. He will recall that we engaged early on with the prosecutor at the ICC, Karim Khan, and that my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary visited The Hague. I assure the noble Lord that we discussed exact requirements specifically with the prosecutor, including financial and technical support, and we are extending our full support to him. This was also a matter for discussion with the Deputy Foreign Minister of Poland during my visit to Warsaw last week; we agreed on the importance of co-operation, including both Justice Ministries co-operating with each other in collecting evidence. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has been engaging at a senior level with all Foreign Ministers, including those across NATO —the noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about this—on an almost daily basis through meetings conducted either here or directly in Brussels.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked about partnerships with our European neighbours. As I have often said to her during our different debates over many years, we have left the European Union but we have not left Europe. This crisis has demonstrated the importance of aligning ourselves and co-operating with our European partners, as we have done on sanctions and in our co-ordinated response to the humanitarian needs of the Ukrainian people. It is important that we continue to act.

On the noble Baroness’s main point on defence, that is being discussed with our NATO allies. This will continue to be the case.

I shall look to provide an update on humanitarian support, with a detailed breakdown, through the regular FCDO briefings we do for parliamentarians. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that we are looking specifically at the needs on the ground. We have engaged directly with the Ukrainians and international agencies—including the UNHCR, the ICRC and the IOM, among others—to ensure that their requirements are met immediately; the DEC appeal also illustrated the generosity of the British people. In doing so, we are employing humanitarian, emergency medical and rapid deployment teams in all neighbouring countries. Next week, I or my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will attend a meeting in Germany about co-ordination with European partners on the response to Moldova, which is a member of neither NATO nor the EU but has its own territorial challenges with the Russian presence nearby and its border with Ukraine being subject to particular Russian intent.

I hope I am not jumping the gun in saying that, all things being equal, there will be further secondary legislation. I have certainly signed further secondary legislation on the sanctions regime—I can assure the noble Lord of that—which I believe will be laid at 5 pm. I assure the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that we are working at pace to ensure that we are fully aligned with our American, Canadian, Australian and EU partners in a co-ordinated response to sanctions.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned weapons support and changing needs. He may be aware that, in close co-ordination with our NATO partners, my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary has organised for tomorrow a meeting with our key partners on this very subject, including how we co-ordinate effectively with them to support Ukraine’s defensive needs through military support.

On the issue of humanitarian corridors, raised by both the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, the fact is that they can be guaranteed only if both sides subscribe to them. I have spoken directly to UN agencies and others working directly on the ground; indeed, I met various charities and NGOs. Unfortunately, one thing they report is the lack of any authorisation or approval being given by the Russians to allow humanitarian support. That said, brave, courageous individuals and organisations are accessing Ukraine. I asked someone from a charity who I will not name specifically what they did. He said, “Minister, we load things up in a van, we get our courageous drivers to drive through the border and we tell them to go as far as they can. When they face missiles, bombings or barriers, they stop and distribute their aid.”

Clearly, there is a need for co-ordination. I witnessed good co-ordination on the ground, but more needs to be done in terms of the internal situation—the massive displacement of Ukrainians within Ukraine itself. Undoubtedly, Poland is taking the majority of people fleeing the conflict, but some are returning. On the border, I witnessed women who had dropped their children with friends and family in Poland and were seeking to return, not just to support brothers, husbands and fathers but to fight. That reflects the courageous nature of the Ukrainian people.

On the refugee schemes, these are the totals I can share at the moment. For the Home Office refugee schemes, as of 29 March there have been 31,200 applications for the family scheme and 28,300 applications for the sponsorship scheme. There have been 22,800 family scheme visas issued and 2,700 sponsorship scheme visas issued. I will keep updating noble Lords with the figures, but what is very clear is that most Ukrainians wish to stay near the border point.

There is also a QR code on a leaflet produced by the UNHCR and other agencies which contains not only information on safety and safeguarding—what happens once refugees cross the border, fleeing the conflict—but additional information on the various sponsorship schemes, including ours, included in the code. We are working in co-ordination with the Polish Government to see what we can do to enhance that information, not just in English but in other languages. I saw notices in several languages, and the accessibility of those various schemes was very clear through the current QR code.

I will continue to update noble Lords directly, as I have done, but, in concluding on their specific questions, I thank both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for their continued support.

Ukraine: Disasters Emergency Committee Appeal

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Wednesday 9th March 2022

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, if I may, I must first correct my noble friend: it is the FCDO. The development element of our work is extremely important and it links in with the humanitarian support. I confirm that through rapid deployment teams, including the assessments they are making, we are working directly with the Ukrainian authorities and the Ukrainian Government to determine exactly what is required on the ground. I agree with him; as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has said, what is best for the Ukrainian people is for people to make cash donations, and the DEC appeal demonstrates the importance of that.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and his colleague alongside him—the noble Baroness, Lady Williams—for their help in relation to a case flagged to me by World Jewish Relief, and which I flagged in your Lordships’ House on Monday, of an elderly lady in her 90s who was waiting for a visa in Warsaw. What action is he taking to ensure that the system to assist refugees in such a desperate situation is fit for purpose and properly funded, so that we do not have to come to him and his colleague with individual cases?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for flagging that issue. I speak for my noble friend as well as myself, and I know that I speak for the whole of the Front Bench in saying that wherever there are issues it is our job to respond to Members’ inquiries directly to us in our own roles. If we can assist, as we have managed to do in this case, that is a tribute to the noble Baroness and indeed to the whole of your Lordships’ House about the importance of working collaboratively on this crisis. My noble friend will be taking an Urgent Question shortly on fitness for purpose, but I am assured by her and the Home Office that, for example, visa applications are being received. Over 10,000 people have already started their applications, and as of this morning over 1,000 visas had been issued by the United Kingdom.

Afghanistan: Humanitarian Crisis

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Thursday 13th January 2022

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, there are often challenges to the multilateral agencies working on the ground, particularly the United Nations. It is crises such as the Afghanistan crisis which really show the best of the world and how we can come together in response to humanitarian crisis. The UN provides the umbrella whereby we can work with all international partners, including China as well as others, to ensure humanitarian aid reaches those who most need it.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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Taken together, given the expertise in the FCDO in relation to Afghanistan—even with cuts in funds—will the department play a key role in the MoJ/Home Office decisions made under the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme on who will be admitted to the United Kingdom because their lives are in danger in the country? The situation since August has been totally unacceptable.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, since August we have helped close to 4,000 people to leave Afghanistan. The noble Baroness rightly raises the issue of co-ordination. The recent announcement by the Minister for Afghan Resettlement outlined the various schemes and the pathways within each scheme. I have already alluded to one pathway where the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is directly involved with the commitments we have made. I assure the noble Baroness that, overall, both with the department concerned, which is the MoJ, where Victoria Atkins sits, and more broadly—with the ARAP scheme, for example, which continues to be administered and run by the Ministry of Defence—we continue to co-ordinate and work together.

India: Missionaries of Charity

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Thursday 6th 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, as the noble Baroness will know, in my capacity as not just Minister for South Asia but Minister for Human Rights, I see the issue and important role of civil society organisation as key. I share with the noble Baroness the view that civil society has a central and pivotal role to play in not just standing up for but defending human rights within countries. India is a very good example of a massive democracy where the institution of human rights is key. A key pillar of human rights is ensuring that civil society is not just sustained but able to prosper. That will certainly continue to be part of my engagement with the Indian Government.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, may I pin the Minister down somewhat? This is an issue which has come up repeatedly and over a period of time, so he will be very familiar with it. He mentions officials taking action here. Does he think it right that organisations such as Amnesty International and Oxfam are, in effect, being starved of funds? If he does not, what are we doing at ministerial level to engage with the Indian Government to seek to have these funds unblocked? Is this not what global Britain was supposed to be about: promoting UK values, including human rights?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness rightly raises specific issues. She mentioned Amnesty International and I can assure her that I have taken that issue up directly with the Indian authorities, including the Indian high commissioner, as well as the Government in Delhi. That issue continues to provide challenge. However, because of our lobbying and representations, we welcomed the recent High Court decision in Karnataka which allowed Amnesty to access some of its funds. We remain in direct contact with Amnesty International and other organisations. I meet with them quite regularly on these and other matters.

Afghanistan: Women and Girls

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

(9 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 agree with what the noble Baroness says on the specifics of the additional funding, which has been worked out to ensure that we provide funding directly to those most in need, including to the very groups that she mentioned.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his readiness at any time of day or night to receive details of those who have been made very vulnerable in this situation and to do what he could to help them. However, all the cases that I have referred to him, including the woman MP, are still in hiding, even those with permission to settle here. Since the bomb went off at the gates of the airport, the Government went silent in relation to them, and with them. What will be done to help them and how will they be reassured in this terribly dangerous circumstance?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, in thanking her for her work on this issue as well, I assure the noble Baroness that for those who received a letter under the ARAP scheme, or those called forward under the leave outside the rules, that letter will continue to act as a prioritisation. All those under the ARAP scheme will be guaranteed access. The issue remains in-country, and with safe passage, and I assure the noble Baroness that we are working on channels to ensure that we can guarantee safe passage through the country as well.

Palestine

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Wednesday 7th July 2021

(11 months, 4 weeks 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 and we have been very clear on our position on the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah. It is a threat to the communities currently in Sheikh Jarrah and we urge the Government of Israel to cease such actions permanently. Indeed, these points were very much raised and discussed during my right honourable friend’s visit to Israel and the OPTs.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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Is the noble Lord aware that this morning, Israeli forces demolished more structures in the Jordan Valley? Does he agree that that the time really has come to move beyond that old phrase that he has used once again and to recognise Palestine, and that this must be for a viable, sovereign and independent state and not a splintered, semi-sovereign version, as, for example, in the Trump plan?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, on the Trump plan, as I have said before in your Lordships’ House, that was a first step. However, I totally recognise the picture that the noble Baroness paints and we agree as a Government that we must have a viable, functioning Palestinian state. On the important issue of the demolitions, we have made our position absolutely clear to the Israeli authorities. They should not be taking place. The settlements in the OPTs are illegal and they, and indeed the evictions, go against international humanitarian law.

Official Development Assistance

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Thursday 10th June 2021

(1 year ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, first, I recognise the important role that my noble friend has played and continues to play on the development scene, in particular in a specific number of programmes and through his role as co-chair of the APPG on WaSH. Having visited projects in the field, I know the importance of the WaSH programmes. As I am sure my noble friend recognises, that is why we continue to work with the likes of Unilever and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. I can also assure him that I am working directly, notwithstanding the challenging reductions we have had to make, with all key agencies of the UN to see how we can optimise the work of multilateral organisations through the UN and indeed complement them through our bilateral programmes in country. The WaSH programmes provide a very good example of what can be sustained and retained, and indeed of prevention of the spread of further diseases and viruses, as we have seen throughout the pandemic.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, exactly how are the Government respecting either the law or this House in the way the Minister said in answer to my noble friend? The Minister knows that the Act allows a reduction in aid spending if the economy contracts, but the Government have gone beyond that. Why, then, do they fear bringing this back to Parliament? He knows the impact this is having on lives—he has just heard an example of that. Does he really think that the British public, when we know of their generosity to Comic Relief, believe that this is the right thing to do? Who ordered that there would be no impact assessments of these cuts, and why?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, we fully understand and recognise the implications of the challenging decisions we have made, to which I have already alluded not just today but previously. However, I am sure that the noble Baroness recognises that we continue to spend a large proportion of our budget on overseas development aid when compared to other countries, including G7 members. Undoubtedly, the temporary reduction has had an impact on the programmes we are carrying out both through multilateral agencies and in country. On impact assessments, as I said in answer to a previous Question, we have done an equality impact assessment to understand important issues in our programmes relating to girls’ education, for example. As I also said earlier, we are currently considering the publication of that very equality impact assessment.

British Council

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

(1 year ago)

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Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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The strategic review rightly extols the soft power of the British Council, but its finances have, as we have heard, been savaged by the pandemic. I fought hard to get the council back into Angola, for example. It is vital there and elsewhere for future trading relationships with the UK. It is vital also for our higher education system to have the British Council in country, training those who want to learn English. Will the Government think again about the council’s £10 million shortfall?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I acknowledge the noble Baroness’s work in Angola. I know that she is involved with the British Council APPG. I have seen directly in my travels as a Foreign Office Minister, then as a joint Minister and now as a Minister at the merged FCDO the important work that the British Council does, including on English language training. I reassure the noble Baroness that we have provided support. The overall package is around £609 million over the past year, which includes emergency funding in March 2020 in line with the pandemic. We are working through the issue of any underlying shortfall with the British Council leadership. If the noble Baroness goes into the figures quite specifically, she will see that this is a very generous settlement for the British Council.

Iran: British-Iranian Prisoners

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

(1 year ago)

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Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD) [V]
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My Lords, following on from the question of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, at the G7 meeting will the Prime Minister raise with President Biden the necessity of getting Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the other British and American hostages home from Iran? The noble Lord also mentioned attending court cases, which, of course, other European countries do, as the Minister will know. Will our embassy officials attend the revolutionary court next week for the case of the most recent British detainee?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the latter point, we continue making the case to attend any hearings that we can. Of course, those are subject to the approval of the Iranian authorities. On the first point, we raise all opportunities, working with our key partners, including the US, on the early release of all hostages held in Iran.

Commonwealth Heads of Government

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Thursday 27th May 2021

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I can certainly share with the noble Baroness, including in my responsibilities as Minister for South Asia, how we have invested specifically not just in school building programmes in Pakistan—a Commonwealth country—but in teaching, textbooks and support, ensuring that there is an inclusivity to the educational agenda. As I said in response to an earlier question, the issue is never done. We need to remain focused on delivering the priority on girls’ education. We have seen over £200 million spent on 11 countries and I would be happy to provide specifics of other programmes to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, the pandemic has shown the devastation that is caused by a global health crisis. What action has been taken since the 2018 CHOGM to address, as promised there, antimicrobial resistance? Has the FCDO assessed what effect the cuts to science and research that it has just carried through might have had on the UK’s contribution in this area?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the first question, we continue to focus on that issue, which has informed much of our research. On spending on research, as the noble Baroness is aware, we have allocated specific sums to research as a stand-alone function in the budget assessments that we have made. Also, across the seven themes and priorities that the Foreign Secretary has outlined, research budgets will be specifically allocated to fulfil those objectives.

Nepal: Covid-19 Vaccine Request

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Thursday 20th May 2021

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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The challenges—the noble Lord mentioned the Serum Institute of India, which I know well as the Minister for India, and the challenges in India in terms of the current wave sweeping across the country—are well known. We have seen a stepping up in terms of manufacturing and collaboration, and the United Kingdom’s structured approach to the COVAX facility demonstrates the importance, as the noble Lord himself acknowledges, of a global supply chain which guarantees the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines across the world.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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This disastrous surge in cases has now, unsurprisingly, spread to Nepal. We are likely to see this pattern replicated worldwide, yet it is reported that the UK stopped adding to the global vaccination efforts when we cut aid. How can we claim, as we have, that we will be leading the world at the G7 in recovery from the pandemic if we cannot even do that?

Israel and Gaza

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Thursday 20th May 2021

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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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, on the noble Lord’s first point, I have been engaging directly with our ambassador to the United Nations and we are working with other key colleagues to ensure first and foremost that a ceasefire is guaranteed, both through the UN and bilaterally. We have taken other urgent steps as well. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has engaged directly with both the Israeli Foreign Minister and the Palestinian Prime Minister over the last few days to ensure that there is an immediate ceasefire, and on the important point the noble Lord made about guaranteeing access for humanitarian relief, particularly into Gaza.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, does the Minister accept that the international community failed to address the underlying causes and grievances following earlier wars on Gaza, and this time a simple ceasefire—though absolutely necessary—is just not sufficient for the benefit of Israelis and Palestinians? I also point out that in the past a group of aid agencies working in Gaza, including Oxfam, Save the Children, and the Quakers, had regular meetings with his department. Can I ask him to make sure that these are reinstated?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, it is certainly my firm belief that, in the tragedy of this ongoing conflict, we all know what the ultimate sustainable solution is: a secure, safe Israel next door to a sustainable Palestinian state. I assure the noble Baroness of my good offices in ensuring that we do not lose the momentum behind this challenge. In response to her second point, if it is within scope to meet directly, I will—otherwise the appropriate Minister will engage directly.

Official Development Assistance: Landmine Clearance

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Monday 17th May 2021

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether their financial support for landmine clearance will be reduced as a result of the overall reduction in Official Development Assistance.

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, we have prioritised our aid to be more strategic and remain a force for good across the world. On landmine clearance, this will mean a reduction in financial support compared to the previous financial year. However, we remain a leading donor in the sector. The United Kingdom’s demining work will continue to save lives, limbs and livelihoods across the world, supporting those most in need and, importantly, delivering on our treaty commitments.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, I am sure the Minister will note that the first Oral Question of this Session is on the cut to ODA, something which is not in keeping with the aims of the integrated review and which is opposed on all sides of both Houses. Does he agree that clearing landmines is essential for development and for meeting the STGs? One of the countries most affected is Angola, where Princess Diana brought the issue to the world. Will the Government maintain their support there, and elsewhere?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, first, I welcome the Lord Speaker to his new role. This is the first Question that I am answering with the new Lord Speaker on the Woolsack and I am sure I speak for the whole House in wishing him well for this Session. The noble Baroness rightly raises the important work of demining, particularly in the context of the integrated review. It very much remains a priority. She specifically mentioned Angola. UK funding is key in supporting the Angolan Government’s demining strategy and we have seen success already, including the clearance of landmines in an area constituting about 3,700 football pitches and life-saving education being delivered to more than 86,000 people. Angola will continue to be a country of focus.

Covid-19: Support for India

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Tuesday 27th 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, the noble Lord is quite right to raise co-ordination. Anyone who has worked on any aid relief knows that everyone is well intentioned, but it is about getting the right items to the right place at the right time. In this respect, we are working directly with the Indian authorities. I am in constant liaison with the Indian high commissioner, as well our own high commissioner, on the ground in Delhi. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken to his opposite number, Dr Jaishankar, the Foreign Minister of India. The Health Secretary has also spoken to Harsh Vardhan, the Health Minister of India, to ensure that their priorities are reflected in the support we provide.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that the catastrophe in India could soon spread wider in the region and globally? It is therefore vital that vaccination is rolled out globally, and at a much faster rate than now. What action are the Government taking to step this up globally?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. Again, I reiterate the point that I think every noble Lord would express: we will not beat this virus until the whole world is vaccinated effectively. The noble Baroness will be aware of our efforts working on this through the COVAX Facility in particular, which, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said repeatedly, remains the primary source of ensuring equitable access around the world.

Global Anti-Corruption Sanctions

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

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, I too thank the Minister for bringing us this Statement. I welcome the introduction of this new sanctions regime and pay tribute to the extraordinary courage of Sergei Magnitsky, after whom these sanctions are named. I also pay tribute to Bill Browder, who is not resting until liberal democracies put these into place, whatever the clear risks to himself.

As the Statement says, corruption has an extremely “corrosive effect”. It undermines development and traps the poorest in poverty; we have all seen extensive evidence of that. I am glad to see sanctions on the 14 individuals involved in the tax fraud in Russia that Magnitsky uncovered. Surely, though, we need to sanction those at the very highest levels in Russia, who have raided its economy to create their extraordinary wealth while most Russians live in poverty. I am pleased to see the sanctions on the Guptas in South Africa, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, will be very pleased—he has fought a doughty campaign against them.

It is clearly vital that we work with others if these sanctions are to be most effective. We had been working on this area with our EU partners before we left the EU, so I ask: what progress is being made in this regard given our departure and, therefore, the reduction of our influence within our continent?

The Statement notes that the UK is a leading “financial centre”, and we certainly hope that this will continue, but that means that there is a risk of money laundering here. Last year, Transparency International said that it had identified more than £5 billion of property in the UK bought with suspicious money, one-fifth of which came from Russia; in its view, half of all the money laundered out of Russia is laundered through the United Kingdom. What of the Russia report and political donations, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has just mentioned? Much more clearly needs to be done here.

The Statement notes the UK’s public register of “beneficial owners”, but does not address the situation in the overseas territories or the Crown dependencies. Can the Minister comment on the vital need for progress here? Efforts will also need to be made to ensure that cryptocurrencies are not a new route to hide corruption—could he comment on this? Does he agree that it would make sense if the Government set up an independent commission to consider where and against whom sanctions should be used? This would be less likely to be swayed by the political considerations of any Government and to be fair, effective and transparent.

Talking of transparency, the Government need to make much progress themselves in relation to donations and influence. The Statement notes the importance of the National Crime Agency’s international corruption unit and its predecessors, and that the NCA has, over the last 15 years, stopped £1 billion from going astray. Although I am glad to hear that, does the Minister agree that this is a paltry sum when we consider the funds washing around corruptly?

I am not overly impressed by the International Anti-Corruption Coordination Centre in London, which has helped to freeze only about £300 million of suspected corrupt assets worldwide. In 2017 alone, the then head of the Angolan sovereign wealth fund channelled £500 million through London, which was intercepted and returned to Angola, with the head being held to account. These figures therefore indicate that we are simply scratching the surface. The UK Anti-Corruption Coalition, whose work in this area is hugely to be welcomed, is surely right when it says that the Government must ensure that corruption and human rights sanctions regimes are “properly resourced”, including by providing significant additional resources in this area.

This brings me to my last point. I trust that the Minister is aware—I am sure he is—that ODA funding has gone into supporting such work. Can he tell us whether it will be affected by the ODA cuts? The Statement says that the department “continues to provide funding”, but does not say if this will now be reduced. The integrated review has been undermined by the actions of the Government, particularly through their cuts to ODA. Are we in the same situation here? We clearly need to beef up enforcement agencies, not cut them back. Which are the Government doing?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for their support of the Government’s steps. They will both recall that we have often debated the importance of bringing forward global anti-corruption sanctions. I am pleased that we have been able today to bring forward the first set of such designations. Equally, I am grateful to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their support regarding the individuals who have been sanctioned.

The noble Baroness rightly mentioned Magnitsky, and if one looks back at recent history, through those tragic events we have seen a strengthening of action in this area, not just by the United Kingdom but by other key partners. I am sure that, in the coming months, we will see further evolution of the work we do in this respect. Therefore, the 14 individuals sanctioned, within the Russian scope of the sanctions, are particularly poignant at this moment. On Bill Browder’s work, I fully align myself with the noble Baroness’s remarks.

The noble Baroness also mentioned the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I pay tribute to his tenacity and persistence in the particular areas and the names that he often raised—such as the Gupta family who have been sanctioned within the South African scope of these sanctions—and I am sure he will be pleased to see that progress has been made.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked, as did the noble Baroness, of the kind of support the Government are extending in challenging the whole issue of economic crime capacities. Last year’s spending review allocated an additional £63 million for the Home Office to fund the continued expansion of the National Economic Crime Centre and other initiatives. Companies House has also been allocated £20 million to support register reform and transformation work. The Government have further announced proposals for an economic crime levy on firms regulated for money laundering purposes, which we hope will raise up to £100 million per year for money laundering prevention and law enforcement efforts.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness both mentioned the agencies that are responsible for the enforcement of sanctions. This includes the NCA and the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation, which enforces financial sanctions. We should also acknowledge the work of HMRC in enforcing trade sanctions in particular. Let me assure both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that there are robust mechanisms in place to ensure that sanctions are adhered to. These include financial and custodial penalties and other powers, such as the seizure and forfeiture of goods.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness mentioned the importance of law enforcement and due process. Of course, the UK uses sanctions to change unacceptable behaviour, such as constraining and coercing as a means of sending political signals. The purpose of these sanctions is to prevent and combat serious corruption. The Sanctions Act, as the noble Lord and the noble Baroness will recall, contain rigorous due process protections and, in this regard, safeguards as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about parliamentary scrutiny. Of course, I welcome Members’ interest. There is an important role for your Lordships’ House, as well as for Members of the other place and various committees of the House, in scrutinising UK sanctions. We are open to receiving information and evidence in relation to possible future designations; I am sure that that has been demonstrated from the Government’s actions over the last year or so, since we brought in the global human rights sanctions regime. We have sanctioned over 78 individuals and organisations, and we will continue to remain focused in this respect.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness also raised issues around the Russia report. As I have said before from the Dispatch Box, the Government have published their response immediately on publication of the ISC’s Russia report on 21 July 2020. We have taken multiple actions against the Russian threat. We have, for example, already repeatedly exposed the reckless and dangerous activity of Russian intelligence services. We have called out Russia’s malicious cyberactivity, and sanctioned individuals responsible for hostile and malign activity against the UK and our allies. Specifically, we have also introduced a new power in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 to stop individuals at UK ports and the Northern Ireland border area to determine whether they have been involved in hostile state activity.

As I have said before, we are going further. We are introducing new legislation to provide security services with additional tools to tackle the evolving threat of hostile activity by foreign states, including a complete review of the Official Secrets Act. The Bill will also modernise existing offences to deal more effectively with the espionage threat and create new offences to criminalise other harmful activity conducted by, and on behalf of, states. We have already implemented the NSC-endorsed Russia strategy and established a cross-government Russia unit that brings together our various equities. I note the noble Baroness’s important point about the evolving nature of cryptocurrencies. I think we are all seized by the importance of how this currency is emerging, and issues of the lack of regulation.

The noble Baroness also raised the issue of the UK overseas territories. Let me assure her that we are working very closely, as we have done previously, with our overseas territories on the importance of transparency and effective access for both tax authorities and crime agencies such as the NCA. We have received very good co-operation already. As the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will be aware, all overseas territories have committed to establishing public registers by 2023.

The noble Baroness talked of funding and support through the ODA. We will continue to support the important work of the NCA, in part through the ODA contributions that the noble Baroness referred to. She raised the importance of working with partners, including the European Union. Indeed, when it comes to specific designations in this area of anti-corruption sanctions regimes, just ourselves, the United States and Canada have such regimes. The European Union have some specific regimes for particular countries. However, we will continue to work across the scope, with our colleagues and friends in the European Union, as well as the United States and Canada, in strengthening our work on our sanctions policy to ensure the maximum impact on those who are sanctioned under these different regimes. As we all agree, the best impact is when we work in tandem with our key partners.

The noble Lord referred to a few additional matters, including ministerial interest. I know that that is due for publication shortly. I am sure that all Members of Her Majesty’s Government who hold ministerial responsibility have duly complied. I am sure that that will be published in the very near future. He raised some specific matters on individuals and Russia. If I may, I will go through the detail of that and respond accordingly to the noble Lord.

Finally, I am seeking in advance, as I normally do, to arrange an appropriate briefing with some of our key officials. I will certainly seek to convene such a meeting at the earliest opportunity.

Russia: Alexei Navalny

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Thursday 22nd 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, as the noble Lord is aware, we are taking quite specific steps to fight corruption and illicit finance. Indeed, he will be aware that we are in the process of looking at broadening the sanctions application to include illicit financing and corruption. On the specific issue of the Russia report, among other steps, I assure him that we will introduce new legislation to provide Security Service and law enforcement agencies with the tools that they need to tackle the evolving threat. On visas, we are reviewing all tier 1 visas granted before 5 April 2015.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, what liaison are the Government having with our European allies over Mr Navalny’s case? Does he agree that we must ensure that sanctions are comprehensive and effective, and that at the moment they are neither?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Baroness will be aware, the sanctions that have already been imposed on the individuals that I mentioned in my response to an earlier question were done in conjunction with our European Union partners. We continue to sustain those sanctions. I think the fact that Russia has taken note and looks to react to this shows the effectiveness of those tools. I repeat once again, and I know the noble Baroness agrees, that whatever we do with sanctions we must continue to work with our close allies, including those in the EU.

Latin America: Future Foreign Policy

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Wednesday 21st 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, I assure the noble Baroness that the essence of the integrated review is to lay out the strategy of the United Kingdom post our exit from the European Union. In doing so, a number of our key priorities remain closely aligned with those of our European Union neighbours and partners, as they are with those of other countries, including those in Latin America.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, with vaccine diplomacy tipping Latin American countries further into China’s influence, is the Minister concerned about the current Peruvian elections, where the far-left front-runner admires Venezuela; that Chile may soon have a leader who favours China; and that Brazil’s climate and Covid crises threaten world stability? To follow up on the previous question, is this not a strange time to reduce our influence by disconnecting from our European allies? There is an EU-shaped hole in the integrated review.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, let me correct the noble Baroness. As I am sure she appreciates, on a number of occasions I have stressed the importance of engagement with the European Union to our future, whether on human rights or climate change. Many issues that impact those within the European continent impact the United Kingdom, and we will continue to have a strong relationship with our EU partners. On her other point on the context of Latin America, we have strong relationships with different countries and will continue to explore trade opportunities and the challenges of climate change across Latin America, but will continue to be a strong advocate for human rights.

Hong Kong: Pro-Democracy Campaigners

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
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, I agree with the noble Baroness on the issue of the increasing number of convictions. At the end of last week, further action was taken by the Hong Kong authorities against people who are simply calling on their rights to protest and to democracy. The noble Baroness knows what I will say about speculation on future Magnitsky sanctions, but, as we have demonstrated in the case of Xinjiang, we have acted, and when we have we have done so in co-ordination with our partners.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, these are friends and allies who have been locked up, people we all know. The Foreign Secretary has stated that Beijing is now in permanent breach of the Sino-British joint declaration, so I urge the Government to stop holding back on imposing sanctions. Will the Minister assure us that the human rights crisis in Hong Kong will be on the G7 agenda so that collective action can be taken?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness will already have noted the co-ordination we have shown with our G7 partners and the support we have gained from them on the situation in Hong Kong. Although the agenda is still being finalised for the leaders’ meeting, I am sure the situations in China and Hong Kong will be very much a part of the considerations. As for taking action against those in Hong Kong, we keep the situation under review, as I have said, but I cannot go further than that.

NATO: Russia and Ukraine

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

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, the integrated review claims that we

“will remain the leading European Ally in NATO, working with Allies to deter … threats … particularly from Russia”.

Are we playing a convening or a pivotal role in this instance?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, we continue to play a pivotal role in the NATO alliance, to which we are strong contributors in both strategy and financing. That will continue to be the case. We are centrally involved in the discussions around the current situation we are seeing in eastern Ukraine.

St Vincent: Volcanic Eruption

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Wednesday 14th 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, the noble Lord is right to point out that we have a permanent presence in the Caribbean and work very closely with the relief organisation CDEMA. We have invested, since 2017, on specific relief efforts, not just for the overseas territories but for the Caribbean. I note what he has said and we stand ready to provide whatever assistance is required, not only to St Vincent and the Grenadines but to Barbados as well. On the specific issue of aircraft and helicopters in the area, the volcanic ash over both islands at the moment is causing an added challenge. But I assure all noble Lords that we are working closely with the authorities on the ground to see what further assistance can be provided.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, we understand that only those who have been vaccinated are being evacuated, potentially leaving behind children, young people and others. What engagement are we having with the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines, and the WHO, to ensure that all who are vulnerable can be evacuated?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to point to the issue of vaccinations. Currently, about 12% of the population in St Vincent has been vaccinated and there is a lot of reluctance to have vaccinations. She may be aware that Prime Minister Gonsalves announced on 12 April that their Government will not be looking at evacuating through cruise ships. There are green zones on the islands, which are currently being used to house about 3,700 people who have fled their homes, while about 16,000 are being sheltered by families and friends. There is now a significant number of vaccines on island; the great challenge—and again, in my conversations this morning, I offered any learnings we could bring to address the issue—is the reluctance of the population to be vaccinated.

China: Convictions of Democracy Campaigners in Hong Kong

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Tuesday 13th 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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I am sure I speak for every Member of your Lordship’s House in paying tribute to the noble Baroness and other parliamentarians, as well as others outside Parliament, who continue to raise their voices in the interests of the Uighur community within China.

On the noble Baroness’s specific points about Magnitsky sanctions, while I cannot speculate, recently we have taken specific steps against those operating in Xinjiang, as I am sure the noble Baroness acknowledges. As I said earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Jordan, we continue to see what further steps we may take.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, it is welcome that BNO passport holders have a route to UK citizenship, but the current crackdown shows how vital it is that younger people who may not have that entitlement are also protected. What action is being taken to extend these rights to those who do not hold BNO passports?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I will first share with the noble Baroness that the BNO passport route and applications for BNO are functioning smoothly and effectively. On her second point about those who do not qualify for BNO status, if there are specific individuals who raise issues of concern and security and claim asylum within the confines of the United Kingdom, we look at those cases directly and individually.

Bahrain: Human Rights Abuses

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Thursday 25th March 2021

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, far from what the Minister has said about progress, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN have all concluded that human rights abuses have been getting worse in Bahrain over the past few years. So why do the Government still fund training for organisations in Bahrain that are implicated in human rights abuses, such as the Special Investigations Unit?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, through the technical support that the United Kingdom provides, we have seen real progress on a broad range of human rights issues. I have referred to the reforms on children, the unified family law, alternative punishments for adults and the creation of oversight bodies. Of course, I do not for a moment accept that the job is done. We continue to work constructively, and I believe that this is paying dividends, and will continue to do so.

Hong Kong Courts: British Judges

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Monday 22nd March 2021

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, briefly put, I totally agree with the noble Lord. As I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, our judges play an important role in Hong Kong and it is important that the final decision on them continuing in that role lies with the Supreme Court.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, the judges have been termed the canaries in the coalmine. The noble Lord indicated that he fears it will not be long before their position may become untenable. What conversations on this matter have been held with the other common law countries, including Australia and Canada, from where the other judges come?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to draw attention to the importance of the diversity of the judiciary in Hong Kong. I assure her that we co-ordinate with international partners, not just on this but on a number of matters relating to Hong Kong. As I have said, on the specific issue of UK judges, we are of course working very closely with the Supreme Court, in particular with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Reed, its president.

Hong Kong: Electoral Reforms

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Thursday 11th March 2021

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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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, of course, take note of the suggestion of the noble Lord. Let me assure him and all noble Lords that the United Kingdom is working in a very co-ordinated fashion with our Five Eyes partners. I am sure that the noble Lord will note the statements we have previously made on these issues together with key Five Eyes partners, including the United States, Canada and Australia, the most recent being a joint statement in January of this year. Of course, following the announcement this morning, we will be looking to further strengthen our response to the continued dilution of, challenges to and suppression of democracy in Hong Kong.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, did the Minister hear the Chinese chargé d’affaires on the “Today” programme this morning describing the nem. con. vote in China’s National People’s Congress as

“improving the democratic system in Hong Kong”?

Are we now in too weak a position to be able to sanction those who have undermined the international agreement in Hong Kong committing it to “one country, two systems”, which includes a proper democratic system in Hong Kong? If we are not, why are we not doing this?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s point about sanctions, of course, that is one of several tools at our disposal in taking action against those who continue to suppress democracy and the rights of democracy. I did indeed hear the “Today” programme and the description of the congress’s decision. The best thing that I can say from the Dispatch Box about that decision is that it is anything but democracy: it is the continuing saga of further suppression of the democratic rights of the people of Hong Kong and of their right to choose their own representatives. We will continue to use all channels to ensure that China looks again very carefully at the situation in Hong Kong. On the issue of sanctions, as well as other tools at our disposal, I assure the noble Baroness that we are giving full consideration to everything available to us.

Myanmar: Protesters

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Wednesday 10th March 2021

(1 year, 3 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 substantive point about the ICJ, we are reviewing the situation. We are supportive of the action of the Gambia and looking at interventions where they will best serve the purpose of the people of Myanmar. On international action, we have secured two G7 statements and are working through the UN Security Council and with partners such as the US and Canada, as well as those in the region, to ensure that there is international condemnation and that the focus continues.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, what action are the Government taking with our allies, especially the EU and the Five Eyes, to place effective sanctions on those running military companies that are still doing business with the military in Myanmar?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that we are working closely with our allies. She will have noticed the nine individuals who have been sanctioned recently, in addition to the 16 who already were. She makes a very valid point about the companies, particularly those linked to the military. We are focused on that and future sanctions policy will be part of that consideration.

Women’s Equality

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Tuesday 9th March 2021

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, we are fully engaged in the multilateral sphere, including with the conference that the noble Baroness mentioned. Specifically through our G7 presidency, we have the three pillars of educating girls, empowering women and ending violence against women and girls, which will also ensure the focus of the G7 countries on this important agenda.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, there can scarcely be anything more important than ensuring that women and girls globally have access to family planning. The noble Lord has said that the UK is a “proud” champion of this. Does he recognise that this will ring hollow if later he has to go beyond saying that no decisions have been made on the budget and then implement swingeing cuts, as in aid to Yemen, as the Government balance the books on the backs of the poor, as Mark Lowcock put it?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the issue of the budget, we are genuinely at the moment going through a review, so I cannot make any commitment and it would not be appropriate to do so. However, as I have said, this issue remains an important priority and the legacy of our work in this area is clear.

Hong Kong: Democracy Movement

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Monday 8th March 2021

(1 year, 3 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 Baroness acknowledges, British judges have played an important role in supporting the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary over many years, and we hope that this can continue. However, as she also rightly points out—and I agree—the national security law now poses real questions for the rule of law in Hong Kong and the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms. It is therefore right that the Supreme Court continues to assess the situation in Hong Kong, and it is doing so in direct discussion with the Government.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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Does the Minister agree with his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, when he says:

“This completely destroys the pledge of one-country, two-systems”?


Will the Government now consider offering a bespoke scheme for young human rights activists from Hong Kong who are not covered by the BNO scheme?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, irrespective of where we sit in your Lordships’ House, I believe we all acknowledge the immense insight and expertise of my noble friend Lord Patten on matters pertaining to Hong Kong. On the noble Baroness’s proposal, we are currently focused on the important issue of BNOs. That scheme has started and is running well. On the broader issue, we call out for the continued freedoms of all citizens in Hong Kong.

United States: Diplomatic Relations

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Monday 1st March 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 acknowledge what the noble Lord says about US re-engagement on important issues on which we partner, and I understand the premise of his question on the relationship with Saudi Arabia. Our relationship is important, but we call out human rights issues, among others, with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Our arms exports are managed through a very rigorous arms export regime.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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The Foreign Secretary told the Munich security conference that we have restored sovereign control over our foreign policy, as if we did not amplify our influence through the EU. He also said that the first deployment of our new aircraft carrier to the Indo-Pacific will have a squadron of American F35 jets on board and will be accompanied by an American destroyer. Is this our new sovereignty?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness will know from her experience that we work very closely with our allies, of which the United States is the important one, and that includes co-operation on defence and security. We should recognise the positive nature of this engagement.

Belarus

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Tuesday 23rd 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 can confirm that to my noble friend. Further, I assure him that from August last year, any defence and security co-operation has been suspended by the Defence Secretary, and that the defence co-operation we did extend amounted to training, survival training and language training and was not specific to particular equipment.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, have the Government taken any measures to set up a formal arrangement with the EU so that we can jointly and more effectively address the situation both in Belarus and in Russia, and are we closer to giving proper recognition to the EU ambassador to the United Kingdom, which might also help?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s second question I will revert to the House once I have confirmation as to the way forward. On her first question, we are working very closely with our EU partners, including at the Human Rights Council and at the OSCE, and we continue to engage directly with the likes of France and Germany on this matter.

Covid-19: Surplus Vaccine Doses

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Monday 22nd 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 that is exactly the objective of the COVAX AMC commitment, and it is why the UK Government have led on it. Not only have we led on it but the noble Lord will have seen the Prime Minister’s statement which led to other countries also committing to it. This is aimed at the 92 most vulnerable countries and will help to vaccinate more than 1.3 billion people.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, is the Minister aware that significant ODA funding to Oxford which initially paid for the Ebola vaccine gave us a head start in the development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine? Will the Government reconsider their short-sighted policy of cutting ODA funding?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s second point, the Government have made their position clear. It was a difficult decision, but a necessary one. Nevertheless, it still guarantees £10 billion of support this year. On support to Oxford University, our commitment to UK science has been a major contribution to being where we are on the global stage when it comes to vaccine distribution and research.

Myanmar

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

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for bringing this Statement to the House.

It is, indeed, extremely concerning that once again the military has taken over Myanmar. The military says that this is because of irregularities in the elections, even though, as the Government and others have said, there is no evidence of significant problems in an election that delivered an overwhelming majority to the civilian Government. Once again, we see the damage done when, in liberal democracies, leaders say that elections in their own territories are fraudulent, when there is no evidence of that, or they seek to break international law, even in a “limited way”. We need to rebuild respect for the rule of law globally.

The Government are right to say that this coup threatens Myanmar’s recent progress. There have been widespread demonstrations and we are beginning to see the army take more aggressive action, for example with the use of rubber bullets and, it seems, live rounds. A couple of days ago a woman was shot in the head and critically injured. Can the noble Lord update us on how the Government see the perceived risk of army brutality being unleashed on the protestors? Do the Government think that the military leaders in Myanmar are confident that their army will fully support them, given such widespread opposition, especially among young people? We hear that some police have crossed over to join the protestors. Now we hear of a draconian new cybersecurity law being fast-tracked, which would force internet and mobile phone providers to share their user data, which is extremely worrying. Can the noble Lord comment?

Can the Minister also comment on what role China is playing in Myanmar, following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked? It is perhaps not surprising that China blocked action in the UN Security Council but I am glad, as the noble Lord said, that the UK took that action. Popular protest is not something that the Chinese Government could easily condone but we gather that they are playing a more significant role in Myanmar, which they jealously guard as “their” neighbourhood.

What is happening on the Thai border? What is the attitude of the Thai Government—also under great pressure—with protests again authoritarianism there? We will need to work proactively with others if we are to help to protect the many demonstrators from a brutal crackdown.

One key recommendation is that we should work with others to sanction military companies. The military earns a great deal from its businesses; this has funded its attacks, including this coup. The UN fact-finding mission had already recommended that sanctions be put on military companies even before this coup. I am aware that the UK put Magnitsky sanctions on 16 individuals in the Myanmar security forces. However, these freeze assets in the UK, which they do not have. I realise that these sanctions may send a warning to others in the region—they are important in that regard—but, in this case, they are not very effective in the case of Myanmar. Surely the Government, as president of the UN Security Council and the G7, should lead the way in terms of a widespread arms embargo on Myanmar. What are we doing, for example with our EU allies and others, on this or other strategies?

The US has just placed sanctions on those who led the coup. Is the UK engaging with the US on how to make such sanctions as effective as possible? Do the US plans include military companies? The asset freeze announced by the US on Myanmar Government assets in the US certainly sends a strong signal that this regime is illegitimate.

In addition, the UK should formally join the ICJ genocide case in The Hague; here, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Collins. Can the Minister update us on that? The Government have said that they are considering it. Now is surely the time to do so.

Can the Minister also comment on the very vulnerable Rohingya and other minorities in this situation? What emerged from his discussions with the Bangladeshi Government last week? What preparations are being made in case of an increased outflow of refugees? We do not want borders closed, as we saw before, but we recognise Bangladesh’s need and that the refugees need to be properly supported. As the Minister knows, more than 1 million Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar over the past few years.

The military leaders in Myanmar’s brutal assault against the Rohingya were described by the UN as a

“textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

We cannot stand by and allow further such crimes to follow this coup. Can the Minister tell us what effect the Government’s decision to cut the aid budget will have on their ability to sustain the level of humanitarian and development funding that has gone to Myanmar and is for the Rohingya refugees?

In this very worrying situation, I look forward to the Minister’s response.

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, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for their contributions. They rightly raised a series of issues, which I will seek to address.

In her remarks, the noble Baroness asked for an assessment of the current situation. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, also noted, it is a week since we last discussed this matter. Let me assure both of them and your Lordships that we have been not just monitoring but acting. Clearly, the situation over the weekend of 6 and 7 February saw large-scale protests; the noble Baroness rightly pointed to the scale of them in both Naypyidaw and Yangon. Notably, we have seen largely—I use that word deliberately but carefully—peaceful protests.

The noble Baroness is quite right to note that, in many instances, the police have been restrained when many people perhaps expected otherwise. However, as the noble Baroness and the noble Lord said, we are concerned by further reports of crackdowns on protestors in Naypyidaw on 9 February, including, as the noble Lord noted, the firing of rubber bullets and the use of water cannons. It remains unclear whether the security forces discharged live rounds, although that was being reported. When I looked into this, I came across a particularly shocking case where, as has been widely reported, a lady was shot in the head.

On the noble Baroness’s point about the cybersecurity law, I, too, have heard about proposed actions in that respect. She will have noted the internet blackouts that have taken place; we are concerned about these as they have made the flow of information in and out of the country that much more challenging. We are clear that internet services must be maintained and freedom of expression protected.

In that regard, I want to pick up on the point rightly made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about the CDC. The CDC carries out due diligence for every investment it makes, including in its contract with Frontiir. The investment was made to ensure low-cost internet availability and focused primarily on key areas, including Yangon. In March, there was a Myanmar Government directive to all ISP providers to block websites, which Frontiir and others have followed. Of course, the UK has taken a number of steps over the censorship of websites, but I note carefully what the noble Lord said in this respect. It is part of our strategy to ensure that the internet is restored at the earliest possible opportunity. I would also add that the investment was made with the good intent of providing the most vulnerable people with internet access.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lord rightly mentioned the recent announcement from President Biden and his Administration. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary tweeted this morning about our support for the actions taken. I know that if I were sitting on the other side of the Dispatch Box, I would find this frustrating at times, but let me say that we are looking actively at all the tools at our disposal.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, rightly noted the 16 sanctions. To put that in context, 14 of them have been directly rolled over and become applicable in UK law; this is part of what we led on with the EU. There were another two, most notably against the current commander-in-chief of the army and his deputy. They were part of the first tranche of global human rights sanctions that we introduced, and will also stay in place. The noble Baroness mentioned the UN fact-finding mission. Six specific individuals were named in it, and I assure her that all of them are part of the UK’s current sanctions regime.

I note the point made in the context of both individuals and other organisations and firms. All I can say at this juncture is that we are of course looking at the actions of the United States. I come back to the point that this requires co-ordination. While signals may be sent, as I have said repeatedly—I know that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord share my views on this—it is when we act in conjunction with others that we see the best benefit against those we seek to target.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked what actions the UK has taken. He rightly pointed out that we are penholders, particularly on the issue of the Rohingya. However, we are also the current president of the UN Security Council. In this regard, we convened a specific meeting on 4 February. I totally concur with the noble Baroness’s assessment of the importance of China’s role, not just in the current crisis but in terms of the continuing challenge of the situation and suffering of the Rohingya community. China has an important role to play. Through our bilateral engagement and engagement at the UN Security Council, we continually remind China of its important role in this respect. It was notable that, although there was no resolution, a statement was issued by the UN Security Council on the worrying nature of the events and military coup in Myanmar. We will continue to look at the situation during our presidency for the remainder of the month.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked about the actions that we have taken, including at the UN Human Rights Council. Again, I, as the Human Rights Minister, have prioritised this. Together with our European Union colleagues—I somewhat expected the noble Baroness to ask me about the EU, but I will proactively provide her with this information—we worked at the Human Rights Council and will convene a meeting tomorrow on the situation. Of course, we are formal members of the Human Rights Council as well.

On action by the International Court of Justice, which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, referred to, we are supportive of the Gambia’s action. To put the UK’s formal intervention into context, we are looking at that. A number of countries have stated their intention to intervene but are yet to do so. There is a structured process at the ICJ, part of which is for Myanmar to come back on what has been levied against it by the Gambia and others. I believe that Myanmar has responded, while the other countries which have said that they will formally intervene are now considering their position, as will we, to see when a formal intervention, which we would support, would be best suited to give greater credence to the role of the ICJ in this respect.

I hope I have responded to some of the specifics put to me. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, will appreciate that we are engaging on this issue proactively across our roles, including in the G7. They will both have noticed that on 3 February we issued a statement as part of the G7. We are using our role at the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council. I would add one further piece of information. Through our ambassador, we have also attended a briefing with the military-appointed Foreign Minister. We used the occasion to communicate directly to that representative of the current military leaders of Myanmar who are in charge our unequivocal condemnation of the coup.

We join all countries in calling for the release of those who been arbitrarily detained, not least Aung San Suu Kyi. I shall pick up the point about elections raised by the noble Baroness. As we all know, some of these elections are not the most perfect one could imagine. Nevertheless, there were external observers, and it is not for the Myanmar military to call them into question, given the general reports. Putting the disenfranchisement of the Rohingya people to one side, others in the country participated fully and the result was conclusive. I can assure the noble Baroness and the noble Lord that, through engagements beyond the Chamber, I will continue to update them both about the ongoing situation and will seek to provide briefings in a timely manner.

Beijing Winter Olympic Games 2022

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Wednesday 10th 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 cannot answer the noble Lord’s final point; that would require various decisions at different organisational levels, not just by Her Majesty’s Government. On his initial point, I referred to ministerial attendance and, of course, we work with all attendees, including diplomats and the royal household, on future attendances. I note what the noble Lord said, but I cannot go further than that.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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Is the noble Lord aware that China has apparently threatened the United Kingdom with sanctions in response to even considering a boycott? Therefore, we can see how important the 2022 Winter Olympic Games are to China’s global reputation. Will the Government be keeping any participation at these Games under close review?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, participation will very much be a question for the national Olympic committee itself. What I can say is that there have been no decisions made about ministerial attendance—although I would add that, with the recent challenges we have faced, not many decisions have been made about ministerial attendance in various parts of the world. But I hear what the noble Baroness says.

Overseas Territories: Humanitarian and Disaster Relief

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
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 can assure the noble Lord that we have sufficient resources, in respect of both the military operations and the support. I have myself seen the strength of having military assets within the territories during and in the aftermath of such hurricanes. We all remember RFA “Mounts Bay” playing a sterling role as first responder. I assure him that, together with our military assets and the other investments we have made, we stand ready to support our territories within the region.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, as the Minister himself has admitted, the Government reacted too slowly to the devastating 2017 hurricanes in the Caribbean. In 2018, the Government, including the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, announced that they hoped to secure multinational co-ordination in the region. What progress has been made?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I will look at Hansard—I do not think I admitted to that. What I did say was that we had to respond afterwards; we had assets in the region. I am sure the noble Baroness will recall that we were among the first countries to react and work with key regional partners. I can assure her that we have been investing and working with regional partners. The multinational co-ordination cell of the Caribbean is a UK concept, and we are working with key partners from the United States and France and the Netherlands and Canadian militaries to co-ordinate a large-scale response if indeed the tragedy of hurricanes should hit again.

Tigray

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Monday 8th 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 can assure the noble Baroness that we are focused very much on ensuring that the most vulnerable are supported in this conflict, particularly those in Tigray, and our funding—whether through multilateral or bilateral support—is focused on that. On the specifics of future funding, we are currently reviewing our ODA budget for this year, and I will, of course, share that with my noble friend as soon as that decision is made.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, the BBC reports that an immense tragedy is unfolding in Tigray. Has anyone from the British embassy, other members of the diplomatic community or one of the four African Union special envoys been able to visit Tigray to make an independent assessment of the situation? Do the UK Government have firm evidence of the involvement of Eritrean forces in Tigray?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s final point, we need to ensure that all the facts are fully available before any assessment is made, but undoubtedly the Eritrean forces have been present. We continue to call for full cessation and the allowing of humanitarian access. That is why we have continued to emphasise that some NGOs are operational, specifically in Tigray. When the Foreign Secretary visited Ethiopia, he called for unfettered access into the region. I will continue to update the noble Baroness as further details unfold.

Burma: Military Coup

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Tuesday 2nd 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, let me assure the noble Baroness that we are working closely with our allies, including the United States, in this respect. I have already outlined the first action that we have taken as president of the UN Security Council. On the issue of the international arms embargo in Myanmar, let me also assure the noble Baroness that, at the end of the transition period, the specific restrictions that applied as part of our membership of the EU were rolled forward into domestic law. Of course we will consider any further action that needs to be taken in this respect.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, the military coup in Myanmar is hugely worrying, so can the noble Lord say more about how the Government are building a coalition of countries willing to impose embargos, as others have mentioned, and sanctions, and also protection for the Rohingya, who will now be in even greater danger, including by joining the genocide case at the International Court of Justice?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s final point, of course we are very supportive of the action at the ICJ, and we are looking at the situation of a formal intervention. Myanmar was supposed to come back in January, I believe, with its challenge to the action. We have not yet been formally been told of that, but I understand that it has been put in by Myanmar. In terms of international coalitions and actions, as I have already alluded to, we are working with international partners and directly with the Myanmar Government—yesterday my honourable friend the Minister for Asia summoned the Myanmar ambassador to convey the sentiments that I expressed in my original Answer.

Alexei Navalny

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Thursday 28th January 2021

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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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 am sure that I speak for all noble Lords when I join the noble Lord, Lord Collins, in commending the courage of what we have seen, not just in Moscow but around Russia, in support of Mr Navalny and his early and immediate release from detention. In response to the noble Lord’s question, the Russia report remains a key priority, as I said in your Lordships’ House last week. Our response was issued on the day. In addition to what the noble Lord mentioned, legislation will also enable security services and law enforcement agencies, for example, to tackle early threats of hostile activity. The National Crime Agency offences to criminalise harmful activity will be strengthened. As I said last week, we are reviewing visas in tier 1 issued before 2015. We will be working on the legislative timetable through the usual channels.

On sanctions, the noble Lord will be aware that we have already sanctioned one organisation and six individuals on the issue of the poisoning of Mr Navalny. On the issue of future designations, we will look at egregious abuses of human rights. As the noble Lord is aware, we are currently looking at corruption. We will be looking to see how we can broaden the scope of the sanctions regime in the near future.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, I too pay tribute to Mr Navalny and the other courageous protesters. The noble Lord rightly said that sanctions are most effective when a number of countries jointly implement them. What joint action are they taking with the EU on sanctions in this appalling case, especially given that Mr Navalny was diagnosed in Germany as having been poisoned with Novichok? Does the Minister agree that it would help such joint working with the whole of the EU if the Government recognised the EU envoy as an ambassador?

EU Ambassador to the UK: Diplomatic Status

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Monday 25th 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, it is not for me to answer about what other countries offer the EU in terms of privileges and immunities. I can confirm that the EU delegation has the necessary privileges and immunities to enable it to carry out its work in the UK effectively. As I said—noble Lords will acknowledge that this is one of those occasions where I am, in general, repeating the key message I seek to deliver—we are currently live in negotiations with the European Union on this very issue. In no manner should I pre-empt the outcomes of those important discussions.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, I detect an imminent U-turn. As the Minister knows, the UK has worked very closely with EU ambassadors in many countries to make sure that approaches are agreed and pressure is as effective as possible. Will the UK no longer recognise them as ambassadors, further weakening the UK’s ability to muster support for common approaches on issues, including human rights, an area for which he has personal responsibility?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that we will continue to work with EU representatives across the world, as well as the EU directly, on important priorities and our shared values, including human rights.

Xinjiang: Forced Labour

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

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord for bringing us this Statement. The Foreign Secretary describes an appalling situation, with which we have become familiar. It is vital that our businesses do not benefit from slave labour in Xinjiang or anywhere else. The possibility of genocide must always be at the forefront of our minds, not least as we come up to Holocaust Memorial Day.

The Commons is indeed currently considering the amendments to the Trade Bill that we sent there. Ministers have been saying that Parliament, not the courts, should decide on genocide in relation to trade agreements. The noble Lord usually says international courts should decide on genocide, but he also admits that this is impossible when it comes to China. Yesterday, in relation to Nagorno-Karabakh, he said that

“it is a long-standing government policy that genocide is a matter for judicial decision rather than for Governments or non-judicial bodies.”—[Official Report, 18/1/21; col. 991.]

That seems in line with the amendment in the Commons. He said, “judicial decision”, not “international judicial decision” or “Parliament”: could he comment?

The Chinese Communist Party has described the forced sterilisation of Uighur women as “emancipation”. The UN convention on genocide clearly forbids this. The noble Lord will know that under the convention, when a state learns, or should have learned, of the serious risk of genocide, it must take action. Is his department making an assessment in relation to the Uighurs, and will he publish its conclusions? Given that China blocks routes to international courts, does he agree that the United Kingdom has a responsibility to find alternative routes to make the legal determination?

The second area I want to ask about, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins did, is the Magnitsky sanctions. The Government always say they keep these under review. The Minister will no doubt say that today, yet the US applies such sanctions in relation to China. Why do we not? The Foreign Secretary noted last week:

“Of course, many countries are nervous in their dealings with China because of its asymmetric economic clout.”—[Official Report, Commons, 12/1/21; col. 173.]


That is indeed so. The noble Lord rightly says that sanctions are most effective when undertaken jointly with others. There are three major economic blocs in the world: the United States, China and the EU. We now have to work that much harder to gain traction among European allies, not just France and Germany, so what progress are the Government making here?

The last area that I want to ask the noble Lord about is in relation to company law. I worked on the Companies Act 2006. We included supply chains. Can the noble Lord explain why neither the Companies Act nor the Modern Slavery Act have proved sufficient here? Clearly, reputation is vital. I noted how quickly companies acted after the Rana Plaza disaster when they realised that their reputations were at stake. What about public procurement? Can we be sure that the PPE that we so anxiously sought during the pandemic did not come from Xinjiang? There were reports of some of it originating in North Korea. Who will monitor and act on the proposed new measures? Which Minister in which department? Will legislation be brought forward as indicated—and, if so, when—to close the loopholes that the Government clearly identify exist in the Companies Act and the Modern Slavery Act?

The European Union, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, noted, intends to introduce legislation on due diligence, which will be mandatory. Are we working with it so that our standards are at least equivalent? Will this issue be considered at the G7 or D10, or however it is defined, in June? I look forward to hearing the noble Lord’s response and also to the questions and answers from noble Lords who have so much experience in this area.

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 thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for their welcome of the provisions that have been announced. I also reassure them that, as they will have seen, earlier today I was engaging with one of the key NGOs that I speak to on a regular basis on issues of human rights, with a specific focus on Xinjiang.

It is worth just taking a step back. I pay tribute to many in your Lordships’ House and in the other place, as well as other advocates around the world, in seeing where we have got to on this important issue, even over the last three years. There was a time where the issue of Xinjiang and the situation of the Uighurs was not often debated. However, because of the advocacy from across your Lordships’ House and in the other place, there is a real strength and a real momentum behind the actions we have seen in international action, with the United Kingdom working with key partners. We have also had rich debates on various Bills, as well as more generally as we are doing today on specific matters relating to the situation in Xinjiang. I pay tribute to all noble Lords and Members in the other place for their continued not just interest but strong advocacy, for that is what is required.

Picking up on some of the specific questions, first, on the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, on guidance and working with businesses, from my own experience of the private sector over 20 years I think that the approach of successive Governments, because of the nature of the environment we work in, has always been to work with business and to offer guidance and structure so businesses can act. This new robust and detailed guidance to UK business sets out quite specific risks faced by companies with links to Xinjiang, underlining the challenges of effective due diligence—a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, as well. There will be a Minister-led campaign of business engagement—which was a point the noble Lord, Lord Collins, again raised—led by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary with an organised forum called the Business Against Slavery Forum made up of businesses, which I understand my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will also attend.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, also raised sanctions and further designations, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. I have to be consistent with what I said before: we keep the situation under review, across the world, because it is important in the new regime introduced by this Government that we continue to monitor abuses of human rights. I assure noble Lords that we will continue to act.

Answering a point that the noble Baroness raised about acting with key partners, we have carefully noted the action taken by the United States. We worked closely with the European Union during the transition period and, as we have come to the end of that, we will build a new engagement and relationship. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said, we want to be the closest ally and friend to the European Union, and we will work together on our shared values agenda.

As I have said—and I stand by this, as it is important for sanctions policy—there is sometimes no necessity for institutional frameworks, as we have seen and demonstrated in our relationships with Australia, Canada and the US. But it is important for relationships to be strengthened further. We will continue to work with all our allies, including the European Union, as we bring forward sanctions, across the world, to ensure that those who abuse human rights are held to account and suffer as a consequence.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked of new legislation and confirmation through the affirmative procedure for some of the changes proposed to the Modern Slavery Act. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will shortly bring forward details of those changes; these will be discussed through the usual channels. They will include further intent to impose financial penalties on businesses that do not comply with their transparency obligations in this respect.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, both raised this issue. I go back to 2015, when my right honourable friend the Member for Maidenhead, Theresa May, was Home Secretary. I remember working directly with her on this ground- breaking Act, when we were spurred on by what was happening in the UK. This was well supported across all parts of your Lordships’ House. It set the premise and basis for actions that we can take today. Other countries, such as Australia, have followed the United Kingdom’s lead. Yes, more work needs to be done and more actions need to be brought, but the steps we are taking on Xinjiang underline our commitment to further strengthening the Modern Slavery Act. It was set up to ensure that we stop supply chains that abuse people’s human rights. We will make full use of and, where necessary, strengthen the provisions of that Act.

I also assure the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, that the Government will provide guidance and extend provisions to support all UK public bodies to use public procurement rules to exclude suppliers where there is sufficient evidence of human rights violations in supply chains. Compliance will be mandatory for central government, non-departmental bodies and executive agencies. We expect this to increase public sector bodies’ ability and willingness to exclude specific suppliers, and we expect increased scrutiny to drive up standards and due diligence. Again, the noble Baroness raised this point on companies supplying the Government.

Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness raised international co-operation and continued advocacy. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly raised action within the context of UN institutions, particularly the Human Rights Council. I look forward to engaging with him and the noble Baroness on this, as we look forward to the next Human Rights Council. The United Kingdom returns as a member, but it is also notable to see China returning. I assure your Lordships that we will focus on our agenda as we did at the previous Human Rights Council; our item 4 statement was specifically just on the issue in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. We will continue to retain focus and build momentum. We have seen success, as all noble Lords know, in the UN third committee, where 39 members, building on the 28 in June, supported our statement on the situation in both Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

On the G7 agenda, which was raised by both the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, obviously we are working through the importance of the agenda. The Prime Minister recently announced that he himself will be hosting the G7 leaders in Cornwall, and of course the Foreign Secretary will be convening a meeting of G7 Foreign Ministers. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has said, the importance of the values agenda and of defending human rights will very much be factored into our thinking. As we are able to share some of the specifics of that agenda, I will of course do so.

Nagorno-Karabakh

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
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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My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that the points he made are important areas to consider, not just in this conflict but in any conflict. I also assure him that those very points have been made in all our exchanges, with both sides. We have also emphasised the unfettered access of the ICRC to the region.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, following up on that, can the Minister tell the House what access the ICRC and other international bodies are being given in the area, to guard against feared ethnic cleansing? What follow-up might there be to independently investigate possible war crimes committed by either side?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Baroness may know, on 30 October, the Foreign Secretary announced £1 million of funding to the ICRC to support its humanitarian efforts in this regard. We are working with international partners on the issue of access, to ensure that all people across the region receive the aid they require. It is important that crimes are fully investigated in any conflict, anywhere in the world. That is why we are very supportive of the work by the co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the OSCE in this respect.

Foreign Policy: UK-EU Dialogue

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

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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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, we have agreed with the European Union that we shall co-operate on current and emerging global issues of common interest, including co-ordinating positions and maintaining dialogue in multilateral organisations. We do not need overly institutionalised formal arrangements or a treaty framework within the EU to continue to co-operate closely with allies on foreign policy matters, including EU member states. We shall continue to discuss shared foreign policy challenges and threats and we look forward to a future relationship based on constructive co-operation between sovereign and independent allies.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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The 2019 political declaration, which the Prime Minister said he supported, proposed a partnership between the UK and the EU on foreign policy, security and defence matters. Why then did the United Kingdom not take forward a formal arrangement despite EU willingness? Will the Government now do so? If not, how do they plan to protect and promote our interests in Hong Kong or on sanctions and other issues?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the practical terms that the noble Baroness mentioned, she will be aware that we are working closely with EU partners and other allies on issues of sanctions and indeed issues relating to Hong Kong. The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement affirms our mutual commitment to democratic principles, the rule of law and human rights. As the noble Baroness will be aware, we are already working closely on many important issues—including issues of human rights, which are part of my portfolio—both bilaterally and through multilateral organisations.

Hong Kong: National Security Law

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Thursday 7th January 2021

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, we are acting in conjunction with our allies and have led international action in condemnation of the actions not just in Hong Kong but in mainland China. We regularly meet financial services organisations and remind them of their obligations to all their clients, but it would be inappropriate for me to comment on one specific case.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, we led in the EU on adopting human rights sanctions. Since the UK has refused the EU’s offer of a formal arrangement to address foreign affairs, when and if we introduce Magnitsky sanctions, how do we ensure that the EU follows suit?

United States: Global Priorities and Climate Change

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Wednesday 16th December 2020

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what engagement they have had with the incoming government of the United States on their global priorities, including plans for international co-operation on addressing climate change.

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, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister spoke to President-elect Biden on 10 November and committed to building on our close and long-standing partnership in the years ahead in areas including trade and security. They look forward to working closely together on our shared priorities, including tackling climate change, promoting democracy and building back better from the coronavirus pandemic. The Prime Minister has invited President-elect Biden to COP 26 next year and we look forward to working closely with the US to address climate change.

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Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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President-elect Biden’s decision to engage globally and to sign the United States back up to the Paris Agreement is obviously extremely welcome. How are the Government engaging with his team to ensure that the US restores the climate funding that President Trump cut, and what role will the United Kingdom play in the extra climate summit that President-elect Biden has just announced?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that the Biden Administration have already committed to rejoining the Paris Agreement—Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris has announced as much following a recent event. The noble Baroness will be aware of the climate ambition summit, which also saw participation from the US, and we remain committed to working closely with the US. Announcements from the US about commitments to finance will be very much a matter for the Biden Administration.

International Human Rights Day

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Thursday 10th December 2020

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his kind words. I join him in paying tribute to my predecessor in this role, who played a vital role on a whole range of human rights priorities. The noble Lord has some very practical suggestions. I assure him that I will take them back and write to my opposite number in the Department for Education to see how we could best take that forward.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister will have read the concluding statements from Andy Heyn, the consul-general in Hong Kong, on the restriction on dissent that he has seen during his time there and the fundamental changes that that has brought about in Hong Kong. What chances does the Minister see for the continuation of the vital independence of the judiciary there?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness and I have had many a conversation on this issue. Of course, the instigation of the national security laws has caused great concern, including about the appointment of judges, which now sits with the Chief Executive. That is a concern. I cannot say what the future holds; that would be mere speculation. What is important is that we continuously remind the Hong Kong authorities of the importance of the independence of the judiciary.

Hong Kong: Sentencing of Pro-democracy Activists

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Tuesday 8th December 2020

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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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 thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for his remarks about a united response. I thank both him and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for their continuing engagement—not just within the Chamber, but more widely—on this important issue of human rights and on our relationship with China and the situation there.

The noble Lord asked about the important area of our ongoing relationship with the US. As he will be aware, we came together with key partners, including the US, Australia and New Zealand, over the situation in Hong Kong. We valued their support. We are going through a transition period with the US. My honourable friend in the other place was correct; my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has engaged on this agenda with the incoming US Administration. I also assure the noble Lord that we are continuing with the operational elements of our approach. I have had some meaningful exchanges with the State Department, and we are working closely with our US partners even during this transition period.

The noble Lord again pressed me about the human rights sanctions regime. We are looking at situations across the globe. The intent behind this regime is to look not at a country as a whole but at specific individuals and organisations. I am sure we shall continue to keep those aspects in mind, whatever sanctions are brought forward in future. He asked about the timeline. Patience is a virtue, and I hope that his virtue will not be tested for too long.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, I also welcome the Statement. We all share the Government’s concerns. Joshua Wong has been imprisoned for more than a year. As my honourable friend Wendy Chamberlain flagged up yesterday, under the Government’s current Immigration Rules, that would mean that he was barred from claiming asylum. Will the Government commit to following the Canadian Government and ensure that those charges are not a barrier to vulnerable activists being able to claim asylum in the United Kingdom? The Minister in the Commons responded sympathetically to my honourable friend, but he did not have an answer. I am sure that the noble Lord has looked at Hansard to see what happened in the Commons yesterday. I hope he has a better answer. If he does not, perhaps he can write to us.

Eight students have been arrested for protesting peacefully on university campuses. This reinforces how young people are particularly vulnerable to arrest under the national security law. Therefore, will the Government amend its BNO visa scheme to allow those born after 1997 to apply?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, we have already clarified our position on the BNO status of those born after a given date but who have a direct relationship with someone with that status. They will be considered when the scheme becomes operational. As the noble Baroness knows, that will be from 31 January 2021. As she will appreciate, the three activists—Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam—have not been charged under the new national security law. They accepted the charges levelled against them. Inasmuch as I can at this juncture, I assure her that we look at any asylum application to the United Kingdom on the merits of the particular case. If I can provide her with further details, I will write to her, as she suggested.

Colombia

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

(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, I assure the noble Lord that during my visit, and indeed in all engagements through our ambassador, we raise the importance of the very matters that he refers to. In terms of our commitment to the peace process, I think the UK can be proud of the fact that it has contributed to the importance of an inclusive peace process, and we will continue to do so.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD) [V]
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Global Witness has found that Colombia is the world’s most dangerous country for environmental activists, with more 60 murders in 2019. How are we engaging to help protect these activists, and combating climate change in Colombia generally?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as I said in my opening Answer, Colombia remains a human rights priority country. I agree with the noble Baroness that the statistics are quite shocking. In the latest figures the UN has released, at least 45 human rights defenders have been killed this year alone. That said, we are working very closely with Colombia on the importance of protecting the environment and tackling climate change. Our climate programme in Colombia is designed with a conflict-sensitive approach. Much of its aims are to protect Colombia’s biodiversity, but also to protect those who are leading important roles within country.

Ethiopia: Northern Tigray Region

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Wednesday 2nd December 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, first let me assure the noble Lord that I share his concern, when we see the challenges faced in neighbouring countries, about the importance of containing this and seeking a peaceful settlement. On the channels he has mentioned, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary discussed co-ordination with our EU partners on 23 November, and we are in discussions with key African partners, including Uganda, Somalia, Kenya and, importantly, South Africa. At the UN, we also participated in the Security Council debate on 24 November.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, given the risk to stability in the region, does the Minister agree with former US ambassador Carson when he said yesterday that the battle cannot be won militarily, and that it is vital that neighbours do not become embroiled through the use of their bases or airspace? Could he spell out which EU countries the United Kingdom is working with to secure these aims via the UN?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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On the noble Baroness’s two questions, I can say yes and yes. We are working specifically with the likes of Germany and France in this respect, which also have important equities in that area.

Official Development Assistance

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Wednesday 2nd December 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, it needs political leadership within country, but we should be lending technical support to ensure that a greater level of tax is collected within developing parts of the world. I note what the noble Lord has said.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, what the noble Lord calls the “fiscal situation” that we are currently in was already apparent when reassurances were given, until a very few days ago, on our commitment to development by a department—DfID—renowned for its efficiency and transparency, including working on governance and tax collection. We could be in this so-called fiscal situation for the next decade or generation, because of Covid and Brexit. Can the Minister honestly say that he anticipates that we will ever return to 0.7% of GNI for development?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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Having hope and optimism is part and parcel of what defines the Government’s thinking. While we have been challenged this year, and our decision on this issue reflects that, as I have already said, it is our intention to return to 0.7%. We have recently seen news on the Covid vaccine, and the steps that are being taken. I again underline the United Kingdom’s leadership on the important issues of facing up to the Covid challenge and ensuring that, through the COVAX facility and other support, we access vaccines and provide them to the most vulnerable. This underlines this Government’s commitment to ensuring that the most vulnerable and those who need assistance continue to get the support that they need, notwithstanding the challenges and this decision.

Hong Kong: Legislative Council

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Thursday 12th November 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports that four pro-democracy legislators have been dismissed from the Hong Kong Legislative Council with immediate effect.

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, yesterday was another sad day for the people of Hong Kong. China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress imposed new restrictions, meaning that any Hong Kong legislator deemed to be supporting independence, refusing to recognise China’s sovereignty, seeking to support foreign forces’ interference or endangering Hong Kong’s national security would be disqualified. This decision led to the immediate removal of four elected members of the Legislative Council. Beijing’s actions breach both China’s commitment that Hong Kong will enjoy a high degree of autonomy and the right to freedom of speech, which is guaranteed under the Sino-British joint declaration.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, this is immensely serious for Hong Kong. What have the Government said directly to the Chinese Government about this major breach, as the Minister described it, of the Sino-British joint declaration? Will they consider taking China to the International Court of Justice for breaching its obligations under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, or has the United Kingdom undermined its ability to do that by threatening to break international law when it suits us?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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On the noble Baroness’s second question, we remain strong supporters of the ICJ but, as she will know, going to the ICJ requires the agreement of both parties. I very much doubt that China would do so. On the specific measures that we have taken since China’s action, only an hour or so ago, the Chinese ambassador was summoned to the FCDO to meet the Permanent Under-Secretary. I have not seen the read-out of that but we have taken immediate steps there.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Wednesday 4th November 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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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 thank the noble Lord for his support. I know that this issue has cross-party support and we are working together on this aim. On his final point, yes, we are working with partners to apply maximum pressure for all dual nationals arbitrarily detained in Iran to be released. On this specific case, we have made specific representations, both through the interactions of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and at ambassadorial level.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, the cases of the dual nationals being held in Iran are clearly appalling. Following the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I would like to probe the Minister on whether the Government carried out a risk assessment of the safety of Nazanin and others due to the postponement of the IMS debt. We have not had an answer to that either in the Commons or here. Exactly when did the Government ask to attend her trial and what answer did the Iranian authorities give?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s second point, as she will be aware, the Iranians do not recognise Nazanin’s dual national status. We made that representation; it was declined. On the IMS dispute, I assure the noble Baroness that discussions are ongoing to explore further options to resolve this 40 year-old case, but it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on the case at this time because of those ongoing discussions.

Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy

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

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I shall follow up on the noble Lord’s suggestion and write to him. I assure him that the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office is now pursuing international priorities in an integrated manner, including working to ensure greater leverage in the Indo-Pacific area.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, next autumn we are hosting COP 26, which must be a success both for the United Kingdom and globally. Given the delay to the CSR, how will we ensure that climate change is comprehensively addressed, what proportion of funding will come from our ODA commitments, and how will that affect our development programmes?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I have already alluded to our commitment to 0.7%, which is enshrined in law. The noble Baroness is of course right to raise COP 26; I assure her that Ministers across government are working to ensure that we deliver on its priorities and ambitions.

Jammu and Kashmir: Human Rights

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Monday 2nd 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, I will write to the noble Lord on his final point about formal engagement. As he knows, media freedom and the protection of journalists is a priority for Her Majesty’s Government; we are leading on a coalition with Canada. On the specific issue of Amnesty International and its situation in India, I assure the noble Lord that I have raised that directly with the Government of India.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, the former Chief Minister of Indian-administered Kashmir, Mrs Mufti, was detained in August last year when the Indian Government stripped the region of its partial autonomy. She was put under house arrest under a law that allows detention without charge for up to two years. She has only just been freed. Have the Government raised this and other arbitrary detentions in the region with the Government of India?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that we have; we raised that specific case.

Afghanistan

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Thursday 15th October 2020

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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On my noble friend’s second point, this poses a massive challenge for countries continuing to have a presence there, and indeed for donor countries such as ourselves that are engaged in humanitarian programmes. She is right to highlight the challenge. To be candid with her, I recognise and understand it. The challenge will be how the security situation prevails with any new governance arrangements in Afghanistan, to ensure that the achievements we have made, including in providing health support to women, are sustained and strengthened in the months and years ahead.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, one of the key advances that has come out of the engagement in Afghanistan has been the improvement in women’s rights. What discussions have the Government had with our former EU colleagues to make sure that our departure from the EU does not lead to them reducing their commitment?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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The noble Baroness is quite right to raise this. Engagements are going on regarding the US withdrawal between other NATO partners who continue to have a presence on the ground, because security has to be the primary objective in securing the gains that have been made. I assure the noble Baroness that I am looking at all the programmes in Afghanistan with the very purpose of seeing how we can strengthen partnership working to ensure that we continue to deliver them.

Protecting Civilians in Armed Conflict

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Monday 12th October 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, the short answer is yes. We are looking at all elements of supporting the most vulnerable communities. As my noble friend did, the noble Lord rightly raises the important issue of children who are directly impacted, not just by the conflict itself but in their life chances thereafter. I assure him that, as we work closely with Virginia Gamba and fund her office, we will continue to prioritise this issue.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD) [V]
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My Lords, following the Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, and the Minister’s Answer, can he confirm the UK’s continued commitment to the principle that international humanitarian law trumps national law in situations of armed conflict, and that this applies to abortion, if sought and recommended when a woman has been raped?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the United Kingdom remains committed to obligations of international humanitarian law and, as I said earlier, we call on other countries to respect their obligations to it. When we have differed on this issue, even from our strongest allies and at the top table—the UN Security Council—we have made known our difference and the importance of standing up for the sexual and reproductive health of all women, everywhere.

Iran: UN Arms Embargo

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Thursday 8th October 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, I thank the noble Lord for his support. While the JCPOA is far from perfect, it remains the only agreement on the table. We continue to press with our E3 partners on this issue to ensure that it is sustained, to prevent Iran becoming a nuclear state in any sense. We also remain committed to Resolutions 2216 and 1701 of the Security Council, which prevent further exporting of arms, as well as the other sanctions from the EU and on ballistics that I have already alluded to.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, I hope that the Minister will answer both my questions. Has the United Kingdom said anything to the United States about the importance of adhering to international agreements? Secondly, given the volatility of the region, does he agree that very active involvement with Iran is required to build on the JCPOA?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the second question of the noble Baroness, I have already referred to the fact that we are working with E3 partners and with High Representative Borrell on that very issue. On adhering to international agreements, the JCPOA was agreed by all and we were disappointed by the United States’ leaving it, but it is important, in order for it to remain on the table, that Iran fulfils its obligations.

Hong Kong: Political Situation

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Tuesday 29th September 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the current political situation in Hong Kong.

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, we are deeply concerned by the situation in Hong Kong. The new national security law is a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British joint declaration and directly threatens a number of Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms. The UK will not look the other way on Hong Kong and we will not duck our historic responsibilities to its people. We will continue working with partners to hold China to its international obligations.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, China has broken its treaty obligations—I am sure the Minister agrees that we must never do the same with any of ours—suspended elections in Hong Kong, and compromised the judiciary, the free press and free speech. Will the Government extend the pathway to citizenship beyond BNO passport holders to the many young Hong Kongers who are currently excluded, but are particularly vulnerable to intimidation and arbitrary arrest?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree that the situation for all people in Hong Kong is challenging at the moment. Recent arrests after the national security law was brought in have put that into focus. The BNO route, which was announced by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, provides direct assistance, as we promised. Anyone else, from anywhere in the world, who seeks the protection of the UK because of persecution will be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

China: Uighur Internment Camps

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
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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I can assure the noble Baroness that the Government’s priority is, and will remain, to stand up against abuses of all human rights and for freedom of religion or belief anywhere in the world.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Lord will now be very familiar with the China Tribunal’s conclusions on the forced removal of organs from the Uighurs and others. Are the Government now taking this report seriously? Are the Magnitsky sanctions being considered for those who may be involved in this appalling practice?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s second point, I cannot speculate on designations. On the organ harvesting report, I have, as she knows, met with Sir Geoffrey Nice. We have also carefully considered the group’s report of 1 March. That report contains numerous disturbing allegations of serious human rights abuses, including sexual violence, torture, and forced DNA testing. After reviewing the situation this morning, I have again written formally to the World Health Organization

Nigeria: Religious Violence

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Monday 21st 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, we are working with the Government of Nigeria, and with NGOs and faith NGOs on the ground, such as Christian Aid and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, to support communities--particularly those that have been displaced--and we will continue to do so.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD) [V]
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My Lords, Amal Clooney has just resigned as envoy on media freedom because of the Government’s statement that they may not respect an international treaty that they have just agreed and signed. What challenge does this situation pose for the Minister as he makes the UK’s case for media freedom and freedom of religion and belief, including in relation to Nigeria, at UN bodies and elsewhere?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I remain resolute in standing up against human rights abuses in whichever forum I attend, and will continue to do so on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government.

Taiwan

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Baroness Northover
Thursday 17th 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 noble Lord’s second point, concerns have been raised with the World Health Organization on the issue of organ harvesting. I know the noble Lord is aware that the evidence does not comply with action in this regard, but I am sure that we will return to those discussions.

On the initial question about the World Health Organization and World Health Assembly, we continue to lobby in that respect. This is an organisation where the criteria that I outlined earlier about statehood not being a prerequisite applies. Given the performance of Taiwan in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, I think that it has an important contribution to make in this regard.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, the US Mission to the UN has tweeted that the UN

“was founded to serve … all voices”

in the world, and that

“Barring … Taiwan … is an affront not just to the … Taiwanese people, but to UN principles.”

Does the Minister agree?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as I have just said in my previous answer, we regard the relationship with Taiwan as an important one bilaterally. Equally, we believe that Taiwan has a role to play in international organisations where statehood is not a prerequisite. In the current pandemic of Covid-19, Taiwan’s response shows that it can make a valuable contribution. Therefore, we hope that in November, for example, at the World Health Assembly, it is allowed to attend as an observer.

Terezin Declaration

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

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, on the noble Lord’s final point, we do engage regularly—most recently, as we heard from my noble friend, engagement through our ambassador produced positive results. We of course look forward to working with the new Government and I assure the noble Lord that at my first meeting with the Foreign Minister we will discuss various issues, including that of restitution.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD) [V]
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Justice dictates that huge efforts must be made to restore to families property stolen from those who died at the hands of the Nazis. All EU states signed the Terezin declaration. What arrangements are we making after the transition period to work with our EU neighbours to deliver on those commitments?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, we will continue to work with our EU friends on a number of important issues, as we will do on this and on wider issues of freedom of religion or belief.

China

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

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing this Statement on China and Hong Kong to the House. It is surely right to seek a positive relationship with China, with its ancient culture, economic strength and developing excellence in science and technology—especially green technology—as the Statement makes clear.

Nevertheless, we cannot turn a blind eye to human rights abuses, and the Secretary of State is right to identify the appalling treatment of the Uighurs. Can the Minister say whether the Foreign Office has now taken a view on the China Tribunal’s conclusions, and is the FCO bringing China within the scope of the new Magnitsky sanctions?

In terms of Hong Kong, we have a special responsibility. Britain and China signed a treaty, which is lodged at the UN, protecting the rights of those in Hong Kong for at least 50 years. The national security law has blown that away. Like the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I therefore welcome the Government’s actions on citizenship for BNO passport holders, the suspension of the extradition treaty and the extension of the arms embargo. Nevertheless, I once more flag the position of young activists who do not have BNO passports and will be particularly at risk. Will the Government make sure that no one is excluded from this offer? What steps are they taking to ensure that those facing political persecution can freely leave?

The involvement of independent foreign judges in Hong Kong has long been seen as the canary in the coal mine: if they went, the writing would be on the wall for the independence of Hong Kong. The President of the UK Supreme Court has now questioned whether UK judges can continue to sit on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal. What is the Minister’s view?

As I asked yesterday, does the Minister believe that there can be free and fair elections to the Legislative Council in September? Will the Government seek to send an election observation mission to Hong Kong? What further actions might the Government take if these elections are not free and fair?

There is also wide concern about free speech. Will British journalists be advised to relocate, and how might access to a free internet be protected? Are the Government willing to work alongside others to create a UN special envoy or rapporteur for Hong Kong, who could have special responsibility for monitoring the human rights situation on the ground? Is there a way this could be done without China simply vetoing it?

As I have expressed before, I remain concerned that not all countries in the EU, a tiny number of Commonwealth countries and no countries in Asia, South America and Africa supported the UK in relation to the new law. This is a desperate situation, and China should recognise the loss to their country of an outflow of talented young people from Hong Kong and step back, even at this late stage, from implementing this new national security law. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for their support of the Government’s position. I am sure they both recognise—indeed, they have acknowledged—the fact that, over several months now, the Government have stood up for what they said they would do.

I know, in my own work as Human Rights Minister, that we have not only strengthened but sought to build alliances in the context of the UN Human Rights Council and gained support—including ourselves, there were 27 countries that voted for the statement. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, has rightly reminded us again, there were a vast number of countries that were not supportive of the statement initiated by the United Kingdom, and that is a cause for concern.

Therefore, we continue to work through all international fora, as well as bilaterally, to ensure that not only the situation in Hong Kong but that of the Uighur Muslims—which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, mentioned specifically—is at the forefront of all our minds. It is particularly noticeable and disappointing that very few countries in the Islamic world have spoken out in defence of the Uighur Muslims. I am not for a moment suggesting that one religion should speak in its own defence, but whoever is persecuted, wherever they are persecuted and irrespective of your faith or belief, you should stand up for their rights, and it is disappointing that we have not seen a response from the wider community. However, we continue to work undeterred.

The noble Baroness mentioned the Commonwealth and will have noted that we have the support of notable partners, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, in this respect. We will continue to work with them in further strengthening the response from across the Commonwealth. In the context of the European Union, there was a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, which agreed that national Governments would focus on this issue and announce appropriately.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about the visit today of the German Foreign Minister, which is ongoing. I have been on a virtual visit to the UN today, so I have yet to see the updates from those discussions. However, knowing the German Foreign Minister well, I know how much he cares about human rights. Recently, I was with him when he chaired an event at the UN Security Council on the important issue of preventing sexual violence in conflict and standing up for the most vulnerable. We share a value system with many of our EU partners and, more globally, across the Commonwealth—values central to Commonwealth thinking. We will continue to raise these issues bilaterally and in international fora.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned the role of various private institutions in Hong Kong, which continue to operate. The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have been clear that companies must decide in which countries they will operate, but that, while that is a business decision for them, everyone should recognise that the situation prevailing in Hong Kong is a direct contravention of the joint agreement and of “one country, two systems”. As the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, reminded us, this agreement has been lodged with the United Nations. Therefore, we continue to implore China to uphold its obligations as a P5 member of the UN Security Council and as a wider player on important issues currently confronting the world—not only Covid-19 but also, as we work towards COP 26, China’s important role in ensuring that the world faces the challenges of climate change.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about the sharing of evidence and work around the Magnitsky sanctions. Again, I would cause speculation if I were to say specifically what the next designations will be, but before the Recess we shall have a debate about the sanctions that have already come forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about red lines. On the issue of the Uighurs and human rights across the world, the in