Debates between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury

There have been 170 exchanges between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury

1 Thu 17th September 2020 Taiwan
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (330 words)
2 Mon 7th September 2020 Treaty Scrutiny: Working Practices (EUC Report)
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (3,757 words)
3 Wed 29th July 2020 Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020
Department for International Development
2 interactions (3,350 words)
4 Tue 21st July 2020 Hong Kong
Department for International Development
3 interactions (279 words)
5 Mon 13th July 2020 Libya
Department for International Development
3 interactions (146 words)
6 Thu 9th July 2020 Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime
Department for International Development
3 interactions (225 words)
7 Wed 8th July 2020 Bahrain
Department for International Development
3 interactions (364 words)
8 Tue 30th June 2020 Korea
Department for International Development
3 interactions (269 words)
9 Mon 29th June 2020 China
Department for International Development
3 interactions (263 words)
10 Tue 23rd June 2020 Rwanda
Department for International Development
4 interactions (387 words)
11 Wed 17th June 2020 China
Department for International Development
3 interactions (162 words)
12 Mon 8th June 2020 Press Freedom
Department for International Development
3 interactions (204 words)
13 Thu 4th June 2020 Hong Kong: Human Rights
Department for International Development
2 interactions (2,112 words)
14 Thu 4th June 2020 Yemen: Humanitarian Aid Funding
Department for International Development
3 interactions (340 words)
15 Tue 2nd June 2020 Hong Kong
Department for International Development
3 interactions (204 words)
16 Wed 20th May 2020 Covid-19: Refugee Camps
Department for International Development
3 interactions (227 words)
17 Thu 14th May 2020 British Citizens Stranded Overseas
Department for International Development
3 interactions (189 words)
18 Wed 13th May 2020 Syria
Department for International Development
2 interactions (124 words)
19 Thu 30th April 2020 Covid-19: Repatriation of UK Nationals
Department for International Development
2 interactions (1,935 words)
20 Thu 30th April 2020 Syria
Department for International Development
2 interactions (134 words)
21 Tue 24th March 2020 British Citizens Abroad
Department for International Development
3 interactions (1,367 words)
22 Mon 23rd March 2020 Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review
Department for International Development
4 interactions (299 words)
23 Thu 19th March 2020 Hong Kong: Covid-19
Department for International Development
2 interactions (3,884 words)
24 Thu 19th March 2020 Yemen
Department for International Development
3 interactions (321 words)
25 Tue 17th March 2020 Covid-19 Update
Department for International Development
2 interactions (1,664 words)
26 Tue 10th March 2020 Refugee Crisis: Greece and Turkey
Department for International Development
3 interactions (814 words)
27 Mon 2nd March 2020 Organ Trafficking: Sanctions
Department for International Development
3 interactions (281 words)
28 Thu 27th February 2020 Israel and Palestine: United States’ Proposals for Peace
Department for International Development
2 interactions (2,789 words)
29 Wed 26th February 2020 Saudi Arabia: Death Penalty
Department for International Development
3 interactions (475 words)
30 Mon 24th February 2020 Syria
Department for International Development
3 interactions (898 words)
31 Wed 12th February 2020 Bahrain: Mohamed Ramadan and Hussain Moosa
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (302 words)
32 Mon 10th February 2020 Taiwan
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (306 words)
33 Wed 29th January 2020 Rohingya Muslims
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (211 words)
34 Wed 29th January 2020 Sudan and South Sudan
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (232 words)
35 Thu 23rd January 2020 Sanctions
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (257 words)
36 Wed 22nd January 2020 Violence Against Journalists
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (579 words)
37 Mon 20th January 2020 China: Uighurs
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (376 words)
38 Tue 14th January 2020 Iran: Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (1,441 words)
39 Tue 7th January 2020 Middle East: Security Update
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (1,683 words)
40 Tue 7th January 2020 British Citizens: Working Abroad
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (272 words)
41 Tue 5th November 2019 Intelligence and Security Committee Report
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (658 words)
42 Thu 31st October 2019 Brexit: Engagement with EU on Foreign Affairs
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (357 words)
43 Thu 24th October 2019 Syria and Iraq
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (1,976 words)
44 Wed 23rd October 2019 North-east Syria
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (577 words)
45 Thu 17th October 2019 South Africa: Money Laundering and Corruption
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (338 words)
46 Tue 15th October 2019 Northern Syria: Turkish Incursion
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (762 words)
47 Mon 9th September 2019 Hurricane Dorian
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
7 interactions (454 words)
48 Thu 25th July 2019 United Kingdom’s Ambassador to the United States: Leaked Messages
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (2,461 words)
49 Thu 25th July 2019 China: Organ Harvesting
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
6 interactions (398 words)
50 Wed 24th July 2019 Council of Europe: House of Lords Members’ Contribution
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (2,325 words)
51 Wed 24th July 2019 Bahrain
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (393 words)
52 Tue 23rd July 2019 Hong Kong
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (650 words)
53 Tue 23rd July 2019 Commonwealth: Decriminalising Homosexuality
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (157 words)
54 Mon 22nd July 2019 The Situation in the Gulf
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (1,975 words)
55 Mon 8th July 2019 Israel Defense Forces
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (199 words)
56 Thu 20th June 2019 Anti-Semitism
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
4 interactions (2,765 words)
57 Thu 6th June 2019 Sudan
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (359 words)
58 Tue 21st May 2019 UK Foreign Policy in a Shifting World Order (International Relations Committee Report)
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (4,656 words)
59 Tue 14th May 2019 Attacks on Journalists
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (2,931 words)
60 Mon 13th May 2019 Iran and Gulf Security
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (348 words)
61 Mon 13th May 2019 Saudi Arabia: Torture of Political Detainees
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (286 words)
62 Thu 9th May 2019 Syria (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (240 words)
63 Thu 9th May 2019 Sri Lanka: UNHCR Refugees
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (781 words)
64 Wed 8th May 2019 Iran Nuclear Deal
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (799 words)
65 Wed 1st May 2019 Lord Mayor’s Show: Taiwan
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (255 words)
66 Tue 30th April 2019 Sudan
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (281 words)
67 Thu 4th April 2019 China: Religious Freedom
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (213 words)
68 Tue 2nd April 2019 Sexual Violence
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (3,111 words)
69 Tue 2nd April 2019 Venezuela: Russian Troops
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (354 words)
70 Mon 1st April 2019 Yemen: Giving Peace a Chance (International Relations Committee Report)
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (3,751 words)
71 Wed 20th March 2019 Brexit: Bilateral Relations with European Union Member States
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (333 words)
72 Thu 7th March 2019 Yemen: Women and Girls
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (390 words)
73 Thu 28th February 2019 Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (408 words)
74 Thu 28th February 2019 Nord Stream 2 Pipeline
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (326 words)
75 Wed 13th February 2019 Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
5 interactions (2,581 words)
76 Mon 11th February 2019 China: Uighur Muslims
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (255 words)
77 Thu 7th February 2019 Venezuela
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
5 interactions (449 words)
78 Tue 5th February 2019 Sri Lanka
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (1,932 words)
79 Tue 5th February 2019 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (1,243 words)
80 Thu 31st January 2019 Zimbabwe
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (2,129 words)
81 Mon 21st January 2019 Zimbabwe
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (381 words)
82 Tue 15th January 2019 Sudan
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (328 words)
83 Thu 10th January 2019 Western Balkans
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (4,931 words)
84 Thu 10th January 2019 China: Human Rights
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (398 words)
85 Wed 9th January 2019 Brexit: UK Nationals
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (412 words)
86 Wed 19th December 2018 Yemen
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (1,301 words)
87 Wed 19th December 2018 China: Uighur Muslims
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (241 words)
88 Tue 18th December 2018 Nigeria: Intercommunal Violence
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (355 words)
89 Mon 17th December 2018 Ukraine
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (1,007 words)
90 Mon 10th December 2018 Sudan and South Sudan
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (261 words)
91 Mon 10th December 2018 Freedom of Religion or Belief
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (322 words)
92 Thu 15th November 2018 Yemen
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (2,640 words)
93 Wed 24th October 2018 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (346 words)
94 Wed 24th October 2018 Freedom of Religion or Belief
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (211 words)
95 Tue 23rd October 2018 Jamal Khashoggi
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (1,374 words)
96 Mon 23rd July 2018 British Overseas Territories: Same-Sex Marriage
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (447 words)
97 Mon 23rd July 2018 Jammu and Kashmir: Human Rights Abuses
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (239 words)
98 Thu 19th July 2018 Freedom of Religion or Belief
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (293 words)
99 Thu 28th June 2018 Violent Extremism
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (2,446 words)
100 Thu 28th June 2018 Sudan
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (2,287 words)
101 Wed 27th June 2018 Turkey: Prisoners
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (272 words)
102 Thu 21st June 2018 Turkey: Pride March
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (341 words)
103 Tue 12th June 2018 BBC Persian Staff
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (291 words)
104 Mon 11th June 2018 Yemen
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (822 words)
105 Thu 7th June 2018 Palestinian Territories
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (1,521 words)
106 Thu 24th May 2018 UK and the Western Balkans (IRC Report)
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (2,466 words)
107 Mon 21st May 2018 United Nations Human Rights Council: Resolution on Gaza
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (533 words)
108 Mon 21st May 2018 Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [HL]
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
5 interactions (2,264 words)
109 Mon 21st May 2018 Commonwealth: Discriminatory Legislation
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (200 words)
110 Mon 21st May 2018 Iran and Saudi Arabia: Co-operation on Syria and Yemen
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (346 words)
111 Tue 15th May 2018 Gaza
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (572 words)
112 Tue 15th May 2018 Syria
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (264 words)
113 Thu 10th May 2018 Myanmar
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (2,442 words)
114 Wed 9th May 2018 European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (Immunities and Privileges) (Amendment) Order 2018
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (1,468 words)
115 Wed 9th May 2018 Iran Nuclear Deal
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (1,089 words)
116 Wed 9th May 2018 Syria: Idlib
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (381 words)
117 Thu 3rd May 2018 Brexit: Sanctions Policy (European Union Committee Report)
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (3,025 words)
118 Wed 25th April 2018 Commonwealth Summit: Freedom of Religion or Belief
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (332 words)
119 Tue 27th March 2018 Israel-Palestine Conflict
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (361 words)
120 Mon 26th March 2018 Nigeria
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (325 words)
121 Thu 22nd March 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (5,273 words)
122 Wed 21st March 2018 Commonwealth Summit: Human Rights
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (194 words)
123 Tue 20th March 2018 Syria
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (256 words)
124 Mon 19th March 2018 Foreign Policy: Parliamentary Participation
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (383 words)
125 Wed 7th March 2018 Saudi Arabia
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (892 words)
126 Wed 28th February 2018 International Development Committee: Burma Visas
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (1,194 words)
127 Wed 28th February 2018 ISIS: Trial of British Citizens
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (308 words)
128 Mon 26th February 2018 Syria: Humanitarian Situation
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (1,055 words)
129 Thu 22nd February 2018 Syria: Eastern Ghouta
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (410 words)
130 Tue 20th February 2018 Commonwealth Summit
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (318 words)
131 Thu 8th February 2018 Bermuda: Same-sex Marriage
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (500 words)
132 Thu 8th February 2018 Gulf States: Human Rights
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (268 words)
133 Mon 29th January 2018 Turkey: Human Rights
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (247 words)
134 Thu 25th January 2018 Brexit: Foreign Policy
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (307 words)
135 Wed 24th January 2018 Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [HL]
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
8 interactions (1,657 words)
136 Wed 24th January 2018 Hong Kong
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (284 words)
137 Thu 18th January 2018 United States: Foreign Policy
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (4,402 words)
138 Thu 18th January 2018 Freedom of Religion and Belief
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (320 words)
139 Wed 17th January 2018 Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [HL]
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
8 interactions (3,496 words)
140 Mon 15th January 2018 Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [HL]
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
8 interactions (2,866 words)
141 Mon 15th January 2018 Commonwealth Summit: Faith Leaders
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (251 words)
142 Wed 10th January 2018 Georgia
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (285 words)
143 Wed 20th December 2017 Syria
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (305 words)
144 Wed 13th December 2017 Commonwealth Summit 2018
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (273 words)
145 Tue 12th December 2017 Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [HL]
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
12 interactions (3,366 words)
146 Mon 11th December 2017 Sudan and South Sudan
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (1,282 words)
147 Mon 11th December 2017 Visit to Oman, UAE and Iran
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (1,578 words)
148 Mon 11th December 2017 Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Ministerial Guidance
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (436 words)
149 Wed 6th December 2017 Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [HL]
Department for International Development
2 interactions (1,746 words)
150 Wed 29th November 2017 Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [HL]
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
19 interactions (2,684 words)
151 Tue 21st November 2017 Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [HL]
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
14 interactions (4,564 words)
152 Mon 20th November 2017 Yemen: Humanitarian and Political Situation
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (1,534 words)
153 Wed 15th November 2017 Zimbabwe
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (1,014 words)
154 Wed 15th November 2017 West Papua
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (287 words)
155 Tue 14th November 2017 Daesh: Raqqa
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (433 words)
156 Thu 2nd November 2017 Commonwealth Summit 2018
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (2,932 words)
157 Wed 1st November 2017 Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [HL]
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (5,053 words)
158 Wed 1st November 2017 Terrorism: Sexual Violence
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (262 words)
159 Thu 26th October 2017 UN Security Council: Information Sharing
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (314 words)
160 Tue 24th October 2017 Raqqa and Daesh
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (483 words)
161 Thu 19th October 2017 Syria
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (309 words)
162 Tue 17th October 2017 Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (346 words)
163 Tue 17th October 2017 British American Tobacco
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (281 words)
164 Mon 16th October 2017 Northern Cyprus
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (2,144 words)
165 Mon 16th October 2017 Iran: Future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (545 words)
166 Thu 12th October 2017 Sri Lanka
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (2,696 words)
167 Wed 11th October 2017 Burma: Rohingya People
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (194 words)
168 Tue 10th October 2017 Hurricane Irma: Disaster Relief
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
3 interactions (335 words)
169 Tue 12th September 2017 Hurricane Irma
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (1,698 words)
170 Tue 4th July 2017 Middle East (IRC Report)
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2 interactions (4,111 words)

Taiwan

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 17th September 2020

(1 day, 14 hours ago)

Lords Chamber
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Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, there are many areas of concern, which I have outlined from the Dispatch Box, in China’s recent behaviour and its exercising particular policies and programmes within the context of the South China Sea, to which the noble Lord referred. We have discussed several times in the Chamber, and I am sure will continue to, the recent concerns we have had over the actions it has taken through the security law in Hong Kong and the continued issue of human rights in mainland China, particularly with regard to the Uighurs. These will remain the subject of discussions with our allies, close friends and partners, as the noble Lord suggests.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, the continued campaign to isolate Taiwan by the People’s Republic is limited not just to economic and military issues. There is, obviously, the response by the WHO. Of course, at the time of this pandemic, it is really important that Taiwan is able to input its response into the WHO. We need to ensure that this campaign of isolation does not continue. While I am on the subject of the WHO, what further has the Minister done to raise with it the clear evidence of forced organ harvesting in China? Will the UK argue for an end to self-assessment and a move towards independent verification?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) - Hansard

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.

Treaty Scrutiny: Working Practices (EUC Report)

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Monday 7th September 2020

(1 week, 4 days ago)

Grand Committee
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Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, treaties signed by the Government of the day have enormous ramifications for our country and our partners in their agreements. As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, they now increasingly have wide policy implications that they have not had in the past, which is why it is so important that Parliament, civil society and the wider public play a role in their development and scrutiny.

I, too, thank the three chairs for their excellent introductions to their respective reports, each of which shines a light on the inadequacies of the current arrangements. As we have heard, the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 is not necessarily fit for purpose. As my noble friend Lady Taylor, chair of the Constitution Committee, said, there has been little time and virtually no opportunity provided for Parliament to have a say prior to the agreement.

Of course, as we have heard in the debate, it is long established that the agreement of treaties is a matter for the Executive, but as we leave the European Union and take on significant new powers in treaty-making, it is right that we consider what scrutiny should be applied to this prerogative, as many noble Lords have said. As the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, said, these three reports can act a cornerstone for those considerations. Each of them makes it clear that the provisions of CRaG do not suffice.

A tick-box exercise whereby the Government can claim that they have engaged with Parliament by laying the treaty under the negative resolution procedure is not a process of scrutiny. Again, as my noble friend Lady Taylor highlighted, the Constitution Committee did not express the view that Parliament should be required to endorse the Government’s mandate prior to commencing treaty negotiations, but it came down firmly in favour of a general principle of transparency from the Government throughout the treaty process. That is what this debate is clearly about, and I hope that the Minister will respond to that specific call.

The Government have also been asked by all the committees about the need to engage more effectively with the devolved institutions throughout the process. We have of course heard about the Constitution Committee’s recommendation and we now have a scrutiny committee, in the form of the EU International Agreements Sub-committee. The point made by my noble and learned friend Lord Golding—no, Lord Goldsmith; it is because I am seeing a note that he is a Whip, but he has hidden it now—is that it is simply not enough to have the committee. We need to ensure that it has sufficient time and is able to consider those necessary reports from the Government. The Government’s response in July 2019 to the Constitution Committee said that the CRaG Act remained

“a viable legal framework for scrutiny.”

However, they committed to engage

“with whatever parliamentary scrutiny structures the Houses implement”,

so it is incumbent on the Minister today to say exactly what that means in respect to the committee that we have established. Exactly what will they do to ensure that there is proper engagement with the committee?

As we have heard, on the general issue of transparency, the Government said in that response that they did not agree that they

“should operate on a presumption of transparency for all treaty negotiations.”

They said that, when deciding what information to make public, they had to balance

“openness against … factors including the risk of undermining the UK’s negotiating position”.

My noble friend Lady Taylor addressed that specific point. Again, it is incumbent on the Minister to set out to us what he sees that balance as being. Exactly how will the Government measure it?

As the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said in his contribution, our recent trade agreements have included the one announced with Japan, which is of great interest to Members of both this House and the Commons. However, at present, no debate on its provisions is scheduled. We have not had the opportunity to comment properly on it and, unfortunately, present arrangements mean that such trade treaties will be scrutinised only when the Government see fit. I am sure there are many who believe that the Government will never see fit.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned the need for standards in trade agreements. When considering the predecessor Trade Bill in 2019, noble Lords in this House made some 30 amendments covering employment, food and environmental standards, customs arrangements, Northern Ireland—we know that we will talk about Northern Ireland again tomorrow—and the future of EU collaboration. As the then Minister who was taking the Trade Bill through at that time put it,

“no legislation passes the scrutiny of this House without being improved.”—[Official Report, 6/3/19; col. 615.]

She said that “this is unquestionably true” in relation to these issues.

This side of the House strongly believes that the Government need to establish appropriate parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals, whether as significant changes to the existing EU ones or new, free-standing FTAs. The International Trade Select Committee and the Lords’ new International Agreements Sub-committee should have early access to negotiating mandates, receive ongoing negotiation reports and have the powers to make recommendations for the final approval of trade treaties and agreements. We must ensure that consumers, trade unions and wider civil society, and the nations and regions of this country, are fully engaged in trade policy.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, said, these international arrangements are not limited to trade agreements. She mentioned extradition treaties as an example. This was recently the subject of debates on the extradition Bill. The Minister will recall that I previously tabled a Motion which led to the debate on the extradition treaty with Kuwait. I was pleased that the Government found time for that debate and allayed my concerns over the extradition of those who may face the death penalty. However, there is no single mechanism—no guarantee that Parliament will have that opportunity to scrutinise. As my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith said, we need proper structures for appropriate, democratic oversight. I repeat that it is incumbent on the Minister to set that out in very clear terms this evening, in response to these three excellent committee reports.

The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. I am going to say something which I have probably never said before in your Lordships’ House: I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. He described these parliamentary reports as “excellent”. I fear that that is where our agreement may come to a very Lord-like difference of opinion. I am, nevertheless, truly grateful to noble Lords for their insightful contributions to this excellent debate. I also echo the sentiments of other noble Lords in acknowledging the sterling work done by my noble friend Lord Boswell during his tenure.

I thank all noble Lords present, all committees and staff for their excellent work in the production of these reports. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, reminded the Committee that, whatever the new norm will be, life has changed. It is, therefore, a particularly strong testament to everyone involved that in the same 12 months that these reports were produced, Parliament has established a dedicated treaty committee, with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, as an exemplary chair. I welcome my early engagement with that committee.

I know the noble Lord, Lord McNally, well. One of my first jobs in government was to serve as his Whip. Those who have seen the noble Lord perform at the Dispatch Box will appreciate my great skill in ensuring that the words “Keep Calm and Carry On” were regular reflections of the exchanges that we had. I hope that, if I am not able to directly answer all the comments in the course of my remarks, I shall be able to provide the level of warm reassurance that the noble Lord mentioned.

The production of these reports is testament to the magnitude of the issue being considered today: how the United Kingdom negotiates and concludes our international treaties. As always, I listened very carefully from the outset. The noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Foulkes, and my noble friend Lord Balfe talked about how the committee itself should be governed and operate. I noticed that there was a difference between my noble friend’s perspective and what the noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Foulkes, suggested on whether it should be a Joint Committee. As I am sure noble Lords will acknowledge, this is very much for Parliament itself. I engage directly with the Joint Committee on Human Rights in my capacity as Human Rights Minister and the Government look forward to working with any scrutiny mechanisms established by Parliament within the CRaG framework. I also welcome the International Agreements Sub-Committee, established in April this year.

It would be remiss of me not to pick up on the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, about the recent remarks that have been made and where we currently are in negotiations with our EU partners. In reflecting on the excellent contribution of my noble friend Lady Noakes, the noble Baroness said that my noble friend was looking at the past. I fear that my noble friend was attempting to remind noble Lords of the present: where we are today. We have left the European Union and therefore it is important, as the UK moves forward, to recognise that we will have full control of our treaty policy.

It is also right that Parliament takes a heightened interest in how the Government conduct their treaty negotiations. That has been reflected in the excellent debate today. We are at a crucial juncture in our constitutional order, and at this early stage I recognise that strong governance, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, reminded us, is vital. Our actions this year will set a precedent for the UK’s international agreements long into the future. However, the constitutional balance, which my noble friend Lady Noakes mentioned in her remarks, also requires us to be cautious about not tying the Executive’s hands.

The three reports considered today recognise that treaty-making is, of course, a function of the Government, subject to appropriate parliamentary scrutiny. That scrutiny is provided for, as all noble Lords acknowledge, in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, which enshrines the principles of parliamentary accountability in our international treaty relations. In the Government’s response to the previous reports—I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, that I too hoped that we would have published my response to the report, but I hope we will issue it very shortly—we fully acknowledged the case for improving processes around the way the Act is implemented to ensure effective parliamentary scrutiny.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Donaghy and Lady Northover, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, among others mentioned the CRaG Act. They also recognised the reforms that have taken place. As we know, the Act is barely 10 years old. The fundamental nature of treaties has not changed significantly in that time and it is the Government’s view that CRaG respects the balance between the need for parliamentary accountability and the fundamental right of the Executive to negotiate for the UK internationally, exercising their powers under the royal prerogative. The rule is a result of centuries of constitutional practice, as we have heard, and it serves an important function. The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act allows the United Kingdom to speak clearly, with a single voice as a single actor under international law.

As noble Lords will also understand, negotiating a treaty is an art. However, I also acknowledge the contribution from my noble friend Lord Moynihan, who importantly reminded us of the strength and skills in our own parliamentary democracy, particularly—I add with perhaps a degree of bias—the expertise that we find in your Lordships’ House. At some stage, though, in the negotiations themselves, both sides will have to offer compromises. I am sure, however, that many noble Lords will recognise that these compromises are best kept in reserve. I was in business for more than 20 years prior to joining the Government, and I learned that all negotiations require the need for big sleeves. Announcing your position in advance often risks giving your negotiating partner the upper hand. Sometimes, of course, confidentiality—which many noble Lords mentioned—will be key. We are, of course, reminded of the Good Friday agreement.

However, if we are too prescriptive in the requirements that we make around CRaG, we risk tying our negotiators’ hands. Negotiators must be equipped to represent the national interest to the best effect. Equally, however, I respect the necessity, as has been said today, that they remain mindful of Parliament’s interests. As any Minister negotiating a treaty will be aware, the importance of Parliament’s role cannot in any way be ignored. Knowing that Parliament can resolve itself against ratification or may need to pass implementing legislation is an important consideration during the course of negotiations and in engaging with Parliament under CRaG.

The issues of CRaG, its reform and how Parliament moves forward with scrutiny were also matters of much debate in this regard. In the time I have I will pick up on some of the specific questions that were asked about the Government’s current position. As I already said, further details will emerge from the formal response that the Government will issue to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith.

What has changed since CRaG was adopted, though, is the level of public interest now that the UK has control of its treaty policy, as the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, highlighted. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and others that the Government welcome this increased interest. We accept that this justifies increased engagement and information within the CRaG framework whenever possible. As I said, this will vary at times due to individual negotiations but could include engagement through the negotiation process before an agreement is formally laid before Parliament under the Act.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, also talked of the importance of parliamentary scrutiny. The Government acknowledge that, and I add that we also believe that parliamentary scrutiny does not necessarily end with ratification. I assure noble Lords that the Government are committed to publishing all treaty amendments, not just those that require ratification and thereby trigger CRaG. Likewise, for other implementations, derogations or withdrawals, we look forward to working with the International Agreements Sub-Committee to provide transparency effectively and appropriately.

On living up to these commitments, our response has to date focused on the important issue of trade deals—an area where there has been significant recent interest, for understandable reasons. I am pleased to note the positive response to the bespoke approach of colleagues in government, particularly those in the Department for International Trade, in this respect. This point was acknowledged by several noble Lords. Its regime of engagement and transparency allows for effective scrutiny of trade agreements. I suggest to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and reassure the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, that we have seen through the recent compressive publications before negotiations—whether with the US, Japan, which the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, mentioned specifically, Australia or New Zealand—that the DIT, as well as other departments, will continue to keep Parliament informed through regular updates on negotiation progress.

In addition, the Government will also seek to allow time before finalising a new free trade agreement and laying it before Parliament under CRaG. That will allow the relevant scrutiny committee to produce an independent report. This open and detailed process will help Parliament and the public understand the agreement and its implications. This reflects the Government’s continued commitment to transparency.

I will pick up on some of the specific questions. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and other noble Lords mentioned the 21-day timescale. In this regard, the Government commit to continue the regular constructive meetings between officials and those in the committees. In addition, it might be appropriate in certain cases for the Government to share a signed or initial treaty text with the relevant Select Committee or the IAC in advance of laying formally under CRaG to help the committee manage its scrutiny workload. This is especially appropriate for the FTAs, as I mentioned, and the Government will seek, as I said, to allow time between finalising a new FTA and laying it before Parliament under the CRaG procedure. The noble and learned Lord asked specifically about the timescales, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. The Government will consider the use of Section 21 of CRaG, whereby Ministers can extend 21 sitting days where appropriate.

Another issue that came up from several noble Lords was MoUs. This was a matter of discussion between me and the committee during our exchanges. As noble Lords reminded us, MoUs are used where it is appropriate to include a statement of political intent or political undertaking. In general terms, MoUs are drafted in non-legally binding language to reflect political commitments. They are not binding as a matter of international law and are not published or laid before Parliament as a matter of government practice. Particular elements of this, including the Ponsonby rule, were covered by the noble Lord, Lord Beith, and the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza. In situations where MoUs raise questions of public importance, it might be appropriate for the Government to draw such matters to Parliament’s attention; for example, by way of a Written Ministerial Statement. Other measures are available to Ministers, as my noble friend Lady Noakes reminded your Lordships. However, it is not the Government’s intention routinely to submit MoUs for scrutiny.

The issue of devolved Administrations approving treaties that affect devolved issues was raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Taylor and Lady Donaghy, and the noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria and Lord Collins, among others. The United Kingdom Government recognise that the devolved Administrations have a strong interest in international policy-making in relation to devolved and reserved matters that impact on the distinct interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I assure noble Lords that the Government remain committed to working constructively with the devolved Administrations to facilitate the effective implementation of our international obligations.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, mentioned ways of scrutiny in other countries. My noble friend Lord Lansley also reminded us of the importance of scrutiny. As I have said, the Government welcome the establishment of the IAC and will engage quite directly. In preparation for this debate, I looked at some of the measures deployed by other countries. JSCOT, the Australian scrutiny committee, has a sifting mechanism—the noble and learned Lord mentioned this—and we see its value. It is in the Government’s interest to ensure that the most qualified committees scrutinise relevant treaties. Whereas under CRaG we allow 21 days, it is my understanding that the Australian committee currently has 15 days to scrutinise a particular treaty.

Human rights were also rightly raised—the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, talked of their importance. I assure noble Lords that none of the 20 continuity trade agreements already signed has reduced standards in any area. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister outlined in his Greenwich speech, we remain committed to upholding high environmental, human rights and labour standards. The recent merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with the Department for International Development aligns the importance of our values agenda with our development policy. For example, when transitioning the EU deal with the Republic of Korea, we agreed a joint statement on human rights within a separate political declaration signed by our ambassador and the vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs in Seoul. That was published on 21 August 2019. More widely, the Government have already committed to set out in Explanatory Memoranda whether there are any significant human rights implications so that departments consider the human rights implications of all treaties.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Taylor and Lady Northover, the noble Lords, Lord Beith and Lord Whitty, and my noble friend Lord Lansley mentioned the importance of confidential briefings. The IAC report specifically acknowledged the limits of sharing confidential information regarding FTAs. The Government have a responsibility to protect UK interests in our international negotiations and to ensure that we do not release information that would undermine our negotiating position or our partners’ legitimate expectations of confidentiality. I know that noble Lords agree on this important principle. However, in line with our commitment to transparency and to aid parliamentary scrutiny, we have already seen our DIT colleagues share information where appropriate with the IAC on a confidential basis to keep it apprised of our FTA negotiations. Likewise, the Government will assess whether to give confidential briefings on a case by case basis.

I am coming to the end of my time. In acknowledging the excellence of the debate we have had, and the debate that I am sure will continue, I give a continued commitment in my capacity now as Minister of State at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to engage. I underline that the Government value parliamentary scrutiny and look forward to engaging closely with the committee in this respect. I assure all noble Lords that no one doubts that Parliament’s role is to hold Ministers to account. Equally, I am sure that all noble Lords recognise that the Government have a responsibility to secure the best outcome when it comes to the national interest in our international negotiations.

One yardstick by which the country will be measured going forward is our record as a sovereign and independent nation on negotiating and concluding new treaties that reflect our new status. Therefore, there is a balance to strike, as I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Collins. But let me assure noble Lords that we believe that the framework of the CRaG continues to strike that balance. With the additional engagement that I have outlined today, which of course will be detailed in response to the noble and learned Lord’s report, I believe that we will be able to provide more reassurance to all noble Lords about the Government’s commitment to transparency and to work with the committee in a constructive and progressive way.

With the additional engagement and information-sharing measures that I have outlined this afternoon, I hope that I have provided a degree of those warm words for the noble Lord, Lord McNally, among others, with the added reassurance that the Government remain absolutely committed to working with Parliament for the effective scrutiny of our international agreements and obligations.

Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 29th July 2020

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, the regulations have the full support of these Benches. As the Minister said, they are the result of cross-party work generally and also in this Chamber when we were dealing with the sanctions Act. Many changes and concessions were made during the progress of that Act, which I very much welcome.

However, the powers in these regulations are not enough on their own. They must be used correctly, be applied to the correct individuals and form part of a wider foreign policy that stands for human rights. There must be consistency in the Government’s approach, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester highlighted. So, although the designation of individuals linked to the Saudi regime is welcome, the decision to resume arms sales for use by the same regime in the Yemeni conflict is inconsistent with our intolerance of human rights abuse.

Transparency in the designation of sanctions will better their effectiveness. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, Parliament should be afforded the opportunity to scrutinise designations and suggest new ones. The Minister in the other place, James Cleverly, said that

“the exact nature of the scrutiny of the Government’s actions … will evolve over time, because this is a new process.”—[Official Report, Commons, Ninth Delegated Legislation Committee, 16/7/20; col. 8.]

I hope that the Minister will be able to say a little more on this subject. For example, can he confirm whether the Intelligence and Security Committee will have a role, as my noble friend Lord Foulkes suggested and as had also been previously suggested? The scrutiny of sanctions by the legislature is not a novel idea. Many of our democratic allies, in particular the US, already have these arrangements in place.

I would appreciate clarification on a few sections of the regulations. First, Regulation 1(4) details the purpose of the sanctions. Specifically, as the Minister said, it states that they intend to deter violations of the right to life, the right not to be subjected to torture and the right to be free from slavery. However, as the Minister knows, the definition in the 2018 Act, which we debated in this Chamber and moved amendments on, is much wider. We also of course have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So why do we have this narrow definition in the regulations? Why do we not have a much broader definition? That seems to me a little inconsistent.

Of course, the Minister highlighted the circumstances of Sergei Magnitsky’s imprisonment and death. I, too, pay tribute to his family and, of course, Bill Browder, for campaigning so hard to bring this law about—but the definition in these regulations is narrower than in the Act and the Universal Declaration. Is the Minister satisfied, for example, that the definition will cover the arbitrary detention of populations such as the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang and the cases in Zimbabwe mentioned by my noble friend Lord Hain?

Turning to other issues, unlike the US Act on Magnitsky, the regulations omit corruption. James Cleverly said that the Government were

“considering how a corruption regime could be added to our armoury of legal weapons.”—[Official Report, Commons, Ninth Delegated Legislation Committee, 16/7/20; col. 4.]

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, made reference to and highlighted the points he made. But can the Minister tell us today what the timeframe for such work is? Will we see something this year, or next year? Corruption is such an important element of tackling human rights abuses, as noble Lords have said.

Finally, I echo the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, regarding penalties and offences created. We had a lengthy debate about these issues on the sanctions Act. As I read the Explanatory Notes again, one thing that struck me was the different terms of imprisonment an individual who makes funds available to designated persons could be subject to. It is six months in Northern Ireland, 12 months in England and Wales and there is a difference for Scotland. I hope the Minister can again explain these differences. I know there is a reference to the different legislation, but it shows a little inconsistency.

With the introduction of the powers contained in today’s instrument, the Government have the potential to put our values at the forefront of the UK’s foreign policy. I am pleased that the regulations have been introduced, but their effectiveness will be determined by their implementation and, above all, as many noble Lords have said in today’s debate, by whether the Government choose to confront human rights abusers wherever they appear, rather than only when it is convenient to do so.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in today’s debate. As I said in the closing of my opening remarks, I put on record my personal thanks to noble Lords from across the House who I know have been focused on the issues we have discussed today but also, importantly, on the broader issue of human rights. I give my personal commitment to continue to engage, as I did during the passage of the Act in 2018 and subsequently on issues of future designations. I put on record my particular thanks to both Front-Benchers, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for their continued support and challenge. I assure noble Lords that they are quite often robust challenges. Nevertheless, it demonstrates both the insights and expertise contained within your Lordships’ House that are so valuable to our thinking.

We have two Lady Kennedys participating today: the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy of Cradley and Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. Among others, such as the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lady Altmann, they rightly mentioned specifically the important role of Bill Browder, and I pay tribute to him. It was notable—as I am sure noble Lords observed—that the Magnitsky family was also present at the Foreign Office on the day the first designations and these regulations were laid. We pay tribute to their sacrifices and to the great campaigners; I have the great honour to work alongside the likes of Amal Clooney. I am also grateful in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, for her continued focus and support in this regard.

We have had a wide-ranging debate. We talked about links to the City and, as ever, my noble friend Lord Moynihan talked about the importance of the read-over to other sectors, including sport. Many noble Lords asked about process and designation. In the time I have, I will seek to work through the specific questions raised.

First, I agree with the many noble Lords who made the important point that these sanctions work effectively only when we work with others. I have already mentioned our Five Eyes partnership. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that we have robust systems at the Foreign Office through the existing work we do through the Five Eyes partnership to continue to work in co-operation in this regard.

My noble friend Lord Holmes and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, among others, mentioned the important role of the EU. We will continue to support the development of an EU human rights sanctions regime and we look forward to working in co-operation with all partners.

The noble Lords, Lord Desai and Lord Bhatia, among others, talked about the importance of international human rights law. This regime is totally compatible with international human rights law. I assure the various noble Lords who raised how this will apply that we will use these sanctions without fear or favour. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked whether we will apply them to friends. The first designations included sanctions on individuals in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We will continue to focus in this respect and I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, is also reassured.

We heard from others, including the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that working with EU partners is not new. The likes of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia already have such sanctions in place and we will continue to strengthen our work across all countries to ensure that we can apply these regimes consistently and focus on the individuals who abuse human rights.

I will go through some of the specific questions before I get on to countries. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked about the process of parliamentary scrutiny. I assure him that we remain very much committed, as we are in the Act through Sections 30 and 32, to the review of our sanctions legislation. The sanctions Act remains the primary legislative vehicle to establish regimes via secondary legislation. I note that the noble Lord said that although it was delayed, he certainly welcomed it.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised scrutiny by committees and mentioned the debate in the other place. We stand ready to engage on all issues. As the process evolves, we will strengthen our processes. We wish to engage directly with committees in this regard.

The noble Lords, Lord Hussain and Lord Bhatia, referred to the human rights report. I assure noble Lords that just because a country is listed as a human rights priority country, it does not mean that such countries alone are the ones that we would look to work on. Clearly, there are partners and friends in those countries. The human rights report is used as a tool to strengthen the role of human rights within countries. While we may sanction individuals and organisations, our battle is not with a country itself or the people of a country. As we have seen from the example of what is happening in Xinjiang, many populations within countries suffer human rights abuses.

The noble Lord, Lord Hussain, asked specifically about Kashmir and India. I assure him that I raise these issues consistently. Indeed, I was on a virtual visit to India yesterday. During various conversations I raised this specific issue.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, rightly reminded us of the ordinary principles of judicial review. I assure him that administrative reviews of designations will be undertaken in strict accordance with the Act and the regulations. The Act makes it clear that, on any challenge, the court must apply principles applicable to an application for judicial review. I thank the noble and learned Lord for his continued contributions to the statutory provisions as they pass through Parliament. I assure, among others, the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, and my noble friend Lord Holmes that we will continue to adhere to the principles of judicial review, as I have articulated.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about the ISC’s scrutiny role. It is not my job to tell Select Committees or the House what to do, but I have already alluded to the fact that we welcome engagement with various committees.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, asked about prosecutors, judges and non-state actors. Those involved in human rights abuses and violations sadly include those set up to protect—including prosecutors and judges. If they meet the criteria it will apply to them as well, and to non-state actors.

The noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Collins, raised specific countries. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, referred to Zimbabwe and South Africa. Other noble Lords mentioned various countries. I assure your Lordships that we will keep situations of human rights concern under review. Although I have said, and will say again, that it is inappropriate to speculate on future designations, we will continue to focus on the particular cases that noble Lords have raised. I stay ready to engage directly and to take forward discussions in your Lordships’ House and on a bilateral basis.

My noble friend Lord Naseby and others mentioned other countries, such as Sri Lanka. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, mentioned Colombia. I thank all noble Lords for raising specific cases. I assure them that the FCO, as it currently stands—and the foreign, commonwealth and development office that will exist from September—will continue to consider each designation and each case that is raised quite carefully.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier rightly raised the issue of resources. I assure noble Lords that we have a dedicated sanctions unit, and I pay tribute to its incredibly hard work in getting this regime together and on the rollover EU sanctions during the transition period. We are working very closely with geographical leads within government and posts overseas to identify and develop designations. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that we will continue to work very closely with other partners.

Several noble Lords asked about the scope of the sanctions, including the right reverend Prelate, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and the noble Lords, Lord Loomba, Lord Collins and Lord Wood. The point was made that the sanctions, as currently announced, have a narrow focus. I assure noble Lords that all rights are equally important, but we want to ensure the success of the sanctions regime by keeping the scope targeted in the first instance. Furthermore, the sanctions regime will support other human rights issues, including imposing sanctions for unlawful killings perpetrated against journalists and media workers. In answer to the right reverend Prelate’s direct question, I can say that they extend to those who abuse freedom of religion or belief. Both these issues—media freedom and freedom of religion or belief—remain government priorities. I hope that the right reverend Prelate is reassured by that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, talked about anti-money laundering and the City of London. While the Treasury leads overall, as a Government we are committed to ensuring that the UK’s financial system is hostile to all forms of illicit finance.

At this point, I will revert to the issue of corruption. I mentioned in my opening remarks that we have not included corruption within the scope of the regime initially. As I said, we are considering how a corruption regime could be added to the current legal tools that we have, and we are already looking at the UN convention. As the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, reminded us, already Canada and the US have working regimes in this respect, and we are working very closely with them. This was a point of concern raised by other noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Wood and Lord Hain, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Falkner. The UK is a global leader in tackling corruption and illicit finance. In 2017, we introduced the ambitious and far-reaching five-year anti-corruption strategy.

A specific point was made about the application of these regulations in the overseas territories. There are processes in place, either through Orders in Council or directly through the OTs themselves, so that they will be able to implement these sanctions regimes.

At this juncture, I want to acknowledge the important work done on human rights by the Council of Europe, as we were reminded about by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. He might not remember—it has been a while—but, on joining your Lordships’ House, my first role was as a member of the team at the Council of Europe. I pay tribute to the important work done there—we will continue to work with parliamentarians engaged in that agenda—and at the Human Rights Council. I thank noble Lords for their support in that respect.

The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and others talked of delays that occurred in introducing the regulations, and he specifically asked about schools and universities. On the delay, as has been mentioned, work was done outside government. I have been involved with the work of government for a few years now and I assure noble Lords that this was a priority when I first joined your Lordships’ House; there are many in government who remain very committed to it. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, reminded us, it is thanks to the combined efforts of many that we have finally seen this regime introduced. It was appropriate that we took the time to get it right.

Modern slavery was mentioned by various noble Lords. I am sure that many noble Lords in this Chamber and joining us virtually recognise the important role played on the agenda on modern slavery by my right honourable friend the former Prime Minister, Theresa May. She championed this cause as a priority for Her Majesty’s Government. It remains a key issue that we continue to champion on the broader human rights agenda.

As to whether this will apply to schools and universities, asset freezes prevent UK organisations providing funds to a designated person, so the sanctions regime applies to every sector.

My noble and learned friend Lord Garnier and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised the important issue of consultation with NGOs. I work closely with many NGOs on the human rights front. We regularly have meetings with them. There is a body and an advisory group that meets the Foreign Secretary on human rights issues. We will continue to engage with them on a regular basis. I cannot provide a timeline, as I am sure noble Lords will respect, on whether we will be looking at a particular process for future designations every month, every week or every two weeks.

However, I can say that we have the resources available to us and we have strengthened consultations to ensure that we can act—and act swiftly—if needs require. But we will do so most effectively when we work alongside international partners. We value the insights and information that NGOs provide in this respect and intend to set out a clear line of communication. As I am sure noble Lords acknowledged, we have published an information note aimed at NGOs and civil society organisations on the specific issue of dialogue with government.

Finally, on China and Xinjiang, as well as other specific countries, I want to mention this. I have deliberately left it to the end. My noble and learned friend Lord Garnier, the right reverend Prelate, the noble Baronesses, Lady Smith, Lady Kennedy of Cradley and Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Wood, my noble friend Lady Altmann—the list goes on—all rightly focused on the important issue of Xinjiang and the long-term suffering of the Uighur population. Again, while I cannot comment on future designations, let me assure noble Lords that the UK regularly raises its serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang. This is done both directly with the Chinese authorities, including by the Foreign Secretary raising it directly with his counterpart, and at international organisations, as I have continued to do during our engagements at the Human Rights Council. I assure noble Lords that we will continue to raise these issues. Many noble Lords raised issues around Xinjiang. Let me assure them that the FCO is carefully considering further suggestions for designations under the global human rights sanctions regime.

I have been handed my final slip of this session before the Summer Recess. It says that I am literally out of time—and virtually out of time for those joining us from wherever they may be. It is important, and good, to end by saying that we have had a challenging session because of Covid-19 and the coronavirus. But we end on an issue which reflects the best of what your Lordships’ House is about; how we work together and strengthen relationships on the important priorities that define our country and our values. It is a great honour to be standing here in front of your Lordships to conclude our Session by talking about human rights, and also talking about the important regime which has now come before us. It shows the strong workings across your Lordships’ House and across party divides.

As I outlined in my opening speech, these regulations underline our commitment to be an even stronger force for good in the world. They demonstrate our leadership in the promotion and protection of human rights. They are rightly a priority—and long may they remain so. I thank all noble Lords for their continued support in this respect. I wish them a restive—albeit at-home staycation—Summer Recess. For me the next immediate issue is that it is Eid in a day, and I look forward to spending it with my family.

Hong Kong

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Tuesday 21st July 2020

(1 month, 4 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon [V] - Hansard

My Lords, I draw the attention of the noble Lord to the opening paragraphs of the Statement made by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. They stress again that we see China as an important strategic partner and that we believe that it has a positive role to play on the international stage. However, it must fulfil its international obligations. I cannot speak for private companies, but our challenge is not with them or indeed with the normal citizens of Hong Kong. We believe that their rights should be respected by the Hong Kong Administration and the Chinese authorities. That is what we are standing up for.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, at the beginning of June, the Foreign Secretary suggested that the new Magnitsky powers might be an option in respect of the police brutality and other actions in Hong Kong. Yesterday, in respect of the national security legislation, he said:

“We will patiently gather the evidence, which takes months.”—[Hansard, Commons, 20/7/20; col. 1835.]

What of the clear evidence of Chinese officials being involved in forced organ harvesting and the oppression of the Uighur people? Does the Minister agree that the Government should accelerate the timetable for the Magnitsky sanctions to be imposed on those Chinese officials who are involved in such persecution?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon [V] - Hansard

My Lords, I have made clear on a number of occasions my strong concerns and the fact that Her Majesty’s Government have raised the issues of what is happening with the Uighur people and other minority communities in China. On the specific point about the Magnitsky sanctions, the noble Lord will respect the fact that it is not right to speculate about what any future designations may be.

Libya

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Monday 13th July 2020

(2 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, the important thing is that all parties come together, irrespective of which side they appear to be on or have declared their backing for, because this requires support not just from the two parties in-country but from those supporting either side.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, at a recent Security Council meeting Stephanie Williams of the UN Support Mission in Libya warned of a massive influx of weaponry, equipment and mercenaries. Can the Minister assure the House that no UK company is indirectly linked to the supply of weaponry and that no UK citizen is involved in the sort of mercenary services provided?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that the UN arms embargo on Libya needs to be respected. We take very seriously any reports of breaches of the embargo. They are considered by the UN sanctions committee, of which the UK is a member.

Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 9th July 2020

(2 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

I am always very pleased to speak to Members of your Lordships’ House. We will seek a time when I might come and brief the committee and engage some of its thinking.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) [V] - Hansard

My Lords, I welcome what the Minister said about scrutiny. He reminded us yesterday about Section 30, and the debates that we had on the sanctions Bill and the consequent Act. What is lacking is a clear idea about how that scrutiny will take place. I certainly welcome the fact that we are possibly going to get the Intelligence and Security Committee looking at that. Can he offer us more transparency by offering a proper debate on these regulations, so that we can not just debate those designations the Government have decided upon, but discuss new designations?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

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

Bahrain

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 8th July 2020

(2 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right to raise, as others have, the issue of torture. As he will know, the UK Government consistently and unreservedly condemn torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. On UK assistance, we are committed to supporting Bahrain-led reform and are confident of its positive impact for people in Bahrain across a variety of areas, including judicial reform and youth management—as well as in the recent steps forward that we have seen on the oversight bodies and the positive legislation enacted to protect migrant workers.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, in February, the Minister told the House that

“we are far from where we want to be but our continual engagement with the Bahraini authorities is producing results.”—[Official Report, 12/2/20; col. 2262.]

We have provided £6.5 million in technical assistance to the very bodies that have enabled these men’s torture and death sentences. Will the Minister confirm that we will be able to observe the court if that is due to take place on Monday and that he will make public representations on these cases, as noble Lords have requested? Will he pursue the matter if the court’s decision is to uphold these death penalties, ensuring that representation is made to the highest levels, including to the King?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that, as I have said to other noble Lords, we will take a very strong line, as we have before on the death penalty in Bahrain and, indeed, other parts of the world. This case is yet to be decided; I remind noble Lords of that. Our support and technical support have yielded returns, including the review and retrial of this case. The noble Lord asked specifically whether we will be allowed to attend this trial. I believe that the rules of the Court of Cassation do not allow for the British embassy to attend or observe on this occasion. We await the outcome of the decision of the court. I have listened very carefully to the strength of representations in your Lordships’ House, as I always do, and will discuss it with other colleagues, including my right honourable friend the Minister for the Middle East.

Korea

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Tuesday 30th June 2020

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, I will write to the noble and right reverend Lord on his second question. On his earlier question, we retain a mission, of course, but as he may be aware, we drew that down due to concerns around the Covid pandemic; we are working to restore the ambassador to North Korea at the earliest opportunity. As I said in response to an earlier question, the situation on the humanitarian front remains very dire within North Korea.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, this is a dangerously escalating situation and the noble Lord has mentioned our acting multilaterally. However, the two key players in this are obviously the US and China. What direct contact have we made with both of those players to ensure that we move to de-escalation? Also, I read in the FT recently that we would be targeting by using the Magnitsky powers in relation to North Korea. Before the Recess, the Minister promised that those statutory instruments would be put before us. Can he give an update of when that will be, because obviously this situation demands urgent action?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

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

China

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Monday 29th June 2020

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord’s second question, we have made our position quite clear: it is a breach of that agreement, as well as a basic breach of Hong Kong’s own laws. On working in the UN and supporting what it is doing, he will be aware that we raised the issue at the UN Security Council on 29 May and continue to work with international partners on the issue of Hong Kong.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, the final report of the independent tribunal into forced organ harvesting in China described the practice as a crime against humanity. Last July, the Minister shared my concern that the evidence on which the WHO cleared China was based on self-assessment by China. What is the Government’s assessment now of the tribunal’s full report and what has been the result of the United Kingdom’s representations to both the WHO and the Chinese authorities?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite correct: the final report was issued on 1 March, and we noted that the testimonies added to the growing body of evidence about the disturbing situation that the Falun Gong practitioners, Uighurs and other minorities are facing. The Government’s position remains that the practice of systematic state-sponsored organ harvesting would constitute a serious violation of human rights, and I assure the noble Lord that we regularly raise these concerns with China. We have also consulted the World Health Organization in both Geneva and Beijing, although it maintains its view that China is implementing an ethical system. We will continue to keep this policy under review.

Rwanda

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Tuesday 23rd June 2020

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury - Hansard

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what recent discussions they have had with the government of Rwanda and the Commonwealth Secretariat on (1) progress on implementing the action points since the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in London in April 2018, and (2) arrangements for exchanges with Commonwealth Heads of Government as a consequence of the postponement of the June 2020 meeting.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, as Chair-in-Office for the Commonwealth, we have worked diligently with the Commonwealth family to deliver the heads’ 2018 commitments and regularly update Members on this progress. We are also in close contact with the Government of Rwanda and the Commonwealth Secretariat on rescheduling CHOGM. Commonwealth member states have responded to Covid-19 collaboratively. Commonwealth Health Ministers met virtually on 14 May to discuss the pandemic, and on 28 May I briefed Commonwealth high commissioners on the UK’s international response.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

I thank the Minister for that response. Sadly, since Jeremy Hunt left office, we have had little debate or reporting on the Commonwealth. I hope that, through the usual channels, the Minister can put that right. As he said, as Chair-in-Office—and, actually, as Equal Rights Coalition co-chair—we are in a leadership position to ensure delivery on the Commonwealth commitments, especially on human rights. So when will the Government release the urgently needed resources for civil society to help LGBT people survive the Covid-19 crisis and continue to advance LGBT and human rights internationally?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

The noble Lord is right to raise the importance of the most vulnerable, particularly in the Covid-19 crisis. I assure him that the UK-funded Equality & Justice Alliance has already helped six Commonwealth Governments repeal or reform outdated legislation that discriminates against or fails to protect women, girls and LGBT people. We have a wide range of deliverables; I will, of course, update the noble Lord on the specifics of what we have achieved since 2018. This includes delivery on sustainability and prosperity, with more than 3,000 women-owned businesses having now been set up through British funding. On security, we have supported the completion of seven national cybersecurity reviews. On whether this remains a priority, we are proud of our role as Chair-in-Office; the Commonwealth is very much a priority within the existing department and, indeed, will remain so in the new department—the Commonwealth remains a key priority for Her Majesty’s Government.

China

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 17th June 2020

(3 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point about students—not just Hong Kong students but Chinese students—who study here. That will be very much in the mix in the announcements made on the BNO issue.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, it is two years after the sanctions Act, and the noble Lord assured us that we would see secondary legislation on Magnitsky. Two weeks ago, the Foreign Secretary even said that these news powers of targeted sanctions could be used in respect of breaches in Hong Kong, police brutality and other actions. Will the noble Lord assure us that we will use those sanctions and that they will be in force before the Summer Recess, and that we will be able to target those abuses, so that we have action on human rights abuses and not simply words?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that I am cognisant of his continued interest in this respect. To quote the Prime Minister: “Watch this space.”

Press Freedom

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Monday 8th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

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

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) [V] - Hansard

My Lords, UNESCO and the Netherlands have set a new date in October for hosting the World Press Freedom Conference. Will the UK participate with a high-level delegation, and what consideration has been given to the International Federation of Journalists’ draft UN convention on the safety and independence of journalists and other media professionals?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, I can confirm that we will look to participate in the next media freedom confidence—with Canada and other key partners—and to have high-level representation in that respect. On the resolution that has been passed, we certainly look to that and indeed other representations we receive on strengthening collaboration and collective action in order to protect journalists and ensure media freedom around the world.

Hong Kong: Human Rights

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 4th June 2020

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, I have two quick points. I welcome the Government’s announcements on visa arrangements. The Foreign Secretary suggested that this would apply only to the 350,000 current BNO passport holders in Hong Kong. The Prime Minister subsequently indicated that it would also include the 2.5 million eligible to apply for the passport. Which is correct?

Hong Kong has seen the most brutal response to peaceful protest. Earlier this week, the Foreign Secretary said that he raised with the Hong Kong authorities last August the need for an independent inquiry. He then indicated that one response to the failure of the Hong Kong authorities to act would be to consider the new Magnitsky-type sanctions. When will we see the promised legislation from the sanctions Act approved by Parliament?

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, I first join all noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lady Anelay for tabling this debate and thank them for their very focused contributions from the outset. There were a lot of questions; if I am unable to cover them in the time I have, following the usual courtesies I shall write to noble Lords and lay responses to those questions in Library.

I am sure noble Lords will forgive me—and join me—if I start by paying tribute to the important contribution of my noble friend Lord Patten. He is for ever a reminder to us of the importance of standing up for the rule of law in the context of Hong Kong, and the role he played was instrumental. I listened carefully to all of his contribution, in particular his specific proposal to have the telegram of 5 June 1989 placed in the Library. I will certainly take that forward, and hope that we will be able to deliver on that in the very short term.

As we all know—noble Lords alluded to this—on 28 May China’s National People’s Congress adopted a decision that would impose a national security law on Hong Kong. Let me assure all noble Lords who have contributed that we share their concerns about this unprecedented development; my closing remarks will echo the Foreign Secretary’s comment. I also thank those noble Lords, including my noble friends, who gave their support for the Government’s statement last week. I particularly note the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins. More details will of course follow on the specifics of the announcements around BNOs. I will come on to that.

As my noble friend Lord Patten and other noble Lords reminded us, Hong Kong’s success was built on its high degree of autonomy and freedoms. My noble friend Lord Howell made this point well. This is under the “one country, two systems” framework that China itself has long advocated and reaffirmed. This framework is enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law and underpinned by the provisions of the Sino-British joint declaration of 1984. As my noble friend Lady Anelay reminded us, the joint declaration is a legally binding international treaty, a point also well made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. The treaty is registered with the United Nations and remains as valid today as it was when it was signed, more than 35 years ago.

The imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong would lie in direct conflict with China’s international obligations. Yes, as my noble friend Lord Patten reminded us, there are provisions for a national security law. However, as several noble Lords including him pointed out, this imposition goes directly against those obligations under the Sino-British joint declaration. It would also lie in direct conflict with article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which gives Hong Kong sole jurisdiction to enact these laws. Imposing the national security law would undermine Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and threaten the freedom of its people. The Basic Law is unequivocal: it allows for Hong Kong to make its own laws and there are a limited number of areas in which Beijing can directly impose legislation. These include foreign and defence policy, and emergency legislation in extreme circumstances such as a state of war. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has made clear, we do not oppose Hong Kong having a national security law. What we strongly oppose is its imposition by Beijing.

The impact on human rights was touched on, rightly, by many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Bridgeman. The noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Truscott, reminded us about the joint declaration as well. The proposed national security law further raises the prospect of prosecution in Hong Kong for political crimes. It threatens to undermine existing commitments to protect the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong, as set out in the joint declaration, which reflects the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We are also acutely conscious that Hong Kong’s rule of law and world-class independent judiciary, as mentioned by several noble Lords including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, are a cornerstone of its economic success and way of life. We will of course watch the impact of these proposed measures closely.

I turn to Her Majesty’s Government’s response. I have listened carefully to a number of helpful suggestions and detailed questions. If I may, I will respond in writing to several of them. However, we are very clear-eyed in our approach when it comes to China. That is rooted in our values and interests. The point was made about China and its partnerships. Several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Randall, reminded us of our international workings. When it comes to issues such as climate change—my noble friend reminded us of COP 26—we believe that China also has a vital role in the international community, including in its global response to the pandemic. It has worked with many countries and the World Health Organization in its response.

It has always been the case that when we have concerns, we will raise them. On human rights, let me assure noble Lords that we will continue to raise the issue of the Uighurs, which was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, as we have previously done at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. We will speak out.

Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who speaks with great experience, referred to the proposal of the seven Foreign Secretaries, including the noble Lord, Lord Owen, for a contact group. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned human rights and the importance of broad coalitions. My noble friends Lord Patten, Lord Balfe and Lady Helic talked about international action, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. Last Thursday, alongside his counterparts in Australia, Canada and the US, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary released a joint statement expressing deep concern over the proposed new security legislation. We are working with New Zealand, Japan and, yes, our partners in the EU—which the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and my noble friend Lady Helic mentioned—who also made statements expressing concern.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, talked about the international group. My noble friend Lord Cormack talked about broadening coalitions, including at the UN. I am sure that noble Lords will have seen that we raised the issue of Hong Kong at a recent Security Council meeting, despite the challenges that China posed. We have taken steps towards creating broader coalitions. My noble friend Lady Meyer talked of the G7, my noble friend Lord Bowness talked of wider coalitions and the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, suggested how we might strengthen and broaden coalitions. I will of course reflect on all noble Lords’ contributions regarding how we can further strengthen international opinion on this issue. I assure noble Lords that we will work with all international partners, including those in the EU, because we want to implore China to reconsider its current path.

My noble friend Lord Wei talked of great hope, and we hope that hope can be restored. We encourage China to work with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government and the people of Hong Kong. Several noble Lords rightly pointed out that the needs of the people should be put first in order to find a solution that will encourage dialogue and respect for human rights; I am unequivocal about that. I am proud to have among my responsibilities the role of Minister for human rights for Her Majesty’s Government. It is important that we put human rights at the forefront of our agenda because by doing so, we will help to restore trust.

The proposed imposition of a national security law—an incredibly sensitive subject in Hong Kong—would exacerbate existing divisions. From the beginning of the unrest, this Government have been committed to our responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong, to supporting their right to peaceful protest and to encouraging dialogue on all sides within the “one country, two systems” framework, to which several noble Lords pointed. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and my noble friend Lady Goudie mentioned the independence of the judiciary; I agree with them. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, also made a point about HBSC and companies that made statements about the national security law. I shall not comment specifically on that, but I underline our hope that China will think again in respect of enacting this law.

In the time I have left, I will turn to the important issue of British nationals overseas. My noble friend Lady Anelay and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jay and Lady Falkner, amongst others, talked passionately about this issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, asked about Taiwan. We have not changed our position on Taiwan. I reiterate that it is important that a lasting solution to any issues and disputes between both sides is brought to the fore by exchanges by both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

My noble friend Lady Hooper also mentioned the issue of students returning from Hong Kong. We are of course monitoring the situation. They have a right to return to the United Kingdom and we will do what we can to ensure that we facilitate their return.

I am sure that noble Lords noted that the Foreign Secretary said last week and again on Tuesday that if China continues down this path, we will look to amend the arrangements for BNOs. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised that issue, as did other noble Lords. Under the current status, BNO passport holders in Hong Kong are already entitled to UK consular assistance outside of China and protection and entry clearance for six months into the UK. However, in response to actions that the noble Lords, Lord Powell and Lord West, suggested, if China follows through with proposed legislation, the Government will put in place arrangements to allow those with BNO status to live, work and study in the UK for an extendable period of 12 months. That will provide a path to citizenship, as my noble friend Lord Trimble reminded us. We will keep the door open. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, also mentioned that point.

We want to give the Chinese Government the chance to step back from their current course of action, and I note some of the questions that have been raised, including those from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. I shall of course write to noble Lords regarding the questions I have not had time to answer.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, mentioned the Magnitsky proposals and secondary legislation in that respect. We are working through this and I assure noble Lords that it is certainly our aim to bring this to Parliament at an early stage—I hope in advance of the Summer Recess, but a lot of work is being done. I am sure that noble Lords will accept that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on specific designations at this point. The noble Lords, Lord Wood and Lord Campbell, asked about Huawei. Our decision on that carries the strongest possible scrutiny.

I thank my noble friend Lady Anelay for tabling this debate. I am sure this is an issue that we will continue to return to in the coming days and weeks, but I want to put on record that the UK and its partners have been clear to China. Imposing this national security legislation would be a clear violation of China’s international obligations, including those made to the United Kingdom under the joint declaration. I put on record our call to China to reconsider this path, because I assure all noble Lords that the UK will not look the other way when it comes to the people of Hong Kong.

Yemen: Humanitarian Aid Funding

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 4th June 2020

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, the United Kingdom continues to lead the humanitarian response in Yemen. This week, we agreed another £160 million—the third-largest global pledge—which will provide essential care for millions of Yemen’s most vulnerable people. Our ambitious support for Yemen since 2015 amounts to almost £1 billion. We have successfully used this leadership to encourage other countries to step up, and we will continue to do so. We will not rest when it comes to solving this conflict and its horrific humanitarian consequences.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. However, as he knows, the summit failed to reach its target by $1 billion. Last night, “Channel 4 News” showed how Covid has arrived in Aden and clearly has spread to the rest of the country. What are the Government doing to encourage others to alleviate it, in particular the United Arab Emirates, which is itself contributing to the hardship? Why has it not given money? What is he doing to ensure that the peace process gets back on track?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

The noble Lord makes two important points. I assure him that we share the disappointment over the fact that the target for the summit was not met. He is indeed correct that countries such as the UAE did not announce any donations. However, we continue to lobby those countries to step up, as I said in my original Answer, and we will continue to do so bilaterally.

On the Covid response, the challenge is immense. Yemen was suffering prior to Covid, and it has made the situation worse. We are working closely with the likes of the World Health Organization, which has led the UN Covid-19 response in Yemen. The UN has set out an additional $180 million-budget to tackle Covid in Yemen. I also assure the noble Lord that we will continue to lobby partners for a lasting peace agreement to resolve the conflict, without which we will continue to have these crisis situations. We are very cognisant of our role as the UN Security Council penholder on Yemen.

Hong Kong

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Tuesday 2nd June 2020

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that we continue to stand by our obligations as a co-signatory to “one country, two systems”. We give hope to those human rights defenders who fight for democracy in Hong Kong that we will continue to uphold those obligations, not just for the United Kingdom but to remind China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of their obligations and commitment to both that agreement and the obligations that lie beneath it.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

I want to return to the issue of British national overseas citizens in Hong Kong. In this morning’s Statement, the Foreign Secretary said, as the Minister just repeated, that if China pushes through this legislation, we will act on their rights. I welcome the announcement, but clarity is needed now. When will the Government tell BNOs in Hong Kong what their rights will be? Will they take urgent consultation now?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we take our obligations to BNO passport holders very seriously. Both the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary are directly engaged on this agenda. We have made our position absolutely clear: if China acts, we will be compelled to act on the basis that I have outlined.

Covid-19: Refugee Camps

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 20th May 2020

(4 months ago)

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, I am deeply concerned about Covid-19’s impact on refugees. The United Kingdom is at the forefront of the response and we have pushed to ensure that vulnerable groups, including refugees, are factored into international plans. We are working closely with international partners to provide dedicated support in refugee camps, including hand-washing stations and isolation and treatment centres. Partners are rigorously assessed before they receive funding, with robust checks and measures to ensure that they are delivering effectively.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, the head of the UN Refugee Agency warned earlier this week that Covid cases appear to be multiplying fast in Yemen. Almost 10 million people are one step away from famine and half the country’s health facilities have been destroyed. Can the Minister detail what we are doing in the UN and with allies to urgently support the people of Yemen?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a very important point. We have been at the forefront—he will be aware of the £744 million of UK aid funding which we have committed thus far to global efforts to combat the outbreak of Covid-19, split across three areas: building resilience in vulnerable countries, finding a vaccine and supporting the economic response. We are working with a raft of UN agencies, including the World Health Organization and UNICEF, as well as UNFPA and UNHCR, to support refugees specifically.

British Citizens Stranded Overseas

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 14th May 2020

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

The noble Viscount raises two questions. On the point made by him and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, anyone who works within the charter sphere will know that this is not a free-for-all. Manifests have to be determined and air traffic has to be allowed for. Equally, airspace in various parts of the world has been closed, and we have been working under extremely challenging circumstances. On a central command centre, that has been operating through the Foreign Office. As I said earlier, we have seen a very successful repatriation effort.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

The Foreign Secretary announced on Monday a special fund for those stranded, to help with food, accommodation and other essential items. Yesterday, when I checked the UK Government website, it still said that assistance was limited to travel. Can the Minister tell us when and how people will be told about this new fund? Is it a loan or a grant?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

It is a loan which the noble Lord has asked about. It has been rolled out as a pilot exercise in four countries. We hope to announce the more general rollout in the coming days and weeks.

Syria

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 13th May 2020

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

I agree with the Minister that no one should be able to act with impunity, and that includes agents of the Assad regime. Certainly, the NGO experience of distributing through a Damascus hub suggests that lifting sanctions would not change the situation for millions of Syrians in the north. Can the Minister update us on what his efforts are achieving in keeping aid corridors open through renewal of UN Resolution 2504?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

The noble Lord raises an important point on Resolution 2504. Most recently, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary had a call with the Minister about the importance of keeping those corridors open. We hope that not only will this happen but that we will be able to open up additional humanitarian corridors.

Covid-19: Repatriation of UK Nationals

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 30th April 2020

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement on the repatriation of UK nationals affected by Covid-19 given in another place yesterday by my right honourable friend the Minister for Asia. The figures have changed since then, and this Statement contains more up-to-date figures. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, I would like to make a Statement on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Our team of experienced diplomats here at home and in our embassies and consulates around the world continue to work around the clock, using our unparalleled international connections to help overcome this unprecedented challenge.

Since the outbreak in Wuhan, our overriding priority has been to help British travellers get home safely to their loved ones. We estimate that since the outbreak began, more than 1.3 million people have returned to the UK via commercial routes from countries across the globe. We have seen more than 200,000 British nationals from Spain and 50,000 from Australia return in the past month alone.

Keeping commercial options running has required an enormous international effort. We have worked alongside airlines and foreign Governments to keep vital routes open and to ensure that domestic restrictions do not create a barrier to getting people home. As the House will appreciate, as countries have increased travel restrictions, often without notice, commercial routes have ceased to be an option for some travellers. Thanks to a £75 million partnership between the Government and airlines, we have now brought back more than 20,000 people on 99 charter flights organised by the Foreign Office from more than 21 countries and territories. In some instances, that means bringing home a few hundred passengers from small countries such as the Gambia and remote locations such as the outer islands of the Philippines. In other cases, it has meant returning thousands of British travellers, such as more than 10,000 people now returned home from India and more than 2,000 thus far from Pakistan. In the next week alone, we will bring back thousands more travellers on further charter flights, including from Bangladesh, Nigeria and New Zealand.

I would also like to touch on cruise ship travel. More than 19,000 British passengers were aboard 60 cruise ships when the FCO changed its travel advice on 17 March. Working with the local authorities, Governments and cruise operators, the FCO has helped to ensure that those passengers were able to return home. We have provided consular assistance to many of them and in some cases, we have organised direct or supported charter flights for more than 1,500 people.

For those people who have chosen to remain in place or are still trying to get home, our consular teams are providing support 24 hours a day. To ensure timely responses, we have tripled the capacity in our consular contact centres. Our broader consular effort has been centred around supporting British travellers right across the piece. We have worked with foreign Governments to ensure that British travellers can continue to meet visa, immigration or documentation requirements while they are abroad, and we are also offering financial protection, including through the same measures available to British workers and residents here at home, such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and access to mortgage holidays.

We are ensuring that British travellers have access to essential care, including food, accommodation and medical care. That includes psychosocial support, and we have been working with third-sector and external partners to deliver that. Most UK insurers will now extend their travel insurance cover, so British travellers actively trying to get home will be covered for emergency medical treatment if they are still stuck abroad for at least 60 days. Our efforts and our aims show that we are committed to helping every British traveller, no matter where they are in the world.

Turning to the FCO’s role in procurement, specifically of personal protective equipment, with so many other countries in similar circumstances, we are grappling with a global PPE shortage. Yet, thanks to the efforts of our domestic manufacturers and our work with international partners around the world, we have procured and distributed more than 1 billion items to those on the front line. My noble friend Lord Deighton, who helped to organise the London Olympics, has been brought in to oversee efforts to boost our domestic supply even further.

In the Foreign Office we are working tirelessly through our overseas posts to get medical supplies into the UK. More than 350 million items of PPE have been procured through our China network alone, and we are working flat out to get orders delivered from, for example, Turkey and Egypt. We have also distributed more than 1,500 ventilators, with thousands more ordered and on the way. In the past week, we have received shipments of more than 4 million type IIR masks and 1 million other masks. By the end of yesterday, flights had touched down with more than 500,000 masks, more than 350,000 gowns and more than 750,000 face shields. Meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary and my fellow Ministers at the FCO are on calls with counterparts around the world every day, working to secure new deliveries from abroad, with the support of our excellent and tireless Diplomatic Service.

From the start of this crisis, the UK has played a leading role in tackling the spread of the disease and the world’s response to it. We are uniquely placed to do so as a member of the G7, the G20, NATO, the Commonwealth and the United Nations, and as a major donor to the global health system. As the Foreign Secretary laid out in his previous Statement, our international strategy is focused on four key areas: securing a strong and co-ordinated global health response, particularly for the most vulnerable countries; accelerating the search for a vaccine, more effective treatments and testing; supporting the global economy, keeping trade open and securing critical supply chains; and keeping transit hubs and transport routes open to support the flow of freight and medical supplies and, crucially, to bring our people home.

I have outlined our support for bringing British nationals home and wish to touch on our good progress in other areas. We are helping vulnerable countries with their response to coronavirus by announcing up to £744 million in aid, including for research and development, and support for the World Health Organization, UN agencies, non-governmental organisations and the Red Cross. Yesterday, my right honourable friend the International Development Secretary announced a funding pledge equivalent to £330 million a year over the next five years to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. That will fund the immunisation of 75 million children against other deadly diseases, supporting the world’s poorest countries so that they can cope with rising numbers of coronavirus cases.

For a Covid-19 vaccine, the Government have already committed £360 million as part of our domestic and international effort. That investment includes a quarter of a billion pounds to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to support co-ordinated global research. That is the single largest contribution by any country. We are also helping to keep vital trade routes and supply chains open by co-ordinating closely with allies and partners in the commercial sector.

Finally, the UK has a responsibility to protect the safety and security of the people of the overseas territories, most of whom are British nationals. We have been providing tailored support to our overseas territories, ensuring that the appropriate resources are provided to them during the coronavirus response. The scale and impact of this pandemic have been unimaginable but, working alongside our international partners, the UK has been able to demonstrate the kind of leadership, co-operation and collaboration that will get us through this crisis. I commend this Statement to the House.”

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. First, I thank him and all the FCO staff for their tireless efforts to support those stranded. I know from the cases I have referred and raised how committed they have been to help, and it has been much appreciated. However, it is difficult to fully grasp the scale of the repatriation still required. Even if we consider only those who have reached out to their MPs, the issue is clearly an enormous one.

There used to be a system for recording data on UK citizens abroad, but it was scrapped. Last month, in questions to James Duddridge, my honourable friend Stephen Doughty asked that, at the very least, medical or vulnerable cases should be recorded immediately, so that they could be prioritised at a later stage when repatriation started. Sadly, that did not happen. Can the noble Lord confirm that the FCO is now fully recording numbers, and will he publish these at regular intervals, so that we can better understand progress? In the absence of data at present, is he able to estimate how many UK nationals are currently stranded abroad, or is the 57,500 estimate from Monday still applicable?

The chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee reported yesterday that it has been conducting a survey asking people about their experiences of being repatriated to the UK. The main issue it found is the difficulty some people encountered with communications when they were abroad, or the inability to receive communications, with one problem area being the High Commission in India. What is the FCO doing to address this issue, both in the short and the long term?

The announcement that 19,000 people have been brought back on 93 charter flights is welcome, but Germany, for example, had repatriated 60,000 citizens on 240 charter flights by early April. I appreciate that the noble Lord will be keen to stress that more than a million have returned to the UK on commercial routes, but when we consider IATA’s estimate that air traffic is currently down by 90% over Europe, it is clear that we can no longer rely on commercial flights. Will the Minister therefore commit his Government to urgently scale-up the number of chartered flights available? In response to reports of UK nationals being priced out by the cost of flights home, can he offer an update on the recent steps taken to remove that financial barrier?

Many UK nationals have been unable to travel to the airports which are still operating, due to either ill health or problems with internal travel, and so require consular support to help them in this journey. The Foreign Office must be equipped and prepared to support any UK national abroad in any aspect of their return home. I welcome what the Minister said about that support, but we need to address the issue of isolated people.

When UK nationals arrive home, it cannot be considered “job done”. If the Government are to contain the virus, there must be rigorous testing, tracing and isolation. It is therefore regrettable that the Government have yet to confirm any intentions to test or quarantine arrivals to the UK, despite press reports suggesting that such plans are in the pipeline. Can the Minister therefore confirm whether UK nationals, and others, will be asked to quarantine on arrival in the UK and, if so, for how long? Can he also confirm whether the Government will introduce testing of those arriving in the UK?

Finally, I very much welcome the pledge of support to Gavi. I hope that the Minister will be able to advise noble Lords what that pledge means for encouraging others; we do need more. I also welcome the commitment to, and investment in, CEPI. On Tuesday, I met its chief executive in a seminar, and I welcome its efforts to establish a vaccine. However, time is short, and action is necessary now.

Syria

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 30th April 2020

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

Perhaps I may press the Minister more strongly on Resolution 2504. All NGOs are really concerned about the routes providing access to Idlib, so what will he be doing before the July deadline to ensure that we get other allies and P5 members to support greater humanitarian access?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

As the noble Lord will be aware, we were really disappointed that Russia and China vetoed that humanitarian Security Council resolution, which had provided cross-border life-saving measures for many people in Syria. We are currently working with partners in the P5 as well as the other members of the Security Council to ensure that we get a resolution that works and which, most importantly, retains and opens further corridors for humanitarian relief on the ground to allow the NGOs, which do an incredible job, increased access.

British Citizens Abroad

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Tuesday 24th March 2020

(5 months, 4 weeks ago)

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat the form of a Statement the Answer given to an Urgent Question on the assistance given to British nationals abroad. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, we have FCO staff in all our 280 posts in 168 countries and 10 overseas territories, and they are working around the clock to respond to this global pandemic. Over the last three days, we have seen 80 countries place restrictions on their borders. That situation is unprecedented in scale and our overriding priority now is to assist the thousands of British travellers who need and want to return home, bearing in mind the hundreds of thousands of UK nationals who may be travelling at any one time.

Following last week’s decision to advise against all but essential travel globally, last night I changed our travel advice again because of the rate of new border restrictions. We strongly advise those British people who are currently travelling abroad but who live in the UK to return as soon as possible, where they are still able to do so because commercial routes are still running. Where commercial options are limited or prevented by domestic restrictions, we are in close contact with the airlines and local authorities in those countries to overcome those barriers and enable people to return home. With my ministerial team and across the diplomatic network, we are engaging with numerous Governments to keep commercial routes open, particularly in transit hubs. The Department for Transport is working closely with airlines to ensure that travellers can rebook or find alternative routes home.

I know that Members on all sides have constituents who have contacted them in relation to particular countries, so with your forbearance, I shall update the House on a few of those countries. On Peru, I spoke to the Foreign Minister at the weekend and we have agreed special arrangements for flights to return British nationals later this week.

I spoke to the Singaporean Foreign Minister this morning and we have agreed to work together to help those stranded get back to their homes in the UK. We have also agreed to help Peruvian nationals here get back to Peru. Given Singapore’s role as a transit hub, the commitment to work with us to enable UK nationals to transit via Singapore is particularly important, not least for those currently in Australia and New Zealand.

In New Zealand, the high commission is working with airlines, airports and the New Zealand Government to keep flight routes open and reopen some that have been closed. The high commission in Australia is doing the same. It has also opened a register of British nationals hoping to return to the UK and is supporting them via phone calls and walk-in appointments at the high commission, as well as updating social media pages.

For those trying to get home from other countries, we are providing as much practical advice as is physically possible. We would ask all travellers first to look at the travel advice online. It is the best and most comprehensive source of information and is updated in real time. If people are in need of urgent assistance, they should call our embassies and high commissions and they will automatically be connected to our global consular contact centres based in Malaga and Ottawa. We know that considerable pressure has been created by the restrictions put in place in countries around the world and the rate at which it has been done, with either limited or no notice. We have doubled our capacity and we are now doubling it again to deal with the surge in demand.

We are seeking to reduce travel costs by encouraging airlines to have maximum flexibility on changing return tickets. Where people are in real need, our consular teams will work with them to consider their options and, as a last resort, offer an emergency loan.

More broadly, the UK is working alongside our international partners to deliver our international strategy, which rests on four tenets: to provide resilience to the most vulnerable countries; to pursue a vaccine; to keep vital trade routes and supply chains for foodstuffs, medicines and other things open; and to provide reciprocal support to return British nationals overseas who are stranded.

These are the right priorities. We are working day and night to keep British people safe at home and abroad.”

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that Answer. Since we last discussed this issue, there has been welcome progress. Again, I thank all the staff of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who have worked tirelessly to address this issue. Anyone who heard the debate in the other place earlier would have been shocked by what was said about the number of people contacting MPs. As we saw in the media this morning, it remains a matter of huge concern.

The Foreign Secretary mentioned working with international partners, including the G7 and EU partners, to try to ensure that we can repatriate those who want and need it. However, he acknowledged—and this is my key point—that clear information is vital for those stranded. He said that the Government were providing certainty through embassies; although physical access is often restricted, they are not closed. The Statement mentioned doubling capacity, particularly through call centres. Can the Minister explain whether this is meeting demand? Certainly, MPs are hearing concerns from constituents that they are not getting a response. Can he address that capacity and demand issue? We have heard on the radio that a number of medical staff are very frustrated at not being able to get back to their job helping the NHS. Has the Foreign Office taken steps to compile a register of NHS staff stranded overseas to pass on to the Department of Health?

Given the scale of this situation, compiling full data is really important. I hope that we can get a better picture of those stranded abroad.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, once again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for his support. He and I are talking about the issues impacting British nationals globally, and I am very grateful for his support in this matter. He asked a number of pertinent questions on the concerns that exist. I, too, listened to the debate on the Statement in the other place, and, rightly, genuine concerns have been raised. I am sure that I speak for many in your Lordships’ House today, as well as others.

Noble Lords have been contacting me on an almost hourly basis with genuine concerns that have been raised with them. I assure the House that my colleagues and I are dealing directly with, and taking up, those issues. Only this morning, I was dealing with a consular case that had arisen. We are seeking to speak directly to the Members of Parliament concerned to ensure that we address those issues head on. As the noble Lord will be aware, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will be leading a virtual call with G7 Foreign Ministers tomorrow and this is the item on the agenda. We are not alone in this matter—all countries across the world are impacted. However, the noble Lord is right to raise the need for clarity and information. We are seeking to improve that, as improvements can always be made.

He talked about doubling capacity and asked whether demand was being met. The fact that we are having to double capacity means that current demand is not being met. To be candid, there will be challenges ahead. I am the Minister for south Asia, where, thankfully, the number of cases thus far has been minimal. However, we are challenged by the fact that there are thousands and thousands of British nationals abroad, and we need to react to that positively and proactively. A major part of the Foreign Office effort is that, barring certain priorities that need to be sustained, Ministers and officials are now fully focused on this crisis.

The noble Lord’s point on data collection is well made. We are continuing to collect data on nationals abroad. He made a very constructive suggestion about NHS workers abroad, and I will certainly take that back to see how we can best factor it in.

Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Monday 23rd March 2020

(5 months, 4 weeks ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord West of Spithead and with his permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, the integrated review will define the Government’s ambition for the UK’s role in the world and the long-term strategic aims for our national security and foreign policy. The comprehensive spending review will be informed by the integrated review.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury - Hansard

I thank the Minister for his Answer. My noble friend wanted to ask about two strands of work and whether they are being undertaken. First, although this is in breach of international law, the Minister will be aware that a number of countries are developing, stockpiling and weaponising even more dangerous pathogens. Is work being undertaken in the review to increase national resilience to such an attack? Secondly, is the review identifying an action plan with the United Nations Security Council to rebuild the tapestry of nuclear arms control agreements and confidence-building measures that limit the possibility of nuclear exchange by miscalculation?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, in response to the first question, Her Majesty’s Government’s biological security strategy draws together our work on building national resilience to natural, accidental and deliberate risks from biological agents. I concur with the noble Lord that there are countries around the world which still engage in the activity he described. I reassure him that we work very closely with international partners to strengthen co-operation against potential biological threats, including through the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention and the UN Secretary-General’s Mechanism. To make this very topical to the current crisis, the FCO and Her Majesty’s Government are working very closely with their diplomatic network to monitor the spread of coronavirus throughout the world. We are working with international partners to tackle this global challenge.

Hong Kong: Covid-19

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 19th March 2020

(6 months ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Pendry for initiating this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, emailed me quite late last night, as is his wont, and reminded me that these debates are important because, while communities may be remote, they do follow these debates, particularly through new media such as Facebook and Twitter. It is important that we have continued, despite all the constraints upon us, to raise these vital issues.

Events are changing very fast. From the time that the noble Lord initiated this debate, we have seen a lot of changes. Carrie Lam announced on Tuesday that Hong Kong will quarantine all people arriving from abroad for 14 days; those restrictions will start today, Thursday. All entrants from mainland China already have to self-isolate. She said that the majority of cases had been imported, adding that strict measures were needed. As we heard in the debate about the number of cases, of the 57 new infections over the past two weeks, only seven were local cases; there are only 155 confirmed cases in the territory, which detected its first case in January.

Although it is difficult to understand the exact success of the Hong Kong response, given the incomplete testing figures, most agree that it has been at least in part successful—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I agree with that assessment. Although the approach of the Hong Kong Government differs from that of the UK, it has included greater social distancing measures and the closure of schools which, as the noble Lord said, we are now facing ourselves.

It is right that the United Kingdom engages with our international partners to share information on best practice. Gordon Brown was absolutely right on Radio 4 this morning: this is a global problem that requires a global response. It is no good saying “America first”, or “India first”; it is something that we all have to respond and come up with proper responses to. There is a very good reason why we should work particularly well and closely with Hong Kong on this issue. Can the Minister detail how the Government have engaged with the Hong Kong authorities and the non-governmental organisations of Hong Kong to better understand their approach to response?

As we find ourselves entering further into this crisis, the WHO has made clear above all that the Government must “test, test, test” all suspected cases. This is not a pandemic that we can fight blindfolded. We must keep abreast of the spread of those who have been affected. Of course, there is a physical capacity issue and there will be a limit as to how many individuals can be tested, but the Prime Minister has announced further plans to increase testing and increase the capacity. Although it is not his brief, I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some indication about what those plans mean in practice in terms of who will be further tested. What is the impact of better understanding the spread of the virus and the disease?

Along with the success of the Hong Kong authorities in tackling the virus, we have heard that we have to recognise the concerns raised relating to misinformation, much of which has circulated online and led to instances of panic. Can the Minister explain what lessons have been learned by the UK Government as a result of this? Throughout the pandemic, the feeling of distrust in the Hong Kong Government has remained. While larger demonstrations have scaled down, the police continue to disperse small-scale demonstrations, with reports of disproportionate force. Here, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has been absolutely committed to raising these abuses of human rights—however big or small they have been, he has been there and constantly pushing the Government to act. We have heard about the protesters who were pepper sprayed on 9 March. They had gathered to pay tribute to Alex Chow Tsz-lok, who died last November during the protest.

In the light of this continued crackdown, can the Minister confirm what steps the Government are taking to ensure that British national (overseas) passport holders can gain consular access in the British embassy should mistreatment of protesters continue? This is a really important point. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned up to 200,000 BNOs in Hong Kong. I have a figure of 170,000; irrespective of that, it is roughly in the same ballpark. Whatever we say their status is—the noble and gallant Lord made particular reference to this—this country has an obligation to those nationals. They are British nationals, even if they happen to be overseas. We have an absolute responsibility.

Previously, the Government claimed that the extension of the rights of BNO passport holders would contravene the joint declaration. As we have heard, they cited an immigration report by my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney-General, as proof that it would be illegal. However, as my noble friend Lord Pendry and other noble Lords have referred to, in a recent letter to both the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith disputed the misrepresentation of this view and published fresh legal advice, stating that the UK Government would not

“be in breach of any obligation undertaken in the joint declaration were it to resolve to extend full right of abode to BN(O) passport holders while continuing to honour their side of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”

I would like to hear from the Minister today whether the Government have given any consideration to extending the rights of BNO passport holders to include: working visas; or, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, the minor act of extending the length of time that Hong Kong students can stay in the United Kingdom after completing their studies; or, more importantly—because this is about the security of these people—offering them full right of abode in the United Kingdom.

I hope that the Minister will also respond to the long-outstanding issue raised by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, of servicemen who have served this country. We have a duty under the covenant to respond to them; I hope that he will do so today.

Of course, as noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, said, we must be concerned about what appear to be further politically motivated arrests, including of the newspaper owner Jimmy Lai and the legislators referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Alton: Lee Cheuk-yan and Yeung Sum. All of them were arrested last month by the Hong Kong police under archaic public ordinance laws. Like my noble friend Lady Kennedy, I hope that the Minister can confirm that we have made the strongest possible representations to the Hong Kong authorities regarding these arrests.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, emailed me late last night about his Written Question—to which the Minister responded yesterday, I think—on the assessment of Amnesty International’s report, Missing Truth, Missing Justice. In that response, the Minister raised the fact that the Government made their position clear on 27 February at the United Nations Human Rights Council. He said:

“A robust, credible and independent investigation into events in Hong Kong would be an important step in healing divisions and rebuilding trust that will support the process of dialogue and resolution.”

We need to know what has resulted from that support and whether the Government will continue to back the people and the elected representatives of Hong Kong.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for tabling this timely debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly mentioned, since the tabling of this debate, events have moved on apace, and it is right that, when we look at the challenges we face on the domestic front, we also cast our eye across the globe to see the how different parts of the world are meeting the challenge of Covid-19—the coronavirus—and the impacts of this, in the context of this debate, on the people of Hong Kong.

I totally concur with the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Carrington, who mentioned specifically—I mentioned it from the Dispatch Box only yesterday—that anyone involved in any shape or form, which means globally, with the challenge we now face, and, more importantly, the lessons being learned, cannot dispute that this is a global challenge requiring global solutions. That means that we share our experiences in this respect. To pick up on a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, on engagement with authorities and NGOs on this, as he will already be aware, we are engaging directly on an international front—I have been directly involved with such discussions—and, as I mentioned yesterday, we have already allocated a specific package of £241 million aid funding, which we are providing through various UN agencies as well as through the IMF. We have allocated a further £65 million on research, because this is a battle against time: we need to find an early solution to this crisis.

As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, noted, as of 19 March, the number of cases in Hong Kong has been quite limited, thankfully, because of actions taken. The latest statistics I have are that as of that date, there have been 192 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Hong Kong, including a British citizen who had recently visited Japan and London—again, that reinforces Carrie Lam’s point that some cases of coronavirus have occurred due to people arriving in Hong Kong. As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, noted, four people have died, sadly, but also importantly, in this global challenge, 95 people have now recovered from that virus in Hong Kong.

I am sure that I speak for everyone in your Lordships’ House when I offer our heartfelt sympathies, and those of the whole UK Government, to all those who have been affected, in Hong Kong and elsewhere. We fully appreciate the challenges facing the Hong Kong Government and others across the world—particularly in Italy, South Korea, Iran and China—who are dealing with significant numbers of cases. We are also facing the task here of containing and delaying the spread of the virus. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, mentioned the challenge. I know that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has spoken directly with the Chinese President, again reiterating our support for China and the sharing of best experience as we collectively face the challenge of Covid-19.

All Governments are having to make careful choices, as we are, about how to respond: weighing up the task of containing the spread of the virus against the social and economic disruption resulting from the measures taken to respond. The sustainability of those responses is also critical. If I may personalise some of the challenges, as a father of three, with my wife, only yesterday, after the decision taken by the Government, the prospect of having three children home-schooled for a number of months posed one’s own domestic challenge; the reality is very much at home. I assure all noble Lords that Her Majesty’s Government are clear that all the responses being taken are critical—and, yes, they should be well informed by the views of experts and led by the science. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has prioritised this approach in close co-ordination with international partners, including through the World Health Organization.

Specifically on Hong Kong, the number of new cases remains relatively low, as I said, with 25 new cases yesterday—although I add the cautionary note that that was the highest single daily increase so far. As several noble Lords mentioned, including the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, in his opening remarks, the Hong Kong Government have taken a series of measures to contain the spread of the virus. These have been backed up by a strong societal response conditioned by personal experiences of the SARS epidemic in 2002 and 2003.

After the first confirmed case in late January, over the course of February and March the Hong Kong Government introduced a number of significant measures, including: the suspension or scaling back of flights, trains, ferries and buses between Hong Kong and mainland China; the closure of most border crossings with mainland China; and from 19 March—as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, specifically mentioned—a compulsory 14-day quarantine for all travellers entering Hong Kong. This includes travellers into Hong Kong from the United Kingdom. For Hong Kong residents, including foreign nationals who live in Hong Kong, this quarantine can take place at home. For non-Hong Kong residents, such as tourists and business visitors, this will be in a Hong Kong government quarantine centre. The measures also include the prevention of entry of all non-Hong Kong residents who had been in Hubei province in mainland China or in South Korea in the previous 14 days. Individuals will also be expected to activate sharing of their real-time location with the Hong Kong Government as part of the requirement to report their location.

The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, mentioned face masks in his opening remarks. The Hong Kong Government have acknowledged public concern over the shortage in the supply of masks. I understand that they are working to increase the supply by sourcing masks globally, increasing local production and liaising with relevant authorities in mainland China to facilitate the swift delivery to Hong Kong of masks manufactured there. I have noticed updates on various news programmes, and the Chinese authorities are now shifting masks to other parts of the world as they look to contain their own outbreak.

The UK’s ability to replenish stocks of personal protective equipment, which includes fluid-repellent surgical masks, is severely constrained due to the significant increase in global demand. However, the UK Government support a collaborative approach to tackling the global challenge presented by Covid-19. The Department of Health and Social Care has strong, established links with key partners and countries to co-ordinate the response to Covid-19 across all public health issues.

The robust measures taken by the Hong Kong Government to respond to Covid-19 have inevitably had an impact on the Hong Kong economy, which was already in recession before the outbreak, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. The tourism and retail sectors have been hit particularly hard. In this regard, the Hong Kong Government have announced an anti-epidemic fund worth 30 billion Hong Kong dollars to support businesses and safeguard jobs. The Hong Kong Government’s response demonstrates just how seriously they have taken the outbreak. It demonstrates that Hong Kong shares one of the key challenges faced by all jurisdictions.

The noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Carrington, asked specifically about UK action. The UK is of course closely monitoring the Covid-19 outbreak in Hong Kong. Our consulate-general is in frequent contact with the Government on their response. It is of course vital for the wider management of the outbreak that the UK and Hong Kong share our experiences and, to quote both noble Lords, work together. I assure noble Lords that we stand together with international partners to support Hong Kong as we deal with this global public health emergency. Our consulate-general continues to provide consular assistance to British nationals in Hong Kong who request and require it.

I turn specifically now to BNOs, raised by several noble Lords. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, raised specific issues relating to veterans in this respect as well. Let me say from the outset that the obligations of the UK Government towards Hong Kong residents with British national (overseas) status is something we take very seriously. As noble Lords will recall, British national (overseas) status was created in 1985 for people in Hong Kong who would lose their British dependent territory citizenship in 1997 when sovereignty was handed to China. As of February 2020, there were 349,881 British national (overseas) passport holders in Hong Kong, out of an estimated 2.9 million people eligible for such status. Individuals with this status are entitled to British consular assistance in third countries.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked specifically about consular assistance in Hong Kong for people with this status. As he may know—I am sure he is aware of this point, which has been raised before—there is no basis under the joint declaration, including in its memorandums, to provide such consular assistance to BNOs in Hong Kong itself. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has said, the British national (overseas) status was part of the delicate balance and negotiations conducted and concluded at the time of the joint declaration. Full and continued respect for the provisions in the joint declaration are crucial to the future stability and prosperity of Hong Kong and to the rights, freedoms and autonomy of its people.

Several noble Lords including the noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked about Her Majesty’s Government’s position. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made clear in the other place towards the end of last year, we are not at this stage seeking to alter any one part of the package, including the consular status of British nationals (overseas).

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, asked about the 64 members of the Hong Kong police who have the right of abode in the UK. Under the British nationality selection scheme, which was introduced in 1990 and operated until 1 July 1997, a limited number of people were able to register as British citizens. I assure noble Lords that I will follow this up with the Home Office by letter, so that it is a matter of formal record that the issue has been raised again. I am aware that the Home Office is looking at this. I remember from my time there that it was being examined, but I will, as I say, formally write to my noble friend the Minister of State at the Home Office to see how we can progress the matter further and I will then respond accordingly to the noble and gallant Lord.

The noble Lords, Lord Pendry and Lord Alton, rightly talked about recent arrests in Hong Kong. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, also raised this important issue. As noble Lords will know, I am acutely aware of the challenges not only in Hong Kong but in mainland China on human rights issues, whether we are talking about media freedom, freedom of religion or belief, or the general suppression of rights. Several noble Lords asked about raising this issue in international fora. During my last travels prior to the current challenges that we all now face, I specifically mentioned in the UK statement to the Human Rights Council the broader issue relating to the Uighur community. I assure noble Lords that this remains a personal priority, which I continue to take forward.

On the arrests of Jimmy Lai, Lee Cheuk-yan and Yeung Sum, we are following their cases closely. We are asking that due process be followed and that justice be applied fairly and transparently. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Falkner and Lady Kennedy, rightly spoke about the priority of media freedom. That is a priority campaign for Her Majesty’s Government, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, in particular, for her work on the legal panel. I assure all noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that we have consistently raised our concern about media freedoms in China. I agree with him that the Chinese Government’s announcement that they will prevent certain American journalists from working in China further restricts transparency at a particularly important time. The suggestion by the Chinese MFA that the measure may apply in Hong Kong is deeply concerning. As the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, said, the Sino-British joint declaration is clear. It sets out that immigration decisions are the sole responsibility of the Hong Kong special administrative region. She is right that freedom of the press is guaranteed. It is imperative that these rights and freedoms are fully respected. We take any allegations of the arrest and intimidation of journalists in Hong Kong extremely seriously, and we expect the Hong Kong authorities to abide by international human rights laws and practices.

Several noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, mentioned the importance of what we saw in Hong Kong prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. We continue to condemn any violence and make it clear that all protests should be policed and conducted within the law and that authorities should avoid actions that could inflame tensions. As the noble Baroness acknowledged, we have called specifically for a robust independent investigation into these events and will continue to do so.

The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, asked about raising these issues with the Chinese authorities. I assure her that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and others in the Government regularly raise our concerns about rights and freedoms with the Chinese Foreign Minister, the Hong Kong Chief Executive and the ambassador to the Court of St James. I assure noble Lords that the leadership in China and Hong Kong are in no doubt about the strength of UK concern over the current situation.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked a specific question about Home Office collaboration with Chinese authorities on facial recognition technology. I can inform him that the funding of this project was allocated by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, a publicly funded arm’s-length body that has formed part of UK Research and Innovation since April 2018. We ourselves as the Government are not involved in the actual funding decisions that this body makes, but I note the points that the noble Lord has raised on this issue.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, raised the issue of the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. The rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are indeed foundations on which Hong Kong’s success and prosperity have been built. Indeed, up until recent events prior to Covid-19, “one country, two systems” had worked quite robustly and well. It is our view that it should be continue to be the basis of how Hong Kong can truly prosper and continue to progress and move forward.

I would like to conclude on the specific issue of Covid-19. The Hong Kong Government have taken what we believe are a number of robust measures—indeed, a number of noble Lords acknowledged that in their contributions—and that has resulted in proactive action. I think there is a lesson to be learned there. We have had other discussions in your Lordships’ House about lessons being learned, whether from the challenges that AIDS posed or indeed any crisis. The SARS crisis in that part of the world has resulted in people really acting and checking their own behaviour, and I think there are lessons to be learned there for all of us.

I assure noble Lords that we are in close and frequent contact with the Hong Kong Government. I give reassurance, again, that we stand ready to support them and share expertise to address the complex and global threat of Covid-19. On the wider issues that noble Lords have mentioned, such as media freedom, human rights and indeed the challenges that we have seen over the last 12 months or so in Hong Kong prior to Covid-19, I assure them that those things will remain very much a priority for Her Majesty’s Government.

Yemen

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 19th March 2020

(6 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

The right reverend Prelate raises an important point. Humanitarian assistance continues to operate through the two southern ports, Hodeidah and Saleef, which remain open. However, there are challenges in the distribution of humanitarian relief. The right reverend Prelate is right to raise the issues of various contagious diseases; 900,000 cases of cholera have been reported this year alone. As far as the Covid crisis is concerned, currently no fatalities from the crisis are shown and the number of cases is very low—but that is reflective of the challenge on the ground rather than there being a very small number of cases. We are operating under very difficult circumstances, and because of the situation around Covid there has also been a drawdown of essential staff, including from the UN, in Yemen itself.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, yesterday’s Guardian published a horrific report about the targeting of hospitals and doctors during the conflict in recent times by all sides in the conflict. I understand that that report may even form the basis of evidence-gathering for future war-crimes positions. Can the Minister tell us a little more about how we are securing evidence, and how we are challenging both the coalition and the Houthis to stop these crimes against humanity?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to raise that question, but he will also be aware of the desperate situation on the ground. For example, there has been a 70% increase in violence against women since the conflict began, and the issue of documenting such crimes, let alone bringing the perpetrators to justice, is going to be a very tall order. Nevertheless we continue to support the efforts of the UN, including those of the special envoy Martin Griffiths, in this respect. I assure the noble Lord that wherever we have influence, including with those involved directly in the crisis such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we are seeking to bring that to bear.

Covid-19 Update

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Tuesday 17th March 2020

(6 months ago)

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement delivered in the other place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary on Covid-19. The Statement is as follows:

“Thank you, Mr Speaker. As the Prime Minister has said, the coronavirus pandemic is the worst public health crisis for a generation. It is an unsettling time for families up and down the country, so we need a united effort to tackle Covid-19 effectively and come through this challenge, as I am confident we can and we will.

Following on from, and consistent with, the domestic measures announced by the Prime Minister yesterday, and based on the fast-changing international circumstances, today I am announcing changes to the FCO travel advice. UK travellers abroad now face widespread international border restrictions and lockdowns in various countries. The FCO will always consider the safety and security of British nationals. So, with immediate effect, I have taken the decision to advise British nationals against non-essential travel globally for an initial period of 30 days, subject to review.

This decision has been taken based on the domestic measures introduced here in the United Kingdom, along with the changes to border and a range of other restrictions that are now being taken by countries around the world. The speed and range of those measures across other countries is unprecedented. Some of those decisions are being made without notice. In some countries, even in countries or particular areas where cases of Covid-19 have not yet been reported, local authorities are none the less imposing restriction on movement and are doing so with little or no notice at all. In the light of these circumstances, we want to reduce the risk of leaving vulnerable British tourists and visitors stranded overseas. We will of course keep this advice under review and amend it as soon as the situation responsibly allows.

The Government are keenly aware that international freight services such as shipping and haulage are vital for ensuring the continuity of the supply of essential food, goods and material to the UK. We regard this kind of travel as essential, and we will work with industry to ensure detailed advice that maintains the flow of goods while also protecting the well-being of staff working on those routes. The Department for Transport will be leading this work with the freight sector, with the objective of minimising disruption to those routes as far as possible.

At the same time, FCO consular teams are working around the clock to provide the best and most up-to-date information that we can possibly provide to UK nationals. In the last week alone we have made more than 430 changes to FCO travel advice, and obviously we will continue to keep that advice under close and constant review.

We are providing support to British nationals who have been impacted by coronavirus while travelling. During the initial outbreak or containment phrase, we arranged the repatriation of more than 200 vulnerable British nationals from China between 31 January and 9 February. We took that action to support British nationals and control the return of those possibly exposed to Covid-19 at the earliest point in the crisis when it appeared that the virus might be contained in China.

In other cases, such as that of the British nationals affected by Covid-19 infection in a hotel in Tenerife, we worked with travel companies and airlines to ensure that those concerned were safely brought home. We have also changed our travel advice to advise people over 70 or with underlying health conditions against travelling on cruises, to protect those who are most at risk from coronavirus.

We have arranged repatriation from cruise ships, including most recently the 131 UK nationals returned from the “Grand Princess”, docked in California, who arrived home last Wednesday. We have been working intensively with the Cuban authorities and Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines to ensure that all British nationals are able to return quickly and safely to the UK, in relation of course to the “Braemar” cruise liner. We are doing all that we can to ensure that they return to the UK on flights from José Martí airport in Havana within the next 48 hours. The Foreign Secretary spoke with the Cuban Foreign Minister twice over the weekend, and we are very grateful to Foreign Minister Rodríguez Parrilla and the Cuban Government for swiftly enabling this operation, and for their close co-operation in making sure that it could be successful.

As well as those repatriations, UK consular teams are working with those affected by difficult quarantine conditions, the closure of tourist resorts—for example, in Europe and north Africa—or new regulations introduced in various countries where UK nationals are visiting. We will do everything in our power to get those British nationals affected the care, support and practical advice that they need.

We also need to be clear about our capacity to repatriate people from abroad, given the scale of the numbers. We have taken action where necessary, but no one should be under any illusions: it is costly and complicated to co-ordinate, so government-supported repatriations have been undertaken only in exceptional circumstances. Ultimately the primary responsibility for managing outbreaks of Covid-19 and quarantine measures must rest with the country in which the outbreak has occurred.

FCO teams around the world are working urgently to ensure that Governments have sensible plans to enable the return of British and other travellers, and, crucially, to keep borders open for a sufficient period of time to enable returns to take place on commercial flights wherever possible. Following today’s change in travel advice, British nationals who decide that they still need to travel abroad should be fully aware of the increased risk of doing so. That includes the risk that they may not be able to get home if travel restrictions are put in place. So we urge anyone still considering travel to be realistic about the level of disruption that they are willing and able to endure, and to make decisions in light of the unprecedented conditions that we now face.

Today’s travel guidance follows the domestic measures announced yesterday. It forms part of our national effort to meet the international challenge presented by coronavirus—a challenge that we will rise to as a Government and as a country. I commend this Statement to the House.”

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement by the Foreign Secretary. Perhaps I may first express my appreciation for the extraordinarily hard work of all the FCO staff who, I know from comments made in the other place, have been working tirelessly over the weekend and throughout the night to support their fellow citizens.

I will turn first to international freight services, such as shipping and haulage. As the Statement said, they are

“vital for ensuring the continuity of supply of essential food, goods and materials to the United Kingdom.”

The Government, rightly, view this kind of travel as essential and say that they will work with the industry to issue detailed advice to maintain the flow of goods, while protecting the well-being of staff working on those routes. Can the Minister assure the House that the Department for Transport, which will be leading on this work with the freight sector, will consult those most directly affected—the workers in the sector—and ensure that trade unions are also properly consulted? It is vital that we get the co-operation of all sides of society in the battle against this virus.

What assessment have the Government made of the impact, particularly in the food and agriculture industry, of people naturally wishing to leave and return to their home country? What sort of cross-government co-ordination is there on that?

As we heard from MPs in the other place, this is clearly a time of immense concern for tens of thousands of people. We have heard about individual examples of young people stranded without the resources to make decisions about how to come back. The Foreign Secretary constantly referred to clear and practical advice. I strongly believe that this is one of the rare occasions when people want to be told what to do. It is not just advice; people need to be absolutely clear about the consequences if they have to make difficult decisions—for instance, if a parent is ill in a foreign country. This applies to my own husband; we were due to fly next week. People need a clear statement of what to do.

The other place heard the example of Morocco, which unexpectedly closed its air and sea borders, causing particular problems. I was hoping to hear from the Foreign Secretary that his department had been in touch with the French and Spanish authorities, which have many nationals there as well, to try to create a more co-operative and international response, especially in assisting people to get back home. Morocco will surely be joined by other countries making similar announcements. Can the Minister confirm that we are making representations to Governments—in co-operation with our EU partners, because many of our citizens are travelling to similar places—to ensure that those Governments who are contemplating similar action give us information in advance so that we can be prepared to give appropriate advice to our citizens?

The Foreign Secretary also referred to liaising with the civil aviation authorities and airlines. This is an example of action being taken before the Government’s advice has been issued. Can the Minister assure the House that airlines which halted flights had reassured the Government that they had made provision to enable customers to return immediately or early?

Finally, this is a difficult situation and we are focused on the immediate need for a response. However, whatever we do today, we need to ensure that we learn lessons. We do not know what is around the corner: in the 1980s it was AIDS, and we saw the response of the Lord Speaker at the time. Whatever immediate action we take in responding now, we need to learn the lessons that ensure we are better prepared next time something like this happens.

Refugee Crisis: Greece and Turkey

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Tuesday 10th March 2020

(6 months, 1 week ago)

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat as a Statement the response to an Urgent Question in the other place regarding the situation at the Turkish-Greek border and the refugee crisis in Greece.

“We are concerned by the situation on the Greece-Turkey border. We should not allow this crisis to detract from the reality that has created it: continued brutal violence, particularly in Idlib, by the Syrian regime and its Russian supporters, which has driven millions of refugees into Turkey and beyond. On 3 March, both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary discussed this with their Turkish counterparts; we have also discussed it with the Greek Foreign Minister. Key to the situation is dialogue, so we welcome President Erdoğan’s talks yesterday on the 2016 EU-Turkey migration deal with Council President Michel.

We will continue to support the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal, as it is crucial in effectively managing migratory flows and preventing people risking their lives by attempting to cross the Aegean. At the same time, we recognise Turkey’s generosity and the burden of supporting millions of refugees who have fled the civil war in Syria. Both Greece and Turkey face additional challenges as a result of increased migrant flows. We are providing support for their response.

In addition to providing humanitarian assistance in Syria, the UK is providing interpreters on the Greek island hotspots and search and rescue operations in the Aegean. We are taking forward a range of capacity-building projects with Turkey’s Directorate General of Migration Management, and we are working across government to explore where the UK can provide further support to improve the conditions for migrants, especially the most vulnerable.

As I say, a principal cause of the migration situation is the reckless and brutal nature of the Syrian regime and the Russian offensive in Idlib. The Syria conflict has been one of the most destructive in recent human history, and we want the war to end as quickly as possible. We very much welcome the recent ceasefire between Turkey and Russia, but it cannot stop there. We also continue to support efforts to renew political dialogue in order to bring a lasting end to the Syrian conflict. We support the constitutional committee in Geneva as a first step towards obtaining the peace that the Syrian people so desperately need, and regret that the talks have broken down.

The regime and its backers must now demonstrate commitment to resolving this conflict by engaging in good faith with the constitutional committee and the UN’s efforts. Preventing a further worsening of the humanitarian crisis is imperative, and we will do all we can to support those in need while pressing for an end to the Syrian conflict that has impacted so many around the world.”

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that response to the Urgent Question. In the other place this morning, the Minister highlighted that the UK was one of the largest contributors to the humanitarian effort. The European Commission last week presented an action plan of immediate measures, including the provision of medical equipment, shelters, tents, blankets and other necessary supplies. Can the Minister detail to the House how the UK is working with our European allies to increase the humanitarian effort and to protect the welfare of those at most immediate risk of suffering, exploitation, neglect and abuse? I would be grateful if he could also tell us what discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on putting together a comprehensive resettlement plan to share the responsibility for this crisis across the EU and neighbouring countries such as the United Kingdom.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord for his remarks. I am sure I speak for everyone in your Lordships’ House—we have all seen the images and pictures from the border—in saying that the situation is deplorable, with desperately vulnerable people seeking refuge and security. I am sure our thoughts are with those who have suffered, particularly those currently on the border. He rightly raises the issue of UK support. Last week the UK announced a new package of £89 million in humanitarian aid to save lives and protect Syrians at increasing risk of violence in Idlib. This includes tents, foods, medical care and, particularly, support for women and girls.

The noble Lord is right to raise the importance of working with key partners across the piece, including the EU. As I said in my Statement, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken directly with the Greek Foreign Minister and we are working closely with the Turkish authorities, who are crucial in this respect. President Erdoğan is visiting Brussels and the purpose of those meetings is specifically to address this issue; I will update the House accordingly. Last week my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was in Ankara, where this issue was raised directly with the President of Turkey.

Organ Trafficking: Sanctions

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Monday 2nd March 2020

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, there is no sense of a lack of priority. I assure the noble Lord that we are very committed to this sanctions regime. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has made it a personal priority. The noble Lord points to issues and the use of other restrictions. We have had those levers at our disposal. Only last week, when answering a Question on another country—the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—I reassured noble Lords that we have used levers at our disposal, including visa restrictions.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, last July I had the opportunity to ask the Minister a question precisely on the WHO and its definition of whether what is going on in China is ethical. He replied that the Chinese are saying that. Last July, he undertook to raise with the WHO our concern about the farming of organs and this continuing atrocity. What has happened since July? Have we continued to put pressure on the WHO?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

The short answer to the noble Lord is yes; we have taken up direct conversations and consultations with the World Health Organization. I put on record again that the allegations that have been raised in various reports, including the final report conducted by Sir Geoffrey Nice, raise questions that need to be answered in the context of that report. I know the noble Lord is aware that the view of the World Health Organization remains that China is implementing an ethical, voluntary organ transplant system, in accordance with international standards, although it has now raised concerns about transparency. I assure the noble Lord that we will continue to prioritise this issue and that of human rights within the context of China.

Israel and Palestine: United States’ Proposals for Peace

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 27th February 2020

(6 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, for giving us the opportunity to debate this very important issue. Like many of my noble friends, I have had a long association with Labour Friends of Israel. I am proud of that association and of Israel’s stance on many of the human rights issues we have talked about in this debate.

We have also heard in this debate the long-standing policy of successive British Governments, not just this one, to seek a peace plan for the Middle East based on a viable two-state solution. However, as many noble Lords have said, this plan would give the Palestinians a state only after four years, consisting of just 75% of the West Bank, with fragmented bits of land joined by narrow corridors, plus Gaza linked by a tunnel. In place of East Jerusalem as their capital, they are offered the suburban area of Abu Dis. The plan has nothing in common with the Oslo accords and destroys any prospect of an independent, contiguous Palestinian state. It legitimises the illegal annexation of Palestinian land for settlers and puts the whole of Jerusalem under Israeli control.

As Amir Peretz, leader of the Israeli Labor Party, made clear,

“unilateral annexations or steps that undermine the concept of two states living peacefully side by side is a recipe for further trouble and turmoil.”

Can I ask the Minister whether he or the Foreign Secretary made specific representations to their American counterparts on the idea of an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and tell them what a backward step for peace it would be?

As we have heard, the statement by Josep Borrell Fontelles, the EU high representative, stressed the EU’s continued commitment to a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, in accordance with the international parameters. Mention has been made in the debate of today’s Guardian letter on the plan from prominent European politicians. Does the Minister, like them, agree with the EU that Israeli steps

“towards annexation, if implemented, could not pass unchallenged”,

as they would impair the fundamental international norm banning the acquisition of territory by force? The Minister must make clear from the Dispatch Box today that Britain as a country still abides by all the international laws and UN resolutions which rule that the annexation of Palestinian land and the building of settlements is illegal, and that it must be condemned, not legitimised in the form of this plan. Labor Knesset Member Itzik Shmuli argued that it would not,

“contribute to security, negates the important recognition of the two-state solution, rejects any chance to achieve separation and will bring about the fatal demand for a single state, which contradicts our national and security interests”,

as the noble Baroness just highlighted. Even Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s main challenger in the election on 2 March, has opposed immediate annexation, and, while welcoming Trump’s proposals, suggested that he would not act in the unilateral manner Netanyahu is proposing, and would work,

“in full co-ordination with the Governments of the US, Jordan, Egypt, others in the region and the Palestinians.”

The then Foreign Office Minister Andrew Murrison, in response to an Urgent Question on 30 January from Emily Thornberry, repeated official policy when he said that the UK wanted

“to see a two-state solution based on 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as a shared capital and a proper settlement for refugees.”—[Official Report, Commons, 30/1/20; col. 933.]

However, despite these words of comfort, he went on to welcome Trump’s proposals as a possible route towards restarting peace talks, with Prime Minister Johnson arguing that it,

“has the merit of a two-state solution”. —[Official Report, Commons, 29/1/20; col. 770.]

How can they suggest that it will break the deadlock? It beggars belief. To impose something on one of the parties cannot be the basis on which negotiations can begin. Simply adding that they do not endorse the plan’s contents will not change what many will see as a “shameful betrayal”, as Emily Thornberry put it, of previous UK support for a viable two-state solution. As we have heard, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, in rejecting Trump’s proposals declared:

“We say one thousand times ‘No, no, no’ to the deal of the century.”

Murrison’s hopes of a positive response from the Arab nations has also suffered a blow, as we have heard in the debate, with the unanimous rejection of the plan by the Arab League and subsequently the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. The Arab League said that Trump’s plan did not satisfy

“the minimum rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people.”

Instead, the Arab League reiterated its support for the 2002 peace initiative, as the noble Baroness has high- lighted, which endorsed a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital. Does the Minister accept that any peace plan without Palestinian participation is no peace plan at all? A lasting and sustainable peace will be achieved only through direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, with compromise and concessions on both sides. This plan clearly fails that test and, far from breaking the dead- lock, will entrench opinions. From this side of the House, we will continue to press for an immediate return to meaningful negotiations leading to a diplomatic resolution.

While there is understandable anger in Palestine over this proposed plan, does the Minister agree with me that this must not and cannot be used as an excuse by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terror groups to launch more indiscriminate attacks against innocent Israeli citizens, and will he join me in condemning anyone who takes such action? If the Minister agrees that the only way to achieve peace in the Middle East is through a two-state solution with a secure and viable state of Israel living alongside a secure, viable and contiguous state of Palestine, then—as many other noble Lords have asked tonight—why will this Government not recognise the state of Palestine?

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, for tabling this debate and for her ongoing interest in the Middle East peace process. I would also like to thank all noble Lords for their insightful and valuable contributions to what has been a very absorbing debate. We have had moments of birthdays being mentioned. I add my own best wishes to my noble friend Lord Young, who is 88 years young today—he lives up to his name—and who shares a birthday with my daughter. I fear she will be extremely disappointed that Daddy is still at your Lordships’ House. Lady Ahmad will be even more displeased because, at this particular time, I should be at a parent-teacher evening—but such is the challenge of debates that are called in the House.

Leaving my personal challenges aside, we have before us a challenge and an issue that has, again, brought very expert contributions. It would be remiss of me not to look again at the personal insights we got, in particular those of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell. I am sure I speak for all noble Lords when I say that we were truly delighted to hear of the family reunion, which, again, shows the strength of our global links and how, notwithstanding the challenges and the tragedy of the Holocaust—which was poignantly mentioned by several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Leigh—there is still hope from the tragedy and genocide that took place because, even now, families can still come together.

The UK’s position on the Middle East peace process is clear and, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, has not changed. Our view remains, clearly, that the best way to achieve peace, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, stated, is through substantive peace talks between the parties, leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with agreed land swaps—which, as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, mentioned, need to be fair, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states and with a just, fair, agreed and realistic settlement for refugees. We had some innovative suggestions on that, including from the noble Lord, Lord Davies. I am sure that other noble Lords reflected on the issue of refugees. The noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, also talked about the importance of the humanity that brings communities and faiths together in the Holy Land.

However, we have to acknowledge that progress towards meaningful peace has stalled. I totally align myself with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that, despite the stalling and despite whatever is on the table, at no time should this be used as an excuse by those who seek to cause further division. Hamas’s and Hezbollah’s actions, particularly those that impact on the security of the State of Israel, have to be condemned, and rightly so.

We should not forget that this is not just an issue of one religion over the other. I never see this in the eyes of religion. Many Arabs, as I have seen myself, live very peacefully and lead very prosperous lives in places such as Haifa in the State of Israel. They are integrated into society and, as my noble friend Lord Leigh reminded us, into political society in Israel.

However, it is true that the issue has stalled. Israelis and Palestinians deserve better. They deserve a durable resolution that brings dignity and security for all. As my noble friend Lady Morris said, Palestinians deserve self-determination and freedom from occupation—a point which was well made and poignantly articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Oates. Israelis equally deserve to live free of terrorist rocket fire and to enjoy fruitful co-operation with their neighbours in the region. As I said, I have seen directly how communities can live together. There should be a vision. If there is a Palestinian state and Jewish communities wish to live there, they should have that right, as Arab citizens do today in the State of Israel.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made clear in his statement on 28 January:

“A peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians that leads to peaceful coexistence could unlock the potential of the entire region”.

I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton, who, as a trade envoy, has sought under challenging circumstances to give hope to people on both sides and the opportunity of a brighter future. The noble Lord, Lord Stone, always provides a sense of hope and optimism. I have seen how Israeli and Arab communities in the West Bank are working together for a common good and common prosperity.

However, this will happen only if the parties can find a path back to negotiations, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, and secure a settlement that is acceptable to all. That is why our first priority must be to encourage Israelis, Palestinians and international partners, including the United States, to find a way to reopen the necessary and essential dialogue. There is no other path to peace.

I assure my noble friend Lord Lothian that we work closely with the US on matters involving the Middle East—but this was and is an American plan. We were not involved in its formulation. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and others that the US is aware that our position on the Middle East peace process has not changed. As my noble friend Lady Altmann said, the US proposals are now on the table. The UK looks to the Palestinian leadership to offer its own vision for a settlement, and to find a way to re-engage with the negotiation process so that its direct concerns and priorities can also be discussed.

We hope that President Abbas will return to the negotiations. However, as several noble Lords said—my noble friend Lord Davies of Gower made the point well—we must stress upon the Palestinians and President Abbas that negotiations are the way forward. However, if he declined to negotiate, I assure noble Lords that that would not justify unilateral action such as the annexation of parts of the West Bank by Israel, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark referred to in his contribution.

Also, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said, the UK is concerned about the reports of possible Israeli moves towards annexation. We believe that any such unilateral moves would be damaging to the renewed efforts to restart peace negotiations and contrary to international law. No changes to the status quo can be made without an agreement negotiated by the parties themselves. Therefore, let me assure the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that we made it clear in our statement recently at the UN Security Council on 11 February that we remain committed to our long-standing position on the Middle East peace process and to previous UN Security Council resolutions. We strongly advocate for a two-state solution and for a meaningful return to negotiations, both in public and in private, to all concerned parties.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked a specific question on the UK’s position on Israeli settlements. That is clear; they are illegal under international law and damaging, we believe, to renewed efforts to launch peace negotiations. We also continue to make clear our view that the only way that we can see proper negotiations is if the leaders of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories can determine whether any proposals might be able to meet the needs and aspirations of the people they represent. Let me assure the noble Lord, Lord Warner, that that remains our position. My noble friend Lady Morris also alluded to this.

In parallel, we will continue our efforts to build the components of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, including through our continued support, through DfID funding and CSSF programmes. I hope that my noble friend Lord Suri is reassured by that. I particularly listened to his remarks on the importance of the private sector, and I am sure I speak for all noble Lords on the contribution in particular of my noble friend Lord Young, who brought great insight into some of the experience he had directly with Mr Arafat and others. Indeed, notwithstanding the lack of traction, I think that that still provides hope that there can be so much that can be achieved together.

Specific questions were raised by my noble friend Lord Leigh on the issue of Palestinian textbooks. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, also alluded to this, as well as my noble friends Lady Altmann and Lord Davies of Gower. Let me assure noble Lords that the UK does not fund textbooks in the OPTs, but we are deeply concerned about allegations of incitement to violence in some of the newer textbooks. Indeed, it was following the UK’s call for action—my noble friend Lord Davies asked this specific question—that the EU agreed to lead an independent review of the content in Palestinian textbooks, which is currently under way. We know that the Palestinian Authority is currently revising its textbooks, collecting a range of feedback, and will update them before the start of the new school year in September. In the interim, let me assure my noble friend that we will continue to raise any such concerns about incitement, as we do elsewhere, and the former DfID Secretary of State did so during a meeting with the PA Education Minister earlier in February.

To conclude, Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve peace, stability and opportunity. Meaningful dialogue offers the only path towards those long-overdue goals. That is why we are urging the parties to find a way to reopen the necessary dialogue. We hope that leaders on both sides will give the US peace plan genuine and fair consideration. The reasoning behind that, as articulated by my noble friend Lady Altmann, is that it offers, we believe, a first step on the road back to negotiations. At the same time, we will continue to caution against annexation, which would undermine the basis for a sustainable settlement and, in so doing, strip away hope for future generations of Israelis and Palestinians.

My noble friend Lord Young talked about the potential that exists when countries work together. The noble Lord, Lord Stone, talked about communities working together, as did the noble Lord, Lord Singh, and my noble friend Lady Morris, among others. I end my comments with a quote:

“Peace with the Palestinians will open ports of peace all around the Mediterranean. The duty of leaders is to pursue freedom ceaselessly, even in the face of hostility, in the face of doubt and disappointment. Just imagine what could be.”

Those were the words of a distinguished leader of the State of Israel, a visionary who knew that the pathway to peace, no matter how bleak the outlook, should be a flame that is never extinguished—the words of Shimon Peres.

Saudi Arabia: Death Penalty

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 26th February 2020

(6 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Department for International Development
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, first, I am glad that we were finally allowed to take this Oral Question after the publication of the report. I can assure the noble Baroness that, since then, we have been taking quite specific action. She rightly raised the mass execution of 37 men in April 2019; there were a large number from the Shia minority. We clearly expressed our grave concern at that time. Indeed, when I visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, at its request, in my capacity as Human Rights Minister, we raised all issues, including the death penalty. The noble Baroness raised the specific issue of the Khashoggi trial. In that regard, our diplomats on the ground did gain access to the trial and were able to observe it directly. As to what happens next, as the noble Baroness will be aware, there is an appeal process under way for those people who were given the death penalty in that regard, and there is little for me to add as it is an ongoing process. On the general point about the use of the death penalty, for minorities but also for minors, we continue to raise the issue regularly with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, as I have remarked before, the noble Lord has been in his post for some considerable time. Last May, after the executions, he talked about progress being made and positive engagement. Of course, underpinning these executions are further human rights abuses; it is not simply executions. Can the Minister tell us, with his positive engagement, what progress is really being made, and, if progress is not sufficient, will the Government use the powers they have to impose selective sanctions against those responsible for these human rights abuses?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

The noble Lord refers to my time in post, and I am delighted to return to the Dispatch Box. My noble friend from the Treasury has just left the Chamber, but I am sure he will be reassured by the fact that longevity in office is perhaps—as I look toward my noble friend Lady Williams—a trademark of Ministers in your Lordships’ House.

On whether progress is being made, in July 2018 the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia passed a codifying law on the age of criminal majority at 18 for some crimes within sharia law and capping the punishment for crimes committed by minors to 10 years’ imprisonment, so we have seen specific progress in this regard. There are exceptions to this on issues of national security. On action taken, particularly against people alleged to have been involved in the Khashoggi murder, I assure the noble Lord that we have taken action. I am delighted that my noble friend the Minister of State from the Home Office is here. The Home Office did act and we took action against a number of individuals in that respect.

Syria

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Monday 24th February 2020

(6 months, 3 weeks ago)

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to an Urgent Question asked in another place on the security situation in Syria:

“We are deeply concerned by the crisis in north-west Syria, where the situation on the ground is deteriorating. Over 900,000 people have been displaced, fleeing the regime and Russian bombardments. They are fleeing northward and being squeezed into increasingly dense enclaves, with camps full to capacity.

Nearly 300 civilians have been killed in Idlib and Aleppo since 1 January this year. The UN human rights office has confirmed that 93% of those deaths were caused by the regime and its allies. International humanitarian law continues to be ignored, with civilian infrastructure being hit, probably as a result of active targeting. As recently as yesterday, the White Helmets reported that Russian warplanes hit a children’s and women’s hospital in the village of Balioun in Idlib.

The UK has condemned, and continues to condemn, these flagrant violations of international law and basic human decency. Following UK lobbying, in August 2019 the UN Secretary-General announced a board of inquiry into attacks on civilian infrastructure supported by the UN, or that were part of the UN deconfliction mechanism, which we continue to support. We look forward to the publication of the results as soon as possible.

We have repeatedly pressed for an immediate, genuine and lasting ceasefire, including at the UN Security Council. We have called a number of emergency council sessions on Idlib in New York, most recently on 6 February alongside the P3, where the UK ambassador to the UN, Karen Pierce, reiterated our clear call for a ceasefire and our support for Turkey’s efforts in this regard. There is overwhelming support for this in the Security Council, and we regret very much that the Russians continue to obstruct the possibility of agreement.

As the Foreign Secretary noted on 31 January, only a political settlement in line with Security Council Resolution 2254 can deliver a lasting peace for Syria. The United Kingdom will continue to support the efforts of the UN special representative for Syria, Geir Pedersen, to this end. We regret that the Syrian regime continues to stall this process, despite the cost to the Syrian people and the loss of Syrian lives.

Despite this political obstruction, the UK remains an active leader in the humanitarian space. In the financial year 2019-20, DfID has allocated £118 million to projects implemented by organisations delivering aid cross-border, primarily into north-west Syria, including Idlib. This has helped to provide hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people with food, clean water, shelter and healthcare including psychosocial support.

We have provided funding to response partners, including the UN, to pre-position essential supplies to support innocent families and civilians displaced by conflict and are supporting all our partners to respond to this humanitarian crisis”.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that response to the Urgent Question. In the other place, the Minister repeatedly asserted that we will work with our allies to hold the Assad regime to account for breaches of international humanitarian law. What practical steps are being taken to ensure that Assad and his international allies answer for the war crimes committed in this conflict, and that we as a country will remain determined, for as long as it takes, that they will face that day of reckoning? What practical steps are being taken to plug the enormous humanitarian spending gap required to help those innocent civilians who have been forced to flee the violence in Idlib?

Finally, our friends in the Kurdish community, while no friends of the jihadists and their Turkish allies in Idlib, may equally be forgiven for looking at the developments of recent days and wondering if it will be their turn next. What action is the Minister taking at the international level to ensure long-term protection for those northern Kurdish communities?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, I shall take the last question first. I am sure that the noble Lord shares—indeed, all noble Lords will do so—the sentiments that we pay tribute to the courage and sacrifices made by the Kurds in particular. We pay tribute to the work of the SDF in successful efforts that were made against Daesh in Syria. I assure him that we remain very much committed to the fight against Daesh and regard the SDF very much as a partner in this fight.

The noble Lord asked about the practical steps we are taking. First, on 5 February, the former Minister for the Middle East and North Africa visited Ankara to discuss the situation specifically in Idlib with Turkish government Ministers. Last month, the United Kingdom hosted a meeting of special envoys of the small group on Syria, which includes Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, ourselves and the United States, to discuss the situation in Syria, including specifically the need for de-escalation in Idlib. As I said in the Statement, we have repeatedly used our position at the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council to call on Russia and the regime to end the offensive, adhere to specifically agreed ceasefires in Idlib and, importantly, respect obligations under international humanitarian law, which was the first point that the noble Lord raised, particularly with reference to the Assad regime. I am aiming to travel to the UN Human Rights Council tomorrow, and my statement will reflect those concerns.

Bahrain: Mohamed Ramadan and Hussain Moosa

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 12th February 2020

(7 months, 1 week ago)

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Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, I am always happy to meet and we can look into that. On the noble Lord’s more specific point, I beg to differ. It was because of the United Kingdom’s investment in and provision of technical support, particularly for the oversight authorities, that the cases of Hussain Moosa and Mohamed Ramadan were looked at again. The noble Lord shakes his head but that is a fact. Of course, we regret the fact that the death penalty prevails as a form of sentencing in Bahrain. In that respect, I assure the noble Lord that I, the ambassador and my right honourable friend Dr Murrison, the Minister responsible, have made it known that we do not believe the death sentence should prevail, and we will continue to make that case to the Bahraini authorities.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, the noble Lord makes the point about positive engagement and seeking change, and I know that the UK is funding the alternative non-custodial sentencing programme. However, we now have a report from eight UN experts on this programme, saying that it discriminates against human rights defenders. What does the noble Lord say about that when he is the Minister responsible for human rights and his own programmes are discriminating against them?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

Given his background, I am sure the noble Lord will know that we worked directly with UNDP on that programme and we have been working on this issue. He raised the issue of alternative sentencing and we have seen positive outcomes: up to 1,000 people have now been looked upon for alternatives to prison sentences. The noble Lord rightly raises genuine concerns about human rights and those continue. As I said in my original Answer, we are far from where we want to be but our continual engagement with the Bahraini authorities is producing results.

Taiwan

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Monday 10th February 2020

(7 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - Hansard

My Lords, my noble friend will appreciate that it is not for me to comment on United States policy. I can, however, reaffirm that the United Kingdom remains committed to our relationship with Taiwan. As I said in response to an earlier question, we are committed to the importance of trade and culture, and we have seen the prosperity of that: the economy of Taiwan is bigger than that of many Asian economies. It is important that we strengthen our work in this respect. On the wider point of resolving any issues between Taipei and Beijing, it is important that both sides negotiate the issues that need to be addressed. That is the best way forward.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) -