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Russia and Ukraine: Settlement

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 26th May 2022

(2 days, 17 hours ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I had the opportunity to meet Dr Kissinger a couple of years ago. When we look at any conflict, all wise words need to be listened to, of course. What is equally important, however, is that the sovereignty and integrity of every nation are protected.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I completely agree with the Minister. If there is to be a negotiated settlement, as President Zelensky says there must be, Ukraine must be in the driving seat. But what can we do to support President Zelensky’s objective? When I met Barbara Woodward this week, she stressed that the Secretary-General is now much more proactive in trying to bring the parties together. There are also opportunities for bilateral support. Can the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to support those objectives?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. He and I have been speaking about this consistently throughout. I am glad that he met Ambassador Woodward. We continue to engage through all multilateral channels, particularly on humanitarian issues. We were first in line; indeed, I spoke with the Secretary-General in New York about the importance of engaging with all sides. Even at that time, as the noble Lord knows, Russia would not entertain a visit from him. Later today, I will meet the Ukrainian prosecutor-general, Iryna Venediktova, who is in town, to discuss our support for her work on the ground. We will continue to work with Ukraine, particularly on the current situation around food security, to which my noble friend Lord Lamont alluded. That issue is not just about Ukraine and Russia; it is about the whole world.

Evacuations from Afghanistan

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 26th May 2022

(2 days, 17 hours ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question. I suspect all Ministers will find the report difficult reading, but no doubt the noble Lord will because he worked so hard during the crisis. I know that he was totally committed to helping people escape. However, the Doha agreement was signed 18 months before Kabul fell. It was obvious to many that the Taliban were emboldened by the difficulties faced by the Afghan security forces, yet their success seems to have come as a surprise to the Government. Does the noble Lord accept that this was a fatal flaw in our intelligence, and will he commit to a specific review into those particular failures?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right: I lived that crisis, and I continue to live and work on the situation and the response to the evacuation of Afghanistan. Even today, it remains the case that there are many people seeking to leave Afghanistan, particularly the most vulnerable, and it is important that we continue to engage. Certainly, through direct engagement and direct briefings—both at the FCDO and in Parliament—I have ensured that our colleagues across both Houses are fully informed.

On the specific issue of planning, I was engaged on this and, of course, I made my own assessments and provided appropriate briefings to the teams in the FCDO and Her Majesty’s Government. I recall that as late as July, I was at a conference in Uzbekistan where I met the then president, President Ghani; Foreign Minister Atmar; other key partners, including the United States, Turkey and all near neighbours; and international organisations. While it was very clear that the Taliban were gaining ground, no one—I repeat, no one—had made an assessment that this would happen so quickly. I fully accept the premise about when the fall of Kabul happened, on 15 August—indeed, I remember speaking to Foreign Minister Atmar on 11, 13 and 15 August, and then again on 16 August. Even as late as Thursday, with Kabul falling on the Saturday, there was an inward- bound Turkish delegation to Kabul.

We continue to work with partners. Undoubtedly there are lessons that have to be learned and improvements to be made—and, yes, some of those have been implemented in the response to Ukraine. But it is equally important to ensure that we remain vigilant to the current situation, which remains live in Afghanistan, including the humanitarian situation. Therefore, I am proud that, notwithstanding the challenges we face, the Government remain committed to providing support, particularly humanitarian support, to the most vulnerable in Afghanistan.

Xinjiang Internment Camps: Shoot-to-Kill Policy

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 25th May 2022

(3 days, 17 hours ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, for some time this House has called on the United Kingdom Government to back a UN visit to Xinjiang to assess the scale of human rights abuses, which we have now seen so shockingly illustrated by the BBC report. Michelle Bachelet has finally arrived. However, it is reported that her access is being restricted, with the UN stressing that the visit cannot be considered an investigation. While Amanda Milling reiterated yesterday the call for unfettered access, can the Minister tell us what steps the Government are taking, with our allies, to secure proper access for the UN?

On future policy, Amanda Milling said the Government

“will continue to develop our domestic policy response, including introducing further measures to tackle forced labour in UK supply chains.”—[Official Report, Commons, 24/5/22; col. 159.]

An opportunity starts with the Procurement Bill, which has its Second Reading this afternoon, to protect British customers and consumers from complicity in the Uighur genocide. Will the Minister support amendments to back British businesses which generally want to do the right thing?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and I have been working together, and I am conscious of and grateful for the strong support on the issue of Xinjiang. The continuing trials, tribulations and persecution of, and indeed violations against, the Uighur community in Xinjiang are appalling and abhorrent, and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has put out a statement to that effect.

On the noble Lord’s first point on Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner is well known to me. Indeed, the United Kingdom was the first country to call, both directly in a bilateral meeting with her and at the Human Rights Council, for a visit to Xinjiang, which, as the noble Lord acknowledged, is under way. However, he is quite right that it is, to use quite diplomatic terms, a managed visit. Clearly, access will be quite limited. We are certainly working with our friends and partners. We also press the High Commissioner for a specific report on the situation in Xinjiang. Earlier today I was scoping as to either a direct call or a visit to Geneva to pursue that very issue. I will update your Lordships’ House on that specifically.

The Government are committed to tackling the issue of Uighur forced labour in supply chains. In September 2020, there was an ambitious package of changes to the Modern Slavery Act. I am sure the noble Lord noted that these measures will be included in the modern slavery Bill, which was announced as part of the Queen’s Speech in May this year. On the other point he raised on procurement, I do not know and cannot predict what amendments will come forward, but the Procurement Bill is also looking quite specifically at supply chain issues. From experience, I am sure that many a noble Lord will look at that Bill quite specifically.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: Forced Confession

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Tuesday 24th May 2022

(4 days, 17 hours ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that Answer. It is hugely welcome that Nazanin is now safely at home with her family, where she belongs, but Morad Tahbaz remains detained in Iran and Amanda Milling said in the other place that the Iranian Government failed to honour the commitment to release him from prison on indefinite furlough and that the UK Government

“urge Iranian authorities at every opportunity to release him immediately.”

Can the noble Lord tell us precisely when the Foreign Secretary last raised Morad’s case with her counterpart in Iran and what the FCDO’s strategy is to secure his release?

On the forced confession, I hear what the noble Lord repeated: it is an Iranian practice to insist that detainees sign documents before releasing them and that the UK official did not force Nazanin to do so. However, can he tell us exactly what the Government’s assessment is of how the confession could be used by the Iranian Government against Nazanin in the future, and what the department’s strategy is for dealing with this policy by the Iranian Government in the future more generally?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I associate myself with the comments of noble Lord: we all breathed a huge sigh of relief, and rightly so, when Nazanin’s ordeal came to an end. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary engages regularly on this issue. The noble Lord may be aware that she also met Nazanin directly, as did my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. She spoke directly to the Foreign Minister of Iran about this case in advance of Nazanin’s release. I will update the noble Lord specifically on the follow-up contact she has had on the specific issue of Morad Tahbaz. It was very clear in Morad’s case that an undertaking was given, as the noble Lord correctly said, on his release under furlough. That was welcomed as the next step and there has certainly been a reneging on that deal. I add that it is within Iran’s remit to release Morad Tahbaz today if it so chose.

The forced confession is, of course, unfortunately yet another example of the coercive practices deployed by the Iranian Government and organisations working within the Government, and we will raise the issue. It is quite obvious that it was a forced confession and any such actions, including the continued detention of other detainees, are absolutely deplorable.

Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 9) Regulations 2022

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Monday 23rd May 2022

(5 days, 17 hours ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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The noble Viscount is absolutely right. The real issue here, on our policy of ensuring that Putin cannot act with impunity, is that this Government act with one voice and that all departments—be it the FCDO, the Home Office or the Department for International Trade—act in concert. I hope the Minister can respond to that point.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to today’s short but insightful and timely discussion. I will address the important questions that been raised. If there are questions that I do not cover specifically, I will flag them and write to noble Lords in the usual way.

First and foremost, on that final point, the Government work across government but also with key sectors. We also work with British companies so that they fully understand the impact of the sanctions being imposed, because challenges are being felt far and wide because of them.

Equally, I say from the outset to the noble Lords, Lord Collins, Lord Purvis and Lord Rooker, that we absolutely have to work in lock-step. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, is fully aware of my view as the FCDO Minister responsible for sanctions that the most effective sanctions are those where we work in absolute lock-step with our key partners—the likes of Canada, the US and the European Union. I assure all noble Lords that we have regular and frequent conversations about the designations we will make, but equally about the designations that other jurisdictions are making, to ensure that any semblance of difference can be addressed quickly and in an expedited form. Indeed, the measures we have had to introduce over the last few months reflect the Government’s desire to ensure that our own regime and framework reflect our ability to act, and quickly. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for recognising that. As all noble Lords will recognise, there is a need for agility to act very quickly.

While I cannot give assurance beyond what I normally state about future designations, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that nothing, or no one, is out of our consideration for any designations of individuals or organisations. It would be speculative to go into any further detail, but we are looking at this in terms of ensuring that our sanctions team is extensively resourced and of working very closely with our allies in this respect. We have directly sanctioned more than 1,000 individuals and more than 100 businesses since Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. This is constant. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that the number of designations and the information I see, and the fact that we are having our ninth or 10th debate on specific issues in this respect, reflect the Government really focusing on the priorities.

The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, asked about the Crown dependencies, as did the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, about the OTs. In all instances, our legislation has direct impact in the Crown dependencies and the OTs. There is an exception in two OTs—Bermuda and Gibraltar—where an Order in Council cannot be issued and they legislate for themselves, but they have been legislating to effect anything introduced in the UK jurisdictions elsewhere. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, we are working very closely with all our Crown dependency Governments, as well as the OT Administrations and Governments, to ensure they follow the UK Government’s lead. The Order in Council allows us to act decisively when it comes to the OTs.

I thank noble Lords again for their strong support of the Government’s position. As I acknowledged in my opening remarks, I am grateful in particular to the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Collins, for their strong support for the Government’s position, both in and outside the Chamber. As I have done previously, I will continue to update them as required and appropriate to ensure that they are fully up to speed with the Government’s position and the future actions that we will take.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, raised the important issue of VPNs and asked whether this was an offence under UK law. It is not as it applies in the UK and the EU. The issue is cutting off the information at the source of spread—that is, the ISPs and social media companies. The measures we and our partners have been taking act on the providers, not the individual users, of the internet. In our view, it is not appropriate to place the offence on individuals who may be using VPNs. That said, VPNs have been used as a tool to circumvent, as the noble Lord mentioned, but our position is that this is not unique to the UK; we are talking to our partners to see how, as Russia continues with its approach on misinformation, we can work in a more co-ordinated fashion.

Queen’s Speech

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 18th May 2022

(1 week, 3 days ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, as ever, it is a great honour to address your Lordships’ House on behalf of the Government and to close this incredibly informed debate on foreign affairs, defence, trade and development. It has been a debate in which we have had varying contributions covering many countries and many issues. As my noble friend Lord Grimstone said in his opening remarks, these are very challenging and testing times—a point articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in his remarks just now. A point made by all noble Lords is that it is important to stress again the importance of alliances, partnerships and working together and, yes, to renew that vision, the vision we share, for a fairer world based, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, reminded us, on the tenet of the strength of democracy, openness and freedom—the ability to disagree with each other, but doing so within and respecting the rule of law, whether that is domestically or internationally.

I start by conveying congratulations on behalf of these Benches to the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, on becoming a grandfather. When he was talking, I was reflecting. I still have a very young family myself. It is about opportunities. When you look towards your children, grandchildren and generations to come, sometimes you sit back and ask yourself: what is happening in the world? It is a point of reflection for all of us that, in our own way, we have a role to play. We want to be able to look at ourselves and say, on reflection, that we have played a part by trying to do our best in whatever roles we have.

The 67 speakers we have had in this debate, whatever perspective they have expressed, again demonstrated depth, quality, expertise and insight on the important issues we have discussed. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who spoke about the tone of engagement when it comes to international affairs, that I assure him that when not just our best diplomats but our Ministers engage, there is a softness to our tone, but a firmness in the message we wish to convey. I think that reflects the best of British diplomacy, and long may that continue.

The noble Lord, Lord McDonald, and my noble friend Lord Sterling talked of our diplomatic network. Our diplomats are the best of the best. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of addressing the heads of missions who are convened here in London. As the noble Lord, Lord McDonald, reminded us, it was also a great pleasure to sit down today with Melinda Simmons, our ambassador to Ukraine, to get her insights but also to recognise her courage, dedication and devotion—not just in representing the United Kingdom’s interests in Ukraine but in reflecting the best of our diplomats as they represent our interests and strengthen our relationships with countries across the world.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, talked about Brexit and declining influences. It will not surprise her that I will respond to that by saying simple things about our place in the world. I have seen directly over the last five years or so, as a Minister of State at the Foreign Office, as a joint Minister and now at the FCDO, the deep respect that the United Kingdom has among nations. That is reflected when you look at elections, for example within the ITU. Very relevant to the debate today was the election success we had within the ICC, with Joanna Korner being elected as a judge and Karim Khan as a prosecutor. I add that Karim actually stood against a number of European countries and won quite decisively. I think that reflects the deep regard and respect many countries have for the United Kingdom’s place in the world. Again, that is something we will continue to strengthen in our relationships.

As we look toward the world today, my noble friend Lord Grimstone spoke earlier about the warnings made back in 2021. But, to be completely honest, I was there for the wind-up in the debate on the Queen’s Speech, and none of us would have expected—and certainly did not hope—that those warnings would come true. Sadly and tragically, they have. Territorial expansionism and atrocities that we hoped had been consigned to the history books expose the very weaknesses of the post-war security architecture and require us to find new ways to stand up to aggression. Indeed, the whole world order, including that of the United Nations, has really been tested. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, reminded us that when you have a P5 member acting as the aggressor, it totally changes the whole dynamic of how we respond.

But in the darkness we have seen great courage, great resilience and a deep generosity, across the world and in our country, in response to the challenges we face, particularly those in Ukraine. We have witnessed the power of a drive for freedom, democracy and self-determination. That has inspired us and united us with our friends around the world. Issues of security and trade are important. While there are lessons for the West to learn together from Mr Putin’s war in Ukraine, I believe that our alliances with our partners in Europe, NATO and the G7 have been strengthened, with a new unity of purpose. It has been tested—absolutely—but we see it emerging in the world today in a very positive fashion in terms of ensuring that we act, and act together.

We must embrace the challenge of setting out a vision for international co-operation, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed out in his closing remarks. As ever, the noble Lord talked in his customary style about coming together and working together. Irrespective of our differences, it is important that I reiterate once again—I know I speak for all my colleagues on the Government Front Benches—our deep appreciation for the insights that we gain through direct engagement with your Lordships’ House. That will certainly be reflected in what we do across the areas of foreign policy, defence, trade and development.

But equally, as my noble friends Lord Frost and Lord Udny-Lister both indicated, our experience also tells us that issues of democracy, free trade and open markets are what very much define our country. These are the kinds of values we need to stress and engage with as we face aggression around the world. They are very powerful diplomatic tools. Indeed, when we look around the world, it is important that our diplomatic networks also extend the importance of trade as an enabler—trade empowers.

I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord German, when he spoke about the power of education being fundamental to how we go about ensuring that the world really is empowered. That is why our Prime Minister has repeatedly articulated his absolute commitment to 12 years of quality education for girls. But I accept the premise of what the noble Lord, Lord German, said: to educate people, you need teachers. As we found through the challenges in Afghanistan, a conflict can really put a country back in terms of its achievements in that respect. We need to invest more in education to ensure that every child has an opportunity to realise their ambition.

Isolationism, on the other hand, offers little in terms of economic security, health security or, indeed, cybersecurity. I agree totally with the noble Baronesses, Lady Suttie and Lady Coussins, in terms of how we need to invest more in languages. I pay particular tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, who is a constant advocate for the importance of investing in our Diplomatic Academy but also for the importance of learning languages. Her continued lobbying ensures that we as a Government retain a focus on these important issues.

I will come on to Ukraine in a moment, but let me touch on a few specific issues. My noble friend Lord Eccles talked about the Commonwealth, as did the noble Lord, Lord McDonald. While it does not perhaps figure in the Queen’s Speech with the strength that certain noble Lords said it did, it is a very proud part of my title, and I am looking forward to further strengthening the work of the 54 member states as we hand over the chair-in-office mantle to Rwanda. Indeed, the Rwandan Foreign Minister has been visiting London as he goes on to Geneva, and we are looking forward to being in Kigali. We will be looking to progress a number of priorities at CHOGM, including those on trade and investment, women and girls, climate and the environment, democracy, peace and security. I look forward to updating your Lordships’ House in this respect.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Suttie and Lady Cox, also talked about various situations around the world. First, with reference to central Asia, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, that I would very much value engaging with her directly. It was mentioned earlier about an ever-expanding portfolio, but I am, among other things, the Minister for Central Asia. I have seen quite directly with the situation in Afghanistan—not just in Ukraine—the real challenge on the ground that these countries have had to face. And yes, while some of them abstained in the votes at the General Assembly, I think we have to quantify and qualify that abstention. If you are one of those near-neighbouring countries from central Asia, facing Russia, with Russian minorities within your own borders, there is a genuine fear, and we have to ensure that we build those relationships. I look forward to engaging with the noble Baroness in that respect.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, also talked about the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, in terms of the territorial sovereignty, and the issue featured in others’ contributions. The UK position when it comes to Azerbaijan and Armenia is that there must be respect for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. We also support the ongoing efforts to bring Azerbaijan and Armenia together, in order to resolve all outstanding issues. We support the peace deal that has been reached, and the protection of cultural heritage. That is vital, and we work not just directly with those countries but also through agencies such as UNESCO, whose primary purpose is the protection of heritage sites.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, also raised the issue of the situation in Nigeria. My colleague Vicky Ford, the Minister for Africa, regularly discusses security with the Nigerian Government, and I am acutely aware of the issues through discussions I have had with the noble Baroness, and of how attacking particular religious minorities is part and parcel of those who seek to bring further discord and disruption to Nigeria.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lords, Lord Trees and Lord Whitty, all talked, and rightly so, about climate change. Again, there is more to be said than in the time I have and I will write in terms of our focus, but for example I visited Egypt recently, and part of my engagement with Foreign Minister Shoukry, who is going to be the next COP president, is ensuring there is a continuity to what was achieved in Glasgow. My good friend and colleague, Minister Alok Sharma, was there as well to discuss these particular issues. It would be wrong for me not admit that the conflict in Ukraine has distracted, but it is important that we do not forget and lose focus on the importance of climate change, and the UK Government remain committed to our five-year pledge on the £11.6 billion of spending on international climate finance.

On the issues of soft power, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, reminded us of the importance of the BBC World Service. He also met earlier with Melinda Simmons, and the FCDO is providing the World Service with over £90 million per year, and an additional £1.44 million in 2022-23 to counter disinformation, specifically in Russia and Ukraine.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about Colombia and human rights concerns. I recently met the Colombian President at the UN. We remain concerned about the continuing worrying rates of murder and threats, of course, but I would highlight that, although Colombia remains an FCDO human rights priority country, we have seen progress on issues such as justice and accountability. This includes holding perpetrators of sexual violence to account, which continues to be an area of focus for us; indeed, not so long ago, I had a virtual visit to Colombia in which that was a focus for my area of engagement.

I will briefly turn to other areas. The noble Lord, Lord Hussain, talked about the situation in Kashmir and human rights in India more broadly. I assure him that, in any engagement I have with India and on my visits there, human rights issues are raised. On the human rights report itself, it is not necessary that every country where we may have human rights concerns should be featured in it; various criteria are applied on that.

The noble Lord also mentioned sanctions. I cannot speculate on that issue, but I remind him that we work closely with India, which, through its own constitutional protections, has at its heart the issue of protecting all communities. That is something on which we engage very constructively with India.

My noble friend Lady Warsi highlighted a particular case. I will of course follow up with her on it. In the time we have, perhaps we can engage on the issues she raised to ensure that, where we can make progress on particular issues, we look at how best to move that forward.

My noble friend Lord Dundee talked about Ukraine in the context of praising the work of the Council of Europe. Through the expulsion of Russia from the CoE, we have seen how other partners in Europe are standing together to ensure that a clear message is sent to Russia.

Turning quickly to Russia and Ukraine, I do not agree with the assessments of the noble Lords, Lord Skidelsky and Lord Campbell-Savours, but many noble Lords—the noble Lords, Lord Ricketts, Lord Triesman and Lord Dannatt, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and my noble friend Lord Dobbs—talked powerfully and passionately about the importance of our role in Ukraine. I am genuinely grateful for the strong support we have received from across the House for the Government’s approach.

Equally, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and others reminded us that it is also important to focus on what happens in this particular crisis not just through the humanitarian response but by building an economic response to the situation in Ukraine. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that we will work constructively and engage with your Lordships’ House on whatever the next steps are. The Government have already allocated more than £400 million, including £220 million in humanitarian support, and a further £1.3 billion for defence and military support. I am sure noble Lords would acknowledge the positive response we have had from President Zelensky. Like others, including my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, I am in close contact with the Foreign Minister as part of our relationship.

We are also working closely with the ICC. The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, mentioned war crimes. We are working closely with Karim Khan and his team on both formal technical and financial support and support on the ground, linking to the Ukrainian Government directly.

The noble Lords, Lord Burnett, Lord Ricketts and Lord Dannatt, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and my noble friend Lord Cormack talked about NATO expansion. This is an ironic situation. I am sure that the Russians will reflect on the fact that one unintended consequence of their direct intervention has been to speed up the process. When you go to Finland, in particular, you see the vulnerability. I visited Estonia, where I saw directly the importance of our presence and the role of NATO, which has strengthened; we have seen real resilience being built. I agree with the assessment made so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Owen: we have seen that NATO is very much the bedrock of European security. It is important that the United Kingdom plays its part.

The whole issue of defence is very key, and I will move on that in a moment. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, talked about sanctions, and that has become a very effective tool.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, is reminding me that time is nearly up—

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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It is time to take my tablets.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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Far be it from me to stop the noble Lord from taking his tablets.

It is important to remember that the sanctions work when we work with our partners. Many questions have been asked about how we are working in a co-ordinated fashion: we are doing so because we are working together with our key partners when it comes to sanctions policy as well.

I turn now to a couple of other situations that the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, talked about in relation to Iran. We are very much aware of the situation and, while we back the deal, now it is really for Iran to ensure that it stands up to the obligations it has under the deal. Issues of trade relating to China were raised by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Anderson, among others. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, will know my strong views on issues of human rights and the situation in Xinjiang. I also assure him that we are looking at further issues around the supply chain to ensure that operating companies can be further tightened, beyond what has already been done, so that there is responsibility within the supply chain, when it comes to these issues, through existing trade deals and trade relationships. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, specifically mentioned Project Defend, looking at the Newport Wafer Fab. There are specific measures within that and, in the interests of time and not wanting to detain the House, I will write to the noble Lord in this respect.

My noble friend Lord Cormack rightly raised the security pact between the Solomon Islands and China. We have engaged directly with our Australian friends and, as we set out in the integrated review, the UK is committed to strategically focusing on the issues of the Indo-Pacific. Our recent deployment of a UK emergency medical team to the Solomon Islands demonstrated our continued commitment. It is an area we are watching very closely.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about defence expenditure, as did my noble friends Lady Davidson and Lord Lang, the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Stirrup and Lord Houghton of Richmond, and the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, among others. They drew real focus to the issue of Army figures and our current resourcing. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, tried to get me into trouble by asking me who I do and do not agree with. Of course, I agree with all my bosses—that is important. At the same time, it is important to hear. I have listened to the strong sentiments that have been so clearly expressed. When you look around and see former Chiefs of the Defence Staff and senior figures from the military, as well as the likes of the noble Lords, Lord Ricketts and Lord McDonald, and others who are highlighting these important issues, it is important that the Government listen. A Government who do not listen need to also act. The next name I have written down is that of the noble Lord, Lord West, and, after listening to him, I had a whole series of statistics on figures and frigates in preparation to respond.

I assure noble Lords that, whether it is on land, by sea or in the air, we are looking very firmly at this. I pay great tribute to my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary who has been at the forefront, and I have seen his commitment to our defence capabilities directly. I have also worked very closely with him in the field, in the areas of both Afghanistan and Ukraine, together with James Heappey, and seen the importance of these issues first-hand. I assure my noble friends Lord Jopling, Lord Udny-Lister and Lord Selkirk, and the noble Lord, Lord West, among others, that we are very much ensuring that we not only sustain our own 2% guidelines when it comes to NATO spending but that we continue to encourage our allies to do exactly the same. Collective security is a joint endeavour, and our partners need to be responsive to those particular issues.

I will write on the details of the various frigates that we are supporting and investing in. There are also the Type 45 destroyers—HMS “Dauntless” has recently completed its harbour integration trials—and the Type 26 programme. We have three of the Type 26 ships: HMS “Glasgow”, HMS “Cardiff” and HMS “Belfast” are under construction on the Clyde. I hope that gives at least a taster to the noble Lord, Lord West, among others, and shows that the Government are investing and looking at this. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lee, that submarines are not forgotten. Barrow, which he mentioned, will remain a proud hub of our submarine building programmes for years to come.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, talked of the F35 Lightning, which is the fifth-generation fighter aircraft that is providing our Armed Forces with enhanced combat air capabilities. To date, 27 of these F35s have been delivered and further tranches of delivery are to follow.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about the Ministry of Defence and the Procurement Bill. Delivering the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy, published in 2021, and learning from experience since 2014, means reforms are needed. We will continue to deliver and look at these issues to ensure value for money when it comes to defence.

The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, asked about Northern Ireland legacy investigations. I assure him that the Government are unstinting in our admiration for the role of our Armed Forces. I know that admiration is shared by all noble Lords. In ensuring that Northern Ireland’s future will be decided only by democracy and consent, the Government’s Bill seeks to fulfil the manifesto commitment we gave to address the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past by giving veterans the protections they deserve and focusing on information.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Browne, that our AI strategy will be published before the Summer Recess, so I am sure we will be able to update him appropriately.

I have run well over time, but I will briefly touch on trade and recognise the progress that has been made. We have now agreed trade deals with 70 countries, plus the EU. That accounts for about £808 billion of UK bilateral trade in 2021. The US free trade agreement is progressing well, as is the agreement with India; we are on stage four of our negotiations with India. I am sure that noble Lords followed the Prime Ministers of the two countries declaring that we hope to have that concluded by Diwali.

There were many contributions and many differing opinions on the Northern Ireland protocol. I particularly recognise the value of the support from my noble friend Lord Lilley, who articulated that the protocol was never intended to be set in stone. I assure my noble friend Lord Cormack that we are publishing the Government’s legal position. We are driven by the fact that the primacy of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement must be sustained. The noble Lords, Lord McCrae and Lord Morrow, both reminded us from a Northern Ireland perspective that we must ensure that the protocol works for the people of Northern Ireland. It needs to ensure that the peace that was reached through the Belfast agreement is sustained and strengthened.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that we are very conscious of our obligations when it comes to our standing in regard to international law. My noble friend Lord Hannan summed up very neatly when he said that the Government are seeking to act in the best interests of ensuring co-operation—and the tone we are using is one of co-operation. As I said yesterday, the door is not closed. We continue to engage. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is engaging extensively with our friends at the European Commission. Of course, a negotiated settlement would be the best option, but we must be true to our obligations as a sovereign power in Northern Ireland and ensure that we do not lose sight of our obligations to the people of Northern Ireland.

There are issues around farming industries that the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, asked about, on which I will respond. The Horizon project was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord King, rightly raised the issue of food security, as did the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. My noble friend Lord Risby rightly talked of the wider impact of the Ukrainian crisis and the impact in north Africa. I visited Egypt recently; Egypt and Morocco have been highlighted. Some 400 million people were fed through Ukraine, the food basket of Europe and the world, and that no longer happens, so we need to focus on that.

On development, very briefly, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about our commitment to the Global Fund. The UK has invested £4.1 billion in the Global Fund to date, and we recently published our position papers on health systems strengthening and ending preventable deaths. We are currently reviewing the Global Fund’s investment case for the seventh replenishment and I will update him accordingly.

I am coming to my grand finale and my Whip is telling me, “Tariq, that’s enough”—this is where I ignore the Whip. In all seriousness, on international development, I hear the passion and the universal message to the Government to return to 0.7% in fulfilling our obligations to the people most in need. I am sure we will have further debates on the Government’s international development strategy, but I say to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that it matches the ambitions we stated in the integrated review.

On nutrition, about which I know the noble Lord, Lord Collins, feels very strongly, the UK pledged £1.5 billion between 2022 and 2030 and will continue to address the nutrition of mothers, babies and children.

I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions to an extensive debate which reflected the immense expertise possessed by your Lordships’ House. This Government made a commitment last year to be more proactive and adaptable. My noble friend Lady Fall reminded us of the importance of reflecting to the world and reacting to it as it is today. Our diplomatic network, development experts, military, parliamentarians and diplomats are part and parcel of the picture of global Britain. We will be able to showcase many of these issues as we host the FoRB ministerial conference in July and the PSVI conference in November.

We are working in a changing global dynamic and an increasingly unstable world. Challenges have come thick and fast, whether Covid, the situation in and exit from Afghanistan, or Ukraine. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said, our country—our United Kingdom—has always been a dynamic country and we have always been quick on our feet. It has been a country full of innovation and a place for free thinkers. The United Kingdom of 2022 remains an agile, energetic, assertive country that is prepared to stand up. With Ukraine, we have shown that when it comes to the crunch we stand up for our friends and partners and for democracy, free speech and liberty, and work together with our partners against tyrants, autocrats and dictators. We work for peace, we work for security and we work for prosperity. I thank noble Lords for their indulgence.

Kashmir: Human Rights

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Tuesday 17th May 2022

(1 week, 4 days ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I should also declare that the other half of my family comes from Pakistan, including Lady Ahmad of Wimbledon. Certainly, our relationship demonstrates that there can be no conflict—I say that on the record—and you can lead a life and build a life together in a mutually understanding and loving way. That said, on the importance of the issue in Pakistan, again, we have a very important and constructive relationship with the Government of Pakistan. My noble friend raised issues relating to minorities, including Sikhs. Being of the Ahmadi Muslim community myself, I assure the noble Lord that I am acutely aware of the challenges faced by minority communities in Pakistan, and we raise these in a constructive way. It is important, when it comes to issues—including those of Kashmir—for both countries to move forward, mutually and together, and agree that there is a bright future for both countries, which share so much in terms of culture, language and, one hopes, a common, shared future of prosperity for the wider region.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, one of the Minister’s many responsibilities is the United Nations. Of course, the conflict in Kashmir is one of the longest unresolved conflicts on the agenda of the United Nations. If we are to find a lasting settlement to end this ongoing conflict, that can be achieved only by India and Pakistan working together. Therefore, as Minister for the United Nations, what is he doing to ensure that the UN focuses on bringing the two sides together to seek a long-lasting settlement?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of India and Pakistan talking to resolve all issues. It is a long-standing position of the Governments of both sides. We seek a resolution for all disputes, including that of Kashmir, and the best way to do so is for both countries to find their solutions together.

Shireen Abu Aqla

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Tuesday 17th May 2022

(1 week, 4 days ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the killing of Shireen Abu Aqla was not only an outrageous act but an attack on the freedom of the media and the independence of journalists working around the world. Her killing was rightly condemned by world leaders, the UN and civil society. The recent violence at Shireen’s funeral was similarly indefensible. While I note that Vicky Ford in the other place yesterday confirmed support for the international investigation, she did not indicate whether representations had been made to her counterparts in the Israeli Government to encourage them to support such an inquiry. Can the Minister answer this, and say whether further representations have been made to the Israeli Government on the subsequent violence following the funeral?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, I am sure that I speak for everyone, irrespective of where they are on the issues in the Middle East and the situation between Israel and the Palestinians, when I express my shock at the killing of a very renowned journalist, Shireen Abu Aqla. She worked over many years with great diligence and great conviction, and— speaking as someone who leads on the importance of media freedom around the world, which I know is close to the noble Lord’s heart as well—she did exactly what we know many journalists do in conflict zones: operated in reporting news with great courage and conviction. She has tragically paid the ultimate price of her life. The subsequent scenes we saw during the funeral shocked many of us. Witnessing that unfolding on television screens was clearly something that everyone found extremely shocking. I can confirm that of course we are engaged. Our ambassador has engaged directly with the Israeli authorities, as has our consul general in Jerusalem. We have continued to press for a thorough investigation into the events that took place.

Sri Lanka

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Monday 16th May 2022

(1 week, 5 days ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, like my noble friend I have recently visited Sri Lanka. As well as focusing—rightly, I believe—on the important issues of justice, reconciliation and accountability, I focused on practical steps to strengthen our bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka, including on issues of trade and the port that my noble friend mentioned. On immediate support in the crisis, I have said already that we are working through the World Bank and that the $600 million includes assistance to provide economic and health support, including vital medicines and medical equipment. We are engaging directly with the new Prime Minister through our high commissioner to ensure that Sri Lanka’s priorities are fully understood. We will give support as appropriate.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister is absolutely right that, whatever their ethnicity, race or religion, all the peoples of Sri Lanka deserve justice. I know that he has been committed to that process. I am also glad that he mentioned the UN Human Rights Council, which last year mandated that the UN collect and analyse evidence of international crimes for future prosecutions. What are we doing with our allies to ensure that that process is completed?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, in the context of the UNHRC we have continued to work with our friends and supporters to ensure the processes, and to work directly with the High Commissioner’s office so that evidence can be collected and justice rightly served for those who for too long have not seen justice served. At this time, our focus in the current crisis is on the immediate needs of Sri Lanka, its people and its welfare. That is why, with the appointment of the new Prime Minister and a new Cabinet, we are working constructively to ensure that human rights—as I said earlier, the rights to protest and of media reporting on the current crisis—are sustained and maintained while, at the same time, working towards the vital reconciliation that is required, with Sri Lanka’s historical legacy, to allow all communities to move forward together as one.

Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 7) Regulations 2022

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 28th April 2022

(1 month ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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That the Regulations laid before the House on 30 March be approved.

Considered in Grand Committee on 26 April.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I am not wishing to object to the statutory instruments. As the noble Lord knows, in the debate in Grand Committee we strongly supported the Government’s actions, and we will continue to support them speedily introducing sanctions against the Putin regime. However, the 37th report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee made a very valid point: that the Explanatory Memorandum, which we did not have available at the time of the debate, failed to set out the rationale particularly for the luxury goods chosen in the sanctions and the value threshold, and so on, which I think is £250. The committee made the point that,

“When legislation is passed through Parliament at speed,”


which is absolutely necessary in this case—

“it is particularly important that the policy choices it implements are very clearly explained.”

So I hope that, if the Minister is not able to speak on this today, he will write to all noble Lords who participated in the debate, setting out the rationale and that, in future, when these urgent SIs come before the Grand Committee, they will take cognisance of the opinions of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con)
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My Lords, I was going to be very brief, and I can be even briefer, because the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has stolen most of my lines. I speak on behalf of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Because of the truncated nature of the process, we were discussing, debating and examining these regulations even as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and my noble friend were debating them in the Moses Room. We were of course completely behind their policy purpose and support them entirely.

However, we had some serious questions about the way the regulations will operate, particularly on the selection of items—for example, why are we not banning the export of ambulances, which presumably have some military value?—and the selection of the value of £250 for items of luxury clothing, which means that you can export a suit worth £240 but not one worth £260. That took us to our question about enforcement, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, who knows much more about this than I will ever know, has said, sanctions are only effective if they are defined and enforced. They begin very clearly and then, gradually, they become less effective over time because evil-intentioned and clever people find ways around them.

We have written to my noble friend about these points—he will have received the letter this morning—and I very much hope that he will be able to reply in some detail and copy it to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and all of those who spoke in the debate in the Moses Room.

Amnesty International Report 2021/22

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 27th April 2022

(1 month ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the United Kingdom prides itself on being a country which upholds the rule of law, both internationally and domestically. Wherever crimes have happened, and wherever there is evidence in support of those crimes, the justice system will ensure that victims get access to justice, and one hopes that justice would be served as quickly as possible. I am proud that I represent on the world stage a country that upholds these values. As I have said before, we are not perfect—no country is—but we have proud traditions and a strong justice system, and that is something I am very proud to extend across the globe.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, at the annual session of the United Nations Human Rights Council earlier this month, the Minister welcomed the resolution on human rights defenders, who are facing unprecedented restrictions and abuse in every region of the world. The Government’s integrated review set working with human rights defenders and civil society as a priority. Could the Minister tell us what progress has been made on developing a meaningful plan of action to make this commitment a reality? Will the human rights and civil society directorate develop a strategy that addresses these key issues?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord is right to raise the issue of a human rights strategy, particularly on human rights defenders. I pay tribute in this context to Amnesty International, which works with us on developing key aspects of the structures and support that we provide to our network to support human rights defenders. In 2019 we launched the document UK Support for Human Rights Defenders, which sets out in detail how we will engage with human rights defenders to promote and protect human rights throughout the world. I know Amnesty has also talked about a specific government strategy on human rights, and that is something I am considering with officials in the team as part of our broad approach, which includes the international development strategy.

Covid-19: Global Vaccine Inequity

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 27th April 2022

(1 month ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I have great respect for the noble Lord, but on this point, I must disagree. We have led the way, including on the COVAX facility itself. Had it not been for UK investment of more than £0.5 billion, that facility would not have got off the ground. That is fact. Secondly, we have reached over 52 million vaccines. The noble Lord shakes his head, but the fact is that we have donated. We are living up to our pledge; we have focused on the 100 million doses, which we seek to achieve. I know the noble Lord reads a lot of reports, but perhaps we can share our data and exchange notes on this and address this point directly. As I have illustrated, we are working directly—bilaterally—with countries around the world. Yes, there are certain problems, such as with the AstraZeneca vaccine, because of, for example, shelf life. There may be another vaccine which is perceived more valid because it has a longer shelf life. Supply is not the issue: the real issue at the moment is one of logistics, and we are very much focused on that priority as well.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, let us turn to that issue. It is absolutely vital. Supply is not the issue, but it is the delivery mechanisms that the Minister addressed in the first place. At a time when we need universal health coverage in Africa—the means to deliver vaccine—this Government are cutting funding to that facility. When will the Government get their priorities right?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, this is a serious matter that requires a serious response. The fact is that the Government have got their priorities right. It was entirely appropriate, when it came to vaccine delivery and vaccinations, that we ensured that our own population was prioritised, and we delivered on that. We have led the world on manufacturing. The noble Lord knows that it was our association with India—a country mentioned in the previous Question—that led to the upscaling of manufacturing when it came to the vaccines, when the world needed it most. Yes, logistics is an issue: the noble Lord and I have talked about this. That is why we are currently working in Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Uganda and Nigeria on that very issue of logistics and structures to ensure—whether it is for this variant or the next or for any vaccine—that the structures set up, particularly in the global south, are robust enough to deal with this continuing pandemic.

Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 7) Regulations 2022

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Tuesday 26th April 2022

(1 month ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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Sorry. Yes, we are working very closely with overseas territories. All the measures are applied quite directly through orders in council, apart from in two overseas territories that legislate directly for themselves. I believe that is Gibraltar and Bermuda, but they are working very closely to the same effect. Our teams and our overseas territories team are working very closely with the OTs on specific applications. Again, if I may, specifically on the application of these sanctions and the result or reports received from the OTs, I will share that with the noble Lord in writing.

I trust I have answered all the questions asked. I will of course write where appropriate. I thank noble Lords once again for their specific questions and, most importantly, for the strong support that we continue to see on the important issue of Russian sanctions. I commend these regulations to the Committee.

Malaria

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Monday 25th April 2022

(1 month ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as I have said, the United Kingdom has invested £4.1 billion in the Global Fund to date and during the last replenishment. My noble friend is correct: the Global Fund’s investment case for the seventh replenishment has been presented to the Government. We are looking at this and reviewing our support in line with our published approaches to health systems and our commitment to strengthen work to end preventable deaths. We will announce our commitment in the near future.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, may I put the question in another way? In the last replenishment of the Global Fund, we were the third biggest contributor. We have been its founder and strongest supporter, and what we need now is an early and strong pledge to show leadership. Will the Minister confirm that “global Britain”—as the Government put it—will keep its leadership position in support of the Global Fund?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned our commitment and our support and leadership. Whether we are second or third, depending on which criteria are used, we remain very much committed to the Global Fund. As I said, I cannot pre-empt the announcement that we will make about the current replenishment because that decision is being finalised, but I can reassure the noble Lord and your Lordships’ House that we remain very much committed to fighting malaria and to the Global Fund.

Palestine: Recognition

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 6th April 2022

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, we continue to engage with Israel and the Palestinian leadership, who were invited to and represented at the COP at the end of last year. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary met the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Administration, so we do engage with both sides. I share my noble friend’s view that it is important that we bring both communities together. The United Kingdom stands as a partner and friend of all communities to ensure that we see lasting peace in the Holy Land.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, at the end of January, the Israeli Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, told the Knesset:

“The years-long weakening of the Palestinian Authority and the concealment of relations strengthened Hamas, harmed Israeli security, and failed in terms of results”.


President Mahmoud Abbas of the PA had talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the same time. The US State Department said that discussions focused on the importance of strengthening US relations with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, as well as improving the quality of life of the Palestinians “in a tangible way”. They also discussed the need for the Palestinian Authority to reform. Can the Minister tell us whether we are following the US’s example?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as I indicated in my original Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, yes, we are. We want reliable partners for peace in the Middle East. What is required now is fair, open and transparent elections within the Palestinian Authority, which are long overdue, as the noble Lord reminded us, to allow for that sustainable partner for peace that is so desperately needed.

Ethiopia

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Monday 4th April 2022

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend’s work within Somaliland; I know that he visited the region recently. My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have made public statements in this respect and we are assessing the impact of this fire and the damage it has done to infrastructure. We also recognise, as my noble friend said, the importance of access through that particular point.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I welcome the Minister’s response to the Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, particularly the news about a convoy getting through, but the WFP has told us that funding shortages have forced ration cuts for some 4 million people, including over 700,000 refugees. Can the Minister reassure us today, in response to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that we will maintain the level of support and funding for this crisis, which will get worse, and that we will work with allies to ensure that the funding shortfall is met?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, we are looking at all elements of funding over a three-year period. The situation in Ukraine has meant that we are reviewing all our funding support but, as I have indicated, we have stood by our commitment to the people of Afghanistan. That is the right way to move forward. On the specific issue of Ethiopia, as I have indicated, the humanitarian convoy reached Tigray, but of those 20 trucks, just under half the contents, including fuel and humanitarian aid, came directly through British support. Tigray, and the wider situation in Ethiopia, is an important priority, and once I have the full details of our funding package, I will share them with noble Lords.

Ukraine: War Crimes Allegations

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Monday 4th April 2022

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the right reverend Prelate’s second question, humanitarian corridors are being negotiated primarily between Ukraine and Russia, but equally it is Russia that is impeding those very corridors. I have seen myself through a visit to Poland—indeed, my right honourable friend is travelling to Poland today—the bravery of the people on the ground who are nevertheless providing humanitarian support and access into Ukraine. We are working very closely with the Ukrainian Government in that respect. On the issue of accountability and working with the ICC, the right reverend Prelate may know that we led a coalition of countries that has now secured the support of 40 other countries in support of the ICC investigation into what is under way in Ukraine, to investigate it fully. We are in close contact with the ICC prosecutor and are providing technical and financial support, and indeed professional support through the recent appointment of Sir Howard Morrison, in supporting the Ukrainian Government’s effort in gathering evidence.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, Dmytro Kuleba called yesterday for a special mission from the ICC and other international bodies. What is the Government’s assessment of a mission going to Bucha to ensure that evidence is gathered? What assessment has the Minister given to the calls for a special tribunal to prosecute Putin for these outrageous war crimes?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Lord’s first point, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will be meeting Foreign Minister Kuleba. As the noble Lord knows, we are in close and almost daily contact with the Ukrainian Government, including the Foreign Minister. They will be talking specifically to that very point, among other areas that the noble Lord has raised. On the issue of a new special criminal tribunal for Ukraine, as I have indicated, the UK has led efforts to refer the situation in Ukraine to the ICC prosecutor. That is why, certainly at this time, we are focusing our energy, assistance and resources in support of the ICC prosecutor’s investigation. As the noble Lord will be aware, the ICC prosecutor has himself visited Ukraine in pursuit of this objective.

Ukraine: Rape as a Weapon of War

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Friday 1st April 2022

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, it is nearly 22 years ago that the UN adopted Resolution 1325, the first legal document from the Security Council that required parties in a conflict to prevent violations of women’s rights, to support women’s participation in peace negotiations and in post-conflict reconstruction and to protect women and girls from wartime sexual violence. Despite this, we have continued to see sexual violence in Tigray, in Myanmar, in Iraq and now in Ukraine.

I have two questions for the Minister. Vicky Ford was specifically asked yesterday to confirm whether we had deployed our PSVI team to support survivors and victims of sexual violence into Ukraine or the surrounding areas. While detailing support for evidence-gathering efforts, she did not respond specifically on the deployment of the team to support survivors. I hope that the Minister will address that specific issue. Secondly, how are we pursuing more generally with our allies and the Security Council adherence to the principles of Resolution 1325 in Ukraine?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question. I put on record my strong recognition of his support for this important government initiative. In answer to his first question, I have visited the region quite deliberately with a broader mandate to look at the humanitarian situation but also at the increasing number of reports that are coming out of conflict-related sexual violence. We have a specialist team. We have deployed humanitarian teams specifically in the first instance. We have also provided health teams who are making health assessments, including of those people leaving Ukraine who are sharing their insights, particularly those who may have fallen victim to sexual violence.

The other element is about gathering information. With regard to the situation in Ukraine, we have not entered Ukraine with those specific teams because of the situation on the ground. I know that the ICC prosecutor, Karim Khan, has visited and, as I have said previously, we are working closely with him. I am chairing a session in New York during our presidency in the second week of April on this specific issue and will meet key partners about the co-ordination of our efforts and ultimately ensuring, as I know all noble Lords want to ensure, that all perpetrators are held to account. We welcome the opening of this specific inquiry by the prosecutor and we are fully supporting, financially and technically, that investigation.

Offshore Companies: Property

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Tuesday 29th March 2022

(2 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, we have a very constructive relationship with our British Overseas Territories. We regard them very much as part of the British family, and we have a co-operative partnership with the British OTs. That is the way it should be. In terms of recent engagement, my right honourable friend the Minister for the Overseas Territories, Amanda Milling MP, discussed the BVI’s newly announced consultation on a publicly accessible register, to which it is, along with all the other overseas territories, totally committed, ensuring that there will be working registers by the end of 2023.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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Can we really wait that long? It was 2018 when we legislated on this, and we are now facing a crisis in which this country is seeking out illicit funds. Surely it is time to go back to places like the British Virgin Islands and say, “Open your register to us, the Government, so that we can have a clear view of what is going on.” The Government should not wait until 2023, when things are going on in Ukraine.

Ukraine: Discussions with US and China

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 17th March 2022

(2 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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The noble Lord points to an important role. As the noble Lord will know, China is not just another player. It is a key player on the global stage. China is not the same as Russia. It still wants to be seen as a responsible global actor, whereas Russia has launched an unprovoked and premeditated attack against a sovereign democratic state. As I have said before, China abstained in the key Security Council resolution, which directly showed its concern about the current war in Ukraine.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I return to the point about multilateralism. Of course, our support for President Zelensky and the people of Ukraine must be complete. President Zelensky is making positive noises about the talks with Russia. We need to support him in those as well. What are the Government doing to ensure that we can back President Zelensky in those talks? We should take the outcome of the talks to the multilateral institutions and gain the support of China and others for this progress, so that we can bring this horrible war to an end.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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On the noble Lord’s final comment, we all want to see that. This war has gone on now for many days and weeks with increasing and indiscriminate attacks on the Ukrainian people. This calls for the need for peace and conflict resolution. We back all current initiatives that are under way to seek a resolution. Ukraine is a sovereign nation and must lead on this. I assure the noble Lord that the Prime Minister is in daily contact with President Zelensky and is fully abreast of the current initiatives and progress. Russia can stop this in an instant. That is where the pressure should come. It needs to stop and pull back. There should be no preconditions in terms of where we go with this, but Ukraine must lead, and of course we will support President Zelensky in his peace efforts.

Ukraine: Disasters Emergency Committee Appeal

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 9th March 2022

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I know that my noble friend Lady Williams and my colleagues in the Home Office are working on the very points that the noble and right reverend Lord raises about the detail of the scheme. I am sure that she will update the House on progress very shortly.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howard, mentioned President Zelensky’s moving address to Parliament yesterday. He described the horrific conditions—the killing of children, the bombing of orphanages, schools and hospitals. Earlier this week UNICEF called for greater protection for unaccompanied and separated children crossing borders. What will the Government do to support those children to get to a place of safety?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I join the noble Lord; I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that we are taken by the horror of what is happening in Ukraine, particularly the targeting of humanitarian corridors, the specific targeting of civilian centres of population and the tragedy we now see of families being separated. He is right to raise the issue of vulnerable children, particularly unaccompanied minors. We have RDTs working on the ground in all neighbouring countries. I am in regular touch with all the UN agencies. Only this morning I exchanged messages with Filippo Grandi on specific requirements. I assure the noble Lord that I will provide regular updates on the specific support we are giving to particular vulnerable communities and, most importantly, to vulnerable children.

Russia: Sanctions

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 3rd March 2022

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I agree with the noble Lord. There has been unprecedented action to work with our allies in applying sanctions. This underlines the effectiveness of the sanctions: we are able to work together with those countries or jurisdictions, such as the EU, which also have sanctions policies. The noble Lord raises a valid point about what more can be done. We will be debating the laying of further sanctions later today. Further sanctions on Belarus have also been announced—there will be legislation in that respect.

On the specific question of the Commonwealth, I am engaging directly with key partners. We secured a great deal of support from Commonwealth partners at the UN General Assembly vote. Yesterday, we saw 141 nations of the UN General Assembly vote in favour of the Ukraine resolution. That is no small feat.

I will turn to the important issues of China and India. China abstained and did not veto the resolution twice over. India obviously has a long-established relationship with Russia. However, I assure noble Lords that we are working very closely with our Indian partners to also encourage them to reflect on the current situation. As we have seen, they are also extremely challenged by the exodus of Indian students from Ukraine. I assure the noble Lord that we are working very closely with India, and other partners, in this respect.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister used the term “ratchet up”. No doubt, he would have heard a solicitor on the radio this morning talking about the potential risk of asset flight. He said that he was advising his clients, if they had not been sanctioned, to get their money out now. What is the Minister’s response to that? I heard the Minister on the radio say that it was all part of a programme, but speed is of the absolute essence here. We need faster action and, possibly, emergency powers.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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The Government have been responding, and expediting legislation. In this regard, as I have said before, I am grateful to the usual channels for accommodating these requests. Looking through my own commitments and those of the noble Lord, in the coming days, we will be speaking quite specifically on the legislation being laid.

I agree that the issue of asset flight is an important consideration. This is why we are reluctant to make announcements in advance, particularly those regarding individuals and organisations. As we know, there are individuals who are taking actions based on what has already happened. Equally, we need to ensure that every sanction imposed is legally robust and tested. This is an important part of our sanctions policy and those of international partners. There are those who may respond to our sanctions by sanctioning individuals, because their legal framework is not as strong ours. It is important that any sanction we impose—be it on an individual or an organisation—is fully tested and robust in its application.

Ukraine: NATO Membership

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 24th February 2022

(3 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for his remarks, and I can share that, as I was coming to your Lordships’ House, the Foreign Secretary announced that she will summon the Russian ambassador to the Court of St James today. These are fast-moving events. I cannot comment on the specifics of what my noble friend raises, but we are working with key partners in NATO and our colleagues in the European Union. I have just this morning returned from the United Nations, and I think I speak for every single member of your Lordships’ House when I say that we unequivocally condemn the actions of the Russian state and of President Putin. Even at this juncture, it is time for him to withdraw. Peace over war is always a better option.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I am taking the unusual step of intervening straight away just to echo the comments of the Minister. He knows that the Opposition fully support the Government in all their actions to ensure that the democratic sovereignty of an independent nation is protected. We should do everything in our power to support Ukraine and to ensure that we work with all of our allies to bring this to an end. He knows that later today the Prime Minister will make a Statement, and I know that we will have an opportunity to consider that ourselves. So I am not going to pose a question to the Minister; I just wanted to express our support for the Government’s actions to ensure that Russia is defeated on this matter.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. He and I spoke earlier this morning, when I updated him on key parts of the situation as it unravels. He is of course correct; I believe that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will be addressing the country as I speak. There will be further opportunities during the day to raise questions on elements of our response to this unwarranted, unnecessary and unprovoked aggression of the Russian state against Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.

Ministers: Overseas Travel

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Tuesday 1st February 2022

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I know and work with the Foreign Secretary and frankly, that is not a suitable remark to make about the most senior diplomat in our country. She makes very considered decisions. We are going to have a Statement on Ukraine shortly: let us just reflect on that. There are many issues of international diplomatic importance—[Interruption.] The noble Baroness has asked me a question; she should do me the courtesy, at least, of listening to the response, even if she does not agree with it.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, there is another important issue here. There is the cost of this individual plane, but the Minister mentioned three planes. I have the Prime Minister’s letter here, and he talks about all government departments having an ambition on net zero. Just exactly how does the FCDO measure its ambitions on climate change when it has three planes sending a very small team across the world? No one disputes the need to travel, but surely the FCDO should take its climate-change ambitions seriously.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I have listened very carefully and let us be quite clear: this is not an FCDO plane. It is leased, as my noble friend pointed out, through the Cabinet Office and it is open to all Ministers at senior levels to make a considered decision for their department. On the important point the noble Lord makes, every flight contributes to the UK’s emissions trading scheme, and we pay a voluntary carbon offset credit for each flight taken.

Ukraine: Minsk II Protocol

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 26th January 2022

(4 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, no one wants to see body bags. But it is for Russia—Russia is the aggressor here. A key point is Crimea: Russia is occupying, under international law, sovereign territory of another country. We should not lose sight of that. We are seeking to work with our alliances, including NATO. We are working with key partners, and I have assured noble Lords that we continue to engage directly with the Russians as well.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister refers to action required to stop Russia taking this aggressive act. On Tuesday, Boris Johnson told the House of Commons that the Government were bringing forward a register of beneficial ownership as part of their efforts to track down Russian money in this country. However, the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, who had oversight of counterfraud, revealed in his resignation letter to Boris Johnson on Monday that, in a decision apparently taken last week, the economic crime Bill has been rejected for consideration during the next parliamentary year. Who is correct? I know who I believe.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, first, I acknowledge from our side, and indeed from across the House, the valuable services of my noble friend Lord Agnew, who served this House well. I recognise the important role he has played. As someone who has great respect for my noble friend, I listened carefully to the statement he made. The issue of illicit finance is important and it is a key priority for this Government. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has committed once again to ensuring that we weed out the fact that London is still used—I fully accept this—as a base for money laundering and illicit finance by some. We need to take further action. On the specific point about the Bill, I will refer to my colleagues at the Treasury and write to the noble Lord.

Mikheil Saakashvili

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 13th January 2022

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of the request by the European Court of Human Rights to the Government of Georgia that they ensure the safety of Mr Saakashvili and inform the court about the applicant’s current state of health. We will continue to make that case and, as I said earlier, to ensure that he is given both the right to legal representation and medical care.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the former president’s detention is symptomatic of the greater problem of the deterioration of human rights in Georgia, particularly labour rights. According to the Georgian Trade Unions Confederation, just last year 22 workers died in one month alone. Can the Minister tell us, like he did yesterday, what he is doing to raise human rights and to work with the ILO to ensure that Georgia meets the obligations of that organisation, to which Georgia is also committed?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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The noble Lord is quite right to draw attention to the issue of human rights and, if I could term it thus, the democratic backsliding that at times we have seen on rights generally across Georgia. I assure him that we are engaging directly. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary mentioned the importance of promoting democratic values, which is central to our foreign policy. On 1 December, during discussions with the Georgian Government in Tbilisi, our regional director for eastern Europe and central Asia raised important issues around various elements of human rights and, beyond that, the politicisation of appointments. There has also been a decline in LGBT rights; the noble Lord will be aware of the attack on the Pride march. All of this forms part of our engagement directly with Georgia.

Afghanistan: Humanitarian Crisis

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 13th January 2022

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I recognise that the Answer acknowledges the efforts of the United Kingdom to mobilise the international community on this terrible situation that has developed, but can I ask a specific question? Gordon Brown wrote to the Foreign Secretary specifically to ask that Britain convenes an international pledging conference, certainly no later than February—he stressed perhaps earlier, in January—to raise the necessary £4.44 billion to ensure that the 23 million people suffering are fed in the year 2022. Secondly, did the Minister hear on Radio 4 this morning the interview on British Council employees who have been left stranded in Afghanistan? What can he tell us? Can he give us some assurance that assistance will be given to them?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord for acknowledging the work that the UK Government are doing with international partners in what is, as the noble Lord rightly described it, a terrible and continuing perilous situation on the humanitarian front in Afghanistan. I assure the noble Lord that we remain fully committed. As he will be aware, I laid a Written Ministerial Statement in advance of Christmas detailing the agencies we are working with and the amounts we are giving in support, particularly targeting vulnerable groups. We will make additional announcements, particularly in light of the call to action and the new request from the United Nations.

I share with the noble Lord that the previous request was made for flash funding support for the UN. It is quite noticeable was that it was fully funded; indeed, funds are being distributed. He make a point about Gordon Brown calling for a meeting to be convened. We are, of course, working very closely with the United Nations in this respect. Any calls to action are welcome, and we will see how best we can mobilise further action. I will be speaking with key partners in the region to ensure that the call that has been made is also funded in the manner that is currently required.

On the British Council, I first pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, who has been meticulous and consistent in raising in particular the issues of the British Council, along with other noble Lords. Let me give the noble Lord this reassurance: with the opening of the ACR scheme now formally announced, the promised support to cohorts, including the Chevening scholars and the workers associated with the British Council, will be upheld.

Eswatini

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 12th January 2022

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord—he is aware that I very much appreciate his insights on the countries he visits. Specifically on what the Commonwealth can do, CMAG is different from our role as chair-in-office, so that we can provide support and funding for human rights, and have done so. On the specifics in Eswatini, we are also aware of like-minded partners. For example, on the education side, an initiative was taken recently by a trade union within Eswatini and a trade union in South Africa, supported by a trade union in Finland, to provide support and to stand up for justice and the rights of workers.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister just mentioned the position of chair-in-office since the London CHOGM. The London CHOGM achieved quite a lot on significant issues on LGBT rights. One of the sad things in the ITUC’s report is the terrible conditions for LGBT people and the fact that the sexual and gender minorities group has been banned. Can the Minister tell us what we are doing to try to ensure that this issue is covered in dialogue?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord is right to draw attention to our role as chair-in-office. We put LGBT rights at the heart of our work on human rights within the Commonwealth. I am pleased to share with him that a number of countries, particularly South Africa and Botswana, have made progressive steps on this agenda and they are engaging directly on this issue with the Eswatini Government.

Nuclear Weapons

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 12th January 2022

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, within the NPT, as the right reverend Prelate will know, there are three key strands: disarmament, non-proliferation, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Like him, I recognise the importance earlier this month of the P5 declaration. The UK was instrumental in getting that over the line. We are looking forward to the review conference of the NPT, which was unfortunately delayed because of Covid, but I understand it will now take place in August. On the issue of nuclear against non-nuclear states, through the P5 format we are engaging directly with those countries. With the exception of four or five countries, everyone else has signed up to the NPT and we have a structured programme of engagement. On the TPNW specifically, the UK firmly believes that the only way to achieve a world without nuclear weapons is through gradual multilateral disarmament, and the best way to do that is through the NPT.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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Picking up that last point, can the Minister explain how the Government support multilateral disarmament initiatives while announcing in the integrated review an increase in the number of nuclear warheads the UK can hold?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the announcements that we made in that respect are totally consistent with our obligations under the NPT. Specific elements and aspects within the NPT ensure that we meet those obligations. Requirements within the NPT ensure that all countries that have signed up to it fulfil their obligations, and the United Kingdom does just that.

Kazakhstan

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Tuesday 11th January 2022

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree, and assure the noble Lord that in my engagement directly with the Deputy Foreign Minister the importance and centrality of respecting human rights, including the right to peaceful protest, was a point I certainly emphasised. The noble Lord is right to raise the statements that have been made. We are calling for calm and respect for and a return to full rights of protest for citizens in Kazakhstan.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, Kazakhstan’s President said he expected Russian-led forces to leave in the next 10 days. Bearing in mind what the noble Lord just said, what is the department’s assessment of that statement? Last night, I asked the noble Lord about the public register of beneficial owners of overseas entities that buy and sell property in the UK. A recent Chatham House report showed that the Kazakh elite own over half a billion pounds in luxury property in the UK. When will we act on corruption in this country?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Lord’s first question, of course it was through the CSTO, of which Kazakhstan is an integral part, together with Russia, Belarus, Tajikistan, Kurdistan and Armenia, that the President invited those troops in. We have been reassured, through our engagement with the ambassador, that there is a scaling down and that a return will begin very shortly. On the noble Lord’s point about those who use London as a safe haven, I assure him that we continue to be very vigilant to this. As he may be aware, we have cracked down on illicit finance through, for example, the Criminal Finances Act 2017 and we have already published our ambitious economic crime plan for 2019-22. We will be going further in tackling dirty money. The National Crime Agency, for example, has increased the number of its investigations into corrupt elites, as he termed them, and the Government are reviewing all tier 1 investor visas granted before 5 April 2015.

Vaccine Distribution

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 6th January 2022

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend speaks with great insight on this issue; let me assure her that we are working on the very basis that she outlined. It is important to recognise what the issues preventing vaccination are. It is not just about supply; it is about distribution, infrastructure and vaccine hesitancy. We are working quite closely, as I said, with the likes of UNICEF but also with NGOs on the ground. Recently, for example, we have also met the Anglican Communion to see what its network can do. I will be convening a meeting of faith NGOs to ensure that we can leverage the networks they have across the world.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, one of the things we could have more of is greater transparency on this issue. Last month, the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, was unclear on, or did not know, whether Gordon Brown was correct in stating that the UK had 33 million vaccine doses that we could immediately deliver to the rest of the world without impacting our own vaccine programme. The noble Lord also spoke about manufacturing and supporting the Partnership for African Vaccine Manufacturing. Can the Minister tell us today about that road map announced in December? Just how much progress will be made? How many new manufacturing facilities will be open in Africa by the end of the 12 months promised?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the specific issue within Africa, we are working, for example, with the African Union as well as with key countries—South Africa being one of them, as I have illustrated—in opening up those manufacturing facilities. For example, we have given £20 million to the AU fund on the Covid-19 response, which constitutes about 7% of the overall response of the African Union to the Covid-19 vaccine. That includes all issues of supply chain and manufacture. On the issue of excess vaccines which the noble Lord alluded to, I can assure him that there are no excess vaccines that we sustain. Of course, we need to ensure that we secure our domestic supply, but also, at the same time, both bilaterally and through COVAX, that there is a global distribution.

India: Missionaries of Charity

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 6th January 2022

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, we are raising these issues quite directly. Because of the constructive nature of our engagement, we are able to raise this not just with the Indian high commission here in London but in a constructive manner with the Indian Government directly. The noble Lord points to specific numbers. As I alluded to earlier, I have asked specifically for a drill-down on the numbers over a period, so that I can analyse directly which organisations are impacted and the reasons why these licences have been revoked, to allow us to make much more qualified representation.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, constructive dialogue with an ally such as India is important. Last year, I raised with the noble Lord, and the noble Lord also raised, the situation of caste discrimination in India and the impact that was having. He said to me then, in relation to the G7 meeting that had taken place, that this issue would be raised on an ongoing basis, so that the dialogue was not limited just to the UK and India but became a much broader dialogue on how we can support human rights in India. Can he tell us whether that dialogue has continued and whether we are working with other allies to ensure that democracy in India is maintained and human rights are supported?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as I alluded to in my response to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, India is a key partner and ally. It is also a democracy with a constitution and that constitution provides protection for all communities, including those of different faiths and, as the noble Lord pointed out, the Dalit community. I assure the noble Lord that we continue to make the case for strengthening human rights constructively with the Government of India. We believe we are strong partners and friends of India, which allows us to make these representations in a constructive manner and strengthen the work we do ourselves with NGO partners in India, to ensure that representation of those such as the Dalits is supported, particularly through specific funding programmes funded by the British Government.

Uighurs in Xinjiang

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 16th December 2021

(5 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that we have met Sir Geoffrey Nice—indeed, I have met him on several occasions over various reports and work he does. Our officials followed the tribunal very closely and engaged directly with Sir Geoffrey Nice.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister says that we have led the way, and I certainly appreciate the actions of the United Kingdom’s Government. He has also stressed before that sanctions really become effective when we act in concert with our allies, so can he explain why the United States is able to sanction more people and a broader range of people to stop this genocide than the United Kingdom? Why can we not match the actions of the United States on this important issue?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that it is important to work with our allies: the US is one, as are other countries. When we did act together—indeed, we acted with 29 other countries with the sanctions we announced in March—that sent the clearest possible signal. Of course, I am very mindful that the United States has further sanctioned additional individuals, and we will continue to look at the situation on sanctions, but I cannot speculate any further.

FCDO Staffing

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 16th December 2021

(5 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I take it that the Minister is not going to read out the Statement.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, my apologies—I was just checking what the latest convention is.

“My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has been clear that there will be no 10% staff cut. Internal work has taken place which we are looking at in the light of preparations, but that has not been signed off by Ministers. We are investing massively in overseas aid. At £10 billion a year, the UK remains one of the largest ODA spenders in the world and well above the OECD average. The FCDO must continue to promote a positive, confident, outward-looking global Britain deploying its diplomacy and development expertise to advance freedom, democracy and sustainable enterprise around the world.

To do this, the department needs to ensure its resources, both its funding and its people, are aligned to its priorities. Over the next three years, some areas of the department will see staffing resources increase, reflecting the need to align our people to our priorities. The FCDO will continue to retain one of the largest overseas diplomatic networks of any nation, while also ensuring value for money for the taxpayer. There will not be a 10% staff cut, and Ministers will make decisions on workforce changes in the spring.”

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement.

In the other place, James Cleverly was quite categorical, as was the Minister in repeating the Statement, that there will be no 10% cut, but, as Tom Tugendhat said, this is not a just question about a 10% cut, but about the investment in staff numbers needed to meet the aims of the integrated review and, we hope, next spring’s development strategy. Recent whistleblower revelations about the failures in the Afghan withdrawal point to an FCDO that is overstretched and under-resourced. Which high commissions and embassies around the world will receive more resources and which will see fewer? Which of the desks in the FDCO will be strengthened to meet the strategic threats this country now faces? What we need from this Government is greater transparency and actions that match their words.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I note what the noble Lord said but, in planning to 2025, it is right that the department reviews its workforce and capabilities to ensure it has sufficient resources in the right places to deliver both ministerial and integrated review priorities. That is our focus. Some areas of the department will see staffing and resources increase, as I have said, reflecting the need to align our people to our priorities. We will also look to move resources to the department from other areas to meet these priorities.

The noble Lord asked specifically about the network. As he is aware, we have actually increased our footprint in increasing our missions overseas. That reflects equally our ambition, in the strength of what we wish to achieve on the world stage, and the importance of our excellent diplomats and development professionals who, now together as one unit, represent Her Majesty’s interests through high commissions and embassies around the world.

International Day of Democracy

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 15th December 2021

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, while the United States played the role of the shepherd, I assure the noble Lord that we were very much not just part of the flock, but part and parcel of the decision-making and setting of the agenda of the democracy summit. I myself met with Uzra Zeya, the lead Under-Secretary of State for this summit, and discussed in detail issues of media freedom and illicit finance, which were very much part and parcel of the discussions at the summit.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, in her speech, the Foreign Secretary said she would be launching the new development strategy in the new year and that this will focus on providing women and girls with the freedom they need to succeed. Malnutrition is the single largest cause of death in women worldwide and is linked to 45% of the deaths of all children aged under five. Can the Minister explain the Government’s failure to make any financial commitment to this month’s Nutrition for Growth Summit? This is a summit that this country initiated and led on, but it is not now providing leadership on it.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Lord’s point about the international development strategy, yes, that is being worked on and we are looking to publish it early next year. The points that the noble Lord raised about nutrition will be very much integrated into our strategy. The noble Lord talks about the important leadership we have given on the agenda for the summit on nutrition. I accept that, whereas previously we have been able to give quite specific financial support, on this occasion—due to some challenges that we faced with the reduction in ODA spending—we have not been able to provide support in the manner that we have done previously. However, that does not take away from the fact that nutrition will part and parcel of our integrated strategy on development across the world.

Covid-19: Vaccine Donations

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Tuesday 14th December 2021

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, as we have heard, the two key issues in reaching the target of 70% of the global population being vaccinated are delivery mechanisms and manufacture. At the Foreign Ministers meeting at the G7, Liz Truss stressed the importance of strengthening health systems, which is vital to ensuring that vaccines are administered. What she did not address is how we are going to do that. Can the Minister commit his department to giving us a strategy of implementation so that we are confident about reaching the target in June of 70% of the global population?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very practical point, and I share his view on the importance of having the necessary infrastructure around the world to ensure equitable and safe distribution of vaccines. We are working closely through the COVAX facility as well as the World Health Organization to ensure that we can support that principle fully. Equally, prior to our bilateral donations being made, we go through quite thoroughly the infrastructure in a given country and its ability to ensure the safe and equitable distribution of the vaccine once it arrives.

Nepal

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Monday 13th December 2021

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, first, I pay tribute to my noble friend’s work and, indeed, that of others in your Lordships’ House who drew specific attention to the plight of Nepal during the crisis in the summer. I assure my noble friend that we continue to prioritise help through the COVAX Facility for Covid. Also, the UK recently made a bilateral donation of 131,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, Helen Grant, the Prime Minister’s special envoy on girls’ education, visited Nepal in October, and she met activist women and girls on education and climate change. Did that include representatives of the Dalit community, and did she use that opportunity to press the Government of Nepal to ensure that we leave no one behind and that everyone is included in dialogue on the future?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the specifics of my honourable friend’s meeting, I will certainly make sure that that was included and write to the noble Lord. On the more general point, in all our engagement—including on the importance of girls’ education and preventing gender-based violence—all communities, including the most marginalised, are of course included.

UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 9th December 2021

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point about talks, I take encouragement that recently, for the first time in many years, President Herzog and President Abbas have spoken, which is a positive. On UNRWA, the noble Lord is correct. The budget has reduced, but nevertheless the funding I stated continues to provide important support, particularly in education for more than 500,000 children, half of whom are girls, within the Palestinian territories.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I shall just pick up that last point about talks. Last month, at the UN International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East, the UN Secretary-General remarked that it is 30 years since the historic Madrid peace conference. He also underlined the ongoing commitment of the UN to work with both sides and with the Middle East quartet. Can the Minister tell us a little more about what we are doing as a country to initiate, facilitate and support our allies in ensuring that talks commence?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, the US is taking a particular lead on these issues and positive initiatives have been undertaken by the new Administration in Washington, which we support. We work very closely with the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority on a wide range of initiatives underlining our continued strong support for a two-state solution. More recently, we have been encouraged by positive steps taken by the new Government of Israel, including engagement with Jordan, which will be a key partner in any future peace agreement. I agree with the noble Lord that this challenge—this issue, this dispute—has gone on for far too long and that we need a resolution.

Ukraine and Russia: Military Developments

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 8th December 2021

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, one thing that the Minister mentioned is working with our allies. Sanctions, as he knows, are ineffective without support from allies. President Biden’s talks with President Putin resulted in certain conditions being laid down. The United States National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, reported on some of the counter-measures. What everyone in this House wants to know is whether this Government will be prepared to work with our allies in implementing such measures in time, unlike their failure fully to implement the Russia report.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, I have written to him and, if there are further questions, I shall follow it up.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I have a copy of the letter, and I can give it to him afterwards. On his earlier point, the short answer is yes. When we have worked on sanctions, we have worked with our EU allies as well as others.

Zimbabwe: Makomborero Haruzivishe

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Tuesday 23rd November 2021

(6 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, my honourable friend Vicky Ford had various points of discussion on the broader human rights agenda with the President. We continue to engage in the capital on the issues the noble Lord raises.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the simple fact is that the messages from the UK Government are not being heard by the Zimbabwean Government, and certainly not being acted on. Just over a year ago, I raised with the Minister the Government’s strategy for working with civil society groups in Zimbabwe to defend human rights. I specifically asked whether the Foreign Office would

“work with the TUC and its international affiliates to ensure that we support workers who are organised in Zimbabwe to defend their own human rights.”—[Official Report, 27/10/20; col. 125.]

The Minister at the time, the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, outlined the support we were giving to civil society groups. She also promised to follow through on meeting with the TUC. Has that meeting taken place? What is the outcome? What support are we giving to those sorts of civil society groups in Zimbabwe?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I do not believe the specific meeting took place directly with the TUC. We certainly have been meeting in Harare with various unions, including teaching unions, most recently in September 2021 on salaries and the impact of Covid-19. Trade unions form an important part of civil society in any country, and we engage with them at all levels.

Russia: Gas Supplies

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 10th November 2021

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, as Russian forces continue to build up on the Ukrainian border, Associated Press reported that Russia and Belarus are further deepening their integration, stopping short of a full merger. Obviously Lukashenko now relies on Russia for support far more than he did before because of the international community’s opposition to his crackdown on the opposition within the country; 10 days ago we discussed the sanctions. I welcome what the Minister has said about discussions with NATO but, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton, said, we really need a co-ordinated approach here. Can the Minister tell us why the Government are still delaying the full implementation of the Russia report?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Lord’s last point—the Russia report—we have already taken key steps and actions. I have previously documented the steps that we have taken. There is a cross-government approach to the response to that, and a reply was issued immediately after the report came out. In the interests of time, I will write to the noble Lord about the specific actions that we have undertaken.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 10th November 2021

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, there is clearly an urgent need to reinforce the political will behind the Dayton accords, and James Cleverly in the other place, in response to the Urgent Question, stressed the vital role of the high representative. As the Minister knows, his effectiveness is undermined by Russia’s continued lack of acceptance of his position. The ongoing threat to re-establish a Republika Srpska army would represent a disastrous turning point in the region. Does the Minister agree that this is a red line which must not be crossed? Can he confirm whether the upcoming NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting will co-ordinate a response to this possibility?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we stand firmly behind the high representative and he has the United Kingdom’s full support, including for the use of executive powers should the situation require it. It is my understanding that the high representative will be visiting the United Kingdom in December, which will offer opportunities to engage directly with him on the situation. We were pleased, notwithstanding the challenges Russia posed, that the EUFOR is being renewed in November, which is a positive development—notwithstanding, as I said, Russia’s bid to undermine this role.

On the issue of the red line on Republika Srpska, we have been very clear that what we have seen recently from the actions of Mr Dodik, who is part of the tripartite presidency, is undermining the Dayton accords. He needs to cease from the statements he is making, which are doing nothing to further the great progress we have seen over the last 26 years.

Afghanistan: Food Shortages

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Tuesday 9th November 2021

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as far as the Security Council is concerned, I assure my noble friend that I myself directly engaged in a recent debate on Afghanistan. On delegations, we are engaging at senior level with near partners, including other key countries such as Pakistan and Qatar, and we are of course working directly with the UN agencies that are already on the ground. Now is the time to get aid through the door and to the people, and that is what we are focusing on.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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While I welcome the Minister’s comments, on 18 October only £35 million of the £286 million had been allocated, according to the Government. I welcome the £50 million he has announced today, but David Beasley—who I know, and the Minister knows—is not one for hyperbole, and he has said that the position is absolutely dire and that the WFP requires $220 million a month. What is the Minister doing to ensure that we get that aid out quickly to stop the disaster that David Beasley said would happen?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I share the view that the noble Lord has expressed, and indeed of what my noble friend said about the report of John Simpson. I have met directly with those fleeing the Taliban, and I have been long engaged on the evacuation process. These heart-rending stories are not just stories for me; they have been direct testimonies. I assure the noble Lord that I am engaging on practically a daily basis to ensure that our funds are allocated at the earliest opportunity through trusted partners, some of which I have already named. Equally, we implore other countries to stand by their verbal commitments to ensure that money and, importantly, humanitarian support get through immediately.

Nutrition for Growth Summit

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 13th October 2021

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, the United Kingdom continues to work closely with the Government of Japan to make sure that the 2021 Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit generates meaningful action by Governments, donors, businesses, the UN and civil society. A decision on a UK commitment and wider strategy will be made following the conclusion of the spending review.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I co-chair, with David Mundell MP, the Nutrition for Growth APPG. At the first summit in 2013, the UK played a pivotal leadership role. For this summit, the International Coalition for Advocacy on Nutrition, which includes Save the Children, UNICEF and other important NGOs, set out recommendations for the FCDO at Tokyo in its document Time for Action. I strongly recommend that the noble Lord reads that document because its key recommendation is that the Government should renew their commitment to reach 50 million people with nutrition interventions by 2025. Does the noble Lord agree?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that I have read the documents in advance of this Question. Indeed, the recommendations made by ICAN are very much part of our thinking as we look to complete the spending review. I cannot give a specific commitment, but I recognise the work of the noble Lord and my right honourable friend David Mundell in this respect. We will work very constructively to ensure that we remain committed to this important priority.

Afghanistan: Women and Girls

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Tuesday 7th September 2021

(8 months, 3 weeks ago)

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

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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On that question of safe passage, yesterday the Foreign Secretary acknowledged the vulnerability of the LGBT community in Afghanistan. Of course, he said that he was talking to the Home Secretary about how the resettlement scheme will address that issue but, as the Minister is aware, safe passage to countries that are also a hostile environment for the LGBT community is extremely difficult. How is the department addressing this issue and ensuring that the LGBT community can get safe passage to safe countries?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I totally understand the point that the noble Lord raises. He and I have discussed this matter, and I shall continue to work directly with him and other colleagues, because it is important that we encompass all expertise to ensure safe passage for all vulnerable minorities, including the LGBT community.

Afghanistan: Security

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Monday 6th September 2021

(8 months, 3 weeks ago)

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

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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Every lever, especially economic ones, needs to be used to protect our security and prevent Afghanistan becoming once again a safe haven for international terrorism. I hope that, this afternoon, we will hear from the Prime Minister a clear diplomatic road map for the way ahead. I welcome the steps at the UN that the Minister has referred to, but can he say a bit more on how we are working with our partners to deliver on the ground the essential humanitarian support that is most needed at this moment?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, first I apologise to your Lordships’ House for overrunning. In seeking your Lordships’ indulgence, I hope that noble Lords will excuse me on such an important issue. In this regard, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, is right: we are working with key partners, including the Qataris and the Pakistanis as well as others, including through the UN and other vehicles, to ensure that exactly the points that the noble Lord raises are prioritised.

Cyberattack: Microsoft

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 22nd July 2021

(10 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I must admit that I share the view of Iain Duncan Smith about the seriousness of this matter and why there was not a Statement from the Government at the time. In the Commons, the Minister estimated that approximately 3,000 UK-based organisations may have been vulnerable to this attack, but there was no confirmation on whether any public bodies are included in this figure. Can the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, state whether any public bodies were compromised and what urgent steps are being taken to secure public bodies from future attacks? Also, when the Government acted with targeted sanctions against individuals involved in the Russian state-backed cyberattack on the German Parliament, why were there no sanctions in response to Chinese state-backed cyberattacks, on—among others—the Finnish Parliament?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I agree that we need to ensure protection for all organisations. The noble Lord is correct in saying that 3,000 organisations were impacted. Obviously, we made a full evaluation when we were informed of these attacks to ensure that all the information was readily available. He asked specifically about government organisations. We do not believe that government organisations were victims. Because this was an untargeted action, it is not possible to give a credible assessment of the overall economic damage. He asked about further mitigation. As he knows, the National Cyber Security Centre is very much world beating and, together with Microsoft, we have worked to give specific and timely advice. By the end of March, 92% of all those organisations impacted had taken appropriate mitigations.

Colombia: Human Rights

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Monday 12th July 2021

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I will certainly follow up on the noble Baroness’s specific case and ensure that an appropriate representation is made in my capacity as the Prime Minister’s special representative on preventing sexual violence, particularly in conflict—that means building post conflict, as well. This is a key priority for our Government.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, on a number of occasions, most recently in May, I have raised with the Minister the question of Britain’s training programme with the Colombian police. We have heard from the reports of the demonstrations about violence committed by the police, involving between 26 and 44 deaths and, as my noble friend said, sexual assault. Can the noble Lord explain exactly what measures we are taking to ensure that the Colombian security forces are held to account for their human rights abuses?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that he has raised this issue. We continue to ensure that our training of overseas law enforcement officers is fully supported by reviewing all training initiatives and ensuring that human rights are at the forefront of direct engagement. The 220 investigations that I have alluded to are specifically into misconduct by the police. These cases are now open and we are monitoring and following their progress.

International Freedom of Religion or Belief

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 8th July 2021

(10 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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There has been a reduction in development support to Pakistan, but my noble friend will acknowledge the important work we are continuing—for example, the AAWAZ programme until 2024, with a specific focus on women and girls. That was part and parcel of my recent diplomatic engagement in Pakistan. When I visited on 22 June to 23 June, there was a reassurance. We are also seeing what practical further steps we can take to ensure that any reductions in support are met through direct diplomatic engagement.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the APPG report raises important issues facing religion and belief communities around the globe. The Bishop of Truro’s independent review for the Foreign Secretary on support for persecuted Christians contains many inclusive recommendations. However, they are built on evidence relating to, and focus on, Christian persecution. Will the Minister consider conducting further reviews into religion and belief persecution, including the plight of the non-religious around the globe? Many people have referred to Nigeria, and the Minister knows I have raised the case of the atheist Mubarak Bala in Nigeria. I hope he will consider that action.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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I can give the noble Lord that direct reassurance. We will do exactly that.

Palestine

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 7th July 2021

(10 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I agree with my noble friend; I think we all welcome the important progress made with the Abraham Accords, and we pay tribute to all those who have come forward. However, it is also important, as my noble friend rightly articulates, that there can be no solution to the challenges and the conflicts in the region until we see meaningful progress on the peace talks. For that to occur, Israel and the Palestinian Authority need to sit down and agree a way forward and progress. We all desire peace in the Holy Land, and the talks between those two sides are essential to make that happen.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the Opposition share the Government’s commitment to the two-state solution, and with the new Administrations in the US and Israel, there are opportunities. Can the Minister tell us what steps the Government are taking to help address the drivers of insecurity and injustice in the region, especially if they will not accept the recognition of Palestine?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, we continue to work with key partners, including the US, which is of course very important for progress. We continue to engage with both sides, as I have articulated, but, equally, we are supporting efforts such as the work being done with UNRWA in supporting education and skills in the Palestinian Territories. It is important that we continue in that respect to provide hope for the future and the basis of a future independent and viable Palestinian state.

Arctic: Security and Co-operation

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Monday 28th June 2021

(11 months ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, modelling has shown that the Arctic sea ice could well disappear by the summer of 2035; certainly, the sea lanes will be completely different from what we currently have. Where most of us see a disaster, global powers see that as an opportunity to secure security, political and commercial interests. Can the Minister say exactly what our policy now is, looking back at the 2018 UK Policy Towards the Arctic paper, which said that we should be exploring commercial opportunities too? How does that rest with the recent Arctic Council ministerial meeting?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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The noble Lord is quite right to point towards the 2018 Arctic policy framework. We remain very committed to its core principles of respect, co-operation and leadership. Equally, however, as I have already alluded to, with temperatures rising three times as fast in the Arctic, we also believe that it is important that we focus on the Arctic, as we will at COP 26, to ensure not only that the Arctic remains a peaceful, stable and well-governed part of the world but that we also seek to tackle the important issues of climate and shared biodiversity. The current statistics are quite concerning, with sea level temperatures in the Arctic rising three times as fast as those in the rest of the world. As a near neighbour, we need to be interested and engaged.

China: Muslims

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 16th June 2021

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, as I have already indicated in my previous answers, while we recognise China’s important role, including on issues such as our challenges around climate change, we will call out egregious abuse of human rights. We have done so. We have led a coalition of like-minded partners at the UN Human Rights Council and Third Committee, and we take up these abuses directly and bilaterally with China as well.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, perhaps I might return to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, about specific actions. Since the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill was blocked, we have not seen extensive sanctions against officials responsible for these terrible crimes, and we have not seen action on forced labour—so I once again ask the Minister the question I have repeatedly asked: when will we see the promised changes to the Modern Slavery Act introduced, including Section 54?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am fully aware of the noble Lord’s interest in this. At the moment, I cannot give him a definitive answer, but this remains a live issue on the Government’s agenda.

UN Peacebuilding Fund: Financial Support

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 10th June 2021

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, in our approach to Africa, we are funding specific programmes, working through multilateral partners. As the noble Lord will be aware from his own work, there are countries across the Sahel where France has a key leadership role and we have been looking to complement its efforts. We continue to work across Africa in Burkina Faso, the Lake Chad region and, notwithstanding challenging circumstances, in Ethiopia.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister said that it is not just about funding; civil society engagement is central to the concept of peacebuilding. The United Kingdom must always make room in the UN system for voices from conflict-affected areas. What steps have the Government taken to engage civil society in their peace and security work? Will the Government support proposals to strengthen mechanisms of civil society engagement at the United Nations?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the short answer to the noble Lord’s second question is yes. It is an excellent idea; it is something I am pursuing, and I will seek to mention it in meetings with the UN. I can assure him that, internally, notwithstanding the challenging circumstances, we have strengthened our engagement. They have not been easy conversations—I accept that premise—but it is important that we communicate because civil society is an important partner in development support across the world.

Official Development Assistance

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 10th June 2021

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, equally, on the various questions that the noble Lord has asked me, I maintain that the Government remain steadfast. They recognise their obligations under law and their obligations to your Lordships’ House.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister repeated the mantra that we have heard many times: that we intend to return to spending 0.7% of our national income on international development when the fiscal situation allows. What specific circumstances will have to be met for the Government to return to 0.7%? Why is it taking six months to define? Give us an answer today.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord should recognise—I am sure he does—that, as I have said repeatedly, we have been faced with the worst economic contraction for almost 300 years and a budget deficit of close to £400 billion. It is therefore right that we take time to understand fully what the long-term impact of our financial position will be. As the Chief Secretary to the Treasury made clear this week, we have had to look at a range of fiscal measures, including our situation on debt and borrowing. Last year we borrowed over £300 billion and this year we are forecast to borrow a further £234 billion. We will provide details as we move forward. However, I am sure that, if the noble Lord reflects, he will agree that we are facing very challenging times. Notwithstanding that, we are still among the largest providers when it comes to development support across the globe.

British Council

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Wednesday 9th June 2021

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, Nigel Adams yesterday acknowledged that the Covid pandemic had hit the British Council’s commercial activities incredibly hard. He was very sympathetic but failed to respond to Tom Tugendhat’s hope that the closure of five sites be reversed soon. As the Government host the G7 summit, does the Minister accept that to allow the closure of British Council overseas offices will be further evidence that the Government are not prepared to put the words of the integrated review into action?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Lord’s substantive points, I assure him that we have demonstrated our integrated review priorities and our support for the British Council by the large-scale package of funding we have provided to the British Council during the pandemic. The formal announcement is yet to be made on the reversal of any office closures. We are working through the implications with the leadership of the British Council. If there was one silver lining to the terribly grey cloud that is the pandemic, it has been the ability to see how we can avail of technology delivery, including in the work the British Council does across the world.

Health Partnership Schemes: Funding

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Monday 7th June 2021

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, first, reminders from the noble Lord are always welcome, but a meeting is very much on the schedule and we will make that happen at the earliest opportunity. On his second point, I can put on record our Prime Minister’s and the Government’s commitment to ensuring a global health response to the current pandemic that we are facing. That is why we have led on the important issue of the COVAX Facility, which we will continue to emphasise with our G7 partners.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, as I said last week, it is the speed and scale of the cuts that are having such a damaging effect. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, made the point that the cuts impact the most vulnerable countries with fragile health systems: Myanmar, Uganda, Zambia, Ethiopia, Somalia, and, of course, Ghana and Sierra Leone—places where we know the impact of failing health systems on global health. This is also linked to cuts to nutrition projects, which help maintain the efficacy of vaccines—cut by 80%. Will the noble Lord commit to a proper impact assessment of these cuts on the global vaccine programme?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as I have already said, the Government remain very much committed to the prioritisation of the health response, particularly when it comes to the Covid-19 pandemic. The noble Lord is right to recognise the important role our health programmes play across Africa, but these are challenging circumstances and difficult calls have been made. We are working through the country programmes to see how we can best prioritise health programmes in different countries, particularly those across Africa.

Iran: British-Iranian Prisoners

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Monday 7th June 2021

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

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

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, six weeks ago, James Cleverly said that we were co-operating with international partners, including the US and the E3, on a whole range of issues regarding Iran. He referred to the renewed mandate of the UN special rapporteur, the March Human Rights Council and joining the Canadian initiative against arbitrary detention, which the Minister mentioned. What further action, in concert with our allies, has the United Kingdom taken over the past six weeks to ensure the return of Nazanin and the release of the other British detainees?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, we are working on specific measures on a raft of issues with our allies, as my right honourable friend Minister Cleverly indicated, including, without my going into the details of each case, engagement directly with the Iranians on the early release of all those currently held in Iran, as I have said already.

Commonwealth Heads of Government

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 27th May 2021

(1 year ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the progress made on delivering commitments agreed at the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting; and what is their agenda for the next Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, as chair-in-office the UK has worked hard with the whole Commonwealth family to deliver on the leaders’ CHOGM 2018 commitments. This has included over £500 million of UK-funded projects and programmes, as set out in the chair-in-office report, which we published and placed in the Library of this House last September. The United Kingdom will continue as chair-in-office until CHOGM can take place and we will continue to pursue the declared and shared priorities that leaders agreed on fairness, security, sustainability and prosperity.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, we remain chair-in-office following the cancellation of the Rwanda meeting, so we have an ongoing commitment. I hope that the Minister will ensure that, when we monitor the progress that we have made on those commitments at London, he updates them and ensures that Parliament has access to them—it would be good if we could have a debate—in particular on strengthening democratic institutions. What steps are the Government taking to strengthen the role of civil society across the Commonwealth? This is an important ingredient to guarantee and further the cause of democracy.

Nagorno-Karabakh

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 27th May 2021

(1 year ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, what is the Government’s assessment of recent reports suggesting that Russia has significant control over the administration of Nagorno-Karabakh and has prevented groups such as MSF and the Halo Trust from entering the region? Has the Minister raised those issues at the United Nations as well?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Lord is aware, we have brought forward specific support, including funding for key organisations working in the region, which is very difficult. Indeed, an announcement was made back in October that £1 million of funding would go to the ICRC. The issue of Russia is very clear. Yes, Russia is present; I believe that about 2,000 Russian troops are in Nagorno-Karabakh, and obviously they have an extended influence through the Minsk process. The noble Lord makes practical points and I can assure him that we are raising the important issues of civil society roles and humanitarian agencies’ access to that important region.

Nepal: Covid-19 Vaccine Request

Debate between Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Collins of Highbury
Thursday 20th May 2021

(1 year ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I assure the noble Earl that we are looking at all key players to ensure that the response and the requirements of Nepal can be met in the best possible manner by the United Kingdom working with other international partners.