Overseas Territories

Amanda Milling Excerpts
Thursday 11th May 2023

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns
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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. We may not always agree, but on that we absolutely do. I am sure that if Mr Speaker was in the Chair, he would be entirely in support of the hon. Gentleman’s point, because he is the Chancellor of the University of Gibraltar —I am sure he will reward the hon. Gentleman later this afternoon.

Education is key, and another issue is that should OT citizens come here to study, they cannot access maintenance loans to support them. University life is already too expensive and we can better support those who come to the UK. It is a matter of fairness.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling (Cannock Chase) (Con)
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Does that not demonstrate the importance of Government Departments taking the overseas territories really seriously in terms of the policies they develop and their implementation, and why it is so important that the overseas territories have a strong voice in each Department?

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns
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I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend, who was of course formerly the Minister with responsibility for the overseas territories. I know that during her tenure, the overseas territories felt incredibly respected and, crucially, heard. They do not want to be listened to; they want to be heard. I thank my right hon. Friend for all she did in her time in that role.

Although it is difficult to finance university life, funding a Government is more so. As a leading global economy, the UK can borrow money at beneficial rates, but this option is not available to our overseas territories. During the pandemic, we allowed Gibraltar to borrow £500 million under a sovereign guarantee, thereby protecting the Rock’s economy at a time of economic instability. When we can, we should use our economic clout to support our overseas territories to develop sustainably, to grow their opportunity and prosperity, and to invest in infrastructure. This will also help to avoid the debt traps faced by many developing economies and the interference of loan sharks such as the Chinese Communist party. I therefore hope that the Government will consider the expansion of sovereign rate loans to more overseas territories.

Although direct funding is important, I wish to make it clear that most overseas territories are financially independent and economically self-sufficient, and proud of that, but they do rely on us to represent them globally and make their case. There are of course caveats to this relationship, and I believe that the UK was right to sign up to the EU code of conduct on business taxation in 2013. The code was designed to ensure that companies could not avoid taxation. However, our departure from the EU has left many OTs feeling that they are governed by a code they can no longer influence, so I urge the Minister to consider engaging with them directly on that matter.

A commitment was given to implement public registers of beneficial ownership by 2023; will the Minister update us on that? The issue is important because registers provide greater public access to information about beneficial ownership, improve private sector compliance with sanctions, and can help to pre-empt sanctions evasion and improve transparency in respect of designated individuals. In the Cayman Islands, for example, the central register has a 24-hour response time to information requests from law enforcement, and $8.8 billion dollars of Russian assets were frozen following the illegal renewed invasion of Ukraine. We know how important such information is to support sanctions against not just Russia but all terrorist and autocratic actors.

I wish to highlight accessibility as a common issue that requires urgent attention. Many overseas territories are extremely remote. I recently met the Chief Islander of Tristan da Cunha and understand that the Foreign Office is undertaking a review of the possibility of subsidising a boat for the Tristan Government. Currently, a boat visits the island just 10 times a year from Cape Town. It would not be an expensive measure and would massively help islanders, particularly during health emergencies. My heart goes out to the individual who recently lost their life after a stroke, and who was unable to be removed from the island in time to receive the healthcare that would have saved their life. That is unacceptable, as too are the quotas for how many residents from each OT can receive NHS treatment.

A Tristan-owned vessel would also allow eco-tourism to continue and develop more tourism revenue over time to pay for its upkeep. Tourism is key to our overseas territories in the Caribbean. However, if the industry is to continue to thrive, investment in airports and portage is needed. The Turks and Caicos Islands have an airport business development plan ready, but it is sat waiting for UK sign-off. Equally, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands are seeking support with the expansion and improvement of their airports. We must support, not hinder, such projects across the territories. More than that, I encourage the Government to see OT-led infra- structure projects as an opportunity for British investment and British businesses. It is not enough for us to think of action on the OTs only when they are in trouble; we should be enabling prosperity and growth. No one is asking for a handout; they are asking for a hand-up. Let us ensure accessibility, be it by sea or by air.

In today’s day and age, accessibility is particularly key online. I urge the Minister to reconsider the decision to close down the digital support team for overseas territories. I was shocked to find out that it had been closed without MPs having been made aware. It is vital that we help OTs to digitise the services that they provide to their citizens.

Before I wrap up, I wish briefly to touch on the situation in Haiti, because it is severely impacting on Turks and Caicos. Haiti is a humanitarian catastrophe and a state on the brink of failure. There is not one democratically elected representative; cholera is rife; and political and economic corruption supported by more than 200 armed gangs that use Haiti as a drugs and firearms haven is suffocating everyday life for individuals there. The result is tens of thousands of Haitians fleeing across dangerous stretches of water, which often leads them to Turks and Caicos, which cannot cope. We urgently need to work with the Caribbean Community, the Organisation of American States and France to restore security and stability.

We should also provide TCI with radar surveillance assistance, because that is exactly what the US has done for the Bahamas, and co-ordinate a stronger naval presence in the region. Last year, we saw a leaked diplomatic telegram from the then governor of TCI, who made it clear that the UK had delayed in providing important security support to overseas territories, and particularly to Turks and Caicos when it was suffering the highest murder rate in the world because of drug lords transiting through the country. Then, we were too slow. It took a threat to remove Turks and Caicos from our global family for the Government to take action. When we took action, it was incredibly effective, and those responsible for the vast majority of murders are now behind bars and awaiting justice. Now that our family are asking for help once more, let us make sure that we are not found wanting.

I wish briefly to mention a call for all overseas territories to fully support their LGBTQ+ communities. We need to legalise same-sex marriage and we need the UK Government to do more than simply support it in principle. In families there are arguments and disputes—not least across the Christmas table—but we know that we can talk to our friends and family more honestly than we can talk to any other, so it is crucial that we have the conversation.

I started by saying that we are blessed to be part of a truly global family. I pay tribute to the Speaker and to the Deputy Speaker, the right hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), for all they have done to raise the voice of our overseas territories in this place. Together, we represent the best of global Britain. Our partnerships are ensuring the survival of the world’s rarest creatures and protecting millions of miles of oceans; we act as a beacon of stability in a rapidly changing world; and our bonds of history and friendship remain steadfast, as seen at the coronation of His Majesty the King. Therefore, it is in the tradition of this friendship and in a spirit of optimism for the future of British overseas territories that I commend the motion to the House.

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Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling (Cannock Chase) (Con)
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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) on securing the debate and on covering so many topics. I should also declare an interest, as chair of the St Helena all-party parliamentary group.

Dotted across the globe, in some of the most remote and hard-to-reach locations, are our overseas territories. They are some of the most beautiful places in the world, but they are not just beautiful. They lie in strategically important locations, giving the UK a global footprint, but above all, they are part of the British family. That is something that the Government must always remember, respect and reflect in our support for them.

I had the privilege of being the Minister responsible for the overseas territories last year, and I want to turn back the clock to the autumn of 2021. Countries across the world were still in lockdown, facing travel restrictions and grappling with how to deal with covid, and the overseas territories were no different. However, when I hosted the Joint Ministerial Council in November 2021, there was a universal “thank you” to the British Government for the supply of vaccines to every overseas territory in the world—and that was no mean feat. As I have said, these are some of the most remote locations in the world. Getting supplies to them is difficult at the best of times, let alone at a time when travel was even more difficult, but the FCDO team did a remarkable job in facilitating that supply, and I want to place my thanks to them on record. I will never forget being at the airport in the Cayman Islands when the British Airways flight landed in early 2022 with booster vaccines on board. That was a very good example of our support for the British family.

I am sure that many Members will join me in welcoming the new OT strategy, and I should be interested to learn from the Minister this afternoon what plans there are for its development and publication. This seems to me to be an ideal week for the voices of the overseas territories to be heard in the development of the strategy, given that the JMC will meet today and tomorrow and a conference was held here yesterday. An important suggestion made yesterday was that the strategy should be developed collaboratively between the Government and the territories themselves.

I should like the FCDO to address the way in which we work across Government on matters relating to the overseas territories. When I was a Minister, I often found myself convening and cajoling Departments in relation to such matters. I was pleased to hear that the Foreign Secretary recently confirmed that each Department does have a Minister dedicated to the overseas territories, but that cannot be seen to be a token gesture. Those Ministers must take their responsibilities for the OTs seriously.

I am conscious of the time, but I want to touch on the question of how Departments can help the OTs to become more resilient. Resilience has been the watchword of the last few years and that is no less true today. All Departments should give more support to the overseas territories to help them prepare for unexpected shocks, be they a global health crisis, global inflation, or the risks of climate change. We have all seen global energy prices increase, and the overseas territories are particularly vulnerable in that regard. I know that there is a real enthusiasm and desire to transition to renewables, so I should be interested to hear from the Minister what further support can be given to the OTs in achieving that.

Climate change could be a debate in itself, and we had a panel session devoted to it at yesterday’s conference, but I want to make a point about the Caribbean Islands and their vulnerability to hurricanes. I should like to hear from the Minister what preparations have been made with the Ministry of Defence to prepare for the hurricane season. Hurricane Irma was devastating for many Caribbean OTs, and we are still rebuilding critical infrastructure today, as I saw at first hand in Anguilla last year. We have already heard today about the importance of infrastructure and connectivity. There is no limit to the overseas territories’ aspirations and ambitions, but they are often hampered by poor infrastructure.

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns
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My right hon. Friend has referred to Anguilla. I failed to mention this earlier, but 80% of its water is lost because the infrastructure is so old. Surely it should be a priority for the Government to ensure that the water infrastructure is rebuilt to prevent the appalling amount that is lost while water is being transported around the islands.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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That is a very good example of the need for us to provide infrastructure support. My hon. Friend talked about ports and airports—about transport as well as digital connectivity. Many are seeking support, whether they are directly funded and supported by the UK or looking to attract investment and, in some cases, capacity building and technical expertise. Unfortunately, I cannot possibly cover every single project this afternoon, or every subject that we might want to discuss—although as I say, my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton did a sterling job of covering so many.

I want to wrap up by making one point, and this is where I started. The overseas territories are part of the British family and we need to redouble our efforts to strengthen our relationship.

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David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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I will gladly arrange that meeting.

We are supporting the overseas territories with funding dedicated to constitutional and international obligations on the environment and climate, and exciting work has been taking place in that respect.

I highlight the work that we are doing in preparation for this year’s hurricane season. From 1 June, HMS Dauntless —which, importantly, has a helicopter on board—will provide persistent maritime presence in the Caribbean to offer humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

Many Members talked about the importance of providing security support. We have done that and will do more of that, particularly in respect of the challenges faced by the Turks and Caicos Islands. As the Minister for the Americas and Caribbean, I am well sighted as to the situation in Haiti. We continue to work with international interlocutors in like-minded states to see how we can provide support for that situation. We are providing electronic border systems for the Turks and Caicos Islands, along with maritime surveillance aircraft, which will be a real help.

Members made many points and I am afraid I will not be able to answer them all. We continue to work with the Falklands to mitigate the impact of tariffs on fisheries and we are open to all opportunities to do so.

We are making progress, and will continue to ask for progress to be made, on registers of beneficial ownership. Sanctions apply and are being applied by overseas territories. Frozen Russian assets in the territories amount to more than 9 billion US dollars. The sanctions are biting and playing an important role.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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Will my hon. Friend give way?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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This is the last one; then I had better make progress.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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Will my hon. Friend join me in commending the overseas territories for their implementation of sanctions? This time last year, the speed and volume of the sanctions coming through was enormous and it was a huge task to implement them. I really do think we should commend the overseas territories for that.

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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Hear, hear—absolutely. It is important work. We recognise, however, that further progress needs to be made on registers of beneficial ownership, and we will do all we can to provide support for that work over the weeks and months ahead.

Points were made about Gibraltar. We are of course working hard with the Government of Gibraltar to make progress, and we remain confident that, with flexibility on all sides, a deal is possible. I understand the points about the University of Gibraltar; we will work with the Department for Education on that.

Important points were made about the British Indian Ocean Territory and the sovereignty-related issues there. Although the negotiations are clearly between the UK and Mauritius, we recognise the diversity of views among Chagossians. We take those views seriously and have a further engagement event planned for the coming weeks.

I think I have probably taken as much time as you will allow, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would like to take more, but I conclude by reiterating the fact that the UK shares an important relationship with the overseas territories. We are all part of the British family, and that relationship is built on respect and trust. We will continue to work in close partnership to strengthen our relationship yet further in the years and decades ahead.

Oral Answers to Questions

Amanda Milling Excerpts
Tuesday 31st January 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s positive comments about the tone of the current conversations with the EU: I feel vindicated in my belief that professional but discreet negotiations are the route to success. As for Northern Ireland businesses, I met a group of them during my trip to Northern Ireland at the beginning of the year, when they raised a series of specific concerns that they wanted to be addressed. We took careful note of those concerns, and I assure the hon. Gentleman, the House and those businesses that we have them at the forefront of our minds during our negotiations with European Commission.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling (Cannock Chase) (Con)
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The Monserrat port development project, which is being funded by the UK, is essential to the driving of Montserrat’s economic development following the devastation caused by volcanic eruptions and hurricanes in recent decades. Will my hon. Friend confirm the Government’s commitment to funding this much-needed project until its completion, and does he agree that it is a tangible demonstration of the UK’s commitment to the overseas territories and, more specifically, to Montserrat?

David Rutley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (David Rutley)
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I recognise my right hon. Friend’s sterling work for overseas territories when she served in the FCDO. We are absolutely committed to supporting economic development in Montserrat, and we are providing £28.3 million for the new port. I am pleased to say that construction work is due to begin shortly.

Oral Answers to Questions

Amanda Milling Excerpts
Tuesday 6th September 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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1. What steps her Department plans to take to counter Iran’s destabilising use of proxies in the middle east.

Amanda Milling Portrait The Minister for Asia and the Middle East (Amanda Milling)
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I am sure that the whole House will accept the apologies from the Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), who is otherwise engaged today.

The UK maintains a range of sanctions to constrain Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps malign activity. Maritime interdictions in January and February 2022 led to the seizure of advanced conventional weapons travelling from Iran to the Houthis in Yemen. We support the strengthening of state institutions in Iraq and Lebanon, and work to end the conflict in Yemen and Syria.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Mr Speaker, you may recall that it was against considerable Whitehall resistance—it needed pressure from this House—that we got the Government to ban Hezbollah. I hope that the Minister will be more receptive to recognising that the IRGC is at the heart of destabilising proxy wars across the middle east and further afield, and that she will show more urgency in joining our allies in the United States in proscribing the IRGC.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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The UK maintains a range of sanctions that work to constrain the destabilising activity of the IRGC. The list of proscribed organisations is kept under constant review, but we do not routinely comment on whether an organisation is under consideration for proscription.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)
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The hostility with Iran has caused even greater friendship between the adjoining Arab countries and the state of Israel, so is not now the time to follow the US and some other countries by moving the British embassy from Tel Aviv to the capital of Israel, where its Parliament is, Jerusalem?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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My hon. Friend is right to say that the UK and Israel share a thriving relationship, working together on bilateral priorities, as well as on regional issues of mutual concern. The British embassy in Israel is in Tel Aviv. I am aware of the possibility of a review but will not speculate further on this point.

John Cryer Portrait John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab)
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When we are talking about the people in power in Tehran and their proxies around the world, whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) mentioned, we are talking about clerical fascists, who would probably have been on the same side as the Nazis if they had been around 80 years ago. Why can we not just get on with it and ban the IRGC, as we banned Hezbollah?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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I have been clear in response to earlier questions on the IRGC and the range of sanctions to constrain its destabilising activity. I will not comment further on the possibility of proscription of this group.

Stephen Crabb Portrait Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
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It is a mistake for the west to regard Iran’s sponsorship of proxies as somehow being a non-strategic irritant, as there is a continuous thread that links its sponsorship of terror with its ballistics programme and its march towards acquiring nuclear weapons capability. So does my right hon. Friend agree that we should not repeat the mistakes of the past and that any revised nuclear deal with Iran should be accompanied by very strong measures to discourage it from being the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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We have real concerns about the instability that Iran causes in the region. Its nuclear programme is today more advanced than ever. There is an offer on the table and Iran should take it urgently—time is running out and there will not be a better one. If this deal is not struck, and soon, the joint comprehensive plan of action will collapse. In that scenario, we will have to consider carefully the options with partners and allies.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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2. What discussions she has had with her international counterparts on the potential impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill on the UK’s international relationships.

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Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
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6. What recent steps she has taken with Cabinet colleagues to strengthen AUKUS—the Australia, UK and US partnership.

Amanda Milling Portrait The Minister for Asia and the Middle East (Amanda Milling)
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Cabinet Ministers regularly meet their US and Australian counterparts to progress our landmark AUKUS partnership, including recently in the margins of the G20 and Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, and in outbound and inbound ministerial visits. Last month, I visited Australia and met Assistant Foreign Minister Watts, who reaffirmed Australia’s full support for AUKUS.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell
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I thank my right hon. Friend for her response. I was pleased last week to welcome to Barrow the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary, alongside the Australian Deputy Prime Minister, for the commissioning of HMS Anson, in an important sign of the strength of our AUKUS partnership. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the future requires much more close working between like-minded countries to counter authoritarian regimes, not just in the physical domain but in cyber-security and intelligence sharing too?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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I completely agree. The Government have been clear that we must build a network of like-minded countries and flexible groupings if we are to protect our interests globally. I was really pleased when last week the Defence Secretary hosted Australian Deputy Prime Minister Marles at the commissioning ceremony for HMS Anson in my hon. Friend’s constituency, demonstrating our deep defence ties, including through AUKUS.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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The Minister’s response makes clear the importance of all of us in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland working together, and we in Northern Ireland want to be part of that, contributing soldiers, sailors and airmen. Can the Minister give some indication of whether our soldiers, be it the Irish Guards or the Royal Irish Regiment, will be part of this new security policy?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making sure that Northern Ireland has a voice in this. I am sure that my colleagues in the FCDO and the MOD have heard his pitch.

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Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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12. Whether she has had recent discussions with her Israeli counterpart on the Israeli Government’s proscription of Palestinian civil society groups.

Amanda Milling Portrait The Minister for Asia and the Middle East (Amanda Milling)
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We have been clear about our concern over the Israeli Government’s decision in October 2021 to designate six Palestinian non-governmental organisations as terrorist organisations, and the subsequent raids on seven NGOs. We continue to engage with a number of these organisations and have raised the issue with the Israeli authorities, including, most recently, through our ambassador to Israel.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham
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I am grateful to the Minister for her comments. What assessment has she made of the impact of the listing and raids of Palestinian civic society and human rights groups on the prospect of that much-wanted and much-needed two-state solution and an enduring peace for Palestinians and Israelis?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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Civil society organisations play a really important role in upholding human rights and democracy. They must be able to operate freely in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. During my recent visit to Israel and the OPTs in June, I met human rights defenders, journalists and civil society organisations to discuss the pressures that they face in the region. I emphasise the UK’s strong support for freedom of speech and media freedom.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)
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Last October, Israel designated six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorist organisations, which has caused widespread concern. Accusations of terrorism must be treated with the utmost seriousness and must be grounded in evidence. As The Guardian reported in August, the CIA, which is known to be assiduous in these matters, said that no evidence had been presented to support the designation. Will the Minister press her Israeli counterpart for that evidence and, in the absence of such evidence, continue to support the Palestinian civil society that is so important to democracy and the goal of a two-state solution?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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I agree with the hon. Gentleman, as I just said, on the importance of civil society and the role it plays in terms of human rights and democracy. The evidence that forms the basis of the designations is a matter for the Government of Israel. The UK maintains its own criteria for designation, and we continue to engage with many of those organisations. As I said, we have been clear about our concerns.

Robert Halfon Portrait Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con)
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With Iran stepping up its terrorist activities in the middle east, supporting terrorist organisations carrying out attacks against Israel and developing its nuclear capacity, what plans does my right hon. Friend have to introduce sanctions against Iran and take up further punitive measures?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question. I am afraid that I will not be able to talk about future sanction designations on the Floor of the House as that would undermine their role.

Paul Blomfield Portrait Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab)
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13. What steps she is taking to support flood relief efforts in Pakistan.

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Steve McCabe Portrait Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)
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T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [R]

Amanda Milling Portrait The Minister for Asia and the Middle East (Amanda Milling)
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I will try to keep this brief, Mr Speaker.

Since our last oral questions, we have continued to stand up against Russian aggression. We have provided Ukraine with further political, military and humanitarian support. We established a sanctions directorate in the FCDO, doubling the number of staff we have working, to ratchet up the economic pressure on Putin’s regime. As we heard, we have committed to a £15 million package of support for Pakistan following the devastating floods that have hit the country. In addition, I co-chaired the UK-ASEAN ministerial meeting as an official dialogue partner, where we agreed a joint plan of action for the next five years.

Steve McCabe Portrait Steve McCabe
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Further to the comments from the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), it is two years since the introduction of the Magnitsky legislation, which was designed to deal with designated persons guilty of human rights violations and other serious offences. Given the continuing abuses in Iran, why has that not been used against a single prison governor, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander or senior member of the regime, and when will that be remedied?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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I am afraid that I cannot speculate about future sanction designations, but as I said in answer to an earlier question, we maintain a range of sanctions that work to constrain the destabilising activity of the IRGC.

Tom Randall Portrait Tom Randall (Gedling) (Con)
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T4. It was reported last week that the US coastguard cutter, the Oliver Henry, aborted her visit to the Solomon Islands. That followed a similar aborted visit by HMS Spey. In the light of those events, what assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the current state of UK-Solomon Islands bilateral relations? Furthermore, what steps are the Government taking to counteract communist Chinese influence in the south Pacific?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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The Solomon Islands Government are reviewing the protocols for receiving naval vessels into their waters. We hope that the review will be completed shortly, delivering a smooth and swift approval process. Last month, I visited Vanuatu and attended the Pacific Islands Forum. As a long-standing partner and friend, the UK is working to support peace and prosperity for the people of the Solomon Islands and across the Pacific.

Jessica Morden Portrait Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab)
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T2. On behalf of the Baha’i community and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association in Newport, which raised with me this summer the ongoing attacks on members of its faith groups, as well as those who have raised the attacks on Christian communities across the African continent, may I ask the Minister for reassurance that working with our international counterparts to tackle the persecution of religious minorities will be an important priority for the Department, whoever is in it?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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We strongly condemn the detention of the Baha’i community in Iran as well as the reports of forced closures of its businesses and land seizures. The persecution of religious minorities cannot be tolerated. I confirm that my colleague, the noble Lord Ahmad, issued a statement calling out Iran’s treatment of the Baha’i community.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con)
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T6. After the second world war, the biggest moral defeat visited on Soviet Russia was the creation of a successful, democratic, capitalist free state in West Germany. It cost billions of pounds under the Marshall plan. It will undoubtedly cost hundreds of billions of pounds to rebuild Ukraine, but what better way to defeat Russian aggression than to create a model free state in Ukraine in the future with a new Marshall plan?

GNI / ODA Target 2021

Amanda Milling Excerpts
Tuesday 19th July 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Written Statements
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Amanda Milling Portrait The Minister for Asia and the Middle East (Amanda Milling)
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In November 2020, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, then the Foreign Secretary, delivered a statement outlining that, due to the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on the economy and as a result the public finances, the UK would temporarily reduce the official development assistance (ODA) budget from 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) to 0.5% from 2021, returning to 0.7% when the fiscal situation allows. With the UK having experienced the worst economic contraction in almost 300 years, it is with regret that we have had to take this temporary measure.

The International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015 (“the 2015 Act”) envisages situations in which a departure from meeting the target of spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA may be necessary: for example, in response to

“fiscal circumstances and, in particular, the likely impact of meeting the target on taxation, public spending and public borrowing”.

The FCDO’s annual report and accounts 2021-2022, published today, report that the 0.7% target was not met in 2021, on a provisional basis, and a statement was laid before Parliament, as required by section 2 of the 2015 Act. This statement is in the same terms as that statement, which is published as an unnumbered Act Paper.

In a written ministerial statement on 12 July 2021, my right hon. Friend the then Chancellor of the Exchequer reaffirmed that the decision to reduce the ODA budget to 0.5% is temporary, and that the Government are committed to the 2015 Act and to return to spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA once the fiscal situation allows. Consistent with the Government’s fiscal rules, the Government commit to spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA when the independent Office for Budget Responsibility’s (OBR) fiscal forecast confirms that, on a sustainable basis, we are not borrowing for day-to-day spending and underlying debt is falling, as set out in July 2021.

Each year during this spending review period SR21 from 2022-23 to 2024-25, the Government will review, in accordance with the 2015 Act, whether a return to spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA is possible against the latest fiscal forecast provided by the OBR.

The House of Commons voted to approve this approach to returning to 0.7% on 13 July 2021.

[HCWS231]

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Amanda Milling Excerpts
Thursday 14th July 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Ministerial Corrections
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

When David Cameron was Prime Minister, he visited Sri Lanka in 2013. After that, the UK, with Sri Lanka, jointly moved a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council setting out a mechanism for resolving the legacy of the issues that we have heard about. Sri Lanka has largely ignored its obligations under that resolution since then, and it has not even paid lip service to them in the past three years. Will it be a requirement of the medium-term support that will be needed for Sri Lanka that it comes back into compliance with its obligations under the decisions of the UNHRC?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Hansard - -

Through our leadership in the UN Human Rights Council process, we have been encouraging Sri Lanka to respect democratic and international human rights standards as it makes its political transition. In March this year, the UK Government and our core group of partners led an ambitious new resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC.

[Official Report, 13 July 2022, Vol. 718, c. 350.]

Letter of correction from the Minister for Asia and the Middle East:

An error has been identified in my response to the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms).

The correct response should have been:

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Hansard - -

Through our leadership in the UN Human Rights Council process, we have been encouraging Sri Lanka to respect democratic and international human rights standards as it makes its political transition. In March last year, the UK Government and our core group of partners led an ambitious new resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC.

Sri Lanka

Amanda Milling Excerpts
Wednesday 13th July 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

(Urgent Question) To ask the Foreign Secretary if she will make a statement on the state of emergency declared in Sri Lanka.

Amanda Milling Portrait The Minister for Asia and the Middle East (Amanda Milling)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

We are closely monitoring the fast-moving and fluid political, economic and security situation in Sri Lanka. The Minister of State with responsibility for south Asia, Lord Ahmad, has engaged directly with our high commissioner and team on the ground. We encourage all sides to find a peaceful, democratic and inclusive approach to resolving the current political and economic challenges. Sri Lanka’s political and economic challenges should be resolved through an inclusive and cross-party process. Any transition of power should be peaceful, constitutional and democratic. I call on all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from violence.

Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

A state of emergency has been declared in Sri Lanka by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe after President Rajapaksa fled the country last night. That follows weeks of protests on the island, with inflation running at more than 50%, rocketing the price of everyday goods. The health system is on the verge of collapse due to a lack of medicine. There is no fuel for essential transport services and medical vehicles. There have been power cuts, school closures and we woke this morning to protestors overtaking the Prime Minister’s office, tear gas fired by police, a curfew imposed on the capital and the national TV broadcast suspended.

This is a crisis in democracy decades in the making. The world turned away when the Rajapaksa Government cluster bombed their own people committing genocide, murdered their journalists and enriched a small group led by one family. Their malign, dynastic control has stripped the country bare, leaving behind a broken nation on the brink of economic collapse. Sri Lanka is unable to buy essential goods from abroad and for the first time in its history it failed to make a payment on its foreign debt, a consequence of swingeing populist tax cuts at a time of economic instability—Tory leadership candidates beware.

An International Monetary Fund bailout is essential, but does the Minister agree that any financial assistance must go hand in hand with democratic and human rights reforms, in particular for the Tamil community which continues to fight for truth, justice and accountability as a result of the human rights abuses perpetrated at the end of the civil war by the outgoing Rajapaksa regime?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. As I say, we have been monitoring this very fast-moving and fluid political, economic and security situation. As she did, we urge a peaceful and democratic transition in line with the constitution and the rule of law. The Minister with responsibility for south Asia has been thoroughly engaged with the team on the ground in the high commission. I stress that he visited Sri Lanka earlier this year and met a range of civil society groups specifically to discuss the human rights situation. At that time, he met Ministers, including the President and the Foreign Minister, and urged them to take steps to improve human rights, and to deliver justice and accountability following the conflict. I reassure the House that we are closely monitoring the situation on the ground, which is very fast moving and fluid.

Matthew Offord Portrait Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I find it a pity that some people are seeking to use this urgent question to criticise the current Government in Sri Lanka. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) can chunter from a sedentary position, but the elephant in the room is not the governance of Sri Lanka; it is the decision in 2019 to become an organic country within 10 years. That has led to food shortages and overseas remittances not being returned. The problem in Sri Lanka is that there is no food for people to eat. The UK Government need to assist Sri Lanka and agencies to ensure that food, fuel and other supplies are provided. We need to come to a Commonwealth country in its time of great crisis, not make silly political statements.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. As I say, we are monitoring the situation very closely. In answer to one of the points both he and the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) made, economic support from the UK is forthcoming through multilateral institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank. The UK is the joint fifth-largest shareholder in the IMF and is a major contributor to the UN and the World Bank.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I now call the shadow Minister, Catherine West.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. I remind Members—I have said this before—that if they go over time, I will cut them off. Please stick to the allocated time. We grant urgent questions on those grounds.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for welcoming me to the Dispatch Box to answer this question. Frankly, I answer many questions on behalf of the Foreign Office, so it is not very unusual to find me at the Dispatch Box for an urgent question.

I am more than happy to respond to the hon. Lady’s letter after the debate. I will not go over many of the things that I have said before. I will say that there are a number of stories relating to the situation on the ground, and I do not want to speculate. The situation is fast-moving and fluid, and we are monitoring it very closely. The Minister responsible for South Asia, Lord Ahmad, has been working very closely on this matter and does raise human rights issues.

Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clearly, the dire economic situation forced by ex-President Rajapaksa and his outfit lies at the heart of what is going on in Sri Lanka. Given Sri Lanka’s indebtedness to China and the prospect of cheap fuel from Russia, does the Minister agree that the risk is that Sri Lanka stands every chance of falling within the maw of malign jurisdictions? Will she therefore do everything in her power to ensure that the International Monetary Fund is engaged to try to sort this out, particularly given that part of the issue would appear to be uncosted, unfunded, populist and inflationary tax cuts from 2019 that I am sure the IMF will take a very severe view of?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I reassure my right hon. Friend that UK economic support is forthcoming through multilateral institutions such as the IMF.

Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith (Stirling) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sri Lanka is a wonderful place with wonderful people, and I am sure that all our hearts go out to them during this terrible crisis, which, as Members have said, has been a long time in the making. A concerted international effort is needed to get through the immediate humanitarian crisis. The UN humanitarian needs and priorities plan has called for $47.2 million in short-term emergency aid. I appreciate that the Minister might not give us a number today, but will she confirm that the UK will contribute to that?

The President has fled, but he cannot flee accountability. Does the Minister agree that the President and all his officials who are complicit in acts of humanitarian abuses will and must be held accountable, and will the UK contribute to those efforts?

On the wider point, this situation was triggered by economics, as we have heard, with inflation at 54% last month and likely to be 70% this month. That is a terrible cost of living crisis for ordinary Sri Lankans, and it was triggered in part by unmanageable debt. The UK is in an important position in the IMF and the World Bank. This does not just apply to Sri Lanka; I fear that other countries are having trouble with unmanageable debt. What talks has the Minister had on that?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

On humanitarian support, I reassure the hon. Member that we remain very concerned about the impact of the economic and political situation on the humanitarian crisis. We are working with the United Nations and its agencies in co-ordinating their humanitarian needs and priorities plan.

On accountability, as Sri Lanka enters a new political settlement, the UK will maintain its advocacy of the importance of justice and accountability for alleged war crimes and human rights violations during the war. That remains crucial to building on peacebuilding efforts, supported through the United Nations Human Rights Council process, and for social cohesion.

Ed Davey Portrait Ed Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) on securing this urgent question. I agree that this horrible, appalling situation for the people of Sri Lanka has been brought about by the corruption of the Rajapaksa Government, their populist, unfunded tax cuts, their sky-rocketing defence expenditure, their draconian police powers and their cronyism and corruption, the likes of which we have rarely seen. I therefore urge the Minister to work with international partners for a full economic and political solution to support the democrats in Sri Lanka. Can that start with an economic package, with the IMF and others, so that we can give immediate support, and can that be followed by a political package that includes an international arrest warrant for President Rajapaksa and his cronies? Can that also include a demand for political freedom and respect for the rights and human rights of everyone on the island of Sri Lanka, including the Tamil and Muslim minorities?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I reiterate that the political and economic challenges should be resolved through an inclusive and cross-party process. We encourage all sides to find a peaceful, democratic and inclusive approach, and we work with our international partners on this matter. I have set out the economic support that we have provided through multilateral institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank and the UN.

Valerie Vaz Portrait Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is a large diaspora of Sri Lankan people who live here and who are desperately worried about their family back in Sri Lanka. The Minister has made no mention of the Prime Minister’s involvement. At the end of this urgent question, will she ask the Prime Minister to pick up the phone to the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and ask him to stop firing at innocent people?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I completely understand the point that the right hon. Lady is making about the fact that there is a diaspora here who are concerned about their families. I reassure the House that the Minister responsible for South Asia, Lord Ahmad, is in regular dialogue with the high commission and the team on the ground in order to keep an up-to-date view of the situation, which, after all, is incredibly fluid and fast-moving.

Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

When David Cameron was Prime Minister, he visited Sri Lanka in 2013. After that, the UK, with Sri Lanka, jointly moved a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council setting out a mechanism for resolving the legacy of the issues that we have heard about. Sri Lanka has largely ignored its obligations under that resolution since then, and it has not even paid lip service to them in the past three years. Will it be a requirement of the medium-term support that will be needed for Sri Lanka that it comes back into compliance with its obligations under the decisions of the UNHRC?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Through our leadership in the UN Human Rights Council process, we have been encouraging Sri Lanka to respect democratic and international human rights standards as it makes its political transition. In March this year, the UK Government and our core group of partners led an ambitious new resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thousands of Tamils in my constituency are deeply concerned. They look back to 2013, when the coalition Government supported the move to hold the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka; and they look back to the measures that the UK Government took, as part of the European Union, to reinstate the generalised scheme of preferences plus, and to give trade preferences back to Sri Lanka. The Opposition advised against it all at the time, saying that the Government in Sri Lanka were no more than a kleptocracy. That has now been proven. The Minister needs to outline the measures that she will take to support a new, strong, inclusive and democratic Government in that state.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I think I have been clear throughout that we encourage all sides to find that peaceful, democratic and inclusive approach to resolving the situation. I stress to the House that the Minister for South Asia has been doing exactly that. He has been calling for that approach, but also engaging on the ground with the high commission and through all his ministerial contacts.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Madam Deputy Speaker, I am sure that you, and indeed the Minister, would agree that dismissing any woman’s urgent question in this House as “silly” is disrespectful to the subject matter in hand, because we all recognise how serious the situation is.

--- Later in debate ---
Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member may chunter from a sedentary position, but the women are talking now. We are talking about human rights because many of us recognise that, as the United Nations has told us, potentially more than 100,000 Tamils were killed during the 26-year genocide. The Minister will know that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has been investigating the matter. Further to the question that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms) asked, there is due to be a report and further criticism after the resolution at the United Nations. Can the Minister tell us whether she has had any talks with the United Nations about whether the timetable will vary? When might our constituents finally see justice for the Tamil communities?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Given the situation on the ground, it is a very serious matter. We are seeing deeply concerning scenes, so I am more than happy to be at the Dispatch Box answering this question. As I have said throughout, we are concerned about the human rights environment in Sri Lanka. Our concerns are wide-ranging, from the harassment of civil society groups to the range of civilian functions being brought under military control, the increased anti-Muslim sentiment and the reversal of progress on post-conflict accountability and reconciliation. I reassure the House that we lead the way with the UNHRC process and that we encourage Sri Lanka to respect democratic and international human rights standards.

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As we have heard today, Sri Lanka is a Commonwealth country, and there are very deep community ties to many towns and cities across the UK; I pay tribute to the local Sri Lankan community in Berkshire. The Minister has committed to writing to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West). In her response, will she set out, in some detail, what the UK will do to support the IMF process; the bilateral aid of any type that we can offer; and our action on potential human rights matters?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I will, of course, write to the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) after this urgent question. What I would say is that we are well within the timeframe for responding to the letter itself.

Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The human rights abuses of the Sri Lankan police force have been well documented. It has been clear from their response to the widespread protests that their unacceptable treatment of people in Sri Lanka, particularly the Tamil community, and their draconian powers have been a key contributor to the current unrest. The UK Government have been funding police training in Sri Lanka, despite clear evidence of these abuses. Can the Minister confirm whether the police and security forces involved in the response to the protests have received funding from the UK Government? Will she commit to ending that funding as soon as possible?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The UK’s police training in Sri Lanka has focused on the role of women in the police service and on improving responses to sexual and gender-based violence. Police Scotland has confirmed that it will not seek to participate in any future programmes in Sri Lanka.

Sam Tarry Portrait Sam Tarry (Ilford South) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister agree that the UK Government must play a role in the peaceful transition to a democratically elected Government in Sri Lanka who are inclusive and who allow for the self-determination of all peoples on the island of Sri Lanka? Will the UK Government make representations to the effect that the new Sri Lankan Government must be formed with a new constitution that is pluralist and ensures long-term stability, prosperity and self-determination for all communities on the island? Crucially, once that Government have been formed, they must ratify the Rome statute so that accountability for the mass atrocities and the alleged genocide can finally be agreed.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

As I have said a number of times, we encourage all sides to find a peaceful, democratic and inclusive approach. We urge that the transition be in line with the constitution and the rule of law.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Ind)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It has been reported that doctors in Sri Lanka have had to resort to using social media to source critical medicine and equipment. Will the UK Government provide any support for the nation’s medical community to help ensure that Sri Lankans can access urgent medical treatment when it is needed?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I would like to reassure the hon. Lady that we are providing humanitarian support for those in Sri Lanka.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her response. What aid can the Government make available to those who rely on tourism for their income and who are now starving? That seems to be the story at the moment. What contact has been made to ascertain whether non-governmental organisations or churches can help? I know of many church groups in my constituency that have the capacity to distribute aid to those who are not involved in the unrest but who are watching their children starve because of what is happening on the streets of Sri Lanka.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Minister for South Asia met a number of civil society groups and NGOs earlier in the year, when he visited Sri Lanka.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

What the Minister may not know is that Tory MP after Tory MP has taken trips funded by the Rajapaksa Government to this very troubled island. As a result, there has always been a striking lack of criticism of the Rajapaksa Government on human rights and governance. I do hope that the Minister will be able to tell the House that the Foreign Office had absolutely no involvement at all in the escape of Mr Rajapaksa from Sri Lanka. Can she also reassure the House that if the people of Sri Lanka want him back to face trial for corruption and poor governance, Britain will play its role in helping to get him back from the Maldives?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I am really disappointed by the nature of that question. I am here at the Dispatch Box because what we want is a peaceful, democratic and inclusive approach; we talked earlier about people who are worried about their family in Sri Lanka. We have been calling for restraint and for refraining from violence, so I am just not going to accept that question.

Global Vaccine Disparities

Amanda Milling Excerpts
Wednesday 13th July 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Amanda Milling Portrait The Minister for Asia and the Middle East (Amanda Milling)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) for securing this debate and to all hon. Members who have contributed. I will try to respond to some of the right hon. Gentleman’s points.

According to recent research by Imperial College London, the global roll-out of covid vaccines has averted up to 20 million deaths, but progress has been uneven. Hon. Members are absolutely right to want the global roll-out to go further and faster, because too many people remain unvaccinated, particularly in lower income countries and marginalised communities and among those in the grip of humanitarian crises.

The Government’s priority is to end the acute phase of the pandemic by ensuring that those most at risk are fully vaccinated and enabling societies to live with covid. Everyone in this House and throughout the country can be proud of the role the UK has played in developing and rolling out covid vaccinations. UK scientific excellence and co-operation has made a huge contribution to collective knowledge about the virus, including how to treat it and vaccinate against it. Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert and her team created and developed the game-changing Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, backed by the UK Government. The Government also backed research into several other successful vaccines that were produced at unprecedented speed, including through our £250 million support to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, otherwise known as CEPI.

We have also played a big role in the global vaccine roll-out, which has been the fastest ever against a single disease. Furthermore, we are a founder and one of the largest donors to COVAX, with our commitment of £548 million to its advance market commitment. That has helped COVAX to deliver more than 1.5 billion vaccine doses to 146 countries and territories worldwide, including 87 low and middle-income countries.

To help to address the supply shortages last year, we used our presidency of the G7 to make a collective commitment to provide 870 million doses to poorer countries by the end of 2022. Collectively, the G7 has exceeded that commitment by making more than 1 billion doses available. Nationally, we have donated more than 85 million doses to nearly 40 countries and made a further 15 million available. We have done all we can to meet our commitment to share 100 million doses. In 2021, the UK donated 30.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, all of which were charged at cost. The OECD Development Assistance Committee will issue guidelines on the reporting of vaccine donations in 2022 later this year.

Through this immense collaborative effort, the world now has enough vaccine supply to enable countries to meet their immunisation goals; indeed, global vaccine supply now far outstrips demand. The key challenge is ensuring that developing countries can effectively administer the vaccines they have. We are working with the covid-19 vaccine delivery partnership and other international partners to tackle delivery bottlenecks and improve vaccine uptake to ensure that covid-19 vaccines reach the most vulnerable. Since January, the vaccine delivery partnership has accelerated progress towards national vaccination targets in more than half of the 34 countries with the lowest vaccination rates, with a strong focus on priority groups.

Community confidence and easy access are critical to successful roll-outs. We are using our development budget to encourage uptake and improve delivery. For example, our Nigeria health programme is supporting delivery and using evidence to build vaccine confidence in five of the poorest states. We have also provided £20 million to the Hygiene and Behaviour Change Coalition, which builds vaccine confidence through community engagement, working with health workers, religious leaders and other influential and trusted voices.

Just as the UK’s scientists and Government made a huge contribution to the first wave of vaccines, we are now working with partners such as COVAX and CEPI to ensure affordable and effective second-generation vaccines and make them available to low and middle-income countries, so that the world can respond rapidly to any new variant of concern. As part of this work, CEPI is supporting the Cambridge-based company DIOSynVax to develop a new pan-coronavirus vaccine to offer broader protection.

This year, we hosted the global pandemic preparedness summit, which raised more than £1.2 billion for CEPI’s work, including a UK Government pledge of £160 million. That money will fund the development of vaccines against new health threats—including possible new covid variants—in 100 days from any outbreak.

Rolling out covid vaccines puts huge pressure on weak and overstretched systems, so we are working with COVAX, the WHO, UNICEF and other partners to support countries in developing sustainable approaches to managing covid and other diseases. For the long-term control of the virus, it is critical to integrate covid-19 vaccination tests and treatments into primary healthcare systems, supported by strong and resilient health systems. The UK Government use our development budget to support countries to strengthen their health systems and work towards universal health coverage. We are also a leading supporter of Gavi’s work on restoring and strengthening immunisation and health systems for the 2.7 million children in the poorest countries who missed out on vaccinations in 2020 because the pandemic prevented them from getting their jabs.

Covid-19 has caused more than 6.3 million reported deaths, and the WHO estimates that there have been up to 15 million excess deaths in total around the world. It has had hard, far-reaching economic, social and health consequences, so stopping the next potential pandemic is vital. That will require a concerted and co-ordinated international effort. In addition to our investment in CEPI, the UK Government have pledged £25 million to a new World Bank-hosted fund for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. That will help to ensure more equitable access to vaccines, tests and treatments when a future threat to global health emerges.

On TRIPS, the UK Government continue to recognise the importance of the intellectual property system in incentivising innovation, research and the development of new medicines, vaccines and medical technologies. We welcome the consensus-based outcome on the TRIPS agreement reached at the WTO ministerial conference. We believe that decision will make it easier for developed countries to choose to export life-saving covid vaccines while preserving the incentive that intellectual property rights provide to invest in innovation.

John McDonnell Portrait John McDonnell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister will soon run out of time, so will she address the issue of support for the WHO’s strategy of rolling out hubs? Will the Government think again?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for putting his case forward, but I have been clear about the UK’s position.

The global vaccine roll-out is pivotal to ending the acute phase of the pandemic and transitioning to living with covid. The points that have been made about delivery and distribution are live issues, and we are working hard with our international partners to resolve them. The Government are also investing in the development of second-generation vaccines, pandemic preparedness and the strengthening of global health systems. That comprehensive approach is the only way to strengthen global resilience to covid and other future health threats.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered disparities in the global distribution of vaccines.

Hong Kong Anniversaries

Amanda Milling Excerpts
Wednesday 29th June 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Amanda Milling Portrait The Minister for Asia and the Middle East (Amanda Milling)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) on securing this timely debate and thank him for all the work he does to highlight the erosion of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong. I am grateful to all Members for their contributions, and I hope I will be able to address some of their questions.

The 25th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong is a really important moment of reflection. On 30 June, 25 years ago, the UK and China both implemented their agreement to transfer sovereignty of Hong Kong peacefully. In that agreement—the Sino-British joint declaration—China promised to preserve Hong Kong’s distinct “social and economic systems” and “high degree of autonomy”, and the “rights and freedoms” of its people, for at least 50 years. Those included freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. I will come on to talk about those.

For more than two decades following the handover, those rights and freedoms were broadly upheld, underpinning Hong Kong’s prosperity and way of life. Over the past three years, things have changed. China has disregarded its commitments under the joint declaration and Basic Law, and taken deliberate actions that undermine the rights and freedoms that it promised to uphold. The UK is clear that China remains in an ongoing state of non-compliance with the joint declaration.

Tomorrow is not only the 25th anniversary of the handover. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green said, it also marks two years since the imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong by Beijing. The national security law was imposed in 2020, following mass protests in Hong Kong. Those protests were in response to proposed extradition legislation, which was a move by Beijing to exert increasing control and erode promised rights and freedoms.

The national security law is sweeping in its nature and is a serious breach of the joint declaration. It has been used by the Hong Kong authorities, under the direction of Beijing, to stifle opposition and criminalise dissent. The crackdown that accompanied the national security law and its pervasive, chilling effect has meant that alternative voices in Hong Kong’s executive, legislature, civil society and media have been all but extinguished. Independent NGOs, trade unions and human rights organisations that have not been supportive of the Government’s agenda have been forced to disband or leave. Direct and unwarranted action against independent media outlets has continued to erode Hong Kong’s free press, as we have been hearing.

Most of the legislators who represented Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition have been detained or have chosen to leave Hong Kong. With Beijing assuming almost complete control of Hong Kong’s law-making process, the judiciary is now being required to enforce Beijing’s laws and the values they contain. It was against this backdrop that the President of the Supreme Court, in consultation with the Foreign Secretary and the Deputy Prime Minister, decided that it was no longer tenable for serving UK judges to sit on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal. I have been asked by Members from across the House about the non-permanent judges who remain in the court of final appeal who are retired from judicial service. It is down to them to make their own personal decisions on their continued service in Hong Kong.

In terms of arrests—

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend just touched on the retired judges and then moved on. What is the Government’s opinion on the continued service in Hong Kong of those who are not serving judges here? Do the Government think they ought to step aside, or do they have no opinion on the matter?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention. As I have said, the decision of the President of the Supreme Court in relation to the serving judges was that it was no longer tenable. As for those retired judges, it is for them to make their own personal decisions as to whether they feel they can continue to serve.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Hansard - -

As I say, I think it is a decision for them; but for serving judges, the decision has been made that it is not tenable.

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

All I am asking for is a view. I know that the Government cannot direct them, but it is important that Government have a view. The Government had a view about existing judges. Surely the same view must exist in this case, because the same principles are at risk. If that is the case, I urge my right hon. Friend to say when she gets back up: “We think that they ought not to serve, but it is their decision.” Could she possibly stretch herself to that?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Hansard - -

I think, by virtue of the fact that the Government supported the decision that it was untenable for serving judges, that that is a clear position from the Government; but it is down to the retired judges to make their own decisions.

Individuals such as Jimmy Lai, Andy Li and Cardinal Zen have been arrested and are facing prosecution. We have spoken out against these arbitrary arrests and raised our concerns with the Hong Kong Government and Beijing authorities, and we will continue to do so.

Many colleagues have raised issues relating to media freedoms. Freedom of the press is explicitly guaranteed in the Sino-British joint declaration and the Hong Kong Basic Law, and is supposedly protected under article 4 of the national security law. We always defend media freedom and the right of journalists to do their job. As the House knows, the UK responded rapidly and decisively to the imposition of the national security law.

Within 20 days, we extended our arms embargo on mainland China to Hong Kong and indefinitely suspended our extradition treaty with it. We also launched the bespoke BNO immigration route, which many Members referred to, to enable British nationals to come to the UK. That reflects our historical and moral commitment to the people of Hong Kong who chose to retain their ties to the UK by taking BNO status at the point of handover in 1997.

I am very pleased to see the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) in his place—a Westminster Hall debate would not be quite the same if he were not present—and I will address his specific questions about numbers. Since the launch of the route, the UK Government have approved more than 110,000 applications from BNO passport holders to live in the UK. As of 31 March 2022, there have been 123,400 applications, and 113,742 have been granted. We have helped those who have moved here to integrate fully and feel safe in their communities, including by providing about £43 million of support through the welcome programme.

The hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) and others touched on international engagement. The UK has spearheaded international efforts to call out China’s systematic undermining of Hong Kong’s rights, freedoms and autonomy, and to raise wider human rights concerns. Yesterday’s G7 leaders’ communiqué called on China to honour its commitments made in the joint declaration and the Basic Law, which enshrine rights, freedoms and a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong. That follows the selection of the new Hong Kong Chief Executive in May. Alongside G7 partners, we called on China to act in accordance with the joint declaration and other legal obligations. A global diplomatic effort by the UK helped to secure the support of 47 countries for a further critical joint statement on Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet at the UN Human Rights Council. The Chinese and Hong Kong authorities can be in no doubt about the seriousness of our concerns and those of the international community.

Nearly everyone, if not all Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, mentioned sanctions. I noted the report issued by Hong Kong Watch in April, and I recognise the strength of feeling in this House about Hong Kong. Some Members believe that we should impose sanctions on those involved in the erosion of rights and freedoms in the city. The Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020, introduced by this Government, enable us to sanction individuals responsible for serious human rights violations, although it is not appropriate for me to speculate on who may be designated under the sanctions regime, as that could reduce the impact of the designations. I assure the House that we keep all potential designations under close review, and we are guided by the evidence and the objectives of our sanctions regime.

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith
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I am grateful to the Minister for addressing that part of the debate. What does she believe the United States knows, and we do not, about the individuals it has sanctioned? Why is it that, as a co-guarantor of the treaty, we have not sanctioned a single person responsible for these abuses? Will she answer those two questions, even if she is not prepared to say whether we will sanction anybody?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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I am aware of the US sanctions, and I assure the House that we keep the sanctions, the evidence and potential listings under review. I cannot speculate here today on future sanctions and designations, because that would reduce their impact.

Fabian Hamilton Portrait Fabian Hamilton
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I absolutely and fully understand why the Minister cannot speculate about individuals, but will she reassure Members that she will keep the use of those sanctions as something that could be introduced if the situation gets worse?

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Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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I reassure the House that we keep all the evidence under review for possible future designations. I am not going to speculate, but right hon. and hon. Members should be reassured that we keep everything under very close review.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara
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What evidence would the Government require, that they do not currently have, that human rights are being abused and fundamental rights undermined in Hong Kong?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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As I said, the sanctions regime enables us to sanction individuals responsible for human rights violations. I am not going to speculate, but I reassure the House that we take this matter seriously and keep it under very close review.

The hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) is no longer in his place, but he made a point about businesses. The Government monitor the operation and function of the financial sector and its participants on an ongoing basis, across a wide range of matters, but it is for the businesses themselves to make their own judgment calls. We do not comment on individual companies.

China’s increasing international assertiveness and the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific will be among the most significant geopolitical and geoeconomic shifts of the 2020s. It is precisely because we recognise China’s influence in the world that we expect China to live up to its international obligations and responsibilities.

As we reach the 25-year anniversary of the handover, our long-standing ties to Hong Kong and its people are just as strong as they were in 1997. We share history. We have enduring cultural, economic and social links. We want Hong Kong to succeed and thrive. This Government believe that the most effective path to long-term prosperity for Hong Kong is through respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law and genuine political participation by the full breadth of Hong Kong’s society. We must protect what remains of Hong Kong’s unique social, political and economic systems. That is why we will continue to bring our international partners together to stand up for the people of Hong Kong, to call out the violation of their rights and freedoms, and to hold China to its international obligations.

Women’s Rights to Reproductive Healthcare: United States

Amanda Milling Excerpts
Tuesday 28th June 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
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(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if she will make representations to the Government of the United States of America about ensuring that women’s rights to access reproductive healthcare are protected as part of her Department’s work on promoting human rights internationally.

Amanda Milling Portrait The Minister for Asia and the Middle East (Amanda Milling)
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Access to abortion services in the United States is a matter for the US Supreme Court and for authorities in individual states. The US Supreme Court opinion of 24 June in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organisation does not make abortion illegal across America. Rather, it removes federal protection for abortions, hence allowing individual states to determine their own laws. Thirteen states have so-called “trigger laws” that will automatically outlaw abortion, seven of which are already active. We understand that in total 26 states are likely to ban or restrict abortion, or have bans that predate Roe still technically on the books. As the Prime Minister has said, this is not our court, it is another jurisdiction, but this is a big step backwards—I share his view. The UK’s position is that women and girls in the UK should have the right to access essential health services, including those relating to sexual and reproductive health, which includes safe abortion care. More broadly, the UK’s approach is to support sexual and reproductive health and rights, including safe abortion for women and girls around the world.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson
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I thank the Minister for her reply. It is because of our special relationship with America and the domestic and international importance of the Supreme Court decision that I made the application for an urgent question. I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing it.

The United States of America leads the world in promoting human rights. Hillary Clinton famously said:

“Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”

America’s leadership around the world means that the overturning of Roe v. Wade sends a stark message that women’s reproductive rights, which are fundamental to their physical, psychological and social wellbeing, are not worth protecting. In effect, the state has taken control of women’s bodies and denied them bodily autonomy. As we all know, restricting access to abortion does not remove the need to end a pregnancy. One in four women in the United States will need an abortion in their lifetime. The decision will result in more dangerous abortions, a rise in maternal deaths and the criminalisation of women and clinicians. Those from marginalised communities will be most affected, as many will not be able to travel to states that will continue to provide that essential reproductive healthcare.

It is also clear that there is growing concern that the decision may lead to the overturning of rights in other areas, including access to contraception and same-sex relationships. Does the Minister believe that the decision is consistent with the declaration on the elimination of violence against women, of which the US is a signatory? Can the Minister confirm that the Government will continue to support and fund reproductive healthcare programmes, including access to terminations, around the world in light of the decision? With far-right American groups already organising on rolling back the Abortion Act 1967 in this country, the decision will give their work renewed impetus. Will the Government look again at protecting women attending abortion clinics through the introduction of buffer zones, as proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq)? Finally, will the Government confirm their commitment to women’s rights to access reproductive healthcare, including abortion? If the Government plan to change human rights legislation in the UK, will they completely safeguard the rights of women to bodily autonomy?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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I reiterate the point that I made in my reply: the decision was made not by our court but by one in another jurisdiction. As the Prime Minister said at the weekend—and I share his view—it is a big step backwards. The UK is proud to defend and promote universal and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights, including safe abortion, which are fundamental to unlock the potential agency and freedom of women and girls. We will continue to press for strong and supportive language in the UN and other international forums.

Maria Miller Portrait Dame Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con)
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Experts have denounced the US Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade as a dangerous roll-back of human rights and a monumental setback for the rule of law and gender equality. As we are co-signatories to the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, which includes sexual and reproductive health, can my right hon. Friend outline what she plans to do to hold the US Government to account at the UN, and can she confirm that the UK Government would view any change as a breach of its inalienable international obligations?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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The judgment will be distressing for women in the US. As the Prime Minister set out, and as I have said, we also see this as a big step backwards. We are proud to promote and defend universal comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights, and we will continue to push for supportive language in international forums.

David Lammy Portrait Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)
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I am sure the whole House is grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) for asking the urgent question and to you, Mr Speaker, for granting the application.

The great story of the 20th century is how different groups, who were historically denied their rights, won those rights for the first time through protest, organisation and democracy. Those groups included working people, and our party is partly a consequence of that; ethnic minorities, which brings me to the Chamber today; LGBTQ people, in the week in which we celebrate Pride; and women. Heroic leaders of the feminist movement, such as Emmeline Pankhurst, secured women’s right to vote after two major concessions, in 1918 and 1928. For decades, women could choose which political party to support, but did not have the freedom to choose what to do with their own bodies. It was a story of women criminalised, back alleys and a black market, illegal abortions, dirty implements, disease, prison and death. It is a plight that affected women across the globe, certainly in our own country, and it affected poor women particularly, including my late mother.

It was not until 1967 that women in Britain won the right to a safe and legal abortion. In 1973, the United States followed. It is an abomination that, almost 50 years later, 36 million women in 26 American states were stripped of their right when Roe v. Wade was overturned. In America, an organised hard-right and global political movement is seeking to overturn rights hard won in the 20th century. That is happening in our country too. In 2019, 99 Westminster MPs voted to keep abortion illegal in Northern Ireland, and the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) says he is “completely opposed” to abortion.

Will the Minister confirm that the UK will make representations at the United Nations? The UK is a signatory to the universal declaration on human rights, so why has the Foreign Secretary said nothing about this issue? Will the Minister confirm that as the United States Agency for International Development surely departs—

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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I allowed the UQ, because I thought it was important, but the right hon. Member should not take advantage of the rules. Two minutes means two minutes. I keep telling both sides, but Front Benchers get carried away. I have all these Back Benchers, who matter to me, that I need to get in. I remind the shadow Secretary of State that I expect him to stick to two minutes, and just ignoring me does not help.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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The Prime Minister was clear about his view at the weekend, including in an interview on CNN. It is clear where we stand on this. In terms of Northern Ireland legislation, the issue is a matter of conscience, and colleagues have an opportunity to vote based on that. The Prime Minister’s view is clear, and it is one that I share.

Jackie Doyle-Price Portrait Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con)
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It is a failure of politics in the United States that, after all these years, it still relied on Roe v. Wade to guarantee abortion rights. The failure is to continue to allow the debate to be seen as an ideological pro-choice or pro-life position. We are not in a strong position to lecture the United States on that point, because we have done much the same ourselves. Is it not time that we led by example and reviewed our abortion laws, which are now more than 50 years old, and based them on a safe framework for terminating pregnancy in the interests of women, rather than their being characterised by absurd moral extremes?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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In terms of our domestic policy on abortion, legislation in this House is a matter of conscience. Our policy is to ensure that women can access health services in a safe and secure way. That remains a key priority. We will work closely with abortion providers and other stakeholders on the provision of those services.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

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Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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I despair at the overturning of Roe v. Wade, because the undermining of women’s reproductive rights anywhere is a threat to women everywhere. The truth is that we cannot ban abortions—only safe abortions. I welcome the abortion care summit held by the First Minister earlier this week, and I pay tribute to Back Off Scotland, to Green MSP Gillian Mackay and to COSLA for their work in securing buffer zones to protect everyone accessing healthcare and staff from the hostile anti-abortion activists who have been causing such distress outside healthcare facilities, such as the Sandyford and the Royal Infirmary in my constituency.

What is the Minister specifically doing to prevent the creeping influence on these islands of US-based extremist groups, such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has been described by the Southern Policy Law Centre as a hate group, but which was shockingly given a platform by BBC Scotland on several occasions this week?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As we have said, it is important that legislation is in place enabling women to have an abortion. Women should have control over their own bodies. That is why we have the legislation we have in this country.

Danny Kruger Portrait Danny Kruger (Devizes) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I recognise the degree of distress and concern felt by many Members in the House over the Supreme Court’s decision. The fact is, though, that I probably disagree with most Members who have spoken so far on this matter. They think that women have an absolute right to bodily autonomy in this matter. However, I think that, in the case of abortion, that right is qualified by the fact that another body is involved. [Interruption.] We can disagree on that question. [Interruption.] We can disagree on that question, but I offer to Members who are trying to talk me down that this is a proper topic for political debate. My point to the Minister on the Front Bench is that I do not understand why we are lecturing the United States on a judgment to return the power of decision over this political question to the states—to democratic decision-makers—rather than leaving it in the hands of the courts.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. As I say, this is a matter for the US. It is not within our jurisdiction, but the point is that we can rightly have a debate in this House and vote according to our own conscience.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) asks why we are discussing this decision, as it is a political debate. Fundamentally, for many of us, this is a human rights issue. Roe v. Wade gave American women a constitutional right to have an abortion. Currently, here in the UK, only women in Northern Ireland have their constitutional right to an abortion protected as a human right. But we can change that, and that is what this place and this urgent question can do today. I ask the Minister a direct and simple question. If an amendment is tabled to the forthcoming Bill of Rights to protect a woman’s right to choose for every single woman in the United Kingdom—by those of us who recognise that it will be a conscience issue, and therefore a free vote—will she join me in voting for it?

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Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Actually, I wish to pay tribute to her for everything that she does to promote women’s rights, and for the work that she has done in relation to abortion services and the right to have an abortion. I will not pre-empt what will be in future legislation, but I will say that, as she well knows and as we have discussed, these are matters for our conscience.

Caroline Dinenage Portrait Dame Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con)
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For me, the former First Lady, Michelle Obama summed this up in her open letter when she said that, when we do not understand our history, we are doomed to repeat its mistakes. As ever, it will be the young, the poor and the vulnerable who will be the biggest victims of this terrible, terrible decision. Our Prime Minister has said that it is a backward step, but to me it is a case of actions speaking louder than words. Surely there is more that we can do to use our so-called special relationship with the United States to push back against this decision, which is against reproductive rights, against women’s rights and against human rights.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. As I have said on numerous occasions and, indeed, as the Prime Minister has said, and as she rightly pointed out, this is a backward step. Over the weekend, the Prime Minister also said that it was a matter for the US courts and for individual states. None the less, at the same time, our personal views on this matter will have been heard loudly and clearly.

Sara Britcliffe Portrait Sara Britcliffe (Hyndburn) (Con)
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I politely say to my right hon. Friend that this decision will not stop abortions. All it will do is make it very unsafe for women to go through that process, and we will end up with more deaths. Will she please tell the House what conversations she has had with international colleagues on this matter and on women’s rights to reproductive healthcare in general?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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My hon. Friend raises an important point around safety and the importance of safe abortions. I can reassure her that we push for strong supportive language in relation to sexual and reproductive health and rights at the UN and in other international forums.

Carla Lockhart Portrait Carla Lockhart (Upper Bann) (DUP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know the Minister will be aware that abortion is not and has not ever been deemed a human right in any binding international law. In fact, almost the opposite is the case. Some internationally binding treaties reference a right to life, such as article 6 of the international covenant on civil and political rights, which states:

“Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law.”

Part 5 of the same article specifically excludes pregnant women from the death penalty. Does the Minister not agree that giving legal protection to the unborn is, arguably, a clear recognition of the unborn life? America has done just that, and I welcome the bold and courageous decision.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question, but I am afraid that I do not agree with the decision that the US courts have made, and I share the Prime Minister’s view that it is a step backwards. However, importantly, in this place, we have a debate on these matters and we are able to vote according to our conscience.

Rosie Duffield Portrait Rosie Duffield (Canterbury) (Lab)
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We are all agreed, as we have just heard, that actions speak louder than words. Can the Minister explain how Britain can continue to stand up practically for the rights of women and girls globally in light of the £1.9 billion cut to women’s aid programmes, or will she commit to reversing that cut today?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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We have had many debates about our official development assistance spend. I can reassure the hon. Lady that, as she will be aware, the issue of women and girls is a key priority for the Foreign Secretary, as set out in the international development strategy last month, and sexual and reproductive health and rights are a key priority within that.

James Daly Portrait James Daly (Bury North) (Con)
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The decision over Roe v. Wade is deeply distressing to women in America and throughout the world. The health consequences are absolutely appalling. It is an attack on human rights and an attack on women’s reproductive rights. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to speak with our friends in America to put forward our very strong views as a Government that this decision is not acceptable, and what more can we do to support women’s rights across the world?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The Prime Minister was pretty clear over the weekend about our views on the matter. He recognises that this is a matter for the US courts, which is not our jurisdiction, but is very clear about his view, which I share, that the move is a step backwards. I reassure the House that the UK has a long-standing commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights across the globe. We also have a proud record in terms of defending and promoting universal and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Daisy Cooper Portrait Daisy Cooper (St Albans) (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The House will know that 50 new clinics have been targeted by protesters in England and Wales since 2018. Will the Minister commit to speaking to her counterparts in the Home Office to legislate for the protection of those visiting an abortion clinic?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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As I said earlier, here in the UK we as women have the choice over our own bodies, should we want or need to have an abortion—often in very difficult circumstances. It is important that women are able to access those clinics.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

In the past seven years that I have been in Parliament, I have joined with many across the House to ensure that a woman’s right to choose is not just protected but stands alone as a right rather than a defence to a criminal conviction. I agree with the Minister that this House stopped scrutinising the United States of America back in 1776, and to those who are trying to give oxygen to this debate, I would say that my daughters have asked me whether it could happen in this Parliament; whether there is a danger that we will reopen the debate. That gives the message that somehow we are going down the same path as the United States. We are not going to do that. Can the Minister remind this House that we have had majorities in the hundreds not only to protect a woman’s right to choose but to liberalise it further, and that we will not give up on that matter?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. We have had many debates and many votes in this House on this matter. This is about a woman’s right to choose, and that is something that this House has supported on numerous occasions with large majorities, as he says. This place has been clear that women should have the right to choose in this country.

Karin Smyth Portrait Karin Smyth (Bristol South) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Many women on the Labour Benches have worked with our sister parties across the world for many years to advance women’s reproductive rights, because they are fundamental to our economic rights. May I press the Minister on her response to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield)? The £1.9 billion-worth of cuts do indicate the Government’s approach to those rights and to women’s programmes, so will the Minister seriously urge her colleagues to look again at those cuts? This is a globally financed attack on women’s rights, and we need to respond in kind.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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We have had many debates in this House about ODA. It was the impact of the pandemic that forced us to make tough but necessary decisions. I remind the hon. Lady and the House that in the international development strategy, women and girls are a key priority for the Foreign Secretary and sexual and reproductive health and rights are an important area.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The decision by the Supreme Court is utterly woeful. It is a disgracefully retrograde ruling. Unfortunately, we do live in a world where we can no longer legislate for other parts of the world—we have not done that for several hundred years—but we can use our influence. As my right hon. Friend the Minister pointed out, the position in this country is that women and girls should have full access to sexual and reproductive health. What are we going to do to ensure that the rest of the world knows that our position is the one that should be available to the majority of women and that the one taken by the United States is an outlier of the worst kind?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

As my hon. Friend rightly says, we do not have the ability to legislate for other countries or jurisdictions, but I can reassure the House that this is an incredibly important matter and SRHR is something that we continue to promote and defend, particularly at the United Nations and in other international forums.

Liz Saville Roberts Portrait Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lefarydd. Yesterday, the UK Government confirmed that they would undermine both devolution and Welsh workers’ rights by scrapping the Trade Union (Wales) Act 2017. We in Wales have taken steps to protect women’s access to healthcare by making permanent the covid measures that allowed women to take early medical abortion tablets at home. In England, women’s access to such services has been reduced by allowing such provisions to expire. Will the Minister guarantee that this Government will never interfere with women’s reproductive rights in Wales?

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Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I think the right hon. Lady will find that Parliament voted in favour of the amendment to the Health and Care Bill to make the temporary approval of home use of those pills for early medical abortions permanent across England and Wales.

Valerie Vaz Portrait Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank Mr Speaker for allowing this urgent debate and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) for securing it. I want to follow up on the question about buffer zones, which the Minister failed to answer; given that they are about to be introduced in Scotland, could she say what the Government’s position is on that?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

This is a matter for the Home Office but, as I understand it, they keep it under review.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
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Like many, I feel personally targeted by this attack on women’s bodily autonomy and deeply distressed by the impact it will have on women’s health in the United States. It is in part the consequence of a right-wing Government politicising women’s bodies in the pursuit of so-called culture wars, and I hope the Minister will take note. The ruling also means that whether a woman is pregnant becomes a matter of criminal liability. Therefore, insight into that, through health data, location data, what a woman buys, where she shops and who she visits, may become evidence for the prosecution. Yet that data is freely trafficked by multinational companies. Will the Minister set out how she will address that and the conversations she will have with her American counterparts to prevent that from happening? She looks confused, but this is a real issue for women, who will now be criminalised if they are pregnant and miscarry.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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Let me be clear: I understand the distress about this decision, but it is a matter for the US courts and individual US states. We have no jurisdiction over them. However, we see this as a backwards step and both the Prime Minister and I have been clear about that.

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin (Cardiff North) (Lab)
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My absolute solidarity is with women across America as their rights are stripped from them, but this is a wake-up call to women across the world that our rights are under attack—including the rights of victims of rape and sexual assault. As many more millions of women feel oppressed and marginalised, can the Minister confirm that she will prevent moves to replicate that decision here and instead seek to protect and enhance access to abortions across the UK and elsewhere, so that all women can make their own free choice?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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As I have set out, here in the UK we are able to make choices around our own bodies, but let me be clear: the UK is proud to defend and promote universal and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights. We promote that and push for strong language at the UN and in other international forums. I am proud of our record in this area.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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Does the Minister agree that our special relationship with the United States of America does not give us special interference rights to tell American people when they can or cannot terminate life in the womb of American women? Does she agree that the extreme abortion laws in the United States of America have seen the end of 62 million lives, and that they are now subject to state democratic controls and not to one single group of judges?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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The key point is that this is a matter for the US court and for individual US states. I have been clear on my own position in seeing this as a backward move, but it is a matter for the US.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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I hear the comments that it is not for us to interfere in US affairs, but thank God the US interfered in our situation with Ireland. This decision is relevant because it sends an important message to women and girls across the world. Women’s rights and human rights are under attack. I understand the Minister saying that she thinks it is a backward step, but will she be absolutely clear? Does she condemn the decision?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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As I have said on several occasions—I am not sure how many different ways I can make the point—this is not a matter for us and we have no jurisdiction. However, I have been clear that it is not a decision that I agree with. I see it as a backward step. The Prime Minister was clear on that at the weekend as well.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
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I agree with the Minister that this is a backward—a retrograde—step. Perhaps it is an opportunity for us to take a forward step and show leadership by looking at our own laws. At the moment, abortion is legislated for under a law that was brought in 50 years before women even had the vote—the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. What conversations is she having with her colleagues in Government about decriminalising abortions in this country?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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We have a proud record in this country of being able to stand up for women’s rights and of having debates on all matters relating to abortion. As we have heard, we have debated, and voted, on a number of occasions in relation to abortion legislation in this country.

Claire Hanna Portrait Claire Hanna (Belfast South) (SDLP)
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I thank the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) for co-ordinating this urgent question and echo the solidarity with women in the US, particularly those with trigger laws who are worried about the consequences for their own lives and where the ideology of the Supreme Court goes next. It is not often that I commend this Government, but I want to acknowledge the positive action to address the lack of access to abortion services in Northern Ireland after MLAs—I was one of them—failed to address this issue in meeting the needs of women and failed to address consistent legal rulings. Will the Minister commit the Government to continuing to end the postcode lottery that exists for services in Northern Ireland?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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As the hon. Lady will be aware, in July last year the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland directed Northern Ireland’s Department of Health to ensure the full provision of abortion services by no later than March this year.

Barbara Keeley Portrait Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab)
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I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) for securing this UQ and the Speaker for granting it. Constituents have written to me to deplore the treatment of women in the United States who need an abortion and with concerns about the fact that laws banning abortion also impact the safe obstetric and gynaecological care needed by pregnant women with some complications. In the UK, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists guidelines on miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy are based only on medical need. That will not be the case in the US states that ban abortions. My constituents ask that FCDO travel advice be updated to include advice regarding abortion and women’s health for pregnant women from the UK who might be affected if they travel to the States when their healthcare might now be compromised by the change in law on abortion.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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Our consular team is looking at this matter in terms of providing updated advice.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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The striking down of Roe v. Wade is a tragedy with a global impact for women and girls seeking abortions and reproductive healthcare. It cannot be sane or sensible that in the US women’s reproductive organs are more heavily governed than guns. The creep of the religious right, its funding and its misinformation is seeping into other areas across the world in terms of equalities, same-sex relationships and trans healthcare. Instead of a Prime Minister who panders to their rhetoric, will the Minister and her Government do as our First Minister has done and be outspoken by joining groups such as Back Off Scotland to challenge this right-wing creep and put in buffer zones?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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As I mentioned in a previous answer, this is a matter for the Home Office and it keeps it under review.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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I am heartbroken and furious at the backward decision in overturning Roe v. Wade in the US. As the Minister says, it is a decision for the United States of America, but it is an attack on women’s rights, an attack on human rights, and an attack on all our rights. I stand in solidarity with the women and girls in the US, in Northern Ireland and across the globe who are fighting for access to reproductive and sexual healthcare. With that in mind, what impact assessment has she made of what global funding streams will be impacted as regards accessing healthcare for women all over the world?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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There are a couple of points in the international development strategy that specifically focus on women and girls—that is one of the four key priorities—but also on global health, and SRHR is a key part of that.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I would defend the rights of the woman but especially the rights of the unborn child. Some in this House tend to disregard that. Will the Minister outline whether she has any discussions regarding the provision of healthcare in terms of funded IVF, funded endometriosis treatment and funded access to birth control, or does she consider these to be outside the scope of the FCDO Minister dealing with one of our closest allies? Will she join me in condemning the acts of violence and death threats that have been made in the United States of America?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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The FCDO’s remit in this regard is international, and we have a very proud record in terms of universal and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we pay a lot of attention to this and raise it in international forums.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
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Rape victims, women facing a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy and children who are victims of sexual abuse are all among the women who will now be forced to carry a child to full term. This Government are never slow to condemn religious fundamentalism when it is among those countries that we consider to be hostile to us. Would it not be all the more powerful if the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and indeed the Minister at the Dispatch Box were to condemn in far stronger language to one of our allies the rise in religious fundamentalism and the impact it will have on people many, many miles away who desperately want to know that they have someone on their side?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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I have been pretty clear on my own personal opinion on this court judgment, but it is a court judgment in the US, which is not within our jurisdiction. The Prime Minister was very clear at the weekend on his view in seeing it as a backward step. One of the interviews that he gave was on CNN, so I think he has been pretty clear on our views.

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry (North Down) (Alliance)
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One consequence of the US Supreme Court decision is that more women will have to travel from one state to another to access an abortion. Here in the UK, due to the absence of fully commissioned services in Northern Ireland, we still have women having to travel from Northern Ireland to England and Wales to access their reproductive rights. This has a particularly serious effect on people who are in poverty or in coercive relationships. In that respect, will the Minister work with the Northern Ireland Secretary to ensure that these services are properly commissioned by no later than the end of July?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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As I said in answer to an earlier question, in July last year the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland directed the Health Department in Northern Ireland to ensure full provision of abortion services there.

Oral Answers to Questions

Amanda Milling Excerpts
Tuesday 21st June 2022

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
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T5. Last week marked the 15th anniversary of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which has caused a humanitarian crisis in the region. Will the Minister condemn the ongoing blockade and outline what steps the UK is taking to try to bring it to an end?

Amanda Milling Portrait The Minister for Asia and the Middle East (Amanda Milling)
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As it happens, after this session I will be travelling to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which will obviously be a good opportunity to explore a number of different issues and our bilateral relationship with Israel.

Gavin Williamson Portrait Sir Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con)
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T7. Across the horn of Africa, we are seeing one of the worst droughts in 40 years. Coupled with the tragedy of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that is pushing millions of people into starvation. What more can we do to help on the ground and save lives? [R]

--- Later in debate ---
Meg Hillier Portrait Dame Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)
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A recent report by the Hong Kong Watch non-governmental organisation found that five Hong Kong officials and six lawmakers complicit in the ongoing human rights crackdown currently own property in the UK, so will the Government now commit to using the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022 to sanction these Hong Kong and Chinese officials?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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We remain deeply concerned about the appalling human rights violations in China and about the deterioration of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong. We keep all evidence on potential designations under close review, guided by the objectives of the relevant sanctions regime, but it is not appropriate to speculate about future sanctions and designations as to do so would reduce their impact.

Caroline Dinenage Portrait Dame Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con)
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It is vital that we do not forget the painful lessons we learned in the wake of Hurricane Irma in 2017, a key component of which is always to have a naval presence in the region ahead of hurricane season. Will the Minister please assure me those preparations are already being made?

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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The Department co-ordinated a cross-Government hurricane exercise earlier this month as part of its review of plans to ensure the UK provides a rapid and effective response this year. Officials also hosted a pre-hurricane season conference in May. Having visited Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, I totally understand the importance of hurricane preparedness. I reassure my hon. Friend that I met the Minister for the Armed Forces last week to discuss how our Departments can work together on an effective and appropriate response in the event of a major disaster.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Select Committee, Sarah Champion.