The hon. Lady asks a theoretical question. What I can tell her is that the British Government are working together with our allies through the United Nations, and our friends and contacts throughout the region, to advance the situation in the way I set out in my statement. That is to try to ensure that there is a humanitarian pause, which enables us to get the hostages out and to get aid and humanitarian relief in, leading to a sustained ceasefire. That must be the right thing to seek to achieve, and that is what the Government will continue to attempt to do.
It has been suggested that if what Israel has done in Gaza becomes the accepted standard of self-defence, that core principle, which is meant to protect us all and is at the core of the international world order on which democracies are founded, is greatly undermined. How does the Minister respond to that?
An unprecedented set of calamities has taken place. I reiterate that Israel has the absolute right of self-defence but must remain within international humanitarian law. It is important to hang on to those principles as we navigate this catastrophe.
My constituent Amani Ahmed arrived here from Gaza for her PhD just days before the outbreak of the war and is now desperately trying to bring her husband and three children to the UK. UK Visas and Immigration advises travelling to the nearest visa application centre but that is impossible as they are unable to leave Gaza. Can the Minister urgently intervene to ensure that Amani’s family are able to join her safely in the UK?
Respectfully, we have not left them in limbo. The situation is extremely difficult. It is difficult because of the depredations of—let me be very clear—the tyrannical regime of the Taliban; that is why we are in this situation. We have relocated more than 21,000 people, and we continue to work at pace with our mission in Pakistan and elsewhere to ensure that these people, despite the local troubles and difficulties, get the support they need.
I talk to Martin Griffiths, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, almost every day, and on Friday I attended a meeting with development Ministers convened by Samantha Power, the head of the United States Agency for International Development.
As I said earlier, in a fast-evolving situation during a conflict such as this, it is extremely difficult to conduct an up-to-date assessment of the ability of medical facilities in Gaza to maintain operations. We do of course want civilians and civilian infrastructure to be protected wherever possible, and we have communicated that to Israel, but let me say again that protecting them is made infinitely more difficult in these circumstances, because Hamas and other terrorist organisations specifically embed themselves in civilian infrastructure. That is a long-standing habit of such organisations.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s recognition of the need to exercise caution before leaping to conclusions, given the difficulty of verifying information in situations of crisis, but will he commit himself to personally making contact with different social media and technology companies, urging them directly to help prevent the spread of disinformation and prevent any information war relating to this horrific situation?
I will not commit myself to doing that personally, but I know that the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport takes this issue extremely seriously. We are, of course, taking action to try to improve professionalism on social media platforms, and while I personally will not be making that contact directly, I know that it is being done, and will continue to be done, by the Government.
I thank the right hon. Member for a really valuable intervention. She reminds me of the startling numbers that I was given in 2017, at the first COP I attended, by a climate scientist called Dirk Messner. He described how, if we continue on the trajectory that we are on now, by 2050 1 billion people will be on the move because of displacement by climate change. A current figure is that more than one third of people on the move right now are on the move as a result, directly or indirectly, of climate change. Therefore the right hon. Member makes a very valuable point.
Not only has the UK made a massive contribution to the destructive impacts of climate change through its emissions, but it has benefited from the competitive advantage that its early adoption of fossil fuels and industrialisation brought and it continues to profit from the extraction of oil and gas from the North sea. The UK therefore has a moral obligation to recognise this historical responsibility and lead by example in addressing loss and damage. That cannot be denied or ignored. As we prepare to embark on the critical climate conference that will be COP28 in Dubai, it is paramount that the UK takes a bold and principled stance in addressing the devastating impacts of climate change, and encourage similar action from others as we collectively tackle the biggest global challenge facing the planet today.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on managing to get this debate on such an important issue. Does he agree that this Government’s credibility on climate finance will continue to be fundamentally undermined until the UK’s official development assistance budget is restored to at least 0.7% of GNI and the cuts are no longer threatening the many projects currently supporting vulnerable communities?
I thank my hon. Friend for a really valuable point. When I go out in the world today and speak to organisations and bodies in both Europe and the US, they are, frankly, disappointed at the UK’s position in recent years on the reduction in relation to GNI. It is a shame—it is our collective shame—and it needs to be altered radically. And for sure, money for loss and damage should not come from existing ODA budgets, which have already been shrunk.
To understand the imperative for loss and damage funding, we need to examine the profound, real-life and often irreversible impacts of climate change. At various COP meetings that I have attended, I have heard harrowing testimonies from citizens of small island states whose homes are disappearing underwater because of climate change. I recently watched devastating footage from the Solomon Islands, where sea level rise rates have been nearly three times the global average. Data shows that sea levels around the islands have risen at the alarming rate of between 7 mm and 10 mm a year—well above the global average of 3 mm a year. As a result, many coastal areas have been inundated, displacing communities and leading to the loss of arable land. Indeed, whole islands have tragically vanished beneath the rising waters.
The disappearance of islands such as Kale, Zollies and Kakatina is not only a stark statistic but a poignant testament to the reality of climate-induced loss and damage. I say this to the Minister: just imagine for a second that it was the United Kingdom that was facing disappearing—the entire nation disappearing under the waters that surround us. We would be acting very differently from how we are now. Those communities in the Solomon Islands have lost their homes, their ancestral lands and their way of life. The impact of climate change in the Solomon Islands extends beyond the numbers and statistics, reaching into the heart of the nation’s communities.
In east Africa, agriculture, reliant on timely and predictable rainfall, is a cornerstone of the economy; the region is highly vulnerable to climate shocks such as droughts and floods. Widespread crop failures and significant loss of livestock have led to vast economic losses that destroy livelihoods and deepen poverty and inequality. One person is likely to be dying every 28 seconds because of acute hunger and famine-like conditions as a result of climate change. This has been accelerated by an unprecedented series of failed rains, causing prolonged droughts, or places being hit by destructive flash floods, devastating people’s crops and livelihoods. Emergency humanitarian aid is simply not enough; the humanitarian system is not appropriate to address the increasing impacts of climate change. A loss and damage fund is needed, and needed now.
In Malawi, floods and droughts are on the increase. Events include Cyclone Ana, which in January 2022 affected almost 1 million people, of whom 190,000 were displaced, and Cyclone Freddy, which displaced more than half a million people, destroyed crops and livelihoods and caused almost 700 deaths. The World Bank estimates that climate change could reduce Malawi’s GDP by up to 9% by 2030, which is only seven years away. That means that, despite continued work and increasing resilience to climate-induced shocks in Malawi, the impacts of climate change continue to erode development gains, particularly for vulnerable populations.
I recently learned of the impact of initial loss and damage funding from the SNP Scottish Government to projects in Malawi to support safe housing construction and provide psychological support for victims. This is a small-scale community-led initiative that needs to go much further and be supported by a global fund. Funding the loss and damage fund is not a matter of charity; it is an act of justice.
The SNP Scottish Government have embedded the concept of climate justice in their international development framework, launching a climate justice fund in 2012, which is due to increase by £24 million over the next three years. That was the first of its kind in the world. Crucially, it paved the way for others when it again became the first in the world to commit funding to loss and damage at COP26 in Glasgow. The whole world was there to listen and the whole world wanted to see that movement forward.
The Scottish Government’s role in providing funding for loss and damage is characterised by deep commitment to climate justice, concrete financial contributions, active participation in global climate efforts and a dedication to innovative and collaborative solutions. Scotland’s global climate leadership credibility is reinforced by its domestic action. It is concerning that the UK’s reputation could be undermined by the current Government’s decision to grant hundreds of new oil and gas licences and, I am afraid, the Labour party’s weakness in watering down its £28 billion green prosperity plan.
Scotland is now seen as a trusted global partner when it comes to climate loss and damage. I hope the Minister will agree with me that the Scottish Government should be empowered to do more on the international stage, rather than be restricted or put back in their box, as some of his Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office colleagues have suggested. Because where Scotland has led, others have followed: Denmark, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, New Zealand and Canada have all now pledged loss and damage funding.
The Scottish Government did not hang about and wait for others to act first. They did not create excuses to give themselves reason to delay making a commitment. They saw the urgent need for this funding and acted upon it. Although these funds are small, they are already making a difference, both in practical terms and in how they have prompted others to follow suit. I sincerely hope the UK Government will see the value in that and act without unnecessary delay.
Although Scotland has contributed to important progress, it is not happening fast enough globally. The UK and other Governments around the world have a responsibility to come together and ensure that the practicalities of the loss and damage fund are agreed at COP 28, and implemented as soon as possible thereafter. At present, there has been no agreement on what the financial size of any loss and damage fund should be and how it should operate through the Transitional Committee agreed at COP 27, which has been tasked with establishing the institutional arrangements and has been working over the past year.
Several areas of contention are still being debated and need to be resolved before the committee’s plan is considered at COP 28. One of those is whether the loss and damage fund should be housed within existing climate finance mechanisms, or operate as an independent entity. The Alliance of Small Island States has called for a
“fit-for-purpose multilateral fund designated as an operating entity of the UNFCCC Financial Mechanism”.
I stumbled across that fairly mighty quote. It has been echoed by other vulnerable states and civil society that wish to see a flagship dedicated fund. Let me make this point clear. This cannot be about relabelling existing money, a point the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) made earlier. Loss and damage funding needs to be new money going to new places—the places already experiencing the devastating effects of climate change—now.
Furthermore, if we are to embed the concept of climate justice properly in our approach, the voices of developing and vulnerable states must be listened to and acted upon, equalising power in this currently unequal relationship. Loss and damage funding should be tailored to their needs, rather than a top-down approach from those who do not share their experiences. It is also incumbent on developed countries to ensure that they do not divide consensus on the need for a loss and damage fund.
Existing climate finance arrangements are based on a 1998 list of 155 developing countries and 43 contributors. It has been suggested that not all developing countries should be eligible for support, as not all of them are particularly vulnerable and in need of urgent loss and damage funding. It has also been argued that countries such as China, India and countries in the middle east should be expected to contribute to the fund and that there should be a narrower definition, with recipients restricted to those countries with the least capacity to cope and adapt, alongside their susceptibility to harm and to be adversely affected.
While that does not seem overly unreasonable, many developed countries have not lived up to their climate finance obligations, and it is incumbent on them to ensure that these are met before expecting others to do so. This debate should not be used as a convenient excuse to stall progress on the establishment of the fund. Given that the UK is one of the 24 members of the Transitional Committee, it needs to be a champion for the dedicated fund, for firm commitments from developed countries and for transparent governance ahead of the committee presenting its plans at COP28. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s detailed statement of where he stands on this later in the debate.
Climate finance agreed under the United Nations framework convention on climate change was intended to provide new and additional resources for lower-income countries to tackle the additional challenges brought by climate change. Despite that, the UK has failed to provide climate finance in addition to its ODA budget. The current commitment of £11.6 billion in international climate finance from 2021 to 2026 is welcome. I would like to be absolutely assured that that will continue, but it is under pressure due to the UK Government’s reckless decision to cut their ODA budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of GNI at a time of escalating need—a point that has already been made.
There is concern that the UK will seek to delay climate finance commitments due to these significant aid cuts. Will the Minister confirm that that will not be the case? I am also eager to hear from the Labour Front Bench on this. Back in July, on reports that the commitment was being dropped, the Labour party refused to comment on whether it would commit to the £11.6 billion funding pledge, so I hope to hear whether the Labour party will obediently do as it is told by the Tories and follow every fiscal decision made by them, or will it recognise the severity of the climate crisis and ensure the pledge is met.
The UK Government must ensure that the money attributed to loss and damage is new and additional to existing climate finance commitments, and not diverted from existing ODA budgets. Climate change is a global crisis that requires a global response—one that should not come at the expense of other essential development initiatives. Current estimates place the cost of loss and damage in developing countries alone at approximately half a trillion dollars by 2030. Christian Aid has estimated that the UK’s fair contribution to this fund could be 3.5%, equivalent to between $10 billion and $20 billion. It would simply not be possible to absorb that in the current climate finance commitments or to cut other aid spending further to fund it.
To raise the necessary funds, we must explore innovative financing mechanisms, which must be based on the polluter pays principle, as touched on earlier. Those responsible for a significant share of emissions must bear a corresponding share of responsibility for the damage this is causing. It is not unreasonable to look to the fossil fuel industry to pay a proportionate share of those costs, particularly given the level of profit and excessive profits they are making and the subsidies they receive. The figures required to cover the costs of loss and damage are high, but they are dwarfed by the billions in subsidies that the fossil fuel industry receives and the profits it makes.
To understand that, the excess profits of the five largest oil and gas companies alone amounted to $134 billion last year, and the United Nations Development Programme estimates that global fossil fuel subsidies are now at a staggeringly $423 billion a year. If we put those figures together, we are into more than half a trillion dollars per year, showing that there is no shortage of money, rather it is concentrated in the wrong hands.
Analysis by Christian Aid has shown that £6.5 billion could be raised by a wealth tax to support loss and damage. New forms of wealth taxes that are broad based and that take into account different forms of wealth could help significantly in ensuring that money is available for loss and damage. If both the Conservative and Labour parties are serious about adequately tackling this global climate emergency, they need to take bold action, instead of being hand in hand in timidly ruling these options out.
Will the Minister commit to ensuring that loss and damage finance is provided in the form of grants, not loans? Vulnerable nations and communities should not be burdened with debt or struggle to recover from the ravages of climate change. The UK Government’s contribution to loss and damage funding should not be merely seen as a financial transaction; it should be a declaration of values, a commitment to climate justice and a recognition of the profound responsibility we bear in the face of this global crisis. We are truly in this together, and we cannot walk away now.
To conclude, I have made it clear that we have a moral and historical obligation, as well as an obligation in our own self-interest, to act in the face of this climate emergency. When we talk about loss and damage funding, we are talking about humanity’s response to one of the greatest challenges of our time. The urgency of this crisis demands swift and decisive action, and the financial commitments made by developed nations must reflect the severity of the situation.
It is our duty to ensure that those commitments are translated into tangible support for those vulnerable communities most affected by climate change. Without such support, we will see the climate crisis create resource scarcity and poverty, cause disease and displacement, and lead to conflict and, as we touched on earlier, mass migration. That will affect all of us in this Chamber. It will affect our children and our children’s children’s children to come. It is in our enlightened self-interest to ensure that loss and damage funding is there as an essential lifeline for those who find themselves on the frontlines of a crisis that they did not create.
It is our collective responsibility as good global citizens to ensure that we act boldly and decisively, in order to make sure that the most vulnerable receive the support they need to rebuild their lives and to make sure that by co-operating together we protect all of our futures.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. Although Members may not have used all the time available, all the contributions have been substantial and this has been a worthwhile debate, which I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) on securing. I recognise his commitment to, and passion for, climate justice over many years. I think he has the distinction of attending the most UN framework convention on climate change conferences of parties of any serving MP—if not, he is certainly close to the record—so he speaks with an experience and authority to which we all, especially the Minister, ought to listen.
We have just returned from a summer recess during which the UN Secretary-General said:
“The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived”.
Only a very small minority of people anywhere in the world would now be prepared to argue that the extreme weather being experienced across the globe is not evidence of the impact that human-driven carbon dioxide emissions since the industrial revolution have had on the planet’s climate. Sadly, some of that minority still inhabit the Conservative Back Benches—although none of them has been brave enough to come to this debate to articulate that—and that has regrettable consequences for Government policy.
As every Member who has spoken in this debate has said, the reality is that climate change poses an existential threat—not necessarily to all human life, but certainly to the lifestyles to which we in the west have become accustomed and to which we encourage others elsewhere in the world to aspire. In 2015, when my hon. Friends and I were first elected, we would come to Westminster Hall debates and say that climate change threatened to undo the progress that had been made towards meeting the millennium development goals and driving down global poverty. Eight years later, we can say with certainty that climate change is undoing that progress and is in fact driving up hunger, poverty and disease in many parts of the world. That is why addressing the issue of loss and damage is so important.
The concept of loss and damage and the need for additional finances to repair loss and damage caused by climate change is not new; it dates at least to the early 1990s when the Alliance of Small Island States first brought it to the table of the existing UN framework. The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) spoke powerfully about the threat that small island states face. They are among the first to experience the impact of climate change and face the prospect of their islands being literally wiped off the face of the earth by rising sea levels or becoming uninhabitable as marine ecosystems break down. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee West asked the Minister to imagine if this country was threatened with being swamped—it is! Not far away, there is a tidal barrier that increasingly cannot cope with the tidal surges and rising sea levels, so this country is going to be affected. Low-lying areas of this island will be affected by climate change.
We all need to act, and that is what loss and damage is about. It recognises that some of the impacts of climate change will be literally beyond repair and certainly beyond prevention and mitigation. That in turn means that support for people and places affected by loss and damage also has to go beyond existing support. If climate change is undoing progress towards the sustainable development goals and poverty reduction, by definition the support to make up for it will have to be additional to what has already been pledged or assessed as required.
In 2022, the Vulnerable Twenty, or V20, which is a group of the Finance Ministers of countries vulnerable to climate change, estimated that
“Climate change has eliminated one fifth of the wealth of the V20 over the last two decades: initial evidence shows that the V20 would have been 20% wealthier today had it not been for climate change and the losses it incurred for poor and vulnerable economies.”
Therefore, there is an important economic argument. Free marketeers and capitalists who see trickle-down economics as the rising tide—ironically—that floats all boats should be paying attention to this. It reminds me of Lord Stern’s description of climate change in 2006—17 years ago—as
“the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen.”
So let the free marketeers come up with their solutions if they want to—some of that has been addressed, and we will come back to it. It is crucial to understand that this issue must not be ignored. A price has to be paid to deal with the impact of climate change. The question is, who will pay it and how?
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) made important points about the role of future generations and our responsibility towards them. He was right to say that those who have done the most to cause climate change, and who have benefited from the extraction of the earth’s resources and the pumping of pollution into the atmosphere, now have a moral responsibility to support those who are most affected by climate change. That is the concept of climate justice, which has been adopted by the Scottish Government, and many other Governments and climate campaigners around the world, but the UK Government conspicuously avoid even acknowledging it, let alone accepting or committing to it. We will wait, I suspect again in vain, to hear the Minister say that the UK Government accept that climate justice is an important concept that exists and ought to be lived up to.
The important symbolism around the concept of reparations and reparative justice should not be allowed to get in the way of the urgent need to mobilise new additional funding to support countries and communities experiencing loss and damage from climate change. One key point that everyone has made today is that that funding has to be additional, which is also why we have to consider new and innovative ways of leveraging funding. Private sector companies, particularly those that make vast fortunes from the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels, clearly have to be a source, either through direct contributions to global funds or through taxation or levies at a country or international level. That is the “polluter pays” principle, which was raised by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and others who have spoken. There have been long-standing calls for a financial transaction tax, or Robin Hood tax, which could raise additional capital for fighting climate change.
It is particularly important that funding is disbursed in the form of grants and not loans; the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) made that point. There might be other ways, including insurance-based models—there is a lot of innovative thinking in this area—but we must not drive developing countries even further into debt.
Indeed. Those most likely to be affected by the adverse impact of climate change are already burdened by debt, which cripples their economies. My hon. Friend agrees that loss and damage funding should be additional and in the form of grants, not loans, but does he support the proposal that finance should be mobilised through the cancellation of existing debt? The SNP has spoken about that for a long time.
T9. Every year, 430 million tonnes of plastic are generated. Thankfully, many of the world’s Governments have committed themselves to creating a global plastics treaty, which could cut production by a huge 80% by 2040. The timeline for that treaty is short. What are the UK Government doing to encourage the big plastic polluters to sign up and meaningfully enact its provisions?
Before I answer fully, I place on record the gratitude that I and others have for the leadership that my right hon. Friend showed at a vital point in time, ahead of the explicit, most recent escalation of aggression from Russia towards Ukraine. I know that Ukrainians hold him, as I do, in very high regard because of the decisions that were made.
NATO’s position on Ukraine is unambiguous—that the invitation has been put out for Ukraine to join NATO. I think it is incredibly important that that is not taken off the table. Of course, Russia’s aggression into Ukraine was the provocative action. Ukraine’s desire to join NATO was an entirely understandable defensive posture, because of that threat from the east.
T3. Will the Foreign Secretary explain exactly how on earth he thinks the diplomatic staff now to be overseeing meetings between Scottish Ministers and Ministers from other countries and Governments will prevent discussion of whatever topics his Government decide are forbidden? Given that foreign direct investment growth was so much higher in Scotland than the rest of the UK last year—14% against the rest of the UK’s 1.8% —why does he think that such draconian interference is useful or necessary?
I would have thought that Scottish Ministers were better served ensuring that the people of Scotland are supported, rather than seeing health outcomes head in the wrong direction and seeing tax rates head in the wrong direction. I can assure the hon. Member that every one of the diplomatic staff in the FCDO promotes Scottish interests overseas. I am very proud of the work that our officials do from Abercrombie House, which is part of our UK headquarters in Scotland. I can assure her that, when it comes to promoting Scotland’s interests overseas, we continue to do so at all times.
Forgive me, Mr Gray. I am sure I have just highlighted something that is missing but will arrive eventually.
First, I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller) and the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (Sir James Duddridge) for securing this debate about Commonwealth Day. This year marked a significant milestone for the Commonwealth and the UK’s international relationships, and a new phase for the UK’s diplomacy and soft power. As we recognise the first Commonwealth Day since Queen Elizabeth’s passing, we have an opportunity to reflect on the impact of the Commonwealth, to acknowledge the damage of British colonial history and, I hope, to begin to forge a path to more conscious, thoughtful and honest relationships with Commonwealth countries.
I want to dwell a little on some of the contributions that have been made. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East spoke of the work of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association branches in areas such as election observation and on issues relating to women and girls. The hon. Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) highlighted how the Commonwealth can foster closer cultural links, language ties and economic opportunities—and, indeed, transport links between Manchester and Mumbai in the future. He also touched on some of the concerns that I will focus on in my contribution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) spoke eloquently of the injustice of frozen pensions, which affect many people from Commonwealth countries. She has pursued that matter for some years, and I am sure those people are grateful to her for bringing it up today. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) described the Commonwealth as a family—indeed, as a “gathering of the clans”. He welcomed the fact that this debate allows us to debate the truth, highlighting the economic and trade benefits. He also mentioned the positivity of the Commonwealth games in bringing nations together in their love of sport, and I very much agree with him. The Commonwealth games in Glasgow were a tremendous occasion for us all in Scotland.
We have witnessed some historic changes across the Commonwealth in the last few years. Barbados became a republic in 2021, and Jamaica has served notice that it intends to do likewise by 2025. In Australia, the arrival of the new young Queen in the ’50s seemed to herald a new start, and the Commonwealth of Nations was a very appealing concept after the misery of two world wars, but the gloss of those early days has faded. Republican voices in Australia, New Zealand and Canada have strengthened, particularly following the increase in the knowledge and understanding of the effects of colonisation on indigenous people. The Jamaican Government have announced plans to seek compensation for an estimated 600,000 Africans who were shipped to the island for the financial benefit of British slaveholders.
There are many now who feel that this reckoning with history should be embraced, paving a new way forward for the Commonwealth based on respect and a real acknowledgement of the past. The SNP’s policy is to join the Commonwealth once Scotland is independent again, because we want to co-operate with the rest of the world, not be apart from it. At the same time, we sincerely wish the Commonwealth to meet this moment of reflection and change positively and constructively.
Although one welcomes the royal family’s attempts to address Britain’s bloody imperial past—King Charles, when he was prince, attended a ceremony in Barbados in 2021 and spoke of the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains British history, and Prince William spoke out against the injustice of the Windrush scandal—there is still a very long way to go to improve relationships and outcomes with Commonwealth countries.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech and raising important points. On atrocities, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, which took place in 1919 in Punjab, impacted a lot of people at the time, and there is a justice campaign in this country and India. Does she agree that there should be a formal apology?
I am not familiar with the complete details of that situation, but those are exactly the sorts of issues that Commonwealth countries should be discussing among themselves. If a country is involved in something that it needs to apologise for, it should absolutely do so.
The UK Government could start by acknowledging Britain’s complicity in historical crimes, and by seeking to make amends for its role in the slave trade and its frankly shameful legacy of many colonial atrocities around the world. The SNP is aware that the UK and Scotland must do more to address our colonial past. We all need to have an open and honest conversation about goods acquired via colonialism, as well as about the systematic and structural issues that perpetuate ongoing inequality.
Ignoring the crimes of the past undermines our leadership and our ability in the present to ensure the Commonwealth lives up to what are perceived to be shared values. As my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw said, 10 years ago the Commonwealth adopted a charter full of laudable aspirations—justice, democracy and human rights—but it has much to do to ensure adherence to those principles. For example, in 2013, President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka hosted a Commonwealth summit at a time when his Government stood accused of presiding over war crimes.
The human rights picture across the Commonwealth varies greatly. Most Commonwealth states—32 out of the 56—criminalise same-sex acts between consenting adults. Many such laws were introduced in the colonial era. As of September 2020, only 70% of girls in the Commonwealth attended school. That is a shocking figure, and we must do much more to address it. I hope the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East will touch on that in his closing remarks. He mentioned the CPA’s involvement in that, and I would be interested to hear more about that. Only 20% of parliamentarians across the Commonwealth were female in 2018. Of course, the figure is just 34% in this place, so we do not have much to brag about.
Something else that we cannot brag about is the fact that, regrettably, as Commonwealth chair-in-office between 2018 and 2022, the UK Government wasted a key opportunity to recentre human rights and respect for international law. They refused to make covid-19 vaccines more readily available for the global south by protecting intellectual property barriers, they concluded that there was no evidence of institutional racism in the UK via the Sewell report, and they cut international development spending by at least £4 billion in 2021-22. It seems to me that a nation that genuinely cared about the Commonwealth in the truest sense of the word—the commonweal; the happiness, health and safety of all the people of a community or nation or, in this case, nations—would immediately reverse the damaging cuts, including those inflicted on people living in extreme poverty in Commonwealth countries.
Last year, the UK handed over the Commonwealth chair-in-office role, as I think has been mentioned, to Rwanda, despite some very grave concerns about Rwanda’s human rights record, governance structures, reports that the Rwandan Government are arming the M23 militia group—the March 23 Movement—in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and widespread gender-based violence in those countries. The UK Government introduced the immoral and illegal Rwanda scheme. The SNP opposed the Immigration Bill when it went through Parliament and also opposed the anti-refugee Nationality and Borders Bill, as well as the damaging Rwanda proposal that the Bill would enable. We will do the same with the Illegal Migration Bill. Criminalising people is not the answer. Such policies have no place in a tolerant society that respects international law, particularly one that frequently proclaims itself to be a shining example of such qualities.
The UK Government could follow the lead of the Scottish Government and establish a comprehensive loss and damage policy, prioritising vulnerable regions in the Commonwealth that are already suffering devastating effects from the climate crisis. It is vital to ensure much greater investment in renewables and to avoid any new fossil fuel projects, which threaten our path to net zero—the precarity is underlined by the fact that 49 out of the 56 Commonwealth countries border the sea. That would demonstrate genuine commitment to the theme of Commonwealth Day 2023, which is to forge
“a sustainable and peaceful common future…especially through climate action”.
Just days ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change delivered a “final warning” on the climate emergency with the publication of the final part of its sixth assessment report. A significant proportion of the 3 billion people whom the IPCC says are highly vulnerable to climate breakdown are based in Commonwealth countries. The report shows that the 1.5° limit is still achievable—just—but only if action to address the crisis is fast-tracked by every country and on every timeframe. We need to go further and faster, and the UK needs to take much more of a lead.
King Charles’s Commonwealth Day message highlighted the Commonwealth’s
“opportunity, and responsibility, to create a…durable future…in harmony with Nature”
“secure our unique and only planet for generations to come.”
The IPCC report is a stark reminder—as if one were needed—that this window of opportunity is rapidly closing. I am aware that climate change was on the agenda last week in London at the Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting, with an emphasis on building on the outcomes of COP27, but we know that 1.5° will not be met under the final agreement with no deal on reducing fossil fuel usage. Therefore I urge the UK and the Commonwealth to now recognise the opportunity and responsibility that King Charles mentioned, before it is too late.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) on securing another debate on this issue. He has advocated relentlessly and resolutely for Jagtar since his constituent’s detainment over five long years ago. I am really pleased to hear the praise from across the House for his dogged pursuit of this case on behalf of his constituent. I also pay tribute to MPs across the House who have raised Jagtar’s case and to the tireless advocacy of campaigners and Sikh communities across these islands, including in my constituency, which is home to Edinburgh’s gurdwara.
The UK Government must recognise the strength and breadth of feeling on this issue. A Scottish and British citizen is the victim of a grave injustice. We cannot let up until Jagtar is safely home. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire noted, the UN has confirmed that Jagtar has been detained arbitrarily with no legal basis or justification and recommended that the appropriate remedy would be his immediate release. Transparency, due process and the rule of law have been absent in this case. That is a view held by the UN as well as various legal experts.
My hon. Friend eloquently cited the Indian constitution and appealed to the Indian Government to live up to its ideals. I sincerely hope that they will heed his call. He asked the Minister a straightforward question: will the UK Government call for the release of Jagtar, as they have done for other UK citizens arbitrarily detained? The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) stated that was his view, and it would be good to hear whether that was the official FCDO position, too.
Many of the representations I have received from constituents share my view, which is respect for India and its independent Government, respect for its constitution, and a natural concern about any form of terrorism in India or anywhere else, which has to be tackled. The concern that my constituents have expressed time and again—I have also related it in the Chamber before—is the lack of openness and transparency in the whole process. Just to add to what the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) has said, from the earliest stage most were simply asking for adherence to due process. That clearly has not been the case, and that is why there is such concern around this case. The concern also relates to the openness and transparency of our own Government and their involvement in this case, too. The appeal today is for openness, transparency and due process, and I think that would result in the release of Jagtar immediately.
Perfectly put. I commend the right hon. Member for that contribution and agree with him. I have to say I was disappointed by the contribution of the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). As my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) said, I think he has rather missed the point of today’s debate, so I will focus on those parts of his contribution that I agreed with.
The hon. Member said that justice delayed is justice denied, and I agree with that. He said that keeping Jagtar in prison without pressing charges is unfair and unjust, and he has acknowledged that Jagtar’s friends and family continue to be deeply concerned about his welfare. I also welcome the fact that he asked for assurance from the Minister about whether Jagtar has had appropriate legal representation and the part that the high commissioner has been playing in all this.
Jagtar, his family and everyone campaigning for his release deserve an explanation as to why the Government have failed to implement their policy to seek the release of arbitrarily detained British citizens. Jagtar, as has been mentioned numerous times, has been detained for more than five years, and only one of the nine cases against him has proceeded in that time. The Government’s current approach is simply not working.
The Government are of course categorically opposed to abuses such as torture and the death sentence, so surely it is in their interest to take swift remedial action and secure Jagtar’s immediate release. Indeed, the UN special rapporteur on executions has made clear that in death penalty cases, where the detainee is detained on spurious grounds as a political statement or in circumstances of clear human rights violations, the home country should be making representations to the detaining state. The UK, it appears to me and many others, is failing in its duty to one of its own citizens by not doing so.
It should be highlighted again that in August last year, Jagtar’s legal team, along with human rights organisations Reprieve and Redress, uncovered evidence suggesting that British intelligence agencies may have contributed to Jagtar’s detention and torture by sharing intelligence with the Indian authorities. I believe a claim has been lodged in the High Court against the FCDO and the Home Office alleging unlawful sharing of information where there was a risk of torture. Rather than forcing Jagtar and his family to go through a long court process, the Government should acknowledge their role in his mistreatment and provide an apology to him and his family for the harm he has suffered.
Jagtar has bravely highlighted human rights abuses against India’s Sikh population and has sought accountability for historical anti-Sikh pogroms. For that, he has endured the unimaginable trauma of being abducted in front of his wife, just three weeks after their wedding, and then being tortured into giving a false confession. It has been more than five years since the UK Government promised to prioritise Jagtar’s case and take extreme action in the event of his torture. When will the Government make good on these promises? Will Ministers finally engage with the Indian Government to secure his release? I look forward to the Minister’s contribution.
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.
The Northern Ireland protocol is not delivering the goals set out in it. First and foremost among those is ensuring peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland, and protecting the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. The protocol is also disrupting east-west trade, including by doubtless affecting businesses in the hon. Lady’s constituency. Northern Ireland is an integral part of the UK and we must resolve the very real problems it is facing, which is why we have introduced the Bill.
University College London’s chair of science and research policy recently said that the UK has “no pathway to association” with Horizon Europe and that
“leaving Horizon knocks us back both in reputation and in substance in terms of the UK as an international partner in research. It is fanciful to pretend anything else.”
Will the Government finally accept that as a truth? What does the Minister say to researchers and academics up and down the UK who are missing out on precious funding and collaboration with European partners in the name of the Brexit vanity project?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s passionate espousal of the need for us to be a member of Horizon, Euratom and the other programmes, all of which were agreed, as she will recall, in the trade and co-operation agreement. The EU has failed to implement our association with that, and there is no linkage. I would ask the hon. Lady, with the scientific community of this country, to stand up to the EU and say that inappropriate linkages should be resisted, that they are damaging them, damaging us and damaging our joint endeavours to tackle the greatest challenges facing mankind, and it is something that needs to change.