Leo Docherty Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (Leo Docherty)
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I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s leadership on this issue and I am very pleased to be speaking in Committee on this important Bill. As laid out by my right hon. Friend, the UK greatly values its long-standing programme partnership with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and really appreciates the very important work that it does, right across the Commonwealth, to foster inclusive and accountable democracy.

Treatment as an international organisation will allow the CPA to continue to operate across the Commonwealth and international fora. It will also allow the organisation to participate fully in areas in which it is currently restricted. Therefore I am very pleased to be able to speak in support of clauses 1 and 3 and the schedule; I will just touch on those, if I may.

The powers provided in clause 1 subsections (1) and (2) reflect the constitutional arrangements of the CPA —including its current registration with the Charity Commission for England and Wales—and will facilitate its proposed future operating model. Comparable treatment to an international organisation would be limited to the core international organs of the CPA, such as the secretariat. It is not intended that any privileges, immunities or other facilities are extended to any of the national or subnational branches.

This clause enables conferral on the CPA of the legal capacities of a body corporate. Key capacities relevant to the operation of an international organisation in the UK are to conclude contracts, to acquire and dispose of property, and to institute and be party to legal proceedings. The clause also enables the provision in respect of the CPA of specific privileges and immunities, which will be determined on the basis of the organisation’s functional need and will be specified through an individual arrangement to be agreed upon on completion of the Bill. Clause 1(1)(c) enables the provision of specific privileges and immunities in respect of the secretary-general of the CPA. Those are limited to the privileges and immunities set out in part 2 of the schedule.

The clause provides for the Order in Council to specify certain statutory provisions in relation to international organisations that should apply in relation to the CPA, with any necessary modifications. This provision will ensure that the CPA can be accorded comparable treatment to an international organisation—in particular, where the definition of international organisation in the legislation is limited to intergovernmental organisations.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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I welcome this Bill and I agree that it is a cross-party Bill, with support from across the House. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke for introducing it. I recently returned from Sierra Leone as a member of the CPA executive, and it was made clear to me by members of foreign Governments how important this Bill is. I wholeheartedly welcome this change.

Oral Answers to Questions

Theo Clarke Excerpts
Tuesday 12th December 2023

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise the importance of humanitarian pauses, and preferably humanitarian pauses that are several days long. We are doing everything we can to try to ensure that the case for humanitarian pauses, and the ability that would result of getting aid, support and supplies into Gaza, is achieved.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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25. What discussions his Department has had with NATO allies on support for Ukraine during winter 2023-24

Leo Docherty Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (Leo Docherty)
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The UK regularly discusses support for Ukraine with NATO allies and partners, including at the recent NATO Foreign Ministers meeting and the NATO-Ukraine Council, which the Foreign Secretary attended alongside Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba. Together, we approved an ambitious programme, including on energy security and interoperability. Allies remain steadfast in their commitment to support Ukraine through the winter and for as long as it takes.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke
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As a member of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I recently visited NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps headquarters in Gloucester, so I welcome that yesterday the Defence Secretary announced the UK-led Ukraine maritime capability coalition to give our allies the power to rule the waves. What steps is the UK taking to help Ukraine to rebuild its armed forces and provide humanitarian assistance to its citizens?

Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
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My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The maritime domain is hugely important. We will continue to work with NATO and Ukraine, including through NATO’s €500 million comprehensive assistance package, to which we have contributed £82 million. In November, the Foreign Secretary attended the first meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council at Foreign Minister level. He emphasised the need to sustain our support to Ukraine for as long as it takes.

Libya Floods

Theo Clarke Excerpts
Thursday 14th September 2023

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

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David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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Our embassy staff are working closely with people on the ground, keeping in touch with what is going on, and our consular support team is keeping in touch with dual nationals in Libya, providing the support they need. They will continue to do that. Our condolences go not only to the people of Libya but to the wider diaspora as well. We will continue to do everything we can, as hon. Members on all sides of the House have urged—that message has been well received today.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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I fully support the fact that the UK Government have provided international assistance to the people of Libya, but what are we doing specifically to ensure humanitarian assistance is urgently getting to people on the ground today?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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As I say, we have made our initial offer of support. We continue to have an active dialogue with the Libyan authorities and the UN. As I said to the Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for West Ham (Ms Brown), the key thing today is that we are waiting for the UN needs assessment, so we can then give our best assessment of what sort of support we need to help to provide.

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: Overseas Aid

Theo Clarke Excerpts
Wednesday 12th July 2023

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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I thank the hon. Lady for securing this debate. Does she agree that the Government are right to commit to focusing spending on women and girls, and particularly on maternal mental health? Will she call for the UK to publish a voluntary national review on the sustainable development goals, given the importance of this subject?

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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I absolutely support what the hon. Lady says. She is a member of the International Development Committee, and the Chair of the International Development Sub-Committee on the work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. She has always been a champion on these issues, and the Minister has heard what she said.

The FCDO’s programming does not address the global burden of gynaecological disease as a priority in its own right, or as a key element of its integrated SRHR response. That is a glaring omission. Forthcoming RCOG research shows that overall morbidity for women and girls due to so-called benign gynaecological conditions outweighs—I was stunned when I heard this—the combined morbidity from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS in low and middle-income countries; yet gynaecological conditions are not in the FCDO’s strategy. There is an urgent need for the UK Government and donors around the world to afford gynaecological disease the same priority as maternal mortality and diseases such as malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS. Can the Minister look into that?

As a first step, RCOG and I are seeking a commitment from the UK Government to championing the issue by investing in the collection of data and research on the scale of the burden, so that we build strong evidence on which to base future investment. Investing in quality SRHR training for all healthcare workers should be a top priority. At present, the workforce meets only 41% of the needs of low-income countries. A lack of skilled workers is a major barrier to making universal health coverage a reality. I welcome the Government’s commitment to strengthening the workforce as part of their contribution to that agenda, but as RCOG recommends, we need greater investment to support task-shifting and task-sharing between different groups and levels of healthcare workers. That is essential if we are to address shortages; support the delivery of comprehensive, integrated SRHR services, including expanded access to abortion care and long-acting reversible contraception; and support the diagnosis and treatment of gynaecological disease at the earliest stage.

The new report from RCOG is an important reminder to us all—and to the Minister—of our responsibility to women and girls around the world, who rely on our Government’s support for their essential healthcare. It should also serve as a call to action, so that we resume the progress that is needed to achieve universal access to SRHR. I urge the Minister to seriously consider the report’s recommendations for investment, as well as the points that I have raised today. We must stand together, alongside women and girls everywhere, and continue to advocate for their health, empowerment, and equality.

Commonwealth Parliamentary Association

Theo Clarke Excerpts
Thursday 6th July 2023

(10 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller) for securing this important debate on the status of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I echo many comments made by colleagues. We must address the status of the CPA before the upcoming parliamentary meeting in Accra in September. I am here as a member of the CPA’s executive committee to lend my support and to try to persuade the Government that we must change the CPA’s status from a UK charity to an international inter-parliamentary organisation.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s Bill to address the issue and ensure that the CPA does not relocate to another Commonwealth country. The UK branch of the CPA is well known and one of the most active in the Commonwealth. We have been talking about this issue for several years. In 2018, the CPA presented the UK Government with the business case for the status change, which stated,

“In all respects the CPA operates in practice as an international inter-parliamentary organisation, but the CPA has the legal status of an English charity. It would not usually be expected that an organisation such as the CPA would be a charity, given the nature of the CPA and the work it carries out.”

Let me give some examples of issues that arise owing to the CPA having been a charity since 1971. The CPA as a charity is limited in its ability to carry out certain activities that promote democracy, human rights and democratic values and protect the rights and privileges of parliamentarians. That is because, as we know, restrictions on charities prevent them from pursuing political purposes. The CPA has also been unable to sign up to certain international statements and communiqués because of its charitable status. We have been unable to join other international organisations in speaking out against events in Commonwealth countries. Recent examples include the unlawful imprisonment of parliamentarians, not being able to speak out about the treatment of parliamentarians, and the situation over the Rohingya. Those examples show exactly why we must change the CPA’s status. I recently met the CPA secretary general, and he is fully supportive of the status change.

There will be some serious consequences if we do not change the CPA’s status to an international inter-parliamentary organisation. First, I believe, as several right hon. and hon. Members have alluded to, that if the UK does not make that change, the CPA headquarters will relocate to another Commonwealth country. We can think of our proud tradition with the CPA founded in the UK Parliament back in 1911, and it has always been here. We do not want to lose the opportunity of having more than 50 Commonwealth Parliaments turning to the UK Parliament for advice, guidance and best practice and to uphold Parliamentary democracy. The CPA relocating from the UK would damage the UK Parliament’s relationship with other Commonwealth Parliaments.

Secondly, we must listen and respect the voices of other Commonwealth parliamentarians who have expressed strong dissatisfaction. Other colleagues have mentioned the concerns raised by other Parliaments; for example, just last year, the southern African region of the CPA Africa group expressed its displeasure at the UK’s hesitancy to legislate to change the status of the CPA, and said that it believes it is disadvantageous to Africa. The South African National Assembly’s Deputy Speaker, Mr Tsenoli, has also expressed concerns that the CPA Africa region contributes close to 60% of the CPA budget, and that money is only to be used in the CPA in the UK. Changing the status would allow more CPA Parliaments in Africa and other regions around the world to have greater confidence in our work. It is important that today we are seen as equal partners—that is what the Commonwealth is all about.

Thirdly, as a UK charity, the CPA cannot achieve observer status at the United Nations. We currently do not have diplomatic status or international recognition. It is important that we change that as soon as possible, which can be achieved by turning us into an international inter-parliamentary organisation.

I have been a member of the CPA executive as a new Member of Parliament. I can truly say that it is a remarkable and impactful organisation. Just last month, I chaired its women and trade workshop here in Parliament, looking at promoting human rights through international trade. There were discussions on bilateral and regional trade, looking at how we can advance human rights standards globally, which reminds me of the importance of the CPA. Bringing together parliamentarians from across the Commonwealth and ensuring that we are learning best practice is one of the areas that the CPA promotes and supports.

I was also delighted back in 2021 to attend the World Trade Organisation’s Public Forum in Geneva. My trip was supported by the CPA through its trips budget. At that meeting, I had the privilege of meeting Dr Ngozi Okongo-Iweala, the WTO director general, and of speaking at the eastern African trade for resilience forum. That is an example of where CPA does vital work for us as UK parliamentarians.

I strongly support the need for us to change the status of the CPA from a UK charity to an international inter-parliamentary organisation. We do fantastic work. It would make the UK more respected at the CPA, which is a brilliant, fantastic organisation. Fellow parliamentarians around the world have said to me that they are looking for us to sort this out. I hope the Minister will provide the commitment we need at the Dispatch Box today to ensure that we can go to that meeting in Accra in September. I hope that the Government will find parliamentary time to approve the Bill.

Oral Answers to Questions

Theo Clarke Excerpts
Tuesday 13th June 2023

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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I have not had a chance to see the detail of the report the hon. Member refers to. I will ensure that my Department looks at that. Whether it is the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office or the Home Office, we will investigate that.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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I welcome that the UK has been a long-standing champion of the sustainable development goals, so may I ask my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to commit to publishing another voluntary national review of our progress towards the SDGs, and will he attend the UN high level political forum on SDGs next month?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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On my hon. Friend’s last point, I think at least two Ministers will be at that forum to represent our country. She asked about the domestic analysis of the SDGs. There was a voluntary national review in 2019, conducted by our former colleague Rory Stewart. He said that it was a work in progress and we are doing quite well. On the wider SDG point, I hope that the whole House will engage with the White Paper, which can help to inject British leadership to drive it forward.

Council of Europe

Theo Clarke Excerpts
Thursday 8th June 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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I congratulate our delegation group leader, my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), on securing today’s debate on the work of the Council of Europe. I am delighted to be a very active member of the UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and I have been to Strasbourg and Paris multiple times, including just after Easter, to support our work.

It is important to consider the origins of the Council of Europe. The context of today reminds me how incredibly important they were. It was founded after world war two, in 1949, to ensure that such a tragedy would never happen again. Today, as we have war right on the border of Europe, there has never been such an important time for us to have a place for speech and dialogue with our neighbours. The United Kingdom has always been at the heart of the conception of the Council of Europe, right from Sir Winston Churchill’s initiation to the signing of the treaty here in London.

So I strongly believe that although the UK is no longer part of the European Union, we remain an important part of the work of the Council of Europe and, of course, Europe as a geographical region. Member states in the Council of Europe have committed to upholding our three core pillars of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It is very clear that Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine violated these values, and I welcome the fact that Russia was excluded from it in March last year. It had seriously violated article 3 of the Council of Europe statute that all member states must accept the principles of the rule of law and the enjoyment of all persons within their jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

This is why the work of the Council of Europe is so important. If there was ever a time for us to be protecting and upholding democracy, human rights and the rule of law, it is now. That is why I was so delighted that our Prime Minister decided to join the Council of Europe summit in Iceland last month. It was the fourth summit with Heads of State in the Council of Europe’s history, and it comes as no surprise that the focus of the summit this year was the Council of Europe mission in the light of new threats to democracy and human rights, and of course to support Ukraine. I note that our Prime Minister signed the Reykjavik declaration, which restated that we will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes. It states:

“Without accountability, there can be no lasting peace and we support the principles for a just and lasting peace as outlined in President Zelenskyy’s Peace Formula.”

Sally-Ann Hart Portrait Sally-Ann Hart
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When our Prime Minister attended the Council of Europe summit in Iceland recently, he raised the massive issue of illegal migration, which is affecting the whole of Europe, not just the UK. Does my hon. Friend agree that the UK has a vital role to play in discussing illegal migration and encouraging European leaders to ensure that our Governments and institutions work together to stop illegal migration and the humanitarian disaster that it is causing?

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke
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I absolutely agree. I sit on the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, so if my hon. Friend waits a few more minutes, I will add some remarks to those of the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn).

One tangible outcome of the summit was agreement on the register of damages caused by the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine. For me, that was a really important outcome. The objective is to document the damage, loss and injury being caused by the Russian war of aggression. I would like to see that register of damage used as an impactful tool to hold Russia to account. I reiterate that the declaration condemned the aggression in the strongest possible terms and called on the Russian Federation to cease the aggression immediately and to withdraw its forces completely and unconditionally from the internationally recognised territory of Ukraine.

We have recently seen the devastating social and environmental consequences of these attacks. I am sure that in the last few days we have all seen in the papers the attack on the dam in Ukraine, although Russia has not accepted responsibility for the attack. The social and environmental damage now spans to three villages, which are completely submerged underwater with flooding up to their roofs. It has resulted in the evacuation of thousands of people. Just today, the death of at least three people has sadly been reported as a result of the flooding and the spill-over. For me, this is an example of where the humanitarian disaster could be growing. It is therefore even more important that we as an international community come together to support these humanitarian responses.

When we consider examples such as the collapse of the dam in Ukraine, one issue that comes to mind is that the Council of Europe has proposed the register of damages, but what happens if Russia does not claim to be the perpetrator or claim responsibility? What happens if there is insufficient evidence to prove that an attack came from Russia? To what extent can we use the register of damages to ensure compensation for those victims? I hope that the Council of Europe will further define that and work on this issue.

I have long been a passionate supporter of Ukraine. Just last year at No. 10, I met with colleagues and a number of Ukrainian MPs to hear from them at first hand about the devastation in their country. I am proud that on our migration Committee we sit with Oleksiy Goncharenko, a Ukrainian MP, and hear from him directly about the values of democracy.

I turn to the impacts on my constituency. We are all aware that Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has resulted in nearly 8 million refugees being recorded across Europe. First of all, I wish to thank so many British families across the UK for welcoming such a huge number of Ukrainian refugees to their homes. I am delighted that in my constituency of Stafford we have had the highest number of refugees come to settle in our town. I note that Staffordshire-based companies—even JCB—have generously offered homes to 70 Ukrainian refugees across the county. I hope that other companies will follow suit and show their philanthropic support in that way.

The UK has provided tremendous support for Ukraine. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office recently granted £2 million in aid to the HALO Trust, and I have seen for myself the fantastic work that that charity does to ensure that, by being demined and decontaminated, Ukraine can be rebuilt.

On my most recent visit to Strasbourg, as part of the UK delegation for the April part-session, I was delighted to attend a debate looking at political strategies to prevent, prepare for and face the consequences of natural disasters. The debate was focused on the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria. It was shocking to hear that more than 53,000 lives have been lost.

Even though that disaster was nearly 2,000 miles from London, I was so pleased to see that that was not an obstacle to support from our Government. The FCDO was quick to step up and respond by providing £3.6 million to UN partners in Turkey and £3.8 million to the White Helmets in Syria. One of my observations from that visit to Strasbourg was that, when the Council of Europe comes together and member states agree, there is so much that we can achieve. I was so pleased to hear that all member states are committed to helping Turkey and Syria in a time of need.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) mentioned the Council of Europe’s Committee on Migration, Refugees And Displaced Persons. I have been on that committee for the last three years—since my election—and we are always discussing the incredibly distressing stories that we hear of forcibly displaced people around the world. There are about 100 million currently in that situation. A number of those refugees are now in Europe and, of course, trying desperately to come to the UK. One of the things that we raised was the UK Government’s vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, which, together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has committed to rehoming 20,000 Syrian refugees fleeing conflict, violence and persecution. I am proud that in my constituency Stafford Borough Council and our county council have been working together to support Syrian refugees through teaching English, organising social activities and building friendships.

The committee has also touched on Afghanistan, the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul and the huge number of internally displaced people, such as women and children. I am pleased that the UK Government have schemes such as the Afghan relocations and assistance policy and the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. I am very proud that the UK is a compassionate and generous country. I have always been a huge supporter of our overseas aid budget. It is important that we are stepping up in times of need to support each other.

Lastly, I thank the Council of Europe because I am a recent mum—I have just returned from maternity leave—and the Council of Europe bent over backwards to accommodate me to bring my baby to the Council of Europe. I acknowledge its work and encourage other politicians who are new mums. We do not have to choose between a career as a politician and being a new mum—we can do both.

Oral Answers to Questions

Theo Clarke Excerpts
Tuesday 2nd May 2023

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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It is tragic when we see the loss of life in the region. We always call for the swift and transparent investigation of any fatalities, and that is very much at the heart of our policy. I will ensure that I get more details on the case the hon. Member has raised. I was familiar with it at the time, but I will make sure I am back up to speed with that.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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May I thank the UK Government and the Royal Air Force for evacuating so many people from Sudan, and ask the Foreign Secretary to continue to work with our allies to help evacuate civilians and, more importantly, to push for a long-term ceasefire?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our top priority is to secure a permanent ceasefire. In respect of looking after British citizens who may still be there, we keep every option open and are 100% on that case.

Council of Europe

Theo Clarke Excerpts
Wednesday 15th June 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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John Howell Portrait John Howell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Council of Europe is not responsible for China. It is responsible for what happens in Europe, and the three pillars of the Council of Europe—human rights, the rule of law and democracy—are crucial to its future. That is what we need to hold countries to.

The reason for making the remarks I made before taking an intervention is that the role of the Council of Europe has never been more important. For me, one of the proudest moments was when we expelled Russia from the Council. I am told that I was the first politician to ask for that to happen, in a letter to the Secretary-General, and I was pleased to see the support from the delegation for that action.

Thank heavens that the covid crisis has diminished substantially. The sort of diplomacy required simply cannot be carried out by Zoom or remotely. It is great for our effectiveness to be back in person, and I am pleased that newer members of the delegation can now see that what I said all along about understanding what the Council stood for being best achieved by their personal attendance was absolutely true. I am sure that other Members will want to comment on Russia during further consideration.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I am proud to be part of the UK delegation to the Council of Europe and to sit on committees and give speeches to raise important topical issues such as the war in Ukraine. I thank my hon. Friend for recently arranging for us to meet the Ukrainian delegation in Strasbourg to demonstrate the UK’s support. Does he agree with me on how essential it is that the UK continues to work in the Council of Europe? It is a vital part of our global Britain agenda and we must continue to lead on important international matters.

John Howell Portrait John Howell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I completely agree with that intervention. I will come on to say something about that at the end of my speech; it is crucial to what we are about.

The Russian expulsion has, however, left the Council with a deficit, which this time we are keen to see professionally filled. I appreciate the need for reform of the Council, and we look forward to participating in that. It is bizarre that meetings have taken place at a ministerial level in which there has been little contact with the delegation, which has tremendous experience of the Council and its work, but I am grateful that the UK Government have agreed to provide an additional £2.8 million this year to help the Council out of the hole left by Russia’s expulsion. That gives us an opportunity to take advantage of the current situation to push the UK position forward in the full knowledge that we are participating fully in the future of the Council.

It is important to understand how the Council works. It works on the basis of putting forward conventions—international treaties—for countries to agree. Those set standards across a wider Europe in key areas. I will give the example of the Istanbul convention, which goes a long way to answering the question: what does the Council do for us? The Government have set 31 July as the date by which they expect to ratify the Istanbul convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Many of us regard it as a flagship convention of the Council of Europe and as the gold standard for the protection of women and girls in Europe. Dame Maria, you and I spoke at a debate on this subject that I organised in the covid period.

The Government signed the convention in 2012 and have been working since that date to strengthen UK laws to better protect women and girls—we like to change the law in this country before we finally ratify a treaty. The necessary Command Paper was laid in both Houses on 17 May. I hope that there will be no objections in the following 21 sitting days and that the convention will be ratified.

There are two reservations in the convention that the UK is allowed to make. The first concerns crimes in UK law that are not crimes in other territories, and the second relates to migrant victims. Members are free to ask Ministers questions about those caveats. That illustrates only too well how the Council works: a treaty that it is not compulsory to sign, where the arguments for or against are set out and fully debated, and where the successful signing of the treaty involves us as members of the delegation in pursuing the diplomacy involved through, for example, Westminster Hall debates; by encouraging meetings between Ministers and the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; and by our membership of the parliamentary network “Women Free from Violence”.

The Council is also active in the field of human rights, and never has there been a greater need to be on top of this issue internationally. I have already held a debate in the main Chamber on the future of the European Court of Human Rights because it does need reform. Non-governmental organisations have too much influence. Some of the judges could be more suitably qualified. Not only were Russia’s judges sent back for examination; the same has also happened with Iceland. But one of the biggest tests for the court is occurring in Turkey, where the Committee of Ministers—the second chamber of the Council—has begun infringement proceedings. The key question here is: are we to allow Turkey to infringe the court, or are we to take action? And what should that action consist of? Does it mean the expulsion of Turkey from the Council, or are there other routes to follow since we cannot do nothing? As one of the rapporteurs for the Council on Turkey, let me explain the situation in relation to Osman Kavala.

Kavala is a leading businessman and campaigner who has been sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment after a period of pre-trial detention. The Turkish authorities argue that the original court case has been complied with in relation to the European Court of Human Rights in that Kavala was released to be rearrested the following day. The court argues that its judgment applies to the whole of the evidence base for all charges brought against Kavala, which are lacking in any evidence. That is the source of the current impasse with the Turkish Government. Turkey faces many attempts at terrorism, for which I have great sympathy, but the question must be asked whether these anti-terrorism laws are too restrictive and contravene human rights. There are, of course, other examples besides the Kavala case.

That example illustrates the important work of the Council in monitoring countries to ensure they are complying with the three pillars of the Council: human rights, the rule of law and democracy. That work and election monitoring are important functions. While I can see there is room for joint monitoring exercises with the Committee of Ministers, this is an important element of what the Council does. I would not like to see it given away to another organisation, and the Council not to have a role.

There is plenty of opportunity for the Council to work with other organisations, such as the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. I have already had discussions with the head of the UK delegation to the OSCE, and we are looking at ways to work together more closely, but it would wrong to see the OSCE having more experience of election monitoring or in monitoring more generally.

A key question remains about the future role of the Council of Europe. I welcome the UK Government’s support for Kosovo to join the Council, which the delegation also supports. Many discussions on this have already started, in which we can, should and do participate. The recent Turin ministerial meeting is one such example. I am grateful for the attendance of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary at that meeting. Another is the debate that took place at the standing committee in Dublin on the future discussions that will take place.

There is so much more that the Council could do in the area of the rule of law and in promoting democracy more widely across Europe. There are gaps in both those areas in many countries, and knowledge is needed to help them get the right answer. We stand ready to work in promoting that area. The delegation would value the chance to have more extensive discussions with the Foreign Office, and with other Ministers. We do have the experience of putting together programmes in this area.

Iran Detainees

Theo Clarke Excerpts
Wednesday 16th March 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
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On the right hon. Gentleman’s first point, I assure him that I will not give up until I have fixed the Northern Ireland protocol. These long-standing issues with Iran have been treated in parallel. I have been clear, and the Government have been clear, that this is legitimate debt that the UK Government should pay. That is right, and that is what we have done. We found a way of doing that despite the various sanctions regimes in place, and we have made sure that it is spent on humanitarian support.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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It is excellent news that three British nationals have been released from Iranian prisons today. I met Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin’s husband, several years ago at a reception hosted by you, Mr Speaker, in this place to hear directly of her plight and detention, so I am delighted that she has finally been released and is on her way home. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on all her work. Will she confirm that her Department will continue to support other British nationals in Iran who have asked for our help?

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
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We will continue to support British nationals in Iran. All the families have been provided with consular support and support from our officials, and I am proud of the support that they have offered. Of course, we will continue to work to ensure that those unfairly detained can return home.