Jagtar Singh Johal:
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) staff have been working hard to provide assistance to Mr. Johal and his family, and representations are regularly made on behalf of Mr. Johal to the Government of India.
I am told that the Foreign Secretary raised Mr. Johal's case with the Indian Minister of External Affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, on 15 December 2020. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth, last raised Mr. Johal's case with the Indian High Commissioner on 28 January 2021, and with the Indian Foreign Secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, on 3 November 2020. Lord Ahmad has also met with Mr. Johal's family on a number of occasions, most recently on 27 January 2021.
Mr. Johal's welfare is a priority, as is ensuring his ongoing access to legal representatives. The UK's consular staff continue to visit Mr. Johal regularly. I appreciate that this is a desperately difficult and distressing time for Mr. Johal, his family and, many in the Sikh community, and I will continue to follow this case closely.
Human Rights Defenders:
Regrettably, Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) face unprecedented attacks in many parts of the world. The UK is a proud champion of human rights and a strong supporter of those around the world who dedicate their lives to defending them. British officials and Ministers regularly assess how we can enhance our ability to assist HRDs to carry out their work safely and without fear, including in the context of the increased risks posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
I am assured that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) puts human rights and their defenders at the heart of its work. The UK recognises the essential role HRDs play and published a report in July 2019 titled ‘UK Support for Human Rights Defenders’, which publicly underlined the UK’s commitment to protecting them.
Support is provided to HRDs through the Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy, most of which is allocated to projects by HRDs and civil society organisations. The FCDO also monitors repression of HRDs in its Annual Human Rights Report, the most recent of which was published last July. The report paid tribute to the courageous work of HRDs and listed support for them as a UK international policy priority.
The upcoming Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Affairs will inform the strategy of the UK's international policy in the decade ahead, including those of the FCDO. Given that the Review is yet to conclude, I would not wish to speculate on its findings before they are published.
I am proud of the UK’s role in the birth of the state of Israel, with whom the UK shares a deep and meaningful relationship. I welcome the UK Government’s deep commitment to promoting trade and business ties with Israel and its strong opposition to the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Movement. I also have every confidence that the UK’s trading relationship with Israel will continue to go from strength to strength in the years to come.
Our close friendship with Israel does not prohibit our criticism of some Israeli policies, or our recognition of Israel as a thriving democracy and an example to the rest of the world for overcoming adversity. Nor does it stand in the way of the UK acting in honest accordance with our clear and long standing position, that is the commitment to a two-state solution, where two equal and sovereign states live side by side in peace and mutual respect. The UK regularly calls upon all sides to desist from engaging in activities that undermine this end, and this is reflected in the UK's voting record at the UN and diplomatic activity in general.
The UK has been a major contributor to the United Nations (UN) since its inception 75 years ago, occupying a prominent role within it, and defends wholeheartedly its role as a place where issues of international concern can be discussed productively and respectfully. To be clear, none of the above should be construed as resulting from a bias against Israel. On the contrary, the UK regularly raises issues of concern in a wide range of countries, via the UN and bilaterally, including with our closest and most longstanding allies, of which Israel is one.
I understand that the Indian Government has recently passed a series of Bills which introduce reforms to farming in India, which have been described as a watershed moment by Prime Minister Modi. While this is of course an internal matter for the Indian Government, I appreciate the concerns you have about the impact these reforms will have, particularly on the livelihoods of farmers in India, and I will ensure that Ministers are aware of them.
The Government is conscious of concerns in India, and from communities in the UK about the agricultural reforms and I am encouraged that the Foreign Secretary discussed protests on this issue with his counterpart, Minister of Exterior Affairs, Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, during his visit to India in December. The UK supports marginalised farmers through technical assistance programmes which strengthen the quality and productivity of local natural resource infrastructure, and by building state and local government capabilities to deliver improved social protection.
I appreciate your particular concerns about what you consider to be shortfalls of the Infrastructure Technical Co-operation Facility (ITCF) and I would be happy to relay this and the issue of UK pesticide exports to India to Ministers at the FCDO.
It is because of the UK’s close relationship with the Government of India that difficult issues can be discussed, and concerns raised, where they exist. I will be following developments closely.
The freedom of religion or belief for everyone is a core value of the UK, and, as a country that has always been a beacon for freedom and tolerance, I passionately believe the UK should be on the frontline in battling discrimination and persecution in all forms.
It is for this reason I am glad that the Independent Review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office Support for Persecuted Christians, conducted by the Anglican Bishop of Truro, the Right Reverend Philip Mounstephen, has been published. The UK Government is committed to implementing the recommendations from the Bishop of Truro's Review by July 2022.
The recommendations have been divided into short, medium and longer term priorities and Ministers have already implemented a good number of them, including the recent appointment of a Director General level champion for Freedom of Religion or Belief and the marking of Red Wednesday in support of persecuted Christians and members of other minority groups. I also welcome the appointment of Fiona Bruce MP as the new Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief. Some of the recommendations will take longer to implement and many will require an ongoing effort to embed into the working practice of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and other Departments.
This country has been and always will be open and outward-looking, leading in solving the world's toughest problems and striving to be a force for good in the world. Whether it’s stepping up to support desperate Syrians and Yemenis in conflict zones, leading the way in eradicating Ebola and malaria, or supporting millions of children to gain a decent education, I am proud that UK aid is keeping the UK safe while helping the world’s poorest stand on their own two feet. The UK will continue to protect the world's poorest.
At this time of unprecedented crisis however, tough choices must be made, which is why the Chancellor has announced a temporary reduction in the UK’s aid budget from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of the UK's national income. I am encouraged that the UK will spend more than £10 billion next year to fight poverty, tackle climate change, support girls' education, resolve conflicts and improve global health. I am told that the UK will return to 0.7 per cent when the fiscal situation allows and will be following this closely.
Helping the World’s Most Vulnerable Girls
The UK works with a wide range of international partners to ensure the best results for girls across the world. I am proud of the leadership that the UK has shown, supporting the UN and national governments to keep girls safe. This includes the largest ever single investment to help end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the world: the UK is providing an extra £50 million to support the Africa-led movement to end FGM by 2030 and provide better protection for vulnerable girls.
Moreover, educating girls is the tool that can address a whole host of the world’s economic and social problems and, alongside all 53 members of the Commonwealth, the UK is working to help provide 12 years of quality education for all girls by 2030. I welcome the appointment of Baroness Sugg as the Special Envoy for Girls' Education, a new role which will help accelerate progress towards this target.
Girls’ Education is one of the five foundations of the UK's wider development work on gender equality, and between 2015 and 2019, the UK supported 5.8 million girls to gain a decent education. In 2018, the Prime Minister, as Foreign Secretary, launched the Leave No Girl Behind campaign. The campaign gets girls learning, builds international political commitment and boosts global investment. Our Girls Education Challenge is the world’s largest fund dedicated to girls’ education and is supporting up to 1.5 million marginalised girls in 17 countries around the world.
I am told that the Integrated Review of Foreign Policy, Defence, Security and International Development, expected to conclude later in the year, will define the Government’s ambition for the UK’s role in the world and its outcomes will shape the objectives for the new Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, including on International Aid. DFID and the FCO have worked closely together in the past on gender equality and the FCDO will continue to draw on the skills and expertise of everyone in the new department to champion gender equality in international development and humanitarian crises.
Normalisation of relations between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates
“The normalisation of these relations, between countries that are great friends of the UK, is a historic and welcome step. It was encouraging to see that the normalisation between Israel and UAE in August also resulted in the suspension of Israel's plans to annex the West Bank. The UK has consistently opposed these plans, which would have been counterproductive to securing peace in the region.
I pay tribute to the work of the US in brokering these agreements, which are a much needed boost for peace in the region. Ultimately, however, there is no substitute for direct talks between the Palestinians and Israel, which is the only way to a reach a two state solution and a lasting peace. I encourage both sides to resume direct talks and I will continue to follow developments closely.”
I know that there is a great deal of concern amongst many of my constituents about Mr Nawajaa's arrest and I will ensure that Ministers are made aware of this. I will be following developments in Mr Nawajaa's case closely.
The UK repeatedly calls on the Israeli authorities to comply with their obligations under international law and either charge or release detainees. The UK also remains concerned about Israel's extensive use of administrative detention which, according to international law, should be used only when security makes this absolutely necessary, rather than as routine practice and as a preventive measure.
More broadly, I am assured that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) puts human rights and human rights defenders at the heart of its work. The UK recognises the essential role human rights defenders play and in July 2019 published the “UK Support for Rights Defenders” document to publicly underline the UK’s commitment to protecting them.
Mohamed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa
I am deeply concerned about the cases of Mohamed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa. The UK has raised and will continue to raise both cases at senior levels with the Government of Bahrain.
The Government of Bahrain is fully aware that the UK is firmly opposed to the death penalty, in all circumstances. The former Minister for the Middle East and North Africa publicly stated in January the UK's deep concern that death sentences were handed out. Following the Court of Cessation’s decision on the 13th July, the UK will continue to monitor the situation.
I reviewed the contributions made during the Urgent Question on this issue, and I am satisfied that the Government are doing everything they can.
Parliamentary Scrutiny of Arms Exports Controls
My understanding is that it would be a matter for the House of Commons to decide on any plans to change the status of the Committee on Arms Exports Controls from a joint meeting of members of the Foreign Affairs, Defence, International Trade and International Development Committees, to a standalone committee on Arms Export Controls. I do not sign Early Day Motions (EDMs) because they do not have any practical effect, and I prefer to make my views known by speaking directly with Ministers.
I do want to reassure you that the Government itself takes its defence export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust export control regimes in the world. Indeed, export licence applications are rigorously assessed on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. Consideration is given to the prevailing circumstances at the time of application and includes human rights and international humanitarian law considerations. The Government will not issue export licences where there is a clear risk that the goods might be used for internal repression or in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.
Merging of the Foreign Office and Department for International Development
“As you know, the Prime Minister has announced that the FCO and DFID will merge to create a new overseas department. The new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) will place UK Aid at the heart of what it does, leveraging the development expertise of DFID through the reach of the FCO’s global network. The merger is set to be completed by September and the new department will be led by the Foreign Secretary.
I am proud that the UK has been at the heart of the international effort to tackle Covid-19, which shows the good that this country can do through our international engagement. The current crisis shows just how important it is that development and diplomatic efforts are fused together more closely, in order to maximise our international impact and make the biggest difference to people’s lives.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s reassurance that this is not about rolling back commitments on international development, but about pursuing them more effectively, and that reducing poverty will remain central to the UK’s international work. The UK remains committed to spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on international development, being the only G7 country to have enshrined this in legislation.”
“I share your concerns regarding the crisis in Yemen and the plight of the Yemeni people who are caught up in the conflict. That is why I am proud that the UK is leading the international community to do more to respond to the crisis in Yemen. Since the conflict began, the UK has committed £970 million of funding, which has helped meet the immediate food needs of millions of Yemenis, treated thousands of children for malnutrition and provided over one million people with improved water supply and basic sanitation.
The UK’s long-standing position on Yemen is that there is no military solution to this conflict, and only a political settlement can bring long-term stability to Yemen and tackle the worsening humanitarian crisis. The UK is not a party to the military conflict as part of the Saudi-led coalition. Until the Government retakes export license decisions in line with the Court of Appeal’s judgment, or a successful appeal against the judgment concludes, the Government is under an obligation not to grant any new licences to export items to Saudi Arabia for possible use in the conflict in Yemen.
The UK has been at the forefront of international efforts to bring a peaceful solution to the appalling conflict in Yemen, fully supporting the efforts of the UN Secretary-General and the UN Special Envoy’s peace plan. I welcome the unilateral ceasefire announced by Saudi Arabia on 8 April, which has been extended, and it is more important than ever that all parties seize this opportunity for progress in Yemen. I will of course follow developments closely, and hope for a positive resolution.”
Drop the Debt
“I share your concerns about the debt vulnerabilities in developing countries, which has been amplified by coronavirus, and welcome that the UK has made available up to £150 million to the International Monetary Fund's Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust to help developing countries meet their debt repayments.
Responding to this crisis requires international cooperation. The UK, alongside G20 and the Paris Club of official creditors has committed to a historic suspension of debt repayment from the world's poorest countries. This will see official creditors provide up to $12 billion of cash-flow relief, which, importantly, will enable countries to focus available resources on tackling coronavirus and ensure they can direct greater resources to vital healthcare efforts, rather than interest payments.
The Chancellor and G20 Finance Ministers have publicly called for the private sector to voluntarily participate in this initiative as well and, if it did so to the full extent, that would provide another $10 billion of breathing space for these countries. The agreement also provides time to assess what further assistance these countries may need as the full economic impact becomes clearer, for example if future restructuring of debt may be needed. I am glad that the Government is keeping all options under review.
I am proud that the UK is at the forefront of the global response to Covid-19. There has never been a more important time for us to deliver our 0.7% of GDP spent on international aid commitment, and helping the most vulnerable in the world’s poorest countries.”
The UK has always championed freedom of religion or belief for everyone and the Government has an unwavering commitment to defending freedom of religion or belief as a universal human right. This includes the right to have no religious conviction or belief. As a country that has always been a beacon for freedom and tolerance, I firmly believe the UK should not shirk its responsibilities in this area and I welcome that defending freedom of religion or belief for all remains a UK policy priority.
I am told that the UK Government, along with international partners, is monitoring the arrest of Mubarak Bala closely. The Minister for Africa raised Mr Bala's case with the Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs on 21 May and the UK’s High Commission in Abuja has also discussed the case with the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Police. The UK will continue to stress the importance of a transparent investigation that respects Mr Bala's human rights, the rule of law, and the Nigerian constitutional right to freedom of religion or belief.
I am encouraged that, in Nigeria, the UK is calling on the Nigerian Government to do more to reduce conflict and improve social cohesion, including hosting a conference on fostering cohesion back in February 2020. I understand that a process of identifying solutions to meet the needs of all communities has begun. However, there is a long way to go yet.
Demolitions and Evictions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
Demolitions and evictions of Palestinians from their homes cause unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians, call into question Israel's commitment to a viable two-state solution, and, in all but the most exceptional of cases, are contrary to International Humanitarian Law.
I am glad the UK Government has allocated funding towards supporting around 124 Palestinian communities in Area C and East Jerusalem through needs-based and emergency services. This helps provide pre-fabricated residential, livelihood and agricultural structures. Funding has also been used to provide off grid energy to 50 households in Area C through the installation of 30 renewable energy systems.
I welcome that officials from the UK Embassy in Tel Aviv have repeatedly raised concerns with the Israeli authorities about the increase in evictions and demolitions of Palestinian properties in Area C of the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. It has called on them to cease the policy of demolitions and provide a clear, transparent route to construction for Palestinians in Area C. I understand concerns about the Sumarin family, and the Jewish National Fund, and I know that my colleagues at the Foreign Office are aware of this case.
United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)
“A number of constituents have raised their concerns about the UNRWA, and I can assure you that I have raised them with the responsible Ministers.
The UNWRA has a unique mandate to support Palestinian refugees until a lasting political settlement is reached, and until then, the UK is clear it will continue to meet humanitarian need and promote regional security by supporting the 5.6 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.
The UK's contribution to the UNRWA last year helped provide education to more than 533,000 children, half of whom were girls and health services for around 3.1 million Palestinian refugees. While I appreciate concerns around the UNRWA, I believe that we cannot afford to lose the progress made, or risk young people, especially girls, losing the opportunity to have an education at all.
I am, however, very concerned about the allegations of incitement in the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) school textbooks. Both the PA and the Government of Israel need to prepare their populations for peaceful coexistence, including by promoting a more positive portrayal of each other. I welcome that the UK lobbied, and funded work to develop the methodology, for an in-depth review of school textbooks, and this review is now underway. More broadly, UK officials are in regular contact with the UNRWA to ensure high quality aid delivery. They currently judge that UNRWA is effective in allocating resources on the basis of need, however I appreciate your concerns about the performance of the UNRWA and have raised these with Ministers.”
Middle East Peace Process
I firmly support the UK’s longstanding position on the Middle East Peace Process.
There should be a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states, and a fair and realistic settlement for refugees. The UK Government consistently calls for an immediate end to all actions that undermine the viability of the two-state solution.
The UK’s position has not changed, including towards the West Bank and the 1967 borders. I am glad that the UK repeatedly reaffirms this commitment, including most recently at the UN Security Council, and will continue to do so. I am concerned by reports of possible Israeli moves towards annexation and believe that any such unilateral moves would be damaging to the renewed efforts to restart peace negotiations, and contrary to international law. No changes to the status quo can be made without an agreement negotiated by the parties themselves and I join my colleagues in Government in calling for a meaningful return to negotiations by all concerned parties.
As the United Kingdom looks to open up markets and trade post-Brexit, I certainly am a supporter of much closer trade links between the CANZUK nations.
Additionally, as we have such close cultural and family ties, I would also like to see the Government look at making travel to and from CANZUK nations easier.
Ending early and forced marriage of children must remain a high priority: it is shocking that more than 700 million girls and women alive today were married as children. While the practice of child marriage has slowly been declining, particularly for girls under 15, continued global action is essential if it is to be eliminated. The UK is leading international efforts in this area. Indeed, UK pressure helped ensure a separate target on ending child marriage was included within the Global Goals.
The UK’s £39 million programme to end child, early and forced marriage is helping thousands of girls take back control and choice over their bodies and their futures. Support for the UN’s ‘Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage’ programme plays an important role. It is working to strengthen legal and policy frameworks, scale up access to services for girls at risk of child marriage, and tackle harmful social norms underlying child marriage. The £39 million programme also supports AmplifyChange, a multi-donor fund working for universal sexual and reproductive health and rights, including for grassroots organisations with the local knowledge and expertise working to address child, early and forced marriage.
Women should be able to live free from violence in all its forms in all settings. The UK is providing the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women with up to £12 million funding over the three years to 2020. The Fund supports organisations across the world to tackle gender-based violence, improve access to services such as legal assistance and healthcare, and strengthen laws and policies that protect women and girls. In 2017, the Fund managed projects in 80 countries and territories. This is expected to benefit 750,000 women.
The UK has always championed freedom of religion or belief for everyone. As a country that has always been a beacon for freedom and tolerance, the UK must not shirk its responsibilities. The Independent Review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office Support for Persecuted Christians, conducted by the Anglican Bishop of Truro, the Right Reverend Philip Mountstephen, has been published. The UK Government is committed to implementing the recommendations from the Bishop of Truro’s Review.
Unfortunately I was not able to attend the Open Doors 2020 World Watch List launch as it conflicted with a number of other diary commitments in what has been a very busy week. However, I assure you that I will follow this issue closely and ensure the Government deal with it seriously.