Sri Lanka

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Excerpts
Thursday 21st July 2022

(3 weeks, 4 days ago)

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Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to give urgent material assistance to Sri Lanka to alleviate the economic crisis in that country.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, we are closely monitoring the humanitarian and economic situation in Sri Lanka. The United Kingdom provides assistance to organisations in both these areas in Sri Lanka, including through the Red Cross and the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund; the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, CERF; the World Bank; and the Asian Development Bank. We have offered to support a key role in the UN on humanitarian co-ordination. This is in addition to our existing £11.3 million CSSF programme funding focused on addressing the legacy of conflict.

Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan (Con)
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My Lords, when I asked a similar Question on 16 May, the Government said they were monitoring the situation; it is hard to fault them for lack of consistency—they are still “monitoring”. The situation in Sri Lanka is dire: people are starving, people are dying for want of medicine, and fuel and electricity are scarce. Practical and immediate help, more than monitoring, is needed. Britain, as a leading figure in the Commonwealth, should surely be doing more and acting more vigorously in relation to this Commonwealth country that has been hit with this disaster. Sir Peter Heap, a former British diplomat, has described the British Government’s response as shameful. I do not expect my noble friend to agree with that, but surely he could agree that this Government should be doing more.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, in my Answer to the original Question I outlined the financial support we are giving, so I disagree with my noble friend. Of course we are monitoring the situation. We are not intervening militarily; it is for the people of Sri Lanka to determine their future. We should be supporting the right to free protest, which we are. We should be working with international partners on the ground and UN agencies, which we are, and we are working directly with Commonwealth partners. I am looking to engage with the Foreign Minister of India, and we have already reached out. I am looking to have a call next week with the new president, who has just been elected. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister engaged with the new president directly when he was the prime minister. We are working with the Government, we are working with UN agencies, and yes, we are monitoring. By monitoring we ensure that any intervention we make is the right one.

Lord Howell of Guildford Portrait Lord Howell of Guildford (Con)
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My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Commonwealth Secretariat is in close touch with the situation and seeking ways in which it can assist in this very difficult position. Would he make sure that his colleagues in the Foreign Office co-ordinate closely with the Commonwealth Secretariat, as this may be the best channel, or one of the best channels, to co-ordinate efforts to ensure that Sri Lanka does not fall too rapidly into the Russian orbit, the Chinese orbit, or indeed both?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I can give that assurance to my noble friend, not least in my role as Minister for the Commonwealth. I reassure him that, during the Kigali summit, we met directly with key Commonwealth partners. Foreign Minister GL Peiris was there, who is still in situ in the new Government. We are engaging directly and bilaterally, and scoping what level of co-operation we can offer Sri Lanka, including on the positive progress that has been made thus far, in a dire situation, through the IMF support, to ensure that Sri Lanka sustains itself as a democracy that is inclusive to all people.

Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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My Lords, we have a remote contribution form the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport.

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, what I can talk to is the response of the British Government. We are working closely with all key allies, including the US, which, like the United Kingdom, plays an important role within the context of the support being given on the ground—tantamount to several hundred million dollars—through the World Bank.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, that fuel is of acute importance to this crisis in Sri Lanka. Its previous president negotiated a purchase of Siberian oil, brokered through our allies in Dubai. The current, new Administration are also seeking to purchase new Russian supplies of oil and Putin has offered Russian wheat to Sri Lanka. What is the UK doing specifically to prevent Sri Lanka becoming, effectively, a purchaser of Russian oil? The geostrategic interests of the European war are now moving to Asia, and the UK is not part of these discussions.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I disagree with the noble Lord. We are engaging quite directly with key partners in Asia and south Asia. As I have already alluded to, I shall be speaking to Foreign Minister Jaishankar in the near future, because India has a key role to play. On the issues of fuel and Russian supplies, the UK has a robust sanctions regime in place, which we are co-ordinating with our key partners.

Lord Bishop of St Albans Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Albans
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My Lords, do Her Majesty’s Government agree with those commentators who believe that part of the issue has been an overclose relationship between the ruling family and China? Does the Minister also agree that this is a wake-up call to those countries which are now being courted by China? What else can Her Majesty’s Government do to increase our soft power among the Commonwealth at this time when people are vying for power in this volatile part of the world?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the right reverend Prelate. We have discussed before in your Lordships’ House the ever-growing role of China, and it is important that we work not just as the United Kingdom but with key allies, including the European Union, America and other like-minded partners, to offer economical alternatives for long-term infrastructure development. He is correct that we have seen the key port in Sri Lanka being financed by Chinese money, which then leads to a large level of debt being held by the Chinese. Current stats show that China holds 10% of Sri Lanka’s external debt stock. Although at a similar level to Japan, that debt is nevertheless on a rate which disables the economy rather than enabling it.

Baroness Amos Portrait Baroness Amos (Lab)
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My Lords, can I press the Minister on the humanitarian support that we are giving to Sri Lanka? Last month, inflation on food prices was 80%. There is rising unemployment and the World Food Programme has talked about 3 million people in need of dire humanitarian assistance. Supporting a co-ordinator in New York is not going to deal with the immediacy of that humanitarian crisis.

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, it is not just the co-ordinator role; we are providing support through CERF and money through the World Bank. But the noble Baroness is quite right about further direct support, and I have tasked officials—I have seen one submission already, but sent it back to them—on enhancing support bilaterally for the funding we can stand up, specific to the very point she raises about humanitarian support. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, mentioned fuel, as did my noble friend in his original Question, but it is equally important that we look at averting further famine on the ground, if indeed that is the next repercussion. We are encouraged by the incorporation of a degree of political stability, which we see with the swearing-in of the new president. As I said earlier, I will be looking to engage with him directly over the coming days.

Baroness Uddin Portrait Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I have two questions. First, the Minister mentioned India, but are the British Government also in touch with Bangladesh, which has a high-quality supply of medicine? Secondly, what are the Minister and his Government doing to ensure that there is no violence against women or rape in any upcoming conflict that there may be? Can he assure me that his team is watching this situation?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a valid point about Bangladesh. We are talking to key Commonwealth partners in this respect; I mentioned India because it has a key role to play in direct economic support. On the issue of violence more generally, and specifically to women, we are of course looking at that constructively. We are offering direct support on the ground through the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, where money has been stood up and is invested in projects. When I said in my original Answer that there was monitoring, of course we are monitoring the security situation and working with key partners. We are imploring the importance of peaceful protest, which should be sustained. Underlying issues still remain, such as the historic conflict which gripped Sri Lanka. We need to ensure that we stay focused, so that the current political and economic instability does not lead to communal violence.

Food Insecurity in Developing Countries due to Blockade of Ukrainian Ports

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Excerpts
Thursday 21st July 2022

(3 weeks, 4 days ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, first and foremost, I join all other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for tabling this debate. David is someone I have known for many years, and I concur with everything that has been said. Today’s debate and his insightful, detailed and expert knowledge on a subject that, once again, draws the House together on the importance of our collective response in the face of aggression is something that I know that he champions but that we also celebrate. We thank him for all he does in this respect.

I join others in welcoming the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham to his place. His contribution today was insightful and showed expertise, but it also very much brought home the importance and the role of faith in finding some of the solutions. As someone who just oversaw the delivery of the FoRB conference in London, I think faith institutions and faith NGOs, as well as others, have an important role to play as we face up to many of the development challenges, including those humanitarian causes around the world.

I want to quote from a UN report which was published on 8 June. I commend it to all noble Lords. There have been direct discussions with the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed, and I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, that we are working closely with our multilateral partners. I have certainly taken that important relationship very seriously in my capacity as Minister for the UN. I reassure noble Lords that while the summer break beckons for most, I certainly intend to be at the UN in the middle of August, partly on this very issue of Ukraine but also on others, such as Sri Lanka, because the world does not stop. Unfortunately, the challenges of famine and the war in Ukraine will not stop. Of course I say to the noble Baroness that if there are updates to be shared I will share them with your Lordships’ House. I also assure her that I work closely with colleagues in the Ministry of Defence in our collective response, not just to the situation in Ukraine but in focusing on the continuing plight of many people suffering in Afghanistan, among other places.

The UN report alluded to focused on food security. I will quote directly from it:

“A war is always a human tragedy, and the war in Ukraine is no exception. The ripple effects of the conflict are extending human suffering far beyond its borders. The war, in all its dimensions, has exacerbated a global cost-of-living crisis unseen in at least a generation, compromising lives, livelihoods, and our aspirations for a better world by 2030.”


I note that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, is wearing the SDGs badge on his lapel. Again, whether it is the Covid crisis or this war, it really puts under the microscope the real challenge of facing up to the delivery of the SDGs by the target of 2030. However, we need to remain focused in this respect.

I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, that we recognise the global impact. The noble Baroness mentioned cash transfers, for example, and that remains a central part of our development programme. I have not shied away from the fact that when you cut, as we have had to, from 0.7% to 0.5% it has had an impact on our development spend, but I stay proud of our strong traditions and the support we continue to give around the world.

I take heed also that sometimes a crisis brings into focus what the opportunities are. While sharing my noble friend Lord Hannan’s view of the world and of the importance of open markets, I also concur with the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that the Covid crisis taught us about the importance of the interdependence of humanity. We are at our best when we help each other. We leverage our expertise and provide global solutions, and I believe open markets help in that respect. Look at the 60% of arable land which is currently uncultivated in Africa; there is a huge opportunity for all. In that same report there are innovative solutions including, for example, having a food importing financing facility. They provide the premise for discussions to take place in the future.

There was much in what my noble friend Lord Balfe said that, unfortunately, I do not agree with and I pose him three questions. Are we to accept Russia’s annexation of a sovereign nation or part of Ukraine’s sovereign territories? Are we to accept flagrant violations of human laws and the law of humanity? Are we to accept the suppression of not just the Ukrainian population but the Russian population? I say to my noble friend: ask Alexander Navalny and his family. The three answers are no, no and no. We will continue to stand united, as this House and this country, in support of Ukraine. It is the Ukrainians who should lead on peace negotiations, and we will support them and continue to stand firm.

I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is talking to President Zelensky regularly. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to Foreign Minister Kuleba last week and is doing so again this week. I am in touch with Foreign Minister Kuleba and was in The Hague last week, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, talking about atrocities to Karim Khan, among others. We are very much engaged. Perhaps on a slightly lighter note on a sombre subject, I assure noble Lords that House of Lords Ministers stayed in place to ensure that our Government carried on functioning.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, talked about increasing funding for international organisations, including the World Food Programme. I have been speaking to and keeping in touch with David Beasley, and we have made a £130 million pledge to that programme. I assure the noble Lord that that funding is not diverted from other programmes. It includes funding allocated to in-country offices and flexible funding provided at central level as well.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised the land ownership in Africa. The UK has played a lead role in promoting good land governance in Africa and will continue to support states’ development in this regard and, of course, community rights. She talked about forces from India diverting food support from their country to the UK. Look at the UK for here and now. There is little I can say other than that when we look around the UK at the rich heritage that is not just part of our history but of our present and future, we recognise that the UK today is a very different place and long may that be the case.

The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, talked about long-term plans for peace. We support Ukraine’s desire for a just negotiated outcome and of course we support any noble initiative led by or involving Ukraine, but this is Russia’s war of aggression. Russia can stop this tomorrow, but the impact is still going to be felt for not just months but years ahead.

I thank my noble friend Lord Cormack, the noble Lords, Lord Hastings and Lord Loomba, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, among others for their kind words about my role, but it is important that we remain resolute. We expect Russia to uphold its international obligations. It is a P5 member like the United Kingdom, and that brings responsibility. We cannot have these flagrant violations continuing. It is for Russia to bring this to an end. It is in contravention of international obligations, including those under the UN charter.

We move forward to face up to the crisis of food and the impact of the Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports mentioned by many noble Lords. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, it is weaponising food and is impacting global security. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans also talked rightly about raising awareness. I look forward to the outcomes of the conference and perhaps practical suggestions from on the ground that can be shared with the Government. The region’s worsening food crisis is caused by an accumulation of pressures, as several noble Lords pointed out, including the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. They include local conflict and climatic shocks, but the war in Ukraine is making it worse. When crises happen, people look at differences and divisions. They are then exploited—or worse.

It is Mr Putin’s war, and the associated rise in food, fuel and fertiliser prices is making the problem much more acute. Yesterday it was 11 years since the UN first declared a famine in Somalia. My noble friend Lord Polak spoke of this and while I hear what he said about Somaliland, he is aware of the United Kingdom’s position, and we feel it is right for Somaliland and Somalia to bring forth an inclusive agreement. It was a brutal famine which has led to the deaths of 250,000 people, the majority of them children, and left 500,000 children malnourished. It is important that the UN acts in this particular way.

We are helping not just the region but Ukraine directly. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that we are providing more than £3.8 billion in support—£220 million in humanitarian support. She mentioned rebuilding infrastructure, and we have allocated another £200 million in that respect. The city of Kyiv has been assigned to the United Kingdom. As a country we are helping the people and Government of Ukraine to rebuild.

Today’s debate is extremely timely, as several noble Lords have said. Let me state categorically: we will stay united with Ukraine. I am grateful to all noble Lords, in particular Her Majesty’s official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats, for their strong and united support on this issue. Looking at food crises around the world, right now, more than 48 million people in east Africa are facing severe food insecurity, and more than 13 million people are on the cusp of famine conditions, in particular in the Horn of Africa and Ethiopia, which the noble Earl mentioned, and there are issues of CRSV which he brought to light.

We have a conference in November later this year where we will report on some of the work that has been done. Frankly, I fear that the lack of humanitarian access has meant that, once the lid is fully lifted, the situation on conflict-related sexual violence will be very dire.

Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are all in the grip of a severe drought emergency. In those three countries, over 18 million people are severely food insecure, and famine conditions are already a reality for more than 600,000 people. As all noble Lords have alluded to, including my noble friend Lord Risby, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and its blockade, coupled with reduced agricultural production—400 million people used to be supplied from Ukraine alone—have caused a sharp increase in global grain prices. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, I was never an MP for a farming constituency, but I worked in the commodities sector, where the impact on prices has been enormous and incredibly impactful for the long term. Of course, farmers need to protect their prices; this is a knock-on effect.

The UK is at the forefront of this, with £3 billion in global humanitarian support over the next three years. This was discussed, for example, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. That was a difficult negotiation, into which the issue of conflict fatigue stepped in, and the question: why does Ukraine matter? It matters, not because it is a conflict between two countries or on one continent but because it is a conflict impacting the whole world, as we have seen through the issues of energy and food prices. We will remain focused in this way, and I assure noble Lords that we will continue engaging with the multilateral system and IFIs on food insecurities via the World Bank’s $30 billion set aside for food security.

The issue of food waste, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, provides a stark reality check for us all. I will share this point with our colleagues in Defra. The reality is that food is being wasted, which can perhaps be managed very differently.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Smith of Newnham and Lady Smith of Basildon, and my noble friend Lord Risby spoke of the recent talks in Iran, where the Turkish President met with President Putin. Ministers and senior officials, including those in our embassy in Ankara, have been in very regular contact with the Turkish authorities on these international efforts to get grain out of Ukraine, and we welcome the important role that the Turkish authorities are playing. As I receive more details, I will share them with noble Lords. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon: as much as we will put in land corridors and are supportive of efforts through them, they cannot replace the ports. The ports are under attack; Odessa has been under increasing pressure in recent days. We also need to make sure that we retain our focus with other countries to ensure that whatever can be leveraged from land routes is fully realised.

Use of fertilisers has declined due to a nearly 30% price increase. In turn, cereal production has fallen by a fifth. As I have said, the UK is working with its international partners to hold Russia to account, being clear that western sanctions do not target food production. This is understood by our international partners. The sanctions imposed by the UK, the EU and the United States do not prevent Russia exporting its fertilisers or grain in any respect. In fact, Russian grain exports are continuing apace, with exports to key trading partners similar to those in previous years.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its blockade of Ukraine’s ports have produced the logistical situation in Odessa, as my noble friend Lord Risby said. It is mined through floating mines from Russia, which means that the navigation issue will not have a solution in a matter of days or weeks; it may take months to demine this whole area. However, we need to remain resolute and focused. The UK is working with Ukraine to help export its food and fulfil its role as the breadbasket of Europe. The UN currently estimates that up to 23 million tonnes of grain for export remain in storage in Ukraine. It is ultimately President Putin’s responsibility to lift this blockade, but we are working with international partners to alleviate the situation.

At the spring meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in April, the UK and its partners secured the largest ever financial commitment from the World Bank of $170 billion until June 2023. This will be targeted specifically at the countries and regions impacted. Of this, $30 billion will be focused on food security. The UK has also announced emergency humanitarian assistance to address food insecurity in the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Afghanistan. Over the next three years, we will direct £3 billion in total across the world to vulnerable countries and people.

We have recently committed another £10 million to the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, bringing our allocation for the poorest countries to £186 million. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, among others, that we are working with G7 allies through the Global Alliance for Food Security to scale up a rapid needs-based, co-ordinated response.

My noble friend Lord Risby, the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and others mentioned the importance of and impact on north Africa. I have already visited Tunisia and Algeria, and I am shortly about to go to Morocco. I have also visited Egypt. It is a food crisis. They are finding feeding their populations a real challenge for the here and now. Of course, I shall engage with all the key interlocutors and, if there are updates, report back. The fact is that there is a crisis, and it can be averted only if we act together, but at the same time seek to bring this conflict to an end—and that is very much on Russia.

The right reverend Prelate raised east Africa, which several noble Lords, including the noble Earl, drew attention to, as did my noble friend Lord Polack. In January, the UK announced £17 million of emergency humanitarian assistance to address critical needs in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia and Kenya. In February, we announced £5.5 million of support allocated for Somalia, and in March a further £1.6 million to support the drought response in Ethiopia. In April, £25 million in aid was announced to provide vital food services to people in Somalia. We are playing a leading role bilaterally and with our key partners.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the issues of war crimes and accountability. We are working closely with the ICC. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, talked about the protocols. I discussed them directly with Karim Khan, who is making those assessments. Noble Lords will be aware that we have set up the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group with our friends and partners in the EU and US, focused on atrocities across the piece. I look forward to working with noble Lords in identifying how we can put specific parameters in and ensure through the Murad code, for example, that crimes of sexual violence are fully investigated and documented to allow successful prosecutions to take place. We are also working within the Human Rights Council parameters and its commission of inquiry, the OSCE’s Moscow mechanism and the Council of Europe’s monitoring bodies, so there is a broad approach to ensuring that accountability is focused on.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others, particularly on the issue of asset seizures that he raised, that as the Foreign Secretary said at the Foreign Affairs Committee, it is an issue that we are working on with the Home Office and the Treasury, and we will update your Lordships’ House as well as the other place on the specifics. It is important that we get this right, but that particular issue is a live one, which we are looking at quite directly.

In concluding this debate, I assure noble Lords that we remain very much focused on our responsibilities through the G7 and G20. The UK’s director-general for humanitarian development has made numerous visits to the region, and we have a special envoy to the Horn of Africa. In June, my honourable friend the Minister for Africa, Vicky Ford, wrote to David Malpass at the World Bank to highlight the gravity of needs. We also maintain a productive dialogue with non-governmental organisations, which are extremely important. In June, the Minister for Africa met members of the Disasters Emergency Committee. Our officials remain fully engaged on the ground and here in London on working with key partners.

To conclude on the Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports, we have all documented it, with our different perspectives. We have had a wide-ranging debate—although I say to my noble friend Lord Cormack that he went so wide in his contribution that it may have been wider than I have ever experienced in my time at the Dispatch Box. Nevertheless, I am sure that people have noted his contributions quite carefully. I assure my noble friend that the Government continue to be very active, and I hope that through the examples that I have illustrated he is somewhat reassured that we stay very much focused on this.

I lived through the crisis last summer in Afghanistan and it was important that we continued to stand by our commitments. I am proud that the Government have continued to stand by our humanitarian commitments in Afghanistan and our commitments to the people of Ukraine, whether on the economy or humanitarian support, or diplomatically and militarily. It is important that this war ends: it is in Russia’s hands to end it but, in the meantime, we will continue with our obligation and support, including in east African countries, the Horn of Africa, to ensure that after a fourth consecutive season of failed rains, we continue to have decisive, co-ordinated, bilateral and multilateral swift action from the international community to avoid severe humanitarian outcomes. I hope that I have, in part, convinced noble Lords that the United Kingdom is continuing to play its part.

In closing, I record my sincere thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, for their contributions over the recent period of the current Government, for the positive and practical insights they have brought and for their solutions. This is not always a challenge to the Minister at the Dispatch Box. I value their insights and experience. I also offer my thanks, through the good offices of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, to the noble Lord, Lord Collins. I record my sincere thanks because the advice and insights I have received is extremely valuable to any Minister seeking to do their job. We face unprecedented challenges, challenges of humanity and of humanitarian crisis, but I acknowledge our collective efforts as your Lordships’ House, whether we do so with the other place or on a cross-party basis. When we act together, as we did during the Covid crisis and as we are doing on Ukraine, we are at our best when we act as a country, collective and unified in our response to those who seek to cause division and discord. For that, I am eternally grateful to all noble Lords. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for once again bringing your Lordships together on this important subject.

I was reminded of a quote as I listened to the debate. My father was an Urdu poet, God bless his soul, and one of the famous poets he used to appreciate and hold in high regard was Rumi. I was reminded of Rumi, who said,

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself”.

Republic of Belarus (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Excerpts
Wednesday 20th July 2022

(3 weeks, 5 days ago)

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

Relevant document: 10th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, this instrument was laid on 4 July under the powers provided by the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, also known as the sanctions Act. It amends the Republic of Belarus (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 to introduce new measures in the financial, trade and transport sectors. These sanctions seek to deter Belarus from engaging in further action that destabilises Ukraine. The instrument has been considered and not reported by both the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. I am grateful to your Lordships for ensuring that these matters are addressed properly. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for the previous discussions that we have had on this issue.

Since 24 February, Belarus has actively facilitated Mr Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. It has permitted Russia to use its territory to pincer Ukraine, launching troops and missiles from its border and flying Russian jets through its airspace. Mr Lukashenko has also openly supported the Kremlin’s narrative, claiming that Kyiv was provoking Russia to justify Putin’s entirely unprovoked assault. In response to this continued support for Russia’s invasion, we are introducing a further package of sanctions measures. These measures follow actions taken since the invasion of Ukraine, including the designation of over 50 Belarusian individuals and organisations for their role in aiding and abetting this reckless aggression.

These further measures build on the wide-ranging sanctions already imposed on Belarus and Mr Lukashenko, as well as members of his family and his regime, for their role in violating democratic principles and the rule of law, and violently oppressing civil society, democratic opposition leaders and independent media within Belarusian borders. To be quite clear, our grievance is not with the Belarusian people, who are themselves—I am sure all noble Lords accept this premise—victims of intense repression; it is with the actions of the Lukashenko regime and its adherents in supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The measures introduced by this instrument include further financial sanctions, banning more Belarusian companies from issuing debt and securities in London or obtaining loans from UK banks. They prohibit UK individuals and entities from providing financial services to the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus or the Belarusian Ministry of Finance to prevent Belarus deploying its foreign reserves in ways that undermine the impact of other sanctions.

The measures include new trade sanctions, including a ban on the export to Belarus of dual-use goods and technology for all purposes and a ban on the export of critical industry goods and technologies, and components related to quantum computing. This includes high-end equipment such as microelectronics, marine and navigation equipment, and aircraft and aircraft components. It will place further constraints on Belarus’s military-industrial and technological capabilities.

The measures ban the export of oil-refining goods and technology, cutting off access to components required for Belarus’s petroleum-refining industry, one of the country’s highest-value export sectors. They include a ban on the export of luxury goods to Belarus, preventing the elite buying items such as artworks and designer accessories sold by British companies, and a ban on the import of iron and steel from Belarus.

Finally, this legislation introduces new transport measures. It extends aircraft measures introduced in 2021, so that the UK now has the power to detain and deregister Belarusian aircraft. The legislation also introduces new shipping measures, prohibiting Belarusian ships from entering UK ports and introducing powers to detain and deregister ships.

The instrument we are debating today enshrines in law our further sanctions on the Belarusian regime and delivers the commitment made by my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to issue decisive sanctions against Belarus for its part in this wholly unjustified and continuing war on Ukraine.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these measures, which my party strongly supports. He will recall that, when we discussed the first tranche of the new form of sanctions against Russia, I specifically raised the need to move swiftly to expand the provisions to the Lukashenko regime. It has been the facilitator, host and handmaiden of grotesque abuses of international law and human rights norms.

I support the policy objectives of these regulations, which are to coerce and constrain, and signal to Belarus that the UK stands strongly against its practices. I support all those elements. Just yesterday, the UN aviation agency found that Belarusian officials are to blame for a bomb hoax on a Ryanair flight which forced it to land in Minsk so that they could secure those who are, in effect, journalist freedom fighters. The agency said it was

“an act of unlawful interference”,

which shows the unreliability of the Lukashenko regime. It is therefore right that the aviation, shipping and transportation sectors are covered.

I have a general question on our relationship with the European Union, which is now in its fifth round of restrictive measures against Belarus. When the Minister responds to this short debate, it would help if he could reassure me that we are now in like-for-like lockstep with the EU’s restrictive measures—with the same list of individuals and the same restrictions on services and financial services that are now in our measures. Are we in complete alignment with the European Union? I ask this because one of the elements—which I support—allows for greater co-ordination with the United States, the European Union, Canada and Australia. It would be helpful to know whether our list of relevant individuals under these regulations is the same as the European Union’s list.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome the fact that we are again debating further sanctions against Belarus. I once again say to the Minister that the Opposition fully support the Government’s actions in this regard.

Lukashenko’s regime has consistently dismissed human rights in an effort to tighten his grip over the people of Belarus, with devastating consequences. The absence of fair elections, combined with crackdowns on civil society and intolerance of a free press, has resulted in the torture, arrest and disappearance of entirely innocent people.

I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Foulkes, who has personally adopted a political prisoner and urged others to do likewise. I will make the point that the noble Lord made: this is about not punishing the people of Belarus but making sure they and the world know that we are on their side. That is an important point. What we say in this Chamber does not always echo around the world, but we know that civil society in Belarus will be listening today and welcoming the Government’s actions in this regard.

What Lukashenko fears most is of course his own people. They are calling for a brighter future, which has led to such brutal reprisals. This fear has also led Lukashenko to support Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, because Kyiv has shown that democracy and human rights are the starting block for a prosperous and secure nation, which is entirely incompatible with the lies that both leaders, Putin and Lukashenko, tell their people.

The new sanctions before the House are in response to that invasion and build on the sanctions we have imposed before. In recent weeks we have seen further indiscriminate shelling, preparations for the next stage of the offensive and the emergence of a new humanitarian crisis. Lukashenko’s support has emboldened Putin to act with impunity, which is why it is vital that we act. We must treat his regime as equally culpable, and we are absolutely behind the Government on this.

I turn to the sanctions and echo a number of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, made, but I have a couple of other points in addition. Part 2 includes a new power to designate persons by description, which I know we discussed on the sanctions Bill. Can the Minister explain what safeguards are in place to prevent individuals being mistakenly targeted as a result?

Meanwhile, Part 3 is focused on financial services. On this point, I ask the Minister to tell us exactly what assessment and examination the Government have made of the dirty money in the United Kingdom, particularly the illicit Belarusian finance in London. I hope he can reassure the House on that.

Part 4 creates new export and import restrictions, which appear to be similar to those previously issued against Russia. Can the Minister perhaps explain why these have not been introduced sooner?

I also pick up the point about Belarusian ships in Part 5. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, addressed that, so I hope the Minister will answer that question.

Finally, the Minister has repeatedly assured us about the overseas territories, and I assume these issues are covered in the joint ministerial council with the overseas territories. To be effective, it is vital that the sanctions are actioned in concert with others, that it is a global action and—even more importantly—that our overseas territories act absolutely in step with the United Kingdom Government. I hope he can reassure us on that front.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their strong support, as has been consistent since the sanctions regime was introduced. Today is no different and that is right, notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said about how many people might be in your Lordships’ Chamber. There are others who listen and my experience over a number of years suggests to me that what we say matters. I assure the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, as I am sure they both know from their own correspondence, that people pick up on quite specific items within each debate that we have.

At the outset, I assure the noble Lords that our co-ordination with all our partners, including the European Union, is very much in a strong place. If there is a difference in the specifics upon whom a sanction may apply, it is simply one of process only and there is quickly an alignment. We have moved on some sanctions quicker than the EU, or indeed the Americans. The Americans have a different system, of course; they can introduce certain things by executive orders. We have certainly seen the speed at which we have been able to move since we brought forward additional legislation on sanctions to allow for the expedited application of particular issues.

I will pick up on a few of the specific questions and, of course, where I have not answered I will ensure that a letter is sent. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about designations by description. Within our processes for any sanction that is applied, there is quite a rigorous application to ensure that there is mitigation in place if there is a wrong person, as names can often be duplicated. Equally, notwithstanding that robust process, the right of appeal that every individual or organisation has is a right that we need to ensure is protected. Undoubtedly, with all the best intent and all the rigour of processes and mitigations in place, that is not always the case. There can be examples where someone passes away, or reforms—one should never give up hope in that respect. The fact that we review sanctions regimes is positive; that will very much remain the case.

The noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, asked about alignment with the Crown dependencies and OTs. I confirm again on record that all UK sanctions regimes apply in all the UK Crown dependencies and overseas territories, either by Orders in Council or through each jurisdiction’s own legislation. The ones which apply their own legislation in this respect have been Jersey, Guernsey, Gibraltar and Bermuda, which legislate for themselves. Orders in Council make the necessary changes to ensure the effective implementation of measures.

On 13 April, an order was laid that extended amendment SIs Nos. 2 to 7, and on 19 July a further order was made that extended amendment SI No. 8, so we are moving through this process. In reply to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about direct engagement with the territories, I can assure the House that while I am no longer the Minister for the Overseas Territories I know that my colleagues have been focused on ensuring that we align ourselves. The feedback we get from the Crown dependencies and OTs is very much aligned to our thinking.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, also raised further measures that could be taken here in the City of London to ensure that if the cash flows that have come in are illicit, people are protected. I think there were measures brought in through the first economic crime Act; we will, of course, be introducing additional measures. As well as introducing those new measures, this will allow us, rightly, to reflect on the expertise, insight and experience of your Lordships’ House to see how that legislation can be strengthened.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked about the exit strategy on the Belarusian regime and its people. As with all sanctions, there is of course a gateway when it comes to issues of humanitarian support. Sometimes the question has been asked, “With a landlocked country, why have you introduced shipping restrictions?” Those shipping restrictions apply because there are Belarusian-registered and flagged ships. He asked a specific question about flagged ships from other countries that may do business in Belarus. If I may, I will write to him specifically on that point, as it is a valid question to raise. But of course the instructions and directions are being shared with all key members of the industry, and industry organisations ensure those are relayed to all their members. However, I will look into that and write to him.

On what is happening in Belarus, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly drew our attention to the continued suppression of civil society and communities. Just about every human right under the sun is being suppressed, whether we are talking about journalists, civil society groups or political prisoners. Therefore, it is important that we are seen to be not just talking and condemning but acting. We continue to work closely with EU member states, the US and Canada on these continued and additional accountability measures, including through the International Accountability Platform for Belarus, which the UK, EU and individual member states established in 2021 and which is a good premise on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, on co-ordination in this respect.

Ukraine

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Excerpts
Wednesday 13th July 2022

(1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they are having with NATO member states on developments in the conflict in Ukraine.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, the United Kingdom continues to engage closely and regularly with our NATO allies as a key part of our response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary represented the UK at the recent NATO summit in Madrid at which NATO stated its unequivocal support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. At the summit, the Prime Minister also encouraged fellow leaders to increase their economic, military and political support to Ukraine and announced a further £1 billion of UK military aid to Ukraine. We will continue to act alongside our NATO allies to counter Russian aggression.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab) [V]
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We have on the one hand the brutal and unrelenting savagery of Putin’s army and, on the other, the inflexible commitment of Ukraine to a conflict which is already seven years old, where the only war aim is the total withdrawal of Russian forces. On what basis can the European powers justify indefinite spending on a war which is causing global inflation, insecurity across Europe and poverty at home, and which now threatens a winter with many people dying of the cold? When will wisdom and the need to negotiate trump wishful thinking?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, it is wisdom which ensures that we stand up united against anyone who aggresses in the way that Russia has. We are doing so with our European allies, the US and others. The noble Lord describes the conflict as one that is seven years old, but what is very true is that Crimea was annexed illegally; it is occupied illegally. We need to ensure that Russia stops this and the very issues the noble Lord alluded to, and it can do it now. Pull back and stop the war.

Lord Dobbs Portrait Lord Dobbs (Con)
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My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the coldest winter that Europe—and, indeed, the rest of the world—could possibly experience would be if Russa were to win this vicious war that it started? This war cannot succeed in the way that Russia wants if the rest of the world is to move forward.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with my noble friend, which is why united we stand.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, on these Benches, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, we believe that Russia needs to be defeated. But, as we are moving towards the Summer Recess, can the Minister say what wider scenario planning NATO is doing, beyond what is happening in Ukraine? August is often a difficult month. What is the FCDO doing to ensure that a Minister will always be in place over the summer?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s second point, there always is a Minister at the FCDO over the summer—as I was. Some of us cancelled our holidays to ensure that we were there. I assure the noble Baroness that, even when people take deserved holidays, there is always substantial experienced cover, as will be the case for this crisis and others. On the noble Baroness’s first point, of course we are working and engaged with our G7 and NATO partners. Later this afternoon, I will leave for The Hague to look specifically at accountability for the crimes that are being committed daily in Ukraine.

Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Russians are committing unforgivable war crimes virtually every day? Does he agree that any form of appeasement with that kind of regime is wholly unacceptable?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. This is why we are working with our key partners, and with 42 other member states on issues at the ICJ. As I said, I am leaving for The Hague to meet the prosecutors from the ICC and Ukraine to see what further assistance and support we can provide to ensure that crimes are documented, that victims get the hope they need, that Ukraine gets the support it needs and that we can bring justice.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister knows the Official Opposition’s position: we are at one with the Government on ensuring that Russia’s aggression is defeated and that any future negotiations must be led by President Zelensky—there is no alternative to that. I will be a little political with the Minister: last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that we were committed to 2.3% defence spending and that Ukraine was a major cause of this. We now have a Chancellor saying that every department should cut 20%. I admire the Minister’s longevity in post, and I do not want to harm it, but can he tell us where that 20% cut will be made in the MoD and the FCDO? This matters in the fight for Ukraine.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord will not need to wait too long to see what happens with the leadership of the Conservative Party and our country. There are some very able candidates for Prime Minister and leader of the party. But, on the more substantial point, the Ministry of Defence and the FCDO are fully equipped, engaging diplomatically and militarily. As I said, we have made an additional commitment of £1 billion in support and defence of Ukraine.

Lord Stirrup Portrait Lord Stirrup (CB)
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My Lords, as this conflict in Ukraine is unlikely to be over quickly, what discussions are Her Majesty’s Government and European colleagues having with the Government of Ukraine about a sustainable economic model for Ukraine, particularly in the agricultural sector and with regard to agricultural exports?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord raises an extremely important point. We are working closely with Ukraine and are one of the leading donors. Our total commitment is £3.8 billion, including £1.3 billion in guarantees for EBRD and World Bank lending to Ukraine. This is coupled with £220 million of humanitarian support. The noble and gallant Lord is right to draw attention to the food crisis. From a global perspective, an estimated 300 million people will suffer because of the war in Ukraine by the end of this year. We are looking towards working with key allies, including Turkey, to seek alternative routes to shift that grain from Ukraine.

Lord West of Spithead Portrait Lord West of Spithead (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a national disgrace that our Armed Forces are not actually ready today for peer-on-peer war. Our commitment to the new NATO strategic concept in Army terms is an armoured division. The Chief of the Defence Staff has said that we will have an armoured division ready for peer-on-peer warfare with the right stockpiles and weapons in the 2030s, 10 years away. Does the Minister not agree that that is too long a timescale and that, at the very least, we should spend money today on getting our defence firms to produce equipment and weapons on a 24/7 basis to restock our stockpiles and provide weapons to the Ukrainians?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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As I have said to the noble Lord on numerous occasions, I agree on the principle that we need to be ready to ensure that we meet the challenges that we face. That is why we have been able to stand ready to support Ukraine with the support that we have extended, as the noble Lord well knows. Of course, he has made a number of points on the importance of spending now and investing now to meet the challenges of the future, and I am sure that is something that my colleagues at the Ministry of Defence have taken into account.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Portrait Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, the unlawful and illegal invasion of Ukraine was carried out following an intention not to invade by such people as Lavrov and Putin, and it now continues with the world watching. It is good to see that allies are providing munitions, particularly precision long-distance artillery. Can the Minister—who I have to say is an excellent Minister—give the House an assurance that such critical support will continue until every Russian invader is removed from Ukraine?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord for his kind words. On the issue of Ukraine, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, summed it up very well. We stand united with Ukraine; it is right that Ukraine leads the efforts in terms of any discussions, including those on peace. We, as an ally, partner and constructive friend, stand strong in our support on humanitarian issues, on the economy and on the military. We stand with Ukraine in every sense. I wish to record the broad range of support across your Lordships’ House —indeed, across both Houses—in support of this central and key objective.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, when later today the Minister has talks with Karim Khan, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, will he talk to him about the use of starvation as a weapon of war, which is a war crime? Will he refer specifically to the burning of Ukrainian wheat fields over the past few days, as well as the blockading of the export of grain to countries in the third world, but specifically into famine-ridden countries that are already facing drought, locusts and the rest, in the Horn of Africa and east Africa?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I shall actually be seeing Karim Khan tomorrow, I think—by the time I get there it will be quite late. On the specific points, I have a bilateral whereby I shall be engaging with him on the very points that the noble Lord raises about the increasing level and spectrum of crimes that are taking place in Ukraine against the people of Ukraine, including conflict-related sexual violence. We will be documenting it—that is why the UK has led the way in ensuring that Ukraine’s own prosecutor, who visited the UK, is equipped not just with money and the technical support she needs but with the expertise, including that of Sir Howard Morrison, that is helping her directly in ensuring that those crimes can be documented so that we see successful prosecutions.

Sri Lanka

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Excerpts
Wednesday 13th July 2022

(1 month ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Minister for Asia and the Middle East to an Urgent Question in another place on the state of emergency declared today in Sri Lanka. The Statement is as follows:

“We are closely monitoring the fast-moving and fluid political, economic and security situation in Sri Lanka. The Minister of State for South Asia has engaged directly with our high commissioner and the team on the ground. We encourage all sides to find a peaceful, democratic and inclusive approach to resolving the current political and economic challenges.

Sri Lanka’s political and economic challenges should be resolved through an inclusive and cross-party process. Any transition of power should be peaceful, constitutional and democratic, and I call on all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from violence.”

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that response. Sri Lanka is now facing a state of paralysis and desperately needs a Government with popular support to emerge from this chaos. There is a desperate humanitarian crisis and Amanda Milling said in the other place that our support is being channelled through multilateral institutions, without providing any details. My honourable friend Catherine West asked the Minister to outline the immediate support offered to Sri Lanka, including through engagement with regional partners such as India. Since no answer was given by Amanda Milling, can the Minister now provide one?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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As the Minister of State for South Asia, I have been engaging directly on this issue. We are working with, for example, the Red Cross on its disaster relief emergency fund and its operation in Sri Lanka. We are providing direct support, including essential medicine, first aid and psychosocial support. We are also working through various UN agencies, based on their assessments, with a plan launched on 9 June. The Humanitarian Needs and Priorities Plan called for $47.2 million to provide lifesaving assistance, and we are supporting that directly through the UN. The World Bank has also announced assistance of $400 million, which includes funds for medicines and medical equipment, and we are looking at that. I assure the noble Lord that, on the state of emergency, I have again today instructed officials to look at what bilateral support we can provide. I acknowledge his point and I am very much on it: we are seeing how we can engage constructively with India as a near partner and friend to Sri Lanka.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I agree with the Minister on the need for a peaceful transition back to stability. While he and I were in Kigali—he was representing the UK Government at the ministerials at CHOGM—two Sri Lankan Ministers were in Moscow negotiating the purchase of Russian oil. Can the Minister expand on the practical steps the UK can take—both the direct support we can offer, and bilateral support through the Commonwealth—to ensure that Putin does not exploit the instability in Sri Lanka, because he certainly wants to?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord’s point about Mr Putin would apply in many instances. I met with Foreign Minister Peiris while I was in Kigali, specifically regarding the current state of play. He remains in position, notwithstanding the appointment of the Prime Minister as the acting President.

As I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, we are looking at how we can best channel our support through agencies on the ground. The UN is present, and we are engaging with other key partners. As the noble Lord will acknowledge, the UK is also looking at what has caused this crisis, which is an economic crisis. When I was in Sri Lanka and I met with the then Administration, I implored them to consider the importance of not just talking to the IMF but working through a specific plan. I believe that we have the fifth-largest quota share when it comes to the IMF, and we are working very constructively. Sri Lanka needs political stability, but the underlying cause and problem remains the economics. We are working with the IMF on that programme.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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My Lords, does the Minister have any evidence of increased tension between the Tamil and Sinhalese populations?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, we are certainly watching that space very closely. Communal tensions arise in any conflict where communities perhaps seek to assign blame to another community. We are also looking very carefully at pre-existing religious tensions. Although there have been raids into the presidential compound and the Prime Minister’s residence, we have not yet seen or monitored an increase in communal tension between the two major communities in Sri Lanka.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, Sri Lanka has a dark history of human rights abuses, the vast majority being perpetrated with complete impunity. Today’s fear, with the announcement of a state of emergency coupled with political instability, is that these terrible atrocities will begin again. What conversations has the Minister or any of his colleagues had with our partners about how we can avoid these fears being realised? On the issue of impunity, it appears that the Rajapaksa brothers are intent on going to the United States of America. Can we have some conversations with our American ally about whether the impunity they have enjoyed up until now will survive that transfer to the USA?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord talks about impunity regarding conflicts past, particularly the civil war. That is why the United Kingdom has led on Resolution 46/1 at the Human Rights Council. When I was last in Geneva, I engaged directly with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, saying that we would sustain our support for it. That remains an important issue, and I am sure it will be a point of discussion when the UNHRC returns in September.

As to the current situation with the previous Administration, including Mr Rajapaksa and other members of his family, countries will make their own determinations but we want the perpetrators of the civil war to be held to account. Equally, we want to ensure that the communities that suffered do not see the conflicts of the past occur again.

Lord Dholakia Portrait Lord Dholakia (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister must be aware of the serious allegations of corruption against Rajapaksa and his Government. What efforts are being made to extradite him from the Maldives so that he can answer the charges in the Sri Lankan courts?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I will not comment specifically on the current situation with the previous President—we still await the final formal resignation. As to what will happen regarding his future, determinations will be made. At the moment we are focusing on the economic and political stability which will lend itself to whatever future inclusive Government are formed in Sri Lanka, to allow for full accountability for whoever needs to be held to account.

Lord McDonald of Salford Portrait Lord McDonald of Salford (CB)
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My Lords, how many British citizens are in Sri Lanka and are Her Majesty’s Government confident that they are all safe?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Lord will know from his own insight, we do not keep specific track of the numbers there, but we have a very strong Sri Lankan diaspora here in United Kingdom and many dual nationals. On Saturday I spoke to our chargé on the ground to ensure that we have the support in post for any increase in consular inquiries. There had been no increase, certainly up until Saturday. I also convened a meeting this morning to ensure that there is a specific plan regarding the humanitarian, economic and political support we can provide with key partners, but also the support we can provide to British citizens seeking to leave, as the noble Lord highlights. We have the experiences of Covid repatriation and other crises, which will ensure that, if and when required, we can mobilise the resources we need in Colombo and here in London to provide the support UK citizens might need.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, following on from the Minister’s answer to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, he said that people have to be held to account, but he also referred to countries to which the President might flee making their own decisions. There were rumours this morning that the President was intending to flee to the UAE. If the Minister does indeed think that people should be held to account, it is surely incumbent on us to engage with the country in question—be it the UAE or the US—to try to ensure that it is not seen as a safe haven that people can flee to and escape potentially being held to account in the way the Minister says he wishes to see.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness knows me well enough to know that when I say that people should be held to account, we would follow through on that. I am not going to speculate; there are a lot of rumours as to where particular people may seek to travel. Those are conversations to be had as and when we know the full facts, and then we will act accordingly.

Lord West of Spithead Portrait Lord West of Spithead (Lab)
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My Lords, the Chinese have had considerable involvement with Sri Lanka and, indeed, have effectively got control of a deep-water port as part of their belt and road initiative. Are we aware of any Chinese involvement—or any actions at all—in what is going on there at the moment?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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On the noble Lord’s first observation, he is of course absolutely right. As with a number of other countries, Chinese infrastructure support—economic support—in Sri Lanka has in itself had a quite disabling effect on its economy. Regarding the noble Lord’s second question, I am certainly not aware of any specific engagement or involvement of that nature.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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My Lords, can the Minister give any insight into the extent to which the Armed Forces will be providing support and ensuring security on the island, as requested by the Prime Minister?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, we have not looked at that specifically. What we have said, as I have already indicated, is that our focus is and must be first and foremost on the humanitarian situation. As I have said in previous answers to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, if at all possible that includes where, how and to what extent we can channel humanitarian support bilaterally, particularly food. Equally, the next important element should be political and economic stability, and that is what the Government are focused on.

Prime Minister’s Meeting with Alexander Lebedev

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Excerpts
Thursday 7th July 2022

(1 month, 1 week ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat an Answer given to an Urgent Question in the other place by my honourable friend the Minister for Africa.

“Alexander Lebedev is a well-known former KGB officer and a former owner of the London Evening Standard newspaper. Yesterday, the Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee, in response to questions from the right honourable Member for Kingston upon Hull North, that he had met Mr Lebedev

‘on a very few occasions’.”

I understand that the Prime Minister confirmed that where he had met Mr Lebedev without officials present, he had subsequently reported those meetings to officials as required. I do not have any information about the content of any discussions that may or may not have been held with Mr Lebedev.

I understand that the Prime Minister has committed to write to the Liaison Committee with further details.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the truth about this meeting must come out. This person has been sanctioned by our allies for enabling the invasion of Ukraine and been described by the Russian intelligence agency FSB as a “useful asset”. In the other place, Vicky Ford was unable to offer any clarity; I hope the Minister will do so now. When she was asked whether Boris Johnson informed officials, she could not really answer. She corrected the Statement, which the Minister has just read out, saying that Boris Johnson could not remember whether he told officials. We need to know the truth.

First, did the Foreign Office, the Home Office and the Security Service know about this meeting in advance and did they try to stop it? Secondly, the record of Ministers’ interests says that the then Foreign Secretary accepted hospitality in Italy for himself and a guest, but he travelled home alone. Who was the guest? Finally, it was reported that Alexander Lebedev was trying to arrange a phone call from Italy between the then Foreign Secretary and the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Did that call take place? I note what the Minister said about Boris Johnson writing to the committee, but we need more than that letter—we need a thorough investigation to be held by the Cabinet Secretary. We need to know the truth.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord has asked a number of questions. As he will have seen, in the Liaison Committee session my right honourable friend the Prime Minister promised to write to the committee on those very questions and similar specific ones asked of him. I think it is best that we wait for that letter. I note the noble Lord’s last point; one thing I absolutely believe in is the importance—I hope noble Lords will regard and respect this—of any Prime Minister or Minister acting with integrity. Of course there are occasions where someone seeks to meet one on one; as a Minister, you would immediately and diligently report that back and record those issues, because it is important that all parts of a conversation are recorded fully. However, as I said, it is best that we wait for that letter. I am sure there will be other occasions on which the noble Lord may return to this subject.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, as the Minister knows, when we debated a tranche of Russia sanctions, I raised the fact that Alexander Lebedev is now sanctioned by the Canadian Government, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Collins. As part of those sanctions, it is a criminal offence in Canada to help him refinance, reconstitute or restructure his affairs. Did the Prime Minister bring this meeting with Alexander Lebedev to the notice of the Minister or any officials, when one of our Five Eyes allies was putting sanctions in place which meant that any interaction with him would be an offence in that country? Given that we are now getting more information regarding the former Prime Minister, it is now not only time to publish the information from the Intelligence and Security Committee on Russian interference but appropriate to publish the information and advice provided to the Prime Minister before he nominated Alexander Lebedev’s son to this House. These are very serious issues that concern our key allies’ criminal law. The Government need full disclosure.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Lord’s earlier point, I revert to what I said to the noble Lord, Lord Collins: it is important to wait for the response the Prime Minister assured the Liaison Committee that he would provide, and whatever details are contained in it. The noble Lord is right to talk about sanctions; without going into the specific nature of particular sanctions, I assure him that we act in co-ordination with our allies. I am happy to update him with additional information if he so requires. We act in a co-ordinated fashion, and the application of a sanction imposes particular limitations on the individual or organisation concerned. As I have said previously and written in response to various questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, in a letter, if there is further detail that can be shared on the ISC report, I will write to him, but I believe the Government have responded to the issues raised in it.

Lord Bishop of Leeds Portrait The Lord Bishop of Leeds
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My Lords, if I am right, the visit to Alexander Lebedev came in the wake of the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury, which involved two Russian agents bringing, effectively, a chemical weapon through Heathrow, a commercial airport. Can the Minister give any assurance it could not happen again, and what assessment have the Government made of that episode and the dangers it caused for potentially thousands of people?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I am sure the right reverend Prelate will appreciate that I cannot talk in detail about national security matters, but I assure the right reverend Prelate and all noble Lords that there is a very robust approach across government, with all the key departments concerned, to ensure any threats to our nation and our citizens are fully identified and mitigated. In an ultimate sense, we want to prevent all of this, so any information and lessons learned from previous occasions are fully applied. I assure the right reverend Prelate that agencies as well as government departments work together on ensuring that we keep our citizens safe.

Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Portrait Lord Campbell of Pittenweem (LD)
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My Lords, do the exchanges of the last moment or two simply confirm the fact that the now Prime Minister should leave now?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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There is a set procedure. My right honourable friend has taken the decision to leave office; there will now be a process that will be followed to allow for a transition to a new Prime Minister in an orderly fashion, and we are following exactly what has happened previously.

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen Portrait Lord Robertson of Port Ellen (Lab)
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My Lords, there are profound national security issues involved in what has now been disclosed almost by accident in the Liaison Committee yesterday: that the current, temporary Prime Minister, while Foreign Secretary, had these meetings without officials being present. What attempts are now being made to check out how many other meetings he had when he was Foreign Secretary, or as Prime Minister, with people who might well affect the national security of our country?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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As the noble Lord will know from his own detailed experience and insights on national security matters, all agencies take a very robust attitude in terms of ensuring full scrutiny. As I have already said, the Prime Minister will write to the Liaison Committee on the broader issues that the noble Lord has raised. I am sure the noble Lord will also realise from his own experience of being a very senior Minister that, yes, there are rules and obligations that we as Ministers have to adhere to. I mentioned previously the issue of integrity, and it is for all of us, whether we are Ministers, or in your Lordships’ House or in the other place, to uphold them—and equally, where there are meetings which take place, that they are minuted or documented to allow for an assessment of records. Let us await the response from my right honourable friend, and I am sure there will be details provided in that.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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My Lords, does this call into account the whole question of the use of private phones by Ministers in meetings, and in other matters of official import? Could it be assured that the questions asked today are added to the questions put to the Liaison Committee, and the appropriate people are encouraged to respond accordingly?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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On the noble Lord’s second point, of course there were questions asked directly of the Prime Minister, and I am sure Hansard will be read, and officials will feed back also on the discussions we have had. On the point on the use of devices, be they personal or official, I can speak from experience that, whenever you travel to particular parts of the world, in terms of the IT you carry there are quite robust procedures deployed by officials at the FCDO, which ensure that whatever checks and balances need to be done for security and protecting the integrity of what is contained within the equipment, it is also safeguarded.

Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Excerpts
Thursday 7th July 2022

(1 month, 1 week ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their, once again, detailed and expert insights in this short but very informed debate. In particular, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Trees, for tabling it and for his long-standing commitment to combating malaria and neglected tropical diseases. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for her continued focus; her expertise and insight were valuable to me, as they were to the noble Lord, Lord Collins. He and I joined your Lordships’ House at more or less the same time.

As the noble Lord, Lord Trees, reminded us, this debate comes hot on the heels of the successful Kigali Summit on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases, alongside the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. I was pleased to see members of the APPG, including the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, in Kigali and to exchange views with them directly. As he mentioned, the Commonwealth is undoubtedly disproportionately affected by these diseases, and the political will demonstrated at the summit and in the leaders’ communiqué will be key to ending these epidemics.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about the importance of civil society and its role. A few other events were keeping people occupied, but over the last 48 hours I was focused on the delivery of the freedom of religion or belief conference at the QEII, which has just concluded. Civil society representatives were intrinsic and central to the ministerial conference, rather than a separate part of it, and the same needs to apply in every respect of our work.

As noble Lords noted, Commonwealth leaders reaffirmed their commitment to halving cases of malaria in the Commonwealth, and countries affected by malaria made $2.2 billion of commitments to tackle the disease. As noble Lords acknowledged, I was proud to sign on behalf of the UK the Kigali Declaration on NTDs, which will continue the global momentum generated by the UK-led London declaration 10 years ago. The Kigali Declaration commits countries to supporting the delivery of the World Health Organization’s road map on NTDs, a pivotal instrument in our fight to end this epidemic by 2030. I was glad to see the commitments made by Governments, pharmaceutical companies—which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, alluded to—donors and others.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked about the Commonwealth being off track on the commitment to halve malaria by 2023. There is no hiding from this; it is off track. A large part of this is a result of the impact of Covid; many Commonwealth countries that were on track were impacted. The noble Lord is aware of the challenges of Covid and vaccine distribution, particularly for the most vulnerable. Countries currently on track include Bangladesh, Belize, Malaysia and South Africa. Off-track countries include Nigeria, Mozambique, Uganda and Tanzania, for example. Although overall we are off track as a Commonwealth of 56, the commitment to end the malaria epidemic by 2030 was restated. When I see the focus, uniformity and universality of the commitments, I believe that, rather than pushing targets back, we will see what progress can be made when the Commonwealth meets again. I would be keen to talk to all noble Lords to see what more can be done to meet this commitment.

There is no doubt about the challenges that these epidemics pose: diseases such as Covid-19 place a terrible burden, and the issue of NTDs and malaria add to that. They were there before Covid, are still very much present and affect the poorest, especially women and children.

I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that when I alluded to the issue of women and girls, it was not just in the context of issues of sexual violence. I totally agree with the noble Baroness that it is about how we invest, which is why the Government remain committed, for example, to the important issue of girls’ education around the world. In 2020, more than 11 million pregnant women in African countries were exposed to malaria, contributing to more than 800,000 cases of low birth weight, and eight in 10 of those who died of malaria were children aged under five.

Even before Covid, the issue of being off track, which I have just alluded to, was a key challenge for everyone. The pandemic has set us back, but we have rallied to avert the worst-case scenarios, including the World Health Organization recommending the world's first malaria vaccine, as well as advances on other vaccine candidates. The Gambia was declared trachoma free last year, and Rwanda and Uganda heralded the elimination of specific strains of sleeping sickness this year.

On the issue of specific deliverables raised by the noble Lords, Lord Trees and Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, I agree that we need to be specific in what we can do. One of the important elements, to put a bit of detail on this, is that the UK will invest quite specifically in research and innovation in new drugs and diagnostics, through world-leading product development partnerships. These will include specific research on NTDs and other diseases of poverty.

Several noble Lords raised the issue of drugs being thrown away by programmes, and I will look into this in more detail. From a general perspective, while there were no reported cases of donated drugs being destroyed or thrown away, figures are being used in media reports, so I will follow this up. If noble Lords know of any specific countries or issues that can be traced back to particular programmes, it would be helpful to have that information.

Picking up several of the points raised by the right reverend Prelate, we remain very much committed to global health, and our recently published international development strategy focuses on this. Saving lives, particularly those of mothers, newborns and under-fives, while making essential health services available to all, is a top priority for the UK. We have detailed our commitments and plans in our new IDS, as well as in position papers last year on health systems strengthening and ending preventable deaths.

Strong, resilient and inclusive health systems are of course crucial here and we will continue to invest in programmes to strengthen these, to help ensure that tools for preventing and treating malaria and NTDs are readily available to all who need them. I agree again with the noble Baroness that, by investing early in R&D and prevention, we can save money but, most importantly, we can save lives.

The focus on stronger health systems is the bedrock of our efforts to improve global health, and in this respect I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Trees, that it really is the basis for continued wellbeing. It is a strategic decision to focus on the sustainable systems and essential services required to address all causes of ill-health—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins.

In some cases, this focus has also meant reducing our investments in directly delivering services, but here we have worked with national programmes and partners to prioritise and complete programme activities where possible, and to co-ordinate the handover of activities to others. We continue to invest in key multilaterals and research, alongside helping to build strong health systems overall.

All noble Lords referred to the Global Fund. This year also marks the seventh replenishment of the Global Fund, which remains an essential partner in the fight against HIV, TB and malaria, as well as in strengthening health systems and supporting pandemic preparedness. As all noble Lords acknowledged, the UK is a co-founder and long-standing contributor to the Global Fund, having provided more than £4 billion in funding to date, and we are reviewing the investment case for the seventh replenishment in line with our new strategy and global health position papers. I reassure noble Lords that we will make a significant financial and leadership contribution to the Global Fund.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about needing to make sure we get the commitment. What more should I say? I am still here. In all seriousness, this is important to me; it is something I have focused on. There is nothing on which I disagree with noble Lords in relation to the importance of this fund and its contribution. We are focused on making sure that our leadership is sustained. The noble Lord spoke about supporting others, including the United States. If we can continue to focus on this, we can look ultimately again at saving lives.

Along with other institutions, we have funded Gavi and UNITAID. The Global Fund has also played a critical role in piloting the malaria vaccine. We will continue to support the Global Fund and Gavi to maximise the vaccine’s impact by helping countries plan their rollouts, alongside other proven malaria interventions. That is an important point about logistics on the ground.

On R&D, the UK continues to invest. I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, of our recognition of the importance of technology transfer. We will continue to put our scientific expertise to work for global health and development challenges in this respect, focused on NTDs. Our investments have led to the world’s first child-friendly antimalarial drug, which is estimated to have saved over a million lives. We have also funded trials, with the result published in the Lancet, of a novel type of bed net that kills mosquitoes resistant to traditional insecticides. This net reduced the prevalence of malaria by 43% in the first year of use.

The point on ODA is well made. I have always been candid and clear: when you cut funding on ODA, which we have done, that will have an impact, but ensuring prevention is a key focus. The Government’s commitment to 0.7% remains.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed. Our long-standing commitment endures. As the noble Lord, Lord Trees, said, health ultimately creates wealth. Our objective should be ensuring that countries improve not only their health services but their livelihoods. The collective will demonstrated in Kigali should be the impetus to do so much more.

NATO Accession: Sweden and Finland

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Excerpts
Thursday 7th July 2022

(1 month, 1 week ago)

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Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, these Benches also welcome the agreement to sign Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession protocols. There will now be a NATO border of 800 miles, so an acknowledgement is needed that the NATO border with Russia is now of particular importance. There was also the conclusion of the trilateral memorandum between Turkey, Finland and Sweden, which has paved the way for the signing of the accession protocols. Can the Minister say a little more about the UK’s view on the trilateral relationship, given the security interests involved in our relationship with Turkey?

It was interesting to note that, at the Madrid summit of NATO partners, there were, as the communiqué said, “valuable exchanges” between those present and

“the Heads of State and Government of Australia”,

in addition to Finland and Sweden, alongside

“Georgia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand … and Ukraine, as well as the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission.”

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that Putin’s aggression has not only had the reverse impact of what he expected—a weakening of NATO and its resolve—but that there has been a strengthening of NATO partners and of NATO’s relationship with countries around the world with which it is dealing. This brings to light the UK’s relationship with our European NATO allies and the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission. We have previously debated the desire to revisit the Government’s strategic defence review and to strengthen our relationship with European allies, particularly Germany, given the significant change in the German position.

The communiqué clearly stresses another impact of Putin’s aggression, and I agree with it strongly:

“Russia has also intentionally exacerbated a food and energy crisis, affecting billions of people around the world”.


NATO not only has a defensive position through which it has adapted its strategic concept and posture; it is now a relevant organisation in resolving the collateral issues of energy and food. The Minister knows my desire for the UK to use its convening power more assertively regarding the humanitarian impact. Given the track record of both Sweden and Finland in the development area, this is an opportunity for us to expand some of the discussions within NATO.

We know that Sweden and Finland have faced internal terrorism, but the communiqué raises the issue of the current growth of terrorism. As we know, Daesh is recruiting and other actors such as the Wagner Group are playing their own role. The response to the aggression against Ukraine is hybrid and includes cyber capability. This is an ongoing threat.

As the communiqué also indicated, we see

“systemic competition from … the People’s Republic of China”.

This draws into sharp focus the question of how we are dealing with allies—in particular, India, Sri Lanka and other Commonwealth countries—which are not dissociating themselves from Russia.

Finally, the new, sharper posture that NATO agreed at the Madrid summit raises the question of what the UK capacity is going to be. What is the status of the previous agreement that the UK signed with Sweden and Finland? What commitment has the UK indicated to providing capacity and personnel support in Finland and Sweden? Are the Government finally going to review their decisions, as the noble Lord indicated, on the size and capacity of the Army? All these factors, including the accession of Sweden and Finland, draw into sharp focus the need for the UK to review its capability and to increase it.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I first record my thanks to the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, and through them to the respective parties and membership of both Houses, for our united stand and our support. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly articulated, it is ironic that the challenge was on Ukraine, and Russia’s aggression and war on Ukraine has resulted in two countries, Sweden and Finland, which for so long took the view not to join the defensive alliance, doing exactly the opposite. We welcome this, of course, and it was welcomed by all Nordic NATO partners. I also thank both noble Lords for supporting the ratification, which has been taken forward under the normal process. We have the CRaG process, but on this occasion, it was right that, because of the number of sitting days left, we expedited this process.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about ratification across all of NATO. If I may, I will write to him about a specific date. I am not aware of the exact timetable in each country but I will certainly write to him and put a copy in the Library. He also raised the issue of UK support in terms of defence spending and our own commitments. At the summit, the Prime Minister announced a further £1 billion of military support for Ukraine, taking our total military support to £2.3 billion—more than any other country with the exception of the United States. Through this new spend, UK defence spending is projected to reach 2.3% of GDP this year, meaning that we will continue to show leadership in defence spending, having met the 2% NATO target every year since its inception. Additional investment in these areas means we are on track to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of the decade. The noble Lord asked for particular details of this, including troop numbers. I am sure my colleagues in the MoD will follow this up, but the exact shape of the increase will be very much for the next spending review. The point has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and others in your Lordships’ House about the importance of our own troops and contribution.

Both noble Lords asked about the new way of operating and supporting NATO, and the commitments made in this respect. On the UK military offer, the UK is providing military support and reassurance to its allies. UK Typhoons and F35s will continue to contribute to NATO air policing. We have deployed four additional Typhoons to Cyprus to patrol NATO’s eastern borders, and sent equipment and an additional 800 troops in support. Regarding the exact details of how many are deployed where, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, will accept that I am not going into any further details, but we are supporting all NATO planning accordingly.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, talked about the food and security crisis. I agree with him, and we need to look at innovative ways of providing support, and the knock-on effects. During recent visits to north Africa through the Kigali summit, it was clear that the Ukraine war is being felt most in terms of not just energy but food. Yet, there is a glimmer to the grey cloud. About 65% of non-farmed yet arable-ready land is in Africa, and there is an opportunity to provide technical support to see how that land can be irrigated. Certainly, that is part of the bilateral discussions I have been having recently, particularly in north Africa, seeing how that could form part of a more regional offer when we get to COP 27 in Egypt.

On the humanitarian impact and the expertise of Finland and Sweden, again I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis: we already value it, but we will need it. Having them within our defence alliance means that we will have much broader discussions, as well as with countries across Europe. He alluded to our different bilaterals, but we are on a very strong footing. The Prime Minister visited both countries as they sought to apply to give a real sense of solidarity and support.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, also touched on Turkey. As was well reported, it had additional discussions; we recognise, as I am sure all noble Lords do, that it was raising the issue of the continuing threat of terror. Nevertheless, Turkey is very much part of the NATO alliance and has re-stated its enduring commitments to it.

As we evolve and take our partnerships forward, I stress that NATO is a defensive alliance. We make this point repeatedly to Russia when it challenges us. Two non-aligned countries such as Sweden and Finland having to join makes the case to Russia to pull back and stop the war.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, will the Government give more attention, following the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO, to the department of NATO policies on the Arctic? Both countries border the Arctic and some commentators suggest that, in recent years, NATO has neglected this really important subject. Its security matters.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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The UK has looked towards the polar regions and had specific engagement in that respect. However, the noble Baroness makes a very valid point; with the accession of both these countries, we can look again and see how we can strengthen our focus on particular areas. She is right to raise this; during the challenges we have been facing due to the Ukrainian war, other countries—including the likes of China—have had their own intentions. While we have been focused on Ukraine, China’s activity, particularly in the Pacific islands—to draw the attention of noble Lords to other parts of the world—has been noticeable. For example, the visits by its Foreign Minister to eight Pacific islands over two weeks or so was pretty noticeable in terms of what is being planned.

Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Portrait Lord Campbell of Pittenweem (LD)
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My Lords, I too welcome the accession of Sweden and Finland and the accelerated ratification. I suggest that Finland would repay close analysis; it has a system of defence quite unlike other members of the alliance, in which defence is a universal obligation on the population as a whole and is based on the service of all citizens for that purpose. I draw attention yet again to the commitment to which the Minister referred:

“my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced that the UK is likely to be spending 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of the decade.”

That is lukewarm, imprecise and inadequate. Do the Government accept that neither the ambitions in the integrated review or the obligations, some of them fresh, we are taking towards NATO will be met by 2.5%?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, just for clarity, I should say that I said that we were on track to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of the decade. I agree with the noble Lord: one of the points emphasised during the meetings with our NATO partners was to ensure that other countries do not just talk about it but put their money behind their commitments. The UK has continued to commit itself fully and will continue to meet its obligations under NATO.

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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My Lords, Manchester, and specifically my diocese, has a long and close relationship with the Tampere diocese in central Finland. My friends there leave me in no doubt about how much it meant to Finland to gain its independence from Russia a century ago. Tampere itself has even more recent experience of Russian aggression: it was on the receiving end of considerable bombing in 1939. In welcoming from these Benches the decisions of Finland and Sweden to join NATO, it is noteworthy that they both do so from previous positions of neutrality. Could I invite the Minister to tell us what wisdom, experience and skills, building on that historically neutral perspective, he believes Finland and Sweden will bring to strengthen our vital defensive alliance?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, referred earlier to these countries’ expertise and insights on the Arctic, which is demilitarised, and that has been a key objective. We need that insight to make sure that is sustained, for example. Our mutual security declarations also mean that the added security and the collective security of the alliance will be sustained and now extended to both countries. Frankly speaking, let us not forget when Russia, and indeed Mr Lavrov, stated repeatedly, “We have no intentions to invade Ukraine”. The reality is very different.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s Statement, and I agree with my noble friends and others that the President of Russia’s one success has been to strengthen and expand NATO. But I ask the Minister whether he might consider the wider effects around the world of the accession of these two countries, especially in view of the fact that there are other areas at risk in the Indo-Pacific region, to which he has already referred—Ukraine is not the only country that might be at risk of invasion—and whether this development in NATO might have a wider effect on other parts of the world and encourage further defensive alliances.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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I think our approach is a global one, and from a NATO perspective, it is a defensive alliance, and that was the reason the two countries joined. There is broader issue about where our focus is, and when we talk about the Indo-Pacific and our focus in that particular area, it is strategic, and we are looking at a range of partnerships. The AUKUS agreement reflects how we work with our key allies on a range of issues, covering maritime and safe navigation when it comes to commercial routes, but also looks at the whole issue of the seas in terms of protection and co-ordination, and security within the Asia-Pacific region. The noble Lord, Lord West, knows that far better than I do.

Beyond that, we play an important role along with our partners, not just when we look at defensive or military partnerships, but also looking at the economy and economic development. That again is an important lead on how we work consistently and in a collaborative fashion with key allies. In looking at the economic empowering of countries, there are other international players, and we are seeing, with repeated interventions from the IMF, how countries are being disabled in terms of their economies—not just failing to grow but failing to operate altogether. We need to step in to provide alternatives.

Lord Powell of Bayswater Portrait Lord Powell of Bayswater (CB)
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My Lords, as probably the only Finnish-speaking Member of this House, could I remind the Minister that Finland, with its 800-mile border with Russia, will be right in the front line of NATO, but also has the bitter experience of having sacrificed a lot of its territory to Russia after the Second World War, most of which was never given back? That means that, in the light of recent Russian behaviour towards its neighbours with whom it has long borders, the contingency of the NATO guarantee being called must be quite high, and it is crucial that this be taken into account in our strategic planning.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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First, I thank the noble Lord for not addressing me in Finnish; I may not have been able to respond effectively to him. I did not know he had that language; it is a quality that adds to the diversity and talent of your Lordships’ House. I agree with him about the 800-mile border. I know that, prior to this formal application, it was a real focus. Both countries, particularly Finland, have conducted themselves in a manner which in no way could have shown any aggression towards any neighbour, and that includes Russia. However, as I said earlier to the right reverend Prelate, unfortunately the point is not what Russia has been saying in recent years; it is what it has been doing. It said that it would not go into the Donbass region; it has. It said that it would be some kind of limited, so-called liberation, in the words of Mr Putin; it has not been. Russia’s continued aggression and war on Ukraine concerns countries, and it is right that we agree and support the expedited accession of both countries.

Lord West of Spithead Portrait Lord West of Spithead (Lab)
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I think we should welcome the accession of both Finland and Sweden to NATO; they are amazingly capable military countries with most impressive armed forces. The point that the noble Lord, Lord Powell, makes about the border issue is important. Finland’s border goes right up to the Kola and it would put a major, highly sensitive area at risk, and so there is a problem there. My question relates to our expenditure, which was touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell. The 2.5% by 2030 is a nod, but it is nowhere near enough, nor is it being spent rapidly enough. For the next four years, there is to be no increase to defence spending at all, yet we are having to produce all sorts of equipment for the Ukrainians and to replenish our stocks. I am afraid that dictators look at what a country does, and Putin will be looking at what we do. If we are not bringing our Armed Forces up to a state where they can face a peer competitor, if they have to, as part of an alliance, then that is very dangerous. We should be spending money now and I cannot understand why the Government have not done that.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord on his first point on the border issue. Any country bordering Russia has concerns at the moment—I visited Estonia, which is part and parcel of NATO but, notwithstanding that, it has concerns. Indeed, to broaden that point, there are other countries, and the noble Lord will know of the key votes taken at the UN when this war was first initiated. We saw strong support—a vote of 141—but also a series of abstentions. However, some of those abstentions were what I would term qualified abstentions. There are many countries on the borders of Russia that are concerned, and they have their own Russian-speaking minorities. On the issue of defence spending, I hear the insight and expertise that the noble Lord provides in this regard and I will certainly share that with my colleagues at the Ministry of Defence. I agree with him on the principle that we need our defence forces to be fully aligned to the challenges of 2022 and also to play a bolstered leadership role within the alliances that we are part of—NATO is a central one.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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My Lords, it is right that we start referring to the Arctic and relating matters. The accession of Finland and Sweden into NATO draws into stark reality the whole situation regarding the Arctic, but also brings in the question of China, which has a vested interest in what goes on in that part of the world. The Statement went beyond just Finland and Sweden; is the Minister able to shed light on the rationale behind the leaders also agreeing NATO’s strategic concept, which addresses China and its systematic challenges to collective security? Is it to suggest that, for the very same reasons that Finland and Sweden are in accession mode, Taiwan might eventually apply? That would then secure and provide scope for a collective defence, should China opt to invade the island. This would of course also bring into play the relationship with AUKUS.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the issue of Taiwan is slightly different in the sense of its geographical location, but the Government’s position on Taiwan has not changed: whatever approach is taken, it is a matter for both sides on the Taiwan Strait. The noble Lord talked about the mention within the Statement of the strategic concept and how it “addresses China”—for the first time—

“and the systemic challenges to our collective security that it poses.”

I have already alluded to the work that China does to strengthen not just its military presence but its economic presence. This results in, and eventually leads to, economic dependency, which we are seeing around the world. We are also increasingly seeing evolving threats. As much as technology is an opportunity, it is an evolving threat as well. Therefore, through organisations such as NATO, but also through the United Kingdom working with other key strategic partners, including those in the Asia-Pacific, we need to look at enhanced protection, for example, when it comes to cyber security. Within the context of the Commonwealth, for example, we are working with key partners, such as Singapore.

Nigeria

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Excerpts
Tuesday 5th July 2022

(1 month, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Cox Portrait Baroness Cox
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the humanitarian and security situation in Nigeria.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, rising conflict and insecurity across Nigeria are having a devastating impact on all affected communities. The principal causes are complex and varied but include violent extremism, criminality and resource competition. We are deeply concerned about the level of humanitarian need in Nigeria. [Interruption.] I will not comment on the musical accompaniment from that mobile phone, but coming back to my script, we are concerned about the level of humanitarian need in Nigeria, including in the north-east, where tragically 8 million people need life-saving humanitarian assistance. We are working with Nigeria to respond to rising insecurity and are a leading donor in the response to the humanitarian crisis.

Baroness Cox Portrait Baroness Cox (CB)
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My Lords, is the Minister aware that I have visited Nigeria twice this year, once on a parliamentary visit and once with my NGO, HART, and obtained direct evidence of the horrific escalation of killings, atrocities and abductions in middle belt, where at least 3,000 predominantly Christian civilians have already been murdered this year and millions are displaced? I therefore ask: what steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to prevail upon the Government of Nigeria to fulfil their responsibilities to end the attacks on civilians and to call the perpetrators to account?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness: the primary responsibility of any Government anywhere in the world is the security of their citizens, irrespective of who they are or what faith they may follow. I assure her that, bilaterally as well as through multilateral fora, we continue not only to condemn these kidnappings and the violence that occurs but we are also working, through our security and defence partnership with Nigeria, to try to build capacity to respond to the kidnaps and bring communities together.

Lord Anderson of Swansea Portrait Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister used the phrase “resource competition”. Is that, in fact, a euphemism for population increase that is becoming unsustainable, and are we able to help Nigeria at all in terms of family planning?

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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The noble Lord makes an important point about the broader issues of population growth. I referred to resources because it is often the issues that occur over land that cause further disputes, and those who are seeking to divide—particularly extremist groups—then use that very basis to cause further communal violence against different groups and, indeed, to take up arms and commit acts of extremism against vulnerable communities.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, in this week of the International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Article 18, which the Minister himself has done so much to facilitate and entrench—and we are all grateful to him for that—will he reflect on the remarks of the Bishop of Ondo, who saw 40 of his own parishioners in his diocese murdered in their church only last month, and also on the continued abduction of Leah Sharibu, a teenager who was abducted, raped, impregnated and told that she must forcibly be made to convert to a different religion? Surely, this is a time to uphold freedom of religion or belief, Article 18, which insists on the right to believe, not to believe or to change your belief.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. That is why the United Kingdom Government are hosting the conference across the road. We are seeing not just government but, importantly, faith leaders and, most importantly, civil society leaders and survivors who have now become powerful advocates against religious persecution at the forefront of the discourse. Equally, we condemn the atrocities that have taken place repeatedly in Nigeria, including the recent attacks on the church, which caused further fatalities, and the shocking abduction and ongoing captivity of Leah Sharibu. I hope that there will be a focus on Nigeria when we host the PSVI conference on conflict-related sexual violence later this year. I look forward to working with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in this regard.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, on behalf of the House, will my noble friend salute the intrepid bravery of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who time and again goes to dangerous places to report back to your Lordships’ House? Can he assure me that Nigeria will be high on the agenda at the next meeting of Commonwealth Ministers? We have to reflect on the credentials for membership of the Commonwealth. Persecuting and killing people for religious reasons does not march well with being a member of it.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I certainly associate myself with my noble friend’s remarks on the courage of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and her endeavours to keep this issue on the front burner. The Commonwealth is now a group of 56 states; it provides the ability to tackle the very issues that my noble friend has raised and to determine how we can work constructively to improve human rights.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome the conference starting today and the noble Lord’s speech, for which I was present. Nigeria’s constitution contains very positive words about prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion or belief, yet in the sharia states, particularly in the north and centre of the country, these are frequently disregarded. I have raised with him the case of Mubarak Bala, a humanist who has been sentenced to 24 years despite these guarantees of freedom. Can the Minister tell us just how he engaged with the Nigerian Government at this conference— I did not notice their presence—and what he will do to raise this issue in a more public way, particularly for the rest of this conference?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I think the noble Lord was eavesdropping on my conversation with my private secretary as I dashed over from the conference—I was asking who was here from Nigeria. I await that answer, but I assure the noble Lord that I am seeking to engage quite directly with the Nigerians. I have been in various back-to-back bilaterals this morning. He raises the important case of Mubarak Bala, which we have talked about previously. It is condemned; he is quite right to talk about constitutional protections, but in every country, no matter where it is in the world —Nigeria is no exception—constitutions are there for a reason: to provide all citizens with protection and security. Governments need to ensure that they are practically applied.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I had the pleasure this morning of chairing the first of the parliamentary parallel events supporting the FoRB ministerial. I chaired a panel of women, including representatives from Nigeria. I will ask the Minister a question I asked the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, a month ago. Why is UK support for Nigeria being cut by two-thirds going forward? In particular, there is no guarantee that projects for supporting women in violence and conflict which have been cut would be protected. The noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, said that he could not answer my question. A month on, can the Minister be clear? Are projects being protected which support women and children in Nigeria in the very difficult circumstances in which they find themselves, or are the Government cutting them?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, when my right honourable friend became Foreign Secretary, she made very clear that the budgets on issues relating to women and girls would be restored to previous levels. That is a priority for my right honourable friend and for me. On the specific area of women and girls within Nigeria, I welcome the noble Lord’s feedback. There is also a session at the conference focused on the issue of freedom of religion or belief for women and girls. That will not be recorded; the tragic reasoning behind that is that there are courageous women there who will endanger their own lives if they are filmed. I look forward to talking with the noble Lord.

Lord Bishop of Guildford Portrait The Lord Bishop of Guildford
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My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, for an excellent start to the FoRB conference down the road. In the spirit of that conference and this terrifying escalation in communal and religious tensions in Nigeria in the build-up to the 2023 elections, will the UK use its seat at the UN Security Council to seek a resolution that significantly enhances the security given to communities in Nigeria at risk of attack, including Christian farms and villages in the middle belt that have already been attacked by Fulani militia?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for his kind remarks. In terms of the UN Security Council, it depends very much on who is chairing a particular session during a given month of presidency. The issue of religious freedom is high up the United Kingdom’s agenda, and I will certainly take on board his suggestions when it comes to Nigeria, and indeed other countries.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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My Lords, will the Minister note the extraordinary influence of Africa’s traditional rulers? One could cite the Ooni of Ife and the close friendship he had with the Emir of Kano, which encapsulates peace in the land of Nigeria.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the history of Nigeria, and indeed other parts of Africa, is important in determining how different communities and tribal loyalties also play into the unity of a given country. As we are attempting to do at this conference, it is important to bring together civil society leaders with decision-makers to ensure that, as we help and construct an important, bright and inclusive future for religious freedom, we talk to the people who are directly impacted.

Tigray

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Excerpts
Monday 4th July 2022

(1 month, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Wheeler Portrait Baroness Wheeler (Lab)
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On behalf of my noble friend, and with his permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, we welcome the cessation of hostilities between the Government of Ethiopia and Tigrayan forces and the subsequent uplift in aid deliveries, but the humanitarian situation remains dire for those impacted by the conflict. We are, of course, in regular touch with Ethiopian and Tigrayan leaders and the AU’s high representative, Olusegun Obasanjo, and are working closely with the G7. The UK’s special envoy to the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea raised this very issue with Ethiopian PM Abiy in May.

Baroness Wheeler Portrait Baroness Wheeler (Lab)
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The Minister will know the huge scale of suffering through hunger and malnutrition in northern Ethiopia, with the UNOCHA reporting up to 3 million people desperately in need of food aid. Despite the welcome increase in supply, there are continued reports in some parts of Tigray that internally displaced people are still resorting to eating wild plants to survive. What steps are the Government taking to end the continued humanitarian blockade and ensure that aid is received in all parts of Tigray?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that the challenge is immense across Ethiopia. In particular, 9 million people in northern Ethiopia are in need of life-saving aid due to the conflict and nearly 30 million people require life-saving humanitarian aid throughout Ethiopia in 2022. The UK has been working with our UN partners. We were involved with the very first set of convoys that went in to provide humanitarian relief and continue to do so. We have been lobbying the Ethiopian Government to restore access to cash banking and communications, and since November 2020, the UK has provided more than £86 million to support vulnerable crisis-affected communities across Ethiopia, reaching communities in the Tigray, Afar, Amhara, Oromia and Somali regions.

Baroness Sugg Portrait Baroness Sugg (Con)
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My Lords, around 26,000 women and girls need services following conflict-related sexual violence. This violence has led to babies being born and their mothers ostracised. Can my noble friend provide an update following the deployment of the UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative team and say when its report will become available?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as my noble friend will be aware, CRSV remains a key priority for the UK Government. The Foreign Secretary has made sexual violence in conflict one of her top priorities. In northern Ethiopia, the UK has provided £4 million of support to survivors of sexual violence. My noble friend is correct that we have deployed experts; we are working with UNICEF and the UNHCR to ensure that full support can be provided to survivors. I will be pleased to provide a briefing to my noble friend on the detail of our support and the focus we hope to bring at the PSVI conference in November.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, has the noble Lord had a chance to look at the link I sent him over the weekend to a French documentary, the first in 18 months to be undertaken by international, independent journalists who had access to Tigray, entitled “Tigray, the Land of Hunger”? It develops the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler; it is about the deliberate starvation of the people of Tigray, which is a war crime. Does the noble Lord agree that, with 6 million people under siege and starving to death—a situation that will be only worsened by the blockades in Ukraine—and Tigray being without electricity, internet, banking services and medical supplies, the situation is dire? When will the FCDO’s JACS report—the joint analysis of conflict and stability—in Ethiopia be completed? Are we preserving the evidence, so that those responsible for atrocity crimes will be brought to justice? Does he agree that there can be no peace without justice?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I totally agree with the noble Lord’s final point. We are ensuring through the deployment of experts and in working with key international partners that we do exactly as he suggests and protect the evidence so that we can bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice. As the situation has been enhanced by our ability to provide humanitarian support, the report is being updated. We were just talking about home working; I regret to say that it is perhaps also not part and parcel of the job of a Foreign Minister. This weekend I spent most of my time in Birmingham, so I have not had time to read the report for the OSCE plenary, but I will look at the link that the noble Lord has sent me.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, the World Food Programme estimated today that 40% of the population of Tigray are now with extreme lack of food. It is spreading, with rising hunger in the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar, as well as in Sudan—where I was three weeks ago—and in South Sudan. With an estimate that Somalia may have a famine, for the first time in very many years, the Horn of Africa will see hunger on an unprecedented level. I reiterate my call for the UK Government to convene a London summit on hunger to co-ordinate the international effort. I applaud what the UK is doing, but it is not enough without the rest of the international community. Without that co-ordination, we may see hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of people die this summer of something that is absolutely preventable.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord about the need for co-ordination. As I said earlier, that is why we are working with key UN agencies in particular, which are among the first to gain access to some of the regions the noble Lord has highlighted. We are looking specifically at other regions, as I said earlier, including Oromia, Somali and Amhara. However, the point is well made. We are co-ordinating our efforts; on whether it requires an international conference specific to this issue, a broader range of conferences is currently taking place where this key issue of food security and famine relief should be central to the thinking and outcomes.

Lord Anderson of Swansea Portrait Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab)
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Does the Minister agree that it is surely one of the tragedies of our time that, just a few years ago, Ethiopia was considered a model and one of the African success stories? Since then, the Nobel prize-winning Prime Minister has alienated minorities, brought in Eritreans on his side and generally helped to cause the humanitarian crisis which is the subject of this Question. Was this matter raised at the recent CHOGM summit in Kigali because of the proximity of Uganda and Kenya? What can we do in terms of co-ordination?

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord about the tragedy of what has happened in Ethiopia, and he is right that Prime Minister Abiy was very much at the forefront of bringing peace and security to the country and the surrounding regions. It is deeply tragic that we are seeing the conflicts unravel in the way we are. However, there is a silver lining to this very dark cloud, not just in terms of humanitarian support but the recent announcement on all sides to agree for discussions to take place, and we full support those efforts. On CHOGM, of course we raised the issue of food security and, in particular, that of conflict prevention. In bilateral discussions, the Foreign Secretary and my colleague, the Minister for Africa, raised these issues directly with the Government of Ethiopia.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that our selling arms to neighbouring Eritrea—a country with a dismal human rights record and an active participant in the maiming and killing in Tigray—is not exactly helping towards a peaceful resolution?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, again, without getting too much into the arms sales issue, as I have said repeatedly from the Dispatch Box, we have a very rigid policy when it comes to arms and defence sales across the world; those same principles are applied irrespective of which country may be requesting that support or assistance from the UK.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, this conflict is a humanitarian disaster of monumental proportions; 9 million people have been affected by it and about half a million people have died. Turning to the peace process which has been proposed, the TPLF does not trust the African Union to lead the peace process and wants Kenya to lead it instead. Given that on Thursday last week Prime Minister Abiy’s spokesperson spoke very positively about the relationship between Ethiopia and Kenya and between Prime Minister Abiy and President Kenyatta, should we not argue for the Kenyan Government to work alongside the AU and its envoy as a compromise solution? Surely with what is at stake, that is what is necessary: a compromise.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very valid proposal and I assure him that in our engagement with Kenya the importance of the situation in Ethiopia is part and parcel of our discussions. I think there will be a change of leadership very shortly in Kenya, with President Kenyatta stepping down. But it is equally important that we engage proactively to ensure that whoever then goes on to lead Kenya is fully engaged in finding a solution to this process.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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My Lords, the question of arms sales has been raised. Does the Minister accept that consistency by the United Kingdom on the provision of licences for arms sales around the world would be extremely helpful, rather than the current inconsistent way in which such issues are addressed? Does he concur that peace in this troubled region would be enhanced by sustained and unhindered humanitarian access, the restoration of internet and banking services, and bringing to an end youth conscription throughout the region, all of which would be most welcome?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second suggestion, I have already alluded to the fact that some of the very points the noble Lord has raised are being discussed directly, and one hopes that the outcomes of these discussions—as and when they take place—will see a real focus on the priorities that he has articulated. On arms sales, I have to disagree; as I said, we have a process that we seek to follow in every negotiation and discussion we have. Of course, there are always learnings to improve that process and we adapt those accordingly.