Afghan Refugees

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Wednesday 17th April 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, we have made sizeable progress with those people who are eligible, and we have had changes in Pakistan. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, we have worked across the different Governments to ensure that those who have a legitimate claim to travel to the United Kingdom and seek protection here are facilitated. On the ACRS scheme, which the noble Lord and others were seized with, we are seeing some really good progress. I get weekly updates on the progress made under those schemes, and we work very closely with the UNHCR and the IOM. As far as the United Kingdom’s standing in world goes in support of these international agencies, we remain a very strong supporter and indeed funder of the vital work they do.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, I wonder if the noble Lord has any further information from the IOM or other sources about the refugees who are being deported by the Pakistan authorities? Are they, for instance, predominantly Shia? Are those who are being deported being sent back to their home ethnic areas? Are there any unaccompanied children among them that the Government know of?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, we have certainly made the case to Pakistan consistently about the importance of ensuring that those who are most vulnerable are protected. I know that in the region of 130,000 children have been returned. I do not have the breakdown, but I can see what information we have and share it with the noble Baroness.

India: Democratic Freedoms

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 14th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reported threats to democratic freedoms in India.

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 Government are absolutely committed to standing up for democracy and defending human rights around the world. We have a broad and deep partnership with the Government of India. We discuss all elements of our relationship, including concerns where we have them. I visited India in February and had constructive discussions with government representatives on a wide range of issues.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. The BJP policy of Hindu nationalism is increasingly invading press freedom, political opposition and the civil society space. For example, the use of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, sedition law, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, all hint at an electoral autocracy in the world’s largest nominal democracy. There appears to be a departure from India’s secular constitution and its underlying democratic principles. Does the Minister not believe these to be dangerous precedents?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, one area I am very focused on is the importance of the constitutional protections that we have, as well as those that we see abroad. India is a country that provides constitutional protections to communities. I understand the concerns the noble Baroness alludes to. I assure her in every respect that, on every one of the legislative instruments she has mentioned, we have made our views known to India and we will continue to do so. India is a country which is multi-party and elections are coming forward. It is for the people of India to decide on their Government, but it is a country which celebrates a wide diversity of religions as well.

Taiwan: Elections

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 18th January 2024

(6 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the implications of the outcome of both the presidential and legislative elections recently held in Taiwan.

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 elections on 13 January are a testament to Taiwan’s vibrant democracy. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary issued a statement following the result congratulating Dr Lai on his victory and calling for both sides of the Taiwan Strait to renew efforts to resolve differences peacefully through constructive dialogue, without the threat to use force or coercion. The UK, of course, has a clear interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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I thank the Minister for his response. The PRC warned Taiwan that voting the wrong way might lead to war, and threatened force. Nevertheless, reunification remains central to President Xi’s China dream. It is reported that President Biden is about to send a high-level delegation in support of Dr Lai’s victory in Taiwan, and the success of this election will allow Taiwan to continue its commitment to human rights and democratic values. But what further support will the UK Government provide for Taiwan’s global integration, including membership of international organisations, as well as protecting safe passage of commercial shipping through the strait, and the semiconductor industry?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness rightly raises important issues of trade. The United Kingdom has a thriving trade relationship with Taiwan, worth about £8 billion, and I assure her that we are focused on key sectors such as trade, education and culture. I have already addressed the issue of stability and security, and it will continue to be stressed in our representations to China directly. Peace in the strait is important in the global world as it stands today.

International Development White Paper

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 23rd November 2023

(8 months ago)

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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, I welcome very much the repeat of the Statement by the Minister. I return once again to the issue of educating girls in Afghanistan. Circumstances in Afghanistan at the moment require that we seek out unconventional methods of delivering education, and indeed unconventional partners. I wonder whether the Government would be able to commit to funding secret educational cluster classes, which are growing by the day in Afghanistan. At the moment, these exist as the only possible means in most parts of the country for girls above the age of 11 to receive an education which will enable them to go on to tertiary education in Afghanistan at a future date, we hope, or abroad.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I recognise the noble Baroness’s work in this area and I agree with her. The noble Baroness will know directly about my commitment, as the Minister responsible for the very objectives she has outlined. Notwithstanding the takeover by the Taliban, and even in advance of that when we had the Covid pandemic, the United Kingdom sustained important funding to teachers in Afghanistan, particularly those focused on girls’ education. We have also continued to work, albeit at times discreetly, to protect those agencies delivering girls’ education in certain regions of Afghanistan, through both funding and technical support. I agree with the noble Baroness about innovative ways of delivery. Ultimately, whether it is Afghanistan, the United Kingdom or any other country around the world, a country will succeed only when it harnesses the true potential of every one of its citizens. Ignoring 50% of the population is no way to achieve progress.

Afghanistan: Aid for Women

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 11th September 2023

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her kind remarks. As I say, it is about doing your job, but I pay tribute to her and to all other noble Lords who have worked collectively on this important agenda. There is no easy solution, but I assure my noble friend that we are working directly with leaders from various representative groups of women in Afghanistan and more broadly too. We continue to engage with key personnel on the ground in Afghanistan who were previously involved within administration while it was still functioning, but equally we are working with key international partners, notably Indonesia and Qatar among others, to ensure that the issue of Afghanistan is kept on the front burner and that inclusivity—the restoration of women’s rights and all rights, including minority rights—is not forgotten.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the growth of cluster education, or cluster classes, whereby groups of secondary school girls gather in neighbourhood houses and qualified teachers visit them. The scheme with which I am involved is now educating upwards of 1,000 girls in three provinces in Afghanistan. In a very few cases, local Taliban commanders have asked whether their daughters can join those classes. Is this something that the UK Government would support, since it is often difficult for those international aid agencies operating in Afghanistan to do it as it runs right across the policy of the Taliban? Maybe the UK has got a channel for funding this kind of education.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, recognising the important work that the noble Baroness has done, of course we fully support such initiatives. As she will know all too well, we protect the agencies that we work with on the ground to allow them to continue their important work, particularly when it comes to girls’ education. In our general assessment, there are now six to eight regions within Afghanistan where, because of the fragmented structure of the Taliban, there are initiatives which allow health access but also allow women in certain respects to go to work and allow girls to be educated.

Soft Power

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 9th February 2023

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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And I say to my noble friend that I hear him, and I hear him again. I assure him that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is seized of the very points he has just made.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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My Lords, yesterday some of us from this House attended a meeting on the BBC World Service in Iran. That programme is now severely threatened due to various expenditure cuts and the flat licence fee, yet the BBC World Service is the only voice of democracy and values that Iranians have access to at the moment. Can the Minister guarantee that this programme has special consideration by the FCDO to preserve it and allow it to have sufficient funding?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness’s work in this area. I assure her that we are very much—again—seized of the evolving and changing situation in Iran. We have seen the most appalling and abhorrent suppression of human rights by Iran on its own communities, particularly women and girls. As I understand it, under the current BBC proposals no services will be closed. The issue is one of broadcast services and radio. According to the figures I have, about 1% of the BBC’s total weekly audience of 13.8 million in Iran get BBC news solely by radio. The other 99% use BBC Persian on TV and online. However, I hear what the noble Baroness says. Although the BBC has an independent mandate to work in this respect, the importance of BBC Persian services in Iran is very much a key priority for us as well.

Afghanistan: Girls and Women

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 23rd January 2023

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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I thank the noble Lord. First, is the Taliban group that undertook negotiations in Doha still intact, does it still have any power, and are the Government in touch with it? Secondly, would the Minister say whether the FCDO is prepared to increase the number and amount of cash transfers to those most in need, given through the various NGOs, local and otherwise?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s second point, I also reflect on the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. We must ensure that any money or support we provide, particularly when it comes to cash transfers, gets through to the people who need it. The systems and structures in Afghanistan at the moment are extremely fragile. We must look at innovative ways to ensure that we can get over some of these barriers. Technology provides an example, and perhaps that pre-empts the question of my noble friend Lord Johnson, who was going to come in. We need to look at innovative way of delivering both cash transfers and education as well. I think that may well be the way forward.

Ukraine

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Tuesday 1st November 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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My Lords, does the Minister think that American support for Ukraine, particularly armaments, is likely to be reduced after the mid-term elections? If so, where would such support come from?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is asking me to speculate on the outcome of the mid-term elections, but I will resist such temptation. Ultimately, whatever happens in the United States, it has shown itself to be a steadfast partner to Ukraine and it will make judgments and decisions on how it best supports Ukraine. What I can say is that we work very closely with the United States. It is our closest partner and ally, and when it comes to Ukraine, we stand firm and united in our response.

Sri Lanka

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Wednesday 13th July 2022

(2 years ago)

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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.

British Council Contractors: Afghanistan

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 27th June 2022

(2 years ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I will certainly follow up with my noble friend Lord Harrington. I fully accept that there are undoubtedly cases; I am aware of several and am grateful to the noble Lord for identifying one. Let us see how quickly we can move through some of them. On the ARAP case he identified, that scheme remains open and will be open—of course, it is being administered directly by the MoD—but I will certainly follow up with my noble friend Lord Harrington. I am sure that one of us will be able to provide the noble Lord with an answer.

On contractors, the noble Lord is right that there is a time-limited window during which these expressions of interest can be taken forward. The window for this particular pathway will close because, on pathway 3, there is a limit for year 1 of settlement. Once we reach this, eligibility criteria will be applied on an objective basis. As I alluded to in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, we are working directly with the three cohorts: the Chevening cohort—this is directly under the FCDO—GardaWorld and the British Council. We are doing so to identify, where we can, any information that we need.

Of course, when that window closes, another announcement will be made towards the end of this year for the following year’s scheme, when we will be able to identify an additional cohort based on the numbers we have identified. However, as my honourable friend Vicky Ford said, the number for this year is set at 1,500. Because of commitments that we have already made, priority will be given to those who are covered through the Chevening scholarships; those who are involved and engaged through GardaWorld; and, of course, those who were working with the British Council as contractors.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for answering this question. Can he say whether he has any further information on the extent to which the Taliban in Afghanistan, particularly around Kabul, are still pursuing those linked to the British administration—and indeed many others who are linked to foreign organisations? As far as I can tell from the media, that is not a huge problem at the moment but I may be entirely wrong.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her work in this area. The picture is different across Afghanistan. There are about eight or nine provinces where girls are being allowed to go to school and women are being allowed to work. However, there are certain places where the local commanders may be operating in a way that does not reflect the openness that we wish to see—even in a limited way—and that is being demonstrated in those eight or nine provinces.

On the specific issues around Kabul, I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that our current focus is on supporting the direct victims of the tragic earthquake that took place in Afghanistan—and we are doing exactly that. However, the situation with some of the other priority issues, including girls’ education and the freedom of women to go out to work, are certainly among our priorities. As all noble Lords know, the situation is very difficult: we do not have a presence on the ground yet, but we are engaging with the Taliban at an official level. Have we seen co-operation? The short answer is yes. Indeed, I pay tribute to the officials in the FCDO who recently worked specifically, as noble Lords will be aware, on the release of British detainees. That was down to the fact that we worked in a very co-ordinated fashion and to the great courage and commitment of officials in the FCDO, who ensured the release of those detainees.

Afghanistan: Humanitarian Crisis

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 13th January 2022

(2 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I am working directly and very closely with key agencies on the ground in this respect. Just before Christmas, I had a number of meetings, including with the likes of David Beasley of the World Food Programme. I assure the noble Baroness that through direct interaction, including with near neighbours, we have access points which are providing humanitarian support to all regions of Afghanistan. Indeed, I was updated on that just this morning. I will continue to update the House, as I have done, through briefings directly at the Foreign Office as well as through debates and discussions we have in your Lordships’ House.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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My Lords, could the Minister say what discussions, if any, are being held or planned with the authorities in Kabul and at provincial level to assist in the distribution of humanitarian aid? I imagine that the Taliban will be there for the next few months at least, if not more, and presumably discussions will take place. Some agreement has to take place, and I wonder what the attitude of the British Government is under these circumstances.

Afghanistan: Food Shortages

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Tuesday 9th November 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice. In doing so, I declare an interest as the co-founder of a school for girls in Kabul, more than 20 years ago. I also note that there is a drafting error on the Order Paper. The Question should say: “the authorities in Afghanistan”, not “the Government of Afghanistan”.

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, as we all know, the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is dire and of deep concern. It has been a central subject of all our conversations with all players, including at an operational level with the Taliban. We have pressed the Taliban directly to respect humanitarian principles and to allow aid agencies to operate freely. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has announced that the UK will double its assistance to Afghanistan to £286 million this financial year and, on 31 October, my right honourable friend allocated £50 million for immediate needs. This will provide around 2.5 million Afghans immediately with life-saving food, emergency health services, shelter and warm clothing.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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I thank the Minister for his Answer. It is agreed generally that there is no time now to use food or indeed money as bargaining tools. The severe food shortage in Afghanistan has long been anticipated, and the purchase, transport and distribution of large amounts of grain takes time and organisation. I ask the Minister to work not only through the UN but with a larger number of NGOs, both here and abroad, that still have a presence in Afghanistan and in neighbouring countries, which, if co-ordinated with judicious cash injections, could help to stabilise market grain prices and distribute food in the worst-hit rural areas.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, and I assure her that the Government are doing exactly that. I myself, as the Minister responsible for our relations with Afghanistan and south Asia, have been working closely with near partners. We have been working directly with UN agencies, including OCHA, UNHCR and UNICEF. We have been having regular calls on this issue. I am happy to discuss the engagement in detail with her. Yesterday, for example, I had a further meeting with UNICEF on the importance of humanitarian support and health provision in Afghanistan. We continue to work with key partners and other international near neighbours as well as the wider global community.

Official Development Assistance: Landmine Clearance

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 17th May 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the broader issue of ODA, the noble Lord will be aware of the seven areas prioritised by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The noble Lord also mentioned Ukraine, and, again, our work there has cleared more than 1.5 million square metres, the equivalent—I am using football analogies today— of 210 football pitches, and educated people as well. While there have been reductions—I was very upfront in my original Answer—we are focused on continuing our work in this important area, as one of the world’s leading donors.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB) [V]
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My Lords, echoing the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, there appears as yet to be no published information on the impact assessment of the reduction of ODA programme funding. Will the cuts affect priority projects, such as HMG’s announcement at the G7 Foreign Ministers’ gathering last week to provide education for an additional 40 million girls? Furthermore, as has already been mentioned, does the fact that no legislation was brought forward in the Queen’s Speech to reduce the statutory commitment of 0.7% of GNI to 0.5%, resulting in an approximate £4 billion loss, indicate that HMG are having second thoughts?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the issue of legislation, as I have said before from the Dispatch Box, we remain fully aware and cognisant of our obligations both under law and to this House. Let me assure the noble Baroness that we remain committed to £400 million of funding for girls’ education, and we look forward, with Kenya, to hosting the global education summit in July this year.

Overseas Development Assistance: Budgets and Awards

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 22nd April 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, we will be announcing the particular detail that the noble Lord has requested in the very near future.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB) [V]
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My Lords, like so many others I was taken aback to learn that the cuts were to be across the board and would include very recently established programmes. A careful assessment of priority programmes is of course time consuming, but does this mean that cutting assistance for starving and wounded Yemeni children is to be equated with, let us say, cuts to training videos? Do the cuts have to be so unthinking?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I assure the noble Baroness that a lot of thought has gone into the reductions we have had to make.

Yemen

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 25th March 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, my noble friend is right, and the United Kingdom stands firm in its opposition to the abhorrent practice of child marriage. We will continue to defend the rights of children, particularly young girls, who are vulnerable to this. That work will continue not just in Yemen but elsewhere. As I am sure my noble friend recognises, the access situation in Yemen is extremely challenging. Therefore, the political settlement must proceed, and then we can look forward to playing our part to ensure that the rights of every girl in Yemen and elsewhere are protected.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB) [V]
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My Lords, the khat crop in Yemen is widely cultivated because it yields a greater income than food. If, however, this income falls and food prices increase due to scarcity, the inevitable consequence is widespread starvation. Will the FCDO support a return to pre-cut levels of aid and consider direct injections of cash into the market to stabilise prices and avoid the already very poor and meagre food aid distribution networks?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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[Inaudible]—food security. In this regard, it is not just a challenge of getting humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable. I assure the noble Baroness that we are also working directly with the Central Bank of Yemen and the Government to prop up the economy and facilitate food imports, and indeed to reduce food prices. That is part of the technical support we extend and will continue to extend.

International Soft Power Strategy: Role of BBC

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 18th January 2021

(3 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with my noble friend and, through her role as chair, congratulate the committee on its important report. The FCDO is supportive of the BBC’s delivery of impartial and trusted news to Afghanistan. I spoke to the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan this morning on the importance of the role of women, in particular when it comes to peacebuilding. We believe that the BBC, particularly its BBC Pashto platform, is an important part of doing just that.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB) [V]
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My Lords, despite the proliferation of online news services, millions across the world turn towards the BBC World Service for accuracy and balance. Are Her Majesty’s Government planning to severely limit this most powerful of all soft power instruments, or will the current level of funding be guaranteed beyond September 2021?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I have already partially answered the question on funding. However, let me reassure the noble Baroness that we remain committed to the BBC, as has been demonstrated by our support for the 12 new language services over the period from 2016 to 2020.

United States: Global Priorities and Climate Change

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Wednesday 16th December 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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First, I welcome my noble friend to your Lordships’ House—this is the first time he has asked me a question, and I agree with him. The statements we are seeing and the various nominations, which will need to be ratified through the normal process in the US, demonstrate the importance to the incoming Administration of the climate change issue, which we welcome.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB) [V]
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My Lords, would the Minister agree that the expectation of a full and rapid return to liberal policies by the Biden Administration might be a bit unrealistic? With this in mind, have Her Majesty’s Government as yet held any discussions with the new the Secretary of State and/or his department on a likely China policy?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Baroness will be aware, the new Administration have not yet taken office, but I am sure we will be discussing a range of important issues, as she suggests.

Afghanistan

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 15th October 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to provide assistance for (1) humanitarian, (2) development, and (3) girls’ education, work in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of peacekeeping forces.

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 warmly welcomes the start of the Afghan peace negotiations, which are the best chance of securing enduring peace. While the spending review is ongoing, I cannot comment on future assistance levels. However, the Government remain absolutely committed to supporting the people of Afghanistan, and we expect to announce funding for 2021 at the pledging conferences this autumn. Our ongoing programmes support humanitarian development and girls’ education, which will continue to be a priority.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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I thank the noble Lord for his answer. It is firmly established that educating girls is one of the surest ways to achieve development: social, economic and political. In view of this, will Her Majesty’s Government commit to not only continuing but expanding their education programme, including female teacher training, secure school construction and vocational courses in Afghanistan?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I assure the noble Baroness that the issue of girls’ education remains a government priority. Indeed, our Prime Minister, the right honourable Boris Johnson, leads directly on the campaign for 12 years of quality education for every girl around the world. As the noble Baroness knows, the situation in Afghanistan is fluid, but we remain very committed to the central objective and indeed the priorities that she has outlined.

Taiwan

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 17th September 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports of the presence of the Chinese Air Force in Taiwan’s airspace; and what steps they are taking to support the independence of 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, the United Kingdom is concerned by any activity that risks destabilising the cross-strait status quo. All sides should refrain from taking provocative actions and resolve their differences through peaceful dialogue. Our long-standing policy on Taiwan has not changed; we have a strong, unofficial relationship with Taiwan based on dynamic commercial, educational and cultural ties.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB) [V]
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I thank the Minister for his response. China clearly rejects international rules and values, as evidenced by events in Hong Kong, on the Sino-Indian border and in the South China Sea, and, most recently, by its repeated aggressive incursions into Taiwan’s airspace. Does not the UK’s reluctance to provide Taiwan with overt political, diplomatic and trade support indicate tolerance for China’s expansionist policies, with particular reference to Taiwan?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, we remain very strong in ensuring that, on the basis I have already outlined, we continue to strengthen our wide range of exchanges with Taiwan, including in relation to trade. Where the recognition of a state is not a prerequisite to any involvement or engagement in international bodies, we have stood up for the right of Taiwan to be part of those discussions—we are very much in favour of that.

Taiwan

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Tuesday 14th July 2020

(4 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what (1) diplomatic, and (2) practical, assistance they are providing to the government of Taiwan; and what plans they have to formally recognise Taiwan as an independent sovereign state.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, the United Kingdom’s long-standing policy on Taiwan has not changed. We have no diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but a strong unofficial relationship based on dynamic commercial, educational and cultural ties. We regularly lobby in favour of Taiwan’s participation in international organisations where statehood is not a prerequisite, and we make clear our concerns about any activity that risks destabilising the cross-strait status quo. We have no plans to recognise Taiwan as a state.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB) [V]
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I thank the Minister for his sympathetic response. President Xi has made it clear that “one country, two systems” is the plan for Taiwan, and the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2021 has been mentioned as a possible deadline. Will the Government consider taking small but significant steps and work with other like-minded nations less susceptible to Chinese influence to clarify and entrench Taiwan’s de facto independence? Such steps might specifically include inviting Taiwan as a guest to G7 meetings, lobbying for membership of the OECD as well as of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, and considering Cabinet-level ministerial visits to Taiwan.

Bahrain

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Wednesday 8th July 2020

(4 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they will make to the Government of Bahrain regarding the imprisonment and possible execution of individuals including Mohamed Ramadan and Hussain Moosa, and the reported use of torture to extract their confessions.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, we have raised, and will continue to raise, both cases at senior levels with the Bahrain Government. As the former Minister for the Middle East and North Africa publicly stated on 8 January, we are deeply concerned about the death sentences handed to Mohamed Ramadan and Hussain Moosa. The Bahraini Government are fully aware that the UK opposes the death penalty. We continue to monitor their case as it is taken to the Court of Cassation for final review.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and appreciate that he is a steadfast defender of human rights. On 13 July, Bahrain’s Court of Cassation will decide whether to uphold the death sentences of Mohamed Ramadan and Hussain Moosa. False confessions were obtained under torture, according to the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims and other international bodies. The torture was carried out by two Bahraini bodies that have received equipment and training from the UK. One of these bodies, the Bahrain Special Investigations Unit, failed to meet the minimum professional standards and minimum international standards, including the UN Convention Against Torture, to which Bahrain is a signatory. In view of the UK’s role, will the Government now make the strongest—and public—representation to the Bahrain authorities to prevent the imminent execution of these two and other prisoners? Will the Minister commit to meet representatives from rights groups before next Monday?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s final question, if schedules allow—although under the current circumstances it would have to be a virtual meeting—I will certainly look into meeting these representatives, as I do many rights groups. If that can be facilitated, I will be happy to do so. On her primary point about representations, I assure her that we will continue to make strong representations on all cases, as we have done in the past. Indeed, it was because of UK representation on this case that it went through the retrial. That in itself was a first in Bahrain’s history. However, we await the decision of the Court of Cassation. After that, we will continue to monitor the situation on this case as well as other cases.