Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict

Kirsty Blackman Excerpts
Tuesday 14th May 2024

(1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
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I thank everyone who has taken part, especially the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), who secured the debate. I also thank the staff team of my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell), who provided me with some information in advance of the debate.

We have heard already that sexual-based violence is increasing in conflict zones and that at a time when we should be moving forward, we are moving backwards. This is a difficult and uncomfortable subject to talk about, but it is incredibly important that we do talk about it. It is incredibly important that we do highlight the issues that are being faced around the globe, particularly by women and girls. I am really pleased to hear that we are standing together on this as a House—that we are saying that this is illegal, immoral and unacceptable, and that we will all work together and support the Government in taking action to eradicate this violence. It feels to me that we are speaking with one voice in this regard: that we do not believe this should be allowed to continue.

I want to talk about a number of things. I will try to do what the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) did by centring victims and their views. Although I may mention a few individual situations and countries, everybody who commits war crimes—regimes or individuals —should be held to account for those crimes, no matter who is committing them and no matter who they are being committed against. We should be considering every single case as incredibly important. I agree again with the hon. Member about the explicit accountability for sexual crimes in Israel and Palestine; that is key and I was pleased to hear the Minister’s comments on that.

Let me turn to reporting and the mechanisms around reporting sexual violence. We must ensure that we increase reporting, the ability for individuals to report and the safety of making those reports. We know that in Afghanistan, when the Taliban came in, women who had reported being victims of sexual violence were at risk of being attacked again and of being ostracised by their communities, because the Taliban dismantled the systems and protections that had been in place around them. That is completely and totally unacceptable. The UK should be using whatever powers it has and it can—whether soft powers or more extreme powers—to ensure that the protections in any country in relation to sexual violence reporting stay, no matter which regime is in charge, and that those victims are protected or safe from those situations.

The debate has emphasised the importance of supporting the universal application of human rights and the developments in the rule of law. We should do everything that we can as an international power to ensure that no one who comes forward faces reprisals for reporting and coming forward. Otherwise, how can we have the clearest possible picture of what is happening, and how can we ensure that we are using the powers that we have to prevent that from happening in any conflict?

As a number of different people mentioned, including the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), women and girls are disproportionately impacted in crises. Sexual violence is often used in conflict and in post-conflict zones; it is important to say that refugees and those who are displaced are also at risk and continue to be at risk, even though they may have escaped that war zone. There are so many people who are displaced just now, and we need to ensure that they are being protected in whatever scenario they are in and whatever country they are hiding in. In Afghanistan, there is evidence to suggest that sexual violence is being used as an interrogation tool against detained women. That is torture that these women are facing, and we should be doing what we can to condemn that violence towards women.

A number of people mentioned Boko Haram. The countries of origin in my constituency go UK, Polish, Romanian and Nigerian, so I have a significant number of Nigerian constituents, some of whom have family members who have been affected by the actions of Boko Haram. A third of the schoolgirls who were abducted 10 years ago are still in captivity, still in sexual slavery and still in domestic servitude. They now have children in those horrific situations, but they cannot find a sensible way out that ensures that they can protect their children and also have their freedom. Mention has been made of the 3,000 Yazidis, many of whom have experienced sexual violence and who are still missing and in a very similar situation. We should never be quiet about that; we should continue to raise what has happened and what is happening and to condemn those who have taken these women and girls away from their families.

The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West talked about the horrific sexual violence that occurred on 7 October. A number of others mentioned that it was planned and systemic, and in some ways it is even more horrific because of the planning that went on behind it. For every one of the women, girls or men who were targeted, the ripples go far beyond what happened that day. Sexual violence is not something that just affects someone during the initial crime and is then forgotten. We must try our best to prevent these things, and we must do what we can to condemn them, but we must also put in place support afterwards so that people can recover as best they can. We must also support regimes so that they can put that protection around victims of sexual violence—

Sharon Hodgson Portrait Mrs Hodgson
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Survivors.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
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Yes, the ones who did survive—absolutely. But we also need to ensure, where people are still in a hostage situation, that they get the support they need once they are freed so that they can get through that.

The situation in the west bank has escalated, and there are issues with women and girls being disproportionately impacted. Violence and conflict increase the structural inequalities that already exist, and we know that women and girls are already disadvantaged and that any conflict situation means they are further disadvantaged. Everything relating to sexual violence—including rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy and forced marriages—is used as a weapon of war. Those things are used to genocide communities.

Lastly, because I know I do not have much time, Sir Charles, we need to do what we can to support women’s leadership and that the UK Government need to take action. Women have a leading role to play, not just in rebuilding communities, but in brokering peace and in ensuring that systems and support mechanisms are in place and that women’s voices are heard. In too many countries around the world, women do not have that platform and are not able to make the case for other women. I would also like the UK Government to look specifically at the UN report on sexual violence and to integrate gender analysis into planning and responding to emergencies and conflicts, because we know about the structural inequalities involved.

I have far more I could have said, but I will end by mentioning the work being done by the Scottish Government to ensure that their aid money is used to support and empower women and girls whenever it can be. From 2016 to 2018, gender-based violence aid funding was only 0.1% of total humanitarian funding. That is grim when we know the situation that so many women and girls are in right now.

Gibraltar: UK-EU Negotiations

Kirsty Blackman Excerpts
Monday 11th March 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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I recognise the important work of the all-party group under my hon. Friend’s stewardship as chair and the important work that he has done in engaging with the people of Gibraltar and the Government there. He rightly says that there are opportunities not just to protect sovereignty but to ensure future prosperity for Gibraltar and its people. I restate that, as was made clear in the letter sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), the UK Government and Gibraltar have

“never worked more closely together”.

That is entirely right, given the seriousness of, and where we are in, the negotiating process.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
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I am delighted to hear the cross-party outbreak of support for nations choosing their own future, as that is unusual in this place. In recent years, the UK has managed to trash its international reputation. Will the Minister let us know how much Brexit has cost Gibraltar so far? Will he promise this House that the Government will this time stick to their agreements, the statements they made to the Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Stone and those positions that they held, and negotiate in the interests of the people of Gibraltar and not in those of ideological power trips?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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We continue to work hard in these negotiations. As I said, we are working in good faith, and to uphold sovereignty and to work towards future prosperity, which is vital for the people of Gibraltar and for the region more widely. We are optimistic about those prospects, but we are planning for all scenarios.

UK’s Relationship with Mexico

Kirsty Blackman Excerpts
Thursday 7th September 2023

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
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Thank you, Mr Gray, for chairing the debate today. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) on making a well-informed and understanding opening speech about the relationship between Mexico and the UK. It was incredibly helpful for him to set the scene in that way and he demonstrated well that he has a huge depth of knowledge in this area. I congratulate him.

I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting the debate. I was also not aware that it had been such a long time since we had had a debate on Mexico, so I am glad that we have been able to have one today. The last thing I want to say in opening is that the small number of hon. Members here does not demonstrate a lack of passion throughout the House for the UK’s relationship with Mexico. Unfortunately, it is a Thursday afternoon, when debates here tend to be a bit less well subscribed. Many of our colleagues would have liked to be here but other commitments have kept them elsewhere.

Thankfully, we have had a number of excellent and illuminating speeches. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). His depth of knowledge is, again, clear. Unfortunately, I have not visited Mexico, but the more he talked about the excitement around its history, the keener I was to go there. I may do so once my children are a little bit bigger because dragging them on to a flight of that length is probably not something that I will do at this point. Once they have left home, it will be one of the very top countries on my bucket list.

I will largely talk about the subject of the debate, which is the UK’s relationship with Mexico, but first I want to touch on an issue in Mexico that we could learn from. In recent times, the Mexican Government have raised their age of military recruitment from 16 to 18. The SNP has been pushing for that for the UK’s armed forces. The UK is an outlier in the matter, with only 13 countries in the world that continue to allow 16-year-olds to be recruited. We know from Child Rights International Network that UK Army recruits under the age of 18 are twice as likely to commit suicide while serving. There are massive inherent risks with 16 being the age at which we continue to recruit people into our armed forces. I would therefore urge the Minister in his conversations with Mexico and the people who have implemented this policy change to ask how it happened, how it was implemented, and what was put in place to ensure the transition went as smoothly as possible. That will enable us to hopefully emulate that change here in the UK and no longer be an international outlier.

Moving specifically to the relationship between the UK and Mexico, I want to speak about the free trade deal and trade with Scotland in particular, as Members would expect. Scotland exports to Mexico more than any area of the UK, except for the east of England. It is not in our top 10 export destinations, but it is a priority for the Scottish Government, and we are hoping to get it into the top 10. Mexico is the ninth most popular country for whisky exports, which is obviously a massive export for Scotland. Of the UK’s exports, 12.5% come from Scotland, which is more than Wales, Northern Ireland and the south-west of England combined. We hope to keep the strong relationship with Mexico.

As the UK Government move toward a trade deal, we need to ensure that it is as advantageous as possible for both the people in Mexico and people here. I know the UK Government will be trying to prioritise wins in trade deals, but they have unfortunately set a disappointing precedent with the New Zealand and Australia trade deal in relation to beef and lamb exports from those countries. A significant risk is posed to Scottish farmers from an increase in beef and lamb exports from Mexico should a trade deal be signed. Unfortunately, given that the UK has already done these deals with Australia and New Zealand with few safeguards regarding beef and lamb, the Mexicans will be very well aware of that and will be negotiating on the basis of precedent.

I urge the UK Government when looking at the trade deal to ensure that they are protecting the rights and livelihoods of our farmers, to ensure that we can continue to grow our own food, and to provide some measure of food security for the people who live in Scotland and the wider UK. It is very difficult for our farmers to have this security if they are being undercut by the UK Government’s poor decisions in trade deals. The UK Government must prioritise this when looking at exports.

On the links between Scotland and Mexico, we have seen an increase in the number of Mexican students coming to Scotland, which is truly excellent. There is a significant number at Glasgow University, for example, which has a burgeoning Hispanic society. That is a positive thing. Unfortunately, some of this has come about because of a reduction in the number of EU students as a result of Brexit. We want the immigration and visa systems to be as flexible as possible, allowing people to live, work and study in our country.

Obviously, the Scottish Government are not in charge of immigration. Constituents come to our offices every day with significant problems with the visa and immigrations systems. Visas are granted in some cases, but it is taking months and months for people to hear anything about it. In some cases, appeals are delayed or they win on appeal anyway and then are living in uncertainty. Because of this oppositional immigration system, we are not able to attract the talent that we would like to from Mexico or other countries, and this is because we in Scotland do not have control of our own immigration system. The UK Government should look again at the lag in visas and the issues that that causes, particularly for people coming to work and study, because it makes Scotland and the UK a less positive destination. People are less likely to want to come and live and work here purely because of the ridiculous hoops, bureaucracy and time lags in our immigration system.

The right hon. Member for Islington North mentioned hydrocarbon-based economies. That is an important link that Scotland, particularly the north-east, has with Mexico and other Latin American countries—oil-producing countries. A significant number of my constituents have spent time in places such as Mexico, Texas, Dubai and Norway. They probably have a slightly different profile from the majority of constituents across this House and these isles who go to visit those countries. We can learn a lot of good practices and positive things from each other in relation to this issue.

Obviously, we have a declining ability to access oil and gas. We are doing what we can to move towards a just transition. Scotland is doing what it can to meet its climate change targets and try to provide economic certainty for the regions. We have put additional moneys into the just transition, which the UK Government have failed to match. Although the UK Government are not doing as much as I would like on that just transition, there is still a significant amount to learn and a lot of positive knowledge to share to ensure that the transition away from hydrocarbon-based economies is as non-negative as possible.

We do not want what happened to the mining communities. We want a planned transition so that the people coming out of jobs in oil and gas—whether in Aberdeen in the north-east of Scotland, the UK or Mexico—have jobs to go to, and so that those skills, particularly the ones applicable to renewables, can be utilised as widely as possible. We could have a positive relationship with Mexico regarding that move.

There is also the opportunity for us to trade in decommissioning, for example, given the incredible amount of experience and expertise in and around Aberdeen. We are one of the first countries in the world to be doing decommissioning en masse. As other countries move into that space, we should be utilising our economic powers and opportunities to be able to share that. Also, with the continental shelf, the UK is the gold standard for safety. Things have been not quite so good recently, but certainly previously we were the gold standard. If we can, it would be great to ensure that other countries decommission as safely as possible in order to protect both our environment and the men, mostly, who are working on it.

Lastly, on democracy, the Mexican president has gone on record to say that the UK Government must honour the principles of “participant democracy” and allow an independence referendum. We welcome that support. Scotland has continually voted for the SNP standing on a manifesto that includes an independence referendum. We have an incredibly positive relationship with Mexico, including an honorary consulate in Glasgow to ensure that we keep those strong links. We recognise and appreciate the support for our democratic right to an independence referendum, and we thank the Mexican president and the country of Mexico for the honorary consulate and for their support for Scotland’s democratic voice to be heard.

Iran’s Nuclear Programme

Kirsty Blackman Excerpts
Thursday 30th June 2022

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
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I congratulate the right hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) on bringing this debate to the House, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for ensuring that it could happen. There has been an awful lot of accord across the House today; it seems that we are all raising similar concerns and we are all keen to find a way forward. It is not quite a matter of semantics, but perhaps there is just a slight disagreement about the way forward and the best way to tackle the issue.

The joint comprehensive plan of action was never ideal, but it was better than no deal and we need to recognise that it was a major diplomatic achievement. The SNP joins Members across the House who have called for Iran to halt its activities that are in violation of the JCPOA. We hope to see detailed, precise and deep talks this week. There is an urgent need for a diplomatic solution and an urgent need to end Iran’s nuclear escalation.

We agree with the concerns that have been raised about Iran’s stated intention to end all JCPOA-related transparency measures and about the action that it has already taken in that regard. Transparency is incredibly important, and any future deal needs to put that at the heart of the agreements made.

There are other risks that have not been mentioned in the Chamber today. Bilateral work on tackling climate change and on tackling the Afghan refugee crisis is currently on ice because of the present situation. Regardless of escalation and nuclear uranium enrichment, the climate crisis and the Afghan refugee crisis are not going away. We must work to tackle them. As several hon. Members have said, we must ensure that we put people at the heart of our approach and that we work to improve human rights in the region, as well as ensuring that the people of Iran are decoupled from the action of their Government and given the opportunity to flourish.

We agree with the calls for the UK to use our place to press the regime—and to press all regimes that have issues with human rights or are committing human rights abuses, whether that is Iran, Saudi, Russia or any of the countries committing human rights abuses against their citizens or citizens of other countries.

I criticise the unilateral actions that Donald Trump took, on the basis that taking unilateral action on this is not the way forward. The way forward is for everybody to work together as international partners to get a settlement. The reality is that the situation is potentially worse than it could have been if those unilateral actions had not been taken. It is better to act in concert.

We welcome President Biden’s commitment not just to returning to the deal, but to strengthen the areas in which it is defective and extend the JCPOA. I have not much mentioned wider regional security, but we need to ensure that action is taken and that there is international co-operation with respect to Iran’s issues, its causing of regional instability and the actions that it is taking to destabilise countries around the world, as several contributors to the debate have mentioned. That needs to be a matter of priority.

As somebody who believes that we should not have nuclear weapons anywhere in the world, I am massively concerned to see the upscaling of Iran’s potential nuclear capabilities. We need to ensure that talks happen, whether that is around the table this week or in some future round of talks. We need to ensure that the UK’s international power is used to put pressure on, and to de-escalate the situation as quickly and as properly as we possibly can.

Rape as a Weapon of War in Ukraine

Kirsty Blackman Excerpts
Thursday 31st March 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford
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The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. I also think that this Chamber is sometimes a very powerful place from which to send messages, so let me send this message again. Rape and sexual violence in war can be a war crime. It is always a crime, but it can be a war crime, and we are working with the international community to ensure that those who commit war crimes are held to account.

The hon. Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) mentioned the MP Lesia Vasylenko, who was so brave in telling the world the stories of some of the women. It is Lesia’s birthday today. She is 35. Can we all take a moment to send her our best wishes, and our deepest thanks for what she is doing for women at this time? [Hon. Members: “ Hear, hear.”]

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
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Accountability and ensuring justice and consequences are hugely important, and I do not want to detract from that, but they are not helping survivors on the ground right now. Could the Minister give us a bit more clarity on what her Department is doing to help those who either are in Ukraine or have fled Ukraine, and who are survivors of sexual violence in conflict? What support are they being given on the ground, and if such support is not currently being provided, how does the Minister intend to ramp things up so that it is provided now?

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford
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The tragedy is that, as the hon. Member will know, getting support into Ukraine itself can be particularly challenging at this time, especially in the most affected areas, but we have provided a very significant amount of support through humanitarian aid. Many of those who are working in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries are extremely experienced in this field.

As I said earlier, I met representatives of the Charity Commission this week to discuss safeguarding issues and to ensure that charities are thoroughly aware of them. As I also said earlier, the Metropolitan police have operationalised their war crimes division in order to be able to collect evidence from those who have come here, and I know that many other countries are doing the same.

All refugees will need support, which is why we are providing that humanitarian aid—and God bless the British people, too, for being so generous—but we understand that those who have suffered from sexual and other violence will need additional support.

Throwline Stations

Kirsty Blackman Excerpts
Monday 24th January 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
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Thank you, Ms Ghani, for chairing this sitting this afternoon. I also thank the hon. Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) and the Petitions Committee for ensuring that this issue has been brought to the House for debate. It is incredibly important that we debate it, and the debate is very timely. My thoughts are with the family of Mark Allen—I applaud their bravery and tenacity in taking this issue forward and bringing it here today. Hopefully some change can be brought about to ensure that other families do not go through what they have gone through.

In Scotland, we have a pretty specific situation in relation to open bodies of water: we have lots of open bodies of water, and our open bodies of water are very cold. We have seen in the course of the pandemic, as was mentioned, an increase in the number of people wild swimming, paddle boarding and canoeing. I cannot claim to do any of those. I have tried sea kayaking and I am never going again—I was so seasick it was ridiculous. I did not expect to get seasick while sea kayaking, and it is not a thing that I will carry on with.

The increase in the number of people going out and enjoying the water and having a good time in the water in Scotland is brilliant, but we need to ensure that we increase the education as well. We need to ensure that, when people are going into the water, they are doing so while understanding the risks and what they need to do should they get into difficulty. The RNLI’s incredibly important “Float to Live” campaign was mentioned. It does not matter how strong a swimmer someone is and how many times they have been in that water before, hitting the water and getting the shock of the cold can mean that they freeze up, are unable to rescue themselves and get into real difficulty. It is really important that we ensure that as many people as possible are aware of that campaign.

In Scotland, we had our own response to the drowning prevention strategy in 2018. It included a number of things, but one of the key measures was to develop and promote water safety education and initiatives in primary and secondary schools. Given that in Scotland we have a different education system and a different police and fire system, as well as having a massive number of bodies of water, there needs to be a unique strategy, and we are taking that forward in Scotland in an attempt to make a difference.

In July last year we saw a doubling in the number of fatalities in Scotland’s waters, which is a big issue. As a result of that, particularly around Loch Lomond, the amount of safety equipment has massively increased. Several organisations, including the council, have worked together to increase the number of throwlines and safety signs and to increase the presence of the lifeguard boat at that side of the Loch to ensure that people can be saved, should they get into difficulty. That should not happen only after the fact. It should not take those fatalities for us to realise the issue.

We should increase the amount of education and safety equipment. We should ensure that people know how to use that safety equipment and that it is kept up to date and looked after. All of those are incredibly important. By 2026, we will hopefully see the number of people drowning in open water reduced. We all want to get there, and we are all pushing in that direction, but I think we particularly need to see education in schools.

I have young children aged eight and 10. As we quite often do in Aberdeenshire, whenever I go to a harbour, I am terrified that either my or somebody else’s children are going to fall into the water. My children probably do not realise, but I am hyperaware of it. When they hit 14 or 15 and go out by themselves, they will not have the same level of terror about the water as I have when they are near it. As a parent, I think schools need to ensure that young people are educated and have a reasonable awareness. It is okay to go into the water, but they need to have awareness of the danger it can pose, so that we see fewer fatalities and so that people can enjoy the outdoors safely in Scotland, England or Wales.

Forced Displacement in Africa

Kirsty Blackman Excerpts
Thursday 4th July 2019

(4 years, 10 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
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Thank you for chairing this debate, Mr Evans. I congratulate all those who created this report: the Select Committee members, the staff team, and all those who contributed evidence and shared their experience. I think it is an excellent report that is full of detail and has great recommendations. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) made an excellent opening speech, which really did the report justice.

The global refugee compact states:

“Countries that receive and host refugees, often for extended periods, make an immense contribution from their own limited resources to the collective good, and indeed to the cause of humanity.”

The SNP will continue to be an advocate for the most vulnerable. We call on the UK Government to do more. The UK Government have been slow in filling the 480 places they promised for unaccompanied children; only 220 of those places have been filled so far, which means there are 260 unaccompanied children alone out there who could be helped today by the UK Government. It is imperative that they fulfil their commitment—I would prefer it to be more—and ensure that those 260 children are helped.

Education is a long-term challenge, and is easily disrupted by outside events. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) recently led a debate in this Chamber on education for the most vulnerable and marginalised people. The “Send my friend to school” campaign brings to the ears of children in these nations the issues that are faced by those who cannot attend school and do not have access to a good education system. It is amusing because, when we speak to young children in our constituencies, not all of them are all that enthusiastic about going to school, but they really see the benefits of it and believe that everybody should have a right to education. It is great to meet so many young people who are incredibly passionate about ensuring that everybody receives an education. Imagine not being able to learn. Imagine the impact on individuals and communities if children are not able to learn. It is unimaginable that we would allow that for our own children, so we should do everything we can to ensure that children across the world have access to education.

Samara McIntyre, a teacher in Aberdeen, has done everything she can to teach young people in Kittybrewster Primary School about access to education and refugees more widely. When I was brought in to speak to her class, I was given the most intense grilling I have ever received. Those young people were so passionate and they could not believe that we are not doing more. They were absolutely sure that there was more that could be done. They sat me down and said, “You need to do more. What are you going to do?” I am standing here today asking the UK Government to do more.

I want to highlight a few of the things we have been doing in Scotland, particularly on education. The Scottish Government have helped 73,000 Malawian children to stay in school by supporting a feeding programme, and our Pakistan scholarship scheme has helped to support more than 400 women and 1,400 school children to continue their education. We have also started the Livingstone fellowship scheme, which allows doctors from Zambia and Malawi to come to Scotland for specialist training. They take that back to their countries and use their knowledge.

Recommendation 14 in the report is about women and women’s empowerment. I believe that we will not empower women unless we educate them and ensure that they have access to appropriate healthcare and contraceptive choices, so that they can make the choice about what they do with their bodies. Where they desire it, they can choose not to have children and so can escape that poverty trap. That is incredibly important. That is even more vital in post-conflict zones, where there are often a huge number of internally displaced people, and access to medical facilities can be incredibly patchy. Contraception is perhaps not the first thing that people think of when providing medical aid, but it is greatly important for the empowerment and support of women.

I want to flag up an issue that I discovered in a UK Government Home Office paper on trafficked women from Nigeria. It says:

“Trafficked women who return from Europe, wealthy from prostitution”—

wealthy from prostitution!—

“enjoy high social-economic status and in general are not subject to negative social attitudes on return.”

I raised that issue a couple of weeks ago with a Home Office Minister in the Chamber, and the document is still online and has not been changed. I am hugely concerned about that use of language. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) also mentioned it in the Chamber this week. It needs to be changed, because the UK Government should not have that view of women who have been trafficked and used in prostitution.

On the SNP’s support for women, the UN special envoy to Syria invited our First Minister to provide support and training to female peacemakers in negotiation and communication skills. The Scottish Government and the SNP will continue to do all we can to empower women and help them to rebuild their communities.

The report says that the UK must practise what it preaches. We agree that the UK should commit to taking 10,000 people per year after 2020. That represents a meaningful but, we believe, realistic increase over the current commitment. We are playing our part in Scotland—these are not hollow words—and we commit to continuing to do so. We have already taken almost 20% of the Syrian refugees, despite the fact that Scotland has less than 10% of the UK population. We are doing what we can, and we promise to continue doing so, but we need the UK Government to make commitments on that.

On the UK practising what it preaches, the point has been made eloquently that the UK should allow asylum seekers to work. A study from 2016 showed that if 25% of asylum seekers switched to self-sufficiency through work, it would save the equivalent of £46 million in 2017-18 prices. It would not just save money; it would ensure that people are better integrated into our society. It would reduce some of the negative social stigma from other people who are not refugees looking on and saying, “This person is an asylum seeker. They are not working; they are just living on Government handouts,” when many of them are highly trained and really want to work.

We can do more, we should do more and we must do more. We are talking about the most vulnerable people on the planet. Who are we if we do not do everything we can to support them?

Venezuela

Kirsty Blackman Excerpts
Thursday 7th February 2019

(5 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
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I thank the Minister for providing an advance copy of his statement.

The situation is deeply concerning, and I want to make it clear that we condemn the violence and the regime that is carrying out the violence. The political and economic crisis gripping the country is spiralling into a regional humanitarian disaster, and we are at risk of allowing a lost generation of Venezuelans. I am pleased that the Minister discussed the importance of getting humanitarian aid into Venezuela and the neighbouring countries when he was in Ottawa. Will he please give us some more information around the specific measures that are in place to ensure that the aid does reach the right places? As he says, 3 million people have had to flee, and many of them have had to flee on foot—over 1 million to Colombia, for example. It would be helpful if he could give us some more information on that.

The right to self-determination is one owed to people in every country in the world. In the end, it will be for the Venezuelan people to choose their own political future, and there is a need for there to be free and fair elections in that regard. Will the Minister tell us what steps he has taken to support the Venezuelan people in strengthening their democratic institutions, so that they can have a democracy that is actually a democracy in reality, not just in name?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
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I am very happy to say that I agree with the hon. Lady in all respects. On humanitarian aid, while I was in Ottawa I spoke at some length to my right hon. Friend the Secretary State for International Development, and I will be meeting her again next week. We are discussing how we can anticipate the way in which aid might be delivered once the country is, as we hope, again opened up. We are planning to try to work with multilateral organisations for when Venezuela can be properly assisted. I rather think that, although we know there is a humanitarian problem, when we lift the lid and look more deeply into what has been wrought upon the Venezuelan people, we are likely to find out that it is far more severe than we even contemplate at the moment. We need to be ready for that eventuality, and I know that the International Development Secretary and the whole Department for International Development apparatus are now looking at this very deeply.

On the question of helping Venezuela to get up and running in a legitimate way, I would make one simple point, which is that the country does have a constitution. The problem is not the constitution, but that Maduro has not upheld the constitution. He holds up the little book and then bends all the rules that are written inside it. All we need is to uphold the proper process and principles of that constitution. That is exactly what Juan Guaidó and the National Assembly are doing, and they are now the foundation for reasserting the proper workings of the constitution through free, fair and effective legitimate elections.

Global Britain and the International Rules-based Order

Kirsty Blackman Excerpts
Thursday 6th September 2018

(5 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
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I would like to start by thanking the Foreign Affairs Committee and particularly the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) for bringing this debate before us. I also thank him for the excellent way in which he put forward the position held by the Committee on these matters, as well as the position he holds. That was incredibly useful.

It has been a really interesting debate. I was particularly interested in the speech by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely). When he began, I thought, “Gosh, I agree with almost everything he is saying,” but it went steeply downhill. Now, we are back on the correct sides of the House, and I felt a bit better after we began to diverge.

Thinking about the international rules-based order, some of the conversations that have been had today around global Britain have been about what exactly we want our aims to be. What do we want our position in the world to be? What do we want to do in terms of the influence we exert on others? What do we want to get them to do? The Scottish National party is focusing on furthering things like the sustainable development goals. We are looking to build capacity, peace, fairness and gender equality in other countries, many of which we have by right here every single day. Whenever we make decisions about what global Britain will do, we must hold those values in the forefront of our minds. That is certainly what the SNP would be doing in an independent Scotland if we were making those decisions for Scotland.

Britain has enjoyed a position of influence in the world that has been entirely disproportionate to its size, and that is largely because of its past wealth and empire. But the world has changed, particularly in the past 30 years, and I am concerned about some of the rhetoric that comes from some Conservative Members—although largely not today, I hasten to add—about dragging us back to the position we were in 30 years ago and trying to have Britain look like the Britain of 30 years ago and having the influence it had in the world then. I would suggest that that is not where we need to be. We should not be looking backwards; we should be looking forwards and seeing how the world has changed. We should be seeing where the levers are now and making sure those are the levers we are seeking to pull in order to help build capacity and create the world we want to live in.

I want to make it clear from the beginning that the SNP supports the retention of the international rules-based order and we will do what we can to ensure it endures—which is quite important—but we do not believe in many of the policy directions that successive UK Governments have adopted. We have major concerns that “global Britain” is just another of those follies. We do not make friends and gain influence by telling everybody how great we are. We make friends by showing everybody what we can do to help them; we do so not by standing there and saying, “Hey, look at us, we’re wonderful,” but by doing the capacity-building things I am talking about to make life better for people. That is how “global Britain” could become global Britain.

I want to talk about some of the specific different political choices we would make. In Yemen, in the first nine days of August there were 450 civilian casualties, 131 of whom were children. Nearly half the children in Yemen aged between six months and five years are chronically malnourished. The difference in the position the SNP and an independent Scotland would take is that we would not be having weapons sales that are 18 times the value of the aid we are spending; the value of our weapons sales to Saudi Arabia is 18 times higher than the aid we are spending in Yemen. Making sure those children are not chronically malnourished should be more of a political priority than getting the money from those lucrative weapons sales.

The escalation caused by the UK’s bombing of Syria has ceded any prospect of the UK acting as a peace broker in Syria, which is what is needed there. Lessons were not learned from the lengthy and expensive Chilcot inquiry. In contrast, the Scottish Government have been funding a UN project in Syria to grow the role of Syrian women in conflict resolution. That is incredibly important; women have a hugely important role to play in conflict resolution, and it is often under-reported and under-recognised. Such excellent projects are much more important than, and cost much less than, bombing campaigns, and make more of a positive difference.

On international aid, I agree with the majority of speakers. I am pleased that so many Members talked about the 0.7% aid target and have spoken positively about the fact that we are spending that. I acknowledge that many have discussed how that money is spent, and it is healthy that we are scrutinising that and making sure it is spent in the very best places in order to ensure that the best outcomes are created from that aid money. We will continue to champion that amount of money being spent on aid, and we appreciate the fact that the Government are continuing to do that.

There is more that the UK could do internationally, particularly in regard to humanitarian crime. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, the UK could help to strengthen and support the international rules-based system by calling for the International Criminal Court to investigate the atrocities that have taken place in Myanmar. Members across the House have spoken about the atrocities and crimes that are being inflicted on the Rohingya people there, and I believe it would be helpful if the UK were to use its international influence in that way. Crimes such as those cannot be committed with impunity; they need to be properly investigated. We need proper results in that regard, in order to prevent them from happening in other countries and to show everyone that if such crimes are committed, the international community will speak out against them and do what it can to clamp down and prevent them from happening again.

Turning to Brexit, we believe that the UK should pledge to remain a member of the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council Committee, post Brexit. This is particularly important in relation to where we are with Russia just now. Having a close relationship with our European allies would be incredibly important, and continuing to have a place there would be useful in ensuring that we can continue to have those close links.

Acting in concert with our international allies is vital, not only in regard to the many things that we have spoken about so far. There has not yet been a huge amount of mention—perhaps a bit—of international financial crime. Whether that involves offshore trusts, Scottish limited partnerships, the Chancellor’s possible taxation of digital organisations, retail companies or the implementation of trade remedies, we need strong international relationships in order for any of those things to happen. Countries need to work in concert with one another and to agree common goals and objectives for cracking down on international financial crime. In the light of some of the comments and decisions being made in the United States just now, particularly around the World Trade Organisation, we need to stand firm on these issues and put what pressure we can on our allies there to convince them to continue to support the WTO.

To sum up, global Britain should prioritise the sustainable development goals. I think that those are the most important things, and that the decisions that are made in our international relationships should ensure that we are doing that capacity building. That would make the world a better place for everyone.

Budget Resolutions

Kirsty Blackman Excerpts
Monday 13th March 2017

(7 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to speak in this Budget debate. I had the same pleasure last year, and I appreciate the opportunity. I want to talk about quite a few things. The Foreign Secretary talked about global Britain, but we are in fact looking at a broken Brexit Britain. We are looking at a package of unfairness not only in the Budget, but in the austerity that the Government have followed for years. Ordinary working people have not been supported by this Government or the previous Government.

The UK Government have their head in the sand, and they have it there for two good reasons. First, they do not have the faintest idea of what Brexit will actually mean. What they do know about the outcome of Brexit is that it will be bad, so they do not want to tell us what they know. Secondly, the Government talk all the time about how things will affect the ordinary working person, but most Conservative Members—or at least too many of them—do not actually have a clue about what it is like to be an ordinary working person. They do not have a clue what it is like to push a trolley around the supermarket and feel inflation going up, as it has done over the past three months. Inflation has gone up to its highest level in ages during the past three months. People are seeing a 15% increase in the price of butter and a 6% increase in the price of tea. Those things have a real impact on families’ budgets, because they are everyday essentials which people regularly buy, so when they go up in price people are disproportionately affected. In Scotland, 48.4% of adults have less than £100 in savings. Across the UK families owe, on average, £2,770—that is the debt that families have. This is a really tight situation for people. People are struggling; they are not able to save and they have levels of debt.

People who have had a mortgage in the past eight years have never seen interest rates above 0.5%. Therefore, if the Bank of England decides to raise interest rates because of the weakness of the pound, which is not inconceivable, these people will be hit by increased mortgage costs that they did not expect, because they had never seen such increases before and so have not planned for them. This Government are doing nothing to help the budgets of these people. I spoke to some of my friends about how they feel the economy hits them. Too many of them told me, “I lie awake at night worrying because I have no savings. What if my partner gets laid off? We have no money. We have no slack in our budgets.” With rising inflation, because of Brexit, and the fact that the UK Government are not willing to take action now to combat it, people’s budgets are going to be squeezed even more tightly.

We have also seen wage stagnation as part of this package of unfairness. In 2022, average earnings will be no higher than they were in 2007. The UK Government need to take action—they need to be spending—to counter that and to make sure that people’s everyday budgets and everyday family incomes balance.

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin (Horsham) (Con)
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Just to put this into perspective, the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecasts are for inflation to be 2.6%, then 2.4% and then coming down to 2%. Although that is higher than we would like—it is above the target—it is not the kind of inflation we have seen in the past under other Governments. The hon. Lady is talking about a fiscal reflation—throwing more money into the economy—but that would increase inflation.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
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I am talking about putting more money into infrastructure, things that actually create jobs, and research and development. What we have seen in the UK is pitiful productivity. In Scotland, we are beginning to counter that, as our productivity has grown much faster than the level in the rest of the UK. That is partly because of the fiscal stimulus given by the infrastructure packages we have put in place, which has allowed us to make a difference to productivity. If the UK Government intend to take us out of the single market and to make it more difficult for us to have trading relationships and to export, they will need to make sure that they are increasing productivity to counter that, otherwise we will face a real issue on the lack of wage growth.

The Chancellor stood up and said, “It is fabulous what we are doing for the oil and gas industry. We are going to make it easier for oil and gas companies to transfer late-life assets.” This is really important, because the oil and gas industry will continue to take oil out of the ground for a very long time to come. Some fields are nearing maturity and may be operated by one of the big operators, and we need to make it easier for those assets to be transferred to some of the newer, smaller operators so that they can “sweat” them: get the maximum economic recovery out of those assets. My problem with what the UK Government announced is that they announced it last year and did not do it; they announced this exact thing on late-life assets last year and it has not been done, so I hope they will forgive me for not dancing around in excitement at the fact that there is now going to be a panel of experts to look at this thing that the Government announced last year—it would have been nice if they had actually done it back then.

I want to mention the £350 million of extra money that is going to Scotland. It was kind of the Chancellor to stand up and say, “We are giving £350 million of extra money to Scotland,” but this is rubbish—it is not what is happening at all. Because of how the Barnett formula works, if the Government spend more money in England and Wales, it just so happens that Scotland gets an extra slice as a result. The Chancellor cannot pretend that he is giving lots of money to Scotland while asking Departments to make 6% cuts and in the face of continuing austerity. He cannot stand up and say that the Government are giving Scotland all this money, given that we have had a £2.9 billion real-terms cut over the decade from 2010. It is ridiculous that we are in this situation.

I wish to touch on a couple of things that the Foreign Secretary said. In response to an intervention, he talked about falling back on WTO rules and how it would be “perfectly okay”. I am interested to see the analysis that he has done on that, because I do not think it would be perfectly okay. I think he is guessing, imagining, inventing—[Interruption.] He is hoping with his fingers crossed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara) says. I say that because falling back on WTO rules and most favoured nation status is a harsh reality for our exporters, particularly for our small and medium-sized enterprises.

On SMEs, the Foreign Secretary said that people on my side of the House were mocking entrepreneurial spirit. He is from the party that has made changes to the national insurance contributions of the self-employed and he is accusing us of mocking entrepreneurial spirit! We are supporting entrepreneurs. We are supporting those people in small businesses, particularly the incredible numbers of women and people on lower incomes who have started businesses and taken on the mantle of self-employment. This is really important. These people have decided to become self-employed and now this Government are taxing that aspiration.

This Budget has dodged far too many of the important issues. It has not spoken about the real fallout from Brexit. The Government are unwilling to give the OBR any real information, and the improper forecasts that they have therefore been provided with have allowed them to dodge those issues. Despite all the comments in the run-up to it, this Budget has been shambolic. It has dodged the issues, taxed aspiration and done absolutely nothing for the oil and gas industry beyond what was promised last year. This is not a Budget that is promising for Scotland. It has increased the package of unfairness and consigned ordinary working people to a long-term lack of prosperity.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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