13 December 2022
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Questions

James Cleverly MP, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, answers MPs’ questions.

British Indian Ocean Territory

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con)

1. What recent progress he has made on negotiations on the sovereignty of the British Indian Ocean Territory. (902757)

The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (James Cleverly)

I can confirm that negotiations have begun. Officials from the UK and Mauritius met at the end of last month and had constructive discussions. The UK and Mauritius have reiterated that any agreement will ensure the continued effective operation of the joint UK-US defence facility on Diego Garcia, and we will be meeting again to continue negotiations shortly.

Henry Smith 

What consultations are being held with members of the Chagossian community in my constituency and around the UK ahead of any proposed changes to the British Indian Ocean Territory?

James Cleverly 

I recognise my hon. Friend’s championing of the Chagossian community in his constituency. He will recognise that there is a diversity of views in the various Chagossian communities in Mauritius, the UK and the Seychelles. We will of course take those views seriously, but the negotiations are between the UK and Mauritius. We will ensure that we continue to engage with those communities through this negotiating process.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (Ind)

Do the UK Government now accept the finding of the International Court of Justice that the process of the decolonisation of Mauritius was not lawfully completed in 1968 and that the UK’s continued administration of the Chagos archipelago constitutes a wrongful act?

James Cleverly 

The UK has expressed regret about the manner in which the Chagossians were removed in the late 1960s and the 1970s, but we are working constructively with the Mauritius Government and, as I say, one of the strong principles that underpins the negotiation is the reiteration that the UK and US defence facility on Diego Garcia will continue.


LGBTQ+ Rights: Qatar World Cup

Dan Carden (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab)

2. What diplomatic steps his Department is taking to promote LGBTQ+ rights during the men’s World cup in Qatar. (902758)

The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (James Cleverly)

Ministers and senior officials have raised the UK’s position with regard to LGBT+ football fans and the status of those fans in Qatar. I raise these issues regularly in my direct engagement with the Qatari authorities, and on my recent visit to Qatar it was again restated in the conversation between myself and my opposite number in the Foreign Ministry.

Dan Carden 

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary. Qatar has brought into focus the denial of people’s basic rights over their sexuality and gender. Around 70 countries still criminalise homosexuality, with 10 or more still using the death penalty. We are seeing a regression for LGBT rights in many parts of the world. Last week in Russia, Putin criminalised any act of public mention of same-sex relationships. In parts of eastern Europe, LGBT people are facing aggression, with violence in Bulgaria, new anti-LGBT laws in Hungary and so-called LGBT ideology-free zones continuing to operate in Poland. What is the Foreign Secretary doing to ensure that we do not see a pink curtain descend across Europe?

James Cleverly 

The hon. Gentleman raises incredibly important points. My position on the importance of promoting and defending the rights of LGBTQ+ people is well known, and that absolutely reflects the British Government’s position. We do not shy away from raising these issues in the conversations we have with those relevant countries where there are issues and where we are seeing a slip backwards, and I can commit to him and the House that we will continue to do so.

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)

A proportion of the gay and lesbian community in Qatar will statistically also be part of the Christian minority, and Qatar has one of the worst records in the world for persecution of Christians. What is the Foreign Secretary going to do about that?

James Cleverly 

Again, the British Government have a long-standing commitment to the protection of freedom of religion or belief, and we report on it regularly. The Prime Minister has in the past appointed a special envoy for this issue. My ministerial friend Lord Ahmad in the other place champions it when he has conversations in the region. The protection of minorities is an issue that is brought up regularly in the conversations that I have in the region.


Ukraine: War Crimes

Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)

3. What diplomatic steps he is taking to help ensure that perpetrators of war crimes in Ukraine are held to account. (902759)

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)

6. What diplomatic steps he is taking to help ensure (a) prosecution of and (b) effective sanctions against perpetrators of war crimes in Ukraine. (902762)

The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (James Cleverly)

The UK has led diplomatic efforts to refer the situation in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court. With the US and EU, we established the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group. We are working closely with our international partners to ensure that our sanctions are effective, and that those who are responsible for atrocities and breaches of international humanitarian law, at whatever level, are ultimately held accountable for their actions.

Chris Elmore 

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his answer. In her recent visit to Parliament, the first lady of Ukraine highlighted that Russian soldiers had carried out sexual violence, including rape, against Ukrainian women with the consent of their commanders. As the Foreign Secretary will be aware, under UN international law the use of rape in combat is a war crime. Will he set out specifically what he will be doing on the diplomatic stage to ensure that when the war is over, or indeed before then, the soldiers who committed those crimes and the officers who authorised those disgusting and heinous rapes are dealt with in the International Criminal Court?

James Cleverly 

The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important point. I had the privilege of speaking to the first lady at the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative conference that we hosted in London recently. I can inform him and the House that this morning we designated 12 more Russian military officers who were in command of Russian troops when atrocities took place. We work closely with the Ukrainian chief prosecutor, the International Criminal Court and our international allies to ensure there is an accountability framework that is effective, from the people on the ground who are perpetrating these crimes directly, to the officers who are ordering them to do that, right up to and including Vladimir Putin himself, who is ultimately responsible for these vile acts, which have taken place because of his invasion of Ukraine.

Andrew Selous 

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that prosecutions and sanctions for atrocities in Ukraine should also be extended to those in Russia who perpetrate violence against women and girls, such as the Russian police officer Ivan Ryabov, who tortured courageous Russian women for speaking out against the brutality done in their name but against their will in Ukraine?

James Cleverly 

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. There are many, many Russians who are deeply opposed to the invasion that Putin initiated against Ukraine. Their bravery is legion. We have sanctioned more than 1,200 Russians and more than 120 entities as a direct result of Putin’s invasion. I will make note of the name he raised. He and I have discussed this previously, and he will understand that we do not comment on specific designations that might have been brought about.

Mr Speaker 

I call the shadow Foreign Secretary.

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)

Labour has been calling for a special tribunal to prosecute Putin personally since March. This is a necessary part of securing justice for the victims of Putin’s war crime, and would add to the legal basis for confiscating frozen Russian assets. The EU has already set out a plan to shift frozen assets into a fund to help rebuild Ukraine, and Canada has already passed laws to do that. Why are the Government not doing the same?

James Cleverly 

The Government and I have committed to exploring ways of ensuring that those individuals who supported Vladimir Putin—the kleptocrats and oligarchs who have helped to fund this aggression against Ukraine—are not just sanctioned; ultimately, we will look at legally robust mechanisms to seize assets as part of the reparations, rebuilding and reconstruction phase. Of course, we work closely with the Canadian authorities. Canada has a similar legal system to ours, for obvious reasons, and we will explore what it has done to see what we can learn to ensure that whatever vehicle we put in place has the desired effect and is robust.


Northern Ireland Protocol

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab)

4. What recent discussions he has had with the European Commission on the operation of the Northern Ireland protocol. (902760)

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)

13. How many hours his Department has spent on negotiations with (a) EU member states and (b) the European Commission on the Northern Ireland protocol in the last month. (902770)

The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (James Cleverly)

Fixing the Northern Ireland protocol is a top priority for this Government. Since September I have been in regular contact with Vice-President Šefčovič. We last spoke on 1 December and I will be seeing him for further talks this week. My officials have also been working with our counterparts in the EU on a regular basis to try to resolve the issues, which we recognise—and we are impressing this upon them—are causing serious, genuine and damaging friction in relationships between the various communities in Northern Ireland.

Hilary Benn 

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for that answer. It was reported recently that the Prime Minister has assured President Biden that an agreement will be reached with the EU in time for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement. We also read that the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is on ice while the negotiations continue. Can the Foreign Secretary assure the House that if an agreement with the EU is reached—and we all hope that will happen—the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill will be dropped?

James Cleverly 

The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill exists for a reason. The commitment that I made to Maroš Šefčovič in the conversations that I had with him and others was that we would not either artificially accelerate that process or artificially hinder or retard it. We have always said that our preferred option is through negotiations. We speak regularly, the tone is positive, and I think that there is now an understanding that the concerns that we have raised, and that have been raised particularly by the Unionist community in Northern Ireland, are not confected but real, and that any agreement would need to address them.

Ian Paisley 

Is it not the case that there has not been one hour of actual negotiations, because the EU has not extended its mandate to allow for any changes whatsoever in the operation of the current protocol? That being the case, does the Foreign Secretary not believe that the EU will smell weakness in this Government if they take their foot off the pedal with the protocol Bill in the other place? I encourage him to press on with the Bill.

James Cleverly 

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the UK negotiating team are very conscious of the frustrations, particularly in the Unionist community in Northern Ireland. But we have also made the point to our interlocutors in the EU that, across communities in Northern Ireland, there is a recognition that the protocol is not working, that it needs to be addressed, and that the relationships between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK—of which Northern Ireland is a part—all have to function properly. That is the underpinning of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and that is what we seek to achieve through our negotiations.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)

One needs only to visit the port at Belfast and see the potential for new facilities there to realise the interruption there could be to the vital east-west trade routes that Northern Ireland relies on. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is vital that the Government are clear that we do not take anything off the table in getting to an agreement? Even though we want an agreement, we still need all the options to be on the table, to ensure that we get what we need for the United Kingdom.

James Cleverly 

The United Kingdom’s position has been consistent. We recognise that the way the protocol is working is undermining community cohesion in Northern Ireland and disrupting business flows, particularly east-west between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. These issues have to be addressed. That is, I think, something that the EU negotiating team understand, and we will continue negotiating in good faith. However, as I say, the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill exists for a reason, and we want to ensure that we get a good working resolution that is sustainable for all the communities in Northern Ireland.

Mr Speaker 

I call the shadow Foreign Secretary.

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)

For 18 months we have been at an impasse on the Northern Ireland protocol. Instead of negotiations, we have had cheap rhetoric and threats to break agreements. With a UK Government showing determination and diplomatic skill, and an EU willing to be flexible, these problems would be easily resolvable. Is the real problem that the Prime Minister is in the pocket of the European Research Group, too weak to stand up to his Back Benchers, and putting his party before Northern Ireland?

James Cleverly 

The right hon. Gentleman needs to keep up. We have had very well-tempered negotiations between the UK and EU negotiators. He will find in our public reporting of those negotiations that there has been a high degree of mutual respect. He says that there is an easy resolution. If he believes that, all I would say is that we are waiting to hear it. If it were easy, it would have been done already.

Mr Speaker 

Let us hear from the SNP spokesperson.

Alyn Smith (Stirling) (SNP)

I say to the Foreign Secretary that if politics goes wrong for him, he has a great career in stand-up ahead of him.

This discussion is not happening in a vacuum. The Foreign Secretary will be aware of a poll in The Irish Times yesterday that showed that 54% of the people of Northern Ireland are in favour of EU membership. I want to see a negotiated outcome over the protocol; we all do. There are things with the protocol that need to be addressed, and we all agree on that, but the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is not the way to do that. Surely he must recognise that it is the biggest block to progress in these talks, and that now is the time to scrap it.

James Cleverly 

I am the one who has been in the conversations with the EU. I know that it does not particularly like the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, but, nevertheless, the conversations that I have had with my direct interlocuters and that our officials have been having with their opposite numbers in the EU system have been progressing. As I have said, there are still a number of serious issues that need to be resolved, but we are working in good faith. The Bill exists for a reason and it is important that it is there.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman highlighting the fact that there is pretty much universal agreement now that the protocol needs to be changed, because that is what is driving an increased degree of community tension and disruption in Northern Ireland.

While I am on my feet, let me welcome the hon. Gentleman resuming his place.


Anna McMorrin (Cardiff North) (Lab)

8. What recent assessment he has made of the political situation in Iran. (902764)

John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)

18. What steps his Department is taking to help tackle destabilising activities by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. (902775)

The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (James Cleverly)

These protests in Iran are a watershed moment. After years of repression, the Iranian people have clearly had enough. They are standing up to the authoritarian regime under which they live. Sadly, the regime has responded in the only way it knows: with violence. The UK is committed to holding Iran to account, including with more than 300 sanctions—including the sanctioning of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in its entirety. We will continue to work with partners to challenge the regime’s aggression at home and its disruptive behaviour in the region.

Anna McMorrin 

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Iranians are being hanged from cranes with black bags over their heads and their hands and feet bound while Iranian weapons are being used to perpetrate Putin’s illegal war murdering Ukrainians. Will the Secretary of State join me in condemning those human rights violations and tell me exactly what sanctions he will bring forward against Raisi’s abhorrent regime?

James Cleverly 

I personally and the UK Government have regularly condemned the abuses in Iran. Of course, I recognise that that tone is reflected right across the House. We have sanctioned the morality police; we have sanctioned the Iranian judges whom we know to be involved in those secret trials. We will continue to work with our international partners, and directly, to sanction the members of the Iranian regime who continue to abuse the human rights of the people within that country.

John Spellar 

The Minister has rightly identified that the clerical fascist regime in Tehran is increasingly using violence and terror in trying to crush the popular protests there, while also destabilising the region through proxies, as well as further afield. He knows that a vital underpinning of this dreadful regime’s activities is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. He mentioned working with other parties; he knows that the United States has already taken action to proscribe the IRGC. Will that finally persuade him to sanction to the IRGC?

James Cleverly 

We already sanction the IRGC in its entirety. We will continue to work closely with our friends in the international community to prevent the point that the right hon. Gentleman raises: the exporting of attack drones and other munitions to Russia, which are then being used by Vladimir Putin’s troops to attack civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. We will continue to sanction individuals, and as I say, the IRGC is already sanctioned in its entirety.

Mr Speaker 

I call the shadow Minister.

Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab)

The Metropolitan police have warned about threats described as an “imminent, credible risk” to life against British-Iranian journalists in the United Kingdom. The Iranian regime has also threatened BBC Persian journalists. I ask the Foreign Secretary again to set out what further targeted sanctions the Government will be taking against the whole Iranian regime and, more importantly, to ensure that the Government act against any threats to individuals in the United Kingdom.

James Cleverly 

The hon. Gentleman will understand that it is counterproductive to detail what future sanctions designations might be brought in—we want to ensure that the targets of those sanctions do not in any way try to evade the sanctions before they are brought in. The UK remains absolutely determined to ensure that Iran does not intimidate people within this country. We will always stand up to aggression from foreign nations. We will absolutely not tolerate threats, particularly towards journalists who are highlighting what is going on in Iran, or indeed towards any other individual living in the UK. On 11 November, I summoned the Iranian chargé d’affaires to highlight the UK’s position on this; and, working with our colleagues in the Home Office, we ensured that the Iranian journalists who were under threat according to our information were protected by the British police.

Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)

15. How many at-risk British Council and GardaWorld contractors and Chevening alumni in Afghanistan his Department has (a) assessed as eligible for and (b) resettled under the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme pathway 3 since 6 January 2022. (902772)

Sam Tarry (Ilford South) (Lab)

20. What humanitarian support his Department is providing to Afghan people (a) in and (b) fleeing Afghanistan. (902777)

The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (James Cleverly)

The UK has already resettled more than 6,300 people through various resettlement schemes. In the first phase of the Afghan resettlement scheme pathway 3, we will offer up to 1,500 places. We have received 11,400 expressions of interest and we are working through those quickly. We have disbursed £228 million since April 2022, on top of £286 million in aid for Afghanistan last financial year.

Caroline Lucas 

The Foreign Secretary says that he is working quickly, yet we know that zero Afghans have been resettled under the ACRS. No wonder yesterday the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), admitted that we must do better when confronted with the staggering delay. I am in touch with Chevening alumni, for example, who have been living in fear of their lives for more than 16 months now. By the Government’s own admission, pathway 3 in its first year will help only 400 applicants and their families—a tiny number—out of more than 11,000. Will the Foreign Secretary and the Home Office urgently supercharge the scheme, increase the number of people working on it in the Department and, crucially, allow the 20,000 people Ministers say they want to help over five years to come now? They cannot wait for another four or five years; they are in fear of their lives now.

James Cleverly 

I have to correct the hon. Lady. She says that we have not made any resettlements under the ACRS. As I said in my answer, we have granted indefinite leave to remain to 6,300 eligible people. I think that she was making specific reference to pathway 3, which we are working on, but the House ought to recognise that we have already given indefinite leave to remain to more than 6,000 eligible people.

Sam Tarry 

Last year my team and I heard countless harrowing, brutal stories of people and their families being murdered in Afghanistan, often while on the phone to my casework team. My team are still shocked and triggered by that awful experience; by the pictures they saw and the voicemails they heard. The FCDO really has to do a lot more to make sure that more people in Afghanistan do not die at the hands of the Taliban. I do not know whether I am going to correct my friend the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), but my understanding is that only four Afghans have been resettled under the ACRS. Many of my constituents have lost loved ones, so I want to know just two things from the Foreign Secretary: what support is being offered to Afghan refugees currently stuck in Pakistan, and what will he be doing to speak to Home Office colleagues and ensure that this absolute mess of resettling people is sorted out promptly?

James Cleverly 

Yet again, I have to correct the hon. Gentleman. He said that only four people had been settled under the ACRS. I say again, for the third time, that around 6,300 eligible people have been granted indefinite leave to remain under the referral pathways of the ACRS. We will of course continue to work both across HMG and with our international partners to resettle at-risk Afghans, and will particularly look at the individuals who have been supportive of the UK, and those particularly at risk because they are women, academics or members of the judiciary.


Topical Questions

Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab)

T1.   If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (902782)

The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (James Cleverly)

Since being appointed, this ministerial team and I have criss-crossed the globe on behalf of the British people, including making visits to Somalia, Australia and Colombia. The Minister for Europe has visited more than half a dozen European capitals, I have been to multilateral events such as NATO, the G7 Foreign Ministers meeting and COP27 in Egypt. We do so to strengthen our bilateral and multilateral relationships so that we can address pressing issues such as illicit migration, climate change and the pressures being felt around the globe as a result of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Mrs Lewell-Buck 

I thank the Secretary of State for that response, but I am disappointed that he failed to mention the news this weekend that more than 11,000 children have been killed or maimed in the war in Yemen. As he knows, the truce has collapsed, escalation is feared and the humanitarian situation is desperate. In the past he has defended UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia on the basis of the UK’s strict arms export licensing criteria. Since the Government watered down those criteria—

Mr Speaker 

Order. These are topical questions; they should be short.

James Cleverly 

I can inform the hon. Lady that I had a meeting with my Yemeni counterpart at COP27 in Egypt. I know that the plight of the Yemeni people is close to the hearts of many Members of the House. It remains a focus of the UK Government. We call on all sides involved in the conflict, especially the Houthis, to abide by the ceasefire agreement, but of course Saudi Arabia has, as all countries have, a legitimate right to self-defence.

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)

Last week, the courageous Dunn family finally secured some justice for Harry, but the disrespect that they received from Ministers at the FCDO was a disgrace. Given the latest allegations that a bullying Tory Minister caused delays to Afghan evacuations, does the Foreign Secretary accept the need for an independent review of whether there has been a toxic culture at the FCDO that is undermining Britain on the global stage?

James Cleverly 

I completely reject the points the right hon. Gentleman has made. I pay tribute to my predecessor, the former Foreign Secretary, for the work that he did pursuing justice for the Dunn family, and I think it is completely inappropriate for the right hon. Gentleman to suggest anything otherwise.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con)

T6.   The response of the Iranian regime to political process has been judicial murder. Two young men were reported to have been executed yesterday, and there is a list of 41 executions rumoured to be happening before the weekend. Will my right hon. Friend call in the Iranian ambassador and express our revulsion, and will he also introduce immediate sanctions against the Iranian regime? (902788)

James Cleverly 

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. We have summoned senior Iranian diplomats to make clear the UK’s position on the brutality they are meting out on their own people, we have sanctioned judges involved in the secret courts that have imposed the death sentence on Iranian protesters, and we will continue to push the Iranian regime to do better.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)

T2. Is the Secretary of State aware of the abusive hate speech issued by Ken Mifsud-Bonnici, who works in the office of President Ursula von der Leyen, and his comments about Northern Ireland, which matched indeed the equivalent to a goose-step across Ireland by President Ursula von der Leyen herself when she spoke from Dublin? Could the Foreign Secretary indicate if he has spoken to those in the President’s office and asked them to disassociate themselves from those abusive comments about Northern Ireland? (902783)

James Cleverly 

I think it is incredibly important when we discuss issues as serious as this that everybody is cautious and thoughtful in their language. I had seen those comments, which were inappropriate.

Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)

T9. Notwith-standing the answer my right hon. Friend gave earlier, given that Germany now believes that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was behind several terror attacks against synagogues, that our own security services have revealed at least 10 attempted killings by the IRGC in the UK this year alone, and as the threat it poses looms ever closer to home, does the Foreign Secretary agree with me that now is the time to proscribe the IRGC? (902791)

James Cleverly 

My hon. Friend, who speaks with great passion and authority on this issue, knows that it is a long-standing Government policy that we do not speculate on future proscriptions. He will know that we have sanctioned the IRGC in its entirety, and we have brought specific actions against individuals who we know to be involved either with arms distributions or violations of international humanitarian law.

Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)

T5.   Does the Minister agree that unjustifiable Iranian bombardments on Iraqi Kurdistan and other attacks require resolving disputes between Baghdad and Irbil plus accelerating economic and political reform, and that these should continue to be key themes for our excellent diplomats there? (902786)

James Cleverly 

I met the President and Foreign Minister of the newly installed Iraqi Government when I was in Egypt, and we of course have a very good working relationship with both Irbil and Baghdad. It is in the interests of all Iraqis that the relationship between Irbil and Baghdad is fruitful and we will continue to invest diplomatic effort to ensure that continues.

Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)

We have heard how Putin’s henchmen in the Wagner Group are implicated in many barbaric war crimes in Ukraine, including a brutal assassination of a defector, and how they are sending Russian prisoners to their deaths as cannon fodder, and a massacre in Mali. Do we let this evil continue or should the UK proscribe the Wagner Group as a terrorist organisation?

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend rightly speaks with great passion about this as there has been terrible behaviour by members of the Wagner Group. She has been in my position so will recognise that we do not speculate on future proscription, but the actions of the Wagner Group are being watched by this Government and other Governments around the world.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)

T7. Why did the UK Government withdraw at the very last minute, on 10 December last year, from sanctioning the torturous and barbarous members of the Bangladesh rapid action battalion and then invite them to be trained in the UK in surveillance technology? (902789)

James Cleverly 

Understandably, the process by which sanctions are applied needs to be done discreetly. I am not able to discuss in detail how sanctions are processed, but I will ensure we get details to the hon. Gentleman on this issue.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)

In the south-east corner of Europe, Azerbaijan is again waging a human rights abuse against the people of Armenia. Today it has cut off the Lachin corridor, cutting off the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia, on top of the continued detention of prisoners of war, their torture, and lobbing shells into Armenian sovereign territory. Will the Foreign Secretary haul in the Azerbaijan ambassador, read him the riot act and take a delegation of the all-party group on Armenia—I declare an interest as its chair—to put a stop to this continued attempt at genocide and ethnic cleansing?

James Cleverly 

My hon. Friend takes a keen interest in this issue. I spoke with the Azerbaijan ambassador yesterday on a range of issues, and I will reiterate a point I have always called for: de-escalation in that area.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab)

Yesterday, I learned that I was to be sanctioned by the Iranian regime for my support for human rights and freedom in Iran. I assure the House that that support will continue unabated. What support are the Government giving to the BBC Persian service?

James Cleverly 

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will wear that sanction designation as a badge of honour, because the point that he has made in standing up for the voice of the Iranian people who are being oppressed by their own regime is an important one. We take the protection of people here in the UK, whether British nationals or Iranians, incredibly seriously, and I will work with the Home Office to ensure that that protection is meaningful and strong.

Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)

We know about the draconian restrictions faced by women and girls in Afghanistan. The new all-party parliamentary group for Afghan women and girls, which I co-chair, has written to the Foreign Secretary and looks forward to his response. Will he commit that in any conversations or negotiations that he has with the Taliban, the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan will be prioritised?

James Cleverly 

The protection of women and girls remains an absolute foundation stone of Britain’s foreign policy. We look upon the images we see coming out of Afghanistan, with humiliation and abuse meted out against Afghan women, and take our response incredibly seriously. I assure her that that will always be a firm point when we raise things with the Afghanistan Government.