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Foreign and Commonwealth Office Questions

25th June 2019

Harriett Baldwin replies to MPs’ questions to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Trinidad and Tobago: Criminal Justice

Neil Coyle (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab)

2. What support his Department is providing to Trinidad and Tobago to improve that country’s (a) handling of murder cases involving UK citizens and (b) criminal justice system. [911540]

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)

Since 2017, under a bilateral security memorandum of understanding with Trinidad and Tobago, the UK has delivered targeted programmes to improve local judicial and policing capacity.

Neil Coyle

I ask this question with specific reference to my constituent Sharon St John, whose son Adrian was murdered three years ago. She is still waiting for justice. I thank the Foreign Office for belatedly getting more involved in the case, but what further pressure can Ministers and the Government put on the Trinidad and Tobago authorities to set the date for a full trial as soon as possible?

Harriett Baldwin

I commend the hon. Gentleman’s assiduousness in raising this truly terrible constituency case. He can be reassured that we have taken every opportunity to raise the case with Trinidad and Tobago. We obviously cannot interfere specifically in Trinidad and Tobago’s judicial process, but we are extending every possible support where we can. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in May last year the magistrate committed the accused to stand trial for murder, but we acknowledge that the trial date has not yet been set.

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) (Con)

When I visited Trinidad, I found the people and nation to be peaceful, loving and entrepreneurial. There are some specific problems, but will the Minister confirm that the Foreign Office advice is still that British citizens can travel to Trinidad and Tobago? Many people will enjoy a vacation there.

Harriett Baldwin

Yes, of course. Thousands of people from the UK and elsewhere enjoy holidays in Trinidad and Tobago, and it is of course a close friend and Commonwealth partner. The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) is right to raise the issue, and I am sure that my hon. Friend would do the same should a constituent have such a bad experience anywhere in the world.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

Over 30,000 British nationals visit Trinidad and Tobago every year. Forty people were murdered there in January 2018 alone, and the deaths of Mr and Mrs Wheeler in particular exposed the need for protection measures for British citizens visiting Trinidad and Tobago. Will the Minister outline the steps being taken to secure the safety of UK citizens when they are on holiday?

Harriett Baldwin

Millions of citizens travel world wide all the time, and we ensure that we provide good and up-to-date travel advice. We always encourage travellers to take out insurance policies when they are going on business trips or holidays, and to look at the Foreign Office’s travel advice pages.


UK Soft Power

Craig Tracey (North Warwickshire) (Con)

4. What diplomatic steps he is taking to enhance UK soft power overseas. [911542]

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)

The UK has recently been rated the world’s No. 1 soft power. Our strengths in sport, education and culture are a vital diplomatic asset.

Craig Tracey

I really welcome the upcoming conference on media freedoms that the Minister is hosting next month. What specific asks can be made of the countries attending to ensure that they promote the values of democracy and free speech?

Harriett Baldwin

I thank my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the important media freedom conference that we are hosting jointly with the Canadians in London in a couple of weeks’ time. He will be glad to hear that so far Ministers from 50 countries will be coming along to that event. We are asking countries to sign up to a pledge welcoming the value of a free media in holding the powerful to account and stressing the importance of the free exchange of information.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)

Mr Speaker, you have just graciously opened Parliamentary Links Day, celebrating science in Parliament and the UK’s world-leading position as a science nation. Unfortunately, all too often African scientists are prevented from coming here to collaborate because of the UK’s outdated and arbitrary visa system. The all-party parliamentary group for Africa, which I chair, is conducting an investigation into this. Will the Minister commit to joining us for the launch of the report on 16 July and to working with the Home Office to address this real barrier to our soft power in the world of science?

Harriett Baldwin

I commend the hon. Lady’s chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group for Africa. As she knows, I try to come along to all her meetings when I can, so I will add that request to the list and hope I will be able to join her. She will be glad to know that we have recently gone out to every part of our diplomatic network to find out from the frontline where there are issues with the UK visa system. She knows how many millions are processed every month. We want to see what we can do, working with our colleagues in the Home Office, to make sure that everyone who wants to come to visit the UK, for scientific or other purposes, and who has a legitimate reason to be here, the means to be here and the opportunity to return can do so.

Mr Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)

The Secretary of State clearly believes that he is a master of soft power and diplomacy. He says that Europe will be willing to renegotiate the Brexit withdrawal agreement if a new Prime Minister comes forward with ideas on how to solve the Northern Ireland border issue. I presume that, like her colleague, the Minister for Europe and the Americas, the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan), the Minister is supporting the Secretary of State for the premiership. If she is, can she please tell us what those ideas are?

Harriett Baldwin

Let me take this opportunity to say that, yes, I do support the Foreign Secretary’s campaign to be the next leader of the Conservative party. The hon. Gentleman has been extremely ingenious in this question on soft power in shoehorning the sort of questions that will rightly be asked by members of the Conservative party in this campaign. What I will say from this Dispatch Box is that I am absolutely confident that, whatever the outcome of those negotiations, the UK’s leadership in soft power will continue to shine brightly in the world.


International Economic Crime

Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con)

12. What diplomatic steps he is taking to help tackle international economic crime. [911551]

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)

We are working with a range of countries to demonstrate UK global leadership by increasing our capabilities in the overseas network, including establishing joint serious organised crime teams in over 80 countries.

Stephen McPartland

The line between rogue nation states and terrorist organisations sponsoring organised criminal activity is increasingly blurred. They are attacking our national institutions and millions of residents in this country. Does the Minister believe that diplomacy is working?

Harriett Baldwin

My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the importance, given that we are one of the world’s leading financial centres, of our being as rigorous as possible and taking a zero-tolerance approach. I am sure the House will welcome the fact that last December the Financial Action Task Force review took a close look at our system and concluded that the UK had the strongest anti-money laundering regime of the countries assessed to date, but clearly we cannot be complacent; there is much more to do.


Topical Questions

Anneliese Dodds (Oxford East) (Lab/Co-op)

T4. Disturbingly, medics dealing with the aftermath of the 3 June attacks in Khartoum have said that, as well as 100 people dying, about 70 women might have been raped. Many of my constituents who have links with Sudan have suggested not only that the Janjaweed should be internationally proscribed—even, potentially, as a terrorist organisation—but that we should apply sanctions to those responsible. Do the Government hear my constituents’ call? [911567]

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)

The hon. Lady can tell her constituents, and indeed the people of Sudan, that we stand with them in their desire for a transition to civilian-led government. As she knows, there have been widespread reports following those horrendous attacks, and we encourage everyone to keep documentation of such atrocities. Justice will come eventually, but I summoned the Sudanese ambassador to express our disagreement with—our real abomination of—what had taken place on 3 June.


Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con)

T5. Over the weekend, the chief of the general staff of the Ethiopian army, the president of the Amhara region, and several ​other high-ranking Ethiopian citizens were murdered. Will my right hon. Friend join me in sending condolences to the people of Ethiopia and to its excellent Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed? He is trying to secure reform in that great country, but clearly there are those who are trying to oppose him. [911568]

Harriett Baldwin

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s excellence as a trade envoy between the UK and Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s trade has increased by some 80%, which must surely be one of the records among trade envoys.

We are truly appalled by those killings, and our thoughts are indeed with the people who have been affected by them. We support Ethiopia’s progress in political and economic reforms, and we do not want such events to influence that agenda.


Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)

Many of us hope that my right hon. Friend will continue his brilliant work as Foreign Secretary for many years to come, but may I take him back to his earlier remarks about Sudan and the present position of the long-suffering people of Sudan? Will he ensure that the British Government do all they can to make certain that, in line with the International Criminal Court indictment of General Bashir and Salah “Gosh”—two people who have been identified as perpetrators of mass atrocities in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan—they are held to account and taken to The Hague as swiftly as possible?

Harriett Baldwin

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his assiduous pursuit of this agenda; he knows how closely we are working with both the ICC and other international forums to ensure that the situation in Sudan remains at the forefront of the international agenda and that we do everything we can to ensure a swift and orderly transition to civilian rule in that country. Clearly, accountability will not be forgotten by the international community.


Stephen Kerr (Stirling) (Con)

Will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary update the House on the progress being made with the prevention of sexual violence in conflict initiative?

Harriett Baldwin

The UK has shown leadership on that initiative relentlessly since 2014, and I can announce that this November, five years on, we will host a summit to document progress and to highlight the fact that the world needs to continue to focus on this important issue.


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