NHS and Trade
The Trade Bill is very important in securing the continuity of up to 40 EU trade agreements, the establishment of a Trade Remedies Authority to protect UK businesses and jobs from unfair trade practice, and access to the £1.3 billion global market in Government procurement.
The United Kingdom’s public services, including the NHS, are already protected by specific exclusions and exceptions trade agreements, and HM Government will continue to make sure that the same rigorous protections are included in trade agreements going forward.
So, to be clear, the NHS is and will not be on the table. The price the NHS pays for drugs are not on the table. The services the NHS provides are not be on the table.
FCO and DfID merger
I agree that international development is extremely important and my supporting it was one of my main motivations for wanting to enter the House of Commons in the first place.
I am Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ethiopia & Djibouti, Vice Chairman of a number of other Groups for developing countries and Chairman of the Westminster Africa Business Group. A while ago I held my own debate in Parliament about the work of DfID and I regularly contribute to debates and questions in the Commons on such matters. I have visited a number of developing countries and seen the benefits which aid brings to people there, through health, education, water supplies and many other projects.
I have mixed feelings about the merger. One the one hand, when I have visited developing countries I have held meetings with the FCO, DfID and DIT and have wondered if it would not be better if they worked as one. I do agree that, sometimes, we should use aid as a lever to help bring about better government in countries where the governments are the problem. And many people in this country do feel that our aid should benefit the UK as well as the recipients of it.
On the other hand, the delivery of aid is more complicated than that now. It rarely is given directly to governments for budget support, but is provided to aid agencies and other organisations working on the ground and to organisations such as the World Food Programme. And often the people in the greatest need are those living in war-torn areas or in countries with the worst governments, such as Yemen and Somalia, and the need is therefore to go in under the radar to help those people.
On the day of the announcement, I raised the whole matter with the Prime Minister in the Commons, emphasising that helping the world’s poorest people is in the UK’s interests, but that we should do that for humanitarian reasons anyway. I asked him to guarantee that, following the merger, we would continue our poverty reduction programmes across the world, and continue to provide health and education projects, particularly for girls, and he agreed that the latter in particular was one of the most important things we could do.
So, I can see the benefits of the merger but also the possible drawbacks. I will, therefore, continue to make representations to the Prime Minister and other Ministers to try to help ensure that we continue to do our best to help poorer people across the world and I am grateful to you for raising the matter with me.
Persecuted Christians Worldwide
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is committed to defending Freedom of Religion or Belief as a universal human right which should be enjoyed by everyone. The UK regularly raises this issue with governments across the world and funds projects that promote respect for all people of different faiths.
In January 2019, the then Foreign Secretary launched an independent review led by the Bishop of Truro, into FCO support for persecuted Christians. The report has identified specific steps the British Government can take to address the issues faced by persecuted Christians around the world. The government has accepted the recommendations in full and will work to implement them. This work will include exploring how best to deliver a new Security Council Resolution on protecting Christians in North Africa and the Middle East; and sanctioning those who persecute people for holding a religion or belief.
The Government takes its defence exports responsibilities extremely seriously and operates some of the most robust export controls in the world. The UK only approve equipment which is for Israel's legitimate self-defence, when we are satisfied that this would be consistent with the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria and other relevant commitments. A licence will not be issued if there is a clear risk that the equipment might be used for internal repression, or if there is a clear risk that it would provoke or prolong conflict. The government continue to believe the best way to achieve peace is through substantive peace talks between the parties leading to a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital.
The Government publishes Official Statistics (on a quarterly and annual basis) of licences granted and refused for military exports on GOV.UK, which can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/strategic-export-controls-licensing-data
Export licence applications are carefully assessed against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. A licence would not be granted if to do so was inconsistent with the Criteria. The policy remains as announced to parliament in a Written Ministerial Statement on 25 March 2014 (https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140325/wmstext/140325m0001.htm#14032566000018) and updated with an additional policy, as announced in a Written Ministerial Statement on 13 September 2018 (https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2018-09-13/HCWS957/).
I have also raised the issue of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and will continue to do so.