20 October 2022
FIFA World Cup 2022

Jesse Norman responds on behalf of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, to a debate on the UK’s plans and preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

The Minister for the Americas and the Overseas Territories (Jesse Norman)

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) for securing this debate. I thank the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), who I know is a keen football fan, for his contribution—I hope we have cause to put into practice his suggestion for Enfield, Southgate.

I start by doing something that I am sure we will all agree with, but we have not done yet, which is to pay tribute to Sir David Amess as we pass the first anniversary of his absolutely tragic death—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] He was a corridor friend of mine for a long period as neighbours, and a friend throughout my parliamentary career; I absolutely cherish his memory—I know everyone in this Chamber who knew him does too. I also cherish the tireless dedication that he showed to his constituents and his country. He was a passionate advocate for UK-Qatar relations. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan, and the entire APPG, carry on his ethos. I thank them for pressing the issues constructively, but not unsparingly, with an ally. These are very important matters.

We have covered a gamut of matters, and I am going to talk about all of them. In the two contributions we have had so far we have had the question of the treatment of LGBT+ people, as well as the question of mental health, raised by the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron). There have been issues raised about the price of alcohol, public displays of affection and the level of UK support.

David Mundell 

When I had the opportunity to travel to Qatar with Sir David Amess, he was at the forefront of raising those issues. The points that the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) has made about the Guardian article and the concerns about the LGBT+ people—Sir David was raising those issues at the highest level. There was no holding back; he wanted to be a critical friend because we want Qatar to move forward on those issues, not sweep them under the carpet.

Jesse Norman 

That is exactly right. It was very much in his nature to be warm and friendly, but also to tell people hard messages that they did not necessarily want to hear—albeit in his extremely engaging way.

This debate is timely for two reasons, and it demonstrates the cross-party interest there is in the forthcoming World cup. In the Foreign Office, our lead Minister for the middle east is Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon. I am acting as his proxy, but it is a great pleasure for me to respond on behalf of the Government and pick up all of the points that have been raised.

Of course, our priority is the safety and security of all British nationals who will be travelling to the tournament. I weep that the Scots are not involved and I am very sad that the Northern Irish are not involved, but I am thrilled and delighted that the Welsh are after 68 years. What a moment; it is absolutely fantastic. That safety and security emphasis includes, of course, working closely with the Qatari authorities that are ultimately responsible for that, and for ensuring British nationals know what to expect, what is expected of them when they visit and how to get assistance. Of course, there is a lot of good practice already in place from previous major tournaments, particularly Russia in 2018. That includes the importance of close co-operation with partners, such as the football associations and supporters’ representatives.

Every event is unique, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan is right to say that this will be the first-ever World cup held in the middle east. It is also the first-ever hosted by a Muslim nation and the first to be largely city based—in what is our winter but a more temperate time for them—so the Government have adapted our plans accordingly.

There has been close engagement on security with Qatari authorities, as the House might imagine, on various aspects of the preparation—particularly in supporting the delivery of a safe and secure championship. The UK police are offering support and advice in relation to fans, and have travelled to Qatar to build relationships and share their professional experience and knowledge. Many Members will be aware that the UK has a lot of experience in football-related policing, and our police typically deploy to overseas tournaments for that reason. At the same time, the Ministry of Defence will be supporting Qatar with military capabilities in relation not just to the much-travelled and advertised joint Typhoon squadron but to counter-terrorism, even more relevantly, which remains a threat—particularly at an event of this magnitude and profile.

Consular preparations are going on, as one might expect. The UK Government recognise that aspects of such tournaments can pose problems for fans—we have had several mentioned already, such as public displays of affection—from local laws and customs to geography and travel requirements. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is therefore implementing a range of targeted communications to provide England and Wales fans with practical advice and keep problems to a minimum. There is a dedicated World cup section in the travel advice we offer for Qatar, and the Government advise anyone attending to read that and sign up for email alerts so they can stay on top of developments.

Hon. Friends and colleagues will be pleased to know that the UK Government have today announced their six top tips for travelling fans to follow, supported by both the England and Wales managers. At the same time, there has been close engagement with Qatar on topics relating to the fans themselves. The one that has been first and foremost in the comments of all those who have spoken is the issue of LGBT+ visitors. I reassure colleagues that Ministers and senior officials have raised those issues at all levels, and continue to do so. The authorities are quite clear that their commitment is that everybody is welcome, and that they will respect that, but on our side we need to continue to encourage and press for the equal treatment of all fans and respect for individual rights not just in words, but in the action and the specific context of the matches as they take place, so that anyone of any background can go out and enjoy themselves.

When it comes to consular assistance, the FCDO will be offering an enhanced consular presence in Qatar throughout the tournament, and British nationals will have a 24/7 capacity to call the FCDO if they need help or advice. Of course, there are appropriate parallel plans in place for the wider region, because the Government are aware that many fans hope to base themselves elsewhere and travel into Qatar for matchdays. That is an important further preparation.

In terms of the legacy, which was raised by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, the World cup has allowed the UK Government to engage across much wider bilateral areas in recent years—on trade and culture, but also rights. One would expect engagement not merely in the more historically relevant areas of trade and culture, but in the one that is so salient now, which is rights. Qatar is a close partner and we must use this opportunity to strengthen that bilateral relationship, to broaden it in the way that has been described, and to make it more enduring. Lots of British companies on the trade side have played a notable role in World cup preparations, including in relation to football stadiums and many other aspects of them, and NGOs have been collaborating on legacy and inclusion themes. Only last week, Street Child United successfully hosted the fourth street child world cup in Doha. There will likewise be opportunities during the event to showcase what the UK has to offer.

As I say, I am rooting at one remove—and, tragically, only after the three lions— for Wales. My right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan can tell me whether “Ymlaen, Cymru!” is the correct Welsh for saying, “Come on, Wales!” But I can say that we will be pressing this on behalf of the nation as a whole, provided that the matches do not yield any kind of contest between England and Wales until the final.

Of course, the other thing that has been rightly mentioned is workers’ rights, which must continue to be an important part of the picture. As I think colleagues will know, the UK absolutely welcomes the concrete steps rightly highlighted by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate hitherto, including the introduction of a non-discriminatory minimum wage. But the priority, as he rightly says, must be the implementation and enforcement of those reforms—not just when the attention of the world is on Qatar, but even once those workers move off the radar and in future years to come. He may be aware that the UK’s migration and modern slavery envoy visited earlier this month for a range of meetings to discuss precisely how the UK can partner with Qatar and the International Labour Organisation to support further progress in 2023 as part of the legacy of the World cup.

In conclusion, we are in regular dialogue with host authorities and continue to ramp up the plans that have been set out. I hope, and I know all colleagues will hope, that come 18 December we will celebrate a safe and successful World cup, with a home nation picking up that trophy.