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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 527: debated on Tuesday 3 May 2011

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked—

The Commonwealth

1. What progress he has made on his proposals to reinvigorate the Commonwealth; and if he will make a statement. (53519)

There has been a visible uplift in our relationship with the Commonwealth, and we have been working with key partners to reinvigorate this unique organisation. In particular, we support the work of the eminent persons group, and I look forward to its recommendations on how to build up the role of the organisation ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in October.

Following the stunning showcase of Britain last Friday, does the Minister agree that diplomats and ambassadors should have a massive spring in their step as they promote trade and investment in the UK, to the Commonwealth and beyond?

I agree completely with my hon. Friend. Last Friday was a remarkable event; it was Britain at its very best. I was in Guinea at the time, which is not yet a member of the Commonwealth. I watched part of the royal wedding on France 24 on a television in the deepest and darkest part of Guinea, and there was huge interest from everyone who watched that programme.

Does my hon. Friend agree that given that there is more than $3 trillion of trade each year inside the Commonwealth, the organisation should be recognised as a beacon of trade globally and UK companies of all sizes should be encouraged to seek out commercial opportunities within the Commonwealth?

Since the election nearly a year ago, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his ministerial team have been to more than 30 Commonwealth countries, of which I have visited seven. I assure my hon. Friend that on the agenda for those meetings were trade diplomacy and building up business and enterprise with those countries. The Commonwealth has a vital role in pursuing the Doha development agenda.

The Minister will know that the Commonwealth Secretariat, which works for more than a third of the world’s population, is run on a shoestring, yet we give billions to the European Union. Would our money not be better spent on maintaining our links with all the small countries and other Commonwealth countries, which have close links, deep loyalty and close family ties to the UK? In other words, should we not put the Commonwealth before the European Union?

The Commonwealth does a first-class job, and it is exemplary in providing excellent value for money from its Secretariat here in London. I am delighted that the multilateral aid review by the Department for International Development concluded that the Commonwealth has a unique place in the international system and can play an even more significant role in development.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the Commonwealth is to be reinvigorated and live up to its ideals, it needs to take a tougher line against member countries such as Sri Lanka, which committed war crimes against its Tamil civilian population according to the recent UN report? Should the Commonwealth not call for an independent international investigation into those war crimes, and suspend Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth unless it co-operates with such an investigation?

We supported the setting up of the report, and it is essential that the Sri Lankan Government respond to it in a timely fashion.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the forthcoming centennial conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association provides an admirable platform for my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary to expound this Government’s positive view of the Commonwealth and the CPA’s role in it?

A resounding yes. An organisation that concentrated originally on Anglophone countries now attracts a keenness to join from countries outside the Anglophone sphere. Recently, Rwanda, a Francophone country, joined, as did Mozambique, a Lusophone country. Countries are queuing up to join this excellent organisation.

Libya (Post-conflict Reconstruction)

The post-conflict stabilisation and peace-building effort in Libya will be an international effort, co-ordinated by the United Nations in support of the Libyan people. The UK has undertaken early, cross-Whitehall planning, supported by the stabilisation unit, focusing on how we can support the international effort. Staff have been deployed to the region to provide stabilisation expertise on Libya and Arab partnership programmes.

We must learn the lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, where in my experience we sometimes contributed what we were able to deliver rather than what was needed. What conversations is the Secretary of State having with Cabinet colleagues to ensure that should Britain make a contribution to post-conflict reconstruction in Libya, it is as effective as possible?

We are certainly having those conversations, and the hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that there are lessons to be learned from previous situations, including Iraq. The National Security Council is already working well on the matter, and of course my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development plays a very strong role on the subject. We are working with the UN already, and the UN is making good progress with stabilisation planning, but of course it is constrained in what it can physically do on the ground by the absence of peace and a political settlement in Libya. However, the planning is taking place and the UK is playing an important supporting role.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the best first step towards the reconstruction of the country would be peace and a ceasefire? Will he therefore assure the House that all his efforts are pointed in that direction rather than just at regime change?

Our efforts are devoted to implementing UN resolution 1973, which begins by calling for a ceasefire and an end to violence. Of course, that means a genuine ceasefire in which the regime not only really does cease fire but pulls back its forces from the areas where it is attacking the civilian population. It is in the search for that ceasefire and the protection of the civilian population that we are doing what we are doing in Libya.

Have any companies been approached or approached the Government in connection with any post-conflict reconstruction that might happen in Libya?

As I said, the UN is leading on the matter, and it will spearhead the reconstruction effort. The Department for International Development is handling the details of the British contribution and support, but if we have more information about companies’ involvement, I will write to the hon. Gentleman about it.

European External Action Service

5. What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the role of the European External Action Service; and if he will make a statement. (53523)

I am in regular contact with my European counterparts about the work of the External Action Service, and with the EU High Representative, Baroness Ashton.

The Minister will be aware of the growing number of countries in Africa and the Pacific that do not have representation from either the UK or other European Union member states. Does he agree that the European External Action Service could provide representation to European nationals in those countries?

My hon. Friend talks about the EEAS’s role in consular representation. Of course, under the treaties, that competence is given explicitly to member states rather than to European institutions, but it is quite right that the EEAS should, in line with the treaties, support the work of EU member states, especially by signposting EU nationals who are unrepresented to embassies or high commissions of another member state where they can obtain representation.

During the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, the right hon. Gentleman was opposed to the European External Action Service. Does he agree that recent experience in north Africa and elsewhere in the world demonstrates the need for positive co-operation with our European partners?

Neither I nor my party has ever quibbled with the idea that there should be effective European co-operation between member states. The test of whether the External Action Service is effective will be, in large measure, whether the High Representative and her staff can work effectively with member states’ Foreign Ministers, because only when member states reach a genuine common position does the High Representative have a mandate to act.


7. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Government's actions with respect to Libya; and if he will make a statement. (53525)

11. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Government’s actions with respect to Libya; and if he will make a statement. (53530)

The UK continues to take a leading role in international efforts to protect civilians in Libya. The case for action remains compelling. Gaddafi’s regime persists in attacking its own people and wilfully killing its own civilian population. We have taken diplomatic action, including co-chairing the Libya contact group, and have played a key role in military action by NATO and provided more than £13 million of humanitarian aid to the Libyan people.

With the no-fly zone over Libya having been in place for more than a month now, will the Secretary of State join me in praising Royal Air Force air and ground crews for their role? What level of sorties is now taking place compared with when the action started?

Yes, I certainly join in what my hon. Friend says about Royal Air Force air and ground crews, and of course the Royal Navy is also playing an important role in the vicinity of Libya. The number of sorties continues to mount, with hundreds over the weekend, and the UK continues to play a very strong role, including through strike sorties. I am pleased to say that more nations have been involved in those strike sorties, reflecting the continued increase in the tempo of the military activity and the strengthening of the international coalition.

What are the outcomes so far of having British military officers on the ground in Libya to advise the Libyan rebels?

These are early stages for the deployment to which my hon. Friend refers. What I can say is that we are confident that that military liaison advisory team is giving real and worthwhile assistance to the transitional national council for the objectives of helping with headquarters operations—how to organise headquarters and logistics—which I set out in my announcement. That is beginning to have some effect, but it is too early to give a definitive account.

Considering the killing of one of Gaddafi’s sons and his very, very young grandchildren, is it not the case that, despite the denials that have been made, the policy of NATO is now first and foremost regime change, and secondly to kill Gaddafi himself?

We want Gaddafi to go, and virtually the whole world wants him to go—let us be in no doubt about that—but the incident to which the hon. Gentleman refers was an attack on a command and control location. NATO has increased the number of air strikes against the command and control functions of the Libyan regime, which in our view is wholly legitimate within the implementation of resolution 1973, and such attacks will continue.

My right hon. Friend will remember that the support of the Arab League, and indeed that of virtually the whole House of Commons, was based on an understanding of the limitations contained in resolution 1973. Is he concerned that even the appearance of targeting Colonel Gaddafi may cause that support to be loosened?

No, and there is no indication that that is leading to such a thing. In fact, I held discussions with the secretary-general of the Arab League, Mr Amr Moussa, in Cairo yesterday. Indeed, the restrictions in the resolution were the product of discussions between him and me on the day that the resolution was passed at the UN. He is supportive of how the resolution is being interpreted, and the Arab League continues to support our efforts. Arab nations will be strongly represented at the contact group meeting in Rome on Thursday, which I will attend. I hope I can reassure my right hon. and learned Friend on those points.

I have listened with care to the Foreign Secretary’s answers. Those on both sides of the House are on record as saying that Libya’s future would be better served with Gaddafi gone.

The Government have stated that the UN mandate allows for the targeting of command and control operations that threaten civilians, but for clarity, will the Foreign Secretary tell the House whether he agrees that the resolution excludes the direct targeting of individuals, and will he publish an updated summary of the legal advice, so that the House can be fully informed on those matters?

I do not think that it would be right to expand on what I have already said about targeting. Whether individuals are targeted depends, of course, on how they behave, and whether they are part of command and control centres, and on where they are at the time. I do not think it right to provide a running commentary on targeting, and nor is it militarily sensible to do so, and I therefore do not want to expand on my earlier answers.

Of course, the Government will consider requests made in the House in respect of the legal advice. We published very clearly a note on the legal advice at the time of the 21 March debate. However, again, I do not think that it would be right for Governments to start to publish legal advice on a regular basis every few days, but we will consider any requests that are made.

Let me see whether the Foreign Secretary can be a little more forthcoming on this question. I understand his earlier answer—he said that it was too early to give a definitive account of the work being undertaken by British military officers on the ground in Benghazi—but will he undertake to publish the terms of reference under which they are operating?

They are operating on the basis that I set out in the House of Commons. Last week, I think, when the House resumed, I made a statement on these matters and set out their purposes in a few sentences. Those are their purposes; they have not gone with an entire book of terms of reference. They have gone as a military liaison and advisory team to give their expertise on the organisation of logistics, headquarters and so on, as set out last week. There is nothing further to expand upon.

In my right hon. Friend’s discussions with the Arab League, did he convey the message that although it rightly called for a no-fly zone over Libya, there is widespread disappointment over its silence on Bahrain and Syria?

Certainly, I discussed the wider region. In particular, we had a detailed discussion about the situation in Syria. I absolutely condemn the Syrian regime’s actions over recent days, particular in relation to the city of Deraa and similar places that have been under attack by the Syrian army. I have urged the Arab League to take a strong line on this. Arab League Foreign Ministers are meeting on Thursday. After the contact group meeting in Rome, they will meet in Cairo, and they will discuss Syria then.

I have regular discussions with Secretary Clinton on the situation in Libya, as on all other international issues. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has similar discussions with President Obama, and my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary was in Washington last week. I look forward to seeing Secretary Clinton in Rome on Thursday.

Has the Foreign Secretary had discussions with his American counterparts on the possibility of arms being smuggled to the Gaddafi regime from countries neighbouring Libya? Has there been an intelligence assessment yet about the possible influence of anti-western elements that might want to exacerbate the situation in Libya?

Certainly, I have had discussions with Secretary Clinton and representatives of many other nations about the smuggling of arms or mercenaries into Libya by land routes. That is under discussion. I do not have anything to announce today about it, but clearly where such things are taking place, they are in breach of UN Security Council resolutions, so we reserve the right to take action. We have made representations to neighbouring countries in connection with these matters, and we will certainly continue to pursue them.

What evidence can the Foreign Secretary disclose showing that the target of the missile strike that killed three of Gaddafi’s grandchildren was a command and control centre, and was being used for military purposes?

I do not believe that it would be right to disclose evidence regarding each separate military operation, for obvious operational and security reasons. It would make those operations more difficult to conduct, if we felt we had to disclose evidence about them.

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that, as it now appears to the whole world, the alliance has given up on a diplomatic solution, and is now involved in regime change and targeting individuals within the Libyan Government? Does he not think that at some point there will have to be a political solution led by the Arab League and the African Union? Does he not think it time to apply pressure in that direction, rather than continue the bombing of civilian targets?

The hon. Gentleman refers to the bombing of civilian targets, but NATO and its allies have saved probably thousands of civilian lives from the intentions of regime forces that indiscriminately attack civilian targets. If we followed the course he recommended, civilian casualties would be immense indeed, because of what the Gaddafi regime would do to people across Libya. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the international coalition is very strong on, and supportive of, the actions we have taken. As I said, more countries have moved their aircraft into strike activity. Of course, however, there must be a political settlement, but Colonel Gaddafi can open the way to that by departing from power.

Are the Government still in complete agreement with the United States on the clear need for legal authority for any military action against individual targets, however loathsome we may find the individuals?

We are in complete agreement about the meaning of legal advice on these matters, and about the need—I stress this again as I stressed it to the House last week—to stay clearly within the United Nations resolutions in order to maintain the legal, moral and international support we have for these actions. So there is no disagreement between the UK and the United States. However, I do not think it is right to speculate about individual targets.

Middle East Peace Process

9. What recent discussions he has had with the Palestinian Authority to encourage the resumption of peace negotiations. (53528)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed the peace process and the need to return to direct negotiations with Palestinian President Abbas during his recent visit to London. We made it clear that we believe that only a negotiated settlement will secure a sovereign, viable and contiguous Palestinian state, living in peace and security next to a safe, secure and recognised Israel.

Is the Minister concerned about Iranian influence in Hamas-controlled Gaza, and in Syria and Lebanon?

Briefly, yes. It remains our view, from all the available evidence, that the Iranian regime is interested in instability and disrupting the efforts of nations to build the necessary security and confidence between themselves that we all wish to see. So far, Iranian influence has rarely proved to be advantageous to the world community, but we live in hope.

While the cause of peace will have been assisted by the Palestinian Authority’s response to the weekend’s news from Pakistan, does my hon. Friend share my concern about the reported comments of the leader of Hamas in condemning the operation?

Yes, indeed. The events of the weekend were an opportunity for the world community to come together and condemn those who had united Christian, Jew and Muslim against their murdering misery over the years. It is disappointing that Hamas did not take the opportunity to do that, as so many others did.

Is the Minister aware that at 12.30 pm last Friday at Nabi Salih on the west bank, a peaceful demonstration against illegal settlements by Palestinians and Israelis, including women and children, was attacked by the Israeli army, which hurled hundreds of gas bombs and sound grenades at them, fired at them with rubber bullets and had a vehicle that hurled sewage at them? Will he condemn this kind of savagery and make it clear to the Israelis that it is impossible to have peace if Israeli troops behave in this abominable way?

I am not aware of the particular incident that the right hon. Gentleman raises, but there is no doubt that in the past, where there have been incidents involving people peacefully protesting—as we believe it is right to do—against settlements that we consider to be illegal, we have condemned such action, and we will continue to do so. This case only goes to illustrate, however, the need for both sides to return to negotiations based on parameters, because the spiral of violence—particularly what we have seen recently on both sides—is just leading to more misery before a settlement can be concluded.

Following what has just been said, and given Hamas’s commiseration on the death of Osama bin Laden as a holy warrior, will the Government confirm that they will have no direct or indirect talks with Hamas until it renounces terror and violence, recognises the state of Israel and abides by previous diplomatic agreements?

We have no plans to change our position on Hamas. The Quartet principles that my hon. Friend sets out remain the benchmark towards which Hamas should move—that is, a rejection of violence, a recognition of the state of Israel and an acceptance of previous agreements.

There is real concern about the continuing lack of progress towards peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. What is the Government’s assessment of the impact of last week’s reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas on the prospects of a peaceful transition to a two-state solution, and what role do they see for the European Union in this crucial period?

It is difficult to see the impact at this stage, because not all the details are available. It must always have been the case that at some stage there must be Palestinian unity, because there cannot be a sensible two-state solution unless all parts of what is deemed to be Palestine are involved. Therefore, the fact that Fatah and Hamas have come to some agreement is something that might provide a step forward. However, it is crucial that that should lead to progress and to both Palestinian wings continuing to reject violence, continuing with the peace process and recognising the state of Israel. As yet, Hamas has not made any move in that direction. We hope that the reconciliation will eventually lead to progress towards a democratic Palestinian state that will indeed reject violence and wish to live in peace and security with its neighbour, but we must judge it by its actions.

Hazara Population (Pakistan)

10. What recent reports he has received on the condition of the Hazara population in Pakistan; and if he will make a statement. (53529)

The Hazara community in Balochistan has been the subject of sectarian terrorist attacks for some years, although they lessened to some degree in 2010. We remain concerned, however, about the protection of minority communities and minority rights in Pakistan, and about the general instability in the Balochistan region.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, and indeed for his meeting with members of the Hazara community in Milton Keynes recently. Is he prepared to get a representative of our high commission in Islamabad to meet the Hazara leaders in Pakistan, to ensure that their voice is heard and that the UK is well placed to end this persecution?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; we keep an eye on this matter, and we should do so. Last year, representatives from our high commission met Syed Nasir Ali Shah, a member of the Parliamentary Assembly for Quetta, and Jan Ali Changezi, who is also a Parliamentary Assembly member and the Minister for Quality Education in Balochistan. We take these issues very seriously, and we are aware of concerns that have been expressed by the community here and in Pakistan. We will continue to raise these issues in support of minority communities. We hope that the inter-faith committees that might be set up by the Pakistan Government will include Hazara representation.


12. What reports he has received on the situation in Japan following the recent earthquake and tsunami; and if he will make a statement. (53531)

The earthquake and tsunami of 11 March have had a devastating impact on Japan. As of 27 April, 14,508 people have been confirmed dead, and 11,452 are still missing. There are no confirmed UK casualties. The UK has mobilised various resources to help the Japanese Government. We have sent a search and rescue team and provided other forms of support to the Japanese Government, including nuclear assistance. We receive regular reports from the Japanese authorities regarding ongoing work to make safe the Fukushima nuclear plant, and we are ready to offer further technical assistance as required.

Japan is a major friend, ally and trading partner of the UK, and it is right that we should be there for a friend in need. Will the Minister tell us what help is being given to assist its economic recovery, and what steps are being taken to help following the nuclear disaster?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend’s assertion about the deep friendship between the United Kingdom and Japan. We have expressed that friendship and it has been evident in our actions. Our economies are intertwined, but we are also leading the debate within the European Union on a free trade agreement between the EU and Japan.

Has the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in the UK been asked to supply any expertise on the decommissioning of contaminated water at the plant? I understand that that is one of the more considerable problems that the Japanese authorities are facing.

We have made it clear to the Japanese from the outset that we are willing to offer any expertise that might benefit them, but it is worth reminding the House that Japan is an extremely sophisticated country with an extremely developed economy and highly reputable scientists. It is therefore able to make many of those decisions for itself.


14. What recent progress he has made in strengthening bilateral relations with India; and if he will make a statement. (53535)

There has been significant progress on building the bilateral relationship with India since the Prime Minister’s visit to India in July 2010, with increased co-operation across the full scope of activities.

Given the desirability for the UK and India of increasing the trade between the two countries, will the Minister tell the House what progress has been made on the negotiations for an EU trade agreement?

I completely share the hon. Lady’s objectives. India is rising in importance, and that is most evident economically. Insufficient progress has been made, but progress is still being made and Britain is at the forefront of trying to conclude the negotiations as soon as possible.

Does the Minister know of any plans for the Indian Prime Minister to reciprocate, in the light of our Prime Minister’s successful visit to India last July?

Discussions are under way, and we would greatly look forward to welcoming such an eminent political leader to this country. There are no fixed plans at this point, but we hope to advance such plans as soon as possible.

We welcome any progress made on the EU free trade agreement with India. However, as recent events have highlighted, a trade policy is no substitute for a broader foreign policy. Will the Minister therefore tell us what other foreign policy priorities the Government are pursuing in respect of our relationship with India?

I accept that the relationship between our two countries goes beyond economics, although that is increasingly important. We share historical links; we share interests in global security; we share democratic and institutional relations; we share cultural ties; we share sporting links; and I understand that you, Mr Speaker, are expected to visit India later this year further to strengthen relations between our two countries.

Middle East

16. What recent assessment he has made of the security situation in the middle east; and if he will make a statement. (53537)

It is vital to acknowledge that no true stability can result from the repression of legitimate demands for political participation and the rule of law. Nothing can justify the use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators. We are supporting peaceful reform in Tunisia and Egypt, just as we are opposing violence elsewhere and urging all Governments in the region to respond positively to popular calls for better governance.

The security of the middle east depends on many factors, one of which is a responsible but independent media. With that in mind, I was shocked to see that, throughout yesterday, al-Jazeera’s Arabic channel, which broadcasts “Al-Jazeera English Live” in this country, allowed messages of hate, violence and revenge against the west to be posted on its coverage. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that broadcasting such messages is highly irresponsible and, indeed, illegal?

I did not see the reports to which my hon. Friend refers. Clearly, he has seen reports that he found very disturbing and I hope that he will take those up directly with al-Jazeera. Al-Jazeera now broadcasts a very wide variety of material, but I hope that it will in no way encourage hate or the commissioning of crimes; we must be vigilant against that.

Further to an earlier answer, what assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of the internal politics of Hamas and of whether there are conflicting voices—on the one hand about building a technocratic Government and conducting elections on a unity basis and, on the other hand, supporting and praising bin Laden?

It would be surprising if there were not differing voices and internal tensions on these subjects. Clearly, many issues are moving in the middle east, with the changed situation in Egypt and pressure on the Syrian Government. Hamas has been encouraged by the new Government in Egypt to enter into the political reconciliation with Fatah, as discussed earlier. I believe that it might also feel less secure in its position in Syria. These are forces now at work on Hamas, and it is important in the light of the changes in the middle east that, as the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) has been saying, it makes concrete movement towards acceptance of Quartet principles, which the whole world looks to it to respect.

Bradley Manning

17. What discussions his Department has had with the UN special rapporteur on torture on the case of Bradley Manning. (53538)

We are aware of discussions that the UN special reporter on torture, Juan Mendez, has had with the United States Government, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has not had any discussions with him on the case of Bradley Manning.

I have raised the case of Bradley Manning on several occasions in this Chamber and outside it. Mrs Susan Manning, who is Bradley Manning’s mother, wrote to the Foreign Secretary three weeks ago. She has not yet had a reply. She asked for consular assistance and for somebody to visit her son in the very bad conditions in which he is being held. She also asked for any help that could be given, in Washington and elsewhere, to the family if they so request it. At the very least, Mrs Manning, who is very concerned by the situation of her son, should have had the courtesy of a reply.

The right hon. Lady knows from her Adjournment debate on precisely this subject that Bradley Manning does not consider himself a UK citizen and his lawyer has made it very clear that he does not consider that he has any contact with this country. We cannot therefore discuss his nationality and we are limited in both what we can say and what we can do in this case. Bradley Manning’s lawyer is well aware of the circumstances and of the United Kingdom Government's position.


I am in regular contact with Secretary Clinton about the whole situation in the middle east. I met her most recently at the NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Berlin on 15 April.

It is feared in some quarters that the deal brokered in Cairo between Hamas and Fatah is influencing America’s attitude to the new regime there. Has the Foreign Secretary had an opportunity to hold any discussions about that with his American counterpart? In particular, has he discussed the future of aid for Egypt and of assistance with the delivery of free and fair elections in the near future?

I believe the United States to be supportive of what the interim Government are doing in Egypt. Everything that I saw yesterday suggested that we should be supportive, as did the meetings that I had with Field Marshal Tantawi and the new Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Egypt. They are trying to bring about a transition to democratic government in Egypt, but they face formidable economic problems, which I think will pose the most difficult challenge of all during the coming year or two. It will be very important for western nations to engage with the Government of Egypt and work together on their economic future, and I have received no indication that the United States is planning to do anything other than that.

The Foreign Secretary has hit on the issue of the change and why it came about. That change swept across the whole of the middle east, but the economy and jobs were a key issue in Egypt in particular. What steps has the Foreign Secretary taken, and what discussions has he had with his United States counterparts, to ensure that something constructive will happen, and will happen soon?

As I have said, we discuss these issues with the United States all the time, and President Obama will be coming to this country in a few weeks. The future of change in the middle east and how we should support that change—and Egypt is at the heart of that, for the success of the change there will be a key determinant of what happens in other countries—will be at the forefront of our discussions with President Obama and, indeed, the discussions at the G8 summit which will follow his visit.

Diamond Extraction (Zimbabwe)

19. What recent steps he has taken to ensure that diamond extraction standards in Zimbabwe comply with the monitoring standards under the Kimberley process. (53540)

The FCO hosted an EU Kimberley process planning meeting ahead of the Kimberley process meeting in Dubai on 14 April. We are working with the EU to push for a robust agreement to ensure Zimbabwean compliance with the Kimberley process, and that includes strengthening the role of the Kimberley process monitor. The good news is that we have helped to secure broad international support for a new monitoring team led by Mark van Bockstael.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the proceeds of the diamonds should go to the Zimbabwean treasury? What pressure can be placed on the Zimbabwean Government to ensure that civil society is included in the decision-making process?

The Marange diamond proceeds have the potential to bring literally hundreds of United States dollars into the Zimbabwe exchequer. Last year $38 million—the first tranche—did get through, but I am disturbed by reports that hard-line elements are benefiting from the Marange mine. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend: it is essential for us to have a strong civil society involvement, and that is why the appointment of a new civil society focal point will play such a vital role in increasing transparency.

Is the Minister frustrated by the hampering of our negotiations on Zimbabwe diamonds as a result of our having to reach agreement through the sluggish EU? Does he agree that it would be better for us to adopt a more robust position on our own terms?

It is worth bearing in mind that since the start of the Kimberley process, roughly 99% of the world trade in rough diamonds is now Kimberley-compliant. That is a huge improvement on the previous position. As for my hon. Friend’s point about the EU, he has made a very interesting suggestion, and I will certainly examine it.

UK-Turkey Relations

20. What recent assessment he has made of the state of bilateral relations between the UK and Turkey; and if he will make a statement. (53541)

We have excellent co-operation with Turkey on a wide range of issues, as was reaffirmed in the strategic partnership signed last July by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and Prime Minister Erdogan.

Given Turkey’s important role in helping the United Kingdom foster stronger relations with Arab nations at this time of instability, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to engage Turkey further both in providing increased humanitarian aid in Libya to those who need it and in helping to enforce the arms embargo against the Gaddafi regime?

Turkey has already been active on both counts. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is in frequent contact with Foreign Minister Davutoglu about how to strengthen our co-operation both in supplying effective humanitarian aid to people in need inside Libya and in planning for the reconstruction of that country in the future.

Britain is Turkey’s best friend in the European Union, yet relations between the EU and Turkey continue to be bedevilled by the issue of Cyprus. What efforts is the right hon. Gentleman making to persuade both Cyprus and Turkey that a better relationship between the two of them will help the reunification of the island and Turkey’s membership of the EU?

The urgent need for progress towards a settlement in Cyprus is on the agenda at every conversation that either I or my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary have with both our Turkish and Cypriot counterparts. I am sure that that will continue to be the case, and I hope that once the forthcoming Cypriot and then the Turkish elections are over, all parties concerned will redouble their efforts to reach the solution that all communities in Cyprus need to see.

Topical Questions

Order. I am sorry, but in the circumstances the Foreign Secretary should first give a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Yesterday I visited Cairo to underline the United Kingdom’s support for what the people of Egypt have achieved in the last three months and for their democratic and peaceful future. Across the middle east, this Government will continue to offer their support to ensure that the countries of the region can meet their people’s legitimate aspirations and that events do not result in the suppression of those aspirations, as we are seeing in countries such as Syria.

I thank the Minister for his response with regard to the treatment of minorities such as the Hazara population in Pakistan. What can also be done to encourage and support the protection of the rights of minorities more widely in Pakistan, such as Hindus, Christians and women, in the light of accounts of human rights violations, such as forced conversion, forced marriage, beatings, rape, false imprisonment and even murder?

My hon. Friend makes serious points about the concerns over human rights in Pakistan. They are points that the United Kingdom Government take up, which have of course been more sharply in focus in recent weeks given, sadly, the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Christian who was Minister for minorities in Pakistan, who was known to a number of us in this House. We are all concerned about the circumstances there, but the Government are working with us and we will continue to support efforts to protect all minorities in Pakistan from the issues that my hon. Friend raised.

The House is aware that the Prime Minister will shortly give a statement on the death of Osama bin Laden, but I hope the Foreign Secretary will agree that the success of the Arab spring could yet be an even more significant blow to al-Qaeda. Given that, will he update us on the work being done to stop the repression of demonstrators in Syria? In particular, when will the European Union act, and will the Foreign Secretary give an undertaking to work to ensure that Syria does not take Libya’s vacated place on the UN Human Rights Council?

I fully agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, this is a moment for people across the middle east to reflect that in so many countries it has been possible to bring about peaceful and democratic change—that may yet happen in more countries—and that the violent philosophy of al-Qaeda that only violence and death can bring about change is bankrupt and should increasingly be vanquished across the middle east. That does, indeed, bring us to Syria. The UK is at the forefront of pressing for action by the European Union. At the end of last week, we secured agreement on an arms embargo and the revocation of the association agreement that had been put in place with Syria. We are now working with our European partners on targeted sanctions such as asset freezes and travel bans—I will be discussing those further with the French Foreign Minister this evening—and we are also highly active at the United Nations Security Council on this issue, although the right hon. Gentleman will understand that Syria is a difficult issue at the UN Security Council and that some of the members, including permanent members, require a good deal of convincing that the United Nations should be taking any action.

T4. British business continues to be bogged down by regulation and directives from Brussels. What plans does the Minister for Europe have to work with ministerial colleagues to challenge that over the coming months? (53547)

My hon. Friend is right in his analysis. Securing less costly, less burdensome regulation on European businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, is a priority in our engagement with our European counterparts for every Minister in this Government, from the Prime Minister downwards. I am delighted to be able to assure my hon. Friend that the Prime Minister’s initiative in that respect is gaining increasing support from other Heads of Government across the European Union.

T3. Described as the single greatest advertisement for Britain, the value of the BBC World Service cannot be underestimated, especially given that Syrian demonstrators hold up placards with “Thank you BBC” on them. Will the Minister therefore consider making the appropriate representations to stop the disproportionate reduction in the BBC World Service output before it is too late? (53546)

Nothing disproportionate has happened or will happen to the BBC World Service. The reduction in its spending between 2007 and 2014, the period for which the Foreign Office is under spending restraint, will be exactly the same as the proportionate reduction in the rest of the Foreign Office family and a good deal less than that for the British Council. It is important that we save money across the public sector—we have had to do so given the behaviour of the previous Government—but the World Service has a secure future, as does the Arabic service. Transferring the BBC World Service into the licence fee funding arrangement means that it has a secure future for the long term.

T5. Piracy off the west coast of Africa, particularly the coast of Somalia, continues to grow. It represents a clear threat to the lives of seafarers and costs international commerce billions of pounds. What steps does the Minister envisage taking, with the Government of Somalia, to bring to an end this dangerous form of robbery? (53548)

Obviously, a long-term solution to the problem of piracy lies on the land, which is why we are working so hard to provide a stable Somalia. We have taken the lead in the international contact group on piracy, and last year we provided £6 million in support of regional prosecution and prisons capacity and some new equipment for the improvement of the Seychelles coastguard. We are taking the lead, and I hope that other countries follow it.

T8. Let us be clear about the impact of the spending cuts on the Arabic division of the BBC World Service. In one month it will be forced to reduce its daily output of live TV news from 15 hours to seven and of live radio from 12 hours to seven, and it will also lose 44 of its Arabic staff. In the light of the recent monumental events across the Arab world and the integral role of the BBC World Service as a provider of impartial information, will the Foreign Secretary act now to save this valuable service? (53551)

The answer really is the same as the one I gave a few moments ago: we have to operate within all the spending constraints involved in repairing the budgetary catastrophe left to us after last year’s general election. Unfortunately, that has consequences for the World Service too, but the Arabic service, along with so many other services of the World Service, will not just be secure for the future; it can be developed further for the future, along with BBC World, which is also of importance in the Arab world, because we have secured its long-term future within the BBC licence fee.

T6. The recent report to the Secretary-General of the United Nations made it clear that war crimes had been committed in Sri Lanka by both the Tamil Tigers and the armed forces of the Government of Sri Lanka. What action do our Government propose to take in the UN and the Commonwealth to make sure that Sri Lanka, a member of the Commonwealth, upholds the rule of law and that war crimes are punished? (53549)

This is a vital subject and it is crucial for the long-term health of Sri Lanka that these problems are addressed as a part of reconciliation for the long-term future and in bringing different communities together in Sri Lanka. Our Government strongly supported the commissioning of the report by the Secretary-General. We are considering that report carefully, but in the meantime we look to the Government of Sri Lanka to respond to it in detail and make it clear how they intend to proceed.

T10. In the light of the second bombing of the gas pipelines from Egypt to Israel and Jordan, what conversations has the right hon. Gentleman had with the new regime in Egypt to stress the importance of the 30-year peace treaty between Israel and Egypt? (53553)

The hon. Gentleman is quite right—of course that is important. I had lengthy discussions yesterday with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Egypt. Regional peace and the future of the middle east peace process are absolutely integral to this matter, so they formed an important part of our discussions. As part of that, we look to Egypt to respect that treaty with Israel, and it is in no doubt whatever about our position on that.

T7. Will the Minister join me in commending the work of FCO Services for both the UK and international Governments and will he confirm that there are no plans to move the organisation from Hanslope park in Milton Keynes? (53550)

I pay full tribute to FCO Services and all its staff at Hanslope park in my hon. Friend’s constituency. They are highly professional and it is an impressive trading fund, with a profit for the last financial year that will exceed its £4 million target. It now gets a quarter of its income from other Government Departments and is also bidding for contracts overseas, so it is one of the jewels in the FCO crown.

The situation in Syria has naturally been overshadowed by events in Libya and almost totally by the news from Pakistan yesterday. Clearly the deaths of so many people and the actions of the authorities in Damascus have been gross and unacceptable. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what pressure he has been able to bring to bear on those who have a voice in Damascus—those in the Arab League, for example, and, importantly, our good friend Turkey?

Yes, this is a very important subject. We have of course made our own views clear directly to the Syrian Government. Last Wednesday evening I called the Syrian Foreign Minister and communicated directly to him the views of the United Kingdom about the unacceptable violence against protestors. I urged the Syrian authorities to go down the route of reform rather than repression, but, sadly, they are increasingly taking the route of repression. The hon. Gentleman is right that Turkey plays an important role and there have been Turkish representatives in Damascus over the past week, again urging reform. As I mentioned earlier, I took up the subject with the Arab League in Cairo yesterday to urge it to use its best efforts to encourage Syria down the right path.

T9. Two weeks ago, Bosnia’s Serb Parliament agreed to a referendum questioning the legitimacy of the Bosnia and Herzegovina state court, which deals with war crimes. Does the Minister agree that that potentially undermines the Dayton peace accord and could set off the worst crisis in the 16 years since the war finished? What is he doing with our allies to ensure the peace and stability that has been achieved so far will not now be squandered? (53552)

My hon. Friend is right that that is a potential challenge to the Dayton accord and it is not something that the British Government regard as acceptable. We are emphasising to our European partners and other members of the international community that we all need to work to strengthen the statehood of Bosnia and the integration of its communities within a single country, and we should be prepared, if needs be, to invoke the Bonn powers to make it clear that what the Republika Srpska is now proposing is simply not acceptable.

In his response to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs about the Arab League’s response in Syria and Bahrain, the Foreign Secretary stressed the importance of consistency in our response to the Arab spring. How is it adequate simply to urge dialogue on both sides in Bahrain, given the Bahraini Government’s outrageous and continuing human rights abuses?

That is not the only thing that we are doing. Of course, we have made our protests clear based on credible reports—and there are credible reports—of human rights abuses over the Easter period. I also spoke to the Bahraini Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khalid al-Khalifa, and made our protests. In Bahrain, there is still hope of dialogue and the situation is therefore different from some of the others in the middle east. Serious efforts at dialogue have been made by some of those who are now in authority, so we call again on them—on the ruling family and ruling group in Bahrain and on opposition groups—to enter into such a dialogue, which is the only viable way to a future for Bahrain.

Gaddafi’s forces have been bombarding Misrata’s port, preventing essential food and medical supplies from reaching the population for four days now. Elsewhere in Libya, aid convoys have been intercepted and attacked, and supplies stolen. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that creating safe corridors for humanitarian aid is within the terms of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 in order to protect civilians? What will the coalition do to make sure that vital aid gets through to the people who so desperately need it?

We have done a great deal to make sure that aid gets through, to take people out of Misrata, including vulnerable people such as migrants who have been concentrated near the port, and to get humanitarian aid in. However, my hon. Friend is right that that has been more difficult in recent days, again because of the barbaric actions of the Gaddafi regime. It is much preferable, of course, to take in humanitarian aid separately from military activity, for very good reasons which she will fully understand, but if that becomes impossible we will have to consider other ways.

Returning to the question of Hamas, does the Foreign Secretary agree that the reported comments of Ismail Haniya yesterday were appalling and are already being seized on by enemies of peace on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide? Does he agree that we must not be deflected from the cause of peace but must recognise the potential for unity between Fatah and Hamas and recognise that peace is ultimately built between enemies, not with friends?

Peace is indeed built between enemies rather than friends, but as the hon. Gentleman rightly points out, that cause would be assisted if it were possible to show across many different divides in the world a good deal of unity about what happened on Sunday night and about the removal from the scene of the author of some of the world’s greatest terrorist acts. It would have been better for Hamas to have joined in the welcome for that, as that would have been a boost in itself to the peace process.

Judge Goldstone recently retracted the central finding of his UN report that Israel had intentionally targeted Palestinian civilians. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to inform members of the UN General Assembly of Judge Goldstone’s reconsideration of his report and admission about his inaccurate conclusion?

We know that Judge Goldstone would have much preferred the Israeli authorities to have co-operated with his report, which would have given it a different flavour. His comments are extremely important, but it is equally important to make sure that an investigation on both sides into the incidents, as he recommended, is done. He was satisfied that the Israeli Government had done their best to fulfil that commitment, but Hamas, we are afraid, has done nothing at all to fulfil that commitment.

Order. Points of order come after statements. I shall await the right hon. Lady’s point of order with interest and anticipation.