Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 531: debated on Tuesday 19 July 2011

Yesterday I attended the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, which reached strong conclusions on Libya, Syria, climate change, Afghanistan and Pakistan. No conclusions were reached on a common security and defence policy. I made it clear that we could not agree to the creation of an EU permanent operational headquarters.

I was delighted to hear that the Foreign Secretary had vetoed the creation of a European command and control HQ. What’s next?

What is important, as I stressed to my colleagues in Brussels, is to improve the capabilities in defence around Europe and the will to use them, and that there are no institutional barriers in Europe to European nations making a greater contribution to, for instance, what we are doing in Libya or stabilisation in the Balkans. It is capacity and the will to use it that are lacking, rather than the creation of new European institutions that would be costly and distracting.

We welcome the independence of South Sudan, to which the Foreign Secretary referred earlier. However, there is concern in all parts of the House about recent developments in the Nuba region of Sudan, including the use of aerial bombardment by the regime in Khartoum, which is somewhat reminiscent of events in Darfur in previous years. What pressure are the Government and the European Union putting on the regime in Khartoum to cease those attacks?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise that issue. I attended the independence celebrations in South Sudan on 9 July, which was an inspiring occasion, but it took place in the shadow of continuing violence and the continuing lack of agreement on citizenship, oil and border issues. It is vital that the international community places the maximum possible pressure—and we will certainly continue to do so—stressing to the Republic of Sudan that what it wants to see on debt relief and working with western nations will depend on a peaceful and co-operative approach to the remaining issues in Sudan. We will continue to stress that very strongly.

T2. One of the remaining issues in South Sudan is that of Abyei. Will my right hon. Friend give us an update on what action is being taken to ensure that the promised referendum in Abyei goes ahead successfully? (66881)

The urgent thing has been to bring peace and order to Abyei, and that is something that I have discussed with those in the north and south in Sudan, as well as with the Ethiopian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister on my visit to Ethiopia 10 days or so ago. Up to 4,200 Ethiopian troops will go to Abyei, and we have been active in quickly passing the necessary United Nations authority for them to do so. That is designed to pave the way for political progress in Abyei, but the most urgent thing has been to get that Ethiopian force there and to prevent continuing violence.

The Palestinian Authority, working with Tony Blair and the Quartet, has made major progress on developing the economy and governance on the west bank. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is urgent that negotiations take place so that there can be Israel and Palestine next to it, rather than a unilateral declaration that will not bring security for either Israel or a Palestinian state?

It is certainly urgent that those negotiations take place and, as I stressed a few minutes ago, the current discussions in the Quartet are aimed at bringing that about. While reserving our position on recognition, as I also explained earlier, it is certainly my view that a truly viable Palestinian state, able to conduct its own affairs and in control of its own territory, requires successful negotiation with Israel and will come about only by agreement.

T4. Nearly 2,000 people remain missing in Cyprus as a result of the conflicts in 1963 and 1974. This affects Greek and Turkish Cypriots across the island. The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus has made progress, but does the Minister agree that an increased commitment and speedier resolution of this tragic issue would constitute a significant confidence-builder towards a final settlement for the island? (66883)

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I visited the headquarters of the Committee on Missing Persons and its laboratory while I was in Cyprus a few weeks ago, and I was impressed by the work that it is doing to discover the fate of those missing people, both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot. That is morally right, because it helps the affected families to come to terms with what has happened to their loved ones, but, as my hon. Friend has said, it is also a good measure for building confidence between two communities that, sadly, have become separated by the events of recent decades.

On the morning of 13 August 1961, the people of Berlin woke up to find a wall being built across their city. That wall remained in place for some 30 years before it came down and allowed the unification not only of Germany but of the east and west. Will the Foreign Secretary, together with the Secretary of State for Defence, use that anniversary as an opportunity to remind Europe that that would not have been achieved without the help of the Americans, and to remind the Americans that Europe remains important to them?

Yes, absolutely. I completely agree with the hon. Lady. Indeed, her question should prompt us never to forget these things. The transatlantic alliance remains the absolute cornerstone of our security, as does NATO, and that will remain the case in the years ahead.

T5. The French Defence Minister has said that the military action against Colonel Gaddafi’s regime is not working. He has also said that Colonel Gaddafi should be welcomed into negotiations with pro-freedom rebels. Does the Foreign Secretary agree with our French ally? (66885)

Well, I agree with my own French counterpart, and with the Prime Minister and the President of France, on the way in which they have put this. I think that the French Defence Minister has said one or two things that differ from that. My own colleague, Alain Juppé, is absolutely clear on this. He was with me at the Libya contact group meeting in Istanbul on Friday, and at our Brussels meeting yesterday. France and the United Kingdom take exactly the same position: Colonel Gaddafi has lost legitimacy, and negotiations certainly exclude the possibility of his remaining in power. The United States has made that position very forcefully to the Libyan regime as well in recent days, and that is our united position.

T8. The Secretary of State will be aware that the UK ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, said that if there is “a UN resolution” about “a Palestinian state, and nothing changes on the ground, this will create a dangerous situation.”Given the Foreign Secretary’s ambition to have peace negotiations started as soon as possible, can he give us an insight into why, when the Quartet met on 11 July, it failed to agree a statement on President Obama’s framework for peace negotiations? (66889)

The answer is that discussions continue within the Quartet. There was a difference of view between the United States on the one side and the European Union, the United Nations and Russia on the other about the details of a Quartet statement. I hope that those differences can be resolved. We welcome the fact that the United States has said, as we urged them, that a settlement should be based on 1967 borders. That has been a big step forward, but there are continuing disagreements over the definition of a Jewish state and over the precise way in which to phrase a commitment to 1967 borders, so we are working to overcome those differences. That is the current situation.

T7. Does my right hon. Friend think there should be a UN-led inquiry into human rights abuses in Bahrain, bearing in mind reports of the arrest and mistreatment of doctors from the Salmaniya medical centre in Manama? (66888)

We take very seriously the human rights situation in Bahrain, but welcome the fact that the King of Bahrain has announced an independent investigation into human rights concerns and abuses. It is an investigation that carries some credibility; in fact, it is headed up by one of the members of my own human rights advisory group. I expect it will give a robust report up to international standards. We should welcome that, but we continue to urge the Government of Bahrain in the meantime, as I have done, to ensure that due process is followed and that human rights are satisfactorily looked after in Bahrain, because it has done the country no favours to give the opposite impression.

It is 20 years to the month since little Ben Needham went missing on the island of Kos. His mother, Kerry, is my constituent. It appears that new evidence may have come to light, and Kerry believes that any investigation or review of her case would be helped by securing political commitments to her cause at the top level of Government, such as we have seen in the case of Madeleine McCann. Will the Foreign Secretary agree to meet Kerry and me to discuss the case of missing Ben?

The hon. Lady will appreciate that I would not want to comment in detail on the case across the Floor of the House, but I would happily make time to see her and her constituents to discuss it further.

Will Ministers say what reports they have received on the economic situation in Greece, on whether there has been any intelligence on the likelihood of a default and on the likelihood of Greece remaining in the euro?

We receive many reports on Greece—including, of course, on the very grave economic situation there. The economic health of the eurozone, including that of Greece, is important in assuring jobs and prosperity in this country. It is important both that the Greek Government deal with the structural reforms and the changes to bear down on their own deficit and that the eurozone more widely addresses the causes of instability. We hope that they do so at their meeting planned for this week.

The Hadeel fair trade shop in my constituency has for some years imported from small producers in the west bank and Gaza products of various types that support the very type of economic development that was supported earlier. It has recently had great difficulty in importing material and in sending money back to the producers. If I write to the Secretary of State with more details, will he look into this issue and try to resolve this blockage of what is a sensible fair trade measure?

Yes, I would be very pleased to receive a letter from the hon. Gentleman. Ensuring that the economy of both the west bank and Gaza continues to improve is of vital importance for security in the region, as well as for the development of both Israel and Palestine.

Nitin Gadkari, president of the Bharatiya Janata party—India’s main opposition party—was in Parliament yesterday singing the praises of Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat. What is the United Kingdom’s stance? Would Narendra Modi be a welcome visitor to the UK in the light of the massacres in Godhra 10 years ago?

I shall be meeting the president of the BJP later today. No doubt we shall have an opportunity to discuss the issue then, and I think that we will determine our answer to my hon. Friend’s question after those discussions.

Will the Secretary of State give us an update on the situation in Kosovo, particularly in relation to moves towards proper and full democracy and the stamping out of corruption at Government level?

A Government have been formed in Kosovo, after initial difficulties, but there is certainly much more to be done to deal with the problems of corruption and organised crime. We therefore fully support the work that is being done by EULEX, the European rule of law mission in Kosovo. We also take every opportunity to urge Ministers in Kosovo to take the lead in making dealing with those problems a priority.

I assure my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that Liberal rebels are not yet taking delivery of any weapons, although the notion of campaigning with a Kalashnikov in the one hand and the alternative vote in the other does have its attractions.

May I return my right hon. Friend to the issue of Palestinian recognition? Given that there is every indication that there will be recognition of a Palestinian state, what assessment has he made of the impact on the influence of the United Kingdom in the region if that recognition takes place without our endorsement?

Campaigning on the alternative vote might be more successful with a Kalashnikov. [Laughter.] I think we are allowed to have a little tease within the coalition.

Of course recognition of a Palestinian state is one of the factors that must be weighed up. As I explained earlier, we will reserve our position on recognition, along with all our EU partners, and I therefore do not want to become involved in speculation about hypothetical scenarios either way. However, we will certainly weigh the implications for us—as well as all our European partners and the United States—of our relations with other states in the region. That is one of the factors that we will consider.

The development of nuclear weapons by Iran would not just trigger a middle eastern arms race, but would make it much more difficult to prevent Ahmadinejad from arming terrorists in the region. He is persisting with the illegal enrichment of uranium and continuing to call for Israel’s destruction, and has recently unveiled new missiles capable of reaching Israel. What more can the United Kingdom Government do to prevent Iran from acquiring those weapons?

The hon. Gentleman is right about the concerns that the world shares about the development of Iran’s nuclear programme, on the subject of which it is being deliberately opaque. New sanctions were introduced only two weeks ago in relation to targeted individuals. The pressure of sanctions will continue from the world, and the determination of the world to see the nuclear programme opened to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has already expressed its concern, will continue until such time as Iran turns away from what appears to be a very dangerous course.

Some of the fastest-growing economies in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa. What steps is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office taking to help our exporters and investors in those countries?

Many steps, I am glad to say. We are making many more ministerial visits to the region. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has just been to South Africa with a trade delegation, I have just visited Kenya, and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham), is in Africa at the moment. There is great ministerial engagement. We are enlarging many of our diplomatic missions, we are opening new embassies—including some in Africa—and we have the strongest commitment to developing trade links with Africa that this country has seen for decades.