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Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Volume 546: debated on Tuesday 19 June 2012

The Secretary of State was asked—

Iran

1. What recent progress has been made in the E3 plus 3 talks with Iran; and if he will make a statement. (112339)

The E3 plus 3 held talks with Iran in Istanbul and Baghdad this year, and talks took place in Moscow yesterday and are continuing. I told Foreign Minister Salehi of Iran last week that the E3 plus 3 is sincere and united in its approach to the negotiations. We have made a credible offer to Iran, focused on a halt to 20% enrichment and on confidence building. The onus is now on Iran to respond. If it takes concrete steps, the international community will reciprocate.

I welcome the hard work the Government are doing as part of the E3 plus 3 to bring a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the dispute with Iran. Will my right hon. Friend give more details about the offer that the E3 plus 3 has made to Iran? Does he agree that if Iran fails to accept that offer, the pressure of more sanctions will be necessary?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. There is a long-standing offer from European Union nations to assist with civil nuclear power in Iran once we are assured that its nuclear programme is purely for peaceful purposes. The offer made at the talks in Baghdad is an attempt to resolve the nuclear issue. It is focused on confidence-building measures and a halt to 20% enrichment. The ongoing talks in Moscow are tough and frank, and both sides have set out clear priorities. It is, of course, our intention that the European Union’s oil sanctions will come into force on 1 July. If no progress is made, we will certainly want to intensify the sanctions.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that any serious concessions by the Iranians should be welcomed, but that for the discussions and negotiations to succeed the Iranians will have to demonstrate, with full verification and transparency, that they no longer seek either nuclear weapons or a nuclear weapons capability?

That would be required for the issue to be settled and for the negotiations to succeed. It is important for Iran to announce concrete steps and to put forward concrete proposals. It has put forward some proposals in the talks in Moscow over the past 48 hours. As I have said, the talks remain very tough and frank, and have not met with success so far. In the absence of success, including as my right hon. and learned Friend defines it, the international pressure will only be intensified.

We lost 179 of our brave soldiers in pursuit of non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We have lost 419 soldiers protecting the United Kingdom from a non-existent Taliban terrorist threat. Are we to expose more British lives to defend ourselves from non-existent long-range Iranian missiles carrying non-existent Iranian nuclear weapons?

The hon. Gentleman must not fall victim to Iranian propaganda about that, and of course we could also differ about some of the premises of his question, including the terrorist threats that have emanated from Afghanistan. I hope he will support the fact that the whole of our effort is going into finding a peaceful diplomatic solution. That is what the twin-track approach of sanctions and negotiations is about. One hundred per cent of our effort is dedicated to a diplomatic solution to the problem.

Will the Foreign Secretary acknowledge the important role of Baroness Ashton and the European External Action Service in making the talks happen? Does he agree that that has increased the possibility of finding a peaceful pathway out of the crisis?

Baroness Ashton is playing a very strong and effective role in leading the negotiations of the E3 plus 3. It is impressive that all six nations involved, including Russia and China, are working very closely together and presenting a united front and a united set of negotiating requirements. That adds greatly to the power of our position in the negotiations.

Human Trafficking

Our high commission in Singapore has supported local anti-trafficking initiatives. We welcome Singapore’s first national plan of action against trafficking in persons, published in March 2012, and look forward to further measures being implemented to tackle the problem.

We all agree that Singapore’s Government are moving in the right direction, and they have been backed up by EU parliamentarians. Is it not time that we used in the Commonwealth what has happened in Singapore and is happening in the EU? Is anything being done in the Commonwealth in relation to Singapore?

It is fair to say that Singapore is not one of the nine priority countries on human trafficking that the Home Office identified last year, which are Nigeria, China, Vietnam, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Uganda, Romania, India and Albania. We nevertheless recognise that there are concerns. Progress has been made, and we are keen to work with others in the Commonwealth and further afield to make further progress.

Given that human trafficking is a cross-Government issue, what steps is the Minister taking with the Department for International Development to ensure that as we pursue the millennium development goals and sustainable development goals, the goal of tackling human trafficking is not missed?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Every Department that is relevant to this serious abuse of human beings needs to be engaged, and is engaged, in trying to make further progress. That includes DFID as well as the Foreign Office and Home Office.

Security Co-ordination

3. What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the co-ordination of security efforts in (a) Niger, (b) Nigeria and (c) Africa. (112341)

We have regular discussions with EU partners, both in Brussels and across Africa, as part of our co-ordinated strategy on addressing peace and security issues. The discussions cover Niger, Nigeria and wider African issues such as the European Council conclusions on the Sahel.

The extremist Islamic group Boko Haram is responsible for countless atrocities across Nigeria, including attacks on three churches just last weekend. It then disappears into the Nigeria-Niger border area. The British Government provide security assistances to Nigeria, and I understand that the French do the same for Niger. Will the Minister promise to talk to his counterparts in France to ensure that support is properly co-ordinated, so that that terrible organisation finds it less easy to hide?

I certainly share the hon. Lady’s condemnation of those appalling attacks, and of the retaliatory attacks by Christians against Muslim communities. We condemn both communities for what happened and urge the Nigerian Government to do what they can to secure calm. The UK has shared its experience on counter-terrorism policy, doctrine and legal frameworks, and we will of course co-ordinate our actions with the French. The President of Niger, President Issoufou, was in London all last week at the invitation of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and we discussed with him a number of counter-terrorism and security issues.

Given that there is regular and substantive high-level contact between British and Nigerian Ministers, what evaluation have the Government and other EU countries carried out of the Nigerian economy and the impact on it of the security measures that have had to be implemented as a result of terrorism, kidnapping and armed robberies?

The Nigerian economy is growing rapidly, but most of the growth is concentrated in the south, around Lagos, which is expanding to about 15 million people. The tragedy of the communal killings and lack of security in the north is harming growth in a big way, which will lead to a great deal of poverty, youth unemployment and other problems. That is why it is so important that communities are reconciled so that the economy can grow and wealth can be created.

Women and Minorities (Afghanistan)

4. What recent discussions he has had with his NATO counterparts on the rights of women and minorities in Afghanistan. (112342)

10. What recent discussions he has had with his NATO counterparts on the rights of women and minorities in Afghanistan. (112349)

At the Chicago NATO summit in May, I discussed with NATO colleagues our continuing support for the fundamental human rights of all Afghan citizens and full implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The final summit communiqué reaffirmed our commitments in these areas.

How do the Government plan to ensure that violence against women is addressed at the upcoming Tokyo meeting on Afghanistan?

We have encouraged the Afghan Government to implement the elimination of violence against women law that has been agreed in principle, and to bring into practice the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of violence against women. We bring these matters up with the Afghan Government regularly and work with many people in the Afghan Parliament to encourage that agenda. I am pleased to say that women now hold 69 of the 249 seats in the lower House of the Afghan Parliament, which bears favourable comparison with some European countries.

What is the Foreign Secretary’s response to President Karzai’s endorsement of the code of conduct published by the ulema council of clerics, which permits men in Afghanistan to beat their wives? Will the Foreign Secretary guarantee that women’s rights will not be sold down the river in negotiations on the future of Afghanistan?

The hon. Lady can gather from what I have said how strongly the Government are committed to making further progress on those issues, as she obviously is. One reason we want to encourage the implementation of the laws I mentioned in response to the previous question is the statement and the code of conduct to which she refers. We have discussed the code of conduct with representatives of Afghan civil society. Their advice is to concentrate—parallel to whatever the code says—on the good work that they and we are doing to improve women’s rights in Afghanistan in other ways.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that fighting for women’s rights in Afghanistan has been an incredibly important part of the role so brilliantly carried out by, most recently, 20 Armoured Brigade, 120 of whose soldiers will march through Carriage Gates this afternoon at precisely 3.30 pm, to be met by as many hon. Members as I hope can find time to be there?

Some continue to say that our troops have lost their lives in Afghanistan in vain, and that they should come home today. What, in the Secretary of State’s view, would be the situation regarding the rights of women and minorities if that were to happen?

If we were to pull our troops out of combat prematurely and cease many of the other efforts we are making in Afghanistan, the position would be much more difficult, because through this period, when our and other forces are present, and when we are working closely with the Afghan Government, the prospects for women’s rights are improving. I am sure the timetable we have set is right—our troops will cease to be in combat after the end of 2014—but I hope the concepts of women’s rights are becoming more entrenched in Afghan society and politics all the time.

Does the Secretary of State agree that women’s rights in Afghanistan are a fundamental part of the security agenda, and that they must be protected in any settlement? That will require the involvement of women in peace and transition talks, to protect the gains made over recent years. Does he therefore recognise that time is rapidly moving on in those discussions? What will he do to try to inject some urgency into the process?

This country makes a constant effort to ensure that urgency is part of the process. I was in both Pakistan and Afghanistan last week, talking to the Governments of both countries about reconciliation and their relations with each other in promoting a political settlement and reconciliation in Afghanistan. Of course, we will continue with all those efforts, bearing it in mind that the process must be Afghan led, and that Afghans must determine their own future. We are trying to support that process rather than dictate to them the future terms of their settlement.

Rape and other forms of sexual violence have frequently been used as weapons of war against women in Afghanistan and the world over. What initiatives is the Foreign Secretary taking to counter this massive issue and to move it up the global agenda?

We believe that this issue should have massively more attention in the international community, which is why, on 29 May, I launched a new initiative of the British Government. We are assembling a team that will gather evidence of sexual violence being used as a weapon of war and can be deployed in different parts of the world. We encourage other countries to do the same. It will be a major theme of the foreign policy part of our G8 presidency, and I welcome my hon. Friend’s support.

Eurozone

My ministerial colleagues and I have regular discussions with our eurozone and European counterparts. It is in the UK’s interests to have a stable eurozone, the countries of which must do all they can to stand behind their currency.

How do the Government seriously think they can influence the debate about jobs and growth in Europe, when their own failed austerity programme is leading to record joblessness and £150 billion added to the national debt?

We might be drifting away from foreign policy, Mr Speaker. The fact that the United Kingdom has its safe haven status, with the lowest interest rates in our history, is an important point that the hon. Gentleman ought to remember. When our Prime Minister put his name to the letter ahead of the March European Council, along with 11 other Heads of European Governments, calling for measures to stimulate growth—improving the single market, free trade agreements with other nations and removing barriers to business—it received a strong endorsement from many European nations. Clearly we influence the debate very strongly.

I hear the Foreign Secretary’s response to my hon. Friend, but yesterday the Prime Minister gave what is becoming his all-too-familiar speech to eurozone countries. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that reciting the same old platitudes is a poor excuse for leadership? Is it not time for a plan for jobs and growth?

The Prime Minister is fully entitled to say what he believes should be done, as are many other world leaders at the G20. There is no reason the UK should be unable to give its views about what should happen in the eurozone, given that the United States and many other countries are free to do so. The eurozone economies have an important effect on our economy, and what is happening there is having a chilling effect on our economy, so we are fully entitled to give our views, as well as to show strong leadership in controlling and bringing down the excessive deficits left to us by the Labour party and in having a safe haven status that is the envy of much of the rest of Europe.

My right hon. Friend is a great historian as well as Foreign Secretary. Does he accept that the eurozone crisis is not only a eurozone crisis but a European Union crisis, and political, economic and democratic in nature? Given that it affects the daily lives of 450 million people in Europe, has the time not come for a convention, not of the kind held last time, but one based on the principles of democracy and the defence of the British nation?

I will go so far with my hon. Friend, as usual, but not all the way, as usual. I absolutely agree that the crisis is having a major effect not only on those in the eurozone but more broadly, and that it is having major political as well as economic ramifications. As for drawing together, in whatever form, reflections on the future of Europe arising from the crisis, however, it would be better to do that when one can discern how the crisis will end and progress and develop over the coming months.

Many residents in Orpington work in financial services and make a big contribution to the success of this country’s biggest export sector. Can the Secretary of State say what safeguards the UK financial services sector might need in the event of steps towards banking union in the eurozone and fiscal compact countries?

Safeguards will certainly be needed—my hon. Friend is quite right to raise that—but as things stand proposals and ideas about banking union take many different forms. Many people mean many different things by “banking union”. If such proposals are made more tangible and specific, we will set out the specific safeguards that we think we need for the single market. We are already making the case in European capitals that in the event of a banking union in the eurozone, which, by the way, we will certainly not be part of—let me make that absolutely clear—such safeguards will be necessary.

I am intrigued by the apparent complacency of the Foreign Secretary’s most recent answer. Given the Chancellor’s advocacy of greater integration in the eurozone, would the Foreign Secretary be willing to set out for the House what legal or political safeguards for British businesses and exporters the Government will be proposing at next week’s European Council?

The Chancellor has set out exactly what we think should happen. For the eurozone to be successful, it is necessary to have more support from stronger economies, to help weaker economies adjust; more pooling of resources, whether through common eurobonds or some other mechanism; a shared back-stop for the banking system, to strengthen banks and protect deposits; and, as a consequence, much closer oversight of fiscal and financial policy. That is what we believe the eurozone needs to do. However, if it were to adopt measures that affect—or may affect, in any way—the ability of the single market to operate effectively and in the interests of this country, we will need the safeguards for which we are already making the case. Once we have specific proposals, we will set out those specific safeguards.

If President Hollande is successful at next week’s European summit in securing agreement for a jobs and growth package, will the Prime Minister support his new-found best friend in this endeavour or will the Government stick to their failing austerity-alone approach, which has delivered a double-dip recession here in Britain?

The Opposition might need to take a closer look at some of the things that President Hollande is advocating, because he is saying that France must balance its budget by 2017. He is also saying that growth cannot come from state spending and that it must be reined in—to use his words—so perhaps the Opposition might care to decide whether they truly support the words of President Hollande.

Inward Investment

6. What steps his Department is taking to encourage inward investment from developing economies through the diplomatic network. (112344)

We are strengthening the UK’s diplomatic network to increase substantially our presence in emerging markets. This will transform relationships in the fastest growing cities and regions, and reinforce work on investment opportunities, which is obviously a key part of repositioning our economy and our drive for export-led growth.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to the expansion of our commercial-diplomatic network, but given the pressure on budgets, including that of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, how are these measures and the programme of opening new embassies to be funded?

We are already in the business of opening new embassies. We have opened two this year in Africa—I opened one in Abidjan the other day—and we are opening embassies in Mogadishu, Monrovia, Antananarivo, in Madagascar, Bishkek, in Kyrgyzstan, and San Salvador. This will be paid for through a gradual reduction of our footprint in Iraq and Afghanistan and the closure of various subordinate posts in Europe.

The level of trade and investment involving the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China—is a source of some disappointment to our British economy. What steps is the Minister taking to strengthen our role in those emerging markets, where there are real opportunities for growth?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are working absolutely furiously to try to increase the amount of trade with those countries. UK Trade and Investment—indeed, the entire network—is working as hard as it can to increase trade. In fact, in all those countries our bilateral trade is on target to double over the comprehensive spending review period. Of course there is more work to do, but I would suggest that, through the efforts of Ministers, UKTI and our missions, we are making good progress.

Departmental Procurement

We are always looking for opportunities to improve efficiency and to support cross-Government policies such as open procurement to small and medium-sized enterprises.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Given the Government’s mercantilist foreign policy, should we not be using our embassies to show off the best of British? Ceramics businesses in my constituency complain that our consulates are undermining exports by not using British-made ware. Will the Minister confirm that, in future, when dinner is served and when tea is poured in UK embassies across the world, the words “Made in Stoke-on-Trent” will be in evidence?

The hon. Gentleman is a good champion of the interests of his city and his constituents in this regard. The Government are well aware of the fine quality of the porcelain from Stoke-on-Trent and, indeed, from other places in the United Kingdom, but in taking procurement decisions we have to balance the wish to showcase the best of British with the need to provide value for money, so that we can continue to protect front-line services.

Syria

The political situation in Syria is dire. All parties must now implement the Annan plan, and the international community needs to come together to compel the regime to do so. Major General Mood is briefing the United Nations Security Council today, and we stand ready to pursue robust action in the Security Council.

Can the Secretary of State assure the House that every peaceful diplomatic effort is being made to prevent the Syrian Government from getting their hands on weapons that they can use against their own people?

Yes, I can. We have in place a European Union arms embargo for Syria, and we discourage anyone else from supplying it with arms. We have had specific discussions with Russia on that matter, and I am pleased that the ship that was reported to be carrying arms to Syria has now turned back, apparently towards Russia.

As the Foreign Secretary knows, Syria has a large stockpile of chemical weapons. Is he confident that, when the Assad regime falls, the international community will be willing and able to secure those weapons to ensure that they do not fall into the hands of Hezbollah or of affiliates of al-Qaeda?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point. The existence of such weapons has long been one of our concerns about Syria, and it is a concern in this situation. Yes, I am confident that the international community will take any necessary action on that, but I do not want to go into any more detail today.

Does the United Nations understand that the Syrian tragedy is essentially a sectarian civil war, with Saudi Arabia and Iran supplying arms and money to their rival surrogates inside Syria, and that Russia, for well understood reasons, is determined to prevent the Sunni from overthrowing the Alawites?

My right hon. Friend and I have had this exchange several times, and he is right to point out the importance of the Sunni-Shi’a tensions, and sometimes conflicts, in the region. As I have said before, however, I believe that there is more to it than that. There are also many people in Syria, of different ethnicities, religions and beliefs, who want freedom and democracy in their country, and who want to be rid of their repressive regime. The factors that my right hon. Friend has mentioned are not the only ones at work, but they certainly add to the complexity of the situation. They also add to the importance of opposition forces representing all groups in Syria and preserving their rights in the future, as well as the importance of trying to negotiate a peaceful political transition in Syria, which is what we are attempting to do.

In his recent answer, the Foreign Secretary reiterated his support for the Annan plan, but only last week the UN was forced to suspend the observer mission in Syria. In the light of that suspension, does he accept what is already clear to many people on the ground in Syria—namely, that the Annan plan is simply not working? Will he set out today the steps beyond the Annan plan that the UK is now advocating that the international community take to bring about a cessation to the violence in Syria?

I accepted, some time ago, that the Annan plan was not working. It is not working at all at the moment, but it would be wrong to give up completely on the plan, because the road to any peaceful settlement in Syria will be through either the Annan plan or something very similar to it. It is therefore important to persist with those efforts, and we are doing that particularly in our talks with Russia. I met the Russian Foreign Minister again in Kabul last week, and the Prime Minister has met President Putin in the past 24 hours to pursue this matter further. We are seeking international agreement, including with Russia, on how to ensure the implementation of the Annan plan. We are ready to take that matter forward at the UN Security Council or in a contact group, or in both together. Of course, if all those efforts fail, we will want to return to the UN Security Council, as well as greatly to intensify our support for the opposition and to see more sweeping sanctions from across the world.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of reports that this afternoon the United Nations will decide to withdraw completely UN monitors? Were that to happen, a valuable independent source of information about what is taking place in Syria would simply be lost. I do not expect a detailed reply to the question I am about to put to him, but may we take it that the United Kingdom will use all available methods of obtaining information to ensure that we have a clear view of what is happening in Syria?

Yes, certainly, of course we will do that. We are awaiting at the UN Security Council today the briefing of Major-General Mood, who has been heading the monitoring mission, so no decision about what will happen to the mission has been taken in advance of that. It is very important that information is assembled, particularly about crimes and atrocities that have been committed. Earlier this year, we sent teams to the borders of Syria to assemble such evidence. The Syrian activists who assembled the evidence of the massacre at al-Houla were trained by the United Kingdom. We will continue our efforts to make sure that one day justice can be done.

Can the Foreign Secretary suggest any new initiative that will encourage political development and progress in Syria, and stop the daily slaughter of the innocent?

The initiatives I have mentioned are all really a continuation or extension of the initiatives that have already been taken. We have not given up the search for an internationally agreed peaceful transition in Syria, but it is vital for such a transition to have the active support of Russia. That is why over recent weeks we have attached such importance to diplomacy with Russia. We will continue with those efforts.

The Foreign Secretary will know from conversations with the Russians that they are accusing us of using their veto as a fig leaf for our lack of policy. Will he nail that once and for all by pointing out that a united international community is far more likely to achieve results than a divided one?

Yes. I think it would be wrong to characterise the Russian veto in that way. The veto exercised by Russia and China in February was against all the other 13 members of the United Nations Security Council, which very much favoured a united international stand on this issue. Nevertheless, Russia has supported the Annan plan and has agreed with the two most recent UN resolutions. That is why we continue to discuss the issues with them and to work with them. I hope we can reach a common position with them on the implementation of the Annan plan or something very close to it.

I recently met a large group of Syrian students. Will the Foreign Secretary update us on any information he has or any discussions he is having with the Home Office about Syrian student visas? Some are being forced to return home where their lives are at risk. Will the right hon. Gentleman update us on what progress is being made to make sure that the German and US model is followed, allowing them to stay?

That is more of a question for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but as the hon. Gentleman asks, I will discuss the issue with the Home Office. We have very clear rules in this country: we do not return people to a situation in which they are likely to be tortured, killed or abused. If we thought that that was going to happen to these people, we would not do that, but I will take up the hon. Gentleman’s point further.

Bangladesh

I visited Bangladesh at the end of May. In conversations with the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and the leader of the opposition, I was able to stress how important it is to have free and fair elections with full political party participation by early 2014. Improving human rights, democracy and the rule of law—all foundations of political stability—are key parts of the UK’s development assistance programme there.

I thank the Minister for his reply, but does he agree with me that the British Bangladeshi community could do a great deal more to help with this process, rather than adding fuel to the divisions, as is sometimes the case?

My hon. Friend has made an important point. It is true that Bangladeshi political culture is very confrontational. The stand-off between the leaders of the major parties is very deep and very bitter, and in my time in Bangladesh I encountered many people who believed that the country—which is doing very well in many respects—would do better if there were a more co-operative political process. I think that the diaspora in the United Kingdom could indeed play a part in that.

Bahrain

11. What recent steps he has taken to raise the issue of human rights abuses with the Government of Bahrain. (112350)

12. What recent discussions he has had with his Bahraini counterpart on the implementation of the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report. (112352)

The United Kingdom Government take many opportunities to raise concerns about human rights and the importance of implementing the independent commission's recommendations with the Bahraini Government. I visited Bahrain on 11 June, and had an opportunity to discuss the issues directly with Bahraini Government representatives, members of Opposition parties and representatives of civil society.

Amnesty International’s 2012 report refers to excessive use of force in arrest, unfair trials, torture and deaths in custody in Bahrain, but the FCO’s Human Rights and Democracy report for this year does not even rate Bahrain as a cause for concern. Why is that?

The Human Rights and Democracy report contains a case study examining circumstances in Bahrain. It is true that our process of reporting has tended to mean that that if difficulties arise during the year, they are not always included. Compiling the reports on a quarterly basis will give us more opportunity to include more information. Bahrain is included as a cause for concern, and we have regular conversations with members of all sides there. The picture is very complex.

Will the Minister encourage the Bahrain Government to begin substantive negotiations with the Opposition in order to make the Government more representative—which would include the eventual establishment of a constitutional monarchy?

The truth is that there are elements on both sides of the divide in Bahrain who want to talk to each other, and elements on both sides of the divide who do not. I spoke to representatives of the major Opposition party. It is difficult to engage members of the Opposition in negotiations because they have preconditions which they claim not to have, and the same can be said about some members of the Sunni support side. It is a complex picture, but what the United Kingdom does is encourage both sides to engage. We are using, for example, our experience in Northern Ireland, where good political leadership and a great deal of dialogue led to reconciliation and the bringing together of two elements of society that had been bitterly divided. There is much that we are delivering, and much that we can do.

May I follow up the point raised by the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd)? The Government of Bahrain have consistently held the view that the door is open for a meaningful dialogue with members of Opposition parties, which are, of course, recognised in Bahrain. The Government cannot have that dialogue on their own. The Opposition have a moral responsibility to come to the table and engage in meaningful dialogue with the Government in order to make progress.

My hon. Friend is right. Bahrain is sometimes portrayed as having no Opposition activity, with marches postponed or cancelled, but in the run-up to the grand prix recently Al-Wefaq, the main Opposition party, held authorised demonstrations. However, as my hon. Friend says, if a meaningful dialogue is to take place, there must be two sides to it. We will continue to urge both Opposition and Government to engage in such a dialogue, because the implementation of the commission’s recommendations is just as important as the recommendations themselves.

I welcome the setting up by the Bahraini Government of a Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development, but what is my hon. Friend’s assessment of the progress that is being made? Are the reforms having a real effect on the quality of human rights in Bahrain?

There are developments that make a difference, such as human rights training in the security forces and a code of conduct for the police, efforts to prosecute members of the security forces who may have been involved in offences last year, and a general recognition that the recommendations in the independent commission’s report need to be implemented. A series of reforms are taking place, but, as my hon. Friend suggests, more needs to be done.

Middle East

13. What recent assessment he has made of efforts to encourage the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to return to negotiations. (112353)

I welcome the recent efforts by the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships to renew direct contacts. We have urged both sides to focus on dialogue, to avoid any steps that could undermine the prospects for peace and to work towards the resumption of direct negotiations.

Following the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister’s reported request to meet the Palestinian President, what steps is the Secretary of State taking to help both parties to overcome the current impasse and resume negotiations?

We are strongly urging both sides to build on the current contacts, and we have discussed that with, among others, the new Israeli Deputy Prime Minister. Those contacts include the joint statement of 12 May following the exchange of letters between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. We are encouraging them to resume direct negotiations. We welcome the statement by Prime Minister Netanyahu that the new coalition in Israel presents an opportunity to advance the peace process, and we urge them to take that opportunity.

19. Much of the watching world is troubled by the thought that if there is continuing delay, there will be continuing illegal building of habitations by Israel in Palestine. Can the Foreign Secretary assure me that this issue will be a high priority for the Government, because with every year that passes the chance of peace and justice in those two countries recedes? (112359)

I agree with my right hon. Friend, and he knows how regularly and vigorously we raise this issue. I have straightforwardly condemned recent announcements of settlement activity on occupied land. It is because of that activity that the opportunity for a two-state solution will slip away unless it is agreed in the not-too-distant future, so this remains one of the world’s most urgent and pressing issues.

European Football Championships

15. Whether his Department has issued guidance to Ministers on attending the European football championships in Ukraine. (112355)

I am sure the entire House will wish the England players every success in their match later today. On the question of attendance by Ministers, however, we took the decision that no Ministers should attend group games at Euro 2012. We are keeping the question of attendance at later stages under review.

I am pleased to hear that Ministers have been asked not to attend group games, but why are the Government not also making it clear now that they rule out any official ministerial attendance at England matches at all stages, even the final?

We have consistently said to the Ukrainian Government that the selective use of justice in Ukraine is unacceptable and we want their policy to change. There is still time for improvement, but unless that happens I do not want to hold out much hope that our policy will shift.

Does my right hon. Friend welcome the fact that the England team went to Auschwitz-Birkenau ahead of the tournament to bring home to people, in eastern Europe in particular, the horrors of the Nazi atrocities? What a welcome respite that is from some of the terrible things we have heard about in Ukraine.

I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend says. It is particularly important that sporting champions—who can, perhaps, cut through to parts of society that will not listen to speeches by politicians—set an example in the way the England players did.

The trial and ongoing detention of Yulia Tymoshenko has widely been denounced as politically motivated. Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce), why do the Government appear still to take the position that human rights do not matter at the knockout stages of the European championships? Is it because they do not have confidence in their own policy, or because they do not have confidence in our team?

I am afraid the hon. Lady must have written her question before she listened to my answer to her hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce). We have made it clear in every conversation at official and ministerial level with our Ukrainian counterparts that if they want to have the democratic future and the closer links with Europe that the Ukrainian Government say they want—and that we believe need to happen—they have to show they are serious about democratic, as well as economic, reform.

Topical Questions

Last week I travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan where I visited our troops in Helmand and participated in the Heart of Asia conference, where I discussed the situation in Syria with Ministers from Russia, China and Turkey. This week I will meet the Foreign Ministers of the Gulf Co-operation Council, and the Government will host the visit of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his answer. Will he join me in wishing Aung San Suu Kyi a happy birthday? She is the embodiment of peace and reconciliation. Does he agree with me that the controversial constitution of 2008 still puts the defence services at the heart of the Burmese Government? Will he assure Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma that we will walk alongside them in their long walk to peace and reconciliation?

Absolutely, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I think that the whole country will wish Aung San Suu Kyi well and will be delighted to see her this week. I am delighted that at your invitation, Mr Speaker, and that of the other place she will be coming to address us here in Parliament. It is important to recognise that there is still a long way to go in Burma. Although her party has won the 40 recent by-elections, that represents only a small part of the Parliament. I do believe that the President of Burma is sincere in his intentions, but there will be a variety of views about the democratic progress of Burma within the regime, so it is vital for all of us who believe in freedom and democracy across the world to work with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi over the coming months and years.

No, it was not that the hon. Lady was standing up inadvertently. It is that I am calling her to stand up advertently, on the basis that I alternate between the two sides of the House. Her opportunity is now and the nation wishes to hear her.

T9. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. In the midst of difficult, apprehensive and gloomy times in the eurozone, what measures are the Government taking to ensure that we are engaging as proactively as possible with exciting emerging markets in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Mozambique? (112372)

It was well worth waiting for that question, Mr Speaker. I can tell my hon. Friend that the FCO and UK Trade and Investment are actively supporting UK businesses throughout southern Africa, including in South Africa and Mozambique. Indeed, recent successes have included assisting Aggreko to secure a $255 million deal to construct a power plant that will supply electricity to both South Africa and Mozambique. That is a big success story.

T2. Will the Foreign Secretary explain exactly what the Government’s policy is towards the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Very controversial elections were held there last year, which were heavily criticised by the Carter Centre, the European Union and the Churches in the Congo. A great deal of military incursion is occurring, particularly in the east; the treatment of women there is appalling; and huge profits are being made by mining companies. We would be grateful if the House could be told exactly what the British Government’s strategy is in that situation. (112365)

The EU observers’ report found that the vast majority of people in the DRC were able to vote in relative peace and security, although I entirely accept that there were irregularities in that election. Looking forward, we are very concerned about what is happening in the Kivus, in the eastern DRC. It is essential that the situation there does not deteriorate further, and we urge all parties, including surrounding states, not to use proxies and to stay out of the situation. We urge all sides to work for peace in that troubled region.

T10. Credit is due to both the previous Labour Government and this coalition Government for the UK’s global leadership on the arms trade treaty. Vital economic issues are being discussed at the G20 meeting this week, but will the Foreign Secretary tell the House whether the Prime Minister will also use the opportunity to lobby other world leaders in advance of next month’s arms trade conference, so that we can get a robust, comprehensive and effective arms trade treaty to save millions of lives? (112373)

Yes. We do indeed regard a robust and effective arms trade treaty as absolutely vital. We have continued the work done by the previous Government. There is a strong degree of consensus on this, but it is important that the treaty is both robust and effective. Negotiations are due to start on the final leg of this in July, in New York, and Ministers will be keeping a close eye on it.

In Egypt, as we speak, the army appears to be working to frustrate the outcome of the democratic election that took place at the weekend. What action are the UK Government taking to support the people of Egypt who voted in that election?

We welcome the peaceful conduct of the second and final round of Egypt’s presidential elections, but this is a critical moment in the move towards democratic, civilian-led government in Egypt. We are concerned by recent announcements of the dissolution of Parliament and the reintroduction of powers of arrest and detention for the military. We want the process of drafting a new, inclusive constitution and the holding of new parliamentary elections to be taken forward as soon as possible and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), has today been making those representations to Egyptian Ministers.

I absolutely agree with the Foreign Secretary when he says that there are similarities between what is happening in Syria now and what happened in Bosnia in the 1990s. I also note that he mentioned “robust action”. If we take any robust action that involves our servicemen, may I ask the Foreign Secretary to ensure that it includes robust rules of engagement so that our servicemen, if by chance they were ever deployed in that dreadful country, would have sufficient means to defend themselves properly?

My hon. Friend speaks with a great deal of experience and I certainly take that point and agree with it. Should we come to that eventuality, we will try to do that. Having heard our earlier exchanges, he will be conscious that our efforts are devoted to a peaceful political transition in Syria and to a cessation of violence. At no stage have we advocated a military intervention, but we recognise that the situation is so grave and deteriorating so quickly, and that such crimes are being committed, that we cannot take any options off the table at the moment.

T3. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Two Nobel peace laureates are in the United Kingdom today: Aung San Suu Kyi and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to update the House and the country on what steps the Government are taking to work with those Nobel laureates and the authorities in Burma and Tibet to address ongoing human rights issues? (112366)

I mentioned a few moments ago our support for democratic change and human rights in Burma, including the resolving of the conflicts that continue, such as that in Kachin state. Ethnic conflicts have continued although there is a ceasefire in place in many of them. All that work will continue. We have a regular and formal human rights dialogue with China. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we, like the previous Government, recognise Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China—let there be no mistake about that—but we certainly speak up for human rights in China, as we have done regularly and will continue to do.

Gambian national General Omar Mbye is married to my constituent Deborah Burns and today appears in the Gambian Supreme Court to appeal a conviction for treason and a sentence of death. Will the Minister assure me that the Foreign Office is doing all it can to ensure that justice prevails in the Gambia, particularly in this case, and to ensure that this man is not executed?

General O. B. Mbye and seven other defendants were charged with and convicted of treason and sentenced to death. Their case comes up in the Supreme Court in Gambia today and I understand the general is married to a British citizen who is a constituent of my hon. Friend’s, so obviously we are following the case closely and will provide her constituent with all possible consular and other assistance. On a wider note, we have growing concerns about President Jammeh’s Government and his attitude to the Opposition and to human rights, as well as the way he is discriminating against minorities.

T4. One of my constituents, a UK resident for 40 years, and 16 members of her family have inherited land in southern Cyprus. In order to dispose of the land, the Greek high commission has insisted that she prove UK residence for the past 38 years. She has provided passports and medical records and has now been asked to produce utility bills from 1974, a nigh on impossible task. Will the Minister or his officials communicate with the Greek high commission to find a way forward for that family? (112367)

As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi reminded us in her speech from Oslo last week, while we celebrate her freedom there remain many prisoners of conscience in Burma. Will the Foreign Secretary urge the Government there to establish a review of the cases of all prisoners so that it is possible to determine the actual reason for their arrest?

Absolutely. I have discussed this issue regularly with the Burmese authorities including with the President of Burma directly. I was pleased that in January there was such a large-scale further release of political prisoners in Burma, but the hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that some remain. In many cases, the Government of Burma allege that there is a responsibility for a violent crime or particular crime—not just the holding of a political opinion. That means that these cases have to be gone through and resolved individually. We will certainly encourage the Government of Burma to do that.

Order. I am keen to accommodate colleagues. The evidence so far is that we have time for the questions but not always for the answers. We need short questions and short answers.

T5. Is the Minister aware that following the blockade of Gaza, the Gazans suffer an acute shortage of drinking water, with 90% of the water being contaminated and 90 million litres of untreated or partially treated sewage being dumped in the sea every day? Will he now tell the Israelis that this is a cruel and illegal way to treat Gazans? (112368)

The situation in Gaza has long been of concern to the UK Government, and representations are made to the Israeli authorities regarding their responsibilities there. Things have gradually been improving in respect of trade in Gaza. but this issue is bound up in the longer-running and larger dispute between Israel and the Palestinians regarding the middle east peace process. The concerns that the hon. Lady raises have been raised by the UK Government and we will continue to raise them.

Gosport-based Royal Navy sailor Timmy MacColl went missing in Dubai on 27 May. His pregnant wife and the rest of his family and friends are clearly very worried about his whereabouts. Will the Minister please reassure me that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is doing all it can to bring him home safely?

Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for raising this case. Our consular teams in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and in Dubai are aware of this case and we have met representatives of the family. It is a distressing and puzzling case and we are giving as much assistance as we can, along with other agencies, to the investigation.

T6. Last week, a Conservative Member of this House expressed huge admiration for General Pinochet. Given that General Pinochet sanctioned sadistic torture against innocent men, women and children, will the Foreign Secretary condemn his colleague’s comments? (112369)

I am not aware of the particular comments, but the hon. Gentleman can rest assured that the Government support a strong, democratic, free and open future for Chile, and our relations with the Government of Chile are excellent on that basis. Looking to the future, there is no doubt about where we stand.

Will the Government seek a new and less intrusive arrangement with the European Union as many member states press on to a political union and centralised government that we could not conceivably join?

We want to see the eurozone restore economic stability. That is in the interests of the United Kingdom as much as any other European country. The Prime Minister is demonstrating, through his leadership on the agenda to do with growth, deregulation and trade, that the UK continues to shape the direction of the European Union in a way that serves the prosperity and security of the people of this nation.

T7. Further to the Minister’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs Riordan), is he aware that the Israelis allowed only three lorry loads of exports through the Kerem Shalom crossing in the weekend of 5 June, compared with an average of 240 truck loads a week before the blockade? That is why factories are standing idle and why a third of the population is unemployed. Will the Minister tell the Israeli Government that the blockade is not only inhumane but totally counter-productive? (112370)

Briefly, yes. The hon. Lady’s makes a comparison between what goes through now and what went through before the blockade, and we make exactly the same point. It is more than went through last year, but that is not good enough. It is in the interests of Israel and the people of Gaza and beyond that the economic prospects of the people of Gaza improve. Israel can play its part in that and we urge it to continue to do so, just as we encourage those in Gaza not to launch attacks on Israel.

The Prime Minister has rightly set his face against the EU’s proposal for an unjustified 6% increase in its budget. Will the Minister take this opportunity to express his opposition to the External Action Service’s claim for a 5.7% increase in its budget and qualify the motion that appears on the Order Paper today?

When that motion was debated and agreed without a Division at yesterday’s European Committee, I made it very clear that we were opposed to an increase in the External Action Service’s budget, and that we expected the EAS to live up to the terms of the decision establishing it, which said that it had a responsibility to secure value for money and to return to budget neutrality.

T8. As a greater number of American veterans of the Afghan war commit suicide than die in combat, and as uncounted thousands of our own troops return, broken in body and mind, should we not follow the example of Canada, Holland, France and Australia and bring our troops home at an earlier date than planned? (112371)

It is also important to remember the immense achievements of our troops in Afghanistan, who have helped to bring stability to areas of Afghanistan that would not otherwise have known it, and who have done so much to reduce the terrorism threat to this country and many others, and it is very important for that job to be completed, as we intend it to be, by the end of 2014. It is important to remember the achievements of our troops, and not just the problems that they encounter.

Order. The hon. Gentleman is a very experienced denizen of the House. He will know that points of order follow statements, and the hon. Gentleman’s point of order is one that we await with eager anticipation.