With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the meeting of G8 Foreign Ministers in London last week, which also allows me to update the House on international events over the recess.
The theme of the meeting was preventing and resolving conflict, and dealing with its consequences. There were important agreements in five areas that the UK had established as priorities.
The G8 agreed to support the re-engagement of international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, with Somalia, so it can invest in its economy, and welcomed the Somalia conference, which will be held in London on 7 May. The Ministers endorsed the Burmese Government’s proposals for responsible investment to support political and economic progress, while urging peace and reconciliation to end ethnic and religious conflicts. On cyberspace, we agreed to share best practice and build up the capacity of other countries to secure their networks effectively. The UK’s G8 presidency this year is being used to help create economic opportunities in countries in transition in the middle east and north Africa, particularly for women and young people. The Ministers endorsed our programme to promote investment, support enterprise, and work with Arab countries on the return of stolen assets. The G8 agreed a landmark declaration on preventing sexual violence in conflict, which I will return to shortly.
We also had extensive talks on pressing international issues. In Syria, we face worsening conflict and extreme humanitarian suffering. Well over 70,000 people have died, a truly horrific number; 5.5 million people are in desperate humanitarian need, and there are now 1.3 million refugees in neighbouring countries—a quarter of a million more than when I last spoke to the House on the subject only last month. The UK is deeply concerned that the UN relief effort is critically underfunded, and that only 34% of the $1.5 billion humanitarian appeal has so far been provided, even though the need will become far worse if the conflict continues. The G8 agreed immediate priorities of increasing humanitarian access inside Syria, ensuring that donors provide the funding they have promised, and the need to support stability in host countries.
The G8 Ministers reaffirmed the view that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would demand a serious international response. The UK is increasingly concerned that there is evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. These allegations must be fully and urgently investigated. We welcome the UN Secretary-General’s announcement of an investigation into the allegations, and call again on the Syrian regime to co-operate fully and allow the investigation unfettered access to all areas. They should take heed that the world is watching, and those who order the use of chemical weapons, or who participate in their use, must be held to account.
We also agreed that a Syrian-led political transition is urgently needed, based on the principles of the Geneva communiqué. The opposition has stated that it is open to dialogue and we are supporting its efforts to prepare for political transition. The Syrian Government must demonstrate that they are ready to enter negotiations in good faith. We are calling on Russia to work with us to establish a genuine political effort on that basis.
I, along with my American and French counterparts, held talks with the Prime Minister designate and two vice-presidents of the Syrian National Coalition ahead of the G8. We discussed how the coalition can best represent the interests of all Syria’s communities and uphold human rights, and how we can work together to increase services and humanitarian assistance inside Syria.
The UK is determined to do more to support the Syrian National Coalition. Our aim is to bring about a political transition by building the credibility and capability of the moderate opposition and increasing pressure on the regime. The package of non-lethal assistance, including protected vehicles and body armour, that I announced last month is now being shipped to the region. As I said during my previous statement to the House, we have to be prepared to do even more to help to save lives. Our policy on Syria cannot be static in the face of this growing calamity.
As the Prime Minister said last month, we have taken no decision that we would like to send arms to the Syrian opposition, but the UK and France argue that we will need further amendments to the EU arms embargo, or even to lift it altogether. As things stand, we need greater flexibility if we decide that urgent action is necessary, for example in response to a specific incident or continued grave deterioration on the ground, or to create the conditions for a successful political transition. I will discuss that with the Foreign Ministers of other key countries in the Friends of Syria Group in Istanbul on Saturday, with EU Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg on Monday, and in further international meetings next month.
The G8 Ministers also reviewed the threat to international security from North Korea. We condemned its aggressive rhetoric, the announcement that it would reopen the nuclear facility at Yongbyon, and its development of nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, breaching its international obligations. We urged North Korea to engage in credible and authentic multilateral talks on denuclearisation, to abide by its obligations under all relevant UN Security Council resolutions, to abandon all its weapons programmes and to refrain from further provocative acts.
All G8 Ministers were clear that North Korea’s current posture will lead only to further isolation. We emphasised our willingness to take further significant measures if North Korea conducts another missile launch or nuclear test. I discussed North Korea in detail with the Japanese Foreign Minister in the margins of the G8 and spoke to the South Korean Foreign Minister this morning. I also welcome Secretary Kerry’s visit to the region at the weekend. I have laid a written ministerial statement today on these developments and the action that the Government are taking.
The G8 also discussed the recent E3 plus 3 talks on Iran’s nuclear programme and the disappointing outcome. Tehran’s position falls short of what is needed for a diplomatic breakthrough. We will continue the twin-track approach of sanctions and negotiations, but the G8 was clear that the window for diplomacy will not remain open for ever.
We also had very good discussions on the middle east peace process, strongly welcoming Secretary Kerry’s recent visits to the region and the US commitment to finding a just, lasting and comprehensive peace. Both sides must show bold political leadership and refrain from actions that threaten the viability of a two-state solution.
I was delighted that the G8 Foreign Ministers agreed a major declaration on preventing sexual violence in conflict, which is the first of its kind and the result of a year of effort and negotiations by the United Kingdom. I pay tribute to the special representative of the UN Secretary-General on sexual violence, Zainab Bangura, and to UN special envoy for refugees, Angelina Jolie, who has worked with me to develop this initiative from the beginning—[Interruption.] And very good work it has been.
The G8 has declared, for the first time, that rape and serious sexual violence in conflict constitute grave breaches of the Geneva convention. G8 members have the responsibility to search for, prosecute or transfer for trial individuals accused of such crimes, regardless of their nationality and wherever they are in the world. The G8 committed itself to the development of a comprehensive international protocol on the investigation and documentation of rape and sexual violence in conflict to increase the number of successful prosecutions. We will now take the lead on developing this protocol with experts from all over the world.
We declared that there should never be any amnesty for sexual violence in peace agreements and pledged to review the doctrine and training that we provide to our own national military and police, and to peacekeeping troops of other nations. The declaration also includes vital commitments on women and children’s rights, and the protection of women human rights defenders.
The G8 endorsed the deployment of international experts to help build up the judicial, investigative and legal capacity of other countries, which the United Kingdom is already doing. Our team of over 70 experts has been deployed to Bosnia, the Syria border and Libya, and will carry out further deployments this year to those three countries, as well as to South Sudan, Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The G8 Ministers announced £23 million in new funding to back these efforts, including £10 million from the UK.
Taken together, that was an historic step, marking a wholly new international effort to shatter the myths about sexual violence in conflict and end the culture of impunity. We will now take this campaign to the United Nations. I will lead a debate at the UN Security Council during our presidency in June, and it will be one of my top priorities for the UN General Assembly in September. In all these areas, the G8 Foreign Ministers addressed the crises of today, but also, as I believe strongly we must always do, addressed ourselves to improving the condition of humanity.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for advance sight of it. The G8 Foreign Ministers meeting covered a range of subjects, as the Foreign Secretary made clear in his statement, but I will focus on Syria and North Korea.
First, however, it would be remiss of me to do anything other than express my personal congratulations to the Foreign Secretary on his leadership on the issue of sexual violence in conflict zones. His steps to bring the international community together to tackle the horrific use of sexual violence in conflict have rightly received warm support from Members in all parts of the House. I also pay tribute to the civil society groups that have campaigned tirelessly on the issue, and on whose significant efforts the Foreign Secretary’s engagement has been built.
The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have speculated in recent weeks about the need to ensure that the Syrian rebels are armed and trained. The Foreign Secretary will be aware that the G8 communiqué made no reference to international efforts to stem the flow of arms into Syria, but did he raise the transfer of weapons at the meeting or, indeed, in any bilateral meetings with G8 Foreign Ministers in attendance, in particular with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov? In his statement, the Foreign Secretary stated that the UK has “taken no decision” on arming the Syrian rebels, but in the Liaison Committee on 12 March the Prime Minister struck a rather different tone, as he was keen to stress that the UK
“might have to do things in our own way.”
He added that the UK was “still an independent country”.
Will the Foreign Secretary clarify those earlier remarks from the Prime Minister, and will he further clarify whether the Government’s approach to arming the rebels has altered in any way in the light of recent evidence of radical Islamist militants operating on the ground? That includes the al-Nusra Front, which only last week confirmed its affiliation to al-Qaeda. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary will be aware of a letter that I sent to him on 20 March raising questions about the British Government’s decision to
“fund training to help armed groups understand their responsibilities and obligations under international law”.—[Official Report, 6 March 2013; Vol. 559, c. 963.]
I have not yet received a reply from the Foreign Secretary, so in the light of the upcoming deadline for the renewal of the EU arms embargo, will he kindly confirm his intention to reply to that letter?
I also welcome the fact that the Foreign Secretary said that one of the immediate priorities arising from the meeting was ensuring that donors provide the funding that they have promised for Syria. Will he confirm whether all the states represented at the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting last week have provided all the funding that they have promised?
A key priority on Syria as we approach the G8 summit must be to build influence with Russia, and encourage it to stop its continued sponsorship of the Assad regime. Given that, I found it a little curious that the Foreign Secretary restricted his observations about discussions with Russia to a single line in a statement of six pages. Will he clarify what, in the light of the final communiqué from the Foreign Ministers meeting, is the British Government’s strategy to help to bring an end to the violence in Syria? If it is the Geneva accords, what practical steps have been taken to secure the anticipated negotiations?
Finally, I should like to turn to the points made by the Foreign Secretary on the ongoing situation in the Korean peninsula. We support the agreement reached by Foreign Ministers following the G8 meeting to condemn the continued aggressive and provocative actions of the North Korean regime. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that China’s role as an historic supporter of North Korea is key to defusing the crisis, so will he join me in welcoming its constructive engagement on the issue to date?
The efforts of others will not absolve the North Koreans of their own responsibilities, so does the Foreign Secretary agree that the responsibility is now on the North Korean leadership to accept an open offer that has been extended from the international community to initiate meaningful negotiations in relation to this troubling and dangerous situation?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his questions and for his strong endorsement of the initiative that I have been pursuing on preventing sexual violence in conflict. This is a cross-party issue that is of concern to people in all parties in the UK, and we can all enthusiastically get behind it. We are, as he said, building on the efforts of people in civil society, many NGOs and people who have already worked at the United Nations for some years, but it is time for the most powerful, active Governments of the world to get behind the initiative, make major international diplomatic progress, and show that we can change the situation on the ground. I will keep the House updated throughout the year on our efforts.
On Syria, the right hon. Gentleman asked about discussions on the transfer of weapons. We had a long discussion about Syria at the G8 and with the Russian Foreign and Defence Ministers when they made a bilateral visit here on 13 March. So in the past month we have had two substantial rounds of discussions with Russian Ministers—indeed, three rounds in just over a month. Of course we discussed the continued flow of weapons to the regime in Syria. Part of the problem is that the regime can continue to receive weapons, but many moderate figures in opposition groups say that they cannot obtain them.
What the Prime Minister said last month about the possibility that we might have to do more is very much what I am saying here and what I said in my last statement—that our policy cannot be static. He said, and I repeated in the statement, that we have not taken any decision about arming the opposition ourselves. There are legitimate arguments against that. They have sometimes been put in the House, and the right hon. Gentleman has raised some of them. If we were to take that step, we would have to assure ourselves to the maximum degree possible not only of the international legal position, but that the weapons could not be misused by others for whom they were not intended. Those are major considerations.
It must also be a major consideration that we currently face a humanitarian catastrophe, with tens of thousands of people being killed and millions in desperate need. A regime that is not bringing the conflict to an end can get weapons and extremists can get weapons, but people who are in favour of a free, democratic and moderate Syria find it very difficult to do so. We all have to ask ourselves how long we can go on with that situation if the conflict continues and if it continues to get worse. Of course, what we need most of all is a diplomatic and political settlement. Giving additional assistance to the National Coalition is part of putting pressure on the regime to come to a political settlement.
To expand on our discussions with Russia about that, we have discussed with our Russian colleagues several times in the past month how to try to come together to bring about the Geneva communiqué—a transitional Government drawn from regime and opposition, with full executive authority—but no one in other western or Arab nations, nor the UK, has yet succeeded in agreeing with Russia the mechanism to bring that about. A United Nations Security Council resolution would, in our view, be the appropriate mechanism, but Russia and China have vetoed that in the past and would do so again under current circumstances. It could come about through each of the countries involved—through us, the United States, the Russians and others—putting pressure on all the parties involved to negotiate that. We are ready to do so. We are always doing that with the national coalition, but sufficient pressure has not been put on the regime to do that, so we will always work hard on a diplomatic and negotiated way forward. In the absence of that, we have to do what we can to save lives and to try to make a resolution of the conflict more likely.
I agree with the thrust of the right hon. Gentleman’s questions about China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. China’s position of agreeing to UN Security Council resolution 2094, which put additional sanctions on North Korea, is welcome. I will discuss that with the new Chinese leadership over the next couple of days to see how we can work together on it. The message should be clear, as it is from the whole House and from the whole UN Security Council: North Korea has a choice, and with the choice it is making at the moment it will end up with a country that is even more broken and even more isolated, even from China. It is not too late to make an alternative choice; the path of multilateral negotiations and greater engagement with the international community is still open.
I share the Foreign Secretary’s loathing of the violence of the Syrian regime, but will he comment briefly on the opposition forces? To what extent do they believe in democracy, freedom and human rights, and how well armed are they already?
The answer, of course, is a mixture. I believe that the National Coalition, which we met last week—we met the Prime Minister designate, two of the Vice-Presidents and, indeed, the President, Mr al-Khatib, whom I talked with on the phone—is sincere in its commitment to democracy and human rights and to the inclusion of Syria’s very varied communities in the country’s future. I have met them and discussed that a sufficient number of times to be sure of that answer. There are extremist groups, however, and the longer this goes on the greater the risk that they will gain more support. Estimates of the number of fighters in the al-Nusra Front, which the shadow Foreign Secretary referred to, are in the low thousands, but that is still thousands. The number of fighters supporting various opposition groups is likely to be in six figures—more than 100,000. Although that is proportionately small, we must nevertheless take that seriously, which is why we argue that we have to give more practical support to the moderate democratic opposition so that the focus of opposition in Syria does not become the more extreme groups.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and commend all the efforts for peace in Korea and Syria and the progress that has been made in combating sexual violence in conflict. I think that all Members on both sides of the House will be absolutely horrified that 66% of pledged UN aid, which is vital for UN agencies and the Red Crescent, has not been provided. Will he outline for Members, perhaps by placing a paper in the Library, which of the countries that have pledged amounts have provided it and which have not?
I will consider that. The hon. Gentleman will understand that sometimes there is a delicate diplomacy in naming and shaming on pledges. It is necessary first to get the facts absolutely straight, because there are countries that have disbursed money, countries that have allocated money but are awaiting the details of the projects they will spend it on, and other countries that have done neither, so the picture is quite complex. However, I will look at the idea. After all, we should be as transparent as we can about the data.
I neglected to answer the question the shadow Foreign Secretary asked on whether all G8 nations have disbursed all the money they pledged. The answer is no, although they are better than most at delivering the money. I think that in the main they have allocated it to particular countries and projects. I will consider how best I can provide the House will more information, although my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary can provide the House with more information on that that is consistent with delivering on the pledges made.
I am sure that the whole House would wish to express its appreciation to my right hon. Friend for finding space in his busy diary to spend time with Angelina Jolie, and to good effect, as we have heard.
Returning to the question of Syria, I maintain my reservations about arms supplies, as my right hon. Friend would expect, but I recently met a senior Jordanian official who went to great lengths to express to me the impact of the refugee problem on Jordan. When there is a country that is fragile politically and even more fragile economically, a failure on the part of those who have made pledges to provide assistance for the refugee problem becomes more acute. The truth is that their failure is nothing short of disgraceful. Does my right hon. Friend agree?
Yes, I do. The official number of refugees now in Jordan is 424,000. To put that into perspective, that would, on a rough calculation, be equivalent to about 8 million or 9 million people arriving in the United Kingdom—that is the scale of the addition to the population there. We can all imagine the strain that that would impose on any country.
The House is clear, strong and united on the subject of countries’ meeting pledges. The additional dimension to this matter is that if it is so difficult to come up with the $1.5 billion agreed in January at Kuwait, how difficult will it be to come up with the $1.5 billion every few weeks or couple of months that we are going to need if the crisis goes on and the numbers get much bigger? That is why I say again that our policy cannot be static. There is only a choice between the lesser of evils in how we pursue our policy on this subject, but that underlines the fact that we cannot ignore the crisis.
The Governments of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan armed the mujaheddin in Afghanistan, with unforeseen and terrible long-term consequences. Rather than giving to elements of the Syrian opposition surface-to-air missiles that can shoot down civilian aircraft, would it not be better to consider again whether a no-fly zone, controlled by us, is a better option?
All options have to be considered. The hon. Gentleman has asked about the issue several times and has been pursuing it wholly legitimately. My answer is quite similar to the one I gave him last time. To enforce a no-fly zone, there are, again, international legal considerations. It would also require the participation of aircraft on a very large scale, so the decision would essentially be one for the United States, given the scale required. No such decision by the United States has been taken. We are working in an environment where we do not have a no-fly zone and we have to consider the options available to us in the light of that.
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on a successful conference, which obviously entailed a lot of hard work behind the scenes. On Syria, he said, “As things stand, we need greater flexibility if we decide that urgent action is necessary”. Does he accept that any further action in Syria must be lawful and have a legal basis if it is to have international support?
Yes, absolutely. It is a fundamental principle for British Governments that the action that we take must be lawful. My hon. Friend will know that when, for instance, we took action ourselves in Libya, based on UN resolution 1973, the Cabinet collectively considered the legal advice before that took place. We were able to be clear about it in the House.
Yes, international law is of paramount importance for us. Due regard must be given in international law, of course, to extreme humanitarian suffering. There comes a point where trying to ameliorate extreme humanitarian suffering becomes the prime consideration. However, I assure my hon. Friend that such legal considerations will never be absent from our minds.
I welcome the decisions taken by the summit in respect of the Roma-Lyon group and the fight against international terrorism. Last week, I visited Interpol and was briefed on the work of its Fusion Task Force. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that there seems to be a synergy between the work of the taskforce and the Roma-Lyon group? Will he undertake to try to bring those initiatives together while we hold the presidency of the G8, so that there is no duplication in the fight against international terrorism?
I will certainly look at the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes. The G8 Ministers strongly and unanimously reinforced our commitment to countering terrorism effectively; that was a major part of our discussion. There is the kind of synergy to which he refers, and I will look at what we can do in that regard.
Will my right hon. Friend cast his mind back to the first G8 summit that he attended as Foreign Secretary? Was anybody forecasting that we would be facing a horrendous conflagration in Syria and the threat of thermonuclear war in North Korea? Does not that underline how unpredictable our current international security situation is and the fact that it is impossible for us to predict that we will not require nuclear weapons for our protection within the next 50 or 60 years?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right, particularly with regard to the attempts of the DPRK to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. The effects of the decisions that we are making about a successor to Trident will last for decades. We have to provide for the security of this country over several decades to come, and we must therefore, absolutely, have at the forefront of our minds the fact that we cannot predict—even a few years out, as he says—the threats that we might face. We can imagine that anyone in 1913, rather than 2013, who was trying to predict the threats they would face into the 1940s would have struggled very seriously to do so.
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary and all those involved in securing the declaration on preventing sexual violence in conflict. Will he say a little more about the development of the protocol that the UK will be leading on? Does he envisage any role at all for parliamentarians? If so, will he agree to seek a debate in Government time on this very important issue?
Yes, there is absolutely a role for parliamentarians. Indeed, as we work on the protocol over the next few months and take it to the United Nations, I would welcome informal meetings and informal consultation with hon. Members of all parties. Of course, we would have to speak to the business managers about debates. We did have a short debate that covered the subject on 14 February, and there was enthusiastic support for this measure across the House. However, I am sure that as the year goes on—indeed, during the forthcoming debate on the Gracious Speech—there may be opportunities for us to look at this together.
Even if the Assad regime fell tomorrow, the Government could give us no guarantee at all that their chemical weapon stocks would not fall into the hands of the thousands of al-Qaeda fighters who are fighting alongside the opposition—and it took just a couple of dozen people to organise 9/11. Would not a more sensible strategy be to work with the Russians and to try to get a ceasefire rather than to remain obsessed with overthrowing the regime?
My hon. Friend must not misunderstand this. We are working on a political solution and endlessly debating and discussing it with Russia. We are not advocating, nor do we believe in, a military solution in any direction in Syria. The additional support that we give to the National Coalition is part of our effort to promote a political solution to show the regime that the National Coalition is not going to go away—and of course to save lives, which is another reason we give that assistance. We are not advocating the destruction of the institutions of the state. Whatever happens in Syria—if, as my hon. Friend says, Assad fell tomorrow—we do not want the same situation as arose in Iraq, when entire institutions and armies were disbanded. Therefore, a political settlement is absolutely what we should be looking for. Of course, we must also have contingency plans, and we must be discussing with other nations what we can do in emergencies about the security of chemical weapons. We do indeed discuss all those contingencies and we are preparing for them.
This is really a matter for the BBC and the London School of Economics, and the BBC will have to look at it. I think that I have enough matters to decide on with regard to the DPRK and all the international events we are describing without my intervening in that particular row.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the protocol on sexual violence in conflict and wish him success at the United Nations. He might recall that I was one of the first Government Members to back the army of the Libyan freedom fighters, but I have grave reservations about any army of Syrian rebel freedom fighters. Would their arms be subject—whether this is done unilaterally or multilaterally —to the new arms treaty regime, which, of course, the Foreign Office ably led on in New York over the past few weeks?
I am aware of my hon. Friend’s long-held views on this. In any debate we have or decisions we make on this matter, the views of this House are, of course, of paramount importance. There are a variety of views across the House in the current circumstances. We strongly believe in the arms trade treaty and in applying its provisions. We also apply the consolidated guidance that applies to arms exports from this country, although we can choose to exempt some items from that in emergencies. Of course, having fought so hard for the arms trade treaty, we will uphold it.
May I express appreciation to the Foreign Secretary for his efforts in seeking to resolve many of the international challenges that he has outlined today? Will he assure the House that, should the present North Korean aggressive posturing be found to be more than rhetoric, he will endeavour to reach an agreed international response?
Yes, absolutely. We do that, of course, at the United Nations Security Council, successfully so far. We have agreed with China, Russia and the United States on resolution 2094, the most recent resolution. The G8, including Russia, was completely unanimous, which was an important statement by many of the world’s leading nations. We concert closely on this subject with the United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea, so whatever we do on it we will do in very close partnership with those other leading nations.
The bombs of Korea and Syria understandably dominate many of the headlines, but the G8 is absolutely right to focus also on the more subtle dangers of cyber attack, not only to the digital realm, but to wider economies, societies and infrastructure. Is the Foreign Secretary confident that the UK and the G8 are devoting sufficient resources to countering this growing global threat?
We in the UK are certainly devoting substantially increased resources. As my hon. Friend will know, we allocated in the strategic defence and security review an additional £650 million to developing our capabilities in the cyber area. One of the things that I discussed with my G8 colleagues is the setting up of our own cyber capability centre, which they can take part in and contribute to. I am satisfied that we are devoting the necessary resources. I think that, around the world, countries are in different stages of waking up to the scale of this threat. I discussed it with the South Korean Foreign Minister this morning and I welcome the fact that, later this year, they will hold the next international cyber conference, following on from the series that I started in 2011, to raise our awareness and co-operation on the issue.
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on the great progress made this year on the arms trade treaty, but implementation is often even more difficult than getting the agreement in the first place. Eighty-one countries have now signed up to banning cluster munitions and we are committed to trying to get other countries to ban them as well. Did the Foreign Secretary get a chance to mention the issue to the Americans or the Russians at the meeting the other day?
That was not part of this meeting, but it is a regular part of our bilateral discussions with many countries. The hon. Gentleman is right that we have to maintain our efforts to increase that number. We are committed to it—again, on a cross-party basis—in this House and across Government, and support what the previous Government did and achieved on the issue. Although it did not figure in the G8 discussions, I assure the hon. Gentleman that it will continue to be part of our diplomatic effort around the world.
On Saturday, The Times reported that the Ministry of Defence has evidence of chemical weapons being fired in Syria. What assessment has the EU made of reports that Assad has made efforts to transfer advanced chemical and biological weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon? Is that factored into the EU’s efforts to proscribe Hezbollah?
I cannot comment on intelligence matters. However, my hon. Friend will have heard me say in the statement how important it is that the UN Secretary-General’s investigation into the use of chemical weapons has access to all the areas involved in the allegations of chemical weapons use. We would be gravely concerned, as would most nations, about the transfer of such weapons to any other nation or entity. Indeed, the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah, let alone chemical weapons, would be a direct contravention of UN resolution 1701. We and many other countries would take that extremely seriously. However, I do not have any information to give my hon. Friend about that.
Further to the Foreign Secretary’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr Roy), surely he has had a chance to form an opinion on whether the BBC’s “Panorama” programme and the manner in which the footage was obtained will help or hinder diplomatic processes.
I honestly think that that is a matter for the BBC and the LSE to pursue. Since I have spent the day talking to the South Korean Foreign Minister, hosting the Moroccan Foreign Minister, launching our human rights and democracy report, preparing for this statement and overseeing the diplomatic arrangements for the funeral of Baroness Thatcher, I have not formed a view. It is for the BBC and the LSE to take the matter forward.
The Foreign Secretary has correctly noted that North Korea should be encouraged to participate in a multilateral framework. Following Secretary Kerry’s visit to the region and the encouraging signs that emanated from his talks with the Chinese, what can the Foreign Secretary tell the House that would encourage us to think that North Korea will move in the right direction at the appropriate speed?
I have no immediate good news for my hon. Friend and the House on that matter, except for the clear unity in the G8 to which I referred. That unity extends beyond the G8 to our working closely with China. My hon. Friend referred to Secretary Kerry’s visit, during which he agreed that the United States would work with the Chinese Government. China has more leverage and influence over North Korea than any of the other nations to which we have referred. The extent of Chinese concern and determination that North Korea should not go down the path that it is on is one encouraging piece of information in an otherwise very difficult situation.
The Foreign Secretary has commended the Chinese and referred to Secretary Kerry’s visit to China. That is positive and is in stark contrast to the position a couple of weeks ago, when the Americans, and to some extent our country, were saying that the Chinese were not doing enough with regard to North Korea. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary accepts the co-operation that is now taking place, but does he accept that if there was a major conflict on the Korean peninsula, the Chinese Government would have to deal with millions of refugees and the scale of the humanitarian disaster would make Syria look like a fairly small-scale operation?
Of course, the prospect of any conflict on the Korean peninsula would be deeply alarming to the whole world. China, as a close neighbour, would be particularly concerned. That is always a factor in China’s foreign policy calculations in such matters. I welcome China’s agreement to UN resolution 2094, because it is evidence that it sees that the avoidance of such conflict involves additional pressure on the DPRK, although in a graduated way in its view. I welcome China’s position and we will continue to work with it, including through direct discussions in the coming days.
We heard from our hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), who is no longer in his place, about how unpredictable world events are, and it is not wise for Foreign Secretaries to express complete confidence in a happy outcome for every single situation. I am confident, however, that the international community is united on both those issues, and given that unity it would be wholly irrational on the part of North Korea or Iran to continue down the path they are following at the moment. One cannot, of course, rule out miscalculations and sometimes irrationality, but I am at least confident that all countries that should be working together are doing so. I mentioned the unity on North Korea, and on Iran we work as the E3 plus 3, which includes all five permanent members of the Security Council, including Russia and China. There could not be stronger international unity on those subjects.
Humanitarian needs arising from Syria and work on violence against women both require aid. The last time the G8 met at a Heads of Government meeting in the UK, they came to an historic Make Poverty History deal to increase aid. The new Government support that decision but some G8 countries are backsliding from the commitments they made at Gleneagles. Will that be discussed when the Heads of Government meet in G8 format later this year?
That was an important agreement and across parties we should be proud that this year we are hitting the 0.7% UN target on overseas aid. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that not all G8 members have done that—not all are even increasing their aid, let alone hitting the target. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be chairing the Heads of Government meeting, and he is of course passionate about this subject. I will put the hon. Gentleman’s point to him.
I was a strong supporter of the arms trade treaty and I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on the work done by his office in ensuring that it became a reality. The world will be watching how that is engaged with in the situation in Syria. I wish to highlight to the House and the country something important that the Foreign Secretary said, which was that time is not unlimited in finding a diplomatic solution to Iran. I urge him to ensure that in E3 plus 3 meetings he takes the opportunity to encourage Russia and China to ensure that a proper strategy is in place to engage effectively and as ruthlessly as can be done with the new President of Iran who will arrive later this year.
Absolutely. The E3 plus 3 group has been united in its approach in its negotiations so far, and I hope that will continue in any negotiations that take place after 14 June and the Iranian presidential election. My hon. Friend is right to say that that will be an important period, and if there is no diplomatic breakthrough with Iran before then, it will be seen across the world as crucial. When the elections are over and there is a new President of Iran, that period will be seen as the test as to whether Iran is going to engage seriously with the rest of the world.
I sincerely commend the work done by the Foreign Secretary on sexual violence in conflict areas, and I know he is committed to that. I hope however, at the risk of being put down as a humourless feminist, that the kind of frisson that went round the Chamber at the mention of Ms Jolie was not intended to detract from the great seriousness of the issue. Are women’s rights organisations involved in this initiative, and does the Foreign Secretary have any proposals to give them funding?
Yes, of course many organisations are involved and the steering board of my initiative includes many NGOs. It would be best for me to write to the hon. Lady with details of all organisations involved. The funding we deliver generally goes to overseas organisations such as those I saw on the ground when I visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo three weeks ago. I announced support for women’s groups that are active on the ground in the DRC and working to document cases of sexual violence in conflict so that prosecutions can take place. They need equipment that helps to gather and preserve the necessary evidence. I therefore announced a series of grants for those projects. I will send the hon. Lady a list of those things for completeness and to save time in the Chamber.
Of course, we will consider anything that is put to the UN Security Council and look at all the facts about Jabhat al-Nusra, but we must bear in mind that it suits the Syrian regime’s narrative to portray the opposition as a collection of extremist groups, whereas, as I pointed out earlier, the vast majority of the opposition are not. We will discuss that with other nations on the UN Security Council—the matter has not yet come to the Security Council—and I will keep the House informed.
I, too, welcome the protocol on preventing sexual violence in conflict and congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his work in that regard. As all hon. Members know, sexual violence in conflict has been a serious problem for a long time, and there are known perpetrators of it throughout the world. What can be done to pursue those people and bring them to justice?
I am glad to say that some prosecutions are in prospect for such crimes. The recent arrest and transport to the International Criminal Court in The Hague of General Bosco Ntaganda for alleged crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is one such case. I hope the initiative I am pursuing will lead to a sharp increase over several years in the number of prosecutions. That is the objective of the team of experts I have mentioned—we have already deployed it to several conflict-affected areas and will deploy it to several more this year. The team will help to gather the evidence, which means that prosecutions of both big offenders and individuals can take place so that the culture of impunity is shattered, and so that it is known all over the world that sexual violence in conflict is not something that people get away with any more. That is very much the purpose of the initiative.
I was grateful that the Foreign Secretary in his statement and the G8 communiqué referred to Burma and to the need to end religious and ethnic tensions there. I am sure he is aware that, in recent weeks, there have been more reports of sectarian violence against the Rohingya community and other Muslim communities. The root of much of it is Rohingya citizenship. What pressure, through the G8 discussions, can he bring to bear on Burma both to recognise Rohingya citizenship and to safeguard the human rights of all religious minorities in Burma?
The focus of what we did on Burma at the G8 was supporting responsible investment in the country—responsible with regard to the population of Burma—but we are active in any case in pursuing the hon. Gentleman’s point. I met last month the Burmese Foreign Minister and made very strongly the point about sectarian violence in Burma and the need for the state to ensure that it comes to an end. I also discussed the matter by telephone last week with Aung San Suu Kyi, because it is important to pursue the matter with both the Government and the opposition in Burma. We will absolutely maintain our efforts on that.
I return at the end of the statement to the questions at the beginning on the growing humanitarian catastrophe that is overtaking Syria, the need for action, and the lamentable lack of action by the international community. You mentioned that some of the G8 had not lived up to expectations on UN aid, but you did not speak of the other nations. You have been very clear with us, but can you be clear what action the G8 proposed to deal with the matter, and what further discussions you will be having to ensure that everyone lives up to that commitment?
I am sure we would enjoy you being clear on this issue, Mr Speaker, but I will try to be clear on it. The G8 nations do not do badly in this regard, although everyone has to make sure that they deliver on their commitments. Most of the problems of not meeting commitments are outside the G8. Of course, we are working very hard, and my colleagues in the Department for International Development are working hard bilaterally with individual Governments, to say that amounts, adding up to $1.5 billion, that were pledged in Kuwait at the end of January—nearly three months ago—must be delivered if there is to be any hope of meeting the needs of the huge numbers of refugees that I have described. The Government are very active in trying to bring that about. Suggestions have been made by hon. Members during our exchanges about publishing some of the information, and I undertook to have a look at doing that.