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Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

Volume 571: debated on Tuesday 3 December 2013

15. What assessment he has made of progress on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership talks. (901382)

Negotiations are progressing well and are on track to meet our shared ambition of concluding them in 2015. There will be a third round of talks next month, followed by an EU-US ministerial stock-take of progress to be held in early 2014 to set the direction of talks for next year.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he agree that these talks will, because of the enormity of both the European and the US economies coming together, lead to a substantial growth in the global economy? Does he also think that this will be a catalyst to a further improvement and enhancement of the single market, justifying Britain’s membership of the European Union?

I think that my hon. Friend’s hopes are very well placed. This deal has the prospect of being transformative for the world economy, bringing perhaps an additional £100 billion a year for the EU and £80 billion a year for the United States over the longer term. That would include £10 billion a year for this country.

Topical Questions

I am about to join NATO Foreign Ministers in Brussels this afternoon, where we will discuss plans for the NATO summit in Wales in 2014. We will also discuss our long-term commitment to Afghanistan, building defence capabilities and work with non-NATO partners.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer. If the Sri Lankan Government do not address war crimes and human rights by next year, will the Foreign Secretary consider setting up, along with other countries, a war crimes tribunal?

As I mentioned a few minutes ago, we will pursue this at the Human Rights Council in March. If the Sri Lankan Government have not set up an inquiry of their own by then—so far, they have refused to do so—we would favour an international inquiry that is independent, credible and thorough. We will discuss with other countries in the Human Rights Council how best to do that and what we propose to do in detail. We will keep the House informed.

T5. The Prime Minister recently completed his first visit to India in three years. Representing as I do a Wolverhampton constituency, I have a significant Punjabi diaspora community in my constituency. May I highlight to the Front Bench the real issue of drug misuse in Punjab, particularly among young men? Given Britain’s expertise in rehabilitation, may I urge the Foreign Office, along with the Department for International Development, to provide British expertise in this area? (901398)

We will take a look at that. The Prime Minister’s visit to India was certainly very successful. We have greatly strengthened our relations with India with the Prime Minister’s three visits and all the other work we have done. My hon. Friend draws attention to an important issue, and I undertake to him that we will look at it in more detail.

Can the Foreign Secretary offer the House an explanation as to why it has taken the Prime Minister three years to make his second visit to China this week?

I think the right hon. Gentleman could have phrased the question in a slightly more positive way, for instance by asking why it is that this Prime Minister has taken the biggest ever trade delegation to China or why we now have more dialogue between the UK and China than ever before, more people-to-people exchanges, more students studying in each other’s countries than ever before, and more trade and investment than ever before. Clearly the Prime Minister gets extremely good value out of the visits he makes.

T6. Given Iran’s influence in the region, what prospect is there for talks other than nuclear with Iran on areas of mutual benefit and interest, including regional security? (901399)

We are having talks today, as I mentioned a moment ago. Our new non-resident chargé is visiting Tehran today. This is the first visit by a British diplomat in more than two years, since the evacuation of our embassy, and those talks will be about various aspects of our bilateral relations. Of course that can include regional affairs and we look forward to discussing those more with Iran over the coming months.

T2. Following the Prime Minister’s recent announcement that the UK will establish a public registry of the beneficial ownership of companies, will the Foreign Secretary tell the House what the Government will be doing to ensure that the UK Crown dependencies and overseas territories also establish registries, and what action the Government will take if they fail to do so? (901394)

The hon. Gentleman hopefully will be aware that last week we held the joint ministerial council in London, which all the overseas territories’ leaders attended. All those territories which have significant financial services sectors have responded very positively to the Prime Minister’s G8 agenda of trade, tax and transparency and all of them have committed not only to join multilateral exchange of tax information, but to consult on both having central registries of beneficial ownership and on making that information public.

T7. While warmly welcoming the interim agreement on Iran, does the Foreign Secretary agree that it will be crucial for Iran to honour both the spirit and the letter of its commitments, and is not one of the most important obligations its promise either to convert back or to dilute that part of the uranium enrichment up to 20%, because there is little or no relevance for a 20% enrichment other than for potential military purposes? (901400)

I absolutely agree. My right hon. and learned Friend is right. It is a key part of the interim agreement we have reached with Iran that the whole stock of the uranium enriched to near 20% must be converted or diluted. In the coming weeks we will form a joint commission with Iran that will oversee the implementation of this agreement, and the implementation of it in detail—as well as in spirit, as he rightly says—will be crucial to its success and to our ability to negotiate a comprehensive and final agreement with Iran.

T3. Many of my constituents are very keen to see justice, self-determination, peace and prosperity for the people of Kashmir. Will the Foreign Secretary update the House on the Government’s work to encourage talks between Pakistan and India? Will he come to Dudley or hold a meeting in London to meet my constituents, who have got a great deal of knowledge and expertise on how Britain could help in this area? (901395)

I undertake that one of my ministerial colleagues will meet the hon. Gentleman’s constituents. Of course, these are important and long-running issues, and I want to pay tribute to the Governments of Pakistan and India for the recent work they have done together to improve their relations. The Prime Minister has discussed this in India, and I have discussed it recently with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan. It is not for Britain to mediate or to try to determine the outcome, but we do want those two countries to enjoy the very good relations that would represent a great breakthrough in world affairs.

T8. Given the Prime Minister’s current visit to China, does the Secretary of State share the US Vice-President’s deep concern about the new air defence identification zone that China has unilaterally set up over the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands? (901401)

In common with the rest of the European Union, we note with concern that China has established an air defence identification zone in the East China sea. The UK, as my hon. Friend knows, does not take a position on the underlying sovereignty issues, but we urge all parties to work together to reduce tensions and to resolve issues peacefully, in line with international law.

T4. A year ago, 13-year old Mahmoud Khousa was targeted and killed by a drone-fired missile in the streets of Gaza as he walked to the shops to buy a pencil for his sister. According to Amnesty International, it would have been clear to the Israeli military that Mahmoud was a child. Does the Minister agree that it is a travesty that, 12 months later, nobody has been held to account for Mahmoud’s death? Will the Minister use his influence to achieve justice for Mahmoud and his family and to send a strong message that nobody should be allowed to target innocent 13-year-old children? (901397)

I am sure there is total agreement right across the House that there is absolutely no excuse for the targeting of children in any form of military strike. I am not entirely sure how a drone could be that precisely targeted, but the hon. Lady absolutely has my undertaking that we regard this as a matter of the utmost seriousness, and we will take it up in no uncertain terms with the Israeli authorities.

T9. In the light of the Prime Minister’s timely and very welcome visit to China, will the Foreign Secretary tell the House what he is doing to ensure that British diplomats speak Chinese and other languages vital to our success, and to reverse the decline in language teaching in the Foreign Office that he sadly inherited? (901402)

This is a very important issue. Almost unbelievably, the last Government closed the Foreign Office language school. This year, I reopened it. It has 40 classrooms and is able to teach civil servants from across the rest of Government as well. We have sharply increased the number of posts that require the speaking of Mandarin, of Arabic, and of Latin American Spanish and Portuguese. The decline in diplomatic languages that the last Government presided over is now well and truly being reversed.

We welcome the prospect of the EU-US trade deal, but I would grateful if the Minister confirmed that the NHS will be exempt from the trade negotiations, in exactly the same way that Canada achieved such exemption in its EU trade negotiations. I have had confusing correspondence with the Government on this.

We are seeking a specific reference in the investment chapter of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership to enable the British Government to continue to legislate in the public interest where necessary, but we also want a deal that allows our pharmaceutical and medical devices sectors to compete for more business in the United States.

Will Ministers take up with the Government of Bangladesh the increasing concerns of Bangladeshis in this country, and others, about the intimidation, threats, violence and persecution of minorities, both political and faith?

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the answer to that is yes. As he knows, the next round of Bangladeshi parliamentary elections is scheduled for 5 January, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh in November to find an agreeable way to run those elections—in a fair, free and satisfactory fashion.

On 11 October, a constituent of mine, Mr Nick Dunn, a 27-year-old former Paratrooper who served on the front line in Afghanistan and Iraq, was taken from the MV Seaman Guard Ohio ship off the coast of Tamil Nadu. Five other UK residents were also taken, including a constituent of the Secretary of State. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Indian authorities, and what are his Government doing to secure the immediate release of Mr Dunn and his colleagues from the Puzhal prison, in Chennai?

This is an important consular case, which the Prime Minister has raised with the Prime Minister of India and which I have raised with the Indian Foreign Minister, and we intend to have discussions in the coming weeks with the chief secretary of Tamil Nadu state, which is where the men are being held. Consular officials have been providing assistance since the men were detained, and liaising with the Estonian and Ukrainian embassies, as nationals of those countries are also involved. We have visited the men four times to confirm their welfare, and we are pressing the company they work for to fulfil its obligations and to ensure that the men have good lawyers.

The probability is that we will be working for all the objectives that I stated earlier so that, by achieving them, we will be able to recommend that Britain stay in the European Union—but we will have to achieve them.

Amnesty International is warning that Gaza’s 1.7 million residents are facing a public health catastrophe, with chronic fuel and power shortages. The Foreign Secretary often says that he is repeatedly urging the Israeli authorities to ease their restrictions on Gaza, but nothing ever happens on the ground. Will he now at least call for a formal assessment of whether the human rights conditions in article 2 of the EU-Israel association agreement are being met?

The British Government have made their views on this matter abundantly clear; I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the statement that we released recently on the situation in Gaza. She has suggested that the situation is dire, but she will also be aware that part of the problem was the creation of the tunnels, which have now been blocked up. We are urging the Israeli authorities to facilitate free trade and to alleviate the appalling humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Further to my hon. Friend’s answer to that question, is he aware that millions of tonnes of aid from Israel go into Gaza every week? Is he also aware that it would be perfectly possible for the Egyptians to open their border to let goods into Gaza?

Indeed I am perfectly aware of that; the issue was discussed with the Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister only yesterday.

Last week, at a meeting in this building, a representative of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights described the situation in Syria as probably the worst refugee crisis since the second world war. Given the fact that nobody seems to want to talk about it, including those in this Chamber, will the Government redouble their efforts to work with the international community to bring to an end the conflict that is devastating that region?

Yes. Although the issue has not been asked about in questions today, it is actually our top foreign policy priority. It has now been agreed that a Geneva II peace conference will be convened on 22 January, and we are encouraging all concerned to attend. In the meantime, the United Kingdom continues to be one of the biggest contributors to the humanitarian relief effort and to helping to ensure the stability of neighbouring countries. We will also strongly support the donor conference being held in Kuwait next month to raise more international funds to assist the plight of the Syrian people.

Recent developments in the East China sea are adding to many other concerns about China, including those being expressed about cyber-attacks, Sri Lanka, Syria, climate change and intellectual property rights. Does not this suggest that the west needs a co-ordinated, holistic policy towards China, rather than just a scramble for trade and investment?

It is important to be able to raise a wide range of issues with China, as we do. I had an excellent bilateral meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister in Geneva 10 days ago, at which we discussed the full range of our co-operation and the Prime Minister’s visit, as well as issues such as the importance of dialogue on human rights. It is a good thing for both countries to boost trade and investment as we are doing, and we are now taking that to new levels with China, which will greatly help the prosperity of the British people.

May I repeat the call from my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) for the Foreign Secretary to keep the spotlight trained on Syria? People believe that the war is over because Assad has agreed to downgrade his weapons programme, but the conflict and destruction are continuing and people are continuing to die. Can we demonstrate not only that the UK believes in minimising the use of weapons but that we are on the side of the ordinary people who are suffering in that crisis?

This is a very important point. The hon. Gentleman will know that the UK, through the Department for International Development, has so far allocated £500 million. That is the biggest contribution we have ever made to a single humanitarian crisis, and it requires it. It warrants it because it is, as we heard a moment ago, the biggest humanitarian crisis for decades. So we will do that and we will do more in the future, as well as trying to make sure that the political process of the Geneva peace conference has a chance of success and assisting with the dismantling of the regime’s chemical weapons. All three of those tracks of our work on Syria are very important.

Order. I am genuinely sorry to disappoint remaining colleagues. I did try to widen the envelope, but the capacity to do so is not infinite. Just before we come to the statement by the Secretary of State for Education, I must tell the House that I have a short statement to make.