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Volume 574: debated on Tuesday 21 January 2014

2. What recent assessment he has made of the UK’s relations with Pakistan; and if he will make a statement. (902064)

Our relations with Pakistan remain strong, and we pay tribute to the people of Pakistan in their struggle against recent terrorist violence. Last June, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was the first foreign Head of Government to visit Pakistan after its new Government took office.

Does the Minister agree that Pakistan’s long-term economic future depends not on more aid, but on more trade and, especially, on improved European Union market access? Does he also agree that Pakistan’s recent joining of the generalised system of preferences plus—GSP plus—is excellent news, as it will open up duty-free access to much of the EU market? However, is he confident that Pakistan will sign up to the international conventions on labour and on good governance?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. Pakistan’s joining the GSP will drive better governance, as it grants vulnerable countries duty-free access to the EU on two thirds of tariff lines if they implement 27 international conventions on human rights, labour standards, sustainable development and good governance. That is good news for Pakistan and for the EU. Pakistan stands to gain an estimated $500 million and 1 million new jobs from this agreement. It is a sign of a deeper and more effective relationship that benefits both our two countries, given that the UK was at the lead on it.

23. Many of us are deeply fearful about the chasm between the official Government position in Pakistan on religious freedom for Christians, Hindus and other religious minorities, and the reality on the ground. Has the Minister had any discussions with the Pakistani Government on the vexed and vexatious blasphemy laws? (902085)

As the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson) just said, we raise issues of religious tolerance, particularly in respect of Christian minorities, wherever we go. Baroness Warsi repeatedly raised the issue of religious freedom and minority protections at the highest level during her visit to Pakistan in October 2013, and she referred to the issue in an open letter on 25 December. It is worth saying that she had a frank and open discussion with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September.

The principal area of concern for many of my constituents of Pakistani origin is the problem of the disputed area of Kashmir. Will my right hon. Friend explain to the House what the latest position is on encouraging both Pakistan and India to work together to give the people of that disputed region the right to decide their future for themselves?

I could with your indulgence, Mr Speaker, as I am coming to that question later on this morning. We are heartened by greater communication between India and Pakistan. The lines of communication are now better, but the problems in that region can be solved only by the two Governments of Pakistan and India and the people of Kashmir themselves.

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman’s attention to the work in Stoke-on-Trent of the Andrhal Welfare Trust, which is licensed in Pakistan and in the UK? It does vital work to ship out educational material and equipment, and information and communications technology equipment. Shipments are being detained for a lengthy time in Karachi, so, in the interests of education, will he examine how the process can be speeded up?

I pay tribute to that trust; anything that further improves education in Pakistan is manifestly a good thing from the UK perspective. If the hon. Lady would like to draw any problems with customs to my attention, I will ensure that officials look into them.