Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 582: debated on Tuesday 17 June 2014

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked—

Commonwealth Games

1. What contribution his Department is making to preparations for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth games. (904243)

The FCO is playing a strong role supporting the 2014 organising committee. Our high commissions across the Commonwealth are also drawing on our contribution to London 2012 to ensure Britain makes the maximum impact from what I am confident will be another spectacular performance from Team GB.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the preparation of these games by the city of Glasgow and both the Scottish and UK Governments is a prime example of how well we all work together and how important it is that we remain a United Kingdom to ensure that 300 years of history, union and co-operation continue in the years ahead?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is another example of how Scotland has the best of both worlds. Scotland is the proud host nation of the Commonwealth games, but the UK is the host Commonwealth member state. We are working together on this very successfully. We are confident that the games will be a success and, of course, together in Team GB we have become a sporting superpower in the world. It is very important that we keep working together on sport.

Perhaps I should just remind my right hon. Friend that the constituent parts of the United Kingdom compete in their own right: there will be a Scottish team, a Welsh team, an English team and a Northern Irish team.

My right hon. Friend will be well aware that it is intended that there should be a service immediately after the Commonwealth games to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the first world war. Can we be satisfied that my right hon. Friend and his Department will do everything to ensure that as many Heads of State from the Commonwealth not only visit the games but make themselves available for that service?

My right hon. and learned Friend makes a very important point. There will be many commemorations of the centenary of the first world war, including in Glasgow the week after the beginning of the games. There is every indication that that will be attended internationally and the FCO will encourage foreign visitors to come along.


The British Government fully support the efforts to combat terrorism in Nigeria. On 12 June, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary chaired a meeting with regional Foreign Ministers and representatives from the US, France and others to strengthen the international response. A package of measures was announced to support building peace and security in Nigeria.

It is obviously essential, as the Minister knows, that bilateral and international efforts concentrate on finding a long-term response to the problems caused by Boko Haram. Following that meeting, will the Minister indicate how the UK will work with our international partners to support the international effort that needs to be focused on this issue?

The hon. Gentleman raises an excellent point and I can confirm that the announcements we made after the meeting chaired by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary last Thursday specified offering direct tactical training and advice to the Nigerian and regional forces and strengthening the Nigerian Government’s capacity to deliver a co-ordinated and effective response, including support for an intelligence fusion cell. Importantly, we also increased our support for girls’ education, drawing, we hope, 1 million more children into education in northern Nigeria. In addition, we will increase assistance to Nigeria to ensure that services and infrastructure are provided in the medium to long term to withdraw the very root causes of the problem.

The issue of the schoolgirls has resonated in our constituencies, particularly among schoolchildren—it is of great importance to a great many people. What are countries and organisations in the region doing to co-ordinate action against Boko Haram?

My hon. Friend raises an important part of resolving the challenges that northern Nigeria faces. That is why, the week after I went to Abuja to discuss with President Jonathan how the UK could be of assistance, I went to Cameroon to meet the Cameroon Government and assist them in continuing to strengthen our security co-operation. At the London meeting, we maintained the regional momentum by committing to implement a regional intelligence fusion unit and multinational taskforce patrols, as well as considering further focus on development, particularly empowering women and girls.

As other hon. Members have said, this is an important subject. May I press the Minister on regional co-ordination? Is he planning to speak further to other countries in the region? How can the UK make sure that all the partners are focused on the very significant challenges?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to refocus on the importance of regional co-operation. At the meeting in the fringes of the end sexual violence in conflict conference last week, the Nigerian Foreign Minister as well as regional Foreign Ministers, including the Chadians and Nigerians, as well as representatives from multilateral institutions such as the African Union and the United Nations were all present to make sure that the thinking, the progress and the focus was all joined up—particularly on important regional issues such as shoring up the borders.

Nigeria is, in effect, two countries with an affluent south and a poor north that is part of a new front line of violent extremism in the western Sahel. Does the Minister agree that we need a robust security response? When the Foreign Affairs Committee looked at regional co-operation in our recent inquiry, we found a lack of clarity about where the responsibilities for the response lay. Could the Minister look at that?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the enormous diversity within Nigeria—now the largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa, with parts of the country such as Lagos state growing at an extremely rapid rate. There is now, I think, a real focus both from the international community through the multilateral organisations and from the regional countries on ensuring not only that we do everything we possibly can to buttress and support the Nigerian Government in removing the security challenges of the northern part of Nigeria, but that we put in place long-term plans to remove the root causes of terrorism and build developmental and economic progress.

Will the Minister clarify the nature of the work carried out by the UK security advisory team? Is he satisfied that it is receiving the full support of the Nigerian Government?

The original offer from the UK Prime Minister to President Jonathan, which I went to discuss with the President in Abuja, sets out four specific areas, including the use of the Sentinel aircraft, building capacity in the Nigerian military as well as for intelligence co-operation, interpretation and, indeed, putting resources into education into the northern parts of Nigeria under the UN safe schools initiative. We are working extremely closely with the Nigerian Government to make sure that the United Kingdom, France and the United States as well as the regional countries and the international multilateral institutions are doing everything possible to resolve the terrorist activities in the northern part of the country and to remove the root causes by making long-term economic and developmental progress.

Middle East

My right hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for the middle east and north Africa last discussed the matter with Israel’s chief negotiator on the middle east peace process, Tzipi Livni, on 12 June. We have been clear that reuniting Gaza and the west bank under a Government committed to peace is a necessary condition for resolving the conflict.

The Foreign Secretary has said that the United Kingdom’s continued support for the new Palestinian Government depends on their commitment to the principle of non-violence and acceptance of Israel’s legitimate right to exist. Does the UK’s continuing support for Israel also rest on the commitment to non-violence and the Palestinians’ right to a home of their own?

Long-standing recognition of Israel and support for its right to exist is evident in this country, but we want to see all sides in the middle east come together to agree a two-state solution that brings lasting security and peace to Israel and a sovereign, viable state for Palestinians. We will continue to press both sides to resume the negotiations, which are going through a pause at the moment, because time is running out to bring about that solution.

Does the Foreign Secretary believe that Hamas can currently be peace negotiators when only a month ago its Prime Minister called for the bombing of Tel Aviv?

Of course, our policy on Hamas is what it has been for a long time. We look to Hamas to renounce violence, to recognise Israel and to accept previously signed agreements. We call on all those in the region with influence over Hamas to encourage it to take these steps. It has not done so; it should do so. The new Government of the Palestinian Authority do not contain Hamas members. They have signed up to the Quartet principles, which we welcome.

The all-party group on Egypt was in Cairo over the weekend. We heard from the Foreign Minister the reassurance of Egypt maintaining its support for the long-standing peace agreement with Israel. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an essential pillar for going forward? Does he also agree with the view that, with all that is going on in the region, both the Israelis and the Palestinians would be unwise to miss the opportunity they have now? Unless they seek a proper negotiation and solution, the outlook for both is bleak if we cannot rekindle the middle east peace process.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I said a moment ago, time is running out. Secretary Kerry, through his tireless work in the past year and a half, has created an opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to succeed in negotiations on final status issues and on arriving at a two-state solution. Unless that opportunity, which is still open, is seized by both sides, the outlook will be very, very bleak within the next few years.

Will the Foreign Secretary elaborate on discussions he has had with the Israeli Government on the kidnapping of Israeli civilians?

We deplore the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers. I discussed this on Sunday with the Israeli security Minister, Mr Steinitz. I will be talking to the Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr Lieberman, later today. We again appeal for the safe return of the three teenagers.

I welcome the EU Foreign Minister’s statement, which condemned all extremism and all violence against civilians but welcomed Palestinian reconciliation. Is there any way in which the considerable economic ties between the EU and both Palestine and Israel can be used to encourage both parties back to the negotiating table?

For Israelis and Palestinians, the outlook for economic ties with the whole of the European Union would be very bright indeed if a two-state solution could be agreed. We have been clear that an unprecedented offer of close economic ties is available for Israelis and Palestinians. That is part of the great prize of settling these issues and a further incentive to do so.


4. What reports he has received on human rights abuses in Honduras; and if he will make a statement. (904246)

We receive regular reports from human rights organisations on the treatment of vulnerable groups and the risks faced by human rights defenders in Honduras. Since December, Her Majesty’s ambassador has made three official statements highlighting our specific concerns, and has raised individual cases of reported abuses with the Honduran human rights ombudsman and the Attorney-General.

I thank the Minister for his response, but in a recent meeting arranged through Amnesty International a Honduran journalist told me that attacks on human rights defenders and journalists such as her are actually increasing. What further urgent steps will the Government take to press the Honduran Government to implement a proper national plan to protect human rights defenders and journalists, and to safeguard their human rights?

I am aware of the call by Amnesty International for a human rights action plan. Tomorrow, I shall travel to Geneva and meet the deputy United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. I will call on the UN to do more in Honduras, much along the lines recommended by Amnesty International.

Central African Republic

I look forward to visiting the Central African Republic as soon as practicable. In the meantime, we remain acutely concerned by the serious situation across the CAR. We will continue to work closely with the UN and international partners to strengthen the international response to the crisis in the CAR.

The recent UN report suggests that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed by both sides. Do the Government support the call from the Central African Republic’s President for a full investigation by the International Criminal Court?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. I have met the interim President of the Central African Republic twice to discuss how the international community can best support efforts to restore peace and stability. The referral to the ICC, building on the work of the African Union, is a very significant step by the interim President. It demonstrates that the ICC is there to support African countries and African Governments when things go wrong. I also have to tell my hon. Friend that, very positively, at the end sexual violence in conflict summit last week, the African Union announced the launch of a pilot project in the CAR to respond specifically to the urgent needs of victims of sexual violence.

As the Minister will know, in conflicts such as those in central Africa, child soldiers are open to all kinds of physical, sexual and mental abuse. What are the Government doing to put pressure on those countries to stop the use of child soldiers in conflicts of that nature?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that important issue, which is of great interest to me personally. Last week, on the fringes of the ESVC summit, I held a very large and well-attended meeting with child soldiers—who described their personal experiences—along with excellent, hard-working non-governmental organisations such as War Child. The aim was to find a way in which the international community could work together to remove this scourge, and, in particular, to use the experience of countries that have achieved post-conflict successes, such as Sierra Leone—and the more recent progress that has been made in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—to benefit those who are still suffering.

In the light of the Minister’s reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), may I ask whether he agrees that it is the International Criminal Court, and possibly regional ICC sittings in Africa and, indeed, other parts of the world, that can deliver justice—and there can be no peace without justice—rather than the African Union regional court?

The International Criminal Court deserves our full and unconditional support. My hon. Friend has made the important point that the people who are responsible for crimes such as those that have been reported in the CAR and elsewhere must be brought to justice. I think that the move by the interim president is significant and welcome, especially as the CAR is not able to prosecute domestically, and further demonstrates the value that African countries ascribe to the ICC.

GREAT Campaign

The GREAT Britain and Northern Ireland campaign is now deployed in 144 countries in support of jobs and growth for the United Kingdom. We expect activity conducted in 2013-14 to deliver between £600 million and £800 million to the British economy, and the target for this financial year is £1 billion.

It is also interesting to note that the value of the top 50 brands in the UK has increased to £37 billion over the past year, and that some of that is attributable to the GREAT campaign. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the campaign has the support of all three main parties, and that the Government intend it to continue?

Having subjected the campaign to an independent assessment, we intend to commit ourselves to continuing it, and to increasing our support by 50% over the next two years. It is worth pointing out that trade activities related to the campaign have supported the export plans of more than 1,150 United Kingdom companies. By any measure, it is hugely successful: one might even go so far as to say that it is a great initiative.

All national campaigns need to be memorable, and emphasising the “Great” in Great Britain strikes the right note for this country and for my constituents. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating one company—Crockett & Jones, a shoemaker in my constituency—on exporting very high-quality products to markets all over the world, including the United States and Japan, thereby increasing the number of jobs in my constituency and improving trade for this country?

Having promoted, through the GREAT campaign, tuk-tuks in Phnom Penh, Lush cosmetics in Mexico City, British brands through The Beatles, and Bloomingdale’s in New York, I am more than happy to promote Crockett & Jones, and to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the tireless work that he does on behalf of Northamptonshire shoemakers. There is, of course, no “one size fits all”, but I am sure that we can fit Crockett & Jones into our global campaign.

As the Minister sits in his tuk-tuk, he will know that one of the essential parts of this campaign is talking about British values. How would he define British values, and how is he going to face the Home Secretary, to tell her the campaign has been so successful and that so many people want to come to Britain that she cannot meet her immigration target?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, one reason why so many people from around the world wish to come to the United Kingdom is the excellent shape of the British economy, which is a direct result of the early action taken by this Government. He, like others, will no doubt be supporting our long-term economic plans.


The Chancellor and I will visit India shortly to meet the new Government. Our priorities will be to expand trade and investment, enhance our education links, strengthen co-operation on defence and security, increase collaboration on science and innovation, and build our people-to-people links through the UK’s 1.5 million Indian diaspora.

Will the Foreign Secretary prioritise speaking with the Indian authorities about the case of the ex-soldier Ray Tindall from Hull who, while working on a US pirate patrol vessel, was arrested for straying into Indian waters? As I understand it, the court case has been constantly adjourned. His family are desperate to find out when he will be returned to the UK.

We are constantly raising this issue. I have done so myself and the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), does so regularly. If it is not concluded, it will, of course, be a topic of conversation during my visit to India shortly. We hope that the court proceedings—the latest of which was, I think, scheduled for today—will be resolved soon. We must not prejudge what will happen in a court, but we will absolutely keep on top of this case.

Despite the concerns of some about Prime Minister Modi’s nationalist past, his record of delivering economic growth in Gujarat is undeniable—and is, indeed, in no small part the reason why he was elected in the hope that he could replicate that across India—but such rapid development must be sustainable. The Foreign Secretary did not mention climate change in his list of things he intended to discuss with the Indian Government. What can the UK do to encourage India to play a full and constructive role in forthcoming international climate talks?

The hon. Lady is right about the prospect of great economic progress. We do give great importance to trade and investment with India, and we are making good progress towards doubling bilateral trade by 2015, but she is also right that climate change is a very important issue. Our relationship with India is such that we need to discuss all global issues together, and that absolutely will include climate change. India will have a big role to play over the next 18 months in crucial climate change negotiations, so that will be on the agenda for our visit as well.

Diego Garcia

10. What discussions his office has had with the US Government on renewal of the lease of the air base on Diego Garcia in British Indian Ocean Territory. (904252)

The current agreement with the US runs until December 2016. I expect my officials to begin substantive discussions with US colleagues about post-2016 arrangements later this year. The independent feasibility study on resettlement should be complete by early 2015.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. May I seek assurances that when the lease on Diego Garcia is negotiated with the United States, that will not prejudice a possible future return of Chagos islanders to that archipelago?

My hon. Friend is assiduous in his commitment to the Chagossians in his constituency, but we need to be careful that we do not prejudice the outcome of the independent study, which has the full involvement of the Chagossians. I can assure my hon. Friend that the US is being kept informed, but the challenges to resettling these low-lying islands, which lack basic facilities and infrastructure, are very clear, as I saw myself in March. We will look at the report, however, and we will consider the range of factors—value for the UK taxpayer, long-term contingent liabilities and the defence requirements of DG to the UK and our allies.

Illegal Settlements: West Bank

I deplore the recent decisions taken by the Israeli authorities to expand the number of illegal settlements. The UK’s position on this is long standing: settlements are illegal—we neither support nor encourage trade, we make clear the risks to business, and we ensure all consumers can make their own choice through the labelling of goods.

In February, the Foreign Secretary said that the recent talks were the last chance for a two-state solution. Given the Netanyahu Government’s relentless expansion of the illegal settlements, which scuppered those talks, and the warning from Senator Kerry that Israel risks becoming an apartheid state, is now not the time for a recalibration of our policy towards Israel, beginning with the illegal settlements?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows and as I have just said, we are very clear about where we stand on settlements. But is the time right now for such a recalibration? I think the honest answer to that is no, because our efforts are geared towards a resumption of negotiations if it is at all possible. Secretary Kerry has said that there is a pause in the negotiations; we would like to see them revived. I think everything we do has to be consistent with supporting that, but we have made our views about recent settlements announcements abundantly clear.

What is my right hon. Friend’s assessment of how we can change the situation whereby Palestinian Arabs living in the west bank continue to be tried under martial law in the Ofer military court, whereas Israelis living there are subject to civil law?

Of course, this is a further continuing difficulty and it reinforces the case for these issues to be fully resolved, and for a final status settlement of these issues that brings about a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. Otherwise, there will constantly be the great variety of extremely troubling issues that are raised in this House.

Is not Britain’s role to get Israelis and Palestinians who believe in peace and a two-state solution working together and trading with each other, instead of campaigning for boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions, which just drive people further apart? The Palestinians working at SodaStream are paid three times more than the average Palestinian, so boycotting such companies would actually hurt the very people they claim to be trying to help.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we do not encourage boycotts in any way. The British Government do not support boycotts or a de-legitimisation of Israel, but we do support, as did the last Government, labelling of products from illegal settlements in the west bank, and I think that is the right thing to do. But the hon. Gentleman is quite right that our emphasis is on bringing Israelis and Palestinians together, and this is a more important time than ever to try to do that.

It is certainly urgent. Does the Foreign Secretary believe that the public can have confidence in the labelling of goods from illegal settlements, or can the supply chain be sufficiently complex to ensure that the public do not have the information they may seek?

The evidence I have seen is that the guidelines on this are well observed, and work is going on on EU-wide guidelines. But of course, where there are serious problems with them, if my hon. Friend or others would like to bring that to our attention, I will investigate.

25. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, to achieve a democratic solution, residents of East Jerusalem must be permitted to vote in the Palestinian elections—and that includes releasing Palestinian MPs who are held in administrative detention, and the free passage of movement? (904267)

It is very important that Palestinians are able to vote freely in the elections, which are envisaged within six months, for the new technocratic Government being created. Of course, we will make that point to the Israelis and to the Palestinians themselves.

Middle East

Advances by terrorists are threatening the sovereignty of Iraq. Assad’s refusal to negotiate a political transition has led to the largest humanitarian tragedy this century and is exacerbating the terrorist threat. We are working closely with the United States and European and regional nations to try to bring stability, tackle terrorism and relieve humanitarian suffering.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the only two genuine democratic nations in the middle east—both Israel and Kurdistan in northern Iraq—face increased threat from terrorism: Israel through the recent kidnappings by Hamas, and Kurdistan through the activities of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on its border? What measures are the Government taking to assist these two democratic nations, and does my right hon. Friend not agree that softening our approach to Iran will exacerbate the problems of these nations, rather than help them?

Of course we work with other nations across the globe to counter terrorism, and the United Kingdom is absolutely relentless in its efforts to defeat terrorism all over the world. I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no softening of any of our policies in relation to Iran. We look to Iran to cease support for sectarian groups elsewhere in the middle east and to reach a successful conclusion to nuclear negotiations, but I believe that it is important to discuss such issues with Iran, and we need the ability to do so.

Having just returned from five days in Iran, I very much welcome the written ministerial statement on UK-Iran relationships. However, the events in Iraq have, for the first time ever, created a situation in which Saudi interests and Iranian interests have something in common, which is to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Is the Foreign Secretary doing anything to facilitate such a dialogue, and to bring those joint interests closer together?

The hon. Lady makes an important point. One thing that would be of enormous assistance in defusing many tensions in the middle east is an improvement in relations between Iran and many of its neighbours, including the Gulf states in general. I hope that that will become part of Iranian foreign policy, and will be responded to by others. We certainly encourage any movement in that direction.

21. What is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment of the new Egyptian Government? Does he agree that they will offer stability rather than instability, unlike the former Government, in their relationship with Israel, and particularly on the border with Israel? (904263)

We certainly hope that Egypt will enjoy a period of stability, but I must point out that stability is most likely to come from economic growth and from a steady opening up of political space, with human rights properly respected, so that Egypt can enjoy a democratic future as well as a stable one.

I recently visited Egypt and heard about its plans for parliamentary elections. In the Foreign Secretary’s contacts with Egypt, the President and other advisers, will he emphasise the importance of a strong Parliament that can hold the Executive to account to ensure that precisely the issues he has just mentioned move forward and that the people feel there is adequate representation in Parliament?

Basically, yes. It is of course for Egyptians to determine their own constitution, but the thrust of our advice to Egyptian leaders is very much in line with what the hon. Lady says. Long-term stability will come from accountability—from Governments being responsive to the people. That is true of any country in the world, particularly one that has been through a sequence of revolutions. So I do agree with what she says.

17. It was good to hear the Foreign Secretary condemn the abduction of three Israelis. Unfortunately though, Hamas, which is now part of the unity Government, declared the abduction to be a success. Will he further condemn the Hamas Prime Minister who, in April 2014, said:“Abducting Israeli soldiers is a top priority on the agenda of Hamas and Palestinian resistance.”We will not get peace with a unity Government who include people with such views. (904259)

Let me say again that the new Government of the Palestinian Authority contain no Hamas members and have signed up to the Quartet principles, but I absolutely condemn any encouragement to foment further tensions, including the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers. That is exactly the sort of thing that obstructs a successful peace process and is presumably designed to do so. It is important that Hamas or anyone else desists from it.

Let me press the Foreign Secretary a little further on the subject of Iran. I welcome his announcement that the British embassy in Tehran will be reopened. Iran surely has a choice to make between being a stabilising and a destabilising force in an already volatile region, and Britain has a responsibility to try to ensure that Iran makes the right choice. Effective diplomatic links can surely assist in that endeavour. Will the Foreign Secretary set out his thinking on how engagement with Iran on tackling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Iraq could be used to help encourage a change of approach from Iran in relation to the conflict in Syria more broadly, which we all agree is intimately linked to the violence engulfing Iraq today?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I referred to this yesterday during my statement and in response to questions earlier: we would welcome, and we will press for, a wider change in the foreign policy of Iran. Nuclear negotiations are taking place now, and it is important that those issues are resolved between Iran and the rest of the international community. Iran has the capability to play a more positive role across the region. It has played, for many years, a divisive and sectarian role through supporting divisive and often terrorist groups in other parts of the region. We look to it to desist from that, and we will use the expansion of our bilateral relations to press for that as well as to encourage links between the peoples of our countries and to have a good understanding of each other’s positions.

Let me ask the Foreign Secretary specifically about the nuclear negotiations that are under way. As he well knows, the deadline of 20 July for agreeing a comprehensive nuclear deal is now fast approaching. Does he accept that it is vital, notwithstanding the renewed diplomatic engagement with Iran, that the United Kingdom continues to exert pressure on Iran in the coming weeks to make the necessary concessions to reach a final deal on that agreed international timetable?

Absolutely. Those negotiations are entering a particularly intensive phase as we come towards 20 July, which is six months after the commencement of the interim deal on the nuclear issue. We made provision in the interim deal for that deadline to be rolled over for another six months, but no plan has been made to do so at the moment. It is important that the negotiations make major progress before 20 July, and that will require a more realistic approach by Iran in the negotiations than anything we have seen in recent months.


With the election of President Poroshenko the Ukrainian people have sent a decisive signal of their support for reform and reconciliation, but illegally armed gangs continue to deny the citizens of Donetsk and Luhansk the opportunity to build a new future for their country. I urge Russia to cease support for those groups and to engage constructively with the Ukrainian Government.

I am grateful for that answer. What assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of the impact of yesterday’s decision to freeze gas supplies to Ukraine on the prospect of improving relations between Ukraine and Russia, and between Russia and the rest of the EU?

We obviously regret Gazprom’s decision to do that. Such decisions damage the credibility of Russia in supplying energy elsewhere across Europe. It is another argument for the diversification of European energy supplies over the coming years to give greater energy security, not only to Ukraine but to many nations of the European Union. We support fully the role of the European Commission in trying to facilitate an agreement, and it will continue to work on this.

Given the fact that the Russians have recently switched off the gas to Ukraine, what does the Foreign Secretary make of the discussions that took place during the D-day commemorations between newly elected President Poroshenko and President Putin? Were they a waste of time?

It is never a waste of time for the Presidents of Russia and Ukraine to talk together. It was important that they did so, and I believe that they have since had a further conversation on the telephone. We encourage Russia to continue to talk bilaterally to Ukraine, but of course those talks have been damaged by the bringing down of a Ukrainian aircraft and the death of 49 people only a few days ago. That underlines the need for Russia to cease its support for illegally armed groups that are very seriously damaging the prospect of Russia and Ukraine working together.

18. Given that President Putin has acknowledged the outcome of the Ukrainian presidential elections, will the Foreign Secretary take up with his counterpart the fact that there are still weapons systems—tanks, rocket launchers and so forth—entering Ukraine that are coming from Russia?


Yes, absolutely. The arrival in Ukraine of three Russian tanks further underlines how Russia is allowing arms supplies to go to illegally armed groups in the south and east of Ukraine. Desisting from that will be fundamental to any understanding between the two countries, which it is in the interests of Russia to achieve.

Given the Gazprom decision of recent days of which the Foreign Secretary spoke a moment ago, will he set out what steps are being taken by the British Government along with our allies to continue to pressure Russia to engage more constructively with the Ukrainian Government in the light of what many will see as an aggressive and reprehensible act?

From across the European Union and from the United States pressure is being exerted on Russia to desist from supplying illegally armed groups, as I have said, and to ensure that they continue to talk to and work with President Poroshenko of Ukraine. That is a very strong message from across the western world and that work will continue, of course, over the coming weeks. We will discuss this among EU Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg on Monday and I believe that a strong and united message will come from that meeting.

19. I was a member of the OSCE who was fortunate enough to monitor that election in Ukraine. Does my right hon. Friend accept that it was a fair election in which the vast majority of those who wished to vote were able to do so and that this is an important building block to increase and enhance the stability of Ukraine so that it can move forward, so long as we can overcome the problems Russia is posing? (904261)

I thank my right hon. Friend and many other hon. Members on both sides of the House who took part in the election observation. The United Kingdom supplied a huge number of observers—10% of the total number—and these were well-conducted elections. The vast majority of Ukrainians were able to vote and they gave a clear and decisive result that should add to the stability of the country and the region.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Treaty

A successful transatlantic trade deal would be worth up to £10 billion a year for this country alone. Negotiations last month went well and we are now working with European and United States counterparts towards the next round in July with a view to securing an ambitious agreement in 2015.

What steps are the Government taking to promote this deal, especially in our manufacturing industry in the UK?

In the conversations that Ministers from all Departments have with representatives of manufacturing, industry and other sectors from all parts of the United Kingdom, we emphasise the opportunities that would be available to them from a successful deal in the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. We are getting a strong, supportive response from all sectors of UK industry.

Arms Fair: London

15. What steps he has taken to monitor the human rights record of those countries that attended the DSEI—defence and security equipment international—arms fair in London in September 2013. (904257)

Our arms export control criteria are rigorous and place human rights at the centre of decision making. We do not export equipment where there is a clear risk that it might be used for internal repression.

I thank the Minister for that reply. My understanding is that last year the Government invited delegations to the DSEI arms fair from countries with poor human rights records such as Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and others. Will he assure the House that such countries will not be invited in future?

All countries have under the United Nations charter an inherent right to self-defence, but we judge any application for the export of defence materials from this country in the light of the consolidated criteria. When there is a risk that such exports would be used for internal repression or when such exports would be in breach of United Nations, international or EU embargoes, obviously we do not permit such exports.

Topical Questions

I have announced to the House by written statement this morning that following discussions with the Iranian Foreign Minister we will be reopening our embassy in Tehran. Initially, that will be with a small diplomatic team, but it is an important step forward in our bilateral relations with Iran. In addition to discussing our common interests, we will continue to press Iran to reach a deal with us and the other nations of the E3 plus 3 on its nuclear programme and to promote stability in the region by ending its support for sectarian groups.

I welcome the visit of the Chinese premier to the UK this week. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is important that we continue to build a long-term relationship with China on the basis of our shared global interests as well as on the basis of trade? Trade is particularly important to businesses in my constituency and across the west midlands, where companies such as Jaguar Land Rover have been leading a surge in exports to China over the past two years.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That economic partnership is flourishing, as the Prime Minister’s visit to China in December showed. There are record levels of bilateral trade and investment, and UK exports to China were up 15% last year. China also invested more than £8 billion in the UK last year. Jaguar Land Rover is particularly to be congratulated on its fantastic export performance.

Mr Speaker, as you know, the next British European Commissioner will have to face scrutiny from the European Parliament before the nomination can be confirmed. Would it not be more appropriate for the British people to scrutinise that appointment first, through this House?

I am sure that whenever the Prime Minister puts forward the name of the man or woman whom the Government wish to fill that role, there will be ample opportunity for Members of this House to express their various views.

T2. Last year, the Palestinian Authority paid more than £60 million to Palestinians convicted of terror offences. What is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment of that policy of financially rewarding terrorism? Is he aware of recent reports that the Palestine Liberation Organisation has been mandated by the Palestinian Authority to continue that awful practice on its behalf? (904235)

The Palestinian Authority is working very hard, as we want it to do, in its new incarnation and with its new members. It is committed to the Quartet principle of bringing about a lasting and peaceful two-state solution with Israel, and we look to it to do that. We expect all its actions to be consistent with doing that. We give considerable financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, and I know that the Department for International Development takes great care over the allocation and use of that aid.

T6. It took two years to bring the murderers of my constituent, Khuram Shaikh, to trial, owing to the close links between one of the suspects and the Sri Lankan President. The trial is now well advanced, but we have just learned that it might have to start again because the President is contemplating promoting the judge. For the sake of Khuram’s family, will the Minister work with his counterparts in Sri Lanka and press for the trial to run its course? (904239)

We continue to impress upon the Sri Lankan authorities the importance that we and the family of the murdered British national, Khuram Shaikh, attach to bringing those responsible to justice. They are in no doubt as to the seriousness with which we view these terrible events, and have assured us that they view them in the same way. We hope that, nearly two and a half years after this heinous crime took place, the accused will now face a fair trial that is free from political interference. The trial is now under way, and we continue to provide consular assistance to Khuram Shaikh’s family.

T3. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that the upcoming Palestinian elections in places such as East Jerusalem will be free and democratic? (904236)

As I mentioned earlier, it will be of paramount importance that those elections, which are scheduled to take place within six months of the formation of the new Government, are free and democratic and that Palestinians throughout the occupied territories are able to take part in them. We will of course make representations to the Israelis and to the Palestinians about that.

T9. Given the far-too-regular incursions of Spanish ships into British territorial waters and the continuing long delays at Spanish border crossings, what further actions are Ministers taking to resolve the issue over Gibraltar? Will they give me a guarantee that a Minister will visit Gibraltar real soon? (904242)

In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s last question, I am hoping to visit Gibraltar again in the near future, and I remain in regular contact with the Chief Minister and the Gibraltar Government. We make protests to Spain in respect of every illegal incursion into British Gibraltar waters and, now that the deadline has passed, we are pressing the European Commission to take action to ensure that Spain respects her European responsibilities to allow the decent movement of people across the border, subject only to proportionate and fully justified checks.

T4. On a visit to Djibouti at the end of last year I saw the enormous investment that is going in there and the opportunities for trade and business links. What have the Government been able to do to reinforce the trade links between the UK and Djibouti, perhaps through UK Trade & Investment? (904237)

I know that my hon. Friend takes a keen interest in progress in Djibouti and the important UK-Djibouti links. He will be aware that we held a highly successful and well-attended Djibouti-UK trade and investment conference in London last year and there has been follow-up from that. We hope that will continue by taking UK companies to Djibouti, particularly in key economic sectors that are aligned with the priorities of the Djibouti Government.

Those of us who voted against the incursion into Iraq did so honourably on two main bases—first, there was no imminent threat to the United Kingdom, and secondly, the humanitarian problems that would be created and future discontent. How, therefore, can the Foreign Secretary now defend the actions of Tony Blair, who took us to war on a tissue of untruths?

All hon. Members on all sides of the House debated and voted honourably on that issue and we should respect the arguments made then and now on both sides. As I said to the House yesterday in the course the statement, we must await the outcome of the Chilcot inquiry before we try to pass judgment on those events, and we must concentrate for the moment on what we do now. I made it clear that we are not planning in these circumstances a British military intervention in Iraq.

T5. I welcome the announcement that our embassy in Iran is to reopen. In supporting improved relations between our two countries, we must not forget why the embassy had to close in the first place. It was because local security forces stood back and allowed a mob to storm the embassy and take it over. Has my right hon. Friend received any guarantees that this will not be repeated? (904238)

Yes; this is a very important point. As I set out in the written statement that I have issued today, our primary concerns when considering whether to reopen the embassy were that we had an assurance that our staff would be safe and secure, and that we had the confidence that they would be able to carry out their functions. The Foreign Ministry of Iran has given assurances. We will continue to discuss those issues in the run-up to the reopening of the embassy and they remain our paramount concerns.

In view of the rapidly changing circumstances in Iraq, and in view of the fact that the President of the United States has changed his policy a little, may we have continuing reports on the developing situation instead of relying on Question Time or a statement from the Foreign Secretary? I have had several e-mails in the past few days from women MPs in Iraq who are very concerned about their circumstances. What assurances can we give them?

I always try to keep the House thoroughly informed about a wide range of crises and I will do so on Iraq. If the right hon. Lady needs any specific information, she can contact my office in the Foreign Office. If she does that, we will supply all the information we can.

T7. Given the situation in Ukraine and the Russian military manoeuvres taking place, what support are we giving to NATO nations such as the Baltic states and Poland? (904240)

We are giving a great deal of support. My hon. Friend may be aware that we sent four Typhoon jets to take part in Baltic air policing patrols. Some of our soldiers have taken part in other exercises recently in the Baltic states. When we meet as NATO Foreign Ministers next week in Brussels we will discuss this and the further action that we can take to strengthen the credibility and the visibility of NATO’s commitment to collective defence.

On the same subject, in a statement on 28 April the Foreign Secretary advised that a request from Ukraine for non-lethal military support was being considered sympathetically. What was the outcome?

Yes, we decided—sympathetically—in the light of that to supply certain items, including fuel and body armour. I think that those have been published, but if they have not I will make sure that the hon. Lady receives details of them.

T8. The Secretary of State referred to the pause in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but there has been no pause in the expansion of what he himself has described as illegal settlements. What is the point of something being illegal under international law if the international community is not willing to deal with the criminal breaking the law? Is not this softly, softly approach towards Israel failing to bring about peace and justice for the Palestinians? (904241)

No one has succeeded in bringing about lasting peace so far, but we have to continue to try to do so. The only way in which Palestinians will be able to enjoy what I think we all believe in here—a viable and sovereign state of their own—is through successful negotiations arriving at a two-state solution. All our actions are therefore consistent with promoting that.

May I turn the Foreign Secretary’s attention to the situation facing the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbouring countries? There have undeniably been huge changes and improvements in the DRC and I commend him for his work on violence against women and rape as a weapon of war, but is he not concerned that last week there was an exchange of fire between Rwandan forces and the DRC, and that Rwanda still appears to have some military ambitions in that region? Will he put pressure on it to desist?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I can give him an assurance that we are heavily engaged from a diplomatic perspective in trying to support the international community in finding a resolution to the challenges that the eastern DRC has faced for far too long. To that end I met both the Rwandan Foreign Minister and Senator Feingold, the US special representative for the region, to encourage everybody to work together, both to find a lasting solution to remove the militia groups that operate in the eastern DRC, including the ADF and the FDLR, but also to find long-term solutions to the big problem.

We should welcome the resumption of diplomatic relations with Tehran and their normalisation, but is it not necessary to reassure our closest allies in the middle east that there are severe limits for the foreseeable future as to the kind of relationship that we can have with Iran? Will it not in fact be the kind of relationship that the west had with the Soviet Union during the cold war—diplomatic relations, trade and practical co-operation in specific areas?

There are limits, and it will start off with a small diplomatic team and we will seek to build that up in stages as relations develop, so it will be a small embassy to begin with. Of course, many difficult areas of relations will remain, including on the nuclear issue, on regional stability and on human rights in Iran, and we will not shrink from pursuing those issues just as strongly as we always have.

Further to Question 9, the Foreign Secretary will be aware of Prime Minister Modi’s belligerent comments about India’s relationship with Pakistan in the past. Will there be discussions on that relationship during his upcoming trip to India?

Of course, we will always discuss regional security issues, but we should welcome the invitation that Prime Minister Modi extended to other south Asian regional leaders to his inauguration, and the fact that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan responded so positively to that and attended the inauguration. That was the right way to start out, and we hope that policy will continue in the same vein.

On matters European, is there truth in the latest word coming out of Berlin that Chancellor Merkel is firming up in her support behind her preferred European presidency candidate? Where British Government influence upon her is concerned, was that decision assisted, in direct contradiction to the view of the Prime Minister, by the British Conservative MEPs voting to admit to membership of their group the ultra right-wing German Conservatives, who are the thorn in the flesh of the self-same Chancellor Merkel?

As the Prime Minister made clear, he regards the CDU/CSU as a sister party with whom we continue to enjoy close and positive relations. In respect of the proposals for the new President of the European Commission, we are of the view that it is important that the Commission is led by a man or woman who has energy, drive and a determination to take through an agenda of economic and political reform to face the serious challenges that Europe confronts, not least getting back to work the millions of jobless youngsters in Europe.

Has the Secretary of State emphasised to the Israeli Government that travel restrictions or other constraints that would prevent Ministers in the technocratic Government from meeting will mean only that they are unable to meet their responsibilities not just to all Palestinians but to the peace process?

Of course we want the technocratic Government of the Palestinian Authority to be able to function. They have committed themselves to the Quartet principles—that, to us, is a very important test—and so we want them to be able to function and to make decisions.

Order. I am sorry to disappoint remaining colleagues but, as I have often said, this is a box office occasion on which demand greatly exceeds supply, and we should now move on.