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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 598: debated on Tuesday 14 July 2015

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. What recent assessment he has made of the political situation in the Maldives; and if he will make a statement. (900991)

I remain deeply concerned by the situation in the Maldives. On 24 June, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear his view that there should be a political dialogue involving all parties to discuss the country’s governance, and that all political detainees, including former President Nasheed, should be released swiftly.

Does my right hon. Friend share my concerns that the continued detention of political prisoners, including former President Nasheed—the first democratically elected President of the Maldives—is an impediment to the ongoing talks and to the possible resolution of the crisis?

We welcome the fact that Mr Nasheed has been moved to house arrest and the political dialogue between the opposition parties and the new Government. We hope the talks will provide the basis for progress on the numerous concerns within the Maldives. It is worth repeating that the Prime Minister has called for the release of all political prisoners, including former President Nasheed.

But does the Minister agree that the Maldives are in breach of the principles of the Commonwealth charter, and does he think the time is right for the Commonwealth to take action against the Maldives to bring about the return of the rule of law and the principles of democracy?

We are not a member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, as the hon. Gentleman knows. I have discussed these matters with the Commonwealth Secretary-General. I understand that there has been a telephone conversation between CMAG members and that they keep the situation under continuous review.

19. May I associate myself with the concerns expressed about President Nasheed and his welfare by my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley)? I understand that Richard Branson recently raised on his blog concerns about the impact of the political situation in the Maldives on travel and tourism. Does the Minister have a view on that? (901012)

British tourists play a key part in the Maldivian economy and we keep our travel advice under constant review, as my hon. Friend knows—the first thing we ensure, as far as we can, is the safety of our nationals—which includes the political stability of the country.

The Minister will agree that the kidnapping and holding of a judge is a very serious affair, and that we should therefore allow the rule of law to determine the outcome of the case of former President Nasheed. Does he agree that the main focus of Government foreign policy in the Maldives should be on improving trade relations?

The focus should be on improving relations, but it should also be on improving the democratic space. The trial of the former President was very rushed and appeared to contravene the Maldives’ own laws and practices, as well as international fair trial standards. That is currently being looked at.

I urge the Minister to resist complacency on the Maldives, particularly given that the current regime seems also to be a recruiting sergeant for ISIL in the Maldives. There will come a time when the Government will need to stand clearly on the right side of the argument and intervene more fully to secure justice in that country.

I hear what my hon. Friend says, but I do not think we can be accused of complacency. I recently raised the Maldives again with the Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Indian Foreign Secretary and the US assistant Secretary of State. Both my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have met Mr Nasheed’s wife, and Amal Clooney and other members of Mr Nasheed’s legal team, to discuss the situation. We are closely involved.

Russian Federation: EU Sanctions

Sanctions are having a tangible impact on Russia by exacerbating negative trends in the Russian economy. Russian sovereign debt has been downgraded to junk status by two ratings agencies and forecasters predict that the Russian economy will contract by between 3.5% and 5% during the current year.

The BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China—announced at the summit last week that they will not join in imposing sanctions on Russia. How much of a blow does the Minister consider that to be, and what diplomatic efforts will the UK Government make, if any, to remedy the situation?

We continue to urge all countries to bring pressure to bear, by diplomatic and other means, on Russia to desist from its interference in the affairs of Ukraine and to withdraw the support it has been giving the separatists there. I do not believe that the decision to which the hon. Gentleman referred will have a significant impact on the efficacy of the sanctions that the European Union and the United States have imposed.

Russia is properly under sanction for its misbehaviour towards Ukraine, but the harsh truth is that in our wider relations with Russia we have a clear common interest in taking on Daesh, which is very important to our national interest. Will the Minister try to ensure that where we can find common cause with Russia, we can conduct relations positively, while sustaining our disapproval of its behaviour in Ukraine?

The Prime Minister spoke to President Putin in May and made it clear that while we disagree profoundly with Russia about Ukraine we are still prepared to try to work with Russia on combating international terrorism and advancing the cause of non-proliferation. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has this week been working with the Russian Foreign Minister and other partners in Vienna to that aim.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Russia’s actions in Crimea and Donbass are a fundamental challenge to rules-based order, and that it is vital that we stand up to that aggression?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend’s point. The Russian annexation of Crimea and its continued intervention in the internal affairs of Ukraine are a breach of the Helsinki agreements as well as the agreements that Russia and Ukraine came to at the time of the break-up of the USSR. The precedent that has been set is extremely dangerous.

EU Membership

3. What discussions he has had with Ministers in the devolved Administrations on renegotiation of the UK’s membership of the EU. (900995)

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister discussed the United Kingdom’s renegotiation plans with the First Minister of Scotland during his recent visit to Edinburgh. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to all three devolved Administration leaders in the margins of the recent British-Irish Council. It is a regular agenda item at meetings between the United Kingdom Government and the three devolved Administrations.

The Minister will be aware that the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales have said that it would be unacceptable for any part of the United Kingdom to be taken out of the EU against its will. Given that the Foreign Secretary is on the record as saying that the UK could leave the EU if treaty renegotiations are not to his liking, will the Minister say whether that opinion has been discussed with the First Ministers of the devolved Administrations?

I do not think the First Minister has ever been shy about making her opinions known to British Ministers. The key point is that British membership of the European Union is the membership of the whole of the United Kingdom. Our membership of international organisations is explicitly a reserved matter under the terms of the devolution settlements. Under this Government, the people of Scotland will at least have the right to a vote on whether they wish to stay in the European Union, which the hon. Gentleman’s party tried to deny them when it voted against the European Union Referendum Bill the other week.

Does the Minister agree that that shower that sit over there have no right to have a veto on what the United Kingdom does and whether it wants to be in the EU or not?

As I said a moment ago, it was the United Kingdom that acceded to the European Union back in the 1970s, and it is the United Kingdom as a whole that will take the decision by the end of 2017 whether we wish to maintain that membership.

16. To be absolutely clear, will the Minister confirm that if the nations of Wales and Scotland vote to stay in the European Union, the UK Government will drag us out against our will? (901009)

It will not be a matter for the United Kingdom Government: it will be a matter for the people of the entire United Kingdom what decision they wish to take.

The Minister will be aware that Britain’s relationship with the EU is vital to the people of Gibraltar and to the people of the Crown dependencies that trade with the EU. Will he ensure that consultations take place with the Parliaments and Governments of Gibraltar, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man?

We will certainly want to take account of the views of the Crown dependencies and the British overseas territories. Of course, the people of Gibraltar will, under the Bill we have brought forward, be entitled to a vote when the referendum comes.

Apart from discussions in the margins of the British-Irish Council, will the Minister confirm whether there will be actual discussions as part of the agenda of the British-Irish Council involving the Government of the south of Ireland? An exit from the European Union would have a detrimental impact on business and energy relations north and south, and between Britain and Ireland.

The Government’s renegotiation is certainly regularly discussed whenever I or any of my ministerial colleagues talk to our Irish counterparts. I intend to visit all three devolved Administrations later this year. I have no doubt that I will be able to engage in good conversations with political leaders in all three Administrations, so I can take clear account of their views.


4. What recent discussions he has had with the Burmese Government on (a) the Rohingya community in Rakhine state and (b) democracy and human rights in that country. (900996)

Human rights and democratic reform are central concerns for us. In this critical election year for Burma, we regularly raise these issues with the Government of Burma. I strongly reiterated our concerns on the Rohingya to the Burmese ambassador on 18 May, which our ambassador in Rangoon repeated to Ministers locally.

Does the Minister agree that reserved parliamentary seats for the military are not compatible with a modern democracy? It is now clear that the military in Burma retains too much power and influence and that it is time for the international community to reassess Burma’s commitment to democracy and human rights.

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. We have registered our unhappiness with this clause remaining, as indeed we have for the clauses remaining that effectively rule out Aung San Suu Kyi from running as a presidential candidate. Having said that, we have made the point again and again to President Thein Sein—most recently by the Prime Minister—that we expect the elections on 8 November to be inclusive and credible.

Will the Minister raise with the United Nations the possibility of Ban Ki-Moon leading a delegation to Rakhine state to ensure humanitarian access?

We have encouraged the Secretary-General to play a leadership role. With UK support, the situation in Rakhine state was discussed at a UN Security Council briefing on 28 May. We will keep up the pressure on that. It is also worth saying that we support the continuing work of the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Professor Yanghee Lee.

The Minister will be aware of the widespread concerns surrounding the recent arrest of five students protesting outside the Parliament in Burma. Will he do what the Burma campaign recently asked him to do in relation to other human rights concerns and summon the Burmese ambassador to express the widest possible concerns about these growing human rights abuses?

We welcome, since 2011, the release of 2,000 political prisoners, increasing press freedoms and the discharging of 500 child soldiers. We have, however, seen some re-arrests and we have not been slow to raise these issues. We are working extraordinarily closely with the Department for International Development to try to ensure that on 8 November Burma can face a democratic election where the people can decide who they wish to govern them. From that will flow greater freedoms and respect for human rights.

Given the continued plight of the Rohingya and the role of the military, not just in Parliament but in its continued use of sexual violence with impunity and the lack of progress on key areas of constitutional reform, it is clear we are not seeing the progress we need in Burma. Does the Minister think that the UK or the EU retain any influence now that sanctions have been lifted?

Yes, I do. Incidentally, I draw the House’s attention to the hon. Lady’s recent article on Burma in the Huffington Post, where she appears to suggest that the Prime Minister took business leaders to Burma before the EU lifted trade sanctions in 2013, implicitly suggesting that somehow the Prime Minister was promoting trade when EU sanctions were in place. I refer her back to a 2012 article in The Guardian, which she would do well to read. She may wish to correct what is effectively rather a misleading comment in her article.

I know that the Prime Minister and the Minister are keen to strengthen our bilateral relationship with Burma, but does he agree there will be serious consequences for that relationship if Burma fails to deliver free, fair and credible elections in November in which the Rohingya can participate and Aung San Suu Kyi can play a full role?

Of course, we work closely with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on all these matters. To repeat, the Prime Minister, with President Thein Sein, said at the G20 that elections should be inclusive and credible, which is what we are working towards on 8 November.


8. What representations he has made to the Colombian Government on the imprisonment of civil society activists and trade unionists in that country. (901001)

I welcome the Colombian Government’s efforts to improve the human rights situation, but we remain concerned about the number of murders of, and threats against, human rights defenders. Most recently, I raised human rights with Colombian Foreign Minister Holguin when we met at the EU-CELAC summit in Brussels last month.

The FARC announced last week that it would begin a month-long unilateral ceasefire on 20 July, and in response a joint statement by the negotiating teams of the Government and the FARC has announced their agreement to take steps to de-escalate the conflict and implement trust-building measures, as of the 20th of this month. Will the Foreign Secretary call on the parties to agree a bilateral ceasefire as soon as possible to create the necessary conditions for a successful outcome to the talks and to reduce the human cost and suffering of the population?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The peace process, and the peace that we hope will ensue, is the big prize in Colombia for all its people. I therefore welcome the announcement in recent days that the FARC and the Government of Colombia are aiming to de-escalate the conflict and expedite the peace talks in Havana. That is welcome news.

Huber Ballesteros, leader of the Patriotic March opposition movement in Colombia, has been in prison since August 2013. Amnesty International claims that the case is emblematic of those of thousands of human rights activists repeatedly intimidated over their work for social justice and support for marginalised groups. What extra pressure can the Minister place on his counterpart in Colombia to stop this human rights abuse?

We raised these issues some time ago with the Colombian ambassador, who raised the specific cases of Huber Ballesteros and David Ravelo with the Minister of the Interior, and in November 2014 embassy officials visited Mr Ballesteros in prison. The ambassador also raised his case with Guillermo Rivera on 3 February and wrote to the prison authorities that month to ensure his dietary requirements were being respected.

The Minister will be aware that several of us from Northern Ireland have sought to share our experiences with the peace process in Colombia. Does he agree that it might benefit that peace process if, in addition to the call for a bilateral ceasefire, we had some kind of independent monitoring commission, similar to what we had in Northern Ireland, which was of real benefit in building trust and confidence on both sides?

The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as any Northern Ireland Member that a peace process is exactly that—a process—and one has to continue to work at it. His experience, and that of other Northern Ireland Members who have visited, is hugely useful, but in the immediate future we need to get the Havana peace talks back on track. There are then huge issues to address about accountability, impunity and all the other issues that he and I would recognise.

EU Reform

6. What further discussions he has had with his counterparts in EU member states on the issues relating to EU reform raised by the Prime Minister at the June 2015 European Council. (900999)

9. What further discussions he has had with his counterparts in EU member states on the issues relating to EU reform raised by the Prime Minister at the June 2015 European Council. (901002)

Since the June European Council meeting, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have had further discussions with counterparts on the areas in which we want to see change in the EU: sovereignty, fairness, competitiveness and immigration. We will both continue to do so over the coming months.

What changes does the Minister expect to negotiate at EU level to help the businesses and hard-working people in my constituency of South Derbyshire to succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy?

I think that the reforms that we are seeking to deepen the single market and make it easier for businesses to sell digitally and to sell services throughout Europe, the efforts that we are making to push for the successful completion of a free trade deal between Europe and the United States, and the work that we are doing to cut red tape in the EU should be of direct benefit to the businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

There are particular concerns with the recent EU accession countries in relation to corruption and maladministration. What is the UK doing to ensure that these countries conform to the high standards? What bilateral work, if any, is being undertaken to assist them in cleaning up their police, justice and Government departments?

We have given practical technical assistance to both Bulgaria and Romania—and, indeed, to a number of candidate countries wishing to join the EU in the future—to root out corruption and to support reform of the judiciary and the police system. I discussed these issues with the Bulgarian Foreign Minister when he came to London in June.

22. The Minister will be aware that reform is a two-way process. Can he set out some areas where he thinks we should have greater co-operation with the European Union, not just those where there should be less co-operation? (901015)

Yes, we are very keen to see the European-wide single market extend to services much more fully than it does at the moment. At the moment, we have a pretty well functioning single market in goods, which works to the great benefit of British industry. It is services that will provide the future growth for us and other European countries. It is a woefully underdeveloped single market when it comes to services.

The Minister will have seen the stories in the press over the weekend suggesting that the Prime Minister was seeking to wind back the clock and make the opt-out from the social chapter part of the UK Government’s negotiating strategy over Europe. Can he tell the House, first, whether there is any truth in these stories and, secondly, whether he agrees that a bonfire of important protections for people at work, such as paid leave, maternity leave and rights for part-time workers, is not exactly the best way to build support for a yes vote in the forthcoming referendum?

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said before, there are bound to be all sorts of rumour and chatter as the renegotiation continues. I would advise the right hon. Gentleman not always to put too much faith in what he sees in the newspapers. We are certainly committed to cutting red tape in the European Union, as in the United Kingdom, but in the week after a Budget in which this Government have introduced a national living wage and cut taxes for the poorest people in society, it is a bit rich for the Labour party to try to give us lectures about workers’ rights.

EU Negotiations

7. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Greek Government’s approach to negotiations with the EU; and what assessment he has made of the implications of that approach for his policy on re-negotiating the UK’s relationship with the EU. (901000)

14. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Greek Government’s approach to negotiations with the EU; and what assessment he has made of the implications of that approach for his policy on re-negotiating the UK’s relationship with the EU. (901007)

As the Prime Minister has said, we welcome the news of a deal reached with Greece on Monday morning, but we should not underestimate the difficult process that lies ahead of reaching a final agreement. As for renegotiating the UK’s relationship with the EU, that process is under way. Following the June European Council, technical discussions are now taking place, ahead of a further leaders’ discussion in December.

I am grateful for the Minister’s answer. Given the uncertainty around the deal announced on Monday, what are the implications for businesses and holidaymakers in my constituency of Eddisbury?

We have spent a lot of time preparing contingency plans to help both British business interests and British tourists, should that be necessary. I can say to my hon. Friend that at the moment the reports I have are that visits by British tourists to Greece are continuing much as per normal. The Government stand ready to offer advice to any businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency that have particular problems or concerns, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has published detailed advice on the support schemes that are available to help businesses troubled by events in Greece.

Does my right hon. Friend expect the UK negotiators to emulate those involved in the Greek deal and have a 17-hour marathon all-night session to conclude a deal?

No Minister would actively look forward to a 17-hour, all-night session, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister demonstrated when he led the negotiations to cut the EU’s multi-annual budget that if that is what it takes to get the best deal for the United Kingdom, that is what he and the Government are prepared to do.

Should the Government not have shown a bit more solidarity with the people of Greece over recent weeks? For many of us, the attitude of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and certain European leaders has been arrogant and dismissive—even anti-democratic—but all this Government seem to have done is to discourage tourists from going to Greece. Should they not have shown more solidarity in recent weeks?

We have certainly not advised tourists against travel to Greece. I think the lesson that the right hon. Gentleman needs to take on board is that the Greek Government and the Greek people consistently said that they wished to join the euro and remain within it, and that joining that currency union means the sacrifice of a considerable amount of national sovereignty over economic policy.

Perhaps the lesson that the Minister should take is that if a little more understanding had been shown to the people and the Government of Greece in their time of extremity, they might show more understanding towards the UK Government’s position in their renegotiations. Why cannot the Government understand that many people in this country have been touched by the plight of people in Greece? Where is the empathy or solidarity from the Government? People reap what they sow, and this Government are going to reap a bitter harvest.

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was present when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made his statement on Greece last week, but he made very clear both his sympathy and the long-standing friendship between this country and the people of Greece. When this Government were elected in May, the Prime Minister made an offer to the Greek Government of technical support for things such as improving the efficacy of their taxation system. That offer remains open.

I do not blame my hon. Friend for his question, but I would not think he really expects me to speculate about the outcome of negotiations—certainly not at this stage. The Prime Minister has made it very clear that he is aiming to secure reforms in Europe that are good for the prosperity and democracy of Europe as a whole and that help the United Kingdom feel comfortable with its place in Europe—and that if he cannot get those reforms, he rules nothing out.

On the minimum wage, the Minister’s party is late to the cause, but its conversion to support for our policy is nevertheless welcome.

On Greece, the agreement announced yesterday involves a third bail-out estimated to be worth €86 billion. Can the Minister confirm whether the European financial stability mechanism, which could involve £850 million of UK funds, will be used for that or for any short-term financing before the bail-out is agreed?

Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have already made it clear that there can be no question of British taxpayers being on the line for a deal to keep Greece in the euro. We have chosen not to join the eurozone: there has been a clear agreement by every one of the EU member states that we should not be liable for bail-outs of eurozone countries. It is for the eurozone countries to decide how they are going to organise the detail of the deal they struck earlier this week.


10. What assessment he has made of the current situation in Greece and the effect of that situation on other EU member states. (901003)

The Government have carried out regular assessments of the events in Greece and the impact they might have on British business interests, British residents in Greece and British tourists. We have put in place contingency measures for a variety of scenarios to ensure that our interests and those of our citizens are protected. We judge the risk of contagion elsewhere in Europe to be much reduced when compared with the situation in 2012.

It is fair to say that the situation has moved on ever so slightly from when I tabled the question. It may be too early to tell, but will we be in a position to look at how the negotiations pan out and assess whether that makes us feel stronger in our desire for renegotiation or weaker?

The events that have taken place in the eurozone over the last few weeks have confirmed our wish to see an ambitious programme of reform and renegotiation. In particular, they have demonstrated the need for Europe to work out a design for European co-operation that distinguishes between eurozone countries that will need to move towards closer integration over time, and member states that choose to stay outside the eurozone.

Does the Minister share my assessment that the troika was wrong to bail out greedy and irresponsible bankers because its action has led to the immiseration of people in Greece?

I think that what is happening to ordinary families in Greece has been a tragedy, but I also think that there are two lessons to be learned. First, those who join a single currency must give up a fair amount of their independent decision-making power over economic policy. Secondly, any country that gets into serious debt will find it hard to do a deal with its creditors. That is why this Government’s intention of paying down the deficit and reducing the underlying debt is so important to our fortunes.

The Greek financial crisis has given the green light to the gangs of human traffickers who are exploiting the weaknesses of the Greco-Turkish border to push hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants towards western Europe. Will the Minister ensure that, in this crisis, we do not lose sight of the fact that we must do all that we can to help Greece to plug the gaps in the EU external frontier?

My hon. Friend has made a good point. We have already deployed people to Greece to support Frontex and the Greek police, and we will continue to work closely with other member states, particularly Greece, and with the EU institutions.

Is not the pressure that has forced the Greek Government to buckle in the last few days a shame politically, morally awful, and, importantly, economically tragic? It is almost like the parlour game Monopoly. When someone is so obviously losing that the game ends, it has to restart. That is what happened to Germany in 1953 when it was granted debt forgiveness, one of the creditors being Greece.

I say with all respect to the hon. Gentleman that it is for the eurozone countries that participate in the single currency to work out how to address the problem. What has happened to the Greek people is indeed a tragedy, but there are people in other eurozone countries with elected Governments of their own who want to ensure that their taxes are not at risk.

Order. I fear that the cheeky-chappie disposition of the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) may be incompatible with his long-term aspiration to be viewed as a statesman.

Raif Badawi

As the House is aware, Raif Badawi is a Saudi human rights activist and blogger who, in May 2014, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. The British Government have raised the case a number of times at senior levels. I now understand that the case is under consideration in the Saudi supreme court.

We often hear that answer from the Government. One of two things is happening. Either the Government are trying and failing, or they are not really bothering at all. May I ask the Minister two questions? First, will he instruct the United Kingdom ambassador in Saudi Arabia to request a prison visit to check on Raif Badawi’s health? Secondly, will he say without equivocation that Mr Badawi should be set free?

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman heard my first response, so let me repeat it. I understand that the case is under consideration in the Saudi supreme court. This country, along with many others across the world, made representations at senior levels to ensure that it was understood where we stand as a supporter of freedom of expression around the world. It is now for the supreme court of make a judgment, and we should not pre-empt what the court will say.

Lashing, like stoning and crucifixion, belongs to the Old Testament, not to the 21st century. Please will the Minister keep up his pressure on our friends in Saudi Arabia to make them see sense?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. It is very important that Britain stands by other countries in pushing for not only the right of freedom of expression, but the right of justice for those in prison, and we will continue to do so. The lashings have now stopped and this case is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court—[Interruption.]—something I think the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart McDonald) still does not understand.


12. What assessment he has made of the security situation in Tunisia; and what support his Department is providing to British citizens affected by the recent terrorist attack in that country. (901005)

The House will be aware that all the victims of the terrible tragedy in Tunisia have now been repatriated. Every family of a victim has a dedicated UK police family liaison officer—[Interruption.] I am sorry if the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) does not feel these issues are important, but I would be grateful if he did the House the courtesy of listening to this important message. Every British national injured in the attack is back in the United Kingdom. Our embassy team arrived in Sousse within hours of the attack and further teams were deployed in the following days. The London crisis operation centre moved into operation mode and worked on a 24/7 basis from 26 June until 1 July and the FCO remained in crisis mode to assist with the departure of tourists.

I commend the Prime Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), saying that a committee would be set up to look after the interests of the survivors and the bereaved families for the long term. That is sensible and it is the right approach. In the light of BBC reports of chaos in the security infrastructure in Tunis and the region, what support are we able to give them to augment their security infrastructure?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his initial comments, and I will be participating in that committee to make sure we do all we can to support all those caught up in that terrible tragedy—not just the families of the victims, but the injured and those who witnessed what happened. We have been working with the Tunisian authorities to investigate the attack and the wider threat from terrorist groups. The threat intelligence picture has led us to believe that a further terrorist attack is highly likely, and I stress to the House that the Sousse attacker was not working alone, but was part of an organised group, most likely trained in Libya. I am glad we are standing by Tunisia as best we can. We must look after the security of our citizens, and may I thank you, Mr Speaker, for receiving the Speaker of the Tunisian Parliament, who I know will wish to come to this country to express his condolences for what happened to the Britons in Tunisia?

I am sure the whole House will join me in thanking the Minister for his inspirational service to the Government in working with the families of those affected by last month’s tragedy. It is brilliant to hear that each family will have a dedicated liaison officer to see them through the coming years. Can he confirm that that will be along the lines of the groups set up to support the victims of 7 July 2005?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words. It is important that the support that this country and the Government provide is not confined to the time of the event itself but continues well into the future. I pay tribute to the Home Office and the work the police do—the important work of the family liaison officers. This work will not be needed simply over these few weeks; it will be needed for months and years, as the families come to terms with this terrible tragedy.

18. The funeral of my constituent Claire Windass, who was killed on holiday in Tunisia, will take place tomorrow, and I am sure the whole House will want to send our thoughts and prayers to Claire’s family at this very difficult time. Can the Minister say a little more about the practical assistance that the UK Government are offering the Tunisian authorities in investigating this horrific terrorist attack? (901011)

All in the House pay a huge tribute to the families of the fallen victims. This was a terrible disaster for both Tunisia and Britain. The numbers climbed in the first hours from five to six, then eight, then 12, then 30. Then it was not just 30 in number; they became names, individuals, parts of families, as the hon. Lady has outlined. We must stand by these people in their years of need. She rightly points out that Tunisia needs support. It is the country where the Arab spring began; it is where Bouazizi set himself alight and ignited the Arab spring. We must not allow that country to slide back into extremism, so we have teams working in a variety of areas, from airport security to the police to collecting intelligence, which is the crucial ingredient in understanding what is happening behind the scenes in the mosques, as well as next door in Libya.

With respect to the appalling tragedy in Tunisia, will the Minister give the House an assurance that our response will be part of a wider package across the region from Egypt to Libya, where there is a great lack of stability? Are the Government working across the piece to ensure that terrorist outrages such as these are minimised?

My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point, which the House needs to consider. The person and the group that were involved in that terrible killing were trained by an ISIS operation, Ansar al-Sharia, which has now chosen to fly the black flag in Libya. We are seeing the same thing happening in Algeria with Boko Haram, and in northern Sinai with Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. Terrorist groups all across the northern Maghreb are joining forces with ISIS, and this country and the international community need to do more to tackle this extremism.

Syrian Refugees

13. What discussions he has had with his counterparts in EU member states and others on (a) resettlement of Syrian refuges and (b) the UN’s response to the Syrian refugee situation. (901006)

We support the EU’s proposals for sustainable protection through the EU regional development protection programmes, to ensure that we can provide the necessary assistance to all those Syrian refugees caught up in this terrible crisis.

More than 100 Syrian civilians have been killed since May as a result of the use of indiscriminate weapons such as barrel bombs. In the light of the recent meetings in New York, what role are the Government playing in the United Nations Security Council to ensure that the UK’s strong statement of support for the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 2139, in response to the increasing use of barrel bombs in Syria, is followed through?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and there are a number of quarters in which we can provide assistance. We are the second largest donor to the refugee programmes providing support to the neighbouring countries in the region that have taken in the 4 million refugees who have now fled the conflict. The UN has been crucial in coming up with that Security Council resolution, but we have run into the buffers because some of the usual characters do not want to support it. I hope that we will advance the programme and that we will see some movement in the UN General Assembly in September.

The Minister will recall that, back in April, the acting head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that Europe was simply not doing enough in this regard. This is a humanitarian disaster, with 4 million refugees living in neighbouring countries. What urgent representations is the Minister making to his European counterparts about making the funds available to deal with this humanitarian crisis?

The Kuwait III talks are taking place, and a number of countries in the region are being asked to donate more funds in order to provide that assistance. There is a philosophical argument, which we have discussed in the House, as to whether this country should take in more refugees or provide more support in the region. I have visited the Zaatari refugee camp, and it is clear that the majority of Syrians want to remain in that location, which is why we are donating so much money—£800 million—to support people in the region.

Topical Questions

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is currently on his way back from Vienna, where he has been taking part in the conclusion of the Iran nuclear negotiations. He plans, with your permission, Mr Speaker, to update the House on that issue at the very earliest opportunity. In addition to those important talks, my right hon. Friend has been leading the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s efforts to follow up the appalling attacks in Tunisia earlier this month, and on Thursday this week he plans to travel to the middle east and to Cyprus.

I welcome the announcement on Iran. What confidence does the Minister have that a nuclear agreement with Iran will be subject to a rigorous inspection regime?

Clearly the question of inspection and access by the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors lay at the very heart of the negotiations. In fairness, I must advise my hon. Friend to wait for the Foreign Secretary’s statement, at which time he will have the chance to examine in detail the agreement that has been reached.

As the Minister has just suggested, details are still emerging of the agreement reached in Vienna on Iran’s nuclear programme. Those talks have seen many missed deadlines over the past 12 years, but all sides have been consistent in saying that no deal was better than a bad deal. At this early stage, what confidence does the Minister have that this is a good deal and that it will be implemented?

I am grateful for the question. There is little more we can add at this stage, because the deal is just being concluded in Vienna, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe said. We have made it very clear that we need a long-term and comprehensive solution on the Iranian nuclear issue and that we want a durable, verifiable and comprehensive nuclear deal that addresses the proliferation concerns. We will have to wait, but I hope that there will be a statement very shortly.

Perhaps not that shortly. We will see—it might be much later today or it might be tomorrow.

I thank the Minister for that reply and we look forward to hearing from the Foreign Secretary on his return. Let me turn to the struggle against ISIL. The recent attacks in Tunisia, Cairo and elsewhere have highlighted that we will defeat this threat only by working together as an international community. Will the Minister update the House on what specific actions are now being taken alongside other countries to cut off the finances that fund ISIL’s hateful crimes?

As I said in a previous reply, this is the largest threat that we face in the 21st century. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point out that there are many strands to our programme to try to tackle that. The strategy involves not just the military but countering foreign fighter recruitment and dealing with stabilisation and support for those caught up in that, as well as denying funds. That means working with individuals in regional countries that continue to support this activity, and we need to work with the banking community to ensure that we cut off the supplies of funding that are generating and paying for fighters who are recruited from across the globe.

T2. As my right hon. Friend knows, I take a great interest in the Balkans and last year I travelled to Bosnia with colleagues to visit Srebrenica and worked with a charity, Medica Zenica, which helps families affected by the conflict. Does he agree that as well as remembering the anniversary of Srebrenica last week we must refocus on rebuilding Bosnia-Herzegovina and help the people of that country to secure a better future? (900982)

I agree with my hon. Friend and pay tribute to her long-standing interest in the fortunes of Bosnia-Herzegovina. I saw for myself last year how people from all communities in that country came together in the aftermath of the devastating floods that they experienced. It is that spirit that we must support and encourage to reform the state institutions and to push for economic prosperity.

T3. The Minister will be aware of the work of Nobel peace prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who celebrated her 18th birthday in Lebanon at the weekend opening a school for Syrian refugee girls. What is the Government’s assessment of the situation on the ground in Lebanon, where about 500,000 Syrian school-aged children are believed to be living? (900984)

I am grateful for the opportunity to update the House on the situation in Lebanon, which I visited recently. We have advanced our Department for International Development programme to assist. Lebanon has taken on almost a quarter of its population in refugees and I commend the work being done to take those people into its society. Unfortunately, ISIL has already set up camp east of the Bekaa valley and is already in Lebanon. We are also providing military support to train the Lebanese forces so that they can have a buffer between the west of the country, towards the Mediterranean, and the east, looking out towards Syria.

T4. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Baghdad Government must now fulfil their financial obligations to the Kurdistan Regional Government, so that they in turn can properly arm and fund the peshmerga, who are fighting the terrorist threat of ISIL-Daesh in northern Iraq? (900985)

I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend did as a pilot in the no-fly zone in the 1990s. He comes with a wealth of experience of the area and is right to point out that there must be greater co-operation between Kurdistan and Baghdad. We very much encourage that; that is what I did in my last visit to Baghdad a week and a half ago and what I will do when I visit Kurdistan in the near future.

T6. Earlier, the Minister welcomed the decision of FARC to have a unilateral ceasefire in Colombia. Will he therefore consider making a supportive statement requesting an immediate bilateral ceasefire in Colombia? (900987)

The hon. Gentleman will have seen that the Government of Colombia have made a statement about de-escalating the conflict. We fully support the ongoing negotiations in Havana. That is the big prize, as I said earlier, and it is important that both sides come to the table in the spirit of co-operation and not violence. That message needs to get out to all corners of the country.

T5. The visit by President Xi later this year represents a major opportunity to boost the trading relationship between the United Kingdom and China. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that British companies, including those in my constituency, can benefit from the visit? (900986)

The figures are very good indeed. There has been a huge increase in trade between the UK and China, and the UK is the favoured destination for Chinese inward investment. We look forward to the state visit later this year, which will certainly have a very large trade element to it.

T7. We have heard from the Foreign Secretary about the need for treaty change from the EU negotiations. Will fisheries be up for renegotiation? (900989)

Fisheries have already been the subject of a successful renegotiation, led for the UK by the fisheries Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice). That led to the scrapping of the obscene discarding policy for which British Governments have yearned for years, and the devolution of fishing to a more regional and local level. The hon. Gentleman should welcome that.

T8. Looking beyond the human rights issue, which has been extensively discussed today, Colombia is becoming an increasingly important, modern and rapidly expanding country, with massive potential. What action is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office taking to develop business and diplomatic links with Colombia, enabling the UK to construct a mutually beneficial relationship with that country? (900990)

My hon. Friend will be aware that UK-Colombia trade grew by 56% between 2009 and 2013, and we are on course to reach our target of increasing bilateral trade and investment to £4 billion by 2020. It is important that we increase our trade with and investment in Colombia because one of the dividends of the peace process will eventually be the economic wellbeing of all Colombians. We must continue to support the peace process and not let up on our demands, such as no impunity, accountability and so on, but at the same time we should continue to support UK-Colombia trade.

Friday is the first anniversary of the downing over Ukraine of flight MH17, killing all 298 on board, including 10 British people, two of whom were Newcastle United fans, Liam Sweeney and John Alder. The families still do not know who murdered their loved ones and they fear that the attention of the Foreign Office has moved away from that complex global political situation. Will the Minister agree to meet me and the families of those who died, so that their questions can be heard and we can begin to get answers?

I am more than happy to meet the hon. Lady and her constituents, whom I recall meeting in the aftermath of that appalling tragedy last year. As she knows, a Dutch investigation is ongoing into the causes of the crash and possible attribution of responsibility, and clearly she would not expect me to be able to comment in detail, but I am happy to talk to her.

Businesses in my constituency, such as Denny Brothers printers, have suffered a negative impact from the challenges of migration from Mediterranean countries. Such migration has had a consequential impact across Europe, particularly in Calais, where there has also been industrial action. Does the Department recognise how the situation is affecting British businesses and their employees? What can be done about the root cause?

Through Department for International Development programmes, we are tackling the root causes by trying to promote greater prosperity in the African countries from which so many of these people are travelling. We are also working actively with both European and African partners to disrupt the work of the people traffickers who exploit vulnerable people in the most appalling way.

I know that we are about to hear from the Home Secretary, but what is the Foreign Office doing to put pressure on the French authorities and tell them that it is not good enough to take somebody from Calais and release them a mile down the road without fingerprinting or checking them in any way?

Our ambassador and his team in Paris and Foreign Office Ministers have been extremely active in talking to our French counterparts. We clearly work extremely closely with Home Office colleagues, and co-operation between the United Kingdom and France is essential to bring to an end the disruption at Calais.

Order. I would like to try to accommodate a few more Members, but extreme brevity is now required.

The events that we have seen unfolding in relation to Greece demonstrate the need for urgent and deep reform within the EU. Does the Minister agree that if the EU does not demonstrate that it is willing or able to reform itself, the British people across the United Kingdom should seriously consider voting no in the referendum?

I remain confident that the Prime Minister will be able to achieve the reforms that he has set his hand to, but at the end of the day it is for the British people themselves, not any politician, to take the final decision.

In response to the increased threat from ISIL and the situation in Syria, the Prime Minister tells us that he wishes to use drones more extensively and expand our special forces. Has the Foreign Office made an assessment of the speed at which we can expand the special forces, which would make that promise meaningful?

The hon. Lady is a learned Member of this House. She should be aware that what she reads in the papers about what the special forces will be up to is not subject to discussion in this Chamber. I am afraid we will have to leave it at that.

The funeral of my constituent killed in Tunisia, Bruce Wilkinson, will take place this week. May I place on record on behalf of the family how thankful they are for the support they have received, the dignified way the bodies were brought back, and the work of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood)? Can we guarantee that such support to families will continue?

May I say how grateful I am to my hon. Friend, who I know was very much involved with that family, and to all other Members of Parliament who played a role in providing a modicum of support to the families during this difficult time? We always learn from these experiences, but we stand ready to support all the families in the best way we can.

The UK voted for a UN resolution calling for Palestinian co-operation with the International Criminal Court’s preliminary investigation into the Gaza conflict. Can the Minister therefore confirm the Government’s support for Palestinian membership of the ICC?

We debated this at length in Westminster Hall a couple of days ago. We had the resolution, which Britain eventually supported. It is for the ICC to make those judgments itself and we respect its decision.

Have the Scottish Government had a consistent position on the issue of EU reform when making representations to UK Ministers, or is it more a case of one position in Scotland and one here in Westminster?

It is obviously for the Scottish Government to defend their own positions. We always listen seriously to points that Scottish or, for that matter, Welsh or Northern Irish Ministers make to us about UK Government policy. At the end of the day it is a United Kingdom-wide policy that we adopt in our dealings with the EU.

The Frenchgate memo included an inaccurate account of a private conversation between the French ambassador and the First Minister of Scotland. Which members of staff or Ministers in the Foreign Office were aware of the contents of that memo before it was deliberately leaked by Ministers down here?

I have a recollection of having seen a report of that. I do not know if it was the actual text. What I remember thinking was that the text itself said that a lot seemed to have got lost in translation. I did not give any credence to it.

Given the growing importance of our conversation with Iran and in particular the part it is playing in fighting ISIL, can the Minister give us a firm date for the re-opening of our embassy in Tehran?

It is our intention to reopen the embassy in Iran. That is one of the first things I would have done over a year ago, had the deal moved forward in the manner in which we expected. I do not want to pre-empt the announcement. I will allow the Foreign Secretary to elaborate on that when he makes his statement.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recently condemned the murder of more than 24 human rights defenders in Colombia in the first half of this year. Given that many of those who are murdered receive death threats in advance, what is the Minister doing to implore the Colombian Government to take such threats seriously and act on them to prevent further assassinations?

We raise these matters regularly with the Colombian Government, both in Colombia and with the ambassador here. I raised the issue of protection for human rights defenders when I was last in Colombia. I understand that some of them do have protection, but certainly the increasing trend in the numbers being killed is unacceptable.

Order. I have extended the envelope and am sorry to disappoint colleagues, but we must now move on.