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Topical Questions

Volume 598: debated on Tuesday 14 July 2015

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.