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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 600: debated on Tuesday 20 October 2015

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked

Mass Migration

1. What assessment he has made of the likely long-term effects of the current refugee crisis on efforts to address mass migration into and within the EU. (901647)

11. What (a) assessment he has made and (b) discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the likely long-term effects of the current refugee crisis on efforts to address mass migration into and within the EU. (901657)

15. What assessment he has made of the likely long-term effects of the current refugee crisis on efforts to address mass migration into and within the EU. (901661)

I discussed the migration crisis with my counterparts at the EU Foreign Affairs Council earlier this month. There is rising recognition among EU member states that Europe cannot continue indefinitely to absorb very large numbers of migrants and that a comprehensive approach is needed, with much greater focus on tackling the root causes of migration as the UK has long advocated. On the issue of mass migration within the EU, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that we are focused on reforming migrant access to welfare to reduce the artificial pull factors that draw migrants to the UK.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Does he agree that the best long-term solution to tackling the migration crisis is to improve the living conditions of people in major source countries and that this Government’s commitment on international aid is a tangible example of our leadership in that area?

I agree with my hon. Friend. There are two distinct groups. There are those who are displaced by war and conflict, and for the period of their displacement we have to ensure they have the resources they need, usually through the United Nations, to feed themselves and to be able to educate their children and to access healthcare. Then there are those who are coming from countries where, frankly, life is very hard, and we have to work with those countries of origin to ensure economic development that gives everybody a chance to do something that gives them an incentive and a reason to want to stay.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, important as it is to address the long-term causes of mass migration from outside the EU, it is equally critical to address the problems of mass migration within the EU caused by the artificial pull factor of our welfare system?

I agree. As I said in my opening response, that is where we are focused—dealing with the very generous access to benefits and public services that acts as a distortion in the labour market, and which encourages people to come to the UK in anticipation of net earnings far higher than the wages they could otherwise earn.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK’s position outside the Schengen area is a great advantage in addressing the causes and consequences of the ongoing migration crisis?

Again, I agree. Being outside the Schengen area has allowed us to stand back from the immediate pressure of this migration crisis and take a slightly more detached view, where we have focused on helping in the upstream areas with very generous humanitarian support to the Syrian region. It is not only being outside the Schengen area; it is having the justice and home affairs opt-out that allows us to say very clearly that we will not share in any compulsory reallocation of migrants within the EU.

How will the Government ensure that the 20,000 refugees they have agreed to take from the region include some of the most vulnerable—children, disabled people, women who may have faced sexual violence—and how many of those refugees does the right hon. Gentleman expect to be here by Christmas?

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. This is exactly the Prime Minister’s point: many of the people we see on our television screens walking down railway lines are fit young men coming to Europe to look for work—and that’s fine—but there are also many extraordinarily vulnerable individuals in displaced persons camps who are simply not able to try to make that difficult and dangerous crossing into Europe, and we will take those people, asking the UN to prioritise the most vulnerable.

Some of those fit young men are fleeing the conscription of Assad’s regime because they do not want to kill their own people. Turkey and Lebanon cannot continue indefinitely to absorb the millions of refugees from Syria’s crisis. What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do to respond with compassion and competence in the European Union? Will he reconsider his decision not to participate in the resettlement from within the EU, as Ireland and Denmark have done?

No, we will not reconsider that decision. We judge that the best contribution we can make is to take some of the most vulnerable. I am not saying that the fit young men do not have a reason for fleeing. I am saying that we must focus on the most vulnerable people, who do not have the option to flee. While I am on my feet, I would like to pay tribute to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, who have borne an extraordinary burden over many years, absorbing refugees and displaced people from Syria.

Why do the Secretary of State and the Government continue to conflate those important but separate issues? The refugee crisis—it is not a migrant crisis—is an exceptional circumstance. Those individuals and families are fleeing the region first and foremost for their own safety, but they want to go home. Does he not agree that a humanitarian plan for long-term peace in Syria would do far more to address the crisis than these short-term measures, which appear to have been designed to curry favour with the right-wing press?

I do not know where the hon. Lady has got that from. Of course we agree that addressing the upstream problem by getting a political settlement in Syria and defeating ISIL so that it cannot carry out its barbarous activities is the right way to go. I also agree with her that, when we come to build the new Syria, post-Assad, we will need those engineers, doctors and teachers who are now being encouraged to resettle in Europe. We have a responsibility to ensure that the new Syria has access to those qualified and educated people.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the first robust piece of research undertaken among refugees in Germany, which shows that 70% of them blame Assad and his barrel bombs for their predicament? The rest blame the murderous ISIL group. Only 8% of them want to remain in Europe, with 92% wanting to return home, which speaks directly to this Government’s policy of focusing on the camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and helping people to stay there before they return to their country.

There has been a lot of focus on ISIL, but it is important to remember that it is Assad’s persistent indiscriminate attacks on his own civilian population with chlorine gas and barrel bombs that have been the principal driver of this mass migration.

The Prime Minister said in his conference speech that the problem with the EU was that it was “too big” and “too bossy”. Looking at the refugee crisis, however, we can see that his rhetoric was simply wrong. Does the Foreign Secretary not agree that the problem for the refugee crisis has not been a European Union that is too strong and overbearing, but rather one that has been too weak, too unco-ordinated and too ready to fall back into the old habit of nationalism? Do not the desperate scenes that we have witnessed all summer demand more co-operation between states rather than a retreat into the use of barbed wire and nationalism and a failure of collective, co-ordinated leadership precisely when it is needed most?

I am happy to agree with the right hon. Gentleman that co-operation between states is the right answer. Unfortunately, however, that is not what happens when competences are ceded to the EU, which results in dictation to states by the European Union. That is a distinction that he would be well advised to study.

Paris Climate Change Conference

2. If the Government will invite a Minister of the Scottish Government to join the UK delegation to the Paris climate change conference in December 2015. (901648)

Yes, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change wrote to all three devolved Administrations last month to invite the relevant Ministers to join the UK delegation in Paris.

That is welcome news, as it will give the Scottish Government Minister a chance to speak about Scotland’s ambition to tackle climate change. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is particularly important, given the criticisms that the UK Government are facing today from the United Nations environment programme, which has stated that their cuts to renewables are completely at odds with the pledges being made by 150 other countries ahead of the Paris summit?

I obviously welcome the participation of Scottish and other devolved Ministers in the UK delegation, but I really think that the hon. Gentleman should do a bit of homework and remind himself that the UK is well on track to achieve its emissions reduction targets by 2020, en route to the 80% reduction by 2050. And I am sorry that he did not even mention the Prime Minister’s commitment of a further nearly £6 billion in additional climate finance to help the poorest countries to adapt to the challenge of climate change.

Does the Secretary of State agree that if the devolved Assemblies are being represented at the conference in Paris, the British overseas territories should also be given representation? They are not part of the British Isles and could therefore be affected by climate change in lots of ways. Surely they should also have a voice at this important conference.

The Foreign Office will, of course, be very much involved in the UK delegation at the Paris climate change conference, and every Foreign Office Minister always keeps the interests of the British overseas territories closely in mind. We know that my hon. Friend will always make sure that we continue to do so.

At this rate, it will not matter who gets on the plane to Paris, because when they get there the UK will be a laughing stock as a result of this Government’s lack of commitment to tackling climate change. We are haemorrhaging jobs in the solar industry and in the insulation sector, and all because of a lack of Government policy. How can Foreign Office Ministers do their job if we are not taking the right action at home?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not revise his question after hearing my previous answer. I remind him that not only are we on track to meet the climate change targets we have set, but we are setting a lead by committing large sums of additional British taxpayers’ money to help the poorest countries adapt to climate change. This country is the world’s sixth largest green exporter, and the record is one of which we can be proud.

Perhaps the Minister would like to revise his answer, given that Al Gore has said:

“It is time for the UK government to honour and live up to that legacy, and return to its global leadership position, domestically and abroad, by supporting an ambitious international agreement in Paris”.

It appears the Prime Minister may have lost interest in the subject, and the solar industry is in crisis domestically.

First, may I welcome the hon. Lady to her new responsibilities on the Opposition Front Bench?

For the reasons I have already given, I think that this Government continue to have a good record on climate change, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister takes a very close interest in this in all the international discussions. This was a major item he discussed with President Hollande during the President’s recent visit to Chequers. We are very committed to helping the French Government to deliver an ambitious outcome at Paris which commits all countries to significant emissions reductions, and to targets binding in international law and help for the poorest countries, which will struggle most to make the change.

India (Outstanding Payments to British Companies)

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Government of India on outstanding payments due to British companies for work carried out during the 2010 Commonwealth games. (901649)

In the case of SIS Live, the British high commission in New Delhi has provided consistent support to the company and urged the Government of India to resolve the dispute over payment. I personally raised this issue with the Indian high commissioner just yesterday, and we will continue to press for a satisfactory settlement.

I thank the Minister for that response and for the work he has carried out on this issue. SIS Live is a perfectly respectable British company which fully delivered on its commitments in the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth games. Does he agree that the outstanding debt of £29 million should be paid to SIS Live in advance of the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to this country later this year?

Yes, we very much hope this will be resolved before Prime Minister Modi comes here shortly. The visit will be an opportunity for us to discuss a wide range of issues. Bilateral trade with India is extremely good, but what is important is the signal this matter sends to other potential British companies looking to invest in India, so we do want it resolved.

While of course accepting the need for British companies to be paid and for Indian companies to be paid by British companies with which they are doing business, may I join the Minister in welcoming the visit of Narendra Modi, which has caused huge excitement among the British Indian community in places such as London and Leicester? Will it enable the Government to send out a message that it is not just learning Chinese that is important but that a bit of Hindi will go down well in our bilateral relations?

I very much hope the right hon. Gentleman is not going to test me on my Hindi now. Of course we are all looking forward to the visit of Prime Minister Modi. Quite apart from the Government-arranged events, there is going to be a huge diaspora event, in which the Prime Minister will be able to speak—I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is closely involved in organising it. Clearly, we want more British students to study in India, but the opportunities for the provision of English language teaching in India are the ones on which we should concentrate.

Japanese Foreign Policy

4. What discussions he has had with his Japanese counterpart on that country’s constitutional constraints on foreign policy initiatives. (901650)

I have congratulated the Japanese Diet on passing security legislation that will allow Japan to play a greater role in maintaining international peace and security. When I visited Tokyo in August, I discussed with Foreign Minister Kishida how the UK and Japan can work together to uphold the rules-based international system, once these changes have been introduced.

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement in New York that the UK will make a greater contribution to UN peacekeeping operations, does my right hon. Friend agree that we should encourage Japan to use its special defence forces to contribute to UN peacekeeping as well?

Yes, I do. By passing this legislation, the Japanese have allowed themselves more freedom to co-operate with international partners in preserving international peace, and we are very keen that that includes more Japanese peacekeepers on UN peacekeeping operations as well as Japanese logistic support to other operations carried out by partners and allies around the world.

Some of the concerns of the Japanese have centred around the activity of the People’s Republic of China in the East China sea and the South China sea regions, particularly the recent dispute with Japan over the Diaoyu-Senkaku islands. When the Foreign Secretary is in discussions with the Japanese and the Chinese, will he try to build some sense of peace and stability in that region to try to allay the concerns not just of Japan but of other countries in the region?

First, let me congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his very good pronunciation of those particular islands. Our position on this is clear: we do not take a position on the different claims to sovereignty over disputed territory in the East China or the South China seas. What we are clear about is two things: first, these disputes must be resolved in accordance with international law and peacefully; and secondly, the international right to freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight must be preserved. That is the position that we consistently take and that we consistently make to Japanese, Chinese and other south-east Asian interlocutors.

European Union Reform (Negotiations)

5. What assessment he has made of the progress of negotiations to reform (a) the EU and (b) the UK’s relationship with the EU. (901651)

14. What assessment he has made of the progress of negotiations to reform (a) the EU and (b) the UK’s relationship with the EU. (901660)

We are making good progress in our discussions on reform of the EU at both a political and technical level. We will continue discussions with our EU colleagues as well as with the European Parliament and Commission ahead of the December European Council. As the Prime Minister said last week, he will also be writing to the president of the European Council in early November to set out the areas of change that we wish to achieve.

Does the Minister share my concern that economic and monetary union states could force new legislation on non-EMU states by commanding a majority in the EU? What measures can be put in place to ensure that a country not in the eurozone, as Britain is proud to be, can guarantee that their voice is heard in the EU as loudly as those inside the eurozone, particularly on policy relating to the single market?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that concern. It is the case that the eurozone states will have a qualified majority between them in due course. That is why part of this negotiation is about putting in place a framework to govern relationships and decision making between eurozone and non-eurozone states so that the interests of the non-eurozone states are protected as the eurozone proceeds with the closer integration that—in our judgment—will be necessary to ensure that the euro is a successful currency. That is something that is greatly in the interests of the United Kingdom.

For the past two years, the residents of Morley and Outwood have been telling me of their concerns about EU migration, free movement of people and access to our NHS benefits and other services. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give them that those concerns will be addressed in the renegotiations?

I can assure my hon. Friend that those issues are right up there at the front of our renegotiation strategy. Whether they like it or not, our partners across Europe understand that those are the primary concerns that the British people are expressing in opinion poll after opinion poll and during the recent general election campaign. If Britain is to be able to embrace a reformed European Union, those issues will have to be addressed in the settlement.

If progress is made in all of the four areas that the Prime Minister has put forward, is the Foreign Secretary minded to vote for our EU membership?

Clearly, what I seek is a package of reform that will allow me and the British people to embrace enthusiastically Britain’s future in the European Union. The British people will, however, approach this process with a sceptical frame of mind. They will be looking for real and substantial reform, which is binding and enforceable and irreversible in the future. That is what we are seeking.

What legal advice has the Foreign Secretary had that would give him reason to believe that he can get these substantial changes that would allow non-euro countries fair representation within the architecture without treaty changes being required?

We expect that some of the changes that we are seeking—by no means all, but some—will require treaty change. We are exploring in technical discussions with the Commission’s lawyers how we might enter into binding arrangements ahead of treaty change that will have the effect of binding our partners into the agreements they have made.

17. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that apart from some technical changes relating to the right of EU citizens to claim welfare payments, the basic principle of free movement of people is not going to change in the renegotiations? (901663)

The basic principle of freedom of movement to work is not being challenged, but I disagree with my hon. Friend that changes to access to welfare are merely technical. The point was made very well that access to extraordinarily generous in-work benefits effectively distorts the labour market and creates a pull factor towards working in the UK that we need to reverse.

The Foreign Secretary has made it clear that any changes will require treaty change. Can he tell us one member state that backs treaty change?

To be clear, I did not say that any changes will require treaty change; I said that we expect that some of the changes we are seeking will require treaty change. It is perfectly true—I do not know why the hon. Gentleman finds it so amusing, and I have said it in this House many times before—that none of our partners welcomes the idea of treaty change, but all of them accept that this is something we have to do if we are going to carry the British people with us.

21. What progress is being made to ensure that this Parliament, by itself if necessary, can say no to any unwanted EU directives, tax or regulations? (901667)

Part of our reform strategy is to look for a greater role for national Parliaments working together to block unwanted legislation so that we, the people of Europe, cannot have imposed on us by the Commission something that the majority of us do not want. But my hon. Friend knows that it is completely unrealistic to seek an individual national veto in all areas. A European Union of 28 member states with individual national vetoes simply would not work.

Will the Foreign Secretary comment on the solid progress being made on one of the five principles for the Prime Minister’s vision for a new European Union—that is, the competitiveness agenda and specifically, for instance, delivery charges for items posted within the EU, or trade deals with the US?

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is privy to some information that I am not, but last time I checked with the Prime Minister he had four categories in which he was pursuing the negotiation. On competitiveness, it is true that the mood in the European Union has changed. Since the financial and economic crisis, more and more member states are focused on the need for Europe to be able to compete in the global economy, and the Juncker Commission is focused on an agenda. We think it could go further; we would like it to be more ambitious, but it is pointing in the right direction. Our challenge is to institutionalise that change and make sure that the European Union is firmly pointed in that direction as a matter of institutional structure, not of individual Commission choice.

23. The Foreign Secretary said that our renegotiation will require a treaty change. Does he see that occurring before or after the proposed EU referendum, and will that treaty change trigger a second referendum? (901669)

We are exploring with the Commission legal services and others the possibility of binding legal commitments like the protocols that were entered into by Denmark and Ireland that will be incorporated into the treaties at the next available treaty change. That will give us what the British people need, which is assurance that the agreements that have been entered into will be complied with by the other member states.

Somalia

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced at the UN General Assembly last month, we are deploying up to 70 UK military personnel to assist the UN Support Office for AMISOM—the African Union Mission to Somalia.

Much of the rebuilding work in Somalia has been undertaken by Britain and led by the British Government. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that economic and infrastructure development in Somalia goes hand in hand with peace and security?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was in Mogadishu in July and saw some of that work taking place. Britain’s influence there should not be underestimated. America has its embassy in Nairobi, and no other EU state has a presence in Somalia, so Britain is the only EU country with an embassy in Mogadishu. From there we give technical, logistical and planning assistance, which the Government there very much welcome.

May I pay tribute to the work of the African Union peacekeeping forces from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, who have lost more than 1,000 lives in returning Mogadishu and much of the rest of Somalia to a form of peace? What does the United Kingdom propose to do to continue to support these brave men and women?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The brave troops of the AMISOM command have been doing an incredible job, and I pay tribute to all the countries he mentioned for their involvement. When our military personnel turn up, they will be helping with engineering and logistical support. I have discussed that with our embassy and with UNSOA, the co-ordination force on the ground. It is absolutely right to pay tribute to the very brave work being done by all involved.

Israel and Palestine

7. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of recent violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories. (901653)

We are deeply concerned by the recent violence and terrorist attacks across the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel. Our immediate focus is on urging all sides to encourage calm, take steps to de-escalate and avoid any measures that could further inflame the situation.

Does the Minister agree that there can be no justification whatsoever for random terror attacks on Israelis in the streets of Israel? They are just like us: normal people trying to go about their ordinary lives. We should be absolutely clear in condemning that sort of activity.

I absolutely concur with my hon. Friend and condemn the violence that has taken place across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. There is no place for the sorts of terrorist attacks we have seen, and the effect they are having on innocent civilians’ sense of safety is appalling.

Are not the deaths of an Eritrean immigrant who was just murdered in Beersheba by Israeli thugs, the deaths of seven Israelis and the deaths of 40 Palestinians the direct consequence of Netanyahu’s refusal to grant freedom to Palestine, the illegal wall, the illegal settlements, the 500 check points and the persistent desecration of the al-Aqsa mosque by Israeli settlers? Will the Government take action to get Netanyahu to the conference table?

We recognise that there are frustrations due to the lack of progress towards peace, and we share those frustrations. The peace process was launched more than two decades ago, yet we still have not achieved the two-state solution that was envisaged, but there is absolutely no justification for the sorts of attacks we have seen.

25. Does the Minister agree that it certainly does not help that the Palestinian Authority encourages incitement against Israel? (901671)

President Abbas has condemned the use of violence and reiterated the Palestinian Authority’s commitment to reaching a political solution by peaceful means. We have seen tensions spike in the past, but it does seem different this time, with young people seemingly unafraid of death and brandishing knives, knowing what the consequences will be. The pattern so far has been one of lone wolf, low-tech attacks, but the escalation and the tensions are certainly worrying.

13. What discussions has the Minister had with the Israeli Prime Minister regarding the Gaza reconstruction mechanism? One hundred thousand people have been displaced, and no homes have been built since July. What are we doing about that? (901659)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Prime Minister Netanyahu visited recently. We have been making every effort to promote calm. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have spoken to key regional leaders over the recent weeks, and British officials have been pressing both sides to take steps to de-escalate the situation.

22. What assessment has the Minister made about the significant damage to the holy site of Joseph’s tomb at Nablus, which was destroyed by up to 100 Palestinian rioters? (901668)

I strongly condemn the burning of the tomb of Joseph in Nablus. The basic right of freedom to worship in safety and security should be protected for all. We have called for a swift and transparent investigation into the incident and for those responsible to be brought to justice.

As Israeli civilians are being stabbed and murdered by Palestinians on virtually a daily basis, a Rafah cleric, in his sermon on 9 October, brandished a knife and called for Palestinians to slaughter Jews in a holy war. Is it not time that the nature of this incitement was recognised and combated if there is ever going to be hope for peace and justice?

As I say, the Foreign Secretary spoke to President Abbas last week. We are encouraging him to work with Prime Minister Netanyahu. We are also aware that the US is looking at the situation very closely, and Secretary Kerry is ready to visit the region when appropriate.

20. Earlier this month, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas proclaimed:“We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem…With the help of Allah, every martyr will be in heaven, and every wounded will get his reward.”Does my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary share my concern that such provocative remarks have fuelled the recent wave of deadly attacks on Israel? What more can we do to help? (901666)

There has been too much provocation on both sides. The current violence underlines the fact that a lasting resolution that ends the occupation and delivers peace for Israelis and Palestinians is long overdue. We have been round this buoy many times. The Oslo accords seem in the far distant past, and the tensions are ratcheting up again. We call on both sides to come together.

Does the Minister agree that all murders and attacks on civilians are unacceptable? That includes knife attacks on Israeli civilians and also settler attacks on Palestinian civilians that have been running into the hundreds for several years now. Will he join Amnesty International, Israeli human rights organisations and the United Nations in expressing concern at the increasing use of live ammunition by Israeli troops and police, even when life and limb are not immediately under threat, because that fuels a lot of the tension that we are seeing now?

We can recall what has happened in the past when the violence has ratcheted up to the levels that we are seeing today. That is why we are urging all sides to come together to avoid what we have seen in the past.

Does my hon. Friend recall the words of our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his speech to the Knesset last year? He said:

“I will always stand up for the right of Israel to defend its citizens. A right enshrined in international law, in natural justice and fundamental morality”

Does my hon. Friend believe that it is now time for us to review our relationship with the Palestinian authorities? Would it not be better to pay directly to the projects themselves rather than through the Palestinian authorities so that British taxpayers could have a better assurance that the money is going to Palestinians rather than being siphoned off as a stipend to terrorists?

My right hon. Friend articulates the strength of the tensions and the need for us to come together. As I say, peace has eluded that country and the Palestinian authorities for years now. It is important that we take advantage of John Kerry’s offer to visit the region in the very near future.

Libya

On 8 October, UN special representative Bernardino León announced details of the political settlement in Libya, urging Libyan parties to agree the deal before 21 October. Yesterday I attended a meeting of international partners hosted in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to discuss robust support for a Government of national accord.

Everyone in this Chamber will welcome the progress towards a new national Government in Libya. However, we have been here before, so will the Minister commit to reviewing our approach to Libya in the event that the timeline for a national Government is breached?

If I may correct my hon. Friend, we have not quite been at this point before. We are on the eve of signing a peace document to get a Government of unity, but we are not there yet. That will happen next week. If it does not happen, the difficulties faced by Libya—including not only the current migration patterns, but, most importantly, ISIL developing a foothold there—will continue.

The Prime Minister used to be so proud of this country’s intervention in Libya. Surely we should be seen as taking a much stronger role in trying to bring all the parties together so that Libya can have some sort of future and its people can live in peace.

I am slightly puzzled by the hon. Gentleman’s question, because we have been at the forefront of engaging with the parties in the very difficult aftermath of Gaddafi’s fall. We offered to assist back in 2012 and 2013. We were invited to leave the country, along with other UN organisations. We have encouraged, through the UN and working with Bernardino León and the Prime Minister’s envoy, Jonathan Powell, the bringing of the parties together. No country could have done more.

Although I would not dare to try to emulate Sir Peter Tapsell, does my hon. Friend recall that originally Libya was made up of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica? Does he not believe that if the worst comes to the worst, it may be necessary, because they are two very different peoples, to divide Libya?

My hon. Friend is correct, although he misses out a third region, namely Fezzan, and it was the Italians who brought the country together. As well as those three regions, there are more than 135 tribes, including 35 main tribes. They have been sat on by a dictator for 40 years, and lifting the lid off that results in society trying to flex its muscles. That is the difficulty and challenge we face.

Refugee Camps (Syria-Turkey Border)

We have pledged more than £1.1 billion for humanitarian relief in Syria and neighbouring countries. Roughly half of that sum goes towards helping people inside Syria, and the other half is provided to refugees in the neighbouring countries in the region.

Does the Minister agree that the Prime Minister’s commitment that the UK will take 1,000 refugees before Christmas—which equates roughly to two refugees per constituency—is simply not good enough and represents a missed opportunity to do the right thing?

No, I do not. The hon. Lady underestimates the important fact that we shall be offering a home to people who are among the most vulnerable and traumatised as a result of the conflict. We need to ensure that they are given a proper reception and the full package of support from the national health service and, in many cases, local authority social services. They have to be properly provided for.

Given the increased terrorist activity in Turkey, what assurances can the Minister give on the support the British Government are specifically giving Turkey with respect to the migrant question?

We have made it very clear to the Turkish Government that we stand with them in resisting terrorism. We have a history of good counter-terrorist co-operation with the Turkish authorities, and we have told Turkey that we are willing to explore how we can further strengthen that.

Second Gulf War

10. What discussions he has had with his international counterparts on establishing an authoritative figure for the number of people killed in the second Gulf war and its aftermath; and if he will make a statement. (901656)

I frequently discuss Iraq with my international counterparts. The Government have not produced any estimate for the number of Iraqis killed as a result of terrorism and war-related violence since 2003, although we are aware that others do so. Our focus today is on supporting the Government of Iraq in their efforts to build a more stable and secure future for their people.

It is amazing that the British Government do not have a clue how many people have been killed by the British and American forces’ adventure in Iraq; I hope the Minister will find an accurate figure for Parliament. Does he regard the invasion of Iraq as a success?

I did say that there are others, including the Iraqis themselves, who have put together those numbers, and I am more than happy to share those with the hon. Gentleman if he wants to see them. With regard to the decision to invade Iraq, lessons have certainly been learned. We await the Chilcot inquiry, but I recall that after the invasion a diktat went around the Department for International Development saying that the war was illegal, so in Basra we went from being liberators to occupiers. That is not the way to do it. There are lessons to be learned, and we are learning such lessons and applying them in Iraq today.

Syria

Syria is facing a humanitarian crisis as a result of the continued assault by the Assad regime on the civilian population and the brutal occupation of a significant part of the country by ISIL. The Russian intervention—purportedly to join the fight against ISIL, but in fact targeting principally non-ISIL opposition positions—is complicating the situation and risks driving much of the opposition into the arms of ISIL.

The Financial Times reported on Thursday that ISIS is making $1.5 million a day, plus racketeering, plus ransom money, plus proceeds stolen from the banks. It is a $1 billion organisation now. Where is that money going? It is not kept in shoeboxes under beds. What are the British Government doing to pursue the financial interests of ISIS?

The UK is heavily involved in that particular strand of coalition activity—intercepting financial streams—and, of course, the coalition is also taking kinetic action to try to disrupt ISIL’s revenue-generating activities. However, because we target cautiously, to avoid collateral damage and civilian casualties, there is a limit to the kinetic action that we can take.

While the Russian intervention has complicated the military situation, might the actuality of Russian and Iranian practical military support for the regime somewhat simplify the politics of this situation? They now need a solution; otherwise they will be in an indefinite war supporting the regime. Is this not now the moment to invest in a serious diplomatic effort to bring all the parties together?

It is probably too early to judge whether or not my hon. Friend’s point is valid. Let me say again that the British Government believe that we must have political engagement to find a solution to the Syrian civil war, while we certainly need a military solution to the challenge of ISIL. We are ready to engage with anyone who is willing to talk about what that political transition in Syria might look like, but we are very clear that, from our point of view, it must at some point involve the departure of Bashar al-Assad.

The Foreign Secretary clearly has his itchy fingers on the trigger of military intervention, as indeed do the Defence Secretary and the Prime Minister. With 12 other countries already bombing in Syria, what analysis has been done of what additionality or what further sorties would be flown by RAF Tornadoes, and what possible difference could they make to the military situation?

My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary has already made it clear—I remember saying the same, when I performed that role, more than a year ago—that the point is one of military efficiency. We are already flying reconnaissance missions over Syria, but our Reapers now have to fly over Syria unarmed looking for situations, which they then relay back to call in other allies to carry out strikes. That is not the most efficient way to carry out operations.

We could drop a few bombs from our reconnaissance aircraft, but what difference would that make to the military situation? Why does the Foreign Secretary not listen to his own Back Benchers? As a non-combatant nation, there are certain advantages in being able to make diplomatic initiatives. Given that the Prime Minister is meeting the President of China—another non-combatant nation and a permanent member of the Security Council—why not discuss a joint diplomatic initiative, instead of just thinking that additional bombing is the answer?

I have discussed the situation in Syria with my Chinese counterparts on several occasions. At the moment, I judge that the Chinese are not willing to take a diplomatic initiative that would separate them from the Russians. Let me be clear that we are part of coalition activities in Syria. We are not carrying out kinetic actions, but we are flying reconnaissance and surveillance missions and feeding back the output of those missions to the coalition.

Russia’s military intervention has certainly changed things, but one thing that remains unchanged is the suffering and agony of the Syrian people. Given that we can now expect more people to flee their homes, and recognising, as we heard earlier, that the neighbouring countries are almost at bursting point, will the Foreign Secretary tell the House what discussions he has had with Foreign Ministers about the possibility of establishing safe zones for people in Syria?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, there have been extensive discussions about safe zones, which were originally a Turkish idea, over many months. At the moment, we judge the creation of safe zones to be impractical and impossible to enforce. We are acutely conscious that if we create something called a safe zone, it must be safe. There must be someone who is willing to enforce the safety of that zone. We judge that that means boots on the ground, and we and the United States are certainly not prepared to put boots on the ground in northern Syria.

I take the point that the Foreign Secretary makes, but that does not mean that we should not try. The boots could be those of neighbouring countries.

Something that there is widespread agreement on, as we have just heard, is the threat from ISIL/Daesh, with over 60 countries now being part of the coalition that opposes it. What steps are the Government taking to secure a UN Security Council resolution to authorise effective action to end the threat from this murderous organisation, including disrupting the huge flow of funds from its oil extraction and trading operations, which was revealed by the Financial Times last week and referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) today?

In response to the right hon. Gentleman’s response to my comments, I say that it is easy to volunteer others to put boots on the ground, but it is pretty difficult to tell people to do what we are not prepared to do ourselves.

UN Security Council resolutions are already in place and we will continue to test the appetite of the permanent five for going further, but the Russian intervention in Syria complicates matters not only on the ground, but in the Security Council.

Topical Questions

The Foreign Office is focused on protecting Britain’s security, promoting Britain’s prosperity and projecting Britain’s values around the world. My priorities remain the struggle against violent extremist Islamism in all its forms, the containment of Russian actions that threaten the international rules-based system, and the renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the European Union.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer. The Chancellor is right to say that China is vital to our future, but in the light of its recent economic slowdown, what are the Government doing to enhance our trading relationships with the high growth-potential economies of our Commonwealth partners?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We very much welcome the state visit by the President of China and Madame Peng, which starts today. Of course, China is hugely important to us in terms of bilateral trade, but so is the Commonwealth.

This Government have unashamedly put the Commonwealth back into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We have reinvigorated our network within the Commonwealth and look forward to the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta. We are an early investor in the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council. Trade between two Commonwealth countries is much cheaper than trade by one Commonwealth country outside the Commonwealth. This is an area that we are concentrating on and we want to see far greater trade within the Commonwealth.

It was reported yesterday that 14 cleaners who work at the FCO were called to an investigatory meeting by the Department’s contractor, Interserve, because they had the temerity to write to the Foreign Secretary to congratulate him on his reappointment and ask to discuss the living wage. Given that a basic freedom is the right of any individual to contact us as elected representatives, without fear or favour, will the right hon. Gentleman join me in condemning this attempt to intimidate staff for having exercised that right?

The right hon. Gentleman wrote to me about that matter last night and I have investigated it. I have confirmation from Interserve that although a review meeting was held, no disciplinary action was taken against any cleaner as a result of their writing that letter. It has been reported that some of the people involved in writing the letter were the subjects of redundancies. Redundancies were unfortunately necessary because the Foreign Office is surrendering the Old Admiralty building as part of the campaign to reduce the estate footprint of Government Departments and save the taxpayer money. He will be pleased to know that all the redundancies announced by Interserve in connection with the Foreign Office contract were carried out in consultation with the Public and Commercial Services Union.

I am sorry that the Foreign Secretary did not feel able even to condemn the calling of those cleaners to a meeting—it seems to me that people should be able to write to whoever they want. One cleaner who works full time said that they want to be paid the living wage for cleaning offices in the right hon. Gentleman’s Department because they cannot afford to pay their rent without claiming housing benefit. The letter states:

“I really don’t want to receive any benefits, but at the moment I have no choice.”

Given that other Whitehall Departments currently pay the London living wage of £9.15 an hour, why are staff cleaning the offices of the right hon. Gentleman paid so much less?

The good news is that from next April all cleaners working for Interserve, including those on the Foreign Office contract, will receive the national living wage when it is introduced.

T2. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UN Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka achieved an historic opportunity for justice for the victims of grave human rights abuses in that country? Will his Department continue to scrutinise the implementation of that resolution? (901638)

Yes we will. We see the resolution as the start of a process, not as its end, and we withstood criticism from the Opposition Benches on our whole policy towards Sri Lanka. We have been at the forefront of getting this resolution, and we are in the right place. I met Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera a couple of weeks ago in New York, and Prince Zeid more recently in London. We stand ready to help and assist in the implementation of this resolution.

T3. Turkey is currently hosting 2.5 million refugees, including 2.2 million Syrians, and organisations based in Turkey are struggling to alleviate the rank poverty and conditions affecting those refugees. Does the Secretary of State agree that the UK should play its part in helping to co-ordinate a new response to take appropriate action to help those affected? (901639)

Yes, I do. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I raised that matter with our European counterparts, and we urged other countries to commit themselves to the levels of support that the United Kingdom has already led in providing.

T5. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the best way of bringing a long-term solution to the migration crisis is to work with our partners to ensure good governance and economic growth in the middle east? (901641)

Yes. Not only in the middle east but in all countries of origin, the long-term solution is to improve conditions and seek stability, security, good governance, the rule of law and economic growth.

T4. When was the last time that the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Russians about the situation—particularly the military situation—in Syria? (901640)

I spoke informally to the Russian Foreign Minister when we were together in New York for the UN General Assembly at the end of last month. That was the last time that I discussed the situation with the Russians.

T6. Since September there has been a worrying resurgence in intercommunal fighting in the Central African Republic after the reported beheading of a young Muslim taxi driver. Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands displaced, and there is now genuine concern that the conflict will descend into genocide, and worse. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that the British Government are providing political and humanitarian support to the President of the Central African Republic? (901643)

My hon. Friend is right and we fully support President Catherine Samba-Panza and her interim Government. It is striking to note that a country the size of France has a population of just 4.6 million, meaning that there is little infrastructure and almost no state outside the capital. None the less, the UK is leading with £58 million of contributions to date.

May I draw the Foreign Secretary’s attention to the worrying situation of my constituent Rebecca Prosser? She was working in the Strait of Malacca on a documentary about piracy for Wall to Wall productions. She had the right visa for Singapore and Malaysia, but it had not yet been authorised for Indonesia. She was arrested in May and has been detained there ever since. I am grateful for the opportunity to meet the Minister and I have met the Indonesian ambassador, but my constituent is on trial right now. She is a hard-working, law-abiding young woman who has committed a visa breach. Will the Foreign Office do everything it can to support her, and at least have a consular presence in the courtroom where she is on trial?

The right hon. and learned Lady came to see me about this matter, and quite rightly so. I personally raised their case with the Indonesian Foreign Minister at the UN General Assembly in September. She knows that immigration offences are taken very seriously in Indonesia. The trial is progressing at the moment. As I said to her at the time, their lawyers judge that a low media profile is the best way of bringing this immigration case to a conclusion, so it is probably better not to say more than that at the moment.

T7. Will the Minister update the House on progress on the issue of the letttori in Italy, following the recent Pontignano conference? (901644)

I discussed this issue in the margins of the Pontignano conference, and we continue to press Italian Ministers to take action to remedy this injustice that has persisted for far too long.

In the negotiations, we are seeking to ensure that the EU is focused on greater competitiveness, but we also recognise the EU’s important role in protecting employment rights.

T8. Will the Foreign Secretary outline how many ISIL fighters remain in Iraq, and what would be required to remove that murderous organisation from that country? (901645)

It is estimated that there are 10,000 to 13,000 active ISIL fighters in Iraq. We always said, at the beginning of the intervention last summer, that it would probably take three years to defeat ISIL militarily. I spoke to General John Allen, the US President’s special envoy on this subject, just a few weeks ago. His view is that that remains correct, and we still have another two years to go to a military solution in Iraq.

Will the Foreign Secretary update the House on the case of Karl Andree and what representations have been made since the cancellation of the Saudi prison contract last week; and perhaps also on the case of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, about whom the Leader of the Opposition has again written to the Prime Minister?

As I have said on many occasions previously when I have been asked to comment in the House on these judicial matters in Saudi Arabia, our judgment is that we achieve most by speaking privately but regularly to our Saudi interlocutors. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that I do not expect Mr Andree to receive the lashings that he has been sentenced to, and I do not expect Mr al-Nimr to be executed.

T9. What representations have been made by Ministers to the Government of China and to the Chinese ambassador in London on the human rights situation there, particularly with regard to the recent arrest and detention of a substantial number of lawyers and rights campaigners? (901646)

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), met human rights defenders last week to discuss these specific issues. We raise human rights issues regularly in our meetings with our Chinese counterparts. We also have a formal UK-China human rights dialogue—twice a year, with formal meetings—committed to nothing but the discussion of human rights issues of concern.

Vice is an online news service based in Shoreditch. Recently, three of its journalists were arrested in Turkey. Thanks partly to the intervention of the Foreign Office, the two British citizens were released from jail, but Mohammed Rasool, an Iraqi citizen, is still in jail 50 days later. Will the Foreign Secretary undertake to take this matter up with the Turkish Government, and, generally, the press freedom needed in that country?

We do, as the hon. Lady knows, regularly discuss with Turkish Ministers concerns about human rights, including freedom of the press. She will also know that we, like other countries, do not lobby on behalf of citizens who are nationals of other states. It is for their Governments to take the lead in doing that.

We have today seen the well-worn exchange of differing opinions on Israel and Palestine. Whatever the tit-for-tat arguments might be, does the Foreign Secretary accept that the fundamental moral principle beneath all this is that Israel’s annexation of its neighbours’ land through settlement building is illegal, and that there is no place, either in this argument or in this House, for those who will not publicly admit to that principle?

I am not going to define who can and who cannot take part in the argument, but we believe that settlement building breaches international law and that it is essential that we do not allow the facts on the ground to make impossible a two-state solution, which we all fervently hope will be the ultimate solution to the Palestine question.

As part of ongoing discussions and negotiations with the European Commission, will the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ensure that the European maritime and fisheries fund is approved as quickly as possible in order to underpin fishing communities throughout the UK?

I know how important this issue is to the hon. Lady’s constituents, and I shall make sure I discuss it with my opposite number in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs so that we can continue to make those representations.

Given the momentum for Turkish accession to the EU, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the reunification of Cyprus will be a significant condition? Amid all the other challenges, this one is surmountable, given the increasing confidence and wider benefits, not just for Cyprus but for the wider region.

I visited Cyprus a couple of months ago, and I am committed to going there again next month. I have been keeping in touch with both the Greek Cypriots and Mr Akinci, the Turkish Cypriot leader, whom I spoke to a couple of weeks ago. I am cautiously optimistic that we are seeing an alignment in Cyprus that may make a settlement possible—I do not want to over-enthuse about this, but many people think we now have a chance, the like of which we have not seen for decades.

Will the Foreign Secretary give us his assessment of the current strength, effectiveness and numbers of the Free Syrian Army, a subject on which he has been very quiet recently? We want to get rid of ISIL and Assad, but there has been no mention of the FSA.

There are many groups, running into the thousands, operating in Syria, and they form together in various alliances and umbrella organisations. The non-ISIL, non-al-Nusra part of the opposition probably has a fighting strength of about 80,000 soldiers deployed across the country. That is my latest estimate.

Order. I am sorry to disappoint remaining colleagues, but as usual demand has outstripped supply.