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Topical Questions

Volume 608: debated on Tuesday 12 April 2016

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is currently in Vietnam holding meetings with Vietnamese Ministers about trade and political relations. This follows visits to China, where among other things he pressed the Chinese authorities for action to bring greater stability to world steel markets, and to Japan, where he represented the United Kingdom at a meeting of G7 Foreign Ministers.

In the wake of the recent visit by Premier Modi to the UK and the current visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to India, can my right hon. Friend highlight the trade and investment benefits to both countries from these important high-level exchanges?

Indeed I can. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the current visit by Their Royal Highnesses, which is going extremely well. We have incredibly good bilateral relations with India, and the visit here by Mr Modi was a great success. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point to the soft power we have in our diplomatic armoury, from the BBC, to the British Council, the GREAT campaign, the Newton Fund and the Chevening and Marshall scholarship programmes. All those are part of the jigsaw that helps us to do business and to project British values right around the world.

The Prime Minister said yesterday that all of Britain’s overseas territories and Crown dependencies, apart from Anguilla and Guernsey, have now agreed to provide our law enforcement and tax authorities with full access to information on beneficial ownership. Why will there not be public access to the registers, given that the Prime Minister wrote to the overseas territories on 25 April 2014 to say that making such information open would help “to tackle crime”, and given that, from June this year, the British register of beneficial ownership will be open to the public? If openness is good enough for the UK, why should we accept a different position in our overseas territories?

It is disappointing that the shadow Secretary of State does not congratulate the overseas territories on the enormous progress they have made on tax transparency and on opening up for law enforcement agencies. This is really superb progress, but as the Prime Minister outlined yesterday, it is not an international standard, and we need to move towards eliminating all corrupt, terrorist and money laundering practices across the globe. While there are states in the US where people can open companies and not have full public registers, it is only fair to say to the overseas territories, “Congratulations on progress so far.” Longer term, the Prime Minister and the Government are clear that we want greater transparency, and that will be about a move towards public access.

I do welcome progress; I was just asking why the overseas territories will not meet the standard Britain is going to set.

Our membership of the European Union helps us in the fight against money laundering, terrorist financing and tax evasion—an example being the fourth anti-money laundering directive, on which the UK has taken the lead. The directive will, for the first time, oblige all member states to keep registers of beneficial owners and to make those open to tax and law enforcement authorities and to others who have a legitimate interest, including investigative journalists. Does that not show that leaving the EU could hinder the fight against financial criminality in Europe, because the best way to tackle such criminality is to work in partnership with our neighbours?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there are many ways in which we benefit, in taking action against crime, through this kind of European co-operation. What I hear from the police service is that almost all serious crime these days has an international dimension of some kind, and countries need to work together to tackle that. The current system, where we can choose whether to opt in to individual justice and home affairs measures, really does give us the best of both worlds.

T2. What more can be done to prevent vulnerable people from being indoctrinated to become suicide bombers? (904351)

The Koran actually forbids suicide, and if we look at the profile of suicide bombers from Sousse to Bali, we will see that martyrdom is sold by extremists as a fast track to paradise to people who have scant knowledge of the Koran. They are promised a ticket to heaven with little, if any, service to God. If we are genuinely to defeat extremism and stem the tide of vulnerable recruits, greater emphasis needs to be placed on duty to God in this life as well as the next.

T3. The Minister will be aware of reports that Libya paid $1.5 billion into the US compensation fund for relatives of victims of terror blamed on Libya. Why have the UK victims of IRA terrorism that used Libyan Semtex not received similar support? The Minister recently indicated that he would support those victims of IRA terrorists who used Semtex. What is he doing and what support is in place for them? (904352)

It is for a previous Government to explain why that opportunity was missed when the United States advanced discussions in that area. What I have done, in meetings both in Belfast and here in London with those victims of terrorism that involved Semtex or, indeed, that was supported by Gaddafi, is facilitate a visit to Tripoli when the security measures allow it.

T4. Could a Minister update the House on the support we have given to the Government of the Ivory Coast following the terrorist attack in Grand Bassam in March? (904353)

Last week I visited the scene of the attack in Grand Bassam in Côte d’Ivoire, which killed 19 people and injured more than 20, and laid a wreath on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government. Furthermore, I met President Ouattara and discussed how the UK can support efforts to prevent the radicalisation of young people in his country. We all offer our condolences, support and, indeed, solidarity.

T9. Developing countries lose three times as much to tax havens as they gain in international aid. Although yesterday’s announcement was a welcome, partial step in addressing that, registers of beneficial ownership will be ineffective unless they are public. Does the Minister agree that the Prime Minister’s anti-corruption summit next month would be an appropriate deadline to insist that all of the UK’s overseas territories and Crown dependencies adopt public registers of beneficial ownership? (904358)

First, we should congratulate the Prime Minister. This is the first international conference on anti-corruption. We have already made great progress on beneficial ownership, but it is not the only issue of corruption. Having visited Ghana last week, I know that many other issues need to be tackled. Although beneficial ownership is an important issue, it is not the only issue for that corruption conference.

T5. The huge Mosul dam is crumbling and might collapse. If it does, Mosul will be covered with up to 70 feet of water and 1.5 million lives will be threatened in Tikrit, Samarra and Baghdad. What work is under way to maintain the integrity of that structure? (904354)

To use your superlative, Mr Speaker, this is one of the most serious things that Iraqis face, on top of everything else that is going on in Iraq. If a 14-metre tsunami along the Tigris goes through the Mosul dam, it will take out the city of Mosul and put Baghdad under 5 feet of water. The Iraqi authorities need to recognise the sense of urgency with regard to the dam, which is built on gypsum, and put in place emergency measures and alerts. We have already taken precautions at the embassy.

I raised the issue of the Baha’is and other minorities in meetings with the Foreign Minister when he visited in March. I also have regular meetings with the chargé d’affaires—the ambassador in waiting—in London.

T6. Could we have an update on the Havana process, which is working to bring an end to the conflict between the FARC rebels and the Colombian military, and which should offer the best opportunity to focus much more on tackling the drugs trade? (904355)

I do not think we need to get too hung up on the actual date; what is important is the result, which is the big prize towards which all have been working for a considerable amount of time. We again congratulate the negotiating team under President Santos, as well as the Cuban Government in Havana on the part they have played. I am also pleased to say that the United Kingdom has helped the process with advice and financially, with an EU trust fund and a UN fund.

Last week, the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, said that there is a greenhouse effect in terms of the extremist groups that are bringing their influence to bear in the wake of the Syrian conflict. Can the Minister confirm what the Government’s strategy is for defeating Daesh, as opposed to simply displacing it?

The hon. Lady is right. Not only is that the case at the moment, but when the Bali bombing took place, there were 21 registered terrorist groups from a British perspective, and today that number is more than 50. It is important that we focus on eradicating Daesh in all its forms not only in Iraq and Syria, but where it is starting to spread, and its franchises, such as the Khorasan group, the Taliban, al-Shabaab and Boko Haram. Those other groups are trying to get support from Daesh. Internationally, we must wake up and focus on the scale of the problem.

T7. Given that so many are now using the proper name for the terrorist organisation Daesh to defeat its ideology, propaganda and appeal, is it not unfortunate that the BBC still refuses to do so? (904356)

I congratulate my hon. Friend, who, I think, got an award in your presence, Mr Speaker, for his campaign on that very issue. I am puzzled about why the BBC, from John Humphrys to John Craven, continues to use the term Islamic State. There is nothing Islamic and nothing state-like about it. I do not know what more we need to do. Perhaps we need to write to “Points of View”.

I am sure the whole House will join my condemnation of the human rights abuses, documented by the United Nations and Amnesty International, that have been committed by the South Sudanese Government forces, which included deliberately suffocating men and boys in a container and allowing government soldiers to rape women in lieu of wages. Following his recent visit to South Sudan, can the Minister tell the House what representations he has made to the Government of South Sudan and what process is in place for peace?

I made a number of representations to President Salva Kiir and to Riek Machar during the African Union meeting. The UK Government secured agreement at the UN for a new commission on human rights, and the Government of South Sudan must now fulfil its commitment to co-operate with the commission, which is charged with investigating gang rapes, the destruction of villages and attacks on civilians that may even constitute war crimes.

T8. Many of my constituents have expressed concern about the possible admission of Turkey to the EU. Is it still the Government’s policy to support Turkish admission? Bearing in mind public hostility, are they prepared to reconsider their position? (904357)

As the Prime Minister said the other day in the House, Turkish membership of the EU is not on the cards for many years indeed. That is not least because there would have to be a Cyprus settlement before Cyprus lifted its block on a whole number of the negotiating chapters. That is not something that we are likely to face in the lifetime of this Parliament or the next, and possibly not in the one after that.

The recently elected MPs of the new Hluttaw in Myanmar are acutely aware of the scale of the task that they face in building democracy in their country. On my recent visit, I was really quite touched by the extent to which they appreciate the support of the UK Parliament for the work they have to do. On that note, may I ask what dialogue the Government are engaged in to promote freedom of expression and political rights in Burma?

I am glad that the hon. Lady called the country Burma towards the end of her question, unlike the BBC, which continues to call it Myanmar. We are hugely supportive, as she knows, of the new Government of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has just appointed herself State Counsellor and Foreign Minister, among other titles. She is basically running the Government. It is very early days.

We continue to support Burma across the whole range of issues, from human rights, to the issue in Rakhine, to the peace process and the ceasefires. I congratulate hon. Members from across the House who have taken the trouble to go to Nay Pyi Taw to try to teach some of the new politicians there the basic elements of how to run a democratic Government. There is a long way to go, but I believe that we are moving in the right direction.

This Government and the previous Labour Government have deliberately undermined authoritarian regimes such as those of Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi and Assad, and they have unleashed totalitarian regimes as a result. Will the Government accept that Assad, however unpleasant, is not going to go? Will they accept realpolitik, pick up the phone and try to broker a deal between Russia, Assad and the other anti-Daesh movements in order to try to get some chance of peace in the benighted Syrian countryside?

It is for the people of Syria to decide who should lead their country. The majority of people in Syria do not accept that Assad should be part of its long-term future. He has used barrel bombs, he has used chemical weapons and he should have no part at all in the long-term future of the country.

Will the Minister give us an assessment of how far away Libya is from having a stable Government? What is the strength of Daesh there, and are real steps being taken to bring in ground forces to push them out of the country?

I am pleased that Prime Minister Siraj and the Presidency Council are now meeting in Tripoli. It has taken a long time to get the General National Congress and the House of Representatives to agree to support the Prime Minister. These are important initial steps, but the hon. Gentleman is right to recognise that Daesh has a foothold in Derna and Sirte. That is why the sooner the Prime Minister is able to make the important decisions, the sooner the international community can come in and provide support to make sure that Daesh does not gain a long-term foothold.

British exports to China have more than doubled since 2010, led by firms such as Havant-based manufacturer Colt. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Colt, and encourage other firms to follow its lead?

Indeed, I congratulate all the companies in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Trade with China, despite the recent setback, is still doing extremely well. Our bilateral relations have been reset, following the successful state visit to this country of President Xi. The Foreign Secretary has just been in Beijing. We both encourage British companies to trade more in China—it is a huge market—and all of us, as local Members of Parliament, to do everything we can to encourage our small and medium-sized enterprises to trade with China. Equally, the United Kingdom still continues to attract huge Chinese investment in our infrastructure, which of course provides employment and jobs.