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Topical Questions

Volume 611: debated on Tuesday 24 May 2016

My priorities for 2016 are the campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, managing our relations with Russia and seeking to protect the rules-based international system, as well as, of course, ensuring Britain’s continued membership of, and leadership in, the EU.

Last year, after the Prime Minister’s historic visit to Jaffna, the UN Human Rights Council passed a consensual resolution on accountability and reconciliation, following the atrocities at the end of the Sir Lankan civil war. When the resolution comes back before the UN in June, will our Government do whatever they can to ensure that Sri Lanka lives up to its promises? Progress to date has been slow to non-existent.

I start by offering my heartfelt condolences to the people of Sri Lanka affected by the terrible floods and landslides that have hit so much of the country. I expressed that message personally to Foreign Minister Samaraweera last week.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will give his assessment of progress at the next meeting of the UNHRC in Geneva in June. Before then, I myself will visit Geneva to discuss with him how we can encourage and support the Government to deliver fully against their commitments. We recognise that there is still much more to be done, and the UK will continue to support and encourage the Sri Lankan Government to deliver fully against their commitments.

Amnesty International reported this week that unexploded British-made BL-755 cluster submunitions have been found in Hayran, Yemen. We know what these weapons can do, especially to children, who mistake them for toys. Amnesty also reports that on 1 March two children near the village of Fard were herding goats when they found some other cluster bomblets. They played with them until one went off, killing the eight-year-old and severely injuring the 11-year-old. Does the Foreign Secretary regard the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas as a breach of international humanitarian law?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the UK has long since given up the use of cluster munitions. Their use or supply is illegal under British law. As the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), said earlier, the weapons described were manufactured decades ago, but the Ministry of Defence is urgently investigating the allegations, and I believe there will be an urgent question on this subject shortly.

I am grateful for that reply. As the House knows, we are a signatory to the convention banning the use of cluster munitions, but sadly Saudi Arabia is not. It is alleged that this particular type of BL-755 was designed to be dropped from one specific jet—the UK-manufactured Tornado used by the Saudi air force. Under the cluster munitions convention, member states should

“make…best efforts to discourage States not party to this Convention from using cluster munitions.”

What steps has the right hon. Gentleman taken to discourage the use of British-made cluster munitions mounted on British-made jets by Saudi Arabia—an ally with which we have extensive military co-operation—and will he now commit to suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia and to making the strongest possible representations that it must cease the use of cluster munitions in this conflict?

We need to be careful. There is no evidence yet that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions. The right hon. Gentleman is right that Saudi Arabia is not a signatory to the convention banning cluster munitions, but nor is the United States. We have always made it clear to the Saudi Arabians that we cannot support the use of cluster munitions in any circumstances, as to do so would be unlawful for Ministers and officials in this country. We believe we have an assurance from Saudi Arabia that cluster munitions have not been used in the conflict, but as I said earlier, the MOD is urgently investigating the allegations. I am sure that my ministerial colleague will have more to say in response to the UQ.

T3. What specific commitments can the Government make to support Burundian civil society organisations in their peace-building efforts in light of the need to foster and strengthen social cohesion among Burundian communities from conflicting political, ethnic and social groups? (905029)

Through the conflict, stability and security fund, we are seeking to reduce the impunity and address the causes of conflict. We are working with the Burundians in general and with the international community, the country’s human rights commission, the truth and reconciliation commission and the court system. I met human rights organisations in private in Bujumbura in December to hear their detailed concerns, and I addressed the UN Security Council in March. I am pleased to report that the Arusha talks have now started under the chairmanship of former Tanzanian President Mkapa. I look forward to hearing reports about how they are going.

T2. Last year, Nepal suffered a major earthquake, which badly injured the country’s spirit. In the meantime, the world has contributed hugely to rebuild the nation. At the same time, Nepal has adopted a new constitution. What support have the Government given to Nepal to help with the implementation of its new constitution? (905028)

The February amendments to the constitution were a significant moment for Nepal, as I think the hon. Gentleman would agree, and a step towards resolving long-standing differences. We continue to encourage peaceful dialogue and compromise to reach a political situation that meets the concerns of all Nepali citizens. I discussed this most recently with Nepal’s deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kamal Thapa, in London on 27 April.

T6. What assessment has the Minister for Africa made of the International Monetary Fund’s regional economic outlook and the opportunity of the result to tackle extremism in the region? (905032)

As a region, sub-Saharan Africa has seen uninterrupted economic growth over the last 20 years. The IMF regional economic outlook for sub-Saharan Africa projects a growth rate of 3% on average across the continent. Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Senegal are all expecting to grow well in excess of double that figure, with the Ivory Coast growing from 8% to a potentially staggering 10% growth annually. Africa clearly continues to offer some great investment opportunities for UK business.

T4. What recent representations has the Minister made to his counterparts in the Nigerian Government on the continued detention of the British citizen Nnamdi Kanu of the indigenous people of Biafra? Is the Minister confident that Nnamdi is receiving all his rights under international law? (905030)

I have continued representations with the Nigerian Government on Biafran and other issues and I will continue to do so. I have met a series of Members of Parliament who have constituency interests in Biafra, and I am happy to continue to do so. The British Government recognise Nigeria as a geographic area that holds together as one country, not as separate countries.

T7. The 26th of June will mark one year since the attack on holiday makers on the beach at Sousse, resulting in the loss of 38 lives, with 39 people wounded. What is the Minister doing to assist families in marking this anniversary in peace? What are the Government doing to assist the Tunisian Government in promoting security and the country’s economy? (905033)

My hon. Friend is right to raise the devastating impact of this attack on the Tunisian economy. We are working very closely to provide support to the country’s policing in order to secure its borders. We are doing all we can to support the Britons affected by the bombs—whether it be the families of the bereaved, those who were injured in the attack or even those who saw what happened and need psychological support. We held a commemoration service in April.

As “Project Fear” reaches dizzy new heights, the Prime Minister and certain members of this Government are making clear on a daily basis the potentially disastrous consequences of Scotland and the UK leaving the EU. Given that, will the Secretary of State confirm why this Government have taken our country into such a precarious position?

If the hon. Lady is asking why we are holding a referendum, it is because the British people are entitled to have their say on this important issue. For 40 years, their voice has been ignored, and because we have a Conservative Government, they will now have their say on 23 June. I hope that we politicians will listen to what they say and will accept their verdict.

T8. As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for the Philippines, may I ask my right hon. Friend to join me in congratulating President Rodrigo Duterte on his victory, wishing him well, and finding a mutually convenient time to meet him? (905034)

I congratulate the Filipinos on their vibrant show of democracy. Mayor Duterte has received a strong mandate from the electorate, who want greater prosperity and security in the years ahead. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visited the Philippines in January, and plans for further ministerial visits will be made after the new Government take office on 30 June.

Can the Secretary of State tell us how remaining in the European Union gives us stronger control in finding solutions to issues such as population migration, which are often caused by conflict and the results of climate change?

Working with our partners in the European Union on such complex and long-term issues clearly reinforces our ability to have effect. In my nearly two years as Foreign Secretary, I have visited more than 70 countries in six continents, and in none of those countries has anyone ever suggested to me that Britain’s voice would be more influential if we were outside the European Union. Quite the opposite: being in the European Union means that our influence is augmented, not diminished.

T9. In 2010, the Prime Minister said: “I am here to make the case for Turkey’s membership of the European Union and to fight for it.” In 2014, he said: “In terms of Turkish membership of the EU, I very much support that.”Is the Foreign Secretary really claiming that we should take it from those words that the Government intend to veto Turkey’s accession to the EU—and, if there is no remote prospect of its joining the EU, why is so much taxpayers’ money being spent on preparing it for accession? (905036)

Turkey applied to join the European Union in 1987, and, as the Prime Minister observed—I think—yesterday, given the current rate of progress it will be decades, if not longer, before it gets anywhere near EU membership. However, there is a benefit for us in seeing Turkey on a European-facing path, and thus under pressure to improve human rights and compliance with the rule of law. If we do not keep that path open, we shall not have that leverage.

Ultimately, though, we have a veto. [Interruption.] We have a veto over the terms and conditions on which any applicant country is able to join the European Union, and we have made it absolutely clear that there can be no question of further accessions and access to free movement within the European Union until an applicant country has reached the average level of GDP per capita across the European Union. That means no more poverty gradient in the EU. [Interruption.]

I think we all know that the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) cannot be vetoed. He never has been, and he never will be.

Earlier questions have referred to the middle east, and to deploring extremism wherever it may be found. Is it not a matter of grave concern that the new Israeli Defence Minister is extremely right-wing and ultra-nationalist? He said last year that what he described as “disloyal” Israeli Arabs should be beheaded. Does that not illustrate how far the Israeli Government have gone in their extremism and their rejection of any idea of a two-state solution, and should that not be condemned?

It is a matter of grave concern. The polarisation of views in Israel/Palestine makes it less likely that we shall be able to achieve the two-state solution that the House and most of the world so ardently crave, and harder for us to do so.

In answer to a written parliamentary question from me, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury reported that on 16 January £657 million of frozen Iranian assets had been unfrozen, and therefore returned to Iran or Iranian citizens. What are the Government doing to monitor those funds and ensure that they are spent correctly, rather than being handed over to terrorists or funding action against British troops?

My hon. Friend asks two separate questions. First, we are committed to the unfreezing of Iranian assets. Some who were opposed to the joint comprehensive plan of action—JCPOA—agreement with Iran suggested that up to $150 billion would flow back to Iran in short order, but to date we think that the process has managed to achieve about $11 billion. Secondly, there are of course international agreements in place to monitor and prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorist organisations, and those apply to Iran as much as to any other country.

As I said earlier, Tunisia is going through a difficult period at the moment. It has been subjected to a number of terrorist attacks and attempted attacks. We have almost doubled the size of our embassy there, and we are doing our best to ensure that we provide support during this difficult period. I would be happy to discuss in more detail some of the challenges relating to freedom of the press with the hon. Lady outside the Chamber.