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Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Volume 613: debated on Tuesday 12 July 2016

The Secretary of State was asked—

West Bank

1. What assessment he has made of trends in the number of demolitions by Israel of Palestinian homes and other structures in the west bank in 2016. (905808)

Before answering this question, may I take this opportunity to say that, two weeks ago, I had the difficult task of responding to the written Foreign Office question submitted by our former colleague, Jo Cox? Given her active role in foreign affairs, I completed this task because I believe it is what she would have wanted. Given the frequency and the passion with which she spoke and indeed influenced policy in this very forum at Foreign Office questions, I thought it appropriate to begin by paying tribute to her.

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for what he said, which is warmly welcomed in the House. More than anyone in this House, the hon. Gentleman knows of what he speaks, and I thank him.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

We are deeply concerned by the continued demolition of Palestinian property by Israeli authorities, and the worrying spike in the rate of demolitions this year. In all but the most exceptional circumstances, demolitions are contrary to international humanitarian law. We regularly raise our concerns about demolitions with the Israeli Government. We make it clear that such actions do not encourage the confidence-building measures needed for talks to recommence.

I associate myself with the Minister’s words about our former colleague and friend, Jo Cox. She was an exceptional Member of Parliament and an exceptional person as well. Perhaps the greatest tribute any of us can give to Jo is to continue her work to support human rights throughout the world.

One of the things Jo was passionate about was justice for the Palestinians. According to the UN, Israel has demolished 649 Palestinian structures this year, and 1,000 people—over 400 of them children—have been displaced. The situation is getting worse, not better. I know that the Minister condemns these things, but if Israel feels it can continue with a culture of impunity, why should it stop? What can the international community do to show Israel that it does not have impunity, and what specific actions would the UK Government support?

Thank you very much for those initial comments. We agree and we are hugely concerned about the rate of demolitions. We need to place additional pressure on Israel and, indeed, the Palestinians to come to the table. I am pleased that we held a summit in Paris to discuss the overarching challenges that we face and the role that the international community can play. The extent of the demolitions was highlighted in the Quartet report, produced by Russia, the US, the EU and the UN, which underlines the very concerns that the hon. Gentleman has outlined.

I, too, would like to associate myself with the Minister’s moving words about our late colleague, Jo Cox. As for the general point, my hon. Friend is quite right when he says that this will not help in moving towards a position in which people come together to talk. There is, however, the other side of the coin, with 36 Israelis, along with four foreign nationals, murdered this year. Instead of condemning the murders, the Palestinian Authority glorified them. Surely, when just this weekend the Israeli Prime Minister said that he would meet without conditions, we should urge the Palestinian authorities to do precisely that and have direct talks.

My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue. We regularly raise and discuss these matters at Foreign Office questions. Now that we have had the Paris summit and seen a meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry, we can see this issue coming back on to the agenda. My concern—I raised it at the Paris summit—is that with all the other distractions and concerns in the middle east, we have lost sight of something that needs to be resolved. My right hon. Friend makes the important point that the actions of the Palestinians do not go unnoticed, and we require the leadership of President Abbas to make it clear that those actions must be condemned.

As well as demolishing Palestinian homes on the West Bank, Israel continues to arrest and detain Palestinian children in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. G4S, which has provided services for Israeli military checkpoints and prisons, has been found by the UK national contact point for the OECD guidelines to be in breach of its fundamental human rights obligations. Will the Minister join me in calling for G4S to withdraw fully from its relevant contracts with the Israeli state agencies?

I will certainly look into the case that the hon. Lady raises. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is concerned about the treatment of Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons and has raised it with the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, and I raised it during my recent visit to Israel. We have done some work—and, indeed, have invested some funds—to ensure that the children are looked after in the best possible way.

The demolition of Arab houses, and of Jewish houses, was started by us, the British, between the wars, during the operation of the terms of the British mandate for Palestine. Today, the Israeli Government specifically cites British mandate law as a justification for the current demolitions. Has the Minister had conversations with his Israeli counterpart about the legitimacy of using that law today?

Given our legacy and the breadth of our influence over the last couple of hundred years, I think it wrong for any Government in the world to point to British policy and say that, historically, it is the cause. All laws can be updated, and both sides have a responsibility to come together and resolve this matter for the long term.


2. What guidance he issues to British embassies on whether they are obliged to respond to inquiries from British companies seeking assistance to understand the laws and regulations relating to their business dealings with the country in which the embassy is based. (905809)

Our embassies and high commissions play a key role in promoting British interests and helping British companies to enter new markets. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and I have led delegations of businesses overseas, and we work closely with UKTI to ensure that our businesses receive continued support and advice.

One of my constituents has written to a certain embassy many times, and, although it acknowledges his correspondence, he has never received any further response, which is preventing him from fulfilling an important part of a significant business deal. Could the Minister provide any assistance by obtaining a full response from the embassy on behalf of my constituent, so that he can be given more information?

I was aware of that case, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising it. If any other Members are concerned about a lack of support from embassies for businesses in their constituencies, will they please let us know?

I understand that the head of UKTI in Morocco, with which the company concerned wishes to trade, has been speaking to the company directly. I can only apologise for the delay in providing the normal level of support that we would expect to give any company wishing to do business in Morocco or, indeed, anywhere else.

Does my hon. Friend agree that not enough small and medium-sized businesses export around the world, and that, because our balance of trade is widening, we must constantly review our trade policy? In particular, does he agree that British embassies around the world could help with digital linking between consumers around the world and potential exporting companies in this country?

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point, which covers a specific interest that we can espouse. The Foreign Secretary had an opportunity to brief ambassadors and high commissioners when they returned to the UK last week. Given the new environment in which we find ourselves, the role that embassies and high commissions can play throughout the world in establishing new markets and exploring new opportunities—as well as revisiting old ones—is now critical.

Departmental Trade Specialists

3. Whether his Department plans to recruit more trade specialists as a result of the outcome of the EU referendum. (905810)

Let me begin by welcoming the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) to her new post, along with her compact team—a model, I hope, of improved productivity in the UK economy, although time will tell.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced last month, the Government are creating a new EU unit which will bring together the brightest and best from Whitehall and the private sector, including lawyers, financial experts and trade experts. The Government are actively seeking to recruit trade specialists, and that includes approaching former civil servants who have retired or moved to the private sector.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer, but can he tell the House how much this is going to cost?

No, not at this stage, but what I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, facing the opportunities we now do, recruitment of trade specialists, whatever that costs us, is likely to be an investment very well worth making.

Is the Foreign Secretary heartened by the fact that since we voted to leave the EU a number of key countries and economies, including India, China and Australia, have approached the UK regarding furthering trade, and how well that compares with the stalled trade talks that have taken many years between the EU and such countries as the US and Canada?

Yes, it is a source of some optimism that a number of significant economies around the world have indicated that they would be open to the idea of trade agreements with the UK, and my hon. Friend makes a point that is very obvious but none the less important: that negotiating a trade deal between two countries is always going to be much easier than negotiating a trade deal between one country and 28 countries.

Last week at the Foreign Affairs Committee Oliver Letwin stated that

“we clearly need a new cadre of highly skilful and highly experienced trade negotiators.”

I hope the Secretary of State sees the irony in the fact that the very best of our trade negotiators are based in Brussels, but can he assure the House that from now on we will indeed bring in the best trade negotiators notwithstanding their nationality?

I think the hon. Lady had in mind the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin). I am not sure I recognised the name she mentioned.

I was puzzling about that myself and am grateful for your clarification, Mr Speaker, and, having had it, I am very happy to answer the hon. Lady’s question. As I said in response to the initial question, we will need to hire significant numbers of trade negotiators and—I said this in the House a couple of weeks ago—I see no reason why we would not hire people who were non-British if they were the best people to do the job. Clearly, one would not want to hire a citizen of another country to negotiate a trade deal with that country, but having entered that caveat, I would hope we put together the best and most capable teams from wherever.

I am sure the Foreign Secretary will agree that the Prime Minister’s trade envoys have played a very important role around the world. As our relationship with the EU changes, will he make representations to ensure that that programme is rolled out across Europe as well?

My hon. Friend raises a good point, and that will of course be an issue for the new Prime Minister as trade envoys are personal appointments of the Prime Minister.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree with the assessment of a former permanent secretary of the Foreign Office that to deal with the legal and political complexities of leaving the EU the Foreign Office will need to double in size?

I absolutely recognise there is a huge and complex task ahead of us in negotiating both our exit from the EU and, perhaps more importantly, the new arrangements Britain will have with the EU 27, but this is a project that will have a limited duration: once the negotiations are completed the task will be done, and I am not sure increasing the size of the Foreign Office will necessarily be the most appropriate way of doing that. Having a specialist unit to deal with this short to medium-term task may well be the most efficient way of delivering the outcome.

The incoming Prime Minister told us yesterday that she intends to make a success of Brexit and part of that is clearly going to be trade talks with countries throughout the world. Has the message already gone out to our embassies and high commissions that even before Brexit happens initial talks about trade should start with other countries?

The message that has gone out is that Britain will need to redouble its efforts in international trade and refocus where the trade is concentrated in the future. I should also make it clear that until we have served an article 50 notice, we remain a full participating member of the European Union. Our ability to negotiate new trade agreements is restricted by the continued application of EU law until we have negotiated our exit from the European Union, so we have to tread a careful path. Of course we can have preliminary discussions, but we must ensure that we remain on the right side of our international obligations at all times.

Human Rights: China

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Chinese Government on the promotion of human rights in that country. (905811)

We regularly raise human rights with the Chinese authorities. I most recently discussed human rights with the Chinese ambassador a fortnight ago, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed the human rights dialogue with State Councillor Yang last week. In addition, my right hon. Friend raised concerns last month with the president of the Supreme People’s Court about the detention of human rights defenders.

Following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, we will need to develop a new set of trading relationships with China. What reassurances can the Minister give me that that process will not diminish our ability or our resolve to publicly condemn the Chinese Government for human rights abuses?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we are very keen to get a date for the annual human rights dialogue. That is the right architecture within which to raise individual cases. However, we will continue to raise individual cases of human rights abuse, and if there is no human rights dialogue, we will have to increase that.

22. Can the Minister tell us exactly what action he is taking to question the Chinese Government about their brutal persecution of those who peacefully practise Falun Gong, particularly in relation to the live harvesting of organs? (905829)

We have raised concerns about reports of organ harvesting, as well as about the torture and mistreatment of detainees, during the annual UK human rights dialogue. We will continue to do that at the next round. Equally, we pay close attention to the human rights situation in China and we remain extremely concerned about restrictions placed on freedom of religion or belief of any kind, including Falun Gong practitioners.

I should like to associate myself with the Minister’s remarks about Jo Cox, the MP who tragically lost her life. She was a fellow colleague from the 2015 intake. She was an advocate for refugees and a fierce and passionate champion of the dispossessed. We miss her very much at FCO questions, and her memory inspires us all as parliamentarians to work selflessly for those whose voice is rarely heard.

In relation to the human rights situation in China, Amnesty International has stated that at least 248 human rights lawyers and activists have been targeted by the authorities over the past year. They include the prominent lawyer, Wang Yu. She and 12 others are now under formal arrest on charges of subverting state power. What is the Minister’s assessment of this targeting of human rights activists? Does he agree that, on occasion, the Government’s approach lacks assertiveness in relation to human rights in China?

I should like to associate myself with the hon. Lady’s first remarks, but I dissociate myself from her concluding remark. I believe that, on balance, we have got the situation just about right. We are concerned about the human rights lawyers and we continue to raise the issue. Most recently, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did so with the president of the Supreme People’s Court of China, Zhou Qiang, on 9 June. He has also raised our concerns with the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, and we will continue so to do.

EU Withdrawal Negotiations

5. If he will ensure that the Scottish Government are included in negotiations on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. (905812)

11. If he will ensure that the Scottish Government are included in negotiations on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. (905818)

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, we must ensure that the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom are properly taken into account as we progress these negotiations. So, as we prepare for talks with the European Union, we will fully involve the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Governments as well as the Mayor of London, the overseas territories and other regional interests. Officials of the new EU unit, which I mentioned a few minutes ago, will be making contact with counterparts in the devolved Administrations.

While that answer is encouraging, it does not exactly give a lot of detail—much like the plans of the Brexiteers as they went into the referendum. What formal role will the Scottish Government and the other devolved Governments have in the process of formalising Brexit?

As we do with other matters, we will consult the Scottish Government both formally and through informal dialogue, including at senior official level on an ongoing basis.

The Scottish Government have been clear that EU nationals must be a priority. Given their net financial contribution, does the Foreign Secretary agree that EU nationals should be more of a priority than new nuclear weapons? Any new Chancellor should be especially mindful of that.

I am unsure whether the two issues need to be prioritised. They can both be pursued in parallel. The decision to renew our nuclear deterrent is quite separate from the negotiations that we will be having with the EU, including negotiations to ensure the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and the reciprocal rights of UK nationals living in EU countries.

Regardless of whether the Scottish Government are involved in the negotiations, will the Secretary of State confirm that the negotiations are purely about us leaving the EU and not some sort of renegotiation of our terms of membership that will result in a halfway house where we are half-in and half-out of the EU?

Yes, I can confirm that. The next Prime Minister has made it clear that Brexit means Brexit: we will be negotiating our exit from the EU. However, we will of course also seek to negotiate an agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU 27 to regulate our trade and other relationships with the EU.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it would be far better for Scotland to play a productive role in securing a new relationship between the UK and the EU, rather than looking to join as a new member, get the euro and put a border across this island?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Scotland’s best future is in a strong United Kingdom, trading effectively with the EU. We saw the case for independence during the previous referendum—it did not stack up at $100 a barrel of oil and it certainly does not stack up at $50 a barrel.

19. The highlands and islands currently benefit from an additional €192 million of transition funding. Given the incoming Prime Minister’s haste to get on with Brexit, will the Secretary of State confirm that the UK Government will guarantee that funding? (905826)

Britain is a significant net contributor to the EU, but that contribution includes a significant number of flows to particular regions, areas, projects and bodies within the United Kingdom. We will have to address how the recipients of those flows of funds from Brussels are to be protected in the future and that will be an important part of the negotiations.

20 . Scotland has benefited from access to EU research and a wealth of talented researchers and academics. The Guardian worryingly reported this morning:“Britain’s vote to leave the EU has unleashed a wave of discrimination against UK researchers”.Scottish universities and their staff are concerned. What is the Foreign Secretary’s message to the universities, research staff and workers that benefit from being part of the EU? How will he ensure that Scotland and its interests are protected? (905827)

This issue is not just about Scotland; it is much wider than that. I will say two things. First, as long as we are a full member of the EU and are paying the full sub, we must ensure that there is no discrimination against the UK, UK institutions, UK applicants for funding or UK citizens. Secondly, the point of negotiating an arrangement for Britain’s relationship with the EU 27 after we have left the EU is precisely to protect collaborative research, educational projects and cultural exchanges in addition to our important trading relationships.

May I begin by thanking the Foreign Secretary for welcoming me to this new job? It is right to say that we are compact team, but we have the advantage of being made up of two blessed difficult women, and so we are formidable and up for the task. If rumours of promotion are true, this may be my final session with him before he takes another job. It would seem that everyone is in flux. He has a reputation of being a formidable but approachable Minister to shadow, so I will be sorry if our acquaintance is so brief.

The Foreign Secretary rightly said that he has given assurances that he will consult Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, London and Gibraltar on the Government’s negotiating strategy for Brexit prior to triggering article 50. Will those assurances also apply in respect of Her Majesty’s Opposition, to ensure that the needs and concerns of the communities we represent are reflected as the Government develop their negotiating strategy?

First, I am surprised to hear the hon. Lady saying that she expects promotion. I thought that those in the Labour party who were expecting promotion threw their hat in the ring yesterday—perhaps she is going to be a late entrant to that competition. On the substance of her question, of course there will be extensive discussion about all these issues in Parliament. The Opposition will have an opportunity to present their views, and we shall listen carefully to them.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but I was hoping that I would get greater assurance than that and that there would be formal consultation with Her Majesty’s Opposition prior to the start of negotiations. We must avoid the mistakes made by the outgoing Prime Minister before his resignation. He had no proper consultation with Opposition parties, no proper discussion took place and there was a totally artificial timetable. Had the Prime Minister done those things, perhaps he would have got a better and more inclusive deal, the country might not have voted for Brexit and he might not be stepping down tomorrow. Does the Foreign Secretary not accept that the Prime Minister made a mistake and can he guarantee that those mistakes will not be made by the new Prime Minister?

Perhaps I dare say to the hon. Lady that I might have been a bit closer to those negotiations than she was and I can confidently say that engaging with the Opposition would not have affected the outcome.

I am sorry, but the questions and answers are taking too long. [Interruption.] Order. What we need now is a couple of pithy inquiries, not elongated ones.

The whole of Scotland is deeply concerned about the personal future of the Foreign Secretary, given his apocalyptic statements during the recent referendum. For example, he told Chatham House on 2 March that leaving would take longer to negotiate

“than the second world war.”

Will it take longer to negotiate Brexit than the second world war? How would any future Chancellor of the Exchequer deal with such uncertainty?

I think the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that the concern is this: if a future treaty between the United Kingdom and the European Union 27 is deemed to be a mixed competence, it will have to be ratified by 27 national Parliaments. I believe I am right in saying that the shortest time in which that has been done in respect of any EU treaty is just under four years—that is after taking into account the time it takes to negotiate.

That is a yes then. Did the Foreign Secretary see the poll at the weekend carried out by YouGov across European countries? It showed two things: first, that the UK Government were deeply unpopular in every other European country; and, secondly, that massive majorities of the public in every country surveyed were looking forward to an independent Scotland within Europe. Why are the UK Government so unpopular, and why is Scotland so popular in Europe?

I would have thought if there was one lesson to take from the events of the past three weeks, it was, “Do not read polls”.


6. What steps he is taking to support political liberty, freedom of expression and human rights in Bangladesh. (905813)

Our condolences go to the victims and the families of those involved in the horrific and cowardly terrorist attack in Dhaka on 1 July. Where credible allegations of human rights abuses exist, we raise them with the Bangladesh Government. Bangladesh is named as one of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s 30 human rights priority countries. The British Government also fund a number of programmes that support civil society in Bangladesh.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party have told me that hundreds of its party workers have now disappeared, and Amnesty International referred to at least 43 enforced disappearances in its latest international report. Whatever the true number, does he agree that the political situation in Bangladesh is now extremely serious and it is vital that political rights are protected?

Yes, I agree, and I condemn all forms of violence and excessive use of force. Equally, we made it clear in public and in private that justice must be done in a manner that fully respects the international human rights standards to which Bangladesh has signed up.

Human Rights Watch identified Bangladesh as having the highest rate of child marriage. This is a fundamental breach of human rights, particularly for those girls who are forced into marriages at such an early age. What are the Government doing to make their views known to the Bangladesh Government, and through the Commonwealth and other organisations, that such practice is not acceptable?

Clearly, it is not acceptable, and we continue to have a robust dialogue with the Bangladesh Government. We are also a significant aid donor working on some of these projects in that country.

Hindu priests have been brutally murdered and other religious minorities savaged. What actions has my right hon. Friend taken to inform the Bangladeshi Government that that is completely unacceptable and that they have to face up to their responsibilities?

Indeed. I can only repeat what I have just said. We have robust discussions with the Government of Bangladesh. We are extremely concerned about the situation in that country, not least because of its connections with Daesh and other organisations and its basic human rights as well.

What specific representations has the Minister made to the Government of Sheikh Hasina following the brutal murders in the diplomatic enclave of Gulshan in Dhaka? The area should have been very secure, and yet those murderers and terrorists were allowed in to murder 20 people on 1 July.

The Prime Minister wrote to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on 2 July to extend his condolences. I spoke to Foreign Minister Ali on 5 July to express my condemnation of this senseless act of horror.

Anglo-Indian Relations

7. What recent assessment he has made of the strength of diplomatic and economic relations between India and the UK. (905814)

Our relations with India remain extremely good. Only this week, I spoke to a high-level group of Indian businessmen here in the United Kingdom, and of course they wanted to know what is happening now with our relationship with India following the recent referendum.

For individuals and businesses in Cheltenham, the UK’s relationship with India is increasingly important. How will it change post-Brexit?

We still have in this country 1.5 million Indians or people of Indian descent, so the connections are huge and robust. People come to the UK a lot and people go to India a lot. Clearly, early talks about the shape of our trade relationship with India will form part of our discussions over the next year or so.

On the diplomatic front, what discussions has the Minister had with the Indian Government about the recent events in Kashmir?

We are very saddened by the recent reports of unrest in Kashmir and we offer our condolences to the victims and their families. Our high commission in Delhi is monitoring the situation closely, and we have updated our travel advice accordingly.

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend referenced the fact that discussion about a future trade relationship will take place in parallel with our exit negotiations from the European Union. What kind of capability does he need to recruit to his Department to get into the detail of those discussions?

My hon. Friend will know that trade policy is with UK Trade & Investment, but I will repeat what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said earlier. We are aware that we need to recruit and retain more trade negotiators. We are still a member of the EU until the last of the negotiations have taken place, but there is absolutely no reason not to start having exploratory talks, and we are beginning to do that.

Middle East Peace Talks

8. What steps the Government are taking to support the French initiative to start peace talks between Israel and Palestine. [R] (905815)

12. What steps the Government are taking to support the French initiative to start peace talks between Israel and Palestine. (905819)

As I mentioned earlier, I attended the French ministerial conference on the middle east peace process in Paris on 3 June. We are in close contact with the French Government and will consider how the UK might contribute as their plans develop.

It is a pity that the Foreign Secretary could not attend that conference. Will he be attending or advising his successor to attend the main conference later this year, and will he join France and other European countries in recognising Palestine if Israel refuses to co-operate with the French initiative and continues building settlements?

To make it clear, the summit was moved at short notice to accommodate the US Secretary of State. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was in Africa at the time, which was why I was able to attend. I hope the hon. Gentleman does not feel short-changed by the fact that I was there instead of the Foreign Secretary. It was an important meeting, as it registered the need for the international community to play its part and we look forward to moving ahead with the process. Discussions will take place in the next few months to bring the parties together.

In the light of recent moves by the Egyptian Foreign Minister, does the Minister believe that the chances for successful peace talks are improving? What efforts will the Government make to ensure that both Israel and Palestine are sufficiently incentivised to come to the table to talks?

The hon. Lady is right to say that both parties need to be sufficiently incentivised. The worry that I have had when visiting both the Palestinian areas and Israel is that the leaders on both sides are not necessarily speaking for the people, who generally want something different. My concern is that unless we see the affirmative steps taking place to reverse the trends that we have been seeing, we will drift towards an entrenched position of a one-state reality, with perpetual occupation and conflict.

23. Will the Minister assure us that the Foreign Secretary or his successor will attend the peace conference that the French are planning later this year? (905830)

On the day before a reshuffle is to take place, let me say that I will heed the right hon. Gentleman’s comments and we will do our best. The implication seems to be that the Foreign Secretary is somehow not engaged in these matters. We have those set conferences and summits, but an awful lot of bilaterals also take place, not least at the NATO summit in Warsaw, where my right hon. Friend had bilateral meetings with his relevant counterparts. These very important issues are raised there as well.

Refugee Crisis

9. What discussions he has had with his counterparts in the EU, Africa and the middle east on dealing with the refugee crisis in Europe and the middle east. (905816)

We have these discussions regularly and our consistent focus is on securing a comprehensive and durable solution which tackles the causes as well as the consequences of migration.

Will the Minister reaffirm this Government’s commitment to Operation Sophia? Can he confirm that we will continue to co-operate with our European allies in relation to the refugee crisis?

I can confirm that. The Prime Minister said shortly after the referendum that we would continue our contribution to Sophia, which has already saved more than 16,400 lives and has destroyed more than 160 smuggling vessels.

Is the Minister in close contact with the leading aid agencies—the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children and Médecins sans Frontières? They seem to have a different take from Governments on what is happening in camps and with movements. Is he keeping in touch with them?

My colleagues in the Department for International Development are in constant touch with the main aid agencies, and our very large humanitarian effort in Turkey, Syria itself and the neighbouring countries, Lebanon and Jordan, is very much focused through the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other such agencies.

25. In view of the fact that the appalling hardships and loss of life arising from the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean are clearly long term and in danger of becoming institutionalised, will my right hon. Friend give consideration to the proposal from the International Chamber of Shipping, originally put forward last autumn, to establish a UN humanitarian zone covering the affected areas? (905832)

Although the International Chamber of Shipping proposal was indeed constructive, I do not want to underestimate the difficulties of getting agreement in the Security Council on anything through the UN. We have Operation Sophia, which is working and to which many European countries are actively contributing, and we should aim to make that work still more effective, help the Libyans build up the capacity of their own coastguard, and use the instruments available.

Does the Minister accept that in respect of the Brexit negotiations, much work will require to be done to secure joint EU-UK efforts in northern Africa on tackling the escalating refugee crisis?

So long as we remain members of the European Union and afterwards, it will remain in the interests of this country that we work very closely with our European friends and allies. This is a problem that will be with us for a generation and it will need concerted international co-operation.

Trade and Diplomatic Connections: UK/Commonwealth

10. What steps the Government are taking to promote trade and diplomatic connections between the UK and other Commonwealth countries. (905817)

We have eight Commonwealth trade envoys representing British business interests in 10 Commonwealth states. We have expanded the British Government’s representation in a number of countries, and we are looking forward to the inaugural Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting in London in March next year, which will be co-hosted by ourselves and the Government of Malta.

With the decision to withdraw from the EU, many British companies will be looking to expand their business with Commonwealth countries. What specific plans do the Government have to support them in that respect?

That is something we are concentrating on. Intra-Commonwealth trade is estimated at over $680 billion, and it is projected to surpass $1 trillion by 2020. The Commonwealth includes 53 member states, a quarter of the world’s land mass and 2.2 billion people, and 60% of the Commonwealth’s population is under the age of 30, so there are some huge and exciting opportunities there.

17. Now that we have this wonderful opportunity to boost trade with the Commonwealth, will my right hon. Friend make sure that small countries in Africa and Asia are not left behind in what I believe will be a trade bonanza? (905824)

I hope my hon. Friend is right. It is worth remembering that three quarters of UK-Commonwealth trade is with India, Australia, Canada, Singapore, South Africa and Malaysia, so we do need to expand that into some of the Commonwealth countries of Africa.

Diplomatic/Economic Relations: Caspian and South Caucasus Region

13. What steps his Department is taking to enhance diplomatic and economic relations with the Caspian and South Caucasus region. (905820)

The United Kingdom has strong bilateral relations with countries in the Caspian and South Caucasus region. It also has significant commercial interests there, particularly in the oil and gas sector.

To defend Europe against excessive reliance on Russian energy supplies and to provide opportunities for small British energy firms—particularly those from Scotland—will my right hon. Friend continue to encourage and support BP in its work with the Government of Azerbaijan to deliver the trans-Turkish pipeline?

Indeed. That pipeline is in the economic and strategic interests of the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend also makes a strong point about Scotland: many Scottish companies are in Azerbaijan in the wake of BP’s investment, and that is another example of how the UK and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, through our embassies, are helping to deliver for the people of Scotland.

I was in Tbilisi, in Georgia, last week with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. A number of people we spoke to were extremely concerned about the impact of the UK leaving the European Union on a lot of the diplomatic work that is going on to encourage countries such as Georgia to move towards western Europe. What assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of that issue, and what steps is he taking to persuade people in countries such as Georgia that their future lies in links with western Europe?

We were very active in the preparation for, and at, the NATO summit in Warsaw to emphasise that our commitment to working closely with countries such as Georgia to bring them into the Euro-Atlantic family of nations continues, and I think their Governments well understand that commitment.


14. What recent assessment he has made of the progress of the international campaign to defeat ISIS/Daesh. (905821)

Significant military progress has been made in Iraq, Syria and Libya since my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary updated the House on 24 May. Iraqi security forces have liberated Falluja. The Syrian Democratic Forces are closing in on Manbij in Syria. In Libya, Misratan forces have pushed Daesh back to the city centre in Sirte, and the Libyan national army is winning the battle against Daesh in Benghazi. We now need to see political progress in Syria, Libya and Iraq to match those military successes.

What initiatives has the Secretary of State undertaken recently to ensure that the international effort concentrates on securing the defeat of Daesh, rather than of the proxies, or the allies, involved in the process?

The hon. Gentleman is referring, I think, to the situation in Syria, where there are two separate battles going on: the civil war between the regime and its opponents, and the battle by the international community against Daesh. We are clear, and always have been clear, that there cannot be lasting success against Daesh unless we resolve the political crisis in Syria and create a regime that is acceptable to the Sunni Muslim population of Syria, giving them an alternative to the appalling offer from Daesh.

Countering Daesh in Libya requires a stable Government and an end to the country’s ongoing civil war. On 19 April, the Secretary of State said that the new Government of National Accord is

“the only legitimate Government of Libya.”—[Official Report, 19 April 2016; Vol. 608, c. 781.]

Will he therefore assure the House that, since the GNA was formed last December, no British support has been provided to any Libyan militia group that is not allied to the GNA, such as those working with former general Khalifa Haftar?

The hon. Lady knows that if we were minded to commit combat forces to activity in Libya, we would first come to the House of Commons. We are working very closely with the Government of National Accord, including talking to them about how we can use exemptions from the UN arms embargo to forge a closer working relationship between militias and that Government. She will be interested to know that later this afternoon I will meet Prime Minister Sarraj here in London.

Topical Questions

My priority is to ensure that we continue to address, head on, Islamist extremism and the threats to the rules-based international system, while at the same time pivoting resources to respond to the major foreign policy challenge of implementing the UK’s decision to leave the EU and negotiating the terms of Britain’s future relationship with the EU 27.

Britain is a global trading nation. What steps have been taken to ensure that our embassies and high commissions around the world are in the best possible position to forge excellent trading deals for the United Kingdom?

As one of my colleagues said earlier, last week we had all our senior people in London for the annual leadership conference, and I clearly set out to them the challenge to the Foreign Office and its network as we move into this new phase where we will seek to redouble our efforts to build trade relationships around the world beyond the European Union. I can tell my hon. Friend, and the House, that I got the resounding response that they are up for that challenge.

Earlier today, the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague ruled against Chinese claims to territorial rights in the South China sea, backing a case brought by the Philippines. Does the Secretary of State agree that the PCA’s ruling must be respected, and that any non-compliance by the Chinese Government would not only cause severe reputational damage to China but constitute a serious breach of international law?

The UK’s position has always been, and will remain, that we urge respect for international law and the rules-based international system, and decisions arising from international tribunals. As the hon. Lady will know, the ruling is 501 pages long. It flopped on to my desk just before coming over here to answer questions—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) is obviously super-efficient; I might test her later. We will study the decision carefully. If the hon. Lady can give me any insight into her understanding of page 432, I would be very grateful.

T2. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the threat of nuclear proliferation, especially across Asia and the middle east? (905799)

We take the threat of nuclear proliferation very seriously indeed. We have made huge progress over the past 18 months in shutting down the Iranian nuclear weapons programme. We remain deeply concerned about the programme in North Korea and about the risk of proliferation particularly from North Korea. We work very closely with allies and partners around the world to address that challenge.

T4. Given the upsurge in violence in South Sudan over the weekend, what action have Ministers taken on the situation there? (905801)

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise concerns about the growing conflict in South Sudan. The outbreak of fighting around Juba is very serious indeed. I attended a signing bringing the two sides together in South Sudan over a year ago, and there was a huge amount of optimism at that point. Unfortunately, that has dissipated, and there are now 2.4 million displaced people there. We are watching events very closely, and we urge the sides to come together to begin peace talks again.

T3. After five decades of armed conflict in Colombia, where some 200,000 people have lost their lives and many millions have been displaced, a historic ceasefire has been agreed between the Colombian Government and FARC. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the peace process and Britain’s role within it? (905800)

Yes, of course. I welcome the bilateral ceasefire and disarmament agreement reached by the Colombian Government and FARC on 23 June. That is a significant step towards ending more than 50 years of conflict that have affected the lives of so many Colombians. We will continue to support Colombia during the implementation of the peace accord.

T5. The Foreign Secretary is probably aware that over the weekend the Indian security forces opened fire on a funeral procession in occupied Kashmir, killing more than 30 people, with the death toll expected to rise, 100 wounded and ambulances attacked. Will the Minister meet his counterpart in the Indian Government and inform them that opening fire on funeral processions or protestors is not correct and that the perpetrators should be brought to justice? (905802)

I refer the hon. Lady to my earlier comments about the situation in Kashmir, which we are following very closely. Our high commissioner and the team are very much on the case. We regret all violence in that part of the world.

T8. The situation in the Maldives continues to deteriorate. What steps have been taken to persuade its Government to change its current trajectory? (905805)

We are extremely concerned. We strongly encourage the Government of the Maldives to engage constructively with both the United Nations and the Commonwealth envoys and to implement all of the recent recommendations of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. It is crucial that concrete progress is delivered by CMAG’s September meeting. We are also considering bilateral action, including exclusion orders against senior members of the Government and the judiciary.

T6. The Chagos islanders were the first victims of the UK’s nuclear policy, given that their eviction helped the UK get a discount on Polaris. Lords at the Supreme Court now advise that a refusal to permit resettlement may be “irrational, unreasonable or disproportionate”. Will the Secretary of State advise the new Prime Minister of those factors and ask her to make a quick decision on resettlement for the Chagos islanders? (905803)

As the hon. Gentleman and the House will know, we have been studying options relating to the British Indian Ocean Territory and the situation of the Chagos islanders. The current Prime Minister has taken a great interest in the issue, but it is clear that it will now fall to the new Prime Minister to make a decision.

The people of Gibraltar feel particularly concerned about pressure from Spain now that we are leaving the European Union. Will the Minister for Europe confirm that their Government will be fully involved in the negotiations, and does he agree that their economy could be given an immediate boost, first, by a free trade agreement between Gibraltar and the UK, and, secondly, by ruling out any redundancies in the civilian, locally employed Ministry of Defence force?

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion of Gibraltar. I saw the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, yesterday; it was my third such conversation with him since the UK referendum. I have not only recommitted the British Government to the full involvement of Gibraltar in the negotiations for our exit from and subsequent relationship with the EU 27; I have also invited the Chief Minister to identify the key economic priorities for the people of Gibraltar as we approach those negotiations.

T7. Judicial executions in Iran have more than doubled since 2010 and there have been 2,400 executions since President Rouhani was elected three years ago. What representations have the Government made to the Government of Iran over the execution of children, particularly those such as Fatemeh Salbehi and Jannat Mir, an Afghan boy who was hanged when he was just 14 or 15 years old? (905804)

We regularly make representations to the Government of Iran about the widespread abuse of human rights there, including the widespread use of the death sentence and the completely unacceptable practice of imposing death sentences on minors. We will continue to make such representations at every opportunity.

Commonwealth countries are already large investors into the UK. Will the Government continue to work with Commonwealth business groups, such as the Confederation of Indian Industry, to make sure that that track record continues?

Yes, we most certainly will, and we will certainly continue to work with the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council on promoting intra-Commonwealth trade.

T9. May I thank the Foreign Secretary for hosting an event at the Foreign Office yesterday evening to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica? We all listened in silence to the tales told by survivors of the massacre. Will he join me in saying that it is important not only that we remember Srebrenica, but that we redouble our efforts to show future generations where hate and intolerance can lead? (905806)

Yes, of course I will. Anyone who was there last night will have heard the moving testimony of people who survived the terrible events in Srebrenica 21 years ago and their harrowing tales of their experiences and the utterly needless and unjustified slaughter that occurred. The whole purpose of remembering Srebrenica is not just to remember, but to ensure that we apply the lessons and that it can never happen again.

An important economic relationship that we have with India is the Tata Steel UK portfolio. Will the Secretary of State continue to make sure that its protection continues to be at the forefront of our diplomatic relationship with India so that we can continue to have a sustainable steel industry in this country?

I can tell my hon. Friend that this remains a high priority for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Claire Martin died in Italy four years ago due to stab wounds in the neck. Her death was recorded as suicide. Her parents are my constituents, and they need the full weight of the Foreign Office to help them. Support has been lukewarm and half-hearted so far. Will the Minister promise to step things up a gear and help this family?

I am happy to have a further conversation with the hon. Lady and her constituents about this tragic case. Of course, it remains the case that the United Kingdom cannot carry out investigations in the Italian judicial system, any more than the Italian Government can do so here. However, my understanding is that the magistrate has offered a meeting with the family, and I hope that that may provide a way forward.

The anniversary of the Iran nuclear deal falls in two days. Will the Minister update the House on what discussions he is having with his US counterparts on banking sanctions to encourage more British businesses to invest in Iran?

Those discussions continue. I promise that this is not a planted question—[Interruption.] Sorry. What is one of those? The hon. Lady will not know this but there is a meeting this afternoon at Lancaster House between the Iranian Central Bank, the United States Treasury and international banks based in London in an attempt to try to make some progress on this matter so that the people of Iran can start to benefit from the seminal deal that was done a year ago.

It is a pleasure to welcome back to the House the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn, Tulip Siddiq.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. My constituent Nazanin has been detained in Iran for 100 days now, with no access to lawyers and minimal contact with her three-year-old daughter. Will the Minister join me in formally denouncing the actions of the Iranian authorities and make sure that Nazanin and Gabriella are returned to their home in West Hampstead as soon as possible?

We continue to lobby the Iranians regularly about all our consular cases in Iran, including that of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe. I have raised the case a number of times, and, on 4 July, spoke to Foreign Minister Zarif. I subsequently followed that up with a letter. On 18 May, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), the Minister with responsibility for the middle east, met Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family. We will continue to push the Iranians for consular access to her—the challenge is that Iran does not recognise dual nationality—and for more information about the charges that are alleged against her.

From my recent NATO Parliamentary Assembly visit to Kiev, I know that there is palpable fear from the Ukrainians that sanctions may start to be lifted against Russia and President Putin. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that cannot happen until meaningful discussions have taken place on Ukraine’s sovereign borders?

I would go a little further: that cannot happen until Russia has complied with its obligations under the Minsk agreement. At the weekend, in Warsaw, I met the Ukrainian Foreign Minister. My hon. Friend is right that there is concern among Ukrainians that Britain’s departure from the European Union may lead to a weakening of European Union resolve on this issue. I very much hope that that will not be the case, but it is certainly true that we have been one of the leading advocates of a tough line within the European Union.

In the light of the ongoing dreadful events in Sudan, many of us find questionable the context and the content of the UK-Sudan strategic dialogue. What red lines do the UK Government have in that dialogue?

If I may, I will ask the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), the Minister with responsibility for Africa, to write to the hon. Member with more detail. However, I can say that the dialogue is an important juncture in our relationship, and we were invited by Sudan to commence it. Let me make it very clear that we need to continue to support Sudan. It is a source, host and transit country for migration. What is going on there affects the rest of Europe, and so we want to continue to help with the dire humanitarian situation there. The 2.5 million people long-term displaced people need our support.

May I join those who are welcoming the fact that a large number of big players in the global economy are queuing up to do bilateral trade deals with the UK? My many Korean constituents would very much like to know whether that includes South Korea, which is a brilliant trade partner with the UK.

Of course, the European Union has an existing free trade agreement with the Republic of Korea. Under that free trade agreement, the UK’s exports to Korea have more than doubled over a very short period of time. Once we are outside the European Union, depending on the details of the arrangements we make with the European Union, we will be ready to enter into new trade agreements with all countries around the world. The UK will remain an outward-facing trading nation, delivering our prosperity by our success around the globe.

What recent discussions, if any, have the Government had with Turkey about its opposition to the Syrian Democratic Forces’ offensive to relieve Manbij, which is a very important strategic battle?

I met my Turkish opposite number and sat next to President Erdogan in the plenary session at the NATO summit in Warsaw at the weekend, and we discussed this issue. Of course, the SDF assault on the Manbij pocket is vital, and it will close a strategic gap and cut off supplies and routes for fighters into Syria in an important way. The Turks’ concern is the role of Kurdish organisations within the SDF, including some that are associated with proscribed organisations. The US is brokering a solution that seeks to reassure the Turks while reinforcing the SDF and their ability to deliver their objectives in Manbij.

We have run out of time, but my appetite for hearing my colleagues is almost insatiable. I call Kevin Foster.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. We recently marked the first anniversary of the dreadful terrorist massacre at Sousse in Tunisia. Can the Minister update me on the work that is being done by the Foreign Office to support the families of the victims and to mark that dreadful event?

I had the honour of representing Britain at the ceremony that took place in Sousse to mark the anniversary of the tragic events there. We have done everything we can, from a Government perspective, working across Government to provide support to those who are bereaved, those who were seriously injured and those who have been affected by the mental trauma of what they saw. That help continues, and I am pleased to confirm the announcement that the Prime Minister made at the weekend that a memorial will be built—it is expected to be in the north of England—to mark the horrific events and to give the families a solemn location at which they can pay their respects.

Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House what progress has been made in persuading our allies to provide support for Yazidi women who have escaped from sexual slavery under Daesh and who are now in great need of medical and psychological support, which they cannot access properly in either Syria or Iraq?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to draw attention to those who are fleeing persecution by Daesh. We have had a number of debates on the matter, and it is not just the Yazidis; it is Christians and other minorities as well. We are using our Department for International Development funds to support the non-governmental organisations that directly target those people to provide that support in the immediate aftermath, but also in the long term.

I thought I had detected emissions of steam from Slough. That is a fate better avoided, I think. I call Fiona Mactaggart.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The reason I was steamy is that I spoke this morning to my constituent whose husband, Nawaz Khan, has been detained in South Sudan since 18 June without charge. It seems to me that in view of the situation and the turmoil there, it is urgent that the British authorities demand his release or charge instantly. This man is a diabetic, and he is not being properly looked after. It is time we defended our citizen.

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this matter. We have already touched on the concerns that we have about South Sudan and the instability that we are seeing there, despite the transitional Government of national unity. The right hon. Lady has raised an important consular case, and I will ask the Minister with responsibility for Africa to get in touch with her to find out what consular support is being provided.

Can the Minister tell the House whether following Brexit the United Kingdom will continue to participate in the Paris climate change agreement, or whether that agreement will need to be rewritten?

This is a prime example of where we need to calm down and not scaremonger. We are absolutely committed to COP 22 on climate change, and to the target of reducing our emissions by 2050.

I will call the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) who I think wishes to raise a constituency matter, but that really will be the last question.

I am grateful, Mr Speaker. The Minister will recall the case of my constituent, Deborah Pearson, and her niece Julie Pearson who was killed in Israel last year. Her family are constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh). We now have the autopsy report, but it is in Hebrew and it has been suggested that the FCO might assume the cost of translating it. Will the FCO support that? I am grateful for the Minister’s support so far, but the family are desperate and need more support. Will he consider further help?

This has been a difficult case for the family and for everybody involved. I have met a number of hon. Members who have been involved, and I also raised the issue with the Israeli authorities. It is not normal for the Foreign Office to provide translation facilities. Perhaps we could discuss the matter outside the Chamber and work to provide assistance to the family.

Order. I know we have overrun, but Foreign Office questions tend to break box office records and Ministers should take some pride in that fact—the other way of looking at it is that I am giving them additional speaking opportunities.