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Topical Questions

Volume 613: debated on Tuesday 12 July 2016

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.