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Topical Questions

Volume 615: debated on Tuesday 18 October 2016

My priority for the rest of 2016 is to ensure that there is a robust and measured response to the crisis in Syria, while pressing home our campaign against Daesh and working alongside our allies to protect the rules-based international system against the ambitions of Russia, and to achieve an ambitious and outward-looking global Britain.

Military action in Mosul could result in the displacement of 1 million civilians, and the International Committee of the Red Cross has claimed that it can provide for only 300,000 people, with the United Nations providing for 60,000 more. What provisions, measures and plans have been agreed to guarantee civilian safety, the security of food and water resources, and the prevention of a catastrophic humanitarian crisis?

As I implied in my reply to an earlier question, it is important that we get what happens when the guns fall silent correct. We cannot afford to have a refugee crisis of the scale that has been suggested, which is why the international community has come together on several occasions, including at Washington DC—the Foreign Secretary and I attended—to ensure that we have the necessary measures in place to support those who are fleeing, that any chemical weapons attacks that might take place can be dealt with, and that there will be a form of processing so that we can capture people who have committed war crimes and put them on trial.

T2. Will my right hon. Friend outline the state of UK-Turkish relations, particularly following claims made during the Brexit debates earlier in the year? (906628)

The Turkish Government appreciated our early condemnation of the coup attempt of 15 July. We work very closely on migration, counter-terrorism and other matters, and I will be paying my second visit to Ankara later today.

The attempt by members of the former Libya Dawn Government to retake control of Tripoli is deeply worrying to all of us who want security and stability to return to Libya. Who does the Foreign Secretary believe is currently in charge in Libya, what is his strategy for achieving that security and stability, and who does he think is responsible for the mess Libya now finds itself in?

I could speak for an hour on that last question and say how misleading—inadvertently misleading —it is. It does not help us to suggest that somehow what happened in 2011 is applicable to what is happening today. There was a Libyan Government, there was a Prime Minister and there were elections, and many of the international community were asked to leave in 2011-12. After 40 years of misrule under Gaddafi, society is now trying to develop, and that is the challenge we face today.

T4. My constituent Nicholas Simpson and five other ex-servicemen are being held in a jail in Chennai. May I urge my right hon. Friend and the Government to do everything in their power to work with the Indian authorities and resolve this situation for all the families concerned? (906630)

My heart goes out to the families. I raised this case with Minister Akbar when I was in India in July, and I raised it again on 5 October with the Indian high commissioner to the UK. I know that my hon. Friend is working incredibly hard to highlight this issue and I look forward to meeting him and hon. Members representing the other families tomorrow.

T3. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) asked earlier about Londoner and British citizen Andy Tsege, a political dissident who was kidnapped in June 2014. In June this year, the Foreign Secretary’s predecessor announced in a press release that he had“secured assurances from the Ethiopian Government that Mr Tsege will be granted access to a lawyer”.Those assurances have not been honoured. Will the Foreign Secretary now formally request the release of Mr Tsege? (906629)

I have set out our position on Mr Tsege in an open letter on I cannot, I am afraid, comment further, because our handling of this case is the subject of ongoing legal proceedings.

T6. Evidence from Syria of hospitals and aid convoys being deliberately targeted and bombed have horrified and outraged people around the world. The Foreign Secretary has already said those responsible should be held to account in the International Criminal Court and that the Russians and the Assad regime are primarily responsible for what is going on. What measures would he therefore support to charge, arrest and prosecute either Putin or Assad, or both? (906632)

The most important thing at this stage is that the UK is leading the way in accumulating evidence against those responsible for these crimes. It will be essential, ultimately, that we have good secure testimonials against those responsible and I have no doubt that in due course they will be useful. The mills of justice grind slowly, but they grind small.

T5. Last week on a cross-party visit to the west bank I was deeply concerned by the human rights abuses being perpetrated by the Government of Israel. Can the Foreign Secretary tell me when the follow-up legal report into the Israeli treatment of Palestinian child detainees will be published and outline the reasons for the delay? (906631)

The hon. and learned Lady raises an important aspect of what is a very complicated challenge in the middle east that has been rumbling on for far too long. I raised this issue with the Deputy Foreign Minister during my last visit. We have tried to get further access and further conditions put in place to make sure those child detainees are provided with the support they deserve.

T8. As chairman of the all-party group on Argentina, may I congratulate the Minister on the steps that he has taken to bolster UK-Argentine relations? Does he agree that there are important consequences for the continued improvement in relations between our two countries? (906634)

Yes, I am happy to confirm that. Indeed, the Government are building a much more constructive relationship with the Government of Argentina. During my visit to Buenos Aires, I agreed an historic joint statement that established closer co-operation across our bilateral relationship, which includes some important benefits for the Falkland Islands and for Argentina.

T7. The Foreign Secretary hosted diplomats from nine countries as well as the United Nations special envoy in London on Saturday to discuss Syria, but apparently no agreement could be reached on the delivery of aid and no future date was set for a further meeting. Will he tell us what went wrong? (906633)

On the contrary, the meeting on Sunday was extremely successful in the sense that there was a unanimous agreement from all the parties concerned—not only France, Germany and Italy, but Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and ourselves—that we should proceed to put pressure on the Assad regime and its puppeteers in the form of the Russians on the basis that I have already outlined to the House: economically, diplomatically, through the United Nations and through the use of the International Criminal Court.

T10. What support is the United Kingdom giving to international efforts to address the dangerous political situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? (906636)

I have had the opportunity to visit the DRC, a country that my hon. Friend knows extremely well. President Kabila is refusing to step back; he wants to continue after his two terms. We have made the case forcefully that he must honour the constitution and allow the democratic process to take place. It is a large country, with 80 million people, and if it goes back into a dark chapter, there will be consequences for the surrounding countries. We are in a very delicate place in the development of democracy in that country.

T9. Excluding Cabinet meetings, how many times has the Foreign Secretary met the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Secretary of State for International Trade to draw up a plan to secure our continued access to the single market, which will protect the economy in Northern Ireland? (906635)

I have a constant exchange of views with my friends and colleagues from the Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for International Trade. We are a nest of singing birds, Mr Speaker, as you can imagine. Things are working extremely well, which might come as a surprise to the hon. Lady, and I have no doubt whatever that we will do a fantastic deal in the interests of the UK and in the interests of a strong European Union.

I have not heard the right hon. Gentleman sing, but I feel sure that it would be melodic and that it is only a matter of time.

In the light of the EU referendum, we have heard that there is lots of international interest in signing trade deals with the United Kingdom. What practical steps is my right hon. Friend’s Department taking to contribute to the effort to ensure that we get those deals signed, sealed and delivered?

One of the most extraordinary things that I discovered on becoming Foreign Secretary was the full extent of the network that the UK has around the world. We have more coverage overseas than the French with only 70% of their budget. My experience of UK diplomats and trade officials is that they are superlatively well informed about the needs of UK business and industry, and that they will assist us in doing first-class free trade deals in every capital.

Further to Questions 1 and 12, is not the British Government uniquely placed to bring Pakistan and India together in some form of talks, particularly given the fact that tensions are probably higher than they have ever been and that we are dealing with two nuclear powers?

As I noted earlier, we have regular dialogues with the Indian and Pakistani Governments. I reiterate that, at the end of the day, it is up to the two countries to come together and to work on the pace of bilateral relations.

It is not just the Foreign Secretary’s bank manager who will miss his many newspaper columns. Like the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), I read the one he wrote in The Daily Telegraph on 26 June in which he said that the only change that Brexit would make to our country would be that we would extricate ourselves from EU laws. Can the Foreign Secretary assure us today that he has not changed his mind again, and that he still believes that it is in our country’s interests to remain within the single market?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her question. I can tell her that my view remains absolutely crystal clear—adamantine—that we will be better off extricating ourselves from the toils of the EU legal system. As the Prime Minister rightly said, we are going to leave the penumbra of European legislation and that is the right thing to do for this country. We will go forward with a fantastic free trade deal in goods and services that will be good for this country and good for the EU.

Given the deteriorating security situation in and around Lashkar Gah, what lessons has the Foreign Secretary learned from the British deployment to Helmand?

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s work—he knows the country extremely well indeed. It is important that we provide support to Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. Unfortunately, the Taliban have pushed back from the Pakistani border and until we get some sense of governance back into the capital city of Lashkar Gah, I am afraid that the Taliban will continue to push towards Kandahar.

Following the Government-commissioned study into the resettlement of the British Indian Ocean Territory, when do Ministers envisage making a decision on the resettlement of the Chagos islanders?

I assure my hon. Friend that we are still considering the issue and will report back to the House in due course.

I cannot stop raising this matter until the Martin family from my constituency get the support that they deserve. Their daughter, Claire Martin, died in Italy four and half years ago following multiple stab wounds to her throat. Her last words were “a man”. Her death was recorded as a suicide. Will the new ministerial team reply to my letter and agree to a meeting with the Martins?

We have a dedicated consular team that often has to deal with issues of this sort. I will undertake to write to the hon. Lady. If she wants to come to see me and consular officials, I would be happy to arrange such a meeting.

I thank the Minister for his answer on Kashmir, where I was born. He says that it is up to India and Pakistan to come forward on the matter, but to get a long-term, lasting solution, the people of Kashmir must be given the right to self-determination in accordance with the 1948 UN Security Council resolution. The Prime Minister has said that she supports the rights of the United Nations—[Interruption.]

As I noted earlier, we of course want a lasting peace in Kashmir. As for the resolution, we should be taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

Order. We have overrun, but I am keen to accommodate colleagues. The last person whom I will be able to accommodate is Mr Rob Marris.

What recent discussions have Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom had with Her Majesty’s Government in Canada on the outcome of the European Union referendum?

There are regular discussions with the Government of Canada, which I look forward to visiting in due course. As for trade deals, they are a matter for the Department for International Trade.