Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 615: debated on Tuesday 18 October 2016

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked—


12. What recent diplomatic steps the Government have taken to support resolution of the conflict in Kashmir. (906649)

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) cares deeply about Kashmir and has visited the region. I am concerned by recent events in Kashmir. I have in recent weeks met representatives from the Governments of both India and Pakistan and urged calm and restraint on both sides. I will continue to do so.

Has the Minister seen the reports of hundreds of Kashmiri protesters suffering eye injuries because of the indiscriminate use of pellet guns, and will he please speak out against it?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am of course concerned by those reports. He may also know that the use of pellet guns in Kashmir has come under review by the Government of India. The results of that review have not yet been shared publicly, but it has been indicated that alternative methods of crowd control will be introduced.

The tragic recent history of Kashmir arose from the partition of India, which was managed by Britain after world war two. Does not Britain therefore have a special responsibility to help to find a solution to Kashmir’s troubles and the suffering of the Kashmiri people?

The UK of course has very good relations with both India and Pakistan, but our long-standing position, held by successive Governments of all hues, is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting resolution to the situation, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. It is not for the UK to prescribe a solution or act as mediator.

There are no winners in Kashmir. The recent clashes have impacted on thousands of people and the economy is struggling, with over £1 million or 10,000 crore being lost in 100 days. A military solution is not working. I urge the Minister to encourage a political solution that involves not only India and Pakistan, but the Kashmiris themselves.

We should of course do all we can to promote trade and prosperity in the region, and that of course follows stability.

As has been stated, in Kashmir we have seen more than 100 civilians killed, hundreds blinded and over 13,000 injured through the indiscriminate use of pellet guns against protesters. Will the Minister today condemn this shocking abuse of human rights? Does he not believe that we, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, have a responsibility to support and uphold UN resolution 47 and allow the sons and daughters of Kashmir their birth right to self-determination?

As I have noted, I am of course concerned by reports of the use of pellet guns, and of course any allegations of human rights abuses should be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently.

Will the Minister speak to officials at No. 10 and urge the Prime Minister to raise this issue during her forthcoming visit to India?

The UK of course shares a long-standing and deep friendship with India, and I am delighted that the Prime Minister has announced that she will visit India in November. The visit will be an important opportunity to discuss the full range of bilateral issues with Prime Minister Modi.

The previous Foreign Secretary said in March that the question of Kashmir should be a precondition for the resumption of talks between India and Pakistan. Since then, Kashmir has seen more than 100 days of unrest and the exchange of artillery fire between Pakistan and India. What specifically is the Foreign Secretary doing to bring about an end to the violence and to assist in the resumption of talks?

As I have said, of course we have very good relations with both India and Pakistan, including strong diaspora links. They are two proud nations. We encourage both countries to maintain good relations but, as I have noted, we recognise that the pace of progress is for both sides to determine.

With both India and Pakistan facing immense issues in their own countries to sort out, one would have thought that there would be an appetite to resolve this issue. Why does the Minister think that actually that appetite does not seem to exist in either country?

This is of course a very important matter, and we raise these issues with both Governments. Ultimately, however, it is for both sides to progress the issue and determine the outcome.

On behalf of the Opposition, I associate myself with the Minister’s remarks. The recent upsurge in violent clashes and terrorist attacks in Kashmir is deeply disturbing. We urge all sides to engage in dialogue, halt the cycle of violence and keep innocent civilians from harm. We have heard today about the use of pellet guns against protesters in Kashmir, which is totally unacceptable. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State urge the Indian authorities to make good on their commitment to stop the use of those weapons?

As I have noted on a number of occasions, the use of pellet guns in Kashmir has come under review by the Government of India, and our understanding is that alternative methods of crowd control will be introduced.

Russian Federation

Of course it is right that the UK and the Russian Federation should continue to co-operate and to engage in all the areas where we have common interests, but in view of the ruthless and brutal behaviour of the Russians in Ukraine and in Syria, I hope the House will agree that it is right that the UK should be in the lead in keeping the pressure on sanctions, and it cannot be business as usual with Russia.

I agree. Putin’s behaviour has been despicable: murdering his own opponents—assassinating political opponents such as Boris Nemtsov—as well as the invasion of Georgia and Crimea, and now the despicable behaviour in Syria, where he tries to draw a moral equivalence between British and American bombing of military installations run by Daesh and Russia’s and Assad’s bombing of innocent civilians in hospitals in Aleppo. This is immoral. I am not sure that demonstrations outside the Russian embassy will make any odds, but what might make a difference is if we stopped Putin’s cronies coming to London. Why on earth do we still allow those who were involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky to come to this country? Will the Foreign Secretary go and demonstrate against the Home Secretary to make sure she changes the rules?

I am grateful for the question, because the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point out that there is no symmetry whatever between the actions of the Russians and the Assad regime, and the Americans and others on the other side. Just in the last 11 months, Russian bombing alone has been responsible for the deaths of 3,189 civilians, of whom 763 were children. In those circumstances, it is absolutely right that we should be keeping up the sanctions regime not just on Russia but on key members—key associates—of the Putin regime.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the particularly vile activities, which he has so eloquently described, of Russia in Syria have been allowed to happen because of several years of weakness and inconsistency in western policy towards that area? Does he further agree that if we want to hold the ring, the importance of being seen to be absolutely solidly behind NATO has never been stronger?

My hon. Friend is of course absolutely right to say that the vacuum left by the decision of, I am afraid, this House and, indeed, the Obama Administration in 2013 not to oppose the Assad regime has allowed the Russians to move into that space. It is vital that we keep up the pressure not just with sanctions but with the threat of justice in the International Criminal Court.

Is it not unfortunate that, in Russia itself, print and social media are being gagged? Hence the reason I have little sympathy for the complaints made today by Russia Today, which is undoubtedly a form of propaganda constantly used by Putin and his gang. What is now happening as far as the media are concerned is surely the same as happened under communism and, before that, tsarism: repression at home, and hostility and aggression abroad.

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I noted the decision of NatWest bank to withdraw support for RT. That was a wholly independently taken decision, I wish to assure the House, in spite of what we may have heard this morning from Moscow. One of the things we are doing to promote free and fair information in Russia is, of course, to support the BBC World Service.

Oleg Sentsov is a Ukrainian film maker imprisoned for 20 years in Russia for his pro-Ukrainian views. Will the Government send a strong message to the Russian Government condemning Sentsov’s imprisonment and demanding his immediate release?

We are indeed concerned by the number of Ukrainian nationals who have voiced their opposition to what has happened—the illegal annexation of Crimea—and who face lengthy jail sentences, including Mr Sentsov and Mr Oleksandr Kolchenko. We are appealing to the Russian authorities to release them immediately.

Last March, President Putin was praised for his ruthless clarity in retaking Palmyra. By August, the Foreign Secretary had said that he wanted to normalise relationships with Russia, and last week he called for the people to demonstrate outside the Russian embassy in London. Where is the political consistency, and how does this approach build trust in the diplomatic community?

I think the House will have heard very clearly that on matters where we can co-operate with Russia it is absolutely vital that we do so. On the point about demonstrations outside the Russian embassy, I merely draw attention to the paradox and the peculiarity that the Stop the War Coalition has never seen fit to demonstrate against the barbarism taking place in Aleppo.

Will the Foreign Secretary take this opportunity to welcome the visit this week of Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who is meeting the Queen? I know a bit about Russian Orthodoxy, having been married within the Church. The Russian Orthodox Church has suffered appallingly, particularly in Soviet times, but it is growing now. This is an opportunity for the Foreign Secretary to make it clear that whatever our differences with the Russian Government at the moment, we have absolutely nothing but support for the Russian people and her faith, and their perseverance in times of trial.

I defer to my hon. Friend’s knowledge of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is important that we keep open all lines of communication. Archbishop Kirill may have some interesting points to make. It would be even more important if he took back a message from the UK that we do not tolerate what is happening in Crimea, in eastern Ukraine, and, above all, in Syria. I hope that his visit will be a factor for change in the Kremlin.

EU Referendum

3. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on the outcome of the EU referendum. (906639)

8. What recent discussions he has had with his counterparts in other European countries on the timetable for the UK leaving the EU. (906644)

10. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on the outcome of the EU referendum. (906647)

Since becoming Foreign Secretary, I have engaged with many of my counterparts across Europe and beyond, including partners as far afield as Turkey and Japan. Those discussions have of course touched on the outcome of the referendum and the Government’s plans to enact the result.

My right hon. Friend kindly visited my constituency last year, so he will know that there are many Japanese employers in Telford. Will he please tell the House what assurances he has given to his Japanese counterpart that post-Brexit global Britain is still a great place to do business?

My hon. Friend will know that since the referendum result there has been a £24 billion investment from Japan in this country from SoftBank alone, and Japanese investment continues to come into this country. I think that all Japanese investors, and indeed investors around the world, can be secure in the knowledge that we will get the best possible deal for goods and services that will allow their companies to flourish and to prosper in this country as never before.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the timetable for leaving is triggering instability and uncertainty in the economy, so much so that the Cabinet is considering spending billions to keep single market access for the City of London. What is the timetable for the same support to be applied to Scotland, where 62% of us voted to remain?

The people of Scotland obviously had a referendum in 2014 and voted convincingly to remain in the United Kingdom. This was a United Kingdom decision. We will continue the negotiations as a United Kingdom, and we will get a fantastic deal for this country and a strong deal for the EU—both a strong UK and a strong EU.

The Honourable Luigi Di Maio, the deputy speaker of the Italian chamber of deputies, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and I met three weeks ago, confirmed in yesterday’s edition of The Times that Britain should retain access to the single market and control its migrants. Will the Foreign Secretary reciprocate by confirming on Italian media the welcome comments made by the Honourable Luigi Di Maio? Will he also confirm that Italians continue to be welcome across the United Kingdom?

I am sorry—forgive me.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I think that Rai TV has been requesting an interview with me for some time on this matter, and that is the most ingenious interview application I have yet heard. I will certainly do what I can to assist. Italians and all nationals from EU member states can have the assurance that their status here will of course be protected, provided that there is symmetry and reciprocity on the other side.

When the Secretary of State met John Kerry recently, did he have the opportunity to discuss the American chamber of commerce report, which will apparently land in the Cabinet Office this week and which warns that American companies with $600 billion-worth of investment in Britain are currently reviewing the situation because of uncertainty about our future unfettered access to the single market? Next time the Brexit Sub-Committee of the Cabinet meets, will the Secretary of State support the Chancellor in standing up to the hard Brexiteers, who seem to want to do such untold damage to our economy?

I have not yet seen the American chamber of commerce report because, by the right hon. Gentleman’s own account, it has not yet been published. I have no doubt that American companies, in common with all companies around the world outside the UK and the EU, will find the UK in future an even better place to invest in and to bring their corporations to, because of the natural advantages of time zone, language and skills that this country enjoys.

Given that the 170-odd countries outside the EU successfully trade with it—some have trade deals and some do not—what does the Secretary of State have to say to those pessimists and remoaners who continue to believe that we, with the fifth largest economy in the world, cannot thrive outside the EU, particularly given his additional list of suggestions and the fact that business costs are relative and it costs a lot more to do business on the continent?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I deprecate the terms “pessimists”, “gloomadon-poppers” and “remoaners”. We are all in this together and everybody wants to make a great success of Brexit. I have no doubt at all that this country will be able to do a fantastic deal with our friends and partners in the European Union, and simultaneously become even more attractive to investors from around the world, with a new series of stunning free trade agreements.

How does the Foreign Secretary explain to his counterparts his support for Turkey’s accession to the European Union, since that was used by the Brexiteers as a reason for getting the UK out? Did he campaign for Turkey’s accession in order to get the UK out, or did he campaign for the UK to get out in order to support Turkey’s accession?

The right hon. Gentleman will know, because we had a debate on this very subject during the course of the referendum campaign, that I am a passionate advocate of Turkish membership of the EU, if that is indeed what the Turks want—sometimes they seem to change their minds these days—always provided that the UK has left before that day.

I have here an article written by the Foreign Secretary—I think there is only one of this one—in which he argues, immediately after the referendum campaign, for full participation in the single marketplace. If it was okay for the leader of the Brexiteers to argue for full participation in the single marketplace after the referendum, why is it not okay for people on this side of the House to try to force that issue to a vote in the House of Commons?

The right hon. Gentleman will know full well that it is completely unrealistic to expect the Government to put their negotiating position to a vote in this House before those negotiations are concluded. That has never happened before. I remember all sorts of negotiations on Maastricht and other European treaties, and they were never put to this House before they were concluded, as he knows full well.

There has been reference to the draft newspaper column in favour of remain that the Secretary of State wrote in February. He wrote:

“This is a market on our doorstep, ready for further exploitation by British firms…Why are we so determined to turn our back on it?”

The argument he made back then is exactly why we on this side of the House are so concerned about a hard Brexit that would put our access to the market at risk and risk the jobs of British people. Why does the Secretary of State no longer agree with himself?

Most people will understand that the arguments have moved on and that the people have spoken overwhelmingly. Indeed, one of the most powerful cases that could possibly have been made for leave was to be found in the article that I wrote for remain. Everybody who has read it has told me that they emerged from it feeling a profound sense of obligation to leave the European Union, and they were quite right. That analysis, I am afraid, is absolutely justified and I am delighted that the people voted accordingly.


4. What progress he has made on diplomatic negotiations with his counterparts in countries bordering Syria to allow (a) aid to reach refugees and (b) refugees to leave safely. (906640)

We support the UN’s response to the Syria crisis and its regional impact. We have allocated £1.1 billion to Syria’s neighbours to help them to meet their humanitarian obligations, while maintaining border security. We work closely with them to provide humanitarian aid, as well as job and education opportunities for refugees.

An estimated 75,000 to 100,000 refugees, mostly women and children, are trapped without food and with little aid in the Berm, an area of no man’s land on the Syrian-Jordanian border. Given that Jordan already has thousands of refugees, if the next military target is to be Raqqa, the capital of ISIS, with an inevitable further flow of refugees towards the Jordanian border, what will the Foreign Secretary do to assist Jordan now and in the future?

We are in regular contact with the Jordanian authorities to assist the humanitarian situation in the Berm. We are one of the biggest deliverers of aid to the area. In recent months we have had meetings on several occasions with the Government of Jordan to try to address growing concerns about conditions, and I know that the Prime Minister has raised that.

One of the many barriers to creating safe routes out of Syria is the Syrian Government’s practice of declaring stolen passports belonging to those who oppose them. Will the Foreign Secretary, as a matter of some urgency, speak to his colleague the Home Secretary about the position of Zaina Erhaim, an award-winning Syrian journalist who recently had her passport confiscated as she came into Heathrow?

I am aware of the case. It is very difficult, because we must, in law, confiscate passports that have been stolen, but we are doing what we can to assist the lady in question.[Official Report, 8 November 2016, Vol. 616, c. 4MC.]

I thank the Secretary of State for that update. As he knows, the United Nations envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has described the presence of some 1,000 jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo as an “easy alibi” for the Russian and Syrian forces to justify their bombardment. Will the Secretary of State today support de Mistura’s proposals to offer the jihadi fighters some sort of passage out of the city so that they can be dealt with in an international criminal court?

The reality is that no such proposal can conceivably be made to work in the absence of a cessation of hostilities by the Russians and the Assad regime. That is the precondition. A durable and convincing ceasefire must be delivered by the Assad regime before any such proposal can conceivably be made to work.


5. What recent assessment he has made of the security situation in Somalia; and if he will make a statement. (906641)

I visited Mogadishu in August and was pleased to see that after decades of civil war and transitional governance, Somalia is now making significant and remarkable progress. However, security and governance need to improve, and al-Shabaab is far from defeated.

The Foreign Office deserves great credit for making us the only EU country to reopen its embassy in Mogadishu, as announced in the Anglo-Somali summit in February 2012 at Lancaster House. Does the Minister agree that now that al-Shabaab has been pushed out of Mogadishu and other cities such as Kismayo and Baidoa, it is essential that local government structures are built up so that communities can be properly represented? What is the Foreign Office doing to help that?

First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for organising, as former Africa Minister, the very conference that he mentioned on Somalia in 2012, which helped to galvanise international support for Somalia. He is absolutely right. We need to work on the governance structures, and a federated model has come to the fore. We need to support the AMISOM troops as well. There is much work to be done. Although al-Shabaab has been pushed out of the capital cities, it is still in the south of the country.

While considering the security situation in Somalia, how does the Minister assess the role of Ethiopa, and what impact is the continued detention of British citizen Andy Tsege having on our relations with the Ethiopian regime?

I am aware of the state of emergency that Ethiopia has introduced, and I will certainly look at the consular case that the hon. Gentleman raises and perhaps write to him with more details. However, I would pass on congratulations to Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and the other countries that are providing forces and making an important contribution to the support and stability of Somalia.

Aleppo Bombings

6. What representations he has made to his Russian counterparts on the bombings of civilian areas and humanitarian aid convoys in Aleppo. (906642)

I met Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in New York on 21 September, which was two days after the bombing of the aid convoy, and we obviously focused on Syria in those discussions. As I have told the House already, I pressed him to do what I think the world wants Russia to do, which is to bring pressure to bear on the Assad regime to have a ceasefire.

The Foreign Secretary may not be its biggest fan, but even the European Council yesterday found that Russia’s use of chemical weapons and its targeting of civilians are war crimes. Having now distanced himself from demos at the embassy, will he make sure that the UK leads in advocating UN veto restraint, because as long as Russia has such a “get out of jail free” card, resolutions will be ignored and an appalling situation will get worse?

The hon. Lady will be interested to know that at that European Council—I participated in it fully and, if I may say so, happily, because we are still fully paid-up members—the UK delegation introduced language specifically targeting Russia and took out language seeking to create a false equivalence between Russia and the US.

Does my right hon. Friend remember that in 2005, Her Majesty’s Government, along with every other member of the General Assembly of the United Nations, signed up to the responsibility to protect? Having just voted to take back control in this country, is it not appalling that we are bowing down to a bully in the middle east who, instead of taking seriously their responsibility to protect, is brutalising and murdering millions of people in Syria?

My hon. Friend is quite right. As you will appreciate, Mr Speaker, the UK has been in the lead in the UN Security Council in bringing pressure to bear on Russia not just on its use of chemical weapons, but on its continuing refusal to get the Syrian regime to have a ceasefire. Furthermore, we are in the lead in trying to bring all responsible parties to the International Criminal Court.

In response to this and other atrocities, the Foreign Secretary said in the Commons last week that “more kinetic options” should be considered, but then only the day before yesterday, emerging from his talks, he said there was little interest, to say the least. Please will he reassure the House that the UK will play its full role in urging other nations to accept that that may be the only way to make Russia back down?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I have to say that I admire his spirit and the urgency that he has brought to this debate. I think the mood is certainly changing in this country. I do not yet detect a sufficient appetite in the capitals of the west, and certainly not yet in the White House, for the kind of action that I think could be useful, but, as Secretary Kerry said, nothing is “off the table”.

Trade with Africa

7. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for International Trade on promoting trade with Africa during and after the process of the UK leaving the EU. (906643)

Following the EU referendum result and the formation of the Department for International Trade, both the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Trade have been engaged in positioning us as a partner of choice for countries across Africa.

As chair of the all-party group on Africa, I recently led a delegation to Namibia and South Africa to look at trade and economic development. There is huge concern there and across Africa about the impact of Brexit, particularly on the European economic partnership agreements that currently govern trade agreements. This is undermining developing economies. Will the Minister confirm that leaving the single market will mean abandoning these agreements, and will he estimate how long it will take to negotiate agreements with each of the 54 African countries?

May I first pay tribute to the work the hon. Lady does on the all-party group on Africa, and indeed to the work of all such all-party groups and of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys, many of whom are in the Chamber? That work reflects our desire to do more business post-Brexit. We are trusted, we are engaged and indeed we are committed to doing more in those countries, and South Africa is just one example of that. She raises the very important point that a number of countries have signed deals or are about to sign deals with the European Union on trade; some of them are now bowing out, saying, “Let’s wait to see what happens with Brexit.” It is important that we strike the necessary bilateral deals as we move forward.

As well as encouraging trade with Africa, what can Her Majesty’s Government do to increase trade between African countries, particularly in the Great Lakes area?

I pay tribute to my predecessor as Minister for Africa for the superb work he did in pioneering and strengthening Britain’s relationship with this important continent. These countries want to do business with us: we want to do business with them. It is important that they are also encouraged to do business with each other. The Great Lakes is a great example of that—a massive infrastructure project is being carried out to get oil out of the country through a number of other countries. It will also assist countries such as South Sudan, which could do with the revenue. Britain can come forward with our expertise in that area.

It took the European Union 12 years to negotiate the economic partnership agreement between itself and Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland, which was finally signed in June. Will the UK Government seriously have to begin that process all over again?

I suggest to the SNP that they understand where we are now. The result is there and Brexit is where we are—that has been made clear already. We now have an opportunity to embrace it and go to those countries and sign deals. That is where we should be, not looking through the small print to ask why we cannot do any of those things.

From the Gambia to South Africa, the Commonwealth offers great potential for expanding trade with Africa. Will the Minister make sure that we make full use of those opportunities to secure trade deals and get exporting to those emerging economies?

When trade opportunities arise, it is not simply just having companies that want to work there, it is also the element of trust that exists between the two nations. Our legacy, heritage and history—and the trust that exists—are exactly what we need to leverage, as well as the wonderful companies that we have to provide support across a wide range of sectors.


9. What recent discussions he has had with his (a) Iraqi and (b) other international counterparts on the political situation in Iraq. (906645)

I met the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Dr Ibrahim al-Jaafari, last week here in London at the Iraq-UK bilateral forum. The Foreign Secretary and I met other Foreign and Defence Ministers at the Washington conference on defeating Daesh held in the summer.

As my hon. Friend will know, the Kurdistan regional government has, for a long time, been short-changed—if not cut off completely—by the Government in Baghdad. Although there are some promising signs, Iraqi federalism needs to be genuine, with reliable revenue sharing. Will my hon. Friend convey that to his Iraqi counterparts and remind them of the contribution that the Kurds and the peshmerga are making in pushing back the advances of Daesh?

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the incredible work and bravery of the peshmerga. They are one of the toughest fighting forces in Iraq, and it is important that they are working with the newly trained Iraqi forces in the liberation of the city of Mosul, which has now begun. He is also right to raise concerns about the relationship between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq. We have long maintained that it is important, and in our interests, to see a united Iraq, but recognising the federated models. It is in the constitution and, to that end, I was pleased that the bilateral forum that we had last week also included Falah Mustafa, the spokesman on foreign affairs for Kurdistan.

When I visited Iraq earlier this year with the Defence Committee, it was clear that we were moving much more slowly politically than we were militarily. What support is the Minister providing to Iraqi politicians more broadly to help to keep up with the military solutions as we progress in Mosul?

I welcome visits such as that conducted by the Defence Committee. The more engagement we have to see what is happening on the ground, the better we can understand the challenges that are faced. The hon. Lady is right to highlight one challenge that Iraq faces. As Daesh is pushed out of the country, more and more focus will be on the domestic matters that will then start to plague it. Sectarian tensions remain, the de-Ba’athification process still needs to come through, and we still need to look at counter-terrorism laws and accountability laws that must be pushed through. I can guarantee, however, that our embassy and our ambassador, Frank Baker, are doing excellent work to support the Government of Iraq.

I know the good work that Ambassador Frank Baker and his colleagues are doing in Baghdad and Erbil to make progress move along, and we should be very appreciative of their efforts.

On political developments in particular, what are the Minister’s observations on whether lessons have been learned on the issue of Sunni exclusion, which has so bedevilled political development in Iraq in recent years, and does he have greater hopes that the current Government will address that issue as the country moves forward?

This is quite a collection, as my right hon. Friend is now the third former Minister for either the middle east or Africa whom I have addressed. It is an honour that they are here providing their wisdom to the Chamber—[Interruption.] I will watch my back.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on the sectarian tensions I mentioned. We got it wrong, or rather Iraq got it wrong under the Malaki Government back in 2013. The absence of including Sunnis in Iraqi society led to the creation of the space for Daesh in the first place. The United Nations Development Programme and the Iraqi Government are working extremely hard to make sure that we get this right. The day after the guns fall silent in Mosul, what happens next? There must be a Sunni-led approach to ensuring that there is peace in Mosul.

No one can dispute the comprehensiveness of the Minister’s answers, for which we are grateful, but we do have time constraints.

The hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) mentioned the Kurdistan Regional Government, and the Minister will be aware that the KRG is hosting not just hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, but potentially 1 million internally displaced Iraqis. As they are not refugees, they do not receive the support or recognition that they need. If the conflict in Mosul leads to hundreds of thousands more refugees, will the Minister provide more support from our Government to the KRG?

The hon. Gentleman touches on a very serious matter that is challenging, to say the least. The UNDP recognises that once the liberation of Mosul takes place, refugees will flood out of the capital city in different directions, including into Kurdistan. When I visited, the camps were not in place. The refugees were in schools, preventing the beginning of the school curriculum in September. We pay tribute to the work of Kurdistan. Indeed, much in our DFID programmes has gone to support refugees in that part of Iraq.

The effort to free all areas of Iraq from Daesh control is fully supported on the Labour Benches. The ongoing effort to retake Mosul will play a vital role in that strategy. How does the Minister plan to ensure that the civilian population will be protected from the fighting and that civilians fleeing Mosul will receive the humanitarian help that they need?

As I mentioned, the UNDP is co-ordinating all aspects of the UN. Working with the Iraqis, it is taking the lead on the stabilisation and reconstruction of the city. Prime Minister Abadi has made it clear that no peshmerga—no Kurdish forces—or Shi’ite mobilisation forces should enter the city. This is a predominantly Sunni city and it should be liberated initially by Sunni Iraqi forces. A civilian-trained police force will provide important security after that.


I spoke to Dr Riad Hijab, the general co-ordinator of the Syrian High Negotiations Committee, on 6 October and again on 13 October. We discussed the importance of the Syrian opposition’s continued commitment to the political process.

What importance does my right hon. Friend attach to countries in the region in bringing together the Syrian opposition?

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend. As the House may know, on 7 September we had a meeting in London, together with the High Negotiations Committee led by Dr Riad Hijab, of the interested parties in the region. He set out what I think was a very compelling case for a post-Assad Syria with a broad-based Government and pluralist democracy. I think they have a plan for 30% female representation in their politics, which is perhaps better even than the Labour party. He answers one of the key questions: is there a future for Syria after Assad? There most certainly is—and a great one, too.

Order. I am saving the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) up. I call Alison McGovern.

It is not just the Syrian opposition but Syrian civil society and non-governmental organisations in this country who are calling for our Government to lead on a comprehensive strategy to protect civilians, including a no-bombing zone. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that our Government will now take a lead in considering this strategy?

I pay tribute to the forcefulness with which the hon. Lady has advocated this course. I must say that I wish that, three years ago, the then Labour Opposition had been as resolute in wishing to see that kind of engagement to protect the people of Syria. A critical decision was taken then, as the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) well remembers, which has made things much more difficult for us today. I want to see the will of this House clearly expressed in support of what the hon. Lady has said.

The fact of the matter is that with America increasingly absorbed by a sometimes surreal presidential election, France and Germany facing elections of their own next year, Secretary Kerry soon to leave office and a change of leadership at the UN, a degree of paralysis has entered into the negotiation process on Syria—

Order. I rather thought that the right hon. Gentleman had finished. That was a fairly long inquiry, but if he has a short sentence, will he please blurt it out?

I thought my right hon. Friend’s question was excellent. It goes to the heart of what is happening at the moment. As I said earlier, the space vacated by western powers has been occupied, I am afraid, by the Russians. We need to do whatever we can now to put pressure on the Russians—through sanctions, through the threat of the International Criminal Court—[Interruption.] Indeed, and through measures such as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) suggests from a sedentary position. These measures are already in place in this country.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that although many people in Syria and in the aid agencies can understand the sort of bombastic bluster that he is so good at, the fact is that serious diplomacy will require a calm, rational approach if we are to secure peace in Syria?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman but, alas, I think that what is really needed at this stage is a tough approach, because the primary cause of the suffering of the people of Aleppo is the Syrian regime. That is overwhelmingly responsible for the deaths of 400,000 people in the conflict so far. That regime is backed by its Russian puppeteers, and it would be a fatal mistake if we were now to lose sight of that priority, and to give up on applying the pressure that is needed on Russia and its Syrian clients.

Italian Passports

13. What discussions he has had with the Italian embassy in London on ensuring the timely provision of Italian passports to UK residents. (906650)

The issuing of Italian passports is a matter for the Italian authorities. There have therefore been no discussions so far with the Italian embassy about the issuing of Italian passports to Italians.

Bedford is proudly home to a large multi-generational Italian community that has relied on our local honorary consul for the provision of their Italian passports. There has been a sustained and large increase in demand for Italian passports, and I am told that capacity at the Italian embassy is limited. Will the Minister please raise this issue with the ambassador?

There are in the UK, and especially in Bedford, a number of British nationals who are eligible for an Italian passport and have recently applied for one. That is, as I said, a matter for the Italian Government, but I can assure my hon. Friend that I will raise the matter with them as appropriate.

21. Due to the uncertainty created about the future of EU citizens living in the UK and the Government’s obsession with reducing immigration, does the Secretary of State agree that it is now easier and more secure for EU nationals to become a citizen of Asgardia—a recently founded nation state in space—than it is to remain a valued citizen of a country where they have lived and to which they have contributed for many years? (906659)

I think that the issue of the fate of such people is rather more serious than the tone adopted by the hon. Lady in the House today.


14. What support his Department is providing towards the finding of a political solution to the conflict in Yemen. (906651)

The Foreign Secretary hosted a meeting on Yemen with key international partners and the UN envoy, Ismail Ahmed, on Sunday, when it was agreed that the UN would present a road map for a political settlement to both parties as soon as possible. The UK and the US have called for an immediate ceasefire on all sides.

I understand that this is being grouped, at the request of the Government, with Question 15.

The Yemeni population continues to suffer from preventable military incidents carried out by both sides in the conflict, most recently at the funeral where 140 were killed and 500 injured. Given the Minister’s timely and important visit to Riyadh last week, what assessment was he able to make of the standard of the regional initiative seeking to address the high number of civilian casualties?

This was a tragic event, and our sympathy and concern go out to all those affected by it. It was also a huge mistake, and it is important for Saudi Arabia to be able to investigate it properly. My purpose in travelling to Saudi Arabia was to enforce that message from the Prime Minister, and to say that we needed an accurate understanding and investigation of what had taken place. Saudi Arabia has already produced an initial document that shows that its hand is going up in recognition of a huge breach of standard operating procedures. According to that document, at least one individual will be charged, and there are now plans to provide humanitarian support for those who have been injured.

The scenes of destruction and starving children in Yemen put the international community to shame. Does the Minister agree that in no circumstances should British weapons be used to target civilians, and if so, what are the Government doing to prevent that from happening?

The hon. Lady has raised the important question of who is doing the bombing, what is actually happening, and how those responsible can be made accountable. There is no doubt that this is a very difficult war. One of my reasons for inviting the Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, to the House yesterday to meet parliamentarians was to ensure that everyone here could put those very questions, and so that he could hear from our Parliament about concerns that have been expressed not just yesterday, or indeed today, but over a number of months. A coalition has been put together under United Nations resolution 2216 to support President Hadi. We must ensure that that war is legitimate, but let us not forget that the devastation has been caused by Houthis as well.

The whole House will welcome the announcement of a 72-hour ceasefire in Yemen, which will begin on Wednesday night. We share the hope of the United Nations that that can become the basis of a lasting peace, and that the children of Yemen can now receive the humanitarian relief that they so desperately need. However, as the Secretary of State observed in respect of Aleppo last week, and indeed today, the end of a conflict does not end the need to investigate possible violations of international humanitarian law. When can we expect full, independent, UN-led investigations of the thousands of airstrikes on civilian targets in Yemen?

The hon. Lady received her answer when she posed the very same question to the Foreign Minister yesterday. It is standard for any country engaged in warfare, when a mistake is made, to conduct its own investigation and produce a report. I have said in the Chamber that if I feel that that report—or any report—is undervalued and is somehow to be dismissed, I will certainly join the hon. Lady and others in saying that there should be an independent UN-led investigation. After I visited Saudi Arabia, however, we saw a report that made very clear exactly what had happened. I have encouraged people, as I did at yesterday’s meeting, to say that there are reports outstanding. There are not thousands, as the hon. Lady suggested—that is to mislead the House—but there are a number with which we are concerned that need to be clarified.

Order. I am sure that the word “inadvertent”, or the word “inadvertently”, was in there somewhere. One cannot accuse other Members of misleading the House.

We now come to topical questions. I remind the House that topical questions are supposed to be brief, and so are the answers.

Topical Questions

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.