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Topical Questions

Volume 624: debated on Tuesday 28 March 2017

I want to pay my own tribute to my ministerial colleague and right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) and to all those innocents who lost their lives or were injured last week. Over the centuries, many people have tried to attack this Parliament, but none has shaken our faith in our values of freedom and democracy, which inform our policies.

My immediate priority is to play my part in ensuring that article 50 is invoked smoothly and leading the process of building a new relationship and partnership with our European friends. In the past two weeks, I have visited east Africa, the United States and Turkey. Following that, I aim to take forward our campaign against Daesh.

I join the Foreign Secretary in paying tribute to our courageous right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood).

Following the vote in the US Senate yesterday, what assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of Montenegro’s accession to NATO?

I thank my right hon. Friend, because I believe, with maximum humility, that that is another example of how the United Kingdom’s influence is being felt in our conversations with our American friends and partners. There is strong support for NATO on Capitol Hill, and it is absolutely right that they should be moving forward with the integration of Montenegro into the north Atlantic alliance.

I am worried that the Foreign Secretary is now excluded from Cabinet decision making. When he told Robert Peston a week past Sunday that no deal from Brexit would be totally okay, his Cabinet colleague was simultaneously telling another station that it would be really bad for Britain and Europe. What estimates or forecasts, official or any, have led him to believe, and to say to Robert Peston, that no deal from Brexit would be “perfectly okay”?

The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that the Prime Minister is going into these negotiations in the spirit of optimism and positivity, from which he could learn a little. I have absolutely no doubt that there will be a great deal for this country, because a great deal for this country is ultimately in the interest of our friends and partners on the other side of the channel, who have a huge amount to gain.

T2. Will the Secretary of State kindly set out what discussions he has had with his international counterparts in relation to the campaign against Daesh? (909499)

We had a counter-Daesh coalition meeting last week, and the House will know that huge progress is being made. Daesh’s territory in Iraq has been reduced by about 60%, and its territory in Syria has been reduced by about 30%. The UK is at the forefront of that effort, in concert with our American allies and a coalition of 68 other countries.

According to the Basic Law of Hong Kong, the ultimate aim is for the city to select a Chief Executive by universal suffrage, yet two days ago a new Chief Executive was chosen by a committee comprising 0.03% of Hong Kong’s registered voters. As we prepare to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover, how can the House be confident that the Chinese Government are committed to progress towards genuinely democratic elections in Hong Kong?

The new Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, was elected by the Election Committee, and of course we respect the decision. However, we have consistently taken the view that the best way to secure the future of one country, two systems is through a transition to universal suffrage, which meets the aspirations of the people of Hong Kong, within the parameters of the Basic Law.

T5. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), has made clear his concerns about Iranian state-sponsored terrorism destabilising the state of Israel and the whole middle east. As a consequence, will he please confirm that ensuring it recognises the right of the state of Israel to exist is first and foremost in future engagement with Iran? (909502)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that this is an opportunity for Iran to re-engage following the nuclear deal and to show that it is meeting 21st-century standards. I am pleased we have had the Airbus deal, which is an example of how we can work together commercially, but we also need to work together on governance and on recognising the boundaries of states.

T3. It is more than three years since my constituent Ray Tindall and the other men of the Chennai six were detained and subsequently imprisoned in India for a crime they did not commit. Will Ministers pick up the phone to their counterparts in India and suggest that the men are simply deported? The men do not want to be in India, and the Indians do not want them in India. It is an easy way out. (909500)

I know that the hon. Gentleman is incredibly concerned for the welfare of his constituent, as we are for all the men. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and I have all raised the case in meetings with our counterparts. We are providing consular support, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and my office has written to the families to say that I stand ready to meet them ahead of the verdict that is due.

Will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary outline what his priorities have been during the UK’s 62nd presidency of the UN Security Council this month?

The theme of the UK’s presidency of the UN Security Council has been conflict prevention in Africa, with a focus on the Lake Chad basin, South Sudan and Somalia. The UK has also held an open debate on modern slavery. Throughout our presidency we have been action-oriented, transparent and consultative, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has chaired two Security Council meetings.

T6. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have called for a ban on goods produced in the illegal settlements on the west bank. Does the Foreign Secretary think that those hon. Members should be banned from travelling to Israel? (909504)

I am sure that hon. Members who wish to travel to Israel will have absolutely no difficulties, but it remains up to the Israeli immigration authorities to decide whom they choose to admit.

In light of the interim report and the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State in Burma, which were published this month, will the Under-Secretary join me and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in working towards an international, independent investigation into what is happening in Rakhine state, especially against the Rohingya community?

Mr Speaker, I know that both you and my hon. Friend care deeply about Burma. The UK has helped to deliver a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution that sets up a fact-finding mission to investigate reports of human rights abuses, and it will be composed of independent, international experts.

T7. I want to go back to that meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last Friday and the rather petulant tirade by the British mission, which ended with the threat to “adopt a policy of voting against all resolutions concerning Israel’s conduct in the Occupied…Palestinian Territories.”Will the Secretary of State make it clear that it continues to be Her Majesty’s Government’s policy to oppose illegal settlements in the west bank? (909506)

One forum where we foster our relationships with other European countries is the Council of Europe. As we leave the European Union, what role do Ministers see the Council of Europe playing? Can we deepen those relationships further?

We continue to have important regard for the Council of Europe and we will continue to work closely with it. We consider it an important forum for the co-operation of the countries that attend such meetings.

UK firms have been granted 194 licences and made some £3.3 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia during the two years of war in Yemen, completely eclipsing the UK Government’s aid efforts. Can the Foreign Secretary really claim that the licensing regime is legally and morally legitimate? Will he put more efforts into peace than into war?

We have the strongest and most rigorous criteria— there must be a clear risk of a serious violation of international humanitarian law—of any country in the world. That remains the position.

Following the walk-out this morning by members of the Brexit Select Committee, does the Foreign Secretary agree that, far from being gloomy, we should agree with Pascal Lamy and Wolfgang Schäuble that it would be more damaging to Europe than to the UK if a success were not made of Brexit?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the spirit he is bringing to this, which is very much the one the Prime Minister is going to adopt in the negotiations. I believe she will be absolutely vindicated, because I think our friends and partners on the other side of the channel understand exactly what he sets out. It will be an opportunity to get rid of some of the burdensome regulation that has accreted over the past 44 years, and I applaud the campaign that I know he supports and which has been outlined in the pages of this morning’s The Daily Telegraph.

T8. While the UK Government make representations to the Israeli Government, we have seen an increase in demolitions, including of donor-funded structures; the land regularisation Bill; the possibility of construction in area E1; and the travel bans imposed by the Israeli Government. If the UK is really committed to doing all it can to achieve a two-state solution, is it not time to recognise Palestine, before it is too late? (909507)

Both the Prime Minister and I have raised this issue specifically with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we will continue to do so. We are opposed to such demolitions and, as I have said many times this morning, we continue to believe that continued illegal settlements are an obstruction to peace.

The Pakistani Government have announced their intention to annexe Gilgit-Baltistan, a sovereign part of India that Pakistan illegally occupies. What representations has my right hon. Friend made to the Pakistani Government to say that this act is illegal and the UK Government will oppose it?

As my hon. Friend knows, we have very good relations with both India and Pakistan, but on issues of a bilateral nature it is for those two countries to reach a settlement; it is not for us to prescribe a solution or act as a mediator. Of course we encourage both sides to maintain good relations and we will continue to talk to them.

What would the Foreign Secretary say to President Putin about his treatment of demonstrators if he got the chance today?

I am pleased to inform the House that I raised the matter with my Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov—indeed, I raised the case of the mistreatment of a 17-year-old British national.

Why does Saudi Arabia consistently feature in the backstory of terrorists, as in the case of the one who struck here last week? What representations do we make to that country about it?

The backstory of terrorists is of course a subject of continual analysis, and in respect of the individual who struck last week that analysis has yet to be completed. It goes without saying that in our discussions with our Saudi counterparts we make very plain our view that the struggle against terror is a struggle we face jointly.

Further to Question 10, is it not a bitter tragedy that the US, which has been a beacon of democracy and tolerance for so long, has produced a President whose comments and stance echo those of the Blackshirts of 80 years ago?

As I said to the House a few weeks ago, such analogies and comparisons trivialise that epoch and the tragedies of the 1930s. We have a very different situation today and we are working with our American friends and partners to produce the best outcomes for the security, stability and prosperity of the world.

Will the Foreign Secretary join me in thanking the Libyan House of Representatives for their condolences after Wednesday’s tragic and traumatic event? Does he agree that urgent and active engagement with the House of Representatives is vital for a stable Libya and the ending of the mass export of migrants to their death by militia?

The fundamental thing has to be a rapprochement between the two sides in Libya. We certainly believe that General Haftar has to be part of the solution, but he cannot be the whole solution. There must be a political and constitutional resolution to the crisis in Libya.

Everyone wants to see territory liberated from the murderers of the so-called Islamic State, but is the Foreign Secretary aware of the deep concern over the recent air strikes, which have caused the death of so many innocent civilians, including children? There was no attempt to save the children. Is he aware of how important it is to try to minimise civilian tragedies, and will he make representations accordingly?

I believe the hon. Gentleman is referring to air strikes by the Americans—he did not spell that out. Of course, there have been innumerable barbaric air strikes by the Assad regime, the Russians and others, as I am sure he would acknowledge. The United States has said that it is investigating and will produce a full report.