FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE
The Secretary of State was asked—
I call the Minister, the right hon. Tobias Ellwood. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
In Zimbabwe, presidential and parliamentary elections are due to take place in 2018, but time is running out to implement the necessary preparations to allow voter registration to be completed. We regularly raise our concerns and the importance of free and fair elections, and this was done most recently on 21 March with the deputy Foreign Minister.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his honour.
Are the Government aware that the opposition parties and human rights groups are all saying that the rigging of elections has now commenced in Zimbabwe? Rural chiefs are being forced to take ZANU-PF cards and food is being used as a weapon, and if we do not get the United Nations, the African Union and particularly the South African Development Community to do something about the electoral registration system, we will not have free and fair elections. Can Her Majesty’s Government do even more to impress on those agencies that something must be done to keep the flame of hope alive for the Zimbabwean people?
The hon. Lady, who has deep experience in the country, is absolutely right to point to the worries about the electoral registration process and the prospect of unfair elections taking place. She is aware that we do not have the access we would like. We are concerned about the misuse of biometric data even now and about registration kits going missing and then being used. We are working with our counterparts, including the United Nations, as well as multi-donor programmes, to improve access to justice and for the media so that, hopefully, the elections can take place in a fairer atmosphere.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that Chinese, Russian and Israeli money is flooding in, buying influence in anticipation of a post-Mugabe—probably ZANU-PF-led—environment. With that in mind, what are the Government doing to meet their manifesto pledge to uphold the rule of law in Zimbabwe, which could again become the centre of sub-Saharan Africa?
My hon. Friend is right to point to our manifesto commitment. Given the fact that Mugabe is still in place, he will understand that there are limits to what I can say, but I can assure him that we are working on this very hard indeed.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his actions last week.
There have been disturbing reports in which six women allege they were targeted for refusing to follow instructions to feign illiteracy, blindness and physical injury, which would have allowed someone else to assist them by marking their ballot. Will the Foreign Secretary urge the police officer in command of Mashonaland central province to investigate these disturbing reports?
The hon. Lady illustrates just one example of what is happening in the country as we lead up to these elections. That is why we and other nation states in the United Nations, and indeed in the African Union, are very concerned. We have limited access ourselves, so we need to place pressure on those countries that are working in the country, to make sure that free and fair elections can take place and that this sort of activity is not carried out.
May I, too, on behalf of those on the Conservative Benches, pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his actions last week?
Has my right hon. Friend made any representations to Zimbabwe’s SADC neighbours—South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia—to try to put pressure on the Zimbabwean Government to ensure free and fair elections?
Yes, we have done so, and continue to do so. I will be visiting South Africa in the very near future, and this will be on the agenda. We are also working with the African Union to place pressure on Zimbabwe.
Israeli Settlement Goods
The British deputy ambassador met Israel’s Europe director on 13 March to discuss the new immigration rules, and we continue to push for clarification from Israel on the impact on UK nationals. We have updated our travel advice for Israel.
UK citizens such as Hugh Lanning, the chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, have already been refused entry because of this ban, which has been widely condemned, including within Israel itself. The advice on the Foreign Office’s website says that people should contact the Israeli embassy. Should not the Foreign Secretary be contacting the Israeli embassy to say that people should not be restricted from travel to Israel and Palestine simply because they wish to enforce international law due to the ban on goods from settlements?
We have of course offered to provide consular assistance to Mr Lanning. He did not in fact request our support, nor did he seem to need it. As the hon. Gentleman will know, Israel’s immigration policy is a matter for Israel. We firmly oppose boycotts—the boycott, divestment and sanctions approach—against Israel, as I am sure he does too, although clearly it is a two-way street.
Is there not a need to be even-handed? Many countries have banned people from entering and are indeed deporting people. Does not this underline how right the Government were to warn the UN Human Rights Council of its disproportionate bias against Israel?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in his verdict on the UN Human Rights Council. I thought it was absolutely preposterous that there should be a motion condemning Israel’s conduct in the Golan Heights when, after all, we have seen in that region of Syria the most appalling barbarity conducted by the Assad regime. I think that was the point the UK Government were rightly making.
The Foreign Secretary says that he is seeking clarification from the Government of Israel. What questions is he actually asking them? In particular, has he asked what kind of activity would lead to someone being denied entry, particularly given that the Foreign Office’s own website discourages financial and commercial dealings with settlements? Is he saying that someone who advocates that is likely to be denied entry to Israel? Has he asked that question?
We are of course seeking clarity about exactly how the law would be applied in practice, although, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, the Israeli Government, like our Government, already have very wide discretion about how to apply their immigration laws.
What is our policy on goods and services produced in the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories?
Our policy, as my hon. Friend will know, is that consumers should have the right to judge for themselves whether they wish to purchase them. That is a policy that this Government have pursued for many years.
A Foreign Office Minister has previously described the situation in Hebron as apartheid and settlement endorsement as a form of extremism. Can the Secretary of State tell the House whether the Minister for Europe and the Americas, the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan), would fall foul of the new law if he attempted to travel there?
I do not believe that my right hon. Friend has said anything of the kind or called for any such boycott, and nor do I believe for a second that he would be interrupted if he chose to go to Israel. I must stress that the policy of the Government is unchanged. We remain opposed to illegal settlements and we believe that they are an obstacle to peace. I have said that many times already in this House, but I am happy to repeat it to the hon. Lady.
The main aim of the boycott movement is to delegitimise the state of Israel, so will the Government continue to strongly oppose it?
We certainly shall.
Has the Foreign Secretary had any indication that such a ban might be extended to those who advocate a ban on goods from the occupied Golan Heights? Does he agree that the UK Government’s refusal to support a resolution at the UNHRC condemning the occupation of the Golan Heights increases that likelihood?
With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I have made very clear what I thought was the profound absurdity of denouncing Israeli conduct in that region at a time when we are seeing absolute barbarism conducted by the Assad regime against the people of Syria.
Bilateral Relations: Poland
British-Polish relations are strong and getting stronger. The inaugural intergovernmental consultations last November were a firm demonstration of our commitment. I was delighted to launch the first Belvedere civil society forum earlier this month in Warsaw with the Polish Foreign Minister and many others.
Given this Government’s proud record of tackling modern slavery, does my right hon. Friend welcome the UK, Poland and Lithuania modern slavery conference, held in Warsaw in March, as a signal of how we can work together to strengthen the fight against human trafficking and modern slavery?
The Prime Minister has rightly called this
“the great human rights issue of our time”.
The Home Office-funded conference to which my hon. Friend referred, and the workshop that went with it, was the culmination of an intense period of Government activity. As a result of the workshop, we have strengthened regional co-operation to tackle modern slavery in central and eastern Europe.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Belvedere forum is a sign of our high-level engagement with Poland and a signal that it is entirely possible to have constructive and cordial discussions with our European friends, even as Brexit is being discussed?
It was exactly that. I am pleased to say that more than 120 people attended, including leading representatives of UK-Polish businesses, along with representatives from universities and think tanks, Parliaments, media outlets, cultural institutions and, indeed, the Polish diaspora from the UK.
In the wake of Brexit, I have been left deeply concerned by the rise in hate crime and the subsequent insecurity felt by our Polish communities. I was very saddened to read a report in a local newspaper of a Polish-born mother in the north-east saying that when she speaks Polish to her daughter,
“I can’t guarantee I would feel safe.”
Will the Minister clarify what steps he is taking with his Polish counterparts to reassure Polish communities that hate crime is not acceptable and will not be tolerated in the UK?
Following an absolutely deplorable spike just after the referendum, I am pleased to say that the number of reported crimes has significantly declined. We have been working very closely with our Polish counterparts, reassuring them at every conceivable opportunity. Indeed, we did so very publicly at the Belvedere forum.
The Polish community constitutes the largest component of EU nationals in the UK and by far the largest percentage in Scotland. The Minister of State and, indeed, the Foreign Secretary have in previous incarnations been known for their cosmopolitan, pro-immigration attitudes. Can the Minister think of anything on the eve of Brexit that would better enhance the relationship going into negotiations than to unilaterally and immediately consolidate the position of the 3 million EU nationals in this country? Is not that something the Government should do now?
I am confident that when the starting gun for Brexit is fired tomorrow, the issue mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman will be an essential part of the negotiations that will then follow.
Does the Minister believe that Poland deserves congratulations, as a frontline state against an increasingly fractious Russia, on being one of only five NATO members to meet the minimum level of 2% expenditure of GDP? Does he think it would send a good signal to Russia if the Foreign Secretary were to throw his considerable weight behind perhaps a Polish candidate to be the next Secretary-General of NATO, rather than a member of the comfortable club of the usual suspects?
If I might say so, the manner in which my right hon. Friend expressed his views was characteristic of him. I am confident that, even though we are going to leave the European Union, the United Kingdom will remain a force for good in the defence and security of eastern Europe, and we will increase our engagement on all levels.
Has the Minister received the same representation as we have from the Polish and other European embassies on the difficulties that many EU nationals are having with the 85-page form that they have to complete in order to apply for permanent residency in the UK? Has he relayed those concerns to the Home Office? [Interruption.] The Secretary of State does not even know about it. In that case, will the Minister, the Secretary of State and perhaps my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), the shadow Secretary of State, accept my challenge and try to fill in the form and see how they get on?
I have to say that I have not received such representations, but I look forward to raising the matter myself when I next see the Polish ambassador, as I do on regular occasions.
Yazidi Captives: Daesh
As the House will know, significant progress has been made in liberating the city of Mosul, which will be a symbolic landmark in defeating Daesh in Iraq. We are extremely concerned for all those held by Daesh, including members of the Yazidi community. Ultimately, the only way of protecting minorities is by defeating Daesh and establishing strong governance and lasting peace.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. What support will be given to Yazidi women when they are released? Can he confirm that evidence will be taken from them so that we can accurately record the genocide of the Yazidi people?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. In the short term, we are providing refugee assistance and resettlement schemes, including Gateway, Mandate and Children at Risk, as well as putting funds into United Nations programmes. For the long term, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his Iraqi and Belgian counterparts have launched a global campaign to bring Daesh to justice. The campaign is designed to support all victims, including Yazidis.
The hon. Gentleman will know that when Yazidi women are released, they have great difficulty accessing the medical services—particularly the psychiatric services—that they need. Plane-loads of Yazidi women have been flown to Germany for treatment. Can Britain now do its bit and undertake to do the same thing?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. We have programmes that bring the vulnerable and those who have been affected to the UK, and we are also investing a huge amount of funding in programmes in-country. I will be more than delighted to write to her with more details of what we are doing.
The brutalisation of the Yazidi by Daesh has been a deliberate attempt to destroy the Yazidi people. Yazda, a Yazidi advocacy organisation, estimates that 35 Yazidi mass graves have been found. What support can my hon. Friend present to ensure that these crimes and graves are collated and evidenced?
As I have mentioned, the Foreign Secretary is leading on this, and it will take time. We need to be patient, because it is important that we conduct forensic examinations, preserve evidence and take testimonies, but we will bring to account those who have committed these atrocities.
Will the Minister join me in welcoming the establishment of a psychological training centre for former Daesh sex slaves at the University of Dohuk in Iraq, which is the first of its kind in the region? Can he confirm what support the UK Government will be giving to that groundbreaking trauma unit?
The hon. Lady illustrates just one example of how Iraq needs to step forward and move on from the period in which minority ethnic groups and others were not represented in the country. If we are to make a success of the situation once Daesh is removed, it is important to have facilities such as this in place to support those who have been affected. Most importantly, there needs to be an inclusive Government to ensure that ethnic groups are not isolated or persecuted as they have been.
It has been almost a year since the House of Commons voted to express its desire for the atrocities against the Yazidi people to be described as genocide. At the time, the Government said that they would not rush to judgment but would allow the legal process to take its course. Could the Minister give us an update on the process of those legal proceedings and when the Government anticipate that the genocide against the Yazidis will be recognised as such?
I have said that I believe that war crimes have taken place. However, it is not my judgment that counts, but that of the International Criminal Court, and when this was put to the International Criminal Court in 2014 we were vetoed by Russia and China. It is important that we continue to make the case, and it is important that we hold the perpetrators to account.
I congratulate the Minister on his actions last week.
I have been lucky enough to visit northern Iraq and to meet Yazidis in some of the internally displaced persons camps. What resources and preparation are we putting in place to make sure that they and others can get back to their homes once we have defeated Daesh?
The hon. Gentleman raises two important points. On the work that is happening in northern Iraq, we have put forward an extra £40 million to provide assistance to the displaced people. We should make it clear that despite their urge to return to their original houses—their original dwellings in their original communities—that must be done in line with the Iraqi authorities, because we are concerned about IEDs that have been placed there causing all the more stress, harm and, indeed, death.
May I pay tribute to the Minister for his extraordinary courage last Wednesday? As PC Palmer’s family said this weekend to the Minister and to others who rushed to help:
“There was nothing more you could have done. You did your best and we are just grateful he was not alone.”
Yazidi women, including girls as young as nine, have been raped, kidnapped and sold into slavery by Daesh terrorists. If proper mechanisms are not established to investigate these crimes, crucial evidence and witnesses will be lost and the victims will never have their day in court. What are the Government doing to prevent that, and will the Minister tell us how he is ensuring that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes will be brought to justice as quickly as possible?
I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady for her kind remarks. I make it clear that I was one of many who stepped forward on that dark day. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families and friends of the victims, including our own PC Keith Palmer.
The right hon. Lady raises an important point. We have not announced or trailed the exact details of the work we are doing to collect the evidence because there is a fear that there are those who would try to interrupt that process. Organisations are working quietly behind the scenes to collect the forensic evidence that they need, to preserve the evidence, as she said, and to collect testimonies. It will take time, but that is not broadcast in the way other things are for fear that people could try to disrupt it.
We are aware of reports that Hezbollah continues to amass an arsenal of weapons, which is in direct contravention of UN Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1701. In addition to Hezbollah’s interference in Syria, there is also a risk of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah returning. If what happened in 2006 were repeated, it would not just devastate Lebanon but be hugely destabilising for the region.
I thank the Minister for his response. Earlier this month, Iran’s Defence Minister said that Hezbollah is now capable of producing rockets that can hit any part of Israel, and reports have emerged that Iran has established rocket factories under the control of Hezbollah. What steps is he taking to stop Iran’s unconstrained financing of terror?
The involvement of Iran through proxy influences across the region is of huge concern, not least in Lebanon, and we are looking at these reports very carefully indeed. I should also say that Hezbollah, which has a political involvement as part of the Government in Lebanon, needs to move forward and be more constructive. It is thanks to disruption by Hezbollah and its blocking decisions in the Lebanese Government that the country was without a president for two years.
But what urgent action can be taken to counter Iran’s malevolent involvement in destabilising the middle east? We have already heard reference to Hezbollah being armed by Iran, but Iran is also arming Hamas in Gaza with rockets aimed specifically at Israeli communities within Israel, across the border from Gaza. What action will be taken to stop this?
We are now engaging with Iran at a level that we have not done for over a decade, thanks to the nuclear agreement that has been made. That allows us to have more forthright and frank conversations, and we have made it very clear that if Iran wants to join the international community—we want stability in the middle east—it must desist from having an influence in the areas to which the hon. Lady referred.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s earlier answer, but does he accept that Israel’s decision in 2006 to bomb all parts of Lebanon, including those represented by people who had been fighting Hezbollah for more than a generation, catapulted Hezbollah from a sectional group of extremists right into the heart of the powerbase of the Government of Lebanon?
I visited the country right after those attacks had taken place and the devastation was indeed huge. It is in all our interests not to go down that road again. I pay tribute to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, which has done an amazing job in reducing tensions between the two countries.
One way to reduce the supply of weapons to Hezbollah is to stop them at source. What discussions has the Minister had with, for instance, Egypt on the tunnels and the access they provide for bringing weapons in? If they can be stopped there, we can stop them being used.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we need to work together on this with our partners across the middle east. We are engaging not just with Egypt, but with other countries too.
I had a series of excellent meetings last week at the White House, the State Department and elsewhere with Secretary of State Tillerson, Vice-President Pence and others. We discussed areas of common interest and shared objectives on Syria, Russia, NATO, global free trade and other questions.
There are 212,000 Americans living in the UK and 715,000 Brits living in America. Americans, when visiting the UK, spend more than visitors from any other nation. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that this shows that the special relationship is very much alive?
This is a long-standing extraordinary relationship that goes from strength to strength. Hon. Members may know that last year exports to the United States rose by 20%. It is the absolute determination of the new US Administration to do a free trade deal that will take those trade figures even further forward.
Visiting the Cabinet War Rooms this morning with youngsters was a timely reminder that the US is one of our closest allies and that a strong relationship between the two countries remains vital. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it must be a key part of our new geopolitical role outside the EU?
I passionately agree with that. It is the function of the UK to be the intermediary between our European friends and partners and the United States, and to campaign for the things that matter deeply to us all: the transatlantic defence alliance that has kept the peace in our continent for the past 70 years, and, of course, global free trade, which is of huge value to all of us.
Will the Foreign Secretary take this opportunity to praise the democracy of the United States? Its independent judiciary has rejected President Trump’s plans to bring in bans on refugees, while at the same time Congress has seen sense and not approved his proposals to abolish Obamacare.
It is not for me to intrude into the domestic politics of the United States, except to say that I think many people around the world who criticise and attack the United States and who are viscerally anti-American in their attitudes will look at the balance of power represented by that decision and see that this is a mature democratic system in which we can confide our trust.
But what damage is done by fantastical and ridiculous outbursts like those levelled at GCHQ by President Trump? Will the Foreign Secretary assure the House that our invaluable intelligence relationship with the United States is not compromised by the current incumbent of the White House?
The damage done by such remarks can be likened to that of a gnat against a rhinoceros or an elephant. They will not make any difference to a fundamental relationship that is, as I say, of great international importance. As for the assertion that there was some sort of collusion by GCHQ to bug the presidential candidate, I think that has been accurately described as absurd and ridiculous.
May I just bring the Foreign Secretary down to earth? The core element of the Anglo-American relationship is based on “Five Eyes” and intelligence. President Trump’s allegation, repeated from Fox News, was not like a gnat at a rhinoceros; it was deeply damaging, and I would be grateful if the Foreign Secretary told the House exactly what comments he made to the President or senior members of the White House to refute that.
I must respectfully disagree with my hon. Friend’s characterisation of the episode. I believe that it has done no lasting damage to our relationship, and certainly not to the special relationship or to intelligence sharing, which will of course carry on between our countries. As I say, that relationship is of huge value to the security of the west. As for the allegations themselves, let me repeat that they are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.
Let me welcome the Secretary of State back from his trip to Washington. More than ever, it is vital that Britain uses, in his words, our “extraordinary relationship” to ensure that America makes the right decisions on the world stage. The Secretary of State has consistently told us that we should be optimistic about the outcome. Indeed, two days ago, he told us: “They have an agenda very close to ours. The U.S. is back.” With that in mind, will he tell us specifically what impact he believes today’s presidential energy independence Executive order will have on the Paris climate change agreement? During his trip to Washington, what representations did he make about that Executive order?
The right hon. Lady will know that the UK Government have played a leading role in securing the Paris agreement on climate change. The United States remains a supporter of that. In the course of my conversations with the US Secretary of State on that issue, I received some encouragement—I do not want to exaggerate the outcome of the conversations—that, as in so many other dossiers, the US is moving from the position we saw during the campaign, when some remarks came across as being perhaps out of line with UK Government thinking, into a position that is much more closely aligned with our thinking, even on climate change.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but I am not sure that he really understands that by lifting curbs on power plant emissions, today’s Executive order will make it practically impossible for the US to hit the targets that were agreed in Paris. The right hon. Gentleman says that he received some encouragement, but to be honest one wonders whether he raised the issue in Washington and was just ignored, or did not raise the issue at all. One thing is certainly clear—
I did raise it.
I am very glad to hear that the Secretary of State raised the issue, but it is such a shame that we have so little influence on the United States that today an Executive order is being signed—
It is a gnat against a rhino!
It is unfair to call the Secretary of State a gnat against a rhino, and I would obviously never suggest such a thing. If the Secretary of State claims to have influence, he needs to start showing us some evidence of it. He needs to learn that the only way he will get listened to by Trump is if he is prepared to stand up and challenge him. I ask him to begin today by condemning the Executive order and telling the Trump Administration that we will not stand by in silence while they wreck the Paris climate change agreement.
With great respect, I must say that I think the right hon. Lady is again being far too pessimistic. We were told by the US presidential candidate that NATO was obsolete; we now hear that he is 100% behind NATO. We were told that the JCPOA, the joint comprehensive plan of action on Iran, was going to be junked; it is now pretty clear that America supports it. We were told that there was going to be a great love-in between the new US Administration and Russia; they are now very much more in line. As for climate change, I think the right hon. Lady is once again being too pessimistic. Let us wait and see. We have heard the mutterings of the right hon. Lady; let us see what the American Administration actually do. I think she will be pleasantly surprised, as she has been, if she were remotely intellectually honest, in all other respects.
The causes of the conflict in Ukraine lie very much with the Russians, who bear the overwhelming responsibility for the considerable loss of life there. I was pleased to be able to raise the matter with my Polish counterpart, Witold Waszczykowski, during a visit to Kiev a few weeks ago. What is crucial to progress in Ukraine is not just for the Russians to desist from supporting military activity in Donbass and pull out of Crimea, but for the Ukrainians themselves to make the reforms that will increase international confidence in Ukraine.
We must hasten progress somewhat. Sir Gerald Howarth—briefly.
Is it not clear, though, that unless we do more to help our Ukrainian friends, Russia will continue with impunity to seek to destabilise Ukraine? Given that the western Ukrainian-owned businesses in Donbass have just been expropriated by so-called separatists, no doubt with the support of Russia, perhaps we should consider expropriating Russian assets in the United Kingdom, starting with football clubs.
I am grateful for that suggestion. This country already leads the way in imposing sanctions on the Russians for their actions in Ukraine, and we continue to insist on those.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree with me, and with the Secretary General of Amnesty International, that the United States President’s Executive order implementing a travel ban on people from six countries—
Order. No, no. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was seeking to take part in an exchange about Ukraine, possibly in anticipation of our not reaching his question. We probably will reach his question, but I am afraid that, whether we do or not, he cannot talk about the travel ban purported to be applied by the United States in respect of an exchange about Ukraine. Does any other Member wish to take part, in an orderly way? Yes: Mr Chris Bryant.
It is clear that the Russians have behaved perniciously and disgracefully in Ukraine. As the Foreign Secretary has said, their behaviour has led to many deaths, many people have been detained incommunicado, and terrible human rights abuses are going on, as well as the expropriation of assets. The Foreign Secretary regularly boasts about how well we have done in ensuring that there are sanctions in the European Union, but how will we be able to do that when we are no longer a member of the European Union?
The hon. Gentleman will know that there is to be a White Paper very soon, presaging a Bill on how we will continue to take part in sanctions jointly with our friends and partners across the channel.
Sudan and South Sudan
Despite some improvements, the security situation in Sudan remains concerning, particularly in Darfur and the Two Areas. In South Sudan the security situation is much worse as fighting continues across the country and the humanitarian situation becomes increasingly desperate.
Sudan was recently appointed vice-chair of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, at a time when the organisation is considering investigating Sudan’s alleged use of such weapons. Does that not constitute a conflict of interests?
There are a number of concerns about Sudan, one of which is the use of chemical weapons. The United Nations has looked into the issue in detail, and to date there is no firm evidence that that is taking place, but we will continue to investigate.
I am sure that the Minister will share my concern about the recent attack on aid workers in South Sudan, which left seven dead. What support does he think the United Kingdom Government can give the United Nations to allow aid agencies to deal with the emerging famine in parts of the country?
I had an opportunity to visit South Sudan at the end of last year. We are now deploying 400 British troops in one of our largest peacekeeping operations in the world. This is a complex conflict: not only is there conflict between the two major tribes, but numerous sub-conflicts are taking place throughout the country. It is important that we are able to support the work of the Church that is trying to reconcile local differences, which will then allow non-governmental organisations to get in and provide the necessary humanitarian aid.
May I add my sincere tribute to those given to the right hon. Gentleman for his actions last week?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of allegations that both Salva Kiir and Riek Machar are currently using British passports to travel around Africa and elsewhere? Given that the terrible situation in South Sudan—both the famine and the security situation—is in significant part man-made, does he think that is appropriate, if it is true?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments.
I will certainly look into this question. Both Salva Kiir and Riek Machar have huge responsibility for what is actually a man-made conflict—let us not mince our words. South Sudan, a mineral-rich country, could be one of the richest in Africa, but it needs to reconcile its differences. It is the youngest country on the planet, yet its first few footsteps have been absolutely dire because of poor leadership, mostly by these two individuals.
Why do African nations and African regional organisations prove to be so ineffective not only in stopping the fighting but in relieving the misery?
My hon. Friend makes an important observation, but I would say that they are getting better at recognising that countries in Africa must honour their constitutions, and that leaders cannot simply hand over power to their son or daughter. The best example of that was in Gambia, where the neighbouring countries stepped forward to make sure that there was a peaceful transition to a new President.
I would like to press the Minister on the Amnesty International report that found strong evidence of the use of chemical weapons by Sudanese forces in Darfur, but which has been met, sadly, virtually by silence from his Government. Will the Minister explain which international partners he is working with, and how the Government will ensure that these deeply disturbing allegations are fully investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice?
I am happy to look into this in more detail. Our understanding is that this came to the attention of the United Nations, and it has conducted investigations as well. But it is difficult to collect evidence, simply because we do not have full access to the country, as we would like. I will certainly redouble my efforts to see what more I can find out.
Despite some positive steps, the human rights situation in Belarus remains of serious concern. We continue to raise human rights issues with the Belarusian authorities and use every opportunity to call on Belarus to establish an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
Will my right hon. Friend join calls led by the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee for the Belarusian President unconditionally to release all the many hundreds of people brutally arrested in Belarus over the last few days? Will he also consider asking the European Union to rethink its recent decision to lift the personal sanctions against the ruling Belarus elite?
Following the demonstrations on 25 March, the Foreign Office issued a statement on 26 March calling on the Belarusian authorities to respect and uphold the right to freedom of association, assembly and expression, and to release all the peaceful demonstrators still detained. Among those originally detained were two British nationals, but I am pleased to say that they have since been released.
Executive Orders: United States
We have been clear that the Government do not agree, as I have said previously to the House, with the recent changes to US immigration policy, and that that is not the approach the UK would take.
Therefore, will the Foreign Secretary agree with me and the secretary general of Amnesty International that the President’s Executive order implementing a travel ban on people from six countries and certain refugees is “unconstitutional, inhumane and illogical”?
I think I have made my position on the travel ban clear: “divisive, discriminatory and wrong” was the formula we came up with, after exhaustive research of the thesaurus. I think that was agreed among all members, and we will settle on that.
Death Penalty: United Arab Emirates
The UK firmly opposes the death penalty in all circumstances. We have made that clear to all countries that still have it in place, including the United Arab Emirates.
Jennifer Dalquez is an overseas domestic worker working in the Emirates to provide for her two children in the Philippines. In a struggle with her employer, who was trying to rape her, she killed him, and she now faces either execution or a fine of 100 camels’ value, over $60,000, which she has no prospect of paying. What can the Minister do to ensure that this barbaric justice system comes into the 21st century and respects the human rights of people, especially overseas domestic workers?
I will certainly look into that consular case and get back to the right hon. Lady. Many countries in the Gulf and across the wider middle east are advancing their justice systems, but many of them have existed as independent centralised countries for less than 50 or 60 years. That is not an excuse for continuing to have outdated practices in the 21st century, but I will do my best to provide her with an update.
Bilateral Relations: India
The UK shares a long-standing and deep friendship with India, covering economic ties, defence and security, and people-to-people links. We want the strongest possible economic relationship with India post-Brexit. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister visited India in November—her first bilateral visit outside Europe.
I am grateful for that answer. Strong relations between our two nations should be welcomed, particularly given the potential trading opportunities, but “good relations” means talking about concerns as well as successes. What discussions has the Foreign Office had with the Indian Government on Kashmir and human rights?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We of course remain concerned about the reports of unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir. In fact, I raised the Kashmir issue with Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Akbar during his visit to London on 16 March, and I will continue to monitor developments in this area.
This year marks the UK-India year of culture, so will the Minister set out the Government’s plans to celebrate this important event?
A range of events are coming up this year to celebrate the year of culture. The right hon. Gentleman will know that we were visited by Finance Minister Jaitley in February, showing the strength of our relationship. He visited Buckingham Palace, where Her Majesty the Queen hosted an event celebrating the year of culture.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.