FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE
The Secretary of State was asked—
Illegal Wildlife Trade
I wish to begin by congratulating Iraq’s security forces on liberating Mosul from the pitiless grasp of Daesh. The flag of Iraq flies once more in the country’s second city and I pay tribute to the pilots of the RAF who played a vital role in supporting this operation, delivering more airstrikes than anyone else apart from the United States. The House can take pride in what they have done.
On the illegal wildlife trade, we can be pleased with the agreement that the Prime Minister helped to secure at the G20 summit in Hamburg. It is about cracking down not only on the trade in charismatic megafauna, but on those who engage in gunrunning, people trafficking and much other human misery, as well as illegal wildlife trafficking. We can be proud of what we are doing.
I applaud the efforts the Government are making in this area. I am also pleased that the UK will host the illegal wildlife trade conference in 2018. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm how much money the Department has committed to tackling the illegal wildlife trade and how effectively the money is being spent?
I say to the Foreign Secretary that we simply have to give this subject a much higher priority than we do—not only our Government, but across the world. Every week or month we see programmes on our televisions—55 African elephants are poached every day. He has to make this a priority. It is not good enough for us to look at our television screens and feel sorry about it—we have to have a far greater commitment to do something about it.
I completely share the hon. Gentleman’s zeal and passion. The UK has in fact been in the lead on this for several years now, and we will continue to push the agenda, not just at the G20, as the Prime Minister did, but at the IWT summit that we will host in October 2018 in London.
Will my right hon. Friend talk a little about his strategy on this issue, because the link between the illegal wildlife trade, smuggling, people trafficking, and lawlessness and violence in many countries is extremely real? Addressing the illegal wildlife trade may seem esoteric, but it is not: it is about the stability of many nations that are firm partners of the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend is right: this is far from esoteric. It not only touches the hearts of millions of people in our country—as the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) said—but helps to cause increased human misery. The same people are involved in trade in drugs, arms and people, worth up to £13 billion a year, and we are playing a major part in frustrating that trade.
There is increasing evidence that the UK’s legal ivory market has been used as cover for illegal trade. What discussions will the Foreign Secretary have with colleagues about an all-out ban on the ivory trade, as previously committed to?
Exiting the EU
My Department continues to support EU exit negotiations, and the Government work to strengthen our relations with partners worldwide. As a champion of free trade, we will continue to seize the opportunities afforded by Brexit and guarantee our long-term global prosperity.
Businesses in my constituency are seeking to make the most of the opportunities that Brexit provides for them, but can my right hon. Friend assure me that he will work closely with the Department for International Trade and the Department for Exiting the European Union to ensure that businesses that are already trading with the single market are helped to build new export markets for their goods and services around the world, to secure their continued prosperity?
Absolutely. I congratulate my hon. Friend on what I believe is her first question—I think it is a very good one. She can reassure her constituents that not only will the excellent companies in her constituency be able to continue to enjoy free trade with the rest of the European Union—with the EU27—but they will, of course, have the additional opportunity afforded by the new free trade deals that we will be able to strike with countries around the world. I am pleased to say that they were queuing up to make that point to the Prime Minister at the G20 in Hamburg.
Today is the feast day of St Benedict, the patron saint of Europe, who famously warned about “murmuring in the community” against the abbess. Will my right hon. Friend please proclaim that we do not want any murmuring from anyone against our vision of an open, free trade Europe—the best possible free trade deal, leading the world towards free trade and untold prosperity?
My hon. Friend has made an excellent point. Members on both sides of the House know very well that 80% or 85% of us were elected on a very clear manifesto pledge to come out of the European Union, to come out of the single market and—as the leader of the Labour party has said—to come out of the customs union as well. Nothing could be clearer than that. I think that what the people of this country want us to do is get on and deliver a great Brexit, and I have no doubt that, with the support of Opposition Members, we can achieve it.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker.
In March, the Foreign Secretary said that leaving the EU with no deal would be perfectly okay. Last month, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that that would be a very, very bad outcome for Britain. Given that the two positions are clearly completely contradictory, who should the British public believe?
I think that what the British public can take from both the Chancellor and myself—and, indeed, from the vast majority of Labour Members, as I understand their position—is that we all want to get on and do the deal, to do the best deal possible, and to leave the EU.
What lessons does my right hon. Friend take from the Australian Government, who negotiated free trade deals with China, Japan and South Korea in very short order by focusing on trade itself rather than getting bogged down in disputes with regard to standards, legalities and regulations?
I agree very much with what my hon. Friend has said. I think that, with a bit of gumption and a bit of positive energy, there is no limit to what we can achieve, and we should get on and do it. Of course, we cannot ink in the free trade deals now, but we can certainly pencil in the outlines.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister’s spokesman was reported as saying that,
“the transition rules could involve the European Court of Justice for a limited time…that’s all a matter for negotiation.”
That is the quote that was reported. So can the Foreign Secretary confirm this change in Government policy, and set out the rationale behind it?
Since we joined the Common Market on 1 January 1973 until the date we leave, we will have given the EU and its predecessors, in today’s money in real terms, a total of £209 billion. Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear to the EU that if it wants a penny piece more, it can go whistle?
I am sure that my hon. Friend’s words will have broken like a thunderclap over Brussels and they will pay attention to what he has said. He makes a very valid point; the sums that I have seen that they propose to demand from this country seem to me to be extortionate, and I think that to “go whistle” is an entirely appropriate expression.
21. Will the Secretary of State ensure, in a spirit of co-operation, that the final Brexit deal is endorsed by the devolved Parliaments before it is signed? (900358)
Further to the question by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), did my right hon. Friend hear the report on the “Today” programme this morning that other European leaders were making it clear that they would not accept a deal on any terms, and does he share my view that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the birth of what I believe is his sixth child. He makes a very good point about the negotiating stance of our friends and partners across the channel. They do sound at the moment pretty hard over, as we say in the Foreign Office, but I have no doubt that in the fullness of time a suppleness will descend, and a willingness to compromise, because, after all, a great Brexit deal, a great free trade deal, and a deep and special partnership is in the interests of both sides of the channel.
As I have said before, the striking thing about this debate is how much unanimity there really is between the two sides of the Chamber on these fundamental questions, and I have been very struck that the leader of the Labour party seems to be very much on all fours with the objectives of the Brexit—[Interruption.] He very much agrees with the position we are taking, and I hope to see him in the Lobby with us.
I hate to disagree with the Foreign Secretary: while he is right to say that the Leader of the Opposition is fully behind the Government and those on the Conservative Benches are fully behind the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, the Opposition are hopelessly split on this issue, and is that not hindering the Government’s negotiating position?
It is not for me to comment on the ability of the Labour leader to control his own party. I take it that Labour Members are all following official Labour party policy, which is to come out of the EU and the single market. If they are not, they can stand up now and, by their questions, betray their real position, but as far as I know they are supporting the will of the British people as expressed last year. If they wish to dissent from that, now is the time.
May I start by welcoming the new Foreign Office Front Benchers to their positions? Back in July last year, they chastised me when I wrongly accused them of being an all-male team. If only I had waited a year, I would have been correct after all.
Talking of female Tory MPs, the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) used a disgusting, racist phrase in her comments at the East India Club, and I hope the Foreign Secretary will join me in condemning them; I hope he will agree that derogatory, offensive language deriving from the era of American slavery has no place in modern society. But the hon. Lady was at least trying to ask a valid question—a question about what would happen if Britain failed to reach a deal on Brexit. So may I ask the Foreign Secretary to answer that question today? Can he explain what that no deal option would mean for the people and businesses of Great Britain?
As I said before, the chances of such an outcome are vanishingly unlikely, since it is manifestly in the interests of those on both sides of the channel to get a great free trade deal and a new deep and special partnership between us and the European Union. That is what we are going to achieve.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer, but unfortunately it leaves us none the wiser. This is slightly baffling because it was, after all, the Prime Minister—the Prime Minister for now, at least—who decided to put the no deal option on the table. She could not stop using the phrase during the election campaign. But now, when we ask what it would mean in practice, the Government refuse to tell us. The Foreign Affairs Committee said in December:
“The Government should require each Department to produce a ‘no deal’ plan, outlining the likely consequences…and setting out proposals to mitigate potential risks.”
It went on to state that anything less would be a “dereliction of duty”, and that we cannot have a repeat—
Order. I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Lady but she really does need to bring herself to a single-sentence question, because there are lots of colleagues who want to take part. She is normally very succinct, but today is an exception. Return to form!
Given that a plan for no deal would be worse than that dereliction of duty, will the Foreign Secretary spell out publicly what no deal would mean? If he is not prepared to tell us that publicly, can he reassure us that at the very least he has a detailed private plan to manage that risk?
Foreign Office officials are working closely with colleagues from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to prepare for the 400th anniversary. I am pleased that Oliver Colvile, the former Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, has been appointed chair of the Mayflower committee by the Prime Minister. The committee will make the most of the opportunity to commemorate the legacy of the pilgrims and the special relationship.
I thought the Prime Minister wanted help from Opposition Members, and here I am, available—the re-elected co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the Mayflower pilgrims—unlike Olly, who now has other pursuits to pursue. I was prepared to offer my services to take on that role, rather than a non-parliamentarian. Nevertheless, can the good people of Bassetlaw expect support from this Government, as promised by George Osborne, to properly celebrate the fact that the pilgrims and their legacy—including the modern United States—originated in Bassetlaw?
At least the hon. Gentleman did not claim that Bassetlaw had strong coastal links. We already welcome his contribution to the House in the form of the comments he made on 9 March 2016, when he reminded us that the anniversary would provide an “historic opportunity” for us to celebrate. Across the House, we will think of every possible way in which we can do so to best effect.
The importance of this anniversary, in British-American relations, can hardly be overstated. Would not 2020 be a more suitable date for a state visit from the President of the United States, to mark that anniversary, rather than in the months to come?
The UK is in the lead on this issue, helping Ukraine to make the vital reforms that it needs, and to continue to crack down on corruption, which is so important if we are going to encourage long-term and continued investment in a successful Ukraine.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the organisation last week of the Ukraine reform conference in London, which demonstrated that Britain will continue to play a leading role on the world stage in the years to come. Can he confirm that, while Ukraine still faces major challenges, progress is being made in areas such as tackling corruption? Will he also tell us what more can be done to assist it?
May I get the ball back over the net by congratulating my right hon. Friend on becoming chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Ukraine? All of us in this House have a clear interest in a strong and successful Ukraine, which is why we have invested another £33 million in helping the Ukrainians to tackle their governance problems. The House should be in no doubt about what is going on in Ukraine. It is, if you like, an arm wrestle between two value systems: our way of looking at the world and the Russian way of looking at the world. It is vital for our continent and for this country that our way prevails. With British help, I believe that it is prevailing and will prevail.
23. Is not one of the real problems that the Russians are actively meddling in Ukraine? So far, there has been no sign of all the efforts that Britain has rightly made paying dividends in Russia stopping its corrupt meddling in that country. (900360)
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the fault lies squarely with Russia. Russia annexed Crimea and continues to drive the problems in the Donbass. The UK is contributing to the efforts to stave off Russian military meddling with the non-lethal equipment that we have agreed to send to Ukraine. More importantly, however, we are engaged in helping the Ukrainians to sort out their domestic political scene and to crack down on corruption. To be fair to them, not only are they seeing growth of 1.5% or 4%, depending on whose figures are to be believed, but they have made more progress in cracking down on corruption in the past three years than in the past 25 years. A very different country is being born.
Canada: Diplomatic Relations
Our bilateral relationship is strong because it is a deep bond of friendship that is rooted in our shared histories and common values. We look forward to strengthening those ties over the coming years and have agreed to hold regular strategic talks to maximise the full potential of this important bilateral relationship.
I thank the Minister for that response. Canadian investment is hugely important in my constituency and across the UK. As we move forward with leaving the European Union and seeking a free trade deal with Canada, our relationship will be more important—specifically our relationships with the provincial governments. Do we have a network in place across Canada to ensure that we are making the best of those relationships?
On the House’s behalf, may I express our sympathy to all those in British Columbia who have been affected by the damaging wildfires? Our consulates-general in Calgary, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver work with provincial governments to increase bilateral trade and investment, particularly in the infrastructure sector. We are working across all levels of the Canadian Government to ensure that British companies can take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the Canada-EU comprehensive economic and trade agreement.
I have strong family relationships in Canada. Is the Minister not aware that senior diplomats in Canada are absolutely aghast at how this Government are handling our withdrawal from Europe and its impact on world trade? They believe that this swashbuckling sector of Ministers are not the right people—[Interruption.] Well, I have to say that positive energy and gumption will not give us a good deal in Europe. We need people who have an eye for detail; this Foreign Secretary has no idea about detail.
24. I thank the Minister for his answers so far. As he will be aware, 2017 marks the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation, and our two nations have faced together some of the most difficult challenges in history during that period. Does he agree that that provides a great opportunity to build on our relationship and that we should reject the nonsense that we have just heard? (900361)
Yes, I agree emphatically with my hon. Friend. We offer our congratulations to Canada on the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation, and we are pleased that Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were able to join the celebrations in Ottawa to mark the occasion. On a practical basis, the Foreign Secretary met Foreign Minister Freeland last week and agreed to hold regular strategic talks to ensure that we can maximise the full potential of this important and close bilateral relationship way beyond the expectations of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman).
Diplomatic Relations: Philippines
We have a strong and wide-ranging relationship with the Philippines on prosperity, education and security issues. Ministerial visits to the Philippines and annual high-level talks between officials help to progress that co-operation—my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), the former Minister for Asia and the Pacific, was there as recently as last December—which enables us to discuss human rights concerns while pursuing closer diplomatic and trade links.
My constituent Kevin Taylor has been held in the Philippines since 2008. The Filipino authorities continually delayed his case, held him in unsafe conditions and, finally, sentenced him to 12 years for an employment offence. They have now failed even to acknowledge a clemency request, despite his very poor health. With his health failing further and amid concerns about the safety of the institution, and with his parents worried that they will not see him again, will my right hon. Friend set out what is being done to support the family’s efforts to bring him home?
I thank my hon. Friend for all his assiduous work over many years on behalf of Mr Taylor’s parents, his constituents in North Swindon. We have been providing ongoing consular and welfare support to Kevin Taylor since his arrest almost 10 years ago. Most recently, he was visited in prison, and we liaised with his parents only yesterday. Our consular support has also extended to delivering funds and vitamins. Most recently, we requested additional medical appointments after Mr Taylor brought his health concerns to our attention. A clemency request was made as recently as 2015, but I reassure my hon. Friend that we will do our level best to continue that work. I will be in touch with our department in Manila to ask it to redouble those efforts in the days ahead.
In the year since Rodrigo Duterte became President of the Philippines, 13,000 people have been killed. He has threatened to extend martial law across the entire country, and last week he said that he would eat the livers of terrorists with salt and vinegar, but the Secretary of State for International Trade claims that Britain has “shared values” with President Duterte. Can the Minister tell the House which values we share with the President?
The hon. Lady will recognise that there are shared values on international trade, and it is not an issue of ditching anything else. I, like her, am very concerned by the high death toll in the war on illegal drugs that has come to a head under President Duterte. We have been urging much more thorough and independent investigations into all violent deaths, and the Foreign Office has repeatedly raised, and will continue to raise, human rights concerns with the Administration. I hope to visit Manila at some point to make precisely the case that the hon. Lady has made.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s long campaign on this subject. Our policy on Zimbabwe continues to be to try to balance our deep distaste at the horrifying record of the Mugabe regime with a genuine concern for the humanitarian needs of the Zimbabwean people, who have suffered terribly over the past 40 years.
I welcome the Minister to his position and wish him every success.
Mugabe spent $53 million on private travel overseas last year. At the same time, the United Kingdom is paying proportionately more in aid to that country than to any other country in Africa. Does the Minister think that, with the elections coming next year and Mugabe refusing to implement the 2013 constitution, now is the time to put some of that money into helping voter education in those rural areas controlled by ZANU-PF, or we will not have free and fair elections?
I agree. We are trying to balance a very difficult thing, which, as the hon. Lady says, is the terrible performance of the Mugabe regime with the fact that people in that country have been dying of cholera and suffering extreme humanitarian need. The hon. Lady is absolutely correct that focusing on free and fair elections is one of the most important things we can do in a country such as Zimbabwe.
The policy of incremental engagement with Zimbabwe is obviously the best—sometimes an unpalatable best—policy, but will the Minister consider visiting Zimbabwe in the near term, as that would be a great step forward and would perhaps put the UK in a better position for the relationship in the longer term?
My hon. Friend has huge expertise as a former Africa Minister. The decision on whether or not I, as the Minister, visit Zimbabwe depends a great deal on the genuine commitment to reform of the Zimbabwean Government, and I will be guided by the ambassador in the country on when such a visit would be necessary and possible.
My colleagues and I are in close contact with our international counterparts, including most recently at the Organisation of American States summit in Cancun last month. I issued a very strong statement on 6 July, utterly condemning the 5 July attack on Venezuela’s National Assembly and its elected Members, and calling for the Venezuelan Government to uphold the constitution and show respect for democratic institutions. That statement was echoed by many colleagues across the world.
The Leader of the Opposition described the regime in Venezuela as offering an “alternative agenda” from which we could learn. The alternative agenda has seen the economy collapse and poverty increase. It has seen scores of people killed in civil unrest and now an attempt to undermine both the elected Congress and the independent attorney general. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Her Majesty’s Government strongly condemn the attempt by the Maduro regime to rewrite the constitution and rub out democracy?
The Leader of the Opposition does seem to be a great fan of the Venezuelan Government, giving a passable impression himself of Fidel Castro, one sometimes thinks. What is happening to the Venezuelan economy gives us a clear indication of what would happen to the UK economy if ever the right hon. Gentleman were Prime Minister.
There are no easy such attempts; we do not have a bilateral programme, but we are in touch with the United Nations. The hon. Lady’s very question illustrates the extent to which the Venezuelan Government have driven their own people to poverty; they are running short of the some of the most basic goods on which they have to live.
Illegal Settlements: Occupied Palestinian Territories
We regularly raise these issues with Israel, calling for a reversal of the policy of settlement expansion. I reiterated that in the House of Commons last week, and recently both the Foreign Secretary and I have made statements strongly condemning proposals for new settlement expansion in both the west bank and East Jerusalem.
Only last week, the right-wing Israeli Government announced a further expansion of the illegal settlement programme, so it is clear that whatever action the British Government are taking it is not working. Is it not therefore time that Her Majesty’s Government gave a more robust response to this problem, including by discouraging investment in and trade with the illegal settlements, and ensuring the proper labelling of imported goods so that they are designated as coming from “an illegally Occupied Palestinian Territory”?
This is a long and difficult process, as the hon. Gentleman rightly knows. We have a policy on labelling, and continued conversations will go on with the state of Israel in relation to suggestions, such as we heard last week, that new housing units should be built in East Jerusalem. This is a complex process and the UK does not believe in boycotts or sanctions, but clear labelling has been in place for some time so that consumers can take their choice.
Settlements are a barrier, but they are far from the only barrier to peace. The building blocks for the peace process are trade and economic development in the west bank; demilitarisation and democracy in Gaza; and support for co-existence projects that get Israelis and Palestinians working together, the funding for which, I am sorry to say, this Government have stopped. Will the Minister reinstate funding for co-existence projects, to build the peace process?
The hon. Gentleman understands this issue extremely well, and I agree with his analysis that this is a complex issue, where there are many different building blocks to try to revitalise the peace process, and settlements are far from the only barrier to that. Trade and investment remain important, but we will be looking further at what prospects there are for any new initiatives. I am aware of the co-existence projects that he mentions, and I will certainly be looking at that when carrying out my joint responsibilities in the Department for International Development.
We are all glad to see the Minister for the Middle East back and working on this issue again, but this is the second time in the space of a week that the Foreign Secretary has declined to speak about the middle east and devolved the job to the Minister instead—and that follows his failure even to mention Israel or Palestine in the Tory election manifesto. I simply ask the Minister: when are we going to hear the Foreign Secretary stand up and condemn the new illegal settlements?
I thank the hon. Lady for her warm welcome. I much enjoy being back in this role, no matter what is thrown at me as part of it. The Foreign Secretary strongly condemned the proposals that were announced for the west bank recently. I like to think he has confidence in his Minister for the Middle East—as he has confidence in his full ministerial team—to answer appropriate questions, although I have never known him to be shy of answering a question when necessary.
The United Kingdom was instrumental in securing the Paris agreement on climate change. We are helping other countries to meet their targets and we are confident that we will be able to meet our own groundbreaking target of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050.
Last week, Downing Street said that the Prime Minister intended to challenge President Trump on climate change at the G20 meeting. Would it not have been better to do that before he announced that the United States was pulling out of the Paris agreement, rather than after?
As I have told the House before, we have repeatedly made our views clear to the US Administration. We have expressed our dismay that they have withdrawn, but on the other hand all Members, on both sides of the House, should in all fairness acknowledge that the United States has made and continues to make, even under this Administration, substantial progress in reducing greenhouse gases. This country has reduced CO2 emissions by 42% since 1990, despite a 67% increase in GDP; the United States has achieved comparable progress, and we intend to encourage it on that path.
Following Donald Trump’s isolation on the issue of the Paris agreement at last week’s G20 summit, and his further postponement of his visit to the UK, I ask the Secretary of State a simple question: do the Government still regard President Trump as the leader of the free world? If so, how do they rate the job he is doing, as a mark out of 10?
Absolutely right. The Prime Minister was instrumental in getting the Americans to sign up to the communiqué. Members on both sides of the House will appreciate that whatever their disagreements with the current incumbent of the White House, the President of the United States is the leader of our most important ally, and he therefore deserves this country’s respect and consideration.
With the Foreign Secretary’s permission, I can say that ensuring the promotion of human rights and engaging with this issue is an essential part of the foreign policy of global Britain. Ministers meet their counterparts regularly and raise issues including those relating to LGBTI people, gender equality, modern slavery, freedom of belief and religion, the death penalty and torture. This is an essential part of who we are as the United Kingdom and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Back in March, the UN Human Rights Council established an independent commission to investigate the many alleged atrocities committed against the Rohingya people in Myanmar. In the light of ongoing abuses, including recent reports of Rohingya women being raped by the security forces, does the Minister agree that the perpetrators of such crimes should be brought to justice as a matter of urgency, and what steps is he taking to progress these cases?
I welcome the hon. Lady to the House. I was recently in Burma and was able to reaffirm the United Kingdom’s support for the independent United Nations Commission. Again, those in Burma are wrestling with this very difficult issue. The United Kingdom remains very close to the humanitarian needs of the Rohingya people in Rakhan.
The World Trade Organisation estimates that three out of four new trade deals include provisions to improve human rights around the world. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with his colleagues in the Department for International Trade to ensure that, where appropriate, our new trade deals include obligations to improve human rights?
25. Following the arrests of Amnesty International Turkey director and chair, Idil Eser, and Taner Kılıç—both examples of a worrying shift away from respect for human rights in Turkey—what steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to ensure their immediate and unconditional release? (900362)
The right hon. Lady knows these issues extremely well. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised the matter with his counterpart, and the Prime Minister raised it with the President of Turkey at the G20. This remains a very important issue for the United Kingdom.
15. On his recent visit to Burma, did my right hon. Friend encourage the Burmese Government to allow full access and to co-operate fully with the fact-finding mission of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees into human rights issues in that country? (900352)
Yes, indeed. It is a difficult issue, but we have made it clear that the UN independent report needs full consideration. We have urged the Government to do all they can to facilitate what the UN needs to complete its work. An internal investigation is already being carried out by the Burmese Government.
19. Kamal Foroughi and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe are in prison in Iran. We have been unable to gain access to them through our consul. What efforts are being made to use other countries to ensure that the human rights and, in particular, medical needs of these two people are protected? (900356)
I met Richard Ratcliffe and the family just last week. I have already raised this issue directly with my counterpart, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran, and with the Iranian ambassador here. We remain very concerned about this and other consular cases involving Iran. I assure the hon. Lady and the House that we will continue to raise them at the highest level.
As the Government celebrated their victory in the High Court over arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the number of people affected by the cholera epidemic in Yemen passed 300,000. Humanitarian workers now face the agonising choice of whether to use their dwindling food supplies to feed those children suffering from malnutrition or those infected with cholera. In that context, will the Minister tell the House why the Saudi-led coalition continues to use British bombs to attack farms, food factories and water plants?
Yesterday’s court judgment was unequivocal in stating that the United Kingdom had fulfilled its obligations on controlling the arms trade. The work being done with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on its response to international humanitarian law was fundamental to that judgment. The situation in Yemen remains a humanitarian disaster. The United Kingdom is actively involved in seeking to do all it can. The cholera outbreak is currently claiming some 6,500 new cases every day. I am pleased that the Department for International Development is fully engaged and is trying to do all it can to mitigate these actions.
He is new, and I thought that I was new too.
Like many in the House, I am concerned that democratic freedoms continue to face restriction in the Maldives. Pressure on Opposition politicians, including arrests and prosecutions, has grown. Human rights activists, civil society and the media are under increasing threat. Her Majesty’s Government, I assure the House, raise these issues frequently with the Government of the Maldives, and we led the recent UN statement in the June Human Rights Council.
Apologies, Mr Speaker; I am new to the House.
My right hon. Friend the Minister will know that a coalition of opposition parties in the Maldives, led by former President Mohamed Nasheed and committed to democracy and to improving relations with this country, has secured a majority in that country’s Parliament. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the regime of President Yameen might resort to illegal means to prevent Parliament from functioning properly in that country?
I am very concerned about that prospect. In recent years, in any part of the political environment in the Maldives, no one’s hands have been entirely clean—it has not been a happy situation across the board. The Government’s biggest regret is that the Maldives unilaterally left the Commonwealth in 2016, and I very much hope that a new regime will bring them back into the international regime.
UN Peacekeeping Operations
We should pay tribute to what the United States has done with its peacekeeping budget. It provides well over a quarter of the global peacekeeping budget: over $2 billion a year, which is largely not “odable”. We need to pay tribute to the US and to encourage it to continue to play a role, as it is a central part of peacekeeping worldwide. Its sticking to the congressional limit of 25% is vital for UN peacekeeping operations.
It is absolutely right, of course, that in the current global situation UN peacekeeping operations are vital, but reforms can be introduced. The move in Cote d’Ivoire to close down the peacekeeping operation and the changes in Darfur are welcome. We can reduce peacekeeping costs, but it is vital that the United States and others continue to play a strong role. American financial support has been vital for the past 50 years, and we hope that it will continue to be over the next 50.
My immediate priority is to help to resolve the tensions in the Gulf, where Britain has old friendships and vital interests. That is why I have just returned from visits to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, where I reinforced the need for dialogue and de-escalation. Tomorrow, I will attend a summit in Trieste on the western Balkans region, where the UK is playing a vital role in guaranteeing stability and resisting Russian ambitions.
In Jammu Kashmir yesterday terrorists brutally murdered seven Hindu pilgrims, including five women, as they undertook amaranth yatra. What action has my right hon. Friend taken to condemn that terrorist outrage, and what support will he give to recovering and bringing to justice the terrorists, who, we believe, emanate from Pakistan?
That is for the Leader of the House to consider, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that no such request has been made. The difference in the American Administration’s attitude and engagement, for which many Opposition Members have called, is to be welcomed.
T2. As America appears to be voluntarily surrendering both power and influence, and with our impending departure from the main platform of our influence over the past several decades, is it not vital that the Foreign Office now invests substantially to beef up our diplomatic effort so that we may retain our prosperity, security and influence abroad? (900329)
I am delighted to welcome my right hon. Friend to a cause that is gathering strength among Members on both sides of the House. Everybody understands that a truly global Britain must be properly supported and financed. We have a world-class network of 278 embassies and legations across the world. We have the best foreign service in the world, but it needs proper financing and support.
T4. The Foreign Secretary has spoken in the past about his ardent opposition to female genital mutilation. Will he therefore have a word with the Home Secretary, who is yet to respond to me and my constituent Lola Ilesanmi? She is threatened with deportation and her child faces mutilation. I raised her case with the Prime Minister but have yet to receive an answer. (900331)
I thank my hon. Friend for a really excellent question. It is one thing for us to drive Daesh out of Mosul and Raqqa, but we must ensure that the reasons it sprouted in those cities do not recur and that the Sunni minority in Iraq have conditions of governance that give them confidence in the future of their country.
T5. Not since the Suez crisis have the United Kingdom Government been so comprehensively defeated at the United Nations as they were last week over the Chagos Islands. In this week’s spirit of bipartisan co-operation, should the Foreign Secretary not just grant the right of return? (900332)
I respectfully disagree with the hon. Gentleman. In point of fact, we secured rather more positive votes than we expected. As it happens, the other side of the case got fewer than half the members of the UN in support of its cause. Most impartial observers would agree that that side of the case had been substantially weakened as a result—not that it was a strong case to begin with.
T10. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said last week that he would continue paying prisoner salaries, even to people who have murdered innocent civilians, if it cost him his job. Does the Minister agree that there is no way in which there will be peace in the middle east without co-existence projects and support for co-existence on the Palestinian side? (900337)
My hon. Friend is right: there are a number of barriers on the Palestinian side to being able to make progress, including support for incitement and terror. The Department for International Development is looking extremely carefully to ensure that no payments go in the wrong direction. It is certainly true that the Palestinian Authority needs to look very hard at ensuring that it is not giving the wrong signals as we try to make progress on the middle east peace process.
T6. Foreign Office questions, and still my constituent Ray Tindall and the other men of the Chennai Six are incarcerated in India. Will the Secretary of State pick up the phone to his opposite number in India and do a deal to get the men deported so that Ray and I can have a pint in Chester before the summer is out? (900333)
I appreciate the persistence with which the hon. Gentleman campaigns for his constituents. He has raised this issue with me several times. As he would like, I have personally raised the matter repeatedly with my Indian counterparts. They have told me that they cannot interfere in their court system any more than we can interfere in our own. That is where the matter currently stands, but I assure him that we continue to raise it on his behalf and on behalf of his constituents.
It is striking that Commonwealth countries trade 25% more with each other at a cost that is 90% lower than with non-Commonwealth countries. Does the Minister agree that, as we leave the EU, we have a great opportunity to boost our mutual trade and security interests by enhancing our diplomatic relations with Ghana and other Commonwealth countries?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is our trade envoy to Ghana. Ghana is one of the most impressive recent developments in Africa, with three recent transitions of democratic power and a rapidly growing economy. It is a huge example of how the Commonwealth can become one of the great success stories of Britain’s next five years, as we move towards the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
T8. The Paralympic games in Rio were a great success, showcasing inspirational talent and the importance of sports inclusion worldwide. What discussions has the Foreign Office had with Japanese counterparts to lend our full support to the Tokyo Paralympic games? (900335)
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She can rest assured that a huge amount of work is going on, partly on the security side, with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, but there is also, very importantly, as she rightly says, the sheer organisation. We are working closely to make sure there is seamless progress between 2012 and 2020, albeit that we have had Rio in the meantime. I think the Paralympic games in Tokyo are going to be a great success.
In the next few weeks, the House of Representatives Government from Benghazi in Libya are coming to visit the UK. Would my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary or any of his colleagues on the Front Bench like to meet them, because they are playing a pivotal role in trying to keep peace in Libya?
An expansion of the Libyan political agreement is necessary to move matters along. There is a lot happening on the political and the business side in Libya as it gets back on its feet. I would be happy to meet those whom my hon. Friend wants to bring forward.
Very sadly, the Cyprus talks, on which people had done so much work for over two years, collapsed in the early hours of Friday morning in Crans-Montana, near Geneva. This was a once-in-a-generation chance to reunify the island; sadly, it has been missed and rejected, so we go back to the status quo ante. It is an enormous pity—indeed, a tragedy—for future generations that agreement was not reached.
I hope my hon. Friend will be assured that the UK has been very active in emphasising the significance of the Sino-British joint declaration—a legally binding treaty registered with the UN that continues to be in force today. During my meeting with the Chinese ambassador on 5 July, I stressed the UK’s strong commitment to that joint declaration. We urge the Chinese and the Hong Kong special administration Governments and all elected politicians in Hong Kong to refrain from any actions that fuel concerns or undermine confidence in the one country, two systems principle.
The Foreign Secretary has rightly underlined the importance of US-UK relations in this new world, but that relationship is kept alive by cultural and exchange programmes such as the Fulbright programme, which is now imperilled by President Trump’s proposal to cut 47% from its budget. Will the Foreign Secretary make representations to underline the fact that we think programmes such as Fulbright should be expanded and not pushed to the point of extinction?
I stand here as a Kennedy scholar, which is a very similar structure, and we have a fantastic programme of Chevening scholars sponsored by the Foreign Office. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has confirmed that he will raise the Fulbright scholarships with Secretary Tillerson when he next sees him.
The situation in Burundi is very disturbing. We call, above all, on the Burundian President to respect the Arusha accords and to give proper space to the former Tanzanian Prime Minister in leading the peace talks. In Burundi, as in so many countries in the world, the only long-term solution is a political solution to a humanitarian crisis.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his persistence in pursuing this cause. He is absolutely right, and we have spoken across this Chamber many times about the humanitarian crisis in Syria. I will have great pleasure in meeting the Syria group to discuss what the UK is doing, but the House will know that this country is the second biggest contributor of humanitarian relief aid to Syria in the world.
While I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister raised the issue of the Chennai Six with Mr Modi at the G20, may I urge my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to focus his efforts on the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and to seek an urgent meeting with her? Our boys have been languishing in jail there for almost four years—I visited them myself—and it is time, frankly, that they were brought home.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. He suggests an interesting avenue for further work. I will certainly look at the possibility of talking to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Whether we will be any more successful with her in making our points, I will ascertain, but we will leave no stone unturned.
Last week, at the same time as representatives of 57 Parliaments were meeting in Minsk to discuss co-operation on human rights issues, the Belarusian authorities were convicting a human rights activist on charges on which defence witnesses were not allowed to testify. The defendant was taken to hospital during the trial and convicted in his absence. What action are the Government taking to make sure that the authorities in Belarus recognise the absolute right of anyone to a fair trial?
As well as the physical rebuilding of Mosul, one of the ways to reassure the people of Mosul is to devolve power to them, for which the Iraqi constitution allows. Will the Foreign Secretary urge the Iraqi Administration to look seriously at devolving power to the people of Mosul?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is of course right. Iraq is an ethnically divided and religiously divided country. We must make sure that everybody feels properly represented in the new constitution, and devolution to Mosul is certainly an option that we will be exploring.
Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), before the Foreign Secretary meets the all-party friends of Syria group, will he discuss a comprehensive strategy to protect civilians with the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence so that we can have a proper joined-up strategy at last?