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Topical Questions

Volume 627: debated on Tuesday 11 July 2017

May I remind colleagues that topical questions are supposed to be short? If Members insist on asking long questions they will be cut off, as it is not fair on colleagues.

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?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We are in close contact with the Indian and Pakistani high commissioners about Kashmir. I assure him that we will bring this up over the next 24 hours and ask for a plan of action, as he requests.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that if there is to be an extension of military action in Syria there should be a full debate and vote in the House?

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 think I heard the hon. Lady raise this matter before. The case of her constituent is, indeed, very troubling. I am sure that the Home Secretary will have picked up what the hon. Lady has said today.

T3. I welcome the part played by British forces in stabilising the threat posed by Daesh. What role does my right hon. Friend see for British forces in ensuring that such an insurgency does not recur? (900330)

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.

Given the collapse of the talks in Cyprus and the fact that the Government remain a guarantor of the process, what are they going to do now?

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.

In view of the continuing concerns about human rights in Hong Kong, does my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary intend to make any further representations on the joint declaration?

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.

With 250,000 people from Burundi now refugees as a result of the repression and human rights abuses in that country, what is the Foreign Secretary doing to stimulate dialogue to resolve the political impasse there?

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.

Will the Foreign Secretary meet the members of the all-party group for friends of Syria to discuss the desperate need to get more aid to the hundreds of thousands being starved to death by al-Assad in Syria?

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?

The most important thing we can do is to enhance our bilateral relations by visiting. No Minister has visited Belarus for many, many years, if at all, and I intend to do so at the earliest opportunity.

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?

I am extremely grateful to the Foreign Secretary. I recognise that there is still unsatisfied demand, but not as much as there might have been if I had not overrun, which I was pleased to do. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary was equally enthusiastic.