Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
I call Mr Chris Bryant. Not here.
Commonwealth Summit: London
We are delighted to be hosting next year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, which will be one of the biggest summits that the UK has ever hosted. All the venues have been agreed, all member states have confirmed that they will be sending high-level delegations, and we are discussing an ambitious agenda. We want a great celebration for the Commonwealth that is underpinned by real substance, and we are working closely with young people from across the Commonwealth to put youth at the heart of the summit.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for that response. The summit provides a real opportunity for young people. Given that 40% of the world’s young people live in the Commonwealth, what more can the Department do to nurture aspiration and create opportunity in the interests of prosperity, democracy and peace across our Commonwealth partners?
I thank my hon. Friend for putting his finger on the huge opportunity to focus on young people that the Commonwealth summit provides. We should focus in particular on the education of young women and girls. That presents an opportunity to change lives most dramatically across all Commonwealth countries, and indeed across the world, and to promote the objectives of freedom, opportunity, democracy and peace to which he rightly subscribes.
I am delighted that we are hosting the Commonwealth summit next year. Following the most recent meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council and in relation to our bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka, will the Foreign Secretary take this opportunity to reiterate our Government’s position that the Sri Lankan Government must ratify the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court and that international judges and prosecutors are involved in the prosecution of historical war crimes in Sri Lanka in order to build confidence that war crimes will be properly investigated and prosecuted?
I have indeed raised those questions with my opposite number and with the Sri Lankan Government. We believe that they are making progress, but we will continue to insist that more needs to be done.
With 2.4 billion people and some of the fastest growing economies in the world, my hon. Friend is entirely right that the 52 countries of the Commonwealth represent a superb opportunity for this country to do free trade deals. However, that does not mean that we will necessarily be in any way relaxing our desire to do a fantastic free trade deal with our European friends and partners. We believe that this can be a win-win.
I wonder whether the Commonwealth summit will be discussing the welcome appointment of an Indian judge to the International Court of Justice at the expense of a judge from the United Kingdom. Perhaps the summit will therefore also discuss how that is another sign of the sun setting on “Empire 2.0” before it has even risen.
On the contrary, I am sure that the whole House will join me in congratulating the Indian judge on his election. I am sure that the House will also agree that it is a fine thing that another common-law judge has joined the International Court of Justice.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as the deputy chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a positive way of showing how a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe could be rehabilitated into the international community would be for it to attend the next Commonwealth summit as a rejoined member? To that end, will the Foreign Secretary begin to have discussions with his partners in the Commonwealth and with the Commonwealth secretary-general to ensure that there is a path to new membership for a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe?
My right hon. Friend rightly sets out what would be a fine and noble aspiration both for the Commonwealth and for Zimbabwe, but I must caution him that several steps need to be gone through before that can happen. There must be free and fair elections next year, and it then falls to Zimbabwe to apply to the Commonwealth secretariat and to make it clear to the Commonwealth and the world that Zimbabwe fulfils the criteria on human rights, rule of law and democracy that are necessary for Commonwealth membership.
Will the Secretary of State further outline the discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on the need for a solidified trade deal between the 52 Commonwealth countries, including Pakistan, India, Australia and New Zealand as four examples? Does he agree that must be a priority for London 2018?
I fully support the hon. Gentleman’s aspiration. Free trade deals and the prospect of increased trade with our Commonwealth friends and partners will, indeed, be at the heart of the summit next year.
Prior to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, parliamentarians from across the Commonwealth will meet in February, organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Will the Foreign Secretary consider hosting a reception for those 150 parliamentarians, either at the Foreign Office or maybe even in No. 10 Downing Street?
I am always grateful to my hon. Friend, who is full of knowledge on these matters. I will certainly consider the possibility of holding just such a reception, and I can think of all sorts of suitable venues.
I have made repeated representations, as the hon. Lady can imagine, to the Government of Burma, and particularly to Aung San Suu Kyi—I have now spoken to her three times—to urge the return of the refugees. We secured the first UN Security Council statement on Burma in a decade, and I know that is a subject in which you take a particular interest, Mr Speaker. Burma must heed these calls from the international community and take the necessary steps that we have set out.
Three months on from the start of the current crisis, we all continue to be shocked and horrified by the tragic stories of the plight of the Rohingya people fleeing to Bangladesh and by the scale of the crisis. EU member states, as well as the US Congress, are reportedly considering reimposing some sanctions against Myanmar’s leaders. What discussions have Ministers had on that with EU member states, and what will be the Government’s position?
I have indeed raised this already, as the hon. Lady can imagine, with our European friends and partners. At the Foreign Affairs Council on 16 October we got agreement around the table that we will suspend Burmese military visits and review all defence co-operation. We got a further agreement to consider additional measures if the situation does not improve, and we will indeed now be doing so.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that that is critical. If those 608,000 people are to have any confidence about the prospect of their return, they must have clarity about their citizenship and their treatment when they come back to Burma and Rakhine. That is why the Annan plan makes it absolutely clear that there must be citizenship rights and investment in the development of equal treatment for all of Rakhine’s ethnic groups.
In answer to the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), I detailed what we have been doing with our EU friends and partners. We have secured agreement to suspend military visits, and we will review matters with our friends and partners as things develop.
I would have called the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) if she had been standing, but she was not, so I did not, but now she is, so I will.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. The UK is one of the biggest participants, having been either the biggest or second biggest donor to the humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh. We should all congratulate the Government of Bangladesh on the forbearance and energy they have put into coping with this appalling crisis. The UK is contributing £47 million, which has helped to provide for 174,000 people. We have provided safe water and sanitation for more than 138,000, and emergency shelter for 130,000; we have provided aid, counselling and psychological support that will reach more than 10,000 women suffering from trauma and 2,000 survivors of sexual violence; and we have provided medical help for more than 50,000 pregnant women to give birth safely. That is a record of help and support for the crisis of which the whole House can be proud.
There has been potent evidence of the fact that ethnic cleansing and genocide is taking place in Burma, so what actions or steps have our Government, with the United Nations, taken to bring about prosecution in the international courts of the Buddhist monks and the generals for carrying out ethnic cleansing?
I agree very much with the hon. Lady that, unless the refugees are allowed to return, this crisis —this purge—will indeed satisfy the definition of ethnic cleansing. As for genocide, I am afraid we have recently received evidence of a very troubling kind, and we will make sure that such testimony of what has been taking place is collated and used so that the proper judicial authorities can determine whether it answers to the definition of genocide. As she will know, genocide is a strict legal term, and we hesitate to deploy it without a proper judicial decision.
The Burmese military have produced an absurd report claiming that not a single innocent life has been lost and that they have not been involved in any violence against the Rohingya. Does my right hon. Friend agree that no whitewash report will cover up all the mounting evidence of the atrocities carried out against the Rohingya?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that it is vital that the Burmese Government acknowledge the scale of what is happening and the horror with which events are being greeted around the world. For many years, the world has looked to Aung San Suu Kyi as a great moral leader. We still salute her for her struggle for democracy in the face of the generals, but it is vital now that she stands up to condemn what is happening and brings the nation together. I am sorry to say that so far the Burmese Government have failed to do that.
Colombian Peace Process
Significant progress has been made since the signing of Colombia’s historic peace agreement last November—the FARC has disarmed and is now a political party; and a temporary ceasefire has been negotiated with the National Liberation Army—but difficult challenges remain and it is vital that momentum continues, especially as the country prepares for elections next year.
In the light of the current crisis in the implementation of the Colombian peace agreement, including the killings of former FARC combatants and social leaders, the changes to the special jurisdiction for peace and the lack of re-integration opportunities, will the Minister make urgent representations to the Colombian Government about their international obligations to implement the agreement as it was signed?
We fully support the Colombian Government in doing their utmost to implement the agreement as was signed. We are concerned by increasing attacks on human rights defenders, which are interrupting the passage towards a lasting peace, but we are in no doubt that responsibility for the majority of such attacks lies with illegal armed groups.
Does my right hon. Friend agree with the current and former Presidents of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos and César Gaviria, that the continuing failed global policy of prohibition of drugs and the creation and sustaining of vast criminal enterprises serves to undermine the peace, stability and institutions of Colombia and its neighbours? Will the Government work to move towards an evidence-based policy response?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point to the fact that drug smuggling and trading is becoming a main threat to the implementation of the peace agreement. I am reassured that the Colombian Government are investigating the deaths of several individuals who protested against coca eradication in Tumaco on 5 October.
Will the Minister see what he can do to drive concerted European action to bring supportive pressure to bear on President Santos? The President’s legacy could be an implemented peace deal, but at the moment the legislative process to underpin the peace process simply is not there. We must have action in the last six months of his term.
We are actively supporting the Colombian Government. We have provided almost £20 million from the conflict, stability and security fund. I am also proud that UK-led work has led to the UN Security Council resolutions to assist the peace-building process that we all want to see succeed.
Only a political solution will bring the long-term stability that Yemen needs. Yemeni parties themselves must engage constructively with peace opportunities when they come along. The United Kingdom is playing a leading part diplomatically, at the UN and elsewhere, to try to bring other parties together so that we can see the political solution that is needed.
Yemen is in the grip of a humanitarian disaster, with another 50,000 children expected to die before the end of the year because of famine and cholera, yet the UK’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia have been worth 18 times the aid given to Yemen over the past two years. What will the UK Government do to ensure that the blockade is lifted now and to contribute to Yemen’s reconstruction, rather than to its destruction?
The efforts being made with the coalition are not only to give its members assurances about the security they need to ensure that there are no further missile attacks like the one on Riyadh on 4 November, but to seek to relieve the restrictions that are preventing humanitarian access from getting through. No one doubts the scale of the humanitarian crisis that already exists in Yemen and that faces its people if those restrictions are not lifted. The United Kingdom is working with others on both the security for the coalition in the area and the need to relieve the restrictions to make sure that humanitarian access can be given.
My hon. Friend is right. A process is under way, led by the UN special representative, and we are supporting that. It requires both sides to recognise that there is no military answer to what is happening in Yemen. There has to be a political solution. We are working steadfastly through our ambassador in Yemen and through the UN to try to ensure that the parties get together to make sure that there is a political solution. We are doing everything we can because we recognise the urgency of the situation.
The scale of the humanitarian crisis is truly frightening and the Saudi blockade could result in thousands of further deaths. A political solution is vital. Will the Minister tell us whether the Prime Minister has spoken to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia? If she has not, can she do so as a matter of urgency to get the blockade lifted?
Ministers, including the Prime Minister, have spoken to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Repeated representations have been made by other Ministers since 4 November and continue to be made. We recognise the need for security for the coalition, but we also recognise the urgent need to lift the restrictions and make sure that humanitarian access is given.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the situation in Yemen very much points to the fact that we have a failed Iran policy? We have a capital in Tehran that is taking British hostages, that is developing missiles, that is threatening its neighbours and that is destabilising the region, and our policy is what? There is none.
There is a significant policy in relation to Iran, which a number of different debates and conversations in this House have detailed. Work is going on to explore what opportunities there are for Iran to play a more constructive part in the region, but in relation to human rights sanctions, to criticism about its activities with terrorist groups in the area and to its ability to destabilise the region, the United Kingdom’s position is very clear. However, there is engagement with Iran, which is important both for the UK and for others. The policy of that constructive engagement is very clear.
Yesterday, the Minister of State said that the Saudi blockade of Yemen did not breach international humanitarian law because it is intended to stop the smuggling of missiles to the Houthis. How does he respond then to the leaked briefing by the United Nations Panel of Experts on Yemen, which says that there is no evidence of such smuggling and that this is just another attempt by the Saudi coalition to justify obstructing the delivery of commodities that are essentially civilian in nature?
I do not agree with the conclusion—[Interruption.] No, I do not agree with that UN assessment. It is perfectly clear that weapons and weapons parts have been smuggled into Yemen, and have been used to fire against parties to the coalition. We are quite sure that that is the case. However, the point is not only to give some security to those who do not want to see such missiles pointed at their airports, but at the same time to ensure that the coalition partners realise that the restrictions being put on entry to ports may not assist them in dealing with all the smuggling they are concerned about, but will certainly damage the humanitarian situation and make it worse. That is what we are trying to persuade the coalition partners to relieve.
We defend human rights in a variety of ways. That involves not only funding human rights advocates and training judges and the police, but ourselves as Ministers raising directly with heads of states and our opposite numbers human rights issues across the world and across the continents.
Last February, the Foreign Secretary said that he wished to be a champion of President Sisi of Egypt. With mass arrests, torture, disappearances and deaths in custody now the norm in Egypt, can the Minister tell the House what exactly the Government find to champion in Sisi’s record on human rights?
We continue to raise very strongly with the Egyptian Government our concerns about these issues. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise them. There are some very troubling issues in Egypt. We continue to study them and we raise them with our US and EU partners all the way—[Interruption.] As the Foreign Secretary says, he raised it directly with President Sisi at his last meeting.
Similar to the horrors that we witnessed last year in eastern Aleppo in Syria, today we are confronted with the brutal siege of eastern Ghouta by the Assad regime. What action will the Government take to protect civilians and to ensure compliance by reasonable actors with the human rights obligations, most particularly the Assad regime and its regime backers?
We absolutely agree that the Assad regime is horrifying in the way in which it treats civilians. It has an extraordinary record of brutality and murder. We will document very closely the abuses that it has committed. We continue to call on it through every single channel not to conduct these operations, and we will make sure that people are held accountable for their crimes.
Christian communities are under attack in a number of developing countries to which we give very large amounts of international aid, including Pakistan. What steps will the Government take to ensure that that aid is given on condition that these communities are protected?
That is absolutely correct. Indeed, Christian communities and many other minority religious groups are increasingly under threat across the world. That is true of Christian communities in the middle east. It is true of Christian communities in Africa. It is true of Christian communities in Pakistan. We will support civil society organisations. In Pakistan, we support the rights of Christian communities, Shi’a minority communities and other groups. We continue to advocate for them with the Government of Pakistan, and we will continue that civil society support.
We have looked seriously into this issue. We have pressed the issue with the Qatari Government, and we will continue to press exactly this issue with the Government of Qatar.
We have a renewed dialogue with the Government of Sudan. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the US Government have now lifted sanctions in relation to Sudan. I met the Sudanese delegation in October as part of the renewed dialogue. We had a human rights workshop at the centre of that dialogue, and we continue to press with the special rapporteur on human rights for progress on exactly these issues.
In August, the American Government withheld $290 million of military and economic aid from Egypt because of its recent track record on human rights. I thought I would never say this, but will the Minister ask the Secretary of State to learn some lessons from Donald Trump and to force President Sisi to clean up his act?
We thank the shadow Minister very much for raising that issue. We agree very strongly that there are very disturbing signs in Egypt. That is why my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised this issue directly with President Sisi, and we will continue to do so on every occasion.
Maintaining the integrity of the Antarctic treaty is fundamental to protecting Antarctica. The UK’s leading role within the Antarctic treaty system has allowed us to push consistently for increased levels of protection for the continent’s vulnerable environment, and we are committed to continuing to do so.
“Blue Planet II”, among other things, reminds us all of the very delicate and extremely vulnerable biodiversity of our deep oceans—particularly those around the Antarctic continent. Yet, when the nations of the world proposed there should be a marine protected area for the Weddell sea—an area seven times the size of Germany—that was resisted particularly by two nations, namely Russia and China. In the Secretary of State’s forthcoming visit to Russia, will he take the opportunity of pressing the Russians to support the rest of the international community in pressing for a marine protected area for the Weddell sea?
I am very happy to put that on our agenda, but may I also reassure my hon. Friend that the UK is a co-proponent of the proposal to establish a marine protected area in the Weddell sea, and that is being developed by the European Union and its member states? British scientists are taking a leading role in preparing a final MPA proposal, which is to be presented to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources in October next year.
The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray) mentioned “Blue Planet II”, and 12 million people watched it on Sunday. We want to know what the Government are going to do to protect the beautiful environment around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Will the Government now commit to establishing a marine sanctuary around this British overseas territory?
This issue has been championed very much by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon). Indeed, it is not just in the Antarctic that the UK is championing marine protection. The UK is on track to deliver our Blue Belt manifesto commitment around the overseas territories. We will have protected 4 million sq km of ocean by 2020, and the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands were designated in 2012 as a sustainable use MPA covering 1 million sq km. The first formal review of that will take place next year.
The Foreign Secretary met Spanish Foreign Minister Dastis, and I met Europe Minister Jorge Toledo, at the UK-Spain Tertulias conference in Bath on 3 November. The Prime Minister spoke to Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy by phone on 27 October. The Foreign Office is actively engaged with the Spanish Government through our embassy in Madrid and the Spanish ambassador in London, including when he and I met on 11 October.
I think the whole House is united in our concern about events in Catalonia and how this has been handled over recent weeks. Scotland is of course no stranger to independence referendums. Does the Minister share my belief that the success of our referendum in 2014 demonstrates the importance of having such referendums conducted according to the rule of law and subject to the rules that were agreed by both sides beforehand?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Catalonia is a matter for Spain in the same way as Scotland was for the United Kingdom. The Scottish referendum was a legal referendum following the signature of the Edinburgh agreement between the Scottish Government and the Government of the UK. The referendum in Catalonia was not legal in that way. We fully support Spain in upholding the rule of law and its constitution.
The right hon. Gentleman makes the point about the Scottish referendum being a legal referendum, but Catalonia has had no legal routes from which to have a referendum. Will he put pressure on his Spanish colleagues to look at Scotland’s referendum as a shining example of how democracy can be respected, as well as the rights of the people of Catalonia?
This is entirely a matter for Spain. It has rules under its own constitution that should be upheld and not challenged in an illegal way, as they have been in Catalonia.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the action that the People’s party took, does my right hon. Friend agree that the heavy-handed action of the Spanish police exacerbated matters? Does he take heart from news breaking in Spain at the moment that it now intends to give fiscal powers to Catalonia similar to those of the Basque country—something that has not been offered before?
Of course no one wants to see violent scenes such as we saw on our televisions, but if there is to be progress on this and it is what the Spanish Government legally and properly decide to do, of course we will support any such legal democratic action.
Leaving the EU: Foreign and Security Policy
The Government published a paper on 12 September which sets out our vision for a future partnership with the EU on foreign policy, defence and development. I am pleased to say that in my discussions with our EU friends since then, that paper has had a very good reception.
The so-called future partnership paper on foreign and security policy published by the Brexit Department in September had plenty of positive things to say about the value of EU-UK co-operation. Will the Secretary of State therefore update the House on what progress, beyond the mighty fine warm words, has been made on the Brexit negotiations?
If, by that, the hon. Gentleman means progress on the foreign policy and defence policy side, I must remind the House that that is not at the absolute centre of the negotiations, but it is widely understood that the UK, contributing as we do 20% of European defence spending and 25% of European aid spending, will be there in a supportive way whatever the outcome of the negotiations. As the Prime Minister has rightly said, our commitment to the defence and the security of Europe is—I think this is the word that was particularly warmly received by our friends and partners—unconditional, as it always has been and always will be.
Foreign and security policy will remain as vital as ever when we leave the EU. Can my right hon. Friend confirm categorically that we will remain as committed as ever to European security after we leave the EU?
We certainly shall. My hon. Friend asks an important question. The answer cannot be repeated too often, and it needs to be heard particularly in the countries that emerged from beneath the shadow of Soviet domination. They need to hear that we are there for the long term, as we are there on the borders of Estonia. We are committed, above all, to NATO, which is the guarantor of peace and stability in our continent. The UK, let the House never forget, is the second biggest contributor to the NATO alliance.
The hon. Gentleman will recall that, earlier this year, in May, we held the Somalia conference, working with our European friends and partners particularly to make sure that the Somali central Government in Mogadishu collaborate more closely with the federal member states on a new national security architecture for Somalia, so that the fight against al-Shabaab can be prosecuted more successfully. That is the work we are doing with our European friends and partners, and that will continue under any circumstances.
Is not that the point: we do not have to be inside the European Union to be concerned about and committed to European security, and we will remain as committed as ever even if we are outside the EU framework?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. I have compared the support that we will offer in the future to a flying buttress, as it were, outside the main body of the cathedral but supportive of that cathedral. That is how the UK will continue to be, on an unconditional basis.
Last week, Sir Simon McDonald told the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that more civil servants—unelected bureaucrats, in the parlance of the Conservatives—would be sent to Brussels. Can the Foreign Secretary tell us how many of those officials will focus on foreign and security policy co-operation with the EU, how much it will cost and whether it will be part of the £40 billion settlement with the EU?
I can tell the House—I am sure that all Members will be pleased to hear this—that we will be beefing up our representation in Europe. We will have 50 more posts, at least, in other EU capitals, and they will strengthen and intensify some bilateral relationships that, in my view, have been allowed slightly to ossify under the EU arrangements that we have pursued over the last 45 years.
More Brussels bureaucrats with Brexit. Sir Simon McDonald did say that there was an initial Treasury pot—I will try to help the Foreign Secretary here—of £250 million. How much of that has the Foreign Secretary secured to go towards security policy co-operation—or has the Chancellor told him to “go whistle”?
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was listening to my last answer, because I said that the increased diplomatic representation that we would make in the rest of Europe would be dispersed not just in Brussels, but around the rest of the capitals. Of course, each and every one of those individuals will be working on our common foreign and security objectives, and making the case, which I made in an earlier answer, that our support for European defence and security is unconditional.
It is now nearly 50 long years since the start of the troubles in Northern Ireland, and none of us who lived through that era ever wants to go back to it again. In February 2016, the Foreign Secretary gave his guarantee to BBC Northern Ireland that a vote for Brexit would leave arrangements on the Irish border, and I quote, “absolutely unchanged”. There were no caveats, and no “I hope that this will happen”; there was just an unequivocal commitment that nothing would change. Can the Foreign Secretary give us the same promises today?
I think, if I may say so, that the right hon. Lady is right to ask that question. I was recently in Dublin talking to all the political groups there, and there is no question but that the issue of the border is very live in Irish politics. I repeated exactly the pledge to which she refers: there can be no return to a hard border. There can be no hard border. That would be unthinkable, and it would be economic and political madness. I think everybody, on both sides of this House, understands the social, political and spiritual ramifications of allowing any such thing to happen. That is why it is so important that we get on to the second phase of the negotiations, that we get sufficient progress at the European Council in December and that we are able to debate these issues properly.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer. No one will have missed the fact that, like on so many of his initial promises over Brexit, he has turned this from an unequivocal guarantee to an aspiration dependent on a successful deal—[Interruption.] I did listen to the right hon. Gentleman.
It seems to me that, like his jogging partner from The Sun, the right hon. Gentleman is now saying that it is up to the Irish to find a solution, but why should that be? It was his promise that border arrangements would not change, so it is up to him to make sure that that works. That is why I want to challenge the Foreign Secretary today. In September, he laid down four personal red lines for the Brexit negotiations. None of them related to the Irish land border, which is a crucial issue to 1.8 million of our own citizens and 4.8 million of our friends south of the border, so may I—
Order. We are immensely—indescribably —grateful to the shadow Foreign Secretary, but I think she is approaching her peroration, with a question mark at the end of it. I am happy to indulge Front Benchers to a degree, but I want to accommodate Back Benchers. I am determined to get to the bottom of the list today, and I shall do so.
Let me urge the Foreign Secretary to announce a fifth red line today by promising unequivocally what he promised last year—that Irish border arrangements will not change—and to say that if those arrangements do change, he will refuse to stay in the Government.
If I may say so, I think the right hon. Lady prepared her supplementary question before she heard my first answer. There can be no return to a hard border. We do not want a hard border north-south, or indeed east-west.
We are seriously concerned by the continued demolition of Palestinian property by the Israeli authorities, which causes unnecessary suffering and is harmful to peace. We regularly raise this issue, and our embassy in Tel Aviv most recently raised our concerns with Israel in a joint démarche with European partners on 2 November.
I thank the Minister for his answer. As we know, we have recently seen a very clear indication from Israel’s Defence Minister about the intention to demolish the communities of Khan al-Ahmar and Susiya, and the military has issued a demarcation order signalling the intention to evacuate communities in the Jordan valley and E1 areas. Does the Minister agree that Israel must be held to account if those things actually take place?
This is the subject of a continued conversation with the Israeli authorities in which we make it clear, as do others, that the threat to settlements is unacceptable. I have visited both places—Khan al-Ahmar some years ago, and Susiya quite recently—as have representatives from the embassy. We wait to see further developments. There is a lot of talk about further demolitions, but then the legal process holds them back. However, Israel can be in no doubt of our concerns about the demolition of Palestinian properties and the damage that that does for the prospects of a peaceful settlement.
The reality is that 100,000 hectares of Palestinian land have been taken for settlements and 50,000 homes have been demolished. Will the Minister at least call on the Israeli Government to lift the demolition order on the Bedouin village of Susiya, to which he referred? Will he put in place measures, such as guidance to UK businesses that they stop trading with illegal settlements, in a bid to break this cycle?
We will keep our existing trade relationships, which allow customers to make their own decisions about where the goods they buy come from. We are making our position on settlements extremely clear, and we will continue to do so.
I thank the Minister for his answers. When Prime Minister Netanyahu was in London recently, what discussions did my right hon. Friend have with him about face-to-face peace talks between the state of Israel and the Palestinians so that we can create a state of Palestine alongside a secure state of Israel?
When the Prime Minister met Prime Minister Netanyahu on 2 November, she reiterated our continued opposition to settlement activity, and also encouraged him to make the most of the likely opportunities that will come up when the Americans bring forward the proposals they have been discussing privately for some months about the prospects of peace. This chance should not be missed by either side.
This year marks 40 years since Egyptian President Sadat’s historic visit to Israel, which led to a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt. Peace has only lasted when Israel’s neighbours have reciprocated its goodwill gestures, with land swaps a key aspect of that. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there can be peace between Israel and Palestinians only following the resumption of direct peace talks in which issues including land borders can be resolved?
The short answer is yes, but I do not think we should miss the 40th anniversary of the extraordinary activity that took place between Israel and Egypt. What we would give now for a similar gesture of peace on all sides to bring this long-standing conflict to an end.
Does the Minister believe, with particular reference to Israel and the west bank, that holding children in detention constitutes a breach of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child?
We express repeated concerns to Israel about the treatment of children and ask it to adhere to UN principles on that. We continue to raise this matter of long-standing concern.
Foreign Online Activity
We have seen no evidence of any country successfully interfering with our robust electoral system, but we know, of course, that Russia seeks to undermine our institutions by using disinformation to further its ends, including through social media. The best guarantee against that is a free, open press and an accessible media.
How does the Foreign Secretary square that with the comments made by the Prime Minister herself only last week at Mansion House? She said that she believes that there has been Russian interference in our political system. Will he do something about that? Does he not think it is a disgrace that not one member of the security services has been interviewed by any Committee of this House about what the real facts are?
When the Prime Minister spoke of “meddling in elections”, as she did in her Mansion House speech, she was referring to examples outside the UK. The hon. Gentleman will recall that she made that clear at Prime Minister’s Question Time on 15 November.
Freedom of Expression
This question follows on almost directly from our comments and criticisms about what is going on in Russia. Freedom of the press is absolutely indispensable for prosperous societies around the world. That was why on 2 November we announced FCO funding of £1 million over the next financial year to support projects that promote freedom of expression and the work of journalists.
I am very proud of the Government’s activity on freedom of expression around the world and warmly welcome the £1 million funding for areas of the world where press freedoms are curtailed. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm whether the £1 million funding is a one-off, or will it be reviewed and perhaps increased if it is deemed successful?
We will review the success of the funding, but it is there to show the Government’s commitment, as part of our global Britain values agenda, to a free press around the world. I mean that very sincerely. Across the world, more journalists are being killed and locked up, and that is not only a political disaster but an economic disaster. The most prosperous and successful countries are those that also have a free press that is able to expose corruption and enable democracy, which allow the economy to flourish.
We have made it absolutely clear to our Chinese partners that the joint declaration is absolutely valid and operative, and that one country, two systems, enshrining all the values the hon. Gentleman rightly draws attention to, remains in force.
Our early lunchtime exchanges would be incomplete if we did not have the participation of the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne).
Ministers regularly visit Bangladesh, with which we have a very special relationship. I have had the pleasure of visiting, as have my right hon. Friends the Ministers for the Middle East, and for Asia and the Pacific, who visited Bangladesh on 27 and 28 September.
Is the Minister satisfied with the level of support we are providing for the Rohingya?
More support can always be provided for the Rohingya. The situation is horrifying: nearly 600,000 refugees—Burmese citizens, we should emphasise —driven out of their homes by horrific actions provoked largely by the Burmese military. We are providing £47 million of assistance, which makes the UK the largest bilateral donor, and we have just sent experts on preventing sexual violence in conflict to the camps in Bangladesh, but there is always more to be done.
Last week I visited Dublin, where I discussed how to strengthen the bonds between our countries and address Ireland’s unique circumstances, including the land border, as the UK leaves the EU. I am closely following the situation in Zimbabwe, where our primary goal is for the country’s people to be able to decide their own future in free and fair elections next year. I am deeply concerned by the suffering in Yemen. Britain supports Saudi Arabia’s right to protect its security, while urging that emergency supplies get through to the millions who depend on them.
The United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of expression and human rights reports that the Iranian regime is undertaking a campaign of harassment, persecution and intimidation against staff of the BBC Persian service and their families that is aimed at preventing them from doing their jobs. What representations has the Foreign Secretary made to the Iranians about this?
We have made repeated representations to the Iranians about human rights concerns, but I will certainly be happy to take up the issues the hon. Lady raises in person during the course of my projected visit to Iran in the next few weeks.
My hon. Friend asks a very thoughtful question about what is happening in Germany, but I do not, as it happens, think that the German Government will be in any way incapacitated when it comes to the negotiations in December or, going forward, doing a great free trade deal with the UK over the next 18 months.
Last Wednesday, the Prime Minister was asked about the recent elections in Somaliland, but in response she talked about the entirely different country of Somalia. Will the Foreign Secretary take the Prime Minister to one side and ask her to leave the foreign policy gaffes to him? On a more serious note, will he tell us how the Foreign Office is working to help to preserve peace and democracy in Somaliland in the wake of last week’s post-election violence?
Somaliland is in fact a rare beacon of peace and stability in the region, and we congratulate it—in the end—on the conduct of the elections. We also congratulate the extraordinary steps taken by the election candidates to commit to ending female genital mutilation and to putting in place the legislative framework to achieve that.
We continue to urge Israel to implement the recommendations in the “Children in Military Custody” report. I raised the issue with the Israeli authorities during my visit to Israel in August 2017, and Ministers and the British ambassador to Tel Aviv have spoken and written to the Israeli Justice Minister and the Israeli Attorney General. The UK continues to have strong concerns about reports of the ill treatment of Palestinian minors in Israeli military detention.
As the House will know, the United Kingdom has been in the lead in championing measures to mitigate climate change. We can be very proud of the impact that we have had in cutting our own carbon dioxide emissions and, of course, working with our friends and partners around the world to implement the Paris accord, which is the way forward.
My right hon. Friend raises the absolutely fascinating conundrum of how effectively the Government could marshal the extraordinary panoply of UK soft power. I never normally disagree with him in any way, but I tend to think that our soft power is so huge that it would not necessarily benefit from any political attempt to co-ordinate it. What I can say is that I believe the work of the British Council is often unsung, although it is hugely important. I think that all Members want to support that organisation and to see it properly funded.
This is a genuinely troubling case. There is an additional horror in being a relative of a victim of homicide when the event has taken place abroad because of the unfamiliar context, all the complexities of dealing with it, and the problems with the justice system. We will continue to monitor that case very closely. We now have a specialised unit in the Foreign Office to deal with cases of exactly this sort.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. Antonio Ledezma is but the latest opposition figure to flee from Venezuela. On 10 October, I raised our concerns with the Venezuelan Foreign Minister, who denied that Venezuela was in crisis. That is immoral, it is wrong, and it is why this Government consistently argued for targeted EU sanctions, which were adopted on 14 November.
The situation in Kashmir is still tragic, as it has been for many decades. The position of the British Government remains that this is an issue to be resolved between the Governments of India and Pakistan, but we continue to champion issues relating to human rights abuse with both Governments whenever they occur, and we will continue to monitor the situation extremely carefully.
This has been a difficult recent chapter between the Kurdish region and Iraq. So far, because of good sense on both sides and a desire to reconcile, there has been no physical conflict at the border area. It is essential that both the Government in Baghdad and those in Erbil find a way through the present constitutional difficulties to make sure that the long-standing concerns of the Kurdish people are recognised within a united and strengthened Iraq. The United Kingdom will do all in its power to make sure we put our words to that effect.
Who shall we have? I was going to call Mr Burden, but he is not standing, so I can’t and I won’t. I call Jo Swinson.
At the last Foreign Office questions, the Foreign Secretary told me that the UK could not pinpoint any direct Russian cyber-attacks on this country. Today, he tells us the Prime Minister’s comments last week about Russia’s sustained campaign of cyber-espionage and disruption refer only to other countries. Why does he think the UK is uniquely immune to Russian interference, or is he just complacent about the threat?
I should be clear with the hon. Lady that, because of the sensitivity of the intelligence involved, it is impossible for us to pinpoint these attacks in public. When the Prime Minister referred to “meddling in elections”, she was referring to meddling in other countries.
If the hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) will confine himself to a short sentence, I will call him, but if he won’t, I won’t.
There is no hiding from the fact that the loss of a British judge on the International Court of Justice is a major failure for British diplomacy. What lessons will the Foreign Office learn to ensure that this does not happen again?
I cannot quite agree with the construction my hon. Friend places on events, but I repeat my congratulations to the Indian judge. As the House will know, a long-standing objective of UK foreign policy has been to support India in the United Nations.
The military orders issued against the Bedouin villages of Jabal al-Baba, Ain al-Hilweh and Umm el-Jimal will involve the forcible transfer of over 400 people, which the director of the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem has described as a war crime. If Israel believes such actions can continue without consequence, what reason will it have to think it should do anything other than carry on with such actions with impunity?
The hon. Gentleman’s words and concerns are echoed by the United Kingdom. As has repeatedly been made clear, we believe that concerns about demolitions, threatened demolitions and movements make a peace settlement more difficult, and we are repeatedly in contact with Israel about that. We still hope that current events in the region give Israel an opportunity to recognise that it can have a secure viable future with a two-state solution. We will do everything in our power to press it to take that opportunity, as the Palestinians should as well.
What representations has my right hon. Friend made to the Government of Pakistan about human rights abuses and the desire for freedom in Balochistan? [Interruption.]
Badakhshan is of course a region of Afghanistan, so interference in Badakhshan from Pakistan would be a serious issue. My hon. Friend may perhaps be referring to Balochistan, where we continue to raise reports of human rights abuses with the Government of Pakistan.
My constituent Laura Plummer has been imprisoned in Hurghada, Egypt, for several weeks, having taken Tramadol with her to help to manage her boyfriend’s back pain. She might be tried on Christmas day. We make no criticism of the Egyptian authorities, but will the Foreign Secretary continue to make representations to them to make it known that this was a very naive young woman who has made a very bad mistake, but has not in her mind committed a crime?
I recognise the work that the hon. Gentleman is doing on behalf of his constituent and I thank him. We are providing every consular assistance to Laura Plummer and, as he may know, I have intervened in the matter with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry.
Does the Foreign Secretary regret the Russian veto of the UN vote on an investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Syria?
I do. It is shameful, and another aspect of Russia’s continual abetting of some of the worst excesses of the Assad regime. That is certainly one of the things that I will take up when I go to Russia at the end of next month.
The right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) should not worry; I have preserved her contribution for the belated adoration of the House.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. What assessment has the Foreign Office made of the current political situation in Cambodia?
As the House will be aware, the opposition leader in Cambodia has recently been arrested and imprisoned. Cambodia continues to be a one-party state. There is a closing space for civil society, and there are increasingly brutal crackdowns on the opposition. This is an area of extreme concern for the international community and Cambodia remains an outlier in Asia.
The humanitarian crisis for the Rohingya represents a critical test for the US Administration. Although Secretary Tillerson’s condemnation of abuses is welcome, action is needed to bring about a comprehensive end to the crisis. Will the Secretary of State update the House on what discussions he has had with our US allies to urge them to take an international lead in addressing this crisis?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that any pressure on Burma and the Government in Naypyidaw would be greatly assisted by more pressure from the United States. Rex Tillerson is now actively engaging. Burma is not an area where the US has traditionally been in the lead, but the UK, working with the US, is building pressure internationally. I have already mentioned to the House some of the things that we have done at the UN and elsewhere to exert pressure on the Burmese Government.
Will the Minister tell us what discussions he has had with the Government of India about their human rights record in the state of the Punjab, critically in relation to my constituent, Jagtar Singh Johal, who has been in custody since 4 November without charge? There is now a possibility—or accusation—of torture, and the Prime Minister indicated the Government’s personal interest on BBC radio yesterday. Will the Minister advise me and the House how the Secretary of State is working with the office of the Prime Minister to assist my constituent and his family in Dunbarton?
We have taken this issue very seriously. The deputy high commissioner managed to gain access, and we have now had a meeting with the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. We take any allegation of torture seriously, as, indeed, do the Indian Government. It is completely unconstitutional and offensive to the British Government. We will work very closely to investigate the matter and will, of course, take extreme action if a British citizen is being tortured.