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Topical Questions

Volume 634: debated on Tuesday 9 January 2018

My priorities for the new year include taking forward Britain’s response to the crisis in Yemen, where we support Saudi Arabia’s right to defend its security while insisting that millions receive the aid that they desperately need. In April, Commonwealth leaders will gather in London for one of the biggest summits that this country has ever hosted, demonstrating the unrivalled network of friendships of a global Britain. Later in the year, as I have said, we will co-host a summit on tackling the illegal wildlife trade.

Mr Speaker, I wish you and the Foreign Secretary a happy new year. Through the Inter-Parliamentary Union, along with other hon. Members, I recently met Ministers from Madagascar, including the President, who expressed a desire for Madagascar, which is currently the president of the African francophone nations, to become a member of the Commonwealth. As he noted, Commonwealth countries in Africa seem to be doing much better, politically and financially, than others. What measures is the Foreign Secretary taking to encourage Madagascar and other countries without British colonial links to establish close relations with the UK and the Commonwealth, especially after Brexit?

I am delighted to hear the news from Madagascar from my hon. Friend, and I certainly hope that it is correct that Madagascar will pursue that, although the procedures with the Commonwealth secretariat must of course be followed, as he would expect. I gather that several countries in Africa are now queueing up to join the Commonwealth.

President Trump’s biographer, Michael Wolff, has said that the President’s only interest in a state visit is the opportunity to “Trumpalize the Queen”. I have literally no idea what that means, but will the Secretary of State please save Her Majesty from that unpleasant-sounding ordeal and cancel this wretched visit?

I think Her Majesty the Queen is well capable of taking this or any American President in her stride, as she has done over six remarkable decades. She has seen them come and she has seen them go. If the hon. Lady seeks advice on whether to invite the President of the United States to visit this country—she will remember that we are very close allies—I invite her to ask the person next to her, the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), who said only last year:

“I think we have to welcome the American President to Britain. We have to work with him.”

Those are the words of the right hon. Lady.

T3. The “Fire and Fury” book about the Trump presidency has reheated some debunked claims about the role of British intelligence. Although the ordinary stance of the British Government is neither to confirm nor deny, given the highly unusual facts of this case will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity, as the intelligence chiefs have, to slay those myths? (903154)

As my hon. Friend rightly says, we do not normally comment on such matters, but in this particular case GCHQ made it clear last year that the allegations are “nonsense”, stating:

“They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”

T2. UK humanitarian workers have told us that 10 hospitals in Syria have been directly targeted by Russian and Syrian forces over the past few weeks. These attacks go against the Geneva convention, but they have also left hundreds of children starving and in need of urgent humanitarian help. Will the Foreign Secretary indicate whether he intends to follow through on his previous pledge to donate British troops to UN peacekeeping forces? Will he ask President Putin to desist from doing such things? Will the Minister also ensure that the Geneva process is re-energised? (903153)

The attacks over the Christmas period were deeply distressing. I spoke to some of the medical agencies involved in getting those with medical issues out of eastern Ghouta to seek treatment, and the overwhelming need is for proper humanitarian access to the area. However, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, the Geneva process, which is being driven forward by Staffan de Mistura and reaches its next part later this month, must keep going to try to see an end to this conflict, which is the only thing that will relieve the suffering. The United Kingdom is right behind that process.

T8. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on what role the Foreign Office played in ensuring the opening of the Yemeni seaport of Hodeidah? (903160)

Following my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development’s visits to Djibouti and Riyadh in December, the Saudi authorities announced that the coalition would fully open the Hodeidah port for 30 days from 20 December. From then until now, more than nine ships have docked, delivering food, fuel and coal, and that process is continuing with more ships having been cleared. It is essential that the port remains open after that time, and we are working with others to try to ensure that that will be the case.

T4. It has been nine months since my constituent Kirsty Maxwell tragically fell to her death from a balcony in Benidorm and still the family do not know what happened to the clothes on her body when she died or the circumstances of her death. The Minister has been very helpful in trying to assist, but we are no further forward. Will he put more pressure on the Spanish authorities, and will he do a full-scale review of the support that families who have lost loved ones get? (903155)

I fully understand what the hon. Lady says, and we have been working closely on this tragic consular issue. I am happy to offer her a further meeting and to pursue every possible step to go into the details in more depth.

The Foreign Secretary recently commented on the immeasurable contribution of this country, and the RAF in particular, to combating extremism in the middle east. However, does he agree that our pausing reluctance to intervene in the first place diminished us and our standing in the region, leading to many more deaths, and that never again should Britain, with all we can offer, be reduced to standing on the sidelines while extremists and despots kill hundreds of thousands of people with impunity?

My hon. Friend speaks for many in this House who now regret what happened in 2013 and our failure to stand by our red lines, because many more deaths have occurred than would otherwise have happened.

T5. When he was Foreign Secretary, William Hague described the UN Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review as“a valuable mechanism for holding countries accountable for their human rights record.”—[Official Report, 15 April 2013; Vol. 561, c. 15WS.] Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the UN periodic review meeting on 23 January provides an opportunity to hold Israel to account for its treatment of Palestinian children held in Israeli military custody, and will he use the meeting to do so? (903156)

Order. I do not wish to be unkind to the hon. Gentleman—he is a most perspicacious Member of the House—but questions are simply too long at topical questions; topical questions are supposed to be briefer. If we can have brief questions and brief answers, far more colleagues will get in.

The council will indeed be used by the United Kingdom to offer a statement in relation to Israel, and the issues raised by the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) are covered in a number of different ways in our representations to Israel.

Violence in Iran has escalated. Does the Foreign Secretary share my concern about the reports that 450 Iranians may have been arrested for taking to the streets against a regime that brutalises women and oppresses religious minorities?

As I said earlier, I have made it absolutely clear to the Iranian authorities that we believe in and support the right of the people of Iran to demonstrate peacefully in accordance with the law. I will continue to make that point to my Iranian counterparts later this week.

T6. Following ministerial appointments since the general election, can the Foreign Secretary provide some reassurance to the House that the Department for International Development has not become a wholly owned subsidiary of the Foreign Office and that aid will continue to be the primary focus of DFID? (903157)

Most sensible commentators would say it is vital that this Government perform and act overseas as one HMG, and that is what we are doing.

The Iranian people quite rightly pride themselves on their educational attainment. How does banning the teaching of the English language in Iranian schools help future generations?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course banning the teaching of English does nothing to help future generations of Iranians. On the contrary, it is likely to impoverish them, and it is something we deeply discourage.

T7. Research conducted by the International State Crime Initiative found examples of four of the six stages of genocide being carried out in Rakhine state against the Rohingya people. What assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of the potential for the other two stages—extermination and “symbolic enactment”—to occur? (903158)

I hope the hon. Lady will be assured that we are keeping abreast of the issue of genocide or any sort of referral to the International Criminal Court. It is obviously difficult because Burma is not currently a member of the ICC. We are working with other countries at the UN to ensure that the very real concerns she expresses are put into place.

Ahead of Emmanuel Macron’s first visit here as President next week, will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary reaffirm the importance of a continuing, deep and close relationship between the UK and France? Does he agree that the relationship must get stronger after Brexit, not weaker?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The relationship between Britain and France is of huge and historic importance, and it has been intensifying over recent years, particularly in the sphere of defence and security co-operation, following the Lancaster House agreement. I hope he will be pleased by some of the developments and announcements that we will be making on 18 January.

Will the Foreign Secretary update the House on what discussions, if any, he has had with the Government of Mauritius following the overwhelming decision of the UN General Assembly last year to refer the question of decolonisation and self-determination of the Chagos islands?

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, we believe this case to be without merit and will continue to contest it.

Will my right hon. Friend and his colleagues continue their very important support of the political process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2018?

Why are the Government taking legal advice on suing the European Union for preparing to treat Britain as a third country from March 2019 when that is the express intention of UK Government policy?

As I am sure the right hon. Gentleman and his constituents would want, we intend to get a superb new relationship, a new deep and special partnership, with our friends and partners in the EU. That is the objective of the negotiations now under way.

Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that the United States remains our closest ally and that the special relationship rests on more than just leaders’ personalities—it rests on trade, close military alliances and a shared view of the world?

I could not have put it better myself, and I commend again to the House the shadow Foreign Secretary’s wise words that it was the right thing to do to invite the President of the United States to visit this country.

In response to Kim Jong-un, President Trump, who is apparently “really smart” and a “stable genius” to boot, tweeted:

“I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

What does President Trump have to say or tweet in order for any invitation to visit the UK, for any wedding or otherwise, to be withdrawn?

If I understood the hon. Gentleman’s question correctly, he wishes to rescind the invitation to the President of the United States. I do not believe that is sensible. The US is our closest, most important security and economic partner, and will continue to be so.

Given events in Iran, is it not time that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was a proscribed organisation, with its assets frozen worldwide?

I appreciate the sentiment that my hon. Friend expresses. The IRGC clearly does not represent the forces of progress in Iran to which I was alluding earlier. We keep its status for sanctions purposes under continuous review.

The situation in Jammu and Kashmir is a human outrage on a regular basis, and the tension between Pakistan and India is threatening world peace. Will the Foreign Secretary use the opportunity of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to bring our good friends Pakistan and India together and move a peace process forward?

I very much hope CHOGM will provide that sort of opportunity. Both India and Pakistan are long-standing friends of the UK. On the issue of Kashmir, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we do not intervene or interfere; it is for those two countries to determine.

The plight of the Rohingya people continues to shock, particularly as so many of them are unaccompanied children. What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with his counterpart in Bangladesh to ensure these vulnerable children are protected from traffickers?

I assure the hon. Lady that we have regular conversations; indeed, I am seeing the Bangladesh high commissioner to the UK in my office this afternoon, when this matter will be the first aspect on our agenda.

Will the Secretary of State place in the Commons Library details of the number of UK nationals who have been deported back to the UK on suspicion of terrorism in supporting Daesh in Iraq and Syria?

I am sorry we are so short of time, but I would not want the hon. Gentleman from Northern Ireland to feel excluded. His is the last go. I call Ian Paisley.

Thank you very much for your kindness, Mr Speaker. The Muslim Brotherhood is a well-financed organisation, and before Christmas the Foreign Secretary made a statement along the lines of, “I will scrutinise their visa applications into the United Kingdom.” What action has been taken as a result of that scrutiny?

In addition to looking harder at the visa applications, we are looking harder at the engagement of the Muslim Brotherhood and its associates in charities in this country. I would be happy, pursuant to the answer I gave just a moment ago, to supply further details to the hon. Gentleman of what we are doing in respect of Muslim Brotherhood visas.

If it appertains to the exchanges, we will hear it. I think I heard the right hon. Lady erupt a moment ago—that would be a fair characterisation. If she wishes to erupt on her feet rather than from her seat, that would be good. The Foreign Secretary might think it courteous to stay—he is not obliged to do so, but he is a courteous chap.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Rather than erupting, is it in order for me to say to correct the record that I have never thought it was a good idea to invite the President of the United States to the United Kingdom? I thought the invitation was issued with undue haste. Once it has been issued on behalf of Her Majesty, it is very difficult to withdraw it.

The Foreign Secretary is beetling to the Box. If he wishes to stand up at the Box to offer us a product of his lucubrations, we will be happy to hear it.

I am not exactly sure what is in order here, but doubtless you will guide me, Mr Speaker. I must redirect the right hon. Lady and indeed the House to her words of 14 May 2017 on the “The Andrew Marr Show”, when she said:

“I think we have to welcome the American President to Britain. We have to work with him.”

I rest my case. [Interruption.]

Order. I think honour is served. The shadow Foreign Secretary has offered us her thoughts and the Foreign Secretary has, with some alacrity, beetled back to the Box in order to respond. I think we should, at least for today, leave it there.