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Topical Questions

Volume 638: debated on Tuesday 27 March 2018

My immediate priority is to help to mobilise international support following the horrifying event in Salisbury, and I am greatly encouraged by the response so far. I am also preparing for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London next month, which will be one of the biggest summits this country has ever hosted and a unique opportunity to renew the Commonwealth and take forward the priorities of global Britain.

This week, the Yemen war has entered its fourth destructive year, and yesterday, the International Rescue Committee launched a new report showing the devastating impact of the conflict on Yemen’s health system. What are the UK Government doing to put pressure on the Saudi regime to pay £2 billion into Yemen’s central bank, as promised in the pledge it made in January?

The hon. Gentleman raises a subject that is at the very top of our concerns in the Foreign Office and across the Government as a whole. I assure him that we are working with all our friends and partners to try to persuade everybody involved in the Yemen conflict—particularly, of course, the Saudis—to get to a political process. In the meantime, we have been instrumental in getting the Saudis to open the port of Hodeidah to allow not only humanitarian but commercial traffic to get in and relieve some of the suffering that is unquestionably taking place there. I share his sense of urgency.

T6. As fishing licences in the UK overseas territories come up for bidding, will my right hon. Friend make a presumption in favour of local and UK businesses, which is so important both for sustainable fishing and for maximising the economic benefits to such communities? (904612)

Fisheries licensing is generally a matter for the Governments of the individual territories; only in the specific case of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands does the Secretary of State give advice on licensing in respect of foreign policy. In the last round, three of the six licences were given to overseas territories.

The Foreign Secretary will be aware of the case of Professor Clara Ponsatí, whom the Spanish authorities want to extradite. Does he agree with the principal of the University of St Andrews, who has said that

“there are legitimate arguments that Clara is being targeted for standing up for her political beliefs”?

The issuing of a European arrest warrant is a matter for proper judicial process, not for political interference.

With great respect to my right hon. Friend, I prefer to look at the strength of the global reaction to what Russia has done and the corresponding influence of the United Kingdom on such deliberations.

Next Tuesday will mark two years since Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in Iran on trumped-up charges, separated from her young child and thrown into jail. What steps is the Foreign Secretary currently taking to obtain her release so that she does not spend yet another year separated from her family?

As the House will know, we have a number of very difficult consular cases in Iran at the present time, and every effort is being made on behalf of each of those—each of those—individuals. All I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that none of those cases really benefits from public comment at this stage.

With CHOGM coming up, does my hon. Friend agree that if Zimbabwe held free and open elections, that would give it a route back to the Commonwealth and, indeed, give what used to be the breadbasket of Africa free trade agreements with the rest of the world?

I assure my hon. Friend that, when I visited Zimbabwe recently, that was indeed the message I was able to convey to the new President.

T2. It is nearly two years since the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, said: “The closure of Gaza suffocates its people, stifles its economy and impedes reconstruction efforts. It is a collective punishment for which there must be accountability.”Will the Foreign Secretary or one of his ministerial colleagues tell me who is being held to account for that collective punishment, and what specific measures would the UK Government support to hold those responsible to account? (904608)

As the hon. Gentleman knows well, the situation in Gaza remains of deep concern. It is a wretched situation. We continue to make representations to all parties who have an involvement with the governance of Gaza to improve the conditions. It is more than just one particular group, but we do make representations to the Israelis about the possibility of improving steadily the position in relation to Gaza. Nothing will be settled until we get the agreement we want on the two-state solution.

Last month I was part of an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation to Albania, where Ministers emphasised how important the security links are between our two countries. That was further re-enforced at a follow-up meeting with the ambassador. What plans do the Government have to further links with Albania?

We work very closely with Albania, particularly on organised crime, and all the more so as we approach the very important western Balkan summit, which we will host here in July this year.

T3. Poor vision is the world’s largest disability, which, according to the charity Clearly, affects more than 900 million people in the Commonwealth. Ahead of next month’s summit, may I press the Foreign Secretary to commit to working with our Commonwealth allies to ensure that vision is brought to everybody across the Commonwealth? (904609)

The hon. Gentleman raises a very good point. We will certainly make sure that in the discussions on health, which as I said earlier form a large part of our Commonwealth proceedings, that issue is raised.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where 7.7 million people face severe food insecurity and 2 million children are at risk of starvation, the level of emergency has been put to number three, which is the highest level. The European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management says it is getting worse by the day and that it is not business as usual. What can Her Majesty’s Government do to work with others both on humanitarian aid and on possibly increasing the number of peacekeepers for security?

My hon. Friend rightly raises the most appalling humanitarian situation. He will be aware that in Geneva—a week after next, I think it is—there will be a big pledging conference to raise money for a humanitarian crisis that the United Nations estimates is going to need at least $1.7 billion of aid in the coming months.

T4. Last night I returned from Pakistan where I met the Prime Minister and the President of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Both shared their concern at the escalating violence at the line of control and at the killing of civilians. This is a nuclear flashpoint area. Does the Minister agree that we cannot leave it to Pakistan and India to resolve the Kashmir dispute, because the stakes are too high and the Kashmiri have suffered for 70 years? (904610)

I was at the Pakistani national day celebrations at the weekend as well. I think the hon. Gentleman will understand that there are good reasons why it is the UK Government’s position, and has been in the 70 years since Pakistan and India were formed, that the Kashmir issue should be determined by those two countries. There is not a role for Britain to interfere or intervene. Ultimately, peace will only come when those two communities themselves can find their way to work that out. Clearly, it has to be an issue for the Kashmiri people.

Now the Prime Minister has put some backbone into the Foreign Office, is it not about time that we took some action against the Ecuadorian embassy? How long are we prepared to allow this situation to go on, where, as the Minister of State said in previous questions, a man is avoiding lawful arrest?

It is of great regret that Julian Assange remains in the Ecuador embassy. It is of deeper regret that even last night he was tweeting against Her Majesty’s Government for their conduct in replying to the attack in Salisbury. It is about time that this miserable little worm walked out of the embassy and gave himself up to British justice.

T5. With the resignation of Jacob Zuma, who is about to go on trial on 6 April, is the Secretary of State confident that the cycles of corruption will now finally begin to be stamped out in South Africa? (904611)

The UK Government have welcomed and congratulated the new President, Mr Ramaphosa, and we are looking forward to his visit to the UK next month for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.

In terms of the Commonwealth, will the Minister explain further how Global Britain will lead to furthering economic ties with our Commonwealth friends, and not just diplomatic ones?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Of course, a large part of the Commonwealth summit is to talk about trade and prosperity and the opportunities that exist. As I said earlier, some of the fastest-growing economies in the world are in the Commonwealth—now growing, though I do not wish to make any invidious comparisons, substantially faster than the EU, though we intend to trade very much with both of them.

T7. In the two years before President Sisi came to power in Egypt, only one person was executed in Egypt, and in the four years since, his military tribunals have executed more than 100 people. Can the Foreign Secretary remind the House why he said last year that he wanted to be a champion for President Sisi? (904613)

We continue to engage with a significantly important country in the region. Human rights form part of the dialogue with Egypt at all times. Internal matters are a matter for them, but I assure the hon. Lady that the relationship has to be strong to deal with exactly the sort of issues that she raises.

Will the Secretary of State join me in reiterating that the issues this House and the international community have with Russia are with Putin and his cronies, not the long-suffering and hard-pressed Russian people, who are victims in this themselves?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, which is made repeatedly by Members across the Chamber but cannot be made often enough. Our quarrel is not with the Russian people. We hold out the hand of friendship to the Russian people. They are not ringed with enemies. Our dispute is with the Kremlin as it is currently managed and the currently disruptive manner of Russian policy.

T8. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) said, yesterday was the third anniversary of the rising escalation of the conflict in Yemen, and the rainy season is almost upon us. Yesterday, UNICEF warned that another cholera outbreak is impending and it is bemoaning the fact that it has to spend valuable time negotiating with warring factions to get vital vaccinations and medicines to the people whose lives it could save. Can the Secretary of State reassure us that he will use all his diplomatic effort to ensure that vaccines get to those who need them? (904614)

It might help if I say that I keep speaking to the World Health Organisation in relation to the availability of vaccines, and we are pretty confident that the vaccines are there. I also spoke yesterday to UNICEF about the ability to get them through. We are pressing for the consolidated plan that it needs to do that. There is a conference on Yemen coming up shortly, but we press every day to make sure that the cyclical issue of cholera is indeed dealt with.

The trade out of poverty all-party parliamentary group, which I co-chair, is soon to release a report on trade and investment intra-Commonwealth. Will my right hon. Friend read that report and champion that agenda at the forthcoming CHOGM summit?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, because the job of the Commonwealth summit is not just to promote trade between the UK and our 53 Commonwealth friends, but to promote intra-Commonwealth trade, and that is where some of the biggest opportunities lie.

T9. This petition was handed to me by constituents, calling on the Government to do more about the plight of the Rohingya people. I know that the Foreign Secretary met Aung San Suu Kyi recently, but what further steps do the Government intend to take to try to deal with this appalling human tragedy? (904615)

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that our efforts have been directed at building an international consensus to ensure that there is a multinational, multilateral body to give the Rohingya refugees the confidence and security that they need to make a safe, dignified and voluntary return to northern Rakhine.

There are growing international concerns about Germany’s intentions to build an undersea gas pipeline directly to Russia. Does the Secretary of State share those concerns, because this will put at risk the energy security of our key NATO allies in central and eastern Europe?

I recently met the head of Naftogaz, the main energy company in Ukraine, and we are fully aware of the issue my hon. Friend raises. We will look at the issue of Nord Stream 2 and the pipeline in the light of what has happened in Salisbury.

Turkey’s actions in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone do not create the right climate for reunification negotiations to recommence. Will the Minister join me in condemning Turkey’s actions and call on it to withdraw its warships from Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone, where they have been since 9 February?

We fully recognise the rights within the economic zone, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and fully support the right to drill for oil.

Last night, I and many colleagues across the House attended a huge demonstration to say “enough is enough” to anti-Semitism. What more can my right hon. Friend’s Department do to strongly send out the message to the Jewish community around the world that Britain is determined to stamp out this ancient hatred?

It is absolutely vital for everybody in this House to send out a very clear message that anti-Semitism anywhere is intolerable. I look to people on both sides of the Chamber to do that.

Our silence over—indeed, our tacit support for—the wholly unacceptable and Franco-esque crackdown on democracy and human rights in Catalonia by the Spanish state is shameful and indeed makes us complicit. Will the Minister please rethink, speak to his Spanish counterparts and urge them to draw back from their counterproductive actions?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s interpretation of what is happening in Catalonia. We fully support the Spanish Government in upholding the proper workings of the Spanish constitution.

Will the matter of refugees and the global refugee crisis be on the agenda for next month’s Commonwealth meeting?

This week we learned that Spanish secret police have been operating in several EU countries. The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have referred to the expulsion not of diplomats but of spies and intelligence officers. To the Government’s knowledge, how many foreign powers currently have spies, intelligence officers and secret police agents operating in the UK?

I invite the hon. Gentleman to speculate himself on the answer to that question, because we do not discuss intelligence matters.

Last month, Impactt’s audit of the Qatari supreme committee, which is responsible for the World cup, highlighted significant positive progress in areas relating to workers’ rights. What efforts will the British Government make to support further progress and promote its spreading to neighbouring states?

I happened to see the Qatari organiser of the World cup just a couple of days ago. They gave an impressive presentation on what they had sought to do to improve not just workers’ rights but workers’ welfare, not just now but looking forward to the final construction phase. Concerns have been well expressed, but my sense is that the Qatari system understands that very well and is working hard to produce a good and safe World cup.