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House of Commons Hansard
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Oral Answers to Questions
15 May 2018
Volume 641

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked—

Cameroon

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1. What recent discussions he has had with his Cameroonian counterpart on the level of violence in that country. [905281]

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I visited Cameroon in February and met the Cameroonian Prime Minister, and the Foreign Secretary met him at the Commonwealth meetings in London in April. In all our discussions with Cameroonian Ministers, we have stressed the importance of inclusive dialogue and not resorting to violence.

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A constituent of mine from Cameroon who sought asylum here has been highlighting the ongoing violence and the brutality committed by the Government in Anglophone regions, and the acute refugee crisis that that has caused. I know that the Department has been raising these issues, but what more can Ministers do to help to get a meaningful process going to address the issues and end the violence?

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I am delighted that the hon. Lady has managed to get this important issue on the Order Paper and up for discussion in the House of Commons, because it is a serious situation. There is violence from all sides in Cameroon and we are extremely concerned about the situation. We are encouraging not only the Government there but all Cameroonians to participate in a process of inclusive dialogue. It is an election year and the election must take place without people resorting to violence.

Girls’ Education

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2. What steps his Department is taking to support the delivery of girls’ education throughout the world. [905282]

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If every girl in the world had 12 years of quality education, this world would be infinitely safer, vastly more prosperous and better, which is why education for girls is at the heart of Government policy.

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I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, but I am concerned that, according to UNESCO estimates, 130 million girls between the ages of 6 and 17 are out of school and 15 million girls of primary school age, half of them in sub-Saharan Africa, will never enter a classroom. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that tackling this issue will continue to be a top priority for global Britain?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and the statistics are truly horrifying. There are countries around the world, including in sub-Saharan Africa, where female illiteracy is running at 60%, 70% or sometimes 80%, which is why the UK is in the lead in campaigning at the UN, the G7 and the G20 for focus on this issue. That is also why the Prime Minister announced a further £212 million for girls’ education at the recent Commonwealth summit.

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As he is the father of lots of daughters, I call Mr Barry Sheerman.

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Is the Foreign Secretary aware that, in many parts of the developing world, educational institutions and orphanages are not quite what they seem? Children are taken into them and trafficked, instead of getting an education. Will he look into that?

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that problem, which is of course well known to the Prime Minister, who has campaigned on human trafficking and modern slavery for many years. We certainly co-ordinate with the Home Office to tackle the problem that the hon. Gentleman describes.

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Girls who do not receive education are more likely to become victims of human trafficking, early marriage and gender-based violence. Will the Foreign Secretary update the House on what he is doing not only to support girls’ education, but in particular to join up the strategies for ending violence against women and girls?

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We continually work to tackle not just female illiteracy and innumeracy but the associated problems, including gender-based violence, and we work continually on the prevention of sexual violence in conflict. I recently had a meeting with Lord Hague, whom colleagues will remember championed that issue to great effect.

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What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with the Government of Pakistan about girls’ education in that country? What assessment has he made of that Government’s track record?

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I am proud to say that I have had repeated conversations with the Government of Pakistan about the UK contribution to the challenge that they face. As I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows, 66% of adult women in Pakistan are illiterate. Through the Department for International Development, the UK is trying to tackle that issue, and I think that 6 million girls in the Punjab have been educated thanks to the UK’s generosity.

Commonwealth: Diplomatic Relations

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3. What steps his Department is taking to strengthen UK diplomatic relations with Commonwealth countries. [905283]

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22. What steps his Department is taking to strengthen bilateral relations with Commonwealth countries. [905302]

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During the recent Heads of Government meeting at the Commonwealth summit, we announced the opening of nine new missions, to great acclaim throughout the Commonwealth. They include six high commissions in Lesotho, Swaziland, the Bahamas, Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu. As I have told the House before, we are expanding the UK diplomatic network to become the biggest in Europe.

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I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s comments. It was great to see so many Heads of Government attending CHOGM last month. Does he agree with Her Majesty that the Commonwealth will continue to offer stability and continuity for future generations under the worthy leadership of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales?

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My hon. Friend asks an extremely good question, though he sets a very high bar in asking me in any way to disagree with Her Majesty the Queen, which I will not do because I think that the Prince of Wales will serve admirably as the next head of the Commonwealth.

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Intra-Commonwealth trade is expected to increase to £1 trillion by 2020, which is up from £560 billion recorded in 2016. However, Commonwealth nations take just 9% of UK exports of goods and services. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, post Brexit, bilateral trade relations with the Commonwealth will be more important than ever and will provide us with an exciting opportunity to sell our goods and services and set up new trade deals with a third of the world’s population?

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My hon. Friend is, of course, entirely right: we have a huge opportunity to build new associations and new trade deals with some of the fastest growing economies in the world comprising, as she knows, 2.4 billion people, but without in any way prejudicing our ability to do unimpeded free trade deals with other countries and to maintain the advantages of free trade with our European friends and partners.

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Will the Foreign Office review its current position on the plight of the Chagos islanders, who should be granted immediately the right to repatriation in their home in the Indian ocean territories?

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As the hon. Lady knows, we are currently in dispute with Mauritius about the Chagossian islanders and Diego Garcia. I have personally met the representative of the Chagossian community here in this country, and we are doing our absolute best to deal with its justified complaints and to ensure that we are as humane as we can possibly be.

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Bearing in mind the recent return of Zimbabwe to our Commonwealth family, can the Secretary of State tell us what other countries might be about to join the Commonwealth? Is it too much to hope that perhaps the Republic of Ireland might be one of them?

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In these questions, it is important not to get too far ahead of ourselves. Zimbabwe is a great news story at the moment, but, alas, she has not yet reapplied for membership of the Commonwealth. We await that application to the Commonwealth secretariat. It is certainly something that the UK and other countries would strongly support, as we discovered at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are other countries that are in the pipeline, but they have yet to identify themselves publicly.

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Will my right hon. Friend explain how the UK is currently working with allies such as Australia to bolster Commonwealth ties in the south Pacific as a counter balance to growing Chinese influence in places such as Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands?

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I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for her question, and it has been raised specifically with me by our friends in the south Pacific that they want to see the UK back there. A head of an island there described to me his sense of grief at seeing a vacant UK seat at a recent meeting—I will not name the country in which the meeting took place. We are filling that seat; we will be back there in all the countries that I have just announced.

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I do not know whether “Fox and Friends” has broadcast in any Commonwealth countries, but can the Foreign Secretary tell us whether appearing on breakfast TV is now an official part of UK diplomatic foreign policy, or is it reserved only for countries with which we have a special relationship?

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I cannot comment on whether “Fox and Friends” is broadcast across the Commonwealth, but what I will say is that we should use every possible means at our disposal to reach out to our friends not just in the Commonwealth, but in the former Commonwealth—the United States of America.

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Order. I am sure that colleagues will not wish to be deprived, so I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will place a copy in the Library of the House for their delectation in the long summer evenings that lie ahead. [Interruption.] The transcript, man.

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Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Malaysia on her recent outstanding elections, which have seen the return of the first ever opposition party since independence? It shows that democracy is alive and kicking in Malaysia. Does he agree that there is much more that we can do together, not least through an extended relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations?

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Not only that; I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work he does to promote relations between the UK and ASEAN. He works tirelessly on that dossier. Malaysia certainly presents extraordinary opportunities for the UK. A massive friendship and partnership already exists with the country, and we look forward to building relations very fast with the new Government of Mahathir Mohamad.

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We are all delighted that there was a successful Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting this year. Among the valued Commonwealth members are of course the Caribbean countries. We know that Caribbean Foreign Ministers raised the issue of Windrush deportations with the Foreign Office in 2014 and that high commissioners did so in 2016, so will the Foreign Secretary tell us what discussions he and his Ministers had at that time with their counterparts in the Home Office?

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I must respectfully tell the hon. Lady what I am sure she knows very well: this is a matter for the Home Office. We certainly alerted the Home Office to the issue, but the question of how to manage immigrants in this country is a matter for the Home Office.

Iran Nuclear Deal

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4. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on the future of the Iran nuclear deal. [905284]

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As the House will understand, the UK continues to work hard with all our friends and partners—particularly the other European signatories to the joint comprehensive plan of action—to keep that deal alive. We believe that it is of fundamental importance that Iran was not in breach of the JCPOA last week. It is still not in breach of the JCPOA this week. There are advantages to maintaining the essence of that deal, so we will continue to work for that and to protect the interests of UK business in Iran.

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Recent tensions between Israel and Iran underline the importance of the nuclear deal, and we should not forget how close the west and Iran came to conflict over the nuclear issue in 2012. The Government have rightly maintained their full support for the agreement, but exactly how far are they prepared to go, in concert with their allies, to keep this deal alive—including, if necessary, protecting companies that trade with Iran from American sanctions?

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My hon. Friend brings a great deal of learning to this subject. This issue is difficult because of the extraterritorial effect of US sanctions; when companies touch the live wire of the American financial network, they find themselves almost immediately sanctioned. I am going to Brussels this afternoon to talk to our European friends about what we can do to work together to protect the interests of UK and other European businesses.

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When the Foreign Secretary goes to Brussels, will he explain to our European friends that this country values our defence and security partnership with our European Union partners? Will he also say positive things about whether we will be joining permanent structured co-operation—PESCO—and co-operating with the other European countries in the future?

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I can direct the hon. Gentleman to no better text than the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech—fleshed out by her Mansion House speech—in which she made it clear that the UK’s commitment to the defence and security of our friends and partners is unconditional and indivisible.

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rose—

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I wish the right hon. Gentleman a full and speedy recovery.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker; that is very kind. The Iranian Government responded to President Trump’s announcement last week by showering Israel with rockets using their own forces inside Syria. What does my right hon. Friend think those forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are actually doing inside Syria? If the Iran nuclear deal was not the thing to encourage Iran to become a more responsible member of the international community, what does he think will be?

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My right hon. Friend is completely right to raise the disgraceful behaviour of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the missiles that are fired from Syria at Israel and elsewhere. The JCPOA was not designed to constrain that activity; it was specifically designed to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon and it has succeeded in that effort so far. That is why we propose to keep the core of that deal alive, but to work with our friends and partners to constrain the malign activity that my right hon. Friend describes.

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Last July, at a conference of the Iranian resistance movement in Paris attended by a number of Conservative Members, John Bolton announced that the Iranian regime is

“not going to change…the only solution is to change the regime…And that’s why, before 2019, we…will celebrate in Tehran!”

Now that Mr Bolton is President Trump’s national security adviser, does the Foreign Secretary believe that regime change is still his objective?

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I have a very high regard for John Bolton and his intelligence and vision, but I have to say that I do not believe that regime change in Tehran is the objective that we should be seeking. I must be very clear with the hon. Gentleman that I think that we might conceivably achieve regime change at some stage in the near future, but I cannot with any confidence say that that would be a change for the better, because it seems equally plausible to me to imagine that Qasem Soleimani of the IRGC could put himself in a very good position to take over from Ayatollah Khamenei, for instance.

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I suggest to my right hon. Friend that there is a temptation among his allies to point the finger at the United States and heap opprobrium on it when he goes to Brussels. May I urge him to point out to them that, since sanctions were lifted on Iran, it has used the money that it has earned to invest in developing ballistic missiles, to start a proxy war in Yemen and to interfere in Syria? Will he remind them that notwithstanding the fact that it was a narrow deal, there is a real, serious threat from Iran that needs to be dealt with?

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My right hon. Friend is completely right, and that is indeed what we intend to do. But we also intend to try to address the substantive difficulties in the JCPOA itself—the fact that it expired, the fact that the sunset clauses are not adequate and the fact that in 2025 it is at least theoretically possible for Iran to proceed very rapidly to break out to acquire a nuclear weapon. That is a legitimate concern of President Trump, and we have to deal with it as well.

Bahrain: Death Penalty

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5. What assessment he has made of the effect of the use of the death penalty in Bahrain on human rights in that country. [905285]

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The United Kingdom opposes the use of the death penalty in all countries, in all circumstances. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary reiterated this in respect of Bahrain in his written statement of 15 January 2017. The Government of Bahrain are fully aware of our position. We continue to have an open and frank dialogue with Bahrain in public and in private covering a range of issues, including human rights.

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Amnesty International, Reprieve and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy have all raised concerns about the use of the death penalty and the routine torture of political opponents by the regime in Bahrain. What assurance can the Minister give that the British Government’s integrated activity fund is not being used to undermine human rights in Bahrain?

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Our determined efforts to support reform and change in Bahrain are aimed at improving the conditions that I indicated earlier we keep in constant contact with the authorities in Bahrain about. In relation to the death penalty, we welcome the decision by His Majesty the King on 26 April to commute the death sentences handed down in a recent court case.

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Is it true that UK-funded institutions in Bahrain have been responsible for covering up torture allegations regarding death row inmates?

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No, I do not believe that that can possibly be the case. If the right hon. Lady would write with the specific detail of an allegation, I will look at it, but I do not believe that it is the case.

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18. That specific detail is available in the report by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy and Reprieve that was referenced earlier. It says that British-funded institutions and trained-by-Britain organisations have indeed covered up this sort of behaviour. Can we have an assurance from the Dispatch Box that that report is being looked at and that a formal response will come to Members? [905298]

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Yes, I will. As I indicated earlier, the purpose of our engagement with Bahrain is to deal sometimes with difficult practices that have been there in the past in order to change them and improve them, but I think a specific allegation of British involvement and cover-up would not be right.

Israel-Palestine Peace Process

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7. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on prospects for the peace process in Israel and Palestine. [905287]

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11. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on prospects for the peace process in Israel and Palestine. [905291]

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At this highly sensitive time in the region, there is an urgent need to restart the peace process between Israel and Palestine. We regularly press both parties to resume direct negotiations towards the two-state solution.

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Last week, the Secretary of State suggested that President Trump could be in line for a Nobel peace prize. Does the Minister welcome the move by the US to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem, and does he agree with the White House today that the 52 Palestinians killed and more than 2,200 wounded in yesterday’s violence in Gaza were the responsibility of Hamas?

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In answer to the first question, our position is known: we did not agree with the decision, which is a sovereign decision, of both the United States and Israel to move the embassy. We have no plans to do anything similar. In relation to the second question, there is an urgent question after Question Time, and we will go into the difficult circumstances of the past few weeks. I will be happy to deal with that question then.

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May I push the Minister a little? Why has he not called for the United Nations Security Council to be recalled so that it can look at this situation? Does he agree with the Secretary-General that there should be an inquiry into what has been happening over the last six or seven weeks?

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The House may not yet be aware, but there will be a UN Security Council meeting this afternoon or this evening in relation to this matter. The UK has already said that it supports an independent investigation into the circumstances of what has been happening, and we will continue to take that position.

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The simple truth is that the realignment of power in the middle east between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and their now closer friendship with Israel in this increasingly Sunni-Shi’a divide has left the Palestinians marginalised, and in danger of being marginalised further. Will my right hon. Friend, following the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration, restate categorically the United Kingdom’s commitment to the Palestinian people and rule out moving the British embassy to Jerusalem?

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In answer to the second part of my right hon. Friend’s question, as I have indicated, that is the United Kingdom’s declared position: we are not moving our embassy. On the wider issues, as we will discuss later, the United Kingdom’s commitment remains to a just settlement of this issue which recognises the need to respond to Palestinians’ concern at the same time as ensuring the safety and security and the existence of the state of Israel. That remains our position.

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When the Hamas Prime Minister has said, “We will take down the border and we will tear out their hearts from their bodies,” what are this Government doing to build international pressure on Hamas to renounce violence and disarm?

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The United Kingdom regards Hamas as a terrorist organisation. It is proscribed and we have no dealings with it. It speaks for itself in relation to its threat to the state of Israel, and that should always be remembered in issues where Hamas is involved and is exerting pressure on the population of Gaza to do its bidding.

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Does the Minister agree with the Foreign Secretary that Trump’s Jerusalem embassy move is a “moment of opportunity” for peace?

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I always agree with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, because all circumstances in the region, and even the tragedies of yesterday—we will get on to this—have to be used as an opportunity for a springboard to peace, rather than further confrontation. We have made our view clear on the embassy. We did not agree with it, but it is a reality now. It will not be our position, and we will continue to work for peace in the region.

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Yesterday was the worst day of violence in Gaza for four years. Will the Minister look at yesterday’s violence and agree with me that the embassy move was reckless and irresponsible and stoked tension? Does he also agree, in terms of long-term peace, that there is a need for an impartial and independent investigation?

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In relation to the second part of the question, I have made it clear that the UK supports an independent investigation into what has happened, and I repeat: the move of the United States embassy yesterday was not supported by the United Kingdom. We do not see that as being conducive at present to peace in the region, and the timing, of course, was incredibly difficult.

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The Minister has already mentioned the importance of face-to-face negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Would he please say how important that is for the future of the area?

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The events of yesterday were the culmination of many things, but one of things they were the culmination of was the failure of respective leaders over time to grapple with the situation and to realise how urgent and desperate it has become. The situation in Palestine and Gaza and the occupied territories will not simply be managed; it will get worse unless it is grasped and something is done to make it better.

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At this moment of abject crisis, following yesterday’s events in Gaza and west Jerusalem, the Palestinian people are sorely pressed to retain hope and faith in a two-state solution. Will the Foreign Secretary give them some hope and faith today by choosing this moment officially to recognise the state of Palestine and will he lead a global effort to persuade other countries to do the same?

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We have said before that we will recognise the state of Palestine at a time when it is most conducive to securing peace in the area, but the hon. Lady is absolutely correct in saying that the absence of hope and the increase of despair in the area is of great concern to all of us and needs to be recognised and dealt with.

Palestinian Refugees and Displacement of Palestinians

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8. What recent assessment his Department has made of the extent to which the human rights of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan are protected. [905288]

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16. What assessment he has made of the effect of the long-term displacement of Palestinians on stability in the middle east. [R] [905296]

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We are committed to protecting the human rights of Palestinian refugees. In 2017 and 2018, we provided £50 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to support Palestinian refugees across the middle east. Ultimately, to promote stability across the region, there must be a fair, agreed and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee question.

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This year, the United States more than halved its aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, piling further pressure on people trapped in an already hellish situation. In the light of that, can the Minister tell us what representations he has made to his American counterparts about this decision and whether he intends to bring forward a new funding settlement?

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I have indeed made representations to US counterparts in relation to this. We have brought forward our own next tranche of support to UNRWA, and we continue to believe that support for UNRWA is vital, particularly in the present circumstances. We will be further reviewing what we can do—not just ourselves, but with other donors as well.

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Today, Nakba Day, is the 70th anniversary of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from what is now Israel. Israel chooses to mark it by escalating the murder and maiming of civilians in Gaza, including hundreds of children. Can we hear from the Minister and the Foreign Secretary, as we have from the shadow Foreign Secretary, an unqualified condemnation of the actions of the Israeli Government and security forces and support for international law, including the right of return? Is the Minister prepared to take action, starting with the suspension of arms sales to Israel?

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That were three questions in one there. I will deal with the centrality of the issue in Gaza later. However, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that our statements make it clear that we deeply regret the extent of the use of live fire yesterday. We understand the reason that Israel would seek to protect its border and its border fence—it knows what would happen if there were a significant breach of it—but we are also concerned about the events that will have led to people being pushed towards the fence. However, it is a complex situation and we will cover it in more detail shortly.

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rose—

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Ah, yes. I think the House must hear the cerebral voice of the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I call Mr Tom Tugendhat.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am grateful. As we are talking about the status of refugees in the middle east, does the Minister agree with me that his excellent work in the region has promoted peace but, more than that does he also agree that many others could contribute to it? I am particularly thinking of the Iranian Government, who rather than spending their money on missiles and terrorists in Syria and elsewhere, could instead spend some of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps money on the fate of refugees in Lebanon, Syria and indeed the areas of Gaza and the west bank. Those Palestinians are so often linked through political means to the Iranian regime, yet somehow the money seems to go only on weapons, with none of it going on education, schools or hospitals.

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There are elements of my hon. Friend’s question that I cannot comment on, but I can say that in the longer term the engagement of Iran with the region, in a supportive rather than a disruptive manner, towards the causes that he mentioned, is, of course, what we look for. But we are some way away from that yet and we will continue to press the case with Iran in relation to its behaviour.

Russia: Diplomatic Relations

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9. What recent assessment he has made of the UK’s diplomatic relations with Russia. [905289]

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Russia’s use of an illegal nerve agent in Salisbury was met with an unprecedented global, diplomatic rebuff, in the sense that 28 countries expelled a total of 153 diplomats. The House will understand, therefore, the balance between the UK and Russia in expulsions of operatives: we lost a handful of people involved in the security side, while they lost about 153 across the world—a massive net loss for Russia and a significant gain for the UK. But we remain committed to a policy of engaging with Russia, while being wary of what they do.

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Despite the fact that oil and gas exports make up 70% of Russia’s international trade, they are not currently covered under the EU sanctions regime due to the high reliance of the EU on Russian gas exports. After our exit from the European Union, would that be a sensible extra measure for us to take that might assist with our diplomatic efforts?

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We will, of course, consider all possibilities once we exit the European Union and take back control of our sanctions policy.

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At the European championships in 2016, Russian hooligans showed themselves to be organised, well armed and extremely violent. British fans’ safety must be our top priority at the World cup. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether the British diplomat responsible for fans’ safety at the World cup was expelled by Russia? If so, how can the Government even contemplate relying on Russian reassurances that our fans will be safe?

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We are not actively trying to dissuade fans preparing to go to Russia for the World cup, as we do not think that would be right. They should look at our “Be on the Ball” website and the risks that we believe may be associated with any particular venues. But it is up to the Russians, and on their honour, to guarantee the safety of not just British fans, but fans from around the world.

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21. Does my right hon. Friend share the widespread concern about Nord Stream 2, the proposed Russian gas pipeline? Does he agree that there appears to be no economic justification for it? It is instead a political project, designed to increase European dependence on Russian gas and weaken Ukraine. Will he press that point on our allies—particularly Germany and Denmark? [905301]

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I assure my right hon. Friend that we in the UK Government are well aware of the deep controversy surrounding Nord Stream 2. We raise it not just in Ukraine but with other European friends and partners.

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Earlier, the Foreign Secretary indicated the diplomatic headcount exchange. How would he describe current diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Russia? Are they likely to change in the near future?

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I can sum up our policy, which I repeat to the House: engage but beware. We will continue, where necessary and possible, to engage with Russia diplomatically and culturally across the field. But relations are currently, of course, difficult.

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In firmly supporting the Government’s robust response to the malign actions of the Putin regime, may I remind my right hon. Friend that in the cold war we had the best civil servants and an enormous infrastructure based on preparation for strategic arms limitation talks? That kind of engagement is as vital today, and I hope that the Government are putting equal resources into it.

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My right hon. Friend raises an extremely good point. As I think he is indicating, we are increasingly concerned about a Russian breach of the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty. There will have to be much more international engagement to keep that treaty intact.

Syria

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10. What steps he is taking to ensure the investigation and prosecution of any breaches of international humanitarian law in Syria. [905290]

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15. What diplomatic steps he is taking with his international counterparts to end the conflict in Syria. [905295]

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23. What diplomatic steps he is taking with his international counterparts to end the conflict in Syria. [905303]

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We are working closely with the UN, the Syrian opposition and our international partners to encourage a negotiated settlement to the Syrian conflict. We support the non-governmental organisations and UN mechanisms gathering evidence and preparing future prosecutions for the most serious crimes committed in Syria.

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I thank the Minister for that response. I think we all want the prosecution of the Assad regime and any other parties responsible for using chemical weapons, but does the Minister agree that for indiscriminately bombing civilians, for targeting medical facilities and for using starvation as a weapon of war, the regime already deserves to be prosecuted for war crimes?

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The short answer is yes. It is a question of gathering the evidence and providing the right forum, but undoubtedly war crimes have been committed. We are working continually with authorities to see what mechanisms can be used to hold people to account. I wish we could be certain of the outcome.

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Given the limited impact of the United Nations Security Council to date, does my right hon. Friend agree that when it comes to resolution by consensus its terms must be adhered to?

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Absolutely, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We actually got resolution 2401 through by consensus. It called for a ceasefire and humanitarian access, particularly in relation to eastern Ghouta but it applied all over Syria. The resolution was then not adhered to by some of the parties who had signed up to it. If we are going to make any progress on Syria, UN resolutions have to be adhered to.

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Save the Children and the Royal United Services Institute published an excellent report last week on children in conflict, which highlighted in particular the devastating effect of the use of barrel bombs. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with our allies about a joint approach to civilian protection in civilian areas?

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My hon. Friend is right to highlight this further aspect of the atrocities perpetrated on the Syrian people. As well as calling out such behaviour and considering international mechanisms for holding people to account, the support for civilians is necessary and, at the recent Brussels conference on Syria and the region, working with donors, we pledged to provide at least £450 million this year and £300 million next year to alleviate that extreme suffering.

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Although I agree that President Assad should be held accountable, a lot of opposition groups have committed human rights violations and some terrible atrocities. There has to be a very careful and balanced approach. We need to ensure that we focus on those groups, too.

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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I met the director of the Independent, Impartial and International Mechanism recently, and we have been offering help and technical support through legal services in the United Kingdom. There should be absolutely no distinction between those who have committed such crimes.

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As the Minister and other hon. Members have said, accountability for war crimes in Syria is crucial, but so is prevention. How can we stop the bombing of hospitals?

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Again, I wish there were a simple answer to such an honest and direct question. Without physically intervening and without a physical no-fly zone, which has been considered but would be immensely difficult to implement, the best thing we can do at present is to draw attention to such attacks on facilities—sometimes off information that has been given in all good faith to authorities to keep these places safe— support the work of the doctors and those involved in humanitarian expertise, and make clear that this is happening. It has no place in warfare. It has no place in the modern world. Hopefully, those responsible will ultimately be held accountable.

Israel: Arms Exports

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12. What steps his Department is taking to monitor the use of arms and arms components exported from the UK to Israel. [905292]

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Export licensing applications for all countries, including Israel, are considered on a case-by-case basis against strict criteria. Human rights and international humanitarian law considerations are important parts of that assessment. We keep the situation in Israel under continual review, as we do with other countries.

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When, in a written question, I asked the Foreign Secretary to investigate the uses to which sniper rifles and other weapons exported under licence from the UK to Israel were being put, I received from the Minister a reply which stated:

“We do not collect data on the use of equipment after sale.”

Does that answer not mean that the Government do not have the first idea whether UK weapons are being used to shoot demonstrators in Gaza? What does it take for the UK to enforce its own arms export criteria and stop arms sales to Israel?

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I would say two things in answer to the hon. Gentleman’s perfectly proper question. First, before any arms sales are considered, a proper risk assessment is carried out as to what will happen in relation to those weapons, as I indicated. Secondly, since the start of the recent difficulties in Gaza, we have looked at all extant licences in relation to Israel. Our sense at the moment is that we have no information to suggest that UK-supplied equipment has been used against protesters.

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Can my right hon. Friend confirm that Israel has the right to defend itself from external aggression and terrorism—something that it has unfortunately had to do for most of the last 70 years?

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That is quite correct: we support Israel’s right to defend itself. As in the cases of all other supplies of UK weapons, strict criteria are imposed on the supply of any weapons for the purpose of defence.

Myanmar: Rakhine and Kachin

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13. What recent discussions he has had with his Myanmar counterpart on the treatment of minority communities in Rakhine and Kachin provinces. [905293]

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My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised concerns about the treatment of the Rohingya of Rakhine in a meeting in Naypyidaw with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on 11 February. I reiterated those messages when I summoned the Burmese ambassador on 6 March. Moreover, I called for the Burmese military to show restraint and protect civilians in Kachin on both 28 April and, most recently, in a public statement on 11 May.

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Multiple rapes, airstrikes and genocide—the crimes of the Burmese security forces against the Rohingya, as well as against the Kachin and Shan people, are well documented. The UK Government can refer Burma to the International Criminal Court from the UN Security Council. Will the Minister therefore meet the new Justice for Rohingya Minority initiative to discuss its call for universal jurisdiction and accountability for those who commit these atrocities?

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The hon. Lady will be well aware—she touched on this—of the idea of universal jurisdiction, but that is not in place at present. Of course, I am very happy to meet, along with her, the representatives of the Rohingya community, as I have done before. The UK is a staunch supporter of the ICC and we remain committed to working with all our international partners to secure justice for what has taken place in Rakhine. It will be a long process. The Burmese Government have told the UN Security Council that they are ready to proceed with the domestic investigation. That will need to be credible, transparent and impartial and will need, in our view, to have an international component.

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As a result of the tens of thousands of rapes in Rakhine province, there are many thousands of pregnant women whose babies may well be abandoned in Bangladesh. Will my right hon. Friend update us on what will happen to those children, should they be born as a result of rape?

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I thank my hon. Friend for all the work that she does on this. Like many Members throughout the House, I have been absolutely appalled by the reports of extensive sexual violence in Rakhine, including in graphic and harrowing testimonies on television programmes on both Channel 4 and BBC 2 in the last two evenings. I reassure her and the House that UK aid is already providing comprehensive counselling and psychological support for 10,000 women in trauma and more than 2,000 survivors of sexual violence. Medical aid is also being provided to assist 50,000 safe births.

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Save the Children estimates that 60% of the 500,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are children. What action will the Government take at the UN Security Council to avoid a lost generation from that community?

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I fully appreciate those grave concerns. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, the issue of the Rohingya is not one that has emerged only since last August. In many cases, it goes back to the late 1970s. There have been various episodes leading to this, and as he rightly points out, the risk is that it will have an impact on forthcoming generations. We will continue to work with all our international partners, as we are with the EU, to get sanctions to ensure that there is no impunity for those who have brought about these terrible crimes. This is a long-standing issue that will require a patient approach within the international community. Please rest assured that we are very much taking a lead in our role as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

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Apart from UK humanitarian aid, what review is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office carrying out to ensure that we do not support the military regime in Rangoon in any other ways?

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I know that my hon. Friend takes a strong interest in these matters. It is important to recognise that, although we were at the forefront of stopping support for the Burmese military last September, there has been a military dictatorship since 1962, and it is for our diplomats on the ground in Naypyidaw and Rangoon to identify the elements—and there will be elements—in the military with whom we need to maintain open discussions. It has perhaps been rather easy to blame all this on State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, but there are elements within the military with whom we will need to maintain an engagement.

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Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), two weeks ago the Government proposed a draft UN statement arguing for a credible, transparent investigation into war crimes against the Rohingya and stating that those responsible must be held to account. What is the current status of that proposed statement?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I know that there has been a great deal of co-operation with the Opposition Front-Bench team. We all recognise that these are terrible issues on which the UK political parties, irrespective of colour, need to work together on behalf of the international community.

We are awaiting the ICC’s decision on whether it has jurisdiction over the deportation of the Rohingya from Burma to Bangladesh on the basis that Bangladesh, unlike Burma, is a signatory to the Rome statute. The Security Council could refer Burma to the ICC, but we know that currently there is insufficient support on the Security Council, and a vetoed attempt at referral would, in our view, do little to further—[Interruption.] It is wonderful to do this as a duet, Mr Speaker, and I could continue doing so, but I hope you will appreciate that these are very serious matters about which people feel very strongly across the House and the country, so I hope you will indulge me for one more moment. We will ensure as far as possible that we do nothing to enhance the role of the Burmese military, and an early push for a Security Council resolution would, in our view, undermine our position.

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I am extremely grateful to the Minister of State. I say this principally for the benefit of new Members who might not have heard me say it before: I once asked a predecessor of the Clerk of the House why it was that Foreign Office questions always seemed to take longer than other Question Times, to which, having consulted his scholarly cranium, he replied, “Mr Speaker, I think it is on account of the fact that when Ministers from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office address the House, they feel they are addressing not merely the House, or even the nation, but in fact the world.”

G7 Agreements

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14. What agreements were reached at the 2018 G7 meeting in Canada. [905294]

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The most important conclusion of the G7 Foreign Ministers meeting was that we condemned roundly Russia’s disruptive activity and, at the suggestion of the UK, launched a new G7 group to tackle malign state behaviour, building on a Canadian initiative, and to defend democracies from foreign interference.

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I welcome the statement from the G7 on support for effective measures to promote further verifiable nuclear arms control and disarmament. Will that be on every agenda of G7 Foreign Ministers meetings, and will the UK be taking a lead?

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As my hon. Friend knows, and as I said in answer to an earlier question, we are increasingly concerned about nuclear proliferation. As the House can readily see, that issue is now at the absolute top of the global agenda, and he can be sure that the UK will continue to push it at the G7 and elsewhere.

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Order. We come now to topical questions. Needless to say, those who lost out on substantives can well hope to be called in topical questions, so they should not beetle out of the Chamber unless they are exceptionally busy people with many commitments and fuller than average diaries.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [905305]

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I am deeply saddened by the loss of life in Gaza, where peaceful protests are being exploited by extremists. I urge Israel to show restraint in the use of live fire, and I take this opportunity to repeat the UK’s commitment to a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the shared capital.

My other priority is to preserve the gains made through the Iran nuclear deal. I am working closely with my French and German counterparts and will see them in Brussels later today.

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My constituent Tofla Ndele, a British citizen, was arrested when visiting family members in Congo last September. There has been no explanation for his arrest, and no charges have been levelled against him. I was grateful to the Secretary of State for raising the subject with the Congolese Foreign Minister in March. What progress has been made since then in securing Mr Ndele’s release?

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UK officials have visited Mr Ndele regularly since his detention in September last year, most recently in March. They have lobbied for improvements in the conditions of his detention, and recently secured the first visit from a family member since his arrest. My hon. Friend the Minister for Africa raised the matter with the Congolese Foreign Minister in April.

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Order. From now on, obviously, we need a sentence from each colleague.

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T2. I recently held a community engagement event with the Tunisian ambassador to the United Kingdom. Can the Minister confirm that security co-operation between the UK and Tunisia is now excellent, given that TUI and Thomas Cook have resumed flights to Tunisia? [905306]

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Yes. Tunisia has worked extremely hard at reviewing and improving its security. We are in constant contact with the Tunisian authorities, and we hope that many British tourists will visit the country this summer and beyond.

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May I begin by thanking the Foreign Secretary for leading our cross-party efforts over the last two weeks to destroy the Prime Minister’s “customs partnership” proposal? I trust that he finished off the job earlier this morning. Unfortunately, however, that leaves us with his own crazy Mad Max—I mean max fac—proposal. May I ask him a very simple yes or no question, which has already been asked several times by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee? Does he believe that cameras are physical infrastructure?

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I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising this matter, because it may provide her with an opportunity to elucidate the Labour party’s policy on the customs union for the benefit of the nation. I seem to remember that at the last general election, Labour Members campaigned on a platform to come out of the customs union. Now they say that they want to stay in “a” customs union—a customs partnership. Their policy is absolutely clouded in obscurity. If the right hon. Lady wishes to part those clouds of confusion, this is her moment.

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We are quite willing to exchange places with those on the other side of the House. All we would ask of them is that they call a general election.

I do not think that that constituted even an attempt to answer the question that I asked. Like the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary seems to be unable and unwilling to state the blindingly obvious. So much for plain-speaking, bluff authenticity.

Let me try another key question about the max fac proposal. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm—[Interruption.] He does need to listen, otherwise he will not understand the question and will be unable to answer it. Can he confirm that if the technology on which his proposal relies takes five years to become fully functional, the UK will be obliged to remain part of the customs union, and to be bound by single market rules, until at least 2023?

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The right hon. Lady had an opportunity to be clear about what Labour wants to do. Conservative Members have been absolutely clear. The Prime Minister has said it time and time again: we are coming out of the single market, we are taking back control of our borders, our laws and our money, and we are coming out of the customs union. In her Mansion House speech, she gave plenty of indications of how we will deal with the problems that the right hon. Lady has described.

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T8. Residents of North Devon regularly raise with me their concerns about the continuing illegal international trade in wildlife and wildlife products. Will my right hon. Friend please update the House on how we are tackling that? [905313]

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I can tell the House that this is a subject that arouses the grave concern of the entire British people. The illegal wildlife trade is currently worth about £1.7 billion, and it is of course associated with many other criminal activities. That is why, in October, we are holding a global summit in London on that very matter, which I think will attract the interest of the world.[Official Report, 16 May 2018, Vol. 641, c. 3MC.]

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T3. If a British citizen from England or Wales dies abroad there is a further post-mortem when the body returns to the UK, but those from Scotland, such as my late constituent Craig Mallon who died in 2012, are not entitled to another post-mortem and the one conducted by the other country—in this case Spain—seems to be accepted. This year it will be six years since Craig Mallon died— [905307]

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Order. What we need from the hon. Gentleman is a sentence with a question mark at the end. I do not wish to be unkind to the hon. Gentleman, of whom I am very fond, but we are very short of time. Blurt it out, man.

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Craig Mallon died six years ago, after just one post-mortem; his mother died recently, broken-hearted. Will the Minister meet me to discuss that case?

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May I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to a new all-party group that has been set up to investigate deaths abroad in suspicious circumstances?

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T9. Last year I visited St Lucia as part of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation, meeting representatives from St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago. Britain’s vision post Brexit and its implications for the Commonwealth family of nations was a topic of discussion. Can my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that following the successful Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, we will make every effort to strengthen our economic and diplomatic ties with those island nations? [905314]

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I certainly can, and I can tell my hon. Friend that at the Commonwealth summit I was able, as she may recall, to announce the opening of 10 new UK delegations, many of them in the Caribbean or the Pacific.

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T4. Yet again we are witnessing appalling violence and loss of Palestinian lives in Gaza: 58 dead and 2,271 injured, over half of them wounded by live ammunition. This must end under international law and human rights must be upheld, so what immediate steps will the Foreign Secretary take to ensure that the horrors seen in Gaza yesterday never happen again? [905308]

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Ever since it became clear that these protests were going to continue and the risk of confrontation was very real, we have been at pains to work with both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government to minimise and reduce the tension. It is a matter of horror and regret to us that yesterday’s events happened; we will continue to urge restraint on all responsible and seek the peace agreement that is so urgently needed.

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Would my right hon. Friend like to take this opportunity to congratulate the former Prime Minister of Malaysia on his re-election after an interval, and pass on the best wishes of the British people to the Malaysian people during this important transition?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his thoughts. The recent election in Malaysia was historic: the outcome, while a surprise, represents a genuine victory for democracy and is a testament to the Malaysian people. Our relationship with Malaysia is of course both deep and long-lasting, and I look forward to working closely with the new Prime Minister and his Government on many of our shared interests.

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T6. While I greatly welcome the fact that democratic and peaceful elections have been held in Iraq, the results and outcome are far from certain. Will the Foreign Secretary give his assessment of the future stability and security—and future direction—of Iraq? [905311]

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We are pleased that the elections have passed off as peacefully as they have. We look forward to working with the new Government, and the reconstruction and stability situation, which has been encouraged by recent conferences in Kuwait and other places, should help the future of Iraq.

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Hezbollah’s arsenal of rockets supplied by Iran is now estimated at 150,000. Does the Minister share my concern at Iran’s malign influence in the region, and what recent discussions has he had with his Israeli counterparts about the threat posed by Hezbollah?

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We are in regular contact with the state of Israel about threats to it. Hezbollah’s increased weaponry is part of that, and the supply of weapons to Hezbollah contravenes UN resolutions. That threat to Israel is very real.

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T7. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm whether he still believes in, and has to abide by, Cabinet collective responsibility? [905312]

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Of course.

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After years of kleptomaniac behaviour by the Kirchner husband and wife team in Argentina, President Mauricio Macri is struggling to get the Argentinian economy back on course. Will the Foreign Secretary commit to helping Argentina and President Macri with the International Monetary Fund and other organisations?

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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who knows a great deal about Argentina. I will be going there at the end of the month to pursue the current improvement in relations taking place between our two countries.

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President Erdoğan of Turkey, who is currently visiting this country, has called snap elections for 24 June. Those elections will be held under a state of emergency, severely curtailing the freedoms of expression, assembly and association and the right to take part in public affairs. They will also introduce an executive presidency with wide-ranging powers that many see as an attack on democracy. What is the Government’s view?

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I can tell the right hon. Lady that we had a conference with our Turkish friends only the other day and that, although the relationship between the UK and Turkey is very strong, as she knows, we took every opportunity to raise our concerns about human rights and the repression of the media.

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The stated position of all British Governments for a long time has been support for a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the heightened violence on the Israeli-Gaza border and the casualties coming from it now make that possibility look even more remote?

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It may be difficult, and it may be remote, but if it is the right answer we should continue to pursue it, and we will.

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A sentence each, short and preferably without subordinate clauses, the first to be delivered through the brilliant brain of the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry).

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Thank you, Mr Speaker.

When the Prime Minister meets President Erdoğan later today, will she raise with him the Turkish military invasion of Afrin, the numerous civilian deaths and the persecution of the Kurds, who have so often stood side by side with the United Kingdom in resisting ISIS?

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I can certainly reassure the hon. and learned Lady that the Prime Minister will be raising the very difficult situation in the north of Syria.

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What assessment have the Government made of the human rights and political situation in Burundi at the moment?

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We are very concerned about the situation in Burundi. There is a referendum there this week and, as my hon. Friend will know, Her Majesty’s Government continue to send messages about the need to respect the Arusha peace accords and to respect democracy in Burundi.

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This Christian Aid week, the charity is campaigning to highlight inflexibility in the approach to internally displaced peoples. Will the Minister, along with officials from his Department and the Department for International Development, agree to meet representatives of Christian Aid to see how best we can address that growing situation?

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I am very happy to do that. The situation of internally displaced people is very important to the UK, and we are working with others on the possibility of a UN high-level panel later this year. I would be very happy to meet Christian Aid once again.

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Peter Grant: a sentence.

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What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the Zimbabwean Government understand the importance of proper reparations for UK citizens who have been the victims of serious crimes committed allegedly by associates of the present and previous Governments of Zimbabwe?

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As we call on the Zimbabwean Government to hold free and fair elections this year, we are also making representations to them. I have personally made representations on behalf of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent to the Zimbabwean Foreign Minister.

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The Foreign Office website says that the European single market is key to Europe’s and the UK’s place in the global economy. Does the Foreign Secretary agree with that?

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I think that whatever the website used to say about the single market, it will shortly no longer apply to the UK.

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The UNESCO world heritage site of Socotra has reportedly become the latest front in the war in Yemen, with Saudi troops landing there in response to the United Arab Emirates apparently occupying the island. What is the Minister going to do to protect that unique and special environment and its people?

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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question, but I would advise the House to be a little cautious about some of the reports coming out in relation to Socotra. I spoke just this week to the Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and the circumstances on the allegations being made are not particularly clear at present, but I can reassure the hon. Lady that we will be able to make a further statement about that in due course.

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The Bahraini criminal court has today locked up and taken citizenship from 115 people in a mass trial, of whom 53 have been given life sentences. Will the Minister look again at the co-operation between this Government and the Bahraini authorities, which only gives credence to their farcical regime?

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As was indicated earlier, the relationship with Bahrain recognises the pressures brought about on that Government, but the challenges that they are trying to meet in relation to human rights and other matters will continue to be part of our dialogue. We will continue to raise difficult issues publicly and privately with the Government of Bahrain.