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Topical Questions

Volume 641: debated on Tuesday 15 May 2018

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.

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?

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.

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)

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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)

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.]

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)

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.

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?

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?

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)

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.

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)

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.

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?

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.

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)

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.

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?

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.

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

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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).

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?

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.

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

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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

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?

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.

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?

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.