House of Commons
Tuesday 26 June 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
United States: Human Rights and Diplomatic Relations
The friendship between the United Kingdom and the United States is exceptionally close. I speak to Secretary Pompeo regularly. Of course, that does not mean that when we differ from our friends and partners in the United States, we are afraid to speak out, as the Prime Minister did in the matter of the separation of young children from their parents.
I must say that the Foreign Secretary is looking rather sprightly this morning after his overnight flight. I hope that the jet lag was not too severe.
When the Prime Minister was asked about Donald Trump's policy of ripping toddlers from their mothers and holding them in cages, she would merely say that it was “wrong” and
“not something that we agree with.”—[Official Report, 20 June 2018; Vol. 643, c. 325.]
May I ask the Foreign Secretary, on behalf of the British people, if he can do better than that, and describe the genuine outrage that we as a country felt about this obscene policy?
I think that when the Prime Minister spoke, she spoke for me and for everyone else in the House, and, indeed, for the nation—and the hon. Gentleman will have noticed that no sooner had she spoken than the President signed an executive order repealing the policy.
United Nations human rights experts say that Trump’s policy of detaining children “may amount to torture”. They say:
“Detention of children is punitive, severely hampers their development, and in some cases may amount to torture.”
In the light of that, does the Foreign Secretary believe that President Trump’s visit to the UK should go ahead?
The Foreign Secretary should cancel this visit. We know that, as a self-confessed admirer of Donald Trump, he will not do so, but will he finally condemn the process of taking children away from their parents and putting them in cages? The language that we have heard so far does not condemn that action.
The Prime Minister condemned it, and she speaks for the Government and, indeed, for me. No sooner had she spoken than the President of the United States repealed the policy—thus demonstrating, I venture to suggest to the hon. Gentleman, the considerable and growing influence of the United Kingdom.
The President of the United States is the Head of State of our most important and one of our oldest allies, and it is absolutely vital. I think it is common ground among many people in this country that we should extend the hand of friendship to the office of the President of the United States of America.
Is it not time for the Government to question seriously whether the current President of the United States is a fit and proper person to be our greatest ally? This is someone who can only be described as a serial child abuser. Putting children into concentration camps is not acceptable. The President has not yet taken the children out of those camps: he is holding them hostage to force their parents to give up their claims to asylum, and he is also trying to abolish due process by having no courts and no judges to decide on them. How can this person be fit for a state visit?
With great respect, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answers that I have already given. The President of the United States has repealed the policy in question, and he remains the Head of State of our most important economic, military and security ally.
The President of the United States has called out the members of the United Nations Human Rights Council for what they are: a bunch of corrupt, nasty hypocrites. He has withdrawn from that council. Why do we not save $4 million a year by doing just the same?
Because we believe in human rights, and we believe that global Britain should stick up for human rights. Yes, I think the United States has a point when it disputes the validity of article 7—the perpetual reference to article 7—in the Human Rights Council’s proceedings. I can, however, tell my hon. Friend that only this week the United Kingdom secured a record number of positive votes for our motion on the vital importance of 12 years of quality education for every girl in the world.
I agree with the Foreign Secretary that sometimes being a friend of the United States means being a candid friend, but is it not the case that, when it comes to NATO, the OSCE and sharing intelligence information, the United States keeps Britain safe?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for a characteristically perceptive point. Yes, not only has the United States kept the UK safe, but in many ways it has kept the whole of our continent safe since the end of the second world war. That is a giant political fact that this House should recognise.
The reality is that the US has more tariffs against EU products, but the EU’s tariffs are often significantly higher, particularly when it comes to motor vehicles. As the House will know, there is an EU tariff of 10% against US vehicles and a US tariff of 2.5% against EU vehicles.
The depth of our diplomatic relationship is shown by what we think not just about any current US President, but about its Congress, people and businesses. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that these links will serve us very well post-Brexit—not just in a trade sense, but in a security one?
My hon. Friend is completely right. It is vital for the House to remember that, every day in America, 1 million people go to work in UK-owned firms, and every day in this country, 1 million people go to work in American-owned firms. There is no other commercial relationship like it. America attracts about a fifth of our exports already, and that proportion is growing.
Since the Government have chosen to appease rather than to confront the Trump Administration, what success has the Foreign Secretary had in persuading President Trump and his Administration to adopt the open, rules-based trading system on which the future of our country depends and that he is trying to destroy?
Obviously, we dispute the President’s tariffs, and we have made that point very bluntly. On the other hand, there is clearly a problem with the dumping of Chinese steel, and we need to work together on that. That is the point we have been making to the President at the G7, and we will continue to make it when he makes on his visit on 13 July.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that President Trump’s commitment to the defence of Europe is evidenced by the fact that, since he came to office, he has increased the funding for US forces present in Europe by 40%? If it were not for the Americans, who else would be picking up the bill for the defence of Europe?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, because it is absolutely true that the United States remains by far the biggest payer into NATO. I detect a sentiment in the House that we are constantly at variance with the Administration of Donald Trump, but I am afraid that that simply is not the case. We happen to agree with the US Administration that it was right to bomb the chemical weapons facilities of the Assad regime, which the Obama Administration did not do. We agree that it is right to reach out to North Korea and try to stop that regime acquiring nuclear weapons. By the way, we agree that it is right that other European nations should pay more for their defence, and we encourage the President in his views.
As the hon. Gentleman may have observed, my point was about the President’s willingness, in defiance of the experts, to reach out to the leadership of North Korea and attempt to do a deal. If you talk at least to the South Koreans, Mr Speaker, you will find that they are very impressed with the way the President has changed the atmospherics and given even the North Korean regime space to build down its nuclear arsenal. I think he deserves credit for that.
The Foreign Secretary is trying to give us some context for his comments. He also thinks that the President would do a better job of negotiating Brexit than the Prime Minister. If the Foreign Secretary did not like President Trump’s policies and, say, described them as “crazy” and would not vote for them, does the Foreign Secretary think President Trump would say to him, “You’re fired”?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very interesting point. Thankfully, President Trump’s writ does not run in this country. We run our own affairs, we make our points to the President of the United States, and we do so with vigour where we disagree. The Prime Minister and I disagree with what he has been doing over the separation of kids from their parents. It is right for the UK to speak out over that and we will.
May I first sympathise with the Foreign Secretary that, due to his emergency duties abroad, he was unable to join last night’s fight against Heathrow expansion? Four years ago, the Foreign Secretary was asked what was the biggest lesson he had learned—[Interruption.] Four years ago, he was asked what was the biggest lesson he had learned from his supposed hero Winston Churchill. His answer was:
“Never give in, never give in, never give in”.
For some reason, Churchill did not add, “Unless you can catch a plane to Kabul.” The Foreign Secretary clearly has a new hero, and we know who he is—the clue is in the hair. He said on 6 June that he is “increasingly admiring” of Donald Trump. He has begun to tell us some of the reasons why, but could he help those of us who are yet to be convinced by telling us three things about the current President that he increasingly admires?
I hesitate to say it, but I have anticipated the right hon. Lady’s question. I have pointed out, No.1, that it was admirable that Donald Trump’s Administration responded after the chemical weapons attacks by the Assad regime supported by the Russians. It is a good thing that the United States is trying, and trying very hard, to solve the problem of a nuclear-armed North Korea. I admire at least the President’s efforts in that respect. It is also a good thing that the President is encouraging our European friends and partners to spend more on their own defence. We will certainly assist in that effort.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his attempt to answer that question, but even he surely knows in the depths of his soul that when we have a President such as Donald Trump who bans Muslims and supports Nazis, who stokes conflict and fuels climate change, and who abuses women and cages children, it is not a record to be admired, but a record to be abhorred. I simply ask the Foreign Secretary not just why he joked that a man like that should be in charge of our Brexit negotiations, but why he seriously thinks that he should have the honour in two weeks’ time of visiting Chequers, Blenheim Palace and Windsor Castle, and of shaking hands with Her Majesty the Queen.
I have given several examples already of the ways in which our views coincide with those of the current American Administration. I have also said that, where our views differ, we are not afraid to say it. The fundamental point, on which the right hon. Lady and I are in complete agreement, is that it is right that the United Kingdom should welcome to this country the Head of State of our most important and most trusted ally. She is on record as saying that in the past. If she now dissents from that view, it would be surprising, and I would be interested to hear it from her own lips.
Freedom of Worship (Commonwealth)
The Foreign Secretary chaired regular meetings with Cabinet colleagues on the April Commonwealth meetings objectives. The Commonwealth leaders’ communiqué emphasised that full social, economic and political participation for all irrespective of religion is essential for democracy and sustainable development.
Will the Minister tell the House what further practical steps are being taken to ensure the protection of human rights in the Commonwealth, including freedom of religion or belief? That is at the heart of UK foreign policy. Does she share the concerns of Open Doors that the persecution of religious minorities must remain high on the international agenda?
Religious freedom in the Commonwealth is important, but Christian communities throughout the wider world suffer from persecution. Can the Minister give an absolute assurance that the Government will do everything possible to ensure that Christians and other religious groups have freedom of worship?
Will the Minister ensure that she talks, via the Foreign Secretary, to President Buhari of Nigeria? With the dreadful goings on in that country and the increasing pressure on the Christian community in the north, it is about time that the President stood up and did something to protect it.
Specifically on the situation in Nigeria, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we regularly raise these issues at the highest level with our friends in Nigeria. We are aware that these conflicts are often driven by conflict over land, grazing rights and water. They should not necessarily always be characterised by religious difference.
Sadly, around the world today we are seeing a rise in the level of persecution of Christians, particularly across the middle east. Will the Minister confirm that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office remains committed to protecting and promoting religious freedom, particularly of Christians who are persecuted around the world?
Bearing in mind that the Commonwealth charter lists tolerance, respect and understanding as guiding principles, will the Minister outline what diplomatic pressure her Department will use to defend against persecution those who choose Christ in India, Nigeria and Malaysia?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s assiduous pursuit of this agenda. He mentions three specific countries. I can assure him that we regularly raise issues of freedom of religion and belief not just in those countries but more widely, and not only in Commonwealth countries but across the wider network.
Kurdistan and Iraq
Through ministerial and other engagements, we are urging the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan regional government to resolve differences on all immediate issues. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has pressed this message with Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi. The national elections in May were a pivotal moment. With Daesh defeated territorially in Iraq, the next challenge is winning the peace.
With the all-party group on Kurdistan, I recently visited Sulaimani University and Kurdistan University. Their students love Britain and want to study in Britain, yet are being held back by visa bureaucracy. Given that Kurdistan is in the frontline against ISIL and is a beacon of stability, can my right hon. Friend do more to unwind the bureaucracy so that more Kurdistan students can study in our country?
The Government’s position is to say repeatedly that we want the brightest and best students to be able to come to the United Kingdom. Our policy in Irbil is to encourage exactly the same. I will look at the question my right hon. Friend raises, because we want to ensure that students in the Kurdish region, who I have also met, are able to come to the UK.
It is a constant part of the conversation we have in Iraq and in other places to make sure that as the country moves forward, particularly after a relatively successful election process, all sections of the community are included in future. When we meet Iraqi parliamentarians, as well as Ministers, we stress that a country is not complete unless women are playing a foremost part both in ministerial and civic society life.
Questions of the constitutional structure of Iraq are not for the United Kingdom. There is regular dialogue between different sections of the community in Iraq about the proper constitutional processes and structures that will help all parts of the community to develop effectively and strongly. It is essential that the new Government recognise the needs of all sections of Iraqi society.
More dialogue is vital and must be supported by the international community. What assessment has the Minister made of the influence of Russia in the negotiations between the Kurdistan regional government and the Iraqi Government, given the significant investment by the Russian firm Rosneft in Kurdistan’s regional oil pipeline?
It is true to say that, in the formation of the new Iraqi Government, there are many interests from countries in the region. What is essential is that the new Iraqi Government demonstrate their independence and determination to run Iraq without external interference, and stand up for the needs of all their communities to make sure that the disaster that befell Iraq in the past, when other communities were not properly represented, does not happen again.
Nord Stream 2
We recognise that Nord Stream 2 is a controversial proposal, as it would be a gas pipeline that would bypass Ukraine and give Russia greater dominance over the European energy market. The UK is not significantly affected, but we are none the less in regular contact with Germany and Ukraine to discuss and assess the situation.
I do not like saying this, because the right hon. Gentleman is a good Minister, but for him to say to that the UK is not affected displays a shocking level of languid complacency. Of course the UK will be affected if this goes ahead; it will hand to the Kremlin unimaginable economic and political leverage. Why will he not show some muscle, see that this is a big problem, not just for the UK but for the entirety of the future of Europe, and start rallying together with our allies to stop this project?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his appreciation of my skills as a former oil trader. Nord Stream is indeed a pipeline that takes gas from Russia to Germany through international waters, until Denmark, and then it makes landfall in northern Germany. It is primarily a matter for those countries but, as he says, it is of extreme strategic importance to Ukraine, which I fully recognise. That is why we have had meetings with the chief executive of NAFTA. It is also significant to note that, on 10 April, Chancellor Merkel stated that Nord Stream 2, as a project,
“is not possible without clarity on the future transit role of Ukraine”.
I welcome the Minister’s statement. He is more than aware from his many trips around Europe, and indeed his expert understanding of the energy business and the United States, of the potential impact on not only eastern Europe, but our forward defences because of that. Does he agree that working together with allies around the Baltic, where this pipeline seems to be going to flow, would be very much in our national interest and that the UK very definitely has an interest in making sure that Russia does not complete this project?
I reiterate that, in terms of our actual energy supplies, Russia accounts for only about 1% of UK gas demand, so it is very small and most of it comes from Qatar and elsewhere. However, this pipeline is potentially of strategic importance for the influence of Russia, as my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee rightly says, so of course we are in discussion with Germany and other interested parties about the significance of the proposed pipeline.
Israel and Palestine
We support a negotiated two-state solution. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu on 16 May and reiterated the need for progress. We remain concerned by proposals to demolish Khan al-Ahmar and by new Israeli settlement plans. The Foreign Secretary urged Israel to reconsider when he met Prime Minister Netanyahu on 6 June. I visited Khan al-Ahmar in May and afterwards raised our concerns with my Israeli counterparts and with the Israeli ambassador to the UK.
In his discussions with his Israeli counterpart, has the Minister made it clear that the forcible transfer of communities under occupation in area C, such as Khan al-Ahmar, would constitute a breach of international humanitarian law and, furthermore, effectively end the prospect of a viable Palestinian state?
When I made a statement about that, I drew attention to the point the hon. Gentleman mentioned in the first part of his question about how it might possibly be construed. In relation to the second part, if there is further development in that area, it does indeed call into question the viability of a two-state solution.
Does the Minister accept that the forcible transfer of Khan al-Ahmar would effectively bisect the west bank and make the price of peace that much higher? Does he also accept that the refusal of the British Government to recognise a state of Palestine makes it harder for the human rights of the Palestinians to be heard?
I am not sure about the second part because we do raise issues of human rights, particularly in relation to settlements and the like. On the first part, yes, the concern about the location of Khan al-Ahmar—its close proximity to E1 and the possibility of development there being a bar to contiguity—is indeed a concern for the whole of the international community. It is still possible for any demolition not to go ahead.
There is clearly a systemic issue at the heart of this. Residents of Khan al-Ahmar are being forcibly removed and the village demolished. As the court judgment says, the homes have been built without consent, but there is no means of getting consent because permissions are systemically denied to Palestinians. It is a Catch-22 situation that leaves families in a perpetual state of homelessness. How can such a policy be deemed fair or reasonable, and what influence can my right hon. Friend bring to bear to resolve it?
The concerns that my hon. Friend raises have been at the heart of the discussions on this. Israel has a judicial system. It is true that concerns about the possible demolition of Khan al-Ahmar have been raised in the Israeli courts for a lengthy period, and it has not gone ahead, as others demolitions have not gone ahead. We continue to appeal to the Israeli authorities that, despite their judicial system, the Government can make a decision in relation to Khan al-Ahmar, and the problem in relation to finding building permits in area C is well known.
I am not aware of any. The EU has made some claims for compensation in relation to structures, but not the UK. Again, the hon. Lady emphasises the problem in relation to settlements and structures. These are difficult issues in relation to the context of Israel and the occupied territories, and we believe this could be dealt with in a different way.
Regarding the prospects for peace, stability and good relations in the region generally, what discussions have there been with the American Administration about the forthcoming peace plan for the area, and what does the Minister make of those who would dismiss the plan even before it has got off the ground?
No one should dismiss any possibility for the peace plan. This is a first-term President who has expressed his determination through his envoys to bring something forward. There is concern that nothing has come forward yet, but it is a question of timing, and various parts of the plan have been spoken about with different entities. It is important, if it comes forward, that it be given every chance of success. The region and the world cannot wait forever for a resolution to this issue, and we would wish the prospects for a settlement well when the plan comes forward.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the landmark visit today by His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, the first member of the royal family to officially visit Israel? The visit underlines the deep bond of friendship between the two countries.
Yes indeed. The Government are delighted at the visit of His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge. It is an important opportunity for His Royal Highness to promote the strong relationships between the British, Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
Does the Minister consider that Hamas organising a march of return to areas that have been part of Israel since 1948 is likely to move us any closer to a negotiated two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians?
The answer is probably not. Everyone knows that the right of return will be dealt with in the ultimate negotiations in relation to an agreement. There are legitimate reasons to protest in Gaza, and there is also illegitimate exploitation of those reasons.
It has been widely reported that the Foreign Secretary intends to convene an imminent summit with Jared Kushner and other interested parties to lay out the red lines that the Government will apply when evaluating the Trump Administration’s Israel-Palestine peace plan. Will the Minister of State tell the House in clear terms today what those red lines are?
Global Britain is about being open, outward-looking and engaged with the world so as to maximise our influence, and I give the House the clearest recent example of that: the 28 countries that joined us in sympathetically expelling 153 Russian spies.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is the perfect opportunity for us to fundamentally rethink our foreign policy post-Brexit, and that more work could be done on the idea of global Britain to ensure that we have a foreign policy fit for the 21st century?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is why we have responded to the challenges that the world presents us with today by increasing our diplomatic staff by another 250 diplomats, in addition to the 100 that we added to our European strength, and we are opening 10 new sovereign posts in the Caribbean and the Pacific, with more to come in Africa.
I hope that global Britain is also about being extremely robust where there are strategic issues in Europe that we have to address, such as Nord Stream 2. Will the Foreign Secretary make it absolutely clear that Russia has systematically been bullying smaller countries in Europe for years through its energy policy and that we will assist the Danes and the Germans if they want to make sure this does not go ahead?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Germans import a great deal of their gas from Russia and they are conflicted in that matter, but we continue to raise the concerns that he mentions with our German friends and of course with all the other states on the periphery of the EU that are threatened, as he says, by Russian gas politics.
I have just been warned by the Minister for Asia and the Pacific that the Socceroos are playing Peru tonight. I have just been to Peru and I would not want to forfeit any friendship I may have acquired on that mission. We wish both sides well in that encounter. Not just the FCO, but the Department for International Trade is waiting, straining in the slips—unlike the Labour party—to do the free trade deals that my hon. Friend rightly refers to.
May I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question because, as the House may know, the National Security Council is about to consider a substantial uplift in our engagement in Afghanistan? It is a timely moment to assess the worthwhile aspects of that offer. I believe the UK has contributed massively to modern Afghanistan. Life expectancy for males is up 10 years since the UK first went there as part of the NATO operation; female education—girls attending school—has gone from 3% to 47%; huge tracts of the country are now electrified that were not. We have much to be proud of in our engagement with Afghanistan.
Following the re-election of President Erdoğan and the AKP party on Sunday, we look forward to continuing our close co-operation with Turkey. Turkey continues to face serious terrorist threats from the PKK and Daesh, and from the Syria conflict. We are a close partner of Turkey and we co-operate strongly on counter-terrorism in particular.
That is a perfectly valid question. This is something that we raise on every occasion that we meet Ministers from Turkey. The Prime Minister spoke to President Erdoğan last night, both to congratulate him but also to ensure that the findings of the OSCE office for democratic institutions and human rights report, which released its preliminary findings yesterday, are fully upheld.
As a former journalist of many years standing, I feel a particular affinity for the hundreds of journalists who are jailed in Turkey and no doubt being brutally treated. Will the Government tell the House what they are doing to highlight the plight of those brave men and women?
I agree with the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) that thousands of journalists, as well as thousands of academics and other individuals, are being held without trial in jail in Turkey. Hundreds of thousands of people are being held without trial in prison there, including political leaders and members of Parliament. I ask the Foreign Office to be robust in its discussions with President Erdoğan on the safety of those people and their right to a fair trial.
I can assure the right hon. Lady that one of the advantages of our close association with Turkey is that we can speak to it very directly and firmly, in a way that many of our counterparts cannot. We have called on Turkey on many occasions to end the state of emergency that has led to many of those arrests, and we very much hope that, following the clear result of the election, the state of emergency can be lifted.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. We are all concerned about the impact of this result on the human rights of those journalists, political prisoners and academics who are being held in prison, and on press freedoms and the rule of law inside Turkey. The Minister has described our close connections with Turkey. As a first step, have the Government urged President Erdoğan to lift the state of emergency?
As I have just said, we have. The answer again is yes, we would like President Erdoğan to lift the state of emergency. In the course of the elections, there were sort of commitments to do so, and we hope that those commitments can be fulfilled by lifting it as soon as possible.
Illegal Wildlife Trade
We believe that the illegal wildlife trade is not only odious in itself but associated with many other forms of criminality. That is why we are hosting a global conference on tackling the illegal wildlife trade in London this October.
My hon. Friend is right on the money there, and indeed ahead of the curve. We see that risk, and that was why the Foreign and Commonwealth Office hosted a group of leading technology companies only a few weeks ago to develop new ways of combating the online trade in these specimens that he mentions.
The Foreign Secretary is right to say that this trade is odious, but what positive suggestions will the Government take to the conference in October? Are we going to let more species be wiped out before this trade is stopped?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government are among the world leaders in introducing an ivory ban. The Chinese have joined us and are bringing many others with them. We hope that the summit will be an opportunity for other nations to join that global ivory ban and, with partners, will be looking to strengthen not just the pull factors in China and other countries, but the authorities as they crack down on illegal trade in wildlife.
One of the very rarest and most threatened species in this country is the wildcat. It clings on in my constituency—just. Will the Secretary of State assure me that he will do everything to police this invidious and horrible crime in the most remote areas and work as closely as possible with the Scottish Government to stamp it out?
Last Friday, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary announced that he personally will lead on drawing up an international oceans strategy for the Government. Our ambitious Blue Belt programme is protecting waters around the overseas territories and we are championing the establishment of science-based marine protected areas across the Southern ocean, including in the Weddell sea.
Global ocean conservation must begin at home, so will the Minister join me in welcoming many local initiatives around the coastline of Britain, which are playing such a vital role—particularly, I am bound to say, around the beautiful coastline of North Devon?
We all commend the efforts of local communities. Growing awareness and subsequent personal choices and actions are crucial for preserving the marine environment, and we all need to assess our own habits as consumers and play our part in safeguarding our oceans.
Effective marine conservation requires constricting fishing to sustainable levels, as in the successful cod recovery plan in the North sea. Will the Minister encourage his fellow Ministers to end the pretence that if Brexit happens British fishermen will suddenly be able to catch a lot more fish?
I think that is a slightly different point from the policy we are drawing up for the wider oceans around the world and around our overseas territories. The UK has declared large-scale marine protected areas around five overseas territories, leading to about 3 million square kilometres of protected ocean. That is a massive achievement, which we wish to build on in any way we can.
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, CCAMLR, meets in October and will consider three new marine protected areas around Antarctica—particularly, as my right hon. Friend mentioned, the Weddell sea. However, it appears likely that, as happened in previous years, Russia and China in particular might well block those proposals. What further action can we take between now and October to bring real pressure to bear on Russia and China to bring in these MPAs, which are so vital for the preservation of our Antarctic wildlife?
I think it is fair to say that the UK is very much a world leader on oceans policy of this sort, and I hope that any kind of environmental standards that we wish to set in our oceans are not blocked for any political purposes by countries such as Russia. We are all on the same planet, we need to preserve our oceans, and I hope that our scientific lead in this area will also give us the political authority to reach the sort of agreements that we want to.
President Trump’s recent statement on the oceans did not mention sustainability, stewardship, ecosystems or climate. When he comes to London, will the Government challenge him on that, or do they think that it would, to coin a phrase, achieve absolutely nothing? If it is the latter, what is the point of the visit?
Mr Speaker, I assume that everyone is so happy with the smooth operation of Asian and Pacific affairs in the Foreign Office that I have had no questions until now.
Promoting human rights will remain an essential aim of the foreign policy of global Britain. Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers and officials relentlessly defend and champion human rights in bilateral engagements, multilateral bodies and conferences, and in funding projects, particularly through the Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue, which I know affects a number of constituents not just in the west midlands but across the country. I recognise that this has been an incredibly difficult and distressing time for Mr Johal and his family, whom I most recently met along with their very assiduous constituency MP, the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), on 18 June.
We continue to raise Mr Johal’s case with the Indian Government at the highest level. I raised it with the Minister for External Affairs on 7 May in New Delhi, and Baroness Williams has also done so. The Prime Minister, very unusually, brought up this consular issue with Prime Minister Modi at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting on 18 April.
I thank the hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) for using his good offices to bring this matter, on which the Minister has been assiduous, to the Floor of the House.
The Foreign Secretary has met the hon. Member for Walsall North, whom I have emailed, to discuss this case, and it has been put online, for which I am very grateful because it keeps the case in the public domain. When will the Foreign Secretary now bother to meet Jagtar Singh Johal’s constituency Member of Parliament to discuss this face to face?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I am glad he is in his place. He has worked incredibly hard on this. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary says from a sedentary position that he would be happy to meet him at the earliest convenient opportunity.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. She is very assiduous on the Iranian issue. Yes, we are obviously looking towards getting reform within that country. A huge amount of work goes on both in the Foreign Office, in relation to the global Britain agenda, and in that region. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East spends a considerable amount of his time on this, and I am sure he will take it up.
I understand. I have worked with the hon. Gentleman, who works extremely hard on behalf of his constituents, on a number of consular matters, including some in Asia. In relation to this desperate case—I understand the distress of Giulio’s family—we are keeping regular contact at consular level. I know these things can be very frustrating, but keeping regular contact sometimes makes a real difference.
Yesterday the Foreign Office, rather pathetically, used the cover story of a trip to Africa to throw the media off the Foreign Secretary’s scent. Can I suggest to the Minister that his boss makes a real trip to Africa to focus urgently on the violence in western Cameroon, the instability gripping the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the danger that next month’s elections in Zimbabwe will not be free, fair or democratic?
May I point out that the Foreign Secretary has visited Africa on no fewer than nine occasions during the past year? Although I assume there will not be too many difficult votes to be dealt with during the course of the year ahead, I am sure he will have that sort of commitment. The hon. Lady rightly points out that, in places like Cameroon and the DRC, we are highly respected as a Government and will continue to be so.[Official Report, 27 June 2018, Vol. 643, c. 6MC.]
Iran (Support for Shia Islamists Abroad)
We remain concerned about Iran’s regional activities and support for proxy groups, we regularly raise these concerns with Iran at the highest level, and I spoke to my Iranian counterpart about this last week. We also co-ordinate closely with partners to deliver strong messages to Iran on this and other regional issues.
Since sanctions relief started in 2015 and we re-established diplomatic relations, Iran has become the world’s third-largest natural gas producer and fourth-largest oil producer, and is using these funds to finance terrorist proxies—Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and the Houthis in Yemen. What, realistically, are we doing to stop that?
Iran’s activities in the region, and its interference and its sponsoring of terrorist groups, are a matter of concern for the UK, as well as for other states. Individual sanctions remain in place in relation to Iranian entities, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—a demonstration of the world’s commitment on this. However, more must be done. Iran must recognise that not only must it keep to the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but other activities need to be dealt with if it is to return to a proper place in the company of nations.
My immediate priority is to mobilise international support for the chemical weapons convention. A special session of the Conference of the States Parties of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will open in The Hague today, and I hope all countries will support the UK-drafted decision, which would strengthen the OPCW. Later this week, Denmark will host a conference on reform in Ukraine, following the UK’s own successful conference, helping to modernise the economy, defeat corruption and bolster Ukraine’s sovereignty.
I talked last night to both UN Special Representative Martin Griffiths and the Emirati Deputy Foreign Minister, Anwar Gargash. We are urging the coalition parties to engage in a political process as fast as possible. We believe there is scope for a political process, and we have made that point consistently over the past few months.
Yes, my hon. Friend is right; these kites sound innocent, but they have indeed done a significant amount of damage in financial terms, to fields, and there are significant risks. It does not in any way help a resolution of issues if these projectiles continue to come from Gaza, and of course we condemn such actions.
I am aware of that report, and I travelled to Cameroon earlier this year to encourage its Government, in this election year, to engage in dialogue and try to resolve some of the differences with the anglophone separatist movement through democracy and observing human rights.
My hon. Friend is exactly right about that. I was thrilled to be the first Foreign Secretary to go to Peru for 52 years, and the first to go to Argentina and to Chile for 25 years. We will find Governments and populations there who are immensely anglophile and yearning to do free trade deals.
The hon. Lady’s concerns are shared by all the countries surrounding Venezuela, and the UK signed up to the conclusions of the Lima Group. Yesterday, in the Foreign Affairs Council, the European Union agreed further targeted sanctions against individuals in the Maduro regime.
There are strict controls, as there must be, on the passage and entry of goods into Gaza, to make sure that they are not used for the wrong purpose. The United Kingdom makes sure that all its aid that is delivered to Gaza goes through international partners, so that there cannot be such diversion. It is an issue and it must be dealt with, alongside a variety of issues for the people of Gaza.
As I am sure the hon. Lady understands, our consular services largely extend to British citizens. I hope that her fears that all these things will be stepped up following the election will be unfounded and that, contrary to those fears, steps will be taken towards relaxation, particularly in respect of the lifting of the state of emergency.
Because both the resolutions brought forward by the Human Rights Council and the UN Security Council were biased and not likely to produce the required answer. That was why we did not support them. We still maintain that there should be an independent and transparent investigation and we have raised the issue with the Israeli authorities directly.
The UN recently reported that Saudi-led coalition air strikes are responsible for more than 60% of verified civilian casualties in Yemen. Does the Secretary of State feel that the UK’s continued arms sales to Saudi Arabia are helping to quell or intensify the conflict?
The hon. Lady raises an important point, and in her concern she speaks for many people in this country. As she knows, we have the most scrupulous possible invigilation of whether or not Saudi Arabia remains in conformity with international humanitarian law, and our lawyers believe that it is still on this side of the line.
Last week’s visit by the Thai Prime Minister highlighted his Government’s commitment to the restoration of parliamentary democracy in Thailand, where there will be elections next February. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, following the recent remarkable elections in Malaysia, that is a very positive development for the region, and that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy has an important role to play in supporting and encouraging successful democracies in south-east Asia?
Thailand is an important partner of the UK, and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, whoever its chairman may be, has an extremely important role to play in this matter. My hon. Friend rightly points out that there is a sense of revitalisation, particularly in respect of anti-corruption and the culture of cronyism throughout the region. We were delighted to see Prime Minister Prayuth visit London and we are looking forward to the elections in Thailand in the early part of next year.
As my hon. Friend is aware, I travelled to the country—I think it was last month—to make that assessment. I can share with him that, as things stand, our assessment is that things are on track to respect the accord de la Saint-Sylvestre and to hold elections on 23 December, but we remain vigilant in our work with the Government there and are doing everything that we can to ensure that those elections take place.
Given the concerns expressed in this House today, and on previous occasions, will the Secretary of State use Friday the 13th to impress on this US President that we do not share his attitude to human rights, particularly his withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council, and that we will maintain this country’s position as an honest broker in areas of tensions such as Israel, the middle east and Asia?
My right hon. Friend has raised on a number of occasions the issue of Julian Assange who is, of course, in the embassy of his own choice. We are, however, increasingly concerned about his health. It is our wish that this is brought to an end, and we would like to make the assurance that if he were to step out of the embassy, he would be treated humanely and properly. The first priority would be to look after his health, which we think is deteriorating.
The car industry today is the latest in warning that the uncertainty around Brexit could put hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk. Yesterday, the Business Secretary said that we should take the concerns of industry seriously. Does the Foreign Secretary agree?
In advance of the visit to the United Kingdom of the President of the United States, and in the knowledge that Northern Ireland is the recipient of the highest levels of foreign and direct investment from the United States, will the Secretary of State make it clear to the ambassador that Northern Ireland is open to the President for a visit, and that he will receive a considerable welcome there?
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday evening, the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work published a written statement on the personal independence payment. The statement covered a range of issues, including an announcement that a new process to identify people affected by last year’s High Court ruling concerning PIP mobility activity 1 has begun. The statement raises some real concerns and leaves many questions unanswered. In the light of that, have you, Mr Speaker, had any indication as to whether the Minister will be making an oral statement on these important issues so that Members of this House can properly question her?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. The short answer is that I have received no indication of any plan on the part of a Minister to deliver an oral statement to the House on the subject. However, she has flagged up her very real concern and dissatisfaction, which will have been heard on the Treasury Bench. There are many days to go between now and the summer recess and it is a matter to which, I suspect, she will wish to return, quite conceivably, on the Floor of the House.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter of procedure. Is there any provision in the Standing Orders of this House that defines the notion or action of flip-flopping? If not, could “Erskine May” be updated to include this, because it happens increasingly frequently in this House? Yesterday, within 24 hours, the Scottish National party orchestrated the most spectacular political flip-flop, as it backed Heathrow expansion but then abstained when it came to the vote. I would be very grateful if you could look into this issue to see whether we can define flip-flopping in the Standing Orders.
No looking into the matter by the Chair is required. I will not say that the visage of the hon. Gentleman displays a puckish grin. Rather, I would say that he is finding it difficult to contain his own excitement and hilarity at the point that he has just made. The notion of flip-flopping, as the hon. Gentleman describes it, has never found its way into the Standing Orders of the House, and I would not advise him to bet a large sum of money on the likelihood of it doing so. He has made his own point with his customary alacrity and he looks well pleased with his efforts.
I am sure that you will have the last word on this, Mr Speaker. It would of course be available under “Erskine May”—I know this is deplored, but none the less it is sometimes enacted—for people to shout one thing and vote another, which is deprecated by the Chair. For that matter, sometimes people walk through both Division Lobbies, which could be described as flip-flopping, surely.
It could be. The hon. Gentleman is right that the first practice that he mentioned is very much deprecated. Members should not shout in one direction and vote in the opposite direction; he or she can choose not to vote, but should not vote in the opposite direction. The hon. Gentleman is also right that, although it does happen from time to time—one suspects, sometimes with a degree of official encouragement from some quarters—the practice of Members voting in both Lobbies, thereby cancelling out their vote, is very strongly deprecated from the Chair. It seems to me to be not a proper way to conduct oneself in the House. Anyway, the hon. Gentleman has got across his point about the meaning of flip-flopping. I dare say that it will be heard by many people across the Rhondda and possibly elsewhere.
No; it is altogether more serious. At the start of the sitting, you announced that Royal Assent had been granted to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. I wonder whether you can advise how we can get it on the record that this is the first time that that has happened without the legislative consent of the Scottish Parliament. This is a very serious issue, with which I know that the House has dealt. The Government had been repeatedly requested not to send the Bill for Royal Assent until an agreement had been reached. Will you further advise what opportunities exist for Members to interrogate the Government’s decision-making process around that matter?
I am not sure that my advice is required. The hon. Gentleman has found his own salvation; he has put the point forcefully on the record. As to opportunities for scrutiny, the hon. Gentleman is the most eager of beavers in this Chamber and he also has very, very important responsibilities regarding his colleagues, in relation to whom he exercises discipline and offers career development opportunities if they comply. I therefore feel sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to arrange for colleagues to air this matter between now and the summer recess, and the glow of contentment that he is displaying suggests that he knows that I am right.
Food Advertising (Protection of Children from Targeting)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prevent the marketing and advertising of food that does not meet certain nutritional requirements from being targeted at children.
We are all united in ensuring that children have the best possible start in life, and that includes ensuring that they have a healthy start. Sadly, for all too many young people, that is not the case—and the problem is even worse in more deprived groups. Take Scotland, where in 2015-16 the most deprived areas had a 16% rate of childhood obesity, compared with 12% in the least deprived. In fact, nearly 30% of children are at risk of obesity or of being overweight in Scotland. However, this issue affects the whole United Kingdom, with one in five children starting primary school obese or overweight. According to the Centre for Social Justice, obesity will cost our economy £50 billion by 2050.
Of course, we all know the cause of these shocking figures. Bluntly, there are far too many children in this country who are not eating enough of the food that they need and too much of the food that they do not need. Not only does this affect their day-to-day lives, but the implications for later life cannot be overestimated, not least given that obesity is the biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking—a statistic that very few are aware of. There is no simple solution to this, and no silver bullet for this growing problem with childhood obesity. While I warmly welcome the Government’s recently announced consultation, it certainly cannot be left only to Acts of Parliament and regulations from Government Departments. That will not be sufficient and would not deliver the results we so desperately need. The driving force must come from individual households—parents and young people—making the right choices to enjoy healthy lifestyles.
But there are steps that would help, and it would be a failing of this House not to match fine rhetoric with decisive action. Schemes such as the Daily Mile, started in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), contribute to helping young people to get active and stay fit. Rolling this out across the country is absolutely the right thing to do. Equally, the Government’s bold step to implement a tax on sugary drinks has not only led to increased revenue to help to tackle obesity but sparked change in the industry as it seeks to reformulate recipes.
Yet we cannot ignore the pervasive influence of advertising across the wide range of media, given that these varying media channels have become such an important part of our daily lives. There are proposals to ban junk food advertising on TV before 9 pm. Such a proposal may have its merits, but we need to be careful about the potential unintended consequences of such a blunt policy proposal and make sure that we maintain a level playing field between online and TV advertising. The original regulations, reviewed in 2010 by Ofcom, found a 37% drop in children’s exposure to junk food advertising, with particular success in the reduction for younger children, at 52%—particularly important given their greater likelihood of being influenced by adverts. So the policy is backed up by evidence.
We must recognise that advertising regulations are now out of date. They must reflect the changed ways in which we receive media and the changed viewing patterns of children and young people. Current broadcast regulations ban junk food adverts only where the programmes, and channels, are specifically for children’s entertainment. But what of family programming? Nearly 3 billion junk food adverts impacted on children through after-school television in 2015. Fifty-nine per cent. of adverts broadcast over family viewing time would be banned from children’s TV, but do we not expect children to see them during family shows such as “The Voice”, “Coronation Street” or “Hollyoaks”? This is a loophole clearly being exploited that must be closed. The high ratings of these shows mean that despite the fact that nearly 1 million children might watch “The Voice”, because they do not make up 25% of the audience, it is not deemed a children’s show. If we reduced the percentage threshold needed to mark a programme as appealing to children from 25%, it would reduce their exposure to junk food adverts at all times.
We know how sophisticated online targeting through platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and online games has become. Despite many ongoing issues with protecting children online, I was pleased to see Google launch YouTube Kids—a safe place for child-friendly videos. That is a recognition, albeit a small one, that online publishers have just as much work to do as broadcasters in protecting children’s health. There should also be, for online publishers, a very straightforward ban on junk food promotions for children and young people.
I have heard the argument that advertising does not have an impact on obesity and that therefore the Government should not intervene, but that is a red herring. A good illustration of this is the money spent on advertising in 2015. Only 1.2% of all food and non-alcoholic drink advertising was spend for advertising vegetables, while 22.2% was used for advertising cakes, biscuits, confectionery and ice cream. If producers did not see significant return for their expenditure, it simply would not be spent. Why, if advertising is such a distraction, do companies spend a quarter of a billion pounds on it and lobby so vociferously for no extension of advertising restrictions? Focus groups categorically suggest that children not only remember the adverts they see in detail but that they influence what they pester their parents for.
For the avoidance of doubt, I am not calling for a ban on all junk food advertising—that would be a sledgehammer to crack a nut—but we cannot ignore the fact that advertising is contributing to childhood obesity and that existing loopholes must be closed. I do not suggest that this will end childhood obesity. It is far too complex a challenge for such an easy solution. The Government are absolutely right to bring forward a whole range of solutions to tackle this issue, and a cross-departmental approach is exactly what we need. We have a responsibility to give our children the best possible chance at the start of their life, and this Bill, which seeks to avoid such direct targeting, is part of delivering that best start.
Yesterday, after the urgent question, I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), why children from the poorest areas are disproportionately among the fattest, and I suggested that it was not because they watched more adverts. He responded that it might be the case that they watched more adverts. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) that a piece of work needs to be done before the Bill proceeds, to establish the exact role of advertising in making our children so much fatter. The reality is that children have always been the target of such advertising. She will be too young to recall, but I certainly remember the Milkybar kid, whose unique selling attraction was that the Milkybars were going to be on him.
My hon. Friend suggested a much more profitable avenue for our attention. She pointed out that by the time children came to school, one in five was already too fat. We will have those children in school for the best part of 15 years, for five days a week and 40 weeks a year. It would be staggeringly unproductive if we did not use that time to sufficiently exercise them to make them thinner. I suggest that if we have not the political will to do that, advertising is not going to do the job.
Question put (Standing Order No. 23) and agreed to.
That Kirstene Hair, Kerry McCarthy, Conor McGinn, Fiona Bruce, Andrew Selous, Stuart C. McDonald, John Lamont, Paul Masterton, Mr Alister Jack, Jamie Stone, Mr Alistair Carmichael and Bill Grant present the Bill.
Kirstene Hair accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 November, and to be printed (Bill 237).
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to you for hearing a point of order at this stage in our proceedings. You may be aware that it is reported in The Times today that the United States Government have sought to interfere in the contents of the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee on United Kingdom involvement in rendition. If that report is true, it is a matter of the greatest and gravest importance for the House. I can think of no precedent for a foreign power seeking to interfere in the workings of our Committees. What protection can you give to the Committees of the House to ensure that they are allowed to do their work in the way that they are mandated to by us? Have you had any indications from the Government about their intention to bring the House up to speed and make us fully informed in relation to that matter?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I certainly do not seek to cavil at what he has said, because I am familiar with the thrust of the argument and concern that he is advocating to the House. I will just say that the Committee is not in fact a Committee of the House; it is a statutory Committee, in a slightly different category to all the other Committees to which we regularly refer. Nevertheless, I have heard what he said. I have no knowledge of the matter, and I have not myself read the report to which he refers.
If memory serves me correctly, the Committee is chaired by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who is a very senior and respected Member of the House. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is well aware of the remit and autonomy of the Committee. If he felt that his Committee was being interfered with in any way, I rather doubt that he would be backwards in coming forwards. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) is himself a former senior member of the coalition Government. He will know very well, I am sure, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield, and he might wish to approach him for a brief conversation, not on the detail of the report, but about his concern. If that does not satisfy him, I have a feeling that I will be hearing from him again.
Draft EU-Canada Trade Agreement Order
[Relevant Documents: First Report of the International Trade Committee, Continuing application of EU trade agreements after Brexit, HC 520, and the Government response, HC 1042.]
I beg to move,
That the draft European Union (Definition of Treaties) (Canada Trade Agreement) Order 2018, which was laid before this House on 21 May, be approved.
I am delighted that we have the opportunity once again to debate the comprehensive economic and trade agreement between the EU and Canada, known as CETA, and that this is taking place on the Floor of this House. This follows on from the thorough and constructive debate last year and the overwhelming support shown by the full House in a subsequent deferred Division. I note that a majority of those on the Labour Benches who voted in that Division chose rightly to vote in favour of the agreement, and I hope they will continue to do so, because this debate comes at a crucial point in world trade, with the potentially destructive rise in protectionist sentiments.
Free trade is the means by which we have collectively taken millions of people out of abject poverty in the last generation, and we must not put that progress into reverse. We should also realise that trade is not an end in itself, but a means to widen shared prosperity. That prosperity underpins social cohesion and, in turn, political stability. That political stability, in turn, is the building block of our collective security. To interrupt the flow of prosperity is to risk creating a torrent of instability. We have an opportunity today to reaffirm Britain’s commitment to the principles of free trade and the application of an international rules-based system.