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Topical Questions

Volume 643: debated on Tuesday 26 June 2018

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.

What is the Foreign Secretary doing to promote a ceasefire in Yemen, given the situation there, with the potential for famine and carnage in that country?

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.

T2. In recent months, Gaza-based terrorists have not only renewed the firing of rockets into Israel, but adopted a new tactic of dispatching airborne fire-bombs, and even explosives, across the border using kites. Although that may sound crude, it poses a real risk to life and has caused extensive fire damage to agricultural fields in Israel. Will the Minister therefore join me in condemning those actions? (906061)

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.

T4. A fortnight ago, Amnesty International released a report that showed shocking violence and human rights violations in anglophone Cameroon. What assessment have the Government made of that report? If they think the situation is that bad, will the Minister tell the Home Office not to deport my constituent Mr Tabago back to Cameroon? (906063)

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.

T3. Does my right hon. Friend agree that global Britain means that post-Brexit the UK can negotiate trade deals and strengthen relationships with countries such as those in South America, with which we have perhaps not had the closest relationship in the past? (906062)

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.

T5. In the past few days, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that Venezuelan security forces have killed more than 500 people, and at least some of those killings can be directly connected back to the Maduro regime. What discussions have Ministers been having with the authorities there about human rights, freedom and the rule of law? (906064)

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.

T6. The Hamas terrorist group continues to misappropriate international aid to rebuild its terror infrastructure, including attack tunnels into Israel. This is deeply concerning. What does the Foreign Secretary intend to do, alongside our international partners, to limit Hamas’s dangerous influence in Gaza? (906065)

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.

T7. Mr Erdoğan’s re-election heightens the fear that he will step up the persecution of academics. Universities such as the University of Oxford have a proud tradition of being safe havens for bona fide dissenters; will the Minister do all that he can to make sure that our consulates are poised to act if they are asked for help? (906066)

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.

T8. Clearly, football’s coming home, with England making excellent progress in the World cup. What advice does the Foreign Office have for England fans who might be thinking about travelling to Russia in the next few weeks? (906067)

My strong advice is for people to look at our Be on the Ball website, where they can follow Foreign Office advice, and to not to let their hopes run away with them.

T10. Last month, when the House debated the shooting of unarmed protesters on the Gaza border with high-velocity live rounds, the Minister talked about pushing for an investigation, yet three days later the UK abstained on a UN vote on an investigation. Why? (906069)

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.

T9. For decades, the name of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has generated discord. Does my right hon. Friend welcome the agreement between that country and Greece, and does he agree that the decision has been an act of immense courage on the part of those two countries? (906068)

That is an excellent point. Prime Minister Zaev and Prime Minister Tsipras have shown great statesmanship to get this agreement after so many years, and the UK certainly supports it.

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.

In the light of the legitimate concerns expressed by global businesses such as Airbus, Siemens and BMW about the post-Brexit world, will the Secretary of State confirm that and remotely justify why his response was to say “F business”?

I do not think anybody could doubt the Government’s passionate support for business. It may be that I have from time to time expressed scepticism about some of the views of those who profess to speak up for business.

What is my hon. Friend’s assessment of the state of the preparations for the elections in Democratic Republic of the Congo at the end of this 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?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She will have heard my answer to the first question, which was exactly on the lines that she proposes.

It is now for over six years that the Ecuadorian embassy has been abused in its purpose as an embassy. How long are the Government going to put up with this?

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?

Of course I agree with that. To cheer up the hon. Lady, I point out that today it was confirmed that the UK is still the recipient of the biggest share of inward investment in Europe and, indeed, that our share is growing.

Ahead of the important Balkans conference, does the Foreign Secretary agree that political and diplomatic dialogue, particularly in the western Balkans, rather than nationalism gives that region a bright future?

My hon. Friend is completely right and we look forward to welcoming all participants to the Western Balkans summit on 12 July where, among other things, we will be able to chart the progress that has been made on the Macedonian name issue.

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?

What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Home Secretary on providing India with the same visa controls as other friendly countries?

I have noticed the discrepancy to which my hon. Friend alludes, and we are in discussions about that now.