Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
Official Development Assistance: Endangered Species
The Foreign Secretary meets the International Development Secretary regularly to discuss Government action on the illegal wildlife trade and to plan for the UK-hosted international conference in October, which will focus on countering that hideous crime.
Welcome back, Mr Speaker. I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement last week that Britain’s international aid budget will be used to boost mutual trade. Would my hon. Friend the Minister also like to see more aid used to support conservation efforts to similarly boost the protection of endangered species through, for example, more invaluable park rangers?
My hon. Friend draws attention to the work we are already doing in this area. I had the privilege during the recess of complimenting the British Army, which is helping to train and work with rangers in Malawi. While I was out there I announced a programme that helps with alternative livelihoods to poaching for people who live around that park.
It is good to be back, Mr Speaker. Last week the press informed us that 10 black rhinos, which are an endangered species, were moved from one location to another without the water there having even been checked. It turned out to be salt water and the 10 rhinos died. Is it not possible to do things better when trying to save endangered species, rather than letting such things happen?
I did see reports of that very unfortunate incident. I am not clear whether there was any UK Government involvement, but it was a very sad incident. The summit we will host in October will see delegations from all over the world putting their heads together on the ways in which we can tackle the issue, both through law enforcement and through creating areas and safe space for species, and other ways in which we can work together with the rest of the world to tackle this hideous trade.
The situation in Burma/Myanmar remains of real concern. On 27 August, the United Nations fact-finding mission published a report that said that there were grounds for prosecution of members of the Burma military for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. In the face of such serious allegations, no country that considers itself humane can stand back and do nothing.
The UN’s report states that the violence against the Rohingya continues to bear “genocidal intent”. As the official UN penholder on Myanmar issues, the UK has so far failed to refer it to the International Criminal Court. Does the Secretary of State agree that ethnic cleansing must not go unpunished, and will he commit to pushing the UN to refer Myanmar to the ICC?
I very strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman that ethnic cleansing, in whatever shape or form, wherever it happens, should never go unpunished, and that the perpetrators of these appalling crimes must be brought to justice. He is right to say that the UK has a special responsibility as the penholder. I intend to convene a high-level meeting of Ministers in the margins of the UN General Assembly later this month. ICC referral, however, has to happen as a decision of the Security Council, and at the moment it is not clear that there would be consensus on the Security Council to deliver that. I want the hon. Gentleman to be comforted, however, that we will leave no stone unturned to make sure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
There are chilling reports of sexual violence being inflicted on Rohingya people. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm how many experts employed by the Foreign Office under the preventing sexual violence initiative have been deployed to assist in this terrible situation?
I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman that number, but I will happily write to him with the information. What I can tell him is that our aid to the Rohingya, which is £129 million so far, has helped counsel 2,000 victims of sexual violence. We consider that an extremely important part of our support for this people.
May I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to his new role? He has great relevant experience, and we all know he will carry out his role superbly. Will he ensure he uses all his considerable influence, and that of the British, at the United Nations to make it clear that there can be no impunity for crimes of genocide committed by the Burmese army, which have been so eloquently set out by the United Nations independent international fact-finding mission? Britain has an acute and important leadership role to discharge here, not least because of the tremendous amount of aid and support we have given to the poor Rohingya community over the many years of their suffering.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments and commend him for the leadership he showed on many humanitarian issues as International Development Secretary. He is absolutely right: the report said that in Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states there was gang rape, assaults on children, villages razed, and, in northern Rakhine, mass extermination and mass deportations. This is the kind of issue where countries that believe in civilised values have to take a stand and make sure that justice is done.
I, too, warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to his new and vital role. While the Foreign Office is considering the damning UN report and deciding how most effectively Britain should respond, will he consider carefully the pros and cons of the current parliamentary engagement carried out by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which has done good work through the Officials of this House? We will need to weigh in the balance whether it is appropriate to continue such engagement.
I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s experience of the region. Obviously that would be a matter for Parliament to decide, but it is very important that in all our dealings with the Burmese regime they understand that a line has been crossed. It is also important to update the House on the fact that a great deal has happened over the summer months, including an EU decision, which the UK was instrumental in making happen, to impose sanctions on seven individuals in the Burmese military. Much more now needs to be done.
It was a shock to read reports of the jailing of two Reuters journalists in Burma who had been instrumental in reporting the Rohingya massacre. What representations has the Secretary of State made to the Burmese Government on the importance of press freedom?
The two journalists were doing what is in the very best traditions of all journalism: exposing evil and bad things that Governments do not want exposed. We are very concerned, and I want to visit Burma/Myanmar to talk about all these issues and will certainly raise the issue with the Burmese authorities.
My hon. Friend raises a very good question. My colleague in the other place, Lord Ahmad, hosted a Security Council meeting on 28 August to look at all these issues. I will be looking at that particular issue when we have a high-level meeting of Foreign Ministers at the UN General Assembly.
The United Nations panel of experts report is very powerful and is damning of the Burmese military and the Burmese regime more generally. May I urge the new Foreign Secretary to take a lead at the United Nations and build a coalition so that we can refer Burma to the International Criminal Court?
I recognise the enormous amount that the hon. Gentleman has done on this issue as Chair of the Select Committee on International Development. I think we have two priorities in this situation, which is both a humanitarian catastrophe and a justice issue. The first is to enable the safe return of the Rohingya to their home. That is not unproblematic, but it is very, very important because of the humanitarian situation across the border. The second is to ensure that the perpetrators face justice. That will be a long, hard road, but he should rest assured that we are committed to going on that journey.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his new role, and I welcome his words of assurance that war crimes will not go unpunished in Myanmar, or indeed anywhere in the world. On the latter point, will he do the same for the Syrian and Russian regimes, which according to Syrian doctors are currently bombing hospitals as priority and primary targets, and will he update me on how we are going to take the Russian and Syrian regimes to the ICC?
Order. That is audacious to the point of extreme chutzpah. Much as I admire the hon. Gentleman’s ingenuity, I am not sure that I altogether salute his cheekiness. [Interruption.] “Go on”, says the hon. Gentleman from a sedentary position. If the Secretary of State wants to issue one of his brief but eloquent replies, we are happy to hear it.
A year ago, we began hearing first-hand accounts of the horrors taking place in Rakhine state. I travelled to the region as a doctor and am still haunted by my meetings with mothers who had to choose between rescuing their children from fires and running with the ones who were still alive. The military have now focused their attention on the Kachin in Myanmar. Can the Secretary of State tell me how many more minority groups in the country will be persecuted before the UK Government hold Aung San Suu Kyi and her military to account?
The hon. Lady should rest assured that we absolutely believe that everyone responsible for these atrocities must be held to account. I hope to meet Aung San Suu Kyi; I think I have probably expressed the disappointment felt on both sides of the House that she has not taken the stand that many of us who have admired her for many years had hoped she might. The key issue is whether she chooses to go down the path of Burmese nationalism or whether she recognises that all citizens of her country are entitled to high standards of treatment.
My constituent Mr Rasalingam has been in prison for four years in Myanmar, having been sentenced to 17 years on a fraud conviction. There is evidence that his conviction represents a major miscarriage of justice. Next Wednesday, the facts of his case will be reviewed by a judge to assess whether Mr Rasalingam can appeal. Will the Secretary of State look into his case and see whether action from the UK Government might help with the appeal?
I join Members from throughout the House in welcoming the new Foreign Secretary to his place; I genuinely hope that he will bring a more constructive tone in debating foreign policy challenges around the world and a more proactive attitude when it comes to resolving them. With that in mind, I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has shown such strong concern over last week’s United Nations report on the actions of the Myanmar military against the Rohingya. I hear that he will be visiting Myanmar at the earliest opportunity to seek answers, but I am not sure what he means by that. The evidence is damning and the conclusions obvious, so what questions does he believe still need to be asked?
First, I should say that it is a great pleasure to have the right hon. Lady shadowing me. As Health Secretary, I was shadowed by four different shadow Secretaries of State; I hope the right hon. Lady will stay long enough for us to really get to know each other.
Things need to happen if we are to deal with these very serious issues. It is important that I visit Burma/Myanmar to meet the military and Aung San Suu Kyi and see for myself the situation on the ground. But there are things that we can do only in concert with other countries: one is referral to the International Criminal Court, which can come only if there is a consensus on the Security Council. There is a huge amount of work for Britain to do—both individually, as we are doing with our aid support, and with other countries.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer. I listened carefully to his earlier explanation of the long, hard road to a referral to the International Criminal Court, but we have not been afraid in the past to support resolutions to refer Syria to the ICC and expose Russia in the court of public opinion when it vetoes them. Why are we not prepared to do the same with China? In 2005, China and the United States abstained on Darfur rather than using their vetoes—the weight of public opinion can be a powerful tool.
With all due respect to the Foreign Secretary, if he wants to mark a genuine break with his predecessor, instead of travelling to Myanmar to ask more questions to which we already have the answers, why does he not just travel to New York and demand justice through the United Nations?
With the greatest respect to my new shadow, that is exactly what I am going to do and what I have said I will do. I will be in the margins of the UN General Assembly raising the issue with my counterparts from the other permanent members of the Security Council. But I also want to visit Burma/Myanmar, and I think I will be able to make a stronger case if I do.
Leaving the EU: Co-operation
Over the summer I visited seven EU countries and had substantive bilateral talks with 18 EU Foreign Ministers, and to all of them I said the same thing: if there is not a deal on our exit from the EU, Britain will find a way to survive and prosper, but it would be a big mistake for the continent of Europe, because at a time of great international upheaval, countries that share the same values should stand together.
Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) met with the Port of Dover in my neighbouring constituency. The port, my colleagues, and all those dealing with trade matters in particular would appreciate clarification on whether other EU countries have signalled their willingness to collect tariffs on behalf of the UK and continue full co-operation with other EU agencies.
The facilitated customs arrangement is one of the issues being negotiated. Many discussions are happening between my colleague the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and Michel Barnier, and we are starting to make progress, but there is a long way to go.
What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that the benefits of the European health insurance scheme for EU and UK citizens will continue post Brexit, and can he confirm reports that the UK will guarantee the rights of EU citizens to access the national health service and the social security system regardless of the outcome of negotiations?
That is something I can talk about a little bit, because of my last role as Health Secretary. We have made it clear to the EU that we are very happy to continue with the European health insurance card scheme, which allows British citizens to access healthcare free of charge anywhere in the EU and the same for EU citizens coming to Britain, but obviously there has to be agreement with the EU to do that, and we are waiting to see whether that is the outcome. On EU citizens living in the UK, we have made it clear that we want them to stay here—they make an important contribution to our economy and national life—with broadly the same rights as they currently have.
It is nice to see you after the summer, Mr Speaker. I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new position. The Foreign Affairs Committee looks forward to working with him to deliver a policy overseas that delivers for British people wherever they find themselves and in whatever difficulty they may be.
On the EU and Europe, I want to ask my right hon. Friend about the defence of Europe. With an expansionist and aggressive country to the east corrupting and using its influence in various of our European allies, does he agree that standing up for NATO is just as important as standing up for co-operation with our EU partner states, and does he not also agree, therefore, that tying in the United States is important and that, for example, naming the new NATO headquarters after Senator McCain, a man who did so much for European defence and trans-Atlantic partnership, would be a strong symbol on both sides of the Atlantic that we are in this together?
I very much look forward to working with my hon. Friend in his role as the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I have great sympathy for what he says about Senator John McCain, who was a great statesman and friend of this country. He is absolutely right, too, that we have an opportunistic foe testing our defences at every opportunity, and we are far more likely to be successful if we stand together with our allies across Europe and the Atlantic.
One of my right hon. Friend’s first visits was to see his German opposite number, Heiko Maas, in Berlin. Could he tell us a little bit about the discussions he had with him about Russia, and specifically about sanctions? Given that 40% of the western trade affected by those sanctions is with Germany, it is important that Germany remain resolute in pursuing economic sanctions against Russia.
I heard many compliments when I went to Germany about my right hon. Friend’s diplomacy with and links to Germany, and we had very good discussions with Heiko Maas on the issue of sanctions. That is going to become more important in the months ahead, because the United States has said it will introduce sanctions as a result of the Salisbury attacks and is very clear that it would not be appropriate for Europe not to respond in kind, given that the attack happened on European soil. That is an area where we hope to make common cause with Germany.
I am delighted that the Secretary of State is taking this question. I hope he will answer a very simple yes or no question that his predecessor always refused to answer: does the new Secretary of State believe that cameras and number plate readers placed on roads are physical infrastructure?
I welcome the Foreign Secretary to his post. Given the greater importance of bilateral relations after the United Kingdom has left the European Union, what steps is he taking to increase British diplomatic representation, not only in the 27 other EU countries and the four states in the European economic area, but in the countries in which we are currently represented largely through an EU office, and in which we do not have our own mission?
My predecessor has already increased the budget for our representation throughout the European Union as a response to Brexit and the need to raise our game when it comes to diplomacy inside the EU. When it comes to diplomacy outside the EU, I hope that it will sometimes be possible for the co-operative arrangements that we have now to continue—because I think that that works to the benefit of both sides—but we shall have to see whether the other countries are still up for that.
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary, and welcome him to his post. I know that he will take the job seriously, and I know that, at the end of his time, he will have at least tried in everything that he does, but will he now tell me what impact a challenging, divisive and difficult Brexit will have on our relationship with our European partners?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman as one of my shadows. Our objective is a friendly, smooth Brexit, which is why we have made the proposals that we have made. We think that a messy divorce is in no one’s interests. However, the hon. Gentleman will understand that this Government would never sign up to proposals that were not consistent with the spirit and letter of the referendum decision, and we must honour that as well.
I think that we need to probe our relationship with our European partners as we go forward. The Foreign Secretary was right to point out—and I am glad he did—that countries in Europe need to stand together at this critical juncture, given the challenges in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere. What damage will a no deal Brexit do to that relationship?
I think that a no deal scenario would inevitably have an impact on the friendship that we currently have with European nations. That is why I think that all sides should think carefully before proceeding. I would say that this country is proud and strong and we would find a way in which to prosper and succeed whatever the outcome of these talks, but that, given the threats that we face, it would be better to stand together.
We are deeply concerned by the tragic incident in which so many were killed. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to his Saudi counterpart shortly afterwards and pressed for a quick and transparent investigation, so the recent announcement of the outcome, the coalition’s regret and action to address the recommendations are important developments. We call on all parties to adhere to international humanitarian law, and to engage in the UN-led talks this week to reach a political settlement.
It beggars belief that anyone could claim that a school bus travelling through a marketplace crowded with civilians could ever be a legitimate military target, but that is precisely what the Saudi Arabian regime did. Does the Minister now accept that the previous Government policy of leaving Saudi Arabia to investigate its own crimes is not working, and will the Government support the call from the United Nations Human Rights Council for us to refrain from providing arms that could be used in this dreadful conflict?
The hon. Gentleman’s concerns are obviously shared by all, but let me draw attention to the fact that the report produced by the Joint Incidents Assessment Team is almost unparalleled in terms of admitting error and pointing out where that error was. I think that the hand of the United Kingdom can be seen in the work that we have done with the coalition over time in order to ensure that should things go wrong, there is proper accountability, and I think that that is what we have seen in the report. Of course we regret the circumstances hugely, but what is most important is for the conflict to come to an end so that we see no more of this.
As the Minister will know, in the past I have offered help from SNP Members to support the work of Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy for Yemen. I have also issued a plea for a halt to the bombing and the weapon sales from the UK to Saudi Arabia, and for the envoy to be given space in which to do his work and, indeed, back up some of the great work done by Karen Pierce, our ambassador to the UN, who has asked for a review in the event that an investigation proves flimsy. Why is the Minister tone deaf to those calls? How many more Yemeni children have to die?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s approach to this and know that he wants Martin Griffiths’s work to succeed. The United Kingdom is not tone deaf to this at all; I draw attention to the detail of the report which sets out the errors that were made and suggests that this would just not have happened some time ago. I am not aware of it happening in parallel with others responsible for humanitarian offences and issues in the region, such as the Houthi; there is no comparison with this. We are not tone deaf; we will continue to work with partners but the most important thing is to give Martin Griffiths that space so that the conflict comes to an end.
The value of British arms sales to Saudi Arabia surpassed £1billion in the first six months of 2017 alone. Is not one of the most effective diplomatic and political steps the Government can take right now to join other countries such as Germany and Norway and stop selling arms and call for a genuinely independent international inquiry to fully establish culpability?
I understand the force of the question and I think we will be coming to that in detail in a further question, but the short answer is no. The coalition acted in support of a legitimate Government; they are currently having missiles fired at civilian targets in their own state and I do not see the political justification for withdrawing our arms.
Assad has been roundly condemned in this Parliament many times for dropping bombs on schools and hospitals, let alone the barrel bombs, so why are the Saudis getting off lightly in this case when they are acting like barbarians? The Minister should go and tell them that.
There is no justification for any breaches of international humanitarian law. It is absolutely essential that it is adhered to, and should errors be made in any bombing, the United Kingdom will continue to ensure that those responsible are called to account, but the way in which there has been a particular response on this is, in my opinion, unparalleled.
I am pleased the Minister has condemned the latest tragic mistakes made by the Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen, but what steps is he taking to ensure that we support UN attempts to broker dialogue between the Houthi rebels and the Saudis?
The United Kingdom continues to work very closely with all parties to ensure that special envoy Martin Griffiths has the necessary space. We are in constant contact; I spoke to the Deputy Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates yesterday and spoke to the Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister just this morning to urge the maximum support for the negotiations, and we have spoken to other parties who have an opportunity to make representations to others involved in the conflict to do exactly the same.
Last week’s United Nations expert panel report on Yemen completed before the bus bombing of 9 August said that the Saudi coalition was routinely ignoring its own no-strike list of 30,000 civilian sites. Surely that is the very definition of indiscriminate bombing. In light of that, how can the Government continue to claim that there is no clear risk that the arms we sell to Riyadh are being used to violate international humanitarian law?
The particular report that has been brought forward is not accepted in full by the coalition, and there are some elements of it that the UK does not accept, so we are looking at that more carefully. The important thing is—the hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct on this—that international humanitarian law must be adhered to, but the practices of the coalition that have developed over the conflict to ensure proper investigation should anything go wrong are far more developed than they were. Nobody wants to see such investigations because nobody wants to see the actions that have caused them, and that is the UK position.
I was appalled by the attack in the bar in Benidorm that put Jimmy Carol in a coma. Our consular staff have been supporting him and his family and talking to the Spanish police responsible for the investigation, and I hope Mr Carol makes a full recovery and that his attacker is brought to justice.
The circumstances were a little confusing. The Spanish police might have seen it as a straightforward pub brawl, when in fact Mr Carol was intervening to back up some women who were being badly harassed. I think the answer to the hon. Lady’s question is that it took some time for the local police to pass the case on to the national police. I would be perfectly happy for her to come and see me, perhaps with a close relative of Mr Carol, and I will do my utmost to ensure that consular officials do all that they can on this case.
Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia
We assess arms exports to Saudi Arabia against strict criteria. The key test is whether there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law. We take this very seriously and keep licensing decisions under careful review.
The New York Times reports today that Spain has heeded the United Nations Human Rights Council’s group of eminent experts on Yemen and ceased its sales of arms to Saudi Arabia for fear that they might be used in Yemen. This decision was taken following the publication of the report, which also expressed serious concern about the independence of the Joint Incidents Assessments Team. How many children in Yemen have to be blown to pieces on a bus before we cease our arms sales to Saudi Arabia?
That incident, and the deaths of any civilians, particularly children, caught up in a conflict are always dreadful. The most important thing is to bring the conflict to an end. We assess our arms sales on a case-by-case basis. I indicated earlier that the coalition was engaged in Yemen to try to reverse an insurgency. That insurgency is now firing missiles at civilian targets and, accordingly, I do not think that the political justification to withdraw arms sales to Saudi Arabia is made, but it is essential that international humanitarian law is adhered to and that there are no such further incidents.
Venezuela: Economic Stability
We are deeply concerned by the severe economic challenges and deepening humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, and indeed by their impact on the wider region. We have noted the Government’s recently announced economic measures, but it remains to be seen whether they are going to improve the situation in any way at all.
An oil-rich nation that once boasted the highest living standards of the whole of Latin America has now been plunged into starvation and crisis as a result of years of socialist policy and the removal of democracy. Does my right hon. Friend join me in condemning those who have imposed socialism and removed democracy in Venezuela, and those who have given them succour from the House of Commons?
I must say that I do. Venezuela enjoys the world’s largest proven oil reserves and it has the largest gas reserves in Latin America, but all of these are being squandered. It has had years of economic mismanagement based on outdated and misguided ideologies, and it cannot even provide the most basic necessities for its people. The country is facing rampant inflation. This is an example of how one man at the top of a country can destroy that country’s economy and prospects.
Clearly, a precondition for resolving the dreadful situation in Venezuela is an early end to the disastrous communist Maduro regime and a return to parliamentary democracy, but the desperate people of Venezuela—those in the country and the millions in exile—need food and medical supplies now. What are the Minister and the Department for International Development doing about that?
I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that DFID has limited experience in Latin America. We would like to be doing more, and there has been the provision of humanitarian advice, but I would be the first to admit that that is not nearly enough to address the seriousness of the plight that Venezuelans face. As he rightly says, millions of people have left Venezuela and these problems are now affecting neighbouring countries in a serious way. We are working closely with the Lima group, led by the Peruvian Foreign Minister, to do what we can to try to change the disastrous situation in Venezuela.
Sierra Leone: Political Violence and Arrests
Sierra Leone held presidential and parliamentary elections in March, and power was transferred peacefully. We are aware of recent allegations of politically motivated violence and we continue to monitor the situation. The new Government have made a commitment to govern for all Sierra Leoneans, and I call on them to honour that pledge and to ensure due process in all cases.
I am proud of the large and vibrant Sierra Leonean community in my constituency, but many community leaders have come to see me to discuss their worries about escalating tensions, arrests, violence and restrictions on political activity since the elections earlier this year. Will the Minister meet Southwark’s Sierra Leonean community representatives to outline what the Government are doing in response to their concerns?
On my visit to the country earlier this year, I was struck by the journey that it has gone through from civil war to the presence of United Nations peacekeepers to the terrible Ebola outbreak, so it was welcome that elections were held this year and that there was a peaceful transition of power. I would, of course, always be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and the community. To reiterate the point I just made, we welcome the inclusive approach that the Sierra Leonean Government are talking about and hope to see it implemented.
Promoting and defending human rights is an essential aim of the foreign policy of “Global Britain”. The Foreign Office’s 2017 “Human Rights & Democracy” report demonstrates the breadth of the issues that we campaign on and how we mobilise the diplomatic network to champion universal rights.
It is now over a week since the Government missed their own deadline to take a decision on whether to order an independent inquiry into the role of the UK in the use of torture. When can a decision be expected? Why have the Government not accepted the recommendations of Members across the House to hold such an inquiry?
The human rights situation of Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov should give us all cause for concern. When I first raised Mr Sentsov’s plight in October 2016, the then Foreign Secretary said that the UK Government were appealing to the Russian authorities for his release. Sentsov is now three months into a hunger strike and faces almost certain death unless he is released. What further representations can our Government make to secure his release and save his life?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this pressing case. We should all be speaking loudly in favour of the release of this prisoner from unjustified detention. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary undertakes to raise the matter directly with Sergey Lavrov when he meets him, and I hope that the prisoner will be released. There is absolutely no justification for this man being imprisoned. Indeed, he risks death as a result of his hunger strike.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who doubles up as a Department for International Development Minister, made direct representations when he visited last week, and the high commissioner in Bangladesh is continuing to make strong representations as frequently and as effectively as she possibly can.
We championed that important issue when I was DFID Minister, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell). It is a joint objective of DFID and the Foreign Office to ensure that girls have a full education for as many years as possible, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be meeting the DFID Secretary this afternoon to discuss exactly this topic.
In June, the International Trade Secretary hailed a new £1.5 billion natural gas deal with President Biya’s regime in Cameroon in a Government press release entitled “International visits pay off”. Can the Minister tell us whether the International Trade Secretary knew about the Biya regime’s ongoing persecution and massacres in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions, or did he just not care?
I hope that the hon. Lady welcomes the investment that goes into Cameroon, particularly from the United Kingdom, but she is also right to say that any investment, particularly in the extractive industries, must meet the highest possible environmental and social standards, and we will endeavour to make sure it does.
The detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a gross injustice. She is innocent; she is separated from her four-year-old daughter and her husband; and we will continue to leave no stone unturned to get her home.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his proactive and willing support of Nazanin’s case from the outset. He clearly shares the concerns on both sides of the House about the impact that the unlawful detention is having on her health.
Following the visit of the Minister for the Middle East to Iran last week, can the Foreign Secretary set out any new initiatives that he is trying to secure, particularly on, for instance, using diplomatic protection or working with the UN and our international partners?
We will keep going with a whole range of activities. As well as the visit of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East, the Prime Minister spoke to President Rouhani on 10 May. I spoke to Foreign Minister Zarif on 24 August, and I hope to meet him at the United Nations General Assembly. I am also willing to go to Tehran, if necessary.
Australia: Diplomatic Relations
Australia is one of our closest bilateral partners, and diplomatic relations are excellent. In July, we held our 10th annual ministerial talks, where we agreed to strengthen foreign, security and trade relations. The Prime Minister spoke to Australia’s new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, on 27 August.
I welcome the fact that the first major summit attended by the Foreign Secretary on his appointment was his and the Defence Secretary’s meeting with their Australian counterparts. Will he update the House on the progress made in preparing a free trade deal between our two countries?
I am sure the whole House will want to welcome Australia’s purchase of nine Type 26 frigates from the UK, which is a significant defence export and means that we have the “Five Eyes” frigate with our friends in Australia.
The UK-Australia trade working group is meeting regularly to lay the foundations for future free trade negotiations. Indeed, there is a public consultation so that the public can express their opinions.
Peace Process: Israel and Palestine
There is an urgent need to restart the peace process, and we regularly press Israel and the Palestinians to resume direct negotiations towards a two-state solution. We are in close consultation with international partners on how to encourage the parties to the middle east peace process to reverse the negative trends on the ground. Rocket fire and other violence makes achieving peace more difficult.
I am grateful for that answer. The World Health Organisation reports that 10 Palestinian people, including a pregnant woman and her two children, were killed and more than 400 were injured by Israeli forces in one week in August. Instead of deploying even more chatter, why will the international community not actually act and protect some of the most vulnerable people on earth?
The experiences in Gaza and the crisis we have seen over the summer have different roots and causes. It is essential that all those who are contributing in any way to the violence in relation to the process desist and find a way through to the peace opportunities that are there. We deeply regret the loss of life, and it is essential that all sides respond to that. Also, the violence that comes from Gaza towards Israel is making negotiations very difficult.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that recent rocket attacks by Hamas demonstrate, once again, that they are the biggest roadblock to peace in the middle east, frustrating the sincere efforts made by Israel to try to secure a peaceful future for the region?
Both the rocket fire and the incendiary devices that have come from Gaza have certainly made this difficult for Israeli politics, because a great deal of damage has been done in the area, which encourages people to demand that their Government protect them and keep them safe. As we know well, there are difficulties on all sides. Our concern has been that the problems in Gaza have made it more difficult for the negotiations, which we all anticipate following the US envoy’s reports, to get started. That is why we urge a restraint on violence and that the talking going on all through the region bears some fruit.
In response to the cruel decision taken by the Trump Administration to cut US funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the German Government have pledged to increase their financial support for the agency. Will the Minister commit his Government to do the same, so that Palestinian refugees do not suffer as a result of the President’s decision?
I am pleased to announce to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that today we have taken the decision to increase funding to UNRWA by a further £7 million. I spoke just a couple of hours ago to Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl to express our support for UNRWA. We understand the concerns of the United States, but we do not believe that the way it has gone about this is correct. We will continue to support the most vulnerable people, because that also forms a vital part of a just solution to the issues between the Palestinians and Israel.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the single most important thing for both unlocking the peace process and bringing relief to the desperate lives of Palestinians in Gaza is for Hamas to renounce violence and terror, and turn its back on those ways?
Yes. Hamas’s resistance to meeting the Quartet principles and to renouncing violence, by contrast to the Palestinian Authority, who have done that for many years, is indeed a stumbling block. Talks, brokered by Egypt, are taking place in the region, as we are well aware. Who knows what will come out of those talks, but if there is to be any progress in the future, Hamas’s position on Israel has to change.
To follow up on that point, there needs to be the renunciation of not only violence, but of the idea of the annihilation of Israel as a state. If we are to have proper negotiations, is it not critical that they are based on a mutual recognition of people’s rights and not on the basis of Hamas and others wanting to see the destruction of Israel?
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman is right; Israel cannot be expected to find an accommodation with terrorist groups that seek an annihilation and the extinction of the country. However, there are opportunities to make progress on that. Hamas’s position is in contrast with that of the Palestinian Authority, who have accepted the existence of Israel and worked with it on security matters in the past 20 years. A resolution has to be just to all sides in the situation, but Hamas’s position cannot hold.
I welcome what the Minister has just said about new funding for UNRWA. Labour has been saying for months that proposed cuts from Donald Trump would damage Palestinian schooling and education and harm the peace process. Will the Foreign Office also now take the lead in organising an international emergency conference, so that others may also pledge more support?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s support, and it is a common view in the House. We have increased funding more than once during this year, and more than £40 million extra has been brought forward to support UNRWA. I spoke to the commissioner-general about education in particular. He has the funds to open the schools at present and keep them going, but this will depend on further funding decisions in the future. I hope that we will be able to take part in mutual discussions at the UN General Assembly with other states that are affected. This is not just about the west bank and Gaza; it is also about Jordan and Lebanon. It is about places where children are getting an education. We are talking about an education that is gender neutral in a way in which other parts of the education system in the region are not. The question is: if UNRWA does not provide the education, who might? That is why it is so important to keep this going.
Following earlier comments, I know that many Members of the House would like to pay tribute, formally, to the life of Senator John McCain, who described the UK as
“the country which Americans have long regarded, in good times and bad, as our greatest and most influential friend.”
He also talked about the importance of the global role played by our two countries, saying that
“the future is in the safe hands of the two great peoples who long ago decided to make history together.”
So we celebrate his courage, integrity and generosity of spirit.
I endorse what the Secretary of State said in tribute to John McCain. May I put it to him that one of the most disreputable aspects of President Trump’s decision to end United States funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency is the fact that he dressed it up as part of a grand negotiating strategy towards what he calls the deal of the century, when in reality that decision is hitting schools and hospitals and the food aid for hundreds of thousands of people in abject poverty? I applaud the increase in funding for UNRWA, but may I press the Secretary of State a bit more about what action the UK Government and their partners will take to ensure that the vital lifeline that UNRWA provides to vulnerable people around the world will not be lost?
As my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East said earlier, we do not agree with the American Administration’s decision on this issue. Today’s funding announcement is part of our response, but I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we will talk to other donors as well, to see whether we can make up the gap in funding to UNRWA that has been caused by that decision.
Labour can be incredibly proud that Clement Attlee was responsible for setting up NATO in 1949. NATO has been supported by every single Labour leader since then—except the current one. It would be interesting to know whether the current shadow Foreign Secretary supports the current Labour leader or his predecessors.
I am very happy to do that. It is extremely important that there is a clear red line: the use of chemical weapons, of which nerve agents are one, is totally unacceptable. The price will always be too high. The EU has already agreed to a chemical weapons sanctions regime, and we will press it to implement that regime as soon as possible.
I do agree with the hon. Lady. A referral to the International Criminal Court would need Security Council consensus, and we need to discuss with our Security Council colleagues whether that is achievable. We will not stop making sure that justice is done in this situation.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spent much of the summer travelling across Europe and meeting his European counterparts. Through EU membership, the UK is part of around 40 international agreements covering 70 countries. We are committed to ensuring continuity for existing EU trade agreements as we leave the European Union and to building up the closest trade agreements that we can with countries in the Commonwealth.
I hope to make the hon. Lady’s comments of even greater value by saying that I will have such conversations and that I will put in calls to Colombia. I know that our mission in Colombia, in Bogota, is always doing its best to make representations of this sort.
As my hon. Friend appreciates we do have a long-standing policy on this issue and we do not recognise the sovereignty claim of the Republic of Mauritius over Chagos archipelago. We very much regret that Mauritius is taking its case to the International Court of Justice. That case started yesterday, so it would be more appropriate for us to wait until the outcome of any judgment, which should conclude this week.
This is some distance from the middle east, but in the absence of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Asia and the Pacific, I will say that I am aware that we have been engaged in supporting British citizens and in offering support to the Government of India where necessary. The Government are very self-sufficient, as they have dealt with similar issues before, but we have said that, should there be things they need, we will help. As always, our FCO team has been touch through its consular service with those who seek support.
I am proud that the UK has taken a global lead on tackling plastics in our oceans and the terrible pollution that it causes, including, of course, the ban on microbeads and microplastics. None the less, more must be done. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should continue to talk with other nations, so that they follow our example, and that we bring in the cause of microfibres as well, which are causing devastating pollution, too?
At the Commonwealth meeting, the Prime Minister launched the UK-Vanuatu-led Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance, which sees countries across the Commonwealth join forces in the fight against plastic, including a ban on microbeads. I shall take further steps after these questions to investigate further the extent to which it also might include microfibres.
I can confirm that we have announced this year that we are reopening an embassy in Lesotho. I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing this case to my attention, and I will certainly follow up by writing to him about the matter.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating Lewis Pugh on his recent swim across the English channel? It was a fantastic achievement. Along with 285 Members of Parliament, Lewis is championing the cause of the Great British Ocean Coalition. May I ask what progress is being made on marine conservation areas around the South Sandwich islands?
I think that the whole House will want to congratulate Lewis Pugh on his quite amazing swim. It puts my crawl—if I might put it that way—to shame. What he achieved was quite remarkable. The South Sandwich islands are very well managed. We are committed to protecting 10% of the world’s penguins there and around about. The UK is on course to protect 4 million square kilometres by 2020, which represents 60% of the UK’s oceans.
Further to the answer that the Minister gave my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), since President Duque took office there have been over 30 extra-judicial murders in Colombia; that is one every 18 hours. What can the Minister do when he calls Colombia to draw these murders to the attention of the Government in Colombia and to ensure that they bring the perpetrators to justice?
We are happy to include all such issues in any conversations that we might have with Colombian Ministers. Indeed, we are particularly concerned to ensure that the peace process remains on course. It has been deviating slightly recently. The Prime Minister confirmed the UK’s full support of that process during her phone call with the new Colombian President on 9 August. The Foreign Secretary and Foreign Minister Holmes also discussed UN Security Council support for peace in Colombia when they met in New York on 24 August.
The 50-year conflict in Colombia has seen thousands and thousands of campesino and indigenous families thrown off their territory, tortured and murdered, so the Minister is absolutely right to say that it is distressing in the extreme to see that the peace process has now stalled. The Spanish Prime Minister went to Colombia last week to impress on President Duque that he must get this back on track. Will the Minister make sure that British representations to President Duque are just as strong as those from Spain?
Yes, I will do so very genuinely. I think that I am right in saying that the hon. Gentleman has recently visited Colombia. I would therefore like to invite him and any other colleagues to see me in order to brief me on what they learned during their visit.
Further to the Minister’s earlier remarks, will he make it clear to our Saudi allies that they are on a hiding to nothing in this war in Yemen and that every effort must be made to support the peace process being brokered by Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Representative for Yemen? Will the UK support renewal of the mandate of the UN’s group of eminent experts on Yemen at the Human Rights Council this month?
Kurdish representatives are already included with the representatives of the Syrian opposition. Any further invitations are up to Staffan de Mistura, who is responsible for the negotiations, but the hon. Lady is right that it is absolutely important that Kurdish interests are represented.
It is now four years since my constituent Iftikhar Ahmad’s three-year-old son Shahryar—a British subject—was abducted and brutally murdered in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Will the Secretary of State meet me and others to see how we can get justice for this family?
In the first place, it is essential to convey to the Syrian regime, through its partners, the need to avoid a tragedy in Idlib, and that includes a bombing campaign or anything similar. I have been in contact with Turkey. I will be speaking to the Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister later this afternoon. It is essential that we find a way for non-combatants to leave the area, and all efforts are being made with all partners to try to ensure that this will be the case. However, the House should not be in any doubt that there is likely to be some military action. There are some terrorist entities in Idlib against whom the United Kingdom has been engaged in the past and who pose a threat. It is essential that there is not a humanitarian disaster, nor the use of chemical weapons.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this. I have regular contact with the WHO through my responsibilities at the Department for International Development. There is a tragedy of children caught up in violence wherever it may be, whether it is the result of trafficking, abuse or conflict. This is not just for the WHO; it is for all parties involved. It should be of interest that only last week we spoke about mediation at the UN General Assembly. There must be more mediation, rather than confrontation, to end conflict.
It is very welcome that the UK is the first country to support the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace to bring people together to build peace, reconciliation and coexistence—vital for a lasting settlement. What multilateral and bilateral steps will the Government now be taking to build international support for that vital fund?
The right hon. Lady is right that one of the elements of distress over the years has been the gradual separation of young people, in particular, in the Palestinian areas and those in Israel. All efforts to use the organisations that bring people together are to be supported and sponsored. She will know well that we have a bilateral programme to do this. I hope to ensure when I am in conversation with others, particularly at the UN General Assembly, that this area is not neglected and that we see more of it. It also forms part of the comprehensive settlement we know is necessary to end the conflict in the area.
I am sorry, because I could enjoy the eloquence of my colleagues for an indefinite period, but we must now move on to the next business.
Before we come to the urgent questions, I must advise the House of the following. I have received notification from the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) of his intention to resign from the chair of the Standards Committee once a successor has been elected. He has served with great dedication and commitment for more than eight years in this role, often a thankless task, which has seen, of course, the introduction of lay members—a cause that I know is close to his heart—and, in recent months, the introduction of the new independent complaints and grievance policy, where the right hon. Gentleman has played an important role. He will also be stepping down from the chair of the Committee on Privileges.
Under the Standing Order, 10 sitting days have to elapse before an election. I have decided that the election for the new Chair of the Standards Committee will be held on Wednesday 17 October. The right hon. Gentleman has kindly agreed to continue in the chair until that date. I hope—I say this in all sincerity to colleagues across the House—that colleagues will want to show their appreciation of the work and commitment of the right hon. Gentleman. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Thank you.