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Topical Questions

Volume 650: debated on Tuesday 4 December 2018

Given the stresses and strains in British politics at the moment, I thought I might share with the House some good news: we will open a new British embassy in the Maldives. That small country has made important strides towards democracy with the recent elections and we wish to extend it every support possible, doubtless supported by several colleagues making fact-finding visits.

I wonder whether the Foreign Secretary is opening the said embassy, or whether he is generous enough to devolve that to his deputy.

I will be first up for coming on the opening visit.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that through programmes including the prosperity fund, but particularly through working with MPs in Parliaments in developing countries, the UK could establish itself as a leader in accelerating renewable energy, electric cars and other business opportunities to promote sustainable development and climate action in developing countries?

Mr Speaker, given that we wish to encourage parliamentary democracy in the Maldives, you might be the right person to go there on that important occasion and I am happy to expedite the process if it would help.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of zero emissions, and Britain can certainly play a leading role.

T4. Does the Minister recognise that after the illegal salvage of HMS Exeter from the Java sea, we need a wrecks at risk register to ensure that our lost Royal Navy ships—those war graves around the world—are not forgotten and are properly protected? Will he meet me to discuss how we can work internationally to create that register? (908014)

A nice easy one. Perhaps I should say that I am the last British Minister to visit Malé, the capital of the Maldives, and I would not recommend it for more than a weekend, though the islands around might be more fun. I think that that is why my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary suggests that you should go there, Mr Speaker.

I will keep my answer to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) simple: yes, of course, I am happy to meet him at any point.

T2. What are the Government doing to work with the Nigerian Government to promote reconciliation between the Fulani herders and the villagers and farmers of the Middle Belt? (908012)

I know that my hon. Friend contributed to the Westminster Hall debate that took place last week, thanks to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and the Backbench Business Committee. In that, I outlined the way in which our high commission is working with not only the national Government, but the state Government and community and religious leaders, and offering its help to support reconciliation and mediation in this growing crisis.

T5. Earlier this year, in response to deaths on the Gaza border, the Minister said that the Government would support Israel’s investigation into them and push for an international element to those investigations. How is he getting on with that? (908015)

We are still pressing the Israeli authorities in relation to exactly what we said previously. That is the best way to try to find an answer to the tragedy that happened in Gaza.

T3. The Chevening awards help Britain to engage young people from across the world. What support has my right hon. Friend given to British embassies and missions in the greater China region to promote those important awards? (908013)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the soft power access of the Chevening scholarship programme, which creates lasting, positive relationships with future leaders, influencers and decision makers from 145 countries around the world. We now have some 50,000 Chevening alumni since the project was set up in 1983. Last year, with 75 scholars, China was the single largest part of our Chevening ambition.

T6. Is the Minister aware of any Foreign Office warnings to tourists going to Malta about what is apparently a dodgy legal system? Would he be good enough to meet me to discuss a particular injustice to a family in my constituency to see whether he is able to help? (908016)

As with all countries, I urge anyone thinking of travelling to look at the travel advice, which we offer in a very disciplined way on the Foreign Office website. Should the hon. Gentleman wish to discuss an individual case, then of course I would be very happy to see him as he asks.

T7. As a vice-chairman of the all-party group on Albania, I and colleagues met the Albanian ambassador and Albanian politicians last week. They are very keen on developing business links with the UK. In view of the Foreign Secretary’s initiative to have more business leaders involved to work alongside our diplomats, can I urge him and the Government to engage with Albania and other western Balkan countries to develop our links? (908017)

Yes. The Foreign Secretary does indeed wish to widen the pool of talent from which we select ambassadors. Irrespective of that initiative, we are very keen to develop economic and commercial ties with Albania. We will do that in conjunction with the Department for International Trade. One thing that would help those commercial opportunities would be if Albania itself reforms its justice sector.

T8. Mr Rajapaksa playing any role in the Sri Lankan Government will terrify many communities in Sri Lanka, particularly the Tamil community. Will the Minister set out the UK Government’s position on Mr Rajapaksa’s re-emergence into Sri Lankan politics? (908018)

We are very concerned about the current chaotic political situation in Sri Lanka to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. It is causing great damage to that country both politically and economically. I made statements on 26 October, 29 October, 9 November and, as he knows, earlier this week at the meeting of the all-party group for Tamils. We will continue actively to co-ordinate our response with the international community in Colombo and in the UN.

T9. Further to that question, my right hon. Friend is aware that all parties are in court today again in Colombo. What conversations has he had with fellow Commonwealth Ministers? As chair of the Commonwealth, what conversations have we had with the secretary-general of the Commonwealth? What message can he give to the judges in Colombo to ensure that they uphold the constitution of Sri Lanka? (908019)

First and foremost, we want this to be resolved by Sri Lanka in line with its own constitution and laws. We welcome the statement made on 5 November by the Commonwealth secretary-general, who I understand will be meeting the Foreign Secretary to discuss a range of matters. Obviously, Sri Lanka will very much be at the forefront of that conversation. We want to encourage ongoing dialogue and to offer the support of the Commonwealth, if required, to the Government and the people of Sri Lanka. We are in an ongoing dialogue with the Commonwealth and other partners to ensure a co-ordinated international response.

I am sure I speak for all members of the Foreign Affairs Committee when I say how much we are looking forward to scrutinising the work of our new embassy in the Maldives.

What assessment have the Government made of the human rights of Palestinians living under the brutal dictatorship of Hamas, which routinely imprisons people without trial, tortures them, executes people and is reported today to have sentenced six people to death? Does that not show, along with the indiscriminate attacks on Israel, why Hamas is the main barrier to the peace process that we all want to see?

Yes; there is all too little emphasis on looking at the rule of Hamas in Gaza and the human rights abuses that are conducted, not least the pushing of people towards the fence during the course of the summer, which led to some of the deaths and woundings that have taken place. That is why we have a long-standing policy of no contact with Hamas.

Will my right hon. Friends update the House on the work they are doing with the Department for International Trade on securing UK accession to the World Trade Organisation’s Government procurement agreement?

Yes, I am very happy to announce that we were successful in our application to join the GPA and we were strongly supported by a number of allies all over the world.

The 3.9 million Christians in Pakistan are among the most persecuted in the world. Will Ministers assure the House that they are working with colleagues in the Department for International Trade to make sure that any future trade deals are not made at the expense of those people?

I assure the hon. Lady—I know the Foreign Secretary feels the same way—that clearly this is a major concern. As she rightly points out, we want trade deals with that country and we want to normalise relations, but we are particularly concerned about the freedom of religious belief, which applies not just to Christians but to many other religious minorities in that country.

On a recent visit to Sweden, I was rather disturbed to see a leaflet being delivered to every household entitled, “Om krisen eller kriget kommer”, which translates as “If crisis or war comes”. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that we are doing all that we can to stand by and support our closest allies not just in Sweden, but across Scandinavia and the Baltic, who see themselves on the frontline of this new cold war?

Apart from my hon. Friend’s primary duty of defending his Swedish wife, I can confirm to him that we are, of course, not in any way resiling from our commitment to defend our friends and to understand growing threats in eastern Europe and to the north.

The Foreign Secretary said earlier that they had achieved a great deal from the EU as part of the Government’s proposals. What parts has the Foreign Secretary not achieved?

As I said earlier, we have achieved a large part of what we wanted to achieve. The question is whether by accepting this deal we can go on and achieve everything that we want, and I believe that we can.

What assessment has the Minister for Africa made of the preparations for the forthcoming elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which are so vital?

I can share with the House that our assessment is that they are on track to take place, in accordance with the accord of Saint-Sylvestre, on 23 December. My hon. Friend will know that the UK has been very involved in funding 20,000 of the 60,000 election observers who will be there to observe the process.

My constituent Mr Nkemgo is from Cameroon. Many close members of his family have been shot and killed, and their villages have been burnt. What urgent action has the Secretary of State taken or will he take, and what does he say to my constituent?

I can say to the hon. Lady’s constituent that she is absolutely right to raise this very serious situation, that the UK Government are doing everything that they can to encourage the Government in Cameroon to engage in a dialogue with what has become an increasingly armed separatist movement. We are working with the United Nations on what further assistance can be given to the populations who are being displaced in this crisis.


Bill Presented

Nappies (Environmental Standards)

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

David Linden, supported by Patricia Gibson and John Mc Nally, presented a Bill to establish environmental standards for nappies; to make provision about the advertising and promotion of nappies with regard to those standards; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 25 January 2019, and to be printed (Bill 299.)