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Topical Questions

Volume 655: debated on Tuesday 26 February 2019

I will travel to Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates later this week to add further impetus to the peace process in Yemen. My aim is to build on the agreement reached in Stockholm in December, which allowed a sustained reduction in fighting in the port of Hodeidah, and to encourage all sides to carry out the redeployments they agreed at Stockholm. This may be one of the last opportunities to prevent a return to fighting and secure desperately needed humanitarian aid.

According to Oxfam reports, 6,400 people are being held in Libyan detention camps, which is the result of a deal between Libya and Italy. They have been trying to escape across Europe, only to be returned to Libya. They face malnutrition, violence and human trafficking. Has the Foreign Secretary spoken to Italy and Libya about this deal?

My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East, who has responsibility for north Africa, spoke to the Libyan Foreign Minister about that issue yesterday, and I spoke to the Italian Foreign Minister last week about immigration issues more generally.

T2. This Government have done great work supporting marine conservation around the world, but will my right hon. Friend outline what plans the Department has to support the marine protected area around the pristine waters of Ascension Island? This would cost as little as £120,000 a year to enforce and oversee, which represents good value. (909463)

As pioneers of the first marine protected area in the Southern ocean, the UK is working actively to see new designations in the Weddell sea, the east Antarctic and around the Antarctic peninsula. Ascension Island intends to designate a marine protected area this year, and a consultation is under way.

The people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are in an invidious position in that they have the temporary peace and stability that they desperately want and need but a new President for whom they did not vote. Does the Secretary of State agree that we cannot simply shrug our shoulders and say this is a trade-off that we accept but that, instead, the people of the DRC deserve both peace and democracy?

The people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo clearly voted for change in December 2018. We urged the Government to hold elections in line with the accord of Saint-Sylvestre. The elections took place on 30 December, and the official announcement has gone against what some observers felt was the case, but the UK is engaging with President Tshisekedi and his team following the elections. We clearly believe that the Congolese people voted for change, and we believe that the new Government need to be as inclusive as possible.

T4.   I welcome the work of the Foreign Office last year in hosting a major international conference on tackling the illegal wildlife trade, but what assessment has the Foreign Office made of the recent decisions made by Japan and Iceland to resume whaling? What steps will the Government take to encourage our friends to change their mind? (909466)

The UK is disappointed that Japan has announced that it will withdraw from the International Whaling Commission in order to resume commercial whaling, and we urge it to rethink its decision. The Prime Minister raised this with Prime Minister Abe on 10 January, confirming that the UK is and remains strongly opposed to commercial whaling.

T3. More than 1 million Venezuelan refugees who have been forced to flee Maduro’s humanitarian catastrophe are now in Colombia. I have a large, vibrant Colombian community in Southwark who are very worried about the knock-on impact of that crisis on their country, and on family and friends. What support and resource are the Government giving to the Colombian Government to manage this situation? (909464)

We are working closely with the Colombian Government in defending the continuation of the peace process. They have borne a massive burden of people who have left Venezuela, and we are at the forefront of European efforts to make sure that we can find a solution in Venezuela, in response to the absolutely unacceptable conduct of Mr Maduro.

T5. Along with the hon. Member for Keighley (John Grogan), I was in Kosovo last week representing the all-party group. Ministers will be aware of the concerns about land swap talks between Kosovo and Serbia. What assessment have the Government made of this and other potential changes to borders in the western Balkans? (909467)

As I set out to the Foreign Affairs Committee last September, the Government’s assessment is that border changes in the western Balkans would risk instability and contagion in the region and beyond. We support efforts to reach a normalisation agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, one that is deliverable and sustainable, and enjoys wide domestic support in both countries. We would support such an agreement.

T8. Family members of the London-based human rights defender Sayed Alwadaei had their sentences upheld yesterday in Bahrain in what the UN has described as a reprisal case, one that has been condemned by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Will the Government call for their release? (909471)

I was in Bahrain last week, where I met the chair of the independent monitoring committee, who has taken a special interest in some of the cases that have been raised in the UK to make sure that proper human rights are available to those who have been convicted in Bahrain. We still monitor a number of cases, but I urge people to go through that independent process because we are confident that it is genuinely independent and it is making a difference to the administration of justice in Bahrain.

T6. What difficulties face the fair and effective delivery of the £200 million that the Prime Minister has pledged to Yemen? (909469)

We think that that £200 million will mean that 3.7 million people get access to food they would not have otherwise had and 2 million get access to sanitation and fresh water. This will make a significant difference, but the most important thing of all would be to stop the fighting in Hodeidah to allow the Red sea mills to be opened up and food to be transported to the capital, Sana’a.

My constituent Luke Symons has been held for some considerable time as a captive in Sana’a, and his family feel that the Foreign Office is not doing enough. Will the Minister undertake to give priority to this case, so that Luke can get out of Yemen with his family and back to the UK?

We continue to have contact with Luke’s family. This is a very distressing case. We are not able to offer consular assistance in Yemen. We appreciate that he was in Yemen before the conflict broke out and we will continue to exert every effort we can to try to find a way to get him home.

T7. Will my right hon. Friend confirm what support the UK is providing to Ukraine to ensure that its merchant and naval shipping can have free access to its ports across the sea of Azov? (909470)

Russia’s action against Ukrainian vessels near the Kerch straits on 25 November was not in conformity with international law. Continued Russian restrictions on access to the sea of Azov should be ended immediately. We have worked with our partners to support Ukraine, including through securing political agreement in the EU for new sanctions listings, targeted on those responsible for the attacks on the Ukrainian vessels.

EU observers saw that

“violence has marred the election day, and significant obstacles to a level playing field remained in place throughout the…electoral campaign”.

What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the rights of minorities during election time in Bangladesh?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his heartfelt question. We were clearly concerned by the outcome of the elections in Bangladesh, and we are waiting for the Electoral Commission to come up with its full report. One aspect of it clearly has to do with various minorities in the Bangladeshi state. I shall be visiting Bangladesh in the course of the next six weeks and hope to be able to write to the hon. Gentleman in due course to answer his question in full.

My right hon. Friend will have been as shocked as I was to see the appalling scenes of Venezuelan troops using violence and intimidation to prevent vital aid from entering their country, which has been ravaged by socialism for decades. Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling on all parties around the world, and in particular the Labour leadership in this House, to condemn utterly Maduro’s actions and his illegitimate regime in Venezuela?

Any and every decent person in this House utterly condemns the barring of much needed humanitarian aid from getting into Venezuela. We all stand together in condemning those who are preventing that much needed source of supplies.

Several British overseas territories are still refusing to implement full transparency and to have public registers of ownership. Why are the Government refusing to obey the command of this House, which was to introduce legislation swiftly? Why are they refusing to do it until 2023?

We are fully adhering to the obligations and requirements of the Act that was passed. The hon. Gentleman is quite right that 2023 is the date by which we hope every requirement will be met in respect of public registers.

Significant ones. I was in Iraq two weeks ago and met the new President of Iraq, and its Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. Iraq knows that it must complete its introductory reconstruction efforts. It is important that those who have been abandoned in the Nineveh plain are able to get back, but the security situation remains crucial. Only when there is a strong security situation, organised and controlled by the state, will it be safe for everyone to go back. The United Kingdom is playing a leading part to encourage and support the efforts to promote reconstruction and the safety of those who have been displaced.

Fourteen million people in Yemen face the threat of starvation because of a blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia. How can the Government ever justify selling a billion pounds’-worth of weapons per year to a country that is deliberately using famine as a weapon of war?

Let me tell the hon. Gentleman that if we had followed his policy and stopped our strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia, there would be no peace process in Yemen and we would not have the first prospect for four years of solving the problem.

The recent terrorist attack by the group Jaish-e-Mohammad in Pulwama, where 49 Indian servicemen and women lost their lives, has been widely condemned. Will my right hon. Friend utter a clear and unreserved condemnation of this suicidal attack and call on Pakistan to stop funding these terrorist groups?

The UK Government unequivocally condemn the appalling terror attack in Pulwama on 14 February. We are actively encouraging the Governments of both India and Pakistan to find diplomatic solutions and to refrain from actions that could jeopardise regional stability. We are also working in the UN Security Council to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

I have a wonderful Chagossian community in Wythenshawe. In the light of yesterday’s International Court of Justice decision, what does the Minister have to say to that community?

I repeat what I said earlier: the court decision yesterday was an advisory opinion, not a judgment. We will continue to uphold our commitments, as we have frequently stated in this House.

What work are the Government doing to support relations and enhance the interaction between all political groups, in both opposition and government, in Iraq?

The formation of the Iraqi Government and the efforts being made—in particular by the President of Iraq, who is from the Kurdish region—to ensure better relationships between Irbil and Baghdad certainly seem to us to be paying dividends. Every effort is being made to enable the relationships to become stronger so that reconstruction right throughout Iraq can take place and it can once again be a strong and independent country in terms of its foreign policy, and serve all its people.

In the light of the detriment that older people experience globally, what steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to advance a UN convention for the rights of older people?

It is an issue that I have a great deal of interest in because of my previous role. I can assure the hon. Lady that, having the third largest development budget in the world, we continue to champion this issue at every opportunity.

The stability of Lebanon is vital to the wider security situation in the middle east. It has taken Prime Minister Hariri nine months to put together a Government that reflects all the different complex denominations and sects in Lebanon, including several Ministers from Hezbollah. What discussions have the British Government had with Prime Minister Hariri or the Lebanese Government about the proscription of the political wing of that organisation?

By good fortune, the Prime Minister and I met the Prime Minister of Lebanon on Sunday at the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh. We were able to discuss not only the issue relating to Hezbollah, but our own efforts to support the stability of the Government of Lebanon. Prime Minister Hariri recognised the support that the United Kingdom gave. We want to see Lebanon’s Government formation completed and also for the Government to go forward economically, a process in which our own investment conference in December was a landmark event.[Official Report, 27 February 2019, Vol. 655, c. 2MC.]