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Topical Questions

Volume 660: debated on Tuesday 14 May 2019

Time is short, so I have three brief one-sentence updates for the House. First, following my trip to Africa, I can announce that the Africa investment summit will happen on 20 January 2020.

Secondly, I know that the whole House was greatly relieved by the pardoning of the Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and I thank the Burmese Government for listening to representations made by us and many others.

Thirdly, I think the whole House will want to congratulate and thank United Nations envoy, Martin Griffiths, and the head of the UN monitors, General Michael Lollesgaard, for their extraordinary efforts in Yemen, which have led to the Houthis redeploying out of Hodeidah, which is the first real ray of sunlight since the Stockholm talks.

I welcome the decision by the Sultan of Brunei not to sentence LGBT people to death by stoning, but it is still a crime to be gay in Brunei. Will my right hon. Friend use his influence to urge the Kingdom to repeal that law?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. That is a very good example of some important lobbying by both me and the Minister of State for Asia, because that law is totally repugnant to us and our values. We recognise Brunei is a sovereign state, and it is for it to make its own laws, but that is contrary to British values.

Last year, the Foreign Office provided rent-free accommodation in a £20 million mansion to the Foreign Secretary’s predecessor and bought a £12 million luxury penthouse flat in New York, but in April failed to pay the cleaners at King Charles Street on time. When they did get the money, it was at the wrong rate. How can the Foreign Office claim, as it does on its website, that it supports

“our citizens…around the globe”,

if it cannot even pay them at home?

If we failed to pay any of our staff on time, I take full responsibility. It is the first I have heard of that issue and I will look into it rapidly. But I do think it is important that Britain has residences around the world, where we entertain foreign Governments and do our diplomacy, that we can be proud of and that reflect our role in the world.

T5. Detention without trial for many years is a feature of several countries, in Africa and elsewhere. That does not seem to be core business for DFID. What recommendations does the Foreign Office have on this issue when we engage with other countries? (910895)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work as the former Minister for prisons, with all-party groups and in raising the issue regularly with me. He is right that we have a range of different programmes. Our new Secretary of State for International Development, having recently been Prisons Minister, is casting a fresh eye on that important issue.

T2. The Secretary of State may agree that when we ceded Hong Kong to China in 1997 we had a solemn agreement on one nation, two systems. What level of trust can we put in any Chinese Government that locks up protestors in the Umbrella movement, as happened only two weeks ago? (910892)

The hon. Gentleman is right, and we have noted with great concern the widespread concern in Hong Kong about the proposed changes, including the protests of 28 April and the disorder on the floor of LegCo in relation to the extradition laws that are currently going through. We are considering the potential implications, including how they may affect UK citizens, and will push to ensure that one country, two systems remains intact.

T6. Has any Foreign Office official involved in the EU negotiations sought Belgian citizenship? Would it be appropriate to do so? (910896)

Shall I say diplomatically that I was as intrigued by those media reports as my hon. Friend was?

T3. What representations have Ministers made regarding the persecution and mistreatment of members of the Baha’i faith by the Iran-backed Houthi authorities in Yemen, in particular on getting Hamed bin Haydara’s death sentence from January 2018 overturned and getting him and other detainees released? (910893)

We have not had good relations with the Houthis since the start of the Yemen conflict. I have met them twice, most recently on 1 March and before that on 13 December, and we are establishing a sort of relationship. We can start to raise that issue.

T7. The Foreign Secretary made an important speech last night at the Mansion House, where he rightly said that “Britain at its best has followed a global vocation.”The greatest challenge facing the planet is ecological and climate change, and it is our duty to fulfil that global vocation with redoubled effort to tackle that challenge. What further action will my right hon. Friend take? (910898)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The honest answer to the demonstrations organised by Greta Thunberg and others is that while we have done more than many countries on climate change, we have not done enough. The biggest single thing we can do is to host a really impactful COP 26—the next big climate change conference—in 2020 to demonstrate global leadership on this very important issue.

T4. When the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister met the Prime Minister of Libya last week, was there any discussion whatsoever about getting compensation for the victims of Gaddafi-sponsored terrorism? (910894)

Yes, there was. The hon. Lady has campaigned consistently on this issue, but I must be honest with her. There is a security emergency in Libya, with a very unstable situation on the ground, so that took up the bulk of our time. I did say that when the security issues have been resolved, it is a priority for us to return to that issue.

Does the Foreign Secretary share concerns that the proposed new arrangements to allow extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China will undermine confidence in Hong Kong as an international financial centre, break the firewall between the two legal systems and significantly contradict the Sino-British declaration?

As my hon. Friend is aware, we are deeply concerned in that regard. We are dealing with and speaking about potential extradition implications, not least with our outstanding consul general, Andy Heyn, out there in Hong Kong. The one country, two systems model needs to work well, and it is in China’s interest for that to happen, not least for the reasons she pointed out about the importance of Hong Kong as an international financial capital.

T8. I welcome the new Minister and hope that he will visit Baghdad and Irbil. Will he finalise the long-delayed official visit by the Kurdistan Regional Government President and Prime Minister to boost our important bilateral relationship with a strong KRG in a federal Iraq? (910899)

I thank the hon. Lady. She can be sure that I will visit Iraq again—it is a long time since I was there, in 2003. I support the points she made.

The thing with Iraq at the moment is that we appear to have rolled back Daesh, but there is a lot of work still to be done, particularly in and around Irbil, to ensure that those who perpetrated these dreadful crimes on the Iraqi people are brought to account. Work in that respect is ongoing. I look forward to seeing it on the ground.

What co-ordination is taking place between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DFID to ensure that British aid is given in pursuance of defined foreign policy goals?

I call Ms Marie Rimmer. She is not here, but the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) is.

I congratulate the new Minister and thank him for agreeing to meet me and my constituent this afternoon, so early in his tenure. What assessment has he made of the chances of the ceasefire in Yemen bearing success and opportunities to help people such as my constituent, Luke Symons, who is being held captive there?

I look forward to meeting the hon. Gentleman and his constituent later. The news from Hodeidah is good in relation to prosecuting the Stockholm proposal, but it is early days yet and of course we await the UN certification that there has in fact been an improvement in the situation—we expect news later today perhaps. We should welcome the progress made, however, and I look forward to seeing him later.

While recognising our own challenges here, the Foreign Secretary has rightly championed democratic values all over the world, so will Ministers join me, even as we await the formal results of the winners, in congratulating the 193 million Indonesians who participated, on an 80% turnout, in the presidential and general elections recently?

I would be delighted. They are lucky also to have an excellent trade envoy. I look forward to going to Indonesia later in the year and meeting counterparts in the new Government. We have a tremendous opportunity to do a huge amount of work with that very important country.

Better late than never. I was genuinely perturbed by the hon. Lady’s absence from the Chamber, but she has now beetled into the place and we will hear from her.

T9. I sincerely apologise, Mr Speaker. I will explain later, and I am sure you will accept my explanation. I apologise to the Chamber.Given the recent comments and actions of President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu during the Israeli elections, when he called for the annexation of part or all of the west bank, and given that present international law prohibits the acquisition of territory by force and that any such move would put under threat a solution for Israel and Palestine, will the Secretary of State or a Minister commit to calling for an international examination of and protection for the human rights of Palestinians? (910900)

The human rights of Palestinians are quite clearly very close to the top of our list of priorities. The hon. Lady touched on Israel, the annexation of territory and the involvement of the US. Let us be clear. We want to see a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. I hope that makes our position clear.

At the start of Christian Aid Week, the focus of the organisation is on its maternal health work in Sierra Leone, where, since the Ebola crisis, 10 women die every day in childbirth and one in nine children die before their fifth birthday. Will the Foreign Secretary put Britain’s weight behind the campaign calling on the IMF to write off the loans it made to the African country to fight the Ebola outbreak?

My hon. Friend was a superb Public Health Minister, and it is good to hear he is still leading by example with his cycling. On maternal health in Sierra Leone, he will be glad to know that our bilateral programme there will deliver health services to 2 million women and children by 2020.

The ongoing tensions between Iran and the US concern many of my constituents, particularly those who would like to see a world without nuclear weapons. Is the Secretary of State considering making the UK a signatory to the UN treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons?

We are strong supporters of nuclear non-proliferation. We think it is one of the biggest and most important things achieved since the nuclear non-proliferation treaty of 1970. In this area, we take a different approach from the US, and I raised those concerns very openly with Mike Pompeo yesterday.

There are strong and growing trade links between the midlands and China. May I commend to my right hon. Friend the midlands engine bid to host the next UK-China regional leaders meeting later this year?

It seems an eminently sensible idea, although there are great trade links between much of the UK and many cities in China, and we look forward to the formal bid. I am sure the Department will consider it very seriously.

We will hear remaining colleagues if they guarantee to use no more than one short sentence each.

One of the key aspects of the Stockholm agreement was prisoner transfers. What progress has been made on that in Yemen?

We have not implemented all elements of the Stockholm agreement—that is one reason why it has taken so long since the meeting on 13 December. The UN special envoy decided that the best way to break the logjam was to identify the most important part of it, which was the redeployment of troops from Hodeidah. Now that is happening, we will seek to implement the rest of the agreement as quickly as possible.

Will the Foreign Secretary update the House on what the Foreign Office is doing to help the British Council employee who was recently sentenced in Iran?

We are awaiting details, but I propose to meet relatives of that individual later this week, because we are very concerned about what has happened. Then, obviously, we will do everything we can to support the individual.

Azerbaijan, a country with a terrible human rights record, will soon be welcoming Chelsea and Arsenal football fans. What advice does the Foreign Office offer on the likelihood of their experiencing racism, homophobia or other hate crimes?

I advise all travelling fans to study the published travel advice, which is always very carefully prepared and which is available on the Foreign Office website.

It is good to hear of the role played by the Churches in establishing the UK’s soft power, but could it work the other way round? We have a great many vacancies in the highlands. As and when someone from overseas applies to become a minister or a priest, may I look to the Foreign Office and the Home Office to assist that applicant in every possible way?

I was not aware that priests were on the shortage occupation list, but I shall be happy to look into the matter. My own church has had a vacancy for quite a long while, so this could be the answer.

I am extremely grateful to the Foreign Secretary. As ever, we have observed one simple fact today: Foreign Office is box office. The level of interest is great; the number of questions continues to rise; and Ministers can go about their business with an additional glint in their eye and spring in their step.