Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
Rules-based International Order
International institutions and international law have since 1945 provided the framework for a sustained rise in global peace and prosperity. As a permanent member of the Security Council, we consider the United Nations to be the foundation of peace and security around the world. The UK has been at the forefront of efforts to defend the system—for example, by challenging Russian attempts to undermine international institutions and international law.
I thank the Minister for that response. Further to UN resolutions 39 and 47, and the 2018 report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights detailing the shocking human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir; what steps is he taking with India, Pakistan and other regional powers to secure a further resolution at the UN Security Council and a lasting settlement between these two nuclear-armed nations?
The UK’s position is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting political resolution to the situation in Kashmir, taking account of the wishes of the Kashmiri people. We consistently encourage India and Pakistan to engage in dialogue as a means of resolving differences. It is not for the UK to prescribe a particular solution or act as a mediator.
Does the Minister agree that the international rules-based order is underpinned by treaty, and if Britain were to leave the European Union with no deal we would be walking away and turning our back unilaterally on treaties? Not only would it be an act of self-harm to our country, but it would undermine the system of the rules-based international order itself.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity in crowbarring this into questions, but my main focus under this question is much more about the United Nations and multilateral institutions.
Does the Minister agree that if the Opposition want a deal, they should vote for one?
I do not know whether to be pleased or astonished at the Minister singing the praises of the United Nations. Presumably this means that the Government will be taking every step they can to comply with the recent resolution on the sovereignty of the Chagos Islands?
It is not a binding judicial decision, as the hon. Gentleman absolutely knows. He can expostulate as much as he wishes—it is a great act to watch—but he know the facts and I am sure he would admit it if he were pressed further.
I note that the hon. Gentleman is advised to expostulate rather than to expatiate. It is an interesting essay question in its own right as to the respective merits of each.
There are clear international rules regarding British sovereignty in Gibraltar, yet Spain continuously and repeatedly breaches the integrity of the maritime waters surrounding the Rock. What will the Minister do to remind Spain of its obligations under the rules-based international order?
Any such incursions in the proper waters of Gibraltar are always responded to by us. We watch them closely, but I very much hope that there can be no increase in tension and that we can in the years ahead reach a very settled position between ourselves and Spain on the absolute rights of Gibraltar as a British sovereign Rock.
I had hoped to start by congratulating the Foreign Secretary on making it to the final two in the Tory leadership race, but unfortunately, to coin a phrase, he has chosen to bottle the very first question, perhaps because he knew some of the issues that we were going to raise. But if the Minister of State is answering on his behalf, may I ask whether our potential future Prime Minister will commission an independent public inquiry or authorise a full parliamentary inquiry to establish which Ministers or civil servants over the past four years have been responsible for authorising arms sales for use in Yemen, even when, as the courts have found, it is clear there was a high risk that those arms would be used to commit war crimes?
I am very happy to join the right hon. Lady in congratulating my right hon. Friend on reaching the final two and indeed the final one—that is what we look forward to, for the good of the country. I am sorry that she was not sufficiently nimble of foot to save up such a question for topicals, when I am sure she will get such a chance. However, as she well knows, all of our arms sales meet the most rigorous rules, and we will continue to adhere to them.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but all the arms sales have not met the most rigorous rules. That is the whole point. He knows that there are men in this Chamber and beyond—Ministers—who ignored the evidence of risk to innocent civilians; guilty men, Ministers who signed off the export of arms that have now been found to be unlawful. Two of the men responsible for those decisions are the candidates to be our next Prime Minister.
Let me ask a related question, for which the Foreign Secretary has exclusive responsibility. It is now almost nine months since Jamal Khashoggi was murdered. Thanks to the Senate, we know that the CIA has concluded that Crown Prince Salman most likely ordered that murder, and we have heard from the United Nations that there is credible evidence for that conclusion. Will the Minister simply tell us, nine months on, when he will produce an official assessment of who ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi? Unlike Yemen, this is entirely on his watch.
I am afraid the right hon. Lady appears not to have read the 20 June Court judgment, which acknowledged “rigorous”—her very word—“robust” and “multi-layered” processes
“‘carried out by numerous expert government and military personnel’, upon which the Secretary of State could rely”.
As the right hon. Lady appreciates, my responsibilities do not cover Saudi Arabia, but we speak directly to our Saudi counterparts on all such matters, including arms and human rights.
Does the Secretary of State, who we hope will get to his feet for once on this question, not agree that the selling of weapons to a regime that murders journalists and civilians and repeatedly breaks international humanitarian law entirely undermines the United Kingdom’s role as a proponent of the rules-based international order?
I hope that for the time being at least I am an adequate substitute for the Foreign Secretary in answering these questions; it is a perfectly reasonable allocation of a question to a broad thematic policy area for which I am responsible. Within that broad theme, I assure the House that we endeavour to maintain the highest standards, not only within the rules-based international system but when it comes to the export of arms.
I welcome the Minister’s response, most notably his reference to this House, because earlier this year it was our own House of Lords Select Committee that reported that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia were “unconscionable” and that the UK Government are “on the wrong side” of the law. Last week, the Court of Appeal ruled that arms sales to Saudi Arabia are unlawful. The Government’s actions have been denounced by the upper House of the legislature and ruled unlawful by the judiciary, so on what grounds does the Secretary of State, or, indeed, the Minister, still insist on selling weapons to the regime?
The Court judgment did not say that our arms sales are unlawful. It criticised an aspect of process that we are studying very closely and will address. It is incorrect to say that our arms sales to Saudi Arabia are wholesale unlawful.
Trinidad and Tobago: Criminal Justice
Since 2017, under a bilateral security memorandum of understanding with Trinidad and Tobago, the UK has delivered targeted programmes to improve local judicial and policing capacity.
I ask this question with specific reference to my constituent Sharon St John, whose son Adrian was murdered three years ago. She is still waiting for justice. I thank the Foreign Office for belatedly getting more involved in the case, but what further pressure can Ministers and the Government put on the Trinidad and Tobago authorities to set the date for a full trial as soon as possible?
I commend the hon. Gentleman’s assiduousness in raising this truly terrible constituency case. He can be reassured that we have taken every opportunity to raise the case with Trinidad and Tobago. We obviously cannot interfere specifically in Trinidad and Tobago’s judicial process, but we are extending every possible support where we can. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in May last year the magistrate committed the accused to stand trial for murder, but we acknowledge that the trial date has not yet been set.
When I visited Trinidad, I found the people and nation to be peaceful, loving and entrepreneurial. There are some specific problems, but will the Minister confirm that the Foreign Office advice is still that British citizens can travel to Trinidad and Tobago? Many people will enjoy a vacation there.
Yes, of course. Thousands of people from the UK and elsewhere enjoy holidays in Trinidad and Tobago, and it is of course a close friend and Commonwealth partner. The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) is right to raise the issue, and I am sure that my hon. Friend would do the same should a constituent have such a bad experience anywhere in the world.
Over 30,000 British nationals visit Trinidad and Tobago every year. Forty people were murdered there in January 2018 alone, and the deaths of Mr and Mrs Wheeler in particular exposed the need for protection measures for British citizens visiting Trinidad and Tobago. Will the Minister outline the steps being taken to secure the safety of UK citizens when they are on holiday?
Millions of citizens travel world wide all the time, and we ensure that we provide good and up-to-date travel advice. We always encourage travellers to take out insurance policies when they are going on business trips or holidays, and to look at the Foreign Office’s travel advice pages.
We remain very concerned about the situation in Hong Kong, and I raised those concerns with the Chief Executive on 12 June. Today I urge the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government to establish a robust, independent investigation into the violent scenes that we saw. The outcome of that investigation will inform our assessment of future export licence applications to the Hong Kong police, and we will not issue any further export licences for crowd control equipment to Hong Kong unless we are satisfied that concerns raised about human rights and fundamental freedoms have been thoroughly addressed.
I join my colleagues in congratulating the Secretary of State on the position he is in now, and wish him good luck for the future; it is a good achievement.
Will the Government fulfil our moral responsibilities and offer refuge to Hong Kong residents who are at risk from the extraterritorial application of Chinese law?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his good luck wishes and ask him not to pass that on to Labour party members in Ealing, because it might discourage their Conservative party counterparts. I also thank the shadow Foreign Secretary for her congratulations; she is a gracious person and I would expect nothing less of her.
On more serious matters, we were very concerned about this extradition law because the fundamental freedoms of Hong Kong are what has made it such a stunning success since 1997—and, indeed, before 1997. Anything that contradicted the letter or spirit of the Basic Law that preserves those freedoms should not happen.
My right hon. Friend has spoken out very powerfully on Hong Kong at other points. Will he recognise the report on China by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and the work that we put into the Hong Kong Administration, and the fact that the UK is in many ways still underpinning the economy of Hong Kong through the application of justice and the lending of judges to guarantee the courts? At what point does the Foreign Secretary think that civil rights can be divorced from property rights, and at what point would that mean that British judges are actually whitewashing a now failing civil rights Administration?
I do not think we can divorce civil rights and political rights. My hon. Friend and his Committee are absolutely right to raise those concerns. An independent judiciary, where people can be confident of their basic freedoms, is at the heart of what has made Hong Kong such an extraordinary city. We do not just have a moral obligation to stand up for the people of Hong Kong; we actually have an internationally binding legal agreement signed with China in 1984 by Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping. We will stand by that agreement and we expect China to do the same.
The Foreign Secretary may not know that at the time two parliamentary delegations went to Hong Kong to check how the declaration had been accepted by local people. I was on one of those delegations, led by Ian Mikardo, and we all came away absolutely convinced that one nation, two systems was a solemn, sacred obligation. Will the Foreign Secretary give a message to the Chinese Government: none of their nonsense—we know who is behind this and that they want to crush democracy in China, and that if it comes to it, we could have a system of embargoes on their goods coming to this country and to Europe?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his passionate support for the people of Hong Kong, and I want to reassure him on this. On my first visit to China as Foreign Secretary, I spoke to my counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, about the very issue of Hong Kong to underline just how important it is not just to this Government but to everyone in this House.
As a former investment banker specialising in the markets of Hong Kong up to and beyond the 1997 handover, I fully appreciate the incredible efforts made by Governor Chris Patten in securing the one country, two systems agreement for 50 years. Economic stability is an incredibly fragile commodity. Will my right hon. Friend reinforce and redouble his efforts to make sure that the one country, two systems arrangement does continue for the next 27 years?
Absolutely. I think that what happens in Hong Kong is, for all of us, a litmus test of the direction of travel that China goes in, because we had an internationally binding agreement signed in 1984 that Britain feels very, very strongly about. It is, as my hon. Friend rightly says, at the heart of Hong Kong’s economic success as well as its political freedom.
Is not the real problem that although the Chief Executive may not directly take her orders from Beijing, she often looks over her shoulder to find out what the Communist party of China is saying? Is not the fundamental truth that in the end one can repress human freedom for a while but one cannot finally quash it?
The hon. Gentleman puts it beautifully; he is absolutely right. Whatever the pressure that may or may not be exerted on the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, what works in Hong Kong at the moment is that the judiciary is independent, and that must not change.
My right hon. Friend has said that one country, two systems must mean exactly that. Will he support the legitimate demands of the protesters, many of whom are waving Union flags in the hope of support from this Government and this House for the permanent withdrawal of this most contentious Bill?
I called publicly for the Bill to be halted, and I agree with what the Hong Kong Government belatedly decided to do, which is to commit to not bringing it back until concerns about democratic rights have been addressed.
UK Soft Power
The UK has recently been rated the world’s No. 1 soft power. Our strengths in sport, education and culture are a vital diplomatic asset.
I really welcome the upcoming conference on media freedoms that the Minister is hosting next month. What specific asks can be made of the countries attending to ensure that they promote the values of democracy and free speech?
I thank my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the important media freedom conference that we are hosting jointly with the Canadians in London in a couple of weeks’ time. He will be glad to hear that so far Ministers from 50 countries will be coming along to that event. We are asking countries to sign up to a pledge welcoming the value of a free media in holding the powerful to account and stressing the importance of the free exchange of information.
Mr Speaker, you have just graciously opened Parliamentary Links Day, celebrating science in Parliament and the UK’s world-leading position as a science nation. Unfortunately, all too often African scientists are prevented from coming here to collaborate because of the UK’s outdated and arbitrary visa system. The all-party parliamentary group for Africa, which I chair, is conducting an investigation into this. Will the Minister commit to joining us for the launch of the report on 16 July and to working with the Home Office to address this real barrier to our soft power in the world of science?
I commend the hon. Lady’s chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group for Africa. As she knows, I try to come along to all her meetings when I can, so I will add that request to the list and hope I will be able to join her. She will be glad to know that we have recently gone out to every part of our diplomatic network to find out from the frontline where there are issues with the UK visa system. She knows how many millions are processed every month. We want to see what we can do, working with our colleagues in the Home Office, to make sure that everyone who wants to come to visit the UK, for scientific or other purposes, and who has a legitimate reason to be here, the means to be here and the opportunity to return can do so.
The Secretary of State clearly believes that he is a master of soft power and diplomacy. He says that Europe will be willing to renegotiate the Brexit withdrawal agreement if a new Prime Minister comes forward with ideas on how to solve the Northern Ireland border issue. I presume that, like her colleague, the Minister for Europe and the Americas, the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan), the Minister is supporting the Secretary of State for the premiership. If she is, can she please tell us what those ideas are?
Let me take this opportunity to say that, yes, I do support the Foreign Secretary’s campaign to be the next leader of the Conservative party. The hon. Gentleman has been extremely ingenious in this question on soft power in shoehorning the sort of questions that will rightly be asked by members of the Conservative party in this campaign. What I will say from this Dispatch Box is that I am absolutely confident that, whatever the outcome of those negotiations, the UK’s leadership in soft power will continue to shine brightly in the world.
We are very concerned about the situation in the middle east and the risks of an accidental war. We have made serious efforts to de-escalate tension, including the visit by my right hon. Friend, the Minister for the Middle East, to Tehran at the end of last week.
With regard to the recent tanker attacks, the UN Secretary-General has stated that the truth will be known only if an independent entity verifies the facts. Does the Secretary of State agree with that and will he confirm that the UK will not be dragged blindly, with the US, into a war against the wider wishes of the international community?
The US is our closest ally. We talk to it the whole time. We consider any requests that it makes carefully, but I cannot envisage any situation in which it requests, or we agree to, any moves to go to war.
I think the whole House appreciates the efforts that were made by the Minister for the Middle East at the weekend to de-escalate this crisis, but can the Secretary of State tell us what work is being done with the UN to make further progress?
The hon. Gentleman is right to ask that question. We have been doing extensive work. The message that we are sending with our partners in the European Union, particularly the French and the Germans, is that, with respect to Iran’s nuclear programme, this is a crucial week. Iran has said that it will reach the limits of what it is allowed for low-enriched uranium by 27 June, which is later on this week. It is absolutely essential that it sticks to that deal in its entirety for it to be preserved and for us to have a nuclear-free middle east.
May I also congratulate my right hon. Friend, the Minister for the Middle East, on his visit to Tehran, which I know that he will have found as fascinating as I always did? In his conversations about Iran with his US counterparts, may I ask the Foreign Secretary to remind them of David Petraeus’s key question: “Tell Me How This Ends?”. Although it is very clear that Iran has to take actions to assuage regional tensions, does he agree that the United States needs to move cautiously and listen to wise voices such as those of Dr Anwar Gargash who urges political solutions to long-standing and complex regional problems?
No one speaks more wisely on the middle east than my right hon. Friend after his very long and distinguished time in the Foreign Office with responsibility for that brief. He is, of course, right. Neither side wants war in this situation, but it is very important that there are ladders for people to climb down so that discussions and negotiations can take place.
I, too, commend the Minister for the Middle East for his visit to Iran. Time and again, Iran demonstrates that it has no intention of being a serious and responsible member of the international community through its human rights abuses, its ballistic missile tests and its export of terror and violence throughout the region. Are we not naive in thinking that with a bit more love and a bit more carrot, Iran will change its ways?
My right hon. Friend speaks very wisely on this. The truth is that the only real solution to this problem is for Iran to stop its destabilising activities in Yemen, which has seen missiles being fired into airports in Saudi Arabia; in Lebanon, which is seeing Hezbollah activity and attacks happening on Israel; and in Iraq and in Syria. That is the long-term solution.
US President Donald Trump said this weekend that all the current tension with Iran could disappear if only Tehran agreed to co-operate on ending its nuclear programme. Have the Government tried to explain to the President that if he wants to achieve that outcome, all it takes is for all sides to honour the terms of the Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action?
May I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that the cause of the problems is that destabilising activity by Iran has continued even after the JCPOA? It has had success in restraining Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and that is why we continue to support it, but we are not going to get proper peace in the middle east unless we end those thoroughly destabilising activities.
Journalistic Rights and Freedoms
This year, the UK is spearheading a global campaign on media freedoms, and our diplomatic missions around the world have stepped up their activity accordingly. We have announced the appointment of Special Envoy Amal Clooney, establishing a high-level panel to drive legislative reform throughout the world, and we will announce further practical steps with wide international support at next month’s UK and Canada-led conference.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s answer, but at least 94 journalists were killed in the course of their duties last year. Will he and his ministerial colleagues undertake, on every occasion when they travel overseas or meet foreign Heads of State, to raise this issue, which is so vital if we are to get real news, not fake news?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As it happens, at the weekend I was in Tehran, and I made the points that he has made to my interlocutors. It is absolutely vital that journalists are able to do their work unhindered and certainly unthreatened, and the secret to peace and prosperity across our world—our troubled world—today is the ability to have the transparency that is the stock in trade of journalists.
Will the Minister look at the situation of journalists in Turkey, and in that context, will he welcome the victory of the opposition in Istanbul as a sign that at least in Turkey there are people fighting against the authoritarianism of President Erdoğan?
Istanbul has very much been in the spotlight over the past few days, and I think we probably welcome the political vibrancy that we have seen in Turkey over the past few days. Of course, Turkey is a very dangerous place for journalists right now, and the hon. Gentleman is right to underscore the importance of Turkey in particular engaging with this process. I very much hope that Turkey is represented at the conference in London next month.
We all welcome the Foreign Secretary’s decision to host a ministerial summit on media freedom next month. However, can the Minister of State explain why it took an outcry from Britain’s National Union of Journalists even to get an invitation to the summit and why, even though journalists have now been invited, they are still not being allowed to speak? Will he also say what involvement the International Federation of Journalists has had?
I am absolutely delighted that journalists, and of course their representative bodies, will be represented at this conference. I am very keen for them to suggest what part they might play in the proceedings, and I am looking forward to hearing from them. This is meant to be Britain being a window to the world on the importance that we assign to journalistic freedom and a free press. Let us see what they have to say.
Departmental Staff: Pay
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has well-established processes in place to ensure that our staff, wherever they work around the globe, are paid correctly and on time.
I am disappointed that the Secretary of State is not answering this question, because in the last set of questions he said of the Interserve dispute going on in his Department:
“If we failed to pay any of our staff on time, I take full responsibility.”—[Official Report, 14 May 2019; Vol. 660, c. 88.]
I understand that nothing has happened, and in fact the FCO is now the second Government Department to set up a food bank to help its staff. Are these really the actions of a person who wants to lead this country? He cannot even sort out what is going on in his own Department.
The hon. Lady is completely misinformed to say that nothing has happened. What did happen is that Interserve changed the date in the month on which the salary of some of the lower paid workers in the Foreign Office was paid, and it made some errors in calculating what was owed. It was thanks to the personal intervention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who not only wrote to the CEO of Interserve but called people in the Foreign Office to account, that, first, those people were properly paid, and secondly, they received a subsequent and additional good-will payment.
One set of staff who are deservedly well paid are Her Majesty’s trade commissioners. The nine have been in place for a year and have been a big success. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new position shows how well the Department for International Trade and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office work together to promote trade by hiring the right people to lead that work?
My right hon. Friend is a champion of international trade. Trade commissioners are of great value and of course—in line with the question on the Order Paper—they are paid appropriately and on time.
The FCO is playing a leading role in promoting international co-operation on climate change, maintaining the momentum generated by the Paris agreement, and raising ambition, as indicated by our new net zero 2050 target.
This Government pride themselves on the special relationship with the United States. With record low temperatures gripping the US last winter, President Donald Trump tweeted that it would be good to see some of
“that good old-fashioned Global Warming”.
What progress was made during Donald Trump’s recent state visit on making him see sense on climate change?
We are very direct with President Trump. We do not agree with him on climate change, which is why we continue to uphold the Paris accord and why we are championing a UK bid to host the next big climate change conference, COP 26. We want it to be held in London at the end of next year, and if we are successful, it will tell the whole world how seriously we take the issue.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s efforts to secure the COP 26 summit for Britain. If he succeeds, how will he ensure that schools in Havant and across the country can contribute to the summit, given the importance of climate change to the next generation?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to focus on young people, and I am sure there will be a youth event if we are successful in our bid to host COP 26, but in some ways I want to have an oldies event as well, because I want young people to see that older generations really do take this issue seriously. Their concern is that we are not as committed to it as they are, and we must prove them wrong.
The UK is now exporting more waste to countries with the highest levels of ocean plastic pollution. The ban on plastic exports to China has led to the UK offloading its waste on nations with questionable records on marine pollution. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to reduce environmentally costly plastic exports?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the scenes in Malaysia and other parts of the world of plastic waste that has often come from us are not acceptable. All I can do is salute the extraordinary work done by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in championing an end to plastics in the ocean. The international leadership he has shown is extraordinary.
I welcome the fact that, yesterday, this House of Commons voted to make the UK carbon-neutral by 2050. That is a great achievement for this Parliament. The Foreign Secretary is fully aware that the UK accounts for only a very small percentage—about 2%—of global emissions, so for the change to be made a reality for the world, other countries need to follow suit. What is his assessment of how the effort is going in other developed countries to ensure that they follow our lead?
I think we are making progress, despite the setback of not having the United States on board. As for exactly what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is doing, we have 299 people across the world whose job is entirely or partly to advocate on climate change. We are using our diplomatic network to its fullest effect.
At present, there is no primary legislation to prevent this Government or future Governments using carbon offsetting in other countries to reduce our own carbon emissions. Will the Foreign Secretary commit to such legislation to ensure that we are not simply exporting our own problems?
I recognise the fairness of the hon. Lady’s point. There will, of course, be legislation to follow relating to our net zero 2050 target and that will be the moment to have that debate.
Handling plastic waste is a key environmental challenge, as was highlighted earlier. Last week I met Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir, who agreed on the importance of partnership between our two Governments to tackle the issue of unrecyclable waste illegally exported to Malaysia. Our high commission in Kuala Lumpur is already on the case. Will my right hon. Friend pass on to colleagues in the Cabinet the importance of reviewing penalties for subcontractors in the UK who are illegally mixing waste for export? This is not the sort of export that the Foreign Office or the Department for International Trade want to support.
The hon. Gentleman is a very well connected fellow indeed. I have had cause to observe that before and I do so again.
My hon. Friend is extremely well connected, Mr Speaker. You are absolutely right. Prime Minister Mahathir is just one of many Prime Ministers that I know he knows. Perhaps he should be doing my job. What he says is right. As was mentioned in an earlier question, we are responsible for only 2% of emissions, so the power of UK leadership is the power of the example that we set. That is why on these issues we have to ensure that we get it right.
I am asking a rare third question on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman). She cannot be here for family reasons, but she wanted me to join in the important discussion on climate change. It gives me the opportunity to congratulate the Foreign Secretary directly not just for getting into the final two, but for being the only candidate who has the police outside his house for the right reasons. [Laughter.] Aside from the very welcome conversation on climate change that the Prince of Wales had with Donald Trump during his state visit—[Interruption.] I’m sorry, does the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) wish to intervene?
Okay, well perhaps I can start again. I want to ask the Foreign Secretary this. Aside from the very welcome conversation on climate change that the Prince of Wales had with Donald Trump during his state visit, I want to reiterate the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan). What progress did the Foreign Secretary and the Government make in trying to persuade the President of the United States to take climate change seriously, given that his response following that visit was to say that all this fuss was simply about changes in the weather?
I talked very openly with President Trump about the fact that we disagreed. He also had extensive discussions with other people on his visit. I do not comment on royal conversations, but I do know he spent a lot of time with His Royal Highness Prince Charles. The point I would gently make to the right hon. Lady is that when we disagree with our friends we do have these conversations and it would be great if she did the same with people like Maduro and Putin as well.
US-UK Special Relationship
As it happens, we are on the same topic. The state visit of President Trump was a tremendous success, although the absence of the Leader of the Opposition from the state banquet was noted but not regretted.
I am sure my right hon. Friend will therefore agree that those who tried to disrupt and denigrate the recent state visit of the President of the United States were deliberately and shockingly trying to damage our special relationship, and betray what the President has rightly called the greatest alliance in history.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Every day I walk up the Foreign Office staircase and pass a bust of one of our greatest Foreign Secretaries, Earnest Bevin, who was both a Labour Foreign Secretary and one of the founders of NATO. What a betrayal of his remarkable legacy to have a Labour leader who takes money from Iranian state TV and is a friend of terrorists.
President Trump made it clear that the special intelligence sharing arrangements with the UK might be cancelled if the British Government persisted with their compromised arrangements with Huawei on 5G. How have the Government responded to that threat?
By saying two things: we will never do anything that will compromise our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States and we will take all such decisions in the British national interest.
NGOs: Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories
We firmly believe that civil society organisations should be able to conduct humanitarian work in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and I saw some of that work in action on the ground during my visit last month. We are aware of reports of pressure exerted against NGOs, particularly those critical of Israel’s conduct in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We continue to make it clear that a vibrant civil society is in Israel’s interest and encourage the Palestinian Authority to ensure that NGOs can work unimpeded.
I thank the Minister for that refreshing answer, but I ask him to pursue the case of Omar Shakir, the director of Human Rights Watch, who has been harassed for two and a half years. Is the Minister also concerned by the wider hostile environment for NGOs, which has seen the Daily Mail pay £120,000 in libel damages to Interpal this month for impugning its humanitarian work in Gaza, and by the summit taking place in Manama this week on the future of the Occupied Palestinian Territories that does not even have the word “Palestine” on the agenda?
There was a lot in that question; I will do my best to answer it. The Manama conference is in train right now, and that gives me the opportunity to say again, so that there is no confusion, that Her Majesty’s Government are fully behind the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as a shared capital. I hope that makes it clear.
The hon. Gentleman mentions Omar Shakir, the director of Human Rights Watch, and I share the hon. Gentleman’s dismay at what has happened to him. I note that his deportation has been stayed and I encourage that stay of deportation to be made permanent. It is important that Human Rights Watch continues to do the important things that it does in Israel and the OPTs. I very much encourage both the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel to ensure that NGOs such as Human Rights Watch are able to continue doing what they do. It establishes credibility for both of them in the international community and any attacks on them, I am afraid, does them inestimable damage.
My right hon. Friend will be well aware that numerous NGOs operate both in Israel and Palestine. Does he agree that NGOs that encourage Palestinians and Israelis to come together, such as the Parents Circle-Families Forum and MEET—the Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow—should be encouraged, and that the refusal of Palestinian Authority to allow these NGOs to operate causes more dissension and concern?
My hon. Friend speaks from a position of some strength because he takes a great deal of interest in these matters. Dialogue is terribly important. When I have spoken to both my Israeli and Palestinian Authority interlocutors, I have made it absolutely clear to them that the only way forward for peace in the middle east is for dialogue to be facilitated and continued. NGOs of the sort that he has described are an important part of that.
The Israeli NGO, Save a Child’s Heart, which I had the honour to visit recently, just performed its 5,000th life-saving operation. The children come from all over, including Africa and the Palestinian territories. Will the Minister join me in commending and celebrating this fantastic achievement by this wonderful organisation?
It does sound like a wonderful organisation, and it is important to commend the activities of NGOs and particularly medical charities, large and small, that operate in this space. Too often we hear about the large ones and not so much about the small ones. I am particularly conscious of those operating in relation to Gaza and the west bank and the difficulties that some are having, particularly with their patients gaining the access that they need. Organisations of the sort that the right hon. Gentleman describes are very important in that respect.
International Economic Crime
We are working with a range of countries to demonstrate UK global leadership by increasing our capabilities in the overseas network, including establishing joint serious organised crime teams in over 80 countries.
The line between rogue nation states and terrorist organisations sponsoring organised criminal activity is increasingly blurred. They are attacking our national institutions and millions of residents in this country. Does the Minister believe that diplomacy is working?
My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the importance, given that we are one of the world’s leading financial centres, of our being as rigorous as possible and taking a zero-tolerance approach. I am sure the House will welcome the fact that last December the Financial Action Task Force review took a close look at our system and concluded that the UK had the strongest anti-money laundering regime of the countries assessed to date, but clearly we cannot be complacent; there is much more to do.
The political stand-off in Venezuela continues and the humanitarian crisis deepens. We support initiatives by the Lima Group, the International Contact Group and the Norwegian-facilitated talks in Oslo to make progress towards a solution. We have committed significant humanitarian aid and are supporting the UN and the Red Cross movement operating in the region.
Will the Minister join me in welcoming the visit of the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, to Venezuela and endorsing her demands that, whatever else needs to happen there, we must see the immediate release of all political prisoners being held by the Maduro Government?
Yes, I am very happy to confirm that, but of course we need to see far more than that in Venezuela. Maduro has brought his own country to its knees. Millions of people have fled to neighbouring countries. The country has been ruined by the lunacy of one man, and we all, as the international community, need to work together to do everything we possibly can to restore the fortunes of that once great country.
This might be my last Question Time as Foreign Secretary—or indeed it might not—but one important event that will happen before the result of the Conservative leadership election is announced is the launch of a major global campaign to protect the safety of journalists around the world. The UK has joined forces with Canada to spearhead this campaign, which I will be launching next month with Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland. It will be the world’s first ever ministerial summit on media freedom, here in London. We have 700 confirmed attendees from media and civil society across 98 countries and from 45 different Governments. Together we will shine a light on abuse and raise the price for those who would harm or imprison journalists.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for announcing that conference. Whether he remains Foreign Secretary or becomes Prime Minister, or takes any other post, I hope that he continues consistently to champion human rights and media freedom.
I declare an interest in that last month I was part of a delegation with Medical Aid for Palestinians and the Council for Arab-British Understanding that visited the Palestinian refugee camp of Dheisheh in the occupied west bank. There we witnessed the vital work in education, health and other areas of humanitarian relief that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency does but which is now at risk because the US has threatened to defund and delegitimise the agency. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that the UK intends to support the renewal of UNRWA’s mandate at the General Assembly later this year so that it can continue its vital work of protecting people and giving them a sense of hope?
I thank the hon. Lady for her good wishes. She once bought me a cappuccino in Portcullis House, and I look forward to returning the favour in No. 10, if that is what happens. I can confirm that we will continue to support the renewal of UNRWA’s mandate and the vital work it does.
As it happens, I recently visited a kibbutz very close to the Gazan border, and I saw for myself the effect that such attacks were having on the civilian population, despite Israel’s Iron Dome, which is good but not infallible. We condemn all rocket attacks from Gaza towards Israeli. They are completely unacceptable. While they and other violence like that continues, there is no realistic prospect of peace being forthcoming in that part of our troubled world. We must see the cessation of rockets from Gaza into Israel.
The hon. Lady can tell her constituents, and indeed the people of Sudan, that we stand with them in their desire for a transition to civilian-led government. As she knows, there have been widespread reports following those horrendous attacks, and we encourage everyone to keep documentation of such atrocities. Justice will come eventually, but I summoned the Sudanese ambassador to express our disagreement with—our real abomination of—what had taken place on 3 June.
Of course I share my hon. Friend’s concern about Iran’s support for international terrorism, particularly through its proxy groups, which I discussed at length with my interlocutors over the weekend. I think it only fair to say that the Financial Action Task Force has recognised that there has been some progress in Iran but is disappointed that it has not been comprehensive, which it is why it is felt that, on balance, it is right to extend the deadline to October 2019. I hope very much that the outstanding issues in the action plan will be addressed during the intervening time.
I utterly deplore what Katie Hopkins said—I condemn it in the roundest terms—but I also support the view of the President of the United States that the Mayor of London needs to do more about knife crime.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s excellence as a trade envoy between the UK and Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s trade has increased by some 80%, which must surely be one of the records among trade envoys.
We are truly appalled by those killings, and our thoughts are indeed with the people who have been affected by them. We support Ethiopia’s progress in political and economic reforms, and we do not want such events to influence that agenda.
I think the action that the Government have taken to address the Windrush scandal has been noted by the countries affected, and I think they understand that we see that an injustice was done and we are putting it right.
I am happy to do that. India is a country that I want to visit at the earliest opportunity to strengthen our relations. I am trying to avoid the use of the phrase “strong and stable”, but I will say that that relationship with India is incredibly important to both countries, and we will do everything we can to further it.
My constituent Mr Rishikesh Kardile has been in custody since a business conference in Barcelona in February. Will the Minister’s officials ask the Indian Government to lift their extradition application so that he can return to his young son and family in my constituency and the matter can be resolved through the normal legal process?
Further to my letter to the right hon. Gentleman last month, Mr Kardile has now been released from prison. He is required to remain in Spain, because he is the subject of an Indian extradition notice. It would be very difficult, and possibly inappropriate, for us to intervene, as this is a matter for the Spanish courts, but we are extending to Mr Kardile and his family the fullest consular support possible.
Nobody can criticise our Government’s reaction to atrocities committed against the Muslim community, or indeed Muslims around the world; however, given that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary seeks to lead this Christian country, has his Department not rather let him down in the way we have sought to protect Christians abroad?
I think that has been somewhat of a blind spot, but we are putting it right, and that is why I asked the Bishop of Truro to conduct an independent review into what more we can do to tackle the persecution of Christians, which accounts for about 80% of the religious persecution in the world. That report will be received next month.
Does the Foreign Secretary not agree that whether it is the tear gassing and rubber bulleting of peaceful protestors in Hong Kong or the mass detention without trial in concentration camps of civilians in the United States by Trump, our hand is much weakened in upholding the fundamental values of human rights if we are under the pressure of seeking trade agreements with China on the one hand or the United States on the other, and therefore we are better off staying in the EU and having a final say on that?
This is the trouble with Labour, if I may say so: the United States supported the people of Hong Kong but Labour boycotted the state banquet of the US President but went to the state banquet of the President of China. What sort of priorities are they?
Foreign Office questions without the voice of Sutton Coldfield would be like dinner without a main course; we cannot have it.
Many of us hope that my right hon. Friend will continue his brilliant work as Foreign Secretary for many years to come, but may I take him back to his earlier remarks about Sudan and the present position of the long-suffering people of Sudan? Will he ensure that the British Government do all they can to make certain that, in line with the International Criminal Court indictment of General Bashir and Salah “Gosh”—two people who have been identified as perpetrators of mass atrocities in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan—they are held to account and taken to The Hague as swiftly as possible?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his assiduous pursuit of this agenda; he knows how closely we are working with both the ICC and other international forums to ensure that the situation in Sudan remains at the forefront of the international agenda and that we do everything we can to ensure a swift and orderly transition to civilian rule in that country. Clearly, accountability will not be forgotten by the international community.
Last week the Minister for the Middle East suggested that we would have no ideas how to increase the pressure on Russia to stop targeting hospitals in Syria. He is wrong about that: we sent him a number of ideas just this morning. Will he meet us to discuss them, and will he consider those measures, including expelling the Russian ambassador for these atrocities?
I remember our conversation across the Floor of the House and look forward very much to receiving the hon. Gentleman’s helpful ideas. It is vital that the parties to the Sochi ceasefire are mindful of the obligations they signed up to in September. The events of 6 May and subsequently are deeply regrettable and stand the very real risk of causing a huge further humanitarian crisis with further internally displaced people. We have to avoid that at all costs. I therefore gently suggest that the parties get back around the table and ensure that as a safe first step they stop their hostile activities in north-west Syria.
I have just returned from seeing Richard Ratcliffe, who is on the 11th day of his hunger strike in support of his wife Nazanin, who still languishes in a prison in Iran. Given the current increased tensions with Iran, what more can we do to keep Nazanin at the forefront of the profile and make sure the message to get her released is not lost among the other discussions we must have?
I thank my hon. Friend for visiting Richard Ratcliffe, who is a very brave man. I met him the weekend before last, and he is doing a remarkable job. I know that the whole House is thinking about Nazanin, about her five-year-old daughter and about that family. Our message to Iran is very simple: whatever disagreements you have with the UK, do not punish this innocent woman. It is not her fault. Let her come home.
Further to the earlier question about self-determination for the people of Kashmir, will the Minister confirm whether he has approached the United Nations to take a more direct and active role in recording, monitoring and reporting human rights abuses in Kashmir?
Obviously, we oppose human rights abuses anywhere. I have only recently and temporarily assumed responsibility for that part of the world, but I take fully on board what the hon. Lady says and assure her that the Government pay full attention to any human rights abuses anywhere in the world, but particularly in the Kashmir region.
Will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary update the House on the progress being made with the prevention of sexual violence in conflict initiative?
The UK has shown leadership on that initiative relentlessly since 2014, and I can announce that this November, five years on, we will host a summit to document progress and to highlight the fact that the world needs to continue to focus on this important issue.
There is considerable potential for trade and for increasing Britain’s soft power in developing our relationship with the Kurdistan region of Iraq. What more can be done to review the Foreign Office security advice on Kurdistan, and can it be viewed differently from the advice relating to wider Iraq?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. As it happens, I met Minister Hakim, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, a few hours ago to discuss a number of these issues. He is keen to normalise the trade and commerce relationship between Iraq and the rest of the world at the earliest opportunity. We discussed a range of issues, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will discuss them further when he meets his Iraqi interlocutors later today.
One of the issues is, bluntly, the exchange of people and the establishment of a visa regime that facilitates the passage of people between Iraq and the UK. I know that that is an issue of great importance to Iraq as things return to some level of normality after a very troubled period.
The hon. Gentleman mentions Kurdistan. We hope that President Barzani will visit this country in the near future. I have no doubt at all that some of these issues will be returned to when he comes to London.
This Foreign Secretary deserves credit for setting up an independent review into the persecution of Christians worldwide, but will he ensure that a lasting legacy is achieved, whatever the outcome of that review, by ensuring that diplomats who are sent to countries where persecution occurs receive training in religious literacy?
That is a very interesting suggestion, and I defer to my right hon. Friend’s great knowledge on these topics. I would like to wait for the Bishop of Truro’s recommendations, which we are expecting next month, before I consider that idea in the round, but it is certainly worthy of consideration.
I was incredibly moved to meet Richard Ratcliffe last week. A similar question has been asked today, but I do not feel that it was answered as well as it could have been. His wife is enduring an unjust incarceration in Iran, and I would like to know what the Government are doing specifically to provide us with an update on the steps they are taking to bring her home.
We have left no stone unturned. I went to Teheran on 19 November, and I have given Nazanin diplomatic protection. I have changed the travel advice to try to prevent this from happening to other dual nationals, and the Minister for the Middle East, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), raised the matter in Teheran at the end of last week. We are doing absolutely everything we can, because this is an appalling injustice.
Since the joint comprehensive plan of action was signed in 2015, there have been over 30 long-range missile launches from Iran capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. What are Ministers doing to tackle that aspect of Iran’s nuclear ambition?
It is vital that the JCPOA remains in place. It is also vital that we make progress with the E3 on the special purpose vehicle that we have designed to take this matter forward. At the weekend, I left my interlocutors in no doubt about our insistence that they maintain their commitment to JCPOA, specifically in relation to the nuclear issue. They must also desist from their ballistic missile programme and their support for proxies that are destabilising the middle east.
Mr Speaker, you might be interested to know that Blowfish Theatre has a travelling show “Boris the Musical 2”, which will be performed in the forthcoming Edinburgh festival in the Gilded Balloon theatre. If the Secretary of State has not seen the show, I recommend that he does so. The Edinburgh festival is the finest arts festival in the world. May I ask what Her Majesty’s Government are doing to support the theatre groups that take part so they can perform overseas, which would offer a strong boost to the UK’s soft power and, better still, I say to my SNP colleagues, to Scottish soft power?
I was in Scotland at the weekend, and I had the most delicious fish and chips I think I have ever had. We do an enormous amount of work to support the Edinburgh festival, the Edinburgh Tattoo and all the incredible tourism opportunities in Scotland. We do so as the Government of the United Kingdom, because we are stronger together.