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Topical Questions

Volume 662: debated on Tuesday 25 June 2019

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.

T2. Earlier this month, a school in the beautiful Israeli town of Sderot was hit by a rocket—one of 800 fired from Gaza this year. What message do the UK Government have for the innocent Israeli civilians living in constant fear of terror, and does the Minister agree that there will be no progress until terror groups stop prioritising the eradication of Israel over peace? (911565)

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.

T4. Disturbingly, medics dealing with the aftermath of the 3 June attacks in Khartoum have said that, as well as 100 people dying, about 70 women may have been raped. Many of my constituents who have links with Sudan have suggested not only that the Janjaweed should be internationally proscribed—even, potentially, as a terrorist organisation—but that we should apply sanctions to those responsible. Do the Government hear my constituents’ call? (911567)

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.

T3. Last Friday, the Financial Action Task Force extended its deadline for Iran to commit itself to compliance with crucial financial anti-terrorism measures. Did that form part of the Minister’s discussions in Tehran, and does he share my concern about the extensive reports of Iran’s financing of international terrorism? (911566)

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 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.

T6. Will the Foreign Secretary condemn the repeated expressions of Islamophobia from the President of the United States, including the sharing of a tweet by Katie Hopkins that attacked the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, referring to London as “Londonistan”? (911569)

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.

T5. Over the weekend, the chief of the general staff of the Ethiopian army, the president of the Amhara region and several other high-ranking Ethiopian citizens were murdered. Will my right hon. Friend join me in sending condolences to the people of Ethiopia and to its excellent Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed? He is trying to secure reform in that great country, but clearly there are those who are trying to oppose him. (911568)

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.

T9. What assessment have the Government made of the impact that the Windrush scandal has had and the impact that wider “hostile environment” policies are still having, on our relationships with key allies in the Commonwealth and beyond? (911573)

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.

T7. This is UK-India Week, and a large contingent from India is visiting the UK for business purposes and to establish closer ties. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming UK-India Week, and will he give us a message of support for the building of that strong and stable relationship between the UK and India? (911571)

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 my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East 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.