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Topical Questions

Volume 742: debated on Tuesday 12 December 2023

The Government are focused on our vital priorities, notably: supporting Ukraine, standing with Israel, and providing aid to Palestinian civilians. The Foreign Secretary and I met global leaders at COP28, who welcomed the UK’s leadership at this critical time. We discussed our newly launched international development White Paper, which seeks to get the sustainable development goals back on track at this halfway stage, when they are so far off. As mentioned before, I will deputise for the Foreign Secretary in this House and make regular statements to keep Members updated.

What steps is the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office taking to persuade and encourage our NATO allies to continue and enhance not just their military but civil support for Ukraine in its brave campaign against Putin’s evil invasion?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to put it in those terms. The Foreign Secretary met the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba at the NATO-Ukraine Council. My hon. Friend will know that nearly £10 billion in military, humanitarian and economic support has been provided by Britain since February 2022, and we were the first country to provide lethal aid. We are the biggest contributor to the armed forces in Ukraine of any single nation.

An aggressive threat to a smaller neighbour, an attack on recognised international borders, an illegitimate referendum stoking historical grievances—the Putin playbook is being copied in Caracas by Maduro. We must stand up to bullies and tyrants with imperial ambitions. As we maintain our steadfast commitment to Ukraine, can the Minister reaffirm the UK’s unwavering support for Guyana’s sovereignty?

Yes, I can. Yesterday I attended a meeting convened by the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, and it put out a statement last night which I very much hope will reassure the right hon. Gentleman.

T2. What progress has my hon. Friend made on the granting of full environmental protection to the waters around the South Sandwich Islands, as well as additional protections and improved management around South Georgia? (900615)

The South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands marine protected area provides comprehensive protection against the entire maritime zone. It has been rated one of the most sustainable in the world. The Government are currently undertaking their second five-year review, and a report is expected early next year.

T3. Alexei Navalny has gone missing from his penal colony, and has not been heard of for nearly a week. Will the Minister join international counterparts in making urgent representations to try to find out where he is, and to ensure his personal safety? (900616)

T6. “World malaria report 2023” shows that the number of malaria cases and deaths remain above pre-pandemic levels. What more can the Government do to ensure that we recover lost ground, and also drive towards the total eradication of this awful disease? (900620)

My hon. Friend is right to ask that question. British scientific expertise has delivered two new malaria vaccines, and as a result of our replenishment of the Global Fund we are working to ensure that 86 million mosquito nets are delivered, providing 450,000 seasonal malaria chemoprevention treatments.

T4.   The Minister for Africa has rightly highlighted the involvement of the Rapid Support Forces in atrocities in Darfur, and many Members have flagged the links between external states and the RSF. When the Minister was in Dubai for COP28, did he raise the issue of external support for the RSF with those deemed likely to be responsible? (900617)

I raise these issues not only at the COP but whenever I have the opportunity to do so, not least in discussions with Hamdok, the last Prime Minister of Sudan. While we welcome the call from last Saturday’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development summit for an immediate cessation of hostilities, we remain acutely concerned by the events that are taking place, many of which bear the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing.

T7. The threat to Guyana’s territorial integrity has already been highlighted. Can the Minister reassure me that we are taking steps with our allies in the region to deter any use of force by the Maduro dictatorship? (900621)

Venezuela’s actions with regard to Essequibo in Guyana are completely unacceptable. The border was settled in 1899, and we are working with our regional partners, such as Brazil, and with international bodies including the United Nations Security Council, the Commonwealth—as has already been mentioned—and the Organisation of American States to de-escalate tensions.

T5. The horrifying death toll in Gaza includes more than 100 aid workers and some 70 journalists. The vast majority of media casualties have been Palestinian journalists who went on working in the face of airstrikes and the deteriorating humanitarian situation as a result of the lack of information caused by the denial of access to international media. The National Union of Journalists warns of systemic targeting of journalists in Palestine, a further breach of international law. How will the Minister impress on the Israeli Government these specific obligations? (900618)

As I said earlier, we do stress the importance of abiding by the rules of war. I pay tribute to the brave humanitarian workers who put themselves in harm’s way, unarmed, to help their fellow citizens.

What precedent do the current negotiations between London and Port Louis on the future of the British Indian Ocean territory have in relation to the sovereignty of other uninhabited overseas territories, and, indeed the British sovereign base areas in Cyprus?

As raised earlier in substantive questions, we continue to have our negotiations on the British Indian Ocean Territories, which we are taking forward in good faith.

T9. It is not just citizens of the United Kingdom but the Government of Cyprus who are being denied information as to what the US military may be flying from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus to Israel. Is that not something that they should know about, given the risks, and is it not something that we should know about, given the complicity? (900623)

When it comes to Cyprus we have been working closely with our allies attending to the need for security, which may pertain to the release of hostages, so I think this is entirely a good thing.

I am a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Japan, and we have recently hosted more than 60 companies in Parliament, for which we thank the Minister for Investment and Blick Rothenburg. With increasing securitisation in international politics, is it not more important than ever to big up UK-Japan commercial opportunities? As the Japanese say: ganbatte ne!

The UK-Japan bilateral relationship has never been stronger. The Hiroshima accord that the Prime Minister agreed with Prime Minister Kishida on 19 May cements and builds on a period of sustained growth and deepening of our enhanced global strategic partnership.

As many of us go home tonight and kiss our children, parents in Gaza will be searching for body parts to recognise their children and burying them. Families broken; futures stolen. Is the Minister comfortable with over 18,000 innocent Palestinian civilians being killed, many of them children? When will he do the right thing and call for a ceasefire?

The hon. Lady reflects the pain and agony that those parents feel with great eloquence, and it is felt across the House, but the issue is how we address the causes of what happened on 7 October and the fact that a pogrom was imposed by Hamas, killing so very many Jewish people. We have to move towards a moment where the political skies clear and there is an opportunity for a new political initiative.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Does my hon. Friend recognise the recent joint statement from Armenia and Azerbaijan as a historic milestone towards the normalisation of relations? Can he tell us what this Government are doing towards bringing about a lasting peace treaty?

We are greatly encouraged by the joint statement from Azerbaijan and Armenia confirming their intention to normalise relations. As I made clear to both countries during my recent visit, we fully support their efforts to achieve a historic and lasting peace.

In answer to question 9, the Minister seemed to say that the Government were planning to completely proscribe the IRGC. Could he confirm that? If that were the case, it would be welcomed across the House.

My constituent Amani Ahmed arrived here from Gaza for her PhD just days before the outbreak of the war and is now desperately trying to bring her husband and three children to the UK. UK Visas and Immigration advises travelling to the nearest visa application centre but that is impossible as they are unable to leave Gaza. Can the Minister urgently intervene to ensure that Amani’s family are able to join her safely in the UK?

The hon. Lady will know that there is a specific track to pursue on this, and if she has not already been in touch with the crisis centre at the Foreign Office, that is what she should do immediately.

Last week I was contacted by Kennington Bethlehem Link, a voluntary group dedicated to working with Israelis and Palestinians. It raised the case of Anas Abu Srour, who was arrested by the Israeli army. This week it was announced that he had been detained for six months in administrative detention, and the reason for his arrest is still unclear. A petition of support has been signed by over 6,000 people in nine days, so will the Minister please ask the Foreign Secretary to work urgently with his Israeli counterpart so that we can find out why he was imprisoned?

If the hon. Lady will make available to me the full details of that case—assuming that she has not already told the Foreign Office—I will look into it for her and ensure she gets an answer.

That great world-beating British charity, the HALO Trust, has just announced the destruction of its 2 millionth landmine. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the trust, and also pledge further funding, which will be vital and necessary if it is to be able to deal with the outcome of Ukraine?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to pay tribute to the HALO Trust. Before I returned to Government I was an ambassador for the trust, so I speak with some pride in this matter. If he looks carefully at the International Development White Paper, which drew strength from all across the House in its commitments and identifying important aspects, he will see that HALO is mentioned there.

It is good to see you back in your place, Mr Speaker.

Is the Department monitoring the case of Raffaele Mincione, the British citizen who is currently being taken through the Vatican state courts, and is it making any representations to the Vatican courts about his case? Will officials agree to meet me to discuss the case?

I can certainly organise for someone to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that but, as he will know, arrangements with the Vatican were substantially changed in the year 1534, in the reign of King Henry VIII. As far as I know, there has been no change since then to reverse that.

India’s supreme court has upheld the Indian Government’s decision to revoke article 370 of the constitution, which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir. What assessment has the Minister made of the situation, as many Kashmiri constituents are quite worried?

We took note of the supreme court decision, and we continue to discuss with both parties the need both to resolve the continuing situation and to have constructive dialogue with the Kashmiris involved.