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Topical Questions

Volume 629: debated on Tuesday 17 October 2017

The whole House will wish to join me in condemning the atrocity in Mogadishu on Saturday, which claimed at least 281 lives. Those who inflicted this heinous act of terrorism on a thriving capital city achieved nothing except to demonstrate their own wickedness. We offer our profound condolences to the Government and people of Somalia. Britain shall not rest in our efforts to restore stability in a country that has suffered for too long.

I agree with the Foreign Secretary’s comments on the terrible events in Somalia.

In March, the Foreign Secretary told this House that the Labour party had been “far too pessimistic” about Donald Trump. He said specifically that the nuclear deal with Iran

“was going to be junked”,


“it is now pretty clear that America supports it.”—[Official Report, 28 March 2017; Vol. 624, c. 116.]

Does the Foreign Secretary think that those comments perhaps demonstrate that he has a lack of political judgment?

If I may say so, perhaps the hon. Gentleman’s question demonstrates that he has a lack of understanding of what has taken place, because, as he will readily appreciate, the United States has not abrogated, or “junked”, the joint comprehensive plan of action. The JCPOA remains alive; it remains intact. It is our intention in this Government, working with our French and German friends, and with China and Russia, as well as with the rest of the European Union, to keep that deal alive, because that is in the interests of the whole world.

T5. Even if the Americans have 100% reliable intelligence to find every single nuclear site and rocket launcher in North Korea, the regime has thousands of guns mounted in caves near the border ready to bomb Seoul. In these circumstances, will the Foreign Secretary encourage the Trump Administration to pursue diplomacy in Korea, as in Iran? To coin a nostrum, “Jaw-jaw is better than war-war.” (901165)

My hon. Friend is completely right. The best way forward is to continue with what I think is the common policy on both sides of the House, which is to encourage the Chinese to intensify the economic pressure on Pyongyang with a view to getting it round the table, and that is what we are doing.

At our last session of questions, the Foreign Secretary agreed with the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) that if the EU demanded a single penny in the Brexit divorce bill, then they could “go whistle”. A month later, the Foreign Secretary said—[Interruption.] I appreciate that accountability is difficult for the right hon. Gentleman, but he ought to listen. He said:

“We are law-abiding, bill-paying people”

who will

“meet our legal obligations as we understand them”,

so can he clear up this issue today? Does he accept that there will be a divorce bill or not, and if so, how much should the bill be?

I must very humbly and apologetically correct the right hon. Lady, because she is not faithfully representing what I said. [Hon. Members: “She is.”] She is not. What I said in answer to an hon. Friend on these Benches was that some of the sums I had heard spoken of were, in my view, or in the view of my hon. Friends, eye-watering and far too high. The figure I heard was €100 billion. Would Labour Members cough up €100 billion? Would you, or you, or you? I think they would, the supine, protoplasmic, invertebrate jellies. I think that is the sort of money they would readily fork out. I think it is too much.

I hope the Hansard reporters caught the full flavour of that. We will inspect the Official Report tomorrow.

I do not think that has really cleared up a great deal, but let me try another question.

Again at our last session, the Foreign Secretary told this House—[Interruption.]

Order. I cannot believe that the Foreign Secretary conducted himself in that way when he was a schoolboy. Or perhaps he did, which might explain some matters.

Let me just quote again from the last session of Foreign Office questions, when the Foreign Secretary told the House:

“There is no plan for no deal”.—[Official Report, 11 July 2017; Vol. 627, c. 141.]

Five days ago, he said that

“we must make the right preparations…for a no-deal scenario.”

We know that the Cabinet cannot stop fighting about the Brexit that they want, but it would be a start if our flip-flopping Foreign Secretary could stop fighting with himself.

I have not asked the question yet, Boris. Which is it: the Telegraph article or the Florence speech—the lion roars or the lion wants to stop this malarkey? Apart from his own fading ambitions, what exactly does the Foreign Secretary believe in?

The right hon. Lady should not refer to the Foreign Secretary by his first name. It is rather vulgar.

I would not dream of calling the right hon. Lady by any name other than Lady Nugee. May I say to her that, in fact, there is a ruthless and an iron consistency that applies not just to everything I have said, but to all the statements made by Conservative Members? We are united behind the principles of the Lancaster House speech, the article 50 letter and every jot, tittle, comma, syllable and every other item of punctuation in the Florence speech. I suggest that she adopts it as well.

T8. Will my right hon. Friend review the case of my constituent Jamie Harron, who was arrested in Dubai recently? Will he review the Foreign Office travel advice for Dubai in the light of this case and others like it? (901169)

May I begin by expressing our condolences to Mr Harron, who has been through a very difficult situation? We are grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this specific case. Consular staff have spoken to Mr Harron’s family, we have dealt with Mr Harron himself, we have provided consular access for friends to visit him and we have provided access to the best legal advice. He is currently on bail, awaiting sentence for an alcohol-related offence. The point about the travel advice is one that we take very seriously, and we continue to review it on a regular basis.

T2. Members of the Coptic Church come from all over south Wales to Risca, to worship at St Mary’s and St Abu Saifain. The congregation have looked on in horror at the terrorist attacks on fellow Coptics in Egypt. Just this weekend, an archbishop was assassinated outside Cairo by an Islamic extremist group. What assurance can the Minister give the congregation at St Mary’s and St Abu Saifain that the Government are doing everything they can to protect brethren who are simply following their religion? (901162)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter of real seriousness in Egypt. I met leaders of the Coptic Church just last week with the support of His Grace Bishop Angaelos, and I am going to the Coptic service later today to express further solidarity. We raise these matters directly with the Egyptian Government, who view these terrorist attacks with the same degree of horror as we do, and who are doing all in their power to stop them. We will continue to urge just that.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Will the Foreign Secretary join me in thanking Ambassador Frank Baker for all his tireless work in Iraq? He has worked with the Foreign Secretary, Secretary Tillerson and the Iraqi Prime Minister to put together a deal that would have avoided the catastrophic situation that now plagues the country between the Kurds and Baghdad. Will the Foreign Secretary urge all sides to come back together around the negotiating table on that framework and negotiate a deal?

I want to thank my hon. Friend very much for his work in this sphere. There is no one who knows the Kurdistan Regional Government or Kurdistan better than he does. Clearly, to a great extent the troubles that are now befalling that area were anticipated. We saw this coming, and we warned our friends in Kurdistan that it would happen. My hon. Friend also did a great job of warning them. We now have to manage a very difficult situation, and it calls for calm heads and negotiation.

T3. Will the Foreign Secretary respond to claims by a senior German politician, Michael Fuchs, that the Foreign Secretary is a significant factor in holding back progress in Brexit talks? Does he believe that his recent interventions on Brexit help or hinder these negotiations? (901163)

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave a moment ago. The Government are united on a very coherent policy, and we made a very generous offer. If I may say to the gentleman that he quotes, whose name I did not, alas, catch, it is up to our friends and partners in the EU to look seriously at the offer we are making, particularly on citizens, and to make progress. Everybody wants to make progress, and everybody wants to give the 3.2 million EU citizens in this country the maximum possible reassurance and security. That can only happen once our friends and partners decide to get serious in these negotiations.

May I thank the Foreign Secretary, notwithstanding our differences, for his personal intervention in the case of a constituent of mine who, along with her 22-month-old son, was rescued from Dominica by our Government—I am very proud of that —and brought back to this country safely? Unfortunately, she is not entitled to any benefits for three months, and she is relying on the generosity of the great people of Broxtowe. In the circumstances, will my right hon. Friend at least look at the bill for her flight home and consider waiving it?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who I know has campaigned assiduously for the rights of this particular constituent, and I congratulate her on everything she has done. Unfortunately, that kind of agreement would set all sorts of precedents, but we will look at the particular case and we will certainly see whether we can come up with a payment plan to extend the period of the loan.

T4. We should all be very worried about the malevolent involvement of the Iranian hard-line al-Quds force using American heavy weapons against our brave allies the Kurds. Will the Minister make it clear that Iraqi forces must not enter the four provinces of the Kurdistan region, and that the only way forward is co-operation in Kirkuk and wider dialogue based on the Iraqi federal constitution, which is supposed to guarantee Kurdish rights? (901164)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I spoke this morning to the Foreign Minister of Iraq, and I am speaking later to representatives of the Kurdish Regional Government to do exactly what is being expressed in the House—to urge caution on all sides, and to continue a careful dialogue to make sure that there is no possibility of a miscalculation leading to conflict. It is essential that matters are pursued on a constitutional basis, but there is a difficulty at the moment in getting accurate information about precisely what is happening in the region. We are doing all we can to verify all stories, but we are also doing all we can to cool down the situation.

This Government have promised protection to an area of ocean equal in size to India, covering Pitcairn, St Helena and much more. I think it is a source of huge pride for our country, but we are not all the way there yet, so I hope the Minister can provide an update on progress, specifically in relation to Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, both of which have been promised protection —in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

I am very happy to update my hon. Friend in due course on the exact details of those two, but I think we can all bask in the reflected historic glory, as it were, of having pretty much the largest ocean protection area in the world, apart from the United States, which made ours one of the most effective voices at the oceans summit in Washington last year.

T6. My constituent Mrs Edna Dolor is very relieved that her frail elderly parents in Dominica—poisoned by contaminated water, beyond the reach of aid, denied telephone contact—are today boarding the first of the four planes it will take to get them back to the UK. She makes the point that because news about aid drops can be spread only by word of mouth, people such as her parents have not had access to the aid. The Foreign Secretary has talked about a long-term plan. How long does he think it will take to get Dominica back on its feet? (901166)

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the failure of communications has greatly exacerbated the difficulties. One of the things we have been trying to do is to restore mobile communications as fast as possible. We are putting in a £5 million aid package to Dominica through the Department for International Development, and the Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, has written to our Prime Minister to express his profound gratitude for the Government’s response.

I strongly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s earlier remarks about Hamas, but does he share my deep concern about the groups linked to Islamic State that now have a presence in Gaza and Sinai and that, even in recent days, have been firing rockets into southern Israel?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. Absolutely—rooting out those terrorist organisations in Gaza and Sinai is hugely important, not only for those who live in the immediate target area but for wider regional peace. There can be no peace without a rejection of violence, particularly rocket attacks in relation to Israel, but there are indications that something is going on that may help the process of peace in the area.

I know that we are out of time, but that does not trouble me too much. There are many colleagues whom I wish to call on these very important matters, so brevity is required. I call Dr Philippa Whitford; very briefly—well done.

T7. On my recent trip, I visited Gaza, where the humanitarian situation is appalling. In Northern Ireland, all parties were involved in achieving peace, so will the UK Government change their approach to Hamas and include it, to isolate those extremist groups? (901168)

The short answer is no, as the Foreign Secretary indicated earlier, until there is movement on the Quartet principles. However, resolution to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza is urgently needed, and we are doing all that we can to support that.

Do Ministers share concern about the apparent continuing erosion of the one country, two systems principle in Hong Kong following the disappearances of booksellers, the recent imprisonment of a democratically elected representative and, last week, the refusal of entry into Hong Kong on a purely private visit by UK citizen and human rights campaigner Ben Rogers, who is watching our proceedings today? If so, what action is the Foreign Office taking?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. It is fair to say that broadly UK-Hong Kong relations remain strong, and there is bilateral work. However, I very much accept her position. We are very concerned that Ben Rogers, a UK national, was denied entry into Hong Kong on 11 October in absolute disregard of the one country, two systems principle. The Foreign Secretary has issued a statement, and the Foreign Office director-general for economic and global issues summoned the Chinese ambassador on this issue over the past few days. We have also made representations to Beijing, and I shall write to Carrie Lam in Hong Kong in the days ahead.

I thank the Minister of State for what he said, and the Foreign Secretary for issuing that statement. Ben Rogers is an outstanding and articulate champion of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Asia and elsewhere, well known to Members on both sides of the House. His treatment was utterly scandalous, and those responsible have certainly not heard the last of it—of that we can be sure. I call Paula Sherriff.

T9. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. What is the UK Government’s position on the recognition of Palestine? Did the Minister see the recent YouGov poll, commissioned by the Council for Arab-British Understanding and Arab News, that showed a majority of respondents in favour, with only 14% in opposition? (901170)

The UK Government position is that Palestine will be recognised when it is in the best interests of the peace process to do so, which leaves the matter quite open.

West Oxfordshire has been celebrating the 80th anniversary of the foundation of Royal Air Force Brize Norton this weekend with a magnificent sculpture at the main gates. The extraordinary history of that station is exemplified by its response to our hurricane relief programme. Will the Foreign Secretary join me in celebrating that response and provide an assessment of the contribution that the station made to our humanitarian hurricane response?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to congratulate RAF Brize Norton on its anniversary and all its achievements in tackling the consequences of the hurricane. Along with colleagues on the Government Benches, I used RAF services during trips to the region, and the station will continue to be absolutely vital to getting those areas back on their feet.

In view of the Foreign Secretary’s self-declared “ruthless consistency”, will he tell the House why he now thinks that we should accept the judgments of the European Court of Justice during the transitional period that the Prime Minister has announced the UK will now seek?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows very well, the implementation period that we have suggested is still under negotiation, so we will have to see the result of that negotiation. We do not know as yet whether our friends and partners will accept the suggestion of an implementation period. What we do know is that we have made a fair—we think reasonable—suggestion on money, citizenship, the Northern Ireland question, rights and privileges, and so on. It is now up to our friends and partners to decide how they will respond. If we are going to get on to that kind of question, now is the time for them to do so.

Order. Colleagues who have already spoken are greedily indicating a desire to contribute again. I am keen to accommodate colleagues, but there is a limit.

Reports from Cameroon describe barbaric clashes between security forces and civilian opposition. The internet and phone lines have been cut, and constituents of mine with family members in the country are rightly concerned about their welfare. What can my hon. Friend do to help stop the worsening crisis and help people find out about their family members?

Clearly, the situation in Cameroon is very disturbing. As my right hon. Friend suggests, the Anglophone community has been particularly victimised in terms of internet access, which has now been restored. We call on all parties to refrain from violence and to respect the rule of law, and call particularly on the Government of Cameroon to exercise restraint and address the root causes of the dispute.

The Secretary of State may be aware of the tragic and unexplained death of my constituent Kirsty Maxwell, who died in Benidorm in April this year. Her family are distraught, as the investigation’s progress has been very slow and there are a number of issues. Will the Secretary of State meet me and Kirsty’s family to discuss what further support can be given at this very difficult time?

I am very happy to meet the hon. Lady in the first instance to discuss this; we would like to extend all the consular assistance we possibly can to anyone in such circumstances.

Given the grave situation in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, what does my right hon. Friend think will be the impact on our currently deployed British Army teams who are training the peshmerga as we speak?

At present, I do not think there is any reason to change the arrangements of the armed forces who have worked with the peshmerga and have done such an outstanding job to push back Daesh. What we are all hoping for is that there will be no conflict in the area and that the determination already expressed by both sides to prevent any conflict will lead to a peaceful resolution of the current difficulties.

As Amnesty International among others has pointed out, the disproportionate use of force by police against civilians is contrary to international law. What representations has the Minister made to his Spanish counterparts about the treatment by Spanish police of civilians voting in the Catalonian independence referendum?

People understand that we do not wish to see scenes such as that, but it is the duty of everyone in this House personally to uphold the rule of law. I very much regret that Scottish National party Members considered it appropriate to call themselves “official” observers at what was an illegal referendum.

Yesterday’s red skies were a timely reminder of the Russian revolution 100 years ago, which brought such chaos and suffering. In the light of indications that Russia seeks to destabilise western democracies, does the Secretary of State share my concern that Russia’s state broadcaster appeared to be providing a platform to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party and its campaign to inflict socialism on the UK?

Order. This tendency to name people is very unseemly. I said earlier that it was vulgar. If it was vulgar from the illustrious figure of the shadow Foreign Secretary, it is also vulgar from the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately). The tendency must cease.

I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s excellent question. If we study the output of Russia Today and consider the state of the press in Russia at present, we see that it is a scandal that Labour Members should be continuing to validate and legitimate that kind of propaganda by going on those programmes. [Interruption.] I am assured by my ministerial team that none of them does so.

Further to the questions about Kashmir, we are talking about two states with nuclear arms possibly edging towards a conflict, and we should all take that seriously. Given our unique historical relationship with both countries, cannot pressure be brought to bring the two sides together to engage in some sort of meaningful dialogue?

It is the 14th minute of injury time already —unlucky for some, I think. I refer the hon. Gentleman to my earlier answers on this issue. We understand that clearly there is a worry: as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, both India and Pakistan are nuclear states and the world can ill afford this flashpoint. From my own discussions in India and Afghanistan—I am going to Pakistan next month, as I said—there seems to be a lessening of some of the tensions. We can take nothing for granted, but ultimately this must be an issue for India and Pakistan rather than anyone else.

I remind the Minister that we are in injury time, and that is at least in part because questions and answers at Foreign Office questions are always longer. As a Clerk of the House once said to me, “Mr Speaker, I think that Ministers tend to feel that they’re addressing not merely the House but the world.”

I warmly thank the Foreign Secretary for suggesting that he and I should visit the BBC Monitoring Service at Caversham Park before the crazy decision is implemented next year to sell off the site and break our link with the similar American operation there. Will he remonstrate with his officials, however, on the grounds that 45 minutes for a walk-through on a Thursday is not long enough for him to see what is going on there? Given also—[Interruption.]—that the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee cannot accompany us, should the visit not be altered?

I am looking forward immensely to the trip with my right hon. Friend, and I can tell him from my own experience that an immense amount can be accomplished in 45 minutes.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that it was former Governor of New York Mario Cuomo who said we should campaign in poetry but govern in prose? The next time we hear the Foreign Secretary quoting Kipling, will he be campaigning or governing?

The SNP contrives to govern neither in poetry nor in prose. It should begin governing to start with.

Much as I would like my hon. Friend to take over this particular matter, I will answer.

I know that this case, which my right hon. Friend raises with me whenever I see him on the parliamentary estate, is very close to his heart. I raised it this month during my visit to India and spent a day in Chennai, when I had a chance to visit the men in prison. It was heart breaking, but the determination of those men and their families is to be much admired. I also saw the families in my office at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I should take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend and other MPs across the House who represent the Chennai Six. I know that a huge amount of work has been done. I cannot make any promises, and I do not want to raise expectations that we cannot meet, but we are doing our level best here and in India to bring them back as soon as possible.

I believe that the point of order springs directly out of questions, and for that reason I will take it now—otherwise it would come after statements—but it must be done briefly.

I seek an apology from the Minister for Europe and the Americas, the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan), who is no longer in his seat. The SNP did not send official observers to the Catalonian referendum. The Catalonian Government invited observers from across Europe and the Israeli Knesset. In addition to me, other Members of the House and a peer of the House of Lords, Lord Rennard, were present. We were there as international parliamentary observers, just as Conservative Members were in Gibraltar in 2002 at the request of the Gibraltar Government, despite that being an illegal referendum. I would like an apology and the record set straight.

I have understood the hon. and learned Lady, but we do not need to delve into the archives and refer back to 2002 and comparable examples. I recognise it is something that a distinguished legal practitioner is accustomed to doing, but we are short of time. If Ministers want to apologise, they can, but they are not under any obligation to do so.

I am afraid that the Foreign Secretary is shaking his head. It is clear that he does not wish to apologise. The hon. and learned Lady has made her point with force and eloquence, however, and it is on the record; it will be in the Official Report. If that does not satisfy her, I hope it at least mollifies her.