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Topical Questions

Volume 671: debated on Tuesday 4 February 2020

Last week we left the European Union to become an independent country, delivering on the promise made by politicians to the British people. Later today I will be departing for Australia, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore, to deliver on this Government’s vision of a truly global Britain.

Yesterday the World Health Organisation evacuated 30 patients from Yemen who needed urgent medical treatment, including several children, but those are very much the lucky exceptions. What is the Foreign Secretary doing, together with his international counterparts, to negotiate peace in Yemen, so that all its people can receive medical assistance when they need it?

The hon. Lady raises a conflict that I, and the whole Government, are very concerned about. We work with all our international partners, and in the past week I met the Saudi Foreign Minister to consider how we can pursue dialogue and get a peaceful resolution to that conflict, not only for the parties and the region, but also for the vulnerable people affected.

T3. I was at Vicarage Road on Saturday, when both goals for Watford were scored by foreign players. Will the Secretary of State assure me that the premier league will still be able to attract talent and international players from around the world? (900612)

What an excellent question, particularly bearing in mind how important soft power is to our standing in the world. We are proud to host the best league in the world, showcasing the greatest talent in the world, and this year we will welcome our European friends to Glasgow and London for Euro 2020—yes, my hon. Friend can be assured about that.

T2. As the Foreign Secretary should be aware, members of the Public and Commercial Services Union who are employed by Interserve at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have begun a month of strike action. The dispute is over a lack of trade union recognition for collective bargaining purposes, sick pay, and unfair contractual changes. I am pleased that some of those workers are here today watching proceedings, and I stand in solidarity with them in their fight for dignity, respect, and fair treatment at work. Will the Foreign Secretary urgently review the situation, and work with all parties to bring the dispute to an end and achieve a fair and dignified resolution? (900611)

That is exactly what we would like to happen. The Foreign Secretary has already underwritten financial arrangements between Interserve and the employees, and we would like everybody to go back to ACAS and get this settled.

T5. Does the Minister share my view that unless and until peaceful co-existence is taught, championed and modelled in Palestinian schools, any peace deal with Israel will be short-lived? (900614)

My hon. Friend is right, and she will be aware of the support that we give for health and education in the occupied Palestinian territories, pending the definitive political solution that we would like to see in the not-too-distant future, which remains a huge priority. She will also be aware of concerns about things such as teaching materials in schools, and of the active role that we have taken to ensure that no inappropriate material is used. I spoke recently to the Palestinian Education Minister. I know that this issue is at the top of his agenda, and in advance of the academic year in September, changes will be made.

T4. For those who believe in the international rules-based order, the Trump annexation plan is an utter disaster that ushers in the law of the jungle. If the British Government support this plan, surely they will also be giving a green light to Russia and China for their various annexation activities. If it is okay for Israel to do this, what will the Foreign Secretary say to Russia and China? (900613)

I think the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the UK position. There is a proposal for peace talks, which would require a two-state solution, based on both sides agreeing. We have made it clear that we would disagree with and challenge any unilateral annexation on the basis of settlements.

T6. Soft power will be increasingly important in the post-Brexit world. Among the many international treasures the UK can marshal is the BBC World Service, with an audience of over 320 million. After the BBC recently reneged on the funding agreement for free TV licences for over-75s, will the Minister ensure that the BBC does not try to compensate by raiding the BBC World Service budget and endangering this vital resource? (900616)

I thank my hon. Friend for that very interesting question. He is quite right: the BBC World Service does reach 319 million people weekly. It is incredibly important that that carries on. We have the 2020 agreement between the BBC and Her Majesty’s Government to invest huge amounts of money and we want that to continue.

The National Federation of Indian Women estimates that 13,000 teenage boys from Jammu-Kashmir have been detained following the revocation of article 370 on 5 August. Will the Secretary of State support a fact-finding delegation from the all-party group on Kashmir to the region, given that so many of the UK’s Kashmiri diaspora still have family members there?

The Foreign Secretary raised this issue with the Foreign Minister for India. Perhaps I could write to the hon. Lady afterwards.

T7. Will the Minister provide an update on why the Chinese Government are not giving permission for their citizens to leave the country with their British partners? (900617)

I appreciate my hon. Friend raising this very important issue. There are huge challenges in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. We are working collaboratively with the Chinese. There is clearly a tension between the desire from our point of view to ensure that UK nationals and their dependants, whatever their nationality, can return to the UK, and the legitimate desire of the Chinese to prevent the spread of the virus. I have spoken to the Chinese Foreign Minister and received reassurances that no UK-national-related families who want to return to the UK will find themselves divided on the basis of dual or split nationality among their families.

Does the Minister agree, with regard to the Trump so-called peace deal, that since no Palestinians were involved in negotiating it, it is not a negotiation or a deal but an imposition and that therefore an imposition is no basis for a lasting peace?

The hon. Gentleman is putting the cart before the horse. He is right that both sides will need to agree a two-state solution based on coherent, credible states on both sides and with the security considerations without any unilateral annexation—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) is again speaking from a sedentary position. There will need to be the resolution of all the key final status issues, including Jerusalem and refugees. But we have to get out of this vacuum and the only way we will do that is if both sides come to the negotiating table.

T8. The Prime Minister’s speech yesterday was welcomed by many businesses in Bishop Auckland for his words about championing free trade globally. On freedom, a number of my constituents have been in touch to ask specifically what we can do to help to promote freedom in Venezuela. (900618)

My hon. Friend is right to tirelessly champion freedom across the world. I met interim President Guaidó. We continue to want a peaceful resolution of the situation in Venezuela and a transition to free elections that are credible for the people of Venezuela.

This morning, the now-sacked President of COP26 said that the Prime Minister has shown

“a huge lack of leadership and engagement”

and “doesn’t really understand” climate change, which has led to the UK being “miles off” globally from where we need to be. Now rumours are flying around suggesting that the Government are planning to shift COP26 from Glasgow to an English location. What on earth are the public supposed to make of this shambles?

The hon. Lady will not need to wait long, because today, with Sir Richard Attenborough, the Prime Minister is launching and setting out the detail of our approach to COP26, where we will lead in bringing the world together to tackle one of the global challenges of our age.

T9. With regard to Hong Kong BNO—British National (Overseas)—passport holders, can the Secretary of State say whether the Government consider them to be British or Chinese nationals? If it is British, what more can we do to enable them to access consular support in the place they live? (900619)

The BNO passport holders have, by definition, a bespoke status. They have Chinese and British nationality, but they are not British citizens. They hold a BNO passport, which entitles them to consular support when travelling away from home. It also entitles them to six months’ entry clearance into the UK. That, as I think my hon. Friend will know, was agreed as part of the arrangements around the joint declaration in 1984. We support that. We want to see one country, two systems upheld, precisely because it is the best way of ensuring the freedoms and the autonomy of the people of Hong Kong.

My constituent, Jagtar Singh Johal, has been incarcerated in the Republic of India for 830 days. Will the Foreign Secretary consider meeting me and Jagtar’s family to assure them that while he is pursuing a free trade British agenda, he will not sacrifice our commitment to openness, transparency and due process in any future free trade agreement?

We take allegations of torture and mistreatment very seriously and we raise them with the Indian authorities. I know that the hon. Gentleman recently met Lord Ahmad on 23 October and 19 December. I am happy to arrange another meeting with Lord Ahmad or to have a meeting with him myself.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has touched on the COP26 preparations. Will he talk a bit about the strategy that the FCO will take on the Kunming biodiversity conference and the UN ocean conference in Lisbon, because clearly, climate change diplomacy will be absolutely front and centre of his agenda?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that in all those conferences, we want to lead with an ambitious approach to tackling climate change. The Prime Minister is setting out with Sir Richard Attenborough today the approach to COP26, and if my hon. Friend would like any more detail, I would be very happy to write to him.

With the rights of indigenous peoples in danger around the world—particularly from the Bolsonaro Government in Brazil—does the Minister agree that the rights of indigenous peoples should be embedded in the proposed international treaty on human rights and transnational corporations?

I think the hon. Gentleman was present at a Westminster Hall debate last year when I made clear the work that the British Government are doing to help indigenous peoples in places such as Brazil. We have to make sure that we support such people. I think the point was made by the former Member for Bishop Auckland that tariffs are a good thing. Tariffs hurt the poorest and tariffs on food hurt the very poorest. We will make sure that we support indigenous peoples wherever they are, and particularly in Brazil.

I note the Minister’s earlier remarks about the Iran nuclear deal, but does he accept that since it was signed in 2015, Iran has launched major cyber-attacks against the UK, including on this Parliament? It has used its warships to harass our fleets in the Gulf and it has supported a huge arms build-up in the middle east. Where is the evidence that Iran can be a trusted partner for peace?

My right hon. Friend is right to point out not only the systematic Iranian non-compliance on the nuclear front, but its wider destabilising activities in the region and its use of covert cyber-attacks against western interests. The reality is that we want to hold Iran to account every time it steps beyond the international pale, but we also want to leave the door ajar for it to take the confidence-building steps—when the regime in Tehran makes that decision, as only it can—to come in from the international cold.

Can the Minister outline the discussions that he has had with our Commonwealth ally, India, about its industry and climate change and how we can help it to be sustainable, environmentally friendly and reduce emissions while carrying on with its industry?

My hon. Friend is right not just to ask that specific question, but to do so in that tone. As COP26 beckons, we want to see increased ambition right across the world in terms of nationally determined contributions to get emissions down. We also want to work with big developing countries such as India and China, with the technology and the innovation that the UK is particularly adept at providing, to help them to transition to a greener economy.

Following the acquisition by Turkey of certain key military equipment from Russia, what is my right hon. Friend doing to try to maintain strong bilateral relations with Turkey as a key NATO ally?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right—we have, as I mentioned, expressed our concern to Turkey about its acquisition of Russian-made weapons. That is against not just the letter, but the spirit of NATO. Equally, we value Turkey as a trusted NATO ally. It is often on the frontline of some of the greatest challenges that the alliance faces, so we are working with Turkey and all the European and North American partners to try to bring it into the fold and make sure that it is focused on NATO’s priorities.

I think the Foreign Secretary inadvertently said that the Prime Minister was launching the COP26 plans with Richard Attenborough today, but of course he is no longer with us. He might want to take the opportunity to correct the record.

Will the Foreign Secretary consider the request I made earlier through his colleague to meet my constituent, Robert Cummings, in relation to the case of Luke Symons in Yemen?

I am happy to correct the record as to which Attenborough I meant. We are lucky to have had so many fantastic Attenboroughs in this country. I also repeat that we are ambitious for COP26.

Of course, I will look carefully at the case the hon. Member raises. In all these consular cases, we want to provide the most effective representation to secure people’s release and to provide the reassurance they need and comfort to the family.

What proposals has the Minister for the Wilton Park conference on Nigeria later this month as regards reducing the persecution of Christians in that country?

As my right hon. Friend knows, we take freedom of religion and belief extremely seriously, and the Prime Minister’s envoy, my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), is working closely with me on the plans for that conference.