Topical Questions
Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2:30 pm

Photo of Barbara Keeley

Barbara Keeley (Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government); Worsley and Eccles South, Labour)

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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William Hague (The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Richmond (Yorks), Conservative)

Last night, I met the Foreign Minister of Japan, Mr Matsumoto, and again conveyed the condolences of the British people after Friday’s earthquake and tsunami. He expressed the thanks and appreciation of his country for the support that we have sent, particularly in the form of search and rescue teams. We also discussed the need to co-operate closely on ascertaining the whereabouts of British nationals in Japan.

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Barbara Keeley (Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government); Worsley and Eccles South, Labour)

I am sure that every Member of this House would wish to be associated with the condolences that the Foreign Secretary just mentioned. The Tibetan Government-in-exile are debating the Dalai Lama’s

retirement as their political leader. Will the Foreign Secretary update the House on what support the British Government would give to a newly elected political leader of the Tibetan people in the just cause of gaining greater autonomy for Tibet, given that he has outlined this Government’s support for newly elected leaders in north Africa?

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William Hague (The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Richmond (Yorks), Conservative)

This Government continue the policy adopted by the previous Government on the status of Tibet. We await further details on what has been announced by the Dalai Lama in respect of an elected leader in the future. We will have to see the details of that before we respond to it in any greater detail.

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Robert Halfon (Harlow, Conservative)

My right hon. Friend made some welcome remarks about the tragic murder of the Fogel family on the west bank. Is he aware that the Palestinian Government recently gave $2,000 to the family of a terrorist who attacked an Israeli soldier? What steps can he take to stop the incitement of terrorism by the Palestinians?

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William Hague (The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Richmond (Yorks), Conservative)

I join my hon. Friend in deploring any incitement of terrorism by anyone on any side of the disputes in the middle east. We are not aware as Ministers of the particular instance to which he refers, but if he would like to get in touch with us with the details we will, of course, look into it.

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Douglas Alexander (Shadow Foreign Secretary; Paisley and Renfrewshire South, Labour)

May I associate myself and my colleagues with the Foreign Secretary’s expression of sympathy towards the people of Japan at this terrible time? The right hon. Gentleman told the House on 14 February that the British Government had

“received a request from the Egyptian Government to freeze the assets of several former Egyptian officials.”—[Hansard, 14 February 2011; Vol. 523, c. 715.]

Will he tell the House whether he has acted on that request from the Egyptian authorities and gone ahead and frozen the assets of all those former officials?

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William Hague (The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Richmond (Yorks), Conservative)

We have acted on that request with our European Union partners. One difficulty with pursuing this to the necessary point of freezing the actual assets is the lack of information that has been supplied by the Egyptian authorities. We have urged progress within the European Union so that this is done on an EU basis, and that means that the decisive action remains to be taken. The UK has been at the forefront of the arguments in the EU to take action.

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Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye, Conservative)

Political violence by Mugabe’s militias in Zimbabwe is rising again. Does the Secretary of State share my concern that the court ruling last week removing the Movement for Democratic Change Speaker and four of its MPs risks derailing the fragile journey to political reform? Will he raise this as a matter of urgency with President Zuma of South Africa and other leaders in the region?

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Henry Bellingham (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; North West Norfolk, Conservative)

I certainly share my hon. Friend’s concerns about the arrest and detention of those MDC MPs. It is a disgrace

that they remain in custody. However, our ambassador in Harare attended the hearing this morning for Elton Mangoma, who has now been released on bail. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is essential that President Zuma carries on his good work with the Southern African Development Community to create a robust road map to credible elections.

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Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak, Labour)

Do the Government find it acceptable that residents of Camp Ashraf—opponents of the Iranian regime—are subjected to a 24-hour campaign of abuse and torture, including bombardment by 210 loudspeakers? What on earth are we doing about it?

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Alistair Burt (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; North East Bedfordshire, Conservative)

We are aware of both the intrusion of loudspeakers and occasional suggestions that the residents of Camp Ashraf are denied medical assistance. The UK meets representatives of the Iraqi Government’s Camp Ashraf committee, the UN regularly visits the camp and we make every effort to urge the Iraqi authorities to ensure that the residents of Camp Ashraf are treated in accordance with international humanitarian standards.

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Peter Bone (Wellingborough, Conservative)

The coalition agreement, on page 19, calls for the Government

“to limit the application of the Working Time Directive in the United Kingdom.”

Tomorrow, this House will be asked to agree a stability mechanism for the eurozone, a decision over which we have a veto. Will the Foreign Secretary withhold agreement on the stability mechanism until we have reform of the working time directive?

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David Lidington (The Minister for Europe; Aylesbury, Conservative)

My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Health and for Business, Innovation and Skills are engaged in drawing up Government proposals to address the problem identified by my hon. Friend. The appropriate time to do that is likely to be when the Commission comes forward with new proposals on the working time directive during the next 12 months.

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Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green)

Libya’s rapid plunge towards civil war is further evidence, if it were needed, of the irresponsibility of selling arms to regimes that seek to quell dissent through force. Will the Government now work to ensure that the UN arms embargo to Libya is extended to all regimes that engage in repression?

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William Hague (The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Richmond (Yorks), Conservative)

It is an immediate priority to ensure that that arms embargo is properly observed. It is necessary to review how we give export licences to various countries around the middle east in the future, and we will conduct that review.

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Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire, Liberal Democrat)

Brazil has one of the most rapidly growing of all global economies. Unfortunately, a visit by the Deputy Prime Minister and another Foreign Office Minister had to be postponed. When are there plans to meet the new President of that very important country?

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Jeremy Browne (The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Taunton Deane, Liberal Democrat)

I have not yet had the opportunity to visit Brazil, although I was due to travel with the Deputy Prime Minister. My hon. Friend makes a very accurate point about the growing significance of Brazil and I am delighted to announce that the Foreign Secretary intends to visit shortly.

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Helen Goodman (Shadow Minister (Justice); Bishop Auckland, Labour)

Yesterday in the House the Prime Minister said that he wanted to establish dialogue with the opposition in Libya. Unfortunately, over the past five days, my constituent Dr Burwaiss, who has contacts in the national liberation council in Benghazi, has had extreme difficulty, despite his and my efforts, in finding out where and to whom information should be sent. Can this now be corrected?

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Alistair Burt (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; North East Bedfordshire, Conservative)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question; we have spoken about this over the weekend. The ambassador to Libya, Richard Northern, is working on all available contacts, including the relatives of the gentleman whom the hon. Lady has mentioned. We will make sure not only that contact is made as best as possible but that information is passed back to her constituent.

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Martin Horwood (Cheltenham, Liberal Democrat)

Does the Secretary of State agree that the act of inviting in troops from militarily superior neighbours has evil precedents in the crushing of human rights in 20th-century Europe? If so, as a good historian, will he share that view with the Bahraini and Saudi Governments?

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William Hague (The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Richmond (Yorks), Conservative)

We are extremely concerned about the escalation of the situation in Bahrain, particularly the decision of the Government of Bahrain to declare a state of emergency. We call on all parties to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid violence. The Government of Bahrain should respect the right to peaceful protest, respond to the legitimate concerns of the Bahraini people and persist with their attempts to draw others into a dialogue on reform. The intervention by GCC partners at the request of the Bahraini Government should also be consistent with that, supporting reform and not repression, allowing a swift return to peaceful conditions and creating an environment in which dialogue can take place.

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Rachel Reeves (Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions); Leeds West, Labour)

Last Thursday, I joined students from Swallow Hill community college and Abbey Grange school from my constituency on a visit to Auschwitz. Will the Foreign Secretary join me in commending the Holocaust Educational Trust’s work and will he confirm what funding the Government will commit to supporting the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation to ensure that future generations can see what happens when racism and hatred go unchecked?

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David Lidington (The Minister for Europe; Aylesbury, Conservative)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this point. The Government are determined to preserve the memory of the holocaust to educate future generations and we support the long-term preservation of Auschwitz-Birkenau as a site of remembrance and reflection. We are currently finalising the details of exactly how we will support the foundation and I assure her that an announcement will be made very soon.

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Douglas Carswell (Clacton, Conservative)

Does my right hon. Friend believe that the appetite for democracy is universal? If so, what moral support and encouragement will he offer those in Iran who seek to live freely as we do?

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William Hague (The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Richmond (Yorks), Conservative)

I agree with my hon. Friend. We believe that human rights, including democratic rights, are universal. It is particularly pertinent to raise the situation in Iran because the two principal leaders of the opposition forces in Iran, Mr Mousavi and Mr Karroubi, have been detained with their wives—they have disappeared with their wives. I am glad that my hon. Friend raised this matter because it is important, amidst the current turbulence in the middle east, not to forget what is happening in Iran and to remember that a country that has preached support for protest in other nations does not hesitate brutally to suppress protest within its own borders.

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Ian Austin (Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport); Dudley North, Labour)

Hamas terrorists fired long-range rockets into apartments in Beersheba just a few weeks ago. With Hamas’s leader calling for jihad, not negotiation, and with Iran supplying weapons to Hamas, Hezbollah and the Taliban, what more can the Secretary of State do to curtail terrorist attacks against our forces in Afghanistan and our allies in the middle east?

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William Hague (The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Richmond (Yorks), Conservative)

I listed earlier some of the things we are doing. Clearly, we are intercepting some of the shipments of arms that have been involved. That is how we know about the rockets that were being shipped to the Taliban and about the ammunition involved. I set out some of the other actions, including diplomatic actions, that we are taking. We have stepped up our efforts in that regard, but the hon. Gentleman is quite right to ask us to do still more.

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Andrew Rosindell (Romford, Conservative)

When the Foreign Secretary next meets Secretary of State Clinton, will he clarify with her the American Government’s position on the Falkland Islands? Do they support British sovereignty or not?

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William Hague (The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Richmond (Yorks), Conservative)

I last met Secretary Clinton last night in Paris. That was not part of our discussion, because clearly we were discussing the situation in Libya, but I can assure my hon. Friend that we do not have any difficulty with the United States Government on that issue.

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Angus Robertson (SNP Westminster Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs); Moray, Scottish National Party)

The European Union’s 27 Energy Ministers are meeting today to discuss nuclear safety in the wake of the horrific developments in Japan. As a minimum, will the UK Government support Germany, France and Spain in their support of a proposal by the Austrian Energy Minister, Niki Berlakovich, that there should be stress tests in all nuclear power stations across the European Union, including those in the UK?

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David Lidington (The Minister for Europe; Aylesbury, Conservative)

There is a range of possible options that European Energy Ministers will discuss today. The important principle is that politicians should be guided by scientific evidence about the best steps available to ensure that nuclear safety is maintained.

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Duncan Hames (Chippenham, Liberal Democrat)

Air strikes against his own people, the use of mercenaries, the imprisonment of foreign journalists—what does the Foreign Secretary believe would be the impact on human rights elsewhere in the world were Gaddafi’s tactics seen to be successful?

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William Hague (The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Richmond (Yorks), Conservative)

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, and a parallel point to the one that the Prime Minister made here yesterday. If Gaddafi succeeded in suppressing the desire for a freer and more open country in Libya, there are tyrants elsewhere who would draw the wrong lesson from it. That is why we are at the forefront of all the activity that I described during our Question Time today, but I stress alongside that that whatever we do must be legal and have international support.

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Mark Lazarowicz (Shadow Minister (International Development); Edinburgh North and Leith, Labour)

Will the Foreign Secretary raise at the next European Council meeting the case of my constituent, David Petrie, who is one of a group of English language lecturers in Italy who have been fighting for a European right to equal pay for 25 years? After six victories in the European Court, they thought they were going to get justice, only to find that the Berlusconi Government have changed the law.

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David Lidington (The Minister for Europe; Aylesbury, Conservative)

We regard the treatment of the lettori as completely unacceptable, and through both our embassy in Rome and ministerial contacts we are pursuing the matter energetically with the Italian authorities.

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Julian Lewis (New Forest East, Conservative)

If Britain decides to take part in an unanticipated military commitment to engage in a no-fly zone in Libya, will the extra cost be added to or will it be taken from the existing defence budget?

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William Hague (The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Richmond (Yorks), Conservative)

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Chancellor will no doubt make a judgment about that, if it arises.

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John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead, Labour)

Further to the question from my right hon. Friend Mr Alexander, my understanding is that a list was provided by the Egyptian authorities of people connected to the Mubarak regime. Is the information on that list inadequate, or are other members of the EU dragging their feet?

Photo of William Hague

William Hague (The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Richmond (Yorks), Conservative)

Both of those, to some degree. Certainly, the information on the list was inadequate. This is a matter that is handled by the Treasury. It is important that the House has an update on it, but both of those factors are present.

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Margot James (Stourbridge, Conservative)

During last night’s Adjournment debate on the future of the BBC Hindi service, the House was pleased to hear that discussions are taking place between the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development that could lead to World Service expenditure being considered as official development assistance. Does my right hon. Friend agree that everything possible should be done to protect this very important part of British soft diplomacy?

Photo of William Hague

William Hague (The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Richmond (Yorks), Conservative)

It is possible for some of the expenditure of the BBC World Service to be classified in the way that my hon. Friend describes. In the Foreign Office we

have done everything we can to give financial support, including transitional support, to the BBC World Service. She will be aware of the fact that in three years it will be funded by the BBC licence fee, and that transfer of funding will give new opportunities for the future. But every part of the public sector must contribute to improving its efficiency and saving money; there is no getting away from that.

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Russell Brown (Shadow Minister (Defence); Dumfries and Galloway, Labour)

None of us can imagine the plight that tens of thousands of people are experiencing in Japan at this time, and they include UK citizens. My constituent’s son, his wife and their seven-month-old child are stuck in the north of Sendai city. They are in a hotel where a bus turned up this morning and took away a number of European nationals who were fit and healthy, including Irish nationals. However, the only advice being given by our

Foreign Office is, regrettably, just that—advice. It is not assisting with transport. Can something more be done?

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Jeremy Browne (The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Taunton Deane, Liberal Democrat)

The British Government have put in a hugely comprehensive response to help British nationals in Japan. We have supplemented what is already a large embassy with an additional 45 staff from across Asia and elsewhere in the world. We are trying to do everything possible to help British nationals in what is a chaotic and difficult situation, but if the hon. Gentleman gives me the details of the case that he has just raised, I will ensure that I give it my personal attention.

Several hon. Members:

rose —

Photo of John Bercow

John Bercow (Speaker)

Order. I am sorry that some colleagues are disappointed: the demand today is huge and the supply limited.