Commonwealth Meeting and the Philippines

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 3:39 pm on 18th November 2013.

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Photo of David Cameron David Cameron The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 3:39 pm, 18th November 2013

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about the response on the Philippines. I agree with him: other countries need to do more, and we will continue to work with them, through both the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office, to make sure everyone lives up to their responsibilities. He asked specifically how we will ensure that relief gets through. That is why HMS Illustrious, with seven helicopters, joining the American carrier there can make a difference—because of the lift capacity.

I am also grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his response on Sri Lanka and the Commonwealth, but it is worth recalling that, had we listened to his advice, we would not be having this statement now in the House and discussing this issue. Given that Labour agreed to this conference taking place in Sri Lanka, criticising my attendance breaks new records for opportunism and double-speak. Let me respond very directly. In 2009, some time after the end of war, the last Government agreed that the conference should take place in 2013 in Sri Lanka. If he knows anything about foreign affairs—I doubt it, because he barely gets out of Islington—he would know that this is a consensus organisation: once something has been agreed, it is very difficult to unblock it. So it was in 2009 that the pass was sold. I have to say to him that, more than that, this shows very poor judgment. This is a multilateral organisation of which we are a leading member and our Queen is the head. How do we advance free trade if we are not there? How do we stand up for issues such as tax, transparency, tackling poverty, and preventing sexual violence in conflict? How do we do all that from 4,000 miles away?

On Sri Lanka, the right hon. Gentleman specifically asked whether we pressed for our agenda. Yes, we did, very directly, on the importance of land reform, on the importance of human rights, on the importance of an independent inquiry. Of course, some other leaders decided to stay away, and everyone must take their own decision, but frankly, no country on earth has a more direct relationship with the Commonwealth than this one, and that is why it was right to go. If he is concerned about the rights of Tamils, as I am, and reconciliation, the right thing to do is to go and shine a spotlight on their plight. You cannot do that sitting at home. I remember when his brother said that we needed Foreign Secretaries and Prime Ministers who could stop the traffic in Beijing. He will not even get out of Primrose Hill. This whole area of judgment by the right hon. Gentleman is a sign of weakness. He was given a choice: an easy political path or a tough, right path, and he cops out every time—too weak to stand up to Len McCluskey, too weak to stand up for Britain abroad.