Since the last Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions we have continued to focus on the major foreign policy challenges and international crises that we face: the threat from Islamist terrorism, including ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and Boko Haram in Nigeria; Russian aggression in Nigeria—in Ukraine; we have not got there yet—the middle east peace process; the Iran nuclear talks; and the Ebola outbreak. In addition, I have continued my programme of visits to EU capitals, exploring common ground on the need for EU reform. On Thursday, I will co-chair a meeting in London of key partners in the coalition against ISIL.
I celebrated Christmas with Huddersfield’s Ukrainian community only a fortnight ago. They are concerned about the situation in Ukraine. What support and communications can the Foreign Office offer my constituents, who are worried about family and friends in Ukraine?
We will continue to speak up strongly and in public to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. We will work bilaterally and through the European Union and the international financial institutions to provide Ukraine with the financing and technical support that it needs to carry through an ambitious programme of political and economic reform.
I have written to the Foreign Secretary raising the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for the content of his blog. I am still awaiting a reply. Earlier, the Foreign Secretary mentioned the importance of effective channels of communication to the Saudis. Does that include him? Would he tell the House whether he has raised this matter directly with the Saudi Government?
As I said earlier, we deplore this punishment—we deplore the use of corporal punishment in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere—but we have found in the past that the best way of influencing Saudi behaviour is to message them privately through the many channels available to us. The deputy Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia—the Foreign Minister is undergoing medical treatment—will be in London on Thursday, and I shall speak to him directly on this issue. We have already made our views known to the Saudi authorities at the highest level.
A stable and prosperous Egypt could play an important part in resolving some of the problems in the area. What steps has my hon. Friend taken to develop the economic relationship between the UK and Egypt, and does he agree that political development and economic development in Egypt can be mutually reinforcing?
As part of our efforts to support Egypt’s economic recovery, I was delighted to lead a trade mission of 51 companies to Egypt last week. That was the largest delegation to Egypt in 15 years. We are the largest foreign direct investor in Egypt, and it is absolutely right that we should seek to deepen our trade and investment partnership with it. A more secure, prosperous and dynamic country can only be founded on a growing and dynamic economy, which creates jobs and opportunities for all Egyptians.
The Boko Haram terrorist group continues to wreak havoc across north-east Nigeria, and we must see that as part of the broader challenge of militant Islam across a swathe of the globe, from west Africa to the middle east. We continue to support the Nigerians and work closely with them. We are one of the leading partners for the Nigerians, and we have provided a substantial package of UK military intelligence and development support to Nigeria. Last week, I had a meeting with the US Secretary of State to co-ordinate our response to the crisis in Nigeria with the United States, and I expect to visit Nigeria with him after the Nigerian elections.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I are campaigning hard for a majority Conservative Government at the next election so that we can have a referendum on our membership of the European Union. Should, heaven forfend, despite our best efforts, we fall short of our goal, does he agree that our Conservative party commitment to an EU referendum should be a red line in any coalition negotiation?
This week, as part of the congregation of Stirling Methodist church, I joined other local politicians in writing to the UN about a global climate agreement in Paris. Can the Secretary of State tell us what work is being done on the agreements reached in Lima in December 2014, leading up to the Paris conference in 2015?
As it happens, I can, because the item was on the agenda at the European Foreign Affairs Council yesterday, when there was an update report on the work programme that was agreed at Lima. My French colleague reported on the progress that is being made. The French are confident that we are making good progress towards a substantive agreement in Paris later this year. EU colleagues agreed that we should continue to lobby the countries that are perhaps considered to be back-markers; and, in particular, that European Union countries should seek to exert as much pressure as possible on China and the United States, both of which appear now to be in a good place on this agenda. We need to make sure that they stay there.
The Minister reaffirmed earlier that the Government are in favour of Turkey joining the EU. Have they estimated the additional financial cost to the UK of Turkey joining the EU, and the additional immigration to the UK resulting from Turkey joining the EU, beyond any transitional arrangements; or do they support Turkey’s membership of the EU at any long-term cost to the UK?
The answer to my hon. Friend’s last point is no, we support Turkish accession to the EU because we believe that would be the interests of the United Kingdom. We have made it clear that the arrangements for transitional controls on freedom of movement would have to be radically reformed before we could agree to new countries becoming full EU members. The question about cost would have to be settled in negotiations. Of course, it would depend very much on the prosperity not only of Turkey but of existing EU member states at the time when Turkish accession seemed likely to be on the cards.
Tensions on either side of the Jammu-Kashmir line of control have escalated in recent weeks, and human rights violations have been consistently reported that are of global concern. I appreciate that a lasting resolution will be down to India and Pakistan. However, given Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the UK next month, will the Minister be discussing this with him, and what, specifically, will he ask?
Of course, these things are also followed very closely by the Kashmiri community who are such an integral part of life here in the United Kingdom. The Government provide £2 million of funding to Kashmir through the tri-departmental conflict pool. We are aware of the allegations of human rights abuses on both sides of the line of control. Officials from our high commissions in New Delhi and Islamabad discuss the situation in Kashmir with the Governments of India and of Pakistan. Next week, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is meeting the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and he will no doubt raise this matter. At the end of the day, however, it has be resolved by those two countries.
Order. It is quite useful if we have time for the questions as well as for the answers.
The Government’s position is that we will negotiate a reform package in the European Union—that will take some time—and then present it to the British people before the end of 2017 for their endorsement or otherwise. The British people will have the last say, unlike under the position of the Labour party, which is apparently that the European Union is perfect. Let us remember that the Leader of the Opposition said on the BBC that, in his opinion, Brussels does not have too much power, and therefore he does not have a European Union reform policy.
We are deeply concerned by the difficulties facing many Christians and, indeed, other religious minorities in the middle east, and we deplore all discrimination and constraints on religious freedom.
We will certainly raise those issues. I raised the issue in question when I met the President during my visit last autumn, and I will raise it again when I visit the region in the next month.
Given this country’s historic strength in soft power and its potential to further our foreign policy objectives, has the time not come to reconsider funding cuts to soft power institutions such as the BBC World Service and the British Council, as well as others?
The House will know that, as of this financial year, the BBC World Service is funded by the BBC Trust. The British Council is extremely well funded and undergoing a trilateral review at the moment. I am sure my hon. Friend would agree that this country probably does soft power better than any other country. The GREAT campaign, which is funded by Government, has already delivered a direct return to the economy of more than £1 billion. The combination of the British Council, the GREAT campaign, the BBC World Service and others showcases the UK at its best.
Further to the question about the persecution of Christians in Africa and in other countries overseas, what discussions have taken place within the G8 and the European Union to lessen the threat to religious freedom?
The EU strategic guidelines on freedom of religion very much reflect the ideas that the United Kingdom Government put forward. Of course, it was during our chairmanship of the then G8 that there was an international initiative through the G8 to try to give greater focus to human rights. Human rights and the freedom of people to practise their religion as they choose are absolutely at the heart of everything we do in foreign policy, whether bilaterally or through the various multilateral institutions.
I congratulate the Government on initiating the resettlement feasibility study of the Chagos islands, which is due to report imminently. May I seek an assurance that that issue will be debated when the findings of the report are known?
My hon. Friend is right and I congratulate him on all he does for the Chagossian community. The resettlement report will be completed by KPMG by the end of this month and the Government will publish it shortly thereafter. Should Mr Speaker agree to a debate in the House once the report has been published, the Government would, of course, be pleased to participate in it.
We strongly support the role that MONUSCO is playing, but we continue to work with European and international colleagues to see whether improvements need to be made. Ultimately, that will depend in large part on getting the co-operation of the neighbouring countries to work towards peace in the great lakes region.
On Yemen, taking into account that the Houthis are now in effective control of the country, where does the future of the Friends of Yemen group lie?
My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. I spoke to our ambassador there this morning, to make sure that our embassy personnel are safe. As the House will be aware, violence in Sana’a has escalated, with heavy clashes breaking out yesterday between the Houthis and Yemeni security forces. Those who use violence and the threat of violence to dictate Yemen’s future are undermining security, and we are calling for all parties to work together to implement the ceasefire and return to dialogue.
Yesterday a large group of Zimbabweans came to Parliament to express their concerns about human rights in Zimbabwe—I think the Minister joined them later—and about the Home Office delaying decisions on their cases. What action has the Minister been taking to make sure that the Zimbabwean constitution’s commitment to human rights is actually delivered in practice?
The hon. Lady raises a very important issue on which we are trying to have similar conversations with the Zimbabweans. Perhaps once those conservations have taken place I will be able to write to her with an update.
Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend Rehman Chishti on Yemen, will the Minister confirm that it is Her Majesty’s policy to support the legitimate Government of Yemen? [Interruption.] I meant Her Majesty’s Government’s policy—we hope that both polices are the same. Will he also confirm that the policy is not in any way to cave in to militia who wish to displace a legitimate President and Prime Minister?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. As envoy to the region, he is well versed in what is happening there. The House will be aware that Houthi forces have moved from the north-west of the country down into the capital and are now probing even further. We call on all parties to come together, go back to the UN resolution and try to secure a ceasefire.
The UK has contributed considerable resources, including military surveillance resources, to assist the Nigerians, and we have produced some intelligence that could have been helpful in the ongoing manhunt. However, the capacity of Nigerian forces on the ground in that region is not as great as we would like, and the constraints on their freedom of action in the north-east region are growing all the time because of the increasing role of Boko Haram.
Allied warplanes cross the skies above Syria while Assad’s helicopters drop barrel bombs on the civilian population, unimpeded by any flight restrictions. How can this apparent indifference possibly help to discourage Syrians from turning to the ISIL militia?
There have been proposals, principally promoted by the Turks, for the introduction of no-fly zones and safe havens in northern Syria. We have not dismissed these proposals out of hand. We are engaged with the Turks in looking at them—the hon. Gentleman will probably know that the Turkish Prime Minister is here in London today—but there are some practical difficulties with them. Both we and the United States have said that we would need to look very carefully at any such proposal before we could consider it further. The House of Commons, given the view it clearly expressed about UK engagement in Syria, would undoubtedly want to have a very significant say in this matter.
Order. I am sorry to disappoint remaining colleagues. I would have liked to take more questions, but time is our enemy. We must move on.