Topical Questions

Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at on 5 November 2019.

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Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Labour, Blaydon

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Since the last oral questions, I visited the US to reaffirm our commitment to strengthening the special relationship. I spoke to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, affirming our leading role in NATO and our commitment to it. Above all, I am focused on supporting the Prime Minister in getting Brexit done so that this country can move forward as an open, outward-looking country with global reach and global ambition.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Labour, Blaydon

I missed my chance earlier to congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on your appointment, so may I take the opportunity to do so now?

Chinese state media yesterday urged the Hong Kong Government to take a tougher line against what it called “wanton violence” in the city. Will the Minister contact both his Chinese and Hong Kong counterparts, and say to them both that what is needed is a return to dialogue and democratic norms, not an even tougher line being taken against the demonstrators?

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The hon. Lady’s point is one with which Members across the House would agree. We remain seriously concerned about the situation in Hong Kong and the recent violent clashes between protesters and the police. We condemn the minority of hardcore violent protesters, but also continue fully to support the right to peaceful protest. As the hon. Lady says, that ought to be a stepping stone to political dialogue, particularly with the forthcoming local elections on 24 November in mind.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

Does not the blocking of Joshua Wong as a council candidate offend against the very basic principles of the Sino-British agreement, and what is the Secretary of State planning to do about it?

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

As I mentioned in my response to Liz Twist, the local elections on 24 November will be an important milestone to see whether there can be a de-escalation of tensions in Hong Kong, and a path towards political dialogue and engagement that is consistent with the joint declaration and one country, two systems. I share my right hon. Friend’s concern about the barring of Joshua Wong because standing for election is a fundamental right enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which itself reflects the one country, two systems model. We continue to make our concerns known to our Chinese partners.

Photo of Liz McInnes Liz McInnes Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

As a fellow Lancastrian, Mr Speaker, may I welcome you to your new role?

Will the Foreign Secretary update the House on the ongoing industrial dispute between Interserve and the Public and Commercial Services Union members working as support staff in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? Is he aware of the repeated security breaches in the last six months through Interserve bringing on site contractors without appropriate clearance?

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

We are of course aware of the dispute, and want to see it resolved as swiftly as possible. I am not aware of the security breaches to which the hon. Lady refers, but I will look into them and respond to her by letter.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Let me be the first cockney MP to congratulate you on your new role, Mr Speaker; I look forward to your service in this House.

Five of the 15 members of the Hamas political bureau have been designated as terrorists by the United Kingdom and the USA, but in the UK we proscribe only the military wing of Hamas. Is it not time that we proscribed the entirety of Hamas, rather than only Hamas as a military organisation and a terrorist organisation? Does my right hon. Friend agree that until Hamas renounces violence, celebrates peace and brings peace to the middle east, there will never be a peaceful solution between Israel and the Palestinian state?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

May I, Mr Speaker, extend my felicitations from Wiltshire on your advancement? I feel absolutely certain that my Wiltshire colleagues would join me in that.

I thank my hon. Friend for his important question. He is aware that we do of course proscribe the military element of Hamas, and we have a policy of non-engagement with Hamas in its entirety. Until Hamas sets its face against violence, accepts the Quartet principles and engages with the political process, it will be outside the tent.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Independent, Barrow and Furness

Heartfelt congratulations, Mr Speaker.

Will the Foreign Secretary comment on the report overnight of the capture of the sister of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in north-west Syria? Does not this, and the death of the Daesh leader itself, underline the importance of our international alliances to keep British citizens and our communities safe from the threat of terror?

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and congratulate him on his new appointment as an adviser at the Home Office on counter-extremism and counter-terrorism—a role that I know he will perform very effectively.

We do not comment on operational matters, as the hon. Gentleman will know. We welcome the removal of Baghdadi, but there is a much broader counter-Daesh strategy that we need to pursue. We need to keep all our partners together—which is why, frankly, some of the latent anti-Americanism that is preached by Opposition Front Benchers is deeply unhelpful.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

It is great to have a no-nonsense northerner in the Chair, Mr Speaker.

Google turns around over £10 billion in the UK, making a typical profit margin of 22%, so it should pay about £420 million in corporation tax, yet it pays only about £70 million due to profit shifting. Will my right hon. Friend do all he can to press for international action to end this kind of disgraceful tax avoidance?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

The UK is a world leader on tax compliance, with one of the lowest tax gaps in the world. The UK was a major sponsor of the OECD’s base erosion and profit shifting project and has adopted many of the recommendations. The Government also introduced the diverted profits tax, which came into effect on 1 April 2015 and counters the contrived arrangements used by some multinationals to divert profits from the UK.

Photo of Gavin Shuker Gavin Shuker Independent, Luton South

As the first Gavin Shuker MP to be called under your tenure, Mr Speaker, may I, too, offer my congratulations on your elevation?

For 10 years in this place I have repeatedly raised with the Foreign Secretary and his predecessors the appalling human rights abuses in Kashmir. Further to our recent disappointing exchange of letters, can he give one single example of actions he has taken in robustly challenging the Indian Government’s revocation of article 370 of the Indian constitution?

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The hon. Gentleman has been a stalwart champion of human rights and has indeed taken a very close interest in foreign policy in relation to this region. He asks what we have done. As the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Mrs Wheeler, said earlier, fundamentally the issue of Kashmir needs to be resolved between the two parties, but we never duck the issue of human rights in any country. I have raised the issue of human rights in Saudi Arabia with the Saudi Foreign Minister and, particularly in relation to detentions, blackouts and internet blockages, with the Indian Foreign Minister. We will continue to do that because it is absolutely important. Even with some of our closest partners, we need to be able to have those candid conversations.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

In the eight years since I was first appointed the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to nations in south-east Asia and elected chair of the all-party China group, trade and investment in that region has increased sharply—as have challenges to our values in some areas. May I therefore thank officials at the Foreign Office and the Department for International Trade who balance these responsibilities so well? May I also welcome the Foreign Secretary’s first visit abroad to the ASEAN summit in Bangkok? Does he agree that we should do all we can to participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and deepen our role with the nations of ASEAN?

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I pay tribute to all my hon. Friend’s tireless efforts and work. The Asia-Pacific region covered by the trans-Pacific trade agreement and ASEAN is a hugely important relationship for us. They are growth markets of the future, and we have perhaps not invested in partners there as much as we could have. While ensuring that we remain strong trading partners and allies with our European partners, leaving the EU allows us to invest more and with renewed vigour and enthusiasm in that critical region. That will bring dividends in jobs, free trade and advantages for consumers at home, and it also allows us to project our influence and soft power, as we have been discussing in this House.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

Teesside also celebrates your election to the Chair, Mr Speaker.

This morning, Israel’s Supreme Court confirmed its Government’s decision to deport Human Rights Watch’s director for Israel and Palestine, Omar Shakir. That decision comes amid the worrying closing of civil society space for those advocating human rights in that country. Will the Government urge Israel to reverse its decision and allow Human Rights Watch to continue its vital work?

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I know at first hand from my time working on human rights in war crimes and for human rights NGO Liberty how important the work of Human Rights Watch is. We want to see that continue, and of course we support it in general terms. We discuss a whole range of issues with our Israeli partners. The Israeli Supreme Court has a strong record of independence and has held the Executive to account on many occasions. It is important that we respect the separation of powers there as well.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Conservative, West Worcestershire

Warmest congratulations to you from Worcestershire, Mr Speaker.

The Foreign Secretary mentioned the transatlantic relationship in his opening remarks. We have not had a UK ambassador in Washington for four months. Can he update the House on when he expects that appointment to be made, and can he also rule out appointing Mr Nigel Farage to such a position?

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Our embassy in the US does a terrific job on a whole range of issues, from trade to security co-operation. I have been out there twice since my appointment, and I know how much commitment and hard work they put in. We are taking our time, to ensure that we get the appointment of the next ambassador right, and I think my hon. Friend need not lose any sleep over the prospect of it being Mr Farage.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

I suppose I am the first person to congratulate you twice, Mr Speaker.

Can the Foreign Secretary tell us how the UK’s standing as a soft power superpower is enhanced by its continuing refusal to comply with the UN General Assembly resolution that it should withdraw its colonial administration from the Chagos islands by 22 November this year?

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

We contribute to soft power in all sorts of ways, from our entrepreneurs and our world-beating innovators to the popularity of the arts and the English language overseas. The hon. Gentleman raises the specific issue of the British Indian Ocean Territory. We have no doubt about our sovereignty in that regard. It has been under continuous British sovereignty since 1814; Mauritius has never held sovereignty over the territory. We were disappointed that what was effectively a bilateral dispute was referred to the International Court of Justice and the UN General Assembly. The point of principle is that that circumvents the basic tenet that the ICJ should not consider bilateral disputes without the consent of both parties.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee, Chair, Defence Committee

Congratulations, Mr Speaker.

In the light of the Foreign Secretary’s rather dismissive response to his predecessor on defence spending, is he aware that the Defence Committee, on which four parties are represented, has recommended 3% of GDP as a realistic medium-term goal? Does he accept that 2% of GDP on defence is a minimum? It is a floor, not a ceiling.

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I pay tribute to all the work that my right hon. Friend has done in this House on security over the years. I certainly hope that I was not dismissive. We have just had one comprehensive spending review. There are competing bids going to the Chancellor on a whole range of issues, but he makes an important point. We are committed, as a stalwart NATO ally, to 2%, and we will certainly consider the report that he referred to as we consider the next CSR.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Shadow Minister (Justice)

I congratulate you, Mr Speaker, and I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Following on from the Secretary of State’s previous response, it is three months today since the draconian illegal blockade in Kashmir began. Thousands continue to be arrested without any due process. There are food shortages and medicine shortages, and persecution, oppression and injustice continue, yet the UK Government remain silent. The United Nations Security Council remains silent, and the international community remain silent. The sons and daughters of Kashmir are asking a simple question: does a Kashmiri child not feel the same pain as any other child? Does a Kashmiri child not bleed in the same way as any other child? Is a Kashmiri child’s death not worth the same as any other child’s death? Why is the world silent?

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I understand the passion with which he raises this issue. Of course we feel for the suffering of anyone in Kashmir, and we certainly have not been quiet on this issue. I have raised it with the Indian Foreign Minister, and we have discussed it with our partners. It has been discussed in international forums more widely, so I can reassure him and his constituents on both sides that we continually raise and will continue to raise these matters with the Indian Government. Equally, the wider issue of Kashmir, as has already been said in the Chamber, is a bilateral dispute that we feel—and, indeed, the UN Secretary Council resolutions and the international community have said—ought to be resolved bilaterally. We would certainly encourage and want to facilitate all those efforts to achieve that solution.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

Given the events of the last few years, I am not sure whether it is congratulations or commiserations I should offer you, Mr Speaker, but I certainly express my pleasure at your appointment.

When we return from the election and this House sits after the election campaign, it will be midwinter in northern Syria and 60 British children will be living in tents there. May I again ask the Foreign Secretary to revise, as a matter of urgency, our policy on their return?

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I thank my right hon. Friend, and we certainly share his concerns about the humanitarian situation. I have already made clear the UK’s policy on unaccompanied minors and orphans: we are willing to see them repatriated. We will consider wider requests for consular support more generally, subject to national security concerns. The real challenge we have is that we do not have a consular presence in Syria, and accessing the children—or anyone else of UK nationality for that matter—is very difficult, but we do respond to all cases on a case-by-case basis.

Several hon. Members: