Ahmadiyya Community — [Annette Brooke in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:26 pm on 20th October 2010.

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 3:26 pm, 20th October 2010

The hon. Lady anticipated my next point, which is about the voluntary contributions, but I would not have mentioned that charity specifically, so I thank her for mentioning it. In addition to what the Government have spent, as the right hon. Member for Warley has said, the response from the community across the UK generally, whether or not they have relationships with Pakistan, has been remarkable- £60 million from different communities up and down the country-and those with family connections have been especially involved. We will continue to do that work. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the European Union, and it is important that we work closely with it. Recently, my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister attended a European summit at which they took the lead in pressing the European Community to do still more to improve trade agreements to enable the Pakistani Government not only to get over the immediate hurdle of the floods, but to look forward to re-establishing their economy and to have the right infrastructure to be able to do so. The EU was able to take our lead and produce more trade concessions, which will give significant assistance to Pakistan in the future.

Pakistan is also suffering from the scourge of terrorism. More than 3,000 Pakistanis died last year as a result of terrorist attacks. Those attacks and the groups that perpetrate them pose a grave threat to Pakistan and to the stability of the region and beyond, including the UK. I would like to repeat the words of the Prime Minister when he paid tribute in August to the resilience of the people in Pakistan in facing that threat. We are committed to working with Pakistan to defeat this threat. It threatens both our countries.

Human rights are at the core of our foreign policy. We raise our concerns about human rights wherever and whenever they occur, without compromise and will continue to do so. As the Foreign Secretary made clear in a recent speech, we will improve and strengthen the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on human rights. That will be underpinned by British values and by our support for democratic freedoms, universal human rights and the rule of law. That approach will be based on realism; we will never overlook human rights abuses and will always strive for progress, but we will be practical in our approach and flexible about what might work best in different contexts, which is only sensible.

The multiplicity of links between the UK and Pakistan means that we engage with each other on all subjects-counter-terrorism, security policy, immigration, trade, development, education, the rule of law and human rights. As I have outlined, that last subject is critical to the conduct of UK foreign policy. It is as relevant to our relationship with Pakistan as it is to our relations with the rest of the world. We do not shirk from our responsibilities in highlighting our concerns about human rights, including to our friends.

Pakistan has made important progress in improving human rights. The ratification of the international covenant on civil and political rights and the convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment is an important step in enshrining inherent rights in law, although we hope that the Government will look to remove or redraft the current reservations that they have lodged against both treaties. It is important that those instruments are fully implemented to help to ensure the human rights of all Pakistanis.

However, Pakistan continues to face significant challenges in those areas, and we remain committed to working with the Government of Pakistan to address them. One of the most important challenges is discrimination against, and persecution of, those of a particular religious belief, whether Christians or Sikhs, as is sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims. It is vital that the Government of Pakistan uphold the fundamental rights of all Pakistani citizens, regardless of their faith or belief. Pakistan can only benefit if all its citizens are able to play a central role in society. We regularly reinforce that point for our colleagues in the Government of Pakistan at all levels, and they have now established a Ministry for Minorities, which has active leadership and has brought about some positive changes. A remaining critical challenge, as has been mentioned today, is the reform of Pakistan's blasphemy legislation to ensure that it is properly implemented. Misuse of those laws is the basis for much of the discrimination suffered by religious groups in Pakistan, as the hon. Lady made clear.