Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:21 am on 27th October 2015.

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Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 11:21 am, 27th October 2015

Thank you, Mr Davies; it is a real pleasure to respond to this debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Rehman Chishti on securing it. He spoke with such passion, flair, understanding and expertise on this matter, and in such detail, that he has managed to give me limited time in which to respond. However, such is his enthusiasm for making sure that these matters are discussed in the House that it is fully understandable that he has eaten a little into my time to reply. I will do my best to respond to some of the matters that he has raised, and as usual, I will write to him in the normal manner if there are points that I cannot to reply to now. I commend him and other hon. Members on the work they have done in the House.

My hon. Friend began, as I should as well, by offering our condolences, understanding and sympathies to all those affected by the horrific earthquake that has taken place in Afghanistan, but which has rippled right across the region. He asked what Britain are doing. Naturally, we stand ready to give support—we have had no formal request yet, but we stand by, ready to help our friend and ally.

My hon. Friend mentioned the important role of the enormous diaspora that we have in this country, which strengthens our cultural relationships and the understanding of our country, which is very important indeed. I am pleased that he also paid tribute to the British Council, not least the delegation that I had the opportunity to meet recently on a visit to the country. I was very proud to meet those British Council representatives and to hear about the work they are doing to strengthen this important bilateral relationship. I had the opportunity to visit not only Karachi, but Islamabad last month. I saw at first hand how Britain is working very closely with Pakistan on three key areas: security, which my hon. Friend raised, the economy and governance. Before trying to answer his questions, I will cover—in the time available—some thoughts on those three key areas.

First, as my hon. Friend implied, security across Pakistan has improved dramatically. There really was an understanding—almost a wake-up call—following the disastrous attack that killed so many children in the Peshawar public school. The British Government are very much playing our part. We are training Pakistani police and promoting work with prosecutors and the judiciary to investigate, prosecute and sentence terrorist suspects in line with international human rights standards. We have made an awful lot of progress, and I hope that continues.

Secondly, on the economy, the improved security is helping to drive economic growth. It is making the country more attractive. An International Monetary Fund programme has helped to stabilise the economy since the fiscal and balance of payments crisis two years ago. However, more work is needed if we are to increase the country’s growth to the 7% to 8% needed to reduce poverty. We continue to encourage Pakistan to address the energy crisis, tackle corruption and undertake further privatisations, which are needed to boost the economy. We are supporting businesses that want to trade more with Pakistan, where the opportunities, from energy to infrastructure, are clear, as I discovered on my visit. I hope to return to Pakistan, not least to Karachi, in the near future with my own trade delegation. Indeed, I have invited and encouraged the Mayor of London, who is familiar with working with megacities, to provide assistance in making sure that Karachi works towards being a gateway to the region.

Thirdly, on governance, the advances made in security and prosperity cannot be sustained without good governance, and democracy in Pakistan has shallow roots, as we have heard. We are helping to build on that and sharing our experience to cement accountable governance, credible elections and civilian transitions. The Department for International Development, which my hon. Friend mentioned a number of times, has one of the largest bilateral aid programmes and is helping Pakistan to improve healthcare, education and the provision of humanitarian assistance. UK aid has benefited over 6 million primary school children, ensured that over 1 million more births involved medical professionals and helped over 4 million flood victims.

My hon. Friend mentioned Kashmir, which is obviously a very sensitive subject. He is familiar with our long-standing position in the UK—that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting solution to the situation in Kashmir which takes into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. It is not for the UK to prescribe a solution or indeed, to mediate, but we very much encourage both sides to maintain their positive dialogue and to work towards a solution.

In the limited time remaining, I will try as best as I can to answer the series of questions that my hon. Friend asked. As I mentioned, on the earthquake, we stand ready to give support. We will continue to have discussions with British Airways. The time is now ripe for those flights to be reviewed and reinstalled. I hope that will be the case, pending the security requirements that we and the airline need. On travel advice, we want to make things as trouble-free as possible. There are over 1 million visits and movements every year. There is a requirement, occasionally, for us to review travel advice to specific areas. We are quite careful to make sure that we articulate that travel advice on our website.

On bilateral trade, we have the target of £3 billion. I hope we can persevere towards that. My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the fact that the British Government now underwrites and guarantees business opportunities. The money has increased from £200 million to £300 million, which I think is excellent news. That is an indication of how we want to meet the target and to encourage not only businesses that are already there to grow, but new businesses to consider Pakistan as a place to open up and do business.

My hon. Friend mentioned the 70th anniversary in 2017. I very much hope that that is something we can work towards, and it is wise to flag that up now, to ensure that we can mark that important landmark in Pakistan’s history.

On visas, my hon. Friend will be aware of the robust requirement for us to have a thorough visa system in place. However, we want to make sure that we can attract the brightest and best students from around the world and that they are able to come here on legitimate courses, so we very much want to work with Pakistan on that front. On terrorism, I hear what he said about the requests. We will certainly look at that. We have a very strong relationship that is growing ever stronger with regard to helping Pakistan on counter-terrorism.

My hon. Friend spoke of the opportunities for the country to grow and to become the South Korea of the future.