Foreign & Commonwealth Office Questions

Alok Sharma answers questions on his Foreign Office portfolio.

Bilateral Relations: India

14. What recent assessment he has made of the strength of relations between India and the UK. [909522]


The UK shares a long-standing and deep friendship with India, covering economic ties, defence and security, and people-to-people links. We want the strongest possible economic relationship with India post-Brexit. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister visited India in November—her first bilateral visit outside Europe.


I am grateful for that answer. Strong relations between our two nations should be welcomed, particularly given the potential trading opportunities, but “good relations” means talking about concerns as well as successes. What discussions has the Foreign Office had with the Indian Government on Kashmir and human rights?


My hon. Friend raises an important point. We of course remain concerned about the reports of unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir. In fact, I raised the Kashmir issue with Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Akbar during his visit to London on 16 March, and I will continue to monitor developments in this area.


This year marks the UK-India year of culture, so will the Minister set out the Government’s plans to celebrate this important event?


A range of events are coming up this year to celebrate the year of culture. The right hon. Gentleman will know that we were visited by Finance Minister Jaitley in February, showing the strength of our relationship. He visited Buckingham Palace, where Her Majesty the Queen hosted an event celebrating the year of culture.

Topical Questions

According to the Basic Law of Hong Kong, the ultimate aim is for the city to select a Chief Executive by universal suffrage, yet two days ago a new Chief Executive was chosen by a committee comprising 0.03% of Hong Kong’s registered voters. As we prepare to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover, how can the House be confident that the Chinese Government are committed to progress towards genuinely democratic elections in Hong Kong?

The new Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, was elected by the Election Committee, and of course we respect the decision. However, we have consistently taken the view that the best way to secure the future of one country, two systems is through a transition to universal suffrage, which meets the aspirations of the people of Hong Kong, within the parameters of the Basic Law.

T3. It is more than three years since my constituent Ray Tindall and the other men of the Chennai six were detained and subsequently imprisoned in India for a crime they did not commit. Will Ministers pick up the phone to their counterparts in India and suggest that the men are simply deported? The men do not want to be in India, and the Indians do not want them in India. It is an easy way out. [909500]
I know that the hon. Gentleman is incredibly concerned for the welfare of his constituent, as we are for all the men. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and I have all raised the case in meetings with our counterparts. We are providing consular support, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and my office has written to the families to say that I stand ready to meet them ahead of the verdict that is due.

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Will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary outline what his priorities have been during the UK’s 62nd presidency of the UN Security Council this month?

The theme of the UK’s presidency of the UN Security Council has been conflict prevention in Africa, with a focus on the Lake Chad basin, South Sudan and Somalia. The UK has also held an open debate on modern slavery. Throughout our presidency we have been action-oriented, transparent and consultative, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has chaired two Security Council meetings.

In light of the interim report and the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State in Burma, which were published this month, will the Under-Secretary join me and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in working towards an international, independent investigation into what is happening in Rakhine state, especially against the Rohingya community?
Mr Speaker, I know that both you and my hon. Friend care deeply about Burma. The UK has helped to deliver a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution that sets up a fact-finding mission to investigate reports of human rights abuses, and it will be composed of independent, international experts.
The Pakistani Government have announced their intention to annex Gilgit-Baltistan, a sovereign part of India that Pakistan illegally occupies. What representations has my right hon. Friend made to the Pakistani Government to say that this act is illegal and the UK Government will oppose it?
As my hon. Friend knows, we have very good relations with both India and Pakistan, but on issues of a bilateral nature it is for those two countries to reach a settlement; it is not for us to prescribe a solution or act as a mediator. Of course we encourage both sides to maintain good relations and we will continue to talk to them.


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