In conversation with Sir Richard Ottaway

On Paris: Well Paris was an outrageous event, it was a threat against the free men and women of the world and the global response has been substantial. What is important to remember however is that free speech is not an absolute right. You cannot in English law tell an untruth about someone as that is libellous, you cannot encourage racial hatred and other forms of hatred because that is a criminal offence and if you are offensive about someone you have to accept that there will be possibly a reaction and what we’ve seen in Paris is a reaction to what I think is universally accepted as fairly offensive behaviour by Charlie Hebdo. But we will all defend their right to say it.

On young people and rehabilitation: People are addressing how we seriously rehabilitate people but I don’t think we can actually treat it like a holiday camp. If you have gone off to Syria to engage in jihad you have engaged in a criminal offence in this country and it can’t be ignored. Nonetheless we really do have to engage here. It’s quite tempting to say well why do we even bother to let them come back but tempting as that may be its the wrong response. I think we have to engage with the young disaffected community. The last government set out the prevent strategy which endeavoured to engage with the young and for all we know it may have been very successful, there may have been many many more jihadists there if we hadn’t done it, nonetheless it seemed to be a slightly hit and miss strategy and again I believe that is an area which is being looked at at the moment.

Should we stop them from coming back?; Its quite tempting to say they cannot come back here which probably makes them stateless. There are legal issues around making people stateless and it may not be in our gift to deny a British citizen who may have forfeited their passport, but nonetheless there may be a legal issue in denying them entry back into the country and I think that that is something I know again theresa may the home secretary is looking at at the moment.

On International action: Nick Clegg is a part of the present coalition which has been upholding international law for the past 5 years and I don’t think there is any doubt about Britain’s commitment to international law as a permeant member of the security council and the UN. International law is treaties, it is agreements between countries and as far as I’m aware Britain is throughly engaged in upholding it’s undertakings under treaties whilst in some cases other countries are not and long may Britain go on upholding its obligations.

On Intelligence services and UK freedoms: I think that if you accept that you have a country where you have free speech but you want also the right to be secure and safe in your country you may have to accept some limitations on your basic human rights and what David Cameron is arguing for is the right for the security services to be able to access historical social media internet usage. There are already quite a few laws in place which allow this all of which seem to have worked quite well without taking away peoples actual freedoms and rights and there are roundabout a billion bits of e-activity every day and there’s no question of people sitting there with headphones listening to peoples phone calls looking at their emails it’s simply not possible, it’s right to go back retrospectively to look at what particular individuals have been up to together with safeguards by senior ministers or indeed possibly judges authorising those interceptions for the sole purpose of making people’s lives safer and if you have not been breaking the law if you have not been engaging in illegal activity then you have absolutely nothing to worry about whatsoever.

On Narendra Modi and India-Pakistan relations: First of all, I welcome the election of Mr Modi, it was an unaccepted victory and he clearly has business and economy at the heart of his manifesto and I welcome the fact that he’s got off to a far start in trying to implement the necessary reforms. On the foreign policy side I think the relationship with Pakistan is critical and I was delighted that he invited the Pakistani president to his inauguration, I think it showed generosity of spirit. Since then regrettably talks have been cancelled or postponed and i’d like to think they can be reinstated, I think it’s really critical that Pakistan and India get on well together and indeed a good strong bilateral relationship between the two countries makes a very powerful political and economic force in the region so there is a big vested interest in doing it and I hope that old differences can be overcome in the name of good governance.

On European Union: I do believe we should stay in the European Union though I do think Britain’s concerns need to be addressed and there needs to be a renegotiated package which the Prime Minister can then put to the country in a referendum but the underlying principles which I support are economic prosperity and international security. Economic prosperity comes primarily from the single market, if you are a person making spectacles and you are selling into a market of 60 million people, that is harder work than if you’re selling into a single market of 450 million people of some of the most prosperous people on the planet. So by definition single markets work, you see single markets work in the US, China, Brazil, Russia, what have they all get in common, they’re big single markets and those examples I’ve given you are, they’ve also got a single currency throughout the single market, so there are huge advantages of trading into a single market. And I think Britain should be a part of that single market and should go on trading into it. The second important thing is security, in an increasingly troubled world, having partners who have the same values as you the same commitments to defending those values and after centuries of European warfare, we’ve know had a period of seventy years, without any European warfare. I think that issue alone, justifies our membership of the European Union.

On Spain and Gibraltar: I raised this on the floor of the House on the debate I had on Gibraltar a couple of weeks ago and it is true that the government has not minded to take Spain to the European Court. The reason they give is that it takes a long time and they think that they can resolve the matter diplomatically. To which my response is well this disagreement has been going for several years and we haven’t resolved it diplomatically and I do believe we should take Spain to the European Court over their repeated use of the border as a matter of economic policy to attack what is a British overseas territory and their behaviour is unacceptable.

On UK-China relations; As the Chairman of the committee which was banned from going to Hong Kong, it’s left a difficult relationship between China and the British parliament, nonetheless I think the economic ties are still strong and I think this whole episode of the ban on MPs suggests that the direction of travel of China isn’t one that particularly favours the democratic process at the moment. Nonetheless we’re having a hard look at this and we’ll be publishing our report in March. I think it’s important to note that because we have Prince William going to China at the end of February/beginning of March, that is an illustration that despite these spats, the Prime Minister’s spat over Tibet, my committee’s spat over Hong Kong, the underlying relationship with China is still fairly healthy.

Interview by Lux Modhwadia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s