All 51 Parliamentary debates on 26th Mar 2024

Tue 26th Mar 2024
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House of Commons

Tuesday 26th March 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Tuesday 26 March 2024
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

Tuesday 26th March 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Prayers mark the daily opening of Parliament. The occassion is used by MPs to reserve seats in the Commons Chamber with 'prayer cards'. Prayers are not televised on the official feed.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
New Writ
Ordered,
That Mr Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough Constituency of Blackpool South in the room of Scott Lloyd Benton, who since his election for the said Borough Constituency has been appointed to the Office of Steward and Bailiff of His Majesty’s Manor of Northstead in the County of York.—(Simon Hart.)

Speaker’s Statement

Tuesday 26th March 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Before we start questions, I should say that Scott, who has been working in my office since I became Speaker, is crossing to another part of the House service—he is not leaving the House—and, on behalf of all Members, I thank him for his work and for ensuring the efficiency of my office.

Oral Answers to Questions

Tuesday 26th March 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Secretary of State was asked—
Simon Jupp Portrait Simon Jupp (East Devon) (Con)
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1. What steps he is taking to increase sentences for dangerous offenders.

Alex Chalk Portrait The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Alex Chalk)
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To govern is to choose. Choices we have made mean that the most dangerous offenders—the acid attackers, the rapists, the knife-point robbers—who are sentenced to seven years or more are required to spend longer in custody. The Sentencing Bill goes further: murders involving sexual or sadistic conduct will lead to a whole-life order unless there are exceptional circumstances, and those convicted of the most serious sexual offences, including rape, will serve 100% of their custodial term in prison.

Simon Jupp Portrait Simon Jupp
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I welcome the measures that my right hon. and learned Friend has outlined, as will my East Devon constituents. Rapists deserve the most severe possible custodial sentences. Will he update the House on how sentence lengths have been increased for that utterly vile crime since 2010?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right that rape is an appalling crime. In 2010, the average custodial sentence for adult rape was six and a half years, and prison governors were required to release offenders at the halfway mark. Today, the average sentence is over 40% longer, and offenders serving more than four years must serve two thirds of that sentence behind bars. As I say, we are going further still.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
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For all the positive words from the Secretary of State, the reality in our prisons is that people are being sent out, and the prison estate has not kept pace with the rhetoric that we hear from the Government. The Government are constantly sending criminals on to our streets because they do not have the prison facilities to house them. Is not the reality that we need fewer fine words and more action from the Government to keep our streets safe?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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That is not a fair characterisation. The capacity in our estate is much greater than when we inherited it—that is point one. Point two is that we have kick-started the largest prison expansion since the Victorian era: £4 billion has been allocated, and we have opened His Majesty’s Prison Fosse Way and HMP Five Wells. HMP Millsike will open next year; we have planning permission for Gartree and Grendon Springhill, and we also have more spaces—rapid deployment cells and so on—coming on at Liverpool, Birmingham and Norwich. We believe that those who commit the most appalling crimes should be locked up for longer. As I say, it was wrong that, in 2010, rapists would be automatically released at the halfway mark. We are the Government who are putting that right.

Robert Buckland Portrait Sir Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con)
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I commend my right hon. and learned Friend for building on the work that he and I did together to ensure that the most dangerous and serious offenders spend longer behind bars. The consultation on sentencing in cases of murder concluded a few weeks ago. When can we reasonably expect a response on that sensitive and important issue?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to say that it is a sensitive issue. As he knows from practice, those who commit the offence of murder outside, using a knife that is brought to the scene, can expect a starting point of 25 years. However, as the Gould and Devey families have made so powerfully clear, where the crime takes place inside the home, there are very difficult sentencing decisions for judges. The consultation has ended, and I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon), who has spoken to a number of people about it, as indeed have I. We will respond in the coming weeks, but this matter requires careful thought. I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend for his work on it.

Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord (Tiverton and Honiton) (LD)
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Barnaby Webber from Taunton was described by his family as an “extraordinary ordinary person”. His killer was found guilty of manslaughter, rather than murder, on the basis of being subject to paranoid schizophrenia. Barnaby’s mother, Emma Webber, says it is “abhorrent” that murder charges were not pursued against her son’s killer. Will the Secretary of State consider re-categorising homicide laws to introduce first-degree and second-degree murder?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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There is nothing I could say from this Dispatch Box that would put right the horror that the poor families of Barnaby Webber, Grace O’Malley-Kumar and Ian Austin suffered in those appalling attacks from Valdo Calocane. The law of homicide has been considered greatly—in fact, as a Back Bencher, I led a debate on the issue of first-degree and second-degree murder. It is of course something that we keep under careful consideration; there is complexity to it, but it is certainly a matter that we will consider.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
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2. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of legislation on cremation.

Mike Freer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mike Freer)
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The law on cremation has been updated when needed. For example, the 2008 cremation regulations are currently being amended as part of the ongoing death certification reform. However, the primary legislation on cremation dates back to 1902, and in the light of developments since then, I believe that a more comprehensive review is needed. That is why the Law Commission has agreed to consider the law governing cremation as part of its project on burial, cremation and new funerary methods. That project has commenced, and we await its findings with interest.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Evans
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I am grateful for the Minister’s answer. Obviously, given what is going on in Hull, there are great concerns. I know that the Minister cannot speak directly about that issue because of the investigation, but there is no formal regulation of funeral directors on these issues. Joseph Barsby, the managing director at G. Seller—a much-loved local funeral director that is at the forefront of funeral facilities in Hinckley—is very concerned, because G. Seller wants to lead, not be tarnished by being sucked into problems in the industry. Will the Minister meet with Joseph to discuss ways in which we can improve the system? Failing that, will there be a way for funeral directors to feed in information and ideas on how to improve the system?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The Department has already started work on a call for evidence on where we go with the regulation of the funeral director sector; that will be issued shortly. I am more than happy to ensure that the views of any funeral director are fed in, and, of course, to meet with the firm in his constituency.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for the productive and supportive way that he has engaged with me on the appalling situation with Legacy funeral directors in Hull. I am utterly committed to regulating this industry and never again allowing that appalling, heartbreaking situation to be repeated. I have heard the Minister’s response to the hon. Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans), but could he speak a little bit more about timeframes? Does he agree that in the interval before statutory regulation comes in, we should encourage all funeral directors to subject themselves to voluntary regulation by one of the trade bodies, and to do everything they can to reassure the public that not all funeral directors are in a situation like the appalling situation that we have had in my constituency?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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If I may return the compliment, the hon. Lady has handled this appalling incident in her constituency with a great deal of skill. I am committed to working with her and the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), who is leading on some of the initial responses, alongside the local authority. The call for evidence on where we go on regulation will commence in the next few months; the decision, of course, will have to wait for the public consultation. This afternoon, I am meeting the two major trade bodies to discuss how they can assist with voluntary inspections, to ensure that after this terrible incident—what has been happening is quite horrific—which nobody thought could occur, we get this right, so that people have confidence in the vast majority of funeral directors, who are entirely respectable and treat the deceased with the respect and care that we would expect.

Stephen Crabb Portrait Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
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3. What steps he is taking to reduce reoffending.

Alex Chalk Portrait The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Alex Chalk)
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Reducing reoffending is a core mission of this Government. That is why, for example, we rolled out the genuinely transformational policy of 12 weeks’ guaranteed accommodation for offenders on release, and it is why we have invested heavily in employment; there are prison employment leads in every resettlement prison. The plan is working: the reoffending rate has fallen significantly since 2010, from 31% to 25%, and in the two years to March 2023, the proportion of prison leavers in employment six months after release more than doubled.

Stephen Crabb Portrait Stephen Crabb
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I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his answer. He may be aware that the Welsh Affairs Committee has recently heard from businesses such as Timpson and Williams Homes about the work being done to train and recruit prisoners in Wales. While there was a lot of praise for the New Futures Network, which brokers partnerships between employers and prisons, what is being done to expand the number of release on temporary licence schemes? As we have heard, they are really important for improving employability and giving prisoners a better chance of holding down a job when they get out of the gate.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I thank my right hon. Friend for the interest he is showing in this issue. He is absolutely right to pay tribute to the New Futures Network, which does exceptional work in custody. Of course, it is very often able to liaise with employment advisory boards—local business people in the area—to ensure that prisoners are trained in the skills that they need for jobs in that area. When I went to HMP Berwyn, which is of course in Wales, one of the things that I was so impressed by is that its employment hub has a video suite, so that prisoners can be interviewed by employers on the outside. On my right hon. Friend’s point about ROTL, that is something that prison governors keep under review. Certainly in the right cases, where ROTL is safe for the public, it can be a useful tool to ensure that prisoners are rehabilitated and get into work, so that they can be law-abiding citizens in the future.

Derek Twigg Portrait Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab)
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The Secretary of State will know that one of the ways to reduce reoffending is to break the cycle of drug misuse. The problem of course is that in too many prisons there is a high incidence of drugs getting in, so what is he doing to reduce the amount of drugs in our prisons?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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The hon. Member is right: it is of course really important that we tackle drugs coming into prisons. We have rolled out £100 million in prison gate security, to ensure that there is airport-style security. There are scanners, including body scanners with very high resolution, so that people coming into jails can be scanned for illicit contraband that may be being transported internally; that is important. We are also rolling out additional technology that can scan mail for psychoactive substances impregnated into the paper. That is just one of a suite of measures that we are taking—plus there are the drug abstinence wings.

May I take this opportunity to say that I misspoke earlier? Ian Coates was the third victim of the Nottingham attacks.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Robert Neill KC.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
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Thank you, Mr Speaker. I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s comments about the progress made on tackling reoffending, but he will be aware that it remains stubbornly high. We are in an unfortunate position: we imprison more people than most of our neighbours in Europe, but still have higher rates of reoffending. Does that not posit the fact that we need to make more intelligent use of prison, and of alternatives to custody, as parts of a joined-up system? Would he agree that the Sentencing Bill is particularly valuable in this regard, and can we hope for its swift return to the House?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his excellent point. He says something with which I passionately agree: strip out the emotion and follow the evidence. The evidence shows that there are tools available to this generation of politicians that were not necessarily available 10 or 15 years ago. I am talking not just about GPS tags, which we have doubled, but alcohol tags, with which there is a 97% compliance rate. The reoffending rate among those who live with the sword of Damocles hanging over them can be much lower than for those who spend a short time in custody.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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As it was his birthday yesterday, I call Jim Shannon.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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Thank you, Mr Speaker. You are never going to let me forget about my birthday.

I very much thank the Secretary of State for his answers, and for his very clear commitment to physical and skills training. The other important issue is education. If we keep people’s minds and bodies active, they will not wish to offend when they leave prison, so what is being done to help, educationally? Will the Secretary of State share the ideas he clearly has with the equivalent Minister in Northern Ireland?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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Absolutely. Importantly, we are rolling out a prison education service, with a considerable sum of money—about £150 million a year, which is significant. However, it is critical to have tie-up between the local employment advisory boards, liaising with the governor, and the New Futures Network to ensure that the education provided is tailored to the jobs on the outside. People are being assisted with literacy, for example, so that they can do jobs in hospitality, kitchens or horticulture. Education works when it is tailored to job opportunities on the outside. That is how we get prisoners motivated and engaged—and yes, I am happy to engage in the way that the hon. Member proposes.

Fabian Hamilton Portrait Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab)
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4. What steps he is taking to prevent the potential abuse of lasting power of attorney agreements.

Mike Freer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mike Freer)
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When an LPA application is submitted, there is a statutory four-week waiting period before the LPA can be registered, during which objections can be lodged. As for registered LPAs, any concerns about an attorney abusing one can be reported to the Office of the Public Guardian, which will investigate. As part of the modernisation of LPAs following the passage of the Powers of Attorney Act 2023, new identity verification processes will be introduced to further strengthen the system.

Fabian Hamilton Portrait Fabian Hamilton
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More than 6 million people in Britain have lasting power of attorney agreements. I have been inundated recently with so many harrowing stories from across the country of abusers targeting elderly people and stealing their estate from under their nose. Will the Minister ensure that a proper medical assessment is carried out before an LPA is activated, and that the digitisation of LPAs does not lead to families losing their loved one’s estate to unscrupulous abusers?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and I am more than happy to take that away and write to him about the steps we take to ensure that that level of check is in place. I reassure the House that people can check the “use a lasting power of attorney” service on gov.uk to see where LPAs have been issued, and whether one has been issued without their knowledge.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
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5. What steps he is taking to reduce violence in the secure youth estate.

Edward Argar Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Edward Argar)
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The number of children in custody has fallen by nearly 70% in the last decade, but that means that those in custody are more complex; 71% of them are detained for violent offences. Although the rate of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults declined by 7% between July and September 2023, compared with the same period in 2022, the rate of assaults on staff increased. That is why all sites have a safety strategy reflecting local drivers of violence. That includes tackling the use of weapons, and training staff in conflict resolution. Much has been done, but there continues to be more to do, and we remain focused on doing it.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty
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Those strategies are clearly not working. There were 320 assaults on staff between July and September 2023, of which 24 were serious. That is a 9% increase, year on year, in assaults in the children and young people’s estate. When will the Minister put in place a proper plan to cut violence in the youth estate and keep staff safe?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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The plan we have put in place is working, but there is more to do. The hon. Gentleman highlighted statistics that, as he will accept, I acknowledged from the Dispatch Box. We believe that our approach to tackling violence and to conflict resolution in our youth estate is right, and we will continue to press forward with it to reduce rates of assault on our hard-working and dedicated prison officers and staff.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab)
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The Government have decided to change the use of Cookham Wood youth offender institution to an adult prison. That follows a lack of progress in improving young people’s access to education, and increased violence on the prison estate. The behaviour management method of keeping young people in their cells has failed. This decision puts a spotlight on the wider crisis in adult prisons. When the young people are transferred, how will the Minister ensure that the practice of keeping them in their cells, and the cycle of violence, will end?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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I am grateful to the shadow Minister for her question about Cookham Wood. As she will be aware, a number of specific local factors at work in Cookham Wood led to the urgent notification, and the challenges in addressing that. As for those young people and their transfer to other institutions, a number of them will be released before Cookham Wood closes. Those still in custody will be assessed individually, and they and their families will be engaged with to ensure that they are placed in institutions that are best suited to their needs, and that give them the greatest opportunity to progress and make positive life choices for when they are released.

Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby
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It is a shame that the Minister did not address the violence specifically. Violence is a challenge across the youth estate, not just at Cookham Wood. Recently, a girl with challenging behaviours and complex needs at Wetherby YOI was restrained and then stripped—not once, but twice—by male officers. In the context of rising violence and extreme self-harm, does the Minister believe that is acceptable, and what alternative provision does he have in mind other than the Keppel unit in Wetherby YOI?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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I did address the point about violence on the estate in response to the original question from the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty). The hon. Lady asked specifically about a case highlighted by the chief inspector of prisons in his recent report.What happened there was clearly against policy. It was clearly wrong and concerning, but I do have to correct her: the individual involved was at no point strip-searched. That was inaccurate reporting. At all times, the modesty of the individual was protected with a blanket, so I am afraid that what was said in reporting that it was a strip search is not correct. Clothes were removed under a blanket in order to protect life where there was imminent risk to it. Those officers made a difficult decision in the circumstances to protect life. It is right that we look into the specifics of what happened, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and I have done. I think we just need to be a little cautious at this point about accepting everything that was reported as fact.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)
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6. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the level of violence against prison officers.

Edward Argar Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Edward Argar)
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All assaults on prison staff are utterly unacceptable. That is why we have taken steps to protect our staff. I put on record something that I suspect those on both sides of the House share, which is our gratitude to all those who work in our prisons. To protect staff, we have rolled out PAVA—pelargonic acid vanillylamide—spray in adult male prisons, and body-worn video cameras. The maximum penalty for those who assault prison officers has been doubled, and we have completed our £100 million security investment programme to clamp down on the illicit items that fuel prison violence. The rate of assaults on staff in the 12 months to September 2023 was 10% lower than in the 12 months to September 2019—before the pandemic—but it is still far too high.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore
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I know the Minister cares about this issue and wants to see solutions for how we protect prison officers across the prison estate, but according to the Prison Officers Association and the Community union, serious offences against prison officers are up 10% on last year. Some 750 of those assaults are deemed to be serious, and 23 attacks are being recorded every day on the prison estate across England and Wales. There are huge concerns about overcrowding. The level of prison officers is 10% lower than in 2010. It is positive to hear the Secretary of State talking about opening new prisons, but if there are no prison officers to work there, how will we resolve these issues? More worryingly, prison officers are taking to the media to say that they are frightened for their lives to work on the prison estate. I do not think the plan is working. I believe the Minister wants to fix it, but what is the next plan to resolve things and ensure that prison officers remain safe on our prison estate?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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No one, in any walk of life, should be in fear of assault at work, and that obviously includes dedicated prison officers. I have already highlighted the steps we are taking to tackle some of the root causes of that violence. We have the £100 million security measures to tackle illicit drugs and mobile phones—the sorts of things that fuel the violence—and the ability to deploy PAVA spray. The hon. Gentleman rightly highlights the importance in this context of the number of prison officers. That is why I am pleased that in the latest statistics published at the end of last year, numbers are up by 1,500, and retention rates are improving, too.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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7. What steps his Department is taking to help ensure that victims of domestic violence are protected throughout court proceedings.

Laura Farris Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Laura Farris)
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The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 was transformative with the protections it gave to domestic abuse victims through the justice system. To give just a few examples, up-front legal aid is available to all domestic abuse victims seeking a protective order, without having to establish evidence of abuse. Our upcoming legal aid means test review will significantly increase eligibility and exclude disputed assets, such as the marital home, from consideration. Perpetrators are prohibited from cross-examining their victims, and victims are entitled to the support of an independent domestic violence adviser throughout the process.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker
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My office has recently assisted with several cases regarding the use of court proceedings involving victims of domestic abuse. In many cases, family issues are going straight to trial without any mediation, which causes far more trauma for all parties concerned. Can the Minister assure me that we will always place the victim at the forefront of court proceedings in these circumstances?

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris
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It is specifically to address that issue that we commissioned our harms panel, which conducted excellent work, as a result of which the Ministry of Justice has conducted a pilot of pathfinder courts in Dorset and north Wales focused on preventing exactly this issue. Those courts have focused on creating a less adversarial system where domestic abuse allegations are investigated and resolved at an early stage without being intensified through the court. My hon. Friend will be glad to hear that so successful has the pilot been that it will now be rolled out on a national basis, starting next month with courts in south-east Wales and in Birmingham.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
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In 2023, 67,938 rapes were recorded by the police, but there were just 2,008 rape convictions. It is well documented that there is not enough support for rape victims through the court process. The use of counselling notes has a chilling effect, and the long waits for their case to go to trial have an intense impact on survivors, often causing them to withdraw. What will the Minister do to ensure that victims and survivors are supported throughout the court process?

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris
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It is not in dispute that rape is the most serious offence a person can experience that is not homicide. It is as a result of the implementation of the end-to-end rape review that we started Operation Soteria through the police forces. That has not just improved rape prosecutions; some forces are referring quadruple the volume of cases to the Crown Prosecution Service that they were once before, and overall prosecutions have more than doubled. We have close to 1,000 independent sexual violence advisers working in the system, holding a victim’s hand from the minute they go to the police to the conclusion of the process. I met some in Hatfield last month, who told me that victims had told them they had only stayed in the process because of that support. It is night and day from where it was in 2010. We review the outcome of the rape review every quarter, and the curve is going upwards, so of course it is a crucial issue, but one on which significant improvement is being made on every single matrix.

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell (Watford) (Con)
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Domestic abuse has no place in modern society or any society. What work is happening to ensure that victims of domestic abuse are supported throughout the entire process? We have a fantastic organisation in Watford called Watford Women’s Centre, which helps many abuse victims, but what are the Government doing to ensure that victims are supported throughout and that the perpetrators are taken to court and justice is served?

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris
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I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent question. I give him a similar answer to the one I gave the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion). One thing that has been transformative in victim support is the provision of not just independent sexual violence advisers, but independent domestic abuse advisers. Again, there are nearly 1,000 advisers in the system helping victims every step of the way. One thing that I am most excited about in this challenging area of the law is the pilot launching next month for domestic abuse protection orders, which will give police or victims the ability to go to the magistrates court or the family court to seek a blend of measures, whether that is a non-molestation order, an occupation order or a stalking protection order, and create positive obligations on the perpetrator, whether that is on alcohol abuse or through the perpetrator programme. There is a comprehensive package of support for domestic abuse victims.

Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) (LD)
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In Scotland, victims of rape and serious sexual assault are now able to access free court transcripts. The project will give victims free access to transcripts that previously would have cost thousands of pounds. However, the UK Government refuse to match the scheme and are only committing to a one-year pilot scheme, in which free copies of sentencing remarks will be made available to victims of serious crime. That is not good enough. It fails victims like my constituent, Juliana Terlizzi, who was charged over £7,000 to read the transcript of her rapist’s trial. Ahead of Report stage of the Victims and Prisoners Bill in the other place next month, will the Justice Secretary meet Juliana and me to discuss matching the Scottish scheme, which will help get victims the justice they deserve?

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris
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I reassure the hon. Lady that the Courts Minister has said that he will meet her to discuss the matter. She will know that the cost of transcription for a full trial can be as high as £20,000, but the power and impact of any trial, where there has been a conviction, is in the judge’s sentencing remarks at the end, in seeing everything, and society’s opprobrium is expressed through the voice of the judge. That is why we are conducting a pilot for free sentencing remarks in all those cases.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
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8. What assessment he has made of the impact of delays in the family courts on children who have been taken into care.

Mike Freer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mike Freer)
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Delays in decision making during care proceedings can have a significant impact on children, and we recognise that there is more to do to address that challenge. That is why last year the Government published their response to the independent review of children’s social care, setting out a programme of action to achieve better outcomes. The Department for Education is investing an extra £10 million on new initiatives to address the longest delays and meet the statutory requirement to resolve proceedings within 26 weeks.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi
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Data from Cafcass shows that children who have been removed from their parents by the state have to wait an average of 46 weeks to get a final decision on where they will live. That is heartbreaking. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of extended family proceedings on the mental health of the children involved and their ability to access support and child and adolescent mental health services?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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The hon. Lady raises a very serious point. The impact on the child and the wider family is appreciated. We have invested in capacity, with more money for Cafcass, judges and recorders, and more sitting days to ensure that we increase capacity so that hearings can be heard effectively. We are also focusing on the public law outline, which sets a maximum number of hearings and the time limits, to ensure that proceedings are heard on time. If the hon. Lady wishes to raise any specific cases, I will be happy to meet her to get to the bottom of any specific problems.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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Despite the response given to my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), the Government are still a long way from solving the crisis in the family courts. We have heard of the 46-week average, but in 13 of the 42 designated family judge areas in England and Wales, the wait is double the statutory target of 26 weeks. Then, there are the 80,000 private family law cases that can take 45 weeks to be resolved, and the number of new cases is increasing faster than disposals. Do the Government have any concern or compassion for some of the most vulnerable children in the country who are being let down? I invite the Minister to try again and assure the House that the crisis will not get even worse.

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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If there is a lever that I have not pulled, I invite the shadow Minister to let me know what it is, and I will address it. This Government are spending more money on attracting more judges and recorders, maximising sitting days and investing in the public law outline and, on the flip side of public family law, on private family law as well as mediation. We are investing an extra £55 million, as announced in the Budget, to address productivity and the backlogs. Every single lever that will increase capacity and productivity is being pulled, but I am more than happy for the hon. Member to share any insight with me, and I am sure that we can work on a better solution.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) (Lab)
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9. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the backlog in the Crown court.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)
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13. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the backlog in the Crown court.

Alex Chalk Portrait The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Alex Chalk)
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More than 90% of all criminal cases are resolved in the magistrates court, which includes burglaries, thefts, assaults, criminal damage and drugs offences. Thanks to magistrates’ exceptional efforts, the caseload has come down significantly from its post-pandemic peak, and cases are being heard promptly. To help bring down the caseload in the Crown court, the Government have invested heavily to allow courts to operate at full throttle. We have recruited around 1,000 judges and tribunal members across all jurisdictions this financial year. We have kept open 20 nightingale courtrooms to boost capacity, and we are on track to increase spending on criminal legal aid by more than £140 million a year.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock
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In Yorkshire, Sheffield Crown court has been forced to shut twice in the last two years due to flooding. That is in addition to the already record-breaking court backlog across the UK of 67,000 cases. What measures have the Government put in place to deal with unplanned court closures, to ensure that people still have access to justice?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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One of the first things I did when I took on this role was to extract from the Treasury an additional £80 million to go into our court maintenance fund. That is important because it allows us to plan not just reactively this year, but proactively over time. That will create more efficiencies and get us more for our money, and will mean that great courts such as those in Sheffield can continue to do the business.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams
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How does the backlog in criminal court cases vary by region? What discussions has the Secretary of State had with local judicial teams on prioritising and communicating those backlogs?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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The senior presiding judge will keep a close eye on regional discrepancies. In certain cases, there is the power to transfer them from one court to another, but that will depend on the suitability for defendants, and witnesses and victims who need to attend hearings. It is important that we send the message from this Chamber that more than 90% of all criminal trials—the cases that people want resolved such as criminal damage, drugs matters and common assault—are dealt with in magistrates courts, and magistrates up and down our country are doing an excellent job at getting through those cases.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con)
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I absolutely endorse the Lord Chancellor’s comments on magistrates working incredibly hard to clear backlogs in courts. He will have seen recent journalistic reporting relating to single justice procedure, which is an important element of magistrates’ work. The principle behind the single justice procedure is good, and I have sat on cases in SJP courts, but there are some concerns, in particular around vulnerable individuals who may have mitigation that is not necessarily being addressed. Does he agree that perhaps he could remind Members that magistrates can already use their discretion to refer cases back to open court, where prosecutors can review cases to ensure that individuals who are vulnerable are not served with un-justice?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and his colleagues for the exceptional work they do to ensure that justice is done. On the single justice procedure, fairness is non-negotiable, so it is critical that every person who comes before the courts, whether via the SJP or an open court, gets that fairness. There is an issue about transparency. Some important points on that have been raised, and echoed by the Chair of the Justice Committee, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill). It is something that we ought to consider recalibrating. Everyone accepts that the SJP works well and is a useful addition. We just need to see whether it ought to be refined in the interests of promoting transparency.

Chris Evans Portrait Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)
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11. How many prisoners have been released early under the end of custody supervised licence scheme since October 2023.

Edward Argar Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Edward Argar)
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End of custody supervised licence began in October 2023. Analysis of and statistics on its use will be based on one year’s worth of data and published on an annualised basis in line with other statistics, such as deaths of offenders in the community. We consider that to be the appropriate approach.

Chris Evans Portrait Chris Evans
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Earlier this month, the Chair of the Justice Committee, the hon. and learned Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), who is in his place, said that prisons are at “bursting point”, while the Prison Governors’ Association said that without the extension of the ECSL scheme, our criminal justice system

“may have ground to a halt”.

Meanwhile, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner labelled the plans as

“dangerous to domestic abuse victims”.

Is the Minister satisfied that the scheme manages the prison population while keeping the victims of crime safe? If so, when will he release data about which prisoners have been released?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. There are a number of points there. The ECSL is a response to, yes, acute capacity challenges, but it is a targeted scheme operating in prisons as required and where necessary. I gently say to him that a similar scheme ran from 2007 to 2010. In that case, it bore significant differences to what is happening now. ECSL, as operating now, contains a range of important safeguards that were simply not in place between 2007 and 2010. The 2007-10 scheme released some people straight into the community without any supervision and led to the early release of some prisoners convicted of terror offences. This scheme is totally different. It plays a role in managing the prison capacity challenges, but it has those important safeguards in place to protect victims and society.

Andrea Jenkyns Portrait Dame Andrea Jenkyns (Morley and Outwood) (Con)
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Our prisons are full, so much so that the Government are sanctioning the early release of inmates to make space. At what point will we prioritise the deportation of foreign criminals who are taking up one in nine of our prison cells, so that we can get back to zero-tolerance policing and ensure that no crime is too small to go unpunished?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because she is quite right to highlight that a key element of tackling the prison capacity crisis is sending back, through deportation, foreign national offenders. She will be reassured that 18,000 have been deported in the past four years and we continue to drive that target ever higher.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab)
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It is telling that the Minister is refusing to come clean with the public on how many prisoners are being released early under the scheme. As we know, the public are overwhelmingly in favour of an early release scheme if it were applied to his colleagues in a general election. [Laughter.] Does he have any intention, before that happy day, of releasing the truth about how many prisoners are being let out early?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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It is always a pleasure to face the gentle barbs of the hon. Gentleman, whom I have known for a long time. As I have made very clear on a previous occasion in the House, and indeed just a few moments ago, we consider that an annualised publication of these statistics is the most appropriate approach, in line with the publication of similar statistics such as those relating to deaths of offenders in the community.

Chris Law Portrait Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP)
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12. What assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of legal aid for immigration cases.

Mike Freer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mike Freer)
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The Legal Aid Agency monitors the provision of immigration legal aid and takes whatever actions are operationally available to it to ensure a supply of providers.

Chris Law Portrait Chris Law
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I was hoping for an answer but did not get one, so let me try this. While we all desperately want to see the Tories’ asylum backlog cleared, this effort must be well funded and must ensure access to justice. What we have instead is an under-resourced bureaucracy and a push to make rushed asylum decisions, combined with severe difficulty in accessing immigration legal aid, and as a result thousands of asylum seekers have effectively been denied the right to legal representation. Why do the UK Government stand alone in not recognising the enormous crisis in immigration legal aid?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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In fact, the Government spent £44 million on immigration legal aid in 2022-23. We have increased the hourly rate for those undertaking this kind of work, and we are looking at remote access and payment for travelling. All those steps we have taken to raise the level of funding in this important area. I have to say, however, that I think it takes a particular bit of brass neck for the SNP to lecture us on the funding of legal aid. I refer the hon. Gentleman to Scottishlegal.com, which has commented on how the SNP has decimated legal aid in Scotland.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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Perhaps the Minister can answer this question. The Bar Council has repeatedly highlighted the fact that asylum claimants who have otherwise meritorious cases have often gone through multiple appeals due to very poor or no legal representation. That jacks up the costs for the courts, the Home Office and local authorities, all the while trapping vulnerable people in an agonising limbo. If the Government will not address the crisis in immigration legal aid because it is the right thing to do, will they at least do so because it is the financially sound thing to do?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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As I have said, we are already increasing the fees for those who take on legal aid work in connection with the Illegal Migration Act 2023. That is a 15% increase on the increase that we have already seen. On top of that, we are rolling out remote access to the duty advice scheme and introducing payment for travel. Those are major steps towards ensuring the availability of legal aid. I therefore do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s description of the position. If he wants to start swapping comments from the Bar Council, I can quote the Scottish Bar Council’s views on the SNP’s record.

John Penrose Portrait John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con)
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14. What recent assessment his Department has made of the impact of outcomes data from the Justice Data Lab on the recommissioning of HM Prison and Probation Service reoffending programmes in the last 12 months.

Gareth Bacon Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Gareth Bacon)
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Reducing reoffending is a core mission of this Government. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor said in an earlier answer, we act on the basis not of emotion but of evidence, deploying a series of carefully researched interventions from the prison employment leads to the provision of 12 weeks of accommodation post release. That is why the reoffending rate has decreased from 31% to 25% since 2010. The Justice Data Lab makes an important contribution by providing HMPPS and external organisations with a robust assessment of whether their interventions work, and we will continue to consider their work carefully.

John Penrose Portrait John Penrose
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I welcome the adherence to an evidence-based approach to working out whether or not these various programmes work effectively, but may I urge Ministers to go even further by ensuring that every programme we currently commission is reassessed on the basis of outcomes, and then not recommissioned unless those outcomes measure up?

Gareth Bacon Portrait Gareth Bacon
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I can confirm that the Government will continue to base our investment decisions to reduce reoffending on the best available evidence at the time. We are continuously improving our evidence base, for instance through the cross-governmental Better Outcomes through Linked Data programme.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Alex Chalk Portrait The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Alex Chalk)
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Since the last session of Justice questions I have visited HMP Liverpool, a prison that received a poor inspection report some years ago, and I saw how it had been transformed. Prisoners were engaged in constructive activity in the cycle repair workshop and elsewhere, cells had been refurbished, and there was a clear sense of pride among prison officers, who were determined to deliver safety, decency and rehabilitation. Prisons as well as prisoners, it seems, can be redeemed. I have also visited Liverpool Crown court to see our “intensive supervision courts” in action, tackling the root causes of offending with treatment for addictions. In Coventry I saw rapid deployment teams of offenders who had been sentenced to carrying out unpaid work clearing up local neighbourhoods, visibly atoning for their crimes, and doing so within 48 hours of the project being nominated by the public.

I was pleased to support the important Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation Bill, promoted by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David), which is intended to tackle abusive and chilling lawsuits. We have also brought forward legislation on litigation funding agreements to ensure that third parties can continue to fund court proceedings on behalf of individuals or small businesses. That support enabled the sub-postmasters to make their successful civil claim. Our legislation will bolster access to justice, boost our legal sector, and ensure that in our courts David can still take on Goliath.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Dhesi
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The Government have achieved only 5,900 of the promised 20,000 new prison places, resulting in them having to release prisoners up to 60 days early to alleviate overcrowding, thereby directly impacting on public safety. How does the Secretary of State reconcile this with the Conservative promise of being tough on crime, especially when his end-of-custody supervised licensing scheme expansion significantly deviates from judicial sentencing?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. When I was in practice, I had to listen to the then Labour Home Secretary say that he was going to cancel the three Titan prisons that he had boasted he would open. Not one was built. We have opened Five Wells and Fosse Way, and Millsike is under construction. We have more cells coming online in Birmingham, Liverpool and Norwich. We have rapid deployment cells, and we have new houseblocks in Guys Marsh, Rye Hill and Hatfield. This is the party that is delivering. We will be tough on crime.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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May I gently say that there a lot of people I need to get in? If we could shorten the answers, that would be helpful.

Tom Randall Portrait Tom Randall (Gedling) (Con)
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T3. I recently met my constituent David Winnett, who is a family law solicitor and a member of Resolution. He told me about Resolution’s vision for family justice. I wonder whether my right hon. and learned Friend is familiar with that vision, particularly the importance placed on early legal advice in family disputes. Is there scope to add Resolution’s proposed scheme to the mediation pilots that the Government currently have planned?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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Resolution does exceptionally important work, and in the Budget the Chancellor announced an additional £55 million of support for separating parents, including £12 million to deliver a new pilot. We are working with Resolution and other organisations to implement the pilot, which we aim to launch in September this year.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Shabana Mahmood Portrait Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab)
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This Conservative Government promised 20,000 prison places by 2025, but so far they have only delivered under 6,000. The Justice Secretary is letting violent offenders out up to two months early because, as we found out from press briefings about dire warnings to No. 10, he has literally nowhere to put them. Instead of focusing on what happened 14 years ago under the last Labour Government, will he level with the public about the true scale of the prisons capacity crisis that is unfolding on his watch?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I have been very candid in saying that there are pressures in our prisons. But here is the thing: first, capacity in our jails is significantly higher than it was under Labour’s watch; and secondly, we have a record of delivery and there will be 10,000 places by next year. Here is the really important point. There are two questions that I posed in my statement. First, would Labour have let out up to 16,000 people during covid—yes or no? We said no. Secondly, would Labour have got rid of jury trials? We did not, but the Opposition would have. If they had made the same decisions that we did, they would have faced the same pressures. This is opportunism, it is silly, and Britain deserves better.

Shabana Mahmood Portrait Shabana Mahmood
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Bring on the general election and I will happily answer those questions. I am not surprised that the Secretary of State does not want to acknowledge the truth. Probation officers have told me that they genuinely fear not being able to keep the public safe, because they are being forced to rush through the early release of violent men in order to free up space. He will have heard the same concerns, so what is he going to do about it?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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It is really important that the public are not inadvertently misled. Early release does not apply to those on life sentences, those on imprisonment for public protection sentences, those on extended determinate sentences, any sex offenders, any terrorism offenders and any serious violent offenders. The difference between our scheme and the Opposition’s is that, under their scheme, governors had no discretion to block the release of prisoners; under ours, they do. That is the difference: we prioritise public safety; the Opposition prioritise politics.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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T5. My constituent Cindy went through hell when her daughter Victoria was brutally raped and attacked by a serial offender, Donald Andrews. Victoria took her life not long after. This monster was a regular offender before and, to add insult to injury, his whole-life sentence has been quashed and he is now applying for parole. Police psychologists and other professionals have deemed this attacker to be a high risk to society, so will my right hon. Friend make similar representations to the Parole Board—that this monster should never be allowed out?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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Many people in this House will have heard about some appalling cases, but this case is truly one of the most shocking and upsetting that any of us will have encountered. I of course pass on my deepest sympathy to Cindy Legg for the tragic loss of her daughter Victoria. I can indicate that I did enter an overarching view opposing release, and I can announce that he will not be recommended for release. I hope that will be of some comfort to the family. In the Victims and Prisoners Bill we are introducing an additional safeguard: specifically, a power for the Lord Chancellor to order a second check on the release of the most serious offenders to keep the public safe.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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The Government’s plans to introduce employment tribunal fees suggest that users should pay towards running costs, implying that only those using the system benefit from it. However, Resolution Foundation research shows that tribunals are heavily relied upon to enforce workers’ rights for all. Does the Justice Secretary not appreciate that any action to deter lower-paid workers from bringing forward cases will be to the detriment of the system as a whole?

Mike Freer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mike Freer)
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We do not believe that a £55 claim issue fee will be a deterrent. The tribunal system costs the taxpayer £80 million a year, and we do not think it is unreasonable that those who use it should pay a small contribution. To answer the question, we do not think it is a deterrent.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)
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T7. The tragic reality is that when intimate partners murder, women are the victims in 90% of cases. What progress have the Government made since the Wade review on ensuring that justice is done in these cases?

Gareth Bacon Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Gareth Bacon)
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We are increasing sentences by introducing statutory aggravating factors for murders that are preceded by coercive or controlling behaviour, that involve overkill or that are connected with the end of a relationship. For manslaughter involving sexual conduct, we intend to target cases where death occurs in the context of abusive or degrading sexual conduct. We have consulted publicly on sentencing, with starting points for murders preceded by controlling or coercive behaviour and for murders committed with a knife or other weapon.

Florence Eshalomi Portrait Florence Eshalomi (Vauxhall) (Lab/Co-op)
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T2. People want access to justice. The Women’s Budget Group has found that, as a result of the disastrous Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, 85% of vulnerable women are unable to access civil legal aid and the majority of them are reaching crisis point. Does the Minister think it is right that these women are being left without basic access to justice?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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The hon. Lady raises an important point and I would be happy to meet her and take representations on that specific point. I will also discuss it with Lord Bellamy, who, alongside me, deals with civil legal aid.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
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T9. I thank the Lord Chancellor for meeting me and my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) to discuss the egregious case of Colin Pitchfork, the double child rapist, who has had problems bouncing in and out through the Parole Board system. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend cannot change the law on this retrospectively, but what can he do in upcoming legislation to ensure that we have the protections for our communities to make sure they are safe and that reoffenders are not released?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising this incredibly important case and for taking it up so powerfully on behalf of his constituents. In the Sentencing Bill, we have a proposal such that people who commit crimes of murder involving sexual and sadistic conduct will not be released, because they will be expected to serve a whole-life order. That is just, on behalf of the British people, and it also helps to keep communities such as that of my hon. Friend safe.

Chris Evans Portrait Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)
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T4. The number of outstanding cases before Gwent magistrates courts has risen by 21% in the last year alone. However, the number of magistrates is now 20% lower in the whole of south Wales. We have heard today about the great work of the magistrates courts and the fact that magistrates come from all walks of life. What are the Government doing to ensure that hard-to-reach people are offering their services as magistrates, including ethnic minorities and, in particular, younger people?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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The hon. Gentleman raises a good point. I lead on diversity in the Department, and a piece of work is already under way on how we can increase the diversity of the magistracy and ensure that we recruit from those hard-to-reach groups. I am more than happy to meet him to swap ideas and discuss how we can continue to change the face of our magistrates.

Andrew Rosindell Portrait Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con)
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Does the Secretary of State for Justice agree that in England and across the United Kingdom, the ancient principle of innocent until proven guilty should be upheld and restored, and that the punishment should never be the process?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I was asked about my priorities when I was appointed to this role, and I said that the guilty should be convicted, that the innocent should walk free and that the public should be protected. It is very important that people who are accused of an offence have confidence that the process will be prompt and humane. Ultimately, the British people are fair minded. They want people to be rightfully convicted, but they also want the innocent to walk free.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
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T6. Since 27 February, there have been six sudden deaths at HMP Parc in Bridgend, and it appears that at least four of those tragic deaths were drug-related. What are the Government doing to ensure that inmates at Parc are kept safe and walk out of prison safe and well at the end of their sentence?

Edward Argar Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Edward Argar)
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting a serious and important issue. I am happy to meet her to discuss it further, if she wishes.

In line with established protocols for deaths in custody, we are not able to comment on individual cases until the relevant investigation by the prisons and probation ombudsman has concluded, but HMP and YOI Parc has mobilised a range of actions to gather intelligence on drug entry points and on what has happened. I am happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss this matter privately.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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When the National Crime Agency briefed Members who are interested in the Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill, it estimated that between 550,000 and 800,000 serious sexual offenders are at large in this country. What are the Government doing to identify them? How many more prisons will we have to build to accommodate them?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I am proud that, since 2010, the number of people prosecuted for rape is up 32%, sentences are around 40% longer and the proportion of those sentences spent in custody has increased. We are determined to do everything possible to send a clear message that addressing serious sexual offending is a priority for this Government. We will clamp down on it, and those who perpetrate this vile crime can expect the punishment they deserve.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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T8. The Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation Bill, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) and which the Government now support, is a great opportunity to tackle pernicious lawsuits that seek to silence journalists, campaigners and even sexual assault survivors, but two key deficiencies—the overly subjective test and the narrow definition of public interest—mean that anti-SLAPP campaigners tell me that they simply cannot support the Bill in its current form. Ahead of the important Committee stage, will the Lord Chancellor commit to looking at the amendment suggested by the News Media Association and meet me to address its concerns so that the Bill becomes fit for purpose?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this important issue. I am aware of the issues that have been raised. There is plainly a delicate balance to strike. It is incredibly important that individuals can access the courts to get a remedy in appropriate cases, and we want to make sure that the balance is properly struck. We will consider the amendment with care, as I have with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. If the hon. Lady wants to make representations to me, I will listen to them very carefully.

Brendan Clarke-Smith Portrait Brendan Clarke-Smith (Bassetlaw) (Con)
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Worksop witnessed the horrific murder of Pauline Quinn by a man who had been released after serving time for a double murder. The probation service has since admitted that mistakes were made. However, the public still have many unanswered questions. Does the Minister agree that, although it is understandable that all the information sometimes cannot be put in the public domain, the probation service should seek to be as transparent as possible and give communities that information, where possible?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. He is right to highlight that there are occasions when it is not possible to make all the information public, but it is important that there is as much transparency as possible. If it would be helpful, I am happy to meet him to discuss it further.

Keir Mather Portrait Keir Mather (Selby and Ainsty)  (Lab)
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T10. Selby is classed by the Law Society as a legal advice desert for housing, education and family legal aid. What are the Minister’s plans to fix that?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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The Legal Aid Agency keeps the location of providers under constant review. We have invested an additional £10 million over the last few months in those specific types of legal aid. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me, I can give him the details of where the spend is going in his local area.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
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Joshua Rozenberg KC has presented “Law in Action” on Radio 4 over the past 20 years, and it has frequently shed important light on areas of our justice system that need attention. Does the Secretary of State share my disappointment that today’s broadcast will be the programme’s last, because it has not been recommissioned? Will he also pay tribute to Joshua Rozenberg for his work?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I am very grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for raising this point. Joshua Rozenberg has made a profound and important contribution to our country. Indeed, he is required reading, and I read him most days. I share my hon. and learned Friend’s profound regret, and I echo his sentiments. I think the whole House will wish Joshua Rozenberg well.

Rupa Huq Portrait Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)
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All through Lent, women nationwide have faced intimidation from the anti-choice group 40 Days for Life blocking their entrance to abortion clinics daily. Why is that happening, given that MPs voted by a ratio of 3:1 in 2022 for safe access zones, with the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Newbury (Laura Farris) being one of them?

Laura Farris Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Laura Farris)
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I concur with the hon. Lady that it is completely unacceptable that anyone should feel harassed or intimidated when exercising their legal right to abortion services. I hope she will be reassured to hear that it is anticipated that section 9 of the Public Order Act 2023 will be commenced no later than this spring. The consultation on the guidance published by the Home Office closed on 22 January and the final response will be published in due course. I must just say one thing, however: it is right that a balance will need to be struck where competing rights are engaged, including under articles 10 and 11 of the European convention on human rights.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
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Our probation service is in crisis, with staff overworked, overstretched and undervalued. The expansion of the early release scheme will put yet more pressure on them, so what is the Minister doing this year to help our probation staff face that extra workload?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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Probation officers do an exceptionally important job, as I believe we all agree. Let me set out what we have done in respect of prison and probation staff. First, we accepted every penny of the Prison Service pay review body recommendations. We have injected extra funding of more than £155 million a year into probation. Prison officers do a tough job, as do probation officers, but I am delighted to report that the retention of prison officers is improving, with the staff resignation rate in prisons dropping from about 10.7% to 8.3%, and their numbers have increased. As for probation, we have recruited about 4,000 people in the past three years. That is positive and we will continue to support them every step of the way.

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
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Do we have enough crematoriums in the UK, given that many families are now having to wait three, four, five or six weeks for a funeral slot? Why is there such a gap between the cheapest crematorium in the country, which charges £408, and the most expensive, in Stevenage, which charged £1,400 last year?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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The challenges facing crematoriums, and in fact the whole funeral sector, are being reviewed by the Law Commission. This is about not just crematoriums, but burial space. There are challenges across the whole death management landscape, to use the technical term, which is why the Law Commission is investigating and bringing forward proposals.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
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The fees for civil legal aid are half what they were in 1996 and the number of providers has fallen by 40% in the past 10 years. If the Minister actually wants to do something about civil legal aid, why has he kicked the civil legal aid review into the long grass?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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Legal aid is always under constant review and I will always take advice from those closest to it. That is why I engage with, for example, the Bar Association, the Law Society and the judiciary on what we need to do. As for kicking things into the long grass, all I can say is that I want to get this right and if that takes time, it will take time.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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For the final question, I call Debbie Abrahams.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)
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Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Justice Secretary did not quite answer my question on where the 67,000 criminal cases in the backlog are, and how they are being prioritised and communicated. I do not want another historical child sexual exploitation victim to be told by a Crown court that her case has been cancelled twice because it is not a priority.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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The point I was endeavouring to make, although I perhaps did not do so well, is that listing is a judicial function. We have seen the senior presiding judge make a decision that certain sex cases and those most serious rapes, for example—all of them are serious, of course—will be given an early listing. As I say, I do not have complete control over that, but I do discuss it with the Lady Chief Justice and I know that the senior presiding judge is keen to get through those cases at the earliest opportunity.

Israel and Gaza

Tuesday 26th March 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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11:30
Andrew Mitchell Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)
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With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on Israel and Gaza. As the House knows, the United Kingdom has long been calling for an immediate humanitarian pause to allow for the safe release of hostages and more aid to reach Gaza, leading to a sustainable ceasefire without a return to destruction, fighting and loss of life.

Yesterday, the international community took a significant step towards achieving that. We welcome yesterday’s United Nations Security Council resolution 2728, which reflected widespread international support for Britain’s position and considerable efforts by our diplomats to secure a consensus. This is an issue that can polarise and divide, but yesterday in New York there was a shared sense of purpose. I am sure the whole House would agree that we must capitalise on this moment.

We want to see an immediate, sustained humanitarian pause, which would allow for the safe release of hostages and more aid to reach Gaza. That is what yesterday’s resolution called for, why the United Kingdom voted “yes” on that text, and why the Government are now focused on seeing the resolution implemented as quickly as possible. This resolution sets out the urgent demand for the

“unconditional release of all hostages”.

Hamas must act on this now. The kidnapping and violence on 7 October was appalling. It has been unconscionable to hold them in captivity for so long, and it is dreadful to hold them any longer. We strongly support the intensive diplomatic efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United States to secure their release.

My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, Lord Ahmad and I have met the families of hostages, and reiterated to them personally our desire to see their loved ones freed and their agony brought to an end. We urge all sides to seize the opportunity and continue negotiations to reach an agreement as soon as possible. Yesterday’s resolution also sent a clear message on the need for all parties to the conflict to uphold international humanitarian law and for delivery of aid to be scaled up urgently. This requires the lifting of all barriers impeding its delivery.

Palestinian civilians face a devastating and growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. His Majesty’s Government continue to reiterate these messages in their contacts with the Israeli Government, and the Government are exploring every avenue to deliver aid by land, sea and air. Last week, enough aid to feed over a quarter of a million people was delivered by land from Jordan. Britain is fully engaged in the international effort to set up a maritime corridor for aid into Gaza. Yesterday, the first airdrop of British aid by the Royal Air Force, with the support of Jordan, took place.

We regret that this resolution did not condemn the abhorrent and brutal terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas on 7 October. The UK condemns these attacks unequivocally. We have been forthright in speaking up for Israel’s right to defend itself and ensure such an attack can never happen again. We want Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security. An immediate humanitarian pause, leading to a sustainable ceasefire, is the best way to achieve a lasting peace.

We continue to work on the other core elements required for such a process to succeed. We have supported the formation of a new Palestinian Government for the west bank and Gaza under the leadership of Prime Minister Mustafa. An international support package is vital for building on Prime Minister Mustafa’s appointment. We also want to see the removal of Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel. Hamas can no longer remain in charge of Gaza. Finally, we need to offer a political horizon to the Palestinians that provides a credible and irreversible pathway towards a two-state solution of Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

The resolution passed by the Security Council yesterday does not guarantee this outcome, but it is a significant step forward. The Government will spare no effort in building on this opportunity. We want to create irreversible momentum towards a lasting peace. Mr Speaker, I commend this statement to the House.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

12:44
David Lammy Portrait Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement and echo his support for the formation of a new Palestinian Government, which must be supported internationally, alongside the need for a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in security and peace. Yesterday, the UN Security Council finally passed resolution 2728 calling for an immediate ceasefire, the immediate release of all hostages and full humanitarian access in Gaza. That was incredibly welcome and overdue. It must now be a turning point.

Labour welcomes, too, the fact that the Government were able to support the resolution. It represents a major shift in Government policy, which previously called only for an immediate pause rather than an immediate ceasefire. Why were the Government not able to back Labour’s motion last month? Much more importantly, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that the UN resolution is implemented in full, putting pressure on Hamas—who reportedly rejected the latest compromise—and Israel to reach agreement on a ceasefire now? That could not be more vital given the terrible human cost of the war, with more than 30,000 Palestinians dead, Israeli hostages still in chains nearly six months on from the 7 October massacre, and a man-made and preventable famine imminent.

Aid needs to get into Gaza at scale, and it also needs to be distributed. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency is unmatched in its ability to distribute aid. With just a few weeks until the new financial year, can the Minister tell us whether the UK’s funding to UNRWA will resume?

The UN motion also said that all parties must

“comply with their obligations under international law”.

In that context, I will raise a specific incident with the Minister. On 18 January, an International Rescue Committee and Medical Aid for Palestinians compound was struck in a near-fatal airstrike by the Israeli military. The co-ordinates were known to Israel and formally de-conflicted. A British medical team and local staff were inside, who, since then, have received six explanations for that shocking incident, but the truth is still unclear. Will the Government support a full and independent investigation to deliver accountability and reiterate that attacks on humanitarian workers are outrageous and must not happen?

The Foreign Secretary is not required to come to this House, but he is required to provide legal advice to the Business Secretary on arms exports. The law is clear that the Government cannot grant a licence if there is a clear risk that the items could be used in violation of international humanitarian law. The war in Gaza has seen numerous allegations made of serious breaches of humanitarian law by Israeli forces, and the International Criminal Court is currently conducting an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by all parties in Gaza.

On Friday, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary asking him to publish the most recent legal advice he has received on this matter. So I end by asking the Minister one simple question: has the Foreign Secretary received legal advice saying that there is a clear risk that items licensed by the UK might be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian law? The answer is a simple yes or no.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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First, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his strong support for United Nations Security Council resolution 2728. He asks what the Government will do to ensure that it is implemented in full. Just as that resolution shows considerable success for British diplomatic work—particularly in New York—he and the House may rest assured that we will be doing everything we can to ensure that it is indeed implemented in full.

The right hon. Gentleman suggests that that is a reflection of Labour’s position in the House. I hope that, by and large, the Labour position is supportive of the Government, but he should be quite clear that yesterday’s resolution represents a tremendous success for British diplomacy. It means that the European Union, the United Nations and the United States now take our position on the priorities. I remind the right hon. Member that what we said very clearly was that we needed an immediate pause, so that we could get aid in and the hostages out,

“leading to a sustainable ceasefire”.

He will see that British position fully reflected in what was decided yesterday in New York.

The right hon. Member asks me about UNRWA. I can tell him that the interim report by the former French Foreign Minister, Catherine Colonna—the final report is not due until 20 April—is now with the Secretary-General in New York and we hope to learn more about it today.

The right hon. Member refers to a specific strike, which the House has already heard about, and I agree with him entirely that we expect a full, total and definitive explanation for what happened from the Israeli Government. He asks me about arms export licensing. Let me give him a very clear response to that: we have a robust arms export licensing regime. All exports are regularly assessed against clear criteria. We regularly review Israel’s adherence to international humanitarian law and act in accordance with that. As he indicated, we advise the Department for Business and Trade on the situation in-country. The DBT and its Secretary of State are the decision-making authorities, but I would point out to him that UK exports are very small, amounting to 0.02% of Israel’s military imports, and we publish a comprehensive report on official statistics every quarter.

Finally, the right hon. Member asks me to publish the legal advice. I would point out to him that no Government do that. He will recall, I think, the highly contentious position taken at the time of the Iraq war not to publish the legal advice. For a party that aspires possibly in the future to be in Government, I am sure that Labour will see the merit of these conventions.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con)
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Yesterday the UN Security Council passed a resolution for a Ramadan ceasefire—in effect, a pause. Intrinsic to that pause was the release of hostages. Can the deputy Foreign Secretary please update us on progress to get those hostages home to safety, because the resolution was very clear that that should happen immediately? Who is enforcing the immediate release of hostages? Can he also clarify whether the Government agree with the US statement this morning that the UN Security Council resolution is non-binding? How are we going to ensure that, on both sides, the return of hostages and the ceasefire for Ramadan are enacted? If they are not, I fear that the UN Security Council will face an existential crisis.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My hon. Friend, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, sets out with great eloquence what the international community now requires to take place as a result of resolution 2728 being passed yesterday. As I set out in my earlier remarks, we regret that the resolution has not condemned terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas on 7 October, but I want to re-emphasise that all the things that Britain has previously been calling for are now accepted and were recorded in that resolution. We will, as my hon. Friend suggests, continue to do everything we can to ensure that the resolution is implemented.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
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I thank the Minister for prior sight of his statement.

We very much welcome the UN Security Council resolution, which demands an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan. This is an important first step in achieving the permanent ceasefire that we on the SNP Benches have been urging for several months. We also welcome the UN demands for an immediate and unconditional release of all hostages. We call on all parties to adhere to their obligations under international law, to protect civilians and to lift all barriers to humanitarian aid.

That this motion specifically demands a ceasefire makes it legally binding, and it obliges all combatants to adhere to it, yet already there is significant concern that Israel does not intend to comply with the demands. The Israeli ambassador to the UN and the Foreign Minister, Israel Katz, among others, have indicated that they will not adhere to the demands of the ceasefire, with Mr Katz stating:

“The state of Israel will not cease fire.”

Israel, as we know, has form for ignoring binding resolutions of the United Nations, but rarely can it have done so in such a blatant manner and with such a complete disregard for the rules on which we all rely to keep us safe.

Given that Israel has signalled its intention to ignore the demand for a ceasefire, and rather than waiting for the inevitable to happen before acting, can the Minister assure the House that, if and when Israel launches its proposed offensive on Rafah, the work will already have been done to impose immediate sanctions, including, most importantly, the banning of arms sales to Israel, and that Tel Aviv will be under no illusion as to the consequences of its actions should it ignore this resolution?

Can the Minister update the House on what discussions have been had, or are being planned with our partners and allies, to ensure that we take decisive international action should Israel breach the terms of this resolution? Finally, can he confirm whether it is the opinion of the UK Government that, should Israel not adhere to the UN resolution, it will be in violation of a binding resolution and thus stand in breach of international law?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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First of all, may I welcome the hon. Member’s support for the Government’s position, which has not always been the case in these statements? In particular, I welcome the consensual language from the SNP on the ceasefire, the release of hostages and getting aid in. That is very important. It means that the authority that the Prime Minister brought to this Dispatch Box, which is now the essence of this new resolution 2728, gets broad support from the House, which is very welcome.

On the remaining parts of what the hon. Member said, the Government want to try to bring people together. We want to end the violence as soon as we can, ensure that the hostages get out and aid gets in, and lift people’s eyes to a political track once this catastrophe is over. That is what the Government are trying to do, and the hon. Member will forgive me for not going down the rather more divisive line that he took.

In respect of military action in Rafah, the hon. Member will have heard what the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and I have said about the importance of respecting international humanitarian law and the position of civilians caught out in the open there, and I hope that he will agree with that.

Michael Ellis Portrait Sir Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con)
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The terrorist attack of 7 October on Israel has provoked widespread antisemitism in this country and around the world. The latest manifestation of that was at Manchester airport yesterday when Border Force guards made it apparent that they do not want Israeli Jews to enter this country. Two innocent victims of the music festival slaughter were berated and told:

“We have to make sure that you are not going to do what you are doing in Gaza over here.”

That was to two victims of the Nova music festival slaughter. Blaming all Jews for the actions of their country is obviously antisemitic. These are people in uniform acting for this country as Border Force officers. It is a disgrace beyond all proportion. The detention of those victims for several hours was clearly unlawful. They are being offered free legal representation, which I would urge them to take up. Can the deputy Foreign Secretary confirm that Jews and Israelis are still welcome to enter this country?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his extremely robust comments on an absolutely outrageous, shocking and disgraceful incident, which is now being personally investigated by the Home Secretary. I think everyone will condemn without reservation the extraordinary events that appear to have taken place at Manchester, which were made even worse by the details that my right hon. and learned Friend gave of the detention that took place.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the International Development Committee.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
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I feel very uncomfortable about the Minister’s comments about taking credit for the UN Security Council resolution when the UK abstained twice in the process. There is not an immediate ceasefire and, after six months, I dread to think how many Gazans have been killed or will die of starvation. Given the rapidly deteriorating situation in Gaza, does he agree that it is vital that the Cabinet Minister responsible for overseas aid makes himself available to this House for scrutiny? Surely it is not right that Members are updated on the Foreign Secretary’s views via the media, rather than from his answering questions in this place. When will the Government do us the courtesy of responding to the Procedure Committee’s report?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Lady knows that I greatly respect her and the work that she does on the Select Committee. I do not think she should feel uncomfortable, because Britain has taken a principled position that is delivered by resolution 2728, which was passed yesterday. I hope that she will join the general approval for the strong British diplomatic effort that helped to deliver that.

On the Foreign Secretary, I believe that the Government response to the Procedure Committee report is imminent. She asks about the member of the Cabinet responsible for British aid and development policy: that is me. Both I and the Foreign Secretary speak with one voice.

Alec Shelbrooke Portrait Sir Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con)
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A lot of points will be made today arguing that responsibility for the ceasefire lies purely with Israel, but that is simply not true. A ceasefire must take place on all sides. Those who want Israel to lay down its arms but do not insist on Hamas laying down theirs are basically saying that Israel does not have the right to ensure that its security is in place. Until Hamas dismantle their terrorist organisation, which threatens the lives of Jewish people, who they do not think should exist—they do not think the state of Israel should exist—we must ensure that any ceasefire is observed by both sides of this coin.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My right hon. Friend makes a good point. I hope that he will have noticed that I am trying to take a balanced approach to these matters. The reason Britain did not call for an immediate ceasefire before, as so many other countries did, was that it was perfectly clear that it was not going to happen. He will recall that, when asked about a ceasefire, Hamas made it absolutely clear that their intention was not only to not have a ceasefire, but to replicate once again the terrible events that took place on 7 October.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab)
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The Minister has said on numerous occasions that the UK has a robust export licensing regime. Many Opposition Members are not satisfied with that response. Will he finally tell us what the legal advice is on whether this country is in compliance with our obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure that those arms are not used to commit offences in Gaza?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Gentleman really should not expect me to make a different point from the Dispatch Box having already set out the Government’s position. That is the position of the Government, and that is what I will reiterate. On the arms export licensing and the application of international humanitarian law, I set out the Government’s position clearly in my response to the shadow Foreign Secretary. I have nothing further to add to that at this time.

Matthew Offord Portrait Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con)
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The UN resolution has undermined efforts to secure the release of the hostages held by Hamas, with a collapse in negotiations only today. Hamas have reiterated their hard-line positions, which were previously criticised by the United Kingdom. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the resolution will not only embolden Hamas, who hope to achieve a ceasefire without releasing the hostages, but enable them to maintain their grip on the people of Gaza?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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It certainly should not do that. If I may, I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the explanation of vote that was published at the same time as Britain supported the resolution yesterday. We said:

“We regret that this resolution has not condemned the terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hams on the 7th of October. The UK condemns these attacks unequivocally.”

I hope that he will bear that in mind in reaching his conclusions about resolution 2728.

Julie Elliott Portrait Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab)
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What is the Government’s response to Israel shutting off north Gaza to UNRWA, the only aid organisation with the ability to deliver aid at scale? When will the Government reinstate funding to UNRWA to stop and alleviate the starvation of Gazans?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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We have made it clear that we will look at the interim report from Catherine Colonna, and the United Nations reports. We hope that reforms will be made in such a way that we can reinstate funding, but I should emphasise to the hon. Lady that no funding is due from Britain until the end of April. In respect of her point about the spread of UNRWA, it is the only organisation that has the assets in place—the warehouses, the vehicles, the logistical support—so it is essential that those logistical elements are available if aid is to be distributed effectively in Gaza.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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Constituents have been in touch to tell me that they feel badly let down by the vote at the UN yesterday. I just do not understand how the Minister and the Foreign Secretary can say that nothing has changed in policy terms when the UK has just voted for a resolution that does not condemn the Hamas atrocity of 7 October, and de-links a ceasefire with the release of hostages. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) pointed out, does that not make it less likely that the hostages will be released?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I do not agree with my right hon. Friend. The resolution sets out the urgent demand for the unconditional release of all hostages. We welcome the ongoing diplomatic efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United States to that end—she will have seen the reports in the media. As I say, we have set out clearly in our explanation of vote our regret that the resolution did not once again condemn the terrorist attack, but she has heard us say repeatedly from the Dispatch Box that we do condemn it.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
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Over the past week, we have seen Israel continue to commit atrocities across Gaza, with the Al-Shifa Hospital besieged for several days. Medical staff from inside the hospital reported gun battles, workers being beaten, patients dying on the floor, and even execution-style killings. That is yet another example of Israel’s merciless targeting of civilians. Will the Minister unequivocally condemn Israel for authorising and carrying out such heinous attacks, and make clear that hospitals and places of refuge must not be targeted?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The House will not recognise all of the things that the hon. Gentleman has just said. Let me make it absolutely clear once again: Israel does have the right of self-defence, but she must abide by international humanitarian law.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)
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It is a testament to how polarised and contested our world has become that the custodians of international security took six months to agree UN Security Council resolution 2728, which calls for a ceasefire, the release of hostages and access for aid. Does the deputy Foreign Secretary agree that it is concerning that vital UK aid has to be airdropped into Gaza by the Royal Air Force, effectively bypassing Israel? Should the new port being built off Gaza to operate the new maritime corridor become a permanent operation with inspections, allowing the international community to ensure that the scale of aid required gets into Gaza?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I am grateful to the former Chair of the Defence Committee for what he says. He is right that the best way to get aid into Gaza is by truck—by road—and that is what Britain has consistently pressed for. We know that there were 500 trucks a day before the catastrophe of 7 October. There has been an increase in March, but we are now looking at something like 150 a day. We are doing everything we can to try to ensure that we get aid into Gaza in the easiest way possible, but as my right hon. Friend said, we are also looking at all other options, including the airdrop that took place yesterday on 25 March in which the Royal Air Force dropped 10 tonnes of food. We anticipate that further airdrops will be necessary because of the situation he has outlined.

Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson (Twickenham) (LD)
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Can I set the record straight for Conservative Members that we on the Liberal Democrat Benches have been calling for months for an immediate bilateral ceasefire, and that we welcome yesterday’s UN Security Council resolution? However, the reality is that northern Gaza is on the brink of famine, with children dying of malnutrition, and tens of thousands of children are being killed or maimed by Israeli forces’ bombardment. Does the Minister believe that Netanyahu’s Government are complying with the International Court of Justice’s provisional order, which states that Israel must ensure with immediate effect that its forces do not commit any of the acts prohibited by the genocide convention? If he does not think that the Israeli Government are complying with that order, what is he doing about it?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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In respect of the second part of the hon. Lady’s question, let me make the Government’s position clear: we respect the role and independence of the ICJ, but we do not believe, and have never believed, that the case launched now will be helpful in bringing the two parties together. She will know that the court has called for the immediate release of the hostages and the need to get more aid into Gaza, and we strongly agree with that. She will also know that the ICJ’s provisional measures order is binding on the parties to the dispute as a matter of international law, but she will see that through the work we have been carrying out, we are trying to address all the points that she made in the first part of her question. We are obviously grateful for the support of Liberal Democrat Members in trying to achieve that.

David Jones Portrait Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con)
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May I press my right hon. Friend further on the answer he gave to the hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott)? The humanitarian situation in Gaza is, of course, dire. In northern Gaza, it is estimated that some 70% of the population are suffering the most appalling food shortages and are resorting to eating animal feed, bird seed and grass. Does the Minister not recognise that respected international partners such as Australia, Canada, Sweden and Denmark have now restored full funding to UNRWA, which is the most important and capable humanitarian organisation in Gaza? Does he not think that the United Kingdom should also do so as quickly as possible, and in what circumstances and under what conditions will that be done?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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At the moment, Britain does not have a requirement to provide extra money, because we have fully funded UNRWA through our commitment to that organisation up until the next financial year, which effectively means the end of April. In an earlier response, I addressed the point that my right hon. Friend made so eloquently about the requirement for UNRWA assets to be used. As he knows, we will look very carefully at the two reports I mentioned—including the interim one, which should be available in New York today—in the hope that measures will be taken that will allow everyone, not just Britain, to restore funding to UNRWA in due course.

Beth Winter Portrait Beth Winter (Cynon Valley) (Lab)
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Diolch yn fawr, Mr Speaker. In the past hour, news agencies have reported that the Israeli National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has told Israeli Army Radio that, “We must enter Rafah now”. Surely this announcement that a military assault will be undertaken on an area of 1.7 million displaced people is a breach of a binding UN Security Council resolution and of international law. The Minister must urgently set out what action he will consider to prevent the Israeli armed forces taking such action. More specifically, does the UK agree that should Israel proceed with this action and refuse to adhere to the demand for an immediate ceasefire, it will be in violation of a binding resolution and in breach of international law?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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Given the position that the hon. Lady has just outlined, I am sure she will welcome yesterday’s resolution 2728 and the progress that it reflects. She has quoted a specific Israeli Minister, but she will know that there are many voices in Israel at this time. Israel is a pluralist democracy—the only one in the region—and we are hearing many different voices. In respect of any attack on Rafah, she will have heard the words of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, and indeed myself at this Dispatch Box on the ill-advised nature of military action in Rafah at this time.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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I have listened carefully to the answers that my right hon. Friend has given about the resolution passed, but it is my understanding that only a few weeks ago, the UK explained at the UN that it could not vote for a resolution that does not condemn the atrocities Hamas committed, and that simply calling for a ceasefire would not make one happen. It even said last month that such a resolution

“could endanger the hostage negotiations”.

As night follows day, the resolution was passed yesterday, and the Israelis have had to withdraw their negotiators due to what they have described as “delusional demands” from Hamas. Will my right hon. Friend accept that this resolution has made a material change for the worse, and that getting the hostages out has now actually been made less likely?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I do not agree with my hon. Friend. The British position has always been very clear: we want a pause that enables the hostages to come out and enables food and vital humanitarian supplies to come in. We believe and hope that that will lead to a sustainable ceasefire, and I do not think there is anything in resolution 2728 that acts or goes against that.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
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The deputy Foreign Secretary stated earlier that he will expect a full explanation from Israel of the incident that was highlighted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). That incident happened on 18 January, and the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) and I raised it with the Minister around eight weeks ago. I have also been to the UN in the past few weeks and raised it with diplomats there. When can we expect an explanation of why British aid agencies have been bombed by Israel, potentially using weapons provided in part by us? Can the Minister tell me when that explanation will come?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for supporting the position that the British Government and I have set out—that we require an explanation from the Israeli Government of the actions that took place. We continue to press, but she will understand that timing is not a matter on which the decision rests with the British Government. However, the Israeli Government will have heard her voice and, indeed, our voices on this matter.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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The immediate impact of this resolution appears to be that Hamas have hardened their stance on the release of hostages, and the Israelis have said that they will not move until hostages are released. Apparently, the negotiations in Qatar were limited to being about only 40 of the hostages, namely the most weak and vulnerable. What is left out of the resolution is the requirement for immediate access to those hostages for the International Committee of the Red Cross, so that it can assess their condition and, indeed, whether they can travel at all. Will my right hon. Friend take action to demand immediate access to those hostages for the Red Cross, so that that assessment can take place?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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Yes. We have been absolutely clear that the hostages must be released as swiftly as possible. My hon. Friend will have seen the reports about the negotiations that have been taking place over the past few days, and while I cannot give a running commentary, I can tell him that Britain is doing everything it possibly can to ensure that those negotiations are successful. To address what he said about the resolution, no one can be in any doubt about the position of the British Government, and indeed the House of Commons, on the release of the hostages.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) (Lab)
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We can all see the devastation in Gaza, where more than 30,000 people have been killed. Two thirds of those people are women and children, and aid is still not getting in. While that is taking place, the situation on the west bank is, equally, worsening, so will the Minister condemn the recent announcement that 800 hectares of the west bank have been designated as Israeli state land?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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On the hon. Member’s last point, she will know what we have consistently said about the illegality of these annexations, and I repeat that today. She talks about the position on the west bank. She will have seen the extensive work that our Foreign Secretary has put in by going there, and by ensuring that Britain does everything it can to make certain that, when we have the opportunity for a political track, the Palestinian Authority is able to move forward. On the points she made about Gaza and the lack of humanitarian support, she will have seen that on 13 March, Britain pledged a further £10 million this year, taking the total to over £100 million, and that on 15 March a field hospital funded by UK aid, from UK-Med, went into Gaza. It has UK and local medics, and we hope that it will shortly be treating 100 patients every day.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)
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I welcome the immediate humanitarian pause in UNSC resolution 2728, and I congratulate our diplomats on their role in this resolution. As the deputy Foreign Secretary has said, the key to delivering enough aid to prevent famine is the use of Israel’s land corridors, so could my right hon. Friend confirm whether Israel will provide enough access to prevent a potential famine, and whether both Israel and Hamas are committed to continuing talks during the remaining 15 days of Ramadan, with the aim of moving towards a sustained ceasefire afterwards?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I thank my hon. Friend for what he said about the unstinting work of British diplomats, for which our entire country should be extremely grateful—particularly the work that they have done in New York at the UN to drive forward Britain’s contribution to the resolution of this matter. On the restrictions on land entry, my hon. Friend is right that we need to do more. There has been some increase: 137 trucks got in on 24 March, and 81 trucks, mainly carrying food, were able to get in on the 25th. However, we urge the Israeli Government to do more about easing the restrictions on opening hours, to limit or stop the demonstrations at Nitzana, and to do more to grant visas, as there are some 50 applications for visas pending. If all those steps were taken, it would make a material difference to road entry.

Imran Hussain Portrait Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab)
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After six months of bloodshed, starvation and the deliberate blocking of essential aid to Gaza, the UN Security Council has finally demanded an immediate ceasefire for the rest of Ramadan. However, let us be clear in this House that 15 days is nowhere near long enough to deal with the humanitarian catastrophe across Gaza. We see no meaningful end to the violence today, the 16th day of Ramadan—almost two months after the ICJ warned of the plausible risk of genocide. Frankly, that leaves the resolution ringing extremely hollow. Will the Minister heed the calls of this House and demand a permanent, lasting ceasefire, and can he explain how he expects this ceasefire, demanded by the Security Council, to be enforced if the UK Government are selling arms to the Israeli military—arms that are used to bomb Gaza and break this UN-mandated ceasefire?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I addressed the issue of the supply of arms in earlier answers on this statement. I put it to the hon. Gentleman that he is not recognising the importance of the resolution that was passed yesterday. First, it implemented the key things that Britain has been asking for, and secondly, it represents a unity that allows the issues that he and I care about so much to be advanced. I put it to him that resolution 2728 is of much greater importance than he submits.

Chris Law Portrait Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP)
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It is clear to many international partners that the UK Government must now accept that Israel is potentially committing war crimes and genocide. If there is even a chance that Israel is breaking international law by potentially committing war crimes and genocide, why will the UK Government not take all precautions to adhere to their obligations as a party to the genocide convention and the arms trade treaty, and immediately cease arms exports to Israel?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I say to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have great respect and with whom I have worked in the past, that there is something uniquely repulsive about accusing Israel of genocide, given the events that took place on 7 October, when more Jewish people perished in a pogrom than at any time since the holocaust and the second world war.

Apsana Begum Portrait Apsana Begum (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab)
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The UN Security Council has voted for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza for only the remainder of Ramadan. It is almost two months since the ICJ’s plausible genocide ruling, yet the killing, the destruction and the weaponised starvation go on. Can the Minister outline what conversations he and the Foreign Secretary are having with their counterparts in the United States to ensure that the UN resolution this week is implemented, and will the UK Government cease arming Israel, to ensure that the UK upholds the ICJ’s ruling and its provisional measures?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I do not precisely recognise the hon. Member’s description of the ICJ interim ruling, but I welcome her support for resolution 2728 and the position of the British Government. On the work we are doing with our counterparts, not only in America but all around the world, I can assure her that it will continue with the greatest vigour.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)
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No matter which way we look at it, the Government’s backing of the one-sided UN resolution yesterday represents an abject surrender to the demands of the Hamas propaganda machine and the cynical use of the Palestinian population as human shields. Can the Minister explain to us how such a resolution, which gives hope to the terrorists, will ever lead to the release of the hostages and ensure no repeat of the atrocity of 7 October, especially as it enables Hamas to preserve their units, regroup and re-establish their regime?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I simply do not recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s description of resolution 2728. It is Hamas who are using the Palestinian people as a human shield in the grotesque way that we see in Rafah.

Kim Johnson Portrait Kim Johnson (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab)
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I welcome the UN Security Council finally calling for an immediate ceasefire, as well as for the return of all hostages, including Palestinian children who are in military prisons. The Minister must now indicate what enforcement measures the Government will implement to escalate the pressure to stop Israel’s military assault, uphold the ceasefire, and ensure that emergency assistance is provided through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to those being starved to death.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I thank the hon. Lady for her support for UN resolution 2728, which, as I set out in the statement, reflects widespread international support for Britain’s position and the very considerable efforts by our diplomats to secure a consensus.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
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The United Nations Security Council’s vote for an immediate ceasefire, the immediate release of all hostages and full humanitarian access in Gaza must be received by the UK Government as an immediate push for that UN resolution to be enacted. I hope that the Minister and the Government will act accordingly, because it is so necessary. Rather than obfuscating on the issue, will the Minister actually condemn from the Dispatch Box the recent announcement of 800 hectares of the west bank as Israeli state land? Surely this colonial-era land grab ploy, and the building of more illegal settlements, must be condemned and halted.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The position of the British Government, and I believe of the official Opposition, has always been clear on illegal settlements, and I reiterated it a moment ago.

Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
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I, too, warmly welcome yesterday’s resolution, and the change in the Government’s position that supported it. As both sides are now in clear conflict, with a clear breach of a United Nations Security Council resolution that was supported by the UK, what are the implications for future UK arms sales to Israel?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support for resolution 2728, but there has been no change whatsoever in the position of the British Government. Britain has long been calling for an immediate humanitarian pause leading to a sustainable ceasefire, and without a return to destruction, fighting and loss of life, as the fastest way to get the hostages out and the aid in. That is what the resolution calls for and why the United Kingdom voted yes on that text. It is a very considerable tribute to the work of British diplomats around the world and in New York.

Richard Burgon Portrait Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab)
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The passing of the UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire is incredibly welcome, and the issue now facing our Government is what they will do to ensure it is enforced. We saw overnight more Israeli bombing, and more killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. It was right that sanctions were imposed on extremist settlers last month. If the Israeli Government continue to ignore the ruling of the UN’s highest body, should our Government not be clear that severe consequences will follow, including further sanctions, until Israel respects the ceasefire resolution and international law?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I dissent from the language he is using, and instead seek, as the British Government have consistently done, to ensure there is a pause that allows aid to get in and the hostages to get out, and for there to be a sustainable ceasefire. That is the right approach, and one that is substantially honoured in resolution 2728, which was passed yesterday.

Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord (Tiverton and Honiton) (LD)
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States and parties to the arms trade treaty are obliged to deny arms exports if there is an overriding risk that the arms transferred could be used to commit breaches of international humanitarian law. A Dutch court ruled on 12 February that the Government of the Netherlands must stop the export of parts for the F-35 joint strike fighter to Israel. The UK Government are also thought to export parts of the F-35 under an open general export licence. Will the Minister consider that under these circumstances we should stop the arms trade with Israel, and that at the very least this House needs a standing committee to examine arms exports?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I have long made clear that Britain has the strongest regulatory regime in respect of arms exports. I made clear in my response to the shadow Foreign Secretary the Government’s view on that issue, and I have nothing further to add to what I said then.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
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I heard what the Secretary of State said about his pride in the principled position that he feels the Government have taken with a ceasefire, but he will know that we can only defend international law if we uphold it. He has heard across the House concerns that UK-made arms may be being used in Gaza, and he knows full well the details of the strategic licensing export criteria. He knows that man-made famine is a violation of those human rights obligations. That is why many of us are left wondering why the Government have not suspended arms sales to Israel in light of that evidence. I heard what he said earlier about the process; I understand the process he set out. He talked about reviewing licences every quarter. One must presume, as we are coming to the end of March, that this is the end of a quarter. When will we see a report published on the matter of arms sales to Israel?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The point I made was that we publish comprehensive official statistics every quarter. That is something we will continue to do, and I have nothing to add to what I have already said about the arms regime. The hon. Lady raised the issue of famine, and she will know that the British Government are incredibly concerned about the failure to get more food into Gaza. That is why we have been pursuing a maritime route, why yesterday the Royal Air Force dropped some 40 tonnes of food, and why we have deployed a field hospital. We will continue to do everything we can, as she would wish, to ensure that famine does not take hold in Gaza.

Kenny MacAskill Portrait Kenny MacAskill (East Lothian) (Alba)
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The UN Security Council resolution is welcome, but it requires action by individual member states. As well as taking action on arms sales, will the UK ensure that there is no complicity with the Israeli war machine in the use of UK air bases by F-35s, or any other military co-operation with Israel as its war on Gaza continues? Secondly, will the Secretary of State ensure that the suspension of funding to UNRWA, which he recognises is the organisation best placed to deliver humanitarian aid on the ground, is lifted forthwith, given that it was solely based on Israeli allegations that have already largely been refuted?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman’s final point will resonate across the House, but I am grateful to him for his support for resolution 2728, which was passed yesterday. He will know that Britain has fully funded the money for UNRWA in accordance with its commitments, and we very much hope that the position will be clarified as a result of the two reports for which we are waiting by the time any additional British money would be due.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
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The UN resolution is welcome and long overdue, given the humanitarian disaster that is unfolding in Gaza, but I wish to press the Minister on the licensing of arms for export to Israel. He said that the process is robust and regularly reviewed, implying that because no action has been taken, those reviews have not raised any risks. I have previously asked him to condemn the many videos circulating on social media that show Israeli soldiers filming themselves performing acts that range from the unbelievably crass, such as posing on the bikes of dead Gazan children, to the vilely violent, such as setting fire to food stores or bombing residential buildings—violent and potentially criminal. Will the Minister say whether he has seen those videos, and if so does he condemn them? Does he have confidence that no British exports are part of what seem to be vile and potentially criminal acts on the part of the IDF?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I thank the hon. Lady for her support for United Nations resolution 2728, which was passed yesterday. She asks whether I have seen any such videos, and I have not. Were such videos to be genuine, and were they to portray what she describes, I am sure that everyone in the House would condemn them without qualification.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde) (SNP)
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In today’s statement the Minister said that we need to offer a political horizon to the Palestinians, and he is asking that while those whose families, friends and neighbours have not already been killed are being bombed out of the shelters they made after being bombed out of their houses and homes. Surely only an immediate permanent ceasefire will afford the people of Palestine the opportunity to lift their eyes to an optimistic political horizon.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The Government have set out a clear vision, together with our partners, which we are seeking to drive forward so that when this catastrophic conflict is over, everyone may focus on that political track. I remind the hon. Gentleman that it was after the second intifada that progress at Oslo was made, and we must hope that that might be possible once again. On what is happening in Gaza, I draw his attention to my earlier remarks that it is absolutely appalling that Hamas are cynically using the good people of Gaza as a human shield, as they continue to incarcerate the hostages who should be released today.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)
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I add my voice to those of colleagues who have expressed significant and severe concerns about arms manufacturing and exports to Israel in the current context. I met a number of sole remaining members of Palestinian families who have been wiped out in Gaza. I mention that not to highlight the appalling tragedy but to focus our minds on what it means. One of them had lost all her relatives—more than 50—and is the only one of her family left. To echo the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), will the Minister reassure us on what he is doing with the international community to ensure that resolution 2728 is applied by Israel and Hamas and that we get aid into this appalling situation?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I thank the hon. Lady for what she said about the price of conflict in appalling individual suffering. Everyone in the House will agree with her in that respect. On arms export licensing, I have nothing to add to what I said earlier. She will, like many, welcome 2728, because it expresses, with the full authority of the United Nations, a pathway ahead. Britain will do everything it can to make sure that that pathway is pursued.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
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Israel has widespread control of the borders of Gaza and much of the land within it. Given that is the fact of the situation on the ground, are we not then entitled to assume that the restrictions on the flow of aid into Gaza are deliberate on the part of Israel? Should that not therefore make us review the sale of arms to Israel?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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In terms of the restrictions to which the hon. Gentleman refers, a little earlier I set out how I believe those restrictions can be mitigated, particularly in respect of the opening hours at various crossing points. There is also the need for more visas, some 50 of which I mentioned are pending. He may rest assured that the Government use our very strong relationships in the region with Egypt and Israel to propagate the case for more aid and more humanitarian relief getting in by all means. We also do more than that, because we were dropping food from the air only yesterday, thanks to the work of the Royal Air Force. We will do more of that if we cannot get more in through the road routes.

Florence Eshalomi Portrait Florence Eshalomi (Vauxhall) (Lab/Co-op)
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The Minister will remember that last week, in the previous statement, I mentioned a briefing I had attended with other Members that was led by leading aid organisations, including Oxfam, Islamic Relief and Action Against Hunger. They detailed the scale of the suffering and the scale of the man-made famine. The Minister has been on his feet for more than an hour now, and he has mentioned all the different ways we are getting aid in, but the reality is that only 137 trucks entered Gaza yesterday, according to Oxfam. We know that pre-October it was 500 trucks a day. UNRWA is unmatched in its aid distribution. The Minister has said that. Does the Minister not agree that a way to mitigate this suffering, is to restore the funding to UNRWA now?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The funding to UNRWA from Britain has not stopped; we are paid up effectively until the end of April. Let me reassure the hon. Lady that as soon we have seen the two reports to which I have referred, I very much hope that, subject to the necessary changes being made, we will indeed be able to commit to the future funding that she and I would like to see in the right circumstances.

Allan Dorans Portrait Allan Dorans (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (SNP)
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It is becoming increasingly apparent that Israel has no intention of complying with international law. It is refusing entry to International Criminal Court investigators; it has flat out denied the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice; it has not adhered to the legally binding orders from the ICJ advisory opinion of 26 February; and, it has ignored other UN resolutions calling for access to humanitarian aid. What else can the Government do to put pressure on Israel to adhere to international law?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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As I have set out previously to the House, we have previously assessed that Israel is committed and capable of complying with international humanitarian law, and that is kept under review. Were there to be any change in the position and view of the British Government in that respect, we would inform the House.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
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On that matter, the Government do sometimes publish legal position statements. According to the Cabinet Office, on 11 December 2023 the Government published a statement of the legal position in relation to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, and it published a similar legal position statement when introducing the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in July 2022. Will the Minister publish such a statement setting out any breaches of international law by any parties in the Israel-Gaza war?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Gentleman, who is an enormously distinguished lawyer, is well aware that we do not disclose our internal legal advice, and that has consistently been the position of Governments of both the major parties. We have no plans to change that position.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)
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The Minister has repeatedly said that international humanitarian law must be adhered to, but those words are meaningless unless they are followed by action, so what consequences will the British Government introduce for any country found guilty of committing war crimes by the ICC, such as by the deliberate withholding of food and aid to another country?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Lady invites me to qualify or add to the words I have already used to answer that and similar questions. I am sorry to disappoint her, but I am not going to do so.

Rupa Huq Portrait Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)
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For what will soon be six months, this Government have repeatedly rejected calls for an immediate ceasefire from MPs and aid agencies, so I welcome the changed position taken at the Security Council yesterday. However, I am confused by this insistence that the Government’s position has not changed. Can the Minister clarify that he is calling for an immediate ceasefire, that the UN resolution is binding and must be implemented immediately, and that there are consequences for non-compliance? Any dither and delay, including with UNRWA, means more innocent civilians killed and more children starving.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Lady is not right in what she says about there being a change in the Government position, for the reasons that I have repeatedly set out. The United Kingdom has long been calling for an immediate humanitarian pause leading to a sustainable ceasefire, and that is what resolution 2728 seeks to deliver.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
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I understand what the deputy Foreign Secretary says about wanting both sides to acknowledge United Nations Security Council resolution 2728, but he must know that the people in Gaza facing starvation, going to bed every night wondering whether it will be their last, do not have the power to bring the hostages back. The people who have the power to bring the hostages back are sitting in five-star hotels in Qatar, so it is useless to allow the aid for people in Gaza to be blocked by Israel, and for them to continue to be on the end of a bombardment, while somehow suggesting that they are masters of their own destiny. Will he say what this Government will do in the event that Israel continues to ignore a binding United Nations Security Council resolution?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The remedy for what the hon. Gentleman so eloquently describes in his question rests with Hamas and the negotiators in Qatar. If they release the hostages and a pause is agreed, that will lead to the resolution of all the points that he has so rightly made.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
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I have heard what the Minister said about not releasing legal advice, which is clearly disappointing for Members in this House. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) has already said, the Government have issued legal advice in the past, and this is a matter of great interest to my constituents. If a country took offensive action contrary to a UN resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, I would not need to see the legal advice because that would clearly be a breach of UK arms export licences.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I note that the hon. Gentleman is disappointed that we will not release the advice, but I can only point to the precedent to which I referred earlier—one that has been strongly endorsed on both sides of the House.