Lindsay Hoyle debates involving the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office during the 2019 Parliament

Sanctions

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
Friday 24th May 2024

(3 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me later today, I will make sure that the team looks at the information as soon as possible.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I know it is the final day for the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), but we still have rules in this House about being critical of Members of another House. Could he still use that caution, even on his last day in the House?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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Thank you, Mr Speaker.

This legislation is needed to clarify the sanction measures for which HMRC is solely responsible for enforcing on those it would investigate on referral from OTSI. It will therefore establish a consistent approach to the enforcement of trade sanctions. It will facilitate HMRC and OTSI working in close partnership so that they can robustly enforce all trade sanctions against Russia and other target countries using civil and criminal powers.

On the financial sanctions side, the statutory instrument also includes new obligations for persons designated under the Belarus regime to report any assets they own, hold or control in the UK or worldwide as a UK person to the relevant authorities. The measure is another step in improving the transparency of assets owned, held or controlled in the UK by designated persons and will strengthen the ability of HM Treasury’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation—OFSI—to implement and enforce UK financial sanctions.

Importantly, the measure will act as a dual verification by enabling the comparison of disclosures by designated persons against existing reporting requirements that bite on firms such as financial institutions. Under the new requirement, the Government will be able to penalise those who make deliberate attempts to conceal assets to escape the effects of sanctions. An equivalent reporting obligation was placed on designated persons under the Russia regime in December 2023. The extension of this requirement to Belarus ensures alignment between the Russia and Belarus regimes, which is particularly vital given the frequent overlap of the Belarus and Russia sanctions regimes and the co-operation between the two states in relation to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

We have also included several sanctions on Belarus on the export of so-called battlefield goods, which include goods such as electronic equipment, integrated circuits and firearms and aerospace technology. These new measures prohibit the import of Belarusian aluminium into the UK—both the metal itself and aluminium products. Aluminium products are a sector of strategic importance to Belarus and have been its top export to the UK. Although the UK nexus with the Belarusian economy is limited, the signalling impact of our sanctions on Belarus is, and will remain, important. We keep these sanctions under constant review and reserve the right to introduce further measures so that the Lukashenko regime continues to feel the consequences of its lack of respect for human rights and its support for Putin’s war.

Finally, we are also revoking the Burundi sanctions regime. That will remove an empty regime from the statute books. The decision in 2019 not to transpose into UK law designations under the original 2015 EU sanctions regime reflected the improved political situation in Burundi. We do not have the same level of concern about the widespread political violence in Burundi that led to the original decision to impose the regime, so we have made no designations under it. As we set out in the recent UK sanctions strategy, the Government keep their regimes under review and respond to changing circumstances. We are committed to lifting a regime out of a specific measure or revoking a designation when the original objective is no longer served by its continuance.

To conclude, sanctions continue to play an important part in the UK, which continues to build on its already impressive sanctions capability. In the years since the landmark Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, our approach to sanctions has evolved considerably to respond to the changes in the world. We will continue to work on sanctions to meet any new challenges. I commend the regulations to the House.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
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May I echo your comments, Mr Speaker, about the Deputy Speakers who are, sadly, stepping down at the snap general election? I also thank the Minister for setting out the purpose of the regulations, for her general cross-party working, and for her assurance that the Security Minister and the Treasury are looking at such sanctions, because they need a cross-Government approach. I also echo her comments about the excellent work of officials at the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation.

Labour supports the necessary and common-sense steps being taken in the statutory instrument. We will not seek to divide the House on it, although it might have been nice to have considered it last week, rather than this morning, from the point of view of one’s nerves. As a party, we have consistently supported the Government in expanding the UK sanctions regime as it relates to a variety of countries, but particularly Russia since the unlawful and barbaric invasion of Ukraine.

We have also been candid and honest where we think that Ministers are not going far enough or have acted too slowly in holding global actors to account, or where there are considerable loopholes in our regimes that they continue to exploit. When it comes to the integrity of our sanctions regime, we have made it clear that Labour will work assiduously with partners and allies to counter the plethora of threats posed by actors across the world, will ensure proper enforcement, and will bring about the seizure of Russian state assets for the purpose of supporting Ukrainian reconstruction.

Before turning to the measures, I will raise a more general issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), the shadow Minister for Europe, has brought to our attention on several occasions. On the enforcement of monetary penalties for breaches of the UK sanctions regime, the OFSI website shows that only one penalty has been issued against the Russian regime since the start of the war in Ukraine. Can the Minister elucidate whether that is the case? Is the website out of date, or is there another reason why our enforcement is woefully low—in comparison with the USA, for example? I hope that she can supply clarity on that.

Labour supports the measures. They will prevent a designated person being a director of a company or overseeing the promotion, formation or management of companies, which is a necessary step in dismantling the ecosystem of illicit finance in which designated persons skirt sanctions and retain access to their wealth.

I ask the Minister for clarity on one point. Concerns have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the issuing of licences that grant designated persons dispensation to become exempt from given provisions. Can she clarify whether there will be ministerial oversight of the granting of those licences? Will the Treasury, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Department for Business and Trade work in lockstep to ensure cohesion and co-ordination when it comes to their granting? Last year, revelations came to light regarding a licence issued to none other than Yevgeny Prigozhin that allowed him to sue a UK journalist. That is what can happen when licences are issued without proper scrutiny. I hope that the Minister can provide clarity on their granting.

We also support the measures relating to the mandate of His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs on Belarus, as well as the new reporting obligation on persons designated under the asset freeze to disclose the value and nature of any funds or economic resources that they own, hold or control in the UK. We also support the prohibition of export from the UK of items critical to Russian weapon systems and military development, in addition to certain aerospace goods; the prohibition of Belarusian aluminium imports; and the ban on the provision of ancillary services.

Why has it taken so long to bring in those prohibition measures? It seems unconscionable that well over two years since the onset of the war in Ukraine—do not forget that the House’s Belarusian concerns were raised before then—UK items that could be used in Russian weaponry are making their way via Belarus to the frontlines, potentially aiding and abetting Russia’s war effort against the people of Ukraine. We understand that any sanctions regime is a work in progress, but we cannot continue to countenance UK exports filtering through to Putin and the cronies who facilitate his war machine, especially given the situation in and around Kharkiv at present.

I thank the Minister for setting out the measures, though, as I said, they could have come earlier. I hope that she can provide clarity on the concerns that I raised. Labour will continue to support further expansion of our sanctions regime, but it is becoming ever clearer that the actions that we take today will have lasting ramifications. In devising such actions in the next Parliament, we will strive to be even bolder, swifter and more ambitious.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We come to a maiden speech. I call Chris Webb.

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James Heappey Portrait James Heappey (Wells) (Con)
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I rise to speak briefly on sanctions, but before I do so, I congratulate the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Chris Webb) on an excellent maiden speech. It is my privilege to give my final speech on the back of such a brilliant first speech. Although I am sure that those in Conservative central office will have other ideas, I hope it is the first of many speeches he gives in this House.

This place matters in terms of the way the UK competes with our adversaries and those who challenge us all around the world. It is not just what the Government do through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, our embassies and other Departments. It is important that Parliament shows its resolve. As any colleague in the House who has had the pleasure of travelling to do the Government’s business overseas will know, we are routinely beaten up by Ministers in foreign countries for things that are said on these Benches. Therefore, the resolve of the House to give resolute support to the Government of the day on our foreign policy is enormously important. We do that through not just the employment of our military, with whom it has been my great pleasure to work during the past four years, but the way we pull all the levers of government to achieve effect, through both hard and soft power, all around the world. Therefore, at the back end of this Parliament, these are important measures before us today and it is right that they are being put through with cross-party consensus.

My personal circumstances mean that I cannot be here later today, Mr Speaker, so I hope you will indulge me if I say one or two quick thank yous as I draw my parliamentary account to a close. As I segue from the strategic and the international, I wish, first, to thank all of those ministerial colleagues with whom I have had the pleasure of serving over the past four years, as we have gone through an incredible period of challenge to our nation. I have served alongside many who have made me a better person, through all their expertise and all that they have been able to teach me, but none more so than my right hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace). I have worked alongside him in some of the darkest moments our nation has faced in generations, during the pandemic, the Kabul airlift and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and that will stick with me as one of the proudest times of my life. It was a great honour to serve alongside you, Secretary of State.

I also wish to thank my partner, family and friends, particularly my children, Charlie and Tilly, for all their love and support over the past nine years. I thank my staff, both in my constituency office and here in Westminster. I thank those in the Wells Conservative Association for their support and kindness. I thank my constituents for sending me here; whether or not they voted for me, representing them has been a huge privilege.

As you know well, Mr Speaker, our public discourse is changing for the worse and there is a toxicity to it now that means it requires real bravery to come to sit on these Benches. You have been a great protector of this House and of those who have the courage to sit on these green Benches, to speak up for their opinions and their constituencies, and to try to make a positive difference for those they represent and our country at large. Thank you for your leadership and guidance during this very difficult Parliament. Thank you for all your support—and for the occasional bollocking when I have gone for too long at the Dispatch Box.

I thank all colleagues, on both sides of the House. When we have disagreed, it has always been with courtesy and respect. Not enough people beyond this place see that that is the way the affairs of this House are mostly conducted. Most of all, I wish all good fortune and success to all those who will arrive here in July—in particular, my successor in the new seat of Wells and Mendip Hills—having been returned to represent their communities and to make a difference on behalf of this country, in what will be incredibly challenging times. It has been a great pleasure and a real honour to serve here.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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It is a sad day. I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.

Israel and Gaza

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
Monday 20th May 2024

(1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Andrew Mitchell Portrait The Deputy Foreign Secretary (Mr Andrew Mitchell)
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With permission, I would like to make a statement on Israel and Gaza.

Over seven months since the horrors of 7 October, there is no end to the current conflict in sight. This Government want to bring the conflict to a sustainable end as soon as possible, but as so often with conflicts of this nature, the question is not about our desire for peace, but rather about the best means of achieving it. We continue to believe that the fastest way to end the conflict is to secure a deal that gets the hostages out and allows for a pause in the fighting in Gaza. We would then have to work with our international partners to turn that pause into a sustainable permanent ceasefire.

Building momentum towards a lasting peace will require a number of elements, including removing Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel. It was a deal of that kind that secured a pause in the fighting before Christmas—the only such pause since Hamas’s horrific attack. It was that approach that the United Nations Security Council endorsed just last month, following some effective British diplomacy.

A deal with Hamas for a pause in the fighting would involve exchanging hundreds of Palestinian prisoners charged with serious acts of terrorism in return for the hostages’ release. I do not underestimate how difficult that must be for the Israeli Government, but it is the best way forward that we see right now.

We continue to work closely with the United States and partners in the region to support such a deal. We do not believe that the International Criminal Court prosecutor seeking warrants will help in that regard. As we have said from the outset, we do not think that the ICC has jurisdiction in this case.

A deal as I have described offers the best prospects of reuniting more hostages with their families; the anguish for them is unbearable. I am sure that the whole House joins me in holding the family of Nadav Popplewell in our thoughts at this deeply distressing time. We are still working intensively to establish the facts after the awful video that his Hamas kidnappers released last week. The Foreign Secretary met the family last week to hear more about their ordeal at first hand. Likewise, we send our condolences to those families whose loved ones the Israeli authorities stated last week had died.

At the same time, the toll on civilians in Gaza continues to rise. Images from the strip give us some sense of what they endure: civilians piling belongings on to a cart led by a donkey, or seeking to scrape together a meal in a makeshift shelter. We have seen appalling attacks on aid convoys and UN offices by Israeli extremists, and the tragic deaths of UN and other humanitarian personnel in Gaza.

We keep in close contact with Sigrid Kaag, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator, and we condemn all attacks on aid workers and support the United Nations’ call for an independent investigation. The Government of Israel have previously set out publicly their commitment to increase the flow of aid into Gaza significantly, but we need to see far more. The Prime Minister impressed the urgency of that on 30 April. In the past 10 days, the Foreign Secretary has spoken to Israeli Ministers Ron Dermer and Israel Katz. He has called on them to implement in full Israel’s aid commitments. We want to see: humanitarian aid allowed to enter through all relevant crossing points, including in Rafah; critically needed goods flowing in, particularly fuel and medical supplies; effective deconfliction processes to ensure that aid can be distributed safely and effectively; critical infrastructure restored and protected; evacuations for all those eligible; concrete action to protect civilians and minimise casualties; and, as Israeli Minister Benny Gantz said over the weekend, more planning for reconstruction and a return to Palestinian civilian governance of Gaza once the fighting has ceased.

We remain absolutely committed to getting aid into Gaza to alleviate the suffering, and we are working with a wide variety of other Governments and aid agencies to deliver aid by land, sea and air. I am delighted to confirm to the House that we have now successfully delivered British aid on to Gaza’s shore using the Cyprus maritime corridor, which we and our partners—notably, the United States, the United Arab Emirates and Cyprus—made operational just last week. We have committed almost £10 million in funding. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary Cardigan Bay is acting as a logistics hub for the operation.

We have now delivered more than 8,000 shelter coverage kits alongside aid from the US and UAE, with more aid to follow in the coming weeks including hygiene kits and forklift trucks. Work to develop other effective partnerships for the delivery of aid continues. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon is in Qatar today, discussing a health partnership for Palestinians so that a British medical training agency can support doctors and health practitioners treating Palestinian patients.

We know that much, much more aid is required, but that delivery by land remains the quickest and most effective option, so we continue to work closely with Oman to maximise the aid delivered via the Jordan land corridor. I pay tribute to all those aid workers, military personnel, diplomats and medical professionals who are involved in Britain’s efforts to save lives and alleviate the suffering of civilians in Gaza. I confirm to the House that, last week, intense efforts by the Foreign Office led to the departure from Gaza of three British aid workers who were at risk from an outbreak of fighting.

As the fighting continues, we estimate that around 800,000 Palestinian civilians have fled from where they were seeking shelter in Rafah to other parts of the southern strip. The extent of this displacement is why we have been clear that we would not support a major Israeli military operation in Rafah, unless there was a very clear plan for how to protect people and save lives. We have not seen that plan. We and 13 of our partners, including France, Germany, Italy and Australia, set out our concerns in a detailed letter to the Israeli Government.

After more than seven months of fighting, it is becoming difficult to imagine the realisation of a lasting peace, but Britain continues to try to build momentum towards that goal. That will require not only the release of all the hostages and an end to the current fighting, but the removal of Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel; Hamas no longer being in charge in Gaza; the formation of a new Palestinian Government for the west bank and Gaza; and a political horizon for the Palestinians, providing a credible and irreversible pathway towards a two-state solution. That is what we continue to strive towards: peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike. I commend the statement to the House.

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

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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I start by assuring the shadow Foreign Secretary that the Government’s answer to his final question is, as he would expect, yes. It is worth stating that if one looks carefully at his high-flown oratory this afternoon, we do not see very much distinction between the positions of His Majesty’s Opposition and the Government, as I will set out.

The right hon. Gentleman starts off by saying that this is day 226 of the incarceration of the hostages, of the destruction that has taken place, and of the risks of escalation. I completely agree with what he says. He says that the diplomatic pressure must rise. I can tell him that the diplomatic pressure is intense on all counts and in all places. He says that we must work closely with the United States of America. Let me assure him that we are working intensively and closely with the United States.

The right hon. Gentleman asks me about the advice we receive, and suggests that I dodged the question on the earlier occasion. I certainly had no intention of doing so. I can tell him that we receive all sorts of advice from all sorts of places, but we do not—as is the custom and practice, as he knows well—disclose our legal advice. We are always careful to follow it meticulously; that is my answer to his question.

The right hon. Gentleman asks: is this a matter on which the International Criminal Court should act independently? My answer is that of course it is, but we do not necessarily have to stay silent on what the court is doing, and we certainly are not doing so. On his question about the letter from a former Prime Minister, as we have said from the outset, we do not think that the ICC has jurisdiction in this case. The UK has not recognised Palestine as a state, and Israel is not a state party to the Rome statute.

As I say, if we split away some of what the right hon. Gentleman said today from the oratory that he customarily displays in this place, we see that the positions of the Opposition Front Bench and the Government remain very closely aligned.

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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My condolences go to all the families who, over the last few days, have received the most devastating news—news that their loved ones have been murdered—and also to the Popplewell family, who have received heinous treatment from Hamas, including the publication of that outrageous video. Last week the Select Committee pushed the Minister for the middle east to do more to secure proof of life of those who are being held hostage, and that remains our call.

I welcome the effort on the maritime port—it is good that that is now in place—but it will be unable to function come September owing to the changes in the tide, so this is a short-term solution. Since 6 May, when the Rafah offensive started, only 40 trucks have gone through the Kerem Shalom crossing. In Rafah no fuel has gone in, no medical evacuations have taken place and aid agencies have started to suspend the sending in of their own people, which is extremely concerning. When will the Rafah crossing reopen, and will the Erez West crossing finally accept aid, not just through Jordan but also through Ramallah, because otherwise the amount of aid that is needed will simply not get in?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for her questions. She has made the point about proof of life before, and as she knows, my noble Friend Lord Ahmad has been pursuing that issue—in direct response, I think, to her Committee. She made the very good point that the maritime option will continue only as long as the sea conditions are satisfactory, and that emphasises the importance of getting aid in by road; the ability to do that is one of Britain’s specific demands of the Israeli Government. She also pointed out that Rafah has effectively been closed for the last few weeks, and drew attention to the great difficulties that that causes. We hope very much that there will soon be a deal between Egypt and Israel to put that right.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
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We are on a very dangerous road if we believe that the rule of law is something from which a Government can pick and choose. Unlike the Government, we very much welcome the decision of the International Criminal Court to issue warrants for the arrest of the Hamas leaders Sinwar, al-Masri and Haniyeh for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed on, and subsequent to, 7 October. We have always unreservedly condemned the appalling Hamas attacks, the murders and the hostage-taking, and we repeat our call for the immediate release of the hostages.

Given the ferociously disproportionate Israeli response, which has seen 35,000 dead, 100,000 injured, tens of thousands of children orphaned, civilian infrastructure in ruins and the cutting off of food, water, electricity and medical supplies, we also welcome the ICC’s filing of applications for warrants for the arrest of both the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The ICC says that it has evidence, including interviews with survivors and eyewitnesses, that shows that Israel has intentionally and systematically deprived the civilian population of Gaza of what they need to survive. It has referred specifically to Israel using starvation as a weapon of war, and intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population. All these are acts that constitute a crime against humanity. The ICC has also confirmed everything that we have said about the crimes of 7 October, and Israel’s use of collective punishment and ethnic cleansing in response to those crimes.

For eight months, this Government have told us that they cannot make an assessment of breaches of international humanitarian law, but they have today—because it suits them—made an immediate assessment of the decision of the International Criminal Court, whose panel of experts consists predominantly of UK lawyers, simply because they do not agree with it. It is shameful and unforgivable that for eight months this Government have chosen to deny the evidence of their own eyes, and have given political cover and munitions to Israel. We have to assume, sadly, that if today does not put an end to the UK licensing of arms exports to Israel, absolutely nothing will.

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George Galloway Portrait George Galloway (Rochdale) (WPB)
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Points of order come after statements—those are the rules of the House.

The Prime Minister has requested to make a short statement on today’s publication of the final report of the infected blood inquiry. On this occasion, given the nature of the statement, I have agreed that there will be only a few limited and brief responses today, as there will be a further major statement tomorrow, when all hon. Members will have the opportunity to question the Cabinet Office Minister at length.

War in Gaza

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
Tuesday 7th May 2024

(2 weeks, 6 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The shadow Foreign Secretary has set out in eloquent terms what is effectively the policy of the Government and the entire House. He chided the Government for not offering a statement today, but I suggest that the Government have not been slow in coming to the House with frequent statements and responses to urgent questions, and we will of course continue to do so.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the Government’s discussions with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and, indeed, the entire Government have been very clear about our advice to Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I have set it out repeatedly in the House. When I last answered questions from the right hon. Gentleman here, I made very clear our position on Rafah as well. He asked about the consequences and how we deal with those. Britain and our allies, through the United Nations—and I remind him that Britain was pivotal in securing Security Council resolutions 2020 and 2028—are working together to try to improve what is a terrible situation, and we will continue to do just that with, I hope, the support of the whole House.

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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I welcome the efforts made by the Foreign Secretary, the Deputy Foreign Secretary and the Minister for the Middle East, who have been in and out of the middle east many times over the past two weeks in order to hear from our allies. However, as we see the launch of the Rafah offensive, what reassurances have been received that aid access and, above all, aid workers will be protected? We cannot see the entire aid industry flee from Rafah junction, as is currently being predicted. There is speculation about Al-Mawasi as a safe zone for civilians, but there is no infrastructure in what is essentially a desert, and it was not safe on the last occasion when, as we saw, the British charity Medical Aid for Palestinians was bombed—on which we have still had no answer. Finally, have we had any proof of life for those Israeli citizens who have now been held for seven months? For many, there has been no proof of life since at least Day 20. What are we doing to push for that proof of life, which families so desperately need?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My hon. Friend is entirely right to make that last point. We do seek proof of life. The families to whom she refers are desperate for information, but that information has not been forthcoming. We are deeply concerned about the humanitarian position in Rafah. Any plan would have to respect international humanitarian law, and we have yet to see such a plan. The immediate priority, as I set out in my opening remarks, must be a humanitarian pause in the fighting. As the House well knows, such a pause would allow us, potentially, to get the hostages out, but also to get aid into Gaza.

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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A week ago from that Dispatch Box, the Minister said:

“Given the number of civilians sheltering in Rafah, it is not easy to see how such an offensive could be compliant with international humanitarian law”.—[Official Report, 30 April 2024; Vol. 749, c. 141.]

Despite repeated appeals for Israel not to attack Rafah, just hours after the dashed hopes of a ceasefire, that offensive is happening. Is this the breach of international humanitarian law you referred to last week, and will that breach immediately end UK sales of arms to Israel? Or is this yet another example of the UK declaring a red line only for Israel to completely ignore it without condemnation or consequence? We know how this plays out, Minister. You plead with them, they ignore you, they do what they want and you find excuses for them. A blind eye will be turned to the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent civilians, and while the UK Government call for more aid to the survivors, they will continue to issue arms export licences. That has been the pattern of behaviour for seven months. Can we expect anything different now?

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Beth Winter Portrait Beth Winter (Cynon Valley) (Lab)
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Last October, the Israeli Defence Minister disgracefully described the Palestinian people as “animals”, and that is exactly how Israel has treated them, forcibly displacing men, women, and children from the north to the south of Gaza and now forcibly displacing people again, slaughtering tens of thousands of innocent civilians and creating famine conditions. Now there is the risk of a massacre. What we are witnessing this week is a clear escalation of Israel’s total disregard for civilian life and international law. We need an immediate ceasefire, but will the Minister finally agree to impose stringent sanctions on Israel, not simply on individual settlers, by ending support for its military capability in Gaza, suspending arms export licences and offering support for ICJ and ICC processes investigating Israel’s criminal actions? Where is our humanity?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. Emotions are running high. I want to get everybody in, but I am concerned that we will not achieve it at this rate. Please can we help each other?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Lady sets out in lurid terms the issues we face and the problems the entire international community is trying to address—

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George Galloway Portrait George Galloway (Rochdale) (WPB)
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The Deputy Foreign Secretary’s answers today are virtually identical to those he gave, including to me, last Tuesday. The situation has escalated, but the Government’s response remains the same. There are 600,000 child hostages in Rafah alone. There is no proof of life from them, but millions of our people are watching on their phones today the proof of death and mutilation of many of them. The Government say they are doing everything they can, but they are not. You could now stop sending weapons to the people who are raining down this death and misery, and the Labour party could ask you to do that, but did not.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. The hon. Member says “you”, but it is not me who is responsible.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Gentleman says that the answers I gave to him and others last Tuesday are the same. Those answers reflect, in so far as the parameters of the situation are the same, the fact that we are pursuing long-term policies designed to tackle the evils that have been set out so clearly this afternoon in the House. He also makes a point about the number of children who are denied food and medicine in Rafah. He will know that through medical aid and the British contribution, not least through a field hospital, Britain has been careful to ensure that where we can bring medical help, particularly to children, we are doing so.

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Rushanara Ali Portrait Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab)
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The Minister talks about a pause; the United Nations voted for a resolution calling for a ceasefire. The Minister is now talking about looking at Israeli military plans for Gaza, when the international community has thus far made it clear that there should not be an invasion of Gaza. It feels as if he is going backwards. His Government have so far failed to restore UNRWA funding, which is making the matter and the misery worse. He has failed to take action to ensure that the Government support the implementation of the ICJ’s provisional measures and the International Criminal Court investigation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He has a good track record, but he is failing us by taking us backwards on this important issue. When will he take action on those specific measures?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. Can we speed up questions? Otherwise, some people will not get in.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I do not recognise the early part of the hon. Lady’s question, but let me assure her, as I have assured the House in the past, that we are doing everything we can to address the dreadful situation that she has so eloquently articulated.

Oral Answers to Questions

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
Tuesday 30th April 2024

(3 weeks, 6 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Foreign Secretary.

David Lammy Portrait Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)
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More than 30,000 Palestinians are dead, more than 100 Israeli hostages are still unaccounted for and Gaza is facing famine. The war must end now with an immediate ceasefire. That needs both sides to agree. It was Hamas, not Israel, who rejected the last internationally brokered ceasefire deal. Now a new offer is on the table, and Hamas now have the power to stop the fighting. Does the Minister agree that Hamas should accept this deal and avert a catastrophic continuation of this war?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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Yes. The right hon. Gentleman makes a very good point and, although these negotiations are fluid at the moment, he is right to say that Hamas should accept the deal that has been put on the table.

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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The Minister knows that securing a sustainable peace will require a massive aid and rebuilding programme, in which UNRWA will have, and must have, a crucial part to play. Indeed, he has previously acknowledged that UNRWA has a vital role to play in providing aid and services in Gaza. Why, then, having assured this House that he will come to a decision on the future of UNRWA’s funding when he received Catherine Colonna’s interim report, has he sat on that report for 10 days and said absolutely nothing about restoring funding? He now seems to be setting us up for even further delay. It is simply not good enough. Will he now tell us when this Government will make a decision on UNRWA’s funding?

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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I did not say anything of the sort, Mr Speaker. We are working together in numerous international fora, including the Global Refugee Forum, the G7, the UN General Assembly and the European Political Community summit, to tackle this matter upstream. Working upstream and working with others is critical to resolving this deeply disturbing problem.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the spokesperson for the Scottish National party.

Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith (Stirling) (SNP)
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The only way to stop boats at sea and illegal migration is through structured co-operation with our neighbours and internationally. I welcome the signing on 23 February of the agreement between the UK and EU’s Frontex border protection service, but is it properly funded and what mechanisms are in place to review that funding as it evolves? Surely the Minister must agree with me that the best way to tackle illegal migration is to fund safe and legal routes properly. What progress is he making on a comprehensive deal to that end with our EU friends, including Ireland?

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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to see breathing space so that we can get the hostages out and more aid in; in spite of what she says, the aid that is getting in at the moment is not sufficient. That is precisely the policy of the British Government, and we will continue to pursue it with all vigour.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Wayne David Portrait Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab)
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Given that the Colonna report makes clear that donors should have confidence in UNRWA and that Australia, France, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Japan and Denmark have all restored funding, and with Gaza facing famine, I ask the Deputy Foreign Secretary again: when will the Government do what Labour has called for and restore full funding to UNRWA?

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David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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I thank my hon. Friend for his important question about the Dominican Republic. I was there at the end of March and met President Abinader. We talked about the situation and the importance of the MSS. Clearly, the Kenyans will need to decide how they move forward, but as has been said, the putting in place of the transitional presidential council was an important moment.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin (Cardiff North) (Lab)
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Half of Haiti’s population is starving, violence is rife, dead bodies lie forgotten on the street. For too long this crisis has been ignored. As the Minister knows, that grave situation risks also destabilising the wider Caribbean region, including our overseas territories, with the Turks and Caicos islands less than 200 miles away. Can the Minister confirm the UK’s donation to the UN fund—the Government missed that out of their statement—and lay out what other diplomatic support the Government are offering to address the crisis?

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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for what he has said. We are seeking to assist 500,000 children under five in Sudan. He will know that 8.6 million people have been displaced, 2 million have fled across borders and 17.7 million are suffering acute food insecurity. More widely, 730,000 Sudanese children are suffering from the deadliest form of malnutrition.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Lyn Brown Portrait Ms Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab)
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As we know, and as has been said, right now an offensive is under way to capture El Fasher, the last remaining city in Darfur outside Rapid Support Forces control. The risk of massacres and rapes targeted at non-Arab communities is imminent, and I fear that it will be simply appalling in scale. All arms supplies to the warring sides must stop, and we thank our tireless diplomats, alongside African Security Council colleagues, for Friday’s statement at the UN, but what mechanisms are the Government using, with our partners, every single day to build pressure for an immediate ceasefire and a sustainable peace?

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Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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I have raised this issue with the ambassador, and was able to raise it last week when I was in Beijing with my Foreign Minister counterpart.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
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The trial and detention of British citizen Jimmy Lai shows the symbolism and importance of getting a grip on the question of Hong Kongers and their rights. Can the Minister confirm that when she was in Beijing she was able to get the balance right between the legitimate trade interests and the importance of human rights, freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and all those other moral and political duties that we have in foreign policy?

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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My hon. Friend makes a good point. We are working closely with a number of partner Governments, including the United States of America, Cyprus and the United Nations. Maritime discussions include corridor planning for the delivery of UK aid and our package of support including equipment and the use of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Cardigan Bay.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Foreign Secretary.

David Lammy Portrait Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)
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Last week the US Congress agreed a new $61 billion aid package for Ukraine. The bipartisan co-operation led by Mike Johnson is essential if Ukraine is to continue to defend against Putin’s illegal invasion. I am proud that this House will stand united on Ukraine for as long as it takes to win. Will the Minister update the House on progress with our G7 allies to seize and repurpose frozen Russian state assets in the UK, to support the reconstruction of Ukraine?

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Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse  (Bath)  (LD)
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T2. Tibet is currently ranked as the least free place for civil and political rights by Freedom House, alongside Syria. There are credible reports of torture, extrajudicial killings and serious restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of the media. Last year, three independent UN experts warned that almost a million Tibetan children are coerced into a residential schools system designed to systematically assimilate them into Han culture. [Interruption.] What diplomatic steps have the Government taken to hold the Chinese Government to account for these grievous violations?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. This is topical questions.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Anne-Marie Trevelyan)
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The Government consistently raise human rights issues with the Chinese authorities, as I did during my visit last week, as I have mentioned. We also regularly raise Tibet in multilateral fora, such as in January at China’s universal periodic review and in March as part of our item 4 statement at the UN Human Rights Council.

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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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We have worked extensively with our partners in the Gulf on evacuations, and Britain is doing a great deal through our medical support for the field hospital we have in Gaza as well as to support other humanitarian and medical activities, which are so vital there.

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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British citizen Ryan Cornelius has now been imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates for 16 years. In 2022, the UN determined that he was “arbitrarily detained”, and before the Deputy Foreign Secretary came to his current position, he signed a letter calling for his immediate release. On Saturday, Ryan turned 70, and his children have grown up without him. Will the Government please update us on what they are doing to get him home and whether they will lodge a plea for clemency, given his age and ill health?

Sudan: Government Response

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
Monday 22nd April 2024

(1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I thank the hon. Lady very much for the eloquent way in which she has outlined the position in Sudan, and she is absolutely right. On the subject of the Sudan envoy, let me assure her that there is a very strong and very experienced envoy who covers the horn of Africa, and she focuses particularly on Sudan. The hon. Lady eloquently set out the wider effects of Sudan continuing on this path in the region, and I agree with her, and she also made clear the benefits that the emergency rooms, sometimes the only source of relief, are providing.

The hon. Lady asks about the mistakes that have been made in the past in respect of civilian rule. Britain has called—I think from across all parts of this House—for a ceasefire so that the generals take their troops back to barracks and the political space has a chance to advance. She will know that Abdalla Hamdok and Taqaddum, the civil society political grouping, have been working together, supported by Britain, in a conference in Addis Ababa and elsewhere. We are very committed to trying to work with them, so that there is one sensible but broad political offer for Sudan, as and when the chance of a ceasefire and the political track re-engaging takes place.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Julian Lewis Portrait Sir Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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Do the Government have any evidence that they can share with this House of the involvement of major foreign powers in what is happening in this terrible conflict in Sudan?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My right hon. Friend will have seen the open-source reporting of various outlets. The point the British Government make on all occasions is that any arms supply into Sudan merely prolongs this conflict, and we urge anyone who is thinking of supplying either side or supplying either side to think very carefully and to desist.

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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Last week, the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights released a detailed report on the genocide in Darfur. The report describes atrocity crimes—including massacres, sexual violence, the burning of villages and the destruction of key infrastructure—all targeting Darfurians in the region. The authors of the report say:

“Just twenty years after the first genocide…the same perpetrators are committing the same atrocities against the same innocent groups, all while evading accountability.”

Can I ask the Minister whether he has read the report, and is his Department planning to meet the Raoul Wallenberg Centre? What is the Government’s own assessment of the risk of genocide in Darfur, and how are they planning to implement their obligations under the genocide convention? Finally, has a joint analysis of conflict and stability been carried out on the situation in Sudan, and if not, why not? If it has, will he share those findings with the House?

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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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These discussions are taking place in the margins of the United Nations, and at the conference that took place in Paris on Monday last week. The hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise that we need to ensure that arms do not fuel the conflict, and that is why Britain urges everyone to ensure there is no further arming of either party. The arms embargo goes all the way over Darfur, and would be over the whole of Sudan, if the Chinese and Russians were willing to sign up with the rest of us to implementing it.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call Jim Shannon.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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Thank you, Mr Speaker. You have caught me off balance; I was just about to take my diabetic tablets when you called me. I thank the Minister for his answers to the UQ. He will be aware that more than 9,000 people have been killed, and nearly 6 million displaced, and Christians are facing persecution. What support are the Government offering to non-governmental organisations on the ground, such as Church missionaries, who seek to help displaced Christians not only feed children, but provide them with a semblance of an education and, most importantly, hope of a future life?

Humanitarian Situation in Gaza

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
Wednesday 17th April 2024

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

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

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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As I have said, the Government continue to call for an immediate humanitarian pause to allow for the release of hostages. While we cannot provide a running commentary on negotiations, which are highly sensitive and ongoing, the UK is using all our diplomatic channels to support international negotiation efforts facilitated by Egypt, Qatar and the US.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now come to the SNP spokesperson.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
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Under-standably, perhaps, the world’s attention has been on the shocking Iranian missile attack at the weekend, but we cannot and must not forget about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and the plight of millions of innocent civilians facing a man-made famine and living with the constant threat of attack. Neither can we forget the immensely brave humanitarian aid workers, particularly the seven World Central Kitchen employees, whose status as humanitarians appears to have offered them little or no protection from the Israel Defence Forces. Despite the promises made, the United Nations has reported that this week, more than 40% of what it tried to take into Gaza was rejected. Those of us who have been to the border and seen the efforts of the Egyptian Red Crescent, and its warehouse full of rejected medical equipment, have a pretty good idea of what those items were. This is an area that has no single operational hospital.

The elephant in the room, though, is arms export licences. For how much longer is the UK going to send humanitarian aid to Gaza while simultaneously licensing weapons sales to Israel? Would not the best form of humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza be to stop supplying Israel with the weapons that will kill them?

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David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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We have seen limited improvement. My right hon. and learned Friend said that it has been significant, and it has, but from a low base, and as I have set out, our aspirations are clearly a lot higher. There are a number of key areas in which we want to see further improvements, and we are working closely with Israel on that.

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

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
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Airdrops, promises of harbours and promises of money to come are not even touching the sides of the problem, given its scale. People are starving to death. At the beginning of March, my Committee published a report calling on the UK Government to press for more than 500 trucks of humanitarian aid a day to be allowed into Gaza; for all the crossings to open; for the Israeli military to co-operate better with aid agencies; and for deconfliction, so that humanitarian workers can live, and also safely carry out their vital work. Despite the Foreign Secretary’s optimism about greater humanitarian flows, the average is just over 1,100 trucks a week. Why are this Government not doing more to persuade Israel to meet its responsibilities under international law and facilitate aid to the people of Gaza? How many more people have to die?

Israel and Gaza

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
Tuesday 26th March 2024

(2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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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.

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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?

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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?

Israel and Gaza

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
Tuesday 19th March 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his questions and comments, which I will try to deal with more or less sequentially. First, he asked me about the reports of famine. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or IPC, report is clear: it says that famine is a very real scenario. We are doing everything we can to try to head that off, as I set out in my response to the urgent question. In addition to famine, there is also the danger of disease, the lack of health services, and the acute danger from the lack of clean water and effective sanitation. We are doing everything we can to head off the appalling circumstances that the right hon. Gentleman set out.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the number of trucks. I can tell him that on Sunday, 192 trucks did get in, but that is woefully short of what is required. It is more than have been getting in in March, which has averaged 165 each day so far, and in February that figure was only 97—although he will be well aware that before the crisis, more than 500 trucks a day were getting in.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the ICJ. As everyone in the House will know, the ICJ judgment is binding. In respect of the offensive against Rafah, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, and indeed all our allies, have consistently warned that an offensive against Rafah at this time would have the most appalling humanitarian consequences.

May I finish by taking the point that the right hon. Gentleman again made about a ceasefire? As far as I am aware, the position of the Labour Front Bench is still the same as the position of the Government: we are calling for an immediate pause so that we can get the hostages out and aid in—followed, we hope, by a sustainable ceasefire. That is what we are working towards.

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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May I start by putting on the record my gratitude to the Minister for the Middle East, who made significant representations ahead of Ramadan to reduce tensions in Jerusalem and allow access to the Al-Aqsa mosque, which so far remains calm? The IPC report makes for breathtakingly difficult reading and the humanitarian situation is catastrophic, but it need not be. May I ask that we please push harder on truck entry from Jordan and ensure that it is fully operationalised, and can my right hon. Friend tell me when the House will be formally updated on whether Israel is demonstrating commitment to international humanitarian law?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I thank my hon. Friend for her comments about my colleague Lord Ahmad, the Minister for the Middle East, which I will pass on to him. In respect of international humanitarian law, we are going through the necessary legal processes, which are complex, but I can tell her that as soon as we are in a position to update the House on what we have set out clearly before, we will do so.

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 take absolutely no satisfaction in saying that a month ago in this Chamber I said that innocent people will die because of Israel’s decision to prevent food from getting to those who need it. The reports of an imminent famine should surprise no one; we have all known that this deliberate, man-made famine was coming. The Foreign Affairs Committee has just returned from al-Arish, on the Egypt-Gaza border, where we saw hundreds and hundreds of lorryloads of food and aid waiting for permission to get into Gaza.

Let us be very clear about our language here: the people of Gaza are not starving; they are being starved. Does the Minister accept that there is no food shortage in the region? Does he accept that people are starving to death just 44 miles from Tel Aviv—the distance between Glasgow and Edinburgh—as a direct result of the Israeli siege and the premeditated decision to cut off food supplies? Does he also accept that starving a civilian population to death is a war crime? Finally, does he still believe that the UK is right, both legally and morally, to continue selling weapons to Israel?

Oral Answers to Questions

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
Tuesday 12th March 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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As I have told the House before, no British funding is due until April and enough funds have now come forward to ensure that adequate supplies are available. We are awaiting the report of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services and the interim report from Catherine Colonna, the former French Foreign Minister. The view we take is that when we have seen those, we very much hope we will have the reassurance to recommence funding. That is also the position of the US, Germany, Australia, Italy, Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be comforted by the fact that we are very much trying to resolve this matter as speedily as we can.

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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The Foreign Affairs Committee recently returned from al-Arish, which is the staging point for aid into Gaza. It was very difficult to see thousands of trucks on that border. The Government have been clear that Israel has a legal obligation to ensure that aid reaches civilians. The last legal assessment took place at the end of last year. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House, in legal terms, whether Israel is demonstrating a commitment to international humanitarian law? If he will not tell us in the House, will he please write to me?

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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My right hon. and learned Friend is right to say that there has been an increase in the number of trucks getting in. In February there were, on average, only 97. In March that figure is 162. So there has been an improvement, but the House will recognise that there is nothing like enough getting through. The easiest way to do so is by truck and road. It is because that is so difficult that we have had to find other mechanisms, such as the maritime and air routes.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Lisa Nandy Portrait Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab)
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May I return the Minister to the serious allegations made today, following a BBC investigation, that medics in Gaza were detained, stripped and beaten while trying to perform their life-saving humanitarian duties? All of us in the House have repeatedly called on all parties to abide by international law, but the Government have so far declined to say that the provisional measures of the International Court of Justice should be implemented in full. Will he now tell us that they should be, and that the UK will support the International Criminal Court investigation, led by Andrew Cayley, to ensure not only that all allegations against all parties are investigated, but that there is accountability for those who break the law?

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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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Let me be very clear about this: we did not believe, and do not believe, that the ICJ referral is helpful to attempts to secure dialogue. We respect the role and independence of the ICJ and will consider any advisory opinion, but we did not think it helpful, without the consent of both parties, for the Court to deliver an advisory opinion on what is essentially a bilateral dispute. However, we keep all these matters under review and, as I have said, our current position is that we believe Israel has both the capacity and the intent to abide by international humanitarian law.

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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The Minister will have seen the shocking images of parachutes dropping aid into Gaza at the same moment as a barrage of Israeli missiles struck. There is, of course, every chance that the aid and the missiles originated from the same source, and I wonder at the level of cognitive dissonance required to supply aid to innocent civilians while at the same time providing the means by which Israel can continue to kill them indiscriminately. When will this Government recognise the moral absurdity of selling weapons to Israel while attempting to salve their conscience by airdropping aid to those civilians who are fortunate enough to have survived the bombardment?

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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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Those discussions are going on all the time with our friends and allies, with the regional powers, at the United Nations and, indeed, directly with Israel. As I said, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary talk regularly to Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we will continue to do so. My hon. Friend eloquently set out the reason for the Government’s policy of trying to create a pause to get the hostages out and aid in, and we will continue to pursue that objective.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call shadow Minister.

Wayne David Portrait Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab)
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The situation in Gaza is truly appalling, but the situation in the west bank is also a cause for huge concern. Since the horrific 7 October attacks, over 400 Palestinians have been killed and thousands have been detained. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), last week Israel advanced plans for 3,400 new homes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As a two-state solution is the only path to a lasting peace, does the Minister agree that a firm position on these issues must be taken now by the United Kingdom and the international community?

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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I can reassure the hon. Lady that on both of those two points—pressing for a pause and pressing all the regional powers on what comes next—the Government are actively and continually engaged. On her first point about the terrible plight of women in Gaza, that is why the British Government gave nearly £5 million just a week or so ago specifically to try to alleviate the desperate circumstances in Gaza that so many women find themselves in.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Scottish National party spokesperson, Alyn Smith.

Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith (Stirling) (SNP)
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The best way to deal with a sustainable ceasefire is obviously to deal with the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and that is best done by UNRWA, not through individual bilateral actions. The Minister mentions states that have suspended their funding, and the situation is evolving really fast. The EU has just announced €50 million for UNRWA, and two further tranches of €16 million, subject to the satisfactory completion of an audit. I take the point that no funding is due from the UK to UNRWA until April, but what further reassurance does the UK need to ensure the funding will be in place, because UNRWA is the best organisation to disburse it and the UK risks being very much on the wrong side of these developments?

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Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
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No, it does not, but we continue to work very energetically and closely with our friends across Europe, including at the recently convened French summit, to ensure that the heft and military capability of all Ukraine’s allies are brought to bear in increasing Ukraine’s fighting edge.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
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Our defence, security and foreign policy relationship with Germany is critical, not least in relation to our united and mutual support for Ukraine. I will meet German counterparts about those issues in Berlin this week. Will the Minister give us more detail on the discussions he and the Foreign Secretary have had with German counterparts on three issues: urgently speeding up and expanding the delivery of weaponry, bolstering our diplomatic coalition and, crucially, using frozen Russian state assets across Europe to pay for urgent needs to support Ukraine?

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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I really do not think that that would be a very sensible thing to do. We do not comment across the Floor of the House on who is about to be sanctioned or where the sanctions regime is going, but the hon. Member may rest assured that we keep these matters under very careful review.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
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As Ramadan begins and Passover and Easter approach, it is vital that all places of worship in Jerusalem be respected. I was extremely concerned by suggestions from Israeli Minister Ben-Gvir that restrictions could be imposed on worshippers at al-Aqsa mosque. I welcome subsequent statements by Israeli authorities that the sanctity of the holiday will be preserved. Authorities must show respect and restraint at this crucial moment. Have the Government made it clear to Israeli counterparts that Minister Ben-Gvir’s comments were unacceptable and inflamed tensions, and that the status quo arrangements must be maintained?

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David Rutley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (David Rutley)
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These enrichment levels have no credible civilian justification. We are working with partners to ensure that Iran never develops a nuclear weapon, are prepared to use all diplomatic options, including triggering UN snapback if necessary, and will continue to monitor the situation very closely.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Lyn Brown Portrait Ms Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab)
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Next month is the anniversary of a full year of unmitigated horror in Sudan. On Friday, the Security Council called for an immediate Ramadan ceasefire, and I know that our excellent diplomats and the Minister were pivotal in that resolution. The African Union, the Arab League and Members across this House echo that call, but the violence has not stopped. If the warring parties continue to refuse to listen, how can the Government work with partners to step up the pressure?

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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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We are asking that we have an interim report on both the key reports as soon as possible, and we will look at those reports as soon as they arrive and make our decisions accordingly. During the course of these questions I have adumbrated both those who are supporting the same position as the UK and those who are restoring funding immediately. The hon. Gentleman will want to bear in mind that Britain has fully funded UNRWA for its share up until the next financial year.

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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Haiti is on the edge of collapse, and only 100 nautical miles away are the Turks and Caicos islands, for whose national security the UK has responsibility. Will the Foreign Office fulfil its role by requesting of the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office that we deploy HMS Trent with its defensive capabilities, deploy Royal Marine fast boats, provide assets monitoring in the sea lane, and increase the policing footprint in TCI? Too often we have acted too slowly, which in the past that has resulted in threats to remove TCI from our overseas family. Please can we act now?

Israel and Gaza

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
Tuesday 27th February 2024

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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On his latter point, my right hon. Friend heard what I said in the statement. As the whole House knows, the rulings of the Court are binding and must therefore be respected. However, I point out to him that a recent episode of the “Law & Disorder” podcast, by three of the UK’s most experienced jurists, including two senior Members of the other place, concluded that it was not possible, at the time that episode was made, to declare that Israel was in breach of international humanitarian law.

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 welcome the news that a ceasefire deal may be edging closer. We have been calling for a ceasefire and hostage-release deal since it became apparent that Israel’s self-defence had turned into a war against an entire civilian population —a war in which, in just five months, 30,000 people have been killed, 80,000 injured, and 2 million displaced. Now, 500,000 innocent people face starvation, not because food is not available, but because of a premeditated decision to impose collective punishment—one that has deliberately stopped food getting to those who need it.

Throughout this unimaginable horror, the UK continues to profit from the carnage by selling weapons to Israel. Shamefully, there has been no real desire or attempt from the UK to make the slaughter stop. The Government seem happy to continue providing tacit support for this illegal occupation, this systematic decades-long oppression and persecution, and now the ethnic cleansing and collective punishment that goes with it.

If and when we get a US deal to the UN, what action will the UK Government take? Voting for a ceasefire cannot happen in isolation. Will the UK Government stop selling weapons to Israel? Will they finally get behind the International Court of Justice investigation? Will they fund, as they did quite rightly in the case of Ukraine, an International Criminal Court investigation of Israel’s prosecution of this conflict? Whatever happens, Minister, this sorry episode will be remembered for being one of the most shameful in the history of British foreign policy, because we have witnessed a complete dereliction of all moral and legal responsibility from a Government and a Parliament that, at the time of greatest humanitarian crisis, have simply looked the other way. Quite rightly, history will judge them harshly for it.

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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My right hon. Friend recognises that there will need to be significant changes in the approach that we have made on many of those issues. The British five-point plan encompasses most of what he believes should happen: the release of all Israeli hostages; the formation of a new Palestinian Government for the west bank and Gaza, accompanied by an international support package that would recognise many of the things that he has said; removing Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel; Hamas no longer being in charge of Gaza; and a political horizon that provides a credible and irreversible pathway towards a two-state solution. Within those five points rest the answers to almost every point that he raises.

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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My Committee and I were at the Gaza border last week trying to get first-hand testimony of the 2 million stories of suffering that now represent Gaza. What can I say to the House? What we are hearing is just a tiny fraction of the horror that is going on out there. Will the Minister clarify one thing with the Israelis? We spoke to a senior UN security person who said that drones flying overhead are gathering data that artificial intelligence algorithms then translate into targets. We know that civilians, humanitarians and medics are being killed, so will the Minister urge Israeli defence to ensure that the algorithms protect the people that they are supposed to under international humanitarian law?