I know that the whole House will have been shocked by the scenes at Al-Ahli Hospital. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said, we are working independently and with our allies to find out what has happened. I am sure that Members will raise further questions about this during today’s session.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
May I associate myself, and the whole of my party here, with what has been said about the horrors and the unfolding tragedy of last night’s bombing of the hospital in Gaza?
The Rafah border crossing from besieged Gaza into Egypt has been hit by several Israeli airstrikes, causing absolute terror to those who urgently need the crossing to be open in order to escape. Nadia El-Nakla, an elected councillor in my city of Dundee and the wife of Scotland’s First Minister, has had to take calls from her parents Elizabeth and Maged, who, like all others trapped in Gaza, have been describing the horrors of death and indiscriminate killings everywhere. Members of Nadia’s family were hit yesterday by a rocket from a drone, and her mother was saying her final goodbyes this morning, adding:
“last night was the end for me, better if my heart stops and then I will be at peace, I can’t take another night.”
With military action intensifying and the death toll rising rapidly, the Prime Minister’s first responsibility must be to bring British citizens home. Can he please give his personal assurance that every single step is being taken to open the Rafah crossing, both for humanitarian aid and to enable UK nationals like Nadia’s family to flee?
The thoughts of everyone in the House will of course be with the families affected by what is happening in Israel and in Gaza, and I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance: we are doing everything in our power to ensure the safety of British nationals who are caught up in all this. That includes my calls with leaders across the region, particularly the conversations about opening the Rafah border crossing—which is why I made talking to President Sisi a priority last week—and we continue to engage in dialogue with both the Israelis and the Egyptians about the crossing.
I am proud to live in the most successful multi-racial democracy in the world, but it saddens me, and I think it shames the whole House, that British Jews have been subjected to such vile abuse and hatred in recent days. Antisemitism and all hate crimes fly in the face of British values, and we should not allow events abroad, no matter how horrific they are, to be used to sow seeds of division in our own country. While I welcome all the actions that my right hon. Friend is taking to fight hate crime and to bring people together, may I ask him to consider urgently an immediate and specific policy of revoking the visas of any foreign national who commits an act of antisemitism or any other hate crime?
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend, who has himself done so much over the years to fight antisemitism. The increase in the number of such incidents that we have seen over the past week is utterly sickening, and this Government will do whatever it takes to keep our Jewish community safe. We have provided an additional £3 million to support the Community Security Trust, we are working with the police to ensure that hate crime and the glorification of terror are met by the full force of the law, and under our existing immigration rules we have the power to cancel a person’s presence in the UK if it is not conducive to the public good. We will not tolerate this hatred—not in this country, not in this century.
I call the Leader of the Opposition.
Can I start by warmly welcoming my hon. Friend Michael Shanks? The news last night of hundreds killed at the Baptist hospital in Gaza is incredibly distressing, but it is much worse for the people of Gaza. Their fear that there is no place of safety is profound. International law must be upheld, and that means hospitals and civilian lives must be protected. Last night the Foreign Secretary said that the UK will work with our allies to find out what has happened. I know that this only happened last night, but can the Prime Minister please tell us when he thinks he might be able to update the House on progress with that work?
I know that the whole House will have been shocked by the scenes at Al-Ahli Hospital. Any loss of innocent life is a dreadful tragedy and everyone will be thinking both of those who have lost their lives and of the families they leave behind. We should not rush to judgment before we have all the facts on this awful situation. Every Member will know that the words we say here have an impact beyond this House.
This morning, I met the National Security Adviser and the Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that our intelligence services have been rapidly analysing the evidence to independently establish the facts. We are not in a position at this point to say more than that, but I can tell him that we are working at pace and co-operating and collaborating with our allies on this issue as we look to get to the bottom of the situation. We will also continue all our efforts to get humanitarian aid into the region.
I thank the Prime Minister for his answer. The terrible news last night came as we are still mourning the terrorist attack on Israel last week, with Jews taken hostage, mutilated, slaughtered. Yesterday I met the families of some of the British hostages held by Hamas. Every minute of every hour of every day, they hope for good news but fear the worst. They know that the lives of their loved ones are in the hands of murderers. It is unimaginable agony. Israel has a right—a duty—to defend itself from Hamas, keep its people safe and bring the hostages home, but is it not clear that if Hamas had a single concern for human life, a single concern for the safety of the Palestinian people, they would never have taken these hostages, and that they should release them immediately?
It is important for us consistently to remember that Israel has suffered a shockingly brutal terrorist attack, and it is Hamas, and Hamas alone, who are responsible for this conflict. Our thoughts are rightly with those who have been taken hostage and their families. The distress they are feeling will be unimaginable for all those affected. I will be meeting some of the families and offering them all the support of the British Government to get their relatives home. We are working around the clock with our partners and allies to secure their freedom and, importantly, in among my other regional calls, I spoke specifically with the Emir of Qatar yesterday on this very issue, which we discussed at length. The Qatari Government are taking a lead in working intensely to help release hostages using their contacts in the region, and we are working closely with them to ensure the safe return of the British hostages.
Yesterday I also met charities with staff working in Gaza and heard their accounts of the harrowing humanitarian crisis: children fleeing their homes; hospitals barely able to function. The lights are going out, and the innocent civilians of Gaza are terrified that they will die in the darkness, out of sight. International law must always be followed. Hamas are not the Palestinian people, and the Palestinian people are not Hamas. Does the Prime Minister agree that medicines, food, fuel and water must get into Gaza immediately? This is an urgent situation, and innocent Palestinians need to know that the world is not just simply watching, but acting to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.
As I said on Monday, an acute humanitarian crisis is unfolding to which we must respond. It is right that we support the Palestinian people, because they are victims of Hamas too. That is why we have provided a further £10 million in humanitarian aid for people in the region, and we are working on pre-emptively moving aid and relief teams to Egypt, specifically to the el-Arish airfield. We are working with local partners like the Egyptian Red Crescent and the United Nations, primarily, and deploying Navy assets to the region, as well as exploring how we can support logistical requirements.
I have also raised the issue of humanitarian access, as a priority, in all my conversations with every leader in the region. We will continue to work with them to get aid to where it is needed as quickly as possible.
As has been alluded to, since Hamas’s terrorist attack our country has seen a disgusting rise in antisemitism: Jewish businesses attacked, Jewish schools marked with red paint and Jewish families hiding who they are. And we have seen an appalling surge in Islamophobia: racist graffiti, mosques forced to ramp up security, and British Muslims and Palestinians spoken to as if they are terrorists. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that every Member of this House has a duty to work in their constituency and across the country to say no to this hate and to ensure that every British Jew and every British Muslim knows they can live their life free from fear and free from discrimination here in their own country?
All of us in this House can play our part in stamping out those who seek to cause division and hate in our society. We will make sure that we continue funding the Community Security Trust and the equivalent protective security grant that protects mosques and other places of worship for the Islamic community in the UK. That funding was increased earlier this year. We will also remain in dialogue with the police to make sure they are aware of the full tools at their disposal to arrest those who perpetrate hate crime and who incite racial or other religious violence. There is no place for that in our society, and I know this House will stand united in making sure those who do this face the full force of the law.
We do not want this conflict to harm us here at home, and we do not want it to escalate in the middle east, where there has been too much bloodshed, too much darkness, for too long. A two-state solution—a Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel—feels more distant than ever, but it remains the only way through. Does the Prime Minister agree that, because hope is at its thinnest, we must work our hardest to ensure that the voices of division and despair are sidelined and that, however difficult it seems, the hope of a political path to peace is maintained?
It is precisely because it is that vision of a more hopeful, peaceful future that Hamas have tried to destroy that we must redouble our efforts to try to bring that future about. In all the conversations that the Foreign Secretary and I have had with regional leaders, we have emphasised our commitment to making sure that we make progress on all the avenues that will lead towards that peaceful future. That has been a feature of our dialogue, and I am confident there is willingness in the region not to escalate this crisis beyond dealing with Hamas, the terrorist organisation, and to strive very hard towards a future where Palestinians and Israelis can co-exist peacefully, side by side, and look forward to a future filled with dignity, security and prosperity.
This is a crisis where lives hang in the balance and where the enemies of peace and democracy would like nothing more than for us to become divided and to abandon our values. Does the Prime Minister agree that, during this grave crisis, the House must strive to speak with one voice in condemnation of terror, in support of Israel’s right to self-defence and for the dignity of all human life, which cannot be protected without humanitarian access to those suffering in Gaza and the constant maintenance of the rule of international law?
I agree. We will, in this House, speak with one voice in condemning Hamas for perpetrating a shockingly brutal terrorist attack and causing untold suffering for many. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, we stand united in supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, to protect its people and to act against terrorism. Unlike Hamas, the Israeli President has make it very clear that Israel’s armed forces will operate in accordance with international law. We will continue to urge the Israelis to take every precaution to avoid harming civilians, while remembering, importantly, that it is Hamas who are cruelly embedding themselves in civilian populations.
May I also welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to provide £12 billion-worth of funding for east-west high-speed rail lines between Manchester and Liverpool, and his focus on great northern towns as well as cities in the north? Will he ensure that towns such as Warrington benefit fully from this rail upgrade and that a hub station at Warrington Bank Quay linking Northern Powerhouse Rail to the west coast main line remains a key part of the Network North?
I thank my hon. Friend for his continued campaign to improve rail services in Warrington. He is right: we will be investing £12 billion to better connect Manchester and Liverpool. That would allow for the delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail, exactly as previously planned, including high-speed lines, which would provide better rail connections for the people living in northern towns such as Warrington. I know that he will be discussing this further when he meets the rail Minister.
I call the Scottish National party leader.
We all continue to unequivocally condemn the abhorrent terrorist attack on the Jewish people and the Israeli state. We fully support the defeat of Hamas and, of course, the safe return of all hostages who have been taken. So, too, I hope, do we all share the same common humanity of protecting civilians and condemning any acts of collective punishment against the Palestinian people. In that regard, many of the images emanating from Gaza in recent days will shock us all to the core, so may I ask the Prime Minister: will he join those of us on these Benches and call for an immediate ceasefire in the region?
We believe that Israel does have a right to defend itself, to protect its people and to act against terrorism and ensure that the awful attack we have seen from Hamas cannot happen again. Unlike Hamas, the Israelis, including the President, have made it clear that their armed forces will operate in accordance with international law. We will continue to urge the Israelis to take every precaution to avoid harming civilians.
My ask for a ceasefire is done with all sincerity, not only in order to protect civilians, but to ensure that we have the safe creation of humanitarian corridors, which will allow not only for food, water and vital medicines to get into Gaza, but for innocent civilians caught up in this terrible conflict to flee. In respect of those who wish to flee, may I ask the Prime Minister what early consideration, if any, his Government have given to the creation of a refugee resettlement scheme akin to those previously put in place for Syrian nationals, Afghani nationals and, of course, Ukrainian nationals?
I am proud that we are already one of the most significant contributors to the United Nations’ efforts to support Palestinian refugees; our funding supports about 5.8 million refugees annually, and on Monday we announced a significant increase in our funding of aid to the region, including to the UN to support refugees. With regard to humanitarian aid, as I said before, we are already working through pre-emptively moving aid and relief teams into the region. But, critically, the most important thing is to open up access for that aid to get into Gaza, which is why our conversations with the Egyptians and others are so critical. We continue to work closely with allies to find every way to get that aid to the people who need it as quickly as possible.
Last night, sections of the British media were reporting as fact that it was Israeli rockets that had landed and attacked the Al-Ahli Hospital, relying on information supplied by officials in terrorist-controlled Gaza. The headlines have since been rewritten, but the outpouring of Jew hate on social media overnight was vile. So will the Prime Minister please make the point again that the way that this conflict is being reported has massive implications for our Jewish community and that any information coming from Hamas must be treated with a degree of scrutiny and cross-examination that is, sadly, sometimes lacking?
I commend my right hon. Friend for his excellent intervention. He is absolutely right that we should not rush to judgment before we have all the facts on the appalling situation that we saw yesterday, particularly given the sensitivity that he raises and the impact on communities here, but also across the region. As I said, it is incumbent on all of those in positions of responsibility in this House and outside in the media to recognise that the words we say will have an impact, and we should be careful with them.
We are working with our allies to establish the truth of what has happened. We will do that robustly and independently, but my right hon. Friend is right to point out that in the same way as we do not treat what comes out of the Kremlin as the gospel truth, we should not do that with Hamas.
I associate my party with the comments made in relation to the deplorable loss of innocent human life in both Israel and Gaza.
Having left the European Union, building links and co-operation across the four nations of our United Kingdom can only strengthen the Union. Will the Prime Minister agree with my proposal for the creation of an east-west council, to bring together all parts of the UK family to discuss and collaborate on trade and the many other opportunities presented by the Union?
The right hon. Gentleman made a powerful case in his conference speech last weekend for a strong, functioning Northern Ireland within our Union. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has had the opportunity to discuss our shared commitment to the Union with the right hon. Gentleman’s party over recent weeks and months, and I am grateful for the constructive approach and tone taken in those discussions. There is considerable merit in the idea of a new east-west council to further strengthen the Union, and I look forward to exploring the issue further with him and his colleagues.
Following my right hon. Friend’s decision to reallocate funding from HS2, may I urge him to consider a number of projects that will boost the economy and improve the quality of life for my constituents and others in northern Lincolnshire? In order for access to the Humber freeport to be improved, the A15 between Lincoln and the A180 needs to be dualled. In particular, the A180 causes no end of problems for residents in nearby villages because of its concrete surface, so I urge him to deal with its resurfacing. Finally, Mr Speaker—
Order. Finally, I think the AA atlas has run out.
My hon. Friend has been a long-standing champion for Cleethorpes, and particularly for the importance of strong regional transport connections. Network North will see Hull fully connected to the northern powerhouse network, which I know he will welcome, and north-east Lincolnshire will share in a brand new £2.5 billion fund to support local transport connections, perhaps including many or some of the ones he mentions. I know he will have been delighted to see LNER run a test service to Cleethorpes earlier this year, and I can assure him that the Department for Transport is continuing work to see a direct service to London reinstated.
Weeks after I became Prime Minister, we announced a significant increase of almost £14 billion for the NHS and social care. We followed that up with the first long-term workforce plan in the NHS’s history, to ensure that we train the doctors and nurses we need for the future. That demonstrates our commitment to the NHS. We also, I am pleased to say, reached a settlement with over 1 million NHS workers, including our nurses, for a full, fair and affordable pay rise.
Aid poured into Gaza in 2005 when Israel withdrew. Enlightened governance could have made a success of it. It is Hamas that has turned it into hell, is it not?
I know that this is a subject on which my right hon. Friend speaks with authority, and I thank him for his previous work in the area. With regard to our aid funding, as the Foreign Secretary will outline later, we have very stringent governance in place to make sure that it is spent on the humanitarian needs that we want to address. I also agree with him that there is one person and one person alone that is responsible for the atrocities that we are seeing, and that is Hamas.
On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, may I associate myself and my party with all the comments about the protection of innocent civilians today wherever they may be?
A whole wing of Seaton Hospital in Devon is earmarked for demolition under this Government. The proposal to demolish this wing is an insult to the communities that raised millions of pounds to help fund the upkeep of services at that hospital. The space was given to NHS Property Services, but, thanks to the charging policy introduced by the Conservatives, that company is demanding £300,000 in rent. Will the Prime Minister let NHS Property Services hand over the space to health charities and community interest groups so that we can stop a wrecking ball going through Seaton Hospital?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, decisions about hospital infrastructure are a matter for the NHS. I am told that Devon Integrated Care Board is working together with NHS Property Services and local community healthcare providers to establish a future sustainable use for the currently vacant space. May I also take the opportunity to commend the work that my hon. Friend Simon Jupp is doing on this topic?
I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his commitment to improve transport links in the north. However, to ensure that a complete strategic approach to rail links is achieved across the region, it should include the much-needed upgrade to the Penistone line running from Huddersfield, through my constituency, to Sheffield—an upgrade that my hon. Friends the Members for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) and for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Miriam Cates), who are sat with me, would also like to see delivered. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend commit to including the Penistone line in the Network North plans?
My hon. Friend is a fantastic campaigner for the Penistone line rail upgrade. I know that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is conducting a corridor development study given the new commitments to services on the Sheffield to Leeds and Sheffield to Hull lines, and, as part of that exercise, will consider enhancing the service on the Huddersfield to Penistone and Sheffield line, and I know that my hon. Friend will discuss this further when he meets the rail Minister.
In Bristol South, around a third of children live in poverty, most of them in working households. It is about the same as in Tamworth, where the Conservative candidate for tomorrow’s election made foul-mouthed comments about families struggling to make ends meet. This is the Prime Minister’s Conservative party. Will he condemn that candidate’s comments?
I am proud of our record supporting people with the cost of living. Thanks to the actions that we have taken, we have paid half of the typical family’s energy bill last winter, frozen fuel duty and boosted the national living wage to record levels, and 8 million people across this country are now receiving direct cost of living payments worth £900. While we are helping people with the cost of living, all Labour’s ideas are doing are costing them a fortune.
Mr Speaker, you may notice that many ladies in the Chamber today are wearing pink for breast cancer awareness, but roughly 15% of those with breast cancer are diagnosed with lobular cancer, a little known strain that is harder to detect, has worse outcomes and has no dedicated treatment. I am working with Dr Susan Michaelis at the lobular moonshot project to campaign for a dedicated research stream for lobular cancer. Will the Prime Minister meet with us to discuss this and how the Government can help us to save more lives from breast cancer?
I thank my hon. Friend for all her work in this area. Early diagnosis of cancer is key and the NHS “Help Us, Help You” campaign is seeking to address the barriers deterring patients from accessing diagnosis and treatment. Thanks to treatments and faster detection, survival rates for breast cancer are now increasing. Last year, more than 1 million scans were carried out, preventing an estimated 1,300 deaths from breast cancer. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I encourage anyone who is invited to take up the offer of breast cancer screening.
Of course the sadism of Hamas can only be condemned, and there is no question of Israel’s right to defence and security, but international law is very clear that acting against international law in response to terrorism is unjustified, so in all the packages that the Prime Minister has announced vis-à-vis humanitarian aid, and the military package that he announced last week, can he tell the House how the Government will ensure that international law is adhered to, beyond just statements from Israel’s head of state?
The hon. Member talked about our military assets. Let me be crystal clear: the assets that we have moved into the region are not there in any combat capacity. They are there for two reasons: first and foremost, to provide surveillance to ensure that this crisis does not escalate and that arms are not being sent to entities like Hezbollah—that is what our surveillance aircraft are currently doing, and indeed the next set of assets arriving this week will also help—but also to provide contingency support for humanitarian assistance as and when required in the coming days and weeks.
On Sunday, Terrence Carney, a 70-year-old Hartlepudlian, was murdered by an asylum seeker. The people are afraid and angry. Every week, my office is besieged by asylum seekers. My staff are intimidated by young men. The fact is that most of them are illegal migrants who should be expelled. My thoughts and sympathies are with Mr Carney’s family and friends, and all my constituents affected by this heinous crime. However, sympathy is not enough. They deserve action, and I am demanding it. Will the Prime Minister take action? Will he make sure that enforcement is delivered? Will he ensure that people who have no right to be here are expelled? Enough is enough. I want these people out of Hartlepool now.
As my hon. Friend knows, I am unable to comment on cases that are currently before the court, but I join her in expressing my sympathies to the families affected. I reassure her that the Government are doing everything that we can to tackle illegal migration and the harm that it causes by removing those with no right to be here in the UK. We have excellent long-standing relationships to return people to many countries. We are returning thousands more people this year than we have in the past, and we will continue to use every avenue at our disposal to ensure that it is only this country and this Government who decide who comes here, and not criminal gangs.
We have all been horrified by events in Israel and Gaza, and it is right that we condemn utterly the inhuman terrorism of Hamas. That should also be the case for any obscenities and war crimes carried out by the Israeli defence force. Both the UN and Médecins Sans Frontières have described the siege of Gaza and the withholding of water from its people as collective punishment—a war crime under the Geneva convention—yet this week both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have supported Israel’s right to do so. Why?
Quite simply put, Israel suffered from a brutal terrorist attack at the hands of Hamas, and it is absolutely right that Israel has a right to defend itself, root out terrorism, and ensure that such an act does not happen again. As Israel’s President has said, its military will operate within international law, but the hon. Gentleman failed to acknowledge that it is Hamas who embed themselves inside civilian populations and put innocent civilians in harm’s way. He would do well to remember that.
My right hon. Friend has been absolutely right to lead the nation in reassuring the British Jewish community in the wake of the utterly appalling atrocity visited upon Israel and Jews on
As a friend, we will always urge Israel to take every possible practical precaution to avoid harming civilians, and indeed to act within international law, as Israel’s President has said its armed forces will do, while recognising the incredible complexity and difficulty of the situation on the ground. It bears repeating that Hamas is a terrorist organisation that embeds itself inside a civilian population. We always have to remember that. Israel is taking every possible practical step to avoid harming civilians, and we will do everything we can to provide humanitarian support to the area.
The Prime Minister will be delighted to know that nuclear veterans like my constituent’s grandad, John, are starting to receive the medals he promised, but John is still not getting his full medical records. His blood tests from Christmas Island, which are crucial to claiming a war pension, are missing, and countless veterans report the same. As the Ministry of Defence has admitted that it holds at least 150 files withheld from national archives referring to blood test and other data, will he review those documents, report back to the House and hold a public inquiry into why medical record omissions have happened, and on whose instruction?
I start by thanking all our veterans for their contribution to our safety and security. I am delighted to have been able to announce the new nuclear test medal last year and that it is starting to be received by many people, including the hon. Lady’s constituent. She will know that I cannot comment on ongoing litigation in respect of requests for health records, but I can say that anyone can request copies of their own medical data by submitting a subject access request to the Department, and if they are not satisfied with the processing of that request, they can make a formal complaint via the complaints process.
We appear to be on a downward spiral in the middle east, which inevitably will lead to a humanitarian crisis. The role of Egypt will be fantastically important. What can we in the wider international community do to work with the Egyptians to ensure that refugees coming on to Egyptian soil are legitimate refugees who pose no threat to the Egyptian state and are not terrorists in disguise?
My hon. Friend raises an excellent point regarding the Egyptians’ concerns about that border, but we have prioritised speaking with President Sisi and are in continued dialogue with our Egyptian partners to see what we can do to provide reassurances and get humanitarian aid to the region. We are working with local partners, including the Egyptian Red Crescent, and the UN on the ground. There will be a significant logistical challenge in stockpiling aid at the border and then moving it into Gaza, but I assure my hon. Friend and the whole House that the Development Minister is actively engaged in that work as we speak, so that we can play a leading role in facilitating the provision of that aid.
This is the final question before the urgent question. I call Patricia Gibson.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The industrial dispute at the Defence Equipment and Support, Ministry of Defence site at Beith in my constituency is dragging on, as workers engage in strike action for parity and fairness in the workplace. These workers are critical to ensuring that necessary supplies to Ukraine are uninterrupted, but all attempts by the workers to resolve this dispute have proved to be unsuccessful in the face of management intransigence. Will the Prime Minister personally and urgently use his influence to ensure that a meaningful offer is made to these workers, so that the matter can be resolved, further strike action can be averted, and supplies to Ukraine can continue without disruption?
I thank the hon. Member for highlighting the critical role played by non-craft support operatives at Defence Munitions. Different rates of pay for workers with different skills and qualifications are entirely normal practice in both the public and the private sector. This year, as part of DE&S pay 2023, a generous pay award was delivered which significantly improved the base pay of workers engaged in the dispute. I am told that officials continue to be open to talks on a constructive basis with the GMB to resolve the situation.