With permission, Mr Speaker, I will begin by responding to your helpful statement yesterday.
The Foreign Secretary, the business managers and I all believe it is essential that this House properly scrutinises the work of the Foreign Office, especially as we face such a daunting set of challenges across the world. As Minister of State, I will follow the precedent set by successive Governments of different parties, from the days of Lord Home and Lord Carrington to more recent times when Lord Mandelson served in the Cabinet from the House of Lords. I will deputise for the Foreign Secretary in this House, making regular statements like today’s and respecting the primacy of this House in the normal way; and, of course, the Foreign Secretary will appear before the House of Lords and relevant Committees regularly.
The terrible events in Israel and Gaza have underlined the critical importance of British diplomacy and development work. As Israel battles to defeat Hamas, the humanitarian situation remains extremely difficult. As the Prime Minister said last night, Israel must respect international humanitarian law.
With services and communication in Gaza under unprecedented strain, it is difficult to be absolutely certain about how events are unfolding, but the reports we have had from partners make clear the appalling loss of life, including among children and aid workers, and the situation in hospitals in Gaza City, notably Al-Shifa, is now acute. Al-Shifa has hundreds of in-patients and was able to offer a set of services unavailable elsewhere in Gaza. Reports indicate that operations have stopped due to the lack of fuel and supplies, and that premature babies have died due to the lack of electricity. Fuel is urgently needed to power hospitals as well as desalinisation plants to ensure access to clean water. Hospitals should be places of safety, able to treat patients with compassion. It is distressing to see them unable to do so. Every civilian death is heartbreaking, and it is impossible to comprehend the pain and loss that innocent Palestinians are enduring.
As the House knows, since
Our goals remain unchanged. As I told the House last week, we are focused on getting life-saving aid to those in need in Gaza; supporting the safe return of hostages and British nationals; backing Israel’s right to self-defence; and preventing a dangerous regional escalation. Our efforts have contributed to some delivery of aid via the Rafah crossing and to over 150 British nationals being able to leave Gaza safely. Since I spoke to the House last week, more British nationals and their families have left, and we will continue to offer all the support we can to those British nationals still in Gaza, so that they too can cross into Egypt.
As the House knows, we have more than doubled our aid to civilians in Gaza, committing £30 million, and we stand ready to do more. For over a week, British flights carrying aid have been landing in Egypt, with shipments including life-saving items as well as the vital equipment that the Egyptian Red Crescent needs to be able to manage donations from across the world effectively. We are also urging the Israeli Government to increase humanitarian access, including through Rafah and by opening up the Kerem Shalom crossing. At this point we assess that land presently offers the most viable and safe way to get humanitarian aid into Gaza in the quantities needed, but we are also considering air and maritime options, including through our bases in Cyprus.
The Government have been clear that all parties to a conflict must afford civilians the protection that is their right under international law. That includes respecting the sanctity of hospitals, so that doctors can continue to care for the sick and injured. Events on
Alleviating the suffering is our foremost priority. We welcome any initiatives that would allow more aid to be delivered and hostages to be released. We have therefore consistently called for humanitarian pauses. Four-hour pauses in northern Gaza are an important first step, but longer pauses that cover wider areas will be needed. We are discussing with the UN and other partners how best to achieve this. We must avoid measures that serve only to benefit Hamas and allow them to entrench their position. At the same time, we need all parties to the conflict to abide by any pause, allowing sufficient time and security for civilians to move and for aid to be delivered.
Responding to the immediate crisis is critical, but we also need to do more to create a new political horizon. The whole House knows that only one answer has come close to creating peace in these troubled lands: a two-state solution.
I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement.
I would have liked to have started by welcoming the new Foreign Secretary to his place, but I cannot do so because he is not here. Despite my respect for the Minister, he is not the Foreign Secretary. We do not know when or how this House will hear from the Foreign Secretary because he is not a Member. [Interruption.]
Order. Mr Seely, are you going to be quiet?
David Cameron is the seventh Foreign Secretary in seven years of Tory chaos. He was forced to resign in failure over a matter of foreign policy. The Prime Minister has looked at each of the 350 Conservative Members and decided that none of them would be better at representing Britain’s interests on the world stage. The Prime Minister claims he is for change, but instead he has resurrected yesterday’s failure with an honour. That decision raises serious questions for this House, but I know you share those concerns, Mr Speaker.
At a time of grave international crisis and at a moment of war in Europe, with a more assertive China, a climate emergency and a horrifying conflict in Gaza, this House needs Government accountability more than ever. Will the Minister commit to working closely with Mr Speaker to ensure that the Opposition and all Members of Parliament can hold the Foreign Secretary to account?
I turn to the horrors of Gaza. More than 11,000 Palestinians have reportedly been killed, with two thirds of the dead being women and children. This is shocking and devastating. Every civilian death is an equal tragedy. Does the Minister agree that the number of Palestinian civilians and children who have been killed over the past month is intolerable? And does he agree that Israel must make changes to how it is fighting this war, by taking urgent and concrete steps to protect civilian life?
I am gravely concerned by the desperate reports from hospitals in northern Gaza. These hospitals were already overstretched with the wounded, short of fuel and filled with civilians seeking shelter. Doctors are now forced to make impossible choices as they try to care for the wounded and newborns, without power. Some of those newborns have now lost their lives—unbearable.
Medical establishments have special protection under international law. They should never be targeted or used as shields. All parties must follow international law, acting with necessity, distinction, proportionality and precaution. Allegations of breaches should always be treated with the utmost seriousness.
The Minister said last week that the Government support the independence of the International Criminal Court, as does the Labour party, but he failed to answer whether the Government recognise its jurisdiction to address the conduct of all parties in Gaza. As Prime Minister, Boris Johnson rejected that jurisdiction and attacked the court. Labour recognises the ICC’s jurisdiction. Can the Minister clarify his Government’s position today?
Gaza is in a humanitarian catastrophe. More than 1.5 million people have been displaced, and there are desperate shortages of basic essentials. Does the Minister agree that the short pauses in the north are clearly not enough? Gazans need aid now. They need medicine now. They need water now. They need food now. They need fuel now. A full, comprehensive and immediate humanitarian pause in fighting across the whole of Gaza is needed now to alleviate Palestinian suffering and in order for Hamas terrorists to release the hostages.
Hamas’s stated aim is to wipe Israel off the map. They committed the most brutal attack on Jews since the holocaust and now they are using innocent Palestinians as human shields. I would like to register my shock that not every Member of this House can say this truth: Hamas are terrorists.
We must not give up on the narrow openings that keep the prospect of peace alive. That means preventing escalation, condemning violence from settlers in the west bank, condemning rocket attacks on Israel from Iran’s proxies in Lebanon and elsewhere, and creating a future where Gaza is not subject to occupation. Meanwhile, international diplomacy evolves and the facts on the ground are changing day to day, in relation to both hostages being rescued and Hamas’s capability to carry out attacks such as we saw on
“cessation of fighting as quickly as possible...the reality is that neither the long-term security of Israel nor long-term justice for Palestine can be delivered by bombs and bullets.”
We must seek a path to a political process that leads to two states, a secure Israel and an independent Palestine.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments, and perhaps I should start by addressing those about the Foreign Secretary. Having a former Prime Minister and party leader as our Foreign Secretary, wherever one sits in this House, must be a plus. They will be able to exert British influence and policy highly effectively overseas, and I greatly welcome the appointment of Lord Cameron to the position of Foreign Secretary. As the House will know, he is an extremely experienced parliamentarian, and I have no doubt whatsoever that the House, the Foreign Office and the Government will gain enormously from his presence.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me whether I will commit to working closely with you, Mr Speaker, and of course there is only one answer to that question.
That wasn’t much reassurance, was it? [Laughter.]
In addition, I will seek to ensure the fullest possible accountability, as you set it out, Mr Speaker.
The right hon. Gentleman speaks of the scale of death and misery. All deaths of civilians are to be profoundly regretted. He talked about the scenes from the Al-Shifa Hospital, which will have shocked every Member of this House. He, like me, will be aware that 102 humanitarian workers, who placed their lives in jeopardy to support their fellow human beings, have lost their lives. He asks me about the ICC. It is not for me to fetter or speak in the place of its chief prosecutor, but the right hon. Gentleman will know that he has spoken and will do so again.
The right hon. Gentleman called for the hostages to be released, and I hope that everyone in this House will echo that. He said that Hamas are terrorists and suggested that some do not recognise that. I agree with him and hope that every Member of the House will make it clear that Hamas are terrorists. A dreadful pogrom took place on
I call the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
As of today, I am informed that no more aid will reach Gaza, not because it cannot get to the Rafah crossing or because it is piling up in Egypt, but because the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees has no fuel left and so the aid cannot be redistributed. So although I really appreciate the Government looking at maritime and air efforts, and, crucially, at the need to open a second aid crossing to the west bank, there is no point—it is futile—unless we get the fuel to the UN. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me as to what is being done to change that situation? Secondly, has the Foreign Office’s overseas judicial assistance assessment increased since
My hon. Friend asks me about the position on fuel. Fuel is desperately needed today—it is going to run out. The United Nations has been accessing dirty fuel, but now that is at an end and we are incredibly worried about the situation. We are talking to the key American humanitarian intervenor, Mr Satterfield, about this. We are working diplomatically to do everything we can to make sure that the position on fuel is addressed, as we have been doing since I last updated the House.
I did not catch the first part of my hon. Friend’s final question, so I will write to her on that point.
I call the spokesperson for the Scottish National party.
I thank the Minister of State for prior sight of his statement, but here we are on day one of the new FCDO regime and already we see the absurdity of having a Foreign Secretary who is unable to come to speak in this Chamber to elected Members at a time of grave international crisis.
The Minister is right to highlight the appalling loss of life in Gaza, particularly among children and aid workers. Sadly, there is little sign of that ending soon as the bombardment intensifies. He is also right to say that a humanitarian crisis is unfolding.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked the previous Secretary of State whether he had been made aware, or had reasonable grounds to believe, that Israel had breached international humanitarian law in its response to the atrocities of
There can only be a political solution to this crisis, and one has to be found before the entire region is engulfed. That is why a ceasefire is essential: to end the unprecedented levels of killing and destruction, allow full humanitarian access, secure the release of the hostages and find a political solution that does not include Hamas. Four-hour pauses are not the answer. Can we expect the new Foreign Secretary to change tack and support our calls for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, so that there is space for that political solution to be found?
Tomorrow, the House should have an opportunity to show its support for a ceasefire. I and every one of my SNP colleagues will be there to support an immediate ceasefire, and I would expect Labour party Members from Scotland to be in the Lobby with us. Without justice, there can be no peace, this horrific cycle of violence will continue and more Israeli and Palestinian lives will be lost.
The hon. Gentleman underlines the loss of life and the causes of it. He knows our position on a ceasefire—it is a position shared by Members on the Opposition Front Bench—and he also knows the absolute commitment we have to try to drive forward pauses. They must be safe pauses for the delivery of humanitarian relief, but he knows of our commitment on that.
The hon. Gentleman asks me about humanitarian law. Robert Mardini, the director general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, has made clear that Gaza hospitals, treating hundreds of wounded people, cannot be targeted under any circumstances. The hon. Gentleman will know that the ICRC is the guardian of international humanitarian law and the Geneva convention, and Robert Mardini has said:
“Hospitals are to be absolutely protected at all times.”
Finally, the hon. Gentleman makes a point about a political solution. I draw his attention to my final comments in my statement, about how we have to focus on that and on the two-state solution, and about the need for hope and opportunity to drive forward the politics in this dreadful situation.
Order. I expect to allow questions on the statement to run for about an hour, but because there are so many of the same Members wishing to speak in the debate on the King’s Speech, I hope we can have short questions and speedy answers.
As my right hon. Friend has said, following the unprovoked slaughter of its citizens, Israel has a right to pursue and destroy the terrorist forces. It is terrible that the ordinary citizens of Gaza are paying the price for this, as Hamas would have known, but even if Israel is able to degrade and destroy the Hamas forces, the Hamas mindset will remain—a Hamas mindset that is funded and supported by Iran. Iran does not want there to be peace between Arab states and Israel because the Iranian regime does not want Israel to exist. When will the Government take firmer measures? Members from across the House have asked when the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, for example, will be proscribed and we have never been given a good reason why it is not. What is the answer?
I repeat what I said last week. It is not for Ministers to seek to state where the ICC has jurisdiction; that is for the chief prosecutor. The chief prosecutor has not been silent on this matter, and I am sure he will continue to express his views.
Whether we like it or not, Israel will carry on fighting until it has established control of the area from which it was attacked. The question that then arises is what happens next. If Israel simply withdraws, Hamas will reappear. At least one moderate Arab state believes that a two-state solution will have to be imposed and policed. Are the Government giving thought as to who might carry out that job? Otherwise, the outcome that they want—a two-state solution—is wholly impracticable.
My right hon. Friend is entirely right about that, and entirely right that Israel has an absolute right of self-defence in this matter. On the options to which he alludes, I can assure him that a great deal of thought is going on, not only in Britain but across the region and elsewhere.
A lasting peace and a two-state solution is the only way to guarantee dignity and security for both Palestinians and Israelis. Hamas, a terrorist organisation, cannot be part of that, but a month after their contemptable attack on Israel, it is clear that a military solution is not working. It is not removing Hamas, and instead we have the humanitarian catastrophe to which the Minister referred. Does he agree that the way to achieve that peace and a two-state solution is to back a political solution with an immediate bilateral ceasefire, explicitly contingent on both parties adhering to it, so that if one party breaks the ceasefire, a military operation remains on the table?
The hon. Lady is entirely right about the importance of a political solution. She knows the position of the Government and Members on the Opposition Front Bench on the issue of ceasefires, but I hope she will draw some comfort from the emphasis on extended pauses that we are now seeing. On the politics, I remind her that the great progress that was made at Oslo, which brought things so tantalisingly close, took place on the back of the first intifada.
Every right thinking person wants to see an end to fighting and a durable peace for Palestinians and Israelis, but Hamas have made absolutely clear that there will be no such peace so long as the state of Israel continues to exist. Will my right hon. Friend say a bit more about what has been happening at the Al-Shifa Hospital and other hospitals in Gaza? Has he seen the reports and the footage circulating of Hamas fighters using those hospitals as bases for operations, putting civilians’ lives at risk?
My right hon. Friend, who knows a great deal about these matters, is correct. Hamas have made clear that they do not seek a ceasefire and indeed seek to repeat the awful events of
Recently, several United Nations experts gave a dire warning to the world, stating they believed that
“the Palestinian people are at grave risk of genocide”,
and that the time is now “running out” to prevent such a tragedy. Furthermore, they made it clear that Israel’s allies share the responsibility for that and must act now to prevent a genocide from taking place. Given those warnings, will the Minister finally stand with 76% of the British public and call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza?
We will continue to focus on the importance of humanitarian pauses, but also try to make sure that, when the opportunity of a pause presents itself, we are able to get critical humanitarian supplies to those in desperate need.
Away from the horror of Israel and Gaza, there is an unfolding tragedy on the west bank, with the killing of well over 100, getting on for 200, Palestinians by settlers and the Israel Defence Forces. In his statement, my right hon. Friend rightly urged Israel to provide protection from them. If the state of Israel declines to do so and the killings continue, would he consider the intervention of a UN peacekeeping force to keep the peace in that part of the world?
We have condemned the settler violence without qualification. On the work of the United Nations, there will be many opportunities in the future, I hope, and we will neglect none of them.
I share what the Minister has said about the humanitarian tragedy that we are witnessing all the time on our televisions. We must try to unlock a process towards peace, and the issue of the hostages is key to that. What steps has he taken so far and what further steps will be taken by the new Foreign Secretary to ensure that the hostages are brought home? I really believe that that could unlock the route to peace.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments. She has spoken movingly and with great expertise and humanity about this situation both on the media and in the House. If she will forgive me, we cannot give a running commentary on what we are doing to try to recover the hostages. I hope that she will accept my word that we are doing everything, across Government and internationally, to try to get them home as soon as we can.
The director of the FBI has said that Hamas pose the greatest security risk to the United States and the west since ISIS a decade ago. Does the Minister of State agree with that assessment, and what are the Government doing to work with our international partners to reduce that threat both in the region and here at home?
The threat of Hamas, which my right hon. Friend sets out very clearly, is undoubtedly true. It is part of Israel’s legitimate position that it can exercise its right to self-defence and go after the dreadful terrorists who perpetrated that awful act.
Thousands of innocent men, women and children have been killed and thousands more wounded in this conflict over the past month. As the ground operation and bombing campaign intensifies, as encircled hospitals run out of power and medicine, as babies are left to die outside their incubators, and as more than 2 million Palestinians remain trapped in a never-ending humanitarian nightmare, does the Minister agree that the international community must protect civilians? If he does, why will the Government not join me in pressing for an immediate ceasefire to end the bloodshed, allow desperately needed aid to reach those most in need, and create space for meaningful negotiations and a peaceful resolution?
My right hon. Friend and his shadow have spoken of hospitals. I have to tell him that there is now video evidence of suicide vests, rocket-propelled grenades, motorcycles used to kidnap Israelis to Gaza, nappies, and chairs with rope to hold hostages being found in the basement of the Al-Rantisi Hospital in Gaza. The hospital was obviously used by Hamas as a command centre and is believed to have held Israeli hostages. Does my right hon. Friend agree that using hospitals in this way as places to imprison hostages and keep weapons is an outrageous breach of international law?
Gaza was facing a humanitarian crisis before
We are working night and day for humanitarian access. On the subject of support for UNRWA, we increased aid very substantially, as the hon. Lady knows, before
Several hundred of my constituents have written to me deeply concerned about the loss of civilian life and wanting the fighting to stop, which we all want. Last week, my right hon. Friend called for Israel to take measures to protect civilians. I said that we needed to see Israel take such measures, but civilians have continued to die, especially in hospitals. Please can he double down on that request to Israel to take measures to protect civilians?
Mr Speaker, if I may, in the meantime in Sudan—
Order. I have asked everybody to be brief so that other people can get in. We should not be driven by self-centred behaviour.
My right hon. Friend makes a most important humanitarian point and she may rest assured that the Government are seized of it.
France’s President Macron has called for a ceasefire, joining other European nations such as Spain, Norway, Portugal and Ireland, as well as the UN Secretary-General. Securing a negotiated ceasefire—one that is binding on all sides—will require a huge diplomatic effort, so is it not time for our Government to add their weight to the push for a ceasefire, rather than dismissing out of hand a proposal that has growing international support?
The hon. Member will know that, in order to have a ceasefire, we need both parties to agree to it. Hamas have made it absolutely clear that they are not interested in a ceasefire. They made it clear that they want to repeat the actions of
I understand that just four Conservative Members have visited Israel since
Yes, I completely agree with what my hon. Friend has said. He should know that the Prime Minister and other members of the Government have been in continuous contact with Prime Minister Netanyahu, including by holding frequent conversations and discussions. However, I have to say that it would be helpful if all those calling for Israel to protect hospitals would also call on Hamas to vacate the hospitals and stop using civilians as human shields.
Today, Alon-Lee Green, the director of Standing Together, the largest cross-community organisation in Israel, posted a video of a soldier in Gaza saying:
“I’m on the beach in Gaza, in Gush Katif. I’m safe. I’m happy. Me and my friends conquered Beit Lahia, Al Atatra and Sulatin and we’re moving on and we’re gonna conquer the rest of Gaza. I’m safe. I’m happy. I’m enjoying the big opportunity of my lifetime. I love you all and I couldn’t be happier to be where I am—doing God’s work.”
Alon-Lee Green said:
“What’s going on in Gaza does not only go against the Palestinian interest, it goes also against my peoples’ interest, the Jewish Israeli interest.”
Also today, we had Danny Danon, a Likud member and former ambassador, and Ram Ben Barak, a Yesh Atid opposition member, say that Israel should expel all Palestinians from Gaza. What are we doing to restrain the Israeli Government and commentators?
We have always made it clear to Israel that we are its closest possible friend, but friends give candid advice and do not always say what people want to hear. The British Government will continue—with, I believe, the strong support of this House—to make the right points to the Israeli Government, and we are able to do so because of our extremely close alliance and friendship with them.
The human misery and death on both sides, Israeli and Palestinian, are the worst I have witnessed since I became a Member of this House, and they will be solved only by a long-term political solution. Will my right hon. Friend, with whom I totally agree, explain what the British Government are doing in strategic planning to bring about a two-state solution?
There is an immense amount of work going on about how we get to the point where we can achieve that. As I set out in my statement, there is no alternative to the two-state solution, and all interested parties should get behind that.
I had a dreadful 40-hour labour when giving birth to my first child, but I still consider myself lucky: I had medicine, water, electricity and a functioning hospital. The 180 women giving birth in Gaza do not have those things. There is a report of a pregnant Palestinian woman who had horrific injuries from shelling and who then had an emergency C-section performed without electricity. I know the Minister will think that that is unacceptable, but what is he actually doing to ensure that hospitals and pregnant women are protected by international law?
We are speaking out in every way we can to try to protect vulnerable citizens. I quote what President Joe Biden said yesterday in an Oval Office address. He said that Al-Shifa Hospital “must be protected” and that
“it is my…expectation that there will be less intrusive action”.
Israel has made it clear that it has clashed with Hamas nearby, but has not fired on the hospitals themselves.
First, I thank the FCDO for helping to rescue a group of Isle of Wight pilgrims who were caught in the Holy Land at the beginning of this dreadful conflict. Secondly—it is a genuine question—both sides have talked about the importance of protecting hospitals, but what can Israel do when those hospitals are being used to store ammunition and hold hostages, when there are military HQs and operational Hamas commands underneath those hospitals, and when Hamas are deliberately denying those hospitals fuel, because they would rather broadcast pictures of very tiny babies dying than try to save them?
My hon. Friend speaks with great eloquence and passion on this point. I can do no better than to commend the eloquence of his argument.
The short pauses on their own are a first step, but they will not address the grave humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza. The damage to water pipelines, sewage pipes, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure requires urgent rebuilding, and that will require a much longer negotiated ceasefire from both sides and the release of all hostages. Does the Minister agree that the aid getting into Gaza is woefully inadequate and that it is simply unacceptable for Israel not to lift its atrocious blockade and siege of Gaza?
The hon. Gentleman is right that getting aid into Gaza is an absolute top priority. That is why we are focusing on opening up not only Rafah, but Kerem Shalom, and trying to make sure that we build up stores so that, when we can get it in, we are able to bring support to desperate people.
I very much welcome the statement by the Minister and the fact that the Government are looking at and working with international partners on humanitarian pauses and increasing humanitarian aid.
The Minister has said that the Government welcome any new initiatives for a way forward. May I suggest two? The United Kingdom hosted the Friends of Syria international donors’ conference in London, with international partners. Can the United Kingdom look at doing that for Palestine and Gaza? Linked to that, with regard to what happens in Gaza after Hamas is defeated, we have talked about the Palestinian Authority stepping up, but we have not talked about the other scenario. The United Kingdom chairs the Trusteeship Council at the UN, along with France, which looks at transitional arrangements. Will the Government consider that as a way forward?
Order. Colleagues have to understand that Mr Speaker has said very clearly that the statement will end at 2 o’clock. It is up to colleagues whether they choose to allow other colleagues to get in. We must have shorter questions, please.
My hon. Friend has made a further two thoughtful interventions. The Government will consider every possible way ahead as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
There is no point in bragging about awarding £30 million of aid if it cannot get in to help the civilians in Gaza. Since
It is not just a humanitarian pause that is the issue, but how to distribute vital humanitarian supplies safely to people who may be being corralled in small spaces. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, as the opportunity presents itself, we will do everything we can to drive forward those pauses and to make them as effective as possible.
UNRWA has announced that it will be unable to collect aid imported from Egypt today because it does not have the fuel for trucks. That also means that water pumping, sewage treatment and other essential services will cease. Has my right hon. Friend had discussions with the Israelis about the plan to get the aid around Gaza and about their exit strategy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that fuel is the most important of many important issues today. We continue to lobby and argue with all relevant parties for the importance of allowing vital fuel for life-saving purposes into Gaza.
The Minister alluded to the horrific scenes at the weekend of babies dying because they cannot be in incubators. The IDF has offered incubators to the hospital, but it is not incubators that the hospital needs. It has incubators; it needs fuel. The UN has offered to courier that fuel in for the incubators, but the Israeli Government are not allowing that. Can I urge the Minister to do everything he can to change that?
The hon. Lady will know that Israel did offer fuel yesterday, but Hamas did not allow it to be accepted.
I congratulate Lord Cameron on his appointment as Foreign Secretary. I know that he will be well respected in foreign capitals. However, as Mr Speaker said yesterday, there is a scrutiny problem for this House of Commons. Many of my constituents care deeply about the Israel-Palestine situation and other issues, such as the ongoing negotiations on the future of the British Indian Ocean Territory. Therefore, in order to enhance Commons scrutiny, will the Foreign Office commit to the Secretary of State’s coming before the Foreign Affairs Committee on the same regular cycle that the Foreign Secretary would have appeared at the Dispatch Box for FCDO questions?
The Minister will be aware that President Macron, the United Nations and all the adjoining Arab countries are calling for a ceasefire. They are calling for a ceasefire because short humanitarian pauses will not end the slaughter. Does he accept that what the British people and supporters of parties on all sides of the House want to see is policies that will end the killing, end the slaughter and move towards the negotiated settlement that we will have to move to in any case?
We all want to see the focus back on the political solution, which the right hon. Lady ended her comments by extolling. I draw her attention to the telling arguments that have been made—and not just by the Government but by those on her own Front Bench—about why the humanitarian pauses, rather than a ceasefire, are the right approach.
My right hon. Friend will know that the House welcomes the extra support that has gone to Gazan civilians, but he will also have noted today that there would be support for further aid to get there quickly. He will know that that aid can only get there, and we can only make sure it gets to the people who need it rather than to Hamas, if those humanitarian pauses are longer than four hours. Can he say what progress is being made? I have listened carefully to what he says, but can he say when he expects success for longer humanitarian pauses?
I am afraid that I cannot give my hon. Friend a timescale of the sort that we would all like to see, but we are aware that to achieve a humanitarian pause is the start of progress, and nothing will deter us from advocating for that on all occasions.
The Minister referred in his statement to the appalling loss of life among children, and I was pleased that my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy pressed him on that specifically because so many of my constituents are concerned about it. As things stand, will that appalling loss of life not simply carry on? What are the Government doing to bring it to some kind of conclusion?
The right hon. Gentleman is right. In north Gaza, all hospitals but one are out of service owing to a lack of power or damage. We are acutely aware of the strain and stress on life. That is why, as I set out in my statement and have argued in some of my responses to questions from across the House, we are doing everything we can to advance respect for international humanitarian law and to bring this dreadful conflict to a close.
I thank the Minister for his statement, his acknowledgment that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and all his efforts to get aid into Gaza. A few moments ago, in answer to a previous question, he acknowledged that the US President said he hopes to see “less intrusive action” at the Al-Shifa Hospital, as patients and staff remain trapped inside, and that hospitals “must be protected”. For clarity, is that also the position of the UK Government?
Yes. We are extremely concerned that everything should be done to protect life, in the way that the President of the United States set out.
The Archbishop of Canterbury and the French President are the latest leaders to call for a ceasefire, joining the heads of several UN bodies, millions of British people, 120 nations and many Members of this House. More than 11,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed, of whom nearly half were children. That cannot be just. I cannot in all conscience call for anything less than an end to this suffering. Will the Minister pluck up some courage and call for an immediate ceasefire in order to end the humanitarian disaster in Gaza?
The hon. Gentleman and I share the common aim of ending the suffering—there is nothing between us on that. The argument is about how best to achieve it. That is why the Opposition Front Benchers and the Government have determined that trying to promote humanitarian pauses is the right way to proceed.
Although nobody wants to see the conflict continue, does the Minister agree that those who call for an immediate ceasefire must initially acknowledge that Hamas are a terrorist organisation, that they started the conflict through their horrific attack on
My hon. Friend is wise in pointing out the reasons why the combatants are not seeking to achieve a ceasefire at this time.
UNRWA has announced that it is no longer able to collect aid because it no longer has any fuel for its trucks. We know that half of the hospitals in Gaza are already closed owing to a lack of fuel and security. That is why I and many others believe that a ceasefire is vital to ensure that humanitarian aid, including fuel, can get into Gaza. What discussions is the Minister having with the Israeli authorities to ensure that healthcare, aid and fuel can get into Gaza? He talked about extended; how long would an extended pause be?
In respect of the hon. Lady’s final comment, that is what we are seeking to negotiate. Every sinew of the British Government is bent towards achieving the humanitarian aims that she sets out. I can tell her that, as of the time I came to make this statement, the Al-Ahli Hospital remains the only functioning hospital in Gaza, but it does not have a blood bank or supplies, so the situation is every bit as desperate as she and others on both sides of the House have set out.
In addition to the evidence that we have already heard of Hamas stockpiling weapons and the apparatus of terror in hospitals, including children’s hospitals, the Israeli authorities have also identified the misappropriation of aid, such as oxygen concentrators—meant to aerate the tunnels operated by Hamas—being hidden in aid trucks. Is that not all evidence that no matter how much our human instincts want to see an end to bloodshed and the loss of life, a ceasefire would only embolden the terrorists, embolden Hamas, and the only way to get peace in the middle east is for the total destruction of Hamas?
My hon. Friend is right: the military power of Hamas has to be destroyed. That is what many people believe, and that is what the Israeli Government are intent on doing. I point out to him that the Israel Defence Forces use their power to defend their citizens; Hamas use their citizens to defend Hamas.
The Minister has rightly pointed out the intolerable human suffering of civilians in Gaza, but does he accept that it is a consequence of the blatant abuse of civilians by Hamas, who have bombed hospitals and used them as bases, denied vital aid, and located arms factories in flats where people are living? As the terrorists are clearly under pressure—they are losing commanders, bases and control—does he agree that now is the wrong time to call for a ceasefire, which would only allow the terrorists to regroup, re-arm and prolong the conflict?
The right hon. Gentleman speaks with authority and understanding of these situations. He eloquently explains why a ceasefire is not a practical opportunity.
The Minister rightly said in his statement:
“Hospitals should be places of safety, able to treat patients with compassion. It is distressing to see them unable to do so.”
Médecins Sans Frontières has demanded, as a bare minimum, a medical evacuation of patients. What more can the British Government do to make that happen?
As I have set out throughout my responses and in my statement, the British Government are doing everything we possibly can to advance that humanitarian endeavour.
Clearly, the atrocities of Hamas will in time be considered a war crime, but what we are seeing from the IDF at the moment is so far removed from what can be described as “self-defence”. Israeli Government officials have called Gazans “human animals” and referenced the use of nuclear weapons on Gaza. Netanyahu himself has cited Amalek in the Book of Samuel, which mentions killing and slaughtering every child, animal and person. On top of that, Israeli Ministers have handed out machine guns to people in the west bank. I have not heard a moral case—let alone a logical case—from anybody in this House for not joining all the Arab world, the UN, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope in calling for an immediate ceasefire in order to get hostages out and humanitarian aid in.
The hon. Gentleman will have heard the arguments for and against a ceasefire, and he will have heard what the Government and his own Front Benchers have said. That is where the argument rests.
At the last FCDO questions, I asked the Minister twice about getting fuel through to hospitals, and highlighted in particular the plight of women due to give birth in appalling circumstances. Their babies are now dying. I appreciate what he says about trying to do everything we can to get fuel through to hospitals, but at what point do we say, “Enough is enough; Israel will not allow that to happen”, and what can we do to ensure that those babies’ lives are saved?
It is important not to give up hope. It is important to drive forward in every possible way we can the objectives that the hon. Lady and I share, and we will continue to do that.
As the Minister acknowledged, we were all shocked by the images of babies being huddled together in the hope of keeping them warm enough to stay alive. What more will the Government do to overcome the problems that the Minister referred to in response to my hon. Friends the Members for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) and for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), to ensure that we facilitate the safe delivery of fuel for humanitarian purposes such as keeping life-saving equipment working for people in hospitals in Gaza?
Many of my constituents want to see hon. Members in this place, including those on the Labour and Tory Benches, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. With one in 200 local Gazan people killed by the Israeli war machine, how much worse does it have to get before this place prioritises life over death and peace over war? The Minister says that Hamas may not want a ceasefire, so why do what Hamas wish? The Government must not wait for more people to die before eventually listening to the public, my constituents and President Macron and making that ceasefire happen.
The hon. Member will have heard heavily rehearsed during this statement the arguments for and against a ceasefire, and I fear I cannot add anything to what I have already said on that point.
The Minister’s call for Israel to follow international law in Gaza rings utterly hollow when we know that that is not happening. The United Nations Secretary-General, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others have been clear that Israel is clearly and grossly violating international humanitarian law. Since 2015, this Government have licensed more than £472 million of arms exports to Israel, including parts of F-35 stealth aircraft, which are currently raining down bombs on Gaza. Does the Minister know whether British weapons have been used in violations of international law in Gaza, and does he agree that we should not sell weapons for committing war crimes?
The hon. Member will know that the President of Israel, President Herzog, has made it clear that his country will abide by international humanitarian law. [Interruption.] She will also know that, in respect of arms exports in this country, we have the toughest arms regulations anywhere in the world.
What assessment has the Minister made of the number of Palestinian civilian deaths that there will be, including babies and children, without a humanitarian ceasefire in the next month?
I would not necessarily trust the figures that are produced by Hamas, but we do know that an extraordinary number of people have lost their lives, and we are all trying to do everything we can to make sure that we bring this situation to a conclusion as rapidly as possible.
Before we talk about humanitarian pauses, should we not agree first what we want to achieve by them? Would they not need to be for days or weeks, not just for four hours? We need to repair infrastructure and get aid in on a scale that is just not possible while hostilities continue. Do the Government not need to call for an immediate cessation of hostilities—a ceasefire—during the period that is agreed, to get humanitarian aid in at the volume that is required?
It is not just a question of using the pauses to try to advance humanitarian good; it is also about trying to use the humanitarian pauses to achieve some of the things the hon. Member said. As I said earlier, we have to be incredibly careful that we do not end up creating a false sense of security, as the House will remember happened in Srebrenica, northern Iraq and Rwanda.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and all he is doing to alleviate suffering in the region. The human cost in Israel and Gaza is truly immense and heartbreaking. Will he join me in commending the extraordinary bravery of the aid workers on the ground in Gaza, some of whom have tragically lost their lives, including over 100 UN workers?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. I hope a particularly hot place in hell is reserved for those who murder humanitarian workers who have put themselves in harm’s way unarmed purely to protect the lives and interests of their fellow humanity.
We have heard this afternoon that, frankly, this short pause is not working—four hours will not achieve anything. The fact that we are seeing Palestinians being forced to leave their homes en masse is quite worrying. Will the Minister condemn the acts of violence and extremism by Israeli settlers in the west bank, call on Israeli authorities to prevent that settler violence, ensure that there is clear accountability for the perpetrators and condemn this extremist rhetoric?
The hon. Member will have heard what the Prime Minister and other members of the Government have said in condemning settler violence. We will continue to stand up for the rule of law and international humanitarian law on every occasion we are able to do so.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thank the Minister for his replies, which are positive, and I know he means well. Can he provide an update on what progress has been made on discussions with Jordan, Egypt and surrounding nations to secure the free passage of medical aid? Will that be considered as a priority?
I thank the hon. Member for his comments. Discussions are going on with Jordan and Egypt on that very point, and I will go tonight to Egypt to try to further those discussions.
In setting out what a humanitarian pause would involve, the Secretary of State is setting out the challenge at the heart of this. Those of us who believe that we should be working alongside our international colleagues for an urgent ceasefire as the best way to end the Palestinian bloodshed and the horrors we are seeing in Gaza know that any ceasefire that does not involve the immediate return of hostages and the dismantling of Hamas is unlikely to be sustainable. The Minister talked about the conversations the new Foreign Secretary has had with the Secretary of State in America. The Foreign Secretary cannot be in front of us so that I can ask him this myself, so will the Minister urgently arrange a meeting with the Foreign Secretary for my constituent whose father is being held by Hamas, so that she may understand what this Government are doing for UK citizens who have hostage families?
I assume that the hon. Member has spoken to the crisis centre about that particular example. If she has not, I hope she will, and of course, we will afford all support we can to her constituent.
The news of the burial in a mass grave of babies, children and other patients at Al-Shifa Hospital is heartbreaking, as was the news of the murder, mutilation and capture of babies, children and other innocent civilians in Israel on
We will undoubtedly continue to do everything we can to support humanitarian supplies getting in and to develop the concept of the pause to maximum effect. It is the role of the Government, through their very strong diplomatic connections with all parts of the region, to do everything they can to drive forward those humanitarian aims.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Hamas today conjured up memories of Christmas truces before the horror recommenced, but this is not soldiers in the trenches; it is 2.2 million people trapped in a tight urban environment, including women and children. Is that not the reason that a humanitarian pause is insufficient and there must be an immediate ceasefire?
The circumstances that the hon. Member describes are precisely the reason why the British Government put such a high priority on trying to advance those humanitarian aims, some of which, at least, can be advanced through the humanitarian pauses we are so trenchantly seeking.
The hon. Member makes her point with great eloquence, and it underlines the effort and importance that the Government attach to trying to drive humanitarian support through these pauses to those who desperately need it.
The Government have been calling for a humanitarian pause for some time, but the death toll has risen, and the humanitarian crisis deepens by the hour. As a result, we clearly need a ceasefire, to move to a political process and a political solution. Can the Minister say what steps he is taking to formulate that political solution?
It is not just our Government who are arguing for this; it is Governments around the world. Everyone is focused on trying to bring this dreadful situation to a conclusion and drive towards a political process. That is what we need. The hon. Member asks what I am doing. I will go tonight to Egypt to further these discussions.
It is difficult to get aid and medicine into Gaza, but there is no shortage of arms in the region. I have been contacted by many constituents concerned about Britain’s role in supplying British-made weapons to Israel. In the absence of the Committees on Arms Export Controls meeting at all this year, what assurances can the Minister give that the weapons we are supplying are not being used in acts of collective punishment?
I refer the hon. Lady to my response a few moments ago, in which I made clear that Britain has the most rigorous arms sale regime anywhere in the world—it is extremely important that we have that. I will look carefully to see whether there is any aspect of the hon. Lady’s question that suggests we should do more.
On Friday, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said that Israeli forces opened fire on the intensive care unit at Al-Quds Hospital, and Médecins Sans Frontières reported a doctor in Al-Shifa Hospital saying that a sniper attacked four patients inside that hospital. We are seeing babies dying—what is happening is a stain on our collective humanity. I implore the Government please to join the overwhelming majority of the British public, humanitarian organisations and other nations in calling for an immediate ceasefire, to prevent the further death of innocent civilians and resolve what is a humanitarian catastrophe.
I think the hon. Lady should put some greater hope in the achievement of humanitarian pauses, and then the development of those pauses. In the meantime, as she will be aware, it is the policy of both the Government and the Opposition that we should promote pauses, not a ceasefire.
Will the Minister confirm that it is the Government’s position that there should be no compulsion for people to leave their homes in Gaza, and that when people are displaced by fighting, they must be allowed to return home as soon as possible?
The Government are acutely aware of the extraordinarily difficult situation in Gaza, and it is not for me to give advice from the Dispatch Box to people on the ground there who need to assess their situation for themselves within their community.
The UN says that telecommunications will begin to fail from Thursday as fuel runs out for the providing companies. Some lives have been saved when people have been telephoned to inform them that their homes are about to be bombed. Can any steps be taken to deliver fuel specifically to telecommunications companies?
I have also seen those reports—they are extremely worrying, and they intensify the requirement to get fuel into Gaza as quickly as possible.
Among so many horrors that we have seen since the horrific and illegal attacks by Hamas on
The Minister spoke from the Dispatch Box a few moments ago about the offer of fuel made by the Israeli Government yesterday, but the head of one of the aid agencies on the ground in Gaza has explained what that offer was: a few jerry cans left outside the hospital, amounting to half an hour of generation time. Half an hour of fuel for generators is not what is needed, and it is not what international law requires, so can I press the Minister on what action he is taking to hold the Israeli Government to account for the unacceptable stoppage of aid into Gaza, including fuel, and for their maintenance of international law?
It is true, I think, that 300 litres of fuel was offered yesterday and it was rejected by Hamas—that is the key point. Some fuel was offered. Obviously, we hope that more fuel can get through, but if Hamas refuse to allow it to be used for the extremely important purposes that the hon. Lady has set out, the position will not improve.
The new Foreign Secretary called Gaza an open-air prison in peacetime. While we all stood with Israel on
The hon. Lady makes an eloquent plea for us to advance on all the things that the Government, along with others, are doing everything they can to progress.
While the whole House should condemn unreservedly the atrocities committed against Israeli civilians on
I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to what I said earlier about the work of the Israel Defence Forces, and indeed the training they undergo, which respects international humanitarian law and understands the obligations a military force owes to civilians.
I have constituents who are heartbroken and devastated about the continuing conflict between Israel and Palestine. Hospitals and patients, particularly babies, must be protected and cannot become targets. Does the Minister agree that the aid that is getting into Gaza is still completely insufficient, and that it is unacceptable that siege conditions have not been lifted?
As the hon. Lady suggests, it is completely insufficient. That is why we are arguing so trenchantly for the opening of not just Rafah, but Kerem Shalom, so that more aid can be got in for those who desperately need it.
After the terrorist atrocity of
The hon. Lady once again demonstrates the dreadful position that the appalling act perpetrated by Hamas terrorists on
I think I heard the Minister correctly just now when he confirmed reports in the Financial Times that all but one of the hospitals in the north of Gaza have stopped functioning. That news is catastrophic, and my constituents just want to know—as all of us do—that there is some hope that this hell is coming to an end. As such, further to the responses he gave to Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and my right hon. Friend Sir Stephen Timms, can I ask the Minister to describe the UK Government’s diplomatic strategy? He has mentioned that he will be travelling this evening: which of our partners will he be engaging to bring this war to an end?
I will be travelling to Egypt tonight, but the discussions that are going on are about the hostages and the humanitarian situation, which I have explained extensively today. There are also discussions about the politics and how we move on. Those discussions are going on not just within the British Government, but with our partners, allies and like-minded parties overseas—in particular, through the extraordinary diplomatic reach of the British Foreign Office with all the countries in the region, which of course care as much as we do about the appalling loss of life.
In 2010, the then UK Prime Minister, now the Foreign Secretary, condemned the blockade of Gaza as a “prison camp”. The siege conditions have remained, and that is the context in which this war has claimed the lives of 11,000 civilians in Gaza, following the horrific Hamas attacks that have cost the lives of 1,400 innocent civilians and led to the hostage taking of over 200 people. The reality is that the longer the Gaza war continues, the more palpable is the danger of further contagion not only in the west bank and Jerusalem, but across the region. We could be on the precipice of a regional war, and of tensions enduring beyond Gaza and Israel and causing full-scale conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. That is why it is imperative for our Government to work with international partners to seek the cessation of hostilities and to work for an enduring humanitarian ceasefire. So much is at stake here, and it is for our Government to take that leadership role. I call on the Minister to do so.
The hon. Member has set out with great eloquence the issue before us, and it underlines the absolute necessity to get back on to a political track as swiftly as we can.
The Minister continues to say that he wants the Government of Israel to respect international human rights law, but last week he said that the Government could not make a determination whether that was happening. He said it would be for courts and lawyers to determine, so which courts and which lawyers, and how and when should a determination be made about whether Israel is complying with international humanitarian law?
The point I made last week is that it is not for Ministers to assert what is in effect a legal judgment and that it should be left to the courts. I think that is a sensible measure for us to accept. The hon. Member will be aware that there are many different people—I quoted, for example, the guardians of the Geneva convention and international humanitarian law—and I do not think there will be any difficulty in hearing from the judicial authorities on that matter.
The call for a ceasefire is backed by multiple United Nations agencies, 700 NGOs, Pope Francis, more than 250 British lawyers, the 120 countries that voted in favour of a UN General Assembly motion and 76% of the public, and yesterday the Archbishop of Canterbury said that
“the call for a ceasefire is a moral cry”.
What will it take for the newly installed Secretary of State to heed these international calls and to support an immediate ceasefire?
I yield to no one in my profound respect for the Archbishop of Canterbury, but I think the reasons set out by both Government and Opposition Front Benchers about why that is not a practical approach should be listened to with care. Meanwhile, we will do everything we can to address the humanitarian situation, which has been so eloquently set out across the House.
Given the grave seriousness and scale of the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Gaza, it is vital that the length of humanitarian pauses is sufficient to allow aid and supplies to reach safely those who need them. In the statement, the Minister acknowledges that four hours is not enough, so the first question is: by the Government’s own assessment, how long is needed? Secondly, will the Government finally meet the shadow Foreign Secretary’s request for an international aid co-ordinator to be appointed to make sure that aid really reaches where it is needed?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the co-ordination of aid, but principally we need to get it into the country. I have set out that this is about not just the length of the pauses, but the nature of how the aid is then distributed. The British Government are working with our partners to progress all those things.
I pay tribute, as the hon. Member did, to Islamic Relief, which I visited in Birmingham on Sunday with Andy Street, the West Midlands Mayor. Islamic Relief is doing extraordinary work still. It has access to fuel, and it has access to ways of making sure that water purification can continue to take place. We work closely with it, as we work with so many others, to try to bring an end to this dreadful situation.
Avi Shlaim is an Arab Jew, who was born in Baghdad, served in the Israel Defence Forces and is a retired professor of international affairs at the University of Oxford. He probably knows more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than most of us, and he says:
“revenge is not a policy.”
Do the British Government reject the position of the Israeli Government that they should have overall security control of Gaza after current military operations?
I think we can all agree that revenge is not a policy, but given the appalling events of
The Minister said that the arguments for and against a ceasefire have been fully rehearsed, but the situation in the hospitals and the ongoing slaughter of innocent civilians fleeing the hostilities illustrate that these humanitarian pauses are not working. The difficulty is that our constituents can see this terrible situation unfolding on the television every evening, and that is why they are writing to us in their thousands about it. What they want to know and what I want to know is this: how many more innocent people have to die before the UK Government will support a call for a ceasefire from both sides?
The Government and, indeed, Labour Front Benchers have explained why calls for a ceasefire do not work at the moment. We have explained the Israeli Government’s right to self-defence, but also that Hamas have made it clear that not only do they not want a ceasefire, but they want to repeat what happened on
The suffering of innocent civilians in Gaza is intolerable. The siege must end, the bombing must end and we need an end to hostilities. Does the Minister share my worry that the way the war on Hamas is being prosecuted—the constant bombing, the scale of the loss of life and suffering—runs the risk of radicalising people and driving them into the arms of Hamas and other terrorist extremists? Would he comment on that, and on whether that view is being expressed to the Israeli Government?
The British Government have many friends and a brilliant diplomatic network in the region, and we express ourselves without fear or favour to give the best advice that the British Government have.
The Minister said that it is not for Ministers to confirm or ascertain what is and is not a war crime, but I remind him that Government Ministers rightly condemned Vladimir Putin for his war crimes in Ukraine very quickly after the invasion. The Minister mentioned the sanctity of hospitals, which are places protected under the Geneva convention, yet when I mentioned this exact issue last week, he did not accept my analysis of the Geneva convention. With reports of hospitals being bombed, IDF snipers firing into Al-Shifa and civilians, including children, being fired on while trying to evacuate under white flags, I repeat: what will it take for the Government and Opposition Front Benchers to call acts such as this what they are—war crimes?
I have set out very clearly during this statement and in responses to Members across the House the absolutely essential nature of the progress we seek to make. I hope that the hon. Member will accept that my answer this week will be no different from the answer I gave him on Wednesday last week.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Not to detract in any way from the integrity of the Minister, Mr Mitchell, but many have spoken about the absurd scrutiny situation of the new Foreign Secretary being a Member of the House of Lords and unable to answer questions in this Chamber. Given the gravity of the situation we are dealing with, is it not right that we change the Standing Orders to enable us to call Lords to appear in this place to answer questions on this matter from the Dispatch Box?